Harry and Atkins went into an adjacent room of the Minister’s office. They both took seats facing one another, Atkins with his head hung rather low, and Harry staring at him with a mix of confusion and disappointment.
“You were fine.” Harry began. “Ron and I didn’t suspect anything of you until you wanted every Auror on this.”
“Could you blame me?” Atkins asked. “This is a very serious matter.”
“I agree, but to leave back home unattended? No Head of the Department would do that. I’m rather surprised that the Minister allowed you.”
“A few passionate words and the guarantee that at least half, if not all of us, would be back before nightfall when the real terror would begin did the trick.”
“And will we?” Harry questioned. “Will we be back before nightfall? I imagine that we’re at the right place where Hermione is. The others I’m sure are trying to break down barriers that lead to nothing. It won’t take long for us to be back in England, Atkins.”
“No, no it won’t be long before we return. The boat ride will take a while. As for the barriers…I have to keep up the part, don’t I? I had planned to wait about fifteen minutes before using the counter curse for the spells and charms surrounding it. We’d go in, save Hermione and whoever else still alive and-”
“What about the other Aurors?”
“When they try to break the barriers they’ll suck them in. They’ll become trapped behind them.”
“And you’d leave them there?” Harry said outraged. Atkins took a deep swallow and nodded.
“It’d be a hell of lot better than going home.”
“…Why? What’s waiting when we get back there?”
“Thorn and his men,” Atkins answered. “His men, the two Death Eaters who’ve already won the two other games, Inferi –bodies of those who were killed in this awful mess, and-” He paused for a moment, suddenly starting to choke up. Harry rolled his eyes and pounded his hand on the desk in between them.
“And what else? Come on, Atkins, don’t start holding back now.”
“…And my family… Thorn’s promise to bring them back to me if I did all this,”
It was a long and boring task being taught how to read the time from a ray of light. After only a minute or so in did Hermione regret her decision in wanting to learn, but was there else to do? Trying to escape would’ve been stupid and futile, especially without wands. So, she sat on the floor of the cell with Draco sitting alongside her and showing her how telling time by sunlight was done. After about forty minutes Hermione found it quite amazing that a sunray, that seemed to be completely motionless on the ground or whatever it was shining on, did in fact move. It moved ever so slowly, but it was in motion nonetheless. Hermione smiled at this revelation and found herself very much amused.
I’ve been in here way too long… She thought and sighed, the lesson having been over after an hour and a half now and the two of them having resolved into silence. They were still sitting on the floor in close proximity to each other; close as in them being shoulder to shoulder, their heads resting on the wall behind them. There would’ve been a time when Hermione thought that she would never be as near to this man as she was right then, but then again, circumstances change.
Hermione turned her head to him and sighed. “I bet you’re regretting it.”
Draco turned his head to hers, their eyes completely level to each other’s. She noticed how their noses were merely an inch apart, and agreed that she was definitely closer in proximity to him than she had ever been.
“Not killing me,”
“…You were walking away from me, Granger.” Draco casted his eyes to the ground for a second and then clenched his jaw before looking back up. “I wasn’t going to shoot you in the back.”
Hermione chuckled and then grinned. “So if I was facing you, you would’ve done it then?”
“To be honest, I don’t know what I would’ve done.” Hermione’s smile disappeared as he began talking again, his eyes taking a sharper tone as well as his voice. “Thorn talked about you to me in the cell before he let me and the others out. He said that he had a surprise, just for me. A reason to truly win the game, as I recall it... But he really doesn’t know and he really doesn’t understand.”
“That it’s easier to kill someone that you don’t know.”
“You must’ve been hoping that I’d attack first then.” Hermione said softly. “That way if you killed me, it’d sort of be like self defense, not you trying to do away with me. Right..?”
Draco nodded and then smiled. “You see, you’re too smart for your own good.”
“As if you didn’t know that already,”
A silence hit them and they both laughed. Their voices bounced off the walls and echoed all around them. A little louder, and a bit more shrill, it would sound like a banshee was in there with them, but neither was focusing on that now. Neither was concentrating on the fact that they were hot, dirty, and sitting in a cell. Doing that would’ve just amounted to nothing, so they just continued basking in the only amusing thing that had found its way to them since this whole ordeal started.
Since eight in the night until now, a little after five in the morning, Ron had his Aurors posted where needed. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept. It was possible to say that he’d been awake for a full twenty-four hours, but no matter how tired his body felt, Ron couldn’t, and wouldn’t, succumb to it. He could only imagine what his Aurors were feeling. Only twelve of them had decided to come along. He had six of them spread across England in the places where the most surveillance was needed. The other six were patrolling the Ministry as he had instructed, and Ron himself was with the Minister of Magic, who he had forced to remain at the Ministry, and who had found it rather difficult to believe that Atkins would be involved in something so wicked.
Thick… Ron was thinking in his mind. He had never been too fond of their Minister in the first place, and him allowing Atkins to take every last Auror off duty was another reason to dislike him further. He had added yet another reason not to like him when he had advised the Minister to Owl some of the Ministry workers and bring them in. No, they weren’t Aurors, but they had wands, and surely they knew enough magic to ward off a couple of tough bastards when they came.
The Minister had said no to the idea though, declaring that he and Harry were being rash enough as it was. But at the moment the man was locked in his office. Ron had made sure that it was completely secure before he went over to the Ministry Owlery. As if not gaining the man’s permission was going to stop Ron from Owling in workers. The Minister was trapped in his own bloody office for Merlin’s sake, and it wasn’t like as if Ron was the type of person to be following orders and rules. His track record at Hogwarts was plain evidence of that.
Though, Ron was hoping that it wouldn’t be all for nothing. As he thought things through, he had been patrolling the Ministry since eight that night, and as of yet nothing happened. What if he and Harry had just been looking into things way too deeply and Atkins was just resorting to a rash decision in order to put an end to a horrible thing?
Sighing, as Ron grew close to the Owlery he stole a peak through one of the open windows. He stopped immediately, seeing one of the Aurors at the entrance he was guarding. Someone, it was unclear who, had suddenly disarmed him, and now he was gaining entrance into the building.
Ron took off at a run. He went back the way he came, wand in hand and grip tight as he entered the elevator to make it down to the lobby in a hurry. As the doors opened to let him out, he had stayed close to the inside wall. It was a good thing he had for a spell had come in, hitting the elevator back wall where he would’ve been standing and then bouncing back out. Ron jumped out, spells ready on his lips to cast and sending one at a man who wasn’t standing far from the elevator. He was knocked out of the way easily, and Ron made his way from the elevator, keeping himself close to the walls, and his mouth dropped at what he saw.
He saw his coworkers, dead, but walking nonetheless. Ron stared in disgust as he realized that they had been turned into Inferi. Behind them were men, lots of them, a good sixty at a guess, and he knew then and there that there was no point in fighting.
“Find who casted that spell!” Someone shouted, and Ron ran for it again, not going for the elevator because that would’ve been too obvious. He ran down a corridor where he knew would lead to stairs and stared at them with horrible dismay before starting his climb.
Damn this place for not being able to apparate! Ron shouted in his head, taking the stairs two at a time and breathing furiously through his mouth and nose. He would continue on the stairs until he hit the third floor. Then he would take the elevator up to the Minister’s office, activate the Floo, and have the two of them escape. It was the only way things could work out for the better, but once Ron made it to the third floor and rushed to the elevator, he halted his stops, his feet sliding a bit on the tiled floor. He caught his balance and saw that the doors to the elevator were opening.
Ron cursed, and immediately turned on his heel. Three people had stepped out of it, one of them shouting at Ron and throwing a spell that missed him by inches, taking out a chunk of the wall. Ron turned around and waved his wand quickly, the castor of the spell being thrown back into the elevator, its doors closing as the other two joined the fight. Ron dove to the right as two identical spells aimed at him. He took refuge behind the corner of a stone wall and threw another spell. It missed, their next set of spells missing as well as Ron tucked his head back behind the wall and protected it from the debris of the wall flying over him.
“Bloody hell,” Ron swore and began running again, taking off down the hall. He grounded his teeth as he realized what corridor he was in, one that was a complete dead end, a door being the only thing at the end of it. As the men chased him, shouting spells that Ron expertly ducked and deflected to make them hit right back at the senders, he stared at the door ahead of him, still running for it, because he had almost forgotten what it was.
“Don’t let him through that door!” one of the men yelled, and Ron let out a yell of his own as a spell collided with his back and he fell forward onto the floor, sliding momentarily due to the linoleum floor this particular floor had.
The men, who were still having a bit of a run because Ron had been quite ahead, were smiling. Ron couldn’t see them, but it was people like them who always smiled, and they had no right doing it until the battle was over. Though Ron had pain in his back, he rolled over onto it and did two of the quickest things of his life: he flicked his wand at the door which caused it to fly open, and then he pointed his wand at the men, they suddenly being lifted off of their feet and thrown through the same door.
Ron rolled over onto his stomach and stared at the doorway, it being complete darkness. He then smiled as he listened to the men’s screaming, and he knew that that was all they’d ever being doing. That door led to a never-ending freefall, and they’d be falling for the rest of their lives.
From the small window of the cell it could be seen that the sun was beginning to set. That meant that it had to be, if not seven, past it. Four and a half hours Hermione and Draco had spent in that cell, and it was enough to figure out what they liked to eat, what they liked to do in their spare time (or what Draco liked to do before being put in Azkaban), and for the past half hour they were trying to guess the other’s middle name.
“This is absolutely ridiculous.” Hermione rolled her eyes. Draco was laughing. He had admitted that he had never laughed so much and she believed him. He didn’t seem like one who would do so in the first place.
“Oh, come on, Granger, I guessed yours. It can’t be that hard.”
“Not hard for you. All I had to do was say that it was incredibly simple and boring and it took you fifteen minutes.”
“And you can’t do the same for me?”
“Oh please,” Hermione shook her head and smiled. “You’re not simple. And you’re definitely far from boring.”
Draco stared at her with a grin. After a minute or two he let out a contented sigh and placed his hands behind his head. “We’ve been stuck in this cell for too long.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because we’re complimenting each other more than we should,” He chuckled and Hermione followed suit as she realized the cell was getting darker. She frowned and glanced down at the wristband, looking to see Draco watching her as she did so. “I’ve been thinking it too. No one’s coming for us.”
“They’ve probably gone; all of them… They left us here at the hand of these bloody wristbands to electrocute us to death at eight o’clock on the dot.”
“Well, they’re not going to find me dead on this floor without a fight.” Draco said as he stood. Hermione saw that he was gazing at the cell door, more specifically at the very top of it, and she began to smile as she moved to stand beside him. He pointed to the space between where the door ended and the ceiling.
“Think you can squeeze yourself through?”
“No idea, but I’ll sure as hell try.”
The two of them drew near to the bars and Draco cupped his hands. Hermione placed her hands on his shoulders and her foot in his hands. With a thrust upwards her hands caught the top of the cell, and with a little more effort she would try to bring her chest above the space. It would be a snug fit, but she would force herself through even if it meant losing a fair bit of skin. But before she could bring her body up further the door to the room burst open, completely catching her off guard. Hermione fell back, expecting to be falling to the ground, but instead had Draco to break her fall, his arms open to gather her and the two of them stumbling backwards and then onto the floor.
“Up to something, are we?” One of four men asked as he and his friends walked into the room.
“Escaping,” Hermione and Draco said in unison. They were both still on the ground, Draco’s arms wrapped around her from when he had caught her.
“Dunno, looks like we almost walked into a show.” Another man snickered, and Hermione and Draco quickly detangled themselves from each other and got up from the floor.
“We thought you’d fled.” Draco scowled.
“And leave our two favorite competitors? Merlin forbid… We were just waiting until the perfect time.”
“The perfect time for what..?” Hermione asked, though as she saw all four men begin to smile wickedly, she wished that she hadn’t asked.
“Like Thorn said in the beginning, there’s only room for one winner here. And you two have got about a half an hour for it to be one, or none.”