Chapter 8: Admissions
Saint Mungo's at this time of an evening had a steady buzz of activity, of the mystical injuries gathered at home and down the pub amassed and visitors came to see ailing friends and relatives after work. It was noisy, it was crowded, but above all, it was alive.
This made reality a bit clearer around the edges for Hermione as she hurried up to the front desk. The fresh air, taking a moment for a breather, and the presence of Trevelyan stalking in her wake had calmed her. Her heart rate was steady now, as - more importantly - were her knees.
"I'm here to see Harry Potter; he'd have been admitted in the last hour," she said brusquely to the receptionist, who sat at the front desk in the lobby poring over her papers and not looking up at her approach. Hermione wasn't sure why she clarified when Harry had been brought in; probably everyone working in Saint Mungo's knew about it.
The receptionist looked up warily. She was maybe two years younger than Hermione, hair a little too blonde to not be bleached, and wore an expression of intense boredom, as befitted one whose fate it was to work on a Friday night. "Family?"
"My name is Hermione Granger," Hermione said with growing irritation and indignation. "I'm a friend of his." She knew she shouldn't be too outraged. The downside to avoiding all the public attention was that, when it would actually be useful to be famous, nobody would know who she was.
"Uh-huh. No press." The receptionist bowed her head again, getting back to scribbling something Hermione was sure was absolutely inconsequential, and probably doodling upon an appointment schedule.
"I am not press, you uneducated little -"
Trevelyan stepped up to the desk at this point, placing a soothing hand on her arm which surprised, rather than reassured her into silence. "Excuse me," he said calmly, giving a tight, professional smile to the now rather impatient-looking receptionist. "We're with the Department of Mysteries, and we're here to see Mister Potter."
Hermione had seen the silver badges of the Unspeakables before, simple discs with a pyramid emblazoned upon them, the department's name, and just a service number of the badgeholder. It seemed that even the dull-witted receptionist had, too, for her mouth flapped a little uselessly for a moment.
"Uh, uh, Floor Three," she stumbled. "I'm sorry - but it's Mister Potter, you don't want to just let anyone..."
"Quite understandable," Trevelyan said, smile broadening a little, much to Hermione's remaining aggravation. "Thank you for your cooperation."
And then he guided her along towards the stairs before she could make another noise of protest. "I'll join you as far as the corridor," he said, in an amiable tone which nevertheless left no room for the idea this was a suggestion, "just so you're not waylaid by security en route and don't hex them."
Hermione gritted her teeth. "He's my best friend, his fiancée has asked me to come, and it's not my fault that the staff here don't read reputable newspapers..."
"...or collect Chocolate Frog Cards?" Trevelyan said with a smile, and her irritation, fuelled by worry and the unpleasant memory of even worse worry, began to fade as she unwittingly smiled back.
Fortunately, the door to Floor 3 was guarded by Aurors who recognised her and accepted Trevelyan's badge, and directed her towards the right ward. Trevelyan made some amiable noise about investigating the coffee dispenser, but she was striding down the corridor by now, heading for the doorway of the ward guarded by two tall Aurors in their long uniform robe coats.
She only gave them a curt nod as she stepped through, and a muttering of names in greeting. She'd be damned if John Dawlish was going to waylay her tonight.
The ward could hold a dozen people, but the eleven beds she could see were empty. The last one at the far end had the curtains drawn about it, but pacing back and forth in the middle of the room, red hair flashing in the bright lights of the hospital ward, was Ginny.
She started a little as Hermione stepped in, before relaxing. She was pale and worn, but relief flooded into Hermione as she saw her face - the worst had passed. It wasn't serious. She rushed forwards to hug Ginny, a hug the other woman returned with grateful tension, before drawing back. "How is he?"
Ginny gave a small, unamused but not insincere smile. "Hexed and cursed into unconsciousness, battered and bruised, but none of it serious. It looks like they just... worked him over. The Healers say he'll be fine in a couple of weeks."
Hermione's eyes widened. "Your letter said he was in the house? What happened? Who was it?"
"We think Remnant." Ginny gave a tired sigh, one which Hermione could only begin to sympathise with. The fall of Voldemort had been the end for any of his surviving rational supporters. Unfortunately, plenty of Death Eaters weren't rational, and had banded together under a string of charismatic and insane supporters to form the Remnant. Some believed Voldemort would return. Some wished to carry on after him. Others just wanted to do damage. They were all trouble.
It had been one of the sources of aggravation between her and Ron that he had persisted in his work as an Auror, persisted in throwing himself back in harm's way after seven long years of what had sometimes felt like a constant threat of death. Ron had always won the arguments with the fact that, so long as Voldemort's forces remained, they'd continue to hurt others - and they would unarguably continue to come after Harry for vengeance. Harry had earned a rest far more than they had, he'd pointed out, so how could he just settle down to run a joke shop when their best friend and the saviour of wizarding Britain was under threat? Especially when he could help fight that threat?
Hermione, for her part, had grown comfortable with the idea of not being in danger of being murdered every five seconds. Ron had managed to avoid worse damage than cuts and scrapes, so they'd just found other things to argue about. But it would likely be another decade before Harry - and by consequence, Ginny - could truly consider themselves as safe as anyone else.
"They broke into the house, turned everything upside-down. Harry thinks there were maybe four of them; it's just as well he had the chance to put a call in to Auror HQ, or they'd have probably killed him." Ginny wrapped her arms around herself, shivering despite the warmth of the room. "Mum and Dad are on their way. Ron's in there now with him."
Hermione's expression flickered, though Ginny showed no discomfort; obviously her fiancé's brush with death came before their relationship woes. "Right," she mumbled. "I'll just... wait out here, then."
"No." Ginny spoke firmly, but there was a hint of tired resignation about her as she sat down on the bed. "He asked for you. Both of you. You should go in."
She knew that tone. It was a tone of voice which spoke of years of exclusion, of unhappy acceptance of the fact that, however much Ginny might be the most important person in Harry's life, there were things she would never be able to understand as much as his two best friends did. Hermione knew Ginny didn't resent her for it, but still felt rather uncomfortable whenever it came up.
Though it hadn't for a good two years now, since most of the loose ends of the war had been tied up. Whatever was going on, Harry had to think it... significant.
So she just smiled apologetically at Ginny before padding over to the curtains, rustling them briefly and noisily to declare her impending arrival before slipping between the gap.
Ron stood next to the bed, looking pale and drawn, with bags under his eyes and his hair messier than it had been when she'd seen him last. A week ago? Two weeks? He started when he saw her, but obviously wasn't surprised, and his face was that studied mask she'd always thought was a little surly.
Harry, on the other hand, wore a surprisingly broad smile for someone who had clearly been through the ringer. The left side of his face was mottled with ugly purple bruising, and vast portions of his body swathed in bandages, his right leg raised up.
"Hermione! You took your time," he said, in a tone which was upsettingly jocular for a man who'd just suffered an assassination attempt by Death Eaters.
She stared at him for a moment, jaw dropping, before closing the curtain behind her and gathering her wits. "Harry! What happened?" Perhaps it was best if she ignored the dig on her punctuality.
"Remnant," he said cheerfully, reaching for the glass of water on the bedside table. Ron twitched a little at the tone of his voice; their best friend's laid-back attitude to danger since the war - what would ruffle his feathers after a face-down with Voldemort, after all? - had become something of a point of contention. "I think."
"You think?" Ron grimaced. "Black cloaks. Masks. Don't like you. What else would it be."
"It's all a bit fuzzy, to be honest," Harry said, scratching the back of his head and dislodging a few bandages. Hermione couldn't fight the instinct to tut at him and move forward, carefully putting them back in place and slapping away the hand that would move them. "The bastards broke my favourite mug."
"Your tea mug." Ron rolled his eyes. "Merlin's beard, Harry, a near-death experience, and..."
"Ginny said you wanted to talk to us both," Hermione said abruptly, cutting into Ron's tirade before he could get going. Even if she did happen to agree with him.
"Oh. Yes." Harry put the glass down stiffly. "I think they could have killed me. No, I'm positive they could have. Four of them busting through the front wall - Ginny's going to go spare over that once she stops worrying about me - and taking me by surprise just as I'd sat down with the evening paper. I barely had time to get a couple of spells off before they jumped me."
Despite herself, Hermione's gaze flickered to Ron, to find her looking at him. There was a split second where they were in that familiar moment of joint concern, of worry about how their best friend's life was perpetually dangerous and yet there was nothing they could do about it, and nothing they could say - a concern where they looked to the other to know that they, too, shared it, and were reassured by that knowledge, at least.It was a habit of ten years, this silent point of contact.
But it couldn't last, and Hermione found her gaze dropping guiltily within a moment, and returning to Harry - though she could still feel Ron's eyes burning on her.
"Didn't you have wards?" she asked quietly, for it was the only thing she could think to say.
Harry gave a lopsided grimace. "I think we got a bit sloppy with how quiet it's been for the last year; Ginny and I never got in the same routines at her house as you and I did at the flat." He nodded to Ron, who grimaced.
"You know, I still check under the doormat every day for some pressure-triggered hanging curse," he muttered, but with obvious growing relief that the situation was not fatal.
There was a brief grin from Harry, before he sobered. "I wasn't knocked out immediately," he said, "and so I saw them tearing through the house. They ransacked the place completely, but they were obviously looking for something." He raised a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, looking pale. "And I think they found it. One of you can check if they got it... but they were looking for Slytherin's locket."
Ron's jaw dropped. "Why would they want that?"
Harry shrugged. "Beats me. Unless some crackpot thinks there's a tiny remain of Voldemort in there - which there isn't, it's just an ugly locket - the thing has no value."
Hermione straightened up, frowning. "There's historical and cultural value..."
She was cut off by Ron's snort. "Yeah, I'm sure the Remnant wanted to raid Harry Potter's house so they could get something for their Museum of Evil."
She turned on him sharply, hands on her hips. "I'm not actually suggesting that, Ron - but I don't see you coming up with any answers!"
"Alright, here's one: They're crazy. Next?"
Harry's voice was weak from his injuries, but there was still enough genuine frustration - and was that sadness? - in there to break through the familiar haze of frustration which came from an argument with Ron. Guiltily, she turned back, expression dropping. "I'm sorry, Harry. What do you think?"
"I don't know," Harry admitted quietly, gaze flickering between the two of them a little warily. "But it's so odd it needs to be looked in to. And someone who knows anything about the locket is someone I don't want running around while we're in the dark."
Ron scratched the back of his neck, and Hermione watched him cautiously. She knew that look - he was weighing up whether or not to say something. "When I went in to Hogwarts on Monday," he began cautiously, and for some reason was looking at her, rather than Harry. "I spoke to Professor McGonagall. The Sorting Hat's been nicked."
Hermione raised an eyebrow, and noted Harry looked unsurprised. "The Sorting Hat."
"Nicked," Ron repeated helpfully.
"I got that." She drew a deep breath. "Why would anyone steal the Sorting Hat?"
"Dunno. Why would anyone steal Slytherin's locket?" Ron pointed out.
"Do you think the two are linked?" This was Harry, sitting up and looking across at Ron.
"It's not one of the relics," Ron said. "Those are completely different sorts of magic..."
"But they do have a serious connection to Hogwarts, and to the Founders."
Hermione watched them with that dim hint of jealousy which had set in after the war. It wasn't a deep, nagging sensation, wasn't anything to overrule her, but the fact would always be that they were Aurors and partners, and she was not. The press-labelled Golden Trio was over, but the amazing adventures of Harry and Ron would remain while she sat in an office.
Times like this, as they threw ideas quickly back and forth, reminded her of why they worked well together. And that, as they'd grown older and wiser - well, just older, for Ron - they didn't need her common sense quite as extremely as before.
Or they wouldn't blunder into death without her, at least.
Unfortunately, the only thing she could think to contribute at that time was a very important but nevertheless petulant question. Even more unfortunately, she said it, looking at Ron with a hint of accusation. "Why didn't you tell me before?"
He blinked, straightening up, and guilt tugged at his expression. "I was going to," he said evasively.
"Tomorrow, to be honest. I had other avenues to pursue first." Ron straightened up with a hint of defensiveness - then sighed and sagged almost immediately. "It's a really weird situation, and I could really do with your help... I mean, you know more about the Hat than most."
It sounded like it had hurt to say that. Good.
Harry spoke quickly, partly with satisfaction of a decision made, partly to interrupt the potential conflict. "The Aurors will be all over the attack; if there are any leads, they'll find them. So if I talk to them and stay abreast of the situation there, and you two look into the Hat to see if it's linked - and if not, it's bloody weird - and we'll figure out where to go next when we know more?"
Ron nodded curtly, gaze still on Hermione. "Bright and early tomorrow at Hogwarts, then, to take a look around McGonagall's office?" He spoke quietly, sounding like he was dreading this. In all honesty, so was she.
Hermione drew a deep breath. "Alright," she said quietly. "I'll dig up my research notes on the Hat. And then you can explain this oddity to me."
"Good." Harry waved a hand at them curtly, with all the imperious decisiveness of a Roman Emperor. Perhaps the painkillers were getting to him. "Now get out of here. I want to talk to my fiancée and sleep."
His voice was one which would brook no opposition, so they just mumbled their best wishes and their goodbyes and slunk back out into the ward, Hermione giving him as big a hug as she dared, Ron slapping him on the shoulder as hard as he dared.
Outside, no more family members had arrived, and the Aurors remained in the doorway - but Ginny stood with a cup of coffee, talking to the tall, lanky form of Malcolm Trevelyan, who held two mugs of his own.
They looked up at the rustle of the curtain, and Ginny smiled a slightly less strained and pale smile. "Hermione! Your friend was being accosted by the Aurors for lurking at the door, so I told him to come in."
"I bribed her with coffee," Trevelyan said with a smirk and a wink. "Milk and two, right?" This was punctuated by the extending of his spare mug towards her.
Despite not thinking she could eat or drink anything right now, Hermione took it with gratitude for the gesture, and the plain warmth of just cupping her hands around the mug. Nevertheless, she felt Ron bristle beside her as he looked the Unspeakable up and down.
"Thank you. Oh, uh, Ron, this is Malcolm Trevelyan, from the Department of Mysteries. We've been working together lately. Malcolm, this is..."
"Ron Weasley. Of course. You need no introduction." Trevelyan's manner was brisk and polite, and he stepped forward for a handshake.
Ron stared at the extended hand for a moment, before grasping it curtly, and giving a short nod. "Pleasure," he grunted, sounding about as insincere as he could get.
Trevelyan's expression didn't flicker, and he glanced across at them. "Mister Potter is well, I hope?"
"He'll be fine," Ron said brusquely, and a brief, awkward pause followed the rather closed statement.
"Good." Trevelyan drained his mug of coffee. "I'll be off, then, I don't want to intrude on a friends and family affair. I just didn't want to disappear without saying goodbye." He looked at Hermione as he said this.
She glanced at the other two. Ginny just looked too worn and tired to care about the tension, but Ron was standing with his arms folded across his chest, wearing that special, territorial glare she had only occasionally found endearing and usually found annoying. He also looked like he had no intention of going anywhere.
Hermione sighed, and suppressed a yawn. "Actually, I'd better be off, too," she said. "It looks like it's going to be a long day tomorrow, and I've not been getting much sleep lately." She threw Ginny an apologetic glance, knowing that staying here with Ron was as much of a motivating factor for leaving as the reasons given, but the other woman just waved a hand dismissively.
"Get some sleep. I'll let you know how he is," Ginny said firmly. They hugged briefly, before Ginny gave Trevelyan a polite nod and headed for Harry's curtained bed.
Hermione turned to Ron a little stiffly. "Well," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow morning."
Ron tried for a smile, which failed and looked more like a grimace. "Tomorrow," he confirmed with a nod, then turned away without giving Trevelyan another glance.
The two of them left the ward silently, Trevelyan's expression not suggesting he was remotely put out by Ron's manner. The Aurors bristled less at them on the way out, and they'd been upstairs so long that this particular pocket of activity about Saint Mungo's was over, leaving them a quieter hospital to escape from.
They didn't speak until they reached the main street, the cool evening air quite a shock against the warmth of the hospital, and Trevelyan turned to her. "So we'll be resuming work on Monday? Like normal people?"
It was a loaded question. There had been the unspoken assumption they would push on with the project through the weekend, but he had to have heard her agreement to meet Ron the next day. It was perhaps the politest way of asking what was going on.
Nevertheless, their project was important - she assumed.
"Ron wants me to help him with something going on at Hogwarts tomorrow," Hermione explained apologetically, and his expression flickered ever so slightly. "Let's make it Sunday, so we can get our game plan ready in time to book meetings and contact the unions on Monday?"
Trevelyan nodded, expression clearing with a hint of relief. He fell silent as a small group of battered and bruised amateur Quidditch players stumbled out of the doorway and ambled down the street towards the alleyway perfect for apparition, then straightened. "Sunday it is. I don't think we get paid overtime."
His smile was forced, but sincere, and she found herself returning it as they hovered about on the pavement. "It's important." There was another beat, and she drew a deep breath. "Right, then. I should be off."
"Oh." Trevelyan nodded. "Of course. So should I." He hesitated, and so did she, until he cleared his throat. "Good night, then."
Hermione gave a nervous smile. "Good night." Then she turned to go.
"Dinner," he said abruptly once she'd taken a couple of steps away, and she paused, looking over her shoulder at him with a hint of confusion.
Trevelyan grimaced, and cleared his throat. "After we've done all the planning, on Sunday, how about dinner? I mean, Chinese takeout is a bit of a poor show, so I'm pretty sure I can do something better..."
His voice trailed off, and he just stood there for a long moment, forlorn in the gloom, suddenly not quite so imposing a figure as he normally cut with his height and his black robes.
She smiled the first genuine smile of the evening, a not-unpleasant lurch in her stomach fighting the twist of worry in the gut, and winning. "That would be nice," she said sincerely. "When we're done."
Trevelyan nodded, expression clearing with obvious relief. "Of course. Job first." He managed a smirk, then sobered a little and nodded again. "Good night, Hermione."
"Good night, Malcolm." Then she turned and headed down the street, a whirling maelstrom of worry for Harry, the complicated excitement of a dinner invitation, and, ever marching in the background, the foreboding presence of those uncertain emotions that surrounded the memory of Ron's face, and the prospect of working with him tomorrow.