"Why, exactly, am I here?" McGonagall picked her way delicately through Thaddeus Stubbs' workshop with an expression of supreme disapproval.
"I was wondering the same thing. Good evening, Minerva." Stubbs was stood at the door to the back room, pulling a shirt over his vest and looking bewildered. "You said you were coming around, Weasley, you didn't mention with company."
"Please, Thaddeus." The Headmistress of Hogwarts waved a dismissive hand. "As if you would have tidied the place on my account."
"It's tidy, Minerva. It's a forge. Everything is exactly where it should be."
"Oh, really? A forge is supposed to look as if a bomb hit it, then?"
This seemed like a better idea back in the middle of Dartmoor. Ron raised his hands. "Um. It's great to see you two catch up. Really, it's great."
"There's very little to catch up on, Mister Weasley. Thaddeus was a valued member of the faculty. Thaddeus left Hogwarts to open up a thoroughly inconsequential workshop. And Thaddeus was not heard from again. The story ends."
Ron looked nervously at Stubbs, who to his surprise was grinning. "I missed tea in the staff rooms, Minerva. I bet Vector can't keep pace with you."
"Professor Vector does not so much as step into the ring. I have to try to nudge a whippersnapper like Professor Halvard in, and he keeps eyeing me like I am about to dock him house points. It's no fun working with people you used to teach." Much to Ron's relief, McGonagall was also giving a slow, unusual smile.
"I got over it."
"Yes, well. I was young when I taught you, Thaddeus. I hadn't quite found my stride. Oh, do go put the kettle on, what has happened to your manners?"
The blacksmith's hearty grin remained, and he ducked into the back while McGonagall looked around and cleared a space on the nearest bench to perch on. Ron stood absently in the middle of the workshop, rubbing the back of his neck. "I should have remembered you two would know each other."
"You could have mentioned it, yes, Mister Weasley," said McGonagall. "Then I would have warned you that you were seeking the aid of the most irresponsible man in Britain."
But she spoke with fondness, and Ron relaxed a little. "He helped me on my first case. And I went to him to ask about the Sorting Hat."
"And not Miss Granger?" McGonagall gave a frustrated sigh. "There are times when we have to put aside our personal feelings and -"
"And I've spoken to her. And I've got what help I can get." Ron lifted a hand. "I'll explain everything shortly."
Stubbs came out a few minutes later with a couple of steaming, chipped mugs of tea. Ron looked at one with a thirsty eye - he hadn't drunk anything since leaving for Dartmoor - but Stubbs just gave one to McGonagall and took a sip from the other himself. "So what do you need us both for, Weasley?"
"We found the sword." Ron unslung his bag from his back. "Though Hermione thought we'd lost it. She has a small army of House Elves out there, did you know that?"
Stubbs looked nonplussed. "What swo-" But his eyes widened as he saw Ron draw out the hilt of Gryffindor's Sword - and he swore loudly when he saw the broken tip. Then he actually blushed. "Sorry, Minerva."
"No, by all means, Thaddeus. Hell's teeth, Ron, what happened?"
Ron tried to get over the shock of McGonagall calling him by his first name, and shrugged. "House Elves. We were followed, and attacked - by some of Hermione's friends down at the Department of Mysteries. They tried to take the sword, one of the Elves broke it rather than let them take it."
"Of course." Stubbs walked forward, reaching to gingerly take the sword. "It could only be done by elves, or perhaps goblins themselves. Or a year's worth of rituals and charms. Dragon's fire itself couldn't do it - hasn't done it, if legend tells correctly."
"Where is Miss Granger?" said McGonagall.
"Home, I assume." Ron shrugged. "She doesn't know. She left after she thought it was gone, and I found it."
"Should she not be informed? She played an integral role in its safety -"
"Professor, the Unspeakables followed us there. And she's the one they've been working with. I, on the other hand, pulled every trick I know to shake off a tail before I came here. These people are dangerous, and they are professionals, and I think it's safest if they don't think Hermione has anything that they want." Ron shrugged. "The best way to make them think that is for her to not have anything they want."
"I don't understand," said Stubbs. "Why would they want this?"
"Someone attacked Harry yesterday evening," said Ron. "We assumed it was Remnant, but they stole Salazar Slytherin's locket. Then this morning there's Gideon Barlowe on the wireless talking about his candidacy as Hogwarts' next Headmaster, and invoking that story about the relics. And about how he's the owner of Hufflepuff's Cup somehow; I know Kingsley sold the things for charitable funds, but that was years ago. Ravenclaw's Diadem is gone, destroyed, and that just leaves the Sword of Godric Gryffindor."
"Which is... no longer in your office?" Stubbs looked no more enlightened.
"It has not sat in my office since shortly after Albus Dumbledore's death," sighed McGonagall. "The one in my possession is a fake, the real one hidden away exactly so nobody could acquire it for their own nefarious purpose."
"I don't know why anyone's going to all of this fuss," said Ron, "but I think it's clear that the Department of Mysteries wants all of the relics. Likely for something to do with the Headmaster's job, and I'd be astonished if they're either not working with Gideon Barlowe, or if he's not their next target."
"And Konstantin's the only other one left in the race," said Stubbs. "It was in the news this morning, too, about how he'd been doing all this research into the relics, into the role they've played." He looked dubiously at McGonagall. "Is there anything in this idea? That the relics actually pick the Master of Hogwarts?"
She wrinkled her nose. "There have been stories in the past of the relics presenting themselves to a suitable candidate. But they are stories, and in all of the stories they have only got there through happenstance and coincidence. Not through murder, theft, and assertive action!"
"But, does it matter?" Ron raised an eyebrow. "People are worried about the future of Hogwarts. They want to see someone who's capable of doing the job; everyone in Britain now knows the story about the person with the relics being destined, or whatever."
"You think that public opinion will fall behind whoever had the money to buy some bits of ancient junk?" said Stubbs sceptically, though his grip on the Sword of Gryffindor was possessive. "You think that this is all one big PR stunt?"
"It's possible," said Ron doggedly. "It's the most important job in the country after the Minister of Magic; some people say it's more important because you're less constrained, you don't have the Ministry to worry about."
"I wish that were the case," sighed McGonagall. "But it is an immensely prestigious role. I never thought anyone's life would be threatened over it, though!"
Stubbs scoffed. "People's lives have been threatened and lost over a pint of beer or a job at the deli counter. You're smarter than that, Minerva; if some lunatic's got it into their heads that the relics are the path to the Headmaster's job, and that the Headmaster's job is the path to power, then you can bet all the galleons in your pocket that they will be prepared to endanger and take lives to get them."
She sighed. "So what can we do?"
"For starters, I wanted to know if it's possible to repair that." Ron nodded at the Sword of Gryffindor, still hanging from Stubbs' absent-minded grip. "It's important. It should be whole, it - it matters."
The three alumni of Gryffindor House all looked at the sword. Stubbs' strong features furrowed. "I'll do what I can, lad," he said gruffly. "But it won't be easy. I don't want to go near the goblins with this."
"Yeah, let's not open that can of worms."
"But all of this aside," said McGonagall, "People have attacked Harry over this, have attacked yourself and Miss Granger. They stole the Sorting Hat, presumably to acquire the sword if they realised the one in my office is a fake. They will keep looking, and they have an agenda."
"If this is about the Headmaster's job," said Ron, "then we have to assume the Department of Mysteries is backing one horse or another. The question is which. Konstantin? Barlowe? Someone else entirely? It's just impossible to tell. And the DoM isn't exactly about to tell us. And they're going to keep looking for the sword."
Stubbs looked dubious. "So you want to wait until they come for the sword, and then they show their hand?"
Ron gave a slow, optimistic grin. "Not quite. I want to draw them out until they come for the sword, and then show their hand to the world."
He raised an eyebrow. "How are you going to do that?"
Ron crossed the space between them, reaching to take the broken Sword of Gryffindor back. He took a moment, hefting the hilt in his hand, marvelling at how the weight somehow had resettled itself. There would never be its equal, he contemplated. The goblins would never allow such a weapon to fall into human hands again, if they could help it.
"How long," he said contemplatively to Stubbs, "were you a Hogwarts Professor, Thaddeus?"
Hermione stopped dead on the steps up to her house, and her hand instinctively came down to her wand. "What," she said, voice shaking a little, "on Earth do you think you're doing here?"
She hadn't been able to identify Malcolm Trevelyan until she was close, but now he rose and stepped out into the street lights. He looked worn, and tired, and was holding both hands openly before him. "I wanted to talk. I heard what happened -"
"Of course you did!" she hissed, letting her wand slide into her hand. "Your office just tried to kill me -"
He lifted a finger. "We did not. We most certainly were not going to kill you."
"Oh, so it's a case of what's a little maiming between friends?" She went to go past him, but he sidestepped, blocking her way up the stairs. "Get out of my way."
"No. You'll have to make a scene to get past me, and that's not what you want - and that's why I'm waiting here, outside, because I can't make a scene in public either. I thought it was better than being already inside when you got home." Trevelyan paused. "That was less creepy in my head."
There was something unpleasant about being her size. It didn't matter that she could blast a wizard twice her weight off his feet, that she could probably bounce Trevelyan around the road like a basketball. He was taller than her, and she had to look up to see his face, and that had a certain intimidating effect. Even if she gritted her teeth and didn't let it cow her, the feeling was still there.
And Hermione Granger detested feeling even in the littlest bit cowed.
"Yes," she said, "and it would have been painful, too, because I would have hexed your nose off. Because your people tried to kill me, did I mention that?"
"You did, and you're wrong, and that's why I'm here. I want to talk, so if I'm out here, you know that's all I can do. Please. Give me a minute." Trevelyan's voice dropped, and his expression creased into what looked like genuine anguish. "Please. I'm sorry."
It was so ridiculous, that he was apologising for his people attacking her that day, but she didn't know what else to do but sigh. "All right. What amazing explanation do you have?"
He pressed his hands together. "I didn't know Burke was having you followed by that House Elf in your office -"
"Brucie?" Her eyebrows raised indignantly. "He was forcing poor Brucie -?"
"Paying! Paying! We have House Elves we hire for this kind of thing, because nobody pays attention to a House Elf and they can see so much." Trevelyan paused. "That doesn't sound any better, either! I swear, I genuinely only wanted your help for the negotiations with the House Elves. And I certainly didn't know he went after you with a full field team until I got into the Department and saw they were out on assignment. But it was too late by then." Trevelyan looked around. "I could explain this so much easier if you'd come with me."
"What, so you can kidnap me and make me disappear?" Hermione scoffed. "How stupid do you think I am?"
"How stupid do you think we are? You're Hermione Granger, best friend of Harry Potter. I don't know how powerful you think the Department of Mysteries are, but we don't have the power of arrest, and if we tried to make you disappear I'm pretty sure someone would notice!" There were still people on the street, so Trevelyan spoke in a low hiss.
"You attacked Harry Potter, in his own home -"
"No, we most certainly did not." Trevelyan lifted a finger. "I'm sorry about today, I really am, and Burke is - I'll get to that, but even though it wasn't supposed to go down like that, he wouldn't have hurt you, not really. And we did not put Harry Potter in hospital. That was not us."
She put her hands on her hips. "Then who was it, then?"
"The people we're trying to stop. This entire affair has been highly classified for so many reasons, and there was never a reason before to bring you in, but there's a reason now. And Burke can go right to hell if he doesn't like it." Trevelyan drew a deep breath. "I know you have no reason to trust me right now. But I swear that I do not mean you, or your friends, any harm. And if you come with me I will explain it all, not just because it's fair, but because you can help."
He extended a hand, gaze apprehensive. "And if you want, I will leave you alone and you'll never hear from me again, and I'll still do everything I can to keep this from hurting your friends."
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "I'd hope that if I wanted you to explain everything before I went anywhere with you, you'd do that. Because that would be fair, considering I have no reason to trust you."
Inexplicably he gave a small, pleased smile, and she knew he'd realised that if she was going to say no, she'd have already done it. "But you want to see for yourself, don't you. The Department."
"I've already been in there."
"Okay. You want to see it without breaking in." His smile broadened.
Ridiculously, she found herself returning it, a little, as if it was sweet he knew so much about her from a research file and not horribly invasive. "That would be a pleasant novelty," Hermione said, and reached out to take his extended hand. "But we can't appa-"
Then he grabbed his wand, and the world twisted and cracked and when they appeared, they were standing in a long, dark, stone corridor. Her breath caught. "Or. Or, we can apparate."
Trevelyan let her hand go to pull a rune from his pocket. "Clearance," he said. "This may come as a surprise to you, but I'm actually more important than Burke. This way."
She followed him as he led her down the corridor. "And yet, he went after me without your knowledge? That doesn't really comfort me as to your authority."
"He's a field agent. I, however, am a Project Leader. That puts us in different divisions, but I'm way up on the scale. He's meant to have been loaned out to me, but he's an old hand," said Trevelyan, leading her through a door into another, nearly-identical corridor. "He has trouble taking orders from someone younger than him, from some desk-jockey, and he has friends in his Department. If he asks for a team for him to go on an Op, some people don't look too closely to see if I signed the necessary paperwork."
"That the DoM works like that is also the world's least reassuring prospect," Hermione grumbled.
"Like I said. They wouldn't have hurt you." Trevelyan stopped, and turned to her. His eyes widened. "They didn't, did they?"
"I would normally be irritated that it's taken you about fifteen minutes to get around to asking if I'm all right, considering I just got attacked by thugs in a cave," said Hermione dryly, "but you're lucky my expectations for basic human empathy have been at an all-time low today."
He had the good grace to look bashful. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I saw the report. I knew you were in one piece, I was just fussing over... I wanted you to listen." He hesitated before a door. "And not hex my face off."
"I could do that."
"I know." Trevelyan looked the door up and down. "Let's start here."
It was a small room, a tidy little workshop with a forge in it, an anvil, and an array of tools lining workbenches and hanging off hooks on the wall. The forge was dead, the room was empty, but none of the equipment could draw the eye.
What drew the eye was what sat on a stone plinth in the middle of the room.
Hermione's breath caught. "That's impossible."
"I say it's not," said Trevelyan, "and I am an expert in these things. Though right now, it's just a pretty bauble. It is, however, reconstructed out of the ash recovered from the wreckage in Hogwarts on May 2nd, 1998. It was my first proper job for the Department."
She stepped forward gingerly, then leant forward to peer at the perfect, delicate diadem. "That looks exactly the same."
"That's the idea." Trevelyan scratched his chin. "The trick is to see if we can string its latent magical energy back together into the weave and form that Ravenclaw's Diadem had before it was destroyed - or, rather, before it was corrupted. And that's magic which just isn't possible for wizards to perform any more, or, at least, not without a lifetime of work. And I was happy to spend a lifetime working on it, but..."
Hermione looked at him, but Trevelyan's gaze was locked on Ravenclaw's Diadem, and there was something genuinely fixated in his eyes, adoring and almost hopeful. If an expression matched a feeling, then it felt rather reminiscent of how she felt when tackling a large, daunting, worthwhile intellectual project.
Like remaking the Hat had been.
"That's hard work," she said. "And I was doing it on a far less damaged item, with far more years of study and understanding surrounding it."
"It's why I brought you in," he said frankly, looking over. "Or, rather, why we wanted the help of the Goblins or the Elves. Only they have the kind of raw, unharnessed magic that wizards wielded a thousand years ago. We'd hoped that, since they'd just be reconstructing what was once there from the pieces, instead of making something from scratch, they'd be able to restore the diadem to even a fraction of its old power." Trevelyan shook his head, and sighed. "Whatever that power might be. Wizards are so limited - we're obsessed with finding everything's function, every exact use for every exact bit of magic. We forget the magic that exists in something being beyond our understanding."
"And yet, you're trying to figure it out anyway," Hermione said, quiet and wry as she went to step beside him.
He rolled a shoulder bashfully. "Only so I can restore it. That was the plan." Trevelyan sighed. "But this project hasn't been going as planned in... quite some time."
"You've not explained much," Hermione prompted. "So this was the project you couldn't tell me about. But this doesn't explain Harry, it doesn't explain Burke, and it doesn't explain the Sorting Hat."
Trevelyan ran his fingers through his hair, and jerked his head towards the door. "Come with me."
She followed as he led her down passageways she could only dimly remember; her recollection of being here years ago was hazy at best, and it looked as if the Department had been rearranged in that time. So rather than look down one corridor and get a flash of an unpleasant recollection she'd rather forget, she focused on Trevelyan, and where he was leading her.
"This was the kind of project I thought I could grow old working on," he was saying. "A budget to restore the Relics of the Hogwarts Founders? That's the sort of work I joined the Department for. And we had success, too, some real success. Of course, the Sword of Gryffindor was beyond our reach, and nobody knew where Slytherin's Locket had gone, but we had the ashes of Ravenclaw's Diadem and, our greatest find - the broken Hufflepuff Cup."
"You found that?"
"It was sold to us by the Ministry itself," said Trevelyan. "And that was more or less intact, physically, so it wasn't nearly so difficult to restore it. Two years' work, perhaps, and from it we developed and discovered all sorts of principles which would prove to hold us in good stead when it came to working on the diadem.
"And it was kind of amusing, because everyone began to get caught up with the succession of the Hogwarts Headmaster, and then the story got out months ago about the relics, but I thought it was silly, you know? People looking for meaning when it's not there."
Trevelyan stopped at a door, though seemed to have no intention of going through it, just turned to face her. His expression darkened. "And then someone broke into the Department, killed two of my researchers, and stole the Cup."
Hermione frowned. "What?"
"That made everything, as you can imagine, all the more serious. We started looking into the candidates for the job, as they'd have a vested interest with these stories going around. And this project got bumped way up on the scale of importance, so I got a better budget. Which meant I got Burke, but it also meant I had the funding to go after the Beings to reconstruct the diadem. I was hoping I might find some answers in its reconstruction as to what the hell's going on, as to why the relics matter." Trevelyan sighed. "And I also began looking into the other relics. Slytherin's Locket was unaccounted for - I assumed it was in Mister Potter's possession, if anywhere, but unfortunately I also assumed that meant it was safe. At the least, I couldn't pursue it."
"So you've been after the sword."
"With the level of magical sophistication we have here in the Department, it wasn't so difficult to learn that the Sword of Gryffindor in Minerva McGonagall's office is a fake. Which meant, if someone was out there looking for the relics and was prepared to kill for them, I had to find the real one. And there has only been one recorded method of finding the Sword of Gryffindor when its whereabouts were unknown."
"The Sorting Hat. But how did you get it? We looked at Hogwarts, we learnt about this... this new ghost in the castle..."
Trevelyan beamed. "You figured that out? I should be upset you were so close on my trail, but I'm really too proud of how I pulled it off. Come on." He opened the door and led her in.
"I know this room -" said Hermione with a start - and stopped.
The stone walls and floor.The ominous feeling tugging at her. The faint whispers at the edge of her hearing.
The stone archway in the centre.
When she found her voice, it sounded like it was coming from a long, long way away. "...here?"
Trevelyan was still smiling, but it seemed more sombre, more aware of the importance of this room. "Here. Did you figure out how a ghost, if they decorporealised with a wand as part of their residual self image, could potentially apparate?"
She nodded mutely, and found herself inadvertently drawing closer to Trevelyan as he padded further into the chamber.
"We have studied the Veil for decades to try to decipher the mystery of death. Unspeakables have lost their whole lives to the pursuit of finding a way to bridge the worlds of the living and the dead. It's not something I... as a rule... have ever wanted much to do with. It's usually not been pretty." Trevelyan was speaking in a whisper now, his words almost lost amongst those hissing and wisping around Hermione's hearing.
"But we figured out some time ago how to use the Veil to render a living wizard, temporarily, into the world of the spirits. Not to pass over - but to live in this world as a shadow, a ghost. It can't be done for long or the wizard will lose themselves there permanently, but it's possible.
"It's one of those... amazing, mind-shattering achievements that we have down here which never reaches the public eye because..." Trevelyan sighed. "Because people would fear it. Because it has no obvious use. But we gather knowledge for knowledge's own sake down here, and this was knowledge."
"That's how you did it," said Hermione, and her voice sounded empty, dusty. She cleared her throat. "You transformed someone into a ghost and had them apparate into Hogwarts. That bypassed the wards. They could get what they wanted, apparate out, and then be restored." She looked at him. "And a ghost was magical enough to interact with the magic of the hat, so they could physically touch it?"
Trevelyan looked almost melancholy. "You know what's weaved into the very fabric of the Hat, physically and magically. Anything that remains in our world of the spirits of the Founders is in that Hat. I was gambling it would be enough to give it a presence on the same sphere of existence as the incorporeal spirits, and it was. Our thief could take it back with them."
Hermione's breath caught. "Are they okay? The ghost, I mean."
He nodded quickly. "They're a professional. We don't do this sort of thing lightly, but when we do, we do it properly. Come on." Trevelyan headed for the door, and she followed him gratefully out of the Room of Death, down the corridor and back towards where the Department felt inexplicably warmer. "Let me get you in my office. There's an old friend there."
They stayed silent for the long walk, though the shadow of the Room of Death did slowly fade from hanging over her. Trevelyan's office was along a corridor of many doors, and with far more Unspeakables wandering that part of the Department. It was where paperwork was done, where meetings were held, where life was as mundane as it was in any part of the Ministry, far beyond truly incredible research and discoveries that had occurred in these halls.
When Trevelyan led her at last through one of the doors, what she first noticed was that it was no bigger than hers. What she noticed next was that she wouldn't have even thought this to be the office of an Unspeakable; it looked much the same as any Ministry official's office anywhere.
The last thing she noticed, sat on the tall bookshelf that lined one of the walls, was the Sorting Hat.
"Trevelyan, you scoundrel; you can keep me locked in the dark all you like, I still won't -"
"I've not been keeping you locked in the dark, I left you in the office and didn't turn the lights on," the Unspeakable said indignantly. "I mean, yes, that is locking you in the dark, but I didn't do it on purpose."
"You are a thief and a hat-napper and I think nothing is beneath you, so -"
Hermione cleared her throat as it looked as if Trevelyan and the Hat would get drawn into this if she didn't stop them. "Hello, Sorting Hat. It's good to see you again."
The Hat's 'face' had always been peculiar to her; for some reason she kept on misreading it, misidentifying what contours and creases made the nose, the eyes, the mouth. She'd even thoughtfully tried to leave a particular tear in the fabric when she'd been helping Vector reconstruct it, so there was an obvious point for it to use as its mouth.
She'd never seen it use it. It seemed to like having it as a ridiculous moustache.
Overall, they'd never got on very well. But the Hat's 'mouth' still twisted into a smile as the creases of eyes fixed on her. "Miss Granger, I am surprised to see -" Then the mouth sterned. "If you have played some part in this most outrageous -"
"I assure you, I only knew you were here some minutes ago."
"Then you must have come to release me; if not, I implore you to do so. This brigand, this wastrel, has most discourteously -"
"He has been like this since I brought him here. So, you see," said Trevelyan in a long-suffering voice as he sat down behind his over-stacked desk, "even if I did engineer the theft of the Sorting Hat, justice was keen to seek me out. In its own way."
"My condemnation could not be more than an ounce of the consequences you deserve, but consequences they are! And so I shall be sure to see you suffer -"
"I assure you, you have indeed been seeing me suffer." Trevelyan scrubbed his face with his hands.
Hermione cocked her head at him. "If he's so insufferable, why do you keep him in your office?"
"Because he's not wrong. I did have him stolen. I can at least not put him in a vault. On the other hand, he has been completely uncooperative in any efforts to retrieve the Sword of Gryffindor, so this entire operation has proven to be more of a headache than anything else."
She frowned and pulled up a chair. "I don't understand. You could have gone to Professor McGonagall, you could have..."
"We could have done many things. But the more people I trust, the greater chance there is of treachery."
Trevelyan clasped his hands together and leant forwards. "My superiors gave me the funding and resources to pursue this issue when the Cup was stolen and my associates murdered - but they could have done more. They did only what they had to; they remain reluctant. I have not been in the Department of Mysteries as long as some, but I have been here long enough to know the power-plays of these corridors."
"Someone is manipulating them?"
"Certainly. Someone has been proactively trying to keep the DoM out of this issue; that I needed to go to another Department over this damned House Elf business myself was evidence of that. I have trusted the people in my team because I have had no choice. Other than that, I have not wanted to involve who I could."
"Professor McGonagall is trustworthy -"
"I do not know Professor McGonagall. I did not have your Hogwarts education." His expression twisted. "So, yes. I stole the Sorting Hat. I wished to use it to acquire the Sword of Gryffindor so whomsoever wants these relics cannot have them. I regret that I have had to act in the shadows, but I have done what is necessary. Whoever took the Cup murdered two of my friends."
Hermione grimaced. "And now Gideon Barlowe has the Cup of Hufflepuff."
"And is set to make a stand as the Headmaster of Hogwarts, right after Harry Potter was attacked." Trevelyan's eyes narrowed. "Am I wrong to wonder if Gideon Barlowe will, over the next few days, proclaim he has purchased Slytherin's Locket from some trader?"
She scowled. "How on Earth could he think to get away with that? As if it would not be supremely suspicious for a stolen item to -"
"Because Gideon Barlowe is rich and Gideon Barlowe is powerful, and rich and powerful people can very often do whatsoever they like." Trevelyan leant back in his chair, his expression blank despite his thunderous words. "I do not know much about the man. But I do know that he has friends and wealth, and he could most certainly place pressure on the Department of Mysteries, and he can most certainly place pressure on the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to discourage them from including him in any investigation they have into these stolen goods. All he needs to do is ignite public opinion sufficiently on his side, and then when the Board of Governors sees fit to appoint a new Headmaster..."
"It might not be him," she pointed out. "There's still Konstantin; he was doing research -"
"It might not be him," Trevelyan agreed. "Which leaves me even more floundering. My plan has been for nothing more than to continue the work I have been doing and to secure the relics. I had two; now I have only one. Barlowe has the Cup, he probably has the Locket, and God knows where the Sword is."
She shook her head. "I don't know. I went to retrieve it myself so I could make sure it didn't fall into the wrong hands."
Trevelyan leant forward. "Then help me. I don't care who's going to be the next Headmaster of Hogwarts; I don't even care that much about the relics, except that some things are important, some things should be preserved. I only took to theft and lies when I realised I had enemies, enemies who were willing to murder to get what they want. And I want to bring them to justice for those murders."
"And they have attacked my friend." Hermione rubbed her temple. "Then again, your people have attacked me."
"I'm sorry," he said again. "If it had been my decision -"
"But it wasn't. And it sounds like you don't make all the decisions here in the Department of Mysteries. So if I help you, am I just walking into the lion's den?"
"We want the same thing. We want to get to the bottom of this, and we want justice. We are on the same side, we should act on the same side."
His words rang true - and so they summoned up blossoming guilt in her stomach. If that logic could convince her to work with Malcolm Trevelyan, then it should also convince her to work with Ron - Ron who had hunted the Sorting Hat for so long, Ron who would continue to hunt the Sorting Hat and didn't even know it was safe, not being used for evil ends.
Assuming she wasn't being lied to. Any more.
Then there was a sharp rap on Trevelyan's door and it flew open before the Unspeakable could answer. Hermione flinched as she saw Burke but, just as McGonagall had when storming into her office that morning, Burke all but ignored them as he went over to the wireless in the corner of Trevelyan's office.
"Miss Granger; I shouldn't be surprised you're here." Burke had an ugly bruise on the side of his face. "Trevelyan, you're a soft git."
"Burke; what are you doing -?"
"Shut up and listen." Burke switched the wireless on; static greeted them until it finally found a voice. It was deep, mellifluous, rough around the edges but imposing and commanding. Hermione didn't recognise it.
"...I was a Hogwarts professor for many years, which is more than any of my rivals they can say. The school was my home. I studied there. I taught there. And it's been depressing to hear all the fighting over what it could be. Forget 'could'. It's already a good place, where kids learn good principles as well as their magic. It should continue to be that."
Trevelyan looked nonplussed. "Who's this? Someone else throwing their hat into the ring?"
"Thaddeus Stubbs. The blacksmith." Burke placed a particular emphasis on the profession. "He's stood in front of his forge right now telling a bunch of journalists and school governors he's applying for the job. And he's not alone."
"Who's -" But Stubbs' voice continued, and Hermione fell silent.
"I think I can do the job. I think I can keep Hogwarts the decent place it's been under Minerva McGonagall, the decent place I remember it being under Albus Dumbledore. No fuss and frills and destiny or any of that rot; I won't hold with it. I don't know what this rubbish is about the relics of the Founders. If the Founders had a plan, had magic to find the right man for the job, it certainly wasn't about collecting all four bits of tat they had lying around. Mister Barlowe would have us think it matters that he's got the Cup of Hufflepuff? Bully for him. I've got the Sword of Gryffindor, because Minerva McGonagall gave it to me to do some repair work on it. I wonder if that makes me special?"
"He's not alone," Burke said quietly, and looked pointedly, bitterly at Hermione, "because your young Mister Weasley's stood next to him up there. And he's carrying the broken Sword of Gryffindor."