Chapter 13 : Accommodations
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Hermione had envisioned all sorts of horrific consequences of getting Ron and Trevelyan in the same room and trying to make them cooperate. She’d anticipated Ron’s snide smiles, she’d anticipated Trevelyan reacting tensely, and she’d anticipated Ron at least being able to get down to business in between his swiping attacks. She’d expected from there that they’d push on, but Ron would hold his ground and nitpick his way through every proposal Trevelyan made, rightly or wrongly.
She had never anticipated that they might agree.
“I don’t like this plan,” she said at last, her voice sounding small in Malcolm Trevelyan’s tiny office.
“It’ll work,” said Ron calmly, pushing his chair back and putting his boots up on Trevelyan’s desk.
Trevelyan flinched, but didn’t comment. “Mister Weasley’s right. He’s got something that we don’t: bait. A lure.”
“People aren’t bait,” said Hermione tensely, and she looked straight at Ron. You’re not bait. Instead, she just said, “Besides, Barlowe’s already attacked Harry to get the locket. Do we really think he’s going to attack someone else?”
“I think he’s exactly that foolhardy. Because he knows he can get away with it.” Trevelyan pulled a parchment off the top of a pile on his desk. “I made some enquiries down at the MLE about the Hufflepuff Cup, as discreetly as I could. I don’t have the clearance to let it become public that we used to have it and that it got stolen.”
“Aw, so my tell-all promises to the Daily Prophet will have to go broken?” said Ron provocatively.
Trevelyan ignored him. “You know what I found out? Officially, Barlowe’s working with an MLE Patrol Team who’re investigating Art Thieves and conducting sting operations. Now, I don’t believe, for a second, that this is legitimate, considering we’re talking an MLE Division Barlowe has donated a sizable amount of money to...”
“But he has a scapegoat,” said Ron, now a bit more serious. “He can pick up the relics and say that he didn’t steal them, he bought them - and if anyone questions that he bought them, he was buying them to help the MLE Department on their investigations.” He sounded grudgingly impressed.
“He doesn’t even need to keep them long,” said Trevelyan. “Just long enough to incite public excitement. Then if the MLE need to take them as evidence, people will still remember he had them.”
“This doesn’t make this plan any less terrible,” said Hermione peevishly, “it just means that Barlowe is all the more likely to be dangerous.”
“It means he’s more likely to try something, which makes the plan all the more sensible.”
“Making yourself a target is not sensible, Ron!”
Trevelyan looked between them, then over at Burke, who was stood in the corner with his arms folded across his chest. The older man rolled his eyes. “We can secure up Weasley’s flat,” said Burke. “Apparition warning runes, listening charms. I can have a whole field team on standby to react the moment someone comes bursting in uninvited through the door.”
“Which is still down to human reaction times and could still take several seconds. You know how many seconds it takes to say ‘Avada Kedavra’?” Hermione glared at Ron.
“They didn’t kill Harry,” he said. “They won’t kill me. And they won’t get the sword, either; we wait for them to come for me and it, we jump them, we interrogate them, thank you, good night.”
“And what if something goes wrong?”
Ron looked at her with a mixture of bewilderment and concern. “I don’t remember you being so worried about that before.”
Hermione hesitated. He was right; she disliked pointless risks, but she’d taken plenty of bigger ones in the past. What made this one different?
Then her eyes landed on Burke, and she knew what it was. It wasn’t her plan they’d be using, it wouldn’t be her magical precautions they’d be using. She would be an observer, a bystander, and she wouldn’t even be responsible for the pieces in play.
Hermione could cope with taking risks. She couldn’t cope with taking risks when she hadn’t put the control mechanisms into place. But she could conjure no valid argument which supported her own spells over the expertise of the Department of Mysteries.
“Then if we’re doing this in your flat,” she said, “if we’ll be setting the trap there, you can’t be on your own. I’m going to be there too.”
Ron started, and she thought she saw Trevelyan’s shoulders square, but she didn’t care, and pushed on. “You can’t be there on your own, and I’m sure I can be in there without making it look suspicious! That way, if they do come for you, there’s someone else in the flat to back you up before Burke’s team gets there!”
“I was going to be on the other end of the listening charms,” said Trevelyan quietly, “monitoring the apparition wardings; I thought we could supervise it to make sure nothing slips through -”
“You’d know better about your own security spells than I would,” Hermione said coolly, and though Ron looked stunned, she thought she saw a flash of triumph in his eyes as Trevelyan slouched slightly.
This is not about the two of you, you overgrown schoolboys. This is about life and death.
“I’m a qualified Auror; you know I can take care of myself,” said Ron, though he wasn’t arguing too strenuously.
“I know no such thing,” Hermione said adamantly. “As a qualified Auror you have a partner. Harry’s not here, Harry’s in Saint Mungo’s, and so no, I don’t know you can take care of yourself.”
Then he grinned, and she almost wanted to slap him. Why couldn’t he understand that just because she didn’t want him to be ambushed and murdered alone in his own flat, it didn’t mean anything had changed?
Trevelyan cleared his throat noisily. “So we’ll charm up Mister Weasley’s flat,” he recounted, voice dangerously level. “I’ll observe him and Hermione. Burke will be standing by with a field team. If Barlowe sends people for you, we’ll react and make an arrest.”
“Or, at worse, place a Tracing Charm on them,” said Burke. “Catch them when they hop back to meet Barlowe. That might even be better, if Barlowe’s going to be a wriggly little git about it.”
“It’s a plan.” Ron smirked the smirk he gave when he was getting his own way, then he nodded up at the Sorting Hat on Trevelyan’s shelf, which appeared to be dozing. “And once this is over, you’ll give the Hat back.”
Trevelyan nodded. “Of course. The only reason I don’t want to give it back yet is that this might raise greater suspicion.”
Ron scratched an ear. “Pretty clever, how you did it,” he conceded. “But you do know it was pointless?”
Trevelyan’s shoulders tensed. “Pray tell.”
“Well, you can try to use it all you like to summon the Sword of Gryffindor,” he said. “But there’s one really important bit of the puzzle you were missing: only a True Gryffindor can pull it from the Hat. And usually only in a time of great need.” Ron shrugged. “I know the nuances of Hogwarts might be missed on a guy who didn’t go there, but really, you didn’t do your research.”
Trevelyan didn’t smile. “I was working to find an alumni of Gryffindor House who could be trusted,” he said coldly.
“Let me guess.” Ron jerked a thumb at Burke. “Slytherin? I’m truly shocked.”
Ron stared. “You’re kidding?”
“Good NEWT results are needed to become an Unspeakable. Burke had the highest academic scores in Hogwarts in ten years.”
Tancred Burke squared his muscular shoulders and gave a broad, toothy grin that almost split his craggy face in half as he cracked his knuckles.
“Yes, well,” said Ron. “Your plan still wasn’t working.”
“And now it’s irrelevant,” said Trevelyan, “because you have the sword, and because we have a new plan. Your plan, Mister Weasley, would have probably got you murdered in your bed by Gideon Barlowe’s goons, or at best you’d have woken up with no sword and no leads.”
Hermione stood. “Perhaps we should go see about putting the security measures in place,” she said tersely. “Since we want to get it done before nightfall, especially if Barlowe’s already scoped Ron out.”
Trevelyan frowned, but nodded at Burke, who straightened. “Come on, Weasley,” he said. “I’ll grab my team and we can go to your place and set it all up so Trevelyan can sit pretty at the back and tell us what to do while we risk our necks.”
Ron looked confused, but a desire to score points against Trevelyan clearly won out over lingering distrust of Burke, and he got to his feet happily. “Of course,” he said. “We want to make sure mission control doesn’t miss anything safe at the back.”
Trevelyan watched the two leave his office, and Hermione could see a muscle in the corner of his jaw working away. When the door closed behind them, the Unspeakable set about stacking and putting away papers in an unnecessarily fastidious way she recognised as hiding frustration.
“It’s good he’s coming to work with us,” he said, completely gracelessly.
Hermione felt briefly guilty, and then chided herself for it. They were here to do a job. “Yes,” she said. “We might even be able to get this resolved over the next couple of days in this case.”
“Mmph.” But he just looked forlorn and frustrated and she couldn’t help her own irritation rising in the face of this.
I only agreed to dinner, for Merlin’s sake. “I should go home and pack an overnight bag if I’m going to stay at Ron’s.”
She turned to go, and he stood abruptly, his chair scraping on the floor. “Hold on.”
Hermione did, stopping by the door, tensing with apprehension.
“I’m sorry,” said Trevelyan with a wince. “It was childish of me to get so... worked up about it all. I didn’t want matters to be like this between us. When I asked you to dinner, I genuinely thought that you’d be staying out of this entire mess. But now you’re involved, and now your ex is involved, it’s ridiculous for me to drag anything into the middle of this. We have a job to do.”
She wasn’t accustomed to being apologised to for these kind of displays - or, at least, not before she’d harassed and harangued Ron and pointed out just why they were unhelpful. He usually conceded, but it took a fight to get him to understand. “We do have a job to do,” Hermione said cautiously.
“So, I promise. No more... jealousy. At least not from me. I don’t want you worrying about me and him, or about any issues between us, or about this affecting the job. So that’s all pushed to one side for me. But.” Trevelyan lifted a finger, and she turned to face him. “When this is over, I’m going to try again to ask you out for dinner. When it’s all over.”
Hermione hesitated. “I’m really not thrilled about your Department stalking and attacking me.”
Trevelyan winced, putting his hands in his pockets. “I’m not thrilled, either,” he admitted. “So I’m hoping that our working together can put some of those concerns to rest. And can help us save the day.”
She didn’t know if she should be frustrated or relieved. Much as she’d have liked to just dismiss all emotional conflicts while they worked, that wasn’t going to happen - and deep down, Hermione knew that she’d probably prove to be just as responsible for it as Trevelyan and Ron.
Well, just as responsible as Trevelyan, at least.
It was still going to be there. And this compromise, this expression of remaining interested while accepting that nothing would happen or should happen or need deciding until the situation had gone away, was sensible, was reasonable, and it was even sort of touching that he was being so considerate.
She just wished such gestures weren’t needed in the first place.
“Saving the day isn’t as good a start to a relationship as you might think,” she said, and left.
She loved Ron’s flat. She’d helped him find it, her and Ginny, with the express intention of luring Harry out of Grimmauld Place after the war. The summer had been spent in many places - Australia, the Burrow - with so much to do that so when Auror training had started and she and Ginny had returned to Hogwarts, Grimmauld Place had been the most logical place for Harry and Ron to live. The only place.
And it had been miserable and dark and Ron had hated it, but Harry had been stubborn and anyway, neither one of them had the time to find something better. It had taken weekends away from Hogwarts and a lot of discreet house viewings before they’d found the place.
It was nothing special, in and of itself, but they’d known, all three of them, why Harry hadn’t wanted to leave Grimmauld Place: Sirius. So they’d agreed that not only did they need to find Harry somewhere better, they needed to find him somewhere that could be home. A place where he thought about the future, instead of dwelling on the past.
The little touches had been the thing. Ron had been befuddled when Hermione and Ginny had talked about making the living room feel like the Gryffindor common room without being a replica of it; a couch similar to the kind they’d lounged on for years, similar colours, an impressive, warming fireplace. A kitchen refitted with the same sort of wooden counter-tops as the Burrow, the same little homely touches. The final decision had been to leave the bedroom big and empty, so once he’d seen the whole place and decided it could be home, there was one room where he could do whatever he wanted with it.
Ron had been bewildered, but he’d helped gamely, even if he’d said they were taking it far, far too seriously. But Ginny and Hermione had shushed him, and once they’d rented the place and done it up, they’d finally dragged Harry there as a surprise on a Friday night.
He’d been confused, too, as to why this had needed to be a surprise - of course he was happy to live somewhere other than Grimmauld Place, he just didn’t have the time to find somewhere, and it was great, really great of them to help him out. He’d move in his stuff tomorrow.
And then when they’d first sat down for dinner there he couldn’t stop grinning.
Ron had told her afterwards that she’d gone to more fuss than she’d needed to; Hermione had explained to him how Harry’s subconscious had been successfully convinced to see the flat as home, even if he was on the surface quick to accept it. And then they’d bickered, and then he’d kissed her, and then they’d been a thrilled, helpless pile of limbs on the floor in front of the fireplace, as if they’d never left Hogwarts, as if they’d never wasted so much time...
She’d known Ron had liked the efforts they’d gone to in order to make the place nice. Even if he was too much of a boy to admit it.
They’d talked about moving in together. More or less consistently since she’d left Hogwarts, but she knew Ron was enjoying living with Harry, and peculiarly, she’d enjoyed having her own space. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t spent most nights together anyway, at his flat or hers. When Harry had proposed to Ginny, and they’d started looking at finding their own home, she’d first assumed that Ron wouldn’t be far behind. Not necessarily with a proposal - but at least living together.
Then the fighting had got worse and he’d never asked and then of course she couldn’t suggest it. And she’d spent fewer and fewer nights there, without even realising it, until it was as if they were ghosts...
It had been almost a month now since she’d last been there.
Of course it was a mess.
“When on Earth did you last clean the kitchen?” Hermione demanded, glaring across the flat the moment the door closed behind her and her bag hit the floor.
Ron looked up from the sofa impassively. “Of course this is how it’s happening,” he said, almost to himself. “The first thing you do the moment you’re in the door is clean my kitchen.”
“Correction.” Hermione tossed her hair. “The first thing you do the moment I’m in the door is clean your kitchen.”
He straightened indignantly. “I don’t get why I have to -”
“Because it’s a mess and you know it, Ron. Please don’t go all ‘independent bachelor’ on me and defend your right to live in squalor.”
“When did you become Miss Houseproud?”
She bristled. “I may never give your mother a run for her money, nor do I even want to try, but I don’t think it’s acceptable to live in a flat with a kitchen where the grease could be measured in inches. Is the spare room ready?”
“If by ‘ready’ you mean ‘still completely untouched since Harry left’, sure,” Ron grumbled, getting to his feet.
Because she was right, and he knew it.
She went to make sure there was at least bedding, and not enough dust to make a dust-bunny-army, as he rolled up his sleeves and made for the kitchen.
He’d lied. It hadn’t been untouched. He’d found clean sheets and it looked like he had at least run a few cleaning charms haphazardly around the place - and because she wasn’t normally quite so picky on cleanliness, she couldn’t complain. It was a good effort for Ron.
He’d even left out fresh towels. Hers, ones she’d not got around to retrieving. Cleaned.
She spent as little time in there as she needed to.
When she came out, Ron was emerging from the kitchen. It would still make his mother tut disapprovingly, but Hermione would no longer judge it to be a form of biological warfare in the making.
“I didn’t do the kitchen,” he said a bit stiffly, as if he’d been surprised to see her there, as if everything had briefly flashed to ‘normal’ and he’d not been expecting it, “because I was tidying up the rest of the place.”
Then he pointed at a hefty box on the dining table, next to where he had irreverently left the broken Sword of Gryffindor. “I got your stuff together. Since, you know, you never stopped by to pick it up.”
She looked across at the box, knowing what would be in it without checking. Books, mostly. Hairbrush, toiletries. Not just essentials; creature comforts she’d left here because, why not? She’d be back. It was useful to have them here. It was nice to have them here.
Suddenly her voice was very small when she tried to speak. “Thank you.” She tried to clear her throat. “What now?”
“Now?” Ron shrugged. “Now, we wait.”
She ended up curled up on the armchair, reading one of her books, while he grabbed the paper and a few Quidditch magazines and devotedly stayed on the sofa. It was like a mockery of a normal evening together; doing nothing, relaxing, the fireplace crackling as the night drew on - but keeping their distance. Intently, intently aware of the feet between them that might as well have been an impassable chasm.
Hermione glanced up once, broken from her reverie of reading, and for a few seconds it was as if nothing had changed, like everything was as it should be - and then she saw him stiffen as she moved, saw how intently, intently aware he was of her presence and how awkward it made him, and she sighed.
“How come you’ve not been in work?” she said gently, desperate to ease the tension. They’d been friends for so long. Why did this have to be difficult?
She knew it was a stupid question.
He winced, probably anticipating an attack - because now, after so long insisting he couldn’t take time off, even when Harry had taken time off, he wasn’t tied up at the office perpetually. “Vaughn tried to partner me up with Savage,” he said gruffly. “We sort of rebelled. He let me take a few weeks leave; thought I’d be using it to help McGonagall with the Hat.”
“On leave ‘til the wedding?”
He shook his head. “On leave ‘til the new batch of trainees come in. Vaughn wants me to help out with some of the courses.”
“That sounds promising.”
“Yeah, I’ve not done it before. And I don’t need Harry for it. It’s a pretty big display of faith from Vaughn that he thinks I’d be good for it.” He gave a flicker of a rueful smile, then just about managed to look up. “How’s the Elf Abuse Bill been going?”
Hermione managed to not flinch at the revelation that he remembered not just the bill, but what it was called. “Julius doesn’t need me for it. It’s going to be a stupid, empty gesture to make the Wizengamot feel like they’re progressive without actually upsetting the Pureblood lobbies. I have better things to work on.”
“Like negotiating with Unions on behalf of the DoM.” He managed to make it sound unaccusing.
She winced. “Like you, there was a window in my schedule.”
The last thing she’d expected was for him to laugh at that. But he did - not cruelly, not bitterly. Sincerely, honestly laughed, a little wryly at first, but within moments he was putting his magazine down and bending over with incapacitating belly-laughter.
She felt the corners of her mouth twitch despite herself, even though she didn’t get the joke. His laugh had always been infectious. “What’s so funny?”
“Us,” Ron said, wiping his eyes and trying to sober up. “Look at us. Now I get leave? Now you get the free time to work on other projects. Now.”
Her smile turned sad, though he didn’t see it. “That is rather typical.”
“Do you think fate saw your article and went ‘Now. Now I will give them a break’?” He snorted. “Wouldn’t surprise me.”
She looked back down at her book. “At least you can laugh about it.”
She hadn’t meant for it to be a snippy comment, but it did wipe the smile off his face. He seemed worried, though, more than angry, and his shoulders slumped. “Yeah. Well. Gotta laugh at something, really.” He stayed silent, and she stared at her book without reading a single word, and he finally cleared his throat. “Was I really so oblivious?” he asked quietly. “That I didn’t get it until it was literally in black and white?”
Hermione tensed. “It wasn’t like I engineered it,” she said guiltily. “But we’d not spent the night at one of our places in about a month by then, we’d just had lackluster dinners and rows and... and so many rows, and I was asked the question. What was I supposed to say? Was I supposed to lie? It felt like a joke to call us a relationship.”
He did flinch at that, looking down. “Yeah,” he said gruffly. “Yeah. I - I guess.” He rolled his shoulders. “And now there’s Malcolm. Probably not off the menu now he’s not evil.”
“Good grief, Ron, why does everyone seem to think dinner means we’re practically engaged?”
He’s listening, Hermione, the charms are up, he can hear every word -
“No, I just mean that, you know. He seems smart. Cultured. Sort of nice, if you can look past the whole Unspeakable thing.” It sounded like it was doing him physical harm to be game enough to concede that. “You could do worse.”
Hermione hesitated, then made the judgement that she’d hidden enough from Ron, even if Trevelyan was listening. “If you must know, I think I’d be better off spending some time on my own.”
He seemed to perk up at that, even if he was confused. “Yeah?”
“Come on, Ron, it was you. You think I just fall into something else after that?”
Ron looked up, and she fought to meet his gaze, bright and piercing as it was even in his bewilderment. “What do you mean?”
Her mouth was suddenly dry. “We were us. After all that time, after everything, you don’t just... sweep that away, move on from that, in a matter of weeks.” Months. Years?
It seemed like it was the wrong thing to say, because he stood suddenly, like he always did when there was a sudden surge of emotion and he needed to burn off the excess energy. For a moment it looked like he was going to pace - and then, just as quickly as he’d jerked into action, the action faded, and he planted his hands on the mantelpiece, shoulders tensing, gaze fixed on the fire with his expression out of sight in the shadows.
“Yeah,” he said thickly. “Everything. Giant snakes, and the battle, and seeing Harry dead, and... Malfoy Manor, and... everything. Most people get the defining moments in a relationship when someone bought them something nice for their birthday. Ours come when our lives are in danger.”
Hermione stood, suddenly desperate to say something - and she knew, deep down, it was so he would stop looking quite so dejected. It was still her instinct, when he looked like that, to comfort him. “We had normal defining moments, too -”
“I don’t mean that, I mean how the hell did we throw that away?” He rounded on her, frustrated and passionate but not angry - at least, not at her, and for the first time in the last few days, she didn’t flinch from one of his explosions. Because she shared it. “Being brought together by all that, being... how’d Stubbs put it... forged in fire. How’d we throw that away? When I cast a Patronus by thinking of our first kiss, because that was when the world was ending and you were a bright, blinding light in the middle of it -”
He stopped mid-sentence, as if he’d said too much, and looked back at the fire, shaking his head sadly. “How’d we screw that up?”
She swallowed, struggling for long moments to find her voice, and when she spoke she didn’t even know why it was those words she’d found - but they were the only ones which would come out. “I think of Malfoy Manor. Or, after. Lying outside of Shell Cottage, in so much pain, but knowing it would all be all right because you were holding me...”
The best Patronus memories were the most complicated. Because light was brightest when it was shining into darkness.
Had they lost something when there was no darkness for them to shine against?
Then he straightened again, and suddenly they weren’t standing several feet apart, but he was only inches away, right in front of her, eyes blazing. “What if I said -” Ron faltered, and for a moment she thought he was going to lose his nerve, dismiss to the wind any unspoken words. “What if asked. Asked you to give me another chance, give us another chance, what if I asked...”
And she stared at him, without a single word to give him in response.
It was mostly because, not only was she overawed by that he’d thought it, wanted it, she was overawed by that he’d said it. For so long it had been the unspoken rule between them that neither of them gave ground first, neither of them bore their heart first, conceded blame first, showed vulnerability first, and so in their pride that had been the breeding ground of every fight, the birthplace of their destruction.
He’d broken that rule, thrown himself into the fire first, and though by all the unspoken laws they’d abided by for months this meant he’d lost, all she could feel was an overwhelming, sickening guilt as his courage shamed her.
Almost all. Because there was one other feeling that stole her words, one creeping sensation of the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, her gut twirling in apprehension, her instincts telling her something was wrong - and he could feel it, too, because his voice hadn’t trailed off because he was out of words, but because -
Then the window exploded inwards.
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