Chapter 14 : Complications
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It was curious, Hermione thought, as she soared through the air. There weren't many spells which could cause that kind of an explosion, at least not conducted with ease. They usually took time, preparation, which meant that whoever had done it had the opportunity to stand outside and cast for a couple of minutes, unimpeded.
And that the six individuals who were doubtless their comrades were clambering in through the window, all dark robes and Death Eater masks, hadn't been hit by the explosion spell meant it was quite an impressive feat of precision.
Then she hit the floor, behind the sofa, and the split-second she'd had to thoroughly analyse the situation ended. She pushed away Ron, who had tackled her to the floor. "I was already ducking, you know."
He didn't answer, of course, was just rolling to a kneeling position with wand in hand - then swore and broke cover.
She was up a heartbeat later, though stayed behind the sofa and hurled a curse at the six dark figures in the living room of the flat. "What are you -?"
Curses flew through the air, missing Ron by inches as he darted across the room. He leapt up to skid across the table, wand-hand snatching the edge, other hand grabbing the sword of Gryffindor. He yanked the table up with him as he fell, flipping it over and sending her box of belongings everywhere - but at least he had the sword, and was still in cover.
She had to admit, he'd got better in fights over the past few years. She wouldn't have thought of that.
Hermione set her jaw and threw another Stun.
They were good, these Death Eaters - not that she assumed they actually were Death Eaters, just as she doubted the people who'd attacked Harry were. But nobody questioned it when a Death Eater mask was spotted; everyone assumed it was the Remnant, and moved on. It was actually quite a good cover story. But the Death Eaters had formed up, two of them focusing only on Shield Charms, the other four splitting in half to focus on their now two targets. It was good that she and Ron had also split, so they couldn't focus their fire -
Her mind was clearly choosing to run a mile a minute in analysis, which wasn't especially helpful. The sofa cushion in front of her exploded into a small spray of feathers, and she ducked.
Then the front door was kicked in, and Hermione had never thought she'd be so happy to see Tancred Burke.
Or happy to any of the dark-suited Unspeakables. They came storming in with military precision, the first one through the door throwing up a Shield Charm to cover his three fellows as they poured in behind him.
But this only evened the numbers.
Burke hurled a flurry of hexes at the 'Death Eaters', before hurling himself across the space between the front door and her sofa. He hit the floor beside her with a grunt and came up kneeling. "There's a lot of them," he cursed.
"And not so many of you!"
"Two more of them outside, and two of my guys wrapped up with them." Burke lifted his wand over the sofa and threw a few curses, blind.
"You can't get reinforcements?"
"Thought we weren't trusting the DoM to not be corrupt?"
Hermione gritted her teeth and blocked a spell aimed for Burke's head. "Since they've found us, it doesn't really matter if they're corrupt, does it?"
Their trap had become less of a trap and more of a kill-zone.
Burke didn't answer, and for a few seconds the two of them were locked in a pattern of defence and offense. Ron was mostly hunkered down behind his table, only throwing out curses so the Death Eaters didn't manoeuvre around him, and the bulk of the firepower was coming between the attackers and the Unspeakables.
If I'd found Harry and Ron a smaller flat, this never would have happened. Half of them wouldn't have even fit in here.
"Where's the sword?" growled Burke. "If they get it, this was all for nothing -"
"Ron's got it."
Burke glanced over there. "He's going to need backup." He hunkered down and made some complicated gestures, hidden from view for the Death Eaters, to his team of Unspeakables.
When they moved it was completely unanticipated. One minute Burke was beside her - the next, he was running, and so was one of the Unspeakables, and the other two let loose with a heavy flurry of covering and distracting fire.
Burke dashed across to where Ron was, furthest from the door, and dove behind the dining table. The other Unspeakable skidded across the living room floor and had taken his place, right by Hermione's side.
"We've got to give them cover," the Unspeakable Field Agent said. "Burke means to have Weasley apparate out with the Sword."
Hermione made a face. "That leaves us one man down."
"Don't worry," the Unspeakable said with a smirk. "We're professionals."
Then a Stun hit him in the face and he fell to the floor with a crack.
And like that, the finely-oiled plan went straight to hell. And Hermione realised that perhaps, when their resources had been so stretched that they couldn't bring in outside help, it might not have been the world's best plan to begin with.
Perhaps they were a little too used to snatching success from the jaws of failure. Sometimes, the jaws of failure snapped shut.
The Unspeakables by the door were in the open, and with their numbers down to two, were being forced back. Unable to keep up the Shield Charms, they ducked back around behind the door to use it for cover, though this had a higher chance of keeping them pinned down.
Hermione was doing her utmost to remember her most unpredictable and unusual spells, ones which might force the Death Eaters to step twice as fast in a different direction to block, and for a short time, it worked, if she picked her moment, helped give them a breathing room, and with her pinning them down, Burke and his Unspeakables managed to take down two of the Death Eaters.
Numbers were back on their side.
Then she could smell burning.
That's the couch.
They had, indeed, set fire to her cover, and just before the entire thing burst into merry flames she reeled back, leaping to her feet and throwing up a Shield Charm. Their spells thudded off her protections, but they came fast and furious and retaliating was out of the question as she tried to move for fresh cover.
And the smoke and fire didn't help.
Clearly the plan to get someone to apparate away with the sword had been abandoned in the face of a fierce firefight - and Hermione wouldn't have been too surprised if Ron had outright refused to leave. This couldn't have become more obvious when Ron and Burke ducked behind the table for long, arduous seconds.
Then the table was levitated a couple of inches up and began to move forwards - at the Death Eaters. A steady, mobile point of cover, the move clearly took the Death Eaters by surprise as they tried to change formation to protect themselves, and Ron, clearly the one not doing the Levitating, hurled curses at them.
It looked like it might scatter the Death Eaters, force them to move, and Hermione took advantage of the chaos to move for the nearest point of cover - the scant shelter of a bookshelf. The Unspeakables by the door were hitting them harder as uproar occurred, and for a moment, just a moment, she thought they had them.
Until a Death Eater lifted his wand and suddenly the table wasn't the only piece of levitating furniture. So was the burning sofa.
It was hurled across at Ron and Burke, and the table dropped - and rocked over, no longer on its side, no longer providing cover against the Death Eaters. It quickly became apparent why Burke wasn't casting the levitation any more; he was standing up, big form a tall and burly shield in the way of the moving couch, and shoving Ron out of the way.
Then the flaming mass of debris crashed into him.
It was smouldering more than being a fiery inferno, but it was big and heavy to boot, and both man and furniture fell to the ground. Ron swore, casting hexes to break up and scatter the frame of the sofa so it no longer crushed him, no longer burnt him, but Burke didn't rise.
And then the Death Eaters, closer to them since their charge, were on top of them.
One threw a needless hex at Burke, as if he was going to get up - and then Ron swung his fist in the man's gut. The Death Eater doubled over, but then a second was snatching at the arm which held the sword, and Ron fought back and struggled, and then it was a physical wrestling match -
Then one Death Eater, still with his wits about them, twirled their wand. The fallen Death Eaters were tugged like rag-dolls across the floor, the ones wrestling with Ron kept on wrestling, and then with a crack the air they stood in twisted, warped, and was empty.
They were all gone. Even Ron.
"Burke's going to be okay." Trevelyan stepped into his office and handed Hermione a cup of tea. "He's got some broken bones and some burns, but they've slapped some salves on him and are getting the bones re-knitting and he should be out tomorrow."
"Tomorrow might be too late."
It wasn't that she wasn't relieved Burke would be all right. He'd fought bravely, and she had been forced to identify the difference between him holding back when not wanting to hurt them in Dartmoor, and the determination with which he'd thrown himself at the fake Death Eaters.
But she had more to worry about.
"I know." Trevelyan sipped his tea. "I didn't think they'd take prisoners."
"I don't think they had much of a choice. Or, at least, it was easier." Hermione wrapped her hands around the warm drink, as if it would bring greater comfort to her.
"Maybe you should go home." Trevelyan sat down. "I'm working with the field agents, they're doing apparition tracing on the getaway; we did put the wards up in order to do that kind of thing, but it'll take time -"
"I'm not going home," she said stubbornly, looking up. "And do you really think that we have time? Do you really think they'll have done one lone apparition? They'll have bounced, location to location, and every time they move it gets harder for us to trace them. We weren't counting on needing to chase them magically."
He hesitated. "There's nothing you can do here -"
"I can plan." She set the teacup down uncertainly. "I'm not going home. Not while he's out there. Not when anything could be happening."
It was peculiar. She could be face to face with mortal peril, with or without Ron by her side, and she knew she'd be less terrified than she was in this moment. It wasn't just the uncertainty - it was the lack of control. The sky was falling in, and she wasn't in control.
"What plan?" Trevelyan sounded tense.
"I don't know. Something better. We had this whole scheme, and it fell apart."
"Sometimes plans fail."
"You think I don't know that? You think I need telling that?" Her shoulders set. "If your plans failed, someone missed a project deadline. If my plans failed, Voldemort took over the world."
He got to his feet, moving around the desk, brow now furrowing not in frustration, but concern. "You're freaking out."
"I am -" She stopped. "Maybe a little. But I am allowed."
His hand on her shoulder was tentative, but it was enough to jerk her back to reality, jerk her away from the swirling maelstrom of unhelpful, helpless thoughts that had started to bubble up.
But it still wasn't enough to warm her.
"What happened between you two? If you don't mind me asking." Trevelyan gave a hapless shrug. "From the interview, I thought you two were over, but it seems complicated."
"He's always been a friend and he might be dead -"
"And there's nothing we can do right now."
She knew what he was doing. Trying to get her to talk, to focus on some train of thought, so she wouldn't turn to panic. Hermione didn't like panic; she'd tried it a few times and had decided that she wouldn't do it any more. But to not do it, she needed something to work on, a direction, and right then, she was drawing a blank. Right then, she had to wait.
She didn't like waiting, either.
Trevelyan sighed. "Sorry. It's none of my business. I just imagine it's hard, so many of your friends being his family."
Hermione frowned. "You're know, it's not endearing when you reveal you know facts about me I never told you."
"Hey, this was from the open press. Not a file. I -" He lifted his hands in surrender. "Sorry. Old habits die hard. I do research on someone before I meet them for work so I can..."
"Handle them better?"
He winced. "Set them at ease. I don't seem to be doing a good job of it right now."
Hermione managed a humourless smile, and her shoulders sagged. "It's hard, starting a relationship with someone you've known for years, been through hell with, know inside and out. You'd think it would be easy, but it's not."
And he just stayed silent and let her talk.
"Because you know how to relate to them as a friend. But the rules are different in a relationship. The boundaries move. And if you're learning about someone while you're learning about those boundaries, it's fine, but if you have to get used to new boundaries, it's complicated. A comment you meant to be off-hand becomes serious. A serious statement gets taken as a joke. There's a new balancing act. It's not easy.
"But we figured it out. More or less. Even when he was in Auror training and I was finishing off at Hogwarts, and then on to the Ministry. And I thought, that was it. There was a bit of wondering - how many people meet the person they're going to spend the rest of their life with when they're eleven? How many relationships which last a lifetime start when you're eighteen? But we'd helped stop Voldemort. Maybe we'd earnt a bit of luck."
She smiled ruefully as she sipped her tea. Of course the universe didn't last that way. Maybe, just maybe, some people were just fortunate.
She wasn't sure if she was one of them.
"I don't know what started it. I got more responsibilities at the office. He finished his training and took on more cases. It just took projects to overlap, one or the other of us working late nights and long hours and not making time for one another. He'd always have cases, I'd always have more legislature to draft and unions to help. We needed to make time for one another."
Another evasive sip of tea. "We didn't. And you may have noticed that we don't deal with upsets between the two of us quietly. Normal bickering became hurtful arguments became blazing rows and none of it ever changed. I don't know. I guess... I guess we became stubborn. All it would have taken, I think, was a leap, from one of us. For one of us to say 'You're more important than my work. Here, I've put it to one side. For you.' And do it."
Trevelyan drew a deep, slow breath. "And you didn't."
"Neither one of us. Because if he's so stubborn, why should I be the one to compromise my work?" Hermione cracked a humourless smile. "Isn't that so stupid?"
"Relationships can be like that."
"Stupid? Yes." The humourless smile, worn and weary to begin with, faded. "So we stopped talking to each other. We stopped spending time together. Because it always ended the same way. We weren't a relationship; when we were together, we were like ghosts, and we were so rarely together...
"Two weeks before the interview, I walked out on an argument saying something... angry. I don't even remember my exact words. Something about how his commitments could go to hell and how I didn't want to be a part of them any more. Because I was sick of coming last place. He thought it was another row, I thought it was something more final, the interview happened, we didn't see each other again until Harry was attacked..." She looked down. "And now all this. And now he's gone."
Trevelyan's expression had been closing down as she spoke, and he walked around the desk to sit again. "We'll get him back."
She gave a humourless laugh. "We don't even have a plan. They could have taken him anywhere. They could have killed him already and left him in a ditch, and just brought with them the -"
Then her eyes landed on the bookshelf, and she sprang to her feet. "We're really stupid."
He blinked at the abrupt change of mood. "What?"
But she didn't answer, just walked over to where the Sorting Hat sat on the shelf and snatched it up. "Hat. Hat!"
The Hat moved in that disconcerting way which meant it was rearranging itself to have a face, and it looked like its moustache twitched. "Miss Granger, I am allowed my -"
"I don't care about your sleep." She jerked a thumb at Trevelyan. "You didn't help him, because he kidnapped you, but I made you. You can help me."
The Hat seemed to blink. "Just because you reconstructed me, as a service to the school which helped you acquire your Arithmancy NEWT as I recall, it does not mean I owe -"
"No, but I can unmake you," she snapped, not in the least bit meaning it.
Whether the Hat believed her bluff or just realised this was no laughing matter, its 'face' still grew serious. "What do you require?"
"You have an intrinsic link to the Sword of Gryffindor -"
"Which can only be used when a True Gryffindor requires it, at a time when they display real courage. There is not much cause for courage in the middle of an office! Even if you are, indeed, brave for not running away from this odious rogue."
Trevelyan lifted his head. "Hey..."
"I don't want you to deliver me the Sword of Gryffindor. But a link can be used for lots of different things." Hermione lifted the Hat closer. "Tell me where it is."