A/N: Sorry for the extended hiatus. My semester in college turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated, which was why I wasn't able to update. But I'm back now and finals are over! Hallelujah!
Thanks to everyone for their reviews, favorites, follows and for reading. Your encouragement keeps me going.
The agents and Harry walked down a narrow street, heavy with foot traffic, toward the Greek Revival building which housed the National Treasury. Both muggles were gawking at their surroundings as they trailed after Potter. Hotch couldn't believe his own eyes. He scanned his surroundings as he walked, swiveling his head to take in every detail. Rossi elbowed Hotch discreetly and nodded towards a hand painted green sign advertising a new shipment of "Dragon's Blood- for all of your potion making needs."
The men exchanged a look somewhere between horror and curiosity.
"Coming?" Harry inquired over his shoulder.
"Right behind you," Rossi said. "So, dragons?"
"What about them?" Potter asked as they mounted the marble steps of the Treasury.
"Do they exist?" Hotch demanded, feeling his heart rate pick up at the thought.
"In our world, yes, in the muggle world, no. We removed them around the 12th century- they were too much of a threat to humans."
"Thank goodness," Rossi mumbled.
They reached the top of the stairs and Harry threw open the doors with a casual snap of his fingers. The action was so nonchalant it almost escaped notice. Aaron gritted his teeth as he acknowledged that for this man, all manner of things beyond belief were effortless. Things like creating a bracelet capable of killing his son. Fear pooled in the seasoned agent's stomach as he entered the bank behind Harry and Rossi. He tried to ignore the pain piercing his chest, a constant companion to the paternal terror he was struggling against. When he thought about Jack he could hardly breathe. Trying to assimilate the idea that magic existed and Hermione was a witch was a task currently beyond him. So, he compartmentalized, as he often did. He'd adjust his world view another time. Right now, he needed to be present and focus on saving his son. Harry had reassured him that Jack was in the best possible hands. That meant the only way he could help was to track down the person with the most information about the threat to his son's life. They would find Lucius Malfoy and Hermione as quickly as possible, he promised himself.
Inside the National Treasury was a flurry of activity. A group of people, presumably wizarding police judging by the badges around their necks, were cloistered near the center of the lobby. Hotch's eyes were drawn to the sheet draped figures at their feet. Casualties, he thought.
Harry made no move to approach as he paused, taking a moment to carefully observe the situation. Hotch turned his gaze to the younger man, observing him properly for the first time. He looked to be in his early thirties, if not a little older. His most prominent feature were his jade green eyes that were so pigmented it was eerie. Hotch had never seen eyes that color before on anything, animal or human. There were fine lines around his eyes and mouth, with a few gray hairs creeping in at his temples.
"Commander Potter," a voice broke in.
Hotch found the source of the voice to be a short, round man that could have passed for Danny DeVito's twin. From his thick glasses, ill-kempt balding hair and prominent double chin he looked the antithesis of a police officer.
"Agents, this is Inspector Hollis of the American Auror Department. He's in charge of the investigation here. Do you have an update for us, sir?"
"This is the work of Hermione Granger. But she had help," Hollis announced. He jerked his thumb towards the left side of the lobby. The group's eyes swung to another sheet draped figure. "You'll never believe who's under there."
Hollis walked them over to the corpse and waved his wand pulling away the cover. An elderly man, significantly over weight, with a white moustache was revealed. He still wore the frames of aviator style eyeglasses that had been broken during whatever events had led to his demise. Rossi and Hotch looked to Harry for any sign of recognition. When he spoke his face was expressionless.
"This is Simon Eaton. He was Treasurer of the United States. Part of his duties were to manage the National Bank."
"This is economic terrorism," Inspector Hollis accused Harry. "Perpetuated by an agent of the British government!"
"She was acting on coercion," Potter told him icily.
Hollis didn't back down. "Your country may be in total disarray but the States aren't. Yet, that is. If your war keeps spilling over into our country, we'll ban immigration and put a moratorium on all trade deals with you people!"
"Don't let your personal preferences color our dealings, Hollis. Now what was taken from the vault?"
"Everything. All of the gold in the Treasury is gone."
Hermione was completely numb. The vague sensation of pain danced somewhere on the edges of her consciousness but disorientation stopped her from processing it. She was floating in icy water, she realized after a while. That was the source of her numbness. Sprawled flat on her back, staring up at bright stars, she felt almost peaceful. Rather deliriously she gazed at the night sky, unfettered by the lights and smog of the city, and wondered where she was. How long had she been in the water? Why wasn't she cold? A frigid wave splashed into her face, and with it came awareness. She gasped and then choked as another wave hit her. Black edged around her vision as agony raced through her nervous system.
I have to move. I'm freezing to death, Hermione realized.
The icy temperature of the sea felt like millions of needles piercing her skin. It was so cold. Her heart beat double time in her chest and her mind reeled, unfunctional. A weakness took over her body so that she couldn't move to swim or tread water. Only the saltwater's density was keeping her afloat. Her lungs couldn't take in air, even though she was floating in quiet waters. Breath came to her by short shallow gasps and it felt like the world was closing in around her. This was it. This was how she would die.
Acceptance washed over her and she closed her eyes.
But how will Jack die? A voice in the back of her mind begged the question.
It might be painful and slow. It might not. But for Hotch, it would be devastating.
I can't let that happen, Hermione thought. The thought gave her the will to access the last of her failing strength. And so, with grueling effort, she began to swim.
Jack Hotcher lay in his bedroom slumbering peacefully. His sleep was dreamless, restful, and unnatural. The boy looked pale and his fingernails were turning gray. Every breath he took was a struggle. His body fought for life while his mind was held in a strong sleeping spell that made him completely unaware of the peril he faced.
Seamus Finnegan looked at his watch and mentally counted the hours he had left to work on Jack Hotchner. The answer was too few. He'd spent the past few hours removing more than three dozen spells that protected the bracelet and had finally gotten down to the curse threatening Jack's life. It hadn't been what he'd expected. The curse was dark magic that fed off Jack's life force, keeping itself entwined in the electrical system of his heart. If the curse was removed, the electrical pulses that caused his heart to beat would stop - killing him.
If it wasn't removed, Jack's life force would be eaten away.
Looking down at the boy, Seamus wondered how long that would be. The spell seemed to be on a faster clock than Harry had told him to expect and he couldn't find a way to slow it down. The door to Jack's bedroom swung open and Dean Thomas stepped inside.
"Harry just called for an update. I told him that you'd removed the spells protecting the bracelet and were studying the curse."
"I've studied it," Seamus said grimly.
"This is our worst-case scenario. It's wrapped around his heart so I can't remove it. If I so much as touch it with a counter curse, it will stop the electrical pulses that trigger his heart beat. But if I don't he'll die anyways. The curse is eating away his life force and he doesn't have long left."
Dean's eyes widened. "But we have hours to go. This doesn't make sense."
"The spell is working faster than I thought it would. There's nothing more I can do for him at this stage. This curse has taken too much of a toll on his strength for him to survive the counter curse, if one even existed."
"Do I call Harry?" Dean asked uncertainly.
Seamus weighed the issue. He wanted Harry out there looking for Hermione with all the help he could get. But at the same time, Agent Hotchner had a right to be with his son during his last moments.
"Call Harry. Tell him what's happened and to bring Agent Hotchner here. He should spend whatever time remains with his son."
Without a word, Dean left the room.
Seamus pushed his chair back from the bedside and stood up. His spine cracked when he moved, evidence of the past few hours he'd spent hunched over Jack working on the bracelet. Nervous energy buzzed along his nerves as the Irishman began to pace the length of the room. The question of other remedies for Jack hung in his mind. Could Hermione have saved him? She was a brilliant and talented witch that was capable of almost anything. Maybe she could have thought of a way to remove the curse.
"Dean!" Seamus yelled, storming out of the room.
Dean bolted up the stairs meeting Seamus on the landing in front of Jack's room. "What!? What's happened?"
"I'm going to find Hermione."
"Why? You're supposed to stay with Jack," Dean pointed out.
"Harry is bringing Hotch in. Have him stay and do what he can to stave off the effects of the spell for as long as he can. Potter might be able to strengthen Jack's life force with an attachment spell."
"An attachment spell?" Dean asked blankly, his brow crinkling. "What's that, like a binding spell?"
"No. Binding spells are more literal than attachment spells. A binding spell conjures ropes and such. An attachment spell is different," Seamus explained. "It's done to transfer strength between people by attaching their life forces. Healers used to do it during the dragon pox epidemic to give extremely ill people a better chance at survival. Harry might be able to lend Jack some of his strength and keep him alive until I can get Hermione here."
"What can Hermione do for him?" Dean pointed out.
"If I knew that I'd be doing it myself," Seamus snapped, the stress shortening his temper. "She knows more about magic than anyone I've met besides Dumbledore. I can't let this kid die without knowing that I did everything I could. Just tell Harry about the spell."
With that, Seamus disapparated. He appeared as close as he could to the National Treasury and walked until he reached the building. Briefly he took stock of his surroundings, noting the groups of aurors standing around the entrance of the bank. By federal regulation banks could only have one entrance and one exit, so he was sure Hermione and Lucius had left this way. The U.S. Department of Magical Transportation seriously regulated disapparating within the area around the Capital building. If he'd wanted to disapparate, Lucius would have had to walk at least ten blocks to get away from the anti-apparation wards. Seamus mulled it over in his mind, trying to think like a crazy Death Eater who'd just escaped prison.
Is Lucius still able to apparate intercontinentally? Seamus wondered, thinking about the wizard's time in Azkaban. The place had been a hell hole before the war and after it had grown worse. Currently, it housed two times more inmates than it could handle. The prison had also hired more dementors to guard the prisoners, keeping them weaker and more despondent than ever. There was no way Lucius was strong enough to apparate to England Seamus decided.
If that was so, then the only way for him to get away was to walk. From there Seamus supposed that he could have taken a portkey, but those were restricted due to the increased number of Death Eaters fleeing to the U.S. The government had put taboos on the spell to create portkeys and only issued them to wizards who filled out paper work with the immigration office.
There was no magical way for Lucius to leave.
How would I get out? Seamus wondered. Looking around he thought of all the other methods of magical travel available. There were trains that ran between New York, Washington, and Atlanta. But they had too many passengers for Lucius to go unrecognized. There were always brooms. Flying cars were legal and capable of long distances. But none of those options could make it all the way across the ocean.
He's taking a ship, Seamus realized. It made perfect sense; the docks were only ten blocks from the Treasury, after all. He set off towards the harbor.
When he arrived, he saw there were several ships still in port. Seamus headed towards the modular office that served the docks, electing to start his search in their records. The office lock was a joke and the wards were child's play. Not that there was probably anything inside worth stealing he reflected as he slipped inside the dingy room, which smelled strongly of coffee grounds. Seamus found the ship records for the week and scanned over the list.
At first it looked normal. Passenger ships were listed at the top of the page and cargo ships at the bottom. In the wizarding world, cargo ships only transported explosive material that couldn't be moved by magic. Other items moved by cargo ship included some potion ingredients, certain kinds of dragons, and regulated materials that were subject to strict biosecurity laws. But in general, cargo ships were rare. So rare in fact, that they went by ten-digit international identification numbers instead of names.
The manifest showed that several cruise ships had docked in the week. Four had brought passengers from South America and the others from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. They had no connection to Europe and served reputable companies so he eliminated them as suspects. He investigated the cargo ships next. Most of the companies were ones he'd heard of before. Only one entry stuck out. A cargo ship named "Francesca Dilectus" which was registered at the Port de Calais. That was just across the channel for England, in France. Spitting distance from the Death Eater State, Seamus thought.
The name of the ship bothered him. They'd taught Latin at Hogwarts, but it had been ages ago. He barely remembered any of it.
You know this, Seamus coached himself, trying to jog his memory. The answer danced on the edge of his mind, so close he could almost grab it. Beloved! Dilectus meant beloved. Francesca, Beloved. That was the name of the ship. It was a strange name, Seamus thought. Almost as strange as a cargo ship being named at all. Then it all clicked.
It's not a cargo ship. It's a passenger ship.
The customs agent must have recorded it as a cargo ship without bothering to change the name. So, this was how Hermione was to be smuggled out. Memorizing the slip number, Seamus headed out to the location. He had no plan, but he figured he'd make it up as he went. Aside from being his friend, Hermione was Jack's best shot at life. He rounded the corner and found an empty slip. For a moment, he stood frozen, not knowing what to do. The Francesca Dilectus was gone. Hermione was gone.
Jack's last hope was gone.
A wave a nausea seized his abdomen powerfully. Blood roared in his ears. Hermione was probably dead by now, knowing Lucius. Without her, Jack was as good as dead. He needed to tell Harry to stop the attachment spell before it drained him as well. Feeling bleak, Seamus fumbled in his pocket for the enchanted mirror. He pulled his wand out of the inner pocket of his jacket and lifted it to tap the mirror.
A crack sounded, the tell-tale sign of apparition. Looking up, Seamus gasped, not believing his eyes. Hermione lay crumpled on the docks ten meters in front of him.
"Granger!" he shouted.
A muffled groan met his call. Sprinting towards Hermione, Seamus fell to his knees beside her collapsed figure. "Hermione!" he gasped, flipping her over. She was horribly pale and barely breathing. Immediately he knew she'd been splinched. The Lieutenant jerked off her jacket and stripped her shirt away as well. There was a deep gash on her upper arm where she'd left behind some of the skin and muscle when apparating. He probed the wound and found that it wasn't as bad as he'd feared. With a simple healing spell, he closed the wound. Belatedly, he realized the splinching wasn't the cause of her condition.
Hermione was freezing.
From the salt in her hair and the state of her clothing he could tell that she'd been in the water recently. Seamus worked quickly, applying heating spells to various areas of her body before carefully warming her hands with a milder version of the spell. Her fingers had already turned blue and he was concerned that reheating them too quickly would do more harm than good. Just as he was finishing, she roused, choking up a mouthful of sea water. Wrenching out of his grasp, she spat the offending water from her lungs and slumped over, panting for air in pained gasps. Seamus grabbed her shoulders, steadying her as she propped herself up on her elbows, struggling for breath.
"What… happened?" she rasped out hoarsely, staring at him in confusion.
"You apparated here. Lucius must have thrown you overboard."
Her expression cleared. "Jack." Hermione bolted upright, almost knocking him over.
"Wait," Seamus, said trying to push her back down. "You need to rest for a minute. You're not recovered from the hypothermia or the splinching yet."
"There's no time! Jack only has minutes left!"
"You can't apparate! It might kill you."
"I don't care," Hermione countered fiercely.
"But-" Seamus' protest was cut off by Hermione's glare.
He'd seen this look many times during the past five years he'd been her lieutenant. There was no argument against this expression of determination.
"Alright." He extended his hand to her and she took it firmly. Closing his eyes, Seamus visualized the landing in front of Jack's bedroom. He felt the magic crackle around them and then the constriction around his chest as they were sucked through space. When the world stopped spinning he opened his eyes. Hermione swayed on her feet, looking even paler than she had before.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine," Hermione ground out sounding anything but. She shoved open the door to Jack's room and stepped inside. The boy lay still and hardly breathing in the bed.
Hotch was sitting by Jack's bedside looking utterly distraught. His eyes were bloodshot and rimmed with red. He sat like a statue, staring down at his son without blinking, his jaw clenched in misery. Agent Rossi leaned against Jack's desk in the corner looking almost as rough as Hotch did. Tears were still on the older man's face as he gazed at Jack. Seamus' eyes were drawn to Potter immediately. He sat beside Hotch, looking utterly lifeless. His already pale skin had turned ashen. He'd grasped both of Jack's hands in his and was sitting with his elbows braced on his knees, his head bowed. Even from the opposite side of the room the trembling of his body was visible. Seeing the toll the curse was taking on him was stunning. Fear bloomed in the Irishman's chest as he realized what the effect of his request had been.
Harry was in almost as bad of shape as Jack.
Seamus had seen death before and he could feel it drawing near as he looked at the boy. Hermione moved towards the bed, her feet dragging as she struggled to move on unsteady legs. Rossi raised his head, looking shocked by her sudden arrival. Hermione crossed the room, approaching Harry and Jack. The moment stretched out as silence hung over the room, blanketing the tension with fear.
She reached down and put her hands on top of Harry's, pulling him away from Jack. He collapsed as soon as the connection was broken, toppling out of his chair in utter exhaustion. No one moved. Hotch, Seamus and Rossi watched Hermione in trepidation. Nobody had to ask if she had a plan. It was clear that she did. Her hands grasped Jack's and the white light of pure, unfettered magic appeared between them. The light was extremely bright, brighter than Seamus had ever seen it burn. It flickered for a moment and Hermione grasped Jack's hands tighter, causing the magic to move. It snaked up to his wrist, circling the bracelet. The white light surrounded Jack's wrist once, twice, and then a third time. Magic encased the bracelet. Power crackled in the room so potent it could be heard. Hair on the back of Seamus' neck stood up. He'd never seen Hermione, or anyone for that matter, work with raw magic. This was exceptionally dangerous, for her and for Jack. Perhaps for everyone in the room. The magic moved, pulling the bracelet off Jack's wrist inch by inch. It moved down his hand and over his fingers, up Hermione's hand and then snapped on to her wrist with a sharp pop.
Hermione let go of the magic connecting her to Jack.
The magic burst, fragmenting like shards of glass in a wave of heat and electricity that engulfed the room. Its force hit like an earthquake, shaking the entire house. Hermione was sent flying back from the bed. Seamus fell as the house shuddered and shook, smacking his head on the door frame. Stars danced behind his eyes as he fought his way back to his feet. When his vision cleared, he saw Hermione crumpled on the floor in the middle of the room and Harry lying unconscious by the bed.
"Jack," Hotch breathed reverently, reaching down to brush the hair back from his son's face.
Looking over the boy, Seamus saw why Hotch was stunned. The boy looked a thousand times better than he had just seconds before. Color had returned to his face; his breathing was even and touching his throat Seamus found a strong pulse.
"He's doing much better," the Irishman told Hotch. "Let me get our medic to look him over."
"What about her?" Rossi asked. Hotch and Seamus turned around to see the Italian stooped over Hermione's unconscious form.
The bracelet was flashing with magic, green then blue lights dancing along its cuff.
"Step back," Seamus said, grabbing Rossi by the arm and pulling him away. "That thing is going to go off."
"Do something!" Dave demanded.
"She made her choice," Seamus said. "This was the only way to save Jack."
Hotch looked dismayed as he stared down at Hermione. He never would have asked her to sacrifice herself for his son. All the same, he couldn't stop the rush of gratitude that surged through him.
The door burst open and Anthony Goldstein, Lee Jordan, Terry Boot, and Blaise Zabini rushed in.
"Is everyone okay?" Jordan demanded. His eyes fell to the floor where Harry and Hermione lay.
"That wasn't an earthquake?" Terry ventured, looking at the men's faces.
Before Seamus could explain any further, Hermione's body jerked on the floor. The bracelet flashed the pattern of blue then green in rapid succession and then her body was seized with tremors. The shaking became convulsions as the wizards and agents watched with trepidation. Hermione's body finally stopped seizing after what felt like an eternity. Anthony, their medic crouched beside her.
"Careful," Seamus warned. "The residual magic might be unstable."
Anthony ignored him and checked Hermione's pulse. Apparently finding nothing, he leaned over her body, placing his check just above her mouth.
"She's breathing. Her pulse is barely there."
Beside him Rossi sighed with relief. "She might have survived, but she needs serious medical help," Anthony said. "I don't know if we should move her. The magic is still affecting her."
"The bracelet disintegrated," Lee announced.
Everyone looked at Hermione's wrist. Indeed, there was a burn mark around her wrist where the braided rope had been. Ash clung to her skin and decorated the floor.
Someone mumbled a swear word. Seamus mentally seconded the epitaph.
Harry groaned painfully from behind them. Seamus crouched down and checked him. Anthony crossed to them, taking Harry's pulse and palpating his body for injuries hidden under his clothes.
"Get off me," the raven-haired man snarled, pushing Anthony's hands away.
"Can't do that, sir. You're lucky to be alive right now." The medic waved his wand, doing a spell that made Harry hiss in discomfort. "That should get you back on your feet for now."
Harry grunted, and pulled himself to his feet with what looked like a great deal of effort. Seamus almost reached out to steady him when he faltered, but a hard look from the injured man stopped him. Harry's eyes fell on Hermione. The blood drained from his face.
"What happened?" he demanded harshly. His expression was tormented as he looked down at his best friend. For a moment, he thought she was dead but her hand twitched, her only sign of life.
Seamus answered him.
"She took the bracelet off Jack. The curse went into effect at about midnight, which was earlier than we'd thought. It's possible that her taking it off him triggered the curse. Either way, she saved his life."
"How bad is it?" Harry asked Anthony who was still working on the witch.
"She's critical. Her magic was affected severely and her heart rate is unstable."
"Magic?" Rossi asked the medic.
"Magic keeps us alive. If we don't have the proper amount that our body needs, we'll die," Harry said. "But it is possible to do a transfusion."
"Only if you have a match," Anthony spoke up. "She can't be moved because the curse's magic is still in her body. We would have to do a transfusion on the hospital. It's a dangerous and very rare procedure."
Harry dropped to his knees heavily, grasping Hermione's uninjured hand in his. It felt cold to the touch and reminded him of all the dead he'd touched when digging graves after Hogwarts. A bitter rush of emotion choked him. A lump rose in his throat and he pushed it back, more out of habit than anything else. He couldn't give into grief.
"I'm a match. Transfuse her with my magic."
Anthony was already shaking his head in rejection when Seamus spoke up.
"Sir, you're in no condition-" Seamus said.
"If you don't do it, I will make you regret it." Harry addressed Anthony in a flat voice. His gaze didn't waver from the medic. "I will be your worst enemy for the rest of your natural life if you don't do this. I swear on my mother's grave I will dog your every step and ruin everything you ever try to create. Before you answer me just think about that, Goldstein."
The room was silent as shock reverberated through each person. Harry didn't back down from his threat. He held out his arm for Anthony expectantly. No one moved.
"Do it," Harry snarled. "Now!"
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