Rodolphus briskly brushed the awry strands of hair that had fallen into his face. In a typical, regal stance, he made the first of many rounds throughout the Headquarters. His wand remained at the ready as he traveled down a particularly long hallway, pausing to peer into the first room on his left. Aside from a makeshift desk in the corner and a large bureau, the room was bare. Yardley sat at the desk, writing something with great concentration with a large, white quill.
"Have Yates and Patrick left?" Rodolphus inquired. He didn't bother with knocking on the door that stood slightly ajar, opting to simply walk in, instead.
Yardley turned around, addressing Rodolphus with a nod. "They Apparated to Sheffield quite a few hours ago and they took a few spell books with them. They have several other stops to Apparate to – perhaps six more, before they arrive in Drogheda." He paused for a moment, digging in his pocket to retrieve a small, spherical object. "I've disclosed information about the Protean Charm, as well. When it's safe again, I'll request their return."
Rodolphus nodded, pleased with this information. "What about the others? Have Garner and Khan left as well?"
Yardley shook his head. "They have yet to finish constructing the third antechamber. It still requires spell work to serve our purposes." He returned to his parchment briefly, signing it with a flourish. "I have other news as well, Rodolphus, regarding the Mudblood. Apparently, she's in critical condition, though the Healers have been successful so far in nursing her back to health." Yardley grimaced, as if the mere idea of divulging attention to a Muggle was a sin.
"Are you sure of this, Yardley?"
"I made the rounds myself, two nights ago. Under the pretense of visiting my greatest idol, a Mr. Gilderoy Lockhart." He scoffed blatantly as he retrieved a folded newspaper. "Today's Prophet may be of interest to you."
Without a word, Rodolphus accepted it, sardonically arching an eyebrow as his eyes scanned the headline. "Ministry Continues to Exercise Protocol With Regards to the Highly Anticipated Azkaban Trials." Murmuring to himself, he began to scan the short, embellished article.
Yesterday, in an official statement released by the Ministry of Magic, the public has learned that Azkaban Trials will begin within the next few weeks. Following the defeat of You–Know–Who at the Battle of Hogwarts on the 2nd of May, the Ministry has been efficiently purging its Headquarters of all of those affiliated with his cause. Kingsley Shacklebolt, the recently–named Minister of Shacklebolt, informed the press of the nature of the corrupt Ministry in wake of You–Know–Who's rise to power.
"Aside from the Auror Department, virtually every other department in the Ministry has been infiltrated by Voldemort's followers," Shacklebolt said, when asked about the reliability of the Ministry. "It has come to our attention that quite a few Ministry officials have kept quiet about a majority of offenses with the promise of bribery. However, those concerned for the well–being of the Wizarding World have done a superb job in removing any blackguards. Those who have been accused of any sort of crime are being held in either Azkaban or confined in their homes, depending on the severity of their wrongdoing."
To many wizards and witches of England, the Azkaban Trials will be a long–waited feat of justice. In the last year alone, You–Know–Who and his followers, referred to as Death Eaters, were responsible for the mass murders of several Muggles and Muggle–borns. Alongside these two majorities of people, You–Know–Who also targeted anyone that opposed his doctrine, resulting in the slayings of several Wizarding families. Aside from this atrocity, You–Know–Who also penetrated the magnificent defenses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Scotland, bestowing Severus Snape as the Headmaster and Alecto and Amycus Carrow as professors. There is substantial evidence that suggests that the Carrows repeatedly tortured students, either due to their backgrounds, their affiliations, or out of pure spite.
At the moment, Alecto and Amycus Carrow are being held in custody, along with several other notable Death Eaters. Currently, the Auror Department is scoping the areas – along the borders of England and towards Wales – for anyone linked to You–Know–Who. Kingsley Shacklebolt has also stated that the Department of International Magical Cooperation is negotiating with foreign Ministries to ensure that any guilty parties that have fled to other countries are convicted. Azkaban Trials begin on the 1st of August.
Beneath the article was an elaborate picture of the prison cell. The North Sea surrounding it looked harsh and wild, wearily beating the massive stone building with a fresh torrent of waves. Rodolphus knew, though, that the periodic effort of the water was going to waste completely – the defensive spells and charms that pieced Azkaban together were extraordinary magic; albeit he considered this last thought begrudgingly. Nonetheless, he knew the damned place like the back of his hand. He also knew that the chance of Alecto or Amycus escaping from the cell was dismally small; while they were exceedingly cruel, their magical abilities as a whole were another matter entirely.
"No matter," Yardley said, as if reading Rodolphus' mind. "Jugson has been successful in recruiting a Scottish coven of some sorts – although they are wizards, rather than witches. Travers has accomplished something similar in Bulgaria, as well."
Rodolphus merely inclined his head stoically, stroking the pad of his thumb along his chin. If such news regarding the Death Eaters had already made it to the newspapers, then it would be very hard to round up a majority of the remaining loyal, followers. The ones that made up Voldemort's inner–circle; that was what he needed. The obvious choice to call upon would be Lucius Malfoy, and Rodolphus had tried to do so. His attempts at communication were not successful at all. In fact, several sources had confirmed that Lucius was being repeatedly cornered by the Ministry. For the sake of his family's reputation, he was pulling away from the cause entirely.
Rodolphus sneered. If he gave a damn about his family's reputation, he would swallow his arrogance and join ranks. With a grim smile, he decided that witnessing the hollow look on Lucius' face when he triumphantly rampaged all of England would be quite marvelous. He didn't need the posh, frilly bastard.
"I'll have to be more careful around the Ministry," Yardley commented off–handedly. "Nobody can afford to do a shoddy job in that place anymore without the threat of getting chucked into Azkaban..."
Rodolphus' only response was an odd cough in his throat. "Of course they can't do a shoddy job, Yardley." He said this as if it was quite obvious. "After all, they'll be receiving the heaviest brunt of the blow when we're through with them."
"You've done a great job of cleaning up the shop," Lee remarked. His eyes wandered along the shelved walls, and he sniffed appraisingly at the fresh spell of paint. "Seriously, mate. You'd think this place would look like absolute shite."
"Thanks, Lee," George responded dryly, carelessly dropping a bulky–looking cardboard box at the front desk. "Well, I did have a bit of help, actually. I guess Ickle Ronniekins has a bit of free time, now that he doesn't have a girlfriend to snog round the clock."
"Is Hermione doing okay, then?" Lee asked, placing another box onto the floor with a resounding thud.
George shrugged. "Better than most, I suspect. The Healers are doing a brilliant job, though, as far as I'm concerned. It's already been at least a week since we first visited her. Most of the time, she's drifting in and out of sleep, but she's capable of practically everything. Even boring us to tears with her S.P.E.W. propaganda." He smiled fondly, tossing a pair of robes to Lee.
Lee shrugged on the garish–colored robes rather quickly. "So, when do you plan on reopening the shop?" With his wand, he skillfully unsealed a box, removing several pouches of Potions ingredients.
"I dunno..." He scratched his chin. On cue, he walked towards the wall behind the front desk, flipping through a hastily hung calendar. "I reckon the eighth of August is good," George muttered, tracing an X onto the appropriate square. "What do you think?"
"I think it's absolutely barmy that you own a calendar, mate," Lee said, chuckling jovially. He heartily clapped George on the back, glad to see his friend adjusting to his life once more. Although it often meant cracking a joke at every possible moment, Lee was simply happy to see things reverting back to the way they used to be. "So you think three weeks is enough time to make all of the merchandise?"
George grimaced. "It's going to be tough, but I think we'll have everything under control. We already have all of the necessary ingredients, and Fred always did a good job of stowing away our instructions neatly in the back room."
"And you never thanked me for that, brother," Fred said lazily, clucking his tongue patronizingly.
George grinned brightly – so much that the sensation stung his face. "True, but I did always turn a blind eye when you brought some bird up to our flat to rendezvous. You're lucky I'm decent at tuning people out cos you usually didn't have the brains to perform a Silencing Charm half the time."
The young man in the portrait smiled nostalgically. "Remember that one girl from Cornwall? She had absolutely fantastic hands..."
"Oi! I don't need to hear about the notches in your bedpost!"
Fred leered good–naturedly at Lee. "He's just jealous that the dashing, charismatic twin caught up with her first." Suddenly, his expression became slightly solemn. "Have you talked to Alicia yet, George?"
"Alicia?" Lee's eyebrows shot up. "Well, this ought to be interesting."
George blushed. "Not yet," he grunted heavily, busying himself with a parcel of what appeared to be something green and slimy. "Why would I talk to her anyway? I haven't got much to say."
"Yeah, 'cept that you're absolutely mad about her," Fred said with a snort. "Get on it, mate! If Oliver could get his arse out of a Quidditch Pitch long enough to make the moves on Katie, then you can certainly tell Alicia how you feel about her."
Lee let out a low whistle. "I had no idea that you fancied Alicia, mate. Last time she wrote to me, she mentioned something about settling in London and dumping her prick of a boyfriend."
George perked up at this. "She had a boyfriend?"
Lee nodded. "Met him at the Three Broomsticks, or something. I bumped into them once at an apothecary a while back. I didn't like him at all. He was incredibly possessive of her and nearly pissed himself at the sight of her talking to another bloke."
George frowned. Unfortunately enough, he could imagine his old friend from school being pushed around. She was always incredibly mellow and willing to compromise, though too much of any trait was never good. He wasn't surprised that she managed to land an arse of a boyfriend. Though she was strong, she often chose to see the good in people, rather than the blatantly bad.
"I could always write to her and ask her to drop by the shop," Lee offered kindly. "It'll be nice for all of us to catch up again. Merlin knows I haven't seen Angelina in years, either."
"How is Angelina?" Fred asked, smiling fondly. "You making the moves on her yet, Lee?" He grinned devilishly.
"Who, Angelina?" Lee looked repulsed. "No way, mate! She's like my bloody sister, for Pete's sake!"
"Isn't she on her way to becoming a reserve Chaser for the Harpies?" George asked. "I thought I read something about that in the Quidditch Highlights a month ago..."
Lee nodded. "She's thrown herself into Quidditch remarkably quick. Come to think of it, aside from Oliver, she's the only one among us to actually pursue it professionally."
George shrugged. "Don't get me wrong – I loved beating the crud out of Slytherins. It just wasn't something I could imagine myself doing for the rest of my life."
Fred smirked. "You'd be surprised at the birds you get flocking after you, Lee, when you own a joke shop.'Course, it seems like the only bird who George wants isn't falling for our swagger..."
George glanced up at the portrait of his brother, with a vial in his hand. The liquid in it bubbled furiously. "Don't make me chuck this at you, mate."
Fred merely smiled good–naturedly. "If I were you, brother, I'd be paying a bit more attention to Katie. Although I can't blame you. Who could resist this pretty face?"
Lee and George simultaneously rolled their eyes, before dissolving into hearty laughter. It was good, George mused, to be back.
Ron walked briskly down the corridor of St. Mungo's, bearing a hastily–taped package. The Healers there had gotten used to his frequent visits – especially one in particular, Ron thought with a grimace as he remembered Madison. She was a particularly clingy Healer–in–training, and was notorious for laying it on thick whenever a remotely decent–looking bloke came by Mungo's. In fact, she had taken to doing obscure and irrelevant tasks near Hermione's ward during visiting hours – even though she was supposed to be shadowing a Healer on a completely different floor.
At least Hermione hasn't noticed, he mused. They had never discussed the situation with Lavender – and with good reason, too. Ron could only imagine Hermione's reaction towards their "relationship" and taunting displays of affection. If five minutes at a ball and a sketchy correspondence with Viktor Krum (Vicky, he thought vehemently) could set him off, he was slightly afraid to witness her own temper tantrum. Balancing his package in one hand, he maneuvered the door handle to Hermione's ward open and kicked it carelessly so that it closed behind him.
"Oh Ron," Hermione began to chide. "That was completely rude!"
Ron rolled his eyes affectionately, albeit discreetly. "Would you like me to go apologize to the door, Hermione?"
She huffed, and rolled her eyes as well – though she made no efforts to hide it. "Or to the janitor who will no doubt have to clean up that scuff mark you must have left."
"I'll owl him an apology letter," Ron said sarcastically, before he perched himself on the edge of her bed. "You feeling alright?"
"Loads better," she responded. "I'm going to have to do a bit of exercise each day with one of the Healers, though. I think I'll be getting massaged as well. Something about getting my muscles used to activity."
"Massaged?" Ron frowned. "Some bloke's going to put his hands all over you?"
"Yes, Ronald," Hermione answered sarcastically. "It's going to be a complete shag fest in here." When he didn't respond right away, she sighed. "At least I don't have Madison trailing after me like some sick puppy..."
Ron's eyebrows rose. "You've noticed?"
"Of course! It was the same exact look I gave you back when we went to Hogwarts. Albeit it was behind a rather impressive–looking book, mind you. And I definitely didn't make it that obvious."
Ron looking up the ceiling miserably. "Oh Merlin, why didn't I ask you out sooner?"
Hermione grinned. "Actually, you didn't. Not appropriately, at least. I was the one who made the first move, remember? Does a kiss ring any bells?"
Ron smiled fondly at her. "Well, I reckon I'll have to make the move now to compensate for that, eh?"
She sucked in her breath at his blatantly flirty banter. "I suppose..." Swiftly cut off by his soft lips pressed urgently to hers, she swung an arm around his shoulders so that her hand rested on the nape of his neck. Hermione tangled her fingers in his hair, marveling at the soft locks.
When he pulled away from her slowly, she laughed weakly. "Remind me, Ron. Why didn't you lay one on me like that at school?"
"Because I'm a git – although a good–looking one." He flashed a smile in her direction.
She felt that familiar sensation in her stomach; the one that made her knees turn to putty and all coherent thought leave her mind. Shaking her head, she shoved him playfully. "Well, I'd be inclined to agree."
Ron smiled smugly. "If you've been giving me those love–sick looks since First Year, I'm sure you do."
"Hardly since First Year!" she scoffed. "Maybe Fourth Year..."
He dryly arched an eyebrow at her.
"Alright, alright," she said with a jovial laugh. "Third Year, you prat."
"Your favorite prat, you mean," he said, pretending to look offended. "And you'll hardly even think I'm a prat when you see what I've brought you."
Her eyes brightened considerably at the package he had placed on the foot of her bed. "Let's have a look see, shall we?"
Removing the Spello–tape with his wand, he lifted the flaps of the cardboard box and gingerly revealed an orange shirt. Suddenly, his ears became crimson. "I brought you my Chudley Cannons shirt... you know, just in case you ever wanted to wear it..." He tapered off uncertainly.
Surprised at the gesture, she quickly wrapped her arms around him, enveloping him in a tight hug. "It's lovely," she said softly, her breath warm in his ear.
He relaxed somewhat in her embrace, before turning his head to plant a soft kiss on her cheek. The two sat there like that for a moment, before Ron reminded her that he had brought other things.
"Mum insisted that I bring you some food," he said, and removed a carton of Cornish pasties. "I made these myself."
"You cook?" Hermione said incredulously. She glanced at the pasties, looking thoroughly surprised. They were perfectly golden brown, and the edges were crimped. "Since when?"
Ron shrugged. "Dunno. Just took it up with Mum a week or two ago. It's pretty fun. Sort of like Potions, actually, except you don't have some slimy git breathing down your neck the entire time."
Hermione smiled despite herself, setting the pasties aside. "What's this?" she murmured, lifting a book out of the box. The title read The Bell Jar, and beneath it was another book. "You brought me books?" The shock was evident in her voice.
"Harry helped me pick it out," he said, removing the other text. "And I found this book of poetry by the same author, too. Supposedly it's one of the greatest ones known to mankind, or something."
Hermione thumbed through the pages of the novel, still surprised. "Wow," she muttered.
"Do you like it?"
"Well, you've gone from having an emotional range of a teaspoon to that of a teapot, no doubt," she responded. "I'm surprised that you picked Sylvia Plath out of all authors, though."
"The bird at the book shop said that she was a no–fuss kind of gal," Ron said. He nipped at her nose playfully with his thumb. "Kind of like you."
"She also committed suicide," Hermione said mildly. Upon seeing the look on Ron's face, she laughed and gave him a swift kiss. "But I love it all the same. Seriously – The Bell Jar is supposed to be a classic."
Ron let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding in. "There's also this posh, French one." He handed her a massive–looking novel. "Unabridged, just the way you like it."
"Les Misérables?" The shock returned in Hermione's voice. In fact, now it was blatant on her face, as well. "Ron, how did you know?"
Ron shrugged, though he looked pleased with himself. "Don't thank me; thank the bird at the shop!"
She couldn't help but smile bashfully at Ron, who probably didn't even realize the magnitude of his actions. Leaning towards him, she pressed a soft, sensuous kiss to his lips. "I'd rather thank you."
He could see the flecks of gold in her brown eyes, and sucked in a breath at their close proximity. They were in a bleeding bed, for Merlin's sake, and she was looking at him like he was her savior. I rather like that look, he thought to himself, before gently pushing her back towards the propped pillows and leaning tentatively towards her figure. Threading her fingers in his, he kissed her once more. Before he could pull away, she quickly brushed her tongue across the seam of his lips; it happened so fast that for a second he thought he imagined it.
When he finally did pull away, he pressed his forehead against hears, looking at her directly. "I love you, Hermione."
Smiling brightly, she cradled his face in her hands before kissing him once more. "And I love you, Ron. More than you could ever imagine."
The pasties, books, and the t–shirt were tossed aside carelessly. In fact, in that moment, they were completely forgotten. Hermione only had eyes for Ron, as did he for her. Slowly but surely, the seams were no longer unraveling. The pieces were being put back together, and in the midst of their pure happiness, it seemed that the identity of their attacker was no longer relevant. Nothing could change the fact that, for the time being, Hermione was very much whole and alive and completely mad for him.
Perhaps things would remain that way.
A/N: Many apologies for the delayed update! I thought I'd compensate for it by ending this chapter on a happier - albeit ominous - note.
Reviews, of course, are much appreciated.
Also, I realized that a chapter was missing from this story - so that there were 28 chapters, instead of 29. I fixed the problem, however, so if anyone wants to go back and read chapter 4 (not that it's necessary), I believe it's different.