A long wait for this - rather short - chapter, and I apologise for that.
But, life just happens and I couldn't find the time and I wasn't in the right mind to write this thing out. I had this idea for another story in another fandom and I worked on that to have something different to work on. And it worked, I wrote this chapter yesterday and I already have the main things written down for the remaining chapters. So I promise you won't have to wait this long again for the ending of this story.
A big thank you to my beta-reader ObsessedRHShipper, have a really nice vacation!
This chapter is more of a filler chapter, to get to one of the main events of this story next time!
It was quiet when Ron and Auror Brown arrived at Ottery St Catchpole.
They had left the Auror Department in a hurry, all too eager to come down here and start looking for Rookwood and, if needed, Hermione.
Come to think of it, he probably should've gone to the Burrow first to check if Hermione was there. Then he wouldn't have to worry about her safety. Now he didn't know where she was or if she was okay. But time was of the essence right now and if Rookwood was in the village, then Hermione wasn't his first priority. Rookwood was on the run for far too long, they got a chance now to end this once and for all and he was damn sure to take it this time.
He signaled towards Brown to follow him. Brown raised an eyebrow at this, since the normal procedure for sweeping a location was to split up and work towards one another. Ron noticed and whispered, "Stay with me, Brown. Rookwood is too strong to take on your own. As long as the enforcements aren't here, we stay together."
Brown nodded and with their wands drawn, but still hidden from plain sight – they were in a muggle village after all – they went on their way.
It was late in the afternoon, it was cloudy and it looked like it could start to rain any minute, so most of the villagers were in their homes, which made it easier for them to look around. When they arrived at the location where the potions master was, Ron was tempted to go in and ask when Hermione had left.
But Brown tapped his shoulder and pointed at the beginning of a dirt road at the end of the street.
"Look!" Brown said, squinting his eyes. "Isn't that Olson talking to… to… Is that Hermione?"
Ron's blood run cold but his face went flaming hot from anger seeing Olson within reach.
Brown was right. There she was, perfectly fine, talking to that scumbag. What the hell was going on?
"We should try to get closer," Ron hissed. They cast a Disillusionment Charm. He could just walk towards them and stupefy the living shit out of Olson, but he wanted to know what they were talking about. Besides, they hadn't seen Rookwood yet. Maybe they were waiting for him and if that was the case he would blow everything up by revealing their presence.
No, Ron shook his head. Hermione wasn't in on this. She couldn't. But why did she let Olson get so close to her? Last time he did that, she had thrown him to the other side of the room. Was it all an act?
He found it really hard to think of Hermione like that, but he had to put his own feelings aside for now.
They paused at the other side of the road, leaving the street as a barrier between them and their suspects. There were some convenient bushes and growing trees they could hide out. Just in time actually, because when they arrived he felt the familiar feeling of the charm wearing off. It gave him chills every time, like someone went with a feather over his spine.
Olson and Hermione were standing uncomfortably close to each other, though Hermione didn't give much of a response to Olson's actions. She didn't flinch when he was just inches away. It was only when Olson started walking in a circle around her that he noticed his wand moving.
Ron couldn't help feeling relieved. Olson must have used the Imperius curse on her, he was mumbling something and a sly smile crept on his face. He was ashamed to even think for one moment that Hermione would work together with her father. They couldn't hear what Olson was whispering but they were close enough to take action if things would escalate. It pained him to see Hermione like that, but he had to wait for Rookwood. He had to.
He didn't have to wait long. Rookwood appeared with a crack, just a couple of feet away from Olson and Hermione. He had been here before, otherwise the Caterwauling charm wouldn't set off. What did he miss? Where did he go?
Rookwood smiled when he noticed Hermione. He grabbed hold of Hermione's arm.
"Good job, Olson," he grinned. "No sign of her guard dog?"
Olson shook his head. That seemed to please Rookwood, his evil grin became more pronounced.
"It won't take long for this town to be overflowing with Aurors. We should be going," Olson said while scanning the street. His eyes went over the bushes, but didn't linger enough to notice the two Aurors.
Ron's thoughts were racing, if he could overpower them now, he would have them both in custody. But he didn't know Brown that well, never had fought along his side so he didn't know what he could expect from him. That was a risk he wasn't willing to take with Hermione. Olson kept moving the whole time, he couldn't get a clear shot in him. His own team wasn't here yet and that bothered him immensely.
"What's the plan?" Brown asked him.
"No plan. We'll wait for the others," Ron answered.
"With all due respect, Weasley, but I think you're letting your personal feelings take the upper hand. If that wasn't Hermione out there, but someone else, you would take the shot without a second thought. I know your reputation. It's a matter of minutes, maybe seconds even, and then they'll be gone. They won't wait for you to show up and save the day. So we're going out there, stun them both and we're done with it," Brown hissed. Ron looked at him. He was right, he was making this personal. Ron started to like this guy, clearly he wasn't afraid to speak his mind.
"You got a point there, mate. Alright, on my signal we move and stun them. You take Olson, I'll take Rookwood."
Brown nodded, satisfied that he's finally getting some action after all the stakeouts.
Ron held his hand up and took a deep breath before he turned around, looked at Brown to make sure he was ready and gave the signal.
They both rushed forward, wands raised and ready to stun both men. Rookwood and Olson were still standing at the exact same spot they were before, Hermione motionless in between them. Olson immediately took Hermione and used her as his shield.
Rookwood started grinning, gripped Hermione's arm even harder, while Olson still got a hold of her.
"Now!" Ron growled. "Stupefy!" Two red beams hurled down the street, but before they could hit their target, Rookwood and Olson disapparated, taking Hermione with them.
"NO!" Ron screamed, followed by a string of very colourful curses. They ran to the dirt road, even though it wouldn't make any difference.
"Fuck!" he shouted again, going through his hair and messing it up in the process.
"Back to the ministry?" Brown suggested. Ron looked up at him, his eyes full of anger. He knew it was his own fault, if he didn't hesitated because of Hermione, it would all be over by now. But no, he had to be soft. He had let his own personal feelings come first. That was never a problem before. And now he had to pay the price.
Back to the ministry… for what? They couldn't do much there either. They were looking for Rookwood for years now without a result. Until now. And he blew it, for Merlin's sake. Wait…
"No. We're not going to the ministry. Come on," he picked up his pace and starting running down the dirt road. Brown quickly followed him.
"Where are we going?" he shouted.
"Burrow," Ron answered.
"You did all this?" Brown whistled as he saw all the notes, maps and stuff lying around on in his room.
"Me and Hermione. A joint investigation, if you will. Help me search for a list with locations," Ron said while starting to look through all the papers himself.
"Hermione made a list of all the places she thought her father could be hiding. It's not much, but it's a start. I'll visit them one by one if I have to."
Brown was the one who found the piece of paper. Hermione had listed four possible hideouts. Ron stared at the list, trying to figure out what the best first choice would be. She had written it in order of probability, but Ron didn't agree with it, the location she thought was the least possible Ron thought to be the most probable.
"That's it!" Ron exclaimed. "Brown, you stay here. Alert Jollins and my team and brief them on what happened. Tell them to go to this location," he pointed at the paper. "Jollins knows where it is, he'll give you the right directions. You can use the Floo downstairs to make the call."
"What about you?" Brown asked.
"I'm heading there right now. This can't wait, Brown. I have to go," Ron pleaded.
Ron ran out the room and went to check on his mum. She was still asleep, courtesy of the Dreamless Sleep Potion, and wouldn't wake for a couple of hours. He hesitated for a moment but then decided to send a Patronus to his brother Bill to notify him that he was away on a mission. Bill would come and check on his mom - one less thing he would have to worry about.
Next, Hermione. He had a feeling she would be at the location he had in mind. She'd better be, he thought, trying to shake the image of Olson's attack on her all those weeks ago. He gripped his wand really tight and turned on the spot, hoping he was not too late.