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A/N: Hello everyone! I'm so thrilled with all the reviews, the discussion, and the general interest in the story! It seems like the most debate I've ever seen on this site. It's quite flattering. Here is the latest installment to the story. We've had quite a bit of drama/romance so now we are going to get into some action. Thanks for reading and remember, as always, reviews are much appreciated!
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Chapter 19- Game, Set, Match


Salvatore stood watching the May sun peak over the eastern horizon across the vast fields. It was early. The morning’s dew clung to the grass and the air was filled with a cloudy mist. The windows in the living room ran all the way from the floor up to the ceiling. Salvatore gazed out the clear glass windows at the rising sun drinking his morning cappuccino.

He had always been an early riser, a result of his profession. His days had started with the dawn and lasted well into the evenings. Now, at least for the last few months, they were bare and dull. He awoke early due to habit, but had nothing to accomplish.

All that was required of him was to live. That was his purpose. Stay alive. Hide. Don’t die.

The only excitement in his life was looking towards the eastern fields to see if there was a brown haired witch trudging her way up the path. She rarely came though. Her visits were few and far between. But still he could not help his routine, his compulsion to wake and immediately look towards the east for his only permitted visitor.

That morning appeared to be like all the others had been. He awoke alone in the dark, showered, dressed, and made his breakfast. He washed his dishes and then fixed himself a cappuccino. The one request that he had asked before agreeing to live in seclusion was to have plenty of cappuccino. They had granted it, a small consolidation for living in solitary for months on end. It reminded him of home, of Italy.

Because it had been months, long and boring months away from his country. He was alive nonetheless, but he was not living. Instead, he was caught in this God awful purgatory where all he could do was waste away the days until the trial, until he testified.

Salvatore raised his cup and sipped at the hot liquid.

Just as his hand lowered, off in the distance at the far end of the path he caught sight of the young witch that he so seldom spoke to. He felt, more so than saw, the blue light swirl around her as the house’s magic identified and welcomed her. With so little contact with people, Salvatore was growing much more perceptive to the enchantments of the house of which he lived in. He could feel the house’s magic hug tight to Miss Granger. He could feel how it examined her cautiously. And then once it recognized her, as if to say hello, it squeezed her once more for good measure before the protections allowed her to enter. Salvatore’s chest expanded with a long, deep breath as he felt the house accept her.

She strode confidently up to the door and just as always, it opened without her touching the handle.

“Boun giorno, Hermione.” She greeted him in return before making her way to the sitting room. He followed her sipping at his cappuccino as he went. “I’m glad to see you are still alive.”

“Same goes for you,” she replied with a curt smile before taking a seat on the white sofa as she always did. Salvatore crossed his legs as he settled into his chair.

“So what brings you here? Anything new?”

“I just got back from my visit with the goblins,” she stated.

Salvatore’s ears immediately perked up with her reply. “And?”

“They agree,” Hermione’s face broke into a smile as did Salvatore’s. It was the first piece of good news that the two had heard in a long while. Things were finally starting to fall into place. “They tested the charms on the gold and found them faulty. The serial numbers were fake.”

“How did they react when they discovered the gold wasn’t theirs?”

“They’re furious… obviously. The good thing is that they are very willing to testify. I’m going to be traveling back and forth so that I can prepare Ragnok for cross examination.” Hermione rubbed her eyes already tired with the thought. The goblins were not only furious they were completely and utterly outraged. Their business, their trade, their craft had been mimicked and manipulated. And to top it all off they had been hoodwinked for months. To a goblin there was no greater crime. Hermione had chosen Ragnok as he was the most calm out of all the goblins, but even his calm was nowhere near acceptable for a courtroom and the International Wizengamot. The goblins already distrusted wizards enough as it was, but to add this thievery… well, it was surprising that she had somehow avoided another rebellion.

“And the Wizengamot?”

“They’re still getting up and started… We’ll have to be patient.” Salvatore’s eyes darkened. Hermione knew he was tired of being patient. He was tired of waiting. “Salvatore, please. A case of this magnitude could very well upturn everything if we try it early on a premature judiciary. They only elected new officials last month. We must give them time… We will try the case though and we will win,” she reassured.

Finishing his glass, he leaned over and placed his empty cup and saucer on the glass coffee table between them.

“And until then?”

“I’ll keep putting the evidence together,” she answered. “It will happen though… Have faith in that.”

Salvatore scoffed, “I am no man of faith. I am a man of action.”

“Well regardless of faith or not the time will come. And there is nothing you can do until then besides stay here and stay alive.”

The older man nodded already having succumbed to that fate. The trial would come. His freedom would come with it. Maybe after all this blew over he could become an honest man of faith. Maybe one day in the future he could live a life of good, instead of his past life of greed and cruelty.

Hermione stood. Her check ups on him had always been brief and they would continue to be. Her work was too important to spend any lengthy amount of time off the grid.

This time Salvatore accompanied her to the door, a gesture that was unusually polite for him. It made her briefly consider the emptiness of the house. Odd as it was the most hardened and thick skinned man that she had ever known seemed to miss social interaction. It made her hopeful for him. Maybe he could redeem himself when this was all over.

“Try not to die Miss Granger,” he muttered dryly as the door to the house opened on its own.

A smile tugged at her mouth with his slight attempt at humor. “Good day to you too.” She turned to make her way down the path from whence she came, but his voice stopped her.

“Hermione, I’m serious… Be careful,” he said with a sincerity that was new for him.

“I will.”


**********


Ron hurried as quickly as he could without giving rise to suspicion. He only had thirty minutes to get to his place and then back to the manor. Hopefully that would be enough time to warn Kingsley. As the great doors to the Mancini mansion slammed shut behind him, Ron apparated.

He bolted down the stairs and stormed into his measly living quarters. Stuffing his hand into the tin on the mantle, he grabbed a hefty amount. Then with a flourish he threw the powder into the hearth as he called for Kingsley’s office. Green flames swirled around Ron’s head.

Opening his eyes, he was immediately greeted by the tall dominant physique of the great wizard that was his boss.

“Ron what is it? I told you to only floo in extreme emergencies,” said Kingsley worry evident on his features.

“This was the fastest way,” he explained in a rush. “Listen, Kingsley. I don’t have a lot of time. They’re going to attack.”

Kingsley took a knee before the roaring fire as he registered the meaning behind Ron’s urgent call. “When? Where? I need details Ron.”

“The match today. It’s happening at the match.”

“The qualifier?” inquired Kingsley.

“Yes! England vs. Italy. It’s the first qualifying match for the World Cup. The new Italian Minister is going to be there and apparently he’s asked Hermione to join him as his guest… I guess it’s some sort of show of good faith.”

Kingsley nodded, “That would make sense. He’s trying to lessen the tension.”

“Yeah but instead he’s going to cause a shit storm…” muttered Ron.

Without a word Kingsley cast his patronus and sent it to inform Harry. They’d have to mobilize the entire department. That many people all in one place was surely going to cause a mass panic. Kingsley was going to need every auror he had.

“Can you call off the match?” asked Ron.

“There’s no time… It starts in forty five minutes.” Kingsley looked down at his watch. They’d have to work fast just to get the security informed and the aurors notified as it was. With all that included, the match would start by that time. “There’s no way to get everyone ready and then start evacuating that many people. We’ll just have to see how this play’s out. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch these bastards. There’s already aurors on duty at the match. I’ll call in everyone else. We might have a real chance here.”

“And what should I do?”

“Go back. Do whatever Mancini asks of you. When it happens just try to help us in whatever way you can.”

Ron nodded in understanding. He knew that he had to do his duty and he was prepared for that. His determined look quickly fell to reveal a new, much more apprehensive one as a certain thought came over him. “Kingsley, will my father be at the game?”

The older wizard debated whether telling him was a good idea or not, but ultimately he decided to. “Yes, Ron. He’s well protected though. Jacobs and Darvey are assigned to him. Focus on the task at hand and let those two worry about your father’s safety.”

“Ok…” The red head still seemed to be worried, but he did his best to force his fears back down. There was no time for worriment. “I’ve got to go Kingsley. I have to get back.”

“Alright. Stay vigilant.”

The flames in the hearth went out just as suddenly as they came and Ron’s head was gone. Immediately Kingsley stood. He had a lot of work to do and very little time to do it in.


**********


The box was full of wizards and witches eagerly chatting away. The match was almost set to begin as the players had already taken their positions.

Harry followed Arthur into the Ministry’s box. Jacobs and Darvey maintained their positions at the entranceway. Each had a hand tucked within their robes grasping their wands knowing that danger was close. As the two made their way up to their seats, Harry’s eyes caught the surprised look of Hermione.

They hadn’t spoken to each other since that night. She had left him alone in their flat. Harry’s planned dinner had gone cold and untouched. She had moved in with Luna thereafter. Somehow, after that she had managed to sneak in and get her things without him knowing. Ever since that night she had kept her distance refusing to be near him. Either because the temptation was too great or maybe the pain was.

Now was the first time they’d seen each other in almost a week and half.

She had been traveling extensively during that time, Harry knew. He had been following her travels, fulfilling his job, despite the damage it did to his heart. He watched her everyday, but he was not permitted to talk to her. Even if he was, he wouldn’t. She had made things perfectly clear. A relationship between them was doomed, so he had to stay away. Or else he’d never be able to get over it, to get over her. And he knew that she needed that time too. Separation was needed in order for them to get back one day to the friends they were before.

“W-what are you doing here?” She asked with her voice slightly higher pitched than normal as Harry squished into the seat right next to her.

“It’s Quidditch. I’m a male... Isn’t it normal for me to be here? I should be asking you the same question,” he replied.

“Right… well, I’m here with Mario,” Hermione motioned to the older robust gentleman next to her. “Harry, Mario Moretti is the new Italian Minister. He invited me to join him here… He thought it might do well to have Italians see me again, but in a more positive setting.”

Mario offered his hand to Harry happily. “I have heard so much of you, Mr. Potter. Hermione speaks so very highly of you.”

“Does she now?” He asked daring a glance at Hermione. He couldn’t help but notice the rosy blush that flared in her cheeks with Mario’s admission.

“Oh yes. I can imagine it would be hard not to with you two being so close.” Mario’s chocolate eyes smiled in a good natured kind of way as he spoke. He looked past Harry to see Arthur sitting down next to him.

“Minister Moretti! How splendid it is to see you!”

“Indeed. It’s good to see you too, Minister Weasley… I just couldn’t miss the first qualifier,” explained the olive skinned man. “Especially against England!”

“I hope your country fairs well with disappointment,” teased Arthur causing the Minister to laugh heartily.

“I should say the same to you!”

“With such seasoned players as Flitney and Hawksworth for England, I can hardly imagine an upset! Regardless good luck to you and yours… you’re going to need it,” quipped Arthur.

“Ha! Good luck to you too Minister Weasley!” cried Mario with a happy smile just as the referee’s whistle blew to start the game. The snitch was released and the match was kicked into motion.

As the two teams battled each other, Harry did his best to keep his wits about him. His senses were in overdrive as he scanned the crowds. Like Jacobs and Darvey, he too had a trained hand inside his robes around his wand.

Hermione, too, seemed to be highly aware of his tense state. It was hard for her not to notice.

Finally she could no longer take it anymore and with a soft nudge she turned to whisper in his ear. “Can I talk to you outside for a sec?”

Standing up, she didn’t even wait for him to agree as she made for the exit. Harry didn’t think them talking was going to be such a good idea, but then again he didn’t appear to have a choice. He didn’t plan on leaving her side for the entirety of the match regardless. So quickly he got up and followed her out of the box passing Jacobs and Darvey on the way. The two concealed aurors eyed Harry warily as he went by, but Harry waved them off so that they wouldn’t tail them.

Harry walked briskly to catch up to Hermione.

She strode quickly. Immediately when she got a safe distance away from the box, she wheeled back around on him. “Is it really that hard for you to be around me? Are you really going to sit like a statue for the whole match?”

He was momentarily caught off guard by the question, but he recovered swiftly. “I am NOT sitting like a statue… and even if I was honestly Hermione what do you expect?”

Her face fell. “I don’t know… Not this,” she said motioning to whatever it was that was going on between them.

“Well I can’t imagine anything different. You made it perfectly clear that we couldn’t be anywhere near each other… You asked for this, so this is what you get.” He tried to keep the hurt tone out of his voice, but he knew the moment her eyes clouded over with emotion that he had not entirely succeeded.

“Harry…”

“Look... it’s not easy for me to be around you,” he admitted quietly, his eyes avoiding hers. “And I can’t make that go away… It won’t go away… not for a long time. So let’s just stick to your plan and stay away from each other. You’ll just have to suffer through me being a ‘statue’ for the game. Then you’ll never have to deal with me again,” he finished before walking back towards the entryway to the box.

“Harry,” she called after him. “Harry hold on a-”

Before she had the chance to finish, a loud explosion blew her and Harry back. Their bodies flew back into the far wall near the stairs, rocked by the intensity of the blast. Immediately, screams erupted from within the stadium.

Harry shook his head to clear it, but all he could hear was a constant ringing noise. He could feel blood seep down the sides of his jaw from his ears. He barely had time to register anything before he felt the stands vibrate with the shock of another blast.

The air was filled with a dense smoke so thick that it was hard to see through. His head, in a panic, searched left and right. “HERMIONE!”

With a shaky hand, he pushed himself up from the ground while his other dove into his robes and fished out his wand.

“HARRY!” Hermione’s tight grip grasped his arm. Harry turned and sighed with relief. She was alright. Though her ears too were bleeding like his.

“Hermione we have to get you out of here!” Harry immediately began dragging her towards the stairwell. He peered down the levels. Hermione whipped his torso back just in time as a spell shot up from one of the lower flights. Masked men in dark cloaks were climbing the stairs with an evil fever, shooting spells at them.

Chaos had arrived.

Grabbing her hand, Harry pulled her away from the stairs and back towards the box. The stairs were blocked. They were trapped. Harry felt a hand on his shoulder whipping him around.

It was Arthur. Jacobs and Darvey were right behind him.

“Harry it’s the Ministry’s box. There’s a back exit. Follow me!” The group ran with Arthur in the lead as missed spells zoomed over their heads. Harry threw as many decoy curses as he possibly could towards the direction of the stairs.

“Reducto!” Arthur blasted away at a wall. Wood chips showered down on the group. As the smoke cleared, the hole in the wall revealed yet another passageway.

“Jacobs, Darvey get Arthur and Hermione out of here!” Harry shoved Hermione to Jacobs before turning back to face the incoming threat.

“Harry! NO!” Hermione tried to fight against Jacobs. She was NOT going to just leave Harry alone. Struggle as she did against him, it did no use. The man had a firm grip around her. “I’M NOT LEAVING HIM!”

“HERMIONE GO! JACOBS GET HER OUT OF HERE!” Harry shouted over his shoulder as a masked man shot a red jet of light towards them. Harry had enough time to produce a shield to block the curse. He fired back with all he had knocking the man back into another one of his accomplices. The two fell back, but were quickly replaced by four more.

Hermione’s fists pounded furiously into Jacobs as he pulled her through the passageway and down the secret escape. “NO! LET ME GO!!! LET ME GO DAMNIT!!!” Jacobs held her by the waist pushing her forward behind Darvey and Arthur. She and Jacobs were tumbling down the stairs clumsily as her whole body fought against him. As they reached a flat landing, she had enough time to switch her footing. Then she slammed her elbow back hitting Jacobs square in the gut and knocking the wind out of him. He doubled over in pain.

Without a second’s glance back, Hermione sprinted back up the passage and back to Harry.

“HERMIONE WAIT!” Arthur screamed after her.

She climbed the stairs as quickly as her legs could physically allow. She could hear the blasts and the sounds of the battle going on above her. She knew Arthur and Darvey were right behind her, chasing her, trying to get her to come back.

Bursting from the hole in the wall, her eyes caught the sight of Harry losing rather badly to a duel against three cloaked figures. More were emerging from the original staircase and adding in.

She stunned two coming up the stairs before disarming another. With a fever, she worked her way back to Harry’s side. All the while screaming curses at her enemies.

Harry kept his focus on the task at hand, but somewhere along the way he realized her presence next to him. His chest erupted with fear. “HERMIONE!! GET OUT OF HERE!”

Hermione grabbed his neck and pulled him down just in time as a spell zipped over their heads nearly skimming them. The blast of which blew rubble all over them. Harry shrugged the rubble off before ducking the two behind a wall for cover.

“I AM NOT LEAVING YOU!”

Harry screamed with fury. Why the hell must she be so stubborn! His head peeked around the corner to survey the scene. They were too far from either staircase to make it there unscathed. He heard shouts as more and more wizards joined the fight. His whole body prayed that those wizards were Ministry aurors because as it stood they were vastly outnumbered.

Adrenaline pumped in his veins. He tried to focus on that rather than the way his heart shook with fear.

Two masked figures appeared from around the corner. Hermione quickly stunned one while Harry, surprised by the attack, threw his fist out connecting with the other’s nose with a sickening crunch. Blood spurted everywhere as the man’s nose broke. Harry quickly delivered another blow knocking the masked figure unconscious.

With a resolve to fight, Harry and Hermione emerged from their cover. Dueling with all the rush and fury that he could, Harry sent curses every which way. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione do the same battling two wizards.

The fight was beginning to lessen as more and more aurors appeared. They were slowly, but surely overtaking them. Hermione sent one last curse at a wizard blasting him into Harry’s opponent, hitting two birds with one stone as the two fell to the ground in a heap. Harry looked up from the heap to see the rest of the masked wizards scatter and flee. Aurors were everywhere now, stunning and capturing all that they could. They had won, they had the higher ground.

Hermione made her way over to Harry now that the threat was gone. Just as she reached him he turned to her and let out a massive sigh of relief. She was alright. She was alive. Their attempt had failed. Hermione smirked back at him.

Suddenly from opposite directions two jets of light cut through the smoke.

Blood spattered onto Hermione’s face and torso. Her eyes widened and her face paled as Harry collapsed to his knees in front of her.

“HARRY!!!”

His eyes rolled back in his head as he fell to the ground unmoving, a pool of blood forming around his body.

Before she could do anything, she felt arms wrap tightly around her waist pulling her back. Then suddenly the floor was gone from underneath her as she felt like she was being sucked through a tube. A voice was screaming in horror but she didn’t know whose voice it was. It took her feet slamming hard onto firm tile before she realized that that bloodcurdling scream was her own.

“HAAAAARRRRRRY!!!”

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