- Hermione Granger Ron Weasley
- Romance Action
- Multiple Eras
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 06/06/2004Updated: 01/06/2005Words: 243,073Chapters: 26Hits: 84,040
Hermione Granger and the Beginning of the End
- Story Summary:
- This is the story of the beginning of the trio's last months at Hogwarts, the beginning of the end of their childhood and the end of the war. But will good prevail? Will they survive? And why the hell did Ron Weasley throw away his relationship with Hermione? Once again, a lot more action, darker, but perhaps this time we shall have a happy ending...or not...
- Chapter Summary:
- Exposition is given on what has been happening over the last year? Was there a showdown with Voldemort as usual? What was the reaction to Ron and Hermione's breakup? Are we ever going to understand why Ron did this?
Hermione hadn't been up on the Astronomy Tower since that night since she had dropped Astronomy (she had only managed an A on her O.W.L. due to Umbridge's attack on Hagrid) from her schedule. But for some reason, she had felt that it was time to return to the spot. A warm breeze assailed her the moment she opened the door of the roof, whipping her hair into her eyes and making it a bit difficult to shut the door behind her. When she finally managed it, she slowly made her way around the perimeter of the roof, her fingers trailing absently along the stone barrier protecting her from a very long, nasty tumble to the earth many yards below. She paused at the station she had been at the night of her Astronomy O.W.L. She could clearly see Hagrid's hut but it appeared that the half-giant had already gone to sleep; all of his lights were out. There was unusual stillness to the darkened grounds below, actually--not even the treetops of the Forbidden Forest were moving along with the steady breeze that continued to wreak havoc in Hermione's perpetually untamable hair. That's odd, Hermione thought with a slight frown as she continued to stare out onto the grounds. It appeared as though the breeze only existed on the top of the Astronomy Tower.
That uneasy silence was broken however a few moments later by the slight creaking of the roof door as it slowly swung open. Hermione had her back to the entrance so she couldn't see for herself if it was friend or foe who had just arrived to disturb her solitude. She pretended not to hear the squeaking of the hinges and surreptitiously extracted her wand from the folds of her robes.
"Come on, now, put that away before you hurt someone,"
Hermione smiled involuntarily at the sound of his voice. "You're just afraid that someone's going to be you,"
"Petrified," Ron Weasley admitted as he wandered over to the edge of the roof to lean against the barrier alongside of her. "A bit late to be out here, don't you think?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Couldn't sleep," Hermione told him, knowing that he was wondering why she was out here so late. She glanced over at him. "How did you know I was here?"
"Felt it," Ron explained, his blue eyes never swerving from the branches of the Forbidden Forest. "It's getting stronger, y'know,"
"Is it?" Hermione asked.
Ron nodded. "But only in some ways." Hermione shot another look over at him, asking silently for an explanation and Ron hesitated before complying with her wishes. "Only with you,"
"Oh," Hermione said softly, looking down at the limestone with a smile. A warm feeling was starting to flow in the pit of her stomach.
"You remember that night last year?" Ron asked abruptly as he straightened up. "When Harry and I went after Pettigrew in the Forest?"
"You mean the night you Stunned me and left me in the common room so I wouldn't come with you?" Hermione asked flatly. "Yes, I do have a vague recollection."
"And you remember coming after us anyway?" Ron shot back. "And you ran into those bounty-hunters or whoever?" Hermione nodded in confusion. "What did the one say to you?" Ron pressed. "One of them said something to you that you think about all the time."
Hermione froze internally; Ron had become a great deal more adept at the empathic abilities. She hoped her unease that he could still read her so well didn't show as she continued. "He said that sometimes even if we love something, it sometimes must be sacrificed for the greater good."
"Why did that bother you so much?"
"I don't know," Hermione admitted. "It just struck a chord with me and made me start to think, that's all," She let out a small laugh to mask the wave of melancholy that suddenly engulfed her. "It made me think of Harry because he has to fight Voldemort and in order to save the world, he may have to sacrifice himself, but obviously I hope that I'm wrong."
"You are," Ron reassured her. "Harry's not going to die." Ron reached out and gently caught some hair that was irritatingly blowing directly in her eyes. "Everything is going to be all right,"
Uh oh, Hermione thought as she instinctively took a step backwards. Ron was speaking in that low, soothing tone that sent thrills up and down her spine and he was playing with her hair in the way that she loved and every time his fingers touched her skin, small but mighty explosions of pleasure were popping within every nerve that he grazed. If she didn't walk away right now she was going to do something that he obviously didn't want to do. Ron only countered her movement so that his foot was brushing up against hers which only caused the delightful sensations to start shooting up and down her legs. Hermione had to clench her fists in order to restrain herself for either grabbing his shirtfront and yanking him to her so she could finally taste his lips again or slapping him across the face for making her feel like this. Ron was an empath, for goodness sake; he had to know what him talking to her like this and touching her like this was doing to her. "Ron," was all she managed to get out before her whirl of emotions clogged her vocal cords.
Ron sensed that since she couldn't talk, she was going to physically move away from him so he caught hold of her elbows before she could and a little, soft cry managed to break through the emotional barrier that had been choking her. One of his thumbs was stroking the inside of her arm and she could feel the heat of his hands soak through her shirt and it was driving her mad and causing her to curse the fact that Ron Weasley could still have this effect on her.
"Listen to me," he shook her slightly until she finally met his eyes and found his eyes brimming with the same emotions that she was currently battling with. "Think about what he said," His hands were slowly snaking up her upper arms, to her shoulders, and finally came to rest on her cheeks. "Think about it," he urged her quietly, fingers playing lovingly with the hair at the back of her head and before Hermione knew what was happening, he kissed her.
Hermione was so shocked that his lips were teasing hers once again that she at first didn't move and didn't even breathe. He was kissing her?! Why?! Who cares why, the voice at the back of her head screamed, just kiss him back! Hermione knew better, she knew that Ron and her were broken up and Ron had a girlfriend and she had a pseudo-boyfriend, and it was dreadfully wrong to be doing this because it could just be a random kiss and then her hopes would have skyrocketed for nothing. But she had been waiting so long for his touch that logic was flung off of the rooftop and her hands came up so she could properly reciprocate.
The moment Ron realized that she was kissing him back, his hands immediately started traveling lower, fingers running over sections of her body that caused Hermione's stomach to lurch in not a very good way. Ron was never this forceful with her. It wasn't as if they hadn't done things like this before, but it had never been this rushed, this fast, and this rough. Logic had managed to recover from its fall off the rooftop and came crashing back into her mind and helped Hermione suddenly remember something else. The empathic connection was disturbingly absent--what happened to their connection that they had while kissing?
Hermione started to pull away but Ron's hands were on her waist by this point and he forcibly pushed her against the stone barrier with such strength that Hermione started to topple backwards. Her hands flew away from him so she could steady herself against the craggy rock and she jerked her lips away, her eyes unintentionally flying downwards. It was a long way down.
"Ron, what are you doing," she panted in disbelief. She turned back towards him only to find that Ron Weasley's wonderfully expressive blue eyes were not the ones boring into her; they were the cold, dark, unfeeling eyes of Antonin Dolohov.
Emotions once again clogged Hermione's throat but this time it was pure terror that impaired her speaking ability. She jerked once again but because Dolohov's hands were still gripping her hips, she was trapped. She went for her wand, but Dolohov quickly anticipated that movement and his hands flew up in time to pin her wrists within his meaty fingers.
"And think about this," Dolohov hissed maliciously. "You never know who really lies behind a friendly face," With that piece of sound advice resounding in her ears, he shoved Hermione backwards as hard as he could and released her wrists so she was free to tumble backwards off of the rooftop...
"No!" Hermione burst out as she jerked upwards off of her pillow. Heart hammering, she brought a hand up to her forehead and took several deep breaths to steady herself. It was just a dream, just a dream, she told herself shakily. She remained lying on her stomach for several minutes, one hand tightly clenching the edge of her pillow, the other resting in soothing cool comfort against her hot forehead. When her legs finally ceased to tremble, she slowly rolled over and slid out from under the comforter. In her bare feet, she padded silently out of her bedroom and across the hall to the girls toilet that she shared with her other seventh-years. Fortunately no one was in there so she was free to clutch the sink and stare steadily at her reflection.
Her long chestnut curls were limper than usual, her cheeks were rather flushed and her eyes were a bit over-bright and sunken in as if she had a fever. In other words, she looked bloody awful. Hermione sighed as she turned on the faucet so she could splash cool water on her face. This wasn't the first time she had to make a trip to the loo in order to calm herself down. In fact, she had been having the same dream for over a month now. She hadn't had a recurring nightmare ever since the night of the Ministry in fifth-year that had haunted her for so long and frankly, it bothered her. It was pretty straight-forward what the dream was trying to tell her: to remember that sometimes good things must be sacrificed and a friendly face may be not so friendly after all. The annoying thing was that that didn't help Hermione a single bit. She didn't know who would have to be sacrificed or who would have to do the sacrificing nor did she know which friendly face she shouldn't trust. All the dream kept reminding her was that she may be losing something very near and dear to her heart and someone she loved may deceive her.
With these recurring dreams, Hermione had developed a little routine that helped calm her down enough to get back to sleep. She would come to the bathroom and splash water on her face, she would dry her face off, slip back into her bedroom and get a drink of water. So she returned to her bedroom and hastily gulped down her water. Hermione set the glass down and slowly walked back to her bed, waiting for the final leg of her routine to occur. And like clockwork, as Hermione pulled back the duvet and climbed back into bed, it happened.
Hermione smiled as she nestled back under her covers. I'm fine.
All right, well, let me know if you need me.
Thank you, Ron.
The connection broke and Hermione rolled over on her side. She didn't go straight to sleep as she had told Ron she would but instead she traced her finger over the pattern of her comforter, wondering if Ron really could sense how much that bounty-hunter had scared her when he brought up sacrificing something you love. Well, she had to admit that an awful lot of that night had scared her...
What a headache!
Hermione straightened up on the sofa and rested the heel of her hand against her forehead. It took several long seconds for her to clear the cobwebs from her fuzzy mind, and then she looked around the room blearily. Why on earth had she fallen asleep in the common room?
And then it all came back to her.
They had suspected something like this for months. Harry had revealed to her and Ron that Order suspected several spies to be circulating in the Ministry, the Order, and Hogwarts. It was a time of high paranoia and suspicion; no one knew who to trust any longer.
Someone was disclosing vital information about the Order and Lupin had suggested in one of his many letters to Harry that maybe the information was being leaked through Hogwarts. He said he understood Harry's need to tell Ron and Hermione what was going on with the war but at the same time urged Harry to be extremely careful where and when the information was revealed; you never knew who was listening.
Harry had taken Lupin's warning very seriously and had gone to some pretty drastic lengths to make sure his friends were informed in the strictest confidence. However, it had seemed that it just wasn't enough. The trio had started to notice a disturbing pattern: whatever Harry told his friends, in a couple days, the Prophet had a story printed about how Death Eaters had attacked an Order member or something awful that related to what Harry had recently learned. Harry became convinced that somehow he was being spied on. All of them had tried everything in their power to find out who was spying on them before anyone else was hurt. But it wasn't until tonight they had reached a break-through. Ron had been the one to make the discovery, but of course he would have been the only one to know.
It had been a late night. End of term exams were approaching at an alarming rate and the three of them had split their time that evening researching yet again and studying for their Transfiguration exam that was on Monday. Ron had finally admitted that he was too exhausted to study any longer and climbed up to his dormitory to get some much-needed sleep, leaving Harry and Hermione alone in the common room to continue studying.
But Ron hadn't left them alone for very long...
"Son of a bitch!" Ron roared as he stomped down the stairs. "I should have known!"
"Ron," Hermione hissed from her seat at one of the tables with Harry. "Keep your voice down!"
Ron stopped his fury for a split second as he took an exaggerated look around the room devoid of people. "Yeah, cause I might be disturbing someone," he said sarcastically.
"You're disturbing me!" Hermione retorted sharply. She really needed to study and Ron's ranting wasn't helping matters.
"Well, too bad," Ron flung his hand down on top of Hermione's book. "I don't think we're going to be studying much more."
Hermione and Harry frowned as they leaned forward to inspect what was now lying on the page. "Is there a reason you're throwing hairs and rat dung..." Hermione halted in mid-sentence as she realized what she had just said.
Harry had already sprung up in his chair when he realized what was in front of him. "Ron, are you sure?"
"Positive," Ron nodded firmly. "I spent six years cleaning up after that bloody rat--I'd know his dung anywhere."
"Why didn't we think of this before," Hermione started thinking rapidly aloud. "Pettigrew knows the grounds, he can slip in and out without anyone paying attention to him. As long as he stays out of our sightlines, anyone else who sees him will think he's some student's pet rat...Harry, what are you doing?"
Harry had just yanked out his wand and performed a Summoning charm. Hermione got her response when the folded Marauder's Map zipped out of the boys' stairwell and shot into Harry's hand. He quickly activated it and the three of them as one peered at the numerous moving dots on the map.
"There he is!" Harry's fingers jabbed down on a slow-moving dot. "He just went out on the grounds!"
"And he's not alone, apparently," Hermione added grimly. She had been examining the secret passages to Hogsmeade and she pointed to the passageway that led to the Shrieking Shack. "Castor and Pollex Fairfax?" Hermione glanced over at Harry. "You know them?"
"Never heard of them," Harry frowned. "Must be new recruits--Voldemort probably doesn't trust Pettigrew to go alone." He twirled his wand expertly and raised his eyebrows meaningfully. "Fancy a walk?"
"You bet," Hermione replied with just as much determination as Harry. Ron nodded his agreement, but he looked rather distracted. "Ron, what's the matter?"
"Nothing, nothing," Ron said dismissively as he leaned forward, one hand on his bad leg. He glanced up at Harry. "Shouldn't you get the cloak?"
"Oh, yeah, good idea," Harry agreed. He raised his wand to perform the Summoning charm again, but Ron made an abrupt movement and the two boys met eyes for a moment. Harry frowned but he lowered his wand. "Yeah, well, I better go up and get it myself, just in case," He turned on his heel and before Hermione could question him, he was gone.
Hermione whirled around to Ron instead--it appeared that he was the one who was going to get interrogated. "What was that about?" she demanded.
"Nothing," Ron insisted again as he continued to massage his leg.
"That was not nothing," Hermione said impatiently but her questions halted when she saw a grimace of pain on Ron's face that he was trying so hard to conceal from her. "Is your leg bothering you again?"
"It's fine," Ron said firmly, still doubled over. Hermione watched him with puzzled worry; Ron's leg hadn't bothered him in ages but she knew that Ron was too mulish to admit that he was in pain. If he did admit that it was bothering him, he knew Hermione would suggest he say behind to make sure that he didn't get hurt again and Ron, being the bloody stubborn prat that he was, wasn't going to let them leave without him.
"No, it's not," Hermione contradicted him once again as she crossed in front of him. "Let me see..."
Once again, Hermione was unable to finish her sentence but it was for a very different reason.
She swung her legs over the side of the couch and glanced hastily at her watch. She must have been out for about a half an hour. That gave Harry and Ron plenty of time to get off of the grounds. And they better pray that they weren't, unless they wanted to be hexed into next week. Of course, it really didn't matter when she saw those two again; she was going to kill them the next time she saw them.
But right now, she had to make sure they were safe. She got to her feet, pausing a moment to collect herself from the momentary dizziness that passed over her. Ron certainly knew how to Stun a girl, Hermione thought angrily, cursing herself for having taught Ron how to perform the Stupefying Hex so well. She couldn't believe that he had done that to her. She should have known that he was faking an injury; she knew perfectly well that his leg was almost fully healed since he only had two more sessions of physical therapy left but because she happened to have a soft spot for the git, she had fallen for his ploy hook, line, and sinker. Idiot, she thought again, but this time she was thinking about herself. Hermione walked quickly across the room, stopping to grab her jacket from the chair she had been sitting at when Harry and Ron had arrived, and pushed open the portrait hole so violently that she awoke the Fat Lady.
"Oomph!" she snorted, opening her eyes in mid-snore. Hermione ignored her and strode purposely down the hall. "Dear, where are you going at this time of night?" the Fat Lady called after her, but Hermione didn't stop. She couldn't stop; every second counted right now. She could only hope that something or someone had held those two prats up, and they were still on the grounds somewhere, and she could stop them before they did something even stupider than attacking one of their best friends.
But first she had to track them down. Hermione darted to the nearest window and peered out on the grounds. There was no sign of movement. Hermione swore under her breath and held the heel of her hand to her head again. Think, think, she ordered herself. There was a very good chance that they were already gone, chasing after Pettigrew and those other Death Eaters. They had taken the map with them so Hermione had no way to track them down
Unless they were still here.
Hermione took off towards the Entrance Hall. What if Ron and Harry had caught Pettigrew on the grounds and the other two Death Eaters had come out of Whomping Willow to help? What if they were caught in a fight or duel of some sort and were hurt? She had to go check outside to be sure and if they weren't there, there was nothing she could do but go straight to Dumbledore and inform him that two students were missing. She made it outside into the balmy, dark night but her jog slowed down as her eyes caught sight of something large, dark, and very familiar racing towards her. She ground her heels firmly into the ground in order to stop Fang from knocking her over in his haste to get to her. "Settle down, Fang," she soothed as she stroked his shaggy fur. Fang, who was typically very affectionate and loved to be petted, actually pulled his head away so he could clamp his teeth down on her sleeve and start to pull her towards the Forest. "Whoa, Fang," she cautioned, sensing where he was leading her. "Where's Hagrid?" Fang whined and tried once again to lead her to the Forest, but Hermione freed herself and ran to Hagrid's door. It would be a good idea to have Hagrid's help anyway. "Hagrid?" she called as she rapped furiously on the wooden door, "It's Hermione. Let me in--it's an emergency!"
She waited for a few moments for him to open the door, but there was no reply. Hermione knocked even harder in case he had fallen asleep with the lights on and started slightly when the door creaked slightly open. She cautiously pushed it further and stuck her head inside. "Hagrid?" Hermione frowned as she stepped into the hut. There was a fire burning in the hearth, a cup of tea at the table, but no Hagrid.
Where was he?
It struck her odd that he left the door unlocked. And he didn't even drink his tea, Hermione noted as she glanced into the full mug left on the table. She wrapped her hand around the mug; it was still warm. Hermione frowned--this was really odd. There must be some sort of problem that Hagrid was called away on. Or he had gone to visit Grawp; he visited his brother every night and he had to go rather late so no one would spot him. But it still didn't explain the unlocked door and warm mug. Hagrid must have left in a hurry.
She jumped in surprise as Fang whined pleadingly once again and pulled her sleeve even harder. Hermione froze when she realized what he was trying to tell her. "Fang, did something happen to Hagrid--is he with Ron and Harry?" Fang yanked even harder. "Okay, okay," she said reassuringly. She knew she should really go get help, but if her friends were in trouble, and from the way Fang was acting, it didn't look like she had a lot of time. Hermione gently extracted her sleeve from Fang's slobbery jaws. "Okay, where are they, Fang?"
Fang barked once before taking off towards the Forest. Hermione had to almost sprint to keep up with him. He ducked underneath the brush, and Hermione lost sight of him momentarily several times. She didn't realize how deep she was in the woods until she glanced over her shoulder and all she saw were trees and darkness.
"Fang, where is he?" she whispered anxiously.
Fang didn't stop for a moment, and just kept running. He slid under some immensely long and thick bramble, but Hermione couldn't fit underneath. She had to take the long way around the thicket and by the time she managed it, Fang had already run off.
"Fang!" she called, annoyed. "Fang, get back here!"
She flinched immediately after calling; the centaurs were still out here and they still would kill her if they saw her trespassing again. A jab of fear jolted through her stomach; she hadn't really realized how stupid it was to go off alone, even if she was following Fang. The Forest wasn't a safe place; it was forbidden for a reason.
That's when she heard a branch snap behind her.
She whirled around, hand immediately going for her wand. Her heart hammering, she aimed it off in the darkness. She considered performing the spell to cause a beam of light to illuminate the path behind her, but it would just alert a potentially unwanted intruder to her presence so she remained cloaked in darkness and held her breath.
And then it hit her.
"Fang?" she called.
No answer. But then again, Fang couldn't really reply to her.
"Hello?" she tried. Her eyes widened with hope. "Hagrid? Ron? Harry, is that you?"
Sighing, she stuck her wand back in her jeans pocket and started walking again, this time much faster. She didn't think that she was being followed, but she was a cautious girl and she didn't want to take any chances. You probably just imagined it, she told herself.
Hermione froze; okay, she hadn't imagined it that time. Someone or something was definitely behind her.
Her wand was out again in a second and it trembled slightly as Hermione held it out before her. She squinted, trying to discern the dark shapes in front of her, searching for a sign of movement...
That's when a hand clamped down over her mouth.
Hermione had hands clapped over her mouth before; numerous times as a matter of fact. But this time is about ten times more terrifying. This was an unknown person's hand; it was large, sweaty, meaty, and terribly strong. The wide fingers dug into cheek quite painfully, and the damp palm of his hand pressed firmly over her lips, making it impossible for her to scream and yell for help. Her assailant's other arm quickly wrapped itself around her waist, successfully pinning her arms to her sides. She wriggled as much as she could, but it wasn't enough to free herself and the grip around her waist tightened, making it necessary to gasp for breath.
"Drop it," a voice behind her ordered. Hermione hesitated for a brief moment before unclenching her fingers and letting her wand clatter to the ground.
"Castor!" A rather tall, sandy-haired man stepped out of the shadows in front of her and hurried over to them. He must have been the one she had heard a few moments ago. "What do you think you're doing?" His eyes flickered over to Hermione, and they softened. "We're not going to hurt you," he told her gently. But Hermione didn't believe him for a second, and struggled harder than ever. Maybe if she fought hard enough, she'd make enough noise to alert someone, preferably Harry and Ron. If they were still around, that is...
"Let her go, Castor," the man continued, "You're scaring her."
Castor? Hermione groaned into the palm of her captor's hand. Not only had she gotten herself caught five minutes after wandering into the Forbidden Forest, but she had gotten herself caught by two Death Eaters. Maybe people's assumption that she was a damsel in distress was more accurate than she'd like to admit; she seemed to be getting herself in Death Eater's clutches quite often.
"She has to promise not to scream," Castor was growling.
The blonde man focused on Hermione again. "You won't scream, will you?"
He asked so politely that Hermione nodded before really knowing what she was doing. Besides, screaming wouldn't really accomplish anything. It would only alert some sort of dangerous creatures like the centaurs or Harry and Ron. And although she really wanted them here right now, she didn't want them getting into trouble on her behalf. She'd get out of this somehow. Besides, he seemed rather nice, for a Death Eater that is; maybe they'd let her go in a minute after all...and if they didn't, then she could scream.
The thick hand was lowered from her mouth, but the grip slid from her waist to her arm, making it impossible for her to try to run, another option she had been considering. She was quickly spun around, and she involuntarily gasped when she saw the person who had been holding her. He was practically identical to the other man; they were even more identical than the Weasley twins, and Hermione still had trouble at times telling Fred and George apart.
"What do you think you're doing out here?" he demanded, "You shouldn't be out here alone at night!"
"S-s-sorry," Hermione stuttered, "I--I--got lost."
Castor's dark eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Oh, really? Then who were these people you were calling for? Your little friends out here, too?"
"No-no!" Hermione protested immediately. "I was just helping our groundskeeper find his dog, Fang--he got loose and ran off in here."
"Really," Castor said doubtfully. "And who are these Harry and Ron people that you were calling for?"
"Harry is--Harry is Hagrid's other dog," Hermione invented hastily.
"Harry?" Castor raised a skeptical eyebrow. "He named his dog Harry?"
"After Harry Potter," Hermione told him. "He and Harry Potter are rather close, you know." She didn't think these two people who reported to Voldemort should know that Harry Potter himself was out wandering in the forest. She was typically quite an accomplished liar but perhaps Ron's Stupefying Hex had killed some brain cells because she just couldn't seem to able to do it tonight. And she couldn't use the crying routine that had proven so useful in the past since she wouldn't be able to hide her tearless eyes with her hands pinned.
"And Ron?" Castor continued. "Is he a third dog?" he added sarcastically.
"Ron--Ron is my best friend," Hermione said truthfully, "He knew I was going to help Hagrid and I thought he might have followed me."
Castor stared at her for a long moment appraisingly and raised his eyes to his brother. "What do you think?" Hermione held her breath, praying that they accepted her rather poorly concocted story.
"I think," his twin said quickly, "is that we should help..." He gave Hermione a quick smile. "What's your name?"
"Hermione," she whispered, eying them carefully. They certainly weren't acting like Death Eaters; what were they playing at?
"...Hermione find her way before we continue with our mission." Pollex suddenly twitched as though he had just considered something. "But first, maybe she can help."
"What are you doing?" Castor demanded, "She can't know!"
"We can always Memory Charm her," Pollex reminded him offhandedly before kneeling down in front of Hermione. She watched him warily; no one was going to be using a Memory Charm anywhere near her. "Listen, Hermione, I don't know why you were really out here, but perhaps you've seen something that could help us." Hermione held her breath. This was it--this was when they were going to demand she tell them where Harry or Ron was. But if they thought she was going to rat on her friends, they had another thing coming. "Have you ever seen any sign that a giant has been living here?"
Hermione's stomach jolted. They weren't Death Eaters--they were bounty hunters. Someone must have discovered Gwarp's presence in the forest and ordered for his extinction. She couldn't believe that someone would be so cruel as to actually want to take money for extinguishing a creature's life. It was even worse than watching Macnair practically salivate at the chance to kill Buckbeak. This was Hagrid's brother they were trying to murder; it was an absolutely horrible thought. She was so shocked and appalled that she blurted out the first question that came to mind. "You're trying to kill Gwarp?!"
She didn't even realize her mistake until she saw Castor's furious eyes on hers. He gripped her even tighter by the shoulders and shook her again. "How," he bit out, "do you know its name?"
"Well--I--everyone knows about Gwarp," Hermione stammered, trying to pull away from him, "I just assumed..."
"Liar," Castor hissed.
"No!" Hermione protested weakly.
"Castor," Pollex said tersely
"Where does he live?" Castor demanded, shaking even harder when she didn't reply, "Tell me!"
Hermione should have been terrified at the sight of Castor's enraged glare, but she in all actuality was not paying the slightest bit of attention. She was too busy focusing on a very familiar presence in her mind.
"Castor!" Pollex barked.
"What?" Castor demanded.
"Come on, Castor," Pollex said quietly. "Don't."
Hermione, where are you?
"You get her to talk, then," Castor said in disgust as he shoved Hermione over towards Pollex.
Where are you? Hermione countered. Ron was blocking her as usual being the typical git that he was but she could tell he was quite scared about something and it wasn't her current situation. Not to mention that her arm was prickling, indicating that he had somehow hurt his scars again.
"Fine, I'll give it a try," Pollex conceded as he took hold of her shoulders in a much gentler manner than his brother.
Centaurs caught us, Ron explained tersely, knowing that Hermione wouldn't relent until she had an answer. Where are you?
"Hermione?" Pollex shook her slightly with a concerned frowned.
Ron, I can't split my attention like you can--I can't talk now.
"What's with her," Castor asked suspiciously.
Then tell me where you are so I can come get you, Ron ordered crossly.
"She must have gone into shock or something," Pollex replied worriedly. "I told you not to scare her!"
Hermione hesitated. No.
"I didn't mean to scare her!"
I can handle this--help Harry. Hermione could tell that something was going horribly wrong with Ron and Harry's situation and she could sense that Ron was considering leaving Harry to help her. As much as she appreciated the help, Ron needed to stay with Harry and save his own neck. Besides, if they were dealing with centaurs, those creatures were out for blood. She really didn't think these two bounty-hunters would hurt her; they just wanted some information. She could simply get away from them as soon as she could and then go get help.
Hermione...Ron tried anxiously once again but for the first time ever, Hermione was the one who severed the connection. She couldn't help noticing that the air got a bit colder now that Ron was out of her mind and her stomach was twisting even more nervously now that she knew for certain that her two best friends were in trouble. But it was for the best. She just had to deal with her own problem and then she could help Ron and Harry solve theirs.
"I don't know where he lives," Hermione said firmly.
Both twins looked quite taken aback that she had suddenly jerked back into action so abruptly. Pollex quickly regained charge. "Now, look, Hermione," Pollex said in a calm voice, a voice Hermione had found herself often using with Harry and Ron. "This giant is a very dangerous creature, and he needs to be put down before he hurts anyone else. Do you really want something horrible to happen to one of your friends? Or you?" Hermione stared resolutely down at her feet. "We need to stop this monster, and we need your help to do that." Pollex forced Hermione to look up at him. "Now, where is he?"
Hermione jerked her jaw out of Pollex's grip. "I told you, I don't know where he is," Pollex let out an impatient sigh and Castor almost howled with frustration. She knew it may not be the best idea to continue to deny any knowledge of Gwarp's whereabouts, but she also knew they wouldn't hurt her. The only way they would be able to get her to talk was a truth serum and that would only prove the truth: she really did have no idea where Gwarp lived.
Pollex however simply tried to reason with her once again. "Hermione, I can tell that you care very deeply for people and creatures and I believe that you find the idea of hurting any living creature to be inconceivable." His grip on her shoulders tightened as his tone grew more fervent. "But if any creature takes other creature's lives, it is a threat and it needs to be taken care of. And although you personally may have an attachment to this giant, sometimes we have to sacrifice people or creatures or anything that we hold near and dear to our hearts in order to preserve the greater good."
Hermione stared at the bounty-hunter, her mind spinning. Something that Pollex had said struck a chord and making her think of something in an entirely new perspective.
But before she could dwell on it any longer, a general commotion attracted the attention of Hermione and her captors. The twins sprung into action and hastily pulled Hermione off the path and crouched down in the bushes. A hand was replaced over Hermione's mouth and all three waited with bated breath for the figure to appear.
To Hermione's immense relief, not one person came down the path but three: Snape, McGonagall, and Hagrid. Castor and Pollex stiffened when they saw the three professors but Hermione only gasped into Castor's palm. Her eyes had instantly gone to Hagrid and her heart had constricted at the sight. His shaggy beard was matted with half-wet blood, and he had one of his trash can sized hands over his mouth as if his jaw was in pain. He was moving much more slowly than usual, and even in the dim light, Hermione could see a large welt on his temple.
"...Hagrid, you are going to have to keep those centaurs under control," Snape was raging.
"Yeh can't control them ruddy creatures!" Hagrid shot back, lowering his hand away from his mouth to speak clearly but Hermione wished he hadn't. Hermione's stomach twisted when she saw that Hagrid was missing several of his front teeth, leaving a sticky, bloody mess across his gums. He was really hurt, and she hated that she couldn't do anything to help him. She squirmed slightly, and felt an all-ready tight grip grow even more painful. She gritted her teeth to keep from crying out and continued to watch. "They don' answer to anyun but the stars," There was a sarcastic tone to Hagrid's voice to indicate that he thought the centaur's way of life was ridiculous.
"It is not Rubeus' job to control every wild animal that lives in the forest," McGonagall interjected as the voice of reason. "It is all of our job to take care of our students and three of our students were in danger tonight; it is our job to ensure their safety and make sure this situation never happens again."
"That's right, Weasley mentioned that Granger was out here somewhere and in trouble again," Snape recalled in his typical flat tone after looking perplexed for a few moments by McGonagall mentioning three students being in danger.
"Is that you?" Castor hissed in Hermione's ear. Hermione barely managed to nod with the tight hold on her. Castor swore furiously.
"Fang and I'll find 'er," Hagrid said confidently. He turned back to snap his fingers to call his dog who was several yard behind, sniffing the dead leaves on the edge of the path.
"You need to get yourself to the hospital wing, Hagrid," Snape ordered him.
"I'll be all righ'," Hagrid lumbered unsteadily.
The three professors continued to discuss who should remain to find her, but Hermione couldn't hear the conversation since Pollex silently scooted forward so he could speak to his brother without being overheard. "Castor, we have to get out of here,"
Castor whipped around to face him. "But if she knows..."
"We can't afford to get caught," Pollex reminded him under his breath. "If Dumbledore catches us..."
Hermione squirmed harder. If Dumbledore would have refused to have Pollex and Castor on the grounds, then the school had nothing to do with the execution of Gwarp. So who had hired the bounty-hunters to come to Hogwarts?
"Fine," Castor pulled out his wand and jabbed it into Hermione's neck. Her muscles went rigid--she had thought that they wouldn't hurt her but she had been wrong many times before and the gesture had brought back a slew of very bad memories involving a sick Death Eater by the name of Antonin Dolohov. "Silencio!"
Oh, not that curse!
Now that she was effectively silenced, Castor spun her around. "Do not tell anyone about us, you hear me?"
"Castor," Pollex hissed.
Castor looked over at his brother and nodded. They both silently counted to three before acting. Pollex whipped out Hermione's wand and hurtled off into the bushes while Castor shoved her in the same direction before both of them slipping off in the cover of darkness the opposite way. Hermione stumbled onto the pathway and tumbled practically at her professors' feet.
"Hermione!" Hagrid joyfully set Hermione to her feet and patted her fondly on her shoulder. "Yeh're all righ'!"
Hermione tried to tell him that he didn't look all right in the least but of course, no voice came out. McGonagall's wand was out in an instant and the counter-charm was performed. Hermione rubbed her throat; once again, that spell had brought back a lot of awful memories.
"Hagrid are you all right?" Hermione asked worriedly once she got used to having her voice back.
"I'll be jus' fine," Hagrid told her.
"Miss Granger, what on earth happened to you?" Professor McGonagall asked sternly. "Your portrait guardian informed us of your hasty departure and I don't think I have to remind you that you are out of bounds after hours?"
"Yes, Professor," Hermione replied. She didn't know what Harry and Ron had told her was their reasons for sneaking out and she didn't want to contradict their story so she did the best thing she could think of; she distracted them. She pointed off in the direction that Pollex and Castor had run off in. "I don't know if you know this, but there are two bounty-hunters in here,"
"Bounty-hunters?" McGonagall looked appalled. "Whatever are they hunting?"
"They have the insane idea that there's a giant loose in here," Hermione answered, eyes darting over meaningfully for a brief moment to Hagrid. Hagrid groaned loudly but he quickly adopted a poker face when McGonagall gave him a questioning look.
"Did they harm you in any way?" Snape asked as he returned over to them, holding out Hermione's wand which he had been retrieving.
"No, I'm fine," Hermione stated. She could tell that McGonagall wanted to continue to question her so she quickly kept speaking in order to avoid that conversation. "Where are Harry and Ron? Are they all right?"
Obviously, this distracted them a great deal because McGonagall suddenly became sympathetic rather than severe, Hagrid groaned again, and Snape continued to keep his customary sour expression, but what could she really expect from Snape.
"We think they'll be fine," McGonagall said slowly. "But they have been taken to the hospital wing..."
Hermione didn't hear anymore; she just turned around and ran.
Fortunately, McGonagall had been correct: Harry and Ron had been perfectly fine. Ron had fallen and reopened one of his scars so all he had needed was a bandage while Harry had been more emotionally scarred than anything. Apparently while they had been chasing after Pettigrew, Pettigrew had been fully aware of Harry and Ron's presence and had ended up leading them straight to the centaurs' lair. Ron and Harry had become separated in the fray, but Ron had caught of glimpse of one of the centaurs actually calmly talking to Harry. The divine creatures had told Harry something that had caused him to revert even further into himself and instead of moody and argumentative, Harry had grown to be more pensive and quiet for the rest of the year. Of course, Harry had his moments of joy and she didn't think he would ever loose that mischievous smirk and gleam to his eyes, but something about that night had caused Harry to grow up as well. Now every time that Hermione looked at him, she no longer saw the boy she met on the train seven years ago; she saw a man with a mission.
Sixth-year had changed them all irrevocably. Ron's kidnapping had brought the full reality of the war crashing down on all three of them and then the second half of the year had been dedicated to self-reflection by not just Hermione, but Ron and Harry as well. The trio had drifted away just a bit all throughout January and February since Ron and Hermione weren't really speaking to each other and Harry didn't want to play mediator any longer. Harry had continued to spend time with Ginny, Dean, and Neville while Ron had gotten to know Seamus and Dean and Hermione had spent a great deal of time studying in the library with fellow prefects from different houses such as Anthony Goldstein, Ernie Macmillan, and Hannah Abbot. The three of them of course did spend time together but it was rather awkward for Harry. Of course it was even more awkward for Ron and Hermione but they tried to not let Harry see that--Harry needed all the friends he could get. Besides, it was always much easier with Harry there; Ron and Hermione already had to spend a great deal of time together alone due to prefect duties but it had become an unspoken rule to only discuss school, prefect duties, or Harry. Their interchanges were always quite formal and terse and Hermione was always miserable afterwards. It just wasn't supposed to be like this.
Although they had gone their separate ways to make other friends for a short period of time, it hadn't lasted very long. Everything always came back to those two blokes whether Hermione liked it or not. March had been the month of change for the trio; that was when Hermione was finally able to put the past behind her and accept the most important person in the world back into her life...
"Hey," Ron said with a trace of the perpetual uncertainty that had plaguing the two of them for over two months now.
"Hi," Hermione returned before looking back down at her book. Ron coughed uncomfortably as he took his usual seat next to her. It was an unspoken rule that the prefects in the same house and year always sat next to one another during meeting and although Hermione and Ron were not exactly on the best terms, they weren't about to dispel tradition.
Hermione always arrived at prefect meetings at least ten minutes early and Ron for once had arrived early as well so they were quite alone in the room. Ron drummed his fingers impatiently for several seconds before becoming bored and digging into his own school bag. He of course did not organize his belongings properly so as he yanked out his Charms textbook, several crumbled pieces of parchment tumbled out. Ron swore under his breath as he bent down to retrieve them. A few of the bundles had landed on the table in front of Hermione so she silently pushed them back over in Ron's direction. Her fingers however couldn't stop from lingering on one of them. It was partially unfolded so she couldn't help noticing the large, vivid red ink marks.
Frowning, Hermione smoothed the parchment so she could take a better look. It was homework for DADA and Ron apparently had not done very well on the assignment. "Ron, what is this?" she asked.
"Huh?" Ron's head jerked up and rapped into the bottom of the table. He straightened up while rubbing the back of his now sore head. His eyes widened when he saw the assignment in Hermione's grasp. "Son of a bitch," he muttered. "Give me that,"
He reached out in an attempt to retrieve his homework, but Hermione was too quick. She seized the chance to dart her hand forward and snatch up some of the other clusters of parchment so she could examine them. She twisted away from him as Ron tried to stop her, throwing out one of her arm to block his hands as she hastily read the bright red ink scrawled atop every parchment. Ron finally stood up partially so he could reach over her head to take them back, but by then it was much too late. Hermione had seen it all.
She turned back towards him. "What did Professor Lysander say?" she asked quietly--the last parchment she had read had included a note demanding that Ron make an appointment to see him.
"Oh--nothing too much," Ron shrugged with embarrassment as he shoved the homework back into his bag. "I'm just having some trouble understanding some of this stuff that's all and he wanted to go over it with me."
Hermione wasn't buying it for a second. "You're lying."
Ron twitched slightly, his ears glowing bright red. "He just said that I may wannarethinkbeinganauror,"
"What?" Hermione gaped. "That's ridiculous--just because you may be having some trouble grasping some concepts doesn't mean that you should change your entire career plans!" Ron smiled slightly at her obvious outrage. Without thinking, she grabbed one of the parchments out of Ron's hand and smoothed it out on the table, rereading it carefully. "Look at this--you weren't even that far off the mark, Ron!" She scooted her chair closer to the table and motioned Ron to do the same. "Look, you just mixed these two concepts up, that's all..."
"Yeah, I know, Lysander went over it with me," Ron interrupted. He leaned backwards, ears still red as he raked his hair back. "I don't know--I missed all those lessons so I'm already behind and I just can never understand the reading,"
"And the classes are devoted to the practical application; we never go over the general concepts," Hermione finished for him. "Yes, I don't quite agree with that teaching method but at least we actually get to pick up our wands this year," Ron laughed slightly but Hermione was anything but amused. "Okay, here's what we're going to do," Hermione told him firmly. "After dinner, we're going to go to the library and do our Defense reading together--that way, if you have any trouble, I'll be right there to answer your questions."
"But haven't you read it already?"
"Well, of course," Hermione conceded. "I haven't written the essay though so I'll have my books and everything," She shrugged. "I'll help you with that too if you want."
"Really, you'd do that for me?" Ron's slight smile grew even wider.
He seemed so surprised that she wanted to help him. It actually hurt a bit that Ron didn't think she would give him the time of day, although Hermione could understand how he had gotten that impression. She always made sure that they were never alone together more than absolutely necessary and when they were, their words had always been short, terse, and strictly impersonal. Whenever Ron tried to get her to open up or open up to her, she had always flatly told him that she wasn't ready. She wasn't exactly sure she was ready now to let him back in, but she did know that she missed him terribly. And she did know that he needed her help. If it got too painful, she could always find him another tutor or something--Ron would understand. Ron had actually been absolutely fantastic about giving her space and time although she could tell that he wanted her friendship back. He had been waiting two months now and now he needed her help. Hermione couldn't be selfish any longer and shut him out when he needed her. Besides, although she knew he was intending to use it to his advantage, that smile of his was working wonders to dissolve the icy façade she had put up whenever he was nearby.
"Of course," Hermione replied. She hesitated for a moment before opening her mouth again and uttering the words that Ron had been waiting two months to hear. "What are friends for?"
After the ice had melted, things had gone quite back to normal. Harry had been most relieved to walk i the library one day to find his two best friends studying together and laughing. Hermione in a way had almost not wanted to be friends with Ron again, but she couldn't help herself. Ron had been dreadfully behind not just in DADA but in almost all of his courses so it became quite necessary to study together every night. And since Ron had a short attention span and could never study for a great deal of time, he would start cracking jokes and before Hermione knew it, she was laughing and bantering with him. Ron just put her at such ease with herself that she couldn't help falling back into the habit of having him constantly there. Life just hadn't seemed normal without her favorite tall redhead.
Most of the time, Hermione was perfectly fine but there were moments of longing and melancholy especially when Ron sent out mixed signals like he often did. Honestly, Ron had claimed that Hermione was the only one who knew his true self but half of the time, Hermione had no idea what was going on in that head of his. Yes, she could read the emotions on his face as clear as day but at the same time she could sense some sort of internal struggle eating away at Ron. He was battling personal demons of some sort, most likely due to the trauma of his kidnapping and it made Hermione wonder what was really going on with him. At times, she thought he was happy that they had broken up and were just friends again but at other times...she wasn't so sure.
The prat always took care of her. He just wouldn't stop and although Hermione knew it could be just because Ron was a great friend, she couldn't help thinking if there was something more to his attentions. When she had found him in the hospital after the night they chased Pettigrew, for example, she of course had raised hell because he had actually Stunned her while Ron had yelled right back at her for not telling him where he was. The row had come to a rousing climax when Ron had shouted words at her that she was never going to forget:
"Damn it, Hermione, you don't get it!--I had to do it! You always have to be safe! You just have to because when you're in trouble, I can't focus or even breathe so how the hell could I have been any help to Harry?"
Ron had broken off when he realized he had said too much and both had flushed pink with embarrassment. These sorts of moments seemed to happen fairly often and Hermione loved and despised them at the same time. She loved them because they made her insides glow and the pure glorious rush of being loved engulfed her but she also hated them because he claimed that it was a different love. It was a love for a friend. Still, Hermione couldn't help wondering if Ron still loved her the way he used to when he acted like that. When they had parted at the end of sixth-year was another moment that had made her wonder...
"Oh, before I forget," Hermione extracted some parchment and quickly scrawled away. "I'll be at a different address for the summer--here's where you can reach me," She handed one sheet to Harry and one to Ron. "I put my telephone number on there in case the Dursleys let you use a phone for some reason, Harry, or if you finally learn how to use a phone, Ron,"
Ron however didn't laugh at her joke; in fact, he looked quite serious. "Why aren't you going home?" She glanced over at him and he learned everything he needed to know in her eyes. "Oh, bloody hell," he said sympathetically. "They didn't."
"They did," Hermione was able to smile as she said it, feigning casualness.
"What? Who did what?" Harry looked back and forth between them. "What's going on?"
"I'm not living with my parents any longer," Hermione explained. "They aren't too keen about me staying at Hogwarts with everything that's going on and when I told them that I could make my own decisions because I'm of age, they told me that if I'm making adult decisions, I should live as an adult."
Harry gaped at her open-mouthed. Ron looked as though he wanted to hit something but he kept his mouth shut. "What are you going to do?" Harry finally asked, not believing that he never knew that Hermione and her parents had such a falling-out.
"I'm staying in London," Hermione gestured towards the pieces of parchment. "With my aunt." Ron and Harry still looked so concerned about her that she felt the need to placate them; she had come to terms with her strained relationship with her parents so they should too. "It's for the best, in all honesty. I have that internship this summer at the Prophet so the commute will be much easier and my aunt Katherine has always been very interested in the magical world." Her two friends still were anything but reassured. "Honestly, it'll be fine."
"Still," Harry shook his head in disbelief. "I mean the Dursleys won't even kick me out and they hate me--well, actually, they've tried--in fact, they threaten to chuck me out almost every year." Harry leaned back into the cushions of his seat. "On second thought, maybe it is common to kick kids out of the house."
"They didn't kick me out," Hermione contradicted. "It was a mutual decision."
A magically amplified voice resounded down the corridors of the train, announcing their arrival at Platform 9¾. Ron remained unusually quiet until he allowed Harry go ahead of him through the barrier. Hermione was about to follow but Ron grabbed her arm.
"Hang on," he said in a low voice. Hermione stiffened at his touch--she and Ron had extremely limited physical contact--but Ron for once ignored her discomfort. "Why didn't you tell me sooner about your parents?"
Ron actually looked hurt that she hadn't told him. "I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I honestly thought I had told you," She had in a way--it was just that Ron hadn't been able to hear her. "And besides, it's a bit embarrassing to be kicked out by your own parents," She avoided Ron's eyes and tried to step away from his grasp.
"You should have told me," Ron chided her.
"Lucky that Mum loves you," Ron continued as if she hadn't even spoken. "She'll let you stay with us in a second,"
"What?" Hermione this time managed to pull free from Ron. "Ron, I'm not going to stay with you."
"Why not?" Ron had that injured look on his face again that always made Hermione just want to do everything in her power to make him smile again.
"It's not that I don't want to stay with you; you know that I would love to spend the summer with you," Hermione closed her eyes as she mentally reprimanded herself; that was not a very just-friends thing to say. "But with the way things are and everything that's happened, I-I just don't think it would be a good idea, that's all,"
"Fine," Ron reluctantly agreed. He hung back to allow her to go through the barrier first. Hermione managed to go through the brick barrier without any Muggles noticing. Harry was speaking to the Weasleys so Hermione quickly pushed up her trunk so she could say good-bye.
"Hello, Hermione, dear," Mrs. Weasley smiled fondly at who she hoped was her future daughter-in-law.
"Hi, Mrs. Weasley, Mr. Weasley," Hermione greeted them before turning to Harry. "Well, I guess this is good-bye," Harry didn't protest too much as Hermione reached out to give him a big hug. "I'm sure I'll be seeing you in a few weeks,"
"Yeah," Harry squirmed slightly to indicate that the hug was lasting too long so Hermione obliged by releasing him. "Is your aunt okay with owls?" Hermione nodded. "Great--I'll send Hedwig to you as soon as I can,"
"Great," Hermione echoed. Ron and Ginny clamored up at that moment. Harry and Ron shook hands while Ginny gave Hermione a hug of her own. "Bye, Gin," Hermione told her. "I'm at a different address for the summer--Ron has it."
"Okay," Ginny looked as though she wanted to ask what Hermione was going on about, but knew better to bring it up right now; she knew Hermione would tell her everything in a letter. "You'll come and visit soon, won't you?"
"Of course," Hermione smiled fondly at her one close girlfriend. "Have a good summer."
"You too," Ginny returned before turning to say give a very surprised Harry a very big good-bye hug. Hermione and Mrs. Weasley watched them with identical knowing smiles. Ron looked slightly uncomfortable but that could have been because he was dreading saying good-bye to Hermione but before he could, Mrs. Weasley commanded Hermione's attention.
"What's this about a different address?" Mrs. Weasley demanded.
"I'm living with relatives this summer," Hermione said shortly.
"Where?" Mr. Weasley asked.
Hermione was a bit taken aback by Mr. Weasley's sharp tone. "Here in London," Hermione nodded towards Ron. "Ron has my address if you need me for some reason." Mr. Weasley was looking rather concerned about something but before Hermione could inquire, Ron crossed his boundaries and pulled her aside. "What was that about?"
"He's just worried about you," Ron explained, glancing up at his father over Hermione's shoulder. "We all are," he added quietly.
Hermione inadvertently softened. "Ron, I'm going to be just fine; my aunt is a very nice woman..."
"Speaking of which, where is she?" Ron craned his neck to scan the crowded station.
"She's not coming," Hermione revealed somewhat tentatively. "She had to work so I'm just going to meet her at the flat."
"Do you know where it is?"
"I have the address, don't I?"
"How're you going to get there?"
"I'll walk--it's not too far."
"Have you ever been there before?"
"Well--no, not exactly."
"So you might get lost?"
"I won't get lost, Ron; I've never been lost in my life."
"Why don't you take one of those taxi things," Ron stuck his thumb towards the taxi stand. "That's what they're called, right?"
"Yes, but they're expensive," Hermione answered.
"But you said it's not far," Ron pointed out. "So it wouldn't cost much."
"Not necessarily," Hermione hedged uneasily.
"It'd be loads easier with all your stuff," Ron continued.
"I know it would be, but..."
"It's a bit farther than a few blocks, satisfied?" Hermione finally snapped.
Ron stared down at her annoyed face. "All right then--I'll walk you."
"Please," Hermione scoffed. "You don't know Muggle London at all."
"I'll get Dad then--he knows London well enough," Ron suggested.
"No," Hermione shook her head. "No, Ron, don't; I'll be fine."
"You shouldn't be walking around alone," Ron argued.
"I'll be fine," Hermione repeated firmly.
"You should have an Order guard or something," Ron continued.
"A guard?" Hermione said in disbelief. "Why on earth would I need a guard--I'm not Harry!"
"Uh, well, I am Harry," Harry interrupted loudly. "And I'm leaving now but I thought I'd let you know that half of Hogwarts is watching you two not to mention your parents, Ron, and my aunt and uncle who will undoubtedly use this against me my entire summer by complaining about how disrespectful my best friends are so maybe you should keep it down."
Hermione blushed furiously and used her wild mane of hair to shield her face from the crowd. She couldn't see if Ron was embarrassed as she was, but she could only assume that he was. "Now, I'm going to go over to those ugly gits over there who are supposedly related to me," Harry indicated the Dursleys who were watching the three of them apprehensively. "You two will use that time to sort things out here and hopefully, if all goes well, I'll have convinced them to drop Hermione off wherever she needs to go or else risk being turned into toads by Moody." He looked back and forth between his two best friends. "Sound good?"
Harry didn't wait for an answer and simply strode over to the Dursleys. Hermione and Ron both watched him go for a moment, neither one of them not wanting to apologize first.
"You know you don't have to worry about me so much," Hermione finally spoke. "I can take care of myself,"
"I know," Ron admitted sheepishly. "I just like to take care of you." He blanched as he suddenly realized what he had said and his ears turned even brighter red. The butterflies in Hermione's stomach suddenly took flight and she awkwardly hooked her thumbs in the back of her jeans.
"I know," Hermione said quietly. "And I like you taking care of me." Ron looked entirely too flattered at her comment and his smile was causing her insides to ache so badly with longing that she knew she had to say something else. "It's just too bad that I'm not yours to take care of."
"Hey," Harry jogged back over. "They said yes but we've got to go now--Diddykims has to meet his precious friends," Harry rolled his eyes but sobered when he saw the palpable tension between his two best friends. "Uh, sorry, did I interrupt?"
"No," Hermione answered for Ron who suddenly appeared fascinated with his trainers. "We can go," She waited until Ron had finished shaking Harry's hand in farewell again before saying her good-bye to him. There was an awkward moment of indecision before Hermione decided it was best not to hug him good-bye although she really did want to feel his arms around her more than anything. "Have a good summer, Ron," she said quietly. "Be sure to send me an owl,"
"Yeah, I will," Ron promised. He was rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably and he didn't look like he didn't know what to do with his hands. "Good luck with the job and everything,"
"Thanks," Hermione managed a smile and to catch his eye without becoming too consumed with the need to touch him in some way. "Well, bye,"
"Bye," Ron echoed as Hermione stepped away and followed Harry towards his relatives. Hermione was too busy kicking herself to notice that Ron had attracted even more attention to himself by punching one of the barriers nor did she realize that he didn't take his eyes off of her until she had disappeared out into the sunny London afternoon.
There were countless other moments just like those that always made Hermione wonder. He had Floo Powdered over to London the day the Prophet issued its story on the latest Azkaban breakout since he knew she was upset that Lucius Malfoy was free and at large. She had been the first one he had told about Percy's release from Auror custody. He had written to her once a week and each letter had included an open invitation to visit the Burrow but Hermione had ended up not coming at all. She had planned on arriving when Harry had come to visit but Harry had remained at the Dursleys or Grimmauld Place for the entire holiday. She just didn't think it was a very smart idea to go to the place where she and Ron had first really acted like a couple; it would only cause her to feel nostalgic and melancholic and Ron would undoubtedly be his usual wonderful self so she would end up resenting him the entire time or doing something incredibly stupid like kissing him.
So although she only saw him twice: the day he had visited her about the Azkaban breakout and the day she, Ron, Ginny, and Harry had all met in Diagon Alley to buy school supplies, he had never strayed very far from her mind. She had actually ended up talking to her aunt quite a bit about Ron. Hermione was actually very glad that she didn't live with her parents over the summer: the Prophet internship had been one of the best experiences of her life and her aunt had really helped her put things about Ron in a fresh new perspective.
Then seventh-year had begun and a whole new slew of moments that made her wonder. There had been her eighteenth birthday when Ginny, Harry, and Ron had all chipped in to not only buy her a beautiful tawny owl of her own but planned her very first surprise party; Ginny had revealed to her that both surprises had been Ron's idea. And even though Ron had started dating Daphne at the end of September, it seemed at times that Ron paid more attention to her than his own girlfriend. He helped her every time she had a nightmare, he confided in her about Percy, and every now and then, Hermione would catch him starting at her in the way he used to and in the way she every so often would stare at him.
Hermione flopped over on her other side and burrowed her cheek deeper into the down pillow. She should really be trying to get some sleep--she had a feeling that tomorrow was going to be yet another hectic day. She had all of her N.E.W.T classes, she had a meeting with the prefects, and of course there was always the risk of something very disturbing and wrong cropping up with the war. Nothing had happened in a while and although that was a great relief, Hermione couldn't help thinking that if Voldemort was lying low, he must be planning something. With a war on, she really shouldn't be spending this much time obsessing over Ron. She should be thinking of a way to protect Harry and prepare him for what could come.
But whatever did come regarding Voldemort, Harry, or Ron, Hermione thought as she closed her eyes, she would be ready for it. It wasn't as though she wanted to face Voldemort or help Harry save the world or put her life in danger, but that didn't mean that she couldn't do it. She knew she could do it, she knew that Harry could do it, and she knew that Ron could do it. Whether he was there fighting at her side as her best friend as her boyfriend, she didn't know. All she did know was that an imminent battle between Harry and Voldemort was brewing and it could happen any day now. And when it did finally occur, she and Ron were going to be right there at Harry's side.
Little did Hermione know as she drifted off to sleep that a battle of her own may be a lot closer than she ever suspected.
Author notes: Thanks for reading--I hope this clears up what has been happening because I know I skipped a lot.
Next: a day in the life of Head Girl Hermione