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: 06/06/2004
Updated: 01/06/2005
Words: 243,073
Chapters: 26
Hits: 84,040

Hermione Granger and the Beginning of the End

Ann Margaret

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 13

Chapter Summary:
Hermione hears about how Ginny's love life is surpisingly going, gets a surprise visitor, a surprise letter, and a not-so-surprising row with Ron.
Author's Note:
I have decided to start adding exerpts of songs that I feel pertain to the mood of the chapter because I've been discussing songs with people on my Yahoo group (insert shameless plug to join the Yahoo group!). Hope you enjoy!

We've come too far we can't turn back
Have our good days, have our bad
When I'm feeling blue
You say that I'm hurting you
We try so hard not to fight
But sometimes we cross the line

And I wanna leave but you won't let me
We have our highs and lows
Just like everybody else
Doesn't mean that we walk away
We work through our mistakes

Sometimes I love you
Sometimes I don't
But I never ever
Never want to let you go
The road's not easy
But the feeling's strong
It's the little things that keep me holding on



Ginny Weasley appeared to be utterly hacked off at something, but that faded when she caught sight of Hermione's tousled hair. "And what have you been doing?" she asked with a teasingly suggestive voice.

Hermione was a bit taken aback to find Ginny Weasley in her room, but she didn't protest--she had always told Ginny she was welcome anytime. Ginny wasn't particularly close to any of her roommates, and Hermione knew all too well how annoying it could be at times to share a room with girls you didn't particularly care for. She unsnapped her cloak and gave Ginny a reproachful look. "Not that," she informed her. She smoothed her hair with a smile. "I was flying with your brother."

"That's what I thought." Ginny gave her a wide-eyed innocent look that may have worked on her parents, but it didn't work on Hermione. "Whatever did you think I meant?"

Hermione shook her head with a good-natured roll of her eyes. "We haven't even kissed yet."

"Not yet?" Ginny asked in honest surprise. "Hermione, you've been seeing him for almost three weeks now!"

"I know, I know." Hermione smoothed her hair again, but this time it was confused irritation. "I'm just not ready, Ginny. If I let him, I know there's going to be no turning back. I hate that I just can't forgive him yet, but--he-he hurt me so much." She paced a few steps away from Ginny as her voice faltered.

"I know he did," Ginny reassured as she climbed out of the armchair she had been sitting in. "You just take your time. He made you wait, and he can wait for you." Hermione was standing at the window now, staring out onto the grounds, and Ginny stood beside her.

"I don't want it to happen just because he looks at me in that way he does sometimes, or because he's said something sweet," Hermione revealed in a soft voice. Her eyes remained fastened on the rolling hills, but she was really envisioning him in front of her. "I want it to be more than that. I want it to really mean something. I want it to happen because of something wonderful, or..." She paused for a moment, trying to find the words to explain how she felt. "He's been wonderful, Ginny, he really has. These past few weeks have been the happiest ever, but--"

"It's not enough for you to forgive him," Ginny finished for her.

Hermione dropped down on the window seat. "Am I a horrible person, Ginny?" she asked. "I thought I was a forgiving person..."

"You are," Ginny soothed as she sat down next to Hermione and put an arm around her shoulders. "Most people wouldn't even have considered dating him again after what he did to you. There's nothing wrong with making him wait a bit. I'm sorry if I made it sound wrong, but you two are just so happy. I just assumed that everything was completely patched up."

"It is." Hermione hated that she felt like she was about to cry, but she sniffed and continued on. "Or at least I know it will be. I know things will work out, or at least--at least my heart knows, but he--Ron just has to do something to let my mind in on the secret." Hermione realized how incoherent she must have sounded and she glanced over at her friend. "Do you know what I mean?"

"I think so." Ginny leaned her head companionably against the taller girl's shoulder. "You know deep down inside of you that he loves you, but you need some sort of sign, some sort of proof, to be absolutely sure. And that's the only way to get rid of the doubt that nags you constantly."

Ginny's voice had taken on a pensive, hardened tone that made Hermione suspect that Ginny only understood her because of personal experience. She glanced down at the top of Ginny's head--she had looked a bit upset when Hermione had first entered the room. "Harry?"

"Is a git," Ginny finished for her. She sat up straight and pushed herself off of the window seat. She now appeared to be furious, and Hermione had a sickening feeling that the fury had been brought about by the mention of a certain dark-haired, spectacle-wearing boy that, although in different ways, they both cared about tremendously. "Harry is a big, fat, bloody git!" Ginny exclaimed.

Oh dear, Hermione thought worriedly. "What happened?"

Ginny's fists were clenched at her side and she stamped her foot a few times in silent frustration. "I asked him. Flat out."

Hermione stared at her friend with wide eyes. "I thought you were going to wait a bit."

"I was, but I--I-couldn't any more," Ginny admitted in a clipped tone. "I've waited my entire life for him, and I just decided that I didn't want to wait any longer."

Hermione bit her lip. Judging from the devastated look on Ginny's face, she had a sinking feeling that Harry hadn't given Ginny the answer she was longing for. "What did he say?"

Ginny rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, her lips pressed tightly into a frown. She swallowed hard and blinked rapidly. "He couldn't do it." Hermione's heart went out to her friend. Ginny threw her hands in the air in infinite disappointment. "He couldn't say it, Hermione." A sob threatened to bubble up from her throat, but Ginny cleverly masked it as a laugh. "I don't know why I thought he would--I've always known that he has commitment issues. Who can blame him? He really thinks, sometimes, that every time he allows himself to really care about someone, they'll die." Ginny gulped again. "But I told him that I'm not going anywhere, that I would never leave him, that I've only been ruddy mad about him since the first moment I saw him!"

Hermione quietly pulled out her handkerchief and handed it to the forlorn girl beside her. Ginny sank down onto the foot of Hermione's bed and noisily blew her nose. "And then he said," Ginny continued once she regained a few ounces of control, "that he was sorry, but that he couldn't say the same to me yet, and that he cares for me, but that this just isn't the time for us--if it's meant to be, it'll happen." Ginny angrily wiped her eyes. "Can you believe that? What kind of answer is that?! And when I told him that he's being a big bloody git, he gets mad at me!"

It was now Hermione's turn to put a comforting arm around Ginny. "You know he's been a bit on edge," she said, trying to placate her. "Since they can't find Professor Lupin anywhere, he's going to be even less likely to want to commit to anyone."

"But Hermione, you don't get it," Ginny wailed as she shifted out of Hermione's grasp to look at her with angry, tear-filled eyes. "Riddle is finally gone. He's gone for good, and you know that half the reason I never really went after Harry before was that I was so mortified that I had done--what I did--and he almost got himself killed trying to save me." Ginny said this last part very fast in order to gloss over the extreme guilt she'd finally been able to rid herself of, after five years of the heavy burden. "But now it's finally over, and not only that, but he--he kissed me, Hermione--he actually kissed me. Riddle's gone, and he kissed me and it was perfect, but now it all went to hell!"

There was something about the finality in Ginny's voice when she'd said that Riddle was gone forever that initiated Hermione's next question. "Ginny," she asked a bit tentatively, "what exactly did you and Harry do at the Malfoys'?"

Tears were still trickling down Ginny's cheeks, but a smile flickered across her face at Hermione's question. "He found me outside and told me that he had something to show me." Ginny looked down at her hands and twisted Hermione's now-damp handkerchief between her fingers. "He took me down to Riddle's room. He knew I had to see him dead for myself, so he held my hand and brought me to him." Ginny's voice wavered and her face conveyed the multitude of emotions she must have experienced while staring at Riddle's dead body. "I started crying like an idiot, of course, and he held me, Hermione; Harry actually held me, and it wasn't awkward at all--none of that head patting he usually does, you know?"

Hermione nodded. "Anyway," Ginny continued weakly, "he then started rifling through some of Riddle's things and found the diary." Ginny's eyes went very wide at the remembrance of that little black book that had almost ended her life at the young age of twelve. "It was just like I remembered it, and I couldn't even bring myself to touch it. I had to back away, gibbering." She shook her head in self-annoyance. "So Harry put it on the ground and asked if I wanted to do it, or if he should do it for me." Ginny's voice gathered some strength at this point. "And I told him that I wanted to do it. He asked me to wait, and he snapped his fingers to knock more those stones out of the wall. He reckoned that would be enough to allow me to use some basic magic, so I got out my wand and I burned that diary until nothing was left but a pile of ash.

"I kept them, you know," Ginny added almost as an afterthought. "Harry conjured a jar for me and we put them in there. I don't know why I'm keeping them, but I plan on putting them somewhere where Lucius Malfoy will never ever be able to charm that damn diary to work again."

Hermione smiled at Ginny, somewhat taken by surprise by Harry's sensitivity and perception. "You know, Harry does things like that with people he really cares about."

"Yeah," Ginny clenched her jaw. "Wouldn't kill him to say it though, would it?"

Hermione let out a soft sigh and gazed out of the window again. She knew her Harry well, and she knew precisely why he had done this to Ginny. "Actually, Ginny," Hermione said slowly and thoughtfully, "he thinks it will kill you if he says it."


"Hermione," Ron warned her, "don't say anything."

"But, Ron--"

"No." Ron shot an anxious look over at Harry who was poring over yet another textbook Hermione had pulled from the Restricted Section.

"He's making a mistake," Hermione muttered as she stood on her tiptoes to pull out another book. She was a bit too short, so Ron quickly put a hand on the small of her back to steady her, while reaching up to easily pull the book out himself. Hermione had to catch her breath momentarily; she always loved when he touched her there--actually, she loved when he touched her anywhere, but this was certainly not the time to think about that.

"It's his mistake to make," Ron reminded her. "It's his life." Hermione leaned her head back to make a face at him. She had used those words on him almost a month ago, and he was reminding her that if she tried to interfere, she was being a hypocrite. Prat.

"Besides, what happened to letting people make their own choices?" Ron pointed out.

Hermione sighed. "I am letting people make their own choices, but I'm going to say something if he makes the wrong one. If he's not doing it for the right reasons--"

"Maybe he is," Ron interrupted sternly.

As he handed Hermione the book he had just retrieved, she turned to face him, eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Do you know why he did it, Ron?"

Ron's ears turned red as he grabbed another book. "Would this help? It's a 'how to become a Death Eater' manual--bloody hell, they actually wrote a book about it?" Ron added as he peered in disgust down at the thin, puce colored textbook.

"Ron," Hermione chided. She however couldn't stop herself from wrinkling her nose in distaste; she couldn't believe a fine establishment such as the Hogwarts library would actually have a book on how to become a Death Eater. It gave her a slight chill to look at it, so she nodded back up at the shelf. "Put it back." Ron hastily obeyed, but he wasn't about to get off so easily. "Now, answer my question--did Harry tell you why he doesn't want to be with Ginny?"

"It's none of your business, Hermione," Ron tried again, but obviously this was not the right thing to say.

"Excuse me?" Hermione's hands went to her hips. "It's none of my business that two of the people I care about more than anything are miserable?"

"Hermione!" Ron snapped. He rudely tipped a quarter of the books he was carrying into her arms so she couldn't swat him like she sometimes did whenever she got really hacked off. "Harry did it for us, so we ought to do it for him."

Hermione blinked in surprise, momentarily speechless; she never imagined that Harry had gone through something like this when the two of them had broken up. He had been wonderful, of course; she had been amazed with how well he took care of her when he had found her crying on top of the Astronomy Tower, but she never thought he had actually wanted to make things right and was prepared to interfere if necessary. Harry certainly had his own problems to contend with, so why should he have bothered trying to find a way to put things right between her and Ron? Because he's Harry Potter, that small voice in her mind reminded her, and Hermione fought back a sigh. Maybe she took for granted sometimes how fabulous a friend Harry really was.

Ron seized the opportunity to head back to the table where Harry was sitting, and Hermione quickly moved to follow. They both paged through books silently for several minutes. They had been researching quite a bit over the past few weeks. Hermione was primarily focused on reading about rituals or spells that required the use of Muggle or Muggle-born girls in any capacity, Ron was trying to find a way to track down Lupin, and Harry, by Hermione and Ron's insistence, was reading copious amounts of text on wandless magic and its potential risks. They didn't want him to ever risk losing it again like he had with Riddle. Hermione knew that Harry was too good of a person to succumb to Dark magic, but that didn't mean he could give in to temptation for a few moments, which would be all that was necessary to produce potentially dire consequences. If Harry killed out of rage, Hermione knew that it would haunt him forever, and once Voldemort's reign of terror was over, Hermione was going to make sure that Harry had as much of a happy, normal life as humanly possible in the magical world.

Ron's foot nudged hers under the table, and when Hermione looked up, he gave her a lopsided smile of apology. Hermione smiled back, and they both returned to their books, Ron's foot still pressing wonderfully against hers. The brief moments of peace passed rather quickly, however. Ron's attention was diverted when Pig landed on a nearby window and began pecking madly. Madame Pince was thoroughly disgusted by the owl's lack of composure, but Hermione only smothered a giggle and peered curiously at the envelope Ron was opening.

"Who's it from?" she inquired.

"Home," Ron answered absently as he scanned the letter, frowning slightly.

Harry looked up from his book and pushed it away. "Everything all right, mate?" he asked warily.

"Uh--yeah." Ron stuffed the letter into his pocket and loaded up his books. "I've got to go answer this."

"Ron?" Hermione said quietly as got up from her chair. "Do you want me--"

"No." Ron paused to lay a reassuring hand on her forearm. "Everything's fine." Hermione nodded as she studied his face carefully. He wasn't lying. He patted her arm lightly. "See you at meeting?" Hermione smiled and nodded again--they had a prefect meeting in a little over an hour. However, she couldn't help wondering just how long Ron expected to write his reply if he wasn't planning on coming back to the library. "See you," he called over to Harry, who had gone back to reading his book once he had realized that Ron was in no grave danger.

Hermione watched him leave, and she waited until he left the library before sitting back down at the table. She was a bit concerned about him, but she might as well take advantage of the opportunity that now presented itself.

Harry, however, had other plans. "Hermione," he said firmly as he flipped to the next page of his book, "don't."

Hermione was slightly taken aback, but that had never stopped her before. "Come on, Harry," she said in a brisk voice. "Talk to me--you're being ridiculous."

"I am not," Harry hissed stubbornly under his breath.

Hermione only managed to keep her voice from rising above the acceptable volume out of her infinite respect for Madame Pince and the Hogwarts library. "Oh, so you honestly don't want to be with Ginny? Because I'm sorry, Harry, but it certainly looked like there was something going on!"

"It's not that," Harry barked. His outburst yielded a glare from Madame Pince, and was forced to lower his voice. "Look, I have my reasons, all right?" Hermione was about to make a sharp retort, but Harry overrode her again. "There's a time and a place for everything, Hermione, and this is just not the time for her and I to be together, ok?"

There was that voice again--the wise, determined, firm voice that displayed a maturity well beyond Harry's eighteen years. Hermione just stared--what on earth did go on in that head of his? Honestly, one minute he was acting like a complete prat by refusing to talk about a girl, and the next he sounded as sage and powerful as Albus Dumbledore himself. There was a great wizard brewing inside of Harry, and what amazed and frightened her at the same time was that that wizard seemed ready to break through any day now. She had been witnessing his infinite potential and powers for years, but she knew that what she had seen didn't even scratch the surface of Harry's gifts. There was something about him that the world had yet to see, and Hermione couldn't help wondering what the devil it was--and if it had something to do with Ginny.

Whatever it was, she knew that he wouldn't tell her until it was time. Hermione looked back down at her book with well-hidden disappointment. She wanted to help Harry as much as humanly possible, but she couldn't if he wouldn't let her. Harry didn't want anyone he cared about involved with his fight out of fear that they would get hurt. This would be the logical assumption as to why Harry had broken Ginny's heart, however something was telling Hermione that there was something more to it.

Harry glanced over at her, as she hadn't spoken in a while. His mouth opened as though he wanted to tell her something, but all he said was, "I'm going to go."

"Okay," Hermione said quietly as she pushed her chair back to join him. They silently loaded up their books and exited the library.

"I will tell you," Harry said abruptly. "Just not now."


"I want to tell you," Harry tried again. "Really." It wasn't like Hermione to be so dismissive and blasé about the whole issue, so he knew that she was shielding her disappointment.

"I know you do." Hermione stopped walking for a moment. "It's just that--I don't want Ginny to go though what I did."

Harry let out a long breath. He knew very well how much hell Hermione had gone through when Ron had broken up with her, and the thought of him inflicting that sort of pain on Ginny--Harry wasn't going to even get into that; it was making his insides writhe. "It's different from you and Ron, I swear."

"Still hurts," Hermione muttered.

"Well, she seems to be doing fine," Harry commented flatly. Ginny had started dating Michael Corner again, much to his consternation. Hermione glanced over at him, wondering if she should let him know that Ginny was only doing it to make him jealous because she was so hurt and angry, but her attention was successfully diverted by the surprising sight of Ron Weasley's back. Ron was standing just in front of her, obviously talking to someone. Judging by the rigidity of his shoulders, he was absolutely furious. She couldn't see over Ron's shoulder since he was far too tall, but at the moment, Hermione didn't care. All she cared about was that Ron looked as though he was ready to fight, and she couldn't allow that to happen.

"Ron?" she called out as she quickened her step. Harry also picked up his pace when he spotted his best friend's balled fists. Ron whirled around, and sure enough his red ears were a dead giveaway--he was livid about something. "Ron, what's the--" The rest of her question died at her lips as the mystery person stepped into her view. She came to a halt, shocked at the realization that Ron had been speaking to the last person she'd ever expected to see again.


"Viktor?!" Hermione was so taken aback that Viktor Krum, her first pseudo-boyfriend, the boy who had given her her first kiss, the boy who lived an entire continent away was actually here, at Hogwarts, that she didn't think to protest when Viktor swooped over to kiss her lightly on both cheeks. The look on Ron's face reminded her of her mistake, and Hermione swiftly made amends by placing a firm hand on Viktor's chest to keep him out of kissing range.

Harry glanced over from Ron, to Hermione, then to Viktor, back to Ron, and finally focused again on Viktor. He strategically stuck his hand out between Hermione and Viktor. "Good to see you," Harry said politely. The two shook hands and exchanged small talk, which gave Hermione the opportunity to meet Ron's eyes. She let out a soft sigh at the sight of them--they were the exact same shade of angry blue as they had been after the infamous Yule Ball. She wrenched her eyes away from him as Harry stepped back to clap Ron on the back, and Viktor turned back to Hermione with a smile.

She knew she had to say something; she was gaping at him a bit idiotically, so she blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "What--what are you doing here?" Hermione would never admit it to Ron, but it was very nice to see him again. Viktor had entered her life at the most opportune time. She'd been feeling a bit left out since Harry and Ron had made up and were best friends again, and she'd felt that they had been ganging up on her a bit, and then she'd had to deal with the realization that Ron hadn't even known she was a girl for heaven's sake. As wonderful as her two best friends were, they could, at times, act like typical, stupid, teenage boys. Viktor had restored her faith in herself, and his affections had reminded her that despite the fact that Ron Weasley hadn't yet noticed that she was a girl, she was someone of value. He had been such a good friend to her, even after she had rejected his advances, and had remained a faithful pen pal ever since. Hermione couldn't believe that she had forgotten how dear of a friend Viktor was until she had seen him a moment ago; until now, she hadn't realized how much she missed him.

"I vould like to speak vith you, if that is all right," Viktor replied.

Hermione couldn't help feeling flattered that he had traveled all of this way to see her. She glanced at her watch. "Well, I have a meeting in about an hour--would that be enough time? If not, I could meet you later tonight--are you going to stay here for the night? Do you need a guest room? I could go to McGonagall with you--"

Ron let out a sound that was something between a growl and a groan. Hermione repressed the urge to give him a dirty look, but Viktor was polite enough to ignore him. "No, I vill not stay for long; I haff some business back at home." He pointed out of a nearby window. "But an hour should be good--may ve take a valk?"

"Of course," Hermione agreed amiably. She stepped to the side to allow Viktor to lead the way, but her eyes were steady on Ron. Her words, however, were directed to him and Harry. "I'll see you two later."

Harry nodded and answered for both of them; Ron still appeared too upset to speak. "Have fun." He had kept his hand on Ron's shoulder for the entire time, in case it became necessary to seize the back of Ron's robes to prevent him from charging. He pulled Ron backward in warning when Ron appeared to have no intention of leaving. It seemed that his feet had been rooted in the floor, for he stumbled rather stiffly, eyes still latched suspiciously on Viktor and fists clenched. Hermione could tell that he was just itching to yank out his wand, but with a very deliberate bob of his Adam's apple, he managed to allow his feet to follow Harry's guidance.

Hermione couldn't help being annoyed with Ron; he was acting like such an idiot. He knew what he meant to her, he knew that she was more than capable of taking care of herself, and he knew that she would never do anything to jeopardize their relationship, however tentative at the moment, because he knew it was all she ever wanted. He knew all of these things--he knew her better than anyone, even without the aid of empathy. He knew that he was the one she was hopelessly in love with, not Viktor, so why was he playing the role of the insufferably jealous boyfriend? It was ridiculous. It had been somewhat endearing in fourth-year, but now it was just flat out annoying.

But Hermione loved that prat, even when he acted this way. "Ron!" she called out abruptly. "I'll be just a minute," she said to Viktor before hurrying over to where Ron was waiting. Harry had discreetly wandered ahead a few paces, studying a landscape on the wall with the utmost fascination. She could feel Viktor's curious eyes on her, but she ignored them. Ron's fists were still balled and his face was still flushed, but his eyes had lost a bit of their hard gleam.

"Are we still on for later?" Hermione asked in the low, soft voice she found herself using whenever she and Ron were alone and talking about more private, personal matters. They had plans to fly together for the hour after the prefect meeting, before dinner. It was her subtle way of reminding Ron that even Viktor Krum wasn't going to keep her from their date.

"Yeah," Ron said in the flat voice he adopted when he was trying valiantly to keep a lid on his fiery temper. She knew that most people would think that Ron was still acting unreasonably, but she knew her Ron well. She could see right past the angry, bitter façade, to spot the haunted flicker of fear lurking in his eyes. It reminded her forcibly of how scared and sick he'd looked the morning before his first Quidditch match in fifth-year. That wild, frightened look had ended up causing her to kiss him for the first time, to finally get over her insecurities and doubts enough to let him know just how much he really meant to her. Hermione knew now that it was going to happen again.

Ron certainly didn't deserve to be kissed, or forgiven for that matter, especially now when he was acting like an immature prat, but then again he had always been an immature prat. Besides, it didn't really matter. You don't kiss someone because they deserve it; you kiss someone because it's what your heart is screaming out for you to do. Her heart had been screaming at her for some time now, and Hermione decided on the spot that this was the time to listen to it. It wasn't the time to forgive him, of course, so she couldn't really kiss him. But she could certainly let him know that he was getting close to being forgiven, and that he'd better not muck it up now by throwing a fit of jealous rage.

"Good." Hermione stood on her tiptoes, and with one hand wrapped around the base of his head, she dropped a light, lingering kiss, two tantalizing centimeters from the corner of his lips. She felt Ron's muscles twitch as if to move to reciprocate, so she pulled away. "I'll see you then." Before Ron could say a word, or before she could spot the new brightness in Ron's eyes, she whirled around and returned to Viktor, barely noticing when Viktor gallantly pulled her heavy schoolbag off of her arm to carry it for her. A warm, wonderful feeling swelled throughout her abdomen, and a smile spread over her face. She just hoped that Ron got the message--it was a bit clearer than saying to him, "next time there's a ball, just ask me before somebody else does, and not as a last resort."

Viktor cleared his throat slightly to bring her attention back to him. "You and Ron are together again, yes?"

"Yes--well, no--yes--we're sort of in a transitional period," Hermione explained somewhat incoherently with a blush.

Viktor held the front door open for her. "Are you certain of this, Herm-own-ninny? You wrote me about how much you were hurt by him."

Hermione fought back a fresh smile. Honestly, she didn't understand why Ron and Viktor didn't get along; they were actually quite similar in many ways. Then, with an inward chuckle, she realized that that was precisely why they didn't get along. "I know I did, but we've gotten past that." Sort of, she added in her head, but she didn't think that would appease Viktor. "I trust Ron," she added firmly.

"Vell, I don't," Viktor muttered as he wandered with her toward the edge of the lake. Viktor always loved the Hogwarts grounds, and he and Hermione had taken quite a few walks around the lake when he had stayed here in his fourth-year.

"Well, you trust me, don't you?" Hermione reminded him reasonably. "And I know what's best for me. Ron, prat that he may be, is just that."

Viktor, however, did not appear to be placated; in fact, he appeared to be even more perturbed--or more perturbed than usual. Hermione had always thought that Viktor's features made him appear as though he was perpetually constipated. "I am not so sure," Viktor admitted as he stuck his hand in his pocket to extract a familiar piece of parchment. "You did vrite this, yes?"

Hermione gasped as she took the parchment from Viktor. It was her application for a post in the Office of Muggle Relations at the Bulgarian Ministry of Magic. In numerous letters and conversations, Viktor had informed her of the backward presumptions most Bulgarian wizards had toward Muggles. So when Hermione had learned that the department was undergoing a major redistribution, she had seized the opportunity to apply out of hopes that she could help turn those ridiculous preconceptions around. "Yes, I did, but Viktor," Hermione implored, glancing up at him, "how on earth did you get this?"

"I am vorking there now," Viktor informed her proudly.

"Really?" Hermione gasped in delight. Viktor would be a wonderful asset to that department and would be pivotal in helping shattering harmful biases against Muggles. "But what about Quidditch?"

"I cannot play Quidditch forever," Viktor replied. "Besides, I do not vish to travel, since I vill be starting a family soon." Viktor did not appear to be very pleased by this reasoning, but discreetly, Hermione did not push the issue. "But this is vhy I haff come; I vanted to tell you that if you still vish to vork for us, the position is yours."

Hermione's jaw dropped in pleased shock. A job. She had just been offered a job. It was her first serious job offer, and a tingling sense of pride passed through her. Muggle and all, the Bulgarian Ministry wanted her to work for them. Even though Viktor undoubtedly must have had some pull in the decision, she wouldn't have been offered the position if she wasn't qualified, regardless of Viktor's recommendation. She was capable enough as a witch to work in the Ministry. It was a great honor and Hermione felt her cheeks turn pink with pride. She couldn't wait to tell Ron...

Ron. Reality crashed back over her and killed her temporary euphoria. If she accepted, she would be leaving behind the love of her life. She couldn't accept this position, not when the two of them were just getting things back on track. She had only applied for posts so far from home in case she needed to get away from Ron. But now...now things were finally falling into place, and she had actually considered throwing all of that away by moving to Bulgaria.

Hermione handed back her application. "Thank you for the offer, Viktor, but I'm going to have to decline."

Viktor didn't take the letter. He glowered at her. "You are saying no because of him?"

"Not just Ron," Hermione argued half-heartedly. "There's Harry, and Ginny, and my family..."

"This is vhy I come here instead of vrite," Viktor said crossly. "I knew you vould say no because of him." Hermione stared at him in mild surprise. Viktor rarely got worked up over anything. He earnestly took up her hands in his. "Listen to me, Herm-own-ninny, I do not vant you to make a mistake. You haff always spoken of the types of tings you vanted to do when you finished school, and this position is just the sort of job you haff been looking for. You always spoke of vanting to make a difference, and this is a vay to make the type of difference you vish to make." Viktor tapped the piece of parchment Hermione was still clutching. "This is a very goot position, and I know that you vould be very happy vorking with us, and very happy in Bulgaria. Most vitches right out of school vould not receive this generous of an offer. It is a great opportunity you haff here, and I do not vish you to pass it up, just because of this friend who has hurt you before." Hermione opened her mouth to argue, but Viktor shook his head, squeezed her fingers, and shushed her. "This is not about Ron or anyone else, Herm-own-ninny, this is about you. Vat do you vant to do? Hoo do you vant to be?"

Hermione didn't have an answer for him. She wanted to be so many things: a politician, a reporter, a Healer, a professor, a house-elves rights activist, a mother, a wife...Ron's wife. Hermione sucked in a shaky breath at that thought; never before had she realized how very much she wanted that to become a reality, until she heard the phrase "Ron's wife" in her head for the first time. Now that was a position she coveted above all others, but that would be in the far, far future; she was much too young to think about marriage just yet. She could have a career for several years and then get married--she could work in Bulgaria for a year or two, help turn things around, and then return to England. Her feelings for Ron wouldn't change while she was gone, and she knew deep down inside that Ron's wouldn't either. She could technically do it; she could take the job in Bulgaria.

"Vell?" Viktor urged. "Vill you at least think about it?"

Hermione nodded somewhat dumbly. She certainly would.


"What's with you?" Draco Malfoy sneered.

Hermione sighed heavily, flicking a stray lock of frizzy hair out of her face before picking up her schoolbag. "What are you talking about?" she asked flatly. She simply did not have the time nor the energy to deal with Draco Malfoy. The whole conversation with Viktor had been rather emotionally draining, and all she wanted to do was go off with Ron and hide from the world for a little while.

"You hardly said a word during the meeting," Malfoy elaborated. "You usually jump at the chance to undermine my authority."

"Pardon me for not liking that a Death Eater's son was assigned to a leadership position that allows him to manipulate hundreds of impressionable young students," Hermione snapped. To hide the rest of her anger, she gulped the last dregs out of the water glass she always had with her during meetings. She wanted to get out of there before Malfoy could pull the Mudblood card, since Ron was in clear earshot. Ron didn't look very pleased to begin with so, Hermione didn't want anything to irritate him further.

"So you and the Weasel are back to rocking the bedsprings again, eh?" Malfoy inquired loudly. "Making good use of your comfy Head Girl room?" There was a hardness underlying his patronizing that made Hermione feel a bit ill at ease, but she ignored it. The other prefects milling around abruptly became very interested in the Head Boy and Girl's conversation, and everything else came to a standstill.

Ron's fists were already clenched, so Hermione simply turned her back on the Slytherin and strode over to his side before he could charge. She was not going to give Malfoy the time of day when she'd much rather be losing herself in Ron Weasley. "Ready to go?" she asked softly.

"Yeah," Ron said somewhat sullenly. However he didn't immediately move for the door, instead choosing to address Malfoy, much to Hermione's chagrin. "I'd be more careful if I were you, Malfoy," he bit out contemptuously. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were jealous." Malfoy's cheekbones were burning pink as several students started to discuss this possibility amongst each other. "I can't really blame you for fancying someone like Hermione, but I might kill you for it--not to mention what your father would do if he heard about your inappropriate behavior." Hermione watched Malfoy carefully for a reaction--Lucius Malfoy certainly would be furious if he heard that his own flesh and blood fancied a Muggle-born--but she couldn't discern anything suspicious; Malfoy only held Ron's eyes with utter contempt. "And I know that I'm a pureblood and all, but I'm afraid I don't fly on that side of the broom, and well...." Ron just shook his head patronizingly from side to side as he looked Malfoy up and down. "Eurgh."

The other prefects started laughing, and Hermione tugged on Ron's arm before Malfoy could retaliate and Ron started using his fists instead of humor. "Come on," she urged more forcefully as she physically turned his back to Malfoy. She kept her eyes on him, however, to make sure that he didn't try to curse Ron from behind. Ron let out a long breath to calm himself, and after a long hesitation, he tugged on Hermione's school bag to relieve her of its burden. Hermione smiled despite her annoyance--she knew Ron had only done it because Viktor had done it an hour ago. To remind him once again that she wanted him, not Viktor, she slipped her hand into his, despite the increased whispers among the lingering prefects.

They didn't speak until they were out in the sanctity of the grounds, because Ron was still trying to calm down, and because he knew that Hermione didn't want to hear him rant about Malfoy. Although she agreed with him wholeheartedly, she had already heard it many, many times before. Still, when Ron finally spoke, his bad temper had yet to dissolve. "So how is old Vicky?" Ron asked with a trace of bitter sarcasm. "Still the same grouchy old git?"

Hermione let out a loud, impatient sigh--obviously, the not-so-subtle hint of kissing him wasn't enough to penetrate that unbelievably thick skull of his. "Absolutely nothing happened with Viktor, Ron. We went for a walk, he left, and that's all, so there's absolutely nothing to be upset about."

"I'm not upset," Ron argued unconvincingly. "I'm just asking."

Hermione really didn't want to answer his question. There were a lot of things about Viktor's visit that had left her ill at ease, and to be honest she had been glad to see him go. And now wasn't the time to think about it--all she wanted to think about was Ron. So, she decided to tell him no more and no less than exactly what he wanted to hear. "He's fine--he's engaged now, as a matter of fact."

It appeared as though all of the thinly veiled jealousy had been slapped clear out of his head. "Vicky's engaged?"

"Yes, Ron, Viktor," Hermione replied, stressing the second syllable very deliberately, and causing Ron to roll his eyes, "is engaged. Her name is Alexandra, she's two years older than him, and she's a mediwitch for the Bulgarian Quidditch team. They met on the pitch over a year ago, and they're getting married this October."

Ron's stride became considerably more jaunty and light-hearted. "Maybe we should send them a gift," he mused thoughtfully.

Now it was Hermione's turn to roll her eyes. Prat.

"Hang on," Ron said abruptly as a horrible thought occurred to him. The scowl was now back on his face. "He didn't come to try to tie up loose ends, you know, make sure that this Alexandra is the one, by--" He nodded his head suggestively, trying to get Hermione to follow his logic. Ron's logic was, however, so odd that Hermione could only stare at him in puzzlement. He seemed rather annoyed that she was forcing him to spell it out for her and let out a disgruntled breath. "Well, he did kiss you!"

"What--oh, honestly, Ron!" Hermione snapped. "So what if he kissed me on the cheek? It's a rather common custom in Bulgaria to do that to a friend, and besides, in case you didn't notice, he kissed me and I in turn kissed you!" She tried to pull away, but Ron clung on to her fingers. Suddenly struck with a bright idea, she raised their intertwined hands slightly in front of them so Ron could see. "This is real, remember?" she reminded him in a gentler, more sincere tone. At this, Ron's guilt was almost palpable, and they both sighed simultaneously. Her tone became more plaintive as she was overcome with the desire to end the conversation so they could just get along with their date. "Ron, you know there's nothing to be jealous of."

"Yeah," Ron admitted in a small voice. "I just--" He had to look down at their hands again before continuing, drinking in the sight of his fingers wrapped around the hand that had always belonged in his. "I just don't want to lose you again."

Oh bugger. There was a lost little-boy look in his eyes again, and she knew exactly how to make it go away. However, in doing so, she would be admitting something to him that she hadn't told anyone, because it frightened her a bit to realize just how committed she was to him. "Ron," Hermione said matter-of-factly, "you never lost me." She shrugged one shoulder in a vain attempt to make the moment less serious. "I was yours from the moment I met you."

Her eyes were on the sparkling March sun that was dancing off of the surface of the lake, because if she looked at him she didn't know what she would end up doing. Ron didn't say anything for a moment as he studied her profile. Hermione could feel that her words had touched him beyond coherent speech and that he wanted to say something to let her know that he felt the same way, but that he couldn't. "Come here," he finally got out in a hoarse voice. They were now under the beech tree that they had spent many, many memorable moments under. He slid his and Hermione's satchels off of his shoulder, but didn't loosen his fingers from her hand. Hermione knew what he was planning and tried to retreat a step. Ron had always allowed his actions to speak louder than his words.

"Ron, no, I'm not ready--"

"I know," Ron murmured as he brought his other hand up to her face. The heel of his hand rested comfortably under her chin. "Just trust me, ok?" His thumb traced lovingly up and down her cheek for a few seconds, making Hermione's heart pound with longing. She couldn't even nod her head to respond, and speaking was just plain impossible right now, but of course he knew that she trusted him more than anything. She kept her eyes locked on his, despite the slightly annoying fact that it was cutting off her air supply and slowly but surely reducing her to a melted puddle of desire. Her face burned from the warmth of his hand. Before she knew it, he tilted her head to the side and left a soft, brief kiss two tantalizing centimeters from the corner of her lips, causing her heart flip up into her throat and her mind to sing with joy. Even though his lips couldn't have been on her skin for more than three seconds, it was enough to remind her of every loving thought, every tender moment, every sentiment of love that Ron had ever expressed for her. Her eyes had instinctively closed when he leaned forward, and when they opened, she almost closed them again because Ron's eyes were burning straight through her.

"Sorry," he apologized unnecessarily. "I'd hate myself I didn't do it."

"S'okay," Hermione managed to get out, her voice a bit high-pitched and fainter than normal. She cleared her throat and shook her head from side to side to clear the fuzzy ecstasy. Damn, he was a good kisser. Her head dropped down to rest against his chest. She inhaled deeply, breathing in Ron's warmth and strength. His free hand came up to play with her curls, and she sighed again. Merlin, she really didn't deserve a prat as wonderful as him.

"Hermione?" Ron bent his knees and moved his hand from his curls to her cheek and looked straight into her eyes. "Are you okay?"

No. Hermione didn't want to say the words aloud and ruin the moment, or even worse, risk having him think that she was upset. He was being so unbelievably wonderful, and it wasn't as though she was actually going to take the job in Bulgaria--it was just that she knew Ron would want her to reject the offer without another thought, and she couldn't do that just yet. She could make such a significant difference in Bulgaria, she was certain of it, and she didn't want to throw away an opportunity to help make the world a better place.

"Karakoff is dead," Hermione said abruptly, bringing up the other disturbing facet of Viktor's visit. She knew she was killing the moment, but it was all she could think of to say. "They-they killed him."

Ron paled slightly as he guided Hermione to the ground, their intertwined hands landing companionably on Ron's leg. Hermione didn't know why she felt like crying; it wasn't as though she was personally attached to Igor Karakoff in the slightest. He had been a rogue Death Eater.

"It happened only a few weeks ago. Apparently, Karakoff had been doing a pretty good job of avoiding the Death Eaters, but they finally caught up to him." She shook her head in horror. "Viktor's working in the Ministry now, and he's friends with a few Aurors. He asked to see the file on the investigation when he heard the news, so he saw the photographs of what they did to him." She cringed slightly in recollection of Viktor's description. "I just can't understand how anyone could be so cruel--I just can't see how anyone could get pleasure out of doing what they did to him." She winced noticeably again. "It was so horrible, Ron, Viktor could barely get the words out. I can't get the sight out of my head, and I didn't even see it--"

"Okay, okay," Ron soothed as he glanced behind him and quickly scooted back to lean against the trunk of the tree. Hermione smiled weakly as she followed suit. She settled down next to him with her head against his chest, and his arms curled around her to hold her close. One of his large hands rubbed up and down her arm, and the comforting gesture allowed Hermione to continue.

"He said that things are getting pretty horrible over there," Hermione told him in a shaky voice. "I didn't realize that Vol-Voldemort was gathering strength abroad, too. It's like he's everywhere, Ron, and I--I-I just don't know what to do anymore," she admitted miserably. Viktor had needed to vent for a bit about the atrocities of war that were occurring all over the world, so Hermione had heard quite a few horror stories. The main concentration of Dark forces were still located in England, so the British media remained focused on the war front at home rather than abroad. As a result of this, the citizens were, for the most part, oblivious to the problems that were occurring abroad.

"We put all of our faith in Harry," Ron said simply and instantly. Hermione smiled as she burrowed herself further into his chest. It was rather amazing that she was known as the logical, clever one, and yet some things, the really important things, were so much more infinitely clear to Ron than to her. "And each other. And everybody else. And that's all there is to it."

Hermione lifted her head slightly and looked up at him. "It's really that simple?"

"Well, yeah." Ron sat up a bit straighter. "I mean, last time, Harry beat him because of his mum's love, so it'll be love that'll beat him again, won't it?" He looked a bit apprehensive when Hermione just stared at him. "What?"

"This is why I nag you to death about your homework, Ron," Hermione said quietly with a proud smile. "When you put your mind to it, you're even smarter than I am."

"No bloody way," Ron denied immediately. Hermione didn't argue the point. She knew that in some ways, Ron was right, and in others, she was right--maybe it was why they fit so well together. Whatever she lacked, Ron made up for, and vice versa. They were extremely similar in some ways, but it was their differences that made them strong together; it was their differences that were going to make this last forever. She nestled back into him, and for several moments they just sat in silence, putting all of their faith into each other.

"Was there something else?" Ron asked gently with his uncanny sense of perception. The fleeing moment of serenity blew away as Hermione recalled the reason Viktor had come all the way to England, and she sat up straight. She had a feeling that Ron wouldn't want to touch her after she'd told him. "What is it?" A slight edge returned to his voice as he sensed that this was something he really wasn't going to like to hear.

Hermione bit her lip. Oh, bloody hell.


Harry slammed the heavy volume shut with a self-satisfied air. "Well," he said with a small smile, "I think I've read every book in existence on wandless magic."

"Good," Hermione commented in what Ron called her motherly voice. She had been the one to urge Harry to read as much as he could on the matter. In her opinion, simply practicing wandless magic wasn't enough. He had to know everything he possibly could about it, and Hermione just hoped that his research had helped him understand wandless magic even a little better.

She was still poring over the vast encyclopedia of Dark spells she had first checked out two weeks ago. It was becoming more and more difficult to research with N.E.W.T.s less than three months away, not to mention the fact that she was becoming more than a little discouraged. Even if she did manage to get through the entire encyclopedia, she would still have to read up on Dark potions and rituals, and even then she may not discover what those Muggle girls were being used for--they had developed a spell before--who was to say that they hadn't created another one?

Harry looked rather tired. He had Quidditch practice and training with Dumbledore earlier today, but he still doggedly reached across the table to pull toward him one of the other books Hermione had piled before her. "What are you doing?" Hermione asked as she looked up from the textbook.

Harry arched a sarcastic eyebrow. "Reading." He smirked slightly. "I believe you're familiar with it?"

Hermione gave a short laugh before nodding toward the exit. "Go on, Harry, I can finish up here--you must be exhausted."

"I'm fine," Harry lied once again. Hermione wanted to mention that she was certain he hadn't yet started his Charms essay, and remind him that it was due the day after tomorrow. However, she usually only allowed herself to nag Harry and Ron about their homework the day before it was due, so she kept her mouth shut, pausing only to give Harry a lingering, worried look. He did look rather tired.

"Hey." Ron abruptly flung down his schoolbag and sat down in the chair next to Hermione. He grabbed the arms of Hermione's chair and forcibly turned it toward him. He kept his fingers tightly clenched around the arms of the wooden chair, and Hermione frowned at him in puzzled worry. She and Ron weren't exactly on speaking terms just yet; Viktor's visit had led to an unavoidable row, and since both Hermione and Ron were just a tad stubborn, neither had stepped forward to apologize. Ron had accused Viktor of only offering her the job to get into her knickers, and she had been furious that Ron would insinuate that Viktor had anything less than honorable intentions toward her--especially since he was engaged. Ron had then accused her of running away from their relationship because it was starting to get really serious again, and that that was why she wouldn't allow herself to kiss him just yet. Hermione had been unable to answer him in her anger, and had ended up just storming off. They hadn't mentioned the argument since, and that was three days ago. They continued to spend time together, but all of their conversations had been tersely formal. That is, until now.

"I just thought of something," Ron explained hastily. He took a deep breath and glanced over at Harry to see if he had his attention. Harry had shoved the book aside and was staring curiously at Ron. "Okay--Animagi are registered with the Ministry, right?"

"Yes, of course--unless they break the law by not reporting it," Hermione reminded him. They certainly had a great deal of experience with unregistered Animagi.

"So they probably have a register for all of those sorts of wizards, right?" Ron continued. "Like werewolves?"

Hermione and Harry exchanged glances--this had to do something with Lupin, but for once, neither of them had any idea where Ron was going with this. "Yes, of course, the Ministry would have a register of all werewolves. They need to keep tabs on where they live so that the proper safety precautions can be installed in their villages and neighborhoods."

"That's why Remus can never get a job," Harry contributed. "He's registered, and it shows up on his record every time he applies anywhere."

"So they know where almost every werewolf lives in England," Ron said intently. "I mean, you can't really hide that you're a werewolf, right?"

"You can try," Hermione corrected, "in order to avoid dealing with that sort of prejudice. But it is much more difficult. There are probably more unregistered Animagi than werewolves." She tentatively rested a hand on his forearm. "Ron, where are you going with this?"

"So, during the full moon," Ron went on, "the Ministry can keep records of werewolf sightings and be able to track who the werewolf is, right? That way they'll know if any new werewolves have cropped up, or if a local werewolf isn't using Wolfsbane, right?" Hermione and Harry both nodded. "So, if we could get the records of werewolf sightings for the past month--"

Hermione gasped as it hit her. "--We could cross-reference them with the register of reported werewolves and narrow down which sightings are unusual--"

"--and it could lead us to Lupin," Harry finished. His weary demeanor had faded completely as he sat bolt-up in his chair and leaned toward Ron. "Ron, can your dad get those files for us?"

"Yeah," Ron said with a grin. "I just sent Pig to him five minutes ago."

Hermione couldn't restrain herself any longer. She leaned forward, and seizing the sides of Ron's face, she gave him a proud kiss on his cheek. Harry stifled what might have been a laugh as he instantly ducked his head away from the sight. Ron's ears flushed bright red as other students became much less interested in their studies and much more intrigued by the red-haired boy, and the girl who had just kissed him. "I always told you," she said with a large smile of her own, "that if you applied yourself, you'd be brilliant!" She leaned back in her chair. "I can't believe I didn't think of that--I was so focused on finding a spell that I didn't even think to just use logic."

Ron turned toward Harry. "Please tell me you heard her say that."

"Oh, yeah," Harry replied. "Yeah, you don't forget something like that."

"Well, Harry," Ron said slowly, "I think hell just froze over." He gave Harry a wink when he saw the furious look on Hermione's face. "Hermione Granger didn't think to use logic."

Harry snorted. Hermione pulled a face at him and shifted in her chair, turning her attention back to her book. "Ron," she chided warningly.

Ron caught the trace of a smile still on her face, and decided to press his luck a bit further. He started to rifle through the parchment Hermione had been taking notes on. "Can I get that in writing--I don't think the papers will believe me."

"Ron," Hermione repeated firmly as she tried to slap his hand away from her papers. She didn't want him to mess up her system of organization.

"Come on," Ron cajoled as he scooted his chair closer. He slipped his hand under her arm to glance under a pile of notes for a spare bit of parchment. "You're the reporter--you know that you can't rely on a second-hand source, and I don't think I can get you to repeat--hey!" He broke off abruptly as he extracted an envelope from the mound of papers. Harry stiffened, thinking that letter was from Viktor, and prepared to make a hasty exit. He stopped, however, when he saw how pleased Ron looked to see the letter. "They wrote to you?" Ron asked Hermione.

Hermione nodded somewhat shyly. She had just gotten the letter this morning and hadn't told anyone just yet. She had been too taken aback at first to believe it was real. "They want me to come home for Easter," she told him quietly.

Ron's eyes lit up and he grabbed her hand. "Hermione, that--" Ron seemed to be at a loss for words, and she couldn't help giggling at the dumbstruck, gleeful look on his face. What was so touching about it was that he was so happy for something that wasn't even happing to him--he was this excited and thrilled for her. "Well, it's about bloody time!" Ron finally got out. "They're as stubborn as you are!"

"Your parents?" Harry asked. Hermione glanced over at Harry and nodded in confirmation. She felt slightly guilty for reveling in the joy of having her parents back in her life when Harry had no idea where his third guardian was, but she just couldn't help it. It had been such a shock when Rowena had shown up on her window ledge this morning with the letter from home. She actually had to read it three times to reassure herself that she was reading it correctly. She had been so certain that her parents wouldn't even begin to think about forgiving her until she was out of school for a while, but her mother had obviously asked her to come home for a reason, and Hermione honestly couldn't wait to discover what that reason was.

Harry's face abruptly blanched, and for a horrible moment Hermione worried that her good news had painfully reminded him of Remus. But Harry was looking at someone over Hermione's shoulder, and she didn't even need to turn around to see who it was. Sure enough, Ginny Weasley had just walked into the library hand in hand with Michael Corner. Michael halted nervously when he saw Harry, but Ginny didn't miss a beat. Chin in the air, she yanked on Michael's hand so that they could continue on their way to a more private section of the library. Ron and Hermione exchanged a concerned glance as Harry pushed back his chair, muttering about wanting to go to bed.

Hermione whipped around to watch Harry go. "Ron, maybe you should go--"

"Yeah," Ron agreed, but he didn't move right away. He twisted Hermione's chair back to face him, but he wouldn't look her straight in the eye. "Uh--you know that if you really wanted to go--I mean, I don't want you to go, but--I wouldn't--" He cleared his throat impatiently and finally looked straight into her eyes. In the depths of his brilliant blue eyes, she could see everything that he was trying to say. Despite his initial anger, he really was proud of her for getting a job offer so soon, but he wished that it wasn't so far away from him. He had just gotten her back, and he didn't want to lose her again. When Viktor had arrived, he had been certain it was to try to win Hermione back, and the thought of losing her to him made him sick--it made him honestly, nauseatingly, horribly sick to his stomach. So when he had heard about the job offer, the sick feeling had gotten even worse. The thought of Hermione gone, out of his life, out of the bloody country, wasn't even conceivable. But if that's what she wanted, he'd suffer through it--he'd do it for her if he had to. He'd do anything for her. But he sure as hell was going to fight to keep her here with every breath in his body.

Hermione swallowed hard as she looked steadily back at him, letting him know how she felt. It wasn't as though she wanted to leave tomorrow or even that she wanted to leave at all. She just didn't want him denying her the opportunity flat out like he had. She wanted to know that she had the opportunity open to her, and that if she did decide to go, she would have his support, because that's what she really needed. She tentatively brought a hand up to his face, and looked even deeper into his eyes, so that Ron would know that if she did happen to leave, nothing would ever change between them. She wouldn't be gone forever--she couldn't be gone forever, because she couldn't live her life for very long without him. Her heart thudded wildly in her chest as Ron lowered her hand from his face and squeezed her fingertips. She couldn't make up her mind as to whether her skin was flushed with warmth or chilled with intensity, because it seemed both hot and cold at the same time. Wow, she thought somewhat dazedly, this is how we should settle all of our rows. She sucked in a shaky breath as she lost herself once again in Ron's eyes. Maturity looks good on you, Ron Weasley. Ron colored slightly at her thoughts, but his only response was to return a stray hair to its proper place. The gentleness of his manner and the look in his eyes said more than any words could.

"I'm going to go," Ron finally spoke aloud. Hermione nodded--he really did need to go check on Harry. He got out of his chair and risked giving her a smile as he slung his bag over his shoulder. "See you in a bit?" Hermione nodded as she tried to focus on her book. However, she couldn't seem to stop herself from watching Ron go. She really couldn't blame him for reacting so poorly to her job offer, but he had certainly handled the fallout that had resulted from it rather well. Usually, she was the one who had to initiate their reconciliation. In a way, Hermione was glad that they'd had a row--they hadn't had one since they had started dating again, and in a way, they needed it. She needed to see that he had matured and grown while they'd been apart. Things were going to be different, now, because they both had changed. Her prat was really growing up, and he had only reacted so immaturely because he was afraid that they would lose everything they had gained thus far.

Her heart swelling, she looked back down at her book. Keep it up, Ron, she thought with a hopeful smile, we may be closer than you think.

Author notes: Next up: Hermione heads home for Easter...