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Have I Found You? Or Lost You? by Meg_

Format: Novel
Chapters: 20
Word Count: 84,311
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: Drama, Romance, Angst
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Harry/Hermione

First Published: 01/10/2009
Last Chapter: 01/18/2011
Last Updated: 01/18/2011

Summary:


Thanks to MissyPadfoot at TDA for the amazing banner!!!!

A look into the lives of Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron years after the war as they grow into adults dealing with their developping careers and their relationships with one another. Although the brief glimpse of life after war in the epilogue of the seventh book gave us an ending, maybe the getting there was not as picturesque. Maybe life was not always so perfect and relationships were not always what the seem.



Chapter 1: Unhappy Endings
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I do not own any of the characters, but I do own the story.
______________________________________________________


Chapter One: Unhappy Endings



“I’M GOING TO KILL HIM!!!!”

Ginny stormed up and down the hallway practically wearing tread marks in the carpet. If not for her enraged state and the fact that she was clutching her wand alarmingly tight, Ginny would’ve looked absolutely stunning in a beautiful floor length emerald dress. The perfect shade to match Harry’s eyes, a detail quite planned. Those same eyes were marked with fear as they followed Ginny pacing back and forth.

Harry sat silently in a chair in the middle of the hallway right next to a side table atop with gigantic decorative flowers in a vase. He was dressed in his newly bought tux and eyeing his girlfriend cautiously, fully aware of her death grip on her wand.

“The nerve! I swear to you, Harry, that boy is NO LONGER my brother!” said Ginny whipping around to face him and waving her wand to exaggerate her point. Harry instinctively flinched with each flick of her wand waiting for the possible doom any of the objects in the hall might receive… including himself sadly.

“Just calm down, Gin. He’ll be here. It’s only twenty past seven. Everyone’s still eating and probably mingling about.” Ginny’s anger seemed to calm slightly with Harry’s words and her grip on her wand seemed to relax. Harry breathed a sigh of relief as Ginny put a hand on her forehead to shade her eyes, a gesture of pure frustration.

After a few moments of her just standing in her same pose, Harry’s worry slowly began to creep back up. He couldn’t tell what the next emotion was going to be and the unknown was quite frightening especially with Ginny. He watched as her arms sank down to her sides as if in defeat and when he looked in her eyes, only seconds ago marked with such fierce anger, he saw disappointment and sadness.

“It’s her big night, Harry,” she choked, tears starting to swell. “He’s going to ruin her night… again. The other times were at least excusable; they were just Ron being oblivious like he always is. But tonight? He knew, Harry. He knew what this would mean. And this time he did it anyway.” Ginny turned away from him as the first tear rolled down her cheek. She had never really been much of a crier and had rarely cried in front of Harry, except for a few specific occasions. But tonight, her frustration had reached that unmistakable peak where tears could no longer be swallowed back or simply replaced by anger. All that was simply left was for them to fall and so they did.

Harry stood up and slowly wrapped his arms around Ginny. She turned into him and allowed him to embrace her.

He wasn’t much for words when it came to these types of things. A trait Ginny found to be both a blessing and yet at the same time annoying. But all thoughts were lost as he pulled away for a brief moment to kiss her forehead and wipe away a few of the escaped tears causing Ginny to smile despite all her frustrations.

“Where have you two been?! Everything’s about to start!” Mrs. Weasley stood at the door to the banquet hall entrance in a fret. “And where is Ron?!!” she inquired as she placed her hands on her hips ready to scold at any second.

Harry looked down as Ginny’s face hardened.

“I see,” Mrs. Weasley nodded in understanding as her mouth slipped into a frown. “Well, we’ll just have to deal with him later. Let’s get to our seats. Hermione at least needs you two there,” she said as she ushered the two inside.

Harry quickly nicked the wand out of Ginny’s hand and stuffed it in his coat pocket not wanting her to have it for the night just in case Ron did show up, but also not wanting his date to enter a fancy hall looking ready for a fight. Ginny’s nose scrunched at Harry’s obvious antics, but relaxed when quickly his hand instinctively took the place the wand had previously occupied within her grasp.

They all walked quickly and quietly to their seats as the new Minister of Magic took to the beautiful clear glass podium centered on the small stage set up in the front of the hall. The hall itself was stunning. Round tables with white, white table cloths were adorned with sprinkles of gold gracing their surfaces. The center pieces were made of tall, delicate glass structures that looked too fragile to be sturdy and yet were standing unwavering, sparkling from the light of the candles that sat at their tops. The air of the room smelled of elegance. But even more memorable was the collective feeling of the room. A frown could not be found in a room such as this, as only smiling faces existed. But more so than anything, even the joy that seemed to take up the entirety of the room, there was the subtle and yet undeniable spark of hope glinting in every eye.

“Hmm-hmm,” Arthur Weasley cleared his throat silencing the many guests. “Good evening ladies, gentlemen, and distinguished guests,” he began with a smile. “I hope you all enjoyed the meal, as I surely did.” A polite laugh echoed through the hall. “A night such as tonight, it is customary for the Minister of Magic to oversee the occasion and present the awards. But with all customs and duty aside, I would just like to say that I am honored and privileged to be able to introduce you all, ladies and gentlemen, to the two remarkable individuals that we are here to celebrate tonight. I think we all can say without a doubt that remarkable is the perfect way to describe this pair. We’ve all read the articles in just about every paper there is and I’m sure we’ve all done our fair share of gossiping.” At this the Minister winked at his blushing wife. Another low rubble of laughter cooed from the guests. “What they have done separate in their own lives has been truly amazing, but tonight for a change we get to talk of the wonderful thing they have accomplished together. So without further adieu let’s welcome our honored guests for the evening: Miss Hermione Granger and Monsieur Jean DeMont, co-founders of the International Fellowship for Equality.” With this Arthur turned to the two young people sitting in the only chairs on the stage as the hall opened up with applause.

A blushing Hermione sat in the first chair in a warm blue dress. Her hair done up perfectly which must have taken her hours. And next to her, a young and quite handsome sandy-haired gentleman sat who one could only presume was Jean DeMont, also blushing quite profusely.

Arthur turned back towards the podium as the applause began to soften.

“Now, as most of you know, I have known the lovely Miss Granger for quite some time and have been blessed with being able to watch her accomplish many, many wonderful things. I have been even more blessed to have been able to witness a young, eager girl grow to become the amazing and brilliant woman we all see before us today.” Arthur turned to look back at the teary-eyed Hermione. “She has been fighting for rights since the moment she entered the wizarding world. She fought for her own in a time when some thought that being a muggle born meant you were nothing. She fought for the elves when many had never even put a thought to it. She fought for our own rights to freedom, for a world without darkness.” Arthur paused to look out at the guests all nodding. “And tonight we honor her for creating an association where each and every one of us can join her in the effort to make our world the best it can possibly be.”

Applause rang out among the guests once again and Hermione turned a shade darker.

“Of course,” continued Arthur effectively ending the praise, “no one, not even an overachiever herself, could take on such a task without help. And here we have Monsieur Jean DeMont to thank for. I have only known Jean for a short time, but from what I have seen I can tell he is a fine individual. France surely has been keeping a treasure within its borders.” At this another bout of applause rang out, this time mixed with a few whistles from a few of the ladies in the room. “Apparently, some in the room highly agree.”

A round of laughter echoed from the company as Arthur raised his eyebrows in Jean’s direction who merely shrugged.

“Jean DeMont has become quite a legend in France. He has been working his way up through their Ministry, taking on the tough cases, and doing everything a wizard can possibly do to fight the good fight. He has dared to announce the need for ambassadors to giants and lawyers for elves before they begin work. He has been addressing topics that one might lamely call controversial, but has done so with respect and class.” Arthur took a moment before beginning again, “And so tonight we honor these two lovely individuals for their work and we wait eagerly for more to come. So on behalf of the Ministry, I would like to present Miss Hermione Granger and Monsieur Jean DeMont with the Orion award for their services to the magical community.”

The hall once again erupted with loud applause and quite a few hoots from a certain raven haired man as the Minister of Magic stepped over to the now standing pair.

Arthur stood before Hermione first, gently handing her the crystal award. They paused for a brief moment as the pictures snapped for all the newspapers. Arthur winked and then moved on to Jean handing his over. The cameras snapped crazily when Jean turned and smiled politely. Arthur motioned for one of the two to take the podium and so Jean stepped forward.

“I would,” Jean started in a highly French accent, “just like to say ’ow very thankful I am for this. It ‘as been a pleasure working with Hermione (Errr-me-o-nee). We ‘ave both been trying in our own ways to create something that could affect everyone the way we ‘ave been and finally with us together it ‘as ‘appened. We started this fellowship so that everyone could ‘ave a voice like we all deserve. So I am very grateful for this, grateful because it means we may ‘ave succeeded just a little bit. Thank you.” Jean bowed as he finished his acceptance smiling as he backed away from the podium to allow Hermione to step forward.

“Like Jean, I am so unbelievably grateful for this. We have all seen dark times. Some have seen it a little closer than others,” She found Harry’s eyes in the crowd and smiled. “And I think that because of that, we all know the importance of a life in peace. And if there is anything I want you all to take away from tonight I think it should be the simple fact that everyone-every witch, wizard, elf, giant, any and every magical creature there is out there- deserves a right to a life in peace. That’s the equality I want to give with this fellowship. So thank you so much for acknowledging that.”

The guests applauded once again and took to their feet giving a standing ovation. And just as the Minister stepped forward and officially ended the ceremony for the night, a tall broad shouldered red head entered through the back.

As witches and wizards swarmed the pair as they came down from the stage, Harry stood back simply waiting his turn to congratulate his best friend. He watched as a rosy cheeked Hermione spoke excitedly to a number of people, many of whom seemed to be from various places of the world. Until finally the numbers seemed to dwindle as people started trickling out to go home for the evening. Harry watched as Hermione wished the last of them a goodnight and then scanned the room, searching, until finally her eyes rested on him. She smiled and Harry returned it with a grin from ear to ear. They made their way to each other weaving through the last of the crowd and the tables.

“You were absolutely lovely,” said Harry as he engulfed her in a huge bear hug which she whole heartedly returned. She mumbled a drowned out “thanks” into his shoulder.

“Where is everyone?” She asked pulling away and beginning to search again. Ginny all of sudden appeared right next to Harry.

“You mean me?” Ginny laughed as Hermione launched herself at her.

“Yes of course I mean you!” The two girls giggled as they embraced. “Well, don’t you look stunning, Gin,” cried Hermione as she took a step back from her to eye her dress. “Nice color. Where on earth did you get the idea?”

“Not a clue. It just came to me,” Ginny replied. Hermione just rolled her eyes at her and Harry. Arthur and Molly then approached the threesome followed closely by a shy and yet beaming pair, Mr. and Mrs. Granger. Hermione quickly embraced all four trying very hard not to get emotional at the looks on the faces of the adults she considered to all be her parents.

“You were lovely dear,” said Mrs. Granger squeezing Hermione’s hand.

“I can’t imagine being so. I was nervous beyond all belief… especially with the Minister of Magic himself coming to present the award.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Arthur smiling genuinely. Hermione almost began to tear up again for about the billionth time that night, but stopped as she suddenly noticed there was one specific red head missing from her family right now. She searched the room perplexed.

“Where’s-”

“He’s not here,” whispered Ginny in her ear as Hermione’s face fell with the news. “I don’t know why,” answered Ginny to the question in Hermione’s eyes and once again Hermione felt the tears begin to rise for the billionth and one time that night.

Seeing Hermione’s face, Harry began to move the family away towards the exit to distract them from Hermione’s sad features, but without any success as they all noticed despite his efforts. Just as the group approached the doors to the exit they all seemed to stop just short suddenly noticing the red haired man in the path before them. They all sidestepped, passing Ron along the way to the exit. Ginny did so with a particularly nasty look. Harry hung back just a second before leaving Hermione and Ron alone inside a very large and once happy banquet hall.

The two stood awkwardly before each other unable to neither bear the tension between them nor break it.

“I-I…I’m…” tried Ron not quite effectively breaking the silence.

“Are you honestly trying to apologize?” Hermione’s eyes hardened to the thought.

“No I’m not at all actually,” said Ron decidedly.

“Then why did you even bother showing up at all?”

“I thought I should come here and talk to you about why I didn’t come.” Another drawn out silence surrounded them.

“Well… why didn’t you?” asked Hermione trying to look anywhere but at him.

“I just couldn’t be here tonight.” Her eyes shot up to his face.

“Couldn’t be here?! Ron, why was it so hard for you to be here?” said Hermione raising her voice.

“BECAUSE, Hermione!” screamed Ron. “Because of everything. I couldn’t come here and watch you parade around with THAT nancy of a Frenchman! I couldn’t-”

“What is your problem with Jean?! Are you honestly jealous of him?”

“I am NOT jealous for the last blooming time!” Hermione almost retaliated with something but Ron held up his hand to stop her. She waited quietly for him to say whatever it was he needed to get out.

“Hermione, I was never jealous. I’ve pretty much accepted that every bloke in the entire universe probably deserves you more than I do. And I was used to it. I was used to people looking at us and thinking, ‘Well I wonder why she’s with that guy?’ because I had you and that’s all that mattered. You were mine and that was that. I could look past all my insecurities if you could, but-” Hermione sighed, knowing there always had to be an exception. “But it all takes a toll at some point, Hermione. All of those looks and stares. All of those silent questions. Every newspaper celebrating you and Jean. It all adds up. I do nothing special. I work my arse off at a job where I do occasionally well at and Jean does everything wonderful and amazing just like you. But still, I could get past Jean. I could, I knew I could. But you? ‘The brightest witch of her age’? How could I get past you? So I took extra cases and got a bit more riskier, so what? Maybe then, I thought, I could measure up to you. Maybe if my name was in the newspaper just once-”

“Ron our relationship is not a competition. It doesn’t matter how many times you’re in the Prophet or me for that matter!”

“But IT does, Hermione! It does! You say it doesn’t, but it does. Everything in the papers begins to mean something when you read more stories of your girlfriend than actually talk to her!”

“So because I didn’t spend enough time with you since I was starting an international society and traveling I get blamed for everything? I’m being punished because of my ambitions! Here, I was thinking that when you said it was a good idea for me to do all those things you actually meant it!”

“I did! I wanted to support you! But you spent months in France! MONTHS, Hermione! So forgive me for not showing up, but I can’t anymore. I can’t come here and support you at an event that basically awards you for you choosing your career over our relationship, for you choosing some other bloke over me! Everyone thought I was a real stupid git for honestly believing as long as I did that nothing happened between you two during all that time!! MONTHS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!”

“NOTHING DID HAPPEN, Ron!”

“Suuure, nothing happened! People already were going around wondering why the hell you had such a dope wrapped around your arm and they sure found their answer when they realized you had me so oblivious that you could spend WEEKS UPON WEEKS WITH ANOTHER MAN WHILE I SAT ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE CHANNEL IN OUR FLAT THINKING ALL WAS WELL!!!!”

Ron stood fuming with his face as red as it had ever been staring down at Hermione as tears freely cascaded down her cheeks.

“I thought you trusted me…” she choked quietly and tried again to find her voice. “Here I was thinking you had no reason to worry since I loved you so much.”

Ron still stood there cold as stone to her tears. No longer being able to bear his harsh stance and features Hermione carefully moved past him making sure not to touch him as she strode by. Once she hit the door she ran


Chapter 2: Me too...
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I do not own the characters, but I do own the story
______________________________________________

Chapter Two: Me too...



Outside a London apartment building- in the dark alley right behind it actually- there was a small POP! as Harry suddenly appeared. He had just come from Ginny’s. They both decided that tonight it was probably best that he didn’t spend the night considering either Ron would end up knocking at his door or Hermione on Ginny’s. So he had kissed her goodnight, did his best to assure her that everything was going to be ok, and then apparated outside of his building.

Harry entered the building and began to climb the stairs. He looked like a more disheveled version of himself compared to earlier in the evening. His tie and vest were undone. His shirt was partially untucked and a few buttons had been released on his neckline for comfort. He walked sluggishly up the stairs. It had been a long night.

It started off perfectly fine, but ended rather badly.

Harry sighed as he climbed the last stair to his floor. At the beginning of the night he had such a depressing feeling that something wasn’t going to go right and once again his intuition had been correct… sadly.

He started fumbling for his key as he turned the corner to the long hallway. Finally picking out the right one, he looked up and stopped in his tracks. Sitting on the floor right next to his door was what looked like the bushy haired girl from first year curled up so small except this one had a far greater weight resting on her slumped shoulders and her cheeks were red and puffy from crying. No longer in her evening gown, she wore her favorite jeans and an old t-shirt all wrapped up in a jacket as it had been quite cold out. Harry guessed she probably just walked here as her and Ron’s flat was only a couple blocks down.

She looked up and they stared at each other for a brief moment.

Silently, Harry approached her stopping just short of where she sat. Then he simply plopped down right next to her resting his back against the wall and bending his knees up as she did. Hermione sighed heavily as she rested her head against Harry’s shoulder. He unknotted one of her hands from the grip it had on the other then held it in his own.

There they sat silent, completely wordless as tear drops began to wet his shoulder.

After a good ten minutes, Harry turned and spoke into her hair. “C’mon. Let’s get inside. I’ll make you some tea.” She nodded and hastily wiped at her eyes.

Harry rose up, slowly pulling her with him. He unlocked the door and walked in with her trailing him.

Hermione walked into the open living room and found herself trying to think of the perfect word to describe Harry’s flat. Finally she decided on “homey”. He had long ago sold the house on Grimmauld Place unable to bear its memories. And even though he had enough money to buy a fancier and more modern flat far closer to the heart of the city, he had instead opted to live farther out in a bit more of a dodgier place. And yet he had made a perfectly good home with it. It was Harry, perfectly Harry.

The entrance to the flat opened up to the living room which held an old couch, Harry’s favorite chair, and a few other furnishings. Quite simple really. A bit of a mess too. The coffee table was lined with papers and case files, the couch had blankets unceremoniously thrown on it from the times Harry had just fallen asleep there, and various piles of books of all sorts lay stacked on the floor instead of in the shelves. Following the living room and through the double doors was the kitchen. A pale yellow color with a small, but lovely island resting in the middle and an old round wooden table with five chairs to the right of it made up this room.

Harry strode in and threw his coat, vest, and tie on his chair and opened the double doors to the kitchen. Without checking to make sure Hermione followed, he entered the kitchen and started fixing tea for the two of them.

Hermione propped herself up on one of the island chairs. Her eyes followed Harry as he made tea the muggle way. Once the water was finished boiling, he took the kettle and poured the contents into two awaiting mugs. Then, Harry turned and placed a steaming mug on the counter top for her.

“Old habits die hard,” shrugged Harry to answer her quirked eyebrow. The two drank slowly and quietly. Hermione looked around really not having spent all that much time in Harry’s apartment before. Everything seemed new and fresh to take in or maybe she was just seeing with new eyes. All the while Harry just waited for her to begin the conversation.

“Er… So…” Hermione tensed and looked down into her almost empty cup. She wasn’t ready to really discuss tonight’s happenings yet. “So the guest bedroom is down the hall from mine. I only have one bathroom, so we’ll have to figure that out. And sometimes… well really most of the time… the hot water takes a bit to get even the slightest bit warm. I’m trying to talk to the landlord about that… And I don’t really have any food, but I’ll make sure to go shopping tomorrow. I’ve kinda been relying on Gin for the last few weeks,” ended Harry running his fingers through his unruly hair.

Hermione nodded, grateful he hadn’t brought anything up from tonight.

Harry eyed her cautiously. Despite having a girlfriend of six or so years he still hadn’t exactly gotten the knack of picking out what made girls cry and what didn’t, especially when they were hyper sensitive. Should he bring things up from tonight? Should he not? He shrugged. Probably the best thing to do would be to just let her bring it up to him on her own. He had no clue how he would respond to what she told him when she would finally mention it. Hopefully he’d just be able to be a good listener and that’s it. He hated having to give his opinion when the two of them fought. It always ended up nipping him in the butt later on. Plus, he had heard the beginnings of that epic fight as he and Ginny had decided to stay back to see if a “magical intervention”, as Ginny put it, was going to be needed. Mostly he just figured that Ginny wanted to listen in for a bit, but he had luckily been able to convince her to leave them be and head back to her apartment quite early on. This now brought Harry to his next thought… Why didn’t Hermione just go to Ginny’s apartment?

“Er… so what brings you here? NOT that I’m not completely thrilled to have you or anything, but it’s just that you normally go to Ginny’s. I was expecting to see Ron at my doorstep… Er… I mean you are always welcome to stay and-”

“It’s ok, Harry. I know what you mean.” A hint of a smile flicked on Hermione’s face as she checked how nervous Harry was with over-emotional girls. “Well… to answer your question truthfully, I really was just out for a walk to clear my head and I wound up here.”

Harry nodded and then a new puzzled look came over him. “So… then you don’t have any of your things with you then?”

“No… not exactly,” replied Hermione taking the clear note on the your of that sentence. “I figured I’d pop by tomorrow while Ron’s at work.” As Harry let out a sigh of relief for not having to provide certain feminine things, Hermione looked deep into her mug boring holes straight through the bottom. Just how much stuff should she go back and get? Normally their rows didn’t last too long. The longest was about two weeks. That was two years ago when Ron forgot their anniversary and instead went to a Chudley Cannons match. He had left Hermione sitting in a restaurant for two hours before she finally gave up and left. She then went back to his apartment (back when he still had his and she had hers) and had sat waiting on his couch until he came back completely piss pour drunk. That had been one of their worst fights.

Today’s though topped them all. She had never seen Ron look at her like that… so full of hate and anger. She couldn’t get his face out of her head. Every single time she closed her eyes the furious Ron face was waiting for her. That’s why she went on that walk, to get his face out of her mind. But no matter how she tried, he was always there standing before her looking as though she were the cause of every evil that ever existed in the world. And then somehow she had ended up at Harry’s. She really wasn’t sure how she got there. Her walk had seemed like hours, but Harry didn’t live more than five or so minutes away.

“So I guess you’ll need some clothes and I should probably go make the bed up for you,” said Harry as he walked off to the door.

As Harry went about preparing for her stay, Hermione quickly washed out the two mugs and set them to dry on the rack. Then she went down the hall towards the guest bedroom. Harry was just laying a pair of old sweats on the newly made bed as she entered the room.

“So I got you some of my old clothes… Might be a little big… Sorry bout that. So yeah… I guess I should go…” Harry shuffled awkwardly to the door.

“Harry?”

Harry quickly spun back around. “Yeah?”

“Thank you,” said Hermione sincerely.

“No problem. You really can stay as long as you like.” Hermione nodded gratefully. “Well goodnight, Hermione.”

“Goodnight, Harry.”

Harry closed the door on his way out to give her a bit of privacy. Although he had completely meant what he had said in the room, he couldn’t help but feel like a few things were about to change around here.


*******************


The next morning, Harry woke up with a start as a sudden panic raced through his veins, the panic that can only be from waking up late. He searched around and found his alarm clock under a pile of clothes and saw that yes, indeed, he was late for work.

Hermione had kept him up all night. He could hear her sniffling all throughout the night. Around three he had started his debate on whether or not to just give up on sleep all together and go make some tea, maybe work on a case. But by the time he had finally decided to get up, she had finally fallen asleep at bloody four in the morning. Now it was nine o’clock and he was supposed to be at work thirty minutes ago for a meeting.

Harry cursed as he threw on some clothes and ran for the bathroom. He quickly shaved, brushed, and did the usual necessary tasks. Then he ran out the door, down the steps, and out of his building apparating just as the door closed.

When he got there, he was hounded by his boss for showing up late especially with “such an important meeting on the agenda”. But he barely heard him as he spotted Ron sitting in the conference room looking fine and dandy. Normally whenever Ron and Hermione fought, he always found Ron the next day more sullen and depressed than a man dying of cancer. But that apparently wasn’t going to happen today as Ron looked like it was any old ordinary day. Harry couldn’t help, but have the odd tinge to punch the idiot straight in the jaw.

Hermione had been up all night in a right state crying over him and here he was parading around like he had woken up in a field of daisies rather than broken up with his girlfriend. Then again Harry was also slightly bitter because Ron looked like he’d gotten the best night of sleep in the entirety of his rotten life while Harry had had the worst of his. All in all, it meant that Ron would not be his favorite person today.

And so went his day. He bustled about filling out the usual paperwork. He’d just finished a few cases before Hermione’s award night and had a lot of catching up to do in that department. Not a big deal though since he normally always had a lot of catching up to do in that area.

Ron pretty much only had time to say a quick greeting before he had to scurry off with the excuse of having to go research a few “open leads in one particular case”. Harry never saw him for the rest of the day which Harry spent glued to his desk chair, drilling out his paperwork.

Then just as the clock struck for him to leave, something he was quite grateful for, he was assigned two new cases. He was tired, angry from sitting on his arse listening to useless meetings and filling out useless paperwork, and he just wanted to go home and sleep above all else. With a promise to read the cases over that night and be back on them bright and early tomorrow, he luckily got away.

As he entered the elevator going up to the apparating station of the Ministry, he overheard a few younger fellows talking. Normally he would’ve just ignored them until he heard a name.

“That Ron Weasley is sure something…” said the one rather tall and gangly fellow.

“Yeah… who would’ve honestly thought that he’d wind up in the Prophet without the name Potter to quickly follow?” quipped the other man.

Obviously the men were totally oblivious to the fact that Harry was standing right behind them. He quickly glanced over their shoulders’ to see what they were talking about and his jaw nearly dropped to the ground at what he saw. There was Ron, front page and everything, holding the newly captured “Boris the Bloody”, so eloquently coined by the Prophet.

WEASLEY TAKES ANOTHER! BORIS THE BLOODY CAPTURED!

Auror Ronald Weasley in an act of pure genius nabbed the well known Boris von Borockstein, commonly known as Boris the Bloody. Mr. von Borockstein was famously known for being totally and completely obsessed with blood. His favorite past time being a good joke, Boris the Bloody found it particularly amusing to appear to have stabbed an unknowing muggle while then simultaneously performing a spell so they would never stop bleeding from the point of contact. The effects on the victim muggles were devastating costing the Ministry galleons to get their minds corrected and their memories erased.

Boris had been evading Ministry officials for months until Ronald Weasley, famously known for his efforts against You-know-who and…



Just then the elevator doors burst open and the two men hastened out. Harry lost them in the crowd of witches and wizards making their ways home. Harry stepped out and made his way to the apparating station picking up a Prophet on the way.

As he apparated outside of his flat and fondled for the key, he glanced at the Prophet and Ron’s unnatural pose on the cover. Suddenly a very worrisome thought came to mind. Harry dropped his keys and began hastily flipping through the Prophet.

“Oh no… no, no, no! Damnit, Ron!!”

Harry glared down at page seven where he found Hermione’s and Jean’s small picture and a tiny article about their award. What was even worse was the very brief description of I.F.E. The whole reason Hermione had even agreed to accept the award in the first place was so that I.F.E. could get some good publicity.

Harry bent down to get his keys on the floor and with finally finding the right one he entered his apartment building. He climbed the stairs and walked hurriedly to his door. He walked in still reading the very small article on Hermione and Jean, throwing his coat on the couch absent mindedly.

Once he finished, he looked up and gasped.

The entire room was spotless. All the blankets were folded nicely, the books atop their shelves, his paperwork and case files neatly organized in the shelves too. Harry ran over to the bookshelf and snuffed as he saw that the books were even in alphabetical order! His lovable mess was now unbearably clean.

“HER-” began Harry only to stop himself as something on the coffee table caught his eye. He looked down at the table and saw the same Ron posing awkwardly on the front page of the Prophet except this newspaper had a few teardrops streaking its pages. She had seen the paper. It would be completely useless and rather cruel to yell at her for simply straightening up a bit.

Harry groaned. Today was such a horrible day. Deciding that a good pick-me-up might be a hot shower, he sluggishly moved towards the bathroom. Just as he was about to open the door, he heard a sniffle from the other side. And then another.

Slowly he turned the handle and pushed the door open.

On the floor with her back against the bathtub sat a tear stained Hermione. The trash bin was right next to her and looked to be stock full of used tissues. She sniffled again and reached for another tissue to add to the thousands already crumpled up around her and in the bin.

She didn’t even attempt to wipe her eyes or disguise the fact that she had been crying on the floor of the bathroom. She simply looked up at Harry speaking words just with her eyes. Harry nodded and shut the door knowing that she wanted to be alone right then.

“I guess the shower can wait…” Harry murmured as he made for his bedroom.


*************


After having heard Hermione slope down the hallway and the click of her door being locked, Harry finally was able to step out from his hiding place in his room (also uncharacteristically clean thanks to Hermione) and take his shower. He took his time trying to de-stress as much as possible from his aggravating day. Although he was fairly sure it was selfish to think of himself at time like this with Hermione being so hurt and all teary, but he absolutely could not help his feelings of frustration. Whenever they fought, he was always placed in the middle. Even though time after time Ron and Hermione tried their hardest not to do so, it was simply unavoidable. Being a trio really did cause some problems. The problem with this particular situation was that normally he always chose to stay neutral in their little battles. He promised himself time and time again that he would be the Switzerland to their war, but this time he found his promise failing.

Ron was normally always at fault for their fights, but most of the time he truly didn’t have a clue at what he’d done or he’d have some fragment of an excuse. And Harry was always able to see both sides so clearly and able to essentially sympathize with both parties. But with this one, he couldn’t help but think that Ron was acting like a ripe old git. He couldn’t help but feel anger towards the idiot who could make his best friend cry on a bathroom floor like that or miss her accepting a huge honor. Getting the Orion was a rare thing and for Hermione to get it at such a young age truly meant something. And on top of missing that special occasion entirely, Ron had really hammered his cross when instead of letting her shine, he went for personal glory and got himself slathered all over the newspapers.

It was all just nonsense if you asked Harry.

Harry flicked off the water and stepped out of the shower just as a voice rang through his flat.

“Harry? Harrrry!” whispered someone from the living room. Harry opened the door and strode out of the bathroom in his blue bathrobe. “Harry? Are you home?”

Walking into the living room, Harry jumped when he saw his girlfriend’s head in the fireplace.

“Merlin, Harry! Are you really still surprised by the floo?” asked a giggling Ginny.

“Well, it’s a little disconcerting seeing a head in the… oh never mind…. What’s going on?”

“Just wanted to check in…”

“Reaallly…” Harry quirked an eyebrow knowing she was trying to get the scoop on Hermione. Once Hermione hadn’t showed up on Ginny’s doorstep the only likely assumption would be that she came to Harry’s instead and that also meant that Ginny was out of the know.

“Oh all right fine! I just wanted to see how Hermione was doing… I see she’s cleaned. Looks nice.” Harry scoffed at the comment. “Has she seen the paper? More like has she seen the baboon on the front?” Ginny’s face contorted into a brief stint of furry but then passed as it set back into worry over Hermione.

“Yeah she saw it,” replied Harry ignoring the baboon comment.

“And?” asked Ginny expecting more.

“And what?”

“Well was she upset? Have you talked to her yet?”

“Er… well no, not really. I’ve just been waiting for her to talk to me really,” said Harry scrunching his face knowing that Ginny would not like the sound of that.

“Harry! You haven’t talked to her at all?!”

“Ssshhh! She might hear you!” whispered Harry alarmed. “And no, I haven’t. I think she just needs some time alone, Gin. I think that’s partially why she came here… She knows I wouldn’t bug her about it.”

“True… but still Harry she’s probably really upset. You should try talking to her…” Seeing the impossible look on Harry’s face, she quickly followed with, “Well I’m not saying today or anything, but soon maybe. Speaking of, has she said how long she’s staying?”

“No, she went by their place today though to pick some things up. It doesn’t really matter though. She can stay however long.”

“I take it we’re not going to have a good shag for weeks then…” muttered Ginny. Before Harry could interrupt she continued, “Are you going to Mum and Dad’s tomorrow for dinner?”

“I haven’t really thought of that… Probably not, Gin. Not with-”

“Hermione… yeah I figured,” nodded Ginny finishing his sentence already knowing the answer.

“Have you seen Ron since yesterday?” inquired Harry slightly worried for the response knowing Ginny’s wrath.

“No, but he’s still coming tomorrow for dinner. He’s going to get an ear full I’ll tell you that much!” With the embers glinting around her, Ginny’s face looked even more enraged than it normally did when she spoke of Ron as of late.

“Anyway are you coming over tonight?”

“I normally would Gin, but I have to be up early tomorrow. I was assigned a couple of new cases and I promised to come in the morning and start them.”

“But it’s a Sunday! You’d think they’d let YOU off of all people!” cried Ginny disappointed. “If you weren’t so stuck on being treated like a ‘nobody’, you might actually start to reap some benefits ya know!” Harry just nodded already having heard this argument numerous times in years past. “Oh well, fine then. I’ll just have to see you in two days. Dinner maybe?”

“Of course.”

“All right then. Well I guess I’ll talk to you later,” said Ginny starting her goodbye. “Oh and Harry? Please, please try and talk to her.”

“I promise I’ll try. Just not today,” emphasized Harry knowing that the Hermione in the room down the hall did not want to be interrogated just yet. Ginny nodded and blew him a kiss as she disappeared from the girth of the fireplace.

Harry turned to go back to his room and jumped seeing Hermione standing in the kitchen leaning against one of the island chairs. Wearing her robe and slippers, she was just far enough beyond the doors so that she was out of Ginny’s line of vision from the floo and Harry’s peripheral. They stared at each other not really knowing how to address the other.

“Er… so you probably heard all of that didn’t you?” said Harry knowingly.

Hermione just simply nodded.

Harry stood there awkwardly not really knowing what exactly he was supposed to say in these types of situations. “And you saw the paper too?” He asked again already knowing the answer to that one too. Hermione nodded as Harry switched his weight to his right. “Well… It will-” Harry cut himself off unable to promise that it will all get better because he honestly didn’t know. This had been one of their worst fights, if not the worst fight, he had ever seen them have. And after Ron’s nonchalant behavior today he knew that this fight may not be as easily fixed as the ones before. So he closed his mouth unable to lie to his already very downhearted friend.

They stood there in silence. Hermione in her newly established mute state and Harry fretting over what he was supposed to do to get her out of it.

“I’m sorry for all this,” said Harry who for some reason felt like he had to apologize. More like he felt like someone needed to apologize for the situation seeing as Ron was in no rush to do so any time soon.

Instead of acknowledging his apology Hermione turned away and started making herself a cup of tea. Harry was confused by her actions. This wasn’t the Hermione he was used to. Normally after their fights she would rant on and on about Ron, throwing things and sending curses when she started on a particular stupid thing he had done or said which there had always been a large abundance. But tonight apparently was not going to be one of those nights.

As she finished fixing her tea and started making her way to the guest bedroom Harry faintly heard her say, “Me too.” And for the first time in all of their fights, Harry sadly acknowledged his latest rising suspicion which was that whatever argument Ron had made to Hermione in that banquet hall Hermione had completely and wholeheartedly come to believe was right.



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PLEASE review! You know how we authors live off of them! I'd love to hear some feedback. Let me know how you think the story should go. I'll be posting soon!
~Meg

Chapter 3: Another Slice... Anyone?
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I do not own the characters, but I do own the story! Thanks!
______________________________________________________



Chapter three- Another Slice... Anyone?



Harry scanned the empty floor. His department was fairly dead with the exception of a few stragglers. Like the muggle world, most wizards took Sundays as a day of rest. Harry in particular was unusually happy to come in. Or to be more specific he was just happier to be working than to be back at his somber apartment. It was like the walls of his room were starting to close in on him. Although Hermione had cleaned the apartment seemingly making it appear orderly Harry felt like his head was in a state of chaos when he was there. Her presence had already caused a sort of depression to befall on the entire building.

Just this morning as Harry walked out a neighbor told him that the old lady in 12 had lost her cat, the Jenkins’ kid on the third floor had sprained his ankle, and that the nice woman down the hall had just got evicted. Everyone in the building was in the dumps. Harry wondered if maybe all the crazy magic toddler wizards and witches can do when they feel a particular emotion could be applied to what was happening in his building. Maybe Hermione was causing it all. He highly doubted it, but he couldn’t help but suspect. Her sullenness seemed to be seeping through the walls.

She hadn’t come out at all last night after their brief exchange and Harry found her door to still be locked this morning.

He couldn’t help but wonder how long this was going to last. It had only been two days so far and he already was on the brink. Maybe he could let it go on for a few more days, but if it lasted any longer than that he was pretty sure he’d end up doing something drastic.

Harry stepped into his office and took a seat at his desk. As he situated himself on the chair he began flipping through the first of his two new cases. The first seemed to be a sort of ‘hit and run’. A whole muggle city block had all their vacuums stolen one night only to have them returned the next day later. After using the newly returned vacuums they ended up sucking the entire carpet up through the vacuum. One family lost all their carpet not being able to stop the rabid machine.

“Hmph… seems like a case for Muggle Affairs,” thought Harry. Setting it aside, he picked up the next case and read. His second was damn near identical. It was some incident of some character messing with muggle appliances.

“What is this business?!” Harry huffed. He got up from his desk and went out to find Ed.

Edward McKenzie was the chief analyzer of the department and also Harry’s good friend. Ed, or as most people referred to him Mac, was an older fellow in his early fifties with a full head of thick gray hair matched well with a beard of a similar color and quality. Not really known for any great captures or rescues, Mac had never really been a top notch auror. His one area of expertise and probably the main reason why he got the job was an unknown to most of the people in the department except for a few individuals including Harry. But it was simply that he was organized, a good motivator, and one of the best intelligence analyzers the department had ever seen. In the field he was average skilled, but set him in front of a few case files and he could give you an exact profile of the witch’s or wizard’s next moves. He was amazingly useful at predicting the thoughts of these dark wizards and thus it ended up suiting him well to serve as the man that hands out the grunt work instead of actually doing it.

Harry stormed up to Ed’s door and knocked unceremoniously.

“Ed! Ed! I need to speak with you!” The door flew open and there stood a lion of a man. Mac’s presence was very intimidating, but Harry didn’t even flinch having known him for far too long to bother shuddering at his demeanor.

“Ed, what is this? You assign me two cases from Muggle Affairs?! I realize I’ve been a bit late on paperwork, but is this really how you’re going to punish me? By having me find some mangy bloke who loves tampering with bloody vacuums?!!”

“Harry, slow down a minute,” Ed said calmly holding up his hands. “Just take a seat.”

Harry walked in and obediently sat in the chair. Ed walked around his desk and sat in his own chair. As Harry looked closer at him, Ed appeared to be quite haggard. He looked like he hadn’t slept in nights. Harry knew the feeling as of late.

“Ya know if you’d have just showed up at the meeting that Shacklebolt was leading yesterday you might have heard about all this already,” began Ed leaning back in his chair.

“What’s going on?” asked Harry now worried.

“Nothing… absolutely nothing,” sighed Ed, effectively confusing Harry and causing his brows to furrow. “Harry I’ve looked for a pieces of evidence. I’ve looked for a hint of a piece of evidence, for absolutely any semblance of information and I’ve found absolutely nothing. There are no cases. None.”

“None? But how could there be none?” asked Harry sitting up in his seat.

“I have no idea! It’s puzzling. And Muggle Affairs is swamped right now so I told them to hand some over to us.” Ed paused and started shuffling through random pieces of paper until he finally settled on one particular sheet. He handed it over to Harry. “See for yourself. All dark activity has fled the area. Every sneakoscope, every dark wizard detector out there points to it. And I can’t decide if it’s a blessing or if something else is coming.”

Harry looked at the recordings on the page showing a gradual decrease in dark magic. He too was just as stumped as Ed.

“Look Harry to tell you the truth I really don’t even need you here today or tomorrow for that matter. I’m about to go home myself. I’ve given up trying to search through this stuff to find an answer. Take a few days off if you like. Kinglsey or me will call you if and when we need you.”

Harry’s shoulders slumped as he walked out of Ed’s office.

“So much for escapism…” Harry grabbed his coat and mentally prepared himself for his apartment and the girl that was willingly imprisoned in it.



**********



Harry entered his apartment only to find that it was completely empty. He checked the bathroom, Hermione’s room, and his room, but Hermione was nowhere to be found. He was beginning to get worried when he saw the note on the counter.


Harry,

Went to Italy for a meeting with the Italian Minister of Magic
to talk about vampire relations. Be back in a few days. I’ll
owl you.

Love,
Hermione


Harry sighed and couldn’t help the relief he felt. He could have kissed the Italian Minister for getting the poor girl out of the house and occupied with something rather than her just sulking around his place. It was good that she was getting on back to work since it was her best distraction.

Not really knowing what else to do he decided he would pop over to Ginny’s. She was probably getting ready to head over to the Burrow for the feast that was most likely being prepared at this very moment. Mrs. Weasley only got to see most of her children once a week these days, so when she did she cooked what Harry could logically see as their entire missed meals from the past week.

“Ginny!” Harry called as he opened the door and walked in. A while back he had asked Ginny to move in with him and surprising everyone, including himself, she had said no. Her reasoning being that she liked where she lived and she liked that he had his own place. Their having separate flats seemed to fit for her. And even when he had worked up the courage to ask her again, she surprised everyone by declining… again.

Seeing as how everyone believed that Harry and Ginny were completely smitten with each other, it was quite a shock to find that she refused to move in with him… TWICE! Most of their friends found it even more astonishing that they hadn’t yet been married or at least engaged with how eager Harry was to settle down. Ginny seemed to want to avoid doing so for the time being which for the time being was fine by Harry. He was happy to wait for her whenever she was ready, but he secretly hoped it would be soon.

He knew that she was a clever girl and that she knew all too well the way he wanted things to go which was why this past Christmas her present to him had been a compromise and so she had gotten him to promise not to ask for a little while by giving him a key to her flat.

Hence his current entrance.

Ginny’s flat was… well Harry could only think of one word… girly. All of the latest fashion and gossip magazines were displayed proudly on the coffee table. The enchanted paintings were always of some romantic scenario and usually changed weekly to some other romantic fantasy that Ginny had dreamed up. The entrance opened up to the living room which was furnished with the perfect selection of matching sofa, table, ottoman, lamps, etc… It was completely the opposite of Harry’s place which was normally unclean (newly changed by the recent addition of Hermione), where everything was thrown about, and where nothing… absolutely nothing… happened to match.

Ginny had a roommate also. Her name was Penny Harper. She had been a 5th year Hufflepuff when Harry was a 7th year. He frankly didn’t really know her all that well, but Ginny seemed to find her very agreeable which was probably due to Penny’s very dry wit and also her love of fashion. They had met while working on The Daily Prophet where both Ginny and Penny had interned at coming straight out of Hogwarts or as Ron so eloquently liked to tease, “Where Gin had served the finest cup of coffee.”

Ginny hadn’t stayed long at The Daily Prophet as she soon found she could no longer stand to be anywhere near Cho Chang, who had become a senior writer on the staff, than she could an angry dragon. She then worked at George’s joke shop with Ron for about two weeks before deciding she couldn’t stand being in a place of employment where her older brothers were the bosses. She eventually quit- Ron soon followed- and while he went into Auror training, Ginny tried out for the Holyhead Harpies, an all women pro Quidditch team, as chaser which seemed to be going well for her since she still was playing for them.

“She’s in here, Harry!” Harry walked down the hall to Penny’s room and looked in to see Ginny going through Penny’s closet while Penny sat uninterested on her bed reading the latest in Witch Weekly.

“Hey Harry,” said Ginny as she surveyed a dress floating in mid air. She scoffed and flicked her wand at it causing it to zoom back into the closet and hang itself up. “I didn’t think you’d be coming over. What are you doing here? Where’s Hermione?” asked Ginny as she paused her attack on Penny’s closet to talk to Harry.

“Oh well she left a note saying that she’s going to Italy… Something about vampire relations,” answered Harry to Ginny’s quirked eyebrow. “So I guess that I can go to dinner tonight at the Burrow.”

“That’s great. Mum’s been dying to see you,” said Ginny as she turned back and preoccupied herself with Penny’s closet again. “Ya know she didn’t really get to talk to you at the ceremony and you missed the last dinner. She’ll want to sit you down for a good chat, I’m sure.”

“Yes… well I’m fairly certain this dinner will be plenty full of ‘good chats’,” said Harry as he strode over and picked out a rather pretty dress waving it a little to catch her interest. Ginny stopped her searching and glared at Harry knowing full well he was referring to her planned and most-definitely-going-to-happen blow out with Ron.

“I happen to be looking forward to my particular chat with my dim witted brother, thank you very much,” finished Ginny as she snatched the dress out of Harry’s hand sizing it up on herself.

“So then-”

“Yes, it is most definitely going to happen. I told you I planned on giving him an earful and that still has yet to change,” she huffed as she walked towards Penny’s bathroom holding the dress Harry had picked out. She shut the door behind her and shouted beyond it. “Harry, I can see why you would want to talk me out of this. I know we always agreed to stay neutral in their little spats, but honestly now he really is being a self centered arse if you ask me!”

“No one’s asked you though…” muttered Harry under his breath.

“WHAT?” Ginny cried unable to hear him as she fumbled around behind the door to get her dress on.

“Nothing. Look, don’t you think it would be better to let them deal with it? They both are perfectly fine handling things themselves.”

“True,” said Ginny opening the door. She spun so Harry could get the zipper in the back. “Normally they are fine, but Hermione’s gone into seclusion and Ron’s prancing around like he’s won the battle of Hogwarts!” Having finished with the zipper, Ginny turned and faced him successfully catching his wince at the mention of that particular occurrence. “Sorry… And as you know I hate to see my brother win arguments… well win anything really.”

“So… let me get this right… you’re doing this to ensure that Ron stays a loser?”

“Yes,” said Ginny decisively as she picked up a matching purse and slipped into some pumps. She looked dazzlingly and yet it looked like nothing. She was effortlessly striking, one of Harry’s favorite things about her.

“Oh how noble…” replied Harry as they waved goodbye to Penny and made their way out of the apartment grabbing their jackets on the way out.



********



After the numerous kisses to the cheek and the bone-crushing hugs from Mrs. Weasley, Harry and Ginny made their way around saying hello to the rest of the family. First there was Arthur then Bill and a very pregnant Fleur were there along with their bouncing three year old daughter, Victoire. George was also there sitting next to a girl Harry recognized very well as Angelina Johnson. He didn’t actually know that they were dating again. They had been on and off for a few years now, but they seemed to be very on right now.

“Why hello!” cried Angelina as she hugged Harry and kissed his cheek then did the same to Ginny. “I didn’t think you’d actually be showing up.”

“Same goes for you,” replied Harry with a smile.

“Seems Gin here told us you’d be on Hermione duty tonight, we didn’t think you’d make it.” George shook Harry’s hand and gave him a brotherly slap on the back.

“Well turns out Hermione actually has business in Italy, so I’m off duty for the night.”

“Off duty? From what?” Ron appeared at the bottom of the stairs. “This tosspot is lazier than that blooming Minister of Magic!” Dodging a newspaper thrown by Mr. Weasley, Ron walked over and hugged his best mate.

“Long time, no see, you wanker!” Harry pulled back, grinning. After all it had been awhile since he had actually gotten to see Ron since Ron had been in and out of the office, always busy with his captures. The last time he’d seen him, Harry had been rather grumpy and was coincidentally satisfied with blaming his lack of sleep on his good friend, but luckily this time he had a full night’s rest and thus was in an overall jovial mood. Harry hadn’t joked with Ron in what seemed like weeks and was happy he had the chance to do it now.

Ginny gave Harry an evil look like he had betrayed her and then quite noticeably skipped her greeting with her brother and went to help her mother in the kitchen.

Ron shrugged noticing Ginny’s antics and motioned Harry to a seat.

They all talked amiably catching up on everything especially on George and Angelina’s relationship which as told by them was back on ever since they ran into each other a few weeks ago. They said they were happy and things were going well which was good to hear. Soon, Molly came in to gather them to the long table for her well cooked meal. The amount of food prepared would probably have taken a muggle two days to cook.

“Thank Merlin for magic,” whispered Harry to Ron as they sat down, successfully getting him to chuckle.

The family conversed happily as they filled their plates. That is everyone but Ginny, who was still sending daggers at Ron and occasionally at Harry making Harry wish he actually would’ve chosen his normal spot next to Ginny. The entire meal he silently prayed that Ginny wouldn’t say anything until after everyone had left and it was just her and Ron. Or maybe at least once they’d finished eating… at the very least… please Merlin.

Harry got one part of his wish to come true. Ginny didn’t open her mouth until after they’d finished their supper. It was just as Mrs. Weasley was bringing out the dessert of blueberry pie did she begin.

“So… Ron. How is life these days?” started Ginny sticking her fork and cutting out a piece of her pie.

“Fine, thank you,” replied Ron as he smugly took a bite of his dessert. The entire table seemed to go silent, looking anxiously between Ginny and Ron.

“Fine…. Juuussst fine. Lovely really. Glad to know you can break someone’s heart and be juuussst fine.” The entire table groaned.

“Ah Gin please not-” Harry began to plead.

“Shut up Harry,” said Ginny pointing her fork at him.

“Shutting up….” Ginny then turned her fork and her attention back on Ron.

“So you’re fine, eh?” Ron nodded, “Yup, that’s what I said, isn’t it?”

“You know I’ve been ashamed, to say the least, that YOU are my brother! You broke her heart and then now you walk around like the biggest prat I have EVER seen. You are honestly fine, Ron?”

“YES, I am! Perfectly fine! AND dandy I might add,” answered Ron heatedly at first, but then calming down. Ginny rose from her chair. “HOW?! How can you be fine?! Do you feel anything at all?!! She spent five years with you and you feel fine throwing it all away-”

Ron slapped the table so hard that it shook and Ginny fell silent.

“I...” began Ron tightlipped and shaking with anger. “I am NOT the one who threw it all away. And it may be hard for you to understand that some stupid git like your brother could actually be right for once in his bloody life, but I can assure you that the throwing away of mine and Hermione’s relationship was NOT done by me. And the broken heart for the record is NOT hers.” Ron settled back into his pie and began to eat angrily jabbing at each bit.

Ginny seemed to immediately calm, but she didn't look as if she was finished. This time, surprising everyone, she spoke softly to Ron. “Ron, you may be the victim this time… and you probably are… but do you remember Auror training? You went away for six months. Six months, Ronald, is a long time for a girl to wait. And Hermione was in the front row when you graduated.”

“Ah, Ginny, don’t bring this up-”

“Wait,” Ginny said holding up her hand, “Let me finish... please?” She added. Ron focused back down on his pie which Ginny took as a sign that she could go on. “She didn’t get to see you even once for six months and she was there at the end. Now... you on the other hand have missed her birthday… twice if I remember correctly. Although she may only think it’s once since I know Harry gave his present to you and told her that you had planned the party that he threw for her, but she’s a smart girl so probably not. And then Ron, you went to a Cannons game on your anniversary,” Ron groaned, “LISTEN!” Ginny's eyes flared at Ron while Ron seemed surprised and slightly shaken by her sudden outburst. After getting his attention, Ginny calmed back down as she began again, “You left her in a restaurant, waiting, and when she got home she had to take care of you since you were completely pissed. Then, her family’s muggle reunion-”

“Gin, I went to that,” said Ron quietly and looking at her confused. She shook her head, “Yeah you did, but you showed up looking a bum. That was important to Hermione... even if it was just a group of crazy muggles. And The Orion, Ron? The last wizard to get that award it took him ten years, it took her two. And you missed it. You missed it to get your name on the front page and not hers when she did something phenomenal.” Ron now was staring fixedly at his pie, poking it and mashing the bits together, no longer taking bites.

“You may be the victim this time, Ron, but she’s never forgotten a birthday or an anniversary, and for Merlin’s sake she even agreed to dance with Uncle Mell at our family reunion… even though he gropes anyone who isn’t blood. She's been there for every award, for... absolutely everything. So… You may be the victim and you may be right, but she’s been a victim before too. And I just… I just thought you should know…”

Ginny went quiet, situating herself comfortably back into her seat. The rest of the table had been still for the entirety of Ginny and Ron’s bickering as if in a freeze charm, no one had even laid a finger on their pie. They had all seemed caught in the exchange that had been happening before them. And as Ron excused himself from the table, those left still seemed to be stuck where they were. Mr. Weasley’s fork was still in mid air above his untouched slice as his eyes followed his youngest son’s slumped shape until he was lost behind a corner.

“Well…” began Mrs. Weasley, her voice sending everyone back into motion breaking the supposed freeze charm, “Who wants another slice? Another slice...anyone?”



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Let me know what you thought. Thanks for reading! ~Meg





Chapter 4: To Remember or To Forget?
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Disclaimer: I do not own HP, but I do own the story.
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Chapter Four: To Remember or To Forget?



After that evening at the Burrow, Harry could feel a distinct change in both of his two favorite Weasleys. Normally quick to react with anger especially when it came to Ron and his dimwittedness, Ginny as of recently had become very mild mannered and even-tempered. It was quite odd for Harry to witness considering after most spats she would either do one of two things: not speak to Ron or scream at him. Although Harry wouldn’t necessarily call this past confrontation one of their worst, it was actually the farthest from it being one of their most timid of disagreements. Still, he figured Ginny wouldn’t have given up on her anger so quickly since traditionally she held onto it for so long. This time, he suspected and despite her saying otherwise, Ron saying that it was he and not Hermione who had the broken heart had really struck a nerve with Ginny. Her anger seemed to have evaporated after that moment, proving that even a stubborn Ginny Weasley could no more stand to see her brother in pain than any other sister could... even if she did so happen to think he was being a nitwit.

Ron, on the other hand, seemed to have acquired a small pebble of uncertainty in his well of righteousness and as the days passed, each day ending without the return of Hermione from her trip to Italy, Ron’s well seemed to be filling more and more.

After a week of no sign of Hermione ever coming back, Harry finally received an owl from her saying that she was staying longer than planned and on top of that, additional trips to a number of countries were being tacked on to her journey. She didn’t think she would be home for at least another week.

But, by the end of that next week, Hermione was no where to be found and the slump in Ron’s shoulders, the slump that Harry had been intimately acquainted with whenever the two had fought before, had finally appeared. It was a relief to Harry.

Although Ron’s behavior was welcomed whole heartedly by Harry, Hermione’s wasn’t. She’d been gone for two weeks now and Harry had been officially worried out of his mind pretty much since the end of the fourth day she’d been gone. Her owl at the end of that first week had successfully reassured him… momentarily. Then, the thought of receiving an owl at the end of each week from Hermione postponing her return again and again crossed his mind. And so the worrying continued on.

Harry woke up that day prepared for the owl that he knew would be there and sure enough when he entered his kitchen, there waiting on his window sill stood a medium sized barn owl with a small note tied to his leg.

Harry opened the window and the owl flew in landing gracefully on the center island ruffling his feathers and lifting his leg so Harry could better untie the rolled note. Harry undid the note and began reading his message. The owl flew out the window with Harry barely noticing.


Harry,

Got something for you and Ron.
30 minutes my office.

Ed



“Must be something good,” shrugged Harry as he went off to get dressed. He was out the door within fifteen minutes and arrived at the Ministry about two minutes after that.

Harry bustled over to the lift and took it down to the Auror department. The department was fairly dead and had been for quite some time. Harry’s case work hadn’t gotten any better and neither had anyone else’s. The amount of dark activity in the area was close to nothing. With Ed calling him and Ron in though meant something was going on, something important.

Harry didn’t even need to knock. Ed’s door was wide open with Ed lounging back in his chair behind his desk, a cigar in hand. Harry walked in and sat down in one of the two wooden chairs on the opposite side of Ed’s large desk. Ed nodded his head in acknowledgement of Harry, but no real formal exchanges were said.

It wasn’t until Ron entered about a good five minutes later that Ed said anything.

“Close the door behind you Ron.” Ed sat up straighter in his chair and silently cast a number of spells to protect their conversation. “I’ve got an assignment for the two of you,” said Ed crossing his hands and gazing at the two. Ron and Harry eyed each other.

“Now this project hits a little close to home,” began Ed.


**********


Hermione pulled her luggage off the train and made her way for one of the taxis. Her train ride had been long and she was quite exhausted from all the traveling she had done, but more than anything she was happy to be back in London. Back in a land where everyone spoke English!

Granted, Italian was a beautiful language, but having to use it to tirelessly negotiate with vampires all day would make anyone sick of it.

Hermione hailed a taxi and jumped in quickly. The driver asked her where she wanted to go and for a second she almost said her and Ron’s. She caught herself just in time and instead gave Harry’s address. It was the small moments, ones like this that left her winded and feeling like she couldn’t breathe.

She recovered within seconds, her pain going unnoticed by the driver as he set off for her destination. She was beginning to realize that these moments that caught her so off guard, these moments that left her with a lonely throb in her chest would probably never go away. And most of all, she was slowly learning that people don’t ever really get over this; they just get better at hiding the pangs when they arrive.

Sighing, she looked out the window and watched faces zoom by. She rested her head gently against the cold glass.

It’s funny because most people probably think that she just ran off to Italy to get away for two weeks. The irony of it all was that in actuality she had spent the past two weeks working her tail off. Jean and Hermione were making huge strides and vampire relations were their next endeavor all in the name of I.F.E.

I.F.E. began as just two small offices, one in the English Ministry and one in the French. Hermione had started her career at the Ministry in the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. She had done extremely well there and had always promised herself that she would never enter into the law making side of things. But as more cases crossed her desk, she began to feel that the cases themselves were unjust and that these creatures needed protection. And so she slowly began to drift over to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It wasn’t until her boss finally suggested, in an all too forward manner, that Hermione was in need of a transfer did Hermione finally get switched over to Law. It was probably one of the most influential decisions for Hermione’s career and it worked out splendidly.

Soon after getting transferred Hermione set to work. First there was Dobby’s Act, a new piece of legislation banning the abuse and inhumane treatment of any magical creature. It was the first law that actually allowed the Wizengamot to charge wizards and witches for beating a house elf. With the broad nature of the law, Hermione was able to use it in numerous cases including one where a group of young wizards had harassed and attacked a young centaur. The centaurs normally have their own ways for exacting justice, but the boys had run from the scene before the elder centaurs could have done anything. They were thoroughly surprised when Hermione showed up at their door and promptly charged them with a lawsuit. The centaurs at first were angry with Hermione’s interference, but it was through talks with Firenze that eventually they became semi appreciative of her efforts to get the boys charged rightfully. The case was actually really well publicized being that the three wizards charged were from well respected families. When they were sentenced to 6 months of suspension and volunteer work, the wizarding world was shocked. Hermione’s case was such a small one, but it had made a huge impact. Everything seemed to snowball from there.

She then went on to lobby for the Potter Privacy Act named after Harry himself who helped immensely with the project. This one stated that every creatures’ natural state of being be acknowledged and untainted which successfully protected the forests of the Giants, Centaurs, Unicorns, etc. It also officially prevented them from being hunted. That was a huge milestone for Hermione getting it passed.

And so began Hermione’s career. It was her first conference after that when she met Jean. He had been working on a number of similar cases. They started off just swapping notes and strategies, but eventually they came to the decision that every country needed to adopt a Dobby’s Act or a Potter Privacy Act. That’s how I.F.E. began. It began as a way to get other countries to adopt legislation passed in Britain or France or at least develop a similar piece of legislation, but the moment they started their meet and greets Jean and Hermione soon faced a number of brick walls. It took a lot of politics actually just to get certain groups and certain Ministers to meet with them. Luckily, Arthur agreed to do a public interview with Hermione and Jean where they discussed all the key issues. Thanks to him, others eventually followed suit. Two years later, here she was. Twenty three years old with an Orion under her belt and having just returned from- what would be the first of many- talks with vampires in Italy. Her career was going magnificently to say the least.

The taxi cab slowly pulled up next to the apartment complex. Hermione paid the man and muttered a soft “thank you” before exiting the car, luggage in tow.

She stood before Harry’s building in the cold, slightly fearful to enter it. Two weeks. It had been over two weeks since Ron had ended things and it hadn’t even felt like two weeks. It felt like just yesterday he had screamed at her in the middle of a beautiful, massive banquet hall. Her career was going magnificently and yet she had lost Ron.

In her mind, she had thought by now that they would be back together. Once again, her work had gotten in the way, gotten in the way of what really mattered. And now that she was done with I.F.E., talks, and her “work” for now what was she to do? All that was left was to think and mull.

All that was left was to remember. Or better yet, try to forget.


**********


“So you’re telling me that death eaters are all behind this?” asked Ron astonished.

“Yes, that’s what all the evidence is pointing to. It all coincides with some event coming up, but we have no idea what that is. And well, the pattern of it all…” Ed trailed off while Harry and Ron nodded. The pattern of high dark magic activity mixed with such lulls was too irregular, too infrequent. Almost so much that it had to be, just had to be intentional. Ed knew from the very beginning that something was wrong. Now he was hoping that he just wasn’t too late.

“But I thought most of the death eaters had fled or been arrested five years ago?”

“Honestly, Harry that’s what we thought too. We ALL thought that they were gone… but things were insane after He died. People were so busy celebrating that the follow-up with most cases was just pushed aside. No one bothered to check up on all the accusations and reports that had been flying about before hand. They simply finished filing them and then just let 'em rest. Look, you two are the best I got and you obviously have your personal reasons for wanting to do this, that’s why I figured I should ask you first.”

Harry and Ron both leaned back in their chairs at the same time, taking all the information they had just learned in. Important decisions were to be made and both felt like they couldn’t make them spot on right now.

“Do we…err…do we have to let you know now?” asked Harry quietly.

“Well… I’ll need to know as soon as possible. At the very latest in the next two days,” replied Ed. Harry nodded in understanding. “Listen, I know it’s a tough decision. I know it means one of you will be gone… for months possibly, but this is the job. We’ve got a hot lead and I need someone to follow that up. One of you can stay, but one has to go. I’ll leave it up to you boys to decide who’s doing what. If I don’t hear back from one of you, then I’m going to pass it on to someone else-”

“No!” Ron straightened up in his chair, his eyes fiery. Noticing the odd look he got from Ed, he quickly settled back down. “I mean… this is something that we need to do. We’ll have an answer for you, alright? Two days?” finished Ron.

“Two days,” agreed Ed. He stood up and shook hands with his two best Aurors and watched as they left his office.

Outside Ed’s office, Harry and Ron made their way over to the lift together. They walked with ease and waited quietly as the lift lowered to meet them. The funny thing about their relationship was that during times when outside factors should have made their friendship strained or stressful, it turned out that it oddly just didn’t. They had laughed during the wizarding world’s darkest moments. Somewhere along the road they had learned when the time called to cry, to laugh, to stress, and so on. And the moment they had stepped out of Ed’s office some unspoken agreement had been made that this mission was something that could not be worried about now on the way to the elevator.

Harry smirked despite himself thinking of how only friends like he and Ron, ones that have been through so much together, could have such a silent understanding.

The doors opened and the two entered. Ron looked over at Harry and saw his smirk.

“What?” asked Ron with a mildly confused look on his face.

“Oh nothing… I was just thinking about something.”

“Right… Right,” nodded Ron, still bewildered. The elevator became quiet once again as they waited. Then suddenly a small grin spread across Ron’s face.

Harry looked over and caught Ron’s goofy grin. He couldn’t help it, he just burst into laughter.

“What?!” Ron was now completely befuddled as to what Harry was going on about which only caused Harry’s fit to keep going. And soon it spread to Ron who too began to chuckle, despite having no inkling as to why they were.

“Why the hell are we laughing?” asked Ron as their laughter died down.

“I don’t have a clue,” replied Harry still grinning.

“You’re a little sick, mate… You’re going loopy on me.” Ron shook his head at his best friend in amusement. The doors opened and they were on the main floor of the Ministry. They stepped out and walked over to the apparating station, stopping there to bid goodbye.

Harry sighed as something creeped up within him, some feeling that he just couldn’t pinpoint. And as he stood there trying to suss out what it was, he finally realized that he didn’t want to say goodbye to Ron. They were best mates after all. And Harry couldn’t even remember the last time they had really laughed together. It seemed as though these last two years had been a blur. Hermione always off on her trips, Ron off capturing God knows who. It had just been Gin and Harry for the longest time.

And sadly ever since Hermione and Ron’s tragic break up, Harry had finally been able to get some time with his best mate, mostly because the bloody bastard was no longer preoccupied with proving that he equaled Hermione, that he was her match. And now, after finally getting two weeks of good ole fashioned time with his best mate only to get assigned some top secret mission where one has to go while the other stays behind… well to put it honestly… it just sucked in Harry’s opinion.

“Ahhh well… that was a hefty load of shite, eh?” Ron had no qualms about voicing what they both were thinking standing there.

The Ministry had a few stragglers going about their way, but in general it seemed to be a pretty desert place, definitely not the usual hustle and bustle of a normal weekday at the Ministry. Ron watched as one particular quirky wizard moved over to the floo station and disappeared in a glimmer of smoke and soot.

“Yes, yes it most definitely was,” replied Harry.

“Well I suppose we’ll have to work something out soon then… but for now, I say we do what we’ve always done best and procrastinate,” declared Ron with a boyish smirk clapping Harry on the shoulder.

“Yeah… yeah I think you’re right about that one.” Harry couldn’t help but shake his head and smile.

“So I take it you’ll be going to Ginny’s game tonight, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there. Season tickets and all.”

“Well I’ll see you there. Maybe afterwards we can all head over to the pub, figure things out then eh?” Harry nodded. They stood there for a second, knowing that things were going to change in two days and yet unable to stop anything. And as they bid farewell there in the middle of the Ministry, both hoped that this particular mission would not be as long as expected because if it was, then they wouldn’t see each other for a very, very long time.



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Author's Note: This was a short chapter for me, but it leads into a much longer one. I originally intended this chap and the next to be combined, but as I was writing it I was like "Holy cow! This is gonna be long!". So I decided to instead break it up. Hence the shortness and also the fillerness. The next chap will be the Quidditch match and craziness will of course ensue.

Let me know what you thought!
~Meg

Chapter 5: A Match Made In...
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Author's Note: I do not own the characters, but I do own the story.

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Chapter 5: A Match Made In...


Harry sluggishly climbed the stairs to his floor, having just gotten back from his meeting with Ed. It was only midday and he already felt tired, mentally more so than physically. He should have been used to it by now. Once one trouble is laid down at your feet, there’s always more to follow.

Ed had made it clear that whoever was to leave would be gone for a while. He wasn’t too specific; he couldn’t be.

It just seemed to hit them at the complete wrong time. Things were going great with Ginny… so great that he figured he could slowly ease her into agreeing to live with him. Then after that… well… he had plans, plans for their lives together. Everything was just about to start for him and now Ed wanted him to possibly go away for God knows how long.

Not that he felt Ron should go instead. Poor bloke’s finally starting to get his senses back and once Hermione got back, Harry was sure Ron was going to try to get things straight again… but with this news, Hermione might not even be back in time before one of them has to go.

Shaking his head, Harry inserted the key and then slowly pushed the door open. A good cup of tea would clear his head of all this negativity. He walked into his apartment, throwing his jacket in his traditional routine on the top of his favorite chair... his favorite chair that was normally draped with blankets, newspapers, and his case files.

Harry paused staring at his chair… his clean chair.

“No blankets… no case files…” Harry ran over to the bookshelf and smiled as he saw that his files that had originally been resting on his chair from the previous night were now organized by year and then subcategorized alphabetically.

“HERMI-” Harry spun around and was cut off by the sight of his best friend standing expectantly in the hallway.

Harry grinned and was returned with a smile from Hermione. He walked over and hugged her.

“Long time no see,” said Hermione as Harry squeezed her a little tighter. She had made it just in time to his relief.

“Well you surely should say so! Two weeks! Where have you been? Your letter was short,” said Harry pulling away and walking towards the kitchen.

“Pretty much everywhere... primarily Italy though. I would’ve been home sooner, but as it so happens Vampires tend to be very adept at talking for lengthy periods of time about absolutely nothing… It took forever to get an inch and then we would end up looping back around again. Basically we got nowhere without even realizing it.”

“So not so much a successful trip then?” asked Harry pulling down some mugs from the cabinet as Hermione took a seat on the island chair that she happened to favor.

“I wouldn’t call it successful… I wouldn’t call it unsuccessful though either. It just was. And it’ll probably take many more trips just like this one to get where we need to be.” Hermione’s hand came up to wipe her face as if the thought of going back was so exhausting. “I’ll most likely be spending some time in between here, France, and Italy the next few months.”

Harry stood across from Hermione noting the fatigue in her voice at the idea of continuously disagreeing with vampires.

“Do you ever actually get to see these places that you travel to?”

“Sometimes… not this past time though, sadly. I spent half my time holed up in a library researching vampire culture and the other half jumping through hoops to speak with them. By the time I finally got a word with them, it resulted to nothing.”

“Well I give you an E for effort!” said Harry with fake enthusiasm. Hermione scoffed at his antics.

“So what have you been up to?”

“Like you, my work has also amounted to absolutely nothing for the last two weeks,” teased Harry only to receive a rude gesture from Hermione. “Anywayyy… Turns out there are no cases for the Auror department. We’ve been helping out Muggle Affairs on their cases. I’m up to my elbows in rogue vacuums and haywire gardening tools.”

“Sounds like we both have been moderately productive,” said Hermione taking the steaming cup from Harry as he went on to pour his own.

“Well on the bright side Ginny has a match tonight. Interested?” Hermione paused from trying to cool her drink to look up.

“Yes of course. I see you still buy those season tickets like a good boyfriend, now don’t you!” Hermione smiled. Harry hadn’t missed a game since Ginny had first tried out for the team. He had become her number one fan and was not afraid to show it considering the amount of Harpies memorabilia that was stuffed into his closet currently.

“I’ll let you borrow a Harpies t-shirt,” said Harry sipping his tea.

“Why? So we can match?”

“Very funny… You know Ron’ll be there.” Hermione’s face immediately went serious and her gaze suddenly found something very interesting with the tea in her mug. Harry wasn’t sure if he should’ve brought this particular detail up, but figured it would be best to have her know. Surprises of this caliber would not sit well with Hermione.

“I figured,” replied Hermione softly.

“Annnndddd?... Is that ok? Do you still want to go?” Harry wasn’t much for probing. It felt incredibly awkward to him but this, he knew, was absolutely necessary.

“Yes that’s ok. And yes, I’ll still go.” Harry saw a flash of the quiet shell of a Hermione that he had become acquainted with two weeks ago before she had fled. It had been two weeks and yet here she was. Little mousy, insecure Hermione; a girl he had only met briefly first year crying in a girl’s bathroom. It made him want to run to her. It made him wish he could rescue her from whatever heartache she had.

Clearing her throat, Hermione managed to look back up at Harry and just like that the girl from first year was gone once more. “So how is he?”

“He’s missed you… I actually didn’t think he would, at first. He seemed happythat you guys had… ya know… split up. But then you left and Ginny, of course, got to him. But now he’s back to his usual wreck-without-you phase.” Harry wasn’t sure if this information did anything.

“Anyway let’s go pick you out a bright Harpies tee!” Hermione smiled at Harry’s attempt to uplift her. He pulled her off the stool and headed towards his room.


**********


Later on at the game, Harry, clad in his usual Harpies get up of matching t-shirt, cap, and face paint, and Hermione, also clad in a Harpies tee, made their way up to their seats. They reached them just in time for the snitch to be released.

Hermione watched as Ginny flew in and out of the competition and listened as Harry critiqued every Harpies move under his breath, and yet she could not force herself to pay attention to the game whatsoever. Her focus, instead, was on the two seats in front of her. Empty as they were.

Harry had said that Ron would be showing up at the game and at the time, the thought of seeing him again made her stomach churn. But right then, as she sat staring at the two empty seats in the row ahead of her, she couldn’t help but want to get it over with. All this endless waiting was sure to ruin her nerves.

Minutes passed by and still no show of Ron.

Hermione was sure that by the end of the game, if he was to stay a no show, then she would certainly be under the classification of insane. Her inner debate was wreaking havoc on her. At first, she wanted him there purely to get over the first instance of seeing each other. Now, she couldn’t decide if subconsciously she actually did want to see him and what were the implications of that.

Did she miss him? There was that God awful pang earlier in the taxi. And if she did so happen to miss him, did that necessarily mean she wanted to get back together? How could she ever forget the way he spoke to her in the banquet hall? How could they ever repair their relationship from two years worth of damage? Two years of fighting. Two years of neglect. And even if she was willing to concede on some things and swallow her pride to be with him, would he even want to be with her? And even worse was the idea of what she would have to concede to. What would she have to give up? She had worked so hard, so diligently for so long that she couldn’t imagine abandoning it now. More importantly, how could the person that was supposed to love you the most ask you to give up your passion?

Time continued on and Hermione’s questions never ceased. Like the thought of seeing him again had all of sudden opened up a floodgate of thousands of other equally important thoughts associated with him.

Harry sat all the while next to her, completely oblivious… that is until a red headed man appeared at the bottom of the box, peaking around from the stairwell. Ron had finally arrived. He spotted Harry and waved, not seeing the brunette to Harry’s left who was coincidentally blocked by a wizard in green robes standing and shouting at the referee for his last call. Ron turned and said something down the stairwell to someone Harry could not see.

Harry waved back happily, but his hand quickly stopped in mid wave as he saw the beautiful blonde receptionist, Catherine, emerge from the stairwell holding Ron’s hand.

“Ohhhh fuck….”

Hermione’s contemplations ceased with the word. Her head snapped to Harry’s face which looked liked it was witnessing a car crash before the actual impact. She followed Harry’s gaze and peeked around the standing wizard yelling obscenities to see Ron making his way up to his row. It wasn’t until the wizard sat down that she was able to get a full view of the cause for Harry’s change in demeanor. Her breath caught in her throat.

Harry’s mind was racing. He realized his hand was still in mid air so he quickly let it fall to his side. As he turned to Hermione, he watched as her features went from surprise to hurt to anger and back again.
Ron bustled through the aisle and as he went to greet Harry in the row above, he finally noticed Hermione sitting to Harry’s left.

“Her…Hermione?” His voicing cracking a little. “Since when have you been in town?”

Hermione stiffened herself. “I got back this morning.”

“And… um… how was it? How was your trip?” Ron was searching for words. He felt like he had been hit by a ton of bricks.

“Fine, thank you.”

Silence ensued as the two just stared at each other while Harry’s eyes moved from one to the other and then quickly to Catherine, who seemed the most uncomfortable out of everyone. Finally, Catherine coughed a bit to remind Ron of her presence.

“Oh right! Hermione this is Catherine. Catherine, Hermione.” Ron introduced the two as they shook hands briefly, Hermione’s shake a little tighter than normal. “Harry you know Catherine, right?”

“Errr….” Harry’s brain seemed to be moving in slow motion, but he quickly snapped out of it. “Umm yes, yes of course. You work in reception correct?”

“Yes, I’ve been there for two months now,” she said smiling brightly. “I’m getting some experience in the work force before I head off to school in the fall.”

“Oh, what are you studying?” asked Harry hoping to lighten the mood.

“Healing,” replied Catherine.

“Sure is! She’s bright and beautiful, eh Harry?” Catherine’s smile grew with Ron’s praise as he pulled her into a side armed hug. Harry nodded and smiled politely despite being more concerned with his quieter friend seated next to him.

Suddenly, Hermione arose. Clearing her throat, she muttered something about the lavatory before shimmying out of the aisle. The crowd roared as another outrageous call was made. Ron and Harry both watched as Hermione rushed out of the box as Catherine looked towards the pitch to see what all the fuss was about.

“Harry…” pleaded Ron.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m going.” Harry stood up and made his way after Hermione.


**********


Harry started taking the stairs two at time to catch up to the freakishly fast Hermione. He made it to the bottom safely and saw a flash of her hair as she whipped around a corner. Chasing after her, he was about to call her name when she turned to face him.

Saying she looked angry was like saying a dragon can breathe fire.

“I can’t believe this! I can’t believe you!” Hermione gestured towards Harry as he raised his hands like he was taming a wild beast.

“Hermione please calm down.” The moment the words were out of his mouth he knew he had said the exact wrong thing.

“CALM DOWN?!!! You convinced me to come to this bloody game and see Ron! Who so HAPPENS to show up with FUCKING TWIT!!” Hermione began pacing back and forth.

Harry didn’t know what to say. He just stood there like a dumbfounded idiot.

“Errr… I wouldn’t necessarily call her a twit, she’s always been perfectly nice.”

“Oh shut up Harry!” cried Hermione as she rubbed the sides of her temples to calm herself.

The crowd roared again except this time it seemed to be one of happiness. The Harpies had probably scored. Harry and Hermione just looked at each other, her angry and him feeling like a jackass. They were completely alone; the game was heating up and all the fans were in their seats cheering the Harpies on.

“Hermione, I didn’t know he was dating anyone. He never said anything to me.”

“For crying out loud Harry! What’s the point of even showing up anymore?!”

“I mean, it’s Ginny’s game sooo…” replied Harry not really knowing where she was going with this.

“Yeah… Harry, yes, of course I want to see Ginny play, but we both know that secretly the main reason I came here was to see him. But what is the fucking point when every time I show up to something or… or… try at something rubbish just gets thrown back in my face? And orchestrated by you! Nonetheless!”

“HEY! I didn’t know he was going to bring her!”

“I came here thinking-”

“WHAT?! That you two were going to get back together?! That he was supposed to have waited for you? You just left Hermione,” shouted Harry exasperated. “I mean honestly! Two weeks you’ve been gone. I got one letter. How many did Ron get? You take off and don’t even bother writing. I spent the past two weeks wondering when you were gonna come home, wondering how long you were going to stay in Italy. Forever maybe, hell how would I know! Before you left, I was sure Ron was being an ass. I knew it for a fact…But now…If you ask me, Ron’s a fucking saint. I can’t imagine waiting… just WAITING for months. Did you even bother writing Ron during those months? Have you always treated him like this? Like he was there out of convenience?!”

Hermione slapped Harry as hard as she could. The sound of it was crisp and sharp like his words had been. It probably would’ve echoed throughout the stadium had it not already been filled with so much noise.

When Hermione found her voice, it was low and menacing.

“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare speak of MY relationship with Ron like it was my entire fault. Did you ever see Ron write me? He had my address, Harry. He always knew where I was staying. Did he ever write me? Or you for that matter? You knew too. Gin was the only one to write. Only her. Did you OR Ron ever bother coming to one of my dinner parties, to one of the many banquets, the meet and greets, the galas, or hell even for just a plain old visit? I was in fucking Tuscany for a month and half last year… TUSCANY! Who wouldn’t want to visit there? But no, you didn’t… Ron didn’t…At least I can’t remember any… can you?”

Harry was silent. He stood just looking at her unable to think of any time in the last two years that he had written her or visited. She had always come to him, she had always written him. She had been the glue for their friendship.

“I didn’t think so.” Hermione turned and began walking away, but stopped in mid stride.

“Oh and by the way, if the one you loved abandoned you, tore your heart open, and then humiliated you I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t mind taking a couple of weeks away…AND you wouldn’t fucking write them to talk about it!”

Hermione stormed off leaving Harry, standing speechless looking after her. He stood there long after she had vanished from his view. He couldn’t help thinking: she was right. This wasn’t just about her and Ron failing at their relationship. This was a collective failure of all three of them. They had all neglected each other and were now suffering the fall out from that.

His last thought before he re-entered the stands was: How were they all going to fix this in time?



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Author's Note: Sorry that it has been so long since I have written. I have the next three chapters ironed out for this story. It's gonna be pre-tty exciting so get geared up for it. Let me know your thoughts on the latest. Thanks for reading!


Chapter 6: I'd Start With the Truth
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Author's Note: Obviously story is mine, characters are not. J.K has custody.

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Chapter six- I'd Start With the Truth



After finishing up in the locker room, Ginny finally appeared outside where a crowd was waiting for pictures, signed autographs, and even just a glimpse of the Harpies star chaser. Ginny had once again pulled through and scored the majority of the goals this game. She was quickly becoming one of the most successful chasers the Harpies had ever seen.

The moment she exited the locker room she was hounded by flashing cameras and screams of small children begging for her to sign something, anything. Ginny smiled at the cameras and grabbed the first autographic quill that she saw and began signing away.

“Ms. Weasley, how do you think the game went today?” cried a reporter.

“Really well. Both teams played with passion. I think we ended up pulling through in the end. It was definitely tough competition, but I think this may have been one of our best matches to date.”

The reporters continued to follow Ginny, as she moved down the line of kids waiting for an autograph, firing questions at her like gun fire.

“Ms. Weasley! Ms. Weasley! What do you think of the plans for an American league?”

“The more Quidditch, the better. As long as the Americans can stay up to snuff with the rest of us,” replied Ginny. The crowd hollered in agreement.

“Ms. Weasley! When are we going to hear wedding chimes for you and Mr. Potter?”

“No comment,” smiled Ginny. The crowd groaned. Ginny said this same statement every time the reporters tried to inquire about her and Harry’s relationship.

Just as Gin was starting to grow tired of their endless questions, Susan emerged from the locker room. She had caught the snitch in such a brilliant manner that the entire media flew to her as their next target. Ginny signed a few more autographs as the majority of the crowd moved to surround Susan.

As she was finishing up her last signature, a voice called her name from behind.

“Excuse me, Ms. Weasley.” Ginny turned around to find a lean, brown haired man that she had never seen before. “Excuse me, Ms. Weasley. My name is Todd Summers,” said the man as he handed her a business card.

“I’m a recruiter for the Los Angeles area Quidditch region. Would you mind sparing a few minutes of your time?”

Ginny looked down at the business card to see a rather attractive picture of Todd on the front with a snitch zooming around the border. His credentials and contact information were all listed right on the front.

“Umm sure,” replied Ginny with a shrug.

“Well, as I’m sure you know, the U.S. is in the middle of introducing a new American Quidditch league. You can probably guess that America doesn’t exactly have a lot of experienced players like yourself.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily call myself experienced. I’m only 21 for Merlin’s sake!” Todd smiled at her humor.

“Miss Weasley-”

“Please call me Ginny.”

“Ok Ginny… I’ve watched you play out there today. You are quite a talent; talent that the American teams need in order to get going. We could really use you. You’ve obviously got a ton of followers who would… I’m guessing… track your progress on whatever team you played for.”

“Errmmm… This is all very flattering and all, but-”

“We would pay you substantially and it would be a hell of an opportunity to travel all around the globe. The American League is not just the U.S. regions, but also Canada, Central America, and even some South American countries are joining in.”

Todd could tell that Ginny still seemed unsure of everything.

“Listen, I am meeting tomorrow with some prospective players for lunch…. You probably know some of them. Come to the lunch, I’ll answer any questions you have, and we’ll just talk. I’ll give you all the information that you need and then you can make a decision. Ginny, in the end you can either tell me to go to hell or you can say that you want to play. Either way, I’m happy.”

Ginny still seemed skeptical of the offer. Offers from other teams were coming her way all the time, and yet she rarely looked into them though. She found that she loved playing with the Harpies and no other offer was as good as her contract with her current team.

“There’s no harm in getting all the info, ya know?” said Todd in a last ditch effort to convince Ginny to come.

“Ok,” nodded Ginny figuring there’s nothing wrong with at least looking into other offers… especially if they quote unquote pay substantially.

“Great. The information’s on the back of the card.” Todd shook Ginny’s hand and told her he’d see her tomorrow. Just as Todd left, Harry, Ron, and some blonde girl Ginny had never met approached her.

Harry looked a bit worn judging from his facial expression. He came right up and kissed her on the cheek though.

“Who was that, Gin?” asked Ron.

“Oh, no one…. Just a fan,” replied Ginny as she stuffed the business card into her coat pocket. Right now did not seem like the right time to discuss possible offers especially with the way Harry was looking.

“Who’s this?” asked Ginny changing the subject.

“Oh this is my friend, Catherine. Catherine this is Ginny, my sister.”

“It’s so great to meet you!” said Catherine enthusiastically. “I absolutely love watching you play. You’ve made me a Harpies fan now.”

“Thank you.” Ginny nodded.

“Well I say it’s about time we hit the pub my dear ladies!” And with that Ron ushered Catherine towards the apparating station so that they could go to their favorite bar in Diagon Alley. Ron and Catherine led the way as Harry and Ginny hung back.

“So what’s up with you today?” asked Ginny as she snaked an arm around his waist while they walked. Harry wrapped his arm around her shoulders to hug her to him.

“Weellll…. Hermione came back in town.”

“Oh really? Did she come to the game? Or is she gonna meet as at the bar?” asked Ginny excited that her best friend was home.

“Yeah she came to the game and… errr… I highly doubt she’ll be joining us at the bar,” replied Harry awkwardly.

“What? Why not?” Ginny seemed perplexed by the whole thing until Harry gestured to the couple in front of them. “Ohh…. Damnit Ron!”

“Someone say my name?” asked Ron turning back for second.

“Nope, you’re good mate,” replied Harry hoping to avoid Ginny humiliating him in front of his date.

“Alrighty then,” said Ron as he turned back to Catherine and their conversation.

Ginny looked back up at Harry and rolled her eyes. “Honestly, what am I going to do with him, Harry?”

Harry shook his head and planted a small kiss into her hair. “I wouldn’t recommend beating a grown man… it doesn’t look good on a resume,” smiled Harry. And with that, the two couples apparated to Diagon Alley.


**********


The Hermit’s Fortune located about three shops down from Fred and George’s joke shop was a recent development to the Diagon Alley scene. Seamus Finnigan had bucked up and finally bought the place with Dean Thomas. Through the help of Harry, Hermione, and Ron the place became a huge success and as of late, was a common pub to celebrate with other enthusiasts after a Quidditch match-especially the Harpies.

Harry, Ron, Catherine, and Ginny all entered the establishment. The moment Ginny entered many loud whoops were heard from across the pub since most of the patrons had come from the game and seen her perform magnificently. Ginny blushed slightly and gave a loud whoop back.

“Oi there! Harry! Ron!” cried a happy Seamus from behind the bar.

Harry and Ron made their way over to their old schoolmate as he worked furiously to appease the many guests.

“Haven’t seen ya in a while! Just came from the game I ‘spect?”

“Yeah. It was a great match,” replied Harry.

“I heard! The pub’s been packed since it ended. What can I get for ya? It’s on me boys! I owe ya.” Harry and Ron ordered four of their usual, the Hermit’s brew, a draught unique to the pub and a recent invention of George’s that he “allowed” the boys to sell as long as he received a share.

“Make sure t’ see Neville and Luna. They came here askin’ for ya,” called Seamus as the boys took their draughts to their usual booth. On the way back Harry saw that Luna and Neville had already sat down and were catching up with Ginny and meeting Catherine.

“Hey Harry. Ron!” said Neville nodding at the two.

“Actually Ron do you mind if I use the loo?” asked Catherine just as Ron was about to take his seat next to her.

“Ya know what, I’ll join you,” said Ginny shoving Harry out even though he had just slid into the booth. Ginny got out and followed Catherine towards the rear of the pub, but not before giving Harry a pointed look and then nodding towards Ron.

Harry took this to mean: You KNOW I’m expecting you to talk to him about Catherine right?

Luckily Ron saw the nod from Ginny before Harry even had to utter a word.

“I wouldn’t have brought her had I known that Hermione’s back in town,” said Ron admittedly to Harry.

“Hermione’s back in town?” asked Neville perplexed. “Yup,” the two answered simultaneously. “Oh that’s ironic.”

“Irony is only for those who are unprepared. I’ve known this whole time that Hermione would come back into town,” said Luna in a very certain manner.

“I mean I think everyone figured she’d be back sooner or later…” said a puzzled Ron. Shaking himself out of Luna’s logic, “Anyway. Catherine’s always been perfectly nice and I had two tickets to the game, so I figured why not ask her?”

“So Hermione saw you with Catherine at the game?” asked Neville. Ron answered only by shaking his head. “Well who brought Hermione to the game?”

“That would be me,” said Harry raising his hand. Harry took a long swig from his glass.

“So what did she say after she ran out?” asked Ron anxiously.

“Well to save you the trouble. I don’t think she’s mad at you. For once, you didn’t really do anything wrong, but I sure did.” Ron just looked at him waiting for more explanation. “We sort of got into it… and errrr…. I said some things that I shouldn’t have. All in all, it’s been a fine day.”

“What did you say?” asked Luna, now intrigued by the conversation.

“Well enough to earn me this.” Harry motioned towards his still reddened cheek from where Hermione had sharply slapped him clean and clear across the face.

“Wow! She must’ve really walloped you, Harry!” cried Ron as he caught the sight. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice it when you came into the stands!”

“I can’t imagine making Hermione that angry,” said Neville fearfully.

“Yup,” said Harry nodding at his own great achievement that was not so great: pissing Hermione off to the point of physical brutality.

“The only other bloke that she’s ever come to blows with was-” began Ron.

“Draco Malfoy,” the group said in unison. At the thought of this Ron burst into laughter quickly joined by Neville and Luna. Harry just simply eyed them evilly.

“Well if I were you, I would go apologize some time soon. She’s not a witch you want to leave stewing,” advised Ron.

“I plan too. What about you though? Are you going to talk to her in the next two days?” asked Harry pointedly.

Ron knew exactly what Harry was trying to tell him. The two of them had a decision to make and before doing so they would have to clear up all disagreements with those that mattered. Ironically, they both had to clear things up with the same witch.

“I plan on talking to her too, Harry… I-I just don’t know what I’m gonna say,” said Ron hopelessly.

“I’d start with the truth.” Despite her craziness and sometimes insane logic, there was always the rare occasion when Luna had the most simplistic, and yet greatest, advice.

“I just don’t really know where to start. I don’t know if we can patch this up, I don’t even know if I want to. I just… I just figure I should at least apologize.”

The others nodded as Ron’s shoulders shrugged. No one knew what advice they could give Ron. It was impossible to tell him what to feel or what to do. Both Hermione and Ron had so many regrets about their relationship. They had tried and Ron wondered if the shot they gave was their best. Maybe they were just better off as friends. He couldn’t really decide. He knew he loved her very much, but he also knew that, when together, they could be toxic to each other. He remembered the banquet hall and how… how cruelly he had screamed at her. Then, there were things that he had not even meant to be cruel by doing and inadvertently, he turned out to be anyway as Ginny pointed out. It was all a mess, but he figured, at the very least, he owed her an apology. He’d start there and then maybe they could salvage something after all this blew over.

Ginny and Catherine returned from the loo pulling Ron from his thoughts. The mood lightened immediately as the friends got back into their old routine.

Soon it was old friends catching up again and learning about the others’ prospects and lives. Luna was still doing well. She had just gotten back from one of her many travels. Having decided to be a wizarding naturalist, she frequently went off to search for odd unknown creatures. The subsequent finding of a heliopath led her to a fortune that none in the group would ever truly know the depth of her wealth. Neville on the other hand was interning at Hogwarts, aiding in the Herbology department. He soon expected to receive the full position though since Professor Sprout was on her way to retirement.

As the night passed and the crowd began to thin, Harry decided it was time to go. He needed to get back and probably talk to Hermione if he could catch her before she went to bed. Bidding the others goodnight for the evening, Harry gave Ginny a brief kiss before exiting the bar and heading back to his flat.


**********


Harry opened the door to his flat. He was hoping to see Hermione’s light on at the end of the hallway but instead he just saw darkness underneath the creak of her door. He walked up to the door and listened for any noise on the other side. Sighing he realized that she had probably gone to bed. He would just have to wait until tomorrow morning to apologize for his behavior.

He moved into the kitchen to get a glass of water before hitting the sack. He glanced out the back door and saw the light to the terrace was on. He peaked out through the window and saw a shapely figure in a silk robe, smoking and looking out at the night sky.

Hermione jumped when he slid open the patio door.

“Oh it’s just you! You startled me!”

“I can see that.” Harry walked over to the lean against the railing with her. “So…”

“So?” Hermione smiled, knowing he was trying to hint towards her cigarette.

“So. When did… uh this… habit start?” asked Harry trying not to come off judgmental.

“Well first off, these aren’t what you think. They’re Russell’s Sprouts.” Harry cocked an eyebrow at her. “Russell’s Sprouts?” Hermione laughed at his expression. “Yes… I’m not lying.”

“Kinda like Brussels sprouts?”

“Yeah I thought that was funny too when I first heard it. I was around a bunch of pure bloods though and they had no idea why I kept going off about some muggle vegetable. I guess the wizarding community doesn’t have Brussels sprouts.”

“Well I consider them lucky…. I hate Brussels sprouts.”

“Me too… This though,” said Hermione holding up her cigarette, “is a cigarette of Russell’s Sprouts. It’s a bunch of herbs discovered by some guy named Russell. It has a great calming effect. And it’s not nearly as harmful to your lungs as a real tobacco cigarette.”

Harry nodded in understanding as Hermione took a long drag. “So when did you start smoking Russell’s Sprouts again?”

“Oh I forgot to answer your question! I started… let’s see… I guess when Ron and I started fighting all the time-”

“So when was that? First year then?”

“Ha-ha very funny,” scoffed Hermione sarcastically. “No, it was about a year and half ago when I came back from my first trip with Jean.”

“Was Jean the one to introduce these guys to you?” Harry leaned over and grabbed the cigarette from her. He examined it briefly and then took a drag. He coughed a bit, to Hermione’s amusement, and then handed it back to her.

“As a matter a fact he was… The French love these things.” Hermione turned back towards the view in front of her.

As silence dawned on them, Harry found himself not really knowing what to say or how to steer the conversation towards their fight today. He opened his mouth to issue an apology when Hermione beat him to it.

“I’m sorry about today, Harry. You were-”

“Hermione, I’m the one who should apologize. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. I had no right to say those things.”

“You were right though Harry… partially,” she added catching his eye. “You were right when you said that I act like he’s always gonna be there. I know I do that. It was… just hard to hear, I suppose.”

“You were right though too Hermione. He never visited or wrote. He treated you like you had to come to him… and so did I. I’ve been a bad friend.”

“Well… you’re not a terrible friend. You never lie to me. And things always work themselves out in the end. Plus, I’m used to knocking sense back into you by now…”

“Literally,” noted Harry ironically.

“How does it look by the way?!” Wordlessly Harry turned his face towards Hermione to give her a better vantage point. “Oh my!... Oh Harry I’m so sorry. Wow… Here let me have a look at you in the light.” Hermione put her cigarette in her mouth and pulled him towards the light above the door.

Harry smirked at the sight before him: Hermione in a pink, silk robe with a cigarette in her mouth inspecting his cheek. She looked like a 60’s mom.

“What?” asked Hermione confused.

“Nothing… you just look like the anti-Hermione right now.” Harry chuckled as she checked herself up and down. Hermione shrugged it off and went back examining her hand mark on the side of his face.

“Well… how’s it looking, doc?” Hermione made a ‘hmph’ sort of noise as she pretended to examine further. As she ran her hand softly down the side of his cheek, reflexively, Harry shivered.

“I’m sorry. Does that bother you?” asked Hermione concerned. “No, it actually feels kind of nice-” “Cause, I can always put it out-” They both looked at each other funnily.

“I meant the cigarette… second hand smoke and all.”

“Yeah I thought you meant… yeah… sorry.” Hermione glanced at him oddly, but then shrugged it off. She put the cigarette out anyway and then suddenly it was gone just like that.

“Lately I’ve been transfiguring them into dust particles….”

“Clever.” Hermione went back to her spot leaning against the railing and watching the night life of London.

“So I’m going to ask the question that I’ve been waiting to ask and I need you to answer me honestly… Despite our most recent rift, I do value your opinion.” Harry just nodded, ready for her question. “Who is she?... Catherine, I mean.”

“Well she is a receptionist in the Auror department. Ron had two tickets to the game so he asked her just on whim… She said yes. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” Hermione appeared to still be unsure of what to think of the whole situation.

“Yup. That’s all…. if it helps at all, Ron said he never would’ve asked her had he known you were back. I don’t think he meant to hurt you by it.” Hermione exhaled with this new information. Everything with Ron felt complicated and shaky.

“Can I ask you a question… since we’re in the question mood.” Hermione nodded for him to continue. “What do you want when it comes to Ron?”

Hermione raised her eyebrows at him. “Thanks for asking the most loaded question you could possibly ask me right now.” Harry just smirked in return.

“Well truthfully… I don’t even know. Some times I think that we are supposed to be together. Other times, like when we’re arguing… or really disagreeing on anything… it just all seems too hard to be it. But then again, I can’t imagine life without him there, so either way I’ll have to put up with him. Friend or more than a friend… he’ll be there.”

“Hmmm…”

“What?” asked Hermione curiously. “Well, a few years ago I don’t think you were even sure he’d be there for sure regardless…… now look at where you guys are.”

“What do you recommend I do then?”

“Well… fix it.” Hermione rolled her eyes at him. “Yes because all problems can be reduced to ‘hey just fix it’.”

“They can… if you let them. Not everything has to be planned or elaborate, Ms. Granger. Some times it’s about deciding that it’s worth it and then doing whatever it takes to make it work.”

“How do you decide if it’s worth it?”

“Well… if I were Hermione Granger, I would probably make a pros and cons list…. And well, if I were Ron, I’d probably decide someone was worth it by whether or not they could cook. Lucky for you, you can so you’re worth it.”

“I’m going to silence the feminist in me by not commenting on that last statement.”

“It’s true… he eats, you plan. I don’t even want to imagine all the things you plan…. At the same time, I don’t really wanna imagine all the things he eats either.” Hermione chuckled softly.

“Ya know, I don’t always plan everything.” To say Harry’s look was disbelieving was being kind. “What?!... Oh, come on… I don’t plan EVERYthing... do I?”

“Hermione I could see you planning the shit out of anything.”

“I assure you I CAN be spontaneous.” Sarcastically, Harry replied, “I bet…”

“If Ron were here he could vouch for me.” At that statement Harry raised a mischievous eyebrow to her. “I’ll let the wheels turn on that one tonight.” Hermione leaned over and kissed his cheek goodnight before making her way to the door.

“Hermione,” she turned, “remember: it’s simple. Decide and then fix it.”

“I will, Harry.” And with that, she went inside.



__________________________________________________

So how was it? Interesting? Not? Tell me what you think! I'm in the process of writing the next two chapters. They are more of a part 1 and a part 2 kind of deal. It's about to get exciting and I can't wait to hear everyone's thoughts. Please R and R! Thanks!


Chapter 7: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner- Part One
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Author's Note: First off the story is mine, the characters are J.K.'s. Please R and R!
_______________________________________________________



Chapter Seven- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Part One


Present time

Hermione sat in the middle of the restaurant, anxiously waiting. Every time the door opened she’d whip her head around to see if it was him, but each time she was disappointed.

Her hands began to fidget with the napkin in her lap.

“Stop, Hermione,” she said quietly to herself. She placed the napkin back on the table to keep herself from toying with it. “Just breathe… just breathe.” Hermione took a number of long, deep breaths blowing them out slowly to steady her.

She was nervous beyond all belief, but then again she had never felt so vulnerable. This dinner was a gamble and gambling was not one of Hermione’s fortes. As another wave of uncertainty drew upon her, Hermione pulled her purse… the one Ginny had thankfully allowed her to borrow. She opened it and carefully withdrew a small piece of parchment. She only had to look at it momentarily to remind herself that this was right. She had made the right choice.

The attendant opened the door as another customer entered. Hermione, despite herself, once again found herself looking to the door with anticipation. The guest stepped through the threshold making eye contact with her.

Hermione’s heart stopped.


**********


This morning

“Wakey wakey, sunshine.”

Harry groaned as Ron opened the blinds to his room letting in the morning sunlight. Harry rolled over and threw the covers over his head to block the rays. “Ron, how the bloody hell did you get in?”

“I had the anti-apparation spell lifted.”

“Ron! That was put there for a reason!” Ron just waved a hand to dismiss him even though Harry had no way of seeing it.

“Oh don’t get your knickers in a bunch. It’s only for you and me. Still works for everyone else… I still don’ understand why you are so set on keeping up with your silly muggle traditions. If you want to use a key might as well have the goblins install a real lock… but instead you have a smarmy bloke probably goes by the name of Phil… or Larry… put in some rubbish lock that can just as easily be picked. Nonsense, if ya ask me.”

“Nobody’s asking you though,” growled Harry from underneath his sheet.

“Ahhhh, my little Harry,” Ron said in a mocking tone, “I know you don’t mean that... you’re always saying it’s the thought that counts.”

Harry dramatically threw off the covers and glared at him. “And what were you thinking coming here at six thirty in the morning?!”

“Well for starters, I figured we should talk about which one of us is gonna… ya know… especially since we didn’t quite get the chance last night at the pub,” explained Ron.

“Have you talked to Hermione since I last saw you?” Harry questioned pointedly.

“Well obviously not… it’s six thirty in the morning!” Harry continued to glare at Ron for the rude reminder of how early it was. Harry stood up and walked over to the blinds pulling them shut again.

“Personally I don’t think we can have a conversation about who goes and who stays until your conversation with Hermione happens…. So until then, bugger off and let me sleep.” Harry motioned to the door. Just then some bustling was heard from the kitchen.

“Oh how perfect… Hermione’s up…. Ron, here’s your chance. Off you go,” said Harry walking over to the door and opening it.

“If I’m not mistaken, I ‘spect you’re trying to get rid of me, Mr. Potter,” concluded Ron wagging a finger at Harry as he passed him while walking out of the bedroom.

“You would be correct.” Harry shut the door, nearly nipping Ron as he left.

Ron stood outside of Harry’s door for only a second gathering his courage. He had been so jittery thinking of what he was going to say to Hermione that he just decided to come over and annoy Harry to clear his head. Originally, he had hoped that Harry would sooth his nerves instead of just throwing him out of his room. Then again, Harry wasn’t exactly a morning person. Neither was Ron really… until today that is.

Ron exhaled with a deep whoosh and made his way to the kitchen. She was fixing herself some breakfast when he walked in. Hermione was so focused on her eggs in the fryer that she didn’t hear Ron approach until he cleared his throat.

“Oh…”

“Hi.”

“Good morning.” Awkwardly Ron shifted his weight as Hermione returned her attention back to her eggs.

“I… erm… came here to see if it’d be alright if we had a quick chat,” said Ron.

“Sure… that’s fine,” replied Hermione as she pulled the fryer off the stove and started dishing her eggs out onto an awaiting plate.

Ron couldn’t really read her. He sighed to himself wondering if he ever really had that ability. He took a seat on one of the island chairs as Hermione set her plate across from him.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you last night… Catherine was just a friend. And I didn’t know you were back. I wouldn’t have brought her had I known,” began Ron gently, his blue eyes conveying his sincerity.

Hermione nodded. “Yes I know…” Seeing Ron’s confused look, she added, “Harry told me last night.”

“Right… Anyway I just wanted to apologize for yesterday. And um…”

This was it. This was the part where Ron would begin to apologize for everything. Hermione was frozen. She couldn’t decide if she actually wanted to hear him say the words or not. It almost seemed insulting to start now especially after so many times having been hurt by him.

“And um…” As Ron looked into her eyes, he felt the words bubble up to the tip top of his throat. He was so close to letting them pop and cascade out of him like he had done previously. Instead, he studied her. He couldn’t decide if her face was marked by anticipation of his words or merely was daring him to do it. She seemed half way between being revolted and being hopeful.

And it was right here. This awkward place of should I or shouldn’t I that they had been time and time again that Ron swallowed the words back down for the first time.

“And umm… anyway I better get going. I.. uh.. have a lot of work to do today.” Ron bid her farewell and quickly made for the door mentally kicking himself as he went.

He couldn’t believe it. He had choked.

Ron knew that it would have been the perfect time to say something, to apologize for the things he had done and the numerous ways he had wronged her. But he suddenly found that he couldn’t. Maybe it was anger. Maybe he wasn’t finished hating her yet.

It didn’t feel like it though.

In the past this is what they had done. He would apologize. Then she would run to him kissing him and apologizing too. Then, things would just go on as they always did. They would go back to normal.

It was that thought that made him swallow his words. He couldn’t stand the idea of going back to normal. Normal, as of late, was her being gone all the time with him waiting, frustrated at her absence. Normal was not talking to each other for weeks. Normal was yelling and fighting when they did talk. Normal was a most unimaginable and unbearable place to return to.

So he left.

Hermione stood there watching his retreating figure. She knew that there were about a thousand feelings rushing through her, but she couldn’t decide on which one she wanted to act upon. She felt relieved for not hearing the same old words, and yet disappointed at the same time. It felt like mercy and heartache all at once. Then to watch him leave, she wanted to call to him and make him stay. She wanted to run to him, but something held her grounded.

She felt like a tree within that kitchen and there were roots beneath her that were holding her firm in her place.

She refused to chase, she refused to be the one who was dependent, and she refused to give up all she had worked for.

There was no question in her mind that she had hurt him and she wished that somewhere inside of her she could make herself take it back. But she found nothing. She found nothing to make her free herself from the tiles that she stood upon.

She looked down at her plate. Her appetite was gone. With a quick scourgify, she went back to her room.


**********


Later on that morning, Harry finally decided to get up. Try as he might to fall back to sleep, he just couldn’t. Cursing at Ron underneath his breath, he went over to the coffee machine. As the coffee was brewing what Harry knew would be his instant cup of personality for the day, Harry heard the door from Hermione’s room open.

“Hey you,” said Harry as he stretched to wake himself up.

Taking a deeper look at her, he saw the mixture of emotions hanging over her. She looked tired, but mostly frustrated. Instantly, Harry felt concerned. As he made his way over to her, he watched as her hand reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose.

“Hermione, what’s wrong?”

She shook her head. Harry could see her eyes were on the verge of tears. He knew it was about Ron and their talk this morning, he just couldn’t decipher what.

“What happened this morning? I know Ron was here…” Hermione couldn’t find the words to describe what had happened. Harry pulled her into a hug which she returned half-heartedly.

“He apologized didn’t he?” asked Harry unsure. He took a step back to look at her fully trying to uncover the reason behind all this.

“Partially… he apologized for Catherine. Then he left.”

Knowing that wasn’t Ron’s full intention, Harry was a little surprised to say the least. Their agreement was for Ron to clear things up with Hermione so that he and Harry could make a worry free decision. Harry knew he must’ve looked more than confused.

“I don’t think he could do it. I don’t think he could stand to apologize.”

“Well… did you want him to?” Harry felt stupid for asking the obvious, but he figured he had to.

Hermione looked up at the ceiling. “I don’t know. Yes. And no.” She sighed heavily. “He was about to do it and I found myself hating the idea. Then he stopped. He didn’t go through with it. Instead, he just left. And I hated myself for not running after him.”

She pulled away from Harry throwing her hands up in frustration.

“Well why didn’t you then?”

“I couldn’t… I just couldn’t.” All of the emotions that she had harbored earlier that morning flooded her. “I mean why should I, Harry? Why should I have to run after him?”

“Don’t you feel sorry, I guess…?”

“Yes… I know I hurt him. I know I did.” Hermione closed her eyes as she admitted, “But I don’t want to apologize for it.”

Harry seemed genuinely puzzled. “Why not?”

Suddenly the emotions in Hermione were causing a whirlwind inside her. She latched onto the first one she recognized. Anger. “Because! He hurt me too! I spent three years with him Harry. Three years I spent waiting for him. I waited for him to decide what he wanted to do, I waited when he finally figured out that it was Auror school, I waited for him to ask me to move in! Finally I just gave up and asked him myself! I put my career on hold! I sat in a desk for two years thinking he would ask me to marry him!!!!”

Harry had never seen her like this. Sure she had yelled and cursed about Ron before, but nothing like this, never with such pain.

“What did I get in return?... He forgot everything,” she muttered hopelessly. “Everything….” Harry looked at her and saw wounds that he never realized she had had, wounds that went back for years upon years.

“By the time I finally decided to get what I deserved, I didn’t care what he felt anymore. I didn’t care if it hurt him if I was gone all the time. When I came back and we fought, I didn’t care what I said as long as it stung…. You said that I treated him like he was there out of convenience, but he did that to me for three years before I got around to it!”

Hermione swallowed the lump in her throat. “This isn’t worth it, Harry. This isn’t worth it.”

Harry watched as the tears tumbled from her eyes as she shook her head in anguish. “I know he couldn’t say it because he doesn’t want it to be like it has been these past two years. But I-I can’t, Harry. I can’t have it go back to before then. I don’t want it to even be like it was from the very beginning.”

As she fell silent, Harry again pulled her into another hug. He had never known. Here he was her supposed best friend and he had never known the feelings she had kept bottled up; feelings that by the looks of it she had had for over four years.

He had no idea what to say. He was never very eloquent with words. This time he felt the entire fate of Ron and Hermione’s relationship rested on whatever he could drum up to reassure her. They were silent for a while as a Harry just held her.

“Please tell me what to do, Harry.” Hermione pulled back and searched his eyes for some answer.

Harry knew what he had to say, he just hated having to be the one to say it.

“You have to tell him these things…” Hermione’s unwillingness was etched onto her face. “I’m not saying you have to apologize. I just think you need to tell him. You have to let him know or else he’ll never know. He’ll never understand.”

“And then once I do?”

“Well… you can either start fresh or say goodbye.” Hermione’s face fell. Although she knew that by goodbye Harry had meant goodbye to the relationship and not to Ron himself, it was just the thought of saying it was hard to swallow. She had never been good at farewells.

“I wish I was more like you, Harry. You’re always so sure. I need to be sure like you.” Hermione’s hand absentmindedly smoothed the t-shirt Harry was wearing. She had crumpled it from hugging him so hard. “How are you always so sure with Ginny?”

“I can’t explain it…” He shrugged not really knowing what to say.

“Please try.”

Harry was uneasy about telling her such intimate things, but he saw her worried expression and knew he had to. He went over to the coffee maker and poured himself a cup before turning back to her. He felt himself wander off to one of his favorite memories of Ginny.

“One day… right after the war, Ginny and I were visiting a few shops. And back then, reporters used to just hound me all the time.”

Hermione nodded remembering the few months after the war. The Daily Prophet’s entire staff had pretty much decided to camp outside of any place Harry was likely to be seen.

“Well one day, Ginny and I went into… some store. I don’t even remember which one it was. We weren’t there but five minutes when about a hundred reporters showed up. And just as we were making our way out they started taking pictures left and right. Gin could tell that I was getting real upset by it all. So in her own Ginny way, she grabs this quill from one reporter, goes up to the window, and etches a scar on her forehead. She turns back to the crowd and says, ‘HEY! I’ve got a scar too you vultures!’”

“Then… the best part… She started drawing all these lightening bolt scars on every reporter’s head. By the end of it, she must’ve done about twenty of ‘em. The rest ran away.” Harry smiled shaking his head at the memory.

“I told her I loved her that day.”

Harry looked down into his mug and then back up at Hermione. “Ginny’s loyalty… that’s why I’m sure. Hermione, all you need is one thing to make you sure about someone.”

Hermione nodded in understanding.

“I’m going back to my room… I have to think.”

“Ok,” said Harry as he watched Hermione’s perplexed figure retire back into her bedroom.

The next time Harry saw her it was hours later when she jumped in the shower and started getting ready for something. Harry had spent the better part of the day in front of the television set in his pajamas. Although he would have liked to say that this wasn’t a normal occurrence with him, he didn’t really have much to do at work. Harry being in his pajamas sitting in his favorite chair and watching the television was a common sight to find him in. But, he figured, this would be one of his last days to do so with the new assignment from Ed about to put him to work.

Hermione’s door burst open. With a very determined step, she came into the living room to grab her jacket.

“Where you off to in such a hurry?” asked Harry looking up from the television for the first time that day.

“To Ginny’s.” Hermione threw on her jacket fixing the tucked in collar and grabbing a scarf for the cold weather outside.

“Any specific reason?”

“To get ready for a date.” Harry crooked an eyebrow at her.

“A date? With who?” Harry was officially curious sitting up in his chair. “Whatever happened with-”

Hermione looked at him slightly bashful. “Harry, I asked Ron on a date.”

“Oh. Wow.” Harry sat back in his chair with a hmph. “I take it that means you’ve come to a good decision?” Hermione nodded positively. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised... You’ve never been one to procrastinate.”

The corner of her mouth twitched into a small smile. Then, she grabbed her purse and made her way for the door.

“Good luck!” called Harry as the door slammed.


**********


Earlier

Ron walked lazily through the street. It was mid-February so it was quite nippy out. He hadn’t really wanted to go on a walk in the cold, but doing so was way better than staying in. His mind kept drifting off to this morning’s conversation with Hermione. Finally, he had given up and opted for a distraction in the form a stroll through Diagon Alley.

His distraction wasn’t working one bit though.

Hermione… the girl was practically doing laps in his head at the moment.

George’s joke shop was just up ahead, along with a few cafes and pubs. Maybe he could convince George to have a drink with him. That might clear things up; hopefully it would remove the fog hanging over him.

Ron entered the shop and heard the ding of the little bell above the door. As per usual, the shop was buzzing with wizards and witches of all ages. He pushed and shoved his way through the throngs of people as he made his way towards the back of the store. Finally he saw a flash of red hair like his own.

“Oi George!”

“Hey there Ron,” said George hastily as he made his way into the back storage room. His arms were full of a different assortment of the most outrageous objects. They all buzzed, popped, smoked, blinked, etc.

George started sorting the objects into different bins in the back as Ron followed him in.

“What can I do for you, dear brother?”

“Well I was hopin’ you wouldn’t mind coming to the pub with me down a ways...” said Ron uncertain.

“No can do… not with the shop as jam packed as it is! It’s a holiday for crying out loud!” cried George as he finished sorting the rest of the gadgets.

Ron was confused. “Errr… holiday?”

“Are you jokin’? It’s bloody Valentine’s day tomorrow. What rock have you been under?” George laughed as he started bustling through the crowd again.

“So then there’s absolutely no way I can convince you to take a break from work then?” asked Ron one last time.

“Sorry Ron… Can’t do it. Maybe this weekend though?”

Ron thought back to his assignment… Technically his and Harry’s assignment. They still hadn’t decided who was going to go. He didn’t want to make any promises.

“Errr.. I’ll get back to you on that.”

“Let me know. Other than that get the bloody hell out of my store! I’ve got customers!”

“Glad to know where I stand with you!” shouted Ron over his shoulder right before he stepped out.

With a shrug, Ron moved on towards the Hermit anyway. Company or not he needed that drink and more importantly it was lunch time. Ron walked into the Hermit and expected to see Seamus or Dean, but instead the first person he made eye contact with was Ginny.

She was at a long table surrounded by numerous witches and wizards. Ron recognized a few of them. There was Susan Norcross the seeker from the Harpies, Thatcher Graham the beater from the Wasps, and even down at the end of the table there was good ole Oliver Wood.

Wood still played for Puddlemere United. Although, it was rumored that he was thinking of signing with a new team.

Ron eyed the table suspiciously. It was odd that a group of Quidditch players from opposing teams would all meet together for lunch. His suspicions went deeper when Ginny stood up abruptly, her chair skirting across the floor. She had seen him alright.

Quickly, she excused herself and hastened over to Ron at the bar.

“Ron, what are you doing here?” Ginny’s voice was a low whisper. She looked worried. She also looked like this was the last place she wanted the two of them to meet by coincidence.

“I went to see George at the shop. And it’s lunch time! Aren’t I allowed to eat?” Ron exclaimed incredulously.

“Keep your voice down,” scolded Ginny.

“Alright, fine… but what’s going on? Why are you here with them?” Ron peeked around her and pointed to the table. Ginny quickly pulled his pointing arm down.

“Listen, Ron. You have to go. You can’t be here.” Ginny started pushing him towards the door.

“This is unbelievable. I get kicked out of one store by my brother and now I’m getting kicked out of MY FAVORITE PUB by my sister! AT lunch time!”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s all very tragic. Boo hoo. Now, please will you leave?” pleaded Ginny.

“Tell me what’s going on first. Hey, isn’t that the bloke from the game?” Ron pointed again to the brown haired fellow he had seen Ginny talking to after the game. Again, Ginny grabbed his arm and pulled it down. “You said you didn’t know him!”

“Sshhhh!” Ginny looked back and smiled to the table. “Please keep it down.”

“Gin, what are you getting yourself into?”

“Nothing… Please, Ron. We can talk about this later. I need you to leave.” Ginny’s eyes begged him to go.

“Fine...” Ron huffed as he tied his cloak.

“Thank you... oh, and please don’t tell Harry you saw me here ok?”

Ron rolled his eyes and agreed. With a quick peck on the cheek, Ginny practically shoved him out the door.

He was out on the street... in the cold… again.

Giving up, he apparated back to his flat and on the window sill waiting there for him were two owls. One was a standard barn owl, the ones Hermione usually rented. And the other was Ed’s pygmy owl.


**********


Present time

As the door closed behind him, Harry caught sight of her. Hermione looked absolutely stunning in the elegant black dress she was wearing and her hair in a sleek up do. With a heavy heart, Harry began to walk briskly over to the table.

Her eyes followed his form as he weaved in between the other couples dining. He stopped just short of her chair.

“Where is he, Harry?”

________________________________________________

Alright guys what did you think? I've got the next part pretty much coming up immediately after this one. More juiciness. And you'll finally hear about the mysterious "assignment". So give me some R & R!


Chapter 8: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner-Part Two
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Author's Note: Characters are Jo's, story is mine. For the story, keep in mind that parts one and two all occur on the same day. Other than that enjoy and please R and R!
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Chapter 8- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Part Two


Earlier that day

Harry ran to the office. He had fallen asleep in his chair and awoke with an owl pecking at him incessantly. Right away he recognized the black eagle owl, Jasper. It was Kingsley’s.

Harry was still clutching the message as he entered the Auror Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The entire floor was in a frenzy. Aurors were bustling around everywhere clasping papers as owls swooped in and out with notices. This was the busiest it had been in a long time. Harry walked straight into Ed’s office. Kingsley and Ed were both leaning up against the desk and Ron was already seated waiting patiently for whatever urgent news they had to call them in for.

Harry closed the door. Kingsley began even before Harry had taken his seat.

“First off, what we say in this room is confidential… I need a vow of secrecy for everything that I say next.” Wordlessly Harry and Ron took out their wands and pointed them forward.

Kingsley with a subtle flick of his wand said, “Custodes arcani.”

A blue, smoky wisp emitted from the tip of Kingsley’s wand. Like a snake it slithered down to Harry’s and Ron’s before it broke in two. Each new wisp coiled its way up their individual wands, all the way up their arms, and around their necks until finally it rested at their mouths. Having done the spell times before, Harry and Ron knowingly opened their mouths letting the snake-like wisps enter. They breathed in.

As they exhaled, a faint blue mist filled the air around them signaling the spell was complete.

“Now with that done… the Italian Minister has been murdered.” Kingsley’s face was stone, unreadable to either Harry or Ron.

“Blimey…” muttered Ron under his breath. Both he and Harry looked shocked. It was hard to imagine someone getting to a Minister these days. They waited for Kingsley to continue.

“Last time Ed brought you boys in here was because we thought the Death Eaters were reorganizing, we just didn’t know where. At the time, it was our intention to send one of you out to where the activity was at its highest and work with the other ministries while keeping the other here in case activity spiked back home again. But...” At this Kingsley paused, almost too hesitant to continue. Harry’s eyebrows furrowed. “But we think we know why the dark magic activity is fluctuating so.”

“You think you know? Or you do know?” asked Ron purposefully.

“We know,” interjected Ed. Harry and Ron looked at him. Ed stood sure and unwavering. If Ed, of all people, was certain then they knew that what they were about to hear was not suspicion or theory. It was a damn fact. Ed had never been wrong. “We don’t know if they are ‘Death Eaters’ per say, but we know that they have similarities with the Death Eaters. Regardless of the name or whatever they call themselves, we know that they are following someone… Someone going in and out of the country. Someone going in and out of every country.”

“Oh god…”

“What? Harry?” Ron was confused. He kept looking from Harry back to Ed and then to Kingsley.

“Ron who was the last person you knew who went to Italy? Who was the last person you knew to travel pretty much everywhere?”

“Hermione?” Ron’s eyes glazed over with realization. It had to be Hermione. He stared up at the faces of his superiors and saw their looks; he watched as neither attempted to correct him. Suddenly Ron’s face hardened. No longer was his expression a mixture of fear and worry, but now he was all business. “Why? Why her?”

“She’s making a lot of enemies. Giants, centaurs, werewolves, house elves are all getting protection. House elves even will have wages soon. There are a lot of people who sincerely dislike your friend. She’s breaking the old ways. AND she doesn’t mind stepping on toes to get things done.”

“What do you mean?” asked Harry finally speaking.

“Half the pure blood families in England have charges against them that’s what I mean! She’s doing the same in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Denmark,” With each country Ed slammed a paper down in Harry’s lap, “and the list goes on and on…”

Harry fanned out the papers, all in different languages and each with Hermione’s face on the front. He felt flabbergasted. She was everywhere.

Kingsley caught Harry’s astonishment and decided to take the reigns.

“Harry, there are laws in place to protect pure blood families. Hermione is bypassing them. She’s charging wizards-”

“So what you’re saying is that she’s doing things illegally. HERMIONE is doing things ILLEGALLY?!” Harry could feel his anger flare in his veins. They were accusing her.

“Harry, I’m not saying that she isn’t doing the right thing. But to many wizarding families, Hermione is breaking the laws that protect them. Granted, the laws give them an unfair advantage.” Kingsley was calm speaking softly to Harry, who visibly relaxed as he spoke.

“Why did it start in Italy?” questioned Ron trying to get back to the matter.

“The reason this all got kicked into high gear was because of a vote for the release of a house elf,” began Ed crossing his arms. “The elf was from a prominent wizarding family in Italy, the Turturros. The elf, Aldo, was beaten daily by his master. Another family’s son got into a skirmish with Aldo and the elf’s master, seeing his servant’s wounds, knowingly gave the order for the elf to defend itself against enemies. The next time the master went to beat the creature, Aldo killed him. Accidentally, of course. The Italian Wizengamot was holding a trial in favor of execution when Hermione came into town-”

“She said she had gone to discuss vampire relations with the Italian Minister,” said Harry puzzled.

“Originally, yes, that was her intention, but she only met with the vampires once or twice before being informed of the trial,” replied Ed quickly before continuing. “Last week on the day of voting she got all the wizards with the strongest ‘pull’ taken off.”

“What do you mean? How could she have done that?” Ron sat up in his chair and leaned in closer.

“She plays dirty. A lot of witches and wizards have everyday fines: magic in front of a muggle, parental neglect while a young witch or wizard does magic, parking a broom in a no broom zone… all kinds of small fines. Turns out in Italy you can get suspended from the Wizengamot for a certain amount of time depending on how many you have. Most people don’t ever pay attention to it… Hermione got 3 of the most prominent- and most biased- wizards kicked off all on the same day… the day of the vote.”

“The elf got off,” finished Kingsley. Harry and Ron took a moment to process, but Ed didn’t give them much time.

“It made international headlines.” Ed threw a whole new set of papers from various countries on Harry’s lap, all with Hermione’s face and, with what Harry could tell from their titles, all with malicious intent for his best friend.

“I don’t understand! Why was the minister killed?” exclaimed Ron frustratingly. He wanted Ed to get to the point.

“Because he released a public statement that he supported the Wizengamot’s decision.... which in other words meant he supported Hermione’s decision that she fed to the Wizengamot. She basically arranged who got to vote.”

Ed uncrossed his arms as he continued, “People are angry, boys. They’re angry that a foreigner manipulated their system, they’re angry the Minister supported it, and most of all they’re angry that rights are being taken away from pure bloods.”

Seeing the looks of hopelessness on Harry and Ron, Kinglsey looked upon them with pity. “The Italian Wizengamot has been controlled for many, many years by certain families. It has been a ruthless regime. Hermione removed their influence from the Wizengamot allowing the others to make a free decision. She did a good thing. That elf did not deserve to die for having a bad master. Do not lose faith in your friend,” said Kingsley soothingly.

Harry and Ron nodded in understanding.

“Boys we need a decision now. One of you has to leave within the hour. The Italians are waiting.” Ed’s eyes darted from one to the other.

“What good will it do? Hermione’s here in England? We should stay to protect her. Plus by now the papers will have already heard and started to print-”

“Ron, no one knows the Italian minister was murdered… they only know that he is dead.”

“What? They covered it up?” The weight of the situation was finally talking hold of Ron.

“The job was made to look like the Minister died suddenly; we encouraged the Italians to play along. Not even the Minister’s wife knows he was murdered. This way we stand the chance of having one of you infiltrate the inner circle without them thinking that England is even aware. Also this way Hermione will continue doing what she’s always done and we can-”

“YOU”RE GOING TO USE HER AS BAIT?!” roared Harry standing up so fast his chair fell to the floor.

Ed straightened to his full height, which happened to tower over Harry, and looked him directly in the eye. “Yes.”

“Harry sit… let us explain.” Kingsley wordlessly righted Harry’s chair and placed a hand on his shoulder pushing him back into the seat.

“One of you will stay here as her body guard keeping tabs of the threats here. The other will go and try to find which of the three families called for the assassination. We’re hoping one can track down whose doing this and possibly go under cover, while the other travels with Hermione. They’ll be after her next. With one of you inside, we may be able to get the jump on them before they get to her.”

“Wait a minute… why Hermione? Why not Jean? How do we know they’re coming after her and not him? He was in Italy too.”

Kingsley answered, “Jean’s had some mild threats but not nearly as many as hers. The French have heightened his security, but they are not too worried. Jean’s death… it wouldn’t be nearly as-” Kingsley paused trying to think of the correct way to say what he wanted to say. “Hermione’s death would have a far greater…” Kinglsey searched for the most delicate word, “Significance.”

Harry paled and Ron looked up at Kingsley with fear marking his eyes.

“She’s a muggle born and she’s fought against Lord Voldemort… her death would be devastating.”

Harry felt physically sick and by the looks of it so did Ron. Both had heard her screams the night of her torture by Bellatrix five years earlier. Neither wanted that instance to ever happen again, nor did they want to picture the horrendous way that Hermione would die if captured again. The possibility of a world that did not include Hermione seemed awful. Her death would be more than devastating for them. There were no words to describe what her absence would mean to the two men sitting.

“The Italians sent us this from the crime scene.” Ed reached back and pulled a large photograph from the top of his desk. “The photograph’s already been translated.”

Ed handed Ron the magically altered picture of a note reading, “The mudblood mistress is next.”

“Mistress?”

“Yes that’s what the Italians call her. It plays on the rumor that Hermione has gone to bed with the Italian Minister.” Ron fumed at the thought.

“Still, wouldn’t the assassin be here in England now that she’s returned?”

“It’s highly unlikely that they would make such an obvious move. Plus, I don’t think there’s an assassin in the world that would dare attack her in England. Not with you two so close by and her job residing in the Ministry,” replied Kingsley.

“We think it’ll happen when she travels or at some big event. She’s supposed to have a full schedule for the next few months. We don’t think they’ll attack so close to the Minister’s death. They’ll most likely keep a low profile and then they’ll strike… Hopefully whichever one of you goes can nab them before they get the opportunity.”

There was a silence in the air. Ron glared down at the photograph.

“Ok I’ll go.” Ron said determinedly.

“What?! Ron! You can’t! You could be gone for months!”

“No! I’m going, Harry.” Ron’s gaze was so intense that Harry shut his mouth. Harry could see the firmness in his best friend and knew he could not sway him in front of Ed and Kingsley.

“Get packed and be back here as soon as you can. The sooner the better,” said Ed with finality.

Ron made his way for the door then stopped suddenly. “One more thing…. my father-”

“It’s ok Ron. He knows and we’ve already doubled his security.” Ron opened the door and walked through the charms that held the conversation private, causing them to fall. Harry raced after him.

“Ron! What are you doing?!”

“Harry I have to do this. I have to be sure this happens right.” Ron walked with purpose towards the Auror Department’s apparating station. This separate station was only used for important cases and emergencies. “Harry, you need to stay… I can’t focus here when I’m around her. I won’t be able to protect her this way. You have to be the one to stay. She trusts you, she’ll keep you close.”

“Ron, wait!” Harry held Ron’s arm effectively stopping him. “The date?” Harry watched as Ron’s eyes pained with the idea of Hermione being left alone in a restaurant.

This was their chance to repair the damage. Ron knew that with the act of asking him to dinner Hermione was trying. She was making an effort; something which he had wished she would do for some time now. But, he also knew that he could be of no use to her if he stayed. They were not close enough yet for that to happen. It had to be Harry just as it had to be him that left.

“Harry please can you go for me? I know you won’t be able to explain, but please go for me anyway.”

Ron had his determined face on, the one that he and Hermione shared. Harry knew there was no way of changing his mind. Solemnly, he nodded his head.

“Thank you, Harry. Thank you.” Ron pulled Harry into a brotherly hug and then before Harry even had time to say goodbye Ron apparated.


**********


Harry took the steps to Ginny’s apartment complex two at a time. If he hurried, he might be able to catch her and have her meet Ron at their apartment. They could say goodbye then. He reached Ginny’s door and pounded as hard as he could.

“Ginny! Open up!” Harry heard the magical locks unclick and the door whip open.

“Harry?” Seeing his face Ginny immediately became concerned. “Harry what’s-”

“Hermione… Ginny, is Hermione here?” asked Harry cutting her off.

“No. She left for the restaurant about twenty minutes ago.” Harry’s face fell with the information. He didn’t know if he could make it to the restaurant and get Hermione to Ron before he was gone.

“Shit, shit, SHIT!” Harry turned away, cursing at the ceiling.

“Harry what the hell is going on?” asked Ginny, quickly moving from concern to extreme worry.

“Ron’s leaving.”

“What? Why?” Ginny glared at Harry as he avoided eye contact with her. Harry could feel the enchantments of the spell constrict his throat.

“I can’t tell you... Listen, Gin, I have to go.” Harry turned and ran for the stairs.

“HARRY!”

“I have to get to Hermione!” called Harry over his shoulder. He had to try. At the very least he had to try. Otherwise Hermione was just going to think that Ron did this willingly.

And even though a part of the situation appeared to be choice, it really wasn’t. Harry knew the moment that they described the assignment that he would have to stay. It was instinctual. Hermione would not think anything of Harry traveling with her. Ron, on the other hand, would be different. There would be the presumption of ulterior motives with Ron’s presence. There would be unneeded intensity; the same intensity that would fog Ron and leave Hermione unprotected.

Harry busted out of complex’s door and was gone in the blink of an eye. He prayed to Merlin he made it in time.


**********


Present Time

“Harry?... Where’s Ron?” asked Hermione again. She seemed to be waiting patiently for him to speak, but he could see in her eyes the expectations that were already beginning to ebb.

“He-he can’t make it. He’s leaving.” Harry could feel the spell hold his tongue where he wanted to explain. He watched as she turned away and shut her eyes. “Hermione, listen, if we leave now we can-”

“It’s ok, Harry. I get it. I understand.” Her voice was surprisingly clear, although she still wouldn’t look at him.

“Hermione, it’s not what you think-” She held up her hand to stop him. This time she looked at him, she looked directly at him with her sad, knowing eyes.

“Trust me, I get it… he finally got to choose his career.” Harry felt more so than heard the ‘over me’ that should have finished that sentence.

Hermione arose quietly. She lifted her hand, the one grasping the small piece of parchment, a slight degree before releasing the parchment and letting it float to the table. Grabbing her purse, she laid a few galleons down and then without a word, walked out.

Harry stood watching her go. He looked down and saw the parchment lay open to reveal Hermione’s perfect, meticulous script.

My reason: He always comes back.


**********


Ron scurried around his bedroom whisking things into his bottomless bag. His room looked a complete mess. Cloaks, books, food, dark magic detectors were all circling over head as Ron picked which were going before zooming them into the bag.

Suddenly, he heard the door to his apartment burst open. It didn’t take long to find out who it was.

“RONALD WEASLEY!!! Where are you??!!!

“Oh for fuck’s sake…” groaned Ron as he continued to pack. Harry must’ve gone to Ginny’s to look for Hermione.

Ginny stormed into the bedroom and without even saying hi she started laying into him. “Where the hell are you going?”

“Gin, you can’t be here. I have to pack,” said Ron urgently.

“As your sister I feel it is my duty to inform you that you are on the ‘I’m-about-to-really-fuck-things-up’ path!”

“Ginny I can’t talk about this. I have to go.” Ron zipped up his bag. He went to the hallway closet where his cloak was. Ginny followed him as he went.

“And why you? Why not somebody else?!!! Tell them you can’t go!”

“Ginny they only offered the assignment to two people!”

“And so you just had to take it?!!” She looked at him like he was the biggest buffoon in the entire world. “Please, Ron, don’t do this to her!”

Ron could feel the ache in her voice and it stopped him momentarily. He knew that this was going to hurt Hermione; he knew it more so than anyone. He turned around from the closet and saw Ginny’s pleading face.

“Please Ron… she went to a restaurant. She got all dressed up. THIS is the girl that doesn’t say ‘I’m sorry’ and she’s waiting for you. THIS IS THE HERMIONE VERSION of ‘I’m sorry. I was an ass. Let’s get back together’!!!!”

“Well it was either me or Harry… who would you prefer to go?” Ginny got quiet.

“Harry. Tell Harry to go,” she answered firmly.

Ron felt his jaw drop. He couldn’t decide if she had meant it or if it was purely the hurt of knowing what Hermione will feel. But she stood unyielding.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” Ron stepped back to stare at her incredulously. Disgusted, Ron grabbed his cloak and made for the door. Ginny ran ahead of him though blocking his path.

“Listen, Ron. That man that I was having lunch with today, the bloke from my game yesterday. His name is Todd Summers. He’s a recruiter for the LA Quidditch Region. I’m going to go play in America for a year. So you see! Me and Harry won’t be together anyway. I’m telling you let Harry go. Stay here and fix things with Hermione!! Go to the restaurant!!”

Ron grabbed Ginny by the shoulders and looked her right in the eye. “Ginny as your brother I have the right to tell you this… you are on the ‘I’m-about-to-seriously-fuck-things-up’ path.”

With that, Ron kissed his sister on the cheek and rushed out the door.



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Just as a bit of info for you guys. "Custodes arcani" is keepers of the secret in Latin so that's what that spell means. I have the next chapter planned out and I will be putting it to "paper" in the next few days. I should be posting it right after this one gets validated. Let me know what you think about this latest.

Hermione... poor girl... stood up the day before Valentine's Day. That's kind of a metaphor for their whole relationship. Her and Ron are so close to having things be just right, but then fate (and their own emotions) step in and hold them back. Ahhhh so is life. Anyway please review!




Chapter 9: The Plea of Antonia Tattori
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Author's Note: J.K created the playground, I occasionally use the swings. Here's the latest I hope you all enjoy!
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Chapter 9- The Plea of Antonia Tattori


Harry sat in his usual chair across from Ed. It had been three days since the death of the Italian Minister and three days since Ron had left.

“She’s going to the funeral, Ed.” Harry stated the fact. The funeral for the Italian Minister was set for tomorrow and Hermione had been making arrangements since the moment she found out. Harry could tell that she was upset by the news, but he also figured it was a small blessing in disguise. After Ron left, Harry had been worried that she would mope around the apartment in the deep depression and silence that she had done right after their original break up. But instead, because of the news of the Minister she was very active. She was flooing people to reschedule meetings, shopping for the appropriate robes for the funeral, and getting in contact with Jean so they could attend together.

“Well I figured as much…” replied Ed knowingly.

Ed stood up and made his way to the large wooden cabinet off to the right of his desk. He opened the doors to reveal various gizmos and gadgets.

“I suppose you’ll need these then,” said Ed throwing Harry the small wooden box that he had fished out from the cabinet.

Harry caught them and looked at Ed curiously. “Go ahead. Open it,” he coaxed.

Slowly Harry unclasped the box. The lid popped open a small degree after the hold was released. Harry was just about to lift the rest when it suddenly flew open and two… things... jumped out flipping in mid air with a great display of acrobatics before landing gracefully on his forearm.

“Bugger!” Harry nearly jumped out of his skin in surprise. “Whoa Harry!” chuckled Ed, his eyes twitching in delight.

Harry had no idea what they were. They looked like small bugs of some sort. “What the bloody hell are these?”

“They’re translation beetles… A little full of themselves, but then again they are Italian.”

Ed laughed as Harry stared in wonder as the two beetles walked proudly on his arm, strutting back and forth.

“Hermione speaks pretty fluent Italian and the Minister’s family has been great friends to her. We’ll need you to be able to understand what conversations pass between them. Especially the Minister’s wife. We need to know if she knows anything.” It went without saying that if Hermione was going to the funeral then Harry would also be going too. Harry had already counted on being there regardless of his job, having spoken to Hermione about it pretty much the moment after she had decided that she was going to attend.

“You don’t think she was in on her husband’s death do you?” questioned Harry as he continued to observe the two beetles.

Ed shrugged. “You never really know. They appeared to be a happy couple, but you can never tell.”

Harry nodded in understanding. “So…errr… how do these guys work?” asked Harry eyeing the two beetles still on his forearm.

“They speak both English and Italian, Harry. All you have to do is tell them it’s time for work and they’ll know what to do. But for right now,” Ed kneeled down in front of the two beetles, “we don’t need your services little guys so go ahead back to sleep.” With another acrobatic twist the two landed beautifully right back in their beds. Harry closed the lid and clicked the catch back into place.

“Any clue on how long you’ll be gone?” Ed inquired.

“She hasn’t said…. Probably a few days though, I’d imagine. What’s the activity like down there? Heard anything from Ron?”

“It appears that they’ve scattered. There’s small activity pretty much everywhere right now, but it would be best if you kept your guard up while you’re there. As far as Ron we haven’t heard anything from him yet but he knows how to reach us when he has something.”

The Auror Department has numerous ways of secretive contact. Harry and Ron had their own specific way of communication unbeknownst and separate from the Department, but Ron hadn’t used it yet. The two made use of it very seldom but Harry knew that if Ron had information he would pass it to him before the Department. Thus, Ron’s lack of correspondence with the Department was really of no surprise as Harry had received none.

“Make sure to inform me of anything pertinent. Other than that, I’ll expect to see you back in my office when you arrive home.” Harry nodded and stood up. He slipped the beetles into his pocket as he made his way to the door.

“Oh and Harry… Make sure to feed the beetles.”

Harry quirked an eyebrow at Ed. “What do I feed them?”

“Gelato… pasta… pizza… wine…. Hell if I know.”

Harry laughed as he made his way out. Italy was going to be interesting.


**********


The next day Harry was carefully putting on his best dress robes, getting ready for the funeral.

He and Hermione had taken a late train the night before down to France where they had met up with Jean and few other French Ministry officials. From there, the entire group had taken a portkey to the Ministry in Italy.

Despite both of them being an extremely competent witch and wizard, Hermione absolutely refused to apparate internationally. With Harry not knowing where they were going, they would’ve had to do a side apparation and Hermione was completely unwilling.

Harry suspected it had something to do with splinching Ron during the war. Ever since then, Hermione was very wary of using apparation and had since greatly encouraged traveling by train or portkey. Whenever Harry inquired about it though, Hermione rattled off statistics of the increased chances of splinching because of international apparation.

“Honestly! Why bother going through all the work and grief to get an international license when it’s just as likely that you’ll get splinched in two?!” She would prattle on about. Harry simply had to roll his eyes and agree to do it her way. She really was very stubborn.

After one last attempt at flattening his hair, Harry grabbed the little box of beetles and stuffed it in his pocket before walking out of his room. Hermione’s was right next door to his. He knocked softly.

Hermione opened the door and offered a mumbled good morning to Harry before shutting the door behind her.

In the last week, Harry had seen Hermione twice dressed in black: once at the restaurant and now today. He hoped the color wasn’t an omen, even though he doubted if he actually believed in omens. After all of Trelawney’s bogus predictions throughout his teen years, he really didn’t think omens existed.

Still, she wore black at the restaurant which Harry could logically see as the death of her and Ron’s relationship and now, she wore black for the death of the Minister. There were a lot of deaths going around, he mused. Although he did have to admit, she looked quite stunning in the color.

Hermione was not one to overdress for any occasion. Her gowns and robes always were very simplistic and never revealed too much. With that, though, she still ended up looking as beautiful as ever. She held a certain kind of class and femininity with her choices.

They met the others they had traveled with in the lobby. Collectively the group murmured their hellos and good mornings. Jean and Hermione shared a long hug… a little too long if you asked Harry.

She just had a break up. She’s not on the rebound yet Frenchman.

Jean pulled away from Hermione. With a shy good morning, Jean shook Harry’s hand. Harry felt himself relax. Jean motioned for Hermione to lead the way as they exited to the street. They were going to walk to the grave site where the ceremony was to take place. The Minister would be buried in the town’s cemetery only a short ways away.

As they walked, Harry caught sight of a number of magical posters lining the streets. It was the smiling portrait of the Minister along with his funeral information that hung on practically every building.

Harry noticed that the posters all had the same phrase at the top: “Si e' spento serenamente oggi…”

He oddly wondered what the phrase meant before he realized what he had in his pocket. Lagging behind the rest of the group, Harry quickly retrieved the little box from inside his robes. He freed the clasp and just like before in Ed’s office, the translation beetles burst out in a lively fashion. Harry wondered if they were going to do that every time.

Slowly he lowered his head to his hand and whispered, “Err.. hi... I mean good morning.” The beetles waited patiently for their task. “Erm… I’d like to know what that sign means.” Harry watched as the beetles turned to the sign and then with great vigor they scurried up his arms.

Harry tried not to squirm at the idea of these little insects crawling across him. He watched as they climbed all the way up to his head and then he felt them part as each one headed for one ear.

Now originally Harry just figured that they were going to whisper in his ear, but instead to his horror he felt them burrow inside his ear canal. “Ahhh.. what the bloody hell!” He felt himself shiver involuntarily as they situated themselves.

Suddenly out of no where he heard them in unison.

“My friend! Please stay calm. Ed no give any good instructions, we realize. But dis is what we do! Feels funny at first, no?” Harry nodded. “AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!”

He clasped his hands to his ears at the sound of their yelling nearly blew out his ear drums. “Ow… why are you yelling?!” he whispered harshly to what appeared to be himself.

“Please, my friend, forgive us, but you must notta nod. There is no thing to hang on in here.”

“Right… right. Sorry about that,” said Harry quietly.

“Is ok. Happens many a time before… Now for you answer, the signs say ‘He has serenely gone out today…’ Is a custom in our country for the signs.”

“Hmmm” mumbled Harry as he continued to walk behind the group.

“Now, my friend, we will stay uppa here and we will translate. You will feel a small vibration when the translate begins, ok?”

“Ok…” said Harry slightly anxious. How big of a vibration were they talking about? With the acrobatics and all, Harry was fairly certain they might blow fireworks or something off in his head.

“No worry, my friend, you will know. Now, we stay quiet. You no know we here, ok?”

“Yeah,” said Harry as he stepped onto the soil of the graveyard. It really was an almost tranquil scene with the cemetery overlooking the town below, the dead keeping watch over the living. The moment was ruined as a camera flash caused Harry to shut his eyes.

Reporters were everywhere.

The calm beautiful scene was trampled upon by hordes of cameras, reporters, and magical folk. There were swarms of witches and wizards who must have come from all over Italy to witness the burial of their Minister. Harry eyed them suspiciously.

The funeral was open to the public. The entire wizarding community was allowed to be there, which meant an added danger to Hermione.

Harry picked up his pace and pushed past a few of the French officials that had traveled with them, so that he could take his place to Hermione’s right as they navigated their way through the throngs of people.

Eventually, they made it to a group of golden chairs aligned in a number of rows surrounding the grave. The platform was made of gold and the body lay atop wrapped in white cloth that seemed to sparkle as the morning light kissed its surfaces.

Hermione wavered a second, taken aback.

Sadly, her and Harry had attended many funerals and yet the display of it was something that left her winded each time.

They all took their seats. In the front row opposite them, Harry could see witches and wizards dressed in their finest robes. He knew them to be Ministry officials and men and women of great importance in Italy. As his vision traveled down the row, he gazed upon two solemn looking young men who appeared to be about his age. To their right, he glimpsed a woman who seemed far off from this world, far away from the chair that she sat in. He knew instantly that she had to be Mrs. Antonia Tattori, the wife of the Minister. She was a full figured woman with olive skin. She sat still and proper, her hands coolly placed one over the other. Had it not been for her countenance, Harry would have assumed she was any other upstanding official. But her face was agonizingly sad and yet at the same time it was stony and glazed over as if she were trying her best to keep her emotions in check. Harry assumed it was for the two distraught boys who sat to her left that he knew to be her sons.

Harry immediately felt remorse for the woman seated across from him.

The guests seated themselves and the ceremony began. Harry sat as a silent observer having never met the Minister himself. He listened as wizard after wizard spoke about the deceased. They had come from all over. Some from France, some from Spain, some from Russia. It appeared as though the Minister had friends from all over the globe.

Harry suspected that more than anything it was the nature of his death. It was unexpected and had occurred whilst the country itself was in a bit of turmoil. Nothing of the sort had happened in a long time, not since the war.

Like most of the attendees, Harry understood that this death was a shock for Italy during an already emotionally heightened time. But unlike Harry, many felt it was their responsibility to address the issues making the funeral more like a publicity stint than anything.

The ceremony did not turn emotional until finally the last of the ‘officials’ had sat down. It wasn’t until one of the Minister’s son stood up to speak about his father that people began to realize the weight of losing a loved one. Dutifully Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand and squeezed it as she silently wept for her friend and colleague as Luca Tattori recounted loving stories about his Dad.

As his last words rang over the crowd, Harry looked to the stone table where the late Minister was laid. Then, just like Dumbledore’s funeral those many years ago, a swirl of white light emitted from the table. With a final surge, the aura went out leaving a stone tomb with gold engraved letters on the cover.

One by one the funeral’s guests passed by the grave placing flowers, pictures, and cards down. After doing so, they passed by Antonia and her two sons gently offering their condolences for the family’s loss.

After all the rows had filed out past the tomb, Hermione finally stood and calmly made her way over.

Even though Jean and the rest of the row had long ago gotten up, Harry had waited patiently with Hermione instinctively knowing she’d want to be the last to speak with Mrs. Tattori so they could talk pseudo privately. It was hard to imagine privacy with the amount of throngs of people about.

As Hermione approached Antonia, the woman and her two sons arose to meet her. Harry followed behind quietly.

Hermione hugged the two boys and made her way over to Mrs. Tattori while Harry watched as the rest of the crowd, the surrounding wizarding community that had waited in the background as the friends and family said their goodbyes, were finally allowed to enter and pay their respects.

Gently Hermione wrapped an arm around the older woman she had come to know so intimately in the last few months and led her away from the grave with Harry and the two boys close behind.

As the two walked neither spoke. They waited until they had reached a far enough distance from the crowd and the paparazzi.

Antonia was the first to break the silence. Just as Harry saw her mouth open he immediately felt a pleasant hum in both his ears.

How long are you staying for, Hermione?

The only word to describe the sensation of it all was ‘weird’. Harry could tell that Mrs. Tattori was speaking Italian since her lips weren’t exactly matching up with what he was hearing, but he also knew that the voice he was registering was in fact her voice… only in English. The beetles must’ve had some sort of magic in them to filter the words through.

A few days… maybe more if you need.” Antonia gave just a hint of a smile at Hermione as she noted how the young witch was ever so willing to prolong any trip in the service of a friend.

My dear, you should not stay long here. Italy is a sea of hurricanes….. it isn’t safe.” Antonia’s face changed to one of deep concern for the welfare of the girl beside her. “There are dangers lurking here still…” She cut herself off wary of going on.

Antonia-” began Hermione only to be stopped.

Hermione, do not be foolish,” chastised the older witch. “Cesare had no heart condition… he had his six month exam just a few weeks ago. The healer said he was perfectly healthy then. This funeral… this show… it is a lie,” whispered Antonia vehemently.

Hermione was no fool. She had already had her suspicions; she just simply refused to live by them.

I know… I have taken precautions already. Among others, I had Harry travel with me,” reassured Hermione trying to calm her. Harry briefly wondered what other ‘precautions’ she had set in place, but that thought was interrupted by Mrs. Tattori turning around to peek at him for a quick moment. Harry pretended he had not a clue as to what they were saying.

She smiled ever so slightly.

A handsome precaution,” smirked Antonia with a knowing eye as Harry felt his cheeks tinge.

He’s just a friend,” replied Hermione.

So was Cesare at first… You never know, Hermione. Love can grow so quickly and so suddenly that you will not know it until it is upon you.

Oh Italians and love…” Harry could almost hear Hermione’s eyes roll. “First, all your harassing- and believe you, I do consider it harassment- over Jean and I. It took forever, but I finally convinced you. Then apparently since I was not in love with Jean, I just had to be in love with Luca…. Is it so impossible to believe that I already have found love?

Antonia groaned, “I will not believe any stories of this… Ron… until I meet him and see the look in your eye! I have to see that look of love before I believe it!

Well that won’t be happening any time soon,” replied Hermione with a painful undertone. Antonia immediately caught it.

Ahhhhh so I see.” She reached over and patted Hermione lightly on the forearm in a very motherly way.

There were no words between them for a moment, but somehow in that time emotions had passed between them. Conveyed in some manner that only the two women understood.

Antonia knew without saying of Hermione’s heartache. The young witch’s shortness could only have meant one thing. And despite her teasing and unadulterated, shameless suggesting that Hermione date a wide variety of wizards including her son, the elder witch had heard plenty of Ron. She knew the ins and outs of their relationship and she knew Hermione’s pain just as Hermione understood hers. It was just amazing to Hermione that even during this woman’s own times of terrible pain and loss, Antonia was still able to empathize with her. She was grateful.

It made her value the friend she had found all that much more.

The group walked down hill finally entering the peaceful town. At the first street corner they made a right towards the Tattori’s. Their villa was one of the great beauties of the town.

As they approached Hermione caught the familiar sight of the perfectly rusted, black gate with the family’s crest at its center. The gate was open as the funeral’s guests entered and made their way towards the house. Just past the gate lay a cul-de-sac driveway with a fountain sitting ever so gracefully in the center. Despite it being mid-February, the water was still turned on and flowing through the fountain’s sculptures.

Cesare had explained the first time that Hermione had come there that the family’s house elf had charmed the fountain to keep it from freezing during the winter months. The memory drew a sad smile from Hermione as she recalled her first dinner here where she had met Antonia, Luca, and the youngest, Giovanni. A deep friendship had been fatefully formed that night.

The Tattoris had taken her in like a member of the family, embracing her as if she were a distant cousin they hadn’t seen in years. With each visit, they had offered for her to stay with them in one of the guest bedrooms. And so the Tattori villa had become a home away from home for Hermione.

Antonia and Hermione stopped at the edge of the fountain.

Luca, Gio. Please go welcome the guests. Make sure the house elves have everything ready. I’d like to speak with Hermione alone.” The boys obediently went inside with only a small glance to Harry before they left.

Harry just stood his ground. He waited to see what Hermione wanted him to do, hoping that maybe she’d let him stay out here so he could ease drop.

“Harry, there’s food inside. Help yourself. I’ll be in in a minute.” Harry nodded and made for the door. As Hermione sat down on the fountain’s edge, she failed to notice the extendables that dropped from Harry’s pocket.

Antonia took a seat next to her.

So… it was a set up you believe?” questioned Hermione already getting to the point.

Absolutely, I have no doubt in my mind. Cesare was in perfect health. The Ministry is keeping things from me, I know. All of them are liars! Three days after he held the press conference and released his statement… Three days! They want me to believe it was a bad heart! He was as sturdy as a mountain!” Antonia was seething with anger.

I knew I shouldn’t have left… I should have stayed and done something.” Hermione rubbed her temples frustratingly.

Hermione, my dear, you did the right thing. You would not have been safe had you stayed. It was right of you to return home. There was little you could have done anyway. The press had already slandered you to the point where it would not have mattered what you could have said.

You mustn’t believe what they say, Antonia. Cesare and I… he was a mentor. I would never have… he and I would never-

My dear! He was a fifty year old man and he worshipped the ground I walked on! I know there was no affair. You stayed in my home. I would have been the first to have known!” Hermione sighed with relief. She had been so worried that Antonia’s opinion of her had changed with all the things the papers had said about her. The situation had gotten so heightened that Cesare had practically ordered Hermione to return home. She had had no time to defend herself even privately to Antonia.

And Luca? Gio?

Oh my dear they do not believe it either. They are just as angry as me. It is an outrage! A disgrace! Cesare was no such man and you, my dear, are no such woman.

Hermione felt a hidden weight slide from her shoulders instantly. She rarely cared or thought about the many judgments that others had placed upon her throughout her life, but the idea that the Tattoris, a family that had been so near to her heart, had reason to doubt her was almost too much to bare.

Antonia reached across and patted Hermione’s hand affectionately.

You thought I would believe the rumors about my future daughter in law?” Hermione chuckled.

If Luca will still have me of course,” she returned cheekily.

Ahh do not raise my hopes!...” The two sat silently for but a moment. Antonia lowered her gaze to their hands. Olive over white snow. A great sadness came upon her. “Hermione, you must not come back to Italy. There are rumors… rumors that I fear are true. Mancini, Rizzo, and Costa… they are too powerful here. Their wealth is too great and their fingers seem to touch everyone. Cesare had extra Aurors assigned to him after the trial and still it did no good…. I tell you this because I mean to frighten you. You must not come back. You must promise me you will not.

Hermione looked into the eyes of the woman she considered to be a very dear friend and saw fear and worry. Hermione could no more stand to deny her her request just as Antonia could not bear to see another person she loved die. Cause or no cause. Righteous or not. Antonia would rather have had Cesare with her here than gone. Principals be damned!

I promise,” affirmed Hermione.


_________________________________________

I actually enjoyed writing this chapter very much. I enjoy writing every chapter, but this one was really gratifying for some reason. I've been trying to drum out as much as I can. I have the next three or four chapters planned out almost to a tee. My goal is to complete the story in the next month. We'll see how it goes...

I'd like to thank all of you for reviewing! It's really inspiring me to keep chugging along. Especially when I hear that some of you are checking everyday to see if I've posted! Thanks for all the support!
~Meg


Chapter 10: A Library's Treasure
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Disclaimer: Jo's made the car, sometimes I take it for a spin.
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Chapter 10- A Library’s Treasure

Harry sat in the café down the street. He and Hermione were still in Italy for the time being. She had wanted to stay for a few extra days with the family she loved so dearly. As much as Antonia pretended that she wasn’t happy with the decision, Harry could tell the woman was secretly relieved by Hermione’s presence. It would after all, Harry knew, be Hermione’s last time seeing them until this whole thing blew over.

Quickly he pulled out the box with the beetles and unclasped the lid. It popped open and the two little beetles scurried onto the table towards Harry’s awaiting gelato cup, pistachio this time.

Harry had found rather quickly that the beetles absolutely loved gelato. Also, they preferred to bathe in extra virgin olive oil claiming that it made the exoskeleton shinier and more durable. So as of late, Harry had been making morning and evening trips to the gelato place and leaving out a cup of oil each night to satisfy the two little beetles that were beginning to adore him.

The beetles took their time enjoying the gelato as Harry lay back against his chair watching Italians pass by on their way to work. Off in the distance he saw a wisp of brown, curly hair. Hermione was ambling down the hill to the café.

“Sorry to cut this short, boys, but Hermione’s on her way.” Without even the slightest hesitation the beetles jumped from their cup and hurried up his arms. Harry shivered as they lodged themselves into his ears. Oddly, he had still not gotten used to the sensation.

“You have quite a sweet tooth every morning,” said Hermione smiling as she approached. Harry nodded stuffing the beetle’s box in his pocket.

“Well it’s rare you get an authentic gelateria in walking distance.” Hermione chuckled as she leaned in to give Harry a good morning kiss on the cheek.

“What kind is it? Mind if I try some?” asked Hermione eyeing the cup as she sat down in the chair opposite Harry.

“Pistachio… and it’s terrible.” Quickly Harry threw the nearly full cup away in the closest trash. Regardless of the beetles’ nightly bath, he did not want Hermione eating something that they’d touched.

“Ahhh! My friend, issa full! How could you?!” Harry heard the beetles cry in his ear. He bit his tongue to keep from laughing.

Hermione too looked a little disappointed at the lost gelato cup, but quickly moved past it. “That bad, eh?” She said quirking an eyebrow.

“Yeah… So what brings you up and about?”

Hermione had for the most part been helping around the villa. As Luca and Gio had needed to leave for their jobs in Rome, Hermione had stayed with Antonia to answer the many posts, flowers, and notices in the wake of the Minister’s death. Harry also knew that despite how brave Hermione was, she also was not naïve enough to think that her presence in Italy was not being watched. She had kept to the villa for safety.

“Well I figured I should get out at least once. Plus there’s something I’d like to show you. It’s a ways away if you don’t mind.” Harry’s face seemed to show his intrigue because Hermione laughed quietly. “Come on… I’ll talk on the way there and explain.”

Together they stood up. Harry offered her his arm which Hermione took with a small smile before starting in the opposite direction of the villa. As they walked down the cobbled street, they made quite a pair. Even though neither of them noticed they successfully got a number of winks and bright smiles from the few Italians that passed them by.

“So…” Hermione began unsure of how to proceed.

“So,” replied Harry.

“Well I wanted to tell you about-”

“I’m going to interrupt you right there and let you know I already know.” Hermione’s confusion and furrowed eyebrows caused him to momentarily smirk despite the subject they were about to broach. “I know about the trial and Aldo and why Cesare was killed.”

“Oh… how?”

“I heard about it through the Ministry,” replied Harry honestly. Hermione nodded with comprehension. They continued down the road in a friendly sort of silence before Harry broke it. “How did you meet Cesare in the first place?”

Hermione’s eyes squinted happily at the memory.

“It’s a great story actually… I was called to Italy to defend a pure blood Italian-”

“Why’d they call you all the way from England?”

“Because I’m that good,” answered Hermione surely. Harry was taken aback for a second at how quickly the reply came. Hermione caught his astonishment at her comment and laughed. “What? You don’t agree?”

“No, I would never argue against your abilities… I just never thought you were so cocky,” said Harry in amazement. He eyed the girl next to him and suddenly realized that his best friend was no longer an unsure bookworm always trying to prove herself, but instead had blossomed into a confident and capable woman.

“Who would’ve thought, right? Hermione Granger conceited!”

“Well it’s not without merit,” shrugged Harry. “You’ve always been brilliant… I guess it’s just surprising that you finally figured it out after all these years.”

“Took me long enough, eh?”

“Yeah it really did,” smirked Harry as they strolled. “Anyway you were saying…”

“Yes, right… Well, I originally came here with Jean to meet the client for the first time. I was supposed to parley with a number of officials, including Cesare. When I got here, I found out there was a protest about the inhumane treatment of house elves going on-”

Harry chortled. “Of course there was…”

“Oh shut it! It was imperative that I join the protest!”

“Imperative?” questioned Harry with a sarcastic look.

“Yes,” replied Hermione with a scowl at his expression. “They were going to test house elf magic… which granted is a very interesting subject and it is fairly unknown how their magic works, but the methods they were going to use to study them were absolutely absurd. I couldn’t let it happen-”

“I’m sure.”

“So,” continued Hermione ignoring Harry’s statement. “I was protesting outside of the Ministry in Rome when Cesare walks by. He sees me and he says in Italian something along the lines of, ‘Little English girls need to go home to their families and pay more attention to their own country than attempt to intervene with Italian issues that are above their knowledge.’ Of course Cesare had no idea that I was fluent in Italian, so I said back to him, ‘If the Italian Minister paid more attention to the social injustices of his country then this English WOMAN wouldn’t have to be here.’”

Harry laughed, “You really said that?” Hermione nodded brightly. “What happened next?”

“Well obviously he was completely flabbergasted that I had said that, so he just stood there sort of dumbfounded. Cesare was a pretty good French speaker too. So then in French I said to him, ‘Would you prefer French if the Minister has trouble hearing me in Italian?’ Then right at that moment… with complete perfect timing… Jean came up and introduced me as the lead counselor for that case which Cesare was interested on. Jean also added how I had a habit of joining house elf protests during my travels.”

“Ha… What did Cesare do?”

“He invited me and Jean over for dinner. I recounted the story to Antonia and the boys. They pretty much fell in love with me after that. And I with them. That was my first trip to Italy. Ever since then, every time I’ve visited I’ve stayed at the Tattori villa.”

Hermione looked down at her feet in thought as her memory surged through all of the times she had spent in this town. Most of them happy and yet her current stay was marked by sadness. Hermione’s face turned sober thinking of her friend and mentor beneath the ground just a few streets away.

“You love the Tattoris, don’t you?” stated Harry reading her emotions.

She smiled sadly. “Yes.” She looked up at Harry and met his eyes which were filled with sympathy. “Antonia and Cesare always said that I would have been a Tattori had I been born a pure blood and I can’t help but agree.”

“Don’t let Molly or Arthur hear you say that,” cautioned Harry.

“I love the Weasleys, but the Tattoris… oh, Harry I wish you could’ve been here when we just sat out on the back patio and drank wine underneath the stars. We’d debate about everything and they talk about issues with such passion… it-it’s… I just can’t even describe it… It’s fantastic.”

“And the Weasleys don’t debate?”

“Not like the Tattoris… George brings up some new project for the Joke shop or Arthur talks about the microwave he’s magicked to fly.” Harry nodded in understanding knowing full well what went on during one of the Weasley family dinners. “Antonia, Cesare, Luca, and Gio… they just care about things that I do. It’s refreshing.”

“Oh and Ron and I don’t care about the things you do?” snorted Harry pretending to be offended.

“No, I didn’t mean it like that… Of course you both do. It’s just-just different, I suppose,” tried Hermione.

“I was just teasing,” replied Harry quickly.

“Oh… right.” Hermione gazed down at her feet once again lost in thought. He looked over at his friend and realized that this place, this town that they were walking through was her favorite destination for her travels. And most of all he knew it had a lot to do with the family that resided within its walls.

“I can see why you love coming here, Hermione,” murmured Harry quietly nudging her ever so slightly.

“Well I’m glad you came, Harry.”

Hermione’s brown eyes caught his. For just a moment he was taken by the honest sincerity in her light chocolate orbs and he couldn’t turn away. Neither could she for a second there.

Breaking their eye contact and the moment they’d been stuck in, Hermione sighed, “I tried to get Ron to come here a few times… He never came.”

“Why not?” asked Harry in an attempt to move the conversation forward.

“I don’t know… I suppose it has to do with my first trip. That first trip here, Jean asked me on a date.”

“A date?” choked Harry a little put off at the idea.

“Yes… I had no idea it was a date,” admitted Hermione as she rubbed the bridge of her nose with her free hand. “We went out to dinner at one of the best restaurants in town. It wasn’t until halfway through the first course that Jean told me he wanted it to be a romantic thing.”

“What did you say?”

“Well I had spent the entire time talking about Ron… and you! You’d think he would’ve taken a hint or figured it out! I had to tell him that I was already in a relationship. He took the news surprisingly well and wasn’t too upset by it.”

“Did you tell Ron?” inquired Harry a little scared.

Hermione’s face scrunched as if in pain and she nodded positively.

“Ahh… I bet he didn’t take that too well,” grimaced Harry knowing how bad Ron’s jealousy could sometimes run having experienced the result of it first hand during fourth year.

“Nope. Not at all… That’s right about the time he started saying I.F.E. was a little iffy,” stated Hermione rolling her eyes.

“In his defense you really are quite terrible with acronyms… You’d think you’d learn after the whole spew scenario,” quipped Harry.

“You’d think you and Ron would’ve learned by now to stop teasing me about it so that you wouldn’t have to incur my wrath,” she said with a sharp slap to his shoulder. Harry grabbed his shoulder in shock and pretended to be terribly wounded. “Oh quit it! I barely even hit you!”

Harry straightened himself, his charade now over. “Yeah… I’ve heard that your truly angered slaps hurt quite a bit,” jeered Harry cheekily.

“You’re never going to let me live that one down are you?” Harry simply shook his head with a subtle smirk while Hermione just glared at him.

As they approached another street, Hermione steered them right around a corner. They walked a bit in silence. Harry could tell her mind was racing with some thought and he found himself desperate to know what it was. Nudging her slightly, she looked over at him and registered his expectant features.

“After I told Ron about the date it never was the same…”

“Didn’t you start working more after that though?”

“Yes,” conceded Hermione before continuing quietly, “It-it just never was the same though. Whenever I traveled with Jean, Ron would get pissed off… Once I came back from a weekend trip with Jean and I was back no more than an hour before I got an owl from Jean asking me to join him in Paris to meet the Chief French Warlock- I’d been trying to meet him for weeks. Ron lost it…” Hermione trailed off.

Harry was silent simply waiting for her to continue the story that he knew she needed to tell.

“He never asked me to stay… He just screamed at me. So I left. I worked my tail off though. I met with the French Warlock and whole strew of others. I took notes, cross referenced old legislation, got them to repeal a giant’s hearing. I came back two days early. I felt so bad for leaving things the way we did so I came home… and Ron was gone. He and George went to visit Charlie in Romania… He didn’t even leave me a note. I came back to an empty flat and had to floo Molly.”

Hermione’s eyes stared far off into the distance. “All I ever wanted was for him to ask me to stay… and he never could do it. He could only yell.” With a sad smile, Hermione shook her head trying to ward off her negative thoughts.

Harry ever so gently took her hand in his and gave it a small squeeze. As he gazed down at her reading every emotion that flew across her face, he knew she was still dealing with the loss of Ron. She had come to Italy to mourn more than one thing.

With a long exhale, Hermione realized that she had put a damper on their pleasant walk.

“So… we’re nearly there. It’s just up ahead.” She pointed towards an older building that seemed to match all the surrounding others. From the outside there appeared to be nothing special about it, but Harry knew that when it came to Hermione there was always something better on the inside.

As they approached still hand in hand, Harry looked up to see some writing in Italian engraved above the door marking the building. Even without the beetles in his ear crying, ‘Issa de library, my friend!’ he knew what it was. It wasn’t that hard to decipher library from biblioteca.

Harry turned to Hermione with raised eyebrows. “A library?... You wanted to show me a library?”

Hermione just laughed. “I want you to meet someone inside the library.”

“Oh… right. I should’ve figured that.”

Ignoring his sarcasm, Hermione simply tugged his hand behind her as she opened the door.


**********


“So have you decided on whether you are going to commit to the contract or not?” asked Todd.

Ginny was sitting across from him at a table in the Leaky Cauldron. They had met for a follow up lunch to talk things over.

“I still… I don’t know, Todd. A part of me really wants to go-”

“But?” asked Todd tilting his head inquisitively.

“But I have a lot going on for me here. I just don’t know if I can pick up and leave everything at the drop of a sickle,” worried Ginny as she toyed with the sandwich on her plate. Ginny had been running the idea through her head and yet she still could not come up with an answer. Ron’s warning had shaken her to the core. She feared that by doing this she would lose Harry. A year was a long time to wait and she knew just how impatient her boyfriend could be.

And yet another part of her was crying out that she had waited for him for nearly six years! Couldn’t he wait just one year? And as much as she loved Harry, she wanted so desperately to live, to have fun, to act her age. Whenever she was around him, she could literally smell the constant possibility of a marriage proposal. Harry’s hopes- along with pretty much everyone else’s- hung over her every second she stayed in England. She loved him, but for Merlin’s sake did everyone honestly expect her to just get married and immediately start popping out children?! She was only twenty one and all of England was in shock that she wasn’t married with at least one on the way!

She felt like her life was suffocating her. And as sad as it made her, she knew a part of that was Harry. How could he just expect her to just settle down like that? She wanted adventure and care free fun without worrying about making serious commitments like marriage or children.

“Ginny, it’s obvious that you are on the fence about this… and I don’t know how to convince you,” sighed Todd. “Spring training starts April 1st. It’s nearly the end of February. You’re gonna want to give yourself time to find a place in LA and get situated. You have to make this decision soon…”

“I know…” replied Ginny solemnly.

“Look, Ginny, can I give you my best advice?” Ginny nodded. “I say come to LA. And it’s not because I want you on the team or anything… As surprising as it is we, Americans, have heard about the Weasley family. And let me tell you what… if I were you, I’d go. Your brothers all seem like they’ve done a lot of great things. Your dad’s the Minister of Magic for crying out loud. Your boyfriend- obviously- has pretty much saved the wizarding world. I say go because I think you should get out of here. You should try being on your own for once. It might do you good,” finished Todd with a shrug.

Ginny’s mouth twitched into a small smile at Todd’s careful examination of her life and her place in the wizarding world. As much as she hated to admit it she knew he was right. She just did not want to have to tell Harry. By saying that she was going, she’d be admitting that she didn’t want what Harry wanted and she’d been avoiding that conversation for nearly a year now… ever since Harry asked her to first move in actually.

“You said Harry was out of town right?”

“Yeah… at least for a couple more days.”

“Well how about you talk to him when he gets back and see what he says. Then decide. Let me know… say by Wednesday?”

“Ok… that sounds like a good idea.”

“In the mean time, I drew up a contract for you. Read it over and let me know if there’s anything wrong with it or anything you wish to add,” said Todd handing over a small stack of clipped papers.

Ginny took it without question. She was going to have to have Hermione take a look at it to make sure everything was acceptable.

Pulling out a few galleons, Todd paid for their meal and then bid Ginny good day before exiting the Leaky Cauldron. Ginny sat at the table for a while longer. Slowly she put her head in hands as she rubbed her eyes. She knew that all of her indecisiveness was really not because she hadn’t made a decision. Her choice had been made pretty much by the end of that first meeting with Todd. The only reason for her hesitant back and forth with Todd was due to her fear of telling a certain raven haired boy.

Ginny wiped away at her eyes and finally stood. Resolved, she would talk to Harry when he got back from Italy.


**********


Hermione led Harry into the reception area of the library where a lone witch stood sorting through various books. The floor was made of marble and his shoes clapped along it with each step. The hall was lined with giant pillars that stretched all the way to the ceiling which was a masterpiece in itself as there was a huge enchanted mural of what appeared to be the Roman Gods. Harry looked off to the right and left of the check out desk. Both ways gave entrance to a certain part of the library and were marked by signs.

Harry felt that familiar pleasant buzz in his ears as the clerk greeted Hermione.

Good morning, Miss Granger! It’s so lovely to see you here once again. He’s missed you dearly since your last visit. It’s been so long!

Yes, yes. I know. I really should find more time to come see him. Where is he?” asked Hermione with a bright smile. Harry just watched the exchange with odd fascination. Those beetles were truly amazing.

He was putting away books in the Biography section last time I saw.

Thank you! It was wonderful seeing you, Madam Lucchesi,” said Hermione waving a small bit before making her way to the right. Harry followed close behind in wonder. This building did not seem big enough on the outside for it to be a library on the inside.

Hermione made her way around the corner which opened into a gigantic room filled with rows and rows of the tallest stacks Harry had ever seen.

“You may want to keep a watchful eye… sometimes the stacks like to change position if they’re bored. Happens quite often actually,” called Hermione over her shoulder as she navigated her way towards the rear of the open hall. Immediately Harry began surveying the stacks hoping to catch one of them in their ‘boredom’. Suddenly off to his left, he saw one stack flip around faster than the speed of light. As big as the stack was, he felt surprised that it had hardly made any noise at all.

“I bet it takes a long time to put away books here,” muttered Harry. He couldn’t imagine how long it’d take to simply return a book to its correct section if these stacks were constantly changing position all the time.

Hermione turned one last corner and stopped.

Harry peeked around her and saw a tiny, wrinkled house elf in what appeared to be a miniature tweed suit. The elf had a book floating above him that he levitated all the way up to the top shelf. Harry watched as the books in the shelf scooted aside to make room for their new neighbor. With a flick of his small hand, the book zoomed into its correct place and snuggled in getting comfortable.

“Hmm-mmm.” Hermione cleared her throat.

The elf turned around and squeaked happily. Harry felt the beetles in his ears buzz rapidly as the elf ran towards Hermione. “Miss Hermione! Aldo had no idea! Aldo is very pleased Miss that you have visited!! Very pleased indeed!” With great enthusiasm Aldo jumped into Hermione’s open arms giving her a massive hug.

It’s lovely seeing you too, Aldo. I’ve missed you!” Hermione hugged Aldo affectionately before breaking away. “Aldo, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” Moving aside, Hermione revealed who was standing behind her.

“Hello,” said Harry with an awkward wave.

Aldo wasted no time. He squeaked again and launched himself at Harry who faltered and had to take a step back to regain his balance.

Miss you brought your Harry to see Aldo! Aldo has wanted to meet the great hero and the great friend of the wonderful Miss Hermione for a very long time!” Aldo peeled himself off of Harry and took in his full appearance. “Mister Potter, Aldo is my name. Aldo works here at the library since your Hermione helped Aldo get a position!!” Aldo looked expectantly at Harry hoping he would introduce himself.

Aldo, remember Harry only speaks English. He doesn’t know what you’re saying.” Hermione laughed as Aldo’s face washed over with realization.

Aldo was worried that Miss Hermione’s Harry was mute!” Quickly, Aldo switched his footing like he was preparing to do the biggest physical task he’d ever been commissioned to do. With great effort, he looked up at Harry. “Hello. My name is Aldo,” the elf sounded out every word making sure to annunciate each syllable.

“Harry, Aldo here has been learning English ever since I told him you were coming. He’s wanted to meet you,” explained Hermione.

“I’m very pleased to meet you Aldo,” said Harry as he offered his hand. Aldo looked at the wizard’s hand curiously before pulling out a handkerchief from his inside jacket and wiping Harry’s hand clean. Once finished, Aldo stuffed the cloth back into his jacket and seemed satisfied.

“Aldo, Harry was trying to give you a handshake.” Aldo slapped a hand to his face.

Ay-ay… My Merlin! Aldo forgets! Miss must explain again and again!” With great effort again, Aldo switched to English. “Please excuse me, Mister Potter. I forget. Miss Hermione told me what you will do and I forget. Here, we will shake.” Aldo took Harry’s hand in both of his and shook it as if he were shaking a bunch of marbles.

Harry looked from Aldo up at Hermione’s beaming face. He couldn’t help the smile that was returned.

They spent about twenty minutes talking to Aldo in the massive library before they had to leave for lunch back at the villa. Aldo gave Hermione a small sack full of books that he thought she might like to read. Thanking him and shrinking the sack, Hermione promised to come by one last time before they left. Harry promised too much to the elf’s delight.

As they exited the library and entered the cool air outside, Hermione once again snaked her arm around Harry’s for their walk back home.

“So what did you think?”

“Of Aldo?”

“No the library… yes of course Aldo.”

Harry gave one of his signature lopsided grins before shrugging. “I liked him… His English is perfect. He doesn’t even speak like a house elf.”

“I wish you could hear him in Italian… it’s always ‘Aldo does this… Aldo thinks that Miss should say this.’ And he speaks so fast that I can hardly keep up with him. It’s ironic that his English is so slow and calculated. You’d never guess by his Italian.” Harry nodded knowingly.

They rounded the corner and walked leisurely on their return home to the villa.

“It was Cesare’s idea for Aldo to work at the library,” stated Hermione.

“Do they pay him?” asked Harry curiously.

“No. Aldo would never accept it. He says he ‘works’ there but really he just does what he can to help out. The place is the better for it though,” told Hermione before adding, “He did let Cesare buy him two suits for his new job.”

“I noticed,” said Harry with a nod. “So how did Cesare think of the library?”

“Well he’s had house elves work at the library before. This is actually the main reason why I fell in love with the Tattoris: they have numerous house elves.”

“Numerous? As in they have more than one?” Hermione nodded. “Why would you ever need more than one house elf?”

“The Tattoris allow their house elves to mate,” explained Hermione, her voice laced with a weight and a gravity that Harry did not understand. Harry’s expression showed how confused he was by the implication behind her statement. “You see it’s actually very rare that a family allows their servant to mate. It’s purely done in a procreation kind of way. There’s no regard towards intimacy between the two elves. A lot of times it’s ordered and the two families will arrange a marriage or suitable pairing based on which family owns the elf. The Tattoris were the first family that I have ever seen allow their house elves to choose a mate and then encourage them to breed at will.”

Harry nodded, finally understanding the severity of a house elf’s servitude towards their master. He never before had thought about them finding a mate or how they made little house elf babies.

“The Tattoris are firm believers in love,” Harry recalled her and Antonia’s last conversation and nodded. “Even house elf love is important to them. Currently the Tattoris own eight elves, but they’ve given many away to other fair and respectable families who need them. They’ve also let them find work elsewhere if the elf has wished, so some of the local establishments employ Tattori elves.”

“So Cesare knew about the library and had Aldo go there,” finished Harry connecting two and two. Hermione nodded affirmatively.

The two walked peacefully as the air slowly began to warm. The morning chill had left for the day with the sun sitting high at noon. As they walked a light breeze swept through the street. Harry draped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him as she wrapped hers around his waist.

Leaning over he placed a small kiss into her temple and then whispered, “Yeah you would’ve definitely been a Tattori.”

_____________________________________________

Author's Note: Hello everyone! I just want to let you guys know that I am writing away. I am three chapters ahead of this one. With the summer holiday for the website and the time it takes for validation these chapters are being posted as quick as possible. The story is really about to pick up. Let me know what you guys think. As always I love your input and reviews! Thank you for reading!!
~Meg



Chapter 11: Lies
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Author's Note: Ok so this chapter is major in terms of the plot and also in terms of emotion. I know that at some points in this chapter you may not get all the information but don't worry in due time, my dear readers! The story is picking up and things are getting more complicated. I hope you like this next installment. As always reviews are much loved and thank you for tuning into my story!
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Chapter 11- Lies


Hermione and Harry were on their walk home from the ministry. The cold, crisp March air had caused both of them to bundle up a little more than usual for the day wearing their ministry cloaks along with scarves to match. Normally, Harry would’ve just apparated, but Hermione was fond of the walk through the city and back to his- or, as it was turning out to be, their- flat. It had become their evening routine as of late. Ever since they had returned from Italy, the pair had rather enjoyed their long strolls together as it gave them a chance to talk, something they had sorely missed for the last two years.

They had returned from Italy the week before. Hermione had been saddened to leave, but having Harry there helped ease her pain. He had done his best to comfort her as she bade goodbye to the Tattori villa for the time being.

Arm in arm they walked through the streets as the sun made its way down for the day.

As they approached the stairs leading up to the complex, Harry felt a sudden heat emitting from his pocket. Reaching his hand inside, he felt for the enchanted coin that he knew was causing the warmth.

It was Ron.

Harry and Ron had long ago taken one from Hermione’s book and enchanted two coins with dual Protean charms along with a few other charms they’d learn from the Auror department so as to make a fool proof method of communication for their travels.

“Damnit!” Harry pretended to smack his forehead like he was upset. “I left that file on my desk… I’m sorry, Hermione. I’ve gotta run back to the ministry. Ed’ll kill me if I don’t read that over tonight.”

“Alright, see you when you get back,” said Hermione with an easy shrug.

“You sure you’ll be ok getting in?”

“Harry, I’m perfectly capable of unlocking a door… Go on, now.” Hermione shooed Harry off as she climbed the stairs. Harry nodded and then back pedaled towards the alleyway so that he could apparate.

Behind the cover of the building, Harry pulled out the coin and placed his wand’s tip to it. The coin radiated a bright gold glow with the touch of his wand, the coin having recognized Harry’s holly wood and phoenix feather core. Suddenly, the words on the coin rearranged themselves until finally they formed an address. Quickly Harry read the location and then with a POP! apparated away.

Harry’s eyes had to readjust to the darkness that he had apparated into. He seemed to be in some cellar with stone walls dimly lit by a single flame coming from a lantern. Before him were two men grunting in an obvious struggle with each other.

“Lumos!” he called. The illumination from his wand allowed Harry to finally see a dark haired man in a black cloak strangling a man on his knees. With a great heave, the attacker lifted his victim in an attempt to finish him off giving Harry a very clear view of a blue faced Ron, his eyes nearly bulging out.

Harry did the only thing he could think of. He punched the attacker straight in the nose.

The man released Ron who immediately started gasping for much needed air. Harry grabbed the first thing he could find: a frying pan. With a great arc, he smashed the attacker over the head causing him to fall to the ground in a heap, unconscious.

“It-it took… you… long enough,” spurted Ron still holding his throat.

“Sorry… couldn’t get away.” Harry bent down to help Ron stand. “Who’s this charming fellow?”

“Vito Mancini… he’s the son of one of the blokes Hermione got kicked off from the Wizengamot.” Ron searched the ground and found his wand. Flicking it towards the fireplace, he set a small fire in the hearth. Harry took note of the cramped quarters Ron was living in. Besides the tiny fireplace, there was a cot in the corner with a trunk at the end of it. Off to the side by some cabinets was a table with a couple of chairs. Ron still gingerly rubbing his throat walked over to one and sat down.

Harry went about restraining Vito before joining Ron.

“So what are your plans then?”

“Ed gave me a large supply of polyjuice potion so I’m going to become dear old Vito here. I figure I can lock him in the trunk-”

“Like Crouch did with Moody?” Ron nodded as he summoned a couple of glasses and two butterbeer bottles. “Did Ed give you translation beetles?” Harry asked as Ron poured.

“Yeah… weird, aren’t they?” Ron took a huge swig of his drink which seemed to help his throat a bit. “I kinda like the feeling of them though… He gave me two sets of the Italian ones- not to mention all the other languages he gave me just in case. They pretty much have to be in the entire time. My beetles are always so tired… I think they might hate me.”

Harry smirked. Ron never did have much luck with magical creatures. “Gelato’s the trick… especially Pistachio.”

“Really?” asked Ron hopefully.

“Yeah they love it… also they like to bathe in olive oil. It’s apparently good for the exoskeleton or something. I can only speak for the Italian ones though.”

“Hmm, I’ll keep that in mind.” Ron finished his glass and immediately poured himself another while Harry still nursed at his own.

“So what have you heard so far? Do you know what they’re planning?”

Ron shook his head and sighed, “No… there’s tons of rumors going around. Most people are too scared to talk though, so I can’t get anything out of them. There’s a huge inner circle here that’s hard to tap into. The polyjuice is going to be my only way in. I finally got this bastard alone…” Ron scowled at the still very unconscious Vito.

“Inner circle?” inquired Harry.

“Oh yeah… the three families that she got kicked off: the Mancinis, Rizzos, and Costas… it’s insane. It’s like all those muggle tales of Italian mafias. They pretty much control everything down here. I’ll know more when I get in.”

“How you gonna work the accent? And the whole speaking Italian thing?”

“Gotta eat the beetles...”

Harry nearly spit out his drink. “What?!”

“Well you’re not allowed to chew or anything… they get real mad if you do! You just open your mouth and they crawl in there. They latch onto your vocal chords or something. I have to get them to mimic this git’s voice before I have them latch… Have you really not done it?” asked Ron surprised.

“No… sounds disgusting!”

“It feels a bit creepy at first with them wiggling around in your mouth and all, but once they start it’s the oddest thing. It’s almost soothing on your throat... like you’ve taken a throat numbing potion or something,” Ron explained.

The two friends went silent for second. Harry tried his best not to shiver at the thought of the beetles squirming around in his throat. The idea really did wig him out.

“You wouldn’t happen to have any veritaserum would you?” asked Ron after a minute.

“No, not on me. You didn’t get any from Ed before you left?” Harry couldn’t help the tone that came with it. Normally, they brought a vial with them on every mission.

“Ed and Kingsley were so rushed to get me to Italy that I forgot to grab some extra vials. I’ve run out… would you mind picking me up some?”

Harry nodded standing up. “Yeah, I’ll grab you some. I should probably get back though.”

“I’ll contact you. I only stay in one place for a couple of days before I move. Just have the serum ready at a moment’s notice. I’d like to be able to question Vito soon,” finished Ron standing with Harry. The two old friends gave each other a quick hug.

“Be safe,” urged Harry before apparating back to the alleyway outside of his apartment.


**********


The next night Hermione could not meet Harry for their walk home. She sent an owl detailing an excuse about a last minute meeting with a Warlock from the Wizengamot, but alas she was not being truthful. As hard as it was to believe, Hermione had become rather good at lying. Well, she’d always been good at lying. She just never used the skill regularly until recently. It all served a purpose though. She had tossed and turned about it, but she knew the best way to keep those she loved safe was ultimately to lie.

She hated doing it, but Cesare had long ago convinced her that it was the only way. The less people knew the better. The more lives they spared, the more loved ones they protected. The wizarding world was not yet ready for the truths Hermione was going to unleash. All in due time though the truth would be revealed.

Hermione made her way up the windy stone path leading to the seemingly deserted home.

Off the coasts of Sweden and tucked behind dark woods lay this blackened and battered house. If any muggle were to look upon it, they would immediately turn away feeling the urge to run from the premises. This place could not be marked on any map. It was unplottable. No witch or wizard, regardless of power or skill, would ever be able to find this house, except of course for the witch making her way towards it right at that very moment.

Hermione was the only one permitted to know.

Long ago Cesare Tattori had given the house to its one occupant in hopes of keeping that person alive. It was the only way, he knew. They had to do everything in their power to protect their client. Everything.

As she approached, the barriers and wards of the house stopped her holding her where she was. Hermione could feel the house’s magic surveying her, making sure she was no foe to the person inside. Then as if the house were giving her a welcome hug Hermione felt enveloped in magic as blue light swirled around her. The house recognized her and engulfed her in its protection.

Immediately once Hermione stepped through the barrier the house changed form into a much brighter and happier place. The setting sun’s hues even seemed to turn more vibrant and beautiful. Hermione walked inside, the doors opened for her without her having to touch them.

There sitting cross legged in his usual chair waiting for her was the client.

“Hello, Hermione.” His Italian voice was like silk as it rolled over his tongue. It was smooth and yet dark hinting to the past manipulations he’d coaxed others into and the streets from where he came. The client looked up at her expectantly. It had been a long time since her last visit and he was eager for the information that he knew she would bring. He had been cut off from the world for months now. “You haven’t come to see me in almost a month.”

“I apologize. Things have gotten more complicated since my last trip.” Hermione walked around the coffee table and sat down on the white sofa perpendicular to her client’s chair.

“How so?” he inquired.

“Cesare is dead.” Hermione tried her best to sound detached and unfeeling, but she felt her eyes give way to more. As good as the client was for information she also knew he was a cold and self centered son of bitch. He was the last person she wanted to share her emotions with.

At her words though his face fell and fear set into his middle aged eyes.

“The Italian Ministry’s position is that it was a failed heart that got the best of Cesare. After Turturro was murdered, they arrested Aldo and tried him for Turturro’s murder. I got Mancini, Rizzo, and Costa suspended from the hearing and Aldo was acquitted. Cesare then placed Aldo at the library where he could be watched under the eyes of the other Tattori elves. After Aldo’s case Cesare released a statement saying he supported the Wizengamot’s decision. He was found dead three days later. I’ve only just returned from his funeral. I’ve had to take care of a few things, but I came as soon as I could,” she finished in a very fact like manner.

The client uncrossed his legs anxiously and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees putting his head in his hands. Hermione could tell that he was trying his best not to freak out as his fingers nervously combed their way through his thick graying locks.

“You wouldn’t happen to have any of those Russell’s Sprouts you always cart around, do ya?”

Hermione pulled her pack from her purse and offered it to him. With a shaky hand he reached forward and took a cigarette. The client put the cigarette to his mouth and then lit the tip with a flick of his wand.

“Care to join me...” He said nodding towards the pack.

“What the hell,” shrugged Hermione as she too grabbed a cigarette and lit it. She hadn’t felt the need to smoke since her last fight with Harry, but now seemed just as good a time as any.

“I don’t know how you’re not chain smoking these things after that piece of fucking fantastic news.” Hermione sat at the far end of the couch and looked down at her hands. That piece of ‘fucking fantastic news’ had caused a tear at her already worn heart. Suddenly realizing the sensitive subject the client attempted to readjust himself. “Sorry about your friend…” he muttered.

“Thanks,” she said quietly before taking another drag.

“What does that mean for you then? First, Turturro. Now, Cesare. Sounds like your next.”

“I know… I’ve cut down my travels and Jean has been tying up a lot of loose ends for me. Hopefully we can officially try the case internationally by the end of the summer.”

“The summer? I have to stay in this shit hole till the end of the summer?!!” He looked at her incredulously, raising his voice.

“From the very beginning, we explained to you that it would take some time getting this thing off the ground. First and foremost we have to keep you safe and more importantly alive. The only way we can do that is if you stay here. You knew what you were signing up for when you took the deal,” countered Hermione sharply.

“How am I supposed to TESTIFY if every person that knows where I am winds up DEAD?!!! Explain that to me!” cried the client frustratingly. “You’re the only one left damnit!”

“Settle down,” hushed Hermione calmly before patiently adding, “I am the only person who has ever had the great privilege of knowing where you are. Not even Cesare was privy to the information. We did that for a reason… AND I am not dead-”

“Yet,” he finished dryly. Hermione glared at him.

“I am not going to die… I’ve taken plenty of precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen. And even if it does, you will be taken care of.”

“Does that back up plan include Jean?” He could tell just from her look that it did. He sneered, “You know how I hate that-”

“It doesn’t matter who you hate. As long as I am your councilor then you’re damn well going to mind who I work with. He’s the only one I trust with a case of this magnitude. At your request he hasn’t been involved too heavily, but if I so happen to… well… die… WHICH I won’t by the way! But if I were to then he would get all the necessary information to keep the case moving forward.”

Hermione finished her cigarette and transfigured it into her usual dust particle before standing up. Her patience had run thin and it was time for her to go anyway.

“What makes you so sure you won’t be hit? Those families can get to anyone,” he called just before she reached the door.

Hermione turned back around to face her client, “Lord Voldemort and his death eaters couldn’t kill me at eighteen. What makes you think some weaker Italians can do it at twenty three?” With that, Hermione walked out the door.


**********


With Hermione off to speak with some Warlock, Harry was left with an open evening. Normally he would walk home with Hermione, maybe grab a bite to eat along the way. But tonight, since she was gone, he actually had to figure out what to do with himself. Luckily, Ginny had asked him to dinner over at her place. It seemed like lately they had been seeing less and less of each other, so he was relieved when she’d asked.

Harry unlocked her door using the spare key. He heard the magical locks click open and then stepped inside.

“Hellllloo? Anyone home?”

“Hey, Harry,” called Penny from the sofa looking up from reading an article in the Prophet. “Ginny’s in the shower. She just got back from practice.”

Harry nodded and made his way down the hall. Stopping at the bathroom door right outside of Ginny’s bedroom, he heard her singing a new tune from the Weird Sisters. He knocked softly.

“Hey Gin, it’s Harry.”

“I’ll be out in ten minutes, Harry!” she called from beyond the door. “Just wait in my room. I’ll be done soon.”

With a shrug, Harry moved into Ginny’s brightly decorated room. Her Harpies uniform lay crumpled on the floor. Harry passed by the walls looking at all the different enchanted photographs from over the years. Looking down at her desk, his eye caught sight of Hermione’s careful handwriting on a note attached to a stack of papers.

Ginny,

I read over the whole thing. Everything seems good.
It sounds amazing! Let me know what you decide.
Either way, I’ll support you regardless.

With love,
Hermione


Harry lifted up Hermione’s note. His curiosity peaking as he read what lay underneath. It appeared to be a contract of some sort for the Los Angeles Razorbacks. Intrigued, Harry started flipping through the papers. As he did so, his expression grew more and more worried till finally he reached the last sheet. His breath caught in his throat. There at the bottom was Ginny’s signature.

Ginny’s going to LA?

As if on cue, Ginny emerged from the bathroom clad in only her towel. Harry’s hands still held open the last page of the contract and he looked up from it to stare at her completely bewildered. She stopped in her tracks.

“Gin, what’s going on? Are you… are you moving to LA?” asked Harry confused.

Ginny felt herself falter. She didn’t know what to say. “I… erm… that’s why I asked you to dinner so that I could… so that I could explain-”

“Explain what? That you’re leaving?” Ginny winced at the severity in his tone.

“Harry, don’t be like that.”

“Be like what? How am I supposed to react?” His words were sharp. He could feel a surge of outrage within him that was just barely underneath the surface. He wanted to scream, but he held himself at bay. In an attempt to calm himself, he took a deep breath as Ginny simply stood stock still where she was. Having cooled, he redirected, “How long have you had these?”

“For about three weeks now.” Harry visibly deflated with her words.

“When were you going to tell me?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know…” Ginny shifted her weight uncomfortably under his gaze. “I guess after I felt like I’d thought it through. I didn’t want to tell you until I made a decision.”

“So I take it this means you’re going then?”

“Yes.”

Harry felt like a little part of his world was slowly caving in on itself. “When does the season start?”

“Spring training starts April 1st.”

Once again Harry felt like the wind was knocked out of him. Ginny felt her mouth dry up as she witnessed Harry’s reaction. “April 1st?” he choked. It was less than three weeks away. She’d already known about this for so long and hadn’t told him. And now, she would be leaving in less than three weeks. He felt like waves of shock were just slamming against him.

“Wh-what am I supposed to do?... Am I-am I supposed to move with you? Because I can’t-”

“I don’t expect you to come with me, Harry,” she interrupted quickly. “I know your job is here with the Ministry. I know you have to stay.”

“So what then?” His hands flying up emphasizing the question. Ginny could only look down at her feet. This was the part she had wanted so badly to avoid. She didn’t want to hurt him. “Was I even a factor in this at all?”

“Harry, of course you were,” she answered sincerely.

“It’s just that I thought-” Harry stopped himself. He couldn’t finish the sentence because for the first time he did not want to tell Ginny what his hopes and dreams for their future together had been. He didn’t want to tell her his plans of proposing to her at the end of the summer. Molly and Arthur had already given him their permission when he’d asked for her hand two Christmases ago. He’d already bought the ring.

But Ginny did not even need to hear of those hopes because she already knew of them. She knew the moment the day she graduated from Hogwarts what Harry intended. Plus, her family was big and they gossiped. No more than twenty four hours after asking for her hand had Ginny found out. Surprisingly, it had been Bill who had caved and spilled the beans to his baby sister. She had had years of practice in squeezing out information from her brothers. It was just a matter of time before one of them gave in.

Sighing she looked up at Harry’s sad eyes. “I just need to do this.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ve never been on my own, Harry.”

“So you’re trying to get away from me?” Ginny felt her heart break with the way he said it. His voice was so small and child like.

“No,” she immediately said, but then felt the need to reconsider. “I don’t know…” Ginny closed her eyes and told herself she had to stop lying. She had been avoiding the truth for years to the point where now this avoidance felt like a whole string of lies tied to one another on a fateful rope. She couldn’t take it anymore. She had to tell him the truth. She just hoped that maybe one day he could forgive her for it.

“Harry,” she began shakily. “I don’t want what you want. I’m not ready for marriage or for kids or for the future that you have planned for us. I need to be out on my own. I feel like I have to be on my own for once… and I-I can’t do that if I’m here in England. I-I can’t do that if I’m…” Ginny felt the words hit hard in the back of her throat. It was almost as if her body was refusing to let them out, but she knew she had to say it. So she swallowed deep and with tear filled eyes choked out the words she never thought she’d hear herself say. “I can’t do that if I’m with-with you.”

A pin could have dropped as the two stared at each other. Harry felt like his heart was somewhere in pieces on the floor, shattered. His limbs felt like jelly and his head felt numb. Suddenly her teary eyed gaze was like a razor blade straight to his chest.

As quickly as his dead limbs could move he made for the door.

“H-harry?” She tried to stop him. He turned back but avoided her hurtful eyes.

“N-no… it’s… it’s alright. It’s fine… I’m fine. You should do this. You should… I-I don’t want to hold you back.” Harry stopped his babbling and just stood there staring at his feet trying not to appear distraught.

“Harry…” Ginny tried to move closer, but Harry backed away into the hall.

“No, no… I’m fine… I should go. I need to go.”

And as quickly as he had arrived, he left.


Chapter 12: Dusk
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Author's Note: Hello everyone! Thank you for all the feedback. I really appreciate it. This chapter is very emotional. I have to say that I am naturally a very big Harry/Hermione shipper, but after writing these moments between Harry and Ginny I actually now root for them. So writing the couple convinced me to like the couple... odd. Anyway please enjoy the latest and as always reviews are much loved and appreciated!
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Chapter 12- Dusk


Hermione sat across from Ginny in their usual booth at the Hermit having met her friend for lunch. Ever since her conversation with Harry a few nights ago, Ginny had been a mess. And like any good friend would do, Hermione had asked Ginny to a lunch date so that the two could talk one on one.

“I just wish he would’ve screamed or yelled or cursed me to kingdom come. I don’t even care. I wish we could’ve had a good row about it, ya know?... But instead he just stood there like… like he was so heart broken. I-I just never wanted this to happen. I never wanted to hurt him.” Ginny fumbled with her empty glass spinning it around slowly in a circle as she recounted her story. Even though they were in a public place and Ginny never cried in public, she could feel the lump grow in the back of her mouth and a hotness form at the edge of her eyes. She swallowed it back down though, refusing as she always did to be the teary eyed, pretty girl bawling in a pub. It wasn’t even one o’clock yet… She couldn’t turn into that girl at least for another four hours.

“Are you still going?” asked Hermione, her concern for her best girlfriend etched all over her face.

“Yes. I’ve already signed the contract… It’s magically binding. I leave at the end of the week,” she sighed, trying to exhale the emotions beneath her chest. “He’s not even speaking to me.”

Hermione reached across the table to pat one of Ginny’s hands. “He’ll come around Ginny. Just give him some time.”

At those words, Ginny gave an airy laugh. “I feel like it’s déjà vu… every few years you give me the same advice. You should really stop repeating yourself,” she said with a sad smile. Hermione tried to give one in return but found that she couldn’t. There was too much pain in Ginny’s eyes to smile.

“How are your parents taking the news?” asked Hermione in attempt to change the subject.

The younger witch just shook her head, rolling her eyes. “They’re trying not to freak out…”

“It’s only because-”

“I’m the baby. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it plenty of times… Honestly, I’m twenty one and they still treat me like I’m eleven,” she muttered annoyed. No matter what, there was nothing Ginny could say or do to stop her family’s reaction. She was the youngest and to top it all off she was the only daughter. The combination pretty much meant that she would forever be babied.

The two sat in quiet contemplation. Hermione smiled at the thought of her surrogate parents and their treatment of their only daughter. As she looked up she caught her friend’s furrowed brow. She saw the ache that had momentarily left the room while they spoke of her parents once again return to her innocent blue eyes.

“I think you’re doing the right thing, Gin,” she stated sincerely.

“Really?” Ginny’s voice came out thick, barely above a whisper. Her eyes immediately filled with tears. “You may be the only one... Because even I think I’m fucking this up.” Ginny placed a strained hand on the edge of her tear ducts trying to push the tears back in.

Hermione shook her head as sure as ever. “No you’re not… Gin, Harry will be waiting for you when you get back. And this… this will be good for you. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but you’ll see. You’ll finally get to go out on your own for once… without those blasted brothers of yours being so protective or tattling on you for every little thing. It’s important to exercise your independence. And even if it turns out to be complete shit,” Ginny smiled a watery smile with Hermione’s curse knowing how rare the occasion, “Well it’s only a year of your life. You’ll only have wasted a year. And even so, you’ll at least have had some experiences to throw under your belt.”

“I s’pose you’re right.” Hermione shot her a quirked eyebrow successfully getting Ginny to laugh despite herself. “Ok… well I guess you’re always right,” she conceded.

“Damn straight,” Hermione replied. Ginny smirked at her friend’s humor. As they got silent once more, Hermione reached her hand across the table and squeezed Ginny’s. Looking her directly in the eye, she said, “It’ll be ok, Gin. It’ll all be ok.”


**********


Harry was lying on the couch sinking into its deep cushions as Hermione returned home from her lunch with Ginny. He barely registered her arrival. Even as she stepped into the room and called his name, he continued watching his program. With a sigh, Hermione grabbed the remote and turned the volume down before sitting on the sofa’s edge. He had been practically comatose the last few days, coming and going without a word.

As she sat down, he didn’t even look at her and instead tilted his head so that he could see around her in order to watch his show.

“Harry.” Again he ignored her when she spoke his name even though she was directly in front of him. Finally with a huff she switched off the television completely. “I will force you to talk to me. Don’t even doubt it.”

He lay silent. No smart come back or cheap shot or yell of disapproval that she’d turned off his program. He merely looked up at her waiting for her to speak her peace so he could go back to zoning out the world and basking in his own misery.

Hermione sighed and resigned herself to just accepting Harry’s attitude just like she had always done over the years when he’d gotten in a certain mood. “I just got back from seeing Ginny,” she began watching as Harry’s eyes darkened over, “She wants you to come to her going away dinner tomorrow.”

She studied his face as she waited for some sort of response. She didn’t get one though.

“It’s at seven at the Burrow… She’s leaving in two days Harry. And I know it’s none of my business, but I think you should try to say goodbye and send her off on ok terms.” Harry’s features gave way to nothing. Hermione continued to press forward though. “Will go with me tomorrow? To the dinner?”

Harry nodded a small degree.

“Will you at least attempt to speak tomorrow?” asked Hermione only to get another nod from Harry. “Well I guess that’ll do then,” she finished handing the remote control back to him. He took it and flipped his show back on as she left the room.

Much to Harry’s displeasure the dinner at the Weasley’s came faster than he was ready for. He felt like he hadn’t prepared himself nearly enough. There were just so many things that he wanted to do. He wanted to yell and scream, but knew he couldn’t. He wanted to curse Ginny and beg her not to go, but knew that even if he did it wouldn’t matter. She had made up her mind long before asking him what his opinion was and he knew there was no changing it. What he thought made no difference. No matter how badly he wanted to scream at her or knock sense into her it would do no good. It was a losing situation. If he yelled, it would only drive her away faster. She was convinced to do this and he could not stand in her way, so he had accepted his defeat in all of its bitter misery.

All that he could do was sit still and watch as the girl he wanted walked out. All that he could do was think and mope. All that he could do was give in.

So he was defeated, resigned to silence as he felt the inner workings of his chest slowly break and fall to the ground one by one. The shattered remnants of his hopes left scattered in her wake.

The entire family was there. Bill, Fleur, Victoire had come from shell cottage. George and Angelina sat in the den. Charlie had made it back for a brief visit and Percy had even come. Then there were others, special guests that Molly had invited for the occasion like Luna, Neville, Seamus, Dean, Andromeda and the five year old Teddy.

Harry had done his best conversing with the family with faux happiness and playing with Teddy. He conjured up as much strength as he could, but even before the group had sat down for dinner Harry could feel his strength waning. Every time he and Ginny made eye contact he felt his heart strings contract and his gut clench. He knew she could see it. He knew because he saw hers do the same.

So as George and Charlie set the table, Harry slipped out to the garden for a breather.

The air was slightly warmer than usual for mid-March. He inhaled deeply. He could smell the spring season approaching in the sweet breeze as it rustled through his hair. With a far off gaze, he watched as the last of the sun’s rays peaked over the horizon shedding the last bit of warmth and light for the day. He stood there, his hands falling limp at his sides.

Suddenly he felt a hand in his, giving his a subtle squeeze.

Turning his head slightly to the side his eyes rested on Hermione. The corner of her mouth twitched slightly into what could have been a smile, but it faded away as her knowing eyes grasped his. Harry turned back to the setting sun. He let out a shaky breath and she held his hand tighter in her own.

“I don’t want to do this,” he said just barely above a whisper. He didn’t have to look at her to know that she had heard him. He knew he didn’t even have to utter the words. She could feel them pulsing through his hand into hers.

“I know,” she said.

They stood like that, soaking in the last beams of light as the night stole into the day.

Harry closed his eyes trying to muster all the courage and resolve that he could. He could feel Hermione’s strength passing through their hands allowing him to borrow some for the evening. A part of him was grateful for her willingness to just give him whatever she could. She always did that. He knew she would hand him the world if she could and would do so selflessly.

With a small exhale, she turned to him once more. “Dinner’s ready, Harry. Come on, let’s go eat.”

Harry nodded solemnly and with one last squeeze from Hermione their hands broke apart. They returned to the Burrow and Harry did his best to pretend to be happy.


**********


It was time.

Ginny watched as the other players said their goodbyes to their families who had come to see them off. Todd was there checking people in and organizing everyone. They stood in the middle of a great field waiting for the portkey to activate and knowing they only had a few more minutes left.

She turned back to her parents.

“Oh Mum, please don’t cry… I’ll be alright,” reassured Ginny as her mother engulfed her in one of her famous Mrs. Weasley hugs.

“I can’t help it…” Pulling away, Mrs. Weasley kept her hands on Ginny’s shoulders looking her over. “You’ll write me?”

“Of course.”

“Everyday?”

Ginny just stared at her mother. “Mum, I’m not going to write you everyday. I probably won’t even have time! We’ve got a packed schedule.”

“Right… right. Well at least once a week then?”

“Absolutely.”

Molly Weasley embraced her only daughter once again, clutching her tightly. Ginny could only sigh at her mother’s obvious problem with letting her go. She knew it was going to happen. The woman had nearly bawled her eyes out when she first told her that she would be spending the next year in America... in Los Angeles nonetheless.

Ginny pulled away and moved down the line to her smiling father.

“You have everything, pumpkin?”

“Yes,” she confirmed before leaning in to kiss his cheek and give him a hug. Mr. Weasley too could not help but give her an extra squeeze before they parted. Ginny could see the near tears in his eyes.

Clearing his throat and swallowing the lump that was there, he told her to be safe. She nodded before again moving down the line to the rest of the family. Fleur had kissed each of her cheeks twice, George had softly punched in her the shoulder before picking her up in a massive hug lifting her two feet up, Percy had muttered something about not staying out too late and taking advantage of her opportunity, Charlie had whispered in her ear that if she got a tattoo while away he wouldn’t tell mum.

Finally Ginny reached the last in the row.

“So he didn’t want to come?”

“I don’t think he could bare it,” answered Hermione truthfully. Ginny nodded sadly before pulling Hermione into a big hug which she of course returned fully. “I love you, Gin. Be safe… You’ll be breaking hearts in America soon enough, I’m sure.”

As she drew back, Ginny gave a wink that caused Hermione to chuckle. “The states don’t even know what’s about to hit them.”

Sighing heavily, Ginny reached down picking up her bag and then stepped back to look at her entire family before her. “Well… I guess I’ll be off then.” With a few last farewells from them, she smiled at her loved ones before turning to join the growing group of athletes around the trash can that would be their portkey to LA.

Ginny approached her peers, fellow Quidditch players that had been recruited for their talent to play in the LA area. All were chatting excitedly about their upcoming training. Even though a part of her was raring to go, another part of her was so full of sadness that she felt she might cry right there in the midst of all that nervous anticipation. Her heart had joined her stomach in the pit of her belly. It had sunk there ever since Hermione had arrived alone.

She wanted to see Harry so badly. She wished that he could be there, but she understood how he couldn’t. It would be hard to watch her go. It would be hard to watch him stay, to see him standing alone without her next to him. Six years. She had kissed him all those years ago in the common room and now she was leaving him. After loving him and wishing he was hers, she finally had him and now she was leaving.

“Three minutes till! You should start making your way over to the portkey,” called Todd to the few players that had yet to gather round the trash can.

Ginny inhaled as she felt the back of her throat spasm with her shaky indrawn breath. Six years. She prayed to God that she wasn’t screwing this up. Six years together. “Please it can’t all go down the drain,” she prayed under her breath.

Her insides were eating away at her. Oh, God. She needed courage. Turning around, her eyes found Hermione’s. She could feel her friend’s words of reassurance from the pub wash back over her. “Gin, Harry will be waiting for you when you get back…. And even if it’s complete shit... Well it’s only a year of your life.

Hermione stared right back at Ginny, her eyes conveying that everything would be ok. Ginny felt herself ease slightly with Hermione’s calm. Her face was sure. Suddenly something off to the right caught Hermione’s attention and her face broke out into a wide smile. Quickly she looked back at Ginny and pointed off through the crowd. Ginny’s head whipped to her left, hoping beyond all belief.

And there he was.

He stood there, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He looked straight into her eyes with such a sad longing. It was all she could take. Her breath shook as she exhaled and immediately tears slid down her cheeks. She was crying in public, but she didn’t care. He was here. He came.

Dropping her bag, she ran to him.

And just like their first, she kissed him with all the passion and wanting she had. Her hands held his face to hers gently. She could taste him mixed with her tears, but she didn’t care. His hands found her hips pulling her to him. He returned her kiss with just as much love. She could feel the ache behind his kiss, but she also knew there was understanding in it too.

They broke apart slowly with Harry leaning his forehead against hers.

“I love you, Harry. I love you so very much,” she said against his lips.

“One minute!!” called Todd from within the heart of the crowd of athletes now all touching some section of the trash can.

Ginny kissed him again. Breaking away only to kiss him twice more. She could feel a new set of tears fall from her eyes. How could she do this? How could she say goodbye? How could she walk away willingly? But she knew she had to. She had to do this. Her life would not be mundane, her life would be spectacular. And here was her chance. She needed to live and the only time she could do so was now. She kissed him one last time.

Pulling away she turned around without even one last look to him. She knew she couldn’t look into his eyes; his beautiful green eyes would only make her stay. She couldn’t afford to stay. If she did, she would end up hating him and the thought of that was the reason for her feet carrying her back to the group, for her hand reaching down to pick up her dropped bag, and for her two fingers finally resting themselves on the portkey. She refused to be one of those wives that resents her husband, that resents her children, that resents the life she was given. No, she could not do that to Harry.

One day in the future they would be married and have loads of children. One day they would have a house and garden gnomes wreaking havoc on their lawn. One day they would be together till death do they part.

But that day was not today, that time was not now.

Now was hers and even though it was selfish she knew she had to take it before it slipped right through her slender fingers. And so with a resolve she never thought she could have, she felt a familiar pull at her navel.

Then she was gone.


Chapter 13: Pressing Encounters
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Author's Note: Hello everybody! Sorry this one has taken a particularly long time to get posted. I hope you all enjoy this chap. Thanks for sticking with me!
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Chapter 13- Pressing Encounters

Harry sat in the middle of his empty apartment, in his empty living room, in the middle of his empty couch.

His posture was slumped and his hands lay resting on his knees as he gazed about the room before him. His eyes traveled along the shelves on the walls which were full due to Hermione’s books from her moving in. Every time she left for one of her business trips she always returned with a new one since with each destination she simply HAD to visit a bookstore. The bursting shelves were packed with books from just about every country in Europe along with a few from farther away countries… like Egypt and India. When did Hermione have the time to go to Egypt? Or India for that matter? Harry didn’t have a clue.

Some books were in the craziest languages, languages Harry could not even recognize. Some were the most interesting books he’d ever seen, the rest of course with it being Hermione were the most boring. And even though at first Harry considered them an eyesore and possibly a nuisance, he was beginning to find them comforting. They reminded him of her and occasionally, despite his drastic drop in personality, caused a ghost of a smirk to flicker at the corner of his mouth. Not even Harry putting in extra shelves could hold them all as her affinity was too great since she also had stacks that he knew to be in her room. She had of course only chosen her real treasures to be displayed in what was his- but was now their- living room.

Despite the many volumes on the wall saying otherwise, her travels as of late had been cut nearly in half which was why there were no new tomes to weigh down Harry’s shelves and mantel. She had decided to cool it on her work with I.F.E and instead had been catching up on old cases she’d left long forgotten on her desk at the Ministry.

Strictly speaking as an auror, Harry suspected that Hermione had lessened her travels because he knew she was aware of the dangers that now came with her voyages. She had taken heed to Antonia’s warning. She knew each place was a whole new set of risks, a whole new set of variables that she needed to be protected from. Hermione was a smart girl and as an auror, Harry knew that she was trying to limit herself. He also knew that her lack of traveling was the last thing the Department wanted. They wanted her to take risks, they wanted her exposed.

But as her friend, though, he felt relieved with her downsizing not only because he was glad she was safe, but also because he simply was less sad with her around. Even though she didn’t say it, he knew that another part of her cutting back was due to him. She had been worried about him ever since Ginny had left and part of her staying had been so that she could keep her ever watchful eye on him.

Harry didn’t mind though.

Hermione was about the only person he could really tolerate. He had been depressed and moody and quiet ever since Ginny had gone. But, he found, the one person that understood was Hermione. She knew him so well by now that he didn’t need to say what was going on in his head. She just got it. And more importantly, she accepted him for the somber and slightly dull wizard he had become ever since Ginny’s departure.

The apartment was quiet.

He liked sitting in the quiet. He liked sitting in the dark lately too. Alone here he could brood, he could mull over Ginny without reservation or looks of pity. It had been three weeks since their kiss in the wide open field and her taking a portkey to LA. She hadn’t written or flooed at all since.

Molly had let Harry read over one of her letters that she had received. It seemed like Ginny was doing well: moving into a new apartment with Susan Norcross, waking up early for training, meeting new people. She only wrote a few short paragraphs. Molly had explained that Ginny was always busy. The league kept them on pretty much an hour by hour schedule: practices, work shops, signings, promotions. It was all very hectic.

He tried to fake like he wasn’t disappointed that he hadn’t gotten a letter. He knew that she wanted space and that writing him would be too hard. There really wasn’t much left to say anyway.

Harry’s eyes continued to graze over his dimly lit apartment. He sighed.

It was what she needed to do, he knew that. And he had to let her go, he knew that too. But still, he couldn’t help the ache.

Just as he was about to succumb fully to his thoughts, he heard the door to the apartment open and then shut softly. Hermione was home.

He watched as she walked into the living room and spotted him. She didn’t even shed her coat like she normally did hanging it up in her usual routine in the hall closet, but instead moved over to him and plopped down next to him, lounging back into the cushions while he sat up and away from them.

“Staring at nothing again?”

Harry nodded gravely and then joined her by leaning back against the sofa.

Hermione watched him from the corner of her eye noting his gloominess. Everyday for the past three weeks, she would find him like this.

Brooding.

For the last three weeks, she would come home and search for unhappy Harry in some part of the apartment. Here on the couch, out on the patio, leaning against the kitchen sink, lying on his bed staring up at the ceiling at NOTHING. He’d been morose for so long. Hermione had yet to deduce the proper amount of time one was allowed to be such a lovesick gloomy fool. The whole situation had her slightly agitated with Ginny. Not of course for leaving, she by all means agreed with Gin needing to get away. Her reasoning was based solely off of a completely different problem.

The witch had broken Harry. Literally. The poor bloke could not even function. And… it was annoying.

Hermione found it all rather ironic to say the least. She’d come to Harry and moved in with him a sad weepy mess. He’d been beside himself with trying to get her out of it. And now… well… the roles were reversed. He was the sad- albeit not weepy- mess and she was the fumbling idiot trying to get him out of it.

She looked over at Harry again. He was just so cheerless. AND miserable. It was almost laughable.

And once that thought popped into her head, Hermione found herself smiling. Suddenly she couldn’t hold it in anymore. She chuckled softly cupping a hand over mouth in an attempt to stifle it. The effort did no good as it only made her burst out.

Harry was looking at her like she’d grown a second head. How could she laugh at a time like this?

“You alright?”

Hermione put a hand up and nodded. “I’m fine… fine.” She tried to pull herself together, she tried to get serious, but her cheeks could not keep her smile at bay. Finally she gave in and erupted into a fit. Harry’s peeved look only set her off more.

“Ok what? What is it?” Harry asked impatiently.

“It’s nothing…” she managed to get out in between fits. “It’s just…” Another hit of snickers came over her. “You really are pathetic.”

This time she laughed unabashedly at Harry despite his evil eye towards her.

“I can’t believe YOU of all people are saying that!” He cried incredulously. She only giggled harder. And before he knew what was happening, a small smile was forming on his mouth too. Harry fought against it. “You were just as pathetic two months ago,” he countered.

“I agree with you completely,” she smirked. Harry merely looked at her, forcing his cheeks not to tug at the edges of his mouth. He reminded himself how irked he was about her laughing.

“It’s not funny.”

“No, no of course it isn’t,” she said as her face pretended to go serious again even though there was an obvious glint in her eye. She didn’t last long though. She could not force her new found humor at the situation away and so she smiled once again.

“Oh shut it… it’s NOT funny.”

“No, no it’s really not… not one bit,” she faux agreed, again pretending to be in a sober mood.

“I don’t appreciate this… you’re supposed to be understanding,” he chastised. Hermione could tell that he was trying to not find the situation amusing. She could also tell that it wasn’t entirely working.

“Harry, love, you are sitting in the dark. Alone. Staring at nothing… whether you like to admit it or not you are pathetic.” She sat up and turned back around to look at him.

“Ahhh… I guess you’re right,” he conceded.

“I am… I always am.” She grabbed his hand. “Now it’s about time we get you out of this funk. Let’s go to the Hermit and get pissed. Neville and Luna are supposed to meet us there anyway.” She stood up pulling him with her.

It was about time for his mood to end. He’d been sitting in a stew of his own gloom for the last three weeks and Hermione had decided that it was now time for that gloom to be over. Neville and Luna had mentioned the pub earlier, but she had brushed it aside. After seeing Harry in the same state he’d been in everyday, she could no longer stand for it. The pub was beginning to sound like a fantastic idea. And so, she dragged him to his room, picked out a nice shirt, and shoved him towards the bathroom for a shower. He would have fun that’s for sure... even if she had to force him to have it!


**********


“Ginny! Ginny! Will you marry me??!!!”

“Come on, girl! Save this poor man’s heart by marryin him!”

Ginny pushed her way through the throngs of people to get out of the locker room. With the amount of press and publicity Todd was putting all the Razorback players through it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that there were that many people there. But Ginny was, nonetheless, surprised.

“Ms. Weasley! Sign my chest!”

She couldn’t help but laugh at the crazy request. Quickly she grabbed the flesh ink quill and scribbled her usual signature on the guy’s pectoral. She handed him back his quill and he blushed a deep red as she smiled. Ever since she had arrived the entire town had been buzzing. Already, LA’s very own Witch Weekly had featured her on their top twenty most beautiful Quidditch players edition- she was number six.

No sooner had the article been printed had young wizards from all over started gathering outside of the locker rooms each day after her training. It was that article that had really spiked the public’s interest especially with the inside scoop that she was now recently single. She’d been getting daily marriage requests since.

The irony in life never ceased to amaze her. Here she was in LA running away from a marriage proposal in England only to receive dozens of them a day.

Ginny continued through the crowd as she tried to get to the apparating station. The huge group seemed to follow her as she went snapping photographs, yelling questions, and overall trying to get her attention.

“Ginny, marry me!!!! I came all the way from Denver!”

“Ms. Weasley! Ms. Weasley! Sign my broom!!!”

Finally she made it to the cleared apparation zone and as fast as she could get out of there she did. With a pop, she landed outside of her apartment complex. Fortunately the screaming young men were not waiting here, but unfortunately, the press was. Ginny forced her way through, up to the door repeating, “No comment.” The phrase had pretty much become her mantra as of late. She shuffled past them and made it inside.

Oh the quiet of her complex.

Ginny shut the door behind her and leaned up against it with a loud sigh. She really did need to get a body guard of some sort. American fans and the press were way nosier than all the British fans she’d ever had combined. It was like all of the Rita Skeeters of the world had flocked to Los Angeles and decided to hound her.

“How’s Witch Weekly’s most eligible Bachelorette?”

Looking up, Ginny saw the familiar brown haired, lean bodied figure of her manager as he peaked from over his newspaper. He was sitting in one of the lobby chairs calm and relaxed, but then again Todd always seemed to have a certain tranquil aura about him.

“Exhausted,” she said emphasizing it by caving in her shoulders.

“Well… it’ll all pass soon. Americans have a short attention span. This week it’s you, next week it’s somebody else.”

Ginny nodded and then pushed off the door. “I sure hope so… there’s not much more I can take of this. I’m thinking I should get a body guard.”

Todd waved the comment aside. “That’s a waste. Just start using the back exit to the locker room.”

“There’s a back exit?”

“Yesss… How do you think I get back here so quickly?”

Ginny simply shrugged, “I didn’t know… I wish you would’ve thought to tell me this earlier.”

“I figured you liked all the attention. It’s not everyday you get to sign a guy’s chest,” teased Todd with a smile. Ginny rolled her eyes.

“They really are absolutely ridiculous… I’ve gotten four marriage proposals. And I’m not talking about the ones where they scream at me on my way home… Like real proposals. On a knee with a ring and everything. It’s absurd… Are you Americans really so full of yourselves?”

“It’s not that we’re full of ourselves. It’s just that any man would gladly make a fool of himself for a chance to be with a beautiful woman,” he replied sincerely. Ginny couldn’t help the blush that rose in her cheeks. After all Todd was a fairly good looking bloke. He had that tall, athletic build but also the personality to match it. He was confident at all the right times, but humble too. He was attractive in an honest sort of way. Granted he was a bit older than she was used to, but still his comment was flattering and worthy of a blush all the same.

“Thank you,” she said before making her way to the stairs. Todd smiled and then proceeded to read his paper. Ginny could not tell if he had said it out of politeness or if for some other reason. She highly doubted that he’d be the type to date one of his own players. It seemed too improper… Todd seemed to be a hard truths kind of bloke and it was unlikely that he’d jeopardize anything. So as she climbed the stairs to her apartment she decided to take the comment as a mere courtesy.

Still, he was cute though.


**********


The pub was practically crawling with people inside. The weekend was reason enough to celebrate for the loads of drunken and loud wizards and witches that packed inside of the Hermit. Seamus and Dean were both there, albeit not working. They’d taken the night off in order to engage in some long overdue mischief with their fellow ex-classmates. Neville was already snockered, but felt the need to order another round for the group as he was stumbling up to the bar.

“Well ‘arry! I tink ya’ve done it! Da pub’s a hit!!!” cried Seamus over the crowd.

“This place would’ve been hit regardless of whether or not I was a regular,” said Harry with a shrug. Harry’s humble opinion made no matter as Seamus and Dean both clapped Harry on the back in a brotherly sort of way. Neville returned with the next round.

“Oi! Perfect timin’ Neville! We’re in need of a toast!” Seamus raised his glass while the rest of the table followed suit. “To ma and Dean’s successful pub!!”

“To the pub!! Cheers!”

They all clinked their glasses spilling foaming brew over the sides and then took huge long gulps.

“I suspect the pub would do well anyway. There’s nargles in alcohol, I hear. They make you blissful, but also can cloud your judgment. If you drink too much they fill up your head and it gets too stuffy. Too many ingested nargles can give quite a nasty headache,” explained Luna airily.

“There’s also alcohol in alcohol, I hear,” replied Hermione with a quirked eyebrow.

“Oh… what does that do?”

“Pretty much the same thing… You still think it’s the nargles don’t you?”

“Let’s just agree to disagree, eh?” Hermione shrugged, but soon her face broke into a smile. Luna laughed good-naturedly and clinked her glass to Hermione’s. The platinum blonde had long been accustomed to Hermione’s reasonable way of thinking and thus her comments on Luna’s seemingly farfetched delusions. But what would years ago have been a rude judgment on Luna’s wacky preposterous ideas had softened and turned into banter, into affectionate teasing. Moreover, Hermione had come to think of Luna as a great friend. Where as Luna forced Hermione to let go of trained, book read concepts Hermione had brought Luna closer to a more logical side of things. Ultimately the friendship was beneficial for them both in an odd mutualistic sort of way.

As the conversation turned to other things, Hermione’s eyes looked across the booth to once again find Harry gazing down into his cup, a frown marking his features. She sighed. She had brought him out in hopes that being around people would get his mind of off things, but every now and again when she looked over she’d discover him staring off at something. Sure, he’d been congenial when addressed, but once the conversation drifted off as it did at that very moment… well, that’s when she’d catch the sad Harry seeping back up to the surface again.

Glancing down at her watch she caught the time. It was already getting quite late and it didn’t look like being out anymore was helping Harry get any better. With a long drag she finished off the last of her mug before setting it back on the table with a clang.

“Oi! Yoooooou gettin’ da next round, Misss Granger?” asked Neville cheerily from the stool he was perched upon. He seemed to be swaying as he spoke.

“No, I’m afraid not. I should be getting back. It’s late.” Hermione stood and shuffled out of the booth.

“Oh no! Ya can’t leave! Not at a time like this!” shouted Seamus in outrage. “Da party’s just startin’!!!”

“I’m sure it is! But I have to be up early,” replied Hermione as she leaned across to kiss Seamus’ cheek. She did the same for Neville and Dean and then gave a small wave to Luna who was too far nestled in the corner of the booth for her to reach. “Harry, you ready?”

Harry nodded finishing off the last of his drink before standing up. He bid his mates goodbye and then followed Hermione through the thick of people to get to the exit.

“Ahhh… it’s such a good night,” breathed Hermione as they entered the street. The spring had finally arrived and even though normally the night time was still a tad chilly, this night wasn’t. The air was pleasant and the light jacket she wore was enough to keep her content. She turned back to Harry as he hung back stuffing his hands deep into his typical black coat.

“Yeah it is, I guess.”

She stood in the street looking him up and down. “When did you get to be so dreary?” She inched a little bit forward. “Tonight is wonderful! And all you have to say is ‘Yeah I guess’,” she teased as she did her best to mock his unenthusiastic tone.

Harry merely shrugged in his usual way, his jacket ends lifting as he raised his hands that were still anchored in his coat.

“You know I’m about tired of people saying that I take the mickey out of every situation because if they would’ve seen,” Hermione raised a pointing finger to him, “Mr. Harry Potter in that pub then surely they would reconsider! I’ve never been so bored in my life! And half of it’s been spent in a library with dusty old books… and right now they have more personality than you!”

Hermione’s teasing didn’t seem to do any good. Harry was motionless only ducking his head down in quiet thought after a moment.

“Well…” she sighed. “This night is beautiful… Too bad it’s such a waste.” Hermione then did something she rarely ever did as she had previously found it too girly for someone of her intelligence to willingly partake in. She twirled. Right there in the street. It was a gorgeous night. The air was ripe with a new spring and more than anything she felt happy and was feeling carefree, so she did it. She twirled in the street as if her life was a shabby musical.

She stopped when she spotted something she hadn’t seen in a long, long while. Three weeks to be exact. It had been something she had missed dearly, something she’d been trying to coax out of hiding.

The fleeting, yet ever present boyish smirk of Harry Potter.

“Harry… what is that I see?” Hermione returned his as she stepped closer to him. “Is that a smile, I see?”

Harry looked down at his feet, slightly bashful now that he’d been caught. “Can’t help it… You’re twirling in the street like an idiot,” he muttered.

“You know I’ve had to room with this depressing tosspot these last few weeks. Needless to say, it’s been dreadful! I’ve been bored to tears!” She grabbed his lapels of his jacket straightening them and pulling him closer. “It’s about time you came back.”

Hermione tilted her head trying to catch his eyes, but he averted them keeping them trained on his shoes. Finally, her hand reached up to his face and with a single curved finger she gently lifted his chin till her eyes could meet his. “Harry… I’ve missed you.”

Her voice was so sincere and her eyes glinted with something that Harry had never seen before, something he couldn’t quite place was nestled within her depths. He felt himself getting lost in them like he had all those days ago on the streets walking to that little Italian library to meet Aldo for the first time.

She seemed hesitant to do something but then as she swallowed a decided gulp, her hand moved to the side of his face. She watched in fascination as it caressed his cheek ever so softly. Harry on the other hand kept his eyes locked on her. As her hand lay against the side of his face stroking it tenderly with the pad of her thumb, he couldn’t help himself as he leaned into her open palm.

Her eyes darted back to his. And once again, they were stuck. Locked in something that they had never been locked in before. There had been moments before, intense and powerful, but they’d always broken them, they’d always drawn away before more could come. This was different. He couldn’t move away not even if he wanted to. And neither could she.

He had longed for touch, longed for soft caresses in the night. It was the main reason why he had been sleeping on the couch. Lately, his bed had seemed far too big to be shared alone. Sleeping alone with no one next to him pressed up against his chest after having someone continually there doing so for the last four years… well, it was unbearable. So he had resorted to the couch where there was no space, where if he didn’t think about it he could convince himself that the backing of it was the warm bodied girl he wished to be next to.

And Hermione had left him be for the most part, letting him deal in solitary as he had done with her all those months ago after her break up with Ron. Sure, she had comforted him and talked him through some rough patches over the last three weeks. He’d yelled and screamed and cursed at her in ways that he had been unable to do with Ginny. But for the majority of the time, she’d let him cope on his own only going near him when the situation and his emotions deemed it necessary, comforting him only when he’d on the rare occasion let his tide pool of feelings flood him.

Yet, here she was. Her hand pressed against his cheek affectionately as if she’d slipped just this once, as if she’d given into some urge she had wanted to give into but had been suppressing. In truth, she had been waiting for a long time for the real Harry to resurface and with his long absent smile and the look in his eyes as she raised his chin she found herself unable to hold back. She wasn’t lying when she’d said she missed him.

Hermione’s thumb continued to graze his stubbly skin as Harry exhaled a long, deep breath closing his eyes as he did so releasing a tension he’d been holding within him for three weeks, a tension only Hermione could undo.

There they were, on the street in the middle of Diagon Alley having one of the most intimate moments they’d ever had.

Suddenly a flash clicked.


Chapter 14: A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Author's Note: Hello everyone! Some of you have been aching for some true Harry and Hermione romance. Well, this chapter along with the last one are the beginning of quite a fantastic arc so consider your wishes granted! Enjoy...
___________________________________________

Chapter 14- A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words


Harry was fuming.

He was angrier than he had been for quite some time. As he hastened down the hall towards the very large office at the end of it, he almost imagined the steam radiating out of his pores. Ignoring the secretary’s call of “Mr. Potter! Wait, he’s busy!” Harry threw open the door to Arthur Weasley’s office.

Arthur sat at the edge of his seat eagerly reading a paper that lay flat on his desk, but he looked up startled that someone had barged into his office at such an early hour.

“Harry! You gave me a fright! What are you doing here?”

Harry strode over and without a word threw the Daily Prophet down on the Minister’s desk. There really was no need as the paper that Arthur had been reading was in fact the same one. The older wizard sighed running a hand through his thinning red hair.

Arthur had been leaving the Burrow for work that morning when the owl came with the Prophet and instantly, he knew he’d be receiving a visit from the raven haired man before him that he had long considered a son.

“What am I doing here?! That’s what I’m doing here!” shouted Harry pointing at the paper in fury. Arthur looked down at the front page already knowing what he would find. There atop that first page was something so enchanting… and in more ways than just the movement of it.

It showed a couple in the middle of a street. The young woman gently tugging at the man’s jacket collar bringing him closer only to nudge his chin up so that he would look at her. Her hand softly reached up to caress his cheek while the young man leaned into the touch closing his eyes. Then, as if they’d been caught in the most shameful of acts, the two broke apart to stare right into the camera obviously having been surprised by the click.

Arthur knew that the ever inquisitive and sneaky cameras of the Daily Prophet had nabbed real gold when they snapped this particular photo of a couple in quite an honest and intimate moment. As the scene replayed all over again, Arthur took note of what pretty much every witch and wizard was going to think once they saw it or had already thought by seven o’clock that morning with the paper’s distribution, Hermione Granger had just been about to kiss Harry Potter. In the middle of Diagon Alley no less! What a picture!

“Well, Harry, what would you have me do?” asked Arthur bewildered.

Immediately Harry started pacing. “I thought you had convinced the papers to stop making up stories about my personal life!”

“That’s true… except this article is completely factual,” replied Arthur calmly. “Ms. Chang did a rather fine job with writing it actually,” added Arthur as a side note while once again leaning over to peak at the article. “She’s really quite clever… the only thing implying is the-”

Arthur stopped abruptly when he looked up and caught the death glare Harry was giving him.

It was true, though. Cho had detailed the recent developments in his life somehow without prying into it or tainting it in anyway. She’d offered a well written objectification of his job, of his recent break up- which now was common knowledge to everyone- and then had simply concluded the article by saying that he and Hermione had been ‘the closest of friends’.

Harry couldn’t help but hear the undertone of that word and he knew what Cho was really saying as did, he suspected, the entirety of the wizarding world! That word in combination with the picture was enough reasoning for everyone to believe that Harry was no longer a bachelor. It was like fourth and fifth year all over again!

“Oh stop looking at me like that, Harry! It’s true. Ms. Chang was probably scolded for not taking a more biting, more gossiping tone… Merlin knows what that awful Rita Skeeter woman would’ve written about you. You’re lucky it wasn’t her!”

“Well what about the Potter Privacy Act?! Doesn’t that apply here?!” cried Harry in a last ditch effort for Arthur to see his case.

“Harry, that act was created with Giants and Centaurs in mind-”

“So! It’s named after me!” He retorted rather childishly as he plopped down in one of the cushioned chairs across from Arthur.

“True, but the act only ensures the privacy of magical beings while in their own domains. You and Hermione were in a public street… outside of one of the most talked about pubs in the Alley, I might add. There’s simply nothing I can do about this Harry. It’s completely legal.”

Harry removed his glasses with one hand while the other came up to rub his eyes frustratingly.

“Harry, can I give you some advice?” Harry’s hand fell and he returned his glasses only to look at Arthur with a worn, awaiting expression. “Well for starters, I wouldn’t make too much of this. The more you react, the more people will talk. It’s best if you just act is if nothing’s really happening.”

“You want me to ignore it?”

“Yes. The more boring you are the less people will be interested. They’ll give up and move on to some other piece of news. Just don’t give them anything to gossip about,” finished Arthur, his eyes taking in the thought laden man in front of him.

Harry’s mind felt like it was on overdrive. Every time he looked at the picture, he found himself staring. Once he’d gotten the paper that morning he’d literally sat watching the scene repeat itself over and over again for a half hour. He hadn’t even bothered to actually read the article until he’d gotten to his desk and guiltily pulled it out to take another peak. He felt angry and confused all at once.

Angry because the bright flash of the camera and the noise of the picture being clicked into timelessness had interrupted something so personal, something so private. He and Hermione rarely showed their feelings for each other. Of course everyone knew that they deeply cared for one another, they knew that the pair were close in a way that no one could entirely understand- not even Ron or Ginny on occasion. But it was rare when Hermione expressed so to him, it was rare for them to be so tender especially in such a public place. Their greatest exchanges, the ones filled with their true intimacy for each other, had happened while alone. Times when they’d been alone on a walk by the lake or in the common room tucked in a corner. Or in the case of what would’ve been their seventh year as the war drew on, alone in a tent or standing before the graveyard of his parents. No one had ever been able to join them in those moments. No one.

Harry felt angry because for the most part he felt exposed. For the first time, he felt naked.

The camera had snapped a most deep and dear moment in his private life. And now it was open for the world to see. A concept he feared.

And even though there was that outrage of being stripped of one’s privacy, there was another cause for his harsh reaction. As he gazed upon the picture, he watched in complete fascination as the messy haired man that he would later come to realize was him closed his eyes and for just that millisecond he would watch as this lovely creature he’d found was actually Hermione leaned in closing just a small bit of distance. Staring at that captured millisecond as it replayed over and over, Harry discovered something that he had never fully admitted to himself before. He realized that in that moment, and even now staring at the photograph from the chair where he sat, he wanted Hermione to kiss him.

As the scene unfolded again and again, he found himself wishing again and again that this seemingly unknown witch- this witch that at first glance to the photograph took him a moment to recognize- would lean in ever more and seal her lips to his.

And it was this thought that confused him more than he had ever been in concern with his relationship with Hermione. It was this same thought that had angered him further at the rude interruption by the camera, another odd emotion sending him spiraling into confusion. She was so close to changing their friendship forever. He could literally see how close she was as he got to- now thanks to the Prophet- rewatch it over and over again. She was so close and they had interfered. They’d broken the moment. And so Harry was angry. Angry for the insight into his life, but most of all angry because the paper had prematurely ended something that he had now come to realize was something he had wanted to happen. A thought in itself that now that he was aware of it caused his brain to turn to jam.

He felt his mind turn with all the wonderings of his imagination.

What if they hadn’t been there? Would she have kissed him? Did he really want her to kiss him? Was it Hermione’s kiss or just any witch’s kiss that he desired? Was this feeling just a case of loneliness? Could this simply be reduced to him just missing Ginny? Had Hermione even wanted to or was it just an interpretation of a well timed photograph? Would he have kissed her back?

It was right here when his thoughts normally ceased. This was the thought he had gotten stuck on. He had already identified and established that he’d wanted her to kiss him- even though the reasoning was still up for debate- but now came the telling truth of whether or not he would’ve reciprocated. Would he have returned the kiss? It’s easy to want a kiss. It’s easy to be lonely and wish for another to rid that ever torturous feeling from your mind. But it’s harder to return the kiss. It’s harder taking that split second to suss out your feelings and then decide if you feel it too. So would he have returned the kiss?

There was a very deep part of him that knew the answer to that question. And that was the biggest thing he’d been wrestling with for the last hour, squelching down that answer. Because that answer alone would and could change everything. Because it wasn’t just any old witch leaning in, it wasn’t just some bimbo he’d met at the pub and gotten hammered with. It was Hermione.

Arthur’s knowing look turned to one of concern for Harry as he leaned forward to put his elbows on his desk. “It’s just a picture, Harry.”

Harry nodded, but still he felt an overwhelming dread at returning home that evening to the girl that now permanently inhabited his thoughts.

“Just talk to her, Harry. I’m sure she feels just as confused and manipulated as you do,” said Arthur wisely, seemingly reading the young man’s features.

The older wizard stood up and walked around his desk. As Arthur leaned up against the strong mahogany front of his work space, he bent down to whisper one thing. “And if that picture was implying something true… or maybe something that might be true in the future… then it is perfectly alright, Harry. By all means, it’s normal! You two have been dear friends for a very, very long time. You’ve been through things together that many have never dreamed of enduring together. And look at you. You’ve both come out the better having known the other… Plus she’s a wonderful girl that Hermione… It’s ok if there’s something more.”

Arthur had never been one to judge. It was things like preplanned conclusions that caused the world to take a step back instead of a healthy step forward. So the ginger haired man had long ago refused to participate in such an ancient and outdated action. Yes, he refused to pass judgment… especially on those that he loved. And Harry had been classified under that category for a very long time.

Harry nodded trying to somehow find comfort in Arthur’s reassurances and understanding. Then, slowly he arose and made for the door.

“Oh and Harry,” called Arthur just as the boy had opened the door. “Take this… I’ve already got a copy.” With a flick of his wand, Arthur sent the second paper straight to Harry’s hand.

Harry only shook his head before walking out, still clutching the paper.


**********


“So did you want to kiss him then?” asked Luna inquisitively, her calculating eyes focused on the girl across from her.

“No!.... I don’t know… maybe.” Hermione groaned in a confused, frustrated sort of way.

“Well… it sure looks like you did,” inserted Neville squishing into the seat next to Luna. He dished out the girls’ drinks. The three had met at the Leaky Cauldron for lunch and of course the topic had found its way to the Daily Prophet’s picture in the paper.

Hermione groaned once again and then lowered her head to the table hitting the top with a thunk. “Ow…” she murmured before going quiet.

“Oh Hermione it’s not as awful as you’re making it.” Luna took a sip of her bubbling and smoking drink, hers being the only one at the table that did so. “Things could be a lot worse.”

Hermione lifted her head to shoot Luna a befuddled expression. “Luna what could possibly be worse?”

“Well for starters… I think it’d be worse if Harry didn’t want to kiss you back.”

“What makes you think he wanted to kiss me back?”

“So you admit you wanted to kiss him then?” interjected Neville eagerly. Hermione glared at him.

“No! I am not admitting nor denying anything… I am merely following Luna’s train of thought.” Neville raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Oh whatever!” cried Hermione before turning back to Luna, “Luna what did you mean?”

“By what?” asked Luna without a clue as usual, suddenly having forgotten the conversation they were in the midst of.

Hermione rolled her eyes in exasperation.

“You know I hear that if you roll your eyes too many times they’ll get stuck in the back of your head… and you’ll forever be left looking at your brain,” commented Luna as a side note.

“LUNA… please! Back to the subject!”

“Oh right… well I’d think it’d be worse if he didn’t want to kiss you back.”

“And…” Hermione persuaded, trying to push Luna further so that she would share her logic.

“And well he does, so the situation is not all that horrible.”

“But how do you know he does?”

Luna simply looked upon Hermione with the utmost pity. “Hermione, a picture speaks a thousand words… it’s really quite obvious. He’s wanted to kiss you for a while, I reckon. Probably just didn’t know he wanted to until today.”

Neville nodded in agreement with Luna’s statement. Tom came around and took their orders before hastening off to fill them.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” shrugged Neville, successfully getting a rather peeved look from Hermione. “I mean… well… have you honestly never thought of kissing him before?”

Hermione stared down into her mug. “No… honestly, no I haven’t.”

“I don’t understand you two… You’re a pretty girl,” Hermione managed to squeeze in an “Awe, thanks Neville,” before he could continue, “and he’s a rather attractive bloke. I just don’t see how it could’ve never, not even once, crossed your mind,” muttered Neville in clear bewilderment.

“Well I guess… I guess we just never thought about it. Or well… I guess I never really thought about it- I can’t really speak for Harry… But it always seemed like we’d both made an agreement somewhere along the way to just not think about that sort of thing. I think I classified him as just a friend and then… well I guess it never changed,” finished Hermione breathily.

Tom returned with their meals and handed them out appropriately to the three. He muttered, “Enjoy,” before traipsing back behind the bar.

Neville returned to the topic at hand, “But that just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Why not?”

“Well, you just can’t classify something that can’t be classified,” Neville exclaimed wisely.

“Now that sounds like nonsense to me,” Hermione retorted before taking a bite of her fish and chips.

“Oh no Hermione… It makes perfect sense,” interjected Luna with complete understanding. Despite her being called the ‘brightest witch of her age’, Hermione seemed at loss for the point her two friends were trying to put forth.

“Hermione,” began Neville leaning in didactically as if he were teaching a student a simple charm, “You can’t classify something like relationships because well relationships, you see… they change. They’re dynamic. Relationships evolve day by day, year by year. You’re classification of Harry as purely a friend WITHOUT any feelings of… of a sexual,” Neville turned a bit red with the word, “nature might’ve worked as a prepubescent twelve year old, but that all gets thrown out the window when you hit puberty! You’re a girl, he’s a boy… there’s hormones… and stuff.”

Hermione continued to appear confused as to what Neville was saying. With a patient ease, Neville sighed before trying again.

“What I’m trying to say is that yes you did classify him as a friend back when you were twelve, but whether you realized it or not you’re classification of him changed as you grew older. You may think that you think… or well I guess… you may think that you thought he was just simply your friend and that you had no romantic feelings towards him at all, but well you didn’t… Clearly! I mean you have a picture on the front page of the Prophet to prove it!” cried Neville with visible enthusiasm.

“Good job, Neville,” congratulated Luna with a smile as she patted Neville’s hand. The two sat there quite content with Neville’s explanation.

Hermione’s hazelnut eyes only seemed to be more confused and flustered by Neville’s words. “So you’re saying that for the last several years of my life I have clung to an outdated classification and that I have swept my feelings for Harry under the rug!” She exclaimed looking pointedly at her two friends sitting across from her.

“It’s not like you clung to it knowingly…”

“What Neville means is that you stuck with it because it was the only thing you knew. It was comfortable… Also Ginny and Ron helped to reinforce it, I would say,” supposed Luna with a finger against her chin thoughtfully.

Hermione shook her head lost in all the questions, thanks to Neville and Luna, now running circles in her brain.

“I mean… Hermione… why do you think all of Hogwarts thought you two were together for all those years?” inquired Neville his soft eyes trying to read Hermione’s expression.

The only thing Hermione could do was shrug. She’d never asked herself to look into it more. At the time there were always so many other things to worry about… Like making sure Harry didn’t die for goodness sake! But the harder she thought, the more she recalled instances where she felt… well, she didn’t know what she felt. But still, she recalled those times alone with him where the world seemed to only consist of just him and her and now as she looked back, she saw things differently. His smile meant something else. Her body language meant something else.

She remembered catching his eye when Victor mispronounced her name and grinning back at him while at the Yule ball. She remembered glancing over at him that entire night. An act that could have been innocent, but now as she remembered how often she had done so it did not seem to be based on anything that could even remotely be considered friendly. She remembered how they fought fifth year over him blindly running off to save Sirius because she just couldn’t bare the thought of him getting hurt. She’d much prefer him angry with her for telling him the truth, for facing him head on than have him hurt… or worse, dead. The thought alone, still, tore at her heart.

Constantly over the years, she had defended him because she knew… she just knew. By fourth year she could read his mind like a book, cover to cover. There was no way he put his name into that goblet because if he had she would’ve seen it in his eyes. And as the years went on her almost uncanny knowledge of what he was thinking only intensified to the point where if he even thought about lying he couldn’t look her straight in the face for fear that she’d catch on. She ended up figuring it out then by his avoidance.

As she sat there in the Leaky Cauldron pushing her fish and chips around, she couldn’t help but wonder… Do friends really pay that close attention to each other?

But most of all her mind swirled with the memories of what would have been their seventh year. Her gut twisted, even now, with worry over his safety. She’d lost sleep countless times simply trying to invent back up plans for the back up plan just so that she could protect him, so that she could keep him alive. She closed her eyes and then suddenly she was back in the tent with him alone. It felt riddled with tension, a tension so thick it made her throat constrict. It was like something wasn’t being said, something was hidden beneath the surface and she couldn’t quite place her finger on it. Was it just loneliness? Were they both just wanton for their absent crushes? Or was there something more between them?

Her mind pushed forward to that night when they’d read of Dumbledore’s secret life. How hurt she had been having known that it was her that had broken his wand, how they argued over their late Headmaster’s true character. But most of all she remembered the need to touch him, to reach out in some form and reassure him. So she had. She had stroked his hair softly before reentering the tent and leaving him alone with his thoughts. She had slipped that night… just like she had done last night outside of the Hermit. Her need to be near him, to soothe him had somehow taken over her own body and she had no more been in control of her wayward limbs as Lupin had been of his werewolf self.

And so she was left with last night. Where on that street… after weeks of Harry being a shell, her seeing his smile for the first time and knowing she’d been the one to draw it out from hiding, watching as he returned back to her, and finding that she could not help but draw him close and savor his renewed presence. Had she really wanted to kiss him right then? Was it really some subconscious need that was moving her closer to him of its own accord? Or had she known what she was doing? Had she somehow registered in the back of her mind her need to kiss him and change their friendship to something more? Did she really want him in that way?

She reopened her eyes and swallowed, preparing herself for the answer she already knew, an answer both Neville and Luna had agreed was one that she had been overlooking for quite some time. She exhaled deeply before saying what she knew was true.

Yes.


Chapter 15: Interrogation of a Mancini
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Author's Note: I'd like to thank everyone for all of the positive support and reviews! I have one last chapter to post for Persuasion so that means that I can post the chapters for this story quicker instead of every other week. Get geared up! Anyway enjoy the latest...
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Chapter 15- The Interrogation of a Mancini


Ron strode briskly down the long hallway. The corridor was wide and lined with many portraits, all moving and whispering harshly to each other as Ron passed by. At the end of the hall were two large oak doors. Without even bothering to knock, Ron shoved them open to reveal the grand study.

He took two steps into the room before halting. He waited patiently, stoically like a soldier reporting to their commander.

The enormous room was lined with bookshelves all stacked to the brim with the family’s inherited collection. Off to the right, a roaring fire crackled in the depths of the marble hearth giving the room its lustrous glow. Above, the glass domed ceiling gave way to the thunderstorm outside. Lightening streaked across the night sky and a loud thunder clap was heard off in the distance.

It went without notice as Ron’s entire body stayed rigid and stiff. His eyes were trained on the man behind the great desk as he waited for Dante Mancini to acknowledge his presence. Ron had learned long ago to only speak when spoken to, so he held his tongue. His cloak dripped softly on the imported Persian rug that he stood upon. He had traveled through rain and wind to return here, but he would make no move for his wand to utter a drying spell lest he wish to interrupt Dante Mancini. And no man ever interrupted Dante.

The room was silent but for the cackling of the fire and the scratching of Dante’s quill.

Dante dipped his long feathered quill into the ink one last time before signing the document with a flourish. Then methodically he slowly lowered his spectacles from the hump of his nose before looking up at Ron with his dark, near black eyes. His eyebrows furrowed and his expression turned to one of disgust as he took in the man before him.

Ciro,” His voice was menacing and sharp. With a quiet pop a little house elf appeared just before the great desk clad in a very tattered pillow case.

Yes master?

Dry him,” spat Dante. Without even a second’s hesitation, the elf scurried to Ron and immediately cast the spell over his body. A steam soared upwards from Ron’s clothing as the elf completed his task. Once finished the elf turned and bowed to Dante. “You will do well Ciro to have him dry next time before he reaches my study. Iron your hands for your laziness!!!” The elf only bowed once again, this time even lower, before disappearing.

Inwardly Ron felt sick. The elf’s hands would be black and blistered because of him. He knew he should’ve done the drying charm before he had entered the manor, but he had been so rushed, already a half hour late. The imposing wizard would not tolerate his tardiness as it was, thus he dared not risk taking the extra moments to make himself comfortable. He swallowed the bile rising in his throat with the thought of the elf’s punishment.

Good evening, son… Sit down.” Dante motioned to one of the cushioned chairs, another imported piece like much of the furniture. The study especially was lavishly adorned as it was the most frequented room by the master of the house.

Ron did as told, sitting across from his apparent father.

You’re late. You know how I regard punctuality, Vito… We will have to deal with that later.” Ron felt cold icicles shoot through his insides as fear settled into his veins. Dante, he knew, would be relentless regardless even if he appeared to be the man’s first born son. Ron was sure to be punished for his error, punished severely indeed. “But first, you must tell me… did you find him?

No, father. There is no sign of him anywhere,” Ron answered in an Italian voice that was not his own, the beetles working their impressive magic on his vocal chords.

For a moment it appeared that the older wizard was unaffected by the information, but then suddenly his face contorted into one of unimaginable fury.

THAT MUDBLOOD BITCH!!!!” He exclaimed vehemently before grabbing the first thing he could. It was a glass paperweight. With an outraged cry, Dante stood and threw the crystal ball towards the left wall. It shattered into thousands of pieces. Ron flinched. “I knew it! She has hidden him and hidden him well!!!

Ron sat stock still as he watched Dante pace in front of the large fireplace, his cloak billowing behind him and his shadow mirroring him along the opposite wall.

Filthy, conniving, little bitch… I will, I swear it, I will get her. She will not ruin my legacy!!” Dante steadied himself before rearing back on his son. “He is her only evidence! She has nothing else! YOU got to Turturro before she could!!! That blood traitor! That worthless, spineless potion maker had it coming the moment he even thought of setting foot in her office! YOU MUST FIND SALVATORE! He is all she has left!!!” Dante returned to his rant muttering curses under his breath as he stalked back and forth.

Ron’s ears had perked up during Dante’s rage. Thankfully, the action had gone unnoticed by the seething wizard as he continued to fume.

The wheels in Ron’s head were spinning crazily, but he kept his face guarded. He needed to speak to Harry. Something deeper was going on, something much more important. Spineless potion maker? How did they get to Turturro? One thing was for sure: Hermione had gotten herself into something exponentially larger than what initially it appeared she had. This was most certainly not just about some elf trial and Ron knew he had to get to the bottom of it. But he needed Harry, he needed the veritaserum, and more than anything he needed to interrogate the real Vito Mancini.

Because now he had some questions, some very large questions that needed answering and that could only be done by the man currently locked in Ron’s trunk.

Dante suddenly stopped his tirade in mid stride. He turned to Ron with a wicked gleam in his eye, a gleam that sent shivers down Ron’s spine.

Thank you, Vito, for trying to locate the man. I appreciate your… urgency,” Dante hissed as his right hand reached into his robes. Ron’s stomach plummeted with the word. Out of the folds of his cloak, Dante drew a black, gnarly wand.

Ron knew what was coming, but he could not fight it.

I think it’s time for your punishment, dear boy!” The excitement evident in Dante’s voice was sickening to Ron. The auror in disguise could only steel himself as his false father raised his wand to him.

CRUCIO!!!


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Harry sat at his desk in the Ministry quietly thinking since he had nothing else to do. He had been spending more and more time at the Auror Department even though his only real assignment was to protect the witch he currently lived with. The same said witch was the reason he had been coming into the office and staying there until the wee hours of the night. Hermione, working again back in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, was still keeping long hours at her job. She had many cases to catch up on and so as long as she was out somewhere, Ministry included, Harry went too.

Recently she had taken two short trips, both to Paris to see Jean. Harry had followed her- without her knowing of course- under a disillusionment charm and occasionally with the help of his invisibility cloak. But each time she had only stayed a couple of days before returning back to London and to her desk within the Law Department.

Harry was required to stay in close proximity to her. He was required to watch her every move.

And it was driving him insane.

They had yet to speak of the picture that had turned up in the Daily Prophet last week. Both of them seemed to have silently agreed to never mention it and Harry could not decide if he actually wanted them to discuss it. Although he would admit that he was still plagued by the photograph and still on occasion found himself looking at the paper’s front page. He had kept it secretly stashed in his upper desk drawer underneath a few spare scraps of parchment. He knew Hermione was plagued by it too… if not plagued, then at least unsettled by the entire thing. He knew it by her taking two trips to Paris during the last week and her ‘busy’ work schedule.

But he also knew it by the way they interacted now.

It was too thought out, too puppet like. They acted as if they were being staged in some play making sure to stand here while the other stands there, never crossing the floor if the other was, and most certainly never getting too close. Their friendship was now a dance around each other. One picture, one snapshot in time had turned something so inherently comfortable to something so unbearably and perpetually awkward. If anything, Hermione seemed more troubled by their interactions than he was. He found her lost in thought a lot lately and he knew the reason for her holed up in her office was to stay away from the tight hallways and rooms of their apartment. Their friendship had lost that level of intimacy. And Hermione kept her distance for fear that her nearness would tip toe near the edge, a line she had crossed for a brief moment in the street of Diagon Alley. Harry knew she wasn’t allowing herself to be around him.

Since she was absent from the apartment, Harry was stuck doing his job… watching her.

And the more he watched, the more he noticed things he had never realized before. The way she would tuck her hair behind her ear and smile as she leaned in to speak with someone, the way she bit her lip in an unknowingly sexy way whenever deep in thought, the way the corner of her mouth twitched whenever she found something amusing. It was maddening!

He was required to watch her, but what he found was that he had started studying her and even more disturbing was the fact that he liked doing so, he relished his new discoveries. Harry was beginning to think he was becoming a voyeur with how well he paid attention to her. Constantly, he had to keep tabs on her every move, but by the end of the day he felt semi creepy after tailing her for so long and actually getting satisfaction from doing so. But he continued doing it anyway. He had made a promise to Ron to stay close, to keep her safe and he would not break that promise. He’d do his job… even if it meant sacrificing his mental health.

Harry suddenly felt a familiar heat erupt in his pocket.

“Speak of the devil…”

Scooting his chair out to make space, Harry reached inside his trousers and pulled out the coin that he never ceased to cart with him. Reaching over, he grabbed his wand from the edge of his desk before placing its tip on the coin’s surface. Just like before, the coin again glowed as it recognized his phoenix feather wand and then slowly the letters on the coin began to rearrange themselves.

Bring the serum. The coin is a portkey.

Sifting through his desk drawer, Harry pulled out three vials of the truth potion. Quickly he stuffed them in his pocket before making his way towards the exit. As he exited the Ministry and made his way towards a back alleyway, Harry again drew his wand and his enchanted coin.

Pointing his wand towards the coin he muttered, “Portus.” And then was pulled away right at the navel.

Harry opened his eyes when he felt his feet land on hard ground. Again, Ron was staying in a small cramped space similar to the last place Harry had seen nearly a month ago. This time the room only had a bed, a desk, and a sink with a few shelves above it.

Sitting on the bed was a beat up and bloodied Ron gingerly holding what appeared to be a sprained wrist.

“Jesus Ron…” Wasting no time Harry took the few steps closer to Ron to get a better look at him. Ron’s left eye was a little swollen along with his lower lip. What caught Harry off guard and what he noticed more than anything was the way his best friend shook as if he was in shock or something, as if he had just come inside from a blizzard. Ron’s muscles twitched with spasms uncontrollably. “What’d they do to you? Is your cover blown?”

“N-no… not at all. Mancini j-just likes torturing his own son,” replied Ron quietly, his body still shaking.

“Did you bring a med kit?” asked Harry already knowing the answer.

“Yeah, it’s in the trunk. Third lock.”

Harry went to the trunk wordlessly and began fishing out the emergency med kit that every auror was supplied with. Part of their training was learning basic healer spells and practices. Once he got the kit he grabbed the wooden chair from the desk and sat down a little to Ron’s left. Silently he laid the kit out on the mattress. Then with a well practiced hand, he went about rubbing the salves on Ron’s wrist as gently as he could. Ron slowly began to calm down under the company of his best friend, but the shaking didn’t stop.

“So what happened?” inquired Harry as he started bandaging Ron’s wrist.

“Mancini sent me out on a mission to find this man named Salvatore Marsabello. I didn’t know why he wanted me to find this bloke, but I went. I followed the tip Mancini had heard, but I found nothing. Salvatore’s been missing for nearly seven months and Mancini can’t find him anywhere,” explained Ron.

Harry opened a pus vial and then carefully began applying the ooze to Ron’s eye and bloody lip. As the goop sank in, Ron hissed sharply. The stinging was only momentary though and soon he was fine again and returned to his story.

“I returned back to the manor last night… I was late gettin’ back. Mancini was not only upset that I’d come back empty handed, but also because of my lateness… Blimey, remind me to never be late again Harry,” whispered Ron shivering still from the thought of his torture. “I ended up passing out during it. He left me on the floor. I woke up this morning, sent you the message, and then came back here… The beetles lasted through the whole thing though. They’re tough little buggers. They stayed latched on and everything… It was their voices that made me come to.”

Harry offered Ron a potion that he took without question. The effects were immediate as Ron visibly eased and his shaking body relaxed. Harry packed up the kit and put it away in the trunk trying hard all the while to push the anger in his veins down. He so badly wanted to find Mancini. He wanted to torture him until his bones shook like Ron’s had. He wanted to finish him off, silence him forever for having laid a finger on his best mate. His jaw tightened as his blood boiled with the thought.

“It’s alright, Harry. I’m ok,” said Ron taking notice of Harry’s suppressed fury. Ron knew his friend so well by now. He knew the things that were running through Harry’s mind because they were the same things that ran through Ron’s whenever Harry came close to danger. He was intimately acquainted with those dark thoughts, the hate driven wishes for harm upon your friend’s enemy. He had wished the same upon Bellatrix, he had wished the same upon Snape at one point, and of course he had wished the same upon Lord Voldemort.

“Did you bring the serum?” Ron asked, changing the subject.

Harry nodded and reached into his pocket to extract the vials that lay there.

“Well let’s question the bastard then,” said Ron finally standing. They both stood before the trunk as Ron waved his wand before it, unlocking the secret compartment and revealing the magically enlarged cavern that was hidden beneath the last lock. Sitting at the bottom his eyes squinting towards the sudden intrusion of light was none other than Vito Mancini.

Harry pointed his wand at the unarmed prisoner and stunned him unconscious. Then with a natural ease, he levitated him out of the trunk. Quickly Harry made do by restraining Vito in the wooden chair that Harry had just been sitting on.

Ron walked over to his desk and pulled out two little boxes and a vial of clear liquid. Ron tossed a box to Harry before looking down at his own. Unclasping the lid, Ron peered inside at the two little beetles. Unlike every other time before that Harry had ever seen, the beetles did not spring from their tiny home. Instead they lay worn and spent. “I’m sorry to do this to you boys. I know how bad last night was for you too… but we are going to question Vito and I need your help. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, but I figured you blokes would want to be the ones to do this job especially,” finished Ron softly.

The beetles looked at each other before nodding their tiny heads decisively. Then they hopped out of their beds and climbed all the way up to Ron’s shoulders. From there, one broke off and went up to his ear while the other broke and went to his mouth which Ron had opened. The beetles situated themselves and prepared for the task they had volunteered for. They wanted answers for the reasoning behind their torture just as much as Ron did.

“You ready?” asked Ron. Harry nodded and watched as Ron uncorked the vial he had pulled from the desk. Ron then held it under Vito’s nose. Vito’s eyes fluttered open until finally they focused on the two aurors before him. As the Italian registered who they were, he sneered with disgust.

Before Vito could utter a word of contempt, Harry’s hand latched onto the man’s jaw forcing his head back and his mouth open while Ron spilled the first vial of veritaserum into Vito’s mouth. The captive did his best to spit the contents out but it made no difference. There only needed to be a single drop to do the job.

Your name?” Ron’s voice was clear, but full of revulsion for the wizard before him.

“Vito Mancini.” The Italian spoke but it was against his will. His tongue rolled without his permission even though it was obvious he was trying to fight against it.

Who is Salvatore Marsabello? Why does Dante want to find him?” There were loads of questions that Ron needed to ask, but first he had to know why the older Mancini so desperately sought after this man.

Vito’s mouth would not open. It seemed to snap shut as his face became a mixture of pain and fury. Ron and Harry watched oddly as Vito could not open his mouth even though the serum was compelling him too.

Harry turned to Ron as realization dawned on him, “He’s sworn an oath, Ron. There’s no way the serum is stronger than the magic. He can’t tell. The magic is binding him.”

Ron’s lip quivered with anger and outrage. He wanted to scream. Why had he been tortured then?! What was the point of all of this?!!! How did this all tie into Hermione?! How was he supposed to protect her?!!!!

Gently Harry placed a hand on his shoulder to calm his best mate, “Listen, Ron. Just think of another question. What else did Mancini talk about last night? Was there anything that he said to you that we can ask Vito about?”

As Ron wracked his brain to think of something, Harry waited calmly. Suddenly a light bulb went off in Ron’s head. Quickly he turned back to Vito.

What happened with Turturro? Dante said that you got to him. Did you kill Turturro?” Ron was eager to hear the answer. His memory had been jogged and he suddenly remembered how his ears had perked with that admission in Dante’s rant. It was the first bit of anything that the older Italian had slipped. Their conversations were always so curt and direct that Ron never seemed able to get any information out of them. Dante must have told Vito everything all at once and then Vito must’ve taken an oath. The two probably never mentioned the facts again. But last night, last night the elder Mancini had slipped. He’d released a bit of information to an auror disguised as his son.

Yes. I killed the blood traitor,” replied Vito hatefully.

Aldo was innocent?” inquired Harry, his brows furrowed in confusion. The weight of the situation was beginning to hit him square in the chest. If Aldo was innocent, if a Mancini had killed Turturro then… then what did this all mean? Why did they want to kill Hermione? Were they still after Aldo?

The elf was a decoy, a cover up. I altered his memory. I charmed his memory so well that even that clever mudblood cannot even get him to remember!” Vito laughed a sick, high pitched cackle as he finished.

Are you out for Aldo too? Is that why your father wanted him executed?” asked Harry urgently, suddenly worried for the sweet house elf that ran the library in that quiet Italian town and wore miniature tweed suits.

Yes, my father wanted the execution. He wanted to get rid of the evidence, he wanted to be safe. But it is of no concern anymore! That filthy whore can tuck the elf away in that library for all we care! She can’t break my memory charm! Aldo will never be of any use!!

Any use? Any use for what?” spat Ron angered by Vito’s insults to Hermione. The Italian’s mouth shut again though. His lips slammed closed powered by the enchantments of his father’s spell. Ron gave a frustrated cry at the man’s lack of explanation. “Fine! Then why Turturro? Why did you kill him? Dante called him the potion maker. What does that mean?

Turturro was commissioned by my father to create a potion for his business.

What business?” asked Harry eagerly. Once again, the younger Mancini’s lips tightened to a thin line. “Can’t speak of the family business, eh?” Vito only shook his head.

But why did you kill Turturro?” intervened Ron hotly, repeating his question from earlier.

Turturro was going to talk. He was going to go to that filthy mudblood and-” Before Vito could finish Ron socked him hard right in the jaw. The Italian’s head reared back and slammed into the backing of the chair.

STOP CALLING HER THAT!!!!!!” Ron screamed, his face going a bright red. Vito’s head fell limp against his chest having been knocked unconscious by Ron’s blow.

“Well I guess that’s the end of that interview,” muttered Harry while Ron continued to pace heatedly in what little space the room offered. Without a word, Harry went about undoing Vito’s restraints and levitating him back into the trunk as Ron sat down with a huff. The springs of the bed squeaked with Ron’s sudden weight.

Harry returned to face Ron and sat down in the now vacant chair.

“Boys it’s ok to come out now,” whispered Ron, who was still trying to calm himself. As Ron put the beetles away in their little box, Harry did the same for his and then handed the box to Ron. With a gentle air, Ron gracefully levitated the boxes and the vials back into his desk drawer. Then he turned back to Harry as he spoke.

“So… let me get this straight then. Vito killed Turturro who was commissioned by his father to make a potion for some business venture… of what the nature of that venture is we have absolutely no clue. Then they framed Turturro’s house elf Aldo for the murder and tried to get him executed, but Hermione got him off luckily… Am I right so far?” asked Ron.

Harry nodded before adding, “Aldo apparently has some information that Mancini thinks Hermione would like, but she can’t get it because of Vito’s memory charm so she’s been keeping Aldo at the library in the town of the Tattori villa. The Tattoris are probably protecting Aldo then,” concluded Harry.

Ron exhaled with a deep whoosh. “I don’t know mate… It sounds like Hermione’s got herself deeper into something than either of us thought.”

“I don’t think this is just about Aldo’s trial… there’s something else going on and Aldo’s trial was just the tip of the iceberg,” replied Harry. The two boys’ minds were swarming with questions. There was still so much left to be answered, answers that would be hard to get now that they knew Mancini had made his followers take an oath. Vito had remained silent on all the things that they were most curious about. And now one thing was for sure, Ron’s job was going to be all that much harder. How was he going to get the information they needed?

“Mate, it looks like it’s up to you,” said Ron running a hand through his thick, ginger locks. “Hermione knows what’s going on, she just hasn’t ever told us anything. You’re going to have to get her to open up. I think I’m at a dead end here… I mean… I’ll do my best to find out anything else and try to give you guys a heads up on anything. But… I think it’s up to you, mate.”

Harry sighed. He had that exact same feeling.



Chapter 16: Paris et L'amour
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Author's Note: Things are starting to heat up. Enjoy the latest. Let me know what you guys think at the end!
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Chapter 16- Paris et L’amour


It was the end of the day and Hermione finally had emerged from her recent place of seclusion: her office. It was a little early- even for a normal working Ministry witch- to be leaving, but Hermione had a task in mind.

She and Jean had been flooing all week concerning the banquet this upcoming weekend. The International Confederation of Wizards was finally meeting next week, Paris being the centric place of choice. Hermione and Jean had worked long, hard hours and now was their time. Each country had an equal number of elected representatives from their own Wizengamots to speak for their country. With the legislation doing so well individually in each country’s own Wizengamot, it was safe to say that she and Jean could finally get the Potter Privacy Act and Dobby Act made into International Statutes especially with the current batch of Mugwumps leading the proceedings.

The banquet of course was set this weekend as only a celebration of the newly elected Mugwumps and the new Supreme Mugwump, but Hermione couldn’t help thinking ahead. She knew most of the wizards and witches that were selected as the judicial Warlocks for the ICW. Thus, she was hoping that she could appeal to them this coming weekend.

She was going to need all of her charm… and coincidentally a date.

Normally for these things she and Jean would simply go together… as friends of course. But ever since her break up with Ron, Hermione felt uncomfortable with the notion of going with a man that used to be interested in her. So she had lied and told Jean that she had already made arrangements. He, of course, smiled politely and said that he too had a date.

Hermione didn’t know if he was lying about having a date or not, but she couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he was trying to make her jealous. She dismissed it though. Jean’s crush on her had fizzled out quite some time ago. It was good of him to finally move on from his ideal picture perfect image of having Hermione and get a date for the banquet.

Either way, it still left Hermione dateless.

Hence, the locking of her office door so early and her current appearance on the lift as it traveled down to the Auror Department. Logically she would ask Harry. He was her best friend after all and she was in a time of need. Yes, it all made perfect sense. Logically speaking of course.

Except Hermione was nervous beyond all belief.

She couldn’t help but wring her hands together and fiddle with the loose string on her Ministry robes as she waited for the lift to open to his floor. She had been avoiding Harry… purposefully… for the last week. Ever since the Prophet came out with that article and ever since her talk with Luna and Neville, she just simply couldn’t help it. She had admitted something to herself that day that she had never even conceived possible. Sure, she had always found Harry handsome and cute in a friendly way and obviously she adored him or else they wouldn’t have been friends for so long, but it was an entirely different notion to find him attractive.

And it wasn’t just the whole realizing her attraction to Harry, but realizing more than anything that she couldn’t control herself.

Harry made her lose conscious thought. He made her do what her rational brain rarely ever did which was act on instinct. And what felt natural to her was to be closer to him. Her natural inclinations hypnotized her to take those delicate steps towards him, to raise her hand to his face, and to lean her head in. Being around him, she felt like a magnet. The closer she got the more she was drawn in, the stronger the pull, the harder it was to move away. So she had decided to stay away, to keep her distance in hopes that maybe her body would forget what it felt like to be a magnet and that maybe her mind would take back over again. Because everything in her brain screamed that no good could come from this.

The lift opened with a ding and Hermione stepped out.

She spotted Harry’s cubicle. Wiping her hands one last time against the sides of her robes, she made her way towards her messy haired friend. He seemed to be deep in thought about something as he was hunched over a few bits of parchment reviewing some notes. He didn’t even see her approach and only looked up after she had knocked softly against the side wall of his partition.

His head shot up. “Hermione… Hi!” His voice was a bit higher and happier than usual. Awkwardly he gathered up the scrolls of parchment on his desk in a hurry and then tossed them in a drawer. “What… er… what are you doing here?”

“I was… erm… Well you see I was hoping that you’d like to walk home with me today. We haven’t done so in a while and I’d like to have a chat with you if that’s alright,” she replied shakily.

“A chat?” Harry’s posture tensed with the word.

“Yeah… if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

“No!” Harry replied quickly. “No, of course not…” Hermione seemed to stay there waiting for something, but it took a second for Harry to gather what it was. “Er… I suppose you wanna go now then?”

“Yeah… unless you’ve got something to finish up. I’m already set upstairs, so I’m off for the day.”

“Uhhh… ok, yeah. Let’s go then.” Harry stood up and grabbed his cloak off the back of his chair. As the pair left the Ministry, the entire place seemed to take note of their tension. Harry couldn’t help but catch the wandering eyes of so many curious witches and wizards as he and Hermione made their way out. Ever since the article, he often noticed those side glances whenever he and Hermione risked being seen anywhere in public together.

The crisp April air was breezy and cool as they entered the streets of London. The weather had warmed considerably since the first few times they had started walking home from the Ministry. Hermione remembered those days and how at ease the two were as they made their way back home to the flat. She envied those days… in terms of the walk at least.

Currently Harry kept a larger than necessary distance from her, giving her plenty of space which was something quite unusual for their walks home. She also took note of how he held his hands behind his back as they walked, almost like he was handcuffed. Harry Potter, prisoner to her conversation.

A beautiful day as it was it made no difference for neither noticed it as they were too preoccupied with the other’s presence and body language.

Harry cleared his throat. “So… er… what do you want to talk about?”

“Right. Well,” she began nervously, “I wanted to ask you something.” Turning her head, she studied Harry carefully as she spoke catching his nervous twitch with her words. She knew that he was praying to the Gods above that she not bring up the picture in the paper. She had no intention of doing so, but a part of her relished his worrisome expression. “I don’t know what you’re doing this weekend…”

Again Hermione watched him as he analyzed her words in his head. She knew he was sifting through her every word, twisting it around in his brain to see if it had any deeper meaning. What did he want them to mean? Well, she did not know, but she could not help eyeing him with an odd sort of satisfaction. He was thinking… about her. And hanging on every word she said.

“Well you see there’s this banquet this weekend in Paris… And I-I… well I need a date,” finished Hermione, again she felt her nerves burst into overdrive as Harry stayed silent. Then everything just started spilling from her mouth. “Jean already asked someone else and normally I would just go with him, but I can’t… obviously, since he has a date. So… yeah I need a date and I was hoping that you’d go with me… this weekend… to Paris… as my date.”

Hermione took a risk by glancing over at her friend. Her nerves flew away as his expression turned soft and he smiled boyishly.

“You’re asking me on a date then?” Hermione couldn’t help the pinkness in her cheeks with his interpretation.

“I’m asking you to be my date,” she corrected even though the blush never left her.

Harry nodded, but his smirk still stayed.

“So is that a yes then?” She pressed, her eyes still firmly locked on Harry’s face.

“That’s a yes,” confirmed Harry, nudging her playfully in the shoulder with his own. Hermione’s face broke into a smile to match his. “So when do we leave for Paris then?”

“The end of the week.”

“Annnndd where are we staying?”

“Jean’s booked us a hotel in the city. The banquet’s at the hotel, so it’s convenient,” she answered calmly.

The two walked along in silence for bit, taking notice of the same buildings that they had not seen for quite some time as they had neglected their leisurely stroll home for a week due to some foolish idea to avoid each other. Harry sighed happily. He was glad that they were speaking again, maybe things could move back to normal. He hated not being around Hermione, he hated feeling uncomfortable around her when he was. But now, they were walking like they used to and conversing like they used to. She was not avoiding him anymore. And soon they would be in Paris together attending a banquet.

Suddenly Harry’s features scrunched like a two year old who smells something funny as a particular thought seeped into his brain. Hermione caught his expression and quirked her usual eyebrow. Harry turned to her, “Do I have to wear dress robes?”

Hermione laughed heartily before linking her arm through his just like old times. “Yes, Harry. You’ll have to wear dress robes.”


**********


The end of the week came faster than Harry figured it would. He had spent the week getting fitted with new dress robes, picking them up, packing, tying up some things with Ed. He had not a clue what to bring, but he hoped he covered at least the basics.

Just like before when they had gone to Cesare’s funeral, the two again took the train down to Paris. Hermione enjoyed the ride and Harry kept his lips sealed even though he would’ve much preferred to apparate.

They reached Paris by late afternoon on Friday.

As Hermione hailed a taxi and directed the cab driver through the city to the hotel, Harry couldn’t help but feel nervous. The banquet was tonight and by the sounds of it there were going to be a lot of big names there. People of importance from just about every country around the globe would be in attendance. And Harry wasn’t all that good with rich folk. He wasn’t all that good with public events either. But he had promised Hermione and so he was prepared to buck up and at least attempt to be the best date a witch could ask for.

The cab stopped outside of one of the shoddiest buildings Harry had ever seen. He couldn’t help but turn to Hermione and ask if this was really it. She only smiled and told him it was. Even the driver seemed hesitant to let them off at this stop saying that the street was known for its muggings and violence, but Hermione insisted and paid the bloke well. Harry exited the cab with a shrug. He stood on the street eyeing the run down and blackened buildings with distaste.

“Come on… I swear it’s much better inside,” said Hermione seeing his look. Then taking hold of his hand, she led him towards the door. Harry’s stomach fluttered with the touch of her hand as he followed her obediently through the doors.

Walking into the hotel was like having a veil lifted from his eyes. Harry’s jaw dropped once he saw the inside of the building. The floors were marble and shined with fresh polish. The fountain in the center of the open foyer had statues of mermen and mermaids with crystal clear water flowing from their spears and fingers. A great golden and many tiered chandelier hung gracefully from the ceiling. The place was absolutely brimming with wizards and witches of all sorts, dressed in the most stunning robes Harry had ever seen.

“Hermione I think I’m underdressed even for the lobby,” muttered Harry in awe.

Hermione only chuckled at Harry’s expression before leading him down the staircase and towards the reception desk. As Hermione checked the two in, Harry spun around to take the place in again. He felt like the eleven year old boy he had been after seeing Diagon Alley for the first time.

“Mademoiselle Granger and Monsieur Potter… yes we ‘ave you in de penthouze zweet. Top floor,” said the woman behind the counter as she handed Hermione the key.

Hermione grabbed Harry’s hand again and led him to the lifts. They took the six hundred and fifty seven floors up to their room. Hermione opened the double doors and immediately went to the bedroom where she unshrinked their luggage and then began unpacking while Harry set about exploring the whole place.

From the balcony he called back to Hermione, “Hermione! We can see the entire city from out here!!” He only stayed out on the balcony a moment breathing in the thick air of the city before running about the suite like a kid in a candy store, shouting something to Hermione from every corner of the suite whenever he discovered something new. “Hermione! The coffee pot talks! It talks, Hermione!!”

Hermione laughed quietly to herself as she continued to unpack. She could hear the thump thump of Harry’s feet as he sprinted from one end of the suite to the next.

Finally Harry appeared at the doorway to the bedroom with a puzzled expression. “That’s odd… there’s only one bedroom.”

Looking up from her suitcase, Hermione shook her head doubtfully. “Harry, it’s ‘de penthouze zweet’ remember? I’m sure there’s another bedroom. Why would Jean only book us into a room with only one bedroom?”

“Hermione, I’ve just explored this entire penthouze zweet and I am telling you this penthouze zweet only has one bedroom,” replied Harry.

Hermione sighed, “Ok fine, I believe you… Listen we can change rooms later. I have to start getting ready for the banquet and so do you.” As she finished that sentence she pulled out her soft lilac gown from the depths of her travel bag and then laid it on the bed. She had sprayed it with a magical no-wrinkle-fool-proof spray that she had gotten from Molly, so the gown stayed perfectly pressed even through her travels. Hermione had made sure to spray Harry’s dress robes too. “I’m off to take a shower.”

Harry heard the click of the lock to the shower room and then the stream of water as it turned on. With a sigh, he started unpacking his robes too.

An hour and a half later the two were bustling around the suite trying to put the finishing touches on themselves. As Hermione rummaged through her bag for her favorite pair of earrings, Harry tried to fix his tie.

At first he had tried tying it by hand, but then quickly found that it was far too lopsided to be acceptable. After failing three more times, he had gone to fetch his wand with an annoyed huff. But he soon found that doing it by spell made it look even worse. He had to tilt his head a considerable degree in the mirror in order for it to appear right… even the mirror told him it looked like crap. How could he make a tie appear worse by using magic? He hadn’t a clue.

Hermione emerged from the wash room again looking beautiful as ever with her make up finished. The dress she wore hugged her body in all the right places and left her toned shoulders bare for the world- and Harry- to see. She finished putting the back on her left earring before making her way over.

“Harry, do you mind zipping up the last bit?” Hermione turned around in front of him. She’d done up most of the dress. All that was left was the clasp at the top and a few centimeters of zipper space. Harry did so without hesitation and then went back to undoing his problematic tie.

Hermione turned and caught him messing with the tie again. “Here let me get that.”

Hermione drew in closer, while Harry’s hands dropped to his sides as Hermione brushed them away. Her normally fast acting fingers slowly undid his shabby work while Harry tucked his chin in to watch. “How did you even manage fourth year?” she asked with a smirk.

Harry looked up and caught her eyes, suddenly aware of how close they were. Determinedly, Hermione’s attention returned back to looping his tie as Harry stared fixedly at her, his mouth going dry. “Dean did all the ties,” he managed.

“Oh…” When she finished, she took a second to look it over before nodding to herself, satisfied with her work. Gently she reached around and folded his collar down around his neck. Harry’s breath caught with the familiar action as her hands wound around his neck and her face came up next to his. Though his feet were in France, his imagination had him placed right outside of the Hermit in Diagon Alley. Hermione didn’t appear to notice though as she pulled away without problem. Harry on the other hand felt like he’d just run a marathon with how fast his heart was pounding.

Looking up at him, her eyes gleamed as she caught sight of his hair. “Is that… gel in your hair?”

Harry tinged a bit. Did the witch really have to notice everything? “Well… erm… yeah. I wanted to look nice for your fancy gala and everything… It doesn’t seem to be working though. I can never get my hair right.”

Hermione smirked, “Join the club.” The corner of Harry’s mouth twitched into a small smile. She smoothed out the ends of his collar one more time before breaking away from him and moving over to the edge of the bed to grab her cloak. Shaking the fog from his head, Harry too retrieved his cloak and then met her at the double doors. She made to open the doors and exit the penthouse, but Harry stopped her before she could. Hermione turned back, confused.

“Before we go out there, I just want to say that you look absolutely stunning tonight- hair included- and I... erm… apologize for most likely being a very, very bad conversationist.”

Hermione’s eyes softened. Then she did something she hadn’t done in quite some time. Lifting herself up on her tip toes, she kissed his cheek. “You’ll be fine, Harry.”

And with that, they left for the banquet.


**********


Harry had been doing alright for the most part of the night. Victor Krum was there from Bulgaria and the two had swapped stories briefly. Hermione had been quite the entertainer as she jumped from table to table introducing Harry to various Warlocks and high end officials from different Ministries. He found Hermione was a natural at chatting people up. Harry did his best, but he kept forgetting people’s names. How Hermione managed to remember all the witches and wizards in that large hall Harry had no idea. Her brain had to be a card cataloger or something.

Somewhere along the way though he’d lost track of her and found that he was standing alone drinking his champagne by the bar. The first course had not been served yet as most of the crowd was still intermingling.

Then suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder.

Turning around, Harry caught the sight of the familiar sandy haired Frenchman that was his best friend’s closest associate. “Hello Jean.”

“Hallo ‘arry. ‘ow are you?” asked Jean in his usual polite manner. The timid wizard was dressed in the finest dress robes Paris had to offer, but of course he would never boast about that. Jean had a certain level of propriety and humbleness about him. Harry could easily see why the bloke before him was attracted to Hermione. They both had that uncommon, yet intelligent belief in accepting anyone and everyone. “I zee Hermione ‘az left you to buzz about. She iz vairry lively, no?”

Harry nodded as Jean smiled in return. “Yeah… especially in these situations. She’s in her element.”

This time it was Jean’s turn to nod. Then, with an amused puff of air he motioned off a few tables down where Hermione was conversing enthusiastically with a very extravagantly dressed French witch in a red gown. Harry laughed at the sight.

“She iz wondairrful, no?” Jean smiled as it was obvious that Harry agreed. “And she looks beautiful tonight. She ‘az a fine tazste. Tres elegante.” Jean went silent as the two men watched Hermione from afar as she laughed at whatever the dame in the crimson dress was saying. “I used to ‘ave a dream of Hermione and I. But… ahh… that dream waz never to ‘appen. She waz far too in love with you.”

Harry nearly spat out his drink when he registered what Jean had said. His eyes left Hermione’s form and shot to Jean. “Excuse me?” he managed to choke out.

“Ah oui, je sais. It’z ok ‘arry. I know. I ‘ave known for a long while.” Jean took a sip of his champagne before turning to the dumbfounded Harry once again. “I knew back on our first trip. She spent the entire night talking about you. I knew she waz yours… But still, she kept coming back and traveling. And you did not attend de benefits, no? So I thought that ma’be I cood win her over. I waz ‘opeful.”

Jean let out a great sigh before continuing, “But de night of de Orion… I realized I never cood. No matter ‘ow long she waz gone or ‘ow far she traveled or ‘ow much time she spent with me, she wood never search for me through a crowd and then run into my arms de way she did with you that night.”

Again Jean smiled, but this time it was a truly happy one. “And now, you are here today before me, you are here with her.” Jean smacked Harry’s arm playfully even though Harry still seemed to be in a daze. “You are coming to these things and after de picture in de Prophet… Well, I am a Frenchman and I know love. AND I ‘ave never zeen a couple so in love az the couple in that picture from de paper…”

Hermione seemed to somehow sense that she was being watched and looked up from her tête-à-tête with the older French woman. She found the two looking her way. Jean with a pleased smile lifted his glass of champagne to her. She did the same to him and from afar, the two toasted each other. Her eyes darted to Harry’s and she winked at him before happily returning back to her conversation.

“Ahh zee the way she looks at you… ‘arry that iz love if I ever saw it.”

For reasons not entirely clear to him, Harry felt his pulse quicken at the thought. He knew his cheeks must’ve turned a bit pink as Jean chuckled softly next to him.

“You act az if you did not know. It iz obvious… And I am vairry ‘appy for you and Hermione,” said Jean before offering Harry his hand which he took shaking it. Then, as if their exchange never happened he went off to introduce himself to a group of Germans leaving Harry with his thoughts.


**********


As the night had finally wound down, Harry trudged his way out of the elevator with a damn near sleeping Hermione wrapped around his arm. Shuffling up to the door and searching through her clutch, Hermione located the key to the room and unlocked the door. Both of them were spent for the night.

Harry walked in and suddenly stopped. He had forgotten about Jean’s little twist for their rooming arrangements, but now after having spoken with him that particular twist made a lot of sense.

“Hermione we forgot to change rooms… there’s only one bed,” muttered Harry as he rubbed at his tired eyes. Hermione groaned at the reminder.

“Harry it’s two am. There’s no way we’re going to get another room.”

Harry nodded in agreement and with a great yawn made his way over to the sofa. He threw his cloak on a nearby chair before sitting down on the sofa and untying his black dress shoes. He slipped his shoes off and then started working the tie and buttons undone on his white collared shirt. In a sleepy daze, he threw the tie on the ground and pulled off his shirt. The item too landed somewhere on the ground. He was about to reach for his belt on his trousers when he noticed that Hermione still stood in the foyer watching him as he undressed to just his white undershirt and almost nearly to his boxers.

Suddenly bashful for having stayed, Hermione averted her eyes and looked down at her feet. “Harry, you don’t have to sleep on the sofa. We could,” she gulped, “erm… share the bed.”

“It’s ok, Hermione. I really don’t mind. I actually like the sofa,” replied Harry.

Hermione looked up at him knowingly, reading him. He found it odd that he had supposed that she would never have noticed him taking to sleeping on the sofa in their flat back in London instead of in his lonely bed. Harry felt foolish suddenly for thinking that she wouldn’t be able to read into his emotions. She knew him far too well and she knew why he liked the sofa so much especially as of late.

But she decided to leave it alone and with a shrug, she whispered a soft goodnight to him before making her way to the bedroom and leaving him to the sofa.

After she had retreated behind the double doors to the suite’s bedroom, Harry slipped his trousers off leaving him in just his t-shirt and boxers. He sat down on the cushions. Just as he was about to reach for his glasses to put them on the coffee table, he heard her call him from within the bedroom.

Unsure of what state he was going to find her in, Harry opened one of the doors and peeked in. She stood by the bed with her hair down from its earlier sleek up do and her gown still on.

“Harry can you get the zipper again?” She asked before striding towards him and spinning around.

“Yeah sure.”

Harry for some reason felt nervous as he undid the catch at the top of the dress while Hermione held up her hair revealing the muscles behind her shoulder blades and her long feminine neck. He hadn’t even started unzipping and already Harry was having trouble. His palms were sweating profusely as his eyes darted between the dress, her neck, and her back.

Wasn’t there some sort of spell for zippers?

Getting a secure grip with his left hand, slowly Harry began to lower the zipper revealing more of Hermione’s back. At the beginning of the night, Hermione had done most of the work by zipping up most of her dress and only needing Harry to do up the last bit. But now, Harry found a daring that he never thought he had and ever so carefully he guided the zipper further down past the point where she needed him to till finally a lacy bra, lilac just like her dress, was peeking out from the parted backing. Driven by some unknown curiosity, Harry kept the zipper going down further exposing the clasp of the bra and the lower half of Hermione’s sculpted body. Finally the zipper snagged as its enticing trail ended right above the top of her bum.

Harry swallowed the saliva in his mouth with a gulp.

They both stood there for a second neither really knowing what to do, neither really knowing what they were doing. Finally Hermione whispered thickly, “Thanks,” before walking back over to the bed. Harry glanced one last time to her before making his way through the doors. As he turned to shut them, his eyes caught sight of Hermione’s hooked thumbs in between the fabric of the dress and her newly exposed hips. She had let the front of her gown drop. With a shaky hand he began closing the door not wanting to interrupt her privacy, but just before the lock clicked his hand paused and instead kept it open by just a sliver. He wanted to shut his eyes, but he couldn’t. And so they traveled over the new flesh that she had offered unknowingly to him.

He only had one question, one haunting question, that needed answering or else he’d never be able to sleep that night. His eyes stared anxiously at Hermione’s hooked thumbs in anticipation. She seemed to be waiting for something. Harry held his breath waiting too. Then finally her thumbs scooted her dress downward as her hips wriggled out of it. The dress was a heap on the floor and Hermione was standing alone by the large four poster bed in nothing but her lacy matching bra and knickers. Harry turned away his question having been answered…

Harry’s eyes shut momentarily as he burned the image into his mind.

Then quietly he made his way back to the sofa, his place of resting for the evening. He had been so tired a few moments ago, but now his mind was awake as a whole different kind of loneliness set upon him for the first time. As he lay down sinking deep into the sides of the couch, he found himself not lonely for the red headed girl of his past, but for the brown curly haired witch in the next room


Chapter 17: Sickle For Your Thoughts?
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A/N: Here's the latest. I don't know about everyone else but I saw the movie twice already! It's sooo good. The dancing scene in the tent between the two was definitely my favorite of the entire movie. I hope you guys like this next chapter. Please remember to review once you've finished. It's really interesting what you guys think about the progression of the story.
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Chapter 17-Sickle For Your Thoughts?


Luna bustled about her kitchen fixing tea for the two of them.

After getting back from Paris, Hermione had practically made a bee line for Luna as she had desperately needed a friend to talk to. Things in Paris had been so perplexing for the witch currently sitting in one of the kitchen’s chairs.

“I thought you might come over. I have my herbal tea ready,” Luna had said when Hermione had appeared on her doorstep.

The blonde witch moved like a fairy floating from one end of the kitchen to the next. Summoning a few tea cups and levitating the sugar and cream Luna set the table and brought along the bird shaped tea kettle. She sat down as the bird kettle spurted steaming hot liquid from its mouth- accompanied with a hurling noise- into Luna’s two awaiting cups.

“What a nice display…” commented Hermione sarcastically as the bird continued to faux throw up the contents of its stomach into the cups.

“Harry got it for me last Christmas… I’ve always found it funny,” said Luna happily as she added a couple lumps of sugar into her cup. “So what happened in Paris then?”

Shaking her head, Hermione slid her cup closer. “I don’t even know… It was odd… I guess.” She exhaled deeply. “I spent the entire night of the banquet talking about Harry to everyone. I can’t even tell you how many people asked me how long we’d been dating. It got to the point where I just stopped trying to deny it and simply went with it… One rather forward witch told me in a very cheeky tone that she figured Harry and I must have a rampant sex life. She said that Harry looks like a man who can really tumble.”

Hermione looked down into her cup smiling at the memory of the madam in the red gown who had leaned over and whispered that to her.

“He probably can,” replied Luna in a thoughtful sort of tone.

“Luna!” The younger witch only chuckled as she watched Hermione’s eyes go wide with the implication.

“It’s not like you haven’t thought it you know… at least lately,” she added as an afterthought.

“I have not thought about it,” denied Hermione quickly. In a very uncharacteristic manner, Luna rolled her eyes, knowing full well that Hermione had lied. “I hear that if you roll your eyes enough they’ll get stuck that way and you’ll forever be left looking at your brain,” mocked Hermione in retaliation. Luna only smiled in return happy that Hermione was quoting her.

“Anyway,” ventured Hermione getting back to the subject, “we kept having all these… these moments, I guess is what I’d call them… He… He couldn’t fix his tie right so then I did it for him and I just… we were so close… and-”

“You wanted to kiss him.” It wasn’t even a question. Long ago, Hermione had found that Luna never really asked questions. Most of the time Luna- at least with people- already knew what was going on. She had this worldly and yet ethereal sense of just knowing. And so Luna made statements, but rarely ever asked. If anything, any inquiries from her were instead ways to get the person in question to realize an answer that Luna already knew of.

Hermione shrugged peering down into her cup before sighing. “Yeah I did… the entire weekend I wanted to. Luna, you should’ve seen him though. He was so…. the whole time, he was so cute.” Hermione shook her head. “He put gel in his hair to get ready. It didn’t help one bit… and I wanted to so badly… and the tie…” She closed her eyes remembering how adorable he had looked and how she had to force her arms away from him instead of keeping them wrapped around his neck as she had adjusted his collar. “Then when we were walking out the door, he told me I looked stunning and… and I-I… I had to fight to keep myself only kissing his cheek.”

Wiping a hand across her face, Hermione tried to clear her thoughts. Luna just sat patiently, taking in the confused form of what she considered to be one of her closest friends.

“Ever since that picture, that’s all I think about… whenever I’m around him, that’s all I want to do. And it’s like I do things that make it worse, but I don’t even know I’m doing them until they’ve happened! Or until I’m in the midst of them! I’ll kiss his cheek or… or run my hand through his hair... AND I catch myself looking at him all the time! I feel ridiculous, Luna. That paper put this thought in my brain and now I can’t get it out!!”

“So just do it,” Luna answered simply.

“Yeah I’ll just kiss Harry… that won’t complicate things at all,” muttered Hermione sarcastically.

“Maybe you need to give in once… Personally, I don’t really see the point in denying your impulses. It just makes the impulse worse. It’s like food… You crave something, but then deny it and deny it and deny it. Then suddenly you’ve eaten a whole tin of chocolate covered slugs!”

Hermione’s face scrunched in disgust at the idea of chocolate covered slugs. Shaking herself out of it, she continued, “But Luna, I feel like I’ve wanted to for so long… I fear I’ve been denying the impulse for far too long already.”

“Yes, yes. I’m worried about that too,” agreed Luna thinking. “Nine years is an awfully long time to deny something…”

“Nine years? Who said anything about nine years?” Hermione said puzzled. “It’s been maybe a month… I mean in Italy we had a moment then… but…” Her brain seemed to be at a loss. “Noooo. Never nine years… We… No… We would’ve been in third year. AND you didn’t even know us back then! How did you manage to come up with nine years?”

“Well there was enough tension between you two your fifth year to just assume that something had been happening for a couple of years. If not your third year then definitely in your fourth,” Luna replied with ease.

“I haven’t wanted to kiss Harry since fourth year,” stated Hermione sharply.

Luna sighed, “Hermione, we’ve already been over this. Neville explained it quite well, I thought… Just because you didn’t cognitively know that you wanted to, I’m fairly certain you still did. It just wasn’t in the forefront of your thoughts. The only difference is that now it is and now you can’t shove it back down.”

Giving up on trying to debate with Luna about that particular subject, Hermione instead took a sip of her still hot tea. The two witches were silent for only a second before Luna brought the conversation back around.

“So what else happened in Paris then?”

Hermione paused to set her tea cup back down on its saucer.

“I asked him to come to bed with me at the end of the night.”

Luna raised her eyebrows in surprise before a happy smirk came over her face.

“It was nothing like that… The suite only had one bed, so he was going to sleep on the sofa. And I asked him if he’d like to share the… Merlin, talking about it makes it sound like I really was asking him to-”

“I’m sure he didn’t think that,” reassured Luna already knowing where her thoughts were heading. “Harry’s too gentlemanly to think of you like that.”

“I don’t know about that,” whispered Hermione as her memory ran back to that night and Harry’s hands undoing the back of her dress. She had only expected him to get her zipper started and had barely been able to breathe when he had decided to undo the whole thing. She was sure other men had unzipped dresses on other women and in those moments it had probably seemed like such a simple task and like nothing at all, but Harry slowly lowering her zipper the way he did… it just felt… well even now it made her nerves fire and goose bumps appear on her arms. The way he stood there behind her his breathing shallow, she knew he wanted her too. She could almost feel his eyes rake across her back and down her body.

She had wanted to turn around, she had wanted to kiss him senselessly then, but she forced herself to face forward. Then, she had stepped away from him expecting him to leave quickly, but he had lingered for a second. It was only a second, but it was long enough to make her question her good judgment. And then he left… although, she never did hear the lock click.

Luna seemed to be waiting patiently, but Hermione never did elaborate… not that Luna really minded of course.

“I think that maybe this is just loneliness. I think I miss Ron… I know Harry misses Ginny. That’s why I don’t think I should… I don’t think I should act on any of this. We both are vulnerable right now and I think that maybe all this needs is some time.”

Luna nodded in understanding, yet she still seemed hesitant about something. Hermione finished her tea and then went to the sink to deposit her dishes.

“I should probably go, Luna.”

Luna rose and led Hermione to the door. As she opened it, her mind still seemed to be caught up on something, but this time Hermione took notice of her friend’s contemplating expression.

“Luna what is it?” She asked standing under the threshold.

For a second the younger witch seemed like she wasn’t going to tell her, but then apparently she decided against it. “Hermione when was the last time you thought about Ron?”

Hermione shrugged, “I don’t know…” Her brain worked to think back. “I guess… in Italy. So two months ago?... Yeah, it was in Italy. After that Ginny left and I just became so focused on-”

“Harry?” offered Luna with a sort of wise air about her.

Hermione nodded suddenly realizing what the clever Ravenclaw before her was trying to convey to her. Hermione had not thought about Ron, let alone thought about missing him, for nearly two months… not even one bit. Her mind had been elsewhere, her thoughts had been muddled with a fixation on someone else entirely. She didn’t miss Ron anymore. She no longer thought about him at all really as he had been gone for nearly two and half months. Their relationship had been officially dead for three months, but suddenly now as she thought about it she knew it had been dead long before that fateful meeting in that banquet hall. They had been fighting to stay together knowing an end was near like a fish out of water trying to catch its breath. The last few months of the relationship they had barely talked or seen each other. It took the night of the Orion to admit what they both already knew: they were over. For Hermione, it took the night that Ron left to realize that she couldn’t repair what she had broken this time.

And then somehow, somewhere along the way she had cried her last tears for her failed relationship with Ron. Somewhere along the way she had accepted it as her past. Somewhere along the way she had started to move on and somehow she had managed to let another person slip into her heart. And so, the only conclusion to be drawn was that Hermione wanted to kiss Harry, not for the sake of missing someone else or because she was feeling particularly lonely, but instead that she simply wanted to kiss Harry for Harry.


**********


New York City.

She literally had to keep repeating the phrase over and over again in her head. Big lights, skyscrapers, and the most interesting lot of muggles she had ever seen to date. Her father would have a field day if he were to visit this city.

Ginny’s team, the Razorbacks, had just finished with their first traveling match of the year. The team had planned to stay a few extra days in NYC to visit and sight-see. After all it was the largest wizarding population intertwined with a muggle population. Some of the wizarding world seemed to be right in front of the muggles here, but it just didn’t seem like they cared. It was like these New Yorkers had already seen enough crazy that one bloke dressed up in wizarding robes didn’t really shake up their day.

The team had just gotten done eating at the best wizarding restaurant in Manhattan and now they were heading to a recently opened club called The Curious Sphinx.

As they walked the streets, the group paired off into twos as they all strode along the sidewalk. Ginny lagged behind in the back and watched as her friends talked amicably and enthusiastically about the game and the city. They had won their first match, so the team was in high spirits.

“So how are you liking the city?” asked Todd lagging behind too.

“It’s amazing… the muggles here are weird,” joked Ginny.

“Yeah they’re a little desensitized... that’s New York for you though,” Todd shrugged. His gentle blue eyes traveled over Ginny’s face for a minute before asking, “So are you adjusting well with everything? I know in the beginning it was a little hard for you.”

“Yeah… I mean I miss my family sometimes. My dad would’ve absolutely loved to come here. He loves quirky muggles…” Ginny smiled thinking fondly of her father’s curious fascination. “But it’s good that I’m here… I’m glad I came.”

Todd understood and gave a slight nod as they continued down the street. Yellow taxi cabs zoomed by in a rush to get to their passengers’ destinations.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking… but whatever happened with you and Harry?” Ginny laughed for some reason at the question. It was the exact thing pretty much the entire wizarding world was wondering. But as she glanced over at Todd, she did not find a face marked with a prying need to know. Instead, she found there a veil of genuine concern for her.

She sighed, “Ah what the hell... well… I broke it off with him before we left.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know…”

This time Todd laughed. Ginny quirked an eyebrow and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “What?”

“Girls always know,” he stated in a teasing tone. Then his face went serious again. “So… why’d you break it off?”

“It just wouldn’t have worked,” Ginny shrugged sadly.

“Because of the whole long distance thing?”

“Well yeah that… and really it just wasn’t working,” she replied thinking back to the feelings that drove her to LA. “I mean it’s not like I didn’t love him… it’s not like he didn’t love me. It’s just… we just wanted different things,” she explained.

“Like what?”

Ginny looked up at the sky trying to find a way to sum up everything that she had been coping with in the last year regarding her and Harry. The list was still firm in her mind, but she highly doubted Todd had the time or really wanted to know all the details of her and Harry’s complicated relationship. Still he waited patiently and his face seemed honestly interested in hearing about her life so she did her best.

“He wanted to get married… He has pretty much since the day the war was over.”

“And you didn’t?”

“It’s not that I didn’t want to marry him… it’s just that I didn’t want to right then ya know? I’m only twenty-one for Merlin’s sake!” exclaimed Ginny. “And he just wanted to make a family as quickly as possible. I didn’t want that… maybe one day, but not right now. I just don’t see why there has to be such a rush.”

“So then you came here? To get away from him?” Todd was reading into her. Ginny couldn’t decide if that bothered her or not.

“Yeah I did,” she confirmed. “We just needed some time apart. I need to be out on my own for a bit… and hopefully by the time I get back we can maybe start working towards that next step.”

The two grew quiet as they strolled along. The members of the team in front of them were all giggling and laughing about something, but neither knew what. Ginny chanced a look at Todd and found his gaze was distant and far off. Feeling her watching him, he shook himself out of it and turned to her.

He smiled sadly. “I used to be engaged.”

Ginny was kind of taken aback by his announcement, but seeing his look she immediately sympathized for him. “What happened?”

“She broke it off… three months before the wedding.” Todd was silent for a few moments, lost in a time that was not the present. “I saw it coming… I think you can always see it coming. I just never thought… I don’t know… I just never thought I’d be one of those guys, one of those people that have their fiancé break it off. I always figured that when I was sure I’d asked the right girl and then it would work. Or that I could make it work… but you really can’t. She wanted what she wanted… it just wasn’t me.”

“You guys didn’t try after that? Even after she broke it off?” Ginny asked in what she hoped was a gentle tone.

“No… Even if she would have wanted to, I don’t know if I could have. It takes a man a lot bigger than me to get over something like that… She made a promise and she broke it. I just am not one of those people that gets past that… that gets over that,” finished Todd shaking his head.

Ginny nodded. She knew it must’ve been hard drawing up the courage to ask someone to spend the rest of their life with you and she couldn’t imagine how cruel it would be to say yes and then to take it back. A part of her felt so badly for Todd. He was a good man and he didn’t deserve heart break.

But another part of her felt like she was that girl. She was the heart breaker and it was Harry’s heart she had ripped from his chest. She had been the one to say no when he asked her to move in twice. She had been the one to avoid the whole talk of marriage and kids. And she had been the one to break it off, to say goodbye because she needed to get away and because it was she who couldn’t handle things. Just like her first week in LA, Ginny felt guilt tear into her. What kind of person does that? What kind of person hurts someone they love for their own selfish reasons?

Before she had the chance to allow her guilt to gnaw anymore at her psyche, she felt a strong arm around her shoulders pulling her in.

“Ginny, you’re not that girl you know? You did the right thing. You’re figuring your shit out before you get engaged… I wish my fiancé had been more like you,” said Todd reassuringly giving her shoulders one last squeeze before dropping his arm. She looked up at him thankful for the gesture. He smiled in return.

And for the first time since her departure from England, Ginny felt ok with having gone.


**********


Harry tiptoed out of his room, shutting the door softly behind him. The apartment was pitch black except for the gentle light coming from the moon as its beams seeped through the kitchen window and the patio’s back door.

Tonight, like so many others, he planned on sleeping on the couch. There were just too many memories in his bed and he simply couldn’t stand it. So like a kid sneaking to the cookie jar, Harry snuck off to his sanctuary. Ever since Paris, Harry felt odd knowing that Hermione was aware of his ‘habit’ and for some reason he just didn’t want her to know that he would again be sleeping on the couch that night.

Quietly, he crept into the living room with his pillow and comforter. It wasn’t a particularly chilly night but still Harry wore his usual cotton pajama pants and a dark grey t-shirt. Lying down on the sofa, he took off his glasses and carefully reaching over the arm rest he placed them on the side table before finally settling in.

In the darkness, Harry lay flat on his back staring up at the ceiling.

As much as he wanted sleep, he knew his mind would wander as it always did whenever he lay for rest. A while ago he had stopped trying to fight it and now was under the impression that every night he would just have to accept that he was doomed with a brain that did not understand the point of circadian rhythms.

So he let his mind roam knowing where it would go.

Hermione…

He thought about her all the time now, no matter what time of day. It was all very confusing for him. As hard as he tried to figure out why, he could not pinpoint exactly the drive behind it. Was it a crush? Did he have feelings for her? Was this just because he was alone now? Was it because they lived together and all of sudden they were close again like they used to be? He didn’t really know why she was always there, invading his mind.

The one person he would normally talk to about these things was Hermione. And he couldn’t. That was one of the most frustrating things about the entire situation. He wanted to tell her how badly he wanted to hold her, how his body seemed to drift towards her whenever she was around, how he just couldn’t stop thinking about her. But he knew that saying those things would cross a boundary. And he didn’t know what that would mean if he did cross it.

So he kept quiet. He hadn’t told her what was spinning around in his head. He also had failed to mention what Jean had said yet. He often wondered what it would be like if he did.

“But… ah… that dream waz never to ‘appen. She waz far too in love with you.”

Would she deny it and brush it aside? Would she blush and say yes she was? Harry closed his eyes as he felt his heart swell with the hope for the latter. A part of him was pretty sure he wasn’t ready for this, but then another part of him ached like it never had before. Just yesterday he had caught himself again sneaking glances at the stowed away paper in his desk drawer. That picture. That pair that he vaguely recognized standing in the middle of Diagon Alley. He watched it all replay over and over again all with the same nervous anticipation as the two grew closer and closer. The woman in that picture looked at him with such adoration, such love. He wanted her to be in love with him. And he didn’t know why.

A door creaked open off in the distance and Harry’s eyes snapped open. He heard the soft thud of footsteps across the floor towards the kitchen. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her, the one who had bewitched his thoughts. In the dark, she navigated her way around the kitchen getting a glass and then filling it with water. She gulped down the glass, washed it out, and then set it to dry in the rack before turning around to go back to bed. Her foot falls began shortly thereafter only to halt. She had seen him.

Even through the darkness of the night, she could make out the familiar Harry shaped lump on the sofa.

Harry felt his breath pause as she did. He wondered if he should feign sleep or if he should say something to announce that he was indeed up and awake just as she was. But Harry did not need to do either. With a puff of exhaled air and a shake of the head Hermione made her way over to the sofa. Harry wondered what she was planning on doing as she stood next to the couch towering over him. Then suddenly she lifted up the covers and shoved him a bit. “Scoot over.”

Without question, Harry turned to his side and scooted until his back was firmly imprinted into the cushions. Hermione laid down on her side facing him before pulling the covers back over them both.

He felt incredibly nervous with her so close to him. His entire nervous system fired rapidly as her feet brushed against his. And he had absolutely no idea where to put his outside arm so it was awkwardly resting on his side while his other one was tucked underneath the pillow that they now were both sharing.

“Hermione… what are you doing?” asked Harry in a whisper. He hadn’t the slightest clue why he felt he had to whisper, but he did. Maybe it was because of the night, maybe it was because they were so close to each other.

“Sleeping,” she whispered back, her eyes closed.

“Yes but why here?”

“I don’t like it that you sleep out here alone, Harry.” Her hand reached up and gently began stroking his hair, running her fingers through it. He was about to comment when softly she spoke, “Ssshhh… just go to sleep Harry.”

There should’ve been a moment where she dropped her hand, but it never came. Instead, her hand stayed and continued to soothingly roam in and out of his raven locks. Harry closed his eyes getting lost in her relaxing touch. Ever so slowly, he let his head dip down until his forehead was lightly pressed against hers. The gesture didn’t seem to bother her though. She didn’t move away. She only continued her ministrations.

Soon, his breathing matched hers.

He could feel his heartbeat slow and yet his mind was still racing, his neurons still hyper aware of her touch, his skin still dancing with her contact.

She seemed to sense he was still awake. Her whisper crept into the night’s stillness, “You really do have the most unruly hair.”

Harry opened his eyes. It took a moment to adjust to the lack of light, but he eventually was able to make out her face. He found her staring fixedly at her rogue hand as it sifted through the sides of his hair. “It adds to my boyish good looks, I hear.”

She scoffed at his comment mockingly, but a smirk was soon to follow. All the while she fingered his hair absent mindedly. “Ever considered chopping it?”

Harry chuckled quietly. “My Aunt Petunia has tried many times… it never works. It just grows back the way it was before. She used to chop it so short that I was very nearly bald, but then the next day it’d be back to normal… used to drive her mental.”

Hermione smiled at the thought. Her hand continued to rake tenderly through the hair that not even his Aunt Petunia could tame.

Her gaze left her hand and in her shyness moved to his face to see if her touching him was truly ok. But when her eyes met his she found him watching her with an intensity that she had never seen before. The moment their eyes locked her hand stopped. Time seemed to stop altogether.

Harry felt his fist clench in his nervousness, but his eyes never left hers. Not for one second. Not for one moment.

They were so close. And time ceased to exist. Everything ceased to exist. There was only him. There was only her and her hand now halted in his hair. Harry felt his mouth dry as he looked at her. He wanted to move closer. Something in him was telling him to inch closer to her. Something within him was saying that right now they just weren’t close enough. A part of him begged for his muscles to jumpstart into action. And yet another part of him screamed for his body to stay still lest he break the moment and ruin everything.

Hermione’s eyes flickered down to his lips. There it was again, that painful urge to lean just a little bit further in. She wanted to so badly. But she knew he wasn’t ready yet, she knew that it would only be her taking advantage of the situation and of him. So with all of her will power she closed her eyes, her only solution to stop looking into Harry’s. And she slowly let her hand fall from his face.

The moment her eyes shut, Harry knew he had lost her. But as her hand pulled away from him, his body reacted. His body chose for him. It was instinct or a gut reaction of some sort. In the milliseconds it took for Hermione’s hand to pull away from him, Harry instantly discovered how much he yearned for her touch and coincidentally how much he missed it. And in those milliseconds, the thought of her hand not touching him seemed far too terrible than anything else. So without thinking, without regard to past circumstances or future consequences, Harry reached up and grabbed her hand in his stopping her retreat. And as gently as she had ever done, Harry placed her palm on the side of his cheek back where it belonged.

Her eyes reopened to look at him with a furrowed brow and the most complex of gazes. Then just as she had done that night outside of the Hermit her thumb gently caressed his stubbly cheek in the tenderest of ways.

“Hermione…” He breathed her name.

That was all it took for her. Her name rolling off his tongue with longing and intensity. She couldn’t handle it. She finally broke.

She kissed him.


Chapter 18: Not Strong Enough To Break
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Chapter 18- Not Strong Enough to Break


Luna awoke that morning to a loud rapping on her door. At first she of course thought it was merely a dream as lately her dreams had included bongos, but she pulled herself awake when she realized the beat was a bit off.

Tying her robe and hurrying to the door, she unlocked it to reveal a frazzled looking Hermione.

“I ate the entire tin of chocolate covered slugs,” she explained meekly. Luna nodded and simply moved aside letting Hermione enter the apartment. The witch looked positively panic ridden with her hair wild and sticking out in all sorts of places. Her clothes were obviously thrown on in a hurry.

Hermione entered the apartment but she didn’t stay still. Immediately, she began pacing. On the other hand Luna walked lazily over to the sofa and took a seat taking in her friend’s state at six o’clock in the morning.

“So you were saying?”

Hermione threw her hands up in the air. “Luna, I ate the ENTIRE tin of chocolate covered slugs!! WHY! Why did I have to do that?!!”

“I happen to like chocolate covered slugs… I think they’re good. I’d eat the whole tin too if the opportunity arose,” said Luna with a distant look.

Hermione stopped to glare at her. “Luna, I’m talking about the metaphor.”

“So am I.”

Hermione caught the platinum haired witch’s subtle wink quickly followed by a happy smirk. She brushed it aside with a wave of her hand. “Luuuunnnna this isn’t helping…” She groaned as she resumed her laps around the living room.

With a sigh, Luna ventured towards the next hurdle. “Did you use protection?”

Hermione stopped and looked at her confused. “What? Why would I need protection with-” Realization finally sunk in and Hermione’s eyes went wide. “No! We didn’t do that!! Merlin… ha noooooo. Thank God we didn’t do that! WE just snogged. I thought the slugs were just snogging?”

“It’s a metaphor… it’s open for interpretation,” shrugged Luna. “So… how was it?”

Hermione paused and sat down on the sofa’s far end arm rest. She looked up at Luna with pure agony. “At first… it was bad. I think I caught him off guard.”

“Then after that?”

Running her fingers through her hair, Hermione sighed before saying, “Bloody fantastic.”

Despite her friend’s obvious discomfort and angst with the whole situation, Luna could not help the wide grin that spread across her face with Hermione’s words. “I told you he’d be good.”

“You did not! You said he’d be good in bed!” exclaimed Hermione. “There were no in bed relations going on between us.”

“Well where were you?”

“On the sofa…”

“Oh… you’re right then,” conceded Luna with a glint in her eye that made Hermione feel like she had not really won the argument at all. The playfulness in Luna’s eyes slowly melted though to only be replaced by genuine concern for her friend’s worries. “What happened last night?”

Hermione slid into the seat on the sofa. Then quietly she went through and explained the entire night. How she had ended up sharing the couch with Harry, how she had gently began combing her fingers through his hair to get him to rest, and how it all had escalated. “Then we just went to sleep… and I woke up this morning next to him with his arm around me. So… I got up and came straight here,” finished Hermione.

“And? What are you going to do? Are you going to talk to him?” Hermione stood up anxiously wringing her hands together. She hadn’t a clue what she was going to do. She hadn’t a clue what she was going to say to him. That’s part of the reason why she ran. She had a pretty clear idea of how awkward waking up with Harry was going to be and so she avoided that little piece of torture by fleeing to Luna’s for the morning.

“I don’t know, Luna… what should I do?” Luna’s eyes traveled over her confused friend standing before her asking her for advice. The blonde’s face was sober and serious when she addressed her.

“You already know what you’re going to do… You don’t need me to tell you anything, Hermione. You already know what you’re going to say. You’re just scared to say it, but don’t be scared. It needs to be said.”

Hermione’s eyes masked over with emotion.

“Why do you always have to be right Luna?” She asked quietly, her mind already made up.

“I’ve heard people ask you the same thing,” said Luna with a small smile. Then with a great sigh, Hermione stood up.

“Are you going back to talk to him?” asked Luna.

“No… not yet. I’m gonna go take a walk. Try to think,” she muttered with a shake of her head. Luna nodded and bid Hermione goodbye as the older witch made her way out the door leaving Luna to return to her bed, her dreams and the bongos of course.


**********


By the time Hermione had built up her courage to come home it was late in the evening. She walked into silence. The flat was completely quiet as she entered. The only sound being the click of the door closing behind her as it rang out throughout the apartment.

A nervousness enveloped her and she balled her fists to keep them from shaking.

Then down the hall she watched as the door to Harry’s room was pulled ajar. He had been waiting to hear that sound all day, the door to their flat opening and Hermione returning home to him. He appeared in the hallway, the light from his room overflowing into the hall and casting a glow on him.

She leaned back against the door as his eyes caught hers. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said back.

Hermione knew what she wished would happen. In her head she had this fantasy that she would close the door behind her, Harry would come out of his room, and then without hesitation he would stride down the hall and kiss her senseless. No questions, no worries, no need for her to say what she knew she was going to say. He would silence her every thought with the same mind numbing kiss he’d given her last night.

But her fantasy never came true.

Harry stood at the opposite end of the hall shifting his feet awkwardly, hoping she would begin the proceedings first and yet wishing she would not. He knew what she was going to say. He knew it the moment he woke up that morning with her gone. It was even more solidified as the day went on and she stayed away from him. A much larger part of him than he was ready to admit did not have the courage to extend last night into the day. They had kissed under the cover of darkness, under the blind eye of the moon. The night had enchanted him even more with her and emboldened him to do something he had wanted to do for quite some time, but now that his curiosity had been sated and the day had returned he felt the sharp sting of reality. He knew the moment she left his arms that morning that neither of them was ready to fully accept the consequences for those actions.

But a part of him wished she wouldn’t say it. A part of him wished she would just run to his arms and let them be. But alas, Hermione was not a worry free girl and he knew she would not come back to him ready to face the day. So he prepared himself for the inevitable regardless of what he personally felt.

When Hermione found her voice, she could feel her throat constrict with some ill fated, too late emotions. She forced her voice through it knowing she was not ready for what heartache was sure to come if she continued on the same path as last night.

“Harry last night was,” Hermione felt her entire body seize. She hated herself for saying what she was about to say, so she closed her eyes in an effort to fool herself into thinking it was some other person’s voice speaking the word, some other person’s body, “a mistake… We’ve both been through a lot these last few months. It’s no exaggeration saying that each of us have been on quite an emotional rollercoaster.”

Harry’s eyes hit the floor and stayed there. A mistake?

“I meant to comfort you last night… I let it get out of hand and I apologize for that. You were vulnerable and I mistook that. I took advantage of the situation.”

Her words hung in the air like a cold chill sweeping through a valley. Harry could feel the cold sink deep under his skin until it rattled his bones. His head was screaming to object, to say that he had kissed her back and that it had been his choice too. He had let things get out of hand too. But for some reason he held his tongue.

“I hope that this doesn’t taint our… our friendship,” she finished. Her mouth felt dry as she uttered the word that she had for so long known to associate with the boy in front of her. But now that word felt like a lie, like some betrayal against her heart. It made no matter. It was for the best. With nothing left to say, or really nothing left she could say, she moved past him to her own room. Without even a look behind her or a goodnight, she shut the door and left him alone in the hallway.

Hermione walked steadily to her closet and began getting undressed for the night. She was fine. Everything was fine. She had done the right thing, the most sensible thing. And that’s who she was. She was the sensible one.

She felt her eyes get hot and sting with unshed tears. Her lower lip quivered as she shut her eyes as tightly as she could forcing them back in. This was stupid, she knew. What’s the use in getting all bent out of shape over something so foolish? But still, the tears came.

It was only a stupid snog for Merlin’s sake. At least that’s what she kept telling herself.


**********


The next two weeks were God awfully painful for the two. It was like the Prophet had come out with a whole new article with the way they avoided each other. Thankfully, by the end of the two weeks they had somehow fallen into some acceptable level of interaction, one that was neither uncomfortable nor comfortable.

But they lived with it. Going through their days at the Ministry, Hermione occasionally traveling, and then coming home back to their flat that was filled with a tension that no matter what level of acceptable interaction they had established they could never totally get rid of.

Soon, Harry found himself somehow missing the girl that lived right down the hall. She was a short walk away, only a few paces. Yet he felt like she kept herself on another continent, she was so distant from him.

His mind kept drifting back to that night, their one night together.

He had never slept so soundly, not even after the war was well and gone. But it wasn’t the sleep he missed. He longed for the tranquility that had engulfed him at the same time his arms had engulfed her. And his mind turned around and around everyday thinking of it, thinking of her. Where had his courage gone? Where had the brave lion heart within him disappeared to?

In Paris, he remembered how empty he had felt sleeping alone on the sofa. That same emptiness was cutting through him except ten fold stronger. His sanctuary in the living room from the past that plagued his bedroom was now a plague in itself. A constant reminder of his cowardice to actually vocalize his feelings to the one person that he had always been able to say those things to, even the most embarrassing of feelings. So now he preferred the bedroom. He could handle the bed. It was the sofa he could no longer handle.

A picture had made him see her, had made him wonder what her kiss would taste like. And now, a few short kisses had made him want her above anything else, above anyone else. So he could not take their silence any longer, he could not ignore that swell in his chest. That swell had grown and escaped his chest overtaking his entire body, his entire being enraptured by the movements of just one person, a person he’d regretfully overlooked the last eleven years of his life. And he was no longer willing to do so anymore.


**********


Harry entered the flat after his day at work. He’d gone to her office before he’d left to see if maybe she’d fancy a walk home, but he found the door locked. The secretary had said that she’d left early for the day.

So Harry had walked home alone.

The apartment’s living room was a spectrum of soft hues flowing from the fireplace. Hanging his cloak in the hall closet, Harry glanced in catching his favorite witch sprawled out on the sofa, her head against the arm rest. True to form she was biting her lip and was obviously deep in thought as she poured over a boulder of a book that stood upright on her belly.

He recognized how engrossed she was and knew that she had failed to register his presence as he leaned up against the opening’s frame. That moment seemed like just as good as any other to him.

Gathering his courage and mustering all the charm he could, he pushed off from the entryway. Quietly, careful not to disturb her, he strode over to her feet and lifted them. Seating himself underneath, he gently placed them back down over his lap. Even though, Harry sat tall he could not see her expression from the massive tome she hid behind. But he knew all the same that she was hyper aware of his presence now and he sat silently relishing that little fact.

“Whatcha doing?”

“It’s this new thing… it’s called reading.” A smile tugged at Harry’s mouth with her humor.

“Ha-ha… what are you reading?” asked Harry peaking over the edge of the book to catch her eye.

“Wouldn’t you like to know…” she muttered, her eyes never leaving the page.

Lifting her legs up again, Harry scooted himself as close as he could, her bum pressed up against his right thigh. Whether this was affecting her at all or not, he hadn’t a clue nor had he decided did he care. Leaning in and cocking his head to the side, he was able to read the pages that she was apparently so enthralled by that she couldn’t even spare a glance to him.

“Goblins? It’s six o’clock in the evening on a Friday and you want to read about goblins!”

His head turned to look at her incredulously. Hermione couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Yes well some of us actually have these things called jobs. And it’s really crazy, but they require you to go to them on the weekends… prepared too! Unlike some people who never work on the weekends and sit around in their pajamas,” she countered in a mocking manner.

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll have you know that I am ALWAYS prepared for my job… and my boss LETS me have the weekends off. Unlike some people who get to make their own work schedules yet still feel the need to go in on the weekends even when it’s completely pointless.”

“I’ll have YOU know that I am preparing for my trip to Bulgaria where I will be speaking with a number of Bulgarian goblins,” she stated matter of fact like.

“Oh yes… of course. Well Bulgarian goblins are indeed the worst.” Harry’s eyebrows lifted sarcastically.

Hermione finally pulled her eyes away from her paragraph to glare at Harry. What started as a glare quickly turned to something else entirely as she suddenly realized how close Harry had leaned in. Her face felt hot and her stomach fluttered as her eyes traveled up and down his profile. All the while he pretended to read.

As she turned her head to the side to look at him one more time, she found that her nose was only mere millimeters away from his cheek. She had to suppress the urge to nuzzle into that cheek, to shower feather light kisses down into the crook of his neck. With all her resolve, she forced her eyes back to her page.

“Hermione, this book has somehow surpassed Binns. This might be the most boring read I’ve ever skimmed across.”

“And we all know you’ve skimmed across many a read,” she quipped smugly.

Harry turned to sneer at her just as she did to smirk at him. And then they were stuck. Just like two weeks before on the very same sofa, their eyes were locked on each other’s. The corner of his mouth tugged into a small smile as he realized their predicament while Hermione’s expression quickly turned sober. Harry watched as her cheeks tinged slightly and he couldn’t help but feel like patting himself on the back. This was the proximity that he had been dreaming about. Without even a moment’s hesitation, he leaned in until his nose was nestled against hers.

She couldn’t move. Hermione felt like her entire body was frozen under him. It felt like an out of body experience. She could see herself, a statue on the couch as Harry neared ever closer bridging some gap that had been forged between the two for the last couple of weeks.

But before he could tilt his head and give her a taste of the kiss she had missed so much, she heard her brain scream, a scream so loud that it reverberated throughout her entire body and her mouth had no choice but to form the words that it willed her to say.

“No… No, Harry.” Her hand came up on his chest to halt him from moving forward. Then just as quickly as he had created the moment, he lost it as Hermione got up and left for her room.

What had he done wrong?


**********


The next week Hermione avoided him, very successfully as a matter of fact. Harry quickly found, even though he should have realized by that point, that the witch was far too good at whatever she set her mind on, the current model case being skivving off from ever seeing Harry again.

He was beginning to grow desperate. This was getting completely ridiculous. And so he decided to pull out all the stops. Yes, he was going to play dirty. He had enlisted the help of Aldo. The more than obliging house elf had sent Harry three of his best recipes, all of which were Hermione’s favorites and were dishes she often requested whenever she visited the Tattoris back in Italy.

Cooking had been one of his fortes having basically been the Dursleys personal slave since he was a toddler. And so that was his plan. He’d cook her one of her favorite dishes, they’d sit and talk, and hopefully he’d finally get to let her know what was going on his head.

It had to work. He couldn’t stand this avoidance, this tension. He wanted his best friend back. He wanted to be able to talk like they used to. And he knew that the only way to take a step in that direction was to stop this unhealthy denial. He knew he had feelings for Hermione and he was quite willing to admit them. The hard part was going to be getting her to admit hers too because he knew, in his heart of hearts, that she had to feel it too. There wouldn’t be the tension if she didn’t. She wouldn’t have kissed him in the dark under the glow of the moonlight had she not felt something too.

So it was decided. Their tension filled apartment was going to hit a peak tonight, the scales were about to tip. And as Harry made her favorite dish with all the care in the world, he prayed to the Gods above that the scales tipped in his favor. He prayed that he would not get his heart smashed because he didn’t know who was going to be there to put it back together again. The last person to do the job was the same person he was about to hand over his badly damaged heart to. So he cooked and he prayed with every fiber of his body. He stirred his sauces just as he stirred those ingrained childlike beliefs that he had, those certainties that no matter what happened would not vanquish or deter. Because as it turned out Harry the twenty two year old man, was still the same boy he had always been, the boy who believed in happy endings and resolved conclusions.

The door to the apartment opened and shut.

Hermione walked into the kitchen slowly taking everything in with a calculating eye. Harry had been bustling around preparing their supper, but stopped when he saw Hermione’s serious eyes.

“What? What is it?” he asked worried.

“What are you doing?” Her face was expressionless but Harry could see the hurt in her chocolate depths.

“I… er… I’m making dinner… ermm… for you,” he managed still unsure of why she appeared to be so put off by the sight of him cooking for her. She hadn’t even taken off her cloak from the Ministry. She stood, cloak and all, like a stranger to the place.

She nodded to herself before closing her eyes as if in some sort of deep pain that Harry could not understand. Then she turned and started right back for the door.

“Hermione...” ventured Harry confused, but she didn’t stop. “Hermione! Wait!”

Harry threw off his apron and ran to catch up to her. He managed to stop her in the living room. She stared down at her shoes unwilling to meet his eyes. Something about the situation was causing fear to creep into his bones and he didn’t like that one bit.

“Are you… are you ever going to talk to me?” he inquired staring at her intensely even though she refused to meet his eyes.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” she stated. Her body was like an icicle before him, statuesque and unforthcoming.

“Like hell there isn’t! You’ve been avoiding me pretty much since that night, Hermione… I just want to know what’s going on. We need to discuss this,” pleaded Harry.

“There’s nothing to discuss.” She shrugged sadly and moved around him towards her escape, but Harry wasn’t having any of it. He grabbed her hand to stop her. And she did stop, something he was thankful for. Slowly he turned her back towards him and even though she faced him her eyes still avoided him. Harry’s other hand found its way underneath her chin and lifted it.

“Hermione we’ve always been able to talk and I know it’s scary… but we have talk about what’s going on between us. I can’t keep living like this… I can’t… I can’t stay away from you like this.”

Her eyes were brimming with tears. “Harry...”

“Please Hermione… I don’t care if it’s going to hurt. I just need you to talk to me.”

With a deep breath she stepped away from him, letting his hand fall limply to his side. Harry looked confused and scared all at once. “Harry… whatever this is between us it won’t ever happen… It can’t. I won’t let it.”

His eyebrows furrowed with her words. She knew he wasn’t going to like what she had to say, but if he wanted the truth then he was going to have to accept what he’d asked for.

“You miss Ginny,” she stated. Harry was going to protest, but she didn’t let him. “I know you do… And a part of this, whether you realize it or not, is just you projecting your feelings for her onto me. You miss being in a relationship. You’re lonely and the thought of sleeping alone in a bed kills you. I’ve been there. I’ve been there for the last two years… But I am just your substitute for her.”

Harry’s breath was unsteady when he took it, his face marked by the most outraged of expressions. “You really believe that? That my feelings for you aren’t real? If you honestly think that then you don’t know me at all.” Harry swallowed the hurt and anger down to his stomach. “And I suppose I’m just your substitute for Ron?”

She looked down at her hands. “Yes.”

“I don’t believe that. I don’t think that this is just that,” he muttered harshly.

“It doesn’t matter if it is or if it isn’t!” Her own voice matching his intensity. “Ron will come back. So will Ginny. And what will we do then, Harry?”

Harry couldn’t help but raise his voice. “I don’t know… You’re thinking TOO FAR AHEAD!!”

“BECAUSE YOU NEVER THINK AHEAD!! I have to!” She screamed, tears of frustration wetting her eyes. She inhaled a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself. “What would we do if we started something and they came back?”

She inched closer to him, looking with all her severity right into his emerald eyes as he stood quiet and immobile. “Would you tell Ginny? Would you tell Ron?”

Harry faltered with the question. “I-I… I don’t know, Hermione.” He honestly didn’t know how to answer that question. The two Weasleys seemed so far off from the little world they had created in that flat. “Ginny’s gone for a year. Ron’s been gone for months and he’ll probably be gone for more.”

“BUT they will come back, Harry. They will!”

“WHY DOES THAT HAVE TO MATTER NOW?!!!” He shouted finally losing his temper.

“BECAUSE I CAN’T DO IT AGAIN!”

The words hit him like a brick wall, but not nearly as bad as the tears that started streaming down her cheeks.

“I-I… I can’t do it again, Harry,” she breathed with anguish. “I can’t fall for someone just to have my heart broken in return. If we continue whatever it is that we have, it won’t matter because they’ll come back. They will. And I’ll fall in love with you. I know I will… I know you and I know me… and I will fall for you.” Hastily she wiped the tears from her cheeks before looking him directly in the eye. “And if you can promise me… right now for certain… that when the time comes you will tell them straight to their faces. IF you can look me in the eye right now and tell me that when the time comes you would choose me over Ginny… then yes I’d love to have dinner with you. Then yes I’d love to stay and fall head over heels for you.”

Harry was completely still, though his eyes were lined too with the same tears as Hermione’s were.

“But the fact is you won’t tell them and you won’t choose me. And I don’t know if I’d do the same either… So you see… Whatever this is between us it’s doomed and it’s not going to work.”

Hermione closed her eyes as she spoke. “And you’ll go back to her… and I can’t, Harry… I’m sorry. I just can’t… I can’t be that girl crying on the bathroom floor over someone again… I don’t even have Italy to run off to anymore,” she smiled sadly though it never reached her eyes.

With a shaky inhale, Hermione sniffled before turning back around and making for the exit once again. She stopped though when she heard his broken voice.

“W-Where are you… where are you gonna go?”

She turned one last time, “Luna’s. I’ll stay there from now on. I should probably think about getting a place of my own.”

Then without even a goodbye, she left him.


**********


“Hermione…” He breathed her name.

That was all it took for her. Her name rolling off his tongue with longing and intensity. She couldn’t handle it. She finally broke.

She kissed him.

Soft and firm all at the same time. Then before he knew what was happening it was over. Harry barely had enough time to close his eyes before she pulled back. The sweetest kiss against his lips was offered and gone before he even had time to react to it, to register it.

She stayed close though, waiting for that reaction whatever it might be. Surprise, regret, uncertainty, pity, longing, and she even dared to hope… happiness?

Whatever the emotion, Harry hadn’t decided upon it yet. The only thing he knew was that that particular kiss was not nearly long enough to effectively discern what emotion was rising up in his chest, the same swell he had experienced just before she joined him on the couch. His hand, still gently holding hers against his cheek, slid down her arm and up to her neck. He stopped there only for a second before pulling her to him again.

This kiss was much fuller, much longer. And he didn’t let her go. He held her to him even as he ended the kiss keeping her just a fraction away from him. He felt her inhale a deep breath like she couldn’t believe he’d kissed her. His brain was a soft hum of numbness. He didn’t want to think what this might mean. He only wanted to bask in this beauty, this delicate angel that had been denied from him for far too long.

The flood gates had been opened for the both of them.

She closed the inches of space in between them as his hand guided her into another searing kiss. That was all it took. She tilted her head allowing him to deepen what was happening between them. Soon his tongue grazed the edges of her lips. She wasted no time letting it enter so she could dance hers along his too. They explored each other, not hungrily or in any way animalistic. There was heat, yes indeed there was heat, between their two bodies pressed flush against one another. But it was tender all at the same time.

He broke away only for a moment before kissing her once more softly.

Her thumb resumed its light caresses against his cheek as her other hand wound its way up to his other cheek to hold him to her. She could’ve held him, cradled, to her like that forever. And he wouldn’t have dared protest.

Somewhere in between mixed kisses and calm, barely there touches against his cheek, they drifted to sleep keeping each other close in an innate and natural way, in a way they had never been permitted to in the past.

They slept in peace. Blissful peace.



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvatore raised his cup and sipped at the hot liquid.

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

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

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

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

“So what brings you here? Anything new?”

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

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

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

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

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

“And the Wizengamot?”

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

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

“And until then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will.”


**********


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The qualifier?” inquired Kingsley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what should I do?”

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

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

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

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

“Alright. Stay vigilant.”

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


**********


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I should say the same to you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry walked briskly to catch up to Hermione.

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

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

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

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

“Harry…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaos had arrived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“HERMIONE WAIT!” Arthur screamed after her.

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

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

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

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

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

“I AM NOT LEAVING YOU!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“HARRY!!!”

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

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

“HAAAAARRRRRRY!!!”


Chapter 20: A Safe House
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Author's Note: Hello everyone! I hope everyone had a lovely break. I had originally intended to get this up before Christmas and New Years, but I forgot my laptop at my apartment instead of bringing it home with me. But anyway I am back and writing away. Here's the latest. Enjoy. As always, reviews are much loved!
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Chapter 20- A Safe House


“HAARRRRYYYY!!!!”

As her voice echoed throughout the house she was now in, Hermione fought against the captor that held her. The arms grasping Hermione around her waist dropped as she struggled against them. Whirling around, she was met with the paled and shocked expression of Arthur Weasley.

“How could you! HOW COULD YOU!!!” Hermione’s fists flew out and began beating at Arthur’s chest furiously.

Uselessly he tried to grab her arms to restrain her. “Hermione, calm down.”

“HOW COULD YOU!!!” She screamed at him her expression animalistic and wild, aided by the blood splattered across her, Harry’s blood. Shoving him away, she tried to apparate back. It didn’t work. Her feet stayed planted on the tile. In a panic she ran down the hallway to the front door, but it would not budge open. Her options were out. Spinning back around she reared on him again.

“TAKE ME BACK!!! TAKE ME THE FUCK BACK!!”

Arthur stood limply in front of her. “I can’t,” he muttered miserably.

“DON’T SAY THAT!” Hermione felt the blood rush from her head to her knees. The room was beginning to spin uncontrollably. She could feel her stomach tighten and spasm. “I have to… I have to get back… I have to… He might be… oh God he could be…” She could not bear to finish the words.

Hermione felt hot tears blind her vision. The room was going hazy before her.

“Hermione, please calm down,” tried Arthur again, taking a cautious step towards her as she swayed where she stood.

“TAKE ME BACK! I have to… I have to… get… back.”

And then everything went black for her.


**********


Molly paced the kitchen to Grimmauld Place anxiously, her face a picture of pure heart aching worry and dread. George sat at the table with his head in his hands while Bill leaned against the counter. Each one’s demeanor was just as thought riddled and anxious. It was Bill who broke the silence between the three.

“I’m sure they’re safe…” he tried to reassure them. Molly stopped her pacing to look up at her son hopelessly.

“Arthur and Hermione are missing and… and… Harry…” Mrs. Weasley could not finish the sentence she had attempted to start as her throat tightened and tears immediately started to well up. She couldn’t help it when they rushed out of her eyes.

Bill went to her. The eldest Weasley son embraced his mother as she bawled into his chest. As sobs continued to wrack her body, Bill did his best to soothe her rubbing her back trying to calm her down. Eventually she relaxed slightly although her entire body remained tense. Pulling away Bill looked his mother in the eye preparing to broach the subject that needed to be talked about. “Maybe we should floo Ginny.”

“Oh… Bill…” Molly erupted into a whole new fit of sobs as she thought about her daughter all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. She didn’t even want to think about how she was going to tell her daughter. “I don’t… I don’t think I… I c-can.”

“Mum she would want to know. She should get to say goodbye,” explained Bill quietly trying to get his mother to see the reality of the situation.

Immediately George flew out of his seat. “DO NOT TALK LIKE THAT! HARRY IS NOT GOING TO DIE!”

Bill released his mother to face his seething younger brother. “He very well might! And Ginny would want to be here.”

George took a menacing step towards Bill his fists balling in the process. “HE WILL MAKE IT! HARRY’S A FIGHTER!!”

Turning to his mother, Bill’s eyes silently begged for her to side with him. “Mum, please. She would want to be here.”

“Don’t listen to him! Harry WILL make it!” shouted George his anger and frustration barely containable. “We are not going to lose him! We can’t! There’s no reason to tell Ginny unless we think Harry’s going to die and HE’S NOT!”

“Just because you’re scared about losing another brother does not mean that we do NOT HAVE TO TELL GINNY!!” cried Bill, his own frustrations getting the best of his usually cool, composed demeanor.

George’s jaw dropped open in surprise at Bill’s outburst, slowly his mouth shut as Bill’s words reverberated off of the walls. The younger Weasley had registered the meaning behind those words and his face contorted into anguish.

Seeing the agony on George’s face, all of Bill’s anger went out the window. Carefully he took a step towards his little brother, but George drew back away from him. “George… I didn’t mean it… I’m sorry.” Bill tried once more to reach out to his hurt sibling, but the moment his hand touched George’s arm he reared back as if the touch had seared his skin. Knowing that he had offended him deeply, Bill turned away from George and faced his mother once more. He refused to give up on his point. “Mum… please. Ginny would want to know. What if he doesn’t make it?”

Mrs. Weasley looked up at the caring son before her, tears brimming in her eyes. She hadn’t the will to interrupt her two sons’ argument, but now George was silent and Bill stood before her still trying to get her to rationalize this. She didn’t want to though.

“Bill…” she begged. How could she answer that question? She did not want to have to floo her daughter. She did not want to admit that maybe all of them would have to say goodbye to Harry.

He was the boy who lived. Through every circumstance and against all odds he had survived many times over. And right now, Molly Weasley was praying that the raven haired boy who was like a son to her continued to live up to his nickname because as of right then she didn’t know if she had the strength to deal with the aftermath if he did not.


**********


Hermione’s eyes fluttered open.

Towering above her was Arthur, concerned and worn looking. It seemed like he had aged more in the span of five minutes than he had in his entire life. His eyes were a sea of worry and turmoil, a result of the situation the two had gone through. With a shaky hand, he combed through his thinning red hair.

“Hermione dear… are you alright?” He asked his voice laced with anxiety. He half expected her to erupt in hysterics again like she had before her collapsing and passing out.

Instead she remained quiet. Her head felt thick and heavy as did all of her limbs. She tried sitting up, but found the task too daunting. It took Arthur gently guiding her shoulders off the tile floor for her to finally be able to. As she sat up, she immediately remembered what had happened, the haze of waking up now gone.

“Arthur, where are we?” she asked softly as waves of realization crashed down upon her.

“It’s a safe house,” began Arthur finding his voice. “The Ministry arranged one for me. They’re quite rare. Only a handful of Ministries can afford them.”

Hermione took in her surroundings as she listened. Arthur nervously continued to explain, “The house binds you to it. It’s like a Fidelius charm, but instead the house is your secret keeper. It’s been charmed to pretty much have a mind of its own. Completely unplottable and untraceable. The house is-”

“Arthur, I know what a safe house is,” interrupted Hermione halting his ramblings. She raised a hand to her furrowed brow. Every atom inside of her wanted to scream and it took all of her might not to. “Please just tell me why you brought us here…”

“I had to get you out of there, my dear.” Hermione deflated. She knew what that meant. It wasn’t just anyone that needed to be removed from the situation, it was her. The cloaked figures had been after something, after someone specifically. Arthur had removed her for a reason because it was her, it had to be her. Most of all the thought that tore at her was that Harry could be dead because of her. She was the reason behind it all. Hermione tried to shove those thoughts aside, but still she couldn’t help the guilt as it slowly ate away at her heart like bile.

“How long will we be here?” Something crept up in her gut as she asked that question, the underlying meaning of it all. How long would she have to stay there until she could find out if Harry was dead?

“Well,” Arthur gulped, hearing the question behind the question too. “As I’m sure you know these houses can be set for any length of time… But I think Kingsley set this one for two weeks.”

Hermione nodded resolutely, trying to do her best to accept what Arthur had just told her. It was the only thing she could do. Her mind worked to process everything calmly and rationally, but as the moments passed she was unable to stop her chest from caving in. Wrapping his arms around her, Arthur pulled her to him as fresh tears spilled.

“Shhh… it will be ok,” whispered Arthur softly into her hair. “There were aurors there to take Harry. They got him to safety. They got him to a healer, I know it. He’ll be alive and we will see him when these two weeks are over.”

Her head shook roughly against his shoulder. “You don’t know that… we can’t be certain. Arthur… what if we get back and he’s been dead for two weeks without me being there? What if-”

Arthur’s words stopped her.

“My dear we cannot think like that. We mustn’t. Harry is alive,” affirmed Arthur with the surest conviction. “You must believe it.”

“It was me, wasn’t it? They were after me,” she pulled back to look at Arthur with tear stained eyes.

The older wizard felt his throat close. “I can’t answer that,” he said in a small voice.

Hermione felt the strain behind his voice and knew that it was a tension from knowing and being unable to tell rather than one of not knowing. She’d heard it many a time before. “You’ve sworn an oath,” she stated wisely, immediately reading into his tight lipped manner.

Arthur could not confirm nor deny her deduction. He could only pull her close and embrace her as she tried to cope with the events of that evening. And so he did. With whatever strength he had left in him, he somehow managed to soothe the girl before him until her sobs tormented her no more. Gently he pulled the two up and led her towards one of the washrooms.

Harry’s blood was still all over her face, neck, and shirt.

Arthur wordlessly led her to the sink. The house seemed to be aware of the trauma the young witch had been through, its magic keenly intertwined with its two inhabitants. And so the large mirror that rested above the sink showed no reflection. Hermione would never have to see her own body covered with what might possibly be the last pints of life giving blood that had flowed through her best friend.

She sat on the toilet seat as Arthur went over to the sink to wet a cloth.

With the care only an experienced father could have, Arthur wiped the blood from her face going back and forth between her and the sink to rinse out the cloth before returning to his task.

Arthur surveyed Hermione as he smoothly wiped away the evidence of the battle. Her eyes were swollen and puffy. Her face had small scrapes and bruises from curses that had just barely grazed her. Her own blood had dried and mixed with that of her friend’s. She shook involuntarily, her body convulsing with the after shock of the experience. Arthur was as gentle as a lamb as he tended to Hermione. He tried to work quickly, even though his own mind was too fogged and worried to keep track of the concept of time.

Finishing the best he could, he slowly pulled her back up to a standing position and led her to one of the house’s many bedrooms. The door opened without him having to touch it and the sheets of the bed curled back on their own. She moved as if in a depressed daze.

She lied down. Arthur pulled the covers over her and flicked the light off before taking a seat in the chaise in the corner. He would watch over her for the night just to make sure.

Soon she slept as her body and mind were far too exhausted to do anything else.

Arthur leaned back into the cushions and started bargaining with whatever higher power was out there as he watched her chest rise and fall with the slow soothing breaths of sleep.


**********


Kingsley entered Grimmauld’s kitchen to find three Weasleys already there waiting expectantly for him. His eyes traveled over all three and took note of their highly troubled statures. An older woman in her late seventies followed closely behind him, walking in with a calloused and aged stride.

Bill’s eyes peered over his mother’s form and caught Kingsley’s, the emotions in them matching his own. His gaze stopped Molly and she turned peering over her shoulder.

“Molly, this is Healer Jones. She’s a trusted mediwitch from St. Mungo’s. She’s worked exclusively with the auror department for the last 40 years.” As Kingsley took a seat next to George, Molly faced the aged and experienced witch that had been working nonstop on the boy upstairs as he fought for his life.

In another time, under different circumstances Molly would have happily asked the witch if she’d like some tea or something to eat. Then the ever doting mother and hostess she would have gone about fixing Healer Jones whatever she wished. But not this time. Instead, Molly remained quiet and still, her habits dying with her worry.

All four looked at Healer Jones anxiously. She quickly thrust into a calculated explanation.

“It appears Harry was hit simultaneously by two spells. The first spell would have been lethal… He would’ve bled to death before anything could have been done as it hit so close to his heart.”

“And the other spell?” asked Kingsley sitting on the edge of his seat as he too had yet to hear of Harry’s status.

“Well… I haven’t identified it. Whatever it was, it was the damnedest thing… Surely the cleverest thing I’ve ever seen,” replied the elder witch thoughtfully.

“What happened?” Bill’s eyebrows furrowed with wonder.

“Someone sent a healing spell that hit Harry just at the same time the other one did. The timing was impeccable… impossible, if you ask me, but then again I’m no duelist. Whatever spell it was, it prevented the curse from taking its full effect.”

“He’s alive?” whimpered Molly as a new set of tears formed out of relief.

The healer’s face darkened. “Yes… but just barely. He’s got to grow back skin, bone, tissue, muscle. The potions he’s taking are nearly as hazardous to the body as the curse is. It’ll be a long process… if he survives it. Luckily he’s in a coma. If he were conscious, he’d pass out from the pain.”

“Do you think he’ll live?”

She took a moment to consider George’s question before carefully choosing her words. “If he makes it through the night… then I think there’s a good chance of it. But mind you, I’m not making any promises.”

Despite her warning, George visibly relaxed. “He will… I know he will,” he whispered to himself.

Healer Jones’s concentration moved from George back to Molly and Kingsley. “I’ll stay with him, but he cannot afford anymore visitors. He’s got enough stress on his body as it is,” grunted Jones roughly.

Kingsley took that time to reenter the conversation. “It’s ok. Grimmauld will be going on lock down. I don’t want anyone else coming or going. Harry’s condition is too critical and we can’t have the word getting out. I don’t want another attack.”

With a nod of agreement, Healer Jones bid them all goodnight before returning back to Harry’s room. She would have to stay awake all night to monitor him. The potions she was forcing down his throat had to be administered on the hour, every hour.

As the kitchen door swung shut with her departure, Kingsley turned to address the Weasleys. “I’ll leave the floo open for the next ten minutes if you want to leave or if you want to contact anyone about your stay here. I ask all of you to please do not tell anyone of Harry’s condition. We must delay the papers hearing of this as much as we can. Harry can’t afford any mistakes right now. His life is already at stake.”

“Even Ginny?” asked Bill, returning back to his concern from the very first moment he had arrived.

Kingsley nodded solemnly. “Yes even Ginny. Her traveling back here would only set off an alarm for people… Harry’s enemies could follow her.”

Bill nodded his question answered. A part of him wished he could tell Ginny, but he knew Kingsley was right. In his current state, Harry could not be transported elsewhere. An attack would surely be the end of him. And so Ginny would just have to remain blissfully ignorant.

“I’m going to go use the floo… I have to contact a few people. The house will be on lockdown until Harry’s stable. Bill if you want to floo Fleur and tell her where you are. George, I’m sure Angelina would like to know also. Keep your conversations short. I’ll tell the Department to keep the floos open for only ten minutes after.” Seeing their nodding heads, Kingsley stood and started making his way out to the living room.

“Kingsley,” called Molly effectively stopping him. His hand lay rested against the door. “What of Arthur and Hermione?”

He cleared his throat. “From what my aurors tell me, Arthur grabbed Hermione and then disappeared… If my instinct serves me right, I’d say I know where they are and I can assure you they are both safe. After Harry’s stable, I’ll find them… For right now, we have to have faith that they are safe. We can only worry about Harry. The rest will come. Sadly, the only thing we can do is wait,” answered Kingsley honestly before pushing through the doorway leaving the three Weasleys there in the kitchen, somewhat more relieved than when he had first entered.

As the door shut behind him, Kingsley’s entire presence changed. With haste, he strode over to the living room hearth. He grabbed a quill and two pieces of parchment off the far desk. On one, he scribbled two words and on the other, he wrote a clear order. Taking a handful of floo powder, he threw his hand’s worth into the fire calling out to the Ministry. The flames roared to life turning a green hue. Kingsley cast one piece of parchment into the flames before calling out a new destination into the green blaze. Immediately the fire swirled towards the new address. Again, Kingsley cast the last piece of parchment into the fire. As the flames died, Kingsley fell back onto the sofa behind him. His hands ran over his tired face.

Barely just under his breath, he muttered, “Thank you Ron… for whatever the hell you did.”


**********


Ron’s eyes were bloodshot and his hair was stuck up in every which way. He sat before the hearth in his wooden desk chair, his hands wringing together as he glossily stared into the fire.

Dante would be angry with him.

The youngest Weasley son could only imagine the hell that was about to be unleashed on him when he returned back to the manor. He should’ve gone back already, but he couldn’t. He just couldn’t. He had to hear of Harry.

It had been a stroke of luck, really, that he’d heard above the smoke and the shouts. He’d heard the spell cast, he had seen the wizard’s aim at his best friend, and so he had done what he hoped would work. Without thinking, he raised his wand too and cast the first healing spell he’d ever learned, a charm Hermione had taught him during the war.

He hadn’t any time to see the outcome of the two fired spells. There were aurors everywhere and not a one knew that he was Ron Weasley. His face was instead that of Vito Mancini, a known Italian pure blood purist and an ardent criticizer of Hermione Granger. So he had fled. He took as many detours as his fogged mind could think of before somehow arriving back to his tiny room in the heart of Italy. He was safe… for the time being. The aurors were sure to be after him. Dante would also be looking for him now that he hadn’t returned.

But he was numb to those thoughts right now.

All he could think of was Harry. He kept whispering to himself, repeating the same phrase over and over and over again. “He’s alright… he’s alright… he’s alright.” But he had no way of knowing for sure. The spell would have killed Harry. Ron knew that if it reached Harry before his own had then Harry would surely be long dead. He prayed that by whatever stroke of genius he had with casting that spell that maybe it had worked. Maybe for once he had come through on some wildly unexpected stroke of luck.

His hands ran through his hair unsteadily, but paused when the fire in the hearth soared with green flames. Ron felt his stomach clench. The verdict was in.

A single scrap of parchment floated out of the flames as they whipped and curled around it. The edges of the piece were slightly singed. Ron burst forward grasping at the parchment. He turned it over in his hands and hurriedly read the two words written in Kingsley’s rushed script. He dropped to his knees as air shot out of his chest in relief.

He’s alive.


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