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Author's Note: When I received this chapter from my beta, I knew it would take hours to go over. There were more notes and comments than actual text! But I hope my slaving was worth it. I've started a new job (37 hours a week), and this was my only day off this week and I wanted to spent it getting this chapter up before Monday. If you like this story - and have a livejournal - I created a fan fiction one a while ago, which is Daddy central, along with my other work if you're interested. Warning of slash and NC-17 work, mind. Link in my profile. Oh, and looking at my reviews it seems I'm just under 20 off to reach 1000! WOW. That is just wow. Thank you all so much, your reviews do mean a lot to me (unless all you say is "update now", that is quite a rude thing to say to an unpaid writer). And lastly - it's my birthday at the end of the month (29th). w00t.
*** Chapter Eight Hexed
After hearing Miranda say those fateful words, Hermione had retreated to her room as quick as her legs would take her. She laid awake in bed going over different scenarios in her mind of how Ron would have taken the news that she had slapped Miranda, and how she, Hermione, could explain why she had done it. Now, alone in her bedroom, Hermione tried to concentrate on what she would say to Ron, but strangely, the scenarios all seemed to end with her lying across the kitchen table and kissing Ron passionately, who had forgiven her and unceremoniously dumped Miranda. Hermione shook her head to clear her thoughts. The fact of the matter was that Miranda had provoked her. Hermione had been pushed to the edge; was it really her fault she had fallen? She wondered which angle Miranda might have played when explaining to Ron what had happened, and guessed it would be a version without any truth to it. Then again, how could Miranda really explain why Hermione had hit her without explaining what she had said? "Oh, Ronald, all I said was she had a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe, and then she just hit me for no reason!" No, it just wouldn't work. Whatever was said, the bottom line was that Hermione had slapped Miranda, and that was all Ron was likely to see. Hermione contemplated going to his room to have this resolved before morning. However, Miranda would be there, and Hermione wanted to talk to Ron alone. Not to mention that he would probably need a while to calm down before he could talk coherently to her. No, she would wait until morning when the dust would hopefully have settled. Hermione realised suddenly how tired she was and glad that Ron had appeared to wait until morning to deal with the situation. With Hannah already sleeping soundly, Hermione herself got ready for bed.
After a sleepless night, Hermione woke up early and took Hannah down for breakfast. Not even Molly, who was first awake and last asleep, was up yet, which gave Hermione a lot of time before Ron was likely to crawl out of bed. As Hannah ate her porridge, Hermione took a piece of parchment and a quill from one of the drawers and jotted down, I slapped Miranda. - Hermione Sighing, she walked over to the window and opened it, allowing Pig, who had been chasing a worm, to hop in. Hermione tied the short message to Pig's leg and held the owl in her hands. "Please take this to Grimmauld Place and deliver to Harry," she instructed as she released the small bird and watched him fly away. Hermione didn't need to add anything else to the letter, as Harry would surely come straight over. Returning to the table, Hermione charmed her knife to butter a piece of toast.
As soon as Ginny had finished her breakfast, Hermione pulled her upstairs, along the way grabbing Harry, who turned up a few minutes later. "How did it feel?" Hermione, who was pacing Ginny's room, stopped and looked at the redhead, her face white. "I shouldn't have done it. I shouldn't have lost control." And yet, it felt so good. She deserved it, too. "I still can't believe you did!" Ginny said, looking at her friend with admiration. "I can," Harry said, taking a seat next to Ginny on her bed. "I was there when she slapped Malfoy." A dreamy sort of smile appeared on his face as he remembered that afternoon. "And anyway, you had every right to, after what she said about Hannah," he added, looking at the photograph on the bedside table of Hermione, Ginny and Hannah playing at a park. "True, but I still shouldn't have done it," Hermione said. "Miranda was trying to get a reaction out of you. She should have realised you would fight back," Ginny explained. "Well, from her expression afterwards, I don't think she did," Hermione said with a small smile. She took a seat on the floor, pulling her knees up to her chest and sighed. "How do you think Ron took it?" She looked hopefully at her two friends, who exchanged anxious looks. "Um …" Harry mumbled. "Well, you know Ron …" With a sob, Hermione buried her head in her knees. She was torn over the situation. She had finally done something she had wanted to do for days; she had proved to Miranda that she wasn't a pushover or someone to mess with - and Miranda's expression had been priceless. However, Ron's reaction was not going to be a good one. Hermione could already hear the yelling, the name-calling, and the bitterness. Hermione knew she was in the wrong, but so was Miranda; Ron had to see that. His anger couldn't be one-sided. Hermione felt a hand touch her shoulder and looked up to see Ginny kneeling beside her; the other girl's expression was one of honest empathy. "It's going to be all right, don't cry," Ginny whispered. Hermione, who hadn't realised she was crying, wiped her eyes and stood up. "Where are you going?" Ginny asked. "The waiting is killing me, I have to talk to him now," Hermione explained, glancing in the mirror before she made her exit, sure she was leaving Harry and Ginny with the same feeling: this wasn't going to go well.
Hermione made her way slowly down the stairs, her hand holding the railing tightly as she listened for any indication of Ron. When she reached the bottom, she could hear voices from the kitchen. "There's nothing I can really do, to be honest," said the voice of an exasperated Molly. Peering around the door cautiously, so not to be seen, Hermione saw Miranda sitting at the kitchen table with Molly and a first aid kit, while Ron stood at the window, his back to them all. Hermione could tell by his posture that his arms were folded across his chest. Molly was holding Miranda's face with one of her hands, where a shiny red mark had appeared, and was frowning. "Are you sure? It really hurts," Miranda whined, wincing slightly as her eyes fleetingly shot at Ron, who still hadn't turned around. "I've been a mother for over thirty years and have seen more cuts, bruises and illegal spells than you've had hot dinners," Molly explained, her usually soft voice pierced with frustration. "So yes, I am sure." Molly released her hand and Miranda frowned deeply. Disappointed that I didn't do more damage to show to Ron. Good thing I hit like a girl. With a wave of her wand, Molly returned the first aid kit to its normal place in the highest cupboard and pulled herself up, stroking out the creases in her apron. "If we're done here, I know a little girl who needs her clothes ironed." Hermione jumped back as Molly entered the living room. She opened her mouth to explain, but before she could say anything, Molly held up her hand. "I've heard Miranda's side, however patchy it sounded, and I want to hear yours, but I think Ron wants to hear it first," Molly said, her kind eyes watching Hermione with compassion. Hermione bowed her head. "I know, that's what I'm here for." "Hannah has fallen asleep in Arthur's chair, so you shouldn't be disturbed for at least an hour," Molly explained, nodding her head behind Hermione, where the smallest Weasley was curled up in a knitted throw-over, her thumb resting in her mouth. "Thanks," Hermione said, pushing back her hair as a small smile escaped her lips. "I take it Ginny knows what really happened?" Molly asked offhandedly. When Hermione nodded, the elder witch added, "I'll see if she needs any ironing done too, as I'm doing Hannah's." When Molly left, Hermione took a deep breath and entered the kitchen, where she found Ron alone, sitting at the table, clearly waiting for her. He was staring at her, his brow furrowed and his lips pursed tightly. His wand was lying carelessly on the table, its handle protruding over the side. Hermione wanted to comment on the dangers of this, but the look on his face stopped her. Clearly, he was ready to talk now. She forgot about the wand and steeled herself for what he had to say. "Well?" he asked shortly, his eyes not leaving her. Hermione bit down on her lip and pulled the chair out so she could sit next to him. "Where's Miranda?" she asked, ignoring the piercing stare Ron was giving her. "She went to Diagon Alley for Boone's Bruise Balm for her face; it seems someone hit her. Do you know who it was?" Hermione knew the question was rhetorical, but Ron's expression told her to answer. "I can explain," Hermione began, taking a deep breath, ready to give her side of the story. "You can explain why you hit an innocent person?" "Innocent? After the things she said to me!" Hermione said, flabbergasted. She raised her eyebrows and watched Ron carefully for any hint of sarcasm. "What exactly did she tell you happened?" Ron licked his lips, blushing pink as he spoke. "She said you were jealous of her … jealous because you're still – still -" "Still what?" Hermione pushed. "In love with me," Ron finished quietly. Hermione stared at him, speechless. I may still love him, but I am certainly not jealous of that tart. Ron's features were mostly unreadable, though Hermione did pick up a sense of yearning in his eyes – yearning for the truth. "Did she tell you what she said to me?" she asked, avoiding the previous statement. The last thing she needed was for Ron to find out about her unrequited feelings. "Well no … she just said you were jealous and hit her out of spite," Ron answered, frowning. "Why, what did she say?" Averting her gaze, Hermione looked out into the living room, where Hannah had woken up and was currently playing with one of her jigsaw puzzles. Hermione closed her eyes and took another deep breath before turning back to Ron. "At first she was just trying to rile me … she said - she said I have no life …" "That's it?" "No. She … she implied that because I was a teenage mother, I was a scarlet woman," Hermione said, watching Ron's reaction carefully. "But when I didn't rise to her insults, she … she told me that Hannah would grow up to be a … a whore like me - Ron, she called our daughter a whore." Even explaining what Miranda said caused rage to fill Hermione's body. It was bad enough she said it, but now she had to tell Hannah's father about it. Ron's eyes widened as his mouth formed an 'o' shape. He stared at Hermione for a few moments, trying to comprehend what she had just told him. "You must have misheard her," he said quietly, when the shock subsided. "She wouldn't say that … how could you say that?" Even though she had been expecting Ron not to believe her, her jaw still dropped at how quickly he came to Miranda's defence. "Ron, I know it sounds awful, but I swear, I'm telling you the truth," Hermione said, a note of desperation in her voice. She stared at Ron for an answer, her hand clutching the front of her blouse. "She told me you'd try and turn me against her …" Ron replied, not sure what else to say. His eyes were looking at Hermione with slight distrust. "Merlin," Hermione said, exasperated. "Do you really think I would hit her unless there was a really, really good reason? She insulted our daughter, Ron! I admit that violence isn't the answer, and I'm not proud of what I did, but I promise you that I'm not lying!" Hermione reached out and placed her hand on top of Ron's. She stared at him, not blinking, hoping he could read her features and see the truth. His eyes narrowed as he pulled his hand away. "Oh, you're not lying? Why should I believe you? You've lied before, but Miranda never has!" Feeling as though someone had kicked her in the stomach, Hermione's jaw dropped in astonishment. She thought after what happened between him and Harry in their fourth year, Ron would learn to trust his friends, but no. "I've only ever lied to protect you!" Hermione protested, stung at his refusal to even consider her side. "But I'm not lying about this. Do you honestly think I'd say something so awful -" "Keeping the fact that I have a daughter a secret for two years is protecting me?!" Ron bellowed, jumping up, his face red with fury. His arm knocked his wand off the table, which rolled across and floor and out of sight. "Yes! It was!" Hermione stood up so she could be face to face with the tempered redhead. "How many times are you going to throw that in my face? I did it so you could have a future – a career! Something I can't put my full attention on at the moment." Hermione exhaled deeply. He's going to bring that up for the rest of our lives, I can feel it. "Ron, please," she said, her voice pleading. Her eyes were wide and appeared glossy. "We're not talking about what I did in the past. We're talking about Miranda, and what she said and why I hit her. Do you honestly believe I enjoy telling you this? Because I don't." "Then why did you tell me?" Ron yelled, placing his hands on his head and grabbing at his hair in frustration. He's kidding, isn't he? He can't be seriously asking me why I'm telling him this. Blinking with disbelief, Hermione let out an indignant noise. "Let me think," Hermione said, mockingly holding her chin as though in deep thought. "Oh yeah, because you asked!" she yelled back, clenching her fists together by her sides. "You wanted to know why I hit your precious Miranda, and I told you! It isn't my fault you're too dumb to realise that your girlfriend is bad news." Ron bowed his head, avoiding Hermione's piercing gaze. After a moment, he looked up and said, "If I'm so dumb, why did you go out with me?" His expression was hard and the tone was serious. Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but then closed it again. Oh, Merlin, how can he ask that? This is going worse than I thought … oh … Clearing his throat as he steadied himself, Ron suddenly said, "Why don't you just admit you don't like her?" "I don't like her," Hermione replied through gritted teeth. "There. Are you happy?" "A-HA!" Ron shouted, pointing his finger at Hermione in triumphant. "I knew it. You hate her, so you're making up stuff about her!" That … That unbelievable idiot. Gawping at Ron as though he had grown an extra head, Hermione rubbed her temples with her fingers. "I really give up on you," she replied, her stomach sinking as she sighed dejectedly. She looked up at Ron, whose look of victory seemed to be easing off, and licked her lips. "You're unbelievable … if you're too stubborn to understand why I kept Hannah a secret, too one-minded to take Miranda's side over mine and too blind to see that I lo-" Before Hermione could finish her sentence, a high pitched squeal cut her off. Hannah was lying on the kitchen floor with her eyes closed, Ron's wand at her side.

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