They had followed the beach for about half-an-hour when it widened out into a large patch of widely spaced palm trees. To their left was the ocean, glistening in the sunlight and sending small waves lolling onto the shore in a tranquil rhythm. To their right, a large mountain sprung out of the tropical vegetation, ascending high into a bank of clouds that seemed to cling to its top. The cave that they’d come from seemed to be connected to the place where the mountain met the sea.
Harry led them roughly towards the middle of the palm trees. As she followed him, Hermione got the impression that he wanted them to have a better place to spot danger. She also guessed they would have the option of retreating in any direction if they needed to. It was hot and sticky in the sun, but the trees provided some shade. Hermione’s brow was wet and her mouth dry. She hoped they’d be able to find some shelter and a source of water, or they would be in for a nasty, if short, stay on this island.
After a few minutes, the palm trees gave way to a clearing. The clearing wasn’t completely empty, however, as a large hut rose out of the sand on thin wooden legs. Hermione and Ginny stayed back as Harry approached the hut cautiously, motioning for Ron to join him.
“It doesn’t look lived in,” Harry whispered, taking note of the open door and holey roof. “But without our wands, we can’t take too many chances.”
Ron nodded silently and together, they stepped inside. Hermione gave Ginny a quick look and they both nodded. They followed Ron and Harry inside.
Walking into the hut was uneventful. A crab scuttled across the wood-plank floor and snapped an angry claw at them as they shooed it away. The floor looked weather-worn and in a very bad state of disrepair. One section of the roof had caved in completely in the room on their right. Sand and dirt covered the floors and the simple furniture that was comprised of a pair of bunk beds and a wicker table and sofa. On the back wall, a single cupboard hung crookedly with its doors swinging open at odd angles revealing two wooden-handled tools of questionable value.
“Well, it’s not much to look at is it?” Ginny asked, brushing past Harry to take a closer look at the caved-in roof. “You reckon someone actually lived here?”
Harry shrugged. “Who knows?”
Hermione bent down to take a look at a carving in one of the planks. It looked like a set of initials, but it was so faded that she couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
“Hey. Look at this,” said Ron from where he had been examining the wicker table and sofa. “It’s a letter.”
The faded envelope didn’t look nearly as old as it should, considering the conditions of the hut. Ron broke the seal and extracted a single piece of parchment.
Welcome to Black Island. If you are looking for the thing I took from the Dark Lord, be you with Dumbledore or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, then I wish you luck. Your wands will do no good here, except at a certain place near the end. Beware, treasure-seeker, for there are many trips and traps ready to ensnare you, and only one way off the island. Find the treasure and destroy it, or you’ll rot here forever. I’ve even been kind enough to provide you with a map, though you may not be able to trust it.
R. A. B.
“So it was a setup?” Hermione asked, as she sat gingerly on the sofa. Ron was still clutching the letter, seemingly unaware of her presence. “We were supposed to come here all along?”
Harry was staring at a spot on the floor by Ginny’s foot. “If the locket is here, then how did it get from Grimmauld Place?”
Ginny shifted her foot and broke Harry’s concentration. “Maybe the one we saw last year wasn’t the real thing?”
“Another fake?” Ron said disbelievingly. “If this keeps up, how will we know when we’ve gotten the real one?”
Harry shook his head and leaned against the wall. It shifted slightly with his weight. “We’ll know all right,” he said, and Hermione knew he was thinking of Dumbledore’s hand. “He’ll have made it curse whoever opens it.”
Something grabbed a hold of Hermione’s hand just then and she looked down to see Ron’s hand gripping it tightly. He was staring at a spot over Harry’s head, his face grim, and the letter in his hand shaking. He had always done that – shown a brief glimmer of affection and then failed to let her acknowledge it. It was this one thing that kept their friendship static and, in a flash of realisation, she knew that it was up to her to change that. She opened her mouth to speak but Harry unknowingly interrupted.
“I don’t like it,” he said, drawing all eyes to him. “It’s too convenient.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Ron frowning. “I agree. This whole thing stinks and having Malfoy here just makes it worse. He’s up to something.”
“How can he be up to something?” Hermione asked, unable to resist the urge to give voice to her scepticism. “He discovered us by accident.”
“Hermione,” interjected Ginny. “It’s true that he didn’t know we were here until after he tried to open the wardrobe door. But he could have been trying to come here all along. We were just in the way.”
“I don’t know...” then her eyes caught something on the back of the parchment in Ron’s hand. She reached out and carefully took the letter from Ron. “There’s a map on the back.”
Harry pushed off from the wall and was kneeling next to her in an instant. Ginny was right behind him.
“Look,” said Harry, pointing to the bottom right corner of the map. “There’s the cave we came from.”
Ginny’s hand moved over his. “And there’s the hut.”
Hermione, however, was looking at the top of the map, where a huge mountain dominated the page. In the middle, was the unmistakable depiction of a heart-shaped locket.
“Well, that’s convenient,” she remarked, catching Harry’s eye. “You don’t suppose it’s a trap?”
Harry smirked. “If it isn’t guarded ten ways to Sunday, I’ll be heartily disappointed.”
Ginny’s wry smirk was enough to elicit a matching grimace from Hermione. “Sounds like our adventure got started a little early.”
“Are we going to go for it, then?” Ginny asked, her eyes bright with the excitement of a challenge.
Ron shifted beside Hermione, removing his hand but brushing his leg on hers. As soon as they made contact, she felt him stiffen. Ignoring him for the time being, she adopted her best bossy tone and said, “We’re going to need water and shelter. The island looks small enough that we can make it to the mountain in two or three days, which means we’ll also need something to eat.”
“I saw some coconuts on a few of the palm trees,” Ginny said as she stood and took the tools from the crooked cupboard. Harry rose as well, his eyes following her.
“The sooner we get started, the sooner we can get back to Grimmauld Place,” said Harry, and Hermione couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t say ‘home’. For them, going back home was something they wouldn’t be able to think about for a long time.
Climbing trees was a completely different experience when you were being chased by an angry, vindictive dog. Harry huffed dejectedly and sat on a clump of dried seaweed as he remembered the last time he'd been in a tree. His Aunt Marge had set her dog, Ripper, at him several years ago when he'd been lighter and nimbler. Ron expertly climbed the nearest coconut palm, with a smirk on his face that told everyone he was glad to be doing something well that Harry could not. Harry’s hands were rubbed raw from trying to hold onto the scratchy trunk, having only made it halfway before losing his grip and falling to the soft sand below.
Ginny shook her head and bit her tongue as she approached. “Foiled by a palm tree, eh, Potter?” she quipped and sat next to him on a smaller patch of seaweed.
“Shut it, Weasley,” he said playfully and surveyed his mangled hands.
“Ooh, so it’s ‘Weasley’ now, is it?” she retorted and prised one of his hands from his view. She sucked in a breath and gave a mockingly stern look at it. “Yep, you’re doomed to die from those wounds.”
Harry pulled his hand away and clasped them together so she couldn’t see, wincing as his sweat made it into some of the deeper scratches. “If you haven’t got any Aunt Annie’s Ointment,” he said with a sly grin, “there’s nothing to be done for it.”
Ginny cocked her head, rising to the challenge just as he thought she would. “Nothing to be done? Magical creams or not, I think I can find something to do to sooth Mr. Potter’s hands.” She gently pulled his hands apart and brought a finger to her lips. Harry didn’t protest as her lips applied their special medicine to every inch of his hands.
“Success!” yelled Ron as three coconuts fell from the tree and landed a scant foot from where Harry and Ginny sat.
“Oi! Watch where you drop those things!” Harry yelled up to Ron with mock anger.
Three more dropped onto the sand, close enough to Harry that sand sprayed his feet. Ron slid down the trunk like a monkey and then pushed off, landing next to the coconuts. “If you weren’t such a pansy, you could have been helping me.”
“Har, har,” said Harry, who was more than a little distracted by Ginny’s continued ministrations. “You have to be good for something. It might as well be the bloke that fetches coconuts.”
Ron resorted to kicking sand at Harry as a reply, which garnered a very cross look from Ginny, who’d been puckering up for Harry’s other hand.
“Can we please act like civilised adults?” Hermione pleaded as she scooped up two of the coconuts. “Does anyone know how to open a coconut?”
With a cocky smirk, Ron took a sideways step and threw an arm around Hermione’s shoulder. With his other hand, he took one of the coconuts and made a throwing motion. “I’ve got it! We’ll just chuck them at Malfoy’s head until one or the other cracks.”
Hermione frowned as everyone else chuckled. She took one of the tools from Ginny and twirled it in her hand. “No, but when we do get one open, we’ll have to take one back to him. Prejudiced little ferret or not, we can’t let him die.”
Ron looked like he was about to protest, but Harry stood and took the other coconut. “She’s right, Ron. We can’t let him die.” His eyes grew cold then, as he remembered the night on the Astronomy Tower, when Malfoy hadn’t killed Dumbledore, despite having all the opportunity to do so. “He’s annoying, but he’s no killer.”
“How about two of us stay here and take a look at the map, while the others check on Malfoy?” suggested Hermione. “That way, we’ll be right ready to leave when we come back.”
Ron bent low and grabbed another coconut from the ground. “Me and Hermione’ll go see to the git.”
Harry hefted the nut in his hand and contemplated just how he was supposed to get inside one of them. “Sounds like it’s all settled, then. See you in a bit?”
“Cheers,” said Ron as he led Hermione off towards the cave.
Harry watched them walk away until Hermione reached out and grabbed Ron’s hand. Ron didn’t seem anxious to let go and Harry allowed himself to smile.
“’Bout time,” said Ginny as she, too slipped her hand into Harry’s. When Harry flinched, Ginny pulled back her hand. “Oh, sorry.” Then she wrapped her arm around his waist.
With a sigh, Harry adjusted his grip on the coconut that he still held and surveyed the ground. He spotted a relatively large rock and, with great reluctance, pulled away from Ginny. “Help me get these open?”
She nodded and handed over the tool. “It’s all yours, Harry.”
Hermione spent a long while staring at their lengthening shadows as she and Ron walked away from Harry and Ginny. With one hand, she held a rough coconut to her chest and with the other, she held Ron’s slightly less-rough hand. The silence between them lingered as they retraced their steps toward the cave that brought them to the island. She felt sand creeping into her trainers and between her sockless toes and heard the distant groaning of the waves as they struck the beach. But all of her senses seemed dimmed compared to the feeling in her chest. When Ron took her hand, it somehow made it impossible to take the initiative, as if by doing so, he’d made it his duty to talk first. So, she gave an inward sigh and tried not to shiver as he rubbed the flesh of her hand between his thumb and forefinger.
They walked on for what seemed like hours, but the presence of their shadows on the sand told Hermione it had only been a few minutes. When she heard him clear his throat, she dropped her coconut from fright.
“Sorry,” she said as she stopped walking to pick it up. She righted herself and looked expectantly at him. Ron was fidgeting with his t-shirt and looking at his toes. The frayed bottoms of his trousers ended a full six inches from his trainers and she let her eyes linger on the broad swath of freckles that stopped above his ankles. Instead of resuming their walk, Hermione stared at him, seeing the emotions warring on his shadowed face and waited for him to say what he obviously wanted to say.
“You know...” he began and then cleared his throat again. Still, she didn’t interrupt.
Unable to help herself, Hermione’s eyes grew big and she felt a bubble of anger form in the pit of her stomach. How in the world did he think she wanted to talk about her?
His eyes darted to her face and her brain froze. She’d only seen him look this serious a handful of times and having that fierce gaze fixed on her made the bubble inside her pop. “I didn’t... there was nothing between us.”
Still stunned that they were talking about Lavender at all, she almost missed the contrite tone in his voice.
“I mean... we snogged.” She snorted. “A lot.” She crossed her arms and the bubble materialized once more. “But it wasn’t the same.”
Her brow furrowed, she pushed a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “The same as what?”
He sighed. “I’m getting there,” he replied and shoved his hands into his pockets. “This isn’t easy, you know.”
“Ron?” she said with a frustrated laugh. “What are you...” but his finger was on her lips and she forgot what she was about to ask.
“Just listen? Okay?” he asked sincerely and she couldn’t do anything but nod. He pushed a hand roughly through his hair and stared at the darkening sky. She stared at his eyes.
“I’m trying to tell you that Lavender was an excuse. It wasn’t serious because I never really liked her.”
A breeze blew between them and she had to push more hair behind her ear, but she never stopped looking at him.
“After Ginny said that you’d snogged Krum, I just lost it. I went completely mental and Lavender was the first girl that seemed interested in me, so I...”
He looked at her again and she frowned. He took a step forward and put his hands on her shoulders. “It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because that’s over now and we’re together, right?”
What did he mean ‘we’re together’? Technically, they were together on the island and together under the same sky and together in the war against Voldemort. But is that all he meant? Her head swam with a thousand questions that she couldn’t utter. It would only make him stop and she needed him to keep going; wherever this was leading, she needed it to continue.
He let out a breath and his head dipped down so that she couldn’t see his eyes any more. The air seemed thick with anticipation, but she couldn’t quite grasp what was about to happen. Then, he looked up and with a smirk, he opened his mouth. “I’m glad you feel that way, because it’ll make what I’m about to do a lot easier.”
He ducked his head again, but instead of looking at the sand, he zeroed in on her lips. Before she could react, his lips were on hers and her eyes went wide. At first, Hermione was analysing the way his kiss felt, the effect of the saliva on their lips, and the peculiar way Ron’s eyes were shut as she watched him. Then, as if a switch flipped in her mind, all of her rational, logical, and well-planned thoughts fell away. All that remained was her and Ron kissing on a tropical island as the sun slipped slowly behind the horizon.
Cracking open coconuts with crude instruments was not a task lightly undertaken. Ginny watched Harry without containing her amusement as he completely obliterated one of the tropical nuts. At first, he was gentle, sloughing off the outer layers of green material with the rusty blade of the hatchet. Then, as he realised that the nut itself was harder than the outside, he hacked at it with all his might. Several chops later, the nut shattered, splashing the precious milk across the sand.
Unable to help it, Ginny sank onto the ground and held her side as she laughed at Harry’s almost hopeless struggle.
“You’re not helping,” Harry said, as he inspected the shards, his shirt sticking to his chest with sweat.
Wiping a tear of mirth from her eye, Ginny propped an elbow on the sand and made a seesaw motion with her hands. “Maybe you should try something in between the two extremes?”
Harry gave her a withering glare. “I think I figured out that much.” He licked at one of the larger pieces, dragging his tongue across the white flesh of the exposed insides. “Not too bad,” he said and flung the piece aside.
Taking another nut, he worked on exposing the hard centre. Once all the nuts were exposed, he took a slow swing at the nut and was pleased to hear a gentle cracking sound. Unlike the last experience, the nut stayed mostly intact. Ginny crawled over to Harry and helped hold the coconut while he jammed his fingernails into the cracks and pulled. It took a few tries, but soon, the hard outer shell was free.
He looked inside and wrinkled his nose. “All that work for this?”
Ginny pulled it closer and inspected the inside. There was what looked to be about two or three ounces of a semi-translucent liquid in the centre. Not waiting for Harry to take the nut back, she tipped the rim into her mouth and swished the liquid around with her tongue. It was a mouthful, but not much more.
She smacked her lips and looked up at Harry. “Not great, but better than a stick in the eye. Now get me another one.”
Giggling at the look on his face, Ginny scooted away from the rock and listened to him grumble to himself. Even with the grumbling, he did as she asked and it made her see just how different he was from her brothers. That simple act of humility was a sharp contrast to the reaction she expected. It was one of the things that she loved most about Harry and as she watched him sweat for their drinks, a warmth filled her chest that had nothing to do with the setting tropical sun.
She held one of the nuts after it was opened while he worked on the other one, his eyes a fixture of concentration as his arms worked a hole in the top. He got better with each one, she noted. When the last one was finished, he sat heavily on the sand and wiped his shirt sleeve across his brow.
“Done,” he said, taking deep breaths through his mouth.
"Drink it up,” Ginny said, and motioned to the one still in his hands.
He held the hole over his mouth and the liquid gurgled into it. He swallowed and let out a loud relief-laden breath. “You’re right,” he said and set the discarded nut onto the sand next to his foot. “It wasn’t that great, but at least I’m not so thirsty.” His eyes found hers and she held out the other one.
“You can have this one, too.”
He pushed it away. “Nah, I said I’m not thirsty.”
Ginny wrinkled her nose, her lips curving ever-so-slightly at the edges. “You’re a bad liar, Harry. Take it before I dump it on your thick head.”
He did and downed the milk in one gulp. The nut clunked into the other one on the ground as he set it down. “Happy?” he asked with a smirk of his own.
She sat next to him and laid her head on his shoulder. “I am now.” Despite the heat, it was very comfortable.
They looked at the setting sun for a while and Ginny wondered how Ron and Hermione were getting along. “You reckon Ron had to use Malfoy’s head to get his coconut open?”
Harry snorted. “He’d deserve it. The git.” He stood suddenly and stared up at the gentle rise towards the mountain.
Ginny joined him and snaked her arm around his waist, pulling herself into him. A breeze blew the palm trees above them, sending a salty scent across the sand.
He took her hand and pulled on it. “Let’s check out the area a bit. I don’t want there to be any surprises when Ron and Hermione get back.”
They walked up the slope until the palm trees began to be joined by shrubs and other plants. The sand began to give way to grass, with patches appearing at random intervals. Soon, they were on the outskirts of what could only be described as a jungle.
Ginny looked back and could barely see the outline of the hut as the sun set beyond the horizon.
“What’s that?” Harry asked and let got of her hand. He bent low over a bush and pulled out a handful of small, green fruit. “I wonder if they’re edible?”
Ginny shrugged and Harry bit into it. A sliver of green juice traced down his jaw as he chewed. “Wow! That’s really good.” He handed one to Ginny. “Loads better than coconut milk, anyway.”
She did and was amazed at the flavour. More importantly, she was grateful for the juice. She devoured the fruit and picked some more. With a little trial and error, they were able to tell the ripe fruit from the not-so-ripe.
“Let’s get a bunch and we can share with Ron and Hermione when they come back,” Ginny said, and made a pouch with the extra material of her shirt. Harry did the same and they began to gather fruit from the surrounding bushes. It was several minutes later when Ginny had the nasty feeling that someone was watching them.
Hermione melted into Ron and deepened the kiss. Ron’s hand found its way into her hair and she moaned in reply. She clung to him like a sweaty shirt, and she felt his arms tighten around her.
When they finally broke apart, she let her head rest against his shoulder. “Oh, Ron,” was all she could manage to say. So many thoughts and emotions were flying around her head that she couldn’t come up with anything more articulate.
“I... I fancy you,” he said and she felt the rumble in his chest more than heard it.
She squeezed him tightly and nuzzled her nose in the place where the sound came from. His scent permeated her senses and she sighed again. “I’ve waited to hear you say that for so long, Ron.”
He kissed the top of her head and used his arm to turn her away from the setting sun. “We better keep moving. Harry and Ginny’ll be looking for us if we take too long.”
“Mmm,” was Hermione’s only response as her legs robotically moved with Ron’s.
They walked together like that until they crested the final hill. The sun shone directly into the cave and highlighted everything in their view. It took Hermione a full five seconds to recognize that something was out of place.
“Where’s Malfoy?” Ron said as she pulled her head from his chest.
Without any verbal agreement, they began to run toward the tree where he had been bound. When they arrived, breathing hard and kneeling in the sand in front of the palm tree, Ron grabbed the broken cords and cursed.
Hermione touched the tree, where the cords had bound the younger Malfoy and saw, very clearly in the direct sunlight, a single well-defined cut in the trunk. “Someone cut him loose.”
Ron looked up sharply at her. “Malfoy Sr.?”
“I doubt it,” she replied and then became more thoughtful. The sand was a hopeless mess of footprints that could have been anyone’s. It was impossible to tell who might have freed the younger boy. “Whoever it was, Draco’s loose and he’s not alone.”
They stood and Ron looked around the horizon until his eyes landed on hers. “We need to get back to Harry and Ginny. Now.”
They dropped their coconuts and ran pell-mell back the way they came. If there were Death Eaters on the island, Hermione didn’t fancy their chances together, much less separated like they were. She only hoped they could get there before someone else did.
“Harry?” Ginny asked casually, as she straightened from a bush from which she’d just picked a very ripe fruit.
Harry turned to look at her and when their eyes met, he nodded slightly. “I feel it, too.” His eyes narrowed and darted through the bushes and trees that surrounded them. Ginny suddenly felt very vulnerable in the close confines of the jungle. “Let’s go.”
With one hand holding her fruit-laden shirt, she took Harry’s hand with the other one and they walked slowly, but directly, out into more open ground. The sun had set, and the twilit sky gave them just enough light to see where the hut stood a good five hundred yards away.
Ginny resisted the urge to look over her shoulder as their pace increased. A knot of anxiety wormed around her middle and she started to breath in and out of her mouth in an effort to control the sensation.
When they reached the trees the coconuts had come from, Harry pulled on her hand and she looked behind her. “Harry!” she cried just as a spear flew over their heads and landed in the trunk of one of the trees. There was a cacophony of shouts from the jungle and she caught a glimpse of several dark-skinned men emerging from the trees and heading straight for them.
They took off running at full speed, Ginny following Harry’s lead as they dodged in and out of trees, the sound of arrows whistling in the air around them. A hundred yards from the hut, they were joined by Ron and Hermione.
“Found some friends?” Ron said between puffs as they tried to keep up with Harry’s pace.
“Just a few,” Harry replied, as an arrow grazed his arm.
Their feet started to make splashing sounds as they hit water – the purpose of the hut’s stilts became clear as they shot through the oncoming tide. Ducking around the hut’s structure, they flew up the stairs and closed the door.
Harry and Ginny crouched on the floor of one of the rooms, while Ron and Hermione lay supine at the foot of the wicker sofa. The only sound that they heard was the laboured breathing from four pairs of oxygen-deprived lungs. Ginny looked down at her shirt and realised that she’d kept it tight to her belly and that all of the fruit was miraculously still there.
Harry must have realised the same thing, as he let his shirt fall open and the fruit spilled on the floor in front of them. Ginny followed suit and they listened intently for sounds outside the hut. Her eyes fixed on the front doors; she anticipated the splashing sound of footsteps in the ocean around the hut, or the sound of arrows and spears piercing its thin walls. Yet as their breathing slowed and their nerves calmed, nothing came.
Ginny reached out her hand and touched Harry’s arm. “Are you all right?” she whispered.
He shrugged. “It stopped bleeding. It’ll be fine.”
The dim light made it hard to tell for sure, but she thought he wasn’t telling the whole truth. Still, she fingered the blood-covered hole in his shirt and wondered why no one had come into the hut. Surely, the spear-chucking natives had seen them go into the building.
Despite her fear, despite everything that had happened to them that day, Ginny found herself yawning and snuggling into Harry, as he sat on the floor against the bunk bed. The threats of the natives, the fact that they were stranded on some unknown island and couldn’t do magic, and the oddly satisfied look that Hermione had on her face as they’d been running away from the spears and arrows all began to fade into the back of her mind. Soon, only the sound of breaking waves could be heard and she slipped slowly asleep.
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