Three days into cleaning the cottage, Harry, Ron and Hermione were finally able to relax. They had cleaned the living room, the den, the kitchen - which Hermione refused to help - the upstairs bedrooms, and the bathroom.
Each of them were sweaty and tired. They plopped down on the sofa of the living room. Harry moved his glasses from the bridge of his nose onto the top of his head. Hermione let her head fall lazily onto the back of the couch. Ron was wiping his forehead of the sweat beads that were forming and trickling down his face.
Ron sighed, “Thank Merlin.”
Hermione smirked and wiped her forehead. “Don’t get too comfortable, boys. We still have to get the doxies from the den and the boggart from the wardrobe in my room.”
Harry sighed. They had been working like unpaid house elves in this huge cottage, and hadn’t had much to eat. On top of that, company would be coming in one more day to wish them a happy housewarming and good luck in Auror training.
“Tomorrow?” Harry asked, exasperated.
“I am not sleeping in that room with the boggart!” Hermione shrieked.
Ron wiggled his eyebrows. “You could sleep in my room,” he suggested seductively.
“And Lavender would just love that,” Hermione countered with an icy glare.
That was enough to make Ron’s ears turn a brilliant shade of red and successfully shut his mouth. He remained quiet for some time, as if he were contemplating-- but his face suggested he’d eaten one too many bites of Hagrid’s treacle fudge.
“I’ll get the boggart,” Harry offered. “You two just…don’t hex each other, okay?”
“Harry, no,” Hermione said, standing from the couch and walking to Harry. “I’ll get it. It’s no big deal.”
“Do you remember third year?” Harry asked with a laugh. “You were hysterical and I am in no mood to try and convince you that you aren’t going to fail Auror Training.”
Ron snorted and shook his head at the memory.
“And,” Harry added with a thoughtful look to Ron, “I’m not about to watch you attempt to start your own musical with roller-skating spiders.”
Neither one dared to speak Harry’s true fear, which were the Dementors that brought back the horrible memories of his past. That was true fear, and they opted out of tormenting him about it. While Harry made his way to the den, Ron and Hermione were left alone to talk -- something they had both been avoiding since Hermione had returned from the past.
“So, er…” Ron began awkwardly, “you did a good job in here.” His long, freckled finger pointed around the living room.
Hermione sighed internally. Great. This was just great. Now she couldn’t even talk with one of her best friends without fidgeting and wishing to get the hell out of the room. As much as it felt good to be back with Ron and Harry, lately it had been uncomfortable and stressful.
“Thanks,” she answered shortly. “Hungry?” Finally, something she knew Ron could appreciate.
“Always,” he laughed. “Hey Hermione?”
Hermione looked at him quizzically. Something seemed to flicker behind his eyes, but it was gone in a quick flash. She nodded her head to signal that she heard him.
“We’re alright, right?” He asked in concern. “I mean…You know things have been different lately and I was just wondering if you and I were okay.”
So, there was more to the bumbling redhead than just hunger and lust. Hermione bit her lip and smiled. “Yeah, Ron, we’re alright. It’s just taking me a while to adjust is all.”
Ron stood up and put his hand on her arm, instantly causing a shiver in her spine. “Is there anything I can do for you? You just seem so lost.”
He was right. The fire in her eyes had long since disappeared. Those last few months at Hogwarts seemed like nothing more than a constant reminder of her decision. But no one ever knew how deeply she wished she was back with the Marauders, back with the people she had befriended and laughed with…back with the people who didn’t hurt her or leave her to be with anyone else. No one knew how heart wrenching, bloody excruciating, and just plain damned challenging it was for her not to break into the Department of Mysteries, grab a time-turner and go back to them.
And this, these awkward and cute moments with Harry and Ron, were what was keeping her here.
“Hermione?” Ron snapped his fingers in front of her misting eyes. “You still here?”
“Oh…Sorry,” she responded in a daze. “Just thinking. No, I’m fine Ron, really. But thanks for asking.”
Before Ron could protest, a strange cackle filled the cottage, followed by a loud pop. Hermione grinned at Ron and trotted off to thank Harry for getting rid of the boggart. Ron followed her, but kept his eyes glued to the back of her head, still planning on asking her more questions about the past later on. Even though she talked to Harry every night, she still refused to confide in Ron. He hated that it was this way between them, and he really wanted to fix whatever was broken.
“That feeling never goes away,” Harry sighed as he threw a rough hand to his hair. “Is there any chocolate around here?”
“No,” Ron answered. “We can always floo to Honeydukes.”
“I think there’s a store down the street--” Hermione started, but was cut off.
“Let’s go to Honeydukes,” Harry said, locking eyes with Ron.
“Okay, then. Let me get my cloak.” Hermione turned to go grab her cloak in order to go with the boys, but was stopped once again by Harry.
“It’s a guy thing,” he told her. “We’ll only be gone for a bit, I promise.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes. Why was it that they always had to venture out into the world without her? Did they not think she could handle it? “Fine,” she pouted. “Have fun! Don’t run into any trolls or anything.”
Her sarcasm did not go unnoticed, but the boys still shrugged it off anyway. Without showing signs of regret toward her, they were both gone and in the floo in no time.
Hermione was livid. Sure, there may be guy things in this world that she wouldn’t understand, but it had been so long since she had actually been out and about. They seemed to keep her sheltered. Of course, she could go by herself, and it wasn’t like it was unsafe - Voldemort was gone - but it didn’t feel right to be strolling in the magical world without her friends. Or, perhaps it was that she didn’t want to be left alone, for fear of what she might do.
Whatever it was, she was flustered and angry at the boys. And hungry. But, like most things in her life, food would have to wait. She had a mission to fulfill.
When the boys returned home an hour later from Hogsmeade, Hermione was already working furiously in the den, trying to get the doxies out of the curtains. With a surgical mask over her face and rubber gloves on her hands, she tore wrathfully at the hangings, determined to get every last bit of movement off of the curtain.
Harry noticed that something was wrong with the way Hermione had been going after the drapery, and after watching her for several minutes, he walked over to her and gripped her forearm, bringing her forcefully away from the curtains.
Ron's mouth fell open when he saw Harry's firm grip on Hermione, but when he noticed the tears streaming down her face and getting lost under the mask, he closed it. Rooted to the spot, he stood watching his two best friends. Harry’s arms wrapped tightly around Hermione’s body while she bawled her eyes out onto his shoulder. Harry looked to Ron, pleading for help with her, but Ron couldn’t move. He had no idea what was happening.
“Hermione,” Harry said as softly as he could. He let his hands run through her wiry, sweaty hair. “What’s wrong?”
Hermione sobbed out incomprehensible words. Something that sounded like “curtain” and “death.”
Harry finally understood, but when he glanced at Ron, it was evident that he was confused. Harry shushed Hermione, trying to bring her any kind of comfort. He sort of wished that Ron would turn away, because he knew Hermione was having a difficult time dealing with everything in the past. And, he knew that remembering Ron’s affair with Lavender mixed in at all the oddest places was still on her mind.
“C’mon,” Harry said as he ushered her out of the den. “Ron, can you finish up here, I’ll be in to help when I get her calmed down.”
“Right,” Ron croaked, staring cautiously at Hermione. He walked over to the curtains and picked up the doxie spray and began squirting at the material.
For a brief moment, Harry considered reminding him of the rubber gloves and mask, but thought better of it as Hermione started to sound as if she was hyperventilating. He stumbled out of the den and closed the door behind him. Trying to walk with Hermione was becoming difficult as she tried to stay still in the spot that Harry had her. Deciding it for the best, Harry reached down and grabbed her behind her knees and lifted her up.
Hermione forced her face deeper in the crevice of his shoulder, howling harder. Harry could feel the hot tears soak through his shirt. His heart broke for her. She really missed Sirius…more than he could have imagined.
The door to her room was still partly open from when he had gotten rid of the boggart. He found it ironic that with the window open the sun shined beautifully into her room, creating prisms on her bed. It manifested the way she should be feeling now, had it not been for that one Potion’s lesson.
He laid her on her bed and made himself a small spot next to her. She cuddled up close to him and still wept into his shoulder. Inappropriately, he smiled at the rainbows dancing across her skin.
“Hermione,” he spoke gently.
“Oh, Harry,” she cried. “I’m sorry. This is just stupid, right? It’s in the past.”
“How can we fix it?” Harry needed to fix her. If not for her own sake, then for the sake of everyone around her. She was constantly finding things to blubber over now that she was back. “Tell me… Ron and I will do anything, Hermione.”
“I just…need… to…stop…being…so…bloody…stupid,” she ground out. “It’s over.”
With force neither of them knew she had, she pushed herself off of Harry and wiped her eyes, still whimpering faintly in her throat.
“What are you doing?” Harry asked with slight admiration. “Just a second ago you were whining about…”
“I do not whine!” Hermione uttered loudly. She shot Harry a look of contempt and then let a sigh escape her. “I’m sorry about that whole thing, really. I don’t know what came over me.”
“You’re hurt. It’s a normal thing to-”
“Howl over curtains?” Hermione laughed. “No, it’s not. I just need to be around friends. Tomorrow will be good for me.”
Harry jumped up from the bed. “Speaking of tomorrow. Ron’s trying to clean doxies without any protection.”
“Oh brother.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “Go ahead…I’m going to make us some dinner.”
“Are you sure you’re okay? We really didn’t talk and I know how you are.”
“I’m fine, Harry. Tell Ron that Lavender won’t appreciate all those bites on him when she sees him tomorrow.”
Harry laughed at Hermione’s forced joke and nodded his head. He still looked at her with sympathy, but she wouldn’t have any of it.
“Go help him Harry,” Hermione shooed him away. “He’s completely lost without us.”
Harry walked out of the room and down the stairs quickly. As soon as Hermione knew he was gone, she withdrew a small photograph from her pocket. On it was a picture of Sirius sitting thoughtfully on the swing in front of the cottage. She didn’t even think he knew the picture was taken. It looked like he was reading a book while he swung absentmindedly back and forth.
“I miss you so much,” she whispered to the picture before she slipped it gently into her pocket again. She grabbed her cloak from the wardrobe and fastened it tightly around her body. In order to have dinner, she would have to go shopping. It might not have been what she wanted to do after such a fiasco, but it had to be done.
If only it had really worked. When she apparated just outside the market, one of the newsstands had The Daily Prophet for sale. Thinking of the outside world, and keeping up with current events for her Auror Training, Hermione paid the owl stationed to watch the stand a knut and quickly opened the paper. It was a big mistake. Headlining today was Harry Potter vs. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named: The Casualties and Heroes to be Remembered.
Frustrated and overemotional, Hermione threw the newspaper onto the ground and muttered, “Incendio.” Then she quickly walked into the market, grabbed the items she’d need for a meal, and walked right back out. That was why Harry and Ron didn’t want her to go out with them! They knew about that article! Hermione was enraged.
After her escapade at the local market, Hermione made herself at home in the kitchen. Ingredients were laying on the marble countertops, while Hermione prodded the small oven with her wand. She didn't understand why Lily and James had an oven if it was just going to be magical anyway. With a huff, she jabbed her wand into the oven, igniting a small fire. So small, in fact, that it was about to die out. Frustrated and tired of trying to work with her magical abilities, Hermione tore her apron from her waist, threw it onto the flame and watched as it grew into a nice fire for cooking their dinner.
Ron came into the kitchen and looked at Hermione in amusement. "Err, why'd you toss that in the cooker?"
While she was retying her hair into a bun, she answered hastily, "Stupid magical oven....Won't ignite."
It wasn't too long after she finished her irritated rant that Ron howled with laughter and Harry came in to see what was going on. When he saw Hermione, sweaty forehead, frizzy hair sticking up out of her bun, and marinara splattered across her face, he joined Ron in his laughter.
"Oh, ha ha, let's all laugh at Hermione," Hermione roared as she grabbed her apron from the fire. "Hope you have fun making your own meals and cooking for our company tomorrow." She left the room with quick strides and stomped down the hall, determined to lose herself in a book.
"Ron, I think she's really out of it," Harry announced as Hermione left. "The knob for the stove is right here." Harry pointed to the small black knob placed on the stove next to the timer. He pushed it, instantly resulting in a flame inside the oven.
"It's not a magical oven?" Ron asked with a raised eyebrow.
"You really should have taken Muggle Studies mate. Just buy the book from Flourish and Blotts," Harry said as he clapped Ron's shoulder.
Changing the subject, Ron inquired, "D'ya think she'll still cook dinner tomorrow?"
Harry shook his head. "It was bad enough that she was trying to impress Lavender with her ‘housewife skills’ and the earlier fiasco when she was crying over the curtains, mate. Now she's probably mad at you for not supporting her."
"Supporting her with what? How do you know what she's thinking? You were laughing too!"
"Remember earlier when you fell asleep in the den?" Harry asked with his hand still on Ron's shoulder. When Ron nodded, he continued. "Do you remember what we were doing before you fell asleep?"
Ron nodded again, growing impatient with Harry's stupid questions. "We were hunting doxies because Hermione went mental."
"Right,” Harry said, basically blowing off Ron’s insensitivity. “You didn't fall asleep, Ron. You got bit by a doxie and passed out."
Ron paled. "Wha-?"
“But, even before that, and after Hermione went hysterical, we talked for a few minutes in her room,” Harry explained. “She opened up a little bit.”
"Is that why my leg hurts?" Ron asked as he put his hand to his pants and raising the leg, ignoring Harry’s comment about his chat with Hermione. His eyes grew wide after seeing a purple welt on his calf. "I thought I just slept funny."
"Oh, it wasn‘t funny, Ron.” Harry turned to walk away. “Not only were you snoring louder than an overgrown ogre, but you were having a fascinating dream." Harry shot at him as he left down the hall to the den in search of Hermione.
Ron chased after Harry and called out, “What dream? What’d I do?” His ears were crimson, contrasting harshly off of his fiery red hair. When Harry didn’t answer, he grabbed Harry’s shoulder and swung him around. “Bloody hell, Harry…”
“You were dreaming of her, Ron,” Harry clarified. “Of Hermione. And there were…noises.”
Ron laughed. “Not possible,” he snorted. “I’m with Lavender. You must of misheard.”
“Oh, Hermiiioneee,” Harry mimicked. “Wow, you’re right! That does sound a lot like Lavender.”
“Don’t mess with her Ron. She can’t handle it,” Harry insisted. Ron went to speak, but Harry raised a hand and cut him off again. “Just, don’t.”
Harry walked the rest of the way to the den, leaving Ron behind to think of his words.
Ron stared after Harry. “Damnit,” he shouted, kicking his foot at the ground. Why the hell did things have to get so complicated now?
A/N - *huggles reviewers* You all rock. And, thank you to Elena and Nephele for providing me an outlet for ranting when I needed it during the writing process of this chapter. Haha! ~Jessi
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