Hermione walked out of the Great Hall and heaved a sigh of relief. It had been her last N.E.W.T. Tomorrow, the carriages and the little boats would take the students away from the school and leave them at Hogsmeade station. They would get on the Hogwarts Express and go back home for the summer holiday.
All but one – Hermione herself.
When they were searching for the Horcruxes, Ron had often implied that he knew she would work for the Ministry of Magic one day. And Hermione had to admit she had toyed with the idea for a time. But the more she had thought about it, the more it had seemed impossible. It took three years to become an Auror, and the curriculum would be too much for a young single mother with a six months old baby. And she wasn’t sure she wanted that kind of life anyway. Deep inside, she still was the annoying bookworm, the insufferable know-it-all. She loved the smell of old parchments and of potion ingredients. She could choose to become a researcher. Or a doctor at St Mungo’s.
But all of these jobs would be time-consuming, and would require years of studying to get there.
Finally, it was Headmistress McGonagall who had offered Hermione an opportunity she just couldn’t miss. The severe looking witch hid it well, as did most people who had a heart so large, but it was in the right place for all who cared to see. Hermione could only guess that her old professor had spent a lot of her precious time thinking about what her best student would be doing the next year.
Hermione would be part of the Hogwarts faculty when the next school year would begin. She would be the new potions teacher. And because of that, she was going to spend the whole summer at school. Severus Snape, the ex-Potions Master, had accepted to give her extra lessons, starting in a week from now. Hermione told herself he probably needed money very badly to do that. It wasn’t easy for an ex-Death Eater to find a decent job – even if he had given evidence of his innocence to the Wizengamot. Hm, now that she thought about it, Headmistress McGonagall might be trying to kill two birds with only one stone…
Hermione sighed again, sadly this time. She wasn’t very pleased at the idea of being taught by Snape again. But if she didn’t like the man, she respected the Potions Master’s competences. He was one of the best. If he wasn’t working for the Ministry, and getting well paid for his talents, it was solely because he had made the wrong choice when he was young and become one of Tom Riddle’s followers. Tom Riddle – Harry, Ron and Hermione had gotten to call him that the year before.
No, she wasn’t happy about this situation, but she would make the best of it. And at least, every night, she would go back home and laugh about it with Charlie.
Hermione stopped dead. Maybe she wouldn’t do that. Charlie had been very… stand-offish since that night. He was avoiding her, that much she could tell. She felt tears stung her eyes. She hated the idea that she had hurt him. When she had tried to apologize…
Hermione heard someone moving around in the bathroom and immediately knew Charlie was awaked. Why was he up so early? No light came from outside! Swallowing hard, she silently eased out of her bed and went to check on him. Maybe he was sick after all the firewhiskey he had drunk.
The door was half-open and she could see him inside. Stripped to the waist, he was leaning on his hands, one on each side of the bathroom sink, his arms supporting most of his weight over it. His head was down and she could see in the mirror that his face was dripping and his eyes were closed. He was breathing slowly, deliberately, which made the muscles of his shoulders and back ripple slightly under his smooth skin. Years of taking care of dragons had left him a few scars, but also a nicely muscled built.
"Are you alright, Charlie?" Hermione asked softly.
He looked up, his eyes wide, and turned to her so quickly he sent droplets of water all around. "Hermione!" His tone suggested that he had not heard her coming into the room.
Their eyes met briefly, then he looked away. He was clearly embarrassed, and maybe still mad at her.
"Are you alright?" she inquired again.
"Yeah, you can go back to sleep. I’m fine," Charlie answered through gritted teeth.
Hermione walked to him and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. He recoiled from her touch. "Please, don’t."
She let her arm drop back to her side, hurt. Then she reminded herself that she had hurt him first. No wonder he didn’t want to see her or talk to her.
"I’m so sorry, Charlie. I don’t know what got into me…" She let her voice trailed off, then added, "Well, your brother had a whole theory, but you don’t want to hear it here and now." She gulped. "I’m so sorry. I…"
"It’s ok," he cut her off. "You don’t have to apologize. You said it yourself, it doesn’t matter to you whether I’m straight or not."
"Well, no, but I do think…"
"Then all is said, Hermione. Now, please, I need to take a shower." Turning his back to her, he unbuttoned and unzipped his trousers.
Blushing furiously, Hermione almost stumbled out of the bathroom before he dropped them and she saw even more of him than she already did.
She told herself that she had not meant it that way. He was her friend, wasn’t he? And that kind of things didn’t matter between friends. Or at least they should not.
"Everything’s ok, Hermione?"
She looked up and saw Ginny watching her with a slight worried frown on her pretty face.
"Yeah, I was lost in my thoughts, that’s all," she waved her hands to indicate it was nothing.
"No pleasant thoughts, I bet," the redhead insisted.
"I’ve just realized I need to talk to Charlie…"
"What? Why?" Charlie was stunned. He knew it was bound to happen, but when Hermione had decided to take some kind of internship at Hogwarts during the summer, so she could start to teach there at the beginning of the next school year, he had been secretly relieved. He would have some more time.
He had not been so drunk that he couldn’t remember Bill’s words that night, a few days before, in the Three Broomsticks. "Why don’t you tell her?" They were never far from his thoughts. But he knew it was still too early – right? When Hermione looked at him, all she saw was a friend, Ron’s older brother. She didn’t see a man.
A man who dreamt of her at night, when he could sleep. Her room was next to his, and he could hear her when she turned over in her bed, the sheets rustling slightly. It was as if before Bill’s words he’d been able to keep his feelings at bay, but now… "Ok, then look at it this way – who do you think Ron would want to share Hermione’s bed and help raise his daughter? You, or a stranger who will take her away from his family?" Charlie knew the answer. And he wanted her – so much it was torture to know she was so close and so out of his reach at the same time. But she would have her say, of course, and maybe she didn’t want another Weasley in her life.
"I’m sure that if I asked Headmistress McGonagall, she would find me a suite in the castle," Hermione was saying.
Charlie took a deep breath. "Yeah, of course, if that’s what you want, go ahead."
She looked up sharply. "No, that’s not what I want," she blurted out. She swallowed. "Do you think I want to spend the summer with only Snape, the portraits and the ghosts to talk to?"
He frowned. "Then why would you do that?"
And all of a sudden, he saw her face brightened.
"You don’t want me to go?" Hermione’s tone was hopeful.
Charlie opened his mouth to answer, then he closed it again, took her hand in his and, tugging on it, said, "Come on, we need to talk."
He guided her to the couch and they sat side by side.
"You’re not mad at me?" Her brown eyes searched his.
"Why would I be mad at you?"
Hermione blushed and bit her lower lip, and Charlie smiled.
"You know," she said. "Because I assumed you were…" her voice trailed off. "But I know you’re not!"
He chuckled but did his best to hide his relief from her. "And what made you change your mind?"
Her face flushed again. "I… I realized I had been silly to make such an assumption just because you didn’t want to date F… uh… Serena."
Charlie looked at her during a moment, then asked, "What does Ginny call her?" He knew his little sister well. "I assume she doesn’t call her by her name."
"Foldie. It’s... um... short for lethifold."
"Ginny has always been very observant," Charlie remarked, trying not to laugh. Yes, she had always had a real talent for observation, and she had become a smart young woman.
"So you’re not mad at me anymore?"
He shook his head. "I’ve never been really mad at you, Hermione." It was the truth. He had been mad at himself for falling for her.
"So why were you avoiding me?"
"I’ve never…" He thought about it. "The last two weeks have been crazy at work, and for you too because of your N.E.W.T.s."
The next thing he knew, Hermione was giving him a hug. "I’m so glad!"
Charlie wrapped his arms around her. He didn’t want to let go… But she was already pulling away.
"Uh, sorry," she mumbled, her cheeks turning crimson.
Charlie’s heart missed a beat. Maybe she knew, after all.
Hermione pushed open the iron gate of the graveyard with her free hand and it creaked on its rusty hinges. In a nearby tree, a bird stopped singing, decided she was no threat and started warbling his song again. It had rained earlier, and the smell of damp earth was still lingering in the air, calling for more. And there would probably be, in the evening. It was sultry and a storm was gathering in the distance. She could taste it in the back of her throat, it’s metalic tang rivaling with the bittersweet smell of fading and rotting flowers.
She walked slowly to a grave and bent down to put a single flower in the ever full vase. "Hello, Percy," she said, before turning to the tombstone marked Ronald Bilius Weasley and leaving there a bunch of wild flowers. "Hello, Ron." Her voice was slightly breathless, full of barely suppressed emotions.
Fighting back the tears, Hermione sat on the grass and started to talk to him, hesitantly at first, about N.E.W.T.s, about her decision to become a teacher at Hogwarts…
"I know you would have laughed and said ‘What took you so long?’ or something along that line. Because it’s like I was born to be a teacher, isn’t it?"
She also told him about their daughter – she was so beautiful, so perfect! – and about his family and how she and Damia loved them dearly . And that’s when she began telling him about Charlie.
Hermione still felt bad about what had happened at the beginning of the summer. All the more so that she had thought she had gotten out of that bad habit of thinking that she always knew better than the others, even about themselves. The first time Ron had remarked that she couldn’t possibly know better than the people themselves, and thus she should keep quiet and listen to what they had to say, she had been so mad at him. Really, being told off by Ronald ‘Insensitive’ Weasley! She listened to people – she just didn’t listen to him! But she had been so angry because in her heart of hearts she knew that he was right.
Thankfully, he had not given up on her. The next time, he had reminded her of S.P.E.W. – hadn’t she been so intent on freeing the house-elves that she had forgotten to ask them what they truly wanted? After a few less and less heated arguments, it had become a private joke between them, a reminder of what she shoudn’t do – of what she didn’t want to do.
But obviously, she had not gotten out of her bad habit forever. Ron was gone. There was no one to share the joke with anymore. And it had come back with a vengeance.
"You wouldn’t be proud of me, would you, Ron?" It still hurt to think about him. It would probably hurt all her life. But now she could conjure the good memories, and smile, and ignore the others. People tended to dismiss Ronald, because he wasn’t as famous as Harry or as smart as Hermione, but she had learnt a lot thanks to him. He had taught her not to play the know-it-all with people, but also that life was not in books. They had hurt each other’s feelings a few times, but they had also been the best thing that had happened in each other’s lives.
"When I told Charlie your mother wouldn’t bring Damia back home before the next morning, he took me out that night – he’s been so… sweet! Each time I have needed help in any way, he’s been there for me. For us. Sometimes I wonder… but, no, he wouldn’t have done that… I mean, why would he have accepted that job in Scotland just for me and Damia?" She remained silent a few seconds, then continued. "But I’m glad he did. It feels good to come back home knowing he will be there, and sometimes I just can’t wait to talk to him about, you know, something that happened during the day. I like to feel his presence in a room – it’s… I don’t know! I like the mixed scents of his shampoo and shower gel lingering in the bathroom when I wake up, but I also like the smell of him when he’s just gotten out of bed…" Hermione stopped, realizing what she had just say and swallowing hard. "Oh, Ron, what is happening to me? I must…"
"Live, dear, you must live," Molly’s voice said behing her.
She jumped to her feet and turned around. "Molly! I didn’t hear you… I didn’t know…" She could feel the heat rush to her face.
"I didn’t want to interrupt you and I didn’t want to overhear what you were saying either, but if I had left…" She let her voice trailed off, then she continued. "Come on, we need to talk."
Hermione nodded her head, and they left the graveyard and headed towards the Burrow. But long before they reached it, Molly indicated a path off the road with a nod of her head. They soon reached a brook with mossy banks.
"Arthur and I used to come here when we needed to have a moment to ourselves, and we still do sometimes, even if all our children are gone."
"It’s beautiful," Hermione said, looking around her. And so peaceful.
There were two stones. Molly waved her wand at one of them, then at the other, and they both sat. Hermione was surprised, because the rock was now as soft as the seat of a chair.
"Nice trick, isn’t it?" the older witch smiled knowingly.
They remained silent during a couple of minutes, then Hermione blurted out, "I kind of got carried away. I mean, it’s not what you probably think…"
"Well, I think that you like Charlie…"
"I like Charlie, I really do." She sounded slightly on the defensive. Then she realized what Molly said. "But I loved Ron!"
"Of course you did!" Molly acquiesced.
"No, I meant…" She had to make her understand. Her feelings were still the same – they couldn’t have changed without her knowing!
Molly held up a hand to stop her protests. "You truly did, and somehow you will always love Ron, I’m sure. He will always be in your head and in your heart. But…" Hearing Hermione’s intake of breath, she continued more forcefully, "you are still so young – you can’t close your heart…"
"It’s not like that! I don’t…"
"No, you don’t… right now. But don’t let your head silence your heart. Listen to what it’s whispering to you."
"But it’s so confusing! I’m so confused," Hermione cried out. Then, in a more reasonable tone, she added. "I guess it’s a good thing I will leave Charlie’s apartment in a couple of weeks. I’ve just grown a bit too used to living with him." She nodded her head. "Yes, it will do a lot of good - to the two of us."
Molly looked disappointed during a second, then she smiled and said, "If you think so."
A/N: So what did you think of Chapter 9? I hope you liked it...
This chapter is for all of you who have been reading and reviewing this story, and who have been encouraging me to do my best and to finish it. (Yes, I wrote the end a couple of days ago, and I now have to edit it before I can post it.) Because I do have to admit that I hate writing the ending of a story - I hate saying goodbye. Snif, snif...
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