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Seven o’clock found Hermione waiting at a table in the most expensive restaurant in Diagon Alley, staring blankly at a menu. The dishes were laid out in cursive script, between rose-patterned borders; the restaurant itself was similarly decorated. There were uselessly ornate touches everywhere, from the pleated napkins to the waiter’s embroidered cuffs.

Ron had insisted, but not yet deigned to arrive. Hermione checked her arm repeatedly – she kept forgetting she wasn’t wearing a watch – and ran her thumb along the stiff edge of the menu. A waiter was hovering nearby, presumably wondering how soon he could ask her to leave, as she had four or five times now told him she wasn’t ready to order.

Hermione sighed. It was so bloody typical of Ron – he’d say one thing and then let you down. It had been his idea to go out for dinner, not hers; he had chosen the time and place and yet he was not here.

She grew more frustrated as she remembered all the things she could be doing instead, such as writing that letter to the dragon-chicken’s owner; even organising her files would be more fun. She would really like to finding out more about Cygnus’ case – two weeks of meetings, stacks of useless evidence, and trying to find witnesses had produced nothing except a grudging respect for his ability to keep a secret. Even still, it was becoming somewhat of an obsession. Ron had pointed this out more than once; the first time, that morning when hse had left for work before he woke,

Hermione didn’t like upsetting him, but couldn’t understand why he was so unhappy. He’d never had a problem with her general engrossment in her job before. Then again, she couldn’t remember ever being so enthusiastic… so intrigued by a case, or indeed a defendant, before. Ron obviously didn’t see it that way.

Hermione’s train of though was interrupted by a small cough. Deborah Kirwan was standing by her table, displaying all her over-large teeth and wielding a quill. “Miss Granger!” she said cheerily. “How are you, dear? Waiting for someone? A boyfriend?”

“Yes,” Hermione replied briskly, noting with horror that Deborah had chosen to wear a strapless neon pink dress and matching scarf.

“Oh, how lovely. I suppose I should get to the point – I’m still looking for that exclusive! What do you say? The Prophet is very interested in this case, you know.” She paused, expectantly.

“No,” Hermone said. “I’m not going to make any comment, either.”

“Darling, you really shouldn’t be so secretive! Not even a little snippet – have you made any shocking revelations? How do you think the Wizengamot will see your defence on the twentieth?”

“I said no.”

There was something menacing in the way Deborah pursed her lips and snapped her notebook shut. “Alright then. I’ll see you at the trial – no hiding then, eh?”

She waved her fingers and tottered away. Hermione snorted in annoyance. Ms Kirwan reminded her overpoweringly of Rita Skeeter. It was not a happy comparison.

She brought her hand down onto the table in sheer pique. A sharp pain; her palm had caught on the edge of a knife and torn. A drop of blood oozed out of the gash and glistened up at her. She resisted the temptation to stick it in her mouth – the waiter was still watching – instead wrapping her hand in a napkin.

And then, when she next looked up, he was there, grinning guiltily down at her. “I’m a bit late,” said Ron.

“A bit late?” Hermione, tired, exasperated, and now with a stinging hand, needed to vent. “I ‘ve been waiting three quarters of an hour – have you any idea how embarrassing –“

Ron took her tirade wordlessly, his face settling into a definite sulk as he sat opposite her. “I was held up – Harry – “

“Look, Ron, I don’t want excuses. Let’s just order something and eat.”

“But-“

She glared him into silence. The waiter took his chance and swooped. When he was gone, Ron seemed to feel it was safe to speak again. “So, it’s a – er - nice place here, yeah?”

“Wonderful,” Hermione stated sarcastically, examining her palm. The cut was deeper than she’d thought and beginning to bleed profusely.

“What’s that?” Ron was all concern, reaching for her hand.

“I just cut myself. There’s no need to fuss.”

He raised his eyebrows in protest. “What is your problem?”

Hermione could only gape at him. “I’m not even going to answer that. Only, oh, I don’t know, the fact that you’re almost an hour late, my hand is pumping blood, I’ve been having a hard time at work but you aren’t even sympathetic –“

“If this is going to be another argument about that Sinus bloke –“

“Cyngus! And it’s your own fault if it is! Like I said, I’ve been having a hard time-“

“Oh, I see, you’ve been having a hard time!”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I can’t take this anymore. You obviously care more about him than me. He hasn’t done anything wrong, apparently. What about me? What have I done wrong that you have to snap and sulk and –“

“Stop it, Ron.”

“No, I won’t. Not until you stop all this…” Ron paused to search for a word. His face was flushed darker than his hair and his fists were curled into balls. Hermione took her chance.

“You have no right to complain about –“

“About what? The fact that a - - a monster has you spouting rubbish about botched evidence and prejudiced arrest…”

Hermione’s expression must have told him that he’d gone too far; his mouth opened and closed as he searched for a way to backtrack. She stood . There was blood on the white linen tablecloth now, but she didn’t care.

“I’m going,” she said quietly but firmly.

“Hermione…”

“I don’t know if this was your idea of a romantic meal but you obviously have some research to do on the subject.”

A small flotilla of scandalised waiters had assembled and was advancing, but Hermione was already winding her way through tables and around statues and out the door, leaving Ron to bury his head in his hands.

*


Oxford Street was strewn with Muggles out to get happily drunk on a Friday night. Hermione dodged people standing on the pavement and getting out of taxis, wishing they would all go away so she could be alone to alternatively seethe and despair. How dare he? Why did I do that?

Her hand clenched; a line of pain ran across it and something wet dripped from between her fingers. She really should have healed it, but there were Muggles everywhere now. Anyway it gave her something to focus on, to fuel her anger, which she much preferred to despair – it allowed her to blame someone other than herself.

Hermione rounded the corner into a narrower alley. It was dimmer and dingy, with cigarette butts gathered in puddles and only the flicker of neon above a nightclub and a soft glow from an upstairs window for light. The stars should have just been appearing overhead – but that was one of the reasons Hermione hated London; you could never see the stars. There was a stale smell of chips as she passed a, bizarrely, closed takeaway and then acrid rubber as a battered white car sped past.

Ahead, a bar had placed tables outside on the footpath, and people were milling around them. Bass-heavy music throbbed inside. Hermione gave the place a short glance. And then glanced again, unsure of what she’d seen, before staring in shock at two men standing on the edge of a large, rowdy, group, watching the others.

They were both tall and pale, with broad shoulders and puckered white scars on their necks that were visible even at a distance. Their faces, although different, shared the same precise, sharp, contours. They were vampires.

She knew this at once, even before one – the fair-haired one, with narrow grey eyes – noticed her. His nostrils flared and he regarded her, his gaze resting briefly on her blood-smeared hand. He muttered to his companion, who laughed. Two of his teeth came to razor-sharp points.

Hermione’s heart froze. She was suddenly acutely afraid. They weren’t like Cygnus, who with his quiet good manners and intelligent eyes, was really not frightening at all anymore; the nerves she had felt the first time they had met had merely been fear of the unknown, nothing more. It was the difference between going to the zoo to see a tiger caged by stout walls, and then seeing that same tiger prowling the jungle, wild and unpredictable.

Hermione quickened her pace, giving the tables as wide a berth as she could, never daring to look away. Her wand was no use, she knew, remembering the words of one of her research tomes : "The vampyre ys impervious to all magick but that of iron and silver, which may only bind him; and sunlight, which causes most instante death…

Her back prickled as she continued down the street, feeling as if they must surely be following her with soundless footsteps. But when she paused at the corner, they were both in the same position. The fair man winked once, and they melted into the crowd.

Hermione leant against a shop front and took deep breaths until she felt less panicked, already thinking herself foolish for overreacting. But when she remembered those two dagger-sharp canines her blood ran cold.

After what seemed like an age of stumbling down darkened streets, she was on her road. While she was still fumbling for her keys in her pocket on the doorstep, the door swung open. Ron stood in the doorway, holding it ajar.

Hermione stepped back. “How did-?”

“Apparated,” Ron grunted. “I need to talk to you, Hermione.” His voice was unusually serious, almost emotionless.

“Just – just a minute,” Hermione said. She almost ran for the bathroom, and stuck her hand under the tap, relishing the feeling of the dried blood washing away. They were out of Murtlap essence, so she wrapped a length of bandage around her palm and fastened it in place with a tap from her wand. Her face in the mirror was pale, with dark shadows and hair in disarray. I look like a vampire was her first, erratic, thought, before sighing and gripping the sink’s cold enamel edge.

She knew what he was going to say; it was a dead certainty that had been rushing towards her for days, weeks.

A tap at the door. “Alright in there?”

Hermione pulled it open and faced him, expressions matching in their solemnity. “Talk,” she said.

Ron ran a hand through his hair. “This isn’t working.”

“No,” she replied flatly.

“I think – I think we should give a rest. Take a break.”

“Break up, you mean.”

“No! No, I mean, just… we both need space. To… stop arguing. It’s going nowhere.”

“Until when?”

“I – I don’t know. When it feels right.”

“What if it never does? “

He shrugged. “I really don’t know, Hermione.”

There was a pause, during which they both tried not to look at each other or away. All that could be heard was a clock slowly ticking in the sitting room. “Look,” Ron ventured at last. “I don’t like this either.”

“I know,” Hermione whispered, but she didn’t, she didn’t at all. She could have hit him at that moment, but her ams, her whole body, was just too weak. There had been no apology, no explanation; just dead, cold statement. She hated him at that moment. What if he hated her too? It was an awful thought.

Two loud raps disturbed the silence. Harry and Ginny. She walked to the front door as if in a dream and opened it to find them holding hands, windswept, inexplicably happy.

“Hermione!” Ginny exclaimed. “You’re home early, aren’t you?”

Hermione couldn’t think of anything to say. Their smiling faces were almost insulting.

“Er… yeah,” she said, just so her face would have something to do other than crumple. “Come on in, it’s cold.”

They moved past her into the hall. As they hung up their coats, Hermione gazed down across the road. A flash of white lingered on her eyelids like an afterimage, but it really was cold and she had to turn back to the hallway and close the door.

“So what’s he news? Why are you two so happy?”

“We were looking at a house out in Kent.”

“Oh – you’re moving out, then?”

“Of course – us sharing was only ever meant to be temporary. Harry’s exams are only a week away, and after that, it won’t matter. We've put in an offer, but we're sure to get it. It's such a wonderful place, you'll love it!”

Hermione nodded absently.

“Harry?” Ron had emerged from the kitchen, pale and scowling. “Ginny?”

“I didn’t know you were here…” Harry began warmly.

“I was just going,” Ron said, pulling on his jacket, hung on a hook by the door.

“What’s the rush?”

But Ron had already pushed out the door and Disapparated.

“What was that about?” Ginny asked.

Hermione could only blink back treacherous tears and shake her head.









A/N: I thought I'd have this up before now, but it gave me a lot of trouble. I'm still not entirely happy with it. In the original version of this, Harry and Ginny got engaged, but even I don't think Ron's enough of a prat to break up with Hermione at a time like that. So a whole sub-plot has been cut out - which is why this chapter is fairly short.

If anyone is wondering, because I'm not sure if the chronology is clear enough, I did a little timeline:
ch1 = november 8
ch2 = nov 10
ch3 = nov17
ch4 = dec3

I would love some reviews :)

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