Meredith Weasley spun into existence in the fireplace in Starbeck Road, 347; a stout little house, complete with a carefully manicured herb-garden and a garage in which stood an ancient Ford which rarely ever served any purpose.
She stepped into the dimness of the dining room after brushing ash from her violet suit so as not to dirty the carpet-clad floor. "Ron?" she called, her voice echoing through the room and up the staircase. "Are you home?"
It was more a question of wether or not he was awake, seeing that he had been home ever since the Accident three months previous. It was rather a question of wether or not he was still asleep, or if he was simply laying in bed, awake, waiting for her to come back home from work and make him dinner.
"Mary?" Came Ron's voice from upstairs, groggy; sleepy.
Meredith sighed exasperatedly.
She walked over to the entrance door and the clothes cabinet next to it, reflecting on how it would really be much more convenient to have the closet by the fireplace, seeing that she, and usually also Ron, always flooed to work.
She hung her violet blazer neatly on a hanger and turned to stare directly into her own eyes in the mirror on the door. She looked tired; she expected that it was the pregnancy taking hold of her. Her skin looked nearly transparent and her eyelids looked heavier than they usually did, as though she hadn't slept for weeks. She looked, in lack of a better word, ill.
She turned her back on the wardrobe and took in the view that met her critically, trying hard to forget her own appearance. The entire ground floor of her and Ron's house was actually one room, naturally excluding the bathroom. The different 'sections' of the floor were only separated by doorless archways, which gave the house a distinct feeling of freedom and openness, or at least it did so in Meredith's keen-sighted opinion.
From upstairs there was a sudden metallic clunk and an exclaimation of pain.
"Ron, what are you doing?" Meredith called up the stairs, the alarm growing inside her, rushing through her blood and making her heart beat faster even if she managed to keep her voice levelled and calm. "Are you hurt?"
"No," came Ron's answer. His voice sounded strained, as though he really was hurt but trying hard not to let his voice betray him. "I'm fine!"
Meredith frowned. "Why don't you come on down?" she called up the spiraling staircase, on the walls of which hung immobile photographs from her and Ron's wedding day less than a year ago. "It's your birthday. I have a surprise for you."
"I have a surprise for you!" Ron retorted insufferably. Meredith highly doubted that anything he could show her would take her by surprise, but nevertheless she began climbing the stairs, one step at a time.
"Where are you?" she called, once she reached the topmost step and looked around at the doors. There were four plain white doors on the peach walls surrounding her; one leading into her and Ron's bedroom, the second leading to the bathroom, the third to the cozy guest-room in which Meredith's mother usually slept, and the last one leading directly into the abode of Ron and Merediths' unborn child. "Ron?" she called again when her husband issued no answer the first time around.
"Here," came Ron's voice, from inside nursery.
The odor of turpentine nearly knocked Meredith backwards when she opened the door. She looked around, not quite believing her own eyes and definitely starting to doubt her own sanity.
In the middle of the room stood Ron, tall, scraggly, yet a lot healthier-looking than he had been for months now, surrounded by sky-blue walls, several buckets of paint, an assembly of various tools including, but not limited to, hammers, chisels, a screwdriver and a big, red toolbox, and, lastly, a baby's crib complete with blankets that matched the walls perfectly.
Ron smiled, gesturing at the walls with his hands. His fingers were tinted blue and he had a smudge of paint drawn across his left cheek. "What do you think?"
Meredith was speechless. "I, I mean, this-" she looked at Ron and cocked her head to the side. "How do you know it's a boy?"
"I'm a Weasley." Ron said, shrugging, grinning stupidly.
"What about Ginny?" Meredith said, raising an eyebrow. "And my parents only have daughters!"
"Your parents only have you!" Ron argued, caressing the hammer absentmindedly as he looked around to admire his handiwork.
Meredith was too tired to argue, plus, she felt oddly dizzy, perhaps from the strong odor emitted by the countless buckets full of paint.
"So what do you have for me?" Ron asked, grinning, sneaking an arm around Meredith's once slender waist and nuzzling the few inches of neck visible between Meredith's bob and her turtleneck sweater.
Meredith hesitated. She had thought she would prepare a wonderful meal consisting of all his favorite foods; veal fricassee, stuffed cabbage leaves, horseradish sauce and a desert of caramel pudding and stewed rhubarb, but her encounter with Malfoy in the Ministry elevator had wiped all the groceries she needed from her mind.
"You will never guess who I ran into at the Ministry today-" she began, but at that exact moment the loud ringing of a cell-phone issued from downstairs. Meredith frowned deeply; Ron looked rather alarmed. "Wait... Is that a cellphone?"
"What the hell is that thing?"
Malfoy was staring at Hermione's vibrating jeans pocket, in which a square of light was flashing through the fabric.
They had come but one step out of the Weasleys' fireplace, having decided to make the invasion a covert operation, when Hermione's cellphone had started ringing and rendered any discretion unnecessary.
Hermione withdrew the modern device from her pocket and Malfoy backed away as though she had just pulled up a lethal weapon. Hermione fumbled with the phone, catching sight of her mother's name on the display before she managed to turn the gizmo's sound off and stew it back into her pocket.
It was too late.
Two pairs of footsteps were already rustling down the stairs, and a second later the light in the dining room was switched on, momentarily blinding the intruders.
When Hermione's eyes adjusted to the light she saw two silhouettes drawn up against the window behind them. One of them was small, distinctly female and vaguely familiar. It was the other one, however, who really drew Hermione's attention.
He had red, shaggy hair and a face of which every inch was covered in freckles, blue streaks of what appeared to be paint, and, also, quite a few healing scars. His long, skinny frame was clad in loose jeans and a horrible, bright orange t-shirt featuring one of the players of the Chudley Cannons; a team Hermione knew very well, despite having never nurtured any interest whatsoever in Quidditch.
"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed, her heart banging against her chest.
The woman by his side, paled until she disappeared completely, and Draco Malfoy, the handsome blond who surveyed the entire scene with an expression of wishing to be anywhere else, faded alongside her, leaving Hermione and Ron the only two people in the room; the only two people in the world.
Ron looked positively moonstruck. He looked at Hermione, like he had done before, and Hermione felt as though she was falling victim for his amazing, deep blue eyes.
"Who..." he started slowly, shaking his head before returning those sapphire orbs to Hermione once more. "Who are you?"
The silence in Starbeck Road 347 was one of the extreme, the kind in which no one breathed. It was, in fact, so quiet one could fear that his or her thoughts could be audible through the stillness.
Hermione was staring at Ron, who stared back at her as though he was twisting his brain almost painfully in a hopeless attempt to remember her.
Malfoy was staring at Meredith, and she was looking back at him; loathing written upon both their faces.
Meredith became the first in the quartet to speak.
"You have soot on your nose, Malfoy," she said reproachfully to the blond, who reluctantly lifted a hand to rub his aristocratic nose, which admittedly was tainted by a stain of ash that contrasted to the paleness of his skin.
Ron tore his eyes eyes away from Hermione at long last to gaze Malfoy and his freckled face contorted immediately when he realized the identity of Hermione's companion. His face attained a look of the utmost bitterness; the one only a Malfoy was able to inspire in a Weasley, after years and years of hostility between the two pure-blooded families.
"Malfoy," Ron growled. "What the bloody hell is going on?!"
"We were hoping you could tell us that," Malfoy said, seemingly entirely unfazed by the sudden chill breeze in the room and the notion that he was very much unwanted in Starbeck Road.
There was yet another, confused silence, in which no one seemed to know what to say, think, do or believe. Hermione still couldn't tear her eyes away from Ron, and even though she saw the golden band on his finger, saw the way he lay a protective arm around Meredith's narrow shoulders, she could not quench the excitement she felt from simply being near him, being close enough to count the freckles on his nose if she wanted to and being able to talk to him, even if she could not muster a single word.
Ron Weasley was real.
Ron noticed her staring, and he squirmed uncomfortably, trying to ignore the burning gaze of molten chocolate for as long as possible before he finally cracked. "What?" he asked, bewildered, turning deep, blue ponds to gaze at Hermione, who got immediately breathless. "Do I have a smudge on my nose, too?"
Hermione bit her lip and looked down in shame. "No, it's not that..." she muttered, her cheeks burning, her eyes glazing over. "It's just... I-, I just..."
"Who are you?" Ron asked her again, his voice softer now. His eyes fell to Hermione's chest, on which a large, silver badge bearing her false name was still pinned. "Astoria Greengrass?" Ron read quizzically.
Hermione shook her head, feeling as though her thoughts and mind were reeling. Ron didn't remember her. Ron was there, but he did not know her; he did not recognize her. To her he was everything, yet she was nothing to him in return.
"Hermione," Hermione responded, in a shaking, somber voice. "My name is Hermione Granger," She closed her eyes, and pictures of her and Ron flew through her head like a slideshow of memories that had never been.
Her and Ron, and their first kiss right before the second war broke out.
Her and Ron, and the day he proposed to her, on one knee, holding forth a diamond.
Her and Ron, not Meredith and Ron, approaching the altar for their wedding rehearsal.
Ron looked uncertain and wrapped his arm tighter around his petite wife, who slipped a hand into his and squeezed it tightly. Though Hermione knew she was standing quite alone in the cold dining room, she though she felt a blanket of warmth being thrown around her shoulders and the palm of her hand burning as though by a lovers' touch.
Her eyes swelled with tears. "My name is Hermione Granger," she said, swallowing, willing herself to look at Ron through a veil of tears. "-and I... I love you."
The silence following this bold statement was even more supreme, and both Ron and Merediths' eyes were huge as galleons and locked unblinkingly on Hermione, as though she was their shared hallucination. Naturally a girl didn't just walk in on Ron's twentieth birthday, introduce herself and claim to love him without ever meeting him before?
Only Malfoy seemed to be totally unaffected by the situation as he slunk around the baffled trio until he stood behind the married couple.
"Really smooth," he drawled, making both Ron and Meredith jump and spin around to face their archenemy. "Looks to me like you have a lot to catch up on, so you won't mind me just leaving."
"Malfoy, what-" Ron started, but with a flicker of two wands and a loud crack Malfoy was gone and the spot on the floor which had previously been stained by his long shadow lay empty.
"My wand is gone!" Meredith cried out after a moment's shocked silence.
Ron quickly checked for his own, his face livid, before his hands returned empty and luckless.
A hard dunk, like a head hitting hardwood floor, sent echoes through the modest house, and Meredith and Ron turned in unison to find Hermione on the floor, her long, curly hair fanned out around her like a halo.
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