Ron and Meredith looked speechlessly from the seemingly lifeless mass on the floor, to the spot Draco Malfoy had disappeared a moment before, then slowly back to the unconscious girl again.
"What the ruddy hell is going on?", Ron said finally, after several minutes had ticked by in complete and utter silence.
"I don't know.", Meredith replied, and Ron turned to stare at her instead. He was so used to her having the answers to everything that it felt weird to hear the three helpless syllables leave her lips.
They looked back to the immobile girl in front of the fireplace.
"Is she... dead?", Ron proceeded to ask as his wife bent down by the stranger's side to examine her further.
Meredith rolled the girl over on her back and located her wrist to search for a pulse. "She is alive, but I don't know what's wrong with her.", Meredith announced a minute or so later, after having checked the girl's vital signs only to find out that she appeared to be in mint condition; apart from the obvious fact that she unconscious. "I think we ought to call an ambulance."
When Ron didn't immediately answer Meredith turned to find him brandishing an extremely apprehensive expression upon his freckled face.
"What?" she demanded.
"It's just that... If she's affiliated with Malfoy, do we really want her to wake up?", Ron said slowly. "I mean, she might just be pretending to be unconscious so she can jump up unexpectedly and Avada-Kedavra the pair of us."
"Don't be a twat, Ron. We have to help her.", Meredith said matter-of-factly as she began searching the girl's pockets. There wasn't a whole lot there apart from a key, a cellphone and a small, black, leather-bound book. No wand, and no clue towards who this stranger might be. "She doesn't have any ID on her. What did she say her name was again?"
"Hermione Granger.", Ron responded, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back against the wall behind him.
Meredith turned her attention back to the girl, whose frizzy, brown hair covered most of her face. "Well, we can't just leave her laying here." she said. "Help me move her."
The girl weighed close to nothing, but since Meredith was seven months pregnant and Ron was still physically weakened from the accident, it had taken a toll on them both to move her unconscious form from the hard floor to the considerably more comfortable sofa. As a result of the physical exertion they had both collapsed into the cream-colored love-seat directly facing Hermione to consider what their next course of action should be.
"She said she loved me," said Ron, turning to Meredith with creases on his forehead. "-But I've never seen her before in my life!"
Meredith shook her head in agreement of his first statement, then remembered what she had been about to tell Ron when they had heard the uninvited visitors downstairs. "I met her and Malfoy today at the Ministry."
Ron pulled a disgusted grimace. "What was that git doing at the Ministry?"
Meredith resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Ron was determined to hold onto his grudge against Malfoy for dear life, even if the blonde in question had been cleared of all charges and hadn't bothered either of them since Voldemort had fallen. At least not until today. "He works there, Ron, as you very well know.", she said huffily. "The real question is: what was a Muggle doing there with him?"
"How do you know she's a Muggle?", Ron asked immediately. "We didn't find any ID. She might be a witch, and just because we never saw her at Hogwarts doesn't mean she can't have attended Durmstrang or Beauxbatons. She might be foreign-"
"She didn't have a wand on her and she spoke in a British accent.", Meredith pointed out. "But I suppose you could be right. Either way, we need to find out what to do with her."
They fell back into silence once more, both of them watching Hermione intently as the snow continued to fall outside.
Draco Malfoy was furious.
First he had been thwarted by a Muggle and forced to go on a mission that led him into the home of his two least favourite people to walk this earth, with the possible exception of Harry Potter. Then he had splinched himself trying to Apparate in the blizzard and spent about an hour trying to locate his ear somewhere in Wales. His jacket had gone missing during Apparition as well, so by the time he arrived back in London he was frozen to the bone and in an extremely bad temper.
He finally located the Muggle bookshop where the crazy Muggle had so rudely locked his book and wand into the safe, and pulling up another wand, the weasel's or the Mudblood's, whichever, he whispered the charm that unlocked the door.
Inside the toasty bookstore the snowflakes that clung to his hair and clothes begun to melt and he was positively dripping as he angrily ripped the colorful painting off the wall to reveal the safe behind it. One lazy wave of his wand was enough to break the simple Muggle combination and he reached to open the safe with shivering fingers. The Grimoire would finally be his, after years of frantic searching, countless unannounced house-inspections in former Death Eater abodes and fruitless visits to every bookstore in England.
The door of the safe swung open, and Malfoy's eyes widened almost comically as a grin spread across his face, although both these expressions were wiped plainly off his face once the light fell upon the contents of the safe.
His wand and some worthless Muggle money.
He spun around and began searching through the bookstore at all the places he had taken the book. He begun in the occult section, proceeding to the the counter, then, in desperation, he fell to the floor and crawled upon the dusty hardwood, scanning the surface with his eyes.
The Grimoire was gone.
"I suppose we could always hand her in to the Ministry, or bring her to St. Mungo's..."
The sound of the familiar voice was music to Hermione's ears, and it was that, more than anything, that brought her back to consciousness.
"Ron?", she moaned, as her eyes fluttered open to find him sitting across from her on a cream-colored couch. Upon catching sight of him her features lit up until they resembled those of a fangirl coming face to face with her favourite celebrity.
"She's demented.", Ron said through the corner of his mouth, though he hadn't bothered to lower his voice to the point where Hermione couldn't pick it up. Hermione's mirthful expression fell slightly, then collapsed completely as she caught sight of the pregnant woman sitting next to Ron on the love-seat. A familiar wedding-band glittered upon one of her slender fingers. The sight of the two of them together provided a sick, twisted image that made jealousy and despair flare up inside the core of Hermione's being. She should be the one sitting there, next to Ron, wearing the ring he had given her and cradling a pregnant stomach.
The woman gave Ron an elbow to the ribs for his tactlessness, then met Hermione's scowl from across the table and frowned slightly.
"Who are you and what were you doing together with Malfoy in our house?", Ron demanded, successfully calling Hermione's attention back onto him. He was glaring at her, and though he had glared at her many times before, during all of their quarrels and heated arguments, Hermione couldn't help but notice that this was a different glare. A glare deprived of any underlaying affection beneath the hard blue.
"Hermione Granger.", Hermione said, knowing full-well that the statement was an utterly unsatisfying answer to his question, yet she had no idea what else to say. She had no idea who she was anymore or what was going on. Not knowing was the worst feeling in the world, and to not be able to look up the answer in a book was the equivalent of torture as far as Hermione was concerned.
Ron huffed. "Are you a Muggle?", he proceeded to ask, and Hermione hesitated to answer.
"She doesn't even know what a Muggle is, Ron.", his wife said in a hushed voice, obviously misinterpreting the blank look on Hermione's face.
"I know what a Muggle is." snapped Hermione. "In fact, I know all about Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic, Harry Potter and everything else related to the Wizarding World."
Ron looked triumphant for a second and shot his wife a smirk before he remembered the situation and adapted his face accordingly. "And how have you come to know that?", he asked Hermione.
"Because...", Hermione hesitated, eager to word herself in a way that didn't make her sound as though she had just escaped a mental institution. Before she had the time to decide what to say, however, Ron threw another question at her.
"How do you know Malfoy?"
"I... I ran into him today. He came by the bookshop I work in, and I recognized him and-", she trailed off. She suddenly remembered the battered old book Malfoy had seemed so keen on getting his clawlike hands on and broke off mid-sentence to search her pockets for it. They were empty. "Where's my book?", she asked her hosts, who responded by looking even more convinced of her mental instability than they had done a minute ago. It was a look Hermione knew well, too well, and it contributed to enraging her even further. "Do you have it?"
"Here.", Ron's wife said, handing it to Hermione across the table. Hermione snatched it out of her hand without a word of thanks.
"You were saying?", Ron prompted, still eyeing Hermione suspiciously.
"Right.", Hermione said, tucking the black book away behind a pillow and attempting to pick up where she had left off before he could shoot another nosy question at her. She didn't much fancy Ron in the role of interrogator, and yet the sound of his voice made her heart beat so hard that she could barely hear her own stumbling explanation. "Malfoy came into the bookshop and wanted this book, and I recognized him and I knew he knew you, so I convinced him to take me here so I could talk to you."
Ron exchanged a glance with his wife, providing Hermione with the opportunity to stare shamelessly at the couple for a second or two. She noticed that Ron looked rather tired and careworn, and he had a scar on the side of his face that could easily outdo the famous lightning-shaped scar that marred Harry's forehead. Hermione wondered what had happened to him, but she didn't think she was in any position to ask questions, so she contended herself to admire every inch of his beloved face.
The happy couple turned back towards Hermione and she quickly looked away to hide the fact that she had been ogling them. Her eyes landed on a framed photograph of Ron and his wife on their weddingday, her weddingday, hanging on the wall to her left. Meredith was wearing the same wedding dress that Hermione had spent so many months searching for and Ron was staring down at her with an expression of undisguised mirth; the very same expression he had given Hermione when she had agreed to marry him.
Hermione felt her throat constricting as tears threatened to well up in her eyes.
"Why do you want to talk to me, then? I don't even know you!", Ron demanded from somewhere in the distance.
Hermione fought down the saltwater which tried so desperately to force its way through her tear ducts. "I...", she began, and both Ron and the woman beside him leaned an inkling towards her in anticipation of the answer before both their gazes snapped towards something behind Hermione; their faces identical masks of alarm.
Hermione glanced over her shoulder to see what had caught their attention.
The fireplace had roared to life and painted the white walls emerald green.
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