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            Ron and Hermione, and even Sirius as they later found out, were constantly met with pleading letters from a very frustrated Harry. He was beginning to get more forceful in his demands for answers, but the three continually left him vague responses: “We’ve been told not to say anything important in case our letters go astray…” “We’re quite busy but I can’t give you details here…” Most recently, as the end of July approached, Hermione added to her birthday card for Harry that she expected they’d be seeing him soon, hoping this would cheer him up a bit.

            “He’ll be coming here soon, right?” Hermione asked Mrs. Weasley as she prepared lunch for her and the Weasleys, as well as Sirius and Lupin. They were just two of the additional members of the Order of the Phoenix, others including Tonks; the man who was impersonated as their latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody; a man who worked at the Ministry named Kingsley Shacklebolt; a man who quite often received a scornful glare from Mrs. Weasley named Mundungus Fletcher; and even their Potions teacher Professor Snape. These individuals and many others came and went, according to when the meetings were going on. Often their arrival was met with Hermione, Ron, Ginny and the twins being ushered upstairs out of earshot. This must have been the inspiration for Fred and George’s Extendable Ears: long, flesh-colored strands that, when one placed one end in his ear, and the other under a door, he could perfectly hear the conversations ensuing behind the door.

            “As soon as we’ve worked out the group to transport him safely,” Mrs. Weasley mused, waving her wand to bring the finished meal to the table. She walked up the steep and narrow stairway leading from the kitchen to the main part of the house to call the others to lunch. Hermione and Ron had earlier come downstairs in pursuit of the residing house-elf Kreacher after he had said some nasty things about Hermione under his breath. Or rather, Ron had chased Kreacher down the stairs and Hermione had followed, protesting that Kreacher didn’t know what he was saying and to leave him alone. Mrs. Weasley had then emerged from the kitchen wondering about the noise just as Kreacher rushed in and vanished into his small, living environment underneath the boiler. After watching Kreacher reproachfully, Mrs. Weasley had turned back to Ron and Hermione to inform them that lunch was being made and they may as well stay.

            Mrs. Weasley made her way back down the stairs from calling the others and walked to the table which was now full of a brilliant display of a cauldron of stew, bread, and enough butterbeer for everyone. Just then, a loud pop was heard and Fred and George appeared just behind their mother, who jumped and scolded them for using unnecessary magic.

            “But we’re of age!” Fred retorted, snatching a slice of bread and sitting down next to Hermione. George sat beside him, helping himself to some food as well.

            Likely expecting a long and loud rant from Mrs. Weasley, Lupin interjected “it’s delicious Molly. You’ve outdone yourself.” He had already begun eating, though it had gone unnoticed with the commotion Fred and George had caused.

            Mrs. Weasley’s red face slowly returned to its normal color as she straightened her apron to calm herself and gave him a soft smile. “Thank you, Remus,” she replied. She also joined them at the table shortly after Ginny arrived.

            As they ate, Fred and George questioned Sirius about the content of the Order meetings, seeing him as more likely to inform them. He was as they expected, but when he began to talk, he seemed to suddenly remember how hungry he was and returned to eating. Hermione glanced over at Mrs. Weasley and found her giving Sirius a warning glare. The twins didn’t miss this either and went back to eating in bitter silence.

            “Have you received any letters from Harry recently?” Hermione asked Sirius to fill the lasting awkward silence.

            Sirius nodded, looking rather irritated about the whole thing. “I’d like nothing better than to have him here, but, as Molly said, there are preparations needed. He needs protection for his journey. I would go myself but… I can’t leave the house.” His smile was full of resentment.

            Hermione believed he really would go to get Harry himself if he were allowed, though she was glad he wasn’t. Even if he took his Animagus form, there was no telling if he’d be recognized or not. She pitied him nonetheless. “I just wish there were something more we could do…” she said, concentrating hard on the table beneath her food, hoping for some inspiration. “He wouldn’t try to leave would he?” she added, the thought suddenly coming to mind and making her look up at Sirius with concern. She would understand his reasoning if he did, but regardless, it would be so careless of him to leave and travel alone. Despite how horrible his living family was, he was much safer with them than by himself.

            Sirius shook his head. “I told him to keep out of trouble. He knows better than to disappear without telling anyone like he did a couple years ago.” Harry had once before left the Dursleys prematurely and ended up taking the Knight Bus to Diagon Alley, where he luckily met up with Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic.

            Hermione was a little comforted by this. Harry trusted his godfather’s judgment, sometime above all others, and wouldn’t disobey him.

            Shortly after this conversation, the group finished their meals and returned to their rooms; Sirius, Lupin, and Molly remained in the kitchen while awaiting more members of the Order for the next meeting. Fred and George didn’t press their luck trying to stick around, as they had in the past, since their mother was already in a testy mood, but Hermione saw them retrieve the Extendable Ears from their pockets once out of sight of Mrs. Weasley. Hermione expected to hear more about what was said in the meeting later.

            She also noticed how quiet Ron had been since lunch. She looked at him curiously as he stopped in front of his door. Ginny said she was going to Hermione and her room and Hermione told her goodbye. Ginny understood that she was going to stay with Ron, as she often did, and the two walked into Ron’s room together.

            “Are you alright, Ron?” she asked. He was walking ahead of her and didn’t look back when he responded with a simple “yeah.”

            Hermione continued to look at him, studying the back of his head, since that was all she could see from this angle. She sighed and sat down on the bed to his right. “I’m upset about Harry too but we’ve done all we can, Ron,” she said.

            Ron let out a sharp breath and turned his head slightly away from her. “That’s right, because you’re so upset about Harry you assume that’s what this about.”

            “But you are upset about him, Ron,” Hermione said simply. She was now far more concerned about Ron’s attitude than she had been moments before. This was not the kind of response she was expecting.

            Ron turned to face her, looking as though he were about to say something, but stopped himself and shook his head. He seemed to be searching for the right words. Hermione kept quiet, patiently awaiting his response, her curiosity getting the better of her.

            “You wish he was here, don’t you?” he finally said, not quite looking her in the eye.

            “Of course I do,” she responded, and he shook his head again. “You do, too, Ron. We all do.”

            “Yeah, well… you just… seem to talk about him a little bit more than everyone else,” Ron said. His face was red, but Hermione couldn’t tell if it was from anger or embarrassment.

            “He’s my best friend, Ron,” Hermione said, frowning at him. “I have a right to want him to be happy, and I know he’s not happy there. You know it, too.”

            Ron mumbled something that sounded like “he’s my best friend too…”

            Hermione looked at him more closely, getting angrier as he refused to say any more. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”

            Ron didn’t respond, but instead turned and walked to the bed across from the one Hermione was sitting on and sat down on it, facing her, but glaring down at the ground.

            “Well, isn’t there, Ron?” she stood up indignantly. He seemed to be mad at her for something, as if anything he could have possibly been upset about could have been her fault.

            He stayed quiet and Hermione could feel the heat rising to her face out of frustration. “Fine,” she finally said, seething. “I’ll just leave you alone then, since you don’t seem to want me here.” She turned on her heel and began to walk toward the door.

            “Hermione, wait,” Ron said, and as Hermione stopped and turned her head back to glare at him, she saw that he was finally looking her in the eyes. After a moment’s silence, she turned to face him fully, hands on her hips. “Well?” she said, her eyebrow raised.

            “I do want you here,” he said so quickly that Hermione didn’t get the full meaning of his words right away. Ron didn’t seem to either because he looked as though he regretted saying so about the same time Hermione must have shown understanding in her expression.

            “So this is about Harry…” she began, studying his face as he studied hers, trying to understand what she meant by this. She smiled, now understanding why he was so upset. “Ron, Harry is my best friend. It’s not like that.”

            Ron looked utterly confused by this for a moment then his face turned bright pink, this time, Hermione was sure, due to embarrassment. “That… that has nothing to do with… Why would you think that?” He stood up, continuing to protest, but he kept jumbling over his words.

            Hermione shook her head, smiling in amusement. He was still as immature as he had been last year at the Yule Ball when he’d seen her with Viktor Krum. Why he couldn’t figure out the reason he got so angry at the idea of Hermione with other boys, Hermione wasn’t sure.

            “I’m glad you’re here, too, Ron,” she said, and he became quiet instantly. “I want Harry here, but I don’t want him here instead of you. I want the three of us together. Isn’t that what you want too?” she added, a smirk growing on her lips as he seemed to find this a safe statement to agree to and nodded as if this were obvious.

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