As always, it all belongs to JKR. I own nothing.
Children of the Flame Saga
Book II: Blessed Summer of Horrors
Give Me the Knife
Hermione sat on the roof next to Harry and leaned her head on his shoulder. These twenty or so minutes each morning while Ginny showered and her mother watched Saraphina had become their time and she treasured it. She hadn't realized how integral to her life Harry had become till he had found Ginny and she started losing time with him as he spent more and more with her red headed friend. At the same time as she'd been happy for him, them, she'd been confused and hurt too. And watching the events of the last eight months had been difficult. The day he had died was seared into her soul. She hadn't known it was possible to hurt that badly. But somehow, as he always did, he survived. He was different because of it, even from just the day before. Even more Ginny had become the center of his world. But somehow within it, he'd realized others needed him too and he'd carved out little pieces of himself for them.
"So fourteen, hun?"
Hermione blushed. Their O.W.L. results had come and she had gotten as many as was possible; thirteen Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations. "Stupid bogart," she muttered. "I can't believe I froze on it."
"I think you'll be fine," Harry answered. "It's not like some Death Eater is going to morph into McGonagall and tell you you've failed all your exams."
"Just stupid," Hermione huffed. Harry chuckled and as they were wont to do they fell silent for a short time. "Ten yourself isn't too bad you know."
"Kind of hard to make up sloughing for four years in six months," Harry said ruefully. He'd managed only two Outstandings, defense and transfiguration, with seven Exceeds and one Acceptable in History of Magic to fill out his balance.
"More than enough to be an auror," she offered. Harry grunted. "You're not going to be an auror are you?"
"I'm not sure I could even if I wanted to."
"It'd hardly be safe for either of you, would it?"
Harry snorted. "Understatement of the day right there."
"I don't understand why she only took ten O.W.L.s."
"Well she did have to take all her fourth year exams as well. They had to make special allowance as it was for her to get them all in. Let's also remember she was terrified someone would find a way around her ward and portkey her away from school. And that says nothing about the fact that she was a bit concerned about me at the time as well."
"You're entirely too logical anymore, Harry Potter," she retorted.
"How about Ron?" he asked. "Nine total, one Outstanding, five Exceeds and three Acceptables."
Hermione smiled. "He did well. I'm proud of him."
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "Me too." He gave her shoulder a squeeze. "I like hanging out up here with you."
Hermione hugged him tightly around the waist and they fell silent once again, sitting quietly together for quite some time before she ventured, "Harry?"
"Don't worry, Hermione."
"Promise me you won't let them take her."
Harry turned to face her, holding her chin with his fingers. "I swear, Hermione, Saraphina, the rest of the women from Malfoy Manor, no one will touch them … Ginny and I will kill anyone who tries."
Hermione held his eyes. "Thank you."
Harry bent and kissed her forehead before standing and pulling her to her feet. "Come on, mum's just putting the bacon out," he said as flames rushed over them.
It was the dead of night as he leaned against the window frame in his room staring out. The events of the summer, the last few days especially, and an overheard conversation from earlier tumbled through his mind; a kaleidoscope of horrors intermixed with wonders he'd never dreamed he'd witness. They were due back at school in less than a week now and he held no illusions of the school year bringing any sort of reprieve to their lives. The storm was building. Everyone knew it. Everyone felt it. The hollow victory of taking the Ministry building in London would have Tom turning his attention to Hogwarts and the town of Hogsmeade soon. And they were no closer to ending this than they'd been on arriving home for the summer. They might have found and destroyed four Horcruxes – he shuddered at the memory of how the fourth, the accidental Horcrux, had been destroyed – but there were three left yet and they had no idea where they were. And if one of them were in the London Ministry building how were they possibly going to find it now? And if the goblins lost their London location, which was looming ever more likely, before they managed to find the Horcrux they believed to be hidden there then what? He was pulled from his dark thoughts by the sight of a shadowy figure hurrying across the back garden.
"I knew it," he muttered. It took him less than thirty seconds to exit his room, cross the roof and scale down the chimney to the ground.
Hermione carefully laid Saraphina on the ground. She'd given the girl a sleeping draught but it didn't mean she couldn't wake up. She paused for a moment to brush one of the girl's blonde locks back. The revelation of who her father had most likely been only made the reasons for doing this more important. Blood was everything in this world and she didn't trust for one second everything would be better once Harry and Ginny had defeated Tom. If it was true, Saraphina was the last one left and they would pry her daughter from her cold dead hands before she let them take the girl.
Silently she set about preparing the area. It was hardly different from the hand fasting ceremony of Harry's and Ginny's wedding. She created a circle of stones around them both, softly whispering a word of promise to Saraphina with the placing of each one. She then knelt next to Saraphina and pulled the dagger, she'd found in the Weasley's attic from the waistband of her jeans. A hand caught her wrist before she could draw the blade across her palm. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Ron!" she gasped. "You scared me half to death."
"I should hope so. Now answer the question." Hermione glowered at him. "You're trying to prove it's safe for Harry and Ginny to blood adopt her and the rest, aren't you?"
She raised her chin. "What if I am?"
"Isn't it enough for them to name the lot of you Potters?"
"You know how important blood is in this world. That isn't going to just go away once Tom is gone. What do you think they'll do if they find out who her father is?"
Ron ran his hand through his hair. It was plain to see once Dumbledore had told them his suspicion. Saraphina resembled Hermione; it made sense since the girl had taken one look at her and cried 'Mummy!'." Hermione was obviously a dead ringer for the girl's biological mother. But the girl's blonde hair, her narrow fine features, if her father wasn't Draco Malfoy, then it was Lucius. Extrapolating those facts sent a cold shiver up his spine. His sister wasn't the only one to have suffered an attempt to portkey her away from school last year. He didn't need two guesses to know where Hermione would have been taken and what would have happened to her if one of those attempts had been successful.
"I asked Harry to show me his memory of the man who hurt Fleur," Hermione said. "He was covered with open cuts. I'm certain he passed his blood to her and she's fine."
Ron pressed his lips together. "Fine, give me the knife." He held his hand out for it.
"If one of us is risking their future, let's make it the one who isn't the most brilliant witch of her age."
She stared at him before shaking her head. "I can't let you."
"You don't have a choice."
"Don't tell me—"
"Give me the knife or I set off the wards and tell everyone what you were going to do when they get here … What I want to know is why you asked Harry and not me to take care of her."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Do you really have to ask?" She continued to stare at him in silence. "Give me the knife, Hermione." She raised her chin. "Now, Hermione."
Slowly she raised her hand and placed the hilt in his.
"I asked Harry because he has the means," she said.
Ron took the knife from her. "Thank you."
"Being honest with me."
"You're angry with me."
"I think I have a right to be."
"For not trusting you to help me."
Ron tipped his head, considering her for a second. "I'm beginning to think you and I might have a chance."
Hermione smiled tremulously. "Me too."
August 28th dawned cold and wet and did nothing but deteriorate as the day wore on. Rain fell in torrential waves driven by howling winds till well into the afternoon before it abated. As evening came the winds still drove low scudded clouds across the sky and cold seemed to find ways of seeping into the Burrow as if it were the dead of winter and not the downward spiral of late summer. Ron sat at the kitchen table with a dozen or more others, never more grateful of having an Egyptian cryptologists/curse breaker/ward expert for a brother. The spells they used to protect dig sites from the weather worked just as well for a cage.
Remus set his mug down and pushed himself to his feet. "It's time."
Ron stood with everyone else as they filed out of the house, joining the procession of women from Malfoy Manor as they exited their tent. Hanging at the back he avoided Hermione till she was carefully tucking a sedated Saraphina into a nest of blankets within her pen. He squatted down and brushed one of the girl's blond curls back. "Alright?" he asked, his eyes on Hermione.
She swallowed. "No."
Ron gave a half chuckle. "Makes two of us."
"Ron—" she began.
"You don't get to make all the sacrifices, Hermione," he cut her off. He leaned in and kissed her softly. "Now get out of here."
"What about you?"
"Why is there an extra pen?" Molly asked.
Ron smiled painfully. "Might wanna tell me you love me before she kills me," he whispered before standing.
"There's no one missing, right?" Bill asked.
"Everyone is accounted for," Professor McGonagall said.
"I count twenty-four pens," Charlie said.
"Ron, what are you doing?" Molly asked when he stepped in the last pen and closed the gate.
He latched it and cast a locking charm on it before passing his wand through the fence links to Hermione. "Proving its safe for Harry and Ginny to blood adopt Saraphina," he said. "Not a word, Hermione," he hissed in the ten seconds before the explosion.
"YOU DID WHAT?" Molly shrieked. Ron just sat down with his back against the fence, his knees bent and his arms propped up on them.
"Tell me you didn't," Bill croaked. Ron held his hand up, displaying the scar on his palm. Bill scrubbed at his face. "Son of a—" he muttered. He focused on his youngest brother. "What if you're wrong?"
Hermione stared at Bill. She'd been so sure of this she'd let Ron talk her out of doing it herself. But Bill's question, a question she knew should have been, 'What if Hermione is wrong?' sent a rush of fear through her unlike any she'd ever known. What if she was wrong?
"Then Hermione will cure me," Ron said.
Hermione whipped around to face him; just as he let out a blood curdling scream of agony. He pitched over to his side, his hands digging into the grass as his limbs elongated. His skin rippled and reddish brown fur pushed through it. He screamed again and his back arched so far it seemed impossible that he wouldn't snap in two. His face stretched and his mouth grew; filling with fangs that glistened in the moonlight. It went on and on; horrifying moment after moment till he was left twitching on the ground as he recovered from the transformation. Hermione stepped closer to the pen as he slowly began to rise from the ground. "Ron?" she whimpered. He whirled around and launched himself at her.
"Stupify!" Bill barked. Ron was caught mid leap. He crashed bonelessly into the fence and fell in a heap to the ground. Bill followed his spell up with a sedation charm. "Tranquilizers, Poppy," he snapped. "Now."
She pulled one of the syringes she'd brought just in case some emergency like this occurred from her pocket and stepped forward. "Bind him please," she said. Bill cast the spells; trussing Ron up so tightly it constricted his breathing. "Right then," Poppy said. She unlocked the pen and took a deep breath. "Another sedation charm please," she said.
"Wait!" Hermione cried. She held her hand out when Poppy turned to her. "I'll do it."
"You most certainly will not."
"I will be of legal age in fifteen days. I can't risk letting you pay for my mistake."
"What do you mean your mistake?" Professor McGonagall asked in the silence that followed. Hermione didn't answer right away. "Please tell me you didn't convince him it was safe?" Professor McGonagall whispered.
"I was going to perform the ritual. Ron caught me. He insisted I let him take the risk … I thought I was right," she finished in a whisper."
Hermione's father broke the silence that followed her confession. "Give it to her, Poppy."
She gave a slight nod. "Right then," she said and placed the syringe in Hermione's hand.
Hermione took it and stepped to the gate. "Bill," she said quietly. He cast the spell and she jerked the gate open. Ten seconds later she closed the gate and locked it again. Silently she turned and found herself face to face with Molly. "I'm sorry," she said.
Molly visibly restrained herself. She was furious. Livid beyond any state she had ever been in. And she was devastated. Devastated for her son. Devastated that this girl she had taken in, loved like her own, had betrayed her so thoroughly, had betrayed her son … had even betrayed the little girl she'd tried to help. She could barely wrap her mind around it. A hand on her arm penetrated her rage. "Molly," Arthur said gently. She continued to hold Hermione's gaze. The devastation couldn't be missed. The mistakes of a parent carried terrible consequences that were well known to her. The willingness to do anything for your child was a battle she had done right, and wrong, by many times over. She almost couldn't believe it of herself when she realized she would not only forgive Hermione but, in fact, already did. Her second daughter would carry this burden the rest of her life. It was a punishment she was grateful she herself wouldn't bear. And in that, perhaps, the worst was yet to come.
"You stupid, stupid, girl," she said before turning and quickly walking away.
Arthur followed without a word or look at Hermione. She closed her eyes, trying to control her shaking. When she opened them again it was her parents she faced.
Her father spoke, "I find it near incomprehensible that my daughter was so selfishly foolish to have done this."
"I'm sorry," Hermione croaked.
"You don't even know what you've lost, do you?" her mother asked. When Hermione didn't answer she went on. "How he will ever believe you don't stay with him out of guilt is beyond my comprehension."
Hermione swallowed painfully. "I'll find the cure," she whispered.
Mrs. Granger shook her head sadly. "For his sake I hope you're right." They both held their daughter's gaze for another moment before they turned for their tent.
And then it was Ginny's palm striking her cheek. "How could you?" she hissed. Hermione blinked back at her. That Ginny was angry wasn't a surprise. Her temper far exceeded any of her brothers'. Not even Molly could be as devastatingly vicious as Ginny when she was angry. But for her friend to have struck her? "How could you put us through this?" Ginny demanded.
"It should have been me," Hermione whispered.
Ginny slapped her again. "Do you think that would have been any better?"
"I promised you I'd kill anyone who even tried to take her," Harry said.
"I just wanted to give her every protection I could," Hermione pleaded.
"And instead you took one away," Ginny snapped before storming away.
"I'm sorry," Hermione pleaded to Harry.
Harry pressed his lips together tightly. Only Draco had ever made him as angry as he was right now; Draco, Ginny, and now Hermione. And that thought revealed the truth to him of the phrase, 'It's a fine line between love and hate.' He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as he tried to purge his emotions. She knew she'd made a mistake; that she was going to pay for it till she died. But it would do no one, least of all Ron, any good if he or anyone else destroyed her for it. Preventing Hermione from doing it do herself was going to be hard enough. He reached out and pulled her to him. "Come with me," he said as the flames rushed over them.
Two nights later Ron sat down on the back step next to Harry. Harry glanced at his friend. He cringed slightly at the bruising on Ron's face. Harry wasn't proud of the role he'd played in it, but then it seemed the language each of his brothers-in-law spoke as well. By lunch the day after he'd transformed for the first time they'd all punched him square in the face. The youngest male Weasley currently sported two rather impressive shiners. "Alright?" Ron asked.
"Alright," Harry agreed. And he was. He'd expressed his displeasure to both his best friends and then let it go.
"I wish we were going on the train tomorrow," Ron said.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. He would have flat out refused if someone had tried to make he or Ginny or any of his friends take the train to Hogwarts, but that didn't mean he didn't want to take the train. It was a rite of passage. A moment, no matter how long you lived, you only got to experience so many times. It was the first breath of freedom as you grew from child to adult and he found yet another reason to hate Tom Riddle for taking it away from him. He'd felt as pained as Dumbledore had sounded yesterday when he'd told them the train wouldn't run this year at all; that all students not already living in the ever growing village of Hogsmeade were arriving at Hogsmeade station by portkey for the carriage ride to the castle. At least the first years would still get the boat ride.
"Pretty cool Dumbledore came through for you, yeah?"
"It's kind of necessary."
"I know. I just never really figured you'd have your own quarters."
"It was that or have her sneaking into the boys dormitory every night," Harry pointed out.
"You two are really pissed at him, aren't you?"
Harry scowled. He wasn't sure there was a word strong enough to convey his anger with the esteemed Albus Dumbledore. Not after having read the copy of his parent's will the goblin's had provided him with. Frankly, that Dumbledore had come through with his and Ginny's demand for private quarters seemed the proverbial case of too little, too late. Not even getting approval for Hermione to also have private quarters – she couldn't very well stay in the girls' dormitory with Saraphina and anyone with a heart could see that separating the girl from Hermione her right now would be nothing short of cruel – put him of a mind to cut the man a break.
"I just wish he'd have figured it out about fifteen years ago," Harry muttered.
"Yeah," Ron agreed.
"But I guess I wouldn't be me if he had, would I?" Harry sighed.
Ron shrugged. "Who knows?" They fell silent for a time; exchanging greetings with various of his brothers, Fleur, Ginny, Hermione with Saraphina cuddled in her arms, as they joined the two, but mostly didn't talk as they enjoyed the cool night air.
"How about some fireworks?" Fred eventually asked.
"You actually have some left?" Charlie asked.
"A few," George said.
"Sounds like a plan," Bill said.
Fred jumped up and went to get them and a few minutes later the first burst of light pin-wheeled across the sky. It didn't take long for the two tents in the back garden to empty and pretty soon the porch and ground in front of it was littered with people ohhing and awwing as the explosions grew bigger and louder. Harry sat behind Ginny, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist and his chin resting on the top of her head.
"I love you, Ginevra Molly Potter," he said contentedly.
Ginny pulled his arms more tightly around her. "This is how it's supposed to be," she answered.
"Yeah," he agreed. He smiled happily as the rush of fireworks exploding into the night reached the last crescendo and fell silent with nothing but the scent of expended gunpowder to tell of the events.
"Take me to bed?" Ginny asked.
"GAH!" Ron cried. He glared at the empty space Harry and Ginny had just vacated. "A little warning would be nice," he muttered.
Conclusion: First, after years of listening to JKR tell us Hermione was the most brilliant witch of the age, I simply could not allow her to achieve fewer O.W.L.s. than Bill or Percy. Second, just because you are the most brilliant witch of the age does not mean you don't make mistakes. Generally, the more intelligent someone is, when they do make a mistake it tends to be rather more devastating than those made by us mere mortals. So I guess, try not to be too hard on her.
This concludes Book II of the Children of the Flame Saga. Book III, Flame's Final Burning will begin posting in a day or so.
As always, thank you to all my readers. And a special thank you to those who have reviewed. I do appreciate hearing from you.
And an extra special call out to those who hit me with a review ever chapter. You lot rock!
And with that, On to the sequel!