The next day they spent hours with Griphook making lists of what they would need to move forward. Hermione pointed out she needed a long sleeved black dress and some boots to achieve Bellatrix's signature look.
"It least I already know how to do her hair," she added.
"Her hair is crazy," Harry said.
Hermione shrugged. "So is mine."
"I like your hair," Ron said quietly.
Hermione gave him a shy smile, but continued with her list. "Ron will need something to make him look like one of her minions. We can probably make his boots and pants work, but maybe Bill has a long coat and a different shirt that will make him look more sinister. The glamour will be fairly simple if he's dressed right."
Harry nodded. "I thought Dean and I could go to the Muggle shop. We're going to need to get food to take with us. We don't want a repeat of what happened after our last break-in."
Hermione saw Ron subconsciously rub his arm where she'd Splinched him and felt a pang of guilt. "Definitely not. The problem is we lost the tent."
Harry looked at Ron. "Do you think Bill might have one we can take?"
Ron shrugged. "I can ask him."
"Good," Harry said. "I think that's it then."
They all filed out of the room with their assigned tasks. Griphook went back upstairs. Hermione went to find Fleur. Ron went to find Bill and Harry went to find Dean.
Fleur was in the kitchen taking two loaves of bread out of the oven. She looked up when Hermione walked in.
"I need a favor," Hermione said.
"Okay," Fleur said.
"I need a dress and some high heeled boots."
Fleur arched an eyebrow. "Why?"
Hermione gave her an apologetic look. "I can't tell you that and you likely won't get them back, although, if I can return them, I certainly will."
"Well," Fleur said. "With an offer like that, how can I refuse?"
Hermione smiled weakly.
Fleur put the loaves on a rack to cool. "Come on, let's see what I have," she said, walking out of the kitchen.
Hermione followed her upstairs and into the bedroom Fleur shared with Bill. Fleur opened two doors to reveal one large closet. Over half of it were her clothes. "What sort of dress?"
Hermione bit her bottom lip. "Long sleeved, form-fitting on top with a flared skirt."
Fleur looked at her askance, but started sorting through her dresses. She ended up pulling out five. They were all long sleeved, but two of them were way too short, so Hermione tossed them on the bed. "These won't work." She looked at the three remaining dresses. One of them had a scooped neck. Hermione handed it back to Fleur. The remaining two were similar. One had a high collar. The other was a wide V-neck with buttons down the front. Neither was black. One was silver and the other pale blue. Hermione chose the silver V-neck. "This will work. I'll need to dye it black though. Do you have anything, I don't know, like a shrug or a choker maybe, something."
Fleur frowned at her. "Black is not really my color, but if you're dying the dress, I suppose you could dye this too." She handed Hermione a thin shrug that fastened at the neck but left the front open."
"Perfect," Hermione said. "What size shoe do you wear?"
"Thirty-seven and a half," Fleur said.
"I'm a thirty-eight, but I can make that work." Hermione said. "Do you have any tall boots that button up?"
Fleur got down on her knees and began scrounging through the back of the closet. "A few moments later she pulled out a pair of battered high heeled boots in powder blue. "School boots," she explained.
"To dye them," Fleur finished for her. "I understand. Is that everything?"
Hermione nodded. "Thank you. For everything. Not just the clothes. The care, the food, for not asking questions, for not throwing us out."
Fleur smiled sympathetically, her forehead wrinkling with concern. "Ron is Bill's brother. You and Harry are like family. I won't pretend to understand this mission or that I'm comfortable with the three of you out there on your own, but to feed and clothe family, to care for them, that is a basic tenet of our humanity, is it not?"
Hermione tried to blink back tears, but one slipped down her cheek anyway. Fleur hugged her. "We'll come back," Hermione said. "When this is over, we'll come back. You and I will take Luna shopping. We'll have our day out. It'll be fun."
Fleur nodded. "Of course."
They stepped apart and Hermione wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "I need to go talk to Dean and see what he knows about dying clothes and shoes."
Fleur nodded looking at the clothes strewn over the bed. "I'm going to put these things away."
Hermione nodded and hurried downstairs.
Dean and Harry were in the parlor. Harry was pulling on his coat. "Dean and I are going to go get food."
"Good," Hermione said, "We also need black fabric and leather dye."
Dean raised his eyebrows.
"I need to dye some things. Have you ever done that?" Hermione asked.
"Yeah," Dean said. "My mum used to dye stuff."
"Great," Hermione said. "Maybe you can help then."
Dean shrugged. "Sure."
He and Harry left and Hermione tried to ignore the knot of nervous energy in her stomach.
Ron found Bill stacking driftwood to dry in the side garden. He reached for a large branch and placed it on the pile.
"So," Ron said. "We're going to be leaving soon."
Bill nodded. "I figured."
"Yeah, we've got to gather a few things first though," Ron said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Like what?" Bill said.
"Well, we lost the tent Dad gave us when the Snatchers grabbed us."
"Oh," Bill said.
"Right," Ron said. "So, I don't suppose you've got another one we could use."
Bill smiled at him. "I do actually."
"You know I can't guarantee you'll get it back," Ron said.
Bill laughed. "I haven't touched it since Charlie moved to Romania. Fleur's not really one for camping."
"That's surprising." Ron smiled. "To look at her, you'd think she was pretty rugged."
"Riiight," Bill said and they both laughed. Bill sighed. "I hate this. You're my baby brother and I'm supposed to let you—"
"I'm not a baby anymore Bill," Ron said quietly. "And I know it's frustrating. Believe it or not, it's frustrating for us too. Don't you think I'd like to tell you everything that's happened? Don't you think I'd like to ask your opinion on where we go from here? But I can't. I really can't. This isn't some childish game where we hoard information for no reason. The stakes are too high." Unbidden Hermione screaming at Malfoy Manor flooded his mind. "I wouldn't ask if I didn't have to," he repeated.
Bill sighed and put his hand on Ron's shoulder. "It's alright. Come on, let's get the tent. We should probably set it up to see if the charms are still good and it still has everything you'll need inside."
When Harry and Dean returned from the market they took the groceries into the kitchen where they found Hermione, Fleur, and Luna. Fleur was stirring a cauldron and Hermione and Luna were cutting up ingredients.
"What are you making?" Harry asked as he set the bags on the table.
"Essense of Dittany," Fleur said.
"We're almost out," Hermione said. "And knowing us, we'll need it."
Harry nodded. "Right. Smart. We got the tinned food and the dye."
"We got food for the cottage too," Dean said.
"Thanks," Fleur said.
Harry separated out the food that was to go in Hermione's beaded bag while Dean put away the cottage groceries.
Ron and Bill came in from the back garden. "Bill has a tent we can use," Ron said. "We're going to set it up out front. Want to check it out?"
"Absolutely," Harry said.
Hermione looked at Luna, "Do you mind? I won't be long."
"Of course not," Luna said. "We're almost done anyway."
Hermione followed the others through the house and out front.
Bill showed them the charm to pop up the tent, but it was the same one that worked on their other one, so they didn't need to practice it. He stepped inside and Ron, Harry, and Hermione followed him.
Inside the tent was a mess. Sleeping bags, blankets, and various camping supplies were jumbled together in one big pile in the middle of the floor.
"Sorry," Bill said. "I guess Charlie and I just dumped this stuff last time and forgot about it."
"No problem," Harry said. "We can see to this."
"You're sure?" Bill said.
"Absolutely," Ron said.
"You're welcome to any of this stuff that you want," Bill said.
Harry smiled. "Great."
"Thanks," Ron said.
"I'll leave you to it then." Bill seemed to understand that the three of them needed a moment alone and ducked out of the tent.
Ron looked around. "It's smaller than the other one," he said.
Hermione nodded, biting her bottom lip. Just what she needed: to be stuffed into an even smaller tent with the two of them. There were two sets of bunkbeds on either side of the tent. There was no separate curtained off area for Hermione. There was no sitting area either, just a wooden card table with four chairs on a large cotton rag rug. There was no bathroom.
"The stove looks to be in good shape," Harry was saying.
Ron picked up a sleeping bag. "These look good too." He threw one on the top bunk on the right side of the tent which corresponded to where he'd slept before. He threw another one on the lower bunk for Harry before turning to Hermione. "You want top or bottom?"
She looked at the bunk on the left side of the tent. "Bottom, I guess." He nodded and tossed the other sleeping bag on the bunk. If Ron stood in the center of the tent, she was sure he could hold out his arms and touch both sets of bunks.
Hermione pressed her fingers to her forehead. She couldn't help wondering how long were they going to have to stay in this tent? She sat down on one of the chairs and looked at the jumble of pots and tools and utensils on the floor.
Harry picked up a hatchet from the pile. "This'll be useful."
Ron looked at Hermione. "Should we bring the food in here?"
"No," Hermione said. "Let's leave it in my bag or maybe split it, some in here, some in the bag so we're covered if we lose one but not the other."
"Right," Ron said. "We'll definitely need this," he said, holding up a can opener.
"If all our wands break," Harry said, "I suppose we will."
Hermione snorted and Ron grinned. There was something comforting about it just being the three of them again, but as Hermione looked around the tiny tent, she couldn't help wondering how this was supposed to work. Assuming they survived their mad plan to break into Gringott's, they were going to be very hot property. They could be on the run in this tent for months, years even. She looked at Ron as he sorted through the jumble on the floor. How was this going to work? Things between them had warmed up somewhat at Grimmauld Place, but there was more space there to move about and put some literal distance between them. Once they'd been forced into the tent, Ron was hurt, the locket was twisting everyone's thoughts, and there were no smoldering looks and dreams that left her sweaty and aching. Then he'd left, and there was only pain and sorrow in his wake. When he'd returned, she'd been too furious to consider moving forward, but now, if they all survived Gringott's, they'd be in very close quarters. There was no way they could go months without one of them cracking. That had become fairly obvious during their stay at Shell Cottage. She blinked and felt her face flush. She was going to have sex with Ron. There was no doubt about that anymore. She loved him. She knew he loved her too, at least as a friend, and maybe more, but that was almost beside the point.
During the weeks that Ron was gone, she and Harry had begun reluctantly inching toward more physical intimacy. There was the occasional stray touch as if they were both trying on the idea. It wasn't what either of them particularly wanted, but had Ron not come back, had they been left out there in the woods for a few more weeks, she knew she would have crawled into Harry's bed, if for no other reason than the desperation of their situation left her desolate in a way she'd never before experienced. Hermione had never minded her own company, but the isolation of the woods, with Harry seeming like the last man on earth, pushed her toward places she'd never considered going with him. But she had considered it with Ron, wanted it, craved it even. If she would've eventually ended up in Harry's bed, there was no way she was going to avoid ending up in Ron's, not if this bloody war continued to drag on.
The guys kept holding up various items for her consideration. Hermione answered mechanically. She wondered again how this was supposed to work. What would it do to Harry if she and Ron were having a physical relationship? There was no way they could keep it from him in a small tent. Even if he were outside sitting watch and they were inside, he would know. Perhaps if they had sex outside while he was sleeping inside. Was her first time going to be on the cold ground with twigs in her hair and bugs crawling around? The thought horrified her. All her experimentation in Spain had been outside on the beach. It hadn't been ideal. They couldn't do this. How were they going to keep from doing this? She wanted to scream at Ron. She wanted to tell him she knew where they were headed and they needed to talk about it, work it out, plan it, something, but instead, she sat there numbly telling him to keep the spatula. She stood abruptly. "I should really go help finish the potion."
Ron watched Hermione walk out of the tent.
"Did you two have a fight while Dean and I were at the market?" Harry asked.
"No," Ron said.
"She seems off," Harry said.
Ron frowned at him. "Do you think maybe she's nervous about breaking into a goblin bank?"
Harry shrugged. "Maybe," he said without conviction.
It irritated Ron that Harry was so sensitive to Hermione's moods now. He'd noticed it ever since he'd come back. They seemed to have their own shorthand too. The three of them always had, but now Harry and Hermione had a subset all their own. He knew it was his fault, but he still didn't like it. "She's fine," he muttered.
"If you say so," Harry said and started putting things away in the cabinets and camp kitchen box next to the stove.
A little while later as they were finishing getting the tent straight, Hermione came back carrying two bags of groceries. Ron took one from her.
"If there's room, I thought we could store this food in here," Hermione said. "I put the rest in my bag."
Harry nodded. "There's plenty of space in the kitchen box. Is the Essense of Dittany done?"
"Yes," Hermione said. "I'm just waiting for it to cool so I can bottle it. We made enough for five bottles. I'm leaving one for Fleur and Bill since their supply was pretty much used up on me and the other four will go with us."
Ron nodded. "That's good." He set his bag down next to the kitchen box and reached for Hermione's. "I can put this stuff away."
"Alright," Harry said. "I'm going to go back in." He slipped out of the tent.
Ron looked at Hermione and his eyes glanced back and forth between the two sets of bunk beds. "Pretty cozy in here," he said.
"Yes," Hermione said.
"Even less privacy," he added.
"I know," she said.
He scratched his head. "This is going to be tough."
He knelt on the floor and started putting the food tins into the kitchen box. "I guess we don't have much choice though."
"No," Hermione said. "I guess not."
"We'll make it work," he said seriously.
"We'll have to," she said quietly.
He reached up and took her hand. "It's going to be okay."
She nodded and wished she really felt like it would be.
He stroked his thumb across her palm.
She closed her eyes against the wave of desire that simple gesture brought. She pulled her hand back and looked at him. His own desire couldn't have been more obvious in those clear blue eyes. This was going to be impossible. "Right," she said. "I'm going to head back."
"Yeah," Ron said, setting another tin in the box. "I'll be right behind you."
When Hermione walked back into the kitchen, Fleur had gone and Luna was testing the cauldron with the back of her hand.
"Has it cooled enough to bottle?" Hermione asked.
"I think so," Luna said.
"Great," Hermione said, setting up the little bottles next to the cauldron and putting a funnel in the neck of the first one.
"How was the tent?" Luna asked.
"Really small," Hermione said. "A lot smaller than our old one."
"Oh," Luna said. "I suppose that will be awkward."
"You have no idea," Hermione muttered.
"I have some idea," Luna said airily. "I've been sharing a room with you for several weeks now."
Hermione looked at her. She could feel her cheeks go hot.
"You talk in your sleep," Luna said. She took the ladle and dipped it in the cauldron filling one of the bottles half way.
"What do I say?" Hermione whispered.
Luna finished filling the first bottle. "Different things. You do say Ron's name a lot."
Hermione closed her eyes. This was not good. This was terrible. This was so much worse than she realized. "That's not good."
Luna looked at her sympathetically. "Like I said, awkward."
"I suppose I could cast Muffalato or Silencio on myself before I go to sleep."
"Wouldn't that be risky given that anything could happen while you're on the run?" Luna asked quietly.
Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. She was getting a headache. "Well," she whispered feverishly. "I can't just keep calling his name. I'll wake him if nothing else. Clearly, I've been waking you. It's hard enough to get sleep when we're out there."
Luna finished filling the last bottle and sat down at the table across from Hermione. "Have you always talked in your sleep?"
"Not that anyone's ever said."
"Perhaps it's just here then," Luna said, with a slight smile of encouragement. "Maybe you'll stop."
"Maybe," Hermione said. "Do I say anything else?"
Luna looked pained. "Are you sure you want to hear this? Perhaps I shouldn't have told you. I haven't been myself."
"No, Luna," Hermione said, "I absolutely need to know this. Come here." She stood and hurried to the privacy of their room. Luna followed closing the door behind her.
Hermione crossed her arms. "So, tell me."
Luna sighed and sat on her bed. "At first you cried a lot in your sleep, mostly for your mum, sometimes for Ron, a couple times for Harry."
Hermione sat down on her own bed. "Alright. You said 'at first.' What else?"
"Sometimes you're a bit louder. You seem angry. I can't always understand you, but Ron's name gets said and sometimes Harry's too."
Hermione blew out a slow breath. "Is that it?"
"Well," Luna said, her cheeks going pink. "Lately…"
Hermione closed her eyes and put a hand on her forehead. "Never mind. I know what I've been dreaming about lately."
"You say Ron's name quite a bit."
"How embarrassing. I'm so sorry, Luna." Hermione let herself fall back against the bed. "This is going to be impossible."
"I don't suppose you and Ron could just sleep together," Luna said.
Hermione sat up and glared at her. "In narrow bunk beds with Harry in the same room? No. We couldn't."
"It's that small?" Luna asked.
"Yes. In our old tent, I had my own curtained off room. We had an actual kitchen and a sitting area separate from where Ron and Harry slept. The new tent is basically one big room with a table and chairs, two sets of bunks, a woodstove, and a kitchenette. There isn't even a bathroom. I mean none of us liked to use the one in the old tent, but it was there in the middle of the night or during storms." She shook her head. "It's going to be awful enough without me keeping everyone awake with every stray thought that goes through my head while I'm dreaming."
"You're not that bad," Luna said.
"I'm bad enough."
"It's probably just stress."
"Probably," Hermione said, irritated. "But that's not likely to let up any time soon. As a matter of fact, here shortly, it's likely to get a lot worse."
Luna gave her another sympathetic look. "I'm sorry."
Hermione sighed. "Me too." She stood. "I should go put the caps on the potion. Thanks, Luna."
The next day Fleur was doing laundry while Hermione dyed the clothes she needed to look like Bellatrix. She brought a pile of clothes to be washed and then went back to get the stuff to be dyed.
As she walked through the kitchen she realized she'd dropped a sock earlier and bent over to pick it up.
"If you're ready to dye stuff I need to throw in this jumper of Bill's," Ron said as he walked into the kitchen and right into her. As he collided with her he instinctively grabbed her hips to keep from knocking her over which effectively pulled her bum against him. Instantly, he felt himself twitch. Realizing what he'd done, he automatically threw up his hands as she whipped around.
"I'm so sorry," he gasped.
She glared at him and snatched the jumper out of his hand before spinning back around and going outside.
Ron stood frozen in place for a moment, relishing that split second when he'd gripped her hips with her bent forward in front of him, knowing it was going to fuel his wanking for the foreseeable future. When she'd spun around he'd expected her to be livid, but her expression was…he wasn't sure what it was…it wasn't irritation so much as…exasperation, maybe. Could that have been frustration on her face? No. Surely not. He blew out a long slow breath. This was going to be impossible. How was he supposed to live with her in that small tent? At least in the old tent, she slept hidden behind a curtain. Now he would be able to see her by simply rolling over. There she would be, snuggled into her sleeping bag, although since summer was coming, maybe not in her sleeping bag. Ron shook his head to clear the images of what Hermione might or might not wear to sleep in hot weather out of his head. This was never going to work. He had to talk to Bill.
As Hermione buffed the shine off Fleur's old school boots with some fine sandpaper as per Dean's instructions, Dean pushed a paddle into the tub with the clothes they were dying. Behind him, Fleur was using her wand to hang the first load of laundry and Luna was using the new wand Mr. Ollivander had sent her to dry them. Hermione felt bad for Dean. He was still wandless. Even though she had the walnut wand to use, she wished Mr. Ollivander had sent her a new one. She loathed having to use the wand that tortured her. She even hated that it responded to her so well. It made her feel dirty somehow. She looked up to see Bill and Ron walking down the beach. She thought they were probably going to collect driftwood.
A half an hour later, all the laundry was done and the clothes and boots were dyed and dry. Hermione was packing everything back in her bag when she heard Ron come in with Bill. He tapped on the door frame to her room.
"Hey," he said. "Can we talk for minute?"
Ron shifted on his feet. "You mind if we talk outside?"
"That's fine," Hermione said, a nervous knot beginning to form in her stomach as she followed him.
They walked down to the water's edge without speaking. Finally, when it was either stop or step into the waves, Ron turned to her. They stood in silence for a few more moments not looking at each other.
"I'm really sorry about this morning," he said awkwardly.
She shook her head. "I don't care about that. I…" She sighed. "According to Luna, I talk in my sleep now. I'm afraid I'm going to keep you and Harry awake."
Simultaneously, they both said, "We need to expand the tent." They looked at each, startled, and then they both laughed.
"I know it's your brother's tent, but do you think he'd mind?"
"I already talked to him this morning. You need your own space. It's not fair to pack you in so close to us."
Hermione let out an audible sigh of relief. "That's great," she said. "That's…I can start right now."
He smiled at her. "Come on then. Let's go have a look."
"Should we get Harry?" Hermione asked.
"Nah," Ron said, tilting his head toward the cliffs where Hermione could see Harry looking out over the ocean with his hands in his pockets. "He's got enough on his mind right now. He's not going to care what we do to the tent."
Hermione nodded. "You're right."
When they reached the tent, Hermione cast the first of two spells that would allow her to expand it.
Ron held the door flap open for her and she stepped inside. Ron lit the lamps with his wand while she assessed the space. She was grateful for the opportunity to think about something other than turning into Bellatrix LeStrange and breaking into Gringott's. She wondered if that wasn't part of the reason she'd been so sexually on edge the last few weeks. Her mind was desperate for the opportunity to think about something other than robbing a bank. She was Hermione Granger. She put money in the till if she took food from a shop while under the invisibility cloak. She wasn't a thief. Not to mention, even with Griphook's help, nothing about breaking into that vault was going to be easy and there was so much they didn't know. Griphook wasn't aware of every security measure that might be in place inside the vault. He'd been in there, but it had been awhile, and with the war going on, who knew what changes in security Bellatrix might have made since Griphook had been in her vault. Hermione paled at the thought of Bellatrix. She was a formidable witch, mad, but also brilliant. Literally, Bellatrix was an evil genius. Hermione could feel how much Bellatrix enjoyed torturing her. The delight she took in using powerful magic to hurt others was nauseating and Hermione felt it every time she used the walnut wand. She looked at Ron who was using his arms to roughly measure the tent.
"I think we can bump out this side and it'll give us enough room to at least give you a curtain."
Hermione nodded. "I think so too. I need a piece of parchment? I'd like to draw it out." She scrounged around in her beaded bag which she kept constantly tied to her belt. She pulled out a large roll of parchment and cut a sheet off the end before stuffing it back in the bag. She found a quill and ink and set to work drawing out the interior of the tent. "We need a curtained off area for a chamber pot, unless of course your brother has extra bathroom fixtures laying around in his garden shed."
Ron chuckled. "I don't think he does, but you're right, we need something."
"Right," Hermione said, biting her lip and drawing in a small curtained off area. "How are we going to make curtains in time for tomorrow? I should ask Fleur if she has anything we can use."
"I already thought of that," Ron said. "Bill said he'd ask her." He leaned over her shoulder and pointed to the area near the foot of his and Harry's bunks. "Why don't you put the chamber pot area here instead of over by you."
She looked up at him. His face was right there and he was so sweet to think of her. Without thinking she reached up and rested her palm against his chest. His eyes widened a bit and he leaned down. She tilted her head back ready to accept the kiss she knew was coming.
"'ello," Fleur said, as she stepped through the flap.
Ron stood up straight and cleared his throat.
"Bill said you needed something you could transfigure into curtains. I have these old tablecloths," Fleur said. "And I brought you some blankets we found in a trunk when we moved in. They aren't pretty but they'll keep you warm."
Part of Hermione wanted to scream and part of her was grateful that Fleur had walked in when she did. "That's great," she said, getting to her feet.
Fleur stayed and helped transfigure the tablecloths while Hermione cast the spell to widen the tent. She looked at the bunk beds on her side. "Do you think Bill would mind if I removed the top bunk?"
"Of course not," Fleur said. "We never use this tent. Do what you need to."
Hermione cast a spell to sever the top bunk from the bottom and Ron cast Reducto and then put the top bunk in his pocket. "I'll go put this in the shed," he said. "That way when we return the tent, Bill can put them back together."
"If you like," Fleur said, clearly unconcerned.
When Ron returned to the tent, Fleur was stepping out. "It's all done," she told him. "Have a look."
Ron stepped into the tent to find Hermione surveying their work with her arms crossed. The tent was now half again as wide. The left side had two curtains that created a kind of room around Hermione's bed. The top bunk was missing and there were now two blankets on her bed with the sleeping bag folded on top. It might have been his imagination, but the bed looked a bit wider than the bunks that he and Harry would sleep in. He decided not to ask, but couldn't help wondering if she'd widened if for the reason he dared to hope. On the other side of the tent she had transfigured the bunks he'd be sharing with Harry to be long enough to accommodate his height without leaving his feet hanging off the ends. At the foot of the bunks was now a curtained off area with a lidded chamber pot that she transfigured from an old saucepan. Like Hermione's bed, his and Harry's bunks now had quilts on them with their sleeping bags folded on top. "This looks good."
Hermione nodded. "It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than it was."
"Yeah," Ron said. She seemed very tense, but it didn't strike him as the kind of tension that had been between them earlier. "Nervous about tomorrow?" he asked.
"Aren't you?" Hermione challenged.
"Yeah," Ron said.
"We can do this, right?" Hermione said softly. "This isn't just suicide?"
"No," Ron said with false confidence. "We can do anything. Look at all the mad stuff we've done already."
"Right," Hermione said softly. "Right."
He reached his arm out to hug her and she stepped closer wrapping her arms around his waist. He held her tight and she pressed her face against his chest. He didn't try to kiss her. This wasn't about that. She was scared. So was he. He just held her. It was late. He knew they needed to go in and try to get some sleep before tomorrow. Everyone else would getting ready for bed soon. He rested his cheek on top of Hermione's head. "It's going to be okay," he said softly. She hugged him tighter, clenching the back of his jumper in her fists. Finally, she let go and stepped back from him.
"We should go in; try to get some rest," she said.
Ron nodded. "Yeah, I reckon."
They stepped out of the tent and Hermione cast the spell to collapse it. Ron picked it up and she held open her bag and he set the tent inside. They looked at each other for a long moment. "Come on," he finally said and took her hand as they walked back to the cottage.
Hermione barely slept that night. Every time she dozed off she'd be back on the floor of Malfoy Manor with Bellatrix shouting 'crucio!' Finally, at five-thirty she got up and took her beaded bag with her into the bathroom. The boys were planning on getting up at six, but she needed the extra time to do Bellatrix's outlandish hairstyle. She dressed carefully in the black clothes and boots. She didn't have any tights so she made due with knee socks, knowing the long skirt would hide her legs anyway. To complete the outfit, she pulled some of the old robes from Grimmauld Place out of her bag to wear as a cloak. As the final step, she pulled out the bottle of Polyjuice potion and the little glass vial where she kept the hair she'd found on her jumper. She took one last look at herself in the mirror. She could do this. She'd done it twice before. It didn't mean anymore to become Bellatrix than it had to become Harry. She took a deep breath and dropped the hair into the potion. She watched it bubble for a moment before tilting it against her lips. The taste was revolting. It was even worse than when she'd accidentally swallowed the cat hair. Harry hadn't tasted so bad. Oddly though, the transformation wasn't nearly as painful as turning into a half cat or even into Harry, both of which had hurt quite a lot, but Bellatrix was another woman, and only a couple of inches shorter than Hermione. The transformation was only slightly uncomfortable until she opened her eyes and looked in the mirror. She shook all over to see that monster's eyes looking back at her. She had to grip the sink basin and stood there for some time with her eyes closed trying to calm down and stop shaking. When she did, she averted her eyes from the mirror and walked out of the bathroom to meet Griphook, who was waiting for her in the parlor. Harry and Ron were already outside.
"Good morning," she said to the goblin.
"You look repulsive," he said to her.
"Thanks," Hermione said. "That's what I was going for."
"Good job," Griphook muttered as he held open the door for her.
Hermione took a deep breath and let it out slowly to calm herself before stepping into the sunlight. Let's go be bank robbers, she thought but kept it to herself as they walked up the hill toward Dobby's grave where Ron and Harry were already waiting.
(return to the book)