Disclaimer: I own nothing and what I do own is being sold to pay for college so there! *sticks out tongue*

A/N: College is hard! I know, I know, lame excuse but it's all I have *cowers under all evils looks directed her way* so, here's chapter 8, very late, but still very finished and very much not abandoned. I will finish this fic; it may take all of eternity but mark my words: I shall complete it or perish trying!!! Though I really hope I don't perish, I rather enjoy my life... Anyway, super-duper-huge-really-really-big thanks to Annette who beta-ed this all by herself ever so quickly *cough*over-a-month*cough* I still love ya!! And, of course, a truly sincere thank you to all of you who read and review; I would have never known the joy of writing without you guys. In fact, I'm thinking of double-majoring so I can include English as well and it's all your fault. Thanks!! (Don't tell my parents)

**********

This is it, Harry thought as he raced down the stairs just in time to see Mr. and Mrs. Granger exit the front door. He knew he wouldn't get to spend much time alone with Hermione once they got to the burrow; and alone was the only way he was going to repeat what he had spent nearly the entire night rehearsing.

A mild wave of panic passed through him as his mind pondered the possibility that Hermione could already be outside. Please don't let her be out there yet, Harry silently pleaded as he jumped over the banister, predictably, colliding head on with Hermione.

Hermione issued a light, "Oof!" as her bottom hit the floor. She brushed a few fallen curls out of her eyes before settling her gaze on Harry, her face conveying that she was clearly not impressed with his acrobatic feats.

"Harry! Just what do you think you are doing? Jumping over banisters like that! You could easily slip and break your neck or something! I really do wish you'd be more caref..." she trailed off when Harry, seemingly ignoring her unfinished rant, crouched down beside her and simply picked her up; slipping one hand under her knees while the other one went around her waist.

"Harry? Harry, what are you doing?" she questioned, her voice gradually softening as he gently sat her on the edge of a side table along the wall of the hallway. Due to the height of the table, Hermione was now at eye level with Harry and she couldn't help but feel a bit apprehensive as his normally clear green eyes now shone with an emotion that Hermione couldn't quite place.

"I-I just couldn't let you go without telling you," he began, his voice a wavering whisper. Hermione's irritation at being knocked down subsided quickly as her stomach began to knot up in uncertainty. What could he be talking about? Had she done something wrong?

"I only just realized it yesterday, but it seems like I should have known it all along...sorry 'bout that," he added with a sheepish grin, only helping to confuse Hermione further.

"Harry, I don't understand," she admitted, her eyes still desperately searching his.

Harry ran a shaky hand through his hair and took in a deep breath, seemingly composing himself for whatever he was about to say. He kept his eyes locked on his trainers as he spoke.

"You're right, I'm not making any sense, but it's...it's just that I-I've never done this before and...and it's a lot harder than I thought it would be. I mean, I rehearsed it all night but I don't know...it still doesn't seem like enough..."

"Are you breaking up with me?" Hermione blurted out. Harry's head snapped back up, his eyes wide.

"What! No! Of course not! Why would you-?"

"Then why are you so nervous? Is there someone else? Do you think that this was a mistake? Just tell me, Harry. I'm a big girl; I can take it if you don't want-"

"I love you."

Well, that seemed to quiet her rather quickly, Harry thought with a smirk, I'll have to remember that one.

A few moments of shocked silence passed before Hermione dared to speak. "Wh- what did you say?"

Harry brought his now determined eyes up to lock with Hermione's uncertain ones.

"I love you," he repeated, "I-I think I always have." Hermione drew in a shuddering breath as Harry continued, "I know it would have been more romantic if I had said it during our first night together, but it just didn't feel right then... didn't feel as it does now. In fact, now it feels more than right, it...it feels complete." He took her small hand in his. "I feel complete." Finishing with a bashful grin as Hermione proceeded to melt into a big pile of mushy goo.

"Oh, Harry..." she whispered, her heart soaring a mile a minute and her eyes rapidly filling with tears. She lovingly brushed back his raven fringe and let her hand slip down to cup his face.

She barely brushed her lips against his as Harry kissed her back softly. It was more like a series of soft, quiet kisses than one actual long one. She moved her hand to the back of his head and threaded her fingers through his hair. Slowly she drew her lips away from his and tilted her head to kiss the side of his mouth, then his cheek, his jaw, eyelids, only stilling her ministrations long enough to whisper, "I love you, too," before brushing a kiss against his scar, "all of you."

The meaning of her statement was not lost on Harry as he drew her back to his lips again, delving his tongue into her mouth. He kissed her with a languorous yet inexplicably raw passion that left her feeling more than a little hot and bothered.

In the back of her mind, Hermione knew they had to stop. Her parents were just outside and, more than likely, wondering what was taking so long. However, these thoughts flew right out the window when Harry swept the palm of his hand up her bare thigh, round her skirt clad bum, and finally to her back while drawing her closer against him, leaving no room for rational thoughts in its wake. She felt her fingers start to pull at his shirt in their now reckless quest to feel bare skin.

"Oh my God!" a voice yelled from the doorway.

Hermione looked up at the entrance as Harry quickly disentangled himself from her and spun around to face an undeniably shocked Dudley Dursley.

"I thought you were lying," Dudley choked out.

Harry cocked a questioning eyebrow back at Hermione, but she just shrugged her shoulders. "Lying about what?" Harry asked.

"About Hermione being your girlfriend!" Dudley exclaimed, "I mean- come on...it's you."

"Nothing gets past you, does it Dudley?" Harry replied sarcastically.

"Dudley, did my parents send you to get me?" Hermione quickly asked before Dudley could retort Harry's earlier statement.

Dudley scowled, probably more than a little miffed at being cut off and letting Harry have the last word. "Yeah," he grunted.

"Could you please tell them I'm saying good-bye to Harry? They'll understand."

"This is my house and I'm not going anywhere. You go tell them yourself!" he spat, crossing his meaty arms like an ill tempered five year old.

"Fine, if you rather watch Harry and I say our good-byes to each other then suit yourself," she replied primly before turning back to Harry, "Now, where were we?"

They heard the door swing open and shut as Dudley waddled out as fast as his squatty little legs would carry him.

Hermione reluctantly slid down from the table and stood facing Harry, her expression resigned.

"I'll see you in you in a couple of hours," she sighed, her voice muffled against his shoulder. "We still have a long day ahead of us."

"Don't worry. Everything's going to be fine," Harry murmured, placing a kiss on her forehead. Not even the euphoria of being in love could still the dread from building up in his stomach at having to tell Ron.

"I hope so. Well, I better get going. I'll see you at the Burrow." She arched up on to her toes and gave Harry a thorough kiss good-bye.

"I love you." Harry smiled against her lips, "I don't think I'll ever get tired of saying that."

"And I'll never get tired of hearing it. I love you, too." With that said Hermione slowly walked towards the door and, with one last look at Harry, exited.

******

The car ride to the Burrow had been quiet and uneventful, but Hermione had expected just as much. Her parents weren't exactly the most exciting people in the world. She had spent the entire ride alternating between being absolutely ecstatic about Harry and gut wrenchingly worried about Ron. Eventually, her game of emotional ping -pong had wound her up so tight that she'd nearly cried out with joy when they'd finally arrived at the Burrow.

Now, Hermione sat in the Weasleys' kitchen, listlessly watching little particles of dust fly around in the flood of sunlight filtering through the many windows. Mrs. Weasley, along with Fred and George, odd as it may seem, was currently having tea with Hermione's parents while Mr. Weasley and Ron were on their way to pick up Harry.

Ever since she had arrived, Hermione had watched her parents apprehensively, cringing every time her mother or father began a sentence that could, in any way, be related to the two weeks they had spent at the Dursley's. However, after many questioning looks from her father and an offer of Pepto-Bismol from her mother, Hermione had averted her attention elsewhere; hence, the dust.

"Hermione dear, you look a bit tired. Would you like to go and lie down for a bit?" Mrs. Weasley asked kindly. Hermione practically fell out of her chair at being jolted out of her dust particle induced stupor so unexpectedly. And as a result, knocking over her parents' teacups in the process and sending tea splaying all over the wooden table. Stupid entertaining dust particles.

"Hermione!" her mother reprimanded.

"Sorry Mom, my mind's just somewhere else," she stuttered as way of explaining.

"Well, I suggest you put it back in your head young lady if you know what's best for you," Mrs. Granger warned as Hermione sent a saucer careening across the table in her futile attempt to clean up the spilt tea. "Honestly, Hermione! What is the matter with you?"

Hermione flushed brightly at being told off by her mother in front of Mrs. Weasley, not to mention Fred and George. Oh, this is not good...

"Now, now dear, just leave that be," said Mrs. Weasley as she brushed away Hermione's hands from the mess on the tabletop. She quickly swished her wand, clearing away the spilled tea and scattered dishes before turning to her sons. "Fred? George? Would you two go and get Mr. and Mrs. Granger some more tea?"

To Hermione's surprise, they did. Not one joke or even a cracked smile. In fact, they'd been nothing but perfect gentlemen since she had arrived. I wonder what they're up to.

"Hermione!" her mother hissed.

"What?" she couldn't hide her puzzlement.

"What has gotten into you?" she nearly shrieked as her eyes watched her usually well- behaved daughter go to wipe her tea -stained hands on her skirt. "Hermione!"

Hermione's eyes widened as she looked down and realized what she was absentmindedly doing.

"Oh." Hermione quickly stood up, surprised she didn't send the chair toppling over in her haste. "I'll-I'll just go wash my hands in the sink then." Her parents and Mrs. Weasley continued to stare at her, her parents completely aghast at her behavior and Mrs. Weasley with... amusement? Hermione felt her face flush as she all but launched herself out of the kitchen and ran to the bathroom.

Oh my God! OH. MY. GOD. Oh my GOD! She mentally scolded herself as she quickly scrubbed her hands under the warm water cascading out of the faucet. I cannot believe I did that! She sighed while she dried her hands on the pale green towel situated nearby. That had to have been the most embarrassing thing she'd ever done in front of Mrs. Weasley. She looked up into the antique mirror that hung over the sink as she attempted to compose herself. Breathe, just breathe and everything will be fine. With one final glance at her slightly frayed reflection, she exited the small bathroom, willing herself not to lose whatever shred of dignity she still possessed.

"Mum is going to kill us, George!"

"Calm down, Fred. There's no way she'll know it was us."

Hermione slowed down her pace as Fred and George's whispered conversation filtered into her ears.

I knew they were up to something, she thought with satisfaction. She quietly ducked behind a side table as the whispers continued.

"There's no way she'll know it was us?" Fred smacked his twin upside his head. "Who else would it be, you great git!"

"Well...I hadn't considered that," George replied truthfully. Back at the side table, Hermione rolled her eyes. "But what's done is done and we can't go back now."

"I can't believe you'd-" Fred started before he was cut off by Mrs. Weasley's voice:

"Fred! George! Go outside and help your father with Harry's trunk!"

Hermione felt her stomach turn upside down as she heard the unmistakable sound of a car roaring up the driveway and coming to a stop just outside. She waited until Fred and George left before taking a deep breath and re- entering the kitchen.

Here we go...

"Hermione, are you all right?" her mother asked as Hermione came back and sat down in her chair. "You look a bit pale. I'm sorry for yelling at you earlier, but I've never seen you act like that before."

"I'm fine," Hermione whispered as she felt her stomach twist uncomfortably.

Suddenly, she heard Ron's unmistakable laugh followed by Harry's voice as they drew nearer to the house. She looked back at her mother, who was now watching her quite closely, concern etched across her pristine features. Hermione suddenly felt the urge to just run up to her parents and tell them everything. To have her mother wrap her up in her vanilla scented embrace and tell her everything was going to be okay. It'd be so easy...

NO! She mentally shook herself and took in her twelfth deep breath in the last minute while staring resolutely at the door. You're not a little girl anymore! She reprimanded herself once more as her glance began to sway back to her mother. Actions have consequences, Hermione! You'd think you of all people would know that. For goodness sake, you're not even a virgin anymore! You can't pretend like it never happened, just buck up and take it! Hermione watched as the world around her reverted to slow motion.

"Well, that'll be Ron and Harry then." Mrs. Weasley got up from the dining room table and went to open the door.

Ron entered first, fixing Hermione with a lopsided grin as he glanced at her sitting at the end of the table, "Hey, 'Mione."

The words "he looks good" filtered through her mind as she watched him turn to greet her parents. Her mother questioned him on his summer as she picked up her recently refilled teacup and took a sip. Ron answered politely before asking her parents about theirs.

"Hermione," her mother addressed her just as Harry entered the kitchen, "you didn't tell Ron about our summer?" Ron looked at Hermione quizzically as she felt whatever color she had left drain out of her face.

Hermione was just starting to answer when Mrs. Granger noticed Harry's presence in the kitchen. "Harry, how good to see you again! Doug and I would have given you a ride, but what, with your uncle and-" Mrs. Granger broke off abruptly as she brought her hand to her forehead, swaying a bit as she did so.

"Mum!" Hermione screamed as her mother quickly slumped back into her chair. Hermione jumped up and rushed to her side.

"Claire? Are you all right? Do you have a headache?" She heard her father ask. He'd always been the calm one in the family.

Hermione skidded to halt at Mrs. Granger's side and watched in abject horror as her mother began to transform. She screwed her eyes shut as she heard the sickening sound of skin and bones rearranging themselves. After a bit of smoke and many quiet pops, Hermione tentatively opened her eyes and gaped at the new embodiment of her once elegant and classy mother.

"Mum," she whispered as she gently scooped her mother into her hands and peered into her familiar brown eyes, "You...you're a... gerbil?

"FREDRICK AND GEORGE WEASLEY!"

Everyone in the kitchen jumped as Mrs. Weasley's voiced roared through the tiny room. Hermione looked up from her mother to Fred and George's identical pale expressions of guilt, which were quickly turning to fear as the mad terror that was their mother rounded on them. Mrs. Weasley was just opening her mouth to speak when Mr. Weasley entered the kitchen, completely oblivious to what had transpired only moments before.

"Hello, Doug. So nice to see you again," he said brightly as he shook Mr. Granger's limp hand. "And Hermione, dear, always a pleasure to have you come and stay with us." Hermione looked up to see Mr. Weasley's warm smile as he patted her on the shoulder. He looked up at the quiet room in confusion for a bit before fixing his gaze on Hermione's hands. "Well, what's that you've got there? A new familiar?" The entire room watched in stunned disbelief as Mr. Weasley proceeded to lift Mrs. Granger out of Hermione's hands and turn her on her back as he scratched her underbelly affectionately. "Porky little thing, aren't you?"

"Arthur!" Mr. Weasley looked up quizzically at his screaming wife. "What are you doing?!"

"Just petting Hermione's rat, dear," Mr. Weasley replied happily.

"It's a gerbil," Fred corrected.

"SHUT IT, YOU!" snapped Mrs. Weasley as Fred obediently clamped his mouth shut.

"Molly, what is going on?" Mr. Weasley looked around at Harry, Ron, and Hermione's astonished faces, as well as Mr. Granger's helpless one and returned his eyes to his wife.

"That," Mrs. Weasley replied with barely controlled anger, indicating the gerbil in her husband's hands, "is not Hermione's new familiar. It's her mother!"

Mr. Weasley looked behind his wife at his clearly guilty looking sons, following their gaze to Mrs. Granger's teacup, then up at his furious wife, and finally back down at the small furry animal in his hands as comprehension slowly dawned across his face.

What followed was a quick flurry of movement as Mrs. Weasley quickly directed her slightly dazed husband and frightened houseguest towards the fireplace and to St. Mungo's, all the while yelling threats of unforgettable torture over her shoulder. Fred and George quickly disapparated as Mrs. Weasley turned to grab a handful of Floo powder. With an annoyed shriek and promises of punishments worse than death, Mr. Weasley, Mr. Granger, Mrs. Weasley, and the gerbil formally known as Mrs. Granger disappeared into a flood of green flames.

******

"A gerbil?" Ginny Weasley gasped from the sofa. Harry, Hermione, and Ron had just recounted the entire horrid event to her. She'd been out on a date with her now boyfriend of three-month, Dean Thomas and missed all the chaos that her soon to be deceased brothers had caused.

"Yeah, I honestly thought mum was going to Avada Kedavra Fred and George, she looked so mad," said Ron.

"Is Mrs. Granger going to be okay?" Ginny asked.

"They've already transformed her back," Hermione replied, "Your mum owled me about it an hour ago. She said that my Dad was taking her home to get some rest and that they'd come by later on this week to say good-bye properly."

"Oh, well that's good. I can't believe this! I was only gone for three hours. How did they do so much damage in three hours?"

"Never underestimate the stupidity of Fred and George," answered Ron, "They've got a moral blind spot the size of England when it comes to testing their products." Ginny nodded in agreement.

"I bet it was George's idea. He's always been the stupider one."

Harry chuckled at this. Ron looked up in surprise.

"Wow, that's probably the first real smile you've cracked all day, Harry. Gin, you should be honored."

Harry looked up at his best friend and felt a fresh wave of guilt wash over him. Ron had been making loud jokes and carrying on their usual boyish banter all day, but Harry hadn't missed the tinge of concern laced on his voice or the obvious worry in his eyes. I don't deserve this, he thought bitterly as Ron continued to subtly glance in Harry's direction every couple of minutes, his brow knit in confusion. Harry knew Ron wouldn't say anything yet, but he could sense it coming. What am I going to do?

He felt Hermione's eyes on him and turned his head to look at her, causing her to quickly shift her gaze to Ginny. She'd been avoiding him ever since his arrival, quite an easy task considering he was avoiding her as well. The truth was that Harry didn't want to run into her alone. If he did, they would talk. And if they talked, they would talk about Ron and telling him about their relationship. The only reason they had been preparing to tell Ron today was because it was unavoidable, but with Hermione's parents out of the picture, and therefore no one to spill the beans, they found themselves with an opportunity to put off the inevitable, if only for a few more days.

Hermione sighed, but kept her gaze resolutely locked on Ginny as the redhead tittered on about her date with Dean. She finally felt Harry's gaze lift from her face and turn to listen to Ginny. She knew she was being childish, but she couldn't help it. She didn't want to tell Ron. Well, not yet anyway. She let her eyes pass over Ron's face as he good-naturedly teased his sister about her boyfriend. She took in his vibrant red hair, warm, trusting blue eyes, and carefree smile and knew she's rather die than hurt him. There has to be another way, she thought with half-hearted conviction. There just has to...

Just then, Ron looked up and met her gaze. She blushed a bit at being caught staring.

"Hermione?"

"Yes?"

"I've been meaning to ask you, what was your mum talking about when I asked about your summer? I mean, you already told me you were going to stay with some Smuggles in Surrey a couple of weeks ago. Was there anything else?"

Hermione felt ice-cold dread shoot through her body. Way to hit the nail on the head, Ron, she thought sardonically. She stared back at Ron's face and then subtly turned to look at Harry, her silent question apparent in her eyes: Should I tell him? Harry shook his head without meeting her eyes.

"No, Ron. Nothing else."