A/n: Here's the sequel! I loved the feedback I got on Summer of the War and was extremely eager to write this story. It starts off a week before the winter holidays at Hogwarts. I hope everyone likes this as much as its first part. Read, enjoy, and review!
Disclaimer: I am still no closer to owning this franchise or the Simpsons franchise, sadly.NO SAFE HAVEN
Chapter 1: Wanderings
It was curious to find Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry silent and calm. But this December night it was. Lights flickered in the empty halls, casting eerie glows on the rusty suits of armor. Night was dark outside the windows of the school, and the veiled stars provided little light. Cold wind swept in from any cracks in the walls, making the stone walls more frigid than ever. Teachers slept soundly. Nothing stirred in the castle. Common rooms were empty, all except one: the Gryffindor common room.
Every night, it was the same at this hour. The ginger cat sneaked around the room, rubbing his back against the comfortable armchairs close to the fire, passing particularly often by the large red one, where his owner usually sat reading. The feline often cast ominous, defiant looks to the armchair across his owner's, resentful of the young man who usually occupied the chair.
Tonight was different, simply because the people in the armchairs were sound asleep, which was unusual for them to do. The ginger cat paced the room nonetheless, his ears as pricked as his owner's usually were. Tonight he watched her with the book in her lap, deeply asleep, wondering when she or her redheaded "friend" would wake up and decide their prefect duties were done for the evening.
Although, most of the time, the clever creature doubted the two stayed up because of prefect duties. Crookshanks knew when two humans enjoyed each others' company, and it was more than evident that these two were spending as much time together as possible.
He turned when he heard his owner stir. Hermione opened her eyes and brushed her hair away from her face. Crookshanks watched her eyes fall over the fire, the flames reflected perfectly in her large, brown eyes. She seemed entranced, not blinking once, until he saw her eyes water and she looked away. She touched the book in her lap, tracing the letters of its title. The small smile on her lips told him it was Hogwarts, A History, and he knew she would look up at Ron before she did.
The young man who had once been his rival had his head leaned back against his armchair. His longish red hair was tousled, and his freckles were vivid in the glow of the fire. Crookshanks gave an exasperated purr when he realized Hermione was staring at Ron, yet again. There had been a time when Crookshanks had attained all her time and attention. He'd been amongst cuddles and sappy, disgusting cooing, always finding a sleeping place in her arms and her hand stroking the fur on his back. Now, her hand most customarily held her wand or—to Crookshanks' revulsion—Ron's hand.
Hermione shook her head, aware that Crookshanks was aware that she was aware of Ron's presence. She gave the cat a loving smile and he responded with a satisfied purr and rub against her legs. She chuckled and picked him up, setting him on her warm lap, her book put away on the arm of the chair. She caressed his ginger fur and Crookshanks felt very much at home. At times like these, he realized he didn't really hate the sleeping Weasley. No, on the contrary, they both were very fond of one very special person. Maybe that was the source of all their rivalry. Nevertheless, they had something in common, and Crookshanks knew that if he couldn't protect her, Ron would.
Hermione planted a kiss on his furry head and said, "All right, Crookshanks, I need to wake Ron now." With that, she set him on the floor and stood up. She stretched, yawned, and patted her bushy hair down before walking over to Ron, placing a hand on his shoulder, and shaking him gently.
"Ron," she called softly. If Crookshanks could have laughed, he would have. Ron was as asleep as the cat usually was after eating. Spending more time with the kid—who really wasn't so much of a kid anymore—was making Crookshanks realize how much alike they were. No wonder Hermione liked him so much.
When Ron didn't wake, she leaned down and whispered his name close to his ear. Crookshanks smirked as much as his cat lips could let him. Hermione wasn't the cleverest witch in the school for nothing. She knew that Ron would immediately wake up if he felt her breath on the skin of his neck. He sat down and watched the scene unfold.
Ron's blue eyes snapped open and he moved his head slightly when he realized Hermione was so close to him. He recovered quickly. "What the hell? What time is it?" She laughed and moved away.
"Dunno. I don't think it's much later than usual. I wonder why we fell asleep."
Ron shrugged. "We've been doing a lot this year. Prefect duties have gotten pretty demanding." A smile tugged at his lips.
Hermione tried to look confused but failed miserably. "Yes...shame," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She yawned before she could smile. When she didn't bother to cover her mouth, Ron muttered, "Now, really, Hermione, your manners are atrocious."
She glared at him for a moment before making up her mind and raising up one finger. Ron laughed and said, "Whoa, strange of you to do that." There was some odd sort of pride in his voice.
Hermione shrugged and said, "Yes, well, I'm tired." At that thought, she looked disappointed. "Tired...I suppose we're done with our duties for tonight, huh?" Ron looked like he very much disagreed, but Hermione kept talking before he could protest. "If there's nothing left for us to do, I'll just head up to bed." She turned and started to walk away. Crookshanks knew she would say something sooner or later that would make Ron suggest another "duty" that had been left unattended. Running up to catch up with her, the cat saw her roll her eyes slightly and say, "Nice night, this one."
Ron glanced at Crookshanks, who put his tail in the air and moved it towards Hermione. Ron noticed and stood up. "Well..." Hermione turned around and looked at him expectantly with raised eyebrows. He stroked the back of his neck casually and said, "We could patrol the hallways...you know, just to make sure nobody's up and about at this time—"
"Like we used to do?" Hermione smiled and nodded. "Yes, we could do that." She tucked her hair behind her ears. "When did we stop walking around the school at night, risking being caught by Filch?"
"When only Harry could fit under there...with me, your feet were in plain view, and I did not enjoy half crouching all the time." Ron's small smile faded. "I guess a lot has changed since then. I didn't really notice it."
Hermione was staring at him intently, and not the kind of stare she watched him with at the times when it was most evident that she cared very much about him. Ron knew she was staring and so he looked at the floor. Crookshanks couldn't understand what Hermione was seeing, but he knew it was something serious stirring inside Ron, and he wondered if it had anything to do with the summer they had just spent at the Burrow.
Crookshanks was almost sure she would tell him they could patrol the halls some other time, but all of a sudden, she blinked and said, "C'mon, Ron. If we want to do any hall-patrolling, we should do it before it gets too late." He nodded. He touched the prefect badge on his chest and walked to the portrait hole. He held it open for his best friend and when she had climbed through, he followed.
Many didn't see it, but the two were just as important as Harry Potter. They were a balanced trio, creating a neutrality that gave them more power than they had realized they had. Each one possessed characteristics that the other two didn't, and sometimes they discovered that some of their potential overlapped. But they still had no idea how important that was.
Crookshanks watched the fire. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley were heading for the time of their young lives where their strength, intelligence, and loyalty would be tested; a time of fear, a fraction of which they'd already experienced; a time of uncertainty, such that they knew not yet; and a time of sacrifice, which two of them had already known, but all were unaware of the sacrifice yet to come.
Crookshanks watched the fire. He half expected to see the black dog's human form appear in the embers. But he knew the man wouldn't come. Through the window, Crookshanks saw a glint of red in the sky. He hoped that the not so young kids would realize what important powers they possessed, and that no matter how bright Mars became, they would prevent from more faces like Sirius' from being erased forever.
Somewhere, someone else in the castle was awake.
He drew the cloak close around his neck, tying it securely. It was a cold night, colder than usual, and the castle was ominously dark. Not having been to the common room since before dinner, he still had his bag with him, heavy with the books of the afternoon lessons. Nevertheless, he threw it up on his shoulder, drew his slender wand, and began to walk, careful to avoid making noise that would echo in the vast halls.
His eyes darted this way and that. If he were to be caught, he would be given detention for walking around the school after hours. His bag was much too heavy, and it was cutting into his shoulder. Drawing in sharp breaths, he flung himself behind a stone pillar and let the bag fall to the floor. Immediately, he regretted it, for the books inside it hit the floor with a loud thud that echoed around him. He winced and waited, holding his breath to see if anyone would come and find him. His ears were ready to hear any mew from the wretched Mrs. Norris, but he heard nothing. Sighing, he said a silent thank you and sat down beside his bag.
He still had his wand in his hand. It was a beautiful one, a sharp relief from his feeble old one. This one, of deep mahogany, had a single unicorn hair as its core, and it was a good 13 inches long. He was proud of it, although it had been a shock losing his other one; it held some sentimental value to him. He still had the shards of it hidden in his trunks upstairs. But nevermind his old wand, he had a new one, and it was much more powerful. He was more powerful.
That was the reason why he'd asked Professor Sprout for a note admitting him the search of a book in the Restricted Section. She had always had a soft spot for him, since his strength was Herbology, and when he'd discussed his interest in a magical plant whose information he could only find in the Restricted Section, she had been glad to sign the slip giving him access to the books of the Restricted Section. Madam Pince had been most reluctant to allow him (she was probably surprised that he of all people wanted to explore the Restricted Section) to find his book, but he had the signed paper, and she could not deter his desire to find the plant.
Or so she thought. He really wasn't looking for such a plant. His real interest lay in finding a spell, one he had found most curious but intensely terrifying. He was not keen to learn it so as to use it to hurt others; he merely was more wary of what was to come, not only for all of the wizarding world, but for him as well, after June. He needed to know how to protect himself and prove to everyone that he did not need assistance in everything, that he was not completely useless.
And so he had found it. Excited, he hadn't bothered to read everything about it, but it was the exact spell he had seen, the one he had been searching so relentlessly for. He'd found it, and so he checked out the book (Madam Pince had been rather unnerved when she saw the book), and now he carried it around, awaiting the nights when he would sneak off to the Room of Requirement to practice.
Tonight was just another one of them. He just had to rest a bit before proceeding. He was growing so talented at performing the spell that, tonight, he wanted no interruptions.
It was odd how cold it was. Through his sweater and thick robes, Ron shivered. There was something unnerving about nights as frigid and gloomy as this, a night such that no flame could annihilate the shadows or bestow heat upon an icy body. After mentioning change, Hermione had become as cold as this night.
They walked in silence and Ron mentally cursed himself. The purpose of this walk was to spend time with her, to talk to her, to step ever so closer to her. After Bill's death, she had grown distant, and the hard-earned comfort they had had around one another had been shattered, and he'd been left with the debris of it, in hopes of restoring it. That was his goal for the year. So far, it had been working well. But sometimes he mentioned something that reminded her of how he had changed and she would step away and put a solid barrier between them.
He couldn't quite understand why she hated so much the idea that he had grown up. It was almost as if she were afraid that he would grow up and change entirely. Maybe she thought he would stop caring about her. Maybe she feared a separation, a rift in their friendship, a break in the bond that she and him and Harry shared, a bond that seemed for like a force than anything because it was stronger than anything he could imagine. Maybe she wanted things to stay the way they were because it was the way she was used to and knew best.
Or, come to think of it, maybe that's what he himself wanted.
But he really didn't want to resist change. He'd found it purifying, in ways. He was learning from the past and readying himself for the future. He was learning that he could prepare, but he would never be fully prepared. He was finding out that sometimes the unexpected has to happen, or sacrifices have to be made, in order for the outcome to be as glorious as one wants it to be.
It had been odd returning to Hogwarts and riding the carriages. The thestrals were still invisible. But to him, it hadn't felt like they were. It was almost as if he could see them, with the bitter shadow of Death hanging heavily over him, penetrating any weak point in his soul. In ways, he'd seen much more than the thestrals, even though he hadn't actually witnessed Death. And so he hoped he'd never really see Death, for if merely experiencing it was too terrible for words, how would it feel to also see it? No, Bill's death had not provided that material change, that sudden curse of seeing the thestrals, but it had given so much.
Too bad it had also taken so much.
"Ron?" He looked up to see Hermione staring at him, her sleepy eyes suddenly wide. "You all right?"
He nodded. "Except I wish I hadn't upset you."
Hermione stopped. She bit her lip and turned to the window, leaning on the sill and staring at the black sky. "You didn't upset me."
"Yes I did. Hermione, I have been your best friend for five years, do you really expect me to ignore that fact that you hate when I mention change? It upsets you."
"Ron, change doesn't upset me—"
"No, I think it's the fact that I changed."
To that she did not respond. Ron thought it might have something to do with the fact that she didn't know how to, and he started to feel guilty for putting her on the spot. She turned away from him, arms crossed over her chest, and she did not look angry; she just looked pensive. Ron lifted his hand with the intention of putting it on her shoulder, but he started and dropped his hand when she spoke.
"Look, Ron." Then she was quiet again. Confused, he followed her gaze out of the castle window, but he didn't see anything in particular. His attention shifted back to her, however, when she continued. "It's not that I'm upset. It's just...a bit frustrating." Her eyes flickered over to him, too quick for him to wipe the look of bewilderment off his face. She shook her head and said, "I usually know how to work things out."
"Tell me about it."
"Ron, don't make this difficult."
"I'm not doing anything!"
"Just shut up."
He thought he saw the sides of her mouth twitch, but when he looked again, she looked solemn once more, and he thought perhaps it had been a trick of shadows.
"Harry was so different after fourth year. Something happened in the summer that turned him into a bad-tempered..." She seemed to be at a loss for the right word.
"Git?" Ron offered seriously.
"Ron!" She paused for a moment, then said, "Well, yes, perhaps that's the best word to use. Anyway...I didn't know what to do about it, to make him stop acting that way."
"There was nothing anyone could do."
"I know. I still tried, though."
They were silent for a moment, only exchanging quick glances once. Ron thought she might be done and only wanted to stand around with him for a bit. He was just thinking about maybe edging closer to her as nonchalantly as possible when she said something else. Mentally cursing the gods, he listened to what she had to say.
"Now you're doing it too. You're being...different."
"You've always called me a git," he said, rather reproachfully. "So you can't be angry with me for the same reasons that you were angry with Harry."
"I don't always call you a git," she said, and he almost laughed at how easy it had become to lead her off the subject. He didn't though, as she was obviously keen on talking some more. "And of course I'm not angry with you like I was with Harry. I'm not angry with you at all."
"What is it, then?"
She glared at him. "Well, I might be able to discuss it with you if you didn't keep interrupting."
He cocked his head to the right thoughtfully. "But...if I didn't interrupt, then you'd just be talking and I'd just be listening. That's not discussing."
"Ron!" He knew she hated the fact that he was right. She looked like she wanted to get something out, though, so he nodded and shut up. She seemed satisfied as she said, "It's just that I don't want you to be different."
He raised an eyebrow. "You've always told me you want me to change."
"It's a manner of speaking, Ron, I never really meant for you to change."
"Yes." She blinked very rapidly for a moment, which would have been amusing to him if he hadn't been so focused on what she was saying. "I don't like when things change," she said again, and this time, she was on the verge of whispering. "I can't adjust to change because I always try to make things return to the way they were before and—"
"Why, though?" He hadn't meant to interrupt, but he was curious.
"Why?" She looked puzzled, and he realized she probably didn't know why herself. "Well...because it's what I'm used to."
"But change can be good, can't it? I mean...we wouldn't be friends if things hadn't changed, if we had decided to let that troll have a go at you."
"Oh, thanks, Ronald, that's very nice of you," she retorted somewhat scathingly.
"I'm serious!" he said, indignant that she'd bashed his opinion. "Besides...sometimes, when stuff changes, it makes people...happier, than they were before." He swallowed an odd lump that had formed in his throat and tried not to think about moving closer to her.
She looked at him for a moment, and he worked hard to look completely devoid of the thoughts he was really having. He was also hoping she wouldn't start arguing with him. But she didn't. All of a sudden, she just nodded and said, "Yes...I suppose you're right." She turned her head and gave him a small smile.
He couldn't help return it with his own lopsided grin. Ever since their sixth year had started, he'd loved spending time with Hermione, even if it was for something like prefect duties. Right now, he couldn't help feeling an intense gratitude towards Dumbledore for making him prefect.
Something in the sky drew his attention away from Hermione, however. There was a tiny speck of red amidst all the black. A tiny, glimmering dot far above the trees of the Forbidden Forest. He squinted to make sure he was seeing it right. He was. He knew Hermione was staring at him but he was somehow mesmerized by the planet he was looking at. "Mars is bright tonight."
Next to him, Hermione shuddered. He tore his eyes away from Mars and glanced at her. She had an uneasy look on her face, and she was shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Was it something he'd said? "You all right?" he asked, raising an eyebrow slightly.
"Fine," she muttered, tucking a random strand of hair behind her ear. It slipped back out but she ignored it. "It's just...unsettling to hear you say that."
She looked a little pale, but he thought it might have something to do with the moonlight. "That... 'Mars is bright tonight.' It's just something that one of the centaurs said that night in first year, when Harry and I had to go into the Forbidden Forest for detention with Hagrid and Neville."
Ron was confused once more. He didn't understand why it caused her discomfort. "Er...so?"
Unlike he'd thought, she didn't look annoyed. She simply shrugged and said, "It was kind of a terrifying night. That was the first time I realized Harry could die."
Ron's arm slipped off the windowsill, where he had been resting it. He never liked hearing the words "Harry" and "die" in the same sentence. He didn't let Hermione know that, though, and instead said, "Because...because Voldemort tried to attack him that night?" She merely nodded and then said nothing more.
He was going to ask her if she wanted to talk about it when she said, "You know, then there's that. It hasn't changed in the least bit. Harry's still in danger, Voldemort is still trying to kill him...and now that stupid planet is shining all the time. The only difference is, instead of sending the warning of upcoming war, it's announcing that war has already come."
Ron felt suddenly nauseous. They never talked about the war. They never mentioned the fact that the Order was busier than ever trying to keep track of anything the Death Eaters did, and they were still ready, at any moment, to come to Harry's rescue—their rescue. He glanced back out at the planet and felt himself shuddering too. It was terrible to think that one of these days they could all make one error and then Harry would be gone.
"Harry...Harry's with us," Ron said uncertainly. "We won't let anything happen to him." He hated how that sounded; like he was trying in vain to convince himself.
"That's what I try to think every single day," she said darkly.
He closed his eyes for a moment, then said, "Does it work?"
She was silent for a few seconds. Then... "Sometimes."
They were just past the Room of Requirement. Ron could tell Hermione was tired and if they were caught by Filch sitting and talking, prefect duties would not be excuse enough to keep him from landing them in detention. Ron was about to tell Hermione that they should make their way back when he heard a noise from behind him. Quickly, he put a finger to his lips, then turned, wand at the ready. He heard a loud thud.
There was a stone pillar in front of him, and he was almost sure the noise had come from behind it. He stepped slowly towards it, his eyes wide, trying to see through the darkness. Then, out of nowhere, a rather familiar voice yelled, "Diffindo!" and he felt a slash against his cheek, the force of the spell throwing him backwards hard against the stone floor, and he blacked out.
He was too intent on reaching the next pillar without being seen or heard that he didn't notice the two figures standing together by the window, whispering so no one would hear them. He made use of their figures blocking the moonlight coming in from the window and quickly ran to the stone pillar just a few feet away from the Room of Requirement. There, he waited, just to make sure no one was watching when he raced to the Room.
But someone was watching.
A tall silhouette was approaching him. He had made too much noise crossing from the last pillar. Cursing under his breath, he dropped his bag, not caring about the noise it made. He reached for his wand and pointed it out towards the figure walking slowly towards him. He yelled the first spell that came into his head.
He heard the person cry out in pain, and he knew immediately that it was not Filch. It had sounded like a student, about his age. Angry with himself, he began to stand and get ready to aid the person he had just hurt when he heard another person muttering, "Ennervate." The first person had obviously awoken, because they were speaking in whispers.
He was about to hit them with a pair of Stunning Spells, but they were too quick.
"Ron!" Hermione ran to where he had fallen. She saw a gash in his cheek, blood beginning to drip out of it. She bit her lip and tried to shake him, to see if he would wake, but he had apparently been knocked out badly when he had hit the hard floor. Before she could panic, she took out her wand, pointed it at Ron, and said, "Ennervate." He opened his eyes weakly. "Who the hell...?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. Are you all right? That's a nasty spell, he obviously—"
"Hermione, don't be stupid, he could try to attack you with your back turned." Ron pulled out his wand, and Hermione did the same. She pointed it to the shadow behind the pillar and yelled, "Stupefy!" at the same time that Ron bellowed, "Locomotor mortis!"
The assaulter gave a short, panicked scream, before he fell with a dull thud. Hermione sighed and turned back to Ron. "Thanks."
Ron sat up and wiped the blood from the cut on his cheek. "No problem. Let's check up on this jackass."
Hermione glared at him for his language but stood up nevertheless and he was right behind her. Together, they made their way to the pillar. Hermione's hand was still clutched tightly around her wand, ready to defend her self from any attacks.
Ron slipped his hand into hers, instinctively. His palm was sweaty. She glanced over at him and saw that he was wincing slightly from the cut on his cheek. It wasn't bleeding as much, but tiny droplets of blood were dripping slowly from it nonetheless. Not a deep cut, but whoever had used the spell knew how to use it effectively.
And she soon found out who it was.
Neville was lying on the stone floor in the shadow of the pillar, his legs locked together and his eyes closed. Hermione's jaw dropped and she heard Ron mutter, "Huh?" She let go of his hand and knelt down in front of Neville. She said, "Ennervate!" once more, and he awoke with a start.
When he saw who was crouching next to him, Neville let out a yelp of surprise. "Hermione! And Ron! What happened?" Then he noticed the scar on Ron's puzzled face. He shut his eyes and said, "Ah...I'm sorry, Ron. I thought you were Filch and I didn't want to get caught—"
"Diffindo, Neville! That would have gotten you in more trouble than being caught at this time of night by Filch," Hermione said sternly, and she heard Ron give a very soft snort—she knew he thought she sounded like McGonagall. She rolled her eyes.
"I know, but it was the first spell that came into my mind!"
"Damn, Neville, thank Merlin you weren't thinking of Unforgivable curses," Ron said sarcastically. This obviously did not comfort Neville because the color that had slowly been returning to his cheeks was drained again.
Hermione gave Ron a deadly look and turned back to Neville. She paused and said, "That was some good bit of magic. Not only did it cut Ron's cheek but it also threw him down." She gave him a curious glare and said, "Neville, what were you up to? And why risk detention?"
"You're not gonna give me detention, are you? Gran would be in a right state if she heard I got detention." Neville gave her a pleading look.
She shook her head. "No, we won't give you detention, on one condition: tell us what you were doing."
Neville sighed. "Not here. It's a long story."
"Then in the common room. We were heading up there anyway. Come on."
Neville nodded and muttered, "Finite Incantatem!" With a groan, he rubbed his legs and stood up. Hermione was watching him with intrigue written all over her face.
With that, she, Ron, and Neville made their way to the Gryffindor common room, Ron with his arm protectively on her back.
A/n: Well, what do you think of this first chapter? I'm planning to have the next chapter at Hogwarts but the rest at Hermione's house. This shall be fun. =)