Disclaimer: See the first chapter, or the prologue. But I own nothing.

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Treasure Of Gryffindor
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Chapter 9 - Hermione's Decision
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The Marauder docked in London on July 16, over a year since its departure. Hermione leaned eagerly over the railing as she watched the people on the docks hasten to help the crew tie up the ship. It was a typical day in London, mildly warm with a bit of watery sunlight shining through the wispy grey clouds overhead. She took a deep breath, and smiled. It was good to be home.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Ginny. "You look happy. Glad to be back?"

"Yeah." Hermione replied happily. "I can't wait to see my parents again, and tell them what I've seen." She already planned on giving her parents some of the fine jewelry that was her share of the booty.

Sirius stepped out on deck. He was smiling as well, resplendent in blue silk and black velvet; Remus was holding on to his arm, wearing a fine suit of fawn-coloured satin. Hermione smiled back at them as they passed; Sirius stopped. "Hermione."

"Yes?"

"I know how you feel about being a pirate," he said. "I would like to tell you that I think you make a fine sailor. You were brave and selfless, and a valuable asset to my crew. I will miss you greatly if you decide to return home permanently; but if you truly wish to go I will not stop you. In either case, I thank you."

"I - er - you're w-welcome," Hermione stammered in surprise. "But I - don't think I -"

He put a finger to her lips. "Hush. Surprise me. We leave on August first."

Hermione and Ginny stared, dumbfounded, as Sirius and Remus strolled away, descending the gangplank and heading toward the carriage which waited for them. Hermione had never really thought she had been brave or useful or any of it; but there was no arguing with the captain. She bit her lip. She had vowed to remain home, but her resolve was now being tested.

Another carriage rolled to a stop. Hermione's mother, father, and older sister Paulina were peering out the windows, all smiles. Hermione waved, then turned to Ginny and squeezed her hand.

"Thank you, Ginny," she said warmly. "You helped me out so often, and I'm so grateful to you. I'll miss you."

Ginny looked startled; apparently this meant Hermione wasn't going to return. But she smiled as well, blinking back tears, and hugged her friend. "Goodbye, Hermione. I'll miss you, too."

Hermione swung her bag over her shoulder and got off the ship, walking faster and faster until she broke into a run. She was folded into her mother's arms, feeling almost absurdly happy. She allowed herself to be herded into the carriage, only half-listening as her mother and Paulina exclaimed over how brown she had become, and how much she had changed. She cast a look up at the Marauder, and something odd happened. She felt as though she was being taken from her home.

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The next few weeks passed in a haze for Hermione. She had fallen comfortably back into the pattern of her old life, becoming used to her heavy gowns and upswept hairdos once more, resuming her nights of stitching by the fire with her mother and sister. It was good to sleep in her own soft bed once more, and to eat the freshest, most delectable foods; she loved returning to her father's library to run her fingers along the spines of the leather-bound tomes on the shelves. She adored working in the garden under the bright summer sun and waking up early Sunday mornings to attend church.

But somehow, there was something about it all that left her feeling strangely empty. It was good to do and see all these things once more, but it wasn't the same. Sometimes she caught herself dozing while she sewed; her mind would be preoccupied with daydreams of ships and the ocean. Sometimes, she awoke in the night with the scent of salt air fresh in her nostrils; and sometimes the sun would slant across the hardwood floor in the kitchen in such a way that reminded her forcefully of the Marauder.

She sometimes even caught herself wondering about her friends. She wondered if Bill and Fleur had married. She wondered if Viktor had returned to Bulgaria. She wondered if Sirius and Remus were still as happy as ever. But mostly, she wondered if Ron missed her.

"Hermione!"

Paulina was calling her name. She stuck her head into the library, where her sister had been sitting, absently staring out the window with an unopened book on her lap. "Hermione! I've been calling and calling. There's a guest for you."

"A guest?" Hermione rose, putting aside her book and nervously smoothing the bodice of her blue-and-white striped gown. "Who is it?"

"A gentleman named Viktor," Paulina said, her eyes shining. "He's very well-dressed. I think he's wealthy."

"Oh," was all Hermione could say. She followed Paulina downstairs, patting her hair and gown to be sure she looked all right. So Viktor hadn't returned to Bulgaria. But what on Earth was he doing here?

Viktor was seated in the parlour, chatting with Mrs. Granger, when Hermione and Paulina entered. He looked Hermione over from head to toe, and smiled warmly. He stood and took her hand after she had curtsied to him.

"Hermi-o-ninny." He kissed her hand. "I vanted to see you once more before I returned to my home."

"When are you going?" Hermione asked politely, as her mother herded Paulina from the room.

"Tomorrow. But I had to talk vith you before I left. I must ask you something." His dark eyes were focused on her face, unblinkingly, making her feel uncomfortable. "I vant you to marry me."

Marry him? Hermione blinked rapidly. She didn't feel happy at his proposal, like she had always imagined herself to be; instead, all she felt was reluctance. She swallowed hard. She loved Ron, not Viktor. But how could she tell him that? How could she tell Viktor that she didn't want to marry him and go to Bulgaria? The idea of it made her feel ill. She could see her future stretching out before her like some endless corridor - countless parties and balls, always playing the prefect hostess; four, five, perhaps even six children, the neverending worry of being a mother; rarely leaving her home, never experiencing excitement or adventure ever again. Never seeing her friends or family again.

Her silence seemed to anger him; his thick eyebrows creased and his dark eyes narrowed. "Hermi-o-ninny. I haff asked you to marry me. Vat is your answer?"

She looked away, gently pulling her hand from his. "No, Viktor," she replied softly, her voice trembling nonetheless. "My answer is no."

"Vy?" he demanded angrily, seizing her wrist and pulling her around to face him.

"I - I can't. I won't!" Hermione wrenched her arm from his grasp and backed away. "I won't marry you! I don't love you! I love - I love Ron!"

A ringing silence followed this. Viktor looked furious; he swept his cloak on without a word and stormed from the house. Hermione collapsed into a chair, trembling. She put her face in her hands. Everything was true. She loved Ron. She loved living at sea, and she loved the adventure and excitement of being a pirate. She didn't want to be a matron like her mother. She didn't want to be jerked around, forced to find a husband, like her sister. She didn't want to stay in London for the rest of her life. She wanted to see white sand, blue sea and bright sunshine.

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August first was a cloudy, grey day, quite unlike the rest of the summer. Hermione shifted her bag to her other shoulder, feeling suddenly nervous. What if the ship was gone? What if Sirius had already dismissed her as lost, and hired a new crew member?

Her family had protested when she had told them she wanted to return to sea. It had resulted in a long argument, but in the end, Mr. and Mrs. Granger gave in. They had made her promise to visit every time she returned to London, and to keep herself safe. Paulina made her promise to bring home her man.

"My - my man?" Hermione had gaped at her sister, frozen in the act of putting a pair of extra shoes in her bag.

"Oh, Hermione. You wouldn't have turned Viktor down unless there was someone else," Paulina said, with the annoying superiority of an older sister. "You can't fool me."

Hermione smiled to herself. She would bring Ron home with her one day. She loved him, and wanted him to be part of her family.

The hulking shape of the Marauder grew larger as she approached, colours appearing through the fog. She caught a flash of white - it was Hedwig, swooping amidst the fog like a ghost. Hermione's spirits lifted at the sight of the owl, and she started up the gangplank.

Most of the crew were on deck, getting things ready for departure. Hermione paused at the top of the gangplank, looking down at them, a smile appearing on her face. It felt like she was coming home at last.

"Hermione!" Ginny's shout rang out, and heads turned as the redhead bounded up and seized Hermione in a tight hug. Hermione burst out laughing as Ginny whirled her 'round in a circle.

"Ginny, stop!"

"You came back! I was so afraid you weren't going to!" Ginny looked close to tears.

"I almost didn't," Hermione confessed. "But I was so bored at home... everything was so dull compared to life out here. And then Viktor asked me to marry him... but I couldn't. It was the last straw. And here I am."

Strong arms wrapped themselves around her slender waist. Warm lips tickled her ear. "I'm glad."

She turned. It was Ron, and he was smiling down at her. He seemed even taller and more handsome than she remembered. She beamed back and threw her arms around his neck. "Ron!"

"I missed you," he said, his hands moving to her bushy hair. "Ginny and the twins kept giggling about it, it was really annoying. But I realised something. I figured out that I - well... that I love you," he finished gruffly.

Hermione kissed his cheek. " I love you too." She felt as if her heart would explode with happiness. To return here, to her friends, and to have Ron finally admit that he loved her... it was like some kind of beautiful dream.

A hand fell on her shoulder. Hermione looked up, and saw Sirius standing beside herself and Ron.

"Welcome back."

She beamed at him. "Thank you."

"Do you remember how to lift the sails?" he asked her, with a quirk of his eyebrow, swiping his long hair out of his eyes.

"Yes, captain!"

"Then get to it!" he roared, turning and striding towards the wheel, where Remus awaited him with his compass. "All of you, get moving! We can't sit here all day chatting!"

The crew scrambled to their tasks. Hermione gave Ron one last squeeze before joining Ginny at the sails. Her heart felt so light, she could have sworn she could fly. This was the life she wanted, and the path she had chosen. It would be fun to see where it led.

-The End-

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(A/N: Aww! The end! The end of my pirate-y pirates. But not quite. I plan on writing two - yes, two - prequels to this story! The first one will feature Sirius' heroic rescue of Harry (in much more detail than given in Chapter 7), and the second will tell the story of Sirius' separation from his family, the start of his pirate career, and his meeting with Remus. More swashbuckling adventure is to be had, so please look forward to them!

About Paulina: J.K. Rowling has said Hermione has a sister, but we don't know her name or whether she's younger or older. So, naturally, I had to create a new original character. Hermione is the name of a character in Shakespeare's 'The Winter's Tale' ; so I took a look at the play and chose another character's name, Paulina, for Hermione's sister.

And I plan on also drawing a few pictures to go with this story. If I do, I'll post them on my LiveJournal (you can get the link on my profile page). I'd really appreciate it if you could take a look. I already have some non-pirate art up there, so you could take a look at that, if you are so inclined.)