Very Important Author's Note:

I'm sorry to say that I have decided not to complete an R rated version of this story, so it will not be completed on this site.

NC-17/MA versions can be found at and Each site is secure, so please do not attempt to access it unless you are of age.

Thank You


The Characters and situations of Harry Potter depicted in this story are the legal property of J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury, and AOL Time Warner, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being made off this site, and is for entertainment purposes only.

This chapter has been revised as of April, 2005 and contains new content. It has also been modified from the original NC-17 version is located at Checkmated and is rated R.

Author's Notes:

This is an Alternate Universe Story in the Harry Potter Series in that it branches off from the series before the final Chapter of The Order of Phoenix. Also, the ages of Charlie and Bill Weasley were conceived prior to the announcement by JKR. For the purposes of this story they are Twenty-eight and Thirty, respectively.

This version has been modified from the original NC-17 version, housed at Specifically, explicatives have been modified and sexual situations made less explicit. Any significant or large changes will be pointed out in the author's notes. Thank you and enjoy.

Of Hearts and Heroes

Chapter One

"Did you reverse the spell?"

"Yeah, but he seems to have slipped into unconsciousness now."

"Wait. Let me get these tentacles off of him first."

The words floated over him as if from far away. The meaning behind them followed at a much slower speed. His limbs were heavy. His eyelids felt like lead. The very air around him weighed down on him. It was so thick that even breathing required monumental effort.

"All off."


The world came back to Ron Weasley in a rush. Sensations flooded him. His mouth opened involuntarily and a gush of breath entered his lungs, burning them. It was as if his body didn't trust it would get enough air. His body surged upward and he sat, gasping.

Only then did he open his eyes. Immediately, the knowledge of where he was hit him. Shite. The Department of Mysteries.

Ron closed his eyes against the rush of memories. They had come to rescue Sirius. They were surrounded. They ran. Somehow, they got separated. Ron hadn't been able to find Hermione or Harry. An explosion of some sort…he got hit by some spell.

And then Ron had turned into a damned ruddy fool, right in the middle of a bloody battle. Well, more of a fool than usual that is. Damn.

Taking another deep breath, Ron forced himself to open his eyes and scan the dark room. Neville sat with a rag to his nose. It was covered with blood, but he seemed all right. Luna was cross-legged on the floor in a daze. Nothing new there. His sister lay on her back holding up her ankle, while Lupin manipulated it. Ginny was grimacing in pain.

Ron swallowed, forcing his eyes to continue their overly-slow perusal. Friends were still unaccounted for. He needed to find….

Bloody Hell. Hermione.

He froze at the sight of her, his breath gone again. Ron's eyes burned. He'd never felt such fear, not when he had faced a giant spider, not when his father had been attacked. There were no words to describe the feeling. Not that he was very good with words anyway.

Ron forced himself to crawl to her. Why was it taking so long to get there? Why was she so limp? So still? Why were Lupin, Kingsley, and Moody moving so god damned slowly? Why weren't they helping her? Didn't they see that Hermione needed them? That she could be dying? Oh god, oh god, oh god.

"Hermione!" he tried to yell but it came out as a hoarse whimper. Not that Ron was actually sure he formed sound at all.

It took him forever to reach her. The relief he felt when he did was nearly overwhelming. But she was so cold. Damn. She was so still.

"Hermione. Hermione," he chanted. "Please wake up. Please."

She would wake at any moment. Ron knew it. She was going to be fine. He ran his hands over her face. She was so cool... too cool.

A wave of desperation flowed over him. He wanted to shake her. He wanted to scream at her.

Carefully, Ron lifted her shoulders and laid Hermione's head on his lap. As he did this, sharp knives of pain shot through his chest and arms. His skin was scorched. The closer he pulled her the more it hurt. It was almost unbearable. He held her tighter.

He called for the others to help, to tell him what was wrong, to make her wake up, but no one answered. No one seemed to hear him. Tears were falling on his face and arms, making the burning more intense.

Frantically, he felt for her pulse. Ron's hands trembled. Where the hell was it? He didn't even know how to find a bloody pulse. He wasn't a god damn Healer. Why didn't they ever teach anything useful at that bloody school…?

There it was. Thump. Thump. His eyes slipped closed. A sigh left him. He wasn't going to lose her. He wasn't going to lose her. He wasn't going to lose her.

But then the pulse was slowing. Slower and slower. Her chest was barely moving any more. "No, Hermione. No. I need you! You can't go."

The pulse was gone.

He searched again. His hands frantically moving up and down her arm, over her throat…god no no no no. It had to be there, he had just lost it.

Ron woke gasping, dripping with sweat, a burning sensation radiating from his chest and arms. His heart was beating so hard he thought he might choke. Again his mind adjusted to this new reality. The actual reality. At least he hoped it was. Anything was better than his dream, even if it was the Hogwart's hospital wing. It didn't matter as long as he could find Hermione.

As he sat up and swung his feet over the side of his bed, his eyes anxiously sought out the sleeping figure next to him. The sight of Hermione all but destroyed him. Ron closed his eyes against the flood of intense, unwanted, and confusing emotions. But then he needed to see her. So the eye-closing was actually rather daft. Was he going insane? His eyes opened. Good, she was still there. Yup, he was going insane.

This was the third night in a row. The dreams weren't getting any better. Hell, they were getting worse.

Ron's eyes traveled over Hermione's sleeping form. Carefully, he took in all the subtle signs of life. The signs that had been missing moments before, in his nightmare. The tiny flutter of her eye lashes, the subtle movement of her legs under the blankets, the careful rise and fall of her chest. He watched the rise and fall transfixed. Hermione.

Ron told himself over and over that he was just making sure she was all right. He was not admiring her body while she slept. That would be wrong. Hermione was his friend. She was his best friend, and she was very vulnerable. He was not staring at the subtle curves of her chest, which didn't seem to be quite as subtle as they used to be. When had that happened?

Ron's face grew hot. Blimey, what was wrong with him? When had he become such a hormone driven pervert? Maybe that was a stupid question, but this was Hermione. She deserved respect. She had almost died.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. She wasn't dead. She was alive. Now, it was time to go back to bed.

Ron stood. He got out of bed and was kneeling next to her before he could rationalize his behavior. He had officially lost all control over his body.

All right, he could see that she was breathing. She was moving for god's sake. She's just sleeping. Like he should be doing.

Instead, the back of his hand lightly laid itself on her cheek. How did it get there? It was betraying him. But she was so warm. He had never felt anything so wonderful in his life. Did Hermione always have such lovely, smooth skin?

"Mmm," she hummed in her sleep and he jerked his hand back. She turned her face away from him, but her breathing didn't change.

Ron breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing he needed was for her to wake up and find him groping her in her sleep like a crazed miscreant. He had his reprieve. It was time to go back to sleep.

But there was a nagging thought, a compulsion that wouldn't be denied. There was just one more thing he had to do.

Ron reached out and carefully took her delicate wrist into his large hand. She seemed far too fragile. It took him a moment to find that steady thumping and he began to panic. He closed his eyes in concentration and used his other hand to steady her wrist as he moved his fingers carefully along the inner edge of her arm…

Thank god. There it was, strong and steady. Thank god. Ron started to count, matching his breaths to the beat. With every thump, he felt the tension flow out of his body. Maybe he could just sleep like this. Maybe then he would finally get a good night's rest. He was so relaxed that he didn't even jerk when he felt a small hand cover his. Shite.

Ron slowly brought his eyes to her face and met Hermione's open eyes.

"Hey," she said in a sleep hoarsened voice. It sent shivers up his spine. Hermione gave him a small smile.

"Hey." Ron attempted a smile back. "I reckon I should explain," he said, gesturing his head to where his hands rested together on her wrist. He didn't move them.

Hermione shrugged, biting her lip. "It's ok." She squeezed his hand. "I mean, I have my share of nightmares. Though I suppose I was lucky, I was unconscious for most of it," she joked.

His hand clenched her wrist. Ron gritted his teeth, hissing, "Don't. Just don't."

There their eyes met and held. They had never shared a look quite like this before. It was…weird.

"Sorry," Hermione whispered, her smile fading. She worried her lip and he swallowed. She looked really pretty in the moonlight. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked him, pulling him away from the uncomfortable thought.

Ron averted his eyes and shook his head. The last thing he wanted was to talk about it. He felt her thumb move lightly over the back of his hand. Somehow, it made him both less and more comfortable. He still felt the thump of her pulse, though it quickened. It was starting to get really warm in there.

He couldn't look at her. Not when Ron knew she wanted to talk about it. She always wanted to talk about everything. Hermione never realized how hard it was. What was he supposed to say? Every night, he relived the Department of Mysteries. Only in his dream… in his dreams she died. Every bloody night, she died and he wanted to die as well.

Ron didn't even know what the damn dreams meant. He did know he didn't want her to draw her own conclusions. He chanced a quick glance at her face. As predicted, Hermione looked so adorably expectant that before he knew it, he was talking. He wondered if there was any part of his body that he had control of anymore.

"I thought you were dead." Ron's voice was barely perceptible to his own ears. Why was he telling her this? He hoped she couldn't hear him. "When they woke me, you were so still. I couldn't feel…." He took a shuddering breath. He couldn't look her in the eyes. He couldn't finish the thought. He lifted her wrist slightly in explanation.

Hermione's voice quivered when she whispered, "Ron."

His name. It was just his name and it almost broke him. Ron pulled her hand up and buried his eyes in her wrist to still the humiliating flow of tears.

"Ron, stand up," she ordered calmly. It was her self-assured Prefect tone.

Hermione clearly wanted him gone. He was repulsive and pathetic. Certainly much less than a man, not even a boy. Ron nodded and fought the tears with every bit of strength he had. He gently laid her wrist back on her belly. She would not see him cry, he chanted to himself. She would not see him cry.

"Step back, at the end of the bed," she commanded and he obeyed for once, stumbling a bit as he did so. Ron didn't have the strength to put up his usual fight.

She reached over to her bedside table and retrieved her wand. Pointing it over to Ron's bed, she confidently commanded, "Accio bed." It slid over neatly and stopped a foot away from hers. He shook his head. Only Hermione could get it to stop exactly where she wanted. If Ron had done the spell the bed would have come crashing over to hers.

"You need to get some sleep," Hermione said primly.

What? He looked back over at her with confusion. Hermione was fighting a smile. Her brown eyes were warm in the darkness. Oh. Ohhh. Ron smiled. Did she mean…? She couldn't. What the hell was he waiting for? For her to change her mind? He climbed into his bed, turning to lie on his side to face her. She was so wonderfully close. He could reach out and touch her.

Hermione mirrored his position and smiled brightly. Their eyes held for the second time that night. It was better this time. Maybe he just needed to get used to it.

"Does it hurt much?" she asked, softly.

"What?" he said automatically, distracted for some reason. Hermione gestured toward the welts on his arm with a jerk of her chin. "Nah," Ron said with what he hoped was bravery. Actually it burned like bloody murder. It was even worse when he lay on his side.

They smiled at each other for a few minutes more. Then Hermione held out her arm and rested it palm up on Ron's bed. "Here. Now, go to sleep," she spoke, again with commanding prissiness. Only with her, could it be so endearing.

Ron blinked at her, and then looked down at her hand. Hermione was acting so strangely tonight. Maybe he wasn't the only one who had gone mental. Maybe he was just being thicker than usual. He waited for her to explain, but she had closed her eyes and appeared to be drifting back to sleep.

Sure, she could sleep. He couldn't sleep without… Ohhh… Well then. Ron swallowed. Reverently, he wrapped both hands around her delicate wrist. Her steady pulse lulled him into his first peaceful sleep in days.

"Mind you, the whole Subject is useless if you ask me. Firenze isn't much better."

"How can you say that?"

Ginny tuned out Ron and Hermione's bickering. Looking over, she saw Luna and Neville were doing an impressive bit of ignoring themselves. She shook her head at the whole thing, but any amusement she could have felt faded when she caught sight of the pained look on Harry's face.

She should have known their ridiculous pretense of lightness and normality wouldn't work. She should have known that no amount of smiling and joking on her part was ever going to remove the vacant, tortured look from Harry Potter's features.

Ginny had thought that Harry would come back to himself when they were finally allowed to visit Ron in the hospital, a day after the Department of Mysteries. When that hadn't worked, she thought for sure he would be better when Hermione woke up, but even then the change was minimal. At least now he would sit amongst people, even for a short time. Still, Harry looked haunted. He wasn't taking care of himself.

Not that Ginny really knew. She certainly was not watching him. She did not keep track of his habits. It had been years… years since Ginny had last stalked him. Well, maybe one year. Stalking was actually something Colin taught her. A Muggle word for 'admiring from a distance,' he'd said, though it was more like following him every where and keeping track of every detail of his life.

It was a fun game Ginny and Colin played second year, an enjoyable way to indulge their mutual crush. They had even made a pact. Which ever way Harry leaned, gay or straight, either Ginny or Colin would end up with Harry in the end. Ginny had been fairly confident she'd win. God, it was embarrassing to think back.

Ginny and Colin got very good at stalking without being noticed. By third year Ginny's pride started to smart, so she got more subtle about it. She didn't give up all together until the beginning fourth year. Ginny no longer fancied Harry Potter. The game was obsolete.

Colin must still be following Harry. He was the one who told her Harry wasn't sleeping. As for eating, maybe Ginny had noticed that he was never in the Great Hall anymore, maybe she had talked to Dobby and found out that he didn't come to the kitchen either, but she was concerned. The boy was wasting away. She couldn't allow her brother to get out of the hospital wing to find his best mate had died of starvation. Right?

"Hey, where are you going?" Ron asked and Ginny's head jerked up as she saw Harry rise and walk towards the door. Her heart rate accelerated.

"Er…Hagrid's," Harry said. He kept talking, but Ginny didn't hear him. Her heart was pounding in her ears. Her mind was screaming one loud, self-destructive thought, 'Go with him!'

Of course, she couldn't go with him. She wasn't even his friend, not really. Not like Ron and Hermione were. And it was clear that Harry didn't even want to be around them. Why would he want to be around her?

So, clearly Ginny had to stay. It was a moot point really. Harry already disappeared out the door. She sighed, feeling more depressed than ever.

Perhaps, Ginny did need to go see Hagrid. What did it matter if a girl who so obviously did not fancy Harry anymore wanted to see a mutual friend, who he just happened to be visiting at the same time? It shouldn't be a problem since she didn't have a crush on him anymore. Who cares what Colin said? He was obviously projecting. Ginevra Weasley had moved on. She even had a boyfriend of her own, the key work being had. She refused to think about that arse, Michael Corner, right now. Just the thought of how he broke up with her…

"Ginny," Hermione said carefully, pulling her back into the conversation. "Maybe you should go after Harry and talk to him---"

Her heart jumped. Hermione did not just ask her to…? "Oh no, I'm not going to be your errand girl, I can't make him talk."

Stupid, stupid! She had protested too much. They would know. What would they know? There was nothing to know. What was wrong with her?

"Why not? He's talked to you before," Hermione argued reasonably. Far too reasonably, for Ginny's taste.

It was no good. Ginny knew that she couldn't go after Harry no matter how much she wanted to. "I've talked. He's brooded, besides this is different, worse. He's grieving. We're all grieving," she faded off. She really didn't want to think about that right now.

"I know that," Hermione snapped and then tempered herself. "It's just he needs us right now."

Ginny shook her head. He needed Ron and Hermione, not her. "He doesn't need me." Suddenly, she couldn't stay there any longer. Ginny quickly gathered her things. In a moment Hermione would convince her to go after Harry.

Not that that was all that bad a thing. It was a wonderful excuse really. She was just doing it to put Hermione's mind at ease. "I'll see you both later," Ginny called back as she hurried out of the room.

She was out the door before anyone could stop her. In the hallway, she came to an abrupt stop. Now what? Was she going after Harry? Did she really want to start the whole stalking thing again? This was different, though. She wasn't just following Harry. She was going to talk to him, as a friend. She just wanted to be his friend, which he needed right now, desperately.

The events of the last few days washed over her, making tears come to her eyes…Sirius. Oh god. No, she needed to concentrate on Harry. He was the one who needed comfort. After all, what else could she do about it all?

Ginny practically ran all the way to Hagrid's. She knew that the kids on the lawn were staring at her, but she didn't care. She needed to get there before Harry left. When she arrived at the cabin door she was gasping for breath. She forced herself to pause until she was breathing normally before she knocked. Hagrid answered and greeted her with a beaming smile.

"'Allo, Ginny. So nice to 'ave so many guests. You just missed Harry. He just left."

Her stomach fell. She forced her face to freeze and not show the disappointment she felt. Hagrid was too pleased to see her. She made herself go into the cabin, to drink Dandelion juice, and make conversation. All while she counted the minutes, calculating how long she could stay before she could leave without hurting the large kindhearted man's feelings. Every minute there would make it harder to find Harry.

She decided she had to stay thirty minutes. Ginny excused herself after twenty.

When she was finally free, Ginny tried to maintain a calm composure as she searched the lawn. She weaved through the disgustingly cheerful students as they called out greetings to her. Didn't any of them have a clue that their whole world was on the brink of disaster? But she didn't want to think about that.

Shite. He wasn't anywhere. She began to walk the edge of the forest. Students often went just inside the edge to get some privacy. It was generally safe if you…

Oh god. There, snogging up against a large oak tree, their bloody oak tree was none other than her recently ex-boyfriend and…Cho Chang. God damned Cho Chang. Oh, how she hated that little…Ginny just hated her.

"Mmm, Cho," Michael moaned as he pulled away. Pulled away and looked right at Ginny.

Her humiliation was complete. She smiled at him with every drop of evil she had in her heart. "Michael."

"Hey, Ginny," the prat's voice squeaked. No, prat was too good for him. The prick's voice squeaked like a ponce as he pushed away from his little slag. At least he had the decency to blush.

"Um, hi," Cho said softly, wiping her mouth. Then the little bitch said the wrong thing. "Sorry…"

"Sorry?" Ginny said vindictively. "What for? Being second seems to work for you. Second at Quidditch, second under this tree…" With that she gave a bright smile and turned on her heel and stalked off.

She had a giddy satisfaction as she heard Cho hiss, "You took her here."

"Oww," Michael whined. "Cho, I…"

Good riddance, Ginny thought. The satisfaction was incredibly short lived. The farther she walked, the worse she felt.

Michael had broken up with her the day after the Department of Mysteries. Her brother was in the bloody hospital wing, she had just been through hell, and her boyfriend breaks up with her over Quidditch…Quidditch.

The little whore can have him. Ginny wiped her eyes. She would not cry one more tear over Michael Corner. She had more important things to cry over and she still needed to find Harry.

She paused in the middle of the lawn, frustrated, humiliated, and depressed. Maybe she should just give up. Why couldn't she find him? What if something bad happened? So many people wanted Harry dead. Just because you couldn't Apparate onto Hogwarts grounds… Death Eaters had legs didn't they? They could walk.

Not to mention the state of mind Harry was in. He might do something foolish. Wait, how depressed was Harry? He wouldn't do something reckless, something he couldn't take back, would he?

That thought spurred Ginny into action. She ran back into the castle and up to Gryffindor Tower. She glowered at the fat lady when she made Ginny catch her breath before she accepted the password.

Luckily the tower was empty, because Ginny didn't pause as she ran directly to the fifth year boy's dormitory. Finding it vacant, she thought she would cry. In desperation, she even checked the boy's shower. She didn't know what she would have done if someone besides Harry had been in there, but no one was there at all.

Ginny knew she should give up. Harry could be anywhere. Obviously, he didn't want to be found. It was almost dinner time. Maybe she'd try to head him off at the Great Hall. Oh yeah, he wasn't eating.

There was only one place left Ginny could think of to try. Ginny wound herself through the castle to the Astronomy Tower. It was where she went when she didn't want to be found.

Of course, he wasn't there. So, she tried one last act of desperation. Ginny picked up a telescope and scanned the lawn one more time. Just as she was about to give up, there he was, huddled by the lake, shielded by bushes.

She let the telescope drop in relief. She could still see him, now that she knew where he was. Ginny watched him until the air cooled and the sun neared the horizon, trying to decide if she should go to him.

She finally decided to meet him when he stood and began to walk back to the castle. Once again indecision could have been her down fall. Maybe if she ran she could still cut him off in the entranceway. Again, she took off at a dead run, one thought floating through her.

Ginny really needed to remember that she did not fancy Harry Potter.

The group had fallen into a contemplative silence after Harry left the infirmary. Hermione watched Harry walk out of the hospital wing and her heart broke for her friend.

How could he survive this? He must be dying inside. Hermione thought about the guilt that she felt for allowing them to go on their 'rescue mission.' There were just so many things Hermione should have done differently.

The minute Harry had mentioned going to the Ministry, Hermione knew it was a mistake. She knew it was a trap. She shouldn't have let them go. Of course, it was a trap, how could it be anything but? Especially with Harry's not having learned Occlumency. She should have made him learn. She should have read a book on it and taught him herself.

Instead, she had been preoccupied with the OWLs. As if grades were nearly this important. If Hermione wasn't so full of pride, if it wasn't so important to her to be the top student in the class, to be known as the 'brightest witch of her age,' then maybe she could have helped Harry. Maybe none of this would have happened.

But the OWLs weren't her only distraction. She glanced over at her other best friend as he shoveled chocolate frogs into his mouth. No, she had far worse distractions than school.

Not making Harry learn Occlumency was only the first of Hermione's mistakes. It had been her idea to Floo Sirius. She initiated the breaking of the rules and the betrayal of her Prefect status that led to further misinformation and a series of events that led to Sirius's death.

She had made so many decisions foolishly. There were so many things she wasn't proud of. Hermione couldn't even look at Professor Umbridge in the bed across the room. What had she been thinking?

Even filled with self recrimination and shame, Hermione knew it was a thousand times worse for Harry. If she felt sick with guilt, then he must be drowning. Harry, who felt the weight of the world's problems as if they were his alone… A true hero, with expectations of himself that no one could ever fulfill.

If only he'd talk to her. She could make him see that it wasn't his fault, that no one blamed him. They all felt guilty, they all missed Sirius, and they were all afraid. But Hermione couldn't talk to him. He was gone and she couldn't follow.

Silence followed, interrupted only by the tearing of chocolate frog boxes as Ron continued to eat frog after frog. Ginny was curled up at Hermione's feet, playing with her blanket, a far away expression on her face.

Hermione scanned her four friends, her finally resting on Ron as he played with his frog cards and munched. On the surface, he seemed the least affected by everything that happened. He looked so normal. Ron always looked so normal. He always managed to seem like just the average wizard, even in the midst of battle.

There was nothing average about Ronald Weasley. The normalcy was a mirage. The simplicity an act. And the calm…that was a lie.

Hermione knew the truth. She knew that he was brave beyond measure, loyal beyond reason, and, in his own way, more brilliant than he would ever realize. She also knew that every night he cried real tears and screamed out in terror. The affects of the Department of Mysteries were eating away at all of them.

Unbidden, Hermione's mind flashed to an image of the night before. She saw Ron kneeling over her, holding her wrist with more tenderness than anyone would think Ronald Weasley was capable of. Just one more thing he hid from the world.

It was moments like that, when he touched her, when he looked at her with such caring. It made her think there was a chance for them. All these little moments were what kept her going.

Hermione shook her head to clear it. Was now really the time for romantic wonderings? With everything that was going on, how could she be so shallow?

She forced herself to look at her other three friends. Luna continued to read her paper, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. Neville appeared sad and downtrodden. Ginny had a far away expression…wait, she her gaze lingered down at the girl at her feet. Just because Hermione was stuck in this bed…

"Ginny," she said carefully, her mind working rapidly to develop a plan. "Maybe you should go after Harry and talk to him---"

Ginny's eyes flew to hers. "Oh no, I'm not going to be your errand girl. I can't make him talk."

"Why not, he's talked to you before," she wheedled. If Ginny was to talk to Harry, maybe he wouldn't feel so alone. Maybe she could convince him to come back to the hospital wing. Ginny had to convince him.

"I've talked. He's brooded," Ginny said in a self depreciating tone. "Besides this is different, worse. He's grieving. We're all grieving," she finished, absently.

"I know that," Hermione snapped, before she had time to think. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "It's just he needs us right now."

Ginny looked at her with misery. "He doesn't need me."

Hermione met her gaze. Did Ginny still fancy Harry despite everything she said? Despite Michael Corner? Is that what was going on here? Otherwise, it didn't make sense. Ginny was as good at getting Harry to talk as anyone. Not that that was saying much.

Before Hermione realized what was happening Ginny had quickly gathered her things. "I'll see you both later." She was out of the room before Hermione could think of a reply. She was left to stare after her friend, her jaw ajar.

Neville and Ron called out distracted goodbyes and Luna looked up only after she was gone, scanning the room as if to determine what was different. Frowning sullenly, Ron went back to eating those ruddy chocolate frogs with a vengeance.

Having failed miserably with her plan, Hermione turned her focus on the familiar. "Ron, you are going to make yourself ill if you keep eating all those frogs," she said disapprovingly.

She knew she was nagging. She liked nagging. It felt good. It was familiar and comfortable. If she couldn't save Harry from himself, Hermione could at least save Ron from a stomachache. At least Ron needed her. For now anyway.

"Rey make me feel redder H'mione," he said with his mouth full. He swallowed, "We're supposed to eat chocolate when we're not feeling well," Ron pouted. "Right, Neville?"

"What," the awkward boy sputtered, looking panicked. His eyes darted quickly between Ron and Hermione. "Er, sure…I mean no…what was that again?"

Ron frowned at the total lack of support. Instead, he turned the full force of his puppy-dog-eyes on Hermione. He was adorable. The blue eyes and pleading expression made her insides melt. It made her remember the liquidy sensations she had felt last night that traveled up her wrist to... Well, Hermione didn't actually understand just what Ron made her feel. She only knew that it only happened with him.

With practiced poise, she made sure he never knew the power he had over her. "I think you passed the point of medicinal about two dozen frogs ago," she told him. If she ignored the tingling sensation in her stomach it would go away. It always did.

"Oh and how many frogs exactly is medicinal, Hermione?" Ron asked sarcastically. "Maybe I should keep eating and we'll see exactly how many one can eat before vomiting." He defiantly bit into a wriggling frog.

Now she was annoyed. Hermione felt the first flames on anger begin to ignite. This was good. This was an even better distraction.

"That's really mature, Ron." She crossed her arms and sat back on the bed.

"Um guys, don't you think…?" Neville broke in softly, freezing as Hermione glared at him. Neville didn't understand. Hermione needed a good fight right now.

Ron didn't even acknowledge his friend's words. His narrowed eyes were fixed securely at Hermione. That was the other thing she loved about fighting. He always fixed his full attention on her, the full force of his passion.

"Fine," Ron hissed, throwing his frog onto his bed stand. "Are you happy?"

She wasn't, not one bit. "Yes," she replied.

Great, now Hermione was struggling with guilt again. Guilt for snapping at Ron, but even more so for dwelling on decidedly impure and completely pointless feelings for one of her best friends, while the other was going through agony. Not to mention that another was gone for good.

Damn it! Hermione normally didn't swear, but she had to get out of this hospital bed. She needed to do something. She needed to help Harry, she needed to make him talk, or go to the library and research something… anything.

"Blimey, Hermione, you don't need to pout just because I ate a few frogs. I stopped didn't I?" Ron griped, sounding hurt.

"I'm not…" Hermione started to say to defend herself, but what could she say? She hadn't meant to hurt Ron. He looked so dejected, sitting there starring down at his arms, poking at his healing scars. She should apologize.

"Ron, leave your ointment alone." Why did she say that? He shot daggers at her and she deserved it. Once she started nagging she couldn't seem to stop.

"Ok," Neville said, hurriedly standing. We're gonna go. Come on, Luna." He pulled on Luna's arm and she looked up at him, perplexed. She must have recognized his desperation, because she followed his hasty retreat without question.

"Good job, Hermione, now you've driven everyone away," Ron shot at her bitterly.

She couldn't take it anymore. It was all too much. Sirius. Harry. Ginny. Neville. Luna. Ron's scorn was the last little bit she could take. Hermione burst into tears. No preamble, just full gut wrenching sobs. Tears gushed down her face. Her whole body shook from the force of it. Heavens, she was pathetic.

"Bloody hell, Hermione!" Ron cried his voice panicked. "I didn't mean to... Why'd you have to go and…."

The poor boy, she knew he hadn't meant it. It really wasn't his fault, but she couldn't catch her breath to reassure him. Hermione was just as powerless in this as she was with everything else. She buried her eyes in her hands, at least blocking out the pained expression she had caused on his face.

The bed shifted, and she barely registered that he must be now sitting next to her. Hermione felt his hands awkwardly touch her shoulders. It felt better than she deserved. "Will you at least look at me?" he pleaded.

His tone pulled at her heart. Hermione wanted to give him what he wanted, but she had so little energy left in her. Slowly, she dragged her hands down. She could at least look at him, he did deserve that much. She needed to get under control, to face his annoyance and irritation and be done with it. Yet, when she looked into his eyes all she saw was tenderness and caring in their bright blue depths.

Hermione felt herself fall into him. Even the thought of Ron's poor raw, wounded chest and arms couldn't stop her. Why should it when the sharp pains cutting through her ribs with every sob, couldn't convince her body to stop? Tentative arms encircled her.

"I'm so sorry," Hermione managed to whimper into his chest, her arms curled up into a tight ball under her chin.

Ron made a sound that was half choked sob, half laugh. His breath ruffled her messy curls and his arms tightened around her back. They squeezed her and hurt her ribs and made her feel thankfully alive. She thought this was the best thing she had ever felt.

"Ron," she said, just to reiterate to herself that this was indeed Ron Weasley there with her. He was doing such a good job of it. It almost seemed too much like a fantasy to be real, stabbing pains or not.

"Shhh," he murmured, holding her confidently. Too confidently for Ron. He even began to rock her slightly and rubbed her back lightly.

Just when she thought Ron couldn't surprise her, he did. Hermione grabbed his shirt and allowed herself to give in completely. When did Ron get so mature, so strong?

Heavens, what was she going to do now?

When Harry first sat in his hidden spot by the lake, the sun was at its peak brightness. The wind was light, just enough to take the edge off the hot sunshine. The air smelled of grass and new growth. It was a perfect June day.

It wasn't until the steady din of happy voices started getting quieter that Harry noticed the sun was nearer to the horizon and the air had cooled. He realized that everyone must be going in to get ready for dinner.

Harry was glad for it. In his isolated corner by the lake and shrubs they couldn't see him, but he could hear them. Hear the glad cries and mindless happy chatter.

Why was everyone so bloody happy? Didn't they know that there was nothing in the world to be happy about? Didn't they understand that horrors beyond their imagination were just over the horizon and after that… There was no safety, there was no trust, and there was no one to turn to. Adults degraded you or betrayed you, lied to you or left you. Even if they wanted to protect you, they couldn't. Or maybe that was just him.

As the voices quieted, he felt even more alone. Harry didn't know if he could handle the solitude, but he didn't really deserve anything else. Maybe this was his destiny. To be on his own, so he could battle Voldemort and kill or be killed, so that everyone else could live their normal lives. Maybe the reason everyone around him died was because he wasn't supposed to have people… friends and, especially, family.

Maybe there was darkness in his soul. Maybe the universe had created a necessary evil, someone just evil enough to kill the monster. That would explain why Harry couldn't have a normal life. He didn't deserve it.

The sun was getting lower and it was getting cold. He got up to walk back to the castle, though he didn't recall making that decision or why it might be a good one. His muscles ached from sitting in one position for too long. He had no idea how long, really. On the walk through the lawn he realized his cheeks were wet. Harry wiped them with his sleeve.

Not that it mattered. He was beyond caring if someone saw him cry. Harry was surprised, however. He actually thought himself beyond crying.

Inside, he paused in front of the Great Hall, watching the students file in for dinner. The food was just about to appear, Harry knew. He was disgusted by all the smiling faces. He knew he couldn't go in there. The mere thought made him nauseated. He turned, intent on getting as far away from there as possible… but where should he go?


Shite. He froze, panic rising in him. Oh god, please just leave him alone. He didn't want to talk to anyone.

"Harry," the breathless voice called again, closer this time.

He fought the urge to run in the other direction as fast as he could. He wanted to run and run and run, until there was nowhere left to run to. Finally turning, he saw Ginny rushing toward him, looking disheveled and out of breath. He breathed a sigh of relief.

It could be much worse. At least Ginny knew what happened. She wouldn't ask him stupid questions. She wouldn't expect him to be happy. Regardless, Harry couldn't manage even a smile in greeting.

She ran up to him, doubling over to catch her breath. Where had she run from? After a moment she gasped, "You…going in to…eat."

He stared at her. Why was she asking? Was she going to try and make him eat? "I'm not hungry," he told her. His voice was oddly toneless to his ears.

Ginny looked him over. She had a hand to her chest as her breathing normalized, and a frown on her face. "Neither am I," she said matter-of-factly.

Harry nodded, for want of anything else to do. He didn't know what to say. He wondered what she wanted from him. Her gaze was too intense. He had to look to the floor. He put his hands in his pockets and shuffled a bit.

"Um…so, Harry," she began. Here it came. Whatever she wanted from him. He steeled himself for it. "Could you do me a favor?"

His panic rose, his eyes flying back to her face. No fair. She couldn't ask him to do a favor without telling him what it was. He didn't respond.

"I…uh…could you take a walk with me? Um, I really don't want to see anyone or talk to anybody. They're all so irritatingly cheerful, you know. I, uh," she bit her lip, and glanced away. "I figure if I was walking with you, no one would bother me."

Harry almost laughed. No, no one would dare approach her when she was with the sullen Harry Potter. He was dangerous. They all knew enough to stay away.

He considered her request. Was it really just as she said? It could be a trick, a way to corner him and force him to talk. Hermione could have sent Ginny to do her dirty work. It was just the sort of thing his best mate would do. Though, Ginny didn't seem to type to be easily manipulated.

"We don't have to talk," she blurted out, then blushed. Harry smiled a bit, nodding. Sometimes she so reminded him of her brother. Might as well. He couldn't think of anything else to do anyway. She sighed in relief and they headed back out onto the lawn.

True to her promise, they walked in silence. Harry didn't know what to think of that. It was nice, certainly. This wasn't necessarily a good thing. He was still left to his thoughts, but for some reason, with Ginny there, they never got too dark, which was good and bad. Part of him wanted to sink as low as he could possibly go. He was comforted by the dank blackness. At least then, he knew he was serving his punishment.

After a long while, Harry chanced a glance at Ginny, she seemed lost in thought as well. He wondered what she was thinking. She caught him looking at her and gave him a small smile. His stomach turned at having been caught. The edges of his lips twitched in some semblance of a smile, before he went to looking back straight ahead. The longer they walked, the more he wondered why Ginny was even there with him. It was peculiar really.

They were half way to Hogsmeade by then. What if they kept walking? Could they walk straight through the village? What was on the other side? Could they walk all the way to the ocean? Then what? How long would it take for anyone to notice they were gone?

"Harry, look," Ginny said softly. Even the quiet sound grated his ears, after the long silence. His brow furrowed as his eyes followed her pointing finger. Up past the trees lining the dirt road to Hogsmeade, Hagrid was talking to someone.

Instinctively, Harry walked toward the sight, needing to get a better look. Hagrid seemed to be standing in front of a woman… a witch in robes. They seemed to be arguing. The witch skirted around him and continued toward the castle, leaving Hagrid to amble after her.

Harry's heart rate accelerated, as he continued to move toward them. He noticed Ginny, hurrying to keep up. Abruptly, he paused. Harry reached out and grabbed Ginny's arm.

"What?" she hissed, it was barely a whisper.

"I'm doing it again," he said blankly. "Rushing into danger, playing the hero, getting people killed." He looked down at her. It was bad enough that he was moving blindly into danger. He was dragging Ginny along with him. Again.

Ginny looked at him in confusion. Her expression quickly turned to annoyance. Her eyes narrowed, and then rolled. "Fine! Then I'm rushing into danger, and you had better follow me or I might die, Mr. Hero." She pulled away and ran ahead of him.

Harry opened his mouth to scream after her, but stopped as he realized that would put them in even greater danger. "Shite," he muttered under his breath, before running to catch up.

In the fading light, it was easy for the two teenagers to make their way unnoticed to the road. Harry joined Ginny behind a particularly large tree trunk, just ahead of where Hagrid and the Witch were arguing.

The witch was walking toward them at a brisk pace. "I told you," she was saying. "I'm not telling anyone who I am or why I'm here, except the person I came to see." She sounded frustrated and tired, though she still managed to look poised for some reason. There was something strange about her speech.

Harry glanced down at Ginny, who was pressed tightly against the tree. She caught his gaze, mouthing, "American."

Oh. That was strange. Harry looked to the street again. They were getting closer, he could now see the woman had long black hair and annoyed expression.

Hagrid was trying to over take her, but though his legs were longer, his bulk prevented him from matching her speed. "Who do you want to speak to?" he asked anxiously. When she didn't answer he prompted, "Professor Dumbledore?"

"Not specifically, but I suppose it's inevitable." Her concentration seemed else where.

Hagrid was able to make it around her and cut her off again. She paused in front of him frowning. She crossed her arms and looked up at his intimidating height, saying, "Look, it's been a long walk from the village. I'd forgotten how long. Your stupid no Apparating nonsense…" she took a deep breath. "I really need to get to the damn castle."

Hagrid crossed his arms as well. "I'm not movin' till you tell me who it is yer here to see." His attempt at intimidation was dampened by his clear anxiety.

"Fine," the woman snapped. "I'm here to see Harry Potter."

All the breath left Harry's body and the world seemed to dim and sensations dampened. The feel of Ginny's nails biting into his arm brought him back to reality. He put a hand on her back, to comfort her…or to steady himself, he wasn't sure which. He forced himself to listen to the conversation.

"But…but," Hagrid was stuttering, clearly thrown. "You can't see Harry!" he blurted and Harry felt a rush of warmth at his loyalty.

The witch's eyes widened. "Oh, yeah? Why not?'

The large man sputtered some more. He was awful at thinking on his feet, even more so when he had to lie. "'Cause…'cause Harry's not 'ere."

The woman seemed to be hiding her amusement. "Really? That's interesting, given that he's behind that tree over there, watching us."