"A Shove Towards Insanity"
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A/N (Tayz): No, we're not dead. No, we're not in the hospital. No, we're not….er…hm. Well, I'd love to say we have a very satisfactory explanation that would please each and every one of you, but, sadly, we don't. In short, Nicole and I are just busy with our social lives :p. But, Hark! We have returned! This chapter better be good because it's been in our heads for quite a while, now. Alright, I'm just going to stop talking (nothing new has really gone on) and let you all read. REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW!
A/N (Nicole): She tried to post this while I was out, she was so anxious, but I made her take it back down so I could look at the final version and add my notes. I'm such a lovely person. Hope the alerts didn't crowd up your inboxes, and I hope you all like the chapter. We got them out of the house, and added some more necessary background. Next chapter promises to be exciting, and I hope it'll be out soon. And yes, our social lives have been busy. ;)
Chapter 3 – "The Weasley's Woes"
What happened before…
"Hermione," Ron started up again, looking at the floor, "I don't know what's going on. I'm not even sure if I believe this whole thing, but…Hermione, you're twenty-two years old, you and Malfoy have been married for three years, and Harry - Harry is dead."
There was a shocked silence that lasted for what seemed like an eternity, Hermione staring at Ron in numb disbelief.
"HAH!" exclaimed Malfoy gleefully.
The shocked silence that filled the room after Ron's statement was thicker than anything that had been said in the time before. In fact, the quiet was so absolute that one could've heard a pin drop onto the floor. Ron stared at Hermione, his look tired and worn as his eyes connected with hers. Hermione, however, was numb. It was as if her brain was instantly rejecting the poisonous words from her mind; leaving Hermione in a state of stunned disbelief.
"What?" Hermione asked, in a surprisingly calm and polite voice, as if she was merely asking Ron to repeat something she had not understood. Her eyes stayed level with Ron's.
"Yeah," said Ron, "Yeah…"
"Oy, wait a second," Malfoy interjected, a broad smile across his face, "Okay, so you're saying Potter is dead, yes?"
Ron glared at him, making Hermione jump internally at the sudden break of eye contact. She too looked at Malfoy, but didn't really register him in her mind. Hermione sat on the corner of a nearby couch, blinking hard to fight back the tears that were resting threateningly in the corners of her eyes.
"Yes, Malfoy, that's what I said," Ron said through gritted teeth.
"Hah!" Malfoy said again, his smile wider and more arrogant than ever before. "This is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Weasley, I thank you. If what you say is true - and believe me, I'm rooting for it - then this bleeding day has completely turned itself around."
"Oh fuck you, you slimy little –"Ron stood and pulled out his wand, jabbing it fiercely in the direction of Malfoy, who laughed in retaliation.
"Ron!" Hermione said in a hard voice. Ron's sudden movements had snapped her out of her daze again. She stood as well; grabbing Ron's arm and jerking it back down.
"No, let go of me, Hermione!" Ron tore his arm from Hermione's grip and advanced towards Malfoy's corner, his wand less than an inch away from the pale man's face.
Malfoy had stopped laughing at this point and was looking down at the wand, his previously narrowed grey eyes now widened in fear. Ron's face was flushed, and Hermione was sure she could see a vein pulsing in his neck, reminding her of his earlier explosion. She cautiously placed her hand on Ron's shoulder, but he instantly shrugged it off. "Don't," he whispered to her. She tensed and backed off immediately.
"I swear to God, Malfoy," Ron continued to advance on Malfoy, who in turn was backing slowly away, his eyes still focused on the wand in Ron's hand. "Shut your bloody mouth or I'll put the Cruciatus curse on you without any hesitation!"
Draco sneered and raised an eyebrow. "Ooh, sinking to the level of the Death Eaters, Weasley? I'd thought you higher than that. Come now, what would your precious, dead Potter think about that kind of behavior?"
Ron made a furious move towards the blond, but Hermione got there first.
Draco's head jerked to one side, and he shrieked in surprise and pain, his fingers trailing over the large, hand-shaped red mark that already shone brilliantly on his cheek.
"You," whispered Hermione in a dangerous voice, "you arrogant, worthless, h-horrible…" Her voice began to break and the tears that she had been fighting back began to spill over for what seemed like the thousandth time that morning. She lowered the hand she had used to slap Malfoy, and instead buried her face into it, turning to Ron and sniffling. "Ron, please…"
Ron lowered his still upright arm, and his face fell soft. He took Hermione in a comforting hug before wrapping his arm around her shoulder and sitting her down onto the couch again. Hermione sat without protest, her tears falling freely now, but her face still buried in her arms. Draco stood where he was, backed into the opposite corner, looking on at the scene before him with a smirk. Ron had picked the photo album back up, and was flipping carelessly through the pages. His eyes were focused and he would stop at every other page and check the corners of the binding, as if he were looking for something specific that would be hidden under the folds.
"Oh, wait," Ron said quietly to himself. He grabbed a stack of pages and flipped them so he could reach the very end of the album. "There we go. Hermione, come look."
Hermione raised her head slowly from her arms, revealing her face, which was red and tear-stained. "What is it?" she asked, without really looking at what Ron was trying to show her. Ron pointed to a collection of what looked like old, folded up newspapers, crinkled and smashed under the bulk of the book.
"What is it?" Hermione asked again.
Ron pulled out the hunk paper and began to unfold the lot of them. Hermione, peering closely at them, realized she was right in thinking them to be from a newspaper. In big, green, glittering letters at the very top of the page, it read The Daily Prophet- a title Hermione had come to know and even detest at times - shone in bold, green, glittering letters atop of page. Hermione's eyes darted to the date, which read 13 July, 1998.
"Five years ago," said Ron, watching Hermione, "This paper is from exactly five years ago – today. Today's the anniversary, Hermione."
Hermione looked up, puzzled. "The anniversary of what?" she inquired, her brow furrowed.
"Just read," was all Ron said.
Malfoy's curiosity seemed to get the better of him, and he cautiously walked forward to hover above Hermione's shoulder so he could see what all the fuss was about. Hermione barely noticed Malfoy practically breathing down her neck, as all her attention was focused on the headlines of the Prophet.
However, Hermione's eyes barely had to move a fraction before she spotted what she knew was the right article. The biggest, boldest, blackest headliner of the page lay center, directly underneath it a moving black and white picture of a great group of witches and wizards. They looked happy – no, elated, they looked positively elated. Every face in the group was beaming as they clunked their giant mugs of mead together, singing and dancing, or else smiling heartedly through the picture.
GOOD FINALLY TRIUMPS OVER EVIL: HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED AT LAST DEFEATED!
Early this morning – writes Rita Skeeter, special correspondent – victory for the good arose. At last, after 30+ years of terror, fear and destruction, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was defeated once and for all. With all the thanks to the famous Boy Who Lived - our Harry Potter, who is merely out of his final year at Hogwarts - the Wizarding world can finally rest and rejoice. On 12 July, 1998, the surprise battle declared itself outside none other than Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry around 7:00pm. The Aurors were quick to the scene, where they joined Harry Potter and his group of defensemen, including the werewolf Remus Lupin and ex-Auror Mad-Eye Moody, to fight against the mass of Death Eaters opposite them. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and Harry Potter must have had their own private battle elsewhere, as on-lookers have informed The Daily Prophet that they were no where to be seen.
"At the end of the battle," says Colin Creevey, soon to be seventh year student at Hogwarts and close friend of Harry's, "Harry came out onto the Hogwart's grounds, where some of the scuffle had brought itself to. He was a mess, really; all bloody and gashed up. Anyway, he came out and everyone just kind of…stopped. Then he told us that You-Know-Who was dead. He didn't even look happy…just a bit confused, or relieved, or something – I couldn't tell. After he told us, he walked back into the castle with Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Draco Malfoy. They all looked as beaten up as he did. But the death eaters that still remained, and there weren't too many, they fled. Just ran off while everyone's attention was on Harry." The final battle ended at approximately 3:58am on Friday, 13 July, 1998. The Death Eaters that escaped are unknown, but remaining Aurors are currently on the search following tips from some who took part in the quarrel. Of course, Harry Potter will receive an Order of Merlin, First Class for his incredible achievement, and his award ceremony will take place on 31 July, which also happens to be our young wizard's birthday.
However, with war there are casualties, and this, unfortunately, is no exception. Many of our loved and respected have lost their lives fighting for their cause. For this, we honor them. To pay our respects, we have listed the ones whom have been reported passed below:
Abotely, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson and Blaire
Abund, Mr. And Mrs. Gregory and Atianna
Ackeltry, Mr. and Mrs. Gideon and Francesca
Malfoy, Narcissa Black
Hermione stopped here, clamping her eyes shut. It was over-whelming, seeing so many of her friend's and acquaintance's names all listed there in black and white print. They made it seem as if they were…casualties. They were just losses that were to be expected to live up to the phrase "…casualties in war".
It wasn't as if she was not thrilled to learn Harry had defeated Voldemort but-- hang on, she thought suddenly. Ron said Harry had died - this article said he'd lived. What was going on?
Slowly, she cracked her eyes open once more and swivelled to look at her friend. She opened her mouth, preparing to start asking questions, but Ron, without so much as a glance in her direction, just shoved another article under her nose and turned away to study a quite plain piece of flooring, deliberately avoiding her gaze. Arching an eyebrow curiously, she titled her head back down and was assaulted by another glaring newspaper heading; this one more garish and large then the other one, if possible.
TRAGEDY STRIKES: HARRY POTTER ASSASSINATED AT ORDER OF MERLIN CEREMONY
Tragedy has come upon the wizarding community on 31 July, 1998 – writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent. Our war hero and 18 year-old legend, Harry Potter, was assassinated today whilst receiving his Order of Merlin, First Class for the defeat of You-Know-Who merely 19 days previous. Yours truly was just lucky enough to witness the scene. Harry Potter had just ascended onto the stage – a sheepish, almost nervous expression on his face - before the entire Wizarding Community to accept his Order from Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic. Then, suddenly, a young man seated in the far corner, reserved for Order of Merlin Third Class receivers, pulled out his wand and uttered "Avada Kedavra", the fatal and un-preventive killing curse. The crowd went wild as the blinding flash of green light veered toward Harry, who turned in surprise, thus allowing the light to hit him square in the chest.
The 18 year old (31 July, incidentally, happened to be Mr. Potter's birthday) slowly fell to the ground, his face frozen in a look of shock. Ministry officials went immediately after the boy who had cast the deadly spell, and in no time had him gagged and bound with a series of their own inventive spells. Multitudes of wizards and witches were gathered around the stage. Remus Lupin, ex-teacher at Hogwarts, emerged shortly afterwards, carrying the lifeless form of Harry. Surrounded by Ronald Weasley, who was tear-stained and at Lupin's side, Hermione Granger, who was sobbing hysterically and clutching at Harry's hand, and Draco Malfoy, sullen faced, his arm around the girl, Lupin made his way out of the courthouse, leaving the screams and cries of anguish behind. The offender was soon identified as Colin Creevey: 17 years old, freshly into his last year of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and former classmate of Harry Potter. Creevey was placed into Azkaban Prison immediately, but was later found dead in his cell. Healers confirmed that Creevey's death was, in fact, suicide. Curiosity arose in Creevey's favour, as Creevey was a Gryffindor and a close friend of Potter's. Never was Creevey accused of being in league with the Death Eaters, whose act this clearly was. Possibilites of enchantment or befuddlement, such as the Imperius Curse, are currently being considered. No matter was officials concur as to the reason why Harry was killed, the fact remains that on this day, we have lost one of the greatest wizards of our time – a mere, yet extraordinary 18 year old who saved his and our world. Harry James Potter, our hero in so many ways, is no longer The-Boy-Who-Lived.
Hermione dropped the article to the floor, eyes misting over again as she stared unseeingly at the wall. This could not be happening. Her mind screamed insistently, a dull roar filling her ears. She had landed in some alternate reality where nothing made sense: where Draco Malfoy was her husband, she lived in a beautiful mansion, and innocent, friendly if a bit excitable school boys killed her best friends. This wasn't happening!
And yet it was. Happening just like the tears falling onto her hands were wet and the lurch of her belly nauseating. Colin Creevey had killed Harry Potter, her best friend, and she had supposedly watched it happen; stood on a stage, in front of the Wizarding World, cheering and laughing with his murder seconds before the event. How could she not have stopped it? Surely she should have seen it coming?
Harry, poor, loved-starved Harry who had only ever done what was best for others, no matter the cost to himself, was gone.
Suddenly, she wanted to know more. What had happened to Colin's ruling? Had Death Eater's really played a part? What had happened afterwards for Merlin's sake?
She whipped her head up and turned to Ron, desperate for information, explanations, anything. His eyes were gleaming, but not fastened on her as she'd thought they'd be. Instead, Ron was staring behind her, up towards where Malfoy still hovered. Concerned, puzzled, and half-crazed for answers, she shook his arm, trying to get his attention. "Ron? What happened--"
Before Hermione could finish her question, a pale hand flew down over her head and snatched the first page, proclaiming Voldemort's defeat, from where it still lay in her lap. Sets of chocolate and blue eyes met Malfoy's grey ones before he was furiously scanning the article again; his grip so tight that Hermione was afraid the thin paper would tear. Ron seemed to have forgotten their earlier fight, and was steadily eyeing the other boy with what looked like compassion, ignoring Hermione and the fierce grip she still had on his arm. Something was not right, and Malfoy wouldn't -- couldn't-- have reacted like this out of concern for Harry, so what…
It was then that Hermione understood.
The list of casualties was what the increasingly pale boy was reading, his fingers creasing the page beyond repair and eyes burning twin holes through it. He hadn't even read the article about Harry, because in that first article, about halfway down the page, were three words Draco Malfoy would see burned in the blackness of his mind for the rest of his life.
Malfoy, Narcissa Black.
Hermione stared at Malfoy's starch-white face for a second, trying to figure out what he was going to do next. He would possibly break down, sob hysterically before her and Ron's feet, or else lash out in anger and kill them both. Hermione unconsciously scooted back on the cushion, mentally preparing herself for an attack. Malfoy, however, did neither of the things Hermione had predicted. Instead, he merely continued to stare at the newsprint as though it were something ugly and slimy, something he detested with all his Malfoy-ness. Hermione averted her eyes from him, unsure of what to do. She looked back at Ron, who was still staring at Malfoy with that look of understanding, his eyes softer than before.
"Ron…" Hermione whispered so that she was barely audible.
Ron's looked back at her, his tongue between his teeth. They stared at one another for a second before Ron tentatively pushed himself up from the couch. He stood there, hovering awkwardly for a moment, and then walked over to Malfoy's side. Ron's hand twitched at his side.
"Hey, Malfoy…" Ron started in an unsure tone, but before he could say anything more Malfoy's cold eyes darted to Ron's.
"Balderdash, Weasley," he said in an undertone. "It's fucking balderdash."
Ron shook his head slowly, his tongue still between his teeth. "No," he said in a tone to match Malfoy's, "No, it's not. I'm sorry, Malfoy. I really am."
Ron's made like he was going to give Malfoy a comforting pat on the back, but Malfoy jerked away with such ferocity that he almost toppled over, but caught himself on one of the pillars.
"Don't touch me, Weasel!" he snarled, shooting daggers at Ron with his eyes. "Never, ever touch me! It's not true! It's not, and you know it! This paper is a fake – no one is dead. The war has hardly even started yet! Like hell it's already over!"
"Malfoy, this isn't five years ago! It's now, you prat!" said Ron, shouting unnecessarily.
Hermione sat there, watching the two with a mixture of fascination and horror. Tears were still flowing steadily down her cheeks as she grasped at the article with her fingertips.
"No! Shut up, Weasley! The Dark Lord is alive, we haven't lost! This is just some stupid magic!" Malfoy put his hands over his ears and clamped his eyelids shut, screwing up his face in a very uncharacteristic, undignified fashion.
"You didn't support that side, Malfoy! You fought with us! You fought on the good side!" Ron shouted right back, his voice equally loud.
"See, that's why I know you're lying!" said Malfoy, his eyes opening as he started towards Ron. "I know this is all shit because I would never come over to your side! I would never fight with you!"
"Well, you did!" said Ron, laughing almost maniacally, "So sorry, Ferret, but you did. You fought with Harry Potter and his band of followers! DEAL WITH IT!"
Hermione had risen a little in her seat, prepared to jump if the fight turned from verbal to physical. She had never seen Malfoy this passionate about something. Ron's words had led her brain to thinking, though. It was true about Malfoy. Both articles mentioned Malfoy being with Harry, Ron, and her. Besides, she wouldn't have married him if he hadn't crossed sides, right?
"MY MOTHER ISN'T DEAD! SHE'S NOT DEAD!"
Malfoy's veins looked as if they were about to pop right out of his neck. His face, so white and cold before, was now beet-red as he raised his voice to its highest and strongest level. His eyes were popping, his fists were clenched, and with the look he was giving Ron, Hermione was bewildered as to how Ron was still standing his ground.
Ron did, however. Ron stood, his face purple with rage, his fists also clenched. He deflated a bit, however, with Malfoy's last statement. He let out a large breath, flexing his fingers.
"Yes," he said, "she is. I'm sorry, but –"
"STOP!" said Malfoy, once again covering his ears, but not closing his eyes this time. "Fuck you, Weasley, she's still alive. I know she's still alive because I just talked to her yesterday! I was with my mother yesterday and she was fine! Just because I woke up in this fucking house and you're here feeding me some bullshit doesn't mean I have to believe you! Believe me, you scum, I don't. You're not going to deceive me, whoever you are. My mother is fine. The war hasn't happened, The Dark Lord is still going, your precious Potter isn't dead and my mother…my mother is fine."
Malfoy was breathing heavily through his nose, and Hermione could practically feel the rapid beating of his heart. Ron didn't move an inch. He stayed where he was, his expression hard as he stared into Malfoy's glinting eyes. Silence had once again found its way into their midst, but this time it was tense and un-predictable. A few seconds passed before Ron made his moved.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he once again shook his head.
"I'm sorry," he said cautiously yet in a very clear, pronounced voice, "Malfoy, I don't know what else to say. If you don't believe me, check around - ask anyone. Everyone you ask will know. You won't find a single person out there who will not be able to tell you the story of His defeat off the top of their heads, every detail intact. There's nothing more I can say or do to convince you that everything the article said was true, as is everything I've told you."
Malfoy took his turn to stare. He pursed his lips and, with what seemed like a great effort, sneered.
"Fine, Weasley, whatever you say," he snarled, though you could tell his heart wasn't completely in it. Malfoy turned out of the hall and strode down it toward the front door. He went to open it.
The barrier, obviously still in its full form, blocked Malfoy's attempt.
"Fuck!" he shouted, turning his head to glare back at Ron. "Undo it!"
Ron simply looked at him, saying nothing. Hermione stood up and walked next to Ron, casting her gaze anywhere but at Malfoy. Malfoy looked between the two of this, his expression furious.
"Fine," he said. He looked at the door and shouted at it, "Fine! I'll come back! I'll fucking come back!"
His word and intentions must have been true because, the second attempt Malfoy made worked. His hand turned the door handle and it swung open, just like an ordinary door would. A flood of sunlight and warm air spilled into the foyer, making Malfoy's hair shine almost as white as his skin. He wasted no time in bursting through the doorway, not saying a word to either Hermione or Ron. The heavy door swung shut with a loud thud behind him, making the windows shake slightly, and cutting off the warm light that signalled outside life.
Hermione and Ron stood in silence for a minute, peering at the spot where Malfoy had disappeared. Ron turned to Hermione and hugged her. Hermione didn't hesitate to hug him back tightly, her eyes screwed shut, another tear making its way down her face.
"Will you be ok?" Ron asked, breaking the hug and looking hard at Hermione.
Hermione nodded, then shook her head, and then shrugged. "I don't know," she said, sniffling. "I just c-can't believe it, Ron. Harry?"
Ron nodded, "I know."
Hermione sniffed and wiped her eyes forcefully, breathing in a shaky breath. "Where did you bury him?" she asked with surprising ease.
Ron blinked, his freckled nose twitching. "Godric's Hollow," he said finally, "Right in their front yard. We built a huge memorial and everything. It's a national holiday, now. Every July 31st, all witches and wizards bring lilies and place them around his memorial. It's this big, big ceremony; it's really nice."
Hermione choked back a sob and smiled a watery smile, "That's amazing," she said.
"I know," said Ron, smiling softly, too.
"Did they ever find out why Colin did it, though?" Hermione asked.
"We decided he was under Imperious. It was just too unlike him to do something like that – he couldn't have done it with free will." Ron shrugged.
Hermione nodded. "So…" she said slowly, "What do I do?"
Ron looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Well," said Hermione, "I'm five years in my future, I don't remember anything that has happened in those years and…and I'm married to Malfoy."
Ron sighed. "Yes, you are."
"Ron, why? Why did I marry Malfoy?"
"He changed sides, Hermione," he said. "He changed sides right after that time at Snape's. It was really sudden. We all thought he had been hit with something. We thought you had too, actually, because you were vouching for him. But we figured that he was an important part of You-Know-Who's plan, so we decided that we might as well take him with us while he was unknowing and use him for information later."
Ron looked extremely tired, but he continued, "But we checked him out and after a while we had to believe he wasn't under any spell because there weren't any signs whatsoever to lead to that conclusion. Plus, the fact that he never changed sides again kind of helped, too."
"Oh…" Hermione whispered. She still had a million questions racing through her head, but she fought the urge to ask. Instead, she smiled a little, trying to relax. She didn't want to mention the fact that, although Malfoy might have had a miraculous change back then, it was highly doubtful that he would now. This made her uneasy, as she apparently had to live with Malfoy for the rest of…well…for the rest of her life as far as she was concerned.
Hermione furrowed her brow, thinking: Ron accepts Malfoy, is even on good terms with him. Well, the old or…the new Malfoy….or….the new Malfoy for her but the old Malfoy for Ron…or…..oh, shut up, brain.
"Why don't you just come with me today, ok?" suggested Ron, smiling at her. "Let you think things out and clear your head."
Hermione smiled back, "That would be wonderful." Walking forward, she waited for him to join her by the parlour door. "Is there anywhere special you have to be, or are we free to roam?"
The Weasley boy's face reddened considerably, and he reached up to rub the back of his neck in the typical 'I-really-don't-want-to-tell-you-but-here-it-is' fashion typical of all males. "Well, I did promise Mum I'd stop by the Burrow for dinner. You don't mind going, do you?"
The Burrow, Hermione thought joyfully, was exactly what she needed. "That's wonderful Ron! You know I love the Burrow, and it'll be great to see your parents again! Is Molly a grandmother yet? Ooh, I just bet there are oodles of little kids in the family now. Do they call you Uncle Ron?"
Something about her questions and enthusiasm must have thrown her friend off, because suddenly, his face seemed to close in on itself and she was left standing next to what could be called a freckled brick wall. Prompted by her searching look, he relented and said, "They'll be glad to see you again. You don't much have time to stop in for tea these days."
They exited the sitting room, coming back out into the spacious entrance hall from earlier, and Ron led her over to the main door. "Got your wand?" At her nod, he stepped through the doors and made to keep walking. Startled, Hermione waved a hand cautiously where the barrier had been and then superstitiously stepped through the archway. Thankfully, Ron hadn't seemed to notice her hesitation. Catching up with him, she wondered aloud, "Is that barrier the safest thing, Ron? I mean, I certainly see the appeal of it, and I'm touched by your concern, but it really is rather unorthodox."
Turning his head a fraction of an inch towards her, he continued to walk whilst speaking. "I've told you, Hermione, I don't want the bloody ferret running out on you; especially not now! I don't see what the problem is. I thought it was a bloody good idea on my part."
Sighing, she tried to refrain from jogging to keep up with him. "Yes, but what if there was a fire; what if Draco or I were to turn abusive and try to hurt the other? Surely we'd need to get out of the house, but the barrier sounds like it wouldn't let us through, the way it's set up. I'm not saying it wasn't a good idea but-" He grabbed onto her arm as they reached a tall evergreen on the grounds, not fifty paces from the house, and Hermione was suddenly engulfed with the sickening feel of Side-Along Apparition. With a pop, they were standing in the centre of a lane leading to the ramshackle Burrow. "-wouldn't it make more sense to adjust it? Or even take it down completely?"
"Can we talk about this later, Hermione? There are some things I think I should tell you before we head in." The shuttered look was threatening to overtake his face again, and Hermione felt a sense of dread wash over her. Even Trelawney could've seen something was dreadfully wrong.
Taking her elbow, Ron led her over behind the rusted shed where Arthur kept his collection of Muggle gadgets. The sun and shadows mixed to create an odd display of color on his freckled face, and she imagined she looked quite the same. "Okay, Ron, what's so important that we're hiding behind a shed?" He didn't laugh, and this worried her more.
"You…you never finished reading the casualty list, did you?" He seemed nervous, sad, and maybe that was anger she saw simmering beneath his blue eyes. What was he talking about? She'd read the "casualty list" from the Prophet, and had been horrified by it; he'd been there! Apparently, he'd picked up on her confusion. "You never read the whole thing, right?"
"N-no. I stopped at the M's, just after Draco's mother. What does that-" Understanding shot through her brain, sending tingles down her spine and raising the hair on her arms in the cool shadows. "…oh lord, Ron, no. Please say you're not telling me what I think you're about to tell me."
Indignation and fear practically poured off him in waves. "Hermione, I can't let you walk in that house without knowing!"
"I don't want to know which of your family members were on that list, Ron!"
Her yell seemed to echo through the neighboring trees and up the lane, and she hoped it didn't reach the house. A few birds sitting on the roof of the shed took flight, cawing at her in distress. Ron's eyes were fixed on her, two blue pools half covered in the dark, and she just couldn't bear it; to think that this happy family, the Weasley's for Merlin's sake, were no longer complete. But she could see the look in the redhead's eyes, and she knew he was about to tell her exactly what she didn't want to hear.
"Hermione, calm down and listen. You don't think it's tearing me up to say this? They're my siblings, my family, but I have to tell you before you go in there and see -talk to- my parents! They're not the same as you remember them, Hermione, and you need to understand why." His eyes were what made her agree to listen to him, she'd tell people later on, like they always did. She nodded, and he took a breath before continuing.
"Charlie was taken down by Malfoy Senior, right at the very end, while his back was turned at the final battle. Percy was caught trying to defend the Minister's office when the Death Eaters managed to infiltrate the Ministry, and nothing's turned up of him since," His voice was scratchy as he talked of his slightly snobbish brother, and she gathered that the family had reconciled before the disappearance. Ron's eyes blinked repeatedly as he stumbled over his next words. "And…and I guess you could say we lost Fred to the Dementors, that summer after our sixth year, when they were still breeding all over London. He's in St. Mungo's now, in the new ward they built after the war, and we go visit him every Sunday. George hasn't been the same since, doesn't joke anymore; he handed over Weasley's Wizarding Wheeze's to Lee Jordan, but it got closed down when Lee couldn't keep up his taxes."
Boldly reaching out, Hermione encircled her friend in a protecting, motherly hug. "Oh, Ron, I- I'm so sorry. I can't believe -I mean- oh Ron!"
Letting her hold him for a few more moments, he kept any tears at bay, before straightening and tugging her towards the house. "C'mon, we'd best go in. Mum and Dad will be pleased to see you, but Hermione, you have to understand that things have changed. They've lost three of their children, and Harry was practically part of the family. That kind of loss affects people in strange ways."
Suddenly, Hermione wasn't quite so keen to go inside. She nodded to show she appreciated the warning, and then started the short trek up to the slumping house, recalling all the good memories that surrounded it and hoping she didn't end up crying by the end of the visit. She'd certainly done enough of that in the past few hours.
Even though the walk from the shed to the Burrow was short, to Hermione it felt as if they'd Apparated to the front door, they were there so quickly. Ron knocked softly on the door, as if it were a funeral parlour, and they waited patiently until they heard fumbling with locks on the other side. The door, still painted the same shade of light blue, creaked as it was inched forward and a pale face peered through the crack at them. Molly Weasley's face disappeared for a moment, and then the door was swung open completely, sunlight illuminating the entrance hall and the matron fully.
She was thinner, certainly, and a little gaunt in the face. Tired and stressed wrinkles framed her mouth and eyes, which to Hermione's memory had always been at least three shades lighter than they currently were. Her hair was starting to streak with white, and her apron was riddled with holes and dirt, as if it hadn't been washed or mended in eons. The previously quick-tempered, stable and loving mother looked as if the wind would knock her over, and she wouldn't even try to get back up. At the sight of the pair, though, her mouth lifted in a ghost of her old smile. "Ron, you didn't tell me you'd be bringing Hermione. What a lovely surprise. Come in, come in; Arthur and I were just about to set the table."
Wondering why the witch hadn't hugged her, as she had on any other occasion they'd met, Hermione followed Ron and Molly into the house silently. She was led into the sitting room, where Arthur Weasley was sitting before the fire, alternately flicking through an old copy of the Prophet and staring into the fire. He was balder now, still lanky like Ron, but obviously less muscular than his son. His usually cheerful disposition was one of the things Hermione loved most about the Burrow, and it was strange to not see him bound up from his chair and chatter to her boisterously to like he usually did. He stood from his armchair, nodded at Ron, grinned faintly at her, and then disappeared into the kitchen.
Taking a look about the room, Hermione noted with grim eyes that it was somewhat messy, scattered newspapers and the odd pile of mail; shoes flipped off wherever they landed, regardless of muddy bottoms. The pot of Floo powder sitting on the mantel, which was devoid of any pictures, was in danger of falling over, and a collection of Witches' Weekly teetered in the opposite corner. The Molly Weasley Hermione had known would have called it a pig sty.
Mrs. Weasley shuffled off after her husband, muttering about burning the roast, and delegated the task of setting the table to her son. Ron watched Hermione like hawk, taking in her surveillance of the room quietly, but nodded to his mother and gestured for Hermione to follow him into the kitchen as well. Once he was sure his parents were engaged in the age old argument over Garden Gnomes, he whispered quickly to her while setting out forks. "Don't be surprised when she lays out plates for the others. She's been doing that since we lost Fred, and refuses to stop when questioned about it. I say just let her get the comfort out of it that she needs, so long as she doesn't do anything more harmful."
Hermione choked inwardly, overwhelmed with sympathy for the other witch, but something niggled at her mind. "She sets spots for everyone? Even when only you and Ginny were living here when, well, when the deaths happened?"
"Everyone came home when Fred got the Kiss. We thought we should be here for them, you know? And Fred and George had stopped in for dinner, the night he was attacked, so she just insists that he'd like to have a place set as well."
Not knowing what to say, she just nodded. Helping levitate a few extra napkins over from the container on the counter, she pulled out Arthur's chair for him when he came over. Absently, the older man patted her cheek, sitting down before looking up wistfully to stare at the clock hanging against the near wall.
The Weasley clock had always been a fascination of Hermione's, but when she saw that three of the hands were set to 'Unknown' and covered in four inches of dust, she quickly glanced away. Moving jerkily, she picked the seat between Arthur and Ron, and was lowering herself into it when a sharp voice from the man halted her action. "Don't sit there. That's Charlie's spot," Arthur snapped, startling Molly, who was distributing large helpings of salad into the multiple bowls around them, into upsetting a glass. Twin blue eyes blazing at her in anger, and Hermione's face froze, back snapping upwards into a standing position, and Ron subtly pointed at the spot three down on the other side of the large table.
Taking the hint, she marched over to it, careful to watch Arthur's expression as she sunk into it. His eyes softened, and he smiled at her as if nothing had happened, but the strain about his eyes seemed to give him away. Molly sat, and started demurely chewing her salad, looking around the empty spots at the table with misty eyes.
"So, Hermione, how're things at work?" Arthur was smiling at her again, eyes occasionally flicking up to the clock, and Hermione's heartbeat skipped in panic, forcing her to look at Ron for help. Ron, however, was busy making little mountains out of his mashed potatoes, thus missing Hermione's signal. Panicking slightly, Hermione's mind struggled to come up with a general answer in which to give Arthur, seeing as she hadn't the faintest clue of what exactly her work was.
"Er…well, it's, uh –", she stumbled, clutching hard at her fork, "It's going well, I guess." Then, spotting the expectant look for detail on Arthur's face she continued hastily, "Busy – very busy."
Arthur continued to smile a smile that, Hermione noticed, came no where near reaching his eyes.
"Yes, naturally," he said, that ghost of a smile still lingering, "Being a Healer is very demanding. Unexpected hours, and –"
"What?" Hermione interrupted Arthur, her heart having jumped in surprise. Ron looked up from his plate, staring hard between his father and Hermione.
Arthur looked taken back, but went on, "Oh, I was just saying how difficult of a job it is for a Healer, and with all the –"
He continued to talk, but Hermione wasn't listening. She looked down at her untouched plate, grinning to herself. A Healer, she thought, is one of the positions she had always respected. It was a field that fulfilled her passion for logic and sensibility, yet at the same time complementing her motherly nature. This was indeed the bit of good news that she had desperately needed. Looking up, she beamed across the table at Ron, who gave a small grin back at her, recognizing Hermione's satisfaction.
"Yes?" Hermione answered quickly, shaken out of her daze. She focused in on the table, and noticed Molly looking at her with a polite expression.
"I was asking how Draco is, dear," she said, her kind eyes lined with worry wrinkles.
"Oh! Oh, um, he's…great!" Hermione forced a little laugh, barely noticing that she was still clutching at her fork. Her knuckles were whiter than ever.
"That's nice," Molly replied with a closed-lip smile. "That's very nice, indeed. Too bad he couldn't join us, of course. Occupied with work, I suppose?"
Hermione glanced at Ron, who gave a small nod. "Yes," she said awkwardly.
Conversation went south after Malfoy's mention. The whole table sat in silence, occasionally omitting a cough or a simple "Will you please pass the margarine?" Other than this, however, it was probably the most uncomfortable situation Hermione had ever been a part of. She was sure that the happiest man alive would instantly become foreboding and sullen the moment he walked through the Weasley's front door. The atmosphere was so thick that you could feel the regret and sorrow that hung upon it. So when Hermione had finished her meal and Ron had finally stood up, she was more than relieved to be leaving.
"It was great, Mum," Ron said, kissing his mother on the top of the head. Molly patted the back of Ron's neck in response, the first genuine smile crossing her lips. "Thanks a lot. I'll be back soon, I promise." He looked up at Hermione. "Ready?"
"Yes," Hermione said, trying not to sound too eager. "Yes, I'm ready."
"Do try and come back soon, Hermione," said Arthur, "It's always nice to see a familiar face."
"I will," she replied, smiling warmly down at the balding man with compassion. "I'll be back much more often, I assure you."
"Wonderful," Arthur said, returning Hermione's affectionate air. "That would be wonderful."
Hermione turned and walked toward the door that Ron was holding open for her. She was about to pass through it when she heard the scraping of a chair and hurried footsteps. Before she knew what was happening, Molly had encircled herself and Ron into a very tight embrace.
"Do take care of yourselves, won't you?" she said into their shoulders, her voice breaking, "Be careful; always be careful. I love you both very, very much." Molly released them, revealing her tear-stained face. She quickly gave both of them a kiss on the cheek before returning to her seat at the dinner table. Hermione, unsure of what to do, merely glanced at the table before stepping into the garden outside.
Behind her, she heard Ron mutter, "We will, Mum. Don't worry." The door shut, and Ron soon joined Hermione at her side. Hermione didn't hesitate to give Ron a hug that could have rivaled his Mum's.
"I'm so sorry, Ron," she said softly, pulling back and giving him a small kiss.
Ron didn't say anything. He grabbed hold of Hermione's arm as he had done so hours ago and, without warning; Hermione was thrust forward into nothingness. Half a second later, and with a faint pop, Hermione and Ron appeared just outside a house that Hermione soon came to recognize as her own. She peered up at it, a look of disdain upon her face.
"Already?" she asked Ron desperately. Really, being shut inside an enormous manor that, in the past, hadn't put on the best front in Hermione's mind was the last thing on her list of appeals. Especially, she thought, with Malfoy.
"Yeah, well," said Ron, shifting his feet uncomfortably, "There is a curfew on this barrier thing. Can't be out more than twenty-four hours or it'll just poof you right back in, you know?"
"Ron, it's only seven. I have plenty of time," Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, I know, but I think it'd be best if you just settled down here for a while. Not much else we can do, after all. Plus, you need to get used to your surroundings if you're ever going to get comfortable again." Ron gazed at Hermione with a sympathetic expression, seeing her look of hurt, "You'll be fine, I promise. I – I'll come over tomorrow, ok? Check up on you. Is that alright?"
Hermione huffed, frowning. "Sure," she said regretfully, "Yes, that's fine."
"Thanks," said Ron, giving her a brief hug. "Just go on in and, uh, I guess you can call me on that thing if you need to. The, uh, the telephone...thing.."
Hermione laughed, "Ok. Thanks, Ron - for everything."
Ron waved his hand and, with a swift turn, he was gone with a crack. Hermione sighed, still staring at the spot Ron had disappeared. She crossed her arms, protecting herself against the slight chill before turning and cautiously opening the doors of the Manor. Everything appeared the same as it was when she had left it. She hardly noticed the lack of light before, almost instantly, each room was illuminated with a satisfactory glow.
"Malfoy?" Hermione called out uncertainly, looking to her left and right. Seeing no sign of any other life besides her own, she tried again, "Malfoy? Hello?"
Slightly relieved, Hermione started to climb the dizzying array of spiral stairs that led back up the room in which she and Malfoy had woken up in, mere hours ago. She barely noticed the surrounding doors on each floor that she had been so intrigued by earlier and, when she reached the highest level, she had to steady herself on the landing's intricate rose and snake rail. Hermione shook her head, trying to rid herself of the light-headedness caused by those damned stairs. Once she had regained composure, and once the room had stopped spinning, Hermione took a moment to drink in her surroundings.
Even if she had to share this place with someone as detestable as Draco Malfoy, the incredible beauty of the Manor was almost enough to make the whole thing worth while. Taking a second, Hermione contemplated this theory.
"Nah," she said to her herself, crossing to the door that had the large emblem engraved in its wood, which she recognized to be the door to the bedroom. Opening the door, she stepped into the magnificent room, making her way directly to the bed. Her stomach turned when she passed the entrance into the closet, remembering the conversation she had had with the very testy mirror inside of it.
Hermione reached inside her Hogwart's school robes, enclosing her fingers around her wand. She pulled it out of her pocket and carefully placed it on the nightstand next to the bed. Kicking off her shoes, Hermione crawled under the neatly-done sheets (the bed had obviously re-made itself whilst she had been away, seeing as the curtain Malfoy had entangled himself in now hung obediently where it had been before). She turned on her side, pulling the warm covers up to her nose and snuggling her face into the insanely squishy pillow. Hermione didn't even know how exhausted she really was until her eyelids became heavier and heavier by the minute. Her mind racing with thoughts and possibilities, Hermione vaguely wondered where Malfoy had gone off to all day before her drowsiness took over, and she fell into a deep sleep.
A/N (Tayz): IT'S DONE! IT'S FINISHED! REJOICE! WE ARE SO SORRY! But, hey, we got it done, right? R-right? Er….yeeeeah….Ok, so, we promised you they would get out of the house and they did, so, hoohah! Next chapter, look forward to seeing where our dear little Draco had run off to whilst Hermione was with Ron. Exciting, eh? Once again, we're really sorry for the wait, but we hope you guys like the chapter! We have a lot of stuff planned, so, don't worry…it'll get a lot more exciting after Draco's part. Tell us what you think, please! Be honest! Constructive criticism, please:) Well, we'll try to get the next one up sooner. That's it for now, toodles!
A/N (Nicole): So sorry for the incredibly long wait, guys. School and friends have just consumed our lives, but we're doing our best to get the next few chapters done and posted without the five month wait. Hope you guys liked it, and that you leave a review for us, even if it's just to scream about the long wait! 3 -Nicole