Invisible Scars

I only own the plot. I hope everyone liked HBP, I know I did. So much of what I wanted to happen, did, and I loved it. Except for, well, you know. It was amazingly depressing, but many of my friends agree…it had to happen in a strange way, since Harry needs to be strong enough to go on alone.

This story WILL have spoilers for HBP, especially my dedication at the end. So, if you haven't read HBP, I wouldn't recommend this story.

Hope you enjoy…

Chapter 1 – Everything Changes

Ron awoke with a jolt, having just entered very dangerous territory in his vivid, completely intoxicating dream. There was a sheen of sweat on his brow that he wiped away quickly, cursing the overbearing August heat that had made him fall asleep in the first place.

Although, he had to admit, it wasn't the heat that had him so bothered. It was the appearance, for the millionth time that summer, of his bushy-haired best friend in situations that would cause him to blush in normal, waking hours.

Sighing loudly, he was distracted from his thoughts by the buzz of voices wafting through his open door. He reached for the watch his parents had given him for his birthday and tried to focus his overtired eyes. Eleven o'clock. No one but his mother and sister should be home at this time of the day, and since Ginny had taken to very long bouts of complete silence all summer, he was surprised to hear the slight commotion.

Suddenly, he sat bolt upright in bed when the time and the date fully registered in his hazy brain. It was three days before Bill and Fleur's wedding. Hermione had said in her last letter that she would be arriving around lunchtime exactly three days before the big event.

He jumped out of bed and grabbed shorts and a white t-shirt from the top of his desk. He dressed hastily, then groaned when he saw his disheveled appearance in the mirror.

"You won't impress her much looking like that, dear," the mirror said lazily. Ron grimaced at his reflection and yanked open his dresser drawer with such force that it came flying out and landed on his bare feet.

"Ron, Hermione's here!" he heard his mother yell from the bottom of the stairs.

He bit back his yelp of pain as he began tossing shirts around, searching for one that would make him look at least halfway presentable. He settled on a striped blue one and tugged it over his head with a bit of difficulty. He realized why when he spotted himself in the mirror again. The shirt had either shrunk, or he'd swelled in size due to the heat, but the shirt was stretched tightly over his chest and was practically cutting off his air supply around his neck.

He grabbed the ends of the shirt and yanked it up, only to get it caught over his head. Swearing loudly, he fought with the fabric for a full minute, twisting every way he could to try and free himself from the shirt.

"Bloody hell!" he growled darkly, thinking quickly of simply tearing the damned shirt to pieces so he could breathe.

"You shouldn't swear."

His hands immediately ceased their fruitless tugging as Hermione's voice floated toward him from his doorway. He closed his eyes in mortification, realizing that all of his daydreams of seeing her for the first time since the end of the year were now completely out the window.

He'd had it all planned. He would breeze into the room, looking calm, cool and collected, and drop a smooth line like, "Hey, Hermione, good to see you. You're looking well." Not a single scenario had included him sweating like mad, hopping around half naked in his room with a shirt caught firmly around his big head.

"Need any help?" she asked, her voice sounding amused. The last thing he wanted was to be face to face with her right now, but he didn't have much of a choice. It was either that, or master the art of eating through the striped cotton.

"Yeah, I guess," he said, his voice muffled through the shirt. He heard her let out a small giggle, and his ears burned red. Why was it every time he was around her, he did something incredibly stupid?

"Hold still," she said, and in the next instant he felt her hands moving under the fabric around his face to try and stretch it out a bit.

Whatever she'd done worked, since his head came sliding out a moment later. His arms were still trapped in the sleeves above his head, but at least now he could breathe.

Well, he could have if she hadn't been standing right in front of him, her arms raised to free him from the sleeves. Her body was brushing up against his as she worked, and he forced himself to look anywhere but her face. He could feel the sweat running a trail down his front, but he couldn't tell whether it was from the heat of the room or from the close proximity of the girl he couldn't seem to get his mind off of for more than two straight minutes.

"There," she said as she pulled hard on the shirt to free his arms. They dropped like lead weights to his side, and he watched in mild fascination as she tossed his shirt onto the bed.

Hermione Granger had just removed his shirt from him.

Not the thing daydreams were made of, but she had still undressed him. In his mind, the details weren't important. All that was important was the smile on her face and the slight flush of her cheeks.

He stood paralyzed for a moment longer, until he realized that he was standing in front of her, sweaty, bare-chested, silent and stupid for much too long.

He made a move to step around her, but her hand came out to rest on his elbow. His eyes snapped to hers immediately and he was surprised to find them focused on him intently. His heart began hammering so hard he was afraid it was going to burst out of his skin.

Was she checking him out? His mind whirled delightedly around the possibility, but was brought to a sudden and abrupt halt when she reached out and ran her fingers along the raised marks on his left arm.

Her touch was so soft that his eyes almost closed, but he forced himself to keep them open as he watched her trace the long scars.

"These are from the ministry, aren't they?" she asked in a small voice, appearing almost entranced.

"Yeah," he said, wishing he could come up with something more than that. Didn't girls like scars? He remembered Charlie saying something about how his scars were magnets for women. He tried to talk about them as much as possible when he took someone out on a date. Should he say something manly about his?

"I didn't realize that they were so…" She trailed off, her eyes still following the path of her fingers as they moved slowly up his arm.

His breath stuck in his throat as her fingernails scraped lightly across the muscle in his upper arm. He sent up a silent prayer of thanks that Quidditch had gotten him in fairly good shape, and was infinitely pleased when he saw her eyes widen slightly as they continued their journey.

She had run out of room on his arm and her hand paused in mid-air. Her eyes flickered to his chest where the scar continued in a horizontal path across the entire area, and he watched, the air stuck somewhere in his lungs, as a look he couldn't fathom crossed her face.

"Pronounced," she said finally, her voice sounding weak and shaky. He willed her to move her hand, to touch him on the skin above the area where she was causing him such an upheaval.

She didn't, however, and in the next instant, the hold over both of them was broken when she seemed to come to herself as she put a safe distance between them.

"I performed a couple of spells on mine last summer," she said, her voice now sounding like her own again. "It hasn't faded completely, but it looks much better than it did. I realized I had to do something when I couldn't find a swimsuit that would cover it all summer."

Visions of Hermione in a low-cut swimsuit flooded his already addled brain, and he realized that if he didn't get a hold over things now, they would spiral out of the point of all control. He merely nodded at her as he moved around her to retrieve a shirt from the pile on the floor.

"I could try the spells on you if you'd like," she continued, as she turned away while he pulled the shirt over his head. "They won't disappear, but they won't look as raised."

Well, so much for Charlie's theory on scars and their attractiveness to women, he thought idly. Hermione didn't seem the least impressed that half his body was covered in manly scars.

"That's alright," he said, realizing that these were the first words he'd spoken in quite some time. He had to clear his brain. He had to. How would he get through the rest of her visit if he was constantly thinking of her and how much he wanted to be alone with her?

"You'd rather keep them?" she asked, surprise evident in her voice. "It really is a quick and painless spell."

"I'm sure it is," he reasoned, watching as Pig zoomed about in the corner of his room. "But Charlie once told me that girls like his scars…"

He stopped himself from speaking immediately, remembering that there was now a line between them that he couldn't cross. From the direction of his previous thoughts, he felt he should have known this all too well. There were just some things that he couldn't talk about with her any more, and his attractiveness to girls was most definitely not one of them.

The look on her face was proof enough. It was as if a curtain had been drawn across her features, hiding the real Hermione from his view. She turned away from him slightly so only the smallest angle of her profile was visible.

"Yes, I'm sure some would find them quite roguish. I suppose Lavendar was sufficiently impressed," she said with a strong hint of finality in her voice.

Ron felt like bashing his head into the nearest wall. Why was it that everything he did or said around her was imbecilic and wrong? Why couldn't he simply say the right thing at the right moment when it came to Hermione?

"Hermione, I've been meaning to…" he started, but she spun around so fast that he was afraid she'd given herself whiplash.

"Ron, it really isn't necessary. I was out of line, and I think we should just go downstairs." She said all of this really fast, and began to move toward his door. "I didn't see Ginny when I got here, and I've been so worried about her. She hasn't answered any of my letters and I have the feeling that she and Harry broke up."

This news came as such a surprise to him that it put all thoughts of awkward conversations about ex-girlfriends out of his mind.

"Are you sure?" he asked, following her to the door. "She hasn't said anything to me about it, and neither has Harry."

She gave him a long suffering look, one that he was more than used to. If he had wished that things would be normal and familiar between them, he was now getting his wish. "Honestly Ron, do you think that if they did break up that Ginny would come running to you? And Harry has more than enough on his plate to be running about writing letters of his girl problems – with your baby sister, no less – to you?"

"Well, no, but why didn't Ginny tell you then?" he snapped back, tired of feeling like a complete idiot around her. Maybe he didn't understand girls and relationships and the like, but that was no reason for her to act like she had all the answers.

"Some things are just private, I suppose," she said, her voice changing slightly. "I don't tell Ginny everything either."

The silence stretched out between them once again, but before it could grab hold, Hermione huffed and swung her hair over her shoulders.

"I'm going to go and see if she'll talk to me. I'll see you later, okay?" she said, now all-business once again.

"Sure," he said, running a hand through his hair. "See you later."

It might have been his imagination, but she paused longer than necessary at his door, almost as if she didn't really want to leave. He was just about to call her back in, to sit her down and actually tell her all the things he'd been meaning to tell her since his idiotic behavior after she'd invited him to Slughorn's party, when she flashed him the briefest of smiles and disappeared out the door.

Ron sank into his desk chair and leaned his forehead on his hands. Here it was, barely five minutes into Hermione's visit, and he was so mixed up and out of sorts that he couldn't even see straight.

He groaned as his head began to pound mercilessly. If this was what it would be like for the next few days until the guests began to arrive, he didn't know if he'd be able to make it.

Before descending the stairs to the second floor landing, Hermione allowed herself a quick moment to compose herself. She took a shaky breath, realizing she hadn't breathed properly since seeing Ron with his shirt entangled over his head.

At first, the sight had caused her heart to race simply because she was staring at her half-clothed best friend. His state of undress had her flashing to images that she'd worked extremely hard all summer to put as far out of her mind as she could. After all, silly daydreams were one thing when he was nowhere in the general vicinity. Now, however, he would be everywhere. He would be there when she woke up and he'd be there right before she went to sleep. It would be hard enough to keep him from her thoughts as it was. She didn't need to replay the way his muscles stretched as he fought with the offending article of clothing.

The images were replaced quickly with the sight of his scars. She had wanted to make it all better and had wound up making it worse for herself by being stupid enough to touch him. She cringed slightly at her brazen attitude. She'd allowed herself to practically paw him while he stood there staring at her.

Feeling the heat rise to her cheeks, she took another steadying breath and told herself what she'd told herself all summer. Ron was her best friend, and from their behavior last year, neither was ready to face whatever it was that had been floating around the edges of that friendship for a while now. She had resigned herself to that fact, and she was determined to keep her word to herself.

She hadn't thought that she'd ever find the courage to be the one to make the first gesture, but she had been. Her invitation to Slughorn's party was as forward as she had been prepared to be, and when he'd accepted, she had truly thought that they were on their way to figuring things out. Then the Lavendar fiasco occurred, as she had come to call it, and she didn't think that her ego could take another hit as hurtful as that.

She had vowed to herself that if they were ever to approach things again, she would wait for him, since he'd been the one that was obviously not ready. At least he hadn't been ready for anything with her. Lavendar, on the other hand…

Shrugging off the horrible feelings she'd come to be so accustomed to, she straightened her back and continued down the stairs to Ginny's room. She really was concerned about her, and since Ginny hadn't replied to any of her letters, she had a feeling that her presence might not be entirely welcome.

She rapped softly on Ginny's door and waited for a response, shifting nervously from foot to foot.

"I'm not hungry, mum," came Ginny's muffled voice from the other side of the door.

"Ginny, it's Hermione," she called back, tucking her hair behind her ears. "Can I come in?"

The door opened a moment later, and although Ginny didn't exactly look happy to see her, she didn't look angry either. She gave Hermione a small smile and they embraced quickly.

"How are you?" Ginny asked, releasing her and stepping aside to let Hermione in.

"I'm okay, actually," Hermione replied, her eyes sweeping around Ginny's room quickly. Ginny had never been a neat-freak, something that had always been a minor pet peeve of hers when she came to stay for the summers, but the room that laid before her now was perfectly spotless. This fact disturbed Hermione more than she cared to admit. "How have things been around here?" she asked, sitting at Ginny's desk.

Ginny shrugged and moved to sit on her bed. Hermione noticed that there were several open school books on her bed, and her eyebrows rose of their own accord. Now she was really worried. Ginny tended to take her brothers' attitudes toward summer work and school, and Hermione found it incredibly odd that Ginny would be trying to get a head-start on a year that might not even come to be. The fate of Hogwarts was still very much up in the air.

"I'm sorry I didn't answer your letters," Ginny said, shoving a book aside to make room for her legs. She stretched one out in front of her and focused her eyes on her laces. "I haven't been much in the mood for correspondence."

"It's okay," Hermione said.

"How did your parents take everything?" Ginny asked, now playing with the fringe of her blanket. "Did they completely flip out?"

Hermione shuddered a bit at the memory of the discussion she'd had with her parents about the events of last year and her plans for the upcoming one. There had been plenty of tears and protests, and even more shouting and begging, but they had come to an understanding by the end of the two-hour conversation.

"Not well, of course, but I think in the end they finally understood," Hermione replied, wishing Ginny would meet her eyes. "They made me promise that if we do go with Harry in a few weeks, I'll write home at least every other day."

Ginny nodded dully, and Hermione sighed. She was convinced now, more than ever, that Ginny's frostiness had something to do with her personally, and not just the events that transpired a few weeks ago.

"Well, at least your parents know about your intentions. Ron hasn't told mum anything yet. I think he's waiting until after the wedding," Ginny said, her frustration barely controlled. "If you ask me, I wouldn't put it past him to leave first, then send an owl a week later. Leave me to pick up the pieces, as always."

Hermione stared evenly at her friend, not really knowing what to say to her outburst. She knew, better than anyone perhaps, how insensitive and unthinking Ron could be when it came to important matters.

"Have you talked to Ron about his plans?" she asked.

Ginny laughed bitterly and rolled her eyes. "Are you kidding? Ron would tell me to mind my own business, and then I'd have to curse him into the middle of next week."

A silence fell between them, and Hermione waited for Ginny to continue.

Ginny sighed heavily and pushed off the bed. She grabbed her school books and tossed them onto her bookshelf without the least care where they landed. "Look, Hermione, I'm sorry if I seem short or whatever, but I'm having a hard time with all of this."

"All of what?" Hermione asked.

Ginny spun to face her, long trails of fiery hair whipping about with as much anger as was evident in her eyes. "Don't play stupid, Hermione. It doesn't suit you."

"Excuse me?" Hermione had only ever had one minor row with Ginny, and it was enough to last a lifetime. She needed Ginny as much as Ginny needed her, and they had to stick together. "Ginny, what is it that I've done that has you so - "

"So what, Hermione? Angry? Left out? Patronized? Take your pick," Ginny snapped. She leaned against the wall, her arms folded protectively over her chest. "I thought, finally, for the first time last year that I was allowed to be a part of things. The three of you finally allowed others into your little circle. Now, here I am, on the outside again."

"We never meant to do anything that would – "

"Stop!" Ginny interrupted violently. "Just stop! Nothing is going to change, so explaining anything would be pointless. Harry and I broke up because he has to go off and do what he has to do. I understand that; I really do. But the fact that you get to go off with him and fight beside him and make sure he's alright while I either sit home or go back to a school without any of you is not making me feel any better!"

The silence overtook them again, and Hermione sat perfectly still in her chair. She hadn't really thought about leaving Ginny behind yet again. She had simply assumed that it would be the three of them, like it always had been.

"I'm sorry, Ginny," she said in a low voice. "I didn't realize you two had broken up."

Ginny sighed again, her arms dropping to her sides. "Hermione, you're not hearing me. I understand all of that. He doesn't want to continue things while he has so much else to be getting on with. It doesn't mean he doesn't care about me anymore." She pushed away from the wall and sank back onto the corner of her bed. "The only thing that bothers me is that the three of you are going off for parts unknown, and I wasn't even a consideration. You get to go because you're the best friend. Ron gets to go because he's the best friend. I don't because I'm the little sister and the girlfriend - the one who needs to be protected and looked after. Do you know how much I hate that?"

Hermione nodded silently, wishing things could be different for Ginny. She knew how hard it was for her friend to be the 'baby', especially when she was not one any longer.

"I'm sorry," she repeated, getting up from her chair and sitting next to Ginny on the bed. "If it's any consolation, I wouldn't mind if you came with us."

"I know you wouldn't," Ginny said resignedly. "But the other two would probably pass out cold if you even mentioned it. Besides, you are all of age. I'm not going to be until November, and you'll already be gone by then."

"Is there anything I can do?" Hermione asked helplessly, putting her hand on Ginny's elbow. "Should I talk to Harry or Ron?"

"No," Ginny said quietly. "This is my stuff, and I'll have to deal with it. I'm sorry if I was rude before, but I can't seem to get myself under control about it just yet. Be patient with me, okay?"

Hermione nodded silently, wishing, not for the first time, that all of their lives were much simpler than all of this.

She left Ginny's room shortly after, heading for the kitchen to get a glass of water. The Burrow was growing warmer in the August sun, and her top was practically sticking to her back.

When she reached the kitchen, she found Ron sitting at the table with a sandwich in front of him.

"Hey," he said through a mouthful of peanut butter and jam. "I would've asked if you wanted any lunch, but Ginny's door was closed and I figured you two wanted some privacy."

She stared at him, wondering at the sudden thoughtfulness. Attributing it to the heat, she took the seat next to his and grabbed a chip off his plate.

"So, what did you guys talk about, anyway?" he asked, and Hermione rolled her eyes. She knew it was too good to be true.

"Nothing in particular," she said, evading the subject as best she could without lying. "She asked how my parents are dealing with everything, and we talked about that for a bit."

Ron stopped chewing suddenly, and he put down the remainder of his sandwich. "I totally forgot to ask," he said, swallowing thickly and turning to face her in his chair. "Are they going to let you go?"

What a loaded question, Hermione thought sadly. "They said that I was old enough to make up my own mind, and that if I felt that strongly about anything I would be miserable unless I did what I felt was right."

Ron nodded along with her speech, and when she finished, he smiled slightly. "Do you think you could get your parents to talk to mine about how to take things easily?"

"It was anything but easy," she said, staring down at her hands. "I don't think I've ever seen my mum cry as much as she did."

Ron's smile disappeared, and he cleared his throat. They sat in silence for a moment, before he cleared his throat again. "Uh, can I ask you something?"

"Of course," she said, raising her eyes to his. Something in his tone indicated the importance of whatever he was going to say, and it had her intrigued. The only time she ever heard Ron's voice like that was when he talked about the latest standings in professional Quidditch.

"How do you feel about going off with Harry, and all that?" he asked, almost too quickly for her to pick up on the words. She considered him for a minute, then shrugged.

"I know it's the right thing to do. I know that he's going to need us, and there's no way I would stay behind," she said simply.

Ron nodded again, but his eyes were clouded. He focused on a spot over her right shoulder, and Hermione knew that wasn't the answer he was looking for.

"Still," she continued, "I can't help feeling terrified and nervous. I mean, what are we going to do for shelter, and food…and how long are we going to be away…"

She watched as Ron's gaze came into clear focus once again, and a look of relief swept over his features. Their eyes locked onto each other's and she gave him a small smile, which he returned.

"I'm glad I'm not alone in this," he said, his shoulders relaxing before her eyes.

She felt like telling him he'd never be alone, if she had anything to do with it, but that kind of remark would land her back in a zone she was not willing to cross into right now. Instead, she stole another chip off his plate and rose to get herself a glass of water.

"So Harry and Ginny broke up, didn't they?" Ron asked as she poured the cool liquid into her glass.

She looked up in surprise at his intuitiveness so quickly that a bit of water sloshed onto the floor. "How did you know that?"

"If they hadn't, you would have said as much," he reasoned. "Because you didn't say anything, I sort of guessed the opposite."

"You can work out stuff like that, but you can't put together a proper essay to save your life?" she asked incredulously.

He shrugged, smiling at her. "I guess I'm getting better at some things. Maybe I don't have the emotional range of a teaspoon anymore, huh?"

And just like that, the ease she had begun to feel around him shattered as her mind wrapped itself around the one thought zipping through her head. He was better at some things because he'd taken up with another girl, and she'd taught him what it was like to be in a relationship.

"I suppose not," she said quickly, gripping her glass a little tighter.

"I swear, if he did anything to hurt her, I don't care if we're off to fight Voldemort or not…"

"Ron! You said Voldemort's name!" Hermione exclaimed, completely forgetting about all else.

He shrugged again. "I figure if I'm going to be going off on this thing, I could at least say his name."

She considered him for a moment, seeing things she had not seen before. The way he carried himself now, the straightness of his shoulders and his jaw. The determined glint in his eyes that didn't seem to diminish. It was as if he was changing right before her eyes, and she didn't know what to think of that. Perhaps Dumbledore's death had sobered him in ways that would manifest themselves for weeks to come.

She flashed quickly to the way he'd consoled her at Dumbledore's funeral, how carefully he'd held her and let her cry until there was nothing left. She remembered the wetness on his own cheeks and the look in his eyes when they'd broken apart.

Somewhere along the way, her best friend had started growing up.

She gave him a soft smile, sitting back down in the chair she'd vacated before. "I think it's a good step," she said with an affirming nod.

"So what happened between them?" he asked, after taking another bite of his sandwich. "He didn't hurt her or anything, did he?"

"No, it was nothing like that," she said quickly, not wanting there to be any weirdness between him and Harry when Harry arrived in a few days. After all, Ginny had said that she understood his reasons, and if they were good enough for Ginny, they would have to be good enough for anyone else. "Ginny said that Harry wanted to keep things simple for a while, you know, with everything that's going to be happening."

Ron nodded, considering her words. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. I mean, after all, it's not like Harry will be coming back for birthdays and sending presents through the mail and such."

Hermione cringed inwardly at his words. He was right. There would be no casual visits home for any of them, and knowing now how Ginny felt, it only made her feel worse for her friend.

"Ron, you should talk to your sister about all of this," she said carefully. "I'm sure she's feeling left out of everything. She's the only one who isn't going and - "

"Damn right she's not going!" Ron interrupted forcefully. "She's only sixteen, and she can't apparate!"

"So what?" Hermione demanded, her anger rising more quickly than she thought possible. "She'll be seventeen in about three months, and as for apparating, you and Harry can't yet either!"

Ron grimaced at her. "Thanks for reminding me," he said coldly. "As if I could forget that I failed at that, too."

"Ron, this isn't about you," she spat, coming out of her chair again. What was it about him that got her so worked up all the time? "It's about Ginny and how hurt and scared she is right now about us all going off into the unknown without her."

"Which is why it's better that she stays here where it's safe!" he insisted, pounding his palm on the table in emphasis.

"Well, if it's not safe for her, what makes it safe for us?" she asked, narrowing her eyes. "Why does she stay behind while we risk everything?"

"Because we're Harry's mates!" he shouted.

"She's his girlfriend!" she shouted back.

"Which is probably why he doesn't want her coming!" He came out of his own seat, and the two of them were practically glaring each other down now from less than two feet apart.

"That is the most insane logic," she spat back. "Harry cares about her, so she doesn't get to come. Harry cares about us, but we get to go."

"We're his mates, she's his girlfriend. There's a difference," he insisted vehemently. He folded his arms across his chest, very much in the same fashion as his sister had a while back.

"So you're saying that if you and I were going out, I wouldn't be allowed to come along either?" she yelled, past the point of all logic and reason now. She hadn't even registered her own words until she saw the look on his face change suddenly.

His eyes clouded over for the briefest of moments, and a flush crept into his cheeks quickly before it vanished again.

"Well, we're not going out, so that's beside the point," he said forcefully.

"You're impossible, you know that?" she accused loudly. "You refuse to see your sister as the grown woman she has become, and sooner or later, you're going to lose any kind of connection with her by babying her too much."

"Don't talk about me and my sister. Harry is doing this because he cares about her, and I happen to agree because I care about her, too," he retorted hotly.

"If you cared about her, you'd realize she's utterly miserable because of all this," she ground out through clenched teeth. "If you cared about her, you'd treat her fairly and remember she wants to keep us safe as much as we want to keep her safe."

Ron threw his hands up in the air helplessly. "I can't win here. Why do I even try?"

"I don't know, why do you?" she asked bitterly. "I suppose things were a lot easier when we weren't speaking to each other, weren't they?"

"No they weren't!" he bellowed loudly. "Things were bloody awful, and I know it was all my fault, just like everything is always my fault!"

The silence that enveloped the room seemed to take on a life of its own. It was a living, breathing thing that ate up moments in time and left nothing in its wake. The only thing that could be heard in the silence after Ron's outburst was his breathing, as he tried to calm himself down.

Hermione's heart went out to him then, as she watched him grapple with his emotions. For as much as she agreed that their row last year was mainly his fault, she hated seeing him shoulder all the blame for everything that had went wrong since they'd known each other.

"Not everything is your fault," she said in a quiet voice.

"Of course it is. That's why we're always at it, isn't it? You're always right, and I'm always wrong, but I keep pushing until something bad happens and then it's my fault," he said dully.

Hermione sank into the nearest chair, exhausted from their arguing. She was amazed at how he could take her to the limits of her patience, and then bring her back crashing down to Earth with one simple statement.

"You're not wrong about caring about your sister," she reasoned. "In fact, how much you care about people is one of your best qualities."

His eyes snapped to hers quickly, and she found herself blushing despite herself.

"It is?" he asked, gripping the back of the chair in front of him.

"It is," she said, averting her eyes to the table. For some reason, although the statement was entirely truthful and innocent, she felt as if she'd exposed a part of herself she was trying to keep from him.

"Well," he said into the silence that followed her words, "maybe I'll go up and talk to her, then."

Hermione smiled at her folded hands. "I think that would be nice."

They remained quiet for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. Then, Ron pushed away from the chair he was holding onto and crossed to the doorway.

Before he disappeared through it, however, he turned around to face her.

"Hermione, do you really think it's that wrong to not want her to go along with us?" he asked.

Slowly she shook her head. "I don't think it's exactly wrong, but I know how I would feel if you and Harry decided that to keep me safe you would leave me behind."

Ron's eyes darkened considerably as he leaned against the doorframe watching her. "I know you're not my girlfriend, but if I'd thought it would do any good I'd have asked you to stay here at home about a thousand times by now."

Her eyes rose to meet his, where they were held captive for a very long moment.

Hermione's heart thudded painfully in her chest at his words. "But you knew it wouldn't do any good," she said, willing her voice to remain even.

"Yeah," he conceded, a sadness sweeping suddenly into his eyes. They remained like that, looking silently at each other for a few moments before Ron's gaze broke away and he looked up the stairs.

"You promise she's not going to tear my head off?" he asked lightly, although there was nothing light in the look on his face.

Hermione chuckled slightly, allowing the normalcy of their continuous rollercoaster of a relationship to wash over her once again. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see."

He pulled a face at her and with a sigh, headed up the stairs. Hermione watched him disappear around the corner with a surge of emotion so strong coursing through her that she reached for her water and drank it down as fast as she could.

I would like to add a personal dedication here if I may. This summer, four days before HBP came out, I lost my own personal Dumbledore. Nicholas Kline was my mentor and my good friend, and his passing has left a void that I fear will never be filled. He taught me many things and allowed me to learn by my own mistakes while being there the whole time to make sure that if I fell, it wouldn't be too far or too hard.

I will miss him for all that he was to the people he loved, and I will remember everything he tried to show me about life and how to care for those we surround ourselves with. I only hope that in the end, I can make him proud in how I choose to live my life and follow my own destiny.

He knew how much I loved HP, and I think he would have found it ironic that he and Dumbledore left this world at around the same time. That was just the kind of man he was.

I will miss them both.