A/N: Again, sorry about the long wait for this chapter. Now, I have a question for all my readers. This is obviously winding its way to a conclusion but this can either take place at the end of this year (Prisoner of Azkaban) or continue on until the end of the series. If it's the latter then updates may be spasmodic but they will happen. Anyway, the choice is down to you, dear readers.
'Are you sure you don't want to go to the hospital wing?' Hermione asked.
Ginny took a long breath and shook her head. She focused her attention on the middle of the lake, where she knew that secret cottage was hidden from view. 'I don't want to be there when... Just wait till it's over, okay?'
'Okay.' Squeezing her hand, Hermione fell quiet again. Ginny wished she'd talk, she hated this silence.
Eventually, she couldn't stand it any longer. 'It wasn't only about Mum, was it?'
Hermione swallowed but muttered, 'No. I think he was frustrated by you and Colin.'
'You think?' Ginny pressed.
'All right, I know he was. He said it. But he didn't blame you or anything, he was just so... I don't know what it is, I haven't seen him that upset before. I mean, I didn't spend much time with him after your d-dad...' She trailed off and blinked fiercely. 'Sorry.'
Letting the words seep through her, Ginny tested how they made her feel. She couldn't decide. The last few months had dragged her to a place where she couldn't even work out her own emotions. She pressed her fingers into Hermione's palm and hoped she'd continue. Finally, she did.
'He was upset about your mum and McGonagall and y-you and me. He called Colin a wimp.'
Ginny smiled. 'He is a bit. A nice wimp.'
'Of course,' Hermione muttered.
'Are you jealous?' she ventured to ask.
'Of course I'm jealous, Gin. How can you even need to ask that?'
'I don't know you like I thought I did. I can't tell whether I'm hearing the truth or seeing the truth. Same goes for Mum. And Ron after this.'
'Don't worry about Ron,' said Hermione after a moment. 'He's not that complicated. He likes things to stay the same and he likes the people he loves to be happy but he doesn't want to make a big deal out of it. Just so happened that this time he had to make a big deal of it because it was the only way he could get attention.'
'He could've just talked to me.'
'Could he? About them, about me?'
'He's forgiven you,' Ginny said quietly. 'He needed too. Because it was hurting too much to hate you, wasn't it?'
'Probably. We haven't exactly discussed it. I just... I need him, Gin, and I need Harry. And I like to think they need me. For more than homework help maybe.'
She managed a nod. 'You're probably right.'
'I should tell you something,' said Hermione.
Ginny glanced over sharply. 'What now?'
Hermione winced. 'You asked me why I decided to stay at Christmas. I said that it was because your mum had proved to me that I couldn't run away but that wasn't it.'
'What was it then?' she questioned.
'You remember when you went up to talk to your brothers with Sirius and I went for a walk with your mum? Well, she said I was getting away while I still could because I loved you. I love you,' she corrected herself with a self-conscious shrug. 'That's what made me decide to stay: I was trying to prove to her that running away from someone just because it isn't...right doesn't help. I wanted her to – '
'Talk to McGonagall,' Ginny finished for her.
'Yeah. Sorry if that makes you hate me again.'
Ginny swallowed and looked deep into the lake. 'I sent McGonagall a picture of Mum when I was at home over Christmas. McGonagall had been in the paper over Lupin and Sirius – you probably saw it. Mum took the paper. I thought that it wasn't fair that Mum was keeping this secret picture of McGonagall and she had nothing.'
Hermione was staring at her. 'That was good of you.'
'Don't ask me what it means,' she warned. 'I don't know. I don't know anything.'
'You should stop saying that,' the brunette said quietly. 'You know lots of things. I think you just don't want to accept them.'
'Like Mum and McGonagall?' she questioned.
'That's why you sent the owl, isn't it?'
Releasing Hermione's hand, she replied, 'I sent that because Ron wanted me to.'
She stood up angrily. 'Why do you have to do that? Why do you act like you know why I'm doing something?'
Hermione also rose. 'Half the time, I do. I know you, remember?'
'No, you don't. If you knew me as well as you think you do then you wouldn't have lied to me. You would've known how much I'd hate it.'
'I did know,' Hermione shot back. 'And I've apologised, Ginny, I have. But... I did it for the right reasons. I did it to protect you and to protect them. Maybe you can't understand why but it's just what happened. I can't change it.'
'Would you if you could?' she asked, her anger abating slightly.
'If it'd stop your dad... Yes, of course I would.'
'It might not have though,' she murmured after a long pause. 'He would still have been out in the grounds that night, patrolling for Sirius.'
'Everything that happened that night can honestly be traced back to me, Ginny.' Hermione's voice was hard, as though she'd thought these words repeatedly. 'Yes, he might still have been out there but Ron might not have been if it hadn't been for me – '
'Us,' Ginny interjected.
'Us,' Hermione repeated carefully. 'Ron was out there because of us then so was Pettigrew.'
'Sirius being out there wasn't your fault. Unless you're guarding Azkaban in your spare time. Maybe you've been using the Time-Turner for that as well.'
Blinking, Hermione said, 'The Time-Turner's another thing. I broke it. I was stupid enough to break it. If I hadn't we could've... It would've been okay.'
'Okay?' Ginny snorted. 'How was any of it ever going to be okay? Did you see the way Dad looked at me when he found out about us? He was disgusted.'
'He was surprised. That was all.'
'No, it was more than that.'
'It wasn't,' Hermione said firmly. 'I didn't know him very well but I know he loved you, Ginny. That overrides everything in the end. Almost everything,' she amended, 'but it would've overridden that.'
'If you hadn't had the Time-Turner we wouldn't have been together at all, would we?' she questioned. 'You wouldn't have used it to find out how you felt about me, you wouldn't have seen them down here.'
'No. I wish I hadn't seen them.'
Ginny cast her eyes back across to the invisible island. Even though she'd only spent one night there a few months ago now she could still picture it vividly in her mind. She saw her mum's easy presence there and, without warning, remembered her conversation with Hermione that night, how she'd managed to make her laugh and, despite everything, how relieved it had made her feel. She'd forgotten what it felt like to look at something light-heartedly. Maybe she had again. She supposed it didn't help that her brother had done his most idiotic thing to date – and that was saying something.
'What are you thinking?' Hermione asked finally.
'Not much. Just that Ron's an idiot.'
'Yeah, he is. But he means well most of the time.'
Ginny rolled her eyes. 'I can't believe you've known him for three years and you still haven't made him use his brain.'
'I tried, I promise. I know it's in there somewhere but...' Hermione's lips twitched then she returned to seriousness. 'He'll be okay. He's in good hands.'
She nodded. 'You forgot that McGonagall wouldn't have had that map if it hadn't been for you. Then she and Lupin wouldn't have been out in the grounds.'
Hermione's eyes dipped. 'I was coming to that one.'
'That one was good,' Ginny muttered. She waited for the third-year to look at her questioningly before she continued, 'Can you imagine what would've happened if the moonlight had caught him in a corridor or in his office?'
'I hadn't thought about that.'
'No, you've been too busy blaming yourself for every little thing. It's not about you, not all about you anyway. Anybody coming up against him would've died, wouldn't they?' She was thinking of the final moments of her dad's life and she knew Hermione was too. 'Can you imagine?' she repeated.
Hesitantly, Hermione reached out and took her hand, squeezing tightly. 'Yes.'
Ginny didn't pull away, she didn't want to. Instead, she edged closer. 'I blame Snape most of all. No matter what else happened, he didn't give Professor Lupin his potion so... But I don't see what good blaming anyone's having. Ron's right, it's just making us all miserable.'
'Are you saying you could forgive me?' Hermione murmured.
'I think I'm saying I have,' she replied. Apprehensively, she glanced sideways. 'I have. I'm sick of being angry.'
Molly watched from the shadow of a tree as her daughter finally allowed Hermione to hold her. It was a beautiful scene, one Molly felt a little ashamed to be spying on. She'd rushed out of the castle and inevitably found her feet moving to the scene of the crime, if she could put it like that. The scene of which crime? It felt like she'd committed so many in the last few months.
She couldn't intrude on this any longer. After one lingering look at the duo by the side of the lake, she trudged back to the castle. Where else could she go? She wasn't sure she could face going back to the hospital wing but perhaps if she was at least in the building then Ron would miraculously heal or something silly like that.
When she reached the door she found Harry coming out, evidently looking for her. His cheeks were the colour of his chalk, although the day's events hadn't squashed his hair flat. It seemed nothing could. He fell back into the building when he saw her, shuffling around on the spot.
'Professor Dumbledore asked me to find you,' he muttered. 'He didn't tell me what I should do once I had though.'
'He often misses out bits of information like that, doesn't he?' Molly answered. 'What happened, Harry?'
'I-I don't know.'
She surveyed him. 'You do, don't you?' When he grimaced, she put an arm around his shoulders. 'Don't worry, I'll ask him myself when he wakes up. He... He will wake up, won't he?'
Harry nodded. 'I think so. I hope so. Have you seen Hermione and Ginny?'
'Yes. Yes, I have. They're down at the lake.'
'Together?' he asked hopefully.
She managed a smile. 'Together.'
He clenched his jaw. 'Thanks.'
'You should go lie down, Harry, you look terrible.'
'I didn't listen to Professor McGonagall when she said that and, with all due respect, Mrs Weasley, I won't listen to you either.'
The name had shook her to the extent that she waved away his stubbornness, just the way she had with her own children during the last few months. As soon as Minerva's name or face or spectre appeared she forgot everything she was supposed to be doing or feeling. She forgot how angry she was supposed to be with Minerva, how angry she was with herself. She become...empty, for want of a better word. The world just flitted around her and she looked on. Her children grew and pulled away from her and on days like this she realised quite how far they'd gone.
Ron was in a hospital bed. He was hurt and, somehow, she thought she was at the bottom of it. Everything else in the last year had been her fault so why couldn't this be added to the total?
'Did Professor Dumbledore say where he was going?' she asked after a long pause.
'His office probably, I don't know.'
She nodded. 'Go on, Harry, please get some rest. You don't have to go to bed but... Why don't you go see Professor Lupin or Sirius, hmm?'
He tried to smile. 'Okay.'