Riders On The Storm.
Note: This takes place directly after Book 6, after the funeral.
"This is a Portkey, Miss Granger. It will take you home."
"Wait, Professor, I can't go now! I was supposed to travel with Ron and Harry."
"Sorry, Miss Granger, the Portkey will activate now."
The Portkey began to glow.
"Wait! I need to speak to Ron."
Hermione felt a churning in her stomach. She turned to her friends...
"Harry..." And she was whisked away. "Ron!"
Into her parents' living room.
"That's the boy who treated you badly." Steven Granger's voice was harsh.
"I was supposed to take the Hogwarts Express."
"Under the circumstances, Hermione, your father and I thought the option of the transporter to be the best one."
Hermione looked from her mother to her father. Didn't they understand? She had to speak to Ron.
They had been inching closer since his birthday, approaching each other in ever smaller circles. After the headmaster's funeral, on the Express home, Hermione was convinced that something was going to happen, and now, now... Her parents didn't even understand the difference between the fiction of Star Trek and the reality of a magical Portkey.
"Aren't you pleased to see us, Hermione?" her father asked.
It was a difficult question; on the one hand, Hermione saw so little of her parents that she was always pleased to see them. On the other, she felt certain that she and Ron had been so close to finally resolving something.
"Of course, Dad. It's just that..."
"Steven, she's just been whisked away from a funeral. Naturally she's upset."
"He was an old man, Denise. Surely his death wasn't such a surprise to anyone."
Hermione stared at her father in shock. He didn't understand who Dumbledore was, didn't understand that the late headmaster had been the last bastion of good shielding them from the impending chaos.
Didn't he understand anything?
It was all too much. Her body stiff, Hermione stalked out of the room, and then, submitting to the sobs racking her body, rushed to her bedroom.
As if to mirror her mood, the sky through her bay window had darkened. In the distance thunder rumbled, but Hermione paid it no heed. As the rain commenced so did more tears. Eventually sleep took her.
It was the screaming that woke her; a hair-pulling, scratching, tug-o-war over Ron's limp body.
It was something of a relief to leave Lavender Brown behind for the loneliness of her little used bedroom, its stormy blue walls lighter than the maelstrom outside.
Hermione checked her watch. It was three forty-five. Next to her bed the clock radio, which normally reported the time in glowing red letters, was dark.
The electricity must be off, Hermione thought.
It had happened often enough when she was a little girl, before her mother had insisted that the house's entire electrical system be replaced.
There was another scream, and lightening, followed instantaneously by a crack of thunder, illuminating Hermione's bedroom.
An owl tapped frantically at the window.
Hermione couldn't believe that Ron would send his owl into the storm. Still, she was relieved; Pig represented a link, however tenuous, to her magical life, a link to Ron.
The window, though open only briefly, let in not merely the drenched owl, but also a measure of rain and icy wind.
Poor Pig lacked even the energy to play hard to get, he simply rolled over and presented his message-bound leg.
Hermione forced herself to remain calm. She retrieved a couple of owl treats from her bag, fed them to Pig, and waved her wand, casting a spell to dry the shivering bird. Then she sat back on her bed.
With shaking hands, Hermione examined the message.
The handwriting was none that Hermione recognised, and that gave her pause. Who but Ron or Ginny would send her a message via Pig?
I'm sorry to tell you that the Burrow was attacked by Dementors shortly after we returned from King's Cross Station.
Ron was hurt before we could fend them off and set fresh wards.
Harry's house was also attacked, but the Order was able to protect him.
I didn't want to send Pig out in this weather (Be careful, this storm isn't natural!), but Ginny was confident that Pig would find you.
Please don't worry, Harry's fine and we're doing everything we can for Ron.
Underneath Fred's name was a script Hermione knew to be Ginny's.
The Dementors seemed to have sucked out Ron's will to live. Nothing any of us do seems to help.
Even if you don't love him like he loves you, please come, come for friendship's sake at least.
Hermione swallowed hard, the memory of Ron's birthday still loomed in her mind. The nightmares where Ron died didn't come every night now, but they came often enough.
Forcing herself to think clearly, Hermione evaluated the situation. Clearly Ron hadn't received a full Dementor's kiss. His family, as much as they loved him, would never harbour delusions of his recovery. No, Ron must—MUST—still have his soul. He was strong, both physically and mentally, perhaps more so than even he thought. He was resilient; he would recover.
He had to recover.
Please god, he had to.
Hermione hastily scribbled the note by wandlight. She kept it simple.
My friend was hurt. The Burrow is a safe place to be. And could you please release Pigwidgeon from my room once the storm has lifted?
Hermione packed what she considered essential into a small backpack, and changed into clothes more suitable for travelling and for the weather.
Hermione placed her letter outside her parent's door and returned to her room.
Drawing her wand, she stood in the centre of the room, eyes closed, waiting.
She saw the sheet of lightning through her closed lids and Disapparated.
The crack of thunder masked not only her departure from her parents abode, but also her reappearance in the small park across the street.
Hermione had no intention of trying to Apparate directly to the Burrow.
In the first place, that property was very likely warded against such magical intrusions, and in the second place, Hermione doubted her own ability to Apparate such a great distance given her emotional state.
It would be far simpler and safer to take the Knight Bus.
Gathering herself, Hermione marched to the roadside, held out her wand, and focused on her need for transport.
Quelling a rising panic, she took a deep breath and tried again.
The eerie blue glow of lightning mockingly displayed an empty street.
"It's not coming."
Hermione jolted and spun around.
The voice hadn't been loud, but it had come as the skies had briefly fallen silent.
The woman was tall, tall even for a man, though the curve of her body and the rise her bosom, even in rough men's clothing, betrayed her sex.
Hermione noticed a holster of sorts on the woman's thigh, holding what appeared to be an extraordinarily long wand, almost as long as Ron's wand or Hagrid's umbrella.
Hermione gripped her own wand firmly in her hand.
"Voldemort's put a stop to it," the woman said. "Too much of a Muggle conveyance."
Hermione's mind raced to consider her alternatives, all the while holding her wand between herself and the strange witch.
With no Knight Bus she would have to resort to Muggle transport. Not a taxi, she hadn't the money for that. Perhaps a Muggle bus, or a train; surely a train ran to Ottery St. Catchpole. She could walk from the village, even in the storm, she could walk. The train must stop at Ron's village, surely.
"Ever wonder what wizards and witches did before the Muggles invented buses?"
Actually Hermione had. Before the Knight Bus had gone into service, there had been the Ghostly Carriage, driven by a volunteer from the Headless Hunt.
"Or Carriages." The woman said.
Hermione shook her head. The Ghostly Carriage had run for a 600 years.
"They summoned dragons."
"That's, that's ridiculous. Dragons can't be tamed." This much Hermione did know.
"Neither can snakes," the woman replied. "Unless you've the talent."
Talent—not a skill to be learned, but an inborn magical gift.
"There used to be many," the woman said. "But now there is only one man possessed of the gift."
Hermione racked her brains. Parseltongue was a rare hereditary talent which her friend Harry possessed more from bad luck than anything else. But dragon riding? What family would harbour such a talent? Unless…?
Hermione's heart sank.
"I doubt Draco Malfoy would help me," she said.
The woman smiled. "You don't need to be named Dragon to be a Rider," she said. "And you definitely don't need to be a pretentious prat."
Hermione suddenly realized that she had allowed the woman to approach her. They were talking intimately now.
"Listen, Hermione, if you summon the Dragon Rider he will come and take you where you want to go. But…"
"The Rider will ask you questions. These questions have not changed since the dawn of time. The Rider will ask the questions, but remember, Hermione, the answers are for the dragon, and the dragon will determine the true of them, and of you."
The woman stepped back. "Being truthful to the dragon means being truthful to yourself." She began to walk away. "That's the hardest part."
"Wait!" Hermione cried. "How do I summon the Rider?"
"Like the Knight Bus," came the reply, "only visualise a dragon."
Then she was gone.
Gathering her Gryffindor courage, Hermione held out her wand, closed her eyes, and visualized the first dragon she had ever seen: a hatchling, a lifetime ago in Hagrid's hut.
The harsh cry of the dragon overcame the thunder, and Hermione felt the heat of the dragon's breath.
"Who summons the Dragon Rider?" a voice cried out.
Despite the woman's words, Hermione was relieved that the voice radiated an almost familiar warmth. It definitely wasn't Draco.
It was just as Hermione had envisaged, a Norwegian Ridgeback, hovering above her, not a baby but a mature adult, the Rider obscure by its great bulk.
"Who summons the Dragon Rider?"
"To what end do you summon me?" Then the rider chuckled as he spoke to the dragon. "It's not for my wisdom."
There was a formality to the questions that Hermione knew better than to mock. This was an ancient challenge.
"I need to travel somewhere," she replied.
"To ride the dragon you must answer three questions. Beware young witch, the dragon does not tolerate untruth."
Hermione's mouth dried. A dragon's intolerance could be devastating.
"Ask," she said.
"Wither do you go?"
That wasn't too bad. Hermione relaxed a little. "The Burrow," she said. "It's a small…."
The Rider interrupted her. "Whom do you seek?"
This was harder. It would be so tempting to say Ginny, or even Fred, as he had written her the letter.
..The dragon will determine the truth…
The dragon's eye lowered to meet her own.
"Why do you seek him?"
Answers raced through Hermione's head.
He's my friend.
I want to heal him.
..Being truthful to the dragon means being truthful to yourself…
"I love him."
The dragon snorted, steam rising from both nostrils, and settled itself.
Hermione felt the heat rise to her cheeks. She had just revealed her heart of hearts to Ron's brother.
"He'll never hear from me, Hermione."
Charlie was shorter than Ron now, sharing the twins' stocky build.
"I guess my brother's a pretty lucky guy."
Hermione's legs buckled and she suddenly found herself supported by the second eldest brother.
"How bad is it, Charlie? The Dementors, they didn't…."
"His soul's intact, Hermione." Charlie tilted his head to one side. "Sort of."
"Sort of?" Hermione couldn't conceal the fear in her voice.
Charlie chuckled. "I reckon his soul is as whole as it can be for a bloke who's in love."
The phrase reverberated through Hermione's mind.
"Relax, Hermione. I reckon you're just the potion Ron needs."
The dragon snorted again, directing a blast of steam at Charlie's backside, causing him to jump and erupt with a stream of profanities that made Ron's normal bad language seem positively mundane.
That, for some reason, irked Hermione, though she didn't know why.
"Alright, alright!" she heard Charlie say. "Bloody overgrown lizard. Wants a formal introduction."
Charlie gestured to Hermione. "This is Hermione Granger." Charlie cleared his throat. "Hermione, this is Norbert."
"That's right. You lot spoiled him rotten, of course, but I was able to sort him out."
Norbert lowered his head further and Hermione gingerly reached up to touch him.
"He remembers you."
Norbert jerked his head away as another dragon cry could be heard. He replied, almost deafening Hermione as a smaller green dragon landed next to them with a ground shaking thud.
From the dragon's back, with the effortless ease of long practice, alighted the tall woman who had taught Hermione the dragon summoning.
"That's Gwendolyne," Charlie said. "The dragon, I mean, she's a …"
"Welsh Green," the woman completed his sentence. "Honestly, Charlie, I think you love her more than you love me."
Charlie just grinned and reached out to pull the woman closer to him.
"Hermione, this is Chris," he said.
Chris held out her hand and Hermione grasped it.
"Sure you want to get involved with a Weasley man, Hermione? I can tell you personally they're a worthless bunch."
Hermione blinked back the tears in her eyes. "It's too late, I'm afraid."
Chris stole a glance at Charlie. "Yeah." She broke from his grasp and delivered a blow to his shoulder. "Too bloody right you are, girl! Too bloody right."
Suddenly the there was a flash behind her and Hermione turned to see that Norbert had shot a bolt of fire into the sky.
"Dementor," Charlie said casually. "Made the mistake of getting too close."
"Norbert can hurt them?"
"Oh yes, destroy them, luckily for us."
"Charlie." Chris placed a hand on Ron's brother's shoulder and pointed into the sky. "There's never only one, Luv."
Hermione shuddered as a sheet of lightning illuminated a swirling mass of dark creatures.
"Wands out," Charlie said. "Now we must fly."
Hermione grimaced. This was the part she hadn't really been looking forward to.
"There is a saddle." Charlie said holding out a soft silk rope. "But I'd hate to have to explain to Ron if you fell off."
Hermione nodded thankfully.
Gwendolyne blasted another Dementor as Norbert lurched into the air.
Hermione grabbed instinctively for Charlie even though he had tied her to Norbert.
"Easy," Charlie said. Hermione suspected it was directed more at her than the dragon.
"You'll need your wand hand free," he said.
It wasn't that difficult; once in the air, dragon flight was remarkably smooth, emphasising the magical aspect of the creature.
"Keep it simple," Charlie said. "Dragon flame and Patronus charms. Nothing fancy."
Hermione's affirmative reply was lost to wind.
Charlie turned to face her. "I know you're smart, Hermione. Ron insists on telling me in every letter he sends, but tonight, keep it simple. Understand?"
Hermione nodded. There was no time to be indignant or insulted or even flattered.
Charlie turned forward and then the Dementors were upon them.
It's simple enough at first; a happy memory and her Patronus otter would scatter a dozen Dementors.
But there were more than a dozen Dementors, more than even a hundred, thousands blackening an already dark sky.
More than even their trio of Patronuses could scatter, more than dragon's breath could burn, more than her simple happy memories could sustain, until only one inane ridiculous thought remained.
I love you, Hermione.
Oh, he had said it.
I love you, Hermione.
Surely not to mock her.
I love you, Hermione.
But even that was not enough, and speed became their only resort.
Hermione and Charlie lying as flat as they could on Norbert's back, while alongside Chris did the same.
It seemed hopeless; neither dragon could sustain this frantic pace, especially if their exhausted flames were a measure of their reserves.
"Charlie!" Chris's voice came to them faintly. "We must go past the mountain."
"It's too far, Chris! It's twenty miles out of our way."
"We can summon them, Charlie. They'll come for us, if no one else."
Charlie nodded and ominously both dragons changed their course.
The mountain soon became apparent. It wasn't much more than a large hill, English green even in the dim dawn light.
Hermione trusted Charlie, this night, with her life. But as Charlie threw back his head and laughed, doubt gnawed, gnawed even as a black mass rose from the mountain toward them.
Norbert and Gwendolyne found flame even as they dived headlong into it.
The flame was answered in kind, as they found themselves surrounded by baby dragons.
Not baby dragons.
"Firedrakes," Hermione said.
"That's right," Charlie replied. "And the Dementors like their flame as much as they like Norbert's."
"But they're dangerous," Hermione said, "Because of their numbers."
"Not these, Hermione," Chris shouted. "Not to us anyway. They're ours."
"Common Weasleys, Hermione, common Weasleys." Charlie seemed much relaxed. "We're safe as houses."
Charlie's words seemed true. The Firedrakes formed a sphere around them, a sphere safely guarded by flame, allowing them to slow their frantic place and recover somewhat.
There was little time for talking. Charlie shared some food with her, dry biscuits and pumpkin juice, and Hermione was alarmed to note that many of the Firedrakes seemed to be abandoning them.
"They don't like to stray far from their mountain," Charlie said. "But it will be enough."
One by one the Drakes peeled away, the youngest and smallest first, until only a handful of large, scarred old timers flew around them. Eventually they too turned back, saluting the Riders as they did so, leaving just one enormous Firedrake, his wings beating in harmonious time to that of the dragons.
"We're almost there," Charlie said, pointing.
His words were a welcome relief and Hermione's eye's followed his arm,
There was a silvery dome, shards of energy like lightning bolts erupting from its surface—in response to what? Hermione could not tell.
Hermione's relief was however short lived, as a dark mass suddenly hid the dawning sun: the Dementors had found them again.
Charlie urged Norbert into a dive and the old Firedrake banked away, dipping a wing in silent salute to his larger cousins.
He emitted a harsh, angry cry and belched flames as he charged into the Dementors
Hermione had little time to ponder the brave Drake's fate as Norbert dove through the wards, landing with a bone-shuddering jolt. It was bright inside the wards. The Burrow seemed lit by eternal sunshine, a small island of hope in a hopeless land.
Gwendolyne landed a moment later. They had landed in the meadow, the Weasley's makeshift Quidditch pitch, which lay behind the house proper. In its centre stood Bill's tall form, next to him Fleur, both weaving an intricate magic, which Hermione suspected may have some reliance on Fleur's unique heritage.
Even as they landed, a number of figures emerged from the house. Ron's father reached them first. He wrapped his son in a brief but intense hug and turned to Hermione; before she could register, the elder Weasley was hugging her, lifting her feet entirely off her recently-acquired footing.
"Foolish girl," he said. "Foolish girl, but I'm so glad you've come."
On being released, she found herself virtually assaulted by Ginny. The younger girl's sentiments were no doubt similar to her father's, but lacking his coherency amongst tears that rolled down her face. The third member of the family to greet them was Fred; he didn't hug her, but gifted Hermione with a warm smile.
"Ron's in his room," he said. "I'm so glad you're here."
Hermione didn't hear anything else. It seemed that her feet now commanded her, and their command was simple: find Ron. Even so, after rushing across the meadow, through the kitchen, and up the stairs, Hermione's feet slowed as she neared his room.
Ron lay there, not still, not pale; his face was ruddy as if from great exertion, and he tossed and turned in response to things unseen,, leaving bedclothes strewn about him.
Yet Hermione knew he was not awake. He might never wake, trapped inside his own mind with Dementors and whatever other vile creatures they had witnessed in their young lives.
"Wake up, Ron," she said quietly. "Wake up, please."
It made no difference. If anything, his discomfort seemed worse.
Hermione reached out, touching Ron's arm briefly before he jerked away.
His arm had been slick with sweat.
She could see now that his pyjamas and bedclothes were drenched.
Ron's arm moved, knocking her hand away, and in reflex Hermione grabbed it. Suddenly she found herself trapped as Ron responded automatically, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her onto his chest.
"Ron!" she gasped.
Still he ignored her words and her fear and frustration boiled over.
"Damnit, Ronald! I didn't ride here on a dragon's back through a storm of Dementors for you to manhandle me!"
Hermione pushed against Ron's chest, how could someone so ill be so strong.
"RONALD, LET ME GO!"
Ron still appeared to be in a dream, but that was the first coherent word he had spoken.
His hold on her tightened, the circle of his arm almost crushing her to him.
"Ron!" she gasped.
Ron's voice seemed confused, but his hold remained strong.
"You can't go! You can't! I've got so much to say."
It seemed that Ron might still be at Hogwarts, responding to her sudden disappearance.
"I'm here, Ron."
"Harry, they're taking her away!"
His hold on her grew painfully tighter.
"I won't let them."
"Ron, please you're hurting me."
"Yes, you great prat," she said softly.
Ron grunted and his hold loosened a little. "How did you get here?" he said. "The Portkey... I had so much I wanted to talk to you about, but they just took you away."
"I flew," Hermione couldn't keep the element of pride from her voice. "On Norbert."
"But you hate flying," Ron said. "You always have."
It was too much now, all too much. Ron was awake and coherent, and his words reflected the length and depth of their friendship.
Hermione could contain herself no longer, and tears fell freely from her eyes.
"Don't cry, Luv," Ron said.
"I'd...I'd ride through worse than that," she sobbed, "if I could just hear your voice telling me that I might at least have some chance to win you."
"Bugger all chance," said Ron gruffly.
Hermione gasped and tried to pull away but he held her firm as ever.
"Bugger all chance," Ron repeated. "You won me ages ago And anybody who thinks I'm going to let you go now is bloody mental."
There was a loud sob that emitted from the corner of the room, and a loud scraping of a chair as someone stood up.
Hermione buried her face in Ron's chest, unwilling to look, then she felt a gentle touch on her shoulder.
"Thank you, child. There'll be tea in half an hour."
The door closed with a gentle click.
Hermione felt Ron's lips on her and she indulged for a moment her most secret fantasy before reluctantly pulling away, "Ron...your mum."
"Tea's in half an hour," Ron grinned. "And Mum closed the door."
Hermione was uncertain for how long they kissed. She remembered rolling off Ron to snuggle against his side; she remembered faint laughter downstairs, and the sweet cry of dragons.
She remembered Molly bringing tea up to them and Ron helping her to drink in her exhaustion before she slipped into fitful dreams of green mountains and dragons and Drakes….
…and Riders on the Storm
Thanks to "The Doors", Sandra C, DAWC, Jon & Miss E