AN: Woah.

Anyone seen "The Dark Knight" yet? Please go. It's amazing. All those things they're saying about Heath Ledger? True. More than true. The plot is fantastic, the villain is odious, and Christian Bale is officially my favorite Batman.

What else do I have to "Woah" about? Two things. One, I went to Warped Tour. Fun! Way too hot, and water was far too expensive, but outside of that, extremely entertaining. Two, I found the TV show "Skins" on YouTube. Very awesome. I fell so hard for Chris and Jal, so I naturally cried all through the series finale. I'm now eagerly awaiting the beginning of the next season.

Now, here's the not-so-fun part. Eight reviews? Yes, I love you all for reviewing, and I don't mean to complain. But over a hundred people are alerted to this fic every time it updates. Eight out of a hundred? I'm just saying.

Anons:

lily – I hope you enjoy this chapter some, then. I thought I should throw everyone a bone before I did that inevitable "big fight" and break everything done to pieces again. Heh.

Ako – No problem. Sorry it's been so long and you're lost …

Ok, time to get on with the chapter.

Disclaimer: If I had the money, I'd own the Batman enterprise right now. JOKER RULES! In a sicko, psychopath sort of way, of course.

Water in his veins boiled at the sight of them. Every creature there shifted from side to side, cried distress calls, stomped, ruffled, and shook. This was the common

Seaweed brushing against his leg, cool rushing across the protective bulbs of his eyes. It called to him still.

enemy. Nothing mattered to them but a cold consumption. All of the creatures here were detached to a certain degree. They were man's best friends to the terror coming.

The peaceful path of a fish. Dolphins chattering about the change of the tide. Floating beside a whale to catch wisps of its deep, ponderous wisdom.

Black swarms of formless bodies. Flaps grew from their sides to balance them as they landed. The Master smiled a slow smile at them and greeted them with open arms. In return, they dipped forward

A kingdom the likes of which the wizarding world could never have dreamed in their wildest fits of imagination. So clever were the seafolk that they had found a way to hide their precious palaces where no wizard could venture. The pressure of the depths would crush arrogant humans to nothing at all. Cold, cruel, clever, the people of the sea...

in an imitation of a bow. The wolf-man stepped forward and jerked its head to them. After a pause, they formed inky insubstantial heads to nod sinisterly back at him. One reached out to touch the puppet man curiously. He screamed at the contact. It was e

No home on the land, no home in the ocean ... banished and erased from memory...

nough for him. He slipped through a crack of the wall and swam through the dirt to the watery tunnels he felt above him. Sounds of fear followed him and spurred his heels. The Master's power was great to keep his kinsmen in place. Revenge didn't justify working with them. Not them.

A beautiful mermaid swirling around him. Her tail caught sunlight and flipped it back to him.

He scrabbled through the muck. Mud and earth broke through the call of The Master. Good. Wizards must be warned.

The Lethifolds had gathered.

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"I tried to tell him. 'George,' I said, 'that's about as stable as Umbridge's mental state.' Wouldn't listen. Stupid prat would've lost another ear if I hadn't knocked him to the floor in time. As 

it is, we have to start all over again and spend more of Kingsley's funds." Ron shuddered. "That's not something I really want to tell Kingsley right now."

Ginny shook her head. "What can you expect of George? He's an idiot."

"I expect him not to blow my head off," Ron retorted sullenly, taking a revengeful stab at his pudding.

Hermione was practically glowing. Since their abrupt truce, Ron had stopped avoiding her. True, he wasn't exactly seeking her out, but when she went to see him during lunch, he was still at his desk, and he longer ignored her during patrol. Tonight, he had even come to dinner at the Potters on the same night as her and hadn't brought George. Cautiously, in a very small part of her that was fragile as an eggshell, she had begun to hope again. She wouldn't even allow herself to name what it was that she hoped for. She just hoped.

Harry broke through her thoughts. "What's Kingsely got to be upset about? The Ministry's doing fine. Even if, you know, we are spending most nights banging our heads against a wall looking for Kregan. And friend."

"Well, he's suspicious, isn't he?" Ron explained darkly. "As long as he's known us? He knows something's up, and he knows it has something to do with Kregan's 'mysterious disappearance.' He just doesn't what it is. You know Kingsley. He doesn't like being out of the loop."

The high was gone; Hermione was brought down to the conversation with a thump. She chewed on her lip and stirred her forgotten potatoes into a whirlpool. "That could be a problem. If anyone could figure this out, it's Kingsley."

"But would he?" Harry looked around for confirmation. When no one answered, he elaborated. "I mean, Kingsley won't like that we're keeping things from him, but he's hardly the type to stick his nose in our business. He'll wait until we come to him."

"And when we don't?" Hermione asked.

"He'll keep waiting.

"Y'know, I think Harry's right," Ron decided, swallowing a large chunk of pudding. Hermione and Ginny exchanged disturbed glances as they watched pudding glob move past his throat. "Anyone want seconds?"

Everyone hurriedly assured him that they were done.

For a little while the only sounds were that of Ron slurping up pudding in stomach-turning sort of way. The rest of them fell into the usual habit of sorting out the general problem on their own for a while. For her part, Hermione was stuck. Logically, she could see Harry's point. Kingsley had never been the person to tell them that they were too young or to bring in official help or something similarly idiotic. Even if he figured them out, he wouldn't tell anyone, and he certainly wouldn't interfere. The not-so-logical part of her brain was churning itself into a blind panic at the idea of the Minister of Magic getting involved. She had a long-standing tradition of distrusting Ministry authorities. Even now, a Ministry employee herself, she couldn't shake her prejudices.

Ginny didn't work at the Ministry, and she certainly knew Kingsley as well as the rest of them. Maybe she'd have a clear perspective. Hermione turned to ask her.

Harry and Ginny, it turned out, had obviously abandoned their solo thinking. They were whispering at each other frantically. Ginny looked especially earnest and her gestures were getting more and more violent.

Hermione saw Ron looking at her. He nodded at the bickering couple and pulled a face. She had to choke back a laugh.

A throat clear ended all previous communications. Ginny was glaring pointedly at a clearly defeated Harry. "We have something to tell you," she snipped.

Harry grinned. "Ginny's pregnant."

There was a prolonged pause.



"I'm going to be an uncle!" Ron whooped.

"Oh, Ginny!" Hermione exclaimed, dashing around the table and flinging her arms around her friend in record time.

The annoyance melted off Ginny's face at once. "I told Harry we should tell you first."

Ron, who was busy clapping Harry on the back hard enough to send him face-first into his own pudding, couldn't help laughing. "Afraid of not telling Mum first?" he asked in a very understanding tone.

"Yes," came the muffled reply.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Coward."

"She can't kill you, you're her only girl," Harry said, remerging from his plate with bits of food stuck to his glasses and the end of his nose. "Besides, it's easier to tell everyone at once."

"Well, we have to ask these two something else." Ginny smiled at the two of them. "Will the two of you be godparents?"

"No," Ron and Hermione answered at once.

Harry and Ginny looked intensely affronted. Hermione hurriedly withdrew her arms from Ginny, whose face was a storm ready to break.

"Why?" Harry asked bemusedly.

There was a bit of muttering from Ron. Seeing that he had lost his nerve, Hermione explained for both of them. "We're so honored, Harry, Ginny - you know that we'd love to, really, it's just ... we'll be so close to all of your children anyway ..."

"It won't be any fair to play favorites, will it?" Ron picked up. "Unless you're only having the one."

Hermione finished apologetically. "It's best that we are the same thing to all and not too special to only one."

Privately, she was far more concerned with Ron's possible reactions to being a parent of any kind with her. She could see Harry had the same fear; he was looking at her, understanding etched on his face. If it'd been up to him, she knew, he'd have asked one at a time. Not that it would've changed her answer. Much.

"And who," Ginny asked, resigned and none too pleased about it, "should we ask?"

Hermione glanced over at Ron, who replied "George and Nessa. He'll be a far better godfather than mine. Uncle Bilius was funny enough, but he thought my name was Rob. And Nessa never feels like part of the family, being Muggle and all. She'll be dead chuffed."

Hermione could see Ginny relenting, but she had no time to be relieved. A Patronus in the shape of a beaver had scurried its way through the door and climbed up the table legs and settled itself next to the tea pot with an efficiency that belied its lumpy frame. "Miss Hermione Granger?" it asked the general dining party in a brisk female voice.

"I'm Hermione Granger," Hermione told it uncertainly.

The beaver squared itself up importantly. "Miss Hermione Granger is to be informed that one Ophelia Danes has recovered from her magic-induced coma. Visiting hours are between eight and ten on weekdays, ten and eight on weekends. St. Mungo's thanks you for choosing them to help you with all of your magical maladies and mishaps."

With a sigh like wind through winter trees, the beaver disappeared.

Silver still sparkled over the table by the time Hermione had made it to the kitchen door. "Where are you going?" Ginny called.

"St. Mungo's," Hermione said, the door propped open on her foot.

"What about visiting hours?" Ron asked cheekily. "This is Saturday, and it's past eight."

Hermione said some very un-Hermione-like things about visiting hours. Then she disappeared with a crack.



The door had barely the time swing itself achingly shut before the other three diners had pushed their way through it and Disapperated after their friend.

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Ophelia had woken up once again by the time Hermione had barged past security and made her way up to the room. A tiny witch trailed after her, looking most displeased with recent developments. "You've got to wait, missy, d'ya hear? These aren't the correct visitin' hours. I don't care if you'd defeated Moldy Voldy yourself, you're not getting' in 'ere, and that's final. I say, you need …"

"Oi saayy," Ophelia repeated in a heavily slurred British accent. "Silly England people …"

"She has had a lot of potions for the pain," Faiz, who had stood up from his chair at Ophelia's beside to greet Hermione, explained in an undertone. "She is quite … happy."

Ophelia giggled.

"I can imagine." Hermione smiled tremulously at her friend. "Ope?"

"Herm!" Ophelia reached her arms out delightedly.

Hermione fell into them, sniffling. "I've missed you," she murmured into her friend's scentless hospital gown. "You've no idea how much."

"Love you, Hermy," Ophelia replied brightly, patting Hermione's frizzy curls gently.

She chuckled. "Love you, too."

"The Healers have said that she has made a full recovery," Faiz said quietly. Hermione dragged herself up to look at him, and couldn't help noticing he seemed … relieved.

"Have you been here since yesterday?" She looked him over and laughed. "Are you wearing the same clothes?"

Faiz just smiled serenely. There was no modification to his usual solid expression than a few new lines under his eyes.

"Faizy!" Ophelia cried. "I love you too, Faizy! You're so adorable …"

"Those are the sort of things you'll regret saying later," Hermione told her, smiling. Her head was humming happily. "That's probably also the first time Faiz has been called adorable."

"Miss!" The tiny witch was not to be ignored.

Hermione turned on her, brows snapped together. "You've made yourself quite clear. May my friend stay, at least?"

"Ministry says she must 'ave a guard," the witch sniffed, apparently dubious in her belief that the Ministry could possibly understand the importance of St. Mungo's visiting hours. "He's cleared for th' night."

"Wonderful," Hermione commented dryly. "I suppose I'll go, then." She clasped Ophelia's hands warmly. "But I'll be back tomorrow. Alright?"

Ophelia looked up at her seriously. "Bring Harry."

There was something urgent in her eyes at that moment; however, they almost instantly reverted back to a potion-induced sheen. "See you tomorrow, Herm!"

Hermione exchanged looks with Faiz. He shrugged placidly. She allowed herself to be ushered off by the tiny witch, wishing desperately that Ophelia could've woken up during the usual visiting hours. It was as if, if Hermione left Ophelia for even a second, Ophelia would fall back down into whatever dark she had been in before and never come out again.

As she went out, she shook her head at the large group of people – Randy, Grace, Roland, the interrupted dinner party and a few robust-looking Americans – that had congregated at the end of the hall, waiting for a final word from Hermione that the tiny witch truly had the power to keep them out. They fell in dejectedly behind her, the witch heading them in a very sad parade.

"Tosser," Ron muttered rebelliously, then ducked his head behind the tall American boy in front of him when the witch turned back, her nose twitching dangerously.

"Visiting hours begin at ten! Now out with the lot of you!"



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"You've paired Angelina Johnson with herself."

"Have I?"

"And you've got Charlie Weasley working in London when he left for Romania last week, look …"

"I haven't!"

"Not to mention you've put Draco Malfoy down to work with Ron …"

"Will!"

"… which I'd only do if you want to kill Malfoy, Ron's not a fan and last time I heard, he's killed something like nine Death Eaters since he got his Auror status …"

"I never put Malfoy anywhere! I should play with your charts, see how you like it, I worked for hours on this, I did …"

It was a stroke of brilliance, Hermione decided happily, to put Will and Nadia in charge of the partner charts. Instead of dreading the writing and re-writing of several lists of patrol pairings, the teenagers would swap stories they'd heard of each person, or debate the chances of the Holyhead Harpies in an upcoming tournament (Will had become a rather big fan of the team since meeting Ginny, much to Harry's amusement and Nadia's chagrin), or bicker noisily while accidentally-on-purpose grazing knees under the table.

This seemed to be the case now. Nadia was waving her quill threateningly towards Will's charts and laughing as Will covered his neat work, scowling. She shut up rather quickly when Will took hold of her arm to save his lists. They stared at each other until some ink from dripped from the nib onto Nadia's sleeve. Then they broke apart, blushing madly, and resumed work in flurry of busy silence.

Ron looked over at them from his seat in the kitchen and laughed quietly. "What d'you reckon? Three years? Four? It took Hannah and Neville something like ten years, but Dean and Luna were sorted out in a month."

"I think it'll be a big moment," Hermione mused, pausing from her mark up of a map that was spread across the tiny table in front of her. She had to once again question Ophelia's taste – the thing was shaped like a cat, and was dotted with lurid pink dots the size of her fist. "Like Ginny and Harry. She won that Quidditch game and ran into his arms and …"

"Yeah, I don't need to remember that bit."

"They're married now, Ronald," Hermione scolded gently, returning to her map. "Don't you think that they …"

"Oi! That's my little sister you're talking about," Ron said, his nose wrinkled, all attention diverted from the little couple.

"Oh, for goodness sake," Hermione laughed. She glanced up at the large black dog clock on the wall and back at Ron. "We should probably get going. Harry's coming by, isn't he?"

"Should be here in a minute." They stood up simultaneously; Hermione rolled her map up as carefully as possible and slid it into one of the many makeshift bookshelves that peppered the apartment, while Ron stretched himself out from toe to fingertip, before shouting out at the students over the kitchen island. "You two! Can we leave you alone 'til Harry gets here or are you gonna start snogging all over the place?"

"Ron!" Hermione dragged him out of the flat so quickly that he narrowly missed being brained by the top of the doorjamb. The sounds of denial followed them down the hallway.

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Weasley is our Queen

Weasley is our Queen

Her flying skills are supreme

Weasley is our Queen



The song echoed dismally off the stones of the alley, making it seem far more sinister than necessary, even considering the dark and the stench of stale rainwater and garbage. Ron didn't seem to mind, though. He broke into a rousing second chorus right on the heels of the first.

Weasley is our Queen!

Weasley is our Queen!

She is a fan's fondest dream

Weasley is our Queen!

"Ron, it might help if you stopped singing."

"It might help if you stopped sending us to these dead-end allies. We must've run through London's whole stock by now." But he contented himself with a jaunty whistle instead.

Hermione sighed. "I didn't choose where Kregan decided to spend his spare time. But they are rather unpleasant, aren't they?"

Ron relented, stopping his musical efforts altogether to attempt to cheer her up. "Look, it's not so bad. See! You can even see some stars if you look straight up and crane your neck sort of funny." He chuckled and winked at her. "Fancy taking up Astrology? We could swap tea leaves, interpret each other's dreams, the whole bit."

A twinge of dread woke in Hermione at the thought of telling her dreams to Ron – setting aside any that involved him, there were always those that featured Gualtierro chasing her through a forest, his rank breath hot on her back – but she was able to roll her eyes in a convincingly derisive way. "The day I take up Astrology is the day Hagrid is finally convinced that the Skrewt he's hiding out in the Whomping Willow is truly a nasty piece of work that should be put down for the safety of Hogwarts, not to mention himself."

"C'mon, Hermione," Ron wheedled, wobbling slightly as he tried to keep looking at the stars and walk in straight line at the same time. "Trelawney was a stupid old bat, right enough, but Firenze was doing something real. Even if, y'know, I have no bloody clue what the hell it was he was doing …"

"You're being nice."

In her head, it had sounded quite casual. She'd been thinking of how and when to bring up Ron's new positive attitude for a while now. It had just never seemed the right time to say something and not disturb the shaky peace between.

Why she had decided that this was the right time, she had no idea. Because it hadn't sounded casual at all. It had sounded petulant and pathetic. Why a spell hadn't been invented yet to take back idiotic remarks, she would never know.

He swiveled around so quickly that he almost collided into a nearby wall. He did a mid-air pirouette in order to glare at her properly. "You say that like I'm not nice."

"Well, no. Not to me. Not lately." Hermione looked up at the gritty-looking stars for inspiration. "Not that I mind. At all." She dropped her gaze to the cobblestone puddles. "Actually, could we forget I said anything?"

Ron chuckled. "No, it's alright. Ginny told me everything."

That certainly wasn't on the list of predicted responses. "Ginny?"

"Yeah, she told me about your flat and how it meant you wanted to be just friends …"

At first Hermione thought that the cold that had spread through her was because of what Ron had said. But then she realized two things at once.

Ron had stopped speaking rather abruptly.

And a grey fog had rolled across their path, in between the two of them, and thundered on behind them, covering everything in an eerie shade of black-blue. Meanwhile, the night sky above them continued to glitter unhindered.

The air around her froze and then dug into her skin, turning her very veins into ice. "Dementors," she puffed into cold.



"A lot of Dementors," Ron confirmed gravely.

Terror befell Hermione as all around her the wind rattled with their breaths. She'd never been good with Dementors … and just now, God, just now she wouldn't be able to think of a happy thought if her parents had popped up in front of her, as happy and healthy as the day she had left on that first red train …

They glided through the fog as elegantly as dancers. Tattered robes billowed in a nonexistent wind; their tips were lost in the fog that billowed from them like smoke.

One Dementor, the most prominent of the gathering, reached a single skeletal hand out. It brushed Hermione's sleeve oh-so-gently.

She was falling down, down, down … there wasn't anything for her anymore … no family, no love, no friends … would all of them stop screaming, please, please stop screaming, she couldn't help, no, no, couldn't help, and she wanted so much to just be given peace, to curl up by herself and go to sleep and never hear them screaming again … why did it have to be up to them all the time … she just wanted some sleep … that's all, just some sleep …

"Hermione!"

And she was wrenched back into the real world with the feel of Ron's fingers digging into her skin.

"Hermione!" he called again, shaking her like a doll, his eyes only slighted clouded. His hands were clammy.

"They're dead, Ron," she told him, trembling. "They're all dead."

"I heard them, too. I know," he told her, jerking her away from the Dementor and pulling them both closer to the shoddy wall beside them.

"No you don't. They were fine before they had me. Why did I have to be a witch, Ron?"

Ron pulled his wand out. "I'm sorry, Hermione, but this really isn't the time." He brandished his wand determinedly. "Expecto Patronum!"

Hermione shuddered and looked into herself. A happy thought.

Ron's Patronus was weaving and bounding through the Dementors, driving them back, but it wasn't enough. She felt Ron's heart beat quick as a rabbit's from where he held her close to him, protecting her. Pathetic, that's what she was being. A happy thought.

The Patronus … did it look a bit odd?

A happy thought.

"EXPECTO PATRONUM!

Warmth blazed inside of her and erupted from her wand. Her silver otter skipped on the air to join Ron's Patronus. Together they herded away the Dementors and chased away the fog, sending it all flying back to wherever it had appeared from. Then they swam back, flipping about in midair, to join their wizard and witch before dissolving to light, then to nothing.

Two perfect silver otters.

In perfect sync, Ron and Hermione turned to each other. All the fluttery good feelings that Hermione had experienced drained away at once. There was something immensely terrible about seeing Ron stripped bare before her like that. He looked so betrayed.

"Ron." She wanted to say that they could pretend she hadn't seen. She wanted to say that she had thought it looked like a terrier in dark lighting. More than anything, she wanted to pick him back up again and make him into the arrogant arse he'd been the last few weeks.

But he Disapperated before she could say anything at all.

AN: Ok, it took three weeks of stops and starts to finish this, so I must apologize with any mess I've made of it. I'm still getting back into the fanfic groove. And if anyone's confused (which, honestly, you should all be a little), don't you worry. Answers will be forthcoming. Love? Hate? Review!