Title: Needing a Sign
Author's note: I have pushed the boundaries of this prompt so I hope you'll forgive me if I don't reach the crux of the prompt at first, but it was necessary. ;D A BIG THANK YOU to Hannah whose criticism was very much welcome at a time of "idea/writing drought" (which explains my tardiness) ... also a nod to Laura who helped me come up with spells. More importantly, thanks to JKR, ie. The Goddess, whose words (some) and characters I stole directly from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
This was written for the LJ Hallowed Moments Fic-a-Fest using the following prompt: Hermione's thoughts (or Ron's) around the time of her kiss with Ron during The Battle of Hogwarts.
The crowd of people in the Room of Requirement seemed to be multiplying even with Harry's departure with Luna, Hermione thought. What were she and Ron going to do now?
She could hear the loud remarks of a group of younger students dispersed in one corner –
"Blimey, was that Potter just going now?"
"Harry POTTER? No! When did he come back?" cut in someone else.
"They were talking about Ravenclaw –"
Hermione turned to Ron. "So, what now?" she whispered. "Even if Harry does find the other Horcrux, how are we going to get rid of it? We still have Helga Hufflepuff's cup!"
Ron frowned. "Well, I did have an idea now that I think about it, except ..." He looked uneasy.
"Go on, Ron," Hermione encouraged. "What is it?"
"Well, since we're back in Hogwarts, you know that Harry used the Basilisk fangs to kill off Riddle's diary, right? The Basilisk is still in the Chamber of Secrets! If we just went there now – "
"We could get more fangs to kill the Horcruxes!" Hermione finished for him. "Ron…"
He looked at her as though bracing for the worst.
"It's – it's BRILLIANT!" she exclaimed. She could hardly contain her excitement. "But we'll have to go right now if we can – "
"What are you two whispering about?" a voice broke in. Ginny's face looked from Hermione's face to Ron's, apparently trying to read their expressions.
Hermione shook her head. "Ginny, Ron and I have to go now, there's no time to explain!" She prodded Ron's arm, wordlessly communicating to him with her eyes. She started walking towards the entrance, and stopped at the doorway.
"Wait, can't we help you?" Ginny followed.
"Yes – no!" Hermione replied sharply. "No, we won't take long, I promise. Just – when Harry gets back tell him we've gone to the Cha – girls' bathroom!" She motioned to Ron who was inspecting a heap of broomsticks lying beside a portrait by the wall.
"COME ON, RON!"
"But –" Ginny began to protest but was cut off by Hermione.
"We'll be back soon!" Hermione squeezed Ginny's hand reassuringly. "RON!"
"Hang on!" He grabbed hold of a broomstick and ran to an impatient Hermione. "Take care, Ginny!" he said.
As Hermione and Ron made their way towards the concealed entrance outside of the Room, they were confronted by Neville, who demanded, "What are you lot doing?" But the entrance to the Room securely locked itself behind them, drowning any more sound from within.
"Right," Hermione said thoughtfully. "Let's go. I'd feel better if we had Harry's Cloak, but we should be alright for the short distance. If we encounter any Death Eaters we'll Stun them, OK?"
"Right," Ron replied.
They ran for it.
The bathroom was as putrid as she remembered. Moaning Myrtle was nowhere to be seen.
"Probably hiding in some other rundown toilet scared out of her wits," Ron chuckled. He was bent down, circling the sinks.
"What are you looking for?" she asked.
"It's a tap… did I tell you? It's got a tiny snake on the side." He stopped at one sink. "This is the one!"
Hermione stared at the little snake for a moment – realization dawned on her. "Ron ... we don't know Parseltongue! How are we going to open the Chamber?" How could she have forgotten this significant fact?
Ron grimaced. "When Harry did it before, it was just like a trail of hissing noises." He tugged at the tap.
"Can you – can you copy it, then?" Hermione asked.
Ron cleared his throat. He made a sound that sort of resembled that of a snake.
He tried again.
Several more times.
They all seemed to sound the same every time.
Ron gave a heaved sigh of frustration.
She grew more anxious, pacing around in circles. What if they couldn't get through? They had come so far already; it would be too cruel to meet failure now.
"Got it!" Ron exclaimed.
There was a tremulous rumble coming from the sink. Hermione watched, amazed, as a white glow formed around the tap. It started to spin and the sink began to fall back exposing a large pipe that looked a lot like a huge water slide at a Muggle swimming pool.
She looked back at Ron in awe. "You did it, Ron! You did it!"
Ron gave a pleased grin, his ears turning pink. His face, however, fell as he inspected the pipe below. "Never thought I'd be going back though," he said grimly.
Hermione wondered what was going through his mind. She hadn't forgotten how harrowing it must have been for him to brave his fear of spiders to save her back in second year.
She peered into the seemingly bottomless duct. It was nothing shecouldn't handle, surely?
"Erm, it's really dark down there, but it'll be a bit better once you come out," Ron explained.
Hermione gave a weak smile. "Honestly, Ron, after all we've been through, how much better can it get?"
Ron remained serious. "Don't worry, Hermione, I'll be right behind you." He put his hand on her shoulder; it lingered there for a moment.
"I'll be fine," she said. She swallowed, and slid her legs into the pipe, levering herself before plunging forward. She let out a shriek as she rushed down the slimy, murky slide, harrowed by the twists and turns, feeling herself fall deeper and deeper below the school.
"'M– right – 'ere – 'er – my – nee!" came Ron's voice, echoing from above. She could hear him thumping against the slide walls.
If this were a different scenario I might even enjoy this, she thought. She gripped her wand for reassurance, ready to aim at anyone and anything that would try to stop her.
She shot out suddenly, hitting the wet ground with a loud thud. She closed her eyes, feeling a little disoriented.
Ron came out, landing on the hard floor beside her. "Are you alright?" was the first thing he asked breathlessly.
"F-fine," she replied, moving to get up. "Bit sore."
Ron stood up suddenly, giving Hermione his hand. She smiled gratefully at him, taking it, feeling more flustered.
He looked intently at her. She felt her cheeks begin to burn. He then moved forward, wiping her cheek with his thumb. "It looked like you had a, er, cut," he said, making a cough. He moved away, inspecting the broomstick that had fallen beside him, before picking it up.
She raised her hand to trace the streak he had just touched. She bowed her head, hiding her pleasure. "It was just some dirt."
He came to her again, taking her hand awkwardly, looking a bit flushed himself. "Come on. I remember Harry saying that there's another entrance if we follow this path."
Hermione nodded, trying to ignore the tingling sensation of Ron's finger on her cheek. There's a war on, she told herself sternly. There's no time for that sort of thing now.
They swiftly made their way through the chamber's crumbling remains, stepping cautiously over fallen rubble. She felt lost and unsettled, as much as she hated to admit it. She was in completely unfamiliar territory, and even though she knew she was more than capable of taking care of herself, she felt comforted in the fact that Ron seemed to know what he was doing.
They finally stopped at a barricade with two intertwined serpents apparently guarding something. She guessed this was the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.
Ron made the same hissing sound as before, sounding more confident. It only took a few tries this time. The doors unveiled, revealing yet another tunnel.
"Well, Parseltongue seems as easy as pie," Ron quipped. "Dunno what everyone was scared about!" Hermione shook her head in amusement.
The first thing she noticed was the awful, pungent stench, like something had been dead for centuries and had never been able to decompose properly. She covered her nose with her arm. She could hear Ron making gagging noises beside her. "I've got to do something about this odour!" she muttered.
"Absconditius nidor!" she said, waving her wand.
Nothing happened visibly. She cautiously sniffed the air.
Ron stopped his retching. "Smell's gone!"
"I've hidden it," she explained, pleased that Ron was apparently amazed.
"Oh, there it is!" she pointed to the enormous spirals of the dead Basilisk lying motionless along the tunnel nearby.
Ron nodded. "Didn't have the pleasure of meeting it last time, did we?" He squeezed her hand. "Come on!" They began to step over the immense coils.
"Oh!" Hermione yelped, stumbling over one particularly large coil.
"Careful!" Ron lifted her against him.
She thanked him, feeling flushed. All this embarrassment! She had to harden her resolve. She was Hermione Granger for Heaven's sake. "You can let go of me now, Ron," she said gently.
Ron released her rather awkwardly. "Right."
There was a heavy silence.
"Well, we can't all have your long legs, Ron Weasley!" Hermione joked, trying to break the tension that had seemed to lace itself around them. She moved forward.
"So you noticed?" Ron replied with mirth, following her. She smiled widely at this, but didn't reply.
They reached the far end of the Basilisk's carcass at a wide bend of the tunnel. Its yellow eyes no longer held the power to kill, and yet Hermione couldn't help but feel as though she was about to be Petrified again.
"Likely needs a bath, too," she heard Ron utter. He was inspecting its head.
"It's decomposing at an exponentially low rate," she said.
"In English, please?"
"It means that the Basilisk's venom will still be incredibly effective, even though it's been dead for years. So just be careful you don't cut yourself!"
Ron sighed. He used his wand to prod at the Basilisk's gigantic mouth. "Is it safe to touch it?"
"Well, what did I just say?"
"I don't exactly plan on cutting myself, if that's what you mean!"
Hermione's temper flared, but she contained herself. This was not the time for it. She ignored him, and with a flick of her wand directed at the Basilisk's teeth, she said firmly "Amoveo fangs!"
There was a slight shake of the creature's head, and after some initial resistance from her wand she managed to wrench all the fangs out of its skull and onto the floor, without actually touching them herself. Their yellowness and razor-sharp shape were made more pronounced, lying there as they were. The poisonous venom oozed along down the fangs and trickled into a puddle on the ground. It was a terrifying sight.
Ron looked impressed, apparently forgetting their minor quibble. "Blimey! How is it that you can do anything?"
She did not deem to answer that. They had learnt this charm in sixth year.
"Tergeo!" Ron said, pointing his wand at the scattered fangs. The venom wiped clean from them and the stony ground; no trace of poisonous fluid remained.
Hermione beamed. "That was clever, Ron!"
"Well, I did learn from the best," he answered modestly. "So how many do we need to take?" He dropped onto his knees, gathering some fangs into his arms, leaving his broomstick on the side.
She bent down beside him, collecting some remaining bits. "Not much I should imagine, but we should grab an armful … just in case." She held a fang up to inspect it closely. "Yes, these should do very well."
"OK, are we all set?" Ron asked once they'd gotten as many fangs as they could.
"Yes," Hermione wiped her forehead. She felt rather uncomfortable holding these dangerous objects. "Let's go."
"Hang on!" Ron exclaimed suddenly. "Have you got the cup?"
"Of course I do!" she answered.
"You should try and kill it now!" Ron said excitedly.
"Now?" She fumbled around her pockets, retrieving small golden cup. "Yes, I suppose you're right. To see if it works."
"Of course it'll work!" He stopped. "Just… when you stab it, it might do something."
She glanced at Ron curiously. "What do you mean?"
"Well…" He clearly looked uncomfortable now for some reason. "Just stab it as hard as you can, whatever it does!" He grabbed the other fangs Hermione was holding. "Here, I'll hold them and you can stab it." He moved aside, giving her room to perform the task.
Hermione braced herself, inhaling and exhaling sharply, before thrusting the fang into the crux of the cup. There was a fierce glow coming from within. And then, a hissing voice.
"I have seen your heart, and it is mine."
Hermione was paralysed into gazing into the malevolent eyes of Tom Riddle. Was this what Ron had meant?
"I have seen your dreams, Hermione Granger, and I have seen your fears. All that you desire is possible, but all that you dread is also possible…"
"STAB IT HARDER!" she thought she heard someone say, but she was so entranced with this hissing voice, crooning to her, penetrating her...
"Least loved by your parents, too occupied to care for a daughter … least loved and abandoned by the boy in whom you entrusted your heart … friendless and unloved, always, with only mere books for company…"
Suddenly two shadows appeared from the crack in the cup – two horrid looking bubbles resembling the heads of Ron and Lavender Brown. Their eyes were gleaming red. She shrieked, stumbling backward, dropping the burning hot cup in her distress. But still she gazed back, immovably rooted to the spot.
Tears were falling freely down her cheeks now, but still she watched, her eyes transfixed with Ron, looking more handsome and physically powerful than ever, but on his lips was a languid smile of satisfied malice and disdain.
He suddenly spoke spitefully: "Who would love you? You, a plain Muggle! That's all you'll ever be: a revolting, bossy know-it-all … I laughed at your pathetic attempts to free the wilfully enslaved house-elves, attempts that are as fruitless and irritating as you …how could you dare to believe that you would be enough for me?"
"You dare to believe?" Lavender's voice cut in. "You will never be beautiful, with your bushy brown hair, your slighted figure and your skinny legs … who could look at you! Who would ever look at you, scrawny little thing that you are! You're nothing to him! Nothing! Nothing!"Lavender sneered, lips curling into a sly smile, before reaching to tug Ron's head lower to meet her lips. "Oh Won-Won!" she sighed.
Hermione stared in open-mouthed horror. She could not bear to watch any longer. There had to be a way to stop this nightmare – this torture.
"HERMIONE! STAB IT! NOW!"
She still held the fang. Without any hesitation, she lunged at the cup with all the might left in her, the distorted image of Ron and Lavender embracing dissipating with every forceful puncture that she made. There was a long blood-curdling scream, and then, they were gone. All that remained were the shattered pieces of the former Hufflepuff relic.
She dropped the fang, gasping; her body shook uncontrollably as she broke out into sobs.
There was the sound of more fangs falling to the floor. She felt him crouch down beside her.
'Her-Hermione?" Ron's shaky voice stammered.
She faced him slowly, and then pummelled her fists into his chest.
"Hey! Easy now!" Ron protested. He raised his arms. "It's alright, Hermione! You destroyed it!"
She continued to strike him, before crying, "Is that all I am to you? Nothing?"
Ron grabbed her fists tightly; she relinquished beneath his strength, whimpering now.
He held her in his arms. "You know you're not nothing. You can neverbe nothing, Hermione. Without you we'd all be dead," he said softly. He felt around in his pocket for a handkerchief.
Hermione took it, and blew her nose. "What about S.P.E.W.?"
"What about it?"
She sniffed. "Is it pathetic?"
"Of course it isn't," Ron stroked her hair. "It's what you believe in. And Dobby would have appreciated it."
She sobbed at the mention of Dobby.
"Don't worry, Hermione," he added hastily. "It was just Riddle messing with you, that's all." He paused. "He – he did that with me too."
Her crying eased at this revelation. She looked up at him. "He did?"
"Yeah, when I killed off that locket, he said horrible things... there was Harry ... and you …and you were both …" He looked uncomfortable again, and cleared his throat.
"Well, what's important is that it's gone. You did really well, Hermione!" he praised.
Hermione suddenly felt embarrassed. He must have seen everything. Everything! How did she even manage to face him? He probably knew everything.
As Ron helped her up onto her feet, she watched his expression carefully. There didn't seem to be any sign of enlightenment in it... but that didn't mean that he didn't know either, did it?
Well, it was no matter at present. She could deal with that. But it did seem as though they'd breached another level in their relationship, if she could call it that.
Ron moved to gather the mangled remains of the Hufflepuff cup. He then collected all the fangs he'd dropped before. She did the same.
"You OK?" Ron asked.
She put on a brave smile. "Yes, fine. That was quite a to-do, wasn't it?"
He grinned. "Come on, Harry might be waiting for us already." He motioned to the direction of the Chamber entrance.
She checked that she had taken everything with her before following him.
If there was one good thing that had come out of this, it was that she'd truly come to terms with her feelings for Ron. It wasn't a sentiment born out of a fleeting passion; it was a fervent love that was honest and true. Indeed it was a cruel irony that it had taken an evil manipulative thing like Voldemort to point it out for her, but she knew that she absolutely had to show Ron what she felt for him. Hopefully it would happen sooner rather than later.
But she would need a sign.
They were running from the bathroom to the corridors. Before they could reach the Room of Requirement, they were suddenly met with a relieved and livid Harry. But Harry's anger faded as Hermione and Ron explained where they'd gone.
Hermione couldn't contain her joy and admiration at Ron's brilliant idea and told Harry so.
"He was amazing! Amazing!" she said.
"So ..." Harry looked bewildered, fighting to keep up with the pace of events. "So..."
"So we're another Horcrux down," Ron said matter-of-factly. He revealed to Harry the tattered bits of the Hufflepuff cup from beneath his jacket. "Hermione stabbed it. Thought she should. She hasn't had the pleasure yet."
Hermione felt a pang of pain, remembering how much the cup had drained of her emotional strength, but it was worth it to see the terrifying picture of Riddle's manipulative concoction destroyed on her own terms...
"Genius!" Harry yelled.
"It was nothing," Ron said modestly, but looked thoroughly pleased with himself. "So what's new with you?" As he said this an explosion erupted from overhead. Dust rained from the ceiling, and they heard a scream from a distance.
Harry quickly explained what he'd found out about the diadem. The walls shook as he led Hermione and Ron down through the concealed entrance and down the staircase into the Room of Requirement. They found Ginny, Tonks and Neville's grandmother, all looking concerned.
Harry first directed Mrs Longbottom and Tonks out and finally Ginny – who looked positively delighted to be ordered out of the room – so that they too could leave so the Room could transform itself.
"Hang on a moment!" said Ron sharply. "We've forgotten someone!"
"Who?" Hermione asked.
"The house-elves; they'll all be down in the kitchen, won't they?"
Hermione was astonished. What was Ron getting so vehement about house-elves all of a sudden?
"You mean we ought to get them fighting?" asked Harry.
"No," Ron said seriously, "I mean we should tell them to get out. We don't want any more Dobbys, do we? We can't order them to die for us –"
Hermione was moved into action at Ron's words; she dropped the Basilisk fangs from her arms, and ran at him, flinging her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately, barely registering Ron's surprise. Her body quivered at the thrill of the returned enthusiasm.
To be embraced by him in such a way that told her that he was on the same ground as her, that he understood her, that he cared for her, spoke boundless volumes to her. She quite readily forgot that they were in a war; forgot that Harry was paying witness to a potentially embarrassing scene; forgot everything except this blissful, heady sensation of her lips on his, her arms wrapped around his body, his arms lifting her off the floor so that she clung to him even more tightly, aware of every movement that he made.
"OI! There's a war going on here!" came Harry's thundering voice.
They sprung apart then, but she still held onto Ron for dear life. "Yeah, I know, mate," he said, a little breathlessly. "So it's now or never, isn't it?" He looked at Hermione as though he was seeing her for the first time. She blushed under his heated gaze, but was just as elated in the shared joy.
She was still in Ron's embrace when Harry was admonishing them.
"Yeah – right – sorry," Ron said thickly, who finally released her so they could pick up the discarded Basilisk fangs.
It couldn't be right to feel so happy in the midst of uncertainty and danger, but she had been sure of her own feelings for so long – to finally know at last of Ron's feelings (although he had yet to openly admit them) was too wondrous for words.
She eyed Ron who gazed back at her.
"So," she said.
"So," he replied, fumbling with the fangs in his arms. His ears were red.
They followed Harry out.