Disclaimer: I don't own HP:(
A/N: Okay, guys, here I am again! I know I've got another story going on right now (which you should definately check out after this one!), but this just came to me earlier. I felt like doing a serious fic, and this one is garunteed to be a multiple-chapter one!
It's Ron/Hermione, as always. I'm imagining it four years after DH, when they're all around twenty-one or twenty-two. That's all I'm gonna give away!
He had just settled at his desk to finish up a couple of expense reports by the light of the living room fire when the familiar notes of the doorbell chimed down the hall, beckoning him to abandon the warmth of the room and attend to his chilly, winter visitor. He sighed, threw down his quill haphazardly, and tripped out of the room in a hurry.
When the door swung open, Ron Weasley was greeted not only by an officious-looking man clad in regulation Order robes, but a nasty gust of frigid wind. This prompted him to invite his recognized guest into the apartment's foyer for a quiet chat.
"Thanks!" the stocky, young man chirped, grinning and blowing on his chapped hands as he stepped over the threshold and began stamping bits of mud and snow from his boots.
The couple seated themselves comfortably in opposite-facing chairs in a cramped – albeit cozy – foyer. Ron summoned some coffee for his guest, which was received gladly.
"So, why're you here, Seamus? It's ten-thirty at night," the lanky man smiled, his blue eyes gleaming with possibilities. "Have you got another assignment to send me on? Merlin, I hope so. He knows I need something to do."
Seamus, his childish face weathered by the cold, had shaved his head – by the strict rules of The Order – and had tattooed the side of his neck and the whole of his chest with a memorial to his family, whom he had lost in a postwar Muggle attack in the south of Ireland some years back. He was dressed in deep black robes with the crest of the Order sewn on the breast pocket, gleaming in the candlelight. Everyone who was anyone knew that Seamus' whole life was The Order – he devoted himself entirely to the cause after his loss – and frequented his friends with requests of undercover co-op missions.
Presently, he held the mug of steaming tea under his reddened chin, inhaling the scent of the welcoming drink. The aroma stole through his mind, calming him enough to keep his lips from shaking. "Well," he murmured, appearing as though musing over the question, "yes and no."
In actuality, Seamus knew the exact details of Ron's next mission, he was simply worrying over how to deliver them to his friend in a manner that wouldn't upset him too much. It held delicate information – things that could potentially cause Ron to become erratic and extreme.
Ron adjusted himself in the worn cushions of his chair. His mother had graciously "donated" them when he had finally settled down. The two chairs were the only pieces of furniture in the whole flat that matched. But he had no reason to complain, he lived comfortably enough as a bachelor – it wasn't as if anyone else cared.
Seamus took another therapeutic sip before setting the cup down on the table between them. He rubbed his face with his hands, eyes shut tight. Ron noticed a new picture on the back of his hand – a Gallic cross – but tore his gaze away when Seamus let his hands drop onto his lap.
"The Order needs your help. It's not a huge job, but it's time consuming." Seamus fixed his eyes on Ron's," It's also extremely top-secret, so I don't want this conversation to wander outside this room."
Ron nodded seriously, his heart beginning to beat faster in anticipation. He hadn't been on assignment for months – no administrator had owled him since the Greenland mission in early January. He hadn't been in peak condition since then, either, and that's the reason he chose when looking for blame. Images of scouring mountaintops, trekking through forests, bursting in on renegades flew in front of his eyes, his lust for adventure returning fully.
"What is it, then?" Ron gripped the arms of his chair subconsciously, "Out with it, Seamus. Just tell me what I'm to do and I'll do it." An uneasy grin curled across his lips.
"It's about Agent 21," Seamus told him in a strangled, wary voice, avoiding Ron's eyes. He waited, his pulse pounding, to see how his friend would react.
Ron sat for a moment, the name not registering in his mind. The Order had assigned numbers for their undercover agents a few years ago – it was lighter on filing and it made secrecy easier. The lower numbers were people who had been with The Order since the beginning – Dumbledore was Agent 1. As far has Ron knew, they were up to Agent 259. He himself was number 22.
That meant that Hermione Granger was 21.
The room seemed to shrink around him, the air suddenly buzzing in his ears. His neck began to feel hot and then his face burned, her name throbbing, coursing throughout his body. Ron curled his fists tightly around the arms of the chairs, feeling slight release in the tear of the fabric against his nails.
Seamus watched with baited breath as his friend curled up into himself, trying to physically suppress the urge to lash out at him. He grew scared as the skin on Ron's jaw trembled, his teeth pressed tightly together like a dog's bare.
"Ron -" Seamus said, his breath caught painfully in his throat, unsure of what to say next.
"What about her?" Ron snapped ferociously, his head pistoning up. His voice quavered in self-suppression. "What on God's green Earth possessed you to come here and tell me jack shit about her?"
Seamus cleared his throat and stared fixedly at Ron, trying to summon the cool-headedness his training had bored into his demeanor. "She's been hurt, Ron – badly." He figured if he could convey utter seriousness, Ron would put aside his anger and listen to what he had to say.
"As long as she's still breathing, I don't give a damn," Ron barked, feeling the tips of his ears burn.
Seamus breathed through his nose, his sense of reason quickly dissipating. Ron was hardheaded and unforgiving – two qualities that kept him from many Auror's mission lists. What he could not understand, though, was how he kept his past so readily on his mind. He felt a spark of hatred in his chest, so ready to lash out and remind Ron that he should be thankful she was alive, that at least his friends and family still had breath in their lungs.
"Ron," Seamus began slowly, shutting his eyes. He felt his chest tighten.
Seamus reeled at the current of hatred carried by Ron's voice.
"Hermione was sent undercover two years ago to collect information on a growing cult of neo-Death Eaters. She submerged herself as one of them and was quite convincing for the most part. We rebuked half their attacks on the Ministry thanks to her information. But when it was time for her to leave –"
Ron flung himself out his chair, his fingers unfeeling. He was set on doing anything but listening to Seamus, he would do anything to get the sound of his voice out of his head. He didn't – and wouldn't – feel anything for someone like Hermione Granger.
"Ron!" Seamus barked in a voice very unlike his own – it was low and authoritative, one he reserved only for the direst of situations or the deadliest of interrogations.
Ron spun around, catching himself against the doorframe. "I don't see what any of this has to do with me… or a mission, for that matter. Just throw her in St. Mungos and leave me the hell alone," he spat, and started off down the hallway.
Seamus was on his feet in a second, following after Ron with quick, heavy footsteps. "Ron, listen to me!" he shouted after Ron's fleeting back.
Ron stalked into the living room and set himself down in the chair by his desk, intent on doing his expense reports, Seamus or no Seamus.
Seamus stood in the middle of the room, glowering down at the man he used to call a friend, a confidant. Confusion spread through him, but his sense of hatred dulled that.
"They found out about her three weeks ago Ron, trying to sneak away. They kidnapped her," Seamus spat, vile working its way up his throat.
Ron didn't sway, he didn't even blink. The numbers and letters on the form in front of him swam in front of his eyes. His fists tightened in his hair with every word Seamus spoke.
"They tortured her," Seamus yelled, his voice cracking. "The gang nearly killed her –"
Ron stood up quickly and darted out of the room, throwing off Seamus' attempt at blocking the door. He was hell-bent on relieving himself of his nightmare that Seamus had brought upon him. He began to stalk up the cluttered staircase, sending paperwork and boxes in an avalanche behind him.
Seamus followed amazingly fast, picking his way expertly through the waves of trash.
"They nearly killed her, Ron!" he repeated, rage searing through his mind. "She was kept hostage for two weeks until we found out about her and sent a rescue team to –"
Ron reached the bathroom – the only door with a lock on it – and slammed it shut tightly behind him.
Seamus stopped in front of it, feeling claustrophobic in the tiny hallway. He felt blind with madness and pounded ferociously on the door, willing it to shatter under his fist.
"She wasn't even breathing when I carried her out of the hole they put her in!" Seamus screamed, beating the door. "They buried her alive! She was in the ground for a day and a half before my team found her!" He felt as though a whole other person would burst out of him, his anger built up in his throat and quickened his pulse and bulged out his eyes.
"Ron!" Seamus yelled, wanting an answer. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes.
Ron did not answer, not even a sarcastic retort. He sat on the lid of the john with his head in his hands. His large, worn hands were shaking, even though they were being pressed hard into his scalp. His head shook.
"Ron!" Seamus barked again, feeling his fury fade into tired resentment. "You're a bastard." He slumped against the wall next to the door, a heap of robes and limbs, panting. He swiped a hand across his face, the tiniest of tears catching on the cross.
Neither man spoke for a while.
"That's the reason I'm here, Ron," Seamus said, exhausted from his outburst. "We can't put her in Mungos. She's too big a security hazard. Granted the hospital is the safest place in England, but this group – The Shop, they call themselves – is growing. Hermione lived with them for almost two years. They want her dead and they get what they want."
Ron slumped forward, his forehead pressed tightly against his knees. He didn't want to think about her – Hermione Granger was dead already, for all he cared. All the memories from after the war came flooding through his mind, flowing and clogging, some fading away and some more brilliant than ever. It was just too much. Ron collapsed onto the cool, tiled floor of the loo. His chest heaved painfully, as if crying with no air left in his body.
"You can draw your own conclusions from here, Weasley," Seamus spat quietly. "She updated her contacts information at headquarters before she left – your name was top priority. She wants you to take care of her." Seamus shook his head, running his calloused hands over the peach fuzz growing on the top of his head.
"Why she chose you, I'll never understand."
Ron lay on his back, eyes staring upwards at the blank whiteness of the ceiling. It felt like an escape in itself. The floor felt cold against his back, serving as something attaching him back to the Earth again, something keeping him in his own skin. He began to calm, choosing to listen to Seamus instead of dwell on the tragedy that was Hermione Granger.
"That's what the mission is – it's not even a mission," Seamus sighed, looking about him. He figured he'd just keep talking and then let himself out of the flat. Obviously Ron didn't want his company, but this was official Order business. Something that had to be done.
Ron let his eyes drift close.
"She needs to be someplace safe and quiet," Seamus continued, studying the hallway of Ron's apartment. The wallpaper was peeling; it was an ugly, faded brown. Most of the doors had chips and paint seeped into their frames, and clothes spilled out of one room like the carcass of a dead animal. All in all, Ron had a dingy, dimly-lit home, but it was warm and cozy and somewhere Hermione could stay and recover. "And since you put an Untraceable on this place a year before you moved in, no one could find you – or more importantly, her."
Ron let his thoughts wander; he already understood what was being asked of him. He considered the prospect of seeing her again, hearing her laugh floating around the hallways, smelling her shampoo on the sheets and chairs, listening to her soft, witty chattering over the dinner table. It overwhelmed Ron – even trying to bring up her face in his mind was difficult. His head throbbed against the tiles.
"I'm not really here to ask if you'll do it, Ron," Seamus said, sounding like his father. It surprised him and his shoulders slumped in frustration. "It's more I'm here to tell you what's going to happen."
"What if I refuse?" Ron's voice was deathly soft. He spoke as though he had just woken up, his throat gravelly and low.
Seamus thumped his head against the wall, his eyes shut tight against an approaching migraine. "Then you'll probably be discharged, Ron. The Order doesn't need members who refuse to participate – especially those who are young, educated, and able. If you were a 50-year-old single mother with nine kids and three bedrooms, then maybe you'd be pardoned. But you're you, Ron, and there's no excuse not to."
There was a silence.
"Besides," Seamus said with an eerie calm, "she was your best friend, once-upon-a-time."
A/N: How'd you like it????? You should definately let me know in a review!