Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to JKR. No money is being made from this story, it is purely for entertainment. No copyrite infringement is intended
A/N: Wow...so I was gone way longer than I thought I'd be. I honestly forgot I had this chapter already typed out. Mi malo! School has been so crazy, and soccer added on to it has not lessened my load at all. Anyway, enough of my lame excuses. Sorry for the horrible delay. This is a shorter chapter, and hardly makes up for it, but it's something at least.
Thanks so much to all my lovely reviewers :) I'll try to start writing more for this story. I need to get back on it!
Harry's seventeenth birthday arrived, much to the dark haired wizard's relief. Although now he realized that he was no longer protected by his mother's love.
Some gift, Harry thought bitterly. He got up and made his way to the door, stepping over Ron's sleeping form.
Coming down the steps, his nose filled with the wonderful fragrance of sausage and bacon. Harry squinted as the bright light of the sun filtering through the kitchen windows met his unadjusted pupils. He let out an "oomph" in surprise as he was brought into a hug. He didn't need to see brown curly hair to know it was Hermione.
"Happy Birthday!" she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek and stepping back to look at him. "So how does it feel to be of age now?"
Harry pulled out his wand out and, pointing it at a biscuit, muttered the summoning charm. He paused, looking around, and when no ministry officials appeared, he took a bite and said with a smile, "Feels great."
Hermione smiled back and sat down to eat.
"Harry Birthday, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said, pulling him close for a hug which reminded Harry of Hagrid's bone crushing hugs.
"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley," he croaked out.
"Have some breakfast, dear." She flicked her wand and a plate and silverware appeared on the table across from where Hermione sat.
"So are you going to take your apparation test today?" Hermione asked.
"I guess. Haven't thought much about today." He shrugged.
"Well Ron's been waiting on you."
"Been waiting on Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked. "Ronald failed three times. They begged him to wait at least two months before trying again."
Harry and Hermione started laughing. "Hush up you two!" Ron muttered grumpily as he joined them. "Happy Birthday, mate."
"Thanks," Harry beamed.
"So Mrs. Weasley, when is Mr.-"
"AHHHH!!!!!!" A piercing cry interrupted Harry's question. He immediately took out his wand and noticed Hermione had as well. They both looked around cautiously, but were caught off guard when Ron started choking on his biscuit. With a wave of her wand, Mrs. Weasley cleared the obstruction. It soon became obvious that the cause of his choking was due to laughter.
"What?" Harry and Hermione both asked.
"HAHA! You two! Your faces!"
"What!?" They said again, slightly angry.
"You guys sure are on edge."
"Can't be because of Voldemort, could it?" Harry spat out sarcastically, his anger further provoked when the both Weasely's predictably flinched.
"Sorry, mate. I was just saying," Ron said, feeling guilty at his best friend's response. "It's this new alarm Dad installed."
" 'Lo family, Harry, Hermione. Happy Birthday," he nodded towards Harry. "And how is my bugger alarm going?" He asked happily.
"Burglar," Hermione politely corrected, sharing a laugh with Harry.
"You know, Mr. Weasley, muggles usually just have a beeping noise for their alarm," the brown haired woman informed him. It was futile, however, as Mr. Weasley just stared at her.
Seeing his confusion, she elaborated, "Well it's a lot more subtle than-"
"…well that," she finished.
"Arthur!" Mrs. Weasley chastised her husband.
"Sorry, dear. It seems the twins have been home recently. Now Harry, are you ready for your test today? And you, Ron?"
"Sure, let's go," Harry replied, his eagerness masking any nerves, for now.
"Good luck," Hermione bid them as they were leaving.
Ron gave her an unsure smile. He looked too queasy to manage anything else. She smiled at him sympathetically and gave him a kiss on his cheek. "You'll do fine, Ronald. Remember your three D's, and it will be fine. Oh, it's also best to focus. Of last years' testers, only 15% of the re-takers passed on their last time."
At this, Ron looked even more uneasy. "Oh, Ron, of course you'll be fine," she quickly tried to reassure him. She looked at Harry, who shrugged. "Well, good luck to you too, Harry." She gave him a peck on the cheek as well, and waved until they had flooed out of the Burrow.
When the boys returned, Hermione burst into the kitchen with an expectant look. "Well?" she asked.
"Passed," Harry answered, before being brought into what seemed like his tenth hug of the day.
"Oh, Harry, I knew it," she said excitedly, squeezing him tightly. He couldn't help but grin at her enthusiasm.
Seeing Ron's slight questioning look at the pair, Harry gently pried Hermione's arm from around him and stepped back, wondering about the slight redness of his cheeks, and about the slight guilt he felt.
Hermione mentally rolled her eyes at Ron and turned and asked him about his results.
"Passed with flying colors, of course," he answered proudly, puffing out his chest.
"I think after six tries they got tired of seeing Ronniekins," Fred said.
"Actually, after six times they automatically pass you," George joined in.
"Oi, quiet you two!" Ron yelled.
"Or what, you'll splinch yourself at us?" George countered. Ron glared at them and stormed out.
"Honestly you two," Hermione chided as she made to follow after Ron. Harry shrugged his shoulders at the twins and walked to join his friends.
"It's not true," Ron said quietly, more to himself.
"Course not," Harry patted his shoulder.
"Honestly, Ron, even Dumbedore failed four times," Hermione said.
"Dumbledore failed four times?!" The red head asked.
Hermione nodded. "And you only failed three times."
"I beat Dumbledore." Ron smiled proudly.
Harry, who had remained silent during the exchange, glanced at Hermione. He caught her gaze and gave her a suspicious, questioning look. In response, she gave a guilty smile and put a finger to her lips. Harry shook his head in mock disappointment and smiled at her.
"Ok, so now that we can all apparate, I think we should go to Grimmauld Place." Harry's voice was business-like. "We need to figure out a plan for the horcruxes."
"Well that's a great place to start, right? It's full of dark magic, and that library!" She ignored the look the boys exchanged. "Just think about it; that whole family was in Slytherin, so there is bound to be information about one horcux, if not all of them." Hermione grabbed Ron's arm excitedly.
"Ow, woman! Blood's supposed to flow to that arm," Ron shouted. Hermione gave him an apologetic, sheepish look and released his arm.
"We should leave tonight," Harry said.
"Tonight!? Isn't that a little soon?"
"No, Ron, Harry's right. The sooner the better," Hermione said quietly.
"But…no Hogwarts," Ron replied, knowing that this, if anything, would be the one thing to convince Hermione.
"I'll miss it dearly, you know that, but bigger things are happening," she said quietly.
Harry gave her a grateful look for her loyalty. He turned towards Ron.
Ron hesitated a long moment. " 'Course I'm coming. At least no Snape, right?" he lamely tried. Harry clapped him on the back and smiled at his two friends.
"So when are we leaving?" Ron asked.
"Well I-uh- was hoping in the next few hours. Gives us a chance to get packed." Seeing Ron's crestfallen face made Harry regret his next words. "I'd like to do it quickly, you know, no goodbyes." The redhead's expression was more solemn.
"Whatever you say, Harry," Hermione agreed.
"But mate, mum'll kill me. And Hermione's parents?"
The witch's eyes closed tightly for a moment. "Don't worry about them."
"They know everything!?" Ron asked.
She shook her head. "They know nothing." At the confused looks she received from both males, she said quietly, "I modified their memories while on vacation this summer."
Harry gasped. "Hermione..."
"They're safe. That's all that matters." Tears silently fell down her face.
The truth of her actions dug deep into Harry's conscience. See what she did for you? All so you can lead them on some half-baked plan. He shook his head. He didn't know what to do, and he sure as hell didn't know what to say to her. Should he thank her? Hug her? Comfort her? He walked over and put a hand on her shoulder, feeling stupid for his almost awkward response. It seemed enough though, because Hermione's eyes brightened and a smile graced her face briefly.
"Well I guess we should pack," she said.
Ron nodded and wordlessly left the room. Hermione exchanged a look with Harry. "And you, Harry?"
"I-uh…Well honestly I never really unpacked. I've just been waiting 'til I could convince you two," he admitted, feeling embarrassed.
"Oh, Harry! I knew you wouldn't leave us!" she said passionately as she put her arms around him gently.
" 'S not like I didn't try," he offered sheepishly. "I did, many times, but I just couldn't.
She stepped back a little but kept her hands on his shoulders. She looked him in the eyes. "The point is you didn't." Harry made to respond, but she cut him off. "Harry, it's our choices in life that make up everything, don't you understand that? Just look at Voldemort." She allowed her words to sink in a moment before heading to the door. "I better pack," she called back to him.
"Wait!" She turned. "Hermione…about your parents-" his voice fell.
His best friend gave him a smile and shook her head. You're worth it, she thought, then went out of the room, leaving Harry staring at the door with a feeling of guilt, compassion, and some other emotion he wasn't quite ready to think about.