A/N: First, let me apologize for the gap between this chapter and the previous one. I've put up a full(er) explanation on my profile, but in short, I was very ill for several weeks. Second, thank you to everyone! Each time an alert showed up in my inbox, it helped push me toward finishing this. Honestly, without your support, I'd have let this story fall by the wayside. So again, thank you.
Special props to Miss Lyra for noticing the confusing time changes during Ron's journey in the last chapter. Not technically a mistake, but I could've explained it better. Date lines are tricky things!
All the characters belong to J.K. Rowling, et al. As always, let me know if you spot mistakes (you know you want to...)
Ron didn't know how long he had been crying, but at last he seemed to be out of tears. His breath hitching, he crawled closer to Hermione's sleeping form. He wanted to take her hand or caress her hair, but he was afraid to hurt her further. Gently, he placed one hand against her arm. She was warm. Relieved, Ron laid his head on the bed beside her shoulder.
With a start, Ron realized that he'd left all of his belongs outside. Not only that, but he'd rather torn the house apart. And he was hungry. Shaking slightly, Ron stood and retrieved his wand.
"Lumos," he whispered.
Outside, Ron retraced his steps, gathering his things as he went. Harry's broom was still in the wood, his schoolbag tossed haphazardly beside it. Where Hermione had lain, Ron found the moonstones, as well as Hermione's wand. Rather than head back inside, Ron swept the perimeter to see if she had left anything else outside. Around the front of the house was a small car pulled carefully off the road. Peering inside, Ron noticed Hermione's rucksack. She'd probably need that. Ron jiggled the door handle and pulled out her bag. He felt a bit like a pack mule now with a bag slung over each shoulder, Harry's broom in one hand, and his wand in the other. Hermione's wand he had stashed in his back pocket.
Ron tried the front door, but finding it locked, he went around back, again kicking the door closed behind him. Back in the office, Ron put their bags down on the floor and leaned Harry's broom against the wall. He placed Hermione's wand on the bed beside her pillow and put his own back in his pocket. As quietly as he could, he began to tidy up the first aid kit and towels. Not sure of where (or how!) to do Muggle laundry, Ron made a small pile in the hall. Quietly, he took the bowls back to the kitchen and stacked them in the sink.
Once in the kitchen, Ron's hunger made itself known as loudly as it could. Ron turned around himself slowly, inspecting the kitchen. Wizards had refrigerators and ranges, though he'd never seen any as shiny as the Grangers'. Lined up along the backsplash were a number of appliances that left Ron completely baffled. Leaving his curiosity for when Hermione would wake, he began searching for something he could cook. In a tall cupboard, he found several cans of beef ravioli in tomato sauce. Ron hadn't the faintest idea what ravioli was, but he liked the other two ingredients on the can! He pulled three off the shelf and rummaged through the kitchen for a pot and a can opener.
Half an hour later, Ron was pleasantly stuffed. He checked on Hermione, but she was still asleep. With nothing else to do and renewed energy from his supper, Ron ran dishwater and cleaned up.
"If only Mum could see this."
True, Molly Weasley accused her youngest son of lazy messiness, but it seemed that her lectures about guest manners had sunk in. Ron hated to inconvenience the Grangers at all. And, since he hadn't really talked to Hermione's parents in…well, ever, he wanted to make a good impression.
"Be the kind of bloke they'd like around their daughter."
With the washing up finished, Ron retrieved his schoolbag from the office and decided to take a quick shower. The warm water felt heavenly on his shoulders, and soon Ron began to feel drowsy. He stepped out of the shower, dried, and put on a fresh pair of boxers and a tee shirt. Depositing his dirty clothes on his new pile, Ron returned to the office. He found an extra blanket and arranged the pillows on the floor beside Hermione. Lying on his side so that he could see her, Ron soon drifted into sleep.
It was not the daylight peeping through the windows, nor the birds singing in the yard that woke Ron, but the foot in his back.
"Oi!," he cried sleepily. "Whatcher problem?" Hermione hopped gingerly over him, then sat on the floor by his head.
"Sorry," she murmured hoarsely. Her pained voice was enough to wake Ron fully. He sat up beside her, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Are you okay?" he asked. Hermione drew her knees into her chest and nodded.
"Throat hurts," she said at last. Panic flashed across her face. "Ron, where are my parents?"
"Asleep" he replied, sitting up. "You asked me to put them under. They're in the bedroom."
Hermione nodded and buried her face in her palms, sighing.
Questions raced through Ron's mind—what happened? Are you sick? Do you need help? Did I do something wrong? Before he could decided on one, Hermione coughed.
"Thanks," she said softly.
"Of course!" Ron replied. "You'd do the same for me. More, even!"
Hermione had to smile at that.
"I've just made such a mess of things here. And I made you come all this way without giving you a reason." her weak voice trailed off. "Thanks," she said again.
"You're welcome," Ron answered. She looked so weak and thin. Had it really only been days since she'd left? Ron's mind shifted into overdrive—what did she need now? "Are you hungry?" he asked. Again Hermione nodded.
"I think I want to wash first, though," she answered. "You only got the dirt out of my hair." Ron's mind strayed to the other parts of her that were probably filthy. Ears red, he stood quickly.
"You remember where the loo is? Good. Here's your bag." Hermione stood slowly and took the rucksack from Ron's outstretched hand. With a slight limp, she padded across the hall. Stepping into the bathroom, Hermione flicked on the light and pulled the door closed. Gingerly, she peeled off her dirty clothes. She turned the hot tap as far as it would go and stepped into the tub, pulling the curtain closed behind her.
Within her small steam sanctuary, Hermione placed her hands against the wall and leaned forward to allow the hot water to rush over her face. It stung and burned, but Hermione didn't care. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she gulped and gasped. The too hot water was no match for what she already felt. "It didn't work" she thought mournfully. "I've failed them." The dirty water ran down the drain, dried blood mixed with dust. Hermione raised her head to look up into the spray of the shower head. Her entire body began to shake with sobs. "I want my mum." Hermione's hands slid down the wall as she knelt under the water. "I want my dad."
While Hermione showered, Ron pulled on his jeans and rummaged through his bag for a fresh shirt. Pulling it over his head, Ron headed straight for the kitchen. Something just wasn't right with Hermione. Of course, Ron hadn't expected her to wake with a smile on her face and her wounds healed. Still, he could sense that something was off about her. She was in pain, yes, but she seemed upset as well. Wouldn't she be happy that Ron was there? That she was safe now? That he could, perhaps, help her with the spell? In Ron's eyes, the worst was over. Now, everything would be all right.
Silently, Ron thanked Hermione's parents for leaving their kettle where he could see it. If Hermione was this upset, he knew that he should take a page from his mother's book and make her some tea. The last thing he needed to do was go banging about the cupboards looking for a kettle. Carefully, he pulled the top off and filled it with water. The stove was unlike anything he'd ever seen—as far as stoves went. His family's range had little burners that his mother lit by magic. Ron remembered Hermione saying that some Muggle stoves were the same way, except you when you turned the knobs, it lit itself. This one had no burners. Instead, the stovetop was completely smooth with small squares marked on it. Ron set the kettle back on its square, turned the matching knob, and hoped for the best.
That done, Ron began checking the tall cupboard for tea. In a few seconds, he found four little canisters that seemed to be filled with tea bags. At least, he could tell that three of them were; these were marked Earl Grey, Breakfast, and Chamomile. The fourth was filled with something called Chai, which smelled like tea, but with spices. Ron brought all four canisters into the kitchen with him. He hadn't a clue which kind Hermione would want. As he set them on the counter, Ron spotted a small rack with mugs on it. He grabbed two and put a bag of Earl Grey in one.
Hermione tiptoed into the kitchen as the kettle began to whistle. Wordlessly, she sat at the counter and watched Ron prepare the tea. She smiled briefly as he bent his head and carefully poured the boiling water into the mugs. Ron turned the stove knob to "off" and replaced the kettle. Tentatively, he pushed the tea-less mug to Hermione.
"I didn't know which kind you'd want."
Hermione debated for a moment, then pulled a bag out of the Chai canister and dropped it into her mug.
"What is chai, anyway?" Ron asked.
"Tea from India," she replied. "It's becoming very popular around the world now."
As she spoke, Ron tried not to cringe; Hermione's voice sounded so raw. Licking his lips, he pulled his teabag from the mug and tossed it in the bin.
"Did you have a good shower?" he asked, ears reddening. "Right Weasley, ask her if she enjoyed being naked and wet. Maybe she'll tell you the good bits. Or just slap you for being so pervy."
Hermione nodded and blew steam from her mug. Ron brought his to his lips, but stopped to look at her from across the brim. Her hair was damp and tousled, probably form a towel. The gash across her forehead had faded to a pale pink scar. From the way she held her mug, Ron guessed that that her hands didn't hurt anymore. What struck him, however, were her eyes. They looked tired and hurt and were rimmed with red. Clearly she had been crying. "About what?"
They sipped their tea in silence, though Ron was bursting with questions. Hermione appreciated that he was letting her take her time in telling him what had happened. In truth, she was still trying to piece it together herself. Everything that had happened after she's fallen the first time was jumbled. She couldn't tell what had actually happened and what she had imagined. Well, if Ron was here, she knew for certain that she had been able to send a long-distance patronus. That had sapped a lot of her energy.
"I didn't know what to make you for breakfast" Ron said at last. "Last night, I made myself some ravioli, but I didn't know if you'd want that. Plus," he added wryly, "I'm not sure how everything works."
"That's fine," replied Hermione.
Ron released a breath he hadn't know he was holding. Her voice sounded much better now that she'd had something to drink.
"There's not much in the fridgerator," Ron explained. "I think I saw a couple of eggs. Do you want an omelette?"
Hermione smiled and nodded.
"Okay, but you've got to help me with this stove-thing. Should I just put a pan on one of the squares?"
"Yes. It's an electric, and a fancy one at that." Hermione cleared her throat. "Remember, I told you about gas ranges?"
Ron nodded as he pulled the egg carton from the refrigerator.
"Well, gas ones produce heat by lighting a fire. Electric ones have a coil that gets hot when you turn it on. And this one…seems to have a coil that's built into the top of the stove."
Ron nodded again and pulled a smaller bowl from the cupboard he'd found last night. He began cracking eggs and mixing them with a fork. It was really nice of Hermione to explain the stove to him. Even though she felt so terrible, she'd known that it would puzzle him. Ron paused for a moment to watch her now. She had slumped forward, leaning most of her arms on the counter, the mug still in her hands. Merlin, she looked miserable. Ron quickly rediscovered the drawer full of pots and pans and put a small skillet on the oven. While it warmed up, he started checking the smaller drawers, looking for a spatula. Finding it, he dumped the eggs into the pan.
As Ron watched and folded the eggs, Hermione began checking the cupboards for plates. By the time she found them and put them on the counter, Ron had turned from the stove, skillet in hand. They ate, again in silence, until Hermione began to laugh. Ron dropped his fork. "Has she gone completely mental?"
"What's so funny?" Ron managed to ask. Hermione grinned, and his heart began to race. "That's the first time I've seen her smile since the battle. Oh, Merlin, what a beautiful smile."
"Oh," Hermione said, "it's just that I was wondering why in the world you made me keep cooking when you could make a perfectly good breakfast."
"I dunno. You just acted like you wanted to do the cooking. And despite what Harry said, you're quite good at it, so I guessed that you liked it."
"Well, I did like it sometimes. Mostly though, I only cooked because I assumed that you and Harry couldn't. Oh me of little faith!"
With that, Ron began to laugh as well. He and Hermione continued eating, this time the silence more companionable. When they both had finished and Ron had stacked their plates in the sink, Hermione sighed.
"What's wrong?" Ron asked. Hermione stood and wrapped her arms around herself.
"I want to see my parents."
"You didn't see them yet?" Ron was incredulous. "I figured you'd already had a peek. Come on, they're back here." He took Hermione's hand and led her down the hall to the bedroom. Quietly, they opened the bedroom door and stepped inside.
Hermione's parents lay on their backs above the covers, looking for all the world as though they were napping. Hermione took a tentative step toward them, then knelt beside her mother, taking her hand in her own.
"What did you use?" she asked, her eyes not leaving her mother. Ron sat at the edge of the bed.
"Quiesco" he replied. Hermione's furrowed brow softened.
Ron shifted so that he was closer to her.
"I figured that you wanted them to sleep peacefully, not be knocked out."
"Yes, that's exactly what I wanted." Hermione turned to face Ron and, letting go of her mother's hand, brushed a lock of his hair from his eyes. Ron suddenly felt quite hot all over and was reasonably suspicious that his ears were growing redder by the second. Hermione stood and moved to sit beside Ron.
"I suppose I should tell you what happened" she said.
"Yeah, you really should" Ron replied with a faint smile.
"When I first came up with this plan, I had decided that if I survived and could find my parents, I would simply reverse my original spell," Hermione began. "Altering their memories was very hard to do—the kind of spellcasting I'd only imagined. Still, if I was successful, reversing it could be as simple as a finite spell."
"Really?" Ron was shocked. A spell that difficult should've been harder to undo.
"Yes, really" Hermione replied. "The only problem was that if I simply reversed the spell, my parents would lose the memories they'd made since I changed them. They'd wake up not knowing why they were here, or how much time had passed. At first I thought that it would be all right, that they would simply adjust to their new timeframe.
"But the longer I thought about it, the worse that made me feel. I'd meddled with them once, tore away their memories. Could I really do it again? Why shouldn't they remember their time as Wendell and Monica? I'm sure it was a happier time. Even if it wasn't, I didn't want to take it away from them. So, I had to devise a spell that would allow me to integrate both sets of memories. A few days before Shaklebolt owled me, I figured it out.
"Still, there was a pretty big problem with my spell. In order for it to be successful, I had to let the magic itself have some control. To work, my parents had to be asleep and floating. I couldn't concentrate on both of those and the integration spell. But if I gave up some of my control to the greater magic, the spell itself would keep them suspended."
Ron had followed Hermione's story well enough until she had started to talk about the magic. "Let the magic have control? The spell itself kept them in the air?" This just didn't make as much sense to Ron. As he understood it, magic was something a wizard created from within himself. Stronger magic was created by a more talented wizard. If a spell was too hard, you just couldn't do it; he'd very rarely heard of anyone working with magic they were too weak to handle. And if the spell to fix her parents' memories wasn't a levitation spell, then how could it keep them in the air? Hermione talked about magic as though it were something outside of her, instead of something she had made.
"I thought I could handle it, if I could just concentrate completely" Hermione continued. "The trip was easy, and when I arrived, it was simple to get my parents in position. I started the spell and for a few minutes, it seemed like everything would work out. The integration spell was developing exactly as it was supposed to, and it was keeping my parents up. But just when I thought I was making progress, I lost control of the spell. The magic was too strong—it threw me away from my parents and closed itself."
"What on earth are you saying?" asked Ron. "This still doesn't make any sense!"
"A bolt of lightning flew out of the magic surrounding my parents and knocked me down. By the time I got up again, the magic looped completely around my parents. I couldn't break into it, so I couldn't control it. Then I called for you."
"Right, your ace in the hole" Ron replied. "What does that even mean?"
"Harry didn't tell you?"
"There wasn't time. I left home about half an hour after I saw your patronus, which by the way, how the hell did you do that?"
Hermione gave him a small smile.
"I'd read about long-distance sending when Harry first started teaching to create a patronus. I practiced a lot after you left, when Harry was asleep."
Ron felt his heart drop into his stomach.
"Anyway, an 'ace in the hole' is like a secret weapon."
Ron nodded. They sat, again in silence, as Ron continued to mull over her story. He believed what Hermione had said, but he still couldn't quite wrap his mind around the kind of magic that she had described. Finally, he had to ask.
"Hermione, if you lost control of the spell, how did the magic keep going?"
Hermione furrowed her brows and shrugged.
"I'm not sure. The way I understand it, I didn't make that spell. I didn't create the magic. It was more like…like this magic was locked away, and I created a door that it could come through. Once I lost control, I was too weak to shut the door again."
"But I shut it" Ron replied.
"Yes," Hermione answered. "That's why you're my ace. I knew that if something happened, you'd be strong enough and fast enough to stop it."
"Why not Harry?" "Please, say it's because you fancy me. Say it's because you know how I feel about you."
"Harry would think too much," Hermione responded. "I knew that you would follow your gut instinct, not waste time wondering what had happened.
"Or it could be because of that." Despite Hermione's faith in him, Ron felt a little inadequate. Hermione wanted him because he was impulsive. Because he didn't think before he acted. She didn't need someone to save her or take charge of the situation. She just needed someone to stop the spell. She needed someone who didn't consider the consequences. And boy, did he fit her bill. Ron shook his head, trying to clear those thoughts form his mind.
"So, do you want me to stop it if you lose control again?"
Hermione smiled. "Of course he knows that there's no question about trying again."
"Actually," Hermione answered, "This time, I need you to help me cast the spell. If you can handle the sleeping and levitating, I can use all my power to control the integration."
Ron took her hand.
"I can do that," he replied seriously. "When do you want to start?"
"At dusk," Hermione answered. "The magic is strongest just after sunset, and it'll give me time to rest."
For the rest of the day, Hermione slept, waking only to eat. Ron, on the other hand, explored the small sitting room at the front of the house. The television was easy enough to operate, though the programs didn't always make much sense to him. Lying on the Grangers' small sofa, he soon drifted off. When Hermione shook him awake, the sun had started to slip below the horizon.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
"Just tell me what to do," Ron replied.
"First we have to get them outside."
Returning to the bedroom, Ron lifted Mrs. Granger in his arms, while Hermione levitated her father. They brought the two of them to the yard behind the house and gently set them on the dry grass.
"Mind walking me through this?" Ron asked.
"On my signal, levitate them and back up. I'll start the integration spell. Once it's done, I'll stop it, and you can bring them back to the ground" Hermione answered.
"Simple enough. What if something goes wrong?"
"Nothing will go wrong" Hermione said firmly. "Go ahead and raise them when you're ready."
Ron raised his wand.
Hermione's parents lifted gently off the ground and hovered just below Ron's eyes. Keeping his wand raised, he backed away from Hermione until he was standing just outside the back door of the cottage. Satisfied with his distance, Hermione began the integration spell. At first, Ron was confused, for Hermione just seemed to be walking in a circle around her parents. If he listened very closely, he could hear her murmuring in a language he couldn't understand. At last, she stopped in the place where she had begun, raised her arms and cried,
Where Hermione had walked, the ground began to glow. Slowly, the yellow-green circle of light rose and surrounded her parents. The circle began to spin, gaining momentum and losing light. In a few moments, it seemed as though the Grangers were simply floating within a whirlwind. Hermione cried out again,
Hermione flicked one wrist toward the whirlwind and suddenly a pure white light shot from her hands. She seemed to pour the white light from her body into the whirlwind.
"This isn't anything like the last time!" Hermione thought "This is how it was supposed to be!"
Ron gasped in shock.
"She's not using her wand!"
Around them, the air began to whisper—names, words, sounds. Hermione smiled.
"It really is working."
She continued pouring the light into the whirlwind, watching as it grew yellow, then green, then blue. The bright blue intensified as the whispers grew louder.
"Green, green grass—dear can you get the mail—what's this?—you can't be serious!—open wide—she's perfect—I'm not a hygienist, you moron—the wind whispers, whistles—where are you go—an owl, of all thin—where?—when?—come back!—not like this!—wake up, Hermione, wake up—can you grab milk on your—we have got to do something about that receptioni—what do you mean, you can't tell us?—the garden smells so sweet at twilight—"
Hermione tried not to be overcome as her parents' memories rushed past her. She tried to watch the light, waiting for the right moment. It changed rapidly, swinging from blue to pale pink and back again. Suddenly, her hands began to burn and the light turned a deep violet. Struggling to stay on her feet, Hermione called out the final word.
A bolt of lightning flew from the whirlwind and struck Hermione. This time, she held her ground, letting her light pour into the spinning air. The whispers reached a fever pitch until, in one voice, they cried out,
Then the voices fell silent, and the whirlwind began to slow. Watching carefully, Ron guided the Grangers until they lay on the ground once more. Hermione had stopped sending light into the whirlwind, and once her parents were safely on the ground, it too stopped. Still, Hermione glowed.
"Merlin, she looks like a goddess."
Hermione turned to face Ron, and the light faded away. She smiled, but began to sway. Ron raced forward, barely making it to her side before she fainted into his arms. For the second night in a row, Ron carried his Hermione into the cottage and tucked her into the office day bed. Again, he brought her parents into the house, and again he settled in to sleep on the floor. This time, however, he knew that when he woke, the world would be whole again.
A/N2: I did my best to bring you a nice, long chapter. As far as I can tell, updates should be more regular form now on.