Seventh Year Itch
A/N: Hermione and Ron while she's gone back for her Seventh Year and he works with George. If you're a fan of Glee, I recommend believeinthegod's fic, "For You I Was a Flame" from which I was introduced to this set of prompts.
… the beginning is the end is the beginning…
You leave him at King's Cross, the beginning of your seventh year, the end of the summer. The beginning of the end. Now, you think of time not as segments, but as a never-ending line; points are not beginnings or ends, in the truest sense, but just moments. You sigh, wishing it were the end of this year and the beginning of your life with Ron.
The first-years mean something completely new to you this year. You see in them your potential children. When the Sorting begins, it is one child in particular. She's very pretty, brown hair burnished in the candlelight with a tint of red. Her blue eyes penetrate her surroundings with wonder, excited at the prospect of a school to learn magic. A thick book tucked securely under her arm, she watches the Sorting Hat sort Sarah Abernathy.
"Barnett, Rose," McGonagall announces next. The girl's eyes widen as she steps forward.
And as the girl is sorted into Gryffindor, you wonder if your child can be that far away.
You lay in you four-poster, unable to sleep. It's two a.m., but your mind will not settle. You look around the room, remembering how it used to be your dream to be in this room, to be Head Girl. You now find yourself wishing you had not come back, that you had gone in for the Ministry, stayed home with Ron. You think of the last time you'd been awake at two a.m. and smile madly, missing those conversations.
"Forever?" you ask, looking at him with wide eyes.
You've got a long road ahead.
… missing time…
George does this thing he calls "missing time". He takes time everyday to miss Fred. He sits on his lunch break and takes a minute or so in silence just missing his twin. In honor of your missing half, you joined him today. Perhaps you'll make it a daily occurrence.
You have an itch, the sensation of someone watching you. You brush it off, continuing your conversation with Ginny and Luna outside the castle after classes. You are talking about an article you read about Hippogriffs and your companions are looking over your shoulders. You assume you're boring them until you feel the arms circling your shoulders, embracing you. You stiffen for a few moments, startled, until he says the only words you need to hear:
"Hello, I love you; won't you tell me your name?"
You bend your arms at the elbows and hold his forearms, wanting to cry from happiness.
"Happy birthday, love," he whispers and you melt completely into his arms, your itch scratched.
Your hands are jittery, yearning to be touching Ron. They wish to glide through his hair and over his back. Your fingers keep moving of their own accord. Shaking your head, you decide to take a break from studying. Knitting has become the default activity when your hands turn mutinous. Ginny raises her eyebrows as you pull out your knitting needles.
"Knitting again, are you?"
"That's happening more and more lately."
Thinking of the implications of this, you shrug and struggle to keep a blush from surfacing.
You're the first one in what must be years to enter the shop space. Dust covers every shelf and every inch of the floor.
Your mother would be horrified.
George wants you to scope the space for a possible Hogsmeade branch. Zonko wants to retire in the next couple of years and George figures that putting a WWW branch in Hogsmeade village will make the transition as smooth as possible.
You figure that you'll see Hermione while you're here. Perhaps you'll stop by Hogwarts later.
… lost scene…
You see him approaching and the scene around you blurs, lost in the pure joy of you and Ron together again. As your hands touch, your skin lights up with fire and the world melts away, leaving you and Ron only as everything else fades to black, your hands the only thing left hanging in the balance.
… turpentine kisses and mistaken blows…
Hermione spends one day to look at the new shop in Hogsmeade. Upon moving to open the door at the same time she makes an expansive gesture, you end up covered in some sort of polish. Horror crosses her face and you receive a kiss for your troubles.
She is the complete opposite of you. Where you possess dull brown, bushy hair, hers is bright red and sleek. Your skin is pale from sitting in the library all day long; hers is tanned from hours playing Quidditch and being outdoors on a regular basis. Her clothes are fitted, yours frumpy. You are serious and bossy; she is light-hearted, approaching silly at times. You and she cannot be compared. That is why it is odd that you should be best friends.
His sister sits directly opposite you and gives you the searching eyes generally saved for her brothers.
She says nothing, but she needn't do so. You know what she wants to ask, and the fact that she's deliberately not asking it is intended to drive you mad. You refuse to allow that to work.
Except that it already has.
Your will is opposite hers once again, and usually, you prevail. Today, you do not expect to come out the victor. As her best friend, you feel the need to tell her. As her brother's girlfriend, you feel an unspoken vow to keep yourself to yourself as far as he's concerned. Your conscience is no help to you here; your opposite arguments keep you far too confused, in fact-
"I don't know!"
Your mouth has moved in the absence of decision.
"What do you mean, you don't know?" she asks skeptically, giving you a look to rival McGonagall.
"I mean, I never ask and I don't feel the need to do so."
She nods sadly and sighs. You hope that Harry will visit her soon.
Sometimes the silence of Diagon Alley in the early morning amazes you. This morning, you stand on the road outside the shop and actually hear a bird singing in the distance. A door creaks open down the street and its chime tinkles feebly. This is the sort of silence that Hermione loves. You've seen her stop and listen. She even listens to silence. Something about that is remarkable to you, so you've taken up the habit, volunteering to open the shop in order to hear the sound of silence.
There was something about the way he told stories. Mundane events became epic tales of daring. Small acts became grand deeds. His eyes shone with excitement as he related something to his friends and family. You were his heroine, filling his sagas with his wonder of you. There was something to being Ron's hero.
… lull and storm…
Missing him comes in storms, a vicious cycle you cannot seem to break. You'll be fine for days, so busy, so happy that you barely think of him. Then, like a bolt of lightning, pain descends on you.
Today is one of those days.
Your eyes fill with unexpected tears and you have to get to the bathroom as tears fall like rain, a torrential downpour of fears. Your breath comes in gasps, like wind blowing, your sobs as claps of thunder. You only allow yourself a few minutes before you wipe your face and straighten up in order to walk out of the bathroom. You hope that November will be easier.
It's a slippery slope she has you on, one that leads directly into loving her. Time slips away in the promise of her. It's difficult not having her beside you, even though it's only been two months since you slept by her side. Your world was in time with hers—your days built around her. Being without her makes it feel like the ground is slipping from beneath you.
George looks at you in disbelief as you thrash him in chess for the umpteenth time. "How do you do it?" he asks.
You shrug. "Brilliance."
George laughs. "Sure. That's it." He looks at you for a few moments before he makes what will be his last move, one that leads you directly to victory.
Grinning, you move your piece. "Checkmate."
Sighing, George tips over his king. "Well, that's that. Glad to see you smiling."
Silently, you appraise him. "You too."
Then, you realize the shop is how George copes with his loneliness. Chess is yours.
You decide to transform your "going-mad" knitting into some productive. You'll make a project out of your wild fingers. Hats for everyone at Christmas. (At this rate, you may have hats and scarves for everyone and no N.E.W.T.s for your career. Lovely.)
Projects. You need projects.
You do your rounds after the prefects, rechecking the classrooms for stragglers. You find a couple hidden in the nook you used to cry in sixth year, the nook that you remember planning to use to snog Ron in fifth year. You whisper at the youths to get back to their Common Room, which you now recognize as Ravenclaw. In a moment of reminiscence, you forget to punish them.
…Being away from you only proves to me how much I need you—how much I want you. I want you for the rest of my life. I want the kids and the house with the massive backyard for playing Quidditch and the front porch with the swing so I can sit on it with you and watch the days fade away. I want everything, love. I want it all for us. Hermione, it's so much more than just that I love you. I've loved you since I was fourteen. I want to have us forever…
Your hand flies across the page as your mind speaks with the frenzy of your dreams. You generate prose like you never had in school. Where Hermione was concerned, you could say so much more. You write your letter to tell her that you love her too, but just telling her that isn't enough. You tell her that you want to marry her; you want to have children and a house and grow old with her.
You seal the letter and send the letter via Pig, your mind easing into sleep.
In the sobering light of the early morning, you regret what you wrote the night before. As the cliché goes, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
You dress soon after dawn, unable to go back to sleep after you realize what you've done. Desperately, you hope that your letter was intercepted and Hermione would never receive it.
The light spilling in from your window blinds you.
Perhaps writing letters at two o'clock in the morning is not such a bright idea.
… hope is the thing with feathers…
The sight of Pig causes your heart to soar, knowing Ron has a letter attached to the minute owl's leg. Owl Post is the hopeful time of the day. That this letter is thicker than usual makes you hope.
George is teasing you about your plans to pick out a flat over the Christmas holidays. Again. You're always in an inaccurate falsetto. The mocking comes in turns, generally something like this:
"Come on, Hermione. Whip me harder! I want to lick your shoes!"
"Oh stop bothering me, Ronald. I have better things to do than to go pick out a flat. N.E.W.T.s are in six months, you know."
You shake your head and silently stock shelves, ignoring his antics. Intending to be the adult, you try to rise above his nonsense. Today, you're in the front room, and apparently, he's been reading the letters you send out. He's taken things to a whole new level today.
"Oh Hermione! Please marry me! Deem me worthy!"
You stiffen. A false Harry's voice comes to you as a distant memory as George continues, "Oh, go back to your Mummy."
Closing your eyes, you gather yourself for a moment. Things aren't like they were then. You know Hermione loves you. Doesn't she?
Or does she? She hasn't sent a reply to your letter yet, the one in which you poured out your dreams. Oh God, what if…
"Oh dear, you know I love you!"
There's a pause and then, "You know we all pretend. No one could love you."
And that's when you lose it.
"Shut up, George!" you explode, startling a nearby customer.
He can tease you about loving her, about almost anything, but that is it.
George is grinning when you look up, but it's fading fast as he examines your expression. He doesn't tease about Hermione not loving you after that.
You get her letter and open it with haste and great nervousness to find a single line:
I'll see you at Christmas.
You look at it with helplessness, willing it to say something different. Face in your hands, you take a deep breath and place the note on the front desk. You look at it again, feelings building up inside of you, your heart racing. You pick it up again and rip it haphazardly down the center. As the pieces flutter down to the desk, you find script on the back. Without breathing, you push the pieces towards each other.
I want it, too. All of it.
Taking your wand out, you repair the parchment and grin, folding it in half and putting it in your back pocket, intending to keep it.
You look up at the overcast sky and hope snow is coming. You've been counting down the days until Christmas holidays, and snow falling over Hogwarts is just the sort of hope for which you've been waiting.
You and Ron decide to spend Christmas morning with your parents this year. The two of you intend to go back to the Burrow for Molly's dinner and Ron is excited beyond belief to learn about all the Muggle objects in your parents' home.
It seems rather odd to you when Ron, having impressed your parents in Australia this summer, gets three rather large (and probably expensive) gifts and you get one. It's a small box not much larger than a pack of gum. Ron looks at his presents with confusion, checking each of the tags, as if he's making sure they're all for him. When he searches your eyes, you shake your head slightly, indicating that you have no idea what's going on either.
You allow your parents and Ron to open their gifts first, wanting to admonish them for the luxury chess set they had bought Ron. You wonder if they've run out of ideas and decided to give you money. The notion makes your chest ache. Certainly your parents know what you want, don't they?
Ron nudges you in the ribs. "Alright, Hermione. Your turn." You realize he's as curious as you are.
Looking at your parents, you begin to unwrap the box. Both of them look serene and unperturbed. You take the paper off the small package and open the lid.
You find two small keys, both engraved with an ornate C. Your breath catches in your throat and tears spring to your eyes. "Caché?" you ask.
They nod and the tears slip from your eyes. "It's too much!" you insist, wiping the wetness from your cheeks with the sleeve of your Weasley sweater.
"Darling, you're nineteen now and your father and I were going to give it to you when on your eighteenth birthday, but—well—"
Your father jumps in. "We never go there with you gone and you love it so much, we just thought—"
You launch yourself at them, hugging your father around the neck and then your mother. When you return to Ron, he looks bewildered. "What are you—what did you get?" he whispers.
"Caché," you explain, "is my family's French Summer house."
Hermione found the sled in the broom shed and insisted on riding it down the hill with you. You chuckle, agreeing with a simple nod as you lean on the side of the shed with your arms crossed. She turns from the sled and sees you, her eyes bright. Your smile softens and you approach her, kissing her slowly. When you pull back, she stomps her foot impatiently. "Let's go!" she insists, her trademark bossy tone shining through the words. You laugh, taking the sled and leading the way into the snowy day.
His mother wants a picture of you together, so you stand side-by-side dutifully and smile. You are wearing your "cat smile" (so wide it reminds your parents of the Cheshire Cat) and Ron has his charm smile on (as he would for a disgruntled customer). Molly shakes her head at the two of you and takes the shot, retreating soon after. Ron immediately turns to you and snorts. "It was the cat smile, wasn't it?"
You smack his arm and turn around to hide your grin. "Your smile was just as false as mine!"
He wraps his sweatered arms around your waist and presses his cheek against yours for a long moment before whispering, "I love your smile."
You grin and turn your head to look into his eyes. "Oh really? Tell me what else you love."
He smiles too. "Well—"
And then you hear the snap of the camera again.
The two of you have been together a good amount of time and your fight/flight instinct has changed. Ron's hasn't. You want to run, as if arguing will mark the end of your time together. It's ridiculous. You know you'll never leave him over a silly argument and you're almost positive he wouldn't either. Worrying, you decide, as you open your mouth furiously, is overrated.
Caché is in front of you, Hermione by your side. Her hand tight in yours, you consider the door before you. Weathered by years of salt air, the wooden door was deeply cracked, the teal paint faded considerably. Opening this door would be special, important. So, key turned in the lock, you open the door and turn back to Hermione, scooping her up into your arms and carrying her inside the small house.
Killing two birds with one stone isn't as easy as it sounds. You've found that showing Ron the house and christening it are not as easy to combine as you had thought. When you show him the bedroom, he only nods and makes to leave. You had thought that it would be simple: make a provocative comment or two and you'd be set. You're itching; you want him so badly it aches like a sore unable to be healed.
Shameful of your quasi-manipulation, your chin drops slightly. His eyes trained upon you, he must have noticed the subtle change instantly. "What?"
You shake your head.
He places a hand at your hairline, his fingers causing the back of your neck to warm and tingle. "What is it, love?"
"I—I'm ashamed of myself. You make me so happy. My life is everything I should want. I have you and this house and I'll have my N.E.W.T.s…"
Ron's eyes narrow as his fingers slacken. "What is it, Hermione?" He's more insistent now.
"I want you," you blurt, your cheeks reddening with sudden heat. "I want you to lift me up and fuck me against every flat surface in the house. In all honesty, I came into this evening tour planning to have you burn for me until you couldn't stand it anymore."
Your eyes are on your shoes, winking in the light from the hall.
Ron's hand at your neck forces you to look up. His eyes are intense, darker than you've ever seen them. "I've wanted you since we came in. This bedroom was the last straw. I figured I should leave before I forced you against a wall and—" He paused, his eyes playful. "—fucked you."
Your eyes widen. "Oh."
The two of you look at each other for two full seconds in complete silence before you jump upon him and bury your face in his neck. He leans the two or you against the door and lifts your face out of its hiding place, kissing you so deeply you forget your middle name.
Ron's always been hungry. You wouldn't have guessed that his hunger would transfer this directly—not that you're complaining. His lips blaze a trail down your jaw, pioneering steadily. Clinging to his hair, you momentarily forget that you're in your childhood spot, in what used to be your parents' room, being ravished against the door. He kisses you as if he might never do it again, a dying man's last craving. His passion rides high over all reason. "I love you," he says, gruffly.
And she reciprocates, her voice strained with longing, an arousal you've never heard from her. "I love you too." Her legs wrap around your hips and she kisses you forcefully. She takes possession of you with her tongue. You battle it as you drive your hips against hers. When she thrusts against you, you realize fully how much you love reciprocity.
… we all float on…
Christmas break went too quickly for your liking. Everyone seems to be in a daze, trying to function at school, but as Head Girl you have to be an example. You go back to studying immediately, holding school books and parchment purposefully, but really thinking of Ron, missing the feeling of his arm around your shoulders or your waist and his hand on the small of your back. You must get your mind in order, pull yourself together. You must do well and pass your N.E.W.T.s with flying colors, so you can get the hell out of here and back home. You float on.
In Potions that day, you work diligently, mixing the components with a furrowed brow and huge hair. In your haste, the Elixir you'd been assigned splatters out of your cauldron and onto your robes. Gasping, you try to find something to clean the mess, but acid burns through your shirt, showing the place above your collarbone where Ron had marked you.
Color spreads across your cheeks as your face heats in embarrassment. The place right below your neck is discolored in quite a pleasant way (in your opinion), though you try to hide it. The discoloration is a private affair known only to you and Ron. You try to pass your blush off as the heat in the room, fanning your face as you surreptitiously shift your shirt slightly to the left and continue working.
Calculating the approximate range of separation isn't easy. You must take into account numerous things, the least of which being the distance traveled by the Hogwarts Express and the distance from the shop to King's Cross in order to plot the locations mentally. An hour later, you lean back from your work, scanning it with satisfaction. You are immensely proud of how sound your math is. Seeing the final amount you determined, you groan.
There's a shitload of land between us.
Whereas the enchanted ceiling used to enthrall you, you're utterly disgusted at the scene above today. It's snowing. Post-Christmas snow used to excite you, the idea that snow would still be around made you smile with unbidden thoughts of snowball fights and other frivolities. Currently, the fact that summer isn't approaching annoys you immensely. This season is going to send you off the deep end.
In Charms, your eyes linger over your birthday present from Ron. The quill was brilliantly colored, the red and gold blended tastefully. The weight was wonderful, making her words feel considerable. When your eyes continue, they find the bracelet from Christmas. Delicate gold chains intertwined in tresses around your wrist. When standing in front of a mirror, the mark Bellatrix Lestrange left you stands out on your neck. You recall the sensation of Ron's lips lingering on the scar, as if to kiss it and make it better.
The crest of the wave is the highest place, the place where everything can only go downhill. You know you're at that place now: your spirits are high and you feel everything is going well. It happens when you get your Arithmancy exam back with 110 percent or your Transfiguration essay with an O. Something is bound to break and you will fall apart.
It wasn't like this when you were with Ron over the summer. Then it was all up, all rising. Nothing can be perfect when Ron is missing. What's worse is that he isn't missing. You've volunteered yourself to separate from him. What in God's name were you thinking? You might do well, you will climb as high as you can, but without Ron, what's the purpose?
In the home you share with Hermione, that silly telephone she insisted on rings. It's Hogsmeade weekend at the school, and you know it's her calling. Auror orientation was this Saturday and you were required to attend in order to enter training in the fall.
You rush to the phone and take a breath before answering, gathering yourself in order to use your deep voice. "Hello?"
You hear her sigh, in relief or happiness, you can't tell which. "Hi," she breathes. "I don't have much time, but I wanted you to know that I miss you, alright?"
You grab the phone at its base with your other hand, its connection a lifeline. "I miss you too."
"I'll see you later?" she says, the inadvertent question in her voice.
Smiling, you respond, "I promise."
You hear your sister faintly in the background. ("Come on, Hermione!") "I have to go," Hermione says. "I love you." And the line goes dead.
"I love you too."
Ginny's mittened hand in yours, you drag her toward the shop at the very edge of Hogsmeade, then past it, to the telephone box. Change prepared, you frantically dial Caché, each ring tightening the knot in your stomach. You tangle the wire of the receiver around your fingers, desperately seeking the sound of Ron's voice, hoping he is home. The tell-tale click on the line soothes you. And then, "Hello?" in his rumbling voice.
"Hi," you sigh, infinitely glad to hear him on the other end of the line.
You're positive that Hermione could rule the Wizarding World. She could be the Minister of Magic without a doubt. The fact that she'd rather use her talents protecting the rights of others makes you so proud of her. You want to tell every customer in the shop, every person she's ever met, anyone who'll listen that your Hermione is the coolest girl on the face of the planet.
… every you, every me…
What scares you most about being with Hermione is not that you're not rich enough or smart enough, because you know that you're what she wants. What frightens you is that you could hurt her. Every time she claims you, a little fear that she'll have to unclaim you strikes. You will never leave her, not if you can help it, but your ability to bruise her emotionally scares the hell out of you. You will fight with her—it's inevitable; you and Hermione are just the bickering sort. But you are afraid of your words when they go beyond your control.
… comedy of errors…
Of all the Shakespeare plays, you know Comedy of Errors would be Ron's favorite. It's so silly, such a farce, that he could enjoy it despite the old English. You've thought this for such a long time that you had almost forgotten he hasn't read it. As you look at it in your anthology, you press the pages close to your heart, as you'd like to do to Ron. You hope some of the levity will soak in.
Waking up in a cold sweat, you realize that it's just a dream. Hermione isn't being tortured. She isn't dead. She's at school. You crumble, tears of relief falling from your eyes.
George has asked you to lock up tonight, so you stay later than usual. It's not as if you do anything when you go home. Unless staring into space, wishing Hermione was home counts as something. (This is your productive evening last night.)
It's been a pretty uneventful day at the shop, so you expect nothing extraordinary from the night. You sit behind the desk and look at your watch, waiting for 9:00 PM. Expecting anyone at a novelty shop after nine on the twenty-sixth of February is futile even if it is a Friday. At 8:59, you get off your stool and stretch, popping your back. Walking slowly to the door, you see a last-minute shopper rushing down the street and you hope desperately that it isn't for your shop. But as your luck would have it, the woman is heading straight for Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. You turn around, sighing, and head back to the counter.
"Don't you dare turn your back on me, Ronald Weasley!"
You whirl around to see Hermione in all her Winter glory, pink nose and all. A grin spreads across your face and you hurtle towards her, grasping her waist and lifting her into the air. "What are you doing here?" you exclaim, lowering her into your embrace. You relish being able to hold her, if only for a short while.
"McGonagall gave me permission to come home for the weekend, as long as I completed all my obligations."
You look at her in amazement. "You asked McGonagall to allow you to go away with your boyfriend for a weekend?"
She nodded happily. "I got you on my birthday. It only seemed fair that you get me for yours."
Taking her hand, you locked the shop and Apparated on the spot, intending to keep your eyes on her all weekend.
For the next few days, every time the chime on the door rang, your head shot up, expecting Hermione's bushy hair forced into a hat. You were inevitably disappointed.
George is below you, retrieving something from deep storage in the cellar. Someone has asked for a Daydream Charm, an item that hasn't sold well in quite a while. The charm paid for and in the customer's hands, George turns to you. "Didn't sell very well after your sixth year. And even then, we only had one person truly buy any. Jane Eyre out of Hogwarts. Started November by mail-order. Stopped buying around this time last year, I think." He looks pointedly at you.
You return the stare blankly. "You're not suggesting I bought them?" you spout indignantly.
He rolls his eyes in response. "No, nitwit. Who do we know who might call themselves Jane Eyre and need Daydream Charms from—"
You gasp rather embarrassingly. George nods, revealing the activities below Hermione's blank stares in the Common Room.
George sees you in the break room, your chin in your hand as you look at a photograph of Hermione at the Burrow in her yellow sundress. He sighs.
"You're a fucking mess, little brother. She's just a girl."
You look up at him with disbelief. "She's sunshine, air, and a place to sleep," you answer quietly. "She's everything."
George looks at you and shakes his head. "That's quite a metaphor."
You merely nod and put your face in your hands.
When you get up in the morning, the light is less and less dim. When the sun is up earlier than you, you grin. Summer is coming.
Despite all of the acting in front of his brothers and friends, Ron is the kindest man you know. This is made most clear when softly strokes your hair. And when he lovingly brushes his knuckles across your cheek. And when his voice cracks telling you he loves you. And when he badgers you about whether you've eaten or slept long enough in his letters.
As much as his brothers tease that he's not the marrying kind—as they wink and laugh—, you know this man will marry you. Because you know him and he knows you. Just when you think no one will ever love you, that you'll be the crazy cat lady or a spinster librarian, Ron lets you know you won't die alone.
The sound of her laugh makes you grin, especially knowing that you made that lilting sound occur. Her laugh of delight, the kind that bubbles out when she's giddy emerges as you kiss her cheek. She wraps one arm around your neck and kisses you forcefully, one leg rising to wrap around your waist. As you move your hand to grasp her waist, her body begins to disintegrate, laughter echoing as if from far away or perhaps below you.
You particularly hate this dream.
Every day you don't find a chance to ask, the ring weighs a little more in your pocket. You want to just show up and give it to her, but you need the plan. Then it comes to you. You'll take her to the Shrieking Shack. Your third year escapade—which you consider your unofficial first date—is just the place. Tonight is just the time. You take some parchment from your drawer at the front desk and scrawl:
At the Forest's edge. 7:00.
Radioactive decay occurs in half-lives. You know this from books your parents bought you. Half of a substance decomposes over a period of time, and then half of that. You find your patience following this pattern. Since Christmas, your tolerance for waiting for Ron's visits is decreasing by halves every month. It's only April—the beginning of April, in fact—but already, you're wearing thin. You've only got an eighth of your previously excellent patience when you receive the awaited note:
At the Forest's edge. 7:00.
Your heart beats unbearably faster. You look at your wrist.
She lies in front of you, so still and white. When you think of the reason she lies in this St. Mungo's bed, you shudder.
"I'm sorry," you whisper, choking on your words. "I should've come to you. I should've come closer, later, something. I should've stopped this." Your chest aches from keeping tears in. You've already done this once and haven't you two been through enough?
She fell down the stairs. McGonagall had said, gravely. Somewhere between the sixth and seventh floors.
She had tripped, you knew, hurrying to see you at seven.
It was a miracle that she didn't tumble into one of the chasms between the moving flights. McGonagall said, shaking her head with wet eyes.
What a sorry way for such an amazing witch to die.
You see the words in all the attendants' eyes.
Hermione Granger finally taken down by stairs.
You know it's your fault, when it comes down to it. There were so many ways to avoid it. You know what you should have done. The ultimate solution to this whole year, all the heartache, and the inconvenience. You should've gone back for your seventh year at Hogwarts. You could've saved her all the yearning and this.
Her parents came by a couple of hours ago. You had to stand by while one of the Healers told them what happened to her. "When she fell," the young woman had said, clutching a clipboard to her chest, "her ribs cracked and one of them punctured a lung. We've tried to extract all the blood from her lung and seal the hole, but there were a lot of ribs broken. If we haven't managed to reset them all, another could pierce through it."
Her mother stifled a sob and her father raised his chin slightly.
"She's also hit her head on a fixture, a rail, or perhaps on one of the stairs, so if she wakes up, she could have brain damage."
If she wakes up…
"They will be sending her down for tests in the hour to make sure her brain isn't bleeding. There's a possibility that she might never speak."
She'll never be able to argue with you again.
"She may only remember a few minutes at a time."
She wouldn't remember anything they would do.
"She may not wake at all."
Her parents nodded at the Healer, her mother pursing her lips.
Now, you let your head fall into your hands. Hermione has told you stories about brain damage. So many things could go wrong. This is all your fault. You should have gone to school. Your hands are wet before you can force yourself to not cry, so you allow the tears to come. You sob uncontrollably, your body heaving with the force of the regret you feel for doing this to her. You feel regret for her parents, for helping Hermione to get their memories back. What was the point? So they could remember her just before this?
You wish you had better documented all that Hermione had done so you could take them out of this tragedy. When you stop crying, you look up to see Dr. Granger in the doorway, his eyes on you.
You nod in greeting, not trusting your voice. A minute passes and you feel the need to say something, anything. "I'm so sorry, Dr. Granger. I—"
"Stop blaming yourself."
"It's my fa—"
Dr. Granger stops you. "It isn't. Nothing could've stopped this."
You really look at him for the first time since he came in. "I could've gone to school with her."
"From what I understand, you didn't to help your brother."
This does not make you feel less responsible. "It doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does. Why wouldn't it?"
"Because she should've come first!" you exclaim, putting your head back in your hands.
Then, Dr. Granger is by your side, pulling you out of the chair by her bed. His arms embrace you tightly. "She needs you in her life, to know that she has to come first sometimes." Then he pulls back to look at you as the two of you share knowledge of Hermione's character. "But you were right to stay with your brother."
You do not reply, and he goes to Hermione's side. He brushes a hand across Hermione's cheek. He turns to leave and you lean forward to take her hands, rubbing your hands over her chilled fingers.
Suddenly, her chest heaves and you grab for the basin from the helpful nurse, pressing the pillow—also from the helpful nurse—against her midsection. Blood comes up from her lungs as she coughs wildly into the basin. Hermione's eyelids flutter open and her eyes lock with yours as she continues to heave.
Frantically, you ask, "Should we get a nurse?" to her father, hoping he is still standing there. You refuse to look away from her.
"I've already paged one, but I think the blood is what is left over from the puncture wound. They must have missed some trying to seal the wound."
You nod with your eyes still on Hermione's, afraid she may not know who you are.
What will you do should she not remember you?
When the coughing stops, she grips your hand, as if fearful you'll leave her.
"You're awake." The words escape in awe and you refute your true fear. "You're alive."
She keeps her eyes on yours and then chokes, "Ron. Love you." Your eyes fill with tears again and you are glad when she turns to her father who already has tears of relief streaming down his face. "Winter's Tale."
He chuckles wetly. "Of course."
You look from her to Dr. Granger in confusion before he elaborates.
"Hermione always comes back in the end."
By her bed in St. Mungo's, you speak to her Healer in murmurs, telling him her progress in the last few hours. Though she is doing much better, she still needs her sleep. The Healer takes notes as you speak, nodding appropriately. "I'm glad to hear all this, Mr. Weasley. Your—Miss Granger should be just fine."
Smiling, you nod and look over at her. He slips out with silence that can only come with practice. You go back to your chair beside her and are surprised to hear her voice, strong and clear.
"If you are going to talk about me, darling, do it in a manner so that I can hear you. Wouldn't want you to be spreading needless rumors."
You often smell her before you see her. It's the fruity scent that is uniquely Hermione. So when a hint that's faintly hers strikes your nostrils, you look around wildly, trying to catch a glimpse of her bushy hair. There is only one person in the shop: an elderly witch browsing through the Pygmy Puffs. When she turns to leave, you feel the insane urge to stop her. "Excuse me?"
Her head swivels towards you. "Yes?"
"I know this is an odd question," you preface.
"Always a promising start," she says with a peculiar smile, turning to face you.
"Do you use some sort of fruity perfume or—"
"Pomegranate shampoo," she interrupts.
"Thank you," you say, making a mental note.
Your quill slips from between your fingers, forcing you to stop writing the outline for your Charms notes. The seconds lost due to Ron-related distraction are incalculable. N.E.W.T.s are swiftly approaching and your worrying is reaching an intolerable level.
You cannot readily sleep at night due to worries that you aren't studying enough. You're brought out of concentration on a regular basis in thinking of Ron.
Ginny waves a hand in front of your face and you turn back to your notes, looking sheepish for her benefit.
…seize the day…
A pretty young woman flutters her eye lashes at you and she asks, "Where are the love potions?"
Barely looking up from your book, some Muggle rubbish for women, you say, "Right wing, Second shelf from the top. Bright fuchsia boxes. Can't miss 'em."
You hear her depart from the desk with much heavier steps than the ones with which she approached. A few moments later, an older woman approaches and says, "I'd like to pay."
You use your fake smile on the customer as she pays for her armful of WWW products. "Alright then."
"Sir?" she prompts when you bag her purchases, looking at you curiously.
"Yes, ma'am? What can I do for you?" You use your fake cheery tone too.
"It's warm outside."
In the midst of May, you would hope so. "I've noticed."
"Perhaps you could take a long lunch: seize the day, and all that." She looks at you for a few moments more. "Maybe your special lady friend would like to go with you."
You pause for a few moments. "How-"
"Where is she?" she persists.
You sigh. "Off at school. Still at Hogwarts."
"Oh! Well that certainly explains it."
"Your lovelorn expression for one, not to mention the lack of attention to that young lady buying love potions and the book you're reading." She smiles slightly. "I do not think Pride and Prejudice is general reading for Wizard males."
You look at the cover. "If I may say so, ma'am, I do not like it that much." You shake your head. "In fact, I find it so boring, I would stop if I didn't think Hermione would make me read it later anyway."
The lady smiles. "Hermione is her name? That's lovely."
"I think so." The conversation reaches a natural end, and you look at her expectantly, thinking she will leave in a few moments.
"My bag?" she asks, smiling.
"Oh!" you say, handing it over the counter. "Thank you for your patronage. And advice."
"You're very welcome," she says, turning and leaving silently. Your thoughts tumble around in your mind for a few moments and then you shake it, to clear the confusion.
"George?" you call toward the stockroom.
"Be back by two, Ron."
"Thanks!" you exclaim, grabbing your book and endeavoring to take Hermione to the lake for lunch, seizing the day's beauty.
Under your tree by the lake, you see a mass of red hair. Your blood boils, your temperature rising as his freckled neck comes into view. Deciding that waiting to see him is overrated, you run to the tree, making to slow down a few feet away. The grass is wet and your feet skid, sending you straight towards the lake. Arms flailing, you clutch for Ron with no success. Down the hill you slide, squealing like a young child on a merry-go-round, having lost control of your path, and you careen headlong into the lake.
You swim frantically to the surface, spluttering and coughing from inhaled water. When you look around, you find Ron laughing by the shore, his hand outstretched. Glaring at him for finding humor in your displeasure, you forsake his hand, instead grasping the grass and trying to pull yourself out. He does not heed the unspoken warning in your glare, latching his arms around you and hauling you out onto the grass. You lie back, too embarrassed to try to get up.
He lies down beside you and silently grabs your hand, not speaking until you turn to him. You find him looking seriously at the clouds. "You didn't have to take a bath, love. I'm sure you smelled fine." You smack his arm and he turns to you, a grin gracing his face. You search his face, trying to take it in before he leaves again. Your fingers tighten around his. His eyes soften as he looks at you, his grin fading slightly. His unoccupied hand cups your face, his thumb brushing softly across your cheekbone.
"I missed you too." He kisses your mouth gently and you sigh, your passion running again as you free your fingers from his hand to wrap your arms around his back.
May fifteenth hits your History of Magic class with a vengeance. It feels as if it's one hundred degrees in this room and you're wearing your entire school uniform. Professor Binns is droning on about something you found interesting before, but your interest has abandoned all hope now. Your mind wanders to Ron, remembering the heat of his room at the Burrow in the summer. A droplet of sweat trickles down your back, and you close your eyes, imagining that it's Ron's fingertips...
… enemy gate…
There's a knock on the door and your brow furrows, knowing it isn't Hermione knocking so firmly. She has a huge exam in Arithmancy in the morning and you're positive that she's studying. You go to the door and peer through the hole, glimpsing a girl from whom, up until a few months ago, you would've hidden. You close your eyes and brace your forehead against the door, understanding that it is the only barrier between you and Lavender.
She knocks again. "Ron, I know you're in there. You left the front light on."
So you open the door, your enemy gate. She smiles nervously. "Hi."
You merely nod.
"May I come in?"
You nod again, though with less conviction.
She takes a seat in the living room. "Alright, none of this insincere, 'how are you?' bollocks. I want to talk about Daydream Charms."
Your eyes, previously focused on the wall just beyond her, latch on hers.
She cocks her head to the side and smiles slightly. "What? Did you think I was here to seduce you?" Her smile fades. "You think I'll try to take you from her after she saved my life?"
You do not respond.
"Hermione isn't my enemy. Never was, really. In fact, she told me about Daydream Charms the other day and I'd like to produce my own line if your brother wouldn't object." She isn't smiling now; business is the current game. "Would you ask him?"
You nod, wondering when Lavender had talked to Hermione. "I should warn you. They didn't sell very well."
Lavender's grin is back. "Oh, don't worry about that. I have a plan. It's all in the marketing."
And suddenly, you realize why Lavender always gets what she wants.
Crookshanks is going to be with you this week until Hermione graduates. Exams have Hermione all tied up with studying, worrying, and generally obsessing, so you offered to take care of the little bastard until she graduates. He has a power trip: walking around the flat like he's King Ginger, meowing his little ass off half the night because you will not allow him to sleep in your bed and scratch the hell out of your legs. (You learned that lesson his first night.) He likes to spend the rest of the night hunting for small animals to leave in the doorway of the bedroom when you go out to get a shower. Suddenly, as if you do not already have enough of them, you've gained a whole new reason to wish for Hermione to come home.
Train passengers departing, you look around for her in the crowd of students and family. Her hair, normally setting her apart, does not stand out in the sheer number of people present. You decide that the smartest thing to do is to wait by the column where you dropped her off in September. Arms tingling from desire to hold her, you see Ginny in the distance, red hair a beacon. Hermione must be nearby. You wait. As she comes into clear view, she looks at you in wonder. She wraps her arms around you, holding you as if you might dash away. You hold her just as tightly, intending to never let go.