A/N: Apologises for the delay. As you are aware things have been very difficult over the past few months. My wonderful mum is back home now and beginning her road to recovery. Thank you to the countless messages of support and I'm really sorry to not be able to reply to everyone. Time has been extremely precious and I've struggled to fit everything in. Hopefully things will improve over the next couple of months. I have truly appreciated every single comment. The Harry Potter community is the best!
Chapter Twenty-Four: Protect
Ron kept himself relatively hidden over the next couple of days. He stayed in the confines of the completely refurbished Grimmauld Place and tried to avoid seeing or talking to anyone other than Harry and Ginny. Both were being very accommodating and seemed to understand his need for privacy. Ron wasn't sure exactly what George had told them about his disappearance at Shell Cottage and he didn't want to know. He was just grateful for some peace.
On the third day of Ron's suspension, Harry came home in a foul mood and promptly explained that the four imprisoned Vipers had been extremely difficult during questioning. All had refused to talk and this left them at a huge lose.
'Nothing we've said has made them budge,' Harry sighed, coming to sit on the sofa beside Ron. 'They won't talk and aren't interested in anything we have to say.'
'So, what are you gonna do now?' Ron asked, thinking about the options they had.
'I'm gonna charge them all with attempting to kill an Auror, failure to co-operate, and duelling dangerously.' Harry sighed. 'It's enough to keep them in Azkaban for a few more weeks and will result in a sentence at court. We need to look at another route for the organisation though.'
'Have you started researching each of the members we know about?' Ron said with a frown. This was not the news he'd wanted to hear.
'Yeah, we've started with Gibbon, the four we've got in cells and the bloke still in a coma at St. Mungo's. I'm hoping it'll help to tighten the charges.'
'That's good,' Ron nodded, 'maybe widen it to include identification of those that got away.'
'Neville's looking into that as we speak,' Harry replied, 'but I've said not to touch anything to do with Hermione yet.'
'Why?' Ron asked, feeling shocked that his best friend wasn't beginning with the most obvious candidate.
'She's yours,' Harry said simply. 'You need to be the one to look into her past, not us. I would never take that away from you.'
Ron smiled weakly, 'thank you.'
'I reckon you could probably start looking now,' Harry said carefully. 'Obviously you can't come to the Ministry at the moment, but maybe you could look into what she told you.'
'I've made a list of everything she told me about her life and another one for the Vipers,' Ron admitted. 'I was gonna start by looking into her parents death.'
'Sounds logically,' Harry agreed. 'Just be careful about it all and keep your head down.'
'Why are you okay with all this?' Ron asked, feeling confused by the nudge Harry was giving him.
'I want to help you,' Harry said softly, 'and I know sitting here all day is not helping. You've barely eaten and you've kept to your room like a recluse. The only way you'll be okay with all this is if we find out the truth and do something about it. Hermione was either using us or saving you and my gut is telling me it's the latter. I saw how heartbroken she was to say goodbye and I don't think anyone could act that. If we can prove that everything she told us was true, we'll at least have the confidence to protect her when the time comes.'
'You think she'll need protecting?'
'Either from Jugson or the Ministry,' Harry nodded. 'Either way, she'll need us.'
They sat in silence as Ron thought about what Harry had said. Whichever way he looked at it, Ron couldn't possibly see a happy ending with all this.
'I dunno how we can save someone who doesn't want to be saved,' he muttered.
'We can at least try.'
Ron nodded, running his hands through his hair. 'You must think I'm a right tit.'
Harry laughed, 'You've always been a tit, but I wouldn't change you!'
'I am trying to snap myself out of it,' Ron said truthfully. 'I'm trying to get myself back to normal. I just can't stop bloody thinking about her.'
'Maybe that's the problem,' Harry shrugged. 'You might feel better being proactive about it all, which is why I think you should get out there and poke around Hermione's past. You haven't really got anything to lose.'
'My sanity?' Ron joked.
'That went the minute you decided to be friends with me,' Harry grinned, giving Ron an affectionate punch on the arm.
Ron agreed, punching Harry back. This resulted in an extremely loud and somewhat ridiculous play fight, which was only halted when Ginny came home from Quidditch practise with a bag full of tasty Chinese food. Ron suddenly seemed to feel hungry again and ate the meal with gusto. Ginny gave him a beaming smile as he wolfed down food as if he were starving, which Ron supposed he was. He hadn't actually eaten properly since Hermione had left.
He began with the basics; first by finding her on the muggle birth and death records. This turned out to be particularly easy as muggles held a huge register and he just had to pay to see it. Ron felt quite proud of himself for getting the muggle money and venturing into their world for a few hours. He sat in one of their libraries and poured over the information he'd been handed.
Her name was Hermione Jean Granger, born on the 19th of September to dentist parents; Hugo and Jean Granger. Ron wasn't sure what dentist meant but he guessed it was some kind of job. Her year of birth showed that she was only a few months older than him. If Hermione had gone to Hogwarts, they would have been in the same year. Ron couldn't help but wonder what house she would have been sorted into and whether they would have been friends. He liked to think they would have.
She'd been brought up in a leafy suburb of London and her parents had been killed by a fire when Hermione had only just turned fourteen. The records suggested that she died in a car accident two months later. This had obviously been the Vipers covering her tracks and making her disappear, so that she could be trained to join them. At just fourteen fucking years old and so soon after the death of her parents; it made Ron ache for her.
Feeling even more determined Ron spent the next few days finding every scrap of information he could about the Granger family. Old newspaper cuttings of the fire detailed no other living relatives and a general consensus that they were a lovely, quiet family who were respected amongst their muggle neighbourhood. Ron also found the location of their home within the various cuttings and made to visit the next day. The house was also the location of the fire, so Ron wasn't quite sure what to expect.
He decided to take a look as soon as possible and quickly disapparated to a wizarding pub he knew, which happened to be a few streets away from the Granger's house. After a brisk walk, Ron found himself on Hermione's childhood street. He walked up and down the road looking for number 56 and was surprised to find it no longer existed. All that stood between numbers 54 and 58 was a small piece of overgrown land.
Ron surveyed the land carefully, looking for signs of magical interference. He felt a strange urge to go home and check his post, which Ron resisted. This was a sure sign that some sort of spell work was taking place here. Trying to clear his head, Ron pulled his wand discreetly from his pocket and mumbled every spell he knew to reveal a location. Nothing seemed to work and although he spent a good two hours trying to break the enchantments on the place, he had to eventually admit defeat and go home.
He headed to Hogwarts the next day, but had no luck with Professor Trelawney. She was madder than ever and insisted on clearing his aura, which was apparently murky. He knew it was a long shot to think the old bat would know anything about Hermione, but he felt he should at least try.
Sighing in defeat, Ron made his excuses and said his goodbyes to the woman. She followed him to the door, offering to look into the crystal ball for him but stopped suddenly. Ron turned to see what the problem was and noticed she had gone strangely rigid.
'Danger is following her,' Professor Trelawney murmured in a strangely deep voice. 'No matter what she does, it won't be enough. They wish to destroy her and her love.'
'What?' Ron said, pulling at the woman's arms to steady her as she went limp. 'Who do they wish to destroy?'
'What are you on about?' Professor Trelawney asked, looking extremely bewildered and shaking him off.
'You don't know what just happened,' Ron muttered, trying to pull himself together. 'I've gotta go!'
He rushed from the room and barrelled down the halls, trying desperately to process what had just been said and what he should do next. He could only think of one person; Madam Mary.
Leaving Hogwarts and Apparating into Diagon Alley, Ron ran down the cobbled street towards the dark alleyways of Knockturn where Madam Mary's shop was nestled in. Passing various shady figures and feeling nervous, Ron pushed the old shop door open.
'It's Ron Weasley,' he announced, looking around the shadows of the shop. 'Please, I need your help!'
The locks magically snapped shut against the door and the little light that was filtering into the shop window was quickly dispelled by a set of ancient blinds. Madam Mary appeared from the darkness and ushered him into a small chair. She sat opposite him looking very pale.
'You came at the right time,' Madam Mary said softly. 'I sense danger all over you.'
'She's left me,' Ron breathed, 'gone back to them. I dunno what to do. I've just been to Hogwarts and Trelawney has just had one of her moments. She said they are going to destroy her.'
'Of course they will try,' Madam Mary nodded, 'but it is still you that I am sensing is in the most danger.'
'I don't care about me,' Ron said dismissively, 'I need to try and get her away from them.'
'Laura Jugson has played you all perfectly to get what she wanted,' Madam Mary replied, pulling at her crystal ball and looking closely. 'She knew exactly what she was doing, making a deal with Little Viper and keeping her away from you.'
'You could have warned me,' Ron muttered. 'A little heads up would have been nice.'
'I cannot meddle in these things too much. I gave you what I could. I don't see everything as clearly as you would think and I have to interpret many things. I would never want to give incorrect information and I certainly wouldn't want to stand in the way of destiny.'
'Destiny,' Ron scoffed, 'you think this is destiny?'
'You were destined to meet Little Viper and fall in love with her,' Madam Mary whispered. 'You were destined to do great things together.'
'I have to get her away from them,' Ron replied. 'Jugson isn't going to keep her word.'
'She wants little Viper as close as possible,' Madam Mary nodded, 'she wants to ensure the prophecy hasn't been fulfilled.'
'What do you mean?' Ron asked, frowning. 'Obviously it isn't fulfilled, otherwise they would be dead. There is no end to a great power and no start of a new generation of magic.'
'Yet,' Madam Mary nodded. 'Laura Judson is sitting and waiting for a sign, a sign which she thinks will come from Little Viper.'
'I need to find her,' Ron said with a shaky sigh. 'Can't you find her in that bloody ball?'
The Seer shook her head, 'it is not that simple.'
'Then what do I do?' Ron asked, feeling suddenly very desperate.
'She is going to come to you,' Madam Mary said with a small smile, as she looked closely at the swirling, white mist within her magical orb. 'I can see her waiting for her chance. She is going to find her way back to you within the month. Being separated from you is harder than she imagined.'
'I can't wait a month,' Ron replied, 'I need to find her now.'
'You don't have any other choice,' Madam Mary sighed, 'you can't possibly find her. She's cloaked in a vast amount of magic. You need to wait and she will come.'
Ron spent the next three weeks in a strange sort of limbo. He waited and he waited. He looked for signs and ensured he left Grimmauld Place every day in the chance that Hermione would appear. Madam Mary had urged him to not give up hope, but as the days passed by, Ron found it extremely difficult.
He continued to collect information about both Hermione and the Vipers. Every passing mention of them was logged and stored, ready to be used in the future. This task had been made somewhat easier by the fact that he was now back at the Ministry and had access to old case files.
The Vipers they had were now locked up in Azkaban, having been given a minimum of three years in prison. They were continuing to be unhelpful with everything to do with the Vipers, but Ron felt extremely happy that they were at least behind bars.
Ron had also taken to visiting Hermione's childhood house after every shift at the Ministry. It became a sort of ritual, which felt extremely important somehow. He never actually saw the house because it was so well protected by whatever spells and enchantments Hermione had placed on it, but he stood and surveyed the area calmly.
However, this all changed on the twenty ninth day of Hermione's absence. Ron had made his well walked route to the empty space on the pretty street he now knew so well. Rain poured heavily, reflecting Ron's foul mood brilliantly as he halted at the magically concealed house.
It took a few seconds for him to notice something was out of place. There was certainly no house, but Ron could see a definite shadowy outline of a door. Ron glanced about him to make sure no one was around, before pulling out his wand and walking across the messy lawn. He paused with another glance about him, before pushing the shadowy outline with excitement.
His jaw dropped as an entrance hall twinkled at him invitingly. Ron charged inside and quickly shutting the door. He was actually inside Hermione's home. Somehow he'd been able to get into the house without a single spell or charm. Someone obviously wanted him to enter.
'Hermione?' He called, gazing around the smartly decorated house hopefully.
There was no reply.
Taking a shaky breath, Ron wandered down the hallway and took in each beautiful room. Hermione's parents had definitely had good taste and a bit of money. Every room was immaculately preserved. Not a speck of dust could be found and this was clearly down to some very nifty wand work.
Ron spent a long time looking around the large building. He couldn't help smiling at the number of muggle photos on display of a very young Hermione. She had been a mass of hair and energy as a kid. Her brown eyes giggled at him from every picture. His favourite was found in what was Hermione's old room, judging by the small wooden sign on the door. The picture showed Hermione at round thirteen with her arms around her smiling mum and dad. It was taken somewhere sunny and conveyed a loving family. Ron carefully picked it up from the small white table it rested on. They looked like such a happy group, unaware of the tragedy about to befall them.
Ron paused at the sound of her voice and put the picture back onto the table. He slowly turned around, unsure what to expect.
'Hi,' he whispered, facing her and drinking in the sight of the brunette hurriedly. It was really her.
She was dressed in her Viper uniform; black, unforgiving and dangerous. Her hair was pulled into a tight plait and her face showed signs of fatigue. Tiredness seemed to cloud her beautiful brown eyes and was mixed with a sadness he'd seen on the night of the banquet. A large bruise covered her right cheek and her lips were broken and blooded. She looked thinner and utterly miserable.
'You have to stop coming here,' she whispered, staying a few feet away from him.
'Why?' Ron breathed, holding himself up straighter. 'I can't leave you with them. I won't leave you with them.'
'They will kill you,' Hermione said pleadingly. 'I can't protect you from Jugson. I can't stop them if they decide to attack. I've tried everything to keep you safe. I tried fighting back but it was no use. The only option was this. Jugson wanted Gibbon gone and she needed to make it look as if it wasn't an inside job. She needed the full support of the rest of the Vipers and now she has it. They all think Neville killed him.'
'But he didn't,' Ron replied, 'and they'll know that when it goes to court.'
'It's not going to go to court,' Hermione muttered, 'she'll put a stop to it.'
'I'm going to stop her,' Ron said with conviction.
'You're signing your own death wish,' Hermione cried, taking a step closer to him. 'If you keep this up, she'll go back on her word. At the moment you're not a threat and she has no interest in you. If you keep enquiring and investigating the agency, she'll have no choice but to take an interest in you!'
'I can't sit by,' Ron replied, moving towards her. 'I have to end them. I am going to fulfil that fucking prophecy. I'm going to destroy them.'
'Why?' Hermione fumed, stamping her foot in a strangely endearing way. 'You are safe and happy with your family. Why throw all that away?'
'I haven't got you!' Ron exclaimed sadly, standing in front of her. 'I have to wake up every morning and go to bed every night without you, and I can't do it.'
'Ron,' Hermione breathed with tears in her eyes.
'It sounds stupid,' Ron sighed, 'I've known you a few months and most of that time you were bloody lying to me, but it was enough. I am not going to lose you to them.'
'I wasn't lying to you,' Hermione whispered, folding her arms in the protective manner that she used to do, when Ron had first met her. 'I just wasn't giving you all the information. You would never have gone through with it if you had known what the outcome would be.'
'Obviously,' Ron replied, rolling his eyes. 'That really wasn't your decision to make though. We could have found another solution together.'
'One where we both died,' Hermione said quietly. 'I did what needed to be done to protect you.'
'And are you happy?'
Hermione frowned up at him, 'of course I'm not happy. I hate it. I'm being retrained and I'm utterly useless. I don't have the heart or fight to bother with any of it. I've been miserable without you!'
'Then how do you expect me to walk away?' Ron said softly. 'How can I leave you with these monsters, knowing you're unhappy?'
'I chose to go back,' Hermione replied, hugging herself. 'You were supposed to hate me and never want to see me again. I betrayed you and used you.'
'I was angry,' Ron admitted, placing a hand on her cheek and examining the bruise on the other. 'I was hurt and angry, but I couldn't hate you. I get why you did it and I'd have probably done the same thing if our roles were reversed.'
Hermione's eyes fluttered shut at his gentle touch.
'You can't be mad at me for wanting to save you now,' Ron whispered, pulling a small bottle of Dittany from his Auror belt.
'I don't think I can be saved,' Hermione admitted, keeping her eyes closed as he tended to her cuts and bruises.
'That's bollocks,' Ron sighed, putting the bottle away. 'I'm going to prove it to you.'
'I want you to stay away,' Hermione replied, opening her eyes and frowning. 'I don't want anything proving.'
'Tough,' Ron said, placing his hands on her shoulders. 'That isn't up to you.'
She poked her tongue out, causing him to laugh. Fuck he'd missed her.
'I'm sorry you were suspended,' she said, fiddling with her charmed bag.
'How'd you know that?' Ron asked in surprise.
Hermione blushed, 'I'm still keeping tabs on you, just to make sure you're alright.'
'You're still spying on me!'
'Not exactly spying,' Hermione said, looking very embarrassed, 'just checking in, when I can. It's a bit trickier now, as I'm retraining and being followed all over the place, but I needed to know you were okay.'
'So I did feel you at Shell cottage a few weeks ago,' Ron said, feeling slightly put out that he couldn't spy on her.'
'I was putting up a few extra protective spells,' Hermione admitted, 'just in case.'
'Jugson does care about the prophecy then,' Ron replied, 'Madam Mary believes she's keeping you close by until she sees the signs it's happening.'
'Better to be cautious,' Hermione shrugged, 'you can't ever truly trust a Viper.'
'Evidently,' Ron replied, raising his eyebrow.
'Why aren't you staying at home?' Hermione asked, ignoring is comment but continuing to blush.
Ron shrugged, knowing full well why he didn't want to stay at the flat they had lived in.
'I can't find wherever you are now,' Hermione said slowly, 'so you're somewhere very well protected.'
Ron nodded, but said no more.
'I really have missed you,' Hermione muttered as she crossed her arms again.
'Same here,' Ron agreed.
'You've lost weight,' she noted, eyeing him up and down.
'So have you.'
'I feel too sick to eat anything,' Hermione said, catching his eye and holding his gaze. ''What's the point eating when I can't be with you?'
'What's the point in anything if I can't be with you?' Ron smiled sadly.
They moved as one to close the gap between them. Ron's mouth found hers and they were instantly kissing; hard, insistent, desperate kisses. She clung to him and demanded more. Ron gladly accepted by gripping her arse and pulling her up. Hermione wrapped her legs around his waist and he staggered to her childhood chest of drawers, knocking objects flying as they fought for dominance. Ron roughly placed her on the drawers, unable and unwilling to break contact from her as their tongues reacquainted themselves. All at once they were in a battle of need and desire. Merlin, he'd missed her.
Somewhere in the back of his head Ron knew this wasn't what an Auror would do, but he couldn't fight the tidal wave of emotions as he tasted her perfect mouth after so long apart. Twenty nine painful days they had been separated and he needed her to cure him of the ache that had developed inside him.
'Please,' she whimpered, pulling at his wet cloak.
Ron moaned against her lips and gladly pushed it off, along with his soggy t-shirt. Hermione kicked her boots off as Ron began to pull at her Viper robes. They clumsily fumbled with the buttons and let it fall messily to the floor. Ron began to attack her neck and shoulders as soon as they came into view, causing Hermione to giggle.
'You need a shave,' she said, lifting her vest over her head and revealing the purple bra he loved so much.
'Do you want me to stop and go have one?' Ron mumbled against her neck.
'No!' Hermione exclaimed, gripping his shoulders. 'Don't you dare!'
Ron chuckled, running his large hands over her bruised body. 'Shut up moaning then.'
'I wasn't moaning,' Hermione muttered, carefully pulling his belt off and undoing the buttons of his jeans. 'I was merely stating that you needed a shave.'
He silenced her with his mouth, hungrily pushing against her tongue and pulling her closer to his body. Hermione knocked more objects off the chest of drawers as she flung her arms around his neck. They mumbled and moaned against each other; both relishing being so close again.
Ron ran his hands up Hermione's back and swiftly unhooked her bra. She moved away from him to release it from her arms and Ron stood in awe. Beautiful, bouncy breasts greeted him.
'I fucking love these,' Ron breathed, bringing his hands up to cup them.
Hermione smiled happily and blushed deeply, 'they are all yours.'
Ron growled, replacing his hands with his mouth. He was rewarded with a glorious moan from Hermione. Enough was enough; he needed to have her. Deftly, Ron picked her back up and carried her to the small bed in the middle of the room. They landed with a soft thump and quickly took their remaining clothes off in a flurry of arms and legs. Ron grabbed at his wand and cast a hasty contraception charm before entering her.
They both cried out pleasurably as the feeling of being completely connected overtook them. It had been too long. They were supposed to do this and it was criminal to not be able to.
'You're amazing,' Hermione panted, as she gripped at his shoulders and tightened her hold around him.
Ron laughed, kissing her soundly on the lips before plunging deeper into her and moaning happily.
'I never wanna stop doing this,' he admitted lovingly.
They continued to worship each other until both reached the dizzying heights of orgasm. Mumbled words of love filled the room and left them spent. It took a few minutes for Ron to catch his breath and Hermione protested when he rolled off of her.
'I wish you didn't have to leave,' she mumbled lazily.
'I can't very well stay there forever,' Ron chuckled, kissing her sweaty forehead and pulling her into a cuddle.
'It would be lovely if you could,' Hermione sighed, snuggling into him.
'Lovely,' Ron agreed, 'but slightly awkward.'
Hermione laughed, kissing his chest lazily.
'I really think you should come home with me,' Ron muttered, running his hand down her back.
Hermione shook her head, 'you know that isn't going to happen. I have to go back to my prison.'
'I'm going to continue working on ending the agency,' Ron said softly.
'I know you are,' Hermione sighed, 'which will ruin everything I've tried to do for you.'
'Then come back with me!'
Hermione shook her head again, 'someone needs to keep an eye on what is happening from the inside.'
'That is extremely risky,' Ron frowned. 'They are going to pounce on you as soon as they think the prophecy is being fulfilled. I can't let you walk back into it!'
'It's the only option we have,' Hermione said, 'if you're not going to take the truce you've been given, you'll be hunted down. I need to keep close so as to warn you.'
'So, either way you have to stay with the Vipers?'
'Exactly,' Hermione muttered, pulling him closer.
'Hermione, you can't do this,' Ron replied, sitting up on his elbow to look at her. 'Jugson isn't going to keep her word and regardless of what you do, they won't ignore everything that has happened.'
'What do you want me to do?' Hermione sighed, sitting up on her own elbow. 'I can't stay with you because that puts you and your entire family in danger. I have to go back!'
'Let Jugson attack,' Ron said with a frown, 'I want to go up against her and end this shit.'
'I'm going back,' Hermione said firmly, 'nothing you can say is going to stop me.'
'I love you,' Ron replied with a gentle caress upon her cheek. 'Let me look after you and bloody protect you.'
'Ron,' Hermione whispered, pulling him into a soft kiss.
'Please come home with me,' he mumbled against her lips.
'I love you,' she said sadly, 'that's why I must go back.'
'Does that mean I don't get to see you for months on end?'
'It means I will go back and try to keep regular updates with you,' Hermione said softly. 'Whenever I can, I'll come and find you.'
'I have to see you regularly,' Ron said firmly, kissing along her cheeks and down her elegant throat.
'You will,' Hermione muttered, as she stretched against him.
'We need to at least try to work together,' Ron said gently, 'no more secrecy and stuff.'
'I'll tell you my every move,' Hermione breathed, allowing Ron to roll her onto her back. He nodded against her warm skin. He felt a familiar drugging sensation as her heavenly scent took over him.
'We could just stay here and do this all day long,' Ron muttered, placing hot, wet kisses down her torso. She giggled as he reached her small belly and Ron couldn't resist rubbing his cheek against her as well.
'That would be preferable,' Hermione laughed.
Ron sat up and grinned at his beautiful witch. 'Come home and we'll do this all the time. Fuck everything else.'
Hermione rolled her eyes and pulled him towards her again. 'That isn't going to happen today.'
Ron grin turned to a frown, 'I dunno how I'm gonna be able to stay sane.'
Hermione wrapped her legs around him again and wiggled at his now erect cock. 'Just know that I will always try to come back to you.'
'Always?' Ron muttered as he entered her again and shutting his eyes in bliss.
'Always,' Hermione mumbled as he began to move slowly inside her. 'Keeping away from you is just too difficult. I need you.'
'I need you,' Ron moaned as pleasure began to build inside him.
They spent the next hour showing each other exactly how much they needed the other. It was the most enjoyable hour of Ron's life and he didn't have a single thought for the Ministry, Jugson, Madam Mary or Vipers.
All he cared about was Hermione.
Everything else could wait.