It was the storm of the century, as the older wizards called it. And when they were over a century old themselves, they would know.
The residents of the time weathered castle buttoned down for an early evening as the ominous and rolling clouds swept over the horizon. Daylight gave way to an eery and unnatural twilight and soon it was preternaturally dark. The black clouds were undulating, tossing and swelling in sky, mirrored in the rough sea below.
A sudden and strong wind rushed across the waves and fields, breaking the pregnant silence. Students were settling into their dorms, smelling the tang of the air that found its way through the cracks of the drafty castle, filled with the promise of not-so-distant lightning and rain.
The wind battered the castle, bringing a drop of rain, then a few drops, until nothing could be heard but the deafening roar of water against stone. The Hogwarts Express seemed quiet in comparison. Only a sharp clap of thunder interrupted the steady thrum outside.
In a window high above ground, a small pale face could be seen, sitting as still as the gargoyles above her, slowly and methodically searching the grounds below. She hung in the balance between calm and desperation. She knew he would come home. He always came home. She wrapped her faded flannel gown tighter under her shawl to keep back the chilly breeze as her wand waved to turn up the brightness of the torches behind her, serving as a beacon to guide his way.
Three cups of tea had come and gone in the hours she waited, never moving from the window. A charm had been placed on the glass to keep the fog away, but it was still creeping in around the edges, causing her to recast. A few times a crack of thunder threatened to bring the whole frame and panel down around her, making a reinforcement charm necessary as well. Two hours past the witching hour, and still no sign.
It wasn't the first time Hermione was kept awake awaiting her husband, but never on such a night as this. She shuddered to think of what morning would bring. The trees down in the forest, everything flooded with rain. Hopefully the greenhouses would escape unscathed, but a flash of lightning showed only two goals at one end of the Quidditch pitch. It must the be weather that is keeping him so long. Harry knew how much she worried, and no meeting for the Quidditch league would go this long. It must be the rain.
Hermione fought the urge to pace. Severus wouldn't pace and if he came upon her - she was surprised he hadn't - he would surely tell her to cease her infernal fidgeting. That her worry was over nothing of consequence. Just an imbecilic, overrated Weasley. So she sat calmly, gazed out the window, with nothing to show her panic but the frantic back of forth of her eyes. He had to come home.
The next hour brought her images flashing before her in-between the increasing strikes of light. Ron, somewhere lost on his broom, unable to find his direction in the rain. Ron, on the ground in the forest, twigs and branches beside him where he had fallen in the trees. Ron, red hair rolling in the dark and thunderous waves, cries unable to be heard over the roar of wind and rain, shore out of reach, wand gone.
He had to come home.
Suddenly in the next blast illuminating the grounds, a figured moved out of the trees, dragging a broom behind. It had to be him, it just had to be. Hermione leapt up from her window seat, ignoring the stiff muscles and sore back as she ran down the cold worn stones to greet her husband.
Ron kept his head down, trying to fight the wind and rain as he walked up to the castle, knowing it was pointless as he was already soaked to the bone. He passed through the last stand of trees before the graveled slope leading up to the main gate when suddenly a strong force pinned him to a nearby tree.
He struggled to free himself but his attacker was well hidden in the gusts of rain and middle of the night darkness. In the next flash of lightning, he could only see two things, an ebony wand and a small bit of white cuff.
Ron stopped struggling and was thankful for the tree behind him for support. He didn't know how he was going to get away. No one ever got away. Maybe he could use the storm as a diversion. Maybe he could-
"I know where you've been, Mister Weasley. I know with whom, and I know for how long. You see, I've been watching. And I know if you return from such an endeavor again, you will never see the loving face of your wife, are we understood?"
Before he could mumble out, "Perfectly," the shadow was gone and Hermione was stumbling through the trees.
"Ron?" she called. "Ron!"
She knew he was out here. She knew he was out here, and he was safe, and he had returned to her.
"I'm here, Hermione," he shouted over the thunder as he came into view, catching her as she ran to him, gown trailing behind her in the wind like a mystical Seraph.
She clung to his jacket, pulling him close. He was here, like she knew he would be. He had returned to her.
Hermione buried her head into his neck as he held her, oblivious of the rain and becoming more drenched by the second. She only knew that her husband was in her arms and all would be well. "I'm so glad you're here. I was so worried," she whispered, her words lost to the rain as she inhaled the familiar scent of her husband and realized it was mingled with a scent that was not her own. One that she knew.
Her head slowly came up to see his and he watched the lightning flash in her eyes. She knew. Oh, she knew very well.
"I can explain!" he rushed out as she violently pulled away.
"Never," she told him, her calm voice at odds with the violence around her. "Never will this happen again."
And before he knew it, Ron was alone outside the gates of Hogwarts.
Hermione hugged her knees. The night was a cool and welcome break from the heat of the summer days, no moon shining over the lake. Only the stars kept her company as she waited her husband's return.
She worried the fabric of her sleeve between her fingers. Tonight would not be another like the one she feared, when the man she thought she knew never appeared. She would not go though that again, she vowed. Never again.
Darkness had fallen by the time she saw him approach. She knew it was him in an instant. Knew his form and his pace. She rushed down to greet him, and make sure everything was alright.
"Severus!" she called. "Severus?"
"I'm here, Hermione," he called as he stepped away from the copse of trees where his secret was buried. "You know the meeting with Potter always takes longer than one thinks. Let us go into the castle."
She slipped her hand into his and they walked into the darkness.
Author's note: This story is shamelessly based on 'The Thunder Rolls' by Garth Books.