I sighed heavily, shutting The Tales of the Beedle and the Bard with a loud thud. Istared at the tent flap, wishing I was the one on watch. Harry had insisted, even though I'd offered. I would have rather sat outside, truthfully, but I couldn't think of how to explain it all to Harry. The tent could be oppressive, especially since he left. When I was on watch I could focus on something concrete...on making sure no one attacked us. I could admire the trees, take in the scents of nature. Here, in the tent, it was only the scent of Ron. It clung to his blanket, and the blanket was around me as I read. I knew I should have cast it aside, used my own blanket. I shouldn't be torturing myself so much. But I needed it, his scent. I truly feared that when that scent faded away, he would fade away too. Of course he was there in my every thought, weighing on my heart. His absence was like a living thing and it ate me up inside. Tonight was shaping up to be especially hard. No matter how I tried to concentrate on my reading, I kept flashing back to that horrid night he'd left. I couldn't shake it.
"I get it, you choose him!" He said, piercing me with pitiful, anguished look. I didn't know how to respond. What? What did he say? What did that mean? And without another word, he was gone, the tent flap closing behind him. I rushed after him, but I forgot about my own shield charm and it forced me back. Tears welled in my eyes as I struggled to get my wand out and remove it, sure I was losing valuable seconds. My voice felt lost in my throat but as I ran out into the rain, not caring how wet I got, I screamed for him. "Ron, please come back! Where are you? Please!" I could barely make out his retreating back. Either he didn't hear me or he was choosing to ignore me...the latter being much more hurtful. The mixture of the rain and my tears blinded me. Already my hair was plastered to my head, the rain soaking my jumper, my jeans becoming heavy and laden with mud. I slipped, nearly breaking my legs as I ran. It was so dark, I didn't know if I was even going the right way. I could no longer see him and there were no tracks. Any imprint made by his trainers would have been wiped away in an instant. "Ron! Ron!" I sobbed, "Come back!" There was no answer. In the distance I swore I could see him with his giant rucksack and I sprinted in that direction, but it turned out only to be a tree trunk. Still, I kept calling in the hopes that he'd hear me. Still, nothing. I was completely hysterical. I shivered with cold, my teeth chattered, my eyes searched in vain. It was no use. He was gone. Gone. I simply couldn't fathom it. I stood, sopping, rain beating down on me, knowing I had no choice but to return to the tent, to Harry. "I get it, you choose him." Confusion swept through me. Why did he say that? We'd both chosen to come with Harry, to help. Lost, defeated, I ran back to the tent. I was only vaguely aware of which direction it was. Somehow, I made it back. Without a word to Harry I landed in the nearest chair and cried, pulling myself into a ball. I didn't care that Harry was there. I could feel him do drying spells, for which I was grateful, and then he put Ron's blanket over me, causing my cries to intensify. It was him. It smelled just like him. I buried myself in the cloth and wondered how I'd ever make it through this now.
This scene replayed in my head, bringing fresh tears and I was slightly grateful Harry wasn't there to see. The memory felt hazy and distant, yet as fresh and real as though it had happened only yesterday. But it had been weeks- several lonely weeks. Harry and I both tried so hard not to think of him, though of course both of us did. We didn't talk about him though, save once. It had happened almost accidentally. Now, his name was all I could think of, how I'd called for him to no avail that night. So many times his words echoed in my mind- "I get it, you choose him." Some nights I could hardly look at Harry, thinking of these words. I feared that if I paid too much attention to Harry, somehow Ron would see it from wherever he was and misinterpret. "I get it, you choose him."- Is that really what Ron thought? If so-why? When had I ever appeared to prefer Harry? I loved Harry, of course, he was my best friend...one of my best friends. He was like a brother to me. How could Ron not know that? I felt sick to my stomach from these thoughts and totally drained. I needed sleep, but feared it would be interrupted by nightmares. Lately, Ron had been visiting my sleep- and not in a pleasant way. The dream was usually the same- Ron comes back to us and I'm filled with joy for about a second...until I realize that some faceless Death Eater has hold of him, like Yaxley had hold of me when Ron had been splinched. Then the Dark Mark appears and Voldemort's there in an instant, and he does the Avada Kedavra on Ron before my very eyes. Ron's eyes lose their light and I stand over him, helpless, while Harry goes for Voldemort and I try to move, to stop it all, but I can't. My legs are locked and my voice goes unheard. And Voldemort kills Harry, then turns his wand on me. That was always the end. I'd wake just before being killed. I've kept this dream from Harry. He'd only worry.
I decided to give up the reading and attempt to sleep. Feeling like a zombie, I brushed my teeth, Ron's blanket still around me. Brushing my teeth made me think of my parents, which only added to my sorrows. I felt certain the nightmare would come tonight, I was in such a foul mood. I climbed into my bunk with dread, burying myself in the blanket.
"Hermione...Hermione!" Harry's urgent-sounding voice woke me and immediately panic set in. I sat up, alert.
"What's wrong. Harry! Are you alright?"
"It's okay. Everything's fine. More than fine. I'm great. There's someone here."
"What do you mean? Who?" I asked. Harry stepped aside to reveal him. The person I most longed to see. My mouth stood agape. Could it be? Ron? At first I thought it must be a mirage, some cruel trick, or was it the dream? No. It was him. His tall, lanky frame, his blue eyes, his grin, his long freckled nose, his bright red hair, dripping wet. Why was he wet? I sat paralyzed for a moment, disbelieving and then I found I couldn't contain myself. I climbed out of the bunk and walked towards him, carefully, as though he were a ghost. He had hopeful smile plastered on his face and he raised his arms expectantly. I had no idea what to do. My lips parted and then I lunged at him, surprising even myself. I punched him. Every inch I could get my hands on. Weeks of anger, hurt, confusion, and worry leaking out. Until I saw him, I'd only been hurt and sad. Now, I was furious!
"You complete ass, Ronald Weasley! You crawl back here after weeks and weeks..." I rendered a blow with every word. He jumped back, telling me to stop, blocking me, but I wanted to make him understand how much I'd hurt for missing him. He seemed so genuinely surprised by my reaction, as though he expected me to kiss him, squeeze him tightly, all weepy and welcoming. That was what I wanted to do, but I couldn't. I hadn't forgiven him. And yet, here he was, in the flesh! He wasn't dead. He was alive and well and he'd come back to us, to me! Relief washed over me, but I could not control my anger. I chased Harry, trying to retrieve my wand but he kept it away from me. He produced a shield charm between Ron and I and I flew back a little, my hair falling in my face. Harry begged me to calm down, but I couldn't. I wouldn't. I wanted my wand back. I wanted to make Ron pay.
"Don't you tell me what to do Harry Potter!" I screeched. The sound of my voice surprised me. It was a higher and shriller sound than I knew I was capable of. I glowered at Ron, pointing my finger at him. "And you... I came running after you, called you, I begged you to come back..."
"I know, Hermione. I'm sorry," He said earnestly. I nearly laughed.
"Oh, you're sorry. You come back here after weeks, weeks, and you think it's all going to be alright if you just say, 'sorry'!"
"Well, what else can I say?" he asked, defensively. He looked really ashamed. I knew he meant what he said, but it simply wasn't enough.
"Oh, I don't know! Rack your brains, Ron, that should only take a couple of seconds." I spat harshly. The hurt look on his face pained me, but I refused to back down. Harry interrupted. He didn't approve of my bitter remark.
"Hermione, he just saved my..."
"I don't care! I don't care what he's done. Weeks and weeks. We could have been dead for all he knew." And he could have been dead for all Harry and I knew. It was what I'd worried about constantly, had nightmares about, cried about. Besides missing him, I'd been worried sick. How could he have done this to me?
"I knew you weren't dead!" He exclaimed. "Harry's all over the Prophet, all over the radio. They're looking for you everywhere. All these rumors and mental stories. I knew I'd hear straight off if you were dead. You don't know what it's been like..."
"What it's been like for you?" I cut across him, sharply. So, he'd been able to keep track of us. That didn't change the fact that we had no way of knowing if he was alright. Didn't he understand? I had been miserable, hollow, useless without him. We'd been to Godric's Hollow and back. We'd nearly been killed. He had no right to assume we'd been sitting pretty in the tent all this time. I couldn't find the right words, so I just stared at him, blankly. My throat was raw from shouting. Tears stung at the back of my eyes, threatening to burst. My whole body felt hot. I'd never lost control like this before. For so long I'd dreamed of seeing Ron again, hoped for this reunion, needed him. And now that he was here again, I couldn't take it. The same hopelessness I'd felt at his departure was raging inside me. He marched forward, as close as Harry's shield charm would allow and looked at me with such tenderness. Seeing his marvelous blue eyes trained on me with such intensity, I felt I was fighting a losing battle.
"I wanted to come back the minute I Disapparated, but I walked straight into a gang of snatchers, Hermione. I couldn't go anywhere." His voice was soft and weary, his face sheepish. For a moment I forgot all about Harry.
"A gang of what?" Harry asked edging forward, pulling me back to reality. I slumped into a chair, desperate to put distance between myself and Ron. I crossed my arms and legs tightly, my old defense mechanism all I had left against him, against myself. If I remained staring at him I'd forgive him in an instant and i wasn't ready to do that, yet. He didn't deserve that. I wanted to ignore him, but I couldn't. I had to admit I was curious to know what snatchers were as well. I'd never heard the term before. I listened carefully to Ron, but looked around the tent as though I found the canvas walls as interesting as a school book.
"Snatchers. They're everywhere. Gangs trying to earn gold by rounding up Muggle borns and blood traitors. There's a reward from the Ministry for everyone captured. I was on my own and I looked like I might be school age. They got really excited. Thought I was a Muggle born in hiding. I had to talk fast to get out of being dragged to the Ministry."
"What did you say to them?" Harry asked. I leaned in a little, though I tried to hide my interest.
"Told them I was Stan Shunpike. First person I could think of."
"And they believed you?"
"They weren't the brightest. One of them was definitely part troll. The smell of him." Ron chanced a look at me, but I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of laughing at his joke or even acknowledging him. I kept my face taut and continued breathing slowly. He explained how he'd escaped, splinching himself. At the word splinched I shuddered and almost betrayed myself by showing him sympathy. If he was hurt, I'd need to get the dittany, though he seemed in one piece to me. I raised my eyebrows to see him showing Harry where his fingernails were missing and for some reason this infuriated me. Fingernails! Why, that was nothing. It could have been much worse-though I was certainly grateful it hadn't been. However, he needed to know that what Harry and I had experience was entirely more dangerous than a few dim-witted gold-diggers.
"And I came out miles from where you were. By the time I got back to that bit of riverbank where we'd been, you were gone." He said this as though it should absolve him. He'd attempted to come back to us, but we'd left already. Internally, I cursed myself for leaving that spot before he'd returned. We'd lingered a long time already, what difference would it have made? It would have spared me this animosity and it would have spared Ron my temper. But we had moved on.
"Gosh, what a gripping story," I said, sarcastically. "You must have been simply terrified. Meanwhile we went to Godric's Hollow, and let's think. What happened there Harry? Oh yes, You-Know-Who's snake turned up. It nearly killed both of us and then You-Know-Who himself arrived and missed us by about a second."
"What?" Ron looked between us with a frightened face.
"Imagine losing fingernails, Harry. That really puts our suffering into perspective, doesn't it?" I looked at Harry, knowing he wouldn't support my tone. For some reason, he'd already forgiven Ron. I didn't see how, when they'd had such a blazing argument in the tent the night Ron left.
"Hermione. Ron just saved my life." said Harry softly. So that was it. Still, I ignored him. I had more to say to Ron, more words to wound him with. But I found I couldn't look at him. Instead, I gazed over his head, preparing to deliver a nasty blow.
"One thing I would like to know, though...how exactly did you find us, tonight? That's important. Once we know, we'll be able to make sure we're not visited by anyone else we don't want to see." Of course, I didn't mean this. I hoped to Merlin he'd never leave again. Ron reached into his pocket, fishing for something. I glared at the ceiling, almost regretting my cruel words.
"This," he said and I turned to see what 'this' was.
"The Deluminator?" I asked, my stern front dropping for a moment. I looked at him curiously.
"It doesn't just turn the lights on and off. I don't know how it works or why it didn't happen any other time, because I've been wanting to come back ever since I left. But I was listening to the radio really early on Christmas morning and I heard...I heard you." He looked straight at me and this time, I couldn't look away. He heard me? What did he mean?
"You heard me on the radio?" I asked, incredulous.
"No, I heard you coming out of my pocket. Your voice came out of this."
"And what exactly did I say?"
"My name, Ron. And you said something about a wand." I blushed. A wave of heat swept over me. Besides that day, we hadn't mentioned Ron's name at all. We couldn't. It would have been too painful. Ron continued. "So, I took it out and it didn't seem different or anything, but I was sure I'd heard you, so I clicked it. And the light went out in my room, but another light appeared right outside the window. It was a ball of light, kind of pulsing and bluish, like that light you get around a Portkey, you know?"
"Yeah," Harry and I said together.
"I knew this was it. I grabbed my stuff and packed it. Then I put on my rucksack and went out into the garden. The little ball of light was hovering there, waiting for me. And when I came up it bobbed along a bit and I followed it behind the shed and then it...well, it went inside me."
"Sorry?" asked Harry. What? I wondered.
"It sort of floated toward me, right to my chest and then it just went straight through. It was here." Ron touched his heart. My insides turned to mush. How I loved that heart! His good, good heart. He went on, he eyes upon me, penetrating. "I could feel it. It was hot. And once it was inside me, I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew it would take me where I needed to go, so I Disapparated and came out on the side of a hill. There was snow everywhere" I couldn't believe what he was saying. It didn't makes sense. I'd never heard of anything working like that before. but it had been me who brought him back, my voice. How incredible! I wanted to grab the Deluminator, inspect it. Was this why Dumbledore had given it to him? In case we got separated? I stared at the object in his hand with curiousity.
"We were there," said Harry excitedly. "We spent two nights there and the second night I kept thinking I could hear someone moving around in the dark, calling out."
"Yeah, well, that would have been me. Your protective spells work, anyway, because I couldn't see you and I couldn't hear you. I was sure you were around though, so in the end, I got into my sleeping bag and waited for one of you to appear. I thought you'd have to show yourselves when you packed up the tent."
"No, actually. We've been Disapparating under the invisibility cloak as an extra precaution. And we left really early, because, as Harry says, we heard somebody blundering around," I told him. He seemed pleased that I hadn't bitten his head off and took the opportunity to keep looking at me.
"Well, I stayed on that hill all day. I kept hoping you'd appear, but when it started to get dark, I knew I must have missed you. So, I clicked the Deluminator again. The blue light came out and went inside me and I Disapparated and arrived here in these woods. I still couldn't see you, so I just had to hope one of you would show yourselves in the end. And Harry did. Well, I saw the doe first, obviously."
"You saw the what?" I asked, edgily. Harry explained how he had seen something silvery outside the tent, a doe, so he'd followed it. It had led him to the pool where the sword of Gryffindor had been glimmering in the water, under a sheet of ice. I was rapt with wonder, my arms became unraveled and I uncrossed my legs so I could lean in further.
"But it must have been a Patronus," I said. "Couldn't you see who was casting it? Didn't you see anyone? And it led you to the sword? I can't believe this. Then what happened?" I was mesmerized. I searched my memory, thinking of the Order of the Phoenix members. What Patronuses of theirs did I know? None was a doe, that I could think of. Ron told me how he'd seen Harry disappear under the water, how he'd waited and when Harry didn't resurface, he'd gone in after him. He'd brought Harry to the shore and gone back for the sword. Despite myself, I was very impressed with Ron. It had taken great courage to go into that pool not once, but twice. How could Harry have been so daft to leave the locket around his neck?
"Harry reckoned I was meant to destroy the Horcrux," said Ron. "He spoke parseltongue to the locket and it...it opened..."
"And Ron stabbed it with the sword," Harry jumped in. Ron nodded.
"And it went, just like that?" I asked in a baffled whisper. I found that hard to believe. From what I'd read about Horcruxes, they didn't go quietly. Tom Riddle's diary hadn't.
"Well, it...it screamed." Harry looked at Ron, who wore an unreadable expression. No. Not unreadable. He looked embarrassed. The tips of his ears were bright pink. I looked at him suspiciously, but he ignored it. "Here," said Harry, tossing the locket to me. I flinched. But he'd said Ron had destroyed it. Carefully, I examined in. The windows were indeed cracked, the silken lining looked burned and there was no dread, no nagging fear, no hostile takeover of my thoughts. It seemed that Voldemort's soul no longer resided there. I vaguely heard Harry ask Ron about a spare wand. I stood, feeling Ron's eyes dart to me as I put the broken locket into my beaded bag. I climbed back into bed, exhaustion overtaking me. All the excitement over Ron's return, the finding of the sword, and the relief of having now destroyed a Horcrux had made me forget it was still the middle of the night. I pulled the blanket over me. His blanket, the blanket I'd used every night since he'd left. The smell of him filled me up, but instead of filling me with despair and longing, it gave me peace. I no longer had to worry that the lingering scent of Ron in the blanket would diminish along with my hope of ever seeing him again. Because he was back.
"About the best you could hope for I think," I heard Harry say.
"Yeah," Ron admitted. "It could have been worse. Remember those birds she set on me?"
"I still haven't ruled it out," I retorted, the blankets muffling my voice. Underneath, I smiled for what felt like the first time in ages.