Disclaimer: Anything you recognize is not mine.
Krishna watched as the worshipper placed her offering at his altar. The small wooden bowl held two succulent mangoes, ripe and juicy. Although he remained perfectly still, the flickering flame that illuminated his brass statue sprang up just a little higher on its wick. However, his devotee didn't notice. Kneeling on the plush cream carpet, her head bowed and hands pressed together, she began to whisper her daily prayers, the ones which could be more comfortably said in her home to her ancestor's portrait over the fire. But Krishna knew why she was at the temple, why she had been there every day for some time now, braving cold and misty mornings to kneel before him, each day bringing a new treat to place at his gleaming brass feet.
Do not be confused: Krishna is a benevolent god. He loves those who love him, and his faithful will always feel his love. But unfortunately – and it would pain any god to admit this – it is the unfaithful who are hardest to control. He is omniscient, yes, and all powerful, certainly, but human nature, man's greatest weakness, might be his as well. Thus, the redheaded man, the one with the power to fulfill his follower's wish, remained a nagging problem.
As he watched the young woman take her leave, Krishna let out a sigh. Reaching out one foot and then the other, he stepped out from the confines of his solid-statue state and onto the pedestal where his likeness stood. He rarely revealed himself to followers these days. Modern technology had made revelations a nightmare, and more than likely, the only thing he would accomplish would be sending one of his most faithful to an asylum, a far from illuminating experience.
Jostling a few colorful garlands draped over the ledge, he made his way down to the stone floor of the temple, stretching his cerulean-hued arms above his head, his joints making an audible crack.
Glancing down at the bamboo flute clutched in his left hand, Krishna was half-tempted to break it in half and set fire to the pieces. Yes, he was a benevolent god, but not an infinitely patient one. And to be perfectly honest, the harmonious melody of his flute had never failed him. But after weeks of playing his song, the song, the one that had both sheep and shepherdesses following his every command, that thick-headed ginger had managed to ignore every single note. No matter; Krishna would just play louder, because though he was benevolent, he would not be ignored. Perhaps a slight prickle of pain might entice some obedience as well…
Pressing his lips to the mouthpiece, his fingers poised, Krishna prepared to finally lure the boy to the temple. And when that foolish boy finally deigned to show his face, Krishna would be… benevolent.
Swish and flick.
Ron watched as the report rose higher and higher, his wand steady, his eyes focused.
Swish and flick.
This was child's play, the first charm he had ever learned. Even the words, perhaps one of the most meaningful incantations he had learned while at Hogwarts, were completely unnecessary as he watched the report float above his desk, then above the walls of his cubicle, its corners wrapping downwards as its centre reached for the ceiling. Those corners trembled in the dead air as the report fell again, permanently curled.
Swish and flick.
Aimless, they sometimes said. Wandering, others preferred. He felt he was neither. Mostly, he felt nothing, and as far as he was concerned, he was content with that.
Swish and flick.
If he concentrated properly, he could have several of his desk implements floating, dancing in the air above his cubicle. Scrap parchment, desk calendar, and spare quill all rotating around a sun-like inkwell, round and sparkling in the fluorescent light of the Ministry building.
The sound was piercing, melodic but piercing. Alluring, even, as it slowly wrapped itself around Ron's head, suffocating like a thick wool scarf. He couldn't breathe or think; he could only feel as the music insinuated itself into a corner of his mind, familiar and commanding. Ron listened for the message, but the words, the notes, just weren't loud enough.
The inkwell reached the wooden desk first, a hard thump announcing its landing. Magically reinforced, it cracked rather than shattered, ink seeping through the narrow fractures. The quill was next, bouncing twice against the desk's surface before rolling right off, followed by the fluttering sheets of scrap, landing this way and that. However, the calendar did not have such a direct flight plan, finding itself on the other side of the cubicle wall.
"Bloody hell, Ron!"
Ron was soon met with the sight of an irritated Harry holding his Flying Brooms of the Last Century desk calendar in one hand while rubbing the top of his head with the other. Slightly embarrassed, Ron slipped to the floor, gathering the scattered parchment, equal parts meeting minutes and bored doodling.
"Sorry, mate," Ron replied sheepishly, grabbing a piece of parchment that had slipped under his desk. Moving to reveal his head again, he continued, "Just startled me, I guess. It's been empty here all afternoon."
"No cursing toilets or ear-shriveling hats, then?" Harry asked with a smirk.
Ron smiled back as he returned to his seat. "Not a one. Might have a word with George about it later."
"Care for a cuppa at the canteen?"
Ron made a show of standing up and looking across the two rows of cubicles. At his height, he could practically see over the walls from a seated position, but in truth, he was looking in vain. He already knew that out of the twelve employees working in the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects, he was the only one not out to lunch, including his own father.
"Well, it looks like everything's under control," he remarked, tossing the gathered papers onto his desk. "Shall we?"
Watching the steam rise from his cup, Ron vaguely listened to Harry go on about his latest Auror exploit. It wasn't that Harry was uninteresting; it was just that the song had returned with notes so delicate his ears couldn't quite catch them. It had been like this for weeks now, becoming louder, more insistent, but still utterly incomprehensible. Even the buzzing of bees might have been preferable. Though he had often attempted to pursue the source, a lingering thought always told him not to bother, and lately, that thought always seemed be the loudest.
"Ron, are you all right?" Harry asked, his tale clearly complete.
Giving his head a shake to displace the long red fringe partially covering his eyes, Ron refocused on the outside world. "Nah, it's nothing. Just, er, thinking about something."
Harry's brow furrowed slightly, but to Ron's relief, he didn't press for details. "So, nothing new in your department, I take it?" he asked, a smile pulling at his lips again. "Unless you were trying your hand at inventing some new enchantments? Starting a Dark army with your quill and parchment?"
"Merlin knows I wouldn't be using them to write a report," Ron replied, smiling as well. "Honestly, it's been quiet. Even Dad's been twiddling his thumbs. If some barmy wizard's out there charming tea cosies to attack Muggles, we haven't heard about it."
"Yeah, things have been a bit slow around the Auror Office too, but I guess it's like old Moody used to say, right? 'Constant vigilance,'" Harry said, imitating the old Auror's haggard grumble.
"Right. I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm using a tea cosy," Ron replied wryly before taking a sip of his tea.
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that. No, not tea cosies, you berk," Harry added when he met Ron's raised eyebrow. "Things seem to be pretty slow where you are, and there's an opening in the Auror Office. Seems like they finally got Lewis to retire; the bloke was down to a single limb anyway."
"Again with this—"
"You've got the training already, two years' worth at that. C'mon, Ron, you can't really enjoy chasing down possessed furniture and the like. Don't you miss the action?"
Ron bristled. So he wasn't rushing out into harm's way, chomping at the bit to lose a limb or a vital organ. He had seen enough danger, thank you. These days, an Auror's job mostly consisted of breaking up pub fights anyway.
But before he could say any of this to Harry, Ron found himself distracted again. It wasn't the incoherent sound that had been haunting him for weeks; it was her. It was never just her though, was it? He couldn't quite remember when she had adopted a glow, literally an ethereal outline around her being. She actually shimmered to him, but no one else seemed to notice. The nearer she came, the brighter it became, nearly blinding. And though he was sure it was all in his head, Ron had to look away.
"Oh, I'm so happy I ran into you two," Hermione greeted brightly. Ron caught a glimpse of her lime-green robes brushing against the table, but couldn't bear to look any higher.
"Yeah, it's been a while," Harry agreed, throwing Ron an exasperated look.
"A few weeks, yeah," Ron reluctantly agreed as well, pointedly glancing down at his hands.
This is bloody ridiculous, Ron inwardly fumed. It had been years, years, and he still had trouble looking his ex-fiancée in the eye. But lately, it had just been painful. Not emotionally; no, that had certainly passed as far as he was concerned. It was physically painful, a strange piercing sensation in his chest that was more bothersome than debilitating. If he weren't so sure he was slowly going mad, he might have mentioned it to someone.
"Yes, well," Hermione continued awkwardly. Ron could envision the discomfort in her bay-coloured eyes, the small arched crease between her two dark brows.
He wanted to say something, but he seemed only able to expel low breaths.
"Here for a meeting?" Harry inquired, probably noticing that Ron was incapable of holding up his end of the conversation.
"Yes, you know, just a bit of regulatory work," Hermione replied, her tone light, her hands pressed into the tabletop. Ron managed to catch sight of her shortened nails and reddened fingertips. She was chewing them again.
"A barrel of laughs, then?" Harry asked.
"Oh, yeah, a good time," Hermione replied. The smile in her voice was at full volume, irresistible. Ron had to look up.
Even at their engagement party, her floral dress cinched at the curves of her waist, her curly mass of hair tamed into an elegant twist, she had still been Hermione to him. But now, some ten years later, her posture was a little straighter, her hair more disciplined. She had even managed to dab on a bit of lipstick, maybe a swab of mascara. She was a woman. But just there, smiling, he saw her again, eleven years old and eager, eyes sparkling, hair wild.
And then there was pain.
"Oof!" Ron exclaimed, trying not to dramatically grab his chest as well.
"Ron?" Hermione questioned, placing a light hand on his shoulder.
Her touch was the opposite of pain. That was the only way Ron could describe it: balm-like in the way it banished the sharp prickling in the left side of his chest.
"Just a touch of indigestion," Ron managed to say. "Have to cut out the chips at lunch."
Neither Hermione nor Harry appeared to believe him if the look they shared was any indication, but Ron couldn't explain what was happening to himself, much less to them.
"Right," Hermione said, removing her hand again. "I should be going. Padma's going to think I'm skiving off."
"We'll catch up later," Harry said.
Ron gave a small wave, clenching his teeth. The sharpness was back.
"What was that all about?" Harry asked, Hermione having safely exited the canteen.
Ron shook his head again, trying to organize his thoughts into something sensible. At least the pain had ebbed.
"Have you noticed lately how she… well, she kind of glows, doesn't she?"
Harry was silent for a moment. To Ron's surprise, he didn't look the least bit perplexed; rather sympathetic actually.
"You know, it's been a few years, Ron," Harry began quietly.
Blimey, he has no idea what I'm talking about.
But Harry wouldn't give Ron a chance to explain, holding up his hand at Ron's sputtering.
"Look, I thought you would have moved on by now—"
"Damn it, Harry, I have!"
"But lately you've been acting so strangely around her. We've all noticed—"
"Really, but you haven't noticed the way she's quite literally lights up a room. You know, with the glowing light coming from her body."
"And don't get me wrong. Ginny and I would be over the moon if you and Hermione found some way to make it work, but it might be time to try seeing someone new—"
"Is that… Do you hear a sort of a high-pitched … Kind of a melody…. Really, Harry, do you hear that?"
"Which is why Ginny and I were thinking you might stop by for dinner tonight. One of her old teammates is coming by, and Ginny thinks you two should meet. I don't like to meddle like this, you know, but you've seemed really…. I don't know, maybe aimless might be the right word?"
"Right, yeah, that's me, without direction. Really… you can't hear that, Harry? Kind of a… doo do doo…"
"Ron, are you even listening to me?"
Ron felt blinded by the music, as ridiculous as that sounded. He just couldn't focus on anything else. Any stray thought that might have fought for his attention was soon steamrolled by the wall of sound filling the space between his two ears. And though there were no lyrics, Ron strongly felt as if it carried a message, a message he just could not ignore.
"Look, I really have to follow this music, Harry. I think… I think it might be speaking to me."
And with that, Ron pushed his chair from the table, stood up, and left. He vaguely heard Harry saying something, but the whispering notes were becoming much clearer, and the message was that he should leave the Ministry at once. So with haste, Ron exited the canteen, took the lift to the first floor, and walked directly into the closest free Floo grate.
If he were to describe it later, he might say it was much like when he had consumed Romilda Vane's love potion. While he was loosely aware that his actions weren't his own, he was simply in no state to fight them.
Well, that went brilliantly.
Gathering her hands in her lap, Hermione sat on one of the benches scattered around the Ministry's lobby, her leather briefcase by her feet. She had told the boys that she had to hurry back to St. Mungo's, but in truth, she just couldn't handle watching Ron squirm any longer. Not that things had ever gone back to "normal" per se, at least not after the engagement had ended, but he had looked particularly pained by their encounter a few minutes ago. It seemed that "normal" was no longer a possibility between them.
Hermione's thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Ron practically skittering across the slick black tiles of the lobby. She couldn't help noticing how purposeful the movement looked, his direction diverted only narrowly, preventing him from walking right into the gushing fountain at the center of the room. Clipping its concrete border slightly, Ron seemed to barely notice, his pace unaffected by the slight detour. And thus she nearly missed his exit, his form disappearing into the green flames of the Floo before she could even wonder to where he was rushing.
Reflecting on the last ten minutes, from the canteen to the lobby, it was clear that something wasn't right. But she remained seated, if for no other reason, because she was paralyzed by the thought that she might only make the situation worse.
"Oh, hello, Hermione. Did you see where Ron went?" Harry puffed breathlessly as he stood beside her place on the bench, scanning the crowd. His characteristically wayward hair looked positively windswept.
"I saw him use the Floo, but I couldn't hear where he was going," Hermione replied, feeling rather useless.
Harry sighed and sat next to her on the bench. "Don't blame yourself. He's been acting strangely for weeks now. Said something about following some kind of music."
"Has he?" Hermione asked, her curiosity piqued. She glanced back at the now empty Floo grate. "He said it was indigestion earlier, but do you think it's something more serious? Do you think he's ill?"
Harry shook head, leaning forward on his elbows. "No, I think I just spooked him. He needs to move on, but he refuses. Tried to set him up with one of Ginny's old teammates, and the next thing I know, he's bolting from the table."
It was Hermione's turn to sigh. Most girls would be jealous of such devotion, but Hermione found it all to be rather burdensome. She never could quite find her footing on the pedestal on which Ron had placed her so many years ago, but to him, she still hadn't made a misstep.
If only he knew.
"Well, we can't force him," she said, leaning back slightly. "It's something he'll have to come to on his own. Though, from the way he acted in there, I'm not so sure that he's still hung up on me."
"I don't know," Harry countered, his head turned up to look at her, his glasses askew. "He kept going on about how you were 'glowing' or something."
"Glowing," Hermione repeated thoughtfully. She just couldn't shake the feeling that this was all more than Ron's undying affection for her. Looking over at Harry, she wondered if he was thinking the same thing, a look of concentration fixed on his features. This made his next statement a bit of a bludger to the head.
"You haven't really dated either, have you?"
"W-what?" Hermione managed to stammer.
"I haven't seen you with anyone serious since you and Ron called it quits," Harry pointed out.
"Well, no, but you know I've been busy. I mean, you don't win 'Potioneer of the Year' without neglecting your social life a little." Or, if she were truthful, a lot. Actually, if she were truthful, maybe even that wasn't enough to win, not without that extra push.
Not without him.
"Right, I guess you have had your nose to the grindstone the last couple of years," Harry agreed, moving to stand. "But, really, try and have a little fun, too. Ginny and I have missed you around the house. So have the boys and Lily."
Hermione gave Harry a small smile. "I'll try to stop by soon. I promise. Things have just been hectic. Padma and I are so close to a breakthrough."
Harry nodded. "Well, I suppose we'll just have to wait until then." Though he departed with a smile, Harry still looked slightly dismayed.
Maybe he's just realized that his two best friends have both gone mad, Hermione reflected sullenly.
As soon as Harry had boarded the lift, Hermione slumped in her seat again. She couldn't seem to refocus on her worries about Ron.
His specter batted them away as it settled in her mind.
In the last couple of weeks, the thought of him had become incessant. In every journal article and every book she touched, his name seemed to appear bolded in the text, either in actuality or in a memory of the time they had shared. She couldn't help it; he was just impossible to forget. But it was clear he had long forgotten her. After every article, every award, the smallest part of her would stupidly expect at least a note, spiky handwriting scrawled across poorly ripped parchment. She was, after all, a credit to his tutelage. But his silence remained unbroken. And though she realized that she should hate him for what he had done, she found that her bewildering attraction to him could not be diminished.
If only she had felt that way about Ron.
A/N: Written as a gift for bardsdaughter1 for the 2012 SSHG Exchange. Given the specificity of the prompt, I will wait until the last chapter to reveal it. Thank you to my awesome editing team, which included desigrl - the amazing alpha/beta/cheerleader combo - as well as ofankoma, quaffswinegaily, and wildmagelet, who all stepped in at various points in the project to help edit and Britpick.