Author's Note: Enjoy! I know I said before Thanksgiving, but this was closing weekend of the play, so my life was nonexistent. Anyway, give me a buzz via review!
Chapter Nine: November, Part One
"Lately I've been feeling like you'll never know if you don't mark the way back the further you go.
Lately I've been feeling like I'm the bright star that fell behind the mountain of feeling you are."
-Denison Witmer, "Los Angeles"
"I just don't know what to do, Professor. What if they don't respect me? Please, don't laugh. You've been Professor here for so long, and they weren't ready for this change, especially in the middle of the term. I have big shoes to fill, and I don't think that you realize-"
"Take a deep breath, Hermione," said Professor McGonagall, setting a tea service on the desk and sitting down opposite Hermione, as they had so many times during Hermione's years at Hogwarts. "You've not been here for more than a week, and haven't even taught your first class yet. The students will need time to get to know you, of course. You have to gain their respect; they'll not freely give it to you."
"That's why you turned yourself into a tabby cat on the first day of school," Hermione said blandly.
"Thank you." Hermione sipped her tea silently. "This is odd."
"What is?" McGonagall asked, putting her cup and saucer down.
"This. Me on this side of the desk and you on that side. It was always the other way around."
"It is your desk, now."
"Oh, don't remind me," Hermione moaned. Her glance fell upon a new picture that she had hung on the wall of her office. She was standing in the centre, wearing the finest of dress robes, as it was taken on Harry and Ginny's wedding day. Ron and Harry were standing on either side of her, smiling happily, and waving at the real Hermione, who couldn't help herself from looking at picture Ron. I wish Ron were here.
An hour later, when she walked back to her room, numbly, the thought was still in her head. She arrived in her chamber, and looked around. Boxes were still stacked in piles around the room, none touched, except the boxes marked "Clothing." and "Books." Even so, "Books." was only tampered with so she could furnish her office. The picture that she had hung had been mailed to her earlier that day by Molly Weasley. She couldn't bear to open any of the other, more personal boxes. She was too homesick.
Most people at Hogwarts who knew her were rather worried. She was very pale, and much thinner; she hadn't been eating. The Great Hall made her think of Harry and Ron, and made her heart ache for them ten times more. The first night that she had been at Hogwarts, dinner had started out fine. She was happy and talkative, until, during a lull in conversation, her glance fell upon the Gryffindor table, specifically at the three seats that had once been the usual occupancies of Harry, Ron and herself. From that instant, she was lost in a sea of memories, drowning in her teenaged tears, floating on her young laughter, and drifting further and further from sea, without a life vest that usually came in the form of an adorable redhead. She hadn't noticed that she was crying until Professor Dumbledore put a gentle hand on her shoulder, and she was able to laugh at herself. "Memories," she had muttered, welcoming the chuckles given to her by the Headmaster. Since then, she tried not to eat in the Great Hall, using the excuse of lesson preparations and unpacking. This could not last long, as most all of the staff knew how appallingly sparse her office was. Sometimes, she would walk down to the kitchen to get leftovers from the House Elves, but this reminded her of S.P.E.W, and brought back just as many memories of her best friends than ever. One time, at midnight, she sat in front of the entrance to the kitchen shaking in silent tears, unable to stand to go in. The memories were all too much for her. And as she stood in the doorway of her room, surveying the mess in front of her, she couldn't stop herself from thinking that her life was pitiful. She was able to pack everything into boxes, without any strong emotional attachment to anything in her life, and had for so many years. She used it as a refuge, in a way. Now she was standing, looking at all of the boxes that were her life, and she didn't even know where to begin. She had boxed herself in once more. Boxed herself into memories that she hadn't faced or dealt with in years. She wasn't prepared to feel emotions like this. She knew what was coming, and she dreaded it, but there was no escape now. She had spiralled out of control, building a box higher and stronger around herself. She was just waiting for the lid of the box to close on her, and leave her in total darkness. She didn't want to face that memory, but it was inevitable, unless she could do something about it. The only problem was. She didn't want to.
She was start easy. She opened a box that was labelled "Linens.", pulling from it a set of towels. Hogwarts provided towels, but her fuzzy green ones made her smile. They were the most hideous colour. Ron had helped her pick them out, and he said that it didn't matter what colour they were, as long as they were warm. That they were. Hermione bit the bullet, so to speak, and bought them to make Ron laugh. She laughed now at the memory of it. She walked into her adjacent bathroom and removed the starched white Hogwarts towels, placing her own on the rack and stacking extras in the linen closet. Her own sheets, burgundy flannel, went on the bed, and she threw two extra pillows of her own on to the queen size four-poster. In the trunk at the foot of her bed, she placed and extra blanket.
Not too hard.
"Bathroom." came next.
"Even More Books."
"Far Too Many Books."
(The last four had been in Ron's handwriting which smudged as a small tear fell on the black ink.) Slowly, but surely, her chamber began to feel like a home. She made her most comfortable chair full size, instead of the magically shrunken miniature, and, after realizing that the coffee table and loveseat would not both fit in her sitting room area, she shrunk them both a little to make room for an extra bookshelf.
She took a deep breath as she knelt down before one of the three remaining boxes. She opened it, and removed her grandmother's quilt. She had made it when Hermione was just a little girl, adding a row of new squares every year until Hermione was twenty five, and had intended to save it for her wedding, but she had died three years ago, not having completed the quilt, and left it to her granddaughter in her will. Hermione treasured it more than anything. On it, there were childhood memories- a square of the blanket that Hermione had been wrapped in on the day that she was born, her christening outfit, her Hogwarts robes from first year (with the Gryffindor insignia), a piece of her fourth year dress robes, the dress she wore at her parents' 25th year anniversary, when they renewed their wedding vows and Hermione served as the Maid of Honour when she was twenty three, and various other pieces of material. Embroidered in the centre was "Hermione Louise Granger" with a space for whatever her married name would be. Below it, "Born: September 19th, 1981", "Married: ___________" and "Died: __________". Hermione's mother had one, and she would make one for her granddaughter, Hermione would make one for her granddaughter, Hermione's daughter would make one for her granddaughter, and so on. Her grandmother was buried with her quilt, as was her mother before her, and as far back as anybody could remember, the quilts lined the coffins. It was a morbid thought, but a beautiful one, in a way.
Crying near hysterically, from missing her grandmother so much in a way that she did not miss even Harry and Ron, she folded up her quilt delicately, and placed it at the foot of her bed, atop the comforter, admiring the small and elegant stitching. Not able to do any more, she curled up on her bed, not bothering to get under the covers but merely wrapping herself in the quilt that had laid folded neatly just a few seconds before, and fell into a deep sleep.
He stood, rising to the challenge, and walked forward, the whole school watching from windows above. Ron held his breath. Hermione squeezed his hand. Harry marched forward, ready to do what he was born to do.
Then, as if they were having the same thought at the same time, Ron and Hermione both jumped up and screamed in unison, "No!" They rushed forward to stop Harry, both near crying out of desperation.
"Harry, you can't do this by yourself!" Hermione cried. "I won't let you! I won't stand idly by while you go off and die! You can't do this by yourself!"
"I'm coming with you," said Ron, valiantly. "If you die, then so do I."
"And so do I," Hermione put in.
Harry had a look of terror and defeat on his face. "Ron," he said, softly, "Hermione, no. Go back with everyone else; you'll be safe there. This is something I have to do. It's my… destiny."
"No, Harry," Hermione insisted.
"We're in this together," Ron said. "Please, Harry."
"I can't let you. You're not safe! No one I love is safe! Go back, you can't come with me," Harry pleaded. "Please. I can't stand it if you die and I live. I can't stand it if we die together. Please… please go back."
"We'd rather die that way," said Ron. "Harry, mate…" Ron stopped and searched his face. Then, resignedly, he hugged Harry. "Good luck." He stepped back, and tried not to show the tears in his eyes, but failed. He didn't seem to mind. "You've been a great friend. I can't thank you for-"
"Don't," said Harry, cutting him off. "Please don't." The two of them nodded, saying all that they could in the simple gesture. It was understood, Harry thought. Ron didn't realize, though, that he had given Harry as much as Harry had given him.
Hermione understood nothing.
"Ron!" she shouted, "Are you just going to let him go?!"
"Yes," said Ron, solemnly. "It's what he was born to do."
"No! No, I won't let you, Harry, I won't let you!" She was crying freely now. "I love you too much to just let you march off to die like this, Harry! You can't… you… you can't!"
Harry hugged her silently, and kissed the top of her head. Backing away slowly, he took her hand and placed it in Ron's.
"Bye," he said, and turned, running away to certain doom. Hermione had never cried harder in her life. She had never seen Ron cry like that. The two of them seemed to collapse on the floor, holding each other and crying for their best friend, whom they would never see again. He would never see the end of their seventh year.
"No!" Hermione shouted. "No! No, Harry, don't! Don't kill him! Don't kill him!" Hermione thrashed in her sleep, half awake, and terrified as she dreamt her most horrible memory- the day that Harry went to fight his final duel with Voldemort. She would have continued crying in her sleep until she felt a pair of strong arms on her shoulders, steadying her.
"Shhh," said the familiar voice, "Shhh, it's all right. It's all going to be all right. Hermione sobbed into Ron's chest, and noticed that she was under the covers with her quilt folded neatly at the foot of the bed. Through blurry eyes, she saw that a pillow was taken from her bed, and her extra blanket was on the loveseat. It was then that she remembered that she was at Hogwarts, not in her seventh year, but as a Professor of Transfiguration, taking the position from Professor McGonagall. It then struck her that Ron was not supposed to be at Hogwarts. He was supposed to be at home.
"What are y-y-you d-d-doing here?" she asked, hiccupping, and still crying.
He laughed softly, making his chest rumble. "I'm here to see you, of course."
She looked up at him, wiping her tears away impatiently, her curiosity peaked.
"I go away tomorrow," he explained. "They're sending me off to… well, never mind. The important thing is, I won't be staying past tomorrow evening. I wanted to spend some time with you, but you looked exhausted, so I decided to let you sleep. I ate in the Great Hall. Had an interesting chat with Professor McGonagall, too. She's a bit worried about you; so am I. You haven't been eating, and you look so pale. And now I get woken up by your screaming in your sleep… what is going on?"
Hermione sighed. "It's just… so… I'm so homesick. I miss you, and I miss Harry and Ginny. And I can't stop the memories, Ron. They just keep… keep coming back, and I miss you so much more."
"I'm here now, it'll be all right. I'll just sleep on the couch, and we can say goodbye tomorrow. You go back to sleep. I'll be right here," he said, and he tried to lay her back down.
"I can't sleep," she protested, "now that I'm already awake. And I'm dreadfully hungry. Let's go to the Three Broomsticks, like old times. I'll just put on a cloak, and we can be off."
Hermione opened her newly furnished armoire and removed her heavy cloak. She noticed that there were no more boxes. Her pictures had been placed around the room, and a hatbox filled with letters was sitting at the bottom of the armoire. She kissed his cheek in lieu of a thank you, and the two of them set off for the Three Broomsticks.
"I meant to remind you," said Ron over their plate of chips, "That my parents' anniversary party is at the end of the month at Bill and Fleur's. Part of the deal, remember?" He winked at her. She would have attended anyway.
"Does the family know?" Hermione asked. "Aside from Harry and Ginny, of course."
"Do they know what? That we're… dating… kind of?"
"No, I don't think so. I suppose it's nothing out of the ordinary. They're used to me dating strange women."
Hermione threw a chip at him. He caught it in his mouth, swallowed, and kissed her, long and hard, so very glad that no one was in the Three Broomsticks this late at night.