A/N: For those of you that read the previous chapter the same day it was updated, I suggest you go back a chapter and re-read. For some reason, the chapter was uploaded incomplete and now I have fixed that issue. Otherwise, please read on and enjoy.


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Harry Potter

and the Malediction of the Deathly Hallows

By

Amaterasu Kinesi


Chapter Eight

The Ender's Kiss


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Wednesday – April 20, 2005


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It had been two weeks and a half since… and Hermione was simply going through the motions without giving herself time to think. Because if she stopped to think, her world would crumble and the dam would finally give way to uncontrollable tears. Hermione was of the opinion that she couldn't have that, she was grieving but she was still stronger than that and she was determined to function.

Function. That was what she told herself every morning as she showered, got dressed, prepared breakfast for her and Ron, ate, cleaned the table and dishes, bid her husband a good day, and Apparated or used the Floo network to get to work. Once at work, things got easier because she didn't have to think –she just did what was required of her without thinking about…

Well, Hermione didn't think. Because if she started thinking she would start blaming herself for what had happened and then, Hermione wouldn't be able to function. When Hermione had hinted at blaming herself, Ron had been righteously angry with her. But it wasn't just the blaming, she reminded herself. Unbidden, Hermione's thoughts took her back to two and a half weeks ago.


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Past

Saturday – April 2, 2005


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7:18 a.m.

"This is all my fault," Hermione cried inconsolable. "Because I'm– I'm a Mudblood!"

All the quiet conversation and sobbing going around Ron and Hermione in that instant ceased suddenly as a united gasp of incredulity echoed through the room from the mourners' gathered, followed by more sobbing and quiet outrage. As one, everyone but Ron and Hermione stood and left the room to leave husband and wife to discuss such delicate matters between themselves and in private.

As Ron stared intently at his wife, his face growing red with fury, the last of their combined family exited their room and he and his inconsolable wife were alone at last. With barely controlled anger, Ron took a deep breath and met Hermione's coffee brown eyes. Gazing at her husband's cerulean eyes, Hermione flinched and began to tremble, tears running freely down her cheeks once more.

"What did you just say, Hermione?" Ron asked with a quiet voice she wouldn't have associated with him before that day. For his part, Ron felt like he didn't know who Hermione was but he couldn't quite point that out to her because he wasn't feeling quite like himself either. "Would you care to repeat yourself? I'm afraid I might have misheard you."

"That it's my fault," she answered defiantly, chin jutting out and lower lip trembling, "be-because I'm a-a Mu-Mudblood!"

Looking at her husband's face, Hermione shrank in her bed as she attempted to distance herself from him and failed miserably. Ronald looked positively murderous after hearing her admission. "Where in the bloody hell did you get that idea from?" Ron asked, voice trembling but not raised.

"I…" Hermione flinched, she almost preferred for Ron to yell at her instead if this calm she didn't know how to deal with. So far, Ron's anger was quite and controlled but filled the air around him with enough static to cause Hermione's hair follicles to Braille and every hair to stand on end. "That's what they'll–"

"What?" Ron interrupted, anger sipping into his tone for the first time. "That's what everyone will say?"

"Yes," she barely managed to whisper. Ashamed and unable to repeat herself, Hermione nodded and Ron's jaw tightened angrily as he battled with himself to not start yelling at his wife, given her fragile state of mind.

"Why? Because you are inferior to my pure blood?" Ron spat bitterly. Hermione cringed and took a shuddering breath. As she tried to look away from her husband, Hermione realized she couldn't and found herself transfixed. Hermione shuddered. Never before had she seen Ronald so righteously angry. "Because your blood is filthy? So you are beneath me now, is that it?" he demanded.

"I– I– I don't–" Instantly, Hermione's tears dried as she stuttered through her words and came up short for anything to argue with, she felt as if she'd been slapped. Right that instant, Hermione simply wanted to hide from her husband's scrutiny so that he wouldn't witness her shame or see the pain his words caused.

"Is that what you think, honestly?" For the first time, Ron looked as equally hurt as he did angry and disgusted with her. "Is that how you think I see you," he asked quietly, voice a bitter rasp, "Hermione?"

"N-n-no!" Hermione gasped through her stuttering words, confused and near hysteria again but the tears wouldn't come again. She was so shocked and aghast that that was where Ron's mind had jumped. "No, I think you love me…" she whispered, trailing off uncertainly.

"You think," Ron asked softly, "or you know that I love you?"

"I know, Ron," she whispered and began to sob again. There were those tears she had thought she'd run out of. "I know that you love me…"

"Then stop trying to find someone to blame," Ron whispered, taking a hold of her chin and tilting her head up to meet his eyes. "Stop blaming yourself."

"But I…" Meeting his eyes, Hermione found Ron crying as he gazed at her with an unreadable expression.

"And never, ever call yourself a bloody Mudblood again," Ron asked of her. "Don't even think the word." Shaking his head, Ron interrupted whatever Hermione had been about to say. "Blood has never been an issue between us and never will be. We lost…" Ron swallowed thickly. "Fredrik wasn't your fault, or mine. He is as much your son as he is mine. Therefore, I lost him, too, you know…"

"I know, I know…" Moved by her husband's words and reassurance, ignoring the pain and dizziness the action caused, Hermione threw herself into his arms and apologized as Ron held on to her fiercely. Thinking it probably wouldn't be the last time she'd have to apologize for the duration of the days, weeks, months, and years to come, Hermione whispered, "I'm so sorry…"

Given the sound of evident sincerity in Ron's voice, Hermione fooled herself into believing his words for the time being. However, she still had that nagging insecurity probing at her at the back of her mind that consumed her thoughts with guilt. Because Hermione was beginning to believe what she had been told ever since she had stepped into this world by purebloods like Draco Malfoy and his father, that she was less than Ron deserved for a wife.

After all, she had been born with magic but she hadn't been born into it like Ron had and that had to have been the dominating factor that had thrown off the equilibrium and stolen their day of joy. Hermione was sure of it. If not, then Hermione was sure that Fate didn't have a sense of humor and was downright cruel for taking the innocent life of their son.


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Present

Monday – April 25, 2005


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5:45 p.m.

Ronald Bilius Wesley was at a loss, just like he had been for almost a month, since he was now a father but no longer had a child to call his own or show for his newly acquired title. This fact seemed to hit him harder than usual today, with five days between him and the four-week anniversary of Fredrik's birth and death.

To make matters worse, his wife now went to bed in tears and awoke with fresh tears in her eyes in the mornings as well, something Hermione tried very had to conceal from Ron and for that matter had taken to sleeping with her back to him. Honestly, Hermione's tears didn't bother Ron at all.

No, Ron understood better than anyone why his wife cried and, sometimes, she wasn't the only one that went to bed in tears. No, Ron was concerned for his and Hermione's sanity and the strain their marriage was under. For far too long there had been conflicted silence in the Weasleys household as husband and wife skirted around each other and Ron thought he'd had just about enough.

It was Ron's prerogative, as Hermione's husband, to protect his wife from herself, because if she hadn't realized yet, Fredrik was also his son and Ron was mourning his loss as well. This was something that Hermione didn't exactly forget but seemed to not take to heart or completely ignore. At least that's what her actions seemed to say.

However, the more Ron tried to talk to her and address the issue, the harder Hermione tried to push her husband away. By now, Ron was growing twice as frustrated as he had been originally. Didn't Hermione understand that everything Ron did was done out of devotion? Ron had to wonder.

Ron needed his wife, her support, and he was going to make sure that Hermione realized that she needed her husband just as much, even it made him look like a complete git in the process. Because, in Ron's opinion, it wasn't fair that Hermione was shutting him out when he was the one reaching out.

More than anything, Ron wanted his wife's comfort and her touch. If Ron could have that, it would serve to reassure him that he was alive and that what was happening wasn't simply a dreadful nightmare he had yet to wake up from –even if that was the preferred alternative. Ron would do anything for the wedge that had formed between them the weeks following Fredrik's funeral to disappear or for it all to be just that, a nightmare he'd conjured up following a hard day's work.

Either way, there were more issues for them to deal with and Ron was dealing with enough wishful thinking to last him a lifetime. However, what troubled Ron the most was that he wasn't even sure if Hermione had believed him when he'd told her he didn't see an issue with her blood. Never had. But apparently it had been an issue with Hermione that was only now surfacing.

Needless to say, Ron was left feeling bereft of ways to tell Hermione not to dwell on that or reassure her that her worries were unfounded where their relationship was concerned. From where he was standing, it seemed that Hermione didn't and wouldn't believe in Ron if he tired.

Not any more. Somehow, she had gotten it into her head that it was her fault that their son had been born dead and, apparently, it had everything to do with her blood not being magical enough.

Ridiculous! Ron thought to himself as he stepped out of the fireplace and into his home kitchen. This was where it had happened, where their son had been conceived. With fond remembrance, Ron skimmed his fingertips along the polished wood of his diner table as ghost of a smile graced his lips for a fleeting moment.

Sighing, Ron shook himself out of his reverie and his shoulders became hunched with defeat. It had been a very long and exhausting day at work and Ron was about ready to drop. Instead, he opted for the next best thing and sank into one of the kitchen chairs at the diner table to bury his face in his hands and wait for Hermione to arrive. It was high time and Ron decided he and Hermione needed to have a talk.

Before he knew it, however, fifteen minutes had gone by and Ron was trembling and everything around him was rattling as his magic leaked out of him while he lost control. He had been suppressing so much for the sake of his wife during the last three weeks and Ron just couldn't cope any more. Nine months of waiting to meet his son gone in an instant…

The overhead lamp shattered around Ron and he was so wound up in his own turmoil that he didn't notice or care, didn't even lift his head out of his hands. The fire flared green again a few seconds later and out stepped Hermione Jean Weasley who was about to encounter her wake-up call in the form of her crumbling husband.

There was glass and blood everywhere and unbalanced magic was frizzling in the air like static, Hermione noticed the moment she took things in. She had already lost a son, she couldn't lose her husband too. How had she been so blind and selfish? Hermione wondered as her hands began to shake, growing clammy as the blood drained from her face. For a frightening moment, she feared Ron's job as an Auror had caught up to them and someone had waged war in her home.

"Ronald!" she cried, surprise, concern, and fear clawing at Hermione's broken heart as she rushed to Ron's side with the jagged shards of her heart lodged in her throat.

In the midst of the chaos, there, by their table at the kitchen sat Ron, her husband, with shards of glass from the overhead lamp scattered everywhere as he bled and the whole of their home shook with magical precipitation. Something within Hermione broke and fixed itself in that moment, when she called Ron's name over and over again and he didn't seem to hear her –couldn't' seem to hear her.

Kneeling before her husband with hot tears streaming down her face, Hermione reached out with trembling hands to pry Ron into acknowledging her presence. Ignoring the broken glass and blood, Hermione wedged herself into his arms and embracing him, pressing and resting his ear against her chest tightly—right over her erratic heart.

This has to work, Hermione silently prayed.

Like rain clinging to her skin, Hermione felt Ron's precipitated magic reach out and stroke hers hungrily. It sought hers, probing tentatively, and reacted almost quizzically to the comforting familiarity it found within its equal and Hermione felt her own magical core respond in kind.

Only, Hermione's reacted in a controlled manner that slowly helped Ron regain a small measure of control at a time over his magic, thread by thread he pulled it inward, as he anchored himself to the sound of his wife's heartbeat. Waiting, Hermione held her breath and silently counted the minutes until Ron squeezed her hips to show awareness, and returned her desperate embrace in kind.

"You left me," Ron rasped as he closed his eyes to better listen to the sound he associated with solace, the beat of Hermione's heart. "You left me…" he repeated as Hermione trembled in his arms, running her fingers through his hair, and Ron felt the tangible manifestation of his sorrows trailing a wet path down his cheeks. "We're supposed to be in this together, 'Mione."

"I'm so sorry… I– I'm such a hypocrite."

Apologies spewed from Hermione's lips between sobs as she desperately clung to her husband and told him everything that came from her broken heart and Ron needed to hear in order to forgive her. Also, Hermione finally opened her heart to Ron's, displaying to him all her fears and insecurities, in the hopes that he would find a way to piece her back together.

This was her penance and who better to hear it than the man she loved and cherished unlike any other? Hermione mused.

"There's no need for apologies, 'Mione…" As he was wont to do, Ron surprised Hermione and told her that there was no question they'd find a way to piece each other; he explained that they just needed to do it together and they would find the pieces in each other. "Just, never shut me out again. Promise me."

In Ron's opinion, being left behind emotionally was far worse than if Hermione had packed up her bags and left, but he was willing to forgive her for her transgression because she'd already forgiven him for physically leaving her once. There was also the fact that Hermione was his to love and to cherish and he already did that enough to know that he wouldn't be able to function without her at his side, and Ron told her as much.

"I promise. I love and need you, Ron," she confessed and Hermione felt the yoke of her guilt lift off her shoulders. "More than you'll ever know." As the clattering around the embracing couple finally quieted and came to a halt with the admission of her words, Hermione felt Ron's tears wetting her blouse through her robes and she smiled for the first time in two and a half weeks. She was Home. "I can't get through this without you."

"You don't have to," Ron whispered hoarsely and pressed his lips to his wife's curved neck. "That's what I'm here for, to help you through this."

"I know. Sorry I didn't realize it sooner… I wasn't thinking."

"We'll get through this together," Ron assured her, kissing each of Hermione's trembling lids and then her cheeks.

"Mhmm, together," hummed Hermione and allowed herself to smile because she had been welcomed Home with warmth by the one person that matter the most to her, despite the fact that she had lost sight of that.

Honestly, Hermione thought as she pressed a gossamer kiss against Ron's tear-stained lips and lingered, we should have done this sooner. Ron and Hermione were a long way away from being okay but they were on their way…

"Together."


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Friday – April 29, 2005


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9:52 p.m.

Ron and Hermione were seated on the living room floor of their home, eating ice cream and chips and looking at the only pictures of their son that they had to remember him by. The pictures had been taken by a photographer at St. Mungo's and the pair treasured each one, but today had been the first time they had been able to bring themselves to look at them.

As expected, Ron and Hermione were gazing down at the pictures together with mirroring rueful smiles and tears that threatened to fall from their eyes. They had managed to keep their eyes dry up to now, only because they had smartly brought snacks for distraction, which had been Ron's idea.

However, as they gazed at the next set of pictures, the tears finally came. In the moving picture, Fredrik Gideon Weasley was respectively in the arms of his Granger grandparents, David and Monica, and then with his Weasley grandparents, Arthur and Molly. (Then each grandparent had their separate shots, in which they each had their individual picture taken with their grandson.)

On both sets of pictures, the grandparents were admiring the small, blue bundle in their arms with unmistaken revere and sadness. Their four sets of varying colored eyes mourning, but smiling as each grandparent introduced themselves to their grandson and said their goodbyes.

Then came the pictures with the uncles, aunts, and cousins…

Harry and Ginny, also his godparents, crying as inconsolably as the parents had been and talking in hushed voices to their nephew who would always have a special place in their hearts. Next to them in the picture was Teddy. When Teddy's picture had been captured, he had been standing by Harry and Ginny while crying and rubbing his knuckles against his eyes to try to stop the tears, as he said that he didn't understand and kissed Fredrik on his little hand, just like had seen Ginny do, and whispered a quivering 'I love you' as he burrowed into Harry's chest to hide his tears.

George and Angelina Weasley came after… then Bill and Fleur Weasley and their daughters Victoire and Dominique… Charlie Weasley… Percy and Audrey Weasley and their two young daughters Molly and Lucy Weasley… and in none of them was there a dry eye.

Soon after, Ron and Hermione were gazing at the family picture with them holding Fredrik at the center, their respective parents to either side of them, Harry and Ginny behind them, and behind Harry and Ginny came the rest of the Weasleys. It was the only picture in which everyone had managed not to tear up and so everyone was smiling at the camera. Fredrik looked like he was just snoozing with a smile on his lips…

Finally, the pictures of Ron and Hermione followed. In those, Ron and Hermione gazed down at their son Fredric, or Ron hugged both mother and son from behind, and each of them tried their best to smile as best they could for the camera. They each had individual shots as well, in those Ron or Hermione were depicted holding their son to their chest and kissing his brow or small fingers and sometimes caressing his face or pressing their foreheads to his.

It was as Hermione examined one of herself holding Fredrik and kissing his cheek that she observed something curious. Straining her eyes to look at the picture through her tears, Hermione blinked rapidly and drew the picture closer to her face as she tried to understand what she was seeing.

"Ron, what do you see here?" Hermione asked in a quivering voice and passed Ron the picture as he reached for it. "Right there, on Fredrik's cheek. Do you see it?"

"Yeah, I dunno," admitted Ron as he also stared at the picture through squinting eyes and with a quizzical brow. "It looks like… a shadow? Maybe…"

"Maybe we didn't notice and he had a birthmark?" Hermione mused aloud, dubious. She had spent so much time memorizing Fredrik's face in the hopes that she would never forget it that Hermione doubted she would have missed something like that.

"Perhaps…" Ron nodded as he continued to stare at the picture but he didn't look convinced. In fact, Ron had such misgivings about what he was seeing that he felt like his stomach had dropped out from right under him. Just like Hermione, he had taken his time to make sure he never forgot his son's face in years to come. "Except no one in my family has strange birthmarks… or yours, for that matter, 'Mione."

"Then what could it be?" Hermione fretted and as Ron felt her tremble against him, he put an arm around her shoulders and drew her effortlessly into his side.

"I think we've got ourselves a little project in our hands," murmured Ron.

For the first time, to her and Ron's knowledge, the idea of researching didn't appeal to Hermione at all and she was filled with such foreboding that she was desperately hoping it was all a great delusion. But try as she might, Hermione blinked and blinked and she still saw the same thing again and again, no matter how many times she tried to blink the image away.

As Ron and Hermione stared at the picture in question, the barely-there shadow disappeared as the photo restarted its loop from the point the photographer had captured the moment and then slowly reappeared just as a shadow seemed to flee… while the frame continued its loop and then restarted again.

Alarmed by that, Hermione asked, "Did you see that?" and she felt herself shiver.

"I did," Ron responded shakily and his arm around Hermione's shoulders tightened, for which she was grateful. Hermione was in desperate need of her husband's comfort. "There was a shadow just there and then…" –Ron trembled at the thought– "then it just sort of flickered out of sight… it's–"

"It's like he's been marked," Hermione interjected, voice hushed.

Decidedly, Ron nodded, looked at his wife like he wanted to apologize for something, and with rueful severity said, "We've got ourselves a project."


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Friday – May 6, 2005


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10:52 p.m.

"Hermione," Ron rasped, "I found it."

It took Ron and Hermione exactly a week and an hour to research the mark they had observed on their son's cheek.

"Let me see…"

"It's here," Ron mumbled. Hermione walked away from the bookshelf she had been aiming for and quickly retraced her steps back to Ron's side. It alarmed Hermione, just how pale Ron looked as he lifted his eyes to meet hers. Even his hands were shaking when he pushed the tome he had been pored over across the table to her.

"What tome is this?" Hermione asked, frowning. "This isn't one of ours…"

"It isn't," Ron agreed. Nodding, Hermione began to skim through the text and while hers eyes devoured the context on text, she used her forefinger as a guide to not lose her pale –the script was tiny. "I got it from the Ministry's library. In the Auror section."

"Ron, this is…" Hermione whispered as her eyes widened and the blush from her cheeks completely drained from her face.

"Blimey…" Glancing at her husband, Hermione found him chuckling darkly as he buried his face in his hands and nodded. "'Mione, this has to be some bloody joke. Otherwise, I think someone's taken this mickey much to far and placed us at its center."

Looking at the cover, Hermione read, "Sors, et Fames, et Mors. Fate, Famine, and Death?"Shakily, Hermione glanced over at Ron and carefully asked, "Ron, what made you grab this tome in particular? There are so many books in the Auror section…"

Curious, Hermione stared at Ron and watched him stiffen at the question. Glancing up at his wife, Ron fixed her with a look Hermione wasn't too familiar with but thought she could detect some signs of confusion and apprehension. Opening his mouth, Ron replied, "Look at the spine."

Obediently, Hermione did and she dropped the book with a hiss as if she'd just been burned. There, where the name of the author is usually written was the same mark they'd been researching. Grimacing, Ron nodded sympathetically at his wife. "But-but… how?" Hermione sputtered.

"I don't know…" Ron shook his head. "But you only read the first page. Keep reading."

Warily, Hermione nodded, took the tome, and continued reading… as she got to the third page, Hermione gasped, "In Ender est Osculum?"

"The Ender's Kiss," repeated Ronald sardonically, translating it into English.

"What does this mean?" Hermione's hand trembled as she skimmed over the words again, trying to find more information. Finding nothing, she proceeded to reading the index. There she found the chapter she had been reading under Maledicta. "This is under maledictions, Ron, what does that mean?"

Ron took a shuddering breath as he looked away from Hermione and replied, "It means, according to that ancient tome, that our son was cursed."

Inhaling sharply, Hermione felt the sting of tears in her eyes as she began to tremble. "Who would curse our son?"

"Look at the bottom of the third page of the index."

"Sacrificium…" Hermione read tremulously. "A sacrifice for what?"

"That's our next project," Ron replied ominously and stood, walking away.

"Where are you going?"

"To see Harry." Ron glanced over his shoulder at Hermione and added, "Are you coming? Oh, and bring that book."

"But it's late…" Hermione argued as she took hold of the tome and followed.

"A Galleon says they're still up."

Shaking her head, despite herself, Hermione smiled and said, "You're on."


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11:32 p.m.

Meanwhile, at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, Harry and Ginny were up at the moment because no matter how much Ginny tired, she just couldn't get comfortable in bed and as thus, couldn't get to sleep. Naturally, Harry had joined his wife under the guise of keeping an eye on her and had asked Ginny to join in his nightly routine, which they had been perfecting for the past month.

The fire in the kitchen of flared green and Harry and Ginny, who were seated around the kitchen table having a cup of hot chocolate and poring over their shared research in companionable silence, shared a smirk without glancing at each other. Only two people could be visiting the Potters' household at such a late hour and despite the lateness, the two didn't think there was anything to be alarmed about until they were proven otherwise.

The telling sound of two sets of steps reached Harry and Ginny's ears as the fire went back to normal and they continued poring over their volumes and tomes without sparing the pair that had appeared in their kitchen a glance.

"Nice night," greeted Harry, inking down a few things onto his spare piece of parchment, "Ron, Hermione?"

"Sorry to intrude," Hermione whispered and that's when Harry and Ginny heard the sniffles.

Alarmed, the two glanced up at their visitors with concern and simultaneously asked, "What's going on? Are you lot hurt?" and rose to their feet (Ginny needed a bit of help from Harry after two failed attempts). Rushing over, they looked over Ron and Hermione (who was holding a huge tome for some reason) critically.

"Harry," Ron rasped, side stepping his best mate and sank into a chair. "Do you know anything about In Ender est Osculum?"

"In Ender what?" Harry asked, perplexed, as Ginny glanced quizzically from her husband to her brother for enlightenment.

Feeling a twinge of disappointment, Hermione answered, "The Ender's Kiss."


...…

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A/N: Thought you guys should know that I've been going back to previous chapters and re-editing some minor errors and doing some extending.

Thank you for reading. Until next chapter –Chapter Nine: Courtesy In the Face of The Master of Death.