Harry’s overwhelmed brain expected Hermione to begin sobbing for a full minute before he realized she wasn’t
going to. He had even inadvertently backed a step away to protect himself from her customary arm-clutching when
Mrs. Weasley appeared, led by a quick-thinking Ron. Harry’s head was beginning to throb, but the throbbing did not
originate from his scar. There were feelings and thoughts pounding in his brain, behind his eyes, in his eyes, in
his ears. Panic, or guilt, or both screamed, It’s all my fault. Oh no, oh no, it’s all my fault. It was familiar.
Mrs. Weasley had to move Harry aside to shepherd in the elder Grangers. A plump, protective arm ushered each one
into the kitchen. They looked back at Hermione, who squeezed her father’s hand as he passed and pressed her lips
together in an almost-smile of reassurance. Or maybe she just winced. Harry noticed that Mrs. Granger was crying.
Hermione still was not.
Now she inhaled a little and with an almost steady voice told no one in particular, “I’ll need to talk to
Ron looked to Harry. Harry felt numb. Ron said, “Right, then, I’ll get my dad,” and left Harry and Hermione alone.
Harry stared at his shoelaces. He tried to think of something to say. He felt he ought to be comforting. But it’s
hard to comfort a marble statue, especially when your insides feel like rocks as well.
Mrs. Weasley emerged momentarily from the kitchen. “Hermione, dear?” She looked tentative. Her arms clearly ached
to embrace and console, but Hermione’s resolute posture warned them to stay at their sides. At the distraction of
Mrs. Weasley’s voice, Harry’s eyes flickered from his shoes long enough to see that Hermione was shaking a bit now,
but that her back was still straight and her chin high. He still couldn’t make himself look at her eyes as she turned
to answer Molly’s next question, “Will you be wanting them to remember?”
Mrs. Weasley nodded and slipped back between the doors. Harry had to say something. Something supportive. He opened
his mouth, but shock had stolen his power of speech. And he was afraid. If she realized it was all his fault, he’d be
the last person she wanted to hear from. He wondered if she realized. He tried to try to talk again, but was saved by
Ron and Mr. Weasley appearing and leading Hermione away, Harry supposed, to the fireplace. Ron was back quickly.
“Wow,” he said.
“Ow.” Harry stepped on a chessman and eagerly stooped to clean up the board. Ron collected their forgotten dinner
bowls, but stopped abruptly at the kitchen door and ended up leaving them in a corner. Harry’s head tried to throb
again, but he forced it down to no more than an insidious whisper. It’s all my fault. He wouldn’t bother them if it
weren’t for me.
He and Ron were staring at the walls when Hermione returned, just as Ron was unclenching his fists.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Harry made himself ask, because he knew Ron wouldn’t, although Ron had surprised him
already tonight by moving and speaking when Harry himself could not.
“I’d like to take a walk,” she said and Harry and Ron exchanged worried looks. Should they let her out alone?
Neither wanted to suggest to her that this was unwise. She was holding herself around the arms now and Harry could see
shiny spots on her face. She misinterpreted their expressions, as they had her invitation, and said quickly, “I can go
“Of course they’re going with you,” said Mr. Weasley. “I’ll take over the watch, son.” He gripped Ron’s shoulder and
shoved him forwards a bit so that Ron followed Hermione through the still-open front door.
She led, although she couldn’t know where she was going. They skirted the valley behind the Weasley house where the
boys played Quidditch and came upon a small stream trickling downhill. Turning in the opposite direction of the weak
current, they began to climb alongside the stream in silence. The water made little noise, but flashed and sparkled as
it rushed over smoothed stones and fallen branches. Harry marveled at how clear it was, and how happy, and peaceful,
except for when Ron splashed loudly behind him.
Part of Harry wished they’d never stop. He had no idea what he’d say when they did. But he wanted to help. He wanted
his friend out of this terrifying, stony mask she was wearing. He didn’t even know what had put it there. Something
horrible. He did not want to imagine what, and kept banishing Lucius Malfoy’s snarling face from the projector behind
In desperation, he almost brought up Quidditch. Ron would have, at times when Harry was like this. Was Harry like
this? Was this what it was like for Hermione and Ron? No, the guilty voice in his head said, It’s different. Because
what happens to you is never their fault.
Harry stumbled against a low stone wall. Peering up to where it trailed away, he noticed Hermione’s determined
shoulders beginning to droop, and was glad she was looking a little more soft and human. If she would only act in some
way familiar, even if she was sad then, maybe he wouldn’t feel so awkward. And if she wanted to smack him, fine. He
hoped she would. If she were telling him off, maybe it would drown out that horrible hissing voice in his head.
A few minutes later, the first wall intersected with a second, higher wall, which reached the top of another hill.
Harry caught up to Hermione on opposites side of the now waist-high boulders. Ron trailed further behind. Finally, atop
this higher hill, Hermione stopped and leaned heavily against the wall. Her arms were crossed again and she looked cold
in her Muggle sundress.
Harry clambered on top of the wall to sit. He didn’t like the barrier between them. Ron toiled towards them slowly,
grabbing and hurling tufts of tall grasses and kicking at stray stones. He appeared to be in his own world, but Harry
knew he was paying attention because when Hermione opened her mouth, Ron dropped a rock on his foot and let it stay
“We met them in a market in Portugal,” she began, and Harry relaxed a little because nothing so horrible could
happen in a grocery store, not without a swarm of Ministry wizards appearing and handling things. If this was just
Hermione being emotional, shaken up from the shock of being found despite her best attempts at secrecy, he could handle
that. He could even poke fun at her later with Ron, for over-reacting and scaring them. She’d fume and call them names
back and they would all laugh and plot Malfoy’s demise.
“I was picking out the fruit. We’d gotten a little private cottage on a quiet stretch of beach and my mum was going
to make crepes. When I joined them in the queue they were glowing over having met another English family just then, and
how they were coming for dinner. They were quite excited. It’s a bit isolating, not meeting a single person who proper
ly speaks your language for over two weeks. I hated having to tell them they’d have to un-invite their new friends. I
was too tentative. They didn’t understand.” She shook her head and Harry’s worries came back.
“That’s my own fault. I’d spent so long trying to convince them that I was safe and that they didn’t need to worry,
I suppose they got very good at it. And even when I explained about how we’d have to take a different sort of vacation
this summer, to places where we wouldn’t have to make reservations or be spotted in crowds, I still didn’t want to make
them panic. I wanted them to be careful, but who wants to terrify their parents? What if they were so scared they
wouldn’t let me go back to school? Stupid, selfish worry. I told them about Voldemort, but it was stupid of me to expect
them to really take it seriously. They had become so accustomed to not worrying. And it is the easier way."
Hermione was glaring at her twisting fingers and she continued in a quavering voice.
“That’s why I can’t let them be Obliviated. They have to remember. For their own safety.”
These were hard words, but Harry wanted to reach out to her. Put an arm around her shoulder, let her lean against
him, do any of the compassionate, understanding things he knew she would have done for him or Ron. But he couldn’t
think how to do any of it right. All he could do was wonder guiltily what it was that Hermione had condemned her
parents to remembering.
“Well, I said to them, ‘No,’ and I said it was dangerous, but they weren’t listening, because they were waving over
my shoulder and saying, ‘Look, here they are now!’ And I was worried, but I wasn’t expecting it at all, to see the
Malfoys standing there. What on earth were they doing in Portugal? In my perfect little hamlet where I was going to
research ancient sand-tinting charms and learn to sail with my father and practice baking with my mum.”
A much more familiar version of her voice couldn’t help but inform them, “We had already gotten through three kinds
of pie and an upside-down cake,” but she quickly blushed after that and balled her hands into fists.
“All useless! All I could do was stand there! Bundt cakes aren’t going to fix that! I couldn’t think of any spells,
couldn’t do them if I had thought of them. I couldn’t do anything! I hoped maybe they didn’t recognize me. We were
dressed as Muggles, of course, and I had all my hair shoved up in a horrid cap so it wouldn’t attract attention.”
Ron seemed to cough at this, but Harry didn’t think Hermione had noticed. Harry realized now that there had been a
hat tangled in her hair when she first screamed at the door, but that it had since disappeared.
“At least my parents stuck to the names Dumbledore made up for them, which they thought was very fun. I just
stood there, yanking on my dad’s shirttails like a toddler while Mr. Malfoy smiled so sweetly and
introduced himself. He used a fake name, too. I suppose you can’t be too careful when you’ve just escaped from Azkaban. Maybe they were
hiding out just like we were.
“Not that that matters much. They gushed about how they had children just the same age. Draco wasn’t there or I
think I would have vomited.” She had been looking as if she would now, and Harry saw a similar expression on Ron’s
face. Harry was glad that her face was moving, showing emotion, even if the emotion was revulsion. The mask was gone.
And the revulsion did not seem directed at him, but neither were her eyes. They were unfocused and staring into the
distance. She can’t look at me, he thought, without puking on me, too. Because I’m the reason it
“Ugh, Draco did come with them to the cottage. They were early, but even that didn’t make my parents suspicious.
Maybe Malfoy put some sort of Confundus Charm on them because it was -it was awful- it was crazy, how I was pleading
with them and how they kept shaking their heads at me and going about getting ready. Like they thought I was an
over-imaginative child. I was never over-imaginative! And I’m not a child. . . “
She visibly shook that thought from her head, and Harry was glad not to have to think about how much Hermione had
grown up since she’d last spent real time with the Grangers.
“I gave up and packed us some overnight things in a bag and was just done when they showed up, smiling again,
playing the parts of innocent touristy Muggles, and enjoying it so disgustingly. Well, Draco’s fly was unzipped but I
couldn’t even say anything. Oooh, I wanted to wipe that smirk off his face, but that would have provoked them. I thought
maybe I could get through it without provoking them. Maybe they just wanted to taunt me. Or maybe I could get my
parents out of the way and, I don’t know, I wasn’t thinking after that. I was hoping Mr. Malfoy would want to avoid
getting caught. I took care of my mum then anyway, so they couldn’t hurt her, no matter what happened. Except later she
could hear us. I suppose that was awful.” Harry felt sick with apprehension and wondered how Hermione had “taken
care of” her mother.
“Mrs. Malfoy got suspicious, I suppose, and wanted to come help with the coffee we were supposed to be getting.
Probably thought my mum was just hiding in the kitchen, but I’m smarter than that. I had her in a closet and I had
transfigured the door into a tapestry so no one would think to look behind it.”
Harry couldn’t help himself, “I didn’t know you could do that!” he exclaimed.
“Neither did I. I mostly expected to botch it and have the Underage Magic Office come to the rescue, but no such
luck. Of course, if a Petrificus Totalus didn’t bring them running, why did I expect a little Transfiguration to
“Is that what you did to Mrs. Malfoy?” Harry asked, incredulous.
“Yes,” said Hermione cautiously.
“But how could you have done that before the transfiguration? You didn’t--?” Harry’s horror overtook him before he
could finish the question. Hermione had cursed her mum.
“What else was I supposed to do?” she exclaimed. “I hurried back out, and was so relieved to find my dad still okay.
I said Mrs. Malfoy had realized she needed the ladies’ room. My dad looked confused and I could see that made Mr.
Malfoy nervous. He declared it had been a long car ride and he’d go after her and started to the kitchen, but I hadn’t
really hidden her at all, so I practically had to jump in front of him to say there was another bathroom down the hall.
My dad thought he’d show him the way, and I panicked and said I’d do it because Mum would want me to be a good hostess.
But that left Draco there with my dad.
“He gave me this horrible, nasty smile and said, ‘Your dad can tell me all about you while you’re gone and then when
you get back it will be like we already know each other!’ and I just knew he was going to try something awful just as
soon as I was out of sight. His father was the playing the game perfectly, but I knew Draco was just itching to do more.
“And sure enough, when I get back, there my father is standing on the couch in an absolute state staring at Draco
like he’s the monster he is because the floor is absolutely covered in awful, slithering snakes. My father hates snakes.
And Draco’s there laughing. And don’t even say how horrid it was because if it ended there, it would be fine.
“I started shouting spells to make the snakes disappear, but there were too many of them and he just kept letting
more spill out of his wand. They were climbing up on the couch now and Mr. Malfoy would be coming out any second. I
used a Stunner on Draco but just as Mr. Malfoy did show up, and that really made him mad. He tried to curse me on his
way by to Ennervate Draco, but I ducked. I threw Stunning Spells at him, but he kept blocking them.
“Then, just as he was reviving the little slimeball, I got him with Ginny’s Bat-Bogey Hex. Draco shouted at that,
but he had learned a counter-curse and next thing I knew Mr. Malfoy had me flying through the air and Draco was
Summoning my wand.
“I hit a picture on the wall, but I don’t remember landing, and when I opened my eyes, the snakes were gone and
Draco was holding my arms in those vile hands of his and I couldn’t shake him off. My dad hadn’t run for it in all
the commotion. He was just standing there, shaking, and looking at me.”
Hermione’s stoic facade was gone now. She was trembling, and Ron was staring at her, his mouth slightly open. He did
not move, but over the next minute, Harry watched his face harden. He wondered if Ron was realizing, too, that Harry
was to blame. Hermione must have realized. Otherwise she’d be grabbing him now, digging holes in his arms with her
fingernails. Or at least looking at him. She was still staring out at the empty countryside. Harry thought her story
was over, but it wasn’t. She was just steeling herself for the end.
“Now don’t interrupt me and I’m only telling you this once. That horrible Lucius Malfoy looked at me, too, and
smiled. And pointed his wand -at my father.” Her eyes widened, then she squeezed them shut. Her halting speech suddenly
“It was just like with the spider. Only he screamed, which the spider did NOT do. And they laughed. The Professor
didn’t laugh. It went on and on and I couldn’t stop it until Draco was rolling on the floor laughing and I could pick
up the end table and hurl it at Mr. Malfoy and grab my wand and Stun the two of them. I wanted to do something worse,
but I—I was having trouble with words just then.” She was having trouble again now.
“I had to say ‘the Burrow’ about six times before he understood me on the Knight Bus,” she had barely whispered
before tears finally began to course down her cheeks and Ron had appeared at her side.
She stood and let her defeated self collapse into him, now sobbing hysterically in a way Harry found oddly
comforting. It was unlike the feeling he got from Ron, whose arms were around Hermione tightly, although he didn’t seem
to be aware of that, or of anything else. His eyes burned dangerously and-it might have been the reflection of the
setting sun-but to Harry they appeared to gleam red. Ron stared at no one and nothing and clenched his jaw and Harry was
terrified. Ron had impulsively gone after Draco Malfoy plenty of times before, but now he looked like he was seriously
planning to kill him.
Harry managed to catch Ron’s eye long enough to determine that it was in fact Draco, not Harry, that he wanted dead.
That was a relief, but it was still horrible to see that look on a best friend. It was worse than the expression, or
lack thereof, that he’d borne from Hermione all afternoon. Hermione was still obliviously leaning into Ron.
Twilight shadows crept around them and Ron’s expression slowly grew tender as Harry awkwardly watched, until Harry
slipped off the wall and began to pick his way down the hill. He stopped and waited at the stream. He could say it was
because he couldn’t remember which way to go, but it was really because he knew Mrs. Weasley would be furious if he came
wandering back to the Burrow alone in the near-dark. So he waited with his thoughts.
He hated having to stay alive when all it seemed to do was cause the people stupid enough to care about him pain and
trouble. If it weren’t for him, Sirius would be alive, the Weasleys could all sit down to a pleasant meal together with
no one guarding the door, and Hermione wouldn’t—
When Voldemort had used Crucio on Harry, it had hurt insanely. But the memory of pain is weak. What still haunted
him undiluted were the seconds Neville had been curled and screaming in the Department of Mysteries. And those had only
been seconds, and Neville wasn’t his father, and his mother wasn’t in the next room. Harry didn’t even pity himself
then for not having a mother or father for the Malfoys to come after. He was obsessed with how awful it must have been
for Hermione, and how awful he felt for causing it. If it hadn’t been for Trelawney’s prophecy, he would have been sure
the world was better off without him.
He was lost in the contemplation of a green firefly when Ron and Hermione slowly stumbled into sight. Ron was having
to help Hermione quite a lot because she was wearing very impractical Muggle sandals, no good for descending hills in
“You shouldn’t have gone off like that,” Hermione greeted him sternly.
Harry stood up feeling grumpy and had to bite his tongue to avoid telling her she shouldn’t have let him.
“Oh, just pick her up and get it over with,” he told Ron, as Hermione tripped and had to clutch Ron’s arm yet again.
Ron seemed not to notice any tension. “Like this?” he asked flippantly, grabbing Hermione around the middle and
throwing her over his shoulder. He laughed while she made unhappy noises and tried to clutch at his waist. Harry grabbed
the sandals off her flailing feet before they flew off and smacked someone, probably him.
“Oh, I’m getting dizzy,” Hermione complained, “and I think there’s something from the grass alive in my hair.”
“How about this, then?” Ron grinned and swung her swiftly around so that he was cradling her, legs in one arm and
shoulders in another like an overgrown baby. She looked a bit green and clamped her eyes against the spinning world,
grabbing tight handfuls of his shirt to hold steady. A very strange expression passed across Ron’s face and he stopped
Soon, she sighed, “That’s better, thanks,” and relaxed limply.
Ron shook her frantically. “Hermione! Harry! Harry, I think I’ve killed her!”
Harry thought bitterly that that was his job, not Ron’s, as he grabbed Ron to hold him still with his sandal-free
hand. “Quiet,” he muttered. “She’s just fallen asleep, I think.” Leaning in to feel her slowing, but steady breath,
he chuckled, “You must have the touch there, mate.” Ron looked confused and uncomfortable, which Harry found comforting.
He could count on Ron to be Ron, at least.
“Come on, Prince Charming. What was that face you made a minute ago?” Harry prodded jokingly.
Ron winced and mumbled gruffly, “She, er, grabbed a bit of my, you know, my chest hair. ‘S sensitive there.”
Harry rolled his eyes and resigned himself to silent misery. Ron did not even try to talk about Quidditch.
Harry approached the door first when they reached the house, Ron hanging back with the sleeping Hermione to avoid
waking her with any commotion at the door. After Mr. Weasley welcomed him, commenting that Molly had begun to worry
that her magic clock was lying when it reassured her they were all safe, Harry waved to Ron, who brought Hermione
straight up to Ginny’s room. That turned out to be occupied by the other Grangers.
Harry came up behind him as he stood on the landing and shook his head. They silently agreed that Hermione needed a
place to herself tonight. Harry grabbed some blankets and pillows while Ron laid Hermione down in his own bed with a
grace Harry hadn’t known he had. They both stared at her for a moment, unsure of what else to do.
“Blimey,” said Ron.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Harry.
They went downstairs.