Hermioneís eyes snapped open. She had dreamed about the
black again. Plus, she had dreamed about Ron being dragged away
again, and she hadnít had that dream since July. She looked around wildly
for a moment, not knowing where she was. Then she felt Ronís arms tighten
around her, and heard him calling her name.
"Hermione! Hey, wake up!"
"What?" She tried to sit up, but Ron held her
back. "I- sorry. Was I talking in my sleep?" She realized that
her forehead was sweaty and hastily wiped it off.
Ron looked down at her with concern. "You were pretty
quiet, but you were squirming an awful lot, like you were trying to see
something." He wiped away a tear (where did that come from? Hermione
thought) off her cheek and turned her to face him. "You were whispering
something by the end. I donít know what it was you said, but it sounded
pretty much like Ďnoí and Ďpleaseí."
Hermione shuddered. That sounded familiar all
right. Why did she have to have that damned dream all the time?
"What did you dream about?" Ron asked.
Hermione winced. "I donít know," she replied.
"I mean- I know what I saw and everything, but I canít figure out
exactly what it was." She shuddered. "Everything was
black, Ron. I couldnít see anything, or hear anything or anything."
Ron stroked her hair comfortingly. "Itís OK,"
he whispered. "Itís just a dream. Hey, youíre shaking."
"Itís not just a dream," Hermione whispered.
"I donít know, Ron, it was real, I know it was." She shivered
involuntarily. "It has something to do with Harry."
He pulled away from her. "Harry? Youíre sure?"
She squeezed her eyes shut. "No, Iím not sure,"
she said, almost snappishly. Ron looked hurt and she felt tears welling
up in her eyes. "Oh my God, Ron. I donít know whatís going on with
me. Iíve been having weird dreams for so long. Iím going insane."
Ron took her face in his hands and made her look at him.
"What do you mean?" he asked. "How long has this been going
Hermione let out a ragged breath. "I donít know.
I was dreaming about the dance every night for most of last spring and
summer. It was so horrible, Ron. I couldnít get it out of my head. I was
afraid to fall asleep." She longed to tell him the part about watching
him be dragged away, but couldnít bring herself to do so. "Whatís
happening to me?" she whispered.
Ronís eyes were very bright as he looked at her. "Hermione,"
he whispered in a tortured voice. His eyes searched her face, as if looking
for the cause of her pain, and finding nothing. He finally looked her
in the eye again, then drew her close and kissed her softly.
Hermione trembled in Ronís arms as he held her, his mouth
against hers. He was so gentle, and she could feel his love for her, tingling
and unfolding through her body in a comforting manner. He pulled away
and looked at her, then stood up and helped her to her feet.
"We should get back up to our rooms before people
start coming down," he said quietly. "Itíll be time for breakfast
soon. We have to just pretend nothing happenedÖ"
She smiled then, slightly, in anticipation of what the
next few days would bring. She had been waiting to hear Ron say that he
loved her for so long. But she knew that now was not the time to go walking
around holding hands and the like. He led her to the foot of her stairs
and hugged her.
"Iíll see you at breakfast," he whispered to
her, then let her go and walked up his own stairs to the boysí dorm. Hermione
hugged her chest, cold all of a sudden. She longed to tell Ron she loved
him. "Ron," she called after him.
He turned at the top stair. "Yes?"
She took a deep breath. "I-" But her voice
caught in her throat. "Good night, Ron," she finally whispered,
then turned and ran up the remaining stairs to her dorm and fell into
She thought she could hear someone calling her, but she
didnít care. She had had the nicest dream. Ron had finally said he loved
"Hermione, wake up! Youíll miss breakfast!"
Oh my God. She sat up straight and almost knocked
Parvati over. Last nightÖ It hadnít been a dream. "Sorry,"
she called to Parvati, as she danced out of bed and towards the bathroom
to brush her teeth.
When she saw Ron later at the breakfast table, Hermioneís
heart leaped. He looked up and smiled at her, but shook his head. Remember,
she told herself. Now is not the time. Keep it private for now. She
smiled back and continued eating. Today, though, the food tasted so much
She met up again with Ron that evening, after dinner.
She had spent the day with the Patils and Lavender, actually tolerating
their presence for the first time in years. She bumped into Ron (literally!)
coming around the greenhouses.
"I need to talk to you," he said the instant
he saw her, without stopping for formalities. Lavender shot a more-than-friendly
glance in his direction, but he ignored it. He took Hermioneís arm and
led her over to a bench that sat by the side of the lake, and they sat
"Yes?" Hermione asked. "Is everything
Ron hesitated, then sighed and put an arm around her
shoulders. "You read the article about the Ďsuspicioní around me,
didnít you?" he asked quietly. She nodded. "I- Iím not so sure
itís rumors," he said, turning to look at her. "I think I must
have caught your insanity or something, but the Ďrumorsí sound like they
could be true."
"What?" Hermione stared at him. "What
do you mean? You have been helping You-Know-Who?"
Ron winced, then answered. "I canít remember much
about the days around when Harry and Ginny went missing," he whispered.
"Iím all muddled up, Hermione. If I try and think about it, my thoughts
stray." He looked up and smiled wryly. "Somehow, I get the idea
thatís not normal."
"But- how could you be?" she asked, bewildered.
"Youíre not exactly the type to go off betraying your best friend.
Besides, thereís nothing that says it was you."
Ron sighed and stared at the ground. "But thatís
just the thing. If I didnít help him, who did? My family are the
only people who know where Harry lives. How else could You-Know-Who have
Hermione scoffed. "Youíre not the only ones that
know where he lives," she said confidently. "I know where
Ron looked up, eyebrow raised. "Yeah? Where, then?"
"He lives in Surrey," Hermione answered matter-of-factly.
Ron opened his mouth to say something snide, then closed
it. "He lives at number four Privet Drive in Little Whinging, in
Surrey," he said. "And only Fred, George and I know how to get
there." He sighed and rubbed his forehead. "See what I mean?
And Iím so damned confused about the days around when they went missing.
Mom says I was in shock, but what if I wasnít? Oh, God, Hermione, what
if it was a memory charm? What if I did?"
Hermione chewed on her lip. What Ron was saying made
sense- almost. But she knew Ron would never sell Harry to Voldemort. He
was too- too good for that. Wasnít he?
Iím going nuts, Hermione said to herself for about
the tenth time that week. Of course Ron would never do that! What am
I thinking? She shook her head, desperate to clear it of the treacherous
thoughts flooding through it, and told herself again and again that it
couldnít be true. It couldnít possibly be true. Oh, yeah? that
voice said again. Remember in Arithmancy, when you did that weird equation
with all the guilt and suspicion? Professor Vector said that Ron was linked
to the conflict!
"Shut up!" Hermione cried suddenly, before
she could stop herself.
"What?" Ron looked up again, a frown sharpening
"Nothing," she whispered. "Sorry."
Ron massaged his forehead. "I donít know,"
he said finally. "Maybe I am nuts. Itís just too weird. And
ever since we met Harry, weird stuff seems to follow us around."
Hermione smiled at him. "Well," she said quietly.
"Iím already nuts. You wonít be short on company."
He grinned at her and put an arm around her waist, pulling
her closer. "I donít know what I would do without you to keep me
sane," he teased her. On a more serious note, he added, "Thanks
for listening to me. I needed to let that out."
She frowned and ran her thumb along his burn scar. "How
long has it been bothering you?" she asked.
Ron sighed. "About a week, give or take a few days."
He put a hand gently on her cheek and pulled her so close that their noses
were almost touching. Hermione put her arms around his neck and hugged
him, sensing his need for comfort. His arms tightened around her waist,
and she could feel one of his hands run up her back, returning to her
face. He pulled away from her, then leaned in and kissed her deeply.
For the first time, Hermione actually found herself kissing
Ron back. She shivered as his mouth moved over hers, filling her with
happiness. His hand slid around to the back of her neck and entangled
itself in her hair; he pulled her even closer.
Hermione started, suddenly realizing that her mouth was
open, and that Ron was taking advantage of that. She almost pulled away,
then decided that she liked the feeling she got from his kisses. Ron shifted
so he was pressing her into the back of the bench, and she tightened her
arms around his neck. God, how she loved himÖ
Something- she wasnít sure what- was giving her a feeling
of uneasiness. She realized she could feel some kind of emotion radiating
from Ron. She could feel his anxiety and worry, the deep-seated terror
at all that was happening around him. She couldnít read his thoughts,
no, but she could sense what was going on in his head. She jumped.
Ron pulled away, his breath ragged. "Iím sorry,"
he whispered hoarsely.
Hermione blinked. "For what?" she asked, still
stunned by what she had just encountered.
He frowned. "I- I went too far," he said quietly.
"I shouldnít have come on so
strong, I-" He stopped as Hermione put a hand over his mouth to shush
"You didnít do anything wrong," she said quietly.
"Iím not mad at you." She shivered as Ron ran a finger under
her eye and around her ear, through her hair. She could still feel it,
though fainter, now, and tinted with shame and resentment. But as he smiled,
and pulled her to him again, and kissed her, she felt these emotions all
but evaporate, leaving behind one simple- and yet, complex- thought: love.
Hermione looked around her frantically. Why was it always
so black here? Her hands reached in front of her, looking for something-
anything! She was about to give up when her fingers brushed something.
She gasped and took a step towards it. Sure enough, she collided squarely
with a wall. It was disgusting- damp, slimy and cold- but it was a wall,
and it was more than she usually got.
Stopping for a deep breath, Hermione strained to hear
or see something. It was no use; still black. Wait! She thought she could
hear something, far away. She turned and shuffled in the direction of
the noise, following the wall.
Was that singing? Hermione moved a little bit closer.
She gasped. It was Ginnyís voice, a smooth, clear soprano. And she was
Hear the calling in the wind.
A voice, itís saying
A journey must begin.
Weíll fly, like a bird
In a scattered cloudy sky
Leave aside the city worries,
Itís just a minute awayÖ"
There! Around the corner, she could just see a tiny light.
She hurried towards it, still following the sound of Ginnyís singing.
"In my heart, Iíll paint a picture
And I swear, itís where Iíll beÖ
I shall be there
Will you be there?
I shall be there
Will you be there, too?"
Hermioneís outstretched hands touched something wooden.
The light she had seen wasnít as far away as she had thought it had been.
Her fingers crept down until they touched a handle. A door. She tried
the latch, but it was locked. Standing on tiptoe, she looked into the
tiny window where the light was coming from. And she almost screamed.
There, sitting in a tiny, cramped cell, were Harry Potter
and Ginny Weasley. Harry was asleep, or looked like he was, and Ginny
was sitting next to him, stroking his hair and singing. The moonlight
from the small, barred window near the ceiling cast a beam of silvery
light across Harryís pale and Ginnyís equally pale hand. They both looked
overly thin, and their clothes were stained and torn.
"Come on and look, in silence
Believe in what you see
(In a place, like this)
The starry skies can move the mountains
The sun will warm the seaÖ"
Hermione tried to call "Ginny!" but no sound
came out. She knocked hard on the door, but it was silent. No,
she thought desperately. They have to hear me! She tried to scream.
"In my heart, Iíll paint a picture
And I swear, itís where Iíll be, ooh
I shall be there
Will you be there?
I shall be there
Will you be there, too?
She thought she could hear someone calling her, from
deep at the other and of the hallway. It sounded like Lavender. Go
away, Lavender, she thought. Please! They need to hear me!
The scene around her faded, and she felt as though she was falling.
Her eyes snapped open and she stared up at Lavenderís
concerned face. Lavender stopped shaking her and said, "Thank God!
I thought youíd never wake up!"
"What?" Hermione tried to sit up, but found
that she couldnít move very well. "Lavender, I canít move!"
Lavender smiled then, almost knowingly. "Lie still,
honey," she said. "Youíll be fine in a moment. What did you
She closed her eyes. "Harry and Ginny. I dreamed
they were in a little cell." She stared up at Lavender, almost pleadingly.
Lavender chewed her lip and sat down on the edge of the
bed. "You know Iím very interested in Divination," she said,
and Hermione tried not to snort. "And donít scoff," Lavender
reprimanded. "I studied it a lot over the past year, the older methods.
Tarot cards, scrying, runes. And astral projection."
"Astral- what?" Hermione was bewildered.
"Projection," Lavender said. "The practice
of separating oneís soul from their body to see something in either the
past, present or future."
Hermione frowned. "I was dead?" she cried.
Lavender laughed gently. "No, love," she said
soothingly. "Your body still worked. But you were not in it.
Harry and Ginny, did you say? In a cell? Did you see anything else?"
Hermione squeezed her eyes shut. "I walked down
a really long hallway first," she said. "And when I tried to
call them, they couldnít hear me."
Her friend looked at her. "I donít think you saw
the future," she said. "I think it was the present. You know,
Professor Trelawney said you didnít have much of a psychic aura, but I
think she might have been wrong. It was all over you when you were asleep."
Hermioneís mind flashed back to when Ron had kissed her,
how she had felt his thoughts. "Psychic?" she asked. "Me?
But I was a washout in Divination."
Lavender smiled and appeared to be deep in thought. "We
did a lot of work with divinatory tools that year," she said
quietly, distractedly. "Some people donít need the tools, and using
them muddles up their ability. Say, in your dream, did you know it was
"I usually do," Hermione answered. "I
think I forgot, this time, though."
Lavender frowned. "And usually when you know youíre
dreaming, you can fiddle with whatís happening, right?" Hermione
nodded. "But you couldnít this time?" Hermione nodded again.
"That settles it, then," Lavender said firmly. "Definitely
an astral projection dream. Have you had any other dreams like it before?"
Hermione winced. The dance. Dammit! "Yes,"
she whispered. "I dreamed about the dance every night for months.
And I had a weird dream about Ron, too."
Lavender sighed. "The dance- thatís a memory, but
if it still bothers you it might be a message. As for Ron- you two are
a couple, right?" Hermione blushed and nodded. Lavender smiled. "I
thought so. What did you dream about with him?"
Hermione chewed her lip. "He was dressed all in
white, and he was getting dragged away by a bunch of guys in uniforms,
like he was a criminal. He looked the same as he always did- that was
last summer when I dreamed these- but I knew he was supposed to be older."
Lavender stood up. "I think thereís more to you
than there seems to be," she told her. "Iíll see you at breakfast."
Hermione stared after the girl that usually irked her
no end. It was amazing what eighteen months could do to a personís maturity.
"Thereís more to you than there seems to be," Lavender
had said. Hermione smiled. Right back at ya, Lav.
Three weeks later
"You look really good," Parvati said encouragingly.
"Itís a really cute costume," Lavender added.
Hermione gazed at her reflection in the mirror with dismay.
It was Halloween, and Hermione was already committed to writing an extra
paper for Transfiguration. She had no time to organize a costume for the
dance, let alone make one. Therefore, she had let the cheerful volunteers,
Parvati and Lavender take care of it.
She was now clad in a skimpy, wispy fairy costume, complete
with wings and a halo of flowers. Her hair was down except for two tiny
braids, wrapped around her head with flowers woven into them. Lavender
had enchanted the whole ensemble to shimmer and sparkle. She tugged self-consciously
at the flimsy material of the skirt, trying to bring the hem down to a
"Careful!" Parvati reprimanded. "Youíll
tear the wisps!"
Damned wisps, Hermione thought feverishly. "I
canít wear this!" she protested. "The rules specifically stated
that you couldnít wear anything revealing, and if this isnít revealing,
I donít know what is!"
Parvati laughed. "But itís so cute!"
she said. "Besides, what teacher in his right mind is going to ask
you to change out of that?"
Hermione sighed and looked in the mirror again. It was
a nice costume. And she did look terrific in it. But stillÖ
"Hold still," Lavender ordered, purposefully
whipping out a compact of gold eyeshadow and brushing it over Hermioneís
eyelids and cheekbones. "There! Now youíre ready. Now wait here while
Parvati and I change."
Hermione sighed and fell onto the bed, feeling the "wispy"
edges of the dress float down gently beside her legs. Next Halloween,
she vowed. I am taking care of my own costume or not going to the dance
Hermione looked up, and her jaw dropped. Here, standing
in front of her, were two strangely clad girls who looked as though they
had jumped right out of the sixties-club sets of Austin Powers.
Tiny, brightly-coloured dresses, very odd hair, massive shoes, and large
round sunglasses. She laughed.
"What- what planet are you supposed to be from?"
Hermione gasped between giggles.
Lavender laughed and fluffed her hair. "Phsycadellic,
no? This ought to strike a familiar chord with a few of the teachers!"
Parvati giggled. "I can just picture McGonagall,
thirty-five years ago, partying away, martini in hand." She peered
at her face in a flower-shaped mirror and applied a layer of Barbie-pink
lipstick to her mouth. It looked atrocious, but it went with the costume.
"Who are you going with?" Hermione asked breathlessly,
her sides sore from laughing.
"Dean and Seamus," Lavender answered. "Theyíre
dressed as Austin Powers and Dr, Evil. I shudder to think of what Seamus
is wearing- heís Powers."
"Or not wearing," Parvati chipped in.
Hermione giggled along with them, and shook her head.
She stood up, and sighed dismally as she tugged again on the hem of her
skirt. "Donít you have something I could wear over this thing?"
she demanded. "A cloak or something?"
Lavender sighed dramatically, and produced a long, floor
length bronze cloak, made of the same type of fabric as the dress. Hermione
snatched it and pulled it on. "Thank you," she said, then grinned
at the disappointed expressions on her friendsí faces. "Oh, smile,
will you?" she chided. "I might take it off later. Letís go
see how the boys are doing."
The trio went down the stair slowly, for Parvati and
Lavenderís sake, as they were wearing platform shoes. Dean and Seamus
were both at the bottom already, sitting on one of the couches, absorbing
compliments for their interesting costumes. Hermione scanned the
room for Ron. Where was he?
"Look, Hermi," Parvati giggled, pointing. "Thereís
Ron. Whatís wrong with him?"
Hermione followed her friendís gaze, and saw Ron sitting
on the stairs to the boysí dormitory. He was wearing a long, dark red
cloak with the hood pulled up, and a sour expression on his face. She
raised an eyebrow, and walked over to see what was the matter.
Ron looked up, and grinned when he saw her. "Whereís
your costume?" he asked teasingly. "Someone has no spirit."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I made the mistake of
letting Lavender and Parvati take care of my costume." She jerked
her head over to where the pair were flirting with a group of seventh
year boys. "And Iím not taking this off." She tightened the
cloak protectively around her shoulders and sat down next to him. "And
Ron sighed animatedly. "I, like you, let my friends
organize my costume. Something that has taught me a valuable lesson. And
Iím not taking mine off, either."
Hermione grinned. "Oh, surely it canít be that
bad," she protested.
Ron looked up at her and rolled his eyes. "Oh,
yes it can." He scanned her cloak, and then his own. "Tell you
what," he said finally. "You take yours off, and Iíll take mine
They were interrupted by a loud half-disgusted giggle
from a sugar-high second year who was coming up the stairs. Frowned. "Let
me rephrase that," he said, kicking the kid back down the stair absently.
Hermione sighed and stood up. This is so Titanic,
she thought as she fiddled with the ties of her cloak. She finally let
it slip over her shoulders, feeling the wings unfurl between her shoulder
blades. With a defiant expression on her face, she turned and faced Ron.
He gaped at her. Hermione winced and reefed again at
the hem of the dress. Why is it so damned short? She fidgeted uncomfortably,
grinding the ball of her foot into the carpet of the stair. "Going
to say anything?" she asked finally.
Ron shook his head violently. "Sorry," he said.
"My God- you look amazing." He looked her up and down. "Pixie,
She shifted. "Er- fairy, apparently. Are you going
to show me yours or what?"
Ron rolled his eyes. He pulled back the hood of his cloak,
revealing that his hair had been spiked and shaped into two horns on either
side of his head. Hermione raised an eyebrow and he smiled wryly at her.
"It gets worse," he said, and pulled off the cloak.
It was Hermioneís turn to gape. Ron was wearing red leather
pants and an orange tank top with a black mesh shirt over top. The whole
effect made him look like a glowing ember, and gave him an image that
Lavender would have described as "naughty". "The devil?"
Ron rolled his eyes and blew air out of the side of his
mouth. "Like I said, this is the last time I let Dean organize my
costume. I feel like a transvestite."
Hermione blinked a couple of times to clear her head.
"Well, at least our costumes go together. Sort of." It was true,
the colours of Hermioneís costume complimented Ronís perfectly, whether
pixies usually associated with demons or not. She offered a hand to Ron
and pulled him out of his seat. They walked down the stairs and joined
the group of students leaving for the Great Hall.
The decorations for the dance were fantastic. Pumpkins,
scarecrows and other harvest décor lined the walls, and there was
food everywhere. Pumpkin juice in massive punch bowls, pumpkin pie, deep-fried
bat wings (a.k.a. blue corn tortilla chips) and cookies of all shapes
and sizes, stacked high on tables around the edges of the dance floor.
People in all sorts of costumes- from angels to zebras- stood around,
waiting for the dancing to start.
Hermione smiled as she felt Ron take her hand and guide
her over onto the dance floor. "Look," he said to her over the
music. "They hired a deejay." A man dressed in a vampire outfit
was standing on a raised platform at one end of the room, surrounded by
artistically flashing lights. Hermione didnít recognize the song they
were playing- it was a wizard one, and she didnít listen to WWN. She liked
"Are you going to dance with me or what?" she
asked, giving Ronís hand a tug.
He grinned back at her. "I donít dance," he
"Oh, donít be a spoilsport," Hermione said,
laughing. "You danced at the last ball. You canít have gotten any
worse!" She gave his arm another good wrench, and pulled him onto
the dance floor.
Maybe Ron was lying. Or maybe he didnít know how good
he was. But it was clear to Hermione that Ron was quite capable of dancing.
The music pounded in her ears as he spun her, and she shrieked and hauled
at her skirt again, as the turn pulled it up again. Iím going to kill
Lavender, she thought passionately.
She laughed again as Ron swung her around, putting her
down again in one of the little door recesses that led to the kitchens.
"Ron!" she chided. "You told me you couldnít dance!"
He grinned evilly at her, leaning in and tracing the
flowers in her hair with his fingers. "I lied," he said matter-of-factly.
"Mum taught me how."
"To dance or to lie-" Hermione started, but
Ron cut her off by putting a hand over her mouth.
"Pixie," he whispered, leaning even closer.
"Shut up." And he took his hand away and kissed her vehemently.
Hermione smiled inwardly as she snaked her arms around
Ronís neck, letting him hold her tightly. She shivered as his mouth moved
over hers, his hands running up and down her back. The now-familiar sensation
of knowing what he was thinking washed over her, and she surrendered and
let Ron pull her even closer.
He pulled away for a moment, his breath ragged, before
returning to her. He left her lips and kissed her eyelid, her cheek, her
ear, then trailed down to her neck. Hermione quaked in his grip, relying
on his arms to hold her up. She thought she would fall over if he let
go. He came back to her mouth and kissed her until she was out of breath.
"Hey, get a room, guys," came a voice from
beside them. "Youíre starting to melt the decorations." Dean
Thomas, a.k.a. Dr. Evil, with Parvati Patil hanging around his neck like
a bow tie, was leaning against the wall, grinning evilly.
Ron let go of Hermione quickly and jumped away from her.
She felt a slight blush creep into her cheeks as Parvati winked at her.
"Donít say you werenít doing anything,"
Parvati warned them. "íCause weíll never believe a word of it. Say,
is that Celtic music playing?"
And it was. Hermione wondered if there was always such
an extensive selection played at wizarding balls.
"We were just about to go and try to find an empty
room or something," Dean said. "Lavender has this new game she
found, and she wants to try it. Care to join us?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow, but Ron just grinned and
took her hand as they followed their friends through the crowds of people
in the Great Hall, stopping momentarily to collect Lavender.
"What about Seamus?" Lavender protested as
they tried to steer her away. "We canít forget him!"
"Where is he?" Dean asked. Lavender pointed
to a clearing were Seamus, in full Austin Powers regalia, was dancing
in a fashion that almost put Michael Flatley to shame.
"Thatís Seamus?" Parvati squeaked. "I
didnít know he could ĎRiverdanceí."
Lavender grinned. "His dad taught him how. After
all, his whole family is Irish."
Dean waded in and grabbed his friend by the arm. "Break
it up, Lord of the Dance," he mocked. "Come on, weíre going
to go play with that book of Lavís"
The five of them managed to get Seamus away from his
audience and into the hallway. They all flopped against the wall and slid
to the floor, while Lavender rummaged trough her purse, looking for the
book they were going to play with.
"So, Satan," Parvati called to Ron. "Got
a little devilish this evening, did we?" Ron glared at her, then
inspected his fingernails like they were the most interesting things in
the world. Parvati laughed and turned her attention to Lavender, who had
finally managed to find her book.
"If," she read. "Questions for
the Game of Life. By Evelyn McFarlane and James Saywell. Who wantís
to go first?"
Confused, everybody stared at her. She giggled. "Fine
then. Iíll go first. Seamus-" She closed her eyes, opened
the book, and pointed, then opened her eyes and read, "If you could
steal one thing in the world, other than money, without getting caught,
what would you take?"
Seamus looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he said,
"A pair of top-box tickets to the next Quidditch world cup. Now what?"
Lavender passed him the book. "Ask someone else,
"All right," said Seamus. He flipped through
the book. "Parvati: If you could have a dinner party inviting any
four people from history, who would you invite, and where would the party
And so, on they went, learning interesting and trivial
facts about each other that they would probably forget by the end of the
week, until Ronís turn came for about the ninth time.
"Dean," he began. "If you could- wait,"
he stopped short. "Where did you say you found this book, Lavender?"
She shrugged. "In the Muggle section of the school
Ron looked back at the book with raised eyebrows. "Iím
not sure this ought to be in contact with younger kids. Look at this."
She took the book and started to read the question. "If
you could have- oh, dear. I see your point." She put the book back
in her bag and stood up. "Letís go back to the dance."
When they got back through the doors, they were immediately
pounced upon by Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore. They both sported
extremely grim expressions.
"Damn," said Seamus. "Busted." Dean
elbowed him in the ribs to shut him up, but neither of the teachers seemed
to notice their antics. They were both focused on Ron. He removed his
arm from around Hermioneís shoulders quickly, taking a step away from
"Weasley," said McGonagall sternly, taking
Ronís arm. "We need to speak with you. Without the other students."
And with that, Ron was led away, a puzzled expression on his face.
Hermione sat in the hallway outside the entrance to Professor
Dumbledoreís office with her friends, waiting for Ron to come out. The
rumors about Ronís involvement with Voldemort had spread, and she wouldnít
have been surprised if it had gotten al the way up to the teachers. McGonagall
hadnít looked pleased when she came asking for him. Hermione fiddled with
the edge of her dress, impatient. What was taking so long?
"Whatís taking so long?" Parvati asked suddenly,
voicing exactly Hermioneís thoughts. "Whatíre they doing in there,
Hermione shook her head. "I donít know," she
said quietly. "I mean- thereís that whole rumors thing, but it canít
be that, can it?"
"Could well be," Dean said darkly. "Especially
if Snapeís heard of it."
Hermione chewed on her lip and tugged worriedly on her
hair. "You donít have to stay here," she said quietly to her
friends. "You can go back to the dance. You donít have to stay with
Seamus looked up, trying not to disturb Lavender, who
was asleep against his shoulder. "You donít have to stay here, either,"
he pointed out. "But you are, for Ron. And we will for you."
He twirled one of Lavenderís curls around his finger, and she made a soft
noise and snuggled against him. "Not like Iím bored," Seamus
added with a bit of a grin. "Iíve got entertainment."
Hermione sighed. She wished she could lean on Ronís shoulder
right then. But Ron was up in the office, so she couldnít.
Dean frowned at her expression. "Hey," he said,
placing a hand on her shoulder. "Itíll be OK. Roníll be fine."
She sighed again and slumped against the wall. She wanted
to believe Dean, but- She had been dreaming again. Some about Harry and
Ginny, with a bit of professional advice from Lavender- and about Ron.
More and more she was dreaming about him being led away. She hated it.
She loathed it. But it wouldnít stop. Somehow, she knew: something was
Hermione was jolted out of her half-trance as the gargoyle
jumped aside and Professor McGonagall stepped out of the wall behind it.
"Get up, Miss Granger," she said to Hermione, in a far gentler
voice than she usually used. "I think youíre needed upstairs."
She glanced sternly at the rest of them, saying, "The rest of you
Seamus woke up Lavender, and the four of them got up
slowly and walked in the opposite direction. Hermione meekly followed
McGonagall back through the wall and up the spiral staircase to Dumbledoreís
office. When they reached the top, the Professor opened the door and drew
The second thing Hermione noticed when she got inside
Dumbledoreís main office was the exquisite decorating in the room. The
walls were lined with portraits, and there were odd little trinkets everywhere.
Fawkes, the Phoenix, sat on a desk in one corner, preening his feathers.
She took all this in through a bit of a screen, though, because the first
thing she noticed in the room was Ron.
And he was crying.
Ron was sprawled on a large chair in the corner of the
room, his hands over his face, tears streaming from his eyes. He was making
no noise, but Hermione could see him shaking uncontrollably, even from
across the room.
She started to take a step towards him, but McGonagall
tightened her grip on Hermioneís shoulder and held her back. Hermione
flexed her fingers, itching to go over and see what was the matter. Dumbledore
walked into the office from an adjoining room, and led Ron into it; closed
the door gently behind him. Then he strode over to where Hermione and
McGonagall were standing.
"I think Mr. Weasley would rather be left alone,
right now," he told Hermione gently. "When we have finished,
I will allow you to see him."
"Whatís the matter?" Hermione asked, panicked.
"Is he OK?"
Dumbledore tugged thoughtfully at his beard. "He
is not in any physical danger, if thatís what you mean. But he may be
rather unpleasant for a few days. You may leave, Minerva," he added
to Professor McGonagall. "This does not concern you."
McGonagall squeezed Hermioneís shoulder in an almost
motherly fashion, then walked out the door and down the stairs. Hermione
watched her go, feeling as though everything she had was leaving with
the professor. She sighed and turned her attention to Dumbledore. "Whatís
going on?" she asked finally.
He looked her over, almost as if he were sizing her up.
Hermione shifted under his gaze, nervous. Dumbledore finally sighed and
"You are aware of the rumors circulating around
Mr. Weasley, Iím sure," he said, and Hermione nodded. "Hm. Well,
he says he told you- he told us as well- that he is beginning to feel
that the rumors may carry some truth. He gave some excellent reasons for
thinking such things, and Minerva and I decided it was time to see what
it all meant."
"You did a truth spell on him?" Hermione asked.
"But he can break those, right? Whatís the point?"
He shook his head. "No. There are a few spells that
deal strictly with memory. I selected a particularly strong one that helps
to bring back distant and forgotten thoughts." Mr. Weasley was placed
under a memory charm, Miss Granger, and what the rumors are saying is
She almost fell out of her seat. "What? True?
How? Ron wouldnít sell Harry to Voldemort! He wouldnít!"
Dumbledore cut her off with a raised hand. "He did
not sell them to Voldemort, Miss Granger," he said firmly. "If
you stop interrupting, I will tell you what happened as it was told to
me." Hermione took the hint and sat back into her chair.
"You know that Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley disappeared
approximately five weeks before school began." Hermione nodded again.
"Well, the struggle actually began about a week before that. Ron
was grocery-shopping in Ottery St. Catchpole when he stumbled across a
Death Eater, disguised as a beggar. The Death Eater took him to Voldemortís
Headquarters, recognizing him as Harryís friend. Ron was questioned on
Harryís whereabouts, but he refused to tell, even under Cruciatus Curse."
Hermione smiled grimly. Good for you, Ron, she
"Ron was sent back to his home with the promise
that the Death Eaters would return. They did, and used a powerful truth
spell on him, which he resisted quite well, until they took his sister.
It was then that he lost control and let it slip where Harry was staying.
But this is what is bothering me, Miss Granger." He beckoned to her,
and she leaned forward to hear what he was saying, numb from shock.
"The memory charm was extremely easy to break,"
Dumbledore said quietly. "Too easy. More easy than I find normal.
That is why Mr. Weasley was able to pick up on a few details and bring
it to our attention. But Iím suspicious, Miss Granger. I believe that
it may have been weak on purpose. As if there might have been a reason
Hermione sat very still for a moment, letting this all
sink in. "So- is Ron in trouble?" she asked quietly. "Is
he blamed for this?"
Dumbledore smiled gently. "No, of course not. It
was not his fault. But-" He stopped and looked intently at her. "You
must tell no one what happened. It does not leave this room. You may discuss
it with Mr. Weasley if you wish, but you must be sure that no one will
hear you. Do you understand?"
Hermione nodded. "Yes, sir," she whispered.
"May I see Ron, now?"
The old professor sighed and stood up. Hermione followed
him to the room where Ron was. Dumbledore opened the door and let her
in, but did not follow. He closed the door behind her, and left them alone.
Ron was sitting in the corner of the room. His hair,
which had sported devilish spikes at the start of the evening, was rumpled,
and around his eyes was red from crying. When he looked up at her, his
eyes were again flat and wrung out, with no trace of green in them. Hermione
almost started crying when she saw him.
"Hey," Ron said brokenly. "I guess Dumbledore
told you everything, huh?"
She licked her lips nervously. "I guess so,"
she answered. "He probably left out a few details, for your sake,
Ron cut her off with a raised hand. "I donít want
to think about it right now," he said firmly. "It disgusts me."
"Itís not your fault," Hermione protested.
"You couldnít do anything about it."
Ron jumped to his feet and glared at her. She winced,
in remembrance of the fights they had had not so long ago. I wonít
let us hate each other again, she thought firmly. Not now!
"You werenít there," Ron said slowly, silkily.
"You donít know what happened. I resisted the truth spell, OK? Because
I could. I could, get it? And then, when they took Ginny, I lost
it. I could have broken it, see, but I didnít. I lost it. So now Harry
and Ginny are with You-Know-Who, and Iím the only one I can blame. So
donít tell me itís not my fault, Hermione Granger, because as far as Iím
concerned, it is!"
He was very close to slapping her, she could tell. She
took a step back into the door. "Ron, Iím sorry," she whispered.
He sighed, and fell back against the wall. "Donít
be," he said quietly. "Itís not your fault." He screwed
his eyes shut and put his head in his hands again. "Dear God, why
is it that every time I get something good in my life, someone comes along
and screws it up?"
Was he crying again? Hermione sat down beside him, worried.
"Thereís nothing you could have done," she whispered. "And
there isnít anything you can do, and there probably never will be."
She stroked his hair comfortingly, feeling her own tears threatening to
well up behind her own eyes. Ron reached up behind his head and took her
"I didnít mean to yell at you," he told her
quietly. "Iím sorry. If you havenít noticed, I tend to blow up at
things rather easily, these days."
She smiled wryly. "Oh, Iíve noticed, all right,"
she said, then changed her tone of voice. "Youíll be OK, wonít you?"
Ron brought his hand down, still holding hers. He looked
at her hand, running his finger over her palm, thinking. "It really
hurt when they broke the memory charm," he admitted. "I donít
think it was supposed to. McGonagall and Dumbledore didnít notice. It
felt like a full-body Cruciatus Curse." He shuddered. "Ugh.
I donít know, Pixie. I got the impression that something bad was going
Pixie. He had been calling her that all evening.
If it had been any other day, she would have loved it. But right now,
she was too worried. Ron stood up with a sigh and pulled her to her feet.
"You wonít tell anyone, will you?" he asked
quietly. "About what they told you? About what I told you?"
Hermione bit her lip and touched his cheek. "Of
course not," she said. "Not unless you want me to."
He smiled a tiny smile, then leaned down and kissed her
softly. "Thanks," he whispered. "I appreciate it."
She hugged him tightly, feeling his need for comfort.
Ron was still shaking. "Itíll be OK," she whispered in his ear.
But something deep, deep down inside of her told her that that was a lie.
Things were rather uneventful for the next three weeks,
considering the circumstances. Ron had a cold for a couple of days, and
Hermione caught it (Parvati suggested that perhaps she gad gotten it from
kissing. Hermione smacked her.), but it was flu season and nearly everyone
did at some point or another.
It seemed that quite a few students had witness Hermione
and Ronís "intrigue" (as Lavender called it), including Draco
Malfoy. Dean said heíd actually heard Pansy Parkinson telling Malfoy what
had gone on- in a very exaggerated manner. Malfoy, however, made no snide
remarks, no rude comments. Actually, he didnít say much of anything to
anyone. In class, he was quiet and did what he had to, no more, no less.
After five years of watching Malfoy cause trouble, it was a shock to see
him so good.
Snape, however, more than made up for him.
Well known for pulling new rules out of thin air, Snape
decided the day after the dance that "suggestive behavior" in
public was a suspendable offence. Luckily, Professor McGonagall was able
to get them out of it.
Ron still loved complaining about Snape, even after having
had him as a teacher for six years. They were sitting in History of Magic
one day, three weeks after Halloweíen, when Hermione felt a note poked
between her shoulder blades.
Is it just me, or is Snape watching me? Every time
I look up in Potions, heís staring at me. Or so I think. I could be
wrong. Have you noticed anything?
Hermione bit her lip for a moment. Come to think of it,
she had noticed Professor Snape watching Ron a few times over the
past few weeks. She hadnít thought anything of it; after all, Snape did
hate her and Ron. He was still bitter for failing to expel them.
If Professor Snapeís watching you, itís likely because
heís looking for an excuse to have you thrown out of the school. Therefore,
I suggest you stay out of trouble while heís around.
She passed the note to Ron, who opened it, read it and
grinned. She watched him scribble a reply and pass it back to her.
Snapeís excuse for trying to get us suspended was,
as he put it, our "suggestive behavior". The thing is, he
didnít actually see us at the dance (probably locked himself in his
office, disgusted at the thought of children having fun). He heard it
from one of the younger Slytherin students. According to thins young
man, I had you on the ground, with your dress halfway off your shoulders.
I donít know where that came from!
Hermione rolled her eyes. Rumors, she thought.
Honestly. Just to be ornery, though, she wrote back:
Sorry, I wasnít paying much attention. How am I
supposed to know that itís just rumors? Did you do that?
She grinned as she tossed it to him and watched as he
raised an eyebrow, then scrawled his reply on the back of the paper.
Hermione let out a smothered giggle, trying not to disturb
the class. She crumpled up the note and looked over at Ron. He was grinning
evilly at her. She crumpled the paper into a tighter ball, and took careful
aim. Glancing for a moment at Professor Binns, she whipped the paper over
Lavenderís head at Ron.
He raised a hand to block the tiny missile, his grin
still on his face. But then he frowned, his hand convulsed, and he missed
the paper. It hit him in the shoulder. That wasnít so bad, it was only
paper, after all. But Ron was still frowning- grimacing, now- and massaging
his hand between his other finger and thumb. He finally flexed his fingers
a few times, and focused again (however glumly) on the ghost professor.
Hermione caught up with Ron on the way out of class.
"What happened to your hand?" she asked as she came up beside
"Donít know," Ron admitted. "It just wouldnít
work. It froze up." He was quiet for a moment as Hermione took his
hand and looked over it, bending his fingers and wrist back and forth.
"Hurt like hell, too. Like the Cruciatus Curse, just on the hand."
He drew his hand back and rolled his eyes. "I say that a lot these
days, donít I?" he asked. "About the Cruciatus Curse?"
Hermione smiled uncertainly, and took Ronís other hand,
giving it a squeeze. "Letís go," she said to him. "Itís
time for lunch."
"We have Potions after lunch," Ron complained
as they walked down the hall. "Double with the Slytherins."
He shuddered. "Why do we always have to have it with the Slytherins?
Why?" He threw up his hands in despair. "Aarrgh!"
Hermione laughed. "Get over it," she chided.
"At least itís only twice a week. Most people have Potions every
He rolled his eyes. "One day I will just give up
in Potions. I will just lose it and go completely mad, and drop on the
floor, twitching." He laughed. "That shouldnít be too far away,
at the rate this is going." He put his arm around her shoulders,
and they walked laughing, to the Great Hall.
Make sure you donít add your Unicorn horn too soon,"
Snape growled irritably at his class. "Or it will be too thick, and
useless." He leaned over a very nervous Neville Longbottom, sneering
at his blue-green potion.
Hermione leaned against the counter, grinding the Unicorn
horn with all her strength. Snape had been yelling at her and Ron all
class. Ron was stirring the potion cautiously, muttering to himself. "Donít
flirt, Weasley. Pay attention, Weasley. Quit staring at
your girlfriend, Weasley." He lifted the stirring rod out
of the cauldron and gave it a sniff. "Ugh."
Hermione felt the powdered horn between her fingers,
testing its texture. "Itís ready," she told Ron. "Can it
go in yet?"
"Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley stop talking!"
Ron looked up at Snapeís desk and let out a low growl.
Hermione put a hand on his shoulder to keep him from saying anything dumb,
and he sighed and sank back into his chair. "Ignore him," she
hissed in his ear. Ron sat in his chair, scowling.
"Heís only trying to get you to say something thatíll
get you in trouble," she whispered to Ron as she tipped the powdered
horn into the potion. It fizzed and turned purple. "Donít give him
Ronís scowl softened slightly. "I know, Pixie,"
he said wearily. "Iím just in a bad mood. Damned old grouch has been
trying my patience all afternoon." He searched through a rack of
phials, looking for frog slime. "Bleagh." He made a face, pulling
out a translucent green goo. Measuring a spoonful into the cauldron, he
asked, "What do we put in next?"
Hermione scanned the instructions. "Veela blood,"
she said, handing him a phial of the silvery-red liquid. "Careful,"
she chided, fixing his grip on the bottle. "Itís acidic."
Ron unscrewed the lid of the phial with cautious fingers,
holding it away from his nose. A faint pink smoke creeped up the edge
of the bottle and spilled over the side. Hermione wrinkled her nose.
"Add the whole bottle gradually," she instructed,
reading from the book. "And donít spill any."
He began to pour the contents carefully into the potion.
Hermione turned back to her book, and poked the fire back up under the
faintly boiling potion. She took a large spoon and gave the brew a stir.
Suddenly, Ron swore and dropped the bottle of Veela blood.
It smashed on the floor, burning smoking holes in the legs of the chairs
and the floor. Snape jumped out from behind his desk, eyes alight with
"Stupid boy," he hissed at Ron. But Ron didnít
hear. He was crouched on the floor, his head in his hands, his breathing
short and ragged. He was rocking back and forth on his haunches, face
twisted in a pained grimace.
Hermione scrambled out from behind the fire and skidded
to kneel beside Ron. Some of the blood had hit his hands and face, and
it was red and blistering wherever it touched him. She put her hands on
his shoulders and shook him. "Ron!"
He looked up at her and met her gaze. His eyes were very
green. The instant he looked at her, she screamed. A wave of fiery pain
rolled through her hands, up her arms, until it had consumed her entire
body. She let go of him and fell back into the legs of a chair, trembling.
A crowd of students had gathered around the two of them,
panicked but unable to do anything. Hermione was lying on the floor beside
a desk, and Ron was still rocking, his hands clawing at the back of his
Snape pushed his way through the students, finally standing
over Ron. He produced a phial containing a deep red secretion, and squatted
in front of Ron, prying his hands away from his face.
He was pale- alarmingly so- and his pupils were dilated
to pinpricks. He was still panting heavily, and his breaths were ragged
and deliberate, as though he had to work to get the air in and out. Snape
tipped the potion down Ronís throat and he coughed a few times. Finally,
Ron fell back into the legs of a chair and lay there, staring at the ceiling
and breathing hard.
"Thomas," barked Snape. "Finnigan. Take
Granger and Weasley to the hospital wing and tell Madam Pomfrey what
happened." He handed Dean the empty phial. "Bring this, and
show it to her."
She felt Seamus pick her up carefully, and she slumped
against his shoulder, too weak to do anything else. Dean helped Ron to
his feet, slinging an arm around his shoulders to support him. The four
of them made their way up to the infirmary. Hermione felt she ought to
get down and walk, she felt ridiculous being carried the whole way. But
Seamus said he wouldnít risk her falling and breaking something, and him
getting blamed for it.
Madam Pomfrey, upon seeing them, shoved Ron into a bed
and Hermione into a chair. Hermione drank a glass of apple-tasting potion
that was supposed to make her feel better, then sat back, waiting for
it to kick in. She could hear the nurse conversing in hushed tones with
Dean, discussing what had happened.
Hermione curled up in the large armchair and covered
her ears. She didnít want to hear what Dean was saying. She didnít want
to have to see the whole scene all over again.
She finally felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up
into the matronís kindly eyes. "Mr. Weasley is asking to see you,"
she told her gently. "Can you walk to go see him?"
Hermione frowned. She felt fine. "Of course I can,"
she said, getting up. The instant she put weight on her feet, though,
her knees buckled and she almost sat back down before the matron caught
her arm and held her up. Hermione stood swaying for a moment, getting
her balance, then walked carefully over to the bed where Ron was a drew
back the curtains.
He was half sitting up, leaning against the pillows,
the covers rolled up near his feet. His sketchbook was against his knees,
and he was drawing. He smiled at Hermione when he saw her, and put the
"Are you OK?" he asked finally. "Pomfrey
said you were pretty weak, and I saw Seamus carrying you. Are you going
to be all right?"
How do our conversations always end up starting like
this? Hermione thought with exasperation. "Youíre the one who
wasÖ" she cried, then trailed off, trying to find an adjective to
describe what had happened. "ÖSick," she finished. "I wasnít.
Why do you keep asking if Iím OK?"
He grinned then, however weakly, and it relieved her
to see it. "Because Iím not that kind of person," he said cheerfully.
"Incidentally, I feel fine. I donít think I could walk very well,
She sat down on the edge of the bed. "What happened?"
Ron smiled wryly. "Guess."
She raised an eyebrow. "Cruciatus Curse?" she
He rolled his eyes. "You got it," he said,
leaning back and picking up his sketchbook again. "Iím getting really
predictable, arenít I?"
She tried to get a look at what he was drawing, but she
couldnít see. It wasnít unusual to see him drawing, not these days, but
now seemed like kind of an unorthodox time for it. "Let me see,"
she protested when he yanked the book out of her sight. He finally sighed,
and passed it to her.
It was a gruesome sight. More a study than a scene, really.
He had drawn a skull in one corner of the page, a dead crow in the other,
a weird green and gold chess set at the top, and a dented, bloodstained
crown in the bottom. At the center of the page was a scene depicting a
boy dressed in black, standing in the center of what appeared to be an
old battlefield. Some of the bodies had been reduced to skeletons, while
others were rotting and only halfway there. Still others were as fresh
and bloody as if they had just been killed. Black and acid-green fire
played over everything, leaving frost on everything it touched, as opposed
to soot. Hermione recognized among the fresher bodies Harry, Ginny, the
twins, and herself. She dropped the book.
"What the hell is that?" she finally gasped.
Ron made an exasperated noise and picked up the sketchbook.
"Madam Pomfrey asked me to describe what I saw while I was out.
Iím no good with words, so I drew it instead." He traced the outline
of the skull with his finger. "Thatís all I can remember. Iím pretty
sure there was more."
She sat on the edge of the bed. "But- you were awake
in class, werenít you?"
"Half," he replied. "Semi conscious. Half
my brain was in Potions, feeling all the pain and shit, and the other
half was in the weird place, seeing all the weird stuff."
She reached over and took his hand. "It must have
been terrible," she whispered.
He squeezed her hand. "Worse than you can possibly
imagine," he said quietly. "Enough to make anyone sick."
He sighed and lay down, and patted the space beside him. Hermione lay
down beside him, feeling his arm slide around her waist. She rested her
head on his chest, and she could feel him trembling.
"Are you sure youíre OK?" she asked him quietly.
This was very, very bad.
He stoked her hair absently, with a small laugh. "No,
Iím sure Iím not OK. Honestly, Pixie, when a guy starts dreaming
about blood, gore, dead bodies, et cetera, and collapses in anguish in
the middle of Potions class, itís to be concluded that heís not all right."
Hermione bit her lip, and tried to return his light tone.
"Collapsing in anguish in Potions? Is that unusual?"
He let out a whole laugh, this time. "Technically,
no. Iím serious, though," he added. "Somethingís screwed."
She felt his arm tighten around her, and she reached
up and smoothed his hair away from his face. "Will you be
OK?" she whispered.
He was silent for a moment. "I donít know,"
he admitted finally. "I hope so."
Ron didnít say anything after that, and she kept quiet.
It was almost half an hour later when she looked at her watch and sat
up, realizing Ron was asleep. She smiled at the sight of him, and pulled
the covers up over him. He was still wearing his school robes. It felt
odd, she thought as she tucked the covers around him. Odd to see Ron so-
not helpless, exactly- but needing her. She was so used to being on the
receiving end of his comfort, when he held her at the Leaky Cauldron,
told her it would be all right, comforting her on the occasions he found
her crying. She watched him for a moment as he stirred in his sleep, half-turning
"I love you, Ron," she whispered, kissing his
forehead, then turned and walked out of the infirmary.
But he couldnít hear her. He was asleep.
Hermione sat in Transfigurations, chewing hard on the
end of her quill, worried. Ron had been allowed back into class that morning,
with a warning not to strain himself. He was fine- albeit a little pale-
for most of the day. But in the middle of the last period, Transfigurations,
he had jumped to his feet, pale and clammy, and said that he needed to,
get to the hospital wing right away. McGonagall had sent Justin Finch-Fletchy
with him, to make sure he got there all right. But Hermione didnít know
what was happening.
The bell rang, and she shoved her books into her bag
hastily, then scrambled over her desk and bolted out the door. She danced
around desks and students, trying to avoid the surge of people that usually
managed to block the door.
Hermione zipped through the hallways at an amazing speed,
grabbing walls and sliding around corners when she had to, and almost
ran down Mrs. Norris on her way past. But even the old grump of a cat
wasnít fast enough to catch her that day.
She finally skidded to a halt at the door to the infirmary,
catching the doorframe as she passed to avoid missing it entirely. She
scrambled inside, and ran headlong into Madam Pomfrey.
"Let me guess," the matron said dryly. "Youíre
here to see Mr. Weasley."
Hermione brushed off her skirt, blushing. "If it
wouldnít be any trouble," she said to her shoes. "I just want
to know if heís all right."
Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "Iím afraid you cannot
see him right now," she said. "He had another attack and is
not fit for visitors."
Hermione screwed her eyes shut. "Is he all right?"
she repeated. "Please, I need to know."
The nurse opened her mouth to reply, but they were cut
off but a muffled "Shit!" from around the corner. Madam
Pomfrey, apparently forgetting about Hermione, scampered around the corner
to where the sound had come from, and Hermione followed. Ron was stiff
as a board, lying in his back, atop the covers on the bed, still in his
school clothes. He was staring at the ceiling, terrified by something
only he could see.
The matron let out a string of elegant bad language,
and hurried over to the bed, feeling her patientís forehead. "Cold,"
Hermione heard her mutter. "Cold as ice. That potion was supposed
to block the visions." She kept muttering to herself as she mixed
up a blue-grey potion. Hermione, seeing the opportunity while Pomfrey
was distracted, ran over to the bed and grabbed Ronís hand.
He was cold. So cold that she dropped his hand.
Touching him was like sticking your hand in a bucket of ice water. She
took a deep breath and took his hand again, feeling the jolt of pain go
through her again at his contact. But she bit her lip and held on. "Ron!"
she hissed. "Ron!"
His gaze flicked away from the ceiling and met Hermioneís,
and she gasped as he looked at her. She could feel himself regaining control
of his consciousness.
He finally shook his head, and his grip on her hand tightened
sharply. "Go," he whispered fiercely at her. "Go, get out
"Ron," Hermione choked. "Whatís wrong?"
"Get out," he whispered. "I mean it Hermione,
get the hell out of here." She let go of his hand and turned on her
heel, and ran out of the room as if pursued by Hippogriffs.
And so it went, for the next nine days. Ron was confined
to the hospital wing, and Hermione brought him his homework every night.
She was careful to come late in the evening, so as not to catch him in
another attack. This was not hard to do. They always caught him around
two oíclock in the afternoon, and never lasted longer than twenty minutes.
But they were getting longer, Ron said. Although, luckily, the pain was
duller the longer they got, and he hardly ever hallucinated anymore.
On the tenth day, a Thursday, Hermioneís classes had
received a good whomp of homework, especially from Professor Snape. She
muttered angrily to herself as she gathered up her books and the papers
she had collected for Ron. She had to go back to the Gryffindor tower
before she could go to the hospital wing, though, as she had left his
morningís homework there.
She reached the common room some time later, slowed by
the weight of the books and from stopping to talk to Professor McGonagall
about her Prefect duties. She dumped her books on a couch, and began up
the stairs to her room-
-And ran smack into Ron, who was coming down the stairs
from the girlsí dorm. Before she could say anything, he grabbed her by
the shoulders, pulled her to him and kissed her feverantly, turning her
around as he did. Then he let go, and walked up the stairs to the boysí
rooms, without saying a word more.
Hermione just stood there for a moment, a hand pressed
to her lips, too shocked to do anything else, and watched him go. She
had felt something- worry?- when he kissed her, but she had been too off
guard to do anything. She finally shook her head to clear it, and followed
him, taking the steps two at a time. She walked quickly down the hall,
scaring a few of the younger boys who were not used to girls in their
rooms, and finally turned a corner to the room where Ron was.
He spun around when he heard her, holding a pair of jeans
in his hand. He swore when he saw her, and threw the pants into an open
bag in his bed. He stared at her a moment, shifting uncomfortably in the
doorway, then sighed and flopped on his bed. "What do you want?"
"I was going to get your homework. And you were
supposed to be in the hospital wing." She frowned and walked over
to the bed where he was lying.
He opened his eyes and looked at her, not bothering to
try and hide his emotions. Hermione could see easily his bitterness, and
his diminishing faith. She almost sat down on the floor at the sight of
"Why are you packing?" she asked harshly. "Where
are you going?"
He sighed and sat up. "Theyíre sending me to St.
Mungoís," he said flatly. "I passed out today, and Pomfrey doesnít
know what to do with it." He packed while he talked, grabbing clothes
and shoving them into the bag without bothering to fold them. He didnít
look at her.
Hermione stared at him. "The hospital?" she
squeaked. "They donít know what to do?" Ron just nodded, still
looking away. "Oh, for the love of-" she ran off a long list
of swears, most of which she hadnít known she knew.
He looked up and finally grinned at her, and Hermione
felt her heart melt. How could anything bad ever happen to Ron? He must
have had enough good Karma to keep him free for decades. "Thatís
my Pixie," he teased her, getting up and standing across from her.
"Always ready to say her mind." He was standing so close to
her that they were almost touching, and she had to tilt her head back
to look at him. "Are you all right?" he asked her quietly.
She closed her eyes and looked down. "Ron, I-"
But What could she say? Donít cry, she willed herself. Not now.
Donít cry. But it was no use. The tears came anyway, trickling down
"Hey," Ron whispered, putting a hand under
her chin and lifting her face. "Iíll come back, Pixie. You know I
will." He stroked her cheek with his thumb, and she bit her lip,
feeling more tears threatening to come. Ron put his arms around her and
drew close, resting his head on the top of her head. She put her arm around
his neck, and finally let the tears come.
"I said Iíd come back," he whispered in her
ear. "Donít you believe me?" He stroked her hair, and she sniffled
and wiped her eyes.
"What if you donít?" she finally demanded.
"What if they donít let you? What if something happens and you canít
"Hermione." He looked her straight in the eye,
and she trembled under his gaze. "I said Iíd come back, and Iím going
to come back." She started to say something, but he put a hand over
her mouth to silence her. "And Iím not lying. God knows why, I can
break through those damned potions and charms, but lying to you makes
me want to be sick." He smoothed her hair out of her eyes. "Iíll
come back, Pixie. I promise.
Hermione choked back a sob, feeling her control begin
crumble. Why Ron? Of all the people on this Earth to take away from her,
why did it have to be Ron?
Ron put his hands on her face, and pulled her to him;
kissed her passionately. She felt her knees buckle slightly, and she locked
her arms around his neck to keep from falling down. His hands drew ragged
lines up and down her back, and Hermione could feel the desperation growing
in him; eating him alive. He pulled her closer, kissing her hungrily,
and she was happy for a moment, forgetting even that he was leaving.
Ron pulled away, gasping, and for a moment they just
stood there, holding each other tightly and eyes half closed. Then Ron
pulled himself away- an action so sudden that Hermione didnít have time
to react- grabbed his bag, turned, and walked quickly out of the room.
She stared at his retreating back, but made no move to follow him.
Dean Thomas entered the room some time later, and she
hadnít moved. "Didnít I see Ron in here a moment ago?" he inquired,
frowning. "I heard he was going to the hospital."
Hermione closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened
them, they were bright and free of tears.
"Heíll be back," she whispered fiercely. "Heíll
One week later
Hermione eyed the potion that Lavender was mixing with
apprehension. She was getting ready to- well, to fall asleep, and do some
professional dreaming. She lay back on her bed, and Lavender sat down
"Now, remember, Hermione," Lavender was saying
as she put the finishing touches on the bluish-purple goo. "Iíll
be with you the whole time, you just canít see me. Iíll be able to pull
you back quite easily if need be." She handed the potion to Hermione,
who held it to her nose and gave it a cautious sniff. It smelled vaguely
like blueberries. She finally held it to her mouth and swallowed.
"Hmmm," Hermione said, putting the glass down.
"That was nice." She yawned sleepily. This potion worked fast,
it seemed. Lavender took her hands as she fell back and closed her eyes.
She was asleep within seconds.
A few moments later, Hermioneís consciousness came around,
inside a dark hallway, as usual. She could feel a presence at her side-
Lavender, she assumed- but could see no one. She glanced around her, looking
for the hallway she would have to go down to find her friends. There it
was. She turned and began to walk towards it.
And stopped. She thought she could hear voices, coming
from a chamber on one side of the tunnel. She walked towards it, listening
"ÖHe is weak, Lucius." The voice was high and
"But I have trained him all I can." The second
voice was one she recognized- Lucius Malfoy. Hermione fought the urge
to spit on the floor. "There is no more that I can teach him, my
Lord. I leave him in your capable hands." There was only one person
that Malfoy called "my Lord". The other voice was Lord Voldemort.
"Are you trying to dispose of him on me, Lucius?"
The Dark Lordís voice was silky and dangerous. "Because if you want
to dispose of him, we can simply kill him."
"No, my Lord, no!" Malfoy cried. "I would
not do such a thing! My son has great potential as a Death Eater. I would
not deprive you of such a servant."
That was a mistake. "Do you mean to tell me that
you are going soft for your son, Lucius?" If Voldemortís voice had
been dangerous, it was now deadly. "If I wanted to kill him now,
would your protests be out of loyalty to your master or love-" At
this point he gave a slight sneer. "-For your son?"
"Loyalty, my Lord, loyalty!" Malfoy gasped.
"I wanted to kill him as a baby, it was you, my Lord, who told me
to keep him. You said he would be-"
He was cut short, and Hermione could hear gagging noises.
Stifilus Charm, she thought, nauseous. Dear God.
Malfoyís body fell out into the hallway, unconscious.
She took a step backwards, and jumped aside as she noticed someone else
walking down the hallway.
It was Draco Malfoy. He was wearing battered black robes,
and e was paler than usual- unless you counted the bruises that spattered
his face and exposed arms. His hair was dirty and unkept, containing what
looked like old blood. She danced out of his way, but he didnít seem to
Draco stopped when he saw his fatherís body on the floor,
then walked over to where he lay. He stared at the man for a moment, then
swore quietly and kept walking. Hermione watched him go, curious.
Again, she felt Lavenderís presence at her back, pushing
her forward. She shook her head and continued following her original course,
until she reached the door to Harry and Ginnyís cell. She knew what was
in there, but couldnít bring herself to look. She knew Lavender had gone
past her and was looking in the door. Hermione turned back to where Malfoy
was lying, curious as to what had happened. But Lavender was beside her
again, pulling her back into sleep.
Hermione opened her eyes again, staring at the ceiling.
Lavender was jotting something down in a small notebook. She sat up and
rubbed her eyes. "What did you do?" she asked her friend.
Lavender put down her book and pushed hair out of her
eyes. "I followed your astral body in my own, and was able to see
the general place where they are being held." She began to clear
up the ingredients of the potion, humming the melody of a song Hermione
"Lavender," Hermione began quietly, and she
looked up. "Last week- before he left- I saw Ron coming out of the
"I saw him," her friend replied absently.
"What was he doing?" Hermione finished. "Is
he even allowed in there?"
"No more than you are in his room," Lavender
retorted. "And Dean caught you in there." She put a rack of
phials in a box and closed the top.
"But what was he doing?"
Lavender stopped for a moment and considered. "He
asked me what kind of shampoo you used," she said. "And then
he asked where you kept it. He had a little bottle with him, like the
kind you get from the hotel, and he put some of your strawberry stuff
in it, then took off."
Hermione frowned. "Oh." She stood up and stretched,
then straightened her jeans. "OK. Letís go, itís time for dinner."
Hermione pushed her scrambled eggs around on her plate,
half-listening as Lavender mooned over Seamus. He was mooning right back,
and it was enough to make anyone sick. She scanned the other tables. People
were talking and eating, oblivious to the conflicts around them.
Her eyes stopped momentarily on the Slytherin table,
for some reason, and she found herself looking right at Draco Malfoy,
who looked about as happy as she was feeling. She frowned, remembering
seeing him in Voldemortís castle. She couldnít see any of the bruises
that had been so evident just yesterday, but there was a cut across his
eyebrow. Then he looked up and was looking straight at her.
She jumped, and flicked her gaze away. The last thing
she needed was for Malfoy to spread a bunch of rumors that she was cheating
on Ron and now had the hots for him.
"So, I owled the Ministry about Harry and Ginny,"
Lavender was saying.
"What?" Hermione snapped out of her stupor
and dropped a forkful of eggs. "I said I owled the Ministry,"
she repeated. "They need all the extra information they can get.
You didnít expect me to go off looking for them all on my own, did you?"
"Huh? Oh- no." Hermione frowned and tried to
gather her thoughts. "What was their reply?"
"Oh, the usual." Lavender rolled her eyes.
"Theyíd looooove to go looking for them, but noooooooo,
just tooooooo dangerous." She sighed and turned to talk to
Hermione sat up and pushed her plate away. God, she couldnít
take it anymore. She walked quickly out of the great hall and out into
the snow. It must have stormed the night before, because the snow was
waist-deep in places. The sky was dark and overcast, perfectly reflecting
her mood. She walked over to a bench by the lake and flopped on it.
She felt as if her life were falling apart. First it
had been the dance in fifth year, that had split them all into different
directions and held them there for long months. Then it had been learning
that Harry and Ginny were missing, and finding out that no one cared enough
to look for them. And now Ron was ill and no end in sight. She hadnít
heard anything about his condition since he had left.
Dear God, this was the very bench she and Ron had been
sitting on when he first told her about his worry about the rumors. Until
right before that moment, she had been happy. She had actually believed
that everything might just turn out all right. But she didnít know about
that anymore. It seemed like so long ago. But how long had it been? Two,
three months, at most? How long would it be until everything did feel
Hermione felt tears burning in the corners of her eyes
and she quickly closed them, willing herself to stop. It was no use. They
came anyway, and she put her face in her hands and cried. Why not? No
one would hear her, anywayÖ
She sat straight up, her gaze darting here and there
to find the speaker. She hurriedly wiped her eyes, praying desperately
that she wasnít blotchy. "What do you want?" she cried.
The person walked around from behind a tree, and she
could finally see who it was. She might have rathered they had stayed
hidden, though. It was Draco Malfoy.
"Hey, Granger," he muttered. "What the
hell are you doing out here?"
Hermione glared at him. "Why do you care?"
Draco rolled his eyes, and, to her surprise and shock,
sat down beside her on the bench. "I donít for the most part,"
he replied evenly. "Are you going to answer or what?"
She scowled. "Anything wrong with wanting a little
He simply raised an eyebrow. "Did I say you were
doing anything wrong?" he asked irritably. "I was just curious."
He looked away from her and stared at the lake, his hands jammed into
his pockets and face emotionless. She watched him for a moment, and he
turned and looked at her again. "What?" he demanded.
She looked away. "Nothing." He raised an eyebrow
again, but didnít say anything more.
There was an uncomfortable, awkward silence, and they
both looked away and back at each other on intervals. Finally, Hermione
lost her patience and demanded, "What were you doing?"
He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it quickly.
"None of your business," he answered shortly. He got to his
feet and glared at her for a moment, apparently arguing to himself about
something, then reached into his back pocket, pulled something out and
tossed it to her. It was a small book. "Read the section on curses,"
Draco instructed, then walked away.
Hermione looked the book over. It was bound in black
leather, and the pages were old, crumbling yellow parchment, the writing
black and loopy. The silver embossed title proclaimed it to be The
Complete Grimoire of Curses and Hexes. Hermione frowned. Why on Earth
would Draco want her to read that? But she put the book in her pocket,
resolving to read it later.
It was after dinner when Hermione actually sat down on
her bed and opened the book to the section of curses. She cringed. There
were some extremely unpleasant spells in this volume. The Flame Body curse,
that burned you alive from the inside out, a curse to make you dismember
yourself, several possessionsÖ he list went on and on. She scanned the
descriptions, skimmed them, just to be dine and say sheíd read it- then
She was near the end of the chapter, and the curses here
were fabulously complex. It was getting to the point where it was almost
interesting- but no, she didnít want interest in these things. But then
a particular spell caught her eye.
The Malady curse. It was more than a few mumbled words
and a wave of a wand. The completion of it required a blood of the victim,
blood of the Dark Artist, blood of a Dementor, and dust from an old battlefield.
Boil until formed into thick paste, she read. Anoint subjectís
eyes, ears and forehead with mixture. Point wand at back of subjectís
head and say "Malleus". The spell would result in
intense pain, illness and gradual possession.
Hermione put the book down. There was at least another
paragraph still on the topic, but she couldnít read it. It sounded too
Oh, God, she thought desperately. Ron!
Another day passed. A week. I was almost a month since
Ron had left, and still they had heard nothing from him. No word from
the hospital, except that he wasnít allowed visitors. She had asked Professor
McGonagall if his parents had been notified, and the teacher had promptly
changed the subject. She, Parvati and Lavender had been harrying the Ministry
about looking for Harry and Ginny, but had received no productive responses.
Is this what a black hole feels like? Hermione
wondered one night as she lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. You just
keep going down and you canít come back out or even stop? Is there nothing
you can do? She turned over and looked at the clock. One thirty in
the morning. She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep. Canít
you fight it at all? Does it make a difference, or does it just make things
Classes during the past few weeks had been torture. She
couldnít concentrate at all, and it seemed like all her teachers were
overly tense. Hermione thought that if she passed her mid-term exam, it
would be a miracle.
It was after dinner one night in December, and Hermione
was wandering around outside on the grounds, looking at the lights that
adorned the trees and the decorations that had been put up. She was almost
cheerful- unusual for her, these days- when she heard a voice behind her
She spun around and saw Pansy Parkinson standing behind
her, flanked by Millicent Bluesdoe and Blaise Zabini. Hermione raised
an eyebrow, but said nothing.
"Mudblood," Pansy repeated. Paused. Then spoke
again. "Did you hear the latest news about your boyfriend?"
Hermione blinked. "News?"
Blaise stepped forward, rolling her eyes. "News,
Muggle. More rumors." Her eyes glittered evilly, and Hermione narrowed
her own and took a step back.
"What news?" she asked harshly. "What
are you saying?"
Pansy looked interested. "You donít know?"
She raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips. "Well, if you donít know,
Iím not going to tell you."
Hermione snorted. "Iím not sure I want to
know," she retorted. "Now, if youíll excuse me, I have to get
to my dorm." And she pushed past them and walked the long walk back
to the Gryffindor tower.
She sat on her bed, not doing anything, just staring
at the wall, legs crossed and hands on her knees. She tried not to think
about what Pansy had said. The last thing she needed was more news that
Ron was a criminal or something. She closed her eys ad tried to shove
thoughts of Pansy out of her head.
I feel itís not you.
I wish it were not true.
And as I walk to the beat of my heart inside, I feel
like letting go.
Oh darling now, in my dreams youíll be tonightÖ
What on Earth more could possibly happen to her. Hadnít
fate struck at Hermione and her friends enough? Pansy must be trying
to work me up, she thought desperately. She doesnít mean it. Sheís
just trying to make me believe things that arenít true.
Oh, Mr. Postman
Give me a sign.
Tell me youíve a letter
To make me feel fine.
Oh, donít you know, I am waiting here for you.
Tell me it will be here tonight.
I should get dressed for bed, Hermione thought.
It was well past nine oíclock, and she had school in the morning. Anything
to keep her from thinking about this.
Itís the way that I feel.
My heart it wonít conceal.
And as I walk to the beat of my heart inside, I feel
like letting go.
Oh darling now, in my dreams youíll be tonight.
She reached for her tee shirt, to pull it off and put
on her jammies, but stopped as Parvati came around the corner, looking
"Hermione?" Parvati called, not seeing her.
"Iím right here," Hermione said quietly. "What
Parvati walked over to the edge of the bed and sat down.
"Professor McGonagall wants to see you," she informed her. "Sheís
waiting in the common room."
Hermione sighed and stood up. Now what?
Oh, Mr. Postman
Give me a sign.
Tell me youíve a letter
To make me feel fine.
Oh, donít you know, I am waiting here for you.
Tell me it will be here tonight.
The professor was standing at the foot of the stairs,
tapping her foot impatiently. She smiled gently when she saw her student,
though. "Ah, Hermione," she said. "Please follow me, there
is something I need to discuss with you."
Hermione frowned, but followed the professor to a secluded
corner of the room where no one would overhear them and sat down. "Yes?"
Professor McGonagall opened her mouth, then shut it quickly.
She watched Hermione for a moment, without saying anything. She seemed
to be arguing with herself. She finally stood up and offered a hand to
Hermione. "Come with me, my dear," she said quietly. "There
is someone here to see you."
She took the offered hand, and McGonagall pulled her
out of her seat. She followed the teacher through the many hallways, taking
in the newly added Christmas decorations. They were so cheerful,
and it almost made her sick. How could people possibly be happy in a situation
like this? She and Professor McGonagall turned corners, climbed countless
stairways, until Hermione was sure they would walk right out the top of
the school at any moment, when the professor stopped walking.
They were in a small hallway, containing about ten doors.
A plaque above the door read "Guest Wing". Hermione frowned.
Who on Earth would be meeting with her in a guestroom?
Professor McGonagall opened the first door and ushered
Hermione inside. She looked around. It was much like a Muggle hotel room
in many ways. A double bed in the center, a chest of drawers, a writing
desk- no television, of course- and an adjoining bathroom. She glanced
around the room for the visitor, but found no one. She turned to McGonagall.
But McGonagall held up a hand and back out of the room,
closing the door behind her. Hermione was alone.
"Hello?" she called. "Whoís there?"
He stepped out from behind the bed, where he had been
sitting, drawing in his sketchbook, making her jump.
"I told you Iíd come back," he said, amused.
It was Ron.