Roses in December: Chapter 2
By the time Ron left the library to walk blearily back to his room to drop off his books, he realized he'd have to hurry to get back in time for his patrol duties. He nearly ran into a pack of giggling Hufflepuff girls who only giggled harder after he passed them.
"Time to get back to your common room," he called back to them with a stern tone, anger flaring a bit as yet another intense bubble of nervous laughter from each of the girls was their only answer.
He mumbled the password to the Fat Lady, who nattered on at him about keeping his chin up before she finally gave up and swung forward to admit him. A look around the common room revealed Hermione sitting at a table in the corner, her leg bouncing with barely-restrained nervous energy.
"Ron," she said, getting to her feet and coming to him. She grabbed his arm and pulled him across the room, leading him up the stairs, then toward the private rooms that had appeared in the Gryffindor dormitory when McGonagall selected them as Head Boy and Head Girl. He had to take the stairs two at a time to keep up with her frantic pace as she dragged him toward his own door.
Just for a moment, he allowed himself to fantasize that she was dragging him away to snog him senseless, maybe even rip his shirt off and then—
"Ron," she said, impatiently. "Let us in, I have to tell you something. And I have a surprise for you."
That did nothing to suppress the images flowing through his mind. He imagined a blushing Hermione, telling him how it had driven her mad to see him snogging Lavender last term, how she couldn't wait any longer to have him for herself. It was only through the greatest haze that he retrieved his wand from his robe pocket and waved it hastily at the door.
Once they were inside, she gestured quite excitedly for him to sit down on the edge of his bed. His already addled mind blurred even more with images of her sitting next to him, the two of them snogging. His room suddenly seemed quite small with the two of them in it together.
"I went to Headmistress McGonagall's office on my way back from the hospital wing. Imagine my surprise to find that she already had a visitor."
"I hope you don't mind, mate. McGonagall let me into your room. Can't really afford to be seen, even here at Hogwarts."
Ron spun around just in time to see Harry pull the Invisibility Cloak away, revealing himself as he sat in the chair near Ron's desk.
"Harry!" Ron exclaimed, unbelievably pleased to see his best mate for the first time in far, far too long, though his presence brought a final and crushing blow to the fantasy he'd been nursing.
Both of them jumped to their feet and there was an awkward moment before they hugged each other. Ron felt a little silly until he saw the happy tears glistening in Hermione's eyes. Anything that made her feel like that must be all right.
"It was really quite lucky that Harry chose tonight to meet with the Headmistress. I do wish I had more time to flesh things out, but as he is here now—"
"Why? What is it?" Ron interrupted, looking at Hermione, then to Harry, then back to Hermione. Harry suddenly didn't look particularly pleased. Hermione, on the other hand, looked hopeful, which made him nearly mad with anticipation.
"I've found something. A spell. It could really help," she began, then gave a warning look to Harry. "Let him hear me out before you say anything, Harry. It's his decision to make as well."
"It isn't," Harry insisted. "Listen, Hermione. I'm grateful that you're looking for a way to help me, but if there's even a chance that—"
"You promised me, Harry. You said we could tell him and then talk it over. You asked me to do this, to find anything that might allow us to destroy that final fragment of Voldemort's soul."
"But Hermione, I didn't mean something like this," he said, looking guilty when he saw Hermione's disappointed face. "Listen, Hermione. You helped me find the fifth and sixth Horcruxes, then you figured out how I could destroy them without getting myself killed. If that was all you'd ever done for me, I'd be grateful, you know that. But you, both of you, have done so much more than that. I can't ask you to do this as well."
Ron's stomach sank when Harry reminded him of all Hermione had done since Dumbledore's murder, and how little he, himself, had been able to do to help their friend. If there was anything he could do to help with the final step, something he could offer to help Harry finish the job he'd never chosen for himself in the first place ...
"I've looked and looked, Harry," Hermione said, a note of panic in her voice. "If there's another way, I haven't found it. We should at least think about it. If Ron's willing, that is." she added, hastily.
"I have had some time to think about it," Harry protested. "It's too much. I would do it myself, but not if you and Ron have to take the same chance."
"I didn't say we'd stop looking, I just said that we should prepare ... have this as a backup."
"Will one of you," Ron began, feeling supremely annoyed at the two of them talking as though he wasn't there, "please, for the love of all that's magical, tell me what the bloody hell you're talking about."
"Sorry," Hermione said, blushing a little. "I think we may as well just tell him, and we can all argue about it afterward," she said to Harry, who finally relented by sitting back in the chair. Ron couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that she hadn't bothered to chide him for his bad language, but he wasn't surprised. She hadn't bothered to do that for months.
"Well, go ahead. Tell him so we can both tell you how absolutely mad this spell of yours is."
"Certainly, Harry. Especially as you've taken such pains not to set him against the idea before he's even heard it." She flashed him a slightly acidic look before pulling the book she'd found in the library out of her satchel. Her fingers flew over the pages until she finally settled on one, pointing to one passage and then pushing it toward Ron for him to read.
He sighed and tried to focus on the ornate script the book was written in, his eyes widening as he took in the spell she'd indicated.
"What book is this, Hermione?" he asked, turning to the cover. "Impossible Spells for Impossible Problems: A Guide to Experimental Magic," he read aloud. "Experimental? Why hadn't we looked in this book before?"
"It was hidden in the back corner of the Restricted Section. I've only had a chance to dig into it this year, when Professor McGonagall arranged for my Restricted Section pass."
"So, we can share our magic with Harry when the time comes. I don't understand what's so horrible, Harry. Don't you want our help?"
"Ron," Hermione said, hesitantly. "Did you read the entire passage?"
"Most of it. The spell, its effect." Both Harry and Hermione rolled their eyes at him, making him a bit defensive. "Oi, I've been in the library since we left supper. I've been reading and writing for four hours straight, so you'll have to excuse me if I—"
"There's a bit of a side effect, mate," Harry said, sending an accusatory look at Hermione. "You probably won't remember who you are after the spell is over."
"What!" Ron exclaimed, scrambling to get the book back from Hermione, whose eyes had fallen to the table.
He read past the end of the description of the spell and saw what Harry referred to.
"This spell creates a powerful bond between the casters," Ron read aloud, his eyes flying over the page, "In fact, the bond is so strong that, when broken, it creates an equally powerful aftershock. In extreme cases, it can cause death. In most cases, however, it will result in the complete obliteration of the caster's memory."
"Before you make a snap judgment Ron, think about it. Wouldn't it be better for us all to make it through alive, even if we didn't remember anything, than for all of us to die at Voldemort's hands?" Hermione pleaded.
"But we might not make it out alive, Hermione. Didn't you read this?" Harry asked. "It could kill us. All of us."
"I talked it over with Madam Pomfrey, Harry. I've been trying to tell you. She thinks the chances of one of us dying are quite remote. It's much more likely that we'll simply, well ... "
"Forget everything," Ron said, quietly. "Forget each other. Forget our families."
"Now, that part doesn't sound too bad," Harry said, sarcastically. "I've already all but forgotten about the Dursleys."
"It's not a certainty. Even if it does happen, it might not be permanent," Hermione insisted.
"Might not be," Harry said. "Is that enough for you, Hermione? Ron? That maybe, someday, the people you know might not seem like complete strangers to you?"
"What if we had to face him right now, Harry?" Hermione asked, rounding on him, her eyes flashing with anger. "I know he's weakened, but could you do it? Do you have a plan? Or would we all just die?"
"Hermione," Ron said, rearing back from her in surprise. He honestly couldn't believe she'd said that to Harry. The entire Order was still reeling from the loss of Dumbledore, and they all seemed to look to Harry as though he suddenly had all the answers. With that sort of pressure on his shoulders, it seemed rather harsh to remind him that he didn't.
"I'm not saying this is the only plan. But at least it is a plan." She shut the book abruptly, pulling it out of Ron's grasp. "I'm going to my room to do more research. When the two of you give it more thought and finally see that a having a backup is better than having nothing at all, I'd be glad to share the results with you." She grabbed her bag, turned her back to them, and left Ron's room, her hair streaming behind her.
Harry looked at Ron, still unable to wrap his mind around everything that had happened in the past few minutes.
"Don't you start in on me as well," Harry said, warningly. "If it was just me, it would be fine. But I won't let you and Hermione—"
"And we won't let you do it on your own. Just because some madman has it in for you doesn't mean we're going to abandon you, or that you're the only one who has anything at stake. I thought we made that clear at the end of last year. Hermione's house is gone, Harry. She'd be gone as well, if she'd been in it. And what about Bill? He's lucky to be alive, even if his scars will never heal. We're all in this. If I could give up my memory to make sure we all stay safe and we end this once and for all, then I'd do it. So would you, and so would Hermione. Now, before you decide a perfectly reasonable idea is rubbish, maybe you should think about it rationally before you run off on your own again, leaving us out."
"I've got to talk to McGonagall again before I go," Harry said, his hands balled into fists by his sides. "I'll be back soon. I'm sure we'll have found another way by then."
Harry disappeared under the cloak again, and Ron didn't say a word as the door to his room opened and closed. It had been a long time since Harry had pushed them away like this, and Ron had forgotten exactly how infuriating it was.
Ron felt restless, pacing for a few minutes before he went into the corridor outside his room. He looked longingly at the staircase between the Head Boy's and Head Girl's quarters that allowed Hermione to come to his room, but wouldn't allow him to go to hers. Bloody archaic double-standards. He really needed to talk to her, but he couldn't get within ten feet of her without the alarms sounding, waking the entire school and drawing attention to them that they couldn't afford.
He stared hard at the door, almost believing for a moment that if he concentrated enough, he could Summon her. She would feel him and she would come. He laughed to himself as he turned to his room and prepared to wave his wand and think the spell that would open the door again. He was quite surprised when he heard the click of her door.
"I'm sorry I left you that way, Ron," she began, and he turned to see her, surrounded by the moonlight streaming in the window behind her. "I didn't mean to lose my temper. I was just so frustrated."
"It's all right, Hermione. I ... well, I rather lost my temper as well, after you left." She gave him a look, and he realized she had no idea what his opinion of the spell was. "I don't think there's any harm in using this as a backup plan, like you said. We don't have to use it, but we can't use it at all if we don't know how."
"He's just so infuriating, Ron. He wants to do it all himself when he knows deep down that he needs our help."
"He doesn't mind having our help. He just doesn't want us to be hurt. Besides, I thought I was the one who infuriated you," he said, suddenly needing to lighten the mood.
A smile broke out over her face. "Yes, well, I can be infuriated enough for the both of you."
"He'll come around, Hermione. You just have to give him some time. He said he'd be back soon."
"I suppose you're right." She paused for a moment, giving him a strange look, then she began to turn away. She stopped midway, with her shoulder turned to him. He caught his breath at the way her body was clearly outlined in the moonlight. "I'm frightened, Ron," she added, her voice small and vulnerable. "If we do have to use the spell, I don't want to forget. My parents ... Harry ... you."
"Come here, Hermione," he told her, before he'd even thought about what he was saying. He hoped against hope she would come, but the notion of it was absolutely terrifying.
"Ron! I'm in my night clothes."
"You mean, the kind I've seen you in since we were eleven?" he said, teasing her. "Fine, put on a robe and then come here."
She came halfway down the stairs before she spoke again. "I am frightened. I can't show it to Harry, but I really feel like this is the only way. I don't think we'll find another one. I'm frightened that we'll all forget each other, and if we do that, don't we die, in a way? I won't be the person I am now, will I?"
"Hermione," he said, helplessly. "I can't come to you. If I set foot on one of those steps, the alarms will wake half the castle."
She finally relented and closed the rest of the distance to him. He found himself uncertain what he should do, now that he'd finally persuaded her to come.
"I just don't know, Ron. I have to be certain in front of Harry, to convince him, but I really just don't—"
"You're so brilliant, Hermione," he breathed, his arms reaching out and pulling her into his chest just as he had at Dumbledore's funeral. He tried not to think too hard about what they were doing and concentrate on why he'd called her to him in the first place. She was scared and she needed someone to reassure her. He had to keep his mind on the task.
But Merlin, she was soft against his chest and he nearly groaned aloud as his face fell into her hair and he found the scent of her all around him.
"Ron," she said, and pulled away a little, letting him see the flush on her cheeks as she turned her eyes briefly upward to him, and then to the ground. "What if I'm wrong?"
"Hermione," he said, wishing he could just cover her mouth in a kiss and make her forget every last one of her worries. "I know you're sick to death of everyone telling you how bloody clever you are all the time, but the most unbelievable bit of it is that part of you, at least, doesn't believe it. When it comes down to it, I think you doubt yourself too much. That's mad, Hermione. I trust you. Why don't you trust yourself?"
"I'm not sure I can go through with it. I can't lose you," she looked up, her gaze drilling into his. "Or Harry," she added, shaking her head a little and breaking his heart just a bit.
"You'll hang on. There's not a spell strong enough to go against your mind and win. You'll remember, Hermione, and if we don't, you'll make us remember. You'll keep after us until we do."
She buried her face into his chest and he cupped the back of her head in his hands, his eyes closing and his head falling back with the sheer perfection of it. All too soon, she pushed back and nervously brushed her hair away from her face.
"I'm sorry, Ron. I'm being silly. I should get to bed," she said, abruptly. She turned from him and fled up the steps, shutting her door behind her and leaving him alone.
"I don't understand how you think I could forget you," he whispered after her, wishing he'd had the courage to say it when she could hear him.