Harry stood gazing out of the window at what passed for a main street in Godric's Hollow. He heard Ron slump against the wall next to him, but couldn't find the energy to turn his head. They seemed to be going round in circles.
"You tell her."
Harry rested his forehead on the cool window pane for a moment and groaned. "No, Ron. You tell her ..."
"You're the bloody Boy-Who-Lived, mate! ... You're the one who's faced dragons and Inferi and V ... Vo ... that Riddle bloke and stuff. Hermione can't be more scary than them, can she?"
"Dunno. You didn't seem scared of her when you were snogging last night!"
"How did you ...? I mean, no we weren't, honestly --"
"Oh leave it, Ron." Harry turned and shook his head at his best friend, whose face had gone an interesting shade of crimson. He hadn't meant to mention it, but now the subject had cropped up ... "Look, I came down for a midnight snack and saw the two of you out in the back garden. I was only guessing actually -- but you just confirmed it, mate."
"You don't mind?" asked Ron uncertainly. Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"Of course I don't mind. I'd be stupid if I did, wouldn't I? Especially after ... well, you know. Our little problem." When this seemed to fail to convince Ron, he added, "Anyway, do you really think everyone hadn't already sussed it out about you two finally getting together?"
"Everyone?" Ron's face suddenly went pale.
"Yeah, Fred and George were most entertained." Harry hadn't meant to tell Ron that either, but he couldn't resist. "In fact, they ran a sweep among the wedding guests on what time that day you'd be spotted, and I quote them, 'tickling tonsils'." He grinned at his friend's look of horrified indignation. "They wouldn't let me or Ginny enter, we know you both too well -- but we were sure you'd keep it private, so we had a quiet word with Professor Lupin to tell him to put his Galleon down for 'never'. I think he cleaned up ..."
Ron found his voice. "Gits. All of you. I don't want this messed up before it even properly starts, Harry! You're all complete gits."
"Yeah, we are," said Harry, who still hadn't stopped grinning. It faded quickly though when he contemplated the problem they were facing. "So you tell her, mate. Reckon she might listen to you more than me."
"Come off it, Harry," said Ron morosely. "If we tell her that, she's not going to want to listen to either of us, is she?"
Hermione woke with a start.
It took her a moment or two to identify her surroundings. Bedroom. Small guest house. Godric's Hollow? Yes, that was right. They'd been staying there for a few days under assumed names (and a few useful patent-pending disguise charms obtained courtesy of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes). She'd found herself coming round abruptly several times in the weeks since Bill and Fleur's wedding; more tired than she'd been since she was fourteen (well, at least before she'd walked out on that ridiculous fraud Trelawney).
Mind you, she thought, I've got reason! She grimaced, remembering the icy reception from the Dursleys when she, Harry and Ron had turned up on their doorstep for Harry's final visit. Their opinion of wizards had not been improved by the Death Eater attack that followed on the stroke of midnight on his seventeenth birthday, even after the desperate Side-Along Apparitions their unwanted guests had been forced to perform as the only way to get them out of the ensuing battle.
Hermione took a few deep breaths to steady her nerves as she remembered the fight, which had been still more terrifying than the one in the Department of Mysteries. She'd even been hit by the Cruciatus Curse at one point, an agonising minute or so before Ron had taken out the Death Eater casting it with such a venomous Impediment Jinx that it had blasted him right through the lounge window (to the accompaniment of hysterical screams from Petunia Dursley about her brand new double glazing). She couldn't even be sure what residual effects, if any, the shock might be having on her; the Defence textbooks were frustratingly vague on the point.
But even under the circumstances, she wasn't happy that she'd been so tired ever since. Once she'd even dropped off right in the middle of an important discussion about ways and means, suddenly jerking awake to find herself still sitting in her chair and both Ron and Harry giving her strange looks. That had been particularly embarrassing. So was waking late each morning to find them already dressed, fed, and ready to go.
She shook herself, annoyed at her weakness. None of them had been in good form anyway for the last few days since that rather creepy visit to where the old Potter House had once stood. Harry had been exceptionally quiet afterwards, Ron fairly subdued, and as they'd sat around in the guest house she herself had felt chilled and uneasy, as if something highly significant was happening that she'd missed completely.
She could hear their voices from the connecting room, voices that stilled quickly when they heard her stirring. She clucked her tongue in annoyance. That was something else that seemed to be happening a lot over the last few days. She grabbed her dressing-gown from the wardrobe and went in, trying not to let them see the twinge of hurt she always felt when they seemed to be excluding her.
"Morning, Ron. Morning, Harry. How did it go with Bill last night?"
Harry looked evasive. "Morning, Hermione. Um, yeah, he gave me some good ideas. I told him we might need a bit of help with curse-breaking before long, and he said we could call on him any time, even if I couldn't tell him exactly why."
"He did?" said Hermione, alarmed. "I hope he's up to it. I mean, you know, after what Greyback did to him ..."
"I'd be more worried if he's up to it after what Fleur's been doing to him," said Ron, sniggering. Hermione shot him a Look which, as usual, bounced right off. "Anyway, we could do with a bit of help, couldn't we? Not going to find the answers to this one in a book, are we?"
"Well, not if we never look at the inside of one, no!" said Hermione indignantly. "And anyway, it could be really dangerous letting too many people know where we're heading! Look at what happened at the Dursleys' ..."
Harry's mind wandered as he watched his two best friends argue (a regular source of harmless entertainment for him). He was actually quite glad that Ron had distracted Hermione in his usual way -- or, at least, one of his usual ways. Because at some point soon, one of them was actually going to have to tell her, and he definitely wasn't looking forward to the conversation that might follow ...
The next few days were spent camping out at number twelve, Grimmauld Place -- which was as unappealing as ever, but was at least a safe base of operations. However, Hermione couldn't help but notice a certain awkwardness in Harry's behaviour towards her. After six years' experience of his moods she was sure he was hiding something, but he spent a lot of time talking on the Floo to various people, and didn't seem to want to discuss anything serious when she approached him. Ron was much less awkward towards her (something she was secretly very pleased about) but even so, she caught him exchanging embarrassed mutters with Harry when they thought she wasn't listening.
Since Harry was undoubtedly the leader of their little expedition, he was the one she tackled the next morning after breakfast. While Ron was chatting to the twins (who had dropped by to demonstrate the latest products in their Defence Against the Dark Arts range) she buttonholed Harry as he climbed the stairs away from the kitchen.
"I want a word with you, Harry," she said without preamble.
"What about?" he asked warily as they arrived in the drawing-room, and cleared enough general Order junk from a sofa to make a seat for themselves.
"About the way you and Ron keep muttering about me when you think I'm not listening," she said firmly. Ignoring Harry's thunderstruck look, she braced herself and said, "Don't you want me here or something?"
His jaw actually dropped. "What are you talking about, Hermione?"
She sighed. "Look, Harry, you really do have this -- well, saving-people thing, don't you? And you seem to have a bit of a protect-the-girls thing as well. I know you don't mean anything bad by it," she added hastily, "and it's quite sweet of you and all that, but you ought to know by now that I can use a wand as well as anyone else! So if you have some idiotic idea that ... that girls can't fight or something, just drop it right away. I've stuck with you all these years and I'm not leaving you now. Got that?"
Harry still looked thunderstruck, but there was a hint of relief in his voice when he asked, "That was what you wanted a word about?"
He smiled, and seemed to pick his words carefully. "Look, Hermione. I ran the DA for half a year, didn't I? Of course I know girls can fight! And I've seen you in action. I know perfectly well you can. And --" he looked embarrassed, but determined "-- I don't want you or Ron to leave, all right? I'd rather you were both safe, yes, but I suppose I realise now that ... well, like Dumbledore said, I need my friends. I can't do this alone. So you and Ron are stuck with helping me. Got that?" he finished with a wry grin.
"Oh, Harry!" Hermione was quite touched; she knew how awkward he found it to actually say such things out loud. She hugged him. "Harry, you know we'll help you because we want to. I just wondered about ... well, what you and Ron are saying?"
"Oh that. Yeah, just boy talk," he said with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Believe me, you'd rather not know how banal we can get ..."
"What have we here then?" came a delighted voice from the doorway. "Looks like you've got competition, little bro!"
Hermione looked up to see a grinning Fred and George and a red-faced Ron, and winced. She really didn't need those two idiots trying to mess things up for her and Ron before they had a chance to get properly started. So she quickly leapt up and gave him a far less chaste hug for reassurance, ignoring their wolf whistles to plant a quick kiss on his lips. That at least made him smile despite the younger-brotherly embarrassment.
"How come you two are here, anyway?" she asked as a sudden thought struck her. "No-one's supposed to know where we are, even the Order!"
"Harry told us when he dropped in at The Burrow yesterday," said George with a shrug. She looked at him with horror.
"But ... Harry! I know Fred and George are OK, but we're supposed to be keeping our movements hidden! Voldemort would just love to know where you're going!" She ignored the winces from assorted Weasleys. "Loose tongue and all that ..."
"Relax, Hermione," said Harry patiently. "This place is Fidelius charmed, remember?"
"Yes, but you're not, Harry," she said, biting her lip. "It's not like ... well, Godric's Hollow. It won't help when you leave here."
"I know that," he said, a shadow passing across his face. "But I went and had a chat with old Flitwick a few days ago, and he taught me how to cast the Grapevine-Cutting Charm. If I use it just before I tell someone something, it puts them off from telling anyone else about it. I tried it yesterday -- I only told Ron I was going to The Burrow, and you didn't even realise I'd gone, did you?"
She gaped at him. "No! Wow, Harry ... I'm impressed. That's really advanced! And we can never usually get you to ask anyone for help unless you're forced to!"
"I must be learning," he said, his mouth quirking. "You've taught me well." Ron's lips twitched too, but he carefully avoided looking at either of them.
"Anyway Harry, the wizarding economy is waiting eagerly for us to open for business," interrupted Fred, gesturing vaguely at the world outside 12 Grimmauld Place. "So we'd better not keep you from your mysterious little expedition any longer."
"Yeah, do try to keep these two out of mischief when you're all off wherever it is we won't know unless you tell us," said George, grinning. "If you need anything, mate, just come and ask, all right? No charge, don't forget that."
"Got it," said Harry, smiling. "Lads ... thanks, I really appreciate it. We'll drop by tomorrow, all right?"
He escorted the twins towards the front door with an odd mixture of guilt and relief. He'd definitely dodged a hex, but he hadn't been entirely honest with Hermione. They really did need to have a word, just as soon as he could face telling her ...
They found Remus Lupin sitting in the back room of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes when they arrived the following morning "Good morning, Ron, Hermione," he said, smiling at them as they walked in. "Isn't Harry with you?"
"Professor Lupin?" said Harry, looking surprised as he walked through the door. "What's the matt- ... oh right, Fred and George couldn't tell you I'd be here, could they?"
Lupin blinked, and looked at him with an amused expression. "Ah, there you are, Harry. And it's Remus, please. That new charm of yours seems to be quite handy."
"Should be," said Harry, nodding. "Just don't ask me how it works, though, I've no idea. Professor Flitwick did try to explain, but it went completely over my head. I think it was something Dumbledore set up with him before ... Snape."
Lupin stopped looking amused. "Yes. That makes sense. And talking about things Dumbledore set up, it's becoming rather obvious that you three are up to something that he didn't tell the Order about. Would that be right, just as a general summary?"
"Something, yes," said Harry guardedly.
Remus had the air of a man bracing himself. "I thought as much. And from what Minerva and Bill have told us I'm assuming it may be related to what you were doing with Dumbledore the night he was killed." He held up a hand to forestall Harry's protests. "No, Harry, don't deny it! Just listen, please. The Order have talked it over, and we decided we should trust Albus' judgement one last time. But we thought it might be wise to compare notes occasionally. Basically what we wanted to say was -- you don't have to tell us what you're doing, but we do want you to ask us any time you need our help."
Harry nodded. "Thanks, Pro- Remus. I really appreciate that. I will."
"Now I know you don't like asking for help unless you're facing a life-or-death situation, but ..." He trailed off in surprise. "You will?"
"Yeah, I will," said Harry, grinning. "I've come round to the idea. Don't worry, you're not the first person to be surprised." Hermione caught his glance and smiled, but she lost the smile as he added, "While we're talking about that, there's something I want to talk to you about, actually, when you've, er, got a minute or two to spare."
Remus looked at him curiously. "All right, Harry. Can't we discuss it here?"
Harry looked horribly uncomfortable. "Er, not in fr- ... well, let's keep it just between you and me for the moment, OK? We'll talk later."
Hermione looked up from her book, astonished by the sight of the red-headed girl standing in the doorway of the Grimmauld Place library. "Ginny? What on earth are you doing here?"
"Oh, that's nice," replied her friend, although she didn't sound at all offended. Indeed, she had a curious look on her face, a sort of happy confusion. "When Harry Apparated over to The Burrow the other day, well ..."
"Yes?" said Hermione with a quickening of interest.
"He came to see me, and --" both her smile and her air of bewilderment became more pronounced "-- he said he'd hated having to split up, and had really been wishing he hadn't had to, but didn't want to risk me, blah blah blah ... I thought he was just going to go over the same nonsense all over again, but then he said he'd been selfish, and he was really, really sorry, and please please please could I forgive him and let us still see each other on the quiet."
"Yes!" Hermione felt like punching the air in triumph, although she couldn't help noting for future reference that the Grapevine-Cutting Charm wouldn't help Harry much if he was too distracted by his girlfriend to cast it. "Ginny, that's wonderful news! What changed his mind?"
Ginny shrugged. "I don't know. He said he'd realised that trying to forget about how happy we were together was actually making it harder to handle whatever it is you lot are doing. I mean, ever since the prat broke it off I've been trying to decide if I should do a Tonks and grab him to talk some sense into him, but it looks like someone else got there first. I thought it might be you, but ..."
Hermione shook her head. "It definitely wasn't me -- well, if it was, I don't know what it was I said that made the difference! I've brought your name up a few times, but I've not been able to find the right moment for a really good talk." Her eyes widened as a sudden suspicion hit her. "Um, Lupin told me at the wedding he was planning to have a quiet word with Harry about it being stupid to keep pushing people away when you needed them ..."
"Oh, good! It seems to be going really well for those two, now Professor Lupin's stopped ... well, doing a Harry. Mum's positively gushing. Er, Hermione ..." She paused; a look of slight embarrassment giving way to a broad grin. "I had to talk her into letting me visit Harry here. She eventually agreed it'd be OK with a sensible girl like that Hermione around as chaperone. Sorry ..."
"That's OK. I won't let you do anything I wouldn't do." They shared a secretive grin. "I'm really glad you're here, Ginny! I've missed having another girl to talk to."
"Harry and Ron being idiots again?"
"Not quite, but ..." She got up and paced the room a few times. "They aren't telling me something. They keep breaking off conversations and putting on false smiles when I walk in unexpectedly, and it's getting really annoying."
Ginny looked embarrassed. "Erm, you know they could be discussing ... well, did you ever think it might be ...?"
"Well ... just boy talk?"
"Boy talk ... what?" She recalled Harry's rueful comment and felt mortified as it suddenly dawned on her what Ginny was getting at. "About them and us, you mean? I'll kill them!"
"Better wait till you've finished off You-Know-Who," said Ginny, grinning. "Actually, I'm probably OK. I don't reckon Ron even wants to think about me and Harry, let alone discuss it with him. But they could be talking about you and Ron ..."
"Of course!" said Hermione, smacking her forehead, absolutely furious. "I should have known ... I just didn't think they were like that! I'll ... I'll kill them!"
Ginny winced. "Better find out if you're right first," she said hastily. "Time to get out the Extendable Ears?"
"Wouldn't work," said Hermione, with a slight blush. Ginny raised her eyebrows. "Oh all right, I tried that, OK? But they were using that stupid Muffliato spell, I couldn't hear anything!"
"Get hold of Ron then, when you know Harry's out of the way for sure and won't interfere?" suggested Ginny. "He's not as good at keeping things hidden -- I mean, you'll be able to tell just by what colour his ears go, won't you?"
"Good point," said Hermione, calming slightly. "He'd better not be sniggering behind my back. He'd just better not, that's all. Or this time, it'll be eagles I set on him."
Fortunately, Ginny's presence at Grimmauld Place proved to be quite helpful towards getting Harry out of the way. The following morning he offered (slightly too casually) to give her a guided tour of the household renovations after breakfast. Hermione waited until they were safely out of view (probably hiding in a spare room and snogging, she thought sardonically), then turned to Ron, who was still steadily working his way through a small mountain of toast and marmalade.
"Er, Ron?" she said, trying to keep her voice as calm and neutral as possible.
"What are you talking to Harry about behind my back?"
Ron choked so badly on the slice of toast he was attempting to swallow whole that Hermione felt quite alarmed. "Anapneo," she said hastily, pointing her wand at him and waiting for him to take a few deep breaths. "So I take it from that reaction that you are then?"
"N-no, of course not," he said in a thoroughly unconvincing manner, all too familiar from past experience of asking if he'd done his homework.
"So when the two of you suddenly go quiet and look shifty as soon as I walk into the room, that's just pure coincidence then?" she asked, beginning to fire up. "Honestly, Ron! Do you think I'm stupid or something?"
"Of course I don't," he said, reddening. "I've never thought that."
"Well what is it? Are you two ... oh I don't know, comparing me and Lavender as snogs or something? Honestly, Ron, I didn't think you'd sink that low!"
"Of course we're not!" Ron yelled, jumping to his feet angrily, his ears crimson. "Do you really think, after all this time, that I -- that we -- think so little of you? That I'm like ... like ... like that McLaggen git going round bragging to everybody about having pulled you! Honestly, Hermione," he mimicked, "I didn't think you'd sink that low!"
"Well what was I supposed to think?" she yelled back (making a quick mental note to hit Cormac McLaggen with a really severe Itching Hex if she ever ran across him again). "And just for your information, Ron, I pulled him, he didn't pull me! And it wasn't like you ever stopped flaunting Lavender at me!"
"Yeah, well --" he paused temporarily in search of a good comeback "-- you were always writing letters the length of the Encyclopaedia Sorceriana to Vicky-poo in front of me! And just for your information, Hermione, I don't have nice long talks with Harry about how we ... well, about how we .. oh you know, snog, and I didn't about Lavender, either!"
He stormed out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind him. Hermione sat there, quietly breathing fire, until a startled Harry and Ginny poked their heads around the kitchen door.
"I'll go and talk to Ron," muttered Harry, recognising the situation at a glance. Ginny nodded, and sat down with a seething Hermione as he dashed up the stairs.
He found Ron in their room, throwing a Quaffle against the wall with such violence it seemed as if he had a personal grudge against it.
"Er -- so all this, was it because you told her, then?" he asked, trying to sound sympathetic rather than hopeful.
That managed to calm Ron down quite a lot. "That? No," he said morosely. "She's just got it into her head that we're ... oh I don't know, making dirty jokes about her behind her back or something. Why can't things ever be easy with us?"
"Dunno, mate." Harry hesitated; he really didn't need his friends arguing right now, but long experience told him that there was nothing much he could say that would make any difference. "So, er, you didn't tell her -- well, you know ..."
"No, I didn't," he snorted, starting to throw the Quaffle again. "Doesn't look like she's going to listen to me any more than you at the moment, does it? You tell her, mate."
Harry swallowed. "Right. I'll do it. Yeah."
Ron's jaw dropped. "You will?" he asked hopefully.
"Yeah. Er, just as soon as I get back from Luna's place tomorrow. Yeah. Maybe."
Fortunately for everyone's peace of mind, Ron and Hermione had patched things up by the following morning to the extent of talking to each other somewhat stiffly across the breakfast table. Hermione was still feeling mildly annoyed, however, by the time she and Harry left for the Lovegood residence the following afternoon. As they Apparated outside the house, she mentally chastised herself; after all, what they were doing was rather more important than petty squabbling.
Their plan was one of a number they'd come up with during their ways and means brainstorming session (or at any rate, while she'd still been awake). The idea was to persuade Mr Lovegood to inform them of any and all rumours of fabled Gryffindor or Ravenclaw artefacts that reached the ears of the Quibbler. Luckily, he didn't seem to require much persuasion; indeed, he seemed delighted to see Harry (who had, after all, given him the interview that had started his circulation rising), and only too excited to find someone taking a genuine interest in his stories.
Hermione exchanged a look of sympathy with Harry, waved him off into the study with Mr Lovegood, and sat down with Luna at the kitchen table. She was surprised to realise that she actually felt quite glad of Luna's company, although she viewed the glass of black liquid she was offered with trepidation.
"What's this, Luna?" she asked, wondering if she really wanted to hear the answer.
"Dandelion and burdock," said Luna, looking even more surprised than usual.
"Oh!" Hermione sipped at it guiltily; she hadn't expected Luna to serve anything quite so ... well, normal. "It's a lot sweeter than I remember."
"Oh, I always add a few spoons of honey and a touch of cinnamon," explained Luna with a vague smile. "Just to give it a bit more body, you know? Where are Ronald and Ginny?" she asked, gazing around curiously as if expecting to see them leap out from behind a passing Snorkack.
"Oh, him ... them ... they're still at, erm, our temporary headquarters." Ron (perhaps wisely, in the circumstances) had announced he was going to stay behind to test the twins' latest inventions, and Ginny, once over her initial annoyance at Harry's insistence that this trip was something he couldn't tell her about, had agreed to help. Hermione tried to keep her voice neutral, but had a sinking feeling that she hadn't succeeded.
Sure enough, Luna stared at her with her protuberant eyes. "Have the two of you had another of those rows?" she asked simply. "It's rather a shame, you do seem very fond of each other really."
"Nothing out of the ordinary," said Hermione, turning faintly pink. "And our little arguments don't matter too much now, do they, not while we're ... well, while there's a war on. It wouldn't even matter if we couldn't stand each other."
"But it would to you, Hermione," said Luna. "And I imagine it would to Ronald as well, he seems to take things to heart. And it wouldn't be very nice for Harry either, would it?"
"Yes, well ..." Hermione looked away. Luna had a disconcerting habit of just saying whatever she thought without concerning herself with the effect it might have; which was all very well in itself, but could be awkward at times like this. On the other hand, it could also be very useful if you really wanted a frank opinion ... "There's something they're not telling me," she burst out. "And every time I tackle them on the subject they get evasive, and I don't like not knowing what it is."
"But you're not telling me something either, are you?" said Luna, surprising her. "I mean, I can ask Daddy later what Harry wants -- but he might not tell me, of course, if Harry asked him to promise not to. But that's all right, you've probably got to keep it hush-hush, haven't you?"
"Whatever your big secret to do with You-Know-Who is." Luna looked at her seriously. "I do believe you'd tell me if it wasn't very important that you didn't, so don't worry, I don't mind, I trust you. But maybe what Ronald and Harry know is important too? Perhaps they can't tell you without hurting you?"
"What could they possibly not be able to tell me without hurting me?" said Hermione, baffled.
"I don't know," said Luna. She gazed at her friend and her lip trembled slightly. "I do so hope there's nothing wrong though. You got hurt in that fight at Harry's aunt's house, didn't you? Daddy says that sometimes when you get hit with serious curses funny things can happen, it could trigger Steggenhauser's Syndrome or something."
"Steggenhauser's Syndrome?" asked Hermione, again with the feeling that she might regret doing so.
"It's a bit like being caught in a cloud of Wrackspurts," said Luna earnestly. "Your brain keeps going fuzzy and you get very tired without knowing why. It helps a bit with the symptoms if you tie sprigs of mint to your ears, but to cure it properly you need some tail hairs from a Galloping Guzzlebat, and they're really hard to catch ..."
"That makes it awkward, then," said Hermione, managing to keep her face admirably straight. She was pleased to discover that she found it much easier these days to avoid hurting Luna's feelings by snapping at her wilder flights of fancy. She couldn't avoid a twinge of worry, though; Steggenhauser's Syndrome was probably complete nonsense, but the basic idea sounded horribly plausible. Were Harry and Ron simply scared to tell her that she was suffering from some terrible curse cast on her during the fight?
Hermione shivered. Now she found that she too didn't quite know how to bring the subject up.
The answer was waiting in the living room when they arrived back at Grimmauld Place. "Wotcher, Hermione!" she said cheerily, waving as she walked in.
"Tonks?" said Harry, surprised, as he followed her in. "What's the matter?"
She did a double-take and looked at him wryly. "Oh, right. Wotcher, Harry. Remus told me about that charm of Flitwick's -- neat! Any developments on what you talked about at the shop?" She gave him a darkly significant look.
"Er, not really," said Harry, seeming apologetic. "Look ... can we discuss it a bit later? I'd like to have a word with Ginny and Ron first."
"Yeah, no problem," said Tonks, winking at him. "I'll be catching up with Hermione."
Hermione smiled. She was looking forward to hear what had been happening with Tonks since the last time they'd met, at Bill and Fleur's wedding. However, a few minutes and some Conjured cups of tea later, Hermione found herself explaining her own recent experiences rather than listening to those of the Auror.
"... and there's obviously something they aren't telling me, and Luna suggested there might be some long-term curse effects, Tonks, and she could be right, couldn't she?" she finished bleakly. "The Death Eaters would love to target Muggle-borns specifically, wouldn't they?"
"Well yes, I suppose they would." Tonks bit her lip. "Er, Hermione, while we're on that subject, you don't have any ...?"
"Any what?" said Hermione curiously.
The young Metamorphmagus looked rather embarrassed. "How well do you know your family history?" she asked evasively.
Hermione blinked. "Quite well, really ... My gran's into genealogy, she's researched a lot of it. Why?"
"Well, you don't know of any relatives who might have been ... erm, a wizard or witch?"
Hermione stared at her. "I don't think so."
"It's just with all your ... um, talents ... I wondered what you might have in the blood somewhere if you traced it back."
"Nothing that I know of," she said, somewhat coolly. "And before you ask, no, my gran definitely didn't find anybody called Hector Dagworth-Granger in the family tree!"
"Who?" said Tonks blankly.
"He founded the Most Extraord- oh, never mind. Don't you think a Muggle-born can have strong magical talents then?" she asked, with a hint of challenge. The implications of Tonks' line of questioning were beginning to worry her.
Tonks looked horrified and waved her hands in denial, accidentally sending her teacup flying. "Oh sorry! ... no, of course I didn't mean that, Hermione! I mean, look at Dad! Look at me, for that matter -- there's no history of Metamorphmagi in the family, no-one's sure where I get it from!"
"I suppose not ..." Hermione glanced at Tonks' hair, which today was a shade of orange so bright it made Ron's Chudley Cannons replica robes look muted. "Has the Metamorphosing come back fully, then?" she asked with curiosity.
"Oh, this," said Tonks, flicking her hair. "Yeah. Funny thing, spell shock -- St. Mungo's said it can have odd effects on innate powers. It can trigger them, or it can make you lose them for a while."
"You mean the loss of powers was down to what happened to you at the Department of Mysteries?" asked Hermione, raising her eyebrows in mild scepticism. "I thought it was to do with --" she coughed, with slight discomfiture "-- well, you know. Um, Padfoot and Moony?"
"Mixture of things," said Tonks, her face clouding over. "I don't know what curse Mad Aunt Bella got me with, but whatever it was, it was a real shock to the system. Then as soon as I woke up they told me what happened to Sirius. And then right after we waved you lot off at the station, Remus took me aside and did his stupid 'We have to break up for your own good' thing and left me completely floored."
"So the whole lot together did it?"
"Yeah. Shock and emotional upheaval, not a good combination. And then ... well look, Hermione, I had a year of trying to mix Hogsmeade patrol and Order work and not go out of my mind with worry at what the prat was up to with Greyback! I was under such constant strain I didn't even feel like trying to Metamorphose." She smiled bitterly, but her voice was sympathetic. "Seems to have affected you the opposite way, but I bet you're going through the same thing now, aren't you? Tense? Under strain? Scared for yourself, and your friends, and your loved ones?"
Hermione looked away; all of a sudden, she couldn't meet Tonks' eye. "I am scared, yes," she whispered. "Not just that though ... I'm scared I'll let us all down if we get in another fight like Privet Drive. I know I do panic sometimes ..."
"We all do," interrupted Tonks firmly. "Even Harry. Even Mad-Eye, although he'll swear blind he doesn't. That's what happens in combat. I know it's horrible, Hermione, but ... all I can say is, you'll get used to it. Honestly. I did. I wish you didn't need to, but when you know it's important, I suppose you just do it because you have to. You're a good sort, girl, and so are Harry and Ron. You've all got each other to lean on. That's really important right now."
"And you've got Remus," said Hermione in realisation. "Is that what changed the Metamorphosing?"
Tonks smiled. "I suppose it was. We sat down and had a proper talk after I'd embarrassed myself in front of you all. No more being bloody stupid and noble, no more arguments. I love you. You love me. Let's hope we both survive this war, but in case we don't, let's be together while we can. It was such a powerful rush of relief after the shock of losing Dumbledore I suddenly found I could do it again." She finally managed to catch Hermione's eye. "And you've got Ron now, haven't you? That's the same for you, isn't it?"
"Probably." She looked at Tonks unhappily. "I wish we could end the arguments, but ... he and Harry say they aren't keeping something from me, but I'm sure they are, Tonks, and that's scaring me too. It's not something to do with my family, is it?" she said sharply.
"Why would it be?" Tonks looked startled.
Hermione sighed in exasperation. "Because of what you've been asking me? And the way you just looked away from me again when I asked you about it?" The expression on Tonks' face gave her all the confirmation she needed. "What is it with people around here?" she cried. "Will no-one give me a straight answer any more? What can be so terrible none of you can even tell me about it! Are Mum and Dad OK?"
The older woman looked discomfited. She seemed to come to a decision. "Hermione ... oh sod it, you're right, love. This has gone on long enough. It's about time someone knocked a bit of sense into those two on your behalf."
"No, please ..." said Hermione, aghast. "I didn't mean that, I can fight my own battles!"
Tonks shook her head decisively. "This is important, Hermione," she said. "I'm going to have a word with Remus and see what he thinks. He knows Harry and Ron better than I do. Stay here." She leapt up, managing to stumble only slightly, and left the room. Hermione gazed after her with a horrified expression.
She wasn't sure quite how long she sat there, frozen with embarrassment at the thought of what might happen next. She could hear raised voices from the kitchen downstairs, but was unable to make out what was being said. It was hard to imagine what could be so appalling that Ron and Harry were scared to tell her about it. Eventually, she heard footsteps on the stairs, and they came in. They sat down on the sofa on either side of her; but positively radiated awkwardness and discomfort, and wouldn't look her in the eye.
Remus Lupin followed and surveyed them from the doorway. "Hermione, I think Harry and Ron have something they need to say to you," he said quietly. When the boys looked at him in alarm, he shook his head firmly. "No, it's time. You do your friend a disservice by not telling her something this important."
Hermione gaped; Ron looked rather shamefaced and contrite; and for some reason Harry seemed absolutely stricken. Both of them glanced up at Lupin and nodded soberly.
"Good," he said, nodding back at them. "I'll leave you to it then. I'll be with Tonks if you need us."
The silence stretched out after he left until Hermione's patience finally snapped. "Well?"
"Well what?" said Ron weakly, reaching out to take her hand. She smacked it away in annoyance.
"Well, what's this big secret you apparently have? Are you actually going to tell me at last, or are you just going to faff around all evening again?"
Harry gave a huge sigh and got up from the sofa. He crossed to the other side of the room and tapped a section of wall twice with his wand. From behind the cupboard door that appeared he removed a small stone basin with elaborate rune carvings, which he placed with care on the table in front of them.
Hermione stared at it. She'd never seen the thing before, but she knew what it must be. "That's Dumbledore's Pensieve, isn't it? Did he --" she gulped "-- did he leave you a message about me?"
Harry exchanged glances with Ron, which only increased her sense of foreboding. "Not as such," he said. "This is something ... well, you'll see. If I do it right." A curious expression crossed his face as he gripped his wand and took a deep breath; then with enormous concentration, he placed the tip of his wand against his own temple, carefully drew out a silvery thread of thought, and deposited it in the basin.
Hermione watched with fascination. "What's the memory, Harry?" she asked, in a rather shaky voice.
Harry looked over again to Ron, who nodded grimly. "This is what happened that night in Godric's Hollow when you 'fell asleep'," he said quietly, taking the Pensieve into his hands and swirling the contents around. He smiled faintly at her. "I just hope you don't wish we'd kept you in the dark a bit longer."
He prodded the silvery surface of the memory with his wand. Three translucent figures took shape; Hermione watched in amazement as a scene she remembered unfolded. Harry and Ron were talking in low voices, discussing how they could avoid letting anyone else know what they were doing, and wondering how they could possibly accomplish their self-imposed task without help. She herself was sitting back, saying little, the tiredness she remembered feeling showing clearly in her face.
All of a sudden, her Pensieve-self sat bolt upright. As the other two looked at her, startled, she began to speak in a harsh voice utterly unlike her own:
"The One has set out on his journey, but such is his power the Dark Lord knows not that he can be far more than One. In order for him to prevail, he must not seek to stand alone now that he has reached manhood, and must not close his heart to those who would aid him, for his need is to be accompanied by friendship and true love ..."
There was complete silence for at least a minute and a half while Hermione's mouth opened and closed wordlessly. Ron, who was looking horribly anxious, was the one to break it.
"Well, that's what we wanted to tell you, Hermione," he said, with a brightness that was so clearly forced it sounded positively inane. "Er ... it seems you're a Seer. Handy, eh?"
Harry groaned inwardly at the look on Hermione's face. That was definitely not the right thing to say. (He wasn't sure what was, mind you, but whatever it was, that wasn't it.) Five ... four ... three ...
Damn, his timing was out. "Um, Hermione, we didn't quite know how to tell you this," he said placatingly, jumping in, "but ... it, er, well it seems you're, um, possessed of the Inner Eye ..."
"Erm, yes, I checked with the Keeper of the Hall of Prophecy to see if it registered and everything, and it seems pretty definite that you really did ..."
"What?" Hermione's voice was much quieter this time.
"... apparently spell shocks and emotional upheavals can trigger off these latent powers ... Hermione?" he added anxiously as she slumped back in her seat. He and Ron exchanged glances.
"You don't think she's going to make another one, do you?" said Ron in a nervous voice.
Harry took a closer look and shook his head grimly. "Nah, mate. She's really fainted this time."
Hermione woke with a start.
It took her a moment or two to identify her surroundings. Bedroom. Number twelve, Grimmauld Place? Yes, that was right. She turned abruptly to see Ron sitting in a chair by her bedside, wearing a look of mingled relief and trepidation.
"So you're back with us then," he said in a joking voice, clearly trying to conceal his nerves.
Hermione sat up slowly and turned to him. "Ron ..."
She found she couldn't quite meet his eyes. "Was that ... the Pensieve ... what Harry showed us ... was that true?" she asked, quietly but with great intensity.
"The Seer thing?" Ron looked terrified, but nevertheless when he spoke it was with determination. "Yeah, Hermione. That's what happened, love. We've been trying to work out how to tell you for days."
"But ... how ...?"
"Well, it's like Tonks says, isn't it? You must have had these powers all the time, but it seems to need stress to trigger them off, or, you know, something emotional and stuff." He took her hand, and this time, she didn't bat it away. "She and Lupin thought it might be the combination of when that scum used Cruciatus on you, and all the strain we've been under recently. And well, you know ... us." His voice shook slightly. "Ginny and me were reading up on it in the library here while you were at Luna's. Looks like visiting Harry's dad's old place might just have been enough to tip you over the edge -- you know, a place of prophecy and all that? Resonances or something."
"Who else knows?"
"Just the Order ... we had to tell them you're a Seer, just in case," he replied with contrition.
"So. I'm a Seer, then," she said in a very small voice. "OK."
"Yeah. Mind not so hopelessly Mundane after all, eh?" This didn't get more than a weak smile in response, and Ron looked at her miserably. "Hermione, love, it wasn't that we were worried you'd go completely mental or anything that we didn't want to tell you. More, you know, we knew you'd be horrified, we know how much you hated Divinat ... umph!"
Whatever additional rambling apologies Ron had intended to make were cut short by Hermione kissing him more fiercely than she ever had before, and for a minute or two any further discussion would have been impossible (not that this actually bothered him, under the circumstances). When they finally came up for air he looked at her wide-eyed.
"You," she said, "are an idiot. No, don't say anything! You're an idiot, and Harry's an idiot, and at first I thought you didn't really want me with you, and then I was worried sick that you knew something terrible you wouldn't tell me, and it's actually just something ... well, all right, terrifying actually --" she gave a little shiver "-- but it's ... no, it's good. Really, it's good."
"You mean you don't mind?" His look of indignation gave way to a grin. "You don't mind having something in common with Trelawney?"
The same two expressions crossed her face in rapid succession. "Oh shut up," she said. "If I ever start looking in crystal balls, you have my permission to drop them on my head to knock some sense into me. But prophecies ... well, we know from what happened to Harry that they're important." The grin widened. "Anyway, I seem to be better than her. She just makes prophecies about other people. Looks like mine are personal, too."
"How do you mean?" asked Ron, looking bemused.
"Well, all that 'Harry's need is to be accompanied by friendship and true love' thing ... is there something you want to tell me, Ron?"
The usual shade of crimson spread across Ron's face and up into his ears. "C'mon, Hermione. You know I always ... I mean, I wanted ... I just... the Lavender thing was only because I was jealous of you and Vicky ... oh, you know it's you I want! Suppose I'm a bit obvious, I was just ... well, I never really knew if you thought about me that way ... umph!"
Hermione broke the kiss off more quickly this time, but she had a blazing look on her face that (had she but known it) was positively Ginnyish. "Shut up, you imbecile. Viktor's a nice man and a good friend, but that's all! I thought I'd dropped enough anvil-sized hints that it was you I wanted, but I was ... well, I was honestly never quite sure if you really felt like that back, Ron, or if you were jealous just because I was there and you were used to having me around and you felt as if you should be ... umph!"
Ron joined Harry in the other room half an hour later, trying (with very little success) to hide an enormous grin.
"Hermione's taking it well, then?" asked Harry, raising his eyebrows at this, but unable to keep the relief out of his voice.
"Yeah, it's all right about that. And well, it's all right about ... us, too. Erm, all right?"
Harry laughed loud and long at this, glad of the release of tension, and Ron joined in after a moment. He sobered up slightly when Hermione's possible reaction occurred to him. "She won't think we're laughing at her again, will she?"
Ron shook his head. "Don't be daft, Harry. We've got that sorted out now." He hesitated. "You all right with this new prophecy thing?"
"Yeah. It's the most positive suggestion I've heard for a while!"
"Great. Erm ... there is one more thing we're going to have to tell her about it, though, isn't there?"
"What's that, then?" asked Harry, although he knew perfectly well.
"Well, I think you need practice with that Pensieve thing, mate. You missed off that 'and he must not send away the latter in favour of the former' bit from the end," said Ron, shuffling his feet awkwardly. "So I reckon Hermione took that 'his need is to be accompanied by friendship and true love' stuff as meaning ... us, to be honest."
"When if the last bit means anything at all it probably means Ginny and ... well, me, yeah? You don't mind?"
Ron rolled his eyes in exasperation, and grinned. "Of course I don't mind. Well ... not really. I'd be daft if I did, wouldn't I? Especially after this."
"Good." Harry wasn't sure whether he minded or not; it was quite alarming in its own way. Then again, as prophecies went it made a very nice change from 'kill or be killed by a Dark Lord'.
"But you need to show her the full version sometime. Not that I'm complaining or anything," he added hastily, "it came in quite handy the way she took it ..."
"I thought it might."
Ron's jaw dropped. "You did it deliberately?"
Harry smirked. "One of my more brilliant ideas, yeah? If I've learned anything from Voldemort, it's that funny things can happen if you only hear part of a prophecy."
Ron was speechless for a moment. "Thanks, mate," he said awkwardly. "But we really should tell her. Do you want me to ...?"
"No, I'll tell her," Harry chuckled. "Just not quite yet ..."
Author's Notes: This admittedly somewhat offbeat oneshot grew out of an idea I thought of using as a ficathon exchange prompt, but decided to have a go at myself when I missed the deadline. The original prompt I had in mind was simply "Hermione discovers she's a Seer". Writing it myself meant that I had to come up with an actual prophecy, of course; both The Gift by swishandflick and Harry Potter and the Prophecy of the Strinx by Moon Weasley provided elements that I could use to construct it (with a different spin).
Thanks to all those who have provided helpful beta comments.