Disclaimer: After thousands upon thousands of fics, all
these characters still belong to J.K. Rowling. This one certainly isn’t going
to change that, now is it?
Chapter 1: Twelfth Night
“Is she dead, Harry?”
The question slashed through Harry’s fatigue like a
lightning bolt. Instantly he was sitting bolt upright on the camp bed. Ron was
sitting cross-legged on his own bed, staring dully at the frost on the bedroom
window while the tip of his dimly illuminated wand bounced irregularly off the
mattress. “What? Dead? Who?”
“Hermione – she’s not dead, is she?”
Confusion began to give way to panic. “Hermione? What’s
happened to her?” Harry gathered his wits as quickly as he could manage. If
Hermione’s life was in danger, Ron was being remarkably calm about it. And how
would he know about it, anyway? She hadn’t even been speaking to him for
several weeks now. Several long and, for Harry, brutish weeks. If she were in
some sort of danger, it wouldn’t be Ron that she would call on. More puzzled
now than panicked, Harry asked, “What are you talking about, Ron?”
“Well. We’ve been here twelve days now, right, and nobody
has so much as mentioned her name. It’s as if she were dead.” For the first
time, Ron turned to face Harry. The light coming from below him cast weird
shadows on his face, making him look impossibly haggard, even for this hour of
the night. “Why won’t anybody talk about her?”
Harry was really in no mood for this. He just wanted to
sleep, not that he would have been very close to that even without Ron’s ranting.
He was drained from the weeks of Hermione’s fury; worse yet, the holidays at
the Burrow, which were supposed to have been refreshing, had managed to turn
into a torment. Mercifully, they would come to an end in the morning, when he,
Ron, and Ginny would return to Hogwarts. And then he would have to deal with
A thousand answers to Ron’s latest question queued up on the
tip of Harry’s tongue, each one more snide and hurtful than the last. How
fortunate that he was too tired to blurt any of them out.
Christmas at the Burrow should have been wonderful, a time
to be spent at close quarters with a houseful of high-spirited Weasleys. Even
that disastrous visit from Percy and Scrimgeour, and all the awkwardness about
Hermione – yes, Harry had noticed it, too – wouldn’t have been able to spoil
it. But somehow Ginny did. There she was, lively, friendly, and devastatingly
attractive, and what with the Burrow being so crowded and cramped, she was
always right there, literally within arm’s reach. And completely
inaccessible. It had been twelve long days of unbroken frustration.
Harry had developed a lot of sympathy for Hermione.
And yet, in a small way, he actually envied her. At least
Hermione had the luxury of being able to hate Lavender, to hate her for being
mindless and shallow and able to waltz away effortlessly with Ron’s affections.
Harry couldn’t hate Dean like that. But for the fact that he was going out
with Ginny, Dean was just too bloody nice a bloke to hate.
Ron was saying, “… since you told me about her date with
McLaggen. I still can’t believe she went out with McLaggen.”
Harry had to agree with that. In fact, the more he thought
about it the less believable it got. But what he really couldn’t believe,
or even fathom, was that Hermione hadn’t asked Viktor to Slughorn’s
party. It would have been perfect, after all. There were no Quidditch games
at the holiday, so he would have been free to come. He could have stayed at
Hogwarts – Dumbledore had, after all, said that all the guests from the
Triwizard Tournament were welcome back any time. And just imagine Slughorn’s
reaction when Hermione delivered the great Viktor Krum to his little club! He
would have worshipped the ground she walked on. And then imagine Ron’s
reaction … Well, maybe Hermione wasn’t yet looking to destroy Ron completely.
And maybe Harry could spare a bit of his sympathy for Ron.
Hadn’t he also spent years with Hermione right there, but – at least in his
mind – completely inaccessible?
Harry shook off the fatigue long enough to try to say
something helpful. “But Ron, everybody already knows Hermione. Right now they’re
just more interested in finding out more about your girlfriend.”
“Fine,” Ron replied, sounding glum, “but I told them all
there is to know about her in the first two days.” Probably true, Harry
thought, you’d be able to do that with Lavender. Nobody, least of all Ron,
would ever imagine saying all there is to know about Hermione in two
days, but he wasn’t about to bring that up. “It’s got to be more than that,
though. Everyone’s avoiding talking about Hermione,” Ron continued.
Ron drew a deep breath. “Did you see that set of combs
Ginny got?” Yes, of course Harry had, and he really didn’t want to think about
how they looked in her hair, catching the light of the fire that one evening…
“… and all she would say is that they were a present from one of her friends at
school. ‘Anyone I know?’ I asked her, and d’you know what she said?” Harry
shook his head. “She said, ‘Oh, maybe, maybe not,’ and just trotted away. And
we haven’t seen those combs since, have we?” Mercifully, no. Harry shook his
head again in agreement. Of course he hadn’t mentioned the present Hermione
had given him. There hadn’t been any need to bring that up, nor had
there been any point in asking what she had given Ron for Christmas. If she
had given him anything at all, it would have been something that would make the
canary attack look mild.
“And then on Boxing Day I saw an unopened package under the
tree, so I asked Mum about it. She acted all flustered and said it was something
for my Auntie Ephasia and she’d forgot all about it. Then she just Banished
it, and rushed off to her room saying she had to owl Auntie Ephasia right away and
let her know about this package that would have just appeared.”
“Harry, I’ve never heard of Auntie Ephasia. I mean
really, it’s worse than with Percy. At least people get sad or angry or
something whenever he gets mentioned – and he does get
mentioned. With Hermione, everybody’s acting like she never existed, or
“Worse? What could be worse?”
Ron snorted. “Going over to the other side.”
“Hermione couldn’t go over to the other side, she’s
Muggle-born,” Harry mumbled sleepily.
“I know that!” Ron answered, rather sharply, and Harry started
in surprise. “Sorry. What I’m trying to say is, can’t anybody remember that
she’s part of our lives even if she’s not here?”
At least Ron seemed to understand that Harry was all but
falling asleep, and didn’t expect answers to all his questions. For that,
Harry was grateful. He didn’t want to say that he wasn’t even sure Hermione was
part of Ron’s life anymore. She didn’t seem to want to be any more than a
friend of a friend to him, if that much. And he, Harry, would have to be the
man in the middle for who knows how long.
“She’s been my best friend for years, and now she’s all
angry with me, and then my whole family goes and acts as if she doesn’t even
Ron fell silent, and Harry hoped that he would finally let
him sleep. In the morning they would go back to Hogwarts, and Harry would trade
the torment of having Ginny always just beyond his fingertips for the torment
of having one friend making a fool of himself with Lavender Brown and the other
at his throat because of it. The whole prospect made a long lie-in look like a
“What can I do, Harry?”
Harry closed his eyes and sighed quietly. Ron was perfectly
capable of being incredibly dense, but this took the biscuit. A bat
could see what Ron needed to do: dump Lavender and hope for the best from
Hermione. But Ron wasn’t going to be able to hear that answer just now. Too
tired to think anymore but needing a reply, Harry offered something he knew
wouldn’t work. “Well, Ron, you could try being a bit more –” Suddenly
realizing that he was about to turn a bad situation into a disaster, Harry
barely stopped himself before suggesting that Ron be a bit more private with
Lavender. Oh, he would prefer not having to see them snogging all the
time in front of the whole world. But Hermione would certainly assume
the worst if Ron and Lavender suddenly started being discreet. Of course, she
had been so bloody private with Viktor that neither he nor Ron ever had any
idea what they had or hadn’t done. Ron, being Ron, had always assumed the
worst – and that’s what had got them to where they were today.
“A bit more what?” Ron was asking anxiously.
“Just a bit nicer to her,” Harry answered with a yawn,
knowing that that wouldn’t work but that at least it wouldn’t make matters
worse. He pulled his blanket over his shoulders peremptorily, closed his eyes,
and added, “She should come round eventually.” Yes, she should, he thought – about
when Malfoy rises up for house-elf rights.
A/N: Aphasia is an inability to use language to express
ideas, as, I suspect, Molly well knows.