"This life's dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye."
-William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel
Author’s note: Before reading, say this three times fast: Did he see
what he saw when he saw what it seemed?
Part 1 – Don’t Shoot The Messenger
Ron Weasley looked up as a small, brown shape rocketed through the window.
In seconds, Pigwidgeon was fluttering wildly around his head and twittering
like something possessed.
“Hold still, you stupid git,” Ron muttered as he tried to untie the note
from the tiny bird’s leg. The knot was so tight he finally had to reach
for his wand. “Abscido,” he said, and the parchment fell into his
hand. Pig immediately took flight again, his wings frantically beating
the air as he hovered over Ron’s shoulder.
“Ginny!” Ron called. “Can you please do something with this owl?”
“Oh, good, is Pig back?” Ginny paused as she entered the kitchen. “What’s
the matter with him? I’ve never seen him this upset.”
“How should I know? He just came through the window like that, and you’re
the only one who knows how to calm him down,” Ron said. He stared at the
parchment, wondering why he suddenly dreaded opening it.
Ginny held out a hand to Pig, who alighted reluctantly, clearly distressed
but unable to refuse her. Smoothing his feathers, Ginny looked curiously
at the paper in Ron’s hand. “Is that for me? I’d sent a note to Hermione,
I was hoping she’d write back.”
At the mention of Hermione’s name, Pig’s feathers ruffled again and he
resumed his excited twittering. As Ginny murmured, “Shhh, shhhh,” and
scratched that special spot at the base of the bird’s neck, Ron rolled
the parchment over. Ron, it said clearly in Hermione’s slanted
“That’s odd,” Ginny said.
“Why? She’s my friend, too, way before she met you,” Ron heard the defensive
note in his voice and regretted it immediately. Truth was, he was a bit
unnerved at getting a note from Hermione, especially with the way Pig
was acting, but he didn’t want to admit that to Ginny.
“Don’t get your knickers in a knot,” Ginny said. “I just expected her
to answer my letter, is all. She doesn’t get a chance to owl all that
often, unless someone sends her something first. So what’s she say?”
“If she wanted you to know, I’m sure she’d have put your name on this,
too,” Ron snapped.
“Who put crusty dragons in his breakfast, Pig?” Ginny turned to leave
the room, carrying the little owl. “C’mon, we’ll send her another note
ourselves, and tell her what a grumpy git my brother is.”
Ron stared at his name on the page until the lines began to wobble. He
hadn’t owled Hermione all summer, and hadn’t responded to the one letter
she’d sent him. Hi, how are you? she had written. I’ve been
talking to Harry, and he says . . . That was as much as he’d read
before he tossed it aside.
He hadn’t wanted to be jealous of Harry. Hadn’t thought it possible.
What with all that had happened to Harry that year, a bloke would have
to be completely barmy to want to change places with him. At least that’s
what Ron had thought, until that moment at the station when he’d seen
Hermione go up on tiptoe, reaching for Harry to kiss him goodbye.
He’d turned his head and hadn’t seen the actual kiss, but when he looked
back Harry had seemed mostly normal, only slightly surprised, like he
kissed Hermione every day but maybe not in public.
So that’s how it is, Ron had thought. You’d think they could
have let their best friend know.
And all the way home, wedged into the borrowed Ministry car between Ginny’s
trunk and Fred’s bony knees, he’d told himself he didn’t care. They
can snog themselves silly, what would it matter to me? he’d asked
himself. It’s not like I’d like to kiss Hermione or anything, no.
You’d be more likely to catch Harry snogging Draco, or Hermione running
off with Professor Snape. I’d rather snog Harry, if it comes to that,
and even in his irritation that image had made him chuckle. I’m not
jealous, he told himself. They can fancy one another, I don’t care.
Just wish they’d told me so I wouldn’t feel like such a git.
Harry hadn’t written much in the following month as the Dursleys didn’t
like Hedwig flying in and out. When he did write, he hadn’t mentioned
Hermione, and Ron couldn’t think of a way to bring it up. He’d tried asking
once, but when he looked at the letter her name flamed up from the page
as though he’d written it in fire and it was just so obvious that he threw
it away. The letter from Hermione had been the last straw. I’ve been
talking to Harry, and he says . . .
With an uncharacteristic sigh, Ron brought his mind back to the present,
and the parchment that was still in his hand. He broke the seal and unrolled
it, wincing unconsciously as he did so. Then his jaw fell open and he
simply stared in shock.
Can you meet me Tuesday afternoon at Diagon Alley? The Leaky
Cauldron, around one o’clock? Bring Muggle clothes, there’s a place I
know where we can talk. Send Pig back right away and say you’ll come.
Please, it’s very important.
Part 2 – Capri, Yeah, That’s It
Ron stood staring at the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies, watching
his reflection shift nervously from foot to foot. He’d arrived early in
hopes that some window-shopping at his favorite store would calm him down,
but so far it wasn’t working. Not even the Cannons posters on display
with the newest Firebolts could take his mind off the scenes he kept seeing
in his head.
In the 24 hours since he’d first read Hermione’s note, several scenarios
had played out in his mind. In the first, Hermione would tell him something
terrible had happened to Harry and throw herself, sobbing, into his arms.
Ron didn’t think this was very likely – the Ministry was keeping an eye
on Harry and his dad would have let him know immediately if anything had
Then there was the second possibility. Hermione would tell him that she
and Harry had had a horrible fight and throw herself, sobbing, into his
arms. Truthfully, Ron thought this scene was even less likely than the
first. If she hadn’t confided in him when they were happy with one another,
she certainly wouldn’t be seeking him out if they’d had a row.
Which left the last possibility – the scariest because it was the most
probable. What if something awful had happened to Hermione? Like Malfoy
showing up at her parents’ practice pretending to want his teeth cleaned,
or the Dark Mark flying over her house? She’d tell him about it, her face
drawn and pale, and throw herself, sobbing, into his arms. But if that
were the case, why tell him? Why not go to Harry, he was the big
hero, Ron was just . . .
He spun around and there she was. Her hair was tamer than usual, caught
in a clip at the nape of her neck. She didn’t look distraught or pale,
she looked . . .
“Suntanned?” Ron blurted. “You’re all brown.”
Hermione shrugged. “We went on holiday, sailing off Minorca. We just
got back a couple of days ago.”
“We being . . .?” Ron couldn’t stop himself from asking.
She looked surprised. “Mum and Dad and me, of course.”
“And . . .?”
“And my cousin Winifred met us on the last day as well.” She shook her
head slightly. “Satisfied?”
“Whatever.” If she didn’t want to admit Harry had been along, it was
her business. Or maybe the Dursleys hadn’t let him go, and that’s what
she wanted to complain about. She’d say, “Oh, it’s so unfair!” and throw
herself, sobbing, into his arms.
“Ron, are you quite all right?” Hermione was looking at him curiously.
“’Course I am,” he said. “So what’s all this about?”
“Let’s head back to the Leaky Cauldron so we can get to the Muggle side,”
she said, looking over shoulder. “I’d rather talk out there.”
Ron tried not to look at her as they headed back toward the pub, but
it was hard. The holiday had done her good. She looked great with a tan,
and the dark circles he remembered from the last month of school were
no longer under her eyes. He wondered if Harry liked her hair like that.
He wasn’t sure if he did or not – it looked nice, but he found himself
wanting to release it into the wanton cloud of curls he was used to.
As they reached the doorway she interrupted his thoughts – stopped them
dead, really – with a hand on his arm. “Thank you for coming,” she said
softly. “I . . . I can’t tell you how glad I was to see you standing there
He didn’t know how to answer that, so he just swallowed hard and said,
“Well, go on, then,” and followed her into the gloomy pub. Once inside,
he pulled his robe over his head and looked for a place to hang it on
the coat rack by the door.
“Oh, here, give it to me. I’ll put shrinking charms on them and you can
put them in your pocket.” Hermione stepped out of her own robe and Ron’s
mouth went dry. She was wearing a sleeveless shirt, tied at her waist,
and a pair of pants that ended just below her knees, showing off very
shapely calves. There was a word for those pants, Ginny had told him once,
but he couldn’t think of it just now. He couldn’t think of his own name,
his mind being filled with the tanned skin shown off nicely by her shirt
and the graceful curve of her hips. Did she always look like this
under her robes?
She handed him back the now mouse-sized robes and led the way out the
door and into the crowded Muggle street. “The park’s this way,” she said,
moving confidently through the throng of people. Ron noticed one young
man in particular turning his head to watch her walk by, and couldn’t
stop himself from jostling him roughly as he passed.
“Bloody idiot, why don’t you watch where you’re walking?” he called,
moving closer to Hermione.
After a few blocks the crowd had thinned out, but still they didn’t speak.
Occasionally Ron would glance towards her and notice her looking at him,
causing them both to look swiftly away. Unconsciously, he slowed down
a bit, drifting behind her to watch her hips sway as she walked.
“It’s just ahead, now,” Hermione said, looking over her shoulder. Realizing
what he was doing, Ron flushed and quickened his pace to come beside her.
“Er, so how’s Harry?” he asked.
She looked surprised. “Fine, I suppose. You’ve probably heard from him
since I have. He rang me twice, early on, when the Dursleys were out,
but we haven’t talked in a few weeks now.”
It was Ron’s turn to look surprised. If she were my girl, I wouldn’t
go weeks without ringing her up, he thought. Assuming, of course,
I could work out how to use a telephone.
They turned between two gateposts into a quiet park. A leafy canopy shaded
the path which wound toward a small lake. Benches sat here and there along
the way. Ron could see a man walking his dog around the lake. Other than
that, there was no one in sight.
“Let’s sit down.” Hermione led the way to the first bench and sat, motioning
for Ron to take the place beside her. He did so, looking at her expectantly.
“I wanted to talk to you because, um . . .” She looked around as though
watching for listeners, glanced back at his face and then to the ground.
“I have something I need to tell you. Something important.”
Here it comes, thought Ron. Here’s where she tells me she’s
seeing Harry, like I’m some blind prat and couldn’t see what happened
at the station. He steeled himself for the words.
“I’m not going back to Hogwarts.”
Part 3 – I’m Not Stupid, You Know
Ron was stunned. “What do you mean, you’re not going back to Hogwarts?”
Hermione wouldn’t look at him. “Just what I said, Ron. I’m not going
back. I’ve thought and thought about it, and I just can’t.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Ron! Keep your voice down, please,” Hermione pleaded, looking around.
“This is bad enough without you yelling at me.”
“And what about Harry? What does he say about this?”
“Er . . . I was hoping you’d tell him for me,” Hermione said softly.
“Me?” Ron was flabbergasted. “Look, Hermione, I think you’d better tell
me exactly what’s going on.”
“Okay, okay. I owe you that, I know.” She was quiet for a moment, gathering
her thoughts. “When we got back from Minorca, there was a letter for my
“From Malfoy?” asked Ron, remembering his speculation as to why she’d
want to meet.
“From Dumbledore.” She pulled a folded piece of paper from her back pocket
and handed it to him.
Even his agitation couldn’t stop the thought, Wow, she actually had
something in that pocket? He unfolded the sheet to see Headmaster
Dumbledore’s spidery handwriting.
Dear Mr and Mrs Granger:
If you’ve been reading the Daily Prophet, you’re aware that
families such as yours are in particular danger at this time. I must ask
that you refrain from taking holidays such as your recent trip to Minorca
without informing me of your plans. We were a bit taken aback to find
you absent when we arrived to set up protective wards at your home. Thankfully,
Winifred was able to locate you quickly and you were quite safe.
We have erected several magical wards that will warn you
of any Dark Magic occurrences in the area. In the event of such a circumstance,
a Portkey will automatically be activated to bring you directly to Hogwarts.
Winifred will explain the particulars. In addition, a young woman named
Ginger Vitas will be calling on your dental practice within a few days.
I trust you will find her a place on your staff. She will screen your
appointments for dangerous individuals and may also have some helpful
suggestions about the pharmaceutical and equipment salespeople who call
on your office.
While these measures may seem extreme to you, let me assure
you they are absolutely necessary. Our only goal is to ensure the safety
of your family, and in that I trust I will have your complete cooperation.
Ron stared at the page, pretending to read even after he had finished.
He had to handle this properly or she’d be gone, away from Hogwarts, out
of his grasp forever. He searched for the right words and finally looked
“Hermione, every Wizarding family has wards around its home. It’s nothing
to get so upset about.”
Wrong choice. “But we’re NOT a Wizarding family!” she cried. “My parents
are dentists, they shouldn’t be afraid to make appointments or go on holiday.”
“You are a Wizarding family,” Ron said gently. “You’re part of the family,
Wrong again. “That’s just it,” she said sadly. “It’s because of me my
parents are in this danger. It’s my fault. If anything happens to them,
because of me . . .” her voice broke and she began to cry softly. “So
I’m not going back. I’m dropping out of Hogwarts, I’m going to stop being
“Hermione.” Although he’d imagined it many times, the sound of her actually
sobbing completely undid Ron. He’d relished the thought of her turning
to him for comfort, she who was always so self-possessed finally needing
him. What he hadn’t counted on was feeling absolutely helpless in the
face of her tears. “Hermione, don’t. Please don’t cry.” Tentatively, he
reached out and touched her shoulder. She turned toward him then and he
found his arms around her, her tears wetting his neck, his cheek against
“It’s not like that, you know,” he said quietly, stroking her back. “You
can’t just decide to stop being who you are.”
“But . . .” she leaned back to look at him and he shushed her with a
finger on her lips.
“You can’t leave Hogwarts. I won’t let you,” he said, cupping her face
in his hand and clumsily wiping away her tears with his thumb. “You can’t
. . .” he hesitated, but took a deep breath and went on, “you can’t leave
me.” And then he kissed her.
Although he’d imagined it a hundred times, he wasn’t prepared for the
reality of her lips under his. The softness, the taste of her, the way
her arms pulled at him and his hands pressing her closer, closer.
“Ron,” she gasped, when he moved away slightly, “Oh, Ron,” and she pulled
him to her again.
“You have to stay,” he said finally, holding her close, her head cradled
against his chest. “You have to fight it. You’re the smartest witch Hogwarts
has ever seen, if anyone can think of a way to defeat You-Know-Who and
the Death Eaters, it’s you.”
“You believe that?” Hermione looked up at him and he met her eyes.
“Of course I do. The whole Wizarding world is counting on you, you and
Harry . . .” his voice faltered and he broke off.
Harry. Oh, bloody hell. What had he just done, kissing Harry’s
girl? And what was she thinking, kissing him back like that? Abruptly,
Ron got up and walked a few steps away, ignoring Hermione’s surprised
“Ron? Ron, what is it?” She moved quickly to step in front of him, but
he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“Harry, that’s what,” he said in a hoarse voice.
She seemed confused. “What about Harry?”
“What about him?” Ron’s voice rose. “How can you say that? After
. . . well, I mean, I know about you two.” Her brow knotted as she stared
at him, and he shrugged. “I saw you kiss him at the station. I’m not stupid,
Her jaw dropped. “You saw what?”
“You kissed him goodbye,” Ron said stubbornly. “You think I don’t know
what that meant?”
To his complete astonishment, she started to laugh. “Oh, honestly, Ron.
Did you actually see me kiss him?”
It was his turn to stare. “Well, not exactly,” he admitted. “I saw you
were going to and I . . . well, I didn’t want to watch,” he finished primly.
Hermione stepped closer to him. “I kissed him like this,” she said, going
up on tiptoe. He bent his head slightly and felt the feather-light brush
of her lips on his cheek. “That’s all.”
Ron was silent. In his head, the events of the day were rearranging themselves
in light of this new information and an astonishing thought was forming.
“You mean . . .?”
She smiled a sly and amazingly sexy smile that he’d never seen before.
“If he were my boyfriend, I’d have kissed him like this,” she said, sliding
her hand up his arm and across his shoulder to curl her fingers in the
hair at the nape of his neck. Pulling his head down to meet hers, she
pressed her lips against his, opening her mouth slightly and teasing him
with the tip of her tongue. Ron responded with an intensity that left
them both breathless.
“You see the difference, then?” Hermione gasped, a few moments later.
“Maybe you could show me again?” Ron grinned. “You’re always trying to
tell me that repetition is the key to good study habits.”
She smiled, but kept him at arm’s length, apparently searching for words.
“Ron, did you read the letter I sent a few weeks ago?” she finally asked.
“Um, no,” he admitted. “I thought you and Harry were, well, you know,
and when your letter started off talking about him, I just couldn’t bear
it. I threw it away.”
“Oh,” she said in a small voice. “Well, that explains a lot. You might
have saved yourself a bit of trouble if you’d read it.”
The meaning of this slowly dawned on Ron. “Oh, no. Did you . . .”
She nodded. “Poured out everything. Told you exactly what I’d been feeling.
Harry had worked it out, see, and he told me he thought you felt the same
way, just needed a kick in the head to realize it.” She looked up at him
then, her eyes suspiciously bright. “When you didn’t respond, I thought
you hated me. That’s why we went on holiday. Mum and Dad didn’t know what
was wrong, but they planned the trip to cheer me up.”
Another thought came to Ron. “Hermione,” he said, catching her hands
and holding them close to his chest, “Is that why you were so ready to
She avoided his gaze. “You saw the letter. I really am frightened for
my parents, and I really do feel it’s my fault somehow for involving them
in all this.” He was quiet, waiting, and she finally looked at him. “Okay,
yes, I was embarrassed, I was angry, I was sad and if I couldn’t even
be your friend I didn’t feel much like fighting anymore. There didn’t
seem to be any point.”
He wrapped his arms around her waist to pull her closer. “If you were
sure that I hated you, why did you ask me to meet you today?”
She wriggled to get away but he wouldn’t let go. Relenting, she slid
her arms around his neck and hid her face against his chest. “I wanted
to see you again,” she said in a muffled voice. “I hoped you would think
it was about Harry and come, however you felt about me.”
There was nothing for that but to kiss her again. When he could speak,
he asked in a quiet voice, “Hermione? Would you have done it? Could you
have walked away from Hogwarts, from magic and all that?”
“Don’t you understand?” she asked, looking up into his face. “Leaving
magic was nothing compared to the thought of losing you.”
And Ron knew just how to answer that.