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Chapter 2: Chapter 2
With great economy and agitation, Ron moved about his small office gathering the necessary items for his upcoming mission. As he picked up Moody’s file for a quick once over, he heard a slight rapping at the door. He glanced up quickly to spot a dark mess of hair and spectacles peaking around the edge of the doorframe.
“Hey Harry,” he greeted as he looked back down at the file again nervously scanning its contents before finally stowing it into his satchel.
“Do you have time to catch some breakfast?” Harry inquired.
“Actually, I was just about to shove off.”
Ron contemplated whether or not he should let Harry in on where he was about to go and for what purpose. On the one hand, Harry had always been there for him even when everyone, including his own family, had dismissed his theories. On the other, Harry had been increasingly distant as of late. Against his better judgment, he relented.
“Um… well, Harry… I was just going to… you see… Moody just gave me this report and…”
At the mere mention of Mad Eye, Harry’s entire disposition changed.
“Oh Ron, no. Not again! How many times do you have to put yourself through this before you finally understand that she’s...”
Harry couldn’t finish the sentence. Instead he looked down and away, huffed out a large breath of aggravation, and began to pace the room like a caged animal.
“For Merlin’s sake Ron, how many more of Moody’s wild goose chases will you go on?”
“This is it, Harry. I can feel it. Here, look…”
At this, Ron reached back into his satchel for the file. “Take a look. It has to be him. The eyewitness’ description is just too exact. The location makes perfect sense in relation to the last battle and how far they might have been able to travel.”
Harry waved the file away.
“No, Ron. It’s not possible. After all this time, don’t you think if they were that close we would have found them?”
“But this is just like Malfoy. To be hiding her right under our noses… If we go there and scope it out, I’m sure…
“No Ron.” Harry cut him off abruptly. “Just… no!”
Ron paused to take in the shift in Harry’s support.
“So, you won’t be coming then.” Ron asked uncertainly.
They both knew this was no longer a question of whether Harry would be joining him for the day, but more if he would be there for him from now on.
It broke Harry’s heart to hear the despondent tone in Ron’s voice. He could not even answer him with words. All he could manage was a quick shake of his head and then to refocus his eyes out the window to his left.
The realization that Harry was no longer the ally Ron once thought he was made his stomach turn. He had to swallow hard to keep down the bile rising in his throat. The ultimate disappointment and utter rage that was coursing through him was staggering. He closed himself off to control his reaction and put up a veritable wall of cold, fierce, silent anger.
“Fine.” he forced out through gritted teeth, and with that, Ron strode from the room.
Harry sat heavily into a chair and placed his head in his hands.
“What are you getting?” Sarah asked. “And remember, this is my treat to celebrate your new job.”
Peter glanced at her sideways with a small but proud grin playing across his fine features.
“I’m not certain… perhaps just a tea and a scone.” he answered.
“Ooohh, big spender!” She shot him a teasing smirk and an arched eyebrow.
His smile faltered. “To be honest, I’m feeling a little too tense to eat. I really want it to go well today. We need this… “
Sarah patted his arm gently. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fantastic. You’re a natural at this sort of thing,” she said soothingly.
Changing the subject, she handed him the money.
“Here. Can you order for me and pay? I need to use the loo. Get me the same. Tea, milk wiith one sugar, and a scone.
“Milk and one sugar.” he said at the same time as her. “Yes, I know.” He smiled at her warmly as he took the note.
She gave him a reassuring smile and a quick nod, then turned to make her way to the restroom. As she left, his confident smile fell into a deep scowl. Nervously, he watched her retreating form disappear into the back of the café. He had never been very good at this part. Sarah told him he only needed to practice, but the notes and coins always made him so confused for some reason. And once he was flustered, he couldn’t quite handle dealing with the shop owners.
He looked up from his hand clutching the money to meet the gaze of the older woman behind the counter. She smiled at him sweetly and asked “What can I get you, love?”
This didn’t seem too bad.
He began to answer “Well, I’ll have…” when suddenly, he felt two large hands clutch tightly at his collar and whirl him around like a rag doll. His vision was momentarily blurred by the whirl of motion he had been launched into. But as his eyes adjusted, he found he was nose to nose with a rather large, rather angry ginger haired man.
The woman at the counter gave a loud shriek and in his peripheral he could see her backing away from the counter.
As Peter dragged his focus back to the hulk nearly choking the life out of him, he realized that threatening words were now spilling from said hulk’s mouth in a low, vicious rush. He tried desperately to concentrate on what the thug was saying, but found he could barely hear him over the thundering of his own heart.
“Could you repeat that for me?” he caught himself eking out.
Was he insane? This man could easily break him like a twig. Apparently, the man’s mind was traveling along the same lines because his face had now gone an interesting shade of crimson and he looked nearly ready to explode.
The frightening man grew dangerously quiet, and pulled him even closer. In a strained whisper, the giant growled, “Where is she you little, pathetic ferret?”
Ron was growing impatient with the little git. Was he purposely trying to piss him off? The look of utter confusion on the ferret’s face was absolutely maddening. He gripped his collar harder and began to lift him off the ground. The flailing weakling began to gasp for air as he grabbed desperately at Ron’s clutching hands.
“Let’s try this again, shall we? Where the hell…” but before he could finish his sentence, a piercing scream came from behind him. He scarcely had time to look around when he felt a small someone jump on his back throwing an arm around his neck, and start striking him fiercely with the other.
By the lack of force behind the punches, Ron could tell it was a woman. But, in truth, she wasn’t playing exactly fair because she had just opted to release his neck in favor of grabbing a fist full of hair and yanking for all she was worth. Ron howled in pain.
In order to pacify this new, unforeseen threat, Ron dropped Draco who sagged ungracefully to the floor, and deftly turned and grabbed the woman’s wrists to halt the attack.
The sight he was faced with shocked him to the very core. There, before him, stood a very alive, very angry Hermione.
His eyes quickly traced over her features only slowing at her soft pink lips, her full bushy brown hair, and her pert little nose. When his eyes finally came back up and locked with her blazing chocolate brown eyes, everything else seemed to fall away. He felt as though he was liable to drown in them if he held her gaze any longer, and yet he could not bring himself to look away. He watched as her eyes darted down to his mouth and gazed longingly.
Suddenly, he heard a familiar voice.
“Ron!” came Harry’s voice from the door.
Both Ron and Hermione looked to Harry in bewilderment. Giving her head a quick shake, Hermione seemed to regain herself first and easily pulled her wrists free from Ron’s grasp.
“You great oaf, who do you think you are assaulting perfect strangers?”
Ron turned to look at her dumbly still speechless from the bombshell of seeing her again.
She dropped quickly to Malfoy’s side, and threw her arm around his shoulder to gently rub his back.
“Are you alright Peter? You’re not seriously hurt, are you?”
As he tried to clear his throat, Draco patted his chest roughly and pulled at his collar to straighten it.
He gave her a watery smile. “No, no, I’m fine. It was only a bit of a shock,” he coughed out.
“Peter, what did you do this time? She must have been amazing to risk this…” she glanced over at Ron briefly with a haughty, dismissive look “…this jerk!”
“What? No, Sarah!” He sputtered. “ Nothing at all like that. I’ve never seen this bloke before in my life.”
“Doesn’t mean you haven’t seen a whole lot of his girlfriend,” she countered.
“Sarah, I’m serious. You know I haven’t been dating anyone lately. But now that you mention it.” The mischievous glint was back in his eyes. “He looks an awful lot like the type you would go for.”
A deep blush spread over her face, and she looked down awkwardly dropping her hand from his back to pick at something invisible on her coat and bag.
“I haven’t the foggiest of what you’re referring to.”
“Mind you, the blokes you’ve always dated never had it all, but this gent seems to be the complete package. He’s tall, extremely fit, blue eyes, freckles, and has that bright red hair you always seem to drool over.” Malfoy looked Ron up and down appraisingly.
“This is total nonsense Peter. Are you sure he didn’t cut the blood flow off to your brain because now you’re talking complete rubbish.”
Ron had been listening in on the entire exchange, and felt extremely torn and confused. The embarrassment that flowed through him at the fact that they were openly discussing whether he was Hermione’s type was overwhelming. But what floored him even further was that this was Hermione and Draco talking so companionably, so intimately.
“Have you forgotten,” she continued, “that he was trying to strangle you to death only moments ago, and now you’re sizing him up as a potential date for me?”
“Well love, desperate times call for desperate measures,” he smiled teasingly.
At this, Hermione hauled Draco off the ground and started leading him toward the door.
Finally gaining his wits, Ron called after her. “Hermione!”
She turned abruptly, and shot him a vicious glare.
“You must have me mistaken with someone else,” she snapped at him. “My name is Sarah, and this gentleman you were so rudely choking is Peter. Now if you’ll excuse us. Good day!”
She stalked toward the door and paused briefly to consider Harry. He saw an odd look of recognition knit her brow as she gazed at him, but she quickly brushed it aside and moved out the door with Draco in tow. In passing, Malfoy gave Harry a warm, genuine smile and a slight wave as Hermione dragged him from the shop.
Harry, for his part, had been frozen in shock at the door the whole time. He turned to Ron and said, “That was her… That was him…”
Ron looked from Harry to the door, and then back again. He shook his head in disbelief and then began to look around realizing that all eyes in the cafe were on them.
“I think a memory charm is in order here mate,” he muttered quietly.
Heading briskly down the street, Peter tried desperately to keep up with her. He had dropped the façade of humor choosing instead to deal with what he believed to be a very serious situation.
“We have to talk about this Sarah,” he called out. “Those men knew us. It wasn’t just a case of mistaken identity. Sarah… Stop! This is the third time this month something like this has happened!”
She purposely ignored him and began to move more quickly down the crowded sidewalk. As he struggled to keep up awkwardly dodging oncoming pedestrians, he finally let his frustration get the better of him. With one swift motion, he reached out, grabbed her wrist, and unceremoniously turned her to face him. He was met with a stern, unflinching glare.
“Sarah, what if they know what happen to us?”
At this, she softened. She looked down and while releasing a heavy sigh she began to shake her head ever so slightly from side to side. She joined her hands and allowed her fingers to lace themselves together, and then apart in a writhing dance.
She couldn’t allow herself to hope. They had fought and struggled so hard and so long even to just survive. Things felt nearly settled. There was money for food. Peter had finally found a job that he was not only capable of doing, but also seemed to enjoy. That in and of itself was a colossal achievement. They had a flat; there would be no more living in shelters.
It just didn’t seem like it could be possible. Not after all this time. It had been five years. Why had these people not found them sooner? Did she and Peter even want to be found, especially by the likes of these questionable characters? Unbidden, the one man’s piercing blue eyes suddenly invaded her thoughts. They mesmerized her; the way they looked at her, saw through her, into her! She had seen those eyes before, maybe in a dream. She felt her gut clench and her throat constrict at the memory.
She roughly shook the images from her mind and brought her head back up to meet her best friend’s searching gaze.
In a quavering voice, she forced herself to respond, “I’m already late for work. Can we discuss this at home?”
He looked at her worriedly. They’d been through their share of rough times together, but rarely had he seen her this distraught. He cupped her cheek and gently brushed away an errant tear.
“Fine,” he uttered softly. “But don’t think for a second I’m letting this drop!”
He pulled her into a tight hug, and as she wrapped her arms around his middle, he placed a chaste kiss on the top of her head. He pulled back and away, and flashed her a wide grin.
“Now off with you Miss. Someone has to bring home the bacon, and lord knows my little job at the tailor’s shop won’t cut it.”
He paused and looked at her expectantly with what seemed to be an impossibly wide grin. “Get it?” He sputtered. “Cut it? I work for a tailor. It was a pun, Moppet.”
She rolled her eyes at him, but laughed despite herself. She gave him a small jab in the stomach and said, “We really need to work on your sense of humor. Might be the thing that keeps scaring off all the ladies.”
She turned and started off down the street.
“What do you mean?” He shouted after her. “The birds love me! I thought it was quite funny.”
“See you at home!” She called back to him.
He smiled to himself. Quickly remembering the events of the café though, the smile left his face. He stared after her for a moment, then turned and headed off to his first day of work.