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Chapter 8: A Touch of Past
Author's note: I am a horrible, horrible person, I know! It's been eight months and I'm really really sorry.You know, I thought I'd never come back, but then i remembered how I promised to a few people I would never abandon the story. And i read all the fantastic,lovely reviews I've recieved and they made me feel ashamed for leaving this hanging just like that. At first there were real life issues getting in the way and then there came the horrible computer crash, in which I lost all my writing documents and notes for this story. That can realy discourage a writer. But...I'm back and this story is back, too! I swear, swear. Thank you Megan for always helping me with this, thank you Romina Stephanie for making me promise to you once and thank you all that are reading this and have come back to see how this story continues. I love you loads.
PS: there's a little present at the end of the chapter for all of you for compensation. :) And if you have any questions, feel free to stop by my Author's Page and ask. I'd love that.
Chapter 8 - A Touch of Past
Hermione and Ron walked aimlessly on the streets, side by side, but not talking to each other. They knew they were both still going back in their minds to what they had just witnessed, but for now neither of them felt the need to acknowledge it out loud. An unknown force was pulling them in various directions and silently they were both contemplating whether it was just an illusion or truth. But the events that had led them up to this point had proved to be true, even if preposterously unbelievable. And to doubt something they had seen with their very eyes would be denial too strong for them to succumb to.
Both of them felt similarly about the occurrence. Frightened and bewildered, but caught with a fascination mingled with a desire to be a part of it. Maybe it was another one of those strange things that meant something more and maybe it was just an ordinary attraction one feels when encountering something new and alluring. But for one, in their private silence taking them through the bustling, loud city they were both glad they weren't in this alone and that the person walking next to them was feeling similar if not the same.
Simultaneously they looked at each other and stopped in the middle of the crowded street. Ron leaned against the wall to get out of the way of the people walking past and Hermione stood next to him with her arms crossed.
"I need a quiet place to think," she said, more to herself than Ron, but Ron looked around.
"How about a library?"
"Too nice a dream at the moment," Hermione muttered, massaging her temples to go back over the jumping chairs and talking furry animals chased around by witches and walking brooms.
"No, look," he said, pointing to a spot across the street. Hermione glanced across the street and spotted a large building with tall windows and long posters hanging from the roof, announcing upcoming events or titles that were new at the place.
"A library! Oh my God, Ron, I love you," she exclaimed, grabbed him by the sleeve and was already pulling him across the road in between the slowly passing cars of the traffic. Ron followed her, a bit baffled, his ears pink as ever. Up until this point he never really considered libraries to be a source of joy or anything of the sort, and, most importantly, he hadn't been told he was loved just like that by pretty women that haunted his dreams and set out on a past-hunting journey.
Hermione pulled him in eagerly and the way she moved around the place with ease showed how comfortable she felt all of a sudden. Ron hardly registered his surroundings, because it took Hermione only a few glances through the directions board to know where to go. They walked through rows of bookshelves until they reached the archive of old newspapers and books about London. She already knew where she was going and what to look for, checking the years and titles of archived newspapers, pulling stacks of them and setting them down on a table between the dusty shelves.
After the table was filled with three tall stacks of yellowing paper and fading letters, Hermione and Ron sat down and flipped through them, checking for anything that might be in some way linked with them. For Ron, it was an interesting activity. Just like in films, he thought, feeling important in his task, but in films all the hours spent searching for something are summed up in few minutes. After half an hour of scanning the pages endlessly, he lost interest and became much more interested in the buzzing flies and the chattering kids off in the children's corner but most of all Hermione sitting across from him, poring over page after page.
And he thought he could watch her like this for a long time. It was cozy, having her close to him, reading something. All he needed was maybe a fireplace and a mate to talk to, Ron thought vaguely. He wondered about his friends back at home, Ben and other co-workers, but none of them seemed right to just sit around and talk about anything and everything. Ron sighed at the thought of having no real best friend and of how much he needed one, more and more with each new passing day.
"Sorry, but do you have to stare at me?" asked Hermione irritably after a while, closing another newspaper and setting it down on a finished stack.
Ron straightened in his chair, clearing his throat. Somehow he felt like he'd been caught in the act of wrongdoing, but it was nice wrongdoing to him, a little voice at the back of his head added.
"Oh, do you mind? There's nothing else to watch in here, really. I think this place would be so much more interesting if the books were flying around like back at the pub," he said, looking around leisurely.
Hermione didn't smile at this, because to her just sitting in the library was interesting enough.
"Someone looks kind of fascinated here," she remarked dryly.
Ron's eyes lit up and a wide smile appeared on his face. "Well, yeah, the stuff was pretty amazing! I felt very attracted to the magical happenings at the place."
Hermione snorted. "Attracted? You ran out of there shrieking like a mad woman."
Frowning at the remark, Ron decided to ignore it. "So do you think that there is nothing like magic? That looked very magical to me."
"I'm not saying it wasn't real what we saw, but there has to be somereasonable explanation. A mechanism maybe."
"Mechanism? Bottles flyingin the air defying gravity! Chairs move around as if they had a mind of its own. All the people dressed in funny clothes and that talking animal!"
"Oh Ron, I don't know!" exclaimed Hermione, leaning back into her chair perplexed.
"Well, personally, I loved the look of it," Ron stated breathlessly. "Imagine all the possibilities if you could control things and objects with a slight wave of your hand or by the power of your thoughts!"
Supporting her chin with her palm, Hermione's mind suddenly wandered at Ron's words. He was right. After the shock and fear from the odd event subsided, she couldn't help but wonder that if this was real, how was it possible? How could it be done and just how gorgeous it would be if only she would be capable of it. It was just so hard to believe...
Shaking her head, Hermione looked away from the still smiling Ron who waved his hand in all directions like a well-practiced magician, and grabbed another stack of newspapers. They all dated back to the time of her appearance in Edinburgh, but so far nothing useful appeared. Hermione's eyes were tired and so she closed them for a moment, wishing strongly that she could just summon a page that could help. Now magic would come in useful, she thought with a sad little smile to herself.
And then she felt something odd, a little tingle in her hands. She felt the need to take a hold of something, but she couldn't possibly think of what.
Her eyes snapping open, Hermione looked at her right hand and almost instinctively reached into her pocket, but it was empty except for a wallet. A slight disappointment flowed through her and so she just took a handful of pages and turned the newspaper into the middle. Scanning the page helplessly, Hermione's heart gave a sudden jolt.
There it was, a tiny headline in faded black letters above a little article stuffed at the bottom of the page. It was local news, and read, 'Local tragedy: the renowned dentists Jane and Eustace Granger die a few months after the disappearance of their daughter.'
Hermione's insides momentarily disappeared and a wave of cold sweat flushed over her. She didn't know what to make of it. Feelings unknown and distant to her clutched at her heart, and her eyes could only vaguely scan the article. Out of long habit, her mind picked only the important details, like the names and the headline (again and again) and the address. Ripping out the page, not caring one more second just how atrocious that was, even though it was not technically a book, Hermione stood abruptly, knocking over her chair.
"I have an idea. Let's go."
"What's going on?" asked Ron, "I was just concentrating on moving those books a bit."
Rolling her eyes, Hermione pulled Ron off his chair. "Don't be ridiculous. Just come, I'll tell you on the way."
Ron attempted one last wave of his hand, his face contorted in concentration and quite unexpectedly the last book from the shelf fell to the floor with a soft thud. Ron stared at it open-mouthed, pointing his finger to it shakily. He stood rooted to the spot and didn't feel the tugging at his sleeve by Hermione nor the kid that just ran past him, chased by a very angry librarian.
"Oh come on," said Hermione exasperatedly, her own hunger to find out more about what she just read taking the better of her.
"But didn't you see? Just like in the pub!"
"Ron, there was a little girl who ran past and then that old librarian after her, they probably just bumped into the bookcase at the other end, now please come with me," she pleaded impatiently.
Sighing with disappointment that was maybe bigger than he would expect, Ron turned to follow Hermione out of the library, thinking she must've been right. As they were walking away, no one at all noticed the few tiny small sparks the book puffed out from within its pages.
After a long and tiring ride on the London Underground, Hermione and Ron finally appeared in the London suburb they wished to be in. Looking at the outstretched map in her arms, Hermione closely inspected the streets until she found the one she was looking for. Soon she spotted a row of shops and a hairdresser, and between them stood a small, unkempt building that used to be the dentist. Immediately striding toward it, across the street between the parked cars, Hermione stared and tried to decipher any connection.
"Well, it seems we won't get any answer here," Ron remarked from beside her. "So do you actually think you might've been related to these people? I'm sure there are plenty of people with the name of Granger in this country."
"Yes, but not people whose daughter has gone missing the same year I turned up at my new place, with no record of my existence before then," snapped Hermione without meaning to.
"But they can't be your parents, can they? You said your parents lived in Glasgow and that your father was unemployed while your mum was a local teacher."
Crumpling the map in her hands, Hermione stuffed it into her handbag and wondered for the hundredth time just how little space she had in there. "I know, I know! But...oh, it's useless to wonder about this strange stuff anymore. Let's ask the locals, maybe they'll remember something."
They tried the hairdresser's, but that had opened only a few months ago, therefore the employees had no idea. They only said that at first they wanted to buy the place of the old dentist's because of its better rooms and space but could hardly find the owner who, it was rumored, refused to sell the place anyway. They tried the man running a pet store, who had resided there for more than a decade.
"Yes, I remember them, Jane and Eustace," he said absent-mindedly as a smile crept over his lips. He held a small rabbit in his hands, feeding him a carrot while he stroked his bandaged ear. Ron had his nose wrinkled at the smell of the store. "We weren't much acquainted, but they always had a bright and healthy smile for me and a tip for my customers what products were best for the teeth of their pets. It was a sad thing to see them go, such smart minds and great doctors."
"Did they have children?" Hermione asked.
"One daughter, if I remember correctly, but I didn't see much of her. She was away at a boarding school, I think, and the older she got, the less she appeared at their office. But then she was gone for good and that's when the business started falling apart for Jane and Eustace. I mean, they were very capable dentists, they were. You see, some time before the disappearance they were away for a whole year and once they returned, all their old patients swarmed straight back to them. That really proved their quality, if you ask me."
Deep in thought, Hermione paced the shop with Ron waiting. "Who are you two anyway?" the man asked, putting the rabbit back into its cage. "Are you relatives? You really have Jane's eyes, I have to say."
Ron's eyes darted to Hermione who gripped the counter for support.
"Is there a way to get inside the dentist's office?" Ron asked and instinctively placed his hand on Hermione's back to steady her.
The man shrugged. "Just push the door open. Sometimes a tramp or a stray cat nestles in, but I try to chase them out each time. I think it's such a shame nothing's going on with the building now, the Grangers left it clean and well-kept."
"Thank you," blurted out Hermione and without further ado spun on her heel and stormed out of the shop, the bell above the door tinkling madly.
Hermione stood before the door to the dentist's office hesitantly with Ron trailing a little behind her. After hearing out the man in the shop next door tell them very little information about the previous owners of this little building, Ron felt that even if they were chasing for their past together, this was her private moment to discover.
The building looked shabby and uncared for. All the windows were shut and dusty and glasses on the big entrance door were cracked and the bottom windows on the sides were boarded up. Letters on the door and an old phone number were peeling off, but the word Granger was still visible on them in faded letters. The door wasn't locked, just as the man had said, as Hermione found out when she pushed it open.
Stepping inside, Hermione wasn't surprised at the familiarity she felt. The place was under heavy dust and hardly any light reached inside through the thick wooden floorboards. They walked through the deserted waiting room, bare of any furniture that might've been there in the past and had probably been sold or stolen. The door to the exam room was hanging off its hinges and she was sure this place had been invaded many times upon seeing the mess, all the empty bottles laying on the floor. The big chair was still in the exam room, and at the sight of it Hermione felt as if she had sat in that spot many, many times. Then there was the little sink and a cup still set on it, undisturbed. However, the rest of the room was empty, just like the one before. No books or papers, no instruments, only empty shelves and two overturned tables.
Passing the room slowly, her steps measured, Hermione's hand flew to her neck where she played with a thin silver chain nervously. Glancing around the room, she experienced an intense loss, a touch from the past unlike any other she'd gone through up until that point. It was so unlike when she'd met Ron and yet still the same, because once again she knew and felt things she couldn't understand and had no reasonable explanation for, but it was different because with Ron she knew she'd found something. However, this time, with each new step and each new breath of the heavy and smelly air she could feel it more and more that the people who used to work here had been a huge part of her life, but were no longer.
She reached the counter where most of the instruments must've been and ran her fingertips along it, brushing a thick layer of dust off it. Crouching down, she absentmindedly went through the drawers. They were either empty or full of papers, records of old patients, the payments and all in all nothing that interested Hermione even if it might've been useful. Looking into the last one on the top, Hermione touched something cold like glass. Pulling it out, a gasp parted her lips as everything that was building up until now hit her squarely and all at once.
She was holding a framed picture of a little girl with a mane of bushy brown hair, smiling wildly with braces on her buck teeth and clutching a report card with straight As. There was absolutely no doubt that she was looking at her young self. It was not a feeling. This time she knew it.
This office belonged to her parents and they were dead. The memories she originally had were as unreal as ever and she pushed them to the back of her mind, the figures of a man and woman of unremarkable appearance and affection were forgotten. They couldn't be her real parents. She never saw them anymore, she never thought about them much and all she could remember about them was even less than meaningless. And then, being here in an old, untouched office gave her a feeling of unimaginable warmth and security and pain, and even though they were not here and she couldn't even imagine their faces, it was as if she could feel them beside her.
Standing up and clutching the picture close to her, Hermione took in a deep breath and took a few staggering steps backward. Growing dizzy, she almost thought she would fall until her back bumped into what must've been Ron, but instead of turning around she just leaned into him and shut her eyes. His support meant more than anything to her in that moment and she didn't mind a single bit as she felt his hands on her shoulders. She knew he was watching her, and that she should speak soon, but the words were lost in her throat the moment she tried to utter them. Slowly and surely, she began to tremble until she walked over to the large chair and sat down, placing her face in her hands and weeping softly.
Ron watched her, still very much bewildered from the moment they'd walked in until the part where she leaned into him, shaken to the point of completely losing her composure and weeping in the quiet of this eventful afternoon. He didn't know what to do, he'd never had the knack to handle his or anyone else's emotions well. Sometimes he felt as though his emotional range was very poor and a vague thought of a teaspoon and distant laughter made a ghost of a smile pass through his lips. But then he snapped back to reality, in which Hermione was crying and he stood there like a frightened little boy, taking a step forward to her and then two steps back. At last he reached her and crouched down to be at the same level as her, taking the picture slowly from her fingers. Glancing at it, Ron saw the glazed face under the cracked glass and understood. Suddenly the gap between him and Hermione seemed to widen scarily.
Trying to reach out with his hand, Ron hesitated for a moment, and almost decided to stand up and walk away, to leave her to deal with this herself. But he felt that he wouldn't and possibly couldn't do that. With a trembling movement Ron's hand traveled into Hermione's hair and found its way across her small ear to her tear-stained cheek. Hermione looked up at him slowly and at the sight of her red eyes, Ron felt a horribly strong urge to embrace her. This time, though, he would no longer care for what seemed right and what seemed wrong. Through the course of the last few days he'd learned that nothing was really what it seemed.
Fighting with himself, hoping to God he would do this right, Ron pulled Hermione close to him. His heart fluttered as she hugged him back and continued to cry on his shoulder. His heart leapt when he kissed her on the top of her head and she didn't flinch or pull away, just held him tighter.
"Come on now," Ron said quietly and pulled Hermione to her feet. She leaned into his shoulder, but tried her best to compose herself now. The tears were still running down her cheeks in trickles, but she was no longer sobbing.
They walked for a while through the quiet streets until they reached a park full of sunlight and lone benches hidden by trees from prying ears. Both of them sat down and only then did Hermione realize she was clutching Ron's hand fiercely. Aware of this, she let go and wiped the tears off her cheeks, sniffing.
"I'm...very sorry for what happened back there, I didn't-"
"No," cut in Ron, embarrassment etched in his face as he handed her back the picture, "it's all right, everything's fine."
Holding the picture in her hands and touching it softly over and over without looking at it, Hermione turned to Ron.
"I have no idea what happened back there, but it's me on that photo and everything's crazy." She started speaking very fast, furrowing her eyebrows and gesticulating wildly. "You, me, us coming to this place, feeling everything we're not supposed to feel. How can I possibly explain this, I don't get it and it's driving me mad and hopeless. I feel like I'm losing my grip on reality, like when we were at the pub. I want to find out, I want to know who I am, I want to know what all this means and where we belong and what happened to us to make us so lost in the dark and feeling so strangely detached from the world."
"Hey, I promise that soon we'll find out," Ron began a little awkwardly, saying the first thing he thought could make her feel better. "Look, it seems that all these coincidences are too odd, maybe, but they're leading us forward. We haven't been here that long and we're so far already. I promise you that something must happen very soon, sooner than we might expect," he finished a bit more eagerly, seeing a little light of possibility in the statement.
But Hermione only shook her head, as if she hadn't heard a word Ron said. "They're dead and I feel destroyed because of it and I don't even know who those people were!"
"Hermione, we already know something wicked's going on here. I haven't got the slightest idea what it is with all this memories and emotions stuff. But we got here and we'll get further and we'll find an explanation to this. We will find someone that will help, I'll do everything, I swear." The urgency in his voice made Hermione lock eyes with him. She stared into the blue of his eyes hard and long. The panic growing inside eased and the anger that had been building up inside, borne from sheer confusion and inability to just know the solution and answer, let go of her brain and nerves.
He attempted a goofy, reassuring smile and warmth spread to the tips of her fingers.
Hermione smiled and that one smile conjured by him meant more than a lot to him, he realized. He felt an odd rush of pride that told him that just by making her smile he'd done something right.
Ron looked different now, somewhat closer and more cheerful as he looked around, trying to look casual. Hermione was touched by his manner, by his attempts to calm her and the fact that, unlike Jonathan, he succeeded.
Tilting her head to the side, she observed him. To her, he seemed a beautiful man. She realized not many women would see him this way, but she liked the look of his red hair and freckles around his long nose, put low between his simple, soft blue eyes. Jonathan was handsome in the usual way male models and actors were. But this quirky man sitting before her, sharing an intricate and baffling journey with her made her blush like a silly schoolgirl with an ordinary touch on the shoulder. For the first time, Hermione thought that if their memories were damaged and if they really had known each other before, she wondered whether they might've been in love.
She sighed, feeling tired. Tired from an entire day of roaming London streets, tired from shocking sights and heart-breaking information. Thoughts that were always circling around in her mind dispersed, like they sometimes do, creating a clear equanimity. Finally, instead of her confusion, Hermione noted the sweet spring breeze in her hair and feverish skin. Moving forward, she kissed Ron on the lips briefly. It could be nothing more than a misplaced peck on the cheek between good friends. Or it could be the source of Ron's red face and hammering heart. Or the calmness with which Hermione leaned back against the bench and said, "Thank you."