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Chapter 28 : Chapter 28: Her Beautiful Face
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“Yes, come on you three and I’ll show you,” Nick ordered as he pulled open the door and walked into the blackness.
Harry followed closely behind, with Ron and Hermione on his heels. A light flared, filling the room. Harry’s hand flew up to shield his eyes from the glare and he squinted, trying to make his way without tripping. When his eyes finally adjusted, he gasped in wonder at the myriad of treasures before him. Gold statues stacked along the walls of a long hallway, paintings of witches and wizards that waved as they walked by. There were even a few still life paintings and Harry thought he heard Hermione gasp the words, “Da Vinci.”
Everything was jumbled together, with no real order but as they continued to walk down the long, narrow hall, he saw a painting at the end, prominently displayed, that he assumed was Ravenclaw. The edges were badly burned and fraying while the beautiful woman in the painting was stilled, her expression was marred by several scorch marks.
What drew Harry though was the large, ornate pendant that was pinned to her chest. “That’s it,” Harry said to himself, coming to a halt in front of the portrait. “That’s got to be it.”
“How long have you had this painting?” Hermione questioned as she examined the remnants of the frame.
“Long enough,” Nick answered evasively. “More years than you can imagine anyway.”
“Bloody hell! She was gorgeous,” Ron whispered reverently. “Blimey, she did look like your Mum.”
“Yes,” Nick responded as he held up his wand to illuminate the details. “The first time I met Lily Potter, I thought that I was looking at her long lost descendant.”
“Is that possible, sir?” Hermione asked as she fully studied the woman’s face. Her expression was drawn for some reason, although her tone did not give it away.
Nick shrugged, “Who knows? Although I think it highly unlikely; my research has led me to conclude that her grandson, and only heir, died in the fire that he, himself, set.”
“Ah well, it’s a shame then. The only line that survived was Slytherin’s,” Ron commented absently.
Nick let out a booming laugh that shook his old frame. “If only it were that simple, my lad!” The three stared at him, waiting for an explanation. “I’m afraid that Gryffindor was married three times in his life.”
All three of their jaws dropped; “You’re kidding, right?” Ron asked, somewhat in awe.
“No, I’m afraid not,” Nick said with laughter in his eyes. “Not once did he marry Ravenclaw, either. No, he outlived the first two and the third ran off with Slytherin.”
“This is too complicated,” Ron muttered as he rubbed at his temple.
Nick inclined his head and watched the three teenagers carefully. “It is complicated and somehow, I don’t think it really has anything to do with what you are looking for.”
Hermione smiled casually and asked, “Can I perform a diagnostic test on the painting?”
Nick patted her shoulder and walked off down the hallway. “I’ll make a fresh pot of tea.”
The second he was out of the room Hermione checked the painting over thoroughly and pronounced, “It isn’t a Horcrux.”
“I didn’t expect that it would be,” Harry said as he turned to head back to the main part of the shop. “I expect that he’s got the pendant hidden somewhere.”
“Imagine having your wife run off with Slytherin,” Ron added, clearly still stuck on the story that Nick had told them. “I mean, I can see Gryffindor being a bit of a ladies man, but Slytherin? And why didn’t he marry Ravenclaw, anyway? She was quite dishy.”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hermione stiffen momentarily but instead of saying anything, she increased her pace and beat them back into the shop.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Nick’s voice was mild as he poured another cup of tea.
“Yes, thank you,” Hermione said quietly as they sat down. She sat up straight and took a sip of tea. “Actually… we need to go right now. Can we visit you tomorrow?”
Nick agreed with a smile. “My door is always open.”
“We’ll be by in the morning,” Hermione assured him as she stood and grabbed her pack. She was at the door before Harry and Ron had even had a chance to register that she was leaving and that they were expected to follow.
Harry scrambled to his feet, Ron following immediately, donning their packs and calling out a hasty goodbye.
“What’s up with her?” Ron asked as they hurried to catch up with Hermione. She was so angry that she’d even forgotten to put on her cloak. Ron had grabbed it for her from the back of her chair.
Harry shivered as the December wind whipped. “I dunno, mate. She’s yours to deal with, though.”
For some reason, that Harry could not name, that thought was very comforting.
They followed her out of town and towards the nearby woods. The one time Ron tried to speak to her she growled so fiercely that he’d tripped and fallen on his bum. She ordered them to set up the tent, and then helped get the area around them secure. When it was up she stalked in and went straight to her part and closed the flap with more force than was strictly necessary.
Harry and Ron fell onto one of the couches and stared at the place where she’d disappeared. “I’m confused,” Harry stated blankly.
“Just wait until you’ve got Ginny on your case all day,” Ron grumbled, crossing his arms and glaring at the place from which she disappeared.
“I’m rather looking forward to that, actually,” Harry said without much thought. Ron turned slowly to look at him in surprise. “Well,” Harry replied defensively. “I dumped her to keep her safe and she went off and did whatever she wanted to anyway. It would have been better if I’d just kept her with me.”
“I won’t argue,” Ron sighed and sunk lower into the sofa. “I just know that you’re never going to have an easy life with my sister. She’s a handful, that one is.”
“A handful!” Hermione’s flap flew open as she came back into the sitting area, her eyes blazing with anger. She marched over and stood above them, looking down into their surprised faces. “You two have to be the dumbest gits I have ever had the displeasure of loving!”
Harry and Ron looked at each other and then back to Hermione. “What did we do?” Harry questioned, his confusion evident in his voice.
Hermione rounded fully on him and pointed her finger straight at his nose. “Ginny is a very smart girl.”
“I know,” Harry interjected, “But-”
That was as far as he got. “She doesn’t need you, Harry! She can do great things, all on her own, and your erroneous assumption that ‘keeping her with you’ would ever be acceptable is what’s going to get you hexed when she does see you again!”
Harry just stared dumbly at her.
“Hermione,” Ron jumped in, trying to sound reasonable. “Harry’s just-”
“Don’t even start with me, Ron Weasley!” Hermione growled. “For someone who says that they love me-” she broke off and to both of their horror, her eyes filled with tears. “I don’t even want to speak to you. I thought you knew better.”
“What did I do?” Ron blurted out. “You know, it’s pretty rotten to expect me to read your mind. I’m not even smart enough to read half of your books, and you want me to understand what you’re thinking?”
It was as if she’d been punctured. Her shoulders slumped forward as she sniffed. “You’re right.” With that she turned and began to walk back to her room.
“Wait!” Ron jumped up from the couch and caught her shoulders. “What did I do?”
“You… you…” Her voice was thick with emotion. “If you want to marry someone for their beauty then you’re going to deserve what you get!”
She tried to shake him off, but he pulled her back against him and bent down to kiss her cheek. “So this is about Ravenclaw and how I think she was gorgeous?”
“It isn’t just that!” Hermione snapped, trying to get away from him but Ron held on tight. “Let me go!”
“Never,” Ron countered. “Tell me what else I did.”
“You believed he was stupid for not marrying her because she was beautiful… not because she was such a great person, or anything. Her mind had nothing to do with it.” She spun around and glared up at him. “I thought you’d learned that good looks don’t necessarily make a worthwhile partner.”
Ron made the unintelligent decision that this was funny. He chuckled and she punched him, straight in the stomach. She bolted for her room again but he caught her by the arm. Harry stood up, not sure what he would do, but feeling like he should do something.
“Let go!” Hermione yelled, trying to shake him off.
“No,” Ron wheezed. “Why do you care if I think she’s beautiful?”
“I don’t!” Hermione protested but Harry watched several more tears slide down her face. “Why should I care that you called her beautiful twice in ten minutes?”
Ron shook his head, finally cottoning on. “You’ve got no reason to be jealous.”
“I’m not jealous,” Hermione said quietly. “I’m scared.”
Harry felt his insides freeze. What was this about? He wanted to leave the tent, but his feet remained glued to the floor.
Ron pulled her stiff body into his arms. “Why?”
“If you haven’t… haven’t figured out that beautiful people aren’t always worth it then… then…” she sobbed uncontrollably and sagged, nearly dragging him to the floor with her.
Ron picked her up and walked over to the couch, sitting down with her in his lap. “Then what?”
Harry tried to move again, but found that he could only sink into a chair across from them. He looked at Ron, who was looking at Hermione in confusion.
“Then is there really any hope for us?” Her response was so quiet that Harry almost didn’t hear it.
Ron just gaped at her. “What are you on about? What does this have to do with us? So I think she was beautiful? Who cares, anyway? She’s dead.”
She tried to get up but he kept his arms firmly around her waist. “You don’t get it,” Hermione said as more tears trailed down her face, “ And for once I don’t feel like explaining it to you.”
“Ah well that’s mature of you,” Ron told her and Harry stood up, making his way towards his and Ron’s room in the tent.
“I don’t have to be mature about it all the time! I’m not the one who’s always hung up on looks!” Hermione was angry now as Harry pulled back the flap to get into his room.
Ron snorted loudly, “No, of course you’re not, and suddenly you think I’m going to leave you for a dead woman?”
He entered his room and went to lie on his bed. The fighting continued to filter into the room, but at least he didn’t have to witness it.
“What about the next pretty girl who comes along? Who says you won’t leave me then?” Her words were vicious and Harry could hear the hurt and anguish that each word carried.
For a long moment Ron didn’t respond. “How can you doubt me like this?”
“Because you’ve never called me beautiful twice in one month, let alone one hour! If you’re not that attracted to me then there’s no way that we’re going to make it!”
Harry was stunned.
Apparently Ron wasn’t. “I didn’t think you’d want to hear it all the time.”
“Why not?” Hermione asked, her tone thick with sarcasm.
“Cause you’re always going on about how brains are more important than looks, that looks fade and all that.” Ron sounded genuinely confused now. “So you want me to tell you that you’re beautiful?”
“No,” she told him harshly. “I don’t want to force you into anything and you’re right, I do say that looks aren’t that important.” She sobbed again and Harry felt his heart clench with the pain in that sound. “I’ve never heard you talk about me the way you talked about Ravenclaw and I… I wanted you to be happy like that with me. I want you to enjoy looking at me like you did with her. How shallow is that?”
He heard a kissing noise before Ron added, “It isn’t shallow and I do enjoy looking at you. It wouldn’t be hard to tell you that you’re beautiful, because you are. I just don’t want to be yelled at for it and the woman in that painting couldn’t tell me off for complimenting her.”
“You can come back out now, Harry,” he heard Hermione call. Dutifully he got up and walked back to where they were sitting. Her face was tear-stained, but she seemed to be more pleasant. He sat and waited, since she probably wanted to tell him something. “Girls,” she began, “are rather useless sometimes.”
Harry did not comment, fearing retribution if he said the wrong thing.
She continued on. “I don’t think that any girl alive wants to be ugly and yet, very few girls are actually pretty.”
Okay, Harry thought. Where is this going?
“But,” she said with an ironic smile. “We will all get old some day and the beauty that we once had will fade so,” she turned and kissed Ron’s cheek. “Don’t marry for looks and don’t discount a girl just because she might not stand out that much.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Harry blurted out. “I’m already in love with Ginny.”
His two best friends turned to gape at him and Harry felt his insides squirm. He didn’t know where it had come from but he felt a firm conviction it was true. He felt the same way for Ginny that he felt for them, except it was more… much, much more.
“Well,” Hermione stood up and patted Harry on the shoulder. “I guess you’ve lucked out then. She’s beautiful and a great person.”
“Hermione,” Ron interjected as he too got to his feet and pulled her into his arms before kissing her neck. “You may not see it, but I lucked out too. You’re an amazing person and bloody gorgeous. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Harry just sighed as she burst into tears again and kissed Ron soundly. Girls, Harry decided, wishing he’d stayed in his room, were too complicated to ever possibly understand.
The next morning they packed up their tent and went to visit Nick in his shop. He was waiting for them, again with tea. “I’m glad you came back. I’ve had another note from Moody,” Nick told them as he poured out the hot, tawny liquid.
“More news about the Minister?” Hermione questioned as she reached out for her cup.
“Yes,” Nick said as he took his seat again. “Voldemort killed several Aurors to get to the Minister. Moody appears to be the only survivor of the guard and he says that he took out a few of the Death Eaters before they fled. He couldn’t save the Minister, though. Voldemort left a message for the Wizarding World.”
“What was it?” Harry asked with morbid curiosity.
Nick’s expression was sardonic. “Merry Christmas.”
Ron swore and Hermione gasped, but Harry simply sighed in resignation. That was Voldemort, after all. He wanted to create as much chaos as he could. “Do you know who the next Minister will be?”
“No, but I imagine it will be another Auror or someone who’s equally trained in combat,” Nick informed them. “They will have to replace him quickly, though, if the Ministry wants to avoid chaos. I’m not sure anyone will want the job, though.”
Hermione set her cup down with a small clink. “Anyone who wants the job has a death wish or they really want the power.”
“As long as it isn’t Umbridge,” Ron grunted. “She’s a bloody bi-”
“Ron!” Hermione interrupted. “No one is daft enough to put that woman in charge.”
“Even if they do, who cares? Voldemort can kill her and it will save us a lot of hassle,” Harry said flippantly
Ron and Nick laughed while Hermione tried to look reproving. In the end she gave up and shook her head with a small smile. “But think about the damage she could cause while she was in office.”
“A fair point,” Nick added. “So what is your next step from here?”
“I’m not sure, especially since we’re only two days away from Christmas,” Hermione answered for them. “We need to be home for that, but I think we might want to do a bit more research into the founders.”
“Ask away,” Nick offered. “I’m probably the foremost expert, with the exception of the Sorting Hat, of course.”
Hermione sat in silence but surprisingly it was Harry that came up with the first question. “Where was Gryffindor’s house?”
Nick looked taken aback for a minute. “You mean you don’t know?”
“No,” Harry, Ron and Hermione said together.
“It’s in Godric’s Hollow where Harry’s parents hid out with him as a baby. I believe that they built a church and a cemetery on the spot.” Nick told them and took their stunned silence as an invitation to continue. “Your mum used to sit for hours, listening to stories about the founders. I believe she was almost as fascinated with them as I am. Of course,” Nick chuckled, “your dad thought she was mental but he could sit and look at her for those hours while she talked to me.”
“How did you meet my parents?” Harry asked curiously, despite his excitement at realizing they may have a clue to the next Horcrux’s location. That wasn’t information that he was willing to share with Nick. Still, he wanted to know about his parents and it seemed a bit odd that they could have met this old man who ran a shop in Wales.
Nick’s expression darkened momentarily before it was consumed with sadness. “I met them right after they left Hogwarts and joined up in the Order. I also met Remus that way, and Pettigrew.” He looked apologetically at Harry as he explained, “I knew Pettigrew was a weak man, straight from the off, but it was not my place to say. After their deaths I quit the Order and refused to go back. Dumbledore and I had a strained relationship after that.”
“Really?” Ron asked, slightly confused. “I thought he was going to meet with you last summer.”
“He was,” Nick assured them. “Just because he knew I had the information he was seeking doesn’t mean that we were on the best of terms. No, I didn’t live as long as I have by trusting everyone.”
“You trusted us,” Harry pointed out and then winced at how rude it sounded.
Nick grinned at him. “I would have trusted Dumbledore with my life and you’re continuing on his mission. I may not have always agreed with him but he had a vested interest in saving the world, one that I hope I have helped in. Besides,” he winked at Harry, “how could I not trust Lily Potter’s child?”
A/N: If you would like to join my yahoo group for spoilers or a chance for discussion, you can find the information in my profile. Also I wrote a Missing Moment for this story that can only be found in my yahoo group.
Many thanks to wvchemteach, Wolf’s Scream, and JPx for beta’ing for me!
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