IMPORTANT A/N: I’ve finished the Second War Flashbacks. If you didn’t read them from the beginning, please go back and start at chapter two and read all the italicized paragraphs. They will help you better understand the characters in this chapter.
He had decided to Apparate home instead of risking seeing the press outside. It was quite the scandal. Harry could see the headlines already: GRANGER HAS BREAKDOWN! REJECTS SOULMATE! He sighed. He felt guilty. Guiltier than Ginny who shrugged and mumbled, “She’ll come to her senses,” when Hermione ran to the restaurant bathroom. Ron didn’t chase after her. He was still frozen to his chair, his face stoned.
“She said no, didn’t she?” he asked quietly after a short while.
“Well, she didn’t exactly grab it and jump into your arms,” Ginny replied, starting to eat her ice cream. “Eat something, Ron, you’ll feel better.” Ron shook her head violently.
“I can’t eat right now.” Ginny turned her head to Harry.
“What about you, Harry? Eat something.” Harry laughed harshly.
“Gin, how could you think of eating at a time like this?”
“She’s just going through something, Harry. She’s ready to get married. She loves Ron.”
“Well, obviously, she doesn’t if she didn’t grab the ring and jump into his arms, as you put it.” Ginny dabbed at her ice cream.
“She’s having a rough day. Of course, I wouldn’t know though, would I, you two being Unspeakables and all, I hardly ever know if she’s alright or not.” Harry sighed.
“Should I follow her?” he asked. Ron nodded slowly.
“Better you than me, mate.” But before Harry could throw down his napkin, Hermione had returned, as had the silence in the restaurant.
“Can we leave?” she squeaked.
“Sure,” Harry said quickly, before either Weasley said anything. He raised his hand to signal the bill. The head waiter waved his wand and a piece of paper appeared at the center of the table. Ron reached across to take it but Harry grabbed it.
“Ron, I’ve got it. You three go home first.” Ron sighed, nodded his head in thanks, took Ginny and Hermione’s hands and Disapparated. Harry turned the paper over and caught his breath. It was quite a large sum and Harry was quite glad he hadn’t let Ron pay for it. He signed the bottom of the slip and watched it fade into the paper. Then he sent it back to the head waiter who nodded. Harry nodded in return before turning to the other restaurant customers.
“I’m very sorry for the disruption tonight, ladies and gentlemen. I hope it does not discourage you all to return to this wonderful restaurant.” And before he could take in any reaction, he Disapparated with a loud pop.
“Hermione’s in the first floor bathroom. We can use the main,” Ginny said simply the moment Harry arrived home. She was on the stairs, already making her way up. Harry took off his coat and put it in the closet.
“How much was the bill?” he heard Ron ask behind him. He spun around and brushed past him, making his way up the stairs.
“Don’t worry about it,” he replied.
“Harry, it was expensive. I know it was. You shouldn’t have taken it. It must have coasted so much more because of my clumsiness.” Harry sighed when he reached the top of the stairs. He turned around slowly.
“Ron, you’re a good man to care. But right now, I think Hermione should be more important than money.” Ron gazed at him for a second before sighing himself.
“You’re right. I’m sorry, it’s second nature. Growing up, I don’t think we ever could have even imagined going to a restaurant like that one.” Harry smiled warmly.
“Well, you’ve grown up now.” Harry turned around and entered the main bathroom, where Ginny was already brushing her teeth.
“You’re in a rush tonight, aren’t you?” Harry asked, putting toothpaste on his toothbrush. They exchanged smiles as they brushed. The silence was deafening and Harry nearly let out a sigh of relief when she finished and left for their bedroom. He took extra time to brush his teeth in vertical motions. Then he rinsed his mouth out and gargled with mouthwash. He took out some floss and took his time between each tooth. Ever since Hermione had seen the way he treated his teeth one night, he promised her he would take better care of them. Once he was done, he rinsed his mouth out one more time and wiped his mouth. Then he shut off the light and walked into his bedroom. Ginny was cuddled up on her side of the bed, waiting for him. He smiled and got into bed.
“Good night,” he said, kissing her forehead. She frowned.
“That’s all? We haven’t seen one another in a month and you want to just say goodnight?” Harry stammered.
“Um, well, okay, what do you want to talk about?” Ginny laughed and snuggled closer to him.
“I wasn’t thinking of talking,” she giggled. Harry laughed nervously and wondered why he was suddenly so uncomfortable.
“I-I would just like to talk tonight, though, Gin, to see what’s been up lately with you.”
“I don’t want to talk. I want to catch up the old-fashioned way.”
“I think the old-fashioned way is talking.” Ginny sighed, frustrated, and tore her body away from him.
“Since when have you ever rejected me, Harry? And since when have you been so keen on bloody ‘talking’? Honestly, you sound like…Hermione.” There was a pause as Harry looked into Ginny’s blue eyes.
"What are you trying to say?"
"I’m trying to say that you sound like Hermione."
"Well, I have been around her for the past month. We work together. I must assume a part of her has rubbed off."
"It’s a bit strange, is all I’m saying."
"Are you saying Hermione’s strange?"
"No, absolutely not. Well, then again-"
"Then again what?"
"Then again, have you ever seen her explode like she did tonight?"
"No, no, that’s not fair."
"Your brother proposed to her when she already gave him an answer." Ginny scoffed.
"Are you taking her side?"
"What side? There are no sides here, Gin! She said no!"
"You know, to speak the truth, I expected a different reaction from you, Harry."
"Yes, I expected you to be happy for your best friend. You were skeptical, to say the least. I expected to you to be discreet. You nearly told Hermione twice during lunch! And now, I expect you to be fawning over me. And yet, you bring the conversation to Hermione!" Harry folded his arms.
"You shouldn’t expect certain things from me, Gin."
"Oh, that’s right. Poor Harry Potter, still traumatized by his past, has horrible mood swings!" Harry jumped off the bed as if it were on fire. Ginny closed her eyes and regretted her words. "Harry, wait, I didn’t-"
"Listen to me. Dolohov took you out of the war very early. I went on for three more hours than you did. I saw MANY more Aurors die! YOUR view of the war is VERY. DIFFERENT. FROM MINE!" Ginny had jumped up from the bed.
"Don’t you raise your voice at me, Harry Potter! No one truly understands what you went through!"
"Hermione does. She was with me until the very end."
"Yes, Hermione understands everything, doesn’t she? Why don’t you just jump into her bed tonight?" Harry bunched up his eyebrows and let a snarl erupt from the back of his throat.
"I shan’t sleep with you tonight, Ginny. Not sexually or physically." And with that, he took his small pillow, blanket and waltzed out of the room. He entered the living room and decided on a couch. He laid down his weary body on the pillow and draped the blanket over his stomach. Then he flung his arm around and covered his eyes with this forearm. Slowly letting out a sigh, he thought back. Not to Ginny’s fight, however. But to his fight with Hermione that very morning. To that conversation with Ginny at lunch. To how he felt when Ron proposed…to how he wanted Hermione to feel when Ron proposed.
Hermione was already fluffing her pillow when Ron entered the room. He shut the door slowly and sat down on the bed, his back facing Hermione. "Unbelievable," he whispered, "That was probably the most expensive dinner I’ve ever had." He heard Hermione’s exhausted laugh.
"You must be joking," she whispered back, "Now is not the time to joking, Ron."
"I’m not joking."
"Then you’re an idiot. I just rejected your marriage proposal and all you can think about is how much the DINNER-which you didn’t even pay for-COSTED?!"
Hermione shouted at his back. Ron got up and turned to face her. She was lying on the bed, arms propping up her upper body.
"Did you just call me an idiot, Hermione!?" he asked loudly.
"No," she said, "You ARE an idiot! A blind man could see it!"
"You have no right to call me an idiot!"
"And you have no right to propose to me, knowing-"
"I HAVE NO RIGHT TO-"
"LET ME FINISH! You have no right to propose to me full-knowing that I’m not ready! I TOLD YOU, RON! I told you I wasn’t ready!"
"You never said such a thing!"
"YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!"
"Stop bringing that in! I think I know what my woman wants and what she doesn’t!" Hermione threw her head back in surprise.
"So that’s what this is?"
"What? NO! No, I-I meant-"
"You meant what, Ronald?"
"I MEANT that I know what you want, what you’re ready for-"
"YOU PROPOSED TO ME AFTER I SAID I DIDN’T WANT TO MARRY YOU!" It had shut Ron up. He suddenly shut his mouth and looked around the room, growling and clearly holding in his temper. Hermione sighed and lay back down on the bed. Ron had silently made his way to the empty wall and rested his head on it. Suddenly, he raised his fist and banged it against the wall hard, causing the room to shake. Hermione repressed a gasp.
"Is it the money?" he asked silently, keeping his gaze at the wall. Hermione sighed and closed her eyes.
"No, Ron, it’s not the money."
"Is it the fights?"
"No, I think they’re healthy."
"Is it me?"
"No. You’re wonderful. I love you."
"Then why won’t you marry me?"
"I’m not ready."
"…Is it because I haven’t been home lately?" Pause.
"Is it because I…I don’t listen?"
"Is it because I don’t know what you’re thinking by just looking at you?"
"Is it because I don’t understand you sometimes?"
"…Yes." Ron sighed sadly. He turned around, his eyes tired and a weak smile threatening to fall off. "I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you lately, Hermione. I’m sorry I don’t speak my mind when I should. But I care for you. It’s not something that’s going to change." Hermione smiled and caressed his cheek. She loved him. She did. But she couldn’t marry him. "I’ll…I’ll try to be more like Harry." Hermione gasped slightly.
"What a silly idea. Why would you do that?" she asked, a little angry at the thought of her Ron changing. He grew angry abruptly.
"He’s kind of what you want, Hermione!" he exclaimed, "You want someone who’s home. Someone who understands you and is there for you!"
"Ron, this is ridiculous!"
"NO, IT’S NOT!" Ron suddenly yelled, "I WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY, HERMIONE! I DON’T CARE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO ME!"
"Well, I do! Ron, don’t change for me!"
"It’s too late," he said gruffly, "You don’t want Ron Weasley anyway. You want New, Improved Ron Weasley."
"You’re being stupid. Be realistic." Ron grew sombre.
"Yes, let’s. Tell me the truth, Hermione. If I was less Ron and more Harry wouldn’t you marry me?" It was Hermione’s turn to be silent. "If I was more like Harry, you would marry me, wouldn’t you?" She sighed.
"Yes, Ron," she admitted after a short silence, "If you were more like Harry, I would marry you."
"You’re going to die, Harry. Right here. Right now." Harry couldn’t help but cringe at the words. He was scared, very scared. He was thinking frantically. He came up with nothing. Without his wand, what could he possibly do? Even if he could magically non-verbally untie the ropes around his wrists and ankles, it would take but a flick of Voldemort’s wand for him to die. Voldemort snapped his fingers and Dolohov gasped in relief, letting go of his neck.
"Thank you, my lord," he rasped.
"Shut up," Voldemort repeated, "Kill Wormtail and bring me the Mudblood." If Harry hadn’t been so concentrated on untying his ropes, he would have gasped. "You’re stronger than I anticipated, Potter," Voldemort smiled, mistakenly interpreting Harry’s concentration for being emotionless. Harry looked up at the red eyes and before he could say anything, he heard loud whimpers, begging and finally, a scream. Then, there was silence. Harry realized Wormtail was dead.
"You have no shame," he whispered, drawing his attention back to the ropes. "Let’s see how much you have," Voldemort challenged, bringing a worn-out, bleeding Hermione from the shadows. Harry snapped his head back up. "Let her go," he said quickly. Voldemort laughed loudly. "I knew you were still weak. It’s just a matter of pushing the right buttons. Or in this case, using the right spell. CRUCIO!"
Hermione screamed out in pain and droned out Harry’s profanity. The spell was held for a long time; Harry couldn’t concentrate on getting rid of the ropes. Kill me instead, he thought to himself, anyone but her. Finally, Voldemort released her. Hermione was panting quickly, her breath struggling with her sobs. "I hate you," Harry said quietly.
Voldemort laughed. "This is quite fun. Don’t you agree, Dolohov?" Dolohov nodded, knowing not to say anything anymore. "I think I’m going to torture you for a while, Harry." Harry looked up quickly, cursing in his mind for losing control on his non-verbal magic yet again. "Yes, I’m going to torture your Mudblood. I think seeing it suffer will be much worse than torturing you." Hermione whimpered. "Do you hear that? It’s afraid. This is going to be funner than I thought." Hermione wheezed. "There no…such word…as funner…you idiotic man." Harry couldn’t help but smirk. Hermione was right. There was no such word as funner. But she was also right to call Voldemort a man. He was mortal. The horcruxes were all destroyed. One Avada Kedavra and he would be finished.
"So it actually has a brain. How interesting. It’s going to be very enjoyable to watch you die. Don’t you agree, Harry?" Harry’s smile faded. "Yes…I’m going to make it suffer. I’ll drive it to the brink of madness and let it sway back and forth on the cliff of sanity. I’ll make it beg to kill you instead." Harry gritted his teeth and lowered his head. "I’ll make it scream, ‘Kill Harry! Kill him! I don’t care anymore! Just kill him!’" Harry laughed despite himself. "She would never do that to me." Dolohov finally spoke up. "The Dark Lord, Mr. Potter, can make people do impossible things. There is a reason as to why his name must not be spoken." Harry felt the ropes around his ankles give way. Harry raised his head dangerously slowly, his eyes shining with anger and tears. "His name is Tom Riddle. He’s a wizard. Nothing more. And he is a coward if he cannot fight me himself."
This challenged intrigued Voldemort as he looked at Harry, observing his tied-up opponent. "Is that so?" he asked slowly, raising his wand to Harry’s forehead. "You know I’ve always hated this scar. This blemish that made you more famous than me." Hermione rose to her knees, observing the two men. “As I," she corrected again. "SHUT UP!" Voldemort snapped. He turned his attention back to Harry.
"You’re both aggravating, aren’t you? Forget it, I’ll just kill you right here. Right on the scar." Harry held in a breath, closed his eyes and unleashed his plan. Just as Voldemort started the curse, he brought his hands up, lifted the ropes from his neck and pulled up. Then he pulled his head down as hard as he could, finally freeing himself and losing his glasses in the process. The curse hit the tree and disappeared into the bark. Voldemort growled but Harry was fast as he grabbed the wand from his fingers and held it against his foe. "Avada Kedavra," he whispered, letting the hate flow through his veins, into the wand and out in a green flash. It had happened quickly. In the blink of an eye.
When Voldemort collapsed, lifeless, Harry finally let out his breath. He turned to Hermione, her mouth open, amazed at what had just happened. Dolohov was nowhere to be seen. He ran to her side and fell on her. "Your glasses," he heard her whisper. He felt her hands on his cheeks and her lips trailing butterfly kisses all over his face. Knowing she was alright, he finally let go and fell into a deep sleep. One he would only wake up from two months later.
Harry opened his eyes and sprung up from the couch. Another dream. Another flashback. He was getting sick of them. He wanted to catch Dolohov. Put an end to the horror. He pulled off his shirt when he felt the sweat on his body. Then he gazed at his hands and sighed when he saw they were shaking. He was still scared. The madness would never end. Even after Dolohov. There would always be another madman marked on terrorizing the world. Always. He stifled a cry at the thought of constantly jeopardizing the lives of his friends. "Hermione," he whispered into the night.
Dedication: This chapter is dedicated to *someone special* out there. You = safe. It’s the only way I can sleep at night.