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Chapter 10 : At the New Burrow
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A/N: Hello Everyone! I have been wondering a lot whether to divide this chapter, cause it's a bit long, but then decided to take it to you in one piece. It will be long, but at least you won't have to wait for the second part of it.
Hermione will face new difficulties, which will lead to new epiphanies (see next chapter - Cold Dawn).
Read and have lots of fun!
And special thanks to Slyterin Princess for betaing the story and giving me excellent suggestions and tips!
The kitchen door of the small house that lay perfectly hidden in the sly swamp of Shallow Waters slowly pulled open and three muddy figures appeared on the threshold.
Molly turned back to see, which member of her family could not wait till dinner, when she froze in shock.
The ruins of the gorgeous treacle tart lay on the floor, like a sinking island in the deserted sea.
Molly Weasley, whose hands had just let this masterpiece of tedious work drop, stood rooted to the kitchen floor.
“Holy druids!” she gasped.
“Hermione!” Apart from Molly’s shriek the house seemed to be swallowed by impenetrable silence.
“Oh, dear!” Her petrified shock gave way to an unstoppable flood of emotions.
Not caring about the floor, tart and the dripping clothes of the trio, Molly clutched Hermione in an affectionate embrace. Tears of anguish and unexpected happiness washed down her face and they blended with the mud stains on Hermione.
“Mum, please!” Ron growled.
“We are glad we’ve found her alive, we don’t want her to be strangled here,” he mumbled, but Molly took no heed of her son’s remark. She warily examined Hermione, her face, her limbs, anything she could quickly check, before the rest of the Weasley family came to investigate what made her crash plates this time and her maternal care would be washed away by the oncoming excitement.
And they came; Arthur, Ginny, Fred and George and even Remus Lupin.
They all stood on the threshold, looking dubious and dumbfounded.
“Hermione!” The blood-freezing bellowing came from George Weasley, and Hermione felt strong hands lift her into the air.
“Holy beard of Merlin! Garden gnomes weigh more than you!” George laughed.
“We knew you would make it!” Fred’s voice boomed across the tiny kitchen as he hurried to pat her back.
“Just let her breathe, will you?” Ron was circling around them like an upset goose, fearing for its precious little nestling.
“Ron, you’re being ridiculous,” George barked, “why would Hermione want to breathe once she’s got back here to us? Right?” This latter question was put to her directly, and before Hermione could have protested, she was released with a smacking kiss on her cheek.
Remus’ hands trembled when he hugged her; Hermione would have sworn he was crying without tears. She knew he liked her, but it was unexpected to see how deeply her fate had troubled him.
Ginny, well, she was sweet, little Ginny, as always.
“Why are you wearing men’s clothes?” Gin couldn’t miss this practical question as she observed her friend.
“Disguise, you silly girl,” Fred immediately answered instead of Hermione.
“Well done, Hermione. We couldn’t have done it any better,” George butted in.
“Now, I wouldn’t say that.” Fred looked back at his twin, and nasty grins spread across their faces.
The greetings and hugs seemed to last forever, and Ron’s face told that he was losing his match against all those excited arms which never released his girlfriend.
“All right everyone! Hermione needs a warm bath, she’s all cold and dripping wet!” Molly ushered Hermione out of the kitchen, which now looked like a battlefield.
Hermione was lead upstairs to a small bathroom.
Fuming, sweet-smelling water.
But Hermione didn’t mind. To tell the truth she was frozen to death; she didn’t feel her toes or her soles, in fact she was walking on perfectly numb feet. Her legs seemed to become a part of Filch’s damned ice-glazed trousers and her hands turned into red, aching pieces of flesh.
Only her face burnt with the excitement of the reunion.
She slowly sank into the tub, the rim of which was laden with all kinds of lovely stuff – a camomile scented soap bar, several combs, shampoo-potion with vanilla-essence, brush, pink and blue sponges, fragrant oils and so on.
How different this tiny bathroom was from Dumbledore’s gorgeous bath, yet she loved its cosiness.
She was fiddling with a stubborn knot in her hair, when someone knocked on the door.
Hermione involuntarily sank deeper, taking refuge under the foamy water.
“It’s just me, Ginny! I’ve brought you towels!” Ginny’s clear voice rang.
“Oh, Ginny! Come in!”
The door opened and a girl appeared laden with a huge pile of soft towels so that she had to peer sideways to be able to pass the doorframes.
“Mum said to give you these.” She grinned and put the towel-tower on a small shelf, where it dangerously lurched, but at the last moment, changed its mind and stayed still.
“Thanks.” Hermione’s voice wavered; of all the people, she needed Ginny most now, her gentle, true friend.
“Erm,” Ginny said, and then letting out a cheerful laugh, she added, “Gosh, I sound like my brother... I’m so very glad to see you Hermione! I missed you. I missed you terribly!” She plainly smiled at her friend, and Hermione felt her insides start to burn with affection.
“I missed you, too, Ginny,” she replied.
They looked at each other for a moment hesitating between tears and laughter till finally they chose the latter.
“I have never made such a confession to any of my boyfriends before.” Ginny laughed cheerfully. “Please, feel honoured!”
“I do, I do!” Hermione replied.
“Oh, before I forget, I have brought you one of my best hair-repairing, anti-frizz balms. Said to be made according to an ancient Scotch fane recipe,” Ginny cast the bright pink vial a dubious look and then vaguely shrugged, “Well, anyway, it does wonders to messy hair. Believe me, I know it. You can’t imagine what’s going on on my head when I’m nervous.” She grinned.
“I think I will need that…” Hermione couldn’t finish her sentence.
Loud knocks shook the door.
“Hey, it’s a door, not a bloody striking bag!” Ginny shrieked.
“Bet it’s Fred and George,” she told Hermione.
“Temper, Ginny. We have only brought Hermione a little treat…” Fred growled.
“Don’t be afraid, we are real gentlemen. We won’t break in.” George added with clear indignation.
“We have our special ways to deliver special treats to special friends.” Fred’s voice sweetened and the girls exchanged wary looks.
“Don’t worry,” the boys reassured them, and Hermione sank deeper into the water again.
At the bottom of the door a little door appeared. It looked just like the original one, though it wasn’t higher than a bottle of Firewhiskey, nor was it wider.
It opened and a most unexpected thing appeared in it – a dull-faced gnome, wearing shining black shoes and an elegant burgundy suit with white laced shirt.
“Oh goodness! What the heck is that?” Hermione gasped.
The gnome cast an ill-willed look, but obeying to some invisible force it stepped closer, and the girls could see the strange bottle he carried on his back.
“It’s one of the twins’ domesticated gnomes. Mum has strictly forbidden keeping them, actually.” Ginny shrugged, indicating that she had seen worse things than that to become upset.
“Enjoy yourself!” The twins’ voices echoed across the corridor.
Ginny unceremoniously took the bottle from the gnome and pushed him out of the room.
She cautiously smelled the liquid inside, and immediately relaxed.
“It’s alright. Eerie-coloured Bubble Creatures. The twins hated having a bath in their childhood, you know. Not that they’ve grown more enthusiastic about it by the years.” She pouted.
“So, it’s their invention to make it more fun.” She handed Hermione the bottle.
She took it hesitantly, unsure what she should do with it.
“Tap the neck of the bottle with your wand.”
Hermione fixed her eyes on the thing in her hand and reached slowly for her wand. She tapped it softly.
Suddenly bubbles erupted from the bottle of all sizes and all imaginable colours. They wildly bounced around the bathroom giving strange whistling noises.
The bubbles started to lose their round shape, turning into small creatures resembling animal shaped balloons – rabbits, poodles, horses and birds of all possible kinds. There were others that had turned into sailing boats, clouds or spoons.
Ginny absent-mindedly tapped some of them with the tip of her wand and they obediently ascended onto the rim of the tub, impatiently frisking about like racing horses.
“Fred and George used to make awesome races with them. Wanna try?” Before Hermione could have answered the bubbles started a neck-breaking race across the sponges and vials, and Hermione needed all her skills to minimize the damage.
“Ginny,” Hermione asked when the havoc had subsided, “how did Ron take it?”
Ginny looked for a moment silently.
“I have never seen him like that. He was worse than a hundred Percys. He went kinda mad.”
She sighed and continued.
“I think he always blamed himself for what happened. He always kept repeating what if he hadn’t got injured, what if he had stayed conscious… We all thought he would go completely off his hinges.”
Hermione fixed her gaze on a Bubble kitten chasing a fat poodle.
“Harry wasn’t better either,” Ginny said sitting down on the soft floor-rug.
“He either sat in his room, making lunatic plans about your rescue or went to fulfil those plans together with Ron. They have escaped death only by miracle and thanks to Mad-Eye several times.”
Hermione looked up from the fierce kitten that managed to thrust the puddle into the water. Ginny replied the unsaid question.
“Once they thought they had found you. It turned out to be a trap. Ron nearly shot Harry when he tried to drag him away from the fake-Hermione. They never spoke about it afterwards, but that was a critical point in their relationship.”
Suddenly they heard Molly shouting:
“Dinner is ready!”
“Oh yeah, Mum said you don’t have to join dinner in the kitchen if you’re too tired or don’t feel well. She has made a bed for you in my room,” Ginny said standing up.
“I’m going now. Just call me if you need anything. Okay?” Hermione returned her reassuring smile, and Ginny left.
Remus Lupin tiredly combed his hair with his fingers.
“Listen to me, Hermione. Molly is very worried about you.”
“Remus, I’m perfectly fine. As I have said – I won’t go to St. Mungo’s.” Hermione noticed a Snape-ish sharpness in her tone.
“Look in the mirror – you’re not well. You’re as gaunt as if you have come from Azkaban, and you’re still not eating.”
“I’m simply not hungry,” she repeated.
Remus slowly shook his head.
“I’m healthy, Remus. Believe me, I am!” She leaned forward looking straight in his eyes.
The man sighed and desperately looked around the deserted kitchen. He had no choice, but to play his trump.
“Look, Hermione, I’ll talk straight. There are physical as well as mental damages. I believe you have both, and St. Mungo’s the only place where it can be cured. Suppressing and denying it won’t help. Ginny said…”
“What Ginny said is a simple fact – I had a nightmare. Everyone has after being close to Voldemort. There is nothing extraordinary about it.” She tried to sound polite even though she was seething inside. What was Lupin hinting at?
“I’m a werewolf. My job is to mingle with my kind and learn as much about the Dark Lord as I can.” He looked intently at the girl.
Hermione sat still and quiet.
“During the last six months I was busy looking for any information about you. And do you want to know what I have found?” Remus very rarely looked like this; he reminded her of the wolf he was.
Hermione pressed her lips and looked down at her hands.
“You have been… abused. And that’s a fact.”
Hermione considered his words for some time.
“Have you told anyone?”
Hermione sighed with relief.
“But don’t you think that Molly is a stupid mother-hen. You would be surprised to know how much you are mistaken. She likes to play that role, but truly she’s smarter than most of the Order members. Besides, her instincts are as sharp as the sight of an eagle. Though she tactfully hides her suspicions, she firmly believes that you didn’t get away with simple Cruciatus curses. She knows Voldemort well enough to be sure that he would not be satisfied without mental terror.”
Hermione sank into her seat deeper with every word. Remus was right.
“To tell you the truth, Hermione, I’m very much surprised to find you so balanced and calm after what had happened. You are perhaps the strongest person I have ever seen. Nevertheless, I insist that you go to St. Mungo’s for an examination.” Remus’s eyes pierced her with unexpected determination.
“Is there some particular reason you don’t want to go there?”
Of course there is, you fool! What would I say them, who had removed my memories? Who had risked my sanity to amputate my ill-thoughts? No, St. Mungo’s can’t help me. They can’t erase my FEELINGS!
Remus didn’t soften his look.
“They can help you with that trauma. They can’t erase your past, but they can ease your pain. Then we agreed, didn’t we?”
Hermione didn’t respond.
The door suddenly swung open and Harry walked in with a huge mug in his right hand and biscuits in his left hand.
He was munching with a satisfied look on his face when he realized that Hermione and Remus were sitting in the corner. Their tense postures told him enough to make him mumble an excuse.
“Erm… vust looking fov fome tea.”
“I’ll get you some!” said Hermione jumping up from her chair.
Harry knew that he unwillingly became a refuge for Hermione and that Remus strongly disapproved that.
He hated situations like that.
Remus, seeing that the battle was postponed, silently stood up and left the room.
No matter how Harry hated embarrassing situations, he seemed to attract them like a magnet attracts iron.
A few weeks later, he happened to be looking for the twins; he checked every room, even the broom closet with no results. There was nothing left but the most improbable place – the library. He stepped to the door to find it opened slightly.
He wanted to push it when he saw Hermione and Ron in the gap.
Ron pulled her into his embrace and leaned his head obviously to kiss her.
It was Hermione’s expression, which made Harry stand rooted to the spot.
She looked frightened and desperate. Confusion was clearly written on her face.
When Ron touched her lips, she suddenly pushed him forcefully back.
“Forgive me, Ron… I… I just can’t!”
She stormed out of the library leaving Ron flabbergasted and instantly crashed into a just as abashed Harry.
She opened her mouth to say something, but it was one of those rare occasions, when she had no idea what to say, so she just pressed her lips together and hastened away.
Harry followed her.
“Hermione! Wait,” Harry panted, trying to catch up with Hermione.
She stopped and turned to him.
“Harry, it’s not the best moment…”
“I have to talk to you.”
Hermione impatiently pouted.
“All right, what do you want to talk about?” The sentence suggested that she wanted to get finished with what she deemed to be an unpleasant conversation as fast as possible.
“Erm… come, let’s find a place where we can talk,” Harry said and looked around.
Hermione curved her lips nervously.
“Percy’s room will be perfect.” Harry questioningly looked at the girl.
She reluctantly nodded and let herself be pulled into the nearest room.
“What is it, Harry?” She asked somewhat irritably.
“Perhaps it’s not the best moment to bring it up…”
“No, it’s not, but you’ve started already so go on.”
Hermione looked straight in Harry’s eyes.
“Alright then,” he said just to gain some time.
“I… I saw you and Ron in the library…”
“I know. Is that what you wanted to tell me?” Hermione suddenly felt a shame burning her face.
“Sorry, Harry. I’m a bit tense.”
“It’s okay. This is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.” Harry slowly regained his assurance.
“We used to be friends, right? Let me be your friend again. Let me be honest with you,” he said.
Hermione raised her right brow.
“There is a gap between you and me. And there is an even huger gap between Ron and you. I tried to consider this a simple effect of your imprisonment. But there’s something that tells me that it’s something more. You avoid us. Moreover, you retreat from Ron. No, don’t deny it. I have seen it several times. You draw away when he comes close to you, you shiver from his touch and you never give him a chance to be alone with you.”
Hermione closed her mouth, which had opened in an answer.
“Hermione, I know that you’re keeping a secret. I have known it from the very beginning. Oh, don’t be a fool! We know each other well enough to tell lie and truth apart.”
“Harry, I haven’t lied to you. I haven’t told you the whole truth and please, don’t ask me to do so, but I never lied to you.”
“All right then. I won’t ask you. I don’t have to. I know. But you should tell it to Ron. He still believes in your relationship. He should know that it has ended.”
Hermione stared wildly at the boy.
“What… what do you mean?”
“You weren’t just cursed there, were you?” Harry’s glasses flashed in the half-light.
Hermione didn’t answer; she was staring at Percy’s neatly laid slippers.
She loved Harry so much, but how could she tell him that she felt dirty and disgusting, unworthy of his friendship. As for Ron, she never dared to put it that way, but Harry was right – their love died. Or to be honest, it was killed by someone who was never supposed to stand in their way.
Suddenly she felt herself in his embrace and realized how much she missed that.
Harry understood that this barrier she was not in the power to pass, so he passed it himself.
He accepted her the way she was. He accepted her even if she betrayed Ron…
Tears welled up in her throat – something that hadn’t happened for what seemed an eternity.
“Harry… I’m… I’m a terrible mess. You can’t imagine how hard it is for me to look into your eyes. How hard it is to look in the mirror. I’m no longer the Hermione you used to know. I’m a… I’m a mess.”
How could she tell him what she didn’t admit even to herself?
“Harry, you and Ron will hate me! If you learn the whole truth about me, you will never talk to me again! If I never tell you, I will hate myself! Either way I have lost both of you!” she cried burying her face into the curve of his neck.
Harry was at loss for how to deal with the unexpected collapse of his friend. He awkwardly caressed her back, while his mind was wildly looking for something witty to say.
Was she talking about being raped by Voldemort or was there something else under the muddy surface?
“You’re not talking about Voldemort, are you?
She wildly shook her head.
The door behind them opened and Ron’s dark face appeared.
“Friends. Ha!” he growled.
“I knew it. You came back to him.” He poked with his head towards Harry as if he was an abhorrent piece of dragon dung.
Hermione spun back, and both she and Harry stared at him uncomprehending.
“It’s okay. I won’t disturb you.”
He turned to leave the room, but before they could have collected their jumbled thoughts he spat:
“You know, Hermione, I was a fool trying to convince myself that Harry’s black hair had gotten on your pillow accidentally last June.”
He slammed the door behind him.
Hermione sank onto Percy’s bed. Harry tried to run after his friend, but she grabbed his arm, showing to let him go.
Harry desperately kicked a bookshelf, which joggled, and a pile of Sexy Witches Magazines spilt from behind a Special German Spellbook.
It was hot, very hot that day.
There was no sign of the members of the Order. They had all went on different missions or simply took a break. Anyway, the house was empty.
Molly took the reluctant Ron to her Aunt, who was always on her deathbed though she never actually died. This time she seemed serious, but too much, of course.
Harry was furious.
Just like Sirius, he hated to be locked up in the house.
As for Hermione; she was naturally supposed to make sure that Harry didn’t go off wandering.
It was hot and boring; the evening brought no solace.
At first Hermione objected the idea of some cold drinks.
But then actually, the cold beer proved to be pretty nice.
They talked, a lot.
It wasn’t that boring anymore. She happened to like it.
They sat on the tiny terrace on the second floor, which connected Ginny’s and Ronald’s room.
Her head felt dizzy and she felt good. Unheeding, she put her head on Harry’s shoulder.
It simply happened.
They were kissing, first clumsily, and then hunger woke in them.
If they had any thoughts about what they were doing, those were quickly drowned by the freedom of alcohol.
Everything seemed so simple and natural.
She remembered Harry’s hands on her neck.
He bent over her and took her strongly in his arms.
She was gasping loudly.
The innocent kisses turned into a wild, bruising buss.
Their bodies took over their minds – even their tiniest thoughts dissolved in the sea of sensations and pleasures.
The wooden floor of the terrace was hard and broken.
Harry easily took her up and she laughed. She didn’t expect that strength of him.
The bed softly moaned under their weight and she found that fascinating.
Kisses burnt her neck and she sighed.
Warm hands slid down her body to her tights.
The moon shone brightly through the opened window.
Harry pulled her closer.
She could feel the taste of alcohol on his lips.
His tongue softly slid into her mouth again.
It was hot, so hot in the room.
Her summer dress gave way to adept fingers.
Her spine arched as she surrendered to the sensation of Harry’s hands on the small of her back.
His breathing became erratic.
He slowly moved atop of her body.
She remembered how his need excited her.
The bed gave a protesting creak. She didn’t mind.
The absurdity of the moment dragged them away from reality.
Emotions, sensations and the present gently melded into floating pleasure.
She couldn’t tell what she was moaning into Harry’s ear that he liked so much.
It didn’t count.
Her fingers clutched the pillow above her head and her eyes closed.
His rhythmic moves were getting difficult to bear.
She wanted to scream. Joy was washing her over in waves.
It was perfect.
She was no longer feeling her body, nor did she hear the tired grating of the wood.
She was simply happy.
They never talked about it afterwards. They had silently agreed on forgetting that unfortunate evening, which they had shared.
They weren’t in love, though they truly loved each other.
Their friendship crossed a thin line, and sensuality together with their trust and devotion to each other entrained them into the deep waters of that night.
It could be forgotten, but not undone.
They blankly stared at the Sexy Witches next to the accurate slippers.
So, I hope you liked it. Sorry for that little trick I played on Percy. LOL
I just couldn't miss that one! In the next chapter Hermione makes a decision. She'll go on a dangerous mission, and the others won't be too enthusiastic about it. But who cares? Love knows no limits. ; )
See you soon! wings
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