The glow on the horizon was stronger by the minute as Hermione lay awake in bed that morning, sleep evading her for a few hours now. It was moments ago that Jonathan had left, kissing her briefly on her cheek as she pretended to sleep.
Despite appearing calm, resting in between the crumpled sheets, Hermione was restless and her thoughts a never-ending whirl of fogged memories, questions and weird associations. She briefly recalled a secret phone-call she had with Sheila the previous evening while Jonathan was taking a shower. Sheila was quite surprised at the change of arrangements and even more curious, but she promised to cover up for Hermione in case Jonathan got too inquisitive.
Perhaps it was the knowledge that Hermione could shamelessly produce such a big lie that didn’t let her sleep. Or was it the anticipation she felt for the following day? It was a habit of hers, waking up in the middle of the night and staring blankly at the ceiling when she was excited.
Neither of them knew whether the direction they were heading was the right one, whether it wasn’t just a very misleading clue, but she didn’t care. The mere possibility of digging deeper into the truth filled her with energy and enthusiasm unlike she had ever experienced.
And there was also Ronald. Closing her eyes and turning over restlessly, Hermione noticed she thought of him far too often. Was it really so inevitable?
Well, of course it is, she thought, placing her arm over her eyes. His appearance was, after all, what triggered all this slow discovery of where she came from and who she really was. Even though Hermione usually avoided going on instinct alone, this time she both felt and knew she was on the right track.
Glancing at the clock on the wall, she decided it was finally time to get up. There was a lot to do. That meant packing, getting tickets, meeting Ron and leaving off toward London. She couldn’t help but grin widely as she felt the flighty feeling of adventure again, after what seemed like a very long time.
Once they were both sitting in the compartment, the city slowly getting lost in the distance, the air seemed to be heavy. After exchanging polite greetings on the station and boarding the train clumsily, it seemed they didn’t know what to do next.
Stealing strange glances at one another, it was difficult to just start speaking. It was the most peculiar train ride, and the silence was growing uncomfortable. Some silences feel okay, but between them, silence felt unnatural. The air seemed to beg for a friendly chatter or a lively quarrel, anything but this silence that only made them feel more detached and doubting of what they were doing.
“So,” Ron started, daring to be the first one to break the silence. Trying to look cool and relaxed, Hermione noticed the tips of his ears betrayed him once again. “Was your fiancé very upset you weren’t going with him?”
It was Hermione’s turn to go red in the face, thinking back on her lie to Jonathan. More importantly, it was weird talking about Jonathan to Ronald Weasley, of all people.
“He took it well. He’s a very composed man, Jonathan is,” Hermione said calmly, straightening out her skirt.
Knitting his eyebrows close together, giving off a very inquisitive impression, Ron crossed his arms. “Is it…I mean, serious?”
Raising her eyebrows and smiling slightly, Hermione was caught a bit off guard by the question. “I daresay it is since we’re, you know, engaged.”
“Oh, right,” said Ron, looking out the window, a slight frown settling over his face. That little observation seemed to dampen even Hermione’s spirits unexpectedly. She now regretted telling him about the engagement so cheerily, it almost didn’t seem right.
“How about you? Won’t you be missed by a girlfriend?” she asked after a while, her curiosity overpowering her manners. Ron’s eyes settled back on her as he scratched the back of his head. He wondered what to say. Going and telling Hermione of all his confusion about Chelsea because of Hermione herself didn’t seem to be the best option. Yet what was Chelsea, after all? Was she his girlfriend?
“I guess,” he replied simply, staring back at Hermione who smiled vaguely in return, though her lips appeared to be a little bit more pressed than what was usual.
“Oh, that’s nice, then,” she said and turned away from him, pretending to be looking for something in her bag. When she heard him take out a magazine and start flipping through it, Hermione looked out the window and hoped she hadn’t looked as ridiculous as she had felt.
Pressing her head against the glass, she felt very hollow all of a sudden. Questions…they needed to be asked. But sometimes it was so hard to ask them. She didn’t even know what to ask. Yet she hadn’t failed to go and ask something as pointless and stupid as whether he had a girlfriend or not.
Her feeling of hollowness was replaced by abrupt irritation. Hermione yawned and decided to take a short nap. The lack of sleep was getting to her.
Jerking awake, Hermione sat up and blinked a few times.
“Are you all right?” Ron asked, leaning forward to look more closely at her.
“Yes, everything’s fine,” she replied. “I just had this sort of half-dream.... I was drifting from sleep and back and I suddenly just thought of…a boy.”
“A boy?” Ron asked with a puzzled look. “You thought of a boy. And?”
Shaking her head, Hermione furrowed her eyebrows and scratched her chin. “No, it was not as random. He felt familiar, so very familiar, yet I know I never met him. It was just like with you,” she added, looking at Ron deeply.
“What did he look like?” he asked with interest.
“I don’t know…he looked young, eleven or twelve, black hair, glasses, sort of skinny and strange.”
Thinking hard, Ron shook his head after a moment. “It doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Not at all?”
“Nope.” Leaning back into his seat, Ron went back to flipping through the magazine, looking as unbothered as ever. Hermione watched him for a second, slightly irritated that he didn’t really care about her random speck of a thought. Her mind, though, remained glued to the blurred face of the boy. She felt the sudden urge to reach out to him and protect him: that’s why it had unsettled her so much. Just like with Ron, here was a person that obviously had no part in her life, but as she saw him, only indistinctly in her mind, she felt feelings for the person.
“Ronald, don’t you think this might be important?” Hermione spoke up again, ignoring Ron’s impatient click of his tongue as he looked up from his magazine.
“Actually, I don’t really understand these mind things. You think it’s someone real?”
“I’m sure of it,” she said resolutely, crossing her arms and staring out the window, thinking hard.
Hours went by and the further they were from Edinburgh, the more detached both of them felt from all that held them back. As Ron’s thoughts still centred around Chelsea and her kiss, the closer he was to London, the more blurred her face appeared. For Hermione, the distance from home made her feel less atrocious for lying to Jonathan.
With each crossed mile a new feeling seeped into them. It almost felt like they were returning to a place they’d once loved, after a long absence. That alone proved they weren’t doing the wrong thing after all.
The train slowed down and finally stopped. Ron and Hermione exited the compartment and joined the small crowd pushing their way toward the doors and out onto Platform Ten of King’s Cross Station in London.
Finally off the train, Hermione checked whether she hadn’t forgotten anything and then looked at Ron.
“Ready?” she asked, but noticed Ron wasn’t really listening to her. He was looking in some kind of a daze at the large sign with the number ten on it, glancing then on platform nine. “Ron?” she asked timidly, reaching out a hand to touch his shoulder as an odd shiver ran down her spine. “What is it?”
Starting at her touch, Ron looked at her, sharpening his eyes as if he looked at her for the first time. “Um…nothing, it’s nothing. Let’s go,” he said and walked on. Hermione hurried to catch up with him, turning her head to look back between platforms nine and ten. Something strange had happened, she knew that, and she longed to stay between those two walls for just a little longer.
Walking through crowds of people, Ron could still hear faint, familiar whistling in his ears. He could still smell the engine smoke, even after they got out of the station and waited for a taxicab.
Hermione and Ron went off to search for the nearest hotel. They hadn’t really had a chance to see London entirely from the cab, as it took them only a short way, but the streets were full and both of them silently had their little doubts.
“This is perfect,” Ron said sarcastically as they sat in the car. “I can clearly imagine us going from person to person asking, ‘Hello, sorry to interrupt you, but do you, by any chance, recognize my face?’”
“Because there is a solution to everything. Always,” Hermione replied strictly. “Let’s get settled somewhere for the night and we’ll deal with the rest later.”
Soon they found a little hotel on Grover Street. The Langland Hotel was small and just enough for their needs, seeing as both didn’t have all that much money to spend. They still didn’t know how long they would need to stay.
Entering the Georgian-style building, Hermione walked straight toward the receptionist while Ron stayed behind, still thinking back to the train station and all the emotions that had whirled inside of him at that moment. That place had seemed to remind him of so much, yet the old feeling of being unable to grasp it overcame him once again. And so he suspended the thoughts and joined Hermione.
The receptionist was an older, balding man, looking as stuck-up and pompous as if he were the owner of a large, lavishly expensive hotel chain.
“That will be fifty pounds for one night. How long do you plan to stay?”
“Fifty?” Ron whispered under his breath, rolling his eyes and grudgingly taking out his wallet. “I said some random bed and breakfast would be better.”
“Don’t worry,” Hermione said with a smile, ignoring the unpleasant smirk of the receptionist headed Ron’s way. “I can pay for it. It’s been a good month and-“
“Absolutely not,” Ron cut in hurriedly, feeling quite hot in the face all of a sudden. Hermione bit her lip and scolded herself for making him feel uncomfortable.
I should’ve known, she said to herself, though why she should have known, she hadn’t a clue.
“Will you want your luggage brought up?”
“Ah, sure!” Ron exclaimed joyfully, glad that he could provide that bit of comfort the hotel provided.
“I don’t think that will be needed,” Hermione said pointedly. “It’s nothing heavy, surely we can carry it ourselves!”
Letting out a sigh of exasperation, Ron picked up his rucksack and headed toward the stairs, muttering ‘women’ under his breath. Hermione soon joined him at the bottom of the staircase.
“Oh come on, Ronald, stop looking so sullen. But back there…oh, wouldn’t it be ridiculous if we asked the receptionist to carry our bags, when this is all we’ve got?”
“It would give him something to do at least. Look at him, sitting there, looking like…like ruddy Merlin or something. I say there’s something very wrong with English personnel lately.”
Snorting, Hermione turned to Ron with a grin. “Sorry? Merlin?”
Scratching his head, Ron furrowed his eyebrows and stepped into the lift. “I…have no idea where that came from. This day keeps on being weirder and weirder.”
“That may be a good thing,” Hermione said, smiling absently. “Maybe it’s a sign we’re to find out more about ourselves.”
Reaching their landing, Hermione unlocked the door to their hotel room. It was nicely furnished with two separate beds standing across from the large window. Opposite the beds was a small conference table with two puffy armchairs around it. The green wallpaper set a darker shade around the room, adding to the impersonal and stiff air the room carried.
Sitting down in one of the armchairs, Hermione stretched her legs and was just about to stand up and take a shower when Ron said, “Well, finally! I’ll just take a quick shower. God, I smell like a weasel out of water.” Chuckling at his own joke, Ron entered the bathroom and closed the door. Hermione smiled as she heard him still chuckling from inside.
Standing up, she made her way to the large window and opened it, letting fresh air in. Hermione could not decipher how she felt. She was scared, being in such a big city with no specific destination. But on the other hand, she felt that a proper dose of research and a bit of luck could easily put them on the right track. She just hoped it wouldn’t take too long. There was still Edinburgh and all that held her back.
Shaking her head, Hermione laughed at herself. Of course her life and Jonathan weren’t holding her back from anything. On the contrary, it would be so much better once she finally found all her missing pieces. At least she hoped so. One never knew just what the missing pieces might reveal. The truth could be scary, but however scary it might be, Hermione thought, it wouldn’t make her search for it any less.
The streets underneath her were still alive in the sunset when Ron joined Hermione at the window, smelling of fresh soap. Shaking his head, the water from his hair drizzled all around, even at Hermione.
“Oh, sorry about that. I might get a haircut, it’s getting too long. Mum doesn’t like it when it gets like this.”
“Really?” Hermione asked with interest, leaning onto the railing with her arms and cocking her head to get a full view of Ron’s face.
“Yeah, I guess. I don’t really know, actually. She died when I was little.”
“How do you know then that she wouldn’t like your hair getting long?”
Falling silent for a moment, Ron shrugged. “I can only take a guess. It’s just a part of this whole messed-up business, I’m sure. And that’s why we’re here. To finally end it. You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to the day when everything will get cleared up.” A wonderful smile spread across his face and Hermione could only silently think that yes, she had idea just how much he was looking forward to it. “Isn’t it wicked to be in another city such as this with a complete stranger?” Ron laughed.
“Yes, it is. But it also feels good. You know, doing something out of the ordinary,” Hermione replied with sparks in her eyes, though they faded as she added, “I don’t normally cross lines that I or others have set for myself, ever.”
“This is, then, quite rebellious or even reckless of you. Why, I could be just some psychopath.”
“So could I,” Hermione said, joining in his laughter. “But I think we both know something’s up, we agreed on that already. And besides, I trust you.”
Hermione said these words without really meaning to, but once they were spoken, she didn’t feel any need to take them back. Simply because it was the truth – she trusted this man.
Ron looked at her with a solemnity she hadn’t realized he was capable of. It was nice, seeing him smile that way, with so much thanks in his eyes. Hermione’s stomach felt fuzzy all of a sudden, and she looked away. As if on cue, a man wearing a neat suit and carrying his black case crossed the street, reminding her so much of Jonathan her hands shook.
She remembered her fiancé and the fact that it was not very appropriate, staring out the window into the sunset with a man that made her stomach do flips.
“I trust you too,” she heard Ron say. Smiling briefly, Hermione quickly turned away, took some clothes out of her bag and went to finally take her shower. Ron could only stare after her, his eyes cast on the door of the bathroom for moments to come.
The darkness came swiftly and by the time Hermione came out of the bathroom, Ron was already in bed.
The room went silent as soon as the light went out. Breathing of the two figures was regular and calm, yet sleep evaded both. As all the hidden truths about the past and themselves hung in the air, both Ron and Hermione felt desperately alone in their small beds. It seemed to hold so much more space, and while the other was only two steps away, the distance between them was overwhelming. It was a distance of confusion, of questions and doubts, of all they didn’t know and had to find out.
Hermione longed to turn the light on and talk to him. She almost felt she needed to, but the inconceivable fear kept her back. Ron wanted to raise his head to just look at her outline in the dark, for the briefest second, but he lay as still ever, his eyes wide open and mind painfully blank.
And so even though they found something missing in each other by the strangest of circumstances, the distance kept on gnawing at both their hearts. But sometimes it is the distance itself that makes people want to overcome it and get closer - as close as possible to all that the distance keeps away from them.
Author's Note: Yes, this chapter has been resubmitted after the big server crash since there were some problems with it. I wanted to post it back up sooner, but my internet is having real issues and is not working. I'm doing this from a friend's computer. So, as always thanks to ym amazing beta Megs and thanks to all of you for reading. Even though I lost quite a lot of reviews for this story, like many of you, I still believe you're still out there and will keep on reading and enjoying my story. Please review. I'll be very, very happy. :D Thank you for all your support.
PS: The next chapter is halfway done, be on the lookout, it might get posted really soon.