A/N: Hello again! Sorry about such a long wait! I'm trying to get as much of this written as I can before I post, but that is slowed down a bit by real life. I have every intention to finish this story, don't you worry! It's the longest thing I've ever written, so it might take some time. If I had realized that it would take so long, I would have waited to start posting until I had more written so you guys wouldn't have to wait so long!
I'd like to thank x0xcaitlinx0x and HoneyDukesKid from the forums for helping me with one the Auror situation in this chapter. I never would have been able to come with it without your help!
Enough of my rambling. Here's the next chapter! Enjoy! Chapter 6-Truth and Lies
Harry smiled sleepily as he rolled over in his bed in that place between being fully awake and sleep. Even in his fogged state, one thing stood out to him; it was his birthday.
Birthday's hadn't meant much for the first part of his life. Other than himself, no one really gave a damn if he was another year older. In fact, he wouldn't have been surprised if the Dursleys weren't wishing for him to just drop dead. The day had meant much more once he had started Hogwarts and found people who actually cared about such trivial things as getting him a card or making him a cake. Ever since the end of the war, however, they had been elevated even more.
Ginny had been determined to make up for all of the years that he had missed out on. No matter how many times he told her that she didn't have top do it, that it wasn't her fault that his Aunt and Uncle were assholes, she refused to listen. She always went the extra mile on his birthdays to make the occasion special, so maybe he could somewhat reclaim some of the childhood he lost. It sounded kind of corny, but the gesture was sweet, and he thoroughly appreciated and loved her for it.
Harry inched his hand towards the spot where Ginny usually would lie in the mornings. Finding nothing but empty sheets, he frowned.
"Happy birthday!" he heard her cheery voice chirp as she entered the room. Harry quickly grabbed his glasses from the nightstand and shoved them on his face. A smile crossed his face at the sight of his fiancé. She was wearing a nice light blue tee-shirt that hugged her body in all the right places and some casual jeans, and looked just as beautiful as ever. "I thought I'd let you sleep in a bit." she added, walking over to give him a peck on his forehead.
Harry caught her wrist as she started to stand up strait. He tugged on it slightly, beckoning her to come closer. Looking into her eyes intently, he whispered, "Thanks," before pulling her in for a proper kiss.
When they broke apart, she was smiling brightly. "I love you," she whispered, pushing one of his inky locks behind an ear.
"Why you do is a complete mystery to me," he began teasingly. "But," he continued hastily at her exasperated expression, "I think it's something I can live with." He grinned at her with mock innocence.
Scowling, she stood up and shoved him playfully on the arm. Ginny walked over to the closet where she grabbed her purse. "Where are you going?" Harry asked curiously.
"I have to go pick up some things for your party later and bring them over to Mum's. Then I'm going to go check on Hermione before it starts."
Harry frowned. "Why do you need to check on Hermione? Is something wrong?"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Honestly," she scoffed.
"What!" he cried out indignantly.
She shook her head at him. "She's just got a lot going on right now. I think she could use a little girl time before she sees everyone else."
"But why did that have to be today again?" Ginny gave in such a glare that he left his questioning at that. Instead, he put on what she called his puppy-face. "So I'm not going to see you all day?" he asked innocently.
Ginny smiled, coming closer to him. "Don't worry, love. I'm sure you'll find something to keep yourself occupied. Besides," she added, wrapping her arms around his body. "I'll make it up to you tonight."
Smiling at the images that brought to mind, Harry sighed, resigned. "Alright, if you must." he conceded.
Giving him one last peck on the cheek, Ginny stood. "There's some breakfast waiting for you downstairs." she informed him. "Love you," she called as she started out the door before Harry could even make a move.
Shaking his head slightly, he called out to the now companionless room, "Love you too."
Harry had just finished his breakfast, and was now sipping his coffee slowly as he read the Daily Prophet. It was amazing that his engagement to Ginny still was on the front page, seeing as they had announced it almost a week ago. Those nutters can't seem to get enough of me, can they?
He heard a slight pop from the fireplace behind him. "Harry," he heard Ron's voice call out. Harry frowned. He didn't like the way his voice sounded...
He turned around to face his friend. "Hey, what's up?" he asked. "I'm surprised you're not in bed."
Ron smiled grimly. "I wish I were. Something has come up and I needed to come in."
"It's not good. You'd better come to the office, I'll fill you in there." He grimaced. "Sorry about all this, being your birthday and all..."
Harry shook his head. "Don't worry, I still have to do my job, birthday or not." Harry grabbed his wand. "Just give me a minute. If I have to go out, I should probably look proper."
"Just be quick about it," Ron half ordered, withdrawing his head from the flickering flames.
Harry pulled his work robes all the way on as he rushed into his office in the Auror Department. He caught sight of bright red hair, and for a split second thought that maybe the whole thing had been a set up by Ginny, who would pop out at him, offering him all that she could give...
He shook his head as Ron's face came into view; this was no joke.
Harry looked at his friend more closely. He was beginning to get worried about him. Ron had been keeping longer hours than normal, which in of itself was odd. He also hadn't been sleeping well, as was evident from the dark circles that had rimmed his eyes. Ron hadn't returned to his home since the night he showed up on their doorstep. Harry suspected that it was to hard for him to go home to a Hermione-less house, and he honestly couldn't really blame him for that.
Still, he worried. Ron was never the best at handling his emotions. He usually turned into a right git when he was upset. So far, Harry hadn’t seen that happen. But then again, Ron had decidedly been avoiding Hermione, the source of the distress, at all costs.
It pained Harry to think of what the events of the past week had done to his friends. It would never be the same again, not really. It had always been Ron and Hermione, even when they were too blind to see it. Maybe that was because it wasn’t meant to be.
Harry shook his head, forcing himself back to the situation at hand. He had a feeling that he was going to have to focus entirely on what was going on. “What’s up?” he asked as he walked through the doorway.
Ron nodded in response, his normal vigor suppressed by an extreme seriousness that seemed slightly unnatural.
"You remember Stan Bagdish?" Ron asked.
Harry frowned. "The former Auror under our protection? He had been hit by a spell or something, right? Addled his brains?"
Ron nodded. "He was living at home, even though his sanity was pretty much shot. He went mental when they tried to commit him. We've been keeping an eye on him, just to make sure nothing bad happens." He hesitated. "Bagdish gave his guards the slip last night. They didn't realize that he was gone until this morning."
Harry cursed. "Why the delay?"
A grimace crossed Ron's face. "I guess they got bored and fell asleep."
Harry felt the anger well up inside him. "Why were such inexperienced people working on such an important case?" he practically shouted.
"Beats me," he answered, shrugging. "But-"
Harry rubbed his temples. "Wait, there's more?" he asked disbelievingly.
"The good news is we've located him," Ron replied. "The bad news, and why we had to bring you in, is because he's wandering around a Muggle city, telling anyone who will listen that he's being chased by Death Eaters."
"Why wasn't I informed of this right at the beginning?" Harry demanded.
Ron grinned at him sheepishly. "None of us really wanted to ruin your birthday, mate."
Harry scowled. "Like the exposure of our world wouldn't ruin it anyways." He didn't mean to take his frustration out on Ron, but he, unfortunately, was the only target. "Why hasn't he been apprehended?" he snarled.
Stepping back slightly with his arms held up in surrender, Ron answered. "Well, he's right about one thing, someone is after him: us. Anytime any of us get too close, he starts ranting and causing a scene. We're trying to keep as much of the Muggles' attention as possible away from him. We thought that if you showed up, he might listen to reason and calm down somewhat. I mean, honestly, you would be the last person to ever be a Death Eater!"
Harry nodded, some of his anger fading as he got into mission mode. "Where,"
Ron gave him an address, and after transfiguring his work robes into Muggle attire, he quickly rushed out to the back of the Ministry building. There was a special section near their offices which allowed Aurors to Apparate out in case of an emergency, and this situation definitely was categorized as one. Turning on his heels, Harry vanished into thin air.
Dashing through the doors of the Department of Potion Experimentation, Hermione rushed to her desk. "Sorry I'm late," she gasped. "I overslept."
She heard a chuckle from across the room. "Glad you finally joined us," rang out a friendly voice. Hermione couldn't help but smile at her colleague and friend, Naomi Hunter. Naomi was reclining back in her chair, feet crossed on the desk. Her mahogany skin crinkled around her mouth as she beamed at Hermione as she slouched in.
Hermione scowled. "How can you always be so happy?" she half accused.
Naomi shrugged. "It's a gift." Her face became a tad more serious. "How are you?" she asked, her forehead creasing slightly with her frown.
Hermione grit her teeth. She had dumped her boyfriend, that was all. The way everyone was carrying on, her puppy had just died and the carcass got run over by the Knight Bus. They just care, that's all. "I'm fine," she replied as normally as she could.
Naomi crossed her arms. "Lies." Her big brown eyes bored into Hermione, as if they alone could force her to tell the truth. She hated when Naomi did this; her friend knew she had no resistance.
Forcing herself to look away, Hermione sighed, "I'm fine. All I want to do is get some work done, alright?" Naomi's arms were suddenly encompassing her frame in a strong hug.
"Sorry," she whispered in Hermione's ear.
Not even bothering to hold back the smile, Hermione whispered back, "It's alright." As the two broke apart, their boss, Denis Portman, poked his head into the room.
"Hermione!" he exclaimed, "What are you doing here?"
"I work here Denis."
He brushed her comment aside. "I know that. But why did you come in today? I thought you took it off?"
Hermione shook her head. "No, I have to leave a little early to get ready for Harry's party, but I thought I'd be able to get in a few hours of work at the very least. I’ve already missed a few days, I didn’t think I should miss any more."
"Nonsense!" Denis boomed. "Take the day off! Take tomorrow off as well!"
"I'm already here. I might as well get something product-"
"No," Denis said more firmly. "You are going home."
Hermione puffed up her chest. "Mr. Portman, you can't order me around like that!" she demanded icily.
"I'm your boss, and I can tell you if you should just LEAVE!!!" Denis shouted. Hermione looked at him, flabbergasted. He had never acted like this before. The man stood there, leaning against the wall with one hand, panting slightly from his outburst. "I'm sorry," His whispered voice was barely audible to Hermione's ears. "I shouldn't have raised my voice like that." He turned back around so he was facing her. "I know you've been through a lot this week, Hermione, and you need some time to cope." She could have sworn that there was the slightest trace of a smile on his lips as he said it, as if he was glad somehow. "I want to make things as easy as possible for you."
Glancing at Naomi, Hermione replied, "Fine, I'll go home today. But," she warned, raising her pointer finger in the air like a sword, "when I come back on Monday, there had better be no more of this 'take time off' business or I will take time off and never come back. Understood?"
Denis nodded. "Sorry again," At least this time he sounds like he actually means it.
"See you later, then," Naomi intoned, a strange look on her face.
"Is there something wrong?" Hermione asked her in an undertone, knowing full well that Denis was still in the room, and not being too sure what it was her friend was hiding.
"No, nothing's wrong," she insisted, her voice slightly off pitch. "I'll talk you later."
Hermione nodded, knowing that she'd find out was getting to Naomi one way or another.
He just stood there, staring at him. Severus shifted uneasily under the boy's gaze. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Jacob Baxter didn't reply. He just continued to look with deadened yet accusing eyes. The scene tilted suddenly, blurring everything except Jacob. Just as quickly as it had been marred, the picture cleared. They were in front of a quaint old house with lights flickering welcomingly in the windows which glowed in the dark night sky. There were some threatening looking clouds overhead and the rumblings of thunder were already apparent. Several figures moved in the shadows.
It was like being in a pensive. Severus felt his stomach jolt as he noticed himself among the hooded figures. He shot a quick glance at the boy, but he hadn't moved a muscle. Returning to the figures, he braced himself for what he knew would come.
"Severus," The word reached his ears clearly, although it had been muttered in a low whisper by the Dark Lord. "It is time that you've proven where your loyalties lie."
"My Lord," he heard his own strained voice mutter, "Haven't I already proved it? Have I not followed your every order, even when others shirked you?"
Severus felt himself being drawn closer. He tried to lift up his foot, he needed to run in the opposite direction, but his muscles wouldn't respond. He was trapped.
For the first time, he could see Lord Voldemort's face. His cruel mouth was leering at his past self. "I just want to ensure that fifteen years of hanging around Albus Dumbledore hasn't made you soft."
The past-Severus bowed his head to his master. "Of course,"
Voldemort caught his eye. "You will take care of the man. The others will take the Mudblood bitch." Severus felt his blood boil. He still didn't know how he had managed to survive being around Voldemort so much, what, with his urges to kill him popping up every ten seconds.
Voldemort scoffed. "What, Severus, afraid?"
The past-Severus put on a determined face. "Of course not, My Lord."
Past-Severus and a few other cloaked figures crept to the door. One of their companions tripped on the hem of his cloak as they made their way up the front stoop. He cried out involuntarily as his cheek hit pavement, and a jet of green light coming from the Dark Lord's direction ended all noise.
But that cry had been enough to tip off the occupants of the house. They could plainly hear someone dashing up the stairs, and when they burst the door open, long brown hair flipped around a corner above them. Severus watched as his past self went to the left, breaking off from his fellows who pursued the owner of the brown hair.
Both past and present Severus saw him about the same time. He was a tall, young man, no more than twenty-five at the most. His brown eyes darted frantically towards Severus behind the frames of his glasses.
"Expeliarmus!" past-Severus exclaimed, pointing his wand at the victim. The weapon shot out of his hand, rendering him defenseless.
"Please," the man whimpered.
Severus watched transfixed at the interaction. He could remember what it was like that day, seeing that man standing there, pleading for his life, and knowing what had to be done. He had squinted slightly, tilting his head. The resulting foggy haze made the man resemble James Potter. Severus had let his pent up furry for the man build within himself, giving him the fuel he needed. He braced himself as his past-self opened his mouth and shouted...
In the customary flash of green light, the man slumped to the ground, the life drained out of him. He watched his past self shake slightly from what he had done-he had never killed a man before, and it was not something he really wished to repeat. Severus looked on as Voldemort approached, and congratulated his past-self. The veiled meaning in his words was clear: Congratulations, you don't die...tonight.
Severus turned back to Jacob Baxter. "I'm sorry," he repeated desperately. "I didn't know. I didn't know they had a child." Jacob gave no response. "I know that doesn't make a difference, but I didn't know. I'm sorry."
Something moved in the shadows behind the boy. Hermione suddenly stepped forward, her arms crossed firmly across her chest and a strong look of disapproval draped her features. He glare bored into him, making him cry out in physical agony.
"I'M SORRY!!!" he gasped. "What more do you want from me?"
Severus woke with a start. He looked around, taking in his surroundings. He was in his bed, in his house, just as he was when he went to sleep the night before. Another nightmare, he groaned to himself, vigorously rubbing his eyes. He sank back into the folds of his nest, though he didn't dare close his eyes.
He hadn't managed to sleep through the night since that blasted day at Diagon Alley. He hadn't thought about what had happened that night in years. And then the boy walked into his life...
How could he have been so foolish? How had he managed to justify his crime to himself so it didn't gnaw at him all the time? It wasn't anything like what happened with Dumbledore; Jared Baxter didn't ask to die.
Severus's mind flashed back to Jacob. He had caused all of the pain and suffering that boy had gone through. If he hadn't killed that man...Someone else would have, a voice chided inside his head.
He had no clue how he was going to manage life at Hogwarts with him around all the time. It was bad enough seeing him for one day, let alone for the next seven years. Groaning, he tried to think about something else. His mind rested on Hermione.
It was the second time she had cropped up in his dreams in one week. He had no clue why it was happening. He hadn't seen her in ages, then suddenly, she was everywhere. He wasn't really big on omens, but she kept popping up in very unpleasant settings.
She won't end up like them, he swore. I won't let her.
Harry forced himself to look calm as his eyes darted around trying to locate Stan Bagdish. None of the other Aurors had been able to get an exact location on the man in the past few minutes, so he was flying blind. Harry wished that he could have held his wand out in front of him, or at the very least have hidden it under his robes, but neither of these were an option in the crowded Muggle street.
Suddenly, someone roughly bumped against him. "Sorry, sorry," a deranged voice gasped. "I have to get away!"
Harry whipped around. Sure enough, the figure who was hastily tottering away from him was Bagdish. Harry instantly felt a pang of pity for the man. His long graying hair was a mess, and he looked as thin as a bone. Probably hasn't eaten anything in ages. I'll bet he thinks it's poisoned. At first glance, he looked like a flagrant drunk, but Harry knew better. The man was trapped inside a world of his own making.
Harry picked up his pace and started after the man. "Mr. Bagdish!" he called out. "Stan!" Bagdish turned his head to look at Harry, and his eyes bulged with terror. Without a word, he darted off down the street with Harry in fast pursuit. "I'm not going to do anything to you!" he cried in a vain attempt to get the man to stop.
"That's what they all say!" Bagdish roared back. They had soon left the busy avenue, and were emerging on a less populated street. Harry was grateful for the seclusion: it made his job a lot easier.
"Do you know who I am?" Harry asked.
Bagdish looked over his shoulder again, slowing slightly. "I know who you look like!" He shook his head. "It's a trap. They want me to trust you, but I can't!"
Harry slipped his left hand into his pocket and drew out a golden card. A small moving picture of him was fastened in the center, and a strange looking design framed it. Bagdish eyed the object warily. "Here's my I.D. card." Harry tossed it to Bagdish, who, after catching it, held it out at arms length. "You can check. It's not a fake."
Bagdish pulled out his wand and tapped the card. A slight golden glow emanated from it, confirming Harry's words. "You could have stolen it," Bagdish accused, although his voice was less sure.
"I just want to help you," Harry said softly, filling his words with all the sincerity he could muster.
"I can't go back." Bagdish gasped. "I'll die if I go back."
"No, you won't." Harry told him firmly. "I'll personally make sure that you get the best care possible. You've done so much for us, it's the least we can do for you."
Bagdish nodded slowly. Suddenly he looked up and started at an approaching figure. "You lied!" he hissed, looking like he was about to flee. Turning his head, Harry saw one of the Aurors on his team coming towards them.
"No," he insisted, grabbing Bagdish's arm. "That's a friend of mine. Her name is Tabitha. She just wants to help you."
"She does?" Bagdish questioned vaguely. Harry nodded.
"Mr. Bagdish?" Tabitha McNaughten said in a soothing voice. "How are you doing?"
"I can't go back," he whispered hoarsely. "I can't go back."
"We're going to try something different," Tabitha continued. "We'll come up with something that's more accommodating for you."
"LIES!!!" Bagdish cried suddenly. The few Muggles who had made their way into the street looked up. “ACCOMMODATE MY ASS!!! YOU WANT ME DEAD!!! VOLDEMORT SENT YOU!!!”
Tensing, Harry cast a glance at Tabitha. More Muggles were being drawn into the street by his noise. They had to do something quick, before Bagdish said something that really jeopardized the Wizarding world. Using magic was out; there were way too many witnesses. If he tried to knock him out, the crowd would think he attacked a poor old defenseless man. Unless...
Praying that Ginny would forgive him and that Tabitha would play along, Harry shouted loudly, “Stay away from my girlfriend!” Harry stepped between Tabitha and Bagdish, acting as a shield. “I’ll have you arrested for this, I will! Harassing a young lady...despicable!”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Harry saw wizards Apparating in the dark recesses, blending into the crowd. They were the Obliviators; all Harry had to do was buy them some time.
Bagdish saw them too. “NO!!!” he growled, lunging at Harry, who fell onto the pavement. He kept a hold of Bagdish’s shirt, pulling him down as well. The man tripped over Harry and landed headfirst on the hard concrete. Blood began gushing out of a wound on his head with his eyes rolled in unconsciousness.
“I’m sorry,” Harry muttered. Glancing around, he saw the Obliviators hard at work, already clearing the scene from the memories of the Muggles and leading them off in a different direction. Harry motioned for Tabitha to come over.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I thought you had him under control. If I had realized how volatile he still was, I would have never-”
“Don’t worry, we were still able to manage the situation,” Harry replied. “Stand in front of me,” he ordered. “I’ve got to get him fixed up before the Muggles get reoriented.” She obeyed, smirking as she sunk down to her knees.
“Yes, boyfriend,” she teased. Harry rolled his eyes; he wasn’t going to live this down. “Just wait until Ginny hears about this one!” Tabitha cried gleefully. “She’ll get a kick out of it!”
Ignoring her, Harry pulled out his wand and sealed up the cut on Bagdish’s forehead. “Probably shouldn’t wake him up before we get him somewhere safe.”
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “Yes, sir!” she answered, giving him a mock salute.
Ron approached them. “Harry,” he called out, all business, “what do you need?”
Harry looked down at Bagdish’s crumpled form. “We have to get him to St. Mungo’s, now. I cleaned him up, but he took a pretty nasty fall. Not to mention we need to get him some psychiatric care, some that actually helps him this time.”
Nodding, Ron pulled out his own Auror identification card and tapped it discretely with his wand. Almost instantly, two men appeared in the shadows and approached them. They loaded Bagdish onto a stretcher and left.
“So,” Ron began, crossing his arms and frowning. “Tabitha’s you girlfriend?”
Harry sighed. “Ron, I was just trying to handle the situation, you know I love you sister-”
“You know what I know?” growled Ron menacingly, “I know that I’m just pulling you leg.” he finished, grinning. “Merlin, of all the things you could have thought of. Ginny’s going to love this!”
Harry smiled at him tiredly. “Thanks, mate, after everything I’ve done for you, you throw me under the bus.”
Ron clapped him on the shoulder. “It’s what friends are for.” He looked at his watch. “Harry, it’s getting late, you should be getting to the Burrow, Mum will start getting worried...”
“Ron, I can’t go. You know how much paperwork this means? I’ll have to get started right away if I have any hope of salvaging any bit of the day.”
Ron shook his head. “This is ridiculous. Harry, it’s your birthday. Your family has a nice day planned out for you, go enjoy it. I’ll take care of all the bookkeeping, don’t worry.”
Harry frowned. “I can’t ask you to do all my work-”
Groaning, Ron replied, “You aren’t asking me. I’m telling you. I’ll do it.”
Harry looked at him in exasperation. “But you hate paperwork. And you're willing to give up a party? With food?”
Ron made a pained expression, placing his hands over his heart. “Sometimes a sacrifice has to be made.” he cried out dramatically. “Besides,” he shrugged, “it wouldn’t be much of a party without the birthday boy!”
Harry nodded. “Thanks, mate. Just be careful with it...”
“It wouldn’t be done any better if Hermione...” Ron’s sentence faltered, and a lost expression came over his face.
“You’ll do fine,” Harry reassured him, hoping to change the subject.
“Yeah,” Ron replied absentmindedly, and much more subdued.
“Well, I’ll be off then,” Harry turned to leave, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned around.
“Happy Birthday, mate,” Ron said, giving him a slight smile and a nod. “You deserve it.”
Hermione looked at the array of blouses that were scattered across her bed. She kept picking up one, then another, then another, none being satisfactory. This one I wore on our first date, a little voice peeped in her head as she cast aside a red garment. This one I wore when he told me he loved me for the first time, was the response brought upon by a blue one.
She sighed with frustration. She was being ridiculous. No one, least of all Ron would care what she wore. It shouldn’t matter that she was going to see him for the first time since she had left him. But it does,
"Sweetie!" her mother yelled up the stairs. "Ginny's here!"
"Damn it," Hermione cursed. She glanced at her watch, frowning. She didn't think she had to be at the Burrow until three; why was Ginny here so soon? She was still dressed in the torn jeans and purple T-shirt she had pulled on this morning, nowhere near being ready to leave.
"Hello," Ginny greeted as she pushed open Hermione's door. "You ready?"
Hermione turned to look scathingly at her friend. "Do I look ready?" she asked impatiently.
"Nope!" Ginny exclaimed cheerily, striding over to the bed and plopping a large bag on it. "I didn't think you would be. I thought you might need some help."
Hermione sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. "I suppose you don't think I'm capable of dressing myself?" she muttered, her lips pursing together.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Of course not. But I know you, and I know you'll over analyze things, and you'll be where you are right now." She gestured to the clothe laden bed. "Everything has memories, doesn't it."
Hermione nodded slowly. "Stupid, right?"
Ginny smiled. "Not at all. After Harry broke up with me I couldn't wear half the things in my closet, not to mention the color green-"
"But that was completely different!" Hermione exclaimed. "You still loved him! The only reason you broke up was because he wanted to protect you. My situation is completely different. Ron and I don't have a future, not romantically, at least."
The corners of Ginny's mouth twitched up sadly. "I didn't know at the time if we had a future. Harry could have changed his mind about me by the time the war was over, he could have fallen in love with someone else, he could have..." her voice faltered, "died. But all that doesn't matter. I know how hard it is after a break up."
"I know," Hermione groaned. "I just feel like such a bastard."
Ginny walked over and placed her hands firmly on Hermione's shoulders. "Don't," she ordered. "You have every right to be happy."
"Tell that to him," Hermione groaned, causing Ginny to smile.
"I already have." At Hermione's shocked expression, she continued, "He gets it. He might not like it, but he gets it." She smirked. "Harry could have throttled him, though, the first night he stayed with us."
"What'd he say?" Hermione asked warily, almost afraid to know the answer.
"He was drunk," Hermione winced. Ron almost never touched alcohol. What have I done? she asked herself desperately. "and he was rambling. Obviously he was upset by what happened, and he said some things."
Hermione looked right at Ginny. "What kinds of things?" she asked, forcing her voice to stay even.
"It doesn't matter," Ginny said hastily, with a look on her face that screamed that she was hiding something. Hermione glared at her, arms crossed, until her friend relented. "He called you some names. He didn't mean it, of course," she added hastily, obviously fearing an explosion. Instead, Hermione shook her head sadly.
"He did mean it. Maybe not exactly whatever he said, but he was furious with me, and I gave him every reason to be."
Dropping onto one of the few free spaces on her bed, she saw Ginny roll her eyes. "This again?" she asked exasperatedly. Hermione felt the bed give slightly next to her, and a minute later warm arms were embracing her in a sisterly hug. "You. Can. Be. Happy." Ginny insisted, although Hermione doubted that. How on earth could she be happy when she had caused so much pain to someone she cared about?
But Hermione wasn't stupid. She knew that if she kept brooding, Ginny wouldn't leave her alone. Maybe she could be happy someday, but Hermione was sure that day wasn't today. She loved Ginny like a sister, but she didn't want to talk about the whole matter anymore. Better to let her think she's gotten through to me.
She forced a grin on her face and glanced at her friend. "I know," she quasi-lied. Hoping to distract Ginny's attention, Hermione gestured towards the parcel that her friend had brought. "What's in there?"
With a look that stated clearly that Ginny knew what Hermione was up to, she replied. "I found something nice that I thought you might like." She reached into the bag and pulled out a nice looking top covered with purple and black zigzags. "We can adjust it if it's doesn't fit."
Hermione felt her heart swell with gratitude. No matter how annoying Ginny could be, she always knew exactly what she needed. "Thank you." she whispered, squeezing her friend with strong hug.
Ginny smiled. "Brand new start with that one. Go and make some new memories with it."
"I will," Hermione promised.
Looking at her watch, Ginny exclaimed, "Merlin, if we don't leave soon, we will be late!" She stood. "I'll go downstairs and let you get changed."
Hermione nodded as Ginny left the room, quickly pulling on her new garment and a pair of black pants. She threw on a little bit of makeup, but hesitated as she brought the tube of bright red lipstick to her lips. She was just going to Harry's birthday party for Merlin's sake, there was no need to get too dressed up! Still, she slipped the instrument into her purse as she grabbed it on her way out the door. You never know when it might come in handy, she reasoned.
Hermione took a deep breath, and started down the stairs to where her mother and Ginny were waiting. She was ready.
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