There was a silent agreement between Ron and Hermione to not talk about what happened to them anymore. On their way back to the hotel they only said random words in passing. When they got to their room, Hermione jumped in the shower immediately. She avoided Ron, partly because of the kiss and partly because she simply needed to be alone for a little while.
Turning the tap on, she let the cool water chill her body. It was an odd habit for Hermione to always shower in cold water whenever she felt upset. It had a resetting effect on her. Her body always went rigid for a few seconds as she took in a deep breath and felt her mind go blissfully blank.
This time it didn’t really help. No matter how cold the water went, Hermione could still feel the unknown pain gnawing at her heart and forming a painful lump in her throat.
It was tough, being so close to crying and yet being unable to do so. There was the never-ending dull pain in the chest. Every breath was ready to be the one of the first cry, but each and every one of them just evaporated against the glass sliding door of the shower.
Hermione put her head under the water and sighed as she shivered. Slipping down to sit on the shower floor, she put her chin on her knees and just sat there in the quiet, only the pitter-patter of the water as witness. Staring into nowhere, her mind went back again and again to the picture she had carefully stuck in the pocket of her jeans.
The girl with the bushy hair haunted her almost every second now. Every time she closed her eyes, there was the flash of her face behind her eyelids. That bushy hair was hers. Hermione wondered vaguely whether the girl, too, had tried hopelessly to tame that horrid hair as she did every morning.
Ron had been so sweet on the way home, she remembered with a flicker of a smile. Hermione hoped he knew how much she appreciated his silence and the fact that he didn’t demand some kind of explanation for the odd and unexpected kiss she'd given him. It probably meant nothing, anyway.
But Hermione didn’t regret it, she knew that much.
Her thoughts always seemed to travel to him and bring her a dose of mystification with a wave of comfort. It was funny, weird and soothing all at once.
Quite suddenly, the hollow feeling of loneliness was leaving her. She took in the sound of the water and Ron flipping the channels over the television in the next room. The realization she wasn’t alone made her heart fill up with immense relief, pushing away the emptiness as she stood up and turned the water off.
Stepping out of the shower carefully so as not to slip, she dried herself with a towel, which she then wrapped around her soaking mane of hair and twirled it into a turban. Wrapping herself in a thick white bathrobe, Hermione hesitated before opening the door.
Over the years she had learned to deal with any kind of personal problem alone. She had never confided much into anyone, never known the ease it brought, being able to put a bit of weight off her shoulders just by telling a good friend. Now, on the other hand, she needed to share her pain, even if only by feeling his presence by her side.
Opening the door to their room, she saw him sitting on his bed, holding the remote control and staring at the television in a manner as if it never really interested him in the first place. He was obviously deep in thought and Hermione wondered if he was thinking back to how she'd kissed him. She didn’t know why, but for a second she really wanted to find out just what he was thinking.
Shaking her head at the thought, Hermione shut the door of the bathroom so as to gain his attention. He lifted his eyes in her direction and just as she had expected, he turned slightly pink at the sight of her.
Ignoring the awkwardness, knowing it was the only thing she could do, Hermione strode across the room and sat at the other end of his bed, crossing her legs.
“Um, do you…” Ron cleared his throat uncomfortably, looking everywhere except her, “…need anything?”
“Maybe,” Hermione voiced, a little pleased by his obvious embarrassment despite herself.
That seemed to surprise Ron and he turned on the bed to her. “Are you okay?” he asked, more naturally this time.
“Not really. I just wanted to do something. You know, to get the other things off my mind.”
“Oh. Sure. But just so you know, I’m not a very good talker.”
“I don’t believe that,” Hermione said with a smile.
“No, really. I usually only say things I shouldn’t really. Most people think I’m obscenely insensitive.” And yet some things he had said up until then were far from wrong, if not just right, Hermione thought briefly.
“Well, being always tactful doesn’t do you any good, either,” she said and tried to tell a humorous story from the past that she used to share while hanging out with Jonathan’s crowd. But it never sounded more boring and void of all the vital parts as it did now. She felt she should be telling other stories in order to break the ice, but she hadn’t had any significant memories to share.
“It’s nothing special really, as I hear myself say it now,” she added with a sigh after hearing Ron’s polite awkward laughter.
“Tell me about it. Chelsea’s always trying to force me into talking about childhood stories and I never do because I don’t have anything special to say. I was a normal kid, a bit bullied until ten and then I engaged in an occasional fistfight or whatnot. And in high school I was a lousy student, never went further than that and ended up working at a shop. That rather tells something about my intellect, doesn’t it?”
“God, no! There are things one might excel at even if it’s not maths or biology. I’m sure that somewhere out there in the world are things you’re good at.”
“You’re lucky; you must be good at everything.”
“Oh don’t be silly,” replied Hermione, but she looked quite flattered. Biting on her bottom lip, she gave Ron a furtive glance. “I thought more about the magic stuff.”
“You did?” he asked, eyes lighting up. Ron was glad she'd brought it up because whenever he had mentioned it prior to this unexpected conversation, she had grown even more fidgety and aggravated as if he was insulting her intellect by suggesting the existence of something so unbelievable. There was also the lingering empty sadness in her eyes that she'd walked around with ever since finding out about her maybe-parents.
“Yes. Maybe, if it really exists, which I’m not saying it does, it might be the reason our memory is damaged or something. It was just a crazy thought, though.”
“What do you know, anything is possible. We could’ve just been experimental bunnies for scientists who meddled with implanting memory chips into people’s brains.”
Hermione laughed, thinking that maybe Ron watched way too many sci-fi movies.
“Well, even that sounds like a more plausible reason, actually,” Hermione remarked, smiling but furrowing her eyebrows at the same time.
“Imagine having the shrieking animal as a pet,” said Ron with a laugh.
“Or having a snake slither through your hair.”
“What a strange and interesting world that would be. Maybe they have flying brooms.” Ron’s eyes became somewhat dreamy and unfocused.
Hermione leaned back and supported herself with her hands. “And large libraries with books on spells and how to do magic. You know, like in the movies. Tall shelves full of old and new books, thick as tree branches!”
“Right,” said Ron with a goofy smile, still not really understanding how someone could find so much joy in large and thick books. “How about tomorrow?”
Hermione heaved a sign and supported her chin with her palm. “I don’t know. I was so caught up in emotions that I was thinking of going back to the dentist’s office. Ask the pet shop owner more about them. Maybe I can find their family and maybe they’ll know me. That’s the only decent plan I have right now,” she said with a frown, clearly
disappointed with herself for not coming up with anything better.
“Sounds good to me,” Ron replied, though feeling a bit left out. Hermione had found a little trace of what might’ve been her family. He had nothing. He feared getting left behind, but chased that thought away as soon as Hermione smiled at him timidly and stood up.
“It’s been a long day. I think I’d better go to sleep.”
They hadn't even talked for that long, but Hermione already felt a little better, a little further from what was still trembling within her. But silence for that evening wouldn’t do and she was glad she didn’t let it overtake them.
They had their eyes locked together for a little while, until they burst into simultaneous quiet laughter. Hermione then turned around and went to her bed, taking the towel off her hair, letting them fall down in wild brown cascades around her shoulders.
Ron watched her secretly, knowing this woman had a way that would make him stay. He wished he could talk to her more, but the feelings he experienced each time she got close were starting to be overwhelming.
“I’m just worried this might really take longer and we might go back empty-handed,” she said uneasily, drying her hair with the towel.
“Go back?” Ron asked in a low voice. When he was with her, he felt a part of another world. Somehow the thought of his home and his responsibilities hardly occurred to him.
“Yes. Jonathan will be coming back from Greece and then there’s-“
“Oh of course,” Ron cut in suddenly, muttering that more to himself, but Hermione heard his icy tone.
“Ron?” she asked, but was met by the reaction of Ron turning his back to her, taking off his jeans quickly and changing into his nightshirt. Hermione tried to ignore his striking shoulder-blades on his freckled back.
“You’re right, it’s been a long day, let’s go to sleep,” he snapped, punched into his pillow a few times, then turned his light off and huddled under his covers without turning around.
Ron felt like the stupidest man alive as he heard Hermione turn her light off and turn on her bed after moments of surely staring at his back deliberately and in shock.
It wasn’t his fault his insides twisted at the very mention of the man Hermione spoke of as her fiancé. Jonathan, the very awesome lawyer or whatever the hell he was. It wasn’t his bloody fault just as the fact that he couldn’t stop thinking about that meaningless, outlandish kiss. He was no idiot to think it was supposed to mean something. It had been in a friendly fashion, that’s all. Hermione didn’t look one bit abashed, which implied she might’ve been smooching her cool friends on a daily basis.
But he remembered, since it was so fresh, and he was sure he would remember clearly for long days to come how light and sweet it felt. The unexpected sensation that had filled him and made him go weak at the knees like a blubbering idiot.
And now the jealousy sweeping him was unlike any other jealousy he remembered experiencing. He'd never really felt jealous about anyone, come to think of it. Probably because he was either robbed of his real memories or had lived a dull life all this time and this crazy adventure was just a very early midlife crisis. He didn’t know which was worse.
Feeling bitter and aggravated to the point of wanting to stand up and kick something, Ron forced himself into restless sleep, full of tossing and turning. He dreamed of Hermione, of being chased by scary cats, being punched by a handsome man with a case full of bricks and then of walking in dark alleyways with a dead end, while a red-haired woman kept calling out to him in the darkness.
Sunlight was curving over the streets of London, bathing it in the many colors of the late sunrise. Most people were just waking up to go to work. Two people, however, were still roaming the streets, followed by a ginger cat.
They were both tired from a night of walking and trying out everything they could think of to somehow at least find the track of those they were searching for. Harry walked in Ginny’s wake, while she was holding a map in her hands, tapping it with her wand over and over.
“It’s no use,” he muttered, more to himself than to her, but she heard him. Turning on her heel, Ginny poked her wand into his chest angrily. She had circles under her eyes and her usually smooth red hair was tangled and a little oily.
“Eventually it might work. I’ll just keep trying.”
“Ginny, now you’re going over the top!” Harry sighed, but regretted the words as soon as they parted his lips.
“Excuse me?” Ginny’s eyes flared dangerously and for a moment Harry wanted to apologize, but then he thought about it and decided that he wouldn't falter under the furious eye of Ginevra Weasley just because she flashed her angry look at him.
“I absolutely refuse to keep walking around the city aimlessly.”
“We can’t find them! Every spell has failed,” he said helplessly, his own disappointment etched strongly in his voice.
“Maybe they’re magically prevented from being found.”
“Hermione and Ron wouldn’t hide themselves from us!” Harry exclaimed, repeating the same argument for the third time that night, day, whatever it was supposed to be, he thought in exhaustion. The night seemed never-ending, even with its lazy sun lighting up the world more and more.
“Oh my goodness, Harry, you honestly think they would be hiding? Someone’s making it impossible to find them. This is someone else’s doing!”
“But you said they saw them at the Leaky Cauldron together. That’s what you said, that’s what Hannah thinks she saw. She didn’t mention anyone sinister walking by their sides and the people didn’t look like they were threatened or in danger. I doubt it was them. Just think about it logically…if they really were at the Leaky Cauldron, how…how would they appear there so suddenly? And why wouldn’t they contact us? It just doesn’t make sense!”
“Some things don’t make sense.”
“No, this is too much. Look at yourself! You have interrogated almost every customer at the Leaky Caldron, shook the devil out of Neville even though he wasn’t even present at the scene! You barged in on that freaky girl in the middle of the night, interrupting her doing God knows what.”
“Exactly! And what did she say? She described them perfectly,” Ginny shouted desperately, flinging her arms into the air.
Laughing a mirthless laugh, Harry’s hands reached to his temples as he tried to talk patiently to Ginny, somehow forgetting that would irritate her even more. “She only described their hair, and sorry if I say so, but I do not consider that a very plausible clue. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m totally devastated by everything that’s going on and I’d give my damn life if only I could bring them back. But I don’t know how and we’ve ran out of ways to find them. And that’s probably because we’re searching for phantoms in thin air.”
“No,” said Ginny quietly, her voice breaking.
“What else do you want to do? Search every corner of London, of the world?”
“Ginny, let’s just go home, please.”
Ginny stared at him hard and long. She was hesitating and for a second Harry almost thought she was about to walk to him and give up. That was a big underestimation on his part, he later realized.
Taking a step back, Ginny’s face fixed into a frown, and she placed her fists on her hips.
“I am not marrying you until we find them!” She was surprised by her own words for a moment there. Surprised and frightened even more so, because Harry stood there, fuming and looking as though he was just about to snatch the ring he'd given her from her finger and storm off.
Nothing was said for a great deal of time. The sun was getting higher in the sky and the city was waking up with its characteristic sounds. Staring at each other wildly, Ginny waited for his answer, but Harry was unwilling to give one.
Crookshanks stood between them, looking tiredly from one to the other. Out of the blue a strong gust of wind blew. Ginny shivered momentarily and looked into Harry’s eyes more softly now. There they were, lost in a dead end. She was furious and felt a large amount of love for this man at the same time. This time he didn’t doubt her. He went with her and ran through the city the entire night, casting spell after spell, even going as far as to search for new spells in books, which had them waking up the owner of Flourish and Blotts. Being Harry Potter had its benefits, after all (although he had to give Mr. Blotts his word he would attend some random publishing event of a book that chronicled the war).
But hours later, long night after them and a very hopeless day in front of them, they didn’t have anything, not a single clue. There was only one thing and that was Ginny’s strengthening feeling that her brother was close. This didn’t even count Hermione as much, but Ron, with whom she always used to have a connection. A brother is a brother and when she just couldn’t fight all her inner intuitions, she wouldn’t rest.
Just as Harry was about to speak up, something jerked Crookshanks from his apathetic stare. He sniffed the air and meowed loudly. Giving a sideways glance to Ginny, as if passing secret information she couldn’t decipher, he ran off frantically without a warning.
“Crookshanks!” Ginny shouted, breaking into a run after him. She couldn’t lose the cat, at least not the sodding cat, she thought desperately as she was gaining on speed.
Before Harry could do something, he was already following Ginny and Crookshanks.
“Accio Crookshanks!” he yelled and straight away remembered stupidly for the hundredth time that you couldn’t summon live beings, regardless of their weight.
He could see the cat a little ahead and Ginny’s blazing hair was bouncing in front of him as he tried to catch up with her, a stitch in his side.
Crookshanks ran without stopping through roads and streets, having them follow him through four blocks already and still there was no stopping. When Harry was out of breath, Ginny stopped before him, bending down and supporting her weight by placing her hands on her knees.
They watched Crookshanks cross the road, ignoring all the honking from cars he provoked. Just as he was about to turn a corner, he stopped and looked back at them.
One long piercing look from a half-cat, half-kneazle, and that’s when it hit Harry.
“You smart little creature,” he managed to say quietly to himself and walked forward, past Ginny, quickening his pace as a swelling sensation took place in his chest.
“Hermione, wake up!”
Jerking from her sleep, Hermione opened her eyes slowly and saw Ron crouched at her bedside, fully clothed and staring at her eagerly.
“What?” she spat. She was always a little edgy when awoken before she herself decided to. The only thing that could wake her up properly was the alarm clock in her cell-phone and its annoying jingling tune. In addition, she remembered the odd twist of his mood from friendly to cold and wasn’t going to speak to him so readily.
Opening his mouth to say something, Ron just stammered helplessly, turning red. “I think we should go already. There’s not much time. I mean, we can’t stay in London forever and so we should start searching as early as possible.” He spoke fast, his words stumbling over each other. Then he just looked at her eyebrows and attempted a serious reserved face. “Let’s go.”
“Now?” exclaimed Hermione, glancing at the clock on the bedside table. It was only a little past seven. That was way too early for a day when she wasn’t working.
“Yes!” hissed Ron urgently.
Sighing, he stood up and put his hand onto his hips, looking out the window blankly. “I don’t know. I just need to get out. And I’m hungry,” he added as an afterthought, almost annoyed by the fact.
“Well then wait for the breakfast to arrive.”
“No, you don’t get it. I couldn’t sleep the entire night,” he blurted out, bending down to look closely at Hermione again. “I feel like we should get up and go out to do some more searching. Let’s go back to the pub for example. Or something. Anything. Right now I just feel unable to sit or sleep and do nothing.”
“I doubt we’ll even find our way back there,” Hermione said grudgingly as she sat up in her bed and swung her legs over it. Once she was fully awake, it would be useless to try and go back to sleep. “What is it anyway? You’re walking around like a dog needing a walk.”
“Maybe I am! I have this odd…urge to go and see something.”
Standing up and pressing her hands over her face, Hermione muttered, “Okay, okay, I’m going.”
In a few moments Hermione pulled her large hair into a thick ponytail. It had the habit of looking post-explosive every time after she washed it and haven’t had the time to properly dry and brush it straight after the washing.
Soon they were out the door.
“You know, I feel really odd just walking here, not even knowing where I’m headed,” Hermione huffed as she tried to keep up with Ron who walked on briskly. He looked out of place and absentminded, hardly listening to her words. “Ronald!” Hermione said loudly after noticing he wasn’t paying one bit of attention to her. She jerked him from his daze. “What’s going on?”
“Will you be surprised if I say that I don’t know?”
Hermione raised her eyebrows and waited for him to go on.
“I had strange dreams and then I woke up in the middle of the night. Ever since then I can’t just shake off this feeling, like I should be elsewhere. That I’m wasting my very life by just laying in that stupid hotel room. It’s a magical pull and I don’t care how ridiculous that might be. It can’t be any less ridiculous than what's happened until now.”
“So, where are we really going?” Hermione asked slowly, knowing better than to ridicule him for she understood in possibly the deepest way she could.
Ron led her further from the main roads into a small park with a playground in it for the local kids. “Through the night I just wanted to get up and go, but I wanted to wait for you. Somehow I know I need you with me,” he kept talking, pulling Hermione by the hand, not even realizing it.
“But what-“ Her words were cut short as she heard a screeching noise from behind her. They both turned around and gasped as an overlarge cat stopped in front of them. The animal was looking at them imploringly, taking little tentative steps toward Hermione.
Hermione crouched down and scrutinized the flat-faced animal with squinty eyes, until she reached out her arms unaware and scooped the cat into an embrace. The animal purred softly in her arms as Hermione felt a rush of warmth and the scent of home.
Suddenly there were coming footsteps of running people. Hermione and Ron looked up. Both exchanged a blank look as they stood face to face with a couple who was staring at them with wide, tear-filled eyes.
The red-headed woman was gripping her side, breathing hard, but she had this strange, faraway smile planted on her face, as if she was just pulled out of some kind of a dream. The man by her side had his hand on his forehead and he was repeating something inaudible to himself over and over again, his eyes overflowing with tears.
“What lunatics-” Ron began saying, but the red-haired woman was quicker.
Author's Note: Aaaah! What do you say? I'm so nervous about this chapter (and then the chapters that are coming), because this is such a breaking point and everything has been building up, and I've waited for this moment ever since I started writing the first chapter. Please let me know what you think. I want to thank Meg as always and everyone that read and reviewed chapter 8 even though it took me months to post it. You guys all mean so much to me and there's nothing better than to know you're enjoying my story. This is a quick post, because I feel I owe it to you and I'm already working on chapter 10, so...until then!