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Chapter 15 : Everybody Hurts
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Draco’s stormy, bluish gray eyes snapped open at the sudden sensation of falling, only to find that he was not, in fact, falling at all. He was lying on a bed covered with itchy, stiff off white sheets, in a dark room. Light shone into the room from a small rectangular window at the far side of the room, a square of pale moonlight pooling in the middle of the floor of the small space. Even though it was obviously night time, it was still so stifling hot that a sheen of sweat coated Draco’s dirty, pale skin and matted his blonde hair to his forehead.
Sighing, he slowly pushed himself up into a sitting position, scooting back to lean against the wall and stretch his long legs out. He ran a hand through his hair as he leaned his head back against the wall, trying to figure out where the weird falling sensation had come from. Draco had been having the same dream for as long as he could remember – of him standing at the top of the Astronomy Tower on the last day of term, with the cool night air in his hair as he thought of what his parents would think when they saw him, when they caught wind of his failure to carry out the Dark Lord’s wishes – a dream that had never depicted him falling. Draco shut his eyes for a second. As he exhaled, there was a flash of green and then he saw a man tumbling over the side of the Astronomy Tower, tumbling away into the darkness…
He quickly opened his eyes again as he gave a slight start. Draco swallowed, tears stinging his eyes as he let them flicker about the room. It had not changed much from the way it had looked on the first day that he had woken up there, but he was tired of waking up in the same, dingy and dark room, not knowing why he was there or how much longer he would have to wait.
What did they want from him? He had a dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach that said that maybe his kidnapper worked for the Dark Lord, that maybe his time was up. Maybe the Dark Lord was ready to punish him for failing at murdering Dumbledore, and for running off. Would they torture him? Kill him? Well, whatever they did, he hoped that it would not be drawn out for hours. He wanted to meet his end as quickly as possible.
A prickly feeling crawled across the exposed skin of his arms as another thought crossed his mind. Did anyone care at all that he had not shown up for school this term? Had anyone even… noticed?
Of course they’d notice, the little voice in the back of his mind assured him. Once news of your sudden disappearance hits the papers, no one will be able to ignore it, and soon your parents will strike up a search party of only the best Aurors in London. Soon, all of this will be behind us.
Draco wished he could agree.
However, he knew that his parents would not be striking up a search party of any kind. At the very least, his mum would become hysteric and flustered that her only son has gone missing – his father wouldn’t even bat an eye, probably happy to be rid of the disappointment – but no one would ever offer or agree to help her find him. By now, word had likely spread clear across the continent – maybe even the world – that Draco had been involved in the murder of Albus Dumbledore, and that was not something easily forgiven and forgotten about.
For all anyone cared, he deserved whatever was coming to him. To them, it was better for him to stay missing. And sometimes, he truly and whole-heartedly wished that he could stay missing. Draco pulled his legs in to his chest, wrapping his arms around them and resting his chin on his knees morosely. He was sure that no one missed him, and no one was looking for him. It was only a matter of time before his kidnapper arrived again.
But for now, all he could do was wait.
“Happy Christmas, dear!”
Looking over her shoulder toward the stairs, Hermione leaned back slightly, her fingertips lingering on the doorjamb to Ginny’s bedroom as she strained her ears to hear the voices downstairs. She’d heard Molly Weasley greet various members of the family and the Order as they had passed through, none of them spending more than a few minutes here before departing. Most came bearing updates on the Ministry and holiday wishes. Though most voices were not filled with cheer as they were laden with stress, Molly made up for it with her efforts to keep the holiday spirit intact.
Hermione ran her fingers across the collar of her sweater, grazing the thin golden chain of her time turner as she listened. She could just make out the voices of Fred and George, and a surprised shriek from their mum in response to one of their newest joke items, she guessed. Then there was a peal of laughter and some half-hearted scolding on Molly’s part before she went on to offer the two of them their hand-knit jumpers.
They did not moan about it this time, however, instead thanking her quietly. Everyone had been quite tactful in what they said around the Weasleys lately, especially Molly, so as not to stir up any feelings about Ron and Harry not being there for the holidays this year that would end up spoiling the mood.
Hermione had decided to just steer clear of everyone as much as she could. She was tired of seeing the same look of relief in their eyes whenever they looked at her, clearly glad that she had made the right decision and not gone with them. But that only made her feel worse, if it were possible. She had been getting better about the fact that they had left her behind, but now it felt as though the walls that she had put up were starting to crumble once more.
And it certainly did not help that Harry and Ron had sent her a Christmas present. A present. Even after refusing her the one thing that she had wanted more than anything – to help bring down You-Know-Who – they had bought her a present.
Maybe they cared for her more than she had let herself believe for the past few months.
Hermione turned back to face Ginny’s room, her mud-brown eyes finding the present on the bed, where it had been sitting ever since she had received it from Ginny. It was wrapped in nondescript tan paper, and had a silvery blue ribbon tied around it with a bow securing a folded piece of parchment to the parcel.
It had been sitting there for hours; she hadn’t been able to bring herself to open it yet. It all just felt so wrong, like a cheap replacement for the real thing. Her real friends. They were supposed to be celebrating the holidays together, the way that they always did. But they were out there somewhere beyond the window pane, and Hermione was… here.
Alone, though surrounded by people.
Well, not completely alone. She still had Draco – or at least, she’d thought that she had Draco, that is until she found out that Draco had been missing for months now. Tears stung at Hermione’s eyes. It just didn’t make sense. How could she not have seen it? How could she have grown so fond of this imposter? Her instincts should have kicked in immediately, telling her as they had for six years now, that Draco Malfoy was not, under any circumstances, to be trusted.
And yet… she had.
She’d trusted him with everything she had within herself, especially her heart.
How could she have been so stupid?
Hermione swiped viciously at her teary eyes, shaking her head. That didn’t matter now; all that truly mattered was that what she had felt had been real, and maybe, just maybe if she found him – the real him – he would find that he felt the same way. But that was a big maybe. What if he hadn’t changed?
Whatever the case, he still deserved to be found. Even if the whole wizarding world was against him for a murder he hadn’t committed, he was still a human being like the rest of them and she wasn’t just going to sit by and watch as no one did anything to help him. What if he’d been tortured? What if he was already dead? Chione had said that Mark Antony had only disguised himself as Draco in order to get close enough to murder her, and if Draco was dead, that blood would be on Hermione’s hands.
She couldn’t live with that on her conscience.
Hermione grabbed her bag from where it lay next to the wardrobe and started snatching up any and all of the things that she had taken out of it since she’d arrived. She shoved those things into her bag with determination, pushing her hair behind her ears as her eyes scanned the room purposefully for the things she knew were hers. She had eight days until she was back at Hogwarts, which meant she had less than a week to make some headway on her search.
If anyone asked, she would tell them that she was going to visit her parents for a few days.
No one would think twice about questioning her – well, except Ginny, unless of course she’d changed her mind and decided that she would join her on her journey. However, the odds of that were a bit hazy.
It did not take long for Hermione to pack away her things again, leaving only the present from her two best friends since first year left to be packed. Swallowing hard, Hermione picked it up gingerly in her hands, turning and sitting back against the edge of the bed. She sighed, running her fingers across the top of it and tugging gently at the curled ribbon, watching as it sprang back into place again when she let go. Her eyes drank in the scrawled lettering of her name on the parchment as she pulled it from beneath the bow, her mouth going dry as she took in every wrinkle on the parchment, every ink blotch, every wrinkle.
After a moment, the writing started to look blurry, either because her hands were shaking, her eyes were tearing up again, or both. But Hermione did not have very much time to dwell on it.
“Aren’t you going to open that?”
She gave a start, straightening up quickly at the sound of the vaguely familiar voice as her eyes went abruptly to the door. Hovering on the threshold in a pair of well-worn jeans and a beige jacket, with his red hair disheveled and rivaling his brother’s in length, was a boy she knew all too well. Hermione nearly dropped the parcel in her hands as she let out a gasp.
Her eyes filled with more tears, a few slipping down her cheeks. But she let them come.
I shook my hair out of my face as a moderate gust of warm summer air made the curly tendrils of my hair that had pulled loose from my ponytail dance around my head. I stood in the yard behind the tall, slightly crooked Burrow with my bags at my feet as I tugged the zipper of my sweatshirt up and down nervously. The blades of grass tickled the skin of my feet left exposed by my sandals as my eyes went to the back door for the fourth time in the past eight minutes.
Still no sign of Harry, or even Ron, who’d pretty much promised that he would be here to see me off.
With an impatient, slightly disappointed huff, I looked away from the house. My eyes found the garden as I tucked my wild hair behind my ear and watched as a few gnomes darting around amongst the plants. Suddenly, I just wanted to get out of here as fast as possible.
Mind you, I loved the Weasleys –especially Mrs. Weasley, who’d always been like a second mum– but Ron always ruined it for me. Every time he did something that irked me in some way, but this one time, it really hurt.
What could possibly be more important than saying goodbye to your best friend? It was the least that either of them could do, especially after they’d told me that I couldn’t go Horcrux hunting with them.
I heard a familiar creak as the back door opened, but when I looked round, my heart sank. It was just Mr. Weasley, looking as cheerful as ever as he descended the stairs with Mrs. Weasley in tow. “All set, then?” he said when he reached me. I glanced at the back door again, just hoping that Ron would all of a sudden appear, but… nothing.
I sighed, looking back at Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
“I guess so,” I told him reluctantly.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Weasley as she pulled me into yet another tight, air purging hug. “Do have fun, dear.”
“I’ll… uh… I’ll try.” And that’s all that I could do, really. Even an all expenses paid trip to Egypt couldn’t make me feel any better at that moment. Over Mrs. Weasley’s shoulder, I watched as Ginny emerged from the house, though alone. Our eyes met as I slowly pulled away from her mum’s hug. “I’ll be right back,”
I stepped round Mrs. Weasley and approached Ginny. Her hair looked almost crimson in the afternoon sunlight. “Hey,” she said, her eyes studying me. “Is everything okay?”
“Where’s Ron?” I asked her quietly, my eyes flickering to the back door again. “Harry?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t seen them all day,” Ginny replied with a shrug, though she looked about as upset as I felt. “Maybe… maybe they’ve already left –”
“No,” I told her firmly. “No, they wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t just leave,” I shook my head. “Not without saying goodbye,” Ginny pressed her lips together in a hard line, gazing at something over my shoulder and not saying a word.
I knew that she didn’t believe me and, after a moment, I hardly believed myself.
It was Ron Weasley.
Hermione could recognize that face anywhere, even if she hadn’t seen it in months, and though she was more happy to see him again than she would openly admit, she couldn’t bring herself to smile at him. Her stomach was in knots just looking at him – at his tired face, at the scrapes on his face and hands, and those blue eyes, full of silent apologies. Full of love. For her.
But it was all six months too late.
Pressing her lips together, Hermione turned her back on him, hastily shoving the present he’d sent into her bag on top of the rest of her things and blinking away the wetness in her eyes. “What are you doing here, Ron?” she asked him tonelessly.
Ron offered a half-hearted laugh in disbelief, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his jeans as he took two steps forward into the room, his eyes trained on Hermione’s back. Her hair looked a lot straighter these days – funny, though; he’d always liked it more when it had been curly. It had always made her… her. Now, she just seemed different, as though he had been gone for years, not months.
“Gee, Hermione, don’t seem too excited to see me,” he replied sarcastically.
She turned round to face him, folding her arms across her chest. “I’m serious, Ron, why did you come back?”
He made a face. “Well I do live here, you know,” Ron reminded her. “Harry and I just thought that a little break from hunting for Horcruxes would be good for our… er… sanity. And besides, it is the holidays after all,” Ron paused, licking his chapped lips for a second as he eyed her seriously. “I wish things could have gone differently that day, I swear I do –”
“When?” Hermione snapped, her eyes narrowing at him as she glared. “When you told me that I was supposed to stay behind while you two went off to save the world together, or when you stood me up the day after, after you’d said that you would be there to say goodbye–?”
“Hermione, it wasn’t like –”
“– because I waited for you – for both of you. I waited for hours, stalling every which way just so that I could see you one last time before you left. You two were my best friends in the whole world –”
Ron closed the gap between them with three quick strides, putting his hands on her shoulders. “And we still are, Hermione! Nothing could ever change that –”
“Then why weren’t you there?!” Hermione shouted, all of the rage, the pent up frustration and pain that she had buried down since that day coming up to the surface like acid reflux, the words burning in her throat. She pounded against his chest angrily, completely oblivious to the tears now streaming down her face faster than before. “Why–?” her voice cracked as he grabbed her wrists and tried to stop her from hitting him, but after a while her efforts grew weaker, until she just collapsed against his chest, her body shaking with sobs.
“I’m sorry,” Ron told her, swallowing hard as he slowly wrapped his arms around her. He wasn’t used to seeing her like this; it made him feel uncomfortable, like he was intruding on some personal part of her that had never been intended to rise to the surface.
Hermione clung to him tightly, gritting her teeth as she buried her tear soaked face into the front of his t-shirt. After a moment of standing like that, with his chin resting on the top of her head and his hand gently stroking her hair, she managed to compose herself to some extent. When her breathing seemed back to its normal rhythm and she no longer seemed to be crying, Ron put his finger under her chin and tilted her head up to look him in the eyes. “I knew you’d been furious with us, but” – he laughed softly – “not this furious.” Ron sighed, cringing slightly as he brushed away the wetness under her eyes with his thumb gently. “It… hurts to see you like this, especially knowing that it’s my fault,”
She shook her head, stepping away from him. “It’s not your fault,” Well, not completely, anyway, she thought. “I’ve just been through a lot since you’ve been gone.” Hermione glanced at him as he opened his mouth to inquire. “A lot you wouldn’t… understand.” She fidgeted with the chain on her time turner absently, nervously as she looked anywhere but at his confused face.
Just thinking about the past few weeks made her feel dizzy. The journal, the bad marks, the spells she couldn’t control, the changing appearance, Draco… Hermione exhaled slowly. Draco. Her heart panged with guilt, with indecision as she let her eyes drift from her now packed bag to Ron’s face.
She had just been about to rush off to save someone that she’d hated for years – someone she’d thought that she had been developing real feelings for – but now the one person she’d always had real feelings for was standing in the way. He was hindering both her plans, however impromptu they may be, and her emotions with just his presence alone. He’d been the one that had managed to get away and now he had… come back. But for how long?
Hermione was completely torn, though the answer should have been blatantly obvious.
She hated the feeling.
“Look,” Ron finally said, clearing his throat and running his hand through his hair, “I know you must hate me right now –”
“I could never hate you, Ron,” Hermione told him quietly.
He smiled a little, but swallowed and pressed on without comment. “I know you must hate me for leaving you the way I did, but I just want you to know…” Ron took a measured step closer to her, his eyes trained on the floor as he did, “I just want you to know that I really missed having you around, and I don’t tell that to just anyone,” he chuckled softly, shaking his head. “I don’t know. It was just so weird not having you around to point out the things that we overlooked, to fine tune our plans, to give us brilliant ideas,” Ron’s smile widened as his eyes met hers. “It was like we were missing a –” Before he could finish, Hermione leaned forward and, before she knew it, she kissed him full on the mouth.
She kissed him tentatively at first, testing the waters for a bit before getting a little braver. Though surprised, Ron kissed her back with an eagerness she couldn’t have fathomed, and every inch of her body warmed when she felt his hand on her lower back, gently nudging her closer. Hermione was on her toes, kissing him feverishly as her hands rested at the base of his neck. This was everything she had ever wanted – or so she’d thought.
When his hands went for the buttons on her blouse, something in her panicked and she pulled away quickly. Her fingers were at her lips, and her eyes were disbelieving, confused. Ron’s face and lips were almost as red as his hair, but he looked bashful, apologetic, and a little happy.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked as she stepped around him and made a bee-line for the door.
“I can’t do this,” Hermione told him shakily, before practically running out of the bedroom and then disappearing around the corner, leaving a very bemused Ron Weasley in her wake.
Author's Note There was chapter 15 :) I hope you all enjoyed it. I think I've finally gotten back into the swing of writing for this story, as I've already written the next chapter as well. So it *shouldn't* take too long for that chapter to get validated as well. But I hope you enjoyed Ron's surprise appearance. I really wanted to put him into the story, and finally, I have done it. Well, general questions/comments/concerns/suggestions/feedback are welcome and appreciated as always! Thank you for taking the time to read!
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