She tried to catch what Elias said, but the apathy (now her worst enemy) had locked her up inside her own head. She watched his lips move as their carriage flew over London’s outskirts, but she couldn’t catch what he was trying to say. She thought something about Australia and vacations or something. When she just stared empty at him his light face turned worried. She immediately felt sadder. Watching his happy face change into something as sad as this, knowing it was her fault, killed her.
“Are you ok Hermione?” he asked in a hushed voice as if not to scare her away.
“I’m fine,” she said just as silent.
“You haven’t been as joyous as usual since yesterday,” he said.
“Have I ever been joyous since I started at the Magician?”
“Well, that was certainly gloomy,” Elias stated and smiled softly.
They rode in silence for half an hour before he decided they should talk again. But Hermione didn’t listen this time either. All she could think about was the note she had received and about Ron. The note was starting to make her worry. Perhaps she should talk to someone about all the letters she had received since the middle of summer? Still, all of the notes seemed to be harmless. Nothing had happened. This mystery pen pal had yet to put his threats into action. She read through all of the three notes in her head, trying to make sense out of them.
I’m watching you, Miss Granger… Want to play, Miss Granger? … You cannot run from me Miss Granger…
This mysterious someone obviously knew her well enough to know of her address, both the old and new one. She had been careful not to let anyone but her closest friends know she had been submitted to the Magician, but of course, someone at the audition or the school could’ve blabbed to the paper. She wouldn’t know. She hadn’t read the prophet in a long time. Actually, when she thought about it, her pen pal could be anyone. She hadn’t been careful enough with her old apartment and she hadn’t been careful enough with moving to the school. The thought of the possibility that anyone could be watching her, calculating her movements, judging her every move made her feel claustrophobic inside the little coach.
“I need some air,” she gasped in the middle of one of Elias’ sentences. He rolled down one of the windows, but it wasn’t enough. She had to get out of there. “Stop the coach,” she said hoarsely, her head dizzy with too much thinking and paranoia.
“We’re still in the air, Hermione, we can’t just stop,” Elias argued, “we’d have to land the carriage and there’s nothing but forest beneath us!”
“Please stop the coach,” she said again. She hadn’t heard a word he was saying. “Now.”
“I don’t know what’s going on, but fine. I’ll make the coachman stop the carriage.”
Elias hastily opened the little sunroof and poked his head out to shout something to the coachman. Hermione couldn’t make out the little conversation, but she felt relived as the carriage started to descend. Elias came down again and shut both the sunroof and the open window, bracing them for the landing. Hermione could only hope for the landing to be quick, because heights weren’t her speciality, and at the speed they were going, she was afraid she might faint. But she didn’t and soon the carriage stood parked in a small clearing after a very, very turbulent descent.
Hermione tumbled out of the coach and breathed heavily supporting herself with her hands on her knees. Elias came towards her immediately and carefully patted her back. The afternoon twilight surrounded them, but it was silent as a grave.
“Is this because of your old friends?” he asked softly.
“They are still my friends, Elias,” she said as firm as she could.
“Don’t cry, Hermione,” he said as she started to sniff. “You wouldn’t want to make your makeup all mushy? You look beautiful. Your dress, your hair, your shoes… Everything. You will blow them all away. You’ll make Harry wish he had never rejected you.”
“He hasn’t rejected me.”
“Of course he hasn’t.”
“I’m just nervous, that’s all,” she said. It wasn’t a complete lie. She was scared shitless of the fact that both Harry and Ron might be there at the party, perhaps even Ginny. The thought of the three of them waiting for her in the doorway freaked her out like nothing else, and even that made her feel awful. She shouldn’t be hesitant to meet her best friends. And she decided that she wasn’t.
“I’m ready to go again,” she whispered and dried the few tears that had fallen.
“I’ll let the coachman know,” Elias said and squeezed her hand quickly. She smiled at his back and climbed into the carriage. They would be a little late, but it didn’t matter. She was there with Elias, and that was the only thing she needed to feel safe and relaxed. He was really nice to her, nicer than he ought to be.
He must be one of those instant best friends, she thought and smiled to herself. He certainly was a good candidate for bestfriendship.
The dark tower was placed at a small island in the middle of the North Sea, and various birds circled around it. Their screams confirmed the amount of death and pain leaking from the dreadful place, and the cold fog didn’t make it any better. This was originally a place Draco had never wanted to see, but the circumstances wanted him to. His father had sent him a secret letter. He didn’t want to know how he’d been able to sneak out a letter past the dementors, and he didn’t care. As long as he himself never had to go there again, he was content.
He saw the island get closer as the boat floated towards the rocks. The boatman made sure the dinghy was stuck between the slippery rocks before he escorted the young Malfoy to the gates of Azkaban. The iron gates showed him its teeth, and just as he was about to reach out to open it the boatman slapped his hand.
“We wait for the keepers,” he barked, and Draco pulled back his hand. He kept his straight face on, but inside his entrails squirmed. The thought of the dementors scared the hell out of him, and he suddenly felt like a little boy again, afraid of his father’s cane after stealing candy. He shook the thought out of his head at once, laughing at his weakness. But already then he knew that this place changed a person, and he was worried about his father. The letter had seemed so strange, so out of character.
He immediately thought of something else when the fog became thicker and chills ran down his spine. Out of the mist in front of them two cloaked figures appeared, and between them walked a tall woman – protected by her lion-shaped patronus.
“Good evening, master Malfoy,” she greeted him not so cheerful. “I am Miss Max.” She seemed like a harsh woman with masculine features and a strict voice. Her eyes were dangerously clear and awake, but her skin was grey and pale. She seemed like she was more alive than anyone, but at the same time, a walking dead woman.
She opened the gate from inside with her wand, mumbling the password to herself.
“Thank you, Cornwall,” she said and nodded at the boatman. The boatman called Cornwall grunted and headed back to his dinghy. Whistling he set out to sea and left Draco alone with a pretty scary looking woman, a bunch of dementors and a pile of insane criminals.
She led him straight forward to the tower, and the further he got, the colder he felt. The dementors floated on the air next to them, and since he was not capable in creating a patronus, he stayed close to Miss Max. She used her wand to open the doors to the tower, and Draco could not but shrink a little when he entered. As he walked through the doors he could hear several floors of prisoners scream in pain, fear and insanity. He truly hoped his father hadn’t gone mental yet, and that the letter wasn’t as insane as it had seemed in the beginning.
“So, master Malfoy,” Miss Max said and dragged him out of his thoughts. She was searching through appointments in a large, black book behind a dirty desk. “You are here to visit Mr. Lucius Malfoy?” Draco nodded silently, trying to block out the voices pleading for help. “I will have to take your wand,” she said and he gave it to her. He tried to keep calm and not show any sign of fear, but it was harder than he’d expected in advance. Miss Max eyed him with interest. She was used to see people struggle to hold themselves up when they entered, she had seen all kinds of reactions, but he was somehow different. He looked just like his father had looked when he first entered the tower – before the brutal haircut, the gruesome food and the chaining, of course.
“Is there something wrong,” she asked amused. He sent her a piercing look.
“Follow me,” she said and showed him to a black door. It was painted in the same colour as the walls. Behind the double door it was hidden a fire place. Miss Max took a fist of green powder and entered the fire place with a serious face.
“Floor seven minus,” she said and flooed away. Draco sighed and took a deep breath before entering the fire place himself. He took a full fist of floo powder and flooed to floor seven underneath him.
He landed hard on his feet, but didn’t fall over. Only girls fell over after they flooed. He was not a silly girl visiting her father for Christmas. He was Draco Malfoy, the lord of the Malfoy Manor, and he was there to have a serious talk with his imprisoned father. At least this was what his mind screamed at him when he almost lost his balance.
Miss Max stood waiting in the shadows next to him and led him further right away. She held her wand in front of her, and her lion lightened the way down the corridor. Draco felt the hair on his back rise when they walked forward. On each side of him there were cells, and the lack of light and fresh air was consuming. He felt claustrophobic down there and several times he had to close his eyes and take deep breaths not to faint.
As they walked, several prisoners got closer to the bars and stared. Some of them looked horrified of the visitors, others looked hungry and some looked bored or absent. Draco couldn’t stop staring at them, and jumped as one of them tried to reach out and grab him. Miss Max immediately ordered a dementor to take care of the prisoner, and Draco did not want to know what would happen. He decided to hold his head high and continue to the end of the corridor, but his strong façade was blown away when some of the criminals started whistling.
“Look at that nice ass, Prominer!” someone called.
“I haven’t seen such pale and smooth skin in fifteen years,” an inmate answered.
“Come here, kitty, kitty!” Draco shrunk as they continued to call after him as he went.
“It seems like they like you, master Malfoy,” Miss Max said gravely, but she didn’t stop to do anything. As they walked past several cells they finally reached the end of the corridor, only to find another door. This door was different from the others, as this was made of stone. Miss Max had to open it with magic and let patronus walk free, but they didn’t meet any problems. Draco hurried inside the door to escape the still whistling prisoners.
“If you thought those whistling cutie pies were bad, you got a whole lot coming for you,” Miss Max said without smiling.
“How come?” he asked, his voice dry and hoarse.
“Floor seven is for serious crimes, but only the dangerous ones are locked behind this door,” she said and let her patronus light the way. They stood inside a classroom-sized room with doors to the left and right, eight in all. Names and numbers were scraped onto plates on the iron doors, and it took a moment for Draco to muster enough courage to begin looking for his father’s cell.
“Why is my father locked up down here?” he asked when he finally found the right door.
“He has attacked and killed several people while serving as a Death Eater,” Miss Max said nonchalantly. “That qualifies to being placed here. He was one of the Dark Lord’s most trusted men, and was perhaps one of the most dangerous. That’s why, young Malfoy, he’s sitting in this dirty cell.” She walked towards the cell and flicked her wand. The door opened and revealed a cell separated from the door by bars. There was no window, so the rare light form the patronus hurt the man’s eyes.
Draco had to bite his tongue when he saw his father. The man had gotten completely different. If his mother had been there she’d probably freaked out. Lucius’ hair was cut short, but it wasn’t done nicely, and some spots were cut so close to the scalp you could see his bare skin. He sat with his head bent down and his back arched and had pulled his knees up to his face.
Miss Max went inside the cell and slapped his face to wake him up from his strange state of mind. Lucius didn’t wake up, though; he just fell to the side and didn’t move. He just lay on the cold stone floor breathing rapidly, not able to speak. He looked like a scared animal. After slapping him three times, Draco had had enough. It was humiliating to see his father helpless on the floor being struck by a woman half his size.
“Stop,” he said, but his voice wasn’t as strong as he’d wanted it. At the sound of his voice, his father woke up instantly. He got up to his knees and searched for his son in the sharp light, but he couldn’t move about in the cell because of the chains around his ankles.
“He won’t be able to reach you if you stand here,” Miss Max said and stood next to Draco outside the bars. “I will be right outside the door, waiting for you. You’ve got ten minutes alone with him and my patronus. I will not shut the door. Are you comfortable with these terms?” Draco nodded. “Good,” she said and headed out the door. “Call me if you need me.”
When she was out he suddenly felt his heart beat faster. It was completely silent in the dark cell. He slowly walked towards the bars separating him from his father. He eyed the man with contempt. For many reasons he resented the man that had once shared a home with him. And he didn’t feel any different about the man now than before, although the place was horrible. The cell smelled of dead rats, sweat and dirt.
“Father?” he said, trying to make contact. “Father, can you hear me?” Lucius stopped crawling around on the floor and looked at his son by the bars. He tried to crawl towards him, but his chains held him back.
“Draco?” he whispered. His voice cracked as a result of little use. Draco sighed.
“It’s me, Father,” he said. “You sent me a letter.” Lucius eyed his son with a look in his eyes that Draco couldn’t place. It was the look of a scared animal seeking its way out of a corner. “You said you had something important to tell me,” he continued, not caring for his father’s inner thoughts. He hated the cell and wanted those ten minutes to be well spent.
“I have missed you so much, my son,” Lucius cried and threw himself forward, only to be held back by his chains. He smashed his chin against the stone floor, and Draco looked away.
“What have you brought me here for?” Draco asked. Lucius got up on his knees, trembling.
“Where is your mother?” he asked and started looking for his wife. “I told you to bring your mother.” His voice made him sound like a child searching for candy.
“She’s not here, Father,” Draco said and stared at the man before him. “She’ll come by later,” he lied. His father lightened up and smiled.
“Come closer, son,” he whispered. “I need to tell you something very important.”
“What is it?” Draco asked suspicious. He didn’t move an inch. His father looked like a lunatic when he continued.
“Do not believe in what people tell you, Draco,” he whispered. “Do not believe them!”
“I don’t understand what you mean, Father.”
“People tell you the war is over and that the Dark Lord is gone. They’re wrong…”
Draco let out a deep and irritated sigh. This was what he had hoped to avoid. He had had enough of his father ranting about the Dark Lord returning once again. He wished his ten minutes could be spent on something else than this. This led him to the question – what else was there to talk about? He and his father had nothing in common except for their bloodline. Draco wasn’t sure what he felt about it. At least he was there, showing mercy by visiting him. But the Dark Lord would never return, and because of this Draco would never have a relationship with his father again.
“Bullshit, Father. You know the Dark Lord is gone for good-” he tried to say.
“DO NOT SPEAK OF THE LORD IN SUCH A MANNER!” Lucius bellowed with such force Draco almost fell to the ground with surprise. “Haven’t I thought you better?”
“You have,” Draco answered monotone.
“I thought so. So here is what I need you to do… ” Lucius started and Draco groaned on the inside. Not again… No more missions… “I need you to take out the trio, and all their friends and family. Leave none alive!”
Silence. Draco didn’t quite know what to say. All he could do was gape.
“Are you completely insane, Father?” he stuttered in the end.
“Do you doubt my sanity?” his father snarled. He wanted to say yes.
“I’m sorry, Father, but what you are asking for is impossible.”
“I’m not asking, I’m commanding,” Lucius said and an ugly grin was plastered on his face. “Do you know how hard it was for me to send that letter?” he continued. He tried to get up from his knees, and it seemed as his own words gave him strength. “Do you have any idea of how it is to be locked up seven floors under the sea? The darkness kills me, son! The only thing I’m thinking about is how to get out so I can fulfil the Dark Lords mission. But I’m stuck down here…”
“I cannot do it, Father,” Draco interrupted. “Mother would be furious.” Plus, it’s completely bonkers!
“Let me deal with your mother when I get out of here.”
Silence again. Just the mere thought of his father getting near his mother made him feel protective and aggressive. He didn’t want this. He was content now. With his father locked up he could live a normal life like a normal teenager. He had so many years to make up for…
“I can’t… I just can’t do it.”
“I thought you were stronger, son,” Lucius said and stood, supporting himself against the wall. “I thought I’d raised a true pureblood son, but apparently not. You disappoint me, Draco, you really do.”
Draco looked down, not wanting to meet the gaze his father was sending him. “I might die here, right after you leave or in two days or in seven years… I am asking you to fulfil what has already been started. Many will follow you, I can assure you!”
“I am working hard to clear our name, Father!” he screamed. “You spit on my mother by ruining this! She has given up so much just so people stop glaring at her, thinking of her as the wife of a Death Eater. She has worked so hard to clear her name and forget the past. I have worked hard, Father… I got accepted by the Magician! If you behave you will get out soon enough –“
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY LEAVING ME HERE?”
Draco fought a battle against his own fists.
“You deserve to be here, Father! Don’t make me join you.”
“I disown you if you refuse…” Lucius whispered and his eyes darkened. “You will no longer be my son if you chose not to obey me.”
“Father, please…” Draco started.
“No! I will not judge you kindly if you betray your family now, son.”
It was a foul trick.
“You know how much our family means to me,” Draco said with a shaking voice. If it was shaking with fear, anger or sadness he didn’t know. “I would never betray my family!”
“So help me fulfilling the task that has been given us… It’s our turn to rule, now…”
Hermione and Elias stood outside the door of the Lovegood house just outside Ottery St. Cathpole. Hermione straightened her dress for the nth time when Elias stopped her with a sigh.
“Hermione, we’re already late,” he said and checked his wristwatch again. “If you’re spending any more time adjusting your dress we won’t get inside of the house before they’re actually married!”
“Oh shut up you,” she laughed and punched his shoulder. She knocked on the door, and they both jumped in surprise hen it was opened almost immediately.
“Hi, Hermione! Nice to see you again!”
At first she didn’t recognize the tall, dark wizard in front of her, but when he smiled and showed off his slightly crooked teeth, she smiled brightly back.
“I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful I think this is, Neville,” she said and enveloped him in a warm hug. “I hope you are happy.”
“I haven’t been happier in a long time,” he answered and smiled. Luna came up behind him. She was dressed in a strange but lovely dress gown, decorated with wildflowers and something that resembled peas and carrots.
“How lovely of you to bring someone,” she said and smiled dreamily at Elias.
“Actually, we thought you’d come by yourself,” Neville said and sent Hermione a slightly insecure look.
“Sorry for not introducing him!” Hermione said and ignored Neville’s look. She grabbed a hold of Elias and pushed him in front of her. “This is Elias. I go to school with him.”
“You must be Luna and Neville,” Elias said gracefully and kissed Luna’s hand whilst he shook Neville’s. “Hermione has told me lots about you guys!”
“Only good stuff I hope,” Neville said and blushed a bit.
“Of course, Neville,” Hermione laughed. “What else is there to tell about you than good stuff?”
“Actually, we have been waiting with the toasts and food until you came,” Luna said and smiled. “Everybody else is inside mingling. I’m a little worried, though. The wrackspurts don’t care for large crowds…” With this she drifted off into the house. Neville signalled for the two guests to follow, and when he had turned his back to them, Elias sent Hermione a confused look.
Hermione had to really fight herself not to burst out laughing.
“Never mind,” she coughed when they shut the door behind them. Hermione was astounded by the interior of the house. The last time she’d been there the entire roof had been blown to pieces and the house certainly wasn’t big enough to room an entire engagement party. But she knew Luna was quit gifted in charms, and the entire house had been magically expanded on the inside.
“Nice place,” Elias said and straightened his dark blue robes. Hermione just smiled. The memories came floating back as she walked into the living room with her eyes glued to the ceiling. There was no sign of the explosion.
“I’ll go and fetch us some punch,” Elias said and patted her shoulder with a smile.
Hermione didn’t answer and just waited by a little table with wildflowers. She tried to find someone she knew in the mass of people – there had to be at least fifty people in the room! To her delight she spotted several classmates from Hogwarts; Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, Cho Chang, Terry Boot, some Ravenclaw girls she could not recall, the Patil twins, Katie Bell and, to her great displeasure, Lavender Brown. Still after everything that had happened the last few years, Hermione still disliked the girl.
She couldn’t spot either Ron or Harry, and she didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing.
“Hi there, Granger!” a cheerful voice said and she turned around to see Dean Thomas.
“Dean!” she said and smiled as she kissed his cheek.
“How’ve you been?” he asked and blushed a bit. “I haven’t seen you anywhere since before summer.”
“I’ve sort of avoided the newspapers,” she said and shrugged. “How about you?”
“I work at the Ministry now,” he said and beamed. “I work in the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Patent Office!”
“Wow, Dean… That sounds… wonderful?”
“I know, it sounds awful,” he laughed. “It isn’t that bad, though. I work with some really cool people, and that’s what makes the job worth it.”
“Good for you, Dean,” she said and smiled. Just as she was about to say something more, she spotted a familiar mop of red hair behind Dean’s head. Ron was there. Ron was there, dressed in fancy robes and with his hair slicked back. He looked stunning, actually. He didn’t look like someone who’d been depressed or down. She smiled a wide smile and was about to run over to him when she saw her - the girl clinging to his arm. She had long black hair and tanned skin and was wearing a small olive coloured cocktail dress.
“Who the hell is that?” Hermione fumed and Dean turned around swiftly.
“It’s Ron’s girl,” he said nonchalantly. “You know, Maria from Auror Training.”
“No, I don’t know Maria from Auror Training!” Hermione said with a tone mixed with irritation and pure shock. Dean looked horrified.
“Excuse me, but I think I’ve done something stupid and now I’ll just go away.”
“No! You are staying here,” she said and grabbed his collar and dragged him closer to her. “Tell me what the heck is going on here.”
“I thought you knew! You must have known!”
“Known what exactly?” she said on the verge of tears. “That Ron has gone all Lavender on me again?” When Dean didn’t say anything but just stared at her, she let go of him with wide eyes. “Are you fucking serious with me? He has! For how long has this been going on!?”
“Since the middle of summer I think,” Dean mumbled. “Everybody in the department knew, so I just figured you were broken up or something.”
“We haven’t broken up…” Hermione whispered and gazed at the couple further away.
“Then I guess I spoiled some wacky surprise,” Dean said a bit embarrassed.
“Tell me who know about this!”
“I honestly thought Harry or Ginny told you over the summer –” he started, but Hermione interrupted him with a single finger.
“Hold on for a second there, Dean,” she said in a strict voice. “Are you saying that Harry and Ginny knew all summer and didn’t tell me shit?”
“I wish I didn’t, but that’s probably what I’m saying. Merlin, I’ve screwed up!”
“No, Dean, you haven’t screwed up. Harry has screwed up,” she said firmly and started searching the room for Harry with her eyes.
“You don’t understand, Hermione,” Dean said and tried to catch her eye. “I promised Harry I wouldn’t tell.”
“Why on earth would he make you promise something as horrible as that?” she almost shouted.
“I don’t know Hermione,” he said in a low tone so that no one would notice their discussion. “From the sound of it, it sounds like he’s the big brain behind all this.”
“I can’t believe it… I have to find him! Where is the little fucker?”
“Quite a language you’ve got there.”
“Sorry, Dean,” she said and blushed. “I’ve been too much around that stinking ferret.”
Hermione groaned and shoved her picture of Malfoy out of her head. One or two idiots were enough for one night.
“Forget it. Where’s Harry?”
“I think he’s over by the gift table with his date,” Dean said and massaged his temples.
“Thank you, Dean,” she said warmly and grabbed his hands. “Amongst all of these people I believe you are the most truthful.”
“Or stupid,” he mumbled to himself.
With this she made her way through the crowd towards the gift table. She found Harry right away, and when she came closer he also discovered her. With an insecure look he tried to scoot off, but she reached him before he could.
“Harry James Potter,” she said and crossed her arms over her chest.
“Hermione, I was just about to -”
“Don’t even think about sneaking off,” she barked. “I saw Ron with a girl on his arm which is not me! And I spoke to Dean, and he said that that wench is called Maria from Auror Training, and that she and Ron has gotten along really well since the middle of summer! And both you and Ginny knew and lied to me!”
“Hermione, calm down…” Harry started and his eyes darted around the room.
“No, I won’t fucking calm down!” she snarled and gave him a hard push. “You’ve lied to me and cut me out of our trio,” she continued with a shaky voice. “Is this the reason for why I’m not allowed to talk to Ron? Because you’ve found me a replacement?”
She laced the last word with as much poison she could possibly manage. She almost spat at him in disgust. No one could replace her in the trio. They were still the Golden Trio… they were still the Golden Trio… Everything was normal… everything was just like it used to be…
“We haven’t found a replacement,” Harry sighed and grabbed her shoulders gently. “No one could take your place in our hearts. At least not my heart,” he added and threw Ron and Maria a look across the room. But Hermione didn’t buy it.
“Don’t give me the ‘you’ll always be in my heart’-crap,” she hissed and freed herself from his grip. “Tell me what’s going on.”
Harry turned his head to look at Ron again. It seemed as the redhead hadn’t noticed Hermione’s attendance in spite of her yelling. Harry pulled Hermione aside to a corner by the gift table and exhaled deeply.
“In the beginning of summer, Ron found it difficult to answer your letters after a while,” he started silently. “He was getting tired of writing “I miss you” and “I hope we’ll see each other soon” and he felt so bad about not seeing you. After a while he just threw your letters in the bin without reading them, because he didn’t want to feel miserable anymore.” Hermione felt a sting in her chest. The thought of Ron unhappy made tears threaten to fall and she closed her eyes. Harry continued when he was sure she wouldn’t cry or scream at him.
“I didn’t think it was right and we had a serious fight around the middle of summer. I began reading his letters and answer them so that you would believe that he still cared about you.” Hermione’s eyes sprang open.
“But Ginny said he missed me –”
“Ginny is loony, Hermione,” Harry said gravely. His eyes were filled with bitterness. “You have seen her, and I seriously doubt that she has even seen Ron over the summer.” The two of them went silent, silently greeting a few by passers.
“Anyway, one day I noticed Ron getting really friendly with one of our classmates, Maria from Italy. He told me lots of reasons for why he was with her and not you,” here Harry took a small break, as if though he should have taken his words into consideration, and then he continued faster than ever: “but it really doesn’t matter what he –“
“Tell me what he said, Harry,” Hermione said firm and held his gaze.
“It doesn’t matter, trust me,” Harry said and dismissed the request with a wave of his hand. “It wasn’t fair to you, and I didn’t want you to find out about Maria. I thought that this would perhaps be some kind of fling, but it has been going on for a long time…”
Hermione let the words sink in. It had been going on for a long time. Ron hadn’t answered her letters because of that filthy Italian whore… And Harry had covered for him. While Harry continued to explain as best he could, she looked at him with glossy eyes filled with betrayal.
“I then decided that it would be best to cut you off. Right now it sounds completely stupid and like nonsense, but when I came up with the idea it sounded perfect! And then you flooed me before I had had the chance to figure out what to say, and it just blurted out! I deeply regret what I told you Hermione, because afterwards I realised that what I had said had probably hurt you more than the truth.”
“It hurt a lot, Harry,” Hermione choked on her words. “Both your lie and the truth hurt, all at once. It hurts because I fear that both might be real. I am cut out of our gang, and Maria has taken my place. Tell me, Harry. Is she smart? I saw her, and she’s pretty, but is she smart?”
“She’s in Auror Training, of course she’s smart.”
Hermione’s heart sank to her knees and anger took over for the sense of betrayal.
“Ron is in Auror Training and I dare say he’s not the brightest in England,” she snapped.
“She’s smart alright. And I think Ron likes her really much…”
“He can’t like her more than me… he can’t! I am his girlfriend… I am!”
It started to come clear now. He had left her for someone else. He had cheated on her…
“I’m so, so sorry Hermione.”
Harry’s words were difficult to grasp. Her head was spinning. She didn’t even hear the rest of his apologies and promises.
“He didn’t even send me a letter or talk to me…” she whispered. “He just found another girl behind my back and went for it! He didn’t even have the decency to notify me.” The words sounded stupid in her ears. “Hell! Screw this; I’m done with nice words and suitable behaviour! To Hell with Ron Weasley and that Italian bitch he’s showing off to everyone!”
A new realisation came to mind. “Oh my God… Everyone can see that he’s got a new girlfriend… What will they think of me? I have to talk to the bastard. I have to talk to him.”
Harry’s eyes sprang open.
“I don’t think it’s a very good idea, Hermione,” he said and tried to hold her back.
“And why the Hell not?”
“The last few days I’ve confronted him a bit too much about the whole ordeal… I think he might get angry if anyone mentions it again.” Harry looked genuinely worried, but Hermione didn’t care.
“But I’m his bloody girlfriend!” she shouted shamelessly. “Don’t I have the right to confront him if he’s dating another girl behind my back?!”
“Please don’t shout. People are staring at us,” he whispered through clenched teeth.
“I don’t care! I want everyone to see when I kick Ron’s arse.”
She tried to pull away from him and walk, but he didn’t let her go. So she dragged him with her through the crowd (which was now paying close attention to the little discussion).
“Stop, Hermione, stop! This is not the time.”
“This is nothing but the right time,” she said more to herself than to Harry. “I’ve never been surer in my life. He is not getting the pleasure of ending this – I am.” She stopped and he let her go.
“I’m so sorry…” he said and looked at her with a worried expression.
“I am too,” she said softly and a tad hurt. “I’ve lost my two best friends. And I don’t think I can forgive them. At least not for a long time.”
Then she turned her back on Harry without another word. She spotted Ron across the room and went straight towards him. Just seeing him made her blood boil, and she immediately drew a parallel to her feelings for Malfoy. She had never thought she would hate Ron as much as she hated Malfoy.
Now, how should she do it? Maria wasn’t there. Should she confront him immediately? No, she had a better way of dealing with weasels.
“You never answered my letter.”
She came up behind him with a giant smile plastered at her lips. She grabbed his hand in a loving way and caught his surprised gaze.
“I never got any letter,” he said with a blank looking face.
“Who’s your date for the night?” she asked innocently.
“Maria? Oh, she’s just someone in my class…” he said with a slight blush.
“Why don’t you introduce me to her?” she sang way too sweet. “I would just love to meet her.”
“I-I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” he stuttered and started looking around for a reason to leave.
“Why not, love?” she cooed and squeezed his hand gently. “Please do it for me.”
“I don’t think you’ll like her very much,” he said quickly.
“What makes you say that?”
“I… Um… She’s a bit stupid,” he said. She raised an eyebrow. “Too stupid for your taste.”
Hermione almost screamed in delight as Maria came up behind Ron. Ron froze.
“And you must be…” Hermione started and Maria held out her slender hand.
“Maria,” she said and Hermione shook her hand.
“Nice to meet you Maria,” she said and smiled. She turned to Ron with an excessive confused expression. “It’s strange, Ron never mentioned you in any of his letters.”
“I think it’s time for cake now, girls,” Ron said nervously and tried to escort Maria away.
“Hold on, Ron,” Hermione said and grabbed his free arm. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
“Actually, I’m –” Maria started, but Hermione interrupted her.
“I’m Hermione Granger. Ron’s girlfriend.”
“What?” Maria blurted out and snapped her head towards Ron.
“Um… Um…” he said and desperately looked for support somewhere in the room.
“I’m surprised he hasn’t mentioned me,” Hermione said a bit more poisonous than before, but still sweet. “He certainly hasn’t mentioned you.”
She then turned to Ron. “Which brings me to my question for you, love; how can you find in your heart to betray me like this?” she snarled and slapped him across the face. People around them gasped and started to flock around the trio to get a glimpse of what was happening. But Hermione didn’t care.
“This is betrayal in its most concentrated form!” she yelled. “You’ve cheated on me for months! Did you honestly think I wouldn’t figure it out? What do you take me for? If I’m anything I’m certainly not stupid!”
“Calm down, Hermione, everybody’s watching!” Ron tried to grab her shoulders, but she pushed him away.
“I don’t fucking care if everyone’s watching, Ron. I want them to look at the biggest faker in the room.” She came closer to him and lowered her voice to a slight whisper. She felt so hurt, so angry… “How could you, Ron? How fucking could you? How come you didn’t have the decency to at least talk to me! All you had to do to make us work was to take some initiative and talk to me!”
Tears sprang to her eyes.
“I was always just a floo away, Ron. I wrote letters to you every week. How do you think you made me feel when you stopped answering? I was so happy when you started answering my letters again, only to find out that Harry was the one reading and answering all of my letters! How could you!? This is bizarre and unheard of even for you Ron.”
The silence that followed was striking. Everyone in the room was watching them.
“What the fuck is she talking about?” Maria snarled and broke the silence. “You told me you two were broken up!”
“We kind of were…” Ron said in a mere whisper. Hermione exploded.
“’We kind of were’? We were not! We are still together, Ron!”
“What does she mean by that?” Maria snapped at Ron. “Have you been lying to me?”
“No! I haven’t been lying to you, Maria. I would never lie to you.”
“But you have been lying to me!” Hermione bellowed and pushed him again. “And that’s ok with you?” Ron sent her a deadly look.
“Just face it, Hermione, we are not a couple any more,” he spat. “We haven’t been for months!” This is unbelievable…
“You have never broken up with me!” she shouted. “And I’m not letting you either. Do you know why? Because I am breaking up with you, you cheating bastard!”
“Do you know what, Hermione? This is why I didn’t tell you,” Ron snarled and gave her shoulder a push. “You would call me stupid, you would yell at me and bring out every thing I’ve done wrong and claim that we’ve been through too much to end it. But do you know what? I’m tired of being the stupid one. I’m tired of being controlled. I’m tired of you always nagging me about my habits and my flaws. You never let me be myself. Not when we were friends, not when we were together. Never.”
Hermione shut her eyes and shook her head.
“Shut up, Ron. There’s no way you can justify this.”
“Hermione, please just listen to me –” Ron tried but his battle was lost.
“You’re not even saying you’re sorry!” Hermione said with tears running down her cheeks, ruining her makeup. “Why would I ever listen to you, Ron?”
“It’s not like you ever have.”
What he said was devastating. This was not going as planned. She was not meant to cry, and he was not meant to backfire! And he hurt her more than anyone had ever done…
“That’s unfair. You know that isn’t fair.”
“You are what aren’t fair!” he yelled. “Did you honestly expect our relationship to last? I want a girlfriend who doesn’t patronize me and I want to be able to take my girlfriend home without my mom throwing a fit. I want to be with a girl that doesn’t remind me about the past. I need a girl that can lose without losing her head.”
“I don’t lose my head…” she whispered.
“Yes you do,” he said gravely and held her by her shoulders. “You’re losing your head right now. You are trying to make it seem as you broke up with me, only because then you are the victorious one!”
“Perhaps that is the truth, Ron, but honestly… I am right in this case. You had no right.”
They just looked at each other without saying anything for a few seconds. He let go of her, but he didn’t let go of her eyes. When she looked at him now, she saw sorrow and hurt, helplessness and bitterness. This was not the Ron she had known. This was another person, a strong and tired person with no conscience.
“I’m not sorry,” he said silently.
“Of course you aren’t,” she said and let out a short hoarse laugh. “I didn’t expect much more.” She turned her back on him and made her way through the crowd.
“Are you running away now?” he called after her.
“I’m not running. I’m leaving you behind. And don’t bother talking to me any more, Weasley.”
She held her cool façade all the way out of the living room and out the door. On the steps outside, however, the sobs came painfully. Her heart hurt so badly. Her entire body felt like a cocktail of different emotions battling each other, and at the same time she felt empty like a wasteland. Was there anything left in her but anger and anxiety? Did she seriously destroy everything she touched, no matter how gently?
“Hermione, what’s the matter?” she heard Elias’ soft voice behind her, and she immediately started to leave. “Where are you going?”
“Away from here,” she sobbed. “I’m going back to the Magician. Are you staying or leaving?”
“I’m leaving with you, of course,” he said and caught up with her. “But why?”
“You know why,” she said annoyed.
“Did you confront him? Both of them?”
She stopped and looked at him.
“Where the hell were you tonight? And I did. And I feel like I can forgive Harry once in the future, but Ron’s out of my life.”
“They don’t deserve you, Hermione,” he said as if it was as simple as that.
“It’s easy to say something like that,” she said softly and tried to wipe away her tears. “But it hurts. Ron doesn’t love me anymore… He has found someone better than me! Someone smart, someone beautiful… Did you see her legs? And her waist! She could be a fucking model, but instead she stole my boyfriend. And it hurts so badly, Elias… It hurts more than you can imagine… To know someone has taken your place and filled it with something extra.”
Her voice cracked. They had stopped a few hundred metres from the house. Elias rubbed at her back in a gentle manner, warming her with his hand.
“You’re right, Hermione – I don’t know how you feel. But at least I can try to make you feel better.”
“How on earth are you going to do that?” she sulked.
“A friend of mine is throwing a kick-off party tomorrow night,” he said cheerfully, as if this was just the right moment to announce a long ago planned party. “Want to be my date?”
“A party on a Sunday night? It’s school the day after!”
“You owe me for being your date for tonight,” he said and winked. “And it will be fun, I promise you.”
“I don’t owe you anything – you practically forced yourself onto me, you git,” she said and gave him a friendly push.
“You seriously need to have some fun. You are too worried for my taste.”
“And since when did I have to follow your taste?” she laughed. “But since you ask so gentlemanly, I’ll go with you.”
“Wonderful!” he said and childishly clapped his hands. “I’ll let him know I’m bringing a date.”
“You aren’t actually allowed to?” she said with wide eyes.
“Well… The invitation didn’t mention bringing dates, but I’m sure it’s ok.”
“No! I don’t want to create any fuss,” she said sadly. She had had enough attention for a whole year.
“You won’t, trust me,” Elias said and patted her back. “He’s a cool guy. I’ve known him since I was ten and started going to England on vacation. We always met during summertime.” In the need of thinking about something else than the disastrous party, she pretended to pay interest.
“Who is it? Do I know him?”
“I don’t know. Hey, there’s that irritating little witch that tried to snog me in the loo!”
“What!?” Hermione yelped and turned abruptly. A familiar brown-haired girl was standing on the steps outside the front door, clearly looking for someone.
“When I went to the loo she followed me and attacked me with her lips,” Elias said in a slightly frightened tone. “It was horrible.”
“Oh Merlin, that’s Lavender Brown! I went to school with her.”
“Well, do you have some sort of method to get rid of her?” Elias said as Lavender discovered them and started making her way over.
“Actually, I don’t. She was as irritating to me as to you.”
“What did she do?”
“Nothing you should worry about,” Hermione said. “Girl stuff.”
“Let’s go home,” Elias said and pulled her with him in a hurry towards the carriages.