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Chapter 10 : To Arms
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"Excuse me?" Hermione asked, taken aback.
"One of my people is attacked, held hostage by foreign agents, then she disappears for several days without word! How would you expect me to react!"
Hermione was speechless.
"And what's this of Harry Potter returning?" Thornsby went on.
"I've heard good and well all thats been going on!" Thornsby drew himself up to his full height, "I am still a commanding officer within the Aurors - your commanding officer, no matter who you think you know!"
Hermione continued to stare without words.
"Now then, where's Potter?" he demanded.
"What does he have to do with you?" Hermione took offense by his rough words.
"Everything! We're going to war, aren't we? Now where is he?"
Hermione pursed her lips. She stood up from her seat and shuffled together the pages she had been working on. Collecting them into an organized stack, she secured them within a spare folder and calmly walked around her desk to confront the still visibly upset Thornsby.
"Everything you need to know is in my report," she slapped it up against Thornsby's chest, holding it there until he collected himself and took hold of it. He was thrown off guard by Hermione's audacity.
"And where do you think you're going, missy?" he asked as Hermione walked to the door. She turned around and smiled slyly at him.
"We are at war and I have orders."
"I give you your orders!" he barked.
"Were you not informed? I have received an assignment from Minister Shacklebolt himself. Perhaps you should take that up with him," Hermione then turned and exited the room without looking back at the dumbfounded Thornsby.
After Harry and Ron had left the Great Hall, Shacklebolt had tasked Hermione to sticking on Harry and for her to report back solely to him. Hermione smiled to herself as she thought about it...was a lot better than her last assignment.
Harry and Ron had not returned to the Great Hall and as all began to leave, she coincidentally received an owl from Thornsby to report back to him immediately. Hermione knew then that this was going to get difficult. After having filled out her report on the incident at her flat, giving just the bare bones of it, she was now in a rush to find them.
She used the lavoritories to get back street side and from there intended to apparate. Just before she departed though, she had an odd feeling as if she were being watched. The street was busy. People were hurrying in every direction. Hermione's eyes darted from building to building, from window to window as she moved down the street to an empty alleyway. She gave one last good look around before she ducked within - nothing.
Hermione arrived first outside the Burrow. Rushing through the front door, she was surprised by the bustle within. Arthur and Molly, Bill and Fleur, Charlie, George, and Ginny - all were present except for Ron and Percy...and Harry. Even Dean Thomas and Angela Johnson were there, which Hermione knew Ginny and Dean had rekindled their old flame, but she was a little surprised by Angela. Were she and George...?
Red was alive within, but not just by the Weasley's hair. Red robes, well, a cross between what appeared to be wizard's robes and eighteenth century muggle British colonial military uniforms, were spread out across the living room. Arthur, George and Bill all had their's on and Charlie and Dean were both looking their's over. Another, Ron's perhaps, was draped across the sofa. Molly was busy scolding her daughter that she would not be going - Hermione was unsure of where - and both mother and daughter turned to Arthur for support of their case. None had noticed Hermione arrive until Fleur finally saw her and welcomed her in with a warm hello.
"Hermione!" she said over excitedly, ducking away from her mother-in-law and as she turned her back to Molly her face immediately screamed "yikes!"
Hermione laughed at this but was still distracted by the intricate uniforms. Once she had made it fully into the house, she noticed several other pieces as well. What appeared to be Medieval shields were lined up against one wall. They were a finely polished silver with the old English Lion Rampant engraved on them. Long staffs with some type of crystalized rock set a the heads were stacked along side the shields. And then sitting on the table were several polished, silver helmets. They too looked fashioned after some ancient armor, like Roman or Greek helmets with a nose guard in the otherwise open front face that swept back around the head and down around the neck. One of the helmets was decorated with a plume of snowy white hair of a unicorn's tail.
"What's all this?" Hermione asked.
"Uniforms," George smiled to her. Now that George had said it, they did remind her of some old pictures she had seen in some of the History of Magic books she had read, as well as a couple of portraits she had seen around Hogwarts. Seeing the confusion on her face, Arthur continued.
"Its been a long time since two wizarding nations have declared war on one another. The last dating back to the Great War of the 1930's and 40's. Shacklebolt has petitioned the International Confederation of Wizards and has demanded that the Southern Slavs pull back to their original borders - or he will ask our Wizengamot to declare war."
Wizard war? Hermione could not even fathom it. The struggle that had taken place with Voldemort and the Death Eaters was bad enough, but that kind of violence spread across multiple nations...? She knew well the history of human wars and the devastation that its caused, there was just no telling what could be done when wizards went to open war.
"Shacklebolt is in France now, they are having an assembly," Arthur went on, seeing the look upon Hermione's face, "but a Henrich Reicher, a German, is currently serving as the Supreme Mugwump, and being that Germany has already signed a truce with the Slavs, I doubt we will reach any international consensus. I believe he is hoping to create a large enough show of force as to compel the Slavs to stand down...but at the same time McGonagall is not putting much faith in this."
"And you have all enlisted?" Hermione asked nervously.
"It is our duty," Arthur answered gravely but proudly. "Should Britain need protecting, we will fight for her."
"Britain need protecting..." Molly muttered under her breath. Hermione looked questioningly to her.
"Come now, mum, you know better," Charlie said to her.
"Do I! Why exactly is Shacklebolt so eager to run off to war! Why is England doing this all alone! If this is so important, where are our allies! Who cares about the Slavs!" she immediately turned on them all.
"Molly," Arthur tried to soothe her in a calm voice. "That is what the world said when Germany went into Czechoslovakia. Thats what they echoed when they entered Poland...but then it was too late when they sacked Denmark, when they invaded France, when they annexed Norway and then moved on to the rest of Europe. It wasn't that long ago...Britain still bears the scars. Had the Russians and Americans not finally been pulled into it, we may all very well be speaking German today!"
Molly did not look like she was in any mood to see reason.
"Molly, the same wizard who was behind all that is now behind the Slavs. Do we wait? Do we wait until it is too late, like we did against Voldemort? Do we cower before them, hope that we are not next on their list, or do we unite as a single, mighty force? Shacklebolt is right in what he is doing," Arthur stated firmly. Mr Weasley and his sons did look rather dashing in their uniforms.
"Nevermind," she dismissed his arguement with a wave of her hand, "these boys are one thing, but don't you think you're running off to Austria with them!" she turned her ire on her youngest and only daughter.
Finally she turned to Hermione with a sudden change in attitude, she was much calmer now, "And how are you dear? If you're looking for Ron and Harry, they still haven't returned."
"Any idea as to whe-"
"None," Mrs. Weasley answered before she could even finish. "Have my hands full enough with these as it is! I would hope, that when you see them, you could talk reason to them about going galavanting off to war like some baffoon!" she shot a nasty look at her husband. Hermione couldn't hold it against her, she had just lost a son only a couple years ago to another war.
"I'll do my best," Hermione appeased her. "Sorry to be running in and out so often, but I really do need to find them, good day," she parted. Several goodbyes echoed across the house.
"Use the floo dear," Mrs. Weasley stopped her as she turned to head back outside.
"Aren't you going to check Ron's flat next?" Mrs. Weasley anticipated Hermione's plans. Hermione obeyed and gathered a bit of powder from the mantle and tossed it into the fireplace. As the green flames roared alive, she looked back one last time at all the boys as they suited themselves up in their uniforms. Hermione frowned. It stirred both a sense of pride and sorrow in her. It was both so beautiful and so tragic.
Hermione stumbled out of Ron's small fireplace, brushing the soot off her clothes. The flat appeared to be vacant. She called out but none answered. She started to make her way to the door - Ron had an anti-apparating charm on the place - but then slowed to a halt. She slowly turned, surveying the empty apartment carefully. Something was amiss. Someone had been here. It wasn't as if the apartment had been torn the apart or anything, everything looked fine... she couldn't put her finger on it but at the same time, something was out of place.
She drew her wand and awaited anxiously. Nothing happened. The flat was completely silent and still.
"Homenum Revelio," Hermione cast with her outheld wand. Again, nothing.
Nothing was wrong or out of place that would have given an intruder away, but still she felt a sense of awkwardenss here, as though someone had just been here, that they had searched the place, but all looked to be in order. She inspected all the rooms but nothing bore any evidence. She was convinced something was amiss, but she resolved that she wasn't going to find any answers here. She made to leave the apartment, but as she passed back through the living room, she stopped in her tracks once more. She slowly turned to her left.
Above the fireplace, atop the mantle sat a picture in frame, turned askew. It had always been one of her favorites of the trio. She walked up close to it. Hermione, Ron and Harry were all arm in arm with one another, laughing madly about something - she could not remember what. It was their second year. Colin Creevey had snapped it and had given it to Ron to get Harry to sign for him. Ron had liked the picture and kept it for himself. The wealth of memories - memories of simpler times - made her frown. That year she had nearly been killed by a basilisk. Were her times as a witch ever simple...?
The picture was normaly turned toward the right, towards the center of the mantle, but it was now tilted to the left. Hermione raised her wand to it and upon muttering an incantation, a whisp of black like dust spurted from the tip of her wand out against the picture's glass. Most of it deflected right off, but some held to the oily residue of old fingerprints. One inparticular held the dust well, a fresh one, right at the top left corner of the picture. Hermione pulled out her pouch that she kept about her neck and summoned a small kit from within. Again using her wand, she pulled the fresh print from the picture and stowed it away safely within the kit. She returned it to her pouch and then turned the picture back right. Staring at it for another moment, she then turned and hurried from the flat.
Standing on the sidewalk as countless muggles passed her in every direction, she again got the sensation that she was being watched. This was just too much. She carefully drew her wand as to not let any of the muggles see it as her eyes again darted from face to face, from corner to corner, from window to window, from rooftop to rooftop - again, nothing.
Hermione hurried to the nearest alleyway, racking her brain the whole way as to wear to search next. It was a Wednesday - Ron had Quidditch practice on Wednesdays but with the meeting this morning - Hermione checked her watch - even if he had gone, they were usually done by now. Without any other ideas, she decided to check it out regardless. Once out of sight, she apparated. Hermione arrived outside the Quidditch Pitch in Holyhead, Wales, used by the Holyhead Harpies, Ron's most recent team.
The Pitch was located in the country side, outside the quaint little village. It towered above the trees about it, but was invisible to the muggle eye. She knew her way around well enough. Once inside, she made her way to the field but it was vacant. Turning back, she wound her way through the maze of hallways to the players' locker room. Coming down the final hall that led to the locker room - she did not know why initially - but as the door to it opened she ducked to the side, out of sight.
Adolph Thornsby, looking as grumpy as ever came stomping out, favoring his bad leg as always. At an intersection between halls, he stared down each of his options, unsure of where to go, but eventually chose right, away from where Hermione was hiding. She let go her breath she had been holding.
"Why am I hiding?" Hermione had to question herself. She stepped back out into the hallway and cautiously continued on into the locker room. She stopped outside the door and knocked.
She knocked again and then called through it, "Ron?"
She grew more nervous by the second. She again drew her wand and forced open the door, wand held ready. The room was completely empty - all but for Ron who was half dressed, sitting on a bench before his locker, fumbling with his shoelaces. Ron glanced back over his shoulder at her, but then looked back down at his shoes without saying a word.
Hermione held her position for another moment longer, carefully looking about the room before she finally let her guard down.
"Ron?" she called out again. He still did not respond. "Ron, everything alright?"
"Why wouldn't it be?" he said without looking up.
"You and Harry never returned...what was Thornsby doing here?" she asked suspiciously. She was now standing right behind him. Ron finished his last lace and stood up to face her before he answered.
"What's wrong with that?" he responded shortly.
"Nothing...its just - he's an Auror, Ron, what business did he have here, and being that you're the only one in here - with you?"
By the look on Ron's face, he seemed to take offense to this.
"So what? Maybe he came to ask for my help? We are on the verge of a war, aren't we? I was with the Great Harry Potter and Hermione Granger when they miraculously saved us all from the evil Lord Vol-" Ron's rant almost broke as he unwittingly said the Dark Lord's name, he grimaced mid word at his blunder "-demort. Why wouldn't he want my help?" Ron charged.
Hermione sighed, "Ron...you know I didn't mean it like that-"
"Ron...what's going on? Everyone knows what a role you played, I only-"
"DO THEY?" he was becoming angrier.
"Ron...?" Hermione pleaded with sad eyes.
"Oh bother!" he turned around and began rummaging aimlessly through his messy locker. "Why aren't you with the famous Potter anyways?"
"Ron!" Hermione was now becoming upset, "What has come over you?"
She jumped as he slammed his locker closed.
"What are you doing here?" he asked sourly.
"You and Harry didn't come back, I wanted to check on you."
"On him you mean-"
"ENOUGH!" Hermione yelled at him. "In case you've forgotten, Ron, Harry's your friend too! He used to be your best friend. What's happened between us - you and I - has nothing to do with Harry, and if you're going to let this come between the two of you...w-well then your a bigger git than...than..."
"...Oh, Ron, can't you see reason!" Hermione suddenly sobbed. "Ron...we tried, we gave it our best...I love you Ron, but it - we - weren't meant to be. It has nothing to do with Harry."
Ron ground his jaw.
"It has everything to do with Harry," he said in a low, but menacing voice. Hermione could only shake her head at this. A tear rolled down her cheek.
"You've got to get over this Ron, you're letting it ruin your friendship...your letting it ruin our friendship..."
"I want you to pick me..." Ron said desparately. Hermione let out a loud sob before she collapsed forward, hugging Ron about his neck.
"Oh Ron, I love you too, you must know that...but we - we're friends Ron...best friends..."
Ron held her, unable to speak. It was a good thing that Hermione could not see his face at the moment - it was sinister.
"He left you Hermione...he'll leave you again..."
"STOP!" she yelled at him, pulling away. "Do you know who you're talking about! I've told you Ron, this has nothing to do with Harry!"
Again Ron ground his jaw, not believing her, but he did not challenge her. Hermione shook her head.
"You're going to have to make up your mind Ron...of what's more important to you...this grudge or our friendship!"
"YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO DECIDE!" Ron screamed in her face. "He left! He left but I stayed by you! And at his rate, won't be long before he winds up dead! Is that who you want! Pick - him or me! That bastard or me!?!"
Hermione was dumbstruck. Shocked. Her face turned pale...she did not recognize this person standing in front of her. Hermione covered her mouth as another painful sob erupted straight from her soul. She turned and ran from the locker room. Ron did not bother chasing after her.
. . . .
The breeze was cool, refreshing for a warm August day. The tall grass of the steppe bent and swayed in waves with the wind. The mood was somber. Their faces serious. It was abnormally quiet for such a large number present. The grass was crushed and flat where they were gathered. There were easily over a couple of hundred of them grouped in formation within the wide valley.
Alone on the high hill stood out the silhouette of one, looking down upon the rest. His robes whipped behind him in the wind. The plain below the large hill certainly displayed a fine sight to behold. Below him on the plain was a sea of Red. All in uniform, the wizards were going through drill, preparing for war. A long line of infantry stood ready, their silvery shields and helmets glistening in the sun, their longs staffs towering high above them. On either flank were more wizards astride their brooms - a wizard calvary. And behind the line were several large pieces that were unmistakenably some form of artillery. Three wizards manned each gun, readied with staffs much like the infantrys' but shorter.
A subtle crack announced the arrival of another behind the one who stood atop the hill, and only seconds later another arrived just behind her. Minerva McGonagall and Fortin Flamel both stepped forward in line with Shacklebolt.
"It is a grand sight!" Shacklebolt boasted of his army. "We'll show these Slavs!"
Neither of the others commented. They looked just as grave as the soldiers down below.
"Well, what's wrong then?" he turned to them. Silence persisted.
"So many young and brave. Feels like only yesterday that we had to bury so many. I fear how many of these we will have to lay to rest." McGonagall sighed. Flamel nodded in agreement. Shacklebolt grimaced.
"We do only what we must...what would you have me do?" he spoke defensively, as if he were looking for reassurance from them on his plan of action. None answered him. Just then a third crack anounced the arrival of a fourth, Lord Byron. He stepped forward with the rest atop the hill.
Byron always looked like a man of resolve, but today he seemed a bit disheveled. His robes were torn and tattered in a few places as if he had just come from a fight. His eyes looked dark and tired. McGonagall looked worriedly to him, but the rest of their eyes fell down below, to the commotion that was stirring.
They were too far away to understand the commands, but they could still hear the officers barking different orders. The young wizards would then hustle into formation or begin marching this way or that. The infantry divided themselves into several long lines, three to four deep, stretched out before the guns. Another loud order was given and the three wizards at each of the cannon lowered the head of their staffs to the base of the guns. It lit up a bright red before the blast jet up the barrel and shot from its tip, shooting several hundred meters across the field. The projectile erupted as a devastating explosion, sending earth and fire flying in every direction. They rehersed this several times, perfecting their aim, before the infantry finally joined in. Upon command, they too aimed their weapons and began firing a barrage of red beams out across the empty field, though their beams did not carry quite the punch as the cannon, nor did they reach the same distance.
"How is the militia?" Shacklebolt asked McGonagall.
"I am afraid you have robbed me of most my people," McGonagall informed him.
"Come now, McGonagall, the militia is very important to us, anything I can do to assisst..."
"There is nothing at the moment."
"What news do we have from France, Shacklebolt?" Flamel asked the Minister. At first Shacklebolt only shook his head as he continued to watch the drills. He finally turned and spit on the ground before he responded.
"Nothing. The assembly broke without any resolution. France doesn't seem to have the gall to stand up. Nor the U.S., and none will follow without them on board. They don't seem too concerned with the Slavs. They believe it is an isolated, regional conflict. And then with Germany, Russia, and Italy already having signed treaties with them, none wish to act. To be honest with you, I am a bit concerned on where Germany's loyalties lie. The Confederation has resigned itself to letting things unfold as is."
"None willing to send their young to war..." McGonagall said under her breath to no one in particular. All heard it though and Shacklebolt turned to her with an unpleasant look in his eye. He pursed his lips, eager to retort something in his own defense, but in the end he held his tongue.
"When do you believe they will become concerned?" Flamel asked.
"Thats the million Galleon question..." Shacklebolt sighed. "Any news on your end?" Shacklebolt turned to Byron. Byron took a deep breath.
"Yes, as a matter of fact...and none of it good," he said regrettably, still watching the drill below. "Two of Robards men have been killed."
"Who!" Shacklebolt asked alarmed.
"Mills and Lockley." All four faces frowned. "Two others were captured. Nearly lost some of my own in the mission to retrieve them."
"And..." Shacklebolt asked concerned.
"We were successful."
Shacklebolt breathed a sigh of relief, "Why am I only now hearing about this!"
"Forgive me, Minister, I have only just returned."
"Byron, the loss or capture of our people is of the upmost concern to me, I would expect to be notified immediately!"
"Of course, Minister, my apologies," Byron bowed his head.
Silence fell once again as they watched the grassy knoll being ripped apart by the hundreds of blasts Shacklebolt's army was unleashing upon it.
"And what of Scura then?" Shacklebolt finally asked.
"Potter was right. He is most certainly a wizard..." Byron wandered off for a moment, smirking, but he did not reveal his reason for this, "...and a powerful one at that. If I may speak frankly sir, I believe Robards has been too complacent - he now risks my men and I cannot allow that. I am not sure if he trusted Potter's information. It is why two of his men are now dead..."
"Why didn't we have that information from you before, Byron?"
"I do all that I can sir, Kaan continues to prove himself as ever the master of deception...it worries me a great deal. I assure you that I labor tirelessly to gather all the intel that I can, sir."
"But Byron, how could we have missed something as vital as this?"
Byron did not answer right away. "Kaan favors using the muggles in his designs. I believe he wished to protect Scura in this way, make us believe he was a muggle under the Imperius. And you can be assured that Kaan's spies and double agents are present even within our Ministry as are ours within his."
Shacklebolt frowned at this. He did not like to believe such things.
"And now that the attempt on Scura's life has been unsuccessful, it will undoubtedly be near impossible now," Byron went on.
"And where is Potter?" Shacklebolt asked.
"Sir, I believe it is best we leave him to his own designs..." Byron suggested.
"And I agree," McGonagall added her own, unsolicited opinion. Shacklebolt turned on both of them, looking none too happy.
"Leave him...! What do you take me for, Fudge! I-"
"Minister, forgive me, thats not what I was implying..."
"Kingsley," McGonagall called him by his first name, "Harry Potter, for better or worse, remains to be our greatest hope. The Ministry, for all that it can offer him, would in the end, only interfere, and as Byron suggested, it is just too large an organization, too easy fo Kaan's eyes and ears to catch wind of something."
Kingsley frowned but he did not protest, "What do we know of the enemy's position?"
"They have a tight hold on Hungary. They are still busy with her, stomping out the different pockets of resistance. We are offering all the assistance that we can. Scura has turned the rest of his number towards Romania. I expect Bucharest to fall within the week."
"Could they challenge us in Austria?"
"I do not believe so, sir. One, they would have to abandon their mission in Romania and then pull their already thin numbers left in Hungary to stand a chance. United with the Austrians, you could say our numbers would be evenly matched, in such a case, but then I do not believe Kaan is ready for such a move. To invade Austria, the world would then have little choice but to pick sides."
"Do we not give them the pretext for invasion by moving our forces there?" Flamel asked.
"No," Shacklebolt answered, "we go only by invitation."
"When are you leaving?" Flamel asked.
. . . .
Hermione was yet again in tears, her heart aching from the actions of Ron. She suddenly stopped and looked up.
Dejavu. Upset with Ron, she had stormed out of the pitch and taken off absentmindedly, unaware even of where she was going. She was now walking up the stairs to her flat on the fifth level...but this was exactly how she had gotten herself into trouble before.
Her senses had no more than returned than she heard footsteps from the stairs below. A couple of levels down she could see the shadows of two hurriedly making their way up the steps. She turned back to her hallway - it was deserted. She hurriedly began sprinting down it. A wizard suddenly apparated at its far end and immediately sent a red curse her way. Hermione dove aside and fired her own. He blocked it easily - it was Sambor.
The noise from the stairwell caught her attention as the others came stampeding up. Hermione turned her wand on them and shot a powerful blast that caused the whole stairwell to collapse. Sambor fired another spell at her and though she managed to block it, the mere force of it blew her backwards. Sambor began slowly pacing towards her.
Hermione touched the tip of her wand to the floor beside her, quickly mumblimg an spell which caused the floor to first crack, then from the point where her wand was touching it, the hallway began rotating backwards like a conveyer belt. Sambor stopped, first looking down at his feet as he was carried swiftly back down the hallway. He looked back up with a sinister grin on his face. He was enjoying himself.
Hermione sent a curse crashing into the ceiling above his head, collapsing a bunch of debris upon him. As he was distracted, she blew open the nearest door and hurried through it, but just as she was crossing the entry way, something caught her by the ankle and tripped her, sending her crashing to the floor. The force grabbed hold of her and yanked her back into the hallway. Hermione rolled over to see Sambor standing just above her with his wand aimed right for her.
Another large flash came unexpectedly from behind. It connected with the unsuspecting Sambor and sent him flying across her. Hermione searched back for the castor, "KREACHER!" she yelled.
The small house elf first apparated to her side, and then before Sambor could collect himself, the elf apparated both he and Hermione out of there.
When they landed, Hermione wrapped her arms around the elf's neck and began thanking him repeatedly. How could she have been so stupid to have just walked right back into that!
"Kreacher, what were you doing there?" Hermione asked out of breath, only just now realizing they were back at Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Kreacher did not relish all the praise he was receiving and tried to wiggle his way out her grasp.
"Master Potter ordered Kreacher to keep an eye on Mistress Granger. Ensure she did not get into any trouble, he commanded me," Kreacher answered in his raspy voice. Hermione's eyes narrowed in on the house elf. Was his spying on her what she had sensed earlier in the day or someone else?
"Kreacher, can you take me to him, can you take me to Harry?" Hermione pleaded. Kreacher looked doubtfully at Hermione.
"Kreacher may always be beckoned..."
"Kreacher, I know you can do this, please!"
The house elf pursed his lips and with nothing more said, he apparated them both.
The two, the house elf and the witch, stood hand and hand, looking up with both a bit of bewilderment and amazement etched across their faces.
Hermione recognized this place from somewhere...they had camped here long ago while on the run from Voldemort. It was getting later in the day. The Sun was to their left, not far above the horizon. The two were standing atop a high plateau with their heads tilted back, watching Harry who was even further, higher, in the distance.
He was hovering, motionless, with his back to them. He had his legs pulled up, crossed before him, meditating like a Buddhist monk. I single ball of bluish-white light was slowly orbiting him. As they watched however, it ever so slowly began picking up it's pace. Then it split into two, then three, then four balls of light. Their paths slowly spread out around him. More balls formed, five, six , seven,eight maybe - they were all now moving so fast and in different directions it was hard to tell. Some moved clockwise, others counter. Some moved horizontally about him, some vertically, others diagonally. Some of their orbits were perfect circles about him, others more elliptical.
Other balls joined the fray. They began moving faster and faster. Kreacher and Hermione awaited in angst for two to collide and explode - but they never did. It was not long before they all began moving so fast that all you could see was the lighted streaks of their paths. It looked like some magical juggling act.
Hermione and Kreacher both suddenly jumped. Something happened, like an explosion but the beams of light had not collided. A wave - a shockwave - swept past them, knocking each back a step and disturbed the ground and dust about them. The ground then began to shake, at first as subtle tremor but then grew more and more into what felt like a growing earthquake. The rock they stood upon cracked and broke. A long fracture ran between Hermione's legs.
A boulder rising before the plateau caught their eyes. A second rose. The ground they stood on fractured further until a large chunk of it broke free altogether and began rising with the others. More pieces did the same until something close to fifteen, maybe twenty huge pieces of rock slowly began circling around Harry as well, though much further away from him than the balls of energy. 'What was going on?' they could only ponder.
The huge boulders began moving faster and faster as well, and in different directions. And then one the the balls of light spun off, making a line for one of the streaks that represented a boulder. They collided mid air. It exploded. A shower of dust and sparks rained down. And then another beam broke away just as the first, destroying its own rock - and then another did the same, and then another, until in a burst of fury, an all out, violent assault ensued in which all the beams of energy that had been orbiting Harry broke off and attacked the circling boudlers. Hermione and Kreacher both hit the deck, covering their heads with their arms.
When the dust finally began to settle, when they looked back up in search for Harry, he was gone. They then turned to each other, ever as much confused and bewildered, with even a hint of fear in their eyes.
"What are you two doing on the ground?" a teasing voice sounded from behind them. Both Hermione and Kreacher jumped to their feet.
"Master!" Kreacher bellowed unnecessarily as he bowed low to the ground.
"Harry..." Hermione muttered, unsure of what to say...or what she had just seen. This was becoming a ritual with Harry.
Harry was smiling, but as he looked to Kreacher, his smile faded. He looked back to Hermione, most concerned.
"Can't you go a day without finding some mess of trouble?...back to your flat, honestly?"
"How did you...how can you...?" Hermione stumbled.
"Master, Kreacher did just as you had commanded him," Kreacher defended himself before his disappointed master.
"Yes, Kreacher, you acted very courageously! Kreacher, I am very proud of you and will have to think of a great reward for you-"
"Master Potter, Kreacher lives to serve the House of Black, and now the House of Potter. Kreacher wishes only to return to the house of Black, if it is your wish?" he grovelled.
"It is Kreacher, please, go."
Kreacher did not waste a second longer. With a crack he was gone. Harry looked back to Hermione and she to him.
"I am afraid I cannot leave you for even a moment..." Harry exhaled.
"You put Kreacher on me?"
Harry nodded, unabashed.
"I can take care of myself Harry!" she stated.
"And should Kreacher had not arrived, what was your next plan of action then?"
"If you have forgotten, I am an Auror Harry, you can't keep-"
"Correction," Harry interrupted her, "You are fronting as an Auror in training. You are actually, whether even you know it, an Unspeakable."
Hermione made to retort but then her jaw dropped as to what Harry had just said sunk in. Her face turned red with anger. "How did you...! Do you always make it a habit of trespassing into people's minds?"
Harry did not respond right away. "Yes, it has become habit," he admitted, again unabashed, "but Hermione, you must understand...these wizards, Sambor and his goons, they are not just any wizards..."
"And do you look into my thoughts!?!" her anger was rising. Again Harry gave this some thought before he answered.
"I try to uphold some principles. I do my best to avoid your thoughts...but you , Hermione, you are like an open book...it is why I have had to keep so much from you, perhaps it is time for some Occlumency lessons of your own, " Harry smiled at this, remembering how much grief she had given him over his own lessons with Snape. Hermione's cheeks turned red.
"I-I thought you could tell when someone was looking into your thoughts...?"
"You can, at times. Depending on how good you are at Occlumency and how good the other wizard is at Legilimency. You offer no resistence, I am afraid," Harry informed her.
"Do you always..."
"No, with you, only by accident...but you have to realize, for me, it has become almost second nature...hard to turn off..." Harry tried explaining.
"And what was that all about!" Hermione let her anger over his looking into her mind go and instead turned and pointed a finger at the now empty sky where Harry was, only minutes ago, hovering in the air performing...well, she did not know exactly what. Harry smiled at this.
"I was practicing. Tomorrow is an important day for me...its will be a very big test."
"Harry, how can you...how were you able...up there, without a wand, without a broom...?" Hermoine went on. She had so many questions and Harry so rarely answered them. She wanted to get in as many as she could. To her surprise though, Harry's smile reappeared with this. He chuckled.
"Did you like that?" Harry asked.
"How did you do it?"
"Would you like to learn?"
'Me?' Hermione mouthed, pointing at herself unbelievingly.
"I am afraid to disappoint, Hermione, but that is nothing too special. You have the ability. It takes only a bit of concentration and practice."
Hermione looked confused, the hell it wasn't! She shook her head at him which only caused another chuckle from Harry.
"Think about it, Hermione, almost every wizard that ever was performed his first magic as a child, before they knew what magic was, without a wand or even a spell for that matter."
Hermione made to respond but then held back as she began to consider his words.
"A wand - a staff, a magical broomstick or carpet, or ring or amulet - all are merely extensions of a witch or wizard," Harry went on, "Quite useless otherwise. True, they do possess some magical quality of their own that may enhance ones ability, whether it be a Phoenix's feather, a dragon's heartstring or a unicorn's hair, or a magical stone set in a ring or staff, but they do not create the magic, nor are they necessary to perform it."
Hermione looked only more confused.
"For instance, consider a nonverbal spell, let us use Wingardium Leviosa," Harry enunciated in such a way that would make even Hermione proud. A small rock rose between them. "We learn it first verbally, but is the spell really necessary? It is performed quite easily without," Harry said as several dozen or so rocks began to lift off the ground and float about them.
"In fact, I find our reliance on spells even more interesting than our reliance on wands and the like. It is simply a method of training ourselves, Hermione, conditioning. The spell and the wand do not lift the stone. Instead we focus, we channel our own energy from ourselves, through ourselves...the wand helps us in channeling it, in using it, the spell helps us control how we use our energy - whether we wish to lift something, blast something, transform something - do you understand?" Harry asked but Hermione looked a bit dumbstruck.
"A child performs magic by accident. It is a reflex, an emotion. With the vast number of one can use and manipulate his energy - his magic, if you will - it is much easier for us to learn and use them via a spell. Do you know what separates us from muggles?" Harry back tracked. Hermione gave his question her all - she couldn't stand not to know an answer - but alas she came up short.
"Nothing," Harry said simply. Hermione's look of confusion only deepened. "Physically, chemically, anotomically, there is almost nothing different between us and muggles...except for the amount of energy one possesses and their ability to control it," Harry informed her, "and just because one may be the strongest, that does not make them the best. Magic is an art, just like anthing else - it takes both talent, given ability, and control to master it."
"Different cultures have called it different things over time, ours magic, others chi, some karma and so and and so forth. The talent, the given ability is absent in almost everyone. There are only a few who are capable, and the trait is highly genetic, as is seen in that most must come from a line of magicians. But the first of us, dating back thousands of years ago, they did not have the spells, the training to hone their skills like we have today..." Harry trailed off, lost in thought.
"The spell itself, the wand, they do not lift this stone," Harry returned to his example. "I focus the engery that is within me, I channel it out of me and around - below that stone. It takes a great deal of focus to lift an object, as we all learned from our first lesson with Professor Flitwick. You remember...the feather?"
"Now, you need only think it and you can lift an object...that is because you have trained, conditioned your mind on how to lift an object, and instead of going through that arduous ordeal everytime, you have learned to associate it with the spell, Wingardium Leviosa, whether you speak or think it, your instincts now kick in. Instead of thinking, 'I want to create a ball of engergy to stun that git over there,' you need only think, Stupify!" and as Harry said this a jet of red light seemed to come straight from his stomach and streaked straight out. Hermione jumped as a piece of rock bolted up from the ground and collided with the spell, exploding into dust.
Hermione felt a bit overwhelmed with trying to understand. She did not like not knowing.
"Same thing with the wand," Harry continued. "The wand helps us focus and channel our energy, but we do not need it - it only makes it easier." Hary closed his eyes, "If you concentrate, you can feel the energy pulsing through you, you must only focus it, channel it, down your arm, to your hand, out your fingertips..."
As he said this, fire erupted from his fingertips, burning bright and furious. "If I wish to fly," the flames extinguished, "I need only focus, and channel my energy beneath myself," Harry's feet lifted off the ground, he began hovering, "do you understand?"
Hermione nodded her head but she was still just as lost.
"Don't worry, you are a very talented witch. If you wish to learn, I will help you," Harry smiled to her as his feet came gently back to rest on solid ground.
"You said that tomorrow...a test?" Hermione asked. Harry nodded. "The army is leaving tomorrow..." Hermione meant to imply, "you are going with them?"
"No," Harry responded. "I have my own battles to fight."
"With Sambor?" she asked. Harry shook his head.
"With Kaan?" she gulped. Harry's smile faded but other than that, he did not respond.
"Come," he held out a hand to her, "if you don't mind, I still have one last thing to do, and then we can tend to all your questions," Harry teased her, "would you come with me?"
Of course she would. Hermoine took hold Harry's hand and squeezed it gently. They apparated. When they arrived, they were once again before the winged boar gates.
"Hogwarts?" Hermione asked.
"Yes, I will need a bit of advice for what I have to do tomorrow."
The two made their way through the gates but their hands did not part. Instead, as they moved their fingers intertwined. They did not hurry. They took their time as they made their way to the castle, walking in silence the whole way.
Harry could see Hagrid's cabin off to the left, his window aglow from light inside. Smoke issued out his chimney. It had been so long since he had talked to his good friend. The first wizard he'd ever met. The wizard who had rescued him from the Dursley's on his eleventh birthday. The wizard who had revealed to Harry that he too was a wizard...Harry decided that he would have to visit Hagrid soon.
Once past his cabin, Harry looked back straight ahead. Hermione's eyes glanced from their interlocked hands then up to Harry. Before he could catch her looking at him, she turned and looked out, sheepishly across the grounds. Her mind, her feelings were reeling. She was back with Harry.
It was not that long ago that she had resigned herself to the belief that she had lost Harry forever. Her memories wound further back, to the day - to that day - to the first day she had thought she had lost him, to the day she rued and regretted more than any other - to their only moment, their moment beneath the shade of a tree, beside the peaceful pond near the Burrow...
Hermione peeked at him from the corner of her eye again. She could hardly believe this day had come. Harry was back, he was here with her, and no matter what obstacles they faced...nothing had ever stopped him before. Hermione smiled as she squeezed his hand tighter within hers.
The Castle was all but abandoned. It was still summer break and only a skeleton crew of staff remained. Evening having arrived meant it was even quieter - eerie even. Harry and Hermione knew their way well though and walked silently through its corridors, only their footsteps were heard, echoing off the stone walls. Harry was leading them to the Headmistress' office when they suddenly stopped, distracted by a faint sound issuing down from an intersecting hallway. It was a melody - a most beautiful, entrancing melody.
The two looked down the empty hallway. It was cast in shadow as there were no windows or torches down it. Hermione squeezed Harry's hand even tighter. They were very close to McGonagall's office...but this tune, it was luring. Curiosity beckoned them and they turned to investigate.
The melody grew louder as they moved further down the hall. They then noticed a beam of light coming from a cracked door - this had to be it. They drew close, just to its edge, listening intently. Harry smiled down at Hermione as if he knew something she did not. She couldn't stand it. She stepped forward and peered into the room.
She recognized the old magical turn table with its huge horn twisting up above it, voicing the music. Two then suddenly swept across her view - they were dancing. Hermione moved closer to the crack, getting a better view of the room. To her surprise, McGonagall...and none other than Lord Edward Byron himself were twirling about the dance floor. She continued to watch as she felt Harry press up behind her. He coughed, anouncing their presence to the dancing couple as he pushed open the door.
The two did not seem surprised or taken off guard. Instead Byron guided her to a graceful stop with a fluid spin as they thin turned to confront the two intruders.
"Harry, Hermione, please come in," Byron welcomed them warmly.
"Harry, Hermione?" McGonagall asked a bit taken aback, "what in the world brings you here at this hour?"
Harry pushed open the door furter and still with Hermione's hand within his, he led her into the room. The box was still playing.
"Harry!" Hermione called out shocked as Harry half spun her as he pulled her hand out and placed his other on her hip. She was caught off guard, but guided by Harry they broke right into the dance. Hermione's cheeks turned a bright red as she looked to the equally shocked McGonagall and smiling Byron. She felt embarassed but went with it. She turned back to Harry, placing her free hand about his shoulder. She concentrated as she realized she was stumbling through the steps as compared to Harry's graceful leading.
"You know this song?" she asked, forgetting their audience and reason for being here. Harry nodded.
Hermione smiled. As Harry turned them, she saw that Byron and McGonagall had picked back up the dance where they had left off. McGonagall was eyeing them carefully but all of Byron's attention was devoted to her. Hermione smiled at this before looking back up to Harry.
"I didn't know you knew how to dance?" Hermione teased him.
"I don't..." he replied. The song, it's melody was magical. It captured the soul. It was indeed one of the most famous wizard compositions in history, The Forbidden Tryst, written by Ackley Gideon in the fourteenth century. Hermione cried out in laughter as Harry spun her quickly and then dipped her low to the ground as the serenade drew to a close. Byron had done the same to McGonagall.
"Come for lessons?" Byron jokingly asked them. Harry and Hermione both smiled but McGonagall still seemed a bit confused by their sudden and unanounced arrival.
"No...we had only heard the song..."
"I know what you mean, two can hardly resist it's lure," Byron continued beaming between Harry and Hermione. Byron had placed his arm about McGonagall's shoulders and hugged her close. "So what business then brings you here?"
"I was hoping to speak with Dumbledore," Harry looked to McGonagall. She turned and looked up to Byron but he was looking intently at Harry.
"Shacklebolt is moving his army tomorrow," Byron stated. Harry did not respond. "Have you caught wind of something?" Byron asked more concerned now.
"No," Harry shook his head. Byron frowned.
"Forgive me, but would it not have been more proper to have arranged a meeting should you wish to consult with the former Headmaster?"
"Edward!" McGonagall chastised him. "Harry, you must know you are always welcome home to Hogwarts, no matter the day, no matter the hour," she reassured him.
"I only meant-"
"No, it is fine," Harry interrupted him. "It is rather urgent, and I believe you above all can understand the importance of discretion at a time like this."
Byron nodded his head. Harry looked to Hermione before he continued.
"I will need to speak with him alone. Could you keep an eye on her for me, every time I turn around..." but Harry stopped as he let out a playful yelp of pain as Hermione squeezed his side at his ribs with all her might.
"Harry, is everything alright?" McGonagall now asked.
"It is, professor. I have a very important task before me...and it has always helped to seek his guidance."
McGonagall nodded, "you know the password."
"I'll only be a moment," and then without thinking, before he could stop himself, Harry bent down and gave Hermione a kiss on her cheek. He suddenly stood back, shocked and embarassed by his own actions. He could not bear to look at Hermione after that. He tried to walk away but after only two steps he was pulled back as she refused to let go his hand. Her eyes looked longingly to his.
"Promise," he said as she unwillingly let go.
Harry's time with Dumbledore's portrait took much longer than anticipated. When he left McGonagall's office he was surprised by two small elfs who informed him they were there to take him to the others. Apparently they had left the empty classroom. The elfs led him to a very familiar part of the Castle, to the portrait of the Fat Lady.
'Quiet, I'm trying to slee..." she began until she recognized the all-grown-up-boy, "Oh my, Harry Potter! Come in, come in, the house of Gryffindor is always welcome to you!" she swung forward, not bothering to hastle him for a password.
Laughter beckoned him in. The Common Room was just as he remembered it. The room glowed orange from the lit fireplace. The other three were sat at a wooden table at the center of the room, dinner served atop it. All three seemed to be enjoying themselves gaily.
"Hermione was eager to see it and being that you had comandeered my office, thought it would be nice to enjoy dinner in here," McGonagall informed him as she waived him over to the fourth chair beside Hermione. "We were just remembering the Yule Ball of your fourth year..." she said smiling widely at him.
'Great...!" Harry jested back half-heartedly.
"I shall never forget you boys..." McGonagall trailed off, remembering those easier times.
"Ron's face when you made him demonstrate with you?" Harry reminded her. They all laughed again.
"Nor the elegant robes he wore!" they erupted yet again.
"Are you hungry?" Hermione stood up to begin fixing him a plate.
"Thank you," he smiled to her. McGonagall poored him a glass of red wine.
"I have already offered Hermione - it is getting late, if you two wish, you are welcome to stay here - more than enough beds available. Believe the Castle is glad to have you back within it's walls."
Harry looked around long and hard at the old room. He hadn't thought about it in a long time, but he knew it like the back of his hand. This had been his home - his true home - for so long. It was wonderful to be back.
"Thanks, I think I would really like that, Hermione?"
'Yes, thank you Professor."
"Please, call me Minerva. Very well, glad to hear it. Edward and I have some matters of our own to attend to, so we shall bid you goodnight, see you in the morning for breakfast?"
Harry smiled and nodded. Byron and McGonagall both stood up and gave the other two hugs before they departed.
Once the portrait closed over the entrance hole, an awkward silence ensued. It had only been three days since Harry had returned but so much had happened since then, it felt like a week - a month - or more.
His first night back he had been rendered unconscious from his fight and nursed back to health by Hermione at Grimmauld Place. The next day Hermione had spent tracking Harry down, finding him at Privet Drive where they stayed the night plotting the rescue of the Dursley's. The following day was cruellfuly long and the two had accidentally fallen asleep together on the couch, but now...
Both Harry and Hermione looked sheepishly back at either of the doors that led to the separate boys' and girls' dormatories. They then looked back to each other but as their eyes met, they each suddenly looked away, turning red as if embarrassed.
There was no denying the bond between them. Up until now, since Harry's return, things had just sort of unfolded as is. No time apart could have undone the history between them. But at the same time, neither wanted to face what was happening. Each felt the scars of what had happened last time, long ago beneath the tree at the Burrow when they had crossed the line between friend and...they could not even bear to think, much less speak the word.
Want with angst, desire tempered by fear, hope shadowed by doubt - all swept over each in waves as they each debated internally on what to do now. What was happening? Their kiss they had shared only last night, what did that mean? Where were they going?
They stood apart from each other, idling about the room. Finally Harry spoke, "Been a long day...care for another glass of wine before we turn in..."
Hermione only nodded in response. With the use of his wand, Harry pushed the dining table back against the wall and summoned the most comforatable couch in the room, the same couch they had spent many a hour on as students. Harry postioned it facing the fireplace and drew a side table next to it, on which he conjured the bottle of red wine and two goblets.
Harry held his hand out, offering her a seat. Wearing a shy smile, Hermione accepted it and came to sit. He then took up the two glasses, handing one to her. They both took a sip as he sat down beside her. Neither looked to the other as they each stared away into the crackling fire. Harry exhaled loudly as he sunk further down into the sofa.
"Everything alright?" Hermione looked over to him.
"Strange to be back in here, isn't it?" he looked up, around the room. Hermione nodded in agreement.
"Feels like it was another life..." she trailed off.
"Thank you, Hermione..." Harry said with no explanation. Hermione's eyes narrowed in on him.
"What was that for?"
Harry took another deep breath, he looked over to her as he made to start, but as his eyes again met hers he faltered and looked back to the fire.
"For just being you...for forgiving me, for forgiving me though I haven't deserved it. For all that you have done for me."
Hermione smiled wider at him, "You're being silly, I think the wine is beginning to talk..." she said as they had finished off a bottle at dinner.
"No," Harry's head snapped to her, "no...I've never deserved a friend as great as you..."
"Harry...?" Hermione asked turning to face him, pulling one leg up and curling it beneath herself.
"I have to ask one more thing of you Hermione..."
"Just one more?" she was toying with him, but Harry was being serious.
"Tomorrow...tomorrow I have a job to do, and I need you to stay at the house I have set up for the Dursleys."
Hermione looked both surprised and confused by this.
"What do you have to do tomorrow that you would need me to stay with them?"
Harry tried to speak but eventually just shook his head, "will you promise me Hermione?"
Now she shook her head, "Harry, I'm trying...you know I would do anything for you...but...but this isn't making any sense, you're confusing me, Harry?"
Harry looked to her, unsure of what to say or what, exactly, she meant. Hermione fell back into her corner of the couch and took a long sip of her wine. She looked up the ceiling for a bit before she continued.
"What's happening Harry...?"
"Hermione, I told you-"
"No Harry...I care more about you than...I don't need to know where've you been, I don't need to know whats happening now if you don't want to tell me...I trust you Harry and I will follow you anywhere...w-whats happening to us - with us?"
Harry's eyes grew big. The childhood feeling of butterflies invaded his stomach, an invisible weight pressed against his chest.
"I meant," Hermione tried explaining further as she coud see the fear and confusion in his eyes, "we used to be best friends...Harry," she even laughed a bit, "those days on the run...we shared everything together. Everything seems so messed up now... before, I felt like I knew what you were thinking before you said it, and now I have no idea anymore, I don't know whats going on...and you won't give me anything," Hermione gave in to her frustration.
Harry slipped off the couch and onto his knees. He set his glass aside on the table and took both of Hermione's hands within his own.
"Swear to me Hermione, swear to me that tomorrow you will stay with the Dursley's and I will give you whatever you want."
"Please...Hermione," he begged her with sad eyes. She could not refuse him. She nodded in acquiesence. It did not matter anymore. After tomorrow he will have either defeated his enemy and Hermione would be safe...or he would be dead and they would no longer have any business looking for her.
Harry then slowly lifted her hands to either side of his head, just at his temples. Just before he touched her hands to them though, he spoke softly, "I love you Hermione, more than anything..." and with that he closed his eyes and pressed her palms to his temples.
Hermione felt like she was being pulled by some sort of Port Key, or falling rather. Falling...falling 'til she landed in Harry's memories. They were moving fast. It was just after the final battle - she could feel his sorrow - she could feel his need to find her and Ron. Harry's memories fast forwarded. He was in the Leaky Cauldron, drowning himself in firewhiskey to ebb the pain. She could feel his pain. Ron and she came to visit, a light broke through.
They were at the Burrow, she felt his battles, she felt his jealousy over Ron. It fast forwarded to Harry sitting below the tree, of she coming to sit beside him, of their kiss, of their declarations of love, of them rolling in the grass, of Ginny catching them, of his hopeless search for her afterwards, of his longing for a letter, of his jealousy over Ron's.
She could see him writing his own letter, of him giving it to Ron, of Ron's disappearance. When the memory hit where Ron had returned, of Harry walking down the steps, of the joyous family within the common room, Hermione wanted to pull away but Harry held her tight. She followed him outside, as he first began to run, as he ran as fast and as hard and as long as his legs could carry him until he collapsed, hurting worse than his scar or a nightmare or a cruciatus curse ever had.
The memory fast forwarded. Harry was traveling across Europe. He was in France, then Germany, and on from there. Faces came and went - none she recognized. A mystery, a mission. She could pick out several places across Europe, then on to Egypt, and eventually Asia. Historic places, dark places. Different tongues, different types of magic. Back to Europe. A dark looking Citadel pitted against a dark and cloudy sky, sitting high atop a steep mountain. His memory then lingered on one face inparticular. She did not know it, but she felt as though she should. She did not like it, she felt as though she should look away from him but she couldn't...that handsome, beautiful face, that pale skin, that sheen, ebony black hair, those penetrating, pitch black eyes...
Her heart began to race, there were fights, duels - lessons the hard way. Potions and charms to brew and overcome. There was a job, a mission, but it was unclear to her. Again that face, those eyes... they kept coming back across Harry's memories. A golden, odd looking key. And then they were in the mountains. Cloud and mist all around. Then into a chamber, a door...a most ominous door. Its edges were lit aglow from what was obviously a fire raging behind it. The door opened and indeed it seemed like the Sun itself was there - too close, the heat so intense it felt as if your flesh were to boil off. Hermione could not stand it, she screamed as she ripped her hands from Harry's grip... she suddenly crashed back into reality.
Hermione immediately fell over, sobbing.
"Hermione! I'm sorry, I didn't realize, I didn't know you could feel it..." Harry tried to take her in his arms but she pushed back against him.
"Harry...I-I'm - so - s-sorry!" she stumbled through her tears and sobs as she held him back in an attempt to face him.
"Hermione, no..." Harry forced her arm away and pulled her close, tucking her head beneath his chin he held her to his chest. He caressed and rubbed her back in an attempt to soothe her, "...you must be crazy, I didn't think you'd feel that..." Harry was missing the target.
"No..." Hermione nearly choked, "I ruined it Harry, I ruined everything!"
"Hermione...now I'm the one confused."
"I had heard you Harry, when you two were fighting...you had told her, you yelled at her...that you loved her...that she was always the one...that I was..." but Hermione succumbed to her sobs once more, "I thought..."
It was beginning to dawn on him. That day...in Harry's anger, he had yelled at Ginny, "FINE, ITS YOU I LOVE, GINNY, ITS ALWAYS BEEN YOU. YOU. YOU'RE EVERYTHING TO ME. HERMIONE...NOTHING!"
He had said this only in anger, asking Ginny if she would rather have him lie to her...live a charade.
"I felt so horrible Harry, I thought I had-" again she choked "-you and Ginny...and Ron, your best mate, and the Weasleys like your own family..." she cried even harder. "I thought I had jeopardized everything for you...I thought I had...I had never felt so low - I was so selfish! All I could think was how could I have done that to you - to them!"
Harry hugged her tighter, "Please Hermione, don't you see now that it wasn't your fault, it was mine...I should have never...to have lost my friend over it...was the biggest mistake of my life...Hermione I love you," Harry hated to have to admit it yet again, "but I could never stand to lose you as a friend...you're all I have in this world..."
Harry's soothing seemed to have the opposite affect as Hermione only cried harder.
"You left Harry...you left because of me...it was all my fault!" she groaned through tears.
"NO! Hermione! Listen to me, it was my fault...I should never have tried to come between you and Ron...it was the stupidest thing I've ever done..."
Hermione somehow managed an abrupt guffaw between her tears with these words. Harry was completely lost now.
"No...Harry, are you not listening to me," Hermione tried her best to dry her tears. She looked up to him. "I was so crushed...I had to get away, away from you...away from Ginny...I couldn't bear to write, I had already caused so much trouble for you...and then Ron came, he wasn't himself...you should have seen him, so defeated, so sad...so pathetic. When he asked me Harry...I just didn't have the heart to tell him no...not then, so I told him maybe, that maybe one day...but if I would have known what trouble that would cause..."
Harry shook his head in confusion, "I don't understand...you and Ron?"
"I always feared that's why you left, but I didn't want to believe it, it hurt too bad. I had to dispell so many rumors after that, after Ron immediately went around blabbering his mouth...I came to look for you Harry, I couldn't stand it..." she said, looking deep into his sad green eyes, searching for something...forgiveness maybe, love, answers possibly?
"But...you and Ron had always..." Harry started but stopped as Hermione shook her head at this and her lips curved into a frowning smile.
"Harry?" she asked in a disbelieving tone. "When had Ron and I ever...?"
"But..." Harry thought back, "since fourth year really...right? And in search of the Horcruxs'...when you ran to him..." Harry remembered with a pang, "after the war...what are you getting at Hermione?"
"Fourth year, Harry, it was only nice to be noticed...as a girl," she added hurtfuly. What she said next was barely louder than the faintest of whispers, "its always been you, Harry..."
Harry stared long and hard at her...'him?'
"I didn't know how Harry..." she went on, still talking in barely more than a whisper, I didn't know how to tell you...without risking so much, without risking us - our friendship, without risking everything...I didn't want to tell you..." Hermione's cheeks were turning a bright red. She was staring down at her lap, "and when that horrible Rita Skeeter wrote that article...I just knew you'd figure it out and then hate me..."
"What are you saying Hermione?"
She took a deep breath, still holding his eyes, "that its always been you...that I have always loved you, Harry Potter."
Harry's confusion turned to utter bewilderment. The girl he loved, the girl he thought would never see him as anything more than a friend... loved him too. They had shared that brief moment under the tree, but he had since written it off as some fluke. Could this be true?
"I don't..." he mumbled as past memories flooded through his mind. Of the first time he saw her on the train. Of when she mended his glasses - she had captured him at that moment. Of when Ron was rude to her and she rushed past, when he wanted to run and apologize for him but afraid to damage his loyalties to Ron.
He thought of her taking all the blame in the girls' bathroom with the troll. Of her bailing them out assignment after assignment. Of her genius. Of the fear he had when he saw her petrified, of his resolve to do anything to save her. Of her help with Sirius and Buckbeak. Of her socking Malfoy in the nose. Of her saving him in the Triwizard Tournament - of her slipping inside the tent and hugging him, giving him courage.
His thoughts lingered on his memories of her beauty in that gown at the Yule Ball. Of her setting up the DA. Of her wittingly leading horrible Umbridge into the Forest in search of "Dumbledore's secret weapon," of all the sacrfices she had made over the years for him. Of the days they spent in search of the Horcruxs'. Of their moment shared in the graveyard in Godric's Hollow, of the unbearable pain he felt as she was being totured by Bellatrix at the Malfoy Manor. Of the first time she uttered she loved him. Of his base. Of his foundation. So many memories. Oh how he loved her. He had always loved her, he had just realized it far too late.
"When?" he asked her.
She knew the answer, she had thought about it so much since their first kiss, but she hesitated nonetheless.
"I loved you Harry before I knew what love was. I can remember meeting you on the train, the first time I saw you. I realized I was in love with you our fourth year...those dragons...I can't begin to tell you how afraid I was for you...how I just couldn't stand it - couldn't bear it if anything happened to you..."
"Why didn't you?"
"And risk it all...if you truly loved me Harry, then why didn't..." but she did not finish. Harry pushed himself up, taking her face in his hands he brought her close to him.
"It doesn't matter, Hermione, I love you, here and now, more than life itself, and by some miracle you love me too," he smiled at her. "I was gone, Hermione, gone for an eternity. Beyond those flames, time does not exist. I was lost in there, living a never ending cycle. All I had, all that kept me from laying down and giving up, of dying, was the memory of your kiss that day beneath that Beech tree, of you telling me that you loved me...that was all I had..."
Hermione couldn't stand it. She grabbed Harry just as he held her and pulled his face to hers, crushing her lips up against his. They kissed each other with a fury, with a passion that had been cut short beneath that tree.
"Not another moment wasted!" she whispered as they fell over onto the couch, into each others arms.
Just wanted to make a couple of notes. One, I am writing this freestyle, there is no outline or anything and I have messed up some of the dates/ days of the week, and will be going back and fixing that if you noticed and/or were confused.
For those of you who have been reading all along, I have since gone back and deleted and renamed chapter six, in which you will notice I replaced the essentials of the ending to that chapter here.
Also, for some weird reason I named a bad guy Thomas Fawkes, not realizing that Fawkes was Dumbledore's bird, I went back and edited it to Thomas Hawkins.
Just got my own banner. If anyone is wondering whose the old guy chillin by himself, thats how I envision Mr Byron.
And last but not least, PLEASE REVIEW!!! The number of hits I am getting is way up, and the consistency between the number of views in the last few chapters is almost identical from one to the next, meaning I believe that ppl are continuing through my story, but no one is reviewing! Please, even if it is constructive criticism, would love to hear what you think of my story!
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