Ron had already returned from Hogsmeade when Harry and Ginny got back from Basingstoke.
“She’s not in Hogsmeade. Have you found her?” Ron hardly gave them time to take a breath
“Well,” Harry responded “we know that she was in the Leaky Cauldron this morning, and we thought that maybe she was heading for her parents’ house in Basingstoke. So we went there but it was deserted and from the looks of it nobody has been there for some time.”
“George is going to keep an eye open for her. So is Hagrid, I saw him in the village, he wants us to let him know if… I mean when… she turns up. So where do we go from here?”
“Could the Ministry do anything,” Ginny was thinking out loud, “we could ask Dad when he gets home.”
“It’s worth a try, I suppose. I just wish I knew the why” Ron sounded miserable. Ginny picked up her bag.
“I’m going for a bath. Travelling on the underground has made me feel really grubby. I won’t be long.” Harry took a deep breath, dreading what was going to happen now.
“Ron listen, I think I know why she left.”
“What do you mean, you think
you know. Do you know or are you guessing?”
“Alright then, I know. Now shut up and listen. Ever since last week when Ginny and I got back to Hogwarts after going for that walk, Hermione has been suspicious about what we did while we were away. She has been making sly remarks seeming to indicate that she thinks that we… that is Ginny and I had… done something we shouldn’t. Apparently she made another comment yesterday, turned out to be one too many and Ginny blew her top. She made the ‘outstaying her welcome’ remark."
"You mean this is all her fault. Right we’ll see about her then.” He made to stand up but Harry restrained him.
“Calm down Ron, she’s really cut up about it, and…”
“Cut up is she? She’ll bloody well will be.” He stormed away heading for the bathroom, with Harry close behind him. He hammered on the bathroom door, “Ginny I want to speak to you let me in.”
“Ron, I haven’t got any clothes on, you’ll have to wait.” came the reply.
“I don’t care, let me in. I’ve seen you with no clothes on before.” Harry’s jaw dropped.
“Not since I was five you haven’t… so clear off!” Harry could sense that Ginny was trying to defuse the situation with humour, so he laughed too,
“Come on Ron, leave it, she can’t stay in the bathroom forever.”
“Wanna bet!” said Ginny through the door. Harry laughed even louder. He dragged Ron away and into his bedroom and sat him down.
“Go easy on her Ron, she didn’t mean to make Hermione leave, she was just angry.” Ron’s shoulders slumped,
“Where is she Harry? We’ve got to find her. We’ve got to. Anyway what did you say she was suspicious about? Something about you and Ginny,” he paused, “you mean she thinks that you and Ginny… did…” he stopped and thought for a moment, then looked at Harry. “Did you?” he asked directly. Harry looked him in the eye.
“Mind your own business mate, and don’t ask me, or Ginny, that question again OK, it’s none of your concern and I’ll tell you again, go easy on Ginny. It’s not all her fault.” There was a gentle tap on the open bedroom door. Ginny stood there in her dressing gown with her hair wound up in a towel.
“Can I come in Ron?” she spoke softly.
“S’pose so”. He deliberately avoided looking at her.
“Listen, I’m sorry, really sorry. I never thought she would take me seriously enough to actually leave.”
“OK, but next time, think before shooting your mouth off like a bloody cannon.”
“Ron watch it mate, don’t push your luck.” said Harry.
“Don’t you start Harry, in fact why don’t the two of you sod off and… take a break or something. Before you overstay your
welcome.” Harry took Ginny’s arm, he could feel himself getting wound up.
“Let’s go, before I say something I’ll regret.” As they went through the door Ginny turned to Ron,
“I’m sorry Ron; I’ll say it as many times as you want but I can’t say any more than that.” she turned to Harry, “I’m going to bed,” she said tearfully, “I’ve caused enough trouble for one day,” she kissed him on the cheek, “goodnight, see you tomorrow.” She moved away into her own room and climbed into bed. She had been reading for half an hour when there was a knock at her door. She sat up and said “Come in.” Ron poked his head round the door, and seeing that Ginny was presentable, went and sat on her bed.
“I’m sorry I lost my temper earlier,” he started, “I’m worried as hell about Hermione but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
“That’s okay Ron. We’re all worried, but we’ll find her. She said she was only going for a few days and that she would be in touch. I’m sure it won’t be long.”
“Yeah, well I hope so. See you tomorrow.” He made to get up when Ginny pulled him into a hug. He hugged her in return.
“Try and get some sleep.” she said as he reached the door.
Hermione was sitting in a coffee house in the main shopping area of Basingstoke. She had spent the time since she had left the Burrow moping around the house getting more and more depressed, and had decided to go shopping again. She hadn’t bought anything yet, but she thought ‘that’s not really why I’m here; I just had to get out of the house.’ Her reverie was interrupted by a male voice.
“Excuse me, I know this will sound like a mediocre chat up line, but do I know you?” Hermione looked at the speaker. He was a good looking young man of her own age, slender build, fairish hair and quite tall with striking grey eyes. She looked at his face and felt that there was a vague familiarity, as if she should know him, but no name came to her mind.
“I don’t think so, I’m sorry.”
“Your name wouldn’t be Hermione Granger would it?”
“Yes it is. How did you know that? What’s your name?”
“Robbie Macdonald. You might remember me as Robbie Mac.” A bell went off in Hermione’s head.
“Robbie Mac. Barton Prior Junior School. Mrs. Anderson’s class, of course. We called you that to distinguish you from Robbie Jackson. He was Robbie Jack wasn’t he?”
“That’s right. So you do remember.” He seemed pleased.
“I do now. It’s good to see you again Robbie. How did you recognise me?”
“Well you’ve changed of course but not as much as all that. Anyway they say that a man never forgets the first girl he falls in love with.”
“Oh come on Robbie, we were nine years old.” A sudden heat came to her cheeks.
“I know but you still broke my heart when you left. Does that mean that you don’t remember the kiss?”
“Kiss? What kiss?” asked Hermione.
“Year five Nativity Play. Under the mistletoe, my first ever kiss.” Hermione blushed.
“Yes I do remember,” She said, “the mistletoe was probably full of Nargles.”
“Full of what?” Robbie asked. Dammit, thought Hermione, why did I say that.
“Nargles. It’s a boarding school joke. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Where did you go anyway?”
“I went off to a small school, up north.” She knew that if she told him about Hogwarts, not only would he not believe her, but maybe even call an ambulance to take her away. he looked around the crowded tables,
“Can I join you while we have our coffee or are you in a hurry?” He pointed at the empty chair next to her.
“No I’m not. Sit down. So what are you doing these days?”
“I’m in the Royal Marines. I joined three years ago. What about you?”
“I… er… I’m taking a gap year,” she said thanking her lucky stars for the phrase she’d seen in the paper she had bought that morning. “I’m thinking of being a teacher.”
“Listen Hermione, I’ve got two weeks leave left. Can I take you out for a drink this evening, or are you busy?” Her first instinct was to say no but for some reason it came out as,
“Er… Yes alright, where shall I meet you?” What are you doing! Are you out of your mind! She berated herself.
“How about right here, shall we say seven o’clock?”
“Great, but you’ll have to excuse me now because suddenly I need to go shopping.” It was all she could think of to get away from him. She stood up and said, “See you at seven then.” She left the coffee shop feeling better than she had for days, but still wondering why she had said yes in the first place.
Arthur Weasley had no sooner come through the door than Ron leapt in front of him,
“Dad, we’ve got a problem.”
“I know you have Ron.” He finished taking off his coat and sat down at the table. Molly gave him a cup of coffee. He took a drink and said “You lot need to start being careful or you’re going to drop me right in it.” Ron looked puzzled,
“What problem are you talking about Dad? We haven’t told you yet.”
“I’m talking about apparating without a licence. You know the Ministry are applying the rules again. I would have expected more from you. If you want to apparate from now on, you’ll have to go Side-Along with Hermione. What have you got to say for yourselves?
“That’s our problem Dad, well our other problem now. Hermione’s gone.”
“Gone! What do you mean gone, gone where?” Arthur picked up the Daily Prophet.
“We don’t know. She apparently left before we were all up this morning.”
“But why?” He had finished a hard day at the Ministry, he really didn’t need all this.
“That’s my fault Dad,” said Ginny, “she and I had a disagreement yesterday. Things were said and she must have decided to leave. We were wondering if maybe the Ministry could find her.” Arthur folded the paper and dropped it on the table.
“Well, this is a fine state of affairs and no mistake,” he thought for a moment, “right then, here’s what we are going to do. First, I am going to arrange for you three to take your apparation test as soon as possible. Second, I will make some enquiries at work tomorrow to see if there is anything we can do there, although because she is of age we will not be able to use the Trace. Third, the three of you will not apparate anywhere, not even to the next seat at the table, do you understand?” They all said yes. Arthur picked up the paper once more. “Now clear off and let me eat in peace.” As they all left the kitchen Arthur spoke again. “Wait a minute, has anyone thought of sending her an owl?” They looked at each other dumbfounded.
“God, we’re idiots,” Ron looked at the others and then his father, “Dad you’re a bloody genius.”
“That will do with the language thank you Ronald.” Molly said sharply. Arthur smiled. ‘Sometimes kids can’t see past the end of their noses’ he thought.
They raced up to Ron’s room where he scribbled a note telling Hermione to come back and they could work out any problems. He got Pigwidgeon from his cage and tied the note to his leg. “Listen Pig, take this note to Hermione, I can’t tell you where she is because I don’t know.” He stroked the birds head and put his arm out of the window and watched as the owl took off and disappeared into the evening twilight. “That’s it then, there’s nothing else we can do this evening, is there?” Harry agreed,
“Not really,” he said, “if we were Muggles we’d probably go down the pub.”
“I wonder if Dad’s got any Firewhisky.” said Ron idly.
Hermione woke with a start the next morning, she had a slight headache. She was not used to alcohol and she had partaken of quite a lot. ‘I wonder if this is a hangover’ she had thought.
She had enjoyed her date with Robbie the previous evening. They had had a couple of drinks at a nearby bar and then gone for a meal and a bottle of wine at a local pub. They had talked of old school friends; Robbie still knew one or two of them. He had told her of his career plans in the military. She had disliked being less than truthful about her schooling and plans and when he had asked her if she had a boyfriend she had said no. He had asked for her mobile phone number and had been disbelieving at first when she said that she did not have a phone, apparently it was almost written in law that everybody must have a mobile phone.
They had left the pub at half past eleven. When Robbie had offered to escort her home, she had demurred and insisted that she would get a taxi. The taxi arrived and Hermione had thanked him for a super evening, he had taken her by the hand and before she knew it he had leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. He passed her a piece of paper with a long number on it, and told her to get herself a phone and call him. Then he had kissed her again, lingering a bit longer this time. She was amazed that she had not backed away and had been on the verge of responding when the sound of the taxi driver clearing his throat had stopped the fluttering in her tummy.
She had gone straight to bed. Attempting to read had proved futile, she could not concentrate. Laying down and closing her eyes all she could see was Robbie’s face coming closer and that second kiss. Her eyes had opened suddenly when she realised that she hadn’t thought of Ron at all during the entire evening. To her great surprise she did not feel bad about that. She had thoroughly enjoyed her first taste of what was, apparently, normality as a teenager. ‘Perhaps,’ she had thought, ‘although I can do magic, deep down I’m a Muggle at heart’. Her last conscious thought was of Robbie, the fluttering in her tummy returned.
The next morning Hermione had made herself some tea and toast and, sitting in the kitchen, was turning over the events of the previous evening in her mind. She was distracted by a tapping on the kitchen window and was shocked to see a small owl on the outside sill. Opening the window briefly she allowed Pigwidgeon to hop onto her arm. “Pig, what are you doing here?” The bird raised his leg and Hermione detached the small piece of parchment. She knew of course who it was from.
Looking at the note she remembered Ginny’s remark and the hurt feeling returned. Her decision was instant. Going to her handbag she had rummaged around and found her quill and some ink. Returning to the kitchen she caught Pigwidgeon pecking hungrily at her toast. The bird stopped and looked at her. “Go on then, you might as well finish it.” she said, and Pig went at it with gusto.
She crossed out her name and wrote ‘Return to sender’ on the parchment. She was not ready to think about going back yet. There still too many things for her head to sort out. She needed time. Attaching the note to the owl’s leg she said “Take this back to Ron, Pig. Don’t let him know where I am please.” It took the bird five more minutes to finish eating. Hermione gave him some water then held out her arm for him to hop onto. She opened the window and the owl gave her hand a friendly peck before taking to the air.