Hermione looked out the window of the Gryffindor Common Room and was surprised to see a thick blanket of snow across the grounds. So early in the morning, the snow was not yet disturbed by the footsteps of students walking to Hogsmeade. She had a feeling that she’d have to spent a fair amount of time acting as a referee to impromptu snowball fights. The prospect of the games getting rough and the potential for curses and hexes to go flying made her chest tighten, but she forced herself to relax, reminding herself that Neville would be able to assist her in any Head Girl duties that she’d find herself unable to cope with.
It was just before seven, and the sun was starting to rise. Hermione pulled her blanket around herself closer. It would be warmer to sit in one of the large chairs, away from the draft of the window, but she found peace looking out at the rise and fall of the hilly terrain surrounding the castle. As of yet, nobody else was in the Common Room. The night before, a Halloween party had erupted in the Common Room (apparently, the feast wouldn’t be enough), and Hermione presumed that a number of students would be having a lie-in and skipping breakfast. Ginny, who had quite a fun time, would likely be one of them. Hermione glanced around the Common Room, noting that none of the empty bottles lingered. Seamus, who had probably had the most to drink out of everyone, was asleep on the couch. Eventually, Hermione would have to wake him, but she would put that off as long as she could.
The cold finally getting to her, Hermione left her perch on the window-sill and sat down by the fire, which was burning brighter than it usually did in the mornings. She finally pulled out parchment and a quill, sitting down to reply to the letter she’d received from Ron the day before.
I’m really sorry to hear about Angelina. She must be absolutely devastated, please tell me if there’s anything I could do for her… not sure what I could do, really.
Glad to hear that Charlie’s home! I’m excited to get to know him over Christmas Holiday. Ginny’s already invited me to stay with your family, since you haven’t gotten around to doing it.
Hogwarts is still really strange without you and Harry. I keep expecting you to come down to breakfast and beg me to help you with the assignments you’ve left until the morning they’re due. Neville asked me for advice the other day - about Luna! I’d really like to see them together, it seems fitting. He’s asked her to go out to Hogsmeade today, but I can’t tell if it’s a date or not. Either way, I hope it goes well for him. Clearwater is really awful, I remember her being much nicer, or at least much more rational. Even for a N.E.W.T. level class, her expectations are much too high. I’d bet you’re feeling glad you’re not here.
I wish you were here. I miss you. I’m disappointed that you can’t make it up here to visit, but I understand - George needs help in the shop.
I’ll probably write again tonight, and fill you in on anything that happens between Neville and Luna.
Always with Love,
She folded up the parchment and, already dressed, made her way up to the Owlery to fetch Maynard. She attached the letter to his leg and he flew out the window, taking a large loop around the tower before setting off towards London. By the time Hermione got back to the Common Room, more people had filed in, including a very tired looking Ginny.
Ginny was sitting on the the edge of the couch mostly occupied my Seamus, rubbing her temples.
“Rough night?” Hermione asked. Ginny responded with a glare, unappreciative of Hermione’s attempts at humor.
“How about we go down to breakfast, get some tea in you?” Ginny nodded appreciatively at the suggestion.
“We’d best wake this one up first,” Hermione commented, motioning towards the drooling teenager. Lightly, Hermione patted his shoulder, “Seamus, wake up, Seamus.”
“Wha-?” he said, half asleep.
“Seamus, wake up, it’s morning,” Hermione repeated, shaking his shoulder with slightly more force.
He woke suddenly, and looking around the Common Room, obviously confused, “Wha-? I’m so sorry, I’m sorry.”
“You’re fine, just go to your dorm and take a shower before breakfast,” Ginny commented.
“I’m so sorry,” he repeated, his confusion still apparent.
“Seamus, calm down,” Hermione said as he continued with his pleas for forgiveness. At that moment, Dean, who had joined Hermione in not drinking, came bounding down the stairs.
“He doing that apologizing thing?” he asked.
“Yup,” Ginny responded. Dean chuckled and shook his head, “Come on, Seamus,” he said, leading his addled friend up the stairs to their Common Room.
“Why didn’t he go to bed?” Hermione asked.
“I think I remember him not being able to walk up the stairs,” Ginny responded with a groan, “Can we please go to breakfast? I need some food in my stomach before we go down to Hogsmeade.”
True to her nature, Ginny recovered from the night before much faster than the rest of the students. Professor McGonagall noticed the behavior and Hermione could see her eyeing the section of the Gryffindor table where most of the older students sat. If she knew the cause of their illness, she didn’t say anything.
By the time they departed for Hogsmeade, Hermione could hardly tell that Ginny was hungover. The two girls were accompanied by Jeremy, who was in a foul mood following the joint departure of Neville and Luna.
“Jeremy, you’re good looking guy, you’ll find someone,” Ginny said.
“Clearly not good looking enough,” he huffed, “Either of you available?”
Although he was joking, Ginny seemed to actually consider the question, “I don’t know… am I available?”
“Whoa there, I won’t be taking any girl out that Harry Potter has his eyes on,” he said defensively.
“No, I wouldn’t date you. I’m just saying… am I available?”
“I don’t know,” Hermione said honestly, “Knowing Harry, he either expects you to wait for him or have already moved on.”
“Do you think he’s moved on?” Ginny asked, uncharacteristically worried.
“I really doubt he’s thinking about girls right now,” Hermione comforted.
“How long will you wait for him?” Jeremy asked.
Ginny seemed put off by the question, “I’ll wait as long as I want. I’m not going to just give up on him.”
“I can relate,” Jeremy said quietly. Hermione felt awkward intruding on what now seemed to be a private moment between two people who, in different ways, had lost their significant others.
“Don’t be cross with Neville. You know that’s not really what you’re upset about,” Ginny responded at an equal volume.
“I miss her.”
They walked in silence, Hermione still feeling enormously awkward. The snow stopped falling, leaving behind a few inches of accumulation. Glad she'd decided to wear a scarf, she pulled the thick knit around herself tighter, protecting against the bitter wind.
By the time they arrived at the village, the wind had calmed and the temperature felt like it had risen above 0. The three stopped in Honeydukes, where they sampled a cinnamon flavored candy that left a tingling warmth throughout their bodies.
Hermione enjoyed watching Jeremy, who had never been to Hogsmeade (as visits had been canceled the previous year).
"This is amazing! We didn't have stuff like this at Salem," he said, filling a bag with miscellaneous sweets.
"Have you ever been to a joke shop?" Ginny asked.
"No," he responded regretfully.
"Not Zonkos? Or Weasley’s?" Hermione said, surprised.
"No, my parents were..... Sheltering."
“Oh,” Hermione said, the previous awkwardness returning, “Well, we’ll just have to give you the full tour.”
“Sounds good. Where to begin?” Jeremy asked.
“How about the Shrieking Shack?” Ginny suggested.
“Only if we buy some of these for the walk,” Hermione offered, popping another one of the candies into her mouth. They bought a few handfuls and left the comfort of the shop. They started making the trek out of town and up the hill, when a boy nearly ran over Ginny.
“Oi! You, what are you doing?” Hermione yelled after him. He’d been sliding down the hill at a rate faster than Hermione imagined possible due to gravity alone. The boy, who Hermione recognized as a fourth year in Hufflepuff, sheepishly got up, “We were using a Slicking Charm to slide down the hill…”
“That’s brilliant!” Jeremy exclaimed, “Hermione, Ginny, let’s try it!”
“Alright, let’s have a go!” Ginny said, racing him up the hill. Hermione gave the boy a slightly disdainful look before following her friends up the hill. When she was half way up, she was met by Ginny, who was flying down the snow, her scarf waving in the air behind her. Jeremy followed quickly after, and they crashed together at the bottom of the slope into a heaping pile of laughter.
Hermione set herself up on a large rock and enjoyed watching her friends (and the group of fourth years) racing down the increasingly slippery hill. She sucked on another candy and enjoyed her atmosphere of warmth while her friends were soaked through with melting snow. After what could have been an hour, Ginny finally decided that she’d had enough and Jeremy followed them to the edge of the fence around the Shrieking Shack.
“I’ve heard of this place,” he said, “Isn’t it supposed to be the most haunted place in Britain?”
“It does have that reputation, yes,” Hermione said mysteriously.
“What makes those ghosts different?”
Hermione and Ginny exchanged glances and simultaneously decided to cooperate, “Anger, mostly,” Ginny offered.
“Their anger makes them more attached to the world,” Hermione explained.
“Most ghosts can’t really do too much harm, because they just float through everything,” Ginny elaborated.
“These ones are more physical, though. If you upset them, they’ve been known to kill.”
“That’s where the Shrieking comes from,” Ginny said darkly.
“Once they’ve killed someone, that person’s soul is just trapped there, too. Too angry to move on.” Hermione finished.
“Are you serious?” Jeremy asked, staring down at the Shack as if trying to catch a glimpse of one of the tortured souls.
“Of course we aren’t,” Ginny said, laughing.
“No, really, it isn’t haunted at all. It was built it the seventies for Remus Lupin.”
“Remus Lupin… he was the werewolf in the Order, right?”
“That’s the one,” Ginny said with a note of grief in her voice, “He needed a place he could come to transform while he was at Hogwarts.”
“So that’s where the Shrieking came from?” Jeremy asked. Hermione was surprised that he’d made the connection so rapidly and clearly. She nodded, and he sighed, “That’s actually more morose than the story you made up.”
“He was able to figure it out. He made friends, he made a life,” Hermione offered as an attempt to make up for his troubled childhood.
“He got married, even. Most werewolves don’t get that chance,” Ginny continued.
“And then he died,” Jeremy said simply. After a few moments of silence, he said, “I think I’d like to continue the tour.”
“I was thinking we could pay Aberforth Dumbledore a visit at the HogsHead,” Ginny said, smirking at Hermione. The three made their way down the hill, which at this point was a muddy, slushy, sorry excuse for snow.
Ron was, expectantly, nervous. For what very well may have been the first time in his life, he’d put quite a bit of thought into his outfit. His first instinct was to wear dress robes, but he didn’t want her to feel underdressed (and he thought he’d look out of place at Hogsmeade, and he didn’t fancy drawing attention to himself). He then dug his old Hogwarts robes out of his drawer, putting them on before George came in and told him how ridiculous it was. Eventually, Ron decided to wear a pair of jeans and a dark blue jumper that Hermione had once said looked smart on him. George, although making fun of him and laughing to the point of hysterics, did allow himself one moment of brotherly support.
“What type of liquor would you like for when you get back?” he asked. Ron looked at him in confusion, and he elaborated, “Well, the way I see it, when you get back we’ll either be needing it for cheers, or you’ll need to drink yourself out of your feelings.”
Ron shot him a dark look, “I won’t need to drink my despairs.”
“Alright, mate, whatever you say,” more seriously, he added, “I know when you told us I wasn’t exactly supportive, but you’ve grown up and changed drastically in the past few months. You aren’t my kid brother anymore, and I get what you mean. Fred will never ask anyone to marry him.”
“How have you been?” Ron asked, taking the opportunity of George bringing up his brother.
“Better, I think. I still have no idea what to do with the shop, but I think one day I might.”
Ron nodded, “You know you’ve always got me to help you out. I won’t be taking any new potions you invent though, I don’t fancy any skin conditions on my rear.”
George, in his usual sarcastic manner, responded, “You’ll always be able to help me in the shop? Even after Hermione owns you?”
Ron shook his head, “Have you met Hermione? She already owns me.”
George laughed, “Right you are. Poor bloke.”
“More like Lucky Bloke,” he said. He double checked that he had the ring, and stepped into the fireplace, yelling for Hogsmeade.
He arrived at the post office, and dropped a Knut into the till for the post to keep the Floo Powder well stocked before stepping out onto High Street. His first instinct was to try the Three Broomsticks, so he walked down the road and entered the crowded room.
Ron spotted Neville sitting with Luna, Seamus, and Dean. He pushed his way through the crowd and leaned against the table they were seated around.
“Ron! What are you doing here?” Neville said, getting up to give his friend a quick hug.
“I’m visiting Hermione, thought I’d come surprise her,” he answered with a smile.
“Good to see you, mate,” Dean said, reaching his hand across the table to shake Ron’s.
“Any of you know where she is?”
“I haven’t seen her, but she came down earlier than us. We got off to a late start,” Neville informed him.
“I think she went off with Ginny and Jeremy. They haven’t been in here, they’ll have to come in eventually, I’d think,” Luna offered.
Ron looked around nervously, as if expecting Hermione to walk in through the door.
“You alright?” Neville asked, noticing his behavior.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m great,” Ron responded, his hand in his pocket, fiddling with the small, velvet, box, “Just excited to see her.”
“Hermione! We’ve been here for nearly an hour! Can we please leave?” Ginny groaned. She and Jeremy were seated in large plush chairs in the corner of the book shop while Hermione carefully and methodically perused the selections.
“Fine, fine, we can go. I’ll just buy these two,” she said, holding up two large books with thick binding.
“International Conflicts Between Wizarding Communities, and The Development of Modern Magical Law?” Ginny read, “Hermione, those sound boring, even for you.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, “If I’ll be doing History of Magic as an independent study, I’ll have to do more supplementary reading,” she said simply.
Ginny sighed and had to all but pull Hermione away from a New Releases shelf located near the door.
“Where to?” Jeremy asked, looking down the road, trying to see a shop they hadn’t taken him into.
“Lunch?” Hermione suggested. He looked at her gratefully and nodded. “The Three Broomsticks, then.”
They walked down the street, passing Neville and Luna, who were holding hands. Luna waved at them, and gave Hermione a strange smile.
“She looks happy,” Ginny commented.
“Still think she’d be better with me,” Jeremy grumbled, to which Ginny gave him a glare worthy of her mother.
They continued down the road, finally reaching their destination. As she was reaching forward to open the door, it swung open as a handsome redhead young man exited.
“Ron!” Hermione said with more than a hint of glee in her voice. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he returned the gesture, holding her tightly around the waist.
“I thought you said you couldn’t make it!” she said in between kisses.
“It was a bit of a fib, to be honest. I wanted to surprise you.”
“Surprised, I am,” she said, “Where were you going?”
“I was going to look for you. We can go back in,” he said. She nodded and led them in. Ron stopped to say hello to his sister before following Hermione closely. They had lunch and butterbears (which Hermione reluctantly let Ron pay for) with Dean and Seamus.
After no more than three quarters of an hour, Ron leaned over to Hermione, “Would you like to talk a walk?”
“No, thanks. I’ve been out and about all morning, my toes are nearly frozen,” she responded, snuggling as close to him as she could while still technically sitting in separate chairs. She’d moved her stood very close to his, and how lounged with her back leaning on his chest, chatting with Seamus and Ginny about her Charms lessons, a warm mug of butterbeer in her hands. He wrapped his arms around her waist and held her from behind, leaning forward every once in a while to kiss her cheek or whisper something flirty in her ear.
“I love you, Hermione,” he said on one of these occasions. Ginny and the guys were enthralled in a conversation about Quidditch, so they weren’t paying much attention to the affectionate couple.
“I love you too, Ron,” she responded, turning her neck to lean her head on his shoulder.
“You make me the happiest man in the world,” he whispered, caressing her cheek.
“That’s sweet,” she said softly.
Ron looked around at the full table, and was immediately filled with nerves. Lacking eloquence, he blurted out, “Hermione, marry me.”
She sat up straight and turned to face him, “What?”
“Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head, “I had a whole speech planned out, about how you make me a better person and I’d never survive without you because you’re brilliant and you deserve the best and I want to be your best.”
“That’s nice to hear,” she said monotonously, at a higher pitch than her usual voice.
“I have a ring, and everything,” he said, pulling it out of his pocket and opening it. The flash of light and the snap of the box opening grabbed the attention of the other, who stared at it, clearly confused.
“Is he doing what I think he’s doing?” Ginny whispered loudly to nobody in particular.
“Shut up, Gin. Hermione?”
“It’s beautiful,” Hermione whispered. She’d never been one to fawn over material things, but this ring did have a quality of pure beauty to it that she had to admire. It was a dark silver, the band intricately woven around small sapphires in a pattern that resembled a floral vine. In the center, a round diamond was displayed, but not overwhelmingly. It was balanced, but proud. Hermione couldn’t help but reach out to grab it. Ron, seeing her movements, motioned to slip the ring onto her finger.
“No, Ron,” she said without thinking.
“No, not ‘No’, but… erm…” she glanced around at the full table, suddenly aware of their complete lack of privacy, “How about that walk?”
More nervous than before, Ron nodded and she grabbed his hand to lead him out of the building.
They walked hand in hand, in an uncomfortable, tense silence. Eventually, Hermione broke it, “I don’t know.”
“What don’t you know?” Ron asked, solemnly.
“I don’t know if I want to marry you or not,” she managed to say through her closing throat.
“Do you love me?” he asked, his insecurities clear from his voice.
“Ron,” she breathed, “Of course I love you.”
“But you don’t want to marry me?”
She closed her eyes, trying to find the words for the wordless, constant stream of logical consciousness that was always running through her, “It isn’t that I don’t want to marry you. I think I don’t want to be married right now."
“Why not?” he mumbled.
“My plant is dead,” she responded, forgetting that she hadn’t yet told him about Neville’s birthday gift. She briefly explained, and he sighed.
“Hermione, maybe you’ll feel more like yourself if we’re married. I love you so much, I’d go to the ends of the Earth for you.”
She felt tears welling up in her eyes, “I think I need to figure out who I am before I can commit to marriage. I think you might need some soul-searching, too.”
“I’ve found my soul,” he objected.
“Ron, you don’t want this to happen without Harry,” she said.
He rolled his eyes, “Harry has nothing to do with us.”
“Harry has everything to do with us, Ron. He’s your best friend. He should be waiting back at your flat right now, ready to either congratulate or comfort you.”
“Well he’s not there, okay? He’s gone.”
“Gone, but not forgotten,” Hermione noted, “He just needs some time, I think.”
“We might not have time. People died. We could die. Lavender is dead. She was my first girlfriend, and she’s dead. We could die.”
“Ron, I love you, but I can’t marry you right now,” Hermione cried. She felt her breathing quicken as she tried to gauge his reaction.
Following a pregnant pause, he asked, “Am I making it more difficult for you to find your plant?”
“No, Ron. I love you and I love being with you. Marriage is just too much right now. I’m not ready. I don’t even have my family back.”
“I am ready, though,” Ron said, bowing his head, “I’ll be your family.”
Hermione felt tears streak down her cheek, “My answer is no, Ron. Not yet.”
She watched as all the color drained from his face. Her view of his eyes blurred as tears flooded her vision.
“I don’t think I can be with you if you won’t marry me,” Ron said, not believing the words that were coming out of his mouth.
“Don’t do that, Ron. Don’t make this an ultimatum.” Hermione responded, her anxiety rising in her voice.
“I’m not trying to make an ultimatum. I just… I’ve made my decision, that I want to be yours for the rest of my life and whatever sort of afterlife there is. I don’t think I can do this without knowing you’ll always be mine,” he explained, his voice straining, a solitary tear running down his cheek.
“Ron, I’m yours. Forever.”
“Then marry me,” he begged.
“I can’t,” she sobbed.
“Then neither can I.”
No longer able to look at her face, he focused more clearly than he ever had before on his flat in London, where liquor now seemed like a smart idea. He spun in place and, with a pop, left Hermione standing alone in the middle of Hogsmeade.