A/N: Thank you to everyone who reviewed chapter one. It makes me feel decidedly wonderful to read your words of encouragement. Many commented on Hermione's loss. Here is her chapter….
Chapter 2: Hermione
It's cruel, the way the sun doesn't seem to be mourning his death. It's remarkable to Hermione when she wakes up every morning; the sun is still rising in the sky. It should stop; the whole world should stop.
Her whole world had.
But the world does not stop, does not grieve, and the sun still rises, and sets and rises again. Its brightness mocks her – reminding her that she will never have his warmth, his light again.
Hermione blinks her eyes against the bright December sun glinting off the snow-covered ground and shining into the room she shares with Ginny. She berates herself for not remembering to shut the blinds before she went to bed. It's funny, a few weeks ago she would have remembered. Hermione always remembered. She never forgot to brush her teeth before bed or to write Christmas cards (even to ex-professors now locked up in St. Mungo's). She always remembered to say thank you and to wash her hands before meals. Now, though, she sometimes forgets her own name. Now, she finds herself in the middle of a task with no recollection of how she got there or why she is doing it. She worries she will forget him as well. The scent of him; the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled; the timbre of his voice when he said her name, like that, for her ears alone.
Hermione glances in the direction of the bed next to her, expecting to see Ginny – her face relaxed in sleep, her bright hair fanned out beneath her – but Ginny's bed is empty. How unusual. Ginny seems to sleep in every day until well after ten. Hermione knows it's because the younger girl sleeps badly at night. She has woken Hermione up more times than is countable, screaming out for Ron, screaming out against Riddle.
Hermione wishes that she would dream. Even a nightmare about him would be better than nothing – at least she would see him, hold him in her mind.
Distantly, Hermione can make out the sizzle of bacon as it's thrown into a pan. She hears voices floating up the stairs – Mr. Weasley and Bill. Her stomach grumbles, urging her to move, get up, go to breakfast.
Instead, she flips over. Hermione presses her face into the pillow, trying to block out the sunlight, knowing no matter how dark it gets there are some things she will never forget. Lying with her belly pressed against the mattress, she turns her head to the side, resting her cheek against the cool, cotton pillowcase. Almost involuntarily, her eyes turn inward.
It was not a question. It wasn't a command or an admonishment. It was just her name. Hermione had the distinct impression he had said it for the mere pleasure of letting the word leave his lips. Because he had that right, to say her name whenever he pleased. He had had that right for some time now, but it seemed he had only just realized.
She felt her lips curve into a smile. How did he do that? All he did was say her name. It hardly seemed proper, letting herself smile because she liked the rumble of his voice¼because she liked the way her name sounded like a prayer when he said it, so slow and soft and beautiful.
Hermione allowed her eyes to stray up to his bright blue orbs. They crinkled, almost disappearing into his face as he matched her smile. She said his name back to him, "Ron," wishing his name was longer, that it had more syllables for her to pronounce. "Ron" never seemed majestic enough for someone who made her feel so alive. She tried his full name. "Ronald," she said in a voice lower than usual. Hermione felt her cheeks grow warm when she realized he was studying her mouth. Maybe tonight would be the night.
It had been nearly two weeks since the students returned to Hogwarts after a long and stressful summer break. It was wonderful to be back. Hogwarts felt safe, smelled of books and parchment and ink, sounded like laughter and students and learning. And even if the laughter was more subdued than in years past, it was better than being cramped in Twelve Grimmauld Place, where everywhere one looked there were reminders of the war, of people they had lost, of people they might lose in the future.
Since their return to school, Ron and Hermione had stayed up late together every night, pretending to study, but truthfully watching the fire¼and each other. Hermione, for all her years of being Ron's friend, found herself inexplicably tense each night when the common room emptied. She chided herself time and time again for her nerves, telling herself it was only Ron¼but that was the problem. He hadn't been ‘only Ron' for sometime, now. And it seemed that he had just realized she wasn't ‘only Hermione.'
The change in him would have been comical if she hadn't been struck by a fit of nerves every time she thought of him. He opened doors for her and offered to carry her books to class. Hermione refused the latter and a monstrous row had ensued about treating women like equals. But even that had shown a different side to Ron. For not two hours later, he came up to apologize and tell her that he respected her as both a woman and a human being. In the end, Hermione had relented, mostly because he had looked so earnest, and Ron began carrying her books to all of the classes they shared. Hermione burned with pleasure, although she tried very hard to cover it up, and even the snide remarks of Draco Malfoy could not quell the little frisson she felt every time Ron lifted her books from the table.
The biggest change about Ron was one that only she seemed to notice. He smiled at her, now, three or four times a day. Not the big, goofy grin he usually had, either. It was a small smile, that sometimes only happened with his eyes, and it was very obviously only meant for her.
That was the smile he was giving her right now, as he stared hard at her mouth. The mouth that had just spoken his name aloud. The two were sitting on an overstuffed, squashy, red couch in the common room. The fire lit in the fireplace was the only source of light still illuminating the room; it caused Ron's hair to light up in a pattern of vivid reds and oranges. They were perched nearly on top of one another. The evenings always started out with the two of them on opposite ends of the couch, but by nights end they had usually found excuses to be side-by-side, their legs almost touching.
They were alone. And it was quiet.
Dimly, Hermione saw Ron's hands slowly move to the book she held on her lap. Her whole body had started to buzz. She felt the weight of the book leave her lap and saw him fold down the corner to mark her place before laying the book on the floor. He cleared his throat. "I¼um. I don't think you should read right now¼."
Hermione felt a protest form on her lips – they had an important test next week – but much to her surprise she nodded and, instead of saying anything, licked her lips. What in the name of Merlin had happened to her? She brought her eyes up to Ron's face again and saw, even in the dim light, his cheeks had flushed to a bright shade of fuchsia, causing his freckles to appear almost purple against his skin.
Hermione had a sudden urge to run her fingers along the heated curve of his cheek and she had to clasp her hands on her lap to keep from following her whim. She watched Ron's Adam's apple bob in his throat, watched his lips fall open, felt her own cheeks heat again as she realized the two of them were staring at one another.
"Hermione." He said her name again. She felt herself shiver.
"Wh-." She couldn't get her voice to work properly. "What, Ron?" she tried again.
He exhaled loudly. "I¼." His hands were fidgeting in his lap, picking at a thread on his robes.
His eyes narrowed slightly. "Oh, sod it!" he exclaimed, taking her by surprise and reaching for her with both hands. Before she had time to think about what was happening, Ron had grabbed her clasped hands in one of his and lowered his mouth in an unpracticed kiss.
Immediately, the buzzing in Hermione's body stopped and was replaced by a swooping sensation in her belly¼and lower. It seemed every part of her – her mouth trapped under his, her hands enveloped by his over-sized palm, the back of her head that he had just touched – was attached to that part of her. It was frightening.
She pulled away from him, her heart pounding, her lips moist.
"Ron," she whispered, in awe of the feelings he had stirred in her.
"Oh, Merlin, Hermione! I'm sorry," he exclaimed in a loud voice. "I didn't mean to do that. You were just sitting there and I've been thinking about doing that for a while now and¼bloody hell-."
"Don't swear, Ron."
"-Sorry – it's just you looked really pretty…." Ron trailed off and looked at her.
She stared right back, a smile forming of its own accord across her face. "You thought I looked pretty?" she asked quietly.
Ron gulped. "You always look pretty." His eyes were darker than she remembered. "You know I think you're pretty, right?"
Hermione shook her head slowly. She couldn't control the smile that was growing bigger by the moment. It was a couple seconds before she had the presence of mind to say "Thank you."
Ron grinned. "You're welcome."
Hermione chewed on her lip, trying to think of something to say. "So¼" was all she could come up with.
"So," Ron echoed. He cleared his throat again. "D'you reckon you want to go with me to Hogsmeade, next time?" His eyebrows were drawn together as if he actually expected a negative response.
Hermione felt her eyes crinkle. She nodded. He smiled. And it seemed they were inseparable from that moment on.
"Hermione, dear!" Mrs. Weasley's voice shakes her out of her reverie. Hermione is only slightly surprised to find her pillow has been soaked with tears. Sometimes she thinks it would be easier to forget.
There is a knock on the door. Hermione clears her throat, wishing she had some water. "Come in," she says, her voice scratchy from sleep and tears. She watches the door swing open, sees Mrs. Weasley framed in the doorway.
"Good morning, dear." Mrs. Weasley strides into the room. Her eyes take in Hermione's tear-stained cheeks, but she remains quiet on the subject. She sits down on the edge of Hermione's bed. "Ginny and Harry are already downstairs eating. I just came up to make sure you were okay."
That is where Ginny is. Already at breakfast with¼Harry? Hermione nods. She smiles at Ron's mum. Ron's mum¼it hurts too much to think of her that way. Mrs. Weasley returns the smile. She places a hand on Hermione's shoulder and gives it a light squeeze. "I'll be right down, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione tells her.
"All right," the older witch says softly. "Take your time." She heads out the door.
Hermione slides out of bed, her feet automatically finding her slippers. She puts on an old, pink dressing gown her mum had given her two summers ago. It's warm and fluffy and used to bring her so much joy, just to put it on. Where did that go? Where did the pleasure she used to get from minuscule acts go? That seems to have died along with him.
Hermione glances in the mirror set at eye level by the door to Ginny's room.
Goodness, she looks frightful. Sighing resignedly, she searches the room for a hair-tie. There's nothing to be done with her blotchy cheeks and red nose, but at least she can pull her hair back so as not to scare people into thinking it will come alive at the breakfast table.
After securing her hair at the nape of her neck, Hermione sets off for the kitchen. Harry and Ginny are the only two in the room, sitting side by side, talking quietly. A glance at the clock tells her Mr. Weasley and Bill have already Apparated to work. Harry looks up, his bright-green eyes clearer than they have been in weeks, but with tell-tale red marks around their edges.
Much to Hermione's surprise, he gives her a small smile. She slides into the seat across from him, where a plate has been made up for her. "Hi," she says quietly.
"Hey, Hermione," Harry says, looking intently at her. "How're you?"
How is she? "Oh, y'know. I'm okay."
Harry nods. It appears he does know.
"Ginny," Hermione addresses the younger witch, "what time did you get up?"
To Hermione's surprise Ginny blushes and glances at Harry. Oh dear, has she resorted to her old crush? But no, Harry's cheeks turn slightly pink as well. "I woke up about half an hour ago," Ginny says too casually, which must be a lie, because Hermione was awake then.
Hermione narrows her eyes and looks from Ginny to Harry, both of whom have become engrossed in their breakfast, but she says nothing.
Harry looks at her again. He clears his throat rather nervously and pushes his half-eaten plate of eggs away from him. "Um¼Hermione?"
"Ginny and I were talking about going into the village to get¼um¼to get Christmas presents, later this afternoon. D'you think you want to come with us?"
Christmas presents?Was it¼oh goodness, another thing she forgot. Today is Christmas Eve. Hermione longs to tell him ‘no'. She would rather sit in her room and stare outside until night falls, but it has been so long since Harry has made any kind of effort, and she knows that hiding from the world will not make things better, so she agrees.
The twin smiles that light up both Ginny and Harry's faces cause her a moment of guilt for longing to refuse.
After showering and throwing on some Muggle clothes, Hermione finds Ginny and Harry sitting in the front room, legs touching, hands clasped. Something has happened between the two of them; that much is obvious. And Hermione guesses that whatever has passed between them, it is what's causing the change in Harry. Not for the first time, Hermione feels a rush of gratitude toward Ginny Weasley.
"Hey, you two," she says as she comes into the room. "You ready?"
"Yeah." Ginny stands up after pulling her hand out of Harry's grip. "Let's go¼Mum!" Ginny yells up the stairs. "We're ready to go to the village."
"Okay," comes Mrs. Weasley's reply. "Wait just a moment and I'll be down."
The group heads out into the bright noonday sun, walking next to one another, Harry flanked by the two girls. Mrs. Weasley is a few paces behind the teenagers, letting them have their space, but never leaving her eyesight. Hermione squints against the white light. It makes her dizzy; it brings to mind another day when she was walking along under a clear blue sky. She stumbles and feels Harry's hand grip her elbow. "All right, Hermione?"
She nods, but she is lying. Despite Harry's steadying arm, she can't help but remember.
Once they found out Harry was missing, she started to panic. The guilt set in almost immediately. She should have insisted Harry walk them, but the truth was he had looked so peaceful, walking alone with his thoughts, and Hermione's mind was more occupied on the hand clasped in Ron's palm than whether or not any Death Eaters were lurking about the village.
Ron amazed her. While Hermione felt a panic attack come on, Ron was steady. He told her to go find a professor or an Auror that she knew and trusted. He would go check in the shops to see if Harry had just wandered off and not told them. Neither mentioned that Harry would never scare them like that.
Hermione found Tonks, with bright pink hair, standing outside the Three Broomsticks. She told her in a rushed, panicky voice that Harry was missing. The young Auror immediately sprang into action, pulling out a¼mobile phone?¼and saying something into it.
Quite suddenly, the village was swarming with Aurors. Nearly every professor at Hogwarts, and many other adults Hermione recognized, came out onto the street. As Hermione explained to Tonks and Remus what had happened, she saw a flash of red rush by, in the direction from which she had just come.
"Ron!" Remus shouted out. "Where are you going?"
Ron didn't stop. He rushed along towards the outskirts of village. Hermione and the others followed. They watched Ron rush into the Shrieking Shack, paying no heed to the number of adults who called out for him to wait, including Professor Dumbledore, who had appeared out of nowhere next to Hermione, seemingly in mid-stride.
Then, Hermione heard Harry scream. It was awful, quite possibly the worst thing she'd heard. Until she heard him scream again.
Ron's voice called through the walls of the shack, "Professor! He's down here! Someone hurry!"
Hermione nearly sobbed with relief. If Ron was asking them to hurry it meant that Harry was still alive. Hermione watched the Aurors and Professors she was with, along with other members of the Order – including Bill Weasley – rush into the shack. She heard Ron yell out again for help, and then she heard it – Harry's next scream – which stopped her dead in her tracks. His voice had been terrifying; it was loud to the point of shaking the shack; and it was for Ron.
It was quite remarkable. She always thought Divination was for transparent fools who lied about seeing things before they actually saw them. But Hermione stood at the entrance to the Shrieking Shack, Harry's scream resonating in her head and her heart, and knew without a doubt what had happened.
It would have been entirely unnecessary to go into the small, cramped room where she had once watched Ron, with a broken leg, move in front of Harry to protect him from who they thought was his stalker. She didn't need to go in and see Harry tied to the bed, watch his eyes mad with grief. She didn't need to see Ron lying on the floor in front of the bed, where he had stood to protect his best friend. She didn't need to see it to know what had happened, but she needed to see it.
Her legs moved, quite of their own accord, when she heard the faint popping sounds of people Apparating from within the shack. She opened the door and went down a narrow hallway. From the opposite end, perhaps a story beneath her, she could hear voices talking very fast and very loud. Slowly, and as if in a trance, Hermione opened the door.
She tried to breathe, but found it impossible. Her eyesight darkened. Oh, goodness...no. It was too much...too much. And Professor Dumbledore, he couldn't make it better. Hermione wanted to scream at him, he who was kneeling so calmly beside her best friend, her love – WAKE HIM UP! But she didn't. Instead she watched – with nary a tear in her eye, as Bill Weasley walked resolutely over to Harry, watched the tall redhead flick his wand and unbind Harry from the bed. She saw Harry fall to the ground beside Ron, saw him cry out again and again and again.
Her heart...how is that it could break and threaten to leap out of her all at once...and her stomach, and her limbs and her head...none were attached to her. Ron. Oh, my Ron. It was becoming harder and harder to breathe. The room was closing in on her, it was...no...this can't be happening. Please...it can't...I can't...and I need...and no, no, no.
Hermione ran from the room. Once outside, she bent over – hands on her knees – and purged herself until there was nothing left to give, and then all went black.
The day is quite possibly the best she's had in a long while. Talking with her two friends – one with fiery hair, the other's like a raven – makes her feel better than she thought possible.
It also makes her feel guilty.
Was it okay to be happy so soon?
Logically, Hermione knows that eventually, she will get over Ron, she'll move on, love again. Everyone does...even if you lose your love at sixteen, you must keep going. But some very irrational part of her, a part she desperately clings to, never wants to get over him. It is somehow easier to stare out a window and wish.…
It is easier to grieve. Moving on is so hard, and somehow, so cruel.
Hermione watches Harry and Ginny, sitting across from her. Neither are talking, or even touching, but every so often their eyes meet. It's hard not to be jealous. It seems Hermione has lost a love, and they have both found one, in each other.
She must remind herself, over and over, that both of them love her dearly. After a long day of shopping, of walking in the brisk air, of carrying packages that nobody cares if they receive, the three of them are tired. Sitting next to the fire, not even attempting talk or play a game, is becoming tedious. Finally, Hermione suggests they go to bed.
"Okay." Ginny nods in agreement and Harry does as well. The three stand from their places, stretch, head up the stairs.
They come to a halt at the door to Ginny's room. Hermione only now notices that Harry has a protective grip on Ginny's hand. The door is pushed open and Hermione leads the way, Ginny trying to follow.
But the younger girl stops suddenly and turns to face the young boy who has a hold on her.
Hermione watches surreptitiously from beneath her lashes. She sees Ginny look at Harry; she sees Harry's pleading look at the redhead. He leans into her. Hermione strains her ears.
"Please, Ginny," he says, "I think I'll... I mean...can you come sleep with me again?"
Even in the dim light Hermione can see the glow off Harry's cheeks. Ginny glances over her shoulder at Hermione. Before she can say a word Hermione says, "Go." She smiles, realizing that she means it. Ginny is helping Harry...probably stopping the nightmares. Hermione doesn't have nightmares...doesn't dream. She has no need for Ginny, but Harry does; and Ginny has need of Harry. And both have looks upon their faces that say they have need of Hermione's approval. Which they have always had.
Ginny turns back to Harry and whispers something quietly before closing the door, leaving him in the hallway, and she changes into a T-shirt and a pair of pyjama bottoms. She looks at Hermione with burning eyes, they are thrilled and quiet. She looks terrified, but says nothing…just gives the older witch a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. When Ginny opens the door, Hermione can see Harry waiting where she left him, as if he is scared to make the journey to his room alone. Immediately, his hand finds Ginny's again and with a small wave in Hermione's direction he leads the redhead up a flight of stairs.
After they have left, Hermione changes into her pyjamas. She looks at the cot that has been her bed for the past two weeks, then at Ginny's bed, that will not be slept in. Without a moment to change her mind, Hermione lifts the covers of Ginny's bed and slides in.
It smells like Ginny. And like Ron.
Smiling, she closes her eyes, praying that tonight will be the night.
A/N: Thank you to my lovely group of pre-betas and beta – Susan, Annika and Allie! Next chapter is Ginny's.