The salty tang of sea air filled her lungs, causing her to cough a bit. Boating had always made her dreadfully seasick, and sailing dangerously over black waters in the middle of the night did nothing to help her condition. The three of them had been trying to figure out how to maneuver an old wind-battered sailboat for nearly an hour, but the harsh winds of the sea were making it difficult to get the boat to even stop pitching for even a second.
Swallowing hard, Hermione directed her attention back to the torn and faded map on her knees. Forcing the edges down to keep it from blowing away, she squinted down at the paper.
"Harry, it looks as though we're a full ten miles away from this cave," Hermione said in a voice just under a yell. "Are you sure that's where it is?"
"I'm positive," Harry yelled back, gripping the boat's wheel tightly. "You did the research; you spent so long finding out where it was; you should know. Just tell me which way, and we'll be there soon."
Up at the bow, Ron grabbed a wire extending from the deck of the sailboat to the mast. Shaking his head, he shouted, "Harry, mate, we've been traveling for an hour, and all we've been doing is going in circles."
Harry groaned. "Please, I know where we're headed. It's the right cliffs. I remember. And fix the sails up there, Ron, they keep getting tangled in that damned wire."
Hermione bent her head to look at the map again. After scavenging through Godric's Hollow, Grimmauld Place, and an assortment of other buildings, the three of them had found and destroyed all but one of Voldemort's Horcruxes: Slytherin's locket. After researching the locket and the possible identities of R.A.B. for nearly a month, Harry had suggested that they return to the cave where he and Dumbledore found it. However, after getting rid of five other Horcruxes--one of which was Nagini--Harry, Ron and Hermione were fairly sure that Voldemort knew what they were up to and was equally sure to be taking measures to barricade them from getting to his last one. If their assumption was correct, Apparating to the cave would most likely alert Voldemort to their presence, so they had decided to use a Muggle means of transport instead. Making base in a town twenty miles across the channel from the cave, they rented a sailboat and set off.
All in all, it was the makings of a rough night. Hermione felt she had enough going on in her life (what with feeling guilty about not spending time with her parents and having to deal with being in love with a certain infuriating redhead) to have to also deal with destroying the soul of the darkest wizard of all time.
She shook her head. Now was not the time to be griping over her life and relationships.
"In about a minute we'll have to come about," Hermione said, not lifting her gaze from the map.
"Changing direction in about a minute," Harry yelled up to Ron.
"Got it," they heard Ron shout back.
Hermione checked her watch. They'd been crossing this chopping choppy channel for nearly an hour, and the sky was as black as ink. A gust of wind whipped her hair around her face, and she clamped her eyes shut while waiting for the wave of nausea to pass.
Harry was more than frustrated with their situation. They were tired, hungry and freezing their bloody arses off, and they didn't seem to be getting anywhere nearer to their destination.
"Why did we have to take a boat?" he groaned for at least the hundredth time in the last hour. Mr. Weasley had been generous enough to authorize them a blind Portkey that could take them to the cave, but they decided that they couldn't risk using it if Voldemort was waiting for a magical signal. They had brought it along, though, to get them back from the cave once they had the real locket – if the stupid thing was even there at all. Really, Harry thought, Dumbledore was lucky to have found the location of the locket before Voldemort caught on to him.
Snapping back to the frigid night air, Harry made the call.
"Now!" he shouted, wrenching the wheel to the left. He noticed Hermione grasp the boat's railing as the boat pitched dangerously to one side. Up at the front, Ron was just finishing tying up the ropes. The boom came sweeping his way, and he jumped aside, narrowly missing it, but vanishing vanished into the massive white sails.
"Ron, you okay up there?" Harry called out, once the boat was back on course once more.
Hermione's eyes flew open. "Ron?" she called out.
"Fine," Ron called from up front. "How much farther do we have to go?"
"Er...we should be there in about half an hour," Hermione yelled, looking down at the map again.
"Ron, you want to switch for a bit?" Harry called. "I'll pull the sails and you steer?"
"Mmppff -- yeah," Ron said as he stumbled out of the sails and into the stern with his hand covering his eye. As he removed his hand, Hermione gasped. Ron was sporting a huge gash under his left eye.
"Ron, you're bleeding!" she cried, standing up quickly and swaying. The map flew off of her lap and into the black water.
"Hermione, the map!" Ron yelled.
"I don't give a --; get over here!" Hermione ordered. Harry quickly Summoned the map out of the water and wrung it out gently as Hermione beckoned Ron to her.
Ron walked gingerly over, his hands in his pockets.
"Slipped on the sail," explained Ron. "My face broke the fall. I told you, I'm fine..."
"Would you stop moving?" Hermione snapped, holding his face in her hands. "Hold still." She tilted his face down and studied the wound by the light of her wand. Ron's ears were turning very red. When Harry finally caught his eye, he laughed, making Ron's face turned even redder.
Pulling out her wand, Hermione brandished it at Ron's cheek, performing a nonverbal spell. The gash slowly closed itself up, leaving just a trickle of blood on his face.
"Honestly, be more careful next time," she said worriedly, pulling her hands away from his face. He looked back at her unblinkingly and, realizing she had just been holding his face, she felt a heavy blush creeping its way up her neck to her cheeks. Good thing it was dark.
"Um . . ." She swallowed and looked at his wound again. "Come on, let's go below deck so I can clean that up. You'll be okay up here, right, Harry?"
He sighed. "Yeah, fine," Harry said begrudgingly. "Just don't take too long." He knew they were going to get together eventually, but did they have to pick right now, minutes from what could possibly be Voldemort's lair? He guiltily wondered if either of them noticed his tone, and turned to apologize, but instead his face was left in a quirky smile.
Apparently, neither of them had noticed him or his comment; Ron had just slipped his hand thoroughly into Hermione's, and they were headed below deck. Harry shook his head, glanced at the map, and sailed on.
Touching a finger to his face tentatively, Ron reprimanded himself for being so bloody clumsy. Then again, if he hadn't fallen he wouldn't be down under deck now..., alone..., with Hermione..., who was now slapping his hand away from his bleeding cheek. His heart was suddenly racing, and it had nothing to do with his injuries.
"Don't touch it; it could get infected!" she snapped, looking wide wide-eyed at his wound.
"Oh," he managed, trying to focus on something other than how soft her hands felt against his face. "But I thought you closed it up?"
"The main cut, yes. But there are a few smaller ones, too. I'll fix them up once we clean them out."
She conjured a wet paper towel and dabbed it over the blood. Ron shivered, not at the chill of the wetness, but at the feeling of Hermione's hot breath against his neck, as she leaned up to clean the cut.
After vanishing the paper towel and closing the wound completely, Hermione pocketed her wand and began to take a step back. Perhaps the salt air was making him feel light-headed, or maybe he was still a bit dizzy from his fall, but Ron reached out and grabbed Hermione's wrist, pulling her back to him abruptly.
Hermione's breath hitched in her throat as she was thrust against him. "Ron..." she whispered.
Acting on another sudden impulse, he raised a hand slowly to her face. Her eyes closed slowly as she leaned into his palm. Swallowing hard, Ron lowered his head, his lips getting closer to hers...
There was a sudden crash, and Hermione's eyes snapped open. The two of them fell to the floor as the boat lurched forward. Ron smashed his arm painfully against a small wooden bench while Hermione landed with a thud next to him.
"What the -- ?"
"Er..." they heard Harry call down. "Sorry, mates. I think we're here."
"Harry!" Hermione shouted, getting cautiously to her feet. "Why -- ?"
"It's not my fault!" Harry interrupted her. "It's ruddy dark out here; I can't see a thing, let alone a stupid rock..."
Hermione closed her eyes and put a hand to her head. "Get the Portkey, Ron," she groaned, and started to make her up the short ladder to the upper deck.
"Right." Ron reached into the backpack Harry had thrown down into the tiny room when they had first boarded the sailboat. He pulled out the rusty tea-kettle his father had given them from the ministry and followed Hermione up the ladder. He hoped they would get to attend to their unfinished business later, but for now, the only thing that mattered was destroying the penultimate piece of Voldemort's soul.
He sighed halfheartedly. Other things were just going to have to wait.
Disclaimer: Let's call JKR the puppeteer of the Harry Potter marionettes. Let's call me the silly teenager with the makeshift Harry Potter finger puppets and way too much time on her hands.
A/N: Much thanks to my ever-patient beta Kelleypen who waited about a month while I sat at my laptop adding romantic tension to this.
A/N: This is a one-shot. There will be no more. NO MORE!!! Unless I'm extremely bored. But if I ever do get extremely bored, I will probably just whip out one of the HP books instead of saying, "hmm, I think I'll continue that fic!" Coz I suck at writing exciting-oh-oh-let-us-go-get-the-Horcrux adventures.