For the first time in years, since Hermione had found Ron and Harry, she was unsure of herself. This was different from her usual hesitation when she was making up her mind about one of her friends' adventures. Hermione always weighed the risks and rewards, examined the consequences and made a decision. She was the one with the answers; the one that the others counted on to be cool and analytical when something went wrong. Harry reacted well under pressure, to be sure, but Hermione was always the calm one of the trio. More often than not, Ron was the one with the grand plan, Harry implemented it, and Hermione had the knowledge to keep everyone safe. Now, however, she didn't have the knowledge she needed. Her mind was paralyzed, all she could think of was how she had yelled at him for not wanting to study. Her last words to him were nagging. If she never saw him again...but no, she couldn't allow herself to think like that. For Ron's sake, she sniffed deeply and wiped away the tears that were forming at the corners of her eyes.
"Harry, do you know how to get into Dumbledore's office?" Hermione said as she glanced back at her two friends trying to keep up with her.
"Uh, no. I can guess, but we might be there all day," Harry panted.
"Why don't we go find McGonagall and tell her what happened?" Ginny asked as she tried to keep from tripping on the hem of her robes. "Hermione, slow down. Please."
Hermione slowed her pace a fraction. "I'm sorry, but we need to let someone know at once. Ron could be in serious trouble." Hermione sucked her breath in as those thoughts began to surface again. With effort, she pushed them away, and hoped that her friends hadn't noticed the pain in her eyes. ‘That's what we'll do. I'm sorry, Harry, but I am probably going to have to tell Professor McGonagall about the map."
Harry shrugged and muttered, "S'okay. I'll just nick it back later."
Hermione turned and started for Professor McGonagall's office, sprinting well ahead of her friends. She reached the door and took a moment to compose herself before knocking. The last thing she wanted was for McGonagall to see her near hysterical and think she was just being another silly girl. She took a deep breath, and when Harry and Ginny caught up, she knocked on the door.
‘Come in," Professor McGonagall called out.
Hermione took the knob in her shaking hand and turned.
Professor McGonagall was behind her desk grading papers, with her feet propped up on a wooly green pillow. She seemed surprised to see who her visitors were, and said, "Ms Granger, Potter...Ms Weasley. To what do I owe the honor? And where is Mr Weasley? I would have expected him to have been with you."
Harry was the first to speak. "Well, actually, that's why we're here, Professor."
Hermione found her voice. "Professor, Ron's gone missing. He's not in the school anywhere."
McGonagall looked at the group skeptically. "What do you mean missing? All students were told that the trip to Hogsmeade was cancelled due to the weather. Mr Weasley is going to be in serious trouble if you are telling me that he went anyway." Her mouth pinched tightly closed; she surveyed the three students.
"No, Professor. He didn't go to Hogsmeade. He was supposed to be waiting for me to get back from the library, and he disappeared," said Hermione.
"It was like he was there one minute, and when we looked back again, he was gone," injected Harry.
"When you say ‘we', Mr Potter, I assume that you are referring to yourself and Ms Weasley? I have seen the two of you together, and lately, it is entirely possible that you would miss a Quidditch match being played in front of you. Don't you think he could have just slipped off to the librar...the kitchens, or something?" Professor McGonagall smiled.
Hermione hesitated, and then began to explain, ‘No, Professor, we know that he isn't anywhere in the school or on the grounds. We also know that he isn't in Hogsmeade, either."
"And just how do you know this? There are any number of hiding places in this castle, as I'm sure you are aware." McGonagall narrowed her gaze at Harry.
Harry pulled the map from his pocket and spread it on the desk. "From this, Professor."
McGonagall gasped. "Remus' old map. I had forgotten about this. I did my best to forget about this, several times. Of course. It's nice to see that you did get some of the family treasures, then." She took the map and began to manipulate it. The drawing zoomed in on specific areas of the castle, focused on others, and scrolled left and right.
Hermione, Harry and Ginny looked on in awe. Finally, Harry gathered the nerve to ask, "You've seen the map before, Professor?"
Professor McGonagall looked up from the map, "Yes, Potter. I'm afraid that I might have been responsible for helping Remus make the thing. It does seem that Mr Weasley is not on the school grounds. Could he have gone home?"
"I called home and asked Mum if she had heard from him," supplied Ginny.
"You didn't tell your mother that he was missing, did you?" asked the professor.
"No, Professor. I just checked to see if she had heard from him, and then made up some other reason for calling." Ginny smiled at her own cleverness.
"That's probably a good thing. We will have to tell her soon, but there is no reason to alarm you parents until we know that something has happened to him." Professor McGonagall paused for a moment. Come with me, all of you."
Ron followed Aminita down the dirt path that they called a road on the island. Sweat was beginning to soak his clothes, and he could feel the sun making his cheeks pink. "How much further is it?" he called.
"Just through the trees there. Come on, young one." Aminita stepped off the road and onto a small path that ran through a dense growth of trees.
Ron watched his surroundings as he stepped into the shade. He could only remember being this warm once in his life. His trip to Egypt had taught him that one could have too much of sun and heat, but the climate here was different from that of Egypt. The air here was warm and sweet, the taste of salt and flowers almost overwhelming. It was also wet. Ron hadn't ever though of describing air as wet before, except during a downpour, but there was no other way to describe it. He was lost in thought, and suddenly stepped through the trees and was caught short by the scene in front of him.
The path opened at the top of a small rise. Behind him was the copse of trees; in front a nicely manicured lawn slowly gave way to a pristine white sand beach. Lapping at the other end of the beach was a small lagoon with water so blue it looked painted. Sitting between the beach and the trees was a house. At least Ron thought it was a house. The original structure had been a small cottage, with white siding. The original house had been added on to several times, rather haphazardly. It now sported a greenhouse, a second floor, and a sundeck. The whole building spoke volumes about the use of magic in construction. It felt oddly familiar.
"Well come on, get in here, and let's see if we can find you some suitable clothes. You're going to roast in those." Aminita went inside the house and Ron had no choice but to follow her.
The inside of the house resembled the outside. The front door opened into a small sitting room, which was filled with shelves and furniture. Ron looked around at the most amazing collection of bric-a-brac. Shrunken heads vied for attention against small statues of kittens. Crystal balls and snow globes sat side by side. The furniture was well worn and tatty, but comfortable looking.
Ron's inspection was interrupted when Aminita came back into the room. "Wow, this place is...amazing. Where did you get all this...stuff?" Ron gestured to the shelves.
"Ah, well, I've been around for a long time, and I'm a bit of a pack rat. I don't seem to be able to throw anything away, and to make matters worse, the villagers like to bring me gifts of interesting things that they have found. One day I'll manage to clean this place up." Aminita held up a pair of shorts and a floral printed shirt. "Here, I think these will fit you. Honestly, you look like you're about to burn up. You can change in the bedroom down the hall. You can sleep there until we manage to get you back."
Ron took the clothes. "Thanks. Um, Aminita, how are you going to get me back?"
Aminita smiled, "With Rupert's help. Now go change, and I'll explain."
Professor McGonagall led the trio to the Headmaster's office. She knocked one on the outer office door and entered. Ginny watched from behind Professor McGonagall as her two friends entered. She held back and stood in the doorway, trying to look inconspicuous. The last thing she wanted to do right now was draw any attention to herself.
Ginny felt guilty. She was sure that she should have noticed Ron leaving, and she was worried. While she was certain that the Headmaster wouldn't blame her for Ron's disappearance, she wasn't so sure about Hermione. Her best girlfriend had been acting strangely lately. Ginny could hear the emotion in Hermione's voice and had noticed that she was on the verge of tears. Damn Ron for this. Just when things were going so well with Harry, he has to go and get lost. It wasn't that she wasn't concerned about her brother, she just wasn't overly worried about him at the moment. Ginny was certain that she would know if he were in real danger; he was her brother, after all. Ginny's thoughts came to an end as she heard her name mentioned.
Dumbledore was starring right at her. "Miss Weasley, you're certain that he wasn't planning to go anywhere?"
Ginny nodded. "He was propped up in the chair by the window, reading a book. He didn't look like he was going anywhere."
Dumbledore's eyes sparkled. "A book you say. Do you, by any chance, know what book?"
Professor McGonagall looked at the Headmaster. "Albus, do you have some idea what's happened to the boy?"
"I may at that. Harry, if you would be good enough to retrieve the book in question, and if possible, mark the page that he was reading? In the meantime, JellyBaby, anyone?" Professor Dumbledore held out a white paper bag of brightly colored candies. Harry turned and ran down the stairs.
"Albus, really, is this the time? The boy could be in real danger," started Professor McGonagall, but she was cut off by a wave of Dumbledore's hand.
"If my suspicions are correct, he's in no danger. In fact, he might just be enjoying himself." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled as he smiled.
Ginny couldn't help but hear the sigh of relief that came from Hermione, followed by a rush of anger at the headmaster's second statement. To be honest, now that she was sure that Ron was safe, she couldn't help but feel a bit of anger, too. It's just like him. Leave us all here worrying, while he's off having a grand old time. Ginny began to run through a list of the more uncomfortable hexes that she knew.
Harry returned a few minutes later with the book in his hands. "I'm sorry, Professor, but someone had closed the book and set it on the table by the time I got there." Harry laid the book on Dumbledore's desk and started to step away, but paused. "Professor, you're not saying Ron's...in the book, are you?"
Dumbledore laughed. "No Harry, it's been quite some time since one of Madame Pince's books ate someone. Do you remember that, Minerva?"
Harry turned to Hermione and muttered, "See, I told you reading too much could be dangerous."
Hermione turned a withering gaze on Harry, and said, "Shush."
Enlightenment blossomed on Professor McGonagall's face. "Oh, I had forgotten about that." She glanced down at the cover of the book. "I see what you're getting at. Where do you think he's gone, though?"
Ginny was confused. First they were talking about getting eaten by a book, now they were talking about Ron having gone somewhere. If he wasn't in the book, and he wasn't at the school, then he must have Disapparated. But, as Hermione had pointed out, you can't Apparate at Hogwarts.
"I'll begin looking. Hopefully, someone will get a message to us soon. You three can go back to the dorms. Mr Weasley is fine, and I will have him back to you as soon as possible." Dumbledore opened the cover of the book and settled back into his chair.
Professor McGonagall looked at the trio. "Come on you three, I will walk you back to the common room, and try to explain on the way."
Ron sat in a chair on the beach, his bare feet dangling in the water. Gentle waves lapped at his legs, and he sighed. Aminita was in a chair beside him. "This is nice," he said, closing his eyes against the glare of the sun. "Now are you going to tell me how you're going to get me home?"
Aminita looked at the heavens and said, "You give the boy a tropical paradise, and all he can think of is going home. That must be some young lady."
Ron sat up. "No...I mean yes, she is, I guess. I just, I mean nobody knows where I've gone, and they're probably worried about me. Well, Hermione probably is. Harry and Ginny might not have noticed I've gone," Ron said sourly.
Aminita laughed. "Another lady? My, I don't remember your father being so bold."
"NO! Ginny's my little sister. And Harry's my best friend. Or he was ‘til he started dating Ginny." Ron scowled at the thought of the two on the couch.
"Ah, so you two had a falling out?" Aminita leaned in a bit closer.
"No, we're still friends. I didn't mean it like that. It's just...Well, she's my little sister...." Ron paused while he tried to work out how her really felt about the matter. "I love Harry. He's like another brother. He's family, and I guess I knew that one day they would be together...but Harry's dangerous to be around."
Aminita smiled knowingly, "Oh, a bad boy. Some girls like that."
Ron shook his head, "No, you've got it all wrong. Harry's not bad. It's just that things happen to him. I guess when you've had You-Know-Who try and kill you a bunch of times, it just makes you a magnet for trouble."
Aminita looked confused, "You-Know-Who?"
Ron gaped at her. "You don't know about...about, ummm...Voldemort?"
"Ah, there's a name I haven't heard in a long time." Amainita frowned, "Harry would be Harry Potter, then?"
"You know Harry?" Excitement lit Ron's face up.
"I've heard the stories. Back to my point, though." Aminita paused and seemed to consider her words carefully. "I know you want to protect your sister, but maybe you should think more about what she wants, and less about what you think is best for her. You can't spend your entire life watching over her. It's not good for either of you."
A dark look crossed Ron's face, "I can...but...well," he paused and thought before he spoke again. "Maybe you're right. Harry's a good chap. Now about getting me home?"
"Back to that again, are we?" Aminita chuckled. She turned her head toward the house and let out a piercing whistle. A large, colorful bird emerged from the trees and flew to her. As it landed, she stroked the bird's head and pulled a letter from a beach satchel by her side. "This is Rupert. I'll send a note to Dumbledore letting him know where you are. In the meantime, you're welcome to stay with me."
Ron watched as she finished tying the note to Rupert's leg. The bird spread its wings and took off up the beach. It had only gone a few meters when it suddenly disappeared. Ron gasped. "What happened?"
Aminita looked puzzled, "You've never seen a bird do that? They use a combination of teleporting and flight to cover long distances. That should be basic information in Care of Magical Creatures class. Didn't you ever wonder how owls deliver their messages so quickly? Or how migratory birds cover such long distances over water? What are they teaching you these days?"
Ron looked chagrined, "I don't think we've ever covered birds in class. Our first year we did...Hippogriffs and flobberworms We've also done nifflers, unicorns, thestrals, and...blast-ended skrewts," Ron finished lamely.
"Hippogriffs? With 13-year-olds?" Aminita shook her head. "And what is a blast-ended-skrewt? Or do I want to know?"
Ron shuddered with the memory, "I wish I didn't know. It's a cross between a manticore and a fire crab."
"Sounds...revolting. Why would anyone do that? And why were you studying them?" Aminita looked puzzled.
"Hagrid is...er, different." With blast-ended-skrewts fresh in his mind, that was about as much defense as he could give Hagrid.
Hermione followed Professor McGonagall down the spiral staircase. Her whole body ached to ask questions, but for once she held her tongue. She knew Professor McGonagall wouldn't hold information from her, so she reasoned that her teacher was choosing her words carefully. Hermione braced herself for the worst.
The group made its way back to the main staircase and completed their journey at Professor McGonagall's classroom. McGonagall stepped behind her desk, and Hermione's instinctive reaction was to sit down at one of the desks. Harry sat beside her, and Ginny pulled a chair over from the next table.
Professor McGonagall turned to her students and said, "Thank you." She motioned with her wand, and the classroom door closed quietly. "You all know, I am sure, that there is a barrier that prevents Apparition on the Hogwarts grounds. What you don't know is that it isn't completely foolproof. There are ways of...bypassing it."
Hermione raised her hand and waited for the professor to look at her. "But in Hogwarts: A History it says...." Hermione was cut off by wave of McGonagall's hand.
"I am aware of what the books say. The barrier was designed to withstand outward attacks, as well as someone trying to leave the grounds. The key word here is trying. What it appears Mr Weasley did was not so much go through the barrier as slip under it."
It was Harry's turn to break the silence. "So, you can Apparate at Hogwarts?" Harry glanced meaningfully at Hermione as he said this.
"In a sense, Mr Potter. What happens is that the subject uses a focus, in this case, the book. They concentrate on a location, imagining it in as much detail as possible. The catch is that they cannot be intentionally trying to Apparate to that location. The first sign of intent, and they bounce off the Apparition barrier. Or they Splinch. The subject must have a very good imagination, and complete control of their mind in order to make the jump."
Hermione's hand shot up again, until she realized that they weren't actually in class, and she said, "Professor, are you talking about Van Dyke's Theory of Alternate Transport?"
McGonagall smiled a half-smile. "Very good, Miss Granger. Yes. Van Dyke proposed that...." McGonagall was cut off by Hermione's next outburst.
"But Professor, isn't that just theory. Nobody has actually completed a transfer, have they?" Hermione looked confused.
"To my knowledge, there has only been one person to do so. I suspect that what happened here is the Unintentional Transfer subset, rather than a true Van Dyke. No doubt Mr Weasley was daydreaming, and that book is a very good focus for such a thing. I'm sure that he didn't mean to leave the school grounds." Professor McGonagall stood patiently, waiting for the next question.
Hermione was beginning to see what had happened. Ron had been caught up in the book, wishing that he were anywhere but at Hogwarts. Still, it showed some of what he might be capable of, if he were to put his mind to it. Hermione felt a warm glow.
Harry piped up again. "So, Professor, where did Ron go? He can't have gone far, right? He's never Apparated, before, and they say that at first you can only go short distances. We ought to be able to find him."
Professor McGonagall sighed, "No Potter. Van Dyke's theory states that there is no theoretical limit to the distance of the transfer. It doesn't work the same as a normal Apparition. He could, quite literally, be anywhere in the world."
Hermione watched as Harry struggled to grasp what was, really, advanced magical theory. Hermione only knew about it because she had been preparing for her NEWTs next year.
Harry scratched his head. "So, what Ron did was really complicated? Wow. I always knew that he had it in him."
Professor McGonagall shook her head. "What Mr Weasley did was not quite the same as someone attempting a true Van Dyke jump. That requires total control of the mind, to be able to imagine being somewhere without actually trying to get there. I only know of one person with that ability."
Harry looked pained. "Is it Voldemort?"
Professor McGonagall flinched at the name, then smiled. "No, actually, it's Professor Snape."
"Aminita?" Ron stared off shimmer of the sun on the water.
"Yes, Ron?" Aminita looked up from where she had been dozing in her chair.
"You said that I wasn't the first visitor you've had. What happened to the first one? Am I going to get into trouble over this?" Ron didn't think he could really be held responsible for this, but he wanted to be sure.
Aminita chuckled. "I wouldn't think so. The last boy to come here didn't."
Ron looked relieved. "Really? Who was it? What happened?"
A small sigh escaped Aminita. "It was fifteen or twenty years ago, I don't really remember for sure. He was a scrawny little thing, frightened half out of his mind, and trying to run away from things he had done. It took me three days just to convince him to let me call Dumbledore."
"Really? I can't imagine doing anything that I couldn't go to Dumbledore for. Not now. What did he do?" Ron's interest was piqued now.
Aminita took a long time answering. "He took being in Slytherin a little too seriously. Remember, this was during Voldemort's rise. He was fascinated with dark magic, well, with any magic at all, really. He was looking for power. He was one of those kids that didn't really have any friends, and I guess that he thought that with power he could have the kind of life that he wanted. One where people respected him. When one of Voldemort's minions took an interest in him, he thought that he had found his family."
Ron looked shocked. "Who would want a Death Eater family? And how did you find all this out? I thought you didn't really keep up with things in England."
Aminita glanced at Ron, and said, "I don't, but I had the boy here for most of a week, and once he opened up, I couldn't really shut him up. As for who would want that sort of family, what would you do if you didn't have any friends?"
Ron considered this. "I...I don't know, I haven't ever thought about it. So what happened?"
Aminita shook her head, but continued. "He was caught up in it. For the first time in his life, he had friends, people that he thought respected him. Right up to the time when they forced him to kill someone."
Ron was perched on the edge of his seat. "Did he do it?"
Aminita sighed again. "Yes. It sickened him to do it, but he did it, with Voldemort looking on. He really didn't have much of a choice did he?"
Ron looked shocked. "Yes he did, he could have told them no."
Aminita smiled. "And that is the difference between Slytherin and Gryffindor."
Ron scowled, and said, "They're all slimy gits. What happened to him, anyway?"
Aminita shrugged. "I don't really know. Dumbledore showed up and convinced the boy that he could protect him. I think Dumbledore was planning to use him as a spy. It seemed a cold thing to do, but the boy was willing. I suppose he needed to make amends for killing someone. Sometimes I wonder what became of him."
"That doesn't sound much like a Slytherin," Ron smirked.
Aminita shot him a dark look, and Ron realized that he had probably crossed a line he didn't need to be near.
Aminita's face relaxed, and she said, "No, I guess it wouldn't to you. I assure you though, that being a Slytherin doesn't mean that you can't have honor. We're not all nice people, but then I assure you that that trait isn't limited to Slytherin house."
Ron felt it was better not to comment. He knew that Aminita was right, there had to be some nice Slytherins out there, but the current crop didn't seem to be them.
"So what happened? Did he go back? Did he...make it?" Ron slipped forward on the edge of his seat, and nearly fell off.
"I don't know. I never heard from him again. I would like to think that he lived through the war. Baring that, that he at least found peace within himself. I very much fear," Aminita sighed before continuing, "that Severus Snape is no longer with us.
"Snape? But...but he's...." Harry stopped speaking when he saw the look in Professor McGonagall's eyes.
"I would think very hard before I finished that sentence, Mr Potter." Professor McGonagall glared at Harry.
The wheels were turning inside Hermione's head. "It does make sense, doesn't it? I mean, when Professor Dumbledore wanted Harry to learn Occlumency, he had Professor Snape teach it. It would take a master of Occlumency to attempt a Van Dyke." Hermione felt conflicted. She didn't like Professor Snape, but she had to respect someone that had that much control over their mind.
"True," said McGonagall. "Professor Snape is quite gifted, in many ways."
Hermione heard Harry mutter, "Just not with a personality."
Obviously, McGonagall heard him, as well. "Well, there you have me Mr Potter. He's not the most likeable of people. Now go back to the common room, and put the time to good use. It's not everyday that you are gifted with extra time to study. I am sure that the headmaster will have your friend back shortly."
Hermione knew that she was being dismissed, and rose from her seat and left. Harry and Ginny followed her out. None spoke a word until they were sure that they were far enough from McGonagall's classroom to not be overheard.
"I wonder where Ron ended up? I looked at some of the pictures in that book when I went to get it. Some of the places were...exotic." Harry smiled and continued. "There was this one, it was the top of a huge mountain, covered in snow. You could see for miles. There was this cave, too. It was full of these huge crystals, and a giant lake, right in the middle."
Hermione shuddered. "A tall mountain? Was it Everest? You can die if you go up there without the right precautions. Freeze to death, or run out of air. Now you have me worried again."
"Relax, Hermione. Professor Dumbledore didn't think he was in any danger. I'm sure he knows more than he was telling." Harry and Ginny put their arms around Hermione's shoulders and tried to comfort her. "Look, you can set up by the fireplace and study until he gets back."
Hermione raised an eyebrow at Harry. "And what about you? You could do with some study time as well."
Harry looked longingly at Ginny and said, "I suppose I could study some, too."
Ron awoke the next morning and stretched. He felt much better for the sleep. Last night he had gone to bed worried about what would happen to him, alone in a strange bed, without any of the usual noises that he usually fell asleep to. He didn't realize how much he took them for granted...the sounds of Neville snoring, Dean's muttering, Seamus'...gastro-intestinal issues, and Harry thrashing about in the bed most nights. It was the symphony that he fell asleep to every night from September to June. Being alone, in a quiet room was...unnerving.
This morning, however. That was different. He awoke early to see a bright sun and blue sky beckoning him. He could smell the salt in the air, drifting thorough the open window. Ron stretched again and felt the warmth of the feather mattress. Noises from the other end of the house told him that Aminita was awake. He got out of bed and changed into some clothes that she had given him. A bright red short sleeved shirt with large blue and green parrots on it, today, along with a pair of tan shorts and a pair of leather sandals would be perfect for the beach, he thought.
Ron found Aminita in the kitchen. She was trying to push a large knife through the tough skin of a melon. Ron steeped into the doorway, and said, "Can I help?"
Aminita stopped trying to cut the obstinate melon and turned to Ron. "Certainly." She handed him the knife. "Just cut it into chunks about this size." She held her fingers apart. "Cut it away from the rind, and put the chunks in this bowl. I'll be back in a minute."
Ron started slicing the watermelon. He had just about finished when Aminita came back in carrying several other fruits. He glanced at her and said, "What's all this? Baking something?"
Aminita rolled her eyes. "No, dear child. This," she gestured with her hands, "is breakfast, island style. I know it's not what you're used to, but it will do you good. You really don't want to spend the day in the hot sun loaded down with a bunch of fat and butter. Trust me."
Ron looked at her skeptically. "Fruit for breakfast? But, what about the bacon? And the eggs?"
Aminita waved her hand at the idea. "You can have bacon and eggs when you get back to school. Today, you'll eat my way. You'll be better for it.'
Ron shrugged. "Okay. Speaking of school, when do you think I'll be back?"
"With any luck, by tonight. Rupert should be there soon, if he isn't already. It will take some time to connect to the floo network, but I expect Dumbledore will be along this evening." Aminita finished chopping a pineapple and placed it in a bowl. "Now set the table and tell me what you have planned for today."
Ron began setting the table. "Dunno. I thought that I might try and find a present for Hermione. I don't know what she would want, though."
"Well, what is she like? Eat some mango, You'll like it." Aminita passed a bowl of pink fruit to Ron.
Ron's face pinked. "Well, she's a girl...and she's got bushy brown hair. Oh, she likes to read. Maybe I could find her a book."
Aminita shook her head. "Are you sure you like this girl?"
Ron looked at Aminita dumbly. "What? Yes, I do. She likes books. She's constantly reading and studying stuff."
"And you want to tell her that's what you think of when you think of her? Not that she's pretty, or fun, or interesting? You want to tell her that you remember that she likes books?" Aminita raised her eyebrows at Ron.
"Well, when you put it that way...I guess not. Do you have any suggestions?" Ron's shoulders slumped as he thought about what Hermione would say if he brought her back a book.
Aminita thought for a moment and then said, "Well, there's not much to buy on the island, but she might like some of our ‘hand-crafted native jewelry'. Especially if the hands that crafted it weren't so native."
Ron looked at her quizzically. "What do you mean?"
Aminita speared a piece of watermelon on her fork and then replied. "Make her something. Tell you what, We can go down to the beach after breakfast, and see what comes to mind."
Ron smiled brightly. "That would be great."
Ron cleared the dishes up after breakfast and wandered down to the shore. Aminita had given him instructions to find things on the beach that looked interesting.
"Just open your mind and listen, they'll call to you." Ron scoffed. "Yeah. Right. Not sure that I want to give Hermione anything that calls out from the beach." Ron could just imagine handing her a shell filled with some slimy talking sea creature.
Ron stopped near the water and closed his eyes. He tried to clear his mind and listen. Visions of Hermione kept invading his thoughts. Her cute little nose, her bushy brown hair; lately Ron had had trouble thinking of much else. He gave up and allowed the thoughts to continue, and was surprised when he felt a mental tug coming from just up the beach. He followed his feeling and found a perfect little scallop shell, about 2 inches to a side, in a small pool of water. He picked it up and studied it. This would be perfect for Hermione.
Aminita joined Ron a little while later. She took up her usual chair and waited for Ron to bring his treasures over. "Well, what have we here? Oh, this is nice." Aminita was holding the scallop shell up to the sunlight. The way that she held it, Ron could see that the shell was amazingly thin; that light shone right through it.
Ron set down the rest of what he had found. He had several short tubular shells and a pile of small black and white rocks that had filled a pool on the water line. "I'm not sure what to do with them," he said, "but I did what you said, and these all called out to me. It was odd, I just knew where to find them, and walked right to them."
"A fine bit of sympathetic magic, that is. Dead useful for hunting down lost things. Don't know what I would do without it some mornings." Aminita smiled and started to arrange the rocks and shells out in a circle. "What I was thinking was maybe a nice necklace. You put a small hole in each item and thread them onto a thin piece of thread. An impervious charm on the string to keep it from breaking, and you have a nice souvenir of your time by the ocean."
Ron spent the next couple of hours patiently boring holes in the stones and threading them on a string Aminita gave him. He mixed them up, black and white stones with the little tubular shells interspersed randomly. He finally wound up with a necklace about 20 inches long, which Aminita attached a clasp to. He fixed a small ring to the scallop shell, and attached it to the center of the necklace.
Aminita looked over the finished necklace and nodded approvingly. "Wonderful. I can't imagine a girl that wouldn't like it. Now, I was thinking. That shell is very fragile, so we'll want to strengthen it a bit. I also thought that it might be nice to make it a kind of a locket. Perhaps when you open it, you can hear sounds. Maybe a recording of your voice."
Ron shook his head. "Uh-uh. It would be neat if it made noise of some kind, but I wouldn't know what to say." He thought for a few minutes. "What about if it sounded like it does here. Beach sounds, you know. The ocean, and the birds and stuff. Could we make it smell like this too? That would be awesome."
Aminita thought about it for a minute before answering. "I think that's possible. Let me think on it for a bit."
Ron spent the next few hours wandering along the shoreline, thinking about what he had inadvertently learned about his Potions Master. It was disturbing to think that there might be some real human feelings inside that slimy exterior. Ron had spent the past five years and more loathing Snape with all his heart. To go through life with no friends...Ron couldn't imagine. Even in the worst of times, when he was fighting with Harry during their fourth year, Ron still had Hermione to turn to. The thought of being that alone...it was frightening. Then to have to choose, kill or be killed...Ron shuddered. They would have just had to kill me. There's no way that I could do something like that. Not for anything. Not even for my friends.
Ron looked up as a large bird landed on the beach near him. "Well, it's not like he's gone and tried to have anyone like him lately. Twit wouldn't even know where to start making people like him." The bird cocked it's head to one side as if thinking about what Ron had said and squawked once in agreement before taking off again. Ron watched as it flew to a perch on a nearby tree. His gaze was torn away as he noticed a familiar figure striding down the beach toward him.
"Professor Dumbledore!" Ron shouted as he got up to run toward the Headmaster. "Am I glad to see you. Have you come to take me back to Hogwarts? Is Hermione mad?" Ron paused as Dumbledore held up his hand.
"Yes, Mr Weasley. I would have been here sooner, but it took quite an effort to get anyone to come in on a weekend to make a floo connection." Dumbledore smiled brightly. "But that is neither here nor there. I trust that you have had an enjoyable vacation?"
"It was great Professor. Umm, I'm not in trouble, am I?" Ron was suddenly very interested in the sand around his feet.
"Certainly not, my boy. You're here and still alive, and Aminita has obviously taken good care of you. Your friends are worried about you; afraid that you had ventured out and become lost in the snow. They may, however be a bit annoyed with you when they find out how you've spent the past days. You see, we got another two feet of snow overnight." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled merrily. "Not that I blame you. There is nothing like the sun and sand to remove the cold from one's bones."
Dumbledore and Ron had by then returned to the beach in front of Aminita's house. Aminita was still seated in her chair in the surf, feet resting in the water. Hovering around her were half a dozen open books, all of which she seemed to be reading from. She looked up and said, "Well, I see that you found him, Albus. Give us a second and he will be ready to go."
Dumbledore nodded and stepped back up the beach, toward the house.
Aminita gave a flick of her wand and all of the books closed and formed themselves into a neat stack at the edge of the beach. "I finally found the charm I was looking for. It's a fairly simple thing, but you do have to concentrate. What I want you to do is sit here in this chair, holding the necklace. Close your eyes, and concentrate on what you hear and smell. When you have that image clearly in your head, cast this charm; Inclusio."
Ron thought it through, and when he had the charm firmly in his mind, he closed his eyes. What can I smell? Air, salt, the ocean. I can feel the sun on my face, and what smells like coconuts in the background. Some wood smoke, from down the beach. What can I hear? The ocean. Waves lapping on the shore, the call of a seagull, the sound of the wind rustling the leaves of a palm tree. That should be enough. He held those thoughts in his mind and tapped his wand to the shell in the middle of the necklace. "Inclusio," he whispered. He felt it as the thoughts and the power ran down his arm, and through his wand. In his other hand he could feel the shell grow warm, much like the sun on his face. His eyes popped open and he said, "I did it."
Aminita took the necklace from his open palm and held it close to he head. "Quite good. You seem to have a talent for this."
Ron flushed. "Not really, I just wanted this to be as good as I could make it. I wish that Hermione could really see what this place is like."
"Well, let's get you home, and you can tell her all about it. And Ron?" Aminita hesitated before continuing, "You only go around once. Don't be afraid to tell her how you feel."
Ron's flush grew brighter. "I...I won't. Thanks."
The two went back to the house where Dumbledore was waiting. He stood from the chair that he had been lounging in, and asked, "All finished? Ready to get back, Ron?"
Ron nodded. "I'm sorry to have kept you Professor. The extra time isn't going to be a problem, is it? I would hate to find the floo closing before we got back through it."
Dumbledore laughed. "After the effort that it took to get it opened, that would be terrible. But in this case, we don't need to worry. The earliest that anyone will try to close it is Monday morning. Your friends will be waiting, though."
Ron nodded again. "Thanks, Aminita. I don't know what I would have done without you." He took a handful of floo powder and tossed it into the fire that had been laid. "Where are we going, Professor?"
Dumbledore took his own pinch of floo powder. "Gryffindor tower, Mr Weasley. I felt it best if nobody else knew that you were gone."
Ron waved once more and stepped into the green flames. He shouted, "Gryffindor tower," and waited for the sickening spinning to begin. Ron knew that the trip couldn't have taken more than a minute to complete, but it was one of the longest minutes of his life. Suddenly, he saw the grate coming up, and beyond that the interior of the Gryffindor common room. He braced himself, and stepped off just in time to tumble face first onto the hearthrug.
Hermione jumped as a blast of green fire erupted from the fireplace. A moment later, Ron spilled out onto the floor. His face was covered in soot, he was wearing a garish tropical print shirt, a ragged pair of cutoff pants, and sandals. The skin that she could see was reddened, and he probably had more freckles than he had left with. None of this mattered in the slightest, Hermione decided. She leapt from her seat and rushed across the room to throw her arms around him. "Ron, where were you? We were worried sick about you." Hermione sobbed once, and tried to stifle it with a cough.
Harry and Ginny got off the couch and came over. They wrapped their arms around Ron and Hermione, and Harry said, "Good to see you mate. Hermione was beginning to drive us batty with what might have happened to you."
The group hug ended just as another blast of green flame shot from the fireplace. Professor Dumbledore stood in the fire, and stepped gently from the flames. He brushed a small bit of stray soot from one shoulder, and nodded to the group. "There you are, then, Ms Granger. I have returned him to you safe and sound. Good evening." Dumbledore strode from the room.
Ron spent most of the evening reliving his trip for his friends. He described the beach, and how he had found himself there, and then listened as Hermione went on about what a difficult bit of magic it was for him to get there. Ron didn't have a clue what she was talking about, but she seemed really excited about it, so he just nodded and listened. Finally, Harry and Ginny took the hint and went back to their couch. Ron really wanted to talk to Hermione alone.
"Erm, er, Hermione?" Ron stammered. It was one thing to tell Aminita that he was going to do this, back on the beach. It was completely different, standing here in front of her. "I, um, I brought you a present. I hope you like it, I made it myself." Ron rushed through this, afraid that if he paused for too long, she might have time to react and keep him from finishing. He fished his hand into his pocket and pulled the necklace out. He held it in one hand and closed his eyes. When several seconds had passed, and Hermione hadn't said anything, he risked a quick peek. Hermione was standing there, mouth open, not saying a word. The silence finally got to Ron, and he had to fill it. "It's...It's a necklace. Of shells...and, erm...rocks." Ron stared at Hermione who had yet to move. "Hermione? Say something? Anything?"
"Oh, Ron, it's beautiful. Put it on me. I want to see how it looks." Hermione began to grab her hair and pull it back to give Ron access to her neck.
Ron let out the breath he had been holding. "You really like it? Good, look it's got a charm on the little shell here, that let's you hear and smell what it was like there. I was afraid you might think it was stupid or something." Ron was standing just inches from Hermione now, fumbling with the necklace, trying to get it open. When it finally separated, he put both ends around her neck and reconnected them. As he looked down to see if the necklace was straight, he realized that their lips were just inches apart. Suddenly, he knew he didn't have to tell her how he felt. He didn't have to say anything. He tilted his head slightly, and pressed his lips to hers. He allowed his arms, which were already around her, to slide around her shoulders and tighten. In return, Hermione's lips pressed back against his, and her arms circled his waist. They stayed like for either minutes or hours; Ron wasn't sure. When they both decided to come up for air, Hermione looked around guiltily.
Finally, their embrace ended, and Hermione sighed. "We really shouldn't be doing that right in the middle of the common room."
Ron smiled, and said, "Why not? ‘S not like Harry and Ginny are going to notice. Have they even left that couch since I've been gone?"
Hermione shook her head, "Not much. Only to eat and sleep. You know, we are prefects. We could run them out of here for their behavior. Then the couch would be free." An impish smile crossed Hermione's lips. "Parvati says she prefers the broom closet, but...yech."
Ron smiled and bit his lower lip in thought. It was possible...but should they? They were, as Hermione had pointed out, prefects. How would it look if they were caught? Ron shrugged, his mind made up. He had waited years for this.
Ron bent and whispered in her ear, "Hermione, leave Harry and Ginny alone. In fact try not to disturb them. I have something that I want to show you." Ron took Hermione's hand and led her back to the fireplace, where he reached for a small jar on the mantel. He removed the lid from the jar and whispered, "Hold out your hand." When Hermione's hand was open, he dropped a large measure of floo powder into her palm and nodded to the fireplace. "Toss it in, and hold on tight to me. I don't want to lose you." When the fire was burning green, he made sure that her arms were tight around his waist and stepped into flames.
Hogwarts would just have to do without them for a day.