Hermione slammed the door, uncaring of Ronald's shouted ouch from the other side as the wood undoubtedly connected with the tip of his nose. The fuming witch turned her gaze on a wide-eyed Harry as he sat on the sofa in her parents' living room—her parents who were still in Australia until the Ministry was back on its feet and could safely sort how to reverse the modified memory charm she'd cast on them.
All riled up by Ron Weasley's buffoonery as it was, she snapped her next words without thinking. "You want some, too?"
Wincing, her best friend stood, his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "I didn't say a word."
"Fine," Ron bellowed from behind the door. "But this isn't over."
"It certainly is!" Hermione bellowed right back, in utter disbelief she'd liked that insensitive, thoughtless, juvenile . . . anti-her-if-anyone-ever-was wizard for so long! "We are over, Ronald!"
"If that's what you want!"
God, why was he still standing there? "It is!"
Stomping across the floor, she dropped herself into the armchair and buried her face in her hands. She was aware of Harry's gaze, gaping in confusion as he looked from her, to the slammed door—complete with the sound of Ron's footfalls retreating down the porch steps—and back.
Lowering himself to sit back down where he'd been a moment ago, he shrugged. "I'm not even sure what the hell I just walked into."
Eyeing him for a handful of seconds, Hermione let the rage flood out of her. She didn't want to direct her anger at Ron anywhere but the place that ugly emotion belonged. The change in her posture was immediate as her frame slumped and she all but melted back against the seat's cushions.
Harry snickered, his brows pinching together behind the wire rims of his glasses at her deflated demeanor. "Ready to tell me now?"
"Well, you remember the Battle of Hogwarts?"
"Big blow up between us and a bunch of Dark Wizards, a resurrected mad man, and every evil beast he could sway to his side a little over a month ago? Yeah, I vaguely recall something like that."
She rolled her eyes, but couldn't help laughing. "Okay, well, you recall that's sort of when Ron and I became official. Right? There was some snogging, he called me his girlfriend, that was sort of that. We were 'together,' right?"
"As far as everyone's been led believe."
Scowling at the wariness in his tone, she forced herself to continue. "Right, well, I had told him . . . ." With a sigh, she shook her head and let her eyes drift closed. "Okay, remember back when I was dating Viktor? When I mentioned to you that he and I didn't do much talking?"
For a few heartbeats, he only stared at her. "You mean when I gave you 'that look' and you promptly informed me that what you meant was just that he watched you study?"
Snapping open her eyes to meet his gaze, she frowned. "Yeah, I might've been lying about that."
"Hermione," he said, his tone playfully scolding.
The witch shrugged. "Please. I was 15 and my boyfriend was a 17 year old internationally famous athlete. What d'you think was going to happen? I'm the same girl who went looking for the basilisk, smacked Draco Malfoy in the face, formed a secret army, and rode a bloody dragon. I'm not skittish about other things, I've no idea why you might assume I'd be shy about intimacy."
"Right?" Exhaling another sigh, she shook her head. "But, you know, there's a difference between when it's someone you've just met and there's a spark, and someone who's been in another role in your life entirely up until that point. I told Ron that I wanted us to take things slow, because we have been friends for so long I didn't want to do anything to mess that up. If things didn't work out between us, I wanted us to still be able to go back to that—after a bit of fighting and moping, naturally, but eventually, yeah."
"And he what?"
"I'm going to tell you this, but it doesn't leave this room. And . . . try not to judge him for it, he's still one of our best friends."
"Don't know if I should brace myself or run into the kitchen for some popcorn."
Laughing in spite of herself, Hermione reached across to slap Harry on his elbow. "I'm serious."
Catching her hand in his, he held it in a gentle grip. "I know. Won't breathe it to a soul, promise."
"Not even Ginny?"
Those familiar green eyes of his narrowed at her, but a half-grin curved his lips just as fast. "Not even Ginny."
"Okay." Clearing her throat, Hermione nodded. She darted her gaze about the floor, unable to hold Harry's eyes as she explained. "About the first few days we were together, we got up to quite a bit, but I refused to let him get too far. At first he was fine with that, but . . . we were talking about past relationships, I told him about what really went on between Viktor and me. I hadn't thought anything of it, because, you know, of him and Lavender. Turned out? Wasn't the same."
"Yeah. And, well, ever since he found out I'm not a virgin he's been pressuring me. I told him I'm not ready. I know, I know he feels betrayed, like I shared something with someone else that I'm not willing to share with him, but he just doesn't understand that they're two different situations."
He nodded. "So, you mean like, if you two had just met and started dating, no prior friendship, as opposed to someone who's been in your face that last seven years?"
She laughed and shook her head again. "Actually yes." Sitting forward, she braced her elbows on her knees. "I said I don't want you judging him because I know he's hurt by it, and he's lashing out because he's in pain, with everything that happened . . . his brother dying, all the friends we lost, even you and Ginny getting together, because it highlights how strained our relationship is . . . this is just another hurt to add onto the pile, and I get that, but that's not a reason for me to give in. I mean, your first time with someone you care for as much as he and I are supposed to shouldn't be a pity-shag."
Sighing, Harry stood from the sofa and stepped over to her. He smooshed himself into the armchair beside her, bringing another laugh out of her. Hell, he might not be able to fix any of her problems, but he always knew how to make her smile. "I understand. I think it says a lot that you're aware that he doesn't realize how he's acting."
"Maturity, yay, me," she said, her voice flat. "He doesn't realize how petty he's being. Every time I said no, he threw my past with Viktor in my face. If he was trying to hurt me so I can feel what he's feeling, mission accomplished. I just finally had it. I know it doesn't seem like a lot of time to have 'had it' with something, but this was only a week after War's End we had that talk, and I swear, it's like I've been dodging his cock ever since!"
"Hermione!" Harry's shocked voice was edged with humor as he stared at her wide-eyed.
Hermione burst out laughing herself, realizing how much she'd needed to let it out. Even if it was a bit vulgar, even if it wasn't the sort of thing anyone would ever expect her to say. And suddenly the mental image of Ron's penis chasing her around as she tried to duck and hide was all she could think about as she gasped for air, her eyes watering and tears spilling down her cheeks.
When she managed to pull herself together, she sank back against the cushion beside Harry. He was shaking his head, but smiling, as he watched her wipe her cheeks.
"So that's really it? You two are over?"
She exhaled slow and deep as she let her eyes drift closed. "Yeah. I want things to go back to how they were, if that's even possible, but I know it'll take a while. He feels like I've wronged him, and he's waiting for me to apologize, or ask forgiveness, but I haven't actually done anything for him to forgive or that I should apologize for. If anything is ever going to be 'okay' between us again, he's going to have to realize that. I think he will, just . . . he has to get past this part where it's all raw emotions."
"You know he's never been good with emotions."
Her brows drew upward as she nodded, breathing out a short snicker. Finally, she decided she'd have enough of talking about this. "So, what're you doing here?"
"Oi, I can't just pop over to see you?"
She held his gaze, her features pinching in a suspicious expression.
"I, um, I wanted to come talk to you about the trip."
"The trip?" she echoed, confused.
"Yeah, um, we're all going. Me, Ron, Gin, all . . . all the Weasleys." Harry held up his hands before he went on. "Just until the end of the summer. It's not even my idea, honestly, just . . . . Mrs. Weasley thinks everything's been too hard on, well, on the entire family, really. She's invited me to vacation with them—get George out of England for a while before Gin has to return to Hogwarts in September." He chewed on his lower lip before he tacked on, "Mrs. Weasley wouldn't have just left you out. I'm guessing Ron wanted to be the one to ask you to come along."
Hermione didn't know what to say. She adored the Weasley clan, but after what just happened between her and Ron, she couldn't imagine going abroad with them for two months. Her luck, it would be some inadvertently romantic setting, she'd let herself get swept up in the place, end the trip back together with him only to return home and realize what a colossal mistake she'd made and have an even more difficult time trying to break up with him again. Worse, if she hadn't broken up with him just now and he'd invited her, she might've accepted and getting swept up wouldn't mean rekindling things, it would mean not seeing the harm in taking that step she wasn't sure they were ready for and then returning home and realizing that they'd made a mistake.
She had no idea which was worse; just thinking about it was exhausting. She also thought Harry was maybe forgetting how quickly Mrs. Weasley had turned on her during fourth year all based on some ruddy gossip column thanks to Rita Skeeter. Molly Weasley was many lovable things, but she was also short tempered and quick to judge in a way that Hermione imagined wouldn't do well for her once the matriarch learned of her son's broken heart. Sure, it was more like his wounded ego, but Hermione knew boys typically weren't aware there was a difference.
They all had enough wounds to heal without relationship drama getting in the way.
"Maybe it's for the best that he didn't," she offered, smiling a bit sadly.
Harry slumped a bit beside her. "C'mon, 'Mione. You know it's not going to be the same without you. You're family."
She bumped her shoulder against his. "I know, and I love that you all think of me that way, I do, but . . . this isn't just about me. I think it actually might be better for him, too, that we have time away from each other."
He nodded, aware she might just be right about that. Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd gone the entire summer without seeing her, himself. Second year, maybe? When she'd come back from France all tanned and her wild golden-brown hair a bit sun-bleached?
Hermione Granger had been by his side through so much. Maybe a little time apart was good for the two of them, as well.
"I'm going to miss you."
"I know, because you adore me. It's just one summer Harry, I'll be fine."
Harry chuckled, reaching between them to pinch her side.
"Ow, hey!" She slapped at his hand. "Wait, you're not leaving just yet, are you?"
"No. But Mrs. Weasley did plan things at the last minute, so we leave first thing Friday."
Hermione nodded. That was only two days away. She couldn't imagine what Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were going through after losing Fred. Once everything had settled down after the funerals for the fallen, they must've jumped to find the first available trip they could afford, hoping the change of scenery might help the family to heal a bit better than being someplace bombarded by constant memories of what had been.
"Well, if I help you pack you'll have time to sit here and watch some telly with me right now, yeah?"
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Who said I need help packing?"
Her brows pinched together as she waited for him to cave. After a moment, he sighed. "Okay, you're right. Fine. Tonight telly, tomorrow packing, fair?"
Hermione nodded, grinning as she reached to grab the remote control from the coffee table. "Fair."
Sunday evening Hermione awoke from another bizarre dream. Sitting up in bed, she switched on her bedside lamp and looked about. She could hear her own rapid breaths in her ears as she tried to calm herself. This was going to be just like every night before—she'd look around and find nothing amiss.
She certainly wasn't going to find some dark-haired stranger lurking through her room.
Yet, that was precisely what she kept seeing. Oh, but it wasn't only in her room while she slept. No. She had the feeling, ever since the war had ended—ever since Voldemort had fallen, in fact—that she was being watched. Followed, maybe.
That there were eyes on her, always.
That certainly hadn't helped the Ron situation. She'd actually gone to see them off, Mrs. Weasley had been surprisingly understanding about the matter, chocking up the entire thing to the messy effects the aftermath war could have on emotions. Ginny had promised to bring her back something lovely, and George had hugged her so hard she'd thought he might be trying to pop her eyes from her skull. Even Percy and Charlie were going, while Bill had taken Fleur back to France to be with her family for a bit.
Ron hadn't said much to her before they'd left, but she'd sort of been expecting that. Though, to his credit, he offered her an almost warm smile as she waved bon voyage. The expression, she was near positive, was meant to tell her things weren't okay between them now, but they would be in time. She thought maybe he finally understood. Or Ginny had gotten him to see at least a little bit of reason.
Yet, as she turned away to start home, she stopped short, certain she'd glimpsed someone from the corner of her eye. Someone with their full attention focused on her. But when she looked, she found no one at all.
She hadn't mentioned it to anyone. They'd only worry, and she was sure it was probably something perfectly normal, like post traumatic stress—something which Wizarding kind was lousy with, but didn't seem to appreciate the Muggle labeling. She'd survived a war, for pity's sake, more attempts on her life than she could rightly keep track of, and outright torture.
It was safe to say she deserved for her nerves to be more wrought out than she'd let herself believe. After that first night, she checked her wards, assuring herself no one could Apparrate, or Floo, into her parents' home. Dream or no dream, she'd felt rattled.
Maybe she'd seen him somewhere? On the battlefield, maybe? Peeling back her covers—damn dreams always left her in a cold sweat—she climbed out of bed and stretched. Perhaps the memory was of some person she'd glimpsed fleetingly as Voldemort had finally fallen?
The dreams were always the same, too. She'd watch the stranger creeping around her room, as though searching for something. He'd sense her scrutiny, she thought, and then he'd turn to pin her with an unnaturally bright green-eyed gaze. Not like Harry's eyes at all, no. Whoever this man was, his eyes just about glowed in the night-dark of her room. He'd step over to her bed and, in a strange gesture, sweep his robes—robes, definitely not a Muggle she was imagining—close to his person so that he might perch on the edge of her mattress.
Looking down at her, those impossible eyes would crinkle at the corners as he spoke. But she couldn't catch his words, she never caught his words. He'd reach out, the gesture strangely familiar, almost fatherly, as though he were about to tuck some of her mad locks behind her ear.
Each time, though, she awoke just as his fingers came within a hair's breadth of brushing her cheek.
However, this time was different. She couldn't be certain what had happened tonight to wake her so abruptly, dragging her out of the dream sooner than usual—not as he'd come to her bedside to speak to her, but in those first unsettling moments of him skulking through the darkness as if in search of something. It felt as though she were watching one of those nighttime telly reenactments of a residual haunting in some Muggle's house—always repeating, cyclical, something that would occur whether or not she was there to observe the scene. Perhaps that's why the dreams took on a truly surreal sense when he acknowledged her.
But what was different tonight? Shaking her head, she realized her throat felt a bit parched. She'd been awakened by some strange snapping she'd felt in the center of her chest.
Across the upper floor and down the stairs she tried to put a reason to the feeling. Whatever it was, it seemed to vibrate through her ribcage. Through the living room and dining room, she puzzled over that bizarre, bone-rattling zing.
Again shaking her head at herself, she crossed the threshold into her kitchen and switched on the light.
In the flood of illumination that followed, a scream caught in her throat at the sight that greeted her. Looking perfectly at home—there, in the dark, in the middle of the night, quite apparently waiting for her—sat Thorfinn Rowle. Somehow he managed to still seem massive while seated, his black robes settled around him against the sweetly pleasant backdrop of her mother's beige-and-soft-peach kitchen decorating scheme and his golden hair, looking freshly-cut, glinted a bit harshly beneath the light.
There were wards on the house, sure, but nothing could truly prevent a determined witch or wizard from finding a way in, and from the look of satisfaction on his face—surely, satisfaction at how shocked she must appear just now—she'd say he'd been very determined.
She backpedaled a step, ready to run back to her room to grab her wand, but as she moved, he held up his hands. There, grasped in his fingers was her weapon . . . splintered in two.
That was what that sensation in her chest had been. She'd felt the breaking of her wand.
Hermione swallowed hard, the very weight of the air in the room pressing down on her. Pulling her gaze from his, she darted her attention around in search of a weapon—this was a ruddy kitchen, after all, maybe she'd thoughtlessly left out a knife where she might easily reach it now.
Nothing. Bloody hell. If she didn't know any better, she might think he'd actually cleaned up in here to prevent the very thing she'd just thought of doing.
"You looked so peaceful when I sneaked into your room to snatch this off your nightstand," he said with a careless shrug as he set the broken wood down upon the table top. "I nearly felt bad about it. But then I remembered how I was tortured until that memory charm you slapped on me broke and suddenly, bad feelings went 'poof.'"
Holding up her hands, she kept her gaze trained on his arms for a few heartbeats, waiting for him to draw his wand on her, but he didn't make any move toward doing so. "Are you here to kill me? I'm sure there's many other people you could've evaded Azkaban to hunt down, so maybe I should feel flattered?"
"No, you whimsy little brat. Were I here to kill you, you'd already be—" His words stopped short as she turned on her heel and bolted through the house. "Hell," he breathed the sound, shaking his head as he got to his feet and chased after her.
Hermione nearly crashed into the front door in her hurry, one hand gripping the knob as she scrambled to pull open the bolt. Just as fast, however, she heard his thundering footfalls closing in on her.
No sooner had she forced open the lock than had he wrapped one arm around her waist. He hoisted her backward, away from the door. Turning, Thorfinn held her easily despite the way she was struggling as she cursed up a storm. The furious witch held so that she was pinned against his hip, he trooped back to the kitchen.
He sat right back down in that same chair, appearing wildly unimpressed—and notably unfazed—by how much she raged and fought against him, settling her in his lap with staggeringly little effort. It only seemed to stoke her ire when he propped the elbow of his free arm on the table and proceeded to lazily examine his nails.
After a few moments, however, he sighed. "You got much more of this in you? 'Cause I've got nowhere else to be, and in case you've not noticed, none of your Muggle neighbors are coming to your rescue because I'm not as stupid as you've probably hoped. I cast a silencing charm on the perimeter of the house."
Hermione froze. She tried to ignore how very aware she was of his body beneath hers as she stilled against him. He'd been telling the truth—he wasn't here to kill her. If he had been, he could've easily done so when she'd been asleep upstairs. He wasn't here to torture her in recompense for whatever torment Voldemort had inflicted upon him to break her memory charm, he could've drawn his wand at any time and unleashed a fearsome Crucio on her.
Swallowing hard, she struggled to find her voice as she turned her head. When she met his gaze, whatever she might've said died on her lips.
Thorfinn smirked, nodding as he arched a brow. "Have your attention now, do I?"
A scowl that was pure anger and darkness marred her features. She asked in a clipped tone, "Not much choice have I? What is it you want?"
That smirk only widened. "It's not what I want, at all. It's what's wanted of you. I bring a message from your father."
"My father?" Hermione shook her head, all venom draining from her with those words. "How could you have a message from—?"
"Oh, no, no," Thorfinn deliberately cut her off as he shook his head. "I don't mean that simpering Muggle who raised you. I mean, your real father."
The witch had no idea what he was saying, as though she'd lost her ability to comprehend the English language as she stared at him.