Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 18 of 45

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In the dark of the sitting room, Ron read all the way up to the seventeenth century. With The Code of Secrecy spread across his laps, he moved well past fourteenth century Quidditch bans and started reading about the widespread persecution of Wizarding children by Muggles. The Code of Secrecy described drownings and hangings and people being pressed to death by stones. There had been no nightmares tonight, but that was only because he hadn't been able to fall asleep. Despite the long lingering kiss Hermione had left him with outside his door, his mind kept returning to the mound of dirt. When he thought about the mound of dirt he thought about what his brother looked like beneath it and when he thought about what his brother looked like he thought about the Stone. It was all just one big morbid loop that kept playing on repeat in his brain. So he'd crept downstairs and curled up with the same book he and Hermione had read together days ago and he hoped it might help him fall asleep.

Except Hermione was right, the book was actually interesting. Somehow after all they'd been through in the last year, he no longer found history so dull. Wizards and goblins and centaurs fighting against bigotry and dying to preserve their way of life was familiar. He understood it all in a way he never had before. It wasn't just names and dates. History was people. He got it now.

"Now I know you've been spending too much time with Hermione." Ron promptly clicked the Deluminator in his pocket off at the sound of another voice, removing what little light was left in the sitting room. Harry swore loudly as Ron heard what must be his toes smashing against the foot of an armchair in the darkness. "Turn on the sodding light so I can see, eh?" his friend grumbled as he limped over to him.

"Sorry," Ron muttered sheepishly and clicked it again so the soft candlelight could reappear to light Harry's way, "just habit, I reckon."

"S'alright," Harry dismissed. "What's with the book? Bit of light reading?"

"Er, yeah." Ron watched as Harry sat down in the armchair across from him.

"Is that the book from the other day?"


"Still can't sleep, huh?" Harry inquired knowingly and he didn't wait for Ron to answer before continuing. "Ginny came up to see me earlier," he sighed. "Said she couldn't sleep either." The words were a slight comfort to Ron, even though they were attached to a mental picture of Ginny crawling into Harry's bed. He simply grunted in reply and Harry kept talking. "She said Hermione's been talking in her sleep all week. She didn't do that this year, did she?"

"She's done it ever since…" His voice trailed away as he recalled the night he'd first heard it. He'd passed the night in an uncomfortable wooden chair and had chalked the murmurings up to the immediate physical effects of the Cruciatius curse. By the second and third night at Shell Cottage, he'd known it was something more. Ron felt a sudden wave of guilt. Aside from that morning on his old dormitory bed when he'd felt Hermione shake beside him, he hadn't given her own difficulty sleeping much thought in the past week. He'd been focused on his own horrid nightmares. He recalled how his sister said she clearly said his name in her sleep. Had she called for him the last five nights? He felt a pang that he hadn't been there for her. "Yeah, she does." He looked back up at Harry. "Do me a favor and next time Ginny comes crawling into your bed, make sure and let me know, eh?"

"So you can go crawl into Hermione's?" Harry teased.

"Maybe," Ron laughed. He knew Harry would never talk about Hermione the vulgar way George had that afternoon, but he was grateful they could at least talk like this. "She'd probably kick me out."

"Somehow I doubt that." Harry raised his eyebrows dubiously and laughed. Ron knew his friend was likely recalling the bold way he and Hermione had embraced out in the garden in front of everyone. Ron laughed weakly, but it felt oddly forced. He wasn't really sure what to say to Harry.

It had been a strange day. Kingsley and Hagrid and Professor McGonagall- they'd all been here. Lee and Angelina and Seamus and Luna, they'd all been here too. The house, this very sitting room, had been filled with friends and strangers and somehow he'd talked to all of them more than he'd talked to Harry. Had that been on purpose? He hadn't meant to avoid Harry, but now that he thought about it, as they sat here in the dim candlelight, he realised he hadn't talked to Harry much at all in the last week. He'd been glued to Hermione, only seeing Harry at meal times or on the rare occasions when Hermione would drag him downstairs. Had that been his fault? He figured Harry wanted to spend time alone with Ginny as much as he wanted to spend time alone with Hermione, but perhaps that wasn't the case. He wondered uncomfortably if it would be this way from now on. Now that he and Hermione were what they were, he wondered if it meant everything had changed.

"I don't think I'd have gone to Sirius' funeral," Harry offered suddenly. Ron jerked his head up and looked to his friend, the words hardly what he expected to hear. "If there'd been one, I mean."


"I probably would have tried to find the Resurrection Stone too if I'd known about it then." Ron didn't reply, but his attention was piqued by Harry's words. "You're not still thinking about it, are you?"

"No." Ron's reply came entirely too quickly. "I mean…not really."

"Because you know you can't."

"Right. I know. Not - not permanently."

"Not ever." Harry's voice had the same soft but firm tone Hermione's had when she was scolding him.

"I mean – what if I just used it for me and George to say goodbye?" Harry didn't reply, but his silence said it all. "I know. I know it's stupid. I just – I think I wouldn't be so…angry, so - I don't know – I wouldn't feel the way I do if I could just…if I could just talk to him again," Ron blurted out. He wasn't sure whether it was the dark and the fact that he couldn't really see Harry's face that had made him say it, but it was more than he'd said on the matter all week to anyone.

"What would you say?" Harry asked quietly after a long pause.

"What would you say to Sirius?" Ron turned the tables on his friend.

"I asked you first."

"I dunno." Ron shrugged.

"I'd say - " Harry stammered

"I'm sorry." The words sounded from both their lips at the same time.

"Why would you say that? It wasn't your fault," Harry dismissed with an odd laugh.

"I dunno," Ron mumbled. "Just because."

"You think if you hadn't come with me your family would have started hating Muggle-borns and he would never have fought?" Harry snorted.

"No, it's not that. I mean it is, a bit. I just – I feel guilty, yeah. I can't help it, y'know?"

"I really do," Harry assured. Ron recalled the circumstances of Sirius' death and suddenly felt terrible for bringing up the matter of guilt. "But you can't be responsible for the shit people do, the choices they make." The words hung in air and Harry gave a simple shrug. "You helped me realise that."

"Me?" The words were the last thing Ron expected to hear. On a list of things he'd taught Harry, he figured it stopped right after what Floo Powder did and how many Quidditch teams there were in the English League.

"I couldn't stop you from going down that trap door first year or offering yourself up in that sodding chess game and you know I didn't want you to come with me this year - "

"Like you could have stopped me!" Ron puffed his chest out.

"Exactly." Harry gave an odd smile as Ron turned over the words.

He tried thinking of all the times he'd put himself in danger, volunteered his own life for someone else. There was the chess game down the trapdoor first year that Harry had mentioned, then the following year he'd gone into the Chamber of Secrets to rescue his sister. He'd told Sirius Black to kill him when he was fourteen and begged Bellatrix to torture him in place of Hermione a little over a month ago. He reckoned Harry was right. There wasn't a single thing anyone could do to stop him if any of them were threatened. Still, all he could think about was getting away from his family.

"I can't wait to leave." He surprised himself by saying the words out loud. "I know that's awful of me, but I just – I need to get out of here."

"You just want to be alone so you can shag Hermione!"

"Not you too," Ron groaned.

"At the rate you two are going you'll come back married!"

"Come off it."

"You put on quite a show last night." Harry grinned, likely recalling the way they'd embraced out in the garden long after the fireworks had ended. "Ginny says you don't look to have refined your technique at all."

"I reckon Hermione would beg to differ."

"Do you ever talk to her?" Harry inquired suddenly, his voice quickly losing its teasing tone. "I mean about…about stuff like the Stone? About Fred?"

Ron bristled. For as many times as he had heard the name yesterday, accompanied with raised glasses and toast after toast, it jarred Ron to hear Harry say his brother's name now. He wasn't talking about Fred's antics or something he said, he was talking about Fred like he was a memory. He wanted to laugh just thinking of what Harry was proposing. He knew how Hermione would react if he told her he wanted to find the Resurrection Stone. She'd tell him it was foolish. She'd give a litany of reasons why it was a horrible idea. She'd get that awful pitiable look on her face because he knew it was foolish. Ron licked his lips, but said nothing. Harry seemed to sense his sudden discomfort and quickly returned to ribbing him about their behaviour yesterday. "The next time you two come up for air, that is."

"Oh, you're really one to talk," Ron retorted. He'd caught Harry and his sister snogging just outside the back door the other day when they were supposed to be fetching his father for supper.

"Yes, but at least we're subtle about it."

"I don't think you'd be subtle if you had to wait four sodding years for it."

"Four years? Really?"

"Something like that." Ron shrugged his shoulders and gave a chuckle. "Whenever it was I first realised she had tits." Harry snorted loudly at the crass remark and the boys continued to laugh loudly in the dimly lit sitting room. It felt good, laughing like this. Ron reckoned he hadn't had a good laugh all week, especially not with Harry. "I just don't…I don't think she'd understand," he confessed suddenly, quickly putting an end to the laughter.

"She'd understand. Nobody's pretending this is easy."

"Yeah? And what was all the drinking and joking upstairs about?" He didn't attempt to disguise the accusatory tone of his voice.

"Coping," Harry stated simply.

"You know, I hated at first how we couldn't even mention Fred's name without everyone going all weird," Ron confessed into the darkness. "It's like his name was cursed or something and I couldn't even talk about him without mum or Ginny going round the twist."

"But?" Harry seemed to pick up on the fact that there was flip side to Ron's rant.

"But now I hate that every time we do talk about him it's always about how bloody perfect he was," Ron blurted out. "And I didn't even know half the people here yesterday and they're all about Fred the hero and I just…I don't get how it doesn't bother anyone else." Ron could barely make out the pictures on the mantle in the darkness, but he looked to where he knew the picture of Fred in his dragon-skin suit was. "He wasn't perfect."

"You don't want to remember him as a hero?"

"No, I want to remember him as my brother." Ron replied shortly. He had assumed Harry, who had so long refused the attention bestowed upon him, would understand his dislike for the sudden worship toward Fred.

"Can't he be both?" Harry countered and a heavy silence filled the space between them. "You should talk to Hermione."

"I can't." Ron wasn't sure why he was so vehemently denying the suggestion. They'd gotten better, he and Hermione, about talking about their feelings and being honest with each other, but he wasn't quite ready for Hermione to see him so desperate. Thinking about the Stone felt immature somehow, especially seeing how the rest of his family had got on yesterday. He was the only one grasping at straws to bring Fred back. He was the only one who couldn't face up to the reality that he'd never see his brother again.

Hermione wouldn't really tell him it was stupid if he told her, he knew that. She would be supportive. She'd probably speak in the same soft tone she had when she told him she was sorry Fred was dead. She'd touch his arm. She'd feel bad for him for being such a sad sorry sack. She might even kiss him a few times.

Telling her what had kept him awake tonight felt like exposing a part of him he didn't want Hermione to see though. Of course, she'd seen ugly parts of him before. She probably knew him better than anyone in the world, better than Harry even. She'd seen him jealous and proud, angry and hateful. Those weaknesses of his heart, the same ones that still had him grasping at straws to bring back his brother, were things he didn't want her to see. He'd always made himself strong for her. He cracked jokes even when he was terrified, made her laugh even when all he wanted to do was cry. Only in the last week did he realise how much he had let himself go.

He got lost in her. Sometimes he still had to pinch himself that it all was real. Not the nightmare of his brother being gone, but the finally realised dream of being with Hermione. This was all new. Not just being able to kiss her whenever he wanted, though that by itself seemed to be a miracle. He'd spent the past few years wondering why she ignored his compliments, worrying about making himself look better, and troubling himself with saying the right things. He didn't do any of those things anymore. Now when he was in her company, alone or not, all he found was that he completely lost himself.

He ought to tell her, not just about wanting to find the Stone, but about everything. Burying feelings was stupid. The past seven years should have taught him that. Still, he felt like he'd already been such a mess all week. He couldn't reveal such a stupid idea as wanting to resurrect his brother. She'd ship him off to Saint Mungo's. Besides, the funeral was over now. He could just move forward and think about Australia. They would be leaving in a day after all. He had real things to think about, more important things. He would forget about the Stone. He would forget about the mound of dirt. He would focus on Hermione.

Nobody knew quite what to make of the neatly wrapped box that Errol brought by at breakfast. Though the package was quite light, the great grey owl had barely managed to haul it through the window. Wrapped in thick brown paper, the small package was formally addressed to Ron and Hermione in very neat and ordered handwriting and had an envelope with a Ministry of Magic seal attached to it, which immediately caused the entire Weasley family to begin speculating about what it was.

Mr. Weasley guessed it was a note of thanks and a token of appreciation from Kingsley, Charlie thought it might be a plaque, George, who had joined the family for breakfast for the first time all week, jokingly guessed it was a pair of crowns from the Queen.

Ron was the last one down the stairs to see the mystery package. He hadn't been able to sleep much, even after his conversation with Harry. He thought about Australia, about traveling across the world alone with Hermione and what it would mean. He thought about where they would sleep and what he would eat and he soon grew so excited that it had been difficult to fall back asleep.

Ginny and George practically mauled him to open the package up as soon as he arrived down the stairs. Even the normally composed Bill seemed eager to learn what was inside.

"Hermione wouldn't let us open it until you woke up," Ginny explained, sounding the slightest bit annoyed. "Which we were beginning to think wouldn't be until lunchtime."

"Did you sleep all right?" Hermione asked quietly, reaching down to touch his hand softly. Ron recalled their first morning back at the Burrow just a few days ago when he'd asked her the very same thing and she'd been so nervous she'd turned a fierce shade of scarlet. She seemed oblivious to his family members now.

"Better," he murmured with a nod of the head.

"It has both our names on it." Hermione finally looked down to the package and the official Ministry of Magic seal on it. Ron rubbed his eyes sleepily.

"I reckon it's some follow up from the article the other day." He pulled the envelope attached to the front off and carefully tore it open. The note inside was short and written on a small scrap of parchment.

"Dear Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger," Hermione read the note aloud so the entire room could hear. "After obtaining the written statements of two Snatchers who confessed to illegally seizing these items from you last month, we thought you might like them returned to your possession. Best Regards, Tiberius Ogden."

"Old Tiberius is back! How wonderful!"

"You were taken by Snatchers?"

His parents' responses were mixed. His dad looked pleased, but his mum's face grew ashen at the contents of the letter. Ron and Hermione didn't respond to either remark. They both knew exactly what the box now held and the smile that stretched across Hermione's face quickly spread to Ron's. They tore away the brown paper eagerly, like children on Christmas morning opening their first present. Hermione's hand quivered with excitement as she grabbed the smaller box to reveal the vine wood wand she had missed so dearly. Ron seized the larger box and grasped the fourteen inch wand of willow in his treasure-scarred hand.

"I don't believe it!" Hermione exclaimed jubilantly, holding her wand aloft as if she was eleven years old and had just received it from Mr. Ollivander. "I never thought we'd see them again."

"Neither did I!" Ron held his the same way. "Not after Scabior - "

"Scabior?" His dad interrupted their celebration. His own happiness at hearing about the return of Tiberius Ogden to the Wizengamot quickly fell away. "Scabior was a part of Greyback's gang." His dad wrinkled his brow in concern. "We heard you'd been sighted by Snatchers, but good Lord, I didn't know you'd been actually grabbed by them. That gang was notoriously brutal."

His mum's already pale face grew even paler.

"Greyback." The mere mention of the name caused Bill to snarl quite suddenly. Ron saw an almost wolfish glint in his brother's eye that he'd never seen before. "Did you see someone smashed his head in?" He sounded quite pleased at the fact, but both Fleur and his mum looked horrified at his apparent glee. "What? I'm glad he finally got his!" Bill scoffed. "Wish I could have done the honors myself to be honest." Ron's eyes darted nervously around the room and he saw Charlie attempt to hold his gaze briefly.

Eager to steer the conversation away from Greyback, Ron quickly used his wand to cast a Levitation Charm across the room. He felt almost like he was being reunited with an old friend. He knew it was silly. It was fourteen inches of willow with a unicorn hair inside. Still the wand had been the first real thing that he had owned that was all his. He thought he would never see it again and had begun to accept that until he got the money for yet another replacement wand, he would be stuck with Peter Pettigrew's, which felt awful and dirty. He jinxed the remnants of that morning's breakfast at random, poached eggs grew greatly in size than shrunk again and snowflakes fell from the ceiling and made the toast soggy. Hermione worked on drying out the toast and returning the eggs to normal size, scolding him, but looking just as jubilant as Ron.

"Speaking of justice." His dad cleared his throat as Ron sent a glass water goblet careening across the room. "Rumor has it Narcissa Malfoy wants to summon you as a character witness at their trial next week, Harry."

The smile fell from Ron's face and he immediately dropped his wand hand, causing the water goblet to crash loudly to the floor and shatter. He hardly looked fazed by the noise that caused everybody in the room to stare at him curiously.

"Goodness, Ron, what was that all about?" With a wave of her wand his mum repaired the water goblet.

"No," Ron stated flatly, ignoring his mum's inquiry and looking only to Harry. His buoyant mood at being reunited with his wand was gone as he saw the increasingly contemplative look on Harry's face. "Harry, no."

"Ron." Hermione reached out and touched his shoulder in an effort to calm him.

"You can't," he insisted.

"She saved my life."

"She was out for herself!" Ron spat.

"She still saved my life." Harry shrugged.

"What on earth are you two going on about?" his mum interjected.

"It's not like she had a sudden change of heart and decided to fight on our side or anything." Ron snorted, ignoring his mum "She was protecting her family, that's all."

"Ron," Hermione protested softly again. This time she tried to touch his arm, but he just jerked away.

"I can't believe you're even thinking about it, Harry! After everything that happened. Everything they did to us!"

"What did they do to you?" his mum spoke fretfully.

"Facts are facts and she lied to Riddle for me," Harry stated simply.

"For herself!" Ron hissed. "She did it for herself, not for any of us! That family is everything that's wrong with the world. They're selfish and bigoted and cruel."

"They are," Harry agreed. "But she's still the reason I was able to come back and finish him."

"What are you going on about, Harry?" Ron's dad now launched a query at the conversation playing out. "Did the Malfoys help you?"

"And the rest of the family?" Ron snorted, ignoring his father's query. "You're going to tell me they all helped you finish Voldemort too?"

"You know Draco lied about recognising all of us that night." The entire room looked on in question at the heated conversation currently taking place between the two boys and a weakly protesting Hermione. She appeared to grow more uncomfortable at where the conversation was heading.

"What cellar?" his mum cried. "When were you at the Malfoys?"

"Yeah, he also threatened to kill all of us in the cellar!" Ron spat.

"Ron, please," Hermione tried to interject yet again.

"Do you really want to be responsible for the Malfoys staying out of Azkaban?" Ron ignored his mum's frantic inquiry as well as Hermione's pleas to stop. "They deserve a lifetime in there after what they did to us!" Ron thundered.

"What do you mean what they did to you?"

Ron ignored his mum yet again, maintaining his singular focus that Harry should do nothing to help the Malfoy family in any way.

"I'm not saying I want to keep them out of Azkaban. I'll be honest about everything they did. I just think the world ought to know - "

"Ought to know they're evil!" Ron cried. "They're evil, disgusting people!"

"They're not completely evil people," Harry insisted. "They have the capacity to love. There's a difference."

Ron thought Harry sounded oddly like Dumbledore. This was the part of his friend that was different. This was the part of his friend who surrendered the elder wand and dropped the Resurrection Stone in the forest, who forgave Snape for years of injustice, who somehow managed to see the good in people who did terrible things.

"Yeah, they love each other and their bloody mansion, that's all," Ron snapped.

"I know that. But they still love something. And she risked her life for her son. That makes her different."

"They're evil!" He knew the veins in his neck were probably pulsing. He could feel his heartbeat pounding in his eardrums at the mere memory of their time at the Malfoy home.

"They're not evil like Bellatrix and Riddle were."

"They just stood there while she tortured her!" Ron screamed and pointed across the room to Hermione, unable to control his rage any longer.

His chest was heaving as his words echoed around the now very silent room. Six pairs of eyes turned to Hermione in horror. Only Bill and Fleur appeared unshaken by the news. Though he and Harry had said nothing, Ron knew they had both figured out what had happened to Hermione in the time they'd spent at Shell Cottage. Bill had tried to pry it out of him, and even though he knew his brother had figured it out easily enough, Ron had maintained that what happened to Hermione was Hermione's story to tell. Yet here he was, unable to control his temper, blurting it out in front of everybody.

"Hermione?" Ginny creaked in disbelief. Ron knew she was connecting the dots to their conversation in the Gryffindor common room days ago and the noises she heard while Hermione slept.

"My dear child," his mum whispered in horror as everybody stared at her.

"I'm all right." Hermione finally spoke and, of all things, gave an embarrassed laugh. Everybody just continued to gape at her. "Really." She tucked a bit of hair behind her ear.

"When?" his dad inquired softly.

"Last month. But really, I - I'm fine," she insisted. She was wringing her hands together and Ron desperately wanted to move his own hands on top of them to stop the nervous fidgeting. He watched her tug at her left sleeve, suddenly feeling a terrible guilt at his stupid inability to keep his emotions in check. This hadn't been his story to tell. And now they were all gaping at her in the exact manner he knew she had likely wanted to avoid.

"Was it Bellatrix?" his dad continued to interrogate. Hermione just nodded solemnly. Ron saw his mum's eyes narrow, likely feeling a greater sense of justice at having killed the horrible witch. "Did anybody else assist her?"

"Dad!" Ron stepped up next to Hermione, halting his dad's interrogation.

"The Ministry needs to know about this, Ron. If the Malfoys helped facilitate the torture of - "

"Dad!" Ron cut his dad off again, reminding him that he was talking about Hermione and not just some nameless torture victim.

"I'm fine, Ron," Hermione assured. "It was a month ago and loads of students at Hogwarts were tortured this year." She waved her hand in an oddly dismissive way that made Ron uncomfortable somehow.

"Yeah, by Crabbe and Goyle. Not Bellatrix Lestrange!" Ginny replied. Ron was almost afraid his father was about to ask specific details regarding what exactly she had done to Hermione then, but he remained silent.

Ron didn't even know the details of her torture. They hadn't spoken about her ordeal at the Malfoys since Shell Cottage. She had been so physically weak in the immediate days after and he was so focused on her being well that he never referenced the terror and brutality of what she had survived. Then their focus had shifted so quickly onto breaking into Gringott's that her ordeal had been left behind. Any reference to what had happened to her had been reduced to compliments for her quick thinking and togetherness.

She looked to him now, her eyes belying the casual way she'd brushed everybody else off. She was angry with him and his big mouth, he could tell. For whatever reason, she didn't want them to know about what she'd endured. His family seemed to sense the heavy air between them and quickly made up excuses to disperse. Percy had a letter to mail and went to look for Hermes out in the garden. Charlie fancied yet another walk. His dad left something in the garage. Soon they were alone in the sitting room.

"That wasn't your place to tell everyone," she finally stated matter-of-factly, sitting down on the couch once everyone had departed.

"I know it wasn't," he admitted. "I just – when I think about the Malfoys not paying for what they did to you - "

"The Malfoys didn't do anything. They weren't the ones who - "

"They didn't do anything to stop it," Ron growled. "That's just as bad in my book."

"I wish you hadn't told everybody like that."

"You shouldn't be ashamed, Hermione."

"I'm not ashamed," she stated coolly. "I just …wish you hadn't told everybody."

"I know." Ron bowed his head apologetically. "I won't let them ask questions though, don't worry," Ron promised boldly on behalf of his family. Hermione laughed in an oddly dismissive manner.

"The Ministry ought to know everything that happened."

"You don't have to talk about it!" he replied heroically, his chest swelling out defensively. Hermione just laughed again though.

"I'm all right, Ron."

He looked to her strangely. He remembered the cuts that had criss-crossed her arms and the bloody bandages after Fleur had finished treating her. He also recalled the vomiting and muscle spasms that had wracked her body for hours afterwards. He'd stayed with her then, holding her hair back and remaining by her bedside. She'd been too weak to protest then. Now she was oddly demure about the whole thing, so much so that he found it unsettling.

"Then how come you've kept it secret?" he inquired softly.

"I didn't keep it secret," she spoke plainly. "I just didn't tell anybody." Ron gave her a dubious glare at the weak argument. "What?" She actually laughed though Ron saw her fidget with the cuff of her sleeve.

"You've been hiding it," he insisted.

"I'm fine," she insisted.

Part of him truly believed she was. She had kept her cool throughout it all, stayed focused on the task at hand, and had successfully spearheaded the break-in to Gringotts by embodying her torturer. Perhaps she really was fine. Perhaps he was the one who didn't want to talk about it. Talking about it meant referencing the terrible sound of her screams and his frantic reaction.

"Why are you so upset that I said something then?" he pressed.

"Because I don't want your family to worry about me like I knew they would," Hermione finally admitted. "In light of all that's happened…it's not really a big deal - "

"Not a big deal!" Ron practically shouted.

"I just mean, I survived. I'm still here. I'm okay." At her words, Ron couldn't help but think of the murmuring in her sleep Harry had referenced last night. He guessed she probably wasn't even aware of it. "Your mum and dad have enough to…" Her voice trailed off and she raised her eyes to his finally. "I didn't want them worrying about me too." He finally sat down on the couch beside her then.

"It's not up to you who worries about you," he stated softly.

"But you don't need to. It's over and done."

"Just because it happened in the past doesn't mean - "

"I'm fine, Ron," she maintained with another laugh. Ron couldn't help but think torture wasn't exactly the kind of thing you laughed at, but he relented. She hadn't pushed him the past week, hadn't asked him how he was doing or pressed him to open up. She hadn't even really yelled at him for abandoning her yesterday.

"So – er - you still want to leave for Australia tomorrow?" he inquired in a much-needed change of subject. That's what Australia was really, a change of subject, a change of scenery. Thoughts of a great adventure on the other side of the world, of him and Hermione alone and together had gotten him through this dreadful week. It would get him through one more day.

"If you still want to." Her lackluster reply dampened his spirits a bit, but he saw then that she was looking to the door where Harry, Ginny, George, and Percy had reappeared from the garden, awkwardly trying to appear as if they weren't paying any attention. "I mean, do you not want to stay with your family?"

"I want to go with you."


"Do you still want me to come?" he tried to ask casually, like the possibility that she might not didn't trouble him in the slightest.

"I just thought maybe – after yesterday - I thought you might want - "

"I want to go with you," he repeated.

"I can make the trip on my own."

"I know you can. I just – look, do you not want me to come with you?"

"I want you with me," she assured, moving her hand so it rested atop his thigh. "I always want you with me. I just wonder if it wouldn't be better for everybody if you stayed with your family." She looked again to where Harry and his siblings were now gathered in the kitchen, actively trying not to listen.

"For everybody?" Ron frowned.

"Your brothers - "

"They'll be fine," he dismissed and nodded in their direction.

"Your mum and dad."

"Mum's fine with it now!"

"Ginny - "

"She's just jealous!"

"You," Hermione finally spoke words to which he had no rebuttal. For a minute, he wondered if she'd overheard him talking to Harry last night about wanting to get away, before he reminded himself this was Hermione. She always knew. He avoided her gaze, looking instead to how her fingers wrapped around the inside of his thigh, wondering if she even realised the intimacy behind the action and how close her fingers were to his bits. "You're running away. You know you are," she finally spoke.

"I want to be with you," he spoke plainly. He felt like these were the only words he knew how to say.

"You'll be with me." She clutched her free hand to her chest then. "You're always with me."

"Not like that," Ron replied in annoyance, completely unmoved by the heartfelt confession. "I want to be with you!" He spat. "Without mum calling me to dinner or half my sodding family watching us!" He pointed again to his siblings in the kitchen, who all looked rather embarrassed, save for Ginny.

"Love you too, Ron!" she called out, clearly having heard the bitter comment. Ron didn't even scowl in her direction.

"Come on, looks as if they still need a minute," Percy mumbled, shoving Ginny back toward the door.

"With the two of them it'll be more than a minute," George muttered as he marched back out to the garden.

"No, you can stay, I'm sorry!" Hermione called to them, but they were already out the door. "You didn't have to kick them out!"

"What's this about? You not wanting me to come all of a sudden?" Ron ignored her.

"Are you barking? I just told you I want you with me! I just – I want YOU with me. All of you! And it's like – it's like you're not all there."

"What are you saying? That I'm mental?"

"I'm saying you're different."

"We're all different now."

"Not like you."

"How do you mean?"

"You don't talk anymore!" she shouted and gave a laugh. "You don't laugh. You don't joke."

"We laugh," Ron mumbled softly then, trying to recall teasing and playful moments they'd shared in the last week.

"We laugh and you hide it with a kiss!" she sputtered then, "and I can't tell if you're really happy or really randy!"

"Wow." Ron stood up from the sofa then and walked toward the mantle so his back was to her. "That's what you think? Wow."

"It's the truth! It's the only time I see you smile!"

"It's the only time I'm happy!" Ron thundered so loudly he was quite sure his entire family, wherever they were hiding, could hear it. Hermione didn't reply. He heard her get up from the sofa too and he waited to hear the sound of her footsteps leaving the sitting room or going up the stairs. Instead, he just felt her body flatten against his back and her arms snake around him. Her cheek pressed into him as her hands moved up his chest, drawing him to her in an odd sort of backwards hug.

"I know," she mumbled softly. "But that's not right. That's not you."

"I know it," he muttered back after a long pause. His eyes fixed on the picture of the twins in front of their shop.

"I miss you." She breathed the words into his back and Ron remained ramrod straight, trying to pretend like the words didn't move him. Had he really been that different? He and Hermione had laughed and played. They'd had fun up in his bedroom this week. Those hadn't been fake smiles. He prided himself on being able to read her moods and her expressions. It was real, the smiles and laughter when they rolled around his bed. Hermione had always been a rubbish liar. The way she'd clung to him and the way her mouth came alive against his weren't the kind of things you could fake.

"I just can't stay here," he confessed finally. "Whatever normal is now – whatever I used to be - I'm – just – I'm not going to find it here, do you get that?" Though Ron couldn't see her as his back was still to her, she nodded her head. "But I do know I…" He swallowed loudly and took in a deep breath, his eyes still fixed on the photo of his brothers. This was easier to say with his back turned. "I need you." His eyes focused on the twins and he didn't see Hermione's lip began to quiver slightly at the confession. "Do you get that too?"

She pulled at his shirt then, trying to get him to turn him around and face her. He resisted at first, but finally relented. He was surprised to see her eyes had a glassy sheen to them. Perhaps that was why she said nothing, only wrapped her arms around him in a firm hug. They hugged there in the middle of the sitting room for what felt like hours to Ron. He wasn't sure what it all meant. There was probably something else he was supposed to say or do here instead of just hugging her. For some reason, he thought of their first real hug back when he was fourteen when all he could do was pat her awkwardly on the head. He'd been terrified then; he was terrified now. Admitting he needed her had been a relief. It felt good. Harry had been right. It was just wondering what came next that scared him.

Nobody said a thing as his family slowly filtered back into the sitting room, gathering around the table and finishing breakfast. In fact, his family did an extraordinary job at pretending like nothing had ever occurred. Not the heated row he'd had with Harry or the discussion about Hermione's torture. They even feigned ignorance about the conversation that had just taken place between Hermione and him, which he knew they all had probably heard. To their credit, they didn't even mention it. They were carrying on their own, slightly stilted, conversation about what they thought old Errol had been up to in their absence from the Burrow. They didn't even seem eager to learn the details of his row with Harry, which he knew they must be curious about as they still hadn't spoken about their activities this past year.

"I think he probably stayed here even without us," Ginny argued. "Poor old codger doesn't know anything else."

"I think he fancies it in London and that's why he takes so long to make deliveries," George laughed and continued talking about the family owl. Ron thought to himself that he'd never loved his family more.

"I think he makes for Majorca," he interjected with a grin. "Reckon he's got some nice little parakeet there he gets on with."

"Like Errol could ever make it to Majorca!" Charlie laughed.

"Speaking of traveling." Ron cleared his throat suddenly, indicating he was now speaking to the entire room. "I think Hermione and I are going to leave tomorrow." Everybody paused, but no one reacted strongly one way or the other so Ron continued. "Probably just after breakfast."

"And you're still headed to Henley today?" his mum asked from the kitchen.

"Still planning on going after lunch, yeah," Ron replied. "We'll be back by supper though."

"We'll do something special since it's your last night," his mum smiled cheerily. At the mention of their departure, Hermione left the kitchen table, whose occupants were still discussing Errol's flight patterns, to approach Mr. Weasley.

"Any word on whether we're allowed back into Gringotts yet?" she finally spoke. Kingsley had delivered the bad news yesterday at the reception that neither Ron, nor Harry nor Hermione were allowed back into the Wizarding bank. The goblins were still outraged at their treachery and the destruction they had wreaked and their assets were frozen. Kingsley assured them he was trying to negotiate some kind of agreement with the goblins, but little progress had been made.

"Not yet," Mr. Weasley sighed. "They're not exactly the most forgiving of creatures, goblins."

"Still, they can't just refuse to give us our money, that's stealing," Ron argued.

"I reckon their response would be that you stole their dragon."

"We freed their dragon!" Hermione replied immediately. Ron couldn't help but grin affectionately at the way her eyes flashed furiously.

"She's right, they really can't put up too much of a fuss about the dragon," Charlie piped in. "They didn't have it registered. Keeping it down there was illegal according to the International Statutes on Dragon-Rearing."

"Yes, well, I'll be heading back into the Ministry today. We'll see." Ron couldn't help but think that his dad didn't sound too hopeful. "The good news is all your Portkeys seem to be set!" He changed the conversation suddenly, his voice suddenly back to its normal bright and cheery tone. "Percy can tell you all about them."

Ron was grateful to see Percy no longer looked as pale as yesterday. In fact, he looked as excited as Ron could remember him ever being. Ron suspected he was pleased to be doing something to help the family. He had written their itinerary out on a piece of parchment in his neat and tidy script, outlining exactly where each Portkey would be found, what they would look like, and when they would depart. The list of objects ranged from an empty milk jug to an old Muggle mathematics textbook. They were to catch seven in total and, from the look of things, would have the longest trek between Portkeys in Bulgaria. Ron scowled upon seeing the country was listed among their destinations. Hermione sighed, clearly noting his annoyed expression.

"Viktor's from Sofia, Ron. He'll be on the other side of the country."

"How do you know?" he grumbled under his breath, though he was well aware she'd written his address numerous times when sending off letters.

The first Portkey would be an official one from the Ministry leaving from Stoatshead Hill just like where they'd taken one to the Quidditch World Cup. That would put them in a car park in Paris. Their Portkey in Bulgaria was an old Quidditch magazine that Ron reckoned would probably have Krum's face on the cover. Then they were traveling to two cities in Russia Ron had never heard of called Ufa and Novosobirsk.

"Why that's in Siberia!" Hermione exclaimed upon seeing the city listed. "That's going North!"

"I'm not even going to ask how you know that, Hermione."

"It's one of the largest cities in Russia, Ron," Hermione sighed. "They're actually supposed to have quite a good Quidditch team. I'm surprised you haven't heard of them."

"Really?" Ron perked up suddenly, amazed that Hermione knew about a Quidditch team he didn't. "Think we'll have time to take in a match?"

"You're supposed to be locating the next Portkey, Ron, not sightseeing," his mother reprimanded.

"Right." Ron looked back down at the next exotic sounding location in Kyrgyzstan and then one in India. "Okay, Hermione, if you tell me you know anything about Khaj – oo – rah- hoo, I'm - "

"I don't." Hermione looked disappointed that she didn't know anything about the tiny village. "Though I do know Phuket is supposed to be lovely." She brightened upon reading their last destination in Thailand.

"The wizard there is named Chao Nai Thim. He's a close friend of Kingsley's and is the one who will help you on your last leg to Australia," Percy informed. "They don't use Portkeys in Thailand so you'll be traveling by sapsoon."

"Sap-what?" Ron frowned.

"It's a bit like Apparation, only underwater."

"Apparating underwater? No thank you!" he exclaimed.

"I've read about it, Ron, it's quite safe," Hermione interjected.

"Yes, Kingsley can assure you - "

"Do you know about this sapsoon business, dad?"

"I've heard of it, yes. It's how most Buddhist wizards travel. We have a chamber in the Ministry for wizards who arrive through sapsoon."

"It sounds exciting." Hermione looked intrigued, but Ron blanched at the thought of Apparating underwater.

"Kingsley has been assisting your brother and I in this, Ron. He would not just put your lives in the hands of a stranger. This Chao fellow is a good friend," his dad assured.

"Ron, we'll be fine," Hermione whispered, leaning into his shoulder and lacing her fingers in his. Ron remained unconvinced. Percy's parchment made very clear that this was going to be much more of an adventure than either had originally thought. They would have to hike between villages in India and in Bulgaria. They would need maps. They would need to learn the area. Hermione's locator spells were wonderful, but he doubted they would help them out in a foreign country.

His mum seemed rather uncertain as well as they pored over the itinerary carefully. Every now and again she'd let out a little whimper or a comment about her boy going off to Siberia, but in general Ron thought the house seemed pleased to be preoccupied with something other than yesterday's funeral. The vast amount of food that remained was a vivid reminder of all the visitors that had flooded the house yesterday, but nobody commented on what a lovely service it was or who had said what. Ron focused on the piece of parchment and the directions he and Hermione would have to follow.

There was so much still to do. Hermione now wanted guidebooks on all the villages they would be traveling to, not just Australia, and insisted on journeying into the library in Ottery Saint Catchpole that morning. Ron wanted to go with her, but she insisted she would be fine on her own and that he needed to pack his rucksack. His mum chuckled at the way she reprimanded him, thoroughly amused when Hermione reminded him to bring enough underpants and a toothbrush. Charlie volunteered to accompany her to the library in Ron's stead, which made Ron nervous and he was no more relieved when Ginny offered to join as well.

"Don't you think the library in Henley would be better?" Ron tried to argue. "You said it's a bigger town. Besides, I don't know what to pack!"

"You'll be fine!" Hermione called back to him, a slight chuckle to her voice.

Ron hardly found it amusing. He could just picture Charlie revealing all the things he'd drunkenly confessed the other day. If Hermione ever learned how he'd stolen Harry's invisibility cloak and what he'd tried to do with it, he reckoned he'd never hear the end of it.

Despite the fact that he'd been briefed on the weather in Brisbane, he had little idea of what to pack. Dragging his rucksack out from where he'd stuffed it beneath his bed days ago, he did little more than stare at it for the first hour. He felt a bit like it was last August. He wasn't sure how long he'd be gone or what kind of clothes he would need to bring for their trip. It was easy enough throwing in jeans and t-shirts, but when he considered the fact that he and Hermione would be sharing a bedroom, possibly even a bed, the question of what to pack became more difficult.

"Feels a bit like déjà vu, doesn't it?" Harry's voice suddenly sounded from his open door. He stood awkwardly at the threshold and Ron wondered for a moment if he and Hermione had forgotten to get rid of the charms on the door.

"How's that?" he responded shortly.

"Being up in your room, packing for a trip." Harry shuffled inside, looking at the untidy pile of clothes.

"I suppose," Ron grunted. The details of the Portkeys had not made him forgot the rather loud row he'd had in the kitchen with Harry about the Malfoys.

"Look, I didn't want you to leave for Australia or for Henley without - "

"I'm not angry with you," Ron cut him off, though his tone indicated he wasn't exactly pleased with him either.

"If you don't want me to tell the truth, I won't," Harry blurted out. "I understand why it makes you angry."

"It should make you angry too!" Ron looked to Harry in horror. "What they did to us! To HER!"

"Hermione's okay with it."

"She says she's okay with it," Ron gritted through his teeth. Then he turned his attention back to his rucksack. "Look, I've got to pack."

"Ron - "

"We need to leave for Henley when she gets back so I have to be packed." He walked back and forth across the room, pretending to busy himself with clothes that he just threw from the wardrobe to the center of his room.

"Come on - "

"The seasons are backwards so it's like…November, there." He chose to ignore Harry's protests.

"Ron, I won't do it if you don't want me to," Harry repeated emphatically. Ron busied himself with folding Hermione's fancy jumper.

"Just make sure you tell everything," he finally muttered through clinched teeth. "How Draco threatened to kill us. How they locked us in the cellar. How they were perfectly fine turning her over to Greyback!" Ron gritted and punched two balled pairs of socks into his rucksack on top of the jumper.

"I will." Harry nodded his head firmly and sat down on the bed finally. They didn't say anything for a time. Both boys just sat there and looked at each other, Ron still standing by the rucksack and Harry up on the bed. Finally, Ron broke the silence.

"I killed him." He collapsed down on the bed beside Harry.


"Greyback. I'm the one who smashed his head in." Ron gave a twisted grin at the memory of dropping the hunk of masonry on the werewolf's skull.

"I saw you and Neville take him down, but I didn't think…"

"Yep." Ron let the word pop as he said the word ring around the room. "Killed him."

"Good." Harry surprised him by giving a simple shrug. "He deserved it."

"Yeah." Ron balled up another pair of socks. They were about the only thing he seemed capable of packing at the moment. "I reckon so." He'd been prepared to say more and defend his actions. He thought Harry might say more. His friend had always been deliberate about using disarming and stunning spells and not killing people. His nonchalance surprised him and for some reason Ron got to talking about the Malfoys again. "It's just…if they stay out of Azkaban…"

"I doubt they'll stay out of Azkaban," Harry replied. "I plan on telling everything. All the way back to Riddle's diary and the basilisk."

"But you know that's why she wants you at their trial. She's hoping it'll make her look good."

"One good act doesn't mean people forget all the bad," Harry replied.

"Doesn't it?" Ron's disgust was obvious. "It seems like it did with Snape. You and Hermione talk about him like a fucking hero and forget the fact that he was a complete wanker for most of his life."

"That's different - "

"If that happens to the Malfoys, I don't think I could handle it. I really don't."

"They'll never be heroes," Harry remarked. "I promise you that."

"Right." Ron picked up two pairs of trousers, one with a hole just above the knee and the other with frayed bottoms, and laid them beside his rucksack. "I don't have a sodding clue what to pack." He finally gave a hopeless laugh.

"It's pretty brave of you, you know?" Harry looked to the chaos on Ron's floor. There were jumpers and t-shirts, pants and socks, jeans and jerseys all in a state of disarray.

"What?" Ron laughed as he looked to the dirty pile of pants he still had to wash. "Trying to pack?"

"Going to the other side of the world with her."

"I guess." Ron shrugged.

"I don't think I could spend that much time alone with Ginny."

"Really?" Ron frowned at Harry and looked to him curiously. His sister and Harry had been inseparable at the end of last year's spring term. He figured his best mate would give his left bollock to go on a trip alone together with her.

"She's brilliant, don't get me wrong but… that's a lot of time with just the two of you. All by yourselves."

"I reckon so," Ron replied awkwardly. "That's the idea though, innit?"

"I think I'd need some alone time after a while," Harry confessed and blew out a loud sigh. He got to his feet then and walked across the room, rubbing his head where the hair stood in back like he did whenever he was uncomfortable. "Have you talked to her at all?"

"To who?"

"Hermione, you twat." He walked back over and handed Ron a stack of t-shirts from atop the dresser that Hermione had neatly folded days ago.

"A bit."

"You're never going to talk to her," Harry laughed and shook his head.

"I will. I just…"

"You'll give her one before you ever have an honest conversation!"

"We have honest conversations," Ron replied defensively. "And how do you know I haven't already?"

"Haven't what?"

"Given her one," Ron scoffed.

"Cause you wouldn't get so bloody embarrassed every time someone suggested you had," Harry stated surely. Ron tried to keep a straight face, but ended up bursting into laughter the same as Harry. "You'll have to give me a bit of time when you do start shagging, you know?"

"Oh, piss off."

"I'll get used to it eventually, of course. Probably by the wedding."

"What are you going on about?" Ron snorted.

"I won't ever want to hear about it, but I'll get used to it eventually.

"Well, you'll have plenty of time to get used to it." Ron laughed at his friend's ramblings. This was how it would be now. They were all right. Harry would laugh and take the mickey and it would be all right. "You'll talk to her though?" Harry finally asked.

"Eventually, yeah."

"Before you leave for Australia?"

Ron glanced down at his watch. In a little less than twenty-four hours he and Hermione would be catching the first Portkey. First they'd leave for Henley. They'd put her house in order. Then they'd be back here. Then they'd be gone at last.



A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 18 of 45

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