Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 40 of 45

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She climbed in the front seat on day three and Ron was only too happy to sulk in the back. Hugo gave him a knowing glance as he climbed into the cramped back seat of the Calibra, well aware of the source of their disconnect. Ron was almost confident that was why he cheerfully proposed getting breakfast as soon as they buckled themselves in.

"I just want to get to Perth," Hermione remarked coldly. When Hugo informed them that the journey to Perth today would involve traveling on the longest straight road in Australia, maybe even the world, Hermione sounded none too pleased. Ron could already tell after ten minutes on the Eyre Highway that it would not be a particularly scenic 1,000 miles save for the road crossing signs. Apparently it wasn't just kangaroos Ron had to watch for now, but camels too.

"So you said you two were eleven when you first met, right?" Hugo's voice had a jovial and playful tone to it, clearly amused by the sullen behaviour of both now that he knew the root of the condition. "That's impressive." He whistled. "I don't think I even talk to anyone I knew when I was eleven. How did you meet? I mean aside from both bein' at school together."

"A mutual friend," Hermione answered quietly.

"You were best friends right from the start then?"

"No, he was horribly mean to me for a long time," Hermione informed indignantly.

"It was for two months and I'd hardly say you were kind to me."

"He called me names and made me cry." She seemed oddly eager to remind him.

"Shall I bring up all the times you put me down?"

"I never put you down - "

"You showed off all the time in lessons, you made fun of my spells - "

"Spells?" Hugo looked quizzically to Hermione, but for the first time she didn't bother correcting Ron's blunder.

"You called me a nightmare!" She was turned around in the seat now and facing Ron.

"Well, you were," he snorted. "Everybody thought so. And shall I remind you I still saved your life."

"Oh, you want to count the number of times I've saved your arse?" Hermione fumed, ignoring Hugo again, who didn't seem at all alarmed by the news that they'd both been involved in life-threatening situations.

Ron had no idea what they were even arguing about or what he was trying to prove. All he knew was that he didn't feel completely in the wrong.

"You didn't believe I could be made prefect over Harry! You didn't think I could win a match without cheating!" Hugo was all but forgotten as Ron raged. Suddenly he was back walking across the Madyha Pradesh with Rajiv and he wouldn't give in first.

"Oh, I did? I did?" Hermione laughed haughtily. "You were the one who thought the Liquid Luck was why you'd played so well in the first place!"

"Yeah, well, you're perfect at everything so of course you wouldn't understand!"

Hugo looked highly amused from his position behind the wheel as they continued to insult and inform him of all the times they'd hurt each other. They both were careless, letting word like 'potion' and 'spell' slip, but Hugo seemed solely interested in tracking their rocky seven-year courtship. Every row they'd ever had, every insult they'd ever hurled at the other or misunderstanding got hashed out inside the Holden Calibra.

"So you didn't ask her to this ball and then got angry when she took another bloke?" Hugo butted in for clarification when there seemed to be a brief pause in the shouting.

"Yes, and then after I did ask him to a party, he went and kissed another girl!"

"Only because you snogged Krum!" he fired, blurting out what he never had before.

"Two years before!" she laughed absurdly. "Is that really it? That's why you went out with Lavender for four months?"

"It wasn't four months," Ron nitpicked.

"Yes, it was four months because you were too much of a coward to end things," she argued.

"Oh, so you're calling me a coward then?"

"You were a coward! Even Harry thought so. Pretending to be asleep every time she came by and hiding in the corridors."

"That's your best friend, right? Harry?" Hugo jumped in for clarification like he did every few minutes to remind them he was still there. He seemed to find it all very entertaining and made no attempt to smooth things over. Ron wondered if he had picked up from their arguing that they could stay angry at each other for weeks and even months.

"That's rich coming from Harry, he's never had to ditch anyone in his life." Ron tried to pretend like the words that his best mate thought him a coward didn't sting.

"Never had to ditch anyone?" Hermione laughed incredulously. "He ended things with your sister last spring even though you know perfectly well he didn't want to - "

"Wait, your best mate gets on with your sister?" Hugo looked even more amused as their story unfolded.

"He was honest with Ginny!" Hermione ignored Hugo's inquiry. "He told her to her face they couldn't continue things. You pretended to be asleep every time Lavender came around! You couldn't even be a man about it! "

Ron stared out at the unchanging treeless landscape. Her words were accurate and he had difficulty coming up with any way to refute them. He had been a coward. He'd always been a coward. He'd hid from Lavender, ditched his two best friends when they needed him most, skipped his brother's funeral and run away to Australia. He knew her anger wasn't rooted in all that though. She was angry because he'd shut her out last night. So she continued to hurl insults his way and bring up everything he'd already apologised for back on the floor of the Tropics. Somehow after what they'd shared, the reminders about all his failures and inadequacies seemed to cut deeper. Somehow at her last words, he didn't have the heart to fight anymore.

"That's right. I'm the fuck up," he muttered in resignation, continuing to stare out the window at the stark treeless plain. "I'm always the fuck up."

"You don't...fuck up," she repeated his crass words with modest hesitation, the anger suddenly seeming to fade. "You just...don't trust yourself. You never have. Not with Quidditch. Not with school." She paused and licked her lips. "And not with me."

He knew she was talking about last night now and when Hugo cleared his throat and muttered about a roadhouse up ahead, he knew it was only a polite reminder that he was still there in the car with them. Ron wasn't sure how to go about replying to her words so it was fifteen silent and uncomfortable miles until they reached the tiny outpost.

Hugo quickly made himself scarce, muttering about needing to use the loo and get some more Freddo Frogs so as to leave them alone in the car. Ron was still leaning against the window and he made no move to look at her when she finally twisted around in the seat to face him. When she spoke his name her voice was no longer harsh and accusing, but soft and gentle. Still, only when it trembled slightly did he finally turn his eyes to her.

"You have to trust yourself," she implored, clutching the seatback. "You have to trust us."

Silence continued as he averted his eyes and picked at dirt that had collected beneath his fingernail. "You have to talk, Ron."

"Talk about what?" he muttered. "The fact that I'm a rubbish lay?"

"It was only our third time! And you're not rubbish - "

"Please don't patronise me. Not about this!" he fumed. "It's not a stupid Quidditch match or a ruddy Charms lesson. It's - "

"It's sex," she blurted the words out matter-of-factly. "We had sex." The words seemed to echo around the inside of the vehicle. It was the first time either had ever actually said it. "And Hugo knows, doesn't he?"

"Maybe," Ron murmured guiltily.

"Why will you talk to him and not to me?" Hermione cried.

"Because," he mumbled and scratched his head, knowing that was hardly an answer.

"Ron." She was twisted now at what looked to be an unbelievably uncomfortable position. "You need to talk to me."

"It's're amazing," he muttered, finally lifting his eyes to her. "You feel amazing and I...I can't make you feel that way." He gave a defeated shrug, finally admitting what bothered him most.

"But that's not your fault."

"Hermione, stop!" There was an obvious edge to his voice that indicated he didn't want to be lied to any further.

"No, it's me! I don't know what I'm doing!" she blurted out then, her voice raised to speak over him. "It's me!" She pressed her hands to her chest then, insisting the same thing she had last night. "I'm the one who - I - I don't know what to do." She blushed and let her voice, which was thick with embarrassment, fade.

"You're barking," Ron snorted. "You don't have to do anything."

"But I can't just lie there!" she wailed. "But then I don't know what else to do and I know i should do something and I want to, you know...finish the way that you do, but I don't know how to do that and I'm just - I'm bad at it. I'm bad at sex," she stated firmly and Ron couldn't help but think she was talking about sex like it was a course at Hogwarts she'd earned poor marks in and had to revise for.

"I'm the one who can't make you feel good."

"You really think it doesn't feel good?" she asked then. Her voice, as small and meek as it sounded, was oddly similar to the tone it had on the floor of the Tropics when he'd admitted to questioning her love for him.

"You certainly don't seem to enjoy it," Ron admitted. "And you don't - I mean I'm guessing you don't even come close"

"You feel good." She reached between the seats then so she could rest her hand atop his. "And it was...a lot and it..wasn't perfect, but when you first..." She kept her hand on his, but he saw colour rise in her cheeks as she averted her eyes before saying more. "When I feel you...inside me..." She appeared to need a moment to compose herself after speaking such frank words. "It's like you're a part of me and it''s... "


"I...I..." she stammered for words, but none came out. It was the first time in his life he'd truly known Hermione Granger to be at an utter loss for words.


"Yeah." She continued to rub his hand, her face pressed against the seatback as she smiled reassuringly to him. It had been a lot. It had been messy and different and everything she had said it was, there was no denying that. But it had also apparently rendered her unable to speak.

"And I'm sorry I - I kind of panicked," she admitted and let out a loud shaky breath. "I was worried that - that maybe it wasn't - that we should have waited." Ron's eyes flashed with worry he knew she could see. "But ignoring me and - and going to bed angry, you can't do that," she admonished as gently as possible. "We're in a relationship, Ron." Though he knew it was true, he instinctually felt the briefest moment of panic at the term, as it was the first either had ever used it. "You can't just hide from things. You need to..."

Her voice trailed away and she looked like she wished she could swallow her last words. She was hiding from things just as much as he was.

He'd known it since the rainy Dijon square when she'd hatched up the ridiculous plan to go find Viktor. When she'd wailed on one hand that she didn't want to wait any longer to find her parents, but then taken a two-day train trip to Bulgaria just to get back on track. He'd known something was off then, but he'd remained silent because it was easier than facing the messy truth of it all. The truth that Hermione Granger wasn't okay.

"You need to talk about it," he finished her sentence for her, but then edited it slightly. She wasn't okay, but neither was he. "We need to talk about it."

"I don't know where to even start." She managed a laugh at the enormity of the task he'd just suggested. The war, her torture, her parents, their relationship, each seemed like such an enormous undertaking. The war was over, it had ended nearly three weeks ago, yet they'd said almost nothing about it. They were in a relationship, but they hardly discussed any of the things they'd endured in the last year. They slept beside each other every night and hardly mentioned the cause of the nightmares that made them toss and turn.

"But let's start," Ron suggested softly, meeting her eyes.


At the simple word, he wanted to do then what he realised he hadn't done properly for nearly two days: kiss her.

Wedged into in the backseat like he was, his knees practically at the height of his nose, he leaned forward as much as he could. Both of her knees were balanced precariously on the plastic centre console that divided the two front seats as she leaned back toward him and their lips met.

He guessed after nearly three weeks together they had probably kissed hundreds of times, but somehow this felt different from any other. At this moment, it all came crashing down on him: what they'd been through, what they were, and what they could be. They fought, they shouted, they snogged, and now they had sex.

He remembered Harry's teasing back in Gryffindor tower and his brother's accusations that he'd shag Hermione's brains out before he returned to the Burrow that had both seemed so far fetched. Suddenly, Ron longed for the privacy of the tent and he kicked himself for being such an arse last night. He'd wasted the few precious hours they had alone on this cross-continent trek. He opened his eyes and found her staring up at his half-lowered lids.

"You're supposed to close your eyes," he teased, recalling that first real kiss back at the Burrow. Her only response, like his had been then, was to move in to capture his lips again. She leaned so far toward him when she did that she tumbled through the gap in the seats. "Maybe we should try and find Hugo?" he laughed, collecting her limbs and glancing to the tiny Nundroo Roadhouse where their guide had disappeared, confident he would not appreciate anything further happening in the backseat of his precious car.

"I suppose," Hermione relented and Ron was oddly cheered by the sound of disappointment in her voice as she clambered out of the car and hurried to release him from the back. Their lips met again once they were both out of the Calibra and again they were slow to break apart. He wondered if she was suddenly as aware of the absence of kissing the last three days as he was. This kind of intimacy, the way her fingers grasped at his shirt and her teeth tugged at his lower lip, somehow went missing in the tent when their shirts and underwear came off. But Ron had the sense that it wouldn't be missing anymore. They worked through things. They both weren't okay. She'd run away from finding her parents and sought solace in him just the same way he took comfort in her. There was so much they both still had to talk about, but they worked through things and in the end they were still okay and still together.

"You did tell him, didn't you?" she asked suddenly, looking up to the roadhouse where Hugo was.

"Yes, but I think he already knew," Ron admitted.

She took his arm and squeezed it a little harder than necessary in reprimand as they walked to the small dust-coloured building, muttering the entire time about how she couldn't believe Ron had told him. Her annoyance turned to embarrassment as soon as they approached Hugo. Her hair fell in front of her face and she made no attempt to fix it. Ron shook his head and tried to suppress a grin at the strange circumstances that had led to a twenty-two year old Australian drifter being the first person to learn they'd been intimate. But as they entered the dark roadhouse and Ron's eyes found Hugo, whose eyes brightened considerably upon seeing them arm in arm, he instinctively knew he never would have asked Harry the things he'd asked Hugo yesterday about Hermione. Harry would probably box him in the ears if he described what Hermione did and didn't do when they had sex. Maybe it was the fact that Hugo was a stranger that had made it so easy.

"You're done yelling at each other, then?" Hugo grinned at the two of them and gnawed on a chicken wing then motioned to a buffet of bain maries. "They said this is the last place for six hours that's got hot food. There's all kinds of stuff - corn jacks, chiko rolls, dim sims." Hugo pointed to the assortment of food heaped onto his plate. "It might be the best we get for a while." Ron had little idea what most of the items he was pointing to or referring to were, but he made a beeline at the thought of hot food.

The assortment of steamed dumplings and toasted sandwiches was hardly breakfast fare, but if Hermione objected to it, she said nothing. She loaded her plate up, equally eager for the first chance at hot food in days.

"It's quite a history you two have." Hugo grinned at them both as they slid into the cramped booth. At the mention of their history, Ron suddenly recalled all that they'd let slip in their shouting match in the car. Quidditch and spells and trolls and charms. He doubted even Hermione's ability to improvise explanations for all they'd blurted out. If Hugo was curious about any of it though he stayed mum."You're much more fun to be around when you're keen for a shag, y'know," Hugo teased, looking to Hermione who turned crimson.

"Oh, shutup," she muttered as she looked down to the tabletop. Ron had to do his best to swallow his own amusement.

"So that bloke over there said there are only a few roadhouses in the Nullarbor that have proper motels." Hugo motioned to a thickset man with a sunburned face and sandy-coloured hair stuffing his face with fried sausages. For the briefest of moments, Ron thought Hugo was going to stop the teasing and discuss their travel plans the rest of the day. "Proper beds and everythin' so you don't have to do it on the ground no more."

"I can't believe you told him." Hermione buried her face into Ron's shoulder.

"Please, he didn't have to tell me nothin'," Hugo laughed. "You two are more obvious than a gorilla in a pack of rats. All over each other one minute, poutin' at each other the next."

"We were not...all over each other," she mumbled.

"You never took your hands off each other from the moment I met you," he challenged. At the words, Ron found it hard to believe it had been nearly four days since Hermione had sobbed against him in front of her parents' old house and Hugo had stumbled upon them. "I don't mind. Don't blush too easily, if you haven't noticed. I just don't want none of it in my car."

"Do you want something to drink?" Hermione stood up abruptly from the table, the crimson colour not fading from her cheeks.

"Some of that orange fizzy stuff, but I can get it." Ron insisted though he knew she was eager to depart the booth and collect herself. Wordlessly, she shrugged him off and hurried away.

"You've gotta stop with that, mate," Ron admonished.

"She blushes easily, don't she?" Hugo laughed, reminding Ron oddly of his brother.

"You've gotta stop doing it," he maintained, despite how amusing he did find Hermione's modesty.

"It's just sex." He sounded eerily like George again.

"Yeah, but...have you ever had sex with a girl you loved before?" Hugo was silent at the query, but quickly gathered himself and turned the tables on Ron.

"You ever had sex with a girl you didn't?" he mused, though Ron was quite sure he already knew the answer.

"No," he answered anyway, "but I know what it's like to use people."

"It's supposed to be fun," Hugo dismissed. "The more you both remember that the less you'll probably be poutin' the mornin' after."

"I just want it to be good for her," Ron confessed glumly. "She says it is, but..."

"Girls are tough to please," Hugo shrugged. "It takes 'em a while longer. You gotta do a little more an' get a little more creative." He waggled his fingers. "Ask her what she likes, y'know? You've gotta talk to her."

"Yeah, I've been hearing that a lot," Ron mused.

"Well, then maybe you ought to start listening."

The landscape and the road never changed. It was exactly what Hugo had promised, the flattest stretch of road Ron had ever seen with no curves and no vegetation aside from the same rugged saltbush-covered terrain. The roadhouses and Caltex stations were few and far between and sometimes they'd go hours without passing any building at all. He wasn't sure how it started, but it no longer felt like they were riding along with a stranger. Maybe it was when Hugo directed him to take charge of the radio dial and laughed at his poor clueless selection or when he finally forced them both to try the Vegemite and Ron gagged so hard his eyes watered. Hugo guffawed loudly, shaking with laughter so violently Ron thought he might drive the car off the road.

"You knew I would do that, didn't you, you wanker!" Ron growled and shoved Hugo in the shoulder so hard he made the car swerve slightly.

"Well, you're crossing the Nullarbor, you've camped in the Outback. You had to try Vegemite! You're practically a true Aussie now," he grinned widely, revealing the slightly chipped canine on his left side. "I never could get David and Emily to try it."

It was one of only a handful of mentions of her parents since they'd sat in the dingy Brisbane pub days ago and weighed whether or not to trust Hugo. Ron shifted uncomfortably in his seat, pretending to arch his back and stretch his long legs to avoid saying anything. He wasn't too sure what he should even say. Despite the fact that Hermione's parents were the whole reason they were on this multi-day trek across the continent with Hugo, they had made almost no mention of them since the day Hugo had revealed they'd once taken him to a science museum.

"How did you meet them?" Hermione asked from the back, her voice was tentative and shakier than he knew she would have liked.

"My car broke down," he shared cheerfully.

"This car?" Ron gulped, looking down at the controls and wondering if it was about to break apart beneath them.

"Yeah, this one. Don't worry, I fixed it. It was just the bearings on the crankshaft, but your father was trying to tell me it was the spark plugs."

"I never said he was my father," Hermione challenged suddenly, sounding quite defensive and for a moment Ron worried the tension from the past few days would return.

"Right." Ron was glad Hermione couldn't see Hugo's face to see how little he believed her, yet he continued on with hardly a pause. "Anyway. They offered me a ride and David tried to help me figure out what was wrong. Brilliant man, he is, but he don't know a damn thing about cars." He shook his head with a laugh.

"So they just picked you up? off the road? like a dog?" Ron queried.

"They just gave me a ride to the servo."

Ron glanced back and he could see Hermione frowning. He wondered whether the Grangers usually did things like give strangers rides to the service station. "It wasn't far and they said I had an honest face." He answered Ron's question. "Anyway, they hadn't been in country long so I offered to show 'em around Brisbane."

"And that's how you met them?" Hermione repeated it more like a statement than a question.

"That's how I met 'em."

There was a moment of pause before Hermione spoke again.

"Did they talk about England much?"

"Not a lot, no," Hugo replied, a knowing look in his eye as he glanced to Ron. "Just said they'd always wanted to come live in Australia. I asked why Brisbane, they said they didn't really know."

Hermione's queries continued in short halting inquiries - what they liked to do on the weekends, if they'd had many friends, what kind of car they drove. Since he didn't know the Grangers very well, Hugo's replies that they'd leased a Honda and liked to ride bikes around Brisbane meant very little to Ron. He could see each revelation did something to Hermione though. The lingering resentment toward Hugo had finally lifted it seemed and she no longer flinched or frowned when he said their names. He was a connection to them, living proof she'd made the right choice in sending them here. Thanks to her, they'd been able to live their life, to take trips to the beach and morning bike rides to the bakery.

Ron wasn't sure why she still felt the need to disguise the fact that they were her parents. Hugo hadn't asked any questions about Quidditch or Potions lessons or any of the other careless things they'd let slip that morning. Yet it was the stories about Hermione's parents that proved the young man's faith and loyalty the most.

"When did they start to go a bit funny?" Hermione asked hesitantly.

"Well, they didn't start callin' themselves David and Emily 'til this year, but they knew somethin' was off before then. I don't know, December I suppose it was? That's when they first started talkin' about somethin' not bein' right."

"What did they mean 'something not being right'?" Ron inquired curiously.

"I don't think they knew really." Hugo shrugged. "It was just this feelin' that something was off. You know, like when you have this perfect moment where you know you should be happy and completely at peace,'re not and you can't figure out what it is?" Ron and Hermione were both quiet as they mulled over his words. Up until he'd wisened up to his feelings for her, Hermione had always been that part of Ron's life he didn't quite understand. The part of him that was missing that he couldn't figure out. "Well, that's how they said they felt all the time."

The more Hugo talked, Ron could tell he'd figured out the mystery that her parents couldn't. He knew Hermione was the thing they'd been searching for. He realised then they'd never really told the young man who they were. When he'd inquired back in Brisbane, Hermione had vaguely responded that they were family. Whether that meant their offspring or their long-lost cousins, Hugo had never asked for further clarification. He seemed perfectly willing to accept things on blind faith. It was more than he could say for either him or Hermione. Ron wondered if he'd already known back in Brisbane that she was their daughter. The revelation certainly didn't make the story any less strange. If anything, the fact that two parents had somehow lost and forgotten their daughter's identity, should make him more wary. Yet he'd invited them along with probably less concern than they'd had toward him.

Hugo gave a small nod of the head back to Ron then, an assurance and a promise, Ron knew, that he'd maintain the facade Hermione still seemed to need.

"Right, now who's up for more Vegemite?"

The campfire was Hugo's idea. He proposed it while they still had daylight and were stocking up on provisions. While it had been a fun day on the road with plenty of laughter and playful teasing, Ron knew Hermione was no more eager than he was to go camping and relive the last year they'd spent huddled around a fire. Sleeping in the tent was enough of a reminder and he could tell she had been hoping to stay at the proper motel they were told was 90 miles west in Balladonia.

But they continued driving past the tiny motel and instead pulled over at a free campsite further down the highway. Hermione was cheered only when Hugo reminded her that going past the motel meant they would be that much closer to Perth when they awoke tomorrow.

"Come on!" he urged. 'It's our last day in the bush! We've gotta camp out in the Nullarbor. We'll drink hot whiskey and cook out on the fire! It'll be fun!"

"Hot whiskey?"

"Or you can toast your crumpets or whatever you lot like. It'll be fun! Look, this spot looks good." He pointed enthusiastically to a ring of stones and some charred earth where somebody else had clearly made a fire already.

There was something hauntingly familiar about it all, finding a place to put the tent and collecting wood for the fire, but Hugo's enthusiasm was contagious and Ron pressed his lips against Hermione's temple.

"We'll make better memories, eh?" he murmured.

Though Hugo couldn't know the depth of Ron's words, he liked the insinuation that he would be a part of happier memories and smiled broadly when Hermione finally stopped protesting. He quickly disappeared to go collect kindling, and once he was out of earshot, Hermione cast a nonverbal Incendio charm and settled on the ground in front of Ron. She tucked in comfortably between his knees, leaning against his chest while his arms enveloped her. The heat from the fire warmed both their faces and it reminded him of the way they had watched the fireworks after Fred's funeral.

"This is like deja vu, isn't it?" she remarked, looking into the flames that danced in front of them.

"I suppose." Her words pulled him away from the muddled memory of fireworks and tears and kissing Hermione. "Except we didn't do this all year," he murmured against her neck.

"No, we definitely didn't," she laughed, craning her head around to kiss him.

"Would have been a lot better if we had," he teased.

"Would you still have left?" She edged away from him suddenly, breaking off the kiss. The question caught him off guard and his hands fell away from her. She sounded curious and not at all like she was trying to guilt him, but he still felt himself grow queasy. "If we'd been together - really together - would you still have left?"

He could tell from the manner she pressed him that silence would not deflect her inquiries. This was the stuff they needed to talk about after all. The stuff he had just said that morning they both needed to stop hiding from.

"I dunno," he finally mumbled. "Probably."


"If I was wearing the Horcrux, I probably still would have, yeah," he admitted, wishing she would stop looking at him. "I mean it - I think it - I know it wanted me to leave you. And even though that was the last thing I really wanted, it's like I couldn't...fight it," he muttered shamefully.

"Well, it was Voldemort. You were fighting Voldemort." Her words sounded oddly sympathetic, almost like she was defending him.

"We were all fighting him," Ron remarked glumly. "I'm just the only one who failed."

"You didn't fail."

"I left."

"But you came back."

"But I left," Ron repeated.

"But you came back," she reiterated. Her words reminded him of the way she'd lied to Ginny back at the Burrow when they were retelling the story of the last year.

"You shouldn't forgive me," he blurted out, staring past her and into the fire, reliving that terrible rainy night where he'd ignored her cries for him to return, which he now realised were hauntingly familiar to her pleas last night.

"You shouldn't tell me what to do," she challenged.

"I'm serious."

"You need to forgive yourself, Ron."

He wondered if she knew it wasn't just his desertion that ate away at him. It was the bandage beneath his hand and how he'd failed to protect her. It was all the people they hadn't saved, the Muggles they'd probably led to their deaths at the Ministry and all the lives he'd seen extinguished. It was his brother in the ground and the family he'd left. He thought again about the promise they'd made to each that morning by the Nundroo Roadhouse to finally talk about it all. Silence reigned for a few minutes, but then he cleared his throat and found his voice.

"Do you ever just think about all the fucked up stuff we had to do?" he finally admitted.

"What stuff?" He couldn't tell if her words were an attempt to play dumb or more likely a reminder that they'd done so many ridiculous things in the last seven years that he needed to be more specific.

"Everything," he sighed. "I used to think it was all just so cool, all the things we did with Harry, but it was - so much of it was - "

"It's what we had to do," she cut him off tersely and he could feel her body grow tense against him.

"It was fucked up," he muttered. "All that stuff we did when we were just kids."

"Ron - "

"How many times have we all almost died?" he pressed. "We could go all the way back to - to you and the troll and that bloody chess set and I thought it was all...just a great big adventure." He looked into the flames and thought briefly of the fiendfyre that had licked at their broomstick and nearly burnt them alive. "But it's just...mental when I think about it all now, everything we did."

"We did what we had to do," she repeated the phrase mechanically.

"Do you ever think about it?" he pressed, thinking about how she'd been petrified, cursed, tortured and nearly fed to a werewolf.

"I try not to."

"But do you ever?" He was annoyed at her avoidance of the question.

"I try to think about...all the good it brought," she stated in the same mechanical fashion. "We made a better world," she stated firmly, but Ron could see she looked like she was trying to convince herself as much as him. He knew what she said was true, of course. The First Years that boarded the Hogwarts Express this September wouldn't have to live in a world with the same evils they had. There would be no looming threat of Voldemort's return and no monsters like Fenrir Greyback and Bellatrix Lestrange.

"But our lives got worse," he muttered, looking to where the flames from the fire lit up her scarred arms.

"We made it better." She pulled his arms around her tighter.

"Do you think I was right to kill him? Greyback?"

"Yes." Hermione didn't even hesitate.

"You don't think I should have let him go to trial or anything?"


"But then he'd - "

"He was a monster," she stated the words with a decisive edge to her voice.

"What about that guy in Diagon Alley?" Ron blurted out. "He wasn't a monster."

"What guy?"

"Last month. That guy that came at you when you looked her," Ron couldn't even make himself speak her torturer's name. The memory remained as clear as if it were yesterday, the desperate man who had lunged for Hermione, thinking she'd harmed his children. It had just been instinct. "He didn't get up," Ron muttered, wincing at the recollection of the way he'd slumped against the wall after Ron's violent Stunning Spell.

"Why are you thinking about that?" she frowned.

"He was just looking for his kids." Ron ignored her as he recalled the bloody bandage over the man's one eye and the desperate way he'd attempted to take on Bellatrix Lestrange with his bare hands.

"He probably would have killed me if you hadn't done anything." She spoke about her own possible demise so calmly it made Ron sick.

"Yeah, but do you think I killed him?"

"You saved my life."

"But do you think I killed him?" he repeated with a slight edge and Hermione moved closer to him, likely detecting the guilt and frustration in his voice.

"You saved me."

"I didn't," he muttered then, his eyes instinctively turning to her scarred arm. "Not when it mattered."

"Ron - "

"How in the hell did you get that started?" Hugo appeared suddenly, his arms filled with kindling that he immediately dropped to the ground when he saw the roaring fire in front of them.

"I told you, we spent a lot of time camping this year," Hermione informed flippantly, still frowning over Ron's confession.

"I guess so!"

"Can we have a minute - " she asked, turning toward Ron, but Hugo just gave a dismissive laugh.

"Nah, you've got all night to do that," Hugo teased, misinterpreting her words. "This is the only chance you'll ever have to go bush camping!"

Bush camping, it turned out, was a lot like regular camping, only with an apparent constant threat of dingoes that might appear to steal their food. The new memories they made mostly involved stealing kisses when Hugo wasn't looking and toasting ham and cheese sandwiches over the fire.

"So what're you gonna do in Perth?" Ron asked innocently, curious to learn how Hugo constantly adapted and made a life for himself in all these new places.

"Dunno. Try to find my mates, I guess. They live by the beach, I think." Though he didn't know the layout of Perth all that well, Ron was quite sure knowing they lived by the beach likely didn't narrow it down much. "See if I can't find a place to crash and get some work." He gave a simple shrug, speaking in a manner that indicated he'd certainly done it a time or two before.

"What kind of work?" Ron pressed.

"Whatever I can get, I reckon. I'm not picky"

"Do you want to help us look for David and Emily?" he inquired suddenly, surprising Hermione with the inquiry as much as Hugo.

"I - I should probably find my mates first," Hugo stammered, looking suddenly uncomfortable.

"We could use the help," Ron offered. "I mean all we've got is that postcard, right?"

"Well, we could use the postal code to narrow it down a bit," Hermione chimed in.

"Y-yeah, I reckon so. Sure." He sounded less enthusiastic than Ron imagined he would and quickly went about finding something else to toast over the fire.

They toasted everything they could - from the apples and biscuits to the sausages and already smoked jerky - laughing and talking innocently by the flames.

Hermione was the first one to fall asleep. Tucked between Ron's legs and asleep against his chest, she looked serene as always in the combination of moon and firelight. Hugo kept his teasing comments to himself as Ron rocked her gently to the left to readjust his position.

"What did you mean the other day - about your brother - you know, getting away?" Ron asked suddenly. Both boys had been staring silently into the flames for a while now.

Ron saw Hugo wince slightly as he twisted the roasting stick in his hands over the fire. There was nothing at the end of the stick, but Hugo seemed to enjoy watching it blacken.

"He just sort away," he repeated the vague phrase. Then clearly seeing Ron's unsatisfied expression, he continued. "In the system -" His words were halted and slow, for what seemed like the first time in four days. " - you age out when you turn sixteen."

Ron had already pieced together Hugo didn't have much of a family, but this was the most he'd said about his upbringing. Still, it took him a moment to figure out what he was talking about.

"Oh, my best mate's an orphan," Ron blurted out tactlessly trying to relate.

"Yeah? Harry, right?"


"It's not fun," Hugo muttered then. It was the first negative thing Ron had ever heard him say about anything. "Brandon was a complete arse too." He gave an odd laugh then. "We weren't always together, y'know, in the foster homes, but when we were, man, he would torment me." Ron could tell as he spoke it was likely the first time he'd thought about his brother in a long time. "Even when we were really little he'd make up these foul things and force me to eat them all time. Peanut butter and mustard and onions.

"Toothpaste," Ron actually laughed then, recalling all too familiar incidents with his big brothers. "Fred always liked to use toothpaste."

"Sounds about right," Hugo smiled. "He could get me to do anything though, even jump out of a window. Told me one time if I took an umbrella I'd just float down like Mary effing Poppins."

Though he didn't understand the reference, the situation was all too familiar.

"Anti-gravity potion." Ron smirked, recalling when he'd jumped off the roof and broken his arm in three places thanks to Fred's promise that he'd float down.

"I'll bet it had toothpaste in it."

"Of course." They both shared a laugh then and Hugo passed Ron the hot whiskey he'd been drinking. Hesitantly, Ron took a swallow, knowing Hermione would be irate at him after his last two encounters with spirits. She was fast asleep against him though and one drink surely would do little more than warm him from the chilly night air.

"I knew he'd be leaving once his birthday hit, but he didn't wait," Hugo muttered then, continuing to talk about his brother. Ron could detect more than a hint of resentment behind his usually bright eyes. "He didn't say goodbye or nothin' either. Just left." He pulled the roasting stick out of the fire now and began digging in the dirt with it.

"Have you seen him since?" Ron gulped, not really wanting to know the answer. Fortunately, Hugo didn't seem to want to answer either.

"He ever beat you up?" he asked instead, looking to Ron. "The brother that made you do all that stuff?"

"Fred?" Ron thought about how many poundings he'd gotten from all his older brothers over the years. It was Fred and George that used to wail on him the most when their mum wasn't looking. "Yeah, all the time."

"Everyone was afraid of Brandon. He could be a bit scary," Hugo remarked. Ron assumed everyone meant the other orphans and he shifted uncomfortably and took another swig of the whiskey. "I got him one time. About a month before he left. He accused me of stealin' his fags and just laid into me even though he knew I don't even smoke." He actually grinned at the memory. "He broke my fuckin' tooth - " Hugo pointed to his chipped front tooth. " - but I got him good too. That's the last time I really remember bein' with him."

"Fred could be a wanker sometimes," Ron admitted then, not sure of what else to say. He couldn't help but think about how everyone spoke about Fred at his funeral and how they would probably roast him on a pyre for suggesting the young man they all memorialized at the funeral even had flaws.


"Oh, I mean a real tosser," Ron insisted. "He played dirty." Ron thought about how he'd been the one who wanted to blackmail Bagman back in fourth year and how he'd put Montague in that Vanishing cabinet. Sometimes he thought he really meant to kill him he hated Montague so much.

"Brandon too," Hugo agreed. "But sometimes, you know, I wonder how I would have turned out without him."

Both boys stared into the fire, watching it crackle and pop.

"You would have liked him. Fred." It was the first time Ron had ever referred to him in the past tense.

"You gonna see him when you get back home?" Hugo proposed brightly.

"No." Ron spoke only after a long pause. "He um. He's gone." Hugo looked to him quizzically at the vague expression, not unlike the one he'd used when talking about his own brother. "Not gone. Dead." Ron corrected. "He's dead." He realised as the word slipped from his tongue that it was the first time he'd actually said it aloud in the last three weeks. Of all things, he actually gave a crooked smile. "My brother's dead." Oddly enough, the more he said it the better he felt. Hugo didn't flinch at the words. He didn't gaze up at Ron or stammer over an apology, he just looked to the embers of the fire and continued to toy with the stick in his hands.

"Do you miss him?" He finally asked frankly.

"Yeah," Ron admitted without hesitation. "He's only been gone like three weeks and I don't see him that much during the year to be honest, but I miss...knowing he's there. Just knowing he'll be there to take the piss when I come home."

"I get that." Hugo nodded.

"Do you miss your brother?" Ron queried.

"Yeah," Hugo admitted softly. "Yeah, I do." The small glowing pieces of wood continued to flicker in the dying fire, but Hugo stopped staring into the fire and got to his feet abruptly. "Think I'll go retire. I'm full as a goog."

"Yeah, okay." Ron peered around to the tent Hugo had helped them set up and then back down to Hermione.

"You go take your missus there and have yourself a night. Tell her we'll be in Perth by tomorrow night."

"How did you know?" Ron asked suddenly before Hugo could walk away. "How'd you know they're her parents?"

Hugo looked down at Hermione then and gave a wistful smile.

"She looks just like them," he spoke simply before departing and retreating to his car.

Ron looked down to Hermione then, an odd feeling coursing through him with the realisation that Hugo knew the Grangers better than even he did. They were strangers to him really. He didn't know which one she got her hair from or her fair skin or insatiable desire to know everything. It felt weird to think Hugo could probably tell him in a heartbeat. He stared into the fire for a while longer, thinking about her parents and his brother and all the families that had been rent apart this year. For some reason, he found himself thinking about Theodore Nott, likely murdered by his own father after returning to fight for Hogwarts.

"Hermione," he whispered then, nudging her gently in an attempt to wake her. "Hey, wake up." He tried again to rouse her and this time she shifted slightly against him.

"What is it?"

"Do you know why Theodore Nott came back?"

"What?" She looked unamused by the random question as she rubbed her eyes.

"During the Battle, do you know why he came back that morning with Slughorn?"

"No." Her throat was scratchy and he couldn't shake the fact that she sounded slightly perturbed that he'd awoken her for such a random question. "Why?"


"Is Hugo gone?" She looked around, likely realising that he'd just spoken out loud about a battle.

"Yeah, yeah. He went to the car." He nodded in the direction of the Calibra.

"Why are you sitting out here by yourself?" She gathered herself and looked to him now with slightly clearer, if not troubled, eyes.

"Just thinking."

"Let's go to sleep."

"I'm not tired."

"Why are you thinking about Theodore Nott?"

"I dunno." Ron wasn't entirely sure how his train of thought had led to the weedy Slytherin boy.

"What were you talking about with Hugo?" she frowned.

"Fred." The lone syllable was all Ron could make out. Suddenly, it was three weeks ago at the Burrow and he could see she didn't know how to response. "Let's go to bed," he stated simply, rising to his feet.

"Okay." She looked unsure as she took his hand, but followed him inside. Their clothes smelled like smoke, but they did little more than wordlessly kick off their shoes and assume their usual position against each other atop the bags. He wondered how many more nights they would have together like this. He wouldn't be sad to leave the hard lumpy ground or these sleeping bags that never quite seemed to keep out the cold, but he loved the world they'd created in Australia. He thought about how the morning had started, lying with their backs to each other and hardly saying a word. They worked through things now. They talked about them.

His hand ran over her scarred forearm in a purposeful way he knew she could detect, even fingering the bandage he usually took care to avoid.

"I'm sorry I couldn't stop her," he muttered against her, his hand pressing against the bandage, tracing the letters he knew lay beneath it. The words were the first he'd ever spoken of his own involvement - or lack thereof - in her rescue.

"You did stop her," she assured.

"It wasn't me. It was Dobby," he dismissed, thoroughly disgusted with himself for not being as clever as the house elf.

"No, it was you," she admitted and her voice quickly lost that obliging tone. She turned over to face him then. "I could hear you. When know, when she.." Each time she tried to speak her voice seemed to fail her. "I could hear you." She set her jaw in that steely resolute way he usually loved and looked him square in the eye. While they'd alluded to her torture a handful of times now, they'd never so much as mentioned his hysterical response down in the cellar, how he'd been so unhinged he'd even tried to Apparate without a wand. He had wanted her to hear him, of course, at the time. That's why he had screamed. He wanted her to know he was there and he was fighting and he wouldn't leave her. "It's why I called for you." They were back in the South Bank Hotel then the morning he'd first told her about her nighttime murmurings. She hadn't been ready to talk about it then, but things had changed. They'd changed in Australia. "I could hear you and I wanted you to know it," she repeated more firmly this time. "But when I said your name it just made it…worse," she continued. Ron was the one whose jaw was now clinched in fierce resolve, trying not to picture what Hermione was describing. "I thought then…when she took out the knife I thought….I thought that I…." Her speech was halted and she couldn't make herself say the words outright, but Ron knew what she was going to say. And he knew then with full confidence what he'd long suspected the murmuring in her sleep was about.

It was the moment she had thought she was going to die.

She relived it every night.

"You saved me." Her voice broke.

"But I didn't," he muttered through gritted teeth, unable to tear his eyes from her scarred forearm. He wondered if it would look like that forever.

"It's not your fault," she insisted. His glassy eyes were still fixed on her arm and he knew she could tell he didn't believe her. So she did what he'd been wanting to do for weeks now.

She took off the bandage.

She didn't remove it tentatively like that morning in the South Bank Hotel nor did she methodically unwrap it from her arm like before they'd first had sex. She jerked it off in a hurry like she suddenly couldn't wait to be rid of it. It weighed them both down and she knew it.

"They're just scars," she repeated the words he'd uttered to her in comfort so many times. And for the first time, he could finally see she was starting to believe it.


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 40 of 45

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