Hermione couldn’t stop shaking.
She wasn’t sure what exactly she was shaking from; cold, hunger, exhaustion… Fear. It was most likely a combination of all four.
It was probably fear.
Greyback hadn’t spared her more than a few words when Petunia had dragged her into his expectant grip; he’d leered at her, an evil smile that had made Hermione struggle all the more to get out of his grip. His grin grew wider at that, telling her, “I like it when they struggle.”
She didn’t struggle after that.
The room he had ‘given’ her was in the house’s only tower; circular, cold, damp stone and utterly devoid of any furniture. Not that she would able to use any furniture had she had any; Greyback had chained her to the wall before leaving, promises of ‘later’ on his foul lips.
Hermione didn’t know what ‘later’ meant although the screams reverberating around the castle gave her a pretty good idea. She shuddered and tried to curl up tighter. She was still clad in her ball gown from two days ago and, whilst it was still summer outside, the small tower cell seemed to suck up all that heat greedily, leaving her chilled and shaking.
She didn’t know how long she had sat there, terrified, exhausted, angry and distraught before slipping into sleep. She had thought to be plagued with nightmares, haunting screeching torments, but she had dreamed no nightmares. Nor, indeed, any dreams whatsoever; Hermione’s sleep had been long, deep and oddly restful.
When she had awoken however she was all aquiver. ‘He’ll be coming any time now,’ she thought to herself, trying to steel her nerves. Stories and rumours about Fenrir Greyback often whirled their way through the marketplace and now every single one Hermione had ever overhead seemed to be racing each other round her head in quick succession, sending her legs trembling. She managed to stop them; she would not give the monster the satisfaction of her fear. ‘Any time now.’
But ‘any time now’ never came.
Instead Hermione’s ears and imagination had to contend with a myriad of screams, cries and sobs that echoed around her little prison, chilling her more than the frozen flagstones or pools of icy stagnant water. Most of the voices sounded female, although she did hear a male voice once or twice. ‘Please not Harry,’ she thought desperately. ‘Please don’t let it be Harry.’
Suffice it say her second night was a lot less restful than her first.
On the second day, today, she could no longer suppress her shivers although at every creak of the stairs she tried. It was all in vain anyway; it was never him.
Then the bells started ringing.
Hermione had been drowsing and half scrambled to her feet. ‘Someone’s calling at the house,’ was her first thought. ‘Someone’s here to rescue me.’
As her brain caught up, however, and the bells continued to peal, Hermione realised the truth. The bells weren’t those of the front door; they were coming from outside.
Already half on her feet, Hermione twisted round as much as her chains would let her, straining to see through the small hole that barely resembled a window. Still the bells rang out their merry tune. She wondered what on earth it could be. And then memory struck and she sank to the floor, defeated.
The bells of the great cathedral were grand instruments, bespelled many years ago to stay in perfect tune. Traditionally they were only ever rung for three different events. Royal funerals were rare, but not as rare as a coronation. In her time at Godric’s Hollow Hermione had never heard those two particular arrangements. The third reason, however, she had heard twice before. They had been rung with particular gusto and merriment from the Cathedral, joined in chorus by a myriad of smaller churches that littered the capital.
It was the fanfare for a royal wedding.
A tear trickled down Hermione’s cheek. ‘Ron…’ She had tried not to think of him – it hurt too much – but she would be a fool not to realise what those bells meant; he had married his French bride.
All at once his face flashed in front of her eyes once more; the bewilderment and then disgust as he said, “You’re a servant?” She had known he wouldn’t be coming to rescue her, she had… but only now did she realise just how much she was still hoping for a rescue.
‘I betrayed him,’ she thought, angry with herself for this foolish hope. ‘Why would he come for me?’
There was Luna though. She knew the truth. Hermione let out a bitter laugh. Yes, Luna did know the truth, but who would believe her? More to the point, where had she been? The lady had accompanied Hermione to the ball but when Petunia was dragging the senseless Hermione away where had she been then? Gone, disappeared, vanished.
Just like her.
And those bells might not have been just for Ron, she realised suddenly. There were two royal weddings scheduled after all – what if it had been a double ceremony? What if poor Ginevra had been married to Dudley?
‘All is lost,’ Hermione thought, losing herself in despair.
Then, quite a while later, a thought occurred to her: ‘Remus.’ Remus knew the truth. So did Tonks.
Though she had only met the master wizard once, Hermione was suddenly utterly convinced of one thing: ‘Dumbledore will save us.’
‘But how long will Remus take to recover?’ Hermione thought, biting her lip anxiously. The fact that neither Dumbledore nor Tonks had reappeared led Hermione to believe that Remus was in a very serious condition indeed. Who knew how long it would be before Dumbledore would be free to come find them?
‘By the time he does come it might be too late for me,’ Hermione thought despairingly before slapping that thought away. ‘Hermione Granger,’ she told herself firmly, ‘you have not lived through all this hell to give up before the end. We still don’t know where Harry or Sirius are – we need Harry, he’s our hope, our future.’ The lightning bearer, another part of her mind whispered but she ignored it. ‘What if he is in this poxy-damned mansion? You have two hands, two feet and, most importantly, a brain. Harry doesn’t tell you constantly that you’re the cleverest person he knows for no reason. Now think!’
Hermione stared around at her dingy little cell with a new focus. Instead of focussing on the condensation on the wall, the dirt and the multitude of cracks Hermione began focussing on things that she could use. Most of what she saw was completely useless but she refused to be sucked back down into despair. ‘There will be something I can use,’ she thought stubbornly.
And then she saw it.
Hermione wasn’t sure where it had come from – broken off some older chains perhaps – but the small sliver of metal glinting dully from where it was half hidden in the straw was something Hermione was very happy to see. Ok, so it wasn’t as useful as a wand or a dagger but it could be used for something. Picking her lock perhaps?
Getting hold of the metal shard wasn’t easy; it required a lot of straining and stretching that Hermione was sure she would be paying for later on. Eventually, however, she managed to reach it with the toes on her unshod foot. Getting the shard from the floor to her hands was another matter entirely and involved some rather creative gymnastics with her feet. But at last the shard was in her hand. Gritting her teeth against the pain she got to work.
Exactly what she would be facing, Hermione didn’t know. But meeting Fenrir unrestrained and free was better than being chained and helpless any day.
‘Bring it on, Fenrir.’
The stairs creaked.
Hermione shifted nervously but resolute. The chains that previously bound her to the wall were still in place but no longer locked. She had managed to work her aching hands free about an hour before, almost crying as she could finally rest her arms properly. Her wrists were extremely chafed from the rough contact but that was nothing against the relief of being free to move once more.
She had a plan, of course. It wasn’t the best plan, but it was the best one she could think of given the circumstances. She just hoped she was strong enough – mentally and physically – to pull it off.
The door creaked open.
Fenrir Greyback loomed in the open doorway, an expectant smirk on his face. “Good day, my dear.”
Hermione glared at him. “Let. Me. Go.”
His smirk widened and he took a step into the room. Hermione swallowed nervously. Fenrir was not a small man – as well as being the tallest man she thought she’d ever met he was one of the bulkiest. She rather thought his neck was thicker than her entire body. ‘Maybe this plan wasn’t the best idea after all…’
“You belong to me now,” he said, taking another step forward.
“I belong to no one,” Hermione snapped, clenching her fists in her chains. “Least of all to you.”
“Most of my girls are like you at the start,” Fenrir said, licking his lips. “Magnificent, stubborn, wilful to a fault. All they needed was to be… broken.”
He stepped forward again. Hermione shrunk back against the wall, tensing herself. ‘Just a bit closer.’ “Don’t get any closer,” she warned, heart pounding in anticipation and fear. “You will maintain a proper distance.”
Fenrir laughed at that, just as she thought he would. “I do love a girl with spirit!”
And he lunged for her.
Fenrir may be nothing but muscle but he was very slow and Hermione had the element of surprise. Quick as a flash she slipped under his grabbing arms as he grunted with surprise. Miraculously her throw worked on first try and the chain previously binding her to the wall now surrounded Fenrir’s larger than average neck.
It might be a large neck but Hermione was not a simpering maid from the palace; she had her fair share of muscles too.
“I could have you ha-hanged for this!” Fenrir choked out, trying to twist round and grab her, even as the chain was strangling him.
“Not if you’re dead,” Hermione retorted, pulling tighter. Her arm muscles were already screaming under the strain but she held on with all her might; she needed just a few seconds more.
After an age, Fenrir’s body slumped, the added force on the chain proving too much for Hermione’s arms; she let go. Breathing heavily, heart pounding in her eyes and feeling as though she was going to be sick, Hermione still managed to stumble over to her ‘captor’. Checking him anxiously she was relieved to see his chest still rising; for all her bravado Hermione hadn’t wanted to kill the man. She was in enough trouble as it was; murder wasn’t going to help.
All Hermione wanted to do then was curl up in a ball and cry, sleep, laugh or be sick, but she had things that needed doing. Most important of those was to make sure when Fenrir came round he wouldn’t be able to come after her.
Luckily the man had fallen close enough to the chains that she didn’t have to move him as moving the mammoth of a man would be something her already protesting muscles might be incapable of. As she clasped the chains securely shut Hermione wondered nervously if they were in fact strong enough to secure him in place. ‘One good strong yank from those arms and they’ll snap,’ she thought worriedly but had to put it from her mind. Until she got hold of some guards – or, better yet, a wand – it was her only option.
Now she just had to find Harry.
Considering she’d just strangled a man probably three if not four times her size into unconsciousness Hermione found it a lot harder to leave the draughty tower then she would have thought possible. It wasn’t because she was exhausted – although she was – it was more because she was terrified of what she might find when she started searching Fenrir’s residence.
‘All that screaming…’
She wasn’t sure how long she huddled next to her cell door before she started moving. It felt like a lifetime; in reality it was probably just a few minutes. Her footsteps caused the ramshackle wooden staircase to creak alarmingly. The original stone one seemed to have crumbled away years ago and she tread carefully on the rotting wooden slats put up in their stead. Having to concentrate so hard on her step was good in a way, for it meant she had less thought to spare for imagining what horrors she would find.
When she came to the first door it took nearly everything Hermione had to open it. It seemed ridiculous – she had just knocked out and locked up the most terrifying man she had ever met – but the memory of those screams lingered. Her imagination had provided so many awful scenarios she was afraid to find out which one was true.
‘But I’ll never find Harry otherwise,’ she thought, steeling herself.
Hermione opened the door.
The first room she tried was empty. So was the next room and the one after that. They hadn’t always been, she could tell; the same chains dangled from the walls as from her own little cell. Hermione shuddered to think about what so many rooms meant. ‘How has he gotten away with this?’ she wondered, staring with consternation at the strange gouges on the floor.
Closing the door, Hermione sighed. She knew why; because no one cared. That seemed to be the underlying problem behind every bad thing in the Kingdom. Before she could help it her thoughts skipped back to Ron. Despite his reaction to the reality of who she was she hoped that with time he would think less on that and more on what she had shown him; that a country’s servants and commoners were far more than just unintelligent shadows in the background.
So absorbed in her gloomy thoughts, it took Hermione a split second to realise that the next room wasn’t empty.
Dashing over and crouching down besides the girl, Hermione hurriedly tried to unlock the chains as she talked, trying to get the girl to respond. “Can you hear me?” she asked, managing to unlock on chafed wrist. “My name’s Hermione; what’s yours?”
The girl stirred slightly as Hermione managed to free her second arm but didn’t speak. Hermione bit her lip and braced herself as she carefully turned the girl over from where she was lying face down on the floor.
It was a good thing the girl was unconscious so she didn’t see Hermione flinch. Hermione was sure the girl had been pretty once; under the dirt her hair was a light blonde, her nose was small and petite, her mouth full. But all those pretty features had been ruined by the large gashes running across her cheeks.
Feeling faintly sick, Hermione ran her eyes carefully down the girl’s body, barely covered by a tattered navy dress. More cuts and gashes riddled her arms and legs, interspersed with bruises in a rainbow of colours. On her right shoulder there was a strange circular ring of wounds that puzzled Hermione until she realised with horror that it was a bite mark.
Flicking her gaze back up to the girl’s face Hermione jumped to see terrified blue eyes peering at her. “Who are you?” the girl whispered hoarsely.
“I’m Hermione,” she responded as softly as she could. “I’m here to help you.”
But the girl shook her head vehemently at that. “No, no!” she hissed, trying to push Hermione’s hands away. “If he comes back…” She broke off, too scared to even finish the sentence.
“He won’t be coming,” Hermione said gently, taking the girl’s hands firmly back in her own. She was probably only fourteen or fifteen and Hermione found it hard not to squeeze the girl’s hands too tightly as she was filled with an anger she had never felt before.
The girl’s eyes widened. “He’s dead?”
Hermione bit her lip, wishing she could say yes. She never thought she’d regret not taking a life but the girl’s hopeful expression and her own fury was beginning to make her wish she’d done something more than just knock Fenrir out. “No,” she admitted, not wanting to lie, “but he won’t be coming after you, I promise,” she added hastily as the girl’s expression became fearful once more. “I’ve locked him away; you’re safe.”
It was as though a switch had been flipped. Bursting into tears the girl launched herself into Hermione’s arms, shaking and sobbing with relief. Feeling how skinny and cold the girl was Hermione found she was shaking too but with anger.
Once the girl calmed down at bit, Hermione helped her to her feet, wondering what on Earth to do with her. There were plenty more rooms to search but she couldn’t leave her in the cell; nor could she take her with her. She supposed there was a kitchen somewhere but only Merlin knew where that was.
Luckily the girl almost seemed to read her mind. “I don’t suppose,” she started hesitantly, “could you – do you think you could take me outside? I want to be in the sunshine again.”
Hermione smiled. “Of course I can.”
Luckily, Hermione remembered vaguely where the front door was from her arrival so it didn’t take them too long to find. This was doubly good as, although she didn’t say anything, the girl – whose name was Laura – was struggling to walk properly with her injuries.
Managing to heave open the front door at last, they both stepped out in the sunshine. As the rays gently warmed her skin, Hermione closed her eyes and let out a sigh. Standing there, feeling warm again for the first time in over a day, she felt some of the tension leave her shoulders. So she hadn’t found Harry yet, but she would; it was only a matter of time. She’d faced down Death Eaters, scornful Princes and now the most barbaric, evil man she’d ever met.
What more could possibly go –
Hermione opened her eyes and looked across at Laura, who was looking fearful again. “What’s what?”
“That,” Laura said, pointing with a shaking finger at something in the distance.
Following Laura’s trembling arm it was now Hermione’s turn to be filled with shock and then dread. ‘That’ was a horse and rider, rapidly gaining on the battered manse. ‘That’ was someone bedecked with red and gold that glinted in the sun. ‘That’ was someone whose hair was so red she could make it out even at this distance.
‘That’ was Prince Ron.
“Just stay here,” she told Laura quietly, extracting her arm from the other girl’s grasp carefully.
Laura’s eyes flicked fearfully back towards Ron. “Why? Who is he? Will he hurt us?”
Hermione smiled reassuringly. “Nothing of the sort. He’s a… friend; he won’t hurt you. It’s just… complicated,” she grimaced.
Turning away from the still worried Laura, Hermione looked to see that Ron had already dismounted and was striding towards her looking as uncertain as she. Walking over to meet him, Hermione’s emotions were in a complete mess. She was relieved, confused, wary, angry, hopeful, jumpy and nervous all at once. It didn’t help that her stomach had started doing flip flops as soon as she had realised it was him.
“Hello,” she said uncertainly as he drew close. He stopped at a fair distance and watched her, clearly just as uncertain.
“Hello,” he said back.
Both of them stood there for a few moments before Hermione had to know. “What are you doing here?” He had only been married a couple of hours by Hermione’s estimate – why wasn’t he with his new bride?
Ron shifted uncertainly at that. “I’m, um… well, I’m here to rescue you.”
Ron felt like an idiot.
It wasn’t a new feeling, to be sure, but it was still unpleasant. He had stormed out of the cathedral, jumped on his horse and set off for Godric’s Hollow immediately. His plan fell apart almost straight away when he realised that, beyond a vague description by Dursley which he hadn’t really listened to, he had no idea where Godric’s Hollow actually was. He almost stopped to ask directions before he remembered the nifty spell Hermione had used in the woods. A quick “point me” and he was racing towards Godric’s Hollow again.
Once he reached the estate, however, he was in for another blow.
“What do you mean, she’s been sold?”
Even though he was a Prince and the man just a man-servant he still managed to look down on him. “I mean exactly what I say, Your Highness,” he said stiffly.
“But she’s a person – you can’t sell people!”
The man-servant raised an eyebrow. “Far be it from me to correct Your Highness but slavery is not against the law.”
“Well it bloody well should be,” Ron snapped, frustrated. “Who was she sold to?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know, Your Highness.”
‘Buggery, bugger!’ Ron thought before a sudden thought occurred to him. “Wait, what about Gryffindor; James Gryffindor? He’s a servant here, too.”
“I’m afraid, Your Highness, that I do not know of anyone by that name.”
Ron was confused by that. Surely Gryffindor was a servant here, too; that’s the impression he had got from Hermione. Ginny had thought that too. ‘Unless he used a different name…’
Ron didn’t realise he’d said that last bit out loud until the man had replied, “If it helps, Your Highness, her ladyship sold on all the old staff but myself and her ladies maid two days ago.”
“But you don’t know where.”
“No, Your Highness, beg pardon,” the man said, not sounding at all apologetic. “I could always enquire with her ladyship though – ”
“No, no, that’s really not necessary,” Ron said hastily. Last thing he needed was for Dursley to find out he was looking for her servant. She’d probably be mortified (although that didn’t really bother him) and complain to his parents (which bothered him slightly more but not enough to care). “It was just a… curiosity,” he finished with a sigh and rode off abruptly, feeling just as miserable as he had only an hour ago.
‘So now, because I was a prat, Hermione’s been sold to Merlin knows who and could be anywhere in the bloody country. Ronald Weasley, you’re a right bloody idiot.’
Scolding himself, however, made no difference to how wretched he felt or the bare hopelessness of the facts. He had absolutely no way of finding Hermione aside from asking the most base, conniving woman he knew who, royalty or not, would probably refuse to tell him anyway.
As Ron brooded he suddenly realised that he didn’t have a clue where he was. Leaving Godric’s Hollow he had simply turned his horses away from the way he’d come and then let it wander. He also realised that someone was shouting his name.
“Oi! Prince Ronald!”
Turning his horse around and already bristly with indignation Ron looked angrily for who had addressed him so rudely and blinked, surprised. “You – you’re that Death Eater; Thomas, wasn’t it?”
Coming to a halt the Death Eater looked surprised that Ron did actually remember him but that look quickly changed into a smirk. “Glad to see you remember me, Your Highness,” he said, a hint of mockery in his voice even as he bowed. It annoyed Ron that he wasn’t even slightly out of breath after chasing him probably from Godric’s Hollow itself.
Ron frowned, more than a little confused and uncomfortable to boot. “What do you want?” he asked, wishing Hermione or even Ginny was here. He was still a bit uncertain how to deal with the Death Eaters, despite helping come to a truce of sorts. “We’ve already passed Riddle’s ideas onto their Majesties.”
“Whilst that’s very reassuring to hear it’s not why I’m here,” Thomas said. “The Lady Luna sent me.”
‘Luna?!’ That threw Ron completely. Worried, he tried to remember the last time he’d seen the Lady and realised he hadn’t seen her since the ball. “What have you done with her?” he shouted, schemes of kidnapping and ransom demands swimming through his mind. Typical commoners; playing at being nice, talking them into letting their guard down and then bam!
Thomas raised an eyebrow. “Dear me, Your Highness, not very trusting, are you?” We have done nothing to the Lady Luna; rather, she came to us for help.” The polite mask turned into a sneer once more. “Perhaps she thought that you nobles weren’t to be trusted. That or you were all generally too useless.”
“Oh.” Ron felt like a complete fool all over again and immediately felt ashamed of his instinctive reaction. It was the same inbred response that had caused him to recoil from Hermione when she revealed her true status. ‘That’s something I really need to work on.’ “Sorry,” he blurted out awkwardly. “It’s just… well… um, what does Luna want?”
Thomas surveyed him quietly for a bit before speaking again. “If you want to find your lady love,” he said slowly, “head for the Valley of the Wolf; Fenrir Greyback has her now.”
Ron blinked. “You what?”
Thomas rolled his eyes. “The Countess Ravenclaw – ”
“You mean Hermione,” Ron corrected, earning a glare from Thomas.
“Yes, her. She’s been sold to a merchant called Fenrir Greyback whose mansion is located in the Valley of the Wolf.”
“Oh. Hang on,” Ron said, glaring, “if you know where she is then why aren’t you rescuing her?”
Thomas shrugged. “Not our business. Besides, Lady Luna said that rescuing the Countess – ”
“ – was your job,” Thomas continued as though he hadn’t heard Ron. “We’ll need her help – and yours – to save the lightning bearer.”
That completely threw Ron. “The who?” he asked before memory caught up. “Gryffindor?” he said, astonished. “What the bloody hell does he have to do with anything?”
“Everything, apparently,” Thomas shrugged but cut Ron off before he could ask anything more. “Look, Your Highness, if you want answers you’ll have to ask the Lady Luna herself. In the meantime, isn’t there someone you need to be saving about now?”
“Hang on,” Ron said again as Thomas turned to leave. “How am I supposed to find this ‘Valley of the Wolf’?” He had never even heard of the place!
Thomas rolled his eyes. “You’re a wizard, aren’t you?” he said with just a trace of bitterness. “Use your wand.”
‘The point me spell,’ Ron realised, closing his eyes with a groan. Hadn’t he already used it today? He really was a bloody idiot! Looking back over at Thomas to thank him he jumped to find the Death Eater had disappeared. ‘Run back into the woods more like it,’ Ron thought, eying the trees a tad uneasily. He was getting very confused by all this lightning bearer stuff and Gryffindor especially. He was just a servant, wasn’t he? Ron chastised himself; clearly Gryffindor wasn’t just a servant, not after everything he’d seen the past few days. The question was; what was he? And that was a question he was going to put to Hermione…
… once he’d rescued her, of course.
So there he’d been, racing back through the town and countryside, across streams and hills, rocks and fields, to come to his loves rescue… only to find, in typical Hermione fashion, that she didn’t actually need rescuing. All his brilliant, dashing, heroic thoughts winked out of existence in the blink of an eye.
“I’m, um… well, I’m here to rescue you.”
Something unreadable flickered across her face at that. “Rescue me?” she repeated, a little coldly. “Me: a commoner?”
Ron blushed. “Yes,” he admitted. “Although I should have realised you’d manage fine on your own,” he added with a weak smile.
Hermione frowned and glanced behind her. “I wouldn’t say that,” she murmured cryptically.
Following her gaze Ron jumped to realise they were not alone in the small courtyard. He had been so intent on Hermione that he had noticed little else. Now that he had noticed the other girl, however, he wondered how on earth he could have missed her. ‘Those injuries…’ he thought, horrified.
He turned back to Hermione completely perplexed. “What the bloody hell is going on here?” he asked, bewildered.
Hermione scowled. “It’s Fenrir Greyback, the ‘master’ of this house,” she said darkly. “He’s… well, he’s a complete monster – the screams I heard coming from the house last night…” She shuddered. “Laura’s the first one I found when I escaped.”
Ron drew his wand feeling murderous. “Are you… did he…?”
Hermione shook her head. “No, although he tried,” she said, shivering again. “I managed to chain him up in one of the tower rooms.”
Ron stared at her admiringly. Was there nothing she couldn’t do? “You said – Laura, was it? – was the first on you found?” he questioned, remembering that little detail to both his and Hermione’s surprise. “Does that mean there are more?”
Hermione nodded slowly, looking both anguished and furious. “I think so – although Merlin knows what state they’re in,” she said sadly.
That was pretty ominous. “I’ll send for some help and healers from the palace,” Ron said suddenly. “Some guards, too,” he added, thinking of the monster Hermione had locked up. “While we wait for them to get here I can search for survivors.”
Hermione frowned at him, folding her arms. “Don’t you mean we?”
Ron looked at her. “I didn’t think – not after all you’ve been through…” he trailed off.
Instead of blowing up at him like he expected, however, Hermione suddenly blushed and gave him a small smile. “Thank you,” she said, “but I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t help where I could.”
They both looked at each other for a few minutes. “Why don’t – why don’t you help Laura get settled somewhere more comfortable whilst I send off the patronus,” Ron suggested eventually, feeling himself blush. Hermione nodded and moved away whilst Ron turned to face the way he’d come in.
‘What the…’ Ron stared. What had happened to his patronus? He wasn’t the best at casting the charm, but even so he had managed to cast a corporeal one for a couple of years now and his patronus always took the form of the same thing; a Jack Russell terrier. That wasn’t the animal that was floating around his ankles, waiting for a message; the animal he had conjured was an otter.
Frowning, Ron dismissed the patronus and then tried again, concentrating harder than he ever had before. Opening his eyes where he’d been squeezing them shut in concentration he was astonished to find the same otter swimming around by his ankles.
“Is there a problem, Ron?”
Ron looked back at Hermione, false smile on his face. “Just sending the message out now.”
Turning back he came face to face with the otter; it really was his patronus. Sighing, Ron put it out of his mind. Hopefully, unexpected shape or not, it would still carry a message ok. He just hoped Shacklebolt would recognise his voice.
“Are you ready?”
Ron jumped as Hermione appeared at his elbow. The patronus was disappearing into the distance at that point so there was nothing to stop them from going about their unpleasant task. “I’m ready.”
Whatever Ron had thought he’d been doing that morning when he woke up, his current situation never even vaguely crossed his mind. First he was looking forward to being trapped in a loveless marriage for all eternity and then he was racing towards freedom, his love and pouring his heart out, begging for forgiveness.
Instead of having long discussions about his feelings and how sorry he felt however there Ronald Weasley, Prince of England, was; searching through the house of a madman and trying to bring comfort to the poor victims he found. It wasn’t easy. Most of the victims they found wouldn’t even look at Ron so poor Hermione had to coax them out by herself. They found three girls that had slashes and bite marks similar to Laura’s and one slightly older girl who wouldn’t even wake up she was so badly injured. Carrying her out as carefully as he could into the sunshine Ron fervently hoped that the aurors had got his message and were coming along shortly.
Leaving the unconscious girl in the care of Laura Ron demanded that Hermione take him to see the monster who had done this. Hermione, who had gotten quieter as the search went on, obliged, although she was shaking with repressed fury. When he laid eyes on Greyback Ron felt his respect for Hermione increase even more. Greyback was quite easily the largest man he had ever seen in his life. “How did you…?” he asked, staring at her amazed.
“I was desperate,” Hermione said quietly. “Although now I wish I’d killed him.”
Thinking back on all they’d found Ron couldn’t blame her. “He deserves it,” he agreed, “but at least this way we can make an example of him.”
Hermione looked at him oddly but didn’t say anything. Eventually Ron pulled her away from the unconscious man. The longer he stood there staring the angrier he got and he didn’t want to end up doing something he’d regret. He added a few charms to the lock as it slammed shut as an afterthought – now he’d seen the size of the man he wasn’t sure mere chains would hold him.
It was as they want through the last rooms that they found their first body. Unlike the others, this one was a boy. Upon seeing him Hermione stifled a scream and ran forwards, frantically turning him over. As Ron caught up to her she broke into sobs, tears pouring down her face. Kneeling down next to her it took a split second for Ron to realise that her cries were those of relief. Unsure what exactly she was relieved about, Ron just kept an arm around her as she cried before he finally added it up.
“You think Gryffindors here somewhere, don’t you?”
She looked at him, still crying. “I… I don’t know where he is I just thought… and then I saw the hair…” she broke down into tears again. “And it’s awful but all I can think is ‘thank Merlin it’s not him’!”
Ron could understand that, understand feeling guilty over relief. After all, every time they found a fresh victim of Fenrir’s he had the same thought; thank Merlin it’s not Hermione.
Once Hermione had calmed down a bit, he pulled her back to her feet. “Come on – we’ll leave him for the aurors to collect,” he said gently and guided her out the room.
It turned out that Fenrir’s mansion had one more horror to present to them all. In the very last room they checked was a small boy, just five or six. He had been spared the disfiguring welts of the older girls but he looked fearfully up at them through swollen eyes. As Hermione, smiling as comfortingly as she could, shuffled closer they caught a glimpse of his leg. Large bite marks, unlike any they had seen so far, covered the poor boys limb, only half healed. As Ron flinched Hermione made an odd noise, eyes widening. As the boy looked at them, however, she quickly cleared her expression and proceeded to coax him out.
Walking back into the courtyard, the boy carefully wrapped in Hermione’s arms, Ron was relieved to find that the aurors had arrived. They were stood in the courtyard looking around almost as warily as the girl’s that watched them from where they’d left them. Seeing Ron Shacklebolt straightened up in relief.
“Your Highness,” he said, striding over to Ron. Seeing the boy squirm in Hermione’s arms Ron took a few steps forward to meet Shacklebolt halfway. Kingsley’s expression was stern and faintly disgusted. “What exactly is going on here?”
“It’s a long story,” Ron said with a sigh, feeling the emotional exhaustion of the past hour beginning to wear him down. “There’s a man to be taken into custody, currently restrained in the top room of the tower. Maximum security, please, Shacklebolt.”
“You might want to use silver handcuffs, Sir Auror,” Hermione called from where she was still holding the wide-eyed child. “He’s a werewolf so likely standard chains won’t offer that much resistance.”
Ron and Kingsley stared at her in astonishment. “How the bloody hell do you know that?” Ron asked before he could stop himself.
Hermione blushed and carefully jiggled the boy in his arms. “The bite on his leg – it’s a werewolf bite.”
Shacklebolt looked even more horrified at that. Ron felt the same, although he briefly wondered where Hermione had seen a werewolf bite before. “Yes, my lady,” Kingsley said, bowing in Hermione’s direction who blushed and started to protest. Kingsley didn’t see her, however, and swept past into the mansion’s entrance, calling for three more aurors to follow.
Looking across at the other girls, Ron was relieved to see that they had relaxed enough to let some of the healers that had accompanied the aurors attend to them. Ron called one over for the boy and Hermione handed him over with a promise of coming to see him later. Left alone with each other once more, Ron suddenly felt panicky. What was he going to say?
“Why are you here, Ron?” Ron looked back at Hermione, who was looking at him wearily. “Why aren’t you with your new wife?”
Ron blinked. “I… I’m not married, Hermione,” he said softly, blushing red as she stared at him sharply. “I mean I was there and waiting… but when she walked down the aisle all I could see was you and… bloody hell, Hermione, I told you I loved you and then just threw you to the wolves.” He caught himself at that and made a face. “Literally, as it turns out. I’m just… sorry. Merlin, I’m so sorry, and I just wanted to know… Hermione, do you think you could forgive me?”
She was looking at him oddly. “Say it again.”
She blinked at him and then smiled. “Not that; the part where you said my name.”
He stared at her, bewildered, before he realised that, despite the hours they’d spent together that day, no matter how many times he’d thought it, that was the first time he’d ever called her by her real name. “Hermione.”
Her smile grew even wider and he couldn’t help but responding. “Um, you know, you left something behind at the ball,” he said eventually, giving his wand a quick flick. As the glass slipper flew into his hand she stared at it in astonishment.
“My glass slipper… where did you…?”
“I’ve, um, kind of been carrying it around since the ball,” Ron confessed, feeling his ears burn at the confession. “Was stupid but even though I was mad at you I… didn’t want to let you go.”
“I’m still a peasant, Your Highness,” she said softly, staring at the shoe rather than meeting his gaze.
“I know,” Ron said swallowing, “and I don’t care. Hermione, you have quite literally turned my world on its head and made me more than I ever thought I could be. With you I feel… well, complete. Hermione Granger, would you do me the honour of being my wife?”
Staring up at him in shock, Hermione broke out into the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. “Merlin! I – I mean…” she said and laughed. “Yes, Ron, I will.”
It was usual in these circumstances, he knew, to kneel and place an engagement ring on his fiancé’s finger but these weren’t usual circumstances by any stretch of the imagination. Pulling her over to a partly crumbled down wall he bade her sit and then knelt, carefully placing the elegant glass slipper over her foot.
Looking up at her, Ron thought he could never feel so happy. As she stared down at him too he was certain she felt the same. And then her expression changed.“Shit! Harry!”