Chapter 17: Cold Comfort
Hermione sat quietly on her bed in Ginny's bedroom back at the Burrow, her mind numb at the moment. She should have seen this coming. She should have paid more attention to the signs she had glimpsed the day before. How could he have made this decision! The stupid, idiotic, over-thinking, uncaring, insensitive, lovable, sweet, wonderful prat! At this moment, if the said prat appeared in front of her she wasn't too sure if she would grab and cling to him for dear life or hex his bullocks to kingdom come. Since returning to the Burrow at Ginny's insistence she would switch between moments of extreme sorrow and longing to moments of extreme hurt and anger.
Ronald Weasley now had the power to completely confound her, whether he deliberately knew it or not and she could not tolerate it. When he returned to her they would have to sit down and spend some more time talking...that is if she allowed him to live. He was going to return to her she insisted in her mind because the alternative was unbearable and unthinkable. Yes...he was coming back to her because she could see no other way. She had to think that way or else she would go mental and lose her sanity. She resisted the urge to scream and hit something, instead choosing to return downstairs where she knew Ginny was waiting.
As she reached the end of the stairs she heard the voice of Ginny talking to someone in the kitchen. She paused to listen.
"If I see him I will seriously hurt him. The stupid ass! That is if Hermione doesn't kill him first. The poor girl. Doesn't he realise what she has gone through these last 48 hours? I don't know what to do. One moment she's crying all over the place and the next she swears she will hex him if she ever sees him again." there was the sound of a groan as Ginny thumped herself down heavily on a seat.
"I'm sorry to ask you to come but you know her better than anyone Harry. Maybe you can talk to her." she asked.
Hermione closed her eyes with a sigh. She hated getting Harry involved in her personal troubles but she could not fault Ginny. She really was in a state at the hospital and Ginny had done what she felt was best.
"I'm not too sure Ginny. We...Hermione and I...really never talk about private stuff a lot. I know she loves him...she did tell me that, but at times like this she usually works it out herself...even though nothing like this has ever happened before. I think she knows I am always here for her but she always has to appear strong and in control you know...especially in front of me...but I will talk to her as soon as I can." she heard Harry reply as she walked resolutely into the kitchen.
"It's ok Harry. I'm fine. You don't have to worry about me...and thanks for being here." she tried to give him a smile before hurrying to make herself busy by putting on the kettle.
She tried to hide her red swollen eyes behind the cup of tea as she sat on the kitchen table but she could tell that Harry felt uncomfortable as he looked fleetingly at her from the other end of the table.
"I'm really sorry Hermione...we checked all the obvious places for him without success but I'm sure he's ok...are you really all right?" he asked a bit hesitantly.
"I'm as fine as I could be. Thanks for checking Harry...I'm sure he will come back...he's just a little confused. I'm just hoping he does not do anything stupid to get hurt that's all...damn him!" she ended with a huff and a glare at the cup in her hand.
Harry stole a glance at Ginny now understanding what she was saying to him earlier. He appeared a bit torn as he turned to Hermione again.
"He'll be fine. If I knew he was going to leave after we debriefed him last night I would have said someth..." he jumped as the cup in Hermione's hand fell unto the table with a loud thud as she stood up suddenly.
"You debriefed him last night? How? He was supposed to be sleeping. When did you talk to him Harry? Did he say anything that sounded strange?" she leaned forward waiting for a reply from a surprised Harry.
"Y...Yeah we asked for a debriefing and they let us interview him as he was still awake late last night. We just went over his kidnapping and the other parts of the story we didn't have from you. He was a bit serious but that was nothing to be concerned about..." he stopped in mid sentence as he tried to remember something. "He asked us some questions after the debriefing but it didn't appear..." Hermione took a step towards him.
"What questions? What did he ask?...Tell me Harry!" she implored.
"It was mostly about you... he asked about the protection we normally put up for you at your flat and at your parents house. I told him it was my fault about the delay in getting his flat protected...I did. He asked if there had ever been an attack against you before. I told him about the time in Diagon Alley but that it was a lone disgruntled fanatic and not the work of the Death Eaters. Scott told him that he always had extra protection when he was..." Harry stalled as Hermione took another step forward.
"You took Scott to the debriefing? God Harry! I told Ron about him! Why did he have to be there!" she now was glaring at him.
"Wait...Who is Scott?" Ginny asked from her seat. "Was he the Auror who was here before?"
"Yes. I went out with him for a short while but it didn't work out. He was a jealous git." Hermione answered with her stare still fixed on Harry.
"And you took him to the debriefing!" Ginny was now also glaring at a flustered Harry.
"I had to! He had to be there! He was on the case from the beginning. Look Hermione I swear Scott never said anything deliberately against Ron. I know he was a bit of a prat with you but he has changed a little and we actually get along now for the most. We just answered Ron's questions as best as we could. I think he knew most of the answers already but I guess we just confirmed them in his mind." Harry slumped in his seat looking hopefully at her.
Hermione visibly relaxed a bit as she closed her eyes briefly.
"I'm sorry for shouting at you Harry. It's not your fault. I'm just worried about him. it's just Ron and his years of conditioning I guess. I'm going to go mad waiting around so I better get back to school..." she apologized meekly to Harry.
"It's ok. I understand Hermione. If I hear anything I'll let you know." Harry gave his assurances.
Hermione said her goodbyes and thanks to Ginny before leaving for Hogwarts.
Hermione got through her afternoon classes in a daze. It was a wonder that she was able to concentrate at all considering the events of the past 24 hours. The Headmistress, having been briefed on her part in the capture of the Death Eaters had strongly suggested that she take the rest of the week off but Hermione quickly declined preferring to continue with her school work. The truth was that she preferred to be distracted with her work than to sit around in constant worry thinking about Ron.
And that was where she was at the present time, sitting at her desk in her room feeling lost and lonely, his words a memory playing around in her head.
"We are in this together remember? We will work it out just like we said. I like the idea of you coming home with me every day. I love you and whatever happens, we stay together."
"I promise that I will always be with you through this. I will fight against anyone and anything that threatens to come between us."
She dropped her head on the desk as the tears began to flow.
"Where are you Ron?...Where are you?...It's time to come back..."she cried softly to herself.
After what felt like hours, she suddenly stood up drying her tears resolutely.
Come on Hermione! This is no good. If I'm going to mope around then it's best I do it somewhere where I want to be.
Gathering some books she quickly slipped out of her room and headed down the corridor that led out of the school. She carried no clothes or supplies because she knew that her overnight bag would be exactly where she had left it last. As she remembered her feelings of elation the last time she was on her way to his flat the tears threatened to return but a sudden shout calling her name broke her dark mood...but just for a second...as Dickinson Ellwood rushed to her side. She cursed under her breath then remembered that he was not the one responsible for their betrayal as she had initially thought. She stopped and turned to the man now in front of her.
"Hermione...thank heavens. I really wanted to talk to you for a second." he quickly rushed out.
Before she could even reply, he continued on as if he was afraid she would stop him or run off.
"Look I heard about what happened...you know...about you and Weasley...and about the capture of the Death Eaters. I'm really glad that you are ok...and Mr. Weasley too." he hurried on looking a bit flustered.
"What I really mean to say is...I'm sorry Hermione...about what I said about you and him...together. I know I've acted like a real stuck up jerk but I thought a lot about what you said to me earlier...and you were right. I have no reason to dislike Mr. Weasley. I guess I was affected by my upbringing more than I thought. My feelings towards you were no excuse for the way I have behaved. You always stood up for what was right and just and I am deeply ashamed that I could not. He is a good man from all accounts and I wish you both the best...I just wanted you to know this." he finished with a slight quiver in his voice but he looked serious and what he said sounded true.
Hermione was a little stunned by his confession. Dickinson was part of the elite group of pure blood wizard families that had been brought up with instilled prejudices handed down from generation to generation and he was giving his blessing on her relationship with a squib. Not that she needed any blessing from him or anyone else but it was still a small victory for her to have made him come to his senses. She felt herself relax a bit since his approach.
"Thanks Dickinson...it means a lot to me...to us. I accept your apology and I hope you will continue to be more open minded and supportive in the future." she said with a small smile.
She noticed that he also visibly relaxed at her words and he returned her smile willingly.
"I will Hermione. Thanks for giving me the chance...and please let Mr. Weasley know for me. You take care and be happy." he smiled again as he waved his goodbye.
Her mood again clouded over as she realised that she could not share this small spark of something good with the one that mattered most to her. She wanted to share this with him. She wanted to tell him that they could fight anything once they were together. She was certainly a lot surer of what she had to do now in the future...to fight for people subjected to these same prejudices...people like Ron...
She shook the tears away and continued on her way out of the school where she apparated out to the small flat in Sunbury.
The protective wards to Ron and Ginny's flat had been designed, approved and put up by Harry and the Ministry, only allowing access for him, Ginny, Hermione and Ron. Everyone else would need one of the four to allow them entry. This was the safest way to protect them and Hermione had agreed wholeheartedly with the design.
As the sun slowly disappeared under the horizon, Hermione apparated in the entrance hallway like the last time. The memory of her capture flickered briefly through her mind as she sought and finally saw her overnight bag on the living room floor where she had last dropped it. The room was in disarray from the events that had played out a few days ago and she quickly put the room back to its tidy appearance with a few waves of her wand.
She slowly moved to the small kitchen and was about to heat up the kettle for a cup of tea when she spotted his mug in the sink left in a hurry the last time he was here fully. Picking up the dirty cup she let her finger gently roll over the edge where his lips would have touched. It was a silly sentimental gesture but such was her state at the moment.
"Ron... It's time to come back." she whispered again before proceeding to make her tea and drinking it out of the same cup.
She made her way to his bedroom and again her feelings seem to overcome her. His clothes were strewn around the room and his presence was everywhere. Strangely it seemed to calm her after a while and she knew it was the right decision to come here instead of her dreary room at the school. She dropped her bag on the bed and took out a clean change of underwear before heading into the bathroom across the corridor.
She quickly stripped out of her clothes and stepped into the shower running the water as hot as she could tolerate. As she stood with her eyes closed under the steaming shower her mind drifted over the events of the last few days and eventually the last significant event that led to her to be naked and alone in his bathroom. Why? Why did he leave? She knew in her heart and from his letter that he still loved her deeply. This had nothing to do with their love for each other...well actually it did. He was obviously overcome with doubts as to his ability to keep her safe but they could have talked about it. Wasn't that what they had agreed? They had to talk about everything between them. Leaving her in the lurch could not possibly solve this. How could they have a future if he kept running away. No. Leaving was just his daft and stupid way to handle his insecurities and she felt her anger rile up inside her to match the hot water flowing off her.
She absently reached in front of her to find the soap when her fingers wrapped around a bottle instead. She open her eyes to see that she held a bottle of his shower gel. She uncapped the top and poured a small amount of the gel into her left hand and rubbed both hands together to make a lather before washing her body. The smell hit her like a sledge hammer making her head spin and she almost slipped in the tiny shower stall.
His smell! All around her! All on her! The anger inside her melted away instantly as he savoured the smell that she had grown to associate with him. She felt the tears well up in her eyes as she wondered how could something as insignificant as the scent of his shower gel could set her off so easily. She was really in a bad way.
By the time she turned off the shower and stepped out to dry herself a good 30 minutes had passed. She felt a bit guilty but she needed this small thing tonight. It had helped to clear her head away from the gloom and the rising anger. Returning to the bedroom she started to rummage in her bag for her pajamas when she suddenly decided to check his drawer for something more comfortable. She quickly found one of his thin worn tee shirts and put it on over her knickers before settling under the warm comforter on his bed. She had never felt more comfortable. All that was missing was his body against her.
A crashing sound woke her suddenly and she sat up with a jolt. Was she dreaming?
She heard another dull sound from downstairs and her heart quickened in her chest as she reached for her wand on the bedside table. Someone or something was moving around downstairs! With the wards in place she knew that there were only three other possible people that would be allowed in. Ginny was leaving today in preparation for her next match and Harry was working tonight. That left only...could it be!
Her heart was racing now as she quietly crept along the landing leading to the stairs. Could it be him she prayed or had someone else figured out a way through the protective wards. No that was unlikely. She was halfway down the stairs when she froze peering over the banister.
He was sitting on the living room couch leaning forward with his head in his hands. His red hair shone through his fingers and his bag lay at his feet.
Hermione was on the verge of shouting his name and running down the stairs when her recent thoughts returned in a flash. He was just sitting there without a care in the world! The insensitive prat! Her anger that had vanished in the shower returned to her chest and she deliberately paused before she made her next move. Raising her wand in a threatening stance to frighten him she took a few step down and froze again when she heard him.
He was sobbing into his hands! His body shook silently as the sound of his anguished cries were muffled between his fingers and she melted again. How much more could her body withstand!
"Ron..." she cried out softly as she reached the last step before pausing.
The tall lanky red head reacted like something had stung him. He sprung up from the couch as he raised his head to look her way and gasped loudly when he recognized her. She was suddenly aware of her scantily clad self in his tee shirt just covering her knickers and the lack of anything else on her.
His teary eyes stared widely at her.
"Oh God Hermione. What are you doing here..."