I Take All the Blame

Chapter 3

See I'm circling these patterns
Living out of memories
I'm still a long way from accepting it
That there's just no you and me

*lyrics taken from "I Can't Break It To My Heart" by Delta Goodrem


Four days isn't very long, but it had been four days, and it felt like an eternity.

I went to my house that morning, trying to salvage anything I could from the wreckage. There was hardly anything left of the house at all, but fragments of my past were strewn all over the clearing as I gazed at my lost dreams. I had come alone; I was the one who had to do this, no one else.

I began slowly walking into the rubble. There was Lizzie's favorite doll, almost unrecognizable from the flames; there was the family picture we took after Lizzie was born, miraculously intact. I picked it up and smoothed out the flame-bitten corners, longing for the happiness I had felt then. As tears reached my eyes, I folded the picture up and put it in my back pocket.

The next thing I saw was a fragment of lace. I raised it off of the ground, realizing it had been part of my wedding dress. I held onto it tightly as I looked around me, tears clouding my vision of the horrible scene. Nothing else was identifiable, except for the frame of our wedding picture. The picture itself, however, was gone.

I kneeled in the middle of what used to be my home, pleading with God through my sobs that I might have my family back again, that we could return to as it was, the happiness we had shared. I was willing to give up my magic, and Nick was willing to give up his family; that kind of willingness to sacrifice doesn't come around everyday.

As these thoughts ran through my mind, again I started thinking of how we met for the first time. I had been shopping for extra supplies, like food for example, for Grimmauld Place; everyone was so busy they hardly had time to cook, let alone buy the food. Harry hadn't arrived at headquarters yet, and it seemed as if everyone was waiting for him and Dumbledore to be there before any action was taken. Still, they were constantly reading, searching for any information that might be helpful in overthrowing the Dark Lord.

Nick had been working at the Grocery that day. I was having a hard time finding the items on my list, and consequently looked very flustered. That was when I suddenly heard footsteps and a voice behind me.

"Can I help you, Miss?"

I startled, toppled over my cart, and hit plenty of the cans of soup around me onto the floor. As I bashfully began picking up the mess I had made, Nick laughed and knelt down to help me. He was so kind, something I wasn't entirely used to back then; everyone was on edge, and therefore Grimmauld Place was more like a prison full of irritable children than a home. We got to talking and he asked if he could see me the next day. Against my better judgment, I said yes.

I don't know what initially made me want to see him, aside from his kindness, charm, and good looks. The more time we spent together, the more I wanted to stay with him, stay away from Hogwarts. I wouldn't dream of leaving Harry and Ron alone, yet I knew that if I left, I would probably never see him again. It hurt, but I was ready to leave in September; I knew the duty I had signed up for and intended to fulfill it.

The day before I had to leave for my sixth year at Hogwarts I spent mostly with Nick. Ron had been extremely unhappy about this decision; he, for some reason, hated every guy I've ever dated, and it didn't help that Nick was a muggle. But I did it anyway, not wanting to leave his sight, not wanting to give him up.

As he held me close, I decided to tell him about magic. I didn't think he would mind it; he was an extremely easy-going person. We were on his front porch and his mother was cooking some sort of seasoned chicken in the kitchen, filling the air with wonderful aromas. I leaned in closer to him and delicately asked the question:

"Do you believe in magic, Nick?"

He tensed his arms and when I looked up, he looked very uncomfortable. "Yes."

"What's with the face?" I asked, frowning.

"It's evil," he replied, shaking his head. "Magic is evil."

I stared at him, shock written across my face. "Why do you think so?"

"Because," he replied, sighing, "the Bible says so. Exodus 22:18–Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

I sighed. There was no way I was going to tell him now–if we hadn't been attacked by Dementors that very second. Of course, Nick couldn't see them, so it took some time convincing him that I was not what attacked him, but he believed me in the end; he knew me better than that.

His family, however, completely shunned me. I will never forget his mom's face as she shook, standing in front of Nick to protect him–protect him from me.

"If you ever come near my family again, in the name of all things Holy I swear…!"

"Mum!" Nick exclaimed, trying to calm her down. "She saved my life! Magic may be evil, but she's not…"

"HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT?!" she had screamed hysterically before rounding on me. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SON? WHAT CHARM HAVE YOU PLACED ON HIM?"

"Mrs. Rollins, I haven't done anything…"

"YOU'RE A WITCH!!" she screamed, furious beyond even Mrs. Weasley's capacity. "MY SON IS A GOOD CHRISTIAN! HE WOULD NEVER SIDE WITH A WITCH!"

"MUM, SHUT UP!" Nick had yelled, so loud that she almost did. "I don't like it either, but Hermione is a witch, and she just saved my life! She hasn't put a charm on me…"

"GET OUT OF HERE!" she shrieked at me, now hoarse. She picked up the broom on the front porch and started waving it in my direction, making me back up off of the steps. "LEAVE MY SON ALONE!"

Crying, I had apparated. Directly after, I received a warning from the Ministry of Magic, but I burned it. They had no authority; they were evil.

I didn't tell anyone about it, not even Ginny. I was distraught enough that I had lost Nick, and I didn't want to have to relive the experience in telling the tale.

That year at school was the first that I had really seen first-hand the evil Mrs. Rollins was talking about. Death Eaters swarmed the halls of Hogwarts, green lights lighting up every hallway, and our headmaster and hope, Albus Dumbledore, was murdered. I remember shaking at his funeral, Ron's arms around me while he tried to comfort me, much like four days ago. I had wished they were Nick's arms, that he was there with me, to hold me.

That next summer, I was gathering supplies for Harry, Ron, and I to disappear. Eager that Nick might still be there, I headed to the same Grocery, almost certain my hope was in vain. I was in the same isle as before, wondering if I should, in fact, buy some soup, when I heard not only footsteps, but running footsteps behind me. I whirled around and saw Nick grinning from ear to ear. He slowly reached up his hand and brushed a curl behind my ear tenderly.

"Can I help you, Miss?"

I had cried and buried myself in his embrace. He still loved me, despite his mother's hatred. That was when he kissed me for the first time, begging me to stay with him. I knew that I couldn't, but I told him that I would write him, and as soon as the war was over, I was all his.

So when it ended, I went to the same Grocery, the same isle, and waited for him to come. When he did, he was happier than I think I'd ever seen him. He fumbled in his back pocket before extracting a small ring box; you can guess what happened from there.

In an effort to please his parents, I decided I would give up magic; it made him more comfortable with his decision as well, that he wasn't really marrying a witch. When we arrived at his house to break the ice, however, Mrs. Rollins actually did try to kill me. The only reason she didn't was that Nick was in the way. I didn't know what to do; I loved Nick with all my heart and soul, but there was no way on this earth we could be together…until Nick scowled at his mother and turned around to face me.

"Apparate," he commanded.

"Nick," I whispered, "what are you thinking?"

"I love you, Hermione!" he shouted, almost shaking me. "My mother is not going to stop me from marrying you!"

At this point, Mrs. Rollins was crying, convinced that I had bewitched Nick. His father stepped out of the door angrily and tried to grab me as I apparated.

Ever since that day, I'd felt the tiniest bit guilty. I knew it was Nick's decision to make, but the pain I had caused his family was too much for me to live with without feeling guilt. He assured me everything was fine, and everything was, until four days ago.

I realized then, as I looked around at the fragments of my family, that they needed to know. I needed to tell them.

But that was a visit I was going to put off as long as possible.

"I will always love you, Hermione…"

***

Just like every other night over the past week, I woke up crying. And, just like every other night over the past week, Ron was immediately at my side, trying his best to console me. When I calmed down, we would talk, about anything and everything, not fighting at all. That was the strange thing; we usually couldn't go two days without a disagreement of some sort. However, Ron was a much more feeling person than I used to give him credit for, and he wouldn't dream of hurting me any more than I already was.

Tonight, I was especially thankful for his warmth, since we were outside at night in early September. We had taken up a sort of nomadic state, much like when we were searching for Voldemort's horcruxes. This time, however, we were looking for the actual location of the enemy; we were walking straight into the lion's den of our own free will. The only problem was that we didn't know who the lion was. Without that knowledge, we didn't know exactly what to expect, let alone where to find the Death Eaters in the first place.

That wasn't something I wanted to dwell on at the moment. All I wanted was to know that the people around me loved and cared about me, and it would be enough to keep me content...

Almost.

"You okay?" Ron asked, after we had been silent for a time. I met his eyes and read the deep concern he had for me. I smiled.

"I'm fine," I replied. "What about you?"

I knew he must be worried about Alia, but he'd never admit it. His problems were completely irrelevant when it came to his friends.

Ron shrugged the question off. "Better than Harry," he sighed. "He's beating himself up about this."

"Because there are still Death Eaters out there?"

"Yeah."

I shook my head. "Ron, there will always be people just like the Death Eaters. They're not the first to try to take over the world, and they won't be the last."

"I know," he replied with a slight smirk. "But you know Harry; he thinks he can rid the world of evil."

I smiled. "If anyone can, it will be him."

Ron laughed in agreement. I glanced at Harry, sound asleep at the other end of the clearing. It was his watch, but seeing as how Ron and I seemed to be up half the night anyway, we didn't think to wake him. He needed all the rest he could get.

There was silence once more, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. I felt more safe and content sitting next to my best friend in a small protection circle than I ever had while hiding behind countless charms and concealments the past two years of my life.

Ron shifted nervously, and I glimpsed a frown on the edge of his lips. I turned to look at him, forcing him to talk to me. It had been his turn to console a week ago, but now it was mine.

"You're worried about Alia," I stated.

To my complete surprise, he shook his head. "She can take care of herself. She's a strong girl…"

He trailed off. I knew this wasn't the whole truth, so I pushed for more.

"What's bothering you?"

He laughed, turning to look me in the eyes. "Okay, so it is Alia," he confessed, "but not the way you think."

"Oh?" I asked, not believing a word.

He smirked, but then his smile faded away. "I was wondering if it was right to break up with her."

"What?" I exclaimed in shock. "Why'd you go and do something like that, Ron?! Do you realize how worried she was about you…?"

"Yeah," he said, shaking his head. "But I can't lie to her, Hermione. She…wants to get married, and I just don't, not to her, anyway."

I stared at him in disbelief. "But the two of you seemed so happy…"

"We weren't right for each other," Ron said, becoming defensive. "She wanted to leave the Order, completely disappear. There's nothing particularly wrong with that," he added, trying to assure that my feelings would not be hurt, "but it's not what I want."

"No," I said in understanding, "you're right."

He blinked. "About what?"

"I never should have left the Order," I said. "I…I loved Nick with all my heart, but there was always something missing…"

Remembering Nick, my eyes teared up again. Ron pulled me closer to him and started to apologize, but I wouldn't let him.

"It was a stupid decision," I stated, wiping my eyes. "I always knew there was something wrong…"

"But you loved him, Hermione," Ron argued, forcing me to look him in the eyes. "You loved him, and he loved you, and you were happy. You gave up part of yourself for love. That's what makes you such a better person than me," he shook his head, "The only reason I won't marry Alia is because I'm selfish and want to stay with my friends fighting this war. You decided to give up everything you were used to and wanted for Nick, Hermione; that's not a stupid decision, that's love."

I stared at him, knowing that he was both right and wrong. I was right to love Nick, to want to be with him no matter what, but I was entirely wrong to turn my back on my friends. They had been fighting and struggling while I was hiding in a hole; I was hardly worthy to call them my friends.

Ron knew what I was thinking, but he decided that it was better to let me think it than argue. He hugged me tightly before going to wake Harry so the two of us could try to get some sleep. I couldn't, however, and lay awake until the sun rose, wondering why I had to have been blessed with so many wonderful people in my life that I wasn't allowed to enjoy the company of all of them at once, why I couldn't have Nick and the Order with me every day.

I had to choose the one I wanted most.

***

A/N: Aw, how sad! How'd you like my description of Nick and how they met? Seriously, any comments, critiques, ideas, suggestions, etc. are MORE than welcome in your ReViEwS!!

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