I Take All the Blame

Chapter 4

It's an ache in the bones, it's a ghost in a tree
It's the one little tear that could fill up the sea
I happened to you, you happened to me
But now that's gone...
And love goes on

*lyrics taken from "Love Goes On" by SHeDAISY


Eight days.

I lay on the grass, alone in my thoughts. Harry and Ron were already up, beginning to pack our supplies. Instead of helping them, I stared into the still darkened sky and envisioned my family beside me. I knew they would want me to be happy even though they were gone, but it was too soon. I was miserable.

And I had every right to be. They weren't the first family members Death Eaters had killed. During the war with Voldemort, I sent my parents to live in Australia so they would be safer, wiping their memories of me and everyone else in England. I didn't know that by doing that I would make them vulnerable…

I really didn't want to think about that right now.

I blamed both sets of casualties on myself. Neither time was I there to protect my muggle family. Neither time had I expected danger with all of the protections I had already put in place.

Both times, I had too much faith in magic.

I felt tears coming and decided it would be better to work than reflect on the costly mistakes of my life. They hadn't cost me my life, but they had cost four others theirs…

I stood up, wiping my eyes. Ron saw my distress and began walking towards me to comfort me. Right before he reached me, however, we both went rigid.

There were voices in the forest.

Harry heard them as well. All of us were on the alert, hardly daring to move a muscle lest our charms be broken. Rustling in the trees close by caused all three of us to turn, our wands pointed outwards.

I almost smiled at the slight sense of déjà vu. It was just like old times.

"Hello! Come on, you have to be here somewhere!" came a familiar, agitated voice.

Another voice, also familiar, chimed in. "They probably left already! Keep your voice down!"

At that moment, Ginny appeared out of the trees, followed by Alia, both looking very tired. I saw Harry and Ron groan. They just had to pick the kind of girls who would follow us everywhere we went.

"Harry, I know you're here!" Ginny yelled. "Please let us come with you! We've been searching all night!"

Harry shook his head and stepped out of the circle, breaking the charm for the two girls.

"No."

"Why in Merlin's name not!" Ginny retorted.

"Gin!" Ron exclaimed in surprise. "You're nine months pregnant! You're due any day now and you think it would be a good idea to go battling Death Eaters?"

She glared at him. "I don't see what's wrong with it! If I feel the baby coming, I'll apparate to the closest hospital!"

I almost laughed. "Ginny, I've been there. You wouldn't be able to apparate, let alone walk by yourself! You have to go back!"

Harry seemed relieved that he wasn't the one who had to have this conversation with his wife. He smiled at the two of us thankfully and sat down to rub his temples. I knew he really wanted to stay with her, but he felt it was his duty to get rid of the Death Eaters.

Ginny sighed. "I know you're right," she finally grumbled. Then she turned to Harry, taking his hands in hers.

"I just hate to be away from you, you know that."

Harry smiled back at her. "I feel the same, Gin."

Ron and I glanced at each other. We doubted he'd actually be okay with it, but we knew we had to try our idea.

I sat down next to Harry, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Harry, you should stay with your wife."

He blinked at me, confused. Ron continued the thought for me: "At least until the baby's born, mate. We can take care of ourselves."

Harry, realizing our suggestion, shook his head in defiance. "I wouldn't be able to find you again…"

"Here," Ron said, tossing over a small object. It was his Deluminator. "It shouldn't be too hard."

Again, Harry shook his head. "But the two of you would be alone…"

"No they wouldn't," came Alia's voice, obviously annoyed; we had all forgotten she was present. "I would be with them."

"No," Ron insisted, turning to face her. Her scowl softened when she looked at him, and she turned her face to the ground.

"Why not?" she asked incredulously, then suddenly wrapped her arms around him, holding him as tightly as she could.

"If you want to stay in this war, so will I."

Ron stared at me, looking for help, not knowing what to say. I couldn't be the one to force Alia away, though. She was scared for his death, and wanted to be there to protect him, just like I wished I'd been there for Nick…

Harry looked thoughtfully at the Deluminator. Ginny had been silent during the entire conversation; something told me she had decided that voicing her opinion when she was so tense would hurt more than it would help.

After a few minutes, Harry squeezed her hand, looking her in the eye, and said, "Do you want me to come home?"

Ginny rolled her eyes and let out an agitated sigh. "Of course I do!"

"You don't have to worry about us, Harry," I said standing.

"But this is my battle…"

"No it's not!" I exclaimed in absolute fury at the blame he placed on himself. "You already fought your battle with Voldemort! You deserve more of a rest than all of us combined, yet here you are blaming everything on yourself! This is not your battle anymore!"

Everyone seemed to be staring at me because of my sudden outburst. I ran my fingers through my hair, breathing heavily.

"If this is anyone's battle, it's mine."

No one dared to argue, especially since they all knew it was true. Harry and Ginny left after some parting words and Ron, Alia, and I were left alone. Ron still didn't seem happy that she was there; I didn't know whether he was concerned about her safety or feeling awkward because he didn't love her anymore.

Then again, he probably did. The whole reason he'd broke it off was because she didn't want to fight anymore. Now that she was willing to fight, willing to make that sacrifice for him, he was probably full of love, just happy to have her back in his arms, and she happy to be in his. I knew that if he were Nick, I would be happy to be there, no matter the sacrifice.

Love is all about sacrifices.

The next two days were a blur. Packing up, moving to possible locations, searching the area, placing our protection charms, going to bed. It was almost mechanical. Ron and I didn't have our usual night-time talks anymore; with Alia around, we knew it wouldn't be appropriate. He still did his best to comfort me, cracking the most absurd jokes ever known to man in order to force a smile on my face. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but his concern was enough to keep me in routine without breaking down.

In those two days, it became absolutely certain that Alia did not enjoy my company. She was kind enough, but as soon as Ron and I would start any sort of conversation, she would draw his attention away and keep at it all night. I could tell Ron was happy to have her there, but I could also tell that he felt there was something wrong. I wanted to ask him about it, but there wasn't a single moment that she wasn't clinging to him, diverting his attention from anything and everything else.

I could tell that for some absurd reason she felt she had to protect him from me, to keep me from stealing him away from her. I was absolutely appalled by her thinking; truth be told, even if I found Ron the least bit attractive, I would not be looking for a relationship. If she thought I was the type who would get over the murder of my husband and child in little more than a week, she was drastically mistaken. If she even thought it was possible for anyone to ever be completely at peace after something like that, I had to conclude that she was not a human being.

The situation was reminding me of Lavender Brown. Like Alia, she had assumed that I was eyeing Ron as well. In fact, most of Ron's girlfriends had had suspicions concerning me. Harry's first girlfriend, Cho Chang, had been paranoid about his friendship with me as well, and had broken up with Harry because she imagined some sort of relationship between him and me. Apparently, a girl cannot be best friends with two guys without being suspected of another desire altogether.

It really did make things awkward. I could tell Ron wanted to talk, but it was absolutely impossible, and Alia wouldn't have it any other way.

Trying to escape the discomfort of the situation, I decided the time had come to speak to Mr. and Mrs. Rollins on the third day (not that that was a more comfortable situation). That didn't mean I was ready for it, but when would I be? I already knew they would claim I was Nick's killer, and consequently they would try to have me arrested. But they deserved to know the truth, whether they believed it or not.

I was standing on the porch before I decided exactly what I was going to say to them. I still wasn't entirely sure how to break the news, but it was too late to turn back now. I reached for the brass doorknocker, but before I could lift it, I heard voices inside, heading towards the front of the house. Someone had evidently seen me and warned the rest of the family. I sighed and stood to wait.

Almost immediately, Mrs. Rollins opened the door, her eyes searching beyond me, tears forming on her sad stressed face. I had a feeling she had been stressed every day for the past three years. I wondered if the same sadness was on my face; having lost a child, I knew how she felt, the hurt, the longing to change the past…

"Where is he?" she asked, searching me pleadingly. "Is Nick coming home?"

I sighed once more. I really didn't want to do be the one to do this, but I had to.

"Mrs. Rollins, can we sit?" I asked painfully.

She stared at me and nodded once. Quickly beckoning me inside, I saw there was already a congregation in the living room, not only consisting Nick's younger sister and brother, but also a fair few aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was Sunday, and they always gathered for family meals on the Sabbath. Mr. Rollins entered from the study and stood in the doorway, his arms crossed.

I hadn't expected to speak to such a large crowd. In fact, I couldn't. It would absolutely impossible to speak to all these people I didn't know, to tell them of the tragedy we all had to face.

To my relief, Mrs. Rollins ushered me into the study, past the weary guests and stern Mr. Rollins. He followed us in and shut the door.

"Please," she said, taking my hands in hers, "let him come home…"

Mr. Rollins put a comforting arm around his wife as she again began to cry. Nick had been the spitting image of his father, golden brown hair, perfectly built body, bright blue eyes…I had always loved those eyes, staring into them for hours on end…

But this time, I couldn't. I looked to the floor in shame and sadness.

"Please sit down, Mr. and Mrs. Rollins…" I started.

"You did get married, didn't you?" Mr. Rollins asked suddenly.

I blinked. "Yes, Mr. Rollins, we did, but…"

"Then call me Dad."

I stared at him. Mrs. Rollins' cries grew louder with this statement, but she was able to contain herself and finally sat down.

I shook my head. "I don't understand, Mr. Rollins…"

"Dad," he insisted, smiling. "As much as we hate witches this house, we all approved of you beforehand. Who am I to judge something I don't understand? And who am I to choose my son's wife for him?"

I smiled back in gratitude, but the smile soon faded. This was not a pleasant visit.

"Please, Hermione," Mrs. Rollins began, wiping her eyes. "Just tell us where he is! I just want to see my baby again…"

I felt like crying with her. I wanted to see my baby again, too.

I sat next to her, taking her hands in mine. "He never stopped talking about you, you know that? He always loved you, he always wished he could come back…"

"Why are you talking about him in the past tense?" asked Mr. Rollins, confused.

I sighed, and continued with my planned story. "We had a baby…"

"You did!" she exclaimed, a slight smile on her face. "I'm…I'm a Grandmother?"

I forced a smile. "Yes. Her name was Eliza Ginerva Rollins…"

"Was?" she asked, her smile disappearing.

Tears spilled out of both of our eyes. She knew what was coming, and she knew I didn't want to tell her.

But I had to.

"Do you remember what I told you about Death Eaters?" I asked.

"No," Mr. Rollins breathed, leaning against the sofa for support. "You…you said you'd give up magic when you married, you said you'd give up this war nonsense…"

"I did!" I exclaimed, sobbing more than ever. "I did, Mr. Rollins!"

To my surprise, Mrs. Rollins was now incredibly calm. "But they found you anyway?"

I stared at her. The sadness in her eyes was unbearable; it was like looking in a mirror.

"Yes," I whispered. I could no longer look at her or her husband. "They did…but I wasn't there, there was no one to protect them…"

I couldn't bear the reality of it. I hadn't had to tell anyone what happened yet; Ron had done it all for me in the beginning. Voicing it out loud, admitting their deaths, finalizing it, was agonizing. I buried my face in my hands, unable to say any more, unable to recount the horror I had faced in my home…

Mrs. Rollins placed an arm gently on my back, shushing me until my sobs were only whimpers. I could almost feel her tears, like knives in my back. I had ultimately been the cause of her son's death, yet she was comforting me, trying to calm me down instead of the other way around.

When I was stable enough, I stood to leave, apologizing over and over for all the pain and loss I'd caused. As I was walking out of the door, someone grabbed my arm.

I turned to see Mr. Rollins guiding me back inside. I stared at him, wondering what his intention was.

He led me to the kitchen where the whole family was seated for dinner. Mrs. Rollins stood at the end of the table, almost smiling despite the dreadful news I had just told her.

"Will you join us, Hermione?" she asked, smiling warmly.

I gaped at her. "Mrs. Rollins, I…"

"Mum," she insisted. "I may have lost a son, but I gained a daughter."

I stared, then smiled. I didn't know what had caused her change of heart, but I was happy. I was slightly at peace.

I had a family again.

***

A/N: So, a bittersweet ending to this chapter! To find out what happens next, you've got to ReViEw!! Oh, and I wouldn't mind it if you read my other fic, 'The Past', as well! THANKS!

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