I Take All the Blame

Chapter 5

Tell me why
You're so hard to forget
Don't remind me
I'm not over it
Tell me why
I can't seem to face the truth
I'm just a little too not over you


~lyrics taken from "A Little Too Not Over You" by David Archuleta


Twelve days.

I didn't return to camp until early the next morning. The Rollins were all very courteous, although some were not quite as kind as the others. Still, it was more than I could have hoped for; I'd expected to have to stop myself from being burned at the stake. Instead, I had been welcomed into a new and loving family by the same people who had forbid me entrance three years ago.

Coming back to camp was, to say the least, awkward. When I first neared the clearing, I saw Alia lying on top of Ron, making her intentions so obvious that I wanted to laugh out loud at her subtlety. I found it amusing that Ron was doing his very best to push her off of him, but it didn't seem like it had been that way earlier.

"Alia, gerroff!" he finally exclaimed, forcing her to move to his side. "We need to find Hermione. She's been gone too long…"

"Why do you always talk about Hermione?!"

Ron stared at his girlfriend, mouth open in shock at this outburst. I stopped and stared as well, surprised by the sudden change in atmosphere.

Alia leaned into Ron, seemingly apologizing for her harsh tone. "You really do talk about her a lot. It makes me wonder, Ron…"

"Alia!" Ron shouted, shrugging out of her embrace. "How could you even start to think something like that?"

Alia sighed. "You've known her longer, she's the most talented witch I know, and you were always saying how much you missed her…"

"Listen," he said, taking her hands in his. "Hermione is my best friend. If that makes her a threat in your book, I'm sorry but you'll have to deal with it. I'm never going to turn my back on her."

He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, smiling.

"But I'll also never turn my back on you."

Alia smiled. "You'd never get the chance!"

Before she could start again with her fancies, I decided to make myself known to them. I wouldn't let them know I'd heard the conversation, of course, but it really got me thinking…

As soon as I stepped into the clearing, Ron was up and at my side, making sure I wasn't hurt anywhere. Alia was very annoyed with this action after their talk, and I found the look on her face satisfying. Someone as rude as she was did not deserve someone like Ron; he deserved so much better than he'd chosen in the past. I was bound and determined to either change Alia for him or find him someone else. Marriage is hard, and I knew that although Alia seemed to want it, she was not the right person to be married to Ron.

I spent the next half hour relating my visit to Ron. Alia had left at the sight of me to find firewood, but she was still close enough that she could hear what we were saying. Was she really that paranoid?

At the end of my story, Ron smiled. He hugged me tightly and whispered, "You deserve it, Hermione. No one deserves a second chance like you do."

Tears began to leave my eyes suddenly. I stared up at him, smiling, letting the warmth of his friendship fill me.

For another moment, I was happy.

The next day, I went back to the Rollins. I had been able to salvage bits of pictures (I charmed them so they would move in front of the family) and decided to show them their son's life the past two years. Mr. and Mrs. Rollins, as well as Nick's three younger sisters, Katie, Rachel, and Eliza (whom Lizzie was named after), gathered around to see his crooked smile in the photographs. I laughed with them at some of the absurd pictures from our honeymoon, trying to contain the sorrow they held for me. We had gone to Australia in search of my parents, not expecting to find a house burned down, the Dark Mark menacingly staring down at us…

That time, Nick had been there to comfort me. I never thought I'd lose him the same way. It had never occurred to me that my involvement in the war was so much that the remaining Death Eater's would come after me.

I hadn't thought it through.

I tried my best to focus on happier things, on other pictures I had. When I found the fragments of our wedding picture (which I had tried my best to repair) Rachel and Eliza let out simultaneous sighs.

"Hermione, you're dazzling!" Rachel exclaimed. She was sixteen and a hopeless romantic. I laughed at her dreamy eyes.

"Do you think I could ever look like that?" she asked, plodding down next to me on the couch.

"Without a doubt," I replied, smiling with sincerity. "You're ten times the beauty I ever was."

Not one to be left out, Eliza, fourteen, squeezed herself between her sister and myself. "What about me, Hermione?"

"I have no doubt you will both grow into absolutely gorgeous women!" I said laughing. It felt good to laugh. It let out the stress, let me think for a moment that I was carefree, that there were no Death Eaters to worry about.

The only person not happy to see me (or, I guess everyone else was more happy to see the photographs) was Katie. Katie was only two years younger than me and had been very close to Nick. She sat on the other side of the room, seemingly indifferent to the conversation, but I knew she wasn't. She wanted to see the pictures, but couldn't let herself near the person who had taken her only brother away from her.

Mrs. Rollins saw her daughter's grim expression and frowned in confusion. "Why don't you join us, darling? They really are wonderful photographs…"

"No," she replied, tensing the atmosphere. She stared straight into my eyes, her glare like daggers.

"I'd prefer not to."

I took that as my cue to leave. Mrs. Rollins looked peculiarly at her daughter, but I knew that Katie was justified in her thoughts and actions. I gathered up my things, thanking the family for the afternoon, and left my pictures on the table.

"You can keep these," I said. "I have the memories."

Katie stared at me as I walked out the door. Just when I was about to apparate, Eliza ran outside, yelling my name. I turned and smiled at her exuberant face. She was so much like I imagined my Lizzie would have been…

"Why did you name her after me?" Eliza asked, her face beaming. "I didn't want to ask inside because I didn't want to hurt Rachel or Katie's feelings."

I grinned and shrugged. "Nick's the one who decided. I think he thought you were the liveliest and expected Lizzie to be that way as well."

"Was he right?" she prodded.

I smiled, remembering my daughter's mischievousness. "With a father like Nick and a mother like me, how could she not be?"

Eliza smiled, reminding me very much of Lizzie once again. Then again, all three of them had qualities similar to Lizzie's. It was just her name that made me pay extra attention…

Possibly the real reason I had visited the Rollins was to get my mind off the coming days. Today was the eleventh of September, one week before my birthday. That meant that there were only four days left until the fifteenth–our anniversary. It also meant that there were only nine days left until what would have been Lizzie's first birthday.

Obviously, visiting family and looking at pictures of my wedding were not the best ways to forget that in four days, we would have been married for three complete years. Cooing over my beautiful daughter when she was first born was not the ideal way to forget that her first birthday was in little more than a week.

Still, visiting the Rollins had brightened my day. They were family, the only family I had left.

When I returned to camp around 19:00, I found that Ron had gone to fetch some potion supplies. We were trying this new technique of Soul Searching, which required us to drink the potion and then say the name of the Soul, or person, we wanted to find. A path would then open to the drinker's eyes only, allowing them to follow a straight line in the direction of the person they were trying to find. The one downside to this was that the track seemed solid, but in reality it was only a vision brought on by the potion. You had to be very careful where you stepped.

Which was why we were going to fly. To be honest, I wasn't comfortable with the idea. To this day, flying has always and will always make me nauseous. Ron offered to let me ride on his, but one look from Alia disregarded that thought. We were all to ride individually, Ron leading since he would drink the potion.

Alia was occupying herself with a craft of some sort when I arrived. She barely glanced at me, just relayed Ron's location. I sat down opposite her to examine her activity. She seemed to be untangling a web of some sort, looping it in and out of her fingers in different combinations, her eyes focused.

"What is that?" I asked, curious.

She shot me a look of annoyance before returning to her work. "I'm making a map of the area," she replied. "in case any of us get lost."

She placed it on the floor and I could roughly see the resemblance of the forest we were in. "I went exploring today and decided to track our whereabouts with this," she went on, reaching for her wand. "When I charm it, it will change as we move, showing our exact location and the locations of the other two."

I stared at her, finally remembering how to make the Changing Map. I hadn't done it since Hogwarts, and even then it was one lesson in Transfiguration that I did not catch onto quickly; I wasn't good at maps.

I watched her as she mumbled the spells under her breath. "And you're doing this so no one gets into any trouble alone?"

Again, she quickly glared in my direction. "You don't necessarily have to be alone to get in trouble," she said curtly.

My eyes narrowed, and hers did not leave mine. I studied her misguided and bold face, trying to find anything Ron could possibly see in her.

"If you think," I began, "that I would ever behave inappropriately around someone else's boyfriend, especially my very own best friend…"

"That's just it," Alia said, her voice lowering. "You're awfully close for just best friends."

I was fuming. How dare she insult me that way? How dare she insult Ron that way? Anyone else who'd known us for little more than a second could see that there was nothing left to discover in our relationship. Aside from that, everyone knew our integrity. No one would ever accuse us of committing an immoral sin–aside from Ron's own girlfriend.

Although this was extremely insolent, I settled for an explanation even she would be able to understand. "I just lost my husband two weeks ago, not to mention my baby. Do you honestly believe for one second that I would be trying to replace them?"

Alia's eyes shifted, and she sighed as she stared at the ground. "No, I suppose not."

I turned away from her, barely satisfied enough to discontinue the argument. I tried my best to pretend I didn't hear her next comment:

"But anything's possible…"

The rest of that day and the day following were uneventful. We moved to a new location, hoping that we might be a little closer to the Death Eaters so the Soul Searching potion would work better.

The following night, I didn't sleep well. Nick's face was everywhere, but it wasn't his I was avoiding when I woke; it was Katie's.

All she did was glare at me. She never said anything; she just glared–and cried. Her tears started filling up all the space in my dream. As she pulled Nick higher and higher away from me, what were once just salty droplets collected on one another and rose until I could no longer stand on the ground. I called out to Nick, but he just shook his head, frowning as his sister continued to take him away from me. I reached for him, but he made no effort to pull me up with him. He made a slight gesture with his hands, almost like a wave, and turned to leave with Katie.

"I will always love you, Hermione…"

Those were some of the last words I heard from him in life, and now they seemed to be haunting me in my dreams after his death. Again, I woke up crying. I knew Ron wouldn't be at my side like he used to, but I saw him turn from his watch post with concern.

Alia seemed to be completely asleep, so I decided that this was probably one of the only times in the next few months that I would get the chance to talk to him alone. I stood and joined him at the edge of the circle, welcoming his comforting embrace.

"Merlin, Hermione," he said softly, staring off into the distance. I followed his gaze, watching two thestrals graze in the grass before us. They were a shivering reminder of all we'd been through, of what we'd experienced…

"What do you dream of?" I asked him, mildly curious, but mostly trying to get our minds off other things. He smiled, glad that I was the one lightening the atmosphere for once.

"Well," he replied, thinking it through. "lots of things."

He smirked, that evil smirk that let me know he was either joking or being incredibly immature (usually both). "Mostly of beautiful women bending to my every whim."

"You haven't changed a bit," I replied, smiling despite his infantile behavior.

He laughed, shaking his head. "To be honest, I don't really dream at all."

There was no need to ask what I dreamed of; he knew well enough. It was time for another subject change, but this time Ron instigated it.

"What do you think of Alia?"

By the expression on my face, I probably didn't even need to say anything, but I did anyway. "I think she's an evil little viper with a knack for offending people."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the corners of Ron's mouth sneak up as he stifled a laugh.

"She is a bit…opinionated, isn't she?"

"Merlin, Ron!" I exclaimed, unable to contain myself. "What is wrong with that girl? Anyone who knows either of us at all knows there's nothing aside from friendship! How could she even contemplate me being interested at you, especially at a time like this?"

Ron was going to let me rant, but I decided to stop before I said something truly insulting. The last thing we needed was hostility between Ron and myself; usually, that took a long time to get resolved.

As I calmed down, he fumbled with his hands. "So, you don't think I should ask her to marry me?"

I caught my breath, debating whether or not I should voice my true opinion. He had already guessed it, but…

"Never in a million years, Ron," I said, sighing. "Of course it's your decision, but…"

Ron shook his head, interrupting me. "I was thinking the same thing."

I stared at him, trying to figure out exactly how he came to this conclusion when they'd looked so cozy just two days before. Ron saw my expression and again shook his head, taking my hands in his.

"No one treats my friends the way Alia's treated you," he whispered, his face intent on showing as much sincerity as possible. "Especially not someone who claims to care for me."

I smiled. Ron may pick awful girlfriends, but he would have a spectacular wife. I hugged him tightly, squeezing as much breath out of him as possible. He laughed and forced me to loosen my grip, but I didn't entirely let go. I felt completely safe in his arms, free from all the cares of the world.

"I'll never let you go, Hermione," he said, sighing. His arms rested on my shoulders and he forced me to sit up and look him in the eyes.

"Never."

***

A/N: Advanced critique encouraged, please! In order to do so, you've got to ReViEw ASAP!!

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