When Hermione Fights
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 Crossroads, chapter 128

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Anzahl der Beiträge : 112
Anmeldedatum : 25.10.14
Ort : Bodensee

Crossroads, chapter 128 Empty
BeitragThema: Crossroads, chapter 128   Crossroads, chapter 128 EmptySo Feb 23, 2020 1:02 am

Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Aivy

"I'll go with you, Hermione. Please take me with you!" he pleaded fervently, causing his family to look at him in utter shock.

"How dare you, Ronald Bilius Weasley? You certainly will not! You're not going with... her!" Molly screamed, waving her hands frantically in my direction.

"Ron, listen to your mum. You don't want to be with us," I agreed with her amidst the loud commotion.

"No, Hermione. Harry's my best friend. I've learned from my mistakes in fourth year. I belong at his side," he professed earnestly. Not even glancing at his shrieking mother, he looked at me seriously. "Please don't make me beg. Don't separate me from him... and from you," he asked now and approached me slowly. Professor Dumbledore seemed to be watching this with a raised eyebrow, I noticed. Remus also observed all this with obvious curiosity.

"Ronald, I still control your whereabouts! This is much too dangerous," an angry Molly objected, her big bosom quivering.

"Mum, I'm as good as grown up! Your way of keeping us all in line has led where? You have seven children and only the two youngest stay with you because they can't escape!"

Ouch... he'd put his finger right on the spot where it hurt without mercy. Molly turned white as a sheet and slumped down like someone had cut her strings. I saw from the corner of my eye how the Twins exchanged a high-five and grinned mischievously and proudly at Ron for hitting the mark so masterfully.

Well, Charlie and Bill were true adults, but Charlie's continued work abroad did resemble an escape, especially considering how rarely he visited his parents and then only briefly. And Bill, yes, Bill was too much like his father to really abandon his mother, but still he often ran away as soon as Molly approached. His years in Egypt spoke for themselves. Only since he had met Fleur and she had taken a job with Gringotts here in London, he was drawn back to England.

Now Arthur spoke up.

"What, Ron, do you think you're doing, talking to your mother like that?" he boomed angrily.

"Dad, sorry, but you know I'm right. Please let me go - if Hermione lets me..." he asked his father unflinchingly. Arthur just looked at him silently. "Mum, if you don't want me to leave as soon as I'm of age, let me go! Don't go on making the same mistake over and over again. Trust ME," Ron now turned to Molly and she gasped anxiously for breath like a fish out of water, apparently unable to find her words. His father nodded at the calmly voiced statement of his son and thereby gave his reluctant consent.

"Ron... if I take you with me, there are some things you might not like. Besides, I won't tolerate your quick-tempered, self-righteous attitude. You're choleric! Think it over really well," I said. He cut my appeal short by carefully taking my hand into his and holding it. I heard many outraged voices rising in the background and a soft growl from the dark corner. Of course, Severus did not like what was going on. Too glorious!

"Hermione, that's what I figured; I'm not that stupid! What if I promise to control myself? Please! Don't you think Harry would be happy?" he asked and I knew he was right. Just this morning Harry had meant how fun it would be if Ron was there. I hadn't thought so, but I knew Harry liked Ron very much. So I shrugged my shoulders. He hadn't responded to my insult, something that would have caused a scene in the old days. I gave him credit for that.

"Five minutes. If you haven't finished packing by then I'll be gone," I heard myself say out of an impulse. A second later, the door slammed shut and Ron sped away so fast you might miss it if you blinked. Meanwhile, I heard Molly getting up, her breathing laboured.

"If one hair on my son's head is harmed, Hermione, you will wish you hadn't been born." She looked feral when she threatened me. It seemed that Ron's amazingly wise words had worked. Apparently, she let him go with a heavy heart.

"Miss Granger, I think it's not all that bad if Mr. Weasley accompanies you... Can we expect an owl?" Dumbledore said. Just like he had passed over my objections, I did the same now and ignored him.

"I promise you, Mrs. Weasley, I will look after him. He'll be safe, as safe as here, I promise," I offered, resolutely turning away for the final time. I would wait for Ron in the hall and leave the thankless task of appeasing his distressed Order members and bringing their meeting to an orderly conclusion to Dumbledore. Good luck with that, I thought gloatingly and very spitefully as the door snapped shut behind me.

Bloody hell, why had I said yes? Was I crazy? Leaning casually against the wall of the hallway, I mused intently as to why I had granted Ron's request. Yeah, why? Clearly, I knew Harry would be pleased and I had seen Ron's begging look and noted the slight desperation in there over being out of the loop! Had I given in just for Harry or was it also the hope that our friendship could still be saved?

Was I planning to welcome half of Hogwarts into the cottage, I dared to ask myself self-deprecatingly. No? Good, because things would get crowded soon. I was slightly amused by my own absurd thoughts.

I had to remember that even though I held a grudge against him for abandoning us during the Triwizard Tournament, Harry had forgiven him. Of course, Harry had Daphne, but his great love could not replace his best male friend and one thing was clear: Ron was Harry's only mate. At the moment, he only had Blaise, whom he liked, but unlike Ron, he hadn't known the Slytherin boy for almost six years. The two Gryffindors had shared a lot. In fact, Blaise was something like Draco's best friend, so he wasn't at all suitable to take Ron's place.

I was too kind-hearted, I admitted to myself with contempt.

It had impressed me when he had snapped at Molly like that. I knew Ron cared a lot about his family. He didn't seem to like it falling apart like that; not at all, as it seemed, otherwise he wouldn't have shot down his mother like that. The shocking revelations at the will reading seemed to have caused Ron to reflect - at least as it seemed so at the current point in time. Like Harry, he appeared to have matured.

He, too, had left a good deal of his youthful impetuosity and naivety in the Department of Mysteries, had shed his childhood like a cocoon, just as he had lost his physical integrity. He still wore the scars from this adventure on his arms, but the way he had acted, he also wore some that were not visible. I had already noticed that a change had been set in motion inside him when he had been discharged from the infirmary back then, and he had hardly spoken at all.

As I said, maybe the brain tentacles had done something to him, or maybe the realization that he knew nothing after he learned that I had been with Sirius. Was I doing the right thing? I did not know. All I knew was that he had experienced many adventures with Harry and me. Besides, I would know how to protect us all from Ron; I would do that without debate and with a hard, unyielding hand.

Why did Dumbledore allow Ron to come along? Was he hoping to put a little spy in our midst? Well, I'd put a stop to that. I didn't think Ron was that devious, though, and his desire to come with us seemed to have been spontaneous. Ron was probably more driven by the fear of losing his best friend and this for good and forever if he didn't act now!

Actually, it was a brilliant move on Ron's part to come with me right now and insist on it. It was in fact the only real chance he had left to remain a part of Harry's life, otherwise the ship would have sailed forever. And if there was one thing Ron had, it was a sense of timing, otherwise he wouldn't be the great chess player he had proven himself to be. It always amazed me that he was so good at it, because it took a keen sense of intuition and ice-cold calculation, strategic planning and clear-sighted overlooking of a situation. Ron had hitherto been able to hide these skills well in normal everyday life, to my chagrin.

Ron would be astonished! I would not tolerate that he acted up or that he behaved in any other way than adapted and if not, oh, then Draco would certainly take care of it unbendingly, because he would certainly not let him get on his nerves. That would become exciting! Alas, I was sure I wouldn't need Draco's help with Ron.

From here on out, Ron was now in my hands, in my world. The rules were different from those in Gryffindor Tower. If he threw another one of his righteous fits, it would end badly for him. This would not happen in our cottage and if we had to hex him, we would. If necessary, he would learn it the hard way!

Even Harry submitted to the rules and curbed his temper with a heavy heart. Ron would have to endure that too, even if it was snakes he would have to listen to, but they had a better understanding than he did and I wasn't always there. I was curious and ready to take this risk, because, I admit, his behaviour today had intrigued me.

My train of thought, in which I had been totally absorbed, was interrupted.

"Hermione, can I speak to you for a moment?" Remus asked calmly. He had approached me quietly and my hand had already twitched to my dagger in that second, out of a trained impulse, before I stopped myself. Damn Hermione, stop dreaming, I called myself to order in irritation.

Fortunately, he could not interpret what my movement towards my thigh meant. I looked into his face, noticing the disbelief and sadness in his eyes. Yes, the way he seemed to be beside himself, I must have hit him really hard, I acknowledged to myself. Actually, I hadn't wanted to hurt Remus like that, because he tried to help as much as he could. He was a genuinely kind, gentle, loyal person who would never be capable of such calculated moves as the ones I had planned.

He had taught Harry the Patronus Charm and honestly tried to teach us Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts so that we could defend ourselves. Basically, he was just a kind man who was deeply affected because his last best friend had died. After Sirius's death, it must have been very painful for Remus to hear the secrets the other had kept from everyone, even him, his friend.

I nodded calmly and answered quietly, not without regret:

"Remus, I didn't mean to hurt you. Believe me, everything was settled between me and Sirius. I know, my clarity shocked you! But I also don't know where you got the idea that you know me?" I explained further, alluding to the fact that I had so openly admitted that Sirius was simply a good fuck. It amazed me that he thought he knew me just because he had been my professor and was familiar with the well-behaved, nice, know-it-all Hermione from his lessons; I found that very presumptuous.

I took a deep breath, because I would not have wanted such a conversation today. But well, you never knew what it was good for. I raised my hand defensively when Remus wanted to answer.

"I didn't know he loved me. Had I known, I don't know if I would have acted differently... most probably not at all that much," I shrugged my shoulders apologetically. I wanted Remus to understand that I meant it. He looked at me in shock at this very cold statement. "We had a good time, which I remember fondly, and I don't blame him for his outburst, because he had every right to be angry. Keep him in good memory Remus, as will I. His last act was to rush to Harry's rescue. Even though he walked into a trap, I am grateful that he was so unreservedly committed to Harry."

Remus nodded, replying wearily and sadly:

"I never really knew you, did I? I thought you were the smartest little witch I've ever known, but I took you for someone who followed the rules. That's how I had got to know you in class and... and... oh, I don't know, not the way you're acting now! I mean, I'm sure Sirius freaked out for a reason, but I can't imagine what it is. Because there is no excuse," it continued to prey on his mind.

"Oh, Remus, let bygones be bygones," I implored him. He would not be able to imagine that I had slept with another man while I was still with Sirius and had only wanted to tell him afterwards that it was over. No, he would not understand; that was simply not the type of person the gentle werewolf was. "If I tell you that things are not always as they seem, that will have to be enough for you," I said seriously and looked at him calmly. He did not answer and sank briefly with a bowed head into silent brooding.

"Well... that's all you'll say about that, all right... But tell me, why did you take Harry away from the Dursleys? Why are you deliberately putting him in danger?" he now replied, and a great reproach was visible in his eyes.

I sighed resignedly. Well, I liked that he cared so much for Harry, but I didn't really want to explain it to him. It made me quite upset, which he must have seen, for he was now enquiring further.

"Don't you think I have a right to know your reasons? I've always cared about Harry. If I wasn't what I am, I'd have done anything to take him in after James and Lily died. But what could I, a werewolf with no steady job and no real home, have offered him? At least he had a home and a family, he was better off there than with me!

"Now that Sirius is dead, I feel like I'm the only remaining part of his family, because even though I was not his godfather, Lily was as good a friend to me as she was to Sirius and I knew James as long as he did. Please explain it to me, Hermione," he pleaded very vehemently. He did not take his eyes off me, waiting anxiously for my answer.

Yes, his words touched me, but they made me more angry than they appeased me. I liked the fact that he had really wanted to take Harry at the time, but I knew Remus would always degrade himself for what he was and hide. He didn't have an easy life, but I despised him a little bit for this behaviour. He should have accepted what he was! Instead, he had hidden behind his failed existence and let everything happen without intervening to help. Oh, ignorance, yes, that irked me very much.

I have always been very blunt and open with myself. Thus, I could not understand how anyone could deny themselves all their life and sugarcoat something that was visibly unpleasant. I was aware that he, Remus, was different from me, but the fact that he thought that Harry had had a family and a home with the Dursleys, that he had persuaded himself of that, immediately made me angry again. As a result, I answered with more intensity than I wanted to.

"Harry had a roof over his head at the Dursleys', but that was it! Have you ever asked him how he really fared with his 'family'?" - I snarled the word - "Why do you think he begged Sirius to spend the holidays with him? They despise all that is magical, and you can imagine how magical Harry was as a child, with who his parents were. He truly had no family and no home, he lived under the stairs! In a cupboard! He truly had no family and no home, he lived under the stairs! In a closet! In what illusion do you live in, Remus?" I was just talking myself into a rage and almost started screaming, I was so angry with him. I could get upset about that every time! When I saw the shaken expression on Remus' face, I tried to calm myself down and forced myself to do so.

I took a deep breath and finally stepped towards Remus. For this, I pushed off the wall I was still leaning against and put my hand on his arm to calm him down. He looked as if I had slapped him.

"Remus," I said just before the door burst open. A dark figure came out of the kitchen and shot towards us at a rapid pace, into the dreary hallway. Remus looked up, as did I, taken by surprise when someone rushed at us like this and the intense look of the black glittering eyes of the second man made me freeze inside, but I put on a brave face while he planted himself threateningly in front of us.

"What is going on here that makes you yell like that?" he demanded to know in his soft, oily voice. The piercing look of his eyes fell on my hand that was on Remus' arm and I instinctively pulled it away at the murderous look that Severus gave us. For the goddess' sake, it was as if I had burnt my hand! Severus could be extremely intimidating with just a look or a pitch of his voice and he knew how to use this like a weapon like no other.

"Severus, nothing, I'm just talking to Hermione. Did we disturb you?" Remus asked politely as always. Severus didn't even glance at Remus, his eyes were glued to me and I swallowed briefly when he measured me like that. Then I cockily tilted my head and grinned slightly. He snorted and so I finished my interrupted sentence, but didn't look at Remus anymore:

"Remus... where was I? Right... One day you'll be able to talk to Harry about that. He should be the one to tell you, not me. This is his story, his life! But believe me, Harry's safety is very important to me. It's for him that I'm doing all this, and he's much safer where I put him than at the Dursleys', where I, a student, could get him out without attracting attention. Think about that! Where he is now, no one will find him. Nobody will be a threat to him, and what is just as important for me, he will finally be happy there. Please trust me. Sirius would have wanted me to protect him and take care of him, I know that. And he knew I could do that. He trusted me!"

He nodded slowly, apparently pondering what I had told him. After a while, he answered without paying any attention to Severus, who was now standing in front of us with folded arms.

"Well, okay, I trust you to keep Harry safe!" He wanted to say more, but he was interrupted by a loud bang when the kitchen door hit the wall and a bright red head of hair appeared in the hallway, making all three of us look at it.

"Fred?" asked Remus when he recognized him and the Twin returned our looks with uncharacteristic seriousness when he replied.

"Would you come back inside? The professor wants you both to come back," he delivered the message and disappeared immediately afterwards.

I don't know if it seemed strange to Remus, but Severus did not move at that prompt, standing firm like a garden statue, and so the werewolf shrugged his shoulder and turned around, following the request.

"Hermione," he said over his shoulder, still with an air of sadness, "I hope you know what you're doing... Give my regards to Harry." As soon as he vanished through the door, silence fell over the corridor and I looked at the motionless Severus, who captured me with his gaze. Okay, here I give it to you in writing: I became cold and warm at the same time under the piercing, unmoving gaze he gave me. It went right through me. I knew what had been said during the Order meeting didn't agree with him and now, here in the hallway, he hadn't liked that I had touched Remus. But please, they ought to try and stop me. I wouldn't let them tell me what I could and couldn't do!

He said nothing, just raised his eyebrow in a measured way. Students at Hogwarts would have run away crying and screaming at the sight. I tried my best to show him that I didn't care, not at all. That's what I tried to make myself believe when we heard a loud rumbling sound overhead and Severus, like the black shadow that he was, silently retreated and disappeared behind the door. He left me alone, with an angry, bitter promise shining out of the black obsidians that he had for eyes.

With his suitcase in hand, Ron seemed to be moving at a crazy speed. Like a madman, he rushed to me banging against the walls and I smiled as I saw him arrive at the top of the stairs with long, tangled hair hanging wildly into his flushed face. In all the hurry, his short, brown shirt was half tucked into his trousers and half hanging out.

"Good! Phew! I was worried that you had left without me," he shouted with relief at the sight of me. He was completely out of breath and sweeped the hair out of his face.

I turned to Ron and, with a broad and mischievous grin, I pulled my white wand and shrunk his suitcase for him, which he watched with huge, wide open blue eyes. Quickly, he had caught himself again and took the now hand-sized, small suitcase and put it into his trouser pocket.

Thumping down the last few steps, he wanted to say something to me, but when I nodded my head at the kitchen door with a deliberate sideways glance, he gulped down any comment he might have had, to my boundless amazement.

Leaving the Order behind me, I quickly took to the streets. Arriving in an alleyway, I grabbed him by the bare arm and immediately apparated with him, without long hesitation. As soon as we re-materialized under the old oak tree, I let go of his noticeably scarred arm, which I had held tightly until then.

"Hermione... How? What? ... You apparated?" was his first stuttering question. He was still swaying slightly after the sudden apparition.

"Yes. Now, one thing, my friend: Do you agree that I cast a spell on you?" I didn't give him any respite. From my side, this was just a rhetorical question. I would not allow him to set a foot over the threshold without me shutting his mouth in advance. Taken by surprise at my harsh tone, he nodded. That was enough for me and I pointed my wand at him.

"Credere tacientiae, Hermione, Harry, the Twins, Daphne, Astoria, Blaise, Draco and Lucius, Severus," I whispered the names, as I did not want him to know all the actors of my conspiracy yet. He watched me with interest and suspicion while I mumbled to myself.

"Do I want to know what that was?" he asked cautiously, brushing the chin-length hair from his face.

"Nothing bad Ron, just that you are sworn to secrecy," I confessed and now stepped aggressively towards him, so that he retreated in shock when he looked into my serious, uncompromising face. With his back against the big trunk of the tree, he stumbled to a halt. I built myself up intimidatingly in front of him - even though he towered above me by far, he seemed much smaller than I was at that moment - and then I got going.

"So Ron, before we go in, I'm going to warn you: You are here because you wanted to be, not because you were invited! You're not at Hogwarts, different rules apply here. Me and the others, we will not tolerate boorishness or any other outrageous behaviour. You have to obey rules here, otherwise you'll be so quickly out of the game and back at the Order, you won't even be able to blink. Do we understand each other, my friend? Ron, I'm waiting! ... You're nodding. Are you serious? It's unusual and difficult for everyone, but we all have to keep a cool head. Your hot-blooded, choleric temper is out of place here and inappropriate!

"I warn you in good faith, RON! You want to join Harry, you want to belong with us, so you're going to have to change a lot. If you are not ready for this, say so now, then I will take you back immediately and you will save yourself a lot of ... pain and suffering. Either way, I mean it. You will not like what you see! Because if you decide to come with me, Ron, there's no way back... for any of us! It would be a final decision," I was very insistent and final. I saw him pale slightly and his Adam's apple bouncing nervously as he tried to return my cold look steadfastly.

"Hermione, have I ever told you that you can be scary?! W-when Harry's ready to go this way, so am I! I know I've ruined a lot of things where you are concerned. I could feel the look in your eyes when I was a dumb-ass back during the tournament and also last year... But I can learn. Yes, I do! And even if nobody believes it, I like Harry. He has really become a brother for me.

"And don't you believe that I've known since the Ministry that all this amounts to a war? I don't want to be on my own, my place is with Harry! In the fight against... well... you-know-who... I was there every year, just like you Hermione. I won't let them take that away from me. Besides, I see how everyone is positioning their players on the chessboard. It's not for fame. What fame? Since we almost got killed in the Department of Mysteries, I don't need anyone to bring that up! But for Harry, for Ginny, for everything. I don't want to live like this...! That is my decision," he panted heavily and looked at me urgently, beseechingly.

"Y-You know Hermione? After what I learned about you from Sirius, I realized that I don't know you at all, know nothing about you! At first, I was upset, angry and shocked... But then, slowly but surely, I realized that Harry had also become more reserved towards me towards the end of school. The trust that was there until then was missing! Then I watched Mum and to my horror I realized that I am very similar to her in her quick-tempered way and look where that has brought my family! And, apparently, I did the same unconsciously with my friends: I drove you away, alienated myself from you. You think you can't trust me; you are afraid to tell me anything because of my yelling, right?! I don't want that!

"Oh yes, I've had a lot of time to think about it lately and believe me, I didn't like it! I'm not a CHILD anymore," he expressed his desperation to me, stretching his disfigured arms towards me and I was overwhelmed. Ron had taken a big step towards self-discovery without much help from others. As it seemed, he had also been shaken by the fact that the Twins, just like Percy, had broken away from the family, which was good in some ways, because he had obviously realized that this was no longer a game!

He was also the only one besides Harry who had the visible evidence that things were getting increasingly rough. The pale, white skin of his arms, exposed by a short, summery T-shirt, showed the deep incisions made by the tentacles in white and red lines and dots - like a scarred map - that stretched across the entire surface and would always mark him.

I stepped back, giving him air to breathe, and offered him a friendly, honest smile.

"I am pleased and delighted with your decision. You would make me happy if you would keep to your words when we go into the house. Now come, the others are waiting! I’m giving you my trust, don't lose it," I urged, took his hand and pulled him with me, which he accepted without resistance and followed me obediently.

"You have made the... whatever, disappear, haven't you?" he asked curiously as he walked with me towards the cottage, which was invisible to him, and I nodded. "Before we go in, Hermione, I'm glad you got Harry away from the Dursleys. Though I almost died of worry as to where he might be, but you have done well," he said softly to me and I was touched that he wanted to tell me that. Apparently, he was very nervous about what was waiting for him in the house and I assumed that his worst nightmares and whatever horror stories he had made up would really come true for him.

I didn't dare to include him in the Blood Wards or the Fidelius, so I pulled Ron into the house with me after I had opened the door. I preferred to be careful. Then we were standing in the small hallway and he curiously looked around, listening and hearing the laughing voices from the living room.

I took off my cloak and now you could see my knee-length, long-sleeved and high-necked, plain, black silk dress. The issue of covering-up was not yet finished for me. I saw Ron's uncomprehending gaze wander over my figure. I knew he usually only saw me in jeans during the holidays and so I gave him a cynical grin, but he said nothing.

Only with glances we communicated that I would go ahead and so I entered, spotting the two couples comfortably spread out in the living room, brooding over books and trying to work something out together. Yes, although we had a lot of fun here in the cottage, there was a lot of learning, working and preparing, too. To my unbelievable pride, the four of them had started to use my laboratory in the basement of the house, brewing merrily and refilling my supplies afterwards without being asked. When I found out, I had been almost moved to tears.

Ron still held back conspicuously in the hallway; perhaps he was trying to muster the courage to enter. He had seemed quite nervous and pale since we had entered the house. At that moment, the four of them looked up.

"Hermione, finally!" cried Astoria delightedly as the first. "Harry is so annoying..."

"Don't always be so impertinent," Daphne immediately reprimanded her sister, but Harry was already on his feet and came to me.

"Most beautiful, has everything gone well? I still don't understand why you wanted to tell the old coot where I am. He honestly let you go again just like that? I almost can't believe it!" He took me into his by now, thanks to Blaise, very strong arms.

"Yes, Harry, I had to, and I only had to threaten him minimally to tell what happened in his office and then he just caved in. Fantastic, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't have believed that he would give in so easily. But it's okay with me. No ten Abraxan horses could have taken me away from here," Harry leaned back and looked at me with startling happiness as a movement behind me captured his gaze. He must have seen red, for his next words were: "Fred, George, do come in. We've made this Wild Berry punch especially for you tonight." He laughed, but then fell silent abruptly and even the soft gossip from the others stopped immediately when they saw who was cautiously and slowly slinking in through the door.

Harry's disbelieving gaze was fixed on Ron.

"Gee, beautiful, another Weasley?" I heard Blaise call out. "Where is he going to sleep? I'm not swapping again." At these calmly spoken words, he pulled Astoria, who was sitting on the couch with him, possessive closer at the hip. She squealed in surprise when he manhandled her so determinedly and pressed her tightly against himself, which didn't seem relaxed at all anymore. I was about to roar with laughter. A... a lone single boy came along and he immediately marked the alpha male and threw his thoughts that he didn't want to hurt her and therefore was moving so slowly overboard; abandoned his tactics, a la 'I will circle her slowly and take her when she falls asleep over my slow wooing' and jumped over his shadow in a flash. Men! Honestly! Too delicious!

Ron was still staring at Harry, saying nothing. Only when a tentative, cautious smile spread across Harry's face and he let go of me, approaching Ron, not sure how to greet him, did I see that I had done the right thing.

Harry was standing there with uncertainty as Ron slowly returned the smile and shyly pulled up his shoulders and then extended his arm to Harry, who immediately grabbed it firmly by the forearm and pulled Ron strongly towards him. They gave each other a quick, bashful, brotherly embrace, patting each other on the back in a very manly way. Nonetheless, I could also see how happy they looked that there was not so much between them yet, that this would not have been possible anymore.

When they separated awkwardly, both running a hand through their hair in a similar, uncertain movement and smiling insecurely at each other, I was almost sure they would find a way. Harry would figure out how to make all this palatable to Ron.

"Damn, mate, you here! I'm so happy, Ron, but how?" Harry asked in a husky voice and the rest of us tried to make ourselves almost invisible. Even our breathing was very shallow, so we didn't disturb the two of them.

"I... Hermione... I wanted to come! Merlin, what do you think what kind of worries I had. I want to belong again, want to help you. You must know that, Harry, after that thing... Well, you know..." he scraped his feet and looked holes into the ground. Then Harry surprised me as well.

"Oh, Ron... It means so much to me. Thanks, mate! But I don't know if this is right for you! You're so Gryffindor, so straight forward, which is good, Ron. But here... this is so different, so... Oh, I don't know! Borderline is a good word. I don't know if you can handle it. As happy as I am, maybe it's better if you leave," Harry shocked me deeply that he wanted to send Ron away! Then I realized once again how badly shaken Harry must have been by my revelations about who I really was and what kind of life I led if he wanted to spare Ron these insights

At this suggestion, Ron looked up very indignantly.

"Harry, please, this is intolerable. Don't play the long-suffering hero here. Hermione has already given me the choice and I am not a soft-hearted Hufflepuff! I've made my choice! I'm staying! She also told me that one condition for her to take me with her is that I control myself and as hard as it is for me," he took a deep breath, "I... I will do everything to keep my promise," he sounded very grown-up and looked solemnly at his best friend. After a moment, he turned away from Harry and looked curiously at the room, then he pinned his eyes on the people in it. He raised a red eyebrow and now asked Harry politely, "Friends of yours?" and pointed to the others and Harry nodded uneasily, cracking his knuckles restlessly.

"Yes, Ron. May I introduce you? This here is my girlfriend, my steady girlfriend, Daphne and her sister Astoria Greengrass," they waved timidly to Ron when their names came up and he just stared at them with a deeply furrowed forehead. "And you should know Blaise Zabini and yes, Ron... these are all Slytherins," Harry said calmly.

"Wow, I had feared this, but hoped... Well... Pleased to meet you," he said quite calmly, yet he scratched his head in bewilderment and looked around doubtfully. Here he confirmed my previous opinion that he had expected the worst. "You're really dating a snake, Harry?" he squeaked, looking at Daphne in amazement. Harry gave him an apologetic look.

"Sorry, Ron, I know everybody wants Ginny and me to-" Ron interrupted him.

"That's bullshit, I don't want that! I love my sister, but I already feel sorry for the man who gets her. Imagine if she turns out like mom," Ron said boldly. "No, I meant something else. Aren't you... aren't you afraid? Can you really trust them?" Ron questioned suspiciously.

"Yes, Ron, you can trust them. I trust them with my life," Harry gave us a very sweet smile and left me speechless when he said it like that, expressing his trust in me in several ways.

"Oh my, this is really giving me stomach cramps. ... May I?" he pointed to an armchair and, after getting a nod of approval, he slumped into it, holding his stomach with his hand.

"Would you like some whiskey?" Blaise enquired, already standing up, knowing he would definitely find a taker. Ron looked at him as if he were from another star. An attentive, polite, nice Slytherin? Yes, I could understand his confusion and so he just nodded awkwardly.

"Fred and George live here, too?" he then asked softly. Harry just nodded in response. Ron appeared to think for a moment, then asked, "Everything here is all right for them?" Again Harry nodded.

"Yes, very much so. They're happy here, just like me!"

"Beautiful...?" Blaise now wanted to know. After a nod from Harry, he poured some for him and the sisters kept to the punch, declining with thanks.

"As always, neat," I requested. I accepted the glass and took a sip that immediately relaxed me. That had been more nerve-wracking than showing up at the Order. I was just about to sit down when the front door slammed shut with a loud bang and I jumped back. Who was coming, I wondered, when I saw two red, very angry looking twins who came in stomping loudly and I wondered what they had. What else had happened at the Order meeting?

But then my heart stopped for a moment and I swallowed heavily once. Lifting my body with conscious effort, I straightened my shoulders and made a quick curtsy, hoping that this would appease him after the gloomy expression he showed. Although I suspected that my hope was forlorn and he wouldn't appreciate my expression of respect, if I didn't do it, it would probably get worse.
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