Title: A Thousand Words (ch 7)
Summary: Of talk of weddings, apologies, and lunatic demands.
Hermione couldn’t help but agree with Ginny’s words. She, too, couldn’t help but feel anything other than sympathy for Shadow. He seemed so…lost.
‘“How do you melt a heart of ice”…that’s so romantic, Hermione! I think someone –’
Hermione quickly clamped a hand over Ginny’s mouth before she could finish her sentence. ‘Shh!’
Ginny pried Hermione’s hand away from her mouth and said quizzically, ‘Why?’
‘Ron might hear you,’ said Hermione uneasily. She looked towards the closed door as if expecting her boyfriend to be standing there. ‘You know how he was with just the mention of Shadow…’
‘Oh, and you’re starting to call him Shadow too,’ said Ginny teasingly, ignoring Hermione’s warning. ‘Not just “my pen pal” anymore, is it?’
Hermione rolled her eyes even though she could feel her cheeks beginning to heat up. ‘Ginny, I told you, he’s a friend. Besides, it’s not as if I would ever leave Ron for a man I know only by what he writes to me in his letters – romances, after all, don’t develop on parchment.’
Ginny’s expression suddenly became more serious as she said quietly, ‘But Hermione…you and Ron are having problems, aren’t you?’
Hermione turned away, unable to bring herself to answer Ginny’s question. Instead, she murmured, ‘Don’t tell him about this letter, okay?’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t,’ said Ginny reassuringly. ‘I want you to survive to attend my wedding.’
Hermione laughed. ‘Speaking of the wedding,’ she said pointedly, drawing out the last word, ‘when’s it going to be?’
‘We’re not even engaged yet,’ said Ginny, laughing, ‘so let’s not get ahead of ourselves with talk of weddings. Mum doesn’t want her little girl to marry at only 21, anyway.’
‘Surely Fred and George’s marriages – ?’
‘Oh, but they’re already “well established financially” according to Mum,’ said Ginny, pulling a sour face. ‘She apparently doesn’t think Harry having the second highest position in the Auror department is enough to support the two of us.’
‘I thought she wanted you to live with her,’ said Hermione, surprised.
‘She did,’ said Ginny, ‘but even living with her won’t due us much good…I mean, with Dad gone…’ Her voice trailed off and she seemed unsure of what to say next.
Hermione nodded quietly, knowing that the Weasleys had had a rough time getting back on their feet after the Second War and the murder of Mr Weasley. His death was rarely brought up in the house, for Mrs Weasley broke down into hysterical sobs everytime someone mentioned his name, but nevertheless, it was impossible to hide the fact that the family had lost one of their only sources of income when Mr Weasley died.
Thankfully, the twins had managed to pull their business back together in the nick of time. They, along with their older brothers Charlie and Bill, were able to support their family financially until Mrs Weasley picked up a job as a cook at The Three Broomsticks and Harry and Hermione went to live at the Burrow to help out around the house.
By now, Ginny had pulled herself back together and was explaining to Hermione how well her chase after a rising dark wizard by the name of Nocabsichten was going. Hermione listened to Ginny’s excited exclamations of how they had nearly caught him the other day, smiling and nodding at appropriate moments to give off the impression that she was paying close attention.
When Ginny at last paused to take breath, Hermione quickly interjected, ‘So how is the interdepartmental unity challenge going for you?’
‘My pen pal is a witch,’ Ginny explained. Her eyes twinkled as she added, ‘She’s not nearly as interesting as your Shadow.’
Hermione wrinkled her nose and protested, ‘He’s not my Shadow!’ Determined to move the topic of conversation off of her pen pal, she asked, ‘How many times has she written to you?’
‘We’ve both written to each other once.’
‘Well, we’re both busy!’
‘Ginny, don’t you think this is slightly more important than work?’
Ginny gaped at Hermione. ‘More important than work? I thought nothing was more important than work!’
‘Of course there are things more important than work,’ said Hermione with a glare. ‘And don’t laugh, Ginny; I’m being serious! The Ministry is right; we ought to make an attempt to get along with everyone. I can’t stand all of distrust between the workers.’
Before Hermione could reply, there came a knocking at the door.
The doorknob turned and Harry entered. He was grinning and holding a folded map in one hand.
‘Ginny, they’ve found him!’
Ginny’s hand flew to her mouth and she jumped off the bed to run over to Harry. ‘Where?’ she asked breathlessly once she was standing before him.
‘By the North Sea. Come on, we have to go round up the Hit Wizards,’ said Harry eagerly. His green eyes shone brightly behind his glasses as he grabbed Ginny’s hand and led her to the doorway. ‘Hermione, Ron wants to talk to you,’ he added with a smile in Hermione’s direction.
‘Okay, I’ll be down soon,’ said Hermione. She returned the smile. ‘Good luck, you two. You’ll have no problem catching him.’
‘Thanks!’ chorused Harry and Ginny in unison before leaving Hermione’s room and closing the door behind them.
Alone now, Hermione sighed and read over Shadow’s letter once more. Her heart ached painfully; she could nearly feel his forlorness through his words. She couldn’t help but wonder, fleetingly, why it was that his handwriting was so messy and crooked, for his earlier letters had been filled with straight, neat lines of long-practice cursive.
Though her fingers were itching to take hold of a quill and write a reply, Hermione forced herself off her bed. Harry had mentioned that Ron was looking for her, and Hermione did not want to push their already precarious relationship by not going to find him.
It did not take long for Hermione to locate Ron. He was downstairs, sitting at the kitchen table, and talking seriously with Fred. When Hermione approached them, Fred immediately stood up, uttered an unconvincing excuse about him needing to go feed his and Alicia’s baby (Hermione noted here that the said baby was, at the moment, nonexistant), and hurried out of the room.
Ron coughed abashedly and gestured at Fred’s vacant seat. Determined to force an apology out of Ron first this time, Hermione said nothing as she obediently sat down.
Hermione watched Ron in stony silence, her arms folded and a scowl fixated firmly on her face.
‘Listen, I’m sorry, Hermione.’ The words seemed to tumble out of Ron’s mouth of their own accord.
Hermione fought away the smile that threatened to emerge by saying coldly, ‘It would be nice if you could explain what caused this sudden change of attitude.’
The redness at the tips of Ron’s ears seemed to spread to his cheeks as he said hotly, ‘Isn’t it enough that I apologised?’
‘No,’ responded Hermione bluntly. ‘From the looks of it, Fred put you up to it, so unless you can explain to me why you chose the say the words to me, you just wasted an apology.’
Ron spluttered angrily; then, after a few minutes, he seemed to decide that protestations wouldn’t be worth it in the long run, and said sullenly, ‘I was jealous that you were writing to this stranger when we hardly spend time together anymore. I didn’t think before I spoke.’
‘And?’ prompted Hermione.
‘And I’ll let you write to your pen pal without objection from now on,’ Ron finished, scowling noticeably.
Hermione felt her resolution to maintain a cold pretence crack when she saw how hard it was for Ron, whose dignity prevented him from uttering apologies on a regular basis, to attempt to make amends on his own. Thus, she smiled tentatively at him and said softly, ‘It’s okay, Ron. Don’t worry about it.’
An expression of immense relief crossed Ron’s freckled face. He grinned at Hermione and said happily, ‘D’you want to join me for lunch, then?’
Hermione opened her mouth to accept the invitation, but then she remembered Shadow’s advice. Perhaps a little space might do the two of you some good… Hermione promptly closed her mouth and bit her lips in contemplation.
Was Shadow right? Should she and Ron try to spend a few days apart? He himself had warned Hermione that his advice might not be good, and yet it was the only advice she had…
Hermione looked up at Ron. Softly, she whispered, ‘I’m sorry Ron, but I have to work on…work on a few things today.’ She cringed, loathing herself for letting the lie slip out so easily.
Ron looked crestfallen. Instead of arguing, though, he simply said quietly, ‘Okay. I’ll see you at dinner, Hermione.’
And with that, he stood up and stalked out of the room.
Hermione gazed after Ron’s retreating back, wishing she could run over to him and hug him and tell him that there was nothing in the world she wanted more than to spend an afternoon with him. Despite this, she held back, remembering Shadow’s advice.
Hermione wasn’t sure how she felt about him anymore. On one hand, he acted as if he was making his best attempts to change and become a better person than he had been in the past. On the other hand, the bits of his past he did mention all but frightened Hermione. What if he had not entirely turned over a new leaf? Was the shadow (Hermione smiled wryly at the pun) of his old self still lurking behind him?
Sighing, Hermione ran a hand through her hair, wondering why she was troubling herself so much over someone she hardly knew. Just by existing, Shadow was making a mess of Hermione’s life: first her job (which did not receive as much attention as it used to, for Hermione now spent many hours just staring into space and wondering when her next letter would arrive), then Ron, and now herself.
Yet despite all the trouble he was causing, Hermione felt an inexplicable pull towards this seemingly miserable, conflicted man. She wanted to help him put the scars of his past behind, and at the moment, the only way she could do this was by writing back to him.
And so she did.
Just this morning, I received your letter, and now I can’t help but write back to you. To be honest, it may not be very smart of me to be devoting all this time to the challenge, but – and I don’t know about you – I’m enjoying it.
It seems that all I do lately is sleep, eat, work, and write to you. I feel like I can never spend enough time at the Ministry. I’ve been working tirelessly on finding out all I can about a collaboration of ex-Death Eaters that, as I’ve been told, and planning to found a new dark era. No matter how hard and long I try, though, it’s like trying to keep water in your bare hands: as soon as I scoop up more facts, some others disappear or are proven false. I can’t even put into words how frustrated this makes me; not only does it get me no where, between it and standing guard over certain rooms in the Ministry, I have absolutely no time on my hands. Luckily, my family and friends are both wonderfully supportive and sensible enough to force me to get rest or go out when I need to.
About my problem: I took your advice. He apologised to me this morning, though, and I felt dreadfully guilty brushing him off. Nonetheless, I thought I would try what you said – that is, maintain a little space between us for a while. I can only hope that it will work out, because the last thing I want is for our relationship to fall apart.
I’m terribly sorry; I shouldn’t have rambled on about myself like that. Shadow…I’ve been thinking. Perhaps it’s too much to ask too soon, but might it be possible for us to meet? I could take the Invisibility Cloak I usually use on missions so you won’t see me, and you can think of some other way to hide your identity. It probably sounds far-fetched, but I would like to talk to you in person. If this is possible, please owl me back a location and time.
Hoping to hear from you,
Hermione shut her eyes tightly the moment she let the quill fall out of her hand. Had she really written it? It was true; she had secretly been pondering the possibility of someday meeting Shadow in person. But…she hadn’t intended to suggest it so soon.
What better time than right now? her mind encouraged. He sounds very upset; I’m sure he’ll welcome the chance to talk to you face to face…
Praying that her request had not been too out of line, Hermione swallowed hard and folded the letter. She would seal it when she returned to her bedroom and send it immediately afterwards.
Now, though, Hermione had an entirely different task on her mind: to find her boyfriend and apologise.