A/N: She said YES!
(I was so nervous posting this story. I was willing to respect Mistra Rose's input, and if she had hated it I fully planned on yanking it. Thankfully, she loved it so we're moving forward.)
Okay, so, the Ancient and Noble House of Black is incredibly convoluted and detailed. If you have any questions, I highly recommend that you check out the Black Family tree at the HP Wiki.
Also, my team has a BYE this round, which only means good things for you my little darlings.
"The Restoration of a fallen House can only be accomplished through a Keeper, but if She so chooses, She can refuse to aid the House. This is especially true if the House has harmed its Keeper; it is for this reason that many wizards are instructed to treat every witch as a potential Keeper. To be Restored the wizards of a House must ask for aid, but the request does not guarantee an answer. No one is certain as to why this is, but there are several theories."
Malfoy Manor, May 2, 1998
"You have some explaining to do, Narcissa." Lucius' grey eyes were icy as he glared at his wife. "For instance, why did you abandon your son to go protect Potter's Mudblood whore?"
The crack of Narcissa's palm against Lucius' cheek echoed in the room. Draco flinched sympathetically. He had never seen his mother so furious. Two spots of colour burned in her pale cheeks and her nostrils flared.
"Don't you dare call her that word," Narcissa hissed in his face.
"Have you been Imperiused?" Lucius demanded. "Draco, scan your mother."
After a cautious glance at his mother Draco took out his wand and carefully scanned her for any coercion spells. "She's clean, Father."
"Of course I am, you idiot man," Narcissa growled at her husband.
"Then why did you leave Draco?" Lucius bellowed. The vein in his temple throbbed.
"He was safe with you," Narcissa screamed back.
"Father, Mother is right. You and I were fine," Draco ventured. His mother turned to look at him. "Why did you protect Granger?"
Narcissa pressed her lips together in a firm line. She appeared to be warring with herself. Finally she sighed and rubbed her temple. "She belongs to the House of Black."
"The House of Black?" Draco was confused. He glanced at his father whose eyebrows were drawn together. Father was concentrating on what his mother had said, but Draco was impatient. What she had just said made no sense whatsoever. "But Mother, the House of Black has fallen."
"The House of Black has fallen," Lucius whispered to himself.
"That's what I just said Father," Draco protested.
Lucius' eyes widened and he stared at his wife. "The House of Black has fallen," he muttered yet again.
"Are you certain?" Lucius' voice was sharp.
"Of course I'm certain," Draco groused. "Sirius Black died, didn't he? He was the last of the line. I've read Nature's Nobility. There's no one else listed for their House."
"Andromeda and Nymphadora believe," Narcissa observed. "It makes a certain sense if you think about it. Miss Granger's obsession with Potter's safety is the key, really. Did you know that Sirius was Harry Potter's godfather?"
"Merlin's teeth," Lucius whispered.
"What are you talking about?" Draco demanded.
"Do try to keep up, Draco darling," Narcissa burst out impatiently. She turned to her son and glared at him. "If a House falls is there no recompense? Is there no recourse?"
Draco blinked. This felt like the quizzes his parents used to give him back when they home-schooled him. Pureblood history and customs had been a large focus. He frowned and began to muse the question aloud. "If a House dies out then... no, that can't be it. Well, really the only possible answer would be an Arx Domus, but... no. Mother you can't expect us to believe that... that Granger is a Keeper?"
"Well, she could always reject her calling, especially since Bellatrix tortured her here in this house," Narcissa hissed.
"So you and the werewolf's, er, Mrs Lupin were attempting to ameliorate your sister's actions?" Lucius guessed.
"Of course!" Narcissa glared at her husband. "I might have married into your House, and I might have given you its heir, but that doesn't mean that I don't want to see my House restored."
"You can't be certain that she's a Keeper," Lucius protested.
"I'm willing to take the chance," Narcissa countered.
Lucius sighed and rubbed at his temples. "And if I refuse to recognize her as a Keeper?"
Narcissa's eyes narrowed on her husband's face. "As the Patriarch of the House of Malfoy you, of course, are free to make all decisions regarding your House's future." Here Narcissa smiled at her husband, and she was pleased to note that he paled at the sight of it. "Even if those decisions will ultimately destroy it."
"Narcissa, are you threatening me?" Lucius' voice rose and his eyebrows climbed up his forehead.
A mirthless chuckle bubbled up from her throat. "I won't have to," she sneered at her husband. "If she is a Keeper-I'm not sure who she'll call back, but even if it is just Sirius... what do you think he would do to you if he found out that you had showed his Keeper anything but the deepest respect?"
"I'm not afraid of Sirius Black," Lucius scoffed.
"You should be," Narcissa retorted.
Grimmauld Place, May 5, 1998
A shriek of rage brought Harry and Neville running into the kitchen. A pink-faced, furious Hermione was slamming cupboard doors and muttering darkly under her breath. Harry and Neville edged into the kitchen carefully.
"Hermione, are you all right?" Harry asked cautiously.
"She's trying to avoid me," Hermione growled as she slammed the teakettle onto the stove.
Harry frowned. "Who is trying to avoid you?"
"Mrs Weasley!" Hermione fumed at the counter.
"Why is Mrs Weasley trying to avoid you?" Harry had the sinking feeling that he was missing rather large chunks of information.
"Because!" Hermione gesticulated wildly. "She promised to tell me about Grove-born Witches. Now she just keeps putting me off. I mean, I know that Fred was pretty badly injured, but she can't spend every minute at St. Mungo's! And then there was Mrs Malfoy and Tonks! People are looking at me oddly every time I leave the house, and the worst part of it is Harry-I don't know why!"
Neville had become very still. "Why do you want to know about Grove-born Witches?"
Hermione flushed and bit her lip. "I wasn't supposed to tell anyone," she muttered.
Neville's eyes widened and he took a step toward her. "Hermione, are you a Grove-born Witch?"
Harry moved closer. "It's Neville, Hermione. I'm sure whatever it is, you can tell him."
Hermione looked at both men and then stared at her hands. "Yes," she admitted.
"What are you two talking about?" Harry demanded.
"A Grove-born Witch is a witch who is born in a specific type of grove," Neville explained absently. He turned to look at Hermione. "Your birthday is in September so... Vine?"
"How did you know?" Hermione demanded.
Neville rubbed the back of his neck. "It's part of Celtic lore. They had classifications for different types of trees and shrubs. Your birthday falls in the month of the Vine so if you were a Grove-born Witch then you would be a Vine Witch."
"But what is a Vine Witch?" Hermione begged.
"Well, any Grove-born Witch has the potential to be a Keeper, but the type of grove will determine her gifts," Neville explained.
"Wait, what's a keeper? And what kind of gifts?" Hermione was frowning intensely at Neville and the frustration was rolling off of her in waves.
Neville stared at her for a minute and then looked at Harry. He chuckled nervously. "You're joking, right? This is a joke? Harry?"
"Mate... pretend that we were raised by Muggles and answer Hermione's questions." Harry glared at his friend.
"Sorry." Neville flushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry. It's just that everyone knows about Keepers."
"Obviously not everyone," Hermione bit out between clenched teeth.
"Okay, so, Hermione you're going to hate this, but there's almost nothing written anywhere about Keepers," Neville began.
"What? How can everyone know about them then?" Harry protested.
"It's a legend," Neville explained.
"A legend?" Hermione looked hopeful. "So it's not real then?"
Neville sighed. "My gran is going to murder me," he muttered under his breath. "Look, Hermione, just because it's a legend doesn't make it untrue. It's mostly unwritten because the Houses who are gifted with Keepers aren't willing to reveal their Keeper's secrets to just anyone. The last Keeper anyone's heard of belonged to House Longbottom. So I know that they're real."
"But what is a Keeper? What do they do?" Hermione demanded in a voice that was growing increasingly shrill.
"This must stay between the three of us," Neville insisted. "These are the secrets of my House."
"Of course," Hermione agreed almost immediately. She glared at Harry and poked him in the side. "Well?"
"I promise not to reveal any of the secrets of House Longbottom," Harry swore.
"In the 17th century House Longbottom fell," Neville murmured. He glanced at Hermione and gave her a wry smile. "That means that the last male scion died. The fall of a Noble House is always a tragedy because it means the loss of that family's magical gifts, and the loss of that family's lore and knowledge. It means that a piece of our culture is lost."
"House Longbottom fell?" Harry pursed his lips in thought and then frowned at Neville. "If the last male scion died then how are you even here?"
"A Keeper restored our House." Neville fidgeted slightly. "Keepers have the ability to call back scions who need to restore their honour." He shook his head slightly. "They must have felt remorse and voiced the desire to make amends. They must have wanted to redeem their House."
"Call back?" Hermione had turned rather pale and her eyes went wide. "Neville, you don't mean..."
"A Keeper can bring the wizards of her House back through the Veil." Neville's voice was firm and his eyes dared Hermione to contradict him.
"Wizards?" Harry pressed.
Neville ran a hand through his hair. "It depends on how many of them invoked a Keeper. For our Keeper there were three wizards that she was able to call back, but I have heard as few as one and as many as eight."
"So the Keeper brings back wizards? That's how she restores a House?" Hermione asked.
Neville blushed bright red. "Not exactly. The wizards that she calls are bound to her. If they want to restore their House they can only do so through her."
"That's fascinating," Hermione murmured almost to herself. "I wonder how that works."
"You might end up married to eight wizards and all you can say is I wonder how that works?" It was Harry's turn for his voice to turn a little shrill.
Hermione glared at Harry. "It's a perfectly reasonable question. If I don't know how it works then how can I call anyone?"
"Wait, who says you're going to call anyone?" Harry demanded.
"Don't you see?" Hermione waved her hands impatiently. "Why would Mrs Malfoy care whether I lived or died? Why would she face down B-Bellatrix? She said... she said that I was precious to her House. Tonks, too, Harry. Both of them wouldn't let her anywhere near me."
Neville was nodding. "They think you're the Keeper for the House of Black."
"WHAT IF THEY'RE WRONG?" Harry was becoming cross and he was starting to do what Harry normally did when he was upset. Hermione and Neville both winced.
"What if they're right?" Neville countered.
"Do you know how a Keeper calls back the wizards?" Hermione asked.
Neville's shoulders slumped. "No one knows. It's something only the Keeper can do-it's what makes them so special."
Hermione gave Harry a look that made him flush. "If no one knows how to do it then it's not worth arguing over."
"I suppose not," he muttered.
"Thank you so much for all the information." Hermione spontaneously went to grab Neville's hands, but she paused when he automatically moved back. Uncertainty filled her cinnamon brown eyes, and Neville blushed
"I'm sorry, Hermione, it's just... you belong to the House of Black," Neville stammered out anxiously.
The uncertainty fled Hermione's eyes and indignation replaced it. "I belong to no one!"
Neville sighed. "You can say it all you want, Hermione, but the purebloods are going view you as the Keeper for the House of Black. They won't judge you for refusing your calling-not after Bellatrix tortured you."
"I don't know what to think right now," Hermione muttered. She suddenly felt cold and she rubbed her arms helplessly.
"You don't have to think anything right now," Harry countered. He put an arm around Hermione and hugged her to his side. "You don't even know how to do this Keeper thing- let alone if you want to do it. For Merlin's sake, Hermione, we just beat Voldemort a few days ago. Take some time. Think about it."
Longbottom Estate, May 23, 1998
"My grandson is worried that he has spoken out of turn," Augusta Longbottom observed. She frowned at Neville for a moment and then turned back to Hermione. "That's absolute poppycock, of course. I would expect any wizard of House Longbottom to extend aid to a Keeper."
"Thank you," Hermione replied after a nervous glance at Harry. He gave her an encouraging look and she felt her resolve strengthen. She turned back to Mrs Longbottom and gave her a nervous smile. "I would appreciate any information you could give me." Here she paused and bit her lip. "Mrs Weasley said she would explain what being a Vine Witch meant, but she's been very busy."
"You thought she was avoiding you," Neville added.
Hermione blushed. "Well, Fred was hurt very badly. I know the entire Weasley family is basically living at St. Mungo's. It's just... I need this information."
"Of course you do." Mrs Longbottom's expression grew stern and slightly disapproving. "Especially after that ridiculous display by Narcissa Malfoy and Nymphadora Tonks. You'll have every idiot who wants to curry favour with the Ancient and Noble House of Black harassing you night and day."
"They were only trying to protect me." Hermione felt obliged to point that out. She frowned thoughtfully. "Was that why Molly Weasley wanted me to keep being a Vine Witch a secret?"
"Well, that and the enemies of the Ancient and Noble House of Black would try to kill you before you could restore the House. Then there are those who are frightened of the power and influence that the House of Black wields. They hold automatic seats on the Wizengamot, own several ancient titles, hold automatic seats as governors on the board of Hogwarts, and Merlin knows what all. Trust me, young lady, Molly Weasley most likely had your best interests at heart," Augusta Longbottom informed her sternly.
Hermione blinked at that onslaught of information. "So you're saying that Mrs Malfoy and Tonks have exposed me as a Keeper?" That thought made a tendril of fear uncoil in her belly.
Mrs Longbottom snorted. She waved a beringed hand at Harry and Hermione. "It didn't help, certainly, but coupled with your behaviour with young Mr Potter it practically screams Keeper to those that know the signs."
Harry scowled at Mrs Longbottom. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means, young man, that Miss Granger's unusual devotion to you is typical in a Keeper toward the godchildren of her House," Mrs Longbottom replied coolly.
Hermione's stomach flip-flopped. "Wait, are you saying that I became Harry's friend just because I'm a Keeper?"
The devastation in Harry's eyes made Hermione feel even worse. No matter how much the mere idea upset her-it had to be ten times worse for Harry. Throughout his childhood he had been bereft of love and affection. None of the adults in his life had shown him any kindnesses. Hermione was the one constant in his life, the one person who had never, ever turned her back on him or abandoned him. She automatically reached out to take his hand, and he flinched from her touch.
"Don't be stupid." Mrs Longbottom glared at the both of them. "The need to protect and look after Mr Potter is due to your status as a Keeper. Friendship, love or even affection is no part of that. The Fawley Keeper in the 14th century couldn't stand her House's godchildren, but she still protected them and kept them safe during a local war."
Again, Hermione reached for Harry's hand, and this time he let her take it. "So our friendship is real?"
Mrs Longbottom looked at them as if they were both daft. "Of course it is real. Didn't I just say that?" She turned to glare at Neville. "I thought you said the girl was smart."
Neville flushed. "Hermione is the smartest witch I know," he informed his gran in a quiet, firm voice. He glanced at Hermione and gave her a reassuring smile. "I imagine that all of this is upsetting her because there are no books for her to research."
"Hmph." Mrs Longbottom grunted. She frowned thoughtfully and then turned to Hermione. "I understand your desire, Miss Granger. The ability to access primary source documents would doubtless help you. However, many Keepers and their Houses are extremely reluctant to reveal their secrets by writing them down. Unfortunately, there are very few documents about Keepers, and much of that is wild speculation. Inviting you here, and sharing with you what we know of the Longbottom Keeper, is an expression of trust on our part."
"I understand, Mrs Longbottom," Hermione replied softly. She looked at her hands and then she looked up at Mrs Longbottom. "How do I know what to do?"
Mrs Longbottom pursed her lips and took a sip of tea. "That is a mystery that belongs to the Keepers. The Longbottom Keeper would say only that she knew what to do. She would not reveal what that entailed to anyone."
"So how can I call them back if I don't even know how to do it?" Hermione demanded.
"Do you want to call them back?" Mrs. Longbottom asked. "Neville mentioned that you were uncertain."
"I'm nervous," Hermione admitted. She glanced at Harry and he patted her hand gently. "The Blacks have a certain reputation. I... I'm a little worried about that."
Mrs Longbottom nodded. "That's a valid concern, especially for a Muggleborn witch who knows nothing of Keepers. Would it help you to know that you can only call back wizards who want to restore their honour and their House? You will not be able to call anyone who is evil, or completely unredeemable. In addition, those you call will be bound to you."
"So Hermione's going to end up married to a hundred wizards?" Harry's voice rose and the worry was clear in his eyes.
Mrs. Longbottom snorted in amusement. "I highly doubt that a hundred Black wizards prayed for redemption. Perhaps a handful of wizards, but no more than that."
"You think there might be more than one or two?" Hermione couldn't help her surprise. She suspected Sirius and perhaps Regulus, but she didn't know the House of Black well enough to speculate.
"Well, you wouldn't know because you're all too young," Mrs Longbottom murmured to herself. She snorted. "I doubt Molly Weasley knows. She's a bit too young herself."
"What are you talking about?" Harry's protective nature was coming to the fore. He moved closer to his best friend.
"Cygnus and Orion Black," Mrs Longbottom announced. She sighed and took another sip of her tea. "The Patriarch rules a House. He makes decisions and his House is bound to carry them out. Walburga, for whatever reason, could do no wrong. She decided that she wanted Orion and the House Patriarch gave him to her."
"Gave him to her?" Hermione's skin crawled with revulsion.
Mrs Longbottom nodded. "He ordered Orion to marry her. He did so reluctantly. Rumour has it that he died right after Regulus because the Patriarch told him he'd have to bed Walburga and produce another heir."
"But... they were married." Hermione was confused. Didn't married people sleep together? Merlin knew that her parents had embarrassed her with their, er, marital activities numerous times.
Thinking about her parents made Hermione's chest ache. She tried not to blame herself, and Professor McGonagall had told her over and over that it wasn't her fault. Hermione had planned to alter their memories and send them off to Australia. She had planned every last detail. She just hadn't done it soon enough. A quick trip to the corner market, and the local used bookstore, and when she had arrived home her parent's house was smoking ash with the Dark Mark in the sky overhead. She shook her head and focused on Mrs Longbottom.
"Usually, yes," Mrs Longbottom agreed. "Even among arranged marriages the parties can come to some kind of agreement. Most of them end up fond of one another, or grow to love one another. Orion loathed Walburga, and had since they were children. He didn't want to marry her at all, and once he provided the heir and the spare required of him he refused to touch her." Here she shrugged. "I knew Walburga Black. A more disagreeable witch I've yet to meet."
"What about the other wizard? Cygnus?" Hermione asked.
"Poor Cygnus. He was married off at the age of twelve to the Patriarch's mistress who was already pregnant with his child." Mrs Longbottom's lip curled back in a sneer. "His time at Hogwarts was miserable. He was from a cadet branch of the family, he would most likely never become Patriarch, and he had been humiliated by his Patriarch. He was teased, even among his fellow Slytherins, about his wife. It was common knowledge among purebloods that Bellatrix was actually Arcturus' daughter."
"How awful," Hermione whispered. Her cinnamon brown eyes were wide and filled with unshed tears.
"I'm not as familiar with the younger Blacks," Mrs Longbottom continued. "My Frank went to school with them. Judging by what Frank said about Sirius Black it is possible that he might have asked for a Keeper."
A memory suddenly came to Hermione and she gasped. "He was so bitter," she muttered almost to herself. "I didn't know what he meant at the time."
"Who was bitter? Sirius?" Harry frowned in concentration. He knew that his godfather had been very angry about being trapped in Grimmauld Place. He remembered several times that his godfather had lashed out at others. Never at Harry, but the other residents had been fair game.
Hermione nodded. "It was before our fifth year. I told him he ought not to drink so much and he told me I wasn't his Keeper. I didn't know what he meant at the time. I thought he was just… well, it doesn't really matter now."
"Then he is a definite possibility as well," Mrs Longbottom observed. She gave Hermione a considering look. "Still, that is a just a few wizards, not nearly a hundred."
"Thank you Mrs Longbottom." Hermione leaned forward. "I appreciate your time, and your willingness to share your knowledge."
"Of course," Mrs Longbottom sniffed.
Grimmauld Place June 6, 1998
"What should I do, Harry?" Hermione whispered.
Harry blanched. "Merlin, Hermione, I don't know!"
Hermione frowned at him. "You don't care that I could bring Sirius back?"
"Or, you know, a bunch of other wizards and not Sirius," Harry pointed out. He rubbed his temples. "Why are we talking about this? You don't know how to call them back."
"I don't," Hermione agreed. She sighed heavily. "No one knows how. It's some great mystery of Keepers." She glared in the direction of the library. "What good is it being a Keeper if I can't even figure out how to do it?"
"So maybe you just… don't try," Harry suggested.
Hermione frowned at him. "You did hear the part about people trying to kill me so that I won't bring back the House of Black, didn't you?"
Harry sighed. "I did, I just… I'm worried about you," he admitted. "I feel badly because I want you to do this—to bring them back—and then I feel like the world's biggest hypocrite. I hated that everyone expected me to save them, and now I'm doing the exact same thing to you."
"Oh Harry." Hermione smiled fondly at her best friend and pulled him into a hug. "Thank you for telling me."
Truthfully, she had started to worry that Harry was strongly opposed to her being a Keeper. She was afraid to tell him that she had begun to feel a strange, steady pressure that she suspected was the need to call back the wizards of the House of Black. She hypothesized that her need to keep Harry safe had superseded all other concerns, but now that he was safe the Calling for a Keeper was growing louder. At times it was as though something was calling to her magic. It was the faintest whisper along her magical senses and it usually only happened just as she was about to fall asleep, or just as she was waking up.
"I wouldn't blame you," Harry mumbled into her shoulder. "If… if you do figure out how to do it and Sirius doesn't come back, I wouldn't blame you."
"What?" Hermione pulled back to stare at Harry.
He blushed and wouldn't look her in the eye. "Mrs Longbottom made it clear that the wizards would have had to ask for help. I know that everyone thinks that I don't… that I didn't see Sirius clearly, but I did. He wasn't the sort of bloke to ask for help. He thought he was supposed to help everyone else."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "He reminds me of someone," she muttered under her breath.
Harry bumped her shoulder with his. "Hey! We Gryffindors all have this saving people thing," he informed her haughtily. His gaze narrowed on her face and he smirked at her. "You know if you do this I'm going to tease you forever. I only saved wizarding Britain. You're going to bring people back from the dead."
"Oh shut up." Hermione smacked him on the shoulder.
June 15, 1998 The Burrow
After six anxious weeks Fred had been released from St. Mungo's Hospital. Mrs Weasley had a welcome home party at the Burrow and she invited the entire Order. Harry and Hermione debated (or argued loudly enough to set off Mrs Black's portrait) about whether or not it was safe enough for Hermione to attend, but in the end Harry capitulated and Hermione went. She Flooed straight from Grimmauld Place to the Burrow because she conceded that it might be dangerous for her to be in public.
Arriving at the Burrow was slightly awkward for Hermione. She knew too much now. She felt as though there was a blazing neon sign with a great arrow pointed straight at her that read "property of the House of Black". It wasn't as though she expected anyone to point or whisper, but it made her uncomfortable. She hugged Mr and Mrs Weasley and Ginny easily, but she found herself shying away from hugging anyone else automatically. Once she realized what she was doing she consciously hugged Fred.
"All right Hermione?" Harry asked with a worried gleam in his eyes.
Hermione nodded absently. "I'm fine," she murmured.
"Er, Harry, you do remember that it was Fred who spent six weeks in St. Mungo's, right?" Ginny reminded him with an arched eyebrow.
Harry flushed. "Sorry Fred. How are you?"
"Right as rain," Fred stated confidently and grinned at everyone. "I only stayed so long because I was trying to convince one of the Healer Trainees to go out with me."
George snorted and shook his head in amusement. "Lisa Turpin's got more sense than to say yes to you, you tosser."
"Hey Hermione." Ron hugged her tightly. She tried to return his embrace, but was plagued by a sense of uneasiness. He pulled back and whispered in her ear. "Can we talk later?"
Reluctantly Hermione nodded. She had a feeling that she knew what Ron wanted to talk about and she was dreading it. There was a time when she would have been thrilled—last year she would have been over the moon—but now, after everything all of them had been through together, it just felt a little off. She supposed it would be easy to blame that on the whole Keeper thing, but Hermione was too honest with herself to try that. No matter how hard she tried, she and Ron just didn't fit well together. Their interests were too dissimilar, and they were too impatient with each other's differences.
"And I made your favourite treacle tart," Molly told Harry.
Hermione blinked and tried to pretend that she'd been paying attention. Judging by the winks Fred and George sent her way she had failed. They all filed into the dining room dutifully and everyone took their places. Hermione ended up wedged between Tonks and Remus Lupin.
"Are you well Hermione?" Tonks asked cautiously.
"I, yes, thank you," Hermione said. She glanced up at Tonks and then looked down at her table and flushed.
"Mother would like to invite you to tea," Tonks continued. She paused. "If it would be acceptable to you Mother would like to invite Mrs Malfoy as well."
Hermione sipped her pumpkin juice as her heart pounded in her chest. "Can Harry come with me?"
"Of course," Tonks replied automatically.
"Have your mother owl me at Grimmauld Place," Hermione decided at last.
After a slightly awkward lunch Hermione wandered outside; she found being outside and away from the press of people made her relax almost immediately. This new knowledge of herself made her hyperaware of everyone around her. As far as she knew the only people who were certain of her status as a Keeper were Tonks, Harry, and Mrs Weasley. It was possible that Professor Lupin knew as well, but Hermione wasn't sure.
"Hermione?" Ron called to her hesitantly.
She turned around and offered him a tremulous smile. "Ron."
"Is it all right if we talk now?" He asked.
Hermione nodded. "Of course. What's on your mind?"
"Well," Ron cleared his throat and stared at his feet. The tips of his ears were flushed and he tugged at his robes. "You and I have been friends for a long time now, yeah?"
"Yes we have," Hermione agreed.
"Right." Ron nodded. "And you know that I care about you, and that your friendship is important to me," he continued.
All of the blood drained from Hermione's face and her palms grew clammy. This was not happening. She loved Ron—he was one of her best mates—but she wasn't in love with him. "Look, Ron," she began uncertainly. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. "You're a very special person in my life; I want you to know that."
"I want to start again with Lavender," Ron blurted out.
Hermione blinked and stared at him. He was blushing furiously now and he couldn't look her in the eye. "Oh."
"You… you're not mad are you?" He asked with a miserable expression on his face.
Relief flooded her and she felt the ridiculous urge to giggle madly. "No Ron, I'm not mad," she managed to say with a straight face.
"Oh, thank Merlin," he said with a big sigh. He grinned at her and patted her on the shoulder. "I'm glad we could talk Hermione."
"Yes. It was nice." She smiled weakly at him.
Ron wandered back toward the Burrow leaving Hermione alone. She sagged against a nearby tree and began to laugh. Tears were streaming down her cheeks as uncontrollable giggles spilled passed her lips. She had assumed that Ron was trying to ask her out—when really he was trying to let her down gently. He was probably worried about a repeat of their sixth year and being attacked by transfigured birds. Another paroxysm of giggles overtook her and clung to the tree for support.
"Hermione?" Harry stood nearby with a look of concern on his face. "Did you get hit with a jinx?"
The giggles ended as soon as they had begun. Hermione wiped the tears from her cheeks with the heels of her hands and turned around. "I'm fine, thank you."
Harry just looked at her disbelievingly.
"Ron is going to start again with Lavender," Hermione offered. She smiled cheerfully at Harry. "Isn't that wonderful?"
"I guess so?" Confusion filled Harry's eyes.
"I'm going to tea at Mrs Tonks' house," she added. "You'll come with me, won't you?"
Harry nodded. "Were you upset about that? You don't have to go. They probably just want to talk about," Harry paused and peered about the back yard. Then he leaned forward and whispered. "You know."
"I know." Hermione sighed and rubbed at her temples. "I think... I think I want to try. Maybe they'll be able to help me."
"Andromeda Tonks seemed rather formidable," Harry observed.
"Well, if she can help me figure all of this out then she can be as formidable as she wants to be," Hermione retorted.
Harry snorted. "Be careful what you wish for," he warned her.
"What are you two doing out here?" Ginny called from the back door. "Come on, mum's about to serve dessert."
"Coming!" They both called.