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Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux [final]
One Last Golden Evening
By Mike [FP]
Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)
This is the final, edited, complete version of Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux. Chapters 1 through 14 were completely written prior to publication of Deathly Hallows in 2008; chapters 15 through 19 and the alternate ending were in draft or outline form by that time.
ONE LAST GOLDEN EVENING
July 18, 1998 East Mainland, Orkney Islands, Scotland
“I thought they might be hard on you, but that...? I'm so sorry, I really am," Hermione said.
“It's fine," Harry said, though he didn't really mean it.
"It's not fine. He was horrible... at least until money was mentioned," Hermione returned. She kept running her fingers through her hair, which wasn't likely to straighten it and only served to show her distress.
"That did seem to bring everything into focus, didn't it?" Harry said darkly.
"I expected better of him," Hermione sighed. "I think even Mother was shocked. I'm not a... not a... a commodity!"
Part of Harry felt the need to make peace, though most of him preferred the idea of blasting Mr. Granger over the cliffs. He said, “I'm sorry things went that way... should have kept my mouth closed. As for the rest of it, he couldn't possibly have meant to say that you can, erm, be bought... or that business about inheriting, either...”
She sighed, “Oh, do you think so? Thank goodness no one was within earshot – that's all I need, for my parents to be seen as the worst sort of Muggles... even if they are...”
“Look, they're angry and they're scared. I get that much – I mean, I'm scared for you, right? They want you to go to Canada with them; that's what they wanted a year ago,” he returned.
“I don't want money from you, Harry, not a single Knut. Surely you know that," she said quietly.
He put on a lopsided grin and said, "First of all, I don’t have a Knut left – it's all in Sterling now.”
“That isn’t funny," Hermione said. She wouldn't look at him and he wondered if she was crying. He reached out and tipped up her chin. She looked at him, her eyes wide in surprise from the touch but her jaw set firm.
“There's a reason that the lion's share goes to you and to Ron. It shouldn't be hard to figure,” he said.
"I don't deserve it," she choked out, "and I don't expect to collect."
"Why not? You've always been there for me –?" he started.
She stopped him. "Not last year," she said; "I wasn't there."
"Last year was horrid all the way 'round. It doesn't count for anything," he said.
"I was frightened," she said; “I… I couldn’t… I just needed time, you know… time for all of it to sink in…"
"You don't have to say anything," he told her.
"But I really don't deserve it. I don't want it," she said.
He said, "There's no one for whom I care more. That's enough, I think."
"You... honestly? I really don't deserve that," she said.
"Stop it, you're being silly now,” he demanded. "I meant what I said, you deserve it, and the money's yours if… well… you know..."
She sniffed twice but managed a bit of a smile; "You said 'if'. You didn't say 'when'."
"It’s a nice idea: ‘if’," he said.
They sat in companionable silence for a while, until he said, "Let's get out of here. We need a break from this, something to push it all aside."
"Justin Finch-Fletchley told me there's a cinema in Kirkwall," she said.
Harry couldn't help but laugh; "Remember when we took Ron to one?"
Hermione snorted, "Thank the stars it was empty save for us."
"We should take Ron with us – the three of us again, off to do something perfectly normal," said Harry.
Hermione said, "Normal for you and me at any rate… well, I suppose he learned his lesson. It can be the three of us, then. Can that motorbike handle it? I don't know how else we'd get there. It's not as if we’d borrow my parents' rental, not now."
“He’d probably expect me to buy it from him,” Harry grumbled.
Hermione winced. “I really am sorry,” she said.
They found Ron inside the house, trying his best to avoid taking part in an awkward conversation between Mrs. Weasley and Mrs. Granger. Mrs. Granger didn't acknowledge her daughter's presence.
Hermione frowned. “Hello, Mother,” she said.
“Manners, please,” Mrs. Weasley said sharply.
"Fancy a trip to the cinema, maybe a bite to eat?" Harry asked Ron.
"What, you and me?" Ron returned with enthusiasm.
"The three of us, we thought," Harry said, and Hermione nodded.
Mrs. Weasley managed somehow to stare at them even as she continued talking with Mrs. Granger, who was oblivious in a purposeful way. Both raised their voices as though they could stop another conversation through their tone alone. Harry knew that Mrs. Weasley could have pulled it off, once upon a time. Not even Ron responded now.
"The three of us..." Ron said. He worked his jaw before he agreed, "The three of us would be good... great, even. Erm... I’ll do better this time out, right? So where is it and how will we get there?"
"Kirkwall, apparently," Harry said, "and we'll take the motorbike."
Ron put his palm to his forehead; "The bloody side-car again..."
“You’re staying here this evening,” Mrs. Weasley announced. “It’s been too long since we’ve had you all here and safe with us. Besides, the Order won’t stand for it; it’s far too dangerous to be off wandering through Muggle villages –”
“ – which is exactly what we’ve been doing for a year,” Hermione cut her off. “We’re adults, and we understand danger very well – more so than most of the Order,” she said.
“And even if I thought this was a good idea – which I certainly don’t – how would you be taking Ginny along? That infernal contraption will only hold three.” Mrs. Weasley asked sharply.
“We won’t be taking Ginny,” Harry said. Mrs. Weasley’s eyes flashed dangerously.
“I expect you to pay more respect,” Mrs. Granger blurted out.
“Whatever, Mother,” Hermione sighed; she turned to Ron, and offered, “You can ride behind Harry. I’ll take the side-car.”
Ron looked at her as if she was mad and then rolled his eyes at Harry. "And wrap my arms around him all the way there? Not likely!" he laughed.
"What, am I rank or something?" Harry mock-pouted.
Hermione shook her head; "Boys… honestly!"
Ron stood tall and lifted his nose in the air. "Oi! We're men, I'll have you know!" he announced.
Hermione put her arms around the both of them. "Fair enough," she said.
“I tell you, you shouldn’t be doing this – you shouldn’t be going out there!” Mrs. Weasley said.
"Can we get that white stuff...? You know, the stuff that's all buttery and crunchy?" Ron asked excitedly.
"As much of it as you can stand," Harry said.
"Yes, I can't wait for popcorn and a fizzy drink – the kind loaded with sugar," Hermione said in the general direction of her mother.
“Goodness, how perfectly adult of you… enough, Hermione! You’ve made your point, God knows you’ve made your point over and over again, but it’s time you listen to reason!” Mrs. Granger snapped.
“You’re right, Mother. I've had quite enough, thank you,” Hermione returned. “It was good of you to come and visit. Pass my regards along to Father, will you? I’m sure Professor Lupin will see you to the next aeroplane out.”
“Hermione!” Mrs. Weasley gasped.
Harry put his hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Don’t you think...?” he began quietly.
“I think constantly, Harry,” Hermione said coldly; “Please stay out of this.”
“This is madness! I’m fetching Arthur and Remus this instant… I imagine your father will have something to say about this as well, young lady…” Mrs. Weasley announced even as she made for the kitchen.
Ron ran his hands through his hair. “Er… it’s getting late… if we’re really interested in the cinnamon… um… cimena… I mean…” he stammered.
Hermione’s shoulders loosened just a bit. “’’Cinema’, Ron – it’s ‘cinema’,” she said. Still, her neck twitched and Harry knew that she was at her limit. He took her hand and led her to the door. Ron went ahead of them. She never looked back.
“There’s only one helmet,” Harry said to her when they reached the porch, “and that… well, whatever it is that Ron seems to fancy on his head.”
Ron picked up the ancient leather hood from inside the side-car and tugged it onto his head. “Oi, this makes a statement, it does!” he said.
Hermione managed a wan smile. “Are you quite sure it’s a statement you want to make?” she asked.
Ron stuck his tongue out and began to stuff himself into the side-car. “Bloody… oof!... thank Merlin I haven’t… erk!... gained any… oh, for the love of…!” Hermione shook her head and quietly cast an Engorgement charm on the side-car; Ron abruptly slid into place.
Harry’s brow rose. “Hold on… Gudrun did that earlier, as well! I thought we were avoiding magic unless absolutely necessary, you know, so they couldn’t locate us?”
“The ‘strategic advance’, Harry – remember?” Hermione said. “The Death Eaters were using Madam Hopkirk’s apparatus for tracking under-aged magic so that they could follow every bit of spell work in Britain. Anyway, the Order were tipped to its location and managed to destroy it beyond repair. It would take years to enchant another.”
“Brilliant!” Harry said; “A bit of hope, at last.”
“It’s to be kept quiet just now,” Hermione added. “It wouldn’t do for everyone to start using magic willy-nilly. The Death Eaters might still be able to locate large amounts of casting. All the Notice-Me-Not charms are risk enough.”
Harry nodded and held out the helmet to Hermione. She shook her head. “Go ahead – it's fine,” he said.
She shook her head and said, “I’d rather have the wind in my hair just now.”
Harry was taken aback. “Are you…? What have you done with Hermione?” he asked.
“I’m safe with you and Ron,” she said; “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here.”
Ron snorted loudly. “Safe with us? Are you mental? We’re the most dangerous lot in all of Britain!” he declared as he snapped the absurd goggles into place.
“Oh, I have missed you, Ron,” Hermione said with affection. Harry heard the sound of a door slamming inside the house and quickly mounted the bike. Hermione slid behind him and they set off, drawing still more attention in the makeshift village as they passed.
She glanced at the onlookers. “You’ll have to say something to them sometime, you know,” she called out loudly enough for him to hear.
“I know,” Harry called back, “but I don’t know what to say.” Hermione responded by squeezing him more tightly, and he forced himself to focus on the road ahead. As soon as they passed the wards, she leaned firmly into his back. Her cheek pressed against the top of his left shoulder and her hair tickled the back of his neck as it whipped to-and-fro.
Ron flashed Harry a fatuous grin, and then proceeded to bark out the first verse of a horribly obscene drinking song from the first time they’d all visited a Muggle pub together.
“Not that!” Hermione shouted; “Ronald! Stop it this instant!” Harry laughed, and Ron heartily launched into the second verse.
July 18, 1998 Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland
The Rognvald Inn was at the foot of the bridge that spanned the harbour. There were a fair number of people in the pub but it was hardly a raucous place. When Ron began to snipe about how the place was probably Hermione’s idea of a wild time, she laid into him for not going into the chemist’s shop on the High Road and getting his own recommendation.
“You spent long enough in that shop. Were you looking for something to do, or asking after the whole town?” Ron grumbled; “I mean, we would have found a place eventually – real men don’t need directions."
Hermione set her jaw, and Harry cringed inside. “I suppose it wouldn’t do any good to point out to you that I am not a man?” she said.
Ron threw up his hands and chuckled, “Oi, I’m not confused about that!”
“I’ve had my doubts now and again,” Hermione grumbled.
“Just like old times,” Ron said with a hint of acid in his voice.
“Enough, right?” Harry snapped. “You’re not going to spoil this, not either of you. We’re having a good time tonight if I have to make you enjoy yourselves!” Ron and Hermione gaped at him. After a long quiet moment, Ron snorted and started to laugh.
“What?” Harry demanded.
“Well… that was a rather silly thing to say, don’t you think?” Hermione chuckled. Harry looked at her sullenly but said nothing.
Ron peered into the frosted pint before him and then took a sip. The sip turned into a long swallow. “Not bad, not bad at all. This beats sitting through that bloody cinnamon show a second time,” he said. “I thought you said they make a lot of those shows. Why was it the same one as before?”
Hermione shrugged and said, “This is a remote place. I suppose the films come here late. What are you complaining about, anyway? Some of us would have been fine going again, but we did what you wanted instead.”
Ron shuddered; “That’s a good thing, too. Three hours watching a boat sinking… once was enough!”
“Dunno, I remember you were awfully happy watching what’s-her-name. That was the only thing that got you to stop talking to the screen,” Harry said.
Ron’s cheeks coloured. “You did get to see a fair bit of her… yeah, she’s a fit enough bird, but three hours of that again? I’ll enjoy my pint, thanks.”
“You were going on about that actress for days, as I remember it,” Hermione teased.
“Never let go, Roonil Wazlib – never let go!” Harry called out in a high affected voice.
Ron said, “Shut it, you! I know when I’m not wanted. Hmm, suppose I could try my hand at darts again?”
Hermione nervously bit on her lower lip before she asked, “Are you, erm, completely certain about that?”
“If you stick anyone with a dart, we’re leaving,” Harry said flatly.
“Ha-ha,” said Ron. “Sit back, hoist a pint, and watch the master.” Hermione stifled a laugh.
Ron’s dart-throwing skills were worse than Harry’s skills at chess; they were more akin to Neville Longbottom’s practical Potions work. He didn’t manage to actually stick anyone with a dart – he’d come all too close in Carmarthen, months before – but his turn didn’t last long. Ron took his seat, drained the rest of his pint, waved for a barmaid and nudged Harry into joining a match. Harry held his own against a local who frequented the pub, but was still out after one leg. Hermione was the one to shine at the game; she had once told them that she’d played against her father constantly as a child.
When Hermione had quietly reminded Harry that he still wasn’t of age in the Muggle world, he’d mulled over a fizzy drink. He had eventually pointed out to her that he’d be conspicuous in lacking a proper drink, while Ron had merely rolled his eyes and ordered three pints. Harry didn’t really care for ale so he nursed his first pint and Ron went on to demolish a second, while Hermione doubled out against one competitor after the next. Harry expected Ron to grumble as she played on. Instead they spent the better part of an hour talking about nothing, and Harry decided that perhaps he was going to have one last golden evening after all.
When Hermione at last returned to their table with a smug grin on her face and fifty quid in her pocket, Ron whispered to her, “Still can’t fly a broom to save your life.” Harry smacked him on the arm but didn’t miss the hint of pride in Ron’s eyes.
Soon they were drowned out by an impromptu pub session. An entire pub full of happy souls belted out songs in the company of fiddles, accordions, guitars, pipes and a rubbish bin lid or two. Harry knew some of the tunes, to his surprise. Hermione knew more of them; he supposed that she had a childhood’s worth of Muggle music to fall back upon. Ron seemed to know nearly all the songs – Harry had no idea why – and when he didn’t know one he made a good show of pretending that he did. He sang about as well as Hermione flew and didn’t care a whit about it; it was more than a little grating on the motorway but amidst a boisterous crowd it brought a grin to Harry’s face.
As the evening wore on, Ron began to sing much too loudly and Hermione began to smile far too widely and Harry realised that while he had downed no more than half a pint, Hermione had finished the lion’s share of two pints and Ron had gone for more than that. It wasn’t terribly surprising for Ron; he’d shown a fondness for Muggle pubs during their six months on the road, and his insistence that it was only for the purpose of studying Muggles had become a private joke amongst the three of them.
Hermione had kept herself in check in those days; she had sipped politely, but rarely more. Harry was distracted by the broad smile on her face and the strange way that she kept watching him, but Ron began to draw his attention; he seemed rather off, more so than Harry expected under the circumstances. His singing went from caterwauling to mumbling and he was suddenly unsteady.
“The potions,” Harry muttered; he shook Hermione by the arm, and asked briskly, “Do you know what Ron’s taking?”
Hermione babbled, "Taking...? What Ron’s taking… wha...?”
“His medicine,” Harry snapped; “Do you know what it is? He’s been drinking quite a lot –”
Hermione’s eyes went wide and she gasped, “His medicine… I… I don’t know, H-Harry… and he’s lost so much weight…”
“So have you,” Harry said.
“You get… tipsy faster without the weight, I think…” Hermione mumbled.
“Can you stand?” asked Harry.
“’Course I can stand!” Hermione blurted out, and then cringed at the sound of her own voice; “Sobering charm,” she hissed into Harry’s ear.
“I’ve only done one on Ron, and it was just the one time,” Harry whispered.
“You can manage it, I know you can,” she said earnestly and gave him a clumsy kiss on the cheek.
Harry nodded blankly and said, “I… uh… sure, I can manage it… lean in, then.” He nearly brandished his wand in public before he stopped himself.
“Pardon?” Hermione whispered hoarsely.
“Lean in,” Harry said again, and he opened his arms. Hermione’s smile became very wide indeed and she pressed against him. He let his wand fall into his sleeve and brought his hand around until the wand tip in his hand was near to the back of her neck. He focused on the proper words, closed his eyes and silently cast the charm.
Hermione was slow to move off and he worried that he’d cast it wrong. “Better,” she said; “We should get Ron back to the settlement… get some assistance…” She threw a ten-pound note onto the table and Harry moved to hoist up his friend.
“I don’t feel so good, Harry,” Ron mumbled.
One of the two barmaids sidled up to them. “Excuse me? This is for your friend,” she said in a low voice. She held out a small glass phial of a sort far too familiar to Harry.
Hermione suppressed her shock enough to say, "For whom?”
“This is for your friend,” the barmaid repeated; “It’s from the woman at the end of the bar. She’s a doctor, she said. She told me that it would help.”
Harry hadn’t shrugged his wand back into its holster; it was still a split-second from a ready position. Gudrun Stefánsdóttir gave a small wave and her pinked cheeks rose in a wry smile. Hermione let out a tense breath and Harry re-holstered his wand.
“Let’s sit him down,” Hermione said. As soon as Ron was in the booth, Harry thrust the first note that came out of his wallet at the barmaid.
Her eyes went wide; “I couldn’t – this is too much, really – I –”
“She’s a doctor, all right – his doctor, see?” Harry said quickly. “He’s had a hard time of it these last months. Thank you for handling this, you know, quietly…?”
The young woman’s eyes locked on Ron’s cane for a long moment, and then she glanced at the note in her hand. She stammered, “I, um… sure, as you say… but are you certain…?”
Harry hadn’t even looked at the money. “Buy the doctor what she likes and keep the rest, right?” he said.
She gave him a toothy smile and said, “I’ll do that. God bless, sir!”
Hermione had already slipped Ron the potion before Harry retook his seat. Ron’s head was tipped against the back of the booth; he let out a soft snore. “I wasn’t thinking,” she said. “This was dangerous for him. I should have insisted on the movie, Harry, I should have!”
“We’re not his keepers. I should have said something, though,” Harry sighed.
“I’ve no business drinking so much,” Hermione said. “I’m awfully sorry, Harry. I wasn’t thinking... anyone could be here…” She let her hand rest on his forearm.
He let his other hand rest atop hers; “I’m sure he’ll be fine – otherwise, she would have come over here straight away.”
Hermione closed her eyes. “Of course… you’re right, of course. Do you see anyone else lurking about?” she asked.
Harry had learned to take the measure of a room over the course of their travels, and his head barely moved as he surveyed the bar and the tables and the dark recesses of the hall. “No one’s obvious. I suppose someone’s hiding beneath a cloak somewhere,” he said.
“This is absurd. If she’s here to watch us – if she’s looking after Ron – then we should just ask her over,” said Hermione. She budged past Harry and quickly made her way to Gudrun. After a quick exchange and a fair bit of tugging on Hermione’s part, Gudrun followed her back to the booth with a glass of something clear in one hand.
Gudrun looked contrite. “I had no intention of becoming part of your evening,” she said slowly. “Ronald should have been more careful. He has already been hurt enough.”
Harry slid to one side. “Check him over if you like,” he said.
Gudrun nodded. She knelt beside Ron and ran her hands first along the side of Ron’s head and then down his neck, just above his skin. Harry was sure that her fingers took on a faint glow. Hermione watched what Gudrun was doing, mesmerized.
“He is not injured,” she said at last. “The decoction given to him is quick to act. He will rest for a short time and then he will be himself again.” One of her hands returned to his face and grazed his cheek. “Eg elska thig… gerum það besta úr þessu,” she added in the faintest of whispers.
Hermione sat next to Gudrun and fidgeted a bit. “You know… I’ve not been taught the proper grammar… but the thing is, Gudrun… erm, most of the runes in our studies have Icelandic roots. I never realised how many individual Icelandic words I can recognise. Did you mean what you just said?”
The pink quickly disappeared from Gudrun’s cheeks. “You must not say this,” she choked out. “You must not tell this to Ronald – please. I will not see him hurt this way, not because of my actions, my weakness.”
“I don’t understand,” Hermione said. “Surely you see how he feels, and if you –?” She reached out to pat Gudrun on the shoulder, but recoiled before she could make contact; she gasped, “W-what was that?” Harry knew that Gudrun wasn’t dangerous to them – he was sure of it – but he flicked his wand back into place just the same.
A tear coursed down Gudrun’s cheek, and she was shaky as she rose from her knees. Hermione and Harry shifted around so that all four of them could comfortably sit in the booth. Gudrun took out something that looked like a charred chopstick. She drew a complex figure on the wooden tabletop, formed of circles and forks and crossing lines. When she finished, she tapped it with the stick here and there and muttered some unintelligible words. The figure disappeared and Harry could see a murkiness form around the table.
“It is a circle of protection,” she explained. “No one may hear or harm us while I do the telling. It is like this: you are not… I am having trouble finding the words…”
“We’ll piece it together – do go on, please,” Hermione said quickly.
Gudrun sighed. “You are not grœði-ligr now, Hermione; that belongs to Ronald. When I attended to you, then you were grœði-ligr and could share in the grœðing. If you are to touch me now, you will instead feel græð. Are you understanding this?”
Hermione’s hand went to her mouth. “You… oh, God… I’m sorry…” Harry went from wary to nervous; he didn’t want anything else to go wrong for Ron.
Gudrun gave a hollow laugh; she said, “Yes, you are understanding this. I do not know if anyone has shown sorrow for what I am. Most want what we bring to them. It is not a thing that deserves your pity. Much is pure joy, more than you will ever know for yourself.”
“Then you’re not a physician, are you?” Hermione confirmed. “You’re a grœðari.”
“I have been trained in medicine of the ordinary kind,” said Gudrun, “but I am sworn to the Healing Order of Halla and trained in the ways of the Order. The word you use, it is, ehh... imprecise.”
Hermione pulled the sort of impatient face that Harry knew preceded a thousand questions. She stammered, “How long…? What I mean to say is, when did you…? Oh, sod it. How old are you, Gudrun?” She flushed, and quickly added, “I know that’s terribly rude of me –"
Gudrun smiled faintly. “It is a bold question,” she said, “but only rude if I say it is so. I was pledged to the Healing Order in my tenth year and left my family then. I was sworn in my seventeenth year, and this is the seventeenth year that I serve.”
Hermione said furiously, “When you were ten? You were brought into it when you were only ten? But that’s… well, it’s barbaric! How could you be asked to give up everything…?”
“It is the way of our Order. This has been the way for a thousand years. You were sent away from your family to be schooled at a young age, were you not?” said Gudrun.
Harry raised his hand. “Excuse me? I’m the thick one over here, right? Would someone tell me what this is all about?”
“Honestly, Harry – you’re certainly not thick and you never have been, at least not about magic,” Hermione said. “This isn’t something you’d have run across in a lecture. Gudrun is a special sort of healer, you see? Grœðari means something like ‘the ones who heal’.”
“The meaning is a deeper one than this. It is better to say 'those who commune with grœð',” Gudrun said.
“I only know words, not grammar or context,” Hermione admitted before she went on, “Gudrun belongs to a society of healers, I suppose you could call it. As far as I'm aware, it’s uniquely Icelandic. They give over their lives to healing, and they tend to live a very long time. It’s just that… how shall I put this…?
Gudrun said, “Our order is Icelandic, you are correct. You were about to say that we live in isolation. This is mostly true. Some, like myself, leave for advanced study but then return. It is our way to live apart, it has always been our way. The magic allows us to bond with the grœði-ligr –”
“The one who is being healed, more or less,” Hermione offered.
Gudrun nodded and went on, “– but we avoid the touch of others. When someone who is not the grœði-ligr touches with… ehh… comfort, then that person will feel the opposite of the grœðing. That person will feel græð.”
“Antipathy… it doesn't translate as 'hate', but it's not far from that,” Hermione explained. “It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, not at all. I’ve seen you touched, though…” She gnawed on her lip for a long moment, then said, “It was because I touched your skin directly, wasn’t it – and because I did the touching, not the other way around?”
Gudrun nodded; “This is something that I avoid. I do not wish to be disliked. This is only the third time that I have been sent away from the Order; most of my medical schooling was conducted at the Inn after the laboratory sciences were finished. The elders say that I am suited to travel; I do not know why this is. Most never leave. The grœði-ligr will always find us. It is difficult to travel, I think, difficult to see things that can never be had…”
“Have you ever felt… have you been drawn to one being healed before?” Hermione asked hesitantly.
“I have never felt what I feel for Ronald; it is unknown to me,” Gudrun said. “I… believe that it is a good thing… but there is nothing to be done about it. Soon I will journey home – as soon as your task is completed, Harry. I believe that you will need me, but I hope that this is not true.” Another tear flowed. “I wanted Ronald to spend this evening with friends –”
“That’s why no one else is here,” Harry realised.
Gudrun nodded; “I agreed that I would come but remain at a distance. Ronald’s mother is a person filled with fears. If I had not come, then she would have either come herself or caused others to follow and force your return.” Her eyes closed tightly. “It is important to me that Ronald spend this time with you and with others. He must rely on others now and no longer on me.”
Ron coughed and cleared his throat. “Don’t like the sound of that,” he croaked. Gudrun sprang away from him in shock and he managed a hoarse laugh. “Not deaf, you know,” he added, barely audible, “just half-pissed.”
“You are not sleeping! What… how… how much is it that you heard, Ronald?” Gudrun gasped.
“Enough,” Ron said. “Thirty-four… four minus eight, carry the one… sixteen years, eh? Good thing I like older women – always have, I suppose.” Hermione’s cheeks coloured just a bit.
“You did hear the rest,” said Gudrun, “so you know that I must leave when you have recovered –”
Ron held up his hand to stop her; “I don’t know that at all. All I heard is that you can’t be touched by anyone unless they’re a… toad-licker, was it? Something like that…”
Gudrun couldn’t help but snort, “Grœði-ligr… the word is grœði-ligr.”
Ron laced his fingers between hers and she took in a sharp breath. “I figure I’m still that, eh? Missing a foot, hardly able to eat, can’t sleep at night… I think I’ll be a toad-licker for a long time.”
Gudrun laughed for a moment but even Harry knew that it was forced. “There will come a time when you are not, and then I must answer the call of the Healing Order,” she said, “and please understand that it is not unknown for the one who is healed to develop an attachment to the one who heals. Even those who practice ordinary medicine know this.”
“Bollocks,” Ron snapped; “I’ve known you for six months. For almost the whole time I was there, I was your only patient. Is that normal?”
She made a weak attempt at pulling her hand free; “Not for so long… no it is not… but you needed to be healed… it was so ordered...”
“And then they sent you here with me? Why? If you were worried about feelings, then why didn’t they send someone else?” Ron demanded.
“I do not know. You must stop this, Ronald… please. There is nothing –” Gudrun said quietly.
He gripped her fingers more tightly, almost roughly. “Do you feel that? I’m not getting sick, am I? I don’t hate you, do I?” he said.
Her eyes glistened. “You are grœði-ligr. If you had touched me when Hermione was grœði-ligr, you would have felt græð. You would… hate,” she sniffed; “What you ask of me, is not possible…”
“Why don’t we take you home now, Ron?” Hermione offered.
“Not until I’ve said this,” Ron returned. “McGonagall said we should say whatever’s on our minds before it’s too late – that’s what Harry told me.” Gudrun looked positively terrified.
“I think you should sleep it off, mate,” Harry suggested.
Ron waved him off. “Need to get it out while I have my nerve, all of it,” he said.
“Don’t say anything you’ll regret,” Hermione warned him.
Once Ron started, it seemed to Harry as though he intended to get it all out in a single breath: “Outside of my mum and dad and the rest of the lot, there are three people I’d die for, and you’re all here. Only three… just three people. I used to want your money, Harry, or your fame. Sometimes I think I wanted Hermione because I always knew that somewhere, down deep, she wanted you. I don’t have money, I don’t have prospects – hell, I don’t even have all my parts any more. I have family and I have you, the three of you. That’s all, that’s all there is. And now… now…”
Hermione’s sharp gasp was drowned out by the rattling of the table, as Ron slammed his fist against the tabletop. He ground out, “I know what you have to do, Harry! There’s no getting ‘round it, and you’re going to take her along, and you’re not… you’re not coming back, not either of you…” Then he turned on Gudrun, who shrank back. “And you, you’re going to walk away. Gods, I should have known better! I’m just a patient to you, just another bloody toad-licker and that’s all! I get it, right? I know you’re worth ten of me, but I guess I thought better of myself for a while. Don’t you worry about me, though, I’ll get over it…” He jabbed his hand at Harry and Hermione, his index finger sharply pointed and the other fingers so tightly clenched that his fist shook, and barked, “You don’t get off that easily, not a chance! Don’t you dare leave me behind! Don’t you dare! You can’t leave me here! You… you can’t leave me here –”
Hermione instinctively reached toward him. “I never realised… Ron, you know we intend to come back, don’t you?” she insisted.
Ron clumsily batted away her hand; “Don’t! I’m fine… dusty, that’s all, it’s just dust… can’t keep it out of my eyes. It’s nothing…"
“This is something... it is more than nothing... you are more than you know...” Gudrun hiccuped. She wrapped her arms around Ron before he could react. He shuddered and she pulled him closer, muttering something that Harry couldn’t make out. Within a few moments, Ron’s shoulders loosened and his breathing slowed.
“How do you do that?” Ron mumbled.
“I cannot stop it. I heal. It is what I was taught to do,” Gudrun said. She muttered something else, then quietly whispered, “Gerum það besta úr þessu.” Hermione put on a sad smile.
Ron’s eyes opened wide and he sat up with a start. “Oi, I touched you!” he blurted out.
Gudrun stared at him, unfocused. “You have done that a number of times,” she said.
“No, no! When Hermione was… you know, the whatever-it-is? You were her healer then, right? I mean, we thought she was dying. Point is, I touched you! After Harry did his bit and he passed out, I picked you up and swung you around, and you told me to stop before I knocked us both to the floor!” Ron insisted.
“You were still grœði-ligr… but you are correct that Hermione was also… this is a strange thing… I cannot explain… I must ask the question of the faúra-gaggja…” stammered Gudrun.
“There, you see? You can’t make me hate you – can’t be done,” Ron said smugly; “That calls for another pint!”
“Are you mad? Have you already forgotten?” Hermione snapped.
“You have had enough ale, Ronald,” Gudrun said. “I will take you home now. You must rest while the decoction does its work. We will check your potions in the morning. I believe you will be finished with them soon.”
“I see. This is about as good as it gets, then,” Ron said with resignation.
“The potions will do little more,” Gudrun said, “but there are many ways to heal.”
Ron slowly slid to one side and used the table to help him rise. “We’re not done talking about this, right? It’s not finished,” he said firmly.
Gudrun took his arm. “No, it is not finished,” she said.
“Coming along?” Ron asked Harry and Hermione.
Hermione shook her head; “I can’t go back there, Ron. I’m sorry.”
“Why not?” asked Ron. “Things with Mum will blow over – they always do.”
“Your Mum isn’t the problem,” said Hermione.
Harry put his hand on her shoulder. “Are you sure you don’t want to go back, you know, and settle things?” he asked.
“They’re settled,” Hermione sighed. “I don’t think they can accept how things are. I… I always feared this would happen. Once they knew, once they really knew how things are, I suppose I knew that it would be over…”
“It was ugly,” Harry admitted, “but they’re your parents. If I could –”
“– but you can’t, Harry, and you can’t fix this either,” Hermione said. “I can’t go there tonight. I don’t think I can go there until they’ve gone.”
Gudrun seemed to battle with herself before she said, “It is not safe for you outside the wards of the village, not for such a long time.”
Hermione closed her eyes tight; “Not tonight, I can’t handle it tonight.”
“We don’t have to go back,” Harry said.
Hermione shook her head. “I’ll be fine alone,” she said.
“Are you joking? You think I’d let you stay here alone?” Harry countered. “We’ll find a place – I saw a hotel or an inn of some kind on the way here –”
“The Queen’s Hotel,” Hermione said. “I suppose I could afford that.”
Harry frowned. “I have enough money,” he said.
“They’ll not likely take notes or a cheque,” Hermione pointed out,” but…” She fished through her clutch-purse. “Here it is. I have a charge for emergencies – my parents arranged for it. They couldn't have closed it yet.”
“They wouldn’t do that,” Harry said. “Things are bad right now, but they do care what happens to you. That’s why they hate me.”
Hermione’s clutch-purse disappeared into her anorak. Her jaw took on a familiar set and she said, “I don’t want to talk about them any more.”
Ron looked drowsy, and Gudrun pulled at his arm. “Right… off to home… if you’re sure?” he said.
“I’m sure,” Hermione said and she impulsively kissed him on the cheek.
“What was that for?” asked Ron.
“For tonight,” Hermione answered.
“This was like it used to be,” Harry said.
Ron smiled. “It was, wasn’t it?” He turned to Gudrun, and added, “Almost like it used to be. This is better, though.”
“We will talk tomorrow,” Gudrun said; “This is not finished.” She led Ron forward. When she stepped through the hazy circle of protection, it faded into nothingness.
“Are you certain that you want to stay?” Hermione asked Harry.
“Completely; we’ll both sleep better if we're together,” Harry said. He swore that she murmured, “I’d like that,” and he decided that it was a very golden evening indeed.