Author Note: Hermione's section of this chapter starts with a bit of an adult scene. Not sure if I need to up the rating due to it. Apologies for any offence if caused and I will up the rating if required.
Harry tilted down his aviators, feeling the warm sun on his eyelids. The girls on that table over there were definitely looking at him. They weren't even being subtle about it. He knew he looked cool. He'd paid enough for these damned sunglasses, after all. And the look was clearly working. Both girls were eyeing him up blatantly. And they were each startlingly good-looking. He wondered if either would try to chat him up. He hoped not.
He really didn't want to hurt their feelings. They were far too pretty for that.
Looking was all very well, but Harry had imagined a sort of Shield Charm around himself. Or had he cast it around the rest of the world, to keep them out? He wasn't sure. But the effect was the same. A ring of distance that other people had to keep. No one closer than a couple of feet. That was near enough.
It had been a fortnight or so since Harry had left Hogwarts, and about the same time since he had properly spoken to anyone. He was adjusting to the solitude now. And it wasn't so bad, if he didn't think about it too much. It was still sunny outside and he could spend his days eating ice cream and getting some long-needed colour into his skin. The sun was an elixir. He bathed in its warmth as long as it lasted each day, chasing it around Britain, where the weather was unpredictably variable and changed without warning.
Not that such a thing would restrict a wizard like Harry Potter.
Today's sun seeking had brought him to Oxford. He'd always wanted to come here, to the home of one of the world's great universities. It was an indulgence to simply walk around and enjoy the ancient architecture and the array of historical colleges vying for dominance in the city. It was a beautiful place, inspiring even. Harry planned to spend quite a bit of time here, exploring it as much as he could. There was lots to see and plenty to do. He was looking forward to it.
He got up and left the little park he had been sat in. He couldn't help but chance a last glance at the girls who'd been eyeing him up. They looked disappointed to see him go, maybe rueing a missed chance. He smiled to himself. It didn't hurt to be admired, especially by fit girls like those. But that was a folly, enjoyment that was best given to someone else. Someone who might be worthy of it.
Not a murderer like him. He had no right to claim such heavenly pleasures.
His first stop was the Ashmolean Museum. They were running an exhibition on the practice of magic the world over. Harry couldn't resist. At least if anyone spotted his wand they might think he was just getting into character for the event. He paid his entry fee and entered the lofty building.
It was fascinating, to see the Muggle take on magic. Harry realised Hermione may have had a point all along. That Muggle Studies might actually have been a subject worth taking. He smiled at the thought of Hermione. He liked thinking about her. It brought him comfort. He often wondered if she ever thought about him. She would have made a great partner today. It was her sort of place.
The exhibition was exuberant fun. A bit dark and morbid at times, with tales of cannibalism in some parts of the world for the weirdest magic, but it was shockingly inaccurate. Harry loved it, he was having a great time. He wistfully remembered the days when he thought this was what magic was, before he went to Hogwarts and it all changed. That it was all pulling rabbits out of hats and saying funny words. Well, you still had to say funny words, and the rabbits were obviously just Summoned to the hats, pretty basic stuff really.
But they'd neglected to mention Dark Wizards who tried to kill babies. Neither definition, Magic nor Muggle, had covered that sort of thing.
Harry left the magic exhibition and went to look at the ancient Egypt section. He'd always loved the ancient world. When he was done with Britain, when it was raining everywhere - which was inevitable - he planned to Apparate across to Cairo and visit the pyramids. He thought of the tan he would get exploring the ancient tombs. And where he would go when he was done with that.
For that was his loose plan, maybe for forever. Just bounce from place to place, see everything he could until his money ran out. What he would do after that was catalogued in the same sort of vague way he'd always imagined a post-Voldemort world. As though it'd never happen. He supposed he'd just cross that bridge when he came to it.
Harry stayed in the museum almost until it closed. By the time he headed back out onto the streets of Oxford the light was beginning to dim. Harry had been looking forward to this. The buildings of the old colleges were so beautiful he was dying to see what they would look like lit up at night. He calculated that he had plenty of time to grab some food before going on a night time jaunt around the city.
Then he would decide where he would sleep that night.
He refused to pay for hotels, that was silly money to waste. Not when he was armed with the Confundus Charm. He wasn't hurting anyone, just taking up otherwise empty rooms. And he was always mindful to leave a nice tip for the maids, who did all the hard work in these places anyway.
But that was for later. Harry sat in a burger bar and world-watched through the window. He had to stop eating burgers. He would put on so much weight. But they were so good. It was an addiction. Harry watched people passing by, absorbed in their lives. Some looked hassled, others simply in a hurry. There were lots of students, naturally. Harry wondered what they were all thinking as he watched them. A group of students headed into the pub opposite, all laughing and joking. Harry felt a pang.
He hadn't laughed in a while. He wondered when he'd next have anyone to laugh with.
Harry swatted the thought aside. He didn't have the luxury to feel lonely, or sorry for himself. He had chosen to do this and he was still convinced it was the right thing to do. He needed this, needed to be alone for a bit. It was helping. He hadn't thought about wizards and magic for days until he saw the flyer for the Ashmolean exhibition. If he hadn't had to fly his broom or Apparate anywhere he could have conspicuously passed as your average Muggle quite easily.
Harry finished his burger and hit the streets again. He was right - the city was stunning at night. It took his breath away a little. He felt a little dwarfed by the subdued academic power buzzing all around him. He wished he was a bit cleverer; he felt like a trespasser in this bastion of learning. He visited the gardens of Trinity and Balliol, gawped in awe at the spire of Magdalen and the spiky roof of Exeter College. He peered in through the closed doors of the Covered Market, marvelling at the structure.
This led Harry through the maze of winding, narrow streets that eventually brought him out in the square housing the jaw-droppingly impressive building that was the Radcliffe Camera. It was achingly beautiful by the subdued lighting. Harry peered in through a window. It was a large, circular building with rows and rows of books tottering to the ceiling. It would have been Hermione's version of Honeydukes. Students were busy beavering away at desks lit by lamps with green glass shades, scribbling in notepads or tapping away at laptop computers. Hermione would have slotted right in amongst them. Even from his vantage point of the window, Harry could tell that sound was scorned upon inside. There was learning to be had, noise belonged elsewhere.
Hermione would have been so at home here. Harry missed her painfully in that moment. He found himself thinking about her a lot. He knew that he shouldn't, but he found he couldn't help himself. He wondered what she was doing right about now, if she was okay. He mused absently about if Ron had gotten around to titting her up yet. Harry chuckled at the idea. The damage Ron and his caveman hands would do to poor Hermione and her dainty body! She did have nice, perky boobs, though. Harry had always thought so. They were a lovely shape that fit her frame.
Harry had to stop this train of thought immediately.
He moved away from Radcliffe Camera, through a part where signs actively forbade any noise. Harry was mindful to tiptoe through it. He looked up at yet another hugely impressive library. He felt small in its presence. He was almost on the verge of giving thanks to be allowed to bask in this strange aura all around the place. He was definitely going to spend a good deal of time in this city.
He was moving towards the Sheldon Building. The quad there was almost deserted, except for a young woman and a photographer. They were doing a shoot against the atmospheric backdrop. The pictures would be epic. Harry didn't want to intrude, so he hung back and waited. It gave him chance to drink in more of the learning power that he felt was permeating the very air.
And he allowed himself to think of Hermione again.
She would have been a queen here, a dominant force. He wondered which of the magnificent colleges she would have attended, because she would definitely have ended up somewhere like this if it weren't for Hogwarts. And just like that, Harry was back to feeling that drowning nausea again.
For what had she had instead? Seven years of toil, lugging the burden of his friendship around with her. She had never complained about that stroke of misfortune. Ron had. Plenty of times. But never Hermione. Despite all the near-death misses, the pain and hurt she had suffered at his side. Not one word of protest. Harry totally didn't deserve that. And he'd only said thank you once.
What sort of a cunt was he?
He had never been so tempted to return to the Wizarding World. To see if he could make it up to Hermione. She was worth going back for. But no, it was too soon. He wasn't ready. He'd have to do something else, something to pacify his guilt. He wondered how much of his gold it would take to bribe one of the colleges to let Hermione in. They'd all be lucky to have her. She would have gotten in on merit, obviously, but Harry knew there was more to courting the attentions of an elite college than just getting a swath of 'A Stars'. That might be a nice Christmas gift. Maybe she'd forgive his misdemeanors if he just threw enough gold at her.
What was he saying? Hermione wasn't so vacuous and materialistic. She wasn't Ginny, for fucks sake.
Harry eventually moved along. Then he discovered that when walking through an old city you need to have your wits about you. Being architecturally beautiful was all well and good, but it played havoc with the sensibilities of the modern pedestrian. Or idiots like Harry, who was wallowing in his thoughts of despair and wasn't watching his walk.
The steps leading out of the quad were shallower than Harry had expected. He tripped and fell face first onto the pavement. He heard a sickening crack in his mouth and a spear of pain shot up into his brain. Then he tasted the warm coppery flavour of blood in his mouth. A couple of passing tourists gasped as Harry fell, and hurried to help him up. He mumbled a stunted, humiliated thanks before hurrying across the street into the lane beneath the Bridge of Sighs.
Once in the darkness he assessed he damage. His tooth was shattered. The pain was incredible, a burning ache that clouded his senses. He had to get help, he couldn't go on like this. He would have to go to St Mungo's. London was close. He could make it.
He tried to Apparate but the agony was too great. He couldn't focus. He frantically hunted for his Firebolt and his Invisibility Cloak from within his bag. He would have to fly. He needed to spit out this blood. It was filling his mouth. But he didn't want to besmirch the lovely streets. He fumbled around in the dark and found a drain nearby, nearly vomiting a mouthful of plasma and tooth shards into the grate. Then he kicked off.
He hadn't been flying long when he accepted he wouldn't reach London. He was feeling dizzy and he didn't think being on the broom was a good idea. If he fell off he was done for. As much as he'd considered recently that death might be a release to his current anguish, he realised now that this wasn't what he wanted at all. He wasn't ready to die just yet. There was only one thing for it. He would have to do this the old fashioned way. The Muggle way.
He would have to find a dentist.
He descended quickly, pointing his broom towards a vast collection of lights just ahead. It looked like a large town, they'd have emergency services there. Harry landed softly, ducked down an alley and stowed his broom and cloak back into his bag. His mouth was killing him. Where the hell was he? He saw signs for the town centre and hurried along the route.
It was called Abingdon. It looked posh. Harry felt really out of place and hoped to be able to leave as quickly as possible. But needs must. Harry found what he was looking for - a telephone box. He darted inside and dialled 102. A tinny female voice answered on the other end.
"Hello, Directory Enquiries. How can I help?"
"Oh, hello," said Harry. It was weird talking on the phone. It had been ages since he'd last done it. "I'm in Abingdon Town Centre and I'm wondering if you can direct me to a hospital or all-night dentist. Its a bit of an emergency."
"Well let me see," said the operator. "Where are you in Abingdon exactly?"
Harry looked at the nearby street sign. "Kings Street. Its in the centre."
"Then you are in luck," said the operator. "If you take Kings Street right to the very end you will come to a junction. Take the left turn down Canal way and walk for five hundred yards. There you will find the Three Pines medical centre. They have a 24-hour dentist on call. Would you like the phone number?"
"No, thank you. I think I'll find it. Thanks for your help."
And he hung up. He hurried along the street-lit road, following the directions given to him. Kings Street must have been the longest road in Abingdon. It took ages to reach the end. Harry cursed his luck. Eventually he did reach the junction and found Canal Way. A few minutes later and he was standing in the stairwell of the medical centre.
It was easy to spot. The only lit building within a row of solicitor's offices that looked like they had been converted from old town houses. Posh, affluent. Harry was a usurper here. Best get this over with before he left a stain on the place.
He opened the door, which tinkled lightly as he entered. A pleasant night receptionist smiled at him as he closed the door. She was just finishing a telephone conversation. She beckoned him over as she hung up the receiver.
"Good evening," she said. "How can we help?"
"I think I've cracked my tooth, its really painful," Harry managed to say.
"Okay, if you'd like to take a seat the dentist should be able to see you soon. Can I take your name?"
"Its Potter," said Harry. There was no point giving an alias. No-one would know him here.
"Very well, Mister Potter. If you'd like to take a seat in the waiting room someone will be with you shortly."
"Thank you," said Harry.
He slipped into the room off to the right of the reception. There were half a dozen other people in here. They looked up at the newcomer but paid him little mind. They had their own ailments to attend to. Harry waited in silence, trying not to focus on the incessant throb in his mouth. The damaged tooth was at the front. He would look wonderful with a hole there. He tried not to think about that.
Then he was startled from his worry as his name was called. He chided himself for jumping at the sound. He should have expected it. He got up sheepishly and followed the dental hygienist into the dentist's room. He had never liked the dentist. The reclining chair, the sharp, pointy implements. The Pink Drink. It wasn't his favourite of places.
But this Dentist herself seemed nice enough. She smiled warmly at him as he entered her room and sat down. She had a kindly face, dark fluffy hair. There was something about her eyes, something warming. They made him feel better, though he couldn't have rightly said why.
"Hello, Mister Potter isn't it?" said the Dentist, smiling at him again. "What seems to be the trouble this evening?"
Harry flushed, his cheeks bright. "You're going to laugh but, I tripped and face-planted the floor."
The Dentist didn't laugh. She looked concerned and eager to help. Harry went on.
"I think I've broken my tooth. Its in agony."
"Then we'd better take a look at it," said the Dentist.
"Does it matter that I'm not from around here?" Harry asked, the thought occurring to him suddenly. "I was just visiting."
"No, no, that isn't a problem. This is an NHS service. We treat anyone who comes in."
Harry sighed in relief. The Dentist noticed.
"Come along then, Mister Potter, lets have a look at the damage."
"My name's Harry, if its easier. Mister Potter sounds really formal."
The Dentist paused for a moment and chuckled ironically. She began to recline the chair. "That's funny, you know. My daughter has a friend called Harry Potter."
"She does?" asked Harry. "That is odd. What are the chances? Then again, I suppose my name is quite common, isn't it? Not like I'm called Tarquin Puddleduck or something, is it."
The Dentist laughed at that. "I imagine you'd be quite a character with a name like that. You'd have quite the story."
Now it was Harry's turn to start. You don't know the half of it, love, he thought to himself. He was now prostrate on the dentist's chair. He opened his mouth and the dentist flashed a light and a mirror inside.
"Ooh, yes, you've done quite the number on yourself here," she said. "I'm afraid there is significant damage to your front incisor. It may have to come out."
Harry garbled his acquiescence.
"Other than that your teeth are in very good order," said the Dentist. "That's always good to see. Now, are you allergic to anaesthetic?"
"No, I don't think so," said Harry "I've had fillings and stuff before."
"Okay then," said the Dentist. "We'll just give you a little injection to numb you then we'll get that bothersome tooth out and close up the nerve. Sound good?"
"Well, I wouldn't say good," said Harry, grinning slightly "But if it takes the pain away I'm on board."
The Dentist smiled at him again. He liked her. She was nice. He was sure she'd be gentle and considerate when fiddling about in his mouth. And she was. Harry barely felt the pin point of the needle breaking the skin of his gum. A few minutes later and he would feel nothing at all there, although it seemed to have swollen to a gargantuan size. At least the pain was gone.
The Dentist went to work. There was some scraping, a bit of drilling and some pulling until the damaged tooth came away from Harry's head. He felt it with a shock of pressure. The hygienist gently dabbed away the blood threatening to trickle down his cheek. The Dentist did some other things to seal up the wound and before long was handing Harry gauze to stem the bleeding and returning the chair to its upright position.
"Now you keep that padding there for as long as you can," said the Dentist. "There'll be some soreness for a few days. Maybe take some ibuprofen for that if it gets too bad. I'm sorry I couldn't save your Hollywood smile, though."
Harry grinned a swollen smile. "That isn't your fault. Thanks so much for seeing me. You've been a life saver. Now...could you please tell me where I pay?"
The Dentist looked oddly at him. "Didn't I mention, Mister Potter, that this is an NHS surgery? There is nothing to pay."
Harry didn't like that at all. He couldn't just walk out, not after all they'd done for him.
"That isn't right," he frowned. "I have to give you something."
"I assure you that's quite unnecessary," said the Dentist. "We have no facility for accepting payment and wouldn't anyway."
"But there must be something I can do," Harry protested somewhat desperately. "Cant I at least make a cup of tea for you both, and the nice receptionist, too? Anything? I don't like the idea of just walking out."
The Dentist laughed. "I appreciate the offer, but its fine, really. Just as long as you're feeling better that's enough thanks for me."
"Well, I am. Thank you very much, for everything, Dr...er..."
Harry looked for a name badge. When he found it, he did a double take.
"Is your...are you called Dr Granger?"
Harry was astonished. It couldn't be, could it? The Dentist looked at him curiously.
"It is. Can I ask why you asked in that way?"
"Oh, its just that...well, I have a friend," said Harry. "And she's called Granger...and both her parents are dentists."
Dr Granger looked wide-eyed at the revelation.
"My husband is a dentist, too," she said quietly. "I didn't mention that."
"No. You didn't."
"So your name is Harry Potter and you have a friend called Granger whose parents are dentists," Dr Granger summarised, her manner brisk and business-like.
Merlin, she actually sounded like her. And those eyes...Harry thought he might know now where he'd seen them before. Dr Granger continued.
"Can I ask you where you go to school."
Harry shifted uncertainly, bobbing on his heels. "Well, its in Scotland. Its a sort of...er...special school."
Dr Granger was floored. "Can I ask...this seems to be the most unlikely of coincidences...but do you know my Hermione? My daughter?"
Harry smiled at the mention of her name. It wasn't unnoticed by Dr Granger, nor the warm look it gave to his eyes.
"Yes, I know her," Harry grinned. "I know her very, very well."
Dr Granger gasped. Then she beamed at Harry. "Well...my, my. What a turn up for the books! Never in a million would I have imagined this for my night shift! I feel like I have so much to ask you. Hermione talked about you very much. It was almost as if each Christmas and Summer holiday was little more than a retelling of all you have been through that term. I feel like I practically know you."
Harry guffawed. "I'm used to that. Surprised that I'd find it in - hem - this world, though." Harry cleared his throat nervously. "How...how is Hermione? Well, I hope."
Dr Granger looked curiously at him, as though x-raying him. "She's fine, thank you for asking. A bit more down than I'd like to see her, but after what happened to you all...I would ask how you are coping, but I don't want to pry."
Harry felt his stomach lurch at the question. Hermione's mother, showing concern for him? That was more than he was owed. He was selfish for accepting the interest.
"I'm doing alright," said Harry. "I'm taking some time away from things. Trying to get my head on straight."
"That's sensible," said Dr Granger, nodding sagely. She seemed to weigh up her next question carefully. "This is going to sound awfully forward...but Hermione's father and I have heard so much about you. He'd never let me forget it if I passed up the chance for him to meet you. If you are in the area, and have no other plans, would you do us the pleasure of joining us for breakfast tomorrow? Nothing formal or fancy, just a cuppa and a biscuit. You don't have to if you would be uncomfortable."
Harry thought on it a moment. "Will Hermione be there?"
He wasn't really sure what he wanted the answer to be to this one.
"No, she's up in London buying her school things this weekend. She's returning for the year, but you probably know that."
He didn't, but he smiled at the thought. Hermione wouldn't accept that crappy excuse for a qualification the Ministry had offered to him and Ron. He felt ashamed that was going to. He was unworthy of her.
"So, breakfast," Dr Granger pressed. "Will you come?"
Harry thought again. He found he wasn't against the idea at all. "I'd be happy to. When shall I come?"
"About 8 or 9?"
"Can we make it 10 or 11?" Harry grinned. "I'm afraid I'm a bit lazy!"
Dr Granger laughed again. "Any time that's good for you is good for us. I look forward to seeing you. Do you know our address?"
"Oh...er, no. I never needed to write it...owls cant read, after all."
Dr Granger grinned warmly at him. "Here, let me write it down. David - Hermione's father - will be so pleased when I tell him."
"No pressure then," Harry grinned. "Goodbye, Dr Granger. Thanks for everything."
And Harry left, thinking this had been a most bizarre day.
Hermione was running through the house, she was being chased. He was following her, was really close now. Her heart was flapping wildly and she tried hard not to giggle as she fell against the dresser on the landing. She was loving the chase and couldn't wait to be caught. She squeezed her legs together at the thought, as though to try and quell the urging throb between them.
Then he was mounting the stairs, two at a time. He was going to get her.
Hermione squeaked and jumped up, the giggle finally escaping her throat. She tried to escape, but he was an athlete, too quick for her. And then he was upon her, pinning her bodily against the wall and thrusting his body against hers. She gave a keening sound that may have been a purr, an animalistic groan she was only just getting used to making.
And her lover was driven wild by it.
His hands were all over her, tearing at her shirt, his shirt that she was wearing. It was all she was wearing. It came down past her waist, but her legs were naked, white and pale in the shaft of moonlight flooding in through the open window. She brought one up and crooked it around his hip as he fiddled with her buttons, divesting her. Then his lips were kissing, nibbling, biting at her neck beneath her hair. She was going crazy, so light-headed she could barely stand. She threw her head back for better access as his hands slid up her now-bare stomach.
The bedroom was so close. A few feet and a hundred miles away. It was too far. He would have to take her here, now, against this wall. She could stand it no longer.
She snaked her hand up his back, questing for his hair. She took a fistful of his smooth locks and tugged his head back. She wanted to look into his eyes, to communicate the desire that was burning so fiercely inside of her. She wanted him to see, to know she was his. She pulled hard.
And Harry looked back at her, hungrily and wantonly.
Hermione jerked awake, writhing on her bed and panting raggedly for just one clean breath of air. Her nightie was soaked in sweat, her bedsheets too. She noticed one hand down the front of her knickers. She squeezed her thighs around it, letting the images of the dream flood her mind to finish her off. Waves of pleasure swept hot and senseless through her, and she rode the tide. Her free hand grabbed the corner of her pillow so tight it left a dent there and she bit her lip hard to stifle the moan fighting to escape her chest. Then she let out a long, contented sigh and allowed herself to relax into her mattress.
Then the guilt came.
She'd had another one of those dreams...about Harry. She seemed powerless to stop them. This one had been more intense than the last few. She could almost taste his kisses, hot against her throat. She shivered wildly beneath her damp sheets. She was almost used to this now, waking up covered in the sweats of passion. She'd even stopped being shocked that dreams of Harry had been what caused it.
Because he was in them every time.
She dearly wished that he wasn't, that she could somehow block him from her mind. But she had no control over it. Every time she had one of those dreams he appeared in it. More often than not he had to displace Ron in some way first. This made Hermione feel terrific guilt, even in her dream. Until Harry touched her. Until he kissed her and tasted her. Then she forget Ron completely, or else wished he hadn't been in the way in the first place.
And she felt so dreadful over this that it often took a few days to get over it.
But this dream was different. It had been just Harry from the start and Hermione felt naughtily exhilarated by that. As though it were different, a little less guilt-inducing. And so much more intense for the being so. She quietly hoped that all the future dreams she had, for she was sure there would be more, would be like that. It was so much better this way. She could allow herself to enjoy the indulgence.
For that's all it was. Harry was gone. He might not be coming back. And these lingering, new sensations she was forming for him would never have to be dealt with in the cold light of day.
Of course, Hermione was sensible of the fact that she was practically cheating on Ron with her fantasies. He didn't deserve that, but Hermione decided he didn't really need to know. If Harry wasn't going to come back for months or years what did it really matter? What harm could be done? Ron needn't be upset by Hermione's cerebral philandering, if that's all it was. Besides, Hermione might have gotten this, whatever it was, out of her system by then. If Harry returned at all. And even if he did, it still wouldn't matter. Harry had never shown any of that sort of interest in her before, so why should she expect that to change, just because her feelings had started to? Or definitely had, no matter how much she tried to convince herself to the contrary.
She was with Ron, she was going to stay with him, make it work somehow. She'd made her mind up on that. She'd decided she could be content in a life with him. She'd have a career and her causes, and then they'd probably have a family and she'd have a project on her hands to prove her parents wrong. For that matter, she'd have a project convincing her parents to even see their grandchildren. To let wizards into their home. They were still quite adamant she was the only source of magic that they'd ever permit across their threshold. She would make them see sense, and they'd accept it in the end. And she would be happy enough.
She just wished she could forget Harry's kiss. It put such a spanner into her great laid plans.
She could still feel it, tingling across her skin. Or was that just the lingering remnants of her dream? Both sensations were eerily similar. She hadn't washed her face for days after it, didn't want to soap away the spot where his lips had trembled against her cheek. For she was sure they trembled. She entertained wild thoughts when she pondered why. But she quickly subdued them. She wasn't allowed to dwell on that during the daytime.
It was a strictly night time activity.
She'd woken early. Dawn light was only just peeking over the horizon. Hermione got up and splashed some water over her face. Her skin was hot, the water wonderfully cooling. She looked out along the street. Diagon Alley was odd when viewed at this time of the morning. Weirdly still. It would be a few hours before she could go downstairs yet because the Leaky Cauldron was still asleep, and that's where she was staying.
Ron was coming to London today. His last letter had been full of excitement about it. Hermione was going to treat him to a new Chudley Cannon's Quidditch Robe. She'd already been to Quality Quidditch Supplies to reserve it. He'd be so thrilled when he saw it, she knew that. It was a going away gift, something to remember her by when she returned to belatedly do her final year at Hogwarts in a few days.
She had pleaded with him to return, too. Tried to employ all her feminine wiles to convince him. She had even suggested he could be Head Boy to compliment her as Head Girl, though she omitted the snagging detail that he'd be taking Harry's rightful role once again. She thought of the alone time they could have together, hoping maybe it might renew the affection she'd lost for him and was struggling to force back.
The notion had the opposite effect on Ron. He was already inordinately pleased that he was going to receive a Magical Diploma with straight Outstanding Grades on all his N.E.W.T's just for his role in defeating Voldemort. By his logic, why return to the school and risk losing that? Hermione sadly had to agree with his assertion. And when she mentioned becoming Head Boy he turned a distinct shade of grey. Go back, lose your top grades and have to have some responsibility. Hermione might as well have offered him the Ebola virus and cancer in exchange for the cure for a runny nose.
So she would be returning to Hogwarts alone and wouldn't see Ron until Christmas. She was torn at the situation. She desperately wanted to work at the cracks in the relationship, which were, admittedly, of her own making and that Ron was blissfully ignorant of. He hadn't the faintest clue that Hermione was in something of a state of emotional and mental turmoil. He never was the best at gauging her moods. Harry was the infinitely more proficient in that area.
Stop thinking about Harry!
Hermione had to keep mentally slapping herself like this. It was the root cause of her turmoil and only through strong mental punishment could she control it and stop the ideas running away with her. She lived in constant dread that one day they might inopportunely slip out with the wrong person listening. Namely Ron. Even he wouldn't miss that if it did.
So she was actively trying to throw herself into the relationship, be a model girlfriend. By the book, her style, if you will. She would shower Ron with over-the-top-affection, write him letters daily, buy him things, treat him, even if it cost herself (she'd bought all her seventh year textbooks second-hand yesterday to afford the Quidditch robe), not give Harry or ideas about him any time, any avenue into her conscious thought.
Until the night, when she couldn't resist, and he stole in and loved her breathless.
She could just about cope with that. But term time would be different. She could still write to Ron, of course, but he wouldn't be around to be on her mind, or to provide a barrier to stop her thoughts drifting to Harry. She was fearful of this, hoping that distance wouldn't open a insurmountable chasm between them. She was almost as fearful of that as she was of spending the next year with no friends to talk to, as she was dropping back a year. Ginny would be there, but Hermione really couldn't stomach the idea of buddying up to her all year. All in all, she felt she'd probably be as isolated and solitary as Harry was.
She was doing it again, thinking about him. Why couldn't she have any train of thought that didn't eventually pull in at Station Potter? She had to clear it out of her system. She had developed a mental checklist for it. She sighed and started making her way through it.
Where was he? She hoped it was somewhere sunny, he needed some colour in his complexion. What was he doing? Could be anything, depending where he was, of course. Maybe he was in the shower, all wet and soapy. Hermione Jane Granger! Stop that at once! What was he thinking? Was he missing her? She really hoped so. He might come home soon if he was. He'd been gone too long already.
How much longer could she keep doing this? To herself, to poor Ron? He really didn't deserve this. Whether he knew what was going on or not. He was sweet and caring. He deserved someone who would return that honestly. Hermione couldn't legitimately say that she did anymore. No matter how hard she was trying. But she also didn't want to break his heart, and she was fairly confident it would shatter if she confessed to him. She didn't think she could take that, neither of them could, even if the reasons were different.
And there was the other, more selfishly cogent reason for staying together. Hermione didn't want to be alone. If she could hold her tongue and her guilt, maybe it would be okay. Ron would be there for her, doing his best, even if she wasn't wholly fulfilled. There was something to be said for that. And he would be none the wiser. With the uncertainty surrounding her parents, Hermione couldn't be entirely sure that if she broke it off with Ron she would have anyone to turn to in any of her worlds. She was strong and stubborn, but maybe not to that extent. She wasn't Harry.
And she was back onto him again. She sighed at herself. That had to be the last one today. Ron would be arriving soon. She had to get ready, and it involved a lot more than simply getting dressed.