Although the stain had come out of the ivory sheath with the help of several magic cleaning spells (and Lavender), Hermione didn’t think she’d ever be able to wear it again. She’d sadly handed it back to her mother (who didn’t know about the wine escapade) and insisted she hang it back in her closet, and that maybe Lavender would like to wear it. She literally became a zombie for the next week, not even leaving the house for work. Lavender and Susan covered her shifts without complaining.
Lavender hesitantly knocked on Hermione’s closed bedroom door. She’d tried her hardest to comfort her cousin, she had yet to get the full story of what had transpired that night at Harry’s, she only knew that they had fought. She also knew Susan was growing more worried about her as well.
“Hermione?” she called softly. “Can I come in?” when she heard no answer, she turned the knob and went inside anyway.
Hermione was sitting on the edge of her bed, staring out of the window. She didn’t flinch when her cousin sat down next to her, only continued looking straight ahead.
Lavender was shocked, to say the least. Hermione had never been one to let her appearance go; yet she was sitting there with unkempt hair, her face pale and makeup free, and the same clothes she’d been wearing for two days straight. “Hermione, come on, you’ve got to get yourself cleaned up.” She found herself saying. “Everyone was asking about you at work today…Leonora misses you, she wants to know when you’re coming back.”
Hermione still said nothing, but her eyes flickered over to her cousin.
Encouraged by this, Lavender continued. “A few of the customers were even asking about you…” she didn’t mention the fact that Harry had come in with flowers, to try and apologize. Susan had given him the cold shoulder, but Lavender had taken him aside and explained that Hermione was sick and not able to come. She wouldn’t tell him that it was only heartsickness. Her voice trailed off as they sat in silence a good five minutes.
“You don’t have to make me feel better Lavender, I know no one cares where I am.” Hermione finally spoke, her tone dull.
“That’s not true, Hermione!” Lavender defended herself.
“Has Harry come in?” Hermione asked perceptively. She turned her head fully to look at her cousin.
“Well…uh…” Lavender stammered. Hermione glared at her, and she nodded quickly. “Yes, he has. Three times.”
Hermione made a harsh noise in her throat and flopped back on her bed. “I really hope he doesn’t just expect me to forgive him.”
Lavender laid back next to her. “What happened?”
Hermione sighed deeply. “Well, everything started out well enough, his parents were really very nice. I was especially nervous meeting his father, because Harry’s never said anything very good about him, but he was kind as can be, his mother too.” She paused for a moment. “It started with his aunt and cousin, they’re Muggles and as snotty as they come. Dudley, his cousin, started to check me out, and I think that was when Harry started to get mad. Then the fat asshole actually put his hand on my thigh!” Lavender gasped and Hermione continued. “Harry slapped his head into the flambé we were eating, and then Parvati accidentally spilled caramel on Harry’s uncle’s arm.” Lavender smiled a little at the mental image. “When his aunt started insulting the ‘local’ girls, as she called us, he stood up and started yelling at everyone, even me.” Hermione sniffled a bit as she sat up again. “He used me to get back at his father, and that was the worst part about it.” Several fat tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Hermione…” Lavender said, also sitting back up. She put a comforting arm around her cousin. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I didn’t want to trouble you.” Hermione said, grabbing a tissue off her nightstand and blowing her nose. “You have so much going on right now.”
“Maybe so, but Hermione, I’m always here if you need to talk.”
“Thanks, Lavender.” Hermione gave a teary smile.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
It was Hermione’s first day back at work in a week and a half. Unfortunately for her, the restaurant was packed; people were waiting at the doors for tables to free up. She still felt like moping, her mind was a million miles away and she kept goofing up her orders.
“Excuse me miss, this isn’t cooked!” one woman cried. Her cluster of friends echoed her sentiments, but when Hermione turned around, steam was rising off the pizza. She gave the woman a strange look and turned back the other way.
Leonora rolled her eyes as she carried the uncooked pizza back into the kitchen, but she made no comment to Hermione. Lavender and Susan tried to stifle their laughter.
Hermione flipped to a new sheet on her parchment pad. “Hi, ready to order?” she came upon a man who had been sitting there for at least fifteen minutes.
“Yes, finally.” He answered, his tone clipped and nasal. “The…Hogsmeade Pizza please…I assume that’s your house special?”
Hermione’s eyes widened as she saw who her customer was, none other than the Wizarding Warlock Food Critic! “Uh, yes…that’s our special, there’s nothing like it!”
The man only raised his eyebrows slightly and pulled out a tiny parchment pad, much like her own, along with a quill. He dismissed her with a wave of his hand, and Hermione dashed towards the kitchens.
“Ohhh Merlin Leonora!” she gasped, swinging the doors open and nearly hitting Susan. “I need the best pizza you’ve ever made!”
“What? Why?” Leonora asked.
“Because the Wizarding Warlock Food Critic is here!” Hermione nearly shouted, pointing out into the seating area.
Leonora’s eyes widened in panic for a moment, but then her face fell. “So what?” she answered. “I don’t need him to tell me my pizza is the best thing he’s ever tasted!”
“Leonora!” all three girls were there now, looking at her pleadingly.
“Well…” Leonora looked down at the three pizzas she’d just pulled out. “Take your pick Hermione.”
Hermione grabbed the one in the middle; it looked extra cheesy, with lots of mushrooms and pepperoni on the top. She set it nicely in front of the man, and then slowly backed away as he began to pull a slice from the pie.
The three girls watched breathlessly as he took a large bite. He chewed thoughtfully, and then took another. Leonora held her breath and the girls watched closely as he grabbed up his quill and wrote a few words down on his parchment. He went to take another bite when he noticed all the employees were watching him.
Hermione bent her head and pretended to write something, and Lavender and Susan began to mess with the glasses and plates behind the counter.
The warlock turned away from them and took another bite, once again chewing slowly and he appeared to be thinking hard. He put the slice down and motioned to Hermione, who went directly over.
“Anything else?” she asked, her palms sweating. “Shall I get a box for you?”
“Just the check please.” Hermione cast a confused glance back at Leonora, and ripped the man’s check off her pad. “And your manager as well, I assume she is here?” he asked coolly.
“Uh…right away.” Hermione answered, and in three strides she was through the doors to the kitchens. “Leonora! He wants to speak with you!”
“What?” Leonora’s eyes grew wide. “What about?”
“I don’t know.” Hermione replied. “He told me he wanted a word with you.”
“Oh Merlin’s beard….” Leonora answered, wiping her hands on a clean cloth. She cast a worried glance back at the three girls, and went out to the seating area. The Wizarding Warlock Food Critic spoke to her for a few moments, and then to the surprise of Hermione, Susan and Lavender, they both went outside.
“What do you think he’s saying to her?” Susan asked, pressing her hands to the sides of her face.
“I’m sure he’s telling her that it’s the best pizza he’s ever had.” Lavender replied loyally.
“But he didn’t even eat a whole slice!” Hermione objected. “And he didn’t even want to take the rest with him!”
“Well I know, but…” Lavender trailed off as Leonora came back into the room, her face white as a ghost.
“Leonora, what happened?” Susan asked; she looked like she was ready to cry.
“He…” Leonora sat down heavily in a chair next to the door. “He loved it.”
“WHAT?” all three girls screamed at once.
“He told me…on the next show…he’s going to recommend it….” Leonora said weakly.
There was a flurry of movement in the kitchen as all of them flew into one large tangle of arms and legs.
“Leonora, that’s wonderful!” Hermione screamed.
“You’ll finally get the recognition you deserve!” Lavender said ecstatically.
“And I can run this place on when you retire!” Susan was excited. “Oh Leonora, this is wonderful!”
The atmosphere in the parlour was quite cheerful for the rest of that day.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Lavender was sitting at the kitchen table, finishing up some forms for University when Hermione appeared in the doorway.
“Lav?” she said tentatively.
“What?” she scratched her signature at the bottom of the last form and looked up.
“Um…Henry’s here. At the door.” Hermione said. “I didn’t want to let him in…”
Lavender took a deep breath. “It’s all right Hermione. I knew this had to be coming sometime.” She scraped her chair back across the floor and brushed past her cousin into the front hallway.
Henry and Lori were standing near the door; Lori seemingly excited to see her and Henry looking awkward.
“Hi.” Lavender said, more to Lori than Henry.
“Hi, Lavender.” He was the one to reply. “Uh…Lori wanted to come and say goodbye.”
She looked at Henry and gave a tiny nod, then squatted down. “Bye Lori…it’s been really fun getting to know you.” She hugged the child tightly and swallowed down her tears. She would miss Lori a lot.
“I uh…I also wanted to give you this.” Henry held out a sack with her last pay inside, and a slip of parchment with a Gringotts seal. “This is for you, for University… you take it to the bank and they’ll give you the gold.” he said. Lavender took them.
“Thank you.” She said stiffly. “Goodbye Henry.”
“Yeah…I guess we should go.” Henry said softly. He took Lori by the hand as they stepped out the door.
“Bye Lavender….” Lori’s voice faded as the door swung shut behind them.
Hermione moved herself from behind the doorway to the entrance of the hallway. “Are you all right, Lav?” she asked.
Lavender went past her into the kitchen. She dropped the money sack on the table and unfolded the note. Hermione went up behind her curiously, but before she could see how much the note was worth, Lavender had torn it up.
“Guilt money.” She said, throwing the pieces to the floor. “I don’t want his pity.”
Hermione nodded sympathetically as Lavender’s face crumpled. Wordlessly, she pulled her cousin into a tight hug, letting her cry it out once again.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The house had a chill to it as the evening fell. Her mother insisted that she and Lavender accompany her out to dinner that night, as both her girls needed cheering up, but Hermione had declined, choosing instead to pull on some flannel pyjama trousers and a long sleeved t-shirt. She made herself some hot chocolate, and then grabbed a book from her bureau and got comfortable in front of a roaring fire.
She had been reading for about an hour when a knock sounded from the front door. Placing a marker in her book, she left her warm seat.
“Alexa!” Hermione said in shock when she’d opened the door. She wasn’t sure who she’d been expecting to see, but it certainly wasn’t Harry’s sister. “Please come in.” she said, stepping aside to let her through.
“Thanks.” Alexa said. She pulled off her cloak and tossed it on a chair.
“So…” Hermione said once they sat down in the living room. “What brings you over here?”
“I wanted to talk to you about my brother.” Alexa replied. She was known for her way to cut right to the chase.
Hermione’s face hardened. “Did he send you over here?”
“No.” Alexa replied. “I came over because I wanted to. I came over because he misses you.”
Hermione sighed. “Well, I miss him too, but it doesn’t excuse him for what he did. He really hurt me.”
Alexa stared straight at her. “I know he did, and I know he’s not excused for his behaviour. But he’s been miserable since that night. Harry and I are very close, as you know, and I’ve seen him be upset over girls before, but nothing like this.”
Hermione felt herself soften at Alexa’s words; perhaps she had a point.
“Harry really loves you.” Alexa continued. “Unfortunately, not even something like that can keep his temper from flaring around our father. They haven’t gotten along since Harry and I were young teenagers. Dad wants to run Harry’s life, and he’s too independent to follow orders like that.”
Hermione smiled at that remark. “That’s very true.” She said.
“Harry hasn’t been this happy since…well…as long as I can remember.” Alexa said, sitting up straighter. “And to your credit, I’ve never seen a girl handle him better.” She grinned. “That night you wrecked his Windrider…” she threw her head back and laughed.
“I thought you were another girlfriend.” Hermione said, embarrassed. Alexa only laughed harder and Hermione began to giggle as well. “I was so shocked he wasn’t angry at me over that.”
“Harry’s very forgiving; especially with the people he loves.” Alexa’s laughter subsided.
Hermione’s own laughter ceased as well, and she now looked thoughtful. “You know, you’re right.” She admitted. “He had every right to hate me after that night and he didn’t care.”
“Hermione, look…” Alexa began again, sensing that Hermione’s resolve was weakening. “He loves you, he loves you a lot. Will you at least agree to talk with him?”
“I don’t know.” Hermione said, staring into the fire. “Have you ever had someone use you that way?”
“No.” Alexa replied. “I’m sure I can’t even imagine how it must feel for someone to say things like that.” She leaned forward. “But if I felt for them as much as you and Harry love each other, then I know I’d find a way to forgive them.”
As much as she hated to admit it, Hermione realised that Alexa brought up a very good point. “Fine…I’ll talk to him.” She said. “But it’ll have to wait, I’m afraid, my best friend is getting married in just a few days and we’re all extra busy with her wedding.”
“I understand.” Alexa said, getting up from the chair. “This means a lot to him.”
“I’m not saying I’m forgiving him, Alexa.” Hermione said, also rising. “I’m just agreeing to hear him out. That’s all I can give at this point.”
Alexa nodded. “Thank you.” She said, turning to leave. Hermione followed her out to the hallway and shut the door behind her. She only hoped she was doing the right thing.