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Summary: You’re a ballerina dancer, and your baby sister is taking up gymnastics, with none other than Lance Tucker as her teacher.
Pairing: Lance the Fucker Tucker x Named Reader (Stella)
Warnings: language (no fucking shit, right?) sexual tension, fluff.
I’ve always been an early riser, I’m talking anywhere from 5-6AM. That only escalated when mom and dad passed away. I was 16 when they died, and my sister was 6. That was 11 years ago. Now, I wake my sister up every morning around 6, make her breakfast and send her off to school. She’s 17 now. I can only hope mom and dad would be proud of us.
I’m a ballet dancer and teacher at our local dance studio here in Amherst, Ohio. My sister Sarah is a gymnast, the best since both Maggie Townsend and Hope Ann Gregory. Sarah not too far behind Maggie, just 2 years. She’s been doing gymnastics ever since our parents passed away, it’s been her escape from reality. Just as mine has been dancing. She has great potential, at least her coach says so. There’s nothing else he can do for her, she’s surpassed his level of training. She can now go to a bigger gym, where a big name coach can train her for the Olympics, of she qualifies. That’s where she’s going today, to meet her new teacher. I have work today as well, at least I’ll match some of the girls in a leotard.
“Come on, Sarah! You can’t be late to meet your new coach, you never know who this is, they may not take kindly to tardiness.” She reluctantly comes down the stairs, obviously exhausted, as she was up all night practising.
“Why are you so energetic in the morning, Stella? It’s way too early for this crap.”
“Just trying to get you hyped up, aren’t you excited?!” I jump up and down, I’m so excited for this new opportunity for her.
“Yeah, I guess. More nervous than anything.”
“Oh, stop it! You’ll do wonderfully!” She just hums in acknowledgment.
Loading ourselves in my Dodge Charger, it’s my baby, we head to the new gym, it’s almost 2 hours away. This’ll be a bitch trip to make every day, not to mention hard on the wallet, but I know it’ll be worth it.
When we get to our destination, we part next to a fancy black car. I’d say about as fancy as mine, except mine’s white. Sarah gets out first, grabbing her gym bag and walking towards the front of the building, and I follow. When we get in, there’s several young girls about Sarah’s age, stretching and chatting, having a good time. One of them notices us and comes over.
“Hi! You must be Sarah? We’ve heard much about you, come on, coach Tucker will be waiting for you!” She grabs her hand and pulls her toward what I can only assume is the main office.
“W-Wait, Stella! Aren’t you coming?” Poor thing, she looks nervous. Walking up to catch up to them, the unnamed girl walks into the office, and we’re greeted to the sight of a man in a blue wind breaker USA jacket, a white shirt and black pants. He’s on the phone, obviously not happy with who ever he is speaking to.
“I don’t fucking know, Maggie! You know I have to train these girls this weekend!……..It wasn’t my weekend to watch him or I would have found someone else to train them!…….OF COURSE I LOVE MY SON…..Yes I want to see him!….You know that’s not my fault, Maggie. Look, I’ll figure something out, I have to go. I’ll call you back.” He hangs up, and pinches his nose between his fingers.
Sarah’s teacher is Lance Tucker. THE Lance Tucker, the one who got his student pregnant. He stands up and walks over to us. The man is much taller than me, hell even Sarah is taller than me. He smiles a stressed, forced smile.
“Hi, you must be Sarah?” He said that to me. He thinks I’m Sarah? Fuck, I’m a 27 year old grown ass woman. Sarah starts laughing before she cuts in.
“No, I’m Sarah. This is my older sister, Stella.” He double takes, looking at me again.
“You’re older than she is?”
“Yes sir, by 10 years.” He laughs this time.
“Holy shit. You’re a tiny little thing, aren’t you?” I roll my eyes. Not the first time I’ve heard that, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
“You could say that.” He rests his hands on his hips, before shaking his head, then holding his hand out for me to shake, then Sarah.
“I’m Lance Tucker. Welcome to my gym.” He smiles at me, and winks.
This man is something else, I can tell.
Sarah’s first day of training was hell, at least that’s what she told me while we sit at the dinner table.
“He’s so hard on you, like it’s not encouraging whatsoever. It’s just belittling and insulting.” She picks at her broccoli.
“I’m sure he means well, Sarah. Afterall he has multiple success stories. Really no failed trainees.” She sighs.
“I know. Do you think you could stay with me tomorrow? It’s just me and him as I’m his best girl right now. I could use some encouraging words to battle his belittling ones.”
“I’m sure I can, I don’t see why he would mind.” She finishes her meal, and stands up to give me a hug.
“Thanks for dinner sis, I’m going to bed.”
“What time do you need to be awake.”
“5.” That should be easy enough for me.
“Alright. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Besides, I think coach likes you. He asked about you and what you do most of the day.”
I find myself blushing. There’s no way he would think about me like that, he doesn’t even know me well. But, the thoughts are not unwelcome. Heading to bed, I take my shower and get in my pajamas, my queen sized bed welcoming me with open arms. Tomorrow will be a very interesting day…
The day Charles Xavier contacted you, instantly you knew something was wrong. First of all, he contacted you.
You had become one of his students when he and Hank McCoy found you, during the, erm, bad times. Not his bad times, but your own.
After the unruly announcement of the Mutants, everyone in your apartment building, … well … they snitched on you and you were forced to evacuate … the state. Almost the country, when they found you.
You had trouble opening up to the Professor during your stay at his “Palace for the Gifted”. More like, didn’t want to and he tried not to push, but the Professor kept trying to read your mind. Every time he tried, no matter where you were in the house, you forcefully pushed his mind out of your own. It baffled him and made Charles more interested in what your power ‘could’ be. You already knew and felt it wasn’t necessary to tell him. All you wanted is a place to say temporally, until you could figure out what to do next, but the longer you stayed the more he pushed and you knew one day, you would slip up.
You weren’t the first to leave, but not the last. Hank tried his damnedest to convince you to stay when everyone, one by one, began to leave. (Most were drafted, because of the war)
You packed the only backpack you had, when you first came here, as Hank stood in your doorway rambling on and on. “You can’t leave us. I mean you can, but you shouldn’t, I mean-“
“Hank!” You held up a hand and stopped him. “I get it. I do.”
“But?” Hank asked and you smiled. He knew you all too well.
“BUT, I can’t stay. It’s not you or Charles, I promise, but,” You paused with a grin and Hank scoffed. “I feel like I need to keep moving. There are people looking for Mutants, drafting them for the war, and it’s like I’m just waiting for them to find me here.” You pulled your arms through your jacket sleeves and slung your backpack onto your shoulders.
“Being on the run, no one knows better than me.” You freed your shoulder length hair from under your backpack’s straps and turned around to look at Hank. “Plus I can protect myself.” You said with complete reassurance.
“I would believe that if I knew what your mutant ability was.” Hank stuck his hands into the pockets of his wind breaker jacket and you sighed. ‘Not this again.’
“Why won’t you tell us?” He asked, pulling a hand out of his pocket to push his glasses further up his nose.
“Because,“ You paused to collect your words. “I don’t … ugh. Fine, I guess, because I’m leaving … I’ll tell you.”
You took off your backpack, tossed it on the floor, and crossed your arms. You stared out the window and sighed once more.
“My ‘ability’ as you call it, … is complicated, but if I had a name would be ‘The Forger’.”
Hank laughed and gave you an amused smile. “The Forger?”
“Yeah maybe, not.” Your face shriveled up in disgust. “But it’s appropriate, considering, what I can do. When I’m in a room with other Mutants, I can temporarily copy their powers to a fault, but like an actual forger, it’s just a copy and it’s not exactly like the original. There is always something that changes or is left out. For example, I tried to copy a Mutant’s ability to gain immortality through taking the lives of others and don’t worry I didn’t kill anyone.” You added when noticing the horrified look on Hank’s face.
“A Mutant who can become immortal through the death of others how does that work?” Hank leaned on the door frame.
“When he killed someone he was able to absorb the rest of the years that person had left before their ‘natural’ death. (Something like that) Horrible I know, but I was curious to see what my ability would do with his once I copied it. Well, after a week of following him and trying to figure out how to copy it, … it back fired. I never got the chance to figure out how it actually worked, so I just left it alone, or so I thought. I gained the ability to be ‘immortal’ without having to kill anyone. Ever since, I haven’t aged.”
“Usually, in the past, when I copied another Mutant’s ability, I always forgot the next day, but through the years I learned how to remember some of the abilities and use them whenever I need them. So yes, I know how to protect myself.”
Hank moved away from the door and turned, revealing Charles Xavier. Standing Charles Xavier. Walking Charles Xavier. ‘What?’
“Um, hi, Professor. You’re walking. How?” You asked, frowning. Realizing how terrible that sounded, you corrected yourself. “I mean it’s wonderful, it’s great, but how?”
“I found a treatment that helps me walk.” Charles said and entered your room. He shared a look with Hank and you frowned deeper.
“What kind of treatment?” You questioned and Charles didn’t answer.
You narrowed your eyes and searched for the answer in his mind. You didn’t get very far though. That’s what was wrong with copying Charles’ power, it’s too complicated for you to use it correctly.
“Wait, are you trying to get into my head with my own power?” He asked a grin blooming on his face. ‘Caught. Might as well come clean.’
“Yeah, I did, but it’s … heh, it’s a lot trickier to control than any other Mutant powers I have copied, and I need to be careful, I could accidentally keep the copy permanently and I’m not sure I want that.” You gave him a knowing smile. (The voices. You couldn’t handle what Charles goes through everyday)
“I can show you. Teach you. Help you control it. All you have to do … is stay.” Charles stood before you and placed a hand on your shoulder.
“You have always been very persuasive, Charles.” You shook your head and crossed your arms. “How?”
“How am I so persuasive or … ” Charles asked and you laughed. “No, how can you teach me to … control it?”
“It’ll just take concentration and a little guidance.” He let your shoulder go and grasped his hands behind his back. “And cooperation.” He raised his eyebrows at you pointedly and you blushed, remembering all the times you wouldn’t confide in the Professor about your abilities.
“Ha. Very funny. When do we start?”
You stayed for a couple of months and learned more about your ability, but as you learned more about Charles’ power the more you worried about the side effects.
For example, when you were awoken by voices in your head, it alarmed you and forced you to stop working on it for a month. Charles coaxed you back into trying again and you cautiously began anew.
Poor Hank and a few of the students had become your test subjects. Hank volunteered, but the other students … Charles drafted them. Most of them didn’t even know that you have messed with them or their minds. If they did, they didn’t say.
Charles’ training included, controlling other students from around the school, no matter how far they were away from you, and reading so many different minds. You knew things that no one would tell their therapist or their closest friends. Secrets, ambitions … lovers? (That’s how you figured out Hank had a crush on you. Bless.)
“Now it’s time for you to read my mind and I’ll try to block you out.”
You were siting across from Charles in his study, with the curtains pulled open and the manor’s grounds in full view. You were staring out the window with a wandering mind when he spoke inside your head.
‘(Y/N), please focus or this won’t work.’
You jumped, startled and turned your attention to him, as his hand dropped from his temple and into his lap.
“Sorry.” You whispered, sullenly. Charles gazed into your eyes and furrowed his eyebrows. When his hand started inching towards side of his face, you thrusted out a hand and grabbed his.
“You know, you could just ask.” Your lips curled into a smile and he let out a breathy chuckle.
“Would you have told me if I had asked?” Charles inquired softly, tilting his head and raised an eyebrow, questioningly.
You let his hand go and sat back into your chair. “No, but it would have been at least considerate, Charles.”
“Oh no, we wouldn’t want that.” He sat himself back into his seat and rest his elbow onto the armrest of the chair. He placed his fingers on this temple and his voice echoed in your head.
‘Shall we get started?’
“Let’s.” You slightly leaned forward and narrowed your eyes in focus. You let your thoughts try to push their way into his mind with extreme force.
‘Good, but you’ll have to try harder.’ Charles smirked and you clinched your jaw.
You felt a painful amount of pressure in the front of your brain and you knew he was fighting back with is own. Alternatively from forcing your way in, you let a part of your brain sneak around his and you broke in.
Charles memories and everything that was in his mind at the time, swamped yours and it was overwhelming. You backtracked out his mind as quickly as you could. ‘Gosh Charles. How do you sleep at night?’
‘I don’t.’ His voice in your mind startled you and your eyes widened. You had forgotten that Charles had free access to your thoughts.
“Oh, uh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t, … crap.” You mentally drew back and put up the same wall that has always blocked Charles from reading your mind.
“Are you all right, Professor?” You asked concerned.
“Always.” Charles answered right away and you, instantly, regretted asking.
He saw the expression on your face and bent forward to rest a hand on your knee. “Don’t worry about me. Now, go on. You’ve deserved some free time from our training.”
You had so many questions you wanted to ask, but instead you stood and walked towards to study’s open door. You stopped and turned around to ask, “Are you coming with, Professor?”
“I’ll be there in a minute I have a couple of things to complete.” Charles hadn’t moved from his chair and it confirmed your suspicions. Something was definitely up.
‘Things … right. Things my ass.’ You thought to yourself, now that the wall was in place.
“You know, I’m not able to read your mind right now, but I can read your facial expressions fairly well.” Charles smiled smugly and turned his head to look at you.
“Oh? What are they saying?” You glanced down at the wooden floor boards before peeking up at him with a shy smile.
You laughed and slipped your hands into your jeans’ back pockets. ‘Well, you’re not wrong.’ You flashed him a secretive smile and tapped a finger on your temple.
“If only.” He chuckled.
You marched straight into Hank’s lab and barked, “Hank!”
As you made your way through the maze of science experiments and inventions, Hank looked up from his microscope and muttered under his breath, “Aw, man.”
‘I heard that.’
He flinched and sighed. “I hate it when you do that.”
‘Then you shouldn’t have volunteered yourself, Hank.’ You stood in front of him with your hands on your hips and pursed lips.
“Will you just … speak to me? Like a regular person?” Hank twisted around to peer up at you and you took pity.
“Fine. Only if you answer my question with the upmost truth.”
Hank made a face, then swiveled his chair around to face you and waited expectantly. “Of course, what is it?”
“What’s—” You faltered and glanced over your shoulder. “Hold on a moment.”
You set up a mental blockade around you and Hank just in case Charles could be listening in, after your weird encounter with him.
“Ok.” You tilted your head down and pinched the bridge of your nose. “Hank, what’s wrong with Charles? You either know or are the reason for his … oddness.”
Hank hesitated and your eyes flashed dangerously.
‘I’m giving you a chance to come clean, Hank. Don’t make me search inside your brain for the answer. Now, what’s wrong with Charles?’
“All right!“ Hank threw his hands in the air in defeat. “I made a serum that helps me keep my ability under control. I altered it so Charles could take it to keep the voices at bay. That and it gave him the ability to walk again, but—”
“It takes away his powers.” You cut in and folded your arms over your chest.
“Yeah. I guess walking is more important to him.”
“Than his telepathy?” You asked, not understanding that connection.
Hank shrugged and leaned forward to rest a forearm on the tabletop.
You really liked Hank, but sometimes you really wanted to smack him upside the head, but before you could say anything you felt a warning pop up inside your head. ‘The Professor is coming.’
You dropped the blockade and turned around to see Charles walk around the corner. Knowing he couldn’t read your mind, you spoke to Hank.
‘Keep it cool, Hank. Don’t be obvious.’
Hank cleared his throat and called out around you. “Hello Professor. What can I do for you?”
‘Way to go Hank. Not obvious at all.’ You turned your head to give him a look and he rolled his eyes at you.
“Oh, nothing Hank just a social call, that’s all.” Charles stopped in the doorway and you kept a empty expression as you sought the truth in Charles’ mind.
‘He’s lying.’ You told Hank and lean back against the table.
“With most of all my students and teachers gone there aren’t any classes left. It’s only a matter of time until … .” Charles took a couple of steps into the room and stuffed his hands into his pockets disgruntled.
You felt his dismay and said, “Charles … it’s not your fault. There is nothing you could’ve done.”
“I know. I know.” Charles ran a hasty hand through his well kept hair, making it flop in his face.
“(Y/N) can I talk to you for a second?” Charles asked and your stomach flipped. ‘He knows I’ve been snooping around inside his head.’
“What?” Hank muttered and you regarded him. “Huh?”
“You said … ah never mind.” Hank shook his head and you frowned rather confused.
You pushed yourself up, patted Hank on the back, before strolling over to Charles. You followed him out of the lab and throughout the house silently. Charles didn’t say anything the entire walk to his study and you kept going through different reasons why Charles wanted to speak with you.
You entered the study and Charles closed the door behind you. You pivoted on you heels to turn around and watch Charles lean his back against the door.
“You need to leave.” He spoke softly and you thought you didn’t hear him correctly.
“I’m sorry, what?” You squinted at him and he cleared his throat.
“Everyone else has left and it might be time for you go as well. The school has been shut down for a year now. I didn’t tell you and I apologize. I wanted to keep you here, but I now know that was wrong of me to do.”
“But—” You tried to stop him, but he ignored your half hearted protests.
“You can take all it is you need for you get on your feet and settle down somewhere. I have a spare bag somewhere around—”
He winced at your mental outburst and finally shut up. You sighed and rubbed your temples. (The flare up really hit you hard too.)
“I’m not a professor anymore.” He interrupted and you exhaled deeply.
“Ok … listen, Charles. I don’t want to leave. I did months ago, but not anymore. This is my home now. What has gotten into you?” You asked frustrated.
He didn’t answer and you glared at him, while he gaze at you. It was a standoff. Who was going to made the next move and what will the move be?
“(Y/N), I … I’ve given up and I don’t want you to be here and watch me fall into despair.” Charles explained.
“Well,” You scoffed in disbelief, “You can’t give up Charles. I won’t let you.”
“I understand. That’s why I’m letting you go. Go. Live your life. The world doesn’t need Mutants anymore. They don’t need the X-Men … anymore. Erik was right.” Charles’ voice dropped off on the last sentence and you didn’t hear him.
“I, but, Charles—” You stuttered trying to conceive an argument that will change his mind, but came up blank.
“It’s all right, (Y/N). Now, shall I or Hank help you pack or do you have it?” Charles moved away from the door and opened it with a turn of the handle.
You didn’t have the faintest idea what had just happened, but one thing you knew.
Charles won’t change his mind and no amount of training you had, could force him to.
This really is goodbye.
A Couple of Years Later
A ringing of a phone woke you and you groggily sat up. ‘Who could possibly be calling me?’ You rubbed your eyes and climbed out of bed.
You padded barefoot and clad in your pajamas into your living room of the small run down apartment. You picked up the receiver of the telephone and swallowed to moisturize your early morning dry throat.
“(Y/N)!” You pulled the receiver away from your ear and flinched.
“Peter, seriously? It’s too early in the morning for you to call me.”
“Sorry. Say, why are you still asleep? It’s like nine in the morning. There are men looking for you. They say they know you personally, well two of them do. There is a guy with retractible claws in between his knuckles, it’s pretty awesome. Why are they looking for you? I broke into the Pentagon.” Peter gave you a massive headache in less than fifteen seconds.
“Ah, Peter slow down. Jesus Christ. I just woke up and it’s ten o’clock. What men and why did you break into the Pentagon?”
“A nerd with glasses, a short man with a homeless hairdo, and the claw dude. They asked for my help in breaking into the Pentagon to breakout a guy, who can control metal. I swear I know him from somewhere … Do you want to go get pancakes or I could get your favorite crêpes from Paris? Or—”
“Peter! Focus! You didn’t get their names? You broke into the Pentagon with them and you didn’t get their names?” You asked, astounded. You knew Peter was always go, go, go, but still … sometimes he needs someone to slow him down for a moment. (That person just happened to be you)
“Oh! I saw the short guy’s wallet he had a card from. Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. What’s up with that? So, is that a no to the pancakes?”
Charles, Hank …
“No, I mean, I’d love some pancakes, but, Peter, what did they want? Did they give you any instructions for when you got a hold of me?” You asked and the line went silent. “Peter? Hello?”
“Yes they did.” You dropped the phone and whirled around. Peter was standing behind you with two plates of pancakes in his hands.
“God, Peter you are going to give me a heart attack one of these days.” You put a hand over your heart and took deep breaths to slow your escalated heartbeat.
“We’ve been friends for the last three years. You should’ve gotten use to it by now. Pancakes?”
“In a minute. What were the instructions?” You took the plates from his hands and placed them on the kitchen counter.
“Something about meeting them on an airfield near Washington D.C. at ten thirty. I just got back from there, after I dropped off the rental car.” He lifted his shoulders and dropped them in a ‘I really don’t care’ shrug.
You looked at the clock on the wall and panicked. “I only have fifteen minutes. I need to take a shower.” You dashed into your room and then poked your head back into the living room.
“You.” You pointed a finger at him and Peter raised his hands like you were holding him at gunpoint. “are going to take me to the airfield when I’m ready.”
“Oh ok. I thought I was in some kind of trouble. Yeah I can get you there in less than a minute.” Peter turned around and started picking at the pancakes on one of the plates with a fork you didn’t even notice him grabbing from your silverware drawer. (That’s how fast he truly is)
That made you pause for a second. “What kind of trouble would you be in with me? What did you do?”
“The time is ticking down, unless you want me to give you a shower.” Peter Maximoff the Master of Subject Change.
“Definitely not, Peter!” You retreated back into your room, but Peter kept talking.
“I could have you clean and dressed in five seconds.”
“Never gonna happen, Maximoff!” You called out from inside your bathroom and turned on the shower.
You were out of the shower and dressed in five minutes. That wouldn’t impress a guy, who can run to Australia and bring you a baby kangaroo before high noon, (Really specific? Yeah, that’s because you lived it) but you had impressed yourself. (That’s all that matters, right?)
You sprinted into the living room and, because you were wearing socks, you slipped. Next thing you knew, you were siting in one of the barstools, both shoes on, a fork in your hand and half eaten plate of pancakes in front of you.
“You really need to be careful when running on hard wood floors in socks.” Peter said, smiling smugly at you on the barstool next to you. “I’m not always going to be there to catch you.”
“Oh, yes you will. I’ll never get rid of you.” Your stomach churned and you felt queasy.
“I don’t care what you say, I will never get used to that. Oh, I feel like I’m going to be sick.” You put down the fork and Peter laughed.
“No time for that! We need to get you to the airfield.” He jumped off his chair, swiveled your chair around and picked you up.
Once in his arms you shouted out. “Wait, wait, wait!” Peter looked down at you and you asked, “Did you eat half of my pancakes?”
He laughed again and his face turned serious. “Yes.”
You shot him an offended glare, but Peter ignored it, smiled and sped off. (So much for breakfast, but after he finally gets to your destination, you’ll be glad you skipped it.)
Title: Abyss Rating: PG13 for language Words: 2,307 Recipient: @ronaldreindeer/weasleypumpkin A/N: Happy Holidays, Charlotte!! I share your weakness for Shell Cottage fics, so I wrote you one based on a prompt from the list you suggested: Things you said under the stars and in the grass. I hope you enjoy it!!
Lying awake in the dark, Ron heard the light shuffling of feet on the wooden floors and the rustling of clothes, and he wondered who else was having trouble sleeping tonight. The front door opened, the light on the porch illuminating the threshold for a moment, and Ron knew at once who it was. He’d recognise her everywhere. And now, after everything that had happened, he’d follow her everywhere just to make sure she was safe.
Ron got up from his camp bed and crossed the small living room, trying not to accidentally bump into the others, as his mind raced with questions. What was she doing up this late? What if she was in pain and didn’t want to bother Fleur? Was she having nightmares, like he’d had since they’d arrived here a couple of days ago?
He closed the door firmly behind him and walked after her.
She stopped in her tracks and turned round, waiting for him, so Ron quickened his pace to catch up with her.
‘Is everything okay?’ he asked, checking for any signs of pain on Hermione’s face. She was only looking questioningly at him, though. ‘I saw you leave and I thought… Do you need anything?’
Hermione smiled, her hands fiddling with the ties of her dressing gown.
‘No, I’m fine. I couldn’t sleep and thought I could come out here and watch the sea for a while… see if the quiet helps.’
‘Oh… I’ll go back in, then—I mean, you’d rather be alone—’
‘I wouldn’t!’ Hermione exclaimed as Ron took a step back. ‘You can stay if you want to…’
Ron looked up at her and saw her looking back at him with a slightly worried expression.
‘Do you want to?’ she asked him softly.
Without a word, Ron moved forward and followed her, wherever she went.
They sat on the grass, right before the beach stretched towards the sea. Hermione glanced at Ron’s profile next to her: it was selfish, but she had been hoping he’d be awake too. She hoped… she knew he’d follow her.
She was grateful to have a roof, regular, satisfying meals, the company of familiar faces beyond Harry and Ron, even if it was only for a limited time. At the same time, though, there were moments when she felt as if the place was too crowded and she needed to get away for a while. Hermione also missed having Ron almost for herself.
‘Looks like we’ve got a plan again,’ Ron commented. Griphook had finally given them an answer that day and agreed to help them break into the Lestranges’ vault. They had started planning right away, coming out of the little room only when Fleur called them down for dinner. Hermione didn’t feel the same rush of energy and optimism she’d felt as they planned their break-in at the Ministry of Magic: this time, it felt more dangerous. It made her uneasy to think of it.
‘Yes, but at what cost? I still don’t think it’s right what we’re doing to Griphook.’
‘Come off it, don’t start with that again,’ Ron told her, annoyance creeping into his voice. ‘We are going to give him the bloody sword, aren’t we?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, are we?’ Hermione snapped, scowling at him. ‘We could have told him, we could have been straightforward with him!’
‘He would have refused; you know he’s a snarky little fellow as well as I do!’ Ron said angrily. ‘I’m not saying it just because; goblins aren’t house-elves! Bill’s always told us, not all of them are bad, but they’re always trying to get one over on you and pass it as settling debts. And you can’t possibly ignore how nasty this one is—that comment he made about how the wizarding guards could use an Entrail-Expelling Charm…’
‘I’m not defending just Griphook’s interests!’ Hermione retorted, just as angry. ‘Have you considered that perhaps this isn’t going to benefit us at all? What if he realises what we’re doing? What if he wants to take the sword right after we get the Horcrux?’
‘He won’t, and if he asks for the sword right away, then we tell him it can’t be.’
Hermione glared at him, still unconvinced, and opened her mouth again.
‘Look, can we not talk about Griphook right now?’ Ron cut her off, running a hand roughly over his face. ‘I’ve got a feeling we’ll be spending far more hours with him than I’d like for the rest of our stay here.’
‘Fine,’ she said after some internal struggling. ‘But you know I’d hate to be right.’
‘No, you wouldn’t! You’d hate the consequences of being right, but you’d still love to be proven right,’ he said, smiling smugly at her.
‘Shut up, Ron.’
They fell silent as the wind picked up, making Hermione shiver as it came through her too-thin dressing gown. She hugged her knees to keep herself warm.
‘You’re cold,’ Ron stated. ‘Here…’
He started shrugging off his jacket.
‘Don’t, Ron, I’m fine and you’ll be cold then—’
‘I don’t mind—’
Hermione put a hand over his arm to stop him. He looked up at her, one arm already out of the big wind-breaker jacket he seemed to have borrowed from Bill.
‘Perhaps… we could share? So neither of us is cold?’
Ron looked surprised for a moment; then, he silently reached a hand out to drape part of the garment over Hermione’s shoulder. She blushed as she scooted closer, clutching at the lapel. It was silly. The physical distance between them had become shorter and shorter ever since Dumbledore’s funeral, to the point that all her doubts about Ron’s feelings had disappeared. That was until he left, however. She hadn’t felt this close to him in months. Shehadn’t let him get too close.
‘Better?’ he asked. Hermione nodded. ‘Have you had any pain?’
He’d asked her the same thing yesterday. It made her tremble again, but not from the cold. It wasn’t only that he kept showing he cared; it also reminded her of what he’d done for her… while it happened, and after it’d happened. She’d forgiven him before that, but it was only then that she had fully accepted his truth. What he’d said and what he hadn’t.
‘My muscles still ache a bit, like after you’ve done a lot of exercise, but that’s—that’s all.’
‘Are you sure?’ Ron asked her, frowning at her.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Harry said your arms and legs might seize up for a while, and I thought—’
It was her turn to frown.
‘Why did Harry say that?’
‘I asked him,’ Ron said simply. ‘About how it’d been for him. Have they?’
Hermione chose to shrug instead. She wouldn’t tell him. He didn’t need to worry more than he already was.
‘I’m fine, Ron. I’ll be fine. What about you? Why…?’ She took a breath, bracing herself to ask him something she hadn’t been able to figure out on her own. Looking down for confirmation, she saw it: his hands, resting on his folded knees, still looked awfully bruised and cut, even if the blood had clotted. ‘Why haven’t you let Fleur heal your hands?’
Ron’s expression changed from concerned to caught, and he tucked his hands under his legs, out of view.
‘There weren’t any broken bones.’
‘I’m sure it still hurt. Have you got your wand? Do you want me to fix them for you?’ Hermione offered.
‘No, it’s fine,’ he mumbled, and Hermione had the feeling she wasn’t the only one hiding things from the other. Although in Ron’s case, she didn’t know what was there to hide.
‘All right, if you say so.’ Hermione sighed. ‘You couldn’t sleep, either?’
Ron seemed surprised again.
‘I mean, since you saw me coming here.’
‘Oh. Yeah. I s’ppose it’s all the night watches… it’s made me more alert. Or I think so. I dunno,’ Ron finished, prodding at the grass with his toe.
Hermione stared at him, his profile barely illuminated under the moonlight. He looked tired. Not the obvious tired that came from lack of sleep; he looked the kind of deeply tired she felt. But she knew he wouldn’t say it, because she also knew he was still repenting, trying to atone for what he’d done. Showing them he didn’t regret coming back. So she said it for both.
‘I wish it was over.’
He didn’t take his eyes from the shore, where the low waves came to die in clumps of foam, so she looked at him some more, contemplating…
‘What? Why?’ Ron asked, turning sharply towards her and looking almost scandalized.
‘Because I want to lie down and we’re sharing a jacket, if you haven’t noticed,’ Hermione explained. ‘Come on, I’ll show you something.’
Ron leaned back, indirectly pulling her down to the ground with him, and she felt her face heating up.
‘I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but the night sky in the cities is very different from the sky you see here, or at The Burrow or Hogwarts,’ Hermione said, focusing her eyes on the velvety black expanse above.
‘Yes. I grew up in a city, and the sky is always a little bit orange or purple, from the lights. It looks almost dirty,’ she explained. ‘When I was younger, my parents and I went camping to… to the Forest of Dean. My dad and I lay down on the ground and he told me to look up. I don’t think I’d really seen the sky like that before.
‘It felt mighty, all that dark space… after a while, it feels like the earth has turned upside down and you’re staring down into the abyss.’
She fixed her eyes on the twinkling dots above, contrasting against the bottomless black, until she could almost believe it. It had been her favourite optical illusion ever since that camping trip, but it was both a beautiful and a scary game.
‘I fear I could fall into it,’ Hermione said quietly, an oppressing sensation bearing down on her chest. She felt like she could hardly breathe, the air passing slow and heavy through her nose.
Hermione felt a warm, gentle weight on her and, looking down, she saw Ron’s arm wrapping around her stomach, his long fingers curling on her side. She turned her head to look at him, her racing heart making her feel dizzier than she already was. The way he was facing her, she doubted he’d even looked up at all.
‘I wouldn’t let you,’ he said. It wasn’t a passionate speech; he didn’t look like the hero in a novel, bright-eyed and face screwed in fervent admiration. He said it the way he’d made every promise to her and Harry: with ease, with confidence, straight-faced and bare of any joking. Promises that, to the best of his abilities, he’d carried out. She’d told herself once she wouldn’t open her heart to any more promises from him, not until she was sure, not until he’d showed her, again, that he meant to keep them. But now she would, because he had.
She blinked away the daze of her thoughts, still staring at him. Her fingers let go of the jacket and stretched down, tentatively brushing Ron’s arm, then resting atop the faint swirling scars on his skin. She thought she felt him shiver very lightly next to her.
‘If the world’s upside down, we’re both going to fall anyway, though,’ she said.
‘Perhaps,’ Ron said, shrugging. ‘Or we can try to sit up and make it right again, can’t we?’
The simplicity of a solution she knew and forgot as she got lost in the moment made her laugh, the first time she heard that sound coming from her in a long time, and the dizziness, the shortness of breath, the heaviness dissipated as the earth returned to its original position and they were, once again, not looking down into an abyss but up to the sky, gravity tying them securely to the ground. It could be that they were both talking about more than an optical illusion involving their present physical position, but somehow, Hermione thought the solution still applied.
‘You want to get up?’ Ron asked her, the ghost of a smile curving his mouth. She took a deep, calming breath and let it out.
Hermione turned slightly on her side, resting her head on his shoulder, and his fingers moved further around her back to hold her.
‘Griphook is foul,’ Ron said, ‘but he’s the best we’ve got.’
‘So you’re going to stop calling him foul?’ Hermione asked him, hopeful. He snorted.
‘Yeah, but only because I don’t fancy him making wizard pie out of me when I’m asleep.’
Hermione laughed in spite of herself. She couldn’t see his face, but his voice sounded serious again when he spoke.
‘Not telling him about the sword is the best we’ve got, too.’
‘Truce?’ Hermione offered.
‘I still don’t like it one bit.’
‘I know, but it’s a compromise,’ Ron said with a yawn. ‘See, like here. We’re sharing a jacket. If we don’t compromise and get up at the same time, we won’t be able to put the world the right way up again.’
‘I suppose,’ she said with some wonder at Ron’s analogies, finally feeling like she could fall asleep. If only they could stay out there, on the grass, together…
But the world was upside down, and they had to keep trying to get up, to make it right.
And perhaps one day, when they did, they would be able to hold each other like this and say what they really wanted to say, and the abyss would be just the sky again.
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