Noise is muffled, like Harry is underwater. His ears only ring like this after a bomb-like curse detonates near him—the kind of curse that would maim if it hit solid skin.
Harry lurches upright. His balance is off and he lists to the side. He braces one hand under him to keep him from collapsing.
Around him, children in red robes are sprawled on the marble floor. In the middle of the hall, a wooden top is still thrumming with dark magic. The floor around the top is scorched black in a perfect circle. Acrid smoke is floats like fog in the air, smelling of sour milk.
Harry rubs at his aching head. What happened?
A crowd has formed behind the double-doors on the far side of the room. Harry can hear them shouting. He thinks he hears his own name spoken in the din, but he can’t be sure. They sound panicked. Hurried.
Harry pushes himself to his feet. His hand finds his wand without having to consciously think about it. Ron and Hermione are nowhere in sight. There are no grim-faced black robes in sight, but there are unconscious children in red—
Aurors. Those red robes belong to the Auror Corps. He doesn't have time to wonder why they are all children. They were probably hit by some kind of spell, like the one that wiped out Harry’s immediate memory.
Harry looks up. He recognises the golden-hued pattern on the ceiling that looks like it belongs in a cathedral. He recognises the marble and the tall pillars lining the hall, too.
He’s in the Ministry of Magic. The Undesirable Number One, the most recognisable and wanted wizard in Britain, is backed into a corner in the Ministry of Magic, surrounded by unconscious Aurors.
Harry doesn’t have his invisibility cloak, or Ron or Hermione, or any memory of why he’s here or how he got here, but he does have his wand. He tightens his grip on the handle.
The doors burst open just as Harry pulls his wand hand back and hurls his first curse.
It takes a dozen Ministry workers to sedate him and move him (and the rest of the more cooperative young Aurors) to St. Mungo’s. There are Aurors—adult Aurors—posted outside of his room to keep him from doing a runner.
A mediwitch tells him that it’s for Harry’s safety, in case a dark wizard hears that Harry Potter has been cursed and comes after him while he is vulnerable. Harry wants to throw his cup of water at her, wants his wand back so he can fight his way out of here, because really, what kind of garbage is that? They want him to believe that they’re protecting him? They want him to believe that the war is over and the wizarding world is fixed? It’s bullshit.
But Harry’s scar doesn’t hurt. If Voldemort knew where Harry was, especially somewhere as accessible as a public hospital, his scar would be lighting up like a switch board. He has a headache, but it’s focused in the back of his skull, not at his scar. He can’t feel any of Voldemort’s emotions leaking through the bond.
They say Voldemort is dead.
They show him a copy of today’s Daily Prophet. The date says: May 10, 2008. The headline says: Hollyhead Harpies a shoe-in for the World Cup.
Newspapers can be forged. Harry doesn’t even read the article.
A Ministry worker tries to explain the mechanics of the preservation spell gone wrong, and a mediwitch talks about bringing over a healer, Hannah Abbott, who works a few floors up, to talk to him, and Harry keeps his lips pursed, saying nothing. He keeps himself angled to the far right of the bed, ready to grab the vase of flowers next to the bed and hurl it at someone’s head if they try and hurt him.
They continue like that, strange people Harry doesn’t know trying to get him to trust that a decades-old war is suddenly over because they saw so. He doesn’t believe any of them.
Doesn’t believe them, that is, until Hermione comes bustling into his hospital room. A very grown up, very alive Hermione.
She’s wearing professional, royal blue robes, and she’s carrying a leather satchel crammed full of parchment. Her hair is longer. She’s lost the gaunt skinniness that comes from being an underfed adolescent in wartimes. She’s wearing make-up.
Harry doesn’t know why this last point sticks with him so poignantly, but it does. The Hermione he knows carries around cheap chap-stick, and talks at length about the double standards for women in professional settings, and has only ever worn make-up to a ball or wedding.
“Oh, Harry,” she says in that wrenchingly familiar way. “What trouble have you gotten into this time?”
“Hermione?” Harry asks.
Hermione’s small smile drops off her face. “You don’t remember anything, do you?”
Harry doesn’t have a wand to point at her as he asks, “What did Ron Weasley tell us after he returned to the campsite?”
Memories fade with time. A twenty-something year old might not remember a conversation that happened when she was seventeen, but Harry knows Hermione, and he knows how important that moment had been. Even decades wouldn’t corrode this memory.
“He asked if we had kept his will,” Hermione says. “He said that while he was away he realised that he belonged there with us. With his family.”
Harry sags against the cotton pillows. “Hermione,” he says again.
She drops her messenger bag by the door and presses him into a hug. He closes his eyes and, for the first time since he woke up in the middle of the Ministry with a chunk of his memory missing, he lets himself relax.
Ron had always been taller than Harry, from their first year when Harry was adjusting to regular food for the first time in his life, to the time they came of age, when Ron was beginning to grow taller than his brothers. There was a period between fourth year and fifth when Ron had a growth spurt and Harry stayed the same infuriating height. Ron had been a good foot taller than him, then.
So Ron’s height isn't surprising. But waking up and finding that his best friend, his seventeen year old best friend, pale and oily from living on the run for months, is suddenly a man—a proper, grown man with a well-groomed beard and an extra thirty kilos of muscle—is a surprise that Harry is still struggling to come to terms with.
Hermione apparates them back to her house, because, apparently, Hermione and Ron have a house together, now. Ron takes one step out of the door and almost collapses into the flower garden at the sight of him. Harry chokes on his next breath. They stand there, on opposite ends of the garden path, gaping at one another.
“Blimey,” Ron says, leaning heavily against the brick wall. “Harry, you’re …”
“Yeah,” Harry says. “Yeah, you too.”
There are faint wrinkles around Ron’s eyes. Faded pink scars loop around his exposed forearms. It’s so different to the irritated reddish skin wrapping their way up his Ron’s arms, scars that hasn’t had time to fade properly yet. His orange-brown beard would have teenage Ron spitting with jealousy.
The house behind Ron is beautiful. They’re in the middle of the countryside, Harry thinks. It’s spring. Everything is green, and flowering, and there are gnomes waddling through the underbrush, munching on bugs.
“I know this is a lot,” Hermione says, “but I hope you two aren’t planning on standing there gawking at one another all day. I have to go back to work. I’m sorry, Harry. Will you be alright on your own?”
Ron wakes up, then. He pushes off the doorframe and strides down the dirt path to sweep Harry into a hug. The gesture is familiar, but the feel of Ron is all wrong. Ron should be all bony angles and gangly limbs, not broad and padded with a slight belly.
“Of course he’ll be alright,” Ron says. “He’s got me here, doesn’t he?” Ron turns to Harry. “Are you hungry? They didn’t make you eat that rubbish food at St. Mungo’s, did they?”
“Uh,” Harry says. “Yeah, I guess I could eat.”
“Fire-call me if you have any trouble,” Hermione says. “Work shouldn’t take too long. I could just miss it, if you really want me to stay—”
“No,” Ron and Harry say together. They glance at one another. Ron beams back. Harry returns his smile, though he feels a bit like he’s been hit by a rogue bludger.
Hermione kisses Ron, and then turns to Harry and gathers him up into another hug. When she pulls away, Harry focuses on the hilly pasture over her shoulder rather than at her lipsticked mouth, pulling into a worried frown, or her intense eyes that look right through him.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“Go to work, Hermione,” Harry says.
She sighs and tucks a curl behind her ear. “I’ll be back soon. If you need anything, just call. Promise me.”
She turns on her heel and apparates a few feet from the gate. The silence of the countryside and the smell of ozone from the apparation give Harry goosebumps. Ron is staring at him. Harry edges around him, looking at the strange, homely cottage.
“Can we get out of the open?”
Ron wrenches his gaze away from Harry’s face. “Right. I guess I’ll give you a tour of the place. For the second time.”
Ron violently whisks a large bowl of eggs on the other side of the counter. His eyes keep flicking up from his cooking to watch Harry. It’s not unfamiliar—that’s the same look Ron gets when Harry comes back from the Dursley’s, or from Umbridge’s office, or whatever yearly death-match Voldemort has put him through. The beard and faint wrinkles overlaying the concerned expression is strange, but a hovering, awkward Ron is not an unfamiliar Ron.
That was one of Harry’s main fears when Hermione told him about the age regression spell—that he wouldn’t be able to recognise his best friends. Or worse: they wouldn’t recognise him.
No. That’s not right. The worst thing would be if they were both dead.
“Do you want something to drink?” Ron asks.
Harry holds up his half-full cup of juice. “I’m right.”
“Are you sure? We’ve got hot chocolate, and tea, and coffee, and all that. I think we’ve got some of Nev’s calming remedies in the back of the pantry. Tastes a bit like toad mucous, but if you hold your nose, it’s not so bad—”
“Ron,” Harry says, “I’m fine. Just like the other dozen times you asked.”
Ron puts down the bowl of raw eggs. He could have used magic to whisk that. He would have, normally. But with the way he stands in the middle of the kitchen, hands clutching at the granite counter, fringe falling into his wild eyes, Harry thinks that he’s too restless to sit still.
Harry can’t relate. He feels like a hole has opened up in his chest and sucked out all his energy. Even sitting at the breakfast bar and sipping at his juice, watching his weird, adult best friend zip around the kitchen with all the mania of Hermione three days before exams, is taking everything he has. He could fall asleep and never wake up again.
Ron lets go of the counter and picks up a grater and a block of cheese. “I just want to make things good for you. You deserve that, mate.”
“You don’t need to—” Harry begins, but Ron is already grating a mountain of cheese and warming up a frypan. “Ron. I’m not even that hungry.”
“How are you not hungry? You’ve been living in a tent for months. Don’t think I’ve forgotten. I haven’t. I remember how quickly we ran out of food and how you kept skimping so me and ‘Mione could eat more—”
Harry puts down his juice. “You noticed that? I thought I’d gotten away with it.”
“‘Course I noticed.” Ron pours the egg mix into the frypan and then sets about toasting an entire loaf of bread. “I was just a prick when I was a kid and didn’t stop you.”
“You shouldn’t have stopped me. I’m used to going without. You’re not. And I’m the reason we’re living in a tent in the first place, so—”
Ron stops loading bread into the eight-slot toaster and rounds the counter. He puts two hands on Harry’s shoulders. They’re warm and far too broad—an adult’s hands, not a teenager’s hands—and Harry feels pinned beneath them.
Harry can’t look Ron in the eye. “I don’t mind. Honest.”
“You deserve to eat, too. Just like everyone else.”
Ron stands there until Harry looks up at him, and then he can’t look away from Ron’s intense stare. He knows that his best friend can be serious when he needs to be, but this is different. When did Ron learn to talk about sensitive topics so openly and maturely?
“Harry,” Ron says, “it’s not your fault. Everything that happened wasn’t your fault. Dumbledore, Voldemort’s resurrection, living in a tent, the entire war—none of it was on you.”
Harry stares at Ron. “You said Voldemort.”
“You said his name. Not ‘You-Know-Who.’”
Ron shrugs and drops his hands. He heads back over to the stove and fiddles with the scrambled eggs until they’re sizzling. “‘Course I did. He’s dead now, isn’t he? And fear of the name and what not.”
This is another unbalancing part of the future: the casual referral to Voldemort’s death. How is it that Voldemort, the man eclipsing Harry’s entire world, is a passing mention, an age-old threat that has faded in everyone’s memories. Harry can’t understand it. Even if he was defeated, he can’t ever imagine Voldemort not having an immediate impact on his life. Even if Harry did live to be an adult, a proper adult with a job and a house, then he can’t imagine not carrying around the memory of Voldemort on his shoulders.
Ron must recognise something in his face, because he says, “Come on, you lazy bastard. You can help me make muffins.”
“Muffins?” Harry says.
“Holy hell. You’ve never had my muffins. I only discovered the recipe when we were, what, twenty-three? You’re going to love them. Everyone loves them.”
“Sure,” Harry says.
Ron points the yolk-drenched spatula at him. “Are you doubting me? I’ll make them and then you’ll see. Then you’ll be begging me to make them again.”
Ron gets down a leather-bound journal from the top of the fridge and opens it to a dog-eared page. The paper has been magicked to protect it from food spills, but one corner is burnt and faintly purple. Harry wonders what kitchen mishap caused that.
Under Ron’s careful instructions, Harry mixes dry and wet ingredients and pours them into muffin tins. They don’t use magic for the most part, not the way Mrs. Wealsey usually has a dozen spells going at once in the kitchen at the Burrow, but it doesn’t remind Harry of cooking for the Dursleys. Ron chatters easily as he moves about the kitchen, and though he corrects ingredient amounts and fusses with the muffin tin when Harry sprays it with too much oil, he never once scolds Harry for making a mistake. He never speaks in anything louder or harsher than an even, almost gentle tone. That has to be deliberate. The Ron he knows is loud and brash and unconfined, especially when he’s at home.
Harry might have been annoyed at being treated as fragile if he weren’t so tired. His whole body feels heavy. It’s a struggle to keep his eyes open.
A radio is playing softly on the counter. The window over the dining table is propped open and Harry can hear the distant shouts of school kids playing on the street. How old are those kids? Are they magic? Are these the children that were born in the immediate aftermath of the war?
Hermione lets herself in. She drops her messenger bag by the door and hangs her cloak up.
“You’re back early,” Ron says, setting the stove on low.
“I made them let me head home early,” Hermione says.
“Your strong arm over your entire department is so frightening,” Ron says, kissing her over the counter. Hermione laughs, and then catches sight of Harry over Ron’s shoulder, and the sound gets caught in her throat.
Harry puts down the oven-fresh muffins he had been drizzling butter over. “Um. Hey, Hermione. Welcome back.”
Hermione rounds the counter and crushes him into a hug. Her windswept curls get into his mouth.
“You’re going to smother him,” Ron says.
“It’s okay,” Harry says.
“Sorry.” Hermione pulls away. She looks Harry over, and then hugs him again. This is the kind of hug she gives him after battles with Death Eaters, not after leaving him with Ron for a few hours. “I’m sorry. It’s just so strange seeing you like this. You’re so young.”
“And you’re so not,” Harry says.
“Oi, are you calling us old?” Ron says.
“Well,” Harry says, “if the shoe fits …”
Ron cuffs him around the ears and Hermione rolls her eyes, and it’s so strange, standing in this well loved kitchen, the smell of frying eggs wafting through the air, but it’s also—not. It feels a little like being back at Hogwarts, teasing Hermione and Ron in the Great Hall during their lunch break. Even if Ron has a full-beard, when he has always complained about his brother’s growing facial hair faster than him; even if Hermione is wearing lipstick; even if they’re both ten years older than they should be—they’re still his best friends.
The muffins are good. Better than the food at Hogwarts, even. They puff up in the oven, so large that Harry can barely wrap his hands around them. He bites into one, tastes butter and melted cheese and chunks of bacon, and moans.
Ron laughs. “Nice, right?”
Harry closes his eyes and nods. His mouth is too full to answer. His blissed-out expression should tell Ron just how much Harry appreciates his baking.
Ron goes to finish the eggs and toast. Hermione leaves to take off her make-up and change into comfortable muggle clothes, and then she returns with a fistful of cutlery. She lays forks and knives around the table as Ron sets the platters of food in the middle of the table. Harry puts his muffin down and stands up.
Hermione gently pushes him back into his seat. “It’s okay, Harry.”
“I should help—” Harry tries.
“Don’t worry about it, mate,” Ron says.
Harry loads up his plates with eggs under their disapproving stares. They talk as they eat, filling Harry in on the lighter details of their lives.
“You’re not surprised that me and Hermione are married?” Ron asks.
Harry stares at him flatly. “Mate, I’m surprised you’re not already together in my time. If you weren’t married by now, I would have had to smack the both of you.”
Whenever anyone brings up the lingering tension between Ron and Hermione, an awkward, stifling silence falls around them. Harry has sat through more than one dinner at the Gryffindor table, talking to his other housemates or robotically eating his dinner, trying to ignore the custard-thick air surrounding his best friends. He’s glad that he won’t have to deal with that, now.
Ron and Hermione laugh and share a private look. He can’t see it, but he thinks their feet might be knocking together under the table.
The years have been good to them both. They’re comfortable in one another and in themselves in a way they never were as teenagers.
What is Harry like as an adult? Does he have a spouse? Is he as comfortable in his own skin as Hermione and Ron? Is he able to think back on their times at Hogwarts without his stomach cramping up in pain?
Harry can’t bring himself to ask.
“We’re sorry you had to deal with that for so long,” Hermione says.
Harry shrugs. “It’s alright. I had better have been the best man at the wedding, though.”
“You were,” she says. “Although we had a long feud about which one of us would get you on their side. In the end, we just had one joint wedding party and had everyone stand by gender.”
Harry considers this. “What about Luna?”
“They stood on whichever side they wanted to,” Hermione says. “They wanted to stand by Ginny, I think.”
Each time Harry puts his fork down, Ron nudges him and gestures for him to eat more. There’s something about this Ron that makes Harry want to force down another mouthful, even when he starts to feel too-full. It’s still Ron, just a Ron that’s been weathered by time. Seeing him so concerned for Harry’s health makes him feel all twisted up inside. So Harry picks the fork back up and fights his way through the last of the eggs.
Hermione collects up the plates. Harry stands up to help her, but his stomach twists sharply. He pushes away from the table, knocking his chair over, clapping a hand over his mouth, and runs into the house to try and find the closest bathroom.
“I’m sorry,” Ron says.
Harry spits into the toilet and rubs at his mouth. “It’s not your fault.”
“I should have known. I was there with you—I knew how much we were eating. And I’ve seen you like this enough times to know better than to force food down your throat.”
The first time they ended up like this, the first time Harry threw up undigested food and Ron hovered behind him, rubbing circles into his back and mumbling apologises under his breath, they were twelve and Mrs. Weasley hadn’t let Harry leave the table until he had finished his breakfast. She had been worried about how thin he was. Harry hadn’t known what to do with a concerned adult after weeks of being locked away, and so he finished his plate and thanked her and then quietly excused himself. Ron followed him out. They had ended up around the back of the Burrow, crouched in the grassy dirt as Harry vomited over the weeds.
It wasn’t the last time it had happened—not that summer or the summers proceeding. Even during Hogwarts term, stress twisted up Harry’s stomach. A weak stomach, Seamus liked to tease. Ron hurled his shoes at him for that.
Living at Privet Drive would have had a lifelong impact on his body, but the war had only made things worse.
Harry palms at the cold titles. He’s flushed all over like he has a fever. Ron keeps rubbing at his back and Harry knows it’s not just because Harry finds it comforting; it’s because Ron has no idea how to help otherwise in these situations.
Hermione knocks. When there’s no answer, she nudges the door open.
“Oh, Harry,” she says softly. “I’m sorry. We should have realised—”
“Don’t,” Harry says.
Ron takes the glass of water from her and sets it by their knees. They sit there for another twenty minutes, until the nausea has passed, and Harry has thrown up most of the eggs.
They say that Harry has slept in the spare room before. They say he sleeps there regularly and has done so since they first moved into this house a few years ago. It’s not a bad room. After months of living in a cramped tent, it looks wonderful. The mattress is the right mix of soft-firm and there are half a dozen spare blankets in the closet. Harry takes a few thick quilts and spreads them over the bed, even though it’s not an especially cold night. He wants the same sensation of sleeping in his four-poster at Hogwarts after a summer of the uncomfortable single with broken springs at the Dursley’s—that beautiful too-soft feeling after months of sleeping rough.
His wand goes under his pillow. His hand brushes against its handle, feeling the unfamiliar swirls along the base. It’s not his wand. It belongs to twenty-something year old Harry Potter. But a wand is a wand and if something comes barreling through the front door looking for him, he needs to be able to defend them all.
Everyone says most of the Death Eaters are dead, reformed, or locked away in Azkaban. Harry’s not sure how much he believes that, but even if it was true, old habits die hard.
A dog-sized cat follows him into the room, makes itself comfortable on Harry’s chest, and then promptly falls asleep. Harry stares down at it’s squashed-up face and tries to feel jealous. He just feels hollow. And tired. So fucking tired. But he can’t sleep.
A few hours later, the door cracks open and Harry’s flinging a curse before he’s sat upright. Hermione stares at him in shock. The wood doorway by her left ear, where the curse landed, is black. That spell could have taken her eye out.
“Fuck.” Harry drops his wand. “Fuck. I’m so sorry, Hermione.”
The cat had slid off his chest and into his lap, unbothered by the way he jerked under it like he’d been shot. It blinks sleepily up at him.
Hermione gives him a tight-lipped smile. She eases the door open a little more and slips inside. She’s holding another cat. This one is just as large and ugly, but greying along its flank.
“It’s my fault,” Hermione says. “I should have knocked. Are you alright, Harry?”
Harry realises he’s breathing heavily, like he’s been running for miles. He runs a shaky hand through his fringe and nods. “Yeah. Fine. Just—really sorry.”
“You’re still on red-alert from living on the run. I understand, Harry. Really. It took all of us so long to adjust after the war.”
Hermione sits down at the edge of the bed. In the dark, she just looks like Hermione, like there’s nothing strange about her. The night smoothes out all her unfamiliarities.
“But you did,” Harry says. “You adjusted. You …”
Hermione drops the cat into his lap. It mews and curls around Harry’s thigh. There’s not enough room in his lap for two abnormally large cats, and their legs spill onto the bed, tails flicking against the quilt cover. Neither of them seem to mind.
“You did, too,” Hermione says. “Even if you can’t remember it.”
“Hermione.” Harry takes a deep breath. His hand is knotted in the cat’s fur. “We made it but—but how?”
“I’m sorry,” Hermione says, resting a hand atop his. “We’re not supposed to say anything too damning about the past. It could stress you out unnecessarily. Or it could render the counter curse ineffective. We have to keep this you, the past you, separate from the present you—”
“Tell me other things. We all survived, but everyone else—how is everyone else? Neville, Ginny, Luna? Ron’s family? Remus? The rest of the Order?”
“Harry,” Hermione says, just his name, but Harry already knows what she’s going to say. He knows that tone. It’s the same tone everyone used around him in fifth year, when Dumbledore barred all information from him, and it felt like Harry was unravelling from the inside out.
Harry rips his hand out from under hers and pushes himself out of the bed. The cats scamper off the bed and out the door, like they can sense the heat brewing beneath his skin.
Ron is woken up by the shouting. He runs downstairs in his boxers, socks, and a Hollyhead Harpies t-shirt. He doesn’t look surprised to see Harry bristling in the living room and shouting at the top of his lungs at his wife.
“The neighbours,” Ron starts.
“I sound-proofed the house before I want to bed,” Hermione says. “I thought he might have nightmares, not …”
“I am right here,” Harry says through his teeth. He’s getting light-headed. He’s either not drawing in enough air or this feeling in his chest, this mottled grief and rage, is taking up too much space and leaving his lungs to starve.
“We know, mate.” Ron inches around Hermione with his hands up, like Harry will be set off by sudden movement. “We know. We’ve been where you are.”
“You’re not—you don’t know—”
“We do, Harry,” Hermione says. “We were with you every step of the way. We never left you.”
Ron freezes. He looks at Harry. “Uh. Do you know about—”
“I don’t care that you buggered off and left Hermione and me for a while,” Harry says, and Ron looks relieved that he won’t have to explain that he abandoned his two best friends in a tent in the middle of a frozen forest. “And I don’t think you’re going to just up and leave anytime soon. Not again. That’s the problem. You’re there, and Hermione’s there, and I’m here suddenly, and—”
“You didn’t leave us, Harry,” Hermione says. “We don’t remember you ever disappearing. This isn’t time travel. Whatever’s happening, it didn’t affect us.”
“It’s over for us,” Ron says.
“It’s not over for me!” Harry is breathing hard, again. “How am I supposed to just sit there in your kitchen and eat your stupid fucking muffins and hear about your day jobs and waste my time here when I feel like I’m going to get dropped right back into the war any minute now. Voldemort isn’t dead, for me. He’s still out there. Everyone is still in danger, and I’m just here. Doing nothing.”
Harry doesn’t know how long he shouts at them. When he comes back to himself, shattered porcelain is scattered over the floor. The cats are hiding under the couch. Hermione and Ron are pale-faced and grim, but don’t seem outwardly upset.
Hermione casts quick cleaning charms around the living room. Ron opens up the back door and heads out into the pre-dawn yard. Harry swallows. His throat feels tight and hot, tastes like bile and sand. He follows Ron out.
They sit shoulder to shoulder on the porch steps. Hermione joins them, leaning up against the railings. Slowly, Harry stops shaking.
“I’m sorry,” Harry says eventually.
“Harry—” Hermione begins. Ron puts a hand on her foot, and she stops.
“You didn’t deserve that,” Harry says. “I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
Harry lays his head on his knees and closes his eyes. He feels like he’s constantly swinging between two extremes; he’s either full of restless energy, like he could run and run and keep running, or he feels empty, like he could lay down on the dewey grass and sleep forever. Harry has felt like this for a while. Months. Years, maybe.
“No,” Ron says, “you shouldn’t have.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry says again.
“I know,” Ron says.
The sun is only just beginning to rise over the idyllic countryside, but that morning, none of them try to go back to sleep.
He doesn’t know how far rumours that Harry Potter has been turned into a teenager have spread. Probably pretty far, considering the wizarding world’s propensity for gossip, especially where Harry is concerned, and the large battle Harry started when he woke up in the middle of the Ministry still thinking it was occupied by Death Eaters.
Several owls arrive while Harry is there. Ron and Hermione pass some of them to him. Luna wishes him the best and then names a Swedish lizard-like creature as the culprit for his current state. Ginny sends him a signed photo of the Hollyhead Harpies winking at the camera. The caption says: Don’t cause too much trouble for Ron and Hermione, you little bastard.
A dozen or so letter in green ink arrives while Harry is there. He tries to look at one, but it is plucked out of his grasp before he can open it. For a moment there, Harry could have sworn the envelope said that it was from Malfoy.
Apparently, before Harry’s accident, Neville had arranged to have dinner with them tonight. Ron and Hermione almost cancelled on him, but Harry tells them to invite him over, anyway. He knows Neville. He likes him well enough. Hermione says he’s the Herbology professor now, but Harry can’t picture a classmate becoming a teacher. He has to see it with his own eyes.
Neville does look like a professor, though. He’s wearing scuffed leather shoes and button down shirt beneath a sweeping cloak, a tiny pink leaf caught in his hair. Harry can tell that Neville has done well for himself. That’s good for Neville, but it’s not so good for Harry, who almost spills a tray of scalding tea over himself when he realises how bloody hot the adult version of Neville is.
Harry stands in the doorway of the living room with his mouth hanging open. There, sprawled out in an armchair, is Neville Longbottom in a shirt that pulls at his broad shoulders, wearing slacks that show off his long, muscled legs. His dark hair is swept back. Stubble accentuates the strong line of his jaw.
For a moment, Harry doesn’t recognise him and wonders if a bookish footballer has ambled into his best friends’ house, but then the man looks up and spots Harry, and his face slackens. That open-mouthed surprise, like he’s been struck across the head, is all Neville.
“Merlin’s beard,” Neville says.
“I suppose I should have warned you how unbalancing it can be,” Hermione says from the couch, fiddling with her ponytail. “Come sit down, Harry.”
Harry settles the tray of tea onto the coffee table and woodenly sits down beside Hermione. He and Neville gawk at each other, neither of them speaking or closing their mouths, until Hermione huffs.
“Oh, really. It’s not that surprising, is it? We do live in a world with magic and Harry has always attracted the strangest kind of trouble.”
“No, it’s just …” Neville closes his mouth and swallows. There’s pain in the set of his mouth. The crows feet in the corner of his eyes seem a lot more pronounced suddenly. “I forgot how young we were. How bruised. What’s just happened, Harry?”
Harry drops his gaze from Neville’s pained, sculptured face to the tea tray. The mugs are spelled to stay hot, thankfully. “Dumbledore is dead. The Death Eaters have control of everything. We’re on the run—well, Hermione, Ron, and me. I heard you were still at Hogwarts. Uh. We broke into the Ministry of Magic a couple of months ago.”
“Blimey, I’d forgotten you’d done that.”
Harry clears his throat and picks up a mug of tea. “How’s Hogwarts?”
Ron squints at him. “Are you blushing?”
Harry rubs at his cheeks like he can physically scrub away the pinkness. “No. Shove off.”
Ron sticks his head out of the kitchen and then bursts out laughter. “Neville? Really? Neville.”
“I said shut up!” Harry ditches a tea towel at Ron’s head. Ron catches it in mid-air and keeps laughing. “It’s not my fault he got fit. He has bloody cheekbones and stubbles and—how tall do you think he is?”
“Oh, my god,” Ron says, like he’s not sure whether to be delighted or horrified. “Hey, Hermione! Guess what?”
“What is it?” Hermione calls from the other room.
“Harry has a—” Ron opens his mouth to respond, but Harry jumps onto Ron and hangs on for dear life. He smothers Ron with his hands. They hop around the kitchen like that, Ron holding up most of Harry’s body weight, Harry trying to stop any coherent syllables from escaping Ron’s mouth. Hermione comes in to check on them and stops at the entrance of the kitchen.
“Oh, honestly,” she says, and leaves before they can rope her into their antics.
They have Shepard’s pie for dinner. Ron and Hermione watch Harry fill up his plate and only start serving themselves when he picks up his fork and starts eating. Neville laughs into his wine glass.
“How are you dealing with their mothering, Harry?” he asks.
Harry grins around a mouthful of beef and potato. Ron splutters. Hermione sips at her own wine and doesn’t attempt to deny it.
“We aren’t mothering,” Ron says.
“You are,” Harry says, “but it’s not so bad. I always figured Ron would take after Mrs. Weasley, and if I think about it, it’s not that different from Hogwarts. When something shitty happened, they would always get kind of twitchy.”
Ron opens and closes his mouth for a minute, groping for an excuse. Eventually, he says, “He’s just so small, Nev.”
“Hey,” Harry says. “I’m seventeen. I’m an adult.”
Ron shakes his head at Neville. “My best friend is an infant.”
Neville laughs. “Don’t feel too bad, Harry. I think they’re using you as preparation for their baby.”
Harry drops his fork. “Baby? Hermione’s pregnant?”
“Not yet,” Hermione says, “but one day, maybe soon, we’d like to have kids. You know that, Harry. Or you do in this time. You’re going to be their godfather.”
A godfather. Him, a godfather.
Harry is quiet for a long time after that revelation. He never thought about becoming a godfather before, and now, maybe less than ten years later, he could become one soon. He has no idea what to say to that, what to think. Ron catches his eye other the table and smiles at him like he understands. A father. His best mate could be a father soon.
Harry shoves a spoonful of pie into his mouth to keep down his awed panic.
After Neville has gone, Hermione collects up their bowls and then says, “Harry, did you have a crush on Neville in Hogwarts, too?”
“Of course he didn’t,” Ron says from his place at the sink, casting spells so that the dishes wash themselves. “We would’ve noticed, wouldn’t we? He’s hopeless at that kind of thing.”
Hermione hums. “He did hide his feelings for Ginny for a while, though. You had no idea.”
“Well, I wasn’t expecting him to start mooning over my sister now, was I? Besides, we shared a room with Neville for years. I think I would’ve noticed if Harry suddenly went non-verbal every time Neville took off his shirt to get changed.”
“I wouldn’t have gone non-verbal,” Harry says and very firmly forces down any images of the adult version of Neville shirtless. “I’m not that bad.”
Hermione and Ron exchange glances. “Whatever you say, mate,” Ron says.
Harry goes to sleep in the spare room, the cats curling up on his legs, and wakes a few hours later, nauseous and tangled in sweat-soaked blankets, biting through his lip. He can taste blood and stone. He can still feel his nose being pressed into the ground as he twitched against the magic holding him paralysed, unable to even scream, watching as his friends were struck done one, by one, by one.
He pulls himself out of bed and makes his way silently to the bathroom down the hall. He rinses his face, but it’s not enough. The phantom feel of dirt and blood itches beneath his borrowed pyjamas, and for a moment, Harry can’t remember where his dream took place. The ground had been stone, cold and worn like the floors of Hogwarts, but he had seen the Ministry’s gold statue behind the death eaters. He had seen headstones rising out of the gloom. The walls had been patterned with the floral wallpaper of Privet Drive.
These days, Harry’s dreams rarely coalesce into one identifiable horror. He has too many memories; they all blur together.
He needs a shower.
A knock comes at the bathroom door. Harry flinches back against the tiles.
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice floats through the locked door, thick with sleep. “Harry, do you know what time it is?”
“Sorry,” Harry says.
He stretches his legs out in front of him. He’s sore. He must have been here for a while if his muscles protest like this. He pushes himself out of the spray. The water has gone cold.
The knocking starts again. Ron, this time. “Mate, are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Harry calls back.
“Right,” Ron says, even though he clearly doesn’t believe that. “Do you want to come out? We’ll have hot drinks. Maybe an early breakfast.”
The thought of eating right now is unappealing, but Harry reaches up and switches off the water. The whir of the exhaust fan and the harsh sound of his breathing is loud in the bathroom.
Harry should get up, but he has no energy. He doesn’t want to stay here—it’s cold and the tiles are hard and Ron and Hermione are worrying somewhere behind the bathroom door—but his legs don’t want to work.
“Do you need a hand?” Ron asks.
In Gryffindor Tower, when they were getting ready for a day of class, one of their dorm mates would bang on the stall of the shower and ask if he needed help. Harry would do it, too, sometimes, but it was normally Ron teasing him for being so groggy in the morning, or trying to hurry him along so they could go and eat breakfast.
Ron’s not teasing now, though. He means it. If Harry asked, Ron would spell the door open, and lift Harry off the shower floor, and help him get dressed. It wouldn’t be strange for them. Ron has done more when Harry was in a worse state.
But Ron shouldn’t have to, not when Harry is capable of getting himself up. Ron shouldn’t have to run around after him. His nightmares tonight hadn’t even been real visions. He’d spent the day chatting with his friends and pottering around the house with Ron. Nothing had happened, so Harry has no right to suddenly feel like the walls are closing in.
Harry makes himself get out of the shower. He tumbles out of the bathroom with drenched hair, pyjamas that stick to his damp skin, and glasses hanging crookedly on his nose, but it still somehow feels like a victory.
Hermione tsks when she sees him—a sound that, disconcertingly, reminds Harry of Professor McGonagall—and spells him dry. She rights his glasses by hand.
“Sorry,” Harry says.
“Don’t apologise,” Hermione says.
“Do you want something to drink?” Ron asks.
Harry shakes his head, but Ron pushes a glass of water into Harry’s hands anyway. Harry makes a face, but drinks it in two gulps.
“I don’t think I’m going to be able to go back to sleep tonight,” Harry says.
Bundling himself up on the couch doesn’t sound too painful. He could flick through the Quidditch magazines on the coffee table, and coax the cats up onto his laps, and maybe nod off for a quick nap, while being able to see the entrances and exits. He could tune into the sound of frogs croaking in the backyard; the gnomes scurrying about in the weeds; and the crack of anyone apparating nearby.
Ron and Hermione look at one another.
“Well,” Hermione says, wetting her lips, “why … why don’t you sleep in our bedroom?”
“What?” Harry says.
“Sleeping in a strange room on your own mustn’t be good for you, not after sleeping in the cramped tent with Ron and I for months on end. You're probably still on high-alert, waiting for something to go wrong or someone to find us. If you’re with us, it might be easier.”
Ron smiles at him, and Hermione nibbles at her lip, impatient for his answer, and Harry stares at them both.
In Gryffindor Tower, when Harry had woken in a haze of confusion and fear, he had only felt safe when he had seen Neville dozing into his pillow or heard Ron snoring like a chainsaw. In the living room of Grimmauld place, he had watched Ron and Hermione sleep and felt better for it. In that damp tent in the middle of the forest, he had listened to his friends through the cloth walls and, when his fear didn’t ease, he would get up and seek them out, relying on the sight of their relaxed and unbruised faces to settle him.
But this isn’t the same Ron and Hermione he remembers. The seventeen year old faces he relied on in the British woods aren’t the same faces standing in front of him.
Harry makes himself step back. “No.”
“Oh,” Hermione says. “Oh. Harry, if I made you uncomfortable by asking—”
“It’s not that,” Harry says. “You guys are adults. You’re a married couple, now. You don’t need some kid intruding—”
Ron chucks a throw pillow at him. It smacks Harry in the stomach and falls to the floor. Harry stares down at the watercolour dragons flying over the pillow cover.
“You’re not just some kid, you bloody idiot,” Ron says. “You’re not intruding.”
“We’ve done this before, Harry,” Hermione says gently, “remember?”
Harry waves his hand in the air. “But that was different. We were younger, then. You weren’t together. And it was usually right after something terrible had happened, so it was okay, and now—”
“Harry,” Hermione says, an edge of steel creeping into her voice. “Do you want to come sleep in our room?” He opens his mouth, but she cuts him off again, “Not ‘do you think we would mind—‘”
“Which we wouldn’t,” Ron butts in.
“—or ‘do you think you’re allowed to.’ I’m asking if you want to.”
Harry stares at them. He forgets, sometimes, how stubborn they both are, and then they’ll say something like this, or Ron will get that look in his eye, or Hermione will try and chuck a book bigger than her head at a bigoted wizard, and then he’ll remember.
“Yeah,” Harry says. “Yeah, I think I might.”
Hermione nods, determined. “Alright, then.”
After re-arranged the pillows, they gesture for Harry to climb into the middle of the king sized bed, until he winces and inches away from the turned down duvet.
Hermione huffs. “Really, Harry, you’re not intruding—”
“You go in the middle,” Harry says, “or Ron. I’d rather—I mean, in the middle, with two people on both sides—” He scrubs a hand through his hair, strangely agitated. “I’d rather sleep with my back to the wall.”
Hermione opens her mouth, like she’s going to say something, and then closes it. She nods. She climbs into bed, and then Ron slides in after her. Harry rounds the bed and crawls onto the space left between Ron and Hermione and the blank, windowless wall. The door is left ajar, a sliver of light from the hallway peaking through. Harry can see it perfectly.
He shoves a hand under his pillow, and it’s strange to feel nothing but the cool slide of the sheets rather than the familiar weight of his wand. He can see three wands on the bedside table over Ron’s head.
Hermione tucks the duvet over them and settles in. Ron throws an arm over her waist. Harry presses his face into the pillow. It doesn’t feel like the other times they’ve done this—then, Harry was often too far gone to be aware of what was happening around him.
Tonight, though, Harry is fairly clear headed. It makes him feel—shy isn’t the right word. Awkward, maybe. Harry shifts, slotting more firmly against the back wall.
“Alright, mate?” Ron asks.
“Yeah,” Harry says.
“Are you sure?”
Harry wets his chapped lips. “I don’t know if I can sleep without my wand.”
“You’re safe. You don’t need—” Hermione starts, but Ron is already getting up and fumbling for Harry’s wand. He passes it to him, and doesn’t say anything when Harry slides his arm under the pillow and keeps clutching at his wand, even as he settles down to sleep.
“Thanks,” Harry says.
The door nudges open. Harry jumps, but the jingle of a cat’s bell stops Harry from hurling a curse at the cornflower blue walls.
Hermione lays a hand over his. Both his friends are looking at him. Harry feels very small under the weight of their stares.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Hermione says.
“I know,” Harry says.
“If you need anything during the night—” Ron begins.
The cat plucks its way over their bodies and curls up in the space between Harry and Hermione. Harry can feel its small paws pressed against his stomach; the dry warmth of Hermione’s hand; the homemade quilt tickling under his jaw; and his wand tucked under his pillow, ready.
Ron falls asleep first. His snores are as loud as ever.
Hermione is still looking at him.
“You’re okay,” Hermione murmurs, her hand still on his. “You end up okay, Harry. We all end up okay.”
She flips his hand over and laces their fingers together. Hermione has said similar reassurances over the years. She says it less and less as the war grows worse and worse. Harry had been struggling to believe any murmurs of hope. Even a few days ago, back in his hospital room with mediwitches and wizards trying to tell him that the war was over, Harry didn’t know how to believe that he and his friends had ended up okay.
Now, though, Harry can remember a tall, bearded Ron bustling around the kitchen with a confidence he never had as a teenager. He remembers Hermione in sweatpants, her hair tucked up into a bun, gently kissing Ron with such easy love. He remembers Neville, taller and broader and more relaxed than Harry has ever seen him, smiling at him from across the table, still dressed in his Professor clothes.
The new memories don’t fix everything. It doesn’t settle the thoughts about horcruxes turning over and over again in his head, or the panic lodged in his throat—but it helps. Hope is hard to come by in a damp tent in the forest, but here, sharing a bed with the healthy, grown up versions of his best friend, it’s easier to find. There’s no war in this room.
“It’s okay now, Harry.” Hermione sounds almost like she’s pleading with him.
Harry squeezes her hand. “I know.”
Harry wakes a few hours later smothered under Ron’s arm. Hermione tiptoes back into the room, edging the door closed quietly.
“Sorry,” she whispers. “Bathroom.”
Harry mumbles something incoherently and shoves his face back into the pillow. He’s warm, perhaps too warm, with the long line of his snoring best friend pressed against his side.
Hermione hesitates at the end of the bed. “Harry, did you still want to sleep next the wall? There’s no space for me anywhere else.”
Harry squints at her. Ron is sprawled along on side of the bed, and Harry is laying next to him, almost on top of him. The only available space is between Harry and the wall
“S’okay,” Harry says, and drops back down into the duvet.
Hermione rounds the bed and crawls up the bed. She settles behind Harry. He can feel her long curls tickling his arm. Even her breathing is familiar.
“Is this alright?” she asks.
Harry waves a hand in the air in a gesture that might mean ‘yes’ but might also mean ‘shut up’ and drops off back to sleep. If he stayed awake, if he turned around and squinted at Hermione in the murky darkness of their bedroom, he would have seen how proud she looked at the simple mundanity of Harry sleeping, safe and secure, between his two best friends.
The next morning, sometime near noon, Harry opens his eyes to cornflower blue walls. The walls of his apartment are brown-orange, like rusted iron. This is Ron and Hermione’s bedroom. What is he doing here?
Hermione’s head is squashed in his armpit, and Ron is half on top of him, snoring his head off. Harry is wearing Ron’s pyjamas, but they’re charmed small. Too small. They cut into his shoulders and ribs painfully.
Harry shimmies out from under the pile of limbs. His glasses are on the bedside table. He jams them on and then flicks the light on.
Hermione blinks at the sudden light, while Ron groans and shoves his face into the pillow. Harry notices a wand sticking out from under the pillow. His wand. He hasn’t sleep with his wand in years.
“What the bloody hell happened last night?” Harry demands. He doesn’t feel hungover, so he hadn’t gotten drunk at a get-together with their friends and crashed here, which happens every so often.
Hermione bolts upright. “Harry, you’re an adult!”
“Thanks for finally noticing, Hermione,” Harry says drily.
Ron takes his face out of the pillow and props himself up on his elbows. He smiles at Harry. “There you are, mate.”
“Did I … go somewhere?” Harry asks.
“No,” Hermione says, “you’ve just been a little different these past few days. I’ll fix us some coffee and we can explain.”
She throws on one of Ron’s knitted sweaters over her pyjamas. When she rounds the bed, she hugs him tightly.
“Uh,” Harry says, even as he hugs back. “Are you okay, Hermione?”
Hermione pulls back, brushing her hair out of her eyes. Her face is blotchy, not like she's been crying, but like she’s been trying very hard not to.
“I’m okay,” she says. The eye contact makes something flip in Harry’s stomach. His old Auror instincts—instincts he hasn’t used in years—are unsettled by her sudden intensity. He’s missing something. “We’re all okay, now, Harry.”
“What?” Harry says.
He steps away, only to be swept into another hug by Ron. His feet briefly leave the floor.
“You’re still short,” Ron says when he puts him back down. “Come on, I’ll make us pancakes.”
They head downstairs in their pyjamas. Ron makes pancakes, while Hermione opens several muggle exercise books filled with scribbled notes. She pushes Harry into a seat and casts spell after spell. The diagnostic magic washes over him like warm water. After each one, Hermione writes in her books with a muggle biro. She sticks the biro into her mouth, getting ink around her mouth, and squints at him, like he’s an Arithmancy problem she can’t figure out.
“What?” Harry says, fidgeting.
“How are you feeling, Harry?” she asks.
Harry squints at Hermione for some hint at what she is looking for. Usually, his friends only act stranged like this when Harry was still in the Auror Corps and came back from a near-suicidal field mission. But Harry has been doing odd jobs for months now. Easy things, like repairing roofs and volunteering at Little League Quidditch and advising the Ministry, rather than chasing after Death Eaters.
The midday sun streams through the sliding door behind her. Harry can hear Ron cooking in the kitchen and kids on summer break playing in a neighbouring field. He feels—
“Good,” Harry says, blinking. “I feel good. Light. Like I’ve gotten a full nights sleep and then some.” Harry thinks about this. “Did I fall into a coma for a few days? Is that why you two are acting so bizarre?”
“Good,” Hermione says, pushing her hair out of her face. “That’s good.”
Ron lays down a platter of banana pancakes on the table. Hermione finally puts down her wand. She sits down on the other side of the table and then bursts into tears.
Ron and Harry jump to their feet. Neither of them have ever been good around people who are with crying.
Hermione bats away Ron’s fussing hands. “I’m finally, Ron. I just—I’m happy. These are happy tears.”
“They’re stressed tears,” Ron corrects.
Hermione dries her face with a tissue. “I have to pen a letter to the Ministry to let them know everything is cleared up. They probably already know. The other victims have probably bounced back to their original ages.”
“So then …” Ron begins.
“It wasn’t time travel. Just an age regression spell, like we thought. The timeline is fine.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry says loudly, “but can someone please tell me what the bloody hell you two are talking about?”
Hermione and Ron exchange glances. They do that every time something has happened that they know Harry won’t like and they’re worried about how he will react when they tell him.
Instead of answering, Ron pushes the plate heaped with pancakes toward Harry. “Have a pancake, mate.”
“I don’t want a pancake, Ron. I want to know what’s going on. Why are you both acting so balmy?”
“A few days ago, you went into the Aurors office to do a consultation with some of the trainees,” Hermione begins, “but there was an accident in the neighbouring office, cursed artefacts.”
Harry makes himself eat a few pancakes as Hermione talks, even though his stomach feels clenched tight, like a fist.
Some people would give anything to be seventeen again. The years following your gradation from Hogwarts are supposed to be the best of your life. The years at Hogwarts, as well, are supposed to be a blissful haze.
It never was for Harry. He wakes up in a cold sweat at night sometimes, forgetting that the last decade is real, thinking that he’s seventeen all over again, with a Dark Lord at large, scores of murders read over the radio every night, and the entire wizarding world looking to him for a miracle. Some nights, when the dreams are especially bad and his headaches make him feel like his scar is acting up again, he struggles to feel twenty-seven, rather than that terrible, bloody seventeen.
And this time, it happened for real. Voldemort is dead, and dozens of Death Eaters are still locked away serving life sentences, but for a brief moment in time, Harry was seventeen again.
“What was it like?” Harry asks.
“Bloody weird,” Ron says. “You were only seventeen, but you just—I don’t know—you just seemed so much littler.”
“It was a hard, seeing you like that,” Hermione says.
“I’m sorry,” Harry says.
“Don’t apologise,” Hermione says fiercely. “Don’t you dare. You would have looked after us if we were the ones who were cursed.”
“Thank god that we weren’t.” Ron attempts a smile. “I was a right git when I was that age. I would’ve been terrible to deal with.”
“Or if it was me,” Hermione says. “That would have been horrific.”
Ron and Harry make disbelieving noises in the back of his throat.
“I kept flipping out, didn’t I?” Harry didn’t wait for either of them to agree with him, or try and argue that he wasn’t that bad; he knows how terrible he could be at seventeen years old, drunk on grief and rage and fear. “You would have been logical about the whole thing. You’re smarter than either than us.”
Hermione goes pink. “But I would have had to face a twenty-eight year old Ron. And I would have found out that he was my husband. I might have died.”
“Thanks, ‘Mione,” Ron says.
Hermione kisses him on the cheek, right above his beard line. “I mean that at seventeen I wouldn’t have been prepared to see such a handsome, tall version of the boy I was in love with. I would have gotten so flustered and died. Or died out of happiness.”
Ron leans back in his chair, chest puffed up in pride. He smiles like a loon when Hermione kisses him again.
Harry balls up a dish towel and launches it at them. It hits Ron full in the face. “Oi, I’m sitting right here. I just sent a week as a teenager. Can you stop making out for a tick?”
Hermione and Ron pull away. Hermione looks interested in the grain of the table, but Ron just keeps smiling.
“We should invite Neville over again,” Ron says abruptly.
Harry blinks at him. “Neville? What does Neville have to do with this?”
“You were awfully taken with him,” Hermione says with a smile.
Harry realises that Hermione probably isn’t the only teenager that would be interested in the sudden growth of the people around him. He’s glad that he was sequestered away here, so that he didn’t run into certain people.
“Don’t tell me I was crushing on Neville,” Harry says.
“Sorry, mate,” Ron says through a snicker. Harry groans and buries his face in his hands.
“It was very cute,” Hermione says.
“Oh, yeah,” Ron agrees. “It was adorable.”
Harry flips him off. Then, something occurs to him. “I should probably go catch up with people after dropping off the radar for a few days. Especially—”
“We sent off owls,” Hermione says.
“Yeah,” Ron says, “had to basically threaten you-know-who so he wouldn’t break down our door and scare the bollocks off of the teenage version of you.”
Harry shoves a pancake into his mouth to avoid responding to that particular remark.
There’s going to be an investigation at the Ministry. It could have been a simple accident, but people are beginning to realise that there could have been casualties if anyone other than trainees had been in the room with Harry.
The cursed top aged people down ten years. The trainees became first years at Hogwarts, or else were even younger than eleven. Hermione says a few of the muggleborns were stripped of their memories of magic altogether.
If Harry had been in that room with anyone other than trainees when the cursed top spun into the room, he could have been killed. There are still witches and wizards at the Ministry who complied with Voldemort’s actions—supposedly because they were under Imperio or were fearing for their lives. If they had woken up believing the war was still at its apex, only to see a bleary-eyed Harry Potter in too-big robes beside them, they would have cast first, asked questions later. Like Harry had.
Harry stays with Hermione and Ron that night, just in case the counter-curse unravels and Harry wakes up freshly seventeen again. His memories of the past three days return at midnight.
When he gasps awake for the third night in a row, he doesn’t have blood in his mouth. This time, his eyes are full of memories of Ron mocking his height and messing up his hair; of Hermione swooping in to hug him like she couldn’t stay away; of the two of them trailing after him like two new anxious parents; of being tucked up in their bed like they were sixteen again and fresh from Dumbledore’s death.
Harry climbs the stairs and gently opens the door to Ron and Hermione’s room. A slat of light from the hall gets in Hermione’s eye, and she stirs, propping herself up on her elbows.
“Harry?” she says, voice hoarse. “Is everything alright?”
“I remember,” Harry says.
“Oh,” Hermione says. Just that. Just oh.
She shimmies across the bed until she’s propped against the wall, and folds down the duvet. She pats the mattress next to her. Harry climbs over Ron’s snoring form, and lays down. Hermione folds the blankets over him again.
His wand is on the bedside table downstairs. His glasses are, too. Harry has been in this house enough times to easily navigate it in the dark.
They lay back down. Ron snorts awake next to Harry and then slurs, “‘Arry?”
“Everything is okay, Ron,” Harry says.
Ron flails out an arm and almost smacks Harry in the face. He pats Harry’s shoulder in a way that’s supposed to be comforting, but just feels clumsy. Harry appreciates the gesture.
“Glad you’re okay,” Ron says, only half-coherent. “Wouldn’t know what to do if you weren’t.”
“Yeah, you would,” Harry says. “You’ve been looking after me for years. Go back to sleep.”
“Goodnight, mate,” Ron says into his pillow.
“Goodnight, Harry,” Hermione says, soft as a bell.
Harry’s empty hand is braced under his head, and there are two long lines of warmth on either side of him. His back is to the door.
He thinks that if the counter-curse reversed itself and he woke up here, bracketed between his sleeping best friends, he would relax immediately. At seventeen, at fifteen, at twelve, he would recognise Hermione and Ron. He thinks that, even at ten, or eight, or six, before he knew about magic, he would recognise them.
He can’t imagine ever looking at these two people and not knowing instinctively who they were or how important they are.
Harry shuts his eyes and says, just as quietly, “Goodnight.”