Chapter 1: i
They head to the common room after leaving Dumbledore’s office, side-stepping dead bodies and rubble on their way. As they climb the stairs, Ron half-wonders if he should be heading to his family, to Fred, but the thoughts don’t register properly. Everything is too hazy, dizzy all at once, like months of stored exhaustion have finally hit him—or seven years, really—and it’s all he can do to keep following Harry and Hermione.
The Fat Lady bursts into tears when she sees them, and swings open without the password before hurrying away through neighbouring portraits, as if she’d been waiting for them and now her job is done. Ron and Hermione go through first, but Harry stays staring at the empty frame. Hermione reaches a hand to him and pulls him through.
Ron and Harry head for their old room, and Ron’s only half-surprised when Hermione follows them and doesn’t bother with her own. Their four-posters are dusty, but the Tower is mostly safe from the destruction and he clambers under the covers of his old bed, the mattress sinking beneath him and the pillows curving to him in such a familiar way that he nearly cries. Hermione does slide in beside him, and he’s too tired to fuck around with nerves or awkwardness so he tugs her to him. He vaguely understands there’s something different now, but can’t be bothered to think what, and she hooks her foot over his calf, and he closes his eyes before squinting around and seeing Harry climb into the bed opposite. “Harry,” he nearly snaps, angry that Harry’s making them go through this sorting-out business right now. “C’mere.”
Harry’s eyebrows shoot up, which makes Ron even more frustrated because he really doesn’t have the energy for this. “Harry,” he says again, “don’t be a git. My brother’s dead, you have to do what I want.”
He doesn’t smile, but hesitantly takes his place on Hermione’s other side. She grabs his hand and pulls him so they’re a tangle of limbs and hair and too-thin bones, and Ron feels her shaking with quiet sobs and thinks he’s might to cry, too, before he falls asleep.
When he wakes up, Hermione is asleep, but her hair is brushed and wet and she’s wearing new clothes. A folded pile of his own clothes sits at the end of the bed, and he heaves himself up and pads to the bathroom with them.
He stays in the bath for a long time, feeling the hot water sting his cuts and turn him opaque again. But with the awareness comes the memories, and thoughts of Fred, and all at once his body feels too small and his skin too thin to contain everything that’s swirling around inside him and he dunks his head under the water. And then just as persistent as the sadness pressing at him from the inside out is the feeling that he absolutely, unequivocally, totally cannot be alone right now, so he rushes to dress so suddenly and sharply he forgets to drain the bath. When he remembers, he’s back in bed, and he figures he’s allowed. He did save the world.
Ron thinks about wrapping his arms around Hermione again, and she smells so nice with the fresh soap that he’s dying to press his face in her neck. He doesn’t, for a second, because whatever they did before and however they’ve fooled around in the past, this is real now. Before, it existed in a sort of parallel universe, something they could escape to but could never follow through with because of the question of Harry, or things like that not really being a top priority. But now, he thinks.
But he follows through anyway, because he’s wasted time already, moping about in the woods and at Bill and Fleur’s by himself.
Hermione stirs next to him, opening her eyes slightly and smiling tiredly when she sees him so close. His eyes drop to her lips, and she tastes like toothpaste—something he very much forgot to use in his trip to the bathroom, but he doesn’t try and break the kiss and she doesn’t, either. He slides his tongue in her mouth, and she makes a heady noise that turns him drunk.
Suddenly, she does pull away, and sit up, looking around, her eyes now sharp. He does, too, and follows her gaze to the empty crinkle in the sheets on her other side.
The realisation that he didn’t think to check, that they could have very well been making out in the same bed as Harry, doesn’t make him feel as ashamed as it should.
“He wasn’t in the bathroom,” Ron says, when their eyes meet. She bites her lip. “Maybe,” he continues, “maybe he’s got some—y’know. Hero stuff to do, or something.”
But he knows they’re thinking the same thing, about Ron walking in on him half-dead on the bathroom floor with Sirius’s knife after the graveyard; about him limp in Hagrid’s arms just hours ago, and they tear out of bed and down the stairs to the common room.
When they find him sitting on an armchair by the newly lit fire, glasses askew and snoring slightly with his mouth open, Ron thinks very seriously about hitting him. Harry wakes when Hermione launches herself at him, looking around dazedly.
“Hi,” he says, somewhat confusedly.
Ron thinks about being angry but if Harry hasn’t had the thought to off himself, he doesn’t exactly want to put it there, so he just says, “hey,” back. He sees Harry’s eyes catch on Hermione’s mouth, red and so obviously kissed, and then on Ron’s, which he knows must look the same.
“I went to get food,” Harry says, and for the first time Ron notices a huge assortment of ham, fruit, toast, pitchers of pumpkin juice on the table, and a mug of half-drunk tea at Harry’s feet. “But the house-elves got here while we were sleeping. They, ah, went a bit overboard.”
Ron grins and looks at Hermione, who rolls her eyes and begins buttering some toast. “We’ve been asleep for ages,” Harry says. “A whole day. I’m surprised nobody at the Ministry has come after us.”
“I put a spell on the portrait,” Hermione says, now pouring glasses of pumpkin juice for all of them. “Only Gryffindors allowed. I didn’t exactly want someone like Rita Skeeter barging in and looking for us.”
Ron moans through a mouthful of ham. “You’re a genius,” he says, thickly.
Hermione smiles. “Yes, I think it was a good idea.”
Harry smiles, too.
The second they venture out of Gryffindor Tower, the press and the Ministry swarm on them. Kingsley is the first to commandeer Harry, a stern hand on his shoulder but a kind look in his eye as he steers him away.
Ron and Hermione make their way to the Great Hall. When they reach Fred, he finds they’re holding hands, and squeezes her fingers tightly. She squeezes back.
He sees Fred’s body for only a moment before his mother has him in her arms. She’s crying into his chest, and he’s sobbing, too, not just because of his brother but because this is the first time his mother has held him for years and the first time he’s really seen her in months. Lying in the tent, he was so truly ashamed of how much he missed her but she’s warm and safe and he wants to fold in on her, disappear into a child when all he was afraid of were spiders in the broom shed, and she would hold him like this and rock him.
He isn’t sure how long it is until she lets him go. When she does, he sinks to the floor, beside the white sheet that covers his brother. He can see the protrusion of his long nose, the same as Ron’s, can see a curled, cold finger poking out. An urge to scream bubbles up so violently inside him, and he can’t really think of a reason to push it down but for George, who is lying beside the sheet. He isn’t crying; his eyes are wide, staring, one hand underneath to hold his twin’s.
“What do we do?” Ron’s voice is gruff. His father, next to Bill, takes off his glasses and rubs at his eyes.
“There will be a memorial next week, for everyone. The individual funerals will start afterward. He’ll—” Arthur’s voice breaks. “He’ll be buried at the Burrow. I think that’s what he would have wanted.” He looks quickly at George, and then buries his face in his hands.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner,” Ron says.
“Oh, don’t be silly,” Molly says. “You needed to rest. All of you.” She looks around. “Where is Harry?”
“In meetings,” Hermione says, quietly. She’s hung at the back, but when she sees her Molly pulls her in and begins to sob all over again. When she quiets, she says, thickly, “meetings. Of all the things. That poor boy…” she sniffles, and hugs Hermione close again. “Thank you,” she whispers. “Thank you for taking care of my son.”
“Oh…” Hermione trails off, and hugs Molly back tightly.
They don’t see Harry for hours, and when he and Hermione decide enough is enough, they venture up to Dumbledore’s office. On their way, some people stop them to shake their hands, to hug them, people they’ve never met before, thanking them profusely and asking them to thank Harry for them. After assuring everyone they will, they walk up the staircase to Dumbledore’s office with ease, the broken gargoyles at the bottom of the staircase moaning dejectedly. Hermione marches up to the door and raps on it firmly.
“Kingsley,” she says, loudly. “We’re looking for Harry.” Nobody answers, and then Hermione, uncharacteristically, stamps her foot. “Really!” she says, heatedly. “Couldn’t you wait until you all imprisoned him like this? He needs to rest, we all do, and I think it’s very unfair to swoop on him the very moment he wakes up!” Nothing further happens, and Hermione begins to pound on the door loudly. “He isn’t part of your stupid Ministry yet, can’t you just give him a break—”
The door swings open. Hermione opens her mouth to say something, but McGonagall looks down on them, her mouth set. “Potter is not here,” she says, curtly, but Ron swears there is a sharp twinkle in her eye for a moment. “The meeting finished hours ago.”
“Oh,” Hermione says, her voice very small. Ron clears his throat.
“Do you know where he went?”
“I’m not sure. I meant to—how did you put it? Give him a break.”
Hermione blushes furiously.
McGonagall turns to go back into Dumbledore’s office—or, Ron supposes, her office, now—but she pauses. “Thank you,” she says, in a voice much unlike anything Ron’s ever heard her use. “Both of you.”
Ron’s face goes red, too, and before they can say anything McGonagall closes the door again.
“Wonder if this is what Harry feels like all the time,” Ron thinks aloud. Hermione wipes her eyes.
“I expect so. Come on, he’s probably back in the Tower.”
He is, curled up in his old bed. When Hermione sits tentatively at the end of the mattress, his eyes open and he pulls his wand out from under his pillow.
“Just us, mate,” Ron says, and Harry blinks before relaxing and groping for his glasses.
“Sorry,” Harry mutters.
“Where were you?" Hermione asks. "McGonagall said your meeting ended ages ago."
“Not before Hermione yelled at her, though,” Ron grins, and Hermione shoves him.
“I was with Lupin,” Harry says, quietly.
“Down in the Hall? We didn’t see you.” Ron spies a plate of sandwiches on Harry’s bedside and grabs one.
Harry shakes his head. “No, under the Cloak. Didn’t want to get hounded. It’s a nightmare going anywhere now.”
“Yeah, we had that. What was the meeting about?”
Harry runs a hand through his hair. “They wanted Pomfrey to look me over. And stupid stuff, too. They—they want me on the Wizengamot.”
Hermione gasps and covers her mouth with her hands. For a moment, something flashes through her face that looks a lot like jealousy before it’s dashed. “What did you say?”
He shrugs. “I dunno. I don’t think I’m particularly qualified. I told them so. Then they—” His face goes red. “They gave me an Order of Merlin. First Class. They’re going to give ones to you both, too, at the memorial.”
“Oh,” Hermione says, wondrously, and Ron says, “wow, that’ll cheer Mum up.”
Harry looks at Ron. “I saw Fred,” he says, and Ron avoids his eye. “I’m—”
“Shut up,” Ron says. “Don’t go all barmy and say you’re sorry.”
“Harry, seriously,” he says, “Or I’ll deck you. I know you saved the world and everything, but I don’t care.”
Harry falls silent.
“It’s late,” Hermione says. “Let’s get to sleep. Tomorrow will be more of the same, I assume. We all need rest.”
“Yeah,” Ron says. “Shove over, then.”
Harry looks up at him with a furrowed brow, but does so, and both Ron and Hermione climb in.
It’s different tonight, Ron can feel it as soon as he asks. Weirder. More awkward. In Shell Cottage, they had slept in the same bed almost every night, Hermione tucked into Ron’s chest with her leg thrown over Harry’s; her palm splayed against Ron’s back, but fingers circled over Harry’s wrist. Maybe it took Malfoy Manor to realise how profoundly close to death they all were at all times, especially with Voldemort’s acquisition of the Elder Wand and the mission to Gringotts closing in on them. And Ron and Harry have shared a bed, too; nightmares in Grimmauld Place, or the Burrow, or here in the Tower. Perhaps that, too, had lived on borrowed time, not entirely real, because Harry lies rigid next to him, half his body hanging over the mattress so they aren’t touching at all.
But Hermione throws her arm around Ron’s stomach from his other side, and he relaxes, and falls uneasily into sleep.
He wakes, hours later, when it’s still dark. The room is noisier, with the recognisable snores from Neville across the room. Dean’s bed is empty, but when Ron’s eyes adjust, he can see two bodies in Seamus’s four-poster. Ron nearly laughs out loud for the comfort and distorted familiarity of it all, because it’s almost like old times.
He almost falls back asleep when he realises Harry is gone again. Or, rather, he has moved to Ron’s bed in a strange swap; at least, Ron assumes he has, because the hangings are drawn.
Ron is hurt, he decides. For so long, he was the only person Harry touched at all, and it was never a responsibility he had taken lightly. Harry had chosen him, kept choosing him, let Ron rescue him from cat flaps and prison bars, let Ron hear nightmares and see scars nobody else had ever been privy to. Ron had been proud. He was a hero by proxy. A hero’s hero. The thing Harry Potter will miss most. But now, Harry is gone, and he had avoided them all day, had left last night, too, and had walked into the forest to his own death without saying goodbye to either of them. Suddenly, Ron is angry and frustrated. Even on the worst night, after Harry’s botched suicide, Harry had let Ron sleep with him.
And—and there were things he thought Harry wanted, things that Ron wanted, too, but he clearly doesn’t.
He tries to stay awake, shooting passive aggressive looks across the room at where Harry is sleeping, so he can catch Harry get up and they can have it out, but he falls back asleep, snoring into Hermione’s hair.
The next day, they start to move back to the Burrow. Ron is still frustrated with Harry, but there are so many reminders of Fred and so many things to do that he lets it go for now, thinking he can mention it later. After his capture at Malfoy Manor, apparently Death Eaters had descended on the place, and it’s wrecked. It takes most of the day, and all of them working to clean up the rubble. Even then, it’s barely a shadow of its former, cheery self, the whole house creaking like it can feel the damage, like it can feel the missing resident. A couple Aurors arrive, and they and Bill start putting up wards on the place. There are still Death Eaters loose, one of the Aurors says, and they might come back here.
There was a half-hearted thought of Ron’s that Hermione could stay in his room, now—at least, officially—but when he pitches this idea to her, she snorts. “If you go and clear it with your mother,” she says, so Ron doesn’t.
Harry is clearly uneasy around them all, even after the Weasleys hugged him one by one and told him to stop trying to apologise. But once the camp bed is set up in Ron’s room, and they’re talking about playing chess later, he seems a little more relaxed, and Ron doesn’t think it worth it to mention anything upsetting.
On the first night in the Burrow, Hermione sneaks up to their room after everyone has gone to sleep. It's fine at first; it reminds him of those old nights in the common room, or in the tent after they’d eaten well, but when she climbs into Ron’s bed to sleep, Harry goes slightly red and says he could probably sleep downstairs on the couch if they wanted privacy.
“Don’t be silly,” Hermione says, but there’s an uncomfortable feeling in the air and Harry goes downstairs after a few minutes anyway, citing the bathroom as an excuse but never coming back.
Hermione chews her lip after him. “He’s been so… so off, lately,” she says, pained.
“Yeah. Listen—” Ron is worried about his friend, really, but he is also eighteen. “D’you want to mess around, now? He’s gone anyway.”
Hermione kicks him under the covers, but then she sighs and says, “yes, I suppose so.”
Ron rolls his eyes but grins and leans forward, catching her mouth. Her bushy hair is spread across the shock-orange pillow, and even though it’s only been a few days she looks healthier than before; he supposes he must, too. She’s beautiful. She’s sexy.
In the time before Harry had come to the Burrow last year, she crept up to his room every night and sometimes he’d get her off clumsily under the blankets, but he’s never actually seen her naked, besides spotting her topless once or twice in the tent. But this is different; she’s turned on now, for one thing, which makes Ron infinitely more interested.
He drops kisses down her collarbone, licking the swell of her breast and grunting in approval when he sees her head fall back, hears her panting when eases her legs open, thumbing at the bone of her hip. She twists a hand in his hair and tugs slightly as he ducks lower, which surprises him; something in the bottom of his stomach flares up when she does. He pushes back against Hermione’s grip; she tightens it, and something like a growl escapes him against her skin.
He’s teasing softly along her stomach, kissing randomly, gently. She’s writhing underneath him, which makes him laugh, which makes her tut, and in an instant her hands have left his hair and are tugging down her sleep-shorts and her knickers—efficient, he thinks, dryly, and tries to catch her wrists as she does, but she wriggles her way out of his grasp and kicks her bottoms off. He looks up at her, and she’s smirking, in a way that both completely undoes him and gets on his nerves at the same time. She looks like she’s won something, and he doesn’t know what, but he won’t let her win again.
He lowers his head, breathes on her slowly. She’s squirming again, and he finds he has to hold her thighs down. He looks up at her as he presses a kiss to her; barely, just a brush of his lips, and she looks furious. Her hands are in his hair again, pressing him down, and he gives in just once, licks at her where she wants and her grip slackens: a mistake.
Ron pounces, grabbing her wrists tightly; she says his name, loudly and he whispers, “shhh,” into the inside of her thigh, but that seems to make her angrier, and with a strength he didn’t know she had she frees herself and flips him over, straddling his hips. She kisses him, fiercely, biting at his lip, making him buck up against her. She tugs at his hair again; fine, he thinks, and does the same to her. Her eyes flash, and she moves up his body bracing herself against the wall with one hand, the other in his hair as she hovers over him.
Ron looks up at her, and yeah, alright, she can win this one. He wraps his big hands round her hips and pulls her down, scratching his nails along her back as she rocks against his mouth; she’s letting out all these whimpers which make him sure he’s never been more aroused in his entire life. When she comes, she grinds down hard on him, and for a moment he doesn’t give her up, holds her down so he can keep going and she jumps from the overstimulation before he releases her, wiping his chin on the back of his hand.
She lies down next to him, panting. Ron is straining, and her gaze flicks down, her eyes blown out and her mouth hanging open. She looks like she does when she’s arguing with him, he realises, and it’s insanely hot. Maybe this was why he got into all those fights with her, just to see her look like this.
“Merlin,” he says, accidentally, and she laughs. “Where’d you get that from?”
Hermione shrugs. “You were taking too long.”
“Some girls like that,” he points out.
“Oh, really?” she asks, raising an eyebrow. “Like Lavender?”
He scowls. “Maybe,” he says, defensively, and for a moment he thinks they’re going to get into a real argument before she says, “relax, Ron,”, and snakes her hand down his boxers.
Andromeda visits with Teddy for the first time the next day.
The house brightens almost instantly, lighter with the sound of the baby, with their coos and laughs when he yawns too widely or screws up his nose and makes his eyes turn purple. Even George ventures downstairs for a moment, smiling in a way that doesn’t reach his eyes but smiling nonetheless.
Molly has gone up into the attic and come down with boxes of old toys and books. Andromeda tries to protest that she can’t possibly take all this home, but Molly threatens to jinx her, and Arthur says, wisely, that it’s best to do as she’s told. Teddy, red-haired and freckled ever since he came into the house, is on the floor, chewing on the corner of a building block. Ron is trying to remove it, but Teddy is feisty, and everyone laughs as the struggle proceeds. Andromeda finally scoops Teddy up, kissing his chubby cheeks, and then turns.
“Do you want to hold him?”
Harry is sitting in an armchair, having mostly looked on as others interacted with the baby. He’s been marginally less sulky in the past couple hours, swigging butterbeer and laughing much easier than of late. But at this offer, he balks.
“Me?” he says, in surprise. Ron rolls his eyes at Hermione, but Andromeda smiles.
Harry takes Teddy with slightly shaky arms, awkwardly shifting his weight when Andromeda instructs how to hold him properly. Harry looks down at the child in his arms as he cups his head, tiny and fragile.
“Oh,” Harry breathes out, and then a startled laugh as Teddy grabs one of his fingers.
“You’re his godfather,” Andromeda says, quietly, and Harry nods soberly. His arms tighten around Teddy for a moment, and then he kisses his forehead, gently.
Harry retires to his chair again, and spends the next hour still holding the baby as he slowly falls asleep against his chest.
“You can all come ‘round whenever you’d like,” Andromeda says as she makes to leave, later, addressing them all, but Ron knows, really, that this offer is meant for Harry, who grins.
Kingsley comes by a couple days later asking to talk with Harry in private, and afterwards Harry is more restless and moodier than ever. The only thing Ron can think of that might loosen him is Quidditch, so he suggests it to him, up in their room as Harry sullenly flips through one of Ron’s Cannons books. Harry brightens instantly, saying, “yeah, alright.”
“Great,” Ron says, happily. “Let me just change.”
He pulls his shirt over his head, looking for a more appropriate one, and when he turns around Harry is staring at him, all cheerfulness gone as soon as it had come.
“What?” Ron says, but catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror; his back is littered with scratches, pink, scraggly fault-lines like his skin is breaking apart. “Oh,” he says, feeling his ears go red and hot.
“Congratulations,” Harry says, his lips pressed together in a tight, unnatural smile. Ron reaches for him instinctively, desperately, but Harry pulls back. “I’ll meet you downstairs,” he says, and later, when Ron fumbles a save against Charlie, Harry laughs with a cruelty that Ron hasn’t seen in him before.
He continues like this for days. The whole family has found out about Ron and Hermione, now. Bill and Charlie settle a years-long bet: Bill had his money on them getting together in sixth year, Charlie after graduation, so he comes out the winner, even after some technicalities about how they never actually graduated. Ron scowls when he finds out. Molly gives Hermione a big hug and Percy shakes her hand thoroughly, so it’s as if they’ve announced their engagement. Harry is quiet on the subject, and whenever anyone mentions it around him, he begins to brood and announces he’s going to visit Teddy.
“D’you think it’s because… er,” Ron says, at Hogwarts, as they work on clearing the Charms corridor—“of what happened in the tent? Y'know. When I was gone.”
Hermione pauses in the middle of a scourgify. She doesn’t ask how he knows that she and Harry have been together; it isn’t necessary, and besides, it was obvious when he came back. They touched each other all the time; she rested her feet in his lap when she read, he picked eyelashes off her cheek with the ease of touch and a physical trust he had only ever granted Ron.
“No, of course not,” she says. Then: “yes. Maybe.” She waves her wand, her brows furrowed. Ron works on fixing one of the broken windows. “I think,” she says, carefully, after a while, “it’s about you, too.”
Ron looks around in surprise. “Really?’
He hadn’t meant to sound so excited. Hermione tuts. “Don’t be silly, Ron. Of course it is. I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
“How does he look at me?”
Hermione rolls her eyes as she waves her wand again and scorch marks on a nearby portrait begin to shrink. A painted head pokes around the frame and sighs in relief, thanking her. “Don’t fish, Ronald.”
But she’s smiling. “He looks at you like… like how he looked at everything in first year, you know. His I love magic face. It’s the same.”
They’re quiet for a moment, working on clearing the debris. Hermione sets a classroom door back on its hinges. “I thought that,” Ron admits. “That he might… I don’t know. I, er. I hoped. You know,” he says, suddenly embarrassed and defensive, “you know how it was in Shell Cottage! All sleeping in the same bed and everything. That’s why—after we got back, that’s why I thought…” but he trails off and turns away.
Hermione hums. “Yes,” she says, “I thought so, too.”
“Oh.” Ron feels his shoulders relax, lets out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “Well, good to know I wasn’t going mental. But, I mean, he obviously doesn’t feel that way.”
She shakes her head, now on her knees, her wand pointed at a particularly tricky spot on the floor. “I wouldn’t be so sure. In fact, I think that’s exactly why he’s acting the way he is.”
“Well, that’s stupid!” Ron says, furiously, kicking at some stray remains of a suit of armour. “He’s the one who made it all weird!”
“He probably thinks it was a temporary thing. You know how he gets.”
“Well, it wasn’t. We should just—go and talk to him. Y'know. Hey, mate, your two best friends want to shag you. Easy.”
Hermione doesn’t laugh. “We can’t scare him away, Ron. He might do something silly.”
“Sillier than acting like a moody old prat, you mean?”
They drop their voices as they work further down the corridor, nearer to another group. “In any case,” Hermione says, lowly, “I think it should wait until after the funerals. He might be better then.”
Ron makes a non-committal “mmm”. Then, he says, “ever fucked in one of these classrooms?”
Hermione rolls her eyes. “You know very well I haven’t.” Ron leans against the doorjamb of the one nearest.
“Detention, Miss Granger,” he says. “Sixty-nine points from—” but she’s kissing him, shoving him inside and locking the door with her wand behind her.
Chapter 2: ii
The day of the memorial, Harry wakes before sunrise and doesn’t bother trying to go back to sleep. He listens as the ghoul upstairs groans, as Ron snores, and thinks about the speech he’s going to have to give later. About all the people who will be there. He presses his face into the pillow. He’d wanted to go into the field, he’d told Kingsley so, re-capture more Death Eaters, but Kingsley had said this was the best way to help and, after a long argument that Harry was sure it was inappropriate to have with the Minister of Magic, he had backed down.
Perhaps, he thinks, Arthur has a video camera, and they could tape him doing the speech and show the video to everyone. It’s a cowardly idea, he knows, and besides that it’s an impossible one, but the thought of seeing anyone makes his stomach churn. He remembers how it was at Hogwarts before coming to the Burrow, how the stares were worse than ever. People had followed him, reached out to him so they could just touch him—that was the worst—thanked him and cried to him and one man whom he had never seen had sunk to his knees and clasped his hands and told him he was blessed. He can barely look the Weasleys in the eyes, can hardly look at Ron and Hermione.
Ron and Hermione.
Ron gives an especially audible snore at that, and Harry, rather passive aggressively, presses his pillow over his ears.
He had never thought about what life would be like, after Voldemort. At least, for him. Most of him knew he wouldn’t survive, and even when he let himself daydream, he couldn’t think of anything to fantasise about. Ginny was there, years ago, and he thought Ron and Hermione might be, and he could say that the Dursleys definitely weren’t, but where he were or what he was doing he didn’t have the imagination for.
It turns out, life after Voldemort is shit.
He’s known, always, without question or ever having registered the thought in the first place, that they never needed him. He saw how Ron looked at her, long before the Yule Ball; how his eyes snapped to her in a room, how his energy locked on to her. They were on course to collision, always, and he found ways between them, accidentally, on purpose. He was their burden, he knows, is now their only obstacle to whatever the wizarding equivalent of a picket-fence family is. Sometimes it felt like they practiced parenting on him, the way they would glance at each other when they thought he wasn’t looking, when he fucked up or was fucked up too visibly. They’ve been doing this now, in the past few days, talking about him in low voices. He hates it.
After the graveyard, he revelled in it; some dark part of him, broken out, had relished when he hadn’t eaten for two days and they tried all their different tactics to fix him. You can’t, he thought, savagely, gladly. If they kept trying to help, they had to stick around to do so, and if they gave up, well, at least he had the pressure to make them stay off his shoulders.
He realises now that it was a test for them. He hates himself for this; it’s unfair, absolutely cruel, and he still isn’t sure if he wanted them to pass and what that would have meant, anyway. That summer, when he was stuck at Privet Drive, he imagined them together at the Burrow, probably talking about him, which made him angry; or fucking, which made him angrier; or talking about him while fucking, which made him livid. He kept himself up with it, tortured himself with it, imagined her sucking him off in his stupid Chudley Cannons bed, or visiting him in Azkaban after he blew the Ministry hearing, rings on their left hands. When he got to Grimmauld Place, he looked for suck marks on their necks, waited for Ron to brag or whisper but he never did, and nothing changed except he knew now how much hatred he was capable of toward the people loved most.
Now, it almost makes him want to laugh. Now, he knows they’re fucking, knows that they’ll visit him someday with rings on their fingers, knows that they’ll make him godfather to their kids or whatever they think will make him feel better. He thinks about nights with Ron in his dormitory bed, Ron’s arms wrapped around his waist and wonders if he holds Hermione like that. Thinks about nights in the tent, Hermione’s legs tucked up around Harry’s ribs and wonders if Ron fucks her like that.
He thinks, maybe, he could do it if he was just in love with one of them. He always knew he was in love with Ron; had always assumed the jealousy, the fear at the thought of them together had been mostly about him. Maybe it’s because Ron is always the one who leaves and so the threat of his absence is keener. Maybe it’s because he has always expected he was gay, as some sort of Dursley syllogism: Uncle Vernon hates Harry, Uncle Vernon hates poofs: therefore, Harry must be a poof. He imagined fucking Hermione, long before he ever did, but, too, always assumed it was about Ron, about taking something from him: about sabotaging RonandHermione so comprehensively that Ron would have no choice to stay with him.
Instead, he had found that he loved her—that he loves her—separately, properly, thoroughly, and that he always has. He realised, all at once, in that tent, how greedy he is, to want the both of them in impossible ways. Of course, it wasn’t as much of a problem before. After the prophecy, he could forgive the inevitability of them; he was always a marked man, a dangerous man, so he couldn’t exactly blame the two of them for loving each other and not him. In some ways, it was comforting; he knew that after he died, things would go on, in the right way, the right combination.
Except now he isn’t dead, and now he has all these memories of being with Hermione and the three of them at Shell Cottage stuck like glue. Memories of sleeping in between them and trembling because this was all he’d ever wanted and he was never supposed to have it, and now he can’t, and he just has to live with it. Forever.
There’s Teddy, of course, the one person that will ensure he isn’t completely alone for the rest of his life, but the thought of that boy, the tiny thing, terrifies him in a different way than the ideas about Ron and Hermione. However much they didn’t deserve it, they’ve signed up to have their lives fucked over by him. Teddy hasn’t. Teddy is sweet and small and loud and holding him in his arms makes Harry feel like the most useless person in the whole world. He has never been sure how to love but loving a child, raising a child, is something he has no experience to draw from.
The sun has risen, now, and Mrs Weasley knocks on their door with tear stained eyes to wake them up, to remind them it’s time, and Harry almost reaches out to her before she’s gone, and Ron is opening his eyes blearily.
They don’t talk as they dress. Harry tries to run a comb through his hair—there are going to be pictures, after all, but of course it doesn’t do anything except maybe make it worse. At breakfast, too, everyone is silent except for the occasional sniffle or sob.
George comes down to travel with them to Hogwarts after they eat. As he does, Harry realises he hasn’t seen him in days, and feels a stab of guilt. He’s lost so much weight, the bags under his eyes so pronounced. Harry has never thought it was possible for either of the twins to ever be sad, or even mildly upset, but George looks like a ghost. Harry looks down at his feet.
They Floo to the castle, and Harry’s stomach gives a guilty jolt as he sees the state it’s in. He’s been spending days here, hours upon hours, and still they haven’t even scratched the surface of the damage. One of the turrets—the owlery, he thinks, has collapsed completely. The hoops on the Quidditch pitch have been broken in half; this makes his heart break.
The memorial is set up in the grounds, next to the lake like Dumbledore’s funeral. Mer-people poke their heads out, and as he passes, they open their mouths in horrible, garbled song. He doesn’t know if this is a compliment or not; in any case, it makes him feel uncomfortable, so he smiles uneasily at the one he thinks must be the leader and moves on. There is a row of chairs at the front, where Kingsley, McGonagall, the other Heads of House, and other wizards and witches he doesn’t recognise sit. Next to the row of chairs is a podium; it makes his heart beat uncomfortably fast. There are flowers everywhere, ones he recognises from Sprout’s greenhouses. Centaurs stand at the edge of the forest, looking on, and he waves to Firenze, who bows his head in response.
When he comes in view of the crowd, they stand up at once, and he sees flashbulbs go off, so bright he is blinded for a moment. Ron and Hermione try and fend off as many reporters as they can until Kingsley moves through the crowd, seizing Harry’s arm and steering him into one of the chairs in between him and McGonagall.
The audience re-settles itself, all of them staring up at him. He can feel himself go red and takes off his glasses and begins cleaning them on his robes for something to do, so everyone will look like just a massive blob of nothing and he won’t need to catch anyone’s eye.
Kingsley stands and moves to the podium. Everyone is silent except for the click of the cameras. “Today,” he says, in his slow, deep voice, “we pay tribute to those we lost in the Battle: those without whom, none of us would be standing here today. First, I would like to give our thanks,” he says, turning to the forest, “to the magical creatures who fought bravely on our side. This was not your battle, but we are honoured you chose to partake, and will spend the rest of our lives repaying this debt.”
The centaurs draw their bows and shoot forth a shower of arrows at Kingsley’s feet, before turning back into the forest. Kingsley bows his head in thanks.
“And now, we remember those witches and wizards who perished in the fight, all bravely, all before their time. These men and women gave up their lives for our liberation, so that we may live a free and joyful life without the threat of darkness hanging over us. These men and women gave up their lives so that all of us, of whatever Magical background or heritage, may live equally, with no drop of blood worth more than any other. We give our thanks.” He begins to read off a list of names, and at each one Harry’s heart gives out a little more. He stares fixedly at his knees. “To all these brave soldiers, we award the Order of Merlin, Second Class. Furthermore, a commemorative statue will be placed on the grounds to honour these people for eternity. May we keep their memory.” There is a thrum of applause, and Kingsley looks on soberly until it passes.
“And, finally, we give thanks to three of our number who perhaps fought harder, and with more courage than any trained Auror under my command. We thank first, Hermione Jean Granger, to whom we award the Order of Merlin, First Class.”
Hermione is smiling shyly as she comes from the crowd to the podium, where Kingsley hands her a plaque. Harry sees Rita Skeeter scowl, and motion to her photographer to lower the camera.
“Next, we thank Ronald Billius Weasley, to whom we award the Order of Merlin, First Class.”
Molly sobs loudly as Ron makes his way up next, his ears and neck as red as his hair. He poses for a photo, too, looking bashful.
“And finally.” Kingsley turns, and even staring at the floor Harry knows all eyes are on him. “We thank Harry James Potter, to whom we award the Order of Merlin, First Class.”
Harry looks up, and the smash of cameras blinds him again as Kingsley hands him his plaque. It’s very heavy, and shiny, and Harry would like nothing better than to throw it in to the nearby lake for the Giant Squid. He makes to sit down again, but Kingsley grabs his shoulder. “And now, for some words from Mr. Potter himself.”
Hermione and Ron look surprised, standing awkwardly next to the podium. Harry clears his throat as Kingsley sits, pulling out a piece of parchment from his robes.
“Harry!” comes a loud shout, and he looks to the back of the chairs, where Hagrid is standing on his feet, raising his fist in the air. For a moment, Harry grins, and his shoulders relax.
“That was a beautiful speech, Harry,” Hermione says, after they manage to ferry him back to the Burrow in one piece. “I was going to say I wish you’d told me you were going to make one, because I could have helped, but really, you did amazing.”
“Thanks,” Harry mumbles. They’re sitting in the living room in front of the fire. Ron is holding his Order of Merlin fondly, polishing it with the sleeve of his robe every few minutes, and Harry is so reminded of the way he treated his Prefect badge in fifth year that he laughs out loud. He hasn’t done that for days, he realises. It feels incredible.
“We’ll have to hang that up,” Mrs Weasley says, looking proudly over Ron’s shoulder. “First Class, my own son. And…” her face breaks. “And Second Class, too, I suppose.” Her eyes glaze over for a moment, and then she turns abruptly heads back into the kitchen.
Ron looks after her and sets his Order down. Crookshanks jumps from the floor into his empty lap and Ron looks at him in surprise before twisting his fingers in his thick fur.
Harry excuses himself to the garden. For a moment, he felt like his duty had been done, but now he remembers the onslaught of funerals that are coming in the next few weeks. Absently, he kicks at a stray garden gnome, which scampers off before he can do any damage.
“Harry?” comes a voice from behind him. He turns.
Ginny is standing there, bathed in sunlight, and Harry looks away. He’s managed to avoid her the past couple days, which has been considerably easy since she hasn’t seemed to want to talk to him, either. Until now.
“Hi,” he says.
“Can we talk?”
He sighs. He supposes now is as good a time as any.
At first, he’d been avoiding her because he thought she might want to get back together, and the thought of that, of having sex with her and maybe getting married to her and having children, had repulsed him. Now, he thinks he’s been avoiding her because she might want to call it off for good. Without her, there is no other potential partner in his life, no other hook to hang his future hat on, and the thought terrifies him, makes him feels like he is drowning.
At first, they just stand next to each other, watching the gnome from before coming back from the bushes. He spots a lizard in the grass and chases after it, trying to stomp on it with a fat, stubby foot.
“I slept with someone,” she says, carefully. “While you were away.”
“Oh.” He finds he doesn’t particularly care, at least not in a way that makes him jealous. He did too, anyway, but he doesn’t feel like telling her. Sharing the fact that he has slept with Hermione while she has clearly chosen Ron feels mortifying.
“A couple people, really…” She tucks her hair behind her ear.
“Are you breaking up with me?” he asks. “For good, I mean.”
She looks surprised at his bluntness, but then says, “yes, I suppose so.”
She looks pained; perhaps she had wanted him to fight for her. “Harry…” she says. He watches the gnome successfully catch the lizard and take a bite out of it.
“Are you… are you okay?”
“’Course I am,” he lies. “I’m more okay than I’ve been in my whole life. I don’t have to fight a Dark Lord anymore. Feels pretty great, if you ask me.”
Ginny smiles sadly. “You can talk to me, you know. I know I’m not… I’m not them, but I’m still here for you.”
Harry looks at her and is struck by a sudden desire to beg her to be with him again. He doesn’t act on it, and it fades almost instantly. “Thanks.” The gnome has finished its lizard now and lies down in the sun, promptly falling asleep. “Anything else?”
Ginny looks even sadder. “No, I guess not.”
“Alright,” he says, again, and leaves for Teddy’s because he can’t think of anywhere else to be.
“Ginny told me,” Ron says carefully that night, as they each lie in bed. “About what happened today, after the memorial.”
“Great,” Harry says, moodily, and turns on his side, away from Ron. “Everyone chatting about my private business, are they?”
“Well, she’s my sister,” Ron says, defensively. Harry doesn’t reply.
Ron thinks about his conversation with Hermione, about the way Harry supposedly looks at him, and feels his heart pick up speed. “So,” he says, trying with all his might to sound light, “Anyone else in the mix?”
“No,” Harry replies, curtly. “’Night.”
Ron feels his nerves flare to anger. “Did I piss you off or something?” he demands. “You’ve been acting… I dunno, like a real wanker lately, to be honest.”
“You’re acting like a real wanker right now.”
“I am not!” Ron says, heatedly. “I’m trying to figure out if I did something to make you mad!”
“You’re making me mad now,” Harry mutters, and Ron huffs and turns on his other side, too, so that they’re both facing away from each other.
He falls into a restless sleep, where he dreams he is playing Quidditch with Fred at Hogwarts, but the hoops are broken, and Ron is demanding that they can’t play like this but Fred wants to play anyway, and then there’s a crowd and they’re singing Weasley is Our King, and the Quaffle turns into Ron’s Order of Merlin, which Harry is throwing at him, and then Harry is yelling that Ron didn’t make the save, that he doesn’t deserve the award, and Harry is yelling so loudly that it really wakes Ron up.
He lies under the covers, blinking dazedly, until he realises what’s truly woken him. Harry is screaming, spasming so hard that he’s kicked the blanket off, and Ron starts to attention like a soldier, jumping out of his bed and to Harry’s. He’s thrashing so hard it’s difficult to get close enough to shake him awake, but when he finally does, Harry gasps and sits bolt upright before promptly doubling over and vomiting in his lap. Ron rushes to pull Harry’s hair away from his face, and, once they’re sure he’s finished, retreats to get him a glass of water and new clothes.
When he returns, Harry is holding his wand, hazy-desperate in trying to get rid of the vomit, but Ron shakes his head. “Stop it,” he says, handing Harry a new pair of pyjamas. Harry blinks at him, taking them from him and just holding them, pinching the material of the shirt between his thumb and index, rubbing his fingers slowly over the cotton.
Slowly, Ron reaches for him, and when Harry doesn’t pull away, Ron puts a hand over his wrist and tugs Harry’s shirt off. Harry’s skin is slick with sweat and he’s shaking like a leaf, but he stretches his arms up so Ron can slip the new T-shirt over his head. Ron’s much taller than him, and kneeling to remove Harry’s trousers feels awkward in more than a couple ways, but Harry doesn’t pull away even though Ron can feel the brace under his skin, the twitch of a resisted recoil in his muscles as he taps at Harry’s ankles in turn for him to lift them up.
He’d done this for Harry years ago, after Dobby’s bludger, before he knew the map of Harry’s body and the topography of scars he does now. There are new ones; a scar on his chest, jagged like the bolt of lightning on his forehead, and faded lines on his thigh that look purposeful and make Ron want to yell, but he doesn’t. He just steers Harry to his own bed, props him up on pillows and gives him the glass of water.
It takes a couple more glasses and a few more minutes before Harry’s eyes start to focus again.
“Don’t say it,” Ron threatens. Harry’s quiet, and Ron watches him closely. Harry hasn’t had a nightmare this bad in years, maybe not since fifth year, since he saw through the snake. Ron aches to ask, but looking at Harry he decides he’d rather not know, before Harry offers.
“King’s Cross,” he says, softly, and Ron furrows his brow.
“What? In London?”
Harry shakes his head, and all he offers in the way of elaboration is: “I was dead.”
Ron feels suddenly cold. “Oh,” he says, and feels stupid to not have realised that one coming back from the dead must remember what it’s like to be dead. He shivers. Harry looks straight at him, and with a jolt Ron realises that Harry hasn’t met his eye in days.
“You were there,” he says.
“Oh,” Ron says, again, and then Harry is crying, and Ron slides in bed next to him and wraps his arms around him, feeling second-hand shocks through his body as Harry trembles. “S’alright,” he whispers, and then another realisation: he hasn’t seen Harry cry since the Battle, maybe hasn’t seen him cry in months, and his body is sagging into Ron’s, heavy and sweaty but solid and real, and Ron remembers seeing Hagrid come into view with Harry in his arms, and grips Harry so tightly now it must hurt.
“Don’t,” Harry says, and Ron lets him go but Harry pulls him back. “Don’t,” he says, again, and Ron doesn’t know what he wants but he says, “I won’t,”, and Harry says, “stay,”, and Ron says, “’course,”, and after a while, Harry falls asleep again, breaths evening against Ron’s neck. When Ron wakes, Harry is asleep in his own camp bed.
Chapter 3: iii
The funerals begin. Harry is reserved and polite, and he doesn’t cry but each night he wakes Ron with a similar nightmare. After they come back from the fourth funeral, Ron scoots over as much as he can and simply gestures to Harry, because they both know that this is where he’ll end up in a few hours and it makes more sense to streamline the process. Ron’s already got a cup of water by the bedside, and Harry eyes it before he gets under the covers. He tries his hardest not to touch Ron, but the bed is small, and after he yells them both awake, he retreats, tucking himself into Ron’s arms.
Ron feels guilty for feeling it, because he knows it’s borne out of exhaustion and fogginess and nightmares but sleeping like this again has Ron feeling like something is finally clicking into place, like something has righted itself since Harry’s withdrawal after the Battle. He doesn’t take it for granted, encircles Harry so completely with his limbs and holds him close.
The day of Fred’s funeral is beautiful. The sun is bright, and birds sing from all around the garden, and if he’s honest, Ron doesn’t remember anything at all except for hazy images that he can’t entirely process. Ginny holds George’s hand and rests her head on his shoulder. Hagrid takes up two chairs and sobs loudly into his handkerchief. Ron grips both Harry and Hermione’s hand. Fleur caresses Bill’s cheek, fingers running over the scar left by Greyback. The garden gnomes take off their pointy red hats. Angelina Johnson says something, and so does Oliver Wood, and he’s sure other people do but he can’t think who. They bury him in the field next to the Burrow, next to Molly’s brothers, Gideon and Fabien. Aunt Muriel gives him a hug and says something that he remembers is the first nice thing he’s ever heard from her. George lies down atop the fresh grave, already dug in with magic, and presses his face into the soil, and they try to coax him away, but nobody manages to do it, so Lee Jordan just sits down next to him and waits.
He hopes Harry doesn’t nightmare that night. He feels selfish but he doesn’t think he has the strength to help him through it, and so he feels immensely grateful when Hermione creaks the door open. Harry jumps, and hastily makes to leave his place next to Ron, but Ron just grabs his arm and says, tiredly, “don’t even think about it.”
“There isn’t room,” Harry protests, but Ron shrugs. But Hermione finds a place on Ron’s chest, Harry nestled into Ron’s side. “See,” Ron mutters, and he’s crying but he doesn’t really know when that happened. Hermione thumbs at his tears, kissing his cheeks, and Harry breathes unevenly, eyes open, watching her do so.
Hermione wakes to find just her and Ron in the bed, and she screws up her face in frustration and exhales loudly, falling back against the pillows with far more force than the action requires. Ron doesn’t open his eyes. “Is he gone?” he asks, quietly.
Hermione nods, and then says, “yes,” when she realises Ron can’t see her. Ron groans, and then slings an arm out to pull her in. “Git,” he mumbles, and falls back asleep. After a while, Hermione extracts herself from him and pads downstairs to find him sitting at the kitchen table, a mug of tea in his hands.
“Good morning,” she says, tying the strings of her dressing gown around herself.
“Morning,” Harry says.
“How long have you been up?”
Harry shrugs, looks down into his mug. Hermione peers over his shoulder. It’s empty. She puts the kettle on, leaning against the counter. “Have we… done something to offend you, Harry?” she asks, carefully. Harry’s head snaps up.
“No,” he says. “Why’d you say that?”
Hermione’s eyes soften. “Oh, Harry,” she says, quietly. “You know why.”
Harry stands up suddenly, his chair scraping back against the floor with a piercing sound. “I think I’ll go into town today,” he says. “Since we have a day off from the services. Need anything?” He’s avoiding her eye.
You, she thinks, desperately. We need you back.
“No,” she says.
He doesn’t go to the Muggle town, but instead heads to Diagon Alley. There is still some Polyjuice left, back from Godric’s Hollow, which seems like years and years ago, and so he travels as the old man.
He’s surprised, and then unsurprised, to see himself on blown copies of the front page of the Daily Prophet, plastered on shop windows. He is, however, more annoyed to see street vendors selling various goods in the shape of lightning bolts, marketing them as Harry Potter Chocolates or Harry Potter Garlands, and scowls, feeling insanely grateful about his choice of disguise.
He heads into the apothecary and places an order for Dreamless Sleep under a false name. The seller eyes him and warns him about its addictive quality, no Apparating, to be taken in small doses, sparingly, and Harry nods impatiently before the seller hands over the small flask, the bright purple liquid glistening inside. He pockets it, and heads back to the Burrow.
That night, he goes to bed early, before Ron, and drops a little on his tongue. The effect is instantaneous; his vision tips and shimmers before him so he barely has time to make it to his camp bed before falling asleep.
More funerals pass, but Harry has not had a nightmare in days, which Ron has to suppose is a good thing. Selfishly, he kind of wishes he would, because then he could get Harry back into his bed, and that thought feels so dirty and cruel that he dashes it almost instantly.
They’re at Hogwarts again, this time near the Divination tower. Harry is bending down to clear the debris, and he’s been pleasantly pliant the past couple of days since he started getting enough sleep: an increasingly sloppy chess player, but a lot more relaxed, and far better to be around. He’s gained a little weight since they got back, they all have, and he’s lean and long, the light from the holes in the wall dropping over him so he looks almost holy. If Ron stays still enough, and listens hard enough, he can feel something ultraviolet around him; magic and fate sizzling off his skin.
“You think you’ll go back?” Harry asks, dislodging a piece of rubble with his foot and vanishing it.
Ron sighs. “Dunno. Mum’ll want me to. But…” He shrugs.
“It just feels sort of… useless.”
“Yeah,” Ron agrees. “Hermione will, though. She says she hasn’t made up her mind,” he rolls his eyes. “But as if she’ll miss NEWTs.”
“She does deserve some fun after the year we’ve had,” Harry says, and his voice is full of such a fondness that it makes Ron ache. “Remember when she got a hundred and ten per cent in our first year Charms exam?”
“As if she’d let me forget,” Ron grumbles, and Harry laughs, and Ron grins, and suddenly they are both doubled over, wheezing, and they haven’t laughed together like this in ages and he’d forgotten what a nice laugh Harry has, back in his throat and breathy and beautiful.
They’ve just got their wits back about them when Sir Cadogdan gallops into the nearest portrait and rears up on his portrait. “Fine work, gentlemen!” he roars. “Keep at it!” and they are gone again.
As the end of the services near, Harry does not become so much relaxed as drowsier and drowsier. He sways on his feet, and he looks around him with his eyes so glazed over that Ron wonders if he’s really taking in anything at all.
He chalks it up to stress, and Molly makes him a Pepper-Up Potion which seems to work for the rest of the day. They play an excellent round of Quidditch, and Ron is satisfied.
Hermione, though, watches him with narrowed eyes and pursed lips. “Give him a break,” Ron complains, when she taps her finger against her mouth, the universal Hermione sign for something’s wrong and I will figure out what. She has the same air about her as she did in fourth year, uncovering all that Rita business. “He’s been sleeping better.”
Hermione sighs. “I suppose he would be, yes.” But this is so annoyingly cryptic that Ron doesn’t reward her with more questions, even though he is curious.
On the first, bright day after the funerals finish, Harry doesn’t wake at his usual time, which is increasingly later and later. Ron frowns when he goes upstairs to get something and passes him, splayed out on the camp bed, mouth slack. Molly makes him take some sandwiches up and leave them by the foot of his bed.
When Harry still hasn’t woken by evening, Hermione’s mouth sets. She goes upstairs with such direction that Ron makes sure to stay out of her firing line. They hear a yell from Ron’s room, and when Hermione comes back downstairs, Ron sees the glint of a flask disappearing into the pocket of her robes. Harry follows soon after, gripping the banister because he’s swaying a little on his feet. He’s sopping wet, and his hair is stuck to his forehead and neck so that Ron can really see how long it’s gotten. He looks furious.
“She hexed me! And dumped water on me!” he says. “She woke me up!”
“Blimey, Hermione,” Ron says. “Let the man rest.”
“You’ve been asleep for nearly a day,” she says, coolly.
Hermione doesn’t answer, and Harry storms back up the stairs.
Ron and Hermione retreat to the garden, where he sits under a large tree with a copy of Which Broomstick?. He’s ripped out the crossword at the back and given it to her, and she has her tongue between her teeth, quill moving quickly. “Five letters,” she says. “Sugar candy, a yellow man.” She thinks for a moment. “Fudge.”
“It means cowardly.”
Ron snorts, and thinks he might lean over to kiss her when Harry comes storming out of the house, his eyes wide. If he looked furious before, he’s terrifying now, and suddenly Ron remembers that Harry has defeated the most powerful wizard in the world.
“You!” he spits, jabbing his finger at Hermione. She raises an eyebrow. “You!” His eyes are fixed on Hermione, who is looking calmly down at her crossword, and then he reaches for his wand, pointing it at her. Ron jumps up. Harry’s hand shakes, and Ron shoves him back.
“What the hell d’you think you’re about?”
Harry’s eyes flick over him, and they’re so clear, the clearest they have been in days.
“Are you going to hex me?” Hermione asks, steadily.
“Give it back,” he snarls.
She doesn’t answer, and Ron looks helplessly between them. “What’s going on?” he demands.
Harry doesn’t look at him. “You’re a bitch,” he says.
“OI!” Ron yells. Hermione’s eyes flash with steel, but she looks back down.
“You weren’t waking up, Harry,” Hermione says, quietly.
“SO WHAT?” Harry explodes.
“What’s happening?” Ron demands again.
“He’s been taking Dreamless Sleep,” she says, coolly. Ron’s eyes widen, and suddenly Harry’s increased lethargy and lack of nightmares over the past few days makes a lot more sense.
“Harry—blimey, that stuff’s addictive—!”
“YOU DON’T KNOW!” he roars, flecks of spit spraying from his mouth. “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE!”
Hermione gets up at this, throwing her half-completed crossword aside. “I don’t know?” she asks, furiously.
“No,” Harry says, “you don’t. Neither of you do.”
“What exactly don’t we know? Because last time I checked, Harry, we were all in the same war—”
“I WAS DEAD!” he yells, and Hermione quakes.
“Yes—yes, Harry, I know, but this isn’t—this isn’t going to fix anything—”
“It doesn’t matter!” Harry growls. “It was my business!” He holds out his hand. “Give it back.”
Hermione is shaking, slightly, but she draws herself up. “I can’t. I’ve destroyed it.”
Harry looks so angry that for a moment he is frozen, his face twisted and ugly.
“And—and Harry, it is our business, you are our business—we care about you, we love you, don’t we, Ron?”
Her eyes are filling with tears, and Ron looks between them. “’Course we do,” he says.
“Shut up,” Harry snaps.
“No,” Hermione protests, “we do, and you’ve been avoiding us—”
“We want to help,” Ron says.
“Yeah? Well, don’t go about in my stuff, then.”
“Harry,” Ron says, “that stuff’s dangerous… you’re not supposed to have it a days in a row, one of my cousins, second cousin, or third, I think, he did, and eventually he just kept sleeping more and more until he just didn’t wake up—”
“Yeah? Ever think that’s maybe what I wanted?”
Hermione lets out something in between a sob and a gasp. Ron feels like his chest is constricting. “Harry,” he says, and he reaches for him instinctively.
Harry flinches, and Ron pulls back, but the damage is done. Harry turns on the spot and vanishes.
Hermione screams, lunging forward at the space where Harry has just been. Dimly, Ron realises that others are coming out into the garden.
“What’s going on?” Bill asks, wand raised, eyes searching for the danger. “I didn’t hear the wards break—what’s happened?”
“He isn’t supposed to Apparate!” Hermione shrieks. She looks wild, and Ron thinks the only other time he’s seen her like this might have been when he returned to them, after the Silver Doe.
“What?” Ron asks, in a feeble voice. “Because he hasn’t got a licence? Blimey, Hermione, I don’t think—”
“Because of the potion!”
“What potion?” It’s Ginny, pulling out her wand, too, her eyes darting about the garden.
“It’s—Harry, he’s been taking Dreamless Sleep,” Ron says, weakly. Ginny inhales, sharply, and Bill’s mouth tightens soberly. Charlie comes out from the house, brandishing his wand. “And—well, he ran off.”
Hermione seizes his hand. “He must have gone to Grimmauld Place,” she says, and before Ron can reply his body tautens, constricting, as her hold on him tightens painfully.
They arrive, gasping, falling over each other, on the steps of the old house. The door to the house is swung wide open, and Hermione doesn’t stop to catch her breath before charging inside. The place is half-destroyed; the troll’s leg umbrella stand is cracked in two, windows are shattered, and BLOOD TRAITOR is splattered against the peeling wallpaper in something that looks horribly like blood. Hermione lifts her wand. “Homenum Revlilio!” Hermione’s wand emits a single green spark, shooting up at the ceiling and shattering, rather like a firework. “He’s upstairs!”
As they make for the staircase, there is a loud crack, and Kreacher appears in front of them, the fake locket still hanging on his thin chest. “Kreacher is afraid Master does not want to see his friends,” he rasps.
“Come off it,” Ron says, and attempts to push past him, but Kreacher raises his hand and Ron is flung back. His shoulder hits the wall behind him and pain cracks through his body. He groans.
“Blood traitors! Mudbloods! Scum in my house!”
“For Merlin’s sake,” he mutters, stumbling to his feet.
“Kreacher, please,” Hermione is begging, “please—he’s going to be very ill—please, you have to—”
Ron brandishes his wand, but Hermione knocks his arm down. “Oh, don’t, Ron, don’t—”
“You want to get to him or not?”
Kreacher raises his hand again, but there is a loud pop from upstairs; all three of them look toward the ceiling. Hermione makes a noise somewhere between a scream and a cry. “Kreacher—where is he going? You have to tell us, please—”
But there is a bright light; Ron’s body tightens, squeezing familiarly, and sightlessly he reaches around him for Hermione before he connects with the ground, on all fours in the grass.
Blearily, he opens his eyes to see his family standing over them. Hermione is sobbing from somewhere near him. His mother bends down to help him up but he pushes her away, furiously. “He sicked his bloody elf on us!”
“You found him?” Ginny asks, sharply.
“I wouldn’t want to go toe-to-toe with a house elf,” Bill grimaces.
“He left,” Ron says, and there is a sharp stinging behind his eyes.
“Where?” Ginny urges, but Ron shakes his head.
“Fuck if I know.” He looks to Hermione automatically, as he always does when he’s unsure, but she is pale.
“There’s—there’s nowhere else—he can’t have gone to Hogwarts—” She presses her fingers over her eyes.
“I’ll go to the Ministry,” Charlie says. “Get some Aurors.” Arthur grabs his wrist.
“I’m afraid that would scare him off,” he says, ruefully, and sighs. “I think the best thing right now is to do is to wait for him to come home.”
“He will be very sick,” Percy says, and there’s something of his old Head Boy demeanour as he draws himself up. “If he’s Apparated twice. We need to find him immediately.”
Arthur shakes his head soberly. “We can only hope that if he’s thought to use Kreacher to send Ron and Hermione away, he’s thought to use him to heal, too.” He reaches for his wife, pulling her close.
“He doesn’t have the Cloak,” Ron says, hopefully. “He can’t hide for too long. He can’t—” He trails off. Go and get some more. “We’ll know if he’s been in Diagon Alley, surely.”
Arthur sighs. “I suppose he just needs time. Who knows, he might even be back in the morning.”
Chapter 4: iv.
Harry’s cot is still empty when they wake.
“Maybe he’s gone to Teddy’s,” Ron suggests, as they lie in his bed, but Hermione shakes her head.
“I don’t think so,” she says, darkly. “At least, I hope he has the good sense not to be around Teddy when he’s drugged up.”
“I thought you got rid of it.”
Her brow furrows apologetically. “I don’t know how much he’s been taking; it could still be in his system. And if it’s not, then he’s going through withdrawal, which is just as bad.”
Ron picks at a stray thread in his blanket. He thinks about Harry’s nightmares, about sweat and tears and having to go through it alone, and Ron feels so entirely useless he wants to shout. “We’ve got to find him,” he says, lowly, and Hermione nods.
They try Grimmauld Place again. This time, the door is closed, and Hermione opens it with a silent flick of her wand. Cautiously, they step inside, but Kreacher is nowhere to be seen, and when Hermione casts her revealing charm again, nothing happens.
She sighs. “He isn’t here.”
“Let’s have a poke around anyway, though. Maybe there’ll be some clues to where he’s gone.”
The place is wrecked, but Ron figures that was the Death Eaters, and Harry didn’t have much time before they came after him, anyway. They creep up to Sirius’s old bedroom, but there is nothing out of the ordinary at all, not in the whole house.
After a couple hours searching, they admit that there is nothing that can lead them to his next location, and they sit, defeated, on the tattered couch in the sitting room. It cracks under their weight, but they find they are too exhausted and ashamed to move.
“Maybe Hogwarts,” Ron suggests. This feels like being on the run all over again, except now they are not tracking Voldemort’s pieces of soul but Harry himself.
Hermione huffs. “Ron, how many times, you can’t—”
“Not straight away,” he interrupts. “But he could have Apparated to Hogsmeade, couldn’t he?”
She taps her mouth. “Yes, maybe,” she says, slowly. “It can’t hurt.”
“Yeah,” Ron says, suddenly excited. This feels right, of course Harry is at Hogwarts; it makes perfect sense. “And Kreacher can actually Apparate there, can’t he? Maybe he Side-Alonged him.”
Hermione’s face twitches with a supressed eye-roll, but she has the good sense not say anything.
So, they travel to Hogsmeade and trudge up to the castle. It’s a beautiful day, and people are out, so they have to contend with being stopped every few minutes to shake hands. Eventually, they arrive at the golden double doors, which are familiarly sturdy again after the repair.
Their first stop is the newly reconstructed Hospital Wing. Some beds are still occupied, but there are empty ones for the first time since the Battle. When they enter, it takes only seconds for Madam Pomfrey to come bustling in. “Weasley,” she bristles, “Granger. What’s wrong?”
She attempts to steer them to a chair but Hermione fights her off. “No, it isn’t us, we’re okay, Madam Pompfrey—it’s Harry.”
Her face draws tight. “Potter? What’s happened?”
“We were just wondering if he’d come by,” Ron asks. The matron’s eyes search him intensely. “To visit someone,” he adds, hastily.
After a moment, she says, “no. No, he hasn’t.”
He feels Hermione slump beside him in disappointment. “Thank you,” she says, and Ron can feel Madam Pomfrey’s gaze follow them out for a moment before she snaps to another patient’s attention.
“Well, that was a bust,” Ron says. “Maybe he’s back in the Tower?”
Hermione shrugs, but Ron takes her hand.
They’re nearly there when they hear a voice from behind them. “Ron! Hermione!”
It’s Hagrid. Ron tries to wave before Hagrid grabs him in a tight hug, lifting him off the floor altogether before setting him down and giving Hermione the same treatment.
“Am I happy ter see you,” he says, beaming at them. “Was wonderin’ when you’d come ter visit me again.”
“We were just about to,” Ron says. “Listen, Hagrid, have you seen Harry?”
“Harry? No, not since ye last were here cleanin’ up.” He looks suddenly stricken at their expressions. “Why?” he demands.
“Nothing,” Ron says, quickly.
“He’s not missin’ is he?” Hagrid says, anxiously.
“No, Hagrid, of course he isn’t,” Hermione lies soothingly. “But you’ll let us know if he comes by, won’t you?”
“’Course,” says Hagrid, but he doesn’t look assured, his big hands twisting together worriedly. “You sure nothin’s wrong?”
“Positive,” Ron says.
“Good,” Hagrid says, fretfully. “I’d… well, I’d been hopin’ he’d been getting’ a rest, lately. But he never seemed ter… I mean, he’s been a bit, well, not his usual self.”
Ron can’t think of anything to do except nod.
Hagrid bursts into tears. “Poor boy!” he wails, pulling out his big handkerchief and blowing his nose thickly. “Saved the world an’ all, still can’t get himself right! An’ he deserves it better’n anyone—”
Ron reaches up to pat him on the elbow. “There, there, Hagrid,” he says, and he howls again.
“He was so small when I was carryin’ him—when we all thought he was—” he gulps, great, fat tears sliding down his face into his beard. Ron inhales sharply, but doesn’t stop his useless petting.
Hagrid takes a while to calm down, but when they finally leave him, he’s only sniffling loudly, promising them all rock cakes if they come down to his hut later.
Harry is not in the Tower, either; his bed is neatly tucked and a little dusty, and they mope back down to the village, sitting on a bench near the station where the carriages usually pick them up at the start of term.
“Maybe we should just send him a message,” he suggests, dully. Hermione brushes her hair out of her eyes.
“I suppose so,” she says, like she doesn’t truly believe it will do any good. “You do it. I’m hopeless at the spell.”
It’s a mark of how truly upset she is that she would admit this, but Ron doesn’t say anything and conjures his terrier. It takes a few tries, and he doesn’t succeed until Hermione is clutching his hand tightly, resting her head on his shoulder. They watch it disappear together.
It’s beginning to get cold, and after a few minutes Ron pulls his cloak tightly around himself and says, “maybe he just buggered off for a drink to make himself feel better. If I was feeling shite that’s what I’d do.”
“Go and see Rosmerta, you mean?” Hermione smirks, and Ron is about to shove her before her eyes widen and she slaps her forehead with the heel of her palm. “Oh!” she says, jumping up, all the excitement back in her face. “Of course! And he wouldn’t tell anyone—and he’d know some healing magic, too, because of his sister—!”
She sets off at once, marching down into the centre of the village without a look back. Ron groans and follows her, winding through the main street, passing Honeydukes and The Three Broomsticks until they are heading to the outskirts, the Shrieking Shack looming in the distance.
“The Shrieking Shack?” Ron pants after her. “Why—?” but then he catches sight of The Hog’s Head, the gory sign creaking in the wind. “Could have just told me,” he huffs, following her inside.
It’s mostly empty and filthy as ever. When he hears the door swing open, Aberforth looks up from behind the bar, his stringy hair tied back in a loose ponytail. His bright blue eyes flick over them behind his dirty glasses, and then back down at the goblet he’s attempting to clean.
Hermione strides straight up to the bar. “We want to see him,” she says, boldly. Ron hangs back.
“See who?” Aberforth grumbles, not looking at them. Hermione glares at him.
“Come off it, you know who.” Ron snaps.
“Thought he was dead.”
Hermione scowls. “Fine,” she says, and pulls Ron along to the creaky staircase at the back. As soon as they get within a few steps, they are flung back with a loud wham, much as they had been done by Kreacher at Grimmauld Place. Ron jumps up, dusting himself off, feeling the eyes of the few patrons on him. He reaches for his wand and looks around for the elf, but he’s nowhere to be seen.
“Impossible to go up to the rooms unless I let you,” Aberforth grunts. “Can’t just have anyone up there. Might be thefts.”
Hermione thrusts some sickles on the bar. “Then we’ll rent a bed.”
The barman sighs, finally retiring from his task of cleaning the goblet. He leans in. “If he sees you two, he’ll just try and Apparate again,” he says, darkly.
“So he is here!” Ron says, triumphantly.
“Yes, and he’s pretty ill,” Aberforth grouses. “So, unless you want him getting sicker, turn around and get out. At least now you know he’s safe.”
Hermione looks at him like she would want nothing better than to hit him, and Ron wouldn’t doubt her ability to except for the bar in between them. “Fine,” Hermione snaps, and grabs Ron’s wrist before marching out of the bar.
They visit the Hog’s Head every day, sitting at a table just out of sight of the staircase so that Harry won’t see them immediately if he comes down. He never does, but they don’t relent. Aberforth assures them he’s getting better, and they spend the days drinking tea and Butterbeer—because Aberforth forces them to purchase something—and talking or reading.
“It’s like we’re on a date,” Ron comments, when one dusk falls, and Hermione laughs. Her face flickers in the candlelight, liming her forehead and the slope of her nose with gold.
The rest of the Weasleys are mollified now that Harry is not entirely missing. Ron and Hermione refuse to tell them where he is, because Ron has a feeling the charms on Aberforth’s staircase won’t stop his mother, and though this makes her angry, and mutter under her breath when they’re near, she seems far less anxious.
After about a week, they wait outside until the inn officially opens and then enter, approaching the bar. “How is he?” Ron asks, reaching into his pocket and shoving some coins at Aberforth. “Pot of English breakfast.”
Aberforth takes the money without answering.
“How is he?” Hermione repeats.
“Better,” Aberforth says, reaching for two filthy teacups and two even filthier saucers.
Hermione’s eyes are narrowed, watching as he heats the water with his wand and pushes the cups toward them. “He’s gone, isn’t he?” she says, her voice fiercely quiet.
Aberforth grunts. “Couple days ago.”
“What?” Ron yells. “And you just let us sit here?”
“Good for business.”
Ron curses. “Where’d he go?”
Aberforth shrugs, and Ron has to launch himself at Hermione before she pulls out her wand, dragging her out of the bar.
“Oh, I could kill him! I could kill him!” Hermione is saying. Ron doesn’t know whether she means Aberforth or Harry; perhaps she means both.
“I don’t doubt it,” Ron says. “And I’m the one who bought all those bloody cups of tea. Listen—let’s try Grimmauld Place again.”
“He won’t go there, he knows we’ll look there and he clearly doesn’t want us to find him,” she says, helplessly. “But—yes, alright.”
Hermione lifts her wand and does the revealing charm in the doorway again, but it comes up empty. She huffs, and is about to turn on the spot again when Ron stops her.
“Hang on,” he says. “Look.”
He’s pointing to the wall.
“What?” Hermione snaps.
“It’s cleaned,” he says. “There was graffiti on it last time.”
Hermione’s eyes widen. “It could have been Kreacher,” she says, slowly.
“Nah, he gets off on stuff like that,” Ron says. “C’mon.”
They head further into the house. There is an odd, randomly motivated trail of repair; a window fixed here, books neatened there. Hermione and Ron look at each other excitedly before heading up to the master bedroom.
It’s cleaner than the rest of the house, but only just; half of the broken furniture and destroyed objects are shoved into a corner, leaving a tidier space around the bed. Hermione lifts her wand again, muttering under her breath.
“Nobody’s slept here for two days,” she says, sighing.
“But we know he was here,” Ron points out. “Might come back.”
She shakes her head. “Like I said, he knows we’ll come looking for him. My guess is that he stayed here only while he figured out where he was going to go.”
“Yeah, s’pose Kreacher isn’t here, either,” Ron says, ruefully. Hermione sits on the edge of the bed and draws her knees up to her chest.
“This is my fault,” she says, softly. Ron puts an arm around her.
“How’d you manage that?”
“I took his potion from him. I should have just talked to him about it.”
“He wouldn’t have listened.”
“Yes, but—” her eyes fill with tears. Ron hugs her tightly, pressing his lips to her forehead.
She fists his T-shirt. “I was just—I was so scared,” she whispers. “I don’t want to lose him again.”
Ron thinks about the night of the Battle, after Neville had found them, told them he’d seen Harry going into the Forest. How everything had tipped and broke in front of him, like the axis of the whole world had crumbled, like gravity had stopped worked and everybody was just supposed to learn how to deal with it.
“I love him so much,” she says, softly.
He intertwines his fingers with hers. “Me, too.”
“I just wish he’d let us.”
They sit in silence for a moment until Ron pulls her up. “C’mon,” he says. “We’ve got to find him by dinner or Mum’ll have my head.”
They go back to Hogwarts and visit Hagrid again under the guise that they are simply missing his rock cakes. Hagrid is too sweet and earnest to disbelieve them, and much too bad at lying for them to figure out Harry hasn’t been there.
Night is falling by the time they’ve searched the whole castle and head back to the Burrow. “Don’t tell them,” Ron warns Hermione, “we’ll say he’s still in Hogsmeade. Should buy us some time.” She nods, pale.
A few days pass like this. They go to Andromeda’s and tell her the truth; she promises she’ll tell them if he visits but she hasn’t seen him, not for a while. Teddy is clearly missing him, too; his eyes are bright green, and Ron has to look away. They ask around Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron, but Tom assures them he hasn’t seen him, and the goblins at Gringotts have no record of his vault being opened—“Like they would tell us the truth,” Ron complains—and they even go to the apothecary and demand to see the ledger of recent sales of Dreamless Sleep. They can find no clues, no trail to follow, but single-mindedly return to these haunts each day, keeping their eyes open for that shock of black hair.
The worst happens when, one afternoon, they return to the Burrow to find Ron’s room torn apart.
“Bill says the wards didn’t pick him up,” Hermione says, anxiously. “But they wouldn’t have, would they? He isn’t an intruder.”
“His stuff,” Ron says, softly, when they pick through the debris. “All his stuff’s gone—” He sits back on his heels and groans, covering his face with his hands. “The Cloak,” he moans. “He’s got the Cloak. We’ll never find him now.”
Hermione bursts into tears.
She knows, rationally, that she isn’t in any danger anymore, but sitting outside the Head Auror office she still finds herself thinking about the Muggleborn Registration Commission. How many of you, she asks, silently, as workers pass her by, how many of you turned in your friends? Your neighbours?
How many of you would do it again?
Ron rests a hand on her knee, quelling her anxious leg. He smiles at her, gently, and she tries to smile back.
The door to the Head Auror’s office opens on its own, and a paper aeroplane flies out before landing on the receptionists’ desk. He rather reminds her of Percy, she thinks, as he opens it, down to the horn-rimmed glasses and the puffed up chest that suggests he thinks is job is obscenely important.
“She’s ready for you,” the receptionist says, and Hermione enters with Ron close behind. The doorplate to the office reads: Dorothy Lewis.
It’s a big, beautiful office, the high charmed windows reflecting soft, grey clouds and a slight drizzle. The tender drips on the panes have a slightly soothing effect, but Hermione can’t bring herself to be calmed by it. A large brick fireplace takes up most of the right wall with a pot for Floo powder on the mantlepiece. The other wall has a large poster board on it with scowling pictures of Death Eaters and a status below each: captured, loose, dead. The photograph of Bellatrix sneers at her, and she looks away. Dead.
Lewis motions to the two chairs in front of her desk. She’s got a large scar down one of her cheeks, but other than that she is perfectly prim, dark lipstick and her hair pulled tight. Her eyes are small and sharp, and Hermione decides at once that she does not like her. “What can I help you with?”
“Well, it’s—it’s Harry.” Hermione’s hands twist in her lap. “Harry Potter.”
Lewis arches an eyebrow. “I know to which Harry you are referring.”
Hermione flushes but presses on. “He’s… he’s missing.”
“Missing?” Lewis repeats. Hermione nods.
“We haven’t seen him for two weeks,” Ron adds.
Lewis frowns, rubbing her index finger and thumb together.
“We were wondering, Ms Lewis,” Hermione continues, “if—if there were some Aurors who could look for him. Bring him back.”
“And what makes you think he is missing?”
This question silences them for a moment.
“We—we told you,” Ron says. “We haven’t seen him—” but Lewis holds up a hand and Ron falls silent.
“I clarify,” she says. “What makes you think he is in danger?”
Ron and Hermione look at each other. They promised before not to mention the Dreamless Sleep—Harry doesn’t need any more press attention on him, and he’d hate them forever if it got out. After a moment, Ron says, “well, nothing, he just sort of ran off—”
“He is of age?” Lewis asks.
“And he has his wand?”
“And there is nothing to prove he ran away because of any threat to his life?”
“Then, forgive me.” She leans back in her chair. “It seems to me that an adult wizard has simply changed residences.”
Ron’s ears turn bright red. “But we haven’t heard—” he says, loudly.
“Just because he has neglected to contact you does not mean he is missing.”
Ron splutters. Hermione gestures to the poster board. “Please, Ms Lewis, don’t you think there is some risk of the Death Eaters finding him? Don’t you think he could be in some danger?”
She refuses to quell under the look Lewis gives her. “Miss Granger,” Lewis drawls. “In the past year we have found ourselves with a great shortage of Aurors, and especially in the recent month. I’ve heard you are a bright witch; I’ll leave it up to you to ascertain why. We frankly do not have the numbers to let one of our staff abandon the mission of capturing the remaining Death Eaters. Furthermore, it seems to me that the more attention we do give this mission, the more quickly they will be off the streets, and the less danger Mister Potter will really be in. And finally,” she says, “Mister Potter has proved himself to be an extremely capable wizard. No doubt he will find himself perfectly fine if he does happen to run into peril.”
Hermione is clenching her fists so tightly that her nails have started digging into her skin. She finds she is shaking, quietly.
“Anything else?” Lewis says, a little smile at her lips.
“We want to see Kingsley,” Ron says, heatedly. “He—"
“The Minister, Mister Weasley,” Lewis interjects, silkily, “is currently attending a diplomatic meeting in America. You are welcome to contact his personal assistant when he returns.”
“Yeah? When’s that?”
“Three weeks. I’m sure he will look forward to hearing from you then, if Mister Potter has not sent a postcard by that time.”
Hermione grabs Ron’s hand tightly and yanks him out of the office. “You awful thing,” she hisses, as she storms through the Ministry and back to the visitor’s exit. “You just don’t care about him because he’s done what you want, you wicked—oh, come on, Ron, I want to get out of here—this whole place is repulsive, absolutely vile—no wonder they loved Umbridge so much—”
“Dad’ll do something,” Ron says, confidentially, “or someone in the Order. They’ll find him.”
Hermione isn’t so sure, but she doesn’t say anything, just pulls him along faster.
Harry’s disappearance does not remain a secret for long after their visit to the Ministry, and HARRY POTTER MISSING reads the headline of The Evening Prophet that night. There is a photograph of him, too, from when he was much younger so it looks all the more melodramatic. He glares at Ron and Hermione as they read it.
Arthur sighs and Bill leaves to owl the Order. “They’re making him out to be some sort of stupid teenage runaway,” Ron says, offended, as he scans the article. Then he pauses, and says, “well, I suppose he is,”, but he throws the issue into the fire all the same.
“Have you ever met Dorothy Lewis?” Hermione asks Arthur, who nods.
“I’ve never spoken to her,” he says, “but from what I understand she’s climbed the ranks very quickly. I suppose the department wants to look like they can get back in control of the country as soon as possible, and she seems to have the right air for the job.”
“I knew her,” Percy offers. “She was the captain of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad, you know, when I was—” he flushes. “When I worked under Fudge. She ran quite a tight ship.”
“Yeah, I thought she looked like your type,” Ron says. Percy doesn’t look at him but adjusts his glasses.
“She did believe Harry was right, actually. She was the one who kept warning Fudge he would lose his position if he kept on the way he was. Fudge thought it extremely improper, would have fired her if nobody could control the squad the way she did. More to the point, she was a Dumbledore hater for years, so Fudge knew she wasn’t working for—well, for your side. It’s my belief she only bolstered Harry’s cause because she thought it would work well for her later in her career, which it did. She was promoted right when Scrimgeour came into office, into the Aurors, kept her job all through the occupation and was promoted again after Kingsley got the top spot.”
“Well, she’s a right bitch,” Ron says, and Hermione smacks his arm.
“Don’t use that word, Ronald, it’s terribly gendered.”
“Fine. A pain in the arse, then.”
It’s another two weeks before Hermione suggests going to Godric’s Hollow. There’s been no sighting of him at all—there wouldn’t be, with the Cloak—and though they keep checking the usual places every day it’s beginning to feel hopeless. Even the scattered, remaining Order members can’t pin him down, and Hermione feels very angry with herself that she taught him all those spells for protection while they were on the run.
She’s been avoiding going back: she still remembers Bathilda’s body, opened up and discarded like a coat. The snake. Harry, afterward; the first time he’d been through such a bad bout with only her for comfort. And her first ever real glance of Voldemort.
Before Godric’s Hollow, she’d never truly seen him before. She’d heard Harry’s descriptions, tangled with his henchmen, but not once had she seen him in the flesh. She’s a little ashamed to admit how much it frightened her: the distorted, ugly ghost that refused to pass, the white skull and the red eyes that held spectres inside of them. She’s being silly, she admonishes herself. He’s dead, she knows that for a fact, and tries to keep the tremble out of her voice when she suggests it to Ron.
He knows what happened there, can register the fear on her face; she sees it in the press of his mouth and the downturn of his eyes, and she wonders when his emotional range and maturity had progressed so far beyond the teaspoon it used to resemble. But he doesn’t say anything, just takes her hand and doesn’t let go, even when the Apparition is done, and they find themselves safely in an alleyway.
The village is vastly different from her last visit: it’s daylight, for one thing, and summer for another, so that if the place looked picturesque before, it looks tenfold so now. The trees, stick-thin last year, are vibrant, the grass verdant, and there are even posters for a fair. It’s hard to be scared of Voldemort in a place like this, and Hermione finds she isn’t afraid, or at least not as much as she expected to be: everything looks so new and fresh that old memories have no place here. As they pass the war memorial, and it turns into the statue of the three Potters, she wonders how different Harry would have been if he had grown up here. How much more easily he could allow them to love him. If Lily and James would have liked her and Ron; if they would have spent summers in a spare bedroom in the cottage. Her heart aches viscerally for both Harrys, for the one who has been offered endless affection, who understands that he is deserving of it; and the one they are chasing, who believes he is deserving of nothing.
She draws herself up and pulls Ron along to the churchyard. She’ll find him, she thinks, furiously, not for the first time since he left but perhaps the most deeply. She’ll tell him, she’ll tell him everything he’s worthy of, she’ll give it to him, everything she can. A squeeze from Ron’s hand and a look at his expression makes her think he feels the same way.
They’ve come at noon on a weekday, so the church and the graveyard nestled behind it are empty. She leads Ron through the gate, through the maze of headstones until they reach the Potters.
There are flowers laid on the grave: a collection of chrysanthemums, bloomed and white; more than a little wilted, the petals dirtying.
“He was here,” Ron says, excitedly.
“Maybe a few days ago,” she says. “These aren’t fresh.”
“Yeah, but that means he has to come lay new ones.”
They stare at each other for a moment, Hermione’s heart in her mouth. Suddenly, Harry’s absence hits her painfully, nearly cleaves her in two, and the need to see him now nearly has her gasping.
“We’ll hide,” she says, pulling him along the row of graves to the bushes. “And—and I’ll disarm him, so he can’t Apparate, and then we can—”
There’s the snap of a twig, and they whirl round, so sharply that Hermione’s hair smacks her in the face.
“Ron!” she hisses, but he’s abandoned their half-made plan, lunging into the open like something feral.
“Harry!” he yells, and there he is, on the other side of the graveyard, hair long to his shoulders and a week’s worth of beard, Muggle clothes she hasn’t seen him wear before but that are already slightly tattered, eyes unfocused and a little unsteady where he stands, carrying a meagre bouquet of new orchids and his silvery Cloak draped over his arm.
The first thing she thinks is that he’s still on the potion, and then she thinks maybe he’s too drugged to evade them; she draws her wand and cries “expelliarmus!”
Harry ducks, and Ron is running toward him, jumping over headstones like he’s forgotten he has a wand at all.
“Petrificus—petrificus totalus!” If she could just slow him down—
But it’s too late, he’s reaching for his own wand; Hermione sobs, “please, Harry don’t—you’ll be sick, please—expelliarmus, expelliarmus, expelliarmus—”
But he’s gone, and her spells are bouncing off the graves, and she’s sunk to the ground, the wet grass soaking her jeans.
“Fuck!” Ron screams. “FUCK! FUCK!”
They’re lucky, she thinks dazedly, that nobody is around, but then again, she supposes, if anybody passed, it would just look like they had suffered a recent, particularly harsh loss.
“What happens?” Ron asks quietly in bed that night. “When you Apparate on Dreamless Sleep?”
Hermione closes her eyes. “Well, you have a much higher chance of Splinching physically, because you can’t concentrate properly. Like when you’re drunk.”
“Oh.” Ron’s quiet a moment, one arm wrapping around her waist and pulling her back to his chest, the other trailing down her spine, tracing paths through her vertebrae. “What d’you mean, Splinching physically?”
“I wanna know,” he insists, softly.
She sighs. “Well, you can… you can Splinch sort of emotionally, too. Intellectually. Dreamless Sleep affects the brain, the hippocampus, has to shut part of it down in order for it to work. So it isn’t really… it doesn’t come along.”
Ron’s touch stills. “You can Splinch your brain?”
“Not sober. You have to use all your concentration to Apparate usually, so your mind is the first thing in the process, your body second. That’s why you can Splinch physically any time. But if there’s a part of you that’s switched off, that is severed from you on purpose, even temporarily…”
“But—but you can fix it? You fixed me, in the Forest, Healers fix Splinching all the time.”
“You can fix it. But it’s…” she swallows. “It’s very painful to regrow part of your brain. And it’s the part that deals with memory; if you don’t remember it, you can’t dream about it, I suppose. Mostly short-term but if you use the potion for long enough it can shut down long-term, too, which means that after you Apparate you can forget—you can forget everything you’ve left everything behind. And it’s very counter-productive, because getting that part of your mind back involves re-acquisition of the memories, meaning you have to relive everything that you were trying to avoid in the first place… and besides that, the body doesn’t exactly react well to part of your mind missing, just like if you were missing any other organ, so there’s fever and—”
“Stop,” Ron says. His voice is pale, sick. “So… so he could be anywhere, not even knowing who he is? Who we are?”
“He’d have to be using it a very long time for that to happen. And I doubt it would ever get that far. He’d—he’d be in far more danger of just—just not waking up. Really,” she says, suddenly sharp, “it should be much more legislated, it’s ridiculous that you can just buy it over the counter. It used to be, until about two hundred years ago when the head of the Department for Management and Authorisation of Potions and Magical Remedies got addicted themselves.”
Ron laughs softly from behind her, pressing a kiss to the back of her neck, sweet and soft. “Know any more?”
“Well—yes, I suppose. You should know a bit, too, we touched on it in History of Magic.”
“Yeah?” His hands are now stroking at the sides of her ribs, gentle and dream-like. “Remind me.”
“We didn’t go into it really. But I went and looked it up.”
“’Course you did.” He kisses Hermione’s shoulder lightly, and then, unexpectedly, bites at her so hard she gasps, squirming, chasing the suck of pain and writhing from it at the same time, but his grip is suddenly tight, holding her in place until he’s satisfied. “So, how’d the bill pass? If it was only the Department Head who liked it so much.”
“I—” she tries to get her breathing under control, grasping at air with both hands. “I didn’t know you knew so much about how bills are passed.”
“Come off it.” His hands are moving again, one palm snaking underneath her side and sturdy against her stomach, the other crawling under her singlet. “I lived with Percy when he worked for Crouch. I know everything about how a bill is passed.” He palms her breast, now, kneading gently.
“Please don’t mention Percy right now.”
“Why not?” he says, innocently, and she resists the urge to elbow him in the ribs. If she does, he might stop, and she thinks if he does, she’s going to combust. Then again, if he keeps going, she feels like she’ll combust, too.
“Doubt you listened,” Hermione murmurs, her breath hitching as he flicks the pad of his thumb over her nipple.
Fine. If he wants to do this, then fine. “Well. Two hundred years ago, it was actually much easier to get a bill passed, because any Department Head could do it. It was only in 1713 that—that—" His other hand has travelled lower, inching into her pyjama pants. She sucks in a breath. Ron chuckles against her skin.
“This isn’t fun if you’re going to be easy.”
She feels her cheeks flame. “I’m not easy,” she hisses.
“Yeah?” He pushes her knickers aside, strokes up the length of her. “You’re really wet.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. It’s the legal history.”
“Probably.” He pinches her nipple, scratches lightly along her inner thigh. She bites her tongue. “C’mon, Hermione, I wanna know.”
“Why?” she challenges.
“I just don’t think you can do it,” he says, conversationally.
His hand has returned to her knickers again. She pushes her hair out of her eyes and glares at the wall.
“So, until 1713, any Department head could pass a bill, which lead to all sorts of rubbish in the Magical Creatures Department, mostly beca—ah—” He’s slipped a finger inside her, dragging slowly out of her and then back in. Her body is hot all over, little shocks running through her. It’s what she imagines wandless magic to feel like. Like energy humming in her veins, waiting to be commanded, channelled. She clenches her jaw. “Because people could do anything they wanted to whatever creatures they were scared of, ordering—ordering legal killings and—” He lifts her knee with his other hand, pushing it into her chest, and the angle is suddenly deeper and the feeling richer so that she gasps, reaching behind her to grab at his hip. He rolls against her once before twisting his finger, adding another, and she’s making embarrassing little mews from the high point in her chest as she rucks greedily against his hand.
“And?” His voice is low and dark in her ear.
“Gimme a bit more and I will.”
“There was—a law—a law that…” he removes his fingers, stroking up to her clit and pressing down and Merlin she can’t think. “Fuck…”
“A law that fuck?”
“Shut up, shut up—” she’s moving against him insistently, driving forward, can feel the little bursts in her muscles that signal she’s close. Ron dips his fingers inside her again, spreading her wet and messy and then back up, and then everything goes white-hot, licking through her, and she’s shuddering against him. He makes to move away but she says, “wait, wait,” and holds him there as she chases the last of it. He goes still, lets her rub up where she needs and then let go of him.
Ron makes a proud, contented noise from behind her, and she’s too boneless to do anything but let him.