It took a long time, an embarrassingly long time, before Harry understood that it wasn’t normal. Skyrocketing from pointed insignificance to infamy while navigating an entire new universe would leave anyone clawing for a toehold of comfort. And if he had thought about it in those early years, which adolescents rarely do, he would have called them his one normal thing.
When he first started to consider that intangible ache, on a lonely moor in the freezing cold while they slept inside the stuffy tent, he rationalized it. When people conquer so many perilous things together, it creates a new way of relating. It was no different than a group of soldiers might feel, having been to battle together time and time again. It made sense then, the way that he felt them. The way he felt them at that moment and knew for certain they were both sound asleep. The way he let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding when Hermione entered a room, the way he checked Ron’s face first whenever anything of significance happened. It was to be expected. They were his safe place.
The real moment when everything shifted came with such clarity. And it hurt. The morning sun was shining too brightly through the kitchen windows at The Burrow. Having slept poorly again, he was rummaging through the cupboards for some tea when he felt them in the door way and it startled him. It was only when he turned around that he understood why he had been surprised. Still bleary from sleep, Ron leaned against the door frame. Hermione tucked her body gently against him. Harry’s eyes had fallen immediately upon Ron’s hand, resting on Hermione’s hip bone, holding her in place. Twenty years later, if he closed his eyes, he could still see them, exactly as they had been. The idea that he would never touch Hermione that way, that Ron would never hold him so casually, had slashed into his awareness fully formed. It made it hard to breathe. He had shut the cupboards abruptly and retreated to his bed, muttering excuses, where he stayed for most of the morning. They hadn’t followed him.
He had stared up at the ceiling, angry, blindingly angry at them, at the way they had pulled up another corner in the sacred triangle of their relationship. They hadn’t asked him. They hadn’t even told him. They had wanted and they had done and they hadn’t considered him. He hadn’t any right to expect them to. He wasn’t allowed to expect them to. He rested in that anger. Anger was a good, clean, easy feeling and it kept the other questions away. Those, Harry jammed way back into the box in his mind designated for things too big to want when one had already used up too much luck saving the world and staying alive.
Life went on, and life had been good. There had been Ginny, with her lopsided smile, wickedly subversive humor and her casually efficient way of managing the life they built. He had wanted her. He had loved her and he felt her absence now like a missing limb. Her illness had been brief, and still almost two years later, he found himself incredulous at the reality of a world that did not include the mother of his children.
They had rarely talked about it, but it had always caused Ginny to set her jaw stonily, the way that Harry, Ron and Hermione had pulled into each other whenever life brought stress. He had tried so deliberately to move her to the center of his universe, most acutely in those last long nights that brought no sleep and so much pain. He wondered if she had noticed, ill as she was, but the guilt and the weight of that effort did not stop him from flying to them the moment she was gone.
It had been fate, he told himself, when the cottage next door to Ron and Hermione’s larger one, had come up for sale. It simplified things immensely, not to have Hermione apparating halfway across town to stock his pantry and chide him about his socks on the living room floor. It was easier to make only one stop when bringing the children home from Kings Cross. He only needed to stroll across the walk to check on Ron’s firewhiskey supply in advance of a big weekend match. Ron packed three lunches. Harry cancelled his subscription to The Prophet and The Quibbler and paid the owl at the Weasleys’ window. Hermione charmed his schedule into the family appointment book. When home for the Holidays, children piled into bedrooms like puppies, their feet trampling new paths between the back gardens. Harry still felt the squareness of the relationship sometimes, still felt like an intruder as they settled in for a night and Ron drew Hermione to his side, as Hermione licked her finger to straighten the wayward part in the back of Ron’s hair, but it didn’t hurt so much as it used to. The edges had long since worn down. Life rolled.