The war isn’t over when it’s over.
Voldemort is little more than a nightmare now, his body dusting in the Forbidden Forest, but the rest of his army won’t have conceded the loss just yet. There will still be Death Eaters at large, there will still be monsters roaming hungrily where monsters shouldn’t be, but their evil King met its checkmate and it’s a downhill fight from here.
Thanks to Harry. Who can barely walk on the way back to the castle, propped up in the circle of Ron and Hermione’s arms, dusky skin too pale, wild hair damp and lank, green eyes feverish and brighter than the killing curse.
“Nearly there,” Hermione is telling him softly. “You’ve done it, Harry, you’ve done so well. We’re nearly there, and then you can rest.”
“Hell, you can check out now if you’d like, mate,” says Ron, with a lightness he doesn’t really feel. He’s counting Harry’s heartbeats, matching his breaths, compiling this proof that Harry came back alive because it’s so much a miracle Ron almost can’t believe it. “I’ll carry you to the castle like a proper knight, and everyone will be too impressed with your victory to take the piss out of you.”
“Ron, honestly,” says Hermione.
Harry’s shoulders shake, the ghost of a laugh, and then the woods don’t seem quite as dark.
The war isn’t over, but it is for Harry. He’s done enough, more than enough, and Ron won’t let him do more. Hermione, leaning in to kiss his cheek with a look of fierce love on her face, seems to agree.
Harry stays on his feet for as long as he can, because they all know that once he’s down, he’s out, and he’ll probably sleep for days. And it will be a fitful, restless sleep if he doesn’t have a chance to reassure himself beforehand that all the people he loves are still alive. Hermione could do with some reassurance herself, really.
Their return goes largely unnoticed. Harry sent a Patronus to the castle to let them know they’d won, the silver stag running ahead of them to deliver the news, so the Hogwarts they step into is busy and bustling and full of chatter as their army shifts its efforts from wartime to relief.
They’re only largely unnoticed because within seconds Sirius and Remus seem to Apparate across the Great Hall. They pull Harry into their arms with such shaken relief that Ron coughs and politely studies his shoes.
“You are most certainly James’ son,” says Remus wearily. “I’ve enough gray in my hair as it is, Harry, without you disappearing for a day-long duel with the Dark Lord.”
“That bloody cloak,” Sirius says with choked vehemence, knowing exactly how Harry escaped their watchful eyes to answer the ultimatum Voldemort had delivered on the castle with a Sonorous almost a full twenty hours ago. “I could strangle Prongs for leaving you that bloody cloak. As soon as we noticed you missing, we knew where you’d gone— I was so scared for you, pup, I’ve never in my life been more scared.”
“Sorry,” Harry mumbles into his godfather’s shoulder, “but I had to—“
“Shut up,” Sirius says without true anger, irritable and fond, “I know.”
The Weasleys are next, and Harry’s face almost crumples into tears when he sees Fred on his feet next to George— that had been the closest call yet, and thank god for the twins’ Defense line of Wheezes, Hermione finds herself thinking fervently, thank god they’d all worn those cleverly Shield-charmed robes into this battle just in case, thank god.
Bill yanks Ron into an embrace that looks like it hurts, one the rest of their brothers pile into as well, and Ginny collides with Hermione a heartbeat later.
Remus peels away after a long while to return to where Parvati is tending lovingly to Lavender’s new scars, and Cedric and Neville and Luna cluster in at that point, demanding to know what Harry was thinking, going off on his own, he scared them half to death, you shouldn’t listen to the wrackspurts, you know. Seamus and Dean are leaning into each other, half-asleep on an out-of-the-way bench, hands tangled together on Dean’s knee. Daphne Greengrass and Theodore Nott and a few of the other Slytherins who snuck back in to aid the fight against the Death Eaters are economically directing younger students in where to bring food and water and potion supplies to aid the Healers. Oliver Wood is busy nearby helping little Colin Creevy drink shakily from a conjured glass of water. Angelina Johnson and Lee Jordan are deep in a discussion with Tonks, the three of them worn out and battered but standing strong.
All around them, their friends and classmates are helping one another with absolute disregard to the house colors on their ties, and Hermione can’t help thinking that this is what the four founders wanted from their school in the first place. Unity despite all odds, in face of great danger, after impossible hardship.
Molly and Sirius are fussing over Harry, Ron and Hermione with an air of great relief that they’re there to be fussed over at all, and through everything Hermione clutches Harry’s hand in one of hers and Ron’s in the other, and thinks of how fortunate she is.
Not lucky. She worked, studied, fought too hard for this to lay it all at luck’s feet. But certainly fortunate.
They go to sleep in Gryffindor tower because it makes sense at the time. Even after a year away, the common room feels like home, and they don’t make it much farther than one of the overstuffed sofas in front of the hearth.
They’re too tired to bother starting a fire or transfiguring the sofa, they just pile onto it together in a tangle of sore limbs and dirty robes.
Crookshanks hops to the arm of the couch and settles there with a throaty purr, Hedwig hoots gently from her perch on the mantle, Pig takes a victorious lap around the room and collides with an armchair in his enthusiasm. Ron has no clue how any of them got here, and not enough energy or higher brain function left to puzzle it out.
“Feels weird to be back,” Ron mumbles.
“A bit,” says Hermione. Her voice is hoarse with exhaustion but the words come rolling out with tired precision, the way a textbook would probably talk, a dry whisper of turning pages. “I almost wondered if I’d ever see the common room again. I planned to sit for my N.E.W.T.s eventually, of course, but not to come back for another year of classes.”
“Of course you did,” Ron says fondly. He, for one, definitely hadn’t thought about school even once during the year he lived as a fugitive.
“I didn’t think I’d get to see either of you again,” Harry confesses in a very quiet voice.
Ron clutches him closer, his grip probably bruising. He thinks of Harry in the Forbidden Forest, making them promise not to follow any farther. Tucking one Hallow into his pocket and draping another around his shoulders, disappearing into the dark, his voice disembodied and already too far away when he said goodbye.
“You can’t get rid of us that easily,” Hermione informs him, much like she did after Dumbledore’s funeral.
Harry makes a soft noise, something between a sob and a laugh— like anything about this has been easy— and then he’s finally gone, heavy and quiet against Ron’s chest, stubborn heart beating I’m here, I’m here, I’m still here.
That certain rhythm of it is the only reason Ron is lulled to sleep, too.
He wakes up again sometime later, senses heightened by living life on the run and with danger around every corner, to a collective murmur of familiar voices.
“Whazzit,” he mumbles, and feels a hand on his hair.
“Hush, Ron,” says Percy. “Go back to sleep.”
The couch rocks a bit and reforms very gently beneath him, into something that feels more like a bed. Someone arranges a thick blanket over him next, smoothing it out carefully. Even with more room to spread out, Hermione and Harry cluster close to him in the middle, and when no one tries to take them away, Ron drifts warily back in the general direction of sleep.
A few people laugh from somewhere above him, and the sound of it is kind. Remus says, “Let’s see that they aren’t bothered, shall we?”
A worthy ambition, Ron thinks, and buries his nose in Harry’s hair before drifting off again.
Harry’s bedroom at Grimmauld Place is open and airy, with a large enchanted window to let in natural light and walls done in warm, muted colors. The far wall is made up of shelves, filled with books and souvenirs and mismatched odds and ends, and there are photos everywhere of his friends, his family, his parents.
There are plenty of guest bedrooms, all of them just as pleasant if much less personal, but Hermione likes to think that she and Ron have earned themselves the indulgence of sharing Harry’s.
Sirius and Remus trade knowing looks now and then when the three of them tumble into the kitchen for breakfast, but they’ve yet to comment.
“Merlin, mate,” Ron says, stretching out comfortably on Harry’s bed, “remember how terrifying your house was four years ago? You lot have done wonders here since then.”
Harry grins. A week after the battle of Hogwarts, his brown skin is back to its healthy pallor, and most of the gaunt shadows are gone from his face.
He’s lovely, Hermione thinks, and leans against Ron’s shoulder to listen as Harry tells the story of when he and Sirius got lost in the wizard space basement and had to send Remus a Patronus for rescue. Hermione has heard this story before, but she’s happy to hear it again.
Especially when the sound of Harry’s bright voice draws Sirius into the room, and the resulting antics are enough to make Harry and Ron laugh for the first time in what feels like a year.
Harry still hasn’t talked about some of the things he had to do when he was alone, those things that give him nightmares and wake him breathless in the middle of the night, but they won’t push if he’s not ready.
And Hermione would listen to the same silly story a hundred times, she thinks, if it meant she could hear them laugh.
The world moves on eventually, as it always does, and survivors build new walls out of the rubble the war left behind. Kingsley makes an impressive, unflappable Minister, and everyone of age who fought for the Order is offered a place in Auror training if they want it.
To the surprise of many, the Boy Who Lived turns the offer down.
He shouldn’t have to justify his choices, but he stands in front of the press and does exactly that. He says he’s had enough fighting, that it was never a life he would have chosen for himself, that he would like some time to himself now to compartmentalize.
“But what will you do?” demands a reporter, as though there’s nothing Harry could devote his time to that was worth more than heroics in the name of the Ministry.
“I never got the chance to sit my N.E.W.T.s,” Harry says implacably, hands in his pockets, a defiant slouch in his shoulders. Not yet eighteen and newly unburdened, his scar a quiet reminder and nothing more. “After that, I might try teaching. One of my guardians, Remus Lupin, taught Defense at Hogwarts in my third year and he was brilliant. If I could be half the professor he was, I’d be alright with that.”
Ron could burst, he’s so proud. The minute Kingsley steps out and they can duck away from the cameras, Ron throws an around Harry’s shoulders and kisses the side of his head with an audible smack.
“You handled those gits like a professional, mate! Knew you had it in you!”
Harry laughs, stumbling, and Hermione says, “I hope you meant what you said about teaching. Professor McGonagall will definitely hold you to it, you know.”
“Unless I fail all my exams,” Harry points out cheerfully, and Hermione’s hair bristles with her indignation until she looks charmingly like a Pygmy Puff.
They spend the rest of the afternoon arguing amiably about classes and N.E.W.T.s and the DADA position at Hogwarts and whether or not someone who survived the killing curse twice could break the jinx on the job.
More than a few people stare and whisper as they go by. But Ron keeps his arm around Harry’s shoulder, and Hermione keeps him talking, and they get home to Grimmauld Place with his smile intact, and that is a victory every bit as important as any other.
When Harry talks about the future, his narrative is very singular. He seems to think Ron and Hermione have plans that don’t include him, that they’re going to get married and raise children and only have him around for dinner or tea a few nights a week, probably because of the comments Molly and Andromeda and the like have made.
It’s terribly presumptuous of them. If someone would only bring it up in front of Hermione, she’d be happy to set them straight once and for all.
On an unremarkable afternoon in early September, Hermione is sitting at a table in the sprawling Black family library, studying a tome on alchemy that was banned about a hundred years ago. Ron is lounging in an armchair with a temperamental book on breaking curses open in his lap, lips moving silently as he reads.
Harry enjoys even their quiet company, and sits across the table from Hermione with a small, friendly snake from the garden that he met several years ago wound around his wrist.
“I’m afraid I’ve gotten used to this,” he says offhand. He’s looking down at the snake, affectionately named Snuffles just to annoy his godfather, so his words have an accidental hiss to them that might be off-putting to a stranger.
Hermione thinks it’s rather cute.
“Used to what, mate?” Ron asks without looking up from his book.
“You know— having the two of you here all the time. I’ll miss you when you leave.”
Hermione says, “One moment,” and finishes copying down her final notes. Behind her, she can hear Ron heave his heavy book shut.
Only when she’s finished, quill set neatly aside, does Hermione look up, fold her hands, and ask, “Do you want us to leave?”
“No! Of course not, I didn’t— you’re welcome to stay for as long as you like,” Harry says quickly. Snuffles is rearing up to look at Hermione across the table, tongue flicking as he scents for the source of Harry’s sudden distress. “I just— wondered what your plans were.”
“I’m writing mum again,” Ron says sourly. “And if she says one more thing to you about me or ‘Mione getting married, I’m sending a Yell Bell.”
Hermione smiles at the very thought. Yell Bells are the twins’ own patented version of the classic Howler, and they’re a hundred times more obnoxious on sheer principle.
Harry looks nonplussed by the turn this conversation has taken. There’s something wary in his green eyes that Hermione hates to see. She reaches across the table for his hands.
“Our plans and yours need to match,” she says patiently. “Wherever we’re going, we’re going together. And I’m certainly not getting married, I’ll tell you that right now.”
Hermione isn’t sure she believes in the constitution of marriage. A bonding ceremony between the three of them might be appropriate, though, when they’re all much older. She’ll have to research those, or maybe ask Sirius about them. His ceremony with Remus was lovely, after all.
“I mean after that,” Harry says with great caution. “After everything. When you— you know, want to have your own house and your own family— “
Ron appears to lose patience with the world in general. He shoves the ancient book off his lap, gets up and stalks round the table, and pulls Harry half out of his chair for a proper kiss, while the words are still tumbling uncertainly out of his mouth.
Hermione is slightly cross he beat her to it.
“Oh,” Harry says at length, dusky skin flushed, wide eyes like lightning. He darts a look at Hermione, who tightens her hold on his hand.
“Yeah, oh,” Ron says irritably. “Now quit writing yourself out of our lives, you prat.”
“I love you and Ron,” Hermione says with significantly more decorum. “Both of you. And Ron is the same. If this isn’t what you want, we’re happy just to remain your friends. But Harry,” Hermione says, “we aren’t ever going to leave you.”
Snuffles drapes his tail over Hermione’s wrist from where he’s looped around Harry’s arm. Harry snatches at Ron with his other hand, as if to make sure he’s not going to change his mind and duck away.
He’s bright, vibrant, and his voice is so earnest. “I love you, too, both of you. Of course I do. Just— I’ve never— can I have a little time to think about this?”
“Harry,” Hermione says warmly, “that’s the point I’ve been trying to make. We have all the time in the world.”
“Moony owes me money,” Sirius says gleefully when he catches the three of them snogging in the kitchen a month later. “I knew you lot wouldn’t hold out longer than three months.”
“A little restraint in the future, please,” calls Remus from the sitting room.
“Sirius,” Harry moans behind his hands. “Quit betting money on us. Get a real job.”
“Sorry, pup, but the Black family is the most wealthy in the wizarding world. We’re set for life. Embarrassing you is my job.”
But he’s happy for them, Ron can tell.