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Consequences of Time: Miscalculation

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Harry awoke from the most fantastic dream. He’d lived a whole life, found friends, he was a hero prophesied to save the world from an evil wizard. It had been painful and wonderful and while he kept his eyes tightly shut he could still picture the faces of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, the people who had loved him most in the world.

But Harry Potter wasn’t a hero or beloved or anything special. He was freshly eleven, ripped from his routine by his uncle in fear of letters that wouldn’t stop coming. The pounding that had awoken him echoed through the cabin again as Harry tried to keep his eyes closed, holding onto that wonderful illusion that had felt so real.

Any second now his uncle would be shouting at him to open the door and the last remaining strain of his happy life would be gone. Dudley had awoken and as he scrambled from the couch his foot landed squarely on Harry’s chest, knocking the air out of him and forcing him to open his eyes.

Wincing and out of air, Harry struggled to sit up, his back to the door as with a final loud bang the door gave way, crashing to the ground and the cold, wet air of the storm washed over Harry’s back. Harry was in too much pain to turn around and look at the newcomer and listened vaguely as the door was replaced and a giant came into view.

"Couldn't make us a cup o' tea, could yeh? It's not been an easy journey..."

Harry whipped around, jumping to his feet as fresh tears came to his eyes, stunned at the sight before him. “Hagrid?” Harry gasped despite himself as a warm sensation flooded him at the sight of his friend.

Thankfully he was not overheard by the sounds of the storm as Hagrid came to sit before Harry on the lumpy couch, his beetle eyes assessing him with a warm smile. And it all began again here, with Hagrid, bringing him his first Birthday cake of memory and the promise to whisk him away from the nightmarish home that he’d been raised in and back to the world he’d fought so hard for.

He was too excited to sleep, wired with memories. He knew he should be exhausted. Since Ginny had died he’s hardly slept a night, but his young again body didn’t begrudge him. In the dim firelight, he examined himself. Tiny in Dudley’s hand me downs, it was hard to gauge his body. Indeed he was skinny but in the end, they’d all been dangerously thin. The old aches and pains he’d learned to ignore were gone and even sleeping on the dusty floor was hardly painful, particularly now that he was warm under Hagrid’s massive jacket.

In the morning there would be an owl, perhaps he could use it to send a note to Hermione, no Ron, he decided knowing that it would be less suspicious for him to receive a letter. Tomorrow he would rejoin the world that he’d slowly watched dissolve.  And in only a few short weeks he would again be with his friends, the people he loved most in the world and they would have a chance to right everything that had gone wrong.

 

 

He’d been careful to linger at the station, waiting for the Weasleys to make their appearance so his entrance into their fold would be seamless. He was giddy with the prospect of seeing not only Ron but all of the family he’d so recently mourned, lest of all Ginny. She would be young again, carefree, not the hopeless soldier he’d cradled in his arms as she’d taken her last breath.

In his anticipation, he’d almost missed them and spotted Ron just before he disappeared through the barrier, his hand held by Mr. Weasley. Alarmed at the sight of the senior Weasley, Harry raced over to them.

“Excuse me,” he said to Mrs. Weasley who looked more harassed than usual.

“Hello dear,” She looked at him critically for a moment and then gave her familiar warm smile. “First time at Hogwarts? Not to worry, just watch my son Fred, he’ll show you how to get on the platform.”

Once on the platform, he lost track of them almost at once in the steam clouding his vision. Assisted by Fred and George who too looked more worn than thirteen-year-olds should strictly be, he managed to get the trunk stowed in the compartment as he considered how exactly to bring up their youngest brother. But before he could think of a proper way to inquire about his best mate he was stunned as the twins spotted his scar.

"What's that?" asked Fred, or at least Harry was pretty sure it was Fred, pointing to the scar on his forehead.

"Blimey," said the other twin. "Are you?”

"He is," said the first twin. "Aren't you?" he added to Harry.

"What?" said Harry.

"Harry Potter, " chorused the twins.

"Oh, him," said Harry. "I mean, yes, I am."

The two boys gawked at him, and Harry felt himself turning red. But before he could recover from the shock of being regarded not as a familiar but as a celebrity, Mrs. Weasley’s voice floated from the platform, calling them to her.

Harry made to follow and he scarcely peeked his head back out to determine where the Weasley’s were gathered when he was interrupted by a mass of brown hair flying at him.

“Hermione!” he shouted, nearly knocked off balance as she launched herself at him.

“Oh Harry,” she half sobbed, “I’ve missed you. I was so worried.”

He grinned, squeezing her and painfully aware of how small she was compared to the woman he’d spent the last months sleeping beside. Her hair was long and wild and he looked at her fondly as he set her down.

“Have you seen Ron?” she asked eagerly, peering into the cabin.

“I saw him with Mr. Weasley getting onto the platform,” he told her, grabbing her hand and pulling her from the train. “Which was odd, because he wasn’t here last time.”

“Oh,” Hermione mused, following him and they ignored the whispers already starting as his identity was spread through the platform. They peered around through the steam for a moment before Hermione pointed, nearly dancing on the spot. “There they are!”

Indeed standing twenty feet away was the gaggle of redheads. Percy, already changed and with his Prefect badge predominately displayed on his chest, was striding towards his family. Harry and Hermione crept behind him cautiously.

“Something’s wrong,” Hermione whispered when they were still too far away to hear what Percy was saying.

Harry, unsure of what she meant, looked more carefully. Ginny was standing several feet away, examining a cat another student had in a cage and talking to her. The twins were teasing Percy now about something as Mr. Weasley looked at them but oddest of all was Ron, holding now onto his mother’s hand and gazing around the platform with a dazed expression.

Unnoticed by the family Harry and Hermione slid over, looking hesitantly at Ron who still hadn’t spotted them.

“Ron?” Hermione asked quietly, gripping Harry’s arm painfully.

His reaction was immediate, snapping to look at her with full attention.

“Hermione,” he said, relief flooding his face. “Oh blimey I thought-“

His eyes were wet but whatever he’d been thinking escaped him as he looked up fearfully at his mother.

“What’s going on?” Harry asked him in a low voice.

Ron’s eyes snapped to him, “Something’s wrong,” he whispered, tugging at his arm to free it from his mother’s grip. “Hermione I-“

“Oh hello dears,” Mrs. Weasley said, turning and smiling at them as she tightened her grip on Ron’s wrist. “Can I help you with something?”

She had a warm smile but like the rest of her family looked rather worried about something. Ron looked at them helplessly.

“What’s wrong with Ron?” Harry burst out without thinking.

“How do you know Ronnie?” she asked suspiciously, drawing him closer to her side.

“We just,” Harry faltered, looking between her and Ron and then to Hermione who was staring at Ron in horror as he seemed to lose interest in the conversation and was again looking around the station as if he’d never seen it before. “Ron.”

At his name, he snapped back to attention and resumed trying to free himself from his mother. “We’re owl-pals mum,” Ron explained. “Remember, those letters I got?”

“Oh,” Mrs. Weasley said, her expression clearing and she finally loosened her grip long enough for Ron to make his escape. “I’m very sorry to say dears but Ronnie won’t be going to Hogwarts this year.”

“Ron?” Harry asked in a quiet voice, looking to Hermione who was now biting at her bottom lip. “What’s going on?”

Ron’s face was full of desperation as he stepped closer to them, speaking in a voice so low Harry could barely hear him. “I don’t know what’s happened, but I can’t seem to stay, stay-“

He trailed off, his face morphing again and looked at Harry as if he was a stranger.

“Ron,” Hermione whispered, tugging at his arm and he snapped to attention once more. “Focused.”

He considered her for a moment before nodding. “Yeah, that must be it.”

For the longest time yet he looked at them desperately but Harry couldn’t think of a single intelligent thing to say. Mrs. Weasley interrupted them once more, walking over and she gripped Ron’s shoulder. “We’re hoping Ron can start at Hogwarts next year, isn’t that right dear?”

“Yeah,” he nodded eagerly, giving a backward glance at his mother. “Hopefully we’ll be able to sort this out by next term, I’ve already improved loads.”

Harry and Hermione shared a look, conveying the same thought. If this was improved, only able to focus for a few seconds at a time, how bad had he been?

“I’m going to try and keep up with classes,” Ron said brightly, wary of the look on their faces. “That way I can start first thing as soon as this is sorted out.”

“What do they think is wrong?” Hermione asked in the same low voice.

Ron glanced up at his mother who was looking critically at her husband who was in conversation with Mrs. Longbottom and oblivious to Ginny trying to sneak on the train with her brothers. With a sigh directed at him, she turned and Ron spoke hurriedly to them.

“They’ve no idea. When I woke up, it was like a picture was playing, you know like that time we went to the cin-a-ma? Only, I couldn’t look away from it.”

“A movie?” Hermione asked critically.

Ron made a noise of frustration.

“A movie of what?” Harry asked.

“Of what happened before,” Ron said in a horrified voice. “Everything, all at once. It doesn’t make any sense and unless I try really hard it doesn’t stop. It’s like there's all these voices inside my head, it’s so loud and-“

Overwhelmed he stopped and after a moment had a serene sort of look on his face, staring off into the distance.

“Ron,” Harry said softly, reaching out to grip his arm.

Ron came back to them, his eyes wet and gave another frustrated sigh. “It was all real, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Hermione assured him quickly. “It was real.”

For a moment, nothing else seemed real aside from the two of them, standing beside him and he gripped at Ron’s arm tighter as Hermione’s hand found his and Ron’s at the same time. He stared at the both of them, memories of everything they’d endured washing over them. Hermione seemed to be having her own battle as she stared miserably at Ron.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to him and he gave her a smile that made him look much older.

“It’s not your fault Hermione,” he told her firmly. “We would have died if we’d stayed there.”

“But-“ she tried and he shook his head.

“You two are alright, yeah?” he asked of her and she nodded. “Harry’s alright.”

And though he was standing right beside them, touching them, Harry felt as if he was eavesdropping on a private conversation.

“I’ll figure out a way to fix this,” she told him fervently. “As soon as we get back to the castle, I’ll start working. With the library then I’ll be able to re-write the spell and we can try again.”

For a moment Ron looked hopeful and then he shook his head decisively.  “This is bigger than me Hermione, bigger than us. Don’t worry about me and focus on what we came here to do, find a way to end this.” For the first time, he glanced over at Harry and said to her in a serious voice. “You know what our job is.”

“We can’t do this without you,” Harry cut in. “It’s like you said, it has to be the three of us.”

Ron gave him a grateful smile, looking at him hard. Mrs. Weasley was coming back with Ginny in tow and Ron glanced over his shoulder nervously, stepping away from them both and their hands fell back to their sides.

“Send me your homework will you?” Ron said in a louder voice as his mother was clearly trying to listen in on them again as she approached.  “I’m going to try and keep up with classes.”

“Ronald Weasley,” Hermione snapped, her hands flying to her hips. “I would never do such a thing, it’ll do you some good to try and learn something.”

Harry avoided Ron’s eye as Hermione looked more like her eleven-year-old self than she had all morning.

“Worth a shot.” He grinned, allowing his mother to take his hand again. His smile faded after a moment as he got a far off look.

“Ron,” Harry muttered, not knowing quite what to say.

“Save it, no need to get emotional,” Ron said seriously. “Just, write to me won’t you? I’m sure Hogwarts is going to be much more fun then whoever I’ll be stuck doing.”

“Not likely,” Harry said quickly as Hermione sniffled. “I’ll have to do all my homework and everything without you around.”

Ron grinned at him. “Don’t forget, it’s levi-o-sa, not levi-o-sa. And don’t try and go after any trolls or anything.”

Hermione looked at him, her eyes swimming and he yanked away his hand to hug her. “Keep him safe. Don’t either of you go sneaking off alone.”

“I’m serious,” Ron continued as he let go of Hermione and put his arms around Harry. “If you don’t keep your eye on her then she’ll run off and battle fluffy on the first night.”

In his mind’s eye he could picture all too clearly waking up one morning to find Hermione with a triumphant smile and the stone gripped in her hand. The train whistle caused them to break apart and they all stared at each other as around them students called their goodbyes and rushed off onto the train.

“We’ll write to you, we promise,” Hermione told him as he gestured them towards the train.

“I’ll write to you,” Harry agreed. “Hermione promises.”

They all chuckled as Ron gave them both a shove and they jogged over to the train. “See you soon!” he called, waving as his mother gripped his hand once more, preventing him from following them.

It seemed impossible to board the train and watch from the window as Ron raced away from them, tears running unashamedly down his face. With a tightness in his throat, Harry settled into his seat, thinking on his last words. A year wouldn’t be so impossible after everything they’d been through, and after all, their first year was surprisingly adventure-filled.

Chapter Text

“We need to write it all down, make sure we’re not forgetting anything,” Hermione said determinedly, not even giving herself time to mourn before opening her trunk and pulling out a quill and parchment. “While it’s still fresh.” 

“What?” Harry asked weakly, unnerved by familiar faces walking past, gawking at him as if he were novel. “Why?”

“We’ll only know the future if we make the same future,” she told him already lining the parchment with dates. “We don’t want to alter the timeline until it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Hermione,” Harry said patiently. “What’s the point of traveling back in time if we don’t alter anything?”

“We will,” Hermione promised him. “But why would we alter things this early on?”

It was only later that Harry thought to counter this with pointing out that their timelines were completely destroyed anyway as Ron wasn’t there.

It made the first weeks at Hogwarts rather miserable as Hermione refused to talk with him outside of class and Harry feared to befriend anyone else as he might say something to tip them off. His only solace during those first few months-aside from Quidditch— was in Ron’s letters, the only thing Hermione would ever speak with him about.

Most people have owl pals when they’re young. Ron wrote to him, easing the concerns Harry had yet to voice. Mum hasn’t looked into it and if she does then we can say that Hagrid connected us, he was always friendly with Charlie you know.

“That’s well thought out,” Hermione said from beside him where she was reading over his shoulder at the breakfast table on the first morning.

“You sound surprised,” Harry commented, not turning to look at her for fear she would run away.

“Ron does have his moments,” Hermione answered with a grin and after a moment her face fell. “I miss him.”

Harry didn’t know what to say to her. He never had. Before he could think of a proper comment to comfort her she’d already vanished.

 

 

Worse than Hermione’s self-imposed exile were the nightmares that wouldn’t seem to stop. Being back in the castle, alongside his classmates who had laid down their lives in a sacrifice of a war that was never won was taxing. It was hard to talk to them, harder still to look at them when he could still so clearly see their fates. He knew it was affecting Hermione too, her eyes lined with bags and on the occasions that he’d wander to the common room after a particularly bad nightmare he would find her there too, sobbing silently or else working furiously in a notebook she wouldn’t let him see.

In the end, it was Harry who had to make a snide comment about Hermione after they were paired in charms class for the lesson on wingardum levosia.  He tried the most ridiculous pronunciations and wand movements he could to make Hermione laugh and ended up getting assigned extra homework for showing off.

But once he’d trapped and then rescued her from the troll they were free to publicly resume their friendship for which Harry was very grateful. It made even doing homework better as he was with a friendly face, though Hermione insisted they spend far too much time in the library to his liking.

Still, Harry relished in returning to his home, the familiar castle and classrooms, the feel of the wind in his hair as he rode his broom again and the companionship of his housemates, teammates, and classmates. Even the Slytherins were a welcome sight in a way. Young, carefree faces lined with baby fat, yet to age rapidly as their world disintegrated around them.

Malfoy was as arrogant as ever, flaunting his name and blood status as if it entitled him to something. Harry did his best to ignore him, to let his comments wash over him with no interest but found at times his digs to insufferable not to reply.

“Harry,” Hermione hissed, catching his sleeve. “He’s just a child, don’t rise to his level.”

Harry shrugged her off but, with one final burning look, followed her away. He couldn’t help himself. Though armed with the memories of twenty-two years, sometimes Harry found himself acting precisely like an eleven-year-old, thinking of ways to get Malfoy in trouble as if disgracing the eleven-year-old was the most important thing in the world.

 

Without Ron, their first year passed with alarming speed. After only a minor debate about the merits of maintaining the timeline or exposing Quirrell for the school to see, Harry, Ron, and Hermione determined their best course of action was to retrieve the Sorcerer's Stone themselves. To align with his previous findings, Harry stayed at the castle over his break and sought the mirror of erised. He found himself trembling as he approached the plain mirror, eager as any young child would be to see his parents, perfect as they smiled at him.

When he could finally tear away his eyes from the sight of the parents he’d never gotten to know, he was surprised to find the room filled not with the ghosts of long-dead relatives he’d never known, but instead of those still living. All alive and whole, smiling at him eagerly and waving. Sirius and Lupin stood off to the side, arms around each other, laughing and Harry was not the least surprised to find Ron and Hermione, older than their current forms but, without the blemishes of the war to come.

He sat there for hours, looking eagerly at the faces of people he’d yet to know again and wondering, just as Ron had when he’d first shown him this maddening device, if perhaps, should everything go as he’d planned, this could be his future.

 

The tasks designed by accomplished wizards were alarmingly easy the second time around, their only real difficulty in mastering the chess game even with careful coaching from Ron. The term ended with Harry and Hermione heroes to the school and so Harry returned to Privet Drive to eagerly await Ron’s rescue and looking forward to a summer beside his best friend.

 

 

Despite all of the progress Ron had made, it still wasn’t enough to warrant admission into Hogwarts for their second year. He was now able to maintain his focus for almost an hour at a time, eagerly sharing with Harry the spells that he’d learned, the research he’d done independently of them of various artifacts known to the wizarding world.

His work had been impressive and it was difficult to reconcile the memories of the Ron he’d grown up alongside with the Ron who only at the age of twelve had a sense of maturity that Harry didn’t possess. The letters he wrote to Hermione that summer were long and tender. Never inappropriate, but certainly more sensible than the writing of a twelve-year-old strictly should be.

Comparatively, it was jarring to see how immature he seemed with his mother and siblings, rolling his eyes when asked to do chores and teasing Ginny with the twins at how she avoided Harry like he was the plague.

It was harder to return to Hogwarts than it had been to leave it, knowing that Ron would be forced to remain outside of the castle walls. He wrote to them with increasing frequency so that almost daily they were bombarded with owls carrying his opinion on what they should do when Ginny became possessed by the soul of the man who would destroy their lives one day.

Harry, more than the other two, was torn on what to do. The idea of putting Ginny, young and red-faced every time he approached her, through such horrible treatment was almost too much to bear. Ron sided with Hermione in that they shouldn’t be messing with the timeline until absolutely necessary.

For the same reason we decided to keep Quirrell a secret, there’s no good argument in exposing the diary. Particularly when it will draw attention to ourselves.

And there was the other consideration that Harry couldn’t argue with. Whereas, somehow their strong relationship with Ron had never been suspect, but two second years suspecting their friend’s sister’s diary to be possessed would absolutely shine more light on them than they needed.

Ginny will never become the person we loved if she doesn’t experience the diary. It will be painful but she will recover and teach her a lesson that nothing else could.

With Ron’s blessing and steady encouragement, they’d allowed Ginny to continue with the diary, forced to watch as she faded from her bubbly self to a withdrawn, haunted first year with hardly any friends. The juxtaposition of her as a first year with the popular fifth year that Harry had fallen for was painful. Still, they debated and maintained that the only course of action was to continue to allow Voldemort to take over her until the time came that Harry could emerge a hero.

It gave more time to plot how to expose Lockhart, which they ultimately accomplished by enticing one of Aragog’s children into the school and letting him loose in the Great Hall. The other teachers, once the student’s safety was ensured, looked on with amusement as Lockhart cowered in front of the massive spider until, ultimately, McGonagall was able to neatly shrink the slider to the size of a teacup and capture it in a pitcher with a lazy wave of her wand. There was no returning from the public humiliation and, ultimately, he left the school disgraced but still able to maintain his status by writing his own attack pieces, his interest in Harry rivaling Rita Skeeter’s.

Despite her efforts, Hermione was not able to convince them that she needed to be petrified in order to achieve the same outcome.

“If we’ve decided that Ginny can be put in danger, why shouldn’t I be?” Hermione asked crossly when she tried to craft a new argument.

“It’s not about putting Ginny in danger, Hermione,” Harry argued. “It’s about keeping it a secret. What’s the benefit from you being petrified?”

She fumed, and mouthed several comments but ultimately kept herself out of danger while the other muggleborns were attacked and accompanying him down to the Chamber of Secrets to face Riddle together.

 

 

Their third year sparked more debate among the trio than ever about the best course of action. Given the opportunity to save his Godfather and expose the person responsible for his parent’s murder, it took all of Ron and Hermione’s efforts to convince him that saving Sirius now would ruin the little advantage they had against Voldemort and the war to come.

Ron was practical in his arguments. He argued that they’d returned to end the war, and they couldn’t do that until they discovered all of Voldemort’s Horcruxes and by not allowing Wormtail (who’d been given to Harry as a ‘gift’) to escape, Voldemort would never return.

It’s too early to alter things mate. Ron wrote to him in every letter. Hermione’s right, we have to keep our advantage for a as long as possible.

Hermione, however, had a secondary motive. She rarely spoke with him about it, but Harry knew that she spent much of her free time trying to find a way to perfect her spell, solve the reason behind the alteration of Ron’s mind. With the time turner exponentially expanding the amount of time she was given, it wasn’t uncommon for Harry to see a dozen of her all over the castle whenever he checked the Maurader’s Map.

“You have to stop,” Harry snapped at her one evening when he tried to approach her in the library for the help with his charms homework that she’d promised him only for her to look at him with a bewildered expression. “How many times do you go back a day? You’re going to get caught.”

“I am not,” Hermione said shortly. “I did it for a full year, attending two or three classes at a time and no one noticed then. They aren’t going to think anything seeing two or three of me running around.”

“Hermione,” Harry said in a low tone.

“I’m not you Harry,” Hermione answered, already turning back to her work. “People don’t pay attention to me.”

“This isn’t about that,” Harry said.

“What’s it about then?” Hermione asked and when he didn’t reply finally put down her quill to look at him.

“It’s impossible to have a conversation with you,” Harry told her. “I talk to you about something and I can’t come back to you with it because more often than not it’s a prior version whom I haven’t spoken to yet.”

“I know this is frustrating,” Hermione with a soothing tone. “But I’m getting done what would have taken me months otherwise.”

“And what are you trying to get done Hermione?” Harry asked of her. “What was the point of coming back if we aren’t even going to change anything?”

Hermione glanced around the library check if they were being overhead and Harry rolled his eyes. “I’ve already cast Muffilto Hermione. What is it that's so important?”

He glanced down at her work even as she tried to hide it from him and he managed to snatch a piece of paper from under a stack. Keeping it from her grip he glanced over it, long lists of number and spells that were far from his frame of knowledge. “Hermione, what is this?”

She flushed, and he allowed her to take it from him and shove it into her bag. “It’s nothing.”

“It looks like the calculations you did before,” he said accusingly.

Hermione looked up at him as if she were about to argue, but after a long moment tears flooded her eyes.

“Don’t tell Ron.” She requested in a small voice.

“Why wouldn’t I tell Ron?” Harry asked, confused as he dropped into the chair beside her.

“He told me not to,” she said quietly. “At the train station.”

“Hermione, I’m sure that he was just trying to make us feel better about going to Hogwarts.”

“No, Harry, you don’t understand,” Hermione said miserably. “Ron doesn’t want me to fix the spell, he’s insistent that it’s our job to-“

She broke off in confusion, blinking at him as if she’d almost spilled a secret.

“Job to what?” asked Harry.

“Never mind,” Hermione sighed, wiping the tears from her eyes and closing the books. “Let’s look at your essay-“

“Hermione,” he interrupted. “Why wouldn’t Ron want you to fix the spell?”

“Ron thinks we should focus on the Horcruxes rather than going back again,” she said in a chocked voice. “Oh, but Harry, how can I when I’m the one that’s done this to him?”

And before Harry could even process what she’d said, Hermione had broken into tears and it was all he could do to wrap his arm around her comfortingly.

“It’s my fault that he can’t function properly, I know it is.” She wailed, “There’s something wrong with my calculations and if it hadn’t been for me then he wouldn’t be like this.”

He waited until she stopped her rambling before letting out a small chuckle, withdrawing his arm from around her. “Hermione if it hadn’t been for you then we’d all be dead. And no, Ron’s not here, but he’s alive and finding out more about artifacts than we did in five years.”

It seemed both of his friends had matured more than he and it gave Harry pause. They’d come back to give themselves an upper hand and Harry had done nothing himself to prepare for the oncoming battle.

“You think I should fix them, don’t you Harry?” Hermione asked eagerly, drawing him back to the conversation.

And how could they not want Ron back? It was a foolish question that needn’t be asked.

“You intend for us to go back again,” Harry said as her meaning dawned over him. “Don’t you? That’s why you don’t want to change anything, you’re just waiting for a time to go back?”

Hermione blushed but didn’t contradict him.

“It has to be the three of us, Harry,” Hermione said quietly. “How can we possibly defeat Voldemort without him?”

Harry didn’t have an answer. Even with all of the extra time that they’d been given Harry felt less prepared than ever to take on Voldemort.

“Think about it Harry,” Hermione continued as he looked around the library at all of the books he’d ignored, filled with knowledge that had to be useful. “This could just have been a test run, now that we knew we can do it, I can fix this and with Ron, we can dedicate ourselves to finding the Horcruxes.”

Her voice was desperate and he was too stunned to argue with her.

“You’re right,” he said softly, focusing his eyes back on her. “I think you’re right.”

She beamed at him and even though her face was red and splotchy she looked happier than she had in ages. “Don’t tell him yet, but I know I can figure this out.”

“Alright,” he agreed, glancing around the library again and trying to formulate a plan. “Hermione, do you think you could help me study?”

“Study what?” she asked of him, her eyes suspicious.

“I dunno,” he admitted, feeling flushed. “Just, I shouldn’t be wasting this time. Defensive spells, spells for battles, something useful.”

Hermione paused and for a moment looked lost in thought. When she turned back to him she was positively beaming, “Why don’t you work on your essay? After I can make you a list.”

Chapter Text

Harry had almost entirely forgotten his nerves for the first task until he stepped out of the tent and spotted not just the twins and Ginny sitting with Hermione in the stands, but Ron who wore an ecstatic expression as he cheered Harry on. Something in his stomach twisted at the sight of his best mate, something joyous and painful all in the same moment. When Harry landed on the ground, egg tucked under his right arm, Ron and Hermione were the first at his side, crowding the tent before Madame Pomfrey could even treat his wounds.

“You were brilliant mate!” Ron shouted, gripping Harry’s uninjured shoulder. “Absolutely brilliant!”

“Thanks,” Harry gasped, a strange sensation filling him when Ron’s hand made contact with his bare skin.

“You did great Harry!” Hermione squealed, throwing her arms around him causing Madame Pomfrey to abandon her attempt to properly heal him. Being there, with the both of them at his side made Harry’s heart feel lighter than air. Neither of them let go as they went back out of the tent for Harry to receive his score and their cheers were almost deafening in his ears.

The stands were empty by the time Harry and received his instructions for the next task and exited the champions tent for a final time. Ron and Hermione were waiting for him with Mrs. Weasley and Charlie, examine the fireboat Ron had taken out of the tent for Harry. They rushed over to him as he emerged, Mrs. Weasley reaching him first and gave him a bone crushing hug.

“Oh Harry,” Mrs. Weasley cried, letting go of him only once the others had caught up. “I was so worried when Ron told me what had happened. How could Dumbledore have let this happen?”

“Strange how many things Dumbledore lets happen,” Harry said darkly so that only Ron and Hermione could hear him. They both grinned.

He shook Charlie’s hand. "Brilliantly done Harry. Wood always said you were a better flyer than me, but I always thought he was taking the piss.”

“Charlie,” Mrs. Weasley admonished but he merely grinned at her.

“Mum, we can stay for dinner, can’t we?” Ron asked eagerly. “Hermione said they’d show me around the castle.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Mrs. Weasley said anxiously, reaching out to fret over him.

Ron gave an anguished look to Harry and Hermione for help. Harry stared back helplessly, not wanting him to go so soon. They hadn’t even had a chance to talk and Harry knew it’d be months before they saw each other again.

It was Charlie who saved them, “Come on mum, I’ll take you to dinner in Hogsmeade, we’re not taking the dragons back until it gets dark.”

Harry was certain Mrs. Weasley was going to protest again, but she seemed unable to say no to the hopeful look on Ron’s face. She gave a resigned sigh and nodded. “Oh, alright then,” she agreed, “But you’ll meet me in the entrance hall at seven o’clock sharp.”

Ron hardly seemed to hear her as he looped his arm with Harry’s and they set off as if waiting around would cause his mother to change her mind.

After putting up Harry’s broom and sending off a quick letter to Sirius detailing what had happened, Harry, Ron, and Hermione found themselves wandering an upper floor of the castle, waiting for enough time to pass to return to the common room for the celebration.

“Shame you couldn’t come for Christmas,” Ron commented sounding put out.

“What? Why can’t I?” Harry asked, wondering why, when he’d managed the previous year to gain an invitation to the Weasley’s for part of the holiday, and the Granger’s for the other.

“The ball?” Ron reminded him.

Harry groaned as he remembered with acute accuracy how painful it’d been to muster up the courage to ask someone to go with him. “Don’t remind me. Who am I going to ask?”

Ron let out a laugh and then glanced at Hermione who looked put out.

“You want to go to the ball with me?” Harry asked, feeling rather stunned as his heart fluttered with something he couldn’t name.

“Who else did you think I’d go with?” Hermione asked in a fond voice even as she rolled her eyes. “You are my husband after all.”

Harry didn’t know how to respond. Yes, they were bound by a marriage spell, but it had been during a different life, a different time and had never been about love. And had she meant something more by acknowledging their previous commitment, she wouldn’t have done it in front of Ron who was still laughing at Harry.

“Come on then,” Hermione said, looking peculiarly at Harry. “Fred and George set up a party for you Harry, they should be ready by now.”

Harry felt put off. Didn’t they agreeing to go to the ball together deserve more attention than a casual exchange? Obediently he stood, trailing behind Ron and Hermione as they began to bicker about something, hand in hand on their way back to the common room. He’d seen them hold hands plenty of times, but something felt different about watching them do it at fourteen.

Seeing them together now made him feel lonelier than ever and for the very first time, it occurred to him that once this was over, should it ever end, that they would be together and he would be alone.

During their hunt for the Horcruxes, Harry’d never given much thought to his romantic life. After their first year on the run, his pining for Ginny had seemed pointless. He’d watched through longing eyes as Ron and Hermione’s relationship shifted but, Harry had never once wanted to intervene. Rather, he found himself wanting to be apart of their warmth, in the middle of their changing affections towards one another.

 

 

 

Even though Harry wished he could have spent the holidays with Ron and Sirius he found himself rather looking forward to the ball. The entire castle seemed rather festive and the students were in good spirits, gossiping about who was going to the ball with who and whether or not it meant something based on how they were asked. Harry was simply looking forward to spending time with Hermione without needing to talk about homework or the tournament. Hermione had gotten much too serious about the next task and Harry had never been as good as Ron as calming her down when she was stressed.

“You alright Neville?” Harry asked as they got ready in their dormitory.

“I can’t get this on right,” Neville mumbled as he patted down his mangled bowtie in an attempt to get it to lay flat. “I told Gran I couldn’t manage one.”

“Give it here,” Harry told him, taking it from him and looping it around his neck. “Look up then.”

“I heard you’re going with Hermione,” Neville said conversationally.

“Er-yeah,” Harry answered.

“I asked her, but I swear I didn’t have a clue-“

“It’s alright Neville,” he assured him.

“-That you were going out.” He finished.

“Er-,” Harry said in surprise and for a moment he forgot what he was doing. “We’re not. Going out that is.”

“Oh, from what she said it seemed,” he trailed off, looking down at what Harry was doing with a frown.

“What did she say?”

“What? Oh, I just got the impression it was something more.” said Neville, “And you two are always off spending time alone.”

“Yeah,” Harry said stupidly. “We’re not together or anything. Just friends.”

But that same something that had clenched his stomach when he’d trailed behind Ron and Hermione holding hands on the way back to the common room was back. And it was only made worse when they went down to the common room to find Hermione, dressed in silvery robes and chatting with Ginny as they waited.

“You look nice,” Harry said and he found himself not even looking at Ginny as Hermione beamed at him.

“And you,” she said back and then nodded at Neville who had followed Harry down the stairs. “The both of you do.”

“Sorry,” Neville said to Ginny, checking his watch. “Harry had to help with my bow tie.”

“That was very kind of you,” Ginny said to Harry, blushing. She waited, looking at Harry eagerly and when he didn’t say anything to her forced a smile and said, “Shall we get going then?”

 

Dinner would have been enjoyable had they not been seated next to Percy who seemed determined to fill Harry and Hermione in on every nuanced aspect of his new position as Mr. Crouch’s Personal Assistant.

“Isn’t it odd that you haven’t heard from him at all?” Harry couldn’t help but ask when he ignored Harry’s fourth or fifth attempt to end their conversation and get Hermione’s attention back to him.

“Mr. Crouch been sending me very detailed instructions,” Percy said, oblivious to the look of warning Hermione was shooting at him. “He’s having a well-earned, quiet Christmas. I’m just glad he could have someone to rely on to keep his place.”

Harry opened his mouth to get in another dig but was silenced when Hermione hit his leg with her foot and gave him a pointed look. Their less than ideal dinner company wasn’t enough to dampen Harry’s spirits and found much too soon to his liking that the dinner portion of the evening was over meaning it was time for he and his fellow champions to start the dance floor. He managed not to trip over his robes as Hermione lead him to the dance floor and they spun in a small circle, arm's length apart.

“Want a drink?” Harry asked of Hermione as the first song ended and the crowd broke into applause.

“Oh, alright,” Hermione said in surprise, sounding a little disappointed but followed him off the dance floor never the less as the Weird Sisters struck up another, faster-paced tune.

Harry found himself rather nervous, even as they sat down at an empty table and stared out at the couples dancing. The night drug on and with every song Harry felt more and more strongly that they should be doing something other than sitting side by side, commenting on peoples outfits. He spotted Ginny and Neville jumping around with the twins and their dates but when he went to ask Hermione if she’d like to go and join them when they were approached by a tall, handsome looking boy from Dumstrang. He looked smugly at Harry as he approached Hermione.

“May I have this dance?” he asked, offering his hand.

Hermione glanced over at Harry and then shook her head. “I’m alright, thank you.”

The boy looked briefly disappointed, but turned away, muttering something to his friend who’d been waiting with a fifth year Hufflepuff girl Harry didn’t know the name of.

“You can go if you want,” Harry told her. He felt like bad company, not knowing why he felt so badly himself as he watched the other couples dancing together.

“No,” Hermione said, a note of longing in her voice. “That’s alright.”

He’d never felt more fourteen and at that moment and was reminded strongly of Ron who’d had such a poor attitude at their last Yule Ball. Hermione didn’t say anything more, crossing her legs and sighing. Harry could feel her glancing from the couples to him and he thought he knew where her thoughts were. Another song ended and applause filled the room before a slower song started. People were pairing off, couples looping their arms around each other once more.

Harry swallowed his bitterness and stood, offering his hand to Hermione. “Come on, you might as well have one decent Yule Ball experience.”

Hermione brightened at once, accepting his hand with a chuckle and he lead her to the very edge of the dance floor. Hermione guided his hand to her waist and placed her hand on his shoulder as their fingers intertwined. They spun in a small circle as the intertwined couples around them relaxed. Harry noticed feet away that Angelina had her head resting on Fred’s shoulder and he was grinning down at her with red ears.

He looked back down at Hermione who was smiling at him and Harry wondered how he’d never exactly noticed how pretty she was. Her smile was dazzling and her eyes were sparkling in the fairies’ light. They stared deeply into one another’s eyes and Harry couldn’t think of a time they’d ever been so close uninterrupted. Her breath was warm on his cheek and she smelled like toothpaste. When Hermione had found the time to brush her teeth was a mystery.

The song seemed to stretch on for hours, days even as they moved in their slow circle with no agenda. For the first time in a long time, Harry found himself not wanting. He found he could have been perfectly content if the song never ended if they never had to part from one another.

He was finding it hard to swallow and was on the verge of asking Hermione if she wanted to get a drink, or perhaps go outside where it might be cooler but she had chosen that moment to step closer to him, unlacing their fingers and putting both of them around his shoulders. Her hands were cool on his neck and Harry felt himself sweating as he placed his trembling hand on her waist.

Her eyes slid shut as they swayed on the spot, unaware of any of the couples around them. The music could have stopped entirely and Harry wouldn’t have known. She smelled herbal and minty and so like Hermione and Harry was reminded of the weeks they’d shared a bed in Dumbledore’s home. It had been miserable, watching her dying and recover only to find Ginny and lose her so fast. Harry had relished in being able to be there completely for her and Ron, not having to part from them and being allowed to comfort them as they’d cried.

On impulse, he ducked his head to get a better whiff of that memory and found her lips just a fraction of an inch away and before Harry could register what he was doing he was pressing his lips to hers. At first, neither of them moved, skin pressed against skin and then, his eyes slid shut as her lips parted and his began to tingle.

She was a rather good kisser. Harry had never spent much time thinking about Hermione kissing, but Hermione was good at everything so he wasn’t surprised that she had mastered this skill too. Particularly when she’d been kissing Ron and Harry had always been positive, given the way Ron savored sweets, he’d be an excellent kisser too.

It was as if he’d been doused in a very warm bath, hit with a cheering charm, felix felicis coursing through his veins. He was lost in the moment, drowning in the sensation and wondering why on earth he’d never thought to do this before and—

Reality seemed to occur to them at the same moment.

Harry’s eyes opened to find Hermione staring at him blankly. She hadn’t pulled away and they stood there, lips just parted, staring at one another. He waited for her to say something, anything, but for the first time in years, she was at a loss for words. Harry came to his senses all at once, jumping away from her in shock. She stood there, arms still raised comically to the place where he’d been standing and stared at him without emotion.

Before she could come to, Harry began to back away and only when he had knocked into another couple did he turn and darted up the hall. She’d recovered much faster than Harry would have liked and could hear her calling his name as he made good use of his seeker’s skills to weave his way towards the double doors leading to the entrance hall. He couldn’t look at her, shame spreading through his gut at what he’d done.

“Harry!” she called as Harry darted out the doors into the courtyard, hoping to disappear into the hedges. “Harry, please!”

He made the mistake of glancing back at her—when had she gotten so fast?—and found her just feet behind him with a deeply concerned look.

“Please, just leave me alone,” he called back pathetically, his face burning with shame as he set down an aisle, hoping to find it abandoned.

“Harry, please, we need to talk about this.”

“I don’t want to talk,” he said.

“Harry, please slow down, I’m in heels!”

He paused without thinking, taking pity on her and his hesitation was long enough for her to make up the time he’d gained. She came up alongside him and clutched his arm, panting. He knew he should be issuing an apology but couldn’t find the words to cover his embarrassment let alone look at her.

“Harry,” she breathed uncertainly.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean too, I didn’t know-“ the words seemed to spill from him but he managed to stop himself even as the ending echoed through his head.

“That you didn’t know what?” she pleaded.

He looked at her and it occurred to him all at once. “That I had feelings for you!”

The words burst out of him before he even had time to examine the notion for himself. Hermione blinked at him in surprise.

“I’m the worst person,” Harry went on, “After everything that’s happened I just had to mess everything up. What was I thinking? Falling in love with my best mate’s girl.”

Hermione blinked at him in shock, her eyes wide and Harry could feel his face growing impossibly hot in embarrassment. He waited for her to slap him, to scream at him, to react with appropriate outrage for what he’d just revealed.

“I’m not your best mate’s girl.” She finally whispered.

“What?”

“I’m not your best mate’s girl,” she said again with more confidence. “You act like I’m some piece of property but I’m not, Harry. You’re my best friend. It’s not Ron and I and then you on the side, it’s the three of us.”

“What do you mean?” he asked and despite himself, he felt hope. “Do you have feelings for me?”

For the second time that night Harry found Hermione at a complete loss for words. She stared at him and he could almost feel her brain working.

“Forget it,” he muttered finally, eye growing wet in disappointment.

“No, Harry wait!” she said, clutching his arm again before he could run. “Merlin, you just sprung this on me, I haven’t had time to figure any of this out.”

“You either like me or you don’t-“

“Of course I like you,” she snapped, “Harry, I love you. Of course, I love you, how could I not after everything that has happened?”

And the conviction she spoke with caused him to stop and he waited as she stood there, processing, her nails digging his arm so he couldn’t flee.

“I don’t know,” she admitted finally, looking up and meeting his eyes. “I don’t know how to make this work Harry, I know how Ron feels, and-“

Ron. Their balancing act. The person who Harry would miss the most. The only person whom Harry loved as much as the girl standing beside him. The reason he’d never so much as explored his feelings for Hermione. And though Ron wasn’t physically standing there, Harry suddenly felt as he had so many times, on the outside, watching their innocent touches and wishing he could experience the love they felt for each other. Unconsciously he stood a step back from Hermione who looked deeply disappointed.

“It’s alright,” he managed in a rough voice. “I get it. You two have waited a long time for each other.”

She’d been teetering on the edge of tears and his words sent her over the edge. “I just miss him so much.”

“I know,” Harry murmured and when she stepped closer he put his arm around her on reflex in the same way he’d watched Ron so so many times before.

Hermione began to softly cry and hid her face against his robe. He stood there, unable to help to revel in how soft her skin was under his hand, how warm she felt pressed up against him, making him forget the chill of the winter’s air. He waited as her sniffling subsided, wishing the moment could go on for forever and he’d never have to let her go.

“Hermione,” he whispered, struck with the questions that had been nagging at him for so long. “Did you and Ron ever—I just mean, were you ever together? Before Dumbledore’s house?”

She tilted back her head but did not step away. “We always said we couldn’t, it would distract us from what we were there to do.”

Harry let out a hollow laugh. “I know know what you’re talking about. We spent years just wandering around. I’m sure you could have found the time to snog with plenty of thought left for Horcruxes.”

Hermione gave him a funny look. “Harry, our job wasn’t to find the Horcruxes, that was your job.” She paused. “Our job was to protect you.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked. “When did you decide that?”

“It’s what we promised Dumbledore,” she told him. “After the third task, when you were still in the hospital wing. We went to Dumbledore’s office and he waned us that things were changing and asked if we still planned to stay by your side—which of course we agreed—and we swore we’d protect you at all costs.”

Harry felt dumbfounded and loosed his grip. How had he never been told?

“Ron and I, we agreed to protect you no matter what. We never did anything because we thought it would make you feel on the outside.” Hermione was speaking very quickly, nervous at the look on his face. “That’s not to say we never did anything, I mean we kissed a few times and I know you saw us holding hands, but we agreed not to do anything because we didn’t want to make you feel-“

She stopped, taking a deep breath. “It’s always been about you Harry, keeping you safe has always been our top priority.”

She didn’t say it with regret or bitterness and somehow it made it all the more worse to hear. All those years they’d not been together because of him and now he was attempting to step in-between them. He’d heard them, in bed at Dumbledore’s home and all those times in the tent when they got too close. After. When all this is over. They’d said it like a prayer, their own I love you, over and over again, a promise of a day he was taking away from them.

“I’m sorry Hermione,” Harry said decisively as her words washed over him. “I shouldn’t have put you in this position.”

“You haven’t put me in any position, Harry,” Hermione assured him. “You told me you have feelings for me and I-“ she paused, biting her lip and added quietly. “I have similar feelings for you.”

“But we can’t,” Harry said with less conviction. His heart seemed to be beating rather fast.

“Not until I talk to him,” she agreed softly.

“Talk to him?” Harry asked and despite himself, his heart soared. “What, are you going to end things with him?”

“No, of course not,” Hermione said quickly. “But, I think if he understood how I was feeling then maybe…”

“What, we’d share you or something?” Harry asked her, but the thought wasn’t as off-putting as his tone suggested.

“Would that be so bad?”

For a long moment Harry thought on it, wondering, should Ron agree, what it would be like to share Hermione with him. Watching them as they kissed goodnight, sending her off with him. Would they share her in every sense? Or would she simply split her time between them, ghosting their relationship whenever the third was around? The latter seemed a rather lonely, unsustainable option. Neither seemed a solution Ron would be open to. Not when he could have Hermione all to himself.

“Harry, it can’t just be you on your own,” Hermione continued when he didn’t answer. “It’s always been the three of us and it’d be really unfair of Ron and me to pair off and leave you all alone.”

“If you need to run off-“ Harry began automatically but Hermione cut him off before he could finish the thought.

“I don’t mean like that,” she said firmly. “I mean, just romantically. Ron and I talked about it you know, how strange it would be for you to try and find someone else, explain what we’ve been through. Even more so now when you’d have to explain a whole life that we’ve lived before.”

She was right of course. Even Ginny, whom Harry had thought he would gravitate towards much younger seemed like a stranger to him.

“How would it work?” Harry asked in spite of himself, thinking for a moment how natural it had felt to sleep beside them both, how safe.

“I don’t know,” Hermione admitted, brightening at his question. “But we can’t just ignore this, and we can’t not tell Ron. It has to be the three of us.”

The three of us. The phrase they were always throwing at him.

“The three of us?” He pressed with a somewhat suggestive tone.

“I just mean it won’t do if we start keeping secrets from one another,” Hermione said, flushing again. “If any of this is going to work we have to tell each other everything.”

Chapter Text

“Mrs. Weasley!” Harry managed in surprise as he entered the chamber off of the great hall after breakfast on the morning of the third task. “Ron!”

He hurried forward and was pulled into a familiar, bone-crushing hug.

“When they said my family I didn’t-“

“Well, of course, we’d be here to see you through. Hogwarts champion!” Mrs. Weasley beamed, finally letting him go.

Harry turned to Ron who wore an equal, wide grin. Ron was nearly bouncing on his heels, teeming with excitement. He threw his arms around Harry in a friendly hug. Behind him, Bill was leaning against the fireplace, his eyes vaguely in the direction of Fleur and her family who were talking in fast French. He offered Harry a hand as Fleur threw back her hair and offered them both a dazzling smile.

“We were planning on coming for the last task,” Ron explained. “But I couldn’t…” he trailed off, looking embarrassed.

Harry nodded, unsure of what to say. While Ron was no longer the dazed boy that had frightened Harry on the train station, he was still a far cry from the man Harry had known in their previous life. Unpredictable with his emotions, and still too often going into a trance, Harry had too often witnessed Ron losing a grip on reality entirely and staring off into space, his face flickering through the emotions of a scene Harry wasn’t privy too.

“Anyway,” Ron interrupted the uncomfortable silence between the two. “How was the ball? Has Hermione been okay?  You’ve been looking after her, yeah? With exams and all?“

 

They spent the morning wandering the grounds, Harry and Ron catching up on the newest developments at Hogwarts and listening to Bill and Mrs. Weasley’s tales from their own time at Hogwarts. It was so wonderful, being back on Hogwarts Grounds with Ron that Harry nearly forgot the brewing tension between him and Hermione when it came to Ron.

Since the Yule Ball, they’d been careful to avoid talking about their feelings but Harry noticed that Hermione no longer went out of her way to disprove the rumors of their romantic relationship.

“There’s no point Harry,” Hermione said when Harry had tried to subtly bring it up, wondering himself if it marked a change in their relationship. “People are going to think what they want.”

“And if it gets back to Ron?” Harry challenged.

“I don’t think it will,” Hermione said tensely, “Besides, it’ll just hurry the conversation we need to have anyway.”

They’d decided to wait until the summer, where they could all be together and have a conversation at length about what their romantic future looked like.

Hermione was so pragmatic about the future of their relationship that Harry found it difficult to argue with her. She’d sit close to him, and didn’t protest when he put his arm around her just as he never protested when she linked their arms or squeezed his hand. Orbiting around what was to come still, never entering concrete agreements about what they wanted.

As it always seemed when he was with Ron, the day rushed past and too soon they were heading back into the castle to get ready for lunch. Ron and Harry separated from Mrs. Weasley and Bill under the pretext of going to wash up in order to meet with Hermione before rejoining the party.

They met with her coming out of the History of Magic Classroom, her nose in a stack of notes as she always did after exams to determine what she’d missed.

“You’d think the second time around she’d have a little more confidence,” Ron muttered to Harry with a smile and a shake of his head just as Hermione spotted them and her face lit up.

“Ron!” she shouted, in the closest thing to a squeal Harry had ever heard from her, launching herself at him. “I didn’t know you were coming, why didn’t you say anything!”

“Wanted it to be a surprise,” Ron said, a pleased smile on his face as he set her down.

“I can’t believe you’ve been here all this time and I’d had to miss it because of exams,” Hermione said, dodging his attempt at a kiss by pecking his cheek.

“Hermione Granger,” Ron said in mock admonishment. “Wanting to skive off on exam day.”

“I think that's the first time we’ve ever to outrank school in Hermione’s mind.” Harry teased.

“She wasn’t talking about you Harry,” Ron quipped, raising his eyebrows in a mocking way and leaned in for a second time to kiss Hermione.

“Not here,” Hermione said quickly to him, avoiding Harry’s eye. “Anyone could see us, Ron.”

“Oh, alright,” Ron said, looking slightly put off but righted his smile when Hermione slipped her hand into his, placing him in the middle of the trio. “Have you decided what you’re going to do about the cup?”

Harry hadn’t come to a final decision, and it had been the subject of a term long debate between the three of them. He’d been convinced, finally, by Hermione that he needed to take a portkey at the end of the tournament in order to put Voldemort back into power as not to deviate from their original timeline.

While he disagreed that it was still too early to begin altering the timeline, just as he’d been when Hermione refused to turn in Petegriew and allowed him to escape again, he understood their hesitation to do anything more. Instead, the debate had turned into whether or not he should take Cedric with him or save him from an untimely death.

“I think I’m going to do it alone,” Harry said in a low voice as they approached the great hall. “No, really, Hermione,” he said before she could interrupt. “Just me going will be proof enough that something’s gone wrong. Dumbledore always said it was a matter of time before he came back, and Fudge isn’t going to be convinced either way. Why send someone to their death?”

Thus far Harry had felt useless, forced to watch again and again as all of the terrible things kept happening. He didn’t want to admit, either to Ron, Hermione or even himself how much Cedric’s death had changed him. By saving him, perhaps Harry thought that it would be enough to change the course of fate.

Hermione opened her mouth again to argue but Ron spoke before she could. “I think it’s the best plan.”

“I still think we should wait until later to start diverging from our original timeline,” Hermione argued. “It’s not that I want Cedric to-“

“Want Cedric to what?” Fred interrupted, coming up behind them and squeezing between Ron and Hermione so they were forced to separate.

“Win the tournament?” George continued, flanking Ron’s other side. “Better not, we’ve got good money on Harry.”

“So don’t let us down,” Fred finished with a wink to Harry.

“When did you get here?” George asked of Ron, steering them all into the Great Hall. “We keep telling you that school is overrated.”

“You should be taking more advantage of being the only child at home,” Fred said. “Not trying to sneak into classes.”

“You try being home with mum all day and tell me I’ve got it better off,” Ron answered grumpily, shoving off his arm. “Besides, I’ve got a meeting-“

But they were interrupted again as Ginny peeled herself away from her friends and ran over to greet her family. “Ron, you didn’t tell us you were coming!” she said brightly, pushing Harry further away from the nexus of their group.

While Harry greatly enjoyed the company of the Weasleys, he rather wished that he, Ron and Hermione had been given more time alone before they’d been separated. Still, it felt like being back at the Burrow with all of them there, laughing and talking about exams. In the afternoon they took a long walk around the castle, talking to and about the portraits and before Harry knew it, it was time to go and change for the final task.

It was to Harry’s surprise that Ron decided to accompany Harry back up to the Gryffindor common room and instead promised to meet with him outside of Hermione’s classroom. Harry hurried up to change into robes Fred, George and Hermione had enhanced with shield and various other charms to help protect him in the maze. Ron wasn’t waiting for him and Harry grew steadily more alarmed as he waited for his friend.

It was only when the exams had begun to let out, the halls filling with sound that Ron appeared, breathless and looking quite pleased.

“Where have you been?” Harry demanded as Ron fought his way over.

“I’ll tell you later,” Ron whispered as Hermione joined them and they were unable to talk for fear of being overheard as they made their way down to the great hall for the evening feast.

Though there were more courses than usual, the feast passed with alarming speed and before Harry knew it Dumbledore rose to his feet and was directing the champions to depart for the quidditch pitch.

Harry felt his mouth go dry as Fred thumped him on the back and Harry got to his feet. He glanced over at Ron and Hermione, sitting side by side and they gave him over-wide smiles. Harry looked across the hall to where Cedric was separating from Cho. Cedric flashed him a handsome smile as he began to walk towards the doors, clasping hands with supporters along the way.

On impulse, Hermione stood, wrapping her arms around him and kissed his cheek.

“Good luck Harry,” she whispered in his ear so only he and Ron could hear, “I know you’ll make the right choice.”

Nervously he looked to Ron, who nodded at him, gripping his arm for a moment.

“Save him, Harry,” he echoed in a low voice. “Just win a victory for Hogwarts.”

 

But he couldn’t stop him.

In the moment, his leg aching painfully, Harry struggled to stick to his original plan and couldn’t figure out a way to reach the cup before Cedric without his assistance. The moment he’d heard rustling from the shadows of the graveyard Harry had tried to disarm Wormtail but the cowardly wizard had been too fast and Harry’s wand flew from his hand just seconds before green blinded his vision and Cedric fell lifeless to the ground.

Harry had failed. His first opportunity to prevent a needless death, to secure life for the third victim of the second war. His whole body felt numb as he watched the proceedings unfold around him, unable to find emotion as those who’d escaped the ministry’s wrath appeared to serve their master once more.

I could kill him now Harry thought to himself as he was let go from the statue prison and dropped painfully onto his leg. I could end this right here. But even if he’d managed the power he needed to vanquish Voldemort it would only be temporary. His soul was still tethered to this life and Harry only knew of four of the Horcruxes with two still alluding him. He forced himself to maintain a steady head as he stood, brave in his duel against the most powerful dueler of his generation.

It was like watching his own memory in the pensive, horrible as his parents and surrounded him and Harry covered Cedric’s body with his own in order for the portkey to take them both back, back to the school that should have protected them, into the middle of a crowd that in a few short weeks wouldn’t believe him.

Harry couldn’t find it in himself to protest as the fake Moody drew him away. Vaguely he was aware of being followed and was not surprised when he glanced to find Ron and Hermione hidden behind him. He tried to wave them away, not wanting them in danger after the horrible scene he’d witnessed but

Tonelessly he told Barty Crouch Jr. what had happened, feeling a need to get it out, for someone to know the horror he’d been through. Again and again, he walked through what had happened. He could have summoned the cup, could have left Cedric behind, could have done a hundred things differently to prevent this end.

Ron and Hermione had been wrong to insist they not deviate from what they knew. What was the point of returning only to witness it all again?

 

The hour spent in Dumbledore’s office, reliving again what had occurred in the graveyard was perhaps the most painful hour of Harry’s life. He wanted nothing more than to be alone with Ron and Hermione, to assure himself that they were alright and that no undue harm had come upon them. Still, he sat obediently as he recounted his tale to his Professor and Sirius whom Harry was scarcely happy to see.

He felt no emotion as he spoke, mentally counting down the minutes until he could be back with them. It wasn’t until he spotted them, just packing nervously just inside the hospital wing doors that it came crashing down on him. All at once Harry felt completely drained and wanted nothing more than to talk with them without prying eyes. Instantly Ron and Hermione surrounded him, wrapping their arms around him in comfort.

Without waiting for permission they guided him to an empty bed where a fresh set of pajamas were laid out for him. Harry was trembling so violently he was grateful as they stripped him of his shoes and robes, Hermione only turning around long enough for Ron to help him in and out of his bottoms. It was only when he was fully changed that they moved to step away and let Madame Pomfrey fuss over him. Harry felt a bubble of fear at them leaving his immediate sight and gripped at them.

“I couldn’t save him,” Harry whispered to them in a frantic voice and they pulled closer. “I tried, I tried to get to the cup on my own but my leg-“

“It’s alright Harry,” Hermione said soothingly, pushing back his hair from his sweaty brow.

“You did everything you could, mate,” Ron assured him, gripping his shoulder.

“What if we can’t do anything?” Harry asked. “What if we can’t change anything and this was all for nothing?”

Ron and Hermione shared a worried look, confirming Harry’s fear at once. They’d been so focused on not changing anything, waiting for the right moment so that their impact would be significant, Harry hadn’t even thought to ask whether it would be possible at all. All of their debates, every lengthy discussion about when to strike had been pointless.

“It’s just going to keep happening,” Harry continued, his voice rising in pitch as his heart rate spiked again at the prospect. “There’s nothing we can do, it’s just going to keep happening.”

They were grouped so tightly that Harry could feel their breath on his cheeks and when he began to cry both of their arms wound around him. Harry’s face pressed into Ron’s shoulder as he sobbed, their hands running up and down his back as they whispered comforting words into his ears.

Helplessly he gripped at them, protesting when Madame Pomfrey approached his side again and tried to pry them apart. Her words sounded jumbled, didn’t make any sense.

“Take the potion,” Ron told him in a funny voice and Harry looked up to find tears racing down his cheeks. “It’ll help.”

Harry looked down to find a vial of dreamless sleep potion gripped in his hand and though he

“Promise me you won’t leave,” Harry whispered, taking the vial from Ron’s shaking hand.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Ron assured him, unstoppering the potion.

“We’ll have to go and meet with Dumbledore,” Hermione whispered to him, so low that no one else could hear. “But we’ll be right back, we won’t leave you, Harry.”

Obediently he drank half the potion in one gulp and instantly felt his body relax as it filled him with a comforting warmth. Vaguely he was aware of Ron guiding him down to the pillows and one of them removing his glasses gently. There was a momentary moment of panic and when he tried to sit up again, he felt Ron’s hand on his shoulder and Hermione’s fingers weave with his.

“It’s going to be alright,” Ron’s voice said from far away. “Go to sleep, Harry.”

And Harry obeyed.

 

Chapter Text

Harry had never thought he would willingly stay at Privet Drive, but for once Harry was glad to return to the home he’d hated. It gave him a break from the endless pitting faces of his peers and the anxiousness of his professors.

Witnessing Cedric’s death for a second time had been so much worse. He had known, Harry had known what was coming and he should have done more to stop it. His dreams were endless scenes of battle, bright green curses flying at those whom he loved. Duels that never ended. A war that was never won. Going back in time was supposed to be a blessing, but thus far it had only been a curse.

When the dementors came Harry felt a momentary sense of relief, knowing he would soon be rejoining his best friends before he remembered the conversation that was to follow. In everything that happened, he’d almost forgotten about his admission of feelings to Hermione. It seemed like a lifetime ago that they were swaying to the music in the great hall, her arms around his neck and the feel of her lips against his. Thinking of what was to come was a welcome distraction, even though every time he fantasied of kissing her again of her scent in his nostrils and her hand in his he would soon be overwhelmed by guilt over the betrayal of their best friend.

Long before the disastrous third task, Hermione had proposed utilizing the summer to talk to Ron about what had transpired. Try to come to an agreement on how to proceed. Harry didn’t see a solution which ended with all of them happy but he wouldn’t say no to Hermione trying. If anyone could make them work it was her. Harry was glad he didn’t have to be apart of these initial negotiations.

In the week that stretched while he was waiting for his guard to arrive, Harry found himself dreading what was to come. He didn’t want to face Hermione, to hear that she’d failed and that anything beyond strictly platonic affection would have to cease. But, as it always did, the more he wished for time to slow the faster it went.

Before he knew it Uncle Vernon was announcing their departure and Harry packed his things in silence. Cold and miserable Harry dismounted his broom in front of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, and then he was being hugged by the only mother who had ever loved him before he was ushered upstairs to face the reason behind his anxiousness.

“Harry!” Hermione shouted, launching herself at him the second he’d walked in the room.

This was a good sign, he thought as he hugged her, breathing in her scent until the contact ended and he had to let Hermione go.

Beyond her, Ron was staring at him with an unreadable expression. Harry looked to Hermione for guidance on how to proceed. Had she cowered out and not told him? Something in the room certainly felt changed and Harry decided she had confessed herself to Ron when her cheeks turned pink and she returned to Ron’s side.

“How are you?” Harry braved his mouth rather dry.

Ron studied him for another moment before his lips turned into a thin line and he crossed his arms over his chest.

“Hermione’s told me you’re in love with her.”

So there would be no warm greeting, no chance to explain himself.

“Ron,” Hermione gasped out in surprise. “That’s not what I-“

“What, were you just waiting for a chance without me?” Ron continued, ignoring Hermione’s protest.

“Ron, you said you were okay,” Hermione urged. “You said we could all sit down and talk about this.”

“Yeah?” Ron snapped, still glaring at Harry. “Well, it seems I’ve changed my mind.”

Unsure of what to say and not trusting himself to speak Harry threw his trunk to the foot of his empty bed and crossed his own arms.

“You don’t even have the courage to admit it?” Ron went on when Harry hadn’t responded, his voice rising. “You’re supposed to be my best mate!“

“I am your best mate,” Harry insisted, “It’s not like I was waiting for you to leave the room, you’ve been gone for four years and—”

“Gone?” he roared. “Gone? Do you think I chose this? You think I prefer not being able to think straight for more than a bloody hour because of some shoddy spell work?”

“Shoddy spell work?” Harry gasped. “You weren’t tricked into coming back. It was all of us, we did this together!”

“I didn’t know what the bloody hell was going on, I was grieving for my sister.” Ron pointed to himself and then jabbed his finger at Harry. “The sister, by the way, that you were supposed to be in love with.”

“I-I did love her.” Harry stammered. “But she’s not the person I fell in love with, and that’s beside the point. We made this plan together, you agreed-“

“You waited until it was too late for me to make a decision. Part of me wonders if you two would have never told me if I hadn’t asked.”

“Ron,” Hermione begged but neither of them paid her any attention.

Ron shook his had. “This is what you’ve always done. You come up with these plans and then expect everyone else to go along with it.”

“What are you on about?” Harry snapped.

“You make decisions and if we don’t agree with you then you act like we’re in your way.” Said Ron.

“I make decisions with the both of you-“

“Maybe now,” Ron answered, “Maybe in this life, you actually let us have some input but it hasn’t always been that way. You’re the one who decided to save Cedric, you sprung it on us and didn’t give us any time to make a plan.”

“So what, I was just supposed to let him die?”

“That’s not what I’m saying-“

“Then what are you saying? What’s the point in coming back if we’re just going to have to witness it all over again?” Harry asked of them. “I tried to tell you I wanted to save him but neither of you wanted to go along with the plan. And what about at the end of this year? I’m just supposed to let Sirius die?”

Ron and Hermione shared an uneasy look.

“I’m just supposed to let Sirius die?” Harry repeated incredulously.

He couldn’t believe them. Couldn’t believe that they’d possibly even consider it.

“We don’t want to see Sirius dead but we’re here for a reason Harry,” Ron said in a flat tone. “And what have you done to get us any closer?”

Harry glared at him, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You aren’t the only one who lost people in the war, I lost my whole family and I’ve been working like hell to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Ron said. “And what have you done?”

“I’ve been training,” he muttered in defense

“Oh, Hermione’s told me all about that.” Ron rolled his eyes. “What, so you’ve read a few books? Learned how to fiddle your wand a bit better.”

“You can’t be serious,” Harry said, rounding on Hermione. “You can’t actually think-“

Hermione turned pink. “All I said was I thought you could put in a little more effort-“

“A little more effort?” Harry screamed. “In case you two haven’t noticed I’ve had my hands a bit full this past year with the tournament.”

Ron’s hand swiped the air dismissively. “Oh, so you had to dedicate a few hours to flying around a dragon and going for a swim and-“

“And witnessing Voldemort’s rebirth!” Harry interrupted. “And watching someone die. It hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park.”

“And what about the other months you spent trying to seduce my girlfriend?”

“I wasn’t seducing her,” Harry muttered.

“You ask her to the Yule Ball-“

“-You told me to-“

“-And kiss her in front of everyone! And then the both of you keep it a secret from me for months!”

“What, should we have put it in a letter?” Harry asked, “Had a great time at the ball, hope you enjoy the pictures. PS: We kissed, please let us know your feelings at your earliest convenience?”

“This isn’t a joke.” Ron hissed.

“Then what’s your solution?” Harry roared.

“That I live in a world where my best mate doesn’t betray me!” Ron shouted back.

Harry panted with the effort of screaming and stared at Ron’s balled up fists. His mind was spinning, trying to come up with a response but at the same moment, they both seemed to realize that Hermione hadn’t spoken in quite some time. They turned to look at her only to find silent tears running down her cheeks, her hands pressed over her mouth. She was trembling with the effort of silently crying and her wide, unblinking eyes darted back and forth between them.

“Hermione?” Harry said tentatively and Ron glared at him again.

Harry could feel his temper rising once more. Was he now not even allowed to ask his best friend how she was?

Ron reached out a comforting arm but Hermione shook her head and took a step away from him. They both watched her, waiting and with a great effort, she removed her hands from her mouth and began wringing them together.

“It has to be the three of us,” she murmured in such a quiet voice that Harry almost missed it. They both began to shout things and their words were lost in the noise. Hermione sobbed loudly and then repeated herself. “It has to be the three of us.”

Harry and Ron both stared at her, waiting for her to clarify what she meant.

Hermione didn’t and instead began to walk towards the shut door in a sort of daze. It was only when the door was almost pulled closed behind her that she added in a whisper, “If it’s a choice between losing one of you or loving neither of you then the only solution is the latter.”

There was a ringing silence and before either of them could begin to respond two loud pops announced the arrival of Fred and George, Ron’s older brothers.

“Ah Harry, I thought I heard your delicate tones,” Fred said.

“What’s happened a lovers quarrel?” George joked and when they both glared at him he raised his hands in surrender.

Vaguely Harry listened to Fred and George’s banter as they went on to explain their inventions and what they’d learned from their extendable ears. As they spoke, Harry found himself sneaking glances up at Ron. For the first time, Harry could remember, Ron did not once have a dazed look on his face. Instead, he sat on the bed opposite Harry’s with his arms folded across his chest and an angry look trained at Harry.

“Why’s Hermione crying?” Ginny asked sternly the moment she entered the room, looking between both Harry and Ron. “What have you lot done?”

“Nothing,” they muttered in unison and Ginny huffed, her arms on her hips before addressing her brothers.

“They won’t work, mum’s put an imperturbable charm on the door.”

It had gone as bad as Harry could have imagined. He almost wished Ron had hit him, it would be easier that way. Maybe the hit would have knocked him to his senses. Harry had been foolish to ever allowed himself to think that Ron would somehow be happy and supportive of his feelings for Hermione. He wished he could turn back time and make it so this never would have happened. The irony of this thought was not lost on Harry. He had been given the gift of being able to turn back time and this was the mess that magic had created.

“Hermione hasn’t chosen me,” Harry said hotly as soon as they were alone again.

“Yes, she has,” Ron said through clenched teeth. “She wants to be with you so much that she’d rather not be with me at all.”

“That’s not what she said—“

“Yes, it is,” Ron argued, “If she wanted to be with me then she just would be.”

“So what, all that talk about it being the three of us was just nonsense so you could save your girlfriend?” Harry spat at him.

“What are you on about?” Ron asked with narrowed eyes.

“Before you conned us into a marriage,” Harry explained. “That’s what you said, it has to be the three of us.”

“It does have to be the three of us,” Ron said quietly after a moment.

“Then explain to me how it can be the three of us with you two pairing off?” Harry snapped. “And Hermione already spends enough time feeling guilty about what happened without you blaming her too.”

Ron glared at him again. “I don’t blame her.”

“No matter what we say it was her spell work that did this,” Harry answered quickly. “I keep telling her it was all of us to remind her it was our idea too, but if it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t even be here right now.”

Ron thought about this for a moment before dropping his angry look to the floor. He opened his mouth to say something before shutting it and Harry could see him grinding his teeth.

“I’m going to go after Hermione, make sure she’s okay,” Ron said finally, just before the thought of searching for her occurred to Harry and Harry was forced to nod as his best mate left the room.

 

Dinner was a tense affair as Hermione would speak to neither of them and instead cornered herself with Tonks and Ginny for the duration of the night. Ron wouldn’t stop glaring and even in catching up with his Godfather, Harry found his mind drifting back to the conversation they’d had upon his arrival.

Harry was almost grateful when Mrs. Weasley ended the conversation about the Order and sent them all to bed silently. For a long time after they’d gotten in their pajamas, Harry stared up at the ceiling, thinking back at what had happened, knowing that they had to somehow make this right.

Harry couldn’t quite remember falling asleep, but when he awoke in the middle of the night it was to the low voices of Ron and Hermione. He opened his eyes a fraction of an inch to see their blurry outlines huddled together on Ron’s bed. Their hushed voices were just loud enough to hear and instantly Harry knew they were talking about him.

“I’m just saying you could have handled it better,” Hermione hissed.

“I did my best,” Ron whispered defensively. “What am I supposed to do? Be overjoyed that my best mate is lusting over my girl?”

“I’m not your girl Ronald,” Hermione said hotly. “I don’t belong to you.”

“I didn’t mean it like that-“

“I’m serious, I don’t belong to you and I don’t belong to him.” Hermione continued. “It’s the three of us, we all belong to each other.”

Ron made a noise of frustration and in the darkness, Harry could see him picking at something angrily.

“Ron?” Hermione asked after several minutes in which Harry scarcely dared breathe for fear he’d be caught.

“I’m still here,” he responded grumpily.

“What’s really wrong?” Hermione begged.

“Nothing.”

“Because we’ve been fine all this time, you said you were okay and then Harry shows up and you just blew up at him.”

“I dunno,” Ron muttered finally, “I guess I was just hoping it wasn’t true. Then Harry walked in and you threw your arms around him and…”

“What, did you think I was lying to make you jealous?” Hermione asked a hint of amusement in her voice.

“Like you’ve never done anything to try and make me jealous,” Ron answered, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Besides, I never thought Harry would do anything to hurt me.”

The guilt which had been eating at him awoke and coursed through him. When they’d been alone, when it had just been the two of them, Harry had managed to push aside his feelings for Ron. It had been easy, with Ron not there to forget the painful and painfully slow courtship he’d been witness to for years.

Back in school, when they’d been younger it had never occurred to Harry that one day they’d pair off and leave him and returning to that age had allowed Harry to forget just how long they’d been waiting for each other. But now, lying in the dark spying on his best friends, Harry was painfully reminded that nothing good would be coming out of his infatuation with Hermione. The only possible outcome was going to be losing his best mate, maybe both of them if he couldn’t manage his feelings.

“He didn’t do this to hurt you,” Hermione’s tender voice answered. “I’m not doing this to hurt you, I don’t even know how I feel but I-“ Hermione sniffled and Harry could picture with all too much detail the downcast look on her face, the tears in her eyes, “I would never do anything to hurt you, Ron.”

There was quiet again. For a second, Harry wondered if he were to bound out of bed and announce he’d changed his mind, or that he’d just been kidding around if it wouldn’t make all of the pain go away. Deep in his heart, he knew that it wouldn’t. What had been said was said, there was no taking back the truth now.

“Do you remember, when we were at Dumbledore’s house when we talked about how strange it would be someday for Harry to be with someone else?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah,” Ron admitted.

“He’s ours, Ron,” Hermione went on. “Could you ever imagine him with anyone else?”

“No,” Ron said finally and Harry peeked open his eyes again in shock. “But that doesn’t mean I thought he should be with you.”

“Then who Ron?” Hermione said softly.  “It has to be the three of us, and if it does then how could we expect him to be on his own?”

Harry heard Ron sigh and there was the rustling of the bed as they moved and once again Hermione was lying in Ron’s arms.

“Harry watched us in the tent you know,” Hermione whispered.

“What?” Ron asked, his voice louder than it had been. “He spied on us?”

“Keep your voice down,” Hermione whispered calmly. “He didn’t spy on us, just sometimes at night he would wake up and see us together.”

“Oh,” Ron answered, sounding rather confused.

“I think he was lonely,” Hermione told him in a pitying voice. “Even then.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, the only sound being matched breathing. It was Ron who broke it, “I know we’re supposed to be twenty-five, but do you ever feel like we’re just fifteen and idiots?”

Hermione let out a giggle, “All the time, it’s maddening. I have all this experience, all this knowledge and then I’ll get a rush of hormones and I’m acting like a child all over again.”

“Glad it’s not just my broken brain,” Ron joked and Harry could almost hear Hermione rolling her eyes.

The soft sound of them kissing only stopped when outside the door there were footsteps. The person paused on the landing and Harry could hear the floorboards creaking as someone rested their full weight on the other side of the door.

“That’ll be mum,” Ron whispered when the person moved on.

“Good thing we’re in an unplottable house, and we’ve mastered apparition long ago,” Hermione whispered back as she disentangled herself.

“Who’d have thought we’d turn you into such a rule breaker,” Ron teased, pulling her in for one last kiss before letter her go.

“I love you, Ron,” Hermione said gently as she climbed off the bed.

Ron’s voice was serious. “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

Harry awoke the following morning to the sound of the bedroom door slamming. Alarmed, Harry reached for his wand and pointed it around the room only to find it empty, Ron’s slept in bed vacated. He threw his face into his pillow with a sigh and shut his eyes against the bright light streaming in the window. While he hadn’t expected for their argument to immediately be forgiven he’d hoped at least that the conversation he’d overheard the previous night between his two best friends would sooth the tension between himself and Ron.

It was only when George popped his head in instructing Harry to meet them in the drawing room that Harry reluctantly got out of bed. He dressed and ate breakfast alone and was the last to arrive upstairs where Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Fred, and George were all gathered with cloths over their faces, listening to Mrs. Weasley’s instructions.

Quickly, Harry covered his own mouth and grabbed the remaining vial of dozy spray. Hermione gave him an over-wide smile, but the joy he felt was fleeting as Ron pulled her to the far side of the group and she joined him with a small sigh.

 

Several days passed and Ron had yet to soften. Harry hadn’t expected things to right themselves straight away, but the lingering tension was almost unbearable. They’d come to a silent agreement not to talk about it, not that they were given the time to anyway. Mrs. Weasley’s crusade to make the house habitable was an easy distraction from the problem at hand and Harry indulged in the buffer it put between himself and Ron.

The other Weasleys, who’d always been a bit suspicious of Harry’s friendship with Ron, were beginning to take notice of the strained relationship. They seemed to be operating under the only somewhat incorrect assumption that Harry brooding was a result of Ron and Hermione finally entering into a relationship, leaving Harry by his lonesome.

“Hard being the odd man out,” Fred said one afternoon as they worked side by side in the library taking the books off the shelves for Hermione and Ron to sort through while they dusted the shelves.

“If it’s any consolation, I don’t know what she sees in him,” George joked.

“I do,” Harry snapped at him before he knew what he was saying. “Ron is brave and loyal and-“

They were staring at him in surprise and Harry realized belatedly that he didn’t have any evidence to back up his claim. Not evidence that wouldn’t make them think he was crazy. Fred and George were staring at him peculiarly and Harry could feel his face growing hot.

“They’re a good match, alright?” He finished lamely and they nodded with suspicion in their eyes.

“Never said they weren’t,” Fred said finally.

They stood there in silence for a long moment and across the room, Harry could feel Ron peering over at them. The moment they made eye contact Ron returned to his stack of books, a thoughtful look on his face.

 

The drawing room took three days and the efforts to clean the home continued in the upstairs bedrooms, pairing himself off with Ginny or the twins rather than Ron and Hermione who filled every room with a tense silence. Hermione flitted between the two, whispering to them both when others couldn’t hear, trying to make things right.

“Does Ron know you’re here?” Harry asked harshly when Hermione, joined him after breakfast on Monday, tasked with sweeping out an upstairs bedroom.

Hermione blinked at him and refrained from a harsh reply. “Yes, of course, he does.”

Harry could feel her eyes on him but refused to look up.

“Perhaps if the two of you could just-“

“I’m not going to apologize,” Harry hissed at her. “He’s the one who attacked me.”

Hermione looked annoyed at his tone. “He didn’t attack-“

“He started yelling at me the second he walked through the door, Hermione.” Harry snapped. “What else would you call it?”

Yelling at her only made him feel better for a moment but the miserable look on her face made him feel all the more worse. Before he could recover Hermione had already stood up and was making her way towards the door.

“You know, I’m not your enemy here.” Hermione whispered, “I’m just trying to make all of this work.”

 

 

 

Mrs. Weasley, looking worn but pleased, elected to give them the afternoon off stating that she needed time for herself to take inventory of the pantry.

“Just stick with the rooms we’ve already finished!” she called after Fred and George’s retreating forms as they raced out of the kitchen.

Harry and Ginny grinned at one another.

“If they keep this up their room is going to be the next thing we have to clean,” Ginny quipped, stacking the dishes and taking them to the sink before disappearing into the pantry where Mrs. Weasley had already gone.

By the time Harry turned back around Ron and Hermione had gone without a goodbye leaving Harry sitting alone at the kitchen table. He swallowed against the heavy feeling in his throat and determined to go off in search of Sirius who hadn’t joined them that morning. 

Harry paused at the landing leading into the drawing room, hearing someone moving inside. Expecting to find his godfather, or perhaps Kreacher lurking inside, Harry pushed open the door only to find the room empty.  Harry peered around the room and nearly dropped his wand when the writing desk rattled again.

Curious, and not wanting to subject Mrs. Weasley to the horrible display of her children and husband dead on the floor, Harry determined he would tackle the boggart on his own. The desk was unlocked with a casual flick of the wrist and for a moment, nothing happened.

He expected the boggart to take the form of his nightmares or perhaps of Voldemort himself but instead, he was floored when what emerged was the perfect forms of Ron and Hermione, standing together with their arms intertwined. Perfectly alive, they looked more handsome and matured than Harry had seen them in a long time.

They didn’t say anything and for perhaps a minute they all simply stared at one another. And then, their faces began to morph. Ron’s face was a mirror image Harry’s first night in the home, angry and disappointed. He put his arm around Hermione and she went to him at once, embracing him and as she did so she gave Harry a reproachful look, mocking. On their hands he witnessed wedding bands, identical to the ones they’d worn after the spell that had saved Hermione and when he looked down at his own hand there was nothing there.

“No,” Harry found himself saying, “No, please don’t.”

Ron sneered, tightening his grip on Hermione who looked at him adoringly. He understood at once the meaning of this message. They were leaving him.

“Riddikulus!” a voice screamed from the doorway and the bogart sputtered for a moment before disappearing in a wisp of smoke.

Harry wheeled around to find Ron standing in the doorway, his wand infant of him.

“What the bloody hell were you thinking?” Ron shouted at him. “Taking on a Boggart alone?”

“I-“ Harry tried but couldn’t think of a proper explanation.

“Your greatest fear is us being together?” Ron berated him. “Really?”

“It’s not,” Harry hissed, but without any real conviction. He hadn’t expected them to emerge, hadn’t known they were what he was going to be facing and how was he to explain what had formed.

“Why is my happiness your greatest fear?” Ron asked. “After everything we’ve been through together, why do you want to take this from me?”

“I’m not,” Harry protested weakly.

“You gave us permission-“

“I didn’t!” Harry shouted. “You never asked, you conned me into a marriage to save Hermione and I woke up it was to the two of you suddenly together.”

“You never said anything.” Ron hissed back. “If you’d had feelings for her-“

“Maybe I was taking your lead,” Harry spat back, “It’d already been twelve years, why bother moving forward?”

Harry knew he was being deliberately cruel to Ron but didn’t back down. Ron had a nasty look on his face, reminiscent of the one the boggart had just shown him.

“We were trying to be good friends,” Ron answered him hotly, “trying to protect you-“

“I didn’t ask for your protection!” Harry shouted, pushing past his heart still racing with fear. “You and Hermione cooked up this scheme but I didn’t ask for it, didn’t ask for you to protect me. I asked for you to be my friends and to help me.” 

Ron blinked at him. “How can we help you when you keep going off and doing stupid things like taking on a boggart like yourself?”

“What do you care anyway?” Harry asked, recognizing it’d been reckless to try and tackle the dark creature on his own. “You can’t even be in the same room as me.”

Ron shook his head. “Just because I’m pissed at you doesn’t mean that I don’t care about you. I’m not going to tolerate you becoming all moody and depressed like last time around.”

They’d never been good at apologies, but Harry recognized this as an olive branch of friendship and found it difficult to respond. Ron was still staring at him expectantly and Harry knew he should explain himself, outline what Ron had witnessed but misunderstood. Before he could formulate an explanation, there was the sound of someone bounding down the stairs and seconds later Hermione appeared in the doorway, breathless and with wide eyes.

“I heard voices,” Hermione explained, looking between the two of them worriedly.

“He took on the boggart by himself,” Ron explained, but not with as much malice as before.

Hermione gave him a condemning look. “Harry-“ 

“His greatest fear is the two of us together,” Ron went on and Harry felt his face flush.

Hermione looked at Ron in surprise and then at Harry with pity. He swallowed heavily.

“No,” he said defiantly, “It showed the two of you leaving me.”

He pushed past their stunned faces and retreated up the stairs.

 

To their credit, neither Ron nor Hermione sought him that afternoon and he spent it moping in Buckbeak’s room, joined by Sirius who wisely didn’t ask about his mood and allowed a comfortable silence punctuated by amusing stories from his time in the home and at Hogwarts. Though he didn’t want to join everyone for dinner, Harry didn’t see a way to refuse when Sirius stood for the meal and accompanied him to the kitchen.

They were the last to arrive downstairs, everyone else already seated, piling food onto their plates. Harry hurried into a seat next to Lupin and when he looked up he found Ron and Hermione seated across the table and staring at him worriedly. Harry avoided their eyes, ignoring the ache blossoming in his chest at the sight of them together, the embarrassment as he remembered what they’d witnessed.

“Harry?” Mrs. Weasley asked, and he turned to find the adults at the table all staring at him expectantly. “Did you hear me, dear?”

“Er?” Harry said his face flushing at the prospect of being caught staring at his best friends.

“We’ll be setting out a little after six,” Mr. Weasley repeated.

Right. His hearing. With all of the tension between himself and Ron, he’d completely forgotten to be nervous about his impending trial.

“Sure,” Harry answered, suddenly not feeling very hungry. He pushed his plate away from him and after a moment stood up. Though he could feel everyone’s eyes on him no one said a word until he was almost to the doorway.

“It’s going to be alright,” Sirius told him firmly, grabbing Harry’s sleeve. “Dumbledore’s got it all worked out.”

“Right,” Harry said, giving his Godfather what he hoped would pass as a grateful smile.

He glanced back at the table to find Ron and Hermione staring at him worriedly. “I think I’ll turn in early tonight,” he said to the room at large.

A chorus of overly enthusiastic goodnights met him as he exited the room and sauntered up the stairs, intent on a nice hot shower before what he could only assume would be a fitful night of tossing and turning. It was to his surprise that his door opened behind him just after he’d shut it and when he turned, it wasn’t Hermione standing sheepishly in the doorway.

“You alright?” Ron asked of him in a quiet voice.

He found himself still rather embarrassed from the last moment they were alone, just having witnessed the boggart and refrained from lashing out on that emotion. Harry managed to nod stiffly, his throat rather dry.

“Harry-“ Ron tried, but he seemed to lose his thought when Harry met his eyes.

Ron gripped his shoulder as he passed and warmth filled Harry emanating from the point of contact. Harry didn’t even think to pull away and when he looked up Ron was staring at him intensely.

“We’re not going to leave you, Harry,” he said firmly, “We’ll find a way past this, alright?”

Harry found himself nodding, his eyes wet. He found himself wanting to reach up and grasp Ron’s hand, to wrap his arms around his mate and hide his face. His mouth felt drier than ever.

“I’m going to shower,” he explained, making no move to step away.

“You’re going to be fine,” Ron assured him confidently, finally releasing his grip. “We already know how this ends.”

 

Harry was very grateful that Ron’s prediction came true and unlike the torture of sitting through his classes for a second time, Harry found himself on the edge of his seat, holding onto every word of the trial in anticipation. It was only when Madame Bone’s voice called for a vote that Harry let out the breath of air he’d been holding and only when Fudge announced Harry’d been cleared of charges that he finally felt himself relax, giddy with relief.

Ron and Hermione were waiting on the steps just inside the entrance hall with anxious faces. All of their fighting, their bickering seemed to melt away at once as the word “Cleared,” left his mouth and they both flung their arms around him.

“Oh, I knew you would,” Hermione said appropriately.

They stood huddled together until Mr. Weasley cleared his throat and gestured them down the hall.

“I’m sure everyone else will want to hear the news,” he told them with a pleased smile and they all shuffled down the hallway and into the kitchen where everyone else was gathered, equally anxious looks on their faces.

“He got off!” Ron announced happily, throwing his arm back around Harry’s shoulders. 

Harry’s ears nearly ached with the outburst of relief and he found his face hurting for all he was grinning. Ron and Hermione settled in on either side of him, piling his plate with food. Harry found himself happier then he’d been in ages.

Chapter Text

Wordlessly they slipped upstairs after lunch and found themselves, for the first time since their initial argument in the home, alone in Harry and Ron’s shared bedroom. Harry entered the bedroom first and went to his trunk, ensuring that the locket they'd nicked on his first day in the home was still safely hidden in his trunk. 

“What are we going to do with the locket?” Hermione asked and Harry turned to find that she and Ron were sitting on his bed, watching him.

“Destroy it,” Harry said without thinking, earning a grin and a snort from Ron.

“Honestly,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “I mean, what are we going to do with it until we can find something to destroy it. We can’t take it to Hogwarts, they search our trunks, remember?”

“Fat lot of good that did,” Ron answered, “Seeing all Malfoy’ll bring in next year.”

“Would you be able to bring it back to the Burrow?” Harry asked of Ron, straightening and sat on the opposite bed, facing them.

“Dad might suspect something,” Ron answered with a thoughtful look. “But it should be fine so long as I stay here.”

“Stay here?” Hermione asked of him.

“I don’t really know where I’ll be staying,” Ron said with a shrug. “We haven’t had time to discuss it really, waiting for Harry’s trial. I don’t know what they’ve decided.”

Harry looked to Hermione to see if it made any more sense to her but it was clear she was just as confused as he.

“Ron?” Harry asked. “What’s there to decide?”

“They thought I was going to be-“ Ron broke off, his ears turning red and finished in a low voice. “Well, going back to school.”

“What?” Harry and Hermione asked together, turning to face him.

“At the end of last term, when I was there for the third task, mum and I met with Dumbledore to ask about me starting school this year,” Ron explained.

Suddenly Harry recalled the hour where he hadn’t been able to find Ron. He’d always presumed that Ron had faded again and gone off alone, with his mother so no one else would witness it. Harry had been so engrossed in the events that followed that the memory had slipped from him.

“And?” Harry asked eagerly but the expression on Ron’s face gave away the answer.

He refused to meet either of their eyes and began picking at a thread on his jeans. “And Dumbledore agreed to let me sit exams and if I scored high enough then I’d be able to start classes with the both of you in September.”

“What?” Hermione asked eagerly, her face beaming. “Did you already sit them? I could help you study! I mean we already know what they’ll test you over and-“

“It’s not going to happen, Hermione,” Ron said softly.

“What?” Hermione asked, looking over to Harry for help.

“Dumbledore said he’d go to the Board of Governors over the summer to get their approval,” Ron explained in a flat voice.

Harry understood the meaning instantly.

“I don’t understand,” Hermione said, looking eager still. “When’s your exam? What happened?”

“I happened,” Harry supplied quietly.

Ron gave a short nod and Hermione turned to stare at Harry.

“Dumbledore backed me up,” Harry said, “and now he’s a laughing stock.”

And suddenly it all made sense, the anger, the rage.

“When did you find out?” Hermione asked, her eagerness abated, tone finally matching the room.

“Day before Harry got here,” Ron grunted and he’d closed his eyes and lay back on his bed.

Harry could sense his distress and wished to comfort him. Hermione had already taken Ron’s hand in hers and was whispering in his ear.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Hermione demanded of him softly.

“Didn’t matter,” Ron grunted again and Harry turned his face respectably away as Hermione continued to whisper in his ear until he said irritably. “Hermione.”

She looked hurt but pulled back. Ron’s red-rimmed eyes were opened again and Harry snuggled to maintain eye contact.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said quietly.

“It’s not your fault,” Ron said and Harry could sense his restraint.

Harry didn’t blame Ron for his anger, didn’t fault him for taking out his frustrations on him. If it hadn’t been for Harry, then in a few short weeks Ron would be on the train with his girlfriend, eager to go to school, play quidditch. Instead, because of their meddling, he would be cursed to wait it out outside of Hogwarts until they were old enough to act on a plan they had yet to make.

If it hadn’t been for Harry then none of this would have happened.

Ron was still staring at him and Harry knew there was more to say, more that Harry deserved to hear. Things that would have to be worked through to properly clear the air. Harry glanced at Hermione knowing she’d be unable to stomach them yelling at each other again.

“Er, Hermione?” Harry asked softly. “Could you give us a minute?”

Hermione looked between the two of them worriedly. Ron nodded at her and she reluctantly rose, staring at Harry imploringly but he could give her no hint of what was to come. The door shut behind her with a soft click and Ron redid the privacy charms.

“Go on,” Harry encouraged, “I deserve it, just-“

“You’re going to be made Prefect,” Ron said bluntly.

Harry opened his mouth to retort but couldn’t find the words. It had crossed his mind, fleetingly that he would take Ron’s position at school in the upcoming year. Ron looked him up and down.

“I grew up wanting to be you, Harry,” Ron said plainly. “I mean, everyone did, but I grew up wanting to be Harry Potter. I had five older brothers, all more clever, more brave, funnier than I ever was. I was sandwiched between twins and the girl my mother always wanted. I got attention when I got in trouble, as much as my parents love me they didn’t have the time for me.

“I never knew what it was to be loved until Hermione, to have that concentrated love. Not the mother who loves all her sons equal, not the love of a sibling, I mean the love between two people, equal love.

Harry’s heart ached at the confession.

“I never had a shot at Quidditch Captain, I was never going to be Head Boy, I’ll never have money and now-“ Ron’s defeat was quickly turning to anger and Harry didn’t blame him.“Her love, our love, was the only thing that was ever really mine. And you’re trying to take it away.”

“Ron,” Harry said hopelessly, his eyes wet.

“When did it start?” Ron asked sharply.

“I don’t know,” Harry confessed,

Letting out a frustrated sigh Ron leaped to his feet and began to pace in front of Harry.

“You and Hermione have something that I don’t,” Harry said finally, trying his hardest to speak, to put into words the feelings he himself didn’t understand. “When we were in the tent, in Dumbledore’s home you were always there for each other, in a way that you weren’t there for me. And then after the first task, when we were in the castle I remember looking at the two of you, holding hands and knowing that when this is over that I’m going to be alone.”

To his shock, Ron looked annoyed and paused to shake his head at Harry.

“Merlin Harry, you’re not alone!” Ron shouted in frustration. “It’s the three of us-“

“Is it?” Harry snapped, rising to his feet. “Is it the three of us; or is it you and Hermione and the boy you have to keep alive?”

“Harry-“

“No,” Harry snapped, “you’ve both admitted you didn’t get together because of me because you were protecting me. As if, if it weren’t for me then the pair of you would be off married somewhere having babies and a happy life.”

“That’s not what we’ve been saying-“

“Isn’t it?” Harry asked.

“Merlin, Harry,” Ron shouted in frustration. “

“I want what you have Ron.” It burst out of him and he and Ron blinked at one another.

“Hermione?” Ron asked, his brow knit.

“No,” Harry said again and he found himself about to cry being unable to express himself. “No, Ron I want someone to-to—“ he found it hard to breathe. “To be there for me.”

Ron’s face went slack and he raised a hand hesitantly. It landed on Harry’s arm and without thinking Harry leaned into the touch, falling into Ron’s arms as he tried to stop the tears from his eyes and calm his breath.

“You and Hermione have each other,” Harry continued when he trusted himself to speak, his face still pressed against Ron’s shoulder. “But sometimes it feels like the pair of you have been tasked with taking care of me.”

“Oh, Harry,” Ron moaned, tightening his arms around him. “That’s not it, mate, that’s not it at all.”

Harry’s throat ached so much he didn’t dare reply.

“Hermione and me, our job is to keep you safe, to support you while you end things. When we agreed to do that we promised our lives to you, just like when Hermione was dying you promised your life to ours. It’s the three of us,” Ron said firmly. “We will always do whatever you ask but we all three know that when it comes down to it that it has to be you.”

“I d-don’t,” his voice trembled.

“Don’t what?” Ron’s voice was soft and soothing and Harry felt lulled into confessing the thing he’d been trying to say over and over but it was always coming out wrong.

“I don’t want to be alone.”

Ron’s grip tightened, the pressure of his arms welcome.

“You’re not alone,” Ron murmured.

They remained locked, holding onto one another tightly in a way Harry couldn’t ever remember them embraced before. He couldn’t ever remember being so close to anyone before. Ron shifted, his face pressing against Harry’s.

“You’re not alone,” Ron repeated.

Harry bit back a sob by pressing his lips to Ron’s cheek and let them linger, half expecting Ron to pull away. Ron’s hand slid up Harry’s back, tangling with his hair in a way that was almost painful. Harry braved a second, longer this time, inching along Ron’s jaw towards the corner of his mouth and it was only then that Ron let out a soft sigh and Harry pulled back in shock.

Ron was matching his intense gaze and before Harry could say anything, could explain away his mistake Ron’s lips came crashing down on his. He didn’t think about responding, merely allowed Ron to guide the kiss, relishing in the natural feeling of them finally coming together. Harry didn’t think at all.

They were rough with one another, pushing against and pulling one another together, fighting over dominance and who was laying on top. It was a mad, forceful hurry to remove their shirts, nails raking skin, teeth nipping new skin whenever it was exposed.

Aside from his own, Ron’s body was the one he knew the best. He had grown up alongside him, knew where all the scars that were now invisible should be. There was no need for discomfort, no need to orient themselves. When they finished, they lay side by side, panting, fluids mixed on their bodies.

The silence which fell was just as heavy as ever but Harry no longer feared his best mate would walk out of the room and never walk back in.

“Harry.” Ron murmured, still staring up at the ceiling.

“Yes?” Harry answered.

“Do you think this is what Hermione meant when she said it had to be the three of us?”

Harry turned his head to look at Ron to find him grinning in an awestruck sort of way. Ron caught Harry’s eye and suddenly they were chortling with laughter. For a moment they were just fifteen, a lifetime ago, and they knew nothing of what was to come.

“I think she knew it would end up something like this,” Harry managed finally.

“Brightest witch of her age,” Ron agreed in an amused tone.

Downstairs there was the sound of someone entering the front door and both boys sat up at once, searching for their discarded clothes.

“How long have we been up here?” Ron asked, hopping into his jeans.

“Too long,” Harry answered without checking his watch. “I’m surprised someone didn’t come looking.”

Ron glanced nervously at the door as Harry threw him his torn shirt. “Do you think we should shower? Or is that more suspicious.”

Harry didn’t know the right answer to that but pulled his wand and scourgifed them both before pulling on his own shirt. “We could ask Hermione.”

Ron shot him a deeply concerned look. “I don’t think we should tell her.”

“What?” Harry snapped. “What do you mean don’t tell her? That’s what got us into this mess in the first place.”

“I don’t mean never, it’s just she’ll want to talk about it and I don’t think we have the time right now.” Ron looked over at Harry anxiously. “Just until we have a chance to talk it over. Hermione’s going to have all these questions that we don’t have the answers to.”

While Harry didn’t agree keeping it a secret was a good idea, he didn’t want to start another argument with Ron. He knew Ron had a point, Hermione would want to talk and Harry didn’t know how to express what had just happened to the woman they loved.

“Okay,” Harry agreed, continuing to search the room for his glasses.

Ron met him on his side of the bed and slid Harry’s glasses onto his face. Harry smiled gratefully up at him and they stood, just as close as before and the tension in the room didn’t seem quite satisfied.

“You should go first,” Harry managed to say, avoiding the temptation to repeat what they’d just done.

Ron nodded, swallowing hard and took a step away from Harry. “Alright, see you downstairs?”

Harry managed a nod, watching Ron depart the room with the same guilty smile Harry knew he was wearing.

 

To Harry's relief, Hermione never asked what happened after she'd left the room. Relieved that the tension between them had been satisfied, she seemed completely oblivious to the shift in their relationship. Every time Harry and Ron were alone, every time one of them would slip out of the room the other would follow. Though they always vowed to talk about what was happening, they couldn’t seem to stop themselves long enough to have a conversation.

 

“We have to tell her,” Ron voiced one night. It was well past midnight and hours had passed since the last footsteps had wandered past their door.

Harry lay panting beside him. It was in these few post-coital moments that Harry was able to forget everything that was happening, all of the pain and anxiety which always was on his mind. He didn’t appreciate the intrusion of having to let anyone else in on their secret.

“Don’t you think?” Ron asked, rolling over onto his side and draping an arm over Harry’s middle. It was a welcome weight, and despite the heavy topic, Harry felt grounded.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed begrudgingly. “Do you think we should talk about it first?”

“Talk about what?” Ron questioned.

“What this means?” said Harry.

Truth was, Harry wasn’t sure at all what this had meant. He wasn’t even certain how he felt for Hermione and he had spent the better part of a year dedicating his free thought to sorting it out. When Harry tilted his head towards Ron he was making a face as if it hadn’t occurred to him to try and figure out what this meant either.

“It’ll be the first thing Hermione asks,” Harry reminded him.

Ron let out a deep sigh, burying his face in the space between Harry’s right arm and the bed. “I don’t know,” he said with his voice muffled from the bed. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone.”

“What about Hermione?” Harry asked, thankful that Ron had spoken first. He wanted to establish a baseline, there was no mistaking the feelings Ron and Hermione held for one another. Harry was still trying to figure out where he fit into their relationship.

“I’ve always known with Hermione. It’s never been a question.” It took Ron several minutes to continue his answer. “I’ve never looked at another bloke. Don’t get me wrong, this is bloody brilliant but I wouldn’t be doing this with anyone else.”

Harry felt himself flush with pleasure, but it didn’t satisfy the question.

“Did you know when you took the vow?” Harry asked him still unsure of the answer himself.

“No,” Ron said at once, shooting up and removing his arm from Harry’s midriff.

“Would you have taken it if you had known you were marrying me?” Harry asked in confusion.

“What are you saying?” Ron asked of him.

“That those vows meant something,” Harry said, feeling rather frustrated that Ron couldn’t just be honest with himself. “I’m saying those vows wouldn’t have worked unless you felt something for me.”

“But I didn’t take it like that, and neither did you. I thought I was just making another commitment to you, I didn’t think it was about love.” Ron said looking just as frustrated as Harry felt. “Do you know how many times I’ve committed to sticking by your side? Agreed to protect you? Since I was eleven I’ve never had to think about sticking by your side. This is new and different, I have to think about it.”

“Right,” Harry hissed, “So you’re willing to die for me, but you’re not willing to say you have feelings for me?”

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

“You just said you didn’t have to think about promising to protect me but how you feel about me is something you have to think about when it comes to your feelings for me.”

Ron huffed. “Alright then, if it’s so easy then you tell me how you feel about me.”

“That’s not the point,” Harry sidestepped the point.

“I wasn’t raised in a family where we talked about liking blokes. Who was I supposed to turn to in order to sort this out? Fred and George? they’d just take the mickey out of me!”

“You could have talked to me!” Harry shouted.

“If you’ve known for so long then you could have brought it up. I haven’t had time to sort all this out, I didn’t even know you felt something for me until Hermione told me you’d been spying on us in the tent-“

“I wasn’t spying,” Harry said automatically, though he knew the statement wouldn’t hold up under scrutiny.

“Oh really?” Ron asked one eyebrow raised. “What do you call it then when you-“

There was a soft pop and a form appeared at the foot of their bed. They both stopped, looking down at her and then made to cover themselves. Harry could feel himself burning with shame.

“Your silencing charm isn’t holding.” She said simply, walking over to Harry’s empty bed and sitting down on the side of it.

“Hermione,” they both said at once.

“This isn’t what this looks like—“ Ron continued but Hermione raised her hand to silence him.

“I’ve been waiting for you to tell me,” she said in a soft voice.

Harry looked at her carefully and could see her eyes were a little red and puffy. She didn’t look angry as Harry expected but hurt and somehow a little annoyed. He could feel Ron shifting uncomfortably beside him and Harry rather wished he’d the foresight to pull on pants rather than just cover himself. He couldn’t logic a way to comfort her without exposing himself and while under normal circumstances Harry wouldn’t think anything of pulling her in beside them to comfort her, it hardly seemed appropriate at the time.

“I knew it was happening, you two are far from secretive. Shooting glances across the room, staring down one another over dinner and sneaking off all the time.” Hermione wasn’t meeting their eyes now and talking rapidly as if trying to solve it for herself. “Did you think I was stupid?” 

“Of course not,” Harry found himself telling her at once. “Hermione it’s not like that-“

“Then what is it?” Hermione shot at him, still unable to look at them.

“That’s what we were trying to sort out,” Ron answered. “That’s why we didn’t tell you, we didn’t know what it was and wanted to figure it out before we told you.”

Finally, Hermione looked up at them. She wasn’t crying like Harry had thought, instead, she looked deeply frustrated. “I’ve always been honest with the both of you, I’ve told you everything. How I’ve felt for both of you, every step of the way I’ve been honest.”

Harry didn’t think this was fair as neither of them had bothered to fill him in on their relationship until after they’d already performed the ritual, but he hardly thought this was an appropriate time to bring up his own hurt feelings.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she pleaded.

There was nothing to say.

“What?” Hermione went on. “Did you think I’d be angry? We have to talk about these things, we don’t work when we don’t talk.”

Harry could feel his face growing red and when he chanced a glance over at Ron he was fidgeting with the covers as if he couldn’t decide what to do.

“Well?” Hermione asked impatiently.

“We’ve only been blowing each other,” Ron said defensively.

Hermione seemed relieved by this admission and nodded. Harry glanced between them, feeling a secret between them. Why would it matter what they’d done?

“I’ve gone as far with him as you have Harry,” said Hermione.

“But surely,” Harry stammered, trying to wrap his head around this new picture. “In the tent, or the house.”

Both Ron and Hermione were now shaking their heads.

“There wasn’t time,” Ron was now saying. “In the tent we never, honestly we never did anything, and then in the house Hermione was sick and before she could get better you were in our bed again.”

Harry had thought surely they had taken that next step in their relationship. They’d hardly been teenagers anymore in Dumbledore’s house, full-grown adults who’d consented to a binding charm. How many times had Harry gone off to bed early to give them some privacy only to spend the evening staring bitterly at the ceiling?

“Bloody hell, you’ve both seen it,” Ron said abruptly and got to his feet, flashing them only for a moment before hasty pulling on his boxers and walked around to the bed Hermione was sitting on.

She resisted him only for a moment before allowing him to wrap his arm around her.

“Ron,” Hermione said as he tucked her into his chest.

For a brief moment, Harry wondered if she could still smell him on Ron.

“Hermione, I’m sorry.” He told her seriously. “We should have told you and there’s not anything more we can say to that. We just weren’t ready to talk about it yet and I love you, but you want to talk everything to death.”

“I don’t,” she protested weakly and Ron shot a grin at Harry.

Making sure her eyes were still closed, Harry too got out of bed and retrieved his clothing before joining them, sitting down on Hermione’s other side. She took his hand in hers, resting it against her lap.

“So what?” said Harry when it seemed evident neither of them were going to talk. “It’s just going to be the three of us?”

And though it seemed they’d done nothing but say that phrase all summer it suddenly held a new meaning. Hermione looked up at him admiringly and nodded.

“Yeah,” Ron said, a fond look in his eyes. “I reckon it has to be.”

Harry couldn’t find the right words to describe the pleasant rush in his stomach and before he could ponder it Hermione had let go of his hand and was now pulling down his face to meet hers. Kissing her was just as wonderful as he’d remembered, her soft lips somehow familiar, easy.

When she let go, a satisfied smile and but with her eyes still closed, Ron took over where Harry had just been and she giggled as she put her hand on the back of his neck to draw her closer.

“We’re not going to tell anyone are we?” Harry asked hesitantly as they all stared at one another in the pale moonlight.

“Bloody hell, no!” Ron exclaimed and all three chuckled.

“There’s no point,” Hermione continued. “Not when we’re going to-“

She stopped abruptly and Ron eyed her suspiciously. “Not when we’re going to what, Hermione?”

“When we’re keeping so many other secrets,” Hermione said after a moment. Harry was reminded strongly of the look on Hagrid’s face when he revealed something he wasn’t supposed to.

Ron released her and tried to catch Harry’s eye but Harry refused to meet his stare.

“Because we’re not planning on going back again,” Ron said in a not to be argued with voice.

“And why not?” Harry braved.

“Because awful things happen to those who meddle with time!” Ron said incredulously. “I can’t believe either of you are considering this. We only did this because the world had ended, not for fun.”

Harry and Hermione chanced a look at one another but said nothing more.

“What we did wasn’t natural,” Ron continued when neither of them responded. “You said it yourself Hermione, we could have made the whole universe disappear, we could have made everything worse, destroyed life as we know it!”

“I destroyed you,” Hermione said quietly.

Ron stopped and stared at her. Harry expected her to be crying and though there were tears in her eyes she maintained a steady gaze.

“I’m not destroyed, Hermione,” Ron said firmly, but the frustration was gone from his voice. “I’m okay.”

“Are you?” Harry asked, “You said it yourself, the first night I was here, you can’t think straight for more than an hour because of this.” 

“You’re not at Hogwarts, your emotions are unpredictable, you make plans and then double back on them.” Hermione went on, “Is this how you want to live your life?”

Ron pulled away from them, blinking as if he was seeing them for the first time. “And you think going back will fix that?” he said finally, in a strange voice. “That it won’t just make it worse?”

“I’m working on fixing it, I haven’t quite got it sorted but I think-“ she broke off, looking hesitant and then gave Ron a pleading look. “I have to try. What if something goes wrong again? We need to be more prepared than last time.”

Ron looked as if he had much more to say on the subject but finally gave in. “I still think we need to focus on the Horcruxes, but I’m not going to tell you what to do Hermione.”

She gave a reluctant smile and joined hands with him again.

“I love you,” she murmured, giving him a chaste kiss.

“You bloody better,” Ron answered, and the serious tone disappeared as he kissed her more forcefully, pushing her into Harry which caused them all to giggle.

“The three of us,” Hermione sighed as they broke apart several minutes later, all three of them a little breathless.

Ron and Harry grinned at one another and Harry kissed her cheek. “There’s no other way.”

 

Chapter Text

The remainder of the holiday passed far too fast for Harry’s liking. Before he knew it the book lists had been sent, appointing Harry Prefect to no one’s surprise, their trunks were packed and preparations were made for the return trip to Hogwarts. For Harry’s part, he was too wrapped up in his best friends to hardly notice the passage of time, and hardly find himself concerned about what was coming.

“Staying here,” Ron announced, settling down on Harry’s other side on the couch they’d claimed as their own in the study.

They’d been waiting for him since he’d been held back after dinner for a serious sounding conversation that the trio only figured would decide Ron’s whereabouts after the term started.

“They must really be worried for your safety,” Harry said to Ron who nodded.

“Sirius seemed excited about it,” Ron told them, stretching out and throwing his arm on the couch behind Harry. “I asked if he’d be able to help with my lessons.”

“It’ll be good for him to have some company,” Hermione said kindly.

“Yeah, between him and Tonks I should be able to pick up on some really good defense stuff.” He actually sounded excited about it and it made Harry feel marginally better. “Still, not like being at school.”

“I’d much rather be with you,” Harry told him.

Ron grinned at him.

“Not to mention you won’t have Umbridge,” Hermione said darkly and any passing joy about returning to school was dashed.

Harry gave a horrified look at the other two. He’d neglected to think about their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and future High Inquisitor. A chill passed over him as he thought of all of the horrible things that would happen at her hand.

“Getting expelled doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?” Ron quipped.

“Can’t I just stay with you?” Harry groaned.

Ron laughed and looked around to ensure they were alone before pulling Harry to his side and said in a low voice, “I don’t know, we might not get much studying done if you stay here too.”

“Boys,” Hermione admonished with an amused look on her face.

Ron had a fierce look in his eye that Harry had become intimately familiar with in the month since their lips had first crashed together and he found his heart rate increasing, hyper-aware of Ron’s fingers digging into his arm possessively.

“Not out here,” Hermione said firmly, and Harry turned to find her much closer than before and staring at them intensely. Ron sighed but obediently broke away.

“Upstairs?” Harry offered.

“Mum did say to make sure you both were packed,” Ron agreed, standing at once.

 

“You’re not going to be able to send owls,” Hermione said a fair time later.

“What?” Ron asked, looking dazed as Hermione broke away from them and sat up, running a hand through her hair which was sticking up in several places.

“You’re not going to be able to send owls,” she repeated looking rather upset. “The ministry is going to monitor all communication, we’re not really going to be able to talk to one another because our letters’ll be intercepted.”

The sudden realization killed the mood at once and they all broke apart, staring at one another.

“Hermione,” Ron said in a strained voice.

“I’m sorry,” she said, seeming to realize the effect of her words on them at once, “I didn’t mean to, I mean it just occurred to me.”

Harry stared at Ron who was looking rather morose and tried to think of something he could say to comfort him. He only looked away when Ron looked up first to him and then Hermione and Harry was alarmed to find that there were tears running down her cheeks.

“Hey,” Ron said, “It’s alright, come’mere.”

He offered his arm in a practiced way and Hermione collapsed onto him, no longer making an effort to subdue her tears. “You can’t even be there with us and now we can’t even talk to you.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Ron told her gently. “We always do.”

Harry, as he often had when looking at them, felt rather out of place and found himself shrinking away from them as to give them their privacy. He was startled when Ron’s hand shot out, wrapping around his wrist and pulling Harry back into the fold.

“Don’t you run off like you’re not going to miss me too,” Ron said teasingly.

Harry tried to think of something witty to say but felt overcome. The past few weeks had been so much of a reprieve from their normal lives that Harry had been able to put aside his anxieties about what was to come.

“It’s going to be miserable without you,” Harry said honestly and the crooked grin that Harry had always been fond of trembled.

“There’s always Hogsmeade,” Harry offered, reaching out to run his hand through Ron’s hair. Mrs. Weasley had sat them all down for back to school haircuts and it was shorter than Harry was used to. “And if you’re staying here we’ll see you at Christmas.”

It felt like nothing to offer compared to the bliss they’d been operating in. The idea of not seeing Ron, not speaking to him, not kissing him, for months was too much to bear. Hermione sniffled and Harry reached down a hand to comfort her too.

They lay there all tangled for some time without feeling the need to speak. There was kissing and soft words of affirmation and Harry would have liked to stay that way forever. Eventually, Hermione had to depart, kissing Ron for a long, desperate moment before leaving with tears in her eyes. Ron, somehow, had drifted off to sleep after reluctantly returning to his own bed for fear Mrs. Weasley would peek in on them in the night.

Every time he looked at Ron Harry's mouth felt dry and after several hours of being unable to shut off his buzzing mind, he rose in search of a glass of water. Passing the study Harry was surprised to find someone sitting in the chair by the fire. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and found Sirius, sitting alone before the fire. He looked up and brightened when Harry entered, becoming him over.

“All packed?” he asked in a fatherly voice and Harry nodded morosely.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Harry stated the obvious, sitting down on the couch he, Ron and Hermione had claimed.

“Nervous about going back?” Sirius tried and Harry shrugged. There was a pause and Sirius added in a lower voice, “Going to miss someone?”

The implication was dripping from his voice. Harry looked up in alarm to find his Godfather wearing a knowledgeable grin and Harry felt himself flush.

“I—we,” Harry stammered.

Sirius let out a barking laugh and raised his hall full glass to Harry. There was merriment in his eyes that Harry was rarely witness to. He looked like the photographs, the memories that Harry had seen of the younger man. Back before his life was destroyed.

“You’d better be careful, I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of Hermione Granger’s wand.” He looked at Harry imploringly, “Or perhaps there’s nothing to hide from her.”

Harry felt his face grow even hotter and Sirius let out a second barking laugh and Harry wondered if he had ever seen his Godfather in such a good mood.

“I’ve always felt a connection with Ron,” Harry said, pushing past his embarrassment. “From the moment that we me-first wrote one another. And Hermione, she’s brilliant, and my best friend at school. When they got together I was happy seeing them happy, but it was also very lonely. It took me a long time to even realize that I even wanted them.”

“How’d it happen then?” Sirius asked, no trace of judgment in his voice. “It seems the three of you were rather at odds when you first arrived here."

“Yes, well, I sort of kissed Hermione at the Yule Ball,” Harry explained and Sirius shook his head condemningly.

“You can’t kiss another bloke’s girl,” Sirius told him.

“To be fair, Ron kissed me too,” Harry said defensively. He thought back on the moment to realize he’d concocted the same circumstances with the both of them. “Sort of.”

Sirius took his head and but offered Harry a smile. “But the three of you worked it out?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, we always do.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence. Harry felt a weight lifted from him, being able to talk about the secret he’d been holding onto with the person he admired the most.

“You’ve got a long road ahead of you,” Sirius said, suddenly serious. “No matter how hard we try and protect you, we won’t be able to shield you from what’s to come.”

Harry looked up, wondering how much Sirius had been told of the prophecy and if something would be revealed to him now. But in his eyes, Harry saw the ghosts of his parents, of the comrades and revolutionaries who’d long since past fighting the good fight.

“If you’re able to find happiness in the meantime, don’t let anyone take that away from you.”

Harry felt his cheeks flush again with the blessing of his Godfather.

“Ron was supposed to go back to school with us but I ruined it for him,” Harry said suddenly.

Sirius opened his mouth to refute but seemed to think better of it and nodded.

“He says he doesn’t hold it against me,” Harry went on. “But I feel like there’s a part of him that does.”

“You’re going to have to learn that the people you love tell you the truth,” he said seriously. “Ron clearly feels a great deal of affection for you. If he tells you he doesn’t hold it against you then you’re going to have to trust that he knows his own feelings.”

“Yeah, but if I-“

“But you’re not in his circumstance, Harry.” Sirius interrupted him in a firm voice. “And if he is lieing then it’s because he wants you to feel better. Right now you’re giving him the opposite.”

There was nothing to say to this truth.

“Ron told you he’s staying here, hasn’t he?” Sirius asked and Harry nodded. “We’ll be alright, gonna teach him all sorts of things that school of yours doesn’t want you to know.”

Sirius winked at him and Harry grinned, only imagining the sort of things that would be on Sirius’ curriculum. He could see again the mischievous glint and Harry recalled how much trouble he had gotten into back in school. At the same moment, he remembered something else about Sirius and his father but knew he couldn’t come out and say it. 

“Hermione reckons our post is going to be monitored,” Harry said.

He couldn’t tell whether or not the thought had occurred Sirius before but after a moment Sirius quietly agreed, “Yes, well, given the current climate.”

“We won’t be able to talk to Ron,” Harry said plainly and then, feeling embarrassed, added, “Or you.”

Sirius didn’t seem to notice his slip up, lost in a moment of reflection. Finally, he said in a slow voice, “Well, we’ll still have the post. For now anyway.”

Harry knew perfectly well that the seed had been planted and Harry only hoped that his plan would come to fruition soon. Sirius blinked and the pondering look was gone. He looked over at Harry just as he yawned.

“You’d better be off to bed, I wouldn’t want Molly to hold me accountable for you oversleeping,” Sirius told him.

Harry nodded, feeling much better than before. He stared at his Godfather for a long moment before rising obediently. “Thanks.”

Sirius looked embarrassed but pleased with himself as he waved Harry out of the room.

 

 

Returning to Hogwarts for his fifth year was different from Harry’s first experience in better and worse ways. Better, because now Harry felt at ease with his feelings for his best friends, feelings that were enthusiastically reciprocated. He no longer feared them leaving him. That weight lifted from his chest made him feel lighter than ever before.

But the security of their relationship didn’t shield Harry from the changing political climate at Hogwarts and of the wizarding world. In the years that had passed, Harry and softened his memories of his peers' aggressive reaction to his arrival at school. Seamus’ harsh reaction was all the worse because Ron wasn’t there to defend him and poor Neville and Dean were left to maintain a fragile peace in their dormitory.

And then there was Umbridge with all of her nastiness and Harry’s inability to remain silent about what he had witnessed. Without Ron, their quidditch team was worse than ever what with Geoffrey Hooper complaining loudly whenever he failed to rise to a challenge.

Harry felt as though he could have dealt with every since one of these injustices with as much grace as his life before if only Ron had been there. Due to the increased monitoring of their communication, Harry felt more cut off from Ron than ever. Realizing and acting on their feelings for one another had opened a gate and where Harry had always acutely felt the loss of Ron, it was now unbearable.

He, therefore, found himself counting down the days until the first Hogsmeade weekend where he would not only hold the inaugural meeting for Dumbledore’s Army but would be reunited with Ron for a few glorious hours.

“Do you remember last time when you were kitting all those hats all the time?” Harry asked one evening after detention when they found themselves alone in the common room.

Harry was soaking his hand in murtlap essence while she was scribbling away diligently at a scroll.

“Mmh,” Hermione agreed, not looking up. “I would like to get back to that someday you know.”

“You will,” Harry promised her.

“I suppose I should really start S.P.E.W. again,” she said thoughtfully, pausing from her work. “It would give me more legitimacy later on.”

Harry had only meant to tease her about how terrible the hats were but could feel her thinking hard now. “What are you working on?” he asked to distract her.

It worked and Hermione stood up and came over to where he was sitting, perching herself on his armrest. At his urging and after a worried glance around, slid onto his lap so he could read her neat handwriting over her shoulder.

He and Hermione had never been as immediately physically comfortable with one another as they had with Ron—after all he was the one who had set all the milestones, all the permissions for them to physically interact with one another dating back to when they were first years—but they were slowly warming up to one another in their few moments alone.

“I’m trying to see if I’m missing anything from the timeline,” she explained as her familiar sent entered his nostrils, relaxing him at once. “I realize I’d forgotten to include the inspections Umbridge will do of the teachers.”

“Ah,” Harry said, reading it over.

Before she’d even step foot off the train Hermione had worked diligently to create an extensive timeline of every minute thing they’d been able to remember. Per their decision to not deviate from the original timeline, she’d devised it as a way to guide them through their years at Hogwarts, prepare them for what was coming.

Harry finished reading it over and nodded approvingly. “You just need to add quidditch practices in,” he told her.

Hermione looked like she was going to argue but gave in with a roll of her eyes and scribbled down the practices at Harry’s instruction up until the Gryffindor v. Slytherin match where Harry’d quidditch career would end for the season.

Once finished she charmed the book revert back to it’s disguised Charms notes and set it aside. Harry half expected her to get up but was pleased when she settled down, laying her head on his shoulder.

“Have you made plans for our first DA meeting?” Harry asked.

“I’ve already spoken to Ginny,” Hermione told him. “But I don’t think it’d be wise to spread the word until we’re a week out, it’s what we did last time. Less chance of it getting to people we’d rather not know.”

Harry kissed the top of her head gratefully.

“Three weeks away until we see him,” Harry reminded her happily, “We’re almost halfway there.”

“I wonder what he means by a surprise,” Hermione mused, referencing a brief note in his last letter. “You don’t think he’s gone and bought anything, has he?”

It took Harry a moment to remember his fireside chat with Sirius and he filled Hermione in on the latter half of the conversation.

“Oh Harry that’s brilliant,” she said when he finished, beaming at him.

“Yeah, well,” he muttered, feeling rather pleased with her reaction. It was made all the more better when she draped her arms around him and began kissing him enthusiastically.

In his effort to kiss her back he knocked aside the bowl his hand had been soaking in and at the sound of it shattering they broke apart.

“Damn,” Harry muttered, his hand already aching through not nearly as much as before.

Rather than chastise him, Hermione gave him another quick kiss and repaired the bowl neatly.

“We’d better get to bed,” Hermione told him, getting to her feet and gathering her things.

Harry looked at his watch and silently agreed. The start of a new term was always taxing enough not to mention his efforts to maintain Occlumency during his dreams.

 

The drone of their day to day schedule made Harry feel as if it would take forever to get to the first weekend in October but before he knew it was the Friday before and the usual excited chatter about the change in routine made their end of the day lessons rather pointless.

On Saturday Harry awoke at an unfathomable hour only to find Hermione have already beaten him downstairs and was sitting by the fire with a wide smile. They were among the first to enter the great hall that morning and began the queue where Filtch checked off their names and hurried out the castle doors into the windy day.

Ron was waiting for them just outside of the Hogwarts grounds and it took great restraint not to run up to him in greeting. They exchanged hugs and greetings and said goodbye to Mr. Weasley who had accompanied Ron on the trip. If Harry had had any worries about their time apart eroding their feelings toward one another, they would have been based on the walk they took through the village, chattering quickly with one another to fill each other in.

“Right now they’re still concentrated on recruitment,” Ron explained in a low voice, updating them on the movements of the Order. “They managed to block good old Lucius’ attempt to introduce a bill, but I never really understood what it was about really.”

“Whatever it was, it couldn’t've been good,” Harry said darkly and they both nodded at him.

Having Ron living at Headquarters provided them with a plethora of information they wouldn’t have had otherwise. He’d become such a fixture at Headquarters that no one seemed to pay any mind to him and spoke rather freely around him.

“Has Dumbledore started pursuing the Horcruxes yet?” Harry asked of him.

“I think so,” Ron answered but didn’t look very convinced. “He doesn’t really talk a lot with anyone about what he’s doing with anyone.”

“He’s probably got his hands full with the ministry,” Hermione said, not sounding too happy about it, “Not to mention he doesn’t even find one until next summer.”

“Oh,” Ron said, “Before I forget, come’mere a minute.”

They’d reached almost the edge of Hogsmeade boundaries and curiously Harry followed him into a tight alleyway. Before Harry could say anything Ron pulled him into his arms and kissed him unexpectedly.

“Is that your surprise?” Harry teased, feeling rather happy.

“Nah,” Ron answered with a grin, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small item wrapped in brown paper.  “Sirius also sends his regards.”

Hermione lit up as she took the package and unwrapped it. “How wonderful.”  She kissed Ron just as thoroughly. “Thank you.”

“I’ll be sure to pass along the message,” Ron teased.

“You’ll do no such thing,” Hermione said, shaking her head.

“Yeah,” Harry said,  “We’re not sharing you with anyone else.”

Ron winked at him, “Sirius figured us out you know. Spent the first-week dropping hints until I finally came out with it only to tell me that you’d already spilled the beans, Harry.”

Harry flushed and quickly told them the conversation he’d had with Sirius just before leaving the home.

“Are you mad?” Harry asked hesitantly as he finished, feeling suddenly guilty at having kept the conversation private.

“It’s not like you came out and told him or anything,” Hermione pointed out. “And even if you had…”

“Nah, he’s a good bloke.” Ron said at once, “It’s been really fun living with him. He’s taught me all sorts of charms that they learned in school. Even offered to help me become an animagus.”

“You want to become an animagus?” Hermione asked curiously.

Ron shrugged. “It’d be cool, wouldn’t it? Sirius reckons Mundungus can get us most of what we need, problem would be hiding it from mum. I wonder what I’d be.”

He got a far off look on his face for a moment and so reminiscent of when they’d first returned that for a moment Harry found himself worried.

“Anyway, it takes a few months to brew the potion,” Ron said finally. “So I don’t know if we’d be able to get it done before-“

He broke off suddenly and looked at Harry uncomfortably. They all stared at one another, and Harry was drawn back to the argument that had ensued his first day at Headquarters. He didn’t want to start another row with Ron, particularly given how little time they had together, but the idea that they wouldn’t-

“We’ll figure something out, Harry,” Hermione said as if reading his thoughts. “We always do.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, feeling uncomfortable.

“I didn’t mean it,” Ron said, the tips of his ears red. “Not like that, I just meant-“

“Yeah,” Harry said again, wishing they’d move on.

It was clear that Ron saw through his dismissal and gripped his shoulder, forcing Harry to look at him.

“We’re not going to let Sirius die.” He said firmly. “The three of us will sort it out.”

Harry nodded again and after a moment the hand was removed from his shoulder and was replaced with a whole arm going around his shoulder.

“Harry?” Hermione asked hesitantly. “Are you alright?”

He forced himself to nod. The prospect of losing his Godfather, again, was almost too much to bear and though he had complete faith in his friends he didn’t want to linger on the subject.

“We’d better get going,” Harry said to them, checking down at his watch even though they’d plenty of time before anyone else would show up in the Hogs Head.

Thankfully they both agreed and Ron’s arm remained around his shoulder as they set off, together. 

Chapter Text

For a ministry vehemently denying any activity of dark wizards, they were taking quite a bit of caution to ensure the safety of the school. The newest, and most inconvenient, measure was an announcement that only board members and approved ministry employees would be permitted onto school grounds throughout the year. This, most, unfortunately, included quidditch matches.

“I’m not surprised,” Ron said grumpily as they chatted by mirror late one evening. “Can’t even see my own brother’s play.”

The measure had been announced just days before the Gryffindor vs. Slytherin Quidditch match that Ron had so been looking forward to attending. Harry, who’d equally been looking forward to seeing Ron even if it was just for a period after the game, found himself equally frustrated.

“They’re probably trying to keep Dumbledore’s people out of the school,” Harry pointed out, “It’s not like you’ve ever had problems coming to matches before.”

“But the Order doesn’t even meet at the school!” Ron protested, “We’ve a whole headquarters for that.”

“Is Dumbledore there often?” Harry asked, trying to deter him.

Ron shrugged, “Not really, just when there’s meetings.”

They waited to see if Ron would have any more updates on the Order but he resumed his scowling and muttered, “It’s not like it’s ever been a problem before.”

“It won’t be long,” Hermione said soothingly, “And then we’ll have all of Christmas together.”

“It’s a whole ‘nother month Hermione,” Ron groaned, refusing to be comforted.

“Aren’t you going to go and see your parents, Hermione?” Harry asked of her, knowing there was nothing more to say on the subject that they’d already discussed at length several times.

She shrugged in a casual way and spoke in a practiced manner. “I don’t expect so.”

Strangely Harry felt as if he’d stumbled upon something. “Why don’t you want to see them?”

Ron and Hermione shared a significant look.

“Hermione?” Harry questioned, feeling irritated.

“Well, it’s only that my parents want to go skiing in France and Dumbledore doesn’t think it safe for me to leave the country.” She spoke in a calm voice which only irritated Harry more.

He glanced at Ron who found something on his lap far more interesting and then back to Hermione who refused to meet his eye.

“You both knew then?” Harry asked.

“Don’t be cross, Harry,” Hermione begged. “There’s nothing we can do about it and I wouldn’t want to be away from you anyway.”

He could hardly argue with her on that and gave in with a sigh. “You’ve got to stop keeping things from me.” He said firmly.

“I was going to tell you last time, honest,” Hermione said,  “but you were in such a mood and it was the holidays.”

He felt embarrassed in remembering how awful he’d been to his friends who, back then, were just as confused and concerned about the odd things happening.

“No more secrets,” Harry said firmly.

“No more secrets,” both Ron and Hermione hastily agreed.

 

Though being apart was hardly ideal, having the mirror made things much more manageable for their separation. Every opportunity they had Harry and Hermione found themselves in hidden alcoves of the library or staying up far too late for the sake of chatting with Ron or Sirius or often both.

Hagrid returned to school following the match resulting in Harry and Hermione spending several days in his cabin trying to convince to no avail him of Umbridge’s plans for the school.

December arrived and their workloads seemed to double as the end of term drew closer. While the work was in no way difficult for Harry, so long as he didn’t get on Hermione’s bad side, it was strenuous and time-consuming. Between Dumbledore’s Army, school and the fear of being caught talking on the mirror and having it confiscated, they found themselves with fewer and fewer opportunities to talk to Ron as the holidays approached. It frustrated Harry and he looked eagerly to the end of term so they would be reunited and given a reprieve from the daily monotony of school.

“I can’t believe there’s only one meeting left,” Hermione pointed out to Harry and Ginny as they walked back to the common room together after DA, making plans to finish their homework before bed. “Though it’ll be a relief when the term’s over.”

Harry grunted but didn’t have anything to say, he’d been battling a headache since the start of their Herbology lesson that hadn’t waned.

“Someone should tell the Professors,” Ginny said, “They don’t seem to know with all the homework they’ve been assigning. By the way, do you happen to have your History of Magic notes from last year Hermione? We’re going through the Goblin Wars but I couldn’t stay awake last class.”

“I should still have them,” Hermione said modestly though Harry knew perfectly well that Hermione kept all of her notes dating back to first year and they were carefully cataloged and stored in her trunk.  “There was a good portion of our final dedicated to them last year, we needed to know the names and titles.”

“Great,” Ginny groaned, and then added, “Thanks Hermione, you’re a lifesaver.”

They continued to chatter on about finals and Harry found it difficult to listen. The closer they got to the common room the more the prospect of doing anything but heading straight to bed sounded awful.

“Are you alright?” Hermione’s voice cut through.

Harry blinked to find them standing in front of the Fat Lady. Both Hermione and Ginny had turned to look at him and they both wore expressions of great concern.

“Fine,” He muttered, pushing past them to give the password to the Fat Lady who swung open to admit them at once.

“Harry-“ Hermione said as she clambered through the portrait hole after him. “Are you sure you’re-“

“I said I’m fine,” He repeated, going straight to the thankfully vacant couch and lying down at once.

Hermione followed him to the couch, “We’ve just Professor Snape’s essay to finish and then you can-“

“Please, just give me a minute,” he said grumpily.

Hermione made a noise but didn’t bother him further. He could hear her and Ginny dropping their bags off at a nearby table as Harry shut his eyes against the somehow too bright light of the fire. Vaguely he was aware of Hermione departing and then returning and as they settled into work he was lulled by the scratching of quills and the soft voices of the two women he was fondest of. He was positive if he just was able to close his eyes for a spell then his blasted headache would go away.

Harry dreamed he was in Dumbledore’s house, laying in Ron’s usual spot on the couch, Hermione tucked under his arm and Ron’s head in her lap. The fire was crackling merrily and removed was all of the fears and anxieties of what was to come.

“You know, Godric’s Hollow wouldn’t be a bad place to raise a family,” Ron said seriously and Harry looked over to find him much older but without the scars that told long battle stories. “I wonder if Abe would sell us the place.”

Logically Harry knew that Aberforth had long since passed but didn’t think he needed to bring it up just yet. They were both looking at him with loving expressions.

“It wouldn’t bother you?” Hermione asked gently. “Living so close to where your parents…?”

“Nah,” Harry answered easily reaching over to press his palm to Ron's face, “That’s what they wanted, wasn’t it? It’d be nice to honor their memory. And it’s where we started.”

They both beamed at him and Harry felt a familiar swooping sensation that they always brought out in him.

The dream changed…

He’d had this nightmare before…he’d forgotten how sick it’d felt to be in the snake’s body, how uncontrolled, how animal his thoughts were…he tried to fight it off, tried to wake up so he could warn someone, anyone…he could taste the warm blood in his mouth as his fangs pierced Mr. Weasley, once, twice, a dozen times…he couldn’t break free, there was nothing he could do…it shouldn’t have even happened yet—

“Harry! HARRY!”

Harry felt hands violently shaking and him at Hermione’s piercing scream he was finally able to throw off the horrible vision. His eyes flew open to find Hermione and Ginny before him, both looking utterly terrified.

“Harry, what happened?” Hermione demanded.

He tried to speak but couldn’t for the horrible taste still infecting his mouth and it took all of his efforts to roll away from them as he vomited over the edge of the couch.

“You,” Ginny said sharply, “Go and get McGonagall.”

An unknown figure could be heard rushing from the room and as the portrait closed he could hear their footsteps frantically racing down the corridor.

“Harry,” Hermione repeated in a terrified voice. She attempted to push back his sweaty fringe but when her fingers brushed against his forehead he shouted in pain. His scar was burning, it felt like it’d been cut open again. “Harry?”

The other occupants of the common room were beginning to gather around him, murmuring worriedly. Harry tried to fight through the pain, fight through his body’s intense response to being violated like this. He needed to tell Hermione, had to communicate-

The portrait opened again and McGonagall could be heard shooing away the crowd. He tried to speak and Hermione leaned in close.

“It’s worse,” he said in a whisper, tears in his eyes from the pain or the memory he did not know. “It’s so much worse.”

 

 

Logically Harry knew that the time it took for Dumbledore to make the preparations to whisk them away from the school took scarcely a quarter of an hour, but the time Harry spent standing with Hermione and the Weasleys in the Headmaster’s Office felt like an eternity. Every time he blinked, every time he closed his eyes all he could see was Mr. Weasley’s still body as blood poured from his open wounds.

In the interim of waiting for permission from Phenius’ portrait, he looked down to find Hermione’s hand gripping his and found her face completely white. Finally, the portkey was prepared and Harry numbly gripped the device with his hand, willing it along. He expected the flash of anger when Dumbledore finally looked in his eyes but he was woefully unprepared for the intense longing for harm to befall the Headmaster. Harm at his own hands.

Ron was waiting for them in the kitchen, his face white and pulled Ginny into his arms as the twins hounded Harry for answers. He answered them as patiently as he could, refusing to make eye contact with Ron, wishing for but dreading the moment they’d be alone and he’d have to explain himself.

Finally, Sirius was able to distract the twins, calling them over to the table and the moment came where Harry would finally have to tell the truth.

“Ron,” Hermione said desperately, taking Ginny’s place in his arms and he seemed to understand at once, pulling them both up the stairs without a word.

He guided them into the unused formal dining room and Harry stood off to the side as he locked the door and case Muffilito.

“What’s wrong?” Ron demanded, turning to him the moment the room was secure.

“I-“ Harry tried, unable to find the right words to start.

“You said you had a handle on it,” Hermione interrupted, rounding on him. “Harry you said you could-“

“I thought I could,” he echoed back just as desperately. “I used to be able to I-“

He stopped suddenly, as a vivid flash of the dream he’d been having prior to the intrusion entered his mind. Did Voldemort know? Could he read Harry’s dreams outside of when he interrupted them? Often Harry dreamed of Ron and Hermione, inferring their relationship would take no effort at all.

Could Voldemort enter his mind now?

Childishly, Harry thought of closing his eyes and covering his ears so at least Voldemort wouldn’t know of his conversation. He knew it would make no difference.

“Harry,” Ron called to him and Harry looked up to find both of their faces white as sheets.

“I-“ he said desperately, “I…he-“

“What?” Ron begged, taking a step closer.

“I’m sorry,” Harry sobbed.

It didn’t seem possible for Ron to look more distressed but somehow he managed it, reaching blindly for Hermione who wrapped her arms around him. Harry stared at them, feeling as if something in his chest was breaking apart. He hesitated before mustering the courage to step towards them and without thinking their arms wrapped snaked around him. They clung to one another in a tight embrace, breathing erratically as Harry tried to calm his racing mind.

“I’d a headache all afternoon,” Harry explained finally. It was easier to talk without having to look at them. “I thought if I could lie down for a bit it’d go away, but then my dream changed, just like last time to the snake. I couldn’t shake it, I couldn’t get free soon enough and-“

The thought was too terrible to even entertain.

“Harry?” Ron asked him desperately.

“I’m sorry,” Harry sobbed again, unable to even look up. He felt Ron sag slightly as if holding himself up was costing him too much effort.

“He must’ve been trying to break down your defenses,” Hermione said after a minute and Harry looked at her. She looked just as terrified but sounded determined to push past it. “But why tonight?”

“Did he know my dad was there?” Ron asked of the both of them.

“He must’ve known that someone was there,” Hermione reasoned. “Sturgis Podmore was caught earlier this year and from there it wouldn’t have been hard to figure out-“

“But why now? Why tonight?” Harry begged, “This isn’t the right time, it’s-“

Behind Harry, the door opened and they hastily broke apart as Ginny peered her head in. She looked considerably better than the last time that Harry had seen her but frowned to find them there.

“We were wondering where you lot had gone to,” she said, looking pointedly at Ron, “We’re gathering in the kitchen.”

“We’ll be there in a minute,” Ron answered her with a strained smile. Ginny paused, looking at him challenging but finally turned and could be heard walking down the hallway.

They all looked at one another but there didn’t seem to be anything more to say.

“We’d better go,” Hermione directed them, glancing between them both.

“Harry?” Ron asked when they’d all taken a step for the door. “Is dad going to live?”

He didn’t want to lie, but couldn’t bring himself to speak. Ron seemed to expect this and hurried out the room so as not to have to show his face.

 

It was only half past midnight when the kitchen door swung open. Mrs. Weasley stepped in first, guided by Bill who had his arm around her shoulders. Harry felt numb as he watched Bill guide her into a chair, the Weasley siblings rising at once to comfort their mother.

She didn’t seem to take anything in, even as she gripped her at her children, drawing Ron and Ginny close to her sides.

“Mum?” Ginny asked in a wavering voice, tears already spilling from her cheeks.

Mrs. Weasley opened her mouth but seemed incapable of speech and ducked her head into Ron’s shoulder. Instead, their eyes turned to Bill and he looked first to Ron and Ginny and then to the twins and slowly shook his head.

“No,” Harry heard Hermione gasp from beside him and she gripped Harry’s arm, her nails digging into his skin.

“There was nothing to be done,” Bill said in a distant voice. “The healers tried everything they could but he was already-“

The Weasleys seemed to tighten in on one another, arms around one another as they began to tremble as one.

Harry felt he was intruding in on an intimate moment and was unwelcome. He was grateful when Sirius stood, motioning for Harry and Hermione to follow with a jerk of his head. As quietly as they could they rose and slipped, unnoticed, from the room and into the hallway. The air felt so much colder in the stairwell and Harry looked up at Sirius in the dim lighting.

“This was not your fault,” Sirius said firmly, gripping Harry’s shoulder and looking him straight in the eye. Harry could see his Godfather’s eyes were wet and beside him, Hermione sniffled.

Why wasn’t he crying?

“This was not your fault,” Sirius repeated and Harry forced himself to nod though he did not agree.

If only he’d mastered occlumency long before, if only he’d given a proper effort to the lessons Snape had tried to teach him. If only he’d stayed awake, if only they’d told someone anyone about what was about to happen then perhaps-

“I think I’m going to go lie down,” Harry said without thinking, wanting only to escape from the staircase and the watchful eyes of his Godfather and Hermione who had yet to say a word.

Neither of them made any move to stop him and he began his ascent up the stairs before they could call him back.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

In the morning the Weasleys returned to the Burrow without Harry and it was only under heavy disguise that he was permitted to join them at the well-attended funeral.

Promptly after, Hermione returned to her parent’s home for the holidays leaving Harry alone with Sirius and their occasional visitor. Whenever someone did pop by the mood was always somber and Harry felt distinctly like no one trusted him, eyeing him cautiously and always careful not to reveal any of the Order’s plans.

Kreacher had yet to make an appearance after the first night when he’d greeted them with insults and the lack of the troublesome creature nagged at Harry but not enough to explore it. Instead, he wasted away the holiday with scarce conversations with his Godfather who always had a drink in hand and never seemed well rested.

Lupin stopped by frequently, often bringing Tonks, and the pair joined them for a solemn Christmas dinner. None of them were stupid enough to name the holiday or give good greetings and for that Harry was grateful.

Harry had yet to hear from Ron except for a brief note thanking him for his Christmas gift and a feeble attempt to assure Harry that he did not blame him. You did everything you could mate. Ron had written at the close of his note but his lack of response to the letters Harry had written told a different story.

The days faded one to the next and he was therefore surprised when he awoke late one morning the day before his return to school to loud voices echoing up the stairs when Harry made his descent in search of food. It was only when Harry was at the bottom of the last staircase that he realized who the visitor was, and what he was here to do.

Sirius and Snape were standing on opposite sides of the table with Lupin sitting behind Sirius’ abandoned chair looking weary.

“And why can’t Dumbledore teach him?” Sirius roared.

“Teach me what?” Harry interrupted, pushing open the door and announcing his presence.

All three heads turn to face him and Sirius’ usual wide smile at the sight of him was missing.

“Headmaster Dumbledore would like me to attempt to teach you Occlumency,” Snape explained, the first to recover. “Occlumency is the magical defense of the mind against external penetration.”

Harry looked at him and then to Lupin in and Sirius and nodded.

“Alright,” Harry said to the surprise of both his godfather and professor. “Can we start today?”

Snape blinked at him and Harry could tell if he was trying to determine whether or not Harry was making fun of him. “Headmaster Dumbledore would like the lessons to start at the beginning of the term.”

“If it’s as important enough for you to come here, I’d rather start as soon as possible,” Harry said, “Unless you have somewhere to be.”

From the corner of his eye, he saw Sirius grin and Snape frowned at them both.

“I suppose I have the time to give you an introductory lesson,” said Snape curtly. “Perhaps by the time you have returned to school, you’ll have mastered the most basic of the concept.”

Harry swallowed the insult and stood before Sirius could react. “Shall we go to the drawing room then?”

Sirius opened his mouth to argue but was halted by Lupin standing and putting his hand silently on Sirius’ shoulder. Without waiting for the protests he knew were coming, Harry turned and lead the way back up the stairs, not glancing back to see who was following.

Snape followed in behind him and waved his wand to stoke the dying fire. “I’d prefer we do this at school so you could use your wand but since you’re intent on applying yourself for once we’ll have to make do. ”

Harry didn’t want to point out that they were in a wizarding home, an unplottable wizarding home at that and the ministry wouldn’t be able to trace if he did underage magic.

Snape continued, “Occlumency uses the same principles as the Imperious Curse which I understand you have the ability to throw off. You will need to apply the same efforts here.”

Harry nodded, closing his eyes as he braced himself for the attack. He tried to clear his mind, just as he’d been instructed before but Snape cast his spell before Harry could prepare himself.

He was eleven, laying on the floor of the hut, feeling relief that it had worked…he was twelve and Ron was rescuing him in a flying car…he was fourteen and Hermione was in his arms in the garden his heart was pounding impossibly fast…he was fifteen and fighting the boggart and they were leaving him…

No Harry thought wildly no, you can’t-

He fell to the floor with a smack. He heard the rustling of robes and felt hands pulling him up off his hands and knees.

“I’m fine,” he said grumpily, shrugging out of Sirius helping hands and faced Snape again. Before Snape could share what he had seen, sneak in an insult about him Harry looked him in square in the eye. “What do I need to do?”

Snape’s mouth had been opened, surely to get in his own jab, but he closed it and said in a cold voice, “Clear your mind, Potter. Let go of all emotion.”

Harry closed his eyes, but he wasn’t feeling the anger he had the first time they’d attempted the spell. Rather, disappointment filled Harry, disappointment in himself for allowing this to happen, for not waking sooner. Perhaps if he’d just tried harder than Mr. Weasley-

Legilimens.”

He was laying in bed in Dumbledore’s home, Hermione at his side I have an idea, but it’s absolutely mad … he was on the train, staring out the window at Ron who looked at him blankly, he looked like he was in pain…he was in the hospital wing after the third task, unable to breathe and the only thing solid was Ron’s arms around him…

Harry was aware of the pained sound he was making but unable to stop it as he came to again, doubled over with the effort of expelling his professor.

“You are making no effort,” Snape said sharply. “You can not allow me to access to-“

“Give it a rest,” Sirius’ voice cut across. “You’re here to teach him, not torture him.”

“The boy wanted his lessons to begin now,” Snape said coldly and as Harry got to his feet he saw the two men glaring at one another.

Harry could see Sirius getting ready to reply and turned to him. “I’m fine, really.”

Sirius looked at him in concern and then glared at the potions master before sinking back into the shadows of the hallway. Snape was looking at Harry with the closest look to admiration Harry had ever seen. He drew his wand again but paused before casting the spell.

“You need to empty yourself of emotion.” He said just as coldly as ever, “Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked so easily – weak people, in other words – they stand no chance against his powers.”

“Again,” Harry hissed.

Snape looked at him in surprise but steadied his wand and cast it again and again, Harry collapsing to the floor now with every siege on his mind. Harry was beginning to feel ill but refused to let up. He’d thought he’d had control over Voldemort’s access to his mind, he’d thought that he was capable enough to manage to throw him off but the night of Mr. Weasley’s attack had proved otherwise. Harry couldn’t let him gain access, to learn what they had done…to learn what Ron and Hermione truly meant to him.

“Again,” Harry hissed as he got to his feet, his knees beginning to ache and his palms stinging.

He looked up at his Professor who, for the first time in Harry’s memory, showed something close to concern.

“Again,” Harry demanded, his voice fierce though he knew getting angry would do nothing to help his cause.

He was standing in the doorway to Ron and Hermione’s bedroom at Dumbledore’s home, his skin cold and wondering whether to wake them. Ron looked up at him and he said, without thinking—

“Nooo!” Harry shouted despite himself.

He found himself collapsed completely on the floor, panting.

“Harry?”

His eyes snapped open and he looked to the doorway to find Ron and Hermione standing there, eyes wide with concern. Harry forced himself to get into a sitting position but found himself too weak to stand.

“That will be all,” Snape said curtly, composing himself. “We will resume lessons when you return to school. In the meantime try and clear your mind before bed, it seems that is when you are your most vulnerable.”

Harry didn’t say anything but nodded as Snape turned and his robes billowed behind him as he swept past Ron and Hermione. They rushed into the room and Hermione fell to her knees.

“Harry, what was that?” she asked him, her voice full of worry.

“I have to learn to protect you both somehow,” he said stiffly, his body still trembling. He looked up at them and wished to vanish the frowns from their faces. “What are you both doing here?”

“Came to see you of course,” Ron answered at once, helping Harry to his feet and over to the couch where they sat down on either side of him. “I’ve been wanting to come for days but mum…”

He trailed off and looked upset. Harry glanced behind him but Sirius seemed to have followed Snape down the stairs leaving the three of them alone. Harry reached over and gripped Ron’s leg to comfort him. Ron gave a weak smile which Harry returned.

“How’s your mum?” Harry asked quietly, “And everyone?”

“No better,” Ron answered truthfully. “Mum can’t stop crying, Bill’s moved back in but Charlie had to go back to work. Dumbledore said he didn’t have to but-“

He paused, “The only blessing, and I certainly wouldn’t call it one, is it turns out Percy isn’t the biggest prat in the world. He came round the day before the funeral and apologized for everything. Don’t know if he means it but he’s been taking care of mum all he can.”

“Well, we always knew he’d come around in the end,” Hermione put in gently, referring back to the information Ginny had given them just before her death.

“And how was your holiday?” Harry asked of Hermione before she could pounce on him for what they’d both just seen.

“Eventful,” Hermione answered, “We didn’t end up going out of the country but my parents closed down the business for the holiday so we went to lots of shows and galleries.”

Harry could hear voices on the stairs and could just make out Sirius’ and Lupin’s voices raised in disagreement.

“Let’s go to my room,” Harry muttered, not wanting to be overheard by Sirius or Lupin.

Ron and Hermione nodded at once and rose, following his fast pace up the stairs.

“Have you been sleeping in my bed?” Ron asked in an amused voice as they entered the room which they’d shared over the summer and Ron had kept once Harry and Hermione returned to school.

Harry flushed but did not answer as they shut the door behind them and joined one another on the unused and still made bed.

“We should talk about the department of mysteries.” He said, feeling Hermione’s eyes on them and knowing if he waited too long he’d be subjected to an intense conversation about what had just happened floors below. “Have either of you a plan?”

He’d hoped they’d have time over the holiday to have a better discussion in order to plan their involvement at the Department of Mysteries. They’d come to the general consensus that the only way to proceed was to ensure the Ministry believed that Voldemort had returned. Without the battle in the Atrium, it would take months, perhaps even years for the Ministry to take action and by that time Fudge, who they feared most susceptible to corruption, would be no help.

Ron shook his head at once and Harry felt bad at putting him on the spot but he knew they had little time together and the idea of losing Sirius once more, particularly after the death of Mr. Weasley, was almost too much to bear.

“If we don’t take the others with us, then we should be able to hold them off for long enough,” Hermione said and Harry stared at her in disbelief. “No, listen, we only need to hold off the Death Eaters long enough for reinforcements to arrive. If we wait longer to go into the Ministry-“

“I don’t think us taking on Bellatrix and Lucius is the best plan Hermione,” Harry interrupted her.

“Alright then,” Hermione said, and it was clear she was trying not to be cross with him. “What if, when we get to the Ministry you use the mirror to contact Sirius, say you just remembered it-“

“But I have to get to the prophecy, if Voldemort doesn’t think that I have it, or thinks it’s a trap he won’t show his face.”

“Alright then, what’s your suggestion?” Hermione said refraining from rolling her eyes at him.

He could sense her frustration which was equal to his own and it burst out of him. “We go back!”

They all stared at one another.

“No,” Ron said firmly.

Both Harry and Hermione turned to look at him.

“No,” Ron repeated, “We’re not going back, not now.”

“But we could-“

“You’re upset,” Ron said simply, “You’re upset but going back is not going to solve our problems.”

“It could,” Harry argued, “If we could just-“

“Look at what’s happened, Harry!” Ron argued, “The universe doesn’t like being fucked with. Thing are getting worse my dad-“

His voice cracked and he pushed off the hand Hermione tried to comfort him with.

“We messed with the law of time here, the very nature of the universe,” he turned to Hermione, Right before you cast the spell you looked at me and said this might make the whole universe disappear, have neither of you stopped to think that perhaps us messing with time has caused all this to happen?”

“Well if you two hadn’t decided not to make changes-“ Harry started, already ready to fight

“And maybe that was the wrong choice.”  Hermione’s soft voice interrupted. She looked conflicted and took a moment to gather her thoughts. “Ron, you’re right, the laws of the universe don’t permit this, and maybe you’re right that the universe is fighting us. But Harry you’re right too. We decided not to make changes early on, but perhaps if we had then we would have been more prepared, been able to manipulate things earlier on.”

“And why are you so insistent on us going back?” Ron demanded. “Why do you want us to go through this again, all of this pain and misery? Why do you want it again?”

“Because we need you,” Harry said simply.

They both turned to look at him in surprise.

“It’s the three of us,” Harry continued, throwing back the phrase they’d used to comfort him so many times. “It has to be the three of us, we haven’t been able to do this without you.”

Ron blinked at him but didn’t argue.

“No offense mate, but you’re not the one who watched them die. Not Cedric, not your dad-“ Harry’s voice caught in his throat and he forced himself to go on. “All along I wanted to alter things, to try and make things better and the both of you decided to keep things the same and I agreed because it had to be the three of us, but we didn’t come back to just watch it unfold again. I want a chance to make things right, a chance to win this. We came back to fix things and so far we’ve only made them worse.”

He reached out to touch Ron’s hand and after a second their fingers tangled together.

“What about the Horcruxes?” Ron finally asked.

“We’re no closer to last time,” Harry stated. “We know where the cup is, we know when it got to the Lestrange’s vault and thanks to you we know where it was before then but that doesn’t help us now.”

At this Ron nodded.

“I know you think that we’re just going to make things worse by trying to alter things, but if we don’t try then we’ll never know and we’ll never save anyone. And then what was this point of this at all?”

This time it was Ron and Hermione who shared a look.

“And if it only makes things worse?” Ron asked softly.

“In our last life everyone we’d known and loved had been brutally killed, ” Harry pointed out. “And if we keep going like we are now then it’s only a matter of time before we end up right where we started. I don’t see how trying could make anything worse than that.”

For a long moment, none of them said anything as they both stared at Ron, waiting. Finally, he nodded, squared his shoulders and looked Harry straight in the eyes.

“Alright then, where should we start?”