Actions

Work Header

If You Get There Before I Do

Chapter Text

 

He thought he would have thought of Sirius or Dumbledore. The swirling and clenching and gnawing in his stomach, the fast beat of his heart, the shaking in his hands, the urge to hit something, to throw anything, to do anything but cry, were familiar enough because of them. No, not because of them. Because of how they ended. No. Because of how they left him. It didn't matter anyway, because they weren't really what he was thinking about.

He was lying on his cot, Hermione a trembling and sniffling mountain of blankets on the chair behind him. He wasn't tired. His thoughts traveled to sometime in year four of primary, he thinks. He had felt the same sometime then, not exactly the same, but somehow similar, like walking into a room and recognising the sofa from somewhere, remembering all at once the doctor's office where one like it sat, how it felt to be there, how it smelled like bleach, and for a flash of a second, it's ten years ago and you are you but not who you turned into anymore.

He was remembering this feeling, the shaking hands and the swirling stomach. He had made a friend bouncing a tennis ball off the wall. The boy was new and shy and didn't even say hello. He just caught the ball on it's way back and bounced it over to Harry. They smiled and talked about how Mrs. Roemmele always said choir weird. They waved goodbye and nodded to each other in the halls.

Dudley picked the new boy up and stuffed him in a trash bin. He cried, too loud, embarrassingly loud, and asked Dudley why. He said that freaks who hang out with freaks should be put where they belong. The new boy wouldn't even look at him in the halls after, even though he was alone too.

He had laid in the darkness of the cupboard and felt his stomach swirl and clench and gnaw and wanted to do anything, anything at all but cry.

He drifted off to sleep despite himself.

Rain pattered against the tent roof. He had spent the dim blue black of the early morning making breakfast from stale bread and some canned soup. He slammed the can down, he slammed the pan down, he almost jabbed his own arm with his wand, his gestures too sharp. Where he moved to do anything but cry, Hermione stayed still, laying in her cot, only crying. She seemed to be crying enough for the both of them. He felt the beginning of exasperation start, like a water starting to roll over a weak flame. But it wouldn't raise to a full boiling anger, even though he half wanted it to. He couldn't be angry with her, not for this.

He put the soup, bread and a tall glass of water on her end table and sat next to the lump of blankets and tears she had become, bouncing her a little. She peered out, her face red and eyes swollen, glancing from him to the food. "I'm not hungry."

"You're going to have a massive headache if you carry on like this without eating or drinking anything." It came out sharper than he meant. He thought she might have narrowed her eyes at him, but it was hard to tell what with how closed they were from the puffiness. He let out a long low breath, trying to soften. "Just. Eat." The long slow breath hadn't worked.

Hermione sat up, her posture pure indignation. Her shoulders raised, her mouth a harsh line. She opened her mouth but all that came out was a choked sound and she started crying again; tired, scratchy sounding sobs, and placed her head on her knees.

"Merlin, Hermione… I…" He swallowed. She hadn't even been like this at Dumbledore's funeral.

She placed the heels of her hands against her eyes, covering every part of her face except her shaking lips.

"What about you?" Her voice was loud, kind of harsh.

"What about me?" He didn't want to get into this. He wasn't going to get into a sob fest with Hermione in a tent over Ron. His hands started to shake. Anything else. He would bolt from this tent.

"Have you eaten?"

He paused. He hadn't. It hadn't even occurred to him. His stomach was still swirling and clenching. The idea of eating seemed impossible. He couldn't even imagine being hungry. "No."

She put her hands down with a sigh. Her hair was a chaotic storm, her eyes tight, her face blotchy. "I'll eat half if you eat half."

He nodded and she handed him the glass of water, watching as he downed half in two gulps. She took the glass back from him with shaking hands and put it against her left eye, then her right, rotating and pressing it against her lids. "You were right about that headache." She sounded like she had a cold.

She sipped the water as he started taking small bites of the bread, dipping it in the soup, realising he was hungrier than he thought.

They got dressed, put things away, didn't look at each other or say anything. He was still moving too aggressively and Hermione was still crying, though it had been reduced to strange hitched breathing more than full tears. He rotated between deep defensive anger and a wild apologetic sorriness.

They stood in the cold for too long and waited. They didn't look at each other for fear of acknowledging what they were waiting for, but eventually Hermione twisted her wand and they were standing prepared, nothing left behind.

He dared to look at her and was assaulted all at once, all again, with the spiral of anger and apology. His mind was screaming, "Why didn't you leave with him if you were going to be so torn up about it? Why did you stay when I don't have anything to go on? Aren't you supposed to be the smart one? Why can't you figure out where anything is? I'm sorry I didn't ask Dumbledore more, I really messed this up, please don't give up, I really don't have any idea what I'm doing, please."

She didn't look at him in the dead quiet, despite the loudness in his head, instead she stuck out her hand and he took it and they were gone.

They followed this pattern for a while, for days that felt like slow burning endless eternity. Every once and awhile he felt a little dramatic. Ron wasn't dead, he was just a git. He stormed off in a Weasley high temper in a typical fashion and yes, it hurt, but it wasn't the end of the world. The real problems they were facing were, not Ron.

Whenever he was struck with this moment of levity and perspective, he would glance at Hermione's somber face and then the moment would fade and it would be back, the anger and the sorry.

They were a few spots away from the last location they were together with Ron, but it didn't stop Hermione from glancing up at the sound of breaking twigs, or the rustle of leaves, or the quieter whispers of wind. By some animal instinct, every time she glanced up he did too. He couldn't help but think of frightened deer, their ears pert and rotating, eyes focused, alert, listening for wolves. The main difference for them was that they wanted the wolf to come.

His glanced away from the empty forest to Hermione's dark eyes, still searching. "He won't find us." He used the sharp tone again, he still didn't mean it that way.

Her eyes moved to his, injured, her mouth bowed in pain. He felt a stab of remorse. To his surprise she moved closer to him instead of turning away. Their spheres of sadness had been separate the last few days, their moroseness quiet, however loud it felt inside his head.

"I'm… I'm pissed off, Harry. I'm really, really pissed entirely off."

He felt a jolt of worry, that sorry followed by scared anger, "I'm sorry."

"Not at you."

"Oh." His relief seeped into his voice. "Me too."

Hermione nodded in agreement once in stern solidarity, before shaking her head as her eyes glanced through the distant trees one last time.

He felt better. Something in the fear of his anger calmed. They were both angry, but not at each other.

After awhile, despite everything, he was honestly, extremely bored.

His voice came out scratchy at first, he cleared his throat and realised they hadn't spoken since yesterday morning. "Do - Do you remember that time in third year when you just slapped Malfoy across the face?"

Hermione looked up from the book she was reading, sitting curled up on a chair on the other side of the room. "What? Oh- yes, of course. Why are you bringing that up now?"

He shrugged. "It was just brilliant is all."

Hermione rolled her eyes but gave a small half smile anyway. "It was immature, really."

He shrugged again and they lapsed back into silence, Hermione looking back down at her book, Harry looking up at the ceiling, trying not to think of anything at all really, though his mind went easily back to Hermione in third year, her teeth still bucked, her hair a little more untamed. He wondered when she worked out how to manage that better, though of course now it was worse. But in sixth year she had gotten it from bushy to still bushy, but more of a wavy bushy. Did she experiment with hair products? Did she get advice from other girls? No one ever gave him grooming advice in the boys dorm, though sometimes he kind of wished they would have. He couldn't picture her sitting in front of a mirror, girls behind her, giggling, trying different things. But then, why not? Hermione was a girl who was friends with other girls who might do such things.

Hermione's book shut with a loud slap, giving him a start. "You know what was even more brilliant? When he was turned into a ferret."

He let out a strange croaky sound he distantly recognised as a chuckle. "Yeah... but fake Moody was the one who did it, so yours was better. Third year was pretty mad, wasn't it?"

She let a strange squeaky rough sound he understood to be a light laugh. "Just third year?"

"True." He wanted to keep it light but everything seemed to bleed together, darkness over taking softer, brighter memories. Third year was mad but then so was every year, madder and madder until this was his life, until this was it, him in the woods, lost but still running, dragging this poor girl with him.

Hermione flung the corner of her blanket around her shoulder and stood, turning it into a fluffy tunic, and walked over to him, sitting at his side on his bed, looking down at his face as he laid there, sad.

"You've had a rough go of it."

He barked out a laugh eerily similar to Sirius's. Hermione grinned down at him. "Remember in fifth year, you made some sarcastic comment about how you wonder what it's like to have a difficult life?"

He didn't really. "That sounds like something I would do."

"I scolded you. I was so worried about you losing your hope, you know? I didn't want you to become cynical. You were always… I don't know, if something seemed hard, I always looked to you. I hated to think you were giving up. I was wrong, wasn't I? Sometimes I…"

She flopped down next to him, still wrapped in her blanket, her head on the other end of his pillow. "Sometimes I don't know why you both - why you're friends with me. How dare I, someone who never really experienced loss, never went through all those things you have, tell you how to feel about it, how to feel about anything? Now, I mean, it's not the same thing at all, of course, not at all, but I feel like I understand better."

Harry frowned, turning on his side, and glanced down her profile, at her somber stare at the ceiling as he had done a minute ago. "He-He's just left -"

"No. No, I mean my parents. Having them forget me, having them go to Australia, not having any idea what we are doing, not knowing what to do next, being afraid to not do anything. I mean, it isn't easy, it weighs and weighs and there isn't an end in sight…" She sighs, but it wasn't shaky. She hasn't cried in awhile, he thinks. But for some reason those words said in that defeated way wormed into him a small dread. He thinks he understands her better now too. "So you know, I think, right, whatever needs to be done to get through this then, so f-fuck it. Just fuck it."

He can't help but grin at her. "Too right, fuck it then."

Hermione nodded at the ceiling, her eyebrows furrowed and mouth in a stern line.

For the first time in awhile he falls asleep without that clenching, gnawing feeling in his stomach.

When he wakes up, she's still there, wrapped in a blanket like a robe, snoring lightly on her back. He pokes her awake and she blinks at him. He can see that she spends a half a second feeling embarrassed but then the feeling dies on her face before it can fully form. Instead she rolls onto her side, tucking her sock clad feet into the pile of blankets on his bed and says, "I think we should just wander into a Tesco and shove all of their meal deals into an expanded, refrigerated truck and be done with food forever."

"Fuck it, right?"

"Fuck it!"

But they didn't do that, Hermione's new found rebellion dying an unsurprising death the moment it went past the use of swear words.

Instead, they find some mushrooms nestled into an under-hang of a boulder and some stubborn Rowan berries, deep red still under the crust of snow.

It was cold, it's always cold. The hunger makes the cold colder, so it seeps through their clothes and sits on their skin until that is icy too, and then that sinks into the muscle and makes them stiff, and that holds their bones, so that it hurts, an ache that doesn't really leave until the one hot shower a day, but then only briefly, and never fully.

"Why are we camping in the blasted wilderness anyway? Let's knock out some swatty boarding school kids at, like, Eton or something, and just live there for a while."

Hermione turns towards him with her sad bundle as they walked back the way they came, Harry angled to remove their footprints with his wand as they went.

She tsked, "Why stop there? Why don't we just knock out members of the royal family and live that way instead?"

He bumped her with his shoulder. "I doubt anyone would notice any change if you replaced old Liz."

She harrumphed and stuck her nose up the air. "And you would make a fine footman. It's only natural." She grinned a little and looked down at her bag, "Do you suppose these Rowan berries would turn into a liquor easily?"

He plucked the bag from her arms as they entered the tent and popped a berry into his mouth. "Why? Looking to get sloshed?"

She pulled a worn red armchair towards the furnace in the middle of the tent with a sigh. "You know, maybe I am. Maybe that's the answer to the whole thing, you know?"

He stole the seat as she turned to get a blanket. He expected an indigent remark but instead there was just an eye roll, and then to his surprise she stuffed herself into the small space next to him, her leg half on his, her shoulder resting against his. She threw the blanket over the both of them.

"This is far from comfortable but I am so tired of being cold. Plus," She turned her face towards him, too close, this was all too close, and sniffed, her frozen nose grazing his neck, "you don't smell."

"Thanks?"

"It's just that R-that he-that it, this tent, you know, smelled sometimes. Like sweat. Don't get me wrong, you can smell sweaty too, me as well, of course, everyone can, but it's not as … pungent."

"Do stop, you'll make me blush."

Hermione chortled a little, resting her head half on his shoulder, half on the back of the chair. "But as I was saying, getting sloshed might be the solution to the whole thing."

"Yeah?"

"For me, not for you. You have to stay sober, I'm pretty sure, for this to all work out."

"That's a raw deal, why do I have to stay sober?"

"You're brave enough without it, I probably need some liquid courage myself, or I'll drive us both to lunacy with my neuroses."

"But you wouldn't be Hermione if you weren't driving me at least a little crazy with your neuroses."

The half grin she had resting against his shoulder slipped away, sadness dipping the corners down.

"I think I'll head to bed." She slipped out the spot she wedge against his side with ease.

He frowned at her retreating back and grabbed her hand before she stepped out of range. "You okay?"

When she looked back at him, she looked down at his hand with surprise, but otherwise looked fine. "Yeah, I just stayed up late last night, you know, keeping watch."

He dropped her hand with a nod. "Okay, yeah. I'll keep watch, so don't worry."

Her smile was small but sincere. "Thanks."

He pulled the blanket she left behind around his side, but he still felt kind of cold.

The next morning she actually looked pretty rested, though shadows filtered across her face still, every once and while, muting laughs and dropping off smiles into sighs. He couldn't be sure, but it seemed like she was glancing at him more, half way to saying something, building up courage, though he couldn't guess for what.

He was thinking of different ways to bring up Godric's Hollow again without her immediate dismissal, when she took a deep breath and spluttered out, "Do you remember in fourth year-", before she abruptly stopped and instead stared, a little red faced. "You know, never mind. Just- never mind."

He blinked at her, lost. Part of him wanted to let it go, as it seemed like Hermione was going to try to have an emotional sort of conversation, but he doubted she would be so nervous unless it was important. "I do remember fourth year pretty well, I'd say. I recall some stuff about a dance, a dragon or two, this annoying bloke came back, which is why we are stuck in this god forsaken tent, yeah? What about it?"

She bit her lip and looked down at her hands, then stood up and bustled over to the kettle. Harry swallowed. What was so hard to say she had to make tea about it?

Her back was turned to him as she looked through a box of assorted flavors with too much gusto, her voice oddly high, "It's just, when that git was being a git about you being a champion and you two weren't talking, we hung out more, and, well, I think you were bored."

He felt his mouth drop open. Wherever he thought she was going with this conversation, it wasn't there. He didn't know how to respond. In honesty, it was true, and still is. Ron's more fun. But Ron ran away, so that doesn't matter much, and Hermione could turn into a banshee as far as he cared, as long as she stayed. Not that she was a banshee, far from it. She was...Hermione. Random interesting facts, lots of tea, a dry sense of humor, taking herself and everything else too seriously, which was nice when you needed things to be serious, less nice when you wanted to joke a bit to relieve some stress and she was standing there, waving around homework planners and telling you now was not the time to brush something off.

Hermione tapped her wand against the kettle and then sighed, leaning against one of the poles, her hand on her hip. "I'm not trying to put you in an awkward position where you have to lie convincingly about what a great time I am, or to now awkwardly insult me by being honest and agreeing. No, the point of me bringing that up is that I… I… want to be more fun."

He felt his mouth drop open even further. He wondered if those berries they ate were not actually Rowan berries and instead hallucinogens. He shook his head and started to say something, then shook his head again. He imagined this is how Hermione felt most of the day, with her long looks and half started sentences.

"I… I think you're being rather hard on yourself." This was true, he realised. "I don't want you to be like him. I like that you're Hermione." Also true, so far, so good. "I mean, yeah, sometimes you have a hard time relaxing, or letting things go…" Oh no, he didn't know how to qualify that. That was true, that was Ron's job, he was the only one who could get her to procrastinate or fob something off until tomorrow. It was always the part about her that made him roll his eyes the most. "But...But, I mean, sometimes things shouldn't be let go of, and we always put a lot of pressure on you to be the responsible one." He felt the truth of that too, only as he said it. They all had, Hermione included, sort of pigeonholed her into that position, that role. They had expected her to. "But, you...don't want to anymore?"

The kettle started to whistle and her back was to him again. When she turned around, he was relieved to see she looked more contemplative than upset or anything like that. She handed him a mug and then sat on the armchair across from him. "I can't imagine not worrying about things anymore, planning ahead is just part of who I am. But maybe I can, I… I don't know. I don't know how to say this, but, I guess, in a way…" She took a sip. "In a way, I think I've condescended you, all these years. Like you wouldn't be able to look after yourself unless I was nagging you like some uptight older sister. Maybe I should just...trust you? Not that I didn't trust you before, not about the important stuff, like fighting evil, for example, but other stuff. You're more of a grown up now than most grown ups, by virtue, so I don't think you need me in the background, panicking at you all the time, no?"

He wasn't sure what to make of these rather harsh view of their dynamic. Oddly, he felt kind of sad. "I don't want you to change."

She looked up at him in surprise. "I think I have to, if we are going to be stuck in this tent together without going insane."

And that's where it was, he knew now. She framed it like it would be more fun for him, and in truth, there was something nice about the idea of Hermione not nagging him to do this or do that anymore, about her relaxing, but he knew now that it would be for her benefit.

"Surely you aren't saying that you want me to go around making you tense all the time?" There was an odd amusement to her face, her eyes mischievous.

Harry sat back and took a swing of his tea, Assam, his favourite, and shrugged. "I'm not going to lie, I was sort of hoping that you would make another homework planner for Christmas, but for our Horcrux hunt instead, so that whenever I opened it would say things like, 'Don't forget to figure out what Ravenclaw's likely object is!', or, 'Stab the locket with the sword of Gryffindor today or later you'll pay!' But I suppose I can remember myself."

Hermione started laughing, her countenance lighting up for the first time in days, relief plain on her face.

Chapter Text

Hermione came out of the bathroom a damp mess, splotches of water darkening her light pink jumper in batches, her hair long and lank around her shoulders, dripping. "The shower is broken."

He looked up from his muggle map of the general Godric Hollows area with a frown. "How so?"

She moved to grab her wand, which was sitting on a shelf just outside of the bathroom door. "It won't turn off, also, I think the ventilation charm in there isn't working."

He stood too, grabbing his wand, though he didn't know how it would help at all as his knowledge of water and ventilation charms amounted to nothing, but clearly Hermione didn't know what to do either.

They stood in the doorway, watching through the steam as the shower came down at a high pressure, starting to fill up the bottom of the stall in a bit of an alarming way. He sighed. "If we have to live in a flooded tent I think I'll just give up and pop over to wherever You-Know-Who is now and tell him to go for it."

Hermione lightly smacked his arm in an absent kind of way, but looked mostly to be deep in thought. "Why don't I focus on why the drain is starting to back up and you focus on looking up stuff about shower charms?"

He raised his eyebrows. "You know what books you've brought better than me. I'll look at the drain, you look at books."

"But I'm already wet." Hermione plucked at her jumper, grimacing at the damp fabric.

He shrugged and she rolled her eyes, looking like she might start on a lecture, but instead she paused and chewed her lip for a second before shaking her head. "Fine. Okay."

He watched, a little surprised, as she turned towards her beaded bag without further comment.

He went back into the bathroom and pulled off his own trousers and jumper, tossing them out into the living room, and considered the drain. He pulled up the flimsy grate and looked down into the darkness of the hole, though he wasn't sure exactly where the hole went, considering it wasn't into the ground. Increasingly cold water splashing about his shoulders as he saw what appeared to be a mass of shiny, clumpy hair, long and brown and twisted and obviously Hermione's.

"Ugh."

"What?" Hermione was standing in the doorway, not looking directly at him but instead looking in brief glances. He felt very aware of the band of his pants on his lower back all of a sudden but tried to shrug it off. After all, Hermione has definitely seen him in similar, like swim trunks, before.

"You and Crookshanks have a lot in common, it seems."

"Excuse me?"

"It's your hair, it's clogging the drain."

"It's probably your hair too!"

He didn't bother with replying, instead pulling the hair out of the drain with a wingardium leviosa. It hung, slimy and kind of horrific in the air, one hundred percent made of Hermione's hair.

She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, her cheeks a little pink. "I - I, just, stop looking at it, oh my god." She left the doorway to return a second later with the bin. Harry floated her hair over into it and then stood, the both of them looking at the now draining shower, which solved one problem but not the other.

"Did you find a book?"

Hermione held up a small blue hardback, letters in dull gold on the front, "Common bathroom charms, spells, and enchantments."

"What made you bring that one on a hunt for bits of an evil wizard's soul?"

She shrugged, "I think we've covered how I'm neurotic and over plan in the last six years or so."

He chuckled and took it from her, glancing at the table of context down to shower charms, dripping from his hair onto the pages a little. He grabbed a towel and flung it around his shoulders, absently drying as he read. She walked over to the shower head and made a complicated movement with her wand that he recognised from somewhere, her voice hard to hear over the spray. The water abruptly stopped, the silence a little jarring.

"Did you fix it?"

"Oh no, I'm just vanishing the water for now. I figured it would be easier without us worrying about getting wet. Or wetter. Sorry, I didn't think of it until just now."

Harry shook his head, not bothered, and glanced up from the book. "This looks promising. It says that sometimes these shower charms get weaker over time and the charm either stays open to wherever the water supply is coming from, or completely closes, but loses the control of the in between. So we just need to, I guess, refresh it. There's a separate charm for refreshing, it looks like…"

He handed it back to her and pointed at the spell and the wand movement description. She frowned at him again, and again she bit her lip and shook her head, instead silently moving over to the shower head. He watched, drying off the last of water on his torso and leaving the towel like a shawl across his shoulders.

She tried a couple of times, then again, looking uncertain. He took the book from her and tried too, looking up into the shower head as though it would tell them it was better now. They looked at each other with raised eyebrows and then Hermione raised her wand, making the complicated motion to undo a vanishing spell.

The water, now freezing, hit them both in the face at the same time.

Hermione's first instinct, unsurprisingly, seemed to be to save the book, which she slapped out of Harry's hand before too much water got on to it. But between Hermione's slap and the sudden face full of freezing water, Harry's first instinct was to turn on his heel and rotate a different direction all at once, resulting in a swift slip and grabbing onto Hermione, who was only on one foot, as her second instinct seemed to be to try to leave the stream of water. All this resulted in them lying on the floor, half in the shower, Harry half lying on Hermione, half curled around her, his hand throbbing from where he had cupped the back of her head so she wouldn't smack it on the floor.

She let out a painful sounding gasp as she tried to regain the breath that was just knocked out of her.

Then, the shower let out what seemed to be a roar, as though it was a beast just woken up, and started spewing water at such vicious velocity the shower stall dented. Immediately the bathroom floor was covered in water.

"Shit, shit, shit." Harry scrambled off of her and reached down to pull her up, her breaths still kind of gaspy.

Then, with a look that Harry had only seen a few memorable occasions, Hermione let out her own strangled roar, picked up her wand, and started towards the shower, shouting the incantation, her wand movements not quite matching what Harry read in the book. The shower seemed to roar back and then the water went abruptly upward, pushing the roof of the tent up and bringing down the water in a wave to a different part of the bathroom, making it so it seemed they were in a sudden tsunami.

Hermione let out another yell and raised her wand, but Harry pulled her arm down, thinking it better he try. He concentrated, his mind clear like it usually is in these kind of moments, and knew he succeeded even as he was doing it.

The water went back down, the shower head turning the right way, the water pressure normal. He turned the tab and it shut off. He turned it back on and the water went out normally. He tried the hot water to see if it was working, and then the cold, and it was all fine. He looked back over to Hermione, who was standing behind him, completely drenched and shivering, somehow looking like a cat that was suddenly flung into a bathtub.

He started laughing. He couldn't stop laughing, he hadn't laughed like this in ages, maybe years, he couldn't remember laughing like this maybe ever. Eventually he could hear Hermione laughing, too, then both them where kneeling in the puddles on the floor, gasping for breath, pulling at each other, Hermione's head on his shoulder, his arms wrapped loosely around her, peels of laughter shaking themselves and each other.

'You-Know-Wh-Who, here we come." Hermione spit out in between gasps of breath.

He couldn't handle that, somehow, and now was laughing so hard he couldn't breath, clutching at Hermione even more so that she half kneeling, half sitting in his lap. He eventually broke through with a painful gasping laugh, "I-I can't breath, ah, it hurts."

She was still shaking with laughter in his arms, though it was slowing now, and they looked at each other, red faced and bright eyed and grinning. He realised that her hands were on his bare chest the same moment she seemed to, as she pulled back from him rather suddenly, the laughter dying but the red faces staying. He stood up and held out his hand to her again, which she took, the oddest of smiles on her face, her eyes carefully on his.

"Let's clean up, shall we?"

She did a spell that dried him right away and he went out into the living room to put on trousers and a sweater, returning to help dry the bathroom, Hermione glancing at him, her shoulders relaxing.

They were able to get into a small local grocery shop and buy some actually food later that afternoon, so Harry was counting this as a good day. Maybe the best one in a while. They were walking back, the air cold and damp but not too biting. Hermione's mood seemed pretty light as well, just as much as his, if her small smiles every time she looked at him were anything to go by. Maybe now would be a good time to talk about what needed to be done?

Going with the impulse, Harry licked his lips, hesitating for just a second longer. "Hermione… we need to go to Godric's Hollow."

"No."

That was it. She didn't say anything further. Her no was short and cold. He felt his good mood leave him all at once. He kicked at some leaves, they fluttered back down as she turned to look at him with a frown.

"Fine! That's fine. We'll just sit here, lost and confused and trying to find endless mushrooms when we aren't lucky enough to buy some day old bread from some muggle village! Vol-,damn it,-you-know-who, can go around killing people forever then. It's fine, it's not like this is my responsibility-"

"It. Is. A. Trap. For the last time, it's a trap. You know that, he knows that, everyone knows that Godric Hollow is a trap. He knows you'll want to go there."

"It's the only lead we have -"

"It's not a lead! There is no reason to think that anything is there except for wishful thinking. Except for the trap of course."

"You never trust my hunches, and look what happened last year."

He regretted it as it left his mouth. That wasn't her fault, that was too much.

Hermione swallowed and shook her head. "You don't listen to me at all."

He scoffed, so blown away by that response words wouldn't organise in his mind past sheer indignation.

"I do listen to your hunches, most of the time, but you see…" Her hands folded into each other. "I'm not a Gryffindor."

"Hermione, you're more Gryffindor than -"

"No. It wanted me in Ravenclaw, the sorting hat, it wanted me there, but everyone I talked to who seemed nice wanted to be in Gryffindor, the Headmaster was too, even, so I don't know, I just wanted to make friends so badly. So it said, basically, close enough, I guess, and let me into Gryffindor."

He knew, wasn't surprised, that the hat considered Ravenclaw, but it didn't really ever occur to him that she would feel uncertain about it, like he had with his sorting.

"So I'm not, sporty, or gun-ho, or, or…" She stomped her foot a little. "The point being, it's not that I don't think there isn't anything to your hunches. It's just that your hunches are dangerous and I'm just not… You don't even consider it, do you? Let it sink in that you could die. What eleven year old goes off through magical flames to face a dangerous wizard? What twelve year old hears that an eleven year old has been taken off by a basilisk and chases after it? You've always been this way. And I admire it and am amazed by it, you're a true Gryffindor. But I'm not. So I worry instead. You could have died at any time. You still can. So maybe… maybe there might be something in Godric's Hollow. But the hunch still isn't worth the obvious trap."

He wanted to say a lot of things. That she was the true Gryffindor, more than any of them, because bravery was going anyway when you are afraid, not going because you're too stupid to think through it beforehand. He wanted to say that he knew she was brave since the first time he met her; helping Neville, demanding answers from other kids she didn't even know, even if it was annoying. He wanted to talk about what Dumbledore said about the sword, about his own sorting, but the idea of repeating Dumbledore's words to anyone right now made him feel empty and bitter. He wanted to say that of course the hunch was worth the trap because that's all they had. He wanted to assure her that it would be fine, that he wouldn't die, but couldn't, because that's all he thinks about sometimes, how he's probably going to die.

He could see it clearly now, for the first time, the tapestry of their friendship woven together by her fear and his recklessness. He's high pitched eleven year old voice declaring that it had to be them that stopped Snape from getting the stone because who else would do it. He remembered, agonizing in its sharpness, Ron's transformation from fear to acceptance, one pulling over the other. But Hermione, she hadn't, not really.

"The hunch is worth the risk."

She squared her shoulders. "No. It's not. And I won't help you with a suicide mission." She marched past him, bags of groceries bouncing off of her legs.

He marched up behind her, his longer legs falling into step easily. "It's not one. It's not like that. It's about weighing your options. It's about risk versus necessity. We can't keep doing this forever. We have to do something."

She didn't look at him. "I agree. But it's not that. We'll find something else."

He put his hands into his hair, past frustrated into desperate. "Like what? Why-"

"I don't want you to die. What is so hard for you to understand about that?"

She could say it in that tone, but it didn't make it easier for him to understand. There was more at play here than him.

The good mood from earlier was thoroughly gone. He made chicken and pasta and they ate in silence. He wasn't sure what to do. They couldn't wait around any more, but she wouldn't budge. He could leave without her, sneak out. But somehow that seemed wrong. He couldn't imagine how she would feel when she figured out that he left. Plus, though he just talked about worthwhile risks, it did seem to be a little too reckless, even for him. He just needed to convince her, somehow. But she wasn't looking at him, instead her eyebrows were furrowed, her face set in a determined look of concentration he strongly associated with very long and difficult essays set by McGonagall or Snape.

The next day they moved on aimlessly as ever, the frost thawing a little between them, though tension was still in the air.

As they appeared in their new destination, they heard yelling coming from some distance, the echo of voices skittering through the empty trees and damp air, unpleasant, frantic. They froze in their ritual of charms as they set up camp and looked at each other. Harry gestured with his head and they finished their concealments faster, their spells silent or whispered, puffs of breath disappearing as they drifted into the enchantments.

They stood still and silent. They heard the voices again but more distant. Then there was nothing, not even wind or birds.

Still, they stayed quiet for a while longer. Eventually, though, Hermione sighed and pulled out the tent, waving it with her wand into shape. She gestured inside it, but Harry shook his head and instead pulled a scarf from his pocket and wrapped it around his neck, taking a seat on a stump a few feet away. She raised her eyebrows but he shook his head again and she shrugged and went into the tent, the soft glow of the lights the only warmth in the dreary gathering darkness.

There were no more voices, distant or otherwise. He wasn't truly listening for them anyway. Instead he imagined, envisioned, speculated, at where the hell the sword might be, saw again and again the satisfying sight of it cutting through the dank, dripping disgust made physical through the locket dangling from his neck. He wanted it so bad, the vision of it working against this weight on him so visceral, he half expected it to appear before him just through his sheer want.

After some time he couldn't feel his fingers anymore. The exhaustion of hope curved his shoulders as he slipped into the tent. Hermione had moved her bed closer to the furnace, only her face visible through the mountain of blankets. From the slight glow under her chin, he knew that she had one of her jar fires in the middle of her crossed legs.

She was reading something about France, her face set in concentration at having struck on something interesting. He knew better than to get his hopes up over that alone at this point. Instead he flung his scarf and coat on a chair and pulled off his shoes as he stepped over to Hermione's bed. He crawled into the pile of blankets from the side, his body shivering violently as it adjusted to the swift change in temperature, until he found her leg and put his head on it, moving the blankets out of the way so that the furnace could blast him full in the face. He shivered some more and Hermione patted the side of his cheek absently. She placed her jar of fire in his still freezing hands and turned the page of her book as he fell asleep.

When he woke up a couple of hours later, he was still on Hermione's bed but had a pillow under his head. She was asleep behind him. He was surprised that he hadn't woken up at all from her shuffling him off of her lap. He usually slept light with the locket on. He absently reached for it, realising that it wasn't around his neck with a jolt that was quickly relieved by the sight of a golden gleam around Hermione's neck.

She stirred as he rolled over onto his stomach, their eyes finding each other in the dim lighting left from the jar fire now placed by the side of the bed.

Her eyes seemed lighter than they had since he had brought up Godric's Hollow and he waited, anticipating whatever new idea she had.

It turned out to be as disappointing as he feared. Not because it was a stupid idea, but it wasn't right, and he knew, somehow, this would be a problem, the same way some clouds just look darker and more rain filled than others. At some point they had both sat up, the thick book she had been reading earlier in her hands, her fingers clenching and unclenching around it.

"Vol… You-Know-Who, wouldn't have hid a Horcrux in France."

"He might have, though, if you'd listen. This family was related to the Ravenclaws and more distantly the Guants, so their heirloom would have been of great interest to him at the very least."

Harry shook his head. "That wouldn't have been good enough; it's all too distant, not glamorous enough, not personal to his identity enough."

Her nostrils flared and he braced himself for whatever was about to come.

"It couldn't hurt to look."

"It would be a waste of time, Hermione. That chest just isn't it."

She slammed her book of French prominent families down on the rickety table, threw her head back, and screamed. Just a bellow of pure frustration. She took a breath then yelled out, "You. You and your twice damned bleeding hunches!"

She marched over to the chair with her coat on it and threw it on, slipped on one shoe than another, not tying the laces, just moving, stomping past him. He grabbed her arm as she went.

"Where are you going?"

"Away from you, and this stupid tent and this stupid weather and this stupid everything." She had tears in her eyes, her mouth shaking in anger.

"Please, don't, I-"

She let out a sound, half groan, half growl. "You know I'm not, just, let go."

He dropped her arm and didn't look back as she marched out of the tent. Instead he slumped down on his bed. His stomach clenched and swirled and his hands shook but his mind was clear, even if he's thoughts felt a little like they were coming from some distance away. Maybe it would be better. Not maybe, it would be, it's what he wanted in the first place, he didn't ask for either of them to come with. If she left, he'd be able to do what he wanted, would be able to follow all of his ideas. He wouldn't have to convince anyone of anything. He could make sure she got somewhere safe, make sure that she wouldn't be caught by the Ministry. Then he could… he could…

He shivered, imagining doing this alone, sitting in this tent.

He laid down and fell asleep easily, too easily, as though his mind just didn't want to think about it either, on the same page as him for once.

His side felt cold, as though his blanket slid off of him and he reached out for it, only to have is hand run into something solid but soft at the same time. He jerked to full awareness to see Hermione curling up by his side, radiating cold. He went up onto his elbow, looking down at her.

She stared up at him with watery eyes and whispered. "I'm sorry Harry. It's all just so frustrating and… You know I wouldn't leave you, right?"

There was a lump in his throat, one he needed to swallow through before he could reply. In the thickening silence Hermione's mouth trembled and her tears pooled and dropped down the sides of her face.

His voice was even, to his surprise. "Why, though? I don't know what I'm doing. We're stuck. Why would you stay? I wouldn't blame you for leaving, I wouldn't. We can find someplace safe for you, or you can find someplace else to help, someplace that's actually doing something, like that radio program, or something. You don't have to-" He had to become silent again, the evenness slipping from his voice.

"I would never just leave you here, Harry. You're my friend. If the situation was reversed, would you even consider leaving me here to deal with all this by myself?"

He wouldn't. He sighed, laying back on his back. "No. You're right, of course."

She tucked her face into his shoulder, the freezing tips of her fingers finding their way up into his sleeve. "Besides, this is about more than our friendship. We have to defeat him. I couldn't just hide somewhere. And while this is certainly frustrating, this is also the most important place to be to get it done. We just need a new perspective, something different."

"We need to go to Godric's Hollow, Hermione."

She stilled and he rolled onto his side, taking her hands in between his and rubbing them, warming them up. "We can be careful. More careful than I usually am anyway. But we have to go."

She stayed silent, but it was still a victory and he grinned, just a little, into his pillow.

Chapter Text

"Do you ever miss the muggle world?"

She was making some scrambled eggs while he read over a muggle newspaper that talked about a series of disappearances that were taking place around Surrey.

He glanced up at her, "No, not at all."

"Nothing? Not even one thing?" She sat the plate down in front of him. He nodded his thanks before taking a swing of hot black tea.

He hadn't really thought of it before, not having many fond memories. "I guess, sometimes, the tele oddly enough."

Hermione nodded her head, her eyes wide in agreement. "Yes! Sometimes the wizarding wireless just seems so archaic, I guess."

He tilted his head, really considering it. "The whole advertisement aspect of the wizarding world in general seems a little backwards, really."

"Yes! It seems like they are coping muggles from anywhere between the eighteen nineties to the nineteen forties. But why? Shouldn't they have more advanced kind of adverts? Also, why does everyone still use quills? They are the most inefficient writing utensil in the world."

Harry shrugged, grinning. "I think sometimes they like the inefficiency, you know, just for the whimsy of it."

Hermione snorted, shaking her head, her mass of curled hair swaying around her. "I wanted to be a scientist, you know? When I was little."

"What kind?"

"I hadn't narrowed it down yet. I just liked the idea of making sense of the world. Then I got my letter and that all went to the wayside. Now nothing makes sense and the wizarding world exists outside of that understanding, by nature. It's all so… wishy washy, unclear, whimsical, insane. So, I guess, that's what I miss from the muggle world. At least there you could pretend to try to make sense of it."

He paused in stuffing his face full of toast and eggs to glance up at her weary expression.

"I've been thinking about it and… and yeah, I think we should go to Godric's Hollow."

Harry dropped his fork. He stood and she did too, still frowning. He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her close, feeling her hair tickle the side of his face. He didn't know what he was doing, he just wanted to do something to show how this was good. He wrapped his arms around her and then clenched and hoisted her into the air, spinning her too light body around in a circle, her surprised shriek muffled into his shoulder.

He put her down and she pulled back, her face red and grinning in spite of herself. She looked very sweet and he felt this strange, giddy shot of affection for her that made him want to squeeze her closer, but it seemed odd, too much, after all that.

He grabbed her by the shoulders again, instead. "What made you change your mind?"

"I...I'm the sidekick."

"What?" He huffed out an incredulous laugh.

"This is your quest, you know. I mean, it's all our quest to defeat You-Know-Who, but Dumbledore entrusted this whole thing to you. You know You-Know-Who better than anyone else. And yes, I still think it's a trap, and yes, we need to think this through and have plan bs and cs and everything. But I think I'm being … stubborn I guess. So. So. Yes. Godric's Hollow."

He squeezed her shoulders lightly once more before letting his hands drop. "Right. Okay. Plans and back up plans and more plans. We can do that."

She was still staring up at him, the small grin disappearing from her face as she let out a slow shaky breath.

"Can you…"

He raised his eyebrows at her but she just sighed.

"Never mind, I'm just going to take up drinking."

Harry snorted, glancing around for a notepad and a pen.

"Let's get started."

And so they did, after much debating, deciding to split up for their tasks. Harry was to go alone under the invisibility cloak to collect hair for the polyjuice, Hermione to collect some information about Godric's Hollow and do some grocery shopping.

He thought of a village, small and gray and entirely unremarkable except for that they had bought a particularly dry rotisserie chicken from there once. He went to the park in the centre of it and waited until someone came. The small, old, muggle couple slowly made there way in the park, bickering about geese, it sounded like. They sat down on a bench and Harry snuck close, one hand pinching the hairs on the back of each of their heads, and pulled.

"Ouch!" Her voice was brittle. They both reached for the back of their heads and looked at each other in confusion but Harry didn't stick around to hear what guesses they had for what just happened, tucking their hair into clearly labeled vials as he walked away under his cloak.

He turned on his heel and appeared before Hermione who was standing in front of a muggle grocers, plastic bags in hand. She had glamors on to make her hair look blonde and sleek and her eyes bright, hazel green, but he still recognized her particular brand of discomfort as she stiffened at the sound of his apparition. She relaxed after he opened the cloak a little and glanced around the deserted street before stepping into fabric. She grabbed hold and then they were in another forest where a drizzle was starting in earnest.

"All go well?"

"Yeah, a very plain older couple. No cat hairs, I promise."

Hermione snorted. "That's all we'd need, isn't it?"

He found himself chuckling. "Imag-Imagine if I had to go face You-Know-Who and I was half orange cat. I'd hiss at him."

She dropped the bags on the forest floor with a scoff and started pulling the usual set up from her bag. "You'd probably look like that git."

She paused, fumbling with the tent for a second. Harry held his breath, expecting the usual burrage of unpleasant feelings that accompanied even the hints of Ron that had happened these last few weeks. But there wasn't any. Not because there weren't many buried now, he thinks, but because he was just too tired to go through the whole gambit again.

He sighed. "That's not very nice to orange cats."

She looked over to him, beaming a smile edged with something a little mean. "True."

He didn't know how to feel. It didn't feel right to make fun of Ron, even after everything. But he had to admit, there was something nice about calling the git what he was.

She set up the tent and they circled it with their standard enchantments before climbing inside. Hermione, her back turned towards him, stuffing cans into the shelves, spoke suddenly.

"I bet Ginny would be ashamed of him."

He sat down, watching her with curiosity. For some reason, he just wasn't as bothered by this as he normally would be today. "Yeah, I think she would give him the bat bogey hex."

She turned towards the kettle, pulling out a new box of breakfast teas. "I don't hate him."

There it was. The heart of it. Harry felt his breath hitch, this new angle unburying his weary feelings despite himself.

"I think I might." He was suddenly so angry, so unbelievably angry.

"He has poor impulse control. He responded more to that Horcrux than either of us. I think he probably regretted it the moment he left. I know he regretted his reaction to your name coming out of the Goblet in fourth year. We know him, what he's like."

He stood, spinning so his back was to her, but there was no comfort in that either. He was so tired of running. She was the last person who he couldn't run away from anymore. He turned back around, his hands on his hips, his voice coming out poison. "Yes. Yes we do know him. We know him as a great big bleeding git, we know him so well. He's a child, a selfish, mean, self-centered, spoiled little child. He shouldn't have ever come in the first place, he doesn't understand what it all means, he thought he was going to be a hero, that it'd be easy, but it isn't, it never is, and he was stupid to think so. I don't forgive him. I don't."

Hermione raised her chin, her eyes sharp, her arms crossed over her chest. "I don't either. I could spit in his eye. I could hit him. I want to. I want to list out everything you said, with a timeline and a chart, and character witnesses, to his stupid face. But what I am saying, what I mean to say, is that I don't hate him. He's… flawed."

He dropped his arms. "It would be easier to hate him."

The kettle started to whistle and with a sigh, she shuffled over to it. "You know, I'm not sure if it would."

Why was she right all the time? He picked up the wizarding map of Godric's Hollow Hermione had picked up on her grocery run and opened it, trying to go back to that numb, indifferent feeling he had had about Ron a minute ago, with moderate luck.

Hermione sat next to him, glancing over the lines and squares of the small town. "I feel pretty angry at myself that I was trying to date him."

Harry put down the map, somewhat intrigued despite the inherent awkwardness of this all. He saw that there was something happening, anyone would, what with the hand holding and the whispering and all that. Not to mention all the teenage drama last year. But they never actually came out and said what they were, ever.

"It wasn't good timing, obviously. And he can't have a conversation about emotions to save his life, so I was just kind of going off what seemed natural. Which I realise now was just me being a bit of a coward because I think if I had pushed it, it would have fallen part. We haven't even kissed yet."

He frowned, not liking how she was staring sad at the table. "I never really understood it, to be honest. I mean, you both fight a lot and it seemed…" He wanted to say dysfunctional, but that sounded judgey, even in his head. "It seemed messy, last year."

"He…" To his horror, there were tears gathering in her eyes. But she had already made tea, so there was no where for him to shuffle off to while still seeming helpful. So he sat stiffly, his hands on his mug. "I feel a bit pathetic to be honest. I always told myself I wouldn't be one of those girls that follows after uninterested boys, trying to prove something. But," He clenched his tea harder as the tears started to fall. Blimey he was uncomfortable. "He's really the only guy I've liked that's shown interest back."

"That's not true, there was Krum-"

"I, I didn't really like Krum. I mean, I liked that he like me, and I liked him as a friend, but, you know, I wasn't really attracted to him."

Harry squinted up at the ceiling of the tent, wishing that there was a girl who could swoop in and talk about this right now, but it felt pretty lame that he felt that way. He was her friend and they were on this blasted quest together, the least he could do is talk about some feelings.

"You know, I'm a girl too. I want, I don't know, to feel… wanted, I guess. And he almost did. And he was the only one who ever made me feel less like a wet blanket all the time. Like I could be fun." She dabbed at her face with the ends of her jumper sleeves. "Sorry Harry, I don't know why I'm unloading all of this on you right now. I know I'm making you uncomfortable."

Harry wondered, suddenly, if Hermione did, in fact, have girl friends that told her how to make her hair more tame, that sat behind her giggling in the mirror, that encouraged her about Ron, or discouraged. Did she talk to anyone about this at all last year, outside of his vague and uncertain comforting? It hit, all at once, how much he didn't know about Hermione. Did she want to get married and have children, did she want to date around after Hogwarts and travel? What did she want to be when she was older? Did she want to focus solely on work? Whenever he thought about it in the past he always assumed she would go on to change the shape of the wizarding world in someway or another, but he never really asked.

Then, he felt afraid. What if she got no future at all? What if they failed and she had her magic taken from her, was carted off to some horrible muggleborn camp, or became one of the desperate people lining Diagon Alley? What if she was never allowed to shape the wizarding world at all, never allowed to fall in love or get married or have children or not, whatever she wanted?

"Are you okay?" She looked concerned, confused, her eyes searching his face.

He swallowed his fear, the weight of this war made painfully personal in a brand new way, his desperation that she be allowed to do whatever she wanted making him clench his hands. She touched his arm, looking a little alarmed; he couldn't guess what his face looked like.

"What do you want, in the future?"

"To get rid of that monster and all his little monsterlings, of course." She still looked confused, her head tilted to the side.

"I mean after?"

She looked less confused now, more downcast. "I haven't really been thinking about it lately. It feels kind of sad, too...hopeful. There is so much to do first…"

He put his hand over the one she had on his arm and gave it a little squeeze. "You've been really hard on yourself less last few weeks. You keep talking about how boring and neurotic you are, how you're a wet blanket, how your no fun. Hermione, you're an amazing friend and any bloke would be lucky to have you. I guess, thinking about it just now, I realised I have no idea what you'd like to do after everything, with guys or with your career, you know?"

She looked very young, her eyes wide and open, her cheeks a little pink. She looked like she could do with a hug, but it was all too much now. Her voice was soft, just above a whisper, and he found himself leaning in closer to listen. "In my ideal world, I'd graduate Hogwarts with all the N.E.W.T.s and have my pick of positions. Maybe I would go into law, maybe protections for magical creatures, I'm not sure. But something like that. I know what it feels like to be dehumanised now and I want to help others that have been made to feel less, that are being taken advantage of for being different somehow. That's the most important thing. But maybe it would be fun to date, to bring a boy home to meet my parents and exchange presents on Valentine's day and talk about your day with and, and snog, or whatever. And eventually, if it makes sense in our lives, I'd like to get married and have two kids."

"Two?"

"I don't want to have too many, it will be hard because I do want to have a career. But then, it always seemed fun to have siblings. I always felt a little lonely, being an only child, even though my parents were great about making sure I was always included in things. But, I don't know. A family sounds nice. A family and a career where I help someone, that's what I'd like."

It felt unbelievably unfair that some fearful, cowardly, snake man and his crowd of power hungry sycophants were trying to take that away from her. And for what? Because her parents are muggles? He was already so entrenched in this nonsensical war, but a new determination was burning in him, more defined than ever.

"What do you want?" She leaned in closer too, still searching his face.

"To help give you that."

She sat back, her face bright red. "What?"

He didn't understand why she looked so shocked. "We have to make a world where you can do all those things."

"Oh." She closed her eyes for a second, unknown emotions flashing across her face. He could feel his eyebrows furrowing.

"What did you think I meant?"

She opened her eyes and her face got pinker. "Oh, I - It's not important. Yes, I mean, of course that's what we all want. Even if we do get rid of that monster, there is going to be a lot of work left to do to help change the wizarding world into a better place. But I mean the same thing you meant, what about after, what do you want?"

He shrugged, not looking at her. Somehow he didn't picture himself making it through this at all, there was too much to do and he hasn't exactly been set up for success. His thoughts pretty much went to the desperate hope that he would be able to take Voldemort with him, and that was the wildest his dreams got. But he didn't like to linger on the thought too long, as it made him feel like screaming.

"More tea?" He stood up, but Hermione's hand still on his arm stopped him. She was looking up at him with searching eyes again. "What do you want in the future, Harry?"

"I want the wizarding world to be free and better for everyone."

She shook his arm. "What do you want for yourself?"

He took her hand on his arm and pulled it off, squeezing it once and letting it drop. "I want a set of nice woolen socks." He couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of his voice.

He moved to pour more tea but was stopped by Hermione's arms encircling him from behind. "What do you want, Harry, you have to want something." Her voice sounded choked, her face buried in between his shoulder blades.

Her hands clenched on his jumper as the silence continued. She wasn't going to let it go. He let out a shaky kind of sigh, wishing that this conversation hadn't happened. "A family. I've always wanted a family."

Her arms squeeze tight. "I won't let him take that from you."

She was crying now, into his back, and he turned, wrapping her in the hug they both needed. "We're going to try our best."

When she looked up at him, he was surprised that she didn't look weepy, though the rims of her eyes were red, but rather she looked furious. "We have to win."

He felt that too. There simply was no other choice. He lowered his face on to her shoulder, not able to look at her, and hoped that she would be okay without him, later.

They stayed that way for a little while, eventually Hermione pulling back a little. "We really need more tea. I'm not sure how me complaining about boy troubles turned into this, but, we need some tea. And some chocolate."

He let his arms drop. "Chocolate?"

She grinned up at him, her eyes a bit roguish, and he felt something stab close to his heart.

"I hid some chocolate, for whenever we really needed it. I think this counts."

"You little minx, holding out on us this whole time."

She grinned back at him before grabbing the short stool they kept in the kitchen area, peering up into high shelves and taking down a tin that said dried prunes on the side. Harry laughed as he came closer, Hermione pulling up the lid to reveal… a bunch of torn wrappers.

Harry threw back his head and guffawed as Hermione let out a shriek and threw the tin to the floor with a clatter. "That bastard! He found it, that giant prat!"

"Why would you try to hide things from him in high places?"

"He hates prunes! Why would he look in here?"

Harry shrugged. "He hates being hungry more than he hates prunes, I guess."

Hermione stomped her foot. "I take what I said earlier back, I do hate him."

He picked up the tin and put it in the bin, still grinning. "Remind me never to get between you and chocolate."

Hermione pouted as she poured more tea into their mugs.

Harry pointed at the map. "Let's get back to this, hm?"

And they did, analyzing the town, talking about where to look and where to go, when to take the polyjuice, the air between them somehow different.

She wanted to wait a couple of days, "Incase something else, an obstacle or issue, occurs to us that we haven't thought of yet."

He knew she was just stalling, still afraid of a trap. He hated waiting, but knew better than to push it.

That night he started drifting off as Hermione started her shower. He showered in the morning, she showered at night. He found the sound of the water kind of soothing and wondered if he was developing a sort of pavlovian response to the sound of it, nodding off despite his mind running over the plan over and over again.

She screamed, the sound of her genuine fear slicing through the drowsy atmosphere like a sword. Harry was up and into the bathroom before he had a full conscious thought.

Hermione was standing in the shower stall, in the corner, hastily wrapping a towel around herself. She pointed to the floor by Harry's feet where there was a long, thin, black snake with green patterns along it was coiling on the floor. Harry let out a shout and backed up, cornering in Hermione behind him.

"Waaarm. So warm in here." The snake curled further. "Why are there always danger monkeys in the warm?"

"You can't stay here." Harry hissed back, mentally filing away the name danger monkey for future patronuses.

"Too cold outside, I'll die."

Harry sighed. "This is an exceptionally stupid snake." He looked back at Hermione, who looked confused.

"You're stupid, smelly creature."

He realised he was still speaking parseltongue. He looked Hermione in the eye and tried again. "This is an exceptionally stupid snake. Do you think you could vanish him someplace warmer?"

Hermione nodded and clenched the towel closer to herself. It was a rather small towel, Harry noticed, and he glanced away, raising his arm and shuffling so that Hermione was behind him as she reached for her wand.

"Don't get nervous, we'll send you someplace warm."

The snake's tongue flicked out. "Thank you, danger monkey."

"How do you know about monkeys?"

"Who doesn't know about monkeys?"

And then the snake was gone, Hermione having done the spell behind him.

"Where did you send him?"

"Ecuador, I think."

"That's certainly warmer. Why so far away?"

"What if it was a spy?"

Harry turned towards her, surprised by the thought, only to look away again. She was rather soft and warm looking, and some part of his mind, the part that made the not looking hard, wanted the towel to be a little smaller.

"I didn't get spy of evil from it, more barking than anything."

She shrugged, wrapping her arms around her front. "Better safe than sorry."

Harry nodded, glancing again. "We've had bad luck with this bathroom lately."

She nodded, raising her eyebrows at him. "Thank you for the help, I was pretty startled."

"No worries. Happy to help."

She raised her eyebrows further and he coughed, leaving the bathroom in two quick strides.

He flopped back onto his bed. "What the hell was that?"

Was he turning into some kind of pervert? Why did he keep glancing at her? She looked uncomfortable.

He groaned, pushing his face into his pillow. She didn't look uncomfortable, really, more, incredulous? Like she couldn't believe that he was ogling her.

He lifted his head smacked it back down into the pillow. He had been ogling her. Why had he been ogling her?

He missed Ginny. He had been allowed to ogle Ginny. Though not anymore, of course. He had just not been able to ogle anyone for a long time.

He felt awashed in guilt now. Guilt for making Hermione uncomfortable, guilt towards Ginny. He really did miss Ginny. He missed how she felt in his arms, the easy way the were with each other. She made him feel like a teenage boy and not like he had to run off to do things that were way over his head.

She had been distracting, a warm presence away from all the gathering darkness. Of course, as he laid here in this never ending camping trip from hell, he wishes he could yell back to his past self that he needed to focus and ask as many questions as possible, but that wasn't her fault.

He had wanted the distraction.

Hermione had looked really nice at the Yule ball. And other times too. Like just now. But it felt wrong, somehow.

Harry rolled onto his back, frowning at the ceiling. Why was it so wrong? He wasn't going to make a move on her or something, and Hermione was allowed to be a pretty girl just as much as anyone else. She honestly is, even.

He has no idea where he is going with this train of thought.

Hermione came out of the bathroom in flannel pajamas and walked over to his bed. He looked at her and she stared down at him. "You're a boy."

"Man?"

She grinned a little. "Boy."

He poked her leg. "Man."

She swatted at his finger. "Point being, we have been a little cavalier about that lately."

"Cavalier about me being a man?"

"And me being a girl. Woman. Girl."

"You are right, you are a girl woman girl and I am a man."

She rolled her eyes and sat on the edge of the bed. "We are two straight people of the opposite sex, rife with teenage hormones, living in a tent together on the run. Let's just… try not to have any more bathroom mishaps, I suppose." She bit her lip and furrowed her brow, looking somehow embarrassed and confused.

He himself was experiencing a brand new emotion that seemed to be a mix of mortified and amused. "I'll leave the snakes to you next time, then."

She shook her head, placing her forehead in the palm of her hand. "We need to get out of this bleeding tent."

Harry swung his legs around, so that he was sitting next to her, and knocked his shoulders into hers a little. "Life on the lamb has made you quite the swearer, Hermione Granger. You, living scandalously as a young woman with a man, speaking of nothing else but the urge to drink your worries away. Dropping out of school, too, on top of it all. Shame."

She knocked her shoulders back into him, harder. "Oh do shove off, Undesirable Number One."

He grinned at her as she stood and walked away to the other side of the tent, where her own bed was, and made a mental note to be more conscientious in the future. The last thing he would ever want is for her to be uncomfortable.

Chapter Text

Harry had his shirt half off before he considered that maybe they really had become rather cavalier about it. He let it drop back down and considered the bathroom, though he hated getting dressed in there because it was always a little damp. But then, Hermione always changed in there and never complained about it.

It's not like he pranced around starkers, or lounged around in only his pants or something. He wasn't Seamus, the exhibitionist. Plus it was just way too cold for that. But he supposes he had started treating the tent a bit like the boys dorm at Hogwarts.

But Hermione wasn't a boy.

Right.

He glanced over at Hermione, who was wearing about fifteen different layers and a blanket, her hair piled high on her head in a very puffy bun. She was double checking that the leftover polyjuice potion was still good, glancing between a potions textbook and the vials while muttering under her breath.

He doubts she would even notice if he changed for the day right now, but his mind flashed back to her incredulous look the night before and he frowned, grabbing his clothes and heading into the bathroom, where he got a splotch of water on his trousers somehow and then accidentally stepped his sock clad foot into a puddle of water left over from his shower. He then considered how he is a wizard, and could dry the bathroom before he got dressed.

Magic. Right.

Shaking his head at his own stupidity, he dried the spots and then left the bathroom with a sigh.

"Do you ever momentarily forget that you're magical?"

He sat in the warn armchair, waiting. Hermione, when she was concentrating, took a minute or two sometimes to process that he had asked a question.

She bit her lip and closed the book between her hands, pressing the covers between them for a second, her eyebrows furrowed. "I don't think the polyjuice is at full power. I think it will work, but not for terribly long, maybe. I don't know. It might potentially work for longer the normal too, according to this."

Then she blinked and turned towards him. "Yes, I do forget sometimes. Then I always hear the gits voice saying, 'Have you gone mad, are you a witch or not?' during the devil snare thing, you know, first year?"

Harry nodded. "Do you think that purebloods, or I guess anyone who grew up knowing about magic has a, I don't know, more intuitive feel for magic? I mean like, sometimes I forget that I know a spell to help with something, but for them, maybe it's weirder to not think of a magical solution first?"

"That's actually a part of the pureblood supremacy argument, you know?" She sat down on her bed, cross legged.

Harry raised his eyebrows. "No, I didn't know. But I do feel gross for having asked now, I guess."

Hermione grinned at him. "Yes, they say that by virtue of their upbringing they are more suited to magic and magical culture. They are very big on magical culture, which, as far as I can tell, mostly consists of muggle culture from fifty or more years ago. But to answer your question, maybe, honestly, there is a little truth to that. But not really, I don't think. Or at least there isn't a significant advantage because as far as I can tell, a magical person's ability to perform magic consists of two factors."

Harry shifted in his seat, getting comfortable. He felt a Hermione rant coming.

"The first being pure, raw, magical talent and power. People like Dumbledore, You-Know-Who, you, McGonagall, Flitwick, just have the power to do incredible things."

Harry snorted.

"Yes, you too, Mr. I-made-a-patronus-that-fought-off-one-hundred-dementors-when-I was-thirteen."

"Catchy, I like it better than The-Boy-Who-Lived."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "And, again, as far as I can tell, percentage of magical relatives doesn't have any bearing on the strength or raw power of a witch or wizard."

"You're a good example too."

"Me?"

"Yeah, your magic isn't exactly patchy, and as far as you know, you're the only magical person in your family."

"Me, yes, that brings me to the second factor, which is the study of magic. You'd think, with the lifelong exposure to spells and their effects, that magical people from magical families would have a huge leg up, but they don't really, which doesn't actually make sense to me at all."

Harry sat forward in his chair, thinking. "I think it kind of does. Think on it, children aren't allowed to do magic because it's too unstable in our early years. And even if you do study the theory of magic, ultimately it's all about doing it, isn't it? It's kind of like what Umbridge tried, saying that we didn't need to actually practice to understand, which of course was nonsense. So ultimately it all comes down to the same thing, the ability to do it. And like you were saying, pure blood doesn't really seem to have anything to do with that."

Hermione stood and walked over to him, putting her hand on his head, her fingers pulling at gently at his hair. "You know, Harry, you have a pretty sharp mind." She smiled down at him, dropping her hand.

He fought off the strange urge to put his hand on her waist. "Don't sound too surprised."

She smiled wider and then made a humming sound of consideration. "I do think that studying does have a lot to do with magical ability, though."

"Shocking."

She put her hand back on his head, shaking it a little, then let it slide down to his shoulder. He continued to fight off the urge to put his hand on her waist. It was right there, the slope of her hip going upward looking very comfortable. He frowned up at her, wondering if she wasn't being a little cavalier herself. Was she always this touchy? But she wasn't looking at him, instead staring into the middle distance, thinking. "I mean, you simply can't do a spell you don't know. The incantation and wand movement have meaning, so the more spells you know, the more magic you can do. But people seem to be remarkably blase about it. I mean, shouldn't that be more...exciting for everyone? Wouldn't you want to know as much magic as possible?"

"Maybe then people like us have a different advantage?"

She looked down at him again, brows furrowed.

He shrugged, trying to think of what he meant. "Magic is magical to us, we grew up thinking it wasn't real. So there is something exciting about it, whereas for magically raised people, it's just all ordinary, isn't it?"

Her hand on his shoulder moved smoothly towards the back of his neck, her gentle cool fingers sending a small shiver down his spine. She hesitated a second, "But, well, you don't really like studying either."

His hand seemed to move of its own accord. He was right, it was comfortable there. "Calling me out, eh?"

She smiled down at him. "It's-It's not that you never showed interest, but you definitely were more cavalier about it."

Cavalier. Right.

He moved his hand from her waist, trying not to think too deeply on why he didn't really want to move his hand, and reached for hers curled around the back of his neck, holding it lightly between his in front of him. "Only you could find those dry, dry textbooks so readable, Hermione. I'm more amazed that they somehow managed to make books of magic boring than blaming myself for finding them boring."

She snorted, shaking her head and opened her mouth to say something, but Harry interrupted her. "Besides, I guess it goes to show, even the most extraordinary things can become commonplace and boring if we see it everyday, right? Maybe what makes you such an exceptional witch isn't either raw power or your study prowess, but underneath all of that, the ability to be so curious about what other people brush off or overlook or decide to be uninteresting. I'm pretty sure you were the only one who bothered in Bin's class. Why?"

Hermione's face was unreadable, her eyes focused on his, dark and unlined either by frantic thought or worry, which was unusual. She looked peculiarly open and closed at the same time as she pulled her hand back and gestured vaguely with it. "Mostly because I hate getting bad grades. Also frustration because I think magical history would be a fascinating subject, and is truly very important as anti-muggle and muggleborn sentiment seems to be a cyclical problem in the wizarding world, so it's important to see the patterns there, but it's taught so poorly by that ghost that I want to learn it almost just to spite him."

"Huh, learning through spite. Never thought of it that way."

Hermione laughed. "Lies. What do you think the D.A. was?"

He laughed too, leaning back in his chair as Hermione walked over to her beaded bag, absently starting to look through it.

"Oh yeah, I guess I have."

She paused in her half hearted attempts to triple organise. "Will you promise me to be careful tomorrow?"

He looked over to her, surprised. "Of course."

She frowned down at her bag, which she placed lightly on the table. "You're my best friend."

He considered her nervous frown, his mind playing over the realisation that much of their friendship has consisted of him being reckless and her, terrified, but compelled by her nature to follow. He felt, for the first time in a while, the old burn of his sad anger and sorriness. He was sorry, but, as usual, this was bigger than him. "You're my best friend, too."

She gave him a watery smile and turned back towards her potions book. He sighed and said he would take watch, grabbing his coat and scarf. She nodded, still looking at her book as he went outside and stared up at the stars, trying not to think of waists or hands or scaring his friend or his desperate need to do something, anything at all, to end this war.

The next day was tense and silent, almost like it had been after Ron had left, but the quality of it was different.

And then, at long last, they were outside Godric's Hollow.

They walked a few feet, their shoes crunching the snow beneath them, before Hermione stopped with a small gasp. Harry paused, nervous about what could have already gone wrong.

"The snow! We didn't think of the snow."

"We'll take the cloak off. We don't really need it anyway."

He pulled it off of them, stuffing it into his pocket. Hermione's frown was still hers, even on the old muggle woman's face. Taking a deep breath, she put her arm through his and they went forward, looking around at the twinkling lights in the windows. The church next to the graveyard was full, people singing filling the night. Hermione paused again, more briefly, her voice still hers, if weaker with age. "Oh, I think it's Christmas Eve."

That made him pause too. He couldn't imagine it, sitting by the fire eating biscuits, waking up in the morning with presents at the foot of the bed, laughing at whatever Fred and George got him. He pictured this town, everyone in the church, going home with their families, feeling festive, with a shot of such burning envy that he was sure the locket around his neck hummed.

Hermione squeezed his arm a little. "Happy Christmas, Harry."

They rounded the corner through the kissing gate. "Happy Christmas, Hermione."

They looked, brushing snow off the stones. Hermione found that mark again on an ancient tombstone and Harry felt electric with anticipation. He felt it was a sign, a vindication that this wasn't a mistake.

But mostly he wanted to find his parents' grave. He needed to find it.

He has spent the moments when Hermione wasn't around these last few days looking through his photo album, the one Hagrid gave him. He saw they way his father beamed at his mother, the way that his mother rested her cheek against his father's and shut her eyes, smiling wide and then blinking them open. People always said that he had his mother's eyes, but he didn't think that he's were so sweet looking. He kept looking at his father who, in the photo, was only a few years older than him, but he still looked much older, somehow, a man. Despite what Harry insisted to Hermione, he still didn't feel like one. He wondered if he would make it even to his father's age. Would he look even more like him then?

To think that they were here, that they were only a matter of feet away from him, filled him with a pain he didn't understand but was deeply familiar with, maybe just never quite this intensity. Maybe when he saw the mirror of Erised.

Dumbledore's family was there. He couldn't understand why he never told him this. They're families laid together dead in the same dirt, Dumbledore knew this but never told him for some reason. Not some reason, it could only be that Dumbledore didn't want to share that part of him with Harry. Sure, Dumbledore could witness him struggling with the mirror, save him from dementors that showed him his parent's voices as they died, know that his wand showed him the ghosts of them, witness his complete falling apart at the pain of losing Sirius, could spend hours and hours with him talking about his own destiny, but never, ever mentioned his own family, his own pain, never tried to draw that connection between them.

And Harry never asked.

By the time that Hermione had called him over, soft and light, his heart was already full of grief.

And there they were. "The last enemy that shall be defeated is death? Isn't that a Death Eater idea?"

Hermione was standing next to him, the most somber look over her face. She hummed for a second before glancing at his face, her express softening into something else, something new. "Death eaters have taken that idea and perverted it, as they tend to. The idea isn't that you should live forever on this earth, but that your soul will live on forever, in the after life. That you'll never truly be lost to those you love."

Harry nodded, unable to speak, and he felt Hermione's hand slip into his, felt her stand closer, so their sides, shoulder to shoe, were pressed together. He needed that very badly.

They were right there. They were there, just under his feet, the closest he has been to them in sixteen years. But they were gone, only their bones left. He remembered dreaming and hoping and wishing as a child that his parents weren't dead, that it was all a big mistake, that they would come back to him and take him away from the Dursley's and that constant, pervasive feeling of being unwanted.

He had seen their echoes, their ghosts, and heard stories of them from their friends, had heard their deaths with his own ears, but somehow the reality of it all, the last spark of that childish dream didn't die until just then. Their bones were beneath him.

His stomach clenched, his hands shook, but he knew there wouldn't be any running from this. Hermione put her head on his shoulder as the first tears fell and squeezed his hand as the first huffing, suffocating breath left him. She tethered him to the earth as he floated away on old pain made new, old pain that never truly left, old pain that lead to newer pain that lead to newest pain.

She pulled her wand out and conjured a beautiful wreath of Christmas roses. They looked right there, somehow made the whole thing the less ugly. He turned towards her and pulled her close, wrapped his arms tightly around her smaller frame, dropped his head to her shoulder. He felt her arms wrap just as tightly around him, the palms of her hands flat on his back, rubbing small circles that kept him sane as the waves of grief passed over him.

He pulled back, resting his forehead against hers for just a second. "I really don't know what I'd do without you." His voice was still shaky.

He opened his eyes to see Hermione's face, red eyed and splotchy and blurry. He wondered when they had changed back. She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. "I love you."

He gritted his teeth in order to not start crying all over again. He swallowed thickly and squeezed her shoulders. she seemed to understand that he couldn't speak.

He pulls out his glasses and puts them on, fogging them instantly. Hermione let out the smallest, shakest of giggles he has ever heard, and he finds a small grin on his face. He swings his arm around her shoulders and she put hers around his waist and they leave.

Or try to, as Hermione tugs him to a stop. "Someone's there."

Harry feels the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He glances around, not seeing anything. "Where?"

Hermione points a shaky finger at the bushes just outside of the gate.

"In the bushes, I swear I saw something move."

They stand perfectly still, staring at the bushes, into the dimness of the road. There's no sound or movement. "Maybe it was a cat?"

"Let's put the cloak on." Her voice is higher, strung with nerves.

He wants to point out that there is still snow on the ground but decides against it. At least it was something, to hide their identities.

He flings the cloak over the both of them, Hermione walking awkwardly close in order to stay under, eventually they find their rhythm. She's leading them somewhere, his parent's house, he remembers the plan, his tired mind catching back up. He's curious, but his emotions have quieted, dulled, rubber bands already stretched too far, lying lank.

They pass the statue of his family and it's all starting to feel a bit surreal by the time the come upon the ruins of his house.

They stare up at the house in silence. He takes off the cloak; Hermione stares up at him with wide eyes, nervous. But Harry's eyes are taking in the crumpled walls, black still from the fire that resulted in whatever the hell happened to Voldemort.

"I wonder why they didn't fix it? Why leave it like this?" Hermione's voice is shaky, she keeps glancing between him and the house.

He shrugs, his eyes trailing along the cracks in the foundation of the house. It really must have been quite the explosion. "Maybe they couldn't, dark magic and all."

They see the plaque next. They kept the horror of the house the same to honour them all. He doesn't know how he feels about it, the whole thing seems all too personal and completely detached at the same time, as though he's visiting a museum.

He loves the graffiti more than he can say, though Hermione seems to disapprove, if her scowling at it is anything to go by. She takes a deep breath as though to speak, then pauses. "I knew your story of course. I read all about it even before coming to Hogwarts. I thought it was all very...dramatic. And then I met you and you became a real person, but because of that the two stories became separate, in a strange way. There was my friend Harry who stayed at school during Christmas, which made me sad. And there was Harry Potter, whose parents died so tragically, which also made me sad, but in a more...abstract way. I… Until the graveyard, until seeing this just now, I don't think I - I don't know if I really ever understood on some level, what you've gone through." He can feel her looking at him, the pressure of her gaze on the side of his face. He touches one the smiley faces drawn on the sign and feels the ghost of a grin on his lips. "I've only met your parents a couple of times, didn't go much past hello. Why is that?"

How is it that there is still so much they don't know about each other?

Hermione stiffens and he knows he has hit on something. It seems fair, considering how emotionally one sided this night had been so far. She leans against the fence. "I haven't told them a lot. About you and what you are in the wizarding world, what we've gotten up to. I've omitted and lied so much now that I'm not even sure what to tell you or R-, you, what to talk about anymore."

He sighs, letting his hand drop. "I'm sorry." He doesn't think that any amount of sorrys will ever cover it.

She shakes her head, opening her mouth to say something.

And then there is a figure walking towards them. Hermione clutches his hand and again she looks at him in fear, her eyes silently begging him to not do this, to think. He understands, he knows better now, he sees the tapestry of their friendship, still feels sorry and angry about it, always those two things together. But it's bigger than him, he knows this is important. He lets go of her hand as he turns towards the figure of Bathilda Bagshot, who leads them to a house, who leads him away from Hermione, who turns into the snake, who bites him, who disappears as Hermione destroys the room, and they disappear too, as Harry sees his parent's death with his own eyes, through their murderer's.

He was wrong. His hunch was wrong. It wasn't worth it. There isn't anything special about his intuition. He wasn't meant to lead in this fight against Voldemort. He almost got Hermione killed, even though she was so worried, even though she was right. He was reckless. He wasn't a Gryfindor, he was an idiot. When he next opened his eyes and saw Hermione above him, exhausted; he was so angry and so, so sorry.

Chapter Text

He felt like he just stepped out of the shower, how damp he was; his clothes, his hair, the blanket and sheets twisted around him. Hermione put a gentle hand on his shoulder as his eyes focused from the twisted reality he just witnessed to the one in front of him, keeping him from flailing out of the bed or sitting up.

The pain hit him next, on his chest and his arm. He gasped and Hermione's face crumpled into a pained grimace herself. Through the throbbing he noticed the deep purple under her eyes, the pale light of dawn raising through the tent behind her exhausted face.

"Wh-what?" He rasped out, still blinking away the images of his parents surrounded by green light.

"Y-you've been… you've been… v-very ill." His mind is still in fragments, in pain, so much pain he can't even really begin to feel, so he focuses on her face, on her words. He reaches out his hand and put it on her knee, trying to understand, to piece together this reality with what he just went through.

"You've been shouting and sounding like you were in so much pain and saying… saying…" She shuddered and he felt dizzy, trying to keep things together. What had he been saying? Had he spoken as Voldemort? What had she heard?

"I-I, you, I had to - to cut the locket off of your chest, I'm sorry, it wouldn't come off and it seemed like it was causing you a lot of pain."

Harry looked down at his chest, under the sheets and blankets and his shirt. There was an oblong scar, shiny red in its healing anger on his chest. It hurt but not as much as it looked like it should. He checked his arm, now adorned with two puncture marks, also mending, and looked at her in question.

"I used the Dittany."

He nods and puts his head back down on his damp pillow, feeling oddly empty, his brain not thinking much.

Hermione shifts next to him, but he just slowly blinks up at the ceiling of the tent.

"Where did the snake come from?"

In the waves of horrors that the night had turned into, he had almost forgotten that one. He almost doesn't want to tell her. He wants to keep quiet about everything, wants to hold it in his thoughts and his alone, doesn't want to share out because he doesn't deserve to. It's hard to look at her.

"Harry." She says his name in a pleading tone that makes him want to punch his own face.

"She was the snake. She was speaking parseltongue. The snake...came out of her."

"Oh." He can hear her putting it all together with that one small sound of understanding. He glances at her; she's swaying a little where she sits, her eyebrows furrowed in thought, her mouth a little slack in disgust. She looks like she's going to fall over.

"We can talk about all the details later, you look like you need to rest." He moves to sit up, feeling weak, but not all that bad.

Hermione moves to push him down again. "Oh no, no, Harry, you have rest more, last night was-"

"I don't want to sleep. I'm done sleeping." He says it too sharply, the way that he had spoke after Ron left. Her hand stills than drops before it reaches his shoulder and she frowns at him.

"You need to rest, alright? I want you to rest, I'm okay now." It was a lie, but what was she going to do about it. He wants her to stop looking like that, half dead, swaying where she sits.

He sits the rest of the way up and stands slowly, pulling Hermione up with him. "I'll take watch, where's my wand?"

Her tired eyes fill with tears and she bites her lip. He distantly feels a wave of dread come over him before nothing. Now he feels nothing. "I-I'm so, so sorry, Harry." She turns and reaches back and then pauses, her shoulder's hunched, before turning toward him with his wand almost torn in two, bright red and gold fragments of feathers poking out of the wood.

"It was my fault. When I did the spell to blast the snake off you, I think I- I'm sorry."

Harry nods, then shakes his head, and takes his wand from her, holding it between his two hands. "Can you try repairing it?"

"I don't think it's that simple. Do you remember what happened with Ron's wand-"

"Please." His voice sounds monotone and strange even to his own ears.

She nods, blinking rapidly, and tries. The wood is mended but the wand isn't. It doesn't really work.

He stares at it in his hand for a long minute while Hermione stays hunched and swaying. He shrugs and puts it in the bag that Hagrid had given him, the one where he keeps his parent's photo album.

Hermione looks heartbroken and he can't do anything at the moment, no words of comfort seem to come forward in his mind, no words of any kind seem to be in him. No words or feelings or anything at all. He takes her hand and pulls her towards her bed and she's staring at him, but he can't think of anything to say at all, so he gently pushes her down by her shoulders and pulls her blankets up to her chin and then puts his hand on her cheek. "Please go to sleep. Can I use your wand?"

She nods slowly, still staring at him, but he can't think of anything else so he turns away and starts picking up around the tent, feeling her eyes on him still, until he doesn't, and he turns to look, and she's asleep, very still and sad looking, even as she's drifting off.

The tent is a mess, potion bottles tossed here and there, wet towels and sponges littering the floor. He moves everything, the towels, his blanket, sheets and pillowcases to the tub they keep under the sink and pull out on laundry day. He gathers Hermione's and his dirty clothes from the hamper as well and starts the clothes washing charm, taking a few times to get it to work, the wand not quite responding, then watches as the bar of magical stain and odor removing soap scrubs at the clothes against the washing board by itself.

It feels like every time him blinks he sees that bright flash of green and distantly wonders if he will always see it now, if it will ever stop.

He thinks maybe he threw up a lot last night as his stomach feels entirely empty. He wonders what it was like for her, if he had in fact screamed things that Voldemort had said, if he had been throwing up. He wonders if it was like the film The Exorcist. He didn't think it was possible to feel more sorry towards her, but now there's that. He sighs and stands, making pasta and canned bolognese sauce on the stove top, eating half and putting the rest in the small cooling charmed box next to the stove for Hermione. He drinks three glasses of water and fells much less weak, less like he needs to lie still on the floor.

After a quick shower, he almost feels human.

He stands outside of the tent and practises with Hermione's wand. It doesn't feel right. It's not terrible, not like the wands he had touched briefly before his at Olivander's, but it feels like sleeping on someone's sofa. It's manageable, but clearly wouldn't work long term, somewhat uncomfortable. It feels like Hermione's wand is being a polite host, accepting that he's there, but wondering when he's going to leave.

It probably doesn't matter anyway. Voldemort is going to kill him without his wand to protect him.

He lets out a shaky sigh and returns to inside the tent where the charm is now wringing out the last of the water from the clothes. Harry taps the side of the tub, drying all the clothes and linens inside before starting to fold them. He knows the spell that has the clothes fold themselves pretty well by now but he does it by hand, remembering mechanically the sharp lines and crisp corners that Petunia had taught him when he was five or so, slapping at his hands whenever he didn't do it quite right and got a wrinkle in one of Vernon's work shirts.

He sweeps and mops the floor, vanishes the rubbish, scrubs at the titles in the bathroom, and thinks with some dark sort of feeling that you really do go back to the familiar when you don't know what else to do.

By the time he's drying off the scrubbed tent walls, Hermione is waking back up, a soft moan and groan behind him. He turns and they consider each other across the tent for a second, Hermione sniffing the air, her voice raspy. "It smells really fresh in here."

"I've been cleaning. Didn't know what else to do."

Hermione's stomach growls so loud he can hear across the tent.

He takes a pan out and heats up the pasta that he made her earlier. She's sitting at the table watching him by the time he's done. Her hair is chaos, lines from her pillowcase creases molded into her cheek. Her eyes are dark and intelligent and all Hermione as she stares at him. "What happened?"

He's still blinking green, still thinks he deserves to, but she probably heard enough to understand that something more had happened anyway.

"I fucked up. You were right, it was desperate thinking. I was reckless when I promised you I wouldn't be. I thought that she would have the sword but I didn't need to walk away from you to get it. I was stupid. This is all my fault. It's my fault I lost my wand. We would both be dead if it weren't for you."

Hermione shakes her head and opens and closes her mouth a few times, clearly changing her mind on what she wants to say. "What happened last night?"

Harry swallows. He finds himself speaking before he really means to. "After the snake came out of her, Vol… You-Know-Who became really excited. He told the snake to hold on to me, to keep me there, which she was in the processes of doing when you blasted her away. After that, after he figured out where we were… I don't know exactly what happened, maybe it was a combination of Vol - of him almost getting me, of the snake and the locket being close together, maybe because of where we were, but I saw the night that he killed my parents through his eyes. I… don't know what you must of heard last night but that's what I saw."

She blinks up at him, her face very pale. Harry turns toward the sink, getting her a glass of water. He turns back and places it by bowl of pasta and sits down. She still looks pale as she slowly starts sipping the water and then starts eating. She pauses, the fork halfway to her mouth. "Have you eaten?"

"Yeah, I ate the other half. Did I throw up last night?"

She nods, frowning. "It was all very disturbing. It makes more sense now."

There was a long beat of silence then, "Can I use your cloak?" She stands abruptly.

He stands too, some unknown fear filling him. "Why?"

"It's a surprise."

Her smile wasn't quite right, it all isn't quite right, her casual voice, her posture, everything. There' a strange manic glint to her eyes.

Still, he pulls the cloak out of his pocket. Hermione takes it from him and throws it over herself. He can hear her leaving, see her hand pluck her wand from the table before both disappear under the cloak too. He starts following behind her, fear raising further in him. "Where are you going?"

He sees the tent flaps move a little before he hears her voice, close to him, whispering. "I'll be right back. I promise it's not bad."

Then the tent flaps move again and he hears her drop the unplottable charm. Has she lost her mind? Gone completely mad? Here he is, wandless and suddenly plottable.

He stands for a minute in the center of the tent, his heart pounding, waiting for some sign of her return. He starts pacing, his hands on his hips. What in Merlin's name was she doing? Why would she put them in danger like this?

It must have only been ten minutes but Harry felt like he was halfway to some sort of mental break by the time that Hermione's crack of apparition could be heard. He can hear her putting the unplottable charm back up.

She pulls the cloak off the moment she enters the tent, brown bags in each hand.

"I've robbed an offy." The manic look is gone from her eyes now, replaced by a frantic, panicked kind of expression.

Harry feels like his brain is fully broken as Hermione places the bags on the table and wrings her hands. "I've memorised the name and address so I can mail them some money later."

He shakes his head, peering into the brown bags with raised eyebrows. It's full of different things to make what looks like Long Island Ice Teas and Vodka Cranberries. He shakes his head again and sits down, looking into the middle distance. Hermione's torso comes blurrily into view and he looks up at her face, which at least looks more like herself now.

"You've seen maybe the worst thing I can think of and I had to spend the night watching you be more or less possessed by the devil. We've lost your wand, we have no further leads, we don't have any idea what to do next. So... fuck it. We need a night of levity. Or something. I don't know. All I know is that people look like they're having fun when they drink and I could really use some fun right now."

"You've never drank before?" He's not sure why that's the first question he asks, as he has many, but why not. He's on board. He's never been more on board with anything in his life. He stands again, pulling the bottles out of the bags.

"Of course I've drank before, you know, a white wine with dinner here, a pimms there. But I've never been drunk. Wait, have you?"

Hermione's aghast look makes him laugh despite himself, despite the numb despair, despite the fact that he keeps blinking and seeing flashes of green. "You've just shopped lifted from an offy for the sole purpose of getting drunk and you're looking at me like that?"

She blushes and rubs at the back of her neck. "Yes, well… I'm just surprised is all. When did you get drunk? At Hogwarts?"

"Yeah, Seamus and Dean snuck some Firewhiskey upstairs last year a few times-"

"A few times?" Her voice is high pitched, her eyebrows furrowed. She looks over at the table covered with various liquors and ingredients and bites her lip. "Maybe this isn't a good idea."

He smiles fully, unable to stop the wave of affection for her. "Oh no, there's no going back on this one, Granger. This is the best idea you've ever had, and that's saying something. Besides," He steps closer to her, so that she's looking up at him. "I think it's about time we get rid of that goody-two-shoes card carrying membership you've been toting around for the last eighteen years."

Her eyes narrow up at him and she smirks and something in this stomach clenches in a pleasant sort of way. "You and Ron always blather on about that, but let's keep the score clear here." She moves over to the cabinets, pulling out glasses, then pours some water and does the spell to turn it to ice cubes before turning around and marching back over to the table. "Who was the one who stole the ingredients for the polyjuice potion in second year?" She twists the lid off of the vodka, then the gin, then the rum, and lastly the tequila. "Who was the one who kept a secret time turner and used it illegally?" She pours all four very generously in the glasses. "Who was the one who found that bug and held her hostage and blackmailed her?" She pours in the juice, syrup and coke with aggression, spilling some on the table, which shudders a little as she slams down the coke for emphasis. "Who was the one who came up with the idea for Dumbledore's army? And! Have I, or have I not, also broken into the Ministry of Magic a couple of times now?" She mixes their drinks and then holds them up, Harry taking one of them with a grin.

"To Hermione Granger, the bad influence I didn't fully know I had until just now."

"To me, and may the rest of this Horcrux hunt go better."

"Cheers."

And they drink, Harry sipping and grimacing a little, it has to be the strongest drink he's ever had. Hermione takes two enormous gulps had then has a full body shudder, gagging a little. "Merlin."

They stare at each other across the table and then sit down. Harry sighs, pulling back a deeper drink. "Let's play a drinking game."

Hermione sits too and starts eating the spaghetti again as well as sipping her drink. They land on something mindless, a card game where the loser with the higher number has to drink.

Harry is losing, or winning really, depending on how you look at it, but that doesn't stop Hermione from getting at least as equally, if not more drunk.

"You're a bit of a light weight, Hermione."

"You-You are!" She giggles into her glass.

Harry grins back, happy to see her look relaxed and giggly instead of something else. Ron can get a bit morose, and Neville; surprisingly aggressive. Harry, much to his roommates annoyance, mostly just gets sleepy and philosophical.

"Her-" He lets out a very long belch, Hermione scrunching her nose. "Sorry. Hermione, do you ever think about how crazy magic is?"

"Yes, re-remeber- remember how I wanted to be a scientist? That whole conversation?"

"Yeah! But, like, think about it." He rests his chin in the palm of his hand. "What the hell is it?"

She squints at him, leaning back in her chair. "You really didn't pay attention to Profess-professor Flitwick or McGonagall at all, did you?"

He reaches across the small table and flicks her nose. She reacts a second too late and way too much, tilting her chair dangerously back. She's able to lean forward, bringing her chair down with a thunk. They stare at each other in bleary shock for a minute before breaking up in laughter.

"S-Stop being such a know it all. I understand that magic is energy and intent and blah, blah, blah, but why us? Also, I know you don't believe me but my wand acted on it's own against Volde-shit, can't say his name… Voldeshit." He starts giggling to himself. "Voldeshit. Point being it worked by itself against Voldeshit."

Hermione sighs, standing and stretching, taking her glass over to the sink and making more ice before coming back over and peering wearily into the Vodka. She shrugs, pouring a generous amount before adding the cranberry juice. "It doesn't make any sense, though. That's not how magic works, it doesn't just...do stuff by itself."

"Hogwarts does stuff by itself all the time."

"Your wand isn't Hogwarts."

Harry takes Hermione's glass from her and moves over to his bed, staring at all the sheets and blankets folded neatly on top of it. He takes a sip and thinks.

"Hey, that's mine." She's beside him now, grinning.

"Oh no, what if we share cooties."

She snorts before taking the glass back and sipping some herself.

"I don't have a wand anymore." He says this softly, feeling sad, but in a muted kind of way.

She turns to look at him, frowning deeply. "I'm really sorry."

He shakes his head, ignoring how the room spins a little. "Your the last person who should be sorry to me, you know. I'm sorry to you though, so many times over-"

He's sad now, all at once, all over the place in his mind, on the surface and deeper, sad. Hermione is staring at him with dark eyes. "You're the only one here and I don't deserve it. I don't have a wand anymore, or Ron, or my parents or Dumbledore or anything, and I'm so sorry to you all the time, but I'm too - too …" He's searching for the word, but can't seem to find it. He takes the drink back from her and takes a swig. "Too selfish to let you go now, even though it's not right that you're here too."

She takes the drink back and sips. "I want to be here."

Harry snorts. He wants to lie down, but he doesn't really want to make his bed.

"Hey. I do." She pokes his arm.

"You're a good friend, Hermione. I should tell you more often. Sorry."

"You're a good friend, too."

He shakes his head, "You know, I didn't really have friends before Hogwarts."

She sighs, sipping more. "Me either. Not one. You know, because of how I was an obnoxious know it all. But also, in my defense-" She swings her arm out, sloshing the drink dangerously. "People are very stupid and it gets annoying sometimes."

Harry throws his head back and laughs. "True. Very true." He takes the drink from her.

"I did miss doing kid things though. Like, I dunno -"

"Riding bikes, Dudley never let me ride his."

"Or playing tag. The kids at primary would "tag" me, but they wouldn't really. They would mostly slap me then run away screaming. I learned to ignore them after a while."

"That's terrible."

She takes the drink back with a shrug. "But we made friends at Hogwarts at least."

"Yeah, then went into such fun childhood activ-activities as fighting trolls and battling enchantments." A brilliant idea strikes him all at once, clear as day, as the desire to lie down was becoming very strong. "We should build a fort!"

"We're already in a tent." She sniffs, looking around with a grimace. "It's pretty much like living in a fort full time."

"Oh come on! Let's do it for our poor younger selves who never got to, hmm?" He doesn't know what face he's making, but he's trying for a wide eyed innocent look. It must be at least close because he can see her caving. "Oh alright."

He whoops before dragging his bed frame towards the middle of the room, pulling off the mattress to the floor. Hermione, with a touch less enthusiasm, follows suit, though she's smiling a little to herself.

They take their blankets and drape them across their beds horizontal, over their mattresses. Harry drags the arm chairs over and pushes them close and Hermione hangs their sheets over the edges, making a little room for them out of linens. They combine all their pillows and all their extra blankets inside. Hermione grabs a couple of jars for her jar fires, placing them carefully along the edges of the mattresses.

They lay down, a fresh vodka cranberry in Hermione's hand. It's warmer in there, as they built the fort around the furnace, with the jar fires keeping out the rest of the cold. It's all rather cozy. "We should have done this ages ago. It's so warm!" Hermione rolls onto her stomach, sipping the drink before leaving it by the head of their combined mattresses.

Harry is grinning sleepily at fort's dipped ceiling. "Yeah, it's nice."

He rolls onto his side, taking off his glasses, putting them on the other side of the mattress. He takes Hermione's hand, all warm and soft and alive, his mind flashing to his father's wandless hand as Voldemort strikes him down. "My father didn't even have his wand on him when he killed him. I don't know why that bothers me so much, but it really does. It just… seems so unfair. And my mother-" He's crying, tears sliding down over his nose, into his pillow, his eyes are closed. He can feel Hermione coming closer and suddenly her face is in his chest, her arm wrapping around his waist. He wraps his arm around her's too. "S-she, she really loved me. I can't get over that. I-I wish she didn't die for me. I wish-"

"Oh Harry. She wouldn't have been able to do anything else. Of course she loved you." Her voice is muffled against his chest, but he can almost hear her only just through the vibrations of her voice there. "It's all so unfair." Her hands are clutching at the back of his shirt. "It's unfair that that happened to them, it's unfair that you have to hear it when the dementor's come close, it's unbelievably unfair that you had to witness that. It's so unfair."

Her voice is so angry, ringing through his chest.

"You know, I love you too." She stills in his arms. "I never got a chance to say it back in Godric's Hollow. I've never got to say that to anyone before, you know?"

She pulls back a little, staring up at him with shining eyes in the dim light. He leans forward, kissing her forehead and then her cheek, before pulling her back towards his chest. "I absolutely insist that you live through this."

He can feel himself drifting off despite himself, despite the slight jolt and tingle he feels as Hermione's lips lightly press against his cheek too, close to the corner of his mouth.

Chapter Text

He doesn't throw up the next morning, though he kind of wishes he would. Hermione does, stumbling out of the bathroom with a potions book in hand, whipping up a hangover cure with the efficiency of the desperate. As she is doing this, he's looking around the tent and it's the messiest and cleanest it's ever been all at once. The fort is in a crumple in the middle of the room, but the tent still smells fresher than it did before and he wonders when was the last time anyone thought to clean the walls as he had.

Kind of grossed out at the thought, he gags a little. Hermione comes over with a truly awful smelling potion in a mug. Her cheeks are a little pink, her eyes bright. She looks healthy. "If you can get passed swallowing it, it works like a charm. Or potion, I guess."

Not one to back down from the unpleasant, Harry takes the mug from her and throws back the potion with the ease of someone who has done so with many worse potions many times. For a horrifying second he thinks he's going to spew everything up violently, but then he's met by an immediate cooling sensation that spreads from his stomach to the tips of his toes and feels better than he has in maybe weeks. How had he not noticed the constant low key headache he had had for a while, apparently?

"This is brilliant." He wants to kiss her, the relief is so strong.

But then, he had wanted to kiss her this morning too, when he woke up and she was still in his arms, lightly snoring into his chest, her hair tickling the side of his face. But he wasn't thinking about that, not now, not later. Not ever.

She looks a little smug. "I have to say, I do think I put that together rather well."

"Why don't people always take these? I feel better than when I did sober."

She raises her eyebrows at him. "You've never had it before? I would have thought, considering all the times you drank last year, apparently, that one of you would have made it."

Her voice has a judgmental tint to it that would have made him roll his eyes in the past but this time just makes him grin at her. "All those times we drank last year?"

She frowns at him, shrugging her shoulder before frowning down into her lap, looking a little upset. Harry feels his grin slip away.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me. You and him up there having fun with all your friends, probably joking about how you better not get caught by me or it would be your heads."

That's exactly what had happened. He doesn't know why she looks upset by it, to be honest. "Well, are you saying that you wouldn't have made sure we were in detentions for it, if you had found out?"

She looks kind of angry now. "What are you saying? Did I not go on a long speech last night about all the trouble I've gotten up to in the last six years with you?"

"You're always willing to break the rules for important stuff, of course, but please don't tell me you're saying you would have been fine with it if you caught us drinking last year?" He doesn't quite understand why, but he's feeling a bit annoyed himself.

"Oh, I never was 'cool' as you and Ron. Never mind that I had a duty, or that Ron completely ignored his, that it would have put me in a bad position if I had found out, it's simply that I'm a wet blanket that made it so you all had to hide up in the dorm, making fun of me."

He can feel his face stiffening, his scowl matching hers. "I'm not sure why you're picking a fight with me right now, but I can't say I'm enjoying it."

The stiffness of her anger breaks and melts, changing back into a general kind of upset. She blinks rapidly and then grabs her wand. "I'm going to keep watch for awhile." She doesn't look back at him as she grabs her coat and leaves the tent, the blast of cold air as the tent door flaps behind her making him shiver a little.

"What the hell?" He rubs his face with his hands and then stands. His agitation carries him through cleaning up the fort, making both of their beds, rearranging the furniture back into its usual formation. He puts away the half empty bottles, the whiff of vodka making him cringe, and clears and cleans the glasses. All said it doesn't take him very long, the tent simply not as messy as it originally looked.

He sits for a second, his leg bouncing. Maybe he'd rather fight with Hermione than think about anything else.

He stands, not bothering to grab his coat, and marches out into the bright, cold sun of the winter morning. Hermione looks back at him, startled into stillness from her pacing.

"How many times do I have to say that we liked you, that I like you, before you get it through your thick skull that you aren't a wet blanket?" He's not sure why he's so angry, he's voice surprisingly loud in the quiet forest, though he knows he's voice won't move past the enchantments.

Her hands are on her hips, never a good sign. "That's just simply not true though! You did think of me as a wet blanket, the party pooper, the annoying older sister who nagged you. I told McGonagall about the firebolt, I nagged you all about your homework, I held you back about Malfoy all last year, I got angry with you for being better at potions, admittedly not really under your own esteem, but still, how swotty of me. I just-"

"So! What do you want from me? You were the party pooper, always telling us to do our homework when we just wanted to fob it off until tomorrow. But of course you were telling us to do that, because we were the arseholes who would whinge to you the next day to let us copy you. And of course it would bother you that I was doing better at potions, as I wasn't really earning it and that's your whole thing, isn't it? Being the one with the good grades. I don't think of you as my nagging older sister, I think of you as my friend. Is that what this is all about? Because I'm really lost here and pretty angry and I don't really know why."

Her shoulders slump, her long sigh making a cloud of breath that dissipates quickly. "You're angry because I'm not being terribly fair or reasonable at the moment."

He feels his shoulders loosen too, his anger leaving him, replaced by a worried sort of confusion. He doesn't know what to say, so he makes a broad gesture with this hands that he thinks, hopes, means to please explain further.

She bites her lip and wrings her hands together. "I think I just feel… rejected? By Ron. And I'm worried that if you get exasperated and leave too, then I'll… be alone?" She shakes her head, looking out into the woods, her face confused and worried. She looks younger, somehow. "I didn't particularly enjoy drinking, it mostly made me feel dizzy. I'm worried all the time now. All the time. I'm worried you're going to die, that I'm going to die, that we're stuck, that we won't be able to figure anything else out, that he'll win, that I'm useless, that you'll get sick of me. I don't know how to make it better."

He's standing in front of her before he knows it, his hands on her shoulders. He does that a lot now, he realises. He's seeing things clearly, clearer than before at least. "I assumed… I thought it fairly obvious that I would be the one who's worried that you're going to leave, that you'll realise that I'm useless, the biggest fuck up in the world, and that you'll come to understand that your brilliant mind will be of better use somewhere else, pretty much anywhere else. I mean, I can't even make a hangover potion. The only things I had going for me were that I had my wand and can be pretty quick in high stress situations, but my wand is broken now and I was stupid and useless in Godric's Hollow, wrong about my instincts, easily lead, once again, into a trap. I didn't learn anything from losing Sirius. I'm an idiot."

He can feel it, like a wave cresting behind him, all the things he has been ignoring the last couple of days. Hermione's eyes are wide with compassion. "Oh Harry, we really aren't on the same page at all. I don't think that you're an idiot. I mean, yes, I would prefer that we don't separate again so that evil snakes can spring out at you, of course. But, ultimately, despite it all, I can't say that I regret going to Godric's Hollow. I think we really had to, to get it out of our heads as a possibility. And I felt so- I don't know - moved, seeing your parents' graves, the house you lived in, where it all happened, that by itself would have been worth it. We took a risk, and it didn't work out this time, that happens. That's why it's a risk."

He shakes his head. That all seemed too easy, like they had simply lost a hand at a card game. "My wand protected me against him and now I don't even have one. I don't-" He sighs, half turning from her. He doesn't feel like crying, or throwing things, his hands aren't shaking, he isn't seeing flashes of green. "I don't know what to do anymore. I've got nothing."

There was a long beat of silence, her cold hand slipping into his. "Me too." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "C'mon, you aren't even wearing a coat."

She leads him into the tent in silence, sitting him down in an armchair. She makes a batch of tea while Harry stares down at his hands.

Her voice was soft, as though she were talking only to herself. "I was placed in a gifted maths class when I was nine. I found everything very easy and they kept progressing my levels to see how far I could go. The problems kept getting harder and harder, and it all became a lot less fun, less of an engaging challenge and much more stressful. But I didn't want to let everyone down, so even though I wasn't enjoying myself anymore, I kept pushing and pushing it. And then one day I ran across a problem I simply didn't know how to solve, even with hints and clues and gentle encouragement from the teacher. I stayed up all night trying to work it out but I couldn't, I simply couldn't work it out. The next day the teachers explained it to me and it made sense, but still didn't really click. And they told me not to feel bad, the point was to see how far I could go, and we had simply hit that point. They said it was amazing and impressive but I could tell they were a little disappointed. I was certainly well above my age group, but I wasn't at the level where I'd go off to university at the age of ten or something. I went home that day and cried in my mum's lap, and she said a lot of words about how worth and value weren't placed on things like how well I did at maths. She said she loved me exactly as I was. She pulled me out of the gifted class the next day. The teachers didn't really argue, as far as I know, and I went back to feeling superior to my peers and doing the work very easily. But I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn't enough, and I wasn't superior, and that all of that didn't really matter anyway, that it was shallow and mean of me to want that to begin with."

He couldn't look away from her face, the soft light filtering in through the tent walls, the steam from her mug curling across her eyes. He's never really seen her like this.

"It wasn't until we were in the potions room, you know, while trying to get the stone, that it truly sunk in what a shallow person I was. Books and cleverness really aren't the measure of a person, but I don't think I really understood until just then. You were, and still are, the best wizard I know. It's kind of came back to me, thinking on this stuck feeling, on that math problem, on not knowing what to do next, that I have faith in you, in what we are doing, enough to understand that this point, this stuck feeling we are in at the moment, won't last forever."

Her eyes met his, dark and warm, and he found himself speaking in the same way, soft but clear. "I don't know if I have that same faith."

She gave him the smallest of smiles, like she was telling him a wonderful secret. "That's okay, you can borrow mine. That's what friends are for."

He saw, for the first time, the tapestry of their friendship pulled together not just with his recklessness and her fear, but her clear and true understanding, one that he's always just kind of had, but never really intellectually grasped, of what was important and what needed to be done. They both knew, just in different ways, and that's why they were here in this tent together.

"Hermione, you are the truest Gryffindor I've met."

She smiles shyly at him, crinkling her nose in disagreement. He felt a jolt in his stomach, something clench near his heart, and he knows he's in trouble.

"I-I'll keep watch outside. We should probably move again soon, as you pulled down the unplottable charm last night."

She nodded, watching as he left the tent, but he couldn't look at her.

He brought a book out with him, a year seven spell book, and found it surprisingly easy to keep focused on it. He wasn't trying to think of much.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, he hears Hermione leave the tent, can feel her eyes on him as she her footsteps fall closer. He bookmarks the page and turns to look at her. She's holding a very thick book, the cover a garish pink and green, Dumbledore's blinking face staring out at him.

"I found him, the wand thief."

It takes him a second to put it all together. "What, how?"

"I've been reading this. I, um, took it from Bathilda Bagshot's house. I wanted to know what people have been reading about him, you know. The picture you pointed out, it's in here too. I think we should read the chapter together."

He didn't want to, not really. He knew whatever he read in there would somehow make things worse for him. But he also couldn't just not read it, this was a definitive clue, something at least, for the first time in weeks. So he moves over, Hermione sitting in close on his warm batch of grass cleared of snow, and they read.

Turns out, he was right.

He puts his head back and laughs, a bitter sound. He's sure that if he spits right now it would come out acid.

Hermione slumps back into the tent with a sigh. "Harry…"

"What?" He's not even angry, and certainly not at her, but something inside him seems to be disintegrating, and he's not sure he's very in control of himself. "I've just found out that the man I've been risking my life for, not even just my life, but yours too, was a little mini-Vol-urgh-Who-Know-Who."

Her voice is almost academic; a forced, intellectual calm. "You know who wrote this, right?"

"That letter was his, in his handwriting, those were his thoughts." He's standing now. Hermione is too.

"He was lonely, stuck in his childhood home, under the influence of, by all accounts, a very charming man, and only seventeen-"

"We're seventeen!" He's screaming. He hasn't shouted like this since he was in Dumbledore's office, after Sirius. "We are bleeding seventeen years old, but look at us, we're expected to do the right thing, the hardest of things, we were told this by a man who couldn't have done the same. I-" He chokes on his words, his anger vibrating him.

Her face is strained, as though in pain. "Forgive me, but is this less to do with Professor Dumbledore rubbing shoulders with Grindelwald in his youth, or more to do with him not telling you himself?"

"He expected so much of me, still does, but he never even bothered to tell me anything about himself. Do as I say-" His voice cracks in his anger, but he can feel it leaving, even as he tries to hold on to it. "Trust me all the time, Harry, follow me blindly Harry, even though I don't trust you, even though I can't be fucked to explain anything to you. Run a long, then, run a long and try to defeat the dark lord even though I hung out with one when I was your age." He's run out of steam by the end. He lowers his arms and places them on his hips. He doesn't feel like crying, even though the anger leaving him makes him feel like a slack sail.

"He- I think Dumbledore had more flaws than any of us really wanted to think about. But - But, I know that he loved you. Professor Dumbledore loved you."

"I don't know what this is, but this isn't love, Hermione. What he's done to us. It's -" He shrugs and makes a half gesture, tired. Some part of him never really analyzed the nature of his and Dumbledore's relationship. It certainly went passed student and teacher. Mentor and apprentice seemed closer, but somehow he didn't think that concepts of love matter that dynamic quite so much. Grandfather and Grandson? Hardly. They weren't family.

Maybe it all boiled down to what he told the Minister, he's Dumbledore's man through and through. It just never really occurred to him to be worried that Dumbledore was on his side too. Somehow the one sided nature of it, being Dumbledore's man, felt the most accurate, even if it denied the images of Dumbledore's caring face staring at him across rooms and desks and hospital beds. He wasn't in the mood to be fair.

She steps closer to him now. Her eyes are soft and warm again, and even though this whole day started out with her picking a fight with him over insecurities, she seems infinitely wise at the moment, ageless. The knowing, compassionate look she has settled on her features fits her to a fault. "This is hard, yes, but is it not, in it's own way, love? I love you and I'm here. I, despite its best efforts, love the wizarding world and I'm here because of that too. Isn't that why you're here? Because of me, and because of the wizarding world, and because of Dumbledore? Because you love us?"

And suddenly, he's kissing her. He doesn't remember moving in, but he is conscious of his hand lightly on the back of her neck, under the curtain of her hair. He's very conscious of his lips on hers, how they are surprisingly soft and cold, though not as cold as her nose. He can feel her pulling away just a split second before he does.

He stills, frozen in fear, watching for her reaction. Her eyes are floating somewhere to the right of his head as she moves back a couple of steps. She pulls down at her jumper, straightening it even though it wasn't messed, in a neat gesture. She raises her chin and speaks again in that strangely academic way. "It's been an extremely emotional few days for the both of us and for you in particular. So I will just mark that as an occasion of an overwrought emotional reaction and not take further meaning from it. I do think, however, that we should have some separation for a little while, so I will head into the tent and you stay out here. For now. Just a while." She turns on her heal and heads inside of the tent in three quick strides.

He wants to run in after her, promise her anything, anything at all, so that she doesn't hate him, doesn't leave. What had he been thinking, why would he do that, just pounce on her?

He feels sick with himself, completely unable to unable to absorb what he's just done. Was she right, was it because he was emotionally overwrought? But he had been emotionally overwrought a number of times in his life and hadn't suddenly just kissed whoever was in front of him. Was it because she was talking about love? He does love her, he loves her now more than ever, and she is undoubtedly the most important person in his life. But he doesn't love her that way, that magnetic way he had had with Ginny-

He puts his hands over his face. Ginny. What would she think?

He sits on his haunches. He never, ever thought of himself as a guy who would cheat. A guy who would force himself on to his best friend. He shook his head, trying to relieve some of the self loathing rolling through him. He hasn't cheated, he and Ginny aren't together. And yes, he had half imagined that, if by some very off chance he survived all of this, they would get back together. But that was why he broke up with her, because he doesn't really imagine making it through all this. He doesn't expect her to just wait for him through all this, does he?

Does he?

He stares up at the sky, darkening rapidly now. Would he be angry if she started dating someone else? He wouldn't… like it. But it wouldn't feel unfair. He wouldn't be angry at her. But it would hurt.

He hadn't forced himself on Hermione, his mind defends a bit skittishly, his grip had hardly been iron, and she stayed there for a while, not moving away. Yes, it might have just been complete surprise, but it wasn't like he held her there as she struggled. No, he just struck out at her, like a horrible kissey viper.

He groans, dropping his head to his knees. He can't believe he did that. He could ruin years of friendship; his closest and best ally, his most loyal friend, the brains of the operation. He, for some reason, decided to put all of that on the line, his most important relationship, for what? To smooch his face against hers for a few long seconds. Why?

Why had he done that?

Chapter Text

On some level, he knew why he did that.

He wasn't stupid, despite what it felt like sometimes. He could push the puzzle pieces together, they weren't far apart and clearly fit together.

He just didn't want to.

He didn't want to finish the puzzle. The picture it would make-

But then, that would be putting it together, wouldn't it.

Instead he sat outside in the cold, next to the tent in the batch of grass he cleared before Hermione came out with the book. He read more spells, even taking out his broken wand to try some of them, but of course nothing happened.

He wondered if he wasn't emotionally overwrought, really. It had been a dramatic few days even by his standards. Hermione has become his only port in the storm, as it were, so it would make sense, because she is a pretty girl, that he's wires were crossed, that he as is his nature, acted out on impulse.

Yes, he would go with that. Emotionally overwrought impulse.

His feet a little numb from the cold, he stands and goes into the tent before he can think about it.

She's asleep.

He blinks at her stupidly, taking in her sleeping face, only her eyes and nose visible above her blankets. He thinks that he sees her eyes twitch a little and entertains the idea that maybe she's faking it.

Either way, he's learned to count small blessings. He turns towards the glorified box he calls a wardrobe, grabs some night clothes and walks to the bathroom, pretending that he can't feel Hermione's eyes following him as he goes.

The water won't go past lukewarm tonight, for some reason, but he can't wake Hermione to ask her what spell she thinks will fix it, or rummage through her beaded bag for a book that would know.

He stands in there for too long, smelling the cheap floral scent of their Poundland shampoo, and more or less air drying and trying to role play out how he is going to talk to her tomorrow.

Then she walks in, takes a full eye in of him standing there in the buff, lets out a squeak, stands there in shock a bit longer, and then slams the door shut behind her. Harry blinks at the door, his hands only halfway up to cover himself. He sighs, dropping them and then looks at the mirror.

Seems it's time to have that conversation now.

Putting on some joggers and a t-shirt, he steps cautiously out into the main area, looking over at Hermione lying face down in her bed. Her voice is muffled. "I thought that you had gone out already and were in bed."

He glances at his bed, which is unmade and lumpy. He could kind of see, in the dim lighting, how it might look like he was curled up weirdly over there.

"Okay, yeah, understandable." He doesn't sound quite right. He just wants to get this conversation over with.

"Were you trying to drown yourself in there or something? Hasn't it been hours?"

He doesn't really know. He's sense of time has been screwed up for months now. He strides over to her side of the tent, grabbing a kitchen chair as he goes, and sets it next to her cot. He speaks to the back over her head, all her curly hair cascading around it, hiding her face completely.

"So, about earlier-"

"I don't want another Ron."

He pauses, already thrown off of his speech. "Uh, me either."

She turns to look at him, holding back her hair with her arm, pushing back the falling strands with her hand. She looks sad. "I don't want to sit here, wondering whether or not you like me, whether or not you're flirting, hoping that I'm not ruining things by being myself. I like that I know you don't like me that way, I like that I can be myself around you and not worry about if it's enough."

She looks really upset. He feels a weight settle across his shoulders. "Hermione, I-"

"You don't understand, there is no right thing for you to say in this. I don't want to hear that I was right and that it was just an overwrought emotional moment, I don't want to hear that you've secretly liked me all along, I don't want to hear it was a mistake, and I don't want to hear that it was intentional either."

"I don't know what you want from me, then."

"The truth. Not what you think I want to hear, but what happened and why, from you. The truth."

He opens and closes his mouth. It's difficult for him to do that when has spent the entire day avoiding the truth, not even nudging it with a ten foot pole. She is staring at him, her face hard in a way that he hasn't seen before. There's no getting out of this.

"I love you. I-I don't know exactly how. I think you're pretty, but you are also not-" He sighs, wishing he hadn't spent the whole day avoiding this and focusing on lying. "Not girlfriend material."

She blinks, her face hardening further. He reaches out, putting a hand on her back. "No! No, no no, that sounds wrong. You are amazing girlfriend material, past amazing really, that's kind of my point. You aren't girlfriend material for me because you are too-" He clenches at the back of her night jumper, he wants her to understand, but can't find the words. "Important. Too important. And I know that's stupid, like a line from a bad film, 'You're too important to me, I don't want to lose our friendship' but, you know, you are too important to me and I don't want to lose our friendship. For fuck sake we are out here, trying to defeat a dark lord, and… and what if you get mad at me because I didn't notice that you tried a different shampoo, and then I get annoyed with you because, I don't know, I made dinner extra nice and you pulled a face at the sides? And then we make passive aggressive comments to each other and then you stand and yell, 'you never really loved me at all' and then run from the tent, leaving me here on my own. What then?"

She has risen to her elbows, her eyebrows high on her forehead. She opens her mouth to speak, but she looks kind of frozen there, so he plows on. "And you are right, I don't want to be another Ron. Now is a terrible time to start a romance, and particularly with each other, being the only people left in this endless nightmare quest. Also, I have no idea how to be a boyfriend. With Ginny I-" He pauses, getting stuck on her name, not entirely ready to go there. "I just, I don't know. I felt like a boyfriend around her, you know, calling her sweet names and wanting to bring her small presents and, and other such things. Couple things."

Hermione is sitting fully now, and oddly excited look on her face. Encouraged, Harry continues, "Don't get me wrong, please don't get me wrong, but I honestly can't picture doing couple things with you."

She nods, her face relieved, "Yes, I think I know what you mean. I think I feel the same. Like, what am I supposed to do, flutter my eyelashes at you?"

Harry laughs, feeling that weight that settled across his shoulders starting to lift. "Can you imagine me trying to buy you some stuffy perfume bottle?"

"Picture me trying to write you a cute names filled missive."

"Or me, giving you a box of chocolates on Valentine's day."

"Only if it comes with card where you call me Herm Herm."

Harry shudders, revolted. "You can call me Har Har."

She makes a choking sound, squeezing the pillow in her lap to her chest. "We might as well just let You-Know-Who win."

He barks out a laugh, then grins at her, still floating on his relief that he hasn't ruined everything.

"How about you, how do you feel about it?"

The grin on Hermione's faces slides down a little. "You never really answered my question though, first. Why did you, you know, um, kiss me? Because kissing definitely counts as a couple thing."

He could feel his grin slipping too. "I-I'm sorry, I really did just act out on impulse."

"Why that impulse?"

He swallows once, then twice, looking to the side and down, trying to think, letting his mind push the puzzle pieces together. "Because I wanted to. You looked so… I don't know, standing there, speaking passionately about why we're here, even though you're scared and uncertain too, lending me your faith or what have you, I just…" He shrugs, unable to find the right words. "I don't know what it means, that I wanted to kiss you, but doing stupid couple things with you seems so, unnessary, I suppose."

She hums, her face becoming bright red. "I think you're attractive."

Harry felt himself flush, feeling pleased a little panicked all at once.

"So, you know, I actually think we might be on the same page. I think I might feel exactly the same. With that git, I-I don't know. I wanted to squabble with him, and-and sneak into broom cupboards and, um, let loose sometimes, just turn my brain off and be a teenager. But with you it-" She clasps her hands in front of her. "I felt pretty stupid, feeling attracted to both of my male best friends, it's so-" She huffs. "It seems so, I guess, vapid? Like I can't reel in my stupid hormones enough to just enjoy having friends. And I really don't like that question, can guys and girls really only just be friends? Yes! Yes of course they can. You are my friend, my best friend, and stupid hormones and impulse aren't going to change that. We have more important things going on."

"Exactly! Exactly that." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, knowing that that his face is still a little red. "So what now?"

Hermione sits forward too. "Okay. So. We are best friends. Who are attracted to each other, but don't want to date. Oh, and also, we are in the middle of a war against an evil magical tyrant."

"Yes."

"So...nothing?"

"Nothing?"

"I mean, we can both enjoy the flattery of the mutual attraction and… leave it there?"

He nods, liking the sound of it, mostly. It sounds right. Rightish. Better than any other idea. "Okay. So, in the future I won't dart out at you like a barmy kissy viper."

"And I won't ogle you whilst you're naked in the bathroom." Hermione puts out her hand.

"Ditto." Harry takes it and they shake, their faces matching in mock solemnity.

Harry stands, actually quite tired. Hermione reaches out, stopping him by taking his hand, though she drops it quickly. "By the way, I would never pull faces at your sides, your cooking is really actually kind of amazing, considering that we don't even have a real kitchen."

He grins down at her. "And I would definitely notice if you change your shampoo, as we share it." He hesitates, but it seems like a now or never kind of thing. "By the way, last year, what did you do to your hair? To make it more, uh, smooth, I guess."

Her face brightens, her eyebrows raised in pleasant surprise. "You noticed? I didn't think anyone cared. But I started to dry it differently, using this one hair serum, it's the only hair product I've found that works. I miss it, to be honest, as it keeps my hair from tangling too bad, too. But it didn't seem important enough to pack."

"How did you learn to do that?"

She furrowed her eyebrows. "I saw an advert for it somewhere and ordered it."

He feels kind of surprised and a little sad. So she didn't have a group of giggling girls behind her telling her what to do. "Who's your best female friend?"

She hesitates for too long. "Ginny, we can talk about anything. And I quite get along with Lisa Turpin, we have Ruins together. And of course I love Luna, but we don't always see eye to eye, so conversation can get kind of… off track? I suppose. Why do you ask?"

"I can really have my head up my own arse sometimes, can't I? I should already know."

Her expression is mysterious. "You always have a lot going on."

He shakes his head, wondering over to his cot. "Still."

As he lays down, he can see Hermione is still sitting with that mysterious expression on her face, which breaks into an equally mysterious sort of smile. "Goodnight Harry."

"Night."

He watches as she lays down and rolls over, his own feelings unclear, and falls asleep.

He dreams they're at Hogwarts. Ron is sitting on the chair across from him, his feet up, his tie loosened. He's reading a book with the expression of someone eating unpleasant food. He keeps glancing to the sofa, where Hermione is sitting, her shoes off and legs crossed in front of her. Her hair is blocking her face, her shoulders stooped forward, her posture familiar as it's always how she sits when she's found something interesting. Ron knows better than to interrupt her when she's like that by now. Instead he sighs and glances at Harry. "What do you make of Snape's homework then?"

He feels a stab of something dark, deeper than the regular anguish that Snape's essays induce in him. "Snape...I want to kill Snape."

Ron looks startled, taken aback by the seriousness of his tone. He feels a little startled too. From the sofa, Hermione's voice holds the exasperated quality it gets when she's corrected you too many times. "You want to kill Professor Snape, Harry. Professor."

"Why should I call him Professor? What did he ever teach me?"

"Lose. In some ways, he took everything from you, didn't he?"

She turns to look at him, her eye sockets empty, black holes.

He stands up and screams, his mind only singing terror, echoing with blackness in her carved, vacant face.

He gasps into awakeness, immediately revolted by the pure darkness of the tent canvas ceiling. He rolls off of his cot and, still shaking in the sick terror filled feeling the dream left him with, grabs Hermione's wand from the kitchen table and says lumos.

The tent fills with the pale soft light of the spell, which at other times has seemed impossibly dim, but now seems almost painfully bright. He squints against it. He hears a soft moan from the direction of Hermione's cot and stiffens. Fear locks his arms in place and he watches with dread as Hermione rolls over and raises herself onto her elbow, also squinting in the light. He can't see her eyes still and he points the wand a little away from her.

"Wassthematter? What's happening?" She's sitting up fully now, her eyes wide as she registers Harry's frightened face.

Harry stares at her face for a second, her deep dark eyes normal and all her. He suddenly feels very foolish and lets his arm drop, pointing the light down and leaving everything in a strange shadow. "Nox."

The tent goes dark again. "Harry?" Hermione's voice is fully awake now, concern sharp in the sudden darkness.

"Really sorry Hermione, just go back to sleep, I had a bad dream is all."

"A dream? Like-"

"No, just a regular one that my own stupid brain cooked up. Sorry I startled you."

He stumbles a little as he sits back down on his own bed. He knows that Hermione is still sitting up, looking at him, or his general direction. He suddenly feels very creeped out, the outline of her across the tent becoming clearer as his eyes adjust.

He doesn't like that his dream somehow made her scary.

He gets up and moves across the tent, tripping a bit on one of her trainers, but eventually making it to her cot, where he knows that she's looking up at him, but he can't see her face. Shuddering, he reaches out his hand and runs his thumb across her cheek, warm and velvet smooth. Then he raises his other hand and cups her other cheek, running his thumb gently up and over her cheek bone, along the outline her eye, feeling the delicate hairs of her eyelashes. At first she's stiff as stone, then she reaches over to the place on the bed Harry had dropped her wand and mutters a soft lumos.

Her light is very dim and buttery, not bright and sharp like his was. Her face is still hers, her eyes were they should be. "What are you doing?" Her voice wavers a little.

He lowers his hands. "I dreamt you didn't have eyes."

"No eyes?" She looks confused. "Oh. That sounds unpleasant. What happened to them?"

He shakes his head, sitting down on the edge of her bed. "I dunno."

She still looks concerned as she stares at him in the yellow light of her wand.

He continues to feel foolish, knows he's being foolish, but the dream is gripping him somewhere and he knows he won't be able to sleep if he just tries to go back to bed like normal.

"I know it's stupid and kind of couple like, which we're trying to avoid, but do you- I think that- I just like knowing you're okay, if I could…" He doesn't know how to ask.

Luckily Hermione continues to be a bit of a mind reader, and, nodding, scoots over so that Harry can lie down. Once he's settled, she turns the light off her wand and puts in on the bedside table. She rolls over so she's facing him. Once again her face hard to discern. Before any fear can grip him, he reaches out and touches her warm cheek, his thumb lightly tracing her eye.

Her breathing is kind of hitched, but after a few minutes of him just doing that, it evens out.

"I miss Ron." He says it in a whisper.

He can feel her stiffen under his hand, holding her breath. He drops his hand as she lets out a long sigh. "I do too."

"He was in my dream too. We were in the common room studying. He was normal, trying to do an essay, trying to get you to help with it, using me as a last resort. He is a lazy sod, isn't he?"

She snorts. "I love him still."

Harry felt his body stiffen, some unsettling unhappiness flaring immediately.

"But I don't love him like that at all, not anymore."

The flare settles.

"I sometimes wonder if I ever actually did, you know? Or if I just thought… I don't know. I feel like an idiot, or maybe embarrassed. Like I should apologize to him for pushing it so much when he was clearly not ready or just as unsure as I was, but showing it."

The flare up was gone. He found himself moving in closer, shifting so his chin was on top of her head. He could feel her breath on his neck and suppresses a shiver. "You can't know how these things will go. I don't think you should feel embarrassed. It's not like you just grabbed his face out of nowhere and kissed him, for example."

She nestled into his chest, her voice sleepy. "I'm not angry or embarrassed about that though. I'm happy we talked and are on the same page. Otherwise -" She lets out a huge yawn. "We wouldn't be comfortable doing this."

Harry nods, his eyes already drifting shut, the dream all but forgotten.

He wakes up as Hermione shifts and stretches, the length of her body arching next to his. His arm is still across her stomach as her shirt raises and he feels a warm expanse of her skin against his hand. He fights the urge to pull her closer to him and is happy he did when feels that he has a bit of a morning sort of situation he needs to resolve.

She smiles at him, still blinking awake. "G' morning."

He smiles back at her, unthinkingly leaning forward and kissing her check. "Good morning." Her face is a little startled, but he can't think further on it as he rolls out of bed and goes to the bathroom before she can feel how good of a morning it actually is.

They spend most of the morning in a companionable sort of silence before they pack up and leave.

They arrive in a beautiful forest, covered in frost and snow, a wide, slow river to one side of them, the trees thick and deep and dark, almost casting the whole scene in black and white, except for Hermione next to him in faded yellow.

They go about their usual set up and then after lunch, Hermione takes her wand and a slim book of some kind, before squeezing his hand and nodding her head outside. She's going to take watch.

Harry nods, watching her leave, and then rewrites their various lists of potential places for the Horcruxes and the sword in different ways, trying to see if looking at them in a different way will help him see something new.

It doesn't, but despite that always present frustration, he can't help but feel kind of comfortable. The tent feels so familiar now, his usually cocoon of blankets wrapped around his shoulders.

The sun is starting to set as he goes out to get some fresh air and to make sure Hermione hasn't frozen to death.

She looks up from her books, small jar fires in a semi-circle around her, one blanket cover her legs, another wrapped around her shoulders. He walks over, moving some of the jar fires to the side and slipping into the blankets.

It's picturesque, this scene, and he feels himself relaxing almost despite himself. "Where are we?"

"The Forest of Dean." She gives him an almost heartbroken half smile. "I've been here with my parent's before, in the summer though. I remembered it being very pretty and thought that sounded nice."

He hates to see that look on her face. He puts his hand on her knee, squeezing a little. "You were right. It's brilliant."

Her smile lightens a little as she looks out across the wide river. "Maybe we should just stay here, Harry. Grow old."

Her voice is soft. She isn't looking at him. He knows she isn't being serious, the small sad grin on her face confirming what he already knows. But he also knows she isn't joking, the softness of the rest of her face showing she likes the idea.

And he considers it.

It's a good offer, really. He's pretty sure that's the only way he will grow old, if he continues to hide out in the woods. He has Hermione, and sure he would miss everyone else, but he has her and that's enough.

They could hide here, ignoring the world, watching as the snow melts in spring and widens the river, drowning the banks. He can imagine holding Hermione's hand and watching the water run slimmer in its course as the sun's heat beats down on it in summer. He wants to drink tea and wake up next to her again in the fall. For her birthday he would buy her more books, nothing related to the war or anything, just books for fun. Books of science and literature, books about complex spell theory. Nothing related to all of this. He wants to make her happy.

He wants to live.

She turns to look at him, frowning now at his silence. Her eyes widen a little as she seemingly takes in the enormity of what she's said.

"It's probably the only way I'll live." His voice is quiet. He didn't really mean to say it out loud. Her eyes widen further, pained, and she opens her mouth to say something, anything, but he stops her, gaining control of himself. "But that's not what we're here to do, is it? We're here to stop You-Know-Who. We have to stop him."

She nods, then shakes her head. She leans forward and kisses him very gently. Her lips are just as soft and cold as he remembers. Her eyes seem impossible large this close, her face pleading. "We do. We have to. I know that. But you'll live. I'll make sure of it. He isn't worth you."

He shakes his head, silencing her intake of breath by leaning in too, kissing her just as gently. "We'll try. That'll be enough."

Chapter Text

They have a tin of beans and, oddly, a jar of marmalade, though he doesn't remember buying or stealing any such thing recently. Even as creative as he's gotten with his cooking lately, he knows there isn't making anything with only those two things, so he closes the cabinet with a sigh. This is bad news, as they are holding up in their tent right now. There has been a swarm of Dementors throughout the country, as if Voldemort has given them permission to feed freely. They also had spotted people in the woods, shadows at a distance. They were too nervous to take the enchantments down long enough to pack up and leave, so they're waiting.

Hermione is doing laundry, staring at the wall with a glazed over sort of look.

"How does a beans and marmalade medley sound? We can season it with salt, but I'm fresh out of pepper."

She blinks slowly into focus, her frown deepening as she takes in what he says. "Oh no. No, no, no. I'm so hungry I could eat my own hair."

He shrugs, "I can make the beans, I guess."

They have beans for dinner, eating slowly as that's all they have for the day.

"I should have taken out more money." He feels sorry again. He can't help but think of his past self as an idiot child sometimes, one he wishes he could go back in time to slap across the face.

"It wouldn't have made any difference. Money wouldn't have made it safer to go outside right now. Also, none of us knew how fast things would fall apart."

"You knew, you and that beaded bag of yours."

She opens and closes her mouth a few times. "Yes, will, that's my nature isn't it? To worry ten steps ahead? And even then I hadn't really considered our limited funds. And besides, say you had a lot of galleons on you, it's not like we can easily stroll over to Gringots and convert it to muggle money, is it? We would have just had a pile of useless coins."

"That's true." He does feel better, or at least less stupid now. "Thanks."

She gives him a warm smile before spearing one bean with her fork and chewing it like it was a whole bite of beef.

He slumps in his chair, his stomach still growling, but puts half of his half of the beans away for now, knowing he'll regret eating it all at once. He instead pours a large glass of water from the tap and sips it slowly, feeling the cool water slide down into his empty stomach.

"You have such good self control. I'll know I'll regret it later, but I'm so hungry I can't stop." She chews another bean.

He shrugs, "I've had a lot of practise."

"What do you mean?" Her eyebrows are furrowed.

"What do you mean what do I mean, you sent me food over the summers?"

She shakes her head. "Because of your cousin's diet. You obviously didn't need to diet so it made sense to ask for something that wasn't a salad, and you couldn't ask your ill-tempered relatives, of course." She stares at him, her eyes narrowed, her mind moving quickly behind her sharp gaze. "Are you saying that they were starving you?"

He doesn't know what he was thinking. Hunger did always make him more loose tongued. "No, it's like you said. My cousin was on a diet, so I had to portion out -"

"Would, for example, your family only give you a can of beans worth of food in a day?"

He would have to lie very well and very quickly in order to say no, and that was never his strong area. He dodges instead, "Regardless, it doesn't matter, because you all sent me a lot -"

She's leaning forward now, her eyes still sharp. "I think it matters a great deal."

He gapes at her, "Why?"

"Why? How could you ask why? Because in one version you have a cruel family not considering everyone's needs and in the other you have neglect and abuse."

He snorts. "Alright. Yeah. Look, let's not get ridiculous. The Dursleys were all pricks and I'll be happy never to see them again, but there wasn't anything like that."

"So they did give you more than a can of beans amount of food everyday?"

He frowns at her, getting inexplicably angry. He thinks about the long days spent in the cupboard, his stomach growling. His aunt would open the door and then leave it there, his signal to come out into the world. He would duck out, blinking slowly into the bright light of day, his hands kind of shaky, a little dizzy, and his aunt would push a bowl of oatmeal or something at him.

"I don't want to talk about this."

Her eyes narrow further, her shoulders tensing. He can feel himself tensing too. She looks like a kettle about ready to whistle, her face red in anger. And then, all at once, she deflates. She stands up and walks over to him, looking down at him with a sad, pained sort of face.

"What if it was me? What if my parent's did the same thing to me as your relatives did to you, would it be not a big deal?"

He looks down, not answering, knowing it for the trap it is. She touches the side of his face gently, making him look up. All of the previous sharpness of her look is gone, replaced by something that makes his shoulders less tense.

"You're quite remarkable, you know that?"

He doesn't know how she reached that conclusion in this depressing embarrassment of a conversation. "Wha?"

She grins, leaning down and pecking him on the cheek before turning back to her chair. "You're just remarkably nice, in general, and then in considering the examples you were given growing up, you're just nicer than you have any right to be."

He can feel his cheeks heating, as they so often do around Hermione nowadays, and doesn't know what to make of what she's said. "Erm, thanks."

She gives him another of these mysterious grins she's been giving him, picks back up her book, and starts reading.

He picks up a book too, absently flipping through it.

He glances out of the corner of his eye at Hermione, her eyes rapidly moving down the page at a speed he simply cannot comprehend.

If he wants to stop the strange, confused feelings he's had for her for a while now, they are simply going to have to stop kissing each other. They kiss each other on the cheek all the time now, casually, like an old married couple. And, not to mention, the two times now he's kissed her full on the mouth, even after the conversations he's been having with himself about not treating the tent like the boys dorm and treating Hermione cavalierly. And that's not including the fact that she also kissed him, even after the conversation they had where they decided to just do nothing about their mutual attraction.

What the hell are they doing?

He feels like he's in a warped reality, one where the world is made of fear, stress, uncertainty and Hermione.

The only good thing about it is Hermione.

Was that it? Was the reason he wanted to follow her around and kiss her all the time now because she was the only girl he's talked to in months?

Somehow, even though on some level it would be easier if that was the case, he knew that wasn't true.

He is in love with her.

He has loved her for a long time, maybe since she told McGonagall that she was responsible for the troll, or maybe when she told him that he was a great wizard when they were trying to get the Philosopher's stone. But it wasn't that kind of love. It was easier, simpler, more straight forward. Now it's all confusing and hormonal; deeper and more complex.

She stands up, turning a page as she does so, still reading rapidly down the page as she picks up the kettle and adds more water to her tea before sitting back down.

He feels mad. He feels like she is moving about the world in this unruffled way, content with everything that's happened between them and he's slowly losing his mind.

It wasn't like he was lying during that one conversation. The idea of buying her meaningless little presents and fighting over tiny perceived slights with her seems...absurd, somehow.

It's her fault really. She had to bring up the whole growing old thing and then kiss him. He felt okay too, before then. But now he isn't. Now he keeps picturing her, older, reading in a house, or walking through a garden, or coming home from work, ranting about how there is still pureblood propaganda everywhere. He can easily picture her impassioned face in Ministry robes after this is all over, just obliterating someone's ill-thought out argument. That is if they win against Voldemort.

He can't picture a future without her.

But he also has a hard time picturing a future at all. He doesn't even have a wand. He knows he isn't going to make it through this. That's why he broke up with Ginny. He isn't going to drag Hermione down with him any more than he already has. He's already so sorry towards her, so angry at himself.

He'll die before he tells her any of this.

"You know, it's so much easier to forgive Ron when I no longer have feelings for him."

He jumps at the sound of her voice, so spiraled in his thoughts he was. She frowns at him, at the long second that has passed, followed by another, before he speaks. "Y-yeah. It's not like - I mean, I hardly had the heart flutters for Ron myself, but I was still pretty angry. So I can imagine that it's worse for you. Or that it was." He pauses, realising that a lot of his anger at Ron is gone. "I mean, it's not like I - I don't know, if, if we saw him again somehow, he would need to apologise and explain himself and not be a prick for as long as he can manage it. But, I guess I just don't feel…" He trails off, not exactly sure about it.

"Before, I felt like if Ron showed up in front of me I would have poked him in the eye. Now I feel like I'm tired and want to make up or something. Not to say I'm not still angry with him-"

"Yeah, that's it. I get what you're saying." He does. They look at each other, a bit mystified by their own feelings, before shrugging at the same time.

That night, while Harry is sitting outside the tent, he sees a bright white doe in the distance and follows it.

He knows he should wake up Hermione, knows he should be careful. But he goes anyway, walking into the dark as he always is.

He hesitates for a while at the deep and clear pond edge, the sword glowing silver in the winter cold. He almost goes back for Hermione, some appreciation for thinking things through finally seeding in his brain.

But what if it's gone when they come back?

Hesitation could also lose them everything.

When the locket wraps close around his neck, dragging him lower, biting into his skin, it's the thought of Hermione waking up alone, unable to find him, afraid and growing desperate, that keeps him kicking towards the surface.

And suddenly Ron's there, as the world is growing dim. Suddenly Ron is in front of him as he coughs and gasps for air, shaking in the freezing cold.

"Have you lost your bleeding mind? What were you thinking? Where's Hermione?"

It's Ron, Ron's voice, Ron's incredulous expression, the one that makes you feel like maybe you're the stupidest person in the entire world. He's standing there, locket clenched in one fist, sword in the other. His red hair is almost black, wet and illuminated only by his wand. He's soaked.

He's imagined meeting Ron again many times. Sometimes he pictured it happening in the woods. They'd see each other across a clearing, him and Hermione on one side, him on the other. He would start to speak but they would simply turn around and walk away from him. Other times he imagined seeing him after the war, him amongst his family, safe and well fed and ashamed. He would go up to him without saying a word and punch him in the face.

He's surprised to feel happy, grinning a little as his shivers, pulling on his clothes as Ron stares in that incredulous way of his. He takes out Hermione's wand and drys himself. Ron glances at Hermione's wand, before looking back at him, his expression shifting. "Where's Hermione?"

"Back in the tent."

He relaxes a little, nodding, his expression shifting again, his eyes dropping to the forest floor by Harry's feet.

"Is that why you sent on the patronus? To get Hermione?"

"It wasn't my patronus."

"Yeah it was, yours is a deer, right?"

"Stag."

"Oh. Right. The, um, antlers."

Harry nods.

"So, then, whose patronus was that?"

He shakes his head, shrugging. "I dunno. I followed it out here, it found me by the tent, and it brought me to this pond."

Ron's mouth falls open a little. "Y-you just followed a random patronus? Without telling Hermione?"

He nods, grinning again at Ron shaking his head, muttering under his breath, "Merlin, mate…"

He really has missed him, the stupid git.

Ron pulls out a wand, drying himself too. "What happened?"

"Saw the sword, couldn't summon it, so I went in. I guess it's the real thing because the locket certainly doesn't like it and tried to kill me."

Ron nods, glancing down at the locket still clenched in his fist with apprehension. "Best dispense with this bleeding thing then, shouldn't we?"

"You do it." He almost doesn't recognise the voice that comes out of him. It was a command, but not barked out like an order. It was smooth, certain. He's reminded of Dumbledore somehow, but decides not to dwell on it. He knows Ron has to do it. Knows it would be good for him. He also knows it would be good for himself.

As he looks over Ron's frightened face dispassionately, he thinks maybe he isn't only happy to see him.

"I-I'm not sure… I don't know, I think- I think that this horcrux really affects me." His eyes move from the locket to Harry's, his mouth thinning into a firm line. "I'm not trying to push responsibility off onto it. That fuck up was all me. I know that. But still. I do think that it - it takes all my ugliness and makes it worse. Takes over the rest of me with it, you know?"

He thinks he might. "That's why it has to be you."

Ron shakes his head, holding the locket out in front of him in the palm of his hand like it's a bomb that might go off. He looks pained, but his face tightens, his eyes harden. His jaw clenches and then he looks up to Harry again, nodding once. His usually open face is older looking; he's laughing eyes, always one second away from sarcasm, are dark and serious now.

Harry's reminded of Ron's fear turning into acceptance as he understood that it has to be them that goes after the Stone all those years ago. The part of his heart that had hardened towards him loosens and he takes the locket from him, putting it on a log next to them, speaking softly. "I'm going to open it, okay? After that, you have to stab it."

Ron holds out the sword, his hands shaking.

Harry whispers in parseltongue and the world explodes.

The locket says such hurtful things, terrible things. He's seeing into the dark corners of Ron's mind, the sores on his soul, things he never talks about.

It pains him to hear it. It hurts him to see him and Hermione locked in a mocking embrace. It's not like that, it would never be like that. Their love for Ron was never conditional on their love for each other. That's not how that works. That's not how any of this works. He wants to tell Ron that he can see that he's insecure and jealous and uncertain, but he loves him anyway. He wants to tell him that they already knew that about him, they all knew a long time ago, but he was still a good friend, still worth it. Instead he bellows at him to stab it, to stab it already, to end it.

Ron looks at him, terrible pain and sadness etched into every line of his face. Something in his eyes snap and they are full of fury, such fury, and as he raises the sword Harry feels a fear enter his heart of a second, wonders if Ron's going to stab him.

But then he brings it down, slicing through the locket, which screams and screams, and then is still and silent and cold on the forest floor.

Empty and dead.

Harry closes his eyes and rests on his elbows, sprawled out almost lying on the hard frozen ground. He keeps his eyes closed for a while longer until Ron's huffing and gasping breath evens a little.

He opens them to see Ron sitting crossed legged on the log, next to the deep gash he's created in it, he's head in his hands. He looks up, his eyes rimmed in red. "Are you and Hermione together?" His voice is desperate.

He feels his heart rate increase, thoughts clashing in together, cutting each other off; lies and omissions, excuses and uncertainties, fear, possessiveness, protectiveness. The idea of Ron going anywhere near Hermione with those intentions again is so incredibly unacceptable to him that his hand twitches, imagining the sword in it instead of Ron's.

He shakes his head, trying to clear it. "That doesn't matter."

Ron looks up at him, confused, worried.

"It wouldn't matter if Hermione is wildly in love with you, or is now married to Prince William. It wouldn't matter if you were Headboy and won the quidditch cup. It doesn't matter if you were to become the Minister for Magic and have a million galleons to your name. Ron, you could have none or all of those things happen, that doesn't change that you are worth it. You're enough all by yourself, just by being the bad tempered sarcastic git who loves food, quidditch and who sometimes saves his friends from horrible watery deaths."

Ron blinks at him, his eyes getting watery again. He wipes furiously at them as a few tears drop. He shakes his head, letting out a strange little chuckle. "I love you, too, mate."

He stands up and reaches down, holding out a hand to Harry who takes it. Ron pulls him up with a grunt and they stand there for a second before moving into a hug, slapping each other on the back.

They turn, Harry leading them back towards the tent. Ron chuckles again, sounding more like himself. "Urgh, let's never do that again."

"Which bit? The killing the horcrux part or the crying and hugging part?"

Ron grimaces. "The hugging and crying bit."

Harry laughs. "Good, because we have a number of horcruxes to kill still."

Ron grins at him, something a little more confident in the set of his shoulders. "Yes, we do."

That confidence leaves his shoulders the moment the pass the enchantments to find Hermione standing outside the tent, wrapped in three or four blankets.

Her eyes jump from Ron to the sword to the ruined locket to Harry, then back to Ron, then back to Harry, then down a little. "What happened to your neck?"

She moves forward, stopping in front of him. He's been so distracted that he hasn't really thought about it, but his neck does burn quite a bit. Hermione reaches forward and touches it, which makes him let out a little hiss. Her hand moves back with some dried blood mixed with fresh on her finger tips. She frowns up at him, her eyes snapping over for a second to Ron, before nodding to the tent.

"Best head inside and get cleaned up. Sounds like I have a story to hear anyway."

She turns around and the boys follow her, silent.

They sit in silence as Hermione gets the tea going. She silently takes her wand back from Harry and then mutters a skin mending charm under her breath. It stings a lot, but then the pain stops right away. She hands him a damp towel, and he nods his thanks and starts wiping at his neck.

She turns towards Ron and glances down him clinically. "Any problems with you?"

He shrugs, seemingly taking in a mental catalog. "I think I'm fine, physically."

She nods before turning back towards Harry. "What happened?"

He tells her, Ron interjecting sometimes, but he mostly stands silent and off to the side before moving to finish getting the tea ready. They sit down as Harry is still talking, Hermione and him on his bed, Ron on a armchair.

As the story is winding down, Ron leaves the sword on the rickety coffee table.

He hands Hermione the ruined locket when she gestures towards it. She flips it over, looking at the twisted metal with a frown. "Funny to think about how such an ugly and tasteless necklace gave us all such trouble."

There's an awkward silence as they all nod.

Then Hermione's head turns towards Ron sharply, her eyes narrowed. Ron swallows.

"You ate all my chocolate."

Ron gapes at her. "What?"

"The chocolate! In the dates tin! You ate all my chocolate, I can't believe you Ronald Weasley."

He blinks, opening and closing his mouth, clearly trying to remember what she was talking about. He stills, clarity entering his features. "Oh. Yes, I - I'm sorry."

Harry looks at Hermione's angry profile, his eyebrows furrowed. Of all things, the chocolate?

Hermione stands, hands on her hips. "Things have changed while you've been away."

Harry's eyes widen. What is she going to tell Ron? They haven't even really come to a conclusion yet and she's going to what? Declare something to Ron?"

Ron glances at him, his ears turning red.

"We're more of a team now, do you understand? I'm not going to nag you to do this or that any more, and you're going to put in effort all your own. You're going to be considerate of us without me having to remind you over and over again. Do you understand?

Ron blinks up at her, a little lost. Harry stands too, looking at her face which is menacing somehow despite her smaller frame, Ron almost coming up her chin even while sitting. "That means no more disappearing when it's time to do laundry, no eating more than your share, no endless bitching when it's time to acquire food somehow, and absolutely. No. Whispered. Conversations. Behind. Each. Other's. Backs." She pushed her finger into his chest a little between each word. "I'm done with being put into hard emotional positions by you anymore, is that clear?" She raises her eyebrows, her eyes wide in warning, but her mouth in a frown.

Ron's frowning too. He opens and closes his mouth, his eyebrows furrowed. "I think I get the general idea. I'll - I'll be fair to you, going forward."

Hermione stands back, staring him down longer before nodding once more. "Good. Harry, can I talk to you for a second?"

He nods, surprised.

"Hey, you just said - "

"Whatever, Ron. Go take a shower or something. You smell like damp leaves."

As they walk out of the tent, Ron's sniffing his coat's arm with a considering frown.

Harry turns towards her, her expression hard to read in the soft lighting coming from inside. She steps forward, resting her forehead against his collarbone and wraps her arms around him loosely. He pulls her closer, kissing the top of her head. And while he doesn't know what this all means, he does know that this makes him feel better.

Chapter Text

May 7th, 1998

It was three in the morning according to the time charm that Harry just done. The clock, the actual clock, that hung in the living room stopped working at, apparently, four thirty three, at some point.

The Weasley family clock laid in a broken pile in a box where Harry had placed it after Mrs. Weasley smashed it earlier in the week, after Fred's funeral.

The was the sound of light footsteps and Harry stiffened as the door opened, only to let out a relieved breath. It was Hermione.

She paused in the doorway before letting out a sigh and making her way over to him. There were only embers in the fireplace and the moon shining full and bright through the window, but he felt like he could see her clear as day.

"How long have you been down here?" She sat next to him, resting her head against his shoulder, intertwining their fingers.

"Awhile. Ron said he needed some time alone." He shifted so she could rest easier against him.

"So he kicked you out?"

Harry shrugged. "I...understand. I do. I felt like I always needed to be alone when I was around people, and around people when I was alone. What brings you down here?"

"Ginny, she's - not crying quite, but clearly having bad dreams. I keep waking her up because it seems unpleasant, but she told me to stop. She needs to sleep."

"But it keeps you awake?"

"Exactly."

He hums and then they sit in silence, drifting off.

The next time he opens his eyes, the sun is rising and Mr. Weasley is sitting opposite them, a small sad smile on his face.

Harry jerks a little in surprise and Hermione blinks awake. All three sort of stare at each other for a few seconds before Mr. Weasley clears his throat.

"You two have been a tremendous help this past week, keeping this house running while we've been a mess. I-" He shakes his head. He looks a bit like a crumpled bit of paper; pale, made of jagged lines. "I know my children have been alternating between needy and unpleasant, Ron and Ginny in particular. I know that you both loved Fred, and we all think of you as family, so, please, don't take this the wrong way-"

"You want us to leave?" He feels a bit shocked.

Mr. Weasley sighs and shakes his head, clasping his hands out in front of him. "No. Not like that. Never like that. But don't think I haven't noticed you two getting more and more tired. Have you even been sleeping? Where? And Hermione, surely you need to go get your family from Australia? Harry, don't you have a number of things to sort out with Gringotts and the Ministry? Didn't you mention seeing Teddy? The point isn't that I want you to leave, the point is that we can't take advantage of you anymore. We need to get our ducks in a row and figure out how to live with this grief. And you two are just too good at keeping us afloat enough that we don't have to, if that makes sense?"

It does make sense, and it isn't that he doesn't believe Mr. Weasley, but Harry also gets the sense that they might be becoming more of a nuisance, somehow.

"It does make sense Mr. Weasley. We'll just gather out things and go to - to-" Hermione opens and closes her mouth, uncertainty entering her features.

Mr. Weasley looks almost pained in his regret. "Nevermind, absolutely nevermind. I forgot that Grimmauld place wasn't cleared yet. Here's what we can do-"

"I'll go sort things out a Gringotts today, Mr. Weasley, and get access to my vaults. After that it will all be a lot easier. Don't worry about it. We'll just leave our things here in the meantime and-"

"I can get to my checking and savings now too. I nearly forgot, now that I'm not on the run it will be easy to go in and-"

"Why on earth would you need access to your checking and savings? How much could you have in there anyway?"

She turns towards him, flabbergasted. "Enough! My parents have been saving money for a University fund and I've put my summer job money, birthday money, odd gifts here and there money in there since I was seven!"

"I still don't see what that has to do with anything. If I sort things out with Gringotts then we'll have plenty of money to go live wherever while we sort things out."

"But I can't just live off of you."

"L-live off of me? Hermione, I'm pretty sure I owe about ten of my vaults full of gold just for this last year alone. Live off me? Good grief."

The slight tint of her pink cheeks doesn't match the hardening stubborn expression entering her face. "You don't owe me anything for this last year. How could you even think that?" Her expression shifts, open as a wound all at once. "Particularly after you marched off into that forest all by yourself."

They hadn't talked about it, not yet, not really. Of all the things, so many things, that he was sorry about, leaving Hermione behind and alone like that burned the most.

The intensity of the moment was broken when Mr. Weasley coughed lightly. "This brings me to another point. I know we've been drowning you both in all our grief. Have you all even had time to think about yourselves?"

Harry thinks that's maybe why they've been so diligent. It was easier to take care of other people's grief than your own.

The silence is answer enough. "Please, please, both of you, don't take this as me chasing you out, or saying you're not welcome. The rest of the family would be furious if they even knew I was saying this to you both. But I want you both to look after yourselves. We'll be okay. So, good luck with Gringotts, and if they give you any trouble stay here as long as you need. Stay until you're old and gray. Just do whatever is best for yourselves."

Mr. Weasley hugs them both, makes them tea and toast as they go upstairs and change and wash their faces. He waves to them as they walk to the apparition point by the garden entrance. The rest of the house is still in half asleep mourning. They didn't want to wake them. Afterall, it wasn't even goodbye.

Then they were in the middle of a clearing. Hermione turns and looks around, confused. "Feeling nostalgic? I left the tent at the Burrow though, it's not even ours."

Harry shakes his head, feeling a little panicked, needing to clarify things with her right away. "What did you mean back there, about your account?"

She turns towards him, her eyebrows furrowed. "I don't plan on living off of you, why would you pay for my housing when I have perfectly good-"

"Are you going to leave?"

He doesn't specify, but she gets it anyway. "Leave? Leave you? And go where?"

Harry crosses his arms across his chest. "I don't know. Australia? Or just anywhere, I guess. You don't have to stay with me anymore, so-" He breaks off, nervous.

He's been dreading this. But at some point she would realise that there wasn't any reason for her to be here and then what?

She bites her lip, wringing her hands together. "A-are you saying that you want me to leave too? I-I don't," Her lips start to tremble, her eyes getting red, "want to."

He steps forward, wrapping her in a hug, and thinks back to the time after they escaped Malfoy manor and were plotting at the Shell Cottage.

He had been avoiding her.

"Are you avoiding me?"

He was halfway through the doorway, frozen as Hermione's voice followed from the kitchen. They had buried Dobby two days before; got Luna, Dean, Griphook and Mr. Ollivander settled as much as possible, healed Hermione's arm as much as possible.

But it was still there, a light pink scar. The knife was magic enough, Bellatrix's malice dark enough, to count as dark magic. There was no completely getting rid of it.

Hermione would tug at her sleeves, carefully grasp the ends of her jumper, stretching them so they wouldn't slide down her arms when she gestured or moved.

People didn't seem to notice, but he did. Every time it felt like a stab to his stomach. He was sick of it now, the sorry and the angry. He wanted to stop being sorry to her, he wanted to stop doing things that made him so angry at himself. He couldn't seem to look at her without making some sort of face it seemed, which always made her pale and sad looking. He started leaving the room when she came in unless they were planning, unless there were a lot of other people around.

He could hear her approaching, her normally soft steps sounding like thumps as they turned into stomps. He turned towards her, looking down, denial almost on his lips. All of a sudden his vision has filled with Hermione's scar, Mudblood in pink jagged letters. He stumbled back a step.

"Is it that horrifying? I don't understand you, why do you always look so disgusted-"

He had a flash of understanding and feels like the worst idiot in the world. He stepped back forward, takes her arm and pressed it to his eyes, to his cheek.

"No."

"No?"

He took a deep breath, moving her arm to his mouth, not quite kissing it, just sort of holding it there. He doesn't know what he's doing.

"You aren't disgusting, your scar isn't disgusting. I'm disgusted with myself."

She blinks slowly up at him, glancing between his face and her arm held awkwardly up to it. Understanding enters her eyes. "Oh. Of course. I should have guessed. You love to blame yourself for things Bellatrix LeStrange does, after all."

He slowly lowered her arm, shaking his head. "It's my fault. I said his name."

She reached up with the scarred arm, touching the side of his face. "Oh Harry. The amount of of therapy we are all going to need-"

She looked startled over his shoulder and dropped her hand, taking a half step back. Harry turned and saw Ron, frozen in the doorway. There was a second of silence.

Then Hermione peaked around Harry's shoulder. "Ron, tell Harry he's being a git."

He snorted and moved forward, throwing his arm around Harry's shoulder. "Mate, you're being a git."

They all walk towards the hallway entrance to go upstairs and talk.

Harry scoffed. "You don't even know what's happening."

Ron shrugged. "Don't need to, just nice not to be the one getting called it for once."

But here, now, in this field, there was no Ron to swoop and break the tension.

"What? No. I don't want you to leave, I'm worried that you're going to. I can't think of why you wouldn't, I'd want to get away from me after living with me in a tent for a year."

"You've also lived with me in a tent for a year, or eight months rather, you must be sick of me?"

He wasn't sick of her. In fact, he felt a little shaky at the idea of her going somewhere. They haven't been apart for longer than a few hours in months and months.

"Do you want to run away for a while? With me?" He's suddenly self conscious. It didn't sound so corny in his head.

She stills, surprised. "Run away? Where?"

"To muggle London. I'll get some money, convert it and we can, I don't know, just, do some tourist stuff, maybe? Stay at a hotel for awhile. I just-"

"Yes. I want that very much." She looks almost desperate as he feels. He was going on a whim, just something to say, but now it was out, now that it was forming more and more into a concrete thought, he realised he wanted that very badly.

"I'll get my money while you get yours and we'll meet back and the Burrow, how about that?"

"You don't have to-"

"I want my own money, Harry." She looks stern.

He shrugs, not wanting to die on that hill. Besides, he'll just pay for things discreetly.

They go their separate ways and when he appears by the front gate at the Burrow a couple of hours later, he's not really surprised to see Hermione reading a book under a tree across the small road.

She closes her book as he gets closer.

"Didn't feel like going inside?"

She hesitates. "No, it-it's just a really beautiful day outside."

He nods, knowing how tense the house has been.

"I see that you haven't been dragged off to a Goblin prison or something? So it must have gone well?" She takes his hand and he pulls her up.

They turn and head towards the Burrow. "I'm not sure, honestly. I mean, they called me a hero, said they were very sorry for keeping such a dangerous and evil object in their walls. Then they said a lot of things that basically stacked up to saying that they would never do anything to me because of my status, but the same couldn't be said for my great grandchildren, or something. It was all very cryptic and ominous. But I at least was able to take a lot of money out."

Hermione frowns at him as they open the door. "Still, I don't like the idea of Goblins shoving your great grandson down a shaft or something as belated revenge."

"I don't know the context of that at all, but it does sound like Goblins." Ron is standing in the kitchen, by the kettle. He looks tired. "Dad said you two are heading out?"

Her voice is unsure. "Yes, we were thinking of going to muggle London for a while. Do you- would you like-"

"No. Actually, I think I'd like to just be home for awhile. Speaking of, I'm surprised that you aren't running off to Australia?"

Harry looks over at her too, also curious.

She sighs, "I think I might give it a couple of months. It's just that everything is still a little up in the air, isn't it? Voldemort is gone, but there's still a lot of Death Eaters out and about, dementors, the Ministry is in shambles. It just seems safer to keep them there for a bit longer."

She bites her lip and stares down at her hands. Harry and Ron glance at each other, worried. There's definitely something going on there.

Ron takes a sip of his tea. "Except for that memorable occasion where I left you all in the woods for a couple of months, this will be the first time in a while. After everything-" He breaks off, taking another sip.

Hermione lets out a strangled sound and throws her arms around Ron's lanky frame. "Oh, I don't know why this feels so- but I mean, it's hardly like this is goodbye, is it? We'll see you soon."

Ron reaches up, patting her lightly on the head. His smile has a touch of something sad in it. "Of course it's not."

She lets him go and steps back. She looks over to Harry. "I guess I'll just grab my things." She gives Ron another watery sort of smile and walks up the stairs where her bag is waiting.

Harry turns to follow, though most of his stuff is still in Hermione's bag. Still, there are some odds and ends.

"Wait." Ron is looking at him, the tired grief momentarily replaced by something that looks like the softer brother of mischievous. "This is the perfect time mate, don't blow it."

"Don't blow what? What's the perfect time for what?" He leans in, matching Ron's faux whisper.

Ron rolls his eyes. "You two are daft. Just date already."

Harry stands straight, feeling a current of shock running through him.

"Date? But, we-"

"Look, I don't want to hear it. You two figure it out."

"Ron, you can't just decide-"

"Sure I can. I was the one who spent the last few months watching you two. It was disgusting and frustrating all at the same time. Just-" Ron leans forward morning, dropping his voice to a true whisper. "Just figure it out. Take it from a guy who did blow it, pull your head from your arse."

Harry shakes his head, not knowing what to say, and goes upstairs to gather his few things. Ron watches him in silence until he's no longer in view.

By the time he comes back down, Ron and Hermione are chatting, her voice coming in clear as he rounds the corner. "You are being silly, you know."

"And to think, I'm supposed to be the oblivious one in our little group."

"You are though."

They turn to look at him, Ron pulling a face. "You don't even know what we're talking about."

"Don't have to."

They each take a turn giving Ron a brief hug. They wave goodbye and make plans to see each other next weekend.

Somehow it feels more final, a shift in something falling into place.

Harry takes Hermione's hand and suddenly they are in a car park.

They glance around before taking the left up. They blink into the bright light of day.

It's beautiful out, later in the morning, the sun high and warm, the breeze still holding a hit of spring cool. It's only the beginning of the tourist season, so it's busy but not unbearable on the streets along the river.

They are still holding hands as they cross the street and walk into the lobby of a Georgian looking building that seems like it's a hotel.

The receptionist raises an eyebrow at them as they enter, still on the phone, and Harry wonders how they look. All of their clothes have gotten a bit worn out and ratty over the last year and they aren't carrying luggage. He thinks that they might have something hardened about them as well, a certain look in their eyes, a hollowness to their cheeks still.

They lean against the counter as the receptionist hangs up the phone and with a rather insincere smile asks, "How may I help you?"

Hermione answers. "We would like to rent a room for…"

"A week." Harry puts in, glancing around to the subtle fine furnishings, the grandfather clock standing in the corner polished to an inch of its life. He thinks that maybe this place might not just be expensive, but also an old money kind of place. It wasn't necessarily trying to show off it's wealth, it was just wealthy and you had to be in the know enough to truly see it.

"Oh. I see. Let me see if we have any rooms unreserved for you." He made a show of turning around to a large ledger and flipping here and there through it. "I see, it looks like we don't have anything available. I know there is a hostel further down the road that has beds available, should that be helpful to you."

Now it was Harry's turn to raise his eyebrows. Still leaning against the counter, he nodded his head towards a series of keys hanging off the highest level of hooks behind him. "How about those? Are there any suites available?"

The receptionist's thin lips then thin further. He doesn't make a show of flipping through the book this time, instead he looks impatient. "Yes, we have two open suites. But I must say that they are rather high priced on such short notice-"

"How much?"

He leans forward and says the amount, which is surely ridiculous, but honestly not as bad as he feared. And it's not like he doesn't have it.

"Yeah, sure. That will work great."

The receptionist looks a little shocked, but recovers quickly. He's whole demeanor changes.

After the payment is settled, they head to the lift which has the same carpet as the hallway, plush and deep. The paneling is a dark wood, and the whole place has a subtle spicy, musky sort of scent.

They find the room and it opens up into a spacious area with windows taking up the majority of one wall. Someone has left a window open a crack and the white curtain flutters in the breeze.

There is a sitting area with a sofa and two chairs all facing a wardrobe and circling a low dark wooden coffee table. There is a door off to the side that might be a bathroom and a truly massive bed. Seriously overly large, perhaps it would have taken up more than half of the tent by itself. Still, he hadn't entirely thought that through.

"I can sleep on the sofa-"

Hermione wacks him across the arm. "You paid for this silly thing to begin with. And if it doesn't bother you, it doesn't bother me. I think we slept in closer quarters in the tent sleeping in separate beds anyway." She walks over to the bed, flinging herself back and bouncing. One of the many pillows falls off to the side.

Harry walks over next to her. "Yeah. True. Hopefully by the end of the week the new protections will be up at Grimmauld Place."

She sits up, looking at the bright lights coming through the window.

"Want to head out?"

They do. They can't seem to sit still, can't stay in one place for long. They go to the British National Gallery, only walking through a few of the rooms. They eat a quick lunch in a small dark pub after standing in the center of St. Paul's and staring up at the dome's paintings for a minute. They sit in silence, still enjoying the sensation of having whatever food they want when they want it. In their quiet, they overhear a couple of people talking as they mop up the rest of the fish's vinegar with their chips. They look like a couple of co-workers, if their uniforms of black skirts and stripped shirts are anything to go by, on a lunch break.

"It feels amazing out today, doesn't it? Feels like it's been a terrible winter."

"It's been a gloomy year for sure. Just… I don't know. Like all the joy was just sucked out of the air or something. I know it sounds dramatic but-"

"No, that's exactly right! I'm not prone to moods or, or depression or what have you, but it all started to feel a bit hopeless."

"Right, and the news seemed worse than usual. People disappearing, random people dying-"

"Exactly. Yeah, I hope that it continues like this. Such a nice day."

Harry and Hermione leave, giving each other small smiles as they go.

They walk over to the Parliament building and Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. They don't go in any of them, but just glance over at them before crossing the river and walking along the South Bank.

There are little stands, places selling a variety of things. One of them is selling pints of beer and Harry moves toward it thinking that would be nice, to have a drink by the river in the sun, but then he stops. Hermione looks at him, her eyebrows raised, as he starts laughing.

"What is it then?" She's starting to grin herself.

"I-I just realised that I c-can't buy that beer."

She glances over at the stall and then back to him with a smile. "Oh right, you're still seventeen!"

She starts laughing with him, but her laugh dies off as she watches Harry's laughter take on a strange hitching sort of quality. "Doesn't t-that seem mad? I can't even go buy that beer after everything? After all those people died, after I died, that I'm somehow n-not old enough to-"

And then he's crying, great heaving sobs, and Hermione pulls his face down to her shoulder and rubs his back. She starts to cry into his shoulder too and they are making a bit of a scene but they can't seem to bring themselves to care. They cry by the river, in the sun, warm and safe for the first time in a long while.

Chapter Text

As he fell asleep on the large, too soft bed that night, his thoughts traveled back, touching on the way that Hogwarts smelled like fire and dust after the battle. The sound the Weasley family clock made as Mrs. Weasley smashed it, the near misses as green spells shot over Ron and Hermione's heads. His thoughts lingered at the strange time they had at Shell Cottage.

The day before they went to Gringotts had been tense.

As he sat there on the beach by shell cottage, he couldn't help but wonder at the direction he's life had taken. He remembers Hagrid giving him his first birthday cake on the floor of the hut in the sea and feeling excited and so afraid. Afraid it was all a dream, that he'd wake up to Aunt Petunia telling him to do this or that.

He wonders what it would be like to go back there now, to kneel down next to the short, scrawny, unloved boy, look him in the eye, and tell him what the future would hold. Would he still be excited? Still go?

Was it worth it?

"Hey you." Hermione sat next to him, knocking his knee with hers. "You look like you're deep in a brood."

"You robbed an offy."

She frowns at him. "I'll pay them back just as soon as I can, I swear."

He shakes his head, "I know, that's not the point. I was just thinking about what our eleven year old selves would think of all this."

"I think I would faint at the mere idea that I live in a tent with a couple of boys-"

"Men."

"Boys, and then add the whole robbing offys, getting drunk, planning to rob a bank, being wanted by the government... No, I don't think my poor eleven year old self would even know how to process that information. Do you know, when I was eight, I was telling off a boy, Lance, I think his name was, for drawing instead of focusing on his maths, and the teacher looks at me and goes, 'Hermione Granger, you're being awfully chatty, I'll have to put your name on the board.'"

"Put your name on the board?"

"When children were being naughty, she would write their name on the board and if she put two more checks next to it, you would have to stay in during recess or something like that. But when she did that, I felt so indignant, so wronged, so- I don't know, horrified that anyone would think that I, Hermione Granger, was a naughty chatty child, that I just burst into tears."

Harry chuckles, then starts laughing. "That sounds about right."

She nudges him with her shoulder. "I've come a long way."

His laughter fades. "I'm sorry, I wish-"

She shakes her head. "I don't wish. I'm happy I grew up. And speaking of growing up, I should probably figure out how to transfigure my clothes to look like one of the most evil witches in the world."

He nods and she pats him on the shoulder as she leaves to enter the house.

Before he can get a proper brood going again, Ron sits next to him.

"What, are you and Hermione tag teaming?"

Ron scrunches his nose. "That's not my cup of tea, I'm afraid."

Harry tilts his head, confused.

Ron's grin just broadens before he shakes his head. "I didn't even know Hermione was out here. I just saw you out here looking like a moody git and thought I'd check on you."

"I'm really not that moody. You and Hermione make it sound like I'm some sort of prat."

Ron actually laughs out loud. Harry punches him in the arm and Ron swings his arm around his shoulders.

Harry considers him for a second. "Do you ever feel, I don't know, sorry, towards Hermione?"

Ron's smile disappears like vapor. He pulls his arm back, clutching his hands together. "Yeah, of course." He's frowning down at the sand.

Harry backpedals. "I don't - I meant, you know, do you think we've been a bad influence on her?"

Ron's expression shifts, his eyebrows furrow. "I think you-know-who has been a bad influence on her more than anything. If it wasn't for him and his band of lackeys, she would be graduating from Hogwarts in a few months, most definitely would have been head girl, and probably would have a prestigious apprenticeship set up with some big shot at the Ministry. But he hates for her blood, for no reason at all, so here we are, about to do something very stupid. Also I guess because he just really, really wants to kill you. That's a problem too."

Harry sighs. "Yeah, it's been a bit of a bother hasn't it?"

Ron snorts. "Why bring this up? Are you feeling like a bad influence? Don't think I didn't notice that left over liquor in the tent, by the way."

"That was all Hermione."

Ron raises his eyebrows, but Harry shakes his head. "Long story."

"So, what's making you think about this?"

"I just feel sorry to her all the time."

"Why?" Ron looks baffled.

Harry looks baffled back. "What do you mean why? She's upstairs transfiguring her clothes to look like the person who bloody tortured her, for Merlin's sake."

His baffled expression doesn't change. "So… Why does that make you feel sorry towards her?"

He shrugs. "I feel like -I mean I know it's my fault she's always in danger. You too."

Ron stares at him for a second. "You really need to get over yourself, mate."

Harry frowns at him. Ron sighs. "We just said that we're doing this for her, then you turn around and make it about yourself. Do you think that we wouldn't be involved in trying to fix this mess even if you weren't our friend?"

He clenches his fists. He's not explaining himself well. "Right, that's true. I know that. But. I'm always, I don't know, being reckless. I don't have to put you all in so much danger."

Ron gives an odd, sad grin. "Look at you growing up."

He scowls at him and Ron shakes his head, sitting up straight. "Sorry, look Harry, you have always been a bit of a whirlwind, and we all are caught up in it. And yeah, there has been once or twice where I thought, can't he just wait? Is he suicidal? Why doesn't he want to go into the chamber? Why does he have to talk about how you-know-who quite so much in front of Umbridge? Are we really going to ride invisible death omen horses all the way to London to break into the Ministry?" Ron pauses, seemingly lost in thought, before shaking his head. "But the point is, you're usually right, one way or another. A lot of people just try to make things everyone else problem instead of theirs. But you just...don't. So what I'm saying is, yeah, you're a mess, and yeah, I would like you to be a bit more careful, but we follow you into the chaos for a reason."

Harry hesitates, feeling like a berk for asking, but needing to know. "What reason?"

Ron shrugs. "Because you understand that some things are worth the risk, even in the moment."

Harry looks back out onto the ocean with a frown. Are things worth the risk? He isn't Dumbledore, he doesn't think that he could, if it came down to it somehow, in some crazy scenario for example, trade Hermione for Voldemort's immediate death or anything like that.

Ron shoves him light. "Oi, I didn't say all that so you can brood some more."

Harry pushes him back. "Shove off with all the brooding talk will you?"

"Only if you shove off with all the brooding. Anyway, I think we should practice making me look like a henchman. Let's go up to the house and bother Hermione."

They stand up and walk back. Ron takes a breath and hesitates then says, "You know, I also didn't say all that to discourage you from thinking through things a bit more, though. It would be a relief to all of us if you took a second to think of your own bodily harm every once and awhile."

Harry nods, agrees to be more careful.

But he never is. Instead he puts a Goblin and a wizard under the Imperius Curse. Instead they fall from the cart, instead they are burned by metal, instead they steal a dragon.

He had dreams of being buried in white hot golden objects. They kept falling and falling on him, dripping molten glittering metal. He realised that they were all cups and goblets and Orders of Merlin.

He hears a distant roar of a dragon and wakes up to the bright light of mid-morning.

The hotel's white curtains are blowing in the wind a little; he can feel a slight cool breeze on his face. Despite the width of the bed and how he had thought he had fallen asleep on his own side, he and Hermione are somehow sandwiched in the middle, sort of cocooned by pillows that fell around them in the night.

She's still asleep, her head on his shoulder. He knows that he should feel embarrassed, try to discreetly roll away, but that seemed unnecessary after everything they've been through.

He tried not to think about what Ron had said, but it was like a flashing light in the corner of his eye.

He didn't have a war to distract him anymore.

She woke up blinking, smiling slightly at him as she got her bearings. She slid in closer, her forehead against his sternum. "I had a nice dream for once."

"What about?"

"We were on the dragon, flying away from Gringotts. You know I hate to fly and we were covered in burns and we had to run off to Hogwarts right after, but I don't know, I felt so relieved."

"I had a dream too about that same night, kind of."

She lifts her head, looking at him. But he just shakes his head and grins at her. It doesn't really matter.

His stomach growls loudly. "Would you like some room service?"

She pats his stomach. "There are cafes all over the place, room service is expen-"

He pokes her in the side. "I don't want to hear that word from your mouth for at least a week."

"But it's irrespons-"

"That one either. Don't you think we've been responsible enough?"

She considers him, dark eyes solemn among all the white fluffy pillows and blankets. "True."

"So then the question becomes, do you want to get dressed and get food and wander around? Or do you want to sit in this bed and stuff our faces?"

They order a full English breakfast, with extra sides of toast and completely unnecessary bowls of sugary cereal.

They watch trash reality tele while splayed out on the luxury sofas, still in their pajamas. They order in pizza for lunch and watch three different films they had brought to them as a service from the front desk. They order pot roast with mash potatoes swirled into fancy designs next to it and a small mountain of grilled vegetables for dinner. They have chocolate cake for dessert.

Hermione lays at the foot of the bed, glowing blue in the light of the television. Night has fallen and they haven't turned on any lights.

She's rubbing her stomach. "We keep this up, we'll each weigh three hundred pounds. They'll have to roll us out of here or come through the windows with a crane."

Harry's sitting cross legged next to her and lifts up her arm, her wrist bones still protruding, her forearm fitting easily in his hand, his palm covering the word blood. "I'm not worried about that yet."

She hums, looking away from the screen to his face. "I feel like how I did after a Hogwarts feast."

He smiles. "Ron was always impressive at those. I still say we should sign him up for an eating competition. I think he'd win without knowing he was in one."

"Maybe it comes from being in such a large family, eating so fast you know? Like he was worried that all the food would be gone if he didn't move fast."

"He was probably right, too."

Their grins fade, thinking of the Weasleys.

"I was always so jealous of Ron. I couldn't imagine what it was like to have such a large family. Maybe not all parts of it were great."

"You and Ron, running around being jealous of each other for the wrong reasons."

"Oh, and what were the right reasons?"

She considers him. "Ron should have been jealous of your ability to look dashing somehow while brooding. I always wanted to kick you, but the girls at Hogwarts found it all very intriguing and mysterious." He huffs in indignation, but Hermione continues on. "While you should have been jealous of his ability to start growing at a rapid rate at age eleven and then never stop."

He laughs. "I'm not jealous of that though. Do you know how often Ron was hitting his head on things by the end of sixth year?"

"That does explain a lot, actually." She grins.

He's still holding her arm lightly in his hand.

Her grin changes softly into something else, an expression he doesn't recognise on her face, which is very strange, as he thought he knew them all by now. "You actually don't need to be jealous of Ron for his height, you're height is perfect, really."

He feels his cheeks flush. He wanted to say something corny back, like, yeah, the perfect height for you, or something, but he isn't even sure what that means.

Her face changes again, from this soft mysterious expression to a different one, also hard to read, but it seems to edge on panic. Not panic, but something like it. She pulls her arm out of his loose grip and rolls to her side, so that her back is to him. "Let's watch that silly looking Hollywood film with all the exploding helicopters next."

They fall asleep at the foot of the bed and wake up with Harry's arm wrapped around her waist, spooning her. He still doesn't feel embarrassed, but he doesn't linger like he did yesterday.

They eat eggs cooked to a perfect poached consistency and pastries the next morning and wander around London, mostly weaving their way through different bookstores. He thinks about how he should find this dull, but instead was enjoying Hermione turning towards him periodically, holding a book out about whatever, and whispering in undertones about how this or that has been confirmed or denied by wizards. The bookstore they were in was three stories and painted bright white. There were colorful bean bag chairs lying around, and a strangely intrusive pop song playing too loud for this place's purpose.

They rounded a bookshelf to see rows and rows of CD's covering the rest of the top floor.

They stared down at them, Hermione lightly looking through a row with a frown. "We can't go back."

"Back?"

"Back to the muggle world."

He opens and closes his mouth, lost.

She shakes her head. "I just - I guess it never occurred to be that when we left the muggle world behind that that world would go one without us. I hadn't realised that CDs have become so popular."

Harry frowns over the sea of plastic wrapped squares and shrugs. "Maybe we can't go back, but it's not too bad to visit every once and awhile."

That seems to have been the right thing to say. Hermione smiles and takes his hand. They leave the bright colors of the future and wander down darker side steets.

They find a bookstore nestled, almost hidden, in one of them. It was tiny and kind of dark, low lamps being the only real source of light, all of the shelves made of a dark, almost black wood. There were books stacked to the roof, piles here and there so precarious he wondered if there wasn't a touch of magic about the place.

He misses Flourish and Blotts.

Hermione stands on her toes, looking at a series of translated medieval middle eastern poetry and muttering about something under her breath. She pulls one out, flipping rapidly. Harry watches for a second, smiling at the familiar look of frustrated concentration on her face. He rounds a shelf, staring absently at the titles, one drawn with very detailed eyes instead of os.

An eye winks at him.

He blinks back. He pulls out the book, titled, "Where to Look When You Aren't Searching." The cover was just the title, written with a flourish, those two eyes staring.

He thinks about opening it, but Hermione's whispers of recklessness stayed his hand. He wanders back over to her, watching the cover to see if it would do it again.

It did just as he held the book out to her. She blinks back, tucking her own book under her arm.

"What in the world?"

"Oh, I see that you're people of magic."

A strange man was standing behind Hermione, his head bald, his goatee nearly as sharp as his smile. Hermione gasps and turns away, backing up into Harry.

The man is still smirking at her as he speaks. "I like to keep the shop mostly muggle, with a few surprises here and there, just to see who spots them. Are you full blown witches and wizards or just-" He glances up at Harry's face and freezes.

Harry stiffens too, putting down the book and taking Hermione's hand. "Look, can you -"

"Mr. Potter, I- '' The man's earlier look of condescension was gone, replaced with a lost sort of expression.

"Can you not tell anyone we were here?"

The man nods and they turn to leave. Hermione stops mid-step and turns around.

"You better not be confusing muggles with wizarding books or anything like that."

The man takes a step back and half raises his hands, shaking his head.

They eat sandwiches sitting at the foot of Cleopatra's Needle. Harry sighs. Hermione keeps glancing at him out of the corner of her eye while chewing.

"What are we going to do?"

Hermione swallow's her bite, turning to look at him fully. "Today, tomorrow, or for the foreseeable future?"

He turns to her too, rolling the sandwich's plastic cling wrap in his palms. "I can't go back to how it was. I mean, I can't go back to Hogwarts, I can't go back to being a minor celebrity, can I? I don't know what to do next."

She takes the cling wrap from him and puts it with hers in the bin nearby, then leans against the railing there. "I think you look like you're going to march off to face Voldemort again. But, and I can't believe that I'm the one saying this, maybe it won't be bad, whatever new future we're heading towards?"

He raises his eyebrows at her. He hadn't thought about it really, but he realises he was having feelings of dread about this week ending, about returning to the wizarding world.

"Are you going to go back to Hogwarts?"

Hermione stares out onto the glittering water, her eyebrows furrowed. "Yes. I think yes. Everything I want to do involves finishing school."

"Do you want to get married?" He asks it in the same tone of voice he asked about her returning to Hogwarts.

She stares at him, frozen. His mind catches up with his mouth and he thinks quickly. He leans back, giving her a smile he hopes looks teasing.

It must, because her shoulders relax and a half grin forms on her face. He's not sure, but it seems like there's a flash of disappointment or confusion or something, followed by her sitting back down next to him with a huff.

"Har Har, very funny."

His heart is beating swift in his chest. He feels like he's just missed getting hit by a bus, feels like he might throw up. What on earth had he been thinking? Ron's words slip back into his mind, despite the road blocks he's been putting there, and it's less like a light flashing in the corner of his eye and more like a flare, burning bright.

"You know-" Hermione's voice is thoughtful, her gaze in the middle distance. She apparently hasn't noticed Harry's small internal meltdown. "When we found the diadem, I thought, that seems awfully gaudy doesn't it? Remember the tiara that Ron's Aunt Muriel lent to Fluer? I thought it was pretty, but at the same time, I couldn't help but think that just isn't my style. At my wedding I want it to be, I don't know, simpler?"

Harry leans back, curious. He's never given weddings even a second of thought. Even the word itself brought up vague images of suits and white fluffy dresses and then nothing else, despite the fact he had just almost proposed. The only wedding he had as a frame of reference was Bill's and Fluer's but he also couldn't picture his that way either. "What do you picture?"

She glances at him with a small smile. "Summertime, first off. I don't think I'll ever think of winter the same after all that. And maybe outdoors? But with a pavilion of some kind, just in case it rains. I'd like a lot of happy flowers around, like daisies and baby's breath. I don't know, I'd want it to feel… easy going?"

Harry realises that she's speaking very certainly. Not the wedding details, but about what she wants. Like one way or another it will really happen in the future.

He feels, for the first time since right after watching Voldemort fall to the floor as a lifeless sack of skin, meat and bone, a true sense of victory.

Maybe he's actually kept at least one promise he's made to her.

There's still work to do, to make sure that it stays a world where she can do what she wants, though.

He slides closer to her. "That sounds really nice."

"What do you picture?"

He pauses, a strange swoop of joy filling his stomach that he also gets to plan for the future too. He's surprised sometimes, as he looks into shop windows and sees reflections of himself, or when he's startled into laughter at something Hermione says and turns away to a mirror he hadn't noticed, to see that he's alive, and not a ghost.

"Hmm, definitely summertime as well, same reasons." They grin at each other. "Also, a pavilion just seems like common sense, considering that we're British. I'm not too up on flower types, so your happy ones sound good to me."

"You can't just steal my ideas, what do you want?"

She's wearing a sleeveless shirt, blue with small yellow flowers all over it, her jumper in her lap. The sun is shining down in between dark clouds, making the freckles on her shoulders stand out. Her face is relaxed and curious. He got so used to seeing her tired and stressed, he forgets the last time she's looked this way.

He leans forward and kisses her shoulder, skimming the freckles, and looks up. She doesn't look embarrassed or angry or confused. It's that mysterious expression again.

He knows what it is now.

A raindrop falls on to his nose, then splashes against his glasses. They both jump up, running to a covered doorway as the rain starts in earnest.

They stand in silence, watching as the shower already starts to lose its intensity. He sighs. "I want you there, that'd be a key part."

He turns to look at her and starts at her expression. She has the face of a Hermione who's about to illegally time travel, or trick Umbridge into the forest; squared shoulders, chin up, jaw set, eyebrows drawn together. "Harry Potter, will you go out with me?"

She looks almost prepared for a blow. He smiles to himself before leaning and kissing her softly, once, then twice, before pulling away. He can't stop smiling. "You should have seen your face. What did you think I was going to say? No?"

Chapter Text

They were sitting on the sofas opposite each other, looking at the screen of the tele, apparently fascinated by the late night talk show there.

Hermione was starting to nod off where she was while Harry pretended not to notice.

It was all well and good to share a bed with your best friend and fellow war survivor, entirely another issue to share a bed with the person you just started dating a few hours ago.

Hermione was snoring lightly now, her chin resting on her chest. Harry sighed and went over to her, patting her head awkwardly. She started, staring up at him. "I was just resting my eyes."

He snorts, shaking his head. "Let's go to bed."

She nods and bites her lip. They don't say anything as they turn off the tele, turn off the bedside lamps, and slip into the bed.

They wake up the next morning still on the opposite sides of the bed.

There's an owl on the headboard, blinking at them. Harry reaches up and takes a letter from the bird, blearily looking around for any treats before remembering with a small shock that he hasn't needed any in a long time. The bird clicks its beak and flies through the ajar window. Hermione wakes up to the sound of its wings and stares at Harry as he reads.

"Well?"

She always could read faster than him (and everyone), her expectations always slightly off.

"It's from Bill, he said that at his mum's request he went over to double check that new safety enchantments are, in fact, in place. He said he made some adjustments and now the house is as safe as it ever will be outside of putting it under another Fidelius Charm. We can move back in, then."

She nods, frowning and looking into the middle distance. "That's good timing, considering we are out of here tomorrow."

"Last day of running away." He frowns too, looking down at his lap.

She takes his hand, looking shy. "Let's make it fun."

They have coffee and croissants. They end up shopping. It's far from the shopping montages that were inthose silly roms coms they watched all week. Somehow they never leave in the grunting as you try on trousers too small for you, or the strange panic when you can't get a shirt off and it gets stuck with your arms half way in the air.

Harry's looking through a rack of t-shirts when Hermione comes out in a blue sundress. "Did I get the back all the way up?"

She turns and the top of the dress is almost closed, though there is a small gap and the clip isn't done. He steps forward and pulls the zipper up, allowing himself for a second to imagine what I'd be like to pull the zipper down. Frowning at himself, he pats her on the shoulder. "It's good now."

She turns around, her expression expectant. He feels nervous. "Um, you almost ready?"

Her shoulders drop, a flash of disappointment. "Is that what you're getting?"

He glances at his pile with a shrug. "Yeah."

"So, ten gray, blue, or black t-shirts and...is that three pairs of jeans?"

He glances again at the pile. He hadn't realised he was so monotone, thinking about it. "I guess I'm going through a goth phase."

She laughs, "Honestly, you already have black hair and are extremely pale. I mean, add some black eyeliner and lipstick and you're ready to go."

She's still laughing as she turns back towards the fitting room. With a frown, he looks at the rack for some other colours.

They have sandwiches for lunch in Hyde Park. They reach for the bag of crisps at the same time, their hands touching briefly. Harry jerks his back, gesturing for her to go ahead. She eats in silence, staring out around the pond, a swan swimming in close, looking very interested in her crisps. Harry tries to think of something to say, but can't seem to, and also stares across the water.

They go to a play on a whim. He's never been to a play. Hermione's whispering to him in the theatre before it starts, excited, talking about the last one she went to when she was fifteen and on holiday with her parents. She laughs at something her dad said, remembering her mum's face as the play ended. Her mum is apparently a great lover of the theatre and Hermione went to plays at least a few times a year growing up. Her happy smile slowly drifts downward as she talks more about them. Harry wants to take her hand or put his arm around her shoulder, but something stops him, and the play starts.

They are having a very nice dinner by the river, the server doesn't bother to ask for Harry's ID and they get a bottle of red wine to go with their steaks. Hermione isn't really looking at him, instead glancing out over the river and slowly sipping her drink. "So, I think I have enough in my account to find a flat and cover expenses for a few months. Do you mind if I stay with you while I find a place?"

Harry feels like he's been slapped. "I thought… You told me that you didn't want to leave?"

She's still not looking at him. "It just seems like a lot, no? To live together right at the start of a relationship?" Her eyes snap to him. "We are in a relationship, right?"

Harry stares at her angry face, hiding a hurt, so reminiscent of how she looked after any encounter with Malfoy. He feels his stomach clench. It's his worst fear come true.

He doesn't quite know how he's messed it up this bad so quickly, right from the start. He doesn't know what to say. He wants to just wave a wand over her and make it all better. The tension leaves Hermione's shoulders as she looks at him floundering. She places her forehead in her hand. "I'm sorry, that wasn't kind of me. I'm not trying to play some strange game with you. I just thought, after yesterday - I thought maybe - Are you attracted to me?"

Harry opens his mouth to answer, but she starts waving her other hand around. "Nevermind, I'm just being insecure."

"Hermione-"

The server returns with a check and Harry pays right on the spot. They leave the warm glow of the restaurant. The night air has chilled considerably from the heat of the afternoon and she crosses her arms around her body, rubbing her bare arms. He starts unzipping his light jacket but Hermione shakes her head. "Oh no, no reason for you to be cold just because I'm an idiot who didn't consider night time."

Harry pauses in unzipping it, staring at her. He isn't used to this Hermione, the girlfriend version of her. He doesn't know what she means, what she's expecting. He stays still as she slowly walks along, staring out over the water, the lights of the city glinting off of them.

He shakes his head. No. It's not like she's a different person.

He strides up to her, unzipping his jacket as he goes, before placing it on her shoulders and turning her around.

She's looking up at him with wide eyes.

"You've met me."

She furrows her eyebrows. "Yes, once or twice."

"Then why on earth would you think I'd be good at this?"

She frowns. "You were good with Ginny-"

"I didn't know Ginny! I just did stuff that seemed right based on my very limited knowledge of relationships, but I don't know if she actually liked any of it. But I've met you once or twice too, and I know that you would see an empty gesture a million miles away. I don't know what to do."

She's still frowning up at him. She tries to take a half step back but his hands are still on her shoulders. "That's the whole thing Harry. All day you've looked like I've been punishing you or something. You should do what you want. "

He takes a step forward and kisses her. It isn't the soft, short, sweet kisses of the past. She's clutching at his shoulders then at the back of his neck. He slides in closer, his arms circling around her waist, and turns them so that she's leaning against the short wall separating the street from the bank below. He feels drunk, almost, her mouth is soft and warm and when she lightly touches his lips with her tongue he moves in, if possible, closer. He doesn't want to stop, but he hasn't quite mastered the art of breathing while doing this, so he separates from her mouth gasping for air. He can feel her struggling to stay on her toes and he lifts her so she's sitting on the wall. Her breathing is heavy as he slides in between her legs and dips his head to kiss her cheek, and then her neck. She clutching at the back of his shirt, making sounds in his ear that make the fog in his brain thicken.

He's kissing back up her neck and breathes in her ear, her whole body shivering in a way that makes him almost forget how to speak. "What if what I want isn't what you want?"

Her breath in his ear makes him pull her closer, his arms on her upper and lower back. "I have a feeling that what you want and what I want are very much the same."

He kisses her deeply once more, then helps her down from the wall, stooping to pick up his jacket that has fallen to the ground somewhere in all this, and holds her hand, pulling her towards the empty alleyway next to the restaurant, where they apparate back to their hotel room.

The next morning he's staring up at the ceiling of the hotel room, his hands behind his head. The dark beams contrast with the light drywall of the roof. He wonders when this hotel was built. Next to him Hermione stirs awake, her hair wild around her, though not as wild as it's been in the past. They both got haircuts at some point in the week. She stretches as she sits up, leaning against the headboard, her chest exposed. She moves to pull the sheets up but he stops her, resting his head there.

"Do you really want to find your own flat?"

"I don't know." She's speaking softly. He can feel the vibrations through her chest. "Not really. But this all seems to be moving fairly fast. What if I mess it up? Living with someone is a big step-"

Harry laughs into her stomach. "We've been living together in basically one room for months. In a high stress situation. There aren't any bad habits left to discover."

She gives an exaggerated sniff. "I don't have a lot of bad habits to begin with."

He rolls more on top of her, still nuzzling her stomach. "You snore. You always left plates with just a little leftover crusted food in random places. You read out loud sometimes, I don't think you even realise that you are. You hate being reminded to do things yourself and get snippy whenever I talk about anything like that plate thing."

She's running her hands through his hair. "You're the moodiest person in the world. You never remember to dry the bathroom or to vanish the trash. If I try to remind you to do something, you always act like I'm slowly murdering you, it's ridiculous."

He's lightly kissing her stomach now. "See, we already know all these things about each other and I still love you. It's not even a contest. I'd much rather trip over crusty plates than have you live somewhere else, pointlessly spending money when I own a very gloomy twelve room mansion. What about you? Is it worth the damp wash closets?"

Her hands are running across his shoulders as though testing them out. "Of course. It's more... It's just that I - I just have always considered myself a very independent person. I never pictured myself being one of those people who lives off of their significant other's money."

He sighs as he kisses his way up. "It's not like that though. I owe you so much more than not paying rent or something. Besides, it's not like I'm going to ever try to stop you from doing what you want. I figure it's inevitable that you'll be making scads more than me one day."

"And when I'm making scads more than you, then I'll start to pay for everything-"

"Hardly. See, you aren't understanding." He looks up at her, her cheeks flushed. "I'm doing what I want, and I expect you to do the same too."

Later,they are standing outside of Grimmauld Place. Somehow it looks even gloomier, cast tall and dark against the gray sky. He sighs. "There I was, practically begging you to live with me, and now I'm not even sure if I want to live here."

She laughs, taking his hand. "I think it'll be fun. We're fresh out of Dark Lords to kill, so it'll give us something to do, at least."

They enter, Hermione raising her wand to check the enchantments herself. "Not that I don't trust Bill, but, you know, old habits."

They go from room to room, cleaning dust out of every space as they go. They run over to the grocery store for some basics, and by the time Ron comes for his lunch date, the pasta and bread are almost done.

Hermione gives him a squeeze and Harry claps him on the shoulder. He still looks tired, though not as hollow eyed as he did last week.

"How have you been, Ron?" Hermione puts out plates and bowls while Harry serves up the food.

He sighs. "Better. Kind of. I don't know, yesterday was a mess. Everyone just sort of blew up, screaming and crying and yelling terrible things at each other and everything else. But it was kind of good. Things are less tense now, at least. Of course that doesn't bring Fred back."

They nod, sitting in silence for a minute as they eat, Ron at a more sedate pace than usual. "This is delicious mate, thank you. Also, did you two get together yet?"

Hermione's fork clatters onto her plate, making all three of them jump. Blushing a furious red, she picks it up. "Sorry."

"Yeah, we've gotten together." Harry's voice comes out rougher than he meant it.

"Really?" Ron looks oddly hopeful.

"Yeah?" That wasn't the reaction he had been expecting.

"Brill, that will be a galleon to me then."

Hermione's mouth falls open. "You've been betting on us - but- with who?"

"Ginny."

Now it's Harry's turn for his mouth to fall open. "But I haven't even had a chance to talk to her yet!"

"Mate, I hate to break it to you, but she knew, hell, the whole wizarding world knew when you two fell about each other, sobbing and carrying on and all that, after the battle. Speaking of, I'm sure you two haven't been looking at the newspapers while you've been out, so…"

Ron pulls out a Daily Prophet from his inner robe pockets, handing it over with a weary look to Harry.

Splashed across the front page is a picture of him and Hermione, hand in hand, walking away from somewhere. The title says, "The Chosen One and Hermione Granger, a Love Story"

Harry groans, giving the newspaper to Hermione and then putting his head on the table.

"Oh! Harry, I think that man from that creepy bookstore took a photo of us as we left!"

Harry lifts his head. "Maybe I'll go pay him a visit."

She rolls her eyes. "This article is pure trash. They are making up a story about how we have been secretly dating since the Triwizard tournament. Though right now they are spinning it in a positive way, saying it's a love story for the ages."

Harry sits up all the way with a sigh. "I would have liked to have told Ginny myself. I know we weren't dating, but - How did she take it?"

Ron bit his lip, looking uncomfortable."Relieved mostly, I think. She's, um, dating Neville, has been for a few months, it seems."

"Huh." He sits back.

Ron and Hermione start laughing. "Poor Harry, thought he was going to be a heart-breaker."

"You're the one dating me!"

Hermione shrugs. "I don't believe that means I'm going to stop laughing at you."

He rolls his eyes, but grins. "I suppose that's pretty neat then. Good for them."

Ron nods, taking a big bite of garlic bread. "Yeah, Neville's a good bloke, really has grown into himself. Much better than her last boyfriend, sneaky git ran away."

Harry punches him in the arm. Ron flings a noodle at him from his fork.

Hermione puts a small shield charm between them as Harry lunges across the table with a laugh. "No. No. Can we not do this right now? Honestly, we've just defeated a dark lord, can you act your age?"

They both sit back down.

"Speaking of being adults, the Ministry is asking for anyone willing, of age, and able to join the Auror program until things settle down. I'm thinking it's a good idea, at least for now. It makes me antsy thinking they're still out there. There's a recruitment next week, are you interested?"

Harry nods, looking thoughtful.

Hermione shakes her head. "No, I don't think so. I won't be any use, by the time the training is done I'll be back at Hogwarts."

Harry frowns down at the table. He forgot about that. Ron looks between the two of them, opening his mouth to say something but then closing it before shaking his head. "Right. Okay, I'll see you Monday then? We're meeting at the Ministry at nine for an orientation."

Harry looks up at him. "Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks Ron."

"No problem. I'll see you both soon."

Ron beats a hasty retreat, waving at them through the green flames before he spins away.

"You knew I was going back to Hogwarts." Hermione's voice is soft.

He nods, "Yeah, I think I just put it out of my mind though."

"It'll be less than ideal, but I think it will be okay. I'll come and visit and you'll come and visit and then it will be over before we know it."

He nods, giving her a small grin. They spend the rest of the evening cleaning. They clean the master bedroom the most, even going out to buy new linens.

"Mr. and Mrs. Weasley stayed up here last I think. It's pretty clean, look, I think Molly even put stay fresh charms on the sheets."

Harry hums, staring at them. "Still. It just...I would like to get our own."

"It's not like you to be such a germaphobe."

He shakes his head, crossing his arms over his chest. "I know, it's just that, they, you know, slept here."

She stares at him for a second, lost, before her face pulls together, grossed out. "Harry, why bring that up? The sheets are clean and that's all the matters."

"It's my house, I just want new sheets to make it feel more mine, I guess."

Shaking her head, they head out, walking around the neighborhood until they find a promising store. Hermione picks two bed sets, one light gray with a lavender comforter, one with light blue sheets with a cobalt blue comforter. "This set's a bit more masculine, isn't it?"

Harry nods and then shrugs, having never given linen a passing thought. When they get back they listen to the wireless and think about paint colours that would make the place less gloomy. At one point Harry suggests they just tear the whole thing down and start fresh. Hermione finds a building plan spell and they spend time playing with it imagining the house a hundred different ways.

He lies across from her that night, watching the moonlight glide over her face, staring so long that then it moves away, to the floor.

He dreams of walking from the Headmaster's office, fresh from the confirmation of his death. The hallways are empty, the stones cold. In the distance he hears crying and can smell smoke. It's hard to believe that this place, so clearly a nightmare, the place he's going to die, used to feel like home, his only home.

He feels like bitterness personified. He remembers, vaguely, feeling a sense of sadness but a deep sense of purpose. After all, it had to end. They had to win so that Hermione could walk around the house complaining about pureblood prejudice at her office, so she could wear her hair up in a loose bun and read books about magical theory and muggle science at magnificent speeds. She has to have a stash of chocolate and go and see plays with her parents.

She couldn't do that with Voldemort alive. And he wouldn't die unless he did.

He knew that. He remembers this, feeling like he understood this. But now, somewhere in his mind, he truly believes that he would be around for all of that, that maybe one day there would be a wedding with daisies and baby's breath. He leans against the wall and sobs.

Why did he let himself hope?

He pushes himself off the wall. There's no time to grieve.

Now everything is moving too fast, the hallways seem shorter, he passes by the compressed grief in the Great Hall, he glides through the dark lawn full of destruction. Hermione is standing by the edge of the forbidden forest, her eyes searching, her face set, determined to find something.

It's almost too much, the disappointment that crashes through him. Why did he think that he was going to get to go home? Something about linens and dates by the river, a white curtain with a breeze coming through, a sense of grief and hope and the future.

Why did he let himself think that? He knew what he had to do.

He turned away from her only to see the green light speeding closer, hitting him.

He sits up, gasping.

The room is very dark. Hermione is still and silent next to him. The room smells like fresh sheets. He can't seem to stop shaking. He still fells lingering confusion. He scoots in closure to her, lightly putting his arm around her waist, feeling her breath raise and fall. He forces his breaths slower until they are the same.

She stirs, turning a little, only a quarter awake. "Alright?"

"Yes, just a bad dream."

She nods, scooting in closer too, so every inch was lined up with him. He feels better already.

"Was it my eyes again?"

"No, don't worry about it." He rubs his thumbs against her hand until her breathing is deep and even once again.

They've been dating for two days, but he knows that's not true in many ways.

He died for her and he knows, knows for sure now, that he'd do it again if he had to.

This time when he sleeps, he doesn't dream.

Chapter Text

Hermione's going back to Hogwarts in less than a week.

He knows this. He's done all the practical arrangements. He's set a schedule with her for when he can visit. He went with her when she went shopping for school supplies, though that seemed to make more of a mess than be a help.

He had a stifling awkward dinner with her parents in Australia last week, listening as Hermione spoke rapidly about her plans for her last year of schooling, what career she's angling towards. Her parents listened, their eyes a little distant, unhappy. But they had already been over that. She was trying to change the subject. So he knew the ends and outs of her class plan and second half of the year internship options.

Half way through a sentence expanding on the benefits of taking NEWT level potions versus pre-mediwizard training, her mother reached out her hand and pulled Hermione's arm forward, pushing her light sleeve back at the same time.

The word mudblood had faded from the raised angry red of before; all soft and pink and pale now. But it was still easily visible. Her mother's lips trembled. "I suppose I could ask how you got that, but then, I don't really expect you to answer." She stood, leaving the living room and disappearing down the hallway in quick even strides.

Her father bent his head into his hands, rubbing his face as he turned to look at her. "Just give us sometime, Hermione."

She nodded once, then again, her face turning red, her eyes blinking rapidly. Her father lightly touched her hair as he left and walked down the same hallway.

Neither of her parents so much as looked at him.

Fair enough.

He was lying in bed, sent home after a rogue reductor curse sent him flying this morning in training.

He didn't want to admit it as he had hobbled upstairs but his ankle was rather sore, even after the potions.

He's lying in bed, looking at the freshly whitewashed ceiling, his arms flung out. This is how he can sleep starting next week. He rolls onto his side, ignoring the twinge in his ankle as he stares across the empty expanse of his bed.

He rolls off the bed, taking unsteady steps down the flight of stairs, turning the corner into the now open and bright library.

She's sitting there, her eyes rapidly going through an index, humming as she turns the pages in another book. She looks up at him as he sits, eyebrows raised. "Training accident?"

He nods, putting his leg up on the chair next to him.

She glances over his face before putting a bookmark in where she was reading. "You should be lying down."

He shrugs, "I'll be lying alone in that bed enough here soon."

She frowns and then bites her lip. "It will be fine, you know. Me and you didn't used to be sown together at the hip and we survived just fine."

"I didn't picture myself being the clingy type either." He gives a small half smile.

She huffs a laugh. "You aren't clingy. Or at least, you aren't any more clingy than I am."

They eat dinner and listen to the wireless while Hermione does some more preparation reading.

"So you actually read through the textbooks before school starts? I mean, I know you did first year, but I thought that you were just excited."

"Yes, I read all the textbooks first, though maybe I'm being more fastidious this year. I missed a whole year of schooling."

"It wasn't like you didn't study the entire time. You can think of it as a practical sabbatical."

She sighs. "Most people who go on sabbatical go to tropical islands or places related to their work. I just wandered around in the muck in the middle of a terrible British winter."

He laughs. "Yes, that's all you were doing."

They go to bed, the bedding lavender. It smells like her shampoo, the nice kind that helps tame her curls.

He wakes up sort of all at once, turning to see her sitting up, silhouetted by the moonlight. "Hermione?"

She starts a little, her shoulders jerking up. Her face is completely concealed in darkness, the light shining through her curls.

"Why are you awake?" They ask at the same time.

There's a beat of silence, Harry waits longer, listening as she takes a couple of short breaths.

"How did it feel to die?"

He stills, then rolls to his side to grab his wand and turn on the lights. She blinks rapidly in the sudden light, but doesn't change her position, her knees drawn to her chest.

"Why do you ask?"

She isn't frowning or smiling at him. Her dark eyes shine bright, thoughts flashing. "I want to know if it hurt."

He's avoided talking about this with her in great detail. It always brings back those tired feelings, the sorry and the angry. But her face is set, there is something stone-like about her, unwavering.

"It didn't hurt at all. Sirius told me wouldn't. It-it feels like a change. You know something has changed, something permanent, but it doesn't hurt. I didn't even feel afraid."

She hums, her head tilting to the side. He feels sort of surreal, the lights oddly too bright, the night glowing white from the moon through the window. "How did it feel for you?"

She scrunches her eyebrows. "I didn't die and come back."

"No, how did it feel when you saw me? When Hagrid carried me out of the woods?" It's a harsh question, one he doesn't fully understand why he's asking. He carries it around all the time.

Hermione blinks at him, but oddly doesn't seem sad or offended. "I felt like - I don't know. I felt, first, that I was struck by lightning. Then I felt… I felt like all the joy left me all at once, like a dementor was close by, but not, maybe nothing like that at all." She looks away from him, towards the wall and then back. "More than anything, I sort of felt - determined."

He leans forward. "Determined?"

"That you shouldn't have died for nothing. That we would finish this once and for all that night. I felt empty except for that. I only had that. It felt like a heatless fire in a dark room."

He doesn't know how to respond. "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you first."

She raises her eyebrows. "That would have been very foolish of you."

He feels his eyebrows raise too. "Foolish?"

She leans back against the headboard with a small grin. "I'm better than magic than you and would have never let you go."

He scoffs then waits a beat and swallows. "You-You aren't angry then?"

"That you wandered off to your death without so much as a by your leave?"

He nods.

"Yes. I was furious. I wanted to destroy the whole earth; I was so angry when we couldn't find you. But I wasn't angry at you."

"You weren't?" They hadn't talked about it this whole summer, but he had felt the tension. Pauses, lapses, side looks. He had thought it was about this, in some part of his brain.

"You think I was angry with you? Because you had been forced, by your own nature, by Voldemort, by the deaths of people we love, to go off to face him alone? I didn't even know about the Horcrux in you at the time and I knew that you would feel like you had to go. I ran around searching for you, but I knew. I already knew that you would go."

"I've felt so sorry to you for so long. I still am. All the time."

She looks over at him, surprised. "To me? Why?"

He sighs, looking at the bed sheets, clinching the comforter. "What do you mean why? After everything I've done, after every mistake, every time I've put you in danger? Your parents hate me and they have the right of it. They understand that it was my fault -"

"My parents don't understand anything at all. That's my fault and they have every reason to be angry with me. They don't have the right to be angry with you for doing what's right, or with me for knowing that you were right. I can't expect them to understand, but they aren't right to be angry at you."

He grits his teeth. "Why aren't you being honest with me? Call me a reckless idiot. Slap me for leaving you alone and going into the forest without saying anything to you."

Her hand is on his cheek. "Oh, I think you're an idiot sometimes, but not for facing Voldemort when you were eleven, not for going into the chambers, not for any of those times, and especially not for walking off into the woods."

He can't seem to look away. She reaches up her other hand and kisses him lightly, sweetly. "You silly man, I'm so proud of you and everything you've done."

He shakes his head, something in his chest clenching and releasing.

"I'm so excited you're here and that we can have a future together. I was never angry at you for making hard choices, I wouldn't have been even if they hadn't worked out. How could you think that I would ever be angry with you for being a hero?"

"You said - 'The Saving People Thing' - I thought -"

She closes her eyes, then looks down. "I'm sorry about that. It came out so wrong. You have to understand, for me, it's been the constant pull between admiring your decisiveness, knowing that you're right, and wanting to just stop, wanting you to consider yourself, to be more careful. I may not have known that I love you in this way until this year, but I have loved you for a long time, Harry."

She reaches for her wand and turns off the lights, moving over to him, lying her head on his shoulder against the headboard. "I love everything about you, why would you be sorry to me for being yourself?"

He wonders that too as they lay there, Hermione drifting back off to sleep after a while, his arms wrapped around her. "Why were you awake? Why did you ask if it hurt?"

She makes a sleepy humming sound. "I dreamt that you were screaming, swallowed by a green light."

"That's terrible."

"It was. But it didn't hurt and you're here. You're here." Her breathing is even and deep. He's smile is easy and sure.

The next few days drift away, fast and fluid.

She's leaving. She's standing on the platform, hugging Mrs. Weasley and Ron, smiling with Ginny, waving at Luna.

He feels fine, really. He knows he'll see her soon.

He does, he sees her at the first Hogsmeade weekend. She comes over secretly and plays with Teddy. They walk along the forest to Hagrid's hut, his eyes peering for a glittering stone, knowing he won't see it.

Ron comes over and they play chess. They go out with Neville, Seamus and Dean, drinking firewhiskey until too many people notice Harry.

She comes home for Christmas, unsuccessful in hiding her tears in the kitchen after her parents don't send anything.

He gets her a giant box of Valentine's Day chocolate and calls her Herm Herm in his note.

It's fine. It's good.

He finds himself falling asleep on the sofas in the living room, in the library. Sometimes he falls asleep on the window seat in Teddy's room. He hates waking up in the middle of the night to silence, no soft snore, no deep breaths.

Then she's standing in front of the great hall which has been cleared out of it's long wooden tables and instead has rows of seats. The sky in the ceiling is clear and bright. The Weasleys have flowers in their hands, decorated with little flying brooms zooming throughout the stems for Ginny, books lazily flipping through pages resting on some of the pedals for Hermione.

McGonagall gives all the graduates pins with the Hogwarts' crest on them, about the size of the palm of a hand. They walk across the stage and wave goodbye to the professors, who beam at them with pride. Hagrid has to keep dabbing his face with a handkerchief. McGonagall hugs her close and whispers in her ear as she takes her pin. Harry can't take his eyes off her radiant smile as she turns to look at him.

After the ceremony is over and she's sitting next to him at their last meal at Hogwarts, he flips the pin over. Inscribed on the back is "Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home."

She takes hers back and hands him one. "McGonagall wanted me to give you this."

Two years later, Hermione's climbing her way through the ministry with frightening speed. He's fighting his way through something at the auror department, but it's not always clear what it is.

He wakes up one gray afternoon in St. Mungo's. He blinks awake and watches Hermione chew her thumb nail, her eyes glancing at him, catching his. She stands up and leans over him, her hand on his cheek. "I think they want to make a martyr out of you."

He wants to argue, but it hurts to breathe at the moment. She frowns, tapping her wand against something on the wall by his head. A few seconds later a woman in lime-green robes shuffles in, glances to Harry's pale face before heading over to a cabinet and pulling out a small vial filled with neon yellow potion.

Wordlessly she hands it to him and he shoots it down. It takes like grass. She takes the vial back, tapping her wand against the side of the bed, writing a short note on a piece of paper there. She checks his vitals again and gives a small grin.

"You had a nasty number done on your ribs, but it looks like all the potions are doing their job."

There's an awkward grunt by the door and a slim man with a perpetually scowling face is standing there, his arms crossed over his chest. The healer glances between everyone and then leaves, sliding behind him in the doorway.

The man's voice is like gravel in his throat. "Potter. Good to see you awake. The healers say that you should be good to go by tomorrow, so be sure to come into the office for a debriefing."

Harry nods and the man leaves. Hermione sinks into a hard looking chair next to the bed. She watches the door for a minute longer before sighing and absently taking his hand. "I was reading an interesting article today during lunch. You know how I'm learning about the Lightning Bird?"

She's speaking as though they are having lunch at home, the tea steeping already. He nods.

"It's difficult to classify their intelligence levels. On one hand they sometimes seem like phoenixes, knowing and proud, and on the other, sometimes after they transport from one place to another, following storms, they seem lost and almost comically confused."

She's silent, staring into the middle distance and he wonders when the last time either of them had a true, good night's sleep. "Anyway. The article was speculating that the Lightning Bird's confusion after following a storm is because it evolved the ability to transport with lightning before it developed the ability to process what that meant. So it knows to follow them, to fling itself into the bolts, but doesn't truly understand how it ends up somewhere else so far away."

He doesn't really understand what she's getting at and the mix of potions are making him kind of groggy.

She glances over at him with a small smile. "I think wizards are the same. We know we can fix problems, but the rest of us don't really understand. We both know she fixed your bones and cleared your lungs, but the body takes a while to understand why it's all better. And I wonder if it's the same sometimes with everything else too. You were able to kill Voldemort after a flash of deep and confusing and primal magic. But maybe the rest of us, the rest of the world needs more time to understand what's happened."

He's brain is really fuzzy so he's not sure if he's saying it in his head, or out loud, or if Hermione's whispering into his ear. "Maybe we should stop trying to be Lightning Birds, doing everything all at once."

The next day after he is discharged he goes into the office. He doesn't really get what Hermione was talking about with the Lightning Birds, but he does know that when he stands and stretches in the middle of the briefing which is quickly turning into his next assignment, and quits, it feels right.

A year later he's laying on the floor of the living room, watching as Teddy builds a shaky tower of blocks, a letter from Headmistress McGonagall and his Hogwarts pin lying on the coffee table.

" 'aaarrry. Hhhhhharry." They've been trying to get him to pronounce his hs correctly, but so far he's been swinging from one extreme to the other. "Watch. Look, I'm going to make it taller than me."

He watches, eyebrows raised, as Teddy stands on his tippy toes, placing a blue block with deep concentration on his small face, so intent his hair matches it. He wobbles but holds steady, his chubby fingers delicately placing the block on his precarious tower.

The fire turns green and Hermione steps out of the flames, as graceful as anyone can come out of the floo. This startles Teddy, who lands heavy on his heels, his arm swinging wide, the tower no more.

Both Teddy and Harry wail, Harry's tinged with laughter, Teddy's decidedly not.

She looks at them both, her quick gaze picking up on what's happened right away. She puts her bag down on the side table and sweeps across the living room, regal looking in her gray-silver magical law enforcement barrister robes. She stops before Teddy, who looks up at her with watery eyes, still sniffling.

Flopping to the floor, she puts the back of her hand to her forehead and speaks with a dramatically breathless voice. "I'm sorry Teddy, however should we fix this?"

Teddy, so surprised to see her there on the floor, giggles. "Fix it!"

"Fix it? But I don't know if I can make such a nice tower as you did."

He giggles again, and watches Hermione and Harry try to build the tower again, letting out exaggerated noises of frustration every time it falls over. "I think you better do it, Teddy. You make the best towers."

They applaud when he makes one nearly a head taller than him. He turns to beam at them, looking back at his tower with pride.

Another year goes by and Harry comes back from a meeting at Hogwarts to find Hermione pacing in the living room, biting her finger nail. She looks at him as he leaves the flames, stops mid pace, opens her mouth, sucks in a deep breath of air, before turning and pacing again.

"What's wrong?" He's never seen her like this before, doesn't know what to make of it. She looks like a completely bizarre mix of a girl trying to ask a boy to the dance, and someone who's agreed to jump out of an airplane without a chute and an iffy wand that's not theirs.

"You know I'm pretty decent at potions, right?" She's not looking at him, running her hands through her hair.

"Yes, and spells, and ruins, and law, and most things. Why?"

She scoffs, shaking her head, then groans. "Do you know what the main ingredient in the contraceptive potion is?"

"Flaxseed?" He's bought the ingredients for her here and there through the years, has watched in interest as she makes it sometimes, enjoys watching potion making much more without Snape sneering in the background.

"Right. Yes. There are two different kinds of flaxseed, brown and golden. Most of the time, in cooking for example, it doesn't make much of a difference. But in potions it really does."

He sits as the urge to pace comes over him as well. Instead he watches her, knowing but uncertain, waiting for her to get there, not wanting to get there before she does, doesn't want the emotion of it in case he's wrong.

"The brown seeds are stronger in potions. The apothecary switched, I guess, to golden ones at some point and I guess I just didn't notice."

She looks over to him, her eyes wide and frightened. "I'm pregnant."

He thinks, then, of Hermione's notebook, small and blue upstairs. She left it open one time, the pages turning to a timeline.

She wanted to reach mid-counsel by twenty nine, have the outlawing of Elfish physical punishment act repeal appealed and permanent by the time she's twenty eight. She would be okay with getting married anytime between twenty seven and thirty, or whenever he's up for it. She would like to wait until she's between thirty and thirty two to have children, as that leaves her time to at least make her career solid before taking leave to have them.

The age twenty three was nowhere to be seen in that.

He stands and pulls her into a hug, smiling into her hair. "I can't say I'm too surprised. None of our plans ever go, you know, to plan."

She laughs and sinks against him.

He feels joy and fear, but mostly joy, like he's on a broom going fast and high.

The next day is Christmas and they go over to the Weasley's after exchanging presents in the morning. Harry also gets a present from Andromeda, a potions guide for beginners, which he laughs at, but knows he'll probably use. Hermione gets a present from her parents, a small book on gardening.

There was a period of time when The Burrow was sadly quiet; Ginny was at Hogwarts, Ron living in London, George in Diagon Alley, everyone scattered here and there.

Now is not one of those times.

"You can hear them from out here." Hermione shakes her head in a grim sort of wonderment.

Harry smiles and pulls her towards the door which flings open before either of them can knock.

Ron's face is red, his expression harassed, his breath smells of eggnog and brandy already. "Blimey, you two," He leans forward, wrapping his arms around them both easily with his large frame, "please save me from these people."

Suddenly Ginny's there, peering under Ron's arm. "They can't save you Ron, they're one of us." She tugs Hermione away, spinning her into the chaos of the kitchen, a swell of voices greeting her.

Ron pulls Harry in too, closing the door behind him. It's bitter cold outside but inside it's almost hot between the stove and the fires and the people. Ron hands him a glass with a grunt. "You're going to need it, it's a rowdy lot this year. I swear if one more person asks me who I'm dating…" Ron takes a deep drink from his glass. "Anyway, how are you mate?"

Harry smiles, wide, too wide, and shrugs. "I'm doing great."

Ron raises his eyebrows, grinning, his head tilted a little. "That's good to hear. What-"

Hermione's there, her hair mused. "They're a rowdy bunch this year."

"Cheers." Ron gives her a class, which she almost puts to her mouth.

"Does this have Brandy?"

"Yes, what's the point otherwise?"

She sighs, placing it back on the table.

Mrs. Weasley totters over. "Not in the mood for Brandy, dear? I've got a spot of chocolate port, much too sweet, but goes well with fruits-"

"Oh I shouldn't."

Mrs. Weasley's eyes narrow and then widden. "Shouldn't?"

Hermione flushes. "Ah, yes, well, you see, the thing is, I-I, I mean to say that-"

"We're pregnant." Harry can't wait any longer, Hermione's stammering torturing him.

Mrs. Weasley swoons for a second, then straightens, then flings her arms around them and more or less shrieks into the air, "Pregnant!"

Thus announcing it to the room, there's a split second of silence and then chaos. Mr. Weasley is slapping him on the back, Ginny and Fluer are hugging her around the shoulders and waist, a crowd is forming. Behind him he can hear Ron saying blimey over and over again, then pulling him into a headlock before he releases him and spinning Hermione around in a circle. Percy and his wife are already sprouting advice from somewhere in the room.

Molly leans against the table, taking Arthor's hand. "Oh Arthur, another grandchild."

Harry blinks, and blinks again, trying to stop any tears from dropping.

There are baby's breath and daisy bouquets everywhere. There is a pavilion and the weather is warm and bright. There are some additions though. A pond with a fountain that changes shapes, a cocktail bar, and a messy, dark haired baby named Rose Lily Potter.

He fingers the soft, shifting fabric of his invisibility cloak. His daughter is fifteen. Older than he was, she still seems too young. But she's sitting there with her mother's dark intelligent eyes and he knows it's time. "You can let James use it too, just, I don't know, just don't let him injure himself or others."

She laughs. "You know I can't promise that."

He sighs. His son has appeared to inherit all of his recklessness, all of his mother's intelligence and none of her reservedness or his moodiness.

"Fine. How about we aim for nothing permanent?"

She smiles, somehow already an adult in some ways. Calmer than either of her parents ever were. "I can try." She wraps it around herself, gone but still there.

He feels a poke on his nose and his glasses raise and lower on his face before he hears a giggle and the sound of steps going upstairs. Definitely not an adult in some ways either.

Later, he's a little nervous to tell Hermione what he's done. But she just freezes for a second and then sighs. "I can't imagine she'll do anything worse with it than we did."

"That would be fairly hard to do, thinking about it."

She sighs, turning to her side. "I'm thinking of running for Minister of Magic in the future."

He takes her hand, giving it a squeeze. "That sounds stressful."

"Ultimately our jobs aren't so different. You have to deal with teenagers whinging all day about essays, and I have to listen to adults whinging about paperwork all day. All being Minister would mean is that I get to feel fancy while doing it sometimes, I suppose."

"I definitely think I've got the better of it."

"Most definitely. Anyway, this wouldn't be for a few years out, maybe."

He hums, pulling her closer. They drift in silence for a while.

"Do you remember, in the tent, that night we made a fort?" Her voice is low, sleepy.

"Yeah?"

"I'll wait for you there, should I leave before you do. Will you do the same? Instead of King's Cross? Now that you've given the cloak away?"

"Sure. And you know, if you get there before I do, I'll be close behind."

She pushes her face into his chest with a deep breath and some part of him still feels seventeen.