For the first time
Summary: Harry has never belonged anywhere. He was a wizard and a muggle, a halfblood. He has always been unique and where everybody else says ‘special’, he replies, quietly in his own heart, ‘alone’.
Harry could feel Hermione’s gaze on him as he panted for breath, sweat-drenched and tears leaking from his eyes. He forced his eyes to close, willing the nightmare and everything it induced from him—fear, sorrow, pain, grief—to disappear from his memory, his mind and heart.
‘It was only a nightmare, Harry. GET A GRIP. She’s alive—Hermione’s alive—open your eyes and you’ll see for yourself.’ He told himself internally, slowly opening his eyes, the image before him blurry and unmoving.
He dug under his pillows for his glasses and put them on, wiping the sweat on his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. He took a deep breath, calming himself, before turning back to Hermione, who was watching him with wide, worried eyes.
She shook her head gently.
“You don’t need to explain, Harry. Not now, not ever, if that’s what you want.”
He drew a shuddering breath and nodded tightly, unclenching the hand he unconsciously fisted. He threw his feet over the edge of the bed and felt the coolness of the floor assault his unprotected feet. Shivering, he stood up and was not surprised when Hermione put a hand on his arm, concern emanating from her in waves. Giving her an assuring smile, he rubbed his thumb on her cheek fondly.
“I’m fine, ‘Mione. I just want to step outside to freshen up a bit.”
She gave him a reluctant nod and laid back down the bed, closing her eyes. Tossing a final look at her, Harry quietly exited the tent to a light drizzle. He looked around and saw a tree that could shelter him from it. He walked towards it and sat down under its protection, letting the sounds of the raindrops calm his frayed nerves.
Harry didn’t know how long he’d been outside and noticed that the light drizzle from earlier had turned into full blown rain. He stood up and held out both hands to catch the falling rain in his palms, the coolness seeping into the skin of his hands. Without thought, he stepped out of the tree’s protection and into the rain, immediately drenched to the bone. He tilted his head up, closing his eyes, and let the rain wash over him.
The last month had been exhausting, to say the least, physically and emotionally, and he only had a few moments like these when he felt like he was allowed to let go, let himself breathe and just be human. Blinking his eyes open, he ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. His glasses were now blurred due to the cold and he couldn’t see anything. Seeing that he couldn’t rectify the problem due to his clothes being wet, he tried his best to quickly but carefully walk back inside the tent. He had just stepped inside when a towel was draped over his head and gentle hands started to dry his hair.
Harry stood stock-still as Hermione wiped his hair dry and didn’t say a word when she handed him dry clothing. When he finished dressing, he found her on their—his—bunk, reading. He cleared his throat and asked,
“Find anything new?”
She sighed and put A History of Magic on her lap.
“No. I haven’t found anything since our disastrous visit to Godric’s Hollow. And I’ve been thinking about your broken wand. You can’t use mine forever. Since it’s impossible to repair it, we’ll have to get a new one.”
He sat down the floor beside their—his—bunk and leaned back against it for support.
“Yeah, I know. But how?” he asked.
“Seeing as Ollivander’s been kidnapped and we don’t know any wand maker anywhere near where we currently are, or as talented as Ollivander is, we might have to steal one.”
He grunted in agreement, examining his wand hand. He missed his wand, the feeling of safety it had given him, the way his magic seemed to travel from him through his finger to his wand. Now that it was broken beyond repair, he realized it had given off a kind of aura, warm, comforting and familiar, and he reckoned it was his own magical signature, his magical imprint he put on his wand the moment he touched it.
Turning slightly towards his bed, he dug around under his pillow, pulled off the two pieces of his own wand, and cradled them in one hand, while he smoothed down its length with the other. He closed his eyes and remembered the day he got it, six years ago inside Ollivander’s shop with Hagrid, the spark that raced through his fingers to spread over his whole body, welcoming him in a way that seemed to say, ‘Hey, I’m happy you finally found me. I’ve been waiting just for you’ and knew in that instant that the wand was his, that it was made just for him and that another wand wasn’t going to have the same happy, gleeful reaction it had given him. He had fallen asleep that night with his new wand tucked under his pillow, hidden fro his Uncle Vernon’s prying eyes.
Bringing himself out of his memories, he pulled the pouch Hagrid had given him on his 17th birthday and deposited the remains of his wand inside it, before securing the pouch and hiding it under his shirt.
He stood up and climbed back to his bed, stating,
“We should get back to sleep, it’s nowhere near morning right now, and if we plan to Apparate somewhere else, we better get some good night’s sleep.”
Hermione nodded, putting her book away and laid back down beside him, pulling the blanket up around them. She turned to him and immediately put her arms around him. He hesitated for a moment before wounding his own arms around her as well. He shifted a bit to get comfortable and after a moment, settled down. With a murmur of good night to each other, they fell asleep.
Fortunately, after the first nightmare, he wasn’t plagued by horrible memories nor the vey unclear future possibly filled by so many more deaths, so much agony that he could still hear the anguished screams whenever he closed his eyes.
It all changed a week after the initial nightmare. For the next two weeks, every single night, he experienced the same nightmares, only more detailed, more gruesome that he could never tell that it wasn’t reality until Hermione woke him up, crying in worry, terrified for him and wanting to help, to comfort him. She begged him to tell her what he sees and after the few times he refused, pleaded for him to take the Sleeping Draught she brewed for him, so that he could at least get some sleep.
He never did.
They had countless arguments about it, Hermione hopelessly worried and Harry firm and stubborn. It always started with Hermione asking if he was okay and he replies with a shrug, uselessly hiding the black bags under his eyes from her gaze. She would frown at him disapprovingly and he would force himself to ignore it, making up an excuse to subtly escape the oncoming argument. She never believes him—she was too perceptive sometimes, other times not enough—and the bickering begins.
“—but Harry! I know you’re suffering from all those sleepless nights—you’re so tired nowadays, I worry that you’re just going to collapse—”
“—Stop worrying about me, Hermione! I’m fine! You—”
“You’re obviously not! Stop lying to me! I only want what’s best for you—”
“—Stop acting like you’re my mother! I’m fine—”
“—if you don’t want me to worry so much, just take the potion, Harry! Why—”
“—I don’t need your potion! Listen to me, I’m okay—”
“If Ron was here—”
He snapped, like a rope pulled too tight.
“But Ron’s not here, is he? It’s just me—Harry—and I’m not Ron—”
“Of course you’re Harry! What made you think—”
“Then don’t use that ‘If Ron was here, he’d do this, he’d know that’ because the fact is, he’s not here! Why do you keep—”
He heard the frustration in his voice, the bitter resentment for Ron he didn’t know he was capable of feeling, and knew that he should stop there, unless he wanted to hurt Hermione. But he couldn’t, he felt too wound up with hurt, confusion, frustration, anger, mixing with the rest of his raging emotions. He felt trapped, the walls closing in on him with every second and his fight or flight instinct telling him to fight, protect himself , but he doesn’t want to and he was confused—he wanted to escape, needed to get away before he did something he’d regret but he wanted to hurt Hermione, like the way she had been hurting him with her constant presence—always clinging, always hovering, never letting him breathe, strangling him with her concern, and he needed to breathe or else he’ll snap—and the way she looked at him sometimes, lost and searching, as if the eyes that would look back at her was supposed to be different—blue instead of green—and it hurt so bad, knowing that even when he was there, it wasn’t enough for her to love him as much as he loved her. He wanted to scream—I’m not Ron—to make her understand that he couldn’t help her right now, couldn’t pull her from her loss—he knew that she had been drifting away and he was too, that there was this great distance between them and he couldn’t find the will in himself to be the one to reach out and be her anchor—he was not what she needed and he didn’t want to change himself—he was always changing, trying to be someone that they could accept—anymore than he already has. He was tired, so tired of being Harry Potter, tired of always being afraid that they would be caught and of everyone he loved, of Hermione dying, that a dark part of his mind, hidden so deep inside that he couldn’t make himself ignore it completely when it whispers to him: hey, maybe you’ll die and you won’t have to worry, or you can just hide, leave them all to die, they’re not you’re problem—but he knew that it was wrong—but he wanted to believe it—and he had vowed to do the right thing—the noble thing, it whispers—and why couldn’t Hermione just give him a break?
Why couldn’t she just let him self-destruct?
He took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down and said flatly,
“You should leave.”
He watched her reaction, saw the way her eyes dull, go blank, like shutters slamming down and she asked, voice carefully blank, monotonous.
He wanted to say so many things—because you’re obviously suffering here, without Ron, because you miss him so much, you need him, because we’re hurting each other, we don’t even realize it, because I need to keep you safe from Voldemort, from me, because I love you and it’s killing me to keep you here when you’d rather be somewhere else, because I’m not who you need—but instead, he replied,
“Because, let’s face it Hermione, we haven’t had progress since our trip to Godric’s Hollow. Unless you’ve miraculously found out where the other Horcruxes are overnight, it’s useless for you to stay with me. And it’s dangerous for you to stay with me, more so because you’re a Muggleborn. When You-Know-Who finds us, and he will, he’ll kill you instantly. I can’t—I can’t lose my other bestfriend, ‘Mione.”
I can’t lose you.
She looked at him silently, deathly pale and features stoic, but doesn’t respond. Clenching fist, he steps out of the tent and runs.
He didn’t know where he was, just knew that he wasn’t far enough, but his legs throbbed and his lungs burned. He doubled over, placing his hands on his knees for support as he struggled to catch his breath and blink away the white and dark spots from his vision. He needed to keep running—
Everything went blank.
He woke up slowly and the first thing he felt was e softness beneath him, keeping him comfortable. He felt a blanket covering him, providing warmth against the cold, and then he felt something brushing against his hand, a soft butterfly touch. He opened his eyes and saw Hermione kneeling on the floor beside his bunk, his hand encased in hers and her warm eyes trained on his face.
They stare at each other silently, until Hermione whispered, voice a bit hoarse,
“You’re so reckless, Harry.”
The corner of his lips twitched up but failed to form a smile.
“How’d you find me?” he asked, throat a little sore.
She did not answer; just continued to watch him quietly, her face betraying no emotion. He sighed and turned his gaze upward, opting to stare at the ceiling. Silence reigned inside the tent, not unusual for them these days. His mind was starting to lull and his eyelids were going heavy when she spoke again, causing him to jump slightly in surprise.
“When you left…” she started, a little crease forming in her forehead in thought, “I…realized a lot of things.”
She paused, as if waiting for him to ask about her epiphanies. When he continued to be silent, she said,
“One of them was…how clingy I was with you and I realized how…suffocated you must have felt. I forgot about many things since—since Ron left. I forgot how, sometimes, you needed space from us, to be on your own for a while, to think, to get away, from what, I can only speculate. And on those times, I always had Ron with me, and he was someone I could worry about you with. I had him to anchor me when you left us, to express my worries and fears for you with. I didn’t have to deal with everything when he was there because he helped me, even though he had an emotional range of a teaspoon,” a small fond smile of amusement spread on her lips but then she saw his solemn expression and it quickly disappeared. She sighed. “And when he left, I didn’t have anyone anymore, except you. But like I said, you often wanted space to think, so I couldn’t depend on you as much as I did with Ron. But when—when Nagini tried to kill you, something in me…snapped. I knew I couldn’t lose you, that I couldn’t let you die. So I…put a figurative leash on you. I’m sorry, Harry. I hadn’t realized at the time that I was suffocating you. I just—I just wanted to keep you safe.”
She looked at him with pleading eyes, seeking forgiveness. He nodded, wordlessly giving it to her. He couldn’t stay angry with her—not when they only had each other now.
“And when you said that you weren’t Ron, I realized that you thought I was comparing him to you, but Harry,” she said, when he opened his mouth to retort, “I wasn’t. I didn’t even mean to imply that I did. I apologize if you thought otherwise. I know,” she gave his hand a squeeze, “that you’re Harry and not Ron. Believe me.”
There was silence for a moment, until he said quietly,
“I do.” He gave her hand a squeeze in assurance.
She took another deep breath and continued.
“For the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize one important thing we, Ron and I, as your bestfriends, should’ve known from the beginning, and that in being ignorant of it, we have failed you. Harry,” she took both his hands in hers and her eyes showed worry, fondness, and regret. “…I’ve realized that…we barely know you—I barely know you.”
He gave her a sad, ironic smile.
“No. You guys know me better than anyone else.”
“But, it’s not enough—we should’ve known better than to add to your burdens—”
He frowned. “You guys aren’t burdens—”
“Our expectations of you were the burdens,” she amended. “We forgot—I forgot that you’re human too. And you have fears and doubts like everyone else. I can’t imagine how hard it is, to have everyone’s faith, their expectations placed on your shoulders, how it must feel when they expect you to kill You-Know-Who when you don’t even know how. And your nightmares—” he stiffened and tried to yank his hand away from her, but her grip was strong around his and she continued, “…I’m really sorry, Harry.”
Her eyes turned soft, compassion warming her brown gaze further.
“Harry, you must realize that you’re not alone. You have many people who care about you. We’re here to help you. You’re not alone in this battle.”
He averted his eyes from hers and his jaw tightened. His brows furrowed and he said, tone hard and vulnerable at the same time, as he struggled to keep the walls around his heart erect,
“In the end, I always do. I have to fight Him alone because if anyone were to face him with me, they would be killed. Too many people have already died because of this stupid war, I won’t let more die because I can’t fight on my own. You guys,” he looked at her again. “…don’t have to fight my own battles for me. I won’t let you.”
“I know. But Harry,” said Hermione sincerely, brown eyes captivating his and refusing to let go. “Just because you can fight your own battles doesn’t mean you should always have to do so alone. That’s what we’re here for.”
He was silent for a moment, processing her statement and tucked the emotions it roused from him—gratitude, relief—in his heart. Closing his eyes, he nodded and settled more comfortably in his bed. Hermione, assuming that he was going back to sleep, let go of his hand and stood up, obviously intent on giving him his well deserved rest.
She was halfway towards the tent’s entrance when he said, nonchalantly, casual enough to be a comment about the weather,
“You know, everyone in the Wizarding World has called me ‘special’ ever since I managed to survive You-Know-Who’s killing curse, but to the Dursleys and You-Know-Who, I was the ‘nuisance’, the ‘pest’. I often wondered who I was to you guys.”
A beat of silence before she answered,
He smiled, bitter and sad, and replied,
“And to me, ‘Harry’ has always been alone.”
With that said, he shifted and lay on his side, presenting his back and drifted to sleep.