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’.
It had been a week since their disastrous trip to Xenophilius Lovegood’s house, a month since Harry put all the pieces together—that Voldemort was after the Elder Wand and that he (Harry) had two Hallows, the cloak and the ring.
That he was a descendant of the Peverell brothers.
He was still consumed by the desire to posess the Elder wand, because he knew that if he had it, he would be invincible, that killing Voldemort would not be such an impossibility.
His relationship with Hermione was strained, a result of his conviction—not an obsession, he thought fiercely—that Dumbledore meant for them to find the Hallows. He was angry that Ron and her seemed indifferent to his discovery, firmly telling him that it was not possible, subtly insinuating that it was only his imagination.
—Neither can live while the other survives…Master of Death—
Why didn’t they understand?
It was ironic that, with him otherwise preoccupied, his two best friends seemed to have reconciled. He was also amused that due to his…listlessness, Ron had taken charge, often encouraging both him and Hermione with words like: “Only three Horcruxes left!”, “Where haven’t we checked?” and then proceeding to name familiar places.
Harry wanted access to Voldemort’s mind, if only to know what he was doing or if he found the Elder Wand at last, and worried that his connection to the Dark Lord was damaged because of his inability to read his mind.
Evening after evening, Ron used his wand to beat out various rhythms on top of the Wireless while the dials whirled and it was not until March that they heard the broadcast of POTTERWATCH with Lee Jordan as the host. Harry felt a sense of loss when he heard that Tonk’s dad, Ted, along with another man and a goblin, was dead—Dean Thomas had managed to escape, fortunately.
—so many people dead while I’m sitting here, doing nothing, when I could have found the Elder wand by now if only Ron and Hermione even listened to what I keep telling them, Harry thought—
He was relieved to hear that Hagrid had escape and that most of the Wizarding World still had faith in him, still supported him despite his—seeming—inaction to stop Voldemort.
By the end of the program, Harry was speaking rapidly, excited almost to the point of incoherence, at the news of Voldemort being abroad and ignored both Hermione and Ron’s expression of utter horror, causing the sneakoscope on the table to light up and spin, voices coming nearer and nearer and Harry realized that he had made a fatal mistake.
He had uttered Voldemort’s name out loud.
Harry sat outside Bill and Fleur’s cottage, pondering over what had recently transpired the last few weeks—Dobby’s death, their capture and escape from Malfoy Manor, his questioning of Ollivander of his knowledge about the Elder wand, his request for Griphook to help them breach the Lestrange’s vauly inside Gringots, and worst of all, Voldemort’s discovery and theft of the Elder wand in Dumbledore’s grave. He now knew that, although the Elder wand was real, the deceased headmaster had never meant for Harry to follow its trail and want to posess it.
Dumbledore had wanted him to get the Horcruxes, to destroy them, and he would, Harry vowed.
He had his doubts, especially since Ron and Hermione were on opposite sides; Ron telling him the same thing Harry had thought so vehemently of weeks before—that he (Harry) was obviously meant to possess the Deathstick—and Hermione, now knowing and accepting the Elder wand’s existence, repeatedly told him that he had made the right decision of choosing the Horcruxes over the Hallows, that he could never have even thought of breaking into Dumbledore’s tomb, much less do it—and she was right, the thought of seeing the respected wizard’s corpse frightened him.
Now, he was afraid he’d misread the signs and hints that Dumbledore had provided them before his murder—whether he should have taken the other way—and he very much felt like he was groping in the dark, looking for a needle in a cornfield. He was angry at Dumbledore, angry that the old Headmaster had not explained everything to Harry before he—he died.
He felt isolated again, drifting away from his best friends—not knowing which was the right thing, what to think, whether he understood Dumbledore’s intention or not. He felt lost, with no hope of finding the correct path soon. His best friend’s bickering did not help at all—more so because they tended to disturb his quiet ponderings, which was why he tended to flee from their presence whenever he could but they still found him, thinking they were offering support when it was chaos and confusion they actually unintentionally gave him.
Harry let out a inaudible sigh when he heard soft footsteps coming closer from where he perched at the spot near the edge of the cliff, Bill and Fleur’s cottage a small distance away behind him, preferring the open sky and wide, empty sea below him to the crowded cottage. He enjoyed the solitude he was provided in his own quiet makeshift corner, feeling the gentle, salty wind slapping his body, like the exhalation of some great, slumbering creature.
He didn’t need to look around to know that it was Hermione standing behind him, disturbing his silent contemplations.
“What is it?” he asked, raising his voice a little over the sounds of seagulls scouting the sea for food and the crashing of the sea’s waves against the cliff below him.
“You’ve been awfully detached these days, Harry.” she said, plopping down on the grass beside him. “…just like before we…”
She trailed off, voice soft, not continuing. She didn’t need to, anyway, since he knew what she was talking about. He let silence reigned for a moment, relishing the heat her body gave off a few inches away from him, letting it warm his freezing body and numbing heart. He shrugged and subtly scooted closer to her, decreasing the distance separating them if only a bit. He was instantly comforted.
“Was just thinking.” he replied.
“You used to think of things back then an awful lot, as well.”
He shrugged again, his arm brushing hers for a moment. He did not notice her flinch slightly at this, subtly draw back her arm an inch or so.
“So many things have happened and I just—reflecting about them helps me decide whether or not my choice was right and then thinking of what actions I should take next.” He explained, tilting his head just enough to keep her face in his line of sight. Right now, her whole attention was directed towards him, watching him and listening intently, like always.
She reached for him without saying a word, hands seeking his own. He accepted her unspoken request for contact and entwined their fingers together, tightly gripping the warm hands in his icy ones. They held hands for a while, unspoken words passing between them while the only noise to be heard was not their making.
‘It’s strange,’ he thought, ‘to think that we’ve been only been together for a little over two months and so much has happened since then and we were almost killed of because of my own carelessness…’
Shame welled up inside Harry and he lifted their entangled hands up to his lips, bestowing a heartfelt kiss on Hermione’s soft and slightly calloused hands. She tensed for a millisecond before relaxing again, the expressions on her face changing so fast that Harry did not have any time to register them before he said,
Hermione turned to look at him from where she had been gazing at their hands and her eyes expressed surprise.
“For being so selfish,” he continued. “I almost got us all killed because I got so ahead of myself, getting so worked up and acting so careless and—”
She stilled the barrage of words coming out of his mouth by placing a finger against his lips and pressing on them lightly.
“Don’t apologise. You were mostly right about the Hallows—especially the Elder wand—being real. Anyway, what’s done is done. We’re alive and our important people are okay. You have a plan of action and we’re going to act on it soon. That’s what matters the most right now.”
He nodded, throat tight with emotion.
“You don’t have to worry about us, Harry. We can handle ourselves fine. The only thing that should worry you is defeating You-Know-Who and—” her breathe hitched and she squeezed his hands, “—and surviving this war.”
She looked at him earnestly. “And after. We’ll worry about everything else.”
She was right, of course, Harry thought to himself a few days later, once again perched on the cliff face. He needed to win this war first before he thought about anything else. There were so many to lose, so many people dying for the war, dying for Harry. He couldn’t let their sacrifice go to waste because of his carelessness.
Never again, he swore, recalling the blank expression of death on Sirius’ face as he fell into the Veil, Bellatrix’s Killing Curse having hit him moments before. His heart clenched and throbbed at the memory, his heart still yearning for his dead godfather, for the bright future they both could have had.
Harry sighed, feeling the ocean’s breeze ruffling his dark hair, smelling the salty air and looking at the moon’s rippling reflection on the ocean’s surface.
Once again, he’d been woken by his recurring nightmares, memories of long gone people dancing away and around him, taunting him of what could have been—if only he’d been careful—if only he’d never been the Chosen One, The Boy Who Just Wouldn’t Die. He had been wandering around the house restlessly, footsteps almost inaudible and hearing only the soft exhales of the sleeping household and the occasional shores coming from Ron. He felt suffocated inside the quaint house and, after a moment’s hesitation, stepped out and briskly walked towards the cliff edge, where he had been sitting for the past hour in quiet contemplation.
He shifted his gaze to Dobby’s grave a few feet away, seeing the stone he had marked, and read HERE LIES DOBBY. A FREE ELF. He shakily got to his feet and strode towards the simple grave, trembling fingers gently tracing the words, remembering the eager, helpful elf that was Dobby. He could still hear Dobby’s first and last words ringing in his ears—Harry Potter. He had been a dear friend, always willing to help, so brave, so loyal, until the very end.
With a choked, strangled sound escaping from his throat, he fell to his knees and mumbled, tears prickling his eyes and falling down his cheeks,
“I’m sorry, Dobby. I’m so, so sorry.”
He rubbed his eyes harshly, pressing his hands against his eyes hard, and took a deep shuddering breath, gathering his composure, willing himself to be stronger. Dobby didn’t need to see him crumbling during the most crucial point of his life.
He needed to be strong, for everyone.
“I swear, on my very life, I will end this.”
Harry had just stepped back inside the cottage when a muffled scream abruptly sounded upstairs. His senses alert, he heard frantic shouts above, the name Hermione being repeated in a panicked voice—Ron’s, Harry’s brain told him.
Feeling his heart thunder with fear, he ran up the stairs, not seeing anything, his mind blank of anything except for one name, the one person he would never forget—HermioneHermioneHermioneHERMIONE—repeating over and over again, like a broken record playing in crescendo.
He stumbled into Hermione’s room, breathing hard and rapid, and saw Ron shaking Hermione while she trashed, arms and feet flailing in the air—hitting, kicking, shoving, pushing Ron away—and screaming NoNoNo! Please! No! face red and tears streaking down her face. Her brown eyes were wide open but they did not see anything, blank and yet raging with pain and grief.
“Hermione! Wake up! Please!” Ron called out to her frantically, cupping her face in his hands only to be harshly pushed away once again. Her screams tore through Harry far worse than any physical blow.
Harry scrambled forward, swiftly pushing Ron away and cradling her in his arms, holding on to her tightly even if he was hit and shoved hard. He made ssh-ing noises close to her ear, rocking her against him in an attempt to comfort her.
“Hermione, ssh…it’s me. It’s Harry.”
Her screams eventually quieted down to whimpers that only made Harry hold her to him even tighter, willing her to recognize his touch, his voice, to rememberher Harry.
“Don’t hurt Harry…hurt me instead…please…”she whimpered, choking on a sob, still not out of the terrible memory that haunted her.
The statement—plea—made a strangled sort of noise escape Harry’s throat and he buried his face in her sweat-matted hair, inhaling shakily, tears threatening to cascade down his cheeks as helplessness washed over him.
He could never save Hermione from her own nightmares.
A few minutes passed and the house was silent once again. He continued to hold her, bringing her hands to his lips and kissing them, a gesture to reassure himself that she was alright, that it was a nightmare that pained Hermione and not any physical thing—the ones he could prevent from hurting her. He caressed her hands with his thumb tenderly for a moment, stopping when he felt something strange, ridges of some sort, marring the smoothness of her hand, the texture akin to the scar on his own. He looked down, scrutinizing in the semi-darkness of the room, and saw what looked like a newly healed mark, a scar. He felt rage bubble up to the surface of his mind as he read the words MUDBLOOD across her hand in jagged, rough, ugly script.
His mind and heart screamed one name in absolute fury; BELLATRIX.
His heart demanded Bellatrix’s instant death while his mind snarled torture of the most unbearable kind, but he calmed them both down, gripping Hermione’s hand tight, his knuckles white and straining, in an effort to cool his rage and start thinking rationally once again, mind already plotting how to bring down the Dark Lord’s Best Lieutenant’s demise because she had not only tortured Hermione, but permanently branded her as scum and a failure, at least, to her kind. She will pay for this, he vowed to himself.
Harry jumped, forgetting Ron’s presence completely until his best friend had called his name. He gently lowered the now sleeping Hermione down into her bed again, tucking the blankets up to her chin before facing Ron.
“What happened?” he asked tiredly.
He watched as Ron slumped his shoulders wearily and shake his head.
“I was just coming back up from the loo when I heard whimpering. I realized it was ‘Mione and tried to calm her down but—” he sighed, “she suddenly started screaming. You came in just before it could wake anybody else, fortunately.”
Harry nodded, rubbing his forehead and getting up from his perch on Hermione’s bed.
“We should get some rest.” He stated, already making his way out of the bedroom, Ron following close behind him.
He halted in his tracks and turned to face Ron, a questioning look I his face.
Ron looked like he wanted to ask Harry something, but obviously decided against it, shaking his head again, a frustrated expression on his freckled face.
“It’s…nothing. G’night, mate.”
Still puzzled, Harry went to his room and slumped on his bed, Hermione’s scar haunting his dreams and guilt swallowing him whole.
Harry was just about to sit down next to Hermione for a late breakfast when his female best friend abruptly stood up, pushing her chair away quite loudly. Everyone looked at her curiously and she turned pink in embarrassment.
“Hermione? What’s the matter?” Bill asked, helping himself to the hearty breakfast Fleur had made.
“Nothing. I just—forgot to do something. Thank you for the breakfast.”
With that said, she quickly fled out of the room, Harry watching her go with a confused frown.
He jumped in surprise when a heaping plate of sausage and pancakes was placed in front of him.
“You eat up, ‘Arry. You are too skinny.” Fleur said, giving him a radiant smile.
Harry was, for a moment, reminded of Molly Weasley, who often fussed at him saying he was always far too skinny for her liking. He smiled fondly at the memory.
“Oh, yeah. Harry? What happened last night? We heard a scream but when we asked Ron about it, he told us it was nothing.”
Reminded of his other best friend, he looked around and found him missing as well.
“Where’s Ron?” he asked, forgetting about Bill’s question.
Dean, who had just entered the house after Luna, replied,
“I think I saw him down, by the seashore, mate.”
“He seems troubled.” Luna quipped. “Did something happen?”
Harry only shrugged in reply, clueless himself.
“‘Ermione also looks distracted, as of late.” Fleur said as if in afterthought, pouring her husband some milk.
“Are you sure everything’s alright, Harry?” Bill inquired, looking at him with concern.
Harry frowned at his plate, the food still untouched.
He stood up, the chair screeching loudly against the floor as he pushed it away.
“Harry?” he heard someone ask him as he left.
He found Hermione sitting infront of Dobby’s grave, staring at the inscription intently, motionless and still as a Muggle statue.
He quietly walked towards her, keeping his footsteps silent, but Hermione still heard him, back stiffening.
“We need to talk.” He told her.
“A-about?” She asked nervously. He saw her cover the scar she had with the sleeve of her woolen cardigan, straightening from her slouch and facing him slightly, eyes still glued to Dobby’s tombstone.
“About what happened in Malfoy’s Manor.”
He sat down beside her and grabbed her elbow, gently turning her towards him until they face each other. Harry stared at her, willing her averted eyes to look back at him. She was stubborn, keeping her gaze on the ground now, expression white and tense.
“Hermione, look at me. Please.”
He reached out to touch her face but she flinched back and, upon seeing his hurt and surprised expression, cringed.
“I—sorry.” She mumbled, eyes distant.
“I know about your scar, Hermione.” He stated flatly, watching her eyes go wide and he hands hide the scar even further.
“Last night. I accidentally saw it while you were having your nightmare.” He looked away from her, and asked, not able to keep the hurt tone from his voice,
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He couldn’t understand why she would not tell him about it, why she refused to do it even now. They were always, always, honest with each other. What changed?
He heard a rustle and when he turned to look, he saw that Hermione had moved closer to him and was now looking at him earnestly.
“I didn’t want you to worry. What Bellatrix did to me back in the Manor—it was excruciating, humiliating. But I survived past it and this scar,” For the first time, she had uncovered her hand willingly, displaying it to him openly, “this is just proof that I survived, that I was strong enough not to die while she tortured me, humiliated me—I didn’t even think of wishing to die, all I wanted was to protect you and Ron.”
He opened his mouth to reply, guilt and shame weighing his heart down.
“But if it wasn’t for me—if you hadn’t even met me—”
“Don’t say that!” She snapped, face twisted into shocked anger. “Don’t ever say that, Harry. If I hadn’t met you—if you hadn’t ever been in my life—I can’t even imagine what kind of life I would’ve led.”
“But still, Hermione! You should just—hide with the others—and—and wait until I’ve killed You-Know-Who or this war has ended—” She opened her mouth in protest but he hurriedly cut her off, speaking, pleading urgently, desperately, “Please, Hermione. Stay here. Stay safe. For me.”
She stood up suddenly, hands balled into fists, disbelief and hurt fury written plainly on her face,
“And what would you have me do while you go off to fight You-Know-Who? Do you expect me to just sit around and hope for the best while you—while everyone gets themselves killed? While I could be there to help? I can’t do that, Harry!”
In reply, he stood up as well, the motion so quick that he was dizzy for a moment before focusing on Hermione, feeling indignant and fiercely defensive, images of Hermione dying while he watched, helpless, running through his mind.
“And what if you died? What if Bellatrix kills you, like what she did to Sirius? What if Snape does? DO YOU EXPECT ME TO WATCH WHILE YOU DIE? TO EVEN BEAR THE THOUGHT OF LIVING ON, WITHOUT YOU WITH ME?” He bellowed, breath coming in harsh pants. “Because it would be more painful than death, Hermione. So painful that I would prefer to have died with you. It would kill me.”
He rubbed his face harshly with his hands in frustration and buried his face in them, saying shakily, voice almost a whisper,
“I’ve already lost so many precious people…to lose you—I don’t want to go through that. Why can’t you understand, Hermione?”
“Harry James Potter, you bloody idiot!”
Surprised, he lifted his head and stared at her, seeing her red face and falling tears,
“Don’t you trust me? Do you think I’m that weak to die so easily? That I’m not capable of protecting myself, saving myself, in the battlefield?” She shook her head in exasperation and frustration.
“No! Of course not! I—”
“Have you forgotten that I’ve stood by you—and survived—all these years?”
He shook his head to deny the statement. Of course he hadn’t! She was always the one who gave him ideas, who made him think rationally while they ran, fought, for their lives. He was paralyzed when he saw her fall in battle versus Bellatrix back in Fifth Year, how he couldn’t think of anything else while she was unconscious. She was his brains, while he was her brawns. He would have died a long time ago if she hadn’t been with him.
“And besides, do you think it wouldn’t kill me if you—died with out me there to even attempt to help you? To think that—if only I had been there, I could’ve protected you—could’ve saved you! To tell me to stay here, to stay safe, I can’t do that, Harry. When you saved me from that troll six years ago, you had my loyalty, ever since.”
She strode towards him and gripped his shoulders tightly with her hands, her face fierce, determined, as she whispered, declared only to his ears, her voice packed with quiet intensity that spoke of many things words couldn’t possibly be able to explain,
“Even if you tried to stop me, barricaded me, chained me, here, I would find a way to follow you. I told you, didn’t I? We’re in this together.”
Harry grabbed her around the waist and crushed her body to his, unable to utter words to express how much her words affected him, the sense of relief and joy, and guilt, they brought him.
He could only nod in reply.