Living Past the End
Writer: avonlea_dreamer (aka bingblot)
Summary: A fiction about Trio after war, how each of them face to normal life. Ron feels good, but Harry and Hermione don’t feel the same way. Harry can’t sleep, and he has a nightmare.
Given everything, it proved to be almost ridiculously easy to leave the Burrow. Ron agreed readily in the morning and, while Mr. and Mrs. Weasley weren’t thrilled over his leaving—Mrs. Weasley in particular had not been pleased, especially when Harry had refused to answer her question of where they were going—in the end, of course, they had given in.
And now, here they were—just the three of them, in her grandparents’ summer home. And they were alone. The Weasleys had been told to answer any questions about Harry’s whereabouts (of which she was sure there would be a lot) with the answer that Harry had gone away on an extended vacation.
“Nice place your grandparents have, Hermione,” Ron grinned appreciatively as they looked around.
“Yeah, it is,” Hermione agreed. “I used to come here almost every summer when I was little and stay with my grandparents for a while. Here, Harry, you can stay in this room,” she added, opening the first door as they reached the first floor up the stairs. “This is the room I always use,” she added, opening another door down the hall and throwing her knapsack, into which she’d shrunk all that she might need, onto the bed.
“And I’m going to sleep in the tub?” Ron asked teasingly.
She grinned at him. “If you want to, you can, but in case you decide against that, there’s another room at the end of the hall.” She winked at Harry and felt her heart lift a little at his responding smile before she added, still addressing Ron, “Or there’s a closet downstairs you can sleep in.”
“So many choices,” Ron said in mock amazement. “You’re too kind.”
Now Harry laughed and Hermione felt a wave of gratitude and affection for Ron, for his good humor and his ability to make Harry laugh. For all the times that Ron annoyed her– and there were many– she forgave him because, no matter what else, Ron could make Harry laugh. Dear Ron. She did care about him so much, even loved him in a way… And it was because of moments like this, these rushes of affection for him that had made her think that she and Ron could be more than friends, that she fancied Ron in that way. Now, though—oddly enough– she suddenly realized why she’d been wrong and why she and Ron would never be more than friends. She cared about Ron, yes, but she cared about Harry more. When she felt a surge of affection for Ron, it was usually for Harry’s sake; it was because of Harry. It was because Ron could make Harry laugh as almost no one and nothing else could—and Harry’s laughter was rare enough– and precious enough to her– that she was quite willing to love everyone and everything that made Harry laugh.
“I don’t know about you guys but I think it’s time for the beach,” Ron said, changing the subject with such abruptness that Hermione suspected he’d just been waiting until now when he could make the suggestion.
“That’s fine with me,” Hermione answered before looking at Harry. “Harry, what do you think?”
“The beach sounds great. We’re here on vacation after all,” Harry said with enough enthusiasm, not all of it forced, that Hermione couldn’t help but smile, her chest filling with an almost painful pleasure mingled in with the beginnings of hope that, here, Harry might actually begin to recover and to relax.
The beach wasn’t far and they reached it in an almost remarkably short time. It was crowded, as Hermione had expected, it being the summer and the peak of the tourist season, but since the tourists were mostly– if not all– Muggles, she didn’t expect Harry would be noticed at all.
“This was a brilliant idea, Hermione,” Ron enthused and Hermione glanced at him to see that he was looking towards a group of girls, all young and all bikini-clad, with a distinctly glazed expression on his face.
Hermione bit back a smile. Ron was so predictable at times.
She turned to look at Harry and any amusement she’d felt vanished in an instant. Something was wrong. Oh, Harry was smiling– for her and Ron’s benefit– but the smile was forced. And more than that, she could see the sudden tension in the set of his shoulders, could sense the heightened awareness in him.
(It still surprised her sometimes that she knew him well enough that she could read him so well just from something as subtle as the set of his shoulders, but she could. She hadn’t spent the better part of the last seven years watching him and worrying about him for nothing.)
And something was wrong now.
Before she could react or even begin to wonder what it was, she heard the sound of a shriek and then– She started and flinched in automatic reaction, glancing around to see where the shriek had come from– But then, almost quicker than thought, she felt herself being yanked backwards so she stumbled, pulled off-balance, and found herself half-leaning against Harry– found herself half-behind Harry, with his hand gripping her wrist like a manacle.
“Har–” Her gasp of surprise was cut off as she saw his face, saw the expression on it. His features had abruptly sharpened, becoming stark, and his eyes– his eyes were blank and yet almost burning. And with a sudden chill, she realized what was wrong. She knew that look, had seen it before– too many times before. And she realized in the same instant that Harry was gripping his wand, tensed, and poised for action.
Hermione glanced around quickly, noting that, thankfully, since they had not gotten far onto the beach, no one else was very near and had not, so far, noticed anything. In the same moment, reaching around him, she closed her free hand gently around the hand that held his wand, exerting a slight pressure until, slowly, he lowered his wand.
She was only peripherally conscious of hearing Ron’s voice, sounding a little shaken and stunned. “I say, Harry…” All her attention was focused on Harry, her heart aching over his reaction and all it revealed.
Moving slowly, she tugged on her arm until he released his grip on her wrist so she could move to stand beside and slightly in front of him, shielding him from the view of most of the people on the beach. “Harry,” she said softly.
At first he didn’t react, her voice not quite impinging on his consciousness, locked in an automatic, quivering tension.
“Harry,” she repeated and it was only then that he blinked, some animation slowly seeping back into his features, before he turned his head just enough to focus on her.
“What happened? Who screamed?” he asked, his voice stiff.
“Someone splashed water at a girl when she wasn’t expecting it.”
And with the return of animation came realization and dismay. “I- I’m sorry,” Harry blurted out. “I just—I should—I can’t—I should go.”
With this less than coherent statement, he turned and it was her turn to grab him, before he could take a step. “Go where? Harry, talk to me about this.”
He glanced around for a moment, scanning their surroundings, the sand, the ocean, the many tourists. “I can’t—I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Do what?” Ron blurted out. “It’s only a beach.”
Hermione threw him a sharp glance and he promptly closed his mouth, still looking confused but unwilling to interrupt again. She turned back to Harry, seeing the way his eyes moved constantly, looking for anything or anyone that might pose a threat.
She suddenly felt stupid; she hadn’t thought of this. In her single-minded desire to grant Harry’s wish to be left alone, she hadn’t considered the one, very real, benefit that staying at the Burrow provided: familiarity. Here, everything was new, and the beach was too open, nowhere to hide, with too many strangers around. And after everything he’d been through, Harry was not about to feel comfortable when surrounded by strangers.
“It’s okay, Harry. We don’t have to swim or anything.” She thought quickly. “How about we just walk along the beach or through the town, explore a little?” Reconnoitering their surroundings, as it were.
“But…” Ron objected before he broke off and she glanced at him just in time to see Ron’s half-wistful look at the group of bikini-clad girls. Ron looked back at them and met her eyes and had the grace to blush.
“The beach will still be here tomorrow or the day after that,” Hermione pointed out. “Harry, what do you want to do?”
“Let’s explore the town,” he said, with a slight twist of his lips that attempted to approximate a smile but failed. He was still tense, she could see, but the blank look in his eyes was receding, his expression smoothing out.
“Okay, then, exploring the town, it is,” Hermione said with manufactured brightness. “Come on, Ron.” She reached out and linked her arm with his, pretending to pull him forward, as she linked her other arm with Harry’s.
They set off towards the town like that, with her between the two boys. She kept up a deliberately cheerful running commentary on everything they passed by, freely inventing stories from her childhood visits here when she couldn’t think of any true stories to tell. Ron, after a few discreet nudges from her elbow, helped, chiming in with questions and teasing responses.
And Harry walked… no, stalked… along beside her, not moving to unlink his arm from hers but otherwise, unresponsive. She kept half an eye on him and was always aware of what he was doing, or not doing to be more accurate. He was… something like an animated statue, except for the fact that his eyes were constantly moving and he tensed and flinched at just about any sound other than the usual murmur of people and traffic. She suspected he only heard maybe one word in every ten, if that, and he certainly didn’t respond to her stories or Ron’s teasing in any way.
It was unnerving, like walking besides a cardboard cut-out of Harry, who looked like him and moved like him, but was missing all of what made him Harry.
She was running out of cheerful commentary and she could see that Ron, too, was beginning to flag, his ripostes becoming more lame, as he kept glancing at Harry with an expression of mingled concern and nervousness and apprehension, as if he half-expected Harry to suddenly explode.
Oh God. What could she do? She needed to do something, anything, to bring Harry back, to snap him out of this.
Her gaze fell, and the sight of the somewhat uneven cobbles on the street gave her an idea. At any other time, for anyone else, she would have scorned to resort to such a pretense, but for Harry…
She slipped her arm out of Ron’s and, at his glance, caught his eye with a slight tilt of her head towards Harry and then the ground. As an attempt at communication, it was a signal failure as it only resulted in Ron’s giving her a blankly puzzled look.
Harry would have understood. She sternly quashed the renegade thought and promptly put her plan, such as it was, into action.
Deliberately, she caught her foot on one of the uneven cobbles so she stumbled forward and would have fallen, except for Harry’s quick response in grabbing her arm.
“Hermione! You okay?” The words burst from both Harry and Ron, Ron taking a quick step towards her.
She gave Harry a quick smile. “I’m fine. Thanks for catching me.”
And she was rewarded for her ploy by a twitch of his lips that was almost a smile and the sight of his eyes meeting hers, no longer blank or distracted, but alive with honest concern.
Yes, this was Harry.
She turned to glance at Ron. “The streets are uneven,” she said, a little lamely, and then caught the doubting look that flitted across his face. There it was; he was suspicious now that her stumble had been deliberate. She hid her smile. Dear Ron.
“It’s a cute little town,” Harry ventured.
“Yes, it really is,” she agreed, having to fight to keep her voice from betraying her rush of relief and joy that he was back, he was speaking, was looking around with an eye to appreciate the town’s charms and not just to look for potential threats. “It started as a sort of off-shoot of Nice and the other vacation spots but it’s just off the beaten path enough that it’s not entirely run over with tourists.”
“I like it. It’s quaint,” Harry observed. “I can see why your grandparents would choose here for their vacations.”
Ron made a show of looking around. “I don’t know; it looks much like any other town to me. Personally, I thought the view of the beach was the most impressive.”
Hermione bit back a laugh, glancing at Harry to see the amusement lighting his eyes. “Somehow, Ron, I don’t think it was the scenery that caught your attention,” she quipped.
Ron pretended shock. “Of course it was. No one could appreciate natural beauty more than me.”
“Yes, I know, the beauty you were admiring was very natural,” Hermione teased.
“Of course,” Harry agreed with a mock solemn tone. “Human beauty is just as natural as any other kind.”
Ron assumed an exaggeratedly-injured expression. “There’s no need to make fun of a perfectly sincere appreciation for beauty,” he said in a tone that sounded rather like Percy’s at his most haughty.
Harry and Hermione exchanged glances and then, as one, began to laugh as Ron joined in.
It was, Hermione thought, almost the first time Harry had really, spontaneously laughed and joined in with teasing Ron since the War had ended. Looking at him now, she could believe that he was entirely himself again; he looked so… young and happy, when he laughed like this. His eyes were bright, the shadows that usually clouded his expression gone for once. The sight of it caught at her heart and she suddenly realized just how much she’d missed seeing this side of Harry, the laughing, teasing side of him.
She stopped laughing, her amusement drowned out in the wave of emotion, and she blinked back to reality to see both Harry and Ron giving her questioning looks.
“What is it? Did I just grow a second nose or something?” Harry asked lightly.
She shook her head, partly to answer him and partly to clear away her uncharacteristic wistfulness. “No, I was thinking about something else. Come on, there’s a little café up ahead that has some great ice cream,” she suggested.
“Ice cream! Brilliant!” Ron enthused.
She and Harry exchanged amused looks and fell into step slightly behind Ron, as he sped a little ahead of them in his eagerness.
It was like old times. The War felt, for the first time, very far away, almost as fantastical as one of Luna’s mythical creatures. She responded to the feeling, not even trying to analyze it but only enjoying it.
The rest of the day passed almost in a blur, a blur of laughter and teasing and friendship, untroubled by any danger. It was the sort of light-hearted fun they had not had in years and Hermione gave herself up to enjoying this taste of uncomplicated fun.
So much so that it felt rather jarring for reality to return, with something like a mental thud, when Ron had yawned his way up to his room and Harry, after a moment, stood up, mumbling about putting up some wards.
She stood up as well. “I’ll help. It’ll be quicker that way.”
He nodded and, together, they slipped outside and began to work. It was very familiar by now, working together to put up wards, and they accomplished it quickly, in silence, not even needing to talk to coordinate their actions.
He finished first and then she put up an additional one to ensure that the wards were not accidentally set off by any non-magical people, since they were surrounded by Muggles.
It was a beautifully clear night and Hermione would have lingered to look at the stars when something about Harry’s very silence made her glance at him and she realized that, in spite of everything, Harry was still far removed from wanting to linger outside at night. She felt a swift pang of sympathy and hurried to finish testing the wards so she could go inside again, knowing perfectly well that he would stay outside as long as she was out.
They hurried inside and Hermione made a point of closing and locking the door behind them and, for good measure, casting the spell on the lock so it could not be opened by an Alohamora or any other magical means. It was the work of a minute to repeat the spell on the ground floor windows as well and when she turned back to Harry, he was almost smiling.
“Will you be alright to sleep now?” he asked, his voice quiet.
“I was going to ask you the same thing. Will you be able to sleep?”
The almost-smile faded and some of the shadows returned to his eyes. “I hope so. I think so. It was… it was a fun day, a good day.”
She smiled slightly. “Yes, it was. Good night, Harry.”
She turned away but he stopped her with a word. “Hermione.”
He hesitated and then, in a rather abrupt movement, reached out and grasped her hand, squeezing it briefly before he released it. “It was a fun day,” he repeated. “Thanks.”
It was not the most eloquent statement in the world, but this was Harry. She gave him a quick smile. “You’re welcome. Good night.”