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.
The dream was almost always the same, slipping into her subconscious with the insidious subtlety of a master thief.
It was night and she was running, running, always running, the sound of her own breathing harsh in her ears, the acrid taste of stark terror and helplessness filling her throat until it almost choked her. She was running, she never knew where exactly; all she knew, the one thought that she held on to, was that she had to find Harry.
She had to find Harry and then she would be okay. She wouldn’t be afraid anymore, she wouldn’t feel helpless anymore– she hated feeling so afraid and so helpless but she knew if she just found Harry, she would be okay.
She stumbled, tripping over something, and fell to the ground with a cry. And then she turned to look at what she’d tripped over– and she screamed.
It was Harry.
She had found Harry– but she wasn’t okay, would never be okay again. He was… he was… he was gone… It was in the dark red blood pooling beneath his head, in his eyes that were so blank and so empty and just staring up at her, in the expression of torment that lingered on his so-still face…
The danger she’d been running from was still there, was getting closer. She knew it but she didn’t move, didn’t care.
All she did was close his eyes, her hand passing softly over his still features, her fingers caressing his cold skin as she never had in life.
The danger was there now, but she didn’t care, didn’t move. It was over.
Hermione jerked awake with a strangled sob. She was gasping for breath and her face was wet with tears.
She looked around the darkness of the room almost wildly, trying to let the reassurance of reality seep into her, calm her. It had been a dream, only a dream, and Harry was fine; they were in her grandparents’ cottage and the War was over now.
She wiped the lingering tears from her face with her hand, trying to forcibly even out her breathing and her heart rate. Harry was fine; he was just across the hall, hopefully sleeping.
She let out a shuddering breath, trying to push the nightmare from her mind. She hated this! She hated the nightmares, hated the terror and the helplessness she felt, hated her own weakness. During the days, she was better, was in control through sheer strength of will, her rational mind repeating, always repeating, her own personal mantra that the War was over and Harry was no longer in danger. But at nights, at nights and in sleep, her rational mind lost control and her fears– her irrational, lingering fears– took control of her.
She had hoped, after the pleasant day they’d had, that she would be able to sleep.
She tried to relax back into her bed but after a few moments, gave up the attempt. Every time she closed her eyes, the image of Harry lying dead flashed into her mind and she shuddered.
She would just check to see if Harry was sleeping—she hoped he was. Hoped that the measure of relaxation he’d managed to have during the day would extend into the night so he could sleep peacefully for once. And then she would double-check the wards.
Moving quickly and quietly, she crept to Harry’s door, pausing to listen for a moment. She didn’t hear anything. Very slowly so as not to make a sound in case Harry was sleeping, she turned the door knob and pushed the door open, peering inside.
To see Harry, with the blanket from the bed wrapped around his shoulders, sitting in the window seat, his head turned to look at her.
“Oh,” she whispered, slipping inside. “I hoped you’d be sleeping.”
“I thought you would be sleeping.”
She shook her head in a jerky motion, a slight shiver going through her at the thought of the nightmare. “No.”
“You look cold,” he said after a moment, and then made a welcoming gesture with one arm.
She hesitated for one moment, stayed by a vague, indefinable uncertainty. Yes, they might have become rather accustomed to these nightly interludes, but they had always been in the family room of the Burrow, an impersonal sort of space. This—this felt different. It was different, somehow. She and Harry had been alone in a bedroom before, yes, but it had usually been during the day, had usually been with full knowledge that there were other people around. Now, they were truly alone. Ron was sleeping, and it was just late enough—or early enough—to make it feel as if they were the only two people awake in the world.
He looked at her curiously. “What? I promise I won’t bite.”
It was his tone, more than his words, that did it, the familiar thread of teasing in his voice. She mentally shook off the momentary uncertainty; she was being silly.
“Well, it’s not the full moon, so I guess I’m safe,” she quipped as she crossed the room. And then she could have kicked herself as Harry’s expression blanked for a fleeting moment, and she remembered Remus—and why werewolf jokes would not be particularly funny to Harry right now.
Her lips opened to apologize, but then he blinked and responded, in a tone of studied lightness, “I’d probably start by biting Ron anyway; he looks tastier.”
She smiled, a little tentatively, as she sat down beside him on the window seat. “I’ll have to tell him that.”
The window seat was narrower than the couch in the Burrow had been, and after a moment, Harry shifted, hunching his shoulders so the blanket could wrap around her more snugly.
At first, Hermione sat rather stiffly, a little self-conscious at how very close she and Harry were sitting because of how narrow the window seat was. Her thigh was pressed against the length of his. It wasn’t… exactly a bad sensation but it was not particularly comfortable and she could not feel quite at ease.
Comfortable it may not have been, but the reassuring solidity of his body did, however, serve as tangible proof that Harry was alive and everything was fine. The nightmare had only been exactly that, the product of her own worst fears.
She felt another slight shiver go through her at the memory, the mental picture of Harry lying dead that haunted her.
“Are you still cold?” Harry asked and then without waiting for an answer, moved to put his arm around her shoulder, pulling the other end of the blanket around her with his other hand so that, for a moment, she was encircled by his arms.
She was cold, not in body, but in spirit, somehow, something of the inner chill from her nightmare lingering and so she nestled against him with an unself-conscious willingness she would not normally have shown. She was very conscious of the half-shy, boyish tenderness she felt in Harry’s arm around her shoulders, in the affection revealed by his actions.
She let herself half-lean against him, allowing the solid warmth of him to comfort her, relax her, until the lingering tension from her nightmare had dissipated. And she suddenly knew that this was what she’d needed, wanted, after her nightmare. She had hoped, sincerely, that Harry would be asleep, and if he had been, she wouldn’t have woken him up, but this was what she’d needed.
He didn’t say anything and neither did she, as they just sat in silence. It was a comfortable silence, a comforting silence, the silence of true friendship that neither asked for nor needed anything else to make it complete.
“What are your nightmares about?” Harry finally broke the silence, his voice quiet, pensive.
Hermione hesitated, her honesty and habitual candor with Harry warring with her instinct not to say anything that might disturb his fragile peace. After a moment, she answered with deliberate evasion, “Failing all my N.E.W.T’s.”
He didn’t respond immediately, was silent for just long enough that she knew perfectly well he didn’t believe a word of it and was debating how to respond before he said, with attempted lightness, “You could take your N.E.W.T’s tomorrow without studying and still come out at the top of the class.”
She smiled briefly. “Thank you.” She might not have nightmares about the N.E.W.T’s but it didn’t make his assurance any less meaningful. His faith in her was sweet and precious—all the more so because Harry rarely expressed such absolute certainty in anything.
He was silent for another minute and then he said, softly, “You don’t have to tell me about your nightmares if you don’t want to.”
And there was a thread of something—something like hurt—in his voice that had Hermione making up her mind. She didn’t want to disturb his peace, but hurting him in any way was unthinkable. “My nightmares are of you, Harry,” she finally admitted, slowly. Of you getting hurt or dying, she mentally added but was careful not to say.
She felt him stiffen beside her before he forcibly relaxed himself.
“Funny,” Harry finally responded, his voice a little odd, trembling slightly with suppressed emotion, “mine are too—about you, that is. Of something happening to you or to Ron and me not being able to do anything about it and just having to watch it happen.”
She didn’t know what to say. It was the most Harry had ever said about his nightmares, the most he’d ever revealed about his fears. Always before, he’d generalized or been evasive, saying only that his nightmares were about the terrible things that they’d seen in the last year or something like that, but never much more than that.
She swallowed back a lump of emotion in her throat and shifted until she could lean her head against his shoulder. “Oh, Harry…” It was all she could think of to say, just his name. She couldn’t reassure him that the War was over and they were fine because he already knew that, as did she, and it didn’t stop the nightmares. She couldn’t promise him the nightmares would go away because she didn’t know that they would. All she could do was say his name and hope that just knowing she understood would provide some comfort.
His arm tightened around her slightly and she felt better.
“What a pair we are, Harry,” she sighed after a long minute of silence. “Both of us unable to sleep at nights because of nightmares about the same things.”
“Yes, the insomniac pair,” Harry said, and hesitated before he blurted out, “But I’m glad we are a pair.” He paused and then seemed to realize how his words might sound and he added, “Not because I’m glad you can’t sleep but because it’s… easier, being part of a pair, than it is to be alone.”
“I know. It is easier,” Hermione agreed.
She felt Harry rest his head against hers for a moment, the gesture making her aware of just how closely they were sitting and of the fact that she was leaning against him, and she would have straightened, would have moved away from him, in sudden self-consciousness, but she found she didn’t want to. It was comfortable like this, leaning against Harry as she was, feeling the warm weight of his arm around her shoulders, and resting her head against his shoulder. It felt… safe… like this. And after the last year, feeling safe was the most precious emotion ever.
“It was fun today,” Harry said quietly, after a long moment.
“Yeah, it was.”
“I guess… I thought—I thought it would be easier, because of that.”
Hermione smiled a little sadly. “Yeah, me too. I guess we were both wrong.”
She felt rather than saw his slight smile. “You, wrong? I think I need to write to the Daily Prophet and report this.”
“And ruin my reputation for always being right?” she quipped. “Don’t you dare.”
“It would be a way of getting my name in the papers, wouldn’t it? My 15 minutes of fame as the boy who exploded the myth of Hermione Granger’s omniscience.”
She laughed softly, as she knew he wanted her to, but she couldn’t help the slight clench of her heart. It was the first time he had made a joke out of his fame, managed to speak lightly of the fact that he didn’t need to so much as lift a finger to get his name in the papers.
“Getting famous at my expense, Harry? That’s not very nice of you,” she said lightly—and realized her mistake as she sensed his abrupt shift in mood.
“I’ve always been famous at other people’s expense,” he responded and there was an almost savage note in his voice. “I’m the famous one and everyone else is only mentioned as they relate to me in some way.”
“Well, yes,” she agreed cautiously. “But you are the hero.”
His reaction—his rejection—was both physical and verbal, as he almost recoiled from her, his head jerking up. “Don’t call me that!”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” she hastily added. “I only meant that that’s how people think of you so of course, that’s the way the newspapers portray you.” She paused. “Not that I think of you as being a hero,” she said with something less than complete truth, for once. “If you want, I’ll even go around telling people you’re a coward.”
There was a beat of silence, in which she played her words over in her mind and inwardly winced, wondering if she’d misjudged.
But then— “Thanks, Hermione, you’re too kind.”
His voice was dry and she relaxed. He had understood, had taken her words as the jest they had been. After a moment, she rested her head against his shoulder again and knew that the fleeting discordant moment between them had been well and truly forgotten when he rested his cheek against her hair.
She let her eyes close, enjoying the comfort of his solid warmth against her, the ease of it, the safety of it… It was almost… seductive… emotionally seductive, if such a thing could be. After a year and more of worry and fear, safety was the most attractive thing of all.
And her last remembered coherent thought was to wonder how it was that he could be both the object of her fears and the source of the best comfort to her fears.
Hermione drifted awake slowly, conscious of a distinct reluctance to do so. She kept her eyes closed, willing herself to go back to sleep, but finally gave up and opened her eyes.
She was still in Harry’s room, still leaning against him, with his shoulder serving as her pillow. And she had slept—slept peacefully, dreamlessly.
She shifted her head just enough so she could look at him.
He was sleeping too, his head resting against the wall. It did not look like the most comfortable of positions, but she couldn’t bring herself to wake him. Sleep—peaceful sleep—was so precious and she would not disturb him.
Instead, she just watched him sleep, in the steadily-brightening light through the window.
She knew him so well, had spent nearly every day of the past seven years with him. But had she ever really looked at him as she was now? She rather doubted it. During the day, when he was awake, she couldn’t study him like this because he would notice and feel uncomfortable. Now, though, she could just look, her eyes moving over every familiar feature.
His hair was, as always, disheveled and sticking up every which way. In sleep, his forehead was smooth and free of the frown lines she was so used to seeing. It was only now, in seeing him sleeping peacefully, that she realized just how accustomed she had become to seeing the shadows in his expression, just how much on guard Harry always was during the day. Now, in sleep, he looked younger. He still did not look entirely like the 18-year-old boy he was; he had been through too much, endured too much, in the last year, and his experiences had left their marks on his features. The faint lines on his skin, the chiseling of his features, and a few other physical traces of the past few years kept him from looking truly young anymore. But he did look younger.
For a split second, the remembered image of the young boy she had met seven years ago was super-imposed over that of the young man she knew now… And then she blinked and she was looking at Harry again, the familiar face she saw every day.
Her gaze moved, focusing on his scar, the jagged mark just off the center of his forehead, the symbol of his fame and his fate. She knew he disliked it—he still had the habit of trying to flatten his hair so it covered his scar—but she rather liked it. To her, it had come to represent not the darkness and danger which was what she knew it represented to Harry, but all of Harry’s strength, his courage, his loyalty. To her, it represented why she had done all she had in the last couple years, why she had risked her life—why she would still, willingly, give her life.
Her gaze lowered to his lips, relaxed and slightly parted in sleep—and she was surprised by a flash of emotion, of wanting. She wanted—so much her fingers almost itched with it—to trace his lips with her fingers, learn his face with her fingers as well as she already knew it with her eyes. She wanted… to kiss him.
She wanted to kiss Harry. That was a surprise but what truly shocked her—stunned her, really—was how powerful the impulse was, the impulse to touch her lips to his, to wake him with her kiss.
To irrevocably change the most important relationship in her life.
The thought was like a bucket of cold water being dumped on her. Changing—risking—her friendship with Harry on an impulse. No, she couldn’t. It was too much to risk.
And, thankfully, before she could think about it anymore, Harry stirred a little and then his eyes opened as he blinked a couple times before his eyes focused on her.
“Morning,” he mumbled, his voice scratchy from sleep.
“I slept,” he said, a thread of surprise in his tone.
She smiled slightly. “So did I.”
He studied her for a moment. “Why is it that when I’m with you, I can sleep without nightmares?”
She couldn’t read his expression but there was something in it that made her suddenly a little self-conscious. And she reacted automatically, taking refuge in humor. “Ron used to say I’m scary so maybe I scare your nightmares away.”
He didn’t return her smile, only looked at her. “I think you’re right. You scare my nightmares away,” he repeated, and his tone turned it from a feeble joke into something else entirely.
“You scare mine away too so it’s a fair exchange,” she said, trying to sound teasing and only managing to sound a little breathless. It was something about the way he was looking at her, an expression she didn’t think she had ever seen in his eyes when he looked at her.
“Do I really?”
“Yes,” she said simply.
He gave her a slightly tremulous smile. “I’m glad.”
She returned his smile as their eyes met and held and, slowly, their smiles faded. And she felt it again, the flash of attraction, of wanting to touch him.
She blinked and looked away, suddenly almost afraid of Harry’s ability to read her thoughts. What if he saw that she wanted to kiss him? “It’s getting brighter outside,” she observed, stating the obvious in an attempt to distract him—and herself.
“Yeah. Looks like it’ll be another nice day.”
“I should leave, go back to my room before Ron wakes up.”
“You’ve got time,” he returned swiftly. He didn’t tighten his arm around her or react physically, but she was warmed by his words, the implication that he didn’t want her to leave. “Really, without Mrs. Weasley here to knock him up in the morning, Ron might end up sleeping until noon.”
She laughed softly. “That’s true.”
Another brief silence fell, that she broke before it could lengthen.
“What do you want to do today, Harry?”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it.”
“I don’t think I want to go to the beach today,” she volunteered, and was rewarded by his quick glance at her, as he relaxed slightly. He was not ready for the beach yet, was not ready to spend the day in such an open space, surrounded by strangers, and where he would need to leave his wand behind to venture into the water. She knew that and had spoken automatically, letting her own statement serve as the excuse for not going to the beach so he wouldn’t need to admit it. Or rather—since she knew he wouldn’t have admitted it—let her statement serve as the excuse so they wouldn’t spend the day at the beach where Harry would have spent the day unable to relax.
“We saw most of the town yesterday. What else is there to do, since you know this area better than either me or Ron?”
“There are some historical sites nearby. I’ve visited them before when I’ve come here with my parents.”
“And I’m sure you know enough about the history of these sites to give us a history lesson that lasts the entire day,” he said in a mildly teasing voice.
“Well, yes,” she admitted. “But I won’t if you don’t want me to. I know I can be, well, annoying, as Ron would say.”
“I don’t mind it. And you’re not annoying,” he assured her.
She turned to look at him, giving him a half-smile. “You should be careful. You almost sound like you mean it.”
He met her eyes frankly. “I do mean it.” He lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “I think it’s kind of cool that you know so much.” He paused and then looked away, his voice lowering a little. “Besides, it would be ungrateful of me since your knowing so much saved all of us more than once.”
“You don’t have to be grateful!” she burst out.
He glanced at her and she saw his lips open to protest but she rushed on before he could, thinking quickly for something she could say to convince him, or at least distract him from his thoughts. “I had ulterior motives in saving us, you know. I have this problem where I don’t like being in pain or in danger,” she said, with an attempt at a smile. “If I could have just saved myself without saving you, I’m sure I would have.”
He forced a half-smile in response to her lame humor but it was fleeting. “No, you wouldn’t have,” he said, quietly. “I know you, remember?” He paused and then added, giving her a rather odd look, “You’re friendship and bravery too.”
Friendship and bravery.
The phrase stuck in her mind, evoking faint echoes of memory, of having heard those words before.
And then she did remember. Remembered a night of fear and uncertainty and friendship. Remembered impulsive words and an even more impulsive hug.
“Harry! You- you remember that?”
He managed a slightly crooked ghost of a smile. “Did you think I’d forget that night? I have this weird thing where I remember times when people try to kill me.”
Her breath caught in her throat as she stared at him for a moment, too stunned at this rather mordantly humorous reference to the dangers he’d faced to respond to his words. Harry didn’t joke about his experiences. Or at least, he never had before. And the fact that he was doing so now, even if it was clearly forced and almost an echo of her own humor just a moment ago had to be a positive sign.
She forced a smile of her own in response. “I guess I just didn’t expect you to remember what I said. It wasn’t that important.”
He almost jerked, straightening up. “Yes, it was important!” he said forcefully. “What you said—Hermione, that meant a lot right then. That you said I was brave when I was feeling anything but.”
“You were brave. You are brave,” she corrected herself.
He gave her a sideways glance, his lips twisting a little. “How can you say that, knowing that I’m still so scared, I can’t even sleep unless you’re there to keep away the nightmares?”
“Having nightmares doesn’t mean you’re not brave. It means you’re… human. No one could have gone through what you did without having nightmares about it.” She stopped, half-guiltily aware that she was being hypocritical, comforting Harry with words that she could not quite believe herself. Because she hated it too, hated this feeling of weakness, hated that at night, her fears won out over her rational mind.
“I just wish I could get over it. I shouldn’t still be this scared. The War is over; I know it’s over—but I just can’t stop—” he broke off abruptly, as if the words had been choked off by his emotions.
“I know,” she said quietly, filling the sudden silence. “I can’t stop it either and it bothers me too.” She let out a small, unamused laugh. “And I’m supposed to be the clever one, the rational one.”
“You are the clever one. Having nightmares doesn’t change that.” He paused and then added, “No one could have gone through what you did without having nightmares about it.”
She gave him a faint smile as she nudged him with her shoulder. “No fair to use my own words against me.”
“How else am I supposed to win an argument against you?” he retorted, a thread of teasing in his tone.
“I guess we just need to agree not to feel bad because we still have nightmares.”
“Easier said than done.”
“I know it is,” she said resignedly. “We’ll just have to help each other remember not to blame ourselves, won’t we?”
He gave her a slight smile. “You always help me.”
And there was something in his smile, in his eyes, that made her flush, her eyes dropping from his. “It’s full morning now so we may as well start getting ready for the day,” she changed the subject. “There’s a good bakery in town so I’ll run out and get us some breakfast if you’ll knock up Ron.”
“I notice you’re giving me the harder job to do,” he teased. “Wait, you’re going to go out alone?”
“Harry, it’s broad daylight in a predominantly Muggle tourist town. What do you think will happen? Anyway, I’ll have my wand with me.”
“Still. I’ll come with you.”
“Honestly, Harry, it’ll be fine.”
“Humor me,” he said in a tone that said he wasn’t going to yield on this. “Besides,” he added with a change of tone, “if I try to wake Ron up at this hour, he’s more likely to hex me than actually get out of bed.”
“A fair point,” she agreed, giving in. “I’ll meet you downstairs in a little while.”
They exchanged smiles as she left his room to return to her own for the start of the day. She let out her breath slowly, shoring up her courage to get through another day. Another day of just being with her best friends, without worrying about being attacked. The War was over; Harry was safe; everything was fine, she repeated her usual mantra to herself again. And with a few more days—weeks—of fun and of peace, she thought she just might be able to believe it.