[Fanfic] Living Past the End -Chapter 9

Living Past the End

CHAPTER 9

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.

Source: here

hermione_1

Hermione started as the quiet of the night was abruptly shattered as Harry burst out of the cottage.

His eyes immediately found her and she saw the relief flash across his face before his expression clouded again. “What the hell are you doing out here?!   You shouldn’t—” He broke off, his words strangling in his throat as if there was too much to say, all the emotions that wanted expressing at the same time choking him. He was breathing hard—too hard—and she realized that he was trying to calm himself, trying so hard that—her eyes narrowed and her breath caught—his hands were trembling.

She leaped up, her book tumbling forgotten to the ground, as she closed the distance between them in a few long steps, gripping his arms.   “Harry!   It’s okay.   I’m right here.”

He gave a few gasping, shuddering breaths and then she found herself abruptly hauled into his arms.   She couldn’t even characterize it as a hug; there was too much desperation in it and no softness in his grasp. He clutched her the way a drowning man would clutch a life-saver, as if she were the only thing keeping him upright.   Clutched her so tightly she could feel the way his heart was thudding, could feel the slight tremors that shook him.

She couldn’t quite hug him back; his arms had imprisoned hers to her side but she held him as much as she could, gripping his shirt, her face buried in his shoulder.   It was, for the moment, all she could do.   She couldn’t take away his panic entirely but she could lend him her strength when he needed it.   She could let herself be held when he needed to hold on to something.

It was a long few minutes before she felt his trembling ease, felt some of the desperation leave his arms. Slowly, as if he needed to order one muscle at a time to cooperate, he released her, straightening as he stepped back a little.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out. “I just—I was dreaming.   We—were ambushed and we—we got separated and I couldn’t—I couldn’t find you and I didn’t know what had happened to you and—and then I woke up and you—you weren’t in your room and you weren’t in the front room either and I—I didn’t know where you were…”

“I couldn’t sleep and it was starting to feel stuffy inside so I came outside.”

He nodded jerkily.   “You shouldn’t—I don’t like you going outside alone.”

“I have my wand with me.   I can take care of myself.”

“What if you were outnumbered? What if you were surprised and disarmed?   What if—”

His voice rose with every word until she interrupted him. “Harry, stop it!”

He stopped, gulping in a breath, before shutting his eyes, his inner struggle visible as he tried to calm himself.   And it was her turn to hug him, closing the distance between them in one step.

“Okay, Harry.   I’ll be careful and I’ll try not to go anywhere alone,” she agreed.   And it was a little amazing how easy it was to give in and make such a promise.   For his sake, because he needed the reassurance.

He gave a few shuddering breaths, his arms going around her.   “Thank you,” was all he said but it was enough.   She could hear that he understood her concession and that it meant something to him.

“Let’s go back inside,” she suggested.

“Yes, let’s.”

He released her and she quickly retrieved her book before they both walked back to the cottage.

Harry dropped down onto the couch with a sigh, tipping his head back as he shut his eyes.   He looked tired.   That is, he always looked tired these days but he looked more so than usual now.   She could see faint lines of tension bracketing his mouth, his features looking as if they’d been etched in acid. And her heart hurt to see it.

“Why don’t you go back to bed, Harry, try to get some more sleep?” she ventured gently.

His eyes flew open, his head jerking up. “No!”   He paused, swallowed.   “I can’t sleep.   I know I can’t sleep.   Not now.   I’d just dream again.”

“I could stay with you,” she offered without thinking. “If that would help…”

“It probably would but I can’t—you don’t have to—”

“I don’t mind,” she interrupted him.   “Honestly, I don’t.   Anyway, I’d still manage to get some sleep too.” She stood up and reached for his hand, tugging him up with her. “Come on, Harry.”

“Hermione, I…” he began in rather token resistance as he let himself be pulled up the stairs.

“No arguing, Harry. You need to get some rest.”

“Yes, Miss Prefect,” he returned, a faint thread of teasing in his tone, sounding more like himself.

“Very good.   10 points to Gryffindor,” she said lightly.

“Only 10? I think I deserve more points than that for being forced to risk having more nightmares.”   He tried to make light of it but failed and she inwardly winced a little.

She retained her grip on his hand until they were inside his room.   “Get into bed, Harry.   I’ll stay right here,” she promised.

He made a slightly wry face before he complied, sliding under the covers of his bed.   She waited until he was lying down before settling on the window seat. “Try to get some sleep, Harry.”

He pushed himself up until he was sitting up straight. “Wait. You’re going to spend the night there?”

“I said I’d stay with you, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but…” he broke off, hesitated, and then after a moment, pushed aside the covers of his bed. “Here.   You can stay here.”

She stared, feeling herself flush with embarrassment and something else.   “Harry, that’s your bed,” was all she said inanely.

His lips twitched a little at that. “I can’t make you spend the night on the window seat while I get the bed.   Besides, we’ve slept in the same tent.   Just think of it as a smaller version of a tent.   It’s not like there isn’t enough room.”

“But…”

“If you’re spending the night on the window seat, then so will I.”

He meant it too.   She could hear it in his voice, see it in his expression, even though the way he kept his eyes focused slightly off her face told her that he felt something of the same awkwardness she did.

“All right,” she gave in, moving to sit on the bed.   She couldn’t make him spend the night sitting up.   Not when he looked as tired as he did.   Not when she knew how little sleep he tended to get. “Anyway, I’m like your sister so it shouldn’t mean anything.” She inwardly winced.Even to her own ears, she sounded more like she was trying to convince herself rather than saying something she actually believed.

His eyes focused on her for a moment, studying her, before he said, “You’re not my sister.”

It was, she told herself, just a statement of the literal truth.   He didn’t necessarily mean anything more by it.   And she shouldn’t convince herself that he did; it would only make sharing a bed more awkward than it already was.

He scooted over and she settled into the bed, moving a little gingerly, carefully.   The bed was wide enough that they could both lie on their backs with a few inches separating their shoulders.

“More comfortable than the window seat, right?”

She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Yeah, it is.” She paused and then asked, more quietly, “Do you think you’ll be able to sleep?”

He sighed. “I don’t know.   I’m just… afraid to go to sleep,” he admitted, so softly she could barely hear him.

“I know and it’s okay.   Just try… and if you do have nightmares, I’ll be right here.”

She heard him let out a soft breath. “Thanks, Hermione.”

A silence fell as she lay there, listening to the sound of him breathing and trying not to be so conscious of his closeness. In spite of the space between them, she swore she could somehow sense the warmth of his body and she could definitely feel every shift or restless movement he made.   It felt… odd… sharing a bed with someone.   She hadn’t shared a bed with anyone in years, not since she’d been very young and allowed to sleep in her parents’ bed as a special treat. Of course it was different and novel to share a bed but it wasn’t a bad thing either.   For a few minutes, she closed her eyes and let herself pretend that she was in Harry’s bed not just for comfort or to protect him from nightmares but because he wanted her…

“Hermione?” He broke the silence after a little while.

“Hmm?”

“Did you want to sleep or do you mind if we talk?”

“Of course we can talk.”

He was silent for a moment and then said, “Your parents were really nice to me today.”

Surprise startled a brief laugh out of her. “What were you expecting? You’re my friend so of course, they’d be nice to you.”

She felt him move his shoulders in a shrug. “Well, since I’ve spent most of the last few years getting you into danger, it’s not like your parents have much reason to like me.”

“Harry…”

“I know, I know.   Damon and Pythias.”

She smiled slightly. “If you know, then you should also understand that my parents wouldn’t blame you either.   They don’t blame you.   Besides, my parents know me and I think they understand that you couldn’t have done anything to stop me from staying with you, no matter what the risk.”

“Still. Even if they don’t blame me, they don’t know me so I didn’t really expect them to be nice to me.”

Understanding suddenly broke over her, like lightning illuminating the darkness.   Harry never really expected kindness.   He never expected to be treated well, not even as a result of common courtesy or basic decency. She remembered with a pang his surprise whenever he received any gifts. Even now, he never really expected gifts for Christmas or his birthday.   And after all, why would he, after the way his own relatives had treated him? She felt the surge of protective anger she always felt when she thought about Harry’s relatives but all she said was, “They know more about you than you think, Harry.   Do you really think I’ve never talked about you and Ron with my parents?”

“You and your parents are close, aren’t you?”

“We used to be.”

She felt him turn his head to stare at her. “What do you mean, you used to be? Aren’t you still?”

She suppressed a grimace. She hadn’t meant to say that. With anyone else, she probably wouldn’t have, would just have answered, yes, simply, and been done with it, but with Harry, the habit of candor was ingrained. She trusted him enough that she hardly ever thought to edit her words.

“I’m not sure,” she finally admitted, trying to put into words what had only been a vague feeling, never really expressed and one she’d generally tried to avoid thinking about. “I just… feel like I’ve grown apart from them lately.   I love them, of course, but I just… they’re Muggles and—and I don’t really know how to tell them—or if I even really want them to know—just how dangerous things really were for us or… or anything.   And after this last year… I just feel like it’s gotten worse and I think they sense it too because I feel like they’ve been treating me a little differently.”

He was silent for a while and she was suddenly a little abashed at how much she’d told him, how involved her explanation had been. But then he asked, rather diffidently, “You said your parents weren’t angry with you. How have they been treating you differently?   They didn’t—I didn’t notice anything today but I don’t really know your parents.” He paused and then added, “Your dad said he’d always known that you had the makings of a heroine in you.”

“My dad said that to you? When?”

“It was when you were in the kitchen helping your Mum clean up after lunch. Ron had gone to the loo so your dad and I were left alone.”

“Oh. He really said that to you?”

“Yeah.   He said… he thanked me for being such a good friend to you.”

“What did you say to that?”

“I said that it wasn’t up to me but that you just wouldn’t leave me and Ron alone almost from the moment we met.”

She laughed a little, elbowing him.   “Honestly, Harry!   What did you really say?”

She sensed his abrupt return to seriousness, heard it in his quiet tone. “I told him that you saved my life.”

“Oh. You didn’t have to tell my dad that.”

“What else could I have told him?” he asked. “It’s the truth.”

“I didn’t—that’s not really—”

“You did,” he interrupted her flatly. “You saved me.” He paused and then added, a thread of teasing entering his tone, “I was there, remember?I think I would know.”

“I couldn’t have done anything else.”

She felt him turn his head to look at her.   “Yes, you could have.   You didn’t have to stay, didn’t have to help me the way you did.   You could have been safe, or at least safer.   You could have stayed behind the way Ginny—” he broke off abruptly almost before he’d finished saying her name.

She sensed his sudden dismay, his swift flare of guilt at what he’d just blurted out. She knew he hadn’t meant to say that, knew it hadn’t even occurred to him to think of it that way until now.   He didn’t blame Ginny, had never blamed Ginny.   Any more than he would have blamed her if she had, as he’d said, stayed behind.

Except she could never have done it.   It had never even occurred to her as a choice or a conscious decision on her part to stay with him.

“That was never an option for me,” she said quietly. “Anyway, the Death Eaters knew who I was, knew I was Muggle-born and your friend.   I wouldn’t have been that safe.”

“Still. You didn’t have to be in the front lines but you stayed and you saved me.   I just thought…” she felt him shrug. “I thought your parents should know that.”

“Thanks.”

He was silent for a moment and then he asked, a little uncertainly, “You really think your parents are upset with you, treating you differently?”

She sighed, swallowing back a sudden tightness in her throat, the sudden prickling of her eyes. She wouldn’t cry. She wasn’t going to cry; she hardly ever cried and she wasn’t about to now.   “I don’t know but it feels… different… They just seem a little… distant to me.”

“You think it’s because of this last year?”

“What else could it be?   It’s only started since— since I brought them home again.”

“I can’t believe that.   I just… I don’t think your parents are upset with you.”

“What would you know about it?” she retorted in a sudden flare of irritation at his persistent doubt of what she said.   She hadn’t asked him—how would he know her parents better than she did!

He didn’t move, didn’t say anything, didn’t respond in any way.

But she had the sudden sense that the temperature in the room had gotten colder—and belatedly realized how her words had sounded, how he must have understood them.

She turned onto her side to face him, forgetting entirely any self-consciousness at how close they now were in her remorse.   She had hurt him—how could she have hurt him like that!   And about one of the very few subjects that they never really spoke of.   She knew what his parents—the loss of his parents—meant to him, knew that even with her, he hardly ever mentioned his parents.   As much as he trusted her, as much as he confided in her—and she knew he did—the loss of his parents remained a sort of No-man’s-land, a subject even she rarely ventured near.“Oh Harry, I’m sorry!   I didn’t mean it like that!   I wasn’t thinking about your parents at all. I just meant that I know my parents better than you do.   That was all I meant but I shouldn’t have said it.   I’m sorry.”

For a moment that seemed to stretch on forever, he didn’t respond and she reached out a tentative hand to touch his arm.   “I really am sorry, Harry.   I—I’d never want to hurt you, you know.”

He sighed and after a moment, reached up with his hand to grip hers briefly.   “I know.   It’s okay.”

“I still shouldn’t have said it.   I think I just… whenever I think about this last year, it upsets me. And the whole thing with my parents—it’s just hard…”

He was silent for a long minute and then he finally responded, his voice quiet, thoughtful, as if he were measuring each word before he spoke it. “You’re right that I don’t know your parents that well and you know them better but I don’t think your parents blame you in any way. Your dad said he knew you’d be a great heroine.   I thought… I thought he sounded proud of you.”

“You—you really think he sounded proud?”

“Yeah. And why wouldn’t he be proud of you?”

“Oh Harry, that’s sweet but after what I did to my parents…”

He shifted, turning to face her.   “What you did to your parents.   Hermione, you make it sound like you hexed them and then dumped their bodies in the Thames for the sake of a couple Galleons. What you did, you were trying to keep your parents safe.”

“Harry, I tampered with my parents’ memories.   I—”

“I know what you did.   I’m just saying, you did it to keep them safe.”

“I practically stole their lives from them, Harry!”

“They have their lives back now and who knows what might have happened to them if you hadn’t done what you did to protect them?”

“You don’t know that. Nobody knows what really would have happened.”

“Is that really a chance you wanted to take?   It was your parents’ lives we’re talking about.   I don’t think—that’s not a risk worth taking.”

She sniffed, her throat feeling tight, her eyes stinging. “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“That’s not true. I mean, I do want you to feel better, but I wouldn’t lie to you.”   He paused and then said, quietly, “I watched your parents and listened to them when they talked to you today. They may not like what you did but I think they understand why you felt you needed to do it.   They’ve forgiven you, Hermione. I think—I think it’s time you forgave yourself.”

She sucked in a sharp breath.   Forgive herself.   Was that really it?   She wanted to argue, to deny it, insist that she knew her parents better than he did—and yet…

She couldn’t dismiss his words so easily.   She knew she hadn’t forgiven herself; she knew, much as she had avoided putting it into words, that her own guilt was why she hadn’t spent much time with her parents since bringing them home again.

And she trusted Harry.   She trusted his opinion and she could believe that he might see her relationship with her parents more clearly than she could right now.   She… cared too much, felt too much, worried too much that she really might have ruined her relationship with her parents.

She let out a shuddering breath.   “Maybe you’re right, Harry.”

She had been telling herself that her parents had been acting awkwardly, that there was a new distance between them—but maybe that distance had been put there by her, that her parents’ awkwardness had been, if not outright invented by her, but magnified by her own guilt.

She tried for a small laugh that came out sounding rather more like a sob. “When did you get to be so clever, Harry?”

“I’m not,” he denied immediately.   “But I do know you.   Besides,” he added with a touch of forced wry humor in his tone, “if there’s anything I know about, it’s feeling guilty.”

“Oh, Harry!” She flung an arm across him in an impulsive hug, her face ending up pressed against his shoulder.

He lifted his hand to pat her arm a couple times before simply resting his hand on her arm in a gesture that somehow seemed like returning her hug.

“Hermione,” he sighed after a moment, “you shouldn’t feel guilty about what you did. I know… on paper, in black and white, what you did sounds wrong but if we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that we don’t live in a black and white world. You kept your parents safe. That’s… that’s not something to feel guilty over.”

“Thanks, Harry,” she said softly, her voice slightly muffled against his shoulder. “You’re… really sweet, you know that?”

He shifted a little and she sensed his sudden unease. “I’m really not,” he denied quickly. “It’s not about that.   It’s just…” he paused, hesitated, and then finally went on, so quietly she could barely hear him, even from as close to him as she was.   “I know what it’s like to feel guilty, to feel… haunted by the past, by things you’ve done or should have done… And I just… I don’t want you to feel that.   You shouldn’t feel like that.   You shouldn’t ever feel like that.”   He broke off abruptly while she belatedly realized that she’d forgotten to breathe while he’d been speaking and took a breath.   She couldn’t remember ever hearing him say such a thing, couldn’t remember hearing him speak with such suppressed intensity.

“Oh, Harry…” she finally breathed, not sure what else she could say, how else she could respond.

“You kept your parents safe, Hermione; you did what you thought was right.   You always do.”   He paused and then added, deliberately injecting a teasing note to his voice, “It’s an annoying habit of yours too.”

She choked on a half-laugh and briefly tightened her arm around him before she released him, rolling back over to lie on her back. “Thanks.”

“I meant it,” he said quietly. “You did the right thing, Hermione. Vol—” he briefly faltered but then continued on, forcibly pushing the name out, “Voldemort wouldn’t have left your parents alone and you couldn’t have kept them safe all the time.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself,” she admitted.

She sensed his faint smile. “You should listen to yourself since you know you’re always right.”

“I try but it’s not that easy, is it?”

He sighed. “No, it’s not.”

She echoed his sigh and after a moment, dared to shift closer to him so she could rest her head against his shoulder. “Thanks, Harry.   I do feel better.”

“I’m glad,” he murmured quietly.

She said nothing more and a comfortable silence settled over them.   And it was comfortable. She might have expected to feel more self-conscious to be literally sharing a bed with Harry but over the course of talking to him, that had slowly faded away for the most part.Whatever else, he was still Harry and somehow, for whatever reason, she was almost always comfortable with him.   She couldn’t think of anyone else in the world with whom she was so at ease. It was no wonder that she loved him.

Her thoughts abruptly broke off, retreating and then tentatively moving forward again.   She loved him.   It wasn’t a surprise, exactly.   She had known, been aware of, this change, this deepening in her feelings for Harry for days, even weeks now. And yet, for all that, it was a little surprising.   She had always avoided putting her feelings into so many words, skirted around an explicit admission.   And now it had just slipped out.

She loved him.   And he… well, she didn’t know what he felt for her exactly, didn’t know if he could care for her as anything more than his best friend.   She could only hope…

She thought about their conversation, what he’d said and how he’d said it, and felt a bubble of warmth fill her chest.   Maybe he didn’t love her quite as she loved him but she was his best friend and that meant a lot.   She knew Harry, knew how guarded he could be, how chary he was with his trust and his confidences.   But not with her.

And she loved that.   She loved knowing he confided in her, loved the way he tried so hard to comfort her, loved that he was willing to force himself to talk about things he would rather not talk about in order to comfort her.

Maybe he didn’t love her the way she loved him but he cared about her, cared about her and trusted her in a way he cared about and trusted no one else, she knew, and for now, that really was enough.   She let her eyes drift closed as she listened to the steady sound of his breathing, letting it lull her into sleep.

It started with fear, the sudden dread that pierced her heart, when she realized she couldn’t see Harry or Ron.   They had been right there but she’d paused to admire the view and when she looked back, they were gone.   She hurried on, dodging the crowds of people, looking for the familiar messy black hair or red head looming over most others in the crowd.

And then she heard the first scream.

Heard the first scream and rushed forward, her heart suddenly in her throat as the crowd seemed to dissipate before her until she could see—   And it was her turn to scream.

“Hermione.”

She jerked awake, disoriented and panicked, her breath coming fast, and it took a moment for her mind to register where she was and that the voice she’d heard had been Harry’s. Harry, who was leaning over her, his face a pale blur in the darkness of the room.

A shuddering breath escaped her on something halfway between a gasp and a sob. “Harry.” In an abrupt movement, she dove towards him in an awkward hug that knocked him onto his back, her face ending up buried in his shoulder.

“It’s okay, Hermione,” she vaguely heard him murmur. “I’m fine.”

She became aware of the solid warmth of his against her, the reassuring pressure of one arm around her back, holding her. He was there, he was alive, he was safe.

And suddenly she was crying, harsh, jagged sobs being wrenched from her chest as she clutched him tighter. He was safe, he was safe, he was safe…

Like a summer thunderstorm, the bout of sobbing was intense but passed quickly, leaving her feeling drained from the sudden surge of emotions.   After her sobs had slowed and then ceased, she stayed where she was, resting against him, quiescent now.

“Hey,” she heard him ask softly after a long few minutes, “are you all right?”

She let out an uneven sigh. “Yeah, I’m okay.” After a few moments, she added, “Sorry for breaking down like that.”

“You don’t need to apologize for that.”   He hesitated and then asked, “Was it a bad nightmare?”

“No, at least no worse than usual.   I just… I’ve been so afraid and I’m so… glad that you’re okay but I just can’t—”

“You can’t stop feeling afraid,” he finished for her quietly. “I know.   I can’t either.”

“I keep telling myself and telling myself that I’ll stop feeling afraid and stop having nightmares so often.   I know it’s not rational and… and I know we’re all safe now… but I can’t stop it.” She gave a small little laugh that ended on something more like a sob. “I guess I’m not as rational as I always thought.”

“You are rational,” he told her, his arms tightening around her a little. “You are but your dreams aren’t. Even—even before the nightmares, dreams never made sense.   That doesn’t mean you’re not rational.   You are. You’ll always be my rational, sensible Hermione.”

She sniffed a little even as she smiled, her heart warming at how he had called her “his,” an accidental, thoughtless endearment as it was.   She doubted he had even noticed it.

“Besides,” he added with an attempt at lightness, “you have to be the sensible one. Ron and I are the impulsive, thoughtless ones, remember?We need you to be sensible so we don’t go off and do stupid things.”

She managed a small laugh, a little shaky but a real laugh all the same. “It’s good to know why you keep me around.”

“We keep you around for more than that.”

She was silent for a moment before she shifted into a more comfortable position, moving so she was lying beside him. “Did I wake you up?”

“No. I wasn’t sleeping,” he answered and there was something bleak in his voice.

“Oh, Harry, I’m sorry,” was all she could think to say, rather inadequately.

“It’s okay. It’s not your fault.”

She sensed him hesitate and then he asked, very quietly, “What happens in your nightmares?”

She paused and then answered evasively, “I told you already; my nightmares are about you.”

“I know, but I meant… what actually happens, what frightens you so much about them?” He hesitated and then added, hurriedly, “If you want to tell me. You don’t have to. I just… wondered…”

She sighed. She understood what he was asking but actually talking about her nightmares, putting her fears into words… “No, I know what you meant. I just… it’s not easy to talk about.” “I know. Sorry, you don’t have to tell me.”

She was silent for a moment and then—“Do you remember Mrs. Weasley’s boggart?”

“Yeah, I remember,” he said, the words sounding rather forced.

“That’s basically what I see… My nightmares are the same as my boggart,” she added, somehow finding it… easier… to talk about in terms of a boggart than as the nightmare vision that haunted her dreams.

“Your boggart… it’s different now than what it used to be.” He paused. “I guess all of our boggarts would be.”

“No, it’s not,” she corrected automatically, unthinkingly. “My boggart’s always been the same.”

She sensed him frown and then he turned his head to stare at her. “What?   That can’t be right.”

It was her turn to be confused. “Why not?”

“You said… your boggart used to be Professor McGonagall telling you you’d failed all your exams.”

She blinked, frowned, and then remembered.   She had said that.   She’d forgotten. “Oh right.   I forgot I said that.   I… honestly, Harry, I—uh—lied about what my boggart was that time.”

“You lied?” he repeated as if the concept were utterly foreign to him. “But you don’t lie.”

“I try not to but I did that time. I—I didn’t want to tell you and Ron about it then.”

“What was your boggart then, really?”

“The same as Mrs. Weasley’s. That’s what scared me so much.   It’s what still scares me.”

“Even back then in Third Year?   I wasn’t… nothing really dangerous happened to us that year.”

“No, I guess not, but I didn’t know that then.   We all thought you were in danger because of—” she broke off abruptly and then finished, more quietly, “Sirius.   Remember?”

“Yeah, I remember,” he said, so softly the words were barely audible.

She inwardly winced. Any mention of Sirius and Remus still hurt him.   She could hear it in his voice, the thread of poignant grief that always laced his voice whenever either of them was mentioned.

“I worried about you so much that year,” she found herself admitting. “We didn’t know how he’d escaped Azkaban and I read so much about how it was impregnable and no one had ever escaped from it and then, to think that the one person who somehow managed it was also a threat to you… I think, by the time we actually met him, I was half-convinced he was some sort of super-wizard, more powerful and more cunning than anyone we’d ever heard of.”

“You never told me that.”

She shrugged one shoulder. “What would have been the point?   Anyway, it was silly of me.   When I think of all the time I wasted that year because I was worried—I don’t know what I was thinking to think using a Time-Turner that year was also a good idea.”

“You may have been wrong about Sirius but it wasn’t silly of you. I—that was really—it means a lot that you worried about me so much.   You—you shouldn’t be sorry about that. I—it means a lot,” he repeated.

“I’m glad.”

He was silent for a long moment and then blurted out, “I never had anyone to worry about me before Hogwarts, you know. Whenever I could get away, I used to stay outside until nighttime, just wandering around the neighborhood, because I knew the Dursleys didn’t care what I did or where I was. I… I used to see other kids getting called inside once it started getting dark or being scolded for going too far and it seemed so… nice… to have someone that cared enough to worry.”

“Oh, Harry, I’m so—”

“It’s okay,” he interrupted her. “It really doesn’t bother me that much anymore.   I just—I thought—not that I like you being worried but it—it just means a lot to me to know that you worried so much, even back then before—before everything really started.”

“You’re my best friend. Of course I’d worry about you—and Ron,” she added as an almost imperceptible afterthought.

“Thanks for that.”

“Always,” she promised.

“Always,” he repeated.

And then neither of them said anything more, just waited out the rest of the night until morning arrived, but somehow, that was all they needed.

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