Magic Never Dies ~ Chapter 3
current mood: tired
current song: "The River" - Dan Fogleberg
Title: Magic Never Dies
Word Count: 3,204
Rating: R (future chapters)
Summary: This Fic won Portkeys' Felix Felicis Fiction Competition and garnered over 2,500 positive reviews. This is a completed alternative version of Book 7 for the Determinedly Delusional H/Hr shipper.
Action/Adventure/Romance/Humor - a bit of everything.
Hermione had thought she knew what it was like to live with Ron and Harry. She’d known them both since they were eleven, she’d spent the last six years in boarding school with them, eating meals, studying, taking classes. Yet somehow, nothing in all their years together at Hogwarts had prepared her for this.
Perhaps it was sharing the bathroom? But no, it couldn’t be that, not entirely, that was a casual irritant, nothing more. It must be something else, something more far-reaching and, well, important.
Because all of a sudden, Hermione had found that she couldn’t quite keep her eyes off of Harry, and Ron was seriously starting to drive her insane.
It wasn’t Ron’s fault, exactly. Hermione realized that if their relationship were still on the same footing it had been until a brief while ago, they’d’ve been fine. She still liked Ron. In fact, she still loved Ron. Just clearly not… that way. Because all of a sudden all of her 'that way' was way too preoccupied with Harry.
And how, exactly, did that happen? The best explanation that Hermione’s anxious brain could provide was the transition from the structured environs of the school to the entirely unstructured atmosphere of Grimmauld Place. Suddenly everywhere she turned there was the sight of sweaty Harry in trainers and soaked workout clothes dueling with Ron in the sweltering attics; half-clothed Harry emerging still damp and freshly clean from the shared bathroom after a shower; intent Harry, sitting cross legged with a map on the floor of the drawing room looking for some of the places Dumbledore had taken him in their pensieve travels.
Patient Harry, not in the least put out by Crookshanks plopping down on the map to get his tummy scratched.
Indignant Harry, reading the Daily Prophet and snorting to himself.
Sleepy Harry, fingers wrapped around his coffee in the morning, green eyes still drowsy and far away.
They were all Harrys she already knew fairly well (except perhaps the shower one, with whom she had particularly enjoyed becoming acquainted) yet she seemed to be seeing them in an entirely new light.
And she was desperately afraid that she loved them all.
Not could love, not might love. Not falling in love. Did love. Done deal. Maybe always had, from the force of their intrusion on her awareness. Because what had surprised her most about living at Grimmauld Place wasn’t just the sudden influx of physical Harry moments, it was the deeply comforting sense simply that he was there, even out of sight. And the way he would glance up upon her arrival in a room with that look that told her that he welcomed her presence as well, aware she was there no matter how quietly she crept in.
And that, perhaps was the heart of it all. There had always been, before she even knew of Trelawney’s stupid prophecy, the desperate knowledge that one day Harry might very well be... not there. Gone. It defied logic when she considered that they had remained best of friends and always faced whatever came together, but Ron seemed safe somehow, while Harry… well, Harry had a target indelibly scarred on his forehead. It had never stopped her from worrying about him when they were eleven and twelve. From hugging him, grabbing him, thrusting him behind her when she thought that Lupin and Sirius still meant to kill him when they were thirteen. But as they had grown older still and she had begun to be aware of it she realized she had distinctly different relationships with Ron and Harry. The connection with Harry had completely by-passed the teasing, shy, does-he-does-she phase that she had engaged in with Ron, and Viktor Krum. If she was kind to herself she would say it was as if there wasn’t time to waste, but if she was honest she would have to say that she had removed Harry from the range of ‘boys’ and into a little subsection of her mind designated only ‘Harry.’ She had continued to worry about him, continued to consider him one of her best friends. But love him? He was Harry.
As if the very idea was mutually exclusive! She wondered now exactly when her subconscious had steered her toward Ron. Or was it the other way round? Surely her logical, conscious mind had been the one to choose Ron, while her involuntary heart was drawn to Harry? Either way, it hadn’t taken long since moving in to Grimmauld Place to see the glaring flaw in her plan.
Actually, the worst of it seemed to date back to that first morning before they’d found the horcrux, when he’d been dreaming and she woke him. She hadn’t thought twice about apparating into his bedroom then. Honestly, it was just Harry. But for some reason that particular morning, one look at him struggling despondently against the forces of his dream had jarred something loose deep inside her. She’d made light of it, waking him, and he had seemed relieved, responding in kind. Typical Harry, typical Hermione.
But she’d come to the realization, as she’d waited for him down in the kitchen sipping her tea, that she didn’t want to play that game anymore.
If he was going to die, ignoring the fact that she loved him wasn’t exactly going to make it any easier to take, was it?
Thankfully the relationship with Ron had not progressed much beyond their agreed upon acceptance of it and a couple of prolonged snogs that Hermione had found enlightening but sort of… flat. She had actually discovered herself once thinking ‘Is that really it? What Lavender and Parvati go on and on about? I get more of a buzz off just hugging Har...’
Should have been a dead give away, that.
Ron was… Ron. Maddening, endearing, brave, stalwart, goofy. He made her laugh, almost to the point of tears on occasion, and she felt carefree and glad to be young and alive and living on her own terms for once. Other times he skipped the laughs and she went straight to the tears. It drove her crazy how even now he relied on her for factual aid (‘Herms, what was the spell that turns all your dirty socks right way out again?’) only to moments later decry the source of her knowledge (‘ Dark Choices in the Dark Arts? Nice light reading, Hermione. Forget that and come play Snap with us.’) Sometimes she felt like she was speaking a foreign language to him and he was placating her, nodding just to keep the peace. She utterly loathed that.
And then there was Harry and Ron together. Something else that she had taken completely for granted at Hogwarts that had also caught her by surprise here. Perhaps because it was just the three of them; no teachers, no other students to diffuse her perception, it came to her how very much she loved their brotherly ease with each other. The give and take, the generally quick forgiveness and deliberate overlooking of established faults between them made her feel somehow… safe. Harry was clearly grateful for Ron’s easy acceptance of him as just plain Harry and Ron seemed to enjoy the adventure intrinsic in being Harry’s friend. They understood each other on a level she would never be entirely privy to, but she was still happy to share in it, dreaded doing anything that might damage their friendship.
So she loved them both. How had the balance between them all gone so profoundly awry?
‘Because you tried to be safe,’ her conscience whispered. ‘You tried to protect your heart. And it doesn’t want to be protected from Harry anymore.’
Of course, that would mean telling them both. And she was still trying to come up with the right words for that.
They’d slipped fairly easily into a comfortable routine on moving in to Grimmauld Place.
Harry tended to be the first up in the morning and last to bed at night. He made breakfast, fed Crookshanks, and poked through the Daily Prophet to see what news there might be of Voldemort’s activities, in which there had been a most surprising lull. He then disappeared for the better part of the day, visiting as many of Dumbledore’s old friends and colleagues as he could find to see what they might be able to tell him of the fate of the Hufflepuff cup, or any previously unknown item belonging to Rowena Ravenclaw or Godric Gryffindor. Hermione knew that the visits tended to be painful for Harry, as Dumbledore’s acquaintances fondly recalled his greatness as a wizard and gentle barmyness as a friend. He often came home and shut himself in his room for hours. Other times he was simply spoiling for a fight and Ron would take him to the attics to duel it out of him.
Ron, now that he had his own room, slept in and usually appeared mid-morning. He would consume whatever Harry had left him, then make an enormous lunch and take his turn with the Prophet. After his meal he took off to spend time in Fred and George’s shop and around Diagon Alley, keeping his ear to the ground and protecting his cover from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, who so far thought he was simply keeping Harry company while working a summer job for the twins. It turned out that Ron would be a surprisingly excellent spy; he could be disarmingly easy to talk to. Anyone and everyone brave or stupid enough to provide a snippet of useful information found their way to the WWW shop and Ron. Most of them seemed anxious for Harry to prove himself against Voldemort and had the most outlandish ideas of what he ought to do to defeat the Dark Lord. The three of them had spent some very amusing evening meals hashing over the more absurd ones.
Hermione found that her own days were surprisingly full. She ate breakfast with Harry, but made it a point to remain low key and allow him to ease into the demands of the day after nights that were clearly etching themselves in his tired face. They were quiet, companionable meals, times with him that she deeply treasured. She spent the rest of her morning hours researching anything she could find about horcruxes and the magic required both to create and destroy them. It was a slow job, her knowledge ultimately gained from tiny snippets or mentions from a wide variety of sources. It turned out to be a very good thing that Sirius’ family had been some pretty dark-minded witches and wizards; the library at Grimmauld Place actually outdid Hogwarts in the Dark Magic department. She learned the most important fact from the sheer lack of information available, however; they were dealing with the very depths of evil. Voldemort had sunk desperately low in his search for immortality.
Her afternoons varied. She occasionally visited Diagon Alley with Ron, although she tended to wander fairly quickly from the raucous, good-natured noise of the twins’ shop toward the more soothing environs of Flourish and Blotts and her favorite used book store, The Twice-Told Tale. She made other forays as well, experimenting with disguises, to some of the most disreputable shops in Knockturn Alley. She knew that Harry didn’t like it, but she was proud of the way he bit back his anxiety and displeasure and said nothing when she related what she’d learned. A year ago he couldn’t have done that; he was growing to respect her and she found herself feeling both elated and newly powerful.
The same had been true of jinxing the money he’d duly sent off to the Dursleys. He’d taken her with him to the vault, and she had almost fallen over when she’d see the contents of it. The portion that seemed quite a small fortune when converted into Muggle currency barely made a dent in what Lily and James had left their son. “It’s left to you and Ron if I go,” he told her. “Just so you know. Do what you want with it, anything. You can start your own old house elves home if you like. Just be happy. Don’t let it get in the way of anything.” He hadn’t second guessed her or resisted in any way when she’d cast the spell on the Dursley’s portion, just let her get on with it with a trusting smile. She’d worked out an unending curse that provided for any domicile ever purchased with the proceeds to be eternally infested with vermin for as long as there were Dursleys there to infest. A quick infertility hex should Dudders’ fingers touch the money for his own purposes ensured that that day would come sooner rather than later. Her final touch was a nod to Hagrid – each year on Harry’s birthday all three would sprout pig’s tails for the day. She was quite sure the final effect would guarantee that house-proud Petunia lived a… busy life, and thought often of Harry and her sister Lily.
Evenings they mostly spent together in the kitchen or drawing room of Grimmauld Place, catching each other up. Hermione had enchanted the old Black family tree tapestry into a sort of bulletin board for the various diverse bits of information they felt might help them; fact and rumor and memory mingled on small pieces of parchment coded in different colored inks and stuck up with a sticking charm. She was constantly rearranging them like the pieces of a puzzle, hoping to find an illuminating pattern.
Ron occasionally went out to parties at the flat above Fred and George’s shop, but Harry was never in the mood and Hermione used her research as an excuse to stay in as well. For the most part, however, the dark and gloomy drawing room took on the familiarity of the Gryffindor Common room for all three, and they were well content with each other’s company despite the shadow looming over them.
“No bleeding Colin Creevey and his camera,” Harry noted happily. “Almost makes the sheer dismalness of it all worthwhile.”
They had ideas, starts, leads. What they didn’t have was another horcrux, or a method to ensure destroying the first one. And Voldemort’s silence was beginning to become… deafening.
It turned out that Hogwarts was indeed to open in the fall, and Harry, Ron and Hermione all received their owls notifying them of enhanced security precautions and requesting they select their courses.
“What do we do now?” Ron asked, and Hermione could hear the traces of regret in his voice. She didn’t blame him a bit then; even Harry appeared to be slightly white-faced, as if he felt ill. She found out why, of course, when he passed her hers. There was a familiar bump in the parchment and they both knew very well what it was.
“You can still go,” he said softly. “Hermione, you worked so hard…”
And that was when she knew for sure. Because she understood now what all that work had been for, and it wasn’t a stupid little Head Girl badge. What was being Head Girl compared to the chance to help your best friend cheat fate and destroy a merciless tyrant? And perhaps make sure he came back home alive in the bargain? She’d come down hard on Harry lately about what she believed to be his fatalism; but when it came to this choice she knew she had somehow traveled a little further down that particular road herself. She didn’t want to die; she didn’t want any of them to. But she didn’t want to live a lie, either, and going back to the safe and familiar path of returning to Hogwarts and pretending nothing was wrong would forever diminish the sacrifices of truly great wizards and witches, like Sirius and Dumbledore and Madam Bones. And Lily and James Potter.
“Now we see what we’re really made of,” she said firmly. “Now we write McGonagall. They’ve been deliberately ignoring us, you know. You know as well as I do that disbanded or not the Order’s been keeping its eye on us all summer. The moment Hogwarts gets these letters is when all the rules of the game change. Voldemort’s not made any big attempt to find Harry that we know of, probably because Snape told him about the protection of living with the Dursley’s. When we don’t show at Hogwarts September first they’ll all be after us.”
She rose from the kitchen table and gathered parchment and quills, passing them round. “It’s not going to get any easier.”
True to form Ron finished first. He passed it to her without thinking, as though turning in an exam.
Dear Professor McGonagall,
Thank you for your letter and the book list, but I have decided not to come back to Hogwarts this year on account of having to help Harry kill You-Know-Who.
Short and sweet. Just like Ron. Except, of course, the short part.
Harry seemed to struggle with his for a bit then finally make up his mind and finish quickly. He followed Ron’s example, passing his letter to her for approval.
Dear Professor McGonagall,
Thank you for your letter regarding my return to Hogwarts this year. I was glad to hear that the school will be re-opening despite all that happened last term. I think Professor Dumbledore would be pleased. I hope your first year as Head Mistress is a good (and relatively peaceful) one.
I am sorry that I will be unable to attend this year. I am sure you understand when I say there is something else I feel strongly about finishing first.
Thank you for all that you taught me over the past six years, and especially for the chance to be Quidditch Captain last year. I will never forget any of it.
Hermione was quite glad she would never have to see Minerva McGonagall read that letter.
Her own missive to her most favorite Professor required a record seventeen pages. Harry and Ron were both long gone by the time she finished it. She wished that she could explain fully about what they had found and were doing, but knew she could not by owl post. Harry wanted them to wait to tell anyone, hopeful each day that they would hear that a new leader had been chosen amongst the Order and that it would be someone they believed in and could trust, someone who would encourage them to join or work with the Order rather than trying to force them back to school.
So far there had been no word at all, a silence almost as disturbing as Voldemort’s. She grimly hoped the two were unconnected.