Chapter 15 : I'm Ready
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I was trying to get this finished in time for Nina's birthday, but alas I could not. So it's a little belated but.... happy birthday muffin. This one's for you!
Chapter 15- I'm Ready
The atmosphere at Hogwarts over the next few days was buzzing despite the depletion of students. Everywhere there were hushed conversations surrounding the only topic on the students’ lips ‘being taught defence by people who’d been out there doing it.’ Walking down the corridors Harry caught nothing but snippets of “Did you see that eye, he can see right through walls!”
Harry had to admit that it was exciting, he took his new timetable so eagerly from McGonnagal on the morning after the speech that he earned himself a most vicious stare over her half moon glasses; so vicious in fact that he couldn’t help but recoil ever so slightly. Much to he and Ron’s annoyance they didn’t have defence until Wednesday. They were therefore forced to eavesdrop on the younger Gryffindor’s conversations in order to learn what they should expect, which was far from difficult.
Harry found it quite refreshing that he could blend more or less unnoticed in the corridors; people were much too busy discussing the new Defence lessons to notice him. For the first time in what seemed like years he could move around the castle, knowing that the hushed whispers around him weren’t about him. The first years were momentarily distracted from the exciting life of Harry Potter and he’d lost the entourage of admirers he’d gained during his sixth year. ‘It’s bliss’ he thought to himself ‘to be able to go to the toilet at lunch time and not have star struck first years surround the cubicle door when he left it’.
He was sure it wouldn’t last, it never did, but he had to say he was enjoying the reprieve.
On the morning of their first defence lesson He and Ron woke and dressed early. For once Harry didn’t need to listen to half an hour of Ron’s whines ‘Just five more minutes Harry’ as he jumped out of bed on Wednesday morning without so much as a murmur. Meeting Hermione in the common room they headed down to breakfast so early that apart from a few of the other seventh year Gryfindor’s and a handful of Ravenclaw’s who’d obviously had the same idea, the Great Hall was deserted.
“I wonder who we’ll have this morning?” Hermione asked pouring pumpkin juice into Goblets for each of them.
Ron, who was eyeing Hermione’s single slice of toast despairingly, had again slipped another piece onto her plate slyly while she was preoccupied. He then began loading scrambled eggs onto his own plate innocently.
“Lupin I reckon,” he said through his mouthful of eggs “It’s the first lesson after all and he’s the only proper teacher isn’t he?”
Harry nodded, agreeing heartily as he moved bacon around his plate, hoping neither of his friends would notice that he’d barely touched his breakfast.
Hermione rolled her eyes and sighed theatrically.
“Do you two walk around with your eyes closed or something?” she asked sarcastically “It’s the full moon tonight, so it can’t be Lupin, can it?”
After a very rushed breakfast the three of them hurried up to the defence against the dark arts classroom. Finding the door open the three of them peered inquisitively around the frame to find Kingsley Shacklebot putting the finishing touches to a long passage on the chalk board.
The three of them exchanged glances. Harry knocked on the doorframe attempting to attract his attention. The greying man whom they had only met a handful of times turned and smiled at them.
“Ah you three,” he said warmly, “You may as well come in and sit down, there’s no sense in you standing out there for twenty minutes.” turning back to the board to admire his handiwork and then placing the chalk on his desk and turning back. “I had an inkling that you might be here early today.”
Harry smiled. “Have you been talking to Professor Lupin about us sir?”
Shacklebot smiled and sat down at the desk. “My lord, Harry I won’t have any of this sir business! It’s Kingsley to you three, at least out of lessons anyway,” He picked up his glasses from where they lay beside him on the desk grabbed a book from the desk and began flicking through it scanning the pages for something.
“Your names may have come up in conversation,” he said vaguely something that sounded suspiciously like amusement in his voice.
“Oh and I’ve got a message for you Harry,” Shacklebot said without looking up “Professor Lupin asked me to tell you that you and he will be having a private meeting in Professor Dumbledore’s office on Saturday evening,” Harry’s ears began to burn and the blood rushed to his head making him feel momentarily dizzy, he could feel Ron and Hermione’s questioning gazes on him. “He said you’d know what it was about.”
‘Dumbledore must have agreed,’ Harry thought, his mind reeling ‘I’m going to see Mum and Dad.’
Harry cleared his throat nervously, running his suddenly clammy hands together animatedly.
“Yes sir,” He whispered softly, hearing his voice crack slightly. He felt embarrassed despite himself and looked down at the table avoiding Ron and Hermione’s eyes.
“It’s Kingsley; I won’t have you standing on ceremony with me,” he said flippantly, straining to look around the three of them into the corridor outside. “Seven O’clock on Saturday, Harry.”
Rising from his seat behind the desk he moved to the doorway and motioned to the rest of the class who seemed to be queuing excitedly outside the classroom door. As they began to filter in, taking various seats around Harry, Ron and Hermione Kingsley raised his voice to be heard above the din.
“Oh and Harry,” he said loudly, at this a hushed silence fell almost instantly on the classroom “Professor Lupin asked me to remind you not to be late.”
Harry nodded, and tried to ignore the quizzical stares he knew were being fixed upon him, he busied himself with removing his textbooks, quill and parchment from his bag.
“Good morning everyone,” Kingsley began standing behind the desk “My name is Kingsley Shacklebot. I’ve been working as an Auror for the Ministry for seventeen years, so although my teaching experience is limited, I’d like to assure you that my knowledge of the subject matter we will be studying this term should be enough to carry us through!”
Kingsley chuckled to himself. The class stared at him confused not sure if they were supposed to be laughing or not. Harry couldn’t help but think that if he was trying to win them over with humour, he was failing miserably.
“Everyone turn to page three hundred and twenty two of their textbooks please,” Kingsley said suddenly, taking nearly everyone off guard. However within moments the room was filled with the sounds of furiously rifling pages.
Harry’s heart sank as he reached the page and scanned the title. ‘Not again,’ he thought to himself
“The Unforgivables;” Kingsley began “Now I know you’ve already covered these during your fourth year, according to the notes Dumbledore has given me. However I cannot stress to you the importance of understanding fully what you are truly facing were you to come up against a death eater.”
He paused for a moment and Harry could feel it coming, he glanced at the doorway contemplating the possibility of bolting before it happened.
“These curses are the ultimate magical weapon. They could be used against you at almost any moment, and against which we are almost completely powerless of defending ourselves. They are a weapon that ninety percent of us would be incapable of using on another human being. Not through weakness, don’t misunderstand me, but because we would lack the will to truly control, kill or cause such pain on another individual.”
“This is what separates us from the other side,” Kingsley said softly “To throw these curses around as flippantly as I have witnessed deatheaters doing, they must have lost all compassion for their fellow man.”
“Unless one has experienced these curses first hand, it is impossible to understand the implications of the suffering that any one of these curses could cause.”
Harry took a glance around the class; every single face was fixed attentively on Kingsley. The room was so silent that Harry was sure that the sound of a pin drop would resonate like a gong. ‘Here it comes,’ he thought squeezing his eyes closed and longing for a moment to be anywhere but here.
“… inexplicable to the highest degree.” he continued “We are perhaps fortunate therefore that the only person ever to have experienced all three unforgivable curses,” the eyes of several of the more intuitive seventh years were already boring into Harry like red hot pokers “and to have lived, is sitting in this very room as I speak.”
It was coming, he knew it was. He knew the anonymity he’d enjoyed over the last few days wasn’t going to last, but he hadn’t really expected it to come crashing down around him quite so quickly. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and bile rising in his throat from his empty stomach. For a moment he thought he was going to be sick.
He took a deep breath and bit down painfully on his tongue, within moments the metallic taste of his own blood was filling his mouth. He welcomed the distraction, something to focus on other than what was going on around him; what he was powerless to stop. He steeled himself against it; concentrating on his breathing ‘in, out, in, out’ and on the blood filling his mouth, trickling sickeningly down his throat to his lurching stomach.
“Harry Potter,” Kingsley said softly raising a hand.
He heard rather than saw every head in the room turn in his direction, and he knew that by lunchtime the gossip in the corridors would be directed back at him.
The hours on Saturday seemed to drag on at half their normal speed. Having woken early Harry found himself struggling to fill the long hours seemed to lengthen impossibly ahead of him. Seven o’clock seemed simultaneously both too close and much too far away; as much as his heart leapt with excitement at the thought of using the pensieve to see his parents he couldn’t help feeling a nagging trepidation creeping in. A tiny voice in the back of his mind kept telling him that this wasn’t a good idea, how often had Dumbledore reminded him not to dwell on the past?
Yet Dumbledore must have agreed. Lupin would never allow it without Dumbledore’s approval. He must feel that this was something Harry was ready for, that he would be able to cope with like an adult.
But he wasn’t. Even as seven o’clock drew closer Harry knew that the anticipation that grew within him was no different to that he had felt in his first year before his nocturnal visits to the mirror of Erised. Dumbledore had moved it away from Harry’s reach for his own good, because it wasn’t helping him to dwell on his dreams of a family. Dreams that couldn’t possibly come true.
It was six years on, nearly seven, and this was just a new mirror. A new way to dwell on the dreams Dumbledore had warned him not to ponder.
“What’s this meeting with Lupin about tonight then?” Ron asked as Harry checked his watch for what must have been the hundredth time that evening.
‘6.32’ Harry thought, ‘ten more minutes and I can leave.’
“Dunno,” He said eyeing the portrait hole almost longingly as he ran a nervous hand through his hair.
“Yes you do,” Hermione whispered raising her eyes from the book in her lap. “Kingsley said you’d know and you nodded.”
“Oh yeah,” Harry said annoyance creeping into his tone, trying hard not to resent Hermione’s interference “It’s nothing important. Lupin just wants to give me some extra defence lessons.”
Ron nodded and returned to the chess game he was playing against himself. Hermione raised her eyebrows sceptically and lowered her gaze back to her book.
“What’s that look for?” Harry demanded angrily.
“What look?” Hermione replied innocently, not bothering to raise her eyes from the passage she was reading.
Ron was shooting glances between the two of them, obviously confused.
“You know what I mean!” Harry spat, his voice dripping with venom.
Hermione sighed and looked up begrudgingly. “I just don’t understand why you’re lying to us Harry!”
The anger flared in him, as though someone had just lit a very short fuse. Logically he knew that his anger had little to do with her words and more to do with his own paranoia about the two of them leaving him behind. Despite his very best intentions he found himself sitting on the edge of his seat, his fingers gripping the overstuffed armchair so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
“Would you just stop pushing me? It’s nothing to do with you.” Even as he said it he knew he’d been waiting for an excuse to lash out at one of them.
“Harry,” Hermione began obviously shocked at his reaction, her face had paled slightly and she looked up at him wide eyed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“You never mean anything do you?” He roared rising from his chair so quickly the armchair tumbled over backwards behind him.
A hushed silence fell immediately over the common room. Harry barely even noticed that every pair of eyes in the room was now trained on him.
Immediately Ron was on his feet his chess board forgotten, its pieces scattered across the floor. He stepped instantly between Harry and Hermione, his hand extended against Harry’s chest. Fury etched into his prominent features.
“That’s enough!” He roared back, taking a step forward and looking down at Harry dangerously. “Don’t speak to her like that!”
He fixed Ron’s gaze for several long moments, before speaking.
“That’s how it is now isn’t it?” He said softly any trace of the anger he’d felt moments ago lost from his voice. He could even hear it himself, the sickening self-pity creeping into his tone. He longed for it to go away. “It’s not the three of us anymore is it? It’s the two of you, and me when it’s convenient.”
Ron stepped back, any trace of his anger slipping from his gaze. Hermione was on her feet by Ron’s side, tears glistening in her eyes.
“Mate…” Ron began.
“Harry,” Hermione pleaded.
“Forget it. I have to go.”
His emotions were running even higher as he rushed from the now silent Gryffindor common room, trying to ignore the seemingly endless numbers of eyes following him. He’d not given a second thought to the others in the room who obviously found their very public disagreement very interesting indeed. He pushed his way through the portrait hole so quickly that he stumbled falling to the cold stone floor of the hallway, the balls of his hands slamming against the floor.
He tore through the abandoned corridors, his heart pounding in his chest, his muscles burning, his lungs feeling as though they were about to explode. Within moments it seemed he was standing in front of the stone gargoyle outside Dumbledore’s office, staring it in the eye. It seemed to Harry that even it was laughing at him. For a moment he merely stood in front of it, bent awkwardly as he clutched the stitch in his side.
“Sherbet Lemon,” he rasped softly, as the gargoyle leapt aside to let him pass.
Harry found himself standing at the bottom of a long rose lined path, staring up at a house that looked familiar, though he was sure he’d never seen it before. It was mid afternoon, a glorious summer day; barely a cloud marred the sky, as birdsong pierced the silence. It seemed perfect to Harry, yet somehow too perfect.
It struck him as strange; during all of his previous journeys into the pensieve he’d always been acutely aware of the fall into another’s memories. But today, he could barely recall any of the events leading up to this moment.
He was standing by Lupin’s side, the two of them both held in an ethereal silence, which seemed harsh and unfitting for the surroundings they found themselves in. They hung for a moment, both taking in the sight of the cottage, neither had seen for years.
‘So this is Godric’s Hollow,’ Harry thought; although voicing it seemed pointless and stupid.
They lingered for only moments, but to Harry it felt like a lifetime. His head was swimming by the time they began to follow the all too familiar, yet much younger men, ahead of them.
When they reached the doorstep, Lupin hung back. Harry looked up at him uncertainly, and he gestured for him to step forward.
“I’ve seen,” he said simply.
His feet felt heavier than he could remember, as he stepped up to the doorway. Coming to a halt between the two men.
The differences between them were pronounced. He looked up to his right and saw the younger Lupin, staring back up the path they had just walked. There was a stillness surrounding him which worried Harry slightly. He could tell straight away that he would have liked to have been anywhere but standing here.
Harry switched his gaze to his left, to Sirus, so much younger than Harry could ever remember seeing him. His long dark hair fell around his shoulders with a lustre it had never regained after Azkaban, his eyes were bright with no trace of the haunted expression they’d never really lost while Harry had know him. He was staring straight at the door, shifting his weight from foot to foot, barely able to contain his excitement.
And suddenly the door was opening, and there he was. A face Harry was only able to remember seeing in photographs and as an echo of the man he had once been. So solid, so alive, that the breath was knocked from Harry’s chest.
“It’s a boy,” the man said, running his hands through his already ruffled hair. The grin he wore seemed to light his whole face and split him from ear to ear. “I have a son.”
His Dad stepped aside to let his friends pass, and Harry made a move to follow them.
“Lilly’s just through here.”
Harry hesitated, shooting one last glance at the Lupin he knew, lingering by a willow tree in the centre of the lawn, before stepping over the threshold of the house that was a much a part of the man he’d become as anything he’d ever known.
Harry had returned from his meeting with Professor Lupin late that evening. He’d come over to the two of them and apologised for his behaviour. Although he and Hermione had assured him it was OK, Ron really wasn’t sure it was. There was something dazed in Harry’s expression, his eyes were glassy and he kept running his hands through his hair distractedly. He looked so preoccupied that He and Hermione had exchanged worried looks, but not wanting a repeat of their argument earlier both kept their mouths shut.
Harry had stayed little more than five minutes before excusing himself and heading up to bed.
They sat side by side in the emptying common room staring silently into the fire for a long time. At some point, although Ron didn’t know when, their hands had become entwined, whether she had taken his hand or he hers he didn’t know. He didn’t really care. He welcomed this tentative physical link to her, the comforting feel of her skin against his. He’d never needed to feel as close to anyone as he needed to feel when he was with her. If he was honest it was becoming more and more difficult to keep his hands off her on the few occasions they’d been alone. It was easy to carry on as normal when Harry was around but the moment he was gone everything between the two of them seemed to change.
He just wanted to touch her all the time, he couldn’t help it, he wasn’t trying to change things between the two of them and Harry. It was just that every cell in his body longed for her. He didn’t think Harry could understand the feeling that washed over him when he was close to her; the completion he felt when she stepped into his arms, the calm that settled in around him when he breathed in the scent of her hair, the tingles that ran up his spine as she ran her fingers so gently up and down his back when she held him.
It was more than a sexual thing, although he had to admit that his mind had been wandering into more and more dangerous territory of late, and he got the impression from the way he caught her looking at him at times that he wasn’t alone in this. He wanted her. But there was more to it than that, he needed her. He loved everything about her. Ron got the feeling that Harry had probably known that even before he knew it himself, and part of him was angry about his selfish attitude towards this. Harry knew how he felt about her, even if he couldn’t really understand it. Why was he doing this, trying to ruin everything they’d been working so hard towards? Harry knew better than anyone that he and Hermione had enough to worry about without him being such an arsehole.
He wanted to be angry at him, but couldn’t quite rid himself of the growing guilt in his chest. He’d never meant to exclude Harry from anything, and he couldn’t think when they had. Not here anyway, since they’d been back at school everything had gone back to normal. So much so that it was beginning to frustrate him. At Grimmauld place they’d spent little time with Harry, but that was his doing, he’d pulled away from them. Not the other way round. He and Hermione had spent so little time alone since they’d been here that he couldn’t see how they could have given him the impression that they didn’t want him around anymore. Anytime when they’d had a few minutes alone it was because Harry had gone down to see Hagrid, or Dobby or to book the Quidditch pitch, or because the two of them had to do prefect duty together. Not once had he and Hermione arranged to do something alone.
Ron really didn’t know what more they could do to make him feel included.
“Ron?” she whispered softly, resting her head against his shoulder. “I think there’s something really wrong. Something’s going on in his head that we don’t know about.” She whispered breaking the thick silence that had fallen over the two of them.
Ron said nothing, merely squeezed her hand a little tighter.
“I can’t stand hurting him,” she whispered “Do you think we should stop…” she paused for a moment sighing “whatever this is, for a while?”
Ron thought for a moment and leaned his head against hers breathing in the scent of her hair.
“I don’t think I can,” he whispered almost inaudibly, praying there was no one listening in on their conversation. “I don’t want to go back to just being your friend.”
“Me either but I don’t know what to do,” she leaned into his chest slightly and raised her hand up to his chest laying it over his heart, feeling the steady thump against her palm. “Do you think he’s depressed?”
“Who could blame him if he was?” Ron replied.
They slipped back into silence for a long time, watching the flames dance hypnotically in the grate. Ron leaned back against the corner of the sofa; Hermione sprawled across him encircled in his arms.
“I love you,” she whispered, raising her head from his chest and staring deeply into his eyes.
He reached up and cupped her cheek in his palm, stroking the soft skin lingeringly. He smiled and stared deeply into her hazel eyes. He loved her eyes. They always seemed so bottomless to him, as though he could fall into them and drown. Sometimes, at moments like this the heat generated by her body against his, the electricity flaring between them he wished that he could.
“I love you too,” he whispered, stretching towards her. Their lips meeting; softly at first, her tender lips massaged away the hollow mass that had settled in his chest. The tension between them was mounting as they both became more desperate. They’d been working up to this for weeks. Ron wasn’t sure he could keep his hormones, his hands under control for much longer. Her lips and tongue sought his hungrily, and he reciprocated whole heartedly. His whole body, his soul ached for her.
As she pulled away and smiled at him before resting her head against back against his chest, an overwhelming sense of calm washed over him.
This was right, he could feel it.
He loved everything about this, everything about how it felt finally holding her in his arms. He ran the very tip of his index finger rhythmically up and down her bare forearm, loving the feel of the as the flesh rose and pimpled in reaction to his touch. Her hand was resting on his chest, her fingers massaging him through his t-shirt. He could feel her warm breath against his neck becoming increasingly shallow as it worried the hair that fell around his shoulders, and tickling him in the most delicious way imaginable.
He shifted his weight uncomfortably and gulped heavily allowing his eyes to slip closed. He was trying so hard to keep control over his body but he knew he was fighting a losing battle. She lifted her knee so that it rested over his thigh, dangerously close to the one area he simultaneously wanted her to avoid and to reach over and touch.
The sensible part of his brain, the part telling him that this was neither the time nor the place was beginning to be drowned out. He wanted her, wanted her more than anything.
She lifted her head from his chest and caught his eye for a moment. She could see his need for her; could see the battle he was waging with his hormones; raging beneath the surface of his heavily lidded eyes.
She’d never seen anything more beautiful.
She lowered her lips to his neck, and began to trace from his jaw line to his collarbone with gentle open mouthed kisses. She didn’t care anymore about what they should do; it seemed as though the last month of her life had been nothing but an attempt to keep everyone else happy, to do the right thing. She was sick of it, of this huge weight of responsibility that had been placed on her shoulders. She was young; caught in a predicament that made her head spin at the mere thought of it, while still in the most confusing time of her life. She was growing up, but in some respects she still felt like a child.
She slowly began to slide the hand that was resting on Ron’s chest lower, her lips still locked over his pulse point. She felt the breath hitch in his chest as the realization of what she was doing struck him, she felt his Adams apple bob below her lips as he gulped uncomfortably, felt him shift his weight below her, whether to escape or meet the hand making it’s slow decent she could not tell.
“Hermione,” he murmured his voice, at least an octave deeper than usual, catching in his throat. “Hermione,” he repeated more strongly, “wait.” He grabbed her wrist just before it made contact with him, and entwined his fingers with hers.
She raised her eyes to his.
“You don’t want to, do you?” she whispered barely audibly.
He smiled wryly and placed a gentle kiss to her lips.
“You know I do,” he replied softly, throwing a glance downwards. “More than anything, but this isn’t the place.”
There was silence as the two merely stared into one another’s eyes, the atmosphere between them more charged to an intensity neither had ever known. It was dizzying. She had butterflies in her stomach and her throat was suddenly dry. Her palms were clammy and she couldn’t think of a time she’d felt more nervous. She knew this wasn’t like her, but she didn’t care. Ron was the only thing in her life right now that made sense.
“I’m ready,” she whispered.
Ron’s eyes softened, his self-restraint was being stretched as it was. A part of her knew her words would push him over the edge.
He leaned up to meet her lips with his, and a sudden clarity washed over him.
In her arms, everything made sense.
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