Coming back in small numbers. Going home without you.
Harry and Hermione began to follow Mr. Weasley, but Hermione halted abruptly. Harry, noticing her absence, glanced back at her, and Mr. Weasley’s gaze, too, was averted toward Hermione as he realized that they were not following.
“Is something wrong?” Mr. Weasley asked, staring at them curiously. Harry turned toward Hermione, watching her with scrutiny, his eyes darting around her face, as though he might be able to get a glimpse into her mind. But he knew what she was thinking. And thinking it was hard enough to bear, without putting it into words. How could they go back to the Burrow without Ron?
They had left with him; they would be returning without him. It just didn’t seem fair or right. And, Harry thought, it’d be a lot easier if they could just disappear. Neither he nor Hermione liked the idea of facing the Weasleys after their family had lost so many members, and the two of them had survived. They both had a sinking, guilty feeling for having lived. Not only that, but everything in the Burrow would remind them of Ron.
Harry turned back to Mr. Weasley, and momentarily stared into his sky blue eyes. They were Ron’s eyes. Not choosing to follow Mr. Weasley to the Burrow felt, to Harry, like he was letting Mr. Weasley down. The Weasleys had lost nearly half of their family, and now Harry was avoiding having to return to them. He desperately wanted to follow Mr. Weasley back to the Burrow; he didn’t want to let him down, or disappoint him, but he felt the same thing Hermione felt. How could they go back there?
After a couple of silent moments, as the two men stood staring in one another’s eyes, Mr. Weasley finally put a hand on Harry’s shoulder and smiled a weak smile.
“Just come whenever you’re ready. We’ll be waiting.” Harry softened at Mr. Weasley’s kind and understanding words. He studied his face, seeing that it had visibly aged in the past few days. His eyes were sad, and had dark rings around them, evidence of their taxing encounters during the past couple of weeks. He had his own array of cuts, scrapes, and scars. His face drooped a bit, and Harry wondered when he would see the familiar Weasley smile again. Mr. Weasley had been like a father to him, especially after Sirius had died. Mr. Weasley had always been there for him. Again the feeling nagged at him that he was letting Mr. Weasley down. Harry nodded, however, and allowed himself a small half-smile. He wasn’t happy, but he was relieved.
Without another thought, Harry stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Mr. Weasley, hugging him as though hugging a father. Harry was surprised at how good it felt to hug someone, namely to hug someone who was like a father, who could make everything really seem like it would all be all right.
Hermione couldn’t help herself, and let out a bit of a whimper as she joined them, holding on to the two men. Mr. Weasley embraced them tightly, and finally let go, though unable to mask the tear-filled eyes, nor the few escaped tears trickling down his rugged, now war-torn face. The three of them had shared something on that field, and they had lived together - lived to someday tell about.
With one last shared look of understanding, Mr. Weasley backed away, and headed up the hill to the Disapparation location. He looked so sad and lonely, leaving alone, after having come into the battle with four of his sons. Harry and Hermione just watched him solemnly, until he disappeared from sight.
Together Harry and Hermione walked back to the tree under which they’d spent most of their time the last few days. They sat down on the soft grass, and remained there for several hours. In silence they surveyed the scene before them, as people packed up their tents, relief crews tore down their equipment, and the makeshift hospital was being dismantled. Harry wasn’t sure what they’d do now. Where could they go? What would they do?
Harry envied the people who had homes and families to return to. His loved ones had been decimated by Voldemort and his followers, ever since Harry was a year old. First there were his parents, then there was Sirius, then Dumbledore, and now Ron and the other Weasleys, not to mention scores of friends from the Order and Dumbledore’s Army. ‘The Chosen One,’ Harry laughed in his mind. That was something.
As the sun was lowering, and the world around them was slowly dimming to dusk, Harry and Hermione found themselves walking aimlessly through the battlefield and the empty camp grounds. Occasionally each would recall a scene from battle, and fight to push the image from their mind. Sometimes a nearly audible scream would haunt their memory as they walked along under the darkening sky. But finally, they found themselves in the very same place they’d been that morning, as they’d said goodbye to Mr. Weasley. Harry glanced up at Hermione. Her gaze was awaiting him.
“We should go and see them.” Hermione spoke softly. Harry didn’t wonder who she was talking about; he knew. He glanced up at the sky, watched a few clouds through the darkness, and thought. He swallowed, and returned his gaze to Hermione’s. She was staring at him expectantly. It only took a single look at her for Harry to know that they had to go to the Burrow.
Harry nodded, and together they began climbing the same hill Mr. Weasley had, now on their own way to the Disapparation location. As they reached the top of the hill, both instinctively turned to take in a final look at the battlefield. So many of their friends and mentors had died there. And the Wizarding world had been saved there. Now it was simply time to leave.
Without another word, Harry and Hermione took hold of each other’s hands, and turned their backs on the battlefield that would come to haunt them.
They had been the first to arrive there, and now they were the last to leave.
That night found them sitting around an awkward and silent dinner table at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, and George had all been happy to finally see Harry and Hermione in the flesh, but the smiles had quickly faded. Mrs. Weasley had busied herself making dinner, probably mostly as a means of distraction. Apparently Mr. Weasley had told the family the news from the final battle, and they had all had a good cry together. Harry was happy he’d missed it.
Now they were sitting around the table as the six of them pushed around food on their plates. Everyone seemed lost for conversation, but conversation hardly seemed fitting. Mrs. Weasley kept telling Harry and Hermione that she was glad they’d decided to come after all, but her smile had never reached her eyes.
Mr. Weasley sat in his chair beside his wife, ate a bite of meat, chewed slowly, and left the rest of the meat untouched. George was eating, though his motions were slow and labored. His mind was focused on something, and he couldn’t be bothered by the others at the table. Ginny’s eyes were watery as she asked her mum to pass the salt. She sniffled.
Harry set down his fork.
He glanced across the table at Hermione, and locked eyes with her for a moment. She wasn’t crying, or sniffling like Ginny. Nor were her eyes red and swollen, like Mrs. Weasley’s. Instead, the fork in her right hand was pushing her food mindlessly around her plate, for the most part untouched. She sighed, took a drink of water, and began mashing a pea with her fork. She wouldn’t look in the direction of any of the Weasleys, and besides an occasional glance up at Harry, she kept her eyes focused on her peas.
She looked like Harry felt. Had they made the right choice in coming to the Burrow? It was a house full of grief. Then again, perhaps that’s where they belonged.
The torturous meal finally ended, as Mrs. Weasley began busying herself again, cleaning up in the Muggle-fashion, probably because it took longer, and would thus keep her distracted longer. George immediately disappeared up to his bedroom. Ginny took a seat on the couch next to her dad, who wrapped his arms around her, and held her like one would a little child. She leaned against him, and let him hug her. Harry and Hermione both felt extremely awkward.
“I’m really tired. I think I’ll head to bed,” Harry stated, hoping to escape to a bed, and be alone.
“Me too,” Hermione echoed. Mrs. Weasley came in from the kitchen, hoping to be helpful.
“Well, Hermione, you have your bed in Ginny’s room, and Harry in Ron’s.” Mrs. Weasley sighed, but could not smile. But then Mrs. Weasley’s countenance fell even more. Harry stood stone still. He wasn’t sure he could sleep in that room tonight. He couldn’t sleep in Ron’s room without Ron. Everything in there would remind him of his dead best mate. Anywhere but that room… Mrs. Weasley had the same idea, but a little trouble in resolving it, as she couldn’t very well put him in Fred’s now vacated bed, either.
“Actually, Harry, why don’t you take Bill’s old room. He’s got his own place with Fleur and probably won’t be spending the night here for awhile.” Harry breathed a sigh of relief, and nodded, more than happy to have to stay in Bill’s room.
Hermione followed Harry up the stairs, thankful to be alone again. They reached the top and wandered down the hall, as Harry tried to remember which was Bill’s room.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” Hermione questioned Harry as she stood next to Ginny’s bedroom door.
“Yeah. Bill’s bedroom is closer. It’s just down the hall, if you need me,” He spoke quietly, taking her face in his hands, tilting her head down, and kissing her forehead gently. It was an innocent, brotherly kiss. It was the affection they now shared – comforting affection from one who truly knew what was in your heart, your mind, your eyes, and your past.
“Good night, Harry,” she said, opening the door behind her.
Harry examined Bill’s room, glad to have no reminders of Ron and Ron’s old room. He could hardly let his mind wander there. Instead he took the T-shirt and shorts laid out on Bill’s bed, changed into them, and climbed under the sheets. He wasn’t sure if sleep would greet him tonight. They’d been out of battle for six days now, for three of which he’d been unconscious. The other three had plagued him with nightmares. Was it possible to live the rest of your life without sleeping? Harry was already considering asking Mrs. Weasley for some sleeping draught the next night, but figured he should try sleeping tonight and hope for the best.
After an hour of lying awake, staring up at the ceiling, but instead of seeing the ceiling, seeing battle and dead friends, Harry began to rethink the sleeping idea. His mind would not turn off. He just wanted the images to stop, his mind to go blank, and his sleep to be uninterrupted, unmolested.
When his mind was finally void of battle scenes, curses, and dead bodies, images of Ron took over. For another hour he lay awake, fighting with his mind over memories. The images would play like a video, as he recalled old adventures with Ron, things Ron had told him, and what Ron would do or say now. Then he’d struggle to control his thoughts. It hurt too much to watch the images, to hear his voice. He didn’t want to accept it yet. He didn’t want these memories. He wanted Ron to be more than a memory.
Tossing, and turning, nothing helped slow Harry’s mind. When, for a few moments, he had finally dozed off, he had immediately begun dreaming and had seen visions of Death Eaters and other evils. He had woken himself up, apparently, unable to face the demons of dreams.
Harry sighed, turned on the lamp beside him, and sat up in his bed. He wanted to sleep, and escape this world without Ron. But dreams brought him to an evil, demented world he didn’t want to revisit. So he wanted to stay awake, but being wakeful meant his mind would try to torture him with reflections, and guilt for living. Perhaps it would have been easier to die in battle. And then Harry scolded himself for thinking such a thought. Sometimes it felt like he had eight different voices in his mind, telling himself different things, or getting angry at himself. He wondered if things would ever feel normal again.
Harry was surprised when the door to his bedroom opened quietly, and slowly. He watched curiously, as Hermione slid inside the door, and closed it behind her. She had a pillow in one hand, and a blanket in the other. When she turned to look at him, she looked utterly dreadful. She was fighting against sobs, sniffling, and wiping at the tears that were falling down her cheeks. Harry hadn’t seen her look so upset since they’d been pulled out of battle. Harry wasn’t sure what to say. She didn’t seem to want him to say anything. She walked straight over to his bed, dropped her pillow down, and sat down. She wouldn’t look him in the eyes. Instead, she pulled her blanket over herself, wiped her eyes, sniffed, and laid down on her side.
Harry had moved over as far as he could on the single bed to give her room, and now stretched himself out beside her. He gazed at her tenderly, knowing the immense pain that she must feel. It was his pain, too. Her cries were beginning to quiet. He gently brushed her hair behind her ears, then reached over and turned off his lamp. They lay in the darkness, as Harry pulled one arm around Hermione, gently rubbing her back soothingly. He didn’t know what to do for her. He felt like he must be a terrible comforter. He didn’t know what to say, he just knew that he understood.
Harry lay in the silent, dark room staring up at the ceiling, now warmed by a sleeping Hermione who was curled up next to him. He listened to her soft breathing noises that rhythmically beat out a gentle tune in the otherwise empty space around them. And before long, Harry found the gentle breathing to be a comfort to himself. He didn’t feel alone. The visions no longer danced before his eyes, nor did the memories. Instead he was lulled to sleep by gentle breathing, and warm body by his side.