In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed;
but a waking dream of life and light
hath left me broken-hearted.
-Edgar Allan Poe (excerpt from "A Dream")
"Stay with me?" he said then.
Hermione looked down from the stars and into his eyes. Even in the shadowed twilight they were such a brilliant shade of green that they seemed to radiate their own light from within. He had the loveliest eyes she'd ever seen. The loveliest eyes she'd probably ever see, she figured.
She knew what he was asking of her. She had known he would ask her tonight. She wanted to stay, if she was honest with herself, but she knew that if she did they would not be able to stop themselves, and then who knew what kind of mess they would have to wake up to in the morning?
No, she couldn't stay. She couldn't. She shouldn't even be here now, she knew. She rubbed her arms to get warmer, trying to think of a convincing way to say 'no'.
Harry smiled then, his charming face growing more attractive with the change in demeanor.
"What's funny?" she asked defensively.
He smiled wider and came towards her, not bothering to answer her question. He placed his hands outside of hers, rubbing her arms like she'd been doing, trying to warm her up. It was mid-October, and the nights were finally growing colder again. The days were still warm and lazy, but the nights were beginning to smell and feel of winter.
Harry pulled at her elbows softly, and Hermione gave in to her need for his touch. She moved against him, lowering her arms from her chest and wrapping them around his waist. He continued rubbing her back and body to keep her warm, as they stood and held one another out back of his parent's old house in Godric's Hollow.
Hermione was in love. She had fallen in love with her best friend. She didn't know how or when exactly, but it had happened.
"What are we doing?" she said into his shirt.
Harry sighed, his chest rising and falling beneath her face.
"Hermione..." he said.
She pulled back and looked up into his eyes, her own growing watery as the emotion began to rip through her.
"I mean, honestly... what are we doing, Harry? What's going to happen?"
She had no idea how they would get out of the mess they were in. She knew he didn't either. It was hopeless, so far as she could tell. Hopeless.
She felt a hot tear spill down her cheek. Harry pushed it away with his thumb gently, then leaned down and kissed her soflty just below her eye. Hermione closed her eyes and lost herself in the sweet feel of his breath and lips on her face. She sighed. Her legs were growing rubbery, and her stomach was fluttering now, like usual. She felt Harry's breath move down to her lips, and then she felt his mouth on hers. It was a growing addiction with her, and one she could not deny. Not when kissing him felt so good.
After a few minutes of tender, sweet kisses, Harry pulled away and whispered, "Please."
Hermione felt a flush of desire sweep through her at his soft request, but in trying to keep control of the situation she said, "It will change everything."
"I don't care. I can't take this anymore," Harry replied.
Sensing that things could get out of hand very quickly indeed if she was not careful, Hermione began to slip out of Harry's embrace, her eyes downcast. She did not dare look into his face now. She knew the look in his eyes would be her undoing.
"We should stop then. Now, before it's too late."
Harry put a hand beneath her chin, and forced her eyes up to his. Her fear was realized. In his eyes she saw such a look of longing and love that her whole body grew weak from being the focus of such emotion.
She knew Harry loved her. It had always been there in one way or another, but now it had grown so intense, so very intense, she could barely find her voice or even breath sometimes when they were together.
"It's already too late," he said.
There was no doubt in his voice, and no urgency either; just a calm recognition of fact.
Hermione felt her body melt at his words. Literally. She fell against him, losing herself to the feeling he inspired in her, and clung to him tenaciously to keep herself from falling into a puddle at his feet. He caught her, his strong arms circling her waist tightly.
"I love you," he said.
"Harry..." she whispered, her heat swelling with her need to say it back to him.
"Marry me," he breathed then, against the side of her forehead.
Hermione gasped and pulled back to look up into his face once more, her tears returning suddenly and falling quickly down her cheeks.
"Marry me, Hermione," he repeated in a strangled way, his own tears threatening to spill as hers had.
"Oh, Harry..." Hermione moaned against her pillow.
"Hmm?" Hermione replied, finally rousing and joining the waking world once more.
Hermione opened her eyes. She glanced up at her friend, recognition hit her, and she fell back down against her pillow, real tears coming faster and stronger than they had in the dream she'd just been visiting. She curled into a ball, her face twisting in grief, her fists clenching the pillowcase and sheets like her life depended on it, as an aching, empty sob escaped her.
Ginny climbed into bed next to Hermione, and wrapped her arms around her friend. The ginger-haired witch held her and stroked her hair, and murmured endearments to her as the wave of grief broke over her. Hermione did not know how a heart could hold as much pain as hers was now holding. She felt as if she was dying. Part of her wanted to die. She just wanted this to be over. She could hardly bear it anymore. She didn't have any idea how she had been keeping it together the last few days; internally she was hollow. Terribly, impossibly hollow.
"Shhh," Ginny offered, still running her hand down Hermione's hair and shoulders. "Shhh."
"Ginny," Hermione croaked.
"I'm here, Hermione. I'm here."
"It's gonna be okay."
"No," Hermione said through another sob.
"Yes, it will. I promise."
Hermione sobbed yet again, her whole body shaking and shuddering with the effort of holding the cries in. She did not want to scare or sadden Ava down the hall. The thought of her daughter suddenly brought her out of the dark place that was fighting to claim her, as it always did.
"Where's Ava?" she asked, wiping her eyes and starting to sit up.
"She's out with Harry and Ron. They went to get breakfast."
Hermione sighed through her tears, and laid back down. She cried for quite some time, but not as intensely as before. Ginny stayed with her nonetheless, stayed by her side as the tears slowed, quieted, and finally subsided altogether. Hermione laid on her side, facing her bedroom window. Ginny sat behind her, still touching her and cooing to her from time to time. The bright spring sunshine splashed across the bedroom, but it did not quite pierce Hermione's somber mood. She stared blankly out into the lovely day with swollen eyes and a heavy heart, her breath still shaky as her hiccups receded and her heartbeat returned to normal.
"Will you come eat something?" Ginny asked later.
"Yes," Hermione replied in a raspy voice.
"They should be back anytime."
Even as Ginny spoke, the door downstairs opened and shut, and Ava's excited voice carried up through the house.
"...when you send mail? How strange! Owls, really?" she asked Ron and Harry enthusiastically.
Ginny sighed. "I told them to keep their mouths shut about all that," she muttered.
"Ava can be quite persistent," Hermione said dryly, sitting up once more. "They didn't have a chance."
She sighed and wiped her face dry, then pushed her hair back from her face. She took a deep breath and swung her feet over the edge of her bed. She could feel Ginny watching her with worry, and it gave her another burst of strength. She had always hated people pitying her. She knew Ginny was not exactly pitying her, but still, the feeling of everyone feeling sorry for her was aiding her in her desire to be strong. Even if it was only a facade.
"Let's go see what she's got out of them so far," Hermione said.
Downstairs, Harry, Ron, and Ava were setting up plates and various breakfast item across the kitchen table. The bright spring day was still glowing outside, but Hermione felt it was almost taunting her with its stark contrast to the true mood of the day. Ron came to Hermione's side, and put a hand to her shoulder as she stepped into the room. Harry glanced up at her meaningfully as he set the rest of the dishes out, his eyes asking her without words: "Are you alright?"
Hermione nodded slightly to him, as her daughter went on and on at his side.
"...kind of broomstick? Or does it have to be charmed or something? I mean, could you fly on our broomstick? Right now? Or would you-"
"Let's... save the rest of this till later, yeah?" Harry said with a nervous smile to Ava.
Ava glanced at her mother and then looked down guiltily. She nodded, and Hermione couldn't help but smile briefly. She still remembered being that age, and discovering that not only was magic real, but that she would be capable of doing it someday. It had been an amazing feeling. Hermione felt a pang of sadness that she'd not allowed Ava that pleasure yet. She was almost positive now that Ava was a witch, so she knew she would have to tell her everything sooner than later.
Over breakfast, Ava peppered Ron and Harry with casual questions, questions she surely thought could pass as non-magically related questions... but Hermione knew her daughter's intelligence; Ava was getting the answers she wanted, just in a roundabout way.
"What do you do for a living?" Ava asked, drizzling a glaze of syrup over her stack of pancakes. She raised her eyes to Ron to show who she'd directed the question at.
"Uh, well..." he glanced at Hermione nervously, but Hermione merely sighed and picked at her pancakes absent-mindedly with her fork.
"We work for an oranization that fights crime," Harry offered.
"So, you're like police officers?" Ava asked.
"Something like that, yes."
"Do you carry guns?"
Harry hesitated. "No," he said slowly.
Ava frowned. "What if there's a bad guy? How do you capture him without any weapons?"
Hermione glanced up to watch Harry's continued struggle with explaining he and Ron's employment to the Ministry.
"Well, there's a weapon of sorts that we use..."
"What is it?" Ava prompted, not backing down in even the smallest degree.
Ginny cleared her throat. "Uh, listen, I've been thinking..." she turned to Hermione with a nervous look. "I've got, um, business uptown tomorrow. I'll be tied up for the day, maybe the night. And I was thinking... well... perhaps...you know..."
"No," Hermione said simply. "I don't know. What were you thinking, Ginny?"
Ginny took a deep breath. "Well, I was thinking... maybe you and Ava might like to come with me?"
"Yeah!" Ava cried immediately, her curious frown now replaced by a wide smile.
Harry and Ron both shifted nervously in their seats. Hermione could feel their eyes on her.
"Oh, Ginny. I don't know," she said with a sigh.
"Please, Mum?" Ava whined. "I've never been into the city!"
"What about last year when your class went to the zoo, hmm?"
"That doesn't count!" Ava countered quickly. "That was just the boring old zoo! I want to see some m-"
The young girl clapped her mouth shut suddenly, and in her innocence she could not hide the guilty look she wore.
"We won't be seeing anything like that," Hermione said quietly but forcefully, knowing that her daughter's next word was to have been 'magic'.
"It might be good to get out," Ron chimed in carefully.
Hermione looked up to him. His blue eyes were dark with concern for her.
"For all of us," Ginny added.
Hermione sat quiet, staring down at her untouched plate, knowing she had already lost the battle. It was probably true though, what Ron had said. It would be good to get out, and she knew it. For Ava if not for herself as well. Some time away from the home she'd shared with Eddie for nearly the last decade would more than likely help get her mind on the present, and Ava could immerse herself in the sights and sounds of the city, which would maybe help her to keep her mind off their loss, too.
Ava understood what her mother's exhalation meant, and bounced in her seat excitedly, clapping her little hands together once before delving back into her stack of pancakes with a newfound eagerness.
Harry said, "Are you sure you're up to it just now, Hermione?"
Hermione looked up to him then, and found his eyes were darkened with concern as Ron's had been before. He was trying to read her like he always used to back in school. They'd once had quite the talent for reading one another's thoughts and feelings. Hermione wondered if he still had that talent.
She smiled weakly, attempting to mask her true emotions from him now. "Yes, I think Ron's right. It'll be good for us to get out of this house."
Ava wiggled once more in her seat as she chewed happily. Ginny brightened. Ron smiled slightly and resumed eating. Harry was the only one who didn't seen especially pleased with Hermione's decision. He continued to steal worried glances at her throughout the remainder of breakfast. Hermione shrugged them off each time, knowing by then that he could, in fact, still read her true emotions with ease.
After the meal, Ava talked the house guests into playing outdoors with her, as the weather outside had warmed considerably. Everyone agreed, with the exception of Hermione. She was in no mood to play. She headed upstairs to begin packing herself and Ava for their trip, still feeling that the beautiful day was somehow mocking her. The world was alive with birth and the promise of summer, but Hermione was numb with the presence of death about her and the promise of sorrow in her heart. The nearly-unbearable waves of grief had subsided for the time being, but like the eye to a storm, she knew this was only a temporary release from her pain. She was going through the motions of life, but she did not particularly feel alive. She wondered vaguely if she ever would again.
She pulled a small stepping stool out from under Ava's bed and slid it over to the open closet. She stepped up on it with a sigh, reaching for Ava's small suitcase. As she slid it out from it's place on the high shelf, a mass of Ava's things came crashing down onto Hermione along with the desired object. She grunted as she turned her head down and away from the rain of toys and books, and felt herself losing her balance on the tiny stool. With a squeal she dropped the suitcase, preparing to catch herself on her hands as best she could as she went down.
She felt not hard floor but softer body beneath her palms, though, as she realized suddenly that Harry had caught her before she could hit the ground. She hadn't even heard him come in, let alone make his move to her from across the room.
"Harry!" she cried from beneath her mass of hair, which had spilled across both their faces in her fall.
She lifted her head and pushed it back hastily. Harry held her steady in his arms briefly, before releasing his grip on her and stepping back.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm fine," she replied. She hesitated, then said, "Thank you."
"I didn't hear you come in. How long were you watching me?"
"I only just stepped into the room as you were beginning to fall," Harry said quietly.
Hermione felt embarrassed for some reason, though she did not know why. She bent down and began to pick up Ava's belongings which had fallen. Harry bent too, helping her.
"No, no. I've got it," Hermione said hastily, not able to meet his eyes.
"It's nothing, Hermione. Let me help."
"Really, Harry, I..."
But Hermione drifted off then, as she pulled three very old pictures up from the mess. Three very particular pictures. Three magical pictures. She had hidden them a long time ago, and not where she had just found them to be. She wondered how long ago Ava had found these. And now she knew that Ava must also have her wand hidden somewhere.
Harry stiffened next to her, Hermione could feel it. She rose and made her way to the bed, staring at the photos in her hands. She sat, and Harry stood before her, saying nothing.
Hermione watched as a younger version of herself, Harry, and Ron waved out to her from the platform at Hogwarts. It was the end of their first year in the photo. She watched the photo reset a few times, then slid it beneath the thin pile in her hands, turning her focus to the next photo. It was the one of all the Weasley's and her (and Harry), just after the war. Everyone's faces were lit up in pure happiness, hers included. Hermione's stomach twisted in longing as she recalled how perfect life had felt back then. At that moment particularly. The moment that the picture had been taken had been one of the happiest of her life.
The third photo brought Harry down next to her on the bed. Hermione felt a wave of loss wash through her, and for the first time since that late phone call only a few nights ago, it had nothing to do with Eddie.
In the third photo she was with Harry, standing in his mother's old garden. She thought back to that night as she held the picture in her hands, which were now trembling. So long ago now, that fateful night, but she could still smell the autumn air as if it had only been yesterday.
"Hermione..." Harry started beside her.
"How long has she had these?"
Harry didn't answer. In Hermione's hands, the younger Harry kissed her forehead sweetly, and then the picture reset.
"How long?" Hermione repeated.
"I have no idea," he said finally.
Hermione felt her eyes welling up with tears. She was surprised by them, for she'd felt as if she had no tears left in her after this morning.
That thought reminded her of the dream she'd had last night. The dream had been a recollection of the very night this picture had been taken.
"You knew she had them. She showed you."
"Yes," Harry said, though he surely knew that she wasn't asking a question.
"And my wand?"
Harry rose and walked to Ava's bedside table. He opened the top drawer, which appeared to be empty. With a wave of his wand, Hermione's sprang into sight, no doubt released from some invisibility or masking charm that Harry had placed upon it. That Harry and her daughter had conspired and kept secrets from her angered her suddenly. She stood abruptly, the photos clutched in her hand.
"You've been doing magic in my house," she said in a low voice.
"No, I only-"
"You've been doing magic and I asked you specifically not to, Harry."
"Hermione, it's not-"
"Give me my wand," she demanded, her empty hand outstretched.
Harry handed her the wooden box containing her wand without hesitation, his face both pleading and guilty. There was something else in his eyes, too, but Hermione could not place it. Or maybe she just didn't want to.
"How could you do magic in front of my daughter?" she asked, her voice beginning to show her emotion.
"Well, you two have obviously got something going on-"
"Hermione, please. Calm down-"
"Don't tell me to calm down! Don't you dare tell me to calm down!"
Harry closed his mouth, breathing hard.
Hermione chuffed in a dry, bitter way. "Calm down? Calm down?! You can't possibly be serious!"
Harry's hands were working at his sides, and his eyes were wide with things he wanted to say, but wasn't. Hermione went on, unable to stop herself, giving in to the mountain of emotion that had erected itself within her during the last few days. She paced around her daughter's room, the pictures and her wand in her hands.
"You three show up here, and it's like, I don't know... like I'm supposed to just forget about the last ten years?! Like I'm just supposed to be over it? Well, I'm not! I'm not over it, Harry! Maybe you are, but I'm not!"
"You think I'm ov-?"
"This isn't my life anymore!" she said, holding the box out to him. "I gave this up! I swore I was never going back!"
"Why?" Harry tried to interject.
Hermione gave him a look suggesting that he not even try to breach that subject. If for no other reason then because she felt that he should already know why.
"You think your being here is making things any easier?! It's not! Because on top of all that I lost, I'm now reminded of what I gave up before. I'm now reminded of my first loss. You three are like walking, talking ghosts in this house. I can't breathe sometimes with all that's going on inside of me just now! I can't breathe!"
"And now this?!" she said, looking down at the pictures once more. Fresh tears splashed down onto them. Harry stepped closer to her.
"Don't," she warned quickly, stepping back to avoid him. He meant to comfort her, and she could not allow it.
"Please, please... just-" Harry tried, his hands out to her slightly.
Hermione stared at him, her heart broken in so many ways that she was amazed it still knew how to work properly.
"You know what it's like?" she asked him, her voice weaker and softer now.
Harry waited, his hands still out and his face still pleading.
"To lose someone you can't afford to lose? To suddenly know your life will never be the same as a result of that loss? To know that there's nothing you can do to regain what you had, and to know that there never will be?"
Harry dropped his hands then, his face changing.
"Yes," he said.
His eyes were blazing beneath his brow. His jaw was set.
Hermione swallowed her retort, suddenly realizing the carelessness of her statement. Her face twisted up in pain abruptly, and she dropped to the floor, giving into her grief. Harry came around to her side of the bed. He knelt down beside her.
"I'm sorry," she sobbed. "I'm so sorry, Harry."
He moved towards her slowly, as if she were a dangerous object he must approach with caution.
"I'm just... I'm-"
"I know," he said calmly.
He crossed the last few inches between them and put his arms around her. She let him.
"Harry, oh, God..." she wailed.
"Shhh," he whispered, holding her very close.
Harry held her there on the floor beside the bed for a long while, until her sobs died down and her breathing evened out. Outside, the sun shone brightly, and the sky was a flawless blue. Ava's periodic squeals of delight rang out crisply through the air, as did Ron and Ginny's laughter from time to time. Hermione closed her swollen eyes and drifted off to sleep in Harry's embrace, exhausted and beyond depressed, but still slightly smiling at the sound of her young daughter playing below in the yard.
And she did not dream.