The past is safe.
We didn't know it at the time, but we know it now. It seemed so uncertain, so bleak and disastrous. But really, it was fine. The past is safe because we survived. We conquered. We grew. Our memories prove that.
But what if you don't have memories?
What if all you have is the dream that maybe you were once loved, once cherished? At night, when sleep eludes you, what do you do when you suddenly realize that maybe no one cares that you're gone? That those people who you assume were a part of your life couldn't care less that you sleep in a rickety bed in a run down orphanage, with no idea of who you are.
What if your only comfort is the presumption that your eyes once watered with a joy you'll never know again? With a love you'd give anything to remember?
What if you have nothing at all?
Then maybe the past isn't so safe. Maybe, it's best forgotten.
[James, Wool's Orphanage]
Things always had a way of reorienting themselves around gaps. As long as there were more who wanted to move forward, those who were left were always dragged along; it was like taking a pebble out of a stream, where everything else just moves in to fill up that hole. It felt like they were the only ones still stomping around trying to kick up the water. *
But it didn't matter how hard they kicked. People were already tiptoeing around his memory, when just a year ago Rita Skeeter plastered his face on every newspaper in the wizarding world. They told her she’d move on. It was only natural after all.
They told her, "He'll always be a hero."
"They'll never forget."
But it wouldn't be long. He would be a name in a book in a chapter describing a dark and dreadful day. But the book would get old. Its pages would yellow and its spine would break. Heroes with more grandeur and fame than he ever had would rise. He'd just be a name people would swear on.
He'd never again be the boy that had a curious obsession with Quidditch. No one would know that he had a favorite armchair by the fire, or that he had to stay up late in the middle of the night to do homework because he was lazy sometimes.
No, he'd just be a name. The name of someone who never actually existed.
It made her want to cry.
The tears were what she fought against now, as she pressed her face into the soft fabric of the pillow, bushy brown hair obscuring all but the delicate white hollow of her neck. Despite her best efforts, a weak trickle slid gracefully down her flushed cheek, burning her skin. Making no movement to wipe it away, her eyelids fluttered shut, a faint glimmer staining her eyelashes. The sound of rain assaulted her window, and she waited for it to come. That fire in her chest, and that ache in her bones, with the relentless wetness flowing down her cheeks. With each passing day, she lasted a bit longer. As the months faded away, she mastered her grief into silence; somehow, she had managed to keep the groans and sobs inward, though they now slashed a bit at her insides whenever she thought about things for too long. But still, each day, it came.
The voice sounded weak, and Hermione’s body went rigid. Lifting her head, she saw a familiar outline, and the hue of the girl’s red hair. Hermione uncurled her arms from around her body, wincing. Limbs stiff, she moved slowly, the dim light of the room stinging her eyes. For a moment, she couldn’t comprehend her surroundings as they unfolded into view. Her single form in the empty room, and the gray light still spilling onto the floorboards seemed out of place in her mind. Things weren’t supposed to be like this.
He was supposed to be here.
A shiver shuttled through her spine as she slipped from the covers, bare feet pressing gently on the floor. It only took a glance at the face of Ginny Weasley for Hermione to understand.
“Is it Ron?” she asked mildly, trying to smooth away the wrinkles in her clothes. Ginny just nodded, her brown eyes wide and anxious. Hermione felt a sigh sticking to her lips as slipped on her shoes, a sadness sinking through the pit of her stomach.
There had been glimmers of hope. As the hot summer days passed, recovery seemed possible. He had stopped tossing the gnomes into the garden wall until he practically fainted from exhaustion. Fred could make jokes without having a drink thrown in his face. As they sat secluded on the Hogwarts Express, she’d been able to criticize him on his dismal eating habits with good response.
But being back inside of Hogwarts had done something to Ron Weasley. Something horrible, like a great and dreadful storm billowing up and swallowing everything in utter agony without a sense of purpose or direction. Better to have everything destroyed than to have any happiness linger in a world without his best friend.
“It was Neville this time,” Ginny said, voice lined faintly with fatigue. Hermione’s head snapped up from her feet, eyes suddenly thin in worry. The redhead’s mouth hung slightly open, before she pressed her lips together. “I mean, I don’t know what he was thinking, talking about Harry like that,” Ginny continued on, looking out the window, a slight look of annoyance on her face. “Neville knows better.”
Hermione was silent.
“At least he didn’t throw anything.”
She was trying to fill up the hollow sound of the room. Hermione twisted the end of her sleeves in her fingers, feeling her face pull strangely into an unreadable emotion.
“I’ll go,” she said quietly, pushing herself towards the door. Each footstep was heavy, but there was no stopping her path. She always went.
The hallways were empty. With a vague recollection of time and space, Hermione realized everyone would be at dinner. Even the portraits were averting their glances, knowing all too well where she was headed. He was always in the same place, voice caustic and dangerous. It seemed pity was the only thing that kept him from the greater punishments past detention. Hermione winced lightly as she heard a crack at the end of the second floor corridor, knowing their period of grace would have to come to an end someday. They would be expected to recover.
She hesitated as she came to the door of the girl’s lavatory on the second floor, pushing gently with her fingers.
He stood at the sink, staring at his crooked reflection in the mirror. There was a long crack down the middle.
“Ron – ” Hermione broke off when he slammed his fist against the sink.
“He doesn’t know Harry at all,” he whispered through clenched teeth, and Hermione inwardly shrunk back at his use of present tense.
“He did. He was Harry’s friend,” Hermione said quietly, blinking as Ron’s eyes snapped to hers in the mirror, glaring. Not looking at him, she walked over, gently prying his clenched fingers from the porcelain rim of the sink.
“What happened at dinner?” she asked, staring grimly at his bruised knuckles as she moved his hand into the light. It was as if he wanted to scar himself, have the pain throbbing in him, just in case he forgot and let the memory of his best friend slip away for even a moment. Ron worked his hand away from her fingers, kicking his foot on the ground.
“He thinks Harry wanted this,” he growled, not bothering to push his hair out of his face as he looked at his shoes, fists swaying angrily at his sides.
“I’m sure that’s not what he meant.”
Biting down hard on her lip, Hermione watched as Ron slumped against the wall, sliding down until he was on the ground. She followed his action, their shoulders touching.
“He kept saying Harry was a hero,” Ron mumbled, and Hermione wrapped her arms around her legs, trying to hold herself together. She was suddenly very cold.
Hermione pressed her chin to her knees, hair falling over her shoulders. “You don’t think he was a hero?” she asked quietly.
“No!” Ron said vehemently, looking at her with burning eyes. “He didn’t want to be a hero. He wanted to be normal. He didn’t want to go into the maze. He didn’t want any of it!”
Hermione traced a circle on the floor with her finger.
“He’s just Harry,” Ron said with a thick resolve. Hermione could only nod, thinking any other action would somehow desecrate the moment.
They sat in silence, and Hermione was comforted by his presence, as volatile and unpredictable as it was these days. She could hear his harsh breathing, and see the violent rise and fall of his chest out of the corner of her eye. Somehow, she wished her own heart could still beat with that same wild hope. Rather, it sat numbly under her ribs, more like a vestigial organ than anything else.
“He was there tonight at dinner.”
“Who?” she asked, lifting her head from her knees. Ron tilted his head back, not looking at her. She wondered if he realized he had spoken.
“Dumbledore,” he said after a moment, grimacing at the name resting on his lips.
“He wouldn’t look at me.”
Hermione pressed her lips together tightly, not wanting to think of the headmaster. It was like salt in a fresh wound. Her mind wrapped around the name, studying out every syllable. Dumbledore. There had been a time when it had meant safety, most of all for Harry. She had watched her friend walk into the maze that night, not thinking to memorize every movement in case she never saw him again. That name had assured her that a final moment with Harry wasn’t coming any time soon. Now, the name stood for nothing more than the greatest failure she had ever known.
“You probably scared him,” she whispered, before she could stop herself. For a moment, she thought she saw the ghost of a smile on Ron’s face. Of course, it was nothing more than a mere shell of a happy emotion, but Hermione rejoiced in it anyway.
“Hermione?” he asked, looking intently at her now.
“Hmm?” she said into her jeans, resting her cheek on her knee.
“Do you think he’s really d-d-ea—” he asked, voice deadening into silence, unable to speak the words.
Her fingernails dug into her palms as an icy hand gripped her heart, face falling. He’d hate her for admitting to losing hope, but the nights were growing longer, with the days growing shorter, and life moved without Harry in it.
“They never found him,” she admitted with a grimace, averting Ron’s heated gaze. She felt him lean away from her. The heat stung her eyes, and she gulped in a hot breath of air, blinking fast.
Fire had consumed the town of Little Hangleton that night, a magical inferno that raged for hours. Even though they had been hundreds of miles away, Hermione still thought she could feel the heat on the back of her neck. They had been in the stands for nearly two hours before the stadium had been evacuated, teachers running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
By the time sunlight dripped over the smoky horizon, the truth had been exposed.
There had been nothing, nothing except a bloodied, charred wand, resting solemnly in a gutter. Nothing to suggest Harry Potter had ever existed, or ever would again.
“Hermione—” Ron started, and she heard the crack in his voice. In a painful twist of her neck, she sniffed and looked back at him and the glaze over his eyes. She scooted towards him, closer than before. He let her, placing his injured hand in her open palm. Hermione could feel his breath in her hair, and she ran her fingers lightly over his knuckles, trying to think of a potion to soothe the aching.
“I miss him,” Ron finally mumbled, body slumped like a rag doll against the wall.
Hermione vaguely realized something wet was rolling softly down her cheeks and into the fabric of her sweater.
A/N: Finally, this is up, and I'm very excited to see what you all think! There's a few things everyone needs to know. :)
This original AU plotline was first imagined by a wonderful writer named neutral, and has proved to be an inspiration for every fanfic I've ever written. The first two chapters of this story are inspired by her story, The Persistence of Memory. Oh, and see that little asterik? Everything before that asterik, and after the italics, belongs to her, and is used with permission. From that asterik, to the line "It made her want to cry" is my original take on one of her sequences, and is also done with permission. I dedicate this story to her.