A/N: Many thanks to Jazzeh Turnip who kindly agreed to beta read this for me.
The Hands of the Clock
Harry groaned quietly as his hand reached blindly out towards the bedside table groping for his glasses. His head was bumping mercilessly and his mouth felt as dry as the bottom of a birds cage. Groggily, Harry slipped his glasses over his ears and gingerly sat up in bed, easing his legs over the edge for his bare feet to make contact with the cold wooden floor.
Resting his hand against his head, Harry groaned again as his stomach lurched, protesting any form of movement. Stumbling across the room, Harry tripped over his own feet as he hurried across the landing and flung open the bathroom door, falling to his knees he vomited violently into the toilet bowl.
Raising unsteadily, Harry flushed the toilet and splashed some cold water on his face. Staring at his face in the small oval mirror above the sink he realised, for the first time in weeks, how awful he looked. Alcohol did nothing to make a person look fresh and healthy. His skin was white as snow, with the odd red blemish on his cheek and his forehead, his eyes were dark and distant and he had lines around his mouth. How much of the harshness of his face was due to the ravages of the war and how much was due to his current circumstances, Harry didn’t know.
After a quick shower, Harry made his way downstairs into the kitchen of The Burrow. Mrs Weasley was there cleaning up the breakfast dishes, Charlie and George were sat at the table, and Harry figured that Mr Weasley and Percy had already left for work.
“Another rough night, Harry?” Charlie asked, eyeing him expertly.
Harry nodded and eased himself into a seat next to George. It was so weird seeing George without Fred by his side, but George was handling Fred’s death remarkably well. It had been only six months since the final battle and Fred’s funeral, and George had bounced back full of life and vitality, determined to live each day to the full, as he was living for Fred now as well.
“Where’s Ron?” Harry asked, his voice rough from too much alcohol and too little sleep.
George shrugged, “He left earlier in a worse state than you are now. I think he was still a bit drunk to be honest.”
“He nearly fell into the fireplace,” Charlie sighed heavily. “He went to Diagon Alley,”
“To the Leaky Caldron no doubt,” Mrs Weasley sniffed with annoyance. “I’ve tried, Harry, we’ve all tried, but no-one can talk any sense into him. It doesn’t help that you encourage his drinking either,”
“I don’t encourage it,” Harry told her firmly. “I just go with him to make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble. He starts out alright, but then he gets depressed and he makes me depressed so then I start to drink as well. Believe me, I know Ron and I aren’t the only ones going through hell right now, Mrs Weasley, but I don’t know what to do. Ron won’t listen to me, he says he has to drink because it blocks out all the pain,”
“There are no answers in the bottom of a bottle, Harry,” Charlie said quietly.
“I know that,” Harry muttered, “But there don’t appear to be any answers anywhere else either, do there?”
“No,” Mrs Weasley, blinked furiously, her eyes turning to the large clock that sat on the wall, he clock of the Weasley family. At this moment in time, the hand pointing to Mr Weasley, Bill and Percy all stated “At Work”, the hands pointing to Charlie and George stated “At Home”. Fred’s name was still on the clock although he didn’t have a hand any longer, Ron’s hand stated “In Mortal Peril,” and Ginny’s hand stated, “Travelling”.
It was the last hand of all, the one belonging to Ginny that made no sense to Harry and the Weasley’s at all. Ginny had gone with Hermione five months ago to help locate Hermione’s parents in Australia. Ginny had reasoned that she should go as someone needed to help Hermione, and both Harry and Ron were needed in London to help with trials and other legal goings on with the Ministry.
Two months ago the news had come to shatter the lives of the Weasley’s and destroy Ron completely. It had been reported by The Daily Prophet, courtesy of a muggle newspaper, the article itself was something that Harry hadn’t seen, that Hermione Granger had been involved in an accident with a speed boat and had been killed, leaving her friend seriously injured.
The Ministry had contacted the Australian Ministry to try to ascertain what had happened, to arrange for the Weasley’s to go and see Ginny and to collect Hermione’s body. The Ministry had been told that Hermione’s parents had taken Hermione home, and they could find no record of Ginny Weasley.
No matter how much they pushed, Mr Weasley, Bill and Charlie had even gone over to Australia to attempt to get to the bottom of things, it seemed that Hermione, her parents and Ginny, had disappeared off the face of the earth. Still, Ginny’s hand was present on Mrs Weasley’s clock, and still insisted that she was travelling. It was a very bizarre situation, one the Weasley’s and the Ministry were still trying to get to the bottom of.
Ron’s hand on the clock made a lot more sense. Ever since the news about Hermione, Ron had crumbled. Harry had never seen Ron in such a state before, he was a complete mess, crying constantly, hardly sleeping, following his father to the Ministry to harass Kingsley Shacklebolt for news and to do something else to get news. Finally, Harry had been forced to drag Ron away to ensure that Kingsley didn’t issue a restraining order.
Only weeks had passed before Ron started drinking to block out the ugly truth, that Hermione was not coming back. Hermione was gone, and they had no idea as to what exactly had happened to her. Although Ron was worried about Ginny, he seemed to resent the fact that his friends and family, Harry included, had made Ginny the top priority, and discussed her, pulled out all the stops to find Ginny, and not Hermione.
Sighing heavily, Harry stood up ruffling his hair absently. “We’ll find Ginny, Mrs Weasley, you know we will.”
“And when we do, she can explain to us what the hell has happened,” George said frowning.
Harry nodded, “Ginny will help us understand everything. Excuse me, the smell of breakfast is really making me feel sick.”
Ignoring George’s chuckling, Harry left the kitchen and stepped out of the front door, sitting down carefully on the step. The wind was cold this morning, and Harry shivered as it ruffled through his hair and around his neck, chilling him. Clapping his hands together, Harry breathed the fresh air deep into his lungs, it made him feel better, a little more alive than he had previously felt this morning.
A small gnome darted out of the long grass, dashed across the path and into the grass at the other side of the path. Harry smiled slightly, remembering a time years ago when he, Fred, George and Ron had de-gnomed the garden for Mrs Weasley. His mind wandered as he watched the grass swaying in the wind and the dead leaves off the tree go swirling up into the air or skidding across the path, and Harry felt his pain return. The sharp stab to his chest and the dull throbbing of his heart that made him want to curl up into a ball and cry until he had no energy left to do anything other that sleep a long, dreamless sleep.
Harry was so absorbed in his thoughts that he jumped when he heard the voice of Mr Ollivander talking to him. Blinking in surprise, Harry stared uncomprehending at the silver mist of the wand maker’s patronus, Mr Ollivander’s voice echoed in his ears, asking him to come to Diagon Alley for Ron.
Glad of the distraction, Harry jumped to his feet, wishing that he hadn’t moved so quickly when a bout of nausea overtook him, he walked carefully back into the house, grabbing his coat off the hook and headed to the fireplace. “I need to go to Diagon Alley, Mr Ollivander just sent me a patronus.”
“Bring Ron back from The Leaky Caldron when you come back, Harry.”
Harry sent a sly look to George and Charlie, which conveyed to them immediately that was exactly what he was doing. “Of course, Mrs Weasley,” Harry felt extremely sorry for Mrs Weasley, she looked older than she should, and she looked ill these days. Loss of sleep, grief and worry had taken the plumpness around her face and given her dark circles under her eyes.
Harry knew that she worried constantly about Ron, that she wanted to keep her boys as close to home as possible, which was why Percy still lived at home, why Charlie hadn’t gone back to Romania and why George no longer slept at the shop. But Ron was difficult to curb at the moment, he was difficult to talk to and didn’t want to listen to anyone’s good advice or offered opinion.
Stepping out of the fireplace in The Leaky Caldron, Harry glanced around the dark room where smoke drifted across the ceiling, looking for Ron.
“He’s left already, Harry,” Tom the bar man told him as he shuffled by.
“Oh, ok, thanks, Tom,” Harry took a deep breath and crossed to the door quickly, the smell of alcohol turning his stomach.
The street was quiet Harry noted, as he pulled his coat tighter to his throat, wishing he had thought to bring a scarf. The wind was sharper here than at The Burrow, which surprised Harry, considering he had building’s on either side of him, sheltering him from the weather. Brown and orange leaves crackled under his trainers, and his spine felt as though it was going to burst through the top of his head at any moment, as Harry made his way towards Ollivander’s shop, his green eyes drinking in the welcome sight of the re-opened shops and the smiling, happy faces of the shoppers. It had brought Harry a sense of inner peace to see Diagon Alley return to the same place it had been that day he had first entered it when he was an eleven year old child. Now his inner peace was tinged with a personal sadness, Hermione had helped bring this all about and she was no longer here, and Ron, well, Ron was sliding down a slippery slope into a pit of black despair, and Harry had no clue how to bring him back out of it.
Rounding the corner, he smiled and lifted his hand in a wave when he spotted Mr Ollivander peering out of the window of his shop waiting for him. Harry liked the old man a lot, and was so pleased to see that he was looking so much better after his time locked away in the cellar at Malfoy Manor. “Hello,” Harry greeted as the old man opened the door for him.
“Thank you for coming so quickly, Harry,“ Mr Ollivander stood back to allow Harry to enter the shop.
“No problem. Where is he?” Harry followed Mr Ollivander into the dimly lit shop. Mr Ollivander had been a great help to him in keeping an eye on Ron. He said that he owed them both his life and he was more than happy to help either of them whenever he could, even giving Harry a new wand free of charge. Many times in the last month, Mr Ollivander had summoned Harry at odd times during the day to come and fetch Ron from his shop, Ron usually being to drunk too stand let alone apparate.
“Oh, Ron,” Harry sighed sadly when he saw his friend slumped down in the chair in the corner of the shop, his head hanging to the side and his eyes closed. Ron looked dreadful, he had a weeks worth of stubble growing along his jaw, and his ginger hair hung past his shoulders, long, lank and un-kept. “Ron?” kneeling in front of his friend, Harry shook his knee gently. “Wake up.”
“Harry?” Ron slurred, his eyelashes fluttering madly.
“Yeah, it’s me. Come on, wake up, I need to get you home. Your mother is going to go mad when she sees you in this state this early in the morning,” Harry told him, clicking his tongue in disapproval.
“All over, Harry,” Ron mumbled, lifting his hand and swatting at his long fringe.
Harry sighed softly, “Do you have the coffee ready?”
“Of course, I’ll sweeten it for him with a few sugars,” Mr Ollivander replied.
“This is getting out of hand, Ron,” Harry scolded, “You spend half your time asleep and the other half steaming drunk. Mr Ollivander and I have a bloody routine where your concerned, this has to stop,”
“Shouting at him now won’t help, Harry,” Mr Ollivander said, handing him a steaming cup of black coffee. “He won’t remember. Watch it, it’s hot.”
“Thanks. I’d like to ring his bloody neck,” Harry muttered. “I know he’s hurting, we’re all hurting for Merlin’s sake, but this doesn’t make things any better. Do you hear me, Ron?” Harry shouted irritably. “This doesn’t make things any better, in fact it makes them worse!”
Ron grunted as he felt Harry shoving the cup to his lips. The coffee was strong in his nostrils and hot on his tongue, jerking his head away he fixed Harry with what he believed was a stern look of annoyance.
Harry shuddered, Ron’s eyes were the worst of all. They scared him to death. Red rimmed, dark circles beneath them and so bloodshot there was barely any white left at all. Those familiar brown eyes were no longer a part of Ron, they now stared blankly at him, hardly seeing him, and if they did focus on him they wouldn’t see him clearly at all. Ron looked at everything through a drunken haze these days.
“Drink some more, Ron,” Harry felt it would pain Mrs Weasley too much to see her son in this state. “I haven’t seen him this bad in a long time.”
“Neither have I,” Mr Ollivander agreed, hovering behind Harry with the sugar bowl in his hand. “I was cleaning the window and he just came stumbling up the street. He was almost rolling along the wall to help himself to move, he let go and fell flat on his face. He’s taken her passing very hard hasn’t he?”
“Yes,” Harry said quietly. “I don’t think he’ll ever get over Hermione.”
Ron’s eyes suddenly flew open and he spluttered around the coffee cup. “Hermione?”
Harry winced, “I’m sorry, Ron, I was just talking about her.”
“I had a ring,” he told Harry, tripping over his words as they jumbled together as he spoke. “Carried it around for ages.”
“She would have said yes,” Harry assured him. They’d had this conversation ages ago and frequently had to go over and over it as Ron would forget that he had told Harry already.
“Won’t have to be without her anymore,” Ron told him, his head lolling to the side.
“What?” Harry asked distractedly, as he tried to coax Ron to drink some more coffee.
“No more pain, Harry. It’ll be over soon.”
Mr Ollivander leant in closer to them, “What’s he talking about, Harry?”
Harry shrugged impatiently. “Oh who knows? Drink this for Merlin’s sake, Ron.”
“All be over soon,” Ron almost sang, laughing drunkenly.
Indents appeared in Harry’s forehead as he surveyed the almost euphoric look on Ron’s face. “What does that mean?”
Ron just smiled a secret smile and closed his eyes with a heavy sigh. He had been feeling this gut wrenching pain for far too long, the hole in his chest where his heart had once been just seemed to get deeper and blacker and Ron felt that he couldn’t take any more.
The dreams, or more preciously, the nightmares were the worst to deal with. For the first few weeks after the news about Hermione, Ron had been unable to sleep, waking in a cold sweat, panting harshly with his pulse racing frantically as he dreamt about Hermione. Harry had explained to him what a speedboat was, and Ron had been unable to control the burning tears as he wondered about Hermione’s last moments.
Had she been having fun and hadn’t noticed whatever danger was lurking in front of her? Or worse, had she notice and been unable to do anything about it? Had she gone instantly? Had she been scared? In pain? Had she thought about him, as he was now unable to think of anything else other than her?
Ron wasn’t sure that he even wanted to know the answer to half of his questions. Would knowing be worse than not knowing? What was he meant to do with the answers? It wasn’t as if they would give him any peace of mind, nothing was going to do that, because no matter what the answers, the fact of the matter still stood. Hermione was gone.
“Ron, listen to me, what do you mean?” Harry demanded, gripping hold of the other boys shoulders and shaking him, his head bouncing around on his neck.
Mr Ollivander shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Harry, today he was coming the other way, from Knockturn Alley. I must have missed him going up the street,”
Harry glanced up, “What does that mean?”
“You know Knockturn Alley, Harry. Even now you can get all sorts from down there,” Mr Ollivander reminded him.
“All sorts,” Harry whispered, dread creeping through him like ice in his veins. “Oh God! Ron, Ron, look at me, tell me you haven’t done anything stupid.”
“Hermione. Hermione,” Ron mumbled, his long body relaxing entirely. There was a numbness stealing through his body making him feel ever so tired, and thankfully, slowly pushing the pain away. Ron had discovered that alcohol only conveniently kept the pain at bay rather than away completely. Once the alcohol had drained from his system, the pain returned the next morning along with the nightmares, the visions and a blistering hangover.
Blind panic gripped Harry’s heart in claws of ice as he stared at his friend. There was a voice at the back of his head that told him all was not well. His inner disaster detector told him that something was badly wrong with Ron, that he had in fact done something he shouldn’t have done.
“Ron! Open your eyes and look at me. Tell me what you’ve done!” Harry yelled, his fingers digging into Ron’s shoulders, his green eyes wide and wild behind his glasses.
“Leaving it all behind,” Ron whispered, almost sliding out of the chair onto the floor when Harry release his hold on his shoulders.
Harry had awkward, fumbling hands as he patted and prodded Ron all over, searching for something out of the ordinary, some small clue that would give him the answer to the horrific question pounding inside his head where his headache had previously been.
“Nothing like a cold, hard shock to sober a person up,” Harry said under his breath. Finally, as it seemed to Harry as though his hands were battling against thick mud rather than simply air on their way over Ron’s body, he came into contact with a glass bottle, so small he would have missed it if Ron had been sitting in another position.
“What have you found?” Mr Ollivander asked, holding out his hand for the bottle.
Handing the bottle over, Harry said, “I don’t know.” Although, even as the words came out of his mouth, bile burnt the back of his throat, as Harry had the horrendous feeling he did indeed know what he had found.
Uncapping it, Mr Ollivander sniffed at the top of the bottle and gasped, “Poison.”
Harry closed his eyes, “Oh dear Merlin. What have you done, Ron?”
Ron didn’t reply, he was comfortable now, the numbness washing over his heart, and drowning out all instinct to fight back. He didn’t want to fight back, Ron was perfectly happy to embrace the soft, gentle darkness that was beckoning to him.
Slapping at Ron’s cheek, Harry felt his body beginning to shake. “What can I do? How do I make it stop?”
“You can’t. Poison is poison, there’s no cure, Harry,” Mr Ollivander replied, staring helplessly at the boy who was slumped in the chair, unable to live a life without Hermione Granger in it.
Harry cried out in denial, despair crashing over him as he watched the life of his best friend slowly slipping away.
Jumping in surprise when the door behind him crashed open, Harry turned to look over his shoulder, to demand whoever had intruded to get out. His eyes widened, his jaw dropping open, “Hermione? You’re dead!”
Hermione Granger stood in the door way, her hair in its familiar bushy state, her hands on her hips. “Yes, so I’ve been told,” she said, shaking her head and coming further into the shop.
“But, but…we couldn’t find you,” Harry said, staring unbelievably at his friend, who was tanned and healthy looking and certainly no ghost.
“Ginny is back at The Burrow explaining everything. Ginny wanted to know what it was like to live as a muggle, so that’s what we’ve been doing. No magic, that’s why the tracker devices that the Ministry put on our wands came up with nothing. We haven’t been casting any spells,” Hermione explained, squatting down next to Harry and gazing at Ron.
“There was a report though, that you died,” Harry persisted, trying to get his head around the fact that Hermione was actually there.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Mr Ollivander murmured, edging over to the curtain that hid the storeroom of the shop.
“There was a report that an Hermione Granger died I won’t dispute that. But I’m not the only Hermione Granger in the world, Harry. I admit Ginny and I didn’t make it very easy for you to find us, and we have indeed neglected to write to you for a while. A long while really, and I apologise for that,” Hermione smiled lightly.
“You apologise?” Harry repeated slowly. “You apologise? You have no idea what you’ve done, Hermione! Look, look at him! He’s dying!” Harry yelled, pointing at Ron. “He’s taken poison, he’s dying and it’s all your fault! God forbid that you should take a break from having fun in the sun and bloody well write us a letter!”
Harry was so angry, so incensed that he actually wanted to strike Hermione. He, Ron, the Weasley’s, Luna, Neville, the Ministry, they had all been through enough already without the added hell Hermione and Ginny had put them through the last two months. It had all been for nothing, Hermione and Ginny had been busy playing at Muggles, while the rest of them went out of their minds with worry, and Ron hadn’t been able to take it any more.
Hermione’s face paled, draining of blood so fast that Harry thought she was going to faint. “Poison?” she whispered, “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m deadly serious,” Harry hissed viciously. “He loved you, Hermione, he was going to propose to you when you got back. He’s always loved you and he didn’t want to face a life without you in it.”
“No, no,” Hermione lent over taking Ron’s pale, clammy face in the palms of her hands. “Ron, Ron, can you hear me?”
“Don’t be selfish,” Harry snapped. “There’s nothing we can do, he’s going to die and it’s better he thinks he going to be with you rather than know he is in fact leaving you behind because you’ve been alive all this time. He’s been living in hell the last two months. Let him at least die in peace, Hermione.”
Hermione closed her eyes, taking a shaking breath as the tears began to fall. She took Ron’s hand in hers and pressed her lips to his knuckles. Harry was right, she had done this, she had meant to write to Ron of course she had, but she and Ginny had been so busy searching for her parents that she hadn’t had the time. Hermione had put it off, wanting to write to him and tell him she had found her parents, everything was ok and she was coming home. She had missed Ron so much that the idea of receiving a letter from him had physically hurt because she wouldn’t be able to see him.
Biting her lip to keep her sobs locked in her throat where they belonged, Hermione wiped Ron’s hair from his eyes, stroking his forehead, her heart hammering a painful rhythm in her chest.
Ron’s eyes fluttered at the light touch to his skin, dragging his eyes into focus, he smiled slightly. He was hallucinating now, Hermione was there, holding his hand and looking at him with love in her eyes. It had worked, the wonderful pain relieving potion was doing it’s job, he could now look at Hermione without any part of him hurting.
His lips were numb now as well, but Ron still managed to whisper, “Hermione.”
“I’m here,” Hermione said softly, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. “I love you, Ron.”
Ron smiled, and sighed quietly, Hermione began to recede into the darkness that was now closing over him completely.
Mrs Weasley was hugging Ginny close to her, stroking her hair and enjoying the familiar feel of her daughter in her arms. She looked up at the clock, happy to see Ginny’s hand stating “At Home”, that was exactly where Ginny belonged.
Ginny felt her mother stiffen in her embrace, and the sudden scream that came from the woman who was only mere moments ago blissfully happy, chilled Ginny to her very core. “Mum?” she followed her mother’s eye line to the clock on the wall. Ron’s hand had completely disappeared.
Ron was floating, and then there was a sudden nothingness.
Poison certainly knew how to do its job and do it quickly.
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