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Chapter 3 : Back to the Forbidden Forest
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Harry noticed Neville and Luna making their way towards the lake. Their hands were intertwined and they seemed to be talking and laughing with immense ease. Harry smiled slightly for his friends, but felt the intense stab of loneliness that had become an hourly occurrence in the past few months. He lowered his head, shoved his hands into his pockets, and slipped into the green expanse of trees behind him.
His feet found a trail within moments, carrying him away from the cheerful chatter that echoed across the grounds. At the edge of the woods, plenty of sunlight still shone through the canopy above him, lighting his trail with jagged patterns in outlines of branches and leaves. It had been quite a bit of time since Harry had found himself in nature, having spent most of his time reading or taking care of Teddy. Its calming effect made his mind go numb, and he soon found himself standing in a clearing, his eyes closed as he breathed in the pine-perfumed air.
His eyes flew open as he whirled to face the person who had followed him. His wand was already extended in front of him before he could register that it was Hermione. Harry immediately lowered the weapon and tried to bring his breathing back to its earlier slow rate. However, his sense of panic remained.
“Sorry, Hermione,” Harry apologized, quickly shoving his wand back into his pocket. “I’m not very good at being relaxed anymore.”
She laughed half-heartedly and then sighed. “I don’t think any of us is.” Hermione approached him and linked her arm with his. The gesture brought him back to last Christmas in Godric’s Hollow… Bathilda… the snake. He could see the same ghosts reflected in her brown eyes, but he didn’t say anything.
“Harry…” She paused, a crease forming between her dark eyebrows. “How… are you?” The question was cautious. Hermione was unsure how to talk to him. The thought just reminded him of how much things had changed.
Harry paused to consider the question. He couldn’t honestly say that he was deeply unhappy. Even he could sense the burden that had been lifted from all of them. However, he surely wasn’t fine. “Just lonely, I guess,” he responded.
“Then come back to the Burrow with us. Or we could go somewhere else.” Hermione adjusted herself so that she was facing him head-on, her hand in his. “We miss you. We’re worried about you.” Harry assumed that by “we” Hermione was referring to Ron and herself. The thought of going to the Burrow—seeing the Weasley family carry out their daily lives with the tremendous loss bogging down their every movement—made him feel sick.
“I can’t,” Harry lied. “Andromeda needs my help with Teddy.”
“Actually,” Hermione replied, sounding somewhere between smug and exasperated, “I just overheard Mrs. Tonks talking with Molly about you. She said that she wishes you’d get out of the house.” Hermione noticed the guilt and sad confusion cross Harry’s features. “Not because she dislikes having you there,” she quickly interjected. “But she wants to see you be happy, Harry. Not just… surviving. Happy. And she thinks the only way for you to do that is to go out and continue on with your life.” Hermione dropped her gaze to the ground. “I think that’s what all of us need to do.”
Harry knew that she was right. He’d spent hours in his bedroom trying to motivate himself to do just that. However, there was one problem that kept occurring to him. “What am I supposed to do, Hermione? I have no clue where I’m supposed to start.”
“Well,” Hermione smiled genuinely, a sight that made Harry feel suddenly warm and a bit hopeful. “I was hoping that you would ask.” She reached into her black jacket pocket and pulled out a folded flier and handed it to him.
It was a brightly colored advertisement for auror training. It reminded Harry of military recruitment advertisements that muggles sometimes circulated. Even though Voldemort is gone, dark magic lives on. Do your part for your ministry and the entire wizarding world. Harry noticed the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. requirements that he and Professor McGonagall had discussed two years earlier were printed in small font at the bottom of the page.
“I’ve already convinced Ron and Neville.” Hermione continued to grin proudly. Harry wondered if she was clinging to this success to overshadow the general gloom, or if she was sincerely glad. “It’s what you always dreamed of doing, Harry. There’s no reason to give up on it.”
“Except I haven’t finished school.” Harry tried to hand the paper back to her, but she shoved it back in his direction.
“You don’t have to. Didn’t you hear? Kingsley declared that anyone who fought in the battle is considered graduated and eligible to move on to training in any career.” Hermione obviously was not going to take any excuses. “I, however, will be returning to Hogwarts to properly finish my education. I doubt that you will be interested in doing the same. Ronald certainly isn’t.”
Harry glanced back down at the flier, uncertain. It would be nice to see his friends again, but he wasn’t completely sure that he could ever return things to any sort of state of normalcy.
As if reading his mind, Hermione prodded him once again. “Things are never going to go back the way they were, Harry. Trust me. I’ve spent three months crying over it every night. I’m fairly sure everyone else does the same. I know that Ginny does.” She edged closer once again, holding his hand in the same comforting manner. “Little by little, that pain is going to dull down. Soon, we’re going to find ourselves having days that we can forget about it. Not forgetting for good, just for a little while. Happy things will be able to shove their way through again, if we let them. You need to let yourself get to that place, Harry. It’s what they would want.”
Harry wasn’t completely sure who Hermione meant by “they”. His first thought was his parents, but then other faces flashed through his mind. Lupin and Tonks, Moody, Fred’s goofy grin, Dobby’s unwavering loyalty and adoration, Sirius. He decided that she meant them all. They all would want that for him. “I’ll do it.”
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