"Autumn's hue in those sad eyes makes me love and love them more." (Bat For Lashes)
"So beautiful and more than I could ever dream, somehow I thought you'd see that I wasn't what I seemed." (Aviators)
Harry paces up and down the train corridor, nervously, his teeth shredding his bottom lip. Ahead, in the last compartment, she sleeps, oblivious to his internal turmoil. Peaceful. Like he can never be.
It was a tragedy, that's what everyone says. A terrible cruelty. Something no one could have foreseen. The sound of weeping lacerates his ears, emanating from Ginny's compartment, and he ignores it. Ignores her. He must, or he will break like an over-stretched elastic.
Up and down. Up and down. His trainers wear a scuffed path in the dark linoleum. Malfoy backs out of his own compartment, stares at him, then says nothing. There is a look in those silver-grey eyes that is strangely like pity.
I don't need your pity! he longs to rage at the Slytherin, longs to spit at him, turn him into a ferret and bounce him around the train until the short white fur is dark and matted with blood, until there is no more pity shining from those grey eyes. His thoughts terrify him, and yet, why? After all, this isn't the first time his mind has turned to murder, now is it?
But he shies away from that subject, he can't think about it again, and so he nods at Malfoy, finally turning his feet toward the last compartment, where she slumbers.
When he tiptoes in, she is still asleep, her head pillowed on her crumpled book-bag. When she is asleep, he cannot see the sorrow that lingers in her autumn-brown eyes, the tears that perpetually glisten in the corners. The bruises under her eyes stand out like a brand.
He hasn't the heart to wake her, not anymore, so he curls up on the opposite bench, watching the rain streak the window and listening to her soft breaths. The absence of the third member of the trio is shattering.
What have you done? a voice whispers in his head. His voice. He ignores it as resolutely as he has every other time, resting his burning cheek against his knees. The fabric feels like ice.
For the last week, everyone has tiptoed around him and Hermione, speaking in hushed voices like they have died with Ron. Perhaps they have. Bruises still flower along Harry's shoulder-blades, and his fingernails dig into his wrists every night. Sirius has contacted him only once, his voice broken and hoarse, every bit as crazed as he ever was in Azkaban.
The Headmaster has talked to him only once, too, right after the...incident. That's what Albus calls it, "the incident," and Harry longs to smash him against the cluttered walls of his office with his magic alone, demanding to know if this is an incident, too. He can't, though, he may be petted on the head and treated like spun glass, but he does not think he can pass off assaulting the headmaster as an after-effect of grief.
Does he even grieve, he wonders? He's not sure. There is a sense of loss, howling and empty in the centre of him. But greater than the coldness of desolation is the fire, burning hotter than he can imagine. The fire of her, warm chestnut eyes and wavy chestnut hair, and her fire extinguishes the loss of a tall, red-haired boy.
The train whistles and pulls into King's Cross, and he at last crosses the compartment, crouching down beside her and touching her shoulder, murmuring her name to waken her. The taste of her name on his lips is like finest spun sugar dipped in poison.
"Are we here?" she asks sleepily, and he nods, resisting the urge to run his fingers through the soft curls of her hair, to press his lips, cracked and broken with a thousand regrets, against hers.
Saying goodbye is always hard, and it is doubly hard as he returns to the Dursleys, casting one last glance over his shoulder at her image, borne away by her overly talkative parents. He avoids the Weasleys, the sad-faced gingered clump on the side of the platform. His grief rings hollow, as tawdry as a plastic spray of trinkets on a tourist trap's shelf. How can he speak to them of their lost one?
Uncle Vernon smacks him upside the head, and the sudden burst of pain makes him feel right with the world. He bows his head beneath the scathing words, the harsh pinch of Aunt Petunia's claw-like fingers on his arm. Yes. He deserves this. Away from the school, away from her, the light of the sun burns him, scalds him beneath a thousand harsh recriminations, a thousand terrible truths. What has he done?
He falls into his normal summer routine. Wake at dawn, prepare the Dursleys' breakfast, finish his chores. They are not as physically brutal as they have been in past years, perhaps remembering his escaped murderer of a godfather, and he does not dissuade them from this notion. Despite the sick bite of his guilt, he has no death wish.
It is at night that his fears prey on him, that the world becomes a nightmare of shadows and whispers and forever, the plaintive voice asking "why." He has no answer.
When the Death Eaters came, sprung out of thin air like puppets from a macabre theatre show, they were surrounded. Harry could feel the orb of the prophecy slick and cold in his fingers as Lucius Malfoy inquired for it, his hand clutching his cane. When he shouted for them to run, Malfoy was blasted back twenty paces, Luna Lovegood looking after him in her customary dreamy way as she twirled her wand in her pale, blood-slicked fingers.
The Order came, the prophecy slipped from his hands to smash on the unforgiving stone floor, its whispers dying away in the raucous melee of the fight. Sirius pushed Harry away, a slicing hex cutting his shoulder into ribbons. Bellatrix whispered a curse at him, and almost pushed him through a strange, fluttering sort of veil in the centre of the room.
It wasn't until the end, when Harry had found a quiet corner to regroup, that he stumbled upon Ron. The Weasley boy was sitting against a wall, panting, his hair sticky with dark blood, his eyes wild.
"Ron! Are you all right?" Harry gasped, his eyes running over the boy's stocky frame, over the tears and rents in the faded jeans and shirt. Ron shrugged.
"Fine, mate," he said with the ghost of his customary cheeky grin. "Just need a breather."
"Me, too," he said, flopping against the wall next to him. Hermione shouted from somewhere to his right, and red light sparked. As they rested, Harry found himself thinking of her. And of Ron.
Ron liked Hermione. If he hadn't known that after the debacle at the Yule Ball last year, he certainly knew it this year, after hearing Ron wake more than once with 'Mione's name on his lips. When questioned, the boy would flush and stammer and claim he had no idea what Harry was talking about.
It was the work of a moment, his wand snatched up, the spell uttered before he could change his mind, realize what he was doing. The look of surprise stamped in Ron's eyes as he slumped over, blood spouting from the hole in his chest, haunted Harry, damned even as he stuffed his wand into his pocket and scrambled away, shouting in horror as he claimed he had just found Ron that way.
The feel of a sobbing Hermione pressed into his chest seared itself into his memory forever.
He always wakes with a scream lingering in his throat, held back by the tight press of his lips. His sheets perpetually soaked in sweat as he rolls stealthily from them, pacing back and forth in the cramped confines of his room until dawn paints the horizon in a wash of pastels that promise to take away the nightmares. They do, if only for a moment.
It was chalked up to the Death Eaters, of course. How could it not be? No one confesses, but then again, considering the disaster at the Ministry, complete with a newly-risen Voldemort's appearance, a confession isn't expected. Harry still remembers the interested glint in Voldemort's maroon eyes as the Dark Lord sees his actions, sees the blood stained into his soul.
You're just like me, Voldemort's voice echoes through his thoughts and this time, Harry has no rebuttal.
Hermione writes him, of course, and he writes back, pretending a contentment he cannot feel, trying to mimic a normal summer, a happy summer. A summer that Ronald Weasley was supposed to feature in. Some days, the pretense is too painful and he drops his quill, stuffing the parchment under the floorboards with an angry, impatient hand. It's not worth it. Nothing can be worth this, and then he remembers the shy quirk of her smile, the way she fills out her robes, and the glint of sunlight on her chestnut hair, and the old fire rekindles itself in his chest. She is worth it. She is always worth it.
When school starts again, he asks her out, and to his eternal surprise and delight, she accepts, her cheeks pinking in the dusky glow of the fireplace. He holds her hands in his and for a moment, he can pretend the ghost of the last member of the Golden Trio doesn't haunt him, doesn't linger over every stolen moment he and Hermione hold. Friends forever, but the words are bitter and choked with regrets.
Time passes, and they grow closer, spilling secrets in the purple shrouds of twilight, clasped under a blanket in the Room of Requirement. Hermione says nothing about Ron, and Harry follows her lead, his hands hot and eager against the curves of her body. The rest of the world can fall and burn for all he cares, he decides as they consummate their growing passion, as he whispers her name into her ear with an explosive breath. Nothing matters. Not Voldemort, not Dumbledore, and certainly not dearly departed Ronald Weasley.
When he faces Voldemort for the final time, wands locked in duel, he is ever aware of her, just beyond the periphery of his vision, fighting a nameless Death Eater with hair like straw. His concentration shatters and for a moment, he is certain that he will die forever here. Neither can live while the other survives, but is it really meant to end like this? But with a final burst of power, he sends the spells flying back, smashing the Dark Lord into the ground as the breath leaves him for the final time.
Dead. Voldemort is dead, and Harry stands there, motionless, wand still outstretched and pointed toward the place where the man used to be. It isn't until Hermione flings her arms around him, laughing and crying at the same time, that he can move, pulling her close and feeling her tears dampen his shirt. It is a strikingly similar pose to two years ago, and he freezes. For a brief second, he can't remember where he is, or how old he is, and whether or not he's just killed a monster or become one.
Then it passes, and he is Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Boy Who Defeated the Dark Lord, and he is borne away, still holding hands with Hermione, as people laugh and weep and cheer, and he is certain that the world is madness.
They dedicate statues in his name, they hold ceremonies and write articles, snapping pictures and scribbling nonsense with flamboyant, lavish hands, and he nods and smiles and accepts it all. It doesn't matter. He has Hermione, and that is all he ever wanted, all he ever needed. He asks her to marry him, and she accepts.
And if in the night, he gasps and cries out, what does it matter? They have both been through a war, after all, and its lingering horrors are to be expected. She wakes him and soothes him, her touch gentle on his sweat-dampened brow, and he smiles at her in the dark, whispering how much he loves her. And the shadows lingering in her whiskey-glazed eyes fail to sorrow him anymore.
I killed Ron, he mouths into her hair every day, and every day, she fails to hear.
And every day, Harry is damned anew.