Pain and Closure, part 1
Hermione wasted no time. She gathered her things in a flash and hurried out of the library. Madam Pince thankfully never saw her sprint through the shelves, but a handful of people jumped out of her way, startled, though no one attempted to stop her and ask where she was going until she was right by the gate.
Almost slipping on the snow, Hagrid stumbled over to her faster than she had predicted the tall half-giant could.
"Hermione!" he said, "What's yer rush? Where yer headed?"
"I can't speak now, Hagrid, I'm sorry but I've got to go."
"I'm not supposed to let students out, you know tha'," Hagrid reminded her with a concerned frown.
"Please, Hagrid, you know I wouldn't go unless it was an emergency," said Hermione. "It's Ron. He says he needs my help." She purposefully omitted the fact that it was for Harry.
"Yes! So please, I'll only be gone for a moment," she continued.
"Well, all righ'," said Hagrid, having switched to looking amused— too amused, she thought, given the fact that she'd just stated Ron needed her help. "Just be back before dark, will yer? And give Ron my best."
Relieved, Hermione gave him a swift hug. "I will! Thank you, Hagrid!" Hermione leaped out the gates in a flash, leaving the giant waving behind her, and disapparated to Grimmauld Place. She burst through the door as soon as she landed on the front steps.
Grimmauld Place had never been Hermione's favourite place, but now that Harry had had it be refurnished the nasty house oozing of centuries old prejudice and malice almost looked homey. Stepping onto the new doormat welcoming her in, she closed the door behind her and stepped cautiously through the rooms. Where was everyone?
Hermione's eyes snapped upwards as suddenly there was a wail piercing through the walls.
I thought they'd gotten rid of old Walburga…?
Another moment passed before Hermione realised that the noises upstairs were not ones made by the portrait of the bigoted blood purist Black matriarch, but rather, the ones of a boy. A very pained boy.
Hermione sprinted up the steps two at a time, quickly earning a stitch in her side due to her rather unexercised muscles, but she couldn't care less.
Arriving at the second floor the cries were louder and she heard crashing; things smashed against a wall.
"—you don't understand! No one understands!"
"Harry, mate, put that down. Let's talk about this—"
"NO! YOU DON'T GET IT! NO ONE DOES! LEAVE ME ALONE!"
Ron stumbled out of a door, barely dodging a vase flying above his head. The vase shattered into a million pieces, some of which skidded across the floor to Hermione's feet.
"GET A GRIP, MATE! CALM DOWN!" Ron shouted from the hallway. He was too busy to notice Hermione standing a few paces away watching the scene in both horror and confusion.
It was quiet now, but before either Hermione or Ron could interpret that as a good sign, they could hear Harry start rambling from inside the room, "They're gone, they're gone, they're gone—"
"Harry, bloody hell . . ."
Hermione pressed her lips together tightly, stepping forward, and laid a hand on Ron's shoulder. He flinched at the contact but when his mind registered who it was he looked extremely relieved to have her there. "'Mione—"
After so many weeks the nickname made her heart jump. She'd missed him— her friend—much more than she'd realised. But this was not a time for awkward 'we broke up and now have to figure out how this works'-talk. Their best friend needed their help.
"I was gone— I was . . . I was . . . I was . . . I was—"
Hermione gulped and pulled Ron from the room's entrance back to the staircase where she'd come from; she couldn't focus while hearing Harry's anguished ramblings.
"What happened?" she asked.
Ron took a deep breath, but his voice shook when he spoke next, "I— I have no idea. We were chatting along fine when he suddenly broke down and started throwing stuff. Been talking about the war, the people we lost and how he died and how it was all his fault . . . Hermione, I've never seen him like this. Not even during fifth year. I had no clue how to calm him down, so I . . ."
Hermione met his stare, understanding. He'd done what he always did when he needed help: he turned to her.
"I'll see what I can do," she said.
Ron seemed to take comfort in her words and let her go in to face Harry.
"—smiling, smiling, smiling, smiling, smiling—"
A chill traveled along Hermione's spine. Whoever this person was, he did not sound like her best friend.
It only got worse when she crossed the room and saw him rocking back and forth on the floor, his knees up to his stomach. He had several small wounds on his hands and the objects scattered around him gave Hermione a clue as to what had inflicted the injuries. There were broken piles of wood, splinter and glass lying everywhere. The curtains were ripped and so were all the pillows.
"H—Harry?" she began tentatively as she squatted, facing him.
"—sleeping, sleeping, sleeping, sleeping, sleeping, sleeping—", Harry said, his eyes blank.
Hermione had no idea what to do. She said his name again, firmer this time. Still no response.
"Harry," she said again, this time placing her hand on top of his.
His green eyes seemed to recognize her and they were frantically running across her face.
"You," he said. "I couldn't protect you."
She waited for him to continue. Maybe it would help for him to talk.
"You were screaming, screaming so loudly, and I tried, but I couldn't and then she—" he looked at her arm now.
"That wasn't your fault," Hermione said, suddenly understanding what he was referring to. "What that woman did to me was not your fault."
Somehow this only made him snap again.
"SHUT UP! YOU DON'T KNOW! You can't tell me it wasn't my fault!
"Harry! It wasn't your—"
He was rocking back and forth again, clutching his hands on his ears.
Hermione slowly backed away, tears in her eyes. She'd felt helpless before, but never like this. She had no idea how to console her friend.
Harry abandoned the rocking and began clawing at the floor, throwing things within his reach, mostly pieces of glass, causing his fingers to bleed. Hermione healed them silently, careful to not make him see her wand. Who knew what he would do with those Auror reflexes of his if he caught her pointing a wand at him? She closed the door behind her as Harry moved on to bigger things. The bangs on the other side of the wall had her flinch. With shaky legs she strode across the hall, leaned against the wall and slid down. She clutched her legs close and cried.
"Hermione!" Hermione looked up and saw Ginny run up to her, looking exhausted and her with her cloak almost falling off. The redhead took in her friend's crouched form and distraught state. "What's happening? I saw you run out of the castle and I followed, but Hagrid said you'd gone to Ron and then Ron sent me a patronus—"
"Ginny," Hermione sobbed, "Harry . . ."
Ginny stilled. "Is that him?" she asked, just as a scream was heard in Harry's room.
Hermione nodded and wiped away tears. "I tried, Ginny. I tried telling him it wasn't his fault—"
"He's having a breakdown. He's blaming himself for everything and I really think I made it worse."
"Don't. Don't blame yourself," said Ginny. "I'll try to fix this—"
There was an even bigger crash, this time on the door. The two girls jumped in surprise.
"DON'T LET HER IN HERE, HERMIONE. I SWEAR IF YOU LET HER SEE ME LIKE THIS I'LL—"
"YOU'LL WHAT?" Ginny screamed. "I'm your bloody girlfriend, Harry James, and I'll expect you to treat me as such!" She opened the door and entered while Hermione stayed behind on the floor.
Someone else arrived from the stairs, their footsteps soft and slow. Hermione looked up to the side and saw Luna, her blonde hair sway in that dreamy way of hers. The way that was so uniquely Luna. Ron was a few steps behind her.
"Hello, Hermione," Luna said. "I arrived with Ginny, but it seemed an urgent matter so she went ahead of me—"
There was a loud sound which interrupted the blonde and made the rest startle. Harry had moved from anger to desperation. He yelled at Ginny, begged her to go away and leave him to rot, and though the witch was strong in so many ways, this had been too much for her as Ginny emerged crying less than a minute after, closing the door gently.
Luna looked at her, a slight frown on her usually dreamlike expression. "It's bad, isn't it?"
There was another crash inside.
Luna patted Ginny's shoulder and opened the door. The rest of them stood waiting— holding their breaths— by the entrance and watched as Harry first froze when spotting the Ravenclaw, and then slowly lowered the flower pot he'd been aiming at them all.
They stared as Luna reached out a hand towards The-Boy-Who-Lived and even more so when he just accepted it. No one caught the pot that fell to the floor with a soft thud when Harry kneeled, breaking down in tears; too immersed in the way Luna just stood there, stroking his hair.
It had been fast, and it had been like magic. It had been out of this world.
It had been Luna Lovegood.
"I couldn't save them," Harry mumbled between sobs against her cloak. "They're gone because of me."
Luna said nothing, and just continued stroking his hair.
Hermione woke up, her first thought being that her whole body was aching. She blinked her heavy eyelids and sat up, rubbing her head. To her right she heard a snore and saw Ron clutch his pillow tighter. Next to him, Luna shifted and turned to sleep on her side. Ginny was sitting, leaning against the wall, and caught her eyes and nodded for them to get up. The two witches tip toed around the others, who'd joined them to sit outside of Harry's room while he slept.
Hermione followed Ginny down to the kitchen, which thanks to Kreacher appeared fully stocked.
"I'll put the kettle on," declared Ginny, her voice sounding loud with just the two of them there in the big room. "Do you want anything to eat?"
"No, I'm fine with just a cup of tea. Don't really feel like eating."
Ginny nodded and went to work. A few minutes later they were both clutching a hot mug each at the kitchen table. Outside, the sun was slowly rising. Sunday was over and Monday had arrived.
"I knew something was wrong," said Ginny, breaking the silence again. Now sitting down opposite her in the candle light, Hermione could see the dark shadows under Ginny's eyes as the latter stared into empty space. It looked like she hadn't slept a wink all night. "I knew and yet it came to this."
"He's . . . Is he going to be okay, Hermione?"
Hermione reached across the table and grasped one of Ginny's hands. "You know he will."
Ginny sniffed. "I just didn't know what to do. I feel . . ."
"Helpless," Hermione finished for her.
Ginny's expression turned a bit sour. "But Luna managed to calm him."
"I'm not jealous, not in the way you're thinking, anyway. I love them both and they love each other. It's just that she always managed to comfort him in a way I've never been able to. She's soft and I'm . . . tough."
Hermione nodded in understanding. "That may be, but don't be too hard on yourself. We can't be everything to one another. That's not fair to anyone."
Ginny nodded, but Hermione wasn't sure the redhead had taken her words to heart. Ginny always did love a challenge.
"How is he?" Ron asked from the threshold.
Hermione gave him a small and tired smile. "Better. Which isn't much but it's something."
Beside her Harry gave an audible intake of breath as if to confirm. His chest rose in a steady rhythm of up and down and the way he looked so small had Hermione close to crying. Again.
"D'you want to pop outside for a bit?" asked Ron.
"I already asked Luna, and Ginny's speaking to McGonagall via the fireplace."
Having no other choice Hermione stepped away, gently brushing Harry's hair out of his face one last time. As always it refused to stay. She followed Ron out, sending Luna a greeting as the blonde went to replace her.
They'd walked around for a while when Ron stopped just by a patio. "Bit cold, but I figured we could do with a bit of fresh air." He opened and immediately there was a gust of wind filled with snowflakes howling at their faces. The two of them halted in surprise and then gave tiny laughs. Their eyes met and they sobered pretty quickly, their smiles fading as they made to sit on ancient outdoor furniture left behind by some Blacks. Apparently Harry hadn't felt the need to renovate the small enclosure.
"Thank you," Hermione said after Ron had cast a warming charm. He smiled sheepishly in return.
"So," he began. "How you been?"
There was a moment where Hermione's mind went completely blank. She'd been nervous the whole way down, biting her lower lip into oblivion, and then he asks her how he's doing? "Er . . . fine. How—how have you been?"
Stupid question, Hermione, she berated herself while wishing she hadn't just said that.
Ron was predictably quiet and Hermione cursed her tongue again.
"I'm better now."
Hermione looked at him. "Really?"
"Yeah . . ."
They sat there in silence for a while, letting their poor backs rest on the surprisingly comfortable furniture. Or maybe they were just comfortable because the two of them had been sleeping in a hallway the whole night.
"Remember that night in the infirmary after Department of Mysteries?" asked Hermione suddenly. Exhaustion was over both of them, having spent a whole day and night tending to Harry and in the emotional whirlwind that brought forth, but she somehow managed to get the words out. Ron turned to her, a small smile on his lips.
"Remember it? It was one of the best nights of my life. I was so worried about you, and then you walk up to my bed."
"And you told me all I had missed," said Hermione. "You told me about Harry, and Sirius . . . I saw your scars . . . and I remember that it was then I came to realise how much I cared for you. When I'd been so close to losing you."
Ron's eyes opened wide. "That night? Really?"
Hermione smiled. "Yes."
"Blimey, I looked like hell. Can't have set your bar very high, can you?"
She couldn't believe he was joking, and so she laughed. She laughed and felt relieved. Her friend would be back. Maybe not today, but someday. And by Godric was she thankful.
"How about you, then?" asked Hermione. She was curious.
Ron took a moment, and then shrugged. "You know me, never good with feelings. I'm a strategist, so when I knew how I felt, that's when I set a plan in motion."
Hermione quirked an eyebrow. "Well, it worked."
"Not enough." And the mood was down again. Ron didn't shed the smile, but it was duller; less vibrant.
She took his hand. "Ron . . . can you honestly say that this is what you want? Me, for life? Us, arguing, until we die?"
His smile was back. "It wasn't all that bad."
She smiled too. "No, it was very good. Just . . . "
". . . good like the way best friends would be good."
Hermione smiled apologetically. "Yes."
Ron exhaled. "I've been asked out some, you know."
"Don't sound too surprised," laughed Ron. "I'm a war hero and newly single."
Ron held up a hand. "Calm down, 'Mione. I just hope I don't sound too . . . you know, me, in saying this but . . . I think I might have needed to take some time to see what's out there. Don't get me wrong, you're absolutely brilliant. But I sort of realised that if I'm with you, then I'm with you for life. How couldn't I be? You're amazing. And we're best friends—don't cry!"
Hermione wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "Sorry, go on."
Ron rolled his eyes, but in a way that was fond of her antics. "You and me would have been for life, and while that would have been great I don't think it would have been the best, if you know what I mean. Well, obviously you do, since you were clever enough to break it off."
She snorted unattractively through her tears.
"I just want you to be happy, Ron. So happy."
"I want you to be happy, 'Mione. But for that to happen I suppose we shouldn't be together."
Hermione shook her head.
Ron sighed. "So this is it, then?"
"It was fun while it lasted."
Hermione nodded, getting the last of her tears away.
"Could you promise me one thing, though?"
"Don't start dating the ferret."
She snorted again. "You can't decide that. Not that I want to, but you understand that you can't decide who I date?"
Ron grinned. "At least I tried. So, friends?"
Hermione smiled. "Best friends."
A/N: Hello, dear readers!
I'm so sorry for the wait, life's just been a little bit crazy! Also, this chapter wasn't the easiest to write.
Harry having a breakdown had been my plan from the very start, but it was difficult having to show him be in that place all the same. I hope you all understand that this isn't all there's gonna be, this is just going to be the start of Harry's healing process. I just found it hard to believe he could go from having had the childhood he had without it resulting in him crashing down at some point. And I wanted to show that his loved ones will be there for him when he does. I wanted them to sit outside his room and take care of him, the boy who's lost so much.
Also, Ron and Hermione were due for some closure.
Hope you enjoyed this chapter despite the sadness!
Until next time!