Sorted For Bravery, Not Loyalty
Harry looked at his best friend in the world and sighed. She was still in tears, even after an hour they were slowly trickling down her cheeks. Not that he could blame her. After all, they had just been abandoned by the man who'd sworn he was with them to the end.
He stood and began to pack up the things they'd brought out of the tent and kicked dirt over the makeshift fire. If Ron did try to come back he wouldn't find the two of them easily.
Hermione finally came outside and watched him silently for a moment before helping him. "Should we have expected this?" She asked softly. "Ron's...well..." She shrugged, for once at a loss for words.
Harry looked at her as he began to take the tent down. "Let's face it, Ron's never been exactly unflinching in his support. Not the way you've been. What has he ever had to do that's been really hard? Besides facing giant spiders. He crumbles at the first sign of a problem. Even during Quidditch if you think about it."
Her normally bright brown eyes were dark as she considered his question. "He never has understood why it was important that I go home each summer. And he just...assumes we agree with him about so many things."
"And he got mad and left us over food." Harry handed her the folded up tent and watched as she put it in her little beaded bag. "I've been half starved every year until I was eleven and then it was every summer. There's a reason I'm so bloody short."
"We ought to see about getting you some nutrient potions." Hermione said absently as she began to wave her wand, erasing all signs of their campsite. "I bet that Madam Pomphrey would know about some."
"She does. But for some reason every time she mentioned it something else happened, usually Dumbledore related." Harry shrugged. "Meantime, let's do what we couldn't possibly have with Ron around and go Muggle for a while. If we don't use magic no one will notice us."
"Thats...actually a good idea." Hermione blinked and began to smile. "And the Deatheaters will stick out as bad as Ron would have. But where?"
"How about London?" Harry suggested. "After we get food from the grocers, we could call Kreacher and ask him to do the elf version of apparition right into Grimmauld. That way we wouldn't be seen by any watchers. There's got to be something in the library about the wards. I'm the owner of the house, I should be able to apparate directly into the entryway after all. We didn't need to appear on the stoop."
"All right. How about the alley next to that little cafe we nearly destroyed?" Hermione suggested.
"I can do that." Harry nodded and wrapped his arm around her waist. "Hold on."
It worked like a charm. Kreacher came when Harry called as if he was in the next room, not half a city away. Though he was disappointed that the horcrux locket wasn't destroyed, he was pleased to hear they'd gotten it back. And when he saw it was only Hermione and Harry he was even more pleased. "Good. Master has gotten rid of the nasty red speckled traitor."
"Red speckled..." Hermione blinked and looked at Harry.
"Uh, Kreacher? Why would you call Ron a traitor?" Harry crouched in front of the elf to talk to him.
"Because he's was talking about Master Harry behind Master's back. Always making the faces and strutting about as if he was the Master and not Master Harry." Kreacher nearly snarled in his distaste. "Nasty little specklefaced brat. Not worthy to sit in the soot on the hearth of Master's houses."
Harry nodded slowly. "Well he abandoned us when he got hungry." That was all he could really say without starting to rant himself. "We need to figure out where the rest of the horcruxes are and how to destroy them." He rubbed his forehead as his scar started aching.
"Harry, do you think..." Hermione started softly. "I mean...your scar... has anyone...ever...looked at it? Medically I mean?" She smiled at Kreacher. "Kreacher, perhaps Harry could have some tea? He brought us halfway across England and he's very tired."
"At once." Kreacher guided them into the parlor and began to produce a nice tea, hovering after Harry began to sip. "If...If Master Harry wishes... Master could make an appointment with the Gringotts goblins... Goblins is knowing everything about curses and cursed objects... Goblins might be able to take the darkness out of Master's scar." He looked almost worried about speaking up.
"Kreacher that's brilliant!" Harry smiled at the old elf. "Also...I was wondering. This is such a big house. And after the war, someday I want to have a family. You're such a good elf...but it seems like maybe if I had a family you'd need some help."
Kreacher began to look a bit rebellious at the thought of not being able to handle any amount of work he was given. Hermione, correctly reading the elf's expression hastily added. "Harry's right. You're so experienced Kreacher, you should be more of the majordomo or a butler type of elf. If we could find you a couple of elves to help, would you be willing to train them? That way you'd have some help but you could teach them."
"Yeah, to be proper elves to the Potters and the Blacks," Harry nodded smiling at Hermione. "After all Kreacher, we want you to take care of us for a long time. You're a wonderful elf. And if you taught other elves how to take care of us, I'd feel a lot better about having a family. I've never had a proper one you know. I'd really be depending on you to help me."
Kreacher seemed to be considering the idea and finally asked in a slightly wary voice, "Master is not trying to replace Kreacher with a younger, new-fangled elf?"
"God no!" Harry shook his head. "You're a Black elf Kreacher. It would be wrong to have any other elf in charge of the house. Hermione and I just thought that some help with the place, elves that you could train, would be a good idea. It's a big house..."
"There are rooms we haven't even seen yet because they're closed off." Hermione added, her voice wistful. "Wouldn't you like to see the house all opened up and used again?"
Kreacher nodded slowly. "Kreacher will teach any elf Master Harry and Missy finds. Teach them to be proper Black elves. Master Harry and Missy will have to ask the Potter elves about training anymore to be Potter elves."
"Potter elves?" Harry asked slowly. "I didn't know there were any Potter elves."
Kreacher's expression suggested that Harry was sorely ignorant. "At the Pottery Manse," He told them. "Pottery Manse is where the Potter elves be. Pottery Manse has shut tight since the Potters died." He sniffled unhappily, "Our poor Mistress Dorea. We miss her."
"Kreacher, could...could you go and get the head Potter elf?" Harry asked hopefully. "We've never been to Pottery Manse. And I know a few people who could use a place to hide."
"We will call for the head Potter elf," Kreacher sniffed. "But Master should be certain to tell the Potter elves that Master is also a Black and our master. We will not have Potter elves here."
"I'll do that Kreacher. Thank you." Harry nodded and watched in bemusement as Kreacher popped away.
It was actually funny how wizards completely overlooked house elves. And how much they ignored goblins. Harry couldn't quite understand it. Was it how the Lords and Ladies of Noble Great Britain saw servants? Part of the scenery?
The goblins and house elves were brilliant at a lot of things. And as long as they weren't asked to do something to harm their family directly they were pretty loyal to other elves. For instance the elves remaining at Malfoy Manor were perfectly happy to talk to Kreacher and Dobby and sneak the prisoners in the dank rooms below the house out. Olivander, Griphook and Luna Lovegood had been surprised but relieved when Kreacher and Dobby had popped them out of there and over to Gringotts.
If the goblins hadn't been willing to help before that would have done it. They'd gone into a flurry of activity. Between goblin records, Hermione's memory and some plain old sneakiness they'd tracked down a lot of people who needed help.
Hermione was busily exchanging all the information they had on the horcruxes with the goblins. They in turn were informing the house elves of what to look for. It was like watching a slightly deformed and twisted ballet. But it worked and that was the most important thing.
Harry was watching all of it from a slightly uncomfortable pallet on the stone floor. Apparently now that his magical guardian was dead the goblins were free to speak to him regarding the 'abomination in his head'.
Yeah, Harry sighed to himself, the goblins weren't pleased with Dumbledore at all. And while the ritual had been fairly excruciating, which was why he was still lying down, it had worked. The piece of Voldemort's soul was out of his head.
"Harry," Hermione's voice had him opening eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed. "We need you to tell the locket to open. No one else speaks parseltongue and you still do."
That had been a little bit of a surprise. Apparently when they pulled the horcrux out of his head he hadn't lost his ability to speak to snakes. He nodded and extended his hand, clasping hers gratefully as she helped him sit up. Looking at the goblin in charge, a burly scarred warrior named Ironheart, Harry waited until he was given a nod, and stared at the locket, seeing the S turn into a snake as he watched it. "Open." He commanded and watched as smoke and black mist poured out of the locket, red eyes glaring as it began to take form, only to be sucked immediately into a crystal.
Ironheart nodded again, placing gems around the crystal, activating a ward scheme that Hermione had gone crazy with questions over. The gems began to glow and Ironheart barked a command that had everyone taking a step back and crouching down.
Harry shielded his eyes as fiendfyre began to devour the crystal. He wouldn't have been able to even create fiendfyre and controlling it once it was created was even harder.
Hermione's grip on his hand loosened and she leaned against him. "Do you think..." She stopped and he knew she was thinking about Ron.
"If we had Ron with us would we have thought of all this? Asking the house elves and the goblins for help? Telling the goblins about the horcruxes?" Harry finished her thought with a half smile.
"Yeah..." Hermione sighed.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and daringly kissed her forehead. He was slowly getting used to physical affection and how to offer it. "I don't think so. Going muggle, getting food and supplies from regular stores...that would never have occurred to Ron. That was what led us back to Grimmauld, to Kreacher and Pottery Manse."
"And to the goblins and the house elves." Hermione said softly. "And without them, we would never have been able to save half the muggleborn and half bloods we have."
"Yeah, that was brilliant," Harry smiled at her. "Getting the elves to find all the kids and their families. Because if we can't find Pottery Manse without the elves then the Death Eaters couldn't either. I'm just glad the Manse is so big. The kitchen garden alone is huge. Large enough to feed an army."
"They just can't say the name," Hermione sighed and shook her head before consulting her list and going back to business. "The only one we've got left is the snake."
"I still can't believe they got the diadem out of Hogwarts," Harry mused. "Of course Dobby showing up with the sword of Gryffindor was a little bit of a shock. And hearing that Snape is on our side..."
"Messes with your head." Hermione agreed. "But it was certainly helpful, especially with those contacts of his. Who'd have thought Snape knew people in the military?" She giggled. "The look on your face when Snape appeared in the floo. I don't know which one of you was more startled."
"Oh that would have been me." Harry agreed with a chuckle of his own. "But you've got to give me credit for not killing him."
"Five points to Gryffindor." Hermione smiled. "He's right though, the Dark Lord keeps that snake too close."
"What about poison?" Harry recalled the days of setting out poison in the garden around the Dursley's house, trying to keep rodents away. "If we loaded up a bunch of rats or pigs or something with poison?"
"We can run it by the elves. They might be able to find out who's in charge of feeding Nagini." Hermione nodded and wrote it down.
Harry watched as she flipped through the pages of her notebook, having stopped at a Muggle office supply store so she'd have something to make her lists on. "I think..." He stopped, as she had, and thought, picking up the thread of the conversation she'd begun with. "I think...the Sorting Hat..." Harry looked at her. "I think Ron was sorted for bravery. And when it comes to a fight, to the easy decisions, yeah, Ron's brave. Almost too brave with all the stupid fights." He thought a little more and continued, "Yeah, Ron got sorted to Gryffindor for bravery. But he got sorted right away, no conversation, no thought on the Hat's part. So he never would have gotten sorted for loyalty. It never even thought he might belong in Hufflepuff."
Hermione nodded slowly as she thought about his words. "You're right." She agreed finally. "You and I, the hat talked to us, took its time. And then it sorted us. You and I...we could have been put in other houses."
Harry sighed, "I miss him." He admitted. "But I don't think I'll ever be able to trust him again."
"No." Hermione kissed his cheek and rested her head on his shoulder. "Not with anything important."
Harry cuddled her into his side and silently agreed with her. Ron couldn't be trusted with anything important. And Hermione was the most important thing in the world.
Hermione had a jagged cut from behind her ear down to her collarbone, seeping blood and crusted with dirt. Harry's glasses were cracked and blood was running down his forehead into his eye, sticky and stinging. Neville was looking somewhat the worse for wear but he was smiling grimly.
"Harry," The Longbottom heir nodded his acknowledgement. "I'll admit, the plan worked. They showed up just like you said."
"Oh yay," Harry quipped. "So what was the second half of the plan?"
"Muggle tech, thanks to our snarky Headmaster Snape." Hermione pulled what looked like a bulky TV remote out of her pocket. "We might have a few stragglers but they're all gathered at the edge of the wards."
"Muggle tech." Neville repeated. "Right. And that'll work here?"
"Snape checked for us. Works just fine." Harry nodded as he put his binoculars to his eyes. "Explosives are low tech compared to some of the stuff that works here."
"Cool." Neville still sounded unconvinced but when faced with an army of werewolves, snatchers, giants and Death Eaters any help was better than no help.
"Hermione, I've got movement at the edge of the wards," Harry reported. "Dobby," He called quietly.
"Yes Master Harry Potter sir!" The elf popped in with an enthusiastic bounce.
"We're ready for stage two. Tell McGonagall to send all the kids through the floo. Gringotts is ready for them." Harry kept his eyes on the ward lines as he spoke. "I don't care who they are. If they're in uniform they shouldn't be fighting. That includes Ginny."
Neville began to disagree, "I'm of age Harry; you can't get rid of me that easily."
Harry chuckled, "Neville I know better than to argue with you." He waited for the telltale pop of an elf arriving. "That doesn't mean you get a choice." He grinned at Neville's irritated squawk as the elf popped him away, leaving the sword behind.
"Potter," Snape's silky tones came from behind them. "The castle is nearly empty. I believe you and Miss Granger are the last who are under eighteen."
"Cool." Harry grinned as the wards began to fail. "You're just in time for the show." He watched as the army of the enemy began to surge over the ward lines. "Okay...Hermione, in five, four, three, two, one."
His best friend wasn't quite giggling maniacally but it was close as she began to push button after button. Across the grounds of Hogwarts, the earth began to explode, shields and curses of no use against armed muggle explosives. When she'd done more than half of the army was lying bloody on the ground.
"Impressive," Snape admitted with a grim smile of pleasure at the sight of their well-executed plan. "However the Dark Lord and most of his inner circle were not with the army."
"No, I know." Harry shrugged. "But we've got land mines buried in random places, and goblin made traps in others. Plus the Order has arrived."
Hermione had taken the binoculars. "Harry, I've got more movement." She paused and her voice hardened. "It's Him."
Harry sighed and helped her up, standing next to Snape with a half grin. "Well look on the bright side. After this we can have a sandwich and a nap."
Snape's expression could have soured grapes but he simply sighed and gestured for them to follow him. He seemed, over the course of the past eight months, to have resigned himself to Harry. They'd never be bosom buddies but they were comrades in arms and as such they had learned to deal with each other and even find value in one another. "Potter, as usual, your sense of humor leaves much to be desired."
The Final Battle, for that was what the papers called it, was the climax of seven years of hell and at the same time, anti-climactic. It was horrifying and numbing and bloody. At the end of it Harry was magically exhausted, physically exhausted, mentally exhausted and every other kind of exhausted possible. He and Hermione had stood back to back, and at the end of the fight, simply collapsed to the ground.
They were both alive though. Voldemort and most of his inner circle was dead. The ones that weren't dead were mostly maimed and captured. Severus Snape had taken a vicious pleasure in proving just how dangerous he really was behind the mask of the quiet, noncombatant, potions master he'd so often been mocked for.
Harry had the irrational thought as Snape and Bellatrix dueled that if he didn't do well Snape would start to deduct points on his dueling style. It had been a notion completely out of place in battle and it nearly started him laughing as he fought Voldemort. That he was obviously trying to hide a grin had apparently unnerved the Dark Lord somewhat.
Challenging Voldemort to repent, to give up his vainglorious quest for immortality and might…had irked the Dark Lord to no end. And finally their wands had met again and a simple Expelliarmus had sent Tom Riddle to his final death.
Bellatrix had fallen to Snape moments later, distracted by the death of her master. The battle hadn't lasted long after that. Harry knew he'd seen Snape smiling grimly at the end, still standing, though plainly exhausted.
Harry woke up with a start, wand instinctively in his hand, the other hand feeling for Hermione beside him. Half of his mind was still in dreams, nightmare flashes of the battle and the last year. Her groan of exhaustion was more reassuring than any other noise in the world. And he'd fallen asleep with his glasses on so at least he could see.
They were in Gryffindor tower, which was reassuring but after a year so unfamiliar it was strange. Hermione began to wake up, more because of Harry's tension and wakefulness than any desire to do so. "Harry?"
"I think we're okay Hermione." He tried to reassure her. It wasn't successful as she pushed herself into a sitting position. "Kreacher?"
Having Kreacher pop in did more the help him relax than anything else. "Master Harry called? Master must be very hungry. And tired. We will bring Master Harry and Mistress Mione home now."
"No...Not just yet." Harry sighed and began to get out of bed. "Let's head down to the great hall, see if Snape, Flitwick and McGonagall need us for anything. Then we'll head home."
"Breakfast first," Kreacher insisted and popped away.
It didn't take long for him to return with two full English breakfasts which he insisted that they eat. He took away the dirty dishes and returned with several potions for both of them. Once they had downed the potions, and the steam from the Pepper-Up had cleared, then Kreacher was willing to let them out of bed.
When they entered the great hall Harry almost wished they'd just gone home. Some of the Weasleys had been present for the final battle, the twins, Percy and Bill in particular had been very effective. Charlie had been part of the underground, getting muggle borns out of the country to Romania and hadn't made it to England for the final battle. Mrs. Weasley was rushing towards them and Harry braced himself for the hug.
When she finally let go of them it was to begin scolding and praising the two of them simultaneously. At least until Harry had enough of it. "Mrs. Weasley. Mrs. Weasley!" He had to raise his voice to get her attention. "Please, let it alone? We did what we had to. And… We're not your kids."
"You're as good as!" She retorted indignantly. "Who else is going to look out for you? And with you two being so close to Ron and Ginny, you may as well be part of the family."
"Mum, let them be," Fred, battered and bruised, tried to intervene. George nodded beside him tiredly.
"Yeah Mum, give them a break would you?"
Harry stiffened and felt Hermione go almost rigid at his side at the sound of Ron's voice. He hadn't been there at the final battle, he'd abandoned them and now he was behaving as if nothing had happened. As if everything was fine. Just as he always had.
Hermione's voice was hard and cold. "What are you doing here?"
That both Ron and his mother were startled showed on their faces. But Ron answered as if the response was obvious. "Well I came because I thought you might need me. Because I looked and looked and couldn't find you."
"You looked." Her voice almost cracked. "You looked for us but you show up now, after it's done, because we might need you."
Harry slipped his arm around her waist and saw Ron's face twist slightly, an expression Harry had learned to read all too well over the course of six years. Ron's jealousy would either die off if Harry stopped touching Hermione or it would ignite if he kept on. And for the first time Harry didn't care what Ron thought, or how Ron reacted, he didn't want to let go of Hermione. "Just like with the Hungarian Horntail." He stared at Ron. "After it's all over. When it's easy. That's when you come back."
Mrs. Weasley was staring at them as if she didn't know them. Fred was looking resigned and Percy was gently patting his mother on the back. Ron was turning red in the face. Harry couldn't bring himself to care. "Hermione and I are going home if there's nothing else we can do here." He stared at Ron. "I remember how quickly you were sorted. The Hat didn't even think twice about where to put you. You were sorted for bravery Ron. But bravery isn't worth much to me. If you were half as loyal as you are brave you'd still be one of my best friends."
Hermione turned and put her head onto his shoulder. "Harry let's just go."
He put his arms around her and stared at Ron. "I never told you. Because I knew you'd flip out. The Sorting Hat said I'd do well in Slytherin. I didn't like Malfoy so I asked for anywhere but Slytherin." Harry shook his head. "I never regretted my choice. But I regret forgiving you six years of jealousy and anger. I regret curbing my abilities to keep you as my friend. Because if you were my friend you'd be happy for me when good things happen. But you never are. You're jealous. You're angry when I succeed. And that isn't a friend."
He looked at Mrs. Weasley. "You've always been kind to me Mrs. Weasley. You opened your home to me. You never asked for anything. I love your sons and your daughter like family. I will always be grateful for your affection and hospitality. But I do have to live my life. And I cannot do that by tiptoeing around unreasonable expectations."
"Harry, I would never..." Mrs. Weasley plainly wasn't sure what to say.
"Mum, why don't we give Harry and Hermione a little time. They've got to be exhausted. They'll need quiet, not bustle and worry." Percy, of all people, was the voice of reason. "We can send an owl, with an invitation after Dad's recovered and we've all had some time to rest."
"That's a good idea Perce," Fred seconded and offered Harry a smile, albeit a tired one.
Harry nodded and called for Kreacher to take them home.
Hermione was in the library again. Harry wasn't sure why he found that surprising. Over the last few months they'd spent as much time as they could helping to rebuild the battled damaged Hogwarts. Strangely enough, Snape had been friendlier, saying at one point that repairing what had been broken felt better than convalescing, no matter how many house elves followed him around. He'd actually taught Harry and Hermione some new spells, things to bring order to the chaos around them. "I was never much of a teacher," He admitted to them both as he explained how to help the elves rebuild a wall. "Not in the classroom anyway."
"You were very passionate about your subject," Hermione offered quietly.
"Passion does not always lend itself well to patience," Snape told her in a dry tone. "I would have done better with an apprentice. Not a classroom full of children whose every breath could wreak destruction. But I had no choice as to the position I was to fill."
Harry nodded, "And it's a lot easier to teach when people want to learn your subject." He commiserated. When Snape seemed surprised at the sympathy Harry grinned at him. "When Umbridge was here who do you think actually taught DADA? I taught our group and they taught others. Otherwise no one would have passed their exams. But they wanted to learn and it was hard. I can't imagine how hard it would be to teach a subject when no one wanted to pay attention." He chuckled, "Even if you did have a great speech first year."
Snape surprised them by laughing, a dusty sound of mirth as he demonstrated the wand movements again. "It was by far the high point of my year," He admitted. "Now let us fix what we so…enthusiastically broke."
Harry smiled at the memory as he watched Hermione use the same spell to set up repairs and several house elves began to work on the masonry.
Ron's voice sounded behind him and he stiffened automatically, then tried to relax. He still didn't do well with people at his back unless they were a trusted few. The house elves knew to appear in front of him. He'd nearly cursed one by mistake and only Hermione's quick hand had jerked his arm upwards, the blasting hex hitting the ceiling.
"You really think she's gonna just settle down with you, have kids, stay at home?" Ron asked, his tone a blend of surly and curiosity.
Harry turned so that he could see Ron but still keep Hermione in his view. "No. I don't." He forestalled Ron's next question, "But I've always known that's never going to be what Hermione wants. She's a brilliant witch and she'll be just as brilliant at anything else she chooses. She's gone along with me for seven years, helping me. Now it's my turn to do it for her."
"So what? You'll abandon all of us, go to muggle school, ignore magic?" Ron's face was turning red again.
"It's not like we're going to Zimbabwe or something," Harry rolled his eyes. "But I love her. If she wants to have kids someday then we will. If she wants to get married then we will. She's my best friend. I just want to be with her."
"Yes." Hermione called over to him, a smile in her voice. "Though you might consider something more polished when you decide what to tell our children about your proposal one day."
"Eavesdroppers shouldn't quibble," Harry grinned back at her. "But I'll take you out to dinner and then we can get a ring. How's that?"
"Suits me fine." She finished her work and walked over, nodding at Ron coldly. "Ronald."
"You're just… just like… You can't!" Ron sputtered like an overheating tea kettle and Harry braced himself for the imminent explosion.
It never came.
Snape's hand came down on Ron's shoulder. "Mr. Weasley," He drawled in his silky menacing voice. "I was under the impression that you'd come to help, not hinder the efforts of two of my most effective staff."
"He's, they're… she's… they're gonna…" The sputtering continued.
"Yes, yes, they plan to marry, have children, hopefully with Miss Granger's brains, though I do have some hope for Potter these days, and take the world by storm." Snape shook his head in a mockery of dismay as he regarded the Weasley. "You abandoned them once too often. So they have learnt that they are stronger together. And quite well suited."
"Thanks Headmaster," Harry grinned at him.
"Think nothing of it. It was not a compliment after all, merely a statement of fact." Snape nodded almost cordially. "How is the library coming? The kitchen elves have prepared a lunch for us."
"Pretty well sir." Hermione began to summarize their progress, tucking her arm into Harry's and guiding him after the Headmaster, leaving Ron behind.
Harry had the satisfied thought that it was where Ron belonged.