The One Night Of The Year
Harry found Ron where he expected.
"Have a firewhiskey," the other man said, indicating the bottle and the glass sitting on the coffee table. No greeting, no questions, not tonight.
Without a word or a noise, without even turning on the lights in the flat, Harry perched himself on the edge of the armchair opposite his friend, and poured himself a glass of firewhiskey. The crystal rim of the tumbler chimed clearly against the lip of the bottle in the quiet, breaking the irregular background hum of traffic running in the street outside the window. Liquid amber gurgled as it half-filled the tumbler, and Harry set the bottle back down and took up his glass.
Ron, he suspected, had already gotten a head start on the drinking.
No surprises there.
He sipped at the fiery liquid, feeling it burn his throat as it went down. A small pain compared to the fierce contraction of his heart as he looked up at the picture that sat squarely over the mantelpiece.
Three people looked out of the photo, their young, vivid faces alight with playful laughter. Two young wizards had their arms around an equally young witch, sandwiching her in an exuberant post-match hug. The girl between them laughed and pushed at first one then the other, trying to escape them. Sometimes she did, just for a little while, before the other two would drag her, squealing, back into the picture.
Behind them, the crowds milled, smiling tolerantly at the trio's antics.
As Harry watched, the young woman looped one arm up and over the shoulders of the two boys, and sighed, her delicate features settling into an expression of indulgent affection as she leaned her head against the shoulder of the taller one.
The seventeen year-old Ron Weasley looked startled, then gratified. Beside him, the seventeen year-old Harry glanced at them both, amused by both gesture and response.
And seventeen year-old Hermione Granger grinned out of the portrait, unaware of the glance her two closest friends passed over her head. Unaware that this was the last picture anyone would have of her, the last memory that would define her in the hearts of the two young men who'd been there with her since their first year at Hogwarts.
A week later, she was missing, presumed dead. There were no leads, no proof, no traces of how she'd been taken, and nothing more than the suspicion of who or why they'd taken her. A month after that, the two young wizards in the photograph took on the Dark Lord with nothing more than determination, their wands, and a spell she'd crafted for that very purpose.
Voldemort was destroyed and the wizarding world heaved a sigh of relief and got on with their lives.
The two young men were hailed as heroes.
The young woman was mostly forgotten.
They'd learned to live as if she'd never existed. It was easier, less painful than acknowledging that something in them still expected her to turn up one day at the door with a pile of books in her backpack and an answer to the latest problem they were facing.
But they never forgot.
And especially not on the 19th of September.
Their friends and family knew not to try to contact them tonight, short of anything but Voldemort's resurrection. Last year, Ron had snapped at his father, "Dad, I don't bloody care if the Death Eaters are tap-dancing on the roof of the ministry to Celestina Warbeck – this night is the one night of the year that I do not want to be disturbed!" Mr Weasley had opened his mouth as if to remonstrate with his son, and then bit back whatever he'd been going to say.
One night of the year was a pittance compared to what should have been hers. She should have had a long and celebrated life as one of the most brilliant young witches of the early twenty-first century. Instead, she'd vanished without a trace.
Harry felt the injustice of it like a weight against his chest, pushing him down, down, down, like a millstone. He'd tried to drive her and Ron away in their sixth year, tried to protect them from what he knew would happen to one or the other or both of them. If he'd only been able to thrust them away from him, away from the danger in which his life had always been lived, then maybe she wouldn't be gone today...
Don't you think you've got a bit of a...saving people thing?
The words hadn't been funny then, and they weren't funny now. He hadn't been able to save Sirius; instead, he'd gotten Sirius killed. He hadn't been able to save Hermione either, although it wasn't what he'd done that had made her a target, it was what he hadn't been able to do; turn his back on her and Ron to the point where they were safe from Voldemort.
Yeah, Harry had a 'saving people thing'.
But, Merlin, he wished Hermione were around to tell him that.
She'd have walked into the room, taken one look at the two men getting themselves slowly and silently drunk, and given them the shrillest tongue-lashing of their lives. And they'd have listened to her rant with smiles growing on their faces before they pounced her for old time's sake, while she shrieked and squealed and futilely attempted to fight them off.
Over in his chair, Ron drained the rest of the firewhiskey as though it were water and leaned over to pour another. Harry drank the contents of his own glass and handed it over to be refilled, feeling the alcohol burn down to his stomach and knowing he would be inured to its fire within a few hours.
It didn't matter. They'd have headaches tomorrow, but the headache was far easier to live with than the heartache. Personally, Harry was surprised they didn't drink like this more often.
Ron lifted his glass to the portrait in toast. "To the smartest witch ever born," he said, his voice clear and proud.
"And to one of the best friends anyone could ask for," Harry answered. His own voice was quieter, less passionate, but then his own feelings for Hermione had never approached Ron's fervency.
For Harry, there was no guilty conscience, nothing left unsaid. Grief, yes; but no regrets at things undone. Harry didn't have that burden on him; he just missed his friend.
Merlin, he missed her.
Happy Birthday, Hermione.
- fin -