by Thalia Weaver
It got so that they knew every shade of black in that house, and the corners of every room: it was only a few giant, intimidating upstairs closet-rooms that remained to be cleaned out, and though that'd still take a few weeks they knew most of the floors by heart. Very little light filtered into the house; the portraits of the dead relatives of a friend's dead relative shrieked from the walls. The summer hunkered down stalely into perpetual dim twilight. Nearly all surprises were malevolent. Old spell residue soaked the upper half of the house like a black, pulling smell.
"If we could only get some sun," Hermione said one day, legs folded under her on an ornate ripped couch. The floor was slanted slightly upward, she had noticed, like a mole tunnel.
Ron nodded. "This bloody place can't decide whether it's day or night."
She looked downward at her hands, which were still pale as they were in the winter. She looked up: Ron's face had no freckles on it. "It doesn't seem right, somehow."
He sighed. "You mean staying in all the time?"
She nodded. "I mean running from something--" And paused, and bit her lip. "--staying here. It's like I can still feel his ghost."
His eyes got distant. "Maybe I could ask Mum if we could go out," he said, slowly.
She looked up hastily, straightening. "Oh--could you? Just to the park. There's a park not far from here. Oh. Please. Ask her."
"When she comes from the Burrow next," he said, still slowly, shaping the words cautiously with his tongue. The thought of full sunlight was too open, too flooding to state incautiously. "If we went in broad daylight--"
"--where any attempt would be seen by wizardly passersby," she said, excitedly. "And it'd be just short."
"We could say we're getting stir-crazy."
Ron raised pale-red eyebrows. "You are stir-crazy."
She stood up, scratching at her arms. "I'm itching."
"To get out of here, just for a little bit."
He nodded. "I'll ask."
They were given an hour and a half of sun.
Hermione wore a light cotton shirt and a denim skirt, robeless, and lifted her arms up to the sky as though drinking with her whole body. Her hair fell down to her shoulders, puffing in the outside air, rising up in a little frizzy halo; strands caught the light. Ron's hair had grown out some, flowing down to his collar, and the sun hit it and turned it bright carrot-copper. Every color was magnified a thousandfold, caught up in the light and all the light's meaning. There was movement--there were strangers. Laughter, coarse and delicate. Muggle traffic and the occasional wizard. They blinked rapidly and laughed.
And kept their eyes down, warily, as they passed strangers.
"Mum said to be very careful," Ron said, quietly.
"We're always careful," Hermione said, slowly. She drew her arms close to herself again, self-consciously, as though acknowledging the loss of something.
He nodded. They were quiet for a moment, walking towards the intersection; the park was across the street, and green. They could see trees and a stone path through black iron fence bars.
"Do you think there's an Auror watching us?" Hermione asked, quietly. They reached the corner and waited for the light to change; it was yellow. But you couldn't be too careful.
Ron did a quick scan of the passersby and didn't see anyone. "Probably," he said. "Maybe Tonks. But maybe not."
She looked up at the sky. "I don't really bloody care anymore."
He nodded. "I feel three," he said. And pointed up. "Sun. Sky. Blue."
She laughed and took his elbow. "Green light."
"Green traffic light," he said, grimly; she didn't take her hand off his elbow. They touched rarely enough in the half-darkness of Grimmauld Place it would be a shame to. "Not green spell-light."
She made a face. "Honestly, Ron."
He quirked up a corner of his mouth. "Well, it had to be said."
She shook her head. "Don't you think it went without saying?"
He shrugged. They waited for red light, and it came, and they crossed the street.
The park was a verdant, vivid green; the path was cobblestone; Hermione was wearing open-toed sandals. They were new leather; she could feel them breaking in against her feet. The air smelled like oak leaves and hot fresh banger sausages. They walked close to each other, not touching, but darting occasional quick close glances at each other and at their surroundings, as if not quite certain of their relative position to the passersby and the trees and the vendors.
After awhile Hermione said: "Nobody's afraid here."
He bit his lip. "I can see people's faces without squinting."
She sighed. "I wonder if Harry's all right."
He shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder if we're the next ones that are going to be sacrificed for him."
She stared at him, lips slightly parted as if they had a syllable poised on them: then she closed her mouth and said, after a moment, "What do you mean?"
"I get the feeling he was meant to walk the rest of the way by himself," he said, sounding weary.
She sighed. "It always seems to end up that way anyhow."
"I used to be jealous of him, you know," Ron said, quietly. "Always in the spotlight and everybody loving him or hating him but no one—just—he's never, ever, just Harry that nobody knows about. And he's never been." He sighed. "I'm not jealous of him."
She was quiet for a moment. "I used to be jealous of him too," she said, and left it at that.
They'd made a half-circuit of the park, watching the lorries and cabs and foot-traffic, the old men sitting on benches, the peanut vendors hawking their wares. For the moment it was enough to simply watch and walk around the circuitous path: the sun was a bright, floating heat lighting their cheekbones and warming their skin.
"I'm a little frightened for it," Hermione said, quietly, without inflection. She stopped walking: he looked back at her, lit by sun, just starting to curve and standing on a cobbled path with an iron fence behind her. A little shiver ran down his spine. She sat on the grass.
"Frightened for what?" he said, moving a little closer to her. The grass was carefully tended and bright green.
"This. All of it." She made a limp gesture with her hand; her eyes were flat and a little dull. For all the sudden vivid color highlighting her hair and clothing, eyes and pink shell-ears, the skin of her face was still a stark white.
She looked at him with an odd melancholy. "Him, yes. But what if all this was just like Grimmauld Place?
He gave a quick, violent shudder. "Don't say it."
She closed her eyes for a second, as though it were easier. A dark circle clung to the bottom of each eye.
"Hermione," he said, hesitantly.
She opened her eyes and looked up at him. He sighed; his arms were both planted on the grass, and his palms had broken through to the sod, to their roots.
He kissed her, a quick pressing, mouth to mouth. She gave no sign of startlement, only opened her mouth to him, warm and wet, her tongue giving way to his. After a time, they stopped.
She reached down and pulled his hand out of the dirt and held it, tightly, ignoring the dirt.
"I don't suppose this makes much of a difference," she said, quietly.
He shook his head. "The Boy Who Lived still walks alone."
Suddenly she rose up to her knees and kissed him again, all in one movement. "I don't think I was cut out for walking alone."
He stood up, pulling her to her feet. "Me either," he said, and they began their circuitous route again around the park; but he slid his arm around her, this time, cupping her waist, and the fabric of her shirt was light and soft against the underside of his arm.