Strong

By She's a Star

Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. Oh, how I've missed saying that. Tear.

Author's Note: Look! I'm still alive! I swear. I'm not just a ghost who randomly manifests in order to post bizarre drabble type thingies in the Alias category. I've just . . . gah, school is a nightmare this year, which is really no fun whatsoever because I miss writing HP and I miss you guys and your feedback incredibly likewhoa. And I also miss Lamentations insanely a lot, and contrary to what popular belief no doubt is as of now, it's not dead. It's . . . resting. There will be more someday, I swear it. As a matter of fact, Gedia Kacela and I had a rather lengthy MSN conversation earlier acting like Snape and Sinistra – does this score us points? Anyway. Yes. Updates. Someday. Possibly within the month. But . . . possibly not. Who really knows?

Anyway, this piece is thoroughly bizarre. I originally started out writing it for hp500fic community on livejournal, but then I kinda couldn't manage to keep it to only 500 words. I have such issues with word limits. So . . . yes. Instead, it is here. And it's bizarre, and very reminiscent of Half-Sick of Shadows, only reversed. And I don't know why Hermione goes so insane and scary in these sorts of situations when I write her!

But at least I wrote something Harry Potter-y, right?

Right!

Okay! Reposting because I forgot to take the italics code out of one of the words, and because Ff.N apparently ate my formatting for breakfast, and because I've gotten this mentioned a few times and wanted to address – well, I'm not gonna go into specifics 'cause you probably haven't read it yet if you're reading this – that the end seems out of place for a reason. I didn't really want a sense of things being resolved. And I shall honestly shut up now!


'We have to be strong,' she says a hundred times. A thousand, maybe. 'It's what he would want.'

He does not reply that they don't really know what he would want, do they? Because he's dead, and Ron is surprised by how easily he can think it. Harry is dead. Dead, dead, dead. It's cold and grey, a stream of those kinds of days where the lake almost turns into steel, and he tests himself. Harry is dead. Harry Potter is dead. His best friend is dead. The Boy Who Lived is dead.

He laughs, a little, when he thinks this last one, and wonders if maybe he's going crazy. Something twists in his stomach; he thinks he might be sick and tries to hide it.

Hermione sits primly in an armchair that's maybe two shades lighter than blood and reads, silent. He watches her eyes dart back and forth and doesn't like the idea that maybe this isn't an act, maybe she really is okay. Maybe she's stronger than him, and he's suspected this since third year but when it comes down to it, it still bothers him. Because Harry, Harry was his best friend, in the way he couldn't have quite been Hermione's (but he feels awful thinking this), and so Ron vows to find some sort of weakness in her.

She can't be perfect.

At meals, she has taken to absently dishing out his food for him, like he's three or she's his mum or something equally disturbing. He doesn't like it, but that doesn't mean he says that. He thinks, almost yearningly, of the days back when things were simple, when they'd bicker and quarrel and, on occasion, spiral off into a really fantastic row that scared any nearby first years.

'Y'know,' he finally ventures, only because he'll probably go mad otherwise, 'I can do that myself.'

'I don't mind,' she responds, oblivious. He contemplates splashing his pumpkin juice in her face.

When the summer arrives, she comes home with him. Their hands brush on the Hogwarts Express and, in some uncharacteristic bout of daring, he takes hers. Something isn't right in it, though; her skin is cool and smooth and the ink stains he's come to associate with her hands ever since he started paying attention to them are absent. He feels ridiculous in comparison, palm sweaty, ears flaming, and maybe -he thinks this for a minute without the slightest clue why- he'll just burst into flames.

And it's not only that: he feels, against his will, like maybe she's almost dead. Because, sure, she doesn't pull away, but she doesn't squeeze tighter either. She's frozen right when he needs the affirmation that it's all right to feel things.

They arrive at home and his mum hovers over them with sorrow in her eyes. Ginny doesn't talk much, and the unfamiliar silence seems almost dangerous. He says stupid, meaningless things -it's the only way he knows how to combat it.

Hermione reads three books in two days. He sits across the living room and stares at the covers. Sunlight leaks through the window; it infuriates him for no good reason. Maybe just because he'd got used to the grey.

'Hermione?' he says, and his voice pierces the air in a way that's unfamiliar. He's used to being talked over, or ignored, and decides he might miss it a bit.

'Mmhmm?' She doesn't look up. Her eyes keep moving; she turns a page.

He's insignificant, and with this realization something snaps.

'Don't,' he orders, a little more than half-crazy, the words foreign as they spill out of his mouth. He just needs to say them, to say anything. 'Stop it.'

'Stop what?' she inquires, conveying both politeness and thorough disinterest. He decides throw that book into the fire while she's not looking.

'Stop this,' and he moves his hands in some indecipherable gesture, an awkward definition. 'Pretending that everything's normal, and okay, and that-'

'Everything is normal,' she interjects, with a placidity that scares him. And he's thought he'd feared her a little bit before, but that was always in a way that struck some sense of admiration, too. Now, he feels like if he keeps looking at her he might lose his mind.

'Don't,' he says again instead, because he's never been any good at words the way she is but this is something he must make her understand. 'Don't tell me that this isn't driving you crazy.' She looks up, her gaze very even. He remembers, bizarrely, the way they'd sparkled after she'd slapped Draco Malfoy across the face in third year.

'This is how it has to be,' she says simply. Like it's all simple, some Arithmancy problem that makes sense if you just know how to sort it all out and detach yourself from it. It's all about looking at the big picture, that's what Percy had used to say, and that is why Ron hates Arithmancy and maybe hates Percy, just a little. 'There's no other option.'

'Like hell there isn't!' and he finds himself shouting, standing, storming over to her. She looks up with mild interest. He gets that feeling again, that one where she doesn't seem quite alive and somewhere deep down he knows it. Is he supposed to resurrect her? It seems too important a task for the likes of him but -he recalls -there's no Harry to do this kind of stuff now.

'Be Hermione again,' he instructs. Pleads. He doesn't know what he's saying, but is granted the faint satisfaction of knowing it's the truth as soon as he hears it aloud.

She stares at him, and for a moment there's a flash of something familiar, the sort of look she'd used to get sometimes during their shouting matches.

'Don't be stupid,' she says, but there is a faintness to her voice that wasn't there before.

'About what?' he inquires, defiant.

'"Be Hermione,"' she quotes, almost scathing. He hopes and really shouldn't. 'What is that rubbish? I'm just the same as I've always been.'

He laughs at this, a sharpened, hard sound and for a second he thinks that maybe he's gotten old, or maybe jaded. Which can't be right, because he's only eighteen and, yeah, he's seen things, but that doesn't mean the world's ruined him quite yet.

'Oh, don't,' she says crossly. 'I haven't got time for this.'

'You're not doing anything,' he points out. She rolls her eyes.

'Ron-'

'Unless books have taken over your brain even more so than before-'

'Oh, honestly-'

'-which is scary, Hermione, I won't lie to you-'

'I'd rather be alone right now, if you don't mind.'

'-Harry is dead.'

And this is, he realizes, the first time that he's actually said it aloud.

She shifts slightly, and the sunlight casts itself over her face. Her features are blurred, unreadable, and he hears a sharp intake of breath that he's not sure he didn't imagine. In fourth year after the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, she'd hugged them both, him and Harry, sobbing madly all the while. He remembers thinking then that maybe she'd gone crazy.

He's been wrong about lots of things over the years.

'I know,' she finally answers, in a small, shaky voice.

He can't resist. 'Do you?'

And suddenly she's stood up and they're eye-to-eye, or would be if he weren't so much taller than she was. And maybe there's tears in her eyes, but before he can get a good enough look to find out, she closes them to kiss him.