Written for Cat's birthday
"And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren't any other people living in the world." - Anne Frank
"So what are you saying Hermione?" Harry frowned from across the dining table at 12 Grimmauld Place.
It had become their home now, completely removed from the hellish prison that held Sirius and reminded him of his dark childhood, it was the place they all longed for when they were away and enjoyed to the fullest when they were at home.
"I'm not the only one saying it Harry," Hermione said with a frown, "Dee's noticed it too."
Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville and Dee had been sharing the enormous house together for four months short of a year and everything had been fantastic. After recovering their magically wiped memories none of them seemed to be suffering any side-effects, Neville hadn't been involved in the whole memory loss business but he had been important in finding them and bringing them all back together again, and Ron's problem seemed to be no problem at all.
That had been what Harry thought anyway.
"Noticed what? He's just been spending a little more time in there then usual," Harry said, slightly annoyed at Hermione and Dee for looking for problems where there were none, "isn't that what we built the room for in the first place?"
The two of them turned their heads to look at the thick carved wooden door at the foot of the stairs where Mrs Black's portrait used to be before facing each other again.
"We built that room so he had somewhere he could go when he needed to be alone not so he could shut himself in there every spare minute he's got," Hermione said with her lips drawn thinly and a deep crinkle above her nose.
Harry shook his head.
"You remember what he told us when we first found out about all this? Well when I first found out about it," the fact that Hermione had known about Ron's depression long before the events of the final battle was still something of a thorn in Harry's side if the truth be told, "He said that dwells on stuff until he twists it all around in his head and convinces himself that he's got something to be ashamed of. He feels confident enough about himself to come and go to the beach room freely and now you want to risk that by accusing him of using it too much? It's his release Hermione!"
"It's the place he's withdrawing into Harry!" she snapped back, clenching her fists and fixing her best friend with a hard stare before looking away suddenly, "He sleeps in there now do you know that?"
Harry's face fell as he thought he finally understood what the problem was. He reached across the dining table to take Hermione's hand.
"Godric Hermione, I'm sorry. I didn't realise you two were having problems."
Hermione's eyes were wide and livid as she yanked her hand away from him.
"We're not thank you very much Harry! I've been going down there with him most nights, sometimes to try and coax him back to bed and sometimes...just because I'm lonely upstairs without him but that's not the point."
"What is the point?" Harry tutted.
"The point is he doesn't notice he's doing it," Hermione said through gritted teeth.
"Doing what?" Harry said with exasperation.
"Oh for Merlin's sake," Hermione exclaimed as she threw her arms into the air at the same moment the front door opened and Ron stepped inside and shimmied his jacket off while smiling and nodding over to the two of them.
"Alright Ron?" Harry called across to him with a bright cheery smile.
Ron grinned back and nodded.
Harry looked at Hermione and arched his eyebrows as if to say 'well you are absolutely right about him, he looks devastated to me!' and she huffed and spun around in her seat to call out to Ron as he hung his jacket over the banister.
"Come and join us Ron," she beamed.
Ron frowned and gestured to the beach room beside him with a shrug.
"No problem mate, we'll be out here when you're done," Harry said amiably.
Ron made an 'okay' sort of sound as he nodded and opened the door to his right, disappearing inside and closing the heavy wooden door behind him with a wave.
"Well didn't you notice anything?" Hermione said as she spun back around to cast an accusatory glare at Harry.
"I noticed he was smiling!" Harry said as he mocked her tone sarcastically.
Hermione buried her face in her hands for a couple of frustrated seconds before slamming her palms down on the table top and snapping at him again.
"He wasn't talking to you though was he?"
Harry looked slightly hurt at her insinuation.
"What d'you mean Ron's not talking to me? We're fine, we haven't had a row about anything."
"Not that kind of 'not talking to you', the other kind, the kind where he didn't actually speak when you spoke to him. When was the last time he actually responded to something you said with words Harry?"
Harry blinked and thought back as fast as he could. No, this couldn't be right. Ron must have spoken to him this morning...last night...yesterday...
Hermione was sitting back in her chair with a sadly victorious huff and she bit her bottom lip as she read Harry's expression. Harry swallowed and thought even further back before their last conversation hit him like an out of control night bus.
"Sunday! He talked to me on Sunday," Harry said with a hollow sense of triumph.
"Two days ago?" Hermione said as she folded her arms across her chest.
"Yeah, Sunday morning," Harry said with a smile that he somehow knew was about to be wiped off his face.
"So your best friend in the whole world, who lives under the same roof as you, last spoke actual worlds a full two days ago?"
Harry's face fell with his shoulder and he mumbled his response.
"So what did he say to you then?" Hermione was asking, not in her point-proving tone now but in her dreaded inevitability that she was about to be proved right tone of voice.
"He asked me to make his excuses from going to the Burrow for Sunday dinner."
Hermione hadn't had to say a word. Harry hadn't needed to say any more. The two of them knew how completely out of character it was for Ron to back out of going to his family home for Sunday dinner. He loved his mother's cooking and especially her roasts. Harry slumped forwards over the table and groaned.
"How the hell did I miss this happening?"
Hermione leaned across the table and took his hands in hers with sympathy now that she had broken down Harry's wall of denial.
"You saw him just now, he looks fine. He answers your questions in a cheerful fashion, he's going to therapy every Saturday, and he uses the beach room openly. He smiles a lot."
Harry nodded and ran his hand through his messy black hair.
"But yet...you're right Hermione, something's off isn't it?"
"Dee said something to you about this too? He's noticed it as well you said?" Harry confirmed.
"Yes," Hermione said in a whisper.
Harry felt an internal war raging within his mind, denial was still not done yet and logic was trying to beat it into submission but the ugly head just kept on rearing.
"But he's obviously going to be super sensitive to any little dip in Ron's mood isn't he? He could be overreacting after what happened to...Jo. Maybe he's getting a little paranoid over Ron's behaviour and he's making a mountain out of a mole hill."
"Maybe," Hermione nodded, "but you have to remember that he has good reason to be super sensitive to Ron's moods. He was the one who was with two people day in day out as they withdrew into themselves. He knows what Ron's like when he's going downhill, he's seen it before."
"Whoa there a minute!" Harry held up his hands to stop Hermione in her flow, "First he was just spending too much time in his room and now he's in and out of control downward spiral? This is sounding more and more like and overreaction to me now I have to say!"
"Will you stop telling yourself what you want to hear and listen to the facts Harry?" Hermione spat the words across the table, her anxiety was so high, "Dee watched his girlfriend withdraw into herself and didn't notice it was happening, just like you are with Ron right now, and he and Ron spent the day with her before she went and...did what she did, and you've heard that story Harry."
Harry nodded. Ron and Dee had spent the happiest day they'd ever had with Jo and the following morning she had hung herself from the light fixture. While she had seemed to be on the up and getting even better the truth of the matter was she was on an unnatural high that had to end at some point and the fall from such an intensely good mood was fatal.
"Dee was then looking out for a similar turn in Ron and he saw it didn't he?"
Harry nodded again. Dee had resorted to sleeping outside Ron's room to make sure he didn't do anything silly and using any means possible to force Ron to accept his treatment but to no avail. Ron had eventually worked himself up into a state of nervous exhaustion after getting into a fight with Dee and walked out of his clinic without a word to anyone. Dee raised the alarm immediately but it had been too late. Ron had phoned Hermione from the top of Beachy Head and then thrown himself off.
"He's really worried that Ron's not handling things?"
Hermione turned and looked back at the closed door to the beach room and rose to her feet.
"Yes he is and I was already, he's too serene Harry and I'm sure you'll agree with me that Ron is not a serene person."
Harry was suddenly overcome with an adrenaline rush of motivation and marched over to the fireplace, grabbing a handful of floo powder.
"I'll get Bill."
"No wait, I'm not sure that's a good idea," Hermione warned.
Harry's eyes bulged as he turned on Hermione with utter incredulity.
"Bill can help him, he helped him last time didn't he? Ron was really bad, we called Bill, he came and the two of them meditated in the beach room for an hour and when Ron came out he was through the worst of it."
"That was a hard time we all saw him having Harry, we all saw it coming and we dealt with it accordingly but this is different. This is sneaking up on everybody. This is sneaking up on Ron. I swear I don't think he knows it's happening to him."
Harry's heart felt as if it was plummeting down into the pit of his stomach and his whole body sagged before the fireplace.
"Hermione I want to help. I want to be doing something."
"So do I," she said sadly before taking a deep breath in and lifting her chin, "I'm going to try and coax him back out without letting him realise anything's wrong."
"Want me to come?" Harry asked her as she left the kitchen to knock twice on the door and grip the handle.
"Make three teas and if we're not out in five minutes call through and tell us to get a move on," and with that Hermione opened the door and disappeared inside the beach room.
Ron was laying flat on the sand, staring up at the enchanted sky while the waves lapped against a shore that didn't really exist, when Hermione's face appeared before his eyes. She was frowning down at him, well it looked like a frown, she was upside down and it was hard to decipher.
"Hey babe," he smiled as he sat up on his elbows, "sit down."
He patted the sand beside him and Hermione settled down and leaned over for a brief kiss.
"Is it a good day at the beach?" she smiled as she mimicked his posture and lay back on her elbows.
"It's always a good day at the beach," Ron said as he looked out at the sea and breathed in the smell of the brine.
He didn't realise he'd closed his eyes until Hermione brushed her hand against his cheek, causing him to open them again and blink expectantly.
"Harry's put some tea on for us, I came to get you," she took his hand in hers and interwove their fingers.
"Nice one," Ron nodded.
Hermione moved to get up again but Ron pulled at her hand so she remained at his side.
"Something wrong?" she asked with that 'Hermione' look on her face.
She was always convinced she should be worried about something that girl. She seemed to feel uneasy and unnatural when she wasn't fretting about somebody or something. He lay back down flat on the sand again and gently tugged at her arm to suggest she join him.
"What about the tea?" she said as she lay back and nuzzled into his shoulder.
"Tea needs time to cool and would you rather be waiting around for that to happen in the real world or with me in fantasy land?" Ron chuckled.
"So this is fantasy land is it?" she sighed.
"Well it ain't real that's for sure," Ron snorted, "if it was I'd have got harassed by wasps or seagulls or a hideous woman wearing a swimming costume three sizes too small for her."
He shuddered for effect and grinned as Hermione laughed and settled into his side a little closer.
"So what have you been doing in here then?" she said as she settled her hand upon his chest and followed his gaze to the clouds that passed by on the magical ceiling above.
"I've been cloud watching."
"Again?" she said, "Don't you ever get tired of that?"
Ron angled his head so he was looking down into Hermione's big brown eyes.
"Are you kidding? I saw one in the shape of your arse the other day, I'm not moving from here until I get the tits to match!"
Hermione gasped and prodded him in the ribs while he cackled wickedly.
"It's not my fault Neville gave me a pornographic ceiling!" he protested.
Hermione was really laughing now and Ron shifted so he could wriggle his arm beneath her head and play with her hair while using his free hand to point out the new shapes and patterns as they drifted by.
"See there," he leaned in close to Hermione so she could follow the line from Ron's finger to the solitary cloud that was gliding diagonally across them both.
"What am I looking at?" she frowned.
"Professor Flitwick only slightly squished."
Hermione's body shook with silent laughter.
"What do you mean slightly squished?"
"I mean look at him," Ron nodded back to the cloud, "he's not at his full height and he's a bit wider then in real life. It's like he's been compressed."
"Compressed?" Hermione said, not attempting to hide the amused tone from her voice.
"Well what do you call it when someone's wider then they are tall?"
Hermione pursed her lips and stared at the rapidly departing cloud thoughtfully before giving him her answer.
Ron let out another highly amused cackle before resting his head against Hermione's and returning his gaze to the patch of sky above them.
"Right, your turn."
Hermione 'umed' and 'ahhed' for ages before giving and excitable 'ooh' and pointing to an giant cloud formation with varying shades of grey at the base.
"Luna Lovegood's Gryfindor hat!"
Ron's jaw dropped as he tilted his head at a similar angle to Hermione's.
"Oh Godric it is!" he gasped, "There's no way that's an accident. They've done that on purpose."
Hermione was laughing again as she rolled over onto her stomach and leaned forward to kiss him. He reached up to push her hair away from her face while she leaned into the kiss even more just as there was another knock on the door. They broke apart and Hermione seemed to close her eyes and cursed Harry's name under her breath.
"It's okay, tell him to bring the tea in here," Ron smiled as he moved in for another kiss but Hermione sat up and brushed herself down.
"No Ron that's very rude. I really think we should go into the house for tea."
Ron huffed and rolled his eyes right up into his head before closing them with a child-like groan.
"But we're in the house now!"
"You know what I mean Ron, come on," she got to her feet and held her hand out to him.
He took it with a grumble of protest just as Harry opened the door and leaned in.
"Sorry to interrupt you two but the tea's getting cold."
"Sorry Harry, we're on our way now," Hermione smiled at him, very oddly in Ron's opinion.
Harry seemed happy enough and stood back from the door to let them pass and Ron found himself frowning at Hermione's strange behaviour. He wondered if something was up with her and that had been why she had come into the beach room to see him. He made a mental note to ask her if everything was okay when they got another moment alone.
Hermione watched as Ron settled down at the kitchen table and pulled the sugar bowl towards him and begin spooning heaped spoonful after heaped spoonful into his cup. Harry watched him as if searching for the words 'help me' spelled out in freckles across Ron's face. She bit her lip and lifted her cup to her mouth just as Ron glanced up at her and gave her a wink and a grin. She realised he'd caught her frowning and set her face into one of utter contentment and light heartedness as she took a sip that barely touched her lips and set her cup down again.
"So Harry," she began, eager to get Ron chatting as he had been doing in the beach room, "we were cloud watching in Ron's room and he thinks that some of the formations have been tampered with."
Harry played along and turned to Ron with interest. Ron had a mouthful of tea and made a humming sound while nodding.
"Yes," Hermione went on, "I don't suppose you'd know anything about that would you Harry?"
Harry shook his head and set his own cup down.
"Nothing to do with me," he turned back to Ron who had swallowed his mouthful now, "So what sort of things are you seeing up there?"
Ron glanced at Hermione and sniggered before clearing his throat and mumbling his response.
"Bits and pieces y'know?" he shrugged and took another gulp of tea.
Harry nodded as he looked back to Hermione and she recognised that 'going in with guns blazing' expression on his face and tried to plead him not to do it with her eyes.
"So Ron," Harry began with no subtlety at all, "I haven't seen much of you recently. What's going on with you?"
Ron shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
"Sorry mate, didn't catch that," Harry fired back bluntly.
Ron seemed to stare at Harry as if trying to figure him out before looking at Hermione and suddenly understanding that the tea thing was an excuse for something else.
"What's up with you two?" he frowned.
Hermione cursed inside her head and tried not to glare at Harry for his complete lack of subtlety. Harry shifted in his seat so he was able to shut Hermione and her penetrating eyes out of the conversation and focus on Ron.
"I thought I'd done something to offend you to be honest mate," Harry shrugged, "you and I haven't spoken in days."
Ron looked at Harry as if he was crazy and gave a snort of derision.
"What are you talking about? You never shut up!" Ron broke into a grin that faded when he saw Harry wasn't playing along, "Are you serious?"
Harry nodded and leaned over the table to fix Ron's eyes with his own.
"Is something wrong?" Harry asked.
"No nothing," Ron said sincerely, "bloody hell mate you should have said something before. I didn't realise I was getting you all paranoid," Ron smiled again and gave Harry's arm a nudge across the dining room table, "That's my thing!"
Harry sat back in his chair and seemed to be feeling reassured by this. Hermione was losing her ally in this. She couldn't really blame Harry though. She would love to kid herself that Ron really was doing just fine.
"Well how about we get out of here and go for a drink tonight then, the three of us, Dee and Neville? We haven't done that in ages."
Then Hermione saw the confirmation that she wasn't imagining it at all. Ron's nose scrunched up and he gave that shrug and head bob combination he would always do when making an excuse to get out of something without upsetting the person he was speaking to.
"I'm not really in the mood for a blow-out Harry, maybe at the weekend eh?"
Harry seemed to pick up on it too and he set his features into his fake 'carefree' smile.
"Is something up?" he said as nonchalantly as he could.
Ron rolled his eyes and made a 'humph' sound.
"Nah, I'm just in a bit of a funk lately, probably why I've been a bit quiet with you I s'pose," Ron said as he tapped the side of his teacup with his fingers rapidly, "I can't seem to get motivated to do anything these days."
Hermione thought this sounded promising. Ron had obviously noticed his mood had changed but he didn't recognise what that change meant. Harry shuffled his chair forward so his chest was pressed right up against the table and they both shared a meaningful glance before looking back to Ron. He was still drumming his fingers, incredibly fast but utterly subconsciously, against his cup.
"D'you bring it up with Rayner last session?" Harry asked as he lifted his own cup to his lips and drank.
Ron shook his head, his nose and forehead crinkling again.
"Nah, it's only been this last couple of days. I reckon I'm just lazy!" he smiled.
Hermione smiled back at him and slid her hand under the table to rest on his leg and give it a squeeze of reassurance but her smile fell clean off her face as she felt Ron's leg jiggling up and down just as fast as his fingers were tapping the cup.
"Do you have somewhere you need to be right now Ron?" she asked with concern.
"Hmmm?" Ron said, not seeming to notice his physical behaviour at all.
"Is there something important you're putting off? Maybe I could help," Hermione said while directing her eyes beneath the table to indicate to Harry that he should take a look at Ron's nervous reaction.
As Harry leaned back from the table as casually as he could and saw Ron's jackhammer leg the redhead responded to Hermione's query.
"Nothing on at all," Ron shrugged, "Just a whole lot of nothing."
"Is that it?" Harry said suddenly, his eyes snapping back from beneath the table to stare into Ron's, "D'you want something to do with yourself 'cause I could always use a hand with..."
"No it's fine," Ron said abruptly, "I don't need anything to do. I'm enjoying...y'know, free time? I like it."
Ron was chewing on the scar on the inside of his bottom lip again. That was the ultimate giveaway as far as those who watched him fall the last time were concerned. During Ron's period in the clinic things had got so bad with his lip chewing that he had gnawed so deeply into his bottom lip that he now had a scar, about the size of a grain of rice, on the inside of his bottom lip which he would begin to tug at between his teeth when in deep thought about something.
"Maybe you could floo over to the Burrow for the afternoon and help your mother out with the garden," Hermione began, "she was saying over dinner last Sunday that..."
"Why are you trying to make me leave the house?" Ron suddenly snapped, with more confusion then annoyance, "is this place getting fumigated or something?"
Hermione toyed with the idea of telling him it was and that Grimmauld Place had a spider infestation, that'd get him out of the house sharpish but Harry was already stepping in with an answer.
"It's just that we're worried you might be bored stuck in here all day that's all."
Ron looked a tad annoyed now.
"I'm not bored and I'm not in here all day. If you remember I have just come in from outside."
"What were you doing outside?" Hermione asked before she could wipe the inquisitorial tone from her voice.
Ron picked up on it right away.
"What is this?"
"It's nothing Ron it's just a conversation over tea," Harry said as he sat up straight in his chair, "and you'd be more used to it if you came and sat with us more often that's all."
"Yes," Hermione jumped on Harry's bandwagon, "we've just been missing our long-winded chats about nothing and the three of us are so good at them. I quoted Hogwarts: A History the other day and Harry didn't have anybody to turn to and roll his eyes with!"
Harry laughed at this and his genuine reaction to Hermione's comment seemed to put Ron at a little more ease with them again. He sighed and looked down at the table guiltily.
"Well yeah, I s'pose I've had my head in the sand a bit recently but I'd rather not be forced into a conversation when I've got nothing to say."
"When do you ever have nothing to say Ron?" Harry snorted.
"I can be quiet!" Ron looked up and folded his arms across his chest defensively.
"You're not even quiet when you sleep!" Harry scoffed.
Hermione found herself beaming at this little interaction. It was vintage Ron and Harry and she loved it. She also loved that Ron's leg was still again and the infuriating cup tapping had stopped.
"I'm going through a peaceful phase alright?" Ron said as he tried to hide his amusement at this conversation and pretend to be affronted, "I am enjoying my own company. Only the other day," Ron pointed over his shoulder towards the front door, "that doorbell rang five times and I didn't bother answering it once."
Hermione's face fell on hearing this while Ron grinned at Harry and lifted his cup to clink it against Harry's.
"Here's to doors, may they forever keep people away from me!" he raised his cup and then drank it dry.
Harry's smile faltered but it remained while Hermione was in full-blown worry mode now.
"You've stopped answering the door?" she said with a shiver in her voice as she spoke.
Ron blinked and his grin softened into a smile.
"Well anybody I'd want to talk to has a key so...why bother?" he shrugged.
Harry's face had lost it's amused light as well and his green eyes met hers and seemed to dim as he understood that a five minute moment of the Ron he knew didn't mean a thing at all. As soon as this conversation was over Ron would go back into that beach room and close the door. Ron was closing all sorts of doors and he didn't see anything wrong with that at all.
"But you might have wanted to talk to whoever it was," she said quietly, "it might have been a friend from the clinic or school or..."
"My friends from the clinic are all muggles and wouldn't be able to find this place. My friends from school already live in this house and the ones who don't would floo rather then come to the door so I knew it wasn't anybody I needed to deal with," Ron said as his amused tone faded away and he shoved his tea cup away from him and fidgeted in his seat.
"Deal with?" Harry frowned, "You don't have to deal with people Ron you just had to answer the door and take a message or tell them you were busy or something."
Ron's chair scraped against the floor and he rose to his feet with an uncomfortable glance between his two friends.
"Listen if you two are so worried about your many friends and acquaintances being left on the doorstep then why don't you try to be here for them when they call round? I'm not your doorman!"
Ron turned to head out of the kitchen and Hermione reached for his hand but he snatched his arm away from her and stormed along the hallway and towards the beach room.
"Ron please, we didn't mean..." Harry called after his departing friend as the door to the beach room slammed shut behind the fuming redhead.
Hermione got up so fast that she knocked her chair over and ran after her troubled boyfriend to turn the handle to the carved wooden door and fling it wide. She saw Ron sitting a little way away running his hands through his hair, facing out to the false ocean ahead of him, and slipped off her shoes to step out onto the sand.
"Does the concept of a closed door mean nothing to you Hermione?" Ron yelled over his shoulder while drawing his knees up to his chest and hugging his arms around them tightly.
"Ron I'm sorry. I just want to talk to y-"
"Get out!" Ron growled like a caged animal after hours of tormenting from a spiteful child with a pointy stick.
She jumped back from the doorway and closed the door again. As the tears flowed down her cheeks she turned and leaned against the door, sliding down it until she bumped against the floor and buried her face in both her hands. She felt Harry joining her and curling his arms around her to give her a comforting hug.
"I knew it Harry!" she sobbed, "I told you he was withdrawing and he is. He is and he thinks it's alright. He thinks he's alright and he's not Harry, he's not!"
Harry shushed her and rocked her from side to side gently.
"I don't know what to do," she sniffed before hugging him back.
"Neither do I but we'll work it out together okay? I promise," Harry whispered.
Ron rubbed his face roughly and cursed under his breath.
What the hell had just happened in there? They had been having tea and a god chat and then it was like they were ganging up on him over not answering the door. Who the hell did they know who'd knock at the door anyway? It was probably Harry Potter groupies or one of Hermione's friends from work and Ron didn't want to have to humour any of them. Who wants to sit around for an hour killing time with somebody who has no desire to speak to you at all and only came round to talk to somebody they actually found interesting?
Ron lay back on the sand and watched a couple of shapeless clouds drift by before he closed his eyes and listened to the waves crashing in the distance.
He didn't know why he didn't want to be around people right now, he just knew he didn't and what was so wrong with that? Why were they making him feel like such a pathetic loner because of it?
He heard the door creaking and huffed as he sat up and spun around on the spot to demand he be left alone but there was nobody there and the door was still closed. He frowned and turned back to face the sea. He could've sworn he heard the door opening just now. The waves rolled in closer as the illusion of high tide kicked in. Ron rubbed his head with his hand and nibbled at the scar on his lip before catching himself out and hissing his annoyance.
"Stop doing that!"
As he tried to avoid nipping at his hidden scar he turned his attention to his very visible ones. He ran his middle finger down his wrist and felt the light bumps that criss-crossed all the way up to his elbow. He hadn't bothered making an effort to cover them up for months now and it was only occasionally that somebody would make a point of reacting to them when they noticed them.
In the muggle world he would get sympathetic, or even at times frightened, looks and in the wizarding world people would slap him on the back and tell him what a good bloke he was to take a near evisceration for his girlfriend. That part of the story was widely known, it had to be to get Dee off the hook with the ministry as he was the person who was on the most wanted list for the attempted murder of Ron Weasley.
He shook his head and smiled to himself at the thought of it. The very person the wizarding world thought had killed him was living right across the hall saving his life during that whole 'lost' time.
Ron pulled his knees up so he could fold his arms over them and rest his head upon them. He watched the waves creeping in for some time before his eyes fell closed and a breeze blew his fringe across his eyelids.
Dee and Neville didn't tell him they'd added a breeze recently. Ron frowned and opened his eyes. He saw a fair skinned young woman with long purple hair sitting, cross-legged, a few feet ahead of him pulling apart what looked like an orange onion with her hands.
Ron's body went rigid and he was about to call out her name when the breeze hit him again and he opened his eyes to see that he was alone on his beach once again and there was no breeze at all. He'd been dreaming. It hadn't been her. It was never really her.
It wasn't her when he saw her in the living room scrunching up her face and trying to clean her sticky hands with a shredded piece of tissue. It wasn't her when he opened the bathroom door and saw her rolling her eyes and tossing the orange onion thing from one hand to the other. It wasn't her when he woke up in the early hours of the morning beside Hermione and saw the grey-eyed woman scooping some bright pink seeds out of a bowl and dropping them into her mouth.
She was in every room of the house but the beach room. Except now she had found him there too.
"I'm going to do it okay?" he found himself saying out loud before looking back down at his hands and muttering, You won't let me bloody forget."
Ron really didn't want to have to go out there and talk about his problems with Harry and Hermione but he knew he had to get this thing over with. As he shifted to get up he paused and wondered if he should maybe wait for Dee to come home. What if he told Dee what was going on with him and he just looked at him as if he was mad? What if he went ahead without saying a word and Dee felt left behind?
Ron swallowed and got to his feet.
Harry and Hermione were holding their breath beneath the invisibility cloak as they watched Ron head right for them. They couldn't move without giving themselves away by making fresh footprints in the sand. He felt Hermione's elbow in his ribs and heard her squeal in panic as Ron drew nearer. Harry suddenly realised the this betrayal of Ron's trust, spying on him in his only sanctuary, was probably going to push him over the edge and he wished he'd never had the stupid idea in the first place.
Just as Ron was about to walk right into them he furrowed his brow and looked over his shoulder at a spot further down the beach, as if he expected to see something there, and Harry took the opportunity to shove Hermione to one side and clamp his hand over her mouth as Ron looked back and straight ahead of him. He didn't notice new set of footprints following him from behind and they were able to slide after him through the door just before he closed it.
Ron hesitated in the hall before calling out stiffly.
"Hey guys are you still...around?"
Harry and Hermione exchanged a look from beneath the cloak. He knew what Hermione was thinking. She wanted to throw the cloak off the both of them and go to him. She felt he was calling for her and he needed her but Harry knew that that wasn't why Ron was calling for them at all. He was making sure he was alone. He wanted to be alone to do whatever it was he needed to do.
Harry gripped Hermione close and tried to warn her to stay with him in hiding, she frowned in desperation but complied with his silent request all the same.
Ron was still listening anxiously for a moment before leaning over to his jacket where it hung on the banister and plunged his hand into the pocket. Harry tried to lean around Ron to see what he had at the same time Hermione leaned the other way and the invisibility cloak began to slip off of both of them so they had to come together again and yank the fabric back down.
Ron was walking into the kitchen and setting something down on the table before closing the door behind him and shutting his two secretly observing friends out completely. Hermione huffed and pulled the cloak off both of them.
"So what now? Do we go in there and hope he confides in us or do we leave him be and hope he's not about to do something stupid?"
Just as Harry was about to respond with a shrug they heard Ron's voice through the closed kitchen door.
"No!" Hermione screamed as she ran to the kitchen door and flung it open, Harry hot at her heels and absolutely terrified, to see Ron with his back to them.
He caught the knife in mid air and was bringing it down towards his wrist as Harry withdrew his wand from his waistband and flicked it at the blade.
"Expelliarmus!" he roared fearfully.
The knife flew from Ron's hand and spun wildly into the wall opposite.
"Bloody hell!" Ron exclaimed as he spun around, clutching what looked like a huge orange and red onion in his hand, "You could've had my eye out you nob-end!"
"What?" Harry was gaping at Ron as he tried to process what exactly he was seeing before him, "I thought you were...what were you doing with it?"
Ron was about to make a smart-arse comment before his face fell and he looked down at the hand holding the strange onion thing. He looked from the object in his hand and along a little further to his scarred wrist and then back up at Harry and Hermione to read their faces.
"That's what you think of me?" he said in a hollow tone, "That's what you thought I was going to do?"
Hermione was shaking slightly and took a step forward toward him.
"We didn't know what was going on with you," she swallowed, "we were just worried and then we...and it looked like...from behind you looked as if you were..."
Harry put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed hard before fixing his eyes with Ron's defiantly.
"You tell me what we were supposed to think?"
Ron opened his mouth and then closed it after a second, looking back down at his full hand before dropping down into an empty chair.
"You're always gonna think that aren't you?" Ron said hoarsely as he looked into space, "Every time I have a bad day you're immediately going to assume the worst."
Hermione moved forward again and knelt before Ron, taking his free hand in both of hers and looking up into his face.
"We're always going to worry about you Ron. And you know what? You've got to let us."
"She's right mate," Harry said as he stepped into the kitchen and folded his arms, "I know you worry about Dee when he gets lonely and people hold his past against him. It's the same thing Ron. Don't go thinking you're a burden, you're our friend."
"You're my boyfriend," Hermione added with a proud smile, "who beats this thing every time it comes back and we don't doubt your strength. We just want to be here for you to remind you that you have it."
Ron heaved a heavy sigh and lifted the strange thing he had in his other hand.
"I was going to cut this open," he said as he rolled his eyes wearily, "it's a pomegranate."
Hermione's eyes dropped away from Ron's to fall upon the strange fruit and let out an 'oh' of comprehension.
"They're back in season and..." Ron set the pomegranate on the table and looked at it as if the fact it was sitting there before him troubled him, "...well, it's tradition."
His last word was barely audible as he set about gnawing on the inside of his lip again. Harry had heard this story a long time ago but still wasn't clear about why Ron was so devastated that pomegranates were back in season. He crossed the kitchen to pull the knife out of the wall and hand it back to Ron. Ron smiled and sliced the fruit, first into halves and then into quarters. The thick sunset coloured skin was filled with jewel-like fuchsia-pink seeds.
"Can you pass me a bowl or something?" Ron asked as he set the knife down and began to bend the skin back to expose the seeds a little more.
Harry grabbed a breakfast bowl that was draining beside the sink and set it in front of Ron before sinking down into a chair opposite him. Hermione rose to sit in the vacant chair beside Ron while he began to pick the seeds away from the yellow pith and started talking without meeting either of their attentive eyes.
"Y'see when they came into season last year Jo got really excited and told us we had to have some. She said it was her own little tradition."
Ron dropped a handful of bright pink seeds into the bowl before setting about the segment of pomegranate again.
"Every year when she saw the first pomegranate of the season she'd buy one and go to all the sticky, messy trouble of de-seeding it just to sit down and have a fruit that was a hell of a lot of trouble to get into and kind of a bland flavour when you got to eat it while giving you the sensation of having a mouthful of splinters to boot!"
Harry gave a slight laugh at this and Ron glanced up at him and smiled before tossing aside the first quarter and grabbing a second one to begin the seeding.
"Well I saw one last week and..." Ron froze for a second before swallowing and shaking his head as if he'd got lost in a rather intense memory, "...Um, I just carried on walking and forgot about it. Except I didn't forget really, not at all, she wouldn't let me."
Hermione put her hand upon Ron's arm and tried to look into his averted eyes.
"Have you been seeing her around?" she asked with sadness.
Ron nodded slowly before sprinkling more of the loose seeds into the bowl.
"All over the house, everywhere, the only place she never seemed to get into my head was..."
"Your room," Harry finished the sentence as everything suddenly clicked into place.
Ron nodded and picked out a few more of the fleshy pink seeds. Harry reached out and grabbed a segment. He mimicked Ron's technique and was soon splaying the segment like a bejewelled fan and picking out the firm seeds into the filling bowl.
"So I went out this morning to buy this," Ron said as he nodded down to the segment he was finishing off between his sticky fingers, "to keep the tradition alive," Ron's eyes seemed to suddenly flood and redden as his ears flushed bright pink and his voice sounded strangled, "Well not alive, not that word, I didn't mean to say that."
"Ron, it's okay," Hermione said soothingly as she rubbed her hand up and down his back.
"It's just if I ignored the pomegranates when I saw them then I was just letting her be dead and...I dunno, trying to forget her or something and I don't want to forget her."
Ron's head fell and he sniffed. Hermione grabbed him and held him to her tightly. Ron made a choking sound before sniffing again. Both his hands were splayed and he was holding his arms very stiffly away from Hermione's embrace.
"I can't hug you, my hands are sticky!" he said as his shoulders began to shake.
"I don't care," Hermione whispered as Ron buried his face into her neck.
Harry rose from his seat and grabbed a damp cloth. He moved around to Ron and Hermione's side of the table and wiped Ron's hands clean.
"There you go mate," Harry said stiffly as he stepped back and threw the cloth into the sink.
Ron's arms curled around Hermione and his fingers grabbed handfuls of her blouse while she began rocking him from side to side slowly and shushing him gently as she stroked his hair and kissed the top of his head.
"Don't worry about this last bit Ron," Harry said as he walked back around the table to take his seat once more, "I'll finish it off for you."
Ron's muffled voice answered him.
Harry finished up removing the seeds from the last segment of the pomegranate and tried not to watch as Hermione rubbed Ron's back and whispered words of comfort into his hair while his body was subjected to sporadic involuntary shudders as he regained his composure again. Just as the last of the seeds left Harry's hand and fell on top of the pile in the bowl Hermione leaned back from Ron and smiled at him while pushing his hair back from his face and wiping beneath his puffy red eyes with her thumbs.
Ron sniffed and let out a laugh of embarrassment.
"Wow that was humiliating," he said with a watery chuckle as he wiped at his face with the back of his hand.
"Don't be silly Ron," Hermione smiled at him as she lifted his chin and planted a soft kiss on his lips, "you're always better off letting stuff like that out then keeping it stored up, you know that well enough by now don't you?"
"Oh don't I know that!" Ron said with his bloodshot eyes widening and another muggy laugh sticking at the back of his throat.
Harry smiled at the two of them as they looked across the table to him. He pushed the bowl of pomegranate seeds across the table to them and Ron took in a deep calming breath before gathering some of the seeds between his fingers and bringing them up to Hermione's lips.
"Open up," he grinned and dropped them onto her tongue when she obliged, "you're tasting the most awkward fruit in the world but you'll never forget it once you've tried it."
"Just like Jo," Harry smiled as he too scooped up some seeds and popped them into his mouth.
Ron nodded and his eyes seemed to light up despite the redness around them.
"Exactly like Jo, colourful, unique and impossible."
Hermione swallowed her mouthful and picked up some seeds to feed to Ron.
"Here's to tradition," she smiled.
Harry chewed the strange fruit that was juicy and sweet and bitter and woody all at once while watching one of his best friends helping the other out of his mini crisis. He was glad they had each other. He looked down at the bowl and knew that they'd be saving some of the seeds for Dee. If Ron was struggling now that the anniversary of Jo's death was fast approaching then he knew Dee would need all the support they could give him. Ron would be strong enough to handle it now and Harry and Hermione would be right there helping him out with his heartbroken friend.
"We'll save the rest until Dee comes home shall we?" Harry asked Ron who was swallowing his mouthful.
"Yeah," Ron nodded, "I'll let him use my room tonight. I think he needs time at the beach more then I do now."
Hermione smiled and kissed Ron on the lips once again before whispering with a relieved smile.
"It'll be good to have you back with me of a night Ron."
"Yeah," he nodded, "Sorry to have gone into hiding like that."
"Don't worry about it mate," Harry grinned from across the table, "That's why Neville and Dee made the beach room for you in the first place, so we always know where to find you when you're lost."