Disclaimer: You guessed it: I still don't own Harry Potter.
"Like I Lived My Life Again"
Breakfast the next morning was a subdued affair. Both Harry and Hermione were lost in their own thoughts. However, when they were almost finished with the meal, their musings were interrupted by the arrival of Ron's little owl. This time, the parchment landed on top of Harry's half-eaten toast. He unrolled it and quickly scanned the message.
"Ron's coming to visit again today," Harry said. "He wants us to meet him down at the gate at ten o' clock like before."
Hermione nodded, checking her watch. "Well, it's almost ten now. We'd better head down."
They wordlessly made their way to the place where they had waited for Ron before, and Hermione once again took a seat on the grass while Harry stood next to her. This time, Harry wasn't nervous about meeting their redheaded friend. His mind was solely occupied with thoughts of the previous night's fateful conversation.
When they heard the tell-tale crack, Hermione stood up and went to unlock the gate for Ron. Harry stayed where he was, trying to fix a pleasant smile on his face. Ron, who wasn't the most observant guy, seemed convinced. "Hey, mate, you're looking better today," he said with a grin.
The trio walked up to the castle, Harry and Hermione purposely slowing their pace to make Ron less self-conscious. They headed up to the common room and took their seats by the fireplace. By this time, Ron finally noticed that something was different. Harry and Hermione were very subdued, and the air was filled with tension. Never one to bother much with tact, Ron blurted out, "Okay, what's going on?"
"What?" Harry and Hermione said together, sounding slightly defensive.
"Something's weird. You guys are acting funny. What's going on?" Ron repeated, looking from Harry to Hermione and back again.
Hermione looked at Harry, silently asking permission. Harry nodded. Hermione took a breath and said, "Harry and I had a conversation last night, and…well, we talked about, among other things…Ginny."
Ron sobered instantly. "Oh, really?" He paused. "Well, mate, do you want me to tell you about her?"
When Harry didn't answer, Hermione spoke for him. "I told Harry we could talk whenever he's ready. He didn't want to talk much last night. Harry, do you…?" Hermione let her question hang in the air.
"I'm ready. I want to talk about Ginny…and our other friends…everything," Harry said quietly.
It was a painful but necessary process for Ron and Hermione. They needed to talk about their friends, many of whom had paid the ultimate price, in order to come to terms with their loss. Hermione felt great relief in releasing emotions that she had been keeping bottled up for Harry's sake.
As for Harry, he seemed to be listening stoically to their words, but his mind was in turmoil. He found images and feelings swirling through his mind, on a sort of carousel that was spinning out of control. But slowly, as his friends continued talking, he found that more and more images were cementing themselves in his brain long enough for him see them. And each image, each memory fragment, began to attach itself to other images and fragments in his brain, until some sense finally began to emerge from it all. Eventually, he found himself occasionally jumping into Ron and Hermione's conversation, speaking of some tidbit that had finally arranged itself in his brain. But this only led to more conflicting emotions. On one hand, he was happy to be remembering more things and relieved that he finally seemed to be heading toward recovery. But on the other hand, each face he remembered, each little endearing quirk he recalled…they all pierced his heart with pain and regret, as he realized that he would never see that face again.
Ron did have some good news, though. Luna Lovegood had been released from St. Mungo's and was on the mend. This, at least, sparked a mainly upbeat conversation, because the three grieving friends could share memories of the offbeat but loveable Ravenclaw without having to face the devastating knowledge that she was gone. Seamus Finnigan, however, had not been as lucky as Luna.
And so, while the morning slowly died, three extraordinary young people shared and grieved and laughed through teary eyes. They didn't feel hunger, even though lunchtime came and went. The afternoon wore on, until finally, at a loss for anything else to say, they fell silent.
Hermione never could tell how long they sat there, emotionally drained, grieving for people and times that were now gone. But as the sun splashed reddish rays across the room, she knew that healing could finally begin for her.
Ron finally broke the silence. He stood and announced in a tired voice, "Well, I have to get back to the Burrow soon, or else Mum will give me one of her patented scoldings."
Hermione gave him a watery smile. "Yes, well, we don't want that, do we?"
Harry and Hermione walked to the gate with Ron, and Hermione let him out. Ron flashed them a toned-down version of his usual grin before he disappeared. Hermione closed and locked the gate, and then she and Harry headed back. The return journey to the castle was just as silent as the trip to the gate had been. However, upon reaching the common room, Harry announced that he would like to be alone for awhile.
"Of course, Harry," Hermione said softly. She embraced him briefly, then stared helplessly at his back as he disappeared up the stairs to go to the bedroom. With a sigh, she flung herself on the couch. A tear escaped her eye and trickled down her cheek. She didn't try to wipe it away.
Five Hours Later
Hermione rubbed her eyes in confusion. Sitting up on the couch she still occupied, she blinked in the near-darkness of the common room. The fire had died sometime…she hadn't even noticed. She must have dozed off. She was trying to remember what had roused her when she heard her stomach grumble. That must have been it—hunger. She suddenly realized that she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, and pale moonlight was now streaming in the window.
Yawning, Hermione pulled out her wand and muttered, "Lumos." Using her lighted wand to guide her, she made her way to the Great Hall for some food. She transfigured an orange into a basket with a few flicks of her wand, and then filled the basket with enough food for two people, figuring that Harry probably hadn't been down to eat, either. Then she headed back to the common room and up to the bedroom.
"Yeah?" Harry answered gruffly when Hermione knocked.
Hermione opened the door slowly. "Harry? Are you hungry? I've brought some food," she said softly.
There was a pause. Then Harry's voice spoke out of the darkness. "Yeah, okay."
Hermione stepped into the dark room and held her wand up, searching the room for Harry. She found him sitting on his bed, his arms wrapped around his knees. Quietly, she made her way across the room.
"Have you had anything to eat since breakfast?" Hermione asked as she sat next to Harry on the bed, setting the food down in front of her. She placed her wand next to them on the bed, liking the soft lighting it gave. She could see Harry's face without it being too bright.
"No, I haven't been down at all," Harry said, taking a piece of bread and biting into it.
"Me neither," Hermione said, taking a piece of meat. "I didn't even notice I was hungry until just now." Harry nodded in agreement.
The room was silent except for the sounds of their munching. When they had finished, Hermione decided to try to begin a conversation. She wanted desperately to know what was going on in Harry's mind right now.
"Harry…"she began. "What…how are you feeling?"
"I remember," Harry said simply.
"You remember what, Harry?" Hermione prompted.
"Everything, Hermione, it's all coming back. I remember the Dursleys, I remember the letters, I remember Hagrid and Diagon Alley. I remember the Chamber of Secrets and the Polyjuice Potion. I remember…Sirius…" Harry's voice broke. Hermione put a reassuring arm around his shoulders. He took a deep breath and began again. "I remember the Tournament, and th--the graveyard…Cedric…" Harry had to pause to collect himself again. "I remember the Department of Mysteries…and Cho, and then Ginny…I remember…Dumbledore…the Horcruxes…I remember--"
Hermione heard a strangled noise come from Harry's throat, and she realized that he was crying. "Shhh," she comforted, "shh, Harry…it's all right. It's all right…" She pulled his head down to rest on her shoulder, stroking his hair soothingly. Finally, his sobs began to subside. "How…how did it happen, Harry? How did you remember everything?" Hermione asked in a quiet voice.
"I just…as I was sitting there, and you and Ron were talking…I started seeing little images, flashes of things. The same as I've seen occasionally...the same I started seeing when Ron was here before. Only this time…there were more of them. And they finally…they finally stayed…they didn't leave as soon as I thought about it. And everything I remembered started leading to something else, and before I knew it, everything was pouring through my brain, and I couldn't stop it…and…it was like I lived my entire life again, in a few hours…except it wasn't in order." Harry fell silent.
"Oh Harry," sighed Hermione. "I can't imagine what that must have been like. But…but we should be glad that you've regained your memory. We don't have to worry anymore."
Harry gave a hollow laugh. "Yeah, I know. But right now, it's hard for me to think of that. I'm just so…" He sighed, unable to find the right word.
"Maybe talking about everything triggered it," Hermione suggested. "Maybe…maybe you could have remembered sooner if I had talked about it with you. I…I just thought that it would be better if I…I'm sorry if it wasn't the right decision."
"Well, we can't know for sure why my memory returned today. But even so…you did make the right decision, Hermione. I…I wouldn't have been ready before."
Hermione leaned her head down on top of Harry's, which was still resting against her shoulder. They remained like that for a long time, taking comfort in each other's presence. Eventually, Hermione noticed that Harry had fallen asleep. Carefully, gently, she laid him down on his bed, clearing away the remains of their late dinner. Rather than disturb him to turn down the covers, she got a blanket from one of the empty beds and draped it over him. Leaning down, she placed a light kiss on his forehead and removed his glasses.
"I love you, Harry," she whispered, ever so quietly. "Thank you for coming back to us."
When Harry woke the next morning, Hermione was already awake and keeping watch at his bedside, just as she had those painful days in St. Mungo's. She offered him a sweet smile as he blinked his eyes and yawned.
"Good morning, Harry. How are you feeling?"
"Better," was all Harry said. He looked around, and knowing what he wanted, Hermione handed him his glasses. As he put them on, he made eye contact with her, and what she saw in his eyes made her breath catch in her throat. Finally, Harry was really, truly there, behind those eyes. He was finally back. His eyes held the same sadness, the same evidence of a heavy burden that she'd seen in her own eyes that morning in the mirror. He knew; he understood; he remembered. And though she hated to see him in pain, for the first time since Voldemort's defeat, she somehow knew that everything was going to be all right.
That afternoon, they took another walk around the lake. After two times around, Hermione suggested that they sit for a bit and enjoy the nice day. After they had situated themselves in the grass, she decided to broach a subject that needed to be discussed sooner rather than later.
"So, Harry…what now?" she asked. "Well, we have to go to the Burrow for a bit. Mrs. Weasley made me promise. And I have to go home to see my parents. But after that…what are you going to do now?"
Harry sighed and threw a pebble into the lake, watching the resulting ripples spread out across the water. "I don't know, Hermione," he said, keeping his gaze on the water. "But…but I do know one thing for sure."
When he didn't continue, Hermione prompted, "And what is that, Harry?"
"Whatever I do…whatever my future is…it has to involve you." He finally turned his gaze to meet hers.
"Well, of course, Harry, we're best friends. I'll always be there for you," Hermione said.
"No, Hermione, that's not what I mean."
Hermione shook her head. "I don't understand."
"I mean…well, Hermione, I've been doing a lot of thinking, last night and today. And…I've come to the conclusion that I've been stupid. I chased after Cho, even though we really had nothing in common except Quidditch. And then Ginny…well, we had fun for awhile. But it was an escape, a diversion. She was…I mean, I still care for her…and I miss her. But she wasn't my soulmate or anything like that, I realize that now, when I look back on everything at once." Harry threw another pebble into the lake. "And I realized…all this time, there's always been one person I could count on. One person who always stood by my side, no matter what, and one person who wasn't afraid to stand up to me when I was wrong. One person who has been my partner, my equal. And that one person who has always been there in the past…is the one person I most want by my side in the future."
Hermione could feel tears welling up in her eyes. Am I dreaming? she thought, slightly dazed.
Harry picked up a large pebble, but instead of throwing it into the lake, he pulled out his wand and transfigured it into a beautiful red rose. Watching him do magic effortlessly once again made Hermione almost ache with happiness. "That one person, Hermione, is you," Harry said simply, turning his gaze to her once more and handing her the rose. Her hands shook as she accepted it. "I fancied Cho. I really liked Ginny. But Hermione…I love you."
"Oh Harry," Hermione cried, her tears completely blurring her vision. "I…you've no idea how long I've wanted to hear you say that. I never thought…I mean, it was obvious I wasn't the kind of girl you…But Harry, I don't want this to be…this isn't because I've been here taking care of you, is it? You're grieving and slightly overwhelmed and I'm here and you don't want to lose me and I understand that. But you won't lose me, ever. You don't have to…I just…I need this to be real, Harry, I…"
Harry reached out and put a finger over her lips, silencing her. "This is real, Hermione. I can't believe I didn't see it until now. When I was re-living everything, when I could step back and see my whole life…I couldn't believe it took me this long to figure it out. It's always been you, Hermione, ever since we were eleven. I've always needed you, but I've finally realized just how much I want you by my side."
"I know that we still have a long way to go, grieving and healing and everything. I know we have a lot to sort through—especially me. But Hermione, would you be willing to give me a chance, even though I've been an idiot all these years?"
Hermione managed to blink back her tears long enough to look at Harry's face. She was startled to see that he looked vulnerable and even a little afraid. Did he really think she would say no? "Oh Harry…" she said again, cursing her brain. Why had it left her now, of all times? It seemed like "Oh Harry" was all she could say.
"Hermione? Could you maybe say something besides my name?"
"I love you," Hermione managed to say. Okay, it wasn't poetic or amazing, but it was a step in the right direction. Hopefully that meant her brain was returning her powers of speech.
It was enough. Harry's face broke into a huge grin. "Really? You do?" he asked excitedly.
"Of course, you big git." She was crying now, but she was laughing too, and then she was throwing her arms around Harry and giving him a huge hug and before she knew it, his lips met hers in a sweet, chaste kiss.
Their future was still full of so many questions, but right then, none of it seemed to matter. They knew that whatever came their way, they would face it together. And for the moment, that was more than enough.