Genre: Angst/Romance (some)
Rating: PG-13ish for moodiness
Summary: When a third of the Golden Trio goes missing, the remaining two wallow in uncertainty, trying to remember a past they've forgotten while finding reasons to move forward.
Timeline: Set after HBP, the summer after 6th year. Technically an AU.
A/N: Can be considered a follow-up to Pinpoint, but is also a one shot. Either way, I have an actual sequel to Pinpoint in the works.
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Mirepoix: a mixture of celery, carrots, and onions mostly used to flavour soups, stews and sauces originating in French cuisine.
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Chicken soup, it is widely believed, is good for whatever ails you. At least that's what everyone says. It's really no wonder I had become wary of everyone after a while.
Hermione once tried to teach me how to make it. The method was simple, she said.
And mirepoix, she explained, was the basis for making it.
The celery was for lightness.
Sure, the method was simple. Just time consuming, like everything else in those days.
It was odd, how in the middle of a full blown out war, she couldn't suppress her eagerness to teach. Then again, it was ingrained in her nature to do so. Hermione, lesson starved and all, was still Hermione.
In the midst of the chaos, the Order managed to sustain itself despite the casualties that had accumulated through the months. Sometimes we went days without knowing what happened to the ones that were assigned missions.
During this particular lesson, it had been a week without word of Ron's whereabouts. Routine reconnaissance, Professor Lupin had said. We were obviously doubting it when he didn't return that night.
Thinking back on that time, he had been looking especially haggard those days, with Tonks having accompanied Ron on that particular trip. At the time however, neither I or anyone else had known of their whereabouts.
Of course, we kept busy with figuring out the locations of the remaining horcruxes and the like. Still, it made for a pretty disappointing role in what was supposed to be the fight of our lives and me being named The-Boy-Who-Lived and all. It didn't feel as though I was living up to the title, even if it was rubbish. Not that I cared for that particular reputation, but I needed to do something. I'm sure Hermione felt the same way too.
That night, she slipped into my bed for the first time.
She later claimed it was because she'd been too tired to actually remember where exactly she was going that she woke up beside me.
From the way the shadows coloured her eyes, I knew she'd been lying.
Of the three of use, she always did have the most impeccable memory. It was how she made the best grades in Professor Binn's class. That dull ghost could bore even the most over-caffeinated five-year-old into a permanent slumber. Except Hermione, that is.
She was the exception.
But I didn't push the topic with her.
Somewhere beneath the cool and collected exterior, she was a mess. I didn't have to look too deeply into her to know she was beyond worried. The whole business of Ron missing had her out of sorts.
I knew, because I was feeling the same way.
It would have been considered endearing to the point of being scandalous if anyone had found out about her waking up in my bed instead of hers. This was far beyond teenage hormones or delusions of romance. As far as I knew, there were no rumours abounding the way it had at the Triwizard Tournament.
Since that night, mornings found her beside me, under the covers and smelling faintly of something sharp.
After a while, I started to believe that maybe we were both mourning, even when there was no news to celebrate or to let us grieve openly. That was probably the worst of it. The uncertainty that didn't allow for hope to grow, that slowly suffocated anything else that allowed for proper function, the idea that we were designated to a slow death even within the safety of four walls.
And sometimes, just sometimes, I could swear Sirius was still in Grimmauld Place.
Impossible, of course, even if Nearly Headless Nick had informed me he couldn't have stayed behind to haunt dark corridors, lonely rooms and torment my thoughts. But if I stared long enough at the spider webs that had woven themselves to replace the missing threads of the old heirloom tapestries, I could see the history behind it in all its awful glory. The only other thing I saw was the overall gloom of sunlight in that dusty room.
I wonder still if she saw it as well. Even as she buried herself in books, there were things she couldn't hide. The melancholy was apparent in her eyes, but then again, it was in everyone else's too.
After discovering dusty cookbooks in the kitchen's pantry, she began to teach herself how to cook. Whatever knowledge she picked up, she imparted upon me.
Apparently, carrots were for sweetness.
I had yet to understand the intricacies of cooking or her interest in the subject. In those days, the daily crush of anxiety made everything taste the same for any of it to be appreciated.
It didn't stop her from trying all the same. Let it never be said that she lacked determination, even when she was losing hope.
Pretty soon, she had basically pursued the culinary arts with an unmatched devotion. She armed herself with a chef's knife, replaced her wand for a wooden spoon and hid behind pots and pans as though they were shields of some sort. And very quietly, that barely used room became her fortress. I suppose it was her way of putting distance between herself and the wizarding world. It was denial in its full-blown stage.
Because she was tired, as was I.
Oddly enough, I had noticed that she'd never looked as beautiful as she did then.
Sometimes I found myself wishing that she'd always stay that way – with the melancholy in her stare, the way that her hair managed to calm itself, nearly straightening out (even while she was always tense from the constant vigilance! Moody preached), the unconscious pout on her lips when she frowned (which was often). This sudden attention to detail slowly became a dull, quiet ache that insisted she stay that way.
After two weeks, Ron's absence dug deeper into despair.
After a while, I didn't remember what her smile looked like, her laughter sounded like. Not that I missed any of it (as it was completely inappropriate for the time being), but even I was forgetting when the last time was that I had found something funny. She frowned all the time, even when she found time to read silly romance novels in the library.
Needless to say, I had trouble believing anything was sweet. Especially a root vegetable.
She was trying to distance herself from everything – the Order, Hogwart's, Ron's disappearance, magic. Me. I knew I was somewhere in that particular mix.
I should have been upset at her for not helping me when she'd promised to follow through with this whole business of saving the world. She had all but abandoned me at that point. I wanted to remind her that promises were meant to be kept and that she couldn't take hers back. But I remembered how this was my burden to bear as evidenced by all the near death experiences that had amassed over the years. I was never allowed to forget. I had the scar to prove it.
I was being selfish in wanting her to stay, even though I knew better than to cajole her by manipulation and emotional exploitation. But I was not above using such tactics.
Yet every night I forgave her when she slid next to me and pressed her back against mine. She wasn't gone yet because she knew I needed her.
And secretly, I hoped she needed me the same way too.
By the seventeenth day, it seemed she didn't care in the slightest of what anyone thought. She stopped sneaking into my room on tiptoes as quietly as before and walked in, letting the floorboards purposely creek under her steps. She was announcing her presence to the room, to anyone who gave a damn.
That night, she didn't bother changing into pyjamas when she came in well after midnight. It still surprised me when she walked through that door because I didn't understand why she continued to come to me. At first I though it was for comfort, to let out whatever sorrow had accumulated in the deeper parts of her mind. But she didn't come to cry on my shoulder or to have me blindly and awkwardly reassure (lie to) her that everything was going to be all right. She was always better at discerning the complexity of emotions.
No, I didn't know why she came to me at all.
"Harry," she said softly.
I felt her shift and the antique metal frame squeaked sharply. I imagine she would've frowned.
She lay so still I had begun to doubt she was really there and some ghost with a particularly bad sense of direction had wandered in instead. Surely, it was just my imagination playing a mean trick me. Then again, my subconscious has a mean-spirited sense of humour. Which was why I never felt bad after a pulling an especially mean prank on Dudley.
And then . . .
"Where do you think he is?"
It was the only time she'd mentioned Ron since he'd left. And frankly, I didn't know what to answer. The rough fabric of her jeans skimmed across my cotton pants.
So I did what I shouldn't have done. I said what I thought.
"Maybe safe or hiding, or injured, or even captured." Maybe dead as well, I wanted to add, but decided to omit that pessimist thought. She was probably thinking it anyway, so there wasn't any real reason to say it out loud.
"There are a lot of maybes Hermione," I told her instead.
"Of course," she agreed mildly, and though I couldn't see her in the darkness, I thought I felt her nod. The spring made a brief noise. "But – "
She trailed off despite the lack of interruptions.
Again, that silence. Funny, how an intangible thing, a transient state, weighed heavily inside those walls. It would not always be so.
Idly, I wondered if she was still breathing. Even when my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I could barely make out her silhouette.
"How did that song go again?" I merely stared at her shadowed outline. "The Quidditch one the Slytherins would sing."
I had almost forgotten the sport altogether. Yes, the brooms, the quaffle, the bludgers, the Golden Snitch. I had been a Seeker once. And Ron.
"Weasley is our King."
He had been a . . .
"For he cannot catch a thing," she finished the rhyme, humourless.
. . . a Keeper. Ron had been the Gryffindor Keeper. How long had it been since we'd been out of school? It was barely July and it seemed more like years than weeks since we'd left Hogwarts.
"It was an awful song wasn't it?"
I couldn't recall the whole song though the Slytherins had belted it out on the last match.
"We went to help Hagrid with Grawp," I reminded her. Surely, even she couldn't forget Hagrid's giant half-brother. He'd nearly demolished the Forbidden Forest single-handedly after all.
"Oh," she said quietly. "No wonder I couldn't remember that horrid chant."
Her arm slid over my ribs.
"Is it bad?" she suddenly asked.
I stared blankly at what seemed like a wall from the direction I was facing.
"Is what bad?"
Her hand fisted in my shirt.
"Forgetfulness," she said simply. "It seems my memory is slipping."
When I didn't reply, she continued.
"It's like I'm senile at seventeen and there's no way to bring back those images. They're supposed to be important right? But I keep trying to think about school and him and everything."
Her grip tightened as she leaned her forehead on my shoulder.
"I mean, I know Ron has red hair, but I don't . . . " her voice dropped to a near murmur. " . . . know what it looks like anymore or how badly he played on the Quidditch team or – "
Her cheek was soft under my touch.
" – how clumsy he was."
She was speaking directly to my shoulder.
"Is it bad?" she mumbled again. "Is it some sort of memory charm?"
I didn't know. For the two of us, then and there, the world was an awfully fast, fast place to be in. There was no slowing down, only trudging reluctantly forward to an unknown destination.
"No, it's not a memory charm."
"A curse maybe?" she offered, hopeful for some answer to the numbness, the inability to feel anything, even pain.
Even if I couldn't see her, I could trace the lines of her face – a straight nose, the gentle slope of a forehead, the exact angle of her jaw.
"No," I replied.
"Then what is it that doesn't let me remember how to feel?" she breathed exasperated.
Her hand came to rest on my shoulder. I smelled something sharp on her skin.
She never did say what the onions were for.
But I knew she had been making chicken soup again. Or trying to at least. Even if it all tasted the same to me, she was willing to try harder. Gryffindor endurance and what not. She was persistent. That would never change. And yet, it was heartbreaking, even at my most jaded, to see her so disoriented in a sea of uncertainty, without any answers and no book to tell her so.
I ran my fingers through her hair, wondering why it was that I had never made that simple action before. Her hair was a little rough to my hand, reminding me of cotton threads when they became undone from the blanket.
It was easy, just to lie in companionable stillness, even if we were reeling in sorrow and unable to express it. I'd learned to deal with it, though clearly she struggled to come to grips with it.
She was drowning and I clearly didn't know how to pull her up and help her breathe again. So I decided to drown along with her. It was my fault she was here and missing the third part that made up our best friend. I wouldn't let her go at it alone. I owed her as much, and not just for all the times she had helped me, but because I wanted to. I wanted to.
"It's everything," I answered.
I touched my forehead to hers. Her hand pressed against my face. Despite myself, my eyes began to water slightly.
"Harry?" her voice wavered, lost and it seemed a little hopeful to my ears. "Aren't you ever tired?"
She dug her fingers into my arm. Painfully. But I didn't mind.
". . . of all of it, I mean," she continued. "This war, the chaos, the casualties (here, she swallowed audibly, as though suppressing a wave of sorrow that would inundate her completely if she didn't stop it) . . . I mean, why us? We're so screwed on a daily basis and I can't get used to it. And truthfully, I don't see how you've gotten along so well all this time."
This was the most untactful thing I'd heard her say. Ever. And yet, she was right.
"Don't you wonder if and why we'll be the ones to clean up the mess after it's all over?" she asked.
I thought about it every day. Fate was what Dumbledore had said. It had been on my shoulders since he had told me about Trelawney blurting it out in that pub that night. I had been cosmically screwed ever since. What fun. So funny I forgot to laugh at the inanity of it. The bottle had spun and landed on me.
I was done being resentful about it though. The faces of the people we'd lost – some brave, some accidental – kept me up in the darkness, haunting me with the guilt.
"Because it's sort of meant to be that way."
She laughed then, bitterly.
"These were our friends. Once upon a time before the Dark Lord came and killed them without reason. Behold as we, the afflicted, shall comfort you, the weeping ones who knew nothing about them."
She might have made a ridiculing gesture with her hand, but it was too dark to tell what trajectory she traced in the air. Probably mocking the old swish-and-flick from several lifetimes ago. When we meant something collectively and the world was right and whole and ridiculously boring.
"It's stupid isn't it? To pretend that being brave and strong is - "
She didn't finish that thought and sighed instead.
"I'll fix it," I promised her. And I meant it. Because I was tired of everything (but not her, never her). And she needed hope as much as I did.
"Don't say what you don't mean," she replied harshly in that soft voice of hers when she was usually hurt by Ron. Or me, in this case. Don't say what you won't go through with, she really meant to say. Or what you can't go through with.
It was exasperating.
That was when I kissed her. On the forehead (even though I was dying to really kiss her).
As she cried, unprovoked after several weeks despite the faint smell of onions, it seemed as though she breathed a little easier that night. And that was when I knew she wasn't just trying to recall lost memories, but how to react to them. Laugh, frown, sulk, weep. So many possibilities, so little time. And maybe that was the matter all along.
After all, onions were for tears.
She'd been trying to make herself cry, and feel something, anything even if it was through artificial means.
I couldn't see her reaction when I kissed her face again on the cheekbone and tasted salt. It felt almost felt like the beginning of a smile between the quiet sobs.
A few days later, when Ron returned a little worse for wear but in one piece, I got to see it brighten up the gloomy afternoon.
Her eyes locked on me for a moment and I froze while my heart stopped and something felt different. Not that the burden had changed or lightened, but that it was a little easier to bear. I didn't understand what it meant, but it didn't matter on that exact instant. Because for the first time since we'd left school, I had faith for no absolute reason other than her shy smile that there would be time to figure it out.
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