Hero's Christmas

Disclaimer: Everything but the words belong to J.K. Rowling.

Summary: All the three heroes want for Christmas is something that feels like home. implied r/hr and h/g, oneshot

Author's Note: Erm, yeah, I seem to recall mentioning something about writer's block in a previous author's note...::cough:: Let's just say, for all intensive purposes, that I got inspired to write THIS tonight when I missed America a lot and wanted to "go home for Christmas" or whatever. It's not quite my best, and I'm really tired so there could be a few errors I might come back and tweak. I'd love some reviews, as always, and I hope you enjoy!

ooo

Even heroes must have Christmas.

This is Ron's reasoning, and Hermione knows he can't help it, because Christmas has always been something for him it never was for her or Harry. For her, it's a quiet, subdued affair, with simple decorations and simple presents, cocoa by the fire, reading on Christmas Eve, perhaps singing a few carols. It's a happy time, yes, but it's not the highlight of her year; it never has been.

For Harry, Christmas means remembering years of neglect, years of watching his cousin get huge, ridiculous gifts, while Harry himself received nothing but perhaps a pair of hand-me-down jeans or a bent wire hanger, of being reminded that on a day that was supposed to be all about love and compassion and kindness, he was locked in a broom cupboard under the stairs, with no one to wish him a happy Christmas save a few spiders. In the past seven years, Christmas has become more to him, yes—now he knows about real presents, about feasts, and love, and friendship—but it's not a thing he'd particularly miss one way or another.

But for Ron, Christmas is so much more. It has always been a huge celebration for him: hand-knitted sweaters, mouth-watering feasts, loads of people all packed into a creaky old house that was bursting with warmth and energy and love; it's not just some holiday, something like, say, Valentine's Day that can pass by unnoticed or uncelebrated. It's about family and the feelings that he associates with it—comfort. Familiarity. Safety.

So, Hermione doesn't protest when Ron insists that like it or not, they are all going to take two full nights (Christmas Eve and Christmas night) and one full day (Christmas itself) off from their horcrux hunt. They are going to sing carols and exchange gifts and have Christmas Day feast, and by Merlin, they are going to enjoy themselves. Harry is outwardly enthusiastic, and Hermione plays along with Ron's little plan, but both share a quiet skepticism that doesn't go unnoticed—not by them, and not by Ron, either.

Ron begins his plans by procuring garlands, ornaments, and even a tiny, potted little tree. He has been out for quite some time one Sunday in early December when he brings all of this back to their rented little flat, his arms full and his cheeks red from cold.

"Here," Ron tells Hermione, handing her a box of ornaments. "Red, your favorite color. I thought they were nice." She grins at his eagerness.

"They are," she assures him. "Where shall I put them?" He waves vaguely towards the tiny kitchen.

"Just set them on the counter—I've got loads more stuff!" He zips back out to find his various other bags, and with limited help from Harry (who's having a bit of a headache), everything is inside and Ron sets about decorating. "C'mon, you two!" he calls over his shoulder, draping a garland haphazardly along the mantelpiece. "Where's your Christmas spirit?"

"I think Voldemort Avada Kerdava-ed it," Harry mutters under his breath, and Hermione shoots him a reproving look.

"He's trying," she mouths, nodding at Ron pointedly. Harry bites back a sigh, then forces a wan smile.

"You're right, I'm sorry," he replies softly, then quickly raises his voice. "Oi, Ron, where d'you reckon we ought to put this tree?"

The days progress steadily towards the Christmas side of things from then on. Ron doesn't overdo it (after all, he's still caught up in the middle of a war too, and he's not about to forget it), but each day there's some new sign that the holiday is drawing nearer. A few extra packages under the tree, or a couple more candles out. The decorating is a bit sloppy, Hermione thinks, but altogether quite festive; Mrs. Weasley would be proud. The only things missing are…well…cookies.

Hermione smiles at this thought. When was the last time she's had a decent cookie, come to think of it? Well, it's been far too long. The boys are out now, and she suspects Ron is taking Harry gift shopping for her (he never was subtle). Abruptly, she decides that a surprise is in order, and marches into the kitchen, ready to bake.

Hermione has never been a good cook—she conveniently forgot to remember that one. One wouldn't think COOKIE making would be so bloody difficult, but it is, and she forgot and oh, Merlin, it's all gone to hell; there's flour everywhere, chocolate smudging her face. If she had just let Mrs. Weasley teach her those cooking charms when she'd offered…

And now, Hermione is crying. This startles her, for she hadn't been expecting it. She's just standing there in the kitchen, trying to make cookies to surprise Ron and Harry and she's just…just crying.

This doesn't feel like Christmas, however that's supposed to feel like. It would be all right if they were at Hogwarts or the Burrow, but they're not, and it's not right, it hurts too much to feel right. She hates the garlands and the tree and the bloody cookies, and she hates the fact that they're fighting so hard and accomplishing so little, and she hates the fact that Ron wants this so badly—just this one day—and she can't even properly allow him that, because she's too busy fretting over how it doesn't feel right.

Oh, she's so muddled, Hermione, and now she's sobbing into her hands and biting her lip to try to stop herself. She hasn't allowed herself a good cry like this for ages, and she doesn't like that it's happening now. She just doesn't want any of it…not the war or the hurt, or even, oddly, the Christmas. She misses how things were, the utter simplicity of being a child. She can't understand how she lost that naiveté, and she can't understand how to get it back. Being Hermione and a hero is not enough any more. She wants to be Hermione and a girl and a student and maybe a girlfriend.

She wants to be anything but a hero.

And anyways, it's not really her right to be this hero person, is it? That was supposed to be Harry's job, and his alone. But somewhere in the middle of all of this, between Dumbledore's death and leaving home and destroying two horcruxes and standing here, trying to make cookies so she can do one thing—just one bloody thing—to make Ron feel even the least bit like she cares…she's become one, and there's no turning back.

She thinks she must have an inkling as to how Harry's felt at times, all these years they've known one another. She can't grasp it completely, but it makes sense to her in a way, now—how it feels to have the safety of the world resting on your shoulders. At least with her and Ron now added to the equation, Harry's burden must be a bit lighter.

Or perhaps even more weighty, now that he knows for certain they're more than willing to die for him?

She's not sure she wants to know.

She hears the lock on the front door click, and hastily she wipes at her eyes and murmurs a scouring charm, clearing away any evidence that anything ever happened in the kitchen to begin with.

ooo

Harry doesn't want anything for Christmas except a guarantee that every single person he loves will survive the war, and he knows that's asking too much.

He's gotten used to it now, Voldemort taking people from him, be they parents, classmates, godfathers, headmasters. He wonders why it hurts so much each time it happens. After all, shouldn't he have gotten used to this by now? Shouldn't he feel perhaps tired or annoyed each new time, instead of heartbreakingly, hopeless sad?

He wishes he did. Sometimes, he feels so tired he wishes he could go to sleep forever and never wake up ever again; yes, death would be far preferable to this. If he didn't have a world to save, he'd be quite content to just fade right now, to let his heart slow down, feel his blood run cold. He wouldn't mind, it sounds so peaceful. Better than this.

He can't pretend he understands Ron and his need to have this Christmas feel normal. It's been a long time since Harry was a starry-eyed eleven year old who woke up on his first real Christmas to find gifts from people who actually cared. Right now, he feels very old and very tired, and he just wants to get this done with and not stop until he's positive that bastard Voldemort is dead. There will be plenty of time for celebration, after that…plenty of time to share gifts and stories and laugh over butterbeers.

Plenty of time…he hopes.

Perhaps that's why Ron is so eager, now, to celebrate while he can. Harry represses a sigh, as he and Ron come back from the cold and the shopping, each with a gift for Hermione (Harry got her—surprises of all surprises—a book called Wicked by some Muggle author; it had looked amusing enough. Ron wouldn't say what he'd gotten her, but merely looked embarrassed.) and found her walking towards them, looking very tired and quite subdued. Harry thinks he sees sorrow in her gaze, but is sure he is mistaken when a moment later she whips them all up some cocoa and starts prattling on about how she's had owls from Ginny and her parents and how they all say happy Christmas and want to make sure everyone's doing all right.

Well, of course we're not doing all right, Harry thinks wearily. Ginny will know that already, I expect.

He finds it odd that the three of them can sit here in this tiny little flat and drink cocoa and pretend like they are a trio of normal teenagers talking about a normal holiday, when each of them is secretly worrying about whether they'll even live to see the day or their families or any of it. He worries about Voldemort…he can feel him getting angrier and angrier, and Harry can't decide whether this is a good thing, or a very, very bad one.

He just wants to feel okay, to be carefree and normal and be at school. He wants to listen to Hermione and Ron bicker, parry insults with Malfoy, eat Hogwarts food and attend Hogwarts classes. He wants to see Hagrid and his latest monster of the week, he wants to feel the wind and sun on his face as he dives for the snitch. He wants to feel Ginny's hands in his again, see the impish grin of hers light up her face, see the blazing determined look that seems to radiate from her.

He doesn't want to be the Chosen One, or the Boy Who Lived, or the one destined to defeat Voldemort.

He wants to be Harry—just Harry, and it seems like whoever that is has already faded, falling farther and farther into a darkness Harry is scared to reach out into.

ooo

It was his idea, wasn't it? That's what he keeps telling himself. It was his idea, and if he didn't want to do this, he shouldn't have insisted so defiantly upon it.

He loves Christmas, but right now, he just wishes it would disappear.

At first he thought he needed the familiarity it brought, the assurance that there was one day of peace left in the world. Now, though, he doesn't want that lie. He just wants a day where he and Harry and Hermione aren't scared, where they can do a Potions essay or have breakfast in Great Hall in a rush for fear they'll be late to class, or maybe listen to that foul git Snape carry on or hear Malfoy's snarky laugh or row with Hermione.

Ron doesn't want Christmas. He wants normalcy.

It takes awhile for the effect of the decorations to wear off for him, and it's Christmas Eve day when it happens. He wakes up, looks around, and feels utterly and completely depressed, silently joining Harry and Hermione in the understanding that this is a fanciful game, an excuse to hide behind. Ron now knows the laughter tonight and tomorrow will be forced, the food barely touched, the gifts merely glanced at—for who knows if their users will need or want them for more than as little as another hour?

This is not the time for frivolity, Ron thinks miserably. It is a time for constant vigilance and remembering and survival.

How, how could he have been so stupid?

Heroes need Christmas?

What was he thinking?

He is tired and resolute as the three of them make preparations for the evening—he himself is making the meal since Harry and Hermione voted him the best cook of the three (and he's no Mum when it comes to food, so he's not particularly looking forward to supper). Harry follows another lead for another horcrux, hits another dead-end, and comes home. Hermione tidies up, wraps her gifts for them, lights candles. Ron makes macaroni and cheese, a treacle tart, and fruit salad.

All of this is done quietly and in complete and utter exhaustion.

They eat—"Lovely food, Ron," and "Good job, mate"—they tiredly sing a few carols, and then Hermione says, looking worn out,

"Should we all give each other at least one gift tonight?" It is her attempt to liven up the evening, and Ron can't help but love her even more for it.

"Good idea," Harry says immediately, and Ron expects he's feeling guilty. All three of them go to the tree and pick out their gifts for one another—Ron takes the best of all the gifts he has for his friends to give tonight. He thinks it might make up in some way or another. Quietly, they exchange presents, and open them one by one.

From Harry, Ron gets a Sneakoscope (everyone watches it, and breathes a sigh of relief when it remains silent). Ron sees Harry inwardly kicking himself for giving a gift like that, reminding them all of everything.

As if they could forget.

Ron gets…he bites back a grin…cologne from Hermione. Chuckling quietly, he remembers the ill-gotten bottle of perfume he elected to give her their fifth year.

Hermione gave Harry a framed photograph of him and Ginny, one that had been taken during much happier days, and Ron can see Harry's feeling a bit overcome. Sentimentality, and all that. In that case, Ron tells Harry to wait before he opens his gift.

When Hermione opens her first gift, it's a book from Harry, and she eagerly exclaims she's been dying to read it, which leaves Harry looking a bit pleased. Ron tells Harry it's ok to open his own gift, now, so he and Hermione tear the wrapping paper off of Ron's gifts at the same time. Suddenly, Ron feels nervous—like his heart has bottomed out.

They're each holding jewelry boxes (Harry especially looks curious), and when they open them, they're both a bit confused. Ron's gotten them silver rings with the letters HPHGRW engraved in curling letters around the band, and all they need to do is look up at him to indicate they need explanation.

"Well," Ron says, sheepishly, reaching into his pocket and extracting his own ring, "I got this idea, right, when I saw this bloke engraving these on the street. I thought…well, I got all our initials engraved into them and I just wanted to...well, they're sort of promise rings. A promise as in, I'm here for you…the both of you, and I know you're both here for me, and no matter…well, no matter what happens, we're always going to have that, this bond, that keeps us together. The rings just sort of emphasize it."

He is met with resounding silence.

"Sorry if it was stupid," he adds hastily. "I just…I just thought I'd…"

"Stupid?" Harry sounds incredulous. "Stupid? Ron, mate, this is—"

"That's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard anyone say!" Hermione suddenly exclaims.

Another resounding silence.

Ron is the first one to burst out laughing.

"Beautiful?" he manages. "Oh, I'm going to need to owl the Prophet. Something Ronald Weasley said was beautiful—alert the media!"

"What happened to the 'emotional range of a teaspoon' thing?" Harry demands in between hysterics. "Blimey, Hermione…"

"I thought it was appropriate!" Hermione says indignantly, but she too is giggling. "Oh, I'm sorry, Ron, these are lovely, really they are, and I know how hard you worked to make this Christmas festive…I'm so sorry I haven't been into it."

"Me too, mate," Harry agrees. "It was just hard, that's all, what with…things."

"Don't be sorry," Ron dismisses. "I was feeling just as lousy. I just wanted things to feel...normal. You know? I didn't want some fancy celebration, just a regular day at Hogwarts with regular things…"

"That's how I've been feeling," Harry says quietly. "Like if things were normal and boring, that would be a Christmas in itself."

"You mean I'm not the only one?" Hermione cries out, looking taken aback. "I've felt so uncertain about this for ages, all I wanted was something that felt…that felt right."

"Well, things aren't going to be normal for a long while," Ron acknowledges. "We all know that. But you two are my family, and right now, we're all each other has got. So happy Christmas, then," he finishes rather lamely.

"Happy Christmas, Ron," his best friends tell him, and Harry hugs him briefly, then Hermione kisses him chastely and quickly (he'll want to, er, discuss that particular display of affection with her far more in depth and a later time, he thinks), and for a few moments everything is normal and ok, and Ron feels happier than he has in ages.

Tomorrow Ron will tell Hermione he loves her and Harry will write a long letter to Ginny, and they will open the rest of their gifts and have a quiet day amongst themselves. And even later than that, Ron will look back on this when he watches Harry be tortured to near insanity, shoots spells and kills, feels Hermione's hand in his when he screams and screams as he sees his father die. He'll remember, fleetingly, the sheer and utter normalcy and happiness of their unremarkable little Christmas, and he'll think quietly that they'd gotten what they wanted really, that hero's Christmas of theirs.

But now, it isn't the time for that. Now is an evening they have just to themselves, with butterbeer and gifts and laughing, just like Ron had talked about.

When they go to bed tonight, all three of them will sleep soundly for the first time in six months, and the last time for a year.

And then, when they wake up tomorrow, none of them will feel anywhere but completley at home, if only because it's true what Ron said—they've got each other, and that's not ever going to change.