A/N: In the wake of the news from JKR, I thought I'd revisit the 'Stupid' universe (that, by the way, I began creating on July 22, 2007, the day after DH was released) one last time. I have only one word to say on JKR's revelation: VINDICATION. At last.
Just as a heads-up, this vignette takes place way back when our heroes were seventeen, during the events of 'Deathly Hallows'. You might say that this was the start of it all - all of the events in 'Stupid' can be traced back to the moment you are about to experience. I guess you could call it a prequel, or a prologue.
Lastly, I want to thank you, all the readers who have been following 'Stupid' for almost seven years now. Your loving reviews made writing it incredibly rewarding, especially considering I was only seventeen when I started this story. I'm almost twenty-five now, and every once in a while I still get emails from , telling me that someone new has discovered my story and favourited it, followed it, or reviewed it (reviews are the best). It still gives me a warm glow, every time.
Thank you, readers. I love you too.
~ The Seamonkey
HHr forever. We've known since 1997.
The wind has died down now. My hair lifts off my face a little with a breeze. The leaves rustle quietly; they're a rough brown colour, far past the brilliant golds, oranges and reds of October. It's well into November now. I don't know what day exactly. The frost hasn't quite started yet, but it could come any day. The forest is otherwise still and silent; the sounds of animals are absent, and the sky is clear. Stars glitter up there like the reflection of the moon on still, dark water.
I can hear Harry pacing inside the tent. He's going to wear a path in the floor. My eyes are still swollen, though dry now, and my head hurts; the kind of ache that you get from dehydration, but I feel like even if I drank a gallon of water it wouldn't go away. My stomach feels hollow and empty. My throat is dry and swollen too. It's hard to swallow.
I shift position slightly, and my back rubs itchily against the bark of the tree I'm sitting at the base of. The ground is hard and unforgiving under me, the tree roots knobbly and cold. My knees are tucked up against my chest, my arms hugging around them, and I blow a strand of hair away from my eyes with a puff of breath that turns into mist in the almost-winter air. I sniff, and the inside of my nose freezes for a second.
My eyes burn. I blink a few times, and it subsides a little, but the feeling wells up in my chest and my throat and I have to take a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Any time my mind drifts out of focus, even for a moment, it turns back to that thought. I start reliving it. All I can see, laid over top of the dark forest in front of me, is the inside of the tent that night, and him yanking off the locket and storming out. I see myself stumble after him, crying, reaching, calling his name - but he's gone. He left us.
I can't stop seeing his eyes, flat and hard, hearing him say, "I get it. You choose him." I can still feel my limbs moving too slowly, like wading through water, as I got rid of the shield charm and staggered out after him into the rain that soaked through my clothes in a minute. My sopping wet hair plastered itself to my face. I can't stop remembering the feeling of calling his name, but only hearing the loud hush of the rain on the forest in reply.
Now, my eyes are swollen but dry, and the night is cold.
The hard knot in my chest won't unwind. It hasn't for days. Harry won't say his name out loud anymore, and I cry myself to sleep most nights. Sometimes I feel like I'm dying. I wish I could have stopped him. I don't know how to stop remembering the moment of him leaving, how to stop my mind from falling back into the memory, reliving it over and over again. I'm all cried out. I have to be. My head throbs, pounding from it. I'm so tired. I'm so tired.
The tent flap stirs behind me. Light footfalls on the hard ground.
"Aren't you cold?"
"No, not really." I shake my head. Harry stands beside me and looks out at the dark woods. We're both silent for a while; nothing can be said.
My whole body aches. I feel the exhaustion roll over me like a tide, and I suddenly feel heavier, like my limbs weigh twice what they should. I hug my knees a little tighter and watch my breath fog out and disappear. I don't know how to deal with this. I wish I could make Harry feel better - he's so angry, he's so hurt. I wish I could be stronger for him, but I just can't. This has taken everything out of me. I feel like an empty shell. Hollow.
"He'll come back."
Burning floods up behind my eyes. "How?" I ask, my voice breaking on the word as I gulp back tears. I won't cry. I'm too exhausted to cry. I take a shaky breath. "He won't be able to find us, you know he won't." He can't. The spells protecting us from the Death Eaters will see to that.
"That's impossible, Harry. And besides, he doesn't even want to." Anger spills over into my voice. The feeling of betrayal sits like a sickness in my gut. I don't understand how he could have been so callous, so selfish, and left us. Left me. I've never felt so wretched in my life.
Harry sits down beside me, his back against the tree bark, and wraps his arms around his knees, mirroring me. He tilts his head up toward the sky. The stars glitter. It's pretty - and it makes me sick. I dully wish Ron was here to see it too, but part of me knows he wouldn't appreciate it anyway.
"Y'know...we're gonna get through this."
"What?" I say, looking at him. My eyes still burn. My face feels swollen and thick, like I was recently on the wrong end of a stinging jinx. I feel like I've been crying for days. I must look terrible. Ron left us. Harry and I are on our own, no closer to figuring out how to find the sword, no closer to finding the other Horcruxes; just a couple of teenagers whose greatest achievement is simply still being alive. How can he say we're going to get through this? How can he possibly even know?
Harry glances sidelong at me. "We'll get through this. It's going to be okay. You'll see."
"How can you say that?" I find myself asking, though I meant to keep the thought to myself. And suddenly the words are tumbling out, uncontrollable, unstoppable. "He's gone. We haven't gotten anywhere on the Horcruxes in six months. We don't know what we're doing or what's going to happen to us...and I can't stop thinking about it, Harry, I can't stop picturing it, he just - he just left." I start to hiccough a bit. "I'm sorry - I know you don't want to talk about it, and there's nothing we can do, I'm sorry - I just - we -"
Misery chokes me. I draw my knees even closer, close my eyes, and rest my forehead in one hand. I can't think. I can't speak. I'm too tired.
And then I feel Harry's hand tentatively pat the top of my back, and before I know it I've curled over against him, the dead weight of exhaustion pulling me down, and his arm snugs around me, my head resting on his shoulder. I feel like gravity is pulling at me harder than it should. My cheek presses against his collarbone, bony but warm, and my eyes blink slowly as he rubs my arm. I'm too tired to do anything but sit, and breathe.
After a few moments, I realize that this is the first hug I've had in a really, really long time.
That is the thought that spills me over the edge, and tears begin to squeeze themselves out of my eyes. Harry doesn't notice right away, but after a while my shoulders start to shake a little. I'm pressed up against him, so I can feel it when he tenses up in what I can only assume is uncomfortable realization.
"Sorry," I say thickly, and without thinking I turn my head slightly, into his chest, and wipe my nose on the front of his jacket. Oops. My throat seizes up and it's difficult, painful, to swallow the lump that swells there. "I just hate that he left," I say quietly, so softly that at first I don't think he heard me.
"I know," he says. I can hear the tightness in his voice too now. "Me too."
"I'm sorry," I mumble again. Look at me. More tears spill out. I feel stupid.
"Shh," he says, a little awkwardly, and squeezes my shoulders tighter. His breath stirs my hair, and the tiniest shiver runs down my neck. "It'll be okay. Trust me."
Trust him...I shake my head against his shoulder, feeling so heavy, a phantom weight pressing down on me. It won't be okay, no matter how much I trust him. And I do.
"I...yes - yes, I'm staying. Ron, we said we'd go with Harry, we said we'd help -"
"I get it. You choose him."
That's not what I had meant - the ache in my chest, the hole Ron left, speaks to the feelings I've been repressing - but maybe I did choose Harry. I mean, I chose to stay with him. Of course I did. I would never abandon him, I couldn't. This is too important. And I've stuck by him through...everything. Even when Ron hasn't. Harry is...Harry. He's probably the best person I know. He's a bit of an idiot sometimes, everyone is, especially teenage boys, but he's still probably the best person I know. How could I leave? How could Ron leave? How could he leave us?
Trust him, he says. I do. But how can I trust that anything will ever be okay again?
Harry pulls away slightly, and I sit up slowly to look at him. He looks right back at me, green eyes dark and earnest. "I promise, Hermione."
And somehow, somewhere deep in my chest, a small but significant part of my heart begins to knit itself back together.
A feeling starts to tumble through me, just a little bit of warmth, rolling up and down my ribs and perching somewhere in my abdomen. Harry looks away awkwardly, out at the forest and the night, and I look down at the pair of our legs, tucked up tight against each other. The tree bark is rough against my back. Harry is warm against my side and around my shoulders, and his words warm me, too. It's idiotic to be that blithely, blindly confident, but somehow I can't help but believe him. I think of all the things we've gone through before, how we've managed to scrape our way out of situations that should have killed us time and time again, and emerged with hardly scratches. It's him. He's...just better than everyone else. Unassuming, self-conscious, awkward at times, headstrong and stubborn and occasionally oblivious, but not when it counts. This is why I stayed. Because Harry is Harry. He's born such a weight on his shoulders for so long, from so many things, and I swore to myself once that I'd never let him feel like he was ever completely alone. And he never will be.
He makes me feel safe. I want to make him feel safe, too. The feeling wells up in me, and I want to reassure him that I'm here for him, that he can count on me, that he's not in this by himself. A thought flits across my mind - the desire to bury my face in his chest, wrap my arms around him, show him that I'm here and I care; I want to return the comfort he's just given me. My mind flicks to Ron. Why, I couldn't say; I suppose Ron was the person I always wanted to hug, to be close to, before. The feeling of betrayal, never far from the forefront of my mind, courses through me again, and I have to take a breath to calm down. I hate this. I hate this. I can't believe he left.
But Harry is who I'm here with now. However hurt I am that Ron left, I know Harry was hit harder. Ron said some awful things; things I wish I could make Harry un-hear. I wish I could comfort him, but I don't know how. All I can think of is...sitting, like this, with him. I can only hope this helps him as much as it helps me. I want to...I don't know.
I want to cry, and hug him, and kiss him, and just be with him, here. I love him so much; he's my best friend in the whole world. He is good, to his core, and it kills me that he's so hard on himself, and that he's hurting so much. We're both hurting. I'm suddenly so overcome with affection, with the want to kiss him, out of friendship, out of love, and it's hard, once the thought has happened, to banish the idea.
But I don't do any of that. My knees twitch closer to my chest, closing myself off. Something is happening inside me that I don't want to think about.
Harry lets out a heavy sigh, and I watch the steam dissipate into the air. He glances sideways and down, checking on me, and half-smiles encouragingly. He can be so sweet. He looks back out at the woods. His arm is still around my shoulders.
I know he's afraid that I'm going to leave, like Ron. But I won't. Ever.
We'll get through this.
Together, him and me.
I don't feel stupid anymore.