Author's Note: 'Bearings' and 'Growing Up Granger' are on hiatus until mid-December. Uni eliminates most chances to write… Disregard DH's epilogue, please.
Love Comes Again
The dust had long since settled. The castle was rebuilt. The dead had been laid to rest and their memories fading. Hogsmeade, the Ministry of Magic, and Diagon Alley were made pristine once more. The old ways had been eroded, and a new regime was slowly finding foothold within the government, one that preached tolerance. The giant squid still lazed around the lake and the Forbidden Forest was still forbidden.
But as a warm summer breeze moved restlessly around the castle grounds, only one figure bore witness to the slowly swaying grass. The students, teachers, and headmistress were home for the summer, and the castle was closed to every soul in the world. It was during these two weeks, set aside to let the castle itself regenerate its magical capacity, when the raven-haired figure stood with his back to the squid, hands in his pockets, looking up at the stone edifice of Hogwarts. His green eyes, normally sharp with life and intelligence, were clouded over; his brow knitted, and lips pouted.
Memories, long dormant ones, would always resurface during this yearly visit to the place where it had all ended. It had been so long it would have been impossible not to move on—twenty years is a significant amount of time—but flashes of that day would flit across his consciousness, almost superimposed on those great stone walls. Green light seemed to mock him momentarily, and then he saw Fred, Lupin, Tonks…
All those who had laid down their lives that day so good would triumph over evil, so that prejudice might finally lose its dominant position in society and a new day might dawn over the dying Wizarding world… Those myriad righteous deaths; people he could only remember by the way their corpses had looked. Concentrate as he might, he could never quite get back the sound of Lupin's voice.
He stood there, a living monument to the sacrifices of the past and a testament to the hopes of the future. Just a single man, now thirty-seven, wearing a faded pair of jeans and a white tee shirt—his face was free of the spectacles that had impeded him in his youth, his hair was longer and more unruly than ever, and in moments of clarity his eyes were the truest green anywhere.
His feet were planted slightly apart, braced against the gently downhill slope toward the waters behind him; his shoulders squared up toward the turrets and his back straight; and his neck bent slightly away from the sun. Not a cloud corrupted the sky. This was perhaps the nicest day northern Scotland would see all year, but those details were far from his mind.
He made this journey every year to make sure he never totally forgot. He felt all he had already lost was a disservice to the dead, but he wasn't omnipotent, regardless of how potent he actually was. Memories faded over time due to biology in his brain he couldn't control, so he Apparated to this scenic spot during the two-week emptiness to absorb the environment, both for its changes and its constants.
He was internationally known for his defeat of the dark lord, but more so in the last ten years for his attempts at relations with Muggles. He had made it his primary goal following the horrible war during his school years to end the ridiculous discrimination in the world, and he had travelled far and wide for the cause. The campaign trail was long, hard, and ultimately infinite. His life's work would only be complete when it took his entire life, because he would never be able to solve all of the issues. But he had made several steps in the right direction, more than he would have even believed at first; he always took a rest during these few days, though, to come back to Hogwarts and listen to the silence of the stones.
His achievements had not been without cost, though. His long time girlfriend, then fiancé, then wife had eventually left him because of how little he had been home. He hadn't seen Ginny in over nine years, and their split had caused a rift between him and the Weasley family that grew more difficult to bridge with every passing year. In fact, he never felt welcome at the Burrow anymore, and preferred to stay away.
Ron and Hermione had lasted only long enough for the dead to be buried and for grass to grow over the graves, and then their passion dried up. Ron wanted to marry young and have about twelve kids, which of course meant Hermione would have had to stay at home and be a housewife, which she could not do. She wanted to go Wizarding law school and then perhaps Muggle law school, and soon after those revelations to each other, they parted ways, on semi-amicable terms at least.
But as one year became five, five became ten, and ten twenty, they drifted apart as is the way of things. The ties that bound them so close during their school years evaporated after their split, and eventually other priorities in their lives took precedent over keeping in close contact with their childhood friends. It's not as if they wanted to lose each other, but life has a funny way of getting in between one and the people one used to care about.
More than the battles and the war and the deaths, memories of his antics with Ron, Hermione, and his other close friends at the time would pervade his being. His was a lonely road, filled with foreign lands, late nights, and no time for personal relationships. He wanted to fulfill Dumbledore's legacy upon the world, which had been left on his shoulders, and it looked as if he would end up as bereft as the old man by the end of it all.
He only allowed himself these kinds of thoughts and feelings when he let the immutability of the walls of the millennium-old school wash over him. Fifty weeks out of the year he led a relentless existence, and there was something cathartic about this pause in the fabric of time, when all he did was be there in the warm summer air.
"Harry?" a soprano female voice called out, carried breathlessly across the grounds by the breeze. His blood froze for one fateful second, and then his heart triple-timed. He knew that sweet voice, even though he had not heard it in three years. Unbidden, an image of her hugging him desperately in Grimmauld Place rose to his mind's eye. They had been teenagers then, and the woman he opened his eyes upon had aged twenty-two years, though flawlessly.
His viridian eyes swept over her in the space of three seconds, but that was all it took for him to ache for everything he had lost in the last two decades more powerfully than ever before. Her chestnut hair swept down past her shoulders in shiny waves, still very thick but managed; her chocolate eyes were as lively and profound as ever; and she wore jeans and a colored tee shirt, simple but somehow elegant.
"Is that really you?" she asked, something like disbelief in her voice, as she drew near. He caught a whiff of vanilla and strawberries, and more images flooded through his brain—her helping him practice summoning spells for the first task, her helping him with Dumbledore's Army, and he and she alone in that cursed tent.
She stopped about five feet from him, put her hands on her hips, and tilted her head to the side. Her famous eyebrow rose up her forehead.
"Hi?" she asked, and suddenly he was laughing with a joy that he hadn't known was in him; joy at nothing in particular except for the mesmerizing sight in front of him, compelling not only because this was Hermione but because it was the Hermione he remembered and cherished.
He crossed the space between them in less than a second and swept her into his arms, and he could hear the musical sound of her own laughter in his ears. Before he knew what he was doing he was spinning her around and around—she seemed weightless in his arms; and then he set her down and embraced her. It was an embrace spanning the three years since he'd talked with her, one to encompass them and then move past them. He breathed deep and vanilla and strawberries found their way into his lungs and his brain, and he fought off the urge to laugh again. Finally he stepped back, and as her laughter died away, he noticed rosiness to her cheeks, absent before.
"Hi, Hermione," he said, grinning and feeling foolish, but not caring.
Then the silence came, the inevitable time when they both wanted to ask hundreds of questions but couldn't decide which was best, so instead they just stared in wonder at each other, drinking up through their eyes the living being of the other. They had not been in each other's physical presence for so long that the reality of the other person had started to fade, but now that it was refreshed, it was awesome and at the same time slightly unbalancing.
"It's been a long time," she finally said, stating the obvious so that Harry chuckled slightly. "What are you laughing at?" she wondered.
"Nothing," he said, shaking his head. "You. Us. How long it's been."
"Harry…" she started, and there was something different in her voice so that his chuckling immediately died away.
She took a step toward him, and he almost stepped forward too. "Why don't you keep in touch anymore?"
He certainly had not been expecting an accusation, so he said the first thing that came to his mind: "Me? Why haven't you?"
She scoffed and rolled her eyes in a very familiar gesture. "It's bloody impossible to know where you are, and you must know that. Owls get lost on the way…"
He shrugged. He didn't have an answer, and he didn't know how to articulate all the things he had been feeling before she miraculously showed up. "I don't know, Hermione."
She looked away from him for a moment, and he saw a curious set in her jaw, as if she were resisting something, and their eyes met again. Something new was there, something he didn't remember from their early years—a kind of hardness, or perhaps weariness.
"What are you doing now, Hermione?" he asked, suddenly curious as to what she did. He pushed away the shame at not knowing.
"Nothing much," she shrugged it off.
"Come on, I don't believe that," he responded, taking that step closer. She focused on his eyes and licked her lips.
"I do some consulting for our Muggle government," she said, slowly.
"Oh?" Three feet separated them now.
"Nothing as flashy as your globe-trotting, but it pays well and I like to think I'm helping people," she said. Her eyes flitted away from his and then back again, and there was something like surprise or expectation in them. He never knew they held so many emotions, and he didn't know how he could still read them.
"Whatever you put your mind to, Hermione, you make things happens; that's always how it was and how it will be, I'm sure," he said, watching through his peripheral vision how every breath she took strained her tee shirt. The details, it seemed, were important to him today.
"Why are you here?" she suddenly asked, locking gazes with him. She wanted an answer, and it threw him off his slow progress toward her. He stopped and broke eye contact with her, looking up toward the Astronomy tower.
"Because…" he started, but stalled not knowing what to say.
"Because you need to remember?" she asked, looking at him as if sizing him up. He nodded, still looking away over her shoulder.
"Something like that, yes. But also much more—I need to get away every now and then, and this is the best place to go. So much history here, so much life and death…and I was involved in nearly all of it."
He flinched at a pressure on his shoulder, and looked down to find her small hand there. His eyes travelled along the fingers, over the back of her hand, her wrist, and then up her arm to the shoulder, before rising to meet her own. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly, imprinting on his brain the touch of her fingers, so that during the next twenty years he could carry it with him.
"I miss you, Harry," she said, almost a whisper, and he wasn't sure he even heard it. His eyes slid open and there was a naked sadness in hers, so real he was stunned. He grabbed the hand on his shoulder with one of his own.
"I…I miss you too, Hermione," he replied. "I've missed you for a long time," he breathed.
She looked away again, and in profile he saw her lip tremble. She bit it to stifle the moment of weakness, but it was too late. He had seen it, and he couldn't stand it. He moved forward and embraced her again, this time much more gentle than his greeting. She was soft and firm at the same time, and her silky hair brushed against his face. The nostalgia was incredibly intoxicating.
"How did you know I was here?" he whispered into her ear, and she shuddered in his arms.
"No one knew where you were," she whispered back. He could feel her warm breath on his jaw. "And this seemed like the last likely place."
"You've been looking for me?" He rested his head against hers.
"For a few weeks," she admitted, leaning into him some.
"Because, Harry," she said, pushing away from him a little so she could look into his face. "I've missed you, and lately it's been getting harder and harder to take your silence. Was it something I did?"
He shook his head, slowly at first, then more vehemently. "No Hermione, absolutely not. You're perfect. You've always been perfect. I've just been…busy." The last word came out of his mouth very softly. He was ashamed of it.
She moved forward into his embrace again. "Care to tell me about it?" she asked, in a kind of sighing whisper.
He pressed her body tightly to his, felt every curve and her push against him, and nodded. "Of course. Where shall we go?"
"Anywhere." She was trembling.
He thought for a moment of someplace warmer and sunnier than Hogwarts, and then they were gone. The tiny pop echoed off the walls of the school, fading once more into the breezy silence of the grounds.