Author's Note: This is just a short piece that came to mind while I was re-reading Deathly Hallows just now. I've written this story so that it can be perfectly situated between Chapter 18, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, and Chapter 19, The Silver Doe. In case you need context: at this point in the book, Harry and Hermione have just returned from Godric's Hollow, having narrowly escaped Voldemort; Harry's wand has split in two; and Harry and Hermione have just read about Dumbledore and Grindelwald in Rita Skeeter's book, leaving Harry completely frustrated.
Harry sat there outside the tent, fuming about Dumbledore for what felt like hours. The snow on the ground around him lay fresh and pristine, beautifully white, and Harry felt like yelling at it, for it had no right to look so absolutely good and heavenly when he was suffering from so much inner torture.
After a while he heard signs of life coming from inside the tent. Hermione must have woken up. He listened vaguely as she bustled around in there, probably preparing food for the two of them.
"Harry," came her voice sometime later, "take a break for a bit and come back in here—I've made dinner."
He sighed and got up, stretching. His knees cracked; he really had been sitting for a long period of time. He did a once-over of the surrounding woods, just to make sure there was nothing suspicious, but all was quiet.
"Cold?" Hermione asked as he came back inside the tent.
"Numb, more like."
"Well, have a seat. I made a stew. I don't know how good it will be, but it will have to do."
He sat down at their small table and she set a large bowl of brown stew in front of him. He let the heat coming off of it waft up to him, wishing to draw comfort from its warmth.
Hermione sat down across from him with her own bowl, trying scrupulously to study his expression, but he knew her too well and realized what she was doing.
"I'm fine," he said tersely.
She raised one eyebrow but didn't say anything: they had had enough tense conversation today.
Silence ensued for a couple of minutes as each of them gulped down spoonfuls of the stew; it wasn't exactly good, but it was warm, and it had a slight flavor, and for that Harry was grateful.
"Happy Christmas, by the way," Hermione said unexpectedly.
Her words confused Harry for a moment; in the aftermath of the trip to Godric's Hollow, he had completely forgotten that today was a holiday, and not just any holiday: today was a day you spent with family, with loved ones, celebrating the birth of a savior, celebrating good news.
Harry let out a bitter laugh. "Christmas," he said simply. "Wow, I'd completely forgotten. Some Christmas, huh? Remind me to thank Santa Claus for the snake bite and the locket burn."
Hermione laughed too and joined in on his sarcasm. "What a fun life we lead. You know, I wish we could play some carols, just so we could revel in the complete ludicrousness of this situation."
Harry laughed some more. "Hermione, you know what? This is the worst situation imaginable. I mean really," he continued, "this is the shittiest state we've ever been in."
He almost expected her to reprimand him for his language—almost.
But instead she raised her glass of water and said, "Cheers, Harry," then took a big gulp.
"Does it taste like hot chocolate?" Harry asked dryly.
"Not even close," she replied, covering her face with her hands and massaging her temples. "Yes, you pretty much said it. This is just completely effed up."
Had they been at Hogwarts and Hermione had used that expression, Harry would have laughed with surprised delight. And Ron...what would Ron have said...oh, how he would have teased her...Harry's chest seemed to heave with anguish.
Hermione seemed to be thinking the same thing. "I miss him, Harry," she whispered unexpectedly.
He stifled the automatic response on the tip of his tongue—it would have been tactless to say, "Miss who?" And so instead he settled for, "I know. I miss him too."
He watched as her eyes welled with tears. She didn't blink; she just let them fall out of her eyes, drops of water into the bowl, distilling the stew as they hit it.
He supposed he should have taken her hand, given her a pat on the back, done something; yet he could not bring himself to move. Her display of raw emotion was scaring him.
"He promised me, Harry," she said quietly, drawing deep breaths to steady herself.
"Promised you what, Hermione?" he asked as gently as he could.
She breathed in deeply. And then, after a moment: "That he was never going to hurt me again; that after the hunt for Horcruxes was over, we would put all the nonsense aside and finally be together." She made an uncontrollable noise like a child about to cry. "He lied."
Harry was startled: he had not realized that Ron and Hermione had come to such distinct terms with their feelings and their vague relationship, and, what was more, that they had put it all off to follow him on this completely unproductive mission.
"I'm sorry, Hermione," was all he could say. "I had no idea..."
"I really love him, Harry," she said, and her eyes were focused intensely on some far-off object on the wall of the tent, and new tears continued to break in her eyes and slide down her cheeks, "not fully in that way—not yet—but he means more to me than...than..."
"It's okay," Harry said, "I understand."
She swallowed, wrenched her gaze from the wall, and focused her eyes upon him instead. "I just still can't believe he left us. And here we are on Christmas, all alone, helpless and desperate and unloved. This is the second Christmas I've had without him now."
Harry was completely taken aback. All thoughts of Dumbledore, of the broken holly and phoenix wand, were pushed aside as he devoted all attention to her, his dear friend, who was in more pain than he had cared to acknowledge, or was just too selfish to notice.
He reached across the table and laid his hand on top of hers, curling his fingers around the back of her hand in what he hoped was a secure and comforting manner. "He'll come back to you someday, Hermione," he assured her. "He may not want to be my friend anymore, but I know he loved you, and probably still does."
The words were the best he could do: he knew he probably sounded idiotic, that if Ginny was here she could do a much better job of comforting Hermione. And as he thought, for the umpteenth time, about his ex-girlfriend, his heart felt, if possible, even heavier than it had all day.
Again, silence. Hermione was still crying, and Harry was wrestling with too many types of pain—surely he could not even give each of his problems the attention they deserved. But at the forefront, at least for the time being, was the weighty knowledge that Harry had unwillingly forced Hermione to choose him over Ron; she had had to pick between her morals, her principles, her loyalty to her best friend, on the one hand, and her heart, her feelings, her love on the other. And she had chosen the former: she had chosen to stay with Harry. To help him.
And suddenly, despite the pain, the weariness, the uncertainty, and the anger, Harry was grateful for this little bit of salvation.
"It means a lot to me to have you here with me, on Christmas, sticking with me still. I just hope all of your future Christmases are better than this one."
She smiled a faint, watery smile and squeezed his hand. "Thanks, Harry." Then a pause. "We'll get through this."
He forced a nod, trying to look like he believed her words, as he let go of her hand and stood up from the table to take his bowl to the sink. He needed to go keep watch again.
As he turned to walk back to the mouth of the tent, he stopped behind Hermione, leaned down, and placed his arms around her, giving her a hug that was supposed to radiate thankfulness and hope at the same time. She seemed to understand because she sighed and relaxed her body, placing her hands on his arms and briefly resting her head in the crook of his elbow. He squeezed her tight for a moment, and she gave the shirt sleeve on his left arm a quick kiss, and then he let go and walked back outside to keep watch. The snow was still glowing white.
A/N: For those of you who received an alert about this story because you're subscribed to my story "All Was Well," I wanted to let you know that I haven't completely forgotten about it--I lost inspiration for a while but I still have some ideas and would consider writing more if there is demand for it. Please review this story and include in your review what you think about continuing AWW. Happy New Year to everyone!