A/N: This story is also written with PhantomTigre. We also started this before Fate's Future (another HGSS story by Snowbear) which is why the two are kind of similar, both story ideas evolved around the same time. This is not canon with the seventh book, though inadvertent similarities exist. Please enjoy and give us your feedback, critique is appreciated.
Hermione looked up from the book she was reading, wondering in a cold absent sort of way what it was this time. Ginny ran into the dormitory, her red hair down and around her face, obscuring the tears that her voice couldn't hide. Hermione gently closed her book and asked softly, "Where is Harry?"
Ginny stopped before Hermione and brushed the tears angrily from her eyes, "I don't care! I don't care! I don't know what to do with him anymore."
"Tell me where he is- if need be I'll put the Cruciatus on him until he talks," Hermione said with a frustrated sort of sigh.
Ginny momentarily looked mortified; she shoved a lock of red hair from her eyes once more and stared at Hermione, her expression at once fierce and unsure and she finally said, "Don't bother. It won't help."
"Just ignore him," Hermione suggested, shifting her position on her bed in the dormitory, "He has a push-back complex. You chase him away, and he'll come back and try all the harder."
"I don't want him to come back anymore," Ginny answered darkly, "And if I do, he'll just be all the worse. He'll probably commit suicide or murder someone."
"Is it that bad?" Hermione asked softly, her eyes probing her friend's face.
Ginny shrugged and then nodded, and said fervently, "I care about him, Hermione, I really do. I just don't know how to help him."
A light breeze slipped in through an open window in the dormitory. It was early October, and the days were still nice. It was sometimes hard to imagine they still had an entire year of schooling to go through with, it almost seemed unreal. School. What is school? Hermione wondered, after all they'd been through? No wonder Harry was depressed. Hermione suspected if it weren't for Harry, Ron would be much worse. It was like Harry's depression made Ron unable to succumb to his own. Hermione didn't know where that put her. She supposed she was probably- from a clinical point of view- in some sort of denial, but either way, she mostly felt numb about what had happened.
"I'll talk to Harry," Hermione said, and felt like the words no longer meant anything. She'd talked to Harry so many times- it was like her words just bounced off the dark shell of his soul. They were empty words, but it helped Ginny. As much as she hated to admit it, Hermione was as in the dark as Ginny was- she had no idea what to do for Harry. She stood up anyway, and walked out of the dormitory, Ginny's grateful eyes trailing her the entire way.
For Ginny, Hermione thought, I will probably end up doing this a thousand more times. Maybe I'll finally get through Harry's thick skull in that amount of time… then again, if it takes that long it'll probably be too late for Ginny.
Harry was sitting outside, under the tree by the lake. He looked like a little dark shadow, a skeleton lingering in a future it didn't belong in. A ghost. Hermione shivered, and walked down to him. Soft, warm sunlight played on her face. It made Hermione sad in an aching way- it was so nice out, yet she hardly even noticed it even more. The weather didn't matter. She recalled in her first year, and even second, being delighted at every bit of nice weather, at Harry and Ron's insistence they take a break from studying to take advantage of the niceness. Where was Ron anyway?
Harry looked up as she approached. There were dark hollows under his green eyes. He really did look like a skeleton. How many times had the Cruciatus been put on him? Hermione shuddered, and pushed that thought away.
"Ron already talked to me," Harry said, his voice almost a whisper. His face glistened faintly with sweat, and his glasses seemed a little low on his nose. The sweat somehow humanized him- put warmth in his face where there was usually none. Hermione went over and sat down beside him, letting an exasperated sigh slip from her lips- though she felt immediately afterwards that she was being too harsh with him.
"This is the third time Ginny's come to me," she told him, giving him a level gaze. Harry sighed, and looked away.
"I'm sorry," Harry answered, his voice hollow as he let his gaze drift across the lake. Hermione looked at his hands, resting on his knees, and noticed they were shaking slightly, almost uncontrollably. She thought, in an offhand sort of way, that he was attractive- she could see why Ginny liked him. She'd kind of had a crush on him in her first year- but then again, what girl hadn't?
"People don't see me," Harry said a while later, and let an exhausted sigh slip through him, "I'm the walking dead. All they see is what's happened to me, the people that have died around me. They're afraid of me."
A harsh laugh escaped his lips, "I'm afraid of me."
"I'm not afraid of you Harry," Hermione said, "And neither is Ginny. Nor Ron. And we're the ones that matter."
Harry picked up one of his hands and looked at it, turning it over and then looked at Hermione and said, "I should have died."
They stared at each other for a long moment and then Hermione said, "There is no 'should have' Harry."
Harry looked away, then tore up a few clumps of grass, letting the damp green stalks fall away beneath his fingers. He sighed again. He and Hermione stared off into the distance as the sun slowly crept through the sky.
As Hermione walked off a while later, she vaguely remembered that she was supposed to have talked to Harry about getting back together with Ginny. It hadn't seemed the time though. The words weren't right. She sighed, and thrust her hands into her pockets. Everything was so crazy, so hectic. It was surreal. When talking to Ginny, she felt angry at Harry, and prepared to knock him from his depression. When talking to Harry, she felt sympathetic for him, and could not get herself to say anything harsh to him- he deserved to be depressed, if he wanted to. It was almost like he needed to be depressed for a while, and he'd come out on his own, when he was ready. After all he'd done, Harry Potter deserved to do things at his own pace. Hermione didn't really feel she had the right to tell him what to do.
She stepped into the Great Hall, and was immediately met with the buzz of student activity. She looked over the heads of students studying, snacking, and playing games. She quickly spied Ron, deep into a Wizard's Chess game with some student she didn't know. She supposed it was his way of escaping. Draco Malfoy lounged in a corner, a broody look on his handsome face. She felt an odd sense of pity for him. Malfoy was really nothing but another victim. She was no longer able to muster up any sort of anger towards him. She led her eyes slide once more, and as they did, she saw so many faces that had a distance in their eyes. Professor Snape sat up at the head table, watching over the students with a dark eye, another shadow in the corner. Another mystery. Hermione sighed, and wondered. Harry claimed they had irrevocable proof that Snape was really on the Order's side. She didn't dispute that- he had proven such in the final battle. But Harry refused to tell anyone why. He said it was too personal- he'd felt wrong knowing it himself. Hermione didn't press him, but she, like everyone else, wanted an answer. No one took Dumbledore's death lightly.
So many people had been touched by the war. So many people were still affected by it. Such a terrible thing. It all felt like a dream. Hermione imagined any moment she'd wake up, and the war would just be a future impending doom sort of thing, something she could ignore and focus on intensely at the same time. This- this postwar, post apocalypse atmosphere… she couldn't register it.
As she looked down the Great Hall, she saw a great many faces there were untouched, too. Faces of people who only knew Lord Voldemort as a faceless fear, and anonymous enemy. Now he was gone, and they could go on with their lives, joyfully experiencing Hogwarts to its fullest. Hermione realized sadly that she would never, could never, have gone through Hogwarts like all the others. Her life was far to entwined with Harry Potter's.
She turned away from the Great Hall and wandered into the hallways, feeling alone and drifty, awash in a sea of chaotic reality. She wished it would get cold soon. It was still too much like summer. The memories were still too fresh. They were all plagued by nightmares, dark, horrible, and inescapable ones that made you wake with a scream on your lips and too scared to let it out.
A shiver ran down Hermione's spine, unrepressed. She wrapped her arms around her and walked quicker, rushing into the Gryffindor common room, warm in reds and golds and comforting. A sigh of relaxation was released from within Hermione as she sat down in front of the fire place, that had a mild fire going in it even now. The House Elves knew what people needed, and even though the weather was nice, people needed warmth. They needed that nice, reassuring crackle of fires. Hermione thought half heartedly about SPEW, and then decided it was too much stress to even dredge up her opinions on that matter, and let herself sink into a half doze, staring into the flames. She had studying to do, but for once she didn't feel like doing it. Harry had worn her out. Her essays could wait- well, technically she'd already written them, but she still needed to reread them several more times to make sure there wasn't any spelling or factual errors. As Head Girl, she had to set a good example. Getting anything less than an Outstanding on anything would be entirely unacceptable. Hermione sighed, feeling a headache coming on, and dragged herself up. Time to study.
"Harry's drunk," Ron said frowning into his butterbeer. Hermione glanced back into the corner of the Three Broomsticks where Harry was draining another tankard of Madame Rosemerta's finest mead. At least he looked moderately happy, or perhaps just out of it. Hermione hoped Ginny wouldn't see him. Harry Potter, the Boy who Drank. Hermione stifled a laugh; maybe Harry wasn't the only one drinking a little too much.
"We have got to do something about him," Ron commented, still looking down into his butterbeer. He'd hardly drank any of it.
"Oh, let him have his few hours of bliss," Hermione said offhandedly. Ron gave her a look and Hermione straightened her face.
"I wasn't talking about drinking," Ron answered, "I mean we've all suffered and him the most, but he needs to get out of this funk."
"I don't feel like it's our responsibility," Hermione said softly, "Or anyone's. He saved the world."
"That doesn't mean he doesn't need someone to tell him what to do," Ron reminded her, "With Dumbledore gone, he doesn't have an adult figure in his life anymore. We're all he has left. And even if we don't feel right shoving him around, it's what he needs."
"And how do you know what Harry needs?" Hermione snapped, but immediately felt guilty at her tone of voice, she hardly felt like herself anymore.
"Bloody hell," Ron said shaking his head in defeat, "I thought everything would be perfect once it was over. Everything would be easy; good. Not like this. Happy. It would be happy."
"I think it will be a long time before any of us can be truly happy," Hermione said softly, "Every night… all those people who died… our classmates."
Hermione couldn't say their names, refused to see their faces in her mind. So many faces. So many dead bodies, carcasses. She shoved away her butterbeer. Ron was silent.
"I think its going to take Harry twice as long as the rest of us," Hermione added glancing back to where Harry was sprawled in his chair, "Unless we help him."
"What should we do?" Ron asked following her gaze, "What can we do?"
"Let's go throw him in the lake for a start," Hermione said and felt like laughing again. She mentally slapped herself. Get a grip Hermione, this is real; this is life.
Ron smiled, but it was an empty smile, contained to his lips, not extended over his face the way she remembered it.
"Okay," he said standing up, as if glad to abandon his drink. He met Hermione's eyes now and Hermione felt a jolt of connection. Ron was real, and the world suddenly felt a little more concrete.
"Okay," Hermione agreed. They stalked over to Harry's table and grabbed his arms.
"Hey guys," he said with a smile that faded when they pulled him to his feet.
"We're getting you out of here," Ron told him.
"Let me go," he protested weakly, struggling as much as his body would allow him to in his state.
"That's enough for tonight," Hermione said sternly taking the bottle of mead from his hand and placing it back on the table.
"Oh," Harry glanced back at the table longingly as the pulled him out into the cool air of the night. His head flopped around on his shoulders a little bit as he tried to get his legs to move beneath him. Together she and Ron managed to lift him up enough to move.
It took them nearly twice as long as it normally did to get back up to the castle grounds dragging Harry along and both she and Ron were breathing hard by the time they saw the lake glistening before them in the moonlight. It was starting to get a little bit chilly.
The next bit was downhill and as the grass was getting wet with dew Harry's shoes slid quite easily along the ground. Hermione shivered, shrugging off the feeling that he was a bit like a corpse at this stage of inebriation.
"Where are you taking me?" Harry mumbled, barely conscious.
"Don't worry," Hermione said soothingly, feeling rather manipulative.
"It's a little cold- maybe we shouldn't," Ron said as they neared the lake, glancing through the darkness at Hermione.
"Cold is good for you," Hermione replied smartly, heaving Harry up higher on her shoulder, "Makes your metabolism work harder."
"Cause Harry needs to lose weight," Ron snorted, but continued walking anyway.
At the edge of the lake they gently set Harry down, resting him on the grass. He promptly fell over into a doze, his glasses crooked on his face. Hermione glanced around the lake, but it was dark, and she couldn't see anyone. It was also quiet.
"We're safe," Hermione concluded to Ron, "No one around."
"He looks peaceful," Ron mused, staring down at Harry.
Hermione peered down at him. It was true, in part. She supposed he only ever got rest when he was in deep sleep, and not dreaming. Hermione suddenly felt very bad for him, and wondered why they were throwing him in the lake for suffering with post Voldemort depression.
"Well, into the lake with him anyway," Hermione said, shoving some hair out of her face, "He's been moping too long."
"I only hope he doesn't wake up and kill us," Ron said with chuckle, running a hand through his hair and looking up at the stars that twinkled overhead, just as they had before Voldemort, and just as they always would- well, relative to humanity, anyway.
"Or drown," Hermione added dryly, and nodded to Ron. They picked Harry back up, cradling him together in their arms.
"Ready?" Ron asked and Hermione nodded.
They swung, and released at the far end of the curve. Harry's body sailed through the air, going more down than sideways. His robes fluttered. He belly flopped into the water with an excruciatingly large splash. His body sunk down into the shallows. In the sound of the splash, Hermione thought she heard something else but then-
"BLARGH!" Harry yelled, leaping from the water, spraying droplets everywhere. His glasses were gone, and he looked pale and skinny, his robes clinging to his light frame.
"Hermione! Ron!" he yelled, staring at them accusingly through narrowed eyes that struggled to see.
"You were drunk," Hermione said pertly, "Now go up to the castle and put some dry clothes on. And go to bed."
Harry stared at her for a long moment, then fished out his wand, summoned his glasses, attempted to wipe them off with a sleeve, and placed them on his face. Then he stared at them again, peering at each of his friends for a prolonged amount of time. With a sigh, he then, trudged out the water and squished back up to the castle. Hermione and Ron watched him go.
"Does he hate us?" Ron wondered amiably.
"He won't remember in the morning," Hermione said, wondering to herself if that was a good or bad thing.
"First step in Project Reclamation of Harry Potter," Ron said with a grin, turning to Hermione.
"Don't get too happy yet," Hermione reminded him glancing back at Harry's receding figure. A sound from the other side of the lake stopped her again and she turned back to gaze at the lake's black water.
"What?" Ron asked, his voice hushed.
"Wait here," she said to him.
She looked again towards the lake and noticed the figures of a few students on the shore and sighed heavily. They were small enough that they were probably second years, maybe first years. They shouldn't be out here at this time of night, but then again she and Harry and Ron really shouldn't have been in Hogsmeade this time of night either. Maybe being Head Girl had its perks after all.
"Why?" Ron inquired rather loudly.
"Shut up," Hermione hissed, "Some students. I'll take of it."
Ron sat down heavily in the grass as Hermione strode down to the water, grass crunching under her feet. She hoped they weren't daring each other to find the squid, the last time little pipsqueak first years had done that one of them had ended up getting stuck in the mud at the bottom of the lake. Or even worse, they could be skinny dipping. Hermione felt her face get a little warm; she was not in the mood to deal with horny twelve year olds either. She got closer, all ready to bitch at them and noticed that something was out of place. They were mostly silent, gathered around a shallow pool on the shore of the lake.
A spell; they were doing a spell. Hermione paused, hit hard with the memories of her, Harry, and Ron sneaking off in the middle of the night to do spells that would have gotten them in ridiculous amounts of trouble had they not already been involved in matters much larger than which spells were allowed and which weren't. They all tried to pretend like they got punished just as fairly as other students did, but the name Harry Potter did have an influence, as did the shadow of Voldemort lingering behind it. A shadow which seemed to hang even the more over him now.
The students were talking in hushed whispers, they hadn't noticed her yet. She crept forward, hoping to hear what they were discussing. One of the students poured a flask of liquid into the water and it lit up suddenly in flashes of blue and red.
Pushing her curiosity away Hermione stepped forward and coughed loudly. Four first year eyes jerked up, wide and startled.
"Students are supposed to be in bed by this hour," she told them sternly, "And potion-making is most certainly not allowed outside of the castle without express permission or supervision."
They stared at her, blankly; silent.
"Oh Merlin's beard," she sighed exasperated, "What do you think you're doing down here?"
"A spell?" one of them offered.
"Obviously," Hermione retorted. One of them snickered and elbowed the other. The other dropped the other flask he was carrying which landed with a soft plunk into the liquid. It seemed to Hermione that it didn't sound like a flask hitting water, rather more like a pudding.
"Blimey!" the boy who'd been holding the flask exclaimed as the pool started belching smoke and heat.
"Hermione!" she heard Ron yell from somewhere behind her. She started to turn around but realized that the smoke had completely obscured her vision.
"Lumos," she said pulling out her wand.
It did little to help. Blue smoke billowed around her spiraling upwards. She could make out some tree branches and hear the muffled yelps of the first years.
"Crap," Hermione muttered under her breath, turning around hoping to catch a glimpse of Ron. Suddenly a small figure barreled into her shoving her off to the side.
"Sorry!" he squeaked. Hermione's back hit something soft and she felt herself sinking down into warmth and darkness.
A/N: We know we haven't gotten to the main plot here yet... but we promise lots of yummy HGSS scenes to come!! (And some HGDM thrown in too just for fun.) Please review!