What Never Was
Hermione fidgeted a little in her chair. Her aging body made it impossible to be comfortable, no matter how padded her seat.
Ron sat beside her; his arm was wrapped around her loosely. Their children were in the row behind them, no doubt playing with their cousins. Rose and Albus were inseparable.
Harry entered; the crowd went completely silent. He gradually made his way to the front of the audience. War had battered his body. Though it seemed that only she noticed, he walked with a slight limp. He rested his body against the wood of the podium before him. His wand raised to his throat, he cast a quick spell.
"Twenty years," Harry began, looking out over the audience. There were thousands present. "It has been twenty years since the fall of Lord Voldemort."
"Twenty years since you defeated him," Hermione whispered under her breath. He was being modest, as usual.
"What if I fail?" Harry asked. Worry was evident in his voice. Ron was gone and the burden of shouldering the world's salvation had finally begun to affect him. Hermione looked at him reassuringly, then pulled him into a hug.
"You won't," she said matter-of-factly. The tears still trickled from her own eyes. She had lost Ron, she most certainly could not afford to lose Harry, too.
Proximity granted Hermione a more intimate view of the champion of the Wizarding World. She could see his graying eyes, the strands of white that had recently begun to accompany the rest of his hair, and the recently-formed wrinkles around his eyes. They hadn't always been there.
"Hermione!" Harry breathed. Hermione had nearly knocked him over as she embraced him. Worry mixed with other emotions as she fought back tears.
She hadn't understood the emotions that burst from within her. Not fully, at least.
"Harry – you're a great wizard, you know." The words escaped her mouth freely. She nearly said more, nearly said too much. He wasn't ready, and she wasn't sure she was either. She forced herself to let him go, involuntarily frowning as her arms left their spot around his torso.
"Each year, on the second of May," Harry began, "we gather to remember all that transpired in the war against Voldemort." A glimmer of light reflected in his eyes. Hermione found herself falling into a pool of memories, only catching a few sentences here and there of what was certainly an amazing speech.
"You mean to say," Harry began in a shaky voice, "that she won't remember anything?" He motioned to his friend's petrified body. Though Hermione could not see anything, she could sense that Madame Pomfrey had placed a sympathetic hand on Harry's shoulder. Ron wasn't even in the room; he had left for breakfast.
"We cannot say for certain," she replied. Hermione could feel the warmth of Harry's hand on hers. The moment of silence was broken as the nurse continued."You really ought to get something to eat."
Harry nodded, then turned to face Hermione.
"I miss you, Hermione." At once the warmth his hand had provided began to dissipate. She had missed him, too. If only the mandrakes could grow faster.
"There were many who lost their lives fighting for a cause greater than any of us here," Harry continued. His voice boomed with intensity. A single tear dropped to the podium.
Harry opened his eyes. In the darkness, there was but one thing he could see clearly, even without his glasses. Hermione had rested her head at his side; her breathing was slow and gentle. She was asleep. As he freed an arm from his bedsheets, ignoring the aches that plagued every inch of his body, he caressed Hermione's cheek, kindly pulling rogue hairs from her face to loop them around her ear.
"Harry," she squeaked, then gasped excitedly. "You're awake!" The redness in her eyes suggested that while he had been doing a great deal of sleeping, she hadn't. "Does it hurt?"
Harry shook his head.
"It just aches," he groaned a little. Hermione hugged him as best she could, he stiffly placed an arm around her back.
"There were many who lived fighting for freedom, for justice, for peace," Harry's voice began to shake with emotion. "In some way, everyone here has played a role in making life what it is today."
"Harry, I really think you've got it!" Hermione squeaked merrily. She jumped from her seat and made her way toward Harry. He had successfully mastered the summoning charm.
"Just as long as it works tomorrow," Harry grumbled. "The Firebolt's going to be much further away than the stuff in here," he sighed, "it's going to be in the castle, and I'm going to be out there on the grounds…"
"That doesn't matter," Hermione said kindly, pulling her friend into a hug. She rested her head on his chest. Though she hadn't noticed it then, his breathing had become erratic. "Just as long as you're concentrating really, really hard on it, it'll come. Harry, we'd better get some sleep… you're going to need it."
Harry paused to look at the audience more directly. With the exception of soft sobs from Molly, silence had overtaken the group.
Hermione hated the girls who played the game of pretending to fancy someone just to make the person you really fancy notice. Alas, regrettably, it had come down to doing just that. She had spent hours on her hair and hours more fretting over whether her scheme could even succeed.
Her arm was loosely hooked with Viktor's; she wore a nervous smile, peeking this way and that. As Harry turned, his eyes caught hers. At first he just stared, then his jaw dropped. It took every ounce of self-control she had not to break into a fit of laughter. Her plan was working.
"We all have grown a lot in the time that has passed," he said. "I mean, look at me," he chuckled. Roars of laughter came from those listening. "Even my little girl is ten." He laughed. An 'ah' came from the audience as little Lily squeaked an "I love you, daddy," from her seat beside Ginny.
"Bye, Harry," she said; emotions welled-up inside of her. Rather than fight the urge, she kissed his cheek. The lips would have startled him a little too much; it was best to show her feelings for him in smaller degrees. He stood dumbfounded, till George broke him out of his trance-like state, wishing him a merry good-bye.
"We made mistakes," Harry admitted. Hermione did not need to follow his eyes to see where they had focus. "We all did," he smiled weakly.
"Oh, come on, Harry," Hermione snapped. She was starting to feel a little irritated with him. How could he be so daft? "It's not Quidditch that's popular, it's you!" She sighed and looked into his eyes. "You've never been more interesting, and frankly, you've never been more fanciable."
Panic shot through her body. Had she really just said what she thought she had said? What if he caught on? She wasn't prepared to deal with it. Not yet, at least.
She huffed a sigh of relief as Ron gagged. She glared at him, using his idiocy as a simple distraction. At once, however, she found herself once again lost in Harry's eyes.
"Well lost friends, we all lost family." Harry nearly whispered the words. Were it not for the Sonorus charm, no one would have been able to hear him. "The war didn't just take away friends," Harry said sadly, "It brought us new friends." He looked in the direction of Luna's father. His daughter sat beside her husband with one of her newborn twins in her lap. Harry looked as though nostalgia would overtake him. "And it strengthened our friendships."
As the Invisibility Cloak was pulled from over her, the cold air began to nip at her body. Almost instinctively, Harry wrapped an arm around her. Her body ceased its gentle shivering as warmth began to blanket her. She placed her own arm around him.
"Many of us lost people we loved," Harry said. The look on his face was grim; his eyes strayed their usual path and found themselves resting upon Hermione. He stared for a moment before blinking rapidly. "Let us remember their sacrifice. Let us never forget the many who helped us enjoy the freedom, the peace, and the happiness we have – and the joy we have yet to embrace."
Her plan had failed, Hermione noted with a grimace. The Burrow once again was alive with white as the start of the wedding drew near. Ginny was inside, dolling herself-up. Harry stood at the front of everything, his signature smile across his face. She was happy that he was happy, she told herself bitterly.
If only she had tried a little harder.
Hermione tilted her head, watching the man she loved descend from the podium. She'd known him since they were children, loved him as long as she could remember. She sighed, contemplating what never was.
Sparks flew into the skies as witches and wizards raised their wands to the air. Hermione stood, following with her own. An emerald green erupted from the tip and spiraled toward the moon.
Their lives had gone in different directions; this was true. Harry belonged to Ginny and she belonged to Ron. Now and again, however, the paths they had taken melded together; though only for a few hours, he was hers. And she was his.
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed - please review!