Title: Forgetting the Tears
Summary: When Ron's away, suppressed feelings come out to play. What will our two hopeless lovebirds do when there's nothing holding them back but themselves? Secrets will be revealed and true pasts will come to light as they hunt for the meaning behind the Tales of Beedle the Bard and Dumbledore's mysterious clues. Will they be able to keep it together whilst everything around them is falling apart? A story of love, war, and broken hearts.
Story Warnings: sexual content, explicit language, gore, previous Hm/R relationship, previous H/G relationship, emotional roller coasters. This story will switch perspective between Harry and Hermione, as appropriate.
Pairings: H/Hm, other minor pairings.
Disclaimer: All recognizable content is the property of J.K. Rowling and respective affiliates. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made in the making of this fanfiction.
Heartbeat Radio: HERMIONE
It was cold. Too cold. But wasn't it always? Days kept freezing into nights and nights kept melting into dark dreams and pitiful moments of self-loathing like this one. The tent felt empty, perhaps because it was. The numbness in my fingertips inched up my arms as winter seeped in and stole heat from me like a thief creeping flippantly along creaking floorboards.
A thin, scratchy voice came from the radio at my feet. It was the same one that nearly drove Ron mad. Through the static I could hear names of the missing or murdered being rambled off one after the other. The distinction barely mattered anymore. When people vanished for more than a few days it was best to start writing obituaries if loved ones were being honest with themselves. I could not remember the last time I held a copy of the Daily Prophet, but it would not surprise me if its pages were plastered end to end with the faces of the gone, but not forgotten. I hoped, – no, prayed, to Merlin, to God even – that I wouldn't hear Ron's name through the static. Or my mum's, or my dad's. Or anyone I knew for that matter. Or, well, anyone.
I flicked the radio off, dragged my jumper closer, and shuddered against the bloody chill that wouldn't bloody leave. My last warming charm lasted minutes and faded ages ago, or at least it felt like it had. Perhaps I ought to bargain with it. The cold, I mean. Perhaps it wanted more than just my shivers and gooseflesh, or my chattering teeth. Perhaps it wanted my soul.
That last thought wrung a dry chuckle out of me. I was losing it. Truly and honestly losing it.
Practical Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts sat propped opened on my knees. Its words nagged me to read them, if only to keep my mind busy while I still had it. My flobberworm bookmark wriggled restlessly against thin pages, and I picked it up lest it somehow slimed on the ink.
I almost did return to reading, until I became convinced that the oaf left just to spite me. Either that or he wanted to see if I would chase after him and fall to his feet in grief, begging him to come back and at least pretend to be a sane, rational human being. I did no such thing, of course. I should have. In fact, I briefly wanted to, but out of shock or pride or errant stupidity, I just stood there and by the time I was over myself, he was long gone. More physical manifestations of distress burned behind my eyelids and snaked down my cheeks, leaving trails in their wake.
The tent flap nudged open and I tensed so violently that my book thumped to the floor. With my wand between my fingertips and some practical defensive magic on tip of my tongue, I pointed my weapon at a surprisingly unsurprised Harry Potter shrugging off the outer layers of his winter garb.
I looked away with my blotchy face flushing even redder and my free hand quickly smearing away at it. He did not need to see me like that, I decided. I was supposed to be the clear-headed one, not the sappy teenage girl bawling in the corner. If one of those were written into the script, it was not supposed to be me.
The book, a little more than an arm's length away, was swiftly returned to its spot on my lap. My bookmark was found crushed beneath its heft but luckily, it was made of cardstock and not slick, mucous flesh. I found my spot without much trouble and tried to pick up where I left off.
After a fair bit of rustling, during which I assumed Harry was tossing his coat and boots somewhere specifically so I could trip over them later, his footfalls fell in my direction. I barely suppressed the exasperated sigh at the back of my throat. My blind skimming intensified. Once he got close enough I waited for him to start laughing at the state I worked myself into, as I expected any sane, rational person would. I had to be a pathetic sight.
To no surprise, my self-deprecating wish failed to come true and soon the sound of our combined breathing –mine still sharp and quick, his still infuriatingly regular– was all I could hear. I wished he would talk or move or do just about anything else besides stand there and watch me make a spectacle of myself. Better yet, I wished he would ignore me completely, or at least cast a memory charm on the both of us so we wouldn't have to remember this come morning.
A couple seconds ticked by until I finally looked up, figuring that was the only way to make any sort of progress. Something in my chest seized tight when I caught sight of his searching expression. Why I was expecting Ron's face, I couldn't say. But for a moment I thought I would see blue eyes on a freckled canvas with a stringy, red-haired frame. I wrinkled my nose at the renewed burning sensation behind my eyelids and tried to preemptively wipe my face again. 'Tried' being the operative word, because a hand griped my forearm and stopped the motion before it could even begin.
Fingers grazed my chin and the next thing I knew, I was staring into eyes that proved he was more inquisitive than many gave him credit for, myself included. Bloody good time for him to play detective. Shadows from the gas lamp stretched across his features. I swallowed thickly to clear the lump in my throat, guilty as charged.
"Say something, you git," I said, defiantly matching his gaze. Without a hand to wipe them off, rouge tears spilled like streamers for my anti-celebration. I was ashamed at my behavior, at my appearance, and at the way my voice wavered when I spoke for the first time in I didn't know how long. If anyone told me four years ago that I would be holding a pity party in Ron's honor, they would not have lived to see the day.
Harry reached around to the back of my neck, and the suddenness of it gave me a bit of a start. My skin tingled under the touch, and I almost leaned into him then, relieved at the gesture. This was before I realized that he was only pulling the Locket over my head.
"Let me," I said, swatting his hands away. He could hardly see at the best of times, let alone in the semi-dark. We could both do without his fumbling. I stood and soon the cursed metal was dangling against his sternum instead.
He could have just asked for it, but that would have be too boring for Boy Wonder himself. When I made to sit, slightly grinning at my internal monologue, the sense of reprieve was tug away from me with a sudden yank on my arm.
For a second, one warm second, we both held each other to keep our balance. With a mumbled apology and a light push, I was held at arms' length again. I breathed in slowly to calm my racing thoughts.
That was what Ron was raging about just a couple of nights before. Moments like those, where I didn't mind nearly as much as I should if Harry stared at me for too long or held me too close or said sorry for things like this too late or not at all. I thought nothing of it. They were small moments, short ones at that, in which Ron saw what he wanted to see.
"The food's still hot," I rasped, motioning at the rations I managed to piece together in a way that resembled edible fare. Anything to avoid looking up and facing his resolve to not look away. "I was just–"
"Thinking? Aren't you always?" he asked. That was almost a full sentence, the first I got out of him since the sun went down. My lips curved into a wobbly grin despite myself as music began cranking out of the old radio. As I half-expected, the Boy Who Lived began swaying. I watched the slow swing of his hips and somehow found it in me to laugh.
"Come on. How many times do I have to tell you I'm pants at dancing?" And so are you. I kept that last thought to myself.
"Rubbish. There's no way you're getting out of this one," he said, taking up my hands. I fit easily in the centre of his calloused palms. A smile played on his mouth when he raised my arm as high as it would go. "No point in arguing and having a whinge over it."
The sigh that left me was dramatic for the sake of sustaining our barely-veiled attempts at banter. I twirled under the arch that our linked limbs made.
"Guess you're right."
"As always," he said.
Perhaps it was not the best time to remind him how glaringly incorrect his last phrase was. I considered doing it anyway before he wrapped an arm around the small of my back and pulled me a bit closer. With the rush of heat under my skin, I knew my face must have been flaming.
"Harry, this is quite absurd," I whispered.
"You're absurd," he responded, leaning against my forehead. I grinned.
His eyes held a knowing glint. I could see the "Are too," there without needing to hear it out loud.
I danced along after a while, having already given up on getting a verbal response from my tentmate. He was always like that these days, so I expected the silence. Welcomed it even.
Two songs later, I found my cheek against his chest and my arms around his torso. I was too tired to maintain the customary distance Professor McGonagall harped on about during Yule Ball practice in Fourth Year. The secret swan in me "longing to take flight" just wanted to take a nap. I kept catching glimpses of the clock over Harry's shoulder until those glimpses turned into prolonged stares.
At some point he began humming along with the new tune and I could hear his heartbeat keeping time with the vibrations in his rib cage. It was easy to forget just how uneasy this should be and continue moving in lazy, sloppy circles. I was hesitant to ruin the moment, but he did it for me.
"Feeling better?" he asked. I nodded quickly, too quickly, squeezing my eyes shut in an attempt to maintain my composure. He knew I was lying, I could tell. In fact, I was sure of it after he said, "I think we should talk about what's bothering you."
I thought this conversation was long forgotten in the metronome. It was as good a time as any to pause our dancing.
"There's nothing to say."
"But enough to cry about?"
"I'm not crying," I countered. His thumb grazed my cheek to prove me wrong and I turned my face away like I had the first time he came in. His hand dropped to his side, finding no purchase.
"He'll come back. Like he always does," Harry said. I nodded even though he and I both knew it was implausible, because every time we got up at dawn and moved camp like we did every day, it is that much harder for Ron to find us once he comes to his senses. My eyes pinched shut and my fists balled into angry little knobs. I forgot where my hands were and only ended up wringing his shirt.
"How could he leave? How?" My voice cracked.
Harry did not try to answer my unanswerable question, so I took the opportunity to let it all out into the fabric of his wrinkled tee. At some point he got over the awkwardness this type of sob fest implicitly carried, and held me the best he knew how. I placed my head in the crook of his shoulder and closed my eyes, breathing him in as he stroked my hair and told me a thousand times how stupid it was to feel like this. I nodded at everything he said, but still couldn't get myself to stop feeling so bloody hurt.
"He loves you like mad, you know," He murmured once I stopped shaking. I could hear an undertone of something my tired mind could not quite place.
"I know." I sniffed and wiped my nose on my sleeve, sounding as breathless as I did whilst running from the troll in the first floor girl's toilet. Younger Hermione was braver than I was, or at least she didn't waste time blubbering like a wretched whelp. I grinned sheepishly. "I'm overreacting, aren't I?"
"Absolutely–" My pinch probably hurt more than my calling him a git a moment later, but either way he changed course. "What I meant to say was, that's the spirit. I was about to –"
"But it's not just Ron. This whole thing, Harry. The war, my parents, fighting Death Eaters, and all this Horcrux business. All this death and dying, and the waiting to die but not knowing when," It was all tumbling forth without warning. "The stress is killing me and I don't know if I can do this anymore."
A hiccup punctuated my last sentence, and if it wasn't for that I might have kept going. Wide-eyed, I covered my mouth. But it was too late. Words had a funny way of not wanting to come back inside once you let them out.
He gripped both my shoulders.
"Hermione Jean Granger, you are strong, brave, and the smartest witch of your age." I blinked owlishly. He continued without pause. "Of course you can do this. No one else fits the job description."
"You can't mean a word you've just said," I insisted.
After another knowing look, my lips stretching upwards in honest gladness for the first time in a long time.
With our impromptu waltz over and done with, Harry went about cleaning off his plate and I went through the motions of getting ready for bed. By the time I slipped under the covers I was still smiling at his words. They were true, I supposed.
Sleep was already clouding my vision when I heard his voice over my head a few minutes later.
"Mind if I kip it here tonight?"
"What's wrong with your bunk?" I mumbled into my pillow. It was just as small and lumpy as mine last time I checked.
And it probably was, but I figured his nightmares had more to do with his need for company than anything else. I was already shuffling over.
"Well get in then," I said, facing the wall and gesturing to the empty space beside me. I started talking mid-yawn. "Do you think we should be looking for him?"
"But Ron –"
"Will be fine without you for a couple of days," Harry replied. He settled onto the thin mattress and already proceeded to take up too much of the transfigured blankets. "I, however, wouldn't last five seconds in these woods on my own."
"That's the understatement of the year," I laughed. "I bet you still can't remember that Point Me is more reliable than a compass. Especially a makeshift one made from twigs, my watch magnet, and what was it, a flat stone?"
"Yeah, yeah, it was hilarious." I could hear the sarcasm peeking out from behind his drowsy voice. "At least Ron told me instead of just standing there and having a laugh."
"Oh he was laughing all right. He just took pity on you sooner," I chuckled. If I remembered correctly, Harry even tried to using the sun as a guide for east and west, and failed miserably at it.
A touch on my neck for the second time of the night made me hush, and tense. There was nothing funny about the way it sent a shiver prickling down my back until my toes curled. It made me feel funny though. Forget about being cold. Now I was warm. Too warm. I was not wearing the Locket this time around, was I?
"See, I need you," Harry said, smoothing hair back from my face. Sweat cooled in the chill, so whatever warmth I felt was coming from within. The weight of his other hand on my waist shifted and his breath tickled my skin. Everything was quiet and still, and I silently thanked the stars I was facing away from him in dim lighting or else he would've seen how bright red my cheeks were.
When did the music stop, and when did our bodies get so close together?
"I'd be so lost without you."
A moment before I would have agreed, but now I could not find anything to say to his declaration. Maybe there wasn't anything to say. The lamp burnt itself out and shadows were left with only the light of the dying flame to dance in.
"Harry…I don't think…" He shifted closer.
"So don't think," he whispered. I nodded. My voice was suddenly nowhere to be found anyway.
My heart was still hammering away in my throat. I could feel his chest rising and falling against my back and his legs tangled up with mine beneath the covers. His arm wound around my middle tighter, if that was even possible.
"Go to sleep, Hermione," he mumbled against my skin. "You've got to wake us up tomorrow, remember?"
He was right. And with that, he became silent. Almost without meaning to, my heavy eyelids fell shut and I followed him into dreamless oblivion.