The Landscape of the Heart
Warnings: Character death (not Neville or Hermione). Some Ron/Hermione scenes. Epilogue compliant.
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Harry Potter. This is an amateur, non-profit work.
"It is still so new and all we see is empty space, but that is not how it is in the landscape of the heart. There, there is no empty space and he still laughs and grapples with ideas and plans and nods wisely with each of us in turn. We are proud to have known him. We are proud to have called him friend." — Story People
She decided to travel the Muggle way.
There was something soothing, almost therapeutic about going through the motions of traversing the Tube, jostling shoulders with distracted businessmen and overexcited tourists. She was just another nameless face in the crowd, making her way to St. Pancras. There was no horrible squeezing sensation, no tug behind her navel or gritty floo powder clinging to her skin: just an exorbitant fare, a swipe of a little pink ticket, and a gust of warm, oily smelling wind as she descended into the labyrinth beneath London.
It had been so long since she did this — decades, maybe. Somewhere along the line, St. Pancras had become St. Pancras International and received a posh makeover, rendering it almost unrecognisable to her nostalgic eyes. Midland Mainline was now East Midlands Trains, though she noticed with a burst of wistfulness that it seemed they had kept some of their old fleet in service. The train she boarded after filing through the ticket barrier was a rattling, ancient beast: the sort that predated automatic doors. Her hips, now wider from the combined effects of bearing two children and sitting behind a desk for the better part of twenty years, chafed against the stationary arm rests as she lowered herself into her assigned seat.
Save for her omnipresent handbag and its hodgepodge of contents, she carried nothing: no work to sift through, no novels to read during the journey. Instead, she opted to sit in silence, staring out the window as London gave way to rolling green hills and bright yellow rapeseed fields, which in turn eventually mingled with the industrial coldness of the East Midlands.
Beeston, at least, remained unchanged. It still had the same flavourless air of suburbia hanging over it, the same dark green wooden benches lining the platform in the station. A light spring drizzle fell on her when she exited the train, settling on her hair like cobwebs as she crossed the bridge and waited for the final leg of her journey to begin.
The train ride from Beeston to Attenborough was a "blink and you'll miss it" affair: only three minutes. Once there, she followed the signs that guided the way to the nature reserve until she reached the familiar house near St. Mary's Church. With trembling hands, she pushed open the rusted, creaking gate.
The garden was in shambles. Nettles had all but strangled the blackspot riddled roses, and dandelions seemed to outnumber blades of grass. Dilapidated as it was, the detached house looming ahead of her looked like a sprawling mansion in comparison to the cramped, mid-terraced house in Fulham where she and Ron had started their family. The thatching on the roof should have been replaced ten years ago, and pockets of graffiti littered the white and black timber-framed exterior. At least the windows seemed to still be intact.
Standing there in front of the ruins of the house that her great-aunt had left to her, she wanted to hit something — hard. Anger clouded her vision, making a furious scream threaten to claw its way up her throat.
It was such a waste.
Ron had been just shy of his forty-first birthday — so very, very young, especially in wizarding terms. Knowing that the end had been coming for months beforehand didn't make it any easier than a quick, sudden death. She wanted to lash out, to find someone — anyone — to blame for the senselessness of it all.
It had been five years since she and Ron last came to this place, fresh from the reading of her great-aunt's will.
"Are you serious?" Ron asked, chuckling. "You really want to fix this place up the Muggle way?"
Crossing her arms over her chest, Hermione gave a decisive nod. "I do. I think it'd be a nice place for the kids to grow up, don't you? It used to be so lovely, Ron. Mum and Dad used to bring me here for a couple of weeks every summer. Aunt Theresa would take me walking around the nature reserve every morning back when she was still able to get around without a cane. I could jog there! With it so close, I'd have no excuse."
Ron flopped down on the sofa, coughing as his movements kicked up a billowing cloud of dust. Obviously struggling to hold back his amused grin, he looked up at Hermione with raised eyebrows.
"You want to take up jogging, too?" he asked. "On top of renovating the house?"
"Well, yes. Work should be slowing down soon, so hopefully I'll have the time, and you know I never completely lost the weight I gained when I was pregnant with Hugo, so—"
Her words cut off with a startled laugh as her husband lunged forward, grabbed her around the waist, and hauled her onto his lap.
"I think," he said in between pressing kisses along the length of her neck, "that you look bloody gorgeous just as you are."
It was always that way.
When we have more time.
When the kids are older.
When things are less hectic at work.
In the end, she never kept any of her promises. Their life together was forever put on hold, waiting for some mythical, far-off day when she would stop being busy. And then, suddenly, a healer in lime green robes shattered their illusions, told them there would be no more time.
Squaring her shoulders, Hermione marched up the mossy path. A few flakes of dull red paint rained off of the door as she jammed the key into the lock and swung it open with far more force than was necessary. The living room looked colourless, softened by a cloak of grey dust. She took her first steps into the house in a daze, barely registering the sound of approaching footsteps on the path outside.
A throat cleared: deep and male. She expected to see Harry when she glanced over her shoulder, but the man leaning against the doorjamb was taller, with a kind, round face. Narrow, faded scars criss-crossed his cheeks, mapping out the years he spent as an Auror.
"Ginny told me where to find you," he said, holding up a flat cardboard box. "I brought pizza. I reckoned you were probably sick of eating reheated casseroles by now."
Oh, was she ever. She'd lost count of the number of evenings she'd spent leaning over the sink, alone, eating lukewarm shepherd's pie (courtesy of Lavender and Dean) or lasagne (a barely edible offering from Luna and Rolf that Hermione suspected contained gurdyroots in lieu of garlic).
"Thank you, Neville," she said, stepping forward to let him envelop her in a warm, one-armed hug. "This is exactly what I need right now."
Together, they used their wands to whisk away the surrounding dust. When it was almost acceptable for human habitation, Neville conjured a soft tartan blanket and spread it out on the floor for an impromptu picnic. After getting situated on the floor, he helped himself to a slice that was teeming with pepperoni, sausage, onions, and jalapeños.
He didn't speak. He was just there: silent and familiar and accepting. Hermione appreciated it. Other people got nervous, filled the quiet with their own voices as they spun empty platitudes from their discomfort. Only Harry and the Weasleys had simply sat with her, rendered mute by their shared grief.
"Do you think the garden is salvageable?" she asked after a few minutes. Of all her friends, he would be the one who would know.
Neville let out a lengthy, pensive hum, straightening his back so he could see through a nearby dirt-clouded window. "It'll take a lot of work, but it's not beyond hope. I doubt you'll have to raze everything and start over. All it needs is a bit of care. It'll be okay." Shrugging one shoulder, he added, "D'you want some help?"
She nodded. "That'd be great, thanks. I want to do it the Muggle way, though."
"The best way for Muggle plants, if you ask me. If you use magic and dragon manure and the like, you end up with pumpkins like Hagrid's. Sort of conspicuous in a neighbourhood like this. I have a free day every other Saturday, and Easter hols are coming up. If you don't think Rose and Hugo will mind having one of their professors hanging around..."
And, just like that, they found their way into a conversation. It was as normal and natural as it could have been, given the circumstances. They didn't speak of Ron, but his presence hung over them, heavy in the air.
Now and then, Neville traced his index finger over the pale stripe of skin on his left hand: the place where his wedding band used to rest. It was a habit he'd had for the past year, ever since his divorce was finalised.
Hermione looked down at the two circles of gold and diamonds on her own finger, wondering if she would ever feel like she should remove them. She supposed it wasn't the same, since Neville's marriage ended by choice. Even now, so many years and fights later, the sight of her simple engagement ring still made her smile as her thoughts drifted back to Ron's proposal.
Ron and Hermione were stretched out together on the tatty orange sofa that she found in the Muggle flat she lived in during her first year of working in the Ministry, her back pressed against his chest. It's A Wonderful Life blared on the television, interrupted every five minutes when Ron would either ask Hermione a question or go back to kissing her neck and sneaking his hand up the front of her jumper.
"Marry me," he whispered as the tinkling of a greyscale bell granted Clarence his wings.
The words were spoken without frills, without a big show. In the place of grand promises and flowery words, there was only steady certainty and a clasp of her hand. He didn't even have a ring. After she breathed out a giddy, "Yes," they raced hand-in-hand through the chilly December rain, searching for a jewellery shop.
They were so happy that day, she thought they'd never stop smiling.
Hermione was wrapped in warmth, nestled on top of something that smelled like her grandmother's house after an invasion of mothballs. Yawning, she allowed her eyes to flutter open.
The last thing she remembered was resting her head on Neville's strong shoulder as their conversation veered towards bittersweet reminiscing about their Hogwarts days. Now, she was curled up on her great-aunt's sofa, cocooned in Neville's conjured tartan blanket. He must have moved her and tucked her in after she fell asleep.
Weak morning light filtered through the trees outside, streaming in through the windows and illuminating the dust motes that floated through the air. Given that it hadn't yet been dusk when she dozed off the night before, it was the longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep she'd had since before Ron died.
Throwing the blanket aside, Hermione stood up and raked her fingers through her tangled hair.
Today was the day. Today, she was going to start doing all of those things she always promised Ron they would get to eventually: fixing up this house, jogging, driving lessons — all of it.
First things first: she needed to go see Harry.
A/N: This is going to be a short one: just 8 chapters, according to my outline. Thanks for reading! :)