Disclaimer: Harry Potter and other associated adaptations in this story line are not mine, they belong to brilliant authors who lent me their ideas.
Author's Notes: Hello everyone! I know it's been a while but I can't offer any decent explanations why I went AWOL other than school. I hope you all are having a good time and thank you for bearing with me! For the flashbacks, many of these flashbacks are both associated with the chapter and at the same time they stand on their own - on the last one, Hermione losing memories and how Teddy's actions made it a bit bearable for Harry was also a reality check for him on the present because he needs and is trying to do the same. I hope it kind of fits now, and please do not stop giving me suggestions to improve. Send your thoughts and love my way on this chapter as well. :)
Chapter 19: Answers
If I could see beyond the here and now
If you could hear me calling you somehow
If I could know that love is reaching out
To find you with me tonight
- Trading Yesterday
Hogwarts had changed so much since he had last been there, although the structure remained quite the same. He figured it was because the circumstances that brought him there now were quite different from what had been. How could he forget the place where his life changed forever? The sky that loomed over Hogwarts was anything but dark now as everything seemed brighter even in the ground below. The blood of those who fought and died had all been washed away, and the school was now seemed fit enough to be an institution where people can live and study peacefully with nothing but a memory of the war that passed. It was a fitting time indeed for him to return.
"Never thought I'd find you here," the voice shook him out of his reverie. He did not have to turn around to see who it was. Ron simply stood behind him, leaning on one of the columns as Harry shifted his stare at the empty chair in the middle of Great Hall. "In the place where everything changed for all of us."
"Yes," the Auror replied, his voice almost inaudible. The memories were like daggers, piercing his heart. He never knew that it would still be painful, despite all the years that had passed.
"Tell you what Harry, we should do a mini-reunion. Just the three of us in a vacation of some sort! We can go to the beach or watch a Quidditch match… I want to build a cottage near the beach one day, kind of like Bill and Fleur's home."
"I'm sure we can do that… sometime." He glanced at the empty chair one last time then he turned and faced his companion, "When responsibilities can be easily left behind."
Ron almost winced when he finished. "Very funny, Harry," he grumbled.
Harry didn't say anything and opted to keep quiet. His mind suddenly drifted to the vacation Ron wanted to plan out – with only Hermione, him and Ron.
Hermione. He thought that Ron did look good for Hermione, now as he looked at him. He was her complete opposite, someone who could teach her things that would help her relax and enjoy life more, especially after a stressful day at work. Harry didn't even have to convince himself that Ron would've been the perfect choice; he's funny, he's sweet and he knows how to make a girl laugh. While him, Harry Potter, only brought problems to Hermione. "She… would've chosen well."
Ron caught what he was saying and sighed, "Honestly, I still think you're a crazy lunatic, talking non-sense to yourself."
Harry was silent for a while, as if he accepted Ron's argument. Idly, he walked toward the middle of the room and sat on the chair. It was then when he spoke once more. "It is still odd don't you think? My life … it suddenly ended and a new one began in just a snap. From defeating Voldemort to being an Auror, my life was always a mess. I honestly think that if Hermione chose me, even now, it would only resort to her being in tears."
"You know Harry, that's complete and utter rubbish!" Ron said, mimicking Hermione. Harry had the sudden urge to smile then, as his mind drifted to the memories of their life on the coast of Rippleshack.
"She had never gotten over her loss," Harry replied, his eyes downcast.
"Which one?" Ron exclaimed, a bit exasperated, as he had been suppressing the urge to knock the man senseless for his utter denseness. "I believe there were two."
Harry looked at him for a few seconds until he focused on the ground once more. There was pain in his eyes, as well as anger. Yet his slumped shoulders gave Ron the full story.
"She's confused, that's for sure. You know what she asked me and Callum the last time we I saw her? She asked me if I spent time with her, if I walked by the shores with her." He paused as he remembered her pleading eyes. Despite everything, she was just as vulnerable as he remembered her from the coast. "She has an image of a man in her head Harry, she remembers it!"
Could it be? Did she remember their cottage? Did she remember the sandcastle by the sea? Did she remember the promise they made before the setting sun? Did she remember the footsteps they left in the sand? Did she remember… did she still feel his love for her…?
"No." the curt word was heavy, strong, and stubborn most of all. "And please keep your voice low, people might overhear…"
"Then let them. At least they are not as deaf as you are." He stood up sharply then and moved to stand in front him, hoping to block his way should he decide to escape. "Do you know the position I am in right now? She is hoping I am you. But I am not! No matter what your name was in that coast, you are you."
How can you be? You are Harry.
That's it. I'm just Harry.
No. That side of him may never exist again – that side of him that existed only for the moment, without a past and without the future. She might have loved him because she did not think he caused her pain. She might have loved him because she could not remember his appearance and participation in the other tragedies of his life. He may never love her again because it was no longer his place, after he realized how much he had hurt her, how much he could hurt her still when time finally took him.
"You are mistaken, she does not love me. She never did."
"How can you be so blind?" Ron's hand had crumpled into a fist and he almost hit him. How can he let him go on like this when it was clear for everyone to see that they were made for each other? This task was starting to become more annoying… and more painful than what he had anticipated. "How can you deny this from yourself? Hermione… she… she's something else! Can't you see how precious she is? If I had truly been the man she loved, I wouldn't let her suffer like this. I was given the chance, mate. I lost it. We tried to fix the bloody relationship too many times but it never worked!"
His vehement words hit Harry in another way altogether. He knew how precious she was, he knew all too well.
"You still have a chance Ron. You can be that man now."
"And you are willing to throw all that away?" he grabbed his shoulders then and shook him forcefully. "Maybe… maybe you don't deserve her so much after all."
"I don't. And that is the truth." He said flatly, not even bothering to struggle against Ron's grasp. "I want someone who would care for her, make her happy and content. I want someone who would grow old with her and be by her side… that man could never be me."
"For Merlin's sake… you bloody idiot! Is it because of your bloody little secret? Is it because there is a curse that's slowly killing you? Is it because of that bloody secret that you would never want to consider that you're the only man who could make her happy?"
His words urged Ron to grab the edges of the Harry's uniform and he had the sudden urge to strangle him, yet Harry's eyes remained downcast, still filled with pain and self-loathing.
"I guess it cannot be helped," he sighed as he gradually let go. "Blimey mate, how could you be a bloody bastard… I wonder what she found in you…"
When he moved out of his view, Harry suddenly closed his eyes as he stood from his seat. "How did you find out?"
Ron sighed, his anger melting away at the helplessness in Harry's voice. "I overheard that Callum bloke talking to Daphne Greengrass about it."
Harry was silent – he could not move. He knew he couldn't keep the secret forever but his best friend finding it now of all times, when everything in his life was a mess, wasn't what he was expecting. "Tell me, Harry, was this the reason why you distanced yourself to us?"
"Why?" there was a sheer desperation in Ron's voice. "We could've helped you, we could've done something. We would've found a way."
"You can't Ron, you can't do anything about this."
Harry sighed, his eyes looking up at the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall. "Three years ago, when Hermione has just been promoted as a head in one of the departments of DMLE, the first ever mission she gave the Auror Department was to investigate the disappearance of 3 muggleborn wizards. Turns out it was a ploy by the former Death Eaters. I was in-charge of the team of four – two died and only Luke and me lived."
Harry finally looked at Ron's shocked face. He never told anyone of the reason why he couldn't tell his best friends about the incident. "Hermione… she was a mess after that mission, we couldn't even talk to her for days after she learned of the two Aurors that died. How could I tell her, Ron? How could I tell her that I am dying because of a curse without making her guilty? She didn't leave my side days after that incident, but she was always crying. I can't let her blame herself for what happened, not now, not now when she finally can found some way to become happy."
Harry observed how Ron's expressions changed from anger, to shock, to being shamefaced. He knew it was going to be all right now. Everything would be fine, he thought. Ron finally knew his secret, he would keep Hermione safe. This would be the best way to secure Hermione's happiness. She will be all right. "I'm going now, Ron."
He turned his back on Ron and started walking outside of the hall when suddenly, Ron sighed loud enough for him to hear, yet he continued walking nonetheless. Just as he was a few inches from the door Ron finally called out, stopping him in his tracks. "Harry, maybe I won't build a house after all." Harry turned around and looked at him quizzically, so Ron continued. "I'll make a memorial instead."
Harry nodded. "It is your money, Ron. If it will help, do it for the people who helped us create this future."
"I did not really think of them, but now that you mention it, yes, I shall include them." He walked a few steps away from the empty chair in the room. "I'll build a memorial for Harry James Potter, the Fallen Warrior of the Golden Trio."
He stiffened at Ron's words, not quite sure if it had been meant as an insult or something else.
Ron crossed his arms then, looking at him challengingly, "it will be the mark of a fool - the greatest fool of all time." He smiled wryly, seeming to be pleased with himself, "you said so yourself, it is my lot, and I can do whatever it is I want to do with it. And don't forget to attend the party later or you'll never hear the end of it!"
With this Harry nodded at him and sighed, as if he understood what he said perfectly. Soon he finally left the hall.
Ron suddenly found himself with this problem in his hands. Oddly enough, he started looking forward to its resolution. "I wonder what she'll have to say about that." He chucked as he started making plans in his head. "She definitely wouldn't mind. I bet she'd agree with me completely."
To say that things in the Ministry had been hectic would be more of an understatement. Callum's arrival in DMLE a few days ago and his reports were enough to make her cringe. For the first time since the incident happened, they finally identified the people behind the ruckus and it was enough to make her sick. But… that was the least of her worries.
She spoke to Callum… he was a nice guy and he smiled a lot, but she could tell he was cunning and intelligent by the way he observed her. They said he was one of the reasons why she got saved that day, and he was their guardian when Harry and her lived in Rippleshack. The guy was really cool and calm, he always knows what to say to Kingsley and the others and he was good in investigating the case at hand.
After the discussion, he approached her and asked her how she was doing, even calling her Lily. She asked him about Rippleshack, but he always replied mysteriously, as if he hid something from her. It was clear in his eyes that he wanted to tell her a story… he wanted to tell her so much more. Perhaps they shared the same feelings? Perhaps he held the key to her lost memories?
Harry, on the other hand had been different (or rather, indifferent) when she asked him about Rippleshack. He gave her direct, curt replies. At times he even seemed bored. Sometimes he seemed unable to answer her questions at all, as if he did not know how to answer them. Maybe her days there were really anything special then.
They never really did after all, even in her childhood years.
Who was she fooling? Moments with Harry had been anything but mundane. Lately, she had been recalling so many things about him, about the time they spent together. He was with her when she was happy, when she was sad, when she was in pain… especially when she was in pain. He had always been by her side – and now that she thought about it, that might have been the reason why his distance hurt her so much.
She would not have lasted the ordeal of their task to defeat Voldemort had he not been there. His presence was there to comfort her, even when she did not want it. He did not have to speak to let her now that he felt for her. He was always just there to listen, to be behind her. Even when she had to be strong, he was still there; ready to comfort her, ready to receive her weakness. Despite everything, he remained the same, as he had been that way ever since.
Surely he had acted the same way in Rippleshack.
Agitated, she suddenly wanted some answers once more. At the back of her mind, issues regarding Callum and his reports continued to nag her still. Callum… who was he really? What role is he to play in her life? Was he really the man she was looking for? Was it Harry? Ron?
It was strange, she suddenly realized – the more she thought of Callum, the more she thought of Harry. Now that she thought about it, she had been thinking a lot about him lately… his presence… those memories she had back then - memories she had buried in her mind after she distanced herself from him, then him from her… but are now resurfacing because … because…
She did not really know why.
Perhaps she missed him.
It was ironic how her memory had been playing with her as of late. Things she had forgotten are replaced with things she had just remembered.
What were they not telling her? What was it that she needed to know… she yearned to know? What are the missing pieces to the puzzle?
"You seem quite distracted," a familiar voice enveloped the room that she couldn't look on her shoulder to face him. It was the voice of someone who had occupied her thoughts as of late, the person who was a really important figure in her life. She hadn't had the chance to really talk to him and even if she saw him, it was like those moments were just passing breeze which held no importance because they never really spoke.
Hermione looked up the ceiling only to see him looking down at her, his lop-sided grin present in his features. She thought she was dreaming, for Hermione hadn't really seen him smile for a while, much less grin at her, so she stared at the man for a long time, unable to find her voice.
Harry looked like he aged a lot since the last time she saw him. His hair was still untidy, but his face show fine lines of stress and there were dark circle underneath his eyes. He looked like he wasn't eating a lot and his piercing green eyes looked so lost. She couldn't help but feel overwhelmed to see him though, as different kinds of emotions kept welling in her chest. "I – I didn't expect to see you here."
He cleared his throat as Hermione stood up from her seat. "Ron asked me to collect you from your office so that both of us can go together to the Burrow."
"Did he now?" she asked, trying to hide the disappointment in her voice. It seemed like yesterday when both of them were inseparable. Looking back, she wanted so much to ask him what changed and how they became distant, but she knew it was also partly her fault.
If Harry noticed her disappointment, he never showed it and smiled, offering his hand to her instead. "Yes," he said, making Hermione's heart skip a beat when she accepted his offer and he squeezed her hand in reassurance.
"Teddy is waiting for you there, he'll be so happy to see you." Harry started, breaking the icy atmosphere they created. "You know how much he loves his Aunt Hermione."
A small smile erupted in Hermione's face as she nodded. She was… glad that Harry was making an effort but at the same time, she also wondered how it had come to this when they normally never needed to effort on talking to each other. Silence filled their walk as Hermione tried to sort out the onslaught of emotions overtaking her thoughts. Walking beside her was the man she had known for more than half of her life, yet she felt that she didn't know him at all. She wondered if it would always be like this – the feeling of being a stranger to someone you trusted with your life. Was that memory just a once upon a time with no happily ever after?
The two of them arrived in the Burrow by using the floo network located in the Auror office. As they got out of the fireplace, Harry was happy to see the familiar place that is the Burrow. It seemed a long time ago when he last went here, although the place still looked as it was before – the kitchen still contained the large wooden table and the chairs, the clock was still there and dishwashing was still done via magic.
Ron was overjoyed to see both of them that it reminded Harry how it used to be and how much he missed it, especially being here with his two best friends.
"Glad you two could make it," he started with a wide grin in his face. "I wouldn't want Mum to chew me up if ever."
"Really Ronald, is that the only reason why you wanted us to attend this gathering?" Hermione replied, eyeing Ron suspiciously.
"'Course not, of course I am happy you're both here, also saves my arse from Mum," he retaliated.
"Honestly, you're such an idiot!"
Ron stared at her, his confusion genuine. "Contrary to how you treat me, Hermione, I am not a complete idiot," he snapped at her.
It had taken Hermione a lot of practice and an incredible amount of self-control not to rise to every opportunity he gave her for banter, Harry knew this as he observed his best friends. Hermione was always cunning and brilliant and beautiful – things he was already very aware of. But without the threat of the end of the world, she seemed to possess a bit more patience and a thread of more self-control. Her barbs were fewer and further in between.
"Me treat you like an idiot?" she demanded, drawing herself up to her slightly fuller height, "I have done nothing of the sort!"
"Really, you two? It's only been two minutes and you're both ready to kill each other." Harry interjected, causing the two to look on the ground.
"Sorry about that, I guess you could call it our lovey-dovey greeting to each other, right Hermione?" Ron grinned, nudging Hermione on the ribs.
"Er, right, we – we should," Hermione cleared her throat, "we should really go to where everyone is." Harry and Ron nodded and followed her to the backyard, where large Weasley gatherings usually took place.
Harry followed both Hermione and Ron as they went outside and they were immediately greeted by Mrs. Weasley's bone-crushing hug and incessant protests that both him and Hermione looked to skinny and underfed. Harry saw how Mr. Weasley watched them helplessly while his wife shooed them to the direction of the table, where they were threatened to eat 'til their bellies were full. For him, it was a good change of scenario especially after what happened during the past month… for he saw family and friends again.
The gathering had been lively and a welcome distraction for him, because present here were the people he hadn't seen or talked to in a long time. After dinner, Mrs. Weasley and the girls, as usual, were all gathered in the kitchen together, as they helped to clean up the mess and catch up with the latest news. Mrs. Weasley, Headmistress McGonagall and Andromeda were talking about the Hogwarts and the latest students; Fleur and Hermione were talking to each other while keeping tabs on Teddy and Victoire and Audrey listened attentively to Ginny's stories about her adventures as a part of a Quidditch team.
On the dinner table were the boys, drinking firewhiskey as they laughed and talked about the latest Quidditch rumors and news, even Kingsley participated on their latest discussions. Angelina was with them, taking care of a fussy Freddie with her husband George and Harry listened while Bill, Charlie, Ron and Dean argued about what team should win the cup. Hagrid and Neville were talking about what they should do to keep the mandrakes in Hogwarts healthy and Kingsley, Percy and Mr. Weasley were openly discussing the possible innovations they could use to benefit the Ministry.
As the night grew old, even some of the girls joined them in the dinner table to drink the night away while some retired for the night, including the children. Harry listened to others as they told stories of the old, like what Mr. and Mrs. Weasley did as Hogwarts students, how Andromeda met Ted or how Kingsley tried a muggle job out of curiosity and ended up being fired. It was interesting for him to hear some memories that they were fond of remembering… watching them as their gazes were transported to that certain time was something Harry found… interesting. He wondered what they were feeling at that certain moment as they recalled that specific memory, but try as he might, he only saw something bright and happy in their eyes… not sad and melancholic like his… they were smiling as they recalled those memories, and even laughed at some. Hours went by and one by one, the table became empty saved for the trio. Harry watched as Hermione sipped her firewhiskey, her gaze seemingly far away. He knew Hermione wasn't the type of person who would get drunk on a gathering, she never did, but he realized that her face was getting red.
"Ughh, my head feels like it was pounded by a hammer," said Ron, placing his glass on the table as he stood up in his seat. "I really need to lie down on a comfy bed, don't want a bloody headache tomorrow morning. Good night you lot, make sure you don't kill yourselves!"
He watched as Ron disappeared inside the Burrow and slumped back on his seat and drank the remainder of his firewhiskey. For a moment, he thought that Hermione would retire back into the Burrow too. After all, he wouldn't let her go home alone this late. When she didn't move and just took a few sips in her glass as she supported her head with her arm, he finally stood up.
"Hermione? Do you want me to walk you home? Or are you gonna stay in the Burrow?"
"Hmmm?" she replied, looking up.
"Do you want to go home or stay here?"
"Hmmmm… Harry?" she asked and for a moment that Harry thought she wanted to go home.
"I always wondered… what happened to us?" she said, her voice a mixture of sadness and uncertainty. "Why do you always seem so distant?"
Harry was taken aback with Hermione's questions. He never thought that she would be this bold in asking some things she had kept hidden for years, yet he expected this kind of confrontation to happen sooner or later. After all, no matter how much Harry tried to escape, he will eventually need to face it, and no matter how much Hermione tried to hide her feelings, she was just as transparent to Harry as he was to her, especially when he looked on her eyes. "We used to be invulnerable as a pair… even after the war. But… the Harry I know then was different; he was warm and somehow happier than the Harry I know now."
"I er – " He started, his mind racing. He didn't know how to give a suitable answer to Hermione's question, or even how he could answer it. All he knew at that moment was that his heart was beating too fast and he couldn't think straight. "Honestly, I don't really know."
Hermione chuckled unexpectedly, "What I'd give just to have that back."
With a sigh, Harry looked up to the sky as he settled back on his seat, a small smile crept on his lips as he recalled how much she meant on his life – no matter how mundane, exotic, cool or ordinary their adventures were, she was there; for more than half of his life, Hermione had been a constant figure, through the ups and downs, the tears and the laughter… she never left. "Yeah."
"We used to be an invincible… I don't know why it has gotten like this Harry, I really don't know." She continued, her voice cracking. Before he knew it, he was already walking towards her as he enveloped her in his hug. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry Harry."
It was in that moment that Harry watched Hermione cry after a very long time. It was… heart-breaking and frankly, it was hard for him to see. He stood there, rubbing her back soothingly and whispering words of comfort while she continued to cry. Each sound killed Harry inside, but he just allowed her to let it all out and continued his hold on her shaking body. "If I knew this was going to happen, if only I knew it… I would've done anything, anything to keep it from happening."
"Hermione, ssshhhh, don't cry. I'm still here, I'm not going anywhere." He whispered, rubbing circles in her back. He honestly didn't know what to do, or how to sooth her. All he knew was that he didn't want her to cry anymore. He knew she was blaming herself for their distance, for she was the one who told her how depressed she was after the mission she gave them became a failure… Failure just because she thought she took the life of two people, failure because she thought she was responsible for it. It took her months to even look at Harry's eyes even though he kept trying his best… even though he knew he'd eventually do what she did and hide from her.
Minutes may have turned into hours, but it didn't matter to them. They settled into a nearby tree and watched as the night grew old, with Harry still holding Hermione. The wind grew colder and the stars twinkled brightly as the two best friends contented themselves with each other's presence after a long time.
"Remember during fourth year? When I taught you how to dance? You kept stepping on my foot," she reminisced; her gaze far away, but her smile never left her features.
"I never really learned any more dance steps other than those you taught me," Harry replied, laughing as he recalled how horrible he was at it.
"You should've tried to develop your horrible dancing skills, would've helped you more in getting a girl!" Hermione retorted, laughing heartily.
"Says the woman who is equally as good in cooking as I am in dancing," Harry responded.
"Well, at least I'm trying!" Hermione said, trying to sound offended as she put her hands on her hips.
Harry laughed at her reaction, "Your efforts were not wasted. I remember how you used to cook for us back in Rippleshack! You did better than you expected, really."
He didn't know if it was the influence of alcohol or if reminiscing just allowed him to bring up a natural fact, but the mere mention of Rippleshack made him stop, just because… those memories were just his. Hermione may have noticed as his face became sour and his eyes went downcast, but she just stayed silent and waited for him to speak.
Silence enveloped the two of them after Harry's little revelation. It pained Harry to remember those memories and know that the only thing he could do was reminisce… that even though she would be here, those days spent at that little cottage by the sea were gone… still, he realized that even though it is over, at least he got to experience it.
"I keep wondering what happened back then, when I had no memories," Hermione started. "It's a little weird for you isn't it? To have spent time with me and yet I didn't remember who you were."
Harry didn't know how to tell Hermione how wrong she was, so he opted for the only word he had on his mind which could describe his experience there. "It was… fun."
Hermione knew that he wouldn't want to talk about it, but respected her that he would try to answer her questions. She had a thirst to know, that she was sure of, but she knew she could always wait until Harry himself opened it up. All she knew for a certain was that… the man in her dreams, the scenario, the cottage… she had a feeling she finally found a part of the puzzle.
The effect of alcohol is starting to get to her that her eyes felt droopy, but she didn't want to sleep just yet, not when she was finally reunited with her best friend after a long time. It felt like coming home after a long, long day at work, and being greeted by a certain warmth that he only possessed. She felt at peace and content.
"Harry?" she said as she looked up to him. He greeted her with his warm, emerald eyes. "Hmmm?"
"Do you think there will be a time where we'll forget, like what happened last time? I just… don't want to lose… you." She said as she closed her eyes and finally fell asleep after a long day. She looked so peaceful, Harry thought, as he put away the stray hair off her face to observe her.
He didn't know why she asked that question, but Harry could sense that she just had the same insecurities and fears as "Lily" had in the coast. Still, Hermione was different, and he already knew his answer.
He knew she won't be able to hear this, but half of him wanted to let her know. Slowly, he leaned his head to her ear and softly whispered, "When you love someone like I love you, they're a part of you. It's like you're attached to them that no matter where you are or how far you are from them, you can always feel them... you know they are there… even if you forget." Just one more time, for only a few seconds more, Harry held her. He knew she won't be able to hear this... but he figured that even if she wasn't able to, he would hold her and it would be enough for her to feel it.