The Melting Pot

Harry Potter had been many terrible things in his short life—orphaned, abused, neglected, bullied, threatened, and hunted among them—but for the first time in his life he found himself, of all things, homeless. The Dursley's were long gone, still displaced and protected somewhere, and Harry had absolutely no intentions of ever living with, or even having contact with, them ever again.

Hogwarts was still in ruins—Hermione likened it to the Roman forum, although Harry had never been there or had a clue as to what it looked like. The once majestic castle was completely unlivable and even if it was Harry wasn't sure if he could live there again. How could he sit in the Great Hall and simply eat his breakfast without seeing Fred's unseeing eyes as he laid on the rubble floor, or the way Tonks' and Lupin's cold fingers still brushed each other, their love alive even when their hearts were not? How could he fly on that Quidditch pitch without seeing the proud stands crumble down, Gryffindor's falling first, the remaining Slytherin one cold and proud and alone in the darkness? How could he walk out into the courtyard, wondering if he was inhaling Voldemort's residual remains? How could he ever visit the Headmaster's office without seeing someone else's memories? How could he ever pass through the boathouse without hearing that last shaky whisper?

Luckily for him, the Weasley's took him in without another thought and so he was at the Burrow, one of the few unchanged structures in his life, and he had remained there comfortably for the last three months.

Yes, physically, the Burrow was the same, but the absence of Fred had left its mark. George moved back home in that time, stating simply, painfully, that the shop was still being rebuilt and that it was too quiet and lonely there, anyway. Percy hung around the house more than ever before, clearly attempting to make up for lost time. Everyone pitied him, tolerated him, but many times he seemed out of place and everyone seemed to know it. Mr. Weasley was busier than ever helping rebuild and reconstruct the Ministry and seemed to barely be home, much to the distress of everyone. Charlie went back to Romania, but floo'd home one weekend every month and he, along with Bill, alleviated a lot of the tension. Fleur was as gentle and graceful as could be, and Mrs. Weasley had grown to love her.

Understandably, Mrs. Weasley took it all the hardest, and strove to make everything seem as normal as possible. She fussed and fretted over Harry more than ever before. Harry, polite and grateful, tried to rebuff her smothering attempts—he loved Mrs. Weasley, but after not having a mother for so long, he was used to fending for himself, and her overbearing ways were making him anxious.

Hermione theorized to him one night that after losing one son she probably felt the need to "not have you as a substitute for Fred, per se, Harry, because that term is just so crude, but she probably just needs to fuss to feel useful and normal. She doesn't want to lose another child, and that includes you. And as you are the one who usually is close to death all of the time."

Hermione was living at the Burrow as well; she was terrified at the idea of going to Australia and having to face her parents. Ron didn't understand it at all, and thought that they would be glad to see her and that her fears were for naught, but Harry had the suspicion that Hermione had placed the spell believing she would never have the need to reverse it and that she was unsure if she could do it successfully. The implications of his thoughts left him sick and he tried not to dwell on it.

Outwardly, Ron remained relatively unchanged, but Harry could see the cracks in his façade. He had a tendency to stick close to the Burrow, not wanting to leave the premises too long or too often. Hermione mused that he had finally grown some sensitivity, as he was incredibly gentle with his mother and George. It annoyed George more often than not when Ron followed him to the joke shop every day to help with repairs and stocking, but it was evident to see that he enjoyed the company.

As for Harry, he felt as though he was back on Platform 9 ¾ with Dumbledore again—in limbo. His whole life had been dictated by the doings of Voldemort—and the manipulations of Dumbledore—and the idea of free will seemed foreign to him. What did he want to do with the rest of his life? He had told McGonagall he wanted to be an Auror back in his 5th year, but did he want to do that for the rest of his life? Hunting down Death Eaters and other unsavory people? Or had he already gotten his fill of it the past several years of his life?

It seemed that while he had no expectations of himself, everyone else seemed to have high ones. The Ministry, including the new minister, Kingsley, expected him to rise through the ranks and become their go-to Auror and a symbol of unwavering support in their new campaigns and post-war resolutions. Hermione expected him to, at the very least, sit and take his NEWTs. And Ginny…Ginny expected that they would have been back together by now. But they weren't.

Harry wasn't quite sure what was holding him back. He loved her, to be sure, and he had missed her all of those long months that he was away, but he didn't feel like he was ready for a relationship. He felt that he needed to figure out some things for himself before getting another person involved. He couldn't commit himself to a relationship when he felt so… lost.

He had told Ginny this a few weeks after he returned home and felt that he couldn't put it off any longer. Her excessive flirting and obvious hint-dropping were stressful. She didn't take it very well, although Harry knew she was trying to be understanding. There were times that the tension between the two was as thick and heavy as the heat itself.

He agonized over it and he could tell that when Hermione witnessed his unease with Ginny it put her on edge as well. Like Mrs. Weasley, Hermione had become fiercely protective of him as of late, had been ever since that awful night when he told her and Ron that he was going off to die. It only annoyed him when she was at her most overbearing, but otherwise it was nothing new, really: Hermione had been protective of him for the last seven years and he had grown to understand and appreciate it, for the most part.

The next chapter of his life began in mid-August, at the peak of summer. It was sweltering. Harry found himself quite unaccustomed to such heat—living in threadbare tents on windy, rocky cliffs during tumultuous winters had made him more used to the cold. There was only so much cooling charms could do, and it was draining to constantly recast them.

The heat made everyone incredibly cranky and left them drained, even if they didn't do much. Harry found himself taking frequent naps and couldn't bring himself to care that he was, as Hermione put it, "wasting the day away", although even she succumbed to naps every once and a while. The heat was exhausting.

It was late afternoon when Harry awoke from his latest nap, and he found himself uncomfortably sticky with sweat and a damp forehead. He flicked his wand out, cleaned up his sheets, and dragged himself to the bathroom to take a cold shower. He must have taken at least two or three of those a day, and he felt guilty for using up so much water, but it kept him sane and refreshed.

Not bothering to towel off, he slipped on clean clothes and made his way down the stairs to the kitchen.

At the kitchen table, Hermione was researching on installing an air conditioning system into the house. Ron kept looking over her shoulder and asking her questions, both fascinated and appalled at the contraption.

"So it's like a wind box, then?" Ron asked, pointing at the box. "Is that why you put it outside? Then how does it get inside?"

"I wonder if I would have to put vents in the house as well," Hermione was muttering to herself, ignoring his question. "Could I get it to self-sustain with magic, or would I have to install electricity as well? Are there charms for this?"

"Harry," Ron scowled at Hermione, "do you know how this thing works?"

Amused at Ron, grateful that the two hadn't started arguing (yet), Harry meandered over. He passed Mrs. Weasley, who handed him a glass of lemonade as she put supper in the oven and went upstairs to fold some laundry. Approaching the table, he peered over Hermione's other shoulders, looking at her various books and brochures.

"It's called an 'air conditioning' machine, Ron," he said. "It runs on electricity and it funnels cool air throughout the house, making the temperature more bearable." At this, he took of his glasses and wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his t-shirt. Sweat kept dripping into his eyes, to his disgust. His bangs were damp. "It turns on when the house temperature reaches a certain level, and turns off when it's sufficiently cool, so as not to waste energy."

"But why does it need to be outside as well?" Ron wanted to know. "Does it take the cool air from the wind outside?"

"Well—" Harry mopped his brow again. He had no idea. "Erm—"

Hermione's hand whipped out a brochure. "Here, Ronald," she said, shoving it at him. "If you're so interested, you can read about it. Stop breathing on my shoulder. You're making the heat even worse." Ron swiped the brochure out of her hand, grumbling, but grabbed a glass of lemonade from the kitchen and went out on the porch to read it, passing Ginny, who was on her way in after an afternoon jog. She smiled brightly at Harry and Hermione and then continued to where her mum was, fixing herself some lemonade.

Hermione continued to read for a moment, Harry skimming along over her shoulder. "How was your meeting with Kingsley?" She asked him casually as she turned another page. Harry had met with the new Minister the day before and the meeting had lasted all day.

"Fine," he said.

"What was it about?" She wanted to know. Behind her, Ginny rolled her eyes.

"About me becoming an Auror," Harry answered. "When I wanted to start training and all that."

"You need training?" Ginny raised her eyebrows. "I guess practical experience doesn't count for much these days."

The corners of Harry's mouth turned up and he shook his head. Ginny visibly brightened at the sight.

Hermione, on the other hand, furrowed her brow, just slightly. Harry could see the shape of her eyebrows change and that stress wrinkle appeared between them, on the bridge of her nose. "Are you… do you still want to become an Auror, Harry?" She asked hesitantly.

Ginny looked at them curiously, an eyebrow raised. "Isn't that what you told McGonagall you wanted to do during fifth year?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, it is…" It didn't sound as convincing as he had hoped.

Hermione looked a little uncomfortable at this. "Well… I just thought… maybe you would want to do something else?"

"Like what?" Ginny demanded, but then a smile lit her face. "You could be good enough to be a Quidditch player!" She said excitedly. "You're the youngest Hogwarts Seeker in 100 years! Or, you could coach…"

Though for different reasons, both Harry and Hermione frowned. "I don't know…" said Harry.

Hermione stayed quiet, but her expression remained the same.

Ginny raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Hermione?" She queried, a tad condescendingly.

Both Harry and Hermione started at Ginny's tone, and Hermione went onto say meekly, "I realize that I don't 'understand' Quidditch like some people but I had always thought that Harry would pursue a career outside of the entertainment industry. And I only asked about being an Auror because—"

"So you're saying Quidditch is worthless then?" Ginny snapped. "And has absolutely no value to society. Just because you don't know how to have fun—"

Hurt flashed over Hermione's face before her cheeks brightened. "I never said that," she narrowed her eyes. "Entertainment is a perfectly respectable and necessary industry for a society's economy and general morale, but it isn't the most important thing. It isn't the only thing. I just always envisioned Harry as taking a more active role in helping people."

Ginny threw her hands up. "For Merlin's sake, Hermione! Isn't that what being an Auror is? And also," here she sneered in disgust, "you don't own Harry. You don't just get to envision his life for him and expect him to act it out like a puppet in your play. Besides," here she smiled and slid closer to Harry, placing a comforting arm on his shoulder. "The only people who should be deciding on what Harry is going to do with his life is Harry and his future life partner."

Hermione's voice was quiet and her stare was cold as she said, "At least I see Harry for who he really is, not just some figment of schoolgirl daydreams." Slamming her book, she whirled around and went upstairs before Ginny could say another word.

Ginny and Harry were quiet for a moment in shock before Ginny huffed. "The nerve of her," she hissed. "Implying that I don't know you. Well, she's just-"

Harry sighed. "Leave it alone, Gin," he said, feeling distinctly uncomfortable being placed in the middle once again. He would've stopped their tiff earlier but had the impression that neither girl would have appreciated such a tactic.

Shaking Ginny's arm off, he left the kitchen and stepped outside to the porch. To his surprise, Ron was sitting on the swing and was engrossed in the pamphlet Hermione threw at him. "These machines seem great!" He said excitedly to Harry, who sat down next to him.

"Hmm," was all Harry said, feeling distraught. Was Hermione mad at him? Did she expect him to stand up for her? She had never appreciated it when Ron feebly attempted to do so in the past, but he felt like her expectations for Ron versus her expectations for him were different… why was that, anyway? She always seemed to expect more out of him and at times it was incredibly annoying—yet most of the time, it made him want to achieve them; or, at the very least, when he didn't, he felt like crap.

Ron finally noticed Harry's face. "What's wrong with you?" He asked, still glancing at the pamphlets.

SLAM! A door inside slammed. It was impossible to tell who did it, but Harry guessed it was Ginny. She was theatrical whereas Hermione was the type of girl to cry it out in a corner, hidden and alone.

Ron raised an eyebrow. "What'd you do to piss Ginny off?"

Harry shook his head. "Bugger if I know," he said. "I think I pissed both Ginny and Hermione off. I'm not quite even sure what I've done … it's like I'm you or something! Girls."

Ron smirked and shook his head a little. "You don't know what it's like to have a sister, Harry," Ron said. "The theatrics, the tears, the whining, the yelling… Living with Ginny and Hermione has taught me a few things over the years… like whenever Hermione yells at me, it doesn't even affect me anymore."

Harry looked at him curiously. "How are things between you and Hermione?"

Ron shrugged. "Fine. I guess. I don't know. We're still friends, I think. We kind of tried a little earlier in the summer, you know, to be something more, but… it didn't feel right, you know? Maybe our timing was off or maybe we're just not meant to be like that." Ron shrugged again. "I don't know. It hurt a little bit, but I figure we're both better off."

Harry frowned. How did he never notice anything? "How do you figure that?"

"We talked about it quite a bit… I think for a while we thought that, you know, we might be good for each other, balance each other out… but eventually, we came to the conclusion that maybe we're too different, that in the end we would have tried to change the other person to make them more like the other—and if we loved each other enough, we would be happy with making those changes." Ron sighed, shook his head. "But I don't think that would've been right. We're both too stubborn; we wouldn't have changed. And we only would've ended up resenting each other. And besides," Ron looked at Harry sideways. "In relationships, you should want to be with someone because of who they are—not who you want them to be."

0 0 0

Harry had a knack for being in the right place at the right time—or, in his perspective—the wrong place at the wrong time. A tense few days after the debacle in the kitchen—days consisting of Hermione and Ginny not speaking to him or each other—Harry found himself awakening from another nap. The house was blissfully quiet. Ron and George were at the shop; Mr. Weasley was at the Ministry, taking a curious Hermione with him; Bill and Charlie and Percy at their respective places of work; and from the smells wafting up he could guess that Ginny and Mrs. Weasley were starting dinner.

Harry began to wander down the stairs to see if they needed help, but paused mid-way down when he heard Ginny say, "I don't know what to do about her, Mum! She's driving me spare. She thinks she knows everything!"

Mrs. Weasley chuckled a little bit at that. "Ginny, dear, you've been saying that for years now! Hermione has always been rather… well, you know! But that's who she is. Why is it bothering you so much now?'

"It's just that… she thinks she knows what's best for everything and everyone!" Ginny burst out.

Mrs. Weasley made a clucking sound. "So this is about Harry, then?" She said dknowingly.

"Do you have any advice, Mum?" Ginny said desperately. "For years she's had control over Harry and he just lets her because it's easier. But when he and I finally get back together, I don't think I can take it! How do I stop her meddling?"

"Ginny," Mrs. Weasley said patiently. "For years, Hermione's been the primary—and at times, only- female figure in Harry's life. You might have to accept the fact that Harry will always, in some way, look to Hermione for advice. And it isn't in Hermione's nature to not give it. When you and Harry were dating a few years ago, was she like this?"

"Yes," spat out Ginny. "She doesn't understand him like I do! She just kept harping on him about how he needed to keep up with his schoolwork, even when he was so stressed out with The Dark Lord and Quidditch! She treats him like he's a regular boy like everyone else, but he's not! Harry's never been regular! He's a hero!"

Mrs. Weasley was quiet for a moment before she said, "It sounds like you two have very different perceptions on who Harry is."

Ginny seemed to ignore this and grumbled, "Snape was right, after all: She really is an insufferable know-it-all."

Mrs. Weasley sighed. "Be kind to Hermione, Ginny," she said gently. "It's a different world we're living in now. And Merlin knows change is hard."

Harry had heard enough. His head was so full of thoughts he felt like he was drowning in them. He turned around and went back upstairs to his room, shutting the door softly behind him.

He didn't bother going downstairs for dinner.

0 0 0

Harry slept through the rest of the day and into the night, although he was vaguely aware of Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and Mrs. Weasley coming in to check on him at various times throughout. He knew they were worried about him—and he was, too. Ginny's words—so hateful and more spiteful than he had ever thought her capable of—ate at him. And there was just something about what Mrs. Weasley said, too, about the girls' "perceptions" of him that made him uneasy. Who knew the real Harry? Who was right? Or were they both completely wrong? Or, were they both right, in parts? And which parts were they right about?

Harry arose early that morning, and padded down to the kitchen for some tea and peace and quiet. To his surprise (or not, really,) Hermione was already at the kitchen table, hair pulled back into a braid and in her robe, frantically scribbling on Muggle-lined yellow notepads.

She saw him and brightened. "Hullo, Harry," she said cheerfully. "Lovely morning, isn't it? The sunrise is just gorgeous today." Harry looked outside at the window. Streaks of passion orange and deep pink streaked across the dark sky, a parade introducing the vibrant sun.

"It is," he agreed in a sleep-tinged voice before clearing his throat a bit. "Mind if I join you?"

She shook her head, a big smile on her face. "Of course not," she said.

Bustling around the kitchen and making himself some tea, he asked her absently, "What are you working on over there?"

"Oh, just some lists," Hermione said, "I just—I guess I just never considered how many jobs there are out there! I've read books, you know, about the different positions in the Ministry and I went with Mr. Weasley to go there and it's just overwhelming! And then, of course, there are the jobs outside of the ministry positions to consider. I just don't know which path I can take—which job will allow me to help the most people." She bit her lip, which Harry found suddenly and inexplicably adorable, both her lips and her earnestness, and said quietly, almost to herself, "I just want to be sure."

About what? Harry wanted to know. About her career? Ron? Her parents? Her life? But before he could ask, they were interrupted by the opening of the door. Ginny walked into the kitchen, in running clothes and looking damp. They all greeted each other cordially, some more than others, and Ginny went to fetch a glass of water and some breakfast.

At the table, Hermione sitting and Harry standing next to her, they were quiet for a moment, Harry contemplative, and Hermione furiously writing.

Without looking at him, Hermione asked, a bit hopefully, "Have you given any thought about when to take your NEWTs? You'll need them if you want to become an Auror, don't you?"

Harry dropped down to the seat across from her, acutely aware that Ginny was probably listening in on their conversation. "Err…" he said. "I don't know. I mean, Kingsley told me I wouldn't need the NEWTs to become an Auror…"

Hermione frowned. "You've never liked special treatment before," she reminded him.

He squirmed uncomfortably. "I suppose, but you know, I've never been as keen on studying as you have…"

"Harry James Potter," she said shrilly, getting that manic look in her eyes that Harry dreaded, "I wouldn't have taken you for someone who takes the easy way out of things…!"

"Oh, can it, Hermione," Ginny snapped, rolling her eyes. She set her glass down on the kitchen table, on top of Hermione's lists, leaving a wet ring on them that soaked through the pages. Ginny moved around the table and came to stand at Harry's side, her hand resting on his shoulder. " 'The easy way out'? Harry's never had it easy in his life! He deserves this—he defeated The Dark Lord, you know! It's the least the Ministry could do for him!"

Hermione began to turn red and her jaw clenched. "Voldemort or not, Harry's never wanted to be treated differently than everyone else. Accepting special treatment now will only lead to a cycle that would cause resentment from Harry's peers and coworkers…"

Ginny sneered, "Resentment? They should be bloody grateful for everything he's done! They should be kissing the ground he walks on."

Harry squirmed uncomfortably. He sure as hell didn't want any of that business. He had gotten his share of wizards thanking him when he was a bewildered 11-year-old, and a weary 18-year-old didn't fare much better to such praise either.

Hermione caught Harry's movement and hissed, "Harry wants no such thing! He doesn't need any more hero worship. He already gets enough of that already," and it took all of her self-restraint not to add on "from you" to the end.

Ginny narrowed her eyes, catching the unspoken ending anyway. "Harry deserves all of that and more!" She yelled, her wand hand clenching and unclenching in anger. "He's given up everything for the Wizarding World! His parents, his godfather, his childhood…" Ginny snarled nastily at Hermione. "And what have you given up, Hermione? Hmmm? A few hours of study time? The chance to be Head Girl and lord over everyone else more than you normally do?" Ginny was furious, her face as red as her hair. In contrast, Hermione had paled, her jaw and hands clenched. "You've lost nothing. You think you've lost your parents? They're conveniently on an island, waiting for you stop being a pansy and come reverse the spell you put on them! You can just snap your fingers and you'll have them back! But not Harry! You didn't lose your parents, like he did. You didn't lose your brother or son, like we did. You didn't lose your sanity for a year, like I did. You lost nothing! You sacrificed nothing!"

Harry noticed how Hermione's brown eyes were beginning to get glassy, her fingers were clenched to the point of being white and translucent; he could see how close she was to losing it. The time for silence had passed. Ginny's comments were no longer frustrated or exasperated; they were malicious and bordering on cruel.

Harry stood up and shook her hand off of his shoulder. He said quietly, firmly, "That's enough."

Ginny snapped her head to look at him, as though she had forgotten he was in the room.

"I don't care who you think you are," he said slowly, deliberately, feeling the blood pumping in his veins, feeling his heart and a tick in his left temple throb with adrenaline and anger, "but you will never be in a position where you get to talk to Hermione Granger that way. Not in sixth year, not today, not ever."

Ginny's face was chalk white as Harry swung around to face Hermione—

Who had just disapparated with a loud CRACK!

Harry swore, and, ignoring Ginny's whimpers, left the kitchen to look for her.

0 0 0

Note: I've been working on this for literally months and it was supposed to be a one-shot but it kind of involved into a 3 or 4-parter. Sorry if characters might be a little OOC. I'm trying my best to keep them in character but this story is more about me getting a little bunny out of my system- this story evolved from Harry overhearing a conversation he shouldn't have concerning Ginny and Hermione. Also, I missed writing for my first OTP.

I hope you enjoy it, regardless.

Cheers and Happy New Year!