Started reading Proust again, which might explain why I decided to post a “memory” story. This is actually the first Harry Potter fanfiction I wrote two years ago, but I hope you will still find it worth reading.
Summary: Twenty years later, Ron thinks back upon the events at Malfoy Manor.
Hermione was sad. Again. She calls it depressed. I went out to mow the lawn.
When she’s ready, I’ll hear my name. A lacerated voice, my rescuing answer. Here I am. More than twenty years now and the blood still flows; the simplicity of shared warmth, bodies curled together, a habit of speech and silence, both witnesses, both listening, speaking, has been the only mercy, the final shelter in a battle that will rage as long as we continue to draw breath.
It was a full day before she would eat; I remember. I stayed with her. Harry was too busy brooding over Hallows and Horcruxes to need me at that point, anyway. When she did eat, once she could, she came back to herself a little. She still had gray circles under her eyes and a haunted look as if she had gotten too close to death and could still see it. We were alone in the tiny bedroom she shared with Luna, mid-afternoon, weak light through red curtains. She sank gingerly into the low armchair and I sat beside her, offering her the book she’d been reading, History of Magic, I think. But instead of taking it, she lifted her face and asked me the question, the quintessential Hermione question.
“Can we talk?”
“Sure,” I said.
It’s maybe the best thing I ever have to give her.
I thought she was going to challenge me again about Dumbledore because she didn’t like how tenaciously I wanted to believe, but I was wrong; she wanted to talk about what happened, with Bellatrix, at Malfoy Manor. I desperately did not want this, but she needed to say it, so I needed to hear it. It was all so fresh in my own head, sometimes felt like it was still happening, waking startled once in the dark with a pounding heart, or unshakably vivid in the morning right after I dreamt it. I put my arm around her, as much for my own comfort as for hers. She did the same thing.
Her voice was sort of cracked and weak, and rattled more the longer she spoke. None of us had talked about it, not really: Harry and I gave Bill only the barest outlines, later; Fleur had asked and accepted my one-word response when we arrived in the garden. Cruciatus. I remember it all very well, the moment when I let her out of my arms, Fleur talking to us both like lost children, settling Hermione in bed, looking up at me once with that strange veela face of hers. Fleur shuttling back and forth, a potion for Hermione, tea for me and a chair, the news about Dobby. Half way through my tea, she asked me to leave for a few minutes, so I stood on the landing, just stood there, mechanically drinking tea. When she let me back in, Hermione was in something of Fleur’s, the covers pulled over her shoulders, curled up sleeping. I wanted to say thank you, but I couldn’t make my voice work; Fleur squeezed my arm, closed the door behind her. I sat on the bed beside Hermione and laid my head on her shoulder. She didn’t stir. I think I dozed.
I woke in the dark, filled with darkness. Hermione slept. The cuts on her face were slashes of the same dark, as if her face was transparent and you could see the night through it. I touched her hair and kissed her forehead because she wouldn’t know, slid carefully from the bed. Her breathing was soft and even.
Dean was in the kitchen; Bill told me Harry was in the garden. Digging was something to do, a hard, repetitive something to do, that could help Harry. I was lost. Near dawn, they all came out, Hermione swaying forward till I caught her to my side. And inside after, we clung together; she my reason, and I her crutch, till Harry called for us. I remember she argued with Griphook, but her voice lost power and crumbled like sand with every word. Probably made a stronger impression on the goblin though. The way she moved, the way she looked, the way she sounded; I was afraid that if I closed my eyes she’d blow away.
I don’t like to think about the other things, the nightmare things before. There was almost nothing we could do and what we did was foolhardy and it’s a bloody miracle we weren’t all lost. I think sometimes it was dumb luck; I think sometimes it was like Dumbledore swishing a great dead-guy’s wand over us like a shield. We were captured, we got out; Dobby died, Hermione was tortured. I don’t like to think about it because the dreams come often enough as it is.
But Hermione, she’s got to make sense of things. I wish I could tell her there’s no sense to evil, but she’s not prepared to hear that. For her, there’s always a way to understand, has to be. So she starts with the Malfoys: Lucius gloating, Narcissa wary, Draco—we disagree about Draco. I say ‘Draco afraid’ and she says ‘Draco brave.’ We don’t fight about it; never ever about any of this. She is right and I am right and all of it happened exactly as we say it did. The truth is, Draco didn’t betray us, though it would have served his family, though it would have fit the kid I thought I knew for seven years. What I think is that he’d been scared for so long, he became scared for us. Scared he’d have to watch us murdered like he’d been forced to watch it happened to Dumbledore.
Then to Bellatrix, the sword; cutting the rope, choosing her. What I said; what Bellatrix said; the sound it made when she hit me. Hermione watching Greyback push us away, listening as he said something to me, though she didn’t hear the words; staring into the emptiness where we’d been because she didn’t want to look at Bellatrix. The third brightest start in Orion. She tried, absolutely tried, everything she’d read or Harry had said about Occlumency, because of course she had looked it up: to be calm, to breathe evenly (though she was shaking), to focus on something other than the sword, something to cover, something similar so any leak-through would be camouflaged, but everything she thought of was tied to Harry or me. She was panicking as Bellatrix came toward her—until she thought of Viktor.
“Viktor—Krum?” That cut through me, but I tried not to bleed. I settled her closer to me. “How come?”
“For one, because she couldn’t hurt him easily—he was out of the way. Plus it was years ago—what harm could I do? And it allowed me to scream at you. The Yule Ball, remember? I hoped she’d think I secretly hated you, and maybe leave you alone. Also, it was nothing to do with Harry.”
I gave her a squeeze. No way could she have sorted into Ravenclaw.
“Sort of, I guess. She asked about the sword, I said I didn’t know—“
“And I thought of Viktor saying they dueled with real swords at Durmstrang and that there were magical swords like wands—“
I kissed her forehead. I began to feel a whole lot friendlier toward Krum. “Pissed her off, I bet.”
“It made her worse. When she cursed me, it wasn’t just the pain, she put images in my head that were so—horrible—whose mind could be as twisted as that?” She sobbed between the words, her hand covering her eyes, as if the evil vision would leak into the room with us.
“I wanted to die,” she whispered. “If that—was real—I wanted to die.”
“It isn’t,” I said as firmly as I could, laid my cheek on top of her head. Her fingers dug into my ribs painfully.
“I heard you, you know. Calling my name. That’s how I knew it wasn’t real, not yet, as long as I heard you. So I hung on. I thought of Viktor and I kept my eyes shut and I lied. About the fake, that it was fake.”
“You are so fucking smart,” I said, choking back my own tears. “She believed you.”
“Because she wanted to already.”
“That doesn’t change it.”
“That’s when Dobby came, isn’t it? I don’t remember after that.”
“He appeared in there with us, we got a break and just in time because—” I couldn’t go any further. Don’t like to think of it.
“It doesn’t matter, Ron. You got me here. I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”
And she is, mostly. That was only the first talk, but there were many other times that summer. How often have we been through it, all of it, or all she could say at any given time, on any day, or late at night, who knew why or when? At times she did know, at others it swept over her and took her to sea without warning. I came to know the tone, a precarious plea in the way she’d say my name. Did she tell her parents? I don’t know. Maybe in outline, maybe not at all. She was always concerned to spare people, but her need to understand, to make sense—that was what I could do for her. We talked, we listened, we stayed close. Years have made the breaks fewer, lulling me into thinking I know all of it, the worst crimes patted down by repetition, accepted, her ugly scars, like mine. But I’m an idiot—a happy one she’d say—because, really, there is no end to the depths of pain and evil. I know that; I’ve been toiling in that bilge myself.
And I have memories of my own that weather with the years, but they are different from hers. I can’t forgive my failure, but I do remember the kindness and wisdom and hope that were given when I had none. Talking had helped, but one conversation was not a cure. Hermione came down for meals, but barely ate and it took Fleur’s Sleeping Draught to give her rest. Lingering over breakfast one morning, Luna told me that Hermione’d been talking in her sleep. Cried out once and was afraid when she woke.
“What’d she say?”
“Just your name. I thought of waking you, but I told her you were downstairs, that everything was fine, and she fell asleep again on her own in a little while.”
“Thanks, Luna.” I looked away from her, out the window at a bank of fog. Why do I remember the fog?
“It was nothing. I like her, you know, except when she says an opinion like it’s a fact. It’s hurtful sometimes.”
“She doesn’t mean to—hurt people that way, you know.”
She just smiled blankly at me, wide-eyed, and dreary as I felt, I couldn’t help smiling back. Luna, Luna. “And you, you know—how are you?”
“It was frightening at first, but I had Mr. Ollivander to look after, then all of you came. I’m only worried about Dad now.”
“We saw him. In January. We did our best to give him a chance when we got away—Hermione did—I hope he’s alright, Luna. Honestly.”
She placed her hand on mine, as if I was the one that needed to be comforted. Rubbish. I knew better. That was the day Bill told me to get her up, take a walk.
“She’s still keeping an eye on death, Ron. You need to help her feel like living again.”
Hermione did what I asked; there was no resistance. It was windy on the beach when we made it down through the dunes, but we sat there in the weak sun, watching each dark wave rise translucent, shatter to foam, sizzle away and then rise again. Heard the ceaseless quavering bass note, far out under the water, deep. She was upset with me because I wanted Dumbledore to be alive so badly that I wasn’t seeing reason. What I said fit the facts—was it my fault the facts were so strange? Frustrated by my persistence, she got angry. I could see the pink flush in her cheeks.
“How can you be so dense?” she said with force, her voice breaking, high and jagged.
“You sound like a seagull,” I laughed at her.
She punched me, but that was weak too, and a second later, she was crying. Not just tears, deep sobs coming from way down in her body. I’d never heard anything like the sound of that. All I knew to do was to pull her close and hold her, and after a while, there were words in the weeping.
“What?” I stroked the hair back from her face, trying to get her to look at me. “Tell me.”
“You’re here,” she said.
“Course I am.”
Were we back to accusations? I hoped I wouldn’t be apologizing for the rest of my life. I was raw, too, but it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t me, exactly, that Hermione was looking at, but something that never belonged to her; a hurt that wouldn’t heal, a shard of venom there’s no phoenix to soothe. She’s dead and still I hate her: Bellatrix Lestrange lives on.
Hermione breaks and she heals and she breaks again. I’m sixteen, dazed out of my mind in the Department of Mysteries, watching the clocks shatter, the glass fly back up, solid and whole until the chime tolls and it shatters again. It registered on my soddy brain as a beautiful curiosity, and I turned, on an impulse almost like breathing, to Hermione. Except she wasn’t beside me. Good, too, the condition I was in; if I had known…
Looking into the unknown, I need to know you’re looking too. The clatter of glass, the hiss of waves, the heart’s blood, over and over and over, forever. It strikes deep, seems familiar somehow, like a half-forgotten dream.
Do you know what it is?
I want to know it, too.
There’s an echo. I called; you hear me calling. Maybe a hundred years from now, still, a fading sound, calling, hearing, holding on.
What is the soul, anyway, to have tides like that?