Disclaimer: It all belongs to J.K. Rowling and co. I'm just playing in their sandbox.
This is an interlude of sorts during Deathly Hallows Part 1. It is set just after the gang's narrow and harrowing escape from the Ministry after procuring the locket from Umbridge. I struggled with it a little bit because I haven't written anything in years, and rarely ever in this fandom, so yeah. I'm crossing my fingers that it's okay.
No matter how tall the mountain, it cannot block out the sun.
Harry stood on the precipice, literally and figuratively, his eyes shut tight against the torrential onslaught that threatened to push him over the edge. He was hunched solemnly beneath an immense oak tree, the land sloping gently away behind him, and dropping off completely to a rushing river in front of him. There were no sounds except the roar of the wind and the faint beat of his heart in his ears as it tried to overpower the storm. His wand was wet and slippery in his right hand where a river of rain washed away the dried blood from a cut on his wrist, the only sign that there had been a battle just hours before. His eyes stung with more than just rain as he fought back the pressure of angry tears.
Why even bother, he thought bitterly, no one here to see me cry anyway.
Everything was so uncertain, more so than it had ever been before in his life, and that was saying something. He was the boy who lived, but now he wasn't sure where to turn, who to trust, or how to ask for help. The future was as black and uncertain as the night around him.
Crouching down, he pulled his knees up to his chest and his jacket tighter around his shoulders. He looked pitifully around at his surroundings and sighed. It wasn't much, but it was home for the time being.
Behind him, swallowed by the darkness and the storm, there was a small, tarnished, yellow tent pitched beneath another large oak tree. It swayed and shuttered with the ever changing wind and looked as if it was about to blow off its pegs at any moment. A tiny ray of light battled through the darkness and rain to warm his heart, but it fell just short. Neither powerful enough to keep the storm at bay nor strong enough to warm a kettle of tea, the flame flickered piteously against the canvas walls and cast long shadows over the sleeping occupants within, but it did nothing to chase away the miserable darkness outside.
It was from those other travelers whom Harry was seeking to distance himself. If they stayed, they would end up dead. Though their deaths would not be by his own hand, he would still be responsible nonetheless. That, more than anything else, was why he was sitting outside in the storm, lost in his own thoughts, hoping against hope that if he shut his eyes hard enough and long enough that it would all just be a dream – a long horrible nightmare that he called life from which there seemed to be no escape.
He rubbed furiously at his eyes, causing them to water with pain. Stars popped in his vision but he continued to rub until all he could see was red.
A faint cry pierced through the raging storm, reaching his ears with a spin tingling sensation. Chills chased one another up and down his spin and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up in warning. Of what? Impending doom?
Been there, he thought ruefully, done that.
Another soft moan reached his ears and he thought of Ron, his arm splinched off and covered in makeshift bandages, moaning through the night as the pain invaded the sanctuary of unconsciousness and defiled his dreams with sharp, burning fits of agony.
It's your fault he's here. If it weren't for you trying to play the hero, Ron would be safely home in his own bed and Hermione…
He shook his head to clear it. Better to put an end to that train of thought before it ever got started down the tracks. It didn't do to dwell on the past and forget the present, and their present was bad enough without dredging up old demons. They had all had this fight before and Harry always lost.
Confused thoughts and emotions raged in his sleep deprived brain, vying for dominance. Flashes of faces and memories mingled together until none were hardly recognizable anymore. The only face that never changed was the one he wished to never see again. Pale, white, and ghostlike, it leered at him, its red eyes mocking and scornful, scathing and laughing. With nothing but two slits for nostrils and fingers like long, spindly, spiders legs, Lord Voldmort haunted his dreams as well as his every waking moment.
You will lose, Harry. You will lose everything.
Somewhere deep down inside, in a place where even Harry refused to acknowledge, he knew that Voldemort was right. He would lose. Maybe not his life or his sanity, but he would lose friends. Good friends. Men and women who deserved a better fate than any he could give them. People like Hermione and Ron would suffer because they had chosen to be friends with him all those years ago. It seemed like ages ago now when he first stood on Platform 9 ¾, lost and alone in a world that was brand new and alive with possibilities. It seemed like another lifetime that he and his new friends, the first friends he had ever had, were gallivanting around the castle, stumbling from one adventure to another. He could close his eyes and see it all, but it felt like eons had passed since those carefree days. Fear and hatred had hardened his soul and it was like looking in a mirror at someone else's life as the memories of rainy days and Quidditch matches rolled by in slow motion like an old black and white film reel replaying over and over in his mind's eye.
A slideshow of faces from his past perforated the thin veil of his musings as thoughts of his past forced him deeper into the darkness.
Lupin. Tonks. The Weasleys. Neville. Luna.
They were all good friends, all ready to fight and die in the name of goodness and morality.
More faces flashed across his memory and Harry pulled his cloak closer around his shoulders to suppress a shudder.
He had already lost several good friends. How many more would have to be sacrificed before it was finished. How many more innocents? How many more decent people would have to die before it was enough?
Shaking his head again, Harry knew the answer.
He glanced over his shoulder as another feeble groan filled the night air, and realized with a start that the storm had abated while he had been musing about his troubled soul. He had struggled silently with his emotions for a very long time. He knew how the others felt, he knew that come hell or high water they had made their decisions and he could not change their minds. The knowledge that he was not alone in this fight only gave him an infinitesimal amount of comfort. Guilt gnawed at his heart for bringing his friends into this situation.
They chose to come, he reminded himself.
Heaving a sigh, he leaned heavily against the massive tree trunk beside him. It seemed like he had only closed his eyes for a few seconds when Hermione was shaking him awake.
"It's my watch, Harry," she whispered in his ear as he felt blindly around for his glasses, surmising that they must have slipped off his face while he was sleeping. His back was sore from leaning against the tree, and he didn't feel like he had been asleep very long because he was totally exhausted. Mentally and physically, he felt as if he had just run a marathon.
"Yeah, okay," he said, raising his hand to stifle a yawn, "how's Ron?"
He watched Hermione bite her lip nervously, her eyes flickered apprehensively toward the tent, "I gave him a sleeping potion and he's been out cold for most of the night. I think his arm is healing but it will take some time. At least he isn't in any pain right now. That's a good thing, I suppose."
Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak. If Ron's arm didn't heal, maybe he could talk him into going home, away from danger, but as he looked into Hermione's troubled brown eyes he knew that his friends would never abandon him to walk this road alone.
Hermione held out her hand, "Give me the locket, Harry."
Grimly, Harry reached for the cold chain and pulled it free of his neck. He let it coil gently into Hermione's outstretched hand. The instant he broke contact with the wretched trinket, Harry felt a weight lift from his shoulders and his chest suddenly felt less tight. He watched as Hermione slipped the delicate chain over her head and it disappeared under her jacket.
"Alright then," he said, his voice a curious cross between defeat and resignation. "Shout if you need anything."
Hermione smiled sadly, the light never reaching her tired eyes. "It'll be alright Harry," she whispered, hands reaching out to find his. "It must be alright."
Unable to trust himself with speech for the second time in as many minutes, he merely shook his head. He wasn't sure if he believed her, he wasn't even sure she believed herself. It sounded like she was trying to convince them both that her words were words of truth, but the more conviction she tried to infuse them with, the more hollow they actually sounded to Harry's ears.
"Alright then," he said again, returning her small smile with one of his own.
It felt wrong to smile when the weight of the world was sitting on his shoulders, threatening to crush him, but Hermione chose that moment to reach up and cup his cheek with the palm of her hand.
"We're going to make it through this, Harry, the three of us together," she said softly, as if reading his thoughts. "I know we will because we always find a way."
Far from comforting him, her words confirmed what he had known all along: there would be no dissuading them from this foolhardy quest. Silently, they switched places beneath the tree. Hermione curled up to keep watch, her hands wrapped around her knees and her wand grasped tightly in her right hand. Harry trudged wordlessly from the cliff edge to the tent, his mind blissfully blank for the first time in ages. All he could think about was Hermione's warm hand on his face, and her chocolate eyes locked with his in understanding.
Freezing cold and still soaking wet, Harry felt Hermione's eyes burning holes into his retreating back, but he refused to look back. He wasn't sure he could handle the look on her face, whatever it would be, and not want to rush right back out there and sit with her until dawn.
Inside the tent, it was silent and warm. The small exterior belied the spacious room within. It was more than enough room for the three of them, yet, in the coming days, it would be entirely too small.
As he pulled off his soaking jacket and threw it over the back of a chair to dry, he glanced toward the sleeping form of Ron. His friend lay quite still, as if all the strength and will had gone from his body. His right arm was completely obscured from view by a large white bandage wrapped in a makeshift sling that Hermione had hastily fashioned out of an old pillowcase.
Harry crept closer, on tiptoes so as not to wake him. Beneath the heavy bandage and the blanket, Harry could discern no visible signs of life and his heart skipped a beat.
No. He refused to even entertain the possibility that something had happened to Ron. Creeping closer, he gently laid his hand on Ron's chest. It rose and fell with a soft rhythmic cadence that made Harry release the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding until that moment.
Relief washed over him as he watched his friend sleep. If it hadn't been for the bandages and his friend's occasional whimpering, he could have almost been mistaken for peaceful.
Finally, exhausted, he tiptoed to his own bed and quickly rid himself of his shoes. Peeling off his wet shirt and jeans, he quietly pulled on his pajamas and all but fell into bed. His body ached from head to toe, but it was no match for the ache in his soul.
Closing his eyes, he was asleep almost instantaneously.
He didn't watch the night fade away into the grey of early morning. He didn't see the dawn slowly bleed to life over the treetops in a genocide of pinks and yellows. If he had, he might have realized that the darkest hour is just before dawn.
And no matter how dark the night, the dawn always follows.