A/N: This starts right after Ron leaves in the 7th book. Please let me know what you all think!
He thought he would have thought of Sirius or Dumbledore. The swirling and clenching and gnawing in his stomach, the fast beat of his heart, the shaking in his hands, the urge to hit something, to throw anything, to do anything but cry, were familiar enough because of them. No, not because of them. Because of how they ended. No. Because of how they left him. It didn't matter anyway, because they weren't really what he was thinking about.
He was lying on his cot, Hermione a trembling and sniffling mountain of blankets on the chair behind him. He wasn't tired. His thoughts traveled to sometime in year four of primary, he thinks. He had felt the same sometime then, not exactly the same, but somehow similar, like walking into a room and recognising the sofa from somewhere, remembering all at once the doctor's office where one like it sat, how it felt to be there, how it smelled like bleach, and for a flash of a second, it's ten years ago and you are you but not who you turned into anymore.
He was remembering this feeling, the shaking hands and the swirling stomach. He had made a friend bouncing a tennis ball off the wall. The boy was new and shy and didn't even say hello. He just caught the ball on it's way back and bounced it over to Harry. They smiled and talked about how Mrs. Roemmele always said choir weird. They waved goodbye and nodded to each other in the halls.
Dudley picked the new boy up and stuffed him in a trash bin. He cried, too loud, embarrassingly loud, and asked Dudley why. He said that freaks who hang out with freaks should be put where they belong. The new boy wouldn't even look at him in the halls after, even though he was alone too.
He had laid in the darkness of the cupboard and felt his stomach swirl and clench and gnaw and wanted to do anything, anything at all but cry.
He drifted off to sleep despite himself.
Rain pattered against the tent roof. He had spent the dim blue black of the early morning making breakfast from stale bread and some canned soup. He slammed the can down, he slammed the pan down, he almost jabbed his own arm with his wand, his gestures too sharp. Where he moved to do anything but cry, Hermione stayed still, laying in her cot, only crying. She seemed to be crying enough for the both of them. He felt the beginning of exasperation start, like a water starting to roll over a weak flame. But it wouldn't raise to a full boiling anger, even though he half wanted it to. He couldn't be angry with her, not for this.
He put the soup, bread and a tall glass of water on her end table and sat next to the lump of blankets and tears she had become, bouncing her a little. She peered out, her face red and eyes swollen, glancing from him to the food. "I'm not hungry."
"You're going to have a massive headache if you carry on like this without eating or drinking anything." It came out sharper than he meant. He thought she might have narrowed her eyes at him, but it was hard to tell what with how closed they were from the puffiness. He let out a long low breath, trying to soften. "Just. Eat." The long slow breath hadn't worked.
Hermione sat up, her posture pure indignation. Her shoulders raised, her mouth a harsh line. She opened her mouth but all that came out was a choked sound and she started crying again; tired, scratchy sounding sobs, and placed her head on her knees.
"Merlin, Hermione… I…" He swallowed. She hadn't even been like this at Dumbledore's funeral.
She placed the heels of her hands against her eyes, covering every part of her face except her shaking lips.
"What about you?" Her voice was loud, kind of harsh.
"What about me?" He didn't want to get into this. He wasn't going to get into a sob fest with Hermione in a tent over Ron. His hands started to shake. Anything else. He would bolt from this tent.
"Have you eaten?"
He paused. He hadn't. It hadn't even occurred to him. His stomach was still swirling and clenching. The idea of eating seemed impossible. He couldn't even imagine being hungry. "No."
She put her hands down with a sigh. Her hair was a chaotic storm, her eyes tight, her face blotchy. "I'll eat half if you eat half."
He nodded and she handed him the glass of water, watching as he downed half in two gulps. She took the glass back from him with shaking hands and put it against her left eye, then her right, rotating and pressing it against her lids. "You were right about that headache." She sounded like she had a cold.
She sipped the water as he started taking small bites of the bread, dipping it in the soup, realising he was hungrier than he thought.
They got dressed, put things away, didn't look at each other or say anything. He was still moving too aggressively and Hermione was still crying, though it had been reduced to strange hitched breathing more than full tears. He rotated between deep defensive anger and a wild apologetic sorriness.
They stood in the cold for too long and waited. They didn't look at each other for fear of acknowledging what they were waiting for, but eventually Hermione twisted her wand and they were standing prepared, nothing left behind.
He dared to look at her and was assaulted all at once, all again, with the spiral of anger and apology. His mind was screaming, "Why didn't you leave with him if you were going to be so torn up about it? Why did you stay when I don't have anything to go on? Aren't you supposed to be the smart one? Why can't you figure out where anything is? I'm sorry I didn't ask Dumbledore more, I really messed this up, please don't give up, I really don't have any idea what I'm doing, please."
She didn't look at him the dead quiet, despite the loudness in his head, instead she stuck out her hand and he took it and they were gone.
They followed this pattern for a while, for days that felt like slow burning endless eternity. Every once and awhile he felt a little dramatic. Ron wasn't dead, he was just a git. He stormed off in a Weasley high temper in a typical fashion and yes, it hurt, but it wasn't the end of the world. The real problems they were facing were, not Ron.
Whenever he was struck with this moment of levity and perspective, he would glance at Hermione's somber face and then the moment would fade and it would be back, the anger and the sorry.
They were a few spots away from the last location they were with Ron, but it didn't stop Hermione from glancing up at the sound of breaking twigs, or the rustle of leaves, or the quieter whispers of wind. By some animal instinct, every time she glanced up he did too. He couldn't help but think of frightened deer, their ears pert and rotating, eyes focused, alert, listening for wolves. The main difference for them was that they wanted to the wolf to come.
His glanced away from the empty forest to Hermione's dark eyes, still searching. "He won't find us." He used the sharp tone again, he still didn't mean it that way.
Her eyes moved to his, injured, her mouth bowed in pain. He felt a stab of remorse. To his surprise she moved closer to him instead of turning away. Their spheres of sadness had been separate the last few days, their moroseness quiet, however loud it felt inside his head.
"I'm… I'm pissed off, Harry. I'm really, really pissed entirely off."
He felt a jolt of worry, that sorry followed by scared anger, "I'm sorry."
"Not at you."
"Oh." His relief seeped into his voice. "Me too."
Hermione nodded in agreement once in stern solidarity, before shaking her head as her eyes glanced through the distant trees one last time.
He felt better. Something in the fear of his anger calmed. They were both angry, but not at each other.
After awhile, despite everything, he was honestly, extremely bored.
His voice came out scratchy at first, he cleared his throat and realised they hadn't spoken since yesterday morning. "Do - Do you remember that time in third year when you just slapped Malfoy across the face?"
Hermione looked up from the book she was reading, sitting curled up on a chair on the other side of the room. "What? Oh- yes, of course. Why are you bringing that up now?"
He shrugged. "It was just brilliant is all."
Hermione rolled her eyes but gave a small half smile anyway. "It was immature, really."
He shrugged again and they lapsed back into silence, Hermione looking back down at her book, Harry looking up at the ceiling, trying not to think of anything at all really, though his mind went easily back to Hermione in third year, her teeth still bucked, her hair a little more untamed. He wondered when she worked out how to manage that better, though of course now it was worse. But in sixth year she had gotten it from bushy to still bushy, but more of a wavy bushy. Did she experiment with hair products? Did she get advice from other girls? No one ever gave him grooming advice in the boys dorm, though sometimes he kind of wished they would have. He couldn't picture her sitting in front of a mirror, girls behind her, giggling, trying different things. But then, why not? Hermione was a girl who was friends with other girls who might do such things.
Hermione's book shut with a loud slap, giving him a start. "You know what was even more brilliant? When he was turned into a ferret."
He let out a strange croaky sound he distantly recognised as a chuckle. "Yeah... but fake Moody was the one who did it, so yours was better. Third year was pretty mad, wasn't it?"
She let a strange squeaky rough sound he understood to be a light laugh. "Just third year?"
"True." He wanted to keep it light but everything seemed to bleed together, darkness over taking softer, brighter memories. Third year was mad but then so was every year, madder and madder until this was his life, until this was it, him in the woods, lost but still running, dragging this poor girl with him.
Hermione flung the corner of her blanket around her shoulder and stood, turning it into a fluffy tunic, and walked over to him, sitting at his side on his bed, looking down at his face as he laid there, sad.
"You've had a rough go of it."
He barked out a laugh eerily similar to Sirius's. Hermione grinned down at him. "Remember in fifth year, you made some sarcastic comment about how you wonder what it's like to have a difficult life?"
He didn't really. "That sounds like something I would do."
"I scolded you. I was so worried about you losing your hope, you know? I didn't want you to become cynical. You were always… I don't know, if something seemed hard, I always looked to you. I hated to think you were giving up. I was wrong, wasn't I? Sometimes I…"
She flopped down next to him, still wrapped in her blanket, her head on the other end of his pillow. "Sometimes I don't know why you both - why you're friends with me. How dare I, someone who never really experienced loss, never went through all those things you have, tell you how to feel about it, how to feel about anything? Now, I mean, it's not the same thing at all, of course, not at all, but I feel like I understand better."
Harry frowned, turning on his side, and glanced down her profile, at her somber stare at the ceiling as he had done a minute ago. "He-He's just left -"
"No. No, I mean my parents. Having them forget me, having them go to Australia, not having any idea what we are doing, not knowing what to do next, being afraid to not do anything. I mean, it isn't easy, it weighs and weighs and there isn't an end in sight…" She sighs, but it wasn't shaky. She hasn't cried in awhile, he thinks. But for some reason those words said in that defeated way wormed into him a small dread. He thinks he understands her better now too. "So you know, I think, right, whatever needs to be done to get through this then, so f-fuck it. Just fuck it."
He can't help but grin at her. "Too right, fuck it then."
Hermione nodded at the ceiling, her eyebrows furrowed and mouth in a stern line.
For the first time in awhile he falls asleep without that clenching, gnawing feeling in his stomach.
When he wakes up, she's still there, wrapped in a blanket like a robe, snoring lightly on her back. He pokes her awake and she blinks at him. He can see that she spends a half a second feeling embarrassed but then the feeling dies on her face before it can fully form. Instead she rolls onto her side, tucking her sock clad feet into the pile of blankets on his bed and says, "I think we should just wander into a Tesco and shove all of their meal deals into an expanded, refrigerated truck and be done with food forever."
"Fuck it, right?"
But they didn't do that, Hermione's new found rebellion dying an unsurprising death the moment it went past the use of swear words.
Instead, they find some mushrooms nestled into an under-hang of a boulder and some stubborn Rowan berries, deep red still under the crust of snow.
It was cold, it's always cold. The hunger makes the cold colder, so it seeps through their clothes and sits on their skin until that is icy too, and then that sinks into the muscle and makes them stiff, and that holds their bones, so that it hurts, an ache that doesn't really leave until the one hot shower a day, but then only briefly, and never fully.
"Why are we camping in the blasted wilderness anyway? Let's knock out some swatty boarding school kids at, like, Eton or something, and just live there for a while."
Hermione turns towards him with her sad bundle as they walked back the way they came, Harry angled to remove their footprints with his wand as they went.
She tsked, "Why stop there? Why don't we just knock out members of the royal family and live that way instead?"
He bumped her with his shoulder. "I doubt anyone would notice any change if you replaced old Liz."
She harrumphed and stuck her nose up the air. "And you would make a fine footman. It's only natural." She grinned a little and looked down at her bag, "Do you suppose these Rowan berries would turn into a liquor easily?"
He plucked the bag from her arms as they entered the tent and popped a berry into his mouth. "Why? Looking to get sloshed?"
She pulled a worn red armchair towards the furnace in the middle of the tent with a sigh. "You know, maybe I am. Maybe that's the answer to the whole thing, you know?"
He stole the seat as she turned to get a blanket. He expected an indigent remark but instead there was just an eye roll, and then to his surprise she stuffed herself into the small space next to him, her leg half on his, her shoulder resting against his. She threw the blanket over the both of them.
"This is far from comfortable but I am so tired of being cold. Plus," She turned her face towards him, too close, this was all too close, and sniffed, her frozen nose grazing his neck, "you don't smell."
"It's just that R-that he-that it, this tent, you know, smelled sometimes. Like sweat. Don't get me wrong, you can smell sweaty too, me as well, of course, everyone can, but it's not as … pungent."
"Do stop, you'll make me blush."
Hermione chortled a little, resting her head half on his shoulder, half on the back of the chair. "But as I was saying, getting sloshed might be the solution to the whole thing."
"For me, not for you. You have to stay sober, I'm pretty sure, for this to all work out."
"That's a raw deal, why do I have to stay sober?"
"You're brave enough without it, I probably need some liquid courage myself, or I'll drive us both to lunacy with my neuroses."
"But you wouldn't be Hermione if you weren't driving me at least a little crazy with your neuroses."
The half grin she had resting against his shoulder slipped away, sadness dipping the corners down.
"I think I'll head to bed." She slipped out the spot she wedge against his side with ease.
He frowned at her retreating back and grabbed her hand before she stepped out of range. "You okay?"
When she looked back at him, she looked down at his hand with surprise, but otherwise looked fine. "Yeah, I just stayed up late last night, you know, keeping watch."
He dropped her hand with a nod. "Okay, yeah. I'll keep watch, so don't worry."
Her smile was small but sincere. "Thanks."
He pulled the blanket she left behind around his side, but he still felt kind of cold.
The next morning she actually looked pretty rested, though shadows filtered across her face still, every once and while, muting laughs and dropping off smiles into sighs. He couldn't be sure, but it seemed like she was glancing at him more, half way to saying something, building up courage, though he couldn't guess for what.
He was thinking of different ways to bring up Godric's Hollow again without her immediate dismissal, when she took a deep breath and spluttered out, "Do you remember in fourth year-", before she abruptly stopped and instead stared, a little red faced. "You know, never mind. Just- never mind."
He blinked at her, lost. Part of him wanted to let it go, as it seemed like Hermione was going to try to have an emotional sort of conversation, but he doubted she would be so nervous unless it was important. "I do remember fourth year pretty well, I'd say. I recall some stuff about a dance, a dragon or two, this annoying bloke came back, which is why we are stuck in this god forsaken tent, yeah? What about it?"
She bit her lip and looked down at her hands, then stood up and bustled over to the kettle. Harry swallowed. What was so hard to say she had to make tea about it?
Her back was turned to him as she looked through a box of assorted flavors with too much gusto, her voice oddly high, "It's just, when that git was being a git about you being a champion and you two weren't talking, we hung out more, and, well, I think you were bored."
He felt his mouth drop open. Wherever he thought she was going with this conversation, it wasn't there. He didn't know how to respond. In honesty, it was true, and still is. Ron's more fun. But Ron ran away, so that doesn't matter much, and Hermione could turn into a banshee as far as he cared, as long as she stayed. Not that she was a banshee, far from it. She was...Hermione. Random interesting facts, lots of tea, a dry sense of humor, taking herself and everything else too seriously, which was nice when you needed things to be serious, less nice when you wanted to joke a bit to relieve some stress and she was standing there, waving around homework planners and telling you now was not the time to brush something off.
Hermione tapped her wand against the kettle and then sighed, leaning against one of the poles, her hand on her hip. "I'm not trying to put you in an awkward position where you have to lie convincingly about what a great time I am, or to now awkwardly insult me by being honest and agreeing. No, the point of me bringing that up is that I… I… want to be more fun."
He felt his mouth drop open even further. He wondered if those berries they ate were not actually Rowan berries and instead hallucinogens. He shook his head and started to say something, then shook his head again. He imagined this is how Hermione felt most of the day, with her long looks and half started sentences.
"I… I think you're being rather hard on yourself." This was true, he realised. "I don't want you to be like him. I like that you're Hermione." Also true, so far, so good. "I mean, yeah, sometimes you have a hard time relaxing, or letting things go…" Oh no, he didn't know how to qualify that. That was true, that was Ron's job, he was the only one who could get her to procrastinate or fob something off until tomorrow. It was always the part about her that made him roll his eyes the most. "But...But, I mean, sometimes things shouldn't be let go of, and we always put a lot of pressure on you to be the responsible one." He felt the truth of that too, only as he said it. They all had, Hermione included, sort of pigeonholed her into that position, that role. They had expected her to. "But, you...don't want to anymore?"
The kettle started to whistle and her back was to him again. When she turned around, he was relieved to see she looked more contemplative than upset or anything like that. She handed him a mug and then sat on the armchair across from him. "I can't imagine not worrying about things anymore, planning ahead is just part of who I am. But maybe I can, I… I don't know. I don't know how to say this, but, I guess, in a way…" She took a sip. "In a way, I think I've condescended you, all these years. Like you wouldn't be able to look after yourself unless I was nagging you like some uptight older sister. Maybe I should just...trust you? Not that I didn't trust you before, not about the important stuff, like fighting evil, for example, but other stuff. You're more of a grown up now than most grown ups, by virtue, so I don't think you need me in the background, panicking at you all the time, no?"
He wasn't sure what to make of these rather harsh view of their dynamic. Oddly, he felt kind of sad. "I don't want you to change."
She looked up at him in surprise. "I think I have to, if we are going to be stuck in this tent together without going insane."
And that's where it was, he knew now. She framed it like it would be more fun for him, and in truth, there was something nice about the idea of Hermione not nagging him to do this or do that anymore, about her relaxing, but he knew now that it would be for her benefit.
"Surely you aren't saying that you want me to go around making you tense all the time?" There was an odd amusement to her face, her eyes mischievous.
Harry sat back and took a swing of his tea, Assam, his favourite, and shrugged. "I'm not going to lie, I was sort of hoping that you would make another homework planner for Christmas, but for our Horcrux hunt instead, so that whenever I opened it would say things like, 'Don't forget to figure out what Ravenclaw's likely object is!', or, 'Stab the locket with the sword of Gryffindor today or later you'll pay!' But I suppose I can remember myself."
Hermione started laughing, her countenance lighting up for the first time in days, relief plain on her face.