Challenge: #42: When the War ends, the trio returns home. Harry is expecting to re-unite with Ginny, only he finds she's already with someone else. Ron and Hermione's attempts at comfort lead to something else.
Title: Silent Comfort
Summary: Just hours after Voldemort's defeat, Harry finds his world has been upended in the one way he never expected it to. Ron and Hermione only do what comes naturally.
Word Count: 2671
Rating: PG-13 (for non-explicit sex scene)
Notes: My apologies for this being late. I offer up my new temp job as my excuse (that, and my plot bunny has been mostly dead all month, which hasn't been good). This ended up being a lot more story and a lot less pr0n than I expected it to be. Many thanks to my beta reader, who wishes to remain anonymous. (S)he knows who (s)he is. :)
The back door to the Burrow rattled in its frame as Harry stormed through the kitchen, nearly bowling over Molly Weasley. Harry muttered an insincere-sounding apology as he made for the stairs, not looking at anyone.
Ron’s jaw dropped open as his eyes traced his best mate’s path. This was most unfortunate, however, as he was in the middle of a bite of mash – the first home-cooked food he’d had in months. He groaned quietly as Hermione’s leg nudged his under the table.
"Ronald," she hissed, and he closed his mouth, chewing absently, still staring at the bottom of the steps where Harry had disappeared. He looked over at Hermione, who tilted her head significantly towards the staircase, eyebrows raising. Ron frowned back at her, his eyebrows pushing together, and he glanced down at his food then back at her imploringly as though to say, Can’t it wait two minutes? Hermione’s eyebrows pushed together, too, and she frowned at him like he was the most insensitive git on the planet.
Ron sighed. He knew that look – it was the one that said, "I’d Better Do As Hermione Says, Or Else I’ll Regret It Later." It was a variation of one of his mum’s looks, and he knew better than to cross it. He swallowed his mouthful of food and put his fork down, his fingers seemingly reluctant to actually relinquish the utensil. They’d been away for almost a year and all he wanted to do was eat his mum’s cooking.
"I’ll put a preservation charm on it, dear," Molly said with unusual quiet from the end of the table, drying one of the dishes she’d been washing by hand. She had watched the unspoken communication between them, and it reminded her of the twins’ interaction – though without the notable scent of sulfur. It hadn’t been there when they’d left a year prior.
Hermione gently pried Ron’s fingers away from the fork he’d laid on the table and slipped her fingers into the space it had occupied. He glanced at her hand, then up at her face, then sighed and nodded, pushing back from the table.
"Thanks, Mum," he said automatically as he and Hermione headed up the stairs, hand in hand. He even managed to refrain from glancing forlornly over his shoulder at his half-eaten dinner "thanks to a well-placed elbow in his side from Hermione, who had developed a rather uncanny knack for knowing what Ron was thinking).
He glanced at Hermione when they reached the small landing outside of Ron’s peeling door – it was shut and dangerously quiet from within. He raised an eyebrow and shrugged a little, his jumper hanging more loosely about his body than it had twelve months prior. One year of life on the hunt, food sometimes not available for days, had left its mark on all three of them. Ron, never stocky like the twins, still managed to take off what little was left of his baby fat. All of them had thicker legs from miles upon miles of walking and searching that they’d done. On Hermione, this had resulted in a surprising shift of her curves; though her chest had – regrettably, in Ron’s opinion – decreased in size, on the other hand, it had been met with an increase in the shape of her hips. He had spent many of the long hours of their walking taking comfort in the view he had from behind her. The only one who hadn’t changed much was Harry, who was only an inch or two taller than Hermione. Years of near-starvation at the Dursleys’ had ensured he’d never reach his full height but had served him well while they were on the hunt for the last bits of Voldemort’s soul. Harry had never once complained about not having enough food, and had seemed to work near-miracles in making a day’s rations last them a week. Even Hermione had been impressed.
Hermione was staring at Ron expectantly, clearly waiting for him to take the initiative. There was no use arguing. He raised his knuckles and rapped on his own door.
"Harry?" he asked. "Harry, it’s us. Can we come in?"
Hermione drew her wand and pointed it at the door, using an unspoken spell to open it. The door popped inwards, pale light from the hallway casting shadows across the spare bed – Harry’s bed – and his prone form.
"It was open," a voice from the bed muttered. "Didn’t have to use magic on it."
Ron glanced at Hermione and tentatively stepped into the room. "Sorry, mate," he apologised. "It was a bit quiet in here and we were worried, especially considering how you were pretty much the opposite of quiet when you came into the house."
"What’s wrong, Harry?" Hermione asked, cutting straight to the point as she stepped around Ron and sat down on the edge of the bed, lighting the candle by the headboard. Ron shut the door and leaned against it, unsure of what to do.
"Ginny," Harry said simply, though the weight in his voice was one that Ron tried to ignore; it made his gut wrench in a way that even after a half-dozen years he’d yet to become accustomed. Something about his best mate with his sister made his stomach curl over. Harry turned his head slightly so he was able to look at Hermione.
Hermione sighed quietly, reaching out to stroke Harry’s unkempt hair away from his face.
"I thought she was going to wait," he said, shoulders tensing and then relaxing in defeat. "She said she’d wait, but then I showed up on her doorstep and she stared at me like I was a ghost. She yelled at me and then slammed the door in my face, but not before I saw her beyond Ginny, sitting serenely in their parlour. Their parlour!"
"Who, Harry?" Hermione asked gently, even though she and Ron both knew already. When Harry had rushed out of the Burrow not half an hour prior, he’d left before Mrs Weasley had been given a chance to tell him that Ginny was living with one of their former classmates. She’d confessed to Ron and Hermione – through sniffles that punctuated her words – that she suspected that the relationship was not just one of mere friendship, either. Harry had been so eager to be reunited with Ginny that he hadn’t waited; once he had her address in hand, he’d waved off Mrs Weasley and promptly Apparated away.
"Luna Lovegood," Harry whispered. "She and Luna bloody Lovegood are playing house in a flat in Islington. I waited for her," he added, one hand fisting the patched orange Cannons comforter. "I waited, thought about her every day, wished I could have sent her owls. I even managed to get one to her on her birthday even though it was madly stupid and dangerous." His voice steadily rose. "I returned, just like I promised her I would, and she couldn’t wait one bloody year!"
Hermione just kept stroking his hair, listening for once instead of speaking. Ron stood uselessly by the door, then sighed.
"I’m sorry, mate," he said, crossing to the bed and sitting at the other end from Hermione. Harry shifted his feet slightly so they weren’t pinned under Ron, but left them pressing against his best mate’s thigh.
"I just thought that if we killed Voldemort, at long bloody last, that maybe, just maybe I might be able to have a normal life. Or at least a girlfriend," he said wryly. "Maybe even a shag, at long last – sorry, Ron," he added quickly, though not before Ron’s face had contorted horrifically.
"You’re not cut out for a normal life, mate," Ron sad, patting Harry’s foot, forcing his face to look a little less like curdled milk. "Sorry to break it to you. Oh, and if you ever talk again in front of me about hypothetically shagging my sister, I’ll have to kill you, saviour of the wizarding world or not."
Harry managed a weak laugh at that.
"Oh, Merlin," he moaned, closing his eyes. "They’re going to know soon. Everyone will know, and I’ll never get a moment’s peace."
"It’s okay, Harry," Hermione said, hand pressing against his face gently. "They’ll get over it eventually, and forget. It’s human nature – that’s why we continue to fight wars, and why evil is allowed to return. It always does."
"Gee, Hermione, that’s really encouraging," Ron said, rolling his eyes. "Harry manages to kill You-Know-Who-"
"Voldemort," Harry interjected automatically.
"Right," Ron said, swallowing. "Like you said. Him. And you just tell him that there’s going to be another some day? Right cheerful outlook you have, there."
"Well, it’s the truth!" Hermione protested. "It’s not possible to get rid of all the evil on the earth! It’s just there and we have to deal with it as best we can, take it on one piece at a time."
"Yeah, brilliant," Ron replied, shaking his head. "If you’ll excuse me, I’d rather not be forced to help save the world again, no offence, mate," he added. "I’ve had it up to here with being a hero. For once, I’d like to not worry about whether or not I’m going to make it another day or not."
Harry just sighed, eyes closed. "Yeah, I understand," he said quietly. "Look, I just want to go to sleep; it’s been a bloody long day." The shadows from the candle flickered across his face, and the scar on his forehead looked angry and inflamed. Hermione frowned and touched it gently, but withdrew her finger when Harry shied away from her.
"It’s been a bloody long year, mate," Ron corrected him, exchanging another concerned look with Hermione.
"Yeah, that, too."
That night, Ron couldn’t sleep. He lay across the room from Harry, alone in his bed for the first time in months. He found himself drifting off, then turning to curl against a body that wasn’t there, which would only wake him up again. For the past year, they had all slept in one Muggle tent with just a few simple charms on it to keep out the moisture and the cold. It hadn’t been overly cramped, but it certainly hadn’t been spacious. Hermione called it ‘cozy’ at the time. When they slept, they’d found themselves curled together for warmth and comfort through their sleeping bags. The first time it had happened, elbows had collided with ribs. Knees had found their way into backs, and a half-asleep Hermione had accidentally cuddled up to Harry instead of Ron. After a few nights, though, they found their comfortable positions, Hermione always in the middle. They never talked about it, of course, but it was just something they did. It was their way of reaffirming their friendship – the little touches showed their love for each other.
It had been what had saved them that morning.
Forcing the raw memories back, Ron turned over yet again just in time to see the door to his room crack open. His hand was on his wand before his eyes caught up and recognised Hermione’s silhouette. He relaxed as she shut the door. By the moonlight leaking through the faded curtains he was able to make out her form quietly moving towards him. He held the edge of his blanket up in silent welcome.
Without a word, she climbed into bed next to him, her wild hair tickling his neck and the underside of his chin. He shifted and wrapped an arm around her, draping the Cannons blanket he’d had for years over her, glad for the warmth of her presence. She sighed, a long, drawn-out sound in the quiet room. He held her, not minding the fact that she was in an old shirt and boxers and he was dressed about the same. Her head tipped back to gaze at him for a long moment before she kissed him gently. They had stolen a rare kiss here and there during the year on the move, but circumstances simply wouldn’t allow for anything more. Of course, part of it had been Hermione’s insistence that they focus, and even Ron had been forced to admit she was right.
It was good to not have to wait anymore.
Ron made an approving sound deep in his throat and kissed her back, hand moving slowly down the cotton of her nightshirt. He had touched her a thousand times, but never like this. This felt good.
She pulled back, biting her swollen lip for a moment as she gazed into his eyes. Her eyes suddenly narrowed and her gaze slid over his shoulder to somewhere on his wall before she shifted and slid out of his bed. She then quietly walked the three short steps to Harry’s bed and crawled in next to him. Ron sensed that he should be feeling stunned, but that changed quickly when he realised that Hermione had gone to comfort Harry – and that Harry was awake and crying.
"Shh," Hermione whispered, arms around him and rocking him gently as he tried to bite back another round of nearly-silent sobs.
Ron had never bought much into the "boys don’t cry" mentality that other people seemed to have. Having five older brothers, he knew how much boys could cry if given enough reason. Though he’d never admit it, Ron had seen Charlie break down the first time one of his charges at the dragon preserve had died. The stocky Weasley had Flooed home just so he could have a proper cry in his mum’s arms.
Harry’s crying was quiet, even after Hermione’s arms went around him. Ron wondered if it were a result of the ten years of his life being spent locked in a cupboard under the Dursleys’ stairs. He reckoned that would put an emotional stopper on anyone.
Ron had obviously lingered too long in his own bed, though, when Hermione turned to give him a sharp look. He got out of his bed and joined them, only hesitating a moment before wrapping his arms around Hermione and Harry as one. Harry was shaking beneath his grip, and Hermione just kept whispering quiet nothings to him, doing her best to calm him.
It wasn’t long before Ron felt tears on his own cheeks, though he wasn’t sure if they were his or Hermione’s or Harry’s. They just were and they shared them equally, like they’d done all year.
"It has nothing to do with Ginny, does it?" Ron said after an interminable amount of time, not pulling back.
Hermione touched Harry’s forehead again, tracing his scar, which was visibly swollen and angry, even in the pale light of the moon. Harry winced and shrugged a little. Ron released his grip but stayed close.
"It hurts, like I’ve got some wretched bloody infection," he said, rubbing near the scar but being careful not to touch it.
"Shh," Hermione said again, leaning in slowly and pressing a kiss to Harry’s forehead.
Ron still wasn’t a hundred percent certain as to how it happened. One moment, Hermione was kissing Harry’s forehead, then Ron was kissing Hermione, and then the next there were elbows and hips and legs in ways that there hadn’t been before. It wasn’t like on the hunt, when there had been sleeping bags and propriety between them. Shirts joined their mates on the floor of Ron’s room and there was nothing between their skin but the barest heat emanating from within. Fingers curled against wetness, lips feathering, hair pushed back and noses bumping. There were moments of quiet laughter and awkward collisions that were quickly replaced by hurried movement and reverent touching. It simmered and built upon itself, until the moaning was enough to send the ghoul rattling through the pipes to try to cover the noise.
Afterwards, in a tangle of limbs and freckles and wild hair, Harry sighed quietly, fingers caught in his best mates' hair.
"It’s over," he murmured, eyes closing.
"No," Hermione said. "It’s just beginning."