a/n Just to let you know that as this story begins immediately after the Final Battle, it will start with elements of H/G and Hr/R. Of course, as it is Portkey this will not last forever, but I know that some people have zero tolerance of any other ship apart from H/Hr, so consider this fair warning.
If you have any complaints about that take them to JKR - she's the one that dealt this hand.
Chapter 1 - Aftermath
Harry Potter brushed off yet another congratulatory pat on the back as he picked his way through the throng that teemed throughout the great hall of Hogwarts. He was absolutely shattered and was in no mood to accept the congratulations of the multitude of well-wishers who continued to approach him. Indeed, he wasn't in the mood for anything right now; instead he just wanted to find his two friends and retreat to a quiet corner somewhere, out of the way from all of the attention. He wasn't having much luck though.
He knew that he should be feeling elated; that having finally defeated his mortal enemy after years of struggle, he should be revelling in the joy that the future now promised. But he could not bring himself to appreciate the moment; for one thing, he was dog-tired. For another, he knew that too many good people had died to make the victory possible. He smiled grimly to himself; perhaps it was his "saving people thing" but he found that he could not rejoice with the others when he had not destroyed Voldemort soon enough to prevent so many premature deaths.
He was also still trying to come to terms with two facts. One was that he had died in the forest earlier - something that he thought he would never get his head around, despite Dumbledore's explanations. The second issue he was facing was the fact that he had just killed a man. That it was Voldemort who had died by his hand did not lessen the feeling of horror he was experiencing at having taken a human life, regardless of how vile that life had been. It was only now that he had allowed his mind to dwell on it that he finally realised the meaning of that cursed prophecy.
Either must die at the hand of the other.
While it had not been a killing curse he had cast, Voldemort was still dead by his hand. He knew that he should be pleased; indeed, the evident joy of so many of those around him told him that no one would judge him for doing what he had done.
But I will. I killed a man today.
His thoughts were interrupted by yet more congratulations and he found himself smiling mechanically at some familiar faces but inwardly he was in turmoil. He was actually beginning to feel sick and was experiencing the horrible feeling that the walls of castle surrounding him were somehow closing in on him - almost as if they were trying to crush him. He took a few deep breaths, aware that he was struggling to maintain his composure and he cast his glance wildly around the hall, seeking out the two people he knew he had to see right now.
He jumped suddenly as he felt another hand on his shoulder and turned sharply, a biting comment on the edge of his tongue. But when he saw who it was that had approached him his expression softened and he actually managed a smile as he looked upon a friend.
`Luna,' he said softly. `I'm so glad to see you made it. Are you OK?'
Luna Lovegood eyed him for longer than was strictly necessary in his opinion but he didn't mind. Luna was a friend and could take liberties with him that he would not tolerate with others. She seemed to be checking him out - almost looking into him as she cast her eyes over his entire form. Finally she nodded as if satisfied by something.
`Ron and Hermione are in the hospital wing,' she finally said. She noticed the sudden look of fear in his eyes. `They're OK, Harry. Don't worry. Hermione just got a scratch, I think. I just reckoned that you would want to see them. I know I would if I were you. This must be horrible for you.'
Harry stifled the sudden lurch he had felt on hearing about Ron and Hermione and regarded Luna fondly. Trust her to realise that he would be having difficulty right now when everyone else assumed he would be revelling in the victory. She really was a remarkable person.
`Thanks, Luna. I do want to see them. I'll just go right up.' He made to leave but turned back to his friend. `Just a scratch, right?' he asked and the concern was evident in his voice.
Luna nodded. `Just a scratch. At least, that's what Ginny told me. I'm sure we would have heard if it was anything worse.'
He nodded at the observation, knowing that she was right. If anything really bad had happened to Ron or Hermione he would have known by now. He flashed Luna one last smile before turning and heading out of the hall and as far from the attention he could get at the moment. Right now he needed to see his best friends and as he moved through the shattered corridors of Hogwarts he found himself picking up the pace so that by the time he finally arrived at the hospital wing he was actually running. He realised what he was doing and forced himself to stop, taking a few deep breaths before gently swinging open the doors to the infirmary. When his eyes took in the scene, he found himself glad that he had not sprinted into the room.
The ward was full of injured people and he noticed that every bed was full. He closed his eyes, knowing that the price of victory was still to be fully paid. He saw both Molly and Ginny as they bustled between beds handing out potions and carrying bandages and he felt a sudden rush of affection as his eyes fell on the youngest Weasley child. He knew they had some unresolved issues between them but now was emphatically not the time to deal with it. He noticed too that Molly and Ginny were not the only ones tending to the wounded; indeed, just about every able bodied teacher was doing likewise and - of course - the indefatigable Poppy was orchestrating events. He cast his eyes over each bed in turn, recognising each victim and feeling strangely guilty that he did not have the inclination to approach anyone. He was looking for two particular people and he felt a panic rise in his throat as he frantically scanned the room. He couldn't see either Ron or Hermione and he was just about to corner someone to ask when he heard the voice of Bill Weasley coming from behind one of the drawn curtains. He carefully approached the source of the voice and was relieved that no one in the room had noticed his presence. The last thing he wanted right now was more adulation - especially from these people; the real heroes of the battle in his opinion.
As he neared the bed he heard voices he recognised and to his relief he realised that it was Ron and Hermione he could hear and both sounded fine. He quietly drew back the curtain and slipped into the cubicle to stand next to his friends. He smiled in greeting but soon had it wiped from his face as he realised that Hermione was crying as she lay on the bed and Ron looked as if he was going to be sick as he stood next to her. Glancing at Bill, he noticed that he too had a grim expression on his face.
`What's wrong?' he asked the concern evident in his voice.
Hermione and Ron shared a long look with one another. Neither replied.
`I said, what's wrong?' he repeated.
He realised that Hermione wouldn't meet his eye and that Ron looked as if he would rather be anywhere else right at this moment. Finally, his red-haired friend managed a response.
`Hermione got bitten.'
It took a moment for this to register. `Bitten? Bitten by what?'
To Harry's growing irritation, Ron looked away. `Would someone mind telling me what is going on?' he added. There was more than a hint of anger in his voice as he asked this.
Surprisingly it was Bill who answered.
`By Fenrir Greyback,' he said quietly.
It took a few seconds for the implications of this news to sink in. Once more he felt his surroundings enclose him, almost suffocate him as he tried to deal with this dreadful news. Finally, he turned to Hermione who still would not look him in the eye.
`Hermione?' he said softly. `Look at me, Hermione,' he added. He waited a few moments until finally she turned to face him and his heart nearly broke in his chest when he saw the look of despair on her face. He noticed that she was covering her right arm with her left, almost as if trying to protect him from this awful truth. He crouched down beside the bed and looked her straight in the eye as he gently moved her arm so he could see the wound. When he glanced at the afflicted arm he saw an angry red tear in her skin and he felt a surge of rage as he contemplated the pain of his friend. He turned to face her.
`Are you sure it was Greyback?' he asked softly. He realised that she was still avoiding his gaze. He gently placed his fingers under her chin and lifted her head so she could not avoid him.
`Are you sure it was Greyback?' he repeated. `When did he bite you?'
He saw the fear in her eyes before she replied. `I don't know, Harry. I never realised I had been bitten until after you had defeated Voldemort. It was only when Ron spotted the blood on my arm that I realised something was wrong.' She paused, gathering her thoughts. `I remember hitting him with a Blasting spell at one point but nothing else about him. The fight was so intense; I had no idea what was going on most of the time. Ron and Neville brought him down in the Great Hall...'
`But no one has found him yet' finished Ron in a small voice.
Harry considered her words. `So we don't now for sure that it was Greyback who bit you?' he asked. `It could have been anything?' he continued, hope in his voice. Bill killed that hope dead.
`We know, Harry. There is no doubt that is a werewolf bite. And no doubt it was Greyback. I recognise the scent. I can still smell him now. There is no doubt at all,' he concluded and Harry realised that Bill Weasley would know all about this sort of thing. He made to reply but Bill evidently wasn't finished.
`As I was just explaining to Hermione, the real question at stake is whether or not Greyback was transformed when she was bitten,' continued the elder Weasley sibling. `Unfortunately, she doesn't know. Greyback was seen in both forms tonight and a lot depends on what form he was in when he bit her.' He looked at Harry expectantly after saying this. Harry didn't disappoint.
`How could he have been seen in both forms? He's either in werewolf form or he's not?' The confusion in his voice was evident. "Besides, it's not a full moon tonight, so how could he been fully transformed?'
`I don't know, Harry' replied Bill softly. `I do know that I saw him in human form and when I spoke to Remus earlier he was adamant that he saw him transformed. That was before…' Bill tailed off, his eyes misty.
Harry closed his eyes knowing that Bill didn't need to finish the sentence. Before he was killed. And he realised that Moony would have known Greyback in either form; there could be no doubt, however impossible it seemed. That led him to another question and he found himself cursing his ignorance.
`What difference does his form make?' he asked. He heard Hermione sigh and when he turned to face her he saw her roll her eyes in an all-too familiar way. Surprisingly, the gesture made him feel more at ease.
`Did you ever listen in class, Harry?' she asked. `If a human is bitten by a werewolf in human form, the victim will only acquire some lupine tendencies. However, if the werewolf is transformed then the victim will be fully cursed.'
`And we don't know what form Greyback was in when he bit Hermione,' continued Ron.
Harry closed his eyes as he considered this new information. It occurred to him that how Greyback had managed to transform was irrelevant right now. That was something they could and would explore later. There was one thing that stood out; one obvious question that needed answered before anything else. `When's the next full moon?' he asked quietly.
`The eleventh of May,' replied Bill without hesitation. Harry had known that Bill would have the dates of each full moon engraved in his brain. He nodded.
`So we will have to wait nine days before we know the…extent of Hermione's injuries?' He saw that Hermione looked away from him as he asked this and he felt an overwhelming sense of sympathy and love for her at that moment.
`Eight,' replied Bill. He noticed Harry's confused look and sighed. `A perfect full moon only occurs when the ecliptic longitudes of the sun and the moon differ by 180 degrees, Harry. This only lasts for about a minute because the moon is constantly moving in relation to the sun. But to the human eye, the moon looks full from roughly 95% illuminated - Waxing Gibbous - to 95% the other side - Waning Gibbous. In eight days the moon will be past this point. That's when it starts to affect those who are cursed. So we will know by the tenth.
Harry wished he had spent more time listening in Astronomy because he barely understood a word Bill had said. But one thing stood out.
`Who else knows?' he finally asked.
`McGonagall and Pomfrey,' Ron replied quickly. `No one else.'
He nodded his understanding at the words and turned his attention back to his friend in the bed. He gently stroked her hair as he decided what to say next.
`This doesn't change anything, you know,' he finally managed. `This doesn't make any difference to the way Ron and I feel about you. Isn't that right, Ron?'
He glanced up and saw Ron shake himself out of a seeming trance before hastily replying.
`What? Yeah! Erm...doesn't change a thing,' he finally managed. Harry gave him a baleful look before turning back to Hermione. Once again he tilted her head so she could not avoid his gaze.
`This changes nothing,' he repeated. `Whatever happens, I - that is we - want you to know that we are here for you and that you will always be our friend. You are still you, Hermione. Nothing will ever change that - not even a bloody werewolf bite. Don't ever think we would abandon you now. Not after everything you have done for us. We'll get through this together, just like we have gotten through everything else together. Right?' He smiled softly suddenly. `Did you really think we would think any less of you for this?'
Hermione didn't reply. Instead, the tears that she had been suppressing burst forth and she threw herself into his arms and allowed herself to be comforted. He whispered soothing words into her ear as he held her and stroked her hair but he also cast a warning glance in Ron's direction. His look said it all.
You should be doing this, you pillock! You kissed this girl a couple of hours ago!
He did not know how long he held her but eventually the curtain surrounding the bed was slid across and Minerva and Poppy joined them around Hermione's bed, the latter carrying what looked like a bundle of clothes. Harry reluctantly let go of his friend and felt the same reluctance as she released him too before leaning back in her bed. He noticed McGonagall regard him with a beady look but he had seen the tenderness in her eyes before she had adopted a sterner mien. She was fooling no one but he decided to play along.
`You three will have to leave for a few minutes,' said the Acting Head-Teacher of Hogwarts. `Hermione will be spending the night in the hospital wing. She has some potions to take and she will have to get changed into more appropriate attire,' she added meaningfully.
The three males surrounding the bed took the hint immediately.
`In that case, we had better give her some privacy,' said Bill. `Come on you two; time to go.'
Harry nodded his agreement and cast a glance at Hermione. He gave her as warm a smile as he could manage as he leaned out and gently touched her arm. `Don't worry,' he began. `We'll get through this together.' He surprised them both by leaning down and gently kissing the top of her head. He did not see the softening of the expressions on the faces of Minerva and Poppy.
Hermione gave him a tremulous smile as he backed away from the bed and his heart broke as he saw what this was doing to his dearest friend. Hermione was normally so strong; the one to keep her head in a crisis and yet he knew she was really struggling to come to terms with what had happened. He gave her one last smile before slipping behind the curtain then turned his attention to Ron and Bill. He was not smiling now.
`You two come with me. We need to talk,' he said curtly as he walked towards the exit. He did not look back to see if he was being followed.
Ron and Bill shared a look before shrugging and turning to follow. It would not do to upset Harry when he was in this mood. When he had spoken to them he had done so in a voice that brooked no argument.
Besides, thought Bill. How can someone refuse an order from the man who just destroyed Voldemort?
Hermione Granger took the proffered goblet from Poppy Pomfrey and sat back in her bed as she allowed the Hogwarts nurse to treat the bite mark on her arm. She was experiencing a sense of unreality as she considered everything that had happened this fateful day - indeed; everything that had happened to her over the course of the past year. She was vaguely aware that her system was in a state of shock but for once she could not summon the will to use her reason to alleviate her distress. Quite simply; too much had happened.
She had barely begun to come to terms with the victory Harry had finally gained over Lord Voldemort when Ron had noticed the deep gash on her arm. What she had assumed to be nothing more than a nasty cut took on more sinister connotations when Poppy had originally inspected the wound. It was only when the nurse had summoned Bill Weasley to ask his opinion that she had realised that something was seriously amiss. There could only be one reason for wanting to speak to Bill.
And Bill had confirmed her worst fears. It was a werewolf bite. She felt contaminated; tainted in some way and she was trying to overcome a feeling of self-loathing that threatened to overwhelm her. She closed her eyes as the stark truth of everything hit home. I'm a werewolf. Forever cursed. Forever damned.
The only hope she clung onto at the moment was the chance that she had not been bitten when Greyback was transformed. She genuinely could not remember receiving the wound - indeed; she could not recall being within range of Greyback at any point in the battle. Only when she had blasted him off poor Lavender and he certainly hadn't bitten her then. But then, the struggle had been so intense that one was only aware of what was immediately threatening. Greyback must have nicked her as she passed him but she could not work out when this might have occurred. But this was a futile exercise anyway. Greyback had bitten her; all she could do now was wait and see.
She allowed her thoughts to consider Harry's reaction and despite her predicament a small smile formed on her face. She'd been genuinely worried. She'd felt so ashamed at the prospect of being cursed that she hadn't wanted anyone to know. Indeed; had Ron not been in attendance when Bill had confirmed Poppy's suspicions she doubted that she would have told even him. She certainly had not intended telling Harry - not after everything else he had been though. He had enough to deal with.
She closed her eyes as she remembered the horrible moment when Hagrid had appeared in front of the school with Harry's dead body in his arms. Her heart had stopped at that moment - a part of her had actually flown from her as she looked on the still form of her dearest friend. His sudden resurrection; his unlikely triumph over Voldemort was still astonishing to her and she knew he would be struggling to deal with the fact that he had just killed someone. He had enough on his plate without worrying about her and she still wanted to speak to him to find out exactly what had happened earlier. There were more than a few issues she had to take him to task about.
But his reaction had been exactly what she had needed. She knew Ron was dealing with his own issues; that he and Bill were mourning the loss of Fred and that her own needs were second to their grief. But Harry had held her so tenderly and told her exactly what she needed to hear.
This doesn't change anything, you know… We'll get through this together.
A simple declaration and yet one that made all the difference.
Whatever happens, I'm not alone.
She had Ron and she had Harry and so long as that remained true she knew she could deal with whatever was to come.
Ron Weasley quietly closed the door of the Transfiguration classroom behind him and turned to Harry, a questioning look on his face. He saw too that Bill had a similar expression of curiosity. Harry must have noticed their bemusement for his stern look suddenly vanished and he smiled ruefully at them both.
`I'm sorry, lads. I know you have enough to be dealing with just now.'
Ron noticed his expression soften as he said this and he knew Harry was thinking about Fred - something he still had to deal with himself, he knew. `So what is it then? Why do you want to speak to us?' he asked, still curious about Harry's motives for bringing them here.
Harry took a deep breath, almost as if he was trying to answer that question himself. `I guess I just wanted more information. I'm not really sure what all of this means.'
`We won't know exactly what we face until the full moon, Harry,' said Bill. `It really all depends on whether or not Greyback was transformed. He was in human form when he attacked me and - apart from the scars - you wouldn't think anything was wrong with me.'
`There is nothing wrong with you!' exclaimed Harry. `There's nothing wrong with Hermione either!'
Bill looked on him sadly. `Harry? These sentiments do you credit; they really do. But there is something wrong with me - and Hermione. We have been bitten by a werewolf! This isn't a minor affliction; it is a big deal and unless you can accept that you will never be able to appreciate what she is going to be facing. You have to understand this; not everyone is as enlightened as you when it comes to werewolves. You saw the sort of life Remus was forced to live. It's not so bad for me but if Hermione is fully cursed, she will have to deal with all sorts of prejudice and discrimination. The fact that she is a Muggle-born won't help either. She's doubly damned to some people.'
`She's not damned!'
`I never said she was Harry. I said that is how some people will look on her.' Bill paused and waited for these words to sink in. `I'm not the enemy here, Harry,' he added quietly.
Harry looked at his feet. `I know, Bill. I'm sorry. It's just…so much to deal with. It's just not fair!' He looked back up at them, his hands balled into fists by his side. `She has been through so much; done so much for me and Ron and now this?' He turned away and Ron knew that it was so no one would see him fighting the tears.
A long silence followed this outburst and Ron shared a look with his brother. It was some time before anyone spoke.
`So it's just us three, McGonagall and Pomfrey who know?' asked Harry as he turned to face them again.
`Good. We need to make sure it stays that way,' Harry continued. He saw the looks of protest forming on the faces of the two men in front of him. `Look; I know people will have to be informed sooner or later, but I think that is for Hermione to decide. She calls the shots on this; right?'
`Right,' replied Bill. Ron became aware that Harry was expecting an answer from him too. `Yeah; right,' he finally managed.
Harry gave him a long look. `Bill? Do you think you could give us a few moments alone?' he asked quietly.
Bill looked surprised by the question. `S…s…sure,' he replied, casting a glance from one to the other. `I'll pop back up to see Hermione. She might have some more questions for me.'
Harry smiled, despite the seriousness of the situation. `She will; no doubt about that. She's always got questions.'
Bill acknowledged this observation with a smile of his own before turning and slipping out of the room. Ron watched him go before turning to his friend. It was only then that he noticed the fierce look in Harry's eyes.
`What is the matter with you?' Harry snapped.
`What are you talking about?' asked Ron, genuinely perplexed.
`I'm talking about the fact that your girlfriend needs you right now and as far as I can see you haven't even offered her a hug. She is your girlfriend; right? That kiss did mean something?' Harry's tone was scathing; his words lashing Ron like a whip.
`Of course it meant something!' exclaimed Ron, anger in his voice. `I'm just struggling to deal with it all, OK? Yes I want her to be my girlfriend! What does that have to do with anything?'
`It has everything to do with it,' replied Harry, his voice softer now that he had seen Ron's indignation; his obvious distress and anger. He took a breath before continuing. `She needs you, Ron. Right now she needs you more than anyone. You have to put your own feelings aside - even your feelings for Fred. Do you understand that? You will have time to grieve later - she doesn't have that luxury. She has no one else. Her parents are in Australia and we are all she has got. You are her boyfriend. Go to her. Go right now and just be there for her. Please?'
Ron noticed that his voice had cracked as he made the appeal and he felt suddenly ashamed of himself for putting his own feelings before Hermione's. This must be hell on earth for her he realised. He hardened his expression and gave Harry a firm nod.
`You're right. I'm sorry. I'll go to her now. Are you coming?'
Harry shook his head. `She knows I'm here when she needs me. Right now she needs you; I'll just get in the way. Go on; go to her. I'll see you later.'
Ron nodded his agreement and headed for the door. He opened it and slipped through but before he closed it behind him he took one last glance into the classroom. Harry had slumped on to a desk, his head in his hands and Ron could hear him sobbing quietly.
He closed the door quickly and headed for the hospital wing. He felt uncomfortable, almost as if he had just intruded on some private grief. He shook his head and willed himself to be strong. He knew he had not always been a reliable friend in the past - indeed; his actions in the tent during the past winter were evidence of that.
But not this time. Harry's right; she needs me right now and I'm going to be there for her.
Hermione glanced up as the curtain surrounding her bed slid open and Ron strode in before pulling it behind him and sitting in the seat next to her. She had been talking to Bill and was more grateful than she could convey that he was taking the time to explain to her everything that he thought she needed to know about dealing with a werewolf bite. She diverted her gaze from Ron back to Bill as he stood to leave.
`I'll leave you to it. I really need to see my wife,' he said with a soft smile.
Hermione smiled her gratitude. She knew that the Weasleys had their own personal tragedy to deal with and yet here was Bill trying to comfort her. Fleur was an extremely lucky woman to have such a man.
But I have my own Weasley, she thought to herself as she turned to Ron. She smiled at him but found herself having to force it as she suddenly realised that Ron was alone.
`Where's Harry?' she asked.
Ron looked a little put out at the question but recovered. `He thought…er, that is…he reckoned that we might want some time alone. You know…because…because…'
`Because we kissed?' she finished for him.
Ron reddened. `Yeah. That.'
Hermione rolled her eyes. Trust Harry. Even now; even after everything he has done he is still thinking about others. It must be his saving people thing.
`Who's with him?' she finally asked.
`Er…no one,' replied Ron.
She sat up straighter in her bed at this revelation. `No one?' she blurted, the incredulity evident in her voice. `You can't leave him on his own! Not after everything he's been through.'
Surprisingly, Ron smiled. `I guess that is exactly what he thinks about you right now. He said to say that he's there if you need him but he reckoned…well; he reckoned we might want to be alone for now.'
She shook her head in disbelief. `He's been through too much today - he needs someone to keep an eye on him. Go to him, Ron; I'll be fine.'
Ron shook his head. `Not a chance, Hermione. Harry will be fine. In fact; I reckon he wants to be alone right now,' he added as he remembered the figure of despair that Harry had cut as he had left the classroom. No; Harry won't want to see anyone until he's ready.
Hermione accepted this remark at face value, knowing that Ron knew more than he was letting on. She regarded him fondly, knowing how difficult this was for him too. `How are you?' she asked tentatively. `I mean; after…Fred and everything…"
Ron looked at her sadly for a long moment. `I'll be OK. I'll deal with Fred later; right now I'm more concerned about you. Look after the living, right? The dead can look after themselves.'
She noticed how his voice cracked as he said this and despite her own feelings of despair she leaned forward and gave him a hug. To her surprise, he didn't hesitate in reciprocating the gesture and they remained tight in each others arms for a long time. Finally, they broke apart and Ron gazed at her intensely, his eyes moist.
`Harry's right,' he said after a pause. `We are here for you; I'm here for you. You won't have to face this alone,' he added, his voice thick with emotion.
She nodded her gratitude at his words. Nodded her gratitude and embraced him again in order to hide the sudden realisation that had struck her.
Somehow, when Ron said those words of comfort, they did not carry the same weight and sincerity as when Harry had said them. She didn't know what that meant and realised that she was probably reading too much into things. She felt Ron hold her again and decided just to be grateful for the comfort he was offering her.Document created with wvWare/wvWare version 1.2.7