The Sugar Quill
Author: Tartan Faeries  Story: Midnight  Chapter: Default
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Harry Potter rolled over onto his side. Catching his watch face in a translucent ray of light, he read the time to be just past midnight. Lying flat on his back, he half-listened to Ron’s shallow breathing from just above him. The Burrow sat in pensive silence; even the ghoul seemed expectant that night. Harry sighed, straining to keep himself from lapsing back into his usual train of thought, fuelled by guilt, remorse, and though he hated to admit it, fear.

 Harry was afraid. Afraid of a future that had never looked blacker, a future stained with darkness-a future of Voldemort Harry shuddered as one by one the images returned to him: Cedric’s body, his mother, his father, and those eyes, those pitiless eyes, eyes the colour of blood . He screwed his own eyes up against them; willing himself unsuccessfully onto other thoughts.

 After a feverish moment Harry stood silently and left Ron’s room. He padded slowly down the stairs until he reached the door to the living room. He rested his hand on the doorknob and twisted it gently, the cold smoothness beneath his palm calming him slightly.

 The embers of a dying fire glowed amber in the Weasley’s grate. Harry hesitated. Before he’d had a chance to think, something shifted in the darkness. He reached immediately for his wand heart thumping uncontrollably in his ears.

 “Oh! Oh, Harry, it’s you!” breathed Hermione in relief moving a lit candle into greater prominence. Harry exhaled a deep breath he hadn’t known he was holding. Hand trembling slightly he returned his wand to his pocket. Hermione rubbed her eyes, clearly having fallen asleep on the old squishy sofa. She shifted to make room for him, Harry collapsed shakily onto the cushions. Neither spoke for a while.

 “I couldn’t sleep either,” said Hermione gently. “I was just sitting, thinking…I must have drifted off.”

 Harry nodded, unable to think what to say. Talking had never been his forte, these days he was satisfied with just listening. Hermione understood this and was not perturbed by his lack of response. She  hardly dared imagine what he must be going through. Her chest tightened as she began to recall her own memories of that night. The red sparks against the black sky…Viktor Krum staggering out of the maze assisted by Professors Snape and McGonagall…her grip on Ron’s arm tightening…the horrifying  shrieks as Harry appeared, the corpse of Cedric Diggory in tow.

 She looked at Harry. It simply wasn’t fair. No one should have to go through an ordeal such as Harry had. No fourteen year old should have to shoulder the burden that he did and no-ones eyes should be hardened to the world, hiding misery of such a devastating scale. No one, she thought harshly.

 It is my belief we are facing dark and difficult times…” Hermione closed her eyes as she recalled Dumbledores words. A  lump of anxiety sat stiffly in the pit of her stomach. She remembered the worry in her parents’ eyes as she had hugged them goodbye. She had to be strong, for them, for Harry – no matter how hard it was.

 “Feels odd,” muttered Harry, legs drawn up to his chest, one hand clutched in his hair. Hermione bit her lip leaving him to continue.

 “I mean…s’not really our house is it?” he asked a half-question. Hermione was surprised by the remark. For a swift moment her thoughts returned to her own house in the Muggle world. She cast them aside and mulled what Harry had said.

 “House isn’t the same as home Harry,” she reflected softly. To her, the Burrow had become as much home as her parent’s house. She knew Harry would feel the same, however guilty he may have felt about it. This guilt was an almost subconscious result of Ron and Harry’s fight of last year, the open revelation of Ron’s envy. Hermione despaired of them both, despite having no doubt in their deep affection for each other.

 Harry sighed. He stared into the orange embers unblinkingly until a film of wavering wetness blurred his vision. He blinked vigorously.

 It wasn’t that he felt uncomfortable at the Burrow, far from it, being there filled a huge void in his life. It was the next best thing to being back at Hogwarts. He loved the bustle of the large family, the echo of activity and laughter. He loved being able to talk about Quidditch, to laugh along with everyone at the twin’s antics, to have Mrs Weasley fuss over how much he ate. He loved belonging. But he couldn’t escape the fact that he had had a family of his very own, parents who loved him, parents  whose voices haunted his nightmares as he heard them trying in vain to protect him from the fate to which they themselves had succumbed.  Parents who he knew he would never know. The familiar ache gnawed at his stomach, so much so he wanted to cry out loud the anguish welling up inside him. He rested his throbbing head on his knees. A moment later he was surprised to feel an unfamiliar pressure between his shoulder blades. On closer inspection this turned out to be Hermione’s hand.

 The simple gesture was all at one innocuous, comforting, and meant more than any words Hermione could have uttered, no matter how well chosen.

 Slowly Harry straightened up and met Hermione’s gaze, which was steady and true.

 “I’m here.” She said simply and gently. Harry smiled slightly.

 “Thanks Hermione.” She took her hand away again squeezing his shoulder briefly.

 “Have you heard from Sirius?” she asked.

 “Only briefly. He’s still at Prof…Lupin’s,” said Harry.

“Hermione…” he asked after a pregnant pause.

“Hmm?”

“Have you told your parents? About all that’s going on?” Hermione pressed her lips together then closed her eyes briefly.

 “Yes I have – they didn’t want me to come back for a while. I begged them though, it’s awful living like this, in two separate worlds…they’re scared Harry.” She finished, her voice cracking. Harry looked at her as she blinked back tears.

 “So am I.” She added softly, almost as an afterthought.

 “Dark and Difficult times,” said Harry, repeating Dumbledores words. The silence that followed was filled with thoughts, thoughts ballooning, swelling and enveloping the dimly lit room.

 “What did you do with Rita?” he asked suddenly, shoulders straightening. Hermione bit her lip ruefully.

 “Well…oh Harry she’s still in the jar!” she fought back a guilty giggle.

 “Really?”

“Yes! I just…need to be sure she won’t  be able to get at anyone for a while.”

“Hermione! You’re not going to…” he let the question hang.

“Oh?! Oh! Goodness no. I’ll find a humane way.”

She laughed out loud at the open expression of disappointment on her friends face. They smiled at each other.

“What about a certain Bulgarian Quidditch star?” he asked slyly. Hermione pinkened and fidgeted slightly, becoming very interested in her fingers clasped agitatedly in her lap. Harry waited.

 “Well, ah, I didn’t go to Bulgaria,” she half-whispered.

 “Can I ask why?”

“Oh I suppose so. I just…my priorities are here Harry. And I don’t feel anything for Viktor except good friendship.” Harry pretended not to notice her eyes flickering up to the stairs to Ron’s room almost wistfully.

 “Does Ron know?” he asked tentatively. Hermione flushed.

 “Know!? Know what? Oh! Er…no. No he doesn’t.” she said ruefully. Harry fought back a smile.

 A glance at his watch told him that nearly half an hour had passed. His heart, he noticed, felt somewhat lighter than it had in a while.

 The door behind them creaked open suddenly and Harry jerked to an abrupt attention. Hermione herself started and both turned to the door. Ron stood there, silhouetted in the moonlight, donned in paisley pyjamas and looking very tousle haired. He looked at his friends, an eyebrow raised. Yawning he spoke.

 “This a private party?”

 “Not at all,” said Hermione blushing. Ron wandered into the room and flopped down into Mr Weasley’s usual armchair by the fire.

 “Almost like Hogwarts,” he commented absently. Harry knew what he meant. His thoughts travelled back to numerous nights spent in the common room; nights of laughter, last minute Divination homework, heated Quidditch discussion. Those nights had seemed a million miles away in the last few weeks. Sitting here though, with Ron and Hermione, transformed the memories into something to hold on to, something tangible. Harry’s gaze returned to the glowing embers.

 The silence that followed was comfortable, the one that comes with years of friendship and a deep trust. Harry settled back into the sofa, content to just stay there all night. His eyelids drooped and he suppressed a wide yawn.

 A light grunting noise made him sit up. Ron was covering his silent laughter with his hand. Harry look over at Hermione. Her head had lolled onto her left shoulder, her mouth slightly open. She was sound asleep. Harry’s lips twitched as she continued to snore softly.

 “That exciting was it?” mouthed Ron grinning. Harry shrugged returning the grin. He moved from the cushions to the armchair opposite Ron’s so not to wake her.

 “She’s got a lot on her mind,” he said quietly as means of explanation. He glanced fondly at the bushy head, hair obscuring her face. He looked at Ron who was staring at Hermione also but with an oddly soft expression on his face. Harry cleared his throat. Ron blinked stupidly, his ears rapidly colouring.

 “Don’t we all.” He muttered darkly glaring into the fire.

 “Can you believe Percy?” he asked in a tone of disgust. Harry bit his lip awkwardly. He didn’t know what to say to Ron about his older brothers behaviour. Percy rarely at the Burrow anymore, preferred to stay at work to avoid the confrontation he seemed to spark off whenever he was home. Deeply shocked at his father’s insistent work against Cornelius Fudge, Percy’s sense of self-importance and moral superiority was rubbing everyone up the wrong way. Upon hearing the news of the innocence of Sirius Black Percy had refused point blank to accept the truth, leaving Mr Weasley irate and Ron furious.

 “He’s just…” Harry trailed off, unsure of how to finish his sentence.

 “Yeah,” Ron mumbled.

 “Anyway, what should we do about her?” asked Harry in an attempt to cheer Ron up, indicating Hermione.

 “Take a picture?” he suggested wryly. Harry grinned.

 “Send it into the Daily Prophet…Rita Skeeter’s intrepid capturer after a hard day’s work.” Ron laughed, then stood up and stretched. Harry followed suit and headed for the door. He turned to Ron.

 “Coming?” he asked.

“Yeah in a minute,” he said absently, running his hands through his hair in an uncanny resemblance to his father. Harry shrugged and headed upstairs, no longer afraid of thinking.

 Ron stood silently for a moment, staring into space. Yawning, he reached for the blanket that covered the back of the armchair. He held it for a moment lost in thought. Sighing, he gently lay the blanket down over Hermione’s Hermiones sleeping form. In the process he knocked over a magazine from the arm of the sofa. He knelt to pick it up. He chuckled at the cover of Arithmancy Today  and he raised his gaze to Hermione’s  half hidden face.

 “Oh, Hermione,” he whispered replacing the magazine to it’s place. His hand hovered slightly and tentatively he rested it on her shoulder, absently stroking her hair. He moved it away suddenly, regaining his composure.

 “Goodnight…” he said softly, blowing out the candle and turning to leave. As the door closed Hermione smiled briefly in her sleep.

//
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