Friday morning brought a fine mist from the north, making the day much cooler than normal for most July days. The moisture in the air was enough to make Hermione’s already frizzy hair bushier than ever and she had to tame it with two large red and gold clips. She clasped her hands tightly in front of her, her knuckles turning white. Ron watched her; the black skirt she wore hung just below her knees and her black sandals showed off her perfectly clipped toenails, shiny with clear nail polish. For some reason, Ron’s eyes focused on the crumpled grass underneath her sandals, trying desperately to not think of anything and failing completely.
Right after sun-up they had Apparated to a deserted house in Godric’s Hollow. The house was eerily clean; there wasn’t any dust or grime or cobwebs.
‘Could be Perma-Dust,’ Hermione had said. ‘Keeps dust away for a lifetime. Though, I suspect it really only lasts a few years. Besides –’ Here, she took a giant breath, letting it out unsteadily.
Hermione shook her head, her lips pressed tightly together. She turned away from him, but not before Ron could see the glassy look of her eyes and the way she rapidly blinked back her tears.
Now they both stood on the hillside; the mist had turned to a drizzle and Hermione Transfigured a dandelion into an umbrella as her eyes looked down, where the land stopped sloping and became flat. Almost the entirety of the bottom of the hill was covered with bouquets of enchanted flowers and plants, letters and cards, and gifts wrapped up in paper.
A strange sort of flapping sound came from Ron’s left. Fluttering in the breeze was an issue of the Daily Prophet. Ron left Hermione’s side and the shelter of the umbrella and walked over to the tree where the black-and-white pages were hitting its trunk. He bent down and picked it up. The pages were wet and stuck together but Ron managed to pry them apart to find the front page. July 10th. Three weeks ago.
TRAGEDY ENDS HERE: VOLDEMORT DEFEATED, WAR IS OVER
The article was complete with a list of every witch and wizard who fought in that last battle. Ron’s eyes sought out his own name where it was printed after Harry’s and before Hermione’s. Then there was a list of all casualties with dates and circumstances. Three pages of lists. Ron’s stomach fell and bile rose to the back of his throat.
The summer before he was a sixth-year, several people were killed by Death Eaters, including a couple Order members. The summer before what would have been his seventh year was much the same, a sprinkling of names every couple of weeks, tragic ‘accidents’ that ended with the Dark Mark in the air above dead bodies. But once the school year hit, everything changed. The murder rate went from a few times a month to a several times a week. No one was safe; everybody was a target. In order to stay sane, Ron had to force himself not to think of his family. He dreamt of oversleeping and missing the final battle only to find that he was left alone, his entire family and Harry dead, and Hermione nowhere to be found.
Those were only dreams, though, and he figured Hermione and Harry had nightmares of their own.
From the back pocket of his trousers, Ron pulled out his wand and Vanished the newspaper. He rubbed his eyes and wanted to hex himself for not being strong enough yet to be back here. The past year, Ron had forced himself not to take things too far with Hermione. A few stolen kisses, touches, and hugs, but their focus had been on Harry, the Horcruxes, and helping to end the war. It was a focus that took all of their time and energy and it ended here, at Godric’s Hollow.
‘Are you all right?’ Hermione asked.
Ron turned his head to look at her. Her fingers twirled the handle of the umbrella and that glassy look in her eyes returned.
‘I’m fine,’ he lied. He tilted his head back and looked up towards the sky. It was grey and the clouds were thick. Three weeks â€" it had only been three weeks since the war officially ended, since Voldemort was killed by Harry. The wizarding government was struggling to survive without a headquarters, but they had managed to organise the massive funeral for today. All the Muggles in the town had suddenly been struck by the bizarre need to visit out-of-town relatives. The entire area had been cast with protective charms and anti-Muggle security. Only family and friends were invited to the funerals; the Ministry knew that otherwise Godric’s Hollow would be swarmed with witches and wizards wanting to pay their respects for those who gave their lives in order to make the wizarding world a safer place.
‘It’s all right if you aren’t.’ Hermione extended her hand as though to touch him, but paused. Her hand dropped back down by her side and she continued to twirl the umbrella.
‘I thought I was feeling a bit better about all this rot and now we’re, y’know, here and in twenty minutes we have to go sit – and there’s all those coffins and stuff.’
Hermione smiled lightly.
‘I wasn’t making sense, was I?’
‘You were. This is where we watched our friends die. Order members. Have you given more thought to speaking at the funerals?’
Ron shook his head.
‘Harry said –‘
‘I don’t give a shit what Harry said,’ snapped Ron. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean – I don’t want to fight.’
‘I don’t want to fight, either,’ said Hermione. She reached her hand out again, but this time took hold of his upper arm and pulled Ron towards her. The umbrella fell on the ground as Hermione wrapped both arms around Ron, giving him a hard hug. ‘Today’s going to be the hardest day. After that things will get better. I’m here for you. Always.’
Ron paused for a moment before returning the embrace. His chin rested on top of Hermione’s frizzy head and he breathed in the scent of her shampoo, wishing they could just stand here like this until the funerals were over.
Suddenly, Ron heard a distinctive pop and opened his eyes. Ginny had Portkeyed a few metres behind Hermione. She looked older, like a woman, even though she was still only sixteen.
‘Hi,’ she said. Her smile was forced and her eyes betrayed her; they looked lost and sad.
‘Hi, Ginny,’ said Hermione. ‘Where’s your mum?’
‘She’s coming in a bit with Professor McGonagall. Since –’ Ginny swallowed and wet her lips before beginning again. ‘Since the Minister asked us to sit in the front rows ‘cause we were there – at the battle – well, Mum just reckons she’d come and find someone to sit with.’
‘How’s she doing this morning?’ asked Hermione, reaching down to pick up the umbrella as the rain started to fall down a bit harder again. ‘Do you want me to Transfigure you one?’
‘No, I’ll do it.’ Ginny picked up a fallen tree branch and waved her wand at it, turning it into an umbrella. The handle was knobbly and crooked, but it did its job keeping the rain off. ‘Mum’s all right. She’s better than I was when I woke up. I don’t want to do this.’
‘Neither do I,’ grumbled Ron.
‘Sit next to us,’ said Hermione.
‘Tonks told me to sit with her and Lupin. Gave me full permission to cry into his shoulder if I had to. She’s much stronger than I am.’
‘I don’t think it’s strength,’ said Hermione softly. ‘She hasn’t lost the same as you have.’ She looked at Ron. ‘Or you. She’s lost, for certain, but she’s older and the loss is different.’
‘I don’t want to talk about this. Let’s just get down there.’
Ron began walking down the hill with Hermione and Ginny closely behind. They passed all the flowers and gifts that had been left as offerings earlier in the week and made their way towards the small lake in the middle of Godric’s Hollow. There were rows and rows of white chairs, half of which were already occupied. In front of the chairs, also in neat rows, were fifteen stone coffins, each with crests carved in the tops. A faint whispering was caught on the wind; Ron could hear some people talking and others crying. In one of the chairs in the front row sat someone with a mess of black hair.
‘What’re you doing?’ Ginny asked.
Ron looked down at his feet. He had stopped walking several feet in front of the chairs. Hermione took his hand and entwined their fingers.
‘You’re getting yourself wet,’ she whispered. She took her wand and tapped him on top of his head. Immediately he felt his hair and clothes dry. Hermione lifted the umbrella up a bit higher so it would cover his head. ‘What’s wrong? We need to go sit down.’
‘I thought I saw –’
‘Who?’ said Ginny. ‘Harry?’
‘Ron,’ said Hermione very slowly, ‘Harry isn’t coming.’
‘I know, but he said –‘
‘Let’s go,’ said Ginny. ‘I see Lupin and Tonks up there with Tonks’ dad.’
She pushed past her brother and Ron watched her walk down the aisle and sit next to Lupin. Tonks’ hair was still mousey brown, but Ron wasn’t sure whether she wasn’t morphing because she couldn’t or from some request made by Lupin for her to be ‘normal.’
Ron let Hermione lead him towards the front row of chairs. She sat him down and kept her hand in his while holding the umbrella over him so he wouldn’t get wet. Everything felt off; nothing felt right. The sniffling and crying sounds grew louder as more people came to the funeral site. Ron didn’t want to turn around and look. He hoped his mother was there, though, with Professor McGonagall. Even though she could be stern and strict, McGonagall had a warm heart and hopefully would be able to soothe his mum.
His family was in shambles. Those who weren’t dead were still in St Mungo’s. And looking at those coffins, Ron felt sick. He didn’t know who was in which coffin and the idea that someone he used to laugh with and love was now lying there, eyes closed, body stiff, made him want to cry.
The Minister for Magic stood up on the podium and raised his arms in the air to ask for silence. He looked exhausted, as though he hadn’t slept in days. His voice was hoarse and dry.
‘For the past few years our world has been plagued by evil. Three weeks ago, one brave boy set out to fulfil a prophecy and killed He Who Shall Not Be Named. Sitting in these two front rows are the brave witches and wizards who fought alongside that boy. Behind me, are the brave ones who were killed during battle. Their deaths haven’t been in vain! Every year we will celebrate July tenth as a day to rejoice in our freedom. You no longer have to live in fear for your lives or the lives of your loved ones!’
‘I can’t listen to this,’ Ron said quietly. Each word the Minister said constricted Ron’s chest a little bit more until he felt as though he was suffocating. It felt as if there was a wad of cotton in his mouth and swallowing became a challenge.
Hermione squeezed his hand as the Minister continued. The small gesture calmed him, but then the Minster began to read a list of names of all those who were killed by Death Eaters. He began with names from the 1970s, went through Lily and James Potter, but when he said ‘Sirius Black’ and ‘Albus Dumbledore’ Ron felt himself lose that calm.
‘I can’t listen to this,’ he said again and stood up, walking very quickly past all the rows of chairs and towards the hill where the house was. Eyes followed him leaving, but Ron shrugged off the stares, not caring what any of those people thought of him. One of the magical flowers reached its leaves out and grabbed hold of the cuff of his trousers and Ron stumbled.
‘Fuck!’ he snarled, kicking the vase of flowers over.
His head snapped back and he saw Hermione coming forward, her hair still a frizzy mess. The umbrella wasn’t in her hand so her shirt was beginning to stick to her like a second skin. Her round face turned up to look at him. Ron couldn’t stand to look at her, not now. He didn’t want to look at anything. His feet took him to a nearby tree where he practically fell to the ground. The bark was rough as he pressed his back to it. Hermione came to him, knelt in front of him, and put her hands on either side of his face, forcing him to look at her.
His name off her tongue was like a kiss, her lips puckering together as she pronounced the R.
‘Stay here,’ he whispered, feeling the drops of tears down his cheeks. ‘Until it’s over.’
‘You don’t want to leave?’
‘I do. I just don’t think you’d let me.’
Hermione grinned. ‘I wouldn’t. I think you need to see the tombs once the coffins are charmed underground and read the names.’
‘What about the Muggles? Won’t they notice a new cemetery?’
‘Tombs are only visible to witches and wizards,’ answered Hermione. She sat down on the wet ground, looping her arm through Ron’s and resting her head on his shoulder. ‘Remember Dumbledore’s funeral? You held me and told me everything would be okay in the end? It’s my turn to say those things now. You’ve been strong for me all year long.’
‘You don’t need to say that, Hermione.’ Ron put his arm around her shoulders. Having her close to him like that only made the need to cry all that more apparent. He missed his family and friends, but he was more grateful that Hermione was next to him, alive, with hardly a scar left from the war. That gratefulness made him feeling guilty, as though he was betraying the memory of everyone who had died.
He let a few more tears fall and just waited for the end of the Minister’s speech. Several people were supposed to speak today, and it felt as if they waited for hours, just sitting in silence, waiting for everything to end. After being there, by the tree, for a while, everything turned a bit hazy and Ron’s eyes fogged over.
Ron opened his eyes. ‘Whazzit?’
‘You dozed off. Everyone’s gone. Do you want to go back now? The tombs are up.’
Ron shook his head, but stood up anyways, knowing Hermione would make him go back no matter what. Sometime during his light nap, the rain had stopped. Hermione waved her wand at him, drying his clothes and Vanishing the dirt on his trousers. They walked back silently and Ron felt that same suffocating feeling as he looked at the fifteen white stones in front of him. He went to the first one and read all the names to himself, knowing that once he got to the end he and Hermione could both Apparate back to The Burrow.
Dedalus Diggle; Hestia Jones; Alastor Moody; Andromeda Tonks; Severus Snape; Kingsley Shacklebolt; Luna Lovegood; Ernie Macmillan; Rubeus Hagrid; Aberforth Dumbledore; Arthur Weasley; Charlie Weasley; Fred Weasley; Percy Weasley…
Ron got to the last tomb and felt the anger in him rise. He turned his back on it.
‘Let’s go,’ he said to Hermione.
She nodded and Apparated with a loud crack! Ron followed, leaving behind him the fifteen tombs, the last one reading, Harry Potter.