A/N: "Friends in your life are like the pillars on your front porch. Sometimes they hold you up - sometimes they lean on you."
I'd like to thank my awesome beta Drusilla. J What would I do without her?
Forgot the disclaimer, here it is: I own nothing. I'm only adding to a wonderful world created by JK.
The flame of the yellowing candle flickered briefly as an unseen breeze rippled through the room. Putting down her quill and the parchment on which she was writing, she turned around. Most would look in on the scene and say nobody was there, that it had been her imagination, but she knew better.
"Harry, what are you doing down here?"
"I could ask you the same thing, Hermione," he said as he took off the Cloak that had been a lifesaver throughout the past year. She gestured for him to sit down next to her at the kitchen table. He obeyed before he continued speaking. "It's nearly two o'clock in the morning. While my being up at this time of night is nothing out of the ordinary, it is unusual for you." He was right, of course. Very rarely was she ever up this late, excluding their hunt for the Horcruxes.
Her mother had always told her, 'Early to bed and early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise.' She sighed. It had been a full year since she had last seen her parents and they were the very reason she was up so late on this particular night. She looked at Harry; he was waiting patiently for her response. Hermione remembered how much experience Harry had had with waiting. He had waited for ten years for someone to rescue him from Privet Drive, whilst enduring constant abuse from his only living relatives. Every summer he had waited until he could go to The Burrow or back to Hogwarts. After each horrible event, whether it was being shunned by almost the entire school during his second year or learning about the terrible prophecy in his fifth, he waited for Ron and Hermione to abandon him; he was so used to feeling unworthy of friendship or human kindness. However, they never had. They had had their fair share of arguments, but it had never broken their bond. Even after all they had been through together, they still remained the best of friends.
That's not to say he's perfect, she reminded herself. He did have a habit of blowing up at people and could be extraordinarily stubborn. Underneath it all, however, he was a good person and a true friend.
She finally spoke.
"I'm writing to Kingsley to see if he can help me track down my parents in Australia."
"Ah, I see," he said, his green eyes twinkling. "That might be a bit difficult, since a certain witch cast a powerful memory charm on them."
He got up from the table and walked over to the cupboard, pulling out two worn cups. "Hot chocolate?" he asked her. She nodded, getting up to help him. He boiled some water and took out the container of hot chocolate mix from the pantry. She put the mix in the cups and he poured the water in. She stirred both of them, while Harry searched through the pantry for something. A few moments later, he emerged with a bottle of honey clutched in his hand. Unscrewing the cap, he took a whiff and smiled before adding a dollop of the thick, golden liquid to each cup. "Ginny loves hot chocolate with a little bit of honey," he explained when he saw her puzzled look. "She got me hooked on it, too."
They sat down again at the table, taking occasional sips of their warm treat. It was nice, she thought to herself, to be able to sit down and just enjoy each other's presence without worrying about Horcruxes, Death Eaters, or Voldemort.
"They'll find them, Hermione," he continued. "Because the brightest witch in a century is looking for them, too."
Tears welled up in her eyes. That was another wonderful thing about Harry: he was incredibly earnest.
She got up from her chair and hugged him with all her might, trying to make up for all the hugs he never got when he was growing up. A slight hiss in pain from him caused her to jump back.
"I'm sorry, Hermione. It's not you." His face was contorted in a grimace.
"Harry, what's the matter?" she asked. He shook his head stubbornly, not wanting to tell her. "Don't make me get Ginny down here," she threatened. He looked at her curiously.
"I might be, but do you really want to the take chance if I'm not?"
"Fine, you win," he conceded. He unbuttoned his pyjama top, blushing as he did so and then put it aside.
"Oh, Harry," she admonished gently. "Didn't you go to Madam Pomfrey?"
"She was busy; besides, I'm fine," he argued.
"Oh, yes, you're just fine. That's why even a hug hurts you."
Spreading across his chest was a terrible, large bruise. It was bright purple and had swelled quite considerably. Surrounding it were other smaller bruises and some scrapes. She slowly took out her wand and started murmuring some Healing incantations. The smaller bruises and scrapes vanished, but the huge one remained. She tried some anti-swelling spells, which helped slightly but not enough. "It's no use. It's just going to have go down on its own. Is that where the…." she trailed off.
"Killing Curse hit me? Yeah," he finished for her as he put his shirt back on, hiding the bruise from view.
For the second time that night, tears started to well up in her eyes, except this time they weren't tears of shock and gratitude, but tears of horror at the memory of Harry's lifeless body. "It was horrible. It was horrible to see you like that. As soon as I heard McGonagall scream, I just knew. For her to scream like that… it was… but looking at Ginny was ten times worse. It was like… like her heart had been ripped out of her chest."
"I know," he said, reaching over and enveloping her in a hug, ignoring the pain it caused. "Her, Ron, and your screams, they ripped at my heart. It made me feel so guilty because I knew I was the reason you guys were in so much pain." He pulled back. "I almost got up, you know. I wanted to make you feel better, but I knew if I did that, it would make everything worse. So I stayed still and listened." He stared down into his cup.
Hermione reached over to take his hand, but accidentally knocked her mug aside instead.
It fell to the ground and shattered into many pieces.
Eyes blazing, wand in hand, Harry jumped to his feet.
For minutes, the only sound in the room was that of their ragged breathing.
Slumping into his chair, Harry gripped his hands around his mug and stared at the chocolate abyss inside.
His hands were trembling so terribly that hot chocolate was spilling over the edge of his cup.
Gently and carefully, she removed the mug from his hands and set it aside. Then she took his hands and covered them with her own.
"It's like it hasn't ended," he murmured. "Like no matter where I turn, someone's still going to jump out and get me. I know the war is over, but my body doesn't."
"Harry, as much as you're go to hate what I'm about to say, I have to say it. That's normal," she answered, rubbing his hands. "You've spent your entire school years avoiding death and have lived the past year of your life entirely on the run. It's entrenched in your mind to fight back at the slightest sound. You just need time to adjust."
He looked up.
"What about you? You've spent the last year running, too, and I don't see you doing things like attacking someone who was just Side-Along Apparating you or jumping at a broken mug."
"No," she replied slowly. "But the war is still affecting me, too. Just differently than you, that's all."
Her eyes glazed over for a moment, remembering, but then she shook her head. Her eyes cleared and she looked back at him.
"Just differently," she repeated vaguely. Removing her hands, she looked back at her unfinished letter and sighed.
"What do you miss most about them?" Harry asked, curious about Hermione's parents. He'd only met them once before, many years ago in Diagon Alley before school had started.
"Well, Mum... Mum was always encouraging me to read. 'Books are a gateway to another world, Hermione' she would say or 'Knowledge is power.' So I'd read everything and anything I could get my hands on. Sometimes, though," Hermione smiled, "she'd look at me surrounded by books and say 'okay, 'Mione, time for a break' and would drag me outside, to run or look at the clouds or to feel the rain patter down on my face." Hermione reached up to pat her hair absent-mindedly. "And I inherited my wild hair from her.
"Dad was a really laid-back man: easy to talk to, easy to listen to, easy to get along with. We had the most amazing conversations about everything: life, friendship, computers, ice cream, love, anything. You name it; we talked about it. I always felt at ease when I was with him, even when things started getting worse in our world," she said, gesturing toward Harry and herself. "I felt like... like nothing bad could happen as long as I was with him."
"But that changed, didn't it?" Harry asked gently. "One day you decided that something bad could happen, even if you were with him."
She sighed. "Yes. After I went home last summer, I knew I had to stop ignoring the facts. They were in danger. In danger because of me. In danger because I told them more than what was... considered wise, perhaps. And I had to make sure they would be safe after I left."
Harry regarded her cautiously. "And if you could do it over again... if you could go back and change what you had told them, would you?"
"No," she answered passionately, without skipping a beat. "No, I wouldn't. I love them too much to do that to them. I couldn't hide away my life from them; they're my parents. I want them to know what's going on in my life. They deserve to know." She turned back to him, her face full of pride. "I'm lucky; they're such amazing people and I got them as parents."
"I don't know," Harry countered, smiling, "I think they're the lucky ones. They got you for a daughter."
Tears sprang to her eyes again.
"Thank you, Harry."
"Don't mention it." He got up from his chair and bent down to the floor, his wand in hand.
"Reparo!" he intoned. The mug sprang back together. "Scourgify!" he said, pointing at the floor. The hot chocolate vanished. "You should finish your letter," he advised as he Levitated her cup into the sink.
Lowering her head, she picked up her quill and continued writing.
Harry returned to his seat and sipped his hot chocolate.
Not long passed before she put down her quill and said, "There it's done. I'll send it in the morning." As if that was its cue, the clock struck three. They looked at each other.
"We should really get to bed or Molly will be all over us in the morning," Harry chuckled. She waited as he placed his cup in the sink and then, together, they headed upstairs. They exchanged goodnights before parting ways: Hermione off to Ginny's bedroom and Harry to Ron's up in the attic.
As both lay in their respective beds and started to slip into slumber, they thought, sometimes a late night talk with a friend is all you really need.