A Small Step

[ - ]
Printer ePub eBook
Table of Contents | - Text Size +
Story Notes:
I can feel Harry looking at me, his gaze heavy and intense. Pretending I don’t notice, I study the chessboard until he looks away. Only then do I raise my eyes, watching him watching her.

This has become our routine during the past month, though, sometimes, he is watching me watch her.

Each day is the same. Wake up to find Hermione already dressed and at the table eating breakfast. Go to work. Eat lunch. Come home. Eat dinner. Make casual conversation, discuss our days, try not to look at her because I know she’ll feel my gaze just like I feel Harry’s and the last thing I want to do is make her uncomfortable or awkward. After dinner, she sits by the window, wrapping her arms around her body protectively, avoiding any touch or contact, always as discreetly as possible, trying to pretend she’s all right. Harry and I, we end up playing chess. It’s been the same game for twenty-eight days.

She goes to take a shower, always alone, always using the lock she'd installed on the door her first day back.. After her shower, she comes out wearing a shirt two sizes too big and old track pants that no longer fit well. Her smile never reaches her eyes as she quickly gives us each a brief kiss, never lingering even as I can often see her hesitate, as if she wants more. If I try to reach for her, she manages to avoid my embrace, giving me the brave smile that is supposed to make me feel better but only makes me worry more. She goes to our room, sleeping on the right now instead of the left, curled up on her left side, her hair down and covering her body to the sheet. Lights always off when Harry and I join her.

The only variation comes at bedtime. Some nights, I’m tired from work and go to sleep first or Harry crawls beneath the covers before us. Those nights, she waits, showering after we’re both in bed, making sure the lights are off before she crawls in beside us. I’ve not seen her in the early morning light since before. Things had changed by then, certainly, but she’d been so strong, keeping me and Harry together so we wouldn’t fall apart. After, she hasn’t quite been the same. Withdrawn, insecure, pushing us both away, trying to do everything on her own.

I’ve tried to help. Harry’s tried to get through to her. Nothing’s worked. Mum said to give her time, that we just didn’t understand, but it’s the first time we’ve ever not been able to do things together. It feels wrong, her being on her own without us, not wanting our help. After we found out last year, we were beside her the whole time. We held her hand, took her to hospital, made sure we knew everything she was going through physically to help, and we all kept each other strong. Together, we were able to face anything. It had been like that for us since we saved her from that bloody troll first year.

We failed her, though. This was something we weren’t able to protect her from. So we did as she wanted. We didn’t ask how she was feeling, didn’t push her to talk to us, didn’t force her to do anything that might make an already horrible situation worse. Every night, Harry looked to me, expecting me to break first. I wanted to, so desperately. I wanted to yell and scream and tell her we were hurting because she wouldn’t let us in, but I love her too much to turn this into an argument. Every night, I look at Harry, expecting him to cuddle her, to draw it out of her, to hold her until she’s smiling again. But he looks at me sadly, as lost and uncertain as I, and we look at our game, noting we’ve not made any progress since we first began playing after she came home.

I miss her smile.

These days, we’re lucky if we get a ghost of it on her lips, just a slight curling before she looks away. I don’t understand why she’s so sad now when she was so brave and positive before. She kept our spirits up even after we found out the Muggle treatments weren’t helping. When she lost her hair, she was the one holding Harry as he cried, telling him everything would be okay, just wait and see. When she was so weak I could see it hurt her to walk across our flat, she pulled me against her, letting me cry on her shoulder until her shirt was soaked, never crying a single tear for herself.

Now, though, she’s doing well physically. The doctor says she is healthy, the treatments have stopped, the surgery was a success. Her hair is growing out, falling nearly to her chin in a mess of curls that frame the face I still find the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Harry and I, we don’t understand why she’s not happy that the cancer is gone. It was what we hoped for, prayed to a million different Gods for, and wished for on every star we saw for a year.

Harry and I fight more lately than we ever have before. Both so frustrated and helpless, not used to taking care of things on our own. For twenty-two years, since we first became friends during our first year at Hogwarts, Hermione has looked after us. She’s been our strength during the worst points in our lives, supported us when we needed her and even when we didn’t know we needed help, and now she needs us but we don’t have any idea how to help.

We tried doing her chores for her, but that effort resulted in her glaring and slamming the bedroom door. We could hear her crying from the sitting room, having no idea what we’d done besides try to help her. Every action we took, everything we did to try to make things easier for her, it all went to shite. After two weeks, we both stopped trying.

Harry looks away from the window, our eyes meeting for a moment and I can see pain, confusion, and love as he blinks. He pushes his glasses up before sighing and looking at the chessboard. It’s no surprise when I hear Hermione move only a few seconds after his head turns away.

“I’m taking a shower,” she says softly, my hand clenching as I fight the desire to get up and pull her against me tightly, never letting her go.

“Right,” I say simply, knowing there’s nothing else to say. If it were any other situation, we’d ask Hermione what to do. She always knows the right thing to say or the right actions to make. She’d be able to tell us how to help if it was someone else, but, when it’s her, she retreats into herself, leaving behind an empty shell of the woman we love.

Harry waits until the door to the loo closes before removing something from his pocket. I’m surprised to see that it’s a book. “Don’t give me that look,” he mutters crossly. “I do know how to read, prat. I’ve been reading this, trying to find answers, but it’s no help. All it says is that every woman reacts differently and needs time. Doesn’t say how much time or what we can do to help.”

Your Guide to Breast Cancer Treatment,” I read as I pick up the booklet. “Does it say, I mean…is it normal for her to be acting like this?”

“Not in so many words, but the bloody thing is right confusing. Keeps talking about treatment like we had last year, which doesn‘t help us now,” Harry says with a death glare at the book, blaming it for not giving us any easy answers.

I flip through the text quickly, desperate to see if it says anything helpful. I’m tired of giving her space, of waiting and watching her fall apart a little more each day. If we wait much longer, we’ll never be able to put her back together again. I miss Hermione. I want her back. Not just in our bed, because, really, sex had become occasional, instead of often, during the treatments that left her exhausted, weak, and in such pain that she couldn’t hide it from us even as she tried. I want her to smile, to hear her laugh, to see her eyes lit with amusement or love or happiness, to feel her in my arms as she reads, to watch her dancing with Harry to music only the three of us can hear. I just want our Hermione back.

Growling softly, I toss the book on the table, knocking over Harry’s bishop. “I’m tired of this!” My voice cracks as I look at him, hating feeling so bloody helpless. Before I realize what I’m doing, I’m around the table, holding Harry tightly. “What can we do? We’re losing her, Harry. I can’t…we can’t lose her.”

When Harry pulls back, I see that his face is wet from tears, and become aware of the dampness on my own cheeks. Our foreheads meet, hands together, palm against palm, fingers curling around each other’s hands. “We’re not going to lose her, Ron,” he says in a voice far stronger than any he’s used in eleven months and fifteen days. Since we found out that there are some things magic can’t fix. Since we learned that we can’t keep the one person we’d die for safe from everything despite our many promises. Since we realized that our lives meant nothing if we lost her.

I can hear the shower running, turning my head to look down the hall, Harry’s forehead warm against mine. “I’m tired of acting like it never happened,” I say softly. “She needs us but doesn’t want us.”

“You know those times when you’re a brash, argumentative, stubborn arse with the emotional range of a teaspoon?”

Glancing at Harry, I feel my lips curve into a half-smile at his repetition of one of Hermione’s favorite insults when we argue. It’s been far too long since she’s called me an obstinate arse, always using the bigger word as if I didn’t realize it meant the same bloody thing as stubborn. Nodding once, I whisper, “Yeah?”

He smiles, his palm rough against my cheek, his thumb tracing my bottom lip. “Yeah. I think it’s time.”

“You’ll stay back, in case she hexes me,” I tell him softly, wondering whether I can do this. I know she doesn’t want to talk, wants to keep sleepwalking through life as if nothing has changed despite everything changing because she’s not herself, hasn’t been herself since she woke up from surgery. We love her and have respected her obvious desire to pretend it’s all the same, but what’s the limit? If we love her, shouldn’t we make her deal with what happened? Or does that make us selfish bastards for wanting to help her because we miss her, hurt for her, feel incomplete without her?

“I just don’t know what else to do,” Harry admits quietly, brushing a kiss against my jaw. “We won’t let her hate us, if she tries. We won’t let her push us away; too bloody stubborn for that, the two of us.”

“Right. Don’t see you planning to go in and face her wrath,” I tease softly, trying to ease the tension of what we both realize could be a painful moment for at least one of our three.

“Wouldn’t have you do it alone, git,” Harry says with a crooked smile, his hand gripping mine tightly. “Besides, if it works, you’d want all the credit.”

“Course I would,” I say with a grin I’ve not shown in longer than I can remember. “Be my bollocks she hexes off if she’s angry, after all.”

“That’s why I plan to stay behind you, you know? Those brawny shoulders of yours will protect my scrawny ones from her attack if she’s got her wand,” he points out as his fingers nervously run through his hair. “Only time I’ve been thankful you’ve got the muscle and I’ve got the brains.”

I snort at that comment, rolling my eyes before leaning over to kiss him. “Can’t keep putting this off, Harry. We need to do it now, before she leaves the shower. Catch her somewhere she can’t hide or pretend nothing’s wrong.”

He nods, following me as I walk to the door of the loo. I try the knob, finding it locked. Pointing my wand at the door, I find strength I didn’t realize I have as I say, “Alohomora,” without stuttering. The door opens, the damp steam from the shower reaching my face as I step inside. When I hear her crying, I know this is the right decision, even if my bollocks get hexed off.

“Hermione,” I start to say, watching as she stiffens behind the tacky plastic curtain covered with odd fish that Harry thought was the cutest thing ever. I remember the showers we shared when she and I laughed over that ugly curtain, neither willing to tell Harry it was bloody awful.

“Get out!”

Her words are sharp, angry, cold. It shouldn’t surprise me since that’s how she’s become lately, but I’m still taken aback by the sheer ferocity of them. Harry touches my lower back, gently nudging me forward, or else I might have turned and retreated once again. It doesn’t seem fair to force her to talk when she isn’t ready, but one thought repeats in my mind as I step forward: what if she never becomes ready?

“Hermione, love, we need to talk.”

The curtain is pulled to the side as she glares at us. I see the redness of her eyes, the swollen bottom lip from where she’d been biting it to keep in her sobs, and I no longer care if it’s fair or right or smart. She’s hurting and needs us, damn it.

“Ronald Bilius Weasley and Harry James Potter, leave this room this instant!”

Behind me, I hear Harry mutter, “Fuck,” as she uses our full names. She’s holding the curtain in front of her, as if she’s protecting herself from us, and I don’t know why, but that bothers me. We’re her lovers, best friends, family. She shouldn’t hide from us, shouldn’t cover herself, shouldn’t shut us out. As I take another step inside, the lights turn off, the bath only lit by the light from the hallway. I’m not sure why Harry’s turned them off, but I figure he has his reasons and I trust him.

“No,” I say simply, putting all of my worry, frustration, concern, and love for her in that one word. I see her falter, her eyes darting to the thick towel beside the tub, her fingers nearly white as she keeps hold of the curtain. Before she can reach for the towel, I move, picking it up and tossing it to the side. “No more hiding, Hermione Jane Granger. We’re not going anywhere. You’re going to just have to get used to the idea that we’re here and we love you.”


I meet her eyes as I hear the word spoken so softly it’s barely audible above the sound of the shower. Slowly raising my arms, I gently tug on the curtain, never looking away from her gaze. She’s crying again, fresh tears spilling from those beautiful eyes that have enchanted me since I woke up and realized she was everything I wanted and never thought I’d be lucky enough to have. “Please, Hermione.”

Her grip eventually loosens, the curtain falling away as her arms fold to cover her chest. She steps back, leaning her head against the wall. For once, I don’t have to be told what to do, don’t need words to make me understand. Kicking off my trainers, I step into the tub, oblivious to the spray of the shower soaking my clothes as I focus on the woman we love. My hand is shaking as I reach up and touch her shoulder.

I feel warmth behind me as Harry joins me, his hand gently caressing the shoulder I’m not touching. “You’re so beautiful,” I say with all the sincerity I have within. She sniffles, her nose running as she begins to cry harder, looking from me to Harry and back again.

“I don’t know what to do,” she admits in a broken voice, lowering her arms as she looks down. I follow her gaze, biting my lip as I see the scar from the surgery. Her left breast is gone, scarred skin seeming to shine in the faint light from the hall, no magic able to completely remove the reminder of her surgery. I don’t understand, can’t understand, how she’s feeling. I know she had to lose her breast so she’d be able to live and, well, it wasn’t like she didn’t have a perfectly good one left, right?

It was some mysterious feminine thing, I assume. Course, I can imagine I’d feel confused if I lost my bollocks, all teasing aside, so maybe it’s like that. I’d feel less of a man, wouldn’t I? At first, at least. Then I’d probably get over it because, well, there are worse things in life, like being dead. Leaning my head forward, I brush the most gentle kiss I’ve ever given against the pink skin of her scar. I’m not surprised to find Harry’s cheek against mine, seeming to know what I’m thinking even without words.

I hear a strangled sob above our heads, looking up anxiously, worried we might have hurt her or done something wrong. Why couldn’t women come with instruction books? Even after being with her fifteen years, I still have no bloody clue what makes Hermione tick most of the time. I hate to read, but I’d read a thousand page novel if it helped me understand her better.

Having no idea whether this is right or not, I pull her against me, kissing her neck softly. “So beautiful, Hermione. Love you so much,” I keep repeating as she begins to finally hug me back. Kissing her cheek, I taste salty tears and shower water, nuzzling her neck and jaw, not caring that I’ve not shaved in a couple of days. She’s touching me, touching us, and that has to be good, right?

The three of us slide to the bottom of the tub, Hermione between us, Harry and I both silently holding her as she cries and finally lets it all out. I look at Harry, and we both smile, just a small one. It isn’t solving problems or changing things back to how they once were, which I doubt we’ll ever have again, but it is a small step towards recovery and possibly something better than we’ve ever had before. Reaching for Harry’s hand, I move our clasped hands around Hermione’s, fifteen fingers tangling until there are no longer three hands but just one, just us.

The End