This is chapter three of Never Underestimate a House-Elf. For chapter one click here.
Summary: What if Harry thought of more than just steak and kidney pie, and called Kreacher to them as soon as he realized Hermione had apparated the trio away from Grimmauld Place? A very different camping trip ensues. Inspired by #WizardTeam and the Time Room
Disclaimer: I don’t own the rights to the Harry Potter franchise and I’m writing this out of my own resentment towards the mistreatment of house-elves and how their narrative was wasted in the series, not at all for financial gain.
Author’s Note: Thanks as always to Transreal_Clouden!
I know that this letter is going through secure means, but still I hesitate to put names onto the page, given the current state of things here, lest even this be intercepted. Thank you for your concern, and everyone is as safe as they can be, as far as I know. Our trip through the forest was no trouble, it was even enjoyable, compared to the suffering in the castle. There are no muggleborns. None have returned, and no first years. I suspect some have fled, but I worry that others are in Azkaban, or worse. Though really, I wonder which is worse sometimes. I hate that I think like that, and I hate that children are suffering.
The forest was a blessing, really. Some detentions are being subjected to the cruciatus. For our Dark Arts class — there is no longer Defense Against — we are forced to practice on troublemakers, and if we refuse we become the troublemakers, forced to torture one another. You have to mean it for it to actually hurt, and it makes me wonder about the times when it hurts. I’ve learned a lot about my fellow students this way. Who are my enemies, Who are unlikely allies.
I can’t say too much, but I would say that it would be a lot easier to see people if I knew where everyone was.
“I have to go to Hogwarts,” Harry says instantly as soon as he finishes the letter. Ron and Hermione stare at him incredulously, and it’s only because they know him so well that they don’t laugh at what otherwise would be a complete joke of a statement.
“You want to go to Hogwarts,” Hermione gives him her most dubious look yet, which is saying something.
“Yes, I have to give Ginny the marauder’s map —”
“Which you could just give to Dobby to pass on —” Ron interrupted.
“AND” Harry pressed on “I’d like to talk to her in person.”
“If you think you can just keep stringing my sister along —”
“That’s not what this is about you prat!” Harry snapped in frustration, glaring at Ron, who was scowling in the same way he did whenever he got upset or jealous over something. “I need to make sure she’s okay. That all of them are okay. That they know I haven’t abandoned them. That my fight is their fight. And I need to make sure…. Make sure she doesn’t have any expectations of me. I want her to live her life and,” Harry grabbed a fistful of his already messy hair “ever since the chamber of secrets —” he paused, mouth agape, before closing it abruptly and breaking out into a grin.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I know that face, that’s your I just figured something out and there’s no way you can argue with me now face, what’s that face for?”
“I need to go to Hogwarts.”
Hermione groaned. “You already said that, look I know you and Ginny —”
“This isn’t just about Ginny, Hermione,” Harry said steadily. “I know how we can destroy the Horcrux.”
NUaHE NUaHE NUaHE
It wasn’t actually a bad plan. It was actually a great plan. So much so that it actually worked. Harry used the sickle to call for Dobby, and Dobby took Harry to Hogwarts and the room of requirement where Ginny was waiting for them and holding the room steady so that it didn’t disappear and they could use it as an entry/exit point. Harry created a new exit right directly into Myrtle’s bathroom, which Dobby had placed a notice-me-not perimeter ward around, and he descended into the chamber, drained surprisingly intact venom sacs of the basilisks & ripped out a dozen of its fangs, securing them in a sealed case he placed in his now extended knapsack, before coming back up, returning to the room of requirement, and doing the hard thing: talking to Ginny.
There hadn’t been much interaction on the way to the chamber of secrets. Nothing more than a hug and a “glad you’re alive” and a “good luck” and a “let’s catch up once you’ve done the hard thing that might take a while.”
Dobby had left to give them some privacy, and so Harry and Ginny sat together in what mimicked the Gryffindor common room — a place Harry longed for — on a couch in front of a roaring fireplace. It took a while before either of them found words to say. Finally Harry started.
“Don’t —” Harry paused. “Don’t wait for me. I know I haven’t said exactly but —”
“You don’t think you’re going to make it out of this, do you?” Ginny asked, tilting her head thoughtfully.
“Well —” Harry stammered.
“I’m not the type who sits around waiting, Potter. You go save the world. I’m going to save Hogwarts.” Ginny shrugged. “Maybe one day we’ll get married and I’ll play quidditch and you’ll be an auror and we’ll name our kids Arthur James and Lily Margaret. Or maybe you’ll snog Ron like I know you want and I’ll go explore magical flora and fauna across the globe with Luna and we’ll be traveling magizoologist wives. Or maybe you’re right, and we’ll all die young in this war that should have ended a generation ago. But if I die in this you’ll be damned sure it’s so that the next generation doesn’t have to fight it too.”
“I’m pretty sure I want to kiss you right now, not Ron,” Harry said, his entire body feeling hot.
“That’s because I gave an inspirational speech, those always fire a guy up,” Ginny said slyly before giving Harry a soft kiss on the cheek. “I’ll take that map now,” she glanced pointedly at the rucksack he had brought with him and he stared at her blankly before shaking himself.
“Yes, of course. I’m only sorry I didn’t think to give it to you before. It’s of much more use to you than me. Just… take care with it,” he said softly as he stood up and handed her the map.
“I know,” Ginny replied gently. “See you later Harry.”
As she walked out the door Harry touched his cheek, and wondered when and whether he would ever see, let alone get a kiss, from Ginny Weasley.
NUaHE NUaHE NUaHE
Upon returning to their campsite Harry was practically attacked by the force of nature that was Hermione Granger and her fierce need to verify that he was completely unharmed. Ron, too, looked incredibly relieved to see Harry returned in one piece. The small flaw in Harry’s great plan, which had gone off without a hitch? He hadn’t told Ron and Hermione about it. As such, their relief promptly turned to fury that he had been so reckless in going without them, in putting himself in such danger with no backup.
“How could you?” Hermione asked.
“I thought you trusted us!” Ron accused.
“We said we’d be with you, whatever happens, and you left us behind!” Hermione looked like she might start crying and Harry wanted to reach out to comfort her, but he didn’t half know what to say. He felt like he was being beat into a corner.
“I don’t know what to say! It felt like the necessary thing to do! I didn’t want to put you in danger!”
“He didn’t want to put us in danger. Are you hearing this?” Hermione threw her hands up in the air.
“Mate we are in danger every day. Hermione is the most-wanted muggleborn in the country. My family is notoriously full of blood traitors and only the flimsy excuse of splattergroit is keeping me from being on the undesirable list right alongside you two. We’re in as much danger as we can get at this point.”
“I don’t — I never wanted —” Harry stammered.
“Harry, I’m tired,” Hermione sighed. Suddenly all the fight was gone from her. The tears that were falling from her face were the slow and steady kind that fall when they just can’t stop. “You’re always taking so many risks, taking on so much responsibility, the world on your shoulders. We just want to help and you’re turning us away at every turn, slamming the door in our faces and shutting us out. What are we supposed to do if you won’t let us help? What use are we?”
Harry — who never initiated physical contact, ever — surprised all of them when he pulled Hermione into a hug. She wrapped her arms around him automatically, as she was wont. His voice was muffled as he spoke into her neck. “I’m sorry Hermione, I never meant to make you feel that way. I only — this prophecy is about me. I’m the one who has to defeat him. And you, both of you are a huge part of that. Your support — I can’t even express what it means to me, to have you here, just to have you on this journey. Sometimes I feel like I have to do things alone, but I can… I’ll do my best to remember that isn’t always.” He paused for a second before letting go, wondered if he dared, and then decided he did, and pressed a kiss to her forehead before stepping back. She stared at him, wondering where this newfound personality had come from, and fleetingly wondered if perhaps Dobby had brought back a different Harry Potter.
Harry, meanwhile, was looking at Ron and wondering to what extent his other best friend was also mad at him, or just tired of his actions. He was also wondering what it would be like to kiss said friend, and admitted to himself that Ginny was right, because this was not the first, or even the second, time he had encountered such thoughts.
“Anyway,” Harry coughed. “I do have a bunch of basilisk fangs and venom now. Who wants to destroy a horcrux?”
NUaHE NUaHE NUaHE
As it turns out, destroying the horcrux wasn’t as easy as they thought. They had decided to pack up camp and venture into a different wood, setting up protections there that they could rip down and flee from at a moments notice. They would take no chances — who knew how destructive a horcrux could be? Ron and Hermione insisted that Harry destroy it, as he would have had his mission with Dumbledore been successful. Had Regulus Black not given his life to defeat Voldemort.
Harry laid the horcrux down in a magically reinforced ceramic bowl placed on the forest floor, hating the way that his scar throbbed and his heart beat faster when he touched it. He had been planning on opening it first, convinced that it needed to be exposed to be destroyed, but Hermione reasoned that the basilisk venom was a powerful enough substance it could eat through anything, and that wouldn’t be necessary. Carefully, Harry took a small bottle of venom from the pocket of his robes, and was about to unstopper it when a billow of smoke came out of the horcrux, taking the form of Ron and Hermione. With horror the trio realized that the locket never needed to be opened to manifest itself, but before they could dwell on that for too long, the phantoms began to speak.
“You’ll never really be a part of our family,” Riddle-Ron spoke in a voice that was an eerie echo of Ron’s and Voldemort’s. “How could a freak like you be one of us, it was pity that we took you in, not love,” he sneered.
“Love!” cackled Riddle-Hermione. “Who could ever love a worthless freak like you? You’re barely a wizard, you’d never have made it past first year without me!”
Harry was vaguely aware of the fact that the real Ron and Hermione were behind him, but the pain in his scar was searing his thoughts and blurring his vision, every word said by the phantoms cutting into him like a knife.
“You would be nothing without us and you repay us by putting our lives in danger over and over again. My family is dead because of you, how could I ever love someone with the Dark Lord in their mind?” Riddle-Ron spat.
And suddenly it was over.
Hermione, the real Hermione, had taken the basilisk venom out of Harry’s hand and poured almost half the vial — surely more than necessary, but she was pissed, and wanted to be thorough — over the locket, which warped and twisted as it melted into itself, and the phantoms vanished. Harry was vaguely aware of the fact that Ron had sat down next to Harry and pulled him into an embrace, the taller boy neatly tucking Harry into himself. Hermione knelt beside them and softly carded her fingers through Harry’s hair, smoothing out the tangled knots that immediately reformed in a way that was ultimately very relaxing.
“I’m sorry,” Harry choked out. “I — I’m supposed to be the one. If I can’t even —”
“Harry it’s okay,” Hermione said softly. “It really is. You don’t have to be the one to save everyone every time.”
“Yeah, mate. Let us help you. And whatever that thing was, you know it wasn’t me. I don’t pity you, I never have. If anything I’ve been obnoxiously jealous, though I hope you’ll agree I’ve mostly outgrown that,” Ron told him firmly. “And… I do love you. The whole family does. But, you know, I do too. Especially, I mean, as a friend, but also, I mean, not if, I don’t know, if you’ve never said, though I know you were interested in but what I want to say is, I don’t know if you would be, interested in, and I know, it’s not like you have to say it back and this isn’t perhaps the best time” Ron’s face was getting redder and redder, and Harry, who had calmed down from his horcrux-induced panic was now starting to veer into a mix of panic, confusion, and amusement, as he wondered what exactly Ron was trying to say. Hermione, meanwhile, was attempting to stifle giggles.
She did eventually take pity on Ron when he got so flustered that he stopped talking altogether as he could no longer handle Harry’s mystified expression or Hermione’s silent laughter.
“I think,” Hermione said diplomatically. “What Ron is trying to say is that he is in love with you. Whether or not that is a confession best said in an isolated forest where we just destroyed a horcrux is another matter.”
Both boys gaped at her, Harry out of wide-eyed confusion, and Ron out of a kind of betrayal. Harry was somewhat more conscious of the fact that Ron still had not let him go and that he was sitting in his best friend’s lap. His best friend, who according to his other best friend, was in love with him.
“Hermione!” Ron hissed. “Why would you — I thought you were in love with Harry!” Even as Ron lashed out, he still did not let go.
“That — that is not the point Ronald!” Hermione stood up, brushing the dirt off of her robes. “I think we should get out of this area, don’t you?” She offered Harry her hand and helped him up, Ron reluctantly letting him go. Harry, who was still convinced this was all a dream, or maybe a nightmare stood up, before packing the remains of the horcrux and the bowl into a magical waste containment bin that Hermione had procured, and steadily avoided eye contact with his friends, determined to ignore the accusations they had thrown at each other. Having only just permanently broken up with his ex-girlfriend, and still convinced at the idea that his lifespan was infintimily small, it’s not like he wanted to start a new relationship, let alone two, let alone two that could wreck his friendships with the two people he loved more than anyone else and couldn’t bear to lose. The fact that he found them very attractive and would like more instances of being held (hugs from Ron and Hermione made him emotionally fulfilled rather than anxious as many others did) and was very interested in potentially kissing opportunities would have to be shoved aside for now.
When he thought about it like that, he realized that the answer to the “am I in love with my best friends question?” was pretty obvious.