Cold and wet had never felt quite so good.

Harry's elation carried him briskly through the forest, and he relished the dull thump of Ron's
footstep matching his own. There was much to talk about, and a lot to be done, but now there
was three of them-- three once more, as it had always been.

The clearing came more quickly than Harry remembered, and the tent was soon in front of them,
barely lit by drips of moonlight slipping through the tree.

Harry paused, suddenly feeling some of his elation slip away. He glanced at Ron, who looked
rather nervous and jumpy.

“Well.” Ron motioned forward, obviously intending to let Harry go first. Harry took a deep
breath, then ducked under the tent flap. He straightened then, looking around at the confines of
the tent in the pale light of Hermione's jar of flames. In two strides, he was at the bunk's side,
gazing down at Hermione's sleeping figure.

The last of Harry's excitement faded.

There would no longer be just two, as it had been for the last few weeks. He bent slightly,
conscious that Ron stood awkwardly behind him. As if this thought had pushed him, he sat
down on the edge of the bed, causing the springs to groan.

As his eyes came closer to Hermione's face, he realized he no longer wished to wake her, or to
alert her to Ron's presence. He could have laughed at the thought earlier, but at the moment, it
felt curiously strong.

He didn't want to share her anymore.

She snuffled in an endearingly childlike way, and shifted. Her hand slid under her cheek, and as
she rolled over, her brown curls tumbled over her face. He reached out and pushed her hair
away from her face, and at his touch, she stirred.

“Harry?”

Her eyes fluttered open sleepily. She stretched slightly, then saw his face.

“What's wrong? Are you all right? Is it--”

“Hermione.” he reached out a hand and stopped her. She propped herself up on her elbows and
studied him curiously. “I'm fine.”

He paused, a peculiar feeling squeezing his gut. After a silence, Hermione sat up fully.

Her eyes landed on Ron's face.

An unfamiliar expression settled into her face, and she whipped her gaze back to Harry. He half-
shrugged, somehow unwilling to help Ron's case. Her eyes narrowed.

“When did he get back?”

“Just now.” he replied, feeling rather selfishly glad that she would ask him, and not Ron
himself. “In the forest.”

Her lips pursed in displeasure, but the look softened into concern when she saw him shivering.

“Harry, you must be freezing!” She swept the blanket off her shoulders and wrapped it around
him. “What on earth happened?”

“It's sort of a long story--” Harry felt quite warm now, but he wasn't entirely sure it was from the
blanket as much as the concern she showed for him. “But Ron... he saved my life, Hermione.”

The last bit came with startling difficulty, and her lips pursed again.

Harry turned to look at his best friend, who was dripping water on the floor and stupidly
staring at them, the sword still clutched in his hand.

Hermione's gaze swung back over to him, and her eyes grew angry. Ron hung his head and
stood silent, as she stared at him for what seemed like several eternities.

“Well, as long as you're back.” she said, with a quietly controlled voice. “You might as well
explain how you got here.”

He perked up a bit, then explained, still casting wary looks at her. Hermione's face was stony,
but as Ron described finding Harry in the pool, her hand gripped his arm sharply. He continued
until he reached the opening of the locket.

“... then Harry opened it, and--” he trailed off, looking shamefaced.

“--and Ron stabbed it with the sword.” Harry put in quickly.

“And it went?” she whispered, looking at Harry almost fearfully. “Just like that?”

“It screamed.” Harry said vaguely, “Sort of like Riddle's diary, in a way.”

Satisfied, Hermione brought her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them, looking
intently off behind Ron. Her eyes were dark with concentration as she digested this information,
then noticed Ron staring at her. Her cheeks paled, and she dropped her arms.

“I'm glad you're safe, in any event.” she said to Harry, in a voice of forced briskness. “Why don't
you get some rest? And you, too, I suppose.” she added rather coldly. “Don't expect me to
forgive you right away, Ronald Weasley, even for saving his life. You still ran off.”

“I know.” Ron said in a rather subdued tone, “I'm sorry.”

“You had better be.” she said flatly. “Just be glad Harry has my wand, or else I might have done
something worse. Good night.”

Harry glanced at Ron, who was looking both relieved and miserable.

“C'mon. Let's do like she says.” he said, “Bed.”

They began to get ready, and as they crowded into the bathroom with their toothbrushes, Ron
muttered, “S'pose it could've been worse.”

“Yeah.” Harry said rather distantly, scratching the back of his neck.

“Remember those birds she threw at me?” Ron said, casting a nervous look over his shoulder as
if expecting to see Hermione and a flock of canaries attacking him from behind. “Nightmare,
that was. Still have scars.”

Harry chuckled, scrubbing at his face with a washcloth.

“The amazing thing is, she didn't yell, not even once.” Ron remarked, tossing his T-Shirt off to
the side. “I expected her to slap me at the very least.”

“Yeah, well, things have changed a bit, haven't they?”

The moment the words left his mouth, Harry wished he could use a Time-Turner. Ron looked
startled, then pale. A long silence occurred.

“Erm... have they, Harry?” Ron's light tone of voice was rather strangled. Harry flushed.

“I dunno why I said that.” he said hastily, turning away and pretending to fold his towel to hang
on the rack. “Must be the whole ordeal getting to me.”

He could almost feel Ron's gaze smoldering on his back. He continued to adjust his towel on the
chipped rack and hoped desperately that he didn't look the way he felt.

“Things change.” Ron said at last, in a heavy voice. “I dunno, mate. She's treating you
differently, you know that?”

He sighed, and Harry could hear him shifting from foot to foot awkwardly.

“Never mind. It's probably just me.” he mumbled.

Ron left, letting the door close behind him, and Harry let the washcloth drop from his hands.
Despite the wash he'd just had, his face felt hot and his mind was flurried.

His mind raced along the timeline of the past few days, from Hermione's anxious face hovering
above him, to the tears glistening on her cheeks as she informed him he had been ill.

His eyes closed, and he leaned against the wall, head tilted back.

This was, perhaps, the last time he could savor what it felt like being the only person in
Hermione's life.

It hadn't been easy, he thought with a faint smile. It had been harder than he'd expected. The
arguments, both silent and shouted-- the touches that were barely there, and the ones that he
could still feel tingling on his skin. The staring contests, the tension, the comfort and the
affection...

No, it hadn't been easy. He arched his back, leaning the top of his head against the wall. But if he
had the chance-- perhaps... just
perhaps-- he could get used to it.

But at the moment, he would just have to miss it.
Missing the Empty Space
    Defining the Dots Series, Part IV
    by vanillaparchment
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