Characters/Pairings: Harry, Ron, and Hermione, with brief appearances by most of the other people you might expect.
Spoilers/Warnings: Mentions of canonical character death but beyond that, no!
Summary: Harry's eighteenth birthday party is a strange affair, full of good food, good company, and the strange, ragged edges no one has yet managed to sand away.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is absolutely not mine, nor is anything you recognize from it; Ingrid Michaelson's song "The Chain" is another thing I don't own, and I have yanked the title for this fic from it wholesale.
Notes: This is worthadime's holiday gift, and it is incredibly late. She asked for the trio being themselves, and I have provided this. She will have to decide if I managed what she asked for! I should also say here: I had an entirely different fic for her, and my computer ate it, presumably in its dying moments. If it ever turns up again, she will get two presents! But for now, I present this.
Harry's eighteenth birthday party is a strange affair, full of good food, good company, and the strange, ragged edges no one has yet managed to sand away. Dinner passes in a series of moments he carefully packs away, sweet and soft around the edges: Mrs. Weasley, beaming at him when he thanks her for dinner; Mr. Weasley gazing fondly down the length of the table over his glasses; Ron helping himself to extra potatoes and dropping a giant dollop on Harry's plate as well, loudly insisting that his mum will kill him if he doesn't participate in her campaign to fatten Harry up post-Auror training; Bill and Fleur sitting on either side of Charlie and interrogating him about his love life, one of them quite seriously and one with a crooked grin on his scarred face; Neville and Luna sitting on Ginny's other side, Neville grinning into his glass as Luna explains the dangers of Wrackspurts to a befuddled Percy; Ginny herself of course, now gesturing with her fork as she tells Hermione about her plans to travel to Asia after graduation; Hermione, her dinner entire forgotten in her eagerness to discuss the older Asiatic branches of magic (you know, the Hogwarts founders-- Rowena Ravenclaw in particular-- were really very much influenced by some of Japan's magical traditions, I'm sure there's plenty about it in the library--). Harry sits in the middle of it all and feels something warm settle into his stomach that can hardly be blamed on his extra serving of mashed potatoes even as someone knocks over a glass and he thinks with sudden, startling clarity: Teddy Lupin will be introduced to his parents in photo albums.
He grits his teeth and takes a swallow of water, irrationally angry with himself. Tonight is supposed to be a celebration, a time to revel in the company of the people who are here, not dwell on absence.
But he can't quite get away from it, especially not here, not here where he expects to see Fred around every corner piping up with the punchlines George is still reaching for. Every time Mrs. Weasley offers him another helping or asks him a perfectly innocuous question about work or his flat or his weekend plans he has the sudden, helpless urge to apologize for forcing her to tell people, when they ask, that she has six children.
He bites down on the words and listens to George tell jokes for two and thinks, It's alright, it's alright, even though it isn't, not yet. He still manages to smile at Mrs. Weasley and tell her that he's enjoying work loads, it's brilliant.
"I'll just clear up, shall I?" Mrs. Weasley asks eventually into crowded, overfull silence, and Ginny jumps up to help. Harry watches Ginny stumble over a chair and knock an entire stack of plates onto the floor, her face flushing a shade of bubblegum pink that nearly matches her hair, but of course she doesn't, that was never her, and he closes his eyes for the space of a breath because ruining tonight for everyone won't bring Tonks back, or Fred, or Mad-Eye, or Lupin--
"We should go for a walk," Hermione says suddenly from just behind him. Harry blinks, caught entirely off-guard, but Ron says, "Yeah, let's," and Hermione says, "Come on, Harry," and Harry blinks again and then realizes with a sudden, swelling rush of affection exactly what is being done and says, "Yeah, okay."
"Be back in time for cake you three," Mrs. Weasley says, and Hermione leads the way out the back door and into the warm night air.
They stall for a minute at the bottom of the steps until she confesses, "I don't really quite have anywhere in mind."
Ron snorts out a laugh and Harry grins.
"It doesn't really matter," he hears himself saying.
"Well, we have to be back in time for cake," Ron reminds them in a passable, fond imitation of his mother. "We'll just go up the hill or something and then come back."
So they set off at a wander, moving up the steepening incline in silence. They don't bother to light their wands-- the sun's only just beginning to set and after all, all three of them know this garden as well as they know anything, by now.
"Do you ever think--" Hermione says, halfway up, and Harry feels his skin prickle uncomfortably because she's using that tone, the one he's come to dread, the one that says she's about to say something that she thinks he won't like. He doesn't want to talk about how he feels about any of it, not about the war or the deaths or even his birthday. He just wants to take a walk.
"Think what?" Ron prompts from Harry's other side.
"It's-- oh, it's silly," Hermione says, casting a quick drying spell on the dew-damp grass before she settles down three-quarters of the way to the top. Ron shrugs at Harry and they both sink down next to her. "It's just-- sometimes I'm so happy Neville lost his toad."
It startles a laugh out of Harry, and he can see Hermione go pink in the fading summer light.
"Well I am!" She says defensively, and Harry says, "No, no, me as well, I wasn't laughing at you, I was just-- a toad, Hermione. It was a toad."
"It was, wasn't it?" Ron groans, lying back and crooking his arm so he can rest his head on it. "Merlin, it couldn't have been anything a bit more dignified? We couldn't say we met battling a manticore or anything?"
"You can say we met battling a cave troll, but that's a story featuring a pretty significant amount of cave troll bogies," Harry points out as solemnly as he can manage, "so I'm not sure that solves the dignity problem."
"Ugh, Harry," Hermione says, "honestly."
"He's just pointing out the truth, Hermione," Ron says. "When our story is being told to future generations, when everyone is mentioning how noble and heroic and impressive we all were, some kid is going to ask, 'How did they meet?' and someone's going to say, 'Oh, they met on a bright red train because of a bloody toad,' or, if they want to tell the dignified version of the story, 'They met while they were dealing with a really snotty cave troll.'"
"Well," Hermione says, the smile evident in her voice, "I'm just glad Trevor got away, that's all. And I'm glad about the troll bogies as well, if you must."
"Toads and troll bogies," Harry muses, and Ron says, "That's what the great ballad is going to be called, 'Toads and Troll Bogies.' Parents'll be singing it to get their kids to sleep."
There is a long stretch of silence, and Harry idly lets his mind wander until he discovers, to his horror, that it is composing a tune for 'Toads and Troll Bogies.' He shakes his head, and the movement seems to alert Hermione.
"Oh! Did you want to go the rest of the way up?" She asks. "I'm sure we'll have to go back soon. I've seen the cake Harry it looks really good, you don't want to miss it. I mean, we can, obviously, if you do want to--"
"No," Harry says, finding he doesn't want anything quite so much as to recapture the silence from moments before, the silence that came of lying next to his two best friends and composing hopelessly awful ballads.
"The mosquitoes will be out soon, we'll be a mess," Hermione says, but without any urgency, and Harry can hear the shrug in Ron's voice when he says, "You'll know how to fix that."
Yes, he wants to lie here and let the night work around them, just for a minute; he wants to allow the world to spin underneath him without any effort on his part whatsoever, and he wants to listen to Ron and Hermione bicker habitually about mosquito bites and the remedies thereof. And then he wants to go back inside, fortified by Hermione's fingers brushing against his elbow and Ron's shoulder knocking into his own-- and of course by the promise of cake-- and let his happiness be easy for a while.