For the First Time
Harry James Potter has always been special, for people who knew him as The Boy Who Lived, for his friends, for Albus Dumbledore and even for Lord Voldemort.
Thing is, while he has been 'brave', 'brilliant', the embodiment of a true Gryffindor for others, in his own eyes, in his heart, he has always been just 'Harry'. Sure, he had his friends, both Hermione and Ron were unfailingly loyal and they loved him in their own way, he had the Weasleys, who had become his family, the Burrow was his second home next to Hogwarts, he had Dumbledore, who was his mentor and who had treated him like a son, he had the Wizarding World's awe for being able to survive Voldemort's killing curse and come out with only a scar as proof, he was their hope, a beacon of light while the Dark Lord continued to wreak havoc on humankind.
But the truth was, he could care less for the popularity he held among the Wizarding People. He would have been happy with having his parents, Sirius and Dumbledore alive and growing up in an ordinary, loving home. He would have traded this life for the ordinary one in a heartbeat.
However, he was Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, hero and hope of mankind, and no matter what, the life he was living now, it could never be changed; He could never change who he was now, he had responsibilities to his friends, everyone who depended on him to save them.
But one thing remained, he was only human; he had his own fears, his life, his humanity to worry about. He didn't want to commit murder, didn't want to shed blood with his hands, he was only a teenager, for God's sake! How could he be expected to kill a powerful wizard at his age? He was supposed to be worrying about his future, his non-Voldemort threatened future, about going on dates and passing his classes, he wasn't supposed to be wondering when and how he'd die in Voldemort's hands, whether he's succeed in a mission put on his shoulders by the Wizarding World, if he'd get to live tomorrow, if maybe in another dimension, another life, another Harry Potter was living a different life, much better than his own, surrounded by love and happiness.
Although, he never really did what he was supposed to do. He wasn't even who he was supposed to be.
His destiny, his purpose had caused him his chance for genuine happiness, it had brought him feelings of loneliness, helplessness, estrangement from other people. His uniqueness put him in a high pedestal, where everyone treated him as though he was another being-special, as though he wasn't even human. He was never to be touched, never to be tainted lest he lose his purity, the thing he had that been able to prevent Voldemort from killing him—it was my mother,she loved me enough to protect me while she was dying, he wanted to scream, it was her love that saved me. But he didn't because they would never understand the depth what Lily Potter did for her son, what was sacrificed so he could live. No one was to touch Harry Potter. In turn, no one saw the awkward teenager struggling to find himself and grow up as normally as possible. No one ever saw the vulnerable person behind the façade of the Boy Who Lived, the guy who wanted to be himself and be accepted, who yearned to live, to love and be loved in return.
Harry has never belonged to anyone or anyplace. He was a wizard and a muggle, a halfblood. He has always been unique and where everybody else says 'special', he replies, quietly in his heart, 'alone'.
These thoughts plagued Harry's mind as he lay on his bunk listening to Hermione's stifled sobs and cries over Ron's departure with numbed grief. His male bestfriend's departure, in the deepest recesses of his heart, buried and kept in lock & key along with his doubts and fears, was expected but it still caused his fears of abandonment to resurface, attacking him in his moments of weakness and pulling him down, drowning him in his grief and pain. What hurt more was Ron's reason for leaving; he was jealous of Harry and Hermione's non-existent romantic entanglement and he was afraid that they would leave him behind, that they would consider him as useless and a burden.
That the only reason they kept him with them was because they were afraid of breaking the 'Golden Trio'.
Harry felt a bitter sense of irony.
His feelings for Hermione—they were complicated; a mixture of longing, deep friendship, frustration, fear, and boundless amounts of love. He was in love with Hermione, hopelessly so, loved her enough to let her choose Ron and not burden her with the knowledge that he was in love with her, to keep their seven years of friendship alive by keeping his feelings to himself. He was also afraid of ruining something that was great in itself for feelings that might disappear if only he let her go. But he knew he wouldn't be able to forget, to let his heart fall hard only to break, so that it could mend and start loving again. He knew that his feelings for his female bestfriend—almost like a sister, but not really—was true, real as the threat of Voldemort, that it was his first love, and maybe even the greatest, the feelings of unrequientment aside, he would ever have.
He didn't even know when his platonic adoration for her—maybe it was never platonic in the first place?—had started growing into something he couldn't control, a love surpassing any other he has ever known.
Hermione Jean Granger, with her auburn hair, kind, intelligent honey-brown eyes, sweet, perfect-toothed smile, a mind that craves, thirsts for knowledge and a heart capable of unflinching, unfailing trust, loyalty and love was his version of Aphrodite, his greatest weakness. She wasn't perfect, but she was more than enough for him.
Clenching his hands in frustration, Harry turned his body sideways, towards the wall of their tent and buried his head in his pillows, wishing to comfort Hermione in her time of grief, but hesitating because he didn't even know how to cope with his own.
Not for the first time since Ron left, Harry asked, 'why?'
Why did you leave? Why did you choose to abandon us, abandon Hermione? Why can't you see that she loves you, not me? Why isn't our friendship enough to make you stay? Why can't you trust us as we trust you?
Why did she have to love you?
Irony it was indeed, that Ron was jealous of him because he thought Hermione was in love was in love with Harry, when Harry was jealous, because at his departure, he broke Hermione's heart, that Ron was the one who actually held her love.
Harry's lips twisted into a bitter smile.
Hours passed as he listened to Hermione's cries slowly subside and come to a stop as she fell asleep. With a relieved sigh, he too fell into a fitful sleep.
A week had passed, and Harry was once again listening to Hermione's sobs, hands clenched under his pillow, when he decided enough was enough. He knew that the grief that surrounded them wasn't just because of Ron. They hadn't made progress in tracking the Horcruxes and it was affecting them badly. He could feel the hopelessness and depression enveloping them and he was afraid that if they didn't do something about it fast, it would consume them.
He knew that the more they lingered on Ron, the more they would drown themselves in their shared misery. Already, he could feel himself being crippled by the intensity of it and he feared what would happen to them if it worsened.
But he won't let it, because everyone needed them.
Sitting up in his bunk, he saw her sitting in the stairs, shoulders hunched and body shaking, the radio playing music beside her, filling the otherwise empty silence in their tent. Getting up, he slowly walked towards her, stopping in front of her, and held out a hand. She lifted her head to look at him rather miserably, an unspoken question in her eyes. He shrugged and after a few seconds of staring at each other, she finally took his hand in hers. Harry took a moment to feel the clammy yet soft quality of it before pulling her to her feet. Guiding one of her hands to his shoulders, he unlocked the locket she kept around her neck and pocketed it before putting a hand on her hips and the other holding hers. The music started—O' Children, Harry realized with a start—and he gently swayed her to the music, ignoring the blush rising on his cheeks and the voice at the back of his mind that reminded him how terrible his dancing skills were.
He gave her an encouraging smile when she looked at him, her lips twitching up into a small smile, brows still furrowed slightly.
Hey little train! Wait for me!
He guided them to dance in a circle, holding both her hands in his tightly. He watched as the worry ebbed from her face slowly and increased his efforts to making it disappear completely. This was the least he could do, to make everything easier if only a fraction, to lighten the burden on both their shoulders a bit, so that the future wasn't looking as bleak as before.
I was held in chains, but now I'm free
She twirled in a moment of childishness, the smile on her face growing and turning into a giggle, which caused the smile on his own face to turn genuine, and he thought—this is what we're supposed to be, teenagers who don't have the world on their shoulders, free to smile and laugh and not worry about saving anyone's life—he ached for their lost childhood and how they were forced to grow up so suddenly, thrust into a world they weren't ready for yet.
I'm hanging in there, don't you see
He drew her to him in a hug, comforting her, thanking her for not leaving him—before and now, always there beside him, supporting him—apologizing for dragging her into his problems and for not always being there when she needed him, and reassuring her that whatever happens, he'd be with her always, that he won't let her get hurt more than she already has. He poured all his feelings, everything that he felt, into their embrace, a moment of weakness they allowed the other to witness and finding strength in each other when they were losing their own.
In this process of elimination
Slowly, they separated, hands still clasped tightly. They looked at one another, and saw identical faces of misery, hope, determination, sorrow, understanding, acceptance and everything in between. Harry found that the smiles they had from earlier had turned sad. However, as the seconds ticked by, he saw the sad lines Hermione had been carrying had decreased and the slump of her shoulders was gone. As he gazed at her, he found the light in her warm brown eyes had returned, duller than normal but he knew that she was recovering, knew that her strong determination wasn't going to let her be idle in her personal pain any longer.
He didn't have to worry anymore.
Harry woke up with a jolt, his head spinning. He opened his eyes blearily and immediately saw Hermione at his side, tears sliding down her cheeks from his eyes and an expression of utter relief in her face when she saw him awake. She quickly enveloped him in a fierce hug.
"'Mione?" He asked, confused and dizzy.
"Oh god! I thought—I—," She sobbed in the crook of his neck, body trembling.
She explained everything to him, that she had to use a Hover Charm to get him to his bunk when she found him, that he'd been screaming and moaning in his sleep. He felt a tinge of apprehension when she told him how she couldn't take the Horcrux off him, how it seemed to refuse to let go of him that she had to use a Severing Charm. When she asked him to clarify what had happened when he was with Bathilda Bagshot, or at least, Nagini inside Bathilda's body. He told her everything he could remember; carefully not mentioning the sight of the snake coming out of Bathilda's neck, knowing it would disgust her and he didn't want to remember that particular event as well.
-If he had only managed to kill the snake, it would have been worth it, all of it—
Sick at heart, he sat up and threw back the covers. Hermione immediately stopped him.
"Harry, you ought to rest!"
He shook his head stubbornly.
"You're the one who needs sleep. You look exhausted, Hermione. I'm fine, I'll keep watch for a while. Where's my wand?"
She refused to look at him, biting her lip.
"Where's my wand, Hermione?"
Silently, a tear fell down her cheek. She reached down beside the bed and held it out to him.
"Harry, I'm sorry…"
The holly and phoenix wand was nearly severed in two. One fragile strand of phoenix feather kept both pieces hanging together. The wood had splintered apart completely. Harry took it into his hands as though it was a living thing that had suffered a terrible injury. He could not think properly; everything was a blur of panic and fear. Then he held out the want to Hermione.
"Mend it. Please."
"Harry, I don't think, when it's broken like this -"
"Please, Hermione, try!"
The dangling half of the wand resealed itself. Harry held it up.
The wand sparked feebly, then went out. Harry pointed it at Hermione.
Hermione's wand gave a little jerk, but did not leave her hand. The feeble attempt at magic was too much for Harry's wand, which split into two again. He stared at it, aghast, unable to take in what he was seeing—the wand that had survived so much—it was broken and now he was defenceless. How was he supposed to defeat Voldemort if he didn't have his wand? How was he supposed to protect everyone? Protect Hermione?
He clenched his hand into a fist and squeezed his eyes shut, preventing the hot tears from falling. Taking a deep, calming breath, he muttered,
"I'm going for a walk."
The last thing he saw before he left was her gaze following him, fresh tears leaking from her eyes.
That night, as he shuffled back inside the tent, keeping his footsteps quiet, he found Hermione lying on his bunk. He gazed at her sleeping from, wanting to reach out and smooth back the stray hair from her face but refraining, and was about to turn to the unoccupied bed to sleep on it when he felt a hand attach itself to the ends of his shirt, tugging slightly. Slowly, he turned to find Hermione watching him silently, eyes red and puffy.
They stared at each other, Harry tracing the lines of her face with his eyes, his heart aching in longing—touch her, love her—until Hermione sat up and held both her arms towards him and croaking out,
Hearing the plea in her voice, he quickly climbed on the bed and felt her arms, warm and soft, wound around him. She was shaking a bit, breath coming out in soft pants. He rubbed the small of her back gently, comforting her. She buried her face in his neck and started to talk in a low, hushed voice,
"Earlier…w-when you wouldn't wake up—it…it frightened me—I," she cut herself off, swallowing, before continuing, "I felt helpless—I panicked because for a minute, I couldn't remember what I was supposed to do—And I—I almost lost you!"
Suddenly, Hermione pushed him off, gripping his shoulders and looking at him dead him the eyes, brown eyes sharp and serious.
"I can't lose you, Harry—"Harry felt a rush of elation and thoughts—sheneedsmeI'mimportanttoherIcan'tdieIcan'tleavehernow—rushed and mixed together in his head, a jumble of thoughts, and emotions. "—you're all I have left now. Everyone—my parents, our friends, even—"She closed her eyes, her face a picture of pain and sorrow, as if saying the name caused her a kind of physical pain, and he knew who she was referring to, knew the name that would always be in her memory, the person always in her heart. Harry felt all his hope, all his emotions drain away and left in their wake a numbing emptiness. His jaw tightened as he fought to keep his expression carefully blank and attentive while Hermione continued on speaking, oblivious to the effect of her words on Harry. "—they're all gone now. And maybe they won't be coming back if He isn't stopped. Harry," she released his shoulders to gently cup his face "you're our only hope. You must defeat him for everyone's sake. I'll help you, everyone will and you will win."
He nodded. "I know."
His tone seemed to have startled Hermione, and she peered at him, eyes searching his in concern. He forced himself to stare back at her.
"Are you okay, Harry?" she asked, brows furrowing.
"Yeah, I'm fine Hermione. Don't worry." He said, shrugging.
She continued to look at him for a moment longer before nodding. He sighed and was about to climb out of bed when Hermione caught his wrist in her hand, effectively stopping him. He turned back to her and studied her as she stared at the blanket bunched up in her lap. She lifted her head to look at him.
He opened his mouth to ask why when he felt her fingers tighten around his wrist. He was silent for a moment, torn between wanting to get away from her—her presence oppressing him, making him feel like he needed to run, run away as fast as possible, never looking back, and hiding until everything just—and yearning to comfort her, to reassure her, that everything was going to be alright, that everyone was going to be safe, because he was going to protect them but-
Everything wasn't alright, everyone was dying and he wasn't sure if his protection was even any use now that his wand was broken, that he was broken himself, lost in his own fears and doubts, hopeless and vulnerable, and never hoping for a way to get out, to be saved, before it was too late.
In the end, he decided to stay and try to console her in his own way, knowing that every time he did, he was falling and his heart was leading him to sure heartbreak. He climbed back and settling beside her, lying down and pulling the blankets up to his chin. Once he was settled, he felt Hermione's arms wound around him once more, her head tucked under his chin.
"Good night, Harry." She mumbled sleepily.
"G'night, 'Mione." He replied, knowing that he wasn't going to be able to catch some sleep, not with her so near, so warm, beside him, and yet so much farther from him than ever before.
He spent the whole night watching at her sleep, wanting to hold her to him as tight as possible—never letting go, keeping her forever bound to him—but resisting, needing to keep a piece of himself, something to be called his own while he was ready to give everything he had to her in a silver platter if she wished it, a piece that when the time came and she went back to Ron's arms, he would be able to move on, and say he hadn't lost everything he was to his first love, and maybe someday if the right person came along, he would be able to give the last, most precious piece of himself to them.
When the sun came up, he finally fell asleep, listening to Hermione's heartbeat, remembering each pulse and locking it inside his heart along with many of his memories of her.
Posted first on FF.net.
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The next consecutive nights found them falling asleep together in Harry's bunk, Hermione clutching him to her like he was her lifeline—and maybe he was, Harry thought—and him listening to her heart beat as it slowly lulled him to sleep, like a strange lullaby only he could hear.
Meanwhile, they spent their days reading books and researching about the Horcruxes. Harry found that he only talked to her when he discovered something that could help them and she did the same to him. Needless to say, they rarely talked at all. This caused Harry to feel a twinge of sadness and nostalgia, remembering the easy way they used to interact and how these interactions were always filled with mirth and affection.
And the change was mostly caused by Ron's departure. Harry wanted to feel bitter and angry towards his male bestfriend but he was too tired and weary from everything else to summon the energy to do so.
It was now a month since Ron left and Harry was to be found standing on an open field not far from where they had set up camp, the sun just rising up the sky. The grass was green and moist, and the air smelled of the lingering morning dew. Everything was so quiet and still, one would've thought not a living thing resided there but it was not so. He occasionally rabbits scampering around and heard birds chirping merrily as if greeting the sun as it rose. Harry's face was turned up towards the sun, like a sunflower seeking the sun, absorbing the warmth it gave him, making the coldness he constantly felt recede a little. The cold wind brushed and tangled his raven hair and caressed his face soothingly. He took a deep, cleansing breath and just—felt.
He felt an inner peace he hadn't felt since Voldemort's reappearance.
As a skinny kid who looked like he never got enough sunlight, he worshipped it. He loved the light and warmth it provided him. Somehow, it gave him comfort and reassured him that as long as it shined, there was hope—something that was becoming scarce as Voldemort continued to terrorize them.
He closed his eyes and stretched his arms, fingers reaching up as if to touch it, hold it in his hands and never let go. He needed that kind of warmth when he was so utterly cold.
"Las'hark," he mumbled, lips twitching up into a tiny smile. "The sun. The hope's Hope."
He often thought of Hermione as his Sun, with her honey brown eyes that seemed to reflect the sun's brightness and warmth in her smiles and laughter, her heart's tenderness rivaling it. His own miniature sun, only she wasn't his to keep, not his to treasure, never his to love. These thoughts caused the smile on his lips, tiny and temporary, vanished. He opened his eyes, careful not to stare directly at the sun and heard the sounds of quiet footsteps walking towards him.
Stifling his sigh at having his solitude broken, he turned and saw Hermione herself, watching him with a strange expression, one that looked almost like awe but not, because it was deeper and more profound, like maybe—he put a stop to his thoughts, berating himself for even going there. After giving himself a mental shake, he notice the way she was walking toward him, hesitant and unsure.
He gave her a small, encouraging smile, which she reciprocated immediately.
"You were gone before I woke up and I got worried when you still didn't come back after two hours so I…" she trailed off, voice soft.
He shrugged. "Just wanted to stretch my limbs for a bit. I didn't realize I've been gone for that long. Sorry for worrying you, 'Mione."
Her smile turned fond. "It's fine."
Not wanting to go back to the constricting walls of their tent yet, he unceremoniously plopped down the soft grass, thankful that it was mostly dry, and stretched out his elbows behind him, continuing his previous activities and closed his eyes. After a minute, he heard the grass shift as Hermione sat down beside him, his tense body unwinding until he completely laid down, the soft grass underneath him proving to be an adequate pillow. In no time at all, he fell asleep, his dreams full of laughter and happiness.
Harry woke up slowly, his brain emerging from his restful sleep to realize that something was different. He opened his eyes and blinked blearily, unable to stop the yawn that sounded from his mouth. He rubbed his eyes, idly realizing that his glasses were missing and someone was stroking his hair. He quickly sat up, spine rigid as he turned to look at his companion. Heart beating erratically, he saw Hermione staring at him with confused and hurt eyes, hands till aloft from where she had been stroking his hair earlier. Feeling guilt well up inside him, he gave her a sheepish grin.
"Sorry, Hermione. Force of habit. I've been paranoid ever since this all started." He explained, watching as she put her hands on her lap and squeezed them.
She gave him a nod, understanding and sympathy written clearly in her face. She handed him his glasses and he immediately put them on, blinking as his eyesight adjusted.
"It's okay. I understand, Harry."
He sighed and lay back down again, gazing at the blue sky and the clouds passing by above them blankly. From the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione shuffle closer to him and felt her gently ease his head back to her lap. His eyelids fluttered close when she started stroking his hair again.
Minutes ticked by in peaceful silence as the birds continued to chirp around them and the sun finally reached its place in the sky. He was about to fall asleep when she broke it and stated,
"I had a dream last night."
He looked up at her, seeing her staring back down at him. Their gazes held for a moment before he asked, gulping slightly,
"Yeah? What was it about?"
She frowned and averted her gaze, looking thoughtful.
"That's just it. I don't remember at all, but I know I felt happy and…content." She turned her attention back to him. "…I think you were there as well."
He didn't respond, keeping his thoughts blank. His gaze off to the side, he watched a rabbit emerge from its hole and, after scanning its surroundings, hopped out. It stood on its hind legs, sniffing the air cautiously before hopping off to search for food. He frowned for a moment, and then sat up, immediately missing Hermione's gentle hands. He squashed the feeling and stood up, dusting his trousers for imaginary dirt.
"We better get back to camp before someone sees us. It'd be good to read up some more, too." He said, walking towards their campsite.
That night, he made sure to stay up as late as possible, waiting for Hermione to fall asleep before he turned in himself. However, instead of settling in beside her in his bunk, he used the unoccupied one. He fell asleep watching her.
To his surprise, when he woke up, Hermione was tucked in beside him, arms keeping him close to her. He cursed silently and tried to lessen her grip around him but failed, only causing it to tighten even more. He heard a whimper and looked at her, seeing tiny glistening tears falling down her cheeks. Sighing, he relaxed and wound his own arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him. He wiped her tears away with his thumb, his fingertips lingering on her lips. He stared at her for a few minutes, making sure that she was still asleep before placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. Tucking her head under his chin, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Harry stood alone in a darkened alcove inside a familiar forest, the blood red moon shining from the sky eerily. He looked around, searching for Hermione but not seeing her anywhere.
"Hermione?" he called out, his voice ringing in the empty forest.
The back of his neck prickled and goosebumps appeared on his arms as the leaves fluttered around him. He felt like someone was watching, an ominous presence pressing against him. He heard a twig snap minutely and swiftly turned around, spine ramrod straight and wand at the ready.
His heart stopped.
Lord Voldemort stood before him, his snake-like, inhuman face arranged in a smug and cruel expression. His thin lips twisted up in a smirk and he opened his mouth, voice hissing Harry's death.
Harry tried to will his body to move but failed, numb and unmoving. He watched as his Death approached, the green colored curse rapidly flying towards him and hitting him straight on the chest. At first, there was nothing—no pain, no agony—then it was as if a thousand knives plunged into his body at the same time, an iron hand squeezed his heart so hard he couldn't breathe and his mind was split apart—splinched—the pieces breaking apart and scattering. His ears rang with screams, images flew across his eyelids, voices long gone returning and haunting him.
—No, please don't hurt Harry—Take me instead—
His mother begging Voldemort to spare him.
—Please, I beg you—
He watched as Lily Potter fell and slumped on the floor, lifeless and unmoving. He felt his heart call out to his mother's—mommomomoMOM!—his soul reaching out, fingers stretching for hers, her soul draining, slipping away and he felt his heart tear apart, crying out while his mouth was shut, green eyes staring at Voldemort's looming form, knowing that he should be afraid—
—He felt time stand still, numb with shock as Sirius' body fell through the Veil, eyes wide open and completely blank. Harry didn't even realize he was already running towards the Veil, arms outstretched until an arm around his waist stopped him. His mind chanted his godfather's name—SiriusSiriusSiriusSirius—he couldn't breathe, people were surrounding him, trapping him, everything was a blur of forms, voices, touches—he wanted to run, get away from them, and follow Sirius—
—Harry stared at Dumbledore's wise, blue eyes and saw the spark, the life fade from them as his body fell, his robes fluttering, disappearing from view and undoubtedly dropping on the ground. He found himself unable to move, his mind struggling to understand what just happened—Snape betrayed them, the Death Eaters are destroying the castle, Voldemort's moving—he was overcome with shock, grief, loss and his body was taut with mounting tension, like a rope being pulled tighter and tighter until it snapped—k
—Dumbledore's dead—He's dead, what's going to happen now—
—Blood, so much blood, it soaked his clothes and his hands, the eerie red color contrasting starkly against the pale white of his shaking hands and he didn't know where it came from—where was he—what happened—
And then he saw the one sight he never wanted to see, in his life, in his dreams and even his nightmares.
Hermione lay in a pool of blood, her clothes drenched with it, and a gaping wound on her chest. Her face was tinged with blue, achingly lifeless, and her bushy auburn hair singed. Ron sat on the ground, cradling her head in his lap as he stroked her cold, pale cheeks. Tears fell rapidly from his eyes to drop on Hermione's face while he sobbed silently.
A sound of pure agony tore from Harry's throat and he ran to them, kneeling and reaching out a hand to touch Hermione—pleasenonotHermioneno!—his vision blurred, tears filling his eyes to fall down his cheeks, he refused to believe that Hermione was dead, she was only unconscious and she'll wake up soon. His hand was slapped away violently and his head jerked up to look at Ron, speechless.
Ron was glaring at him murderously, pale blue eyes dilated with rage and sorrow. He snarled at Harry, shouting furiously,
"DON'T TOUCH HER! IT'S YOUR FAULT SHE'S DEAD! IF YOU HADN'T MESSED UP—KILLED VOLDEMORT FASTER, SHE'D STILL BE ALIVE! I KNEW IT—YOU COULD NEVER PROTECT US PROPERLY, PROTECT HERMIONE! IF I HAD KNOWN, I WOULD'VE TAKEN HER WITH ME—I TRUSTED YOU TO PROTECT HER, YOU BASTARD! HOW COULD YOU LET HER DIE LIKE THIS?"
—NonononoNO—she couldn't be—Hermione—NOOOO!—
He could only watch as his male bestfriend raised his wand against him.
"I will never forgive you."
He closed his eyes and let one last tear drop before everything went white.
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Chapter 3: Three
Harry could feel Hermione's gaze on him as he panted for breath, sweat-drenched and tears leaking from his eyes. He forced his eyes to close, willing the nightmare and everything it induced from him—fear, sorrow, pain, grief—to disappear from his memory, his mind and heart.
'It was only a nightmare, Harry. GET A GRIP. She's alive—Hermione's alive—open your eyes and you'll see for yourself.' He told himself internally, slowly opening his eyes, the image before him blurry and unmoving.
He dug under his pillows for his glasses and put them on, wiping the sweat on his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. He took a deep breath, calming himself, before turning back to Hermione, who was watching him with wide, worried eyes.
She shook her head gently.
"You don't need to explain, Harry. Not now, not ever, if that's what you want."
He drew a shuddering breath and nodded tightly, unclenching the hand he unconsciously fisted. He threw his feet over the edge of the bed and felt the coolness of the floor assault his unprotected feet. Shivering, he stood up and was not surprised when Hermione put a hand on his arm, concern emanating from her in waves. Giving her an assuring smile, he rubbed his thumb on her cheek fondly.
"I'm fine, 'Mione. I just want to step outside to freshen up a bit."
She gave him a reluctant nod and laid back down the bed, closing her eyes. Tossing a final look at her, Harry quietly exited the tent to a light drizzle. He looked around and saw a tree that could shelter him from it. He walked towards it and sat down under its protection, letting the sounds of the raindrops calm his frayed nerves.
Harry didn't know how long he'd been outside and noticed that the light drizzle from earlier had turned into full blown rain. He stood up and held out both hands to catch the falling rain in his palms, the coolness seeping into the skin of his hands. Without thought, he stepped out of the tree's protection and into the rain, immediately drenched to the bone. He tilted his head up, closing his eyes, and let the rain wash over him.
The last month had been exhausting, to say the least, physically and emotionally, and he only had a few moments like these when he felt like he was allowed to let go, let himself breathe and just be human. Blinking his eyes open, he ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. His glasses were now blurred due to the cold and he couldn't see anything. Seeing that he couldn't rectify the problem due to his clothes being wet, he tried his best to quickly but carefully walk back inside the tent. He had just stepped inside when a towel was draped over his head and gentle hands started to dry his hair.
Harry stood stock-still as Hermione wiped his hair dry and didn't say a word when she handed him dry clothing. When he finished dressing, he found her on their—his—bunk, reading. He cleared his throat and asked,
"Find anything new?"
She sighed and put A History of Magic on her lap.
"No. I haven't found anything since our disastrous visit to Godric's Hollow. And I've been thinking about your broken wand. You can't use mine forever. Since it's impossible to repair it, we'll have to get a new one."
He sat down the floor beside their—his—bunk and leaned back against it for support.
"Yeah, I know. But how?" he asked.
"Seeing as Ollivander's been kidnapped and we don't know any wand maker anywhere near where we currently are, or as talented as Ollivander is, we might have to steal one."
He grunted in agreement, examining his wand hand. He missed his wand, the feeling of safety it had given him, the way his magic seemed to travel from him through his finger to his wand. Now that it was broken beyond repair, he realized it had given off a kind of aura, warm, comforting and familiar, and he reckoned it was his own magical signature, his magical imprint he put on his wand the moment he touched it.
Turning slightly towards his bed, he dug around under his pillow, pulled off the two pieces of his own wand, and cradled them in one hand, while he smoothed down its length with the other. He closed his eyes and remembered the day he got it, six years ago inside Ollivander's shop with Hagrid, the spark that raced through his fingers to spread over his whole body, welcoming him in a way that seemed to say, 'Hey, I'm happy you finally found me. I've been waiting just for you' and knew in that instant that the wand was his, that it was made just for him and that another wand wasn't going to have the same happy, gleeful reaction it had given him. He had fallen asleep that night with his new wand tucked under his pillow, hidden fro his Uncle Vernon's prying eyes.
Bringing himself out of his memories, he pulled the pouch Hagrid had given him on his 17th birthday and deposited the remains of his wand inside it, before securing the pouch and hiding it under his shirt.
He stood up and climbed back to his bed, stating,
"We should get back to sleep, it's nowhere near morning right now, and if we plan to Apparate somewhere else, we better get some good night's sleep."
Hermione nodded, putting her book away and laid back down beside him, pulling the blanket up around them. She turned to him and immediately put her arms around him. He hesitated for a moment before wounding his own arms around her as well. He shifted a bit to get comfortable and after a moment, settled down. With a murmur of good night to each other, they fell asleep.
Fortunately, after the first nightmare, he wasn't plagued by horrible memories nor the vey unclear future possibly filled by so many more deaths, so much agony that he could still hear the anguished screams whenever he closed his eyes.
It all changed a week after the initial nightmare. For the next two weeks, every single night, he experienced the same nightmares, only more detailed, more gruesome that he could never tell that it wasn't reality until Hermione woke him up, crying in worry, terrified for him and wanting to help, to comfort him. She begged him to tell her what he sees and after the few times he refused, pleaded for him to take the Sleeping Draught she brewed for him, so that he could at least get some sleep.
He never did.
They had countless arguments about it, Hermione hopelessly worried and Harry firm and stubborn. It always started with Hermione asking if he was okay and he replies with a shrug, uselessly hiding the black bags under his eyes from her gaze. She would frown at him disapprovingly and he would force himself to ignore it, making up an excuse to subtly escape the oncoming argument. She never believes him—she was too perceptive sometimes, other times not enough—and the bickering begins.
"—but Harry! I know you're suffering from all those sleepless nights—you're so tired nowadays, I worry that you're just going to collapse—"
"—Stop worrying about me, Hermione! I'm fine! You—"
"You're obviously not! Stop lying to me! I only want what's best for you—"
"—Stop acting like you're my mother! I'm fine—"
"—if you don't want me to worry so much, just take the potion, Harry! Why—"
"—I don't need your potion! Listen to me, I'm okay—"
"If Ron was here—"
He snapped, like a rope pulled too tight.
"But Ron's not here, is he? It's just me—Harry—and I'm not Ron—"
"Of course you're Harry! What made you think—"
"Then don't use that 'If Ron was here, he'd do this, he'd know that' because the fact is, he's not here! Why do you keep—"
He heard the frustration in his voice, the bitter resentment for Ron he didn't know he was capable of feeling, and knew that he should stop there, unless he wanted to hurt Hermione. But he couldn't, he felt too wound up with hurt, confusion, frustration, anger, mixing with the rest of his raging emotions. He felt trapped, the walls closing in on him with every second and his fight or flight instinct telling him to fight, protect himself , but he doesn't want to and he was confused—he wanted to escape, needed to get away before he did something he'd regret but he wanted to hurt Hermione, like the way she had been hurting him with her constant presence—always clinging, always hovering, never letting him breathe, strangling him with her concern, and he needed to breathe or else he'll snap—and the way she looked at him sometimes, lost and searching, as if the eyes that would look back at her was supposed to be different—blue instead of green—and it hurt so bad, knowing that even when he was there, it wasn't enough for her to love him as much as he loved her. He wanted to scream—I'm not Ron—to make her understand that he couldn't help her right now, couldn't pull her from her loss—he knew that she had been drifting away and he was too, that there was this great distance between them and he couldn't find the will in himself to be the one to reach out and be her anchor—he was not what she needed and he didn't want to change himself—he was always changing, trying to be someone that they could accept—anymore than he already has. He was tired, so tired of being Harry Potter, tired of always being afraid that they would be caught and of everyone he loved, of Hermione dying, that a dark part of his mind, hidden so deep inside that he couldn't make himself ignore it completely when it whispers to him: hey, maybe you'll die and you won't have to worry, or you can just hide, leave them all to die, they're not you're problem—but he knew that it was wrong—but he wanted to believe it—and he had vowed to do the right thing—the noble thing, it whispers—and why couldn't Hermione just give him a break?
Why couldn't she just let him self-destruct?
He took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down and said flatly,
"You should leave."
He watched her reaction, saw the way her eyes dull, go blank, like shutters slamming down and she asked, voice carefully blank, monotonous.
He wanted to say so many things—because you're obviously suffering here, without Ron, because you miss him so much, you need him, because we're hurting each other, we don't even realize it, because I need to keep you safe from Voldemort, from me, because I love you and it's killing me to keep you here when you'd rather be somewhere else, because I'm not who you need—but instead, he replied,
"Because, let's face it Hermione, we haven't had progress since our trip to Godric's Hollow. Unless you've miraculously found out where the other Horcruxes are overnight, it's useless for you to stay with me. And it's dangerous for you to stay with me, more so because you're a Muggleborn. When You-Know-Who finds us, and he will, he'll kill you instantly. I can't—I can't lose my other bestfriend, 'Mione."
I can't lose you.
She looked at him silently, deathly pale and features stoic, but doesn't respond. Clenching fist, he steps out of the tent and runs.
He didn't know where he was, just knew that he wasn't far enough, but his legs throbbed and his lungs burned. He doubled over, placing his hands on his knees for support as he struggled to catch his breath and blink away the white and dark spots from his vision. He needed to keep running—
Everything went blank.
He woke up slowly and the first thing he felt was e softness beneath him, keeping him comfortable. He felt a blanket covering him, providing warmth against the cold, and then he felt something brushing against his hand, a soft butterfly touch. He opened his eyes and saw Hermione kneeling on the floor beside his bunk, his hand encased in hers and her warm eyes trained on his face.
They stare at each other silently, until Hermione whispered, voice a bit hoarse,
"You're so reckless, Harry."
The corner of his lips twitched up but failed to form a smile.
"How'd you find me?" he asked, throat a little sore.
She did not answer; just continued to watch him quietly, her face betraying no emotion. He sighed and turned his gaze upward, opting to stare at the ceiling. Silence reigned inside the tent, not unusual for them these days. His mind was starting to lull and his eyelids were going heavy when she spoke again, causing him to jump slightly in surprise.
"When you left…" she started, a little crease forming in her forehead in thought, "I…realized a lot of things."
She paused, as if waiting for him to ask about her epiphanies. When he continued to be silent, she said,
"One of them was…how clingy I was with you and I realized how…suffocated you must have felt. I forgot about many things since—since Ron left. I forgot how, sometimes, you needed space from us, to be on your own for a while, to think, to get away, from what, I can only speculate. And on those times, I always had Ron with me, and he was someone I could worry about you with. I had him to anchor me when you left us, to express my worries and fears for you with. I didn't have to deal with everything when he was there because he helped me, even though he had an emotional range of a teaspoon," a small fond smile of amusement spread on her lips but then she saw his solemn expression and it quickly disappeared. She sighed. "And when he left, I didn't have anyone anymore, except you. But like I said, you often wanted space to think, so I couldn't depend on you as much as I did with Ron. But when—when Nagini tried to kill you, something in me…snapped. I knew I couldn't lose you, that I couldn't let you die. So I…put a figurative leash on you. I'm sorry, Harry. I hadn't realized at the time that I was suffocating you. I just—I just wanted to keep you safe."
She looked at him with pleading eyes, seeking forgiveness. He nodded, wordlessly giving it to her. He couldn't stay angry with her—not when they only had each other now.
"And when you said that you weren't Ron, I realized that you thought I was comparing him to you, but Harry," she said, when he opened his mouth to retort, "I wasn't. I didn't even mean to imply that I did. I apologize if you thought otherwise. I know," she gave his hand a squeeze, "that you're Harry and not Ron. Believe me."
There was silence for a moment, until he said quietly,
"I do." He gave her hand a squeeze in assurance.
She took another deep breath and continued.
"For the past few weeks, I've come to realize one important thing we, Ron and I, as your bestfriends, should've known from the beginning, and that in being ignorant of it, we have failed you. Harry," she took both his hands in hers and her eyes showed worry, fondness, and regret. "…I've realized that…we barely know you—I barely know you."
He gave her a sad, ironic smile.
"No. You guys know me better than anyone else."
"But, it's not enough—we should've known better than to add to your burdens—"
He frowned. "You guys aren't burdens—"
"Our expectations of you were the burdens," she amended. "We forgot—I forgot that you're human too. And you have fears and doubts like everyone else. I can't imagine how hard it is, to have everyone's faith, their expectations placed on your shoulders, how it must feel when they expect you to kill You-Know-Who when you don't even know how. And your nightmares—" he stiffened and tried to yank his hand away from her, but her grip was strong around his and she continued, "…I'm really sorry, Harry."
Her eyes turned soft, compassion warming her brown gaze further.
"Harry, you must realize that you're not alone. You have many people who care about you. We're here to help you. You're not alone in this battle."
He averted his eyes from hers and his jaw tightened. His brows furrowed and he said, tone hard and vulnerable at the same time, as he struggled to keep the walls around his heart erect,
"In the end, I always do. I have to fight Him alone because if anyone were to face him with me, they would be killed. Too many people have already died because of this stupid war, I won't let more die because I can't fight on my own. You guys," he looked at her again. "…don't have to fight my own battles for me. I won't let you."
"I know. But Harry," said Hermione sincerely, brown eyes captivating his and refusing to let go. "Just because you can fight your own battles doesn't mean you should always have to do so alone. That's what we're here for."
He was silent for a moment, processing her statement and tucked the emotions it roused from him—gratitude, relief—in his heart. Closing his eyes, he nodded and settled more comfortably in his bed. Hermione, assuming that he was going back to sleep, let go of his hand and stood up, obviously intent on giving him his well deserved rest.
She was halfway towards the tent's entrance when he said, nonchalantly, casual enough to be a comment about the weather,
"You know, everyone in the Wizarding World has called me 'special' ever since I managed to survive You-Know-Who's killing curse, but to the Dursleys and You-Know-Who, I was the 'nuisance', the 'pest'. I often wondered who I was to you guys."
A beat of silence before she answered,
He smiled, bitter and sad, and replied,
"And to me, 'Harry' has always been alone."
With that said, he shifted and lay on his side, presenting his back and drifted to sleep.
Chapter 4: Four
Hermione, fortunately, started giving him his much needed breathing space, much farther than before for his comfort but close enough to tell him that things between them were getting better. He was relieved that it seemed she was the one who anchored herself and that she was finally getting over Ron's departure. If he had known they only needed a good argument for her to wake up, he would have done instigated an argument much earlier, Harry though with dry humor.
They were sitting outside their tent with their books out, enjoying the sunshine and general good weather, when Harry spotted a dandelion growing on the ground by his feet. For the first time since they embarked on their mission to destroy the Horcruxes, his thoughts went to Ginny. He wondered how she was doing and if she was still waiting for him, just as she promised on his birthday months ago.
'Of course she is. You didn't exactly tell her to forget about you the last time you were together." He told himself.
His relationship with Ron's younger sister was…for lack of a better word, complicated. She had liked him for years while he was simply not interested or better yet, Hermione-preoccupied, with the Cho business thrown into the mix. He had only started noticing her on the start of his sixth year in Hogwarts, after he realized she had grown into a rather pretty lady. He was, at the time, troubled and a bit of depressed because Hermione was obviously jealous of Ron and Lavender and he felt like he was caught in between them, like a tug of war. Ginny had provided him with, not a distraction—never that—but she had helped the hurt recede a little, made him forget for a little while—that he was Harry Potter, that his friends needed him to come in between them to prevent them from hurting each other more than they already had—and he had liked her genuinely because she wasn't like any girl he had ever known—she loved Quidditch almost as he did, and she never complained when after practice, she sweated like a pig, she just took it in stride and said it was part of the sacrifice for playing Quidditch. She made him feel the need to protect her and take care of her, and he did, as much as he could. Right from the start, he had been honest with her, that he was in love with someone else and might stay that way for the next 50 years or so—she never asked who it was and for that he was thankful. He didn't want to ruin her and Hermione's friendship—and that he might die someday, courtesy of Voldemort, sooner rather than later, and she had told him that she would take what he could give her, that she didn't expect more from him, and that she was happy that she could fulfill a childhood dream of hers, however short it was. He gave her what he could—affection, understanding, acceptance, happiness—and she had been fine with that.
He remembered with a fond smile how she would braid him crowns made up of dandelions and place it on his head, saying 'My Prince' every time, with a playful smile on her lips. He was thankful for having her and the time he had spent with her. One day, while they were lying on the grass near the lake, he had told her that if he ever recovered from his eventual heartbreak earlier than expected, he would immediately ask her to date him again, provided that she was not already taken at the time. She had laughed, easy and bright, and replied,
"I'll be sure to keep you posted on my relationship status, then."
With careful fingers, he plucked the lone dandelion from its stem and cradled it gently in his hand. Noticing Hermione's inquisitive gaze, he turned to her and explained, his smile still in place,
"It reminded me of Ginny, that's all."
She stared at him for a few seconds, eyes unreadable, then at the flower in his hand. Then, said blankly,
She blinked and her gaze returned to him. There was a strange expression on her face that made Harry frown in confusion. After a beat of silence, she asked quietly, cautiously,
"Do you miss her?"
He nodded, twirling the dandelion between his fingers, his smile back in place as he watched it.
"Yeah, 'course I do."
He tilted his head back to watch the wispy clouds above the sky pass them by and let the sun's rays wash over his face to warm him. A gentle breeze surrounded them and he brought the dandelion to his face, kissing it then blowing the thin white tendrils away to dance with the wind.
A wish—for peace, for rest, for everyone.
He could only hope that after everything, when—not if—he defeated Voldemort because there was no other option, it was either failing and letting everyone suffer for it or winning and removing Voldemort's oppressing presence for good—he hoped that they could move on and start living again. That after the sadness, the sorrow, the pain, there was happiness, healing and peace waiting for all of them.
Sighing, he turned to look at Hermione, who was once again buried in her book, her auburn hair covering her face from him. His hands twitched, itching to brush it away so he could see her, but like always, he refrained. Standing up, he brushed the dirt from his trousers and stretched. Hermione lifted her head from her book to look at him curiously and he gave her an enigmatic smile, and stated,
"This is a good day."
A moment passed before understanding lit up her face. With a happy smile, one of hope, of love, she nodded.
"Yeah. It is."
Harry was fiddling with the contents of his pouch when a hand suddenly appeared in front of him, narrowly missing his nose. Bewildered, he looked up and saw Hermione holding out a hand to him.
"Er, 'Mione? What're you—"
"My name's Hermione Granger. And you are?"
She quirked an eyebrow at him when he continued to be speechless. Shrugging inwardly, he decided to play along for now. He took the hand she was offering and shook it.
"Harry Potter. Nice to meet you."
She rewarded him with a delighted smile and sat down the floor beside him.
"So, tell me about yourself."
He gave her an incredulous, increasingly confused look.
"Hermione, what are—"
She sighed a long suffering sigh and looked at him with the air of exasperated fondness, as if he was being particularly obtuse, like she used to do when Ron and him did something very stupid. He smiled at her with the air of an innocent.
"Our talk a few nights ago was very…enlightening. You said that the Harry you know is always alone, even when we were with you. That—I was really distressed when you said that. I don't want you—I never wanted you to feel that way with us—with me. I'm your bestfriend! Nevertheless, you did and you possibly still do, nothing will change that. But, tonight, I want us to start fresh, a clean slate, as bestfriends."
She watched his face for a reaction to her words while he processed them and what they meant.
No more secrets, no more hiding.
He decided that they could give it a shot and he was willing to open up a little more for her, to let her see inside his heart, but he would still be careful not to reveal too much, lest he accidentally slip up and his feelings for her be found out.
He nodded. "Okay, we can do that."
"Good. Now, let's start over. I'm Hermione Granger. You are?"
He took her offered hand in his, gripping it firmly, and they shook hands, childish smiles on their faces.
"Harry Potter. It's nice to meet you."
That night was spent talking, exchanging previous unknown things about themselves, the little inconsequential ones that were pretty much useless but when put together, told more of the person behind the masks.
The more they talked, the more Harry felt lighthearted, like an invisible weight on his shoulders was finally lifted. He felt freed.
"How come you never told me that you could sing?" Hermione blurted out, sounding a bit indignant and a lot petulant.
Harry, who was about to lie down his bed to take an afternoon nap, tilted his head at her where she sat on her own bed, The Tales of Beetle the Bard open and propped in her lap.
He frowned thoughtfully. Frankly, it never occurred to him to tell them that he could in fact sing, because for him it wasn't important and was completely irrelevant to their usual discussions. And besides, it wasn't like he had a great voice. He could carry a decent tune and be sure not to sing off key and that was what his singing skills consisted of. He shrugged, fluffing his pillow, and laid down. He closed his eyes and replied,
"Because you never asked."
He heard an amused snort and opened one eye to look at his bestfriend. She was smiling and shaking her head, an expression of exasperated amusement on her face.
"I'll start asking, then."
Hermione raised an eyebrow at his outburst but Harry couldn't find it in himself to feel embarrassed. He continued to stare at her where she was standing by the entrance of their tent, having stopped from stepping out to look at him. He stared at her shirt, which read 'I AM A TREKKER—HEAR ME ROAR!" and a picture of a space ship behind it written on the back.
"You're a fan of Star Trek?" he asked again.
Hermione, having finally realized the cause of his incredulity, blushed. Pink was kind of becoming on her, Harry thought fondly. She cleared her throat and struggled to maintain her composure. Her effort was admirable, but unsuccessful.
"Er, yes. I am."
"Isn't that the American show with those two blokes? The ones who travel through space and everything?"
"Yes, it is."
He cocked his head to the side. "Huh. I didn't think you'd be interested in that kind of show. I've watched a couple of episodes when the Dursleys went out and from what I've seen, it's action and sci-fi…"
"Well, I like science! I'm not a blumbering, witless, teenaged girl who's only interest are boys and fashion. I have many varied interests and—"
"If you say so, 'Mione." He cut off the inevitable righteous tirade sure to come if he didn't stop it in time.
"Are you being patronizing?" she asked, eyes narrowing and hands on her hips. He was suddenly reminded of Mrs. Weasley whenever she lectured Ron and the twins.
"Of course not!"
He waved her off as she gave him a sour look. He sent her an amused smirk before she turned and exited their tent.
Chapter 5: Five
It was now two months since Ron left.
Harry knew because not only had he been keeping count but also because of the faraway look Hermione's eyes had adapted ever since they woke up that morning. She glanced at the entrance of the tent every once in awhile and Harry wasn't sure what to make of it. He ignored the pinprick of hurt in his heart and thought of the possible cause of her behavior rationally, or at least tried to, while jealousy burned at his heart.
Was she hoping to see Ron enter through it as though he had never left? Or was she reliving the memory of the night he left them?
His musings were put to a halt when Hermione herself plopped down beside him in his bunk and put her head on his shoulders. She murmured, her voice muffled,
"I miss Ron."
His chest tightened and a lump suddenly formed in his throat. Clearing it, he said,
"Yeah. I do too."
He felt her start to shake and she said,
"I'm so tired of crying over him. It's just so—frustrating. Every time I think of him and what he did to us, I get so angry and sad I…," she lifted her head and wiped her tears away furiously. "…God. I feel so pathetic. Crying over someone who's not even worth it."
She laughed bitterly and shook her head.
"I won't cry anymore—not for someone who abandons his best friends because he couldn't take it anymore, always whining and complaining but never doing something about it. I can't believe we've been friends with a prat like him for years—" she snorted. "Merlin knows I'm tired of crying because of him, tired of feeling helpless like—like a little girl! I'm a very competent witch, I'm the best in our class! I don't need a man—I don't need Ron to mess up my life. It's already hashed up enough without his help, thank you very much!—"
He listened to her rant, amused. Then, the humor of the situation went right out the proverbial window when he heard,
"—one unrequinted love is enough! I do—" she cut herself off, realizing her mistake.
But the damage was already done.
She turned to him, eyes wide as saucers, before she cleared her throat loudly and tried to change the subject.
"Well, anyway! I really—"
But Harry's brain was already running rapidly, asking himself who it could be and scanning every memory he had of Hermione interacting with other males. Krum? Cedric Diggory? Malfoy? Who could it be? It occurred to him that the only way to find out was to ask Hermione directly.
So he did.
"Hermione," he cut her off. "you said no secrets." Hypocrite, he hissed to himself. You're such a hypocrite, Potter. "Who is it?"
She shook her head, face white as sheet and lips trembling. Seeing her expression, he dropped the subject, immediately regretting his prying. Silence reigned for a few minutes while Harry berated himself furiously.
'For Merlin's sake! You're such a hypocrite! No more secrets, huh? And then you almost acted like the jealous boyfriend in front of her when you don't even have the right to be jealous.' He thought to himself angrily, squeezing his eyes shut in self-hate.
After a minute, he finally calmed down and opened his eyes, immediately seeing Hermione's miserable face. Wishing he could hex himself to oblivion, he opened his mouth to apologize.
"Hermione, I'm sorry I—"
She stood up abruptly, her back facing him and he could see the tense lines of her shoulders, her spine rigid, and the way she held herself protectively as if he would suddenly lash out and hurt her. The though of hurting her was quickly rejected. He would sooner cut his wand hand than do anything to hurt her. And he loathed the fact that he was the reason she was acting like that.
"It's fine, Harry. Anyway, I'll go and take watch outside. See you later."
He could only watch as she briskly walked out, feeling regret and self-loathing consume him.
Harry watched the snow fall around him as he sat by the entrance of the tent, still seething and hurt from finding out everything he knew about Dumbledore—that the Albus Dumbledore he had known and respected wasn't real, a fake. He couldn't believe how—how gullible he had been to Dumbledore's lies, how he'd readily believed him and allowed himself to be manipulated.
Lies, everything Dumbledore had told him were all lies.
He was furious that Dumbledore never told him half the things he'd done as a teenager that it never seemed to occur to him that it mattered whether Harry knew about his friendship with Grindelwald. Dumbledore had asked him to risk himself again and again, expecting Harry to trust him blindly and never trusting Harry in return. He had been told lies of omission—never the whole truth. Hermione told him that she knew Dumbledore had loved him, but he couldn't bring himself to believe her. How could
have Dumbledore claim to love him when all the old headmaster had left Harry was a mess of things unfinished, broken, expecting him to fix them all by himself.
It hurt that Dumbledore—his mentor, who had been like a beloved grandfather as he grew up—had trusted his arch nemesis Gellert Grindelwald more than he trusted Harry. He felt betrayed.
He closed his eyes and wished—hating himself for it—that what Hermione said was true; that Dumbledore really had cared.
Harry entered the tent a few hours later and stopped in his tracks when he saw Hermione hastily wipe her eyes, face red and cheeks wet. She straightened up from where she sat on the stairs, the Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore open in her lap. She cleared her throat.
"Harry, I do—"
"I'm gonna get some sleep. Can you take watch?" he asked, cutting her off.
She nodded and he strode towards his bunk, stopping in front of it for a second before climbing in and lying down with his back to her. He heard a shuffle as Hermione put the book away and footsteps, presumably exiting. He barely held a flinch when a hand was abruptly placed on his arm.
"Harry, just because Dumbledore hadn't told you of his association with Grindelwald doesn't necessarily mean he didn't trust you. Maybe he just wanted to forget the mistake of leaving his siblings for his wild ideas about world domination with Grindelwald. Remember that because of his decision, Arianna died and Aberforth loathed him for it. It must have been painful—losing the only family you had left because of a stupid, careless choice. Some things are just too painful to remember, and to talk about it when you still haven't forgiven yourself after so many years…it's—" she squeezed his arm gently. "Don't forget that his view when he was young had drastically changed. He wasn't the Albus Grindelwald had known after his sister died. People change and Dumbledore had changed for the better."
He didn't respond, mulling over her words silently, and after a few moments he heard her sigh and felt the hand on his arm pull away. He heard her footsteps walking away and exit the tent.
Harry watched Hermione read on the floor quietly from where he sat on his bunk, wanting to talk, to apologize—anything, just to break the suffocating silence inside their temporary house. He could hear the cold wind outside whip past their tent and shivered.
It had been a week since the previously warm, relatively happy atmosphere between them had vanished to be replaced by this hesitant tenuous silence and five days since they had read Rita Skeeter's book. Harry couldn't help but feel as if they hadn't had progress at all, that they were back to square one, the first few weeks after Ron left them.
'All good things end. It was high time you stopped being all happy and content and start being miserable again.' The snide voice in his head told him.
He shook his head, as if the action would make it disappear. From his periphery, he saw Hermione lift her head to look at him and he turned to her, their eyes holding for a moment. Hermione watched him worriedly but a little hesitantly, like she was afraid that he'd get angry if she expressed concern for him.
The corner of his lips twitched up in a sad smile.
Hermione's gaze dropped down to the floor in front of her and her mouth turned down into a miniscule frown. Harry wanted to reach out and smooth out the furrow in her forehead.
He decided he would.
He got up and walked towards her, stopping when he was in front of her and bending slightly. He pressed his index and forefinger on the crease gently and she looked at him, the frown disappearing. He straightened up and offered her his hand. When she only stared at him questioningly, he smiled and took her hand in his, pulling her up. He wound his arms around her waist and in turn, she put her arms around his neck. He refused to think of how intimate they must look, opting to sway them slowly while he started to sing, lowly at first, in her ear.
She's all laid up in bed with a broken heart
While I'm drinking Jack all alone in my local bar and we don't know how
How we got into this mad situation
Only doing things out of frustration
Trying to make it work but man these times are hard
Her arms tightened around his neck and he put his forehead against hers, emerald gaze drawing her to him. His voice took an apologetic tone.
She needs me now but I can't seem to find a time
I've got a new job now in the Unemployment Line
And we don't know we got into this mess, It's a gods test
Someone help us cause we're doing our best
Trying to make it work but man these times are hard
But we're gonna start by drinking old cheap bottles of wine
Sit talking up all night
Saying things we haven't for a while, a while yeah
They swayed in circles, his voice the only thing they could hear and he felt like they were the only people in the world, alone but not quite. He watched as her eyes closed, a content expression written clearly on her face and felt like he was falling in love with her all over again.
We're smiling but we're close to tears
Even after all these years
We just now got the feeling that we're meeting
For the first time
It was true; over the past few weeks, the more they talked over things they didn't normally talk about, he felt like they were getting to know each other again, but this time, they didn't have to worry about being ridiculed or rejected because they already knew each other so well, it felt like they've been friends for more than seven years.
She's in line at the
DOLE with her head held high
While I just lost my job but didn't lose my pride
But we both know how we're gonna make it work when it hurts
When you pick yourself up , you get kicked in the dirt
His grip on her waist tightened slightly, hearing his voice hitch a little, and a cross between a sob and a laugh sounded from his throat before he sang again.
Trying to make it work but man t
hese times are hard
But we're gonna start by drinking old cheap bottles of wine
Sit talking up all night, saying things we haven't for a while
A while yeah
We're smiling but we're close to tears
His song was drawing to a close, and the last few lines were sang in soft tones, the song telling the way he had been feeling these past few months more coherently than his own words ever could. He was surprised when Hermione sang with him, her gentle melodic voice mingling with his perfectly.
Oh, these times are hard, yeah
They're making us crazy
Don't give up on me baby
They had ceased swaying and Harry stood still, staring at Hermione as she opened her eyes, a few tears slipping out and running down her cheeks. She looked at him, her brown eyes conveying gratitude, fondness, understanding and another unreadable expression he couldn't for the life of him fathom. It had always been there, from the moment they met and up to now. He had never thought it odd, strange, because he had accustomed to it over time that he just ignored it whenever she gazed at him with it mixing with the other, easily identified emotions. He had never understood it and the feelings it caused him to feel—hope for something more, fear that she knew his true feelings for her—were ignored.
But now, as she looked at him with that frustratingly confusing look—yearning, loving, fearing, doubting—he found his heart beating rapidly and every fiber of his being become aware of how close they were, how warm she felt, how right it was for her to wrapped in his arms. He could see her come nearer, the miniscule distance between them decrease slowly. He found his gaze glued to her petal, pink lips—were they as soft as they looked?—and he felt his brain explode when they touched his, rendering his higher brain functions useless.
He felt…stunned was an understatement. Gobsmacked. He felt gobsmacked. He couldn't think and he couldn't breathe. The only thing he could do was feel—feel the softness of her lips against his, the gust of hot air on his face, the warmth emanating from Hermione. In fact, it was as if his whole world stopped and narrowed down on Hermione in that moment.
Then his brain kickstarted.
—Merlin, she's kissing me—she's kissing me, what do I do—
Both his mind and heart protested when Hermione pulled back. They looked at each other, Harry still speechless and Hermione…resigned.
"Hermione," he started slowly. "…what the bloody hell was that?"
She bit her lip, eyes downcast. She squeezed her eyes closed before blurting out,
"I'm in love with you."
His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. His brain was doing haywire inside his skull as he struggled to understand what she just said, struggled to convince himself that this couldn't possibly be real, that he was dreaming again or maybe he just died and went to heaven while he was asleep because—because Hermione wasn't supposed to be in love with him, she was supposed to be in love with Ron, who was both their bestfriend and—
"What?" he asked, mind still reeling, unable to wrap his mind around the idea of her being in love with him because—it wasn't possible! He had been prepared to pine, for heartbreak, not—not this.
"I'm in love with you, Harry. I've been in love with you for the last seven years, right from the moment you saved me from that blasted troll, until now." She explained, her voice curiously subdued.
"But—Ron—" he sputtered. "—I thought you were in love with Ron!"
"No. I'm not in love with him. I wanted to—Merlin knows I wanted to—but I can't, I just can't. No matter how hard I try, I just can't. I can't seem to fall for anyone but you."
"But—" he took a deep breath, calming himself. "Explain, Hermione."
"I…" she choked out, tears falling from her honey-brown eyes to trickle down her cheeks. Harry immediately cupped her face, cradling it gently in his hands, and wiped her tears away with his thumbs. She refused to look at him and with a sigh, he tilted her chin up and said,
"Mione, please look at me."
There was a second's hesitation until brown finally looked into green.
"I'm confused, Hermione. I've always thought that you and Ron—that you were bound to get together eventually. So I didn't get my hopes up. I wanted you to be happy and if you were happy with Ron, then who am I to say no? But now…now you're telling me you love me? Please, explain."
He caressed her cheeks with his thumbs and whispered,
She nodded, swallowing a bit before saying,
"I first found out about Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, when I read the school books. I was entranced and extremely curious about him because he survived even after being cursed by the Killing curse. I started reading books about him and before I knew it, I had developed a fascination over him. Then we met and school started. I wanted to ask him a lot of things, but I couldn't, because he had this friend who was extremely hostile towards me and often steered Harry away when I got near. And then, that Halloween when I got cornered by a troll inside the girl's bathroom, he came and saved me, even though his friend told him it wasn't their business whether I got hurt or not. While he fought that troll for me, I should've felt more afraid than I was, more anxious, but he was there and I felt safe. That was the moment when Harry Potter became Harry for me. I felt an electric current shot right through me when our fingers touched as you helped me up. You were my first real friend and those books I read about the Boy Who Lived…they were nothing compare to Harry."
Harry remembered that instant as well, and he could still feel the spark that went through his arm to his whole body from their clasped hands. He wondered if that was some kind of sign.
"And after that, I knew. This feeling," she gestured towards her chest. "…it's uncontrollable and it never fades. The more time I spent with you, the more it grew, stronger. And seven years later, it's still the strongest, most wonderful feeling I have ever felt."
"What about Ron?"
"I…like Ron. I think I might've loved him if I…didn't have feelings for you. My feelings for him—I do love him, I'm just not in love with him."
He shook his head. "I find that hard to believe. You've been crying over him ever since he left. The way you act around him is…different. Hermione, you are in love with him."
Hermione sighed, tired and weary, as if she'd already had this conversation many times before.
"If I'm in love with him, then what do you suppose is this thing I feel about you? Because, when it comes to you, everything seems more—magnified. The fear, the doubts, the happiness, the love—they're stronger compared to what I feel about Ron."
Harry pulled his hands away from her and stepped back, putting distance between them, because he needed to think logically and the nearer they were to each other, the more he was tempted to throw caution to the wind.
"Hermione, I love you. I'm in love with you—I can't even remember a time when I wasn't," she looked at him tempered hope, as if not wanting to hope too much for the prospect of them being together. "But I need to know that…these feelings we have for each other—that they aren't something to be taken lightly. Now that I know we've apparently been pining for each other for seven years…I don't want us to rush this. I don't want to put our friendship on the line for something we might regret eventually."
She nodded, complete comprehension clear on her face.
"I know. I feel the same way; it's why I never told you. But Harry, I think—I know we can risk this. If I was going to change my mind, I would've done so already, don't you think?"
"Are you sure, 'Mione?" he asked. "We never know—I might die tomorrow or the next day. As long as You Know Who's alive, he isn't going to stop until he kills me. 'Mione," he placed his hands on her shoulders and said, "I don't want you to suffer in case I do."
Her eyes became shiny, a warning for the tears she wasn't willing to let spill yet. He could see that his death terrifies her, maybe even more than it does him.
"Even if we decide not to be together, I'll still suffer. The pain might even be doubled because now that I know how you feel about me, I'd regret never giving us a chance. And Harry, don't forget that I might be killed too, because I'm a mudblood. So it goes both ways."
He nodded, pulling her to him in a tight embrace. He was gratified when it was immediately reciprocated.
"I love you. I don't care if you don't want me—or if you change your mind, and if you hate it—I'm never letting go of you."
He felt her smile against the crook of his shoulders.
"What if I run away?"
"Id you do, I'd probably come chasing after you and lock you away."
"Don't worry then, because I won't. But, I'd probably leave just to have you chase after me."
He laughed, long and hard, because he was happy—as happy as he would ever be.
Chapter 6: Six
It had been days since That Night and—
Hermione. Harry simply couldn't stop smiling. He couldn't believe this was really happening. This felt like…the universe had suddenly shifted somehow. The planets had realigned. Their orbits had tilted, altered course, had chosen a new path.
He was tempted to go straight to Voldemort himself to see if the Dark Lord had not suddenly decided that he loved Muggleborns and Muggles instead of loathing them with a fiery passion, opting to join Hermione's club against the slavery of house elves and dethroning her from her position as its President.
His jaw already hurt from constantly grinning like an idiot all day, earning bewildered looks from his—his what exactly? His girlfriend? His best friend? The love of his friggin' life?
But the point of his whole internal monologuing was, he really, really couldn't believe it.
Hermione, his bestfriend for seven years—years which had Harry spent mooning over her—loved him. She was in love with him and they were together, really together, now.
And he still couldn't stop smiling like a loon.
He felt like jumping up and down in childish glee, and screaming his utter joy to the world.
'Merlin, I'm such a sap.' He thought to himself, gazing at Hermione as she read her book while enfolded in his arms, completely smitten. He tightened his arms around her and pressed his nose to her soft hair, smelling happiness, hope, faith, loyalty and love.
He felt her put a hand on his head and stroke his hair gently, carding her fingers into his black locks and he couldn't help but say, stuttering with the love that overwhelmed him at that moment, not quite daring to believe that this girl in front of him—gorgeous, intelligent, amazing Hermione was his. His to protect, his to cherish and love.
His breathe hitched and he suddenly felt a lump on his throat, stopping him from his admittance. He took another breath to try again, but was stopped when she shook her head. He felt rather than saw the smile that formed on her lips when she replied, fingers tightening slightly in his hair,
He really couldn't stop smiling.
"What about Ginny?"
Harry whipped his head up from the book he had been reading to look at Hermione quizzically. She was sitting in their bed, hands folded primly in her lap and expression calm as she gazed at him.
"What about Ginny?" he repeated.
"Wasn't—Isn't—she your girlfriend?"
He blinked, suddenly comprehending the intent behind her question.
"She—Ginny is a good friend. She helped me when I didn't have anyone—when I didn't have you…because you were preoccupied with Ron." He replied, joking lightly to ease the seriousness lining Hermione's face.
His grin fell off his face when she gave him a disapproving frown.
"Be serious, Harry."
He sighed, running his fingers through his hair thoughtfully. A moment later, he set aside the book he had been reading and stood up from where he had perched on the floor, climbing the bed to join her. He pulled her hand away from her lap and grasped it in his, gazing at her earnestly.
"I can't classify or label my relationship with Ginny, 'Mione. For me, she's—Ginny."
"I know…but, what will we do when—or if ever—this war is over? What will you tell her?"
He shrugged, shaking his head.
"I don't know. But what I do know is, that it was never Ginny. It was always you."
The corner of her lips twitched up and there was a bright twinkle in her eyes.
"So I've heard." A smug, teasing smile tugged her lips.
Harry immediately attacked, tickling her sides relentlessly, laughing boisterously.
"Smug, are we?"
She shrieked with laughter, trying to get away, rolling and writhing in the bed. Harry was on top of her, trapping her under him while he tortured her with tickles.
"Harry! Hahaha—Stop it—Hahahaha—"
Harry doubled his efforts and her laughter intensified, mixing with his own,
"Hahahaha! I give, Harry! I GIVE-HAHAHAHA!"
She was still laughing when his hands and fingers stopped their ticklish assault on her sides. Harry gazed down at her with a soft, adoring look on his emerald eyes, a goofy smile on his lips. They looked at each other silently and he swore he could hear their hearts beating together, sweet and slow.
Hermione smiled at him softly, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down atop her until their lips touched and tingled, in a sweet and innocent kiss.
"Do you love me?" she asked.
He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss.
"Does that answer your question?"
"Yeah, but sometimes, words are needed to properly express ones emotions." She quipped.
He chuckled. Even though they both knew it, it was rather nice when their feelings were voiced out loud, it made them seem more real, truer.
"I do—Merlin knows, I do. Now…" he traced the outline of her eyes down to her cheeks, thumbing them gently. "…do you love me?"
"Yes." She answered matter-of-factly, as if her love for him was a hard proven fact stated in the books she loved so much that lined the Hogwarts library, or if it wasn't, it ought to have been. He felt something warm bloom in his stomach, spreading throughout his body to the tip of his ears and hair at the thought. "Always."
Harry pressed his lips gently on her forehead, lingering for a moment to memorise the softness of her skin, the heat of her body, the warmth of her breath as it brushed against his collarbone, the way her arms tightened around his neck.
And he prayed, wishing with all that he was, that this—this happiness would last.
The sword flashed, plunged: Harry threw himself out of the way, there as a clang of metal and a long, drawn-out scream. Harry whirled around, slipping in the snow, wand held ready to defend himself, but there was nothing to fight. The monstrous versions of himself and Hermione were gone: There was only Ron, standing there with the sword held slackly in his hand, looking down at the shattered remains of the locket on the flat rock.
Harry felt his body shaking, and he knew that his and Hermione's suspicions were confirmed; that one of Ron's reasons for leaving was because he thought they were in love with each other, and he was right, Harry couldn't even fathom a world where Hermione wasn't with him. However, thinking it was different from seeing it. Even though he knew that, he and Hermione were together—it was different from the way Ron saw it, from the way the Horcrux made it seem to be. The Riddle versions of themselves— they were cruel in the way they treated Ron, they had tainted what he, and Hermione really had, making it dirty and just — just wrong.
He didn't like the fact that the Horcrux used them to goad Ron into almost killing him. He detested the way that it made his Hermione look cheap—that it made their feeling for each other look cheap.
With a calming sigh, Harry slowly walked back to him, hardly knowing what to say or do. Ron was breathing heavily: His eyes were no longer red at all, but their normal blue: they were also wet. Harry stooped, pretending he had not seen, and picked up the broken Horcrux. Ron had pierced the glass in both windows: Riddle's eyes were gone, and the stained silk lining of the locket was smoking slightly. The thing that had lived in the Horcrux had vanished; torturing Ron had been its final act. The sword clanged as Ron dropped it. He had sunk to his knees, his head in his arms. He was shaking, but not, Harry realized, from cold. Harry crammed the broken locket into his pocket, knelt down beside Ron, and placed a hand cautiously on his shoulder. He took it as a good sign that Ron did not throw it off.
"After you left," he said in a low voice, grateful for the fact that Ron's face was hidden, "she cried for a week. Probably longer, only she didn't want me to see. There were loads of nights when we never even spoke to each other. With you gone..."
He could not finish; it was now that Ron was here again that Harry fully realized how much his absence had cost them.
"She—" Harry cut himself off, wanting to say, She was like my sister and it's always been like that, but he knew that was a lie—and lying to Ron, hiding what Hermione was to him, it was not right. It would hurt not only the two closest people to him, but also Harry himself. He never wanted to hide the fact that Hermione was his—his everything—and he refused to, even if it hurt Ron. He wanted to be selfish, if only about Hermione, and he knew that if Ron really had loved Hermione as much as he seemed to, he would not have left, even if he had been struggling with his fears and insecurities, it wasn't an excuse to leave the people he cared about.
Harry had never thought he would see Hermione as angry as she was when Ron appeared back in their tent with him. She had been furious, so bitter, that she had refused to even listen to Harry when he told her how Ron had saved his life, thinking it would lessen the blow of Ron's return after he left them months ago. The tent had been silent since her explosion, broken occasionally by his and Ron's murmured conversations while Hermione brooded in their bed.
He had opted to sleep on Hermione's bed again, in order to be discreet about his relationship with her now that Ron was back—he wanted to tell his male bestfriend about them soon. Nevertheless, he also didn't want to overwhelm him so much after so many things that had recently occurred in such a short time that he would leave again.
He was awakened by a realization that a warm body slept next to his, with familiar arms that held on to the front of his shirt and an even more familiar head tucked under his chin. He opened his eyes and blinked blearily, knowing that it could only be Hermione. With a fond, sleepy smile, he kissed the top of her head and wound his arms around her, snuggling his nose on her hair and breathing her in. A few seconds later, he fell asleep.
The next few days were full of dirty looks and pointed silences, mainly done by Hermione to make Ron feel as unwelcomed as possible. Harry, frankly, was getting tired of it, but he knew he could not do anything about it while his female bestfriend was still so angry. He decided to let her blow off her steam before talking to her about Ron.
He was careful to wake up a lot earlier than his two bestfriends, so that Ron would not notice that he and Hermione had been sleeping in the same bed. He also tended to stay close with Ron, which caused his Hermione to send him confused frowns and hurt looks. He didn't mean to neglect her, he just wanted to assure Ron that he was still welcome to stay with them. Besides, he was still waiting for the right time to tell Ron about him and Hermione.
Meanwhile, Ron told him stories and experiences during his time away from them and the most notable was the fact that Voldemort used his own name as a kind of tracking device—whenever people spoke his name 'Voldemort', they would immediately be tracked and captured. He was relieved to hear that Kingsley had managed to escape and was in hiding. They both discussed who the caster of the doe Patronus was and there was a brief moment when they hoped it was Dumbledore. But Harry, no matter how much it comforted him to hope for Dumbledore's protection, shot the idea down, firmly telling Ron that the deceased headmaster was dead, that he had seen him die with his own two eyes. Ron immediately acquiesced to his point but Harry could see the doubt in his eyes.
Harry was also trying to get used to his new wand, stolen by Ron from one of his captors during his time being captured by hunters, and finding his old phoenix wand preferable and easier to use. Not to mention, more powerful than the blackthorn wand could ever hope to be.
Ron, Harry pondered, was trying to get back in Hermione's good graces with all the information he provided them and Harry was thankful that at least one of them was putting out an effort. He wanted them all to get along, just like before, only a little bit different. Before, they had been Harry, Ron and Hermione, the Golden Trio but now, they were Harry and Hermione, and Ron. It was going to take some time to get used to, but definitely worth the effort.
He straightened up from where he had been taking watch in front of their tent and yawned, rubbing his eyes drowsily. The entrance of the tent opened and Ron stepped outside, grinning at him.
"My turn, mate."
He nodded and stood up, handing the blanket he'd been using to keep warm to Ron and entered their temporary home, immediately seeing Hermione curled up with her usual book on their bed. She looked up and upon seeing it was him, gave him a breathtaking smile that had Harry stopping and calming his suddenly rapidly beating heart. She patted the space next to her in invitation and he immediately accepted, throwing a cautious glance at the entrance, when he was seated next to her. He hesitated for a split second, paranoid that Ron would suddenly come inside and see them, before gathering her in his arms and kissing the top of her head. She reciprocated by twisting around and planting a kiss on his cheek.
They sat there in silence for a few minutes, just listening to their calm, steady breathing and the occasional sound of Ron shifting outside.
Harry's mind whirred, thinking of ways to open the discussion about Ron and after a few moments of coming up of absolutely nothing, he internally shrugged and went ahead.
"'Mione, why are you so angry with Ron?" he asked, tightening his hold around her when she looked about to retort indignantly. "Aside from the obvious reason, of course."
She frowned, expression souring slightly at his chosen topic.
"You know how I feel about his leaving us, Harry."
"I do." He confirmed.
"Then, why ask?"
"Because, he might have abandoned us, but I think he more than made up for it when he destroyed that Horcrux and saved my life. He's been giving us a lot of information on what's happening outside this little tent of ours and they're all pretty useful—"
"How can you be sure he won't leave us again? That he won't back out like a dog with its tail between its legs?" She snapped at him sharply.
He was startled by her outburst and chose not to reply for a long moment, thinking carefully for the right words before he responded, lest his reply made her mood worsen.
"Because no matter what he may have done to us, he's still our bestfriend, Hermione. He may have left us but—he came back in the end, didn't he? He came back to help us." He said confidently, because Ron might have many faults but he was loyal to Harry. He had never failed to help Harry when he needed him before and Harry doubted it would change now.
She was silent, appearing to be pondering his words. He gently tilted her chin up and their gazes locked together.
"I'm not asking you to forgive him right now, or maybe not even this week, the next month, the next year. I just want you to think about it, alright?"
She nodded thoughtfully.
That was all he could ask of her, really. He couldn't force her to forgive Ron and he didn't want to, either. He'd always found that forgiveness that came with no grudges left behind, to be uplifting. He didn't want either of his bestfriend to regret not being reconciled if ever they—
He stopped himself from continuing his line of thought. It was too painful to even think about.
Harry awoke with a jolt, like the speedy Knight Bus abruptly stopping, its contents dangerously swaying left and right. He snapped his eyes open and saw clear blue eyes staring at him a few feet away. He blinked and the eyes were gone to be replaced by the back of Ron's head, where he was sleeping sideways, face away from them and snoring loudly.
Thinking he was seeing things, he looked down at Hermione's still sleeping face and smiled. He shifted for a bit before resettling once again to sleep.
He was out like a light moments later.
Ron was telling him about a semi-nightly program on the radio when Hermione suddenly approached them.
"We need to talk." She said, tone firm.
"I want to go and see Xenophilius Lovegood."
Harry stared at her.
Chapter 7: Seven
It had been a week since their disastrous trip to Xenophilius Lovegood's house, a month since Harry put all the pieces together—that Voldemort was after the Elder Wand and that he (Harry) had two Hallows, the cloak and the ring.
That he was a descendant of the Peverell brothers.
He was still consumed by the desire to posess the Elder wand, because he knew that if he had it, he would be invincible, that killing Voldemort would not be such an impossibility.
His relationship with Hermione was strained, a result of his conviction—not an obsession, he thought fiercely—that Dumbledore meant for them to find the Hallows. He was angry that Ron and her seemed indifferent to his discovery, firmly telling him that it was not possible, subtly insinuating that it was only his imagination.
—Neither can live while the other survives…Master of Death—
Why didn't they understand?
It was ironic that, with him otherwise preoccupied, his two best friends seemed to have reconciled. He was also amused that due to his…listlessness, Ron had taken charge, often encouraging both him and Hermione with words like: "Only three Horcruxes left!", "Where haven't we checked?" and then proceeding to name familiar places.
Harry wanted access to Voldemort's mind, if only to know what he was doing or if he found the Elder Wand at last, and worried that his connection to the Dark Lord was damaged because of his inability to read his mind.
Evening after evening, Ron used his wand to beat out various rhythms on top of the Wireless while the dials whirled and it was not until March that they heard the broadcast of POTTERWATCH with Lee Jordan as the host. Harry felt a sense of loss when he heard that Tonk's dad, Ted, along with another man and a goblin, was dead—Dean Thomas had managed to escape, fortunately.
—so many people dead while I'm sitting here, doing nothing, when I could have found the Elder wand by now if only Ron and Hermione even listened to what I keep telling them, Harry thought—
He was relieved to hear that Hagrid had escape and that most of the Wizarding World still had faith in him, still supported him despite his—seeming—inaction to stop Voldemort.
By the end of the program, Harry was speaking rapidly, excited almost to the point of incoherence, at the news of Voldemort being abroad and ignored both Hermione and Ron's expression of utter horror, causing the sneakoscope on the table to light up and spin, voices coming nearer and nearer and Harry realized that he had made a fatal mistake.
He had uttered Voldemort's name out loud.
Harry sat outside Bill and Fleur's cottage, pondering over what had recently transpired the last few weeks—Dobby's death, their capture and escape from Malfoy Manor, his questioning of Ollivander of his knowledge about the Elder wand, his request for Griphook to help them breach the Lestrange's vauly inside Gringots, and worst of all, Voldemort's discovery and theft of the Elder wand in Dumbledore's grave. He now knew that, although the Elder wand was real, the deceased headmaster had never meant for Harry to follow its trail and want to posess it.
Dumbledore had wanted him to get the Horcruxes, to destroy them, and he would, Harry vowed.
He had his doubts, especially since Ron and Hermione were on opposite sides; Ron telling him the same thing Harry had thought so vehemently of weeks before—that he (Harry) was obviously meant to possess the Deathstick—and Hermione, now knowing and accepting the Elder wand's existence, repeatedly told him that he had made the right decision of choosing the Horcruxes over the Hallows, that he could never have even thought of breaking into Dumbledore's tomb, much less do it—and she was right, the thought of seeing the respected wizard's corpse frightened him.
Now, he was afraid he'd misread the signs and hints that Dumbledore had provided them before his murder—whether he should have taken the other way—and he very much felt like he was groping in the dark, looking for a needle in a cornfield. He was angry at Dumbledore, angry that the old Headmaster had not explained everything to Harry before he—he died.
He felt isolated again, drifting away from his best friends—not knowing which was the right thing, what to think, whether he understood Dumbledore's intention or not. He felt lost, with no hope of finding the correct path soon. His best friend's bickering did not help at all—more so because they tended to disturb his quiet ponderings, which was why he tended to flee from their presence whenever he could but they still found him, thinking they were offering support when it was chaos and confusion they actually unintentionally gave him.
Harry let out a inaudible sigh when he heard soft footsteps coming closer from where he perched at the spot near the edge of the cliff, Bill and Fleur's cottage a small distance away behind him, preferring the open sky and wide, empty sea below him to the crowded cottage. He enjoyed the solitude he was provided in his own quiet makeshift corner, feeling the gentle, salty wind slapping his body, like the exhalation of some great, slumbering creature.
He didn't need to look around to know that it was Hermione standing behind him, disturbing his silent contemplations.
"What is it?" he asked, raising his voice a little over the sounds of seagulls scouting the sea for food and the crashing of the sea's waves against the cliff below him.
"You've been awfully detached these days, Harry." she said, plopping down on the grass beside him. "…just like before we…"
She trailed off, voice soft, not continuing. She didn't need to, anyway, since he knew what she was talking about. He let silence reigned for a moment, relishing the heat her body gave off a few inches away from him, letting it warm his freezing body and numbing heart. He shrugged and subtly scooted closer to her, decreasing the distance separating them if only a bit. He was instantly comforted.
"Was just thinking." he replied.
"You used to think of things back then an awful lot, as well."
He shrugged again, his arm brushing hers for a moment. He did not notice her flinch slightly at this, subtly draw back her arm an inch or so.
"So many things have happened and I just—reflecting about them helps me decide whether or not my choice was right and then thinking of what actions I should take next." He explained, tilting his head just enough to keep her face in his line of sight. Right now, her whole attention was directed towards him, watching him and listening intently, like always.
She reached for him without saying a word, hands seeking his own. He accepted her unspoken request for contact and entwined their fingers together, tightly gripping the warm hands in his icy ones. They held hands for a while, unspoken words passing between them while the only noise to be heard was not their making.
'It's strange,' he thought, 'to think that we've been only been together for a little over two months and so much has happened since then and we were almost killed of because of my own carelessness…'
Shame welled up inside Harry and he lifted their entangled hands up to his lips, bestowing a heartfelt kiss on Hermione's soft and slightly calloused hands. She tensed for a millisecond before relaxing again, the expressions on her face changing so fast that Harry did not have any time to register them before he said,
Hermione turned to look at him from where she had been gazing at their hands and her eyes expressed surprise.
"For being so selfish," he continued. "I almost got us all killed because I got so ahead of myself, getting so worked up and acting so careless and—"
She stilled the barrage of words coming out of his mouth by placing a finger against his lips and pressing on them lightly.
"Don't apologise. You were mostly right about the Hallows—especially the Elder wand—being real. Anyway, what's done is done. We're alive and our important people are okay. You have a plan of action and we're going to act on it soon. That's what matters the most right now."
He nodded, throat tight with emotion.
"You don't have to worry about us, Harry. We can handle ourselves fine. The only thing that should worry you is defeating You-Know-Who and—" her breathe hitched and she squeezed his hands, "—and surviving this war."
She looked at him earnestly. "And after. We'll worry about everything else."
She was right, of course, Harry thought to himself a few days later, once again perched on the cliff face. He needed to win this war first before he thought about anything else. There were so many to lose, so many people dying for the war, dying for Harry. He couldn't let their sacrifice go to waste because of his carelessness.
Never again, he swore, recalling the blank expression of death on Sirius' face as he fell into the Veil, Bellatrix's Killing Curse having hit him moments before. His heart clenched and throbbed at the memory, his heart still yearning for his dead godfather, for the bright future they both could have had.
Harry sighed, feeling the ocean's breeze ruffling his dark hair, smelling the salty air and looking at the moon's rippling reflection on the ocean's surface.
Once again, he'd been woken by his recurring nightmares, memories of long gone people dancing away and around him, taunting him of what could have been—if only he'd been careful—if only he'd never been the Chosen One, The Boy Who Just Wouldn't Die. He had been wandering around the house restlessly, footsteps almost inaudible and hearing only the soft exhales of the sleeping household and the occasional shores coming from Ron. He felt suffocated inside the quaint house and, after a moment's hesitation, stepped out and briskly walked towards the cliff edge, where he had been sitting for the past hour in quiet contemplation.
He shifted his gaze to Dobby's grave a few feet away, seeing the stone he had marked, and read HERE LIES DOBBY. A FREE ELF. He shakily got to his feet and strode towards the simple grave, trembling fingers gently tracing the words, remembering the eager, helpful elf that was Dobby. He could still hear Dobby's first and last words ringing in his ears—Harry Potter. He had been a dear friend, always willing to help, so brave, so loyal, until the very end.
With a choked, strangled sound escaping from his throat, he fell to his knees and mumbled, tears prickling his eyes and falling down his cheeks,
"I'm sorry, Dobby. I'm so, so sorry."
He rubbed his eyes harshly, pressing his hands against his eyes hard, and took a deep shuddering breath, gathering his composure, willing himself to be stronger. Dobby didn't need to see him crumbling during the most crucial point of his life.
He needed to be strong, for everyone.
"I swear, on my very life, I will end this."
Harry had just stepped back inside the cottage when a muffled scream abruptly sounded upstairs. His senses alert, he heard frantic shouts above, the name Hermione being repeated in a panicked voice—Ron's, Harry's brain told him.
Feeling his heart thunder with fear, he ran up the stairs, not seeing anything, his mind blank of anything except for one name, the one person he would never forget—HermioneHermioneHermioneHERMIONE—repeating over and over again, like a broken record playing in crescendo.
He stumbled into Hermione's room, breathing hard and rapid, and saw Ron shaking Hermione while she trashed, arms and feet flailing in the air—hitting, kicking, shoving, pushing Ron away—and screaming NoNoNo! Please! No! face red and tears streaking down her face. Her brown eyes were wide open but they did not see anything, blank and yet raging with pain and grief.
"Hermione! Wake up! Please!" Ron called out to her frantically, cupping her face in his hands only to be harshly pushed away once again. Her screams tore through Harry far worse than any physical blow.
Harry scrambled forward, swiftly pushing Ron away and cradling her in his arms, holding on to her tightly even if he was hit and shoved hard. He made ssh-ing noises close to her ear, rocking her against him in an attempt to comfort her.
"Hermione, ssh…it's me. It's Harry."
Her screams eventually quieted down to whimpers that only made Harry hold her to him even tighter, willing her to recognize his touch, his voice, to rememberher Harry.
"Don't hurt Harry…hurt me instead…please…"she whimpered, choking on a sob, still not out of the terrible memory that haunted her.
The statement—plea—made a strangled sort of noise escape Harry's throat and he buried his face in her sweat-matted hair, inhaling shakily, tears threatening to cascade down his cheeks as helplessness washed over him.
He could never save Hermione from her own nightmares.
A few minutes passed and the house was silent once again. He continued to hold her, bringing her hands to his lips and kissing them, a gesture to reassure himself that she was alright, that it was a nightmare that pained Hermione and not any physical thing—the ones he could prevent from hurting her. He caressed her hands with his thumb tenderly for a moment, stopping when he felt something strange, ridges of some sort, marring the smoothness of her hand, the texture akin to the scar on his own. He looked down, scrutinizing in the semi-darkness of the room, and saw what looked like a newly healed mark, a scar. He felt rage bubble up to the surface of his mind as he read the words MUDBLOOD across her hand in jagged, rough, ugly script.
His mind and heart screamed one name in absolute fury; BELLATRIX.
His heart demanded Bellatrix's instant death while his mind snarled torture of the most unbearable kind, but he calmed them both down, gripping Hermione's hand tight, his knuckles white and straining, in an effort to cool his rage and start thinking rationally once again, mind already plotting how to bring down the Dark Lord's Best Lieutenant's demise because she had not only tortured Hermione, but permanently branded her as scum and a failure, at least, to her kind. She will pay for this, he vowed to himself.
Harry jumped, forgetting Ron's presence completely until his best friend had called his name. He gently lowered the now sleeping Hermione down into her bed again, tucking the blankets up to her chin before facing Ron.
"What happened?" he asked tiredly.
He watched as Ron slumped his shoulders wearily and shake his head.
"I was just coming back up from the loo when I heard whimpering. I realized it was 'Mione and tried to calm her down but—" he sighed, "she suddenly started screaming. You came in just before it could wake anybody else, fortunately."
Harry nodded, rubbing his forehead and getting up from his perch on Hermione's bed.
"We should get some rest." He stated, already making his way out of the bedroom, Ron following close behind him.
He halted in his tracks and turned to face Ron, a questioning look I his face.
Ron looked like he wanted to ask Harry something, but obviously decided against it, shaking his head again, a frustrated expression on his freckled face.
"It's…nothing. G'night, mate."
Still puzzled, Harry went to his room and slumped on his bed, Hermione's scar haunting his dreams and guilt swallowing him whole.
Harry was just about to sit down next to Hermione for a late breakfast when his female best friend abruptly stood up, pushing her chair away quite loudly. Everyone looked at her curiously and she turned pink in embarrassment.
"Hermione? What's the matter?" Bill asked, helping himself to the hearty breakfast Fleur had made.
"Nothing. I just—forgot to do something. Thank you for the breakfast."
With that said, she quickly fled out of the room, Harry watching her go with a confused frown.
He jumped in surprise when a heaping plate of sausage and pancakes was placed in front of him.
"You eat up, 'Arry. You are too skinny." Fleur said, giving him a radiant smile.
Harry was, for a moment, reminded of Molly Weasley, who often fussed at him saying he was always far too skinny for her liking. He smiled fondly at the memory.
"Oh, yeah. Harry? What happened last night? We heard a scream but when we asked Ron about it, he told us it was nothing."
Reminded of his other best friend, he looked around and found him missing as well.
"Where's Ron?" he asked, forgetting about Bill's question.
Dean, who had just entered the house after Luna, replied,
"I think I saw him down, by the seashore, mate."
"He seems troubled." Luna quipped. "Did something happen?"
Harry only shrugged in reply, clueless himself.
"'Ermione also looks distracted, as of late." Fleur said as if in afterthought, pouring her husband some milk.
"Are you sure everything's alright, Harry?" Bill inquired, looking at him with concern.
Harry frowned at his plate, the food still untouched.
He stood up, the chair screeching loudly against the floor as he pushed it away.
"Harry?" he heard someone ask him as he left.
He found Hermione sitting infront of Dobby's grave, staring at the inscription intently, motionless and still as a Muggle statue.
He quietly walked towards her, keeping his footsteps silent, but Hermione still heard him, back stiffening.
"We need to talk." He told her.
"A-about?" She asked nervously. He saw her cover the scar she had with the sleeve of her woolen cardigan, straightening from her slouch and facing him slightly, eyes still glued to Dobby's tombstone.
"About what happened in Malfoy's Manor."
He sat down beside her and grabbed her elbow, gently turning her towards him until they face each other. Harry stared at her, willing her averted eyes to look back at him. She was stubborn, keeping her gaze on the ground now, expression white and tense.
"Hermione, look at me. Please."
He reached out to touch her face but she flinched back and, upon seeing his hurt and surprised expression, cringed.
"I—sorry." She mumbled, eyes distant.
"I know about your scar, Hermione." He stated flatly, watching her eyes go wide and he hands hide the scar even further.
"Last night. I accidentally saw it while you were having your nightmare." He looked away from her, and asked, not able to keep the hurt tone from his voice,
"Why didn't you tell me?"
He couldn't understand why she would not tell him about it, why she refused to do it even now. They were always, always, honest with each other. What changed?
He heard a rustle and when he turned to look, he saw that Hermione had moved closer to him and was now looking at him earnestly.
"I didn't want you to worry. What Bellatrix did to me back in the Manor—it was excruciating, humiliating. But I survived past it and this scar," For the first time, she had uncovered her hand willingly, displaying it to him openly, "this is just proof that I survived, that I was strong enough not to die while she tortured me, humiliated me—I didn't even think of wishing to die, all I wanted was to protect you and Ron."
He opened his mouth to reply, guilt and shame weighing his heart down.
"But if it wasn't for me—if you hadn't even met me—"
"Don't say that!" She snapped, face twisted into shocked anger. "Don't ever say that, Harry. If I hadn't met you—if you hadn't ever been in my life—I can't even imagine what kind of life I would've led."
"But still, Hermione! You should just—hide with the others—and—and wait until I've killed You-Know-Who or this war has ended—" She opened her mouth in protest but he hurriedly cut her off, speaking, pleading urgently, desperately, "Please, Hermione. Stay here. Stay safe. For me."
She stood up suddenly, hands balled into fists, disbelief and hurt fury written plainly on her face,
"And what would you have me do while you go off to fight You-Know-Who? Do you expect me to just sit around and hope for the best while you—while everyone gets themselves killed? While I could be there to help? I can't do that, Harry!"
In reply, he stood up as well, the motion so quick that he was dizzy for a moment before focusing on Hermione, feeling indignant and fiercely defensive, images of Hermione dying while he watched, helpless, running through his mind.
"And what if you died? What if Bellatrix kills you, like what she did to Sirius? What if Snape does? DO YOU EXPECT ME TO WATCH WHILE YOU DIE? TO EVEN BEAR THE THOUGHT OF LIVING ON, WITHOUT YOU WITH ME?" He bellowed, breath coming in harsh pants. "Because it would be more painful than death, Hermione. So painful that I would prefer to have died with you. It would kill me."
He rubbed his face harshly with his hands in frustration and buried his face in them, saying shakily, voice almost a whisper,
"I've already lost so many precious people...to lose you—I don't want to go through that. Why can't you understand, Hermione?"
"Harry James Potter, you bloody idiot!"
Surprised, he lifted his head and stared at her, seeing her red face and falling tears,
"Don't you trust me? Do you think I'm that weak to die so easily? That I'm not capable of protecting myself, saving myself, in the battlefield?" She shook her head in exasperation and frustration.
"No! Of course not! I—"
"Have you forgotten that I've stood by you—and survived—all these years?"
He shook his head to deny the statement. Of course he hadn't! She was always the one who gave him ideas, who made him think rationally while they ran, fought, for their lives. He was paralyzed when he saw her fall in battle versus Bellatrix back in Fifth Year, how he couldn't think of anything else while she was unconscious. She was his brains, while he was her brawns. He would have died a long time ago if she hadn't been with him.
"And besides, do you think it wouldn't kill me if you—died with out me there to even attempt to help you? To think that—if only I had been there, I could've protected you—could've saved you! To tell me to stay here, to stay safe, I can't do that, Harry. When you saved me from that troll six years ago, you had my loyalty, ever since."
She strode towards him and gripped his shoulders tightly with her hands, her face fierce, determined, as she whispered, declared only to his ears, her voice packed with quiet intensity that spoke of many things words couldn't possibly be able to explain,
"Even if you tried to stop me, barricaded me, chained me, here, I would find a way to follow you. I told you, didn't I? We're in this together."
Harry grabbed her around the waist and crushed her body to his, unable to utter words to express how much her words affected him, the sense of relief and joy, and guilt, they brought him.
He could only nod in reply.
Chapter 8: Eight
Harry was just coming down the stairs when the door opened and Ron entered the house.
"You're back." he stated needlessly, pausing.
Ron gave a somewhat awkward shrug and shuffled his feet, looking at the floor. Harry stared at him, noticing the dark bags of exhaustion under his eyes, his pale face lined with worry and weariness under the scratches and bruises. Harry pushed away the guilt that threatened to overcome him as he saw Ron's overall state of exhaustion, willing himself to put his best friend first before his self-flagellation because once again, he had dragged Ron to a mess they barely got out alive off. With him looking at Ron closely, Harry saw that something was worrying him.
"Is something...wrong, Ron?"
Ron's head jerked up and their eyes locked before he shifted his gaze from Harry's again.
"Aside from the fact we're being hunted by You-Know-Who and his minions? And the Wizarding World in chaos?" his lips twitched up in an almost smirk before thinning. "No, everything is just...fine." Ron refused to meet his eyes.
Harry frowned, recalling the brief flash of some unfamiliar emotion in Ron's eyes when their gazes had met. It nagged him, his gut instincts telling him that his best friend was obviously lying.
"Are you sure?" he asked again.
Ron nodded slowly.
"I'm fine. Don't worry." Ron assured him.
He hesitated, wanting to prod further, but decided against it. Ron would tell him sooner or later what it was that was bothering him. He sighed, rubbing his neck tiredly.
He continued down the stairs and was about to make his way towards the kitchen when he heard Ron call his name. He turned and gave his best friend a questioning look.
Ron was wearing a strange expression on his face, his brows furrowed and a mix of determination, resignation and something else Harry couldn't identify written on his face.
"Ron?" he prodded.
"I love Hermione." Ron blurted out, his voice quiet and controlled. "I'm in love with her."
Harry took a moment's pause before answering, guilt welling up inside him that was slightly overpowered by the flash of mineminemine he immediately pushed away and locked under the numerous emotions threatening to burst into surface. His voice was as quiet as Ron's as he stated simply,
He saw Ron curl his hands into tight fists and his back stiffened, body straining defensively in reflex.
"I know I left you guys, left her, when I was needed the most, and I'm sorry for that. But I came back and I'm not leaving again, I swear. I won't abandon youand her anymore."
Harry opened his mouth to reply, I know I trust you not to, but Ron cut him off, not finished speaking,
"I know I don't have any right to say this, that you'll think I'm being selfish and arrogant, but—I really love her. Hermione, I mean. And I...deserve her—I will be someone who's worthy of her."
Ron took a deep breath and continued,
"I'm not like you, Harry. I'm not powerful or smart or good-looking—" Harry immediately tried to deny all of this but Ron only shook his head. "No, it's true, mate. Almost everyone adores you, and I don't really blame them—and Hermione—she—she adores you too. But me? I'm just plain old Ron. I can't compete with Harry Potter but I—I can't just give Hermione up. She's the only person who doesn't treat me like a nobody compared to you—she loves me because I'm...Ron. And I need that, want that."
Harry didn't know what to say, he had no idea Ron's insecurity of him was this deep, no idea that he felt this way. He felt like an arse for not knowing—realising—that his best friend felt this way about him. But at the same time, the selfish part of him wanted to tell Ron that he needed Hermione too and that she loved him, Harry, so it was no use for Ron to even hope to have her.
"So please, just let me have her. You have my sister waiting for you back home."
Harry flinched at the mention of Ginny, not having thought of her in weeks. Immediately, the feeling of guilt returned. 'That's right...she doesn't know I—" Harry thought, the guilt making it harder to breathe, his chest tight.
He knew Ginny would be hurt and even though hurting her would pain him as well, he didn't want to give what he had with Hermione up, not with all the pining and love they had to keep from each other over the years. And Ron, he was pleading with Harry to give her to him—the mere thought made him frown with the wrongness of it. Hermione wasn't a piece of property or a thing to be passed so carelessly. The only person who had any right to give her to anyone was herself.
"I can't wrong. I have no right to give Hermione to you—to anyone—since I don't own her. She's not something I can simply give to you, mate. Of all people, I thought you'd know this. She would be hurt—" Not to mention furious, Harry added in his mind, "—if she heard you say this."
Ron flinched upon realising the truth in Harry's words.
Both of them jumped and turned to look at Hermione, who was hesitantly hovering at the top of the stairs, frowning at them.
"What are you two talking about? Why such serious faces?" she asked.
"It's nothing." Ron immediately denied. "Just...guy talk, that's all."
The frown did not leave Hermione's brow and she shifted her gaze to look at Harry. The look she gave him was inquisitive and suspicious.
"Really?" The question was directed at Harry, who slowly nodded in affirmation.
Her frown disappeared but there was a thoughtful tilt to Hermione's head as she said,
A short pause reigned between the three of them, heavy with unspoken words and secrets, before Hermione broke it and said,
"I have finished the Polyjuice Potion."
Harry was restless, haunting the cottage silently, feet light and breathing almost inaudible, like a thief in the night scourging for valued possessions. He could not sleep, body thrumming with anticipation and mind running through thoughts with ruthless efficiency. He stopped walking before entering the kitchen, gazing at Hermione's still form illuminated by the moon through the window, her skin turned pale ivory under its light. She had two steaming cups of tea in front of her, one obviously for Harry as she tilted her face to look at him.
He went towards the table and sat down, sipping the tea she prepared for him quietly, letting the silence between them calm his frayed nerves.
Suddenly, like a magnet, his eyes were drawn to the scar in her hand, angrily inscribed in jagged lines. Without a word, he reached out his own, the words I will not lie flashing back at him, and placed it beside hers and thought they were almost beautiful in the moonlight.
"Do you feel like something's changed?" Hermione's words broke through his reverie.
Harry turned to look at her.
"It's just—I feel like I understand you better now, because of this scar." She nodded towards her hand.
"I feel connected to you in a way, as if this scar has opened something deep between us and—and bonded us. I understand your emotions better now. You hide yours not because you're ashamed, but because you don't want people asking questions. The scar...it helps put things into perspective, doesn't it? Only people filled with hatred can cause such great pain, can revel in the hurt, and those people are the ones that need to be stopped the most. I feel the same way, I'm not ashamed of mine. There is nothing shameful in being a Mudblood—because it doesn't matter, blood purity doesn't matter when thousands of people are being killed by a half-blood who desires an all pureblood world."
Hermione gave him a small smile, the corners of her eyes crinkling slightly, expression earnest.
"What does matter is that there are also thousands of people willing to fight him, of finally being free of him. I have complete faith that you'll lead us to victory, Harry. You've never failed us before, and I know you won't start now. So don't worry, peace is coming."
Harry couldn't help but return her smile with one of his own, because it was such a Hermione thing to do, her knowing of his inner thoughts and feelings and always ready to do what was needed to help him, her unflinching faith on him no matter what. He felt his mind and body settle with her assurance and linked their hands together, their scars that were made of hate now something that made him even more connected to her, something that was cherished, treasured.
He didn't quite know how to articulate how much he loved Hermione, the love he was feeling making his chest tight and his throat lumped, so he settled for simply leaning over the table that separated them and placing a tender kiss on her forehead.
The beam that Hermione gave him showed how much she returned the sentiment.
Harry looked at Ginny, saw the happiness and the longing in her eyes and he couldn't stop himself from looking away, heaving with guilt.
He could feel everyone in the Gryffindor common room watching the both of them, probably expecting a heartfelt show of longing and joy in the form of a passionate kiss, like in the Muggle shows his Aunt Petunia used to watch obsessively. Harry tasted something bitter in his mouth at the thought. He especially felt Hermione's gaze on him, weighing much heavily than the others.
"Harry." he heard Ginny call breathlessly.
He turned to look at her again, watched her as she slowly walked towards him, arms lifting, outstretched towards him, in a gesture that was meant to gather him in her arms. He could see Hermione in the corner of his eye, her expression carefully blank as she continued to watch them. His stomach lurched and he took several steps back, increasing the distance between Ginny and him once more.
Ginny's arms dropped and a look of hurt and confusion surfaced in her face.
"Harry?" she asked tentatively, a question.
He swallowed the lump in his throat and croaked out, a forced smile stretching his face muscled painfully,
She looked at his face, bright brown eyes searching his own for a moment, a small crease marring his otherwise smooth forehead. Then, she opened her mouth and whispered, voice almost hoarse,
His gaze dropped down to the ground and he frowned, silent.
"What changed?" Now her voice was blank, calm.
His heart contracted painfully, and he whispered softly,
There was swish of robes and quick footsteps walking away. Harry looked up and saw Hermione turn around the corner over Ginny's shoulder. He swallowed and heaved a sigh, aware of the many eyes watching them.
"We should talk. Privately."
Ginny squeezed her eyes shut and nodded, expression painfully weary. She turned and walked away briskly from the curious onlookers, Harry's quick footsteps just behind her as they went up the stairs towards the boys' dormitories. Harry felt a pang of nostalgia as he looked around, seeing the scattered belongings of his fellow Gryffindors.
'If it wasn't for Voldemort, I'd still be here, I'd be normal.' he thought wistfully.
"So. Let's talk." Ginny stated, a hint of anger skulking around the edges of her voice, face tight.
Harry opened his mouth, only to close it a second later. He couldn't find the right words that would hurt her the least, make her understand that they couldn't go on like this anymore, he couldn't make her wait for something that was never going to happen.
He hadn't thought it would be this hard.
"I think we should stop this." his voice came out forced, hesitant.
He looked at her, gesturing around them helplessly.
"This—" he couldn't say relationship because—because what he had with Hermione, it was a relationship and what he had with Ginny—wasn't. "—whatever this is we have—we should stop now."
"Why?" was her choked off question.
Harry hated himself a little bit more.
He heaved a shuddering breath and whispered softly, hoping she would understand.
"Because I'm not going to come back."
Her reply was immediate, almost clock work, like she had been down this road a thousand times before and knew the automatic response that would reassure him the most. Harry wondered how many times she had thought of this moment before, how long she had known this moment would come.
"Don't say that, Harry! Of course you're going to come back! You have to."
He stared at her, seeing the disbelief and complete faith in him swimming in her brown eyes. He clenched his fists because he didn't want to disappoint her—all of them. He wanted to live, but it was a improbable wish, no assurance that it would be granted. He wanted to tell her he was going to come back but it would be a lie and he couldn't do that to her, add another lie to the growing pile of broken promises he had already given her.
He didn't love her as much as he did Hermione but it didn't mean he didn't care for her. He did—she was still Ron's little sister, and the one who took care of his sanity while his heart was quietly breaking—and he regretted not showing her just how much.
"I'm going to die, Gin. And I don't want you waiting for me—it would be cruel for me to do that to you. I don't want you to stop living your life for someone with a death warrant in his head."
Ginny took a few step forward and stated fiercely, hands balled at her sides,
"If that's the only reason you're going to give me, Harry Potter, then I'm not—I won't let you go. I love you so much—I'm not letting go of you. Not now, not ever."
He sucked in a harsh breath and turned away from her determined gaze. He closed his eyes and wished that this was easier to do, that saying the words that would hurt her easier to say.
"I—" I can't do this anymore. "—I'm not good enough for you—you deserve so much more—more than I can give you, Ginny."
"No—no, don't say that, Harry! You are—you're more than enough for me." she stated pleadingly. "You're everything I ever wanted, you're perfect. You're Harry Potter! The boy I've been in love with for five years!"
Harry's ears rang. Harry Potter—the Boy Who Lived—the person than Ginny wanted, that everyone wanted. The boy who had a lightning bolt scar in his forehead, who was indestructible, powerful, a hero. Not Harry, whose parents died protecting him, whose godfather died fighting for him, whose mentor—who was the most powerful wizard of the century—died to give him a fighting chance against Voldemort, who had been abused by his own family growing up. Not Harry who was just human, who got lonely, and sad, and happy and who hurt.
No, never Harry.
I'm not the one you want, Ginny, he wanted to tell her, scream at her, because she was one of them, the people who only saw what they wanted to see, whose ignorance was almost intentional, blinding themselves to the fact that he was just Harry, and he was going to fight against someone 50 years his senior, overwhelmingly powerful and cruel in his prejudice, and Harry was almost certainly going to die, and with his death—because of it—the world would be torn apart.
Harry felt trapped in his own skin, Ginny's presence oppressing him, threatening to overwhelm him, sucking the little happiness he had away from him.
'Why can't anyone see me? Why can't anyone realise that he was terrified of dying, that he had dreams he had wanted to fulfill just like any other person, and with everyone's expectations, the prophecy, Voldemort, he would never be able to do them?' he wanted to scream at the world at large, frustrated and angry.
"You don't always have to fight your own battles, Harry."
Hermione's words jolted him from his inner turmoil, the memory piercing him with the determination that had been in Hermione's voice as she had stated it. He wanted to get away from Ginny—away from here—even for a little while. He wanted to feel like he could breathe again, wanted to feel like he was worth more than his name and most of all—
He just wanted Hermione.
Her name rang clearly in his mind and made the fog of everything that had been building inside him disappear, the certainty of her place in his life reassuring him more than Ginny's words could have.
"Harry?" Ginny called out his name tentatively, cautiously, pulling him out of his thoughts.
He blinked and looked at her, truly looked at her, and saw a girl lost in her own dreams, rose tinted glasses covering her eyes whenever she looked at him, her protector, her Prince Charming, saving her and everyone from the big bad Lord Voldemort and then swooping her off of her feet to carry her into the sunset and have their happily ever after.
She loved him, in her own way perhaps, he thought, feeling his stomach tighten nauseously, ut not enough to see beneath the glory and fame of The Boy Who Lived.
He couldn't help but wish that his life was more like the Muggle fairytales, where the hero, the Prince or the knight, saved everyone, the Princess most especially, and not die in the process. He wished he could just save the Princess by kissing her and have everything that was wrong be okay again.
Harry released a weary sigh and shook his head.
"I...need to go." he muttered, not waiting for her reply before walking out of the room and down the stairs to the common room.
Everyone in the room was looking at him the moment he was visible. He ignored their curious stares and walked straight towards the exit, intending to find Hemione and sort everything out before—before. He was halfway out when a hand gripped his arm and twisted him around. He saw Ginny's face and everyone staring at them over her shoulder before he felt soft lips pressing against his and a whispered I love you echoing emptily around his heart.
He immediately recoiled from her, pushing her away and taking a step back, his mouth clenched and frustration tightening the lines of his face. He saw Ron's half-accusing, half-knowing expression and Ginny with hurt in her eyes before he was stomping away, the Fat Lady's painting slamming shut loudly after him.
Hermione was, hunchbacked, sitting in one of the tables surrounded by a hundred piles of books when Harry found her. He didn't even have to think, before he was racing through the corridors and the ever moving stairs of Hogwarts towards the Library. Books were Hermione's constant, the only things that had never let her down, never hurt her when the world was ganging up on her, bullying her just because she was different, different in a way that made other people anxious, because she was brilliant, smarter than them in all the ways that counted and they were afraid of it, of all the things she knew that they could never even hope to understand, of all the things she could accomplish.
Books made Hermione shine, brighter than all the stars and the sun combined, and Harry never wanted to stop looking.
He plopped down heavily on the seat next to her and watched her honey brown eyes move as they read each word carefully, committing them to memory, for a few moments until she glanced up at him, the frown on her forehead deepening.
"Hi." he mumbled, giving her a hesitant smile.
Her lips quirked up for a second but she held it down, tightening into a straight, stiff line.
"Why did you leave?" he asked softly, unwilling to break the stillness blanketing the library, the darkness almost swallowing them if not for the lighted candle hovering above their heads.
She gave him a tiny shrug, her robes rustling slightly at the movement. She turned a page and hunched even more, curling around herself as if somebody was about to strike her.
Harry blinked, swallowing the lump that had suddenly clogged his throat.
"Hermione...I..." he trailed off, unsure of the words he was about to voice out loud, the thoughts he wanted to cover to her muddled with all the others fighting to be let out.
He was startled when there was a sharp snap of a book being abruptly closed. The sound was not loud, only heard because of the deathly silence around them.
"She—Ginny didn't take whatever you had to say well, did she?" Hermione asked flatly.
"I—Yeah. I tried to break it off with her but she refused. She doesn't think we should, just because of the war. She doesn't think that I—" he cut himself off, hearing Hermione's sharp inhale.
He looked at her, not liking her suddenly pale countenance, the pained expression weighing her down. He gulped and sucked in a slow breath. He said, voice hesitant and hoarse,
"Hermione, I—I will, you know? I'm...I'm going to die—"
"No." She shook her head vigorously, face crumpling. "Don't say that—I won't—I won't let you die, Harry. I can't."
He heaved a shaky sigh, rubbing the nape of his neck tiredly.
"'Mione...I...you know what the Prophecy says, don't you? 'Neither can live while the other survives' it said. Vol—You-Know-Who, he's powerful, so much more powerful than I am, but he's not invincible. If I had to die just so he could be killed, I'd do it."
He reached out both his hands towards her and put them on her shoulders, gently turning her to face him. He cupped her face in his palms, thumbing her trembling cheeks. She let out a shaky breath and turned her face to his touch, eyes closing.
"No matter what happens to me—you have to—you need to remember I'm not just doing this to save the Wizarding World—I'm doing this for you, so you would have a future—where you won't have to hide who you are to avoid being killed—where everyone will know you as the brilliant person that you are. EverythingI've done has always been for you, Hermione. It's not going to change now."
"I can't—not without you." she stated, almost a plea.
"You can. You're the smartest, strongest person that I know, 'Mione—"
"Harry, no—remember what I told you? Years ago? Books—cleverness, they don't count. Friendship, bravery..." the hand over his tightened meaningfully, "love—they matter. Books won't help me if I lose you. I just can't."
Harry made a small, inaudible noise at the back of his throat, the despair in her words and voice squeezing his heart painfully. But he didn't know what he could do to comfort her, words that would put her mind to ease—lies would only hurt her more.
"But you will—it'll hurt you and I won't be there to make it better."
She looked at him, hands gripping his shoulders painfully tight, wide eyes imploring as they searched his.
"I'll go with you."
Those words, her tears, her anguished words, all of it a plea to help him, save him. Hermione, by those words, had just declared that she would die with him, forhim. Her loyalty and devotion to him made his heart both swell and break at the same time.
Harry thought of all the times she had sacrificed herself just so he would be safe, starting from when they were eleven, when she had forgotten her rigid belief on being honest—on being good, lying to Professor Mcgonagall so that he and Ron wouldn't get into trouble in the incident with The Troll, to everything she had done throughout the years of their friendship, the ways she helped him when she was stuck or lost, to when she would bodily shield him from danger—just to keep him alive, safe. He knew she loved him—loved him so much she was willing to die for him—but it—her devotion was—it was never put out in such raw clarity until now, this moment.
It devastated Harry as much it made him happy.
No one had ever loved him like she did—does. He doubted Ginny would leave her parents, her family for him like Hermione had done—leave her childhood, her whole life, behind her, sacrifice so much, her everything—for him. Harry would never have asked anyone of that—never Hermione—but she had.
And Harry hadn't known whether to be angry or guilty or shamelessly relieved.
For a moment, just one terrifying, reckless moment, he thought of letting Hermione come with him, this one last time, if only he could say goodbye properly, let her know how much he loved her, how much it hurt him to see her cry, hurt because of him—always because of him—he wanted to take her face in his hands and kiss her, wipe her tears away and whisper I love yous into her mouth and I'm sorrys into her forehead and just never let her go, damn the consequences—but he couldn't allow himself to be selfish, to hoard another piece of her she might never get back, in front of Ron, of all people.
He looked at Hermione—so beautiful, so brilliant, his perfect Hermione—and watched her heart break slowly because she knew—she knew what was going to happen and she wanted to die with him, wanted to protect him, but she knew he wasn't going to allow that—never, never, never her—and felt his own shatter and he wished—wished so many times he'd already lost count years ago while the darkness hid him, hid his fears and insecurities and everything that he was ashamed of in the veil of the night, his heart whispering guiltily, feebly because he knew it was going to happen and he didn't want to hope but he wanted—wanted to so hard, so desperately—he wished he wasn't Harry Potter and she wasn't Hermione Granger, just two ordinary people who've been living life normally and meeting and falling quietly in love, so quietly that they wouldn't have realised it at first until years later, one day they just looked at each other and thought, 'I love you'.
Hermione, she was everything to Harry and now—he knew he was everything to her too.
He wished they had more time—more time to be happy, to be sad, to bicker, to laugh, to cry—together but.
I can't let you die for me.
He knew the moment she understood, watching as honey brown eyes filled with tears, regret and grief, breathing anguished and pained and could do nothing to ease the pain—he hurt her, however indirectly, he was the reason she was hurting so badly and it hurt him too because she was the love of his bloody life, she was irreplaceable, she was Hermione and he could only gather her into his arms tightly, not offering promises, words, because they both knew that this embrace—it could possible be their last.
He didn't want to let her go, to let this momentary comfort end but he had to.
Harry looked at Ron from over Hermione's shoulder and saw the resigned acceptance on his face—of what, he didn't let himself think over it. Their gazes locked.
Take care of her.
Slowly, carefully, as if she was made of glass, he pulled back from Hermione and looked at her, memorising every detail, committing this moment to heart and wiped the tears still falling from her eyes.
I love you. So much.
Without another look back, he left, Hermione's stifled sobs echoing behind him.
To be Continued.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Hermione remembered the day she found out about Harry Potter.
It was the day she first set foot on the world of the Witches and the Wizards, the world of magic. It was interesting, and overwhelming, and very much different from the world she knew, the world she grew up in. And she'd wondered whether she'd fit in this world much better than she did than the one before and if not, then it wouldn't be so bad at all. She would have her books and her magic to keep her company. She wouldn't be lonely.
The first time she encountered the name Harry Potter was through a book, a name without a face, a legend of a boy who survived the killing curse of the powerful Dark Lord. A missing hero. An orphan.
She had traced his name in the book (Famous Witches and Wizards of the Twentieth Century Third Edition, Chapter Thirty-Four, page 777) over and over again, trying to figure out why his name made her pause in her reading so abruptly, what made him so special among the many wizards and witches she'd read about, including Albus Dumbledore (Defeater of the Dark Wizard Grindelwald, recipient of the First Order of Merlin, Current Headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the one whose presence made Voldemort cower). In the end, she had shrugged it off and continued reading, readying herself to face this new world she would now be immersed in.
His name continued to haunt the back of her mind, ringing HarryPotterHarryPotterHarryPotter over and over again. But she didn't mind, it was a comforting name, and she'd felt like he was her first friend, the one she'd thought about and wondered about and worried about.
It was nice.
Hermione remembered the first time she saw Harry Potter.
It was a special day, because she was finally going to Hogwarts, and she'd be away from the others who'd hurt her and teased her because she liked books better than she liked most people. She was excited and very nervous. She already knew that Hogwarts always had floating candles up in the ceiling through a spell, and that she was to be sorted to her house by the Sorting Hat. She'd pored over Hogwarts: A History over the summer and memorized each line, committing them to memory. She liked to be prepared, you never knew if one of the professors would be conducting a pop quiz!
Her mother had cried, while her father looked his stern self, but she could see the softness around his eyes, and the way he couldn't quite let go of her while they said their goodbyes. She remembered her mother smoothing down her bushy hair, like she always had when Hermione was much smaller, and how her father had kissed her on the forehead, an affectionate habit that had tapered off while she was growing up.
Hermione found she couldn't quite say goodbye without her voice going wobbly, and she realised she was going to miss her parents very much while she was away. She'd promised to always write, and to take care of herself.
'Do your best.' her mother said.
'Make us proud.' her father said.
And she would, Hermione promised.
Hermione saw her fellow first years say their goodbyes to their families. She noticed a family of redheads, the mother looking haggard but fond, each of the four children receiving a firm hug and a kiss and a family of blonds, all looking dignified and very rich, the parents looking stern and cold, and the son haughty, but Hermione could see a soft look in the parent's eyes as they each gave their son a brief hug and a few words.
The train gave its last honk, signaling that it was time to leave and students jumped inside, waving a last goodbye before setting off to find their compartments. Hermione wavered, wondering if she should find an occupied compartment and share, or find an empty one.
She pursed her lip and shook her head, straightening her back and lifting her chin. She would try to make friends now, and if it didn't work out, then she would just to live with it and spend the next seven years by herself. She knew she could do it, it wouldn't be different than what she had been doing for the last six years. She'd adjust. She wouldn't be lonely.
Hermione heard the whispers, the reverrent saying of the name Harry Potter. Each person she passed were exclaiming over the fact that Harry Potter was on board and was going to study at Hogwarts too!
'Are you sure?' a female student asked.
'Yeah, yeah! Heard it from the Weasly Twins, I did.' her male companione replied.
'Where is he then?'
'That compartment at the end' the boy pointed.
Hermione blinked and saw where he was pointing at, then immediately walked up to said compartment, not thinking, just pulling it open.
Then she saw him. A skinny boy with messy dark hair and green eyes behind the big, rounded spectacles he wore. He did not look remarkable in any way, not the strong looking Harry Potter she'd imagined, nor the ethereal one she had dreams about.
Hermione couldn't understand how this boy, who was in the same age as her, could defeat the fearsome Lord Voldemort, unless the Dark Lord wasn't that fearsome at all.
She couldn't understand why he could be so powerful while he looked so vulnerable, so thin and pale, as if he didn't get much sunlight at all.
But most of all, she couldn't understand why the sight of him made her relieved all of the sudden, as if she really had been worrying about him, and why she felt sad, because he looked like he hadn't been loved for a very long time.
She was very much confused.
Hermione remembered the first time she met Harry.
She was frustrated and angry and sad. She couldn't understand what she was doing wrong, she was only doing her best, just like what she promised to her parents. She was answering the professors' questions, and she was trying to be nice to everyone, but they didn't like her at all. She was angry because she didn't do anything wrong to make everyone angry at her! It wasn't her fault she knew the answers, and that she was smart and had bushy hair and buck teeth!
She'd tried not answering the teachers question all day once, and the teacher had asked if there was anything wrong because she had been unusually quiet. She had said nothing was wrong, but the teacher had called her parents to ask if everything was okay at home. Her parents had asked her if she was okay and why was she not participating in class like she used to? She'd said that she only did it to make the others like her and be her friend, and her parents got this very sad expression on their faces so she promised not to do it anymore. The next day, she answered every question and paid even more attention in class, and her classmates hated her even more. But that was alright, as long as her parents didn't get that expression on their faces anymore, she didn't care. Her parents loved her, and that was enough.
She didn't need anyone else.
She had been crying ever since she'd overheard Ron Weasley say hurtful things about her, and berating herself why she was crying over such an inconsequential thing as Weasley's opinion of her, when the troll had entered the bathroom and broken all the doors. She had been paralysed with fear and an overwhelming urge of death about to strike her as the troll lifted its wooden club to hit her when Harry and Ron burst in and fought it for her.
After the troll had been dealt with, Harry came up to her and held out his hand. She had stared at him, still in shock, until he lifted the corners of his lips in a reassuring smile and took her hand to help her. She felt the tingle shoot up through her and thought,
And Hermione remembered every moment, every word, every touch, every smile, with Harry since then.
'I won't let you hurt him,' was the one thing Hermione had thought as she shielded Harry from Sirius, thinking he wanted to hurt her friend, shoving him behind her forcefully. She hadn't thought of anything else, not about the fact that the man in front of her was a convicted murderer and that he would not hesitate to kill her, nor that there was little she could do to stop him. There hadn't been anything else, except her fierce determination and Harry's warm (alive, so alive) body behind her.
It wasn't until later, while she was cleaning up for bed, at near dawn, that she noticed her hands were clammy and trembling, that her heart hadn't stopped pounding and the haunted look in her eyes when she imagined all of the things that could've gone wrong, that she might've lost her best friend and that she might have never gotten over it.
It frightened her, the fact that Harry had become such an important part of her life in just three short years. She'd never needed anyone this much before, never depended on anyone else until now.
'How did this happen?' she asked herself.
In the end, she didn't get to sleep at all.
'I love him.'
It was a sudden, unconscious thought, one that hadn't been at all related to the previous ones that had been running through her head. It was neither surprising, or new, the idea of her loving Harry.
She looked over to where he was lounging in one of the many couches in the Gryffindor common room, lost in thought, his Transfigurations homework lying misshapen in the table in front of him, with several sentences erased and rewritten. She had finished her own an hour ago, and was now reading for her Muggle Studies class. She watched him cover up a yawn and sitting up, presumably to work on his homework once again.
She turned back to her book, hiding a smile.
No, it wasn't surprising at all.
'I'd die for him', she screamed in her head, in her heart, while Bellatrix carved painful words into her arm. 'This is nothing, nothing, nothing at all, if I lost him. Nothing.'
'I'd kill for him' her heart thundered, striking Death Eaters left and right while she ran, her dress for Bill and Fleur's wedding fluttering around her, hearing Harry's running footsteps just behind her, his erratic breathing her anchor. 'I'd kill for him, and I would never regret it.'
"It frightens me," she spoke out loud, her nose still buried on the book in front of her. She heard Harry shift from where he was sleeping just beside her in the bunk, face slack in sleep, "It frightens me sometimes, how much I love you."
She lowered her book and turned to him, smoothing away his hair away from his forehead gently, and she continued, shifting her gaze to the flap of the tent, voice lowering in volume, "I would do a lot of things, just to keep you safe. Unspeakable things."
"I don't think I have ever loved, or will ever love, someone this way. I...I don't think I'd want to." She looked back at Harry again, whose forehead had creased slightly, as if he was hearing her, but his breathing was slow and steady, still. "I would kill for you, die for you. I would happily do both, with no regrets, if it meant you didn't die."
The hours blurred into each other, and she felt numb, firing hexes and curses with frightening accuracy at each enemy she encountered, not thinking, willing herself to continue on, knowing that the fight wasn't over until either Hogwarts fell or every last ally of Voldemort died or the Dark Lord himself was dead.
"Hermione!" she felt Ron tugging at her arm, forcing her to look at him. "I think, I might know how to get rid of the Horcrux in the cup!"
Hermione's full attention instantly zeroed in on Ron.
Killing the Horcrux was surprisingly easy once they got the basilisk fang, just a stab, and a satisfying scream made by the Horcrux and then it was over. Hermione stared at where the soul had vanished a moment ago, feeling the rage and grief inside her calm while she gripped the fang in her hand.
'All this pain, this suffering, because of the greed of one man.' she thought, disgusted. 'Just one man.'
And then they heard Voldemort.
"I'll go with you."
She hated how the words appeared to completely shatter Harry, how his eyes widened with sad understanding and his mouth frown in guilt the next second. She saw the emotions warring inside him through his clear green eyes, and wanted to reach out so much her hands unconsciously twitch in his direction.
'Let me go with you,' she pleaded to him with her heart, 'Please.'
She knew what was going to happen when he went to Voldemort, knew what Harry needed to do to defeat him, that she was going to lose him soon. If he was going to die, she was going to die with him.
But he shook his head, and his eyes showed guilt and grief.
'I love you so much!' she wanted to scream at him.
'Don't leave me.' her heart whispered.
She quickly gathered him in her arms, holding him tightly to her, her lips forming the words 'don'tgodon'tgodon'tgo' while she cried, desperate to hold him to her, to keep him safe.
'I can't. I'm sorry.' the ferocity of his embrace told her.
'I love you much.' his lips in her hair told her.
Hermione remembered the day Harry broke her heart.
Hermione couldn't quite remember what happened the next few minutes, hours, but she knew it had felt like years to her, the knowing, the heavy knowledge of the inevitable. She wasn't sure how she had survived, how many people she had killed, how many of her allies, her friends, had died, while she fought and bled along with the rest of them.
What she did remember though, was the taste of blood and tears in her mouth.
"I'm sorry for worrying you," Harry whispered to her, later, over the top of her head, arms tight around her and fingers carding through her hair.
'I'm sorry for the pain I've caused you.' he didn't say.
Hermione remembered the debilitating pain of losing him, and the overwhelming relief of getting him back, and shuddered.
"Just don't do it again." she replied, fingers tapping his chest in sharp staccato and sighed, slowly.
Hermione blinked slowly, frowning at the empty space beside her in the bed, and sat up. Warm sunlight was streaming from the open window, the cloudless sky outside telling her that it was going to be a nice morning with nice weather. She figured Harry must have only gotten up minutes before her, since the space where he normally slept was still warm. She got up and stretched her arms, feeling herself waking up in increments and put on her robe, tying it securely before stepping out the bedroom.
She found Harry sitting in the kitchen table, like most mornings, still in his pyjamas while he poured milk in his cereal in one hand, and scratched Crookshanks' fur in the other. He looked up, and seeing her, gave a sleepy smile.
She walked towards him and gave him a morning kiss, morning breath and all. It had become a habit, over the years, something small and simple in their life together that she treasured dearly.
"Good morning, love." Harry murmured against her lips.
"Good morning." she replied, granting him a small smile before she went on to prepare her own breakfast.
Later, as she was putting her keys in her pocket, Harry already having left for work half an hour before her, she felt something bump against her fingers. Puzzled, she pulled it out and saw a ring.
'Marry me. - H'
And Hermione remembered the first time Harry made her deliriously happy, and the countless joy since.
To be continued in the Epilogue!
Please review to let me know of your thoughts! Thanks for reading!
Chapter 10: Epilogue
Harry woke up frowning, blinking his eyes to see the cause of the itching in his nose and saw nothing but brown. He smiled, chuckling to himself when he realised Alex must have snuck inside their bedroom again. He looked at Hermione's side of the bed and saw that she was already up, but still in bed. They were both facing their five year old son, who had burrowed between them and was still sleeping soundly. Hermione had an exasperated but fond look in her eyes while she made soothing circles on Alex's back, her equally brown hair in its usual unbound state in the mornings.
'Morning,' she mouthed at him, giving him a sleepy smile.
He reached out and tucked a stray hair out of her face, leaning over Alex slightly to give her a kiss.
"Morning," he whispered.
He was about to settle back against the dashboard to enjoy the early morning, when the door quietly opened and a familiar head of unruly dark hair appeared between the gap.
"Hey Pops, Uncle Ron's in the floo, been waiting for you for a few minutes now," was the hushed statement, before the door closed again.
He stifled a groan at getting out of the bed earlier than he'd intended and turned to look at Hermione for help. She merely quirked an eyebrow at him and made shooing motions with her unoccupied hand. With an exaggerated sigh, he carefully got off the bed and slipped on his slippers. He took a second to smooth down Alex's hair gently before exiting the bedroom.
He found Jamie in the kitchen, talking to Ron's head in the floo while she ate her bowl of cereal. Harry ruffled her hair-so much like his- affectionately and dropped a kiss on her head before he turned to Ron.
"Good morning, mate! Sorry for the early morning call, I just wanted to make sure you remember to bring the papers we need for the Hollens case later."
Harry yawned, pouring himself a cup of coffee Jamie had the foresight to make for him. He nodded.
"Yeah, I already put it in my coat to make sure I didn't forget it."
He took several gulps and poured himself another cup. He saw Ron nod over the rim of his cup.
'Good. We'll see you and the kids later, then."
The fire grew for a moment, then put out.
Harry placed his empty cup on the table and turned to his daughter.
"So, ready for a new semester at Hogwarts?"
She nodded, taking a moment to thoroughly chew (Hermione had often chided her for talking through a mouthful of food as a child, and it had stuck, to everyone's relief, especially Jamie's herself. She really was very stubborn, still is.) before answering.
"As ready as I'll ever be, I think. I've already read all the assigned books, anything more would be excessive."
"Your mother wouldn't agree." Harry replied with a smirk.
She rolled her eyes, as any normal fifteen year old girl would do when faced with a mildly disapproving parent.
"Yeah, well, I have months to study anything I haven't already studied, Pops. Besides, the only reason I read ahead was because I don't want to cram for the OWLs, something most of my intelligent peers will undoubtedly do." Jamie replied with a wave strangely reminiscent to her mother's.
"Nevertheless, it pays to be prepared." Hermione spoke up from the door, carrying a sleepy Alex in her arms.
Jamie rolled her eyes again, but stretched her arms towards Alex, who immediately squirmed to be transferred in his sister's arms. He burrowed his head into her shoulder for a moment and squealed,
"Hey there, little man! Had a good night's sleep?" she asked, tickling her brother's stomach and eliciting a giggle, much to everyone's amusement.
Harry felt arms wrap around his waist and shifted to wrap his around Hermione's shoulders. He looked at her, his wife of seventeen years, her developing wrinkles, her happy smile, her happy eyes, and still felt very much in love. She turned to look at him, and saw that she was still very much in love with him too.
There was another squeal, and a laugh, and in that moment, he was the happiest man in the world.
Harry James Potter has always been special, for people who knew him as The Boy Who Lived, for his friends, for Albus Dumbledore and even for Lord Voldemort.
He has been thought of as 'brave', 'brilliant', the embodiment of a true Gryffindor, but in his own eyes, in his heart, he has always been just 'Harry'.
Thanks for reading!