Hermione knew something had changed. Something had changed drastically and it unnerved her.
It had crept up on her stealthily, giving no indication whatsoever that it was coming until it had suddenly exploded to the forefront of her mind and not allowed itself to be removed by any other topic. It was relentless and had taken Hermione by vicious surprise and, for that reason, it unnerved her.
Of course, many things had changed for the witch within the past year so one would think she was comfortable with change by now. One year ago, Hermione's life had been nothing but change, ditching school with her two best friends to embark on a dark scavenger hunt in order to take down a dangerous, ruthless wizard. Nothing had been steady, then; everything had been erratic. And she had survived, along with her two best friends. They had all suffered great losses but they had made it through, and once the threat of Voldemort had been eradicated, the wizards of Britain had been permitted to envision stability returning to their lives once again.
The first step of this stability was the restoration of Hogwarts. There was a two week period after the final battle during during which the school went untouched, as everyone who had bravely lost their lives were mourned and put to rest by their loved ones. The two weeks were difficult, incredibly difficult, and Hermione knew she had never cried so much in her life, but they were necessary to fully recognize and honor the multitude of emotions the war had evoked. Following the fortnight of national grieving, sights were set on Hogwarts. There was no lack of volunteers or money to help rebuild the school and Hermione, Ron, and Harry were some of the many who were there practically every day for the refurbishment. The brunette realized that both of her friends were using the reconstruction as a way to both channel and deflect their emotional pain but she also understood that this was a crucial way for them to cope.
It took the entirety of the summer to restore the school but it was accomplished. Minerva McGonagall, the new headmistress as readily appointed by the governing board, was determined to have the castle open in September and, so, was relieved when it came to pass. (Relieved, proud, and rather emotional). Letters had been sent to every family with a child within Hogwarts age range assuring them of safety and hope- hope for a bright future. A number of teaching posts needed to be filled as well and this was done with little problem. Enough Ministry employees rose to the occasion and applied for the positions, and the ones that were chosen blithely noted they had to get used to the idea of transitioning from professional to professor.
Consequently, that summer left Hermione to make a number of significant decisions in regard to her own future. The first concerned her education. McGonagall invited every sixth and seventh year student from the previous, hellish, mockery of a school year to redo their prior year or go on to the next. For the group that had been seventh years, that meant returning to Hogwarts or moving onto their working lives and path to a career. Hermione and the boys had been offered the same possibility and they spent a week in June discussing what they would do. The witch attested very quickly that she was returning to Hogwarts to complete her lost seventh year and Harry and Ron were not shocked by her declaration. They, however, needed more time to deliberate and this did not shock Hermione. She wanted them to return to the castle with her but was not going to push it on them if they did not think it was necessary for their own futures. As such, she was beyond happy when both wizards revealed that they, too, would return to Hogwarts in order to have a proper seventh year, and felt even more content when Neville stated he was also coming back.
The second decision Hermione had to make that summer concerned her parents. Samuel and Emily Granger had been on their daughter's mind every single day since the day she had relieved them of their memories. She had only stopped crying over them five months after their departure from England but she never stopped questioning if she would be able to get them back. In between helping Harry scour and analyze anything with words in relation to the Horcruxes and Deathly Hallows, Hermione had also researched the magical theory behind memory restoration. The literature had not been optimistic. The overall consensus was that, while possible, it was decidedly complex and highly unlikely. Initially, the witch had been discouraged and entertained the idea of living her life without her mother and father, but fighting that war had changed her outlook. With each success the trio had, with each triumph, big or small, determination and hope was instilled in Hermione until she came to believe that she could do it. Harry had beat the odds countless times over and she looked to that- to him- for inspiration, reminding herself that she, as well, had overcome insurmountable odds before. And if she was not successful, she at least had to try.
It was the middle of July when Hermione told Ron and Harry about her desire and plan to retrieve her parents from Australia. This stunned them a bit and gave them pause, and the next day they told her that they could not allow her to go alone for fear of her safety. This is where the three friends disagreed. The brunette wanted to do this by herself and felt she had to connect with her parents again without interference, but the boys did not believe it was safe for her to be off by herself in a different country for God knew how long. Voldemort had only just fallen and, with her large part in that and well established fame, they were too concerned about her being a target to any remaining follower or sympathizer. Molly and Arthur sided with their son and Harry on the matter and if it was discussed long enough, Hermione's frustration became apparent. She knew Fred's death and George's overwhelming grief was causing Molly and Arthur to be hypervigilant about protecting their children, which included her and Harry by proxy, and she reminded herself of this frequently.
Conversely, while she deeply appreciated the Weasleys housing and care for her all summer (and numerous summers before this, in actuality), did they not understand she needed her family as well? It was not until July was coming to an end and Harry was preparing to turn 18 that a solution was reached that appeased everyone. Hermione would venture to Australia during the first week of August and the boys would join her; once they found them and got Hermione settled and prepared to encounter Emily and Samuel, Ron and Harry would leave and she would, hopefully, return to England with her parents. She also promised to contact her adopted family once a week and not hesitate to request any help, should she need it. Hermione was okay with this plan and, three days after getting to Australia, was in fact happy to have her best friends by her side when she saw her father and mother for the first time in nearly a year, eating comfortably at a restaurant.
Harry and Ron stayed with Hermione an additional two days to help steady her, as the emotions upon finding her parents had completely consumed her and taken her by surprise. Consequently, after their first five days in Australia, she sent the wizards away with fierce hugs, insistence she was fine, and affectionate promises to let them know on a weekly basis what was happening. They remained partially worried for her but also knew they had to go; Hermione had to do this part on her own and they were not going to deny her that.
She returned to Britain 16 days later. A letter with dried tear droplets had been waiting on Ron's pillow after he and Harry and returned from Diagon Alley in the late afternoon and the red head hastily snatched it up and began reading out loud.
Hermione had successfully restored her parents' memories. She had done it.
The witch was currently with her mother and father at her maternal grandmother's house in the English countryside and she was going to remain there until Hogwarts began. Samuel and Emily had to re-establish their lives, which included finding a new home and practicing dentistry once more. Hermione was going to help as much as she could with the bit of time she had before seventh year began and she needed every minute with her parents that she could get. Harry and Ron were thrilled that their best friend had been able to be reunited with Mr. and Mrs. Granger and their other friends were happy as well. Accordingly, the evening before the wizarding youth of Britain was to board the Hogwarts Express and venture to Scotland for 10 months, the trio ate a celebratory dinner with Ginny, Luna, and Neville. They were celebrating Hermione's successful endeavor in getting her parents back but also reveling in the fact that all six would be heading to the castle tomorrow and see out their final year of Hogwarts together.
Of course, there were also changes once the school year began. Hermione received a letter in mid July naming her Head Girl (around the same time she decided to seek out her parents) and experienced surprise at the appointment, although Ron expressed disbelief as to why she would think anyone else would be worthy of that title. Consequently, Harry received a similar letter naming him Head Boy and all three of them were stunned. Hermione's shock wore off rather quickly before it melted into joy, and Harry was too much of Harry to inform her that his initial reaction had been aversion at the appointment. He let her prattle on and even rope in Molly in her excitement, but the next night while they played chess in Ron's room, he admitted to his best friend that he did not want to be Head Boy.
He informed Ron he did not want another year of responsibility and craved that his final year at Hogwarts be lax and as carefree as possible, something that the red head fully understood. Hell, Harry, of all people, deserved an easy going school year; he had never had one! Ron encouraged the other wizard to let McGonagall, and Hermione, know about his lack of desire for the title as soon as possible, a discussion Harry was more wary of having with the brunette than the headmistress. He wrote McGonagall a letter and had Ron be his backup when telling Hermione and both women ultimately understood, although the younger expressed regret that her best friend would not be her partner in Headship.
The resulting outcome of Harry turning down Head Boy was for pleasant everyone, conversely. Neville was offered and accepted the position while the Boy Who Lived was offered and accepted his former position of Quidditch captain, something he was quite happy about. And Hermione was pleased with having Neville as her partner as she knew they would work together wonderfully.
Hermione was an exemplary Head Girl, a well respected Head Girl. Harry and Ron watched her perform with pride and she returned the favor when she sat in the stands and watched them (and Ginny) fly in the sky during Quidditch matches. Both boys were very clearly in their element while playing the sport but especially Harry, and it showed in the way he guided his team and zoomed around on his broom while Seeking for his House. He seemed free, something he had not allowed to be in an exceptionally long time, and it warmed Hermione's heart.
Another change the school year introduced was the elimination of House tables in the Great Hall and House sections in the Quidditch stands. The students were allowed to sit wherever they pleased and, while they clustered with their fellow Housemates out of habit and reticence during the first number of weeks, the segregation gradually melted away. By November, the four colors could be seen bleeding together amicably during meals and games.
A more personal change for Hermione was that she gained back the weight she had lost while on the run, plus a bit more. Eating the wholesome and tasty food of Hogwarts once more counteracted the months she had been noticeably underfed while living in a tent, and this was also true of Ron and Harry. However, the witch doubted the boys' physical changes included jeans that were a little too tight to fit their hips and thighs, or bras that may have become a size or two too small for their chests. Hermione had been somewhat self conscious about these bodily changes and discussed the matter with her mother and Ginny. The red headed witch informed her that she had nothing to be critical of as her body looked great, while her mother said much the same thing: to appreciate and flaunt her curves. Mrs. Granger noted males would appreciate them and so should Hermione; what was more, she was getting older and leaving adolescence for womanhood so of course her body would change. And perhaps Emily had been right in her assessment, because the brunette had caught more than one boy at school looking her over too long to be merely coincidental.
When December came and the students of the castle went home to their respective families for a couple of weeks, Hermione spent the entirety of the winter break with her parents in their new home. She did not see the boys once during the holiday yet they understood- she was eager to spend every second with Samuel and Emily that she could in order to make up for her year without them. Conversely, the brunette did send Ron and Harry gifts and spoke to them on Christmas day via the repaired, two way mirror Sirius had given Harry.
Admittedly, Hermione had been partially worried about Harry given his (and her) last Christmas had been an extremely difficult one. She expressed this sentiment when speaking to him exclusively and he thanked her for her thoughtfulness, not conveying the true depth of his gratitude for her consideration of how he might be faring on this particular day. He revealed he spent the morning with Andromeda and Teddy before all three traveled to the Burrow for early evening dinner and gift opening. This pleased her and, before she ended the conversation to eat her own Christmas meal, she told Harry that she missed him. He was initially taken aback but fixed his face before she could take it the wrong way, and then stated, hoping his smile was not as big as it felt, that he missed her too.
However, the most significant change Hermione had experienced since the end of the war involved her relationships with the boys, and Ginny's with Harry's by association. Simply put, things were complicated. Quite complicated.
This seemed to hold more truth for Hermione and Ron rather than Ginny and Harry. Harry never resumed his relationship with the red headed witch following the final battle. They had discussed the matter during the summer, of course, and more than once; Ginny relayed that her feelings for him persisted and had not diminished, and she wanted to be in a relationship again. Harry, on the other hand, attested that he undoubtedly cared about Ginny but was not ready to pick up where they had left off. He remarked that he needed time. After the chaos of the previous year, after riding of Voldemort, after the countless deaths, after everything that had happened since he first entered the wizarding world at 11, really, he needed time. Time to process, time to feel, time to think, time to rest, time to accept, time to understand... What was more, he suggested that she needed time as well. The girl understood where her ex-boyfriend was coming from and, while disappointed, accepted the decision and acknowledged that Harry likely had a point. Ginny also had hope that the time he needed would not last forever and believed they would find their way back to each other sooner rather than later, something she had no problem expressing.
Hermione and Ron were not as easily defined. Their last two years together had highlighted the romantic feelings that underlined their relationship and their kiss during the final battle put these feelings front and center. Conversely, the two still had not begun a relationship and so the dancing around one another had not exactly ceased. During the summer, the witch felt just as Harry had about romance and knew neither she nor Ron could handle the start of a relationship. They had been rebuilding Hogwarts, attending funerals and trials, considering their futures, and mourning. Hermione had also spent the last portion of the summer retrieving and reconnecting with her parents. Ron seemed to recognize this and did not inquire about their status beyond one time in late June, but things became different once they started at Hogwarts.
His verbal and physical displays of familiarity and affection became more obvious once at school, although they did not happen very frequently. Ron would hold her hand while walking to class, sit very close to her on common room couches, kiss her cheek while squeezing her fingers, for example. They were casual but evident, and could be construed as gestures of a close friendship or latent romance, both of which applied. Hermione did not mind them and they made her feel special, but as the weeks wore on they also started to make her feel guilty and confused. What were she and Ron? Why had they not explicitly discussed their relationship since the start of summer? What was holding them back? What was holding her back?
When Hermione asked herself if she wanted to be Ron's girlfriend, the answer was always a hesitant no but she could not truly articulate why. Life had mostly settled after returning to school so she doubted if it was a question of stability. She did not know why she was she not ready but by the beginning of the new year, the brunette felt fear (cowardice?) when thinking of her relationship with Ron and avoided it whenever possible. And Hermione did not even consider exploring this topic with Harry as, intuitively, she felt it would cause him discomfort. She did not want to burden him or inadvertently remind him of the fact that he was not with his Weasley counterpart, but she also knew she was afraid to hear what Harry might have to say about his two best friends' unclear relationship (again, cowardice?)
Hermione's answer, then, was to evade anything related to Ron and romance. If he was not going to directly bring anything up then neither was she.
Thus, when the witch's dreams about Harry started during second term, things just descended further into a complicated hell for her.
The dreams were the change that unnerved Hermione but it had taken her some time to realize this. They had started out as hardly an inkling, notably subtle in their origins. She had awaken one Wednesday morning in her four poster with a perplexed expression on her face, as tends to happen when one recalls a particularly atypical dream. Hermione ran through themes of her dreams the previous night since she could not recall most of them in any significant detail, but it registered that Harry had been a part of it and the feelings involved had been… intense. The witch could not identify these feelings but she deduced it made no matter as she got out of bed and prepared for the day. Dreams rarely deserved more than a minute or two of consideration, in her opinion.
A second, similar dream happened about 10 days later that was just as vague, something Hermione wrote off as a repeat of the same dream and unworthy of contemplation. When it happened a third time, she took a bit more notice and tried to remember a tad harder. There had been more recollection this time… she and Harry had been somewhere specific: Grimmauld Place. She had mentioned something about being scared and he had offered a solution… and that was all the clear information her brain gave about that dream. The fourth dream was not at Grimmauld. Hermione did not know where it was but they were together, and she lucidly remembered feeling excited for some reason, and Harry had smiled at her so disarmingly, his eyes bright. She identified emotion in the fifth dream as well- satisfaction- but she recalled experiencing it toward the end of the dream.
Hermione had never put much stock in dreams, seeing them as wholly nonsensical, but this was different. The dreams happened on a more regular basis and the brunette could not help but to deliberate on them further, take them more seriously. There was something there! The first step was recognizing she was dreaming- about Harry. This was not really new for her but these dreams were, somehow, unlike most others that had featured him. The second step was recognizing the dreams always had strong feelings attached to them. The third step was teasing out some of these feelings, which she had managed. (They were most always good feelings- powerfully good).
However, things took a turn in her dream detective work. When Hermione began to feel rather unsettled, she did not know why. She did not make a connection between her dreaming state and this unsettled feeling for quite some time. She diligently wondered what about her life could be making her feel this fretful yet came up emptied handed. Her stance with Ron was the only possible reason she could see but her dreams were not about the red head. When she at last figured out the source, she realized the noteworthy uneasiness coincided with her dreams about Harry.
This is also when she stumbled upon the fourth step. One particular Saturday, Hermione had awaken from a nap with a start and a shout. She had unknowingly fallen asleep on a sofa in the special commons area designated for the Head Boy and Girl when she suddenly vaulted in an upright position. Engaging in an unintentional staring contest with Crookshanks, who sat perched on one of the sofa's ends, she took stock of her physical state. Her heart was thudding rather quickly; additionally, not only were her cheeks warm and flushed, but her entire body felt… satisfied. Pleased. There was lingering pleasure that she instinctively recognized, and that is when she understood, with a nice dash of panic, the exact type of dreams she had been having as of late.
Hermione's body was responding to these Harry centric dreams while she slumbered, and responding quite enthusiastically.
It stunned her. And once she discovered the cause of her uneasiness- the true, risque nature of these dreams- the sense of being rattled grew exponentially, especially as the dreams increased in frequency. (For they did increase in frequency).
At 19 years old, this was obviously not Hermione's first time having these sorts of dreams. It was not even technically the first time she had dreamt of Harry in this way! (Going through puberty years ago and having two boys as best friends made its way into her physiological underworkings as a young adolescent). But that had not happened for eons, and this was the first time it had been so detailed, so vivid.
When the dreams kept coming, Hermione switched to thinking logically about the situation to combat the rising mortification. She was 19 and it was completely normal to have dreams like this- countless people did. In fact, it was fairly common for older teenagers and young adults to have such dreams. It was a simple fact of maturation and biology. The brunette reminded herself there were other students in the castle whom were also likely having dreams similar to hers. Hell, she would've bet every possession that she owned that her own good friends had them from time to time while sleeping in their beds! There was nothing to be ashamed of.
Conversely, thinking rationally about her dream dilemma only worked for so long. It worked until it didn't, as it were. The technique became effectively useless by the fact that the same person in these dreams never wavered. When sensibility failed Hermione, she was taken under by the (now) fully fledged mortification about the ordeal. Hermione was not actually horrified that she was having these dreams- she was horrified that they were all about Harry.
Her horror was not due to the fact that she was repulsed by Harry, either physically or mentally- of course not. Anyone with eyes could see that the wizard was attractive. His green eyes and bed hair were a given, but the mass he had gained after no longer having to live on the run, which was toned by Quidditch, complimented him strikingly well. And, as her best friend and all around amazing person, Hermione was securely attached to him. So, no, repulsion was not a factor of her horror.
The witch was more concerned that she should not be having dreams like this about Harry because… well… he was her best friend. Just her best friend. Her best friend who was best friends with her other best friend and who was the ex-boyfriend of her close girl friend. What business did her brain have thinking of him in this way, even if it was subconscious? If one were going by romantic history and feelings, then Ron should be the featured person in Hermione's dreams, no? The red head was good looking as well, also filling into his adult body and even taller than Harry, in fact, so why was he not occupying her head space? It would have made her feel noticeably better and likely even given her direction or a push as to addressing her blurred relationship with Ron. It would have felt like a sign.
But it was not Ron. It was Harry.
Hermione did not know what to do about the situation. And she disliked not knowing what to do in situations as it left her feeling too vulnerable. She also wondered what the boys would think if they knew what her brain was faithfully dreaming of and, the first time this thought had crossed her mind, she had blanched. They could never know (which was a relatively easy feat). God, what would they think of her?
Consequently, the dreams began to take a toll on Hermione. They did not happen on a weekly basis but they happened enough to noticeably affect her. She became more tense as the dreams continued, specifically in relation to Harry. Hermione's confusion and guilt about her subconscious musings started to seep into her waking hours, and it was hard to look at him in the same manner as before her brain had seized upon him as source of self-indulgence.
Her tense state translated into hypervigilance of both her and his behavior. She was overly strict with herself to not do anything that could be construed as the least bit suggestive, and was taut when he made physical contact with her. Harry would sit down next to her for a meal, a bit too closely, arm rubbing hers or knee brushing against her leg, and she would stiffen. Alarms would go off in Hermione's head when she forgot herself and squeezed his fingers tightly or let her hand linger around his neck from eagerness about something. It was a constant struggle to enact and uphold the, now, sacred rule: no touching. Her mind had sullied physical contact with her best friend.
This would have never been an issue pre-dreams and Hermione would not have given it a second thought, but now she was hyperaware of any contact with Harry. Consequently, this posed a problem at a certain point as Harry had gotten used to the witch's characteristic physicality. Hermione was big on touch and it was a salient aspect of many of her close relationships, so the wizard noticed when it became hesitant… when it became restricted… when it stopped.
Others began to notice some of the changes in her demeanor as well, but they did not know the cause and it did not seem too flagrant, so they did not pay too much heed. They merely noticed Hermione appeared… preoccupied, at times, and left it at that. For the brunette, it was steadily becoming more arduous for her when it was only the trio spending time together. She attempted to act and feel like nothing was out of the ordinary, but, now thanks to her dreams, she could not look at either boy without something to influence what she saw. And being alone with Harry seemed out of the question almost entirely; there was little to distract her from the images and feelings her mind cooked up about him while she slept if the pair was by itself. Hermione would do it if necessary but worked twice as hard to ensure the sacred rule was honored.
However, the most embarrassing and off putting culmination of it all happened one Friday morning as the girls in Hermione's dormitory readied for breakfast. Ginny had approached the older witch when they were the only two left in the room. With a smirk, the red head questioned if the Head Girl had had a lovely dream the previous night, because the sounds Hermione had been making seemed to indicate so. Feeling utterlly appalled and striving to not let it show, the brunette asked if she had been so noticeably loud; Ginny replied the only reason she knew was because she had been getting in late (something she glossed over) and so was the only one awake to hear the Head Girl. Hermione's blush extended to her neck while the red head joked good naturedly about it, but that same day was when the brunette started placing nightly Silencing Charms on her bed.
Hermione was absolutely mortified, in addition to being barraged with guilt. If Ginny knew the truth of what was going on in her head!... The younger witch still had feelings for Harry and here Hermione was having rather scandalous dreams about him when she had no business. It was not right- why couldn't her blasted brain understand that? It was making things so unnecessarily complicated!
The witch's next form of action was to ask Madam Pomfrey for a dreamless sleep potion. Her request was granted without much question as the medi-witch surmised it was to keep the terrors of the war at bay, but she gave the warning that more should not be taken than what was recommended and it should be limited to no more than three times a week. Hermione accepted it gladly. She took it two times per week, reasoning this was sufficient enough given the Harry dreams did not happen every week.
The potion worked and Hermione was relieved. The dreams about her best friend had mostly stopped and the sense of alleviation was great, but she was not completely satisfied. She wondered how long she would have to take the potion and the fact remained that, without it, the dreams were probably lying in wait. This was a treatment, not a cure. Accordingly, Ginny became involved with this aspect of Hermione's dilemma as well. Not too long after the brunette had started taking the potion, Ginny noticed and recognized the bottle atop the Head Girl's bedside bureau one afternoon. Rather concerned, she asked her friend if she was okay, if Hermione was having nightmares and this was how she was handling them.
Feeling slightly alarmed and refusing to share the real reason for the potion, Hermione went along with the red head's belief and attested she was, in fact, still having nightmares and simply had been keeping it to herself. The witch felt awful for lying for but believed they both would have felt even worse if Ginny knew the true reason for it. This resulted in an unintentional heart to heart where the younger girl revealed she still had breakdowns about Fred for which she would commiserate with Ron. Ginny informed Hermione the mental aftermath was easier to get through when it could be discussed with someone else, and encouraged the Head Girl to talk about her difficulties with their friends so she would not have to "go it alone."
Ginny's concern of Hermione getting more support also prompted her to go to her brother and ex-boyfriend and bring up the matter to them. The boys were surprised to hear that their best friend was still struggling with nightmares to the point that it required a potion, and promised to help her however they could.
For Harry, this meant sequestering Hermione during a free period the day after Ginny had approached him and Ron. He managed to get her to agree to walk the grounds with him after a bit of persistent cajoling, something that would have not even required cajoling before the dreams, and delved into the issue 15 minutes after they had been outside.
"Why didn't you tell us about your nightmares?" Harry asked, peering at her with a sincere expression as the two lingered on the outskirts of the shade of a tree. The brunette's back stiffened and her eyes widened a tad.
"Ginny told you," she replied in a tight voice after a long moment.
"Yes. Me and Ron."
She tried not to feel annoyed with the younger girl since it had come from a good place, but Ginny had told the boys something personal (albeit fabricated) without Hermione's knowledge, and now she would have to deal with the outcome and be pulled further into this fib. Maybe it served her right for lying, for having the stupid dreams in the first place….
"Hermione, you could have told us about them- you should have. We would have wanted to know," he declared.
"Does it really matter?," she posited, sounding weary, "You can't really help me."
"You could've talked to us about it, about them! It would've helped. You wouldn't have had to deal with that heaviness alone for this long."
Hermione looked at him, guilt flaring up once again. He sounded so worried for her and it was obvious he meant his words.
"But, maybe I don't have a right to really say anything... I am being rather hypocritical," Harry muttered, stuffing his hands in his pockets. The witch's brow furrowed.
"What do you mean?" she questioned. There was a long beat before he replied.
"I still have nightmares too."
The guilt detonated in her stomach as her mouth fell open, followed closely by deep concern.
"What?" Hermione uttered.
"They don't happen as often as they once did- not by a long shot- but they do still happen. I just stopped mentioning them."
Hermione once experienced nightmares as he had and quite regularly. They were the worst the first few months following the war but, in reality, they first started for her right after her torture at Malfoy Manor. She remembered that the trio's nightmares had been discussed amongst the members during those summer months and talking about them had helped, but Hermione had not had one since about December, thank God, so she had rather forgotten about the subject. Now, however, as she stood here staring at Harry, she immediately scolded herself for not thinking of him or realizing that he could still be experiencing them. His nightmares had always been the worst, after all.
"You… you didn't say anything either," the brunette mentioned quietly, blinking in case she felt like crying.
"I reckon I felt like you- didn't want to bother anyone. Didn't know if I saw the point," he remarked.
She threw herself in his direction and he caught her in his arms, anticipating the enveloping hug she pulled him into. The embrace was strong and her arms hooked around his neck while she continued to speak.
"You're right! I should've told you! You should've told me! Talking does help and I hate that you've been dealing with them by yourself! We… we both should've spoken up. I'm sorry I didn't know. You can always come to me! About anything!" the witch attested.
Hermione felt terrible for not knowing his nightmares persisted and recognized the vulnerability he had just shown by telling her. This seemed like a rather vital tidbit of information and she felt a bit crestfallen she had not been privy to it. Her sacred no touching rule momentarily melted away with Harry's nightmare admission and her heart throbbed with years of affection for this young man. He, consequently, merely nodded while he held her appreciatively, grateful for her words but also very aware that she was hugging him, something that had not happened since this wall had been erected between them. Simply put, he was glad to be close with her again in this manner, even if it was the result of sympathy or concern and not happiness.
When she separated from him, Harry felt a bit put out; he was unsure when this glimpse of the old Hermione would make itself known again, but she remained in close proximity to him and grasped his hands as she said more comforting words and assurances that he would not have to suffer by himself. It made the wizard feel notably better and connected to her, a connectedness that had been lacking as of late.
Accordingly, the wall between the brunette and Harry stayed down following this interaction out on the grounds. Her warmth continued and it put him ease, making him believe whatever she had been going through for that odd period of time had ended. Hermione, meanwhile, was not fully aware she had put her stiff, regulated interactions with him on hold and suspended her rigid touching rule. However, her dreams had not been much of a problem recently so their prominence was not present to remind her why her interactions had changed in the first place. The strain was gone and the dreams weren't tormenting her and things seemed back to normal… and the witch was content. It was enough to convince her the dreamless potion was no longer needed and it was with a large smile that she poured the remains of it down the drain of her dormitory's sink.
The water flowed steadily from the shower head and Hermione cupped her hands for a few seconds to capture the intensely warm liquid, splashing it on her face while she shut her eyes. She was humming, some tune she could not put a name to but had been stuck in her head for a few days now. She was not sure how long she had been in the shower but it felt amazing and she was already dreading when she would have to get out. The witch had just situated her bun back to the top of her head, where it had been drooping to the right side, when she heard sudden noise that caused her to jump. A hand went to her chest as she listened: it was loud knocking accompanied by a semi-muffled voice.
Hermione frowned. Her roommates knew she was in the shower so why were they disturbing her peace? She did not feel like interrupting this simple, satisfying act to interact with anyone so she chose to ignore the commotion, believing whatever the girl on the other side of the door wanted could wait.
The person on the other side, conversely, did not share her sentiments because, not very long afterward, the brunette heard the bathroom door being opened and the voice became much clearer. Her eyes widened in bewilderment at the blatant intrusion; the door had been locked!
"Hermione!" the voice called.
What was more, that was not a girl. None of her roommates sounded exactly like Harry Potter. Inhaling sharply with eyes that remained large, the witch hastily turned off the water before throwing out her hand wildly and Summoning a towel to her.
"Hermione," he tried again.
Hermione's heart was pounding in her chest as she gripped the purple towel to her as tightly as possible and then moved the shower curtain partially aside, only to behold Harry standing near the open door with a worried look on his countenance. She had no idea what kind of expression was on her face but it seemed to be severe based on how the wizard was, now, peering at her.
"Harry! What are you doing in here?!" she asked in a shrill tone, "What could you possibly want?!"
"I… I'm sorry," he answered a bit slowly.
"I see that."
"Who told you I was in here?!" Hermione demanded.
"Aberforth." Harry revealed. She scowled. That man could not keep anything to himself… she supposed it was a consequence of becoming his best friend and trusting him with information. Well, second best friend, perhaps- she doubted she could replace the goat, Bernard.
"Whatever you want couldn't wait?!" she snapped.
"No…," He shook his head, as though remembering why he had barged in on her perfectly good shower time, "Er, McGonagall sent me. It's sort of an emergency."
"What is it?"
"The geese are back. They've taken Neville hostage and have started a coup of the castle."
Hermione's mouth fell open and she pulled the curtain further away from her in her shock.
"What?" she questioned. The wizard nodded.
"This time they've threatened to flood the corridors with pudding. McGonagall doesn't want another pudding related death on her watch after the fiasco in November." Harry relayed.
Hermione felt her shock transform into anger and dismay. Those damned birds were back, had captured the Head Boy, and were trying to intimidate the authority of Hogwarts to give in to their demands! Well, she wouldn't have it! The geese would not win; they would leave emptied handed and the school's halls would remain pudding free, thank you very much. If they wanted a vast supply of canned beans, they would just have to find their own! They could not keep harassing Hogwarts for its prized stash.
She nodded curtly.
"I'll be right there," she attested. Harry nodded too, gazing at her, but he said nothing and did not move. There a brief moment of silence.
"I need to get dressed! I can't face the geese like this! Get out!" Hermione declared.
"Yes! A-All right!" he stuttered. He seemed to trip over himself as he turned around and rushed out, yanking the door closed behind him.
The witch waited about 15 seconds and then stepped out the shower, using wandless magic to keep her towel folded around her body. She sighed audibly as she stepped to the sink and mirror and briefly looked into the reflective surface. Her clothes were waiting on her bed and she knew she had to leave the comfort of the bathroom; consequently, when Hermione turned to the door and opened it from her side, she received an unexpected surprise.
"Harry!" the girl cried, sharp alarm shooting through her. She took two steps back without thinking, hand going to her forehead. The wizard stood directly on the other side of the entryway and was staring at her, but the expression that was on his face this time was notably different than it had been before he exited.
Harry kept quiet but continued to stare at Hermione. Incidentally, he quickly moved back into the bathroom and, once again, closed the door, confining them to the space together.
"Wha… what are you doing?" she asked in a voice that betrayed how caught off guard she had been. She offered an unsure smile.
He shrugged but kept moving forward deftly, which forced her to move back. Quite soon, her back hit one of the room's walls and her eyes became larger as she gazed at him, heart rate climbing steadily.
"I interrupted your shower." Harry remarked at last. His voice was low but sure and his eyes had not strayed from her once.
"That was rude of me."
"But you did it to… to deliver really important information." Hermione replied, cursing the fact that she heard her voice tremble. Why had he cornered her like this and why was he not moving?
"It was still inconsiderate. You were probably really enjoying your shower," he mentioned, raising an eyebrow. His gaze finally left her face and, languidly, fell down to her throat, the base of her neck- her collarbone.
"I di… it's not..." The witch did not even know what she was going to verbalize as an answer. His traveling gaze was obvious and it distracted her, causing warmth to blossom across her cheeks.
"Let me make it up to you."
His statement resulted in her heart feeling like it was slamming against her chest. She did not think it was possible for her eyes to get wider.
"H-H-How?" Hermione stammered. Harry did not respond verbally but he smirked. His gaze moved lazily to his left and watched the path of a bead of water as it rolled down her shoulder. He reached out with his index finger and stopped it, which caused her to inhale drastically.
"Are all of your towels purple?" the wizard questioned.
"Mmm," His finger then went north along her shoulder, following the slope of her arm. A wholly unintentional "ooh!" fled from her mouth before she realized, "Have you thought of saving yourself the trouble of laundry?"
"What?" she breathed out. The witch half wondered if she heard him correctly. She would not be surprised if she hadn't; her eyes had shut and ears had started to buzz when he put his finger on her, and it was becoming obscenely difficult to focus.
"You shouldn't waste towels, Hermione." Harry advised, voice becoming even lower and taking on a… different quality.
"W-What will I use?" The question sounded pitiful, she knew, but Hermione had done everything in her power to not whine.
He stepped right up to her, leaving essentially no space between them, and she gasped, eyes flying open to meet his. He was peering at her with an unrestrained look and it sent a sharp jolt through different parts of her. Breathing heavily, he bent down and put his lips against her ear.
"Air dry." Harry whispered.
She did not notice his right hand until she felt it ripping away the purple towel from her body. Hermione cried out when she felt it heap at her feet.
"The geese can wait!" he asserted.
Harry then took his hand and swiftly moved her head toward his, and Hermione could not deny the excitement that flooded her system the moment right before his mouth met hers, and…
… and her eyes shot open suddenly. A quiet squeak left her throat as her arms tensed around the pillow they were tightly holding. Hermione maintained her unyielding posture as she stared wide eyed at the darkness surrounding her, attempting to shake off the disorientation of sleep. When she finally managed it, and understood the dream she had just snapped out of, she unhooked her arms from her pillow and rolled onto her back with a groan. The brunette's left hand went to cover her eyes.
A dream. Another one of those dreams about Harry.
She shook her head and groaned again.
All right, so she had had a slip up… that was okay! She had not been aware of having one of these dreams in a good amount of time, so it was okay that it had happened! It was nothing for which to raise the alarm! If they started occurring as frequently as they had before, then, perhaps, her concern could take over once more. But now? It was not so bad. And Hermione really should be used to them at this point; the shock and mortification should have worn off by now. This thought did make the witch feel better actually, because she was, now, fairly used to them. And they were merely dreams.
Hermione removed her hand from her face with a sigh. Yes. They're just dreams. Not real. Dreams, she told herself as she stared at the darkness above her. They did not appear to want to totally end at this point in time so why fret over them more than she needed to? The stressing was surely doing her no good at all so why continue? She was also not acting on them so why punish herself? These crazy thoughts and images only ransacked her brain during sleep and that should have been consolation. Nodding, Hermione told herself it was consolation. Her mind was lusting after Harry when she had no control, not when she was conscious and in charge. That was significant, made a world of difference. Why had she not given this notion more stock sooner? There was very little guilt thinking about it this way; she was not doing it on purpose! Feeling vindicated, she smiled slightly and acknowledged the feeling that she had just turned a new leaf about this entire situation.
Hermione's victory in her reasoning did not last forever. Accordingly, at some point, her suggestive thoughts about her best friend did begin to leak into her conscious state. Initially, it was simply recognizing the validation she received knowing that she wasn't viewing him this way on purpose. Then she started reviewing some of the specific situations of her dreams and how ludicrous they would be in real life; after that, she began picturing how Harry would react to the knowledge of these ludicrous dreams, which typically left her to chuckle. Following that, Hermione considered how he would react to these (ludicrous) predicaments in the real world, if he did not think them to be ridiculous… and soon after she pondered what her response would be. Would he accept it? Would he consider it? Would he be… willing? Would she want to? Would it be just as thrilling as her dreams?
This may have been around the time Hermione started watching Harry quite closely… for signs, of course. Signs of how he might respond if her dreams could actually happen... on some far off, crazy planet. Of course. How would he react if her dreams could be real? The witch knew her best friend extremely well but that also meant knowing that he could be unpredictable. Could he- would he- act as he did in those dreams of hers?
When Hermione's observations of Harry started to consist quite a bit of watching his physical aspects (his face, how nimble his fingers were, the way his arm muscles flexed unintentionally when he exerted pressure), she tried not to think too much about it. When she started making judgments about his physical aspects (which were normally good judgments), it gave her some pause. When she began wondering what these physical aspects looked like in situations she had never seen (for example, how he looked upon finishing Quidditch, after removing much of his gear, sweaty, while cleaning up, possibly in his dormitory's shower or the prefect bathroom), she knew she was in trouble.
Hermione had crossed a line: a line of consciousness. A line that made all the difference. It was one thing to have suggestive dreams about Harry and quite another to have suggestive thoughts while cognizant and awake. Had she crossed the line from dreams to fantasies? Fantasies! About Harry! Goodness, what was wrong with her?! Her problem was progressing!
The wall went back up and the staunch touching rule was reinstated, and she seemed to double down on both. This entire ordeal was unbelievable. Hermione also knew she was being hypocritical. She had told Harry he could approach her about any topic but she was keeping one- one about him- from him. But how in the world did you tell your best friend you were struggling and because your brain had chosen to have erotic dreams about them?! That your relationship was changing because you were having frequent, inappropriate thoughts about them?
Harry noticed when the witch became more distant again and when her physical contact vanished. She was still there and interacted and supported him with his nightmares if he needed it, but her demeanor was off. Hermione may have tried to make things appear normal but they were not, and he knew they were not. But this time around, he did not remain quiet and ponder on the cause for the disturbance; this time, Harry asked her what was going on, something that rather surprised her. He questioned if the change was due to her nightmares but she denied it. He wondered if she was overly stressed with school work and/or Head Girl obligations but she negated this. He inquired if he had done something wrong or to offend her and Hermione swore that he most definitely had not.
Her behavior, however, said otherwise and it persisted, so Harry's queries persisted as well. For a few weeks, Hermione vowed that nothing was wrong or different but he did not believe her. The wizard switched from asking to stating to insisting that something was happening or had happened and, when he did not drop the topic, exasperation emerged for Hermione while irritation materialized for him. Harry asserted that he would leave it alone once she revealed the truth or went back to her old self, while she declared there was nothing to reveal.
Obviously, the brunette was lying but she could not share her actual problem, and she did not want to create a lie to appease him because she had lied about the sleeping potion to Ginny and wanted to avoid another rabbit hole. Accordingly, her solution was to make herself act how she had before the dreams had ruined her life, but that did not exactly work out either. Hermione was gobsmacked to find how arduous it was to revert back to her stereotypical behavior; it seemed impossible in this mental state she had been in for, now, a few months. Similarly, Harry could tell she was forcing it, that her behavior was not sincere, and he called her out on it.
There was one particular evening where their individual and mutual frustration came to a head. Standing on the sidelines of the common room, they were heatedly discussing the issue of Hermione's altered state (unwillingly, on the Head Girl's part) when she snapped. In response to his plea-demand to simply be truthful and cease lying, Hermione balled her fists and screeched that there was nothing to be truthful about because she was FINE, and couldn't he just understand that? Harry said nothing but glowered at her, his jaw set and eyes stormy. She then rapidly recalled a dream that had been very similar to this: the two of them in the common room arguing about something… giant turtles? Regardless, if circumstances were to be more true to the dream, he would have then pulled her to him and lifted her up, and she would have gone, wrapping her legs around his middle and kissing him heatedly while he began removing her school robes.
Hermione froze. They were in the middle of real conflict and she was thinking about those God forsaken fantadreams (as she had dubbed them one week previously)?! There was no helping her, was there? Horrified, she turned on her heel and ran for her staircase, hoping Harry believed she had simply reached her limit with the conversation and needed to get away. He started and called her name urgently but she did not turn around.
The witch avoided Harry altogether for three days following this. Things were hopeless, in her eyes. Her two options were to tell her best friend the truth or increase her distance and hope that was enough to dampen her fantadreams. She felt helpless and stuck, and rather alone; it felt like this huge weight she had to carry on her own. Hermione also realized she may have been overreacting to this entire situation but it certainly did not feel like it and she certainly wished this had never happened to her to begin with. Harry, for his part, did not seek her out or attempt to engage her once she outright avoided him. She would have thought he might but he did not, although Ron was concerned and asked both of his best friends what had happened between them. Harry directed the red head to get answers from Hermione and she informed Ron that it was nothing serious apart from the fact that she just needed some space from the dark haired wizard, something that was an occasional necessity in many friendships. Yes, she needed space… even if her brain was acting in the exact, opposite manner.
Hermione's day of reckoning came on a Sunday afternoon, on her fourth day of evading Harry. She had spent a portion of the day with Neville, completing their Head report, a portion with the Patil twins, working on a Charms assignment, and a portion by herself, warding off thoughts of a certain green eyed young man. Ron had tried to lure her into spending time with him, which also meant time with Harry, but she had declined, pointing out that she had work and promising the red head she would eat dinner with him (and hopefully only him). Gryffindor's Quidditch captain had not said one word to her that day, or since their standoff in the common room earlier in the week, actually, but she had caught his eye a couple times and seen impassivity there.
Hermione was currently pacing in her empty dorm room. She was alone and had an extremely vague idea of where her roommates were- Ginny was on the pitch, she believed- but she preferred this. She did not want the other young women to see how agitated she was, how she could not seem to keep her hands from fidgeting or her mouth from frowning. Her mind was plagued by Harry, surprise surprise, and was ruminating on how impossible her situation was. Just yesterday, she went so far as to read some of a psychology book about the subconscious she had requested her father to send, to determine how to get a topic to stop dominating one's mental space. She had not liked the answer the book suggested (i.e., directly confront and verbalize the issue) and now she felt even more vexed.
I'm going to be stuck with this forever. This is my life now, the brunette thought feverishly. Maybe she truly did need space from Harry. Maybe this was only a problem because they were constantly around each other at the castle and, once the school year was complete and they could branch off on their own more, it would resolve! But was distancing herself from him and doing it for the foreseeable future easy, or what she even wanted? Of course not…. Hermione emitted a sound that was between a groan and a cry of despair, stopping pacing and putting her forehead in her left hand. Why couldn't things just go back to normal?
There was then abrupt knocking on the room's door and she swiveled to it, somewhat startled. Had one of her roommates forgotten her wand? The door was not even locked. She opened her mouth to give a response but in the next moment the door was being pushed open. Hermione's mouth dropped completely open when she saw the person on the other side.
They stared at each other for a long stint in incredibly loud silence, with his hand still on the door's handle.
"I hope this is a good time for you," he stated at last, eyes still on hers.
"Harry!" she gasped.
Her heart started pounding in her chest while the wizard hastily moved into the room. Her arms fell to her side and her mouth moved wordlessly as Harry closed the door behind him, mumbling under his breath as he looked at it quickly.
"What… what are you doing in here?" Hermione wondered, trying to not be consumed by alarm. He peered at her once more.
"I came to talk to you," he remarked.
"How did you even get up here?!"
"I saw a fourth year coming up and politely asked if she would let me follow her. Told her I really needed to speak to you. She was more than happy to help me out."
"That's, t-that's… you shouldn't be up here!" she insisted.
"Technically, no, but I do many things I shouldn't," Harry replied evenly, "We need to talk, Hermione." He took a couple steps toward her and she became rigid, hands curling into fists.
"You know perfectly well why."
"I've told you-" Hermione began.
"Rubbish. What you've told me is rubbish. I know you're not being truthful and we need to talk about what is really going on with you. And I don't plan on going anywhere until that happens, so, I'm rather lucky you're up here by yourself," he relayed. The witch felt herself flush with trepidation and irritation.
"You can't just stay here in my room, uninvited!"
"I can sure as hell try. I locked the door and put a Confundus Charm on it, so anyone who comes near is going to have quite a difficult time getting in successfully."
Her trepidation morphed into fear and, the irritation, into anger.
"And just as an added measure of safety… Accio wand!" Harry said. Hermione's wand then whizzed by her head from its spot on a desk and into his awaiting hand. She gawked as he deposited it on his person.
"Don't want you to run off and then I'm forced to have this conversation by myself!" the wizard cited, flashing a satirical smile. With the loss of her wand and the knowledge that he was attempting to trap her (in her own domain, no less), the Head Girl quickly felt herself swell with indignation.
"You have the nerve to come!-" Hermione started to rant.
"Hermione, I know you're angry, and I know this is a bit drastic! I know you probably want to pummel me into the floor right now, but, but I was hard pressed to find another way to make sure you talk to me!" He sounded apologetic already but determined.
"You yelled at me in the common room a few nights ago and then you ignored me for three straight days!" Harry responded.
"You kept pushing that something is wrong when I told you I'm fine!" she declared, stamping her foot.
"If you are really fine, something tells me you wouldn't have spent the last few days refusing to acknowledge that I exist!"
She had no retort for this as it was an excellent point. Damn. She had justified his belief by ignoring him- a complete oversight.
"Maybe I was just tired of repeating myself!" the brunette proposed, folding her arms obstinately. She knew this was a pitiful argument but she had to commit herself to the lie. He frowned.
"Hermione, you are my best friend and I know you. You've been acting differently for some time now… you treat me differently. And I want to know why. I am stubborn and won't let up until I know why. I want to help if I can." Harry shared.
"Help?" she questioned, sounding disbelieving.
"Yes, Hermione- help. You do it all the time for me, for Ron."
"And that's lovely but I don't need help because there-"
"I've already told you I don't believe the 'nothing's wrong' line so save your breath and stop saying it." Harry instructed in a bored tone. Hermione's lips became tight with aggravation and her cheeks reddened as she let her arms drop, glaring at him. He felt like smirking.
"Get out of my room," the witch demanded.
"No problem! Right after we have our talk."
"Harry, if you don't!-"
It was apparent her temper was bubbling based on her body language, that it was on the verge of spilling over in a spectacular way. However, Harry interrupted her this time by surging forward suddenly and taking her left hand in his right, appearing imploring and on the cusp of saying something. Conversely, Hermione became instantaneously stiff at the contact. She locked up. Although she remained standing in her spot and did not pull away, he noticed the shift and it changed his own demeanor. Harry's eyes narrowed as he peered at her. He was dead still for a moment before his hand grasped hers tightly; he then deliberately yet unhurriedly erased the space between them and stood toe to toe with her. She inhaled deeply, unsure if it was loud enough for him to hear, while her heart commenced pumping and her eyes widened a fraction.
The wizard's brow furrowed further before he took a step forward. Hermione hastened to take a step back, tugging her hand to see if he would release it. Harry did not, but he did take another step and, soon, he was walking forward intently while she was walking backward fretfully. They gazed at one another with entirely different expressions until the back of her knees hit her bed, upon which an inaudible gasp left her throat and she dropped onto the mattress without thought, eyes still holding his. He sat down as well, on her right side, and the witch used this time to yank her hand from his clutches and scoot over some. Harry's face contorted at this.
"See? There! That! This!," he exclaimed, turning to face her properly, "This is what I'm talking about! What just happened! You acting differently! Your body was practically screaming how uncomfortable you were!" Hermione's face became hot at his astute observation and his mention of her body.
"You... y-you're reading into it! You just surprised me!" she said.
"Bullocks, Hermione! It's like… you don't want to be around me! You dislike me near you!"
She put her forehead in her right hand, feeling stuck and overwhelmed and a bit suffocated. He was spot on and persistent, and she knew he was serious when he expressed that he would not give up until she spoke.
"I thought something was up with you weeks ago but then things seemed fine after we talked about the nightmares. But it's back to how it was- you're back to that- and it's gotten worse! So you cannot tell me that everything is fine and expect me to believe it when you just acted like having me that close was painful for you!" Harry avidly lectured. The brunette grit her teeth and lifted her head. She had been backed into a wall and had nowhere to go. She had to concede something here.
"Fine, Harry! You win! You're right, okay?!," she half shouted, "Yes, something is different! I've been different! And I was apparently too daft to think you wouldn't notice!"
There was a long period of silence that followed her confession. She refused to look at him and wondered what exactly she had instigated with her admittance; where would this go? How was she going to steer this ship?
"Why? What is it?" he questioned softly after their extended interval of quiet. Of course this was Harry's follow up question and of course the witch did not know how to respond.
"It's nothing… it's nothing urgent or dangerous. Or real." Hermione answered, persisting with the lack of eye contact.
"Nothing real? Huh?" the wizard uttered, appearing confused.
"What's been on my mind lately isn't real."
"It's not real… so what is it?"
With her mouth closed, she clenched her teeth and pursed her lips while glowering at the room's door.
"I've been having upsetting dreams about you," she tersely revealed after a moment.
Recognition dawned on his face as much of his concern disappeared. Dreams. Just dreams! Was that all? That was enough to alter her demeanor to this degree? Harry then remembered just how much of an influence dreams could have on one's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. He knew this firsthand and could not downplay their significance.
"Upsetting dreams- bad dreams?," Harry pondered, peering at her, "Is that what your nightmares are about? Me?" Hermione did not answer but her forehead went back into one of her hands. What had possessed her to slip up and offer the truth?!
"Something happens to me in them, or I'm… I'm the bad part?" he continued. She laughed once, shakily. Oh, one could definitely say something happens to him in her dreams!
"You're not the bad part," she said.
"Then something bad happens to me in them. I get hurt, or die, or-"
"My nightmares aren't about you, Harry."
Hermione had cut him off because she still greatly disliked hearing about her best friend being harmed, even in hypothetical situations. It stirred up too many painful memories and fears.
"Okay. I'm not the focus of your nightmares but you're having upsetting dreams about me." Harry summarized. She did not reply verbally but pursed her lips once more.
"What makes them so upsetting? What happens in them? It's significant enough to change how you act around me," he noted. The brunette was still not looking at him but his eyes had not wavered from her form.
"Am I an arsehole in them? Am I cruel, do I do something awful? Do-" Harry inquired.
"I said you're not the bad part!" Hermione declared. He stared at her.
"They're not nightmares and I'm not the bad part… I don't do anything terrible and nothing terrible happens to me? That's what you're saying?" he asked. She sat up fully and crossed her arms, looking to her left. She was beginning to feel distinctly jittery.
"I don't understand how the dreams are upsetting, then, Hermione," he commented, "If nothing awful happens and I don't do anything awful, can you explain why they upset you?"
The witch made a noise, unable to answer him. It seemed she was steering this ship into a quarry of rocks- sure destruction. Alluding to the truth had been a serious lapse in judgment! She should have just created another lie, been prepared to jump down another rabbit hole!
"Hermione, you can't just stop talking now. I'm trying to understand!," Harry asserted, "If these aren't bad dreams then why do they upset you? Why do they upset you enough to change how you treat me?"
Hermione remained tight lipped and turned away from him while he hurriedly thought of other reasons- other emotions- why dreams could be distressing if they weren't dreadful in nature.
"Unless something disgusting or embarrassing happens in them…," he muttered, mind whirring.
Her hands, that were clutching her upper arms, tightened involuntarily, and she was glad she was not facing him because she knew she had made a face. However, the wizard saw the faint tension in her hands following his comment and it pulled him out of reflective reasoning. He doubted that had merely been coincidence.
"That's it, isn't it? Something disgusting, or embarrassing," Harry mentioned, putting a hand down on the bed, "I do something you consider embarrassing or revolting in your dreams… or you do."
Hermione's heart sped up further and signs of anxiety started to mold her countenance. She was not the least bit appreciative of his deduction skills right now! He, consequently, also felt his heart rate increase but it was from anticipation and not anxiety. He was getting much closer to the real answer and he knew it, could sense it.
"Harry, this is absurd!," the Head Girl exclaimed at last, finally swiveling back in his direction and praying her anxiety was not glaringly evident, "Do you realize how crazy this all seems? You keeping me hostage and interrogating me like a criminal!"
He, conversely, was now the quiet one while he gazed at her. He held the concepts of embarrassment and disgust in his mind and used them to review his best friend's behavior within the past number of weeks. Dreams that elicited one (or both) of these feelings and caused her to be taut in his presence, to be more distant... to seem tense when they were close… to diminish her usual habit of showing physical affection. To become rigid when it did happen, like she had demonstrated not even 15 minutes ago.
Hermione was uneasy around him in a physical sense.
For some reason, Harry then recalled certain dreams about Ginny he had had two years ago, ones he would have never dared mention to Ron, and, suddenly, clearly, shockingly, everything fell into place for him.
"Just give my wand back, a-and leave me to gather myself for a while! I'll find you later and we can have a proper talk; I'll let you know then what's been going on!" the witch attested. This would also give her time to think of a lie, rabbit hole be damned. It was easier than the truth at this point.
She held out her hand for her wand, as if to make a point, and strived to look stern through the fear that had manifested. He, conversely, had been harshly jolted by the conclusion at which his brain had arrived, and it was causing him to watch her in amazement. Could this be the answer? Hermione, dreaming of him in that way?! There was only one way to confirm his newly stumbled upon hypothesis.
"Hermione, are you… are you having sexual dreams about me?" Harry asked in a low voice, peering at her intently. It was quite hard to keep the disbelief out of his tone and keep it from ushering in a smile of astonishment.
Hermione immediately blanched, her hand still held aloft.
It was quiet for a long while. Her eyes felt like they would leave their sockets. She felt like she had been pushed into a sauna.
Holy hell. He had figured it out.
"Are you?" he pushed, struggling to keep the awed expression off his face. The brunette blinked multiple times and then hastily dropped her hand (for it had begun to tremble).
"W-Why would you ask that?" Hermione questioned somewhat breathlessly. Oh God, she had to get a grip!
"You said the dreams are not any kind of bad dream but they've still been upsetting you... if you're having those types of dreams, it'd surely explain why you've been acting like I have the plague."
"You… t-that's what you think?"
"It all seems to fit, based on everything you've said- and not said. You feel embarrassed about it!... or disgusted," Harry suggested. It was rather as if he was simply verbalizing his thought process, "Although, I really hope it's the first emotion and not the second, because, what would that say about dream me?"
He was smiling- smirking?- now, his amazement and confidence in his assumption growing in size. Hermione, on the other hand, did not share his ease and was attempting to not get hysterical over the fact that he had correctly surmised what was going on. What was more, his smile-smirk aggravated her. How dare he feel complacent when she was freaking out on the inside!
"Don't be ridiculous, Harry! That's not it!" she snapped, cheeks flooding with warmth as she attempted to feel some degree of control.
"It's not?" the wizard wondered.
"Then what is it? What are the dreams exactly?" Harry prompted.
"Not that!," Hermione asserted roughly, "Not, n-not!... s-s-se..."
She could not even bring herself to say the word, another likely piece of evidence that he was correct. Consequently, Harry then purposefully moved closer to her, his planted hand propelling him forward, and the witch froze all over again. The angry tone of her voice dissipated and she watched him in shock, as still as a statue although finding breath became even more strenuous.
"I don't believe you. Taking into account how you just reacted, I don't believe you," the wizard attested.
Hermione's chest rose and fell while she stared at him, her jaw clenched uncomfortably. She finally looked away from him, her entire body on high alert and quite sure he could hear how ladened her breathing had become. She was determined to stay in place, however, and not run away from their close proximity. It was a last ditch effort to show that he was wrong and his closeness did not affect her, all of which was a giant heap of lies that she distantly knew was not fooling him.
"I, I-I don't…" she mumbled faintly, eyes scanning her room pointlessly.
"Hermione," Harry commenced. He was grinning now, still perched so near her, "Is this your first time having dreams like this?"
The brunette's gaze was sharp as it landed back on him. Her face had reddened once more but her insolence, too, had returned.
"What?! No! A-And that's not an admission that that's what the dreams are!" she exclaimed hotly. His grin widened.
"You can just admit it. We both know I'm right."
"You're a smug prat!"
He laughed. All of her defiant outrage only told him he was spot on. The happiness he felt at discovering the truth made the frustration and concern from before seem so small. He was pleased, glad to know it was nothing of a graver nature, but he felt… invigorated, as well. (Her denial was also fueling his contentment for some reason).
"Your dreams are no reason to ignore me, Hermione. They're just dreams! You're not the only person who has them." Harry relayed.
"I've said that's not it!" insisted Hermione.
"Uh huh. And is this the first time I've been in your dreams? Well, you know, your sensual dreams?"
"Do you dream about me often?" the wizard inquired, continuing to sound amused.
"Do you dream about me?" she shot back, a fist balled at her side. Her high running emotions had caused the sarcastic remarked to come from her mouth, upset that he appeared unfazed by this situation and appeared to be enjoying teasing her.
There was a noteworthy tick of silence before he answered.
"Yes," came the subdued reply.
Hermione's heart stuttered and she gaped at him. For the first time, the smile on Harry's countenance faded as they gazed at one another but the heavy moment did not last too long.
"I've dreamt about you before- I'll be honest! Though, I haven't avoided you as a result," he told her, a small smirk molding his lips.
"W-Well! I, er, I-I see!..." she stuttered, wanting to blink furiously again. That had been quite a revelation and she was unsure how to feel about it.
"But they're no reason to be so embarrassed that you swear off contact with me! Merlin, I didn't know what to think! But this is why, your dreams? That's nothing!"
"They don't feel like nothing."
"Maybe not," Harry said, smirking again, "But they are only dreams, Hermione."
"Only… only dreams."
The brunette felt decidedly more placid now, reflecting on his personal confession and proclamation that they were mere dreams. The latter, she knew, but it was reassuring to hear him voice it as well. It was like it relieved the pressure she had imposed on this entire ordeal.
'So do you admit now that's what all this has been about? Sex dreams about your best friend?," Harry wondered, "Dreams so real you can't be in his presence? Dreams so intense they throw your world off course?"
He was joking and displaying that infernal grin again and, just like before, it made her hackles raise. The Head Girl glowered at him slightly, feeling like a cat posing itself to react.
"I get it." Hermione claimed through clenched teeth.
"I must say- I'm honored to have your brilliant mind think of me in such a flattering way! More than once, apparently." His mirthful tone continued.
"You can stop now!"
"Hermione, I said you have no reason to feel embarrassed. I'm trying to help you get over that feeling!" Harry revealed, smiling slyly.
"By throwing it in my face?" she questioned.
"I am doing no such thing. I'm taking the sting out."
"You're enjoying this way too much!"
The wizard laughed, the light in his eyes proof of her words.
"Maybe," he conceded. She scoffed and moved to get up but he kept her in place by grabbing her hand and pulling down, a feat that was not difficult considering how close they already were. She looked at him in more surprise than irritation.
"Can you blame me? This is fun, Hermione; you're making it much more serious than it has to be." Harry stated, causing her lips to pucker sourly.
"If this were the other way around, I wouldn't keep taking the mickey!" the witch asserted.
"The biggest difference there is that I wouldn't be embarrassed about the dreams, so I'd have nothing to be upset about."
She gazed at him with more shock than before. Did this really not bother him in any degree? Was she making a much bigger deal out of this than necessary? Harry had admitted to dreams involving her and appeared unfazed by this fact, something she stopped to ponder more.
"One last question, then, and that's it. I swear. I'll stop having my fun," he mentioned after a moment, interrupting her musing.
"Fine." Hermione noted, rolling her eyes. She'd let him have a final quip since he was getting this much glee from their conversation.
"Do you enjoy the dreams I'm in?" Harry asked in a supple voice. She peered at him in a shrewd manner. All of the amusement was in his facial expression and he had inclined his body more toward hers as a part of his playfulness, still gripping the hand of hers he had captured. She made a resolute decision while looking at him.
"And do you enjoy yours, Harry? When they're about me?" Hermione replied, matching his sweet tone and mimicking his body posture. She pushed out her chest purposefully and threw in an eyelash flutter or two for good measure, just to be safe. If he wanted to play this way, then fine; she could fight fire with fire for the last showdown.
For the first time, he faltered, looking her over, and she noticed; a flare of triumph shot throughout her. She had rattled him, finally! He licked his bottom lip while continuing to peer at her and she felt like saying something born from her smugness. But I thought you weren't bothered, Harry, dear!
"And if I say that I do?" the wizard eventually asked in a quiet voice.
Hermione stared at him as everything seemed to grind to a halt. Everything seemed to freeze: her surroundings, her body, him. Time.
"W-What?" She said this faintly, truly taken aback.
"You asked. I answered. What happens if I say I do enjoy them when they happen... and that I don't feel badly about it?"
The brunette's heart was the one thing to thaw out and immediately begin hammering in her chest. She could hear it in her ears and it was sonorous.
The pair stared at one another, bodies still turned toward each other and hands still holding the other. About six million different thoughts and feelings erupted in her brain but they seemed particularly dulled as she looked into lovely, green eyes. She could not have correctly guessed how long they peered at one another. She had not been rendered speechless in an exceedingly long time.
"You're always an incredible kisser, in my dreams." Harry claimed, gaze falling to her lips rapidly. All breath left her body in the following moment while her pulse descended into a frenzy.
"It'd be nice if I could see for myself," he muttered, still watching her mouth, "I, I'd really like to…. Would you let me?" His eyes shot up back to hers.
Hermione felt like she was watching this entire exchange outside of herself, like she was not fully aware of her thoughts and actions and was surprised by the well of feelings she had not realized she harbored. She was watching her best friend ask to kiss her, not experiencing it herself. Thus, it was both thrilling and exciting when she saw herself nod dumbly and saw something spirited flash across his gaze before he moved forward.
She slammed back into reality when she felt Harry's lips touch hers earnestly. The shock was so acute that, initially, Hermione merely sat in place and did not move a muscle. He was kissing her. Harry was kissing her, at his request, and she was sitting there not responding although she had given him permission. This was… this was not a dream. The witch was actually on her bed, connected to her best friend by the mouth and… and not moving. Not participating. Which was a shame because his lips were soft and he had wanted to kiss her.
Harry had wanted to kiss her and she had frozen once more. Why? He had wanted to kiss her. He wanted to kiss her! Why on Earth was she not kissing him back?! Her brain had been thinking of a moment like this (plus much more) for months! Hermione jolted, surging forward a bit and returning his eager kiss, wanting to sigh when she felt the pleased tingling that came from her participation. Harry used the hand that was not holding hers and placed it against the side of her face, pulling her closer some and initiating another yet deeper kiss, happy to have such an agreeable response from her.
The brunette's free hand found its way to his knee, finding purchase there to steady herself a bit. Their kisses progressed quickly; the first couple were curious and exploratory but they became more sure with each one, bolder with each one. Apart from Hermione's few moments of indecision at the start, there was no awkwardness in the way their lips moved together. It seemed rather natural for them (something that delighted Harry), as if their stark familiarity with one another translated effortlessly to this new act they were sharing. The wizard let go of her hand at last and put his on her right side, guiding and beckoning her to move closer to him. Hermione went and he moved his legs wider to accommodate her, pulling the girl right against his chest.
Their kiss was disrupted briefly with the movement and she looked at him with an expression conveying numerous emotions, heart clamoring away. Harry peered back unabashedly, feeling quite hot, before claiming her lips once more and letting his tongue probe softly against hers. Hermione released a small whimper, fingers clutching his shirt's front. The next time his tongue made gentle contact with hers, she allowed it the greater, more determined access it seeked, something that made them both shiver. This was unbelievable.
One of Harry's hands lost itself inside the witch's plentiful hair and the other securely held her waist as their mouths and tongues moved insistently against each other. Both of Hermione's arms were fastened around his neck and she kept making small noises that impassioned him. Her sounds reminded him that her body was very much pressed against his, a body whose alluring curves he had noticed materialize earlier in the school year, curves that he had admired in secret for months. Harry would have loved to explore these curves on a more personal basis but he was jumping ahead of himself. Instead, he opted for holding her as tightly as he could and putting his all into his kisses. Maybe if things worked out well enough, if this road they had just happened upon was a viable one, perhaps he would eventually be able to.
When they separated due to a need for air, it was only by a matter of inches. They remained attached to one another, lips still poised close together, and both were breathing heavily and outloud. The two took the time to catch their breath and process what they had just done. After two minutes or so, Harry swallowed before giving her one more deft kiss, the act of which made her glow.
"I had no bloody idea anything like this would happen when I came up here," he attested in a hoarse voice. Hermione gave a trembling laugh. That was an understatement.
"I don't know if I thought anything like this would ever happen!" she said. He smiled somewhat sheepishly.
"I know that may not have been as good as your dreams, not as, er, heated."
"It was better than my dreams." She felt high on giddiness. And it had been better, for, unlike her dreams, that had been real. Real and incredible, and utterly unexpected.
"Good. I've wanted to kiss you for ages." Harry revealed. She blushed as he placed some of her hair behind her ear, though it was hard to tell with how flushed her face already was.
"And was I as good a kisser as I am in your dreams?" Hermione posited. He laughed once before replying:
"Perfect. And well worth the wait."
They looked at each other with happy grins on their countenances, some shyness apparent for both. The witch was very aware of how surreal if felt that she had just snogged Harry without truly understanding how it had come to pass. Did this mean she had feelings for him of which she had not been conscious, or him for her? He had said he'd wanted to kiss her for a long time… was that implication for deeper feelings? Incidentally, considering this caused Hermione to think of something that, literally, made her pull away from him. His brows furrowed at her movement.
"Harry," she commenced, appearing suddenly worried, "What about Ron, and Ginny?"
The alarm showed on his face before he frowned, looking down at her bedspread. It was hard to tell by his expression how the wizard felt and this made the brunette more concerned. She fumbled with her fingers while she watched him and thought of her own question, body still tangled with his.
"There's more to the reason why I haven't started things with Ginny again," he began carefully, eyes still on the bedding, "There's… there's a part of me that just doesn't want to." Hermione's eyes widened in surprise at this admission for she had never heard it before.
"And, well, there's also the part of me that's thought of kissing you for Godric knows how long now," Harry continued in the same measured tone, "And I can't help but notice that you haven't started anything with Ron, although it's been a while. And that's, er... it's been nice to know, I reckon."
Her mouth had opened partially and she was staring at him, perplexed. Her chest felt tight as she worked to process all of what he had shared. He finally looked up and observed the expression on her face, which propelled him to say more.
"I-I mean, unless you want to have something with Ron, in which case I!-" he rushed to say.
"No," she remarked, shaking her head, "No… I-I don't think I do. I've thought about this a lot since we came back to Hogwarts. I care about Ron, of course, and he means so much to me, but… if I really did want something, I think it would have happened by now. I doubt I would have just snogged you..."
It was silent as they stewed in the words left between them, especially in the context of their physical actions. They pondered what their revelations meant for them right now, individually, and what they could mean for them in the future, both separately and together.
"We… we can think about it later. What all of this means with, with Ron and Ginny... we don't have to handle it just yet." Harry informed her, peering into her brown eyes.
"And what about us? About this?" Hermione asked, gesturing between them (as she had not unwrapped herself from his embrace).
"We can even sort that out later."
"Then what do you propose we do now?"
Harry was smirk-smiling once more and she gave him a cautious look in return, wondering what would come out of his mouth.
"Well, I was rather curious about some of the ways you've lusted after me in your dreams- perhaps you'd be willing to share some of the stories!" he mentioned. Harry was met with an exclamation of "ergh!" and shove to his shoulder, which caused the wizard to laugh and resecure his grip on her.
Well, maybe he wouldn't be hearing more about Hermione's dreams today, but he figured there was plenty of time to revisit that topic and, now, a host of others, all involving him and the girl in his arms.