‘Looks like Sirius finally found Kreacher,’ commented Ron with some amusement as Sirius’s muffled voice echoed throughout the house. ‘Maybe that’s where you get your temper from, Harry.’
Harry snorted in derision. ‘Thanks, mate.’ Since their return from St. Mungo’s, Sirius had spent the past few hours or so hunting down Kreacher, who still hadn’t shown up. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had taken to joining Harry and Ron in their room, first talking about that day’s events, then eventually finding their own thing to do. Harry and Ron had struck up a conversation about Quidditch, Hermione was engrossed in the new Arithmancy book that Harry had given her that day, and Ginny was busy amusing Crookshanks.
There was a knock on the door. ‘It’s only me,’ came Sirius’s voice as he opened the door. ‘Bloody house-elf was in the attic all along. Anyway, you lot mind if I borrow Harry from you for a minute?’
Harry shrugged his shoulders and got off his bed. Feeling curious as to what Sirius might want with him, he followed him up to the topmost landing of the house until they reached a door that Harry had never opened. It was Sirius’s bedroom, realised Harry with a surprise, as he read the name written on the nameplate.
‘Don’t worry, I just want to talk to you a little, said Sirius warmly as he opened the door. ‘It’s been a long while since you and I had a proper conversation, and I thought – well, seeing it’s Christmas –’
‘Yeah, sure,’ said Harry eagerly. Sirius’s room was rather spacious and oddly ostentatious, with the candle chandelier hanging from the ceiling, the large bed with the carved headboard and the tall window adorned with long velvet curtains. Yet this is where the ornateness ended, for Sirius’s room was heavily decorated with a lot of eye-catching material. There was Gryffindor memorabilia as far as the eye could see, but what drew Harry’s eye was the surprising number of pictures and posters of motorcycles and attractive Muggle girls in bikinis.
‘I had to put a Permanent Sticking Charm on the lot,’ grinned Sirius. ‘I couldn’t let my parents take this stuff down. Especially her,’ he nodded to one of the Muggle girls hanging on the wall. She was the only one who was wearing just a normal-looking red swimsuit, yet Harry thought she was probably one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. She was slim, with a wide smile, a prominent nose and very big abundant hair.
‘Who’s she?’ asked Harry curiously.
‘Farrah Fawcett,’ replied Sirius. ‘She’s a really famous Muggle actress. American, of course. They don’t really make them like that in Britain, do they?’
‘Er, I guess,’ said Harry.
‘Anyway, I figured this was a good a place to have a private conversation, isn’t it?’ said Sirius as he settled down on the bed and invited Harry to sit next to him. ‘Actually, you know what?’ added Sirius, his grin growing wider. ‘You and I have never had a drink together, have we?’ When Harry shook his head in amusement, Sirius added, ‘Well, you and I are having one tonight,’ he said as he waved his wand around and a bottle shot out somewhere from inside the room. With another wave of his wand, Sirius conjured up a couple of glasses, which he proceeded to fill to nearly to the brim.
‘You’ve never had this stuff before, have you?’ said Sirius sternly, yet Harry knew he was not really being serious.
‘No. What is it then?’ asked Harry as he eyed the amber liquid.
‘Firewhiskey. You’re technically not old enough to drink it just yet, but I’m the adult here, and you’ve faced more stuff that most adults have to face, so I think you deserve a little,’ said Sirius as he handed a glass to Harry and clinked their glasses together. ‘Although I should warn you, it’s got a hell of a kick, so don’t drink it all at once.’
Harry took a cautious sip and immediately started coughing. While it certainly didn’t taste nasty, it left him with an uncomfortable burning sensation in his throat.
‘Told you,’ grinned Sirius as he drank half the contents in his glass. ‘Still, it’ll put some hairs on your chest.’
‘I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t,’ gasped Harry when he finally stopped coughing. ‘It’s okay though,’ he admitted as he took another careful sip. This time, he was prepared for the searing after-effects, yet they did not diminish in the slightest. ‘Although I’ll probably stick to Butterbeer.’
‘As well you should,’ agreed Sirius. ‘How was St. Mungo’s, anyway?’
‘It was fine,’ said Harry while taking a longer drink from his glass. ‘Mr. Weasley’s not doing too bad, all things considered. I just hope he gets better soon.’
‘I’m sure he will,’ said Sirius as he drained the rest of his glass and poured himself another. ‘You’re not still feeling guilty about it, are you?’
‘No,’ admitted Harry as he drank a little more. ‘But it was tough. Hermione helped a lot though. So did Ginny and Ron.’
‘I’ve always liked that girl,’ said Sirius warmly as he topped up Harry’s glass. ‘Come on, drink up. I’m not raising a lightweight here!’
Harry laughed as he took an even longer swig from his glass. ‘Yeah, she’s the best. So’s Ron and the rest of the Weasleys.’
‘You’ve got a lot of good friends,’ noted Sirius. ‘They all love you to death. It’s obvious.’ With a sigh, he nodded to a small photograph on the wall. Harry got up to examine it closer, and realised it was a picture of Sirius, Lupin, Pettigrew, and his father.
‘I don’t miss Pettigrew, the git,’ said Sirius from behind him. ‘Your father though – well, he was my brother. I think about him every day. Your mother as well. It really is horrible that Voldemort chose to rob you of them and land you with those awful Muggles. Thank Merlin that Remus is still around, at least.’
‘Yeah,’ said Harry, suddenly feeling rather forlorn. He raised the glass again to his lips and was surprised to find out that the Firewhiskey was actually helping squash that feeling.
‘Anyway, back to St. Mungo’s. You bump into anyone there?’ asked Sirius.
Harry thought for a moment about mentioning bumping into Neville, but he didn’t feel comfortable talking about him and his family. Sirius had already broached the subject about Harry’s own dead parents, and he much preferred to talk about something else instead. ‘Um, not really,’ said Harry as he sat down next to Sirius again (who immediately filled up his again). ‘Thanks,’ grinned Harry as he took another drink.
‘What, no cute healer?’ sniggered Sirius.
‘I didn’t really notice,’ admitted Harry, taking another drink as he did. ‘Actually, we did run into someone. It was an old Defence professor of ours from my second year.’
‘Really? What was he doing there?’
Harry hastily explained the events that transpired inside the Chamber of Secrets that led to Lockhart’s residency inside St Mungo's.
‘Good for him. Trying to put a Memory Charm on you and Ron. The hell does he think he is? Who was this numpty, anyway?’ asked Sirius.
‘His name was Lockhart,’ said Harry, stifling a laugh at Sirius calling his former professor a numpty.
‘Lockhart? Oh, Merlin, not Gilderoy Lockhart?’ asked Sirius, guffawing as he did.
‘Yeah, why?’ asked Harry curiously.
‘He was a few years below your dad and I. Never met a Ravenclaw who was so obsessed with himself,’ explained Sirius between laughs. ‘One time, he sent something like a thousand Valentine’s Day cards to himself at breakfast,’ said Sirius, now doubling over in laughter. ‘I remember your mother – she was Head Girl that year - was so furious, she gave him a month’s detention for it. So many owl droppings - what a pillock!’
Harry couldn’t help laughing along with Sirius. The idea that a teenage Lockhart was always so self-obsessed with himself was undeniably hilarious. If you’re not careful, you’ll be slurring your words soon, a little voice told Harry as he drained the remnant of his glass, which Sirius subsequently filled up for him immediately. ‘He definitely didn’t change much then,’ said Harry as he told Sirius all about the horrific Valentine’s Day that Lockhart held at Hogwarts back in his second year, down to the pink robes that he wore and the dwarf that had cornered him in the corridor to deliver that ill-fated poem in front of half the castle.
‘What a headcase!’ cried out Sirius as he poured out an umpteenth drink for himself and Harry, who was surprised that they made such a large dent in the bottle in such a short space of time. ‘Come on, let’s hear the poem then!’
Harry flushed. ‘Oh, come on. It was so embarrassing, Sirius.’
‘All the more reason to tell it to me,’ said Sirius, waggling his finger as he did. Harry suspected that his godfather was slightly inebriated by this point. Then again, Harry thought to himself as he stood up and drained his glass for some liquid courage, I’m hardly that sober myself.
‘His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard.
I wish he was mine, he's really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord.’
Harry bowed and immediately felt a little dizzy. My fault for drinking so much, he thought to himself as Sirius roared with laughter at his oral performance. ‘Oh, Merlin. That was beautiful,’ he said, wiping a tear from his eyes. ‘Although I’m a little disappointed, if I’m honest. I thought that Hermione was better with words than that!’
Perhaps it was the mind-numbing effect the Firewhiskey was having on him that Harry didn’t immediately register what Sirius was saying. Instead, he gawped at him until he finally found his tongue and said, ‘Huh?’
Sirius, who was still chuckling to himself, raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, I just thought Hermione would be a little more creative than that. Then again, she was only in second year.’
‘Hermione didn’t send me that Valentine,’ said Harry.
‘Oh, really?’ said Sirius in surprise. ‘Who did, then?’
‘Ginny did. Ron’s little sister.’
‘Really?’ said Sirius, a big grin on his face again. ‘Well, look at you, you sly dog! You have two lovely witches crushing on you. I knew you had it in you!’
Harry shook his head slowly. ‘No, Ginny gave up on me months ago. Hermione told me.’
‘Ahh, she’s eliminated the competition. Smart girl, that Hermione,’ said Sirius, topping up their glasses again.
‘No, you’ve got it all wrong,’ Harry tried to explain. The Firewhiskey in his system was really starting to impede his ability to carry out a rational conversation. ‘Hermione doesn’t like me. She’s just my best friend.’
‘Are you sure about that?’ asked Sirius.
‘Well – don’t get me wrong, but you two seem awfully close to just be best friends.’
Harry thought for a moment. ‘Well, she’s a good best friend,’ he shrugged.
‘Huh. So, you’ve never thought about asking her out? Like, to Hogsmeade or something?’
‘No,’ laughed Harry. ‘Really, I’ve never thought of her like that. And besides,’ he added, lowering his voice as he did. ‘I kissed another girl just before we left Hogwarts.’
Sirius clapped him hard on the back. ‘Nice going! Who was it then?’
‘Cho Chang,’ Harry said. ‘It was weird though. She was crying and everything, and it was just awful.’
‘Why was she crying? Your breath wasn’t rancid or anything, was it?’
‘No, she – she used to date Cedric. He’s the one who died last year. And Hermione told me she’s probably not over him, so that’s why she cried. I dunno, I can’t exactly remember what she said. It made sense, though,’ said Harry, now feeling a little mournful.
‘Hermione gives you a lot advice, huh?’ commented Sirius.
‘Yeah. I told you, she’s a good best friend,’ said Harry. He then thought for a moment, and asked, ‘Wait, why do you think she likes me?’
Sirius shrugged. ‘Well, she came storming in here, asking everyone where you were when you were holing yourself off from everyone. She was on holiday with her parents, right? I don’t know a lot of people ready to do something like that. And she was fretting like mad when she found out about the Dementor attack last summer. I mean, we all were, but she just tore upstairs looking for stuff in her books, trying to find anything that you can use for your trial. She even begged me to use the little library we have downstairs.’
‘Yeah, but – we’re just friends,’ said Harry weakly. ‘I’d do the same thing for her.’
Sirius sighed. ‘Okay, let me ask you this. Do you think she’s pretty?’
Harry thought for a moment. ‘Well, I mean – she’s not ugly.’
Sirius snorted. ‘Charming.’
‘No, I mean – look, this is weird, okay? I’ve never thought of her like that, honest,’ argued Harry. ‘Well, okay, she looked great at the Yule Ball last year. Like, really pretty,’ Harry then recalled how he felt when he saw Hermione dressed up last year. ‘I didn’t even recognise her,’ he admitted. ‘She’s my best friend, and I didn’t even recognise her.’
‘She must have left a hell of an impression on you, then,’ remarked Sirius. ‘Damn it, stupid bottle’s nearly empty,’ he muttered to himself.
‘She did,’ nodded Harry. ‘Wait, so you really think Hermione has a crush on me?’
‘Well,’ said Sirius slowly. ‘I’ll just say this. Would you prefer dating someone like Cho Chang, who doesn’t really know you and is still hung up on her ex, or would you prefer someone like Hermione, someone who you trust, think is attractive and is loyal to you?’
Harry sat, stunned. ‘Well, when you put it like that –’
A loud knock interrupted him.
‘Dammit, I hope it’s not Molly,’ hissed Sirius. ‘Last thing I need is a bloody lecture from her about how I let you drink half a bottle of Firewhiskey with me.’
‘Wow, half a bottle?’ said a stunned Harry, before draining the rest of his glass. Sirius waved his wand, and the bottle and two glasses vanished.
‘Try to not look woozy,’ advised Sirius, before opening his bedroom door. ‘Ah, Hermione! What brings you up here? We were just talking about you, you know.’
Harry groaned silently to himself.
‘Nothing bad, I hope,’ he heard Hermione say with some amusement. ‘I was just wondering where Harry is. Everyone’s getting tired, and I wanted to say goodnight.’
‘Sure, just give us a minute,’ he heard Sirius say as he closed the door again. ‘You sure she’s not your girlfriend, Harry?
‘Not so loud,’ hissed Harry. ‘Look, say you’re right about this, and that she actually likes me. What am I supposed to do?’ He felt a mad panic course through him as he asked Sirius this.
‘Listen to what she says,’ Sirius immediately said. ‘And look for little signs, like the way she looks at you, or if she uses any excuse to touch your arm or something. Oh, and girl love to ask these random, seemingly obscure questions but they’re usually to gauge your reaction. And be honest. Always be honest.’
‘Right,’ Harry nodded, but still not quite sure.
‘Hey, what did she get you for Christmas? Maybe there’s a hint there,’ suggested Sirius.
‘It’s a stupid homework planner. She got the same thing for Ron,’ Harry explained.
‘Ahh. And what did you get her?’ asked Sirius.
‘It’s a book called New Theory of Numerology. She’s been going on about it for ages ‘cos of how it would really help her with her Arithmancy O.W.L. exam if she had it, but she didn’t want to ask her parents for more money for books this year,’ explained Harry.
‘See, you already have the listening part down!’ said Sirius enthusiastically. ‘Oh, and what did Ron get her?’
‘Some kind of perfume. Hermione said it smelled unusual, whatever that meant,’ said Harry with a shrug.
‘Probably that it stinks to high heaven,’ snorted Sirius. ‘You be careful there, Harry. You don’t want you and your best friends to fight over the same girl, especially seeing that she’s best friends with both of you.’
‘Er –’ said Harry, before Hermione knocked on the door again. ‘I can come back later if you want,’ they heard her muffled voice say.
‘He’s coming out now,’ yelled back Sirius. He turned back to Harry, who was feeling a little embarrassed. ‘Look, just think about it, okay? Hermione’s a brilliant girl, and she’s obviously mad about you. Maybe she really does see you as a best friend, and you can forget this conversation ever happened. But if I’m right …’
‘You’ll be the first to know,’ said Harry. He rubbed his temple with his fingers. ‘I think that Firewhiskey is giving me a bit of a headache.’
‘Oof, you’re probably not going to wake up feeling all that great tomorrow,’ smirked Sirius. ‘Come see me in the morning and I’ll give you something for it if you’re feeling really poorly.’
‘Thanks,’ said Harry. ‘Goodnight then, Sirius. Merry Christmas.’
‘Merry Christmas, Harry,’ said Sirius as he embraced Harry warmly. ‘Now go, before your girlfriend breaks my door down,’ he added with a wink.
‘She’s not my girlfriend,’ mumbled Harry as he opened the door. ‘Hey, Hermione. Sorry I took so long.’
‘Oh, it’s quite alright,’ smiled Hermione before yawning widely, covering her mouth as she did. ‘Sorry, I’m quite tired,’ she admitted. She then wrinkled her nose. ‘Have you been drinking?’
‘Erm, a little,’ admitted Harry sheepishly.
A corner of Hermione’s mouth tugged upwards in amusement. ‘Just a little?’ she asked, raising an eyebrow.
‘Maybe a tad more,’ confessed Harry.
Hermione rolled her eyes in derision. ‘Come on, you,’ she said briskly, grabbing his arm. ‘I’ll help you walk down. I had a feeling you two would be up to something like this.’
‘Thanks Hermione,’ said Harry, feeling grateful that she was helping steady him.
‘Just try not to indulge so much next time,’ he heard her say. ‘What on earth were you drinking, anyway?’
‘Firewhiskey. It’s quite good, actually,’ said Harry as they both carefully treaded down the stairs.
‘Well, that definitely explains the smell.’ They were nearing his bedroom now, and Harry head was still pleasantly buzzing.
‘Here we are, you big idiot,’ said Hermione as she faced him. ‘Are you ok? Do you need me to get you anything?’
It took great effort for Harry to shake his head and not stumble. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Well, if you do, don’t hesitate to wake me up, okay?’ said Hermione gently as she patted his arm. ‘I can’t imagine you want to tell Mrs. Weasley that you were drinking with your godfather.’
‘Thanks, Hermione,’ said Harry, who then gave her a rather long hug, blissfully unaware that his hands were rather low on her back. When he let go, he noticed that Hermione looked rather taken aback.
‘Erm – well, you’re welcome, Harry,’ she said a little flusteredly. She then gave him a wide smile and raised her hand to stroke his cheek. ‘It’s nice seeing you cutting loose a little,’ she said softly. ‘You’re too stressed. I can’t imagine how you must be feeling half the time.’
Harry closed his eyes as Hermione touched his face. It felt rather comforting.
‘Now, off to bed with you,’ she said. ‘Goodnight, Harry.’ She gave him a quick hug and, to Harry’s surprise, a quick kiss on the cheek. ‘Sleep well.’
No sooner had Harry’s head hit his pillow that he start snoring loudly. He had a rather confusing dream, full of flying motorbikes, a sea of Firewhiskey, and whom he was almost sure was Hermione in a red swimsuit that looked a lot like the one that Farrah Fawcett was wearing in the poster in Sirius’s room. Finally rising from his stupor the next morning, he quickly surmised that he woke up rather late. So late in fact, that Ron had already left the room. Grimacing from the sudden headache, he squinted and saw a glass filled with some kind of liquid and a note next to it. He gingerly grabbed the note and held it up to his face and squinted so he that could read it.
I got this from Sirius. I figured you’ll probably be needing it.
Harry drained the glass gratefully and felt instantly better. Yet the convoluted thoughts that stemmed from last night’s conversation with Sirius, along with the dream he had, were leaving him feeling very disconcerted.
The trip back to Hogwarts was not altogether pleasant. The Knight Bus was never a fun ride at the best of times, yet having his head burdened with the thoughts of Snape teaching him Occlumency was not making anything easier, not to mention that he was still struggling to come to terms with what Sirius had advised him about Hermione. Over the next few days following his conversation with Sirius, he had become very aware of how often Hermione would pat his arm, or glance at him during mealtimes. He sorely wished that Sirius had not told him about these signs that girls supposedly give off when they like someone, for they were really hampering his thoughts. It did not help that he was also starting to have rather odd dreams that left him waking up feeling rather hot under the collar and would scrupulously avoid Hermione’s eye during breakfast.
There was also the matter of Cho Chang. Harry figured that he would eventually have to face her, and possibly have to talk about what transpired between them in the Room of Requirement. Harry fervently wished he had thought of asking Sirius some advice about what to do in these types of situations before he had left Grimmauld Place. Before he went to bed, he briefly considered sending an owl, but with Umbridge keeping a close eye on all forms of communication, he decided against it. He wished he could just ask Hermione for help, but his conversation with Sirius had rather unnerved him. If Hermione was really harbouring any feelings for him, it would be rather inappropriate to ask her to help him with another girl. Unfortunately, he did not have long to ponder on this matter, as Cho caught up with him the very next day. It was just after his morning double-Potions lesson with Snape, and he was already feeling rather gloomy about the prospect of having to meet Snape again that night for their Occlumency lesson, when Cho happened to corner him. Hermione had immediately excused herself and dragged Ron away with her to the library, much to his annoyance. He had hoped that they would stay there with him, in the hope that Cho would be dissuaded from bringing up what happened between them.
‘How are you?’ asked Harry awkwardly. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Cho was looking rather flustered.
‘I’m good. How about you?’ she asked.
Harry nodded. ‘Not too bad. How was your Christmas?’
‘It was quiet,’ she said. ‘Yours?’
‘Same,’ said Harry, wishing he could stop feeling so awkward.
Cho nodded. ‘So I wanted to ask you – um, well have you seen the notice board?’
‘The noticeboard?’ asked Harry confusedly. ‘Why? Did Umbridge put something up?’
‘Oh, no,’ she said hurriedly. ‘It’s nothing to do with her.’
‘Oh, good,’ said Harry, breathing a sigh of relief.
‘It’s about Hogsmeade. There’s a trip next month.’
Oh,’ said Harry, wondering why she was telling him this. ‘That sounds nice.’
‘Yeah, and it’s on Valentine’s Day, and -’
Yet Harry’s hearing was suddenly not working. Was Cho expecting him to spend the entire day with her? But they’d never spent so much time alone before. Besides, did he even want to go out with her?
‘- I mean, I don’t know if you had any plans, but – well, what do you think?’ she ended, looking hopefully at Harry.
‘Um,’ began Harry. ‘Well, I –’
‘It’s okay if you don’t want to,’ said Cho hurriedly. ‘I’ll understand.’
‘Really?’ asked Harry a little too eagerly. A hurt look briefly flashed across her features, and Harry’s stomach did an uncomfortable leap. ‘Um, I mean, -’
‘No, it’s okay. I know what you mean,’ said Cho disappointedly.
‘Well, I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to,’ began Harry, trying to think of something fast to say. ‘I’m just – I’m really busy right now, and my O.W.L.s are coming up -’
‘It’s fine Harry, don’t worry,’ said Cho, moving away from him. ‘I’ll see you around.’
‘Yeah,’ said Harry, his throat feeling dry. Feeling even more miserable at having hurt Cho, he dragged himself up to the library to find Ron and Hermione.
‘So, what did she want?’ grinned Ron once he arrived.
Harry sighed heavily. ‘She wanted to ask me out to Hogsmeade next month.’
Ron raised his eyebrows. ‘Then why the hell do you look so put out?’
‘I turned her down,’ mumbled Harry.
Ron’s jaw slackened. ‘Why the hell did you do that?’
Harry shrugged and glanced at Hermione, who had lowered the book she was reading and was watching him with a curious look. ‘What?’ he asked her.
‘I’m just a little surprised,’ she admitted. ‘I would have thought that you’d jump at a chance like that.’
‘Honestly, it doesn’t matter,’ said Harry.
‘Well, as long as you feel like you made the right choice,’ said Hermione brightly. ‘Anyway, what time is it? I don’t want us to be late for class.’
The rest of the day wasn’t much better for Harry. Occlumency, which Snape had briefly explained back in Grimmauld’s Place as being a magical means of closing one’s thoughts and feelings off from a potential Legilimens, turned out to be ridiculously hard thing to do. Characteristically, Snape wasn’t making it any easier for him to understand, much to Harry’s increasing frustration. He couldn’t wait for Snape to dismiss him, to finally get away from his sneers and vindictive comments. In fact, as the lesson went on, the only good moment Harry thought he’d be getting out of the entire ordeal was the grim satisfaction when he unconsciously hit Snape with a Stinging Hex. So it was with complete surprise that, when Snape was infiltrating his mind for a final time for that evening, a multitude of thoughts flashed forward and hit him with a sudden realisation. He finally knew what the door that he’d been dreaming of for all these months led to. Lately, with Hermione having managed to make her way into his dreams, he’d thought about it a lot less, so it was with a great level of astonishment bubbling inside of him that he somehow managed to drag himself back up to the library and, ignoring the constant prickling from his scar, relayed everything to Ron and Hermione’s amazed faces.
‘It all makes sense,’ said Hermione eagerly as Harry tried to hide how horrible he was feeling as he slumped back into his chair.
‘Yeah, definitely,’ agreed Ron. ‘But what could they be hiding in the Department of Mysteries? Dad always said it’s a weird place. No one really knows what goes on in there.’
‘Well, we’ll just have to – Harry, you look really awful,’ said Hermione as she peered at him closely. ‘Come on, let’s get you to the common room. We can talk more there.’
Harry soon regretted having agreed to Hermione’s suggestion, as Fred and George had chosen that very evening to display their new Headless Hats to the entire common room. The rambunctious behaviour emanating from his housemates led Harry to quickly decide to make his way for a brief respite in his dormitory, much to Hermione’s sympathy, yet Voldemort’s glee over something that would not be made apparent in a few hours left him with very little sleep that night.
‘It’s pathetic,’ hissed Hermione angrily the next morning as they quickly finished reading the front page of the Daily Prophet. ‘I mean, ten Death Eaters just practically walk out of Azkaban, and Fudge thinks that this rubbish report is of any merit? And obviously no mention of how the Dementors have turned and are now working for Voldemort, because why would he think that something like that would be of public interest?’
‘I just can’t believe how they’re putting the blame on Sirius,’ growled Harry.
‘What do you expect, with the way he and the Prophet have been going about you and Dumbledore over the summer?’ said Hermione as she gave Harry a dejected look. ‘I wish I can do something about it.’
‘It’s okay, Hermione,’ said Harry as he reached over to pat her on the back, earning him a tired smile. Having lost his appetite, Harry kept glancing around the room, but his eyes seemed to gravitate towards Hermione. Thinking of Sirius reminded him of their mullered conversation, and he couldn’t help privately thinking just how endearing Hermione looked when she was reading something so intensely.
‘Look at this,’ she suddenly said, pointing to a small article on page ten of the newspaper. ‘It’s just horrifying.' Harry and Ron both quickly read it and felt ill afterwards.
‘Who the hell would give Devil’s Snare as a pot plant?’ said Ron aghast. ‘Wait, didn’t we see that Bode bloke? Wasn’t he in the same room with Lockhart in St. Mungo’s?’
‘That’s him,’ nodded Hermione. ‘But I doubt it was an accident, Ron. This had to be intentional.’
‘You’re right, Hermione,’ said Harry slowly. Lowering his voice, he said, ‘I met him when I had to go into the Ministry with your Dad, Ron.’
‘Wait ...’ said Ron, his eyes widening. ‘I know him too. I mean, I’ve never met him, but Dad’s mentioned him a couple of times. He used to work in the Department of Mysteries.’
Harry’s heart stopped. ‘You’re kidding?’ he croaked out.
Ron shook his head. ‘No, I’m sure of it. I remember because he had to explain to me what an Unspeakable is. It’s what people who work there are called.’
Harry sighed. ‘This is a nightmare,’ he muttered. Without realising, his eyes drifted towards Hermione again. To his embarrassment, her eyes met his, and he felt his heart start beating faster. Thankfully, she only gestured with her head to beckon him to lean forward.
‘I have an idea,’ she whispered to Harry. ‘You trust me, right?’
‘Of course,’ said Harry confusedly. ‘But why – hey, where are you going?’
‘I need to owl someone. Just trust me, okay?’ she said quickly as she grabbed her bag and hastily made her way out of the Great Hall.
'The hell was that all about?’ asked Ron, eyeing her as she left.
‘No idea,’ said Harry truthfully.
In the weeks that followed, Harry had put whatever Hermione was up to in the back of his mind. With the recent breakout from Azkaban, lessons with Umbridge had become downright unpleasant, which was something of a marvel considering how horrible she had already been with them. That, and the added weight of Hagrid’s probation with regards to his post as Care of Magical Creatures and Snape’s Occlumency lessons were leaving little else for him to think about.
Mercifully, Cho and her friend Marietta Edgecombe had stopped coming to the D.A., something which he was rather privately thankful for not only due to him not wanting to face her after being rather overeager to not go out with her, but also because he had rather enjoyed the looks of sympathy that Hermione had given him that day.
‘Don’t worry, Harry. You’ll find someone else. You’re a wonderful person,’ she had told him the next day in the Common Room while Ron was cursing Snape under his breath over a rather tedious potions essay. ‘And you did the right thing by not leading her on. It was a very mature decision.’ She had then given him a wide smile and patted his arm consolingly before proceeding to chastise Ron for his rather loud swearing. Harry was only disappointed that she had stopped touching his arm so quickly.
As January finally made way for February, Harry felt the prospect of Valentine’s Day loom over him rather mockingly. He spent an awful lot of time debating with himself if he should try and see if Hermione would be interested in going out with him, but he was rather unsure how to approach the subject without making things awkward. By some miracle, as Harry walked trepidatiously downstairs to the Great Hall, he found Hermione sitting and eagerly waving him over. Feeling rather hopeful, he hastened his pace.
‘Remember last month when I asked you if you trusted me?’ Hermione asked him as soon as he sat down. His hopefulness diminished slightly by the vague memory, he nodded. ‘Well, I have a plan and if it all goes well, we might be able to do some good.’
‘Are you going to tell me what it is?’ asked Harry.
Hermione bit her bottom lip. ‘Can’t you just trust me? Please?’ She had now stopped biting her bottom lip and was now giving Harry a rather endearing pout.
‘Alright, fine. I trust you,’ sighed Harry. Her pout is rather infectious, he thought to himself.
‘Thank you,’ she said with a bright smile. ‘I just need you to meet me in The Three Broomsticks at around midday.’
‘Erm, sure,’ said Harry. ‘Is that all I have to do?’
‘Yes. I’ll explain more there,’ said Hermione. ‘Anyway, let’s change the subject. Do you have any plans for today?’
Harry shook his head. ‘Do you?’
‘Well, I was going to get a little work done before I have to go into Hogsmeade.’
‘Oh, right,’ said Harry. ‘Um, do you know if Ron is going? I didn’t see him this morning.’
‘He’s already down at the Quidditch pitch. Apparently, Angelina isn’t allowing any of them to go into Hogsmeade.’
‘Oh,’ said Harry. Sensing that he’ll probably never get a better opportunity than this, he asked, ‘How about you and I go together?’
‘What, to Hogsmeade?’ said Hermione.
‘Yeah, why not?’ asked Harry.
Hermione shrugged. ‘I suppose spending Valentine’s Day with your best friend is as good an offer I’ll get today.’ Her eyes suddenly went wide, and she clasped her hands over her mouth. ‘I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean it like that, Harry.’
‘It’s fine Hermione,’ he replied, feeling his hopefulness fading by the second.
‘No, it’s not. It was an awful thing to say. Of course, I’d love to go with you. I just need to go upstairs and change, okay?’
‘Actually, I might come with you,’ said Harry. ‘I mean, I probably should change too,’ he hurriedly added, his cheeks warming slightly at what he accidentally just implied.
‘Well, I’ll probably need about thirty minutes,’ said Hermione as she stood up. ‘Want to meet in the Common Room?’
‘Sure,’ nodded Harry as he watched Hermione hurry off. He quickly forced something down and rushed off. He didn’t see Hermione on his way to the Common Room, so he assumed she was already up in her dormitory changing. Not wanting to keep her waiting, he climbed the stairs to his dormitory two at a time and wrenched his trunk open for something decent to wear. After hastily shrugging out of his robes and putting some of his more well-fitting clothes, he nearly tore his trunk apart trying to find a matching pair of socks that weren’t once his Uncle Vernon’s. After his mirror deemed himself presentable, he tried to nervously pat his hair down in an effort to make it flat. He took so long that he heard a nervous knock on the door. Figuring it was Hermione, he sighed and opened the door.
‘Sorry, I was just wondering why you weren’t downstairs,’ she said. Her eyes landed on his rather unruly hair, which somehow looked worse than when he started. ‘Were you trying to fix your hair?’
‘Um, yeah,’ said Harry sheepishly.
Hermione snorted. ‘You look like you just got out of bed. It suits you though. Girls have a thing for guys with hair like that.’
‘Really?’ said Harry confusedly.
‘Definitely,’ she smirked. ‘Now come on. I want to go to Scrivenshaft's. I need to buy a few things from there.’
As they walked down together to the Entrance Hall, Harry couldn't help feeling unusually tongue-tied around Hermione. He also couldn't stop glancing at her. She had changed into a simple jumper with jeans, and her hair was its usually bushy self, but he noticed that there was just a slight hint of makeup on her face that really seemed to draw him to her eyes, and that she was wearing a rather lovely scented perfume. Truthfully, Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen Hermione look more beautiful.
‘I’m really sorry about earlier,’ Hermione said suddenly as they stepped out into the cold air after being signed out by Filch. ‘I didn’t mean what I said. I feel like such an idiot.’
‘Don’t worry about it, really,’ said Harry reassuringly. ‘Um - you look really pretty, by the way.’
‘Really?’ said Hermione in surprise. ‘Honestly, I just wore the first thing I could grab.’ She gave him an odd look. ‘You know, you’ve been acting rather mature lately. The way you were honest with Cho, and you haven’t had a detention since we came back. You’re even on top of your homework!’
‘Well, your homework planner has been a great help,’ said Harry. Truthfully, he’d only been using it because he knew Hermione would appreciate it. He longed to accidentally leave it lying around for Crookshanks to play with it or, if that didn’t work, toss the damn thing into the fire. Yet he couldn’t get the bright smile she’d give him every time he used it out of his mind, so he reluctantly put that thought on hold for the time being.
‘Well, at least one of you is using it,’ sighed Hermione. ‘Oh, and you look really nice too. Sorry, my mind’s all over the place.’
‘Is it about that thing you have planned for midday?’ asked Harry.
‘Yes, but you can’t ask me anything about it,’ said Hermione sternly.
‘I know, I know,’ said Harry, rolling his eyes.
They continued to chat as they made their way into town. Harry was feeling a lot more comfortable now, yet he couldn’t help thinking about her reaction at breakfast. It was almost like she wished that someone would ask her out on a Valentine’s Day date. He felt a pang of jealousy at the thought of Hermione alone on a date with someone. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a couple feeding each other what looked to be a rose.
‘Those look rather cute, don’t they?’ said Hermione suddenly. Harry realised she was looking at the Honeydukes’s window display, where bouquets of the roses that he’d seen the couple from earlier share with each other swirling around merrily after each other. ‘They must be edible flowers of some kind. I’ve always wondered what they taste like. They only sell them around this time.’
Harry suddenly had an idea. After making up a quick excuse to leave Hermione alone at Scrivenshaft’s, he quickly hurried back to Honeydukes and bought Hermione one of the bouquets in the window display. He then sprinted back to Scrivenshaft's and held the roses behind his back. Not even a minute later, Hermione stepped out and, seeing how stiff he was looking, gave him a curious look.
‘Why do you look so suspicious?’ she asked.
Harry nervously handed her the roses. ‘Happy Valentine’s Day,’ he said with a weak smile, desperately hoping that this wasn’t a bad idea.
Hermione stood gaping at him for what seemed like an eternity before she tackled him with a rather fierce embrace.
‘Oh, thank you Harry,’ she squealed into his ear. ‘You’re so incredibly sweet. Are they really for me?’
‘Yeah, of course,’ he said as relief coursed through him. ‘You deserve them, Hermione.’
‘You’re so sweet, Harry,’ she repeated as she took the bouquet from his hands and held them up to her nose to breathe in their scent. ‘They smell just like the real thing,’ she marvelled before taking a cautious bite out of one of the roses. ‘Oh, wow. They taste incredible.’
For the next hour or so, Harry and Hermione wandered around Hogsmeade aimlessly sampling the rather delicious chocolate roses. The petals tasted something like a mixture of chocolate and strawberry flavour, while the stems were a mix of chocolate and mint flavours. Since Hermione was rather partial to the stems’ flavours, Harry let her have most of them. With midday now approaching, Hermione was soon dragging Harry to The Three Broomsticks. Waving hurriedly to a crestfallen-looking Hagrid as they passed him by, who gave them a half-hearted beam in return, they found a table on the other side of the room and sat down.
‘Hagrid’s not looking too well, is he?’ whispered Harry to Hermione.
‘No, he isn’t,’ frowned Hermione. ‘Hopefully, what we’re going to do today will help him and others out.’
Harry gave her a curious look. ‘What on earth do you have planned then?’
Hermione stood up. ‘I’ll get you a butterbeer. I’ll explain to you in a minute, okay?’ She dashed off before Harry could say anything, but she was soon back with a tankard of butterbeer for him in one hand, and what looked like to Harry to be some sort of cocktail with a paper umbrella sticking out.
‘Since when do you drink that?’ he asked her as he thanked her for his drink.
‘Well, it looked rather good. It’s cherry syrup and soda with some ice.’
‘And the paper umbrella’s just ornate, is it? Or are you planning to use it in case it rains later?’
Hermione snorted. ‘Honestly, how can you go from being the sweetest guy one minute and a prat the next?’ she said teasingly. ‘Anyway, I really should explain what we’re about to do here before they arrive.’
‘Who’s they?’ asked Harry, suddenly feeling nervous.
‘I’ll get to that,’ said Hermione. ‘In short, you’re going to be doing an interview.’
Harry, who had just taken a long drink from his butterbeer, choked and weakly gasped out, ‘An interview?’
‘Yes, an interview,’ said Hermione affirmingly. ‘But don’t worry. I’ve thought about everything, and nothing that you will say will be twisted in some stupid way to make you look bad. I want to give you your chance to say your bit about what really happened last year.’
‘And what makes you think people want to hear what I have to say?’ said Harry incredulously.
‘I’m glad you asked. You might not have noticed, but there are people who are not happy with how the Prophet reported the mass breakout from Azkaban. There were too many holes in the story. With your interview, we can give those people the truth and we can start changing people’s minds. Maybe we can even get Umbridge thrown out as well, for good measure!’
‘But what makes you think anyone will print it?’ asked Harry. You know as well as I do how much Fudge is leaning on the Prophet. He’ll never let them print it.’
‘Well, lucky for you, we can print your interview in another publication that is entirely free from the Ministry’s influence,’ said Hermione.
‘What publication?’ asked Harry confusedly.
‘The Quibbler,’ said Hermione simply.
‘The Quibbler?’ stared Harry.
‘Yes,’ said Hermione. ‘Since Luna’s father is the editor and the publisher, the article will be published just the way we want it with no outside interference. You trust Luna, right Harry?’
Harry shrugged. ‘I suppose, yeah.’
‘So, you’ll do it then,’ said Hermione, giving him a triumphant look.
Harry sighed. ‘Fine, but there’s one thing you haven’t told me. Who’s going to be interviewing me?’
Before Hermione could answer, a familiar voice cried out, ‘Oh, Harry! How lovely to see you again, my dear!’
‘You’re unbelievable,’ marvelled Harry after Luna Lovegood and Rita Skeeter had left. ‘You blackmailed Skeeter to do an interview about me to be printed in The Quibbler and she won’t even be getting paid for it. You’re seriously amazing, Hermione.’
Hermione flushed scarlet at his words. ‘Well, I’m glad you think so, Harry' she said, beaming at him. ‘I’ll go get us some more drinks, shall I?’
‘I’ll go,’ offered Harry, standing up as he did. ‘It’s the least I can do after all the hard work you put in for me today.’ He gave Hermione a wide smile and was pleased to see her return it. As he stood waiting for Madam Rosmerta to give him his drinks order, he glanced back at Hermione and was surprised to see her looking a little mournful. ‘Galleon for your thoughts?’ he asked her when he sat down next to her again and handed her a drink.
Hermione shook her head. ‘Don’t worry about it.’ She then glanced around. ‘There’s quite a few couples here, aren’t there?’
‘Mmm,’ said Harry noncommittally.
‘How come you didn’t want to go out with Cho, Harry?’ Hermione suddenly asked.
‘Oh, um, I dunno’ said Harry, unsure what to say.
Hermione raised an eyebrow. ‘If it’s a secret, I won’t pry. I’m just a little curious, that all.’
‘Why would you be curious? There’s nothing to it, really,’ said Harry, trying hard to not look directly at Hermione.
‘Well, you’ve liked her for such a long time now. I would have thought that you’d have liked to go out with her today.’
‘Well, I didn’t,’ said Harry. ‘Why does it matter if I turned her down?’
‘It doesn’t,’ said Hermione. ‘It’s just a little surprising.’
Harry took a hasty swig from his glass in an attempt to distract himself before adding, ‘That’s the same thing you told me when I told you and Ron that I turned her down.’
‘And I stay by what I said then,’ said Hermione.
‘Why are you making such a big deal out of this?’ asked Harry. ‘Since when do you care who I go out with?’
‘Is it so bad that I care about your well-being?’ said Hermione a little coolly.
‘I didn’t say that,’ Harry immediately said. He then sighed and said, ‘I like someone else, okay? That’s why I turned her down.’ He was surprised at how quickly it had slipped out. Then again, he’d spent the last hour or two opening up to Rita Skeeter, of all people.
Hermione suddenly grinned mischievously. ‘I knew it!’ she exclaimed. ‘Come on, then. Who is it?’
Harry stiffened. ‘I’m not telling you,’ he said.
‘Hmm,’ Hermione said thoughtfully. ‘Does Sirius know about her?’
Harry accidentally sloped a little of his Butterbeer down his front. ‘How the hell - ?’
‘Oh, it was just a guess,’ said Hermione, waving her hand dismissively as she did. ‘You two were locked up in there and you came out of there barely standing upright. It wouldn’t take a genius to assume that you two had a talk about girls or something. So, he knows, does he?’
‘Yes, he does,’ Harry growled, wishing Hermione wasn’t so good at guessing stuff like this.
‘Does he approve of her?’ Hermione asked.
‘So why didn’t you ask her out, Harry? Are you afraid you might get turned down?’ she asked him gently.
Harry hesitated before saying, ‘Not exactly. I did ask her, kind of.’ He wished the Butterbeer wasn’t helping him loose his tongue around Hermione.
‘And? How did she feel about it?’
Harry looked pointedly at Hermione and summoned up every ounce of courage he could muster. ‘You tell me,’ he said quietly.
Hermione stared back at him, a hint of frustration playing on her features as she worked out what he meant before her mouth fell open slightly. Harry maintaining his eye contact with her, his insides squirming with nerves as he watched her brain work at top speed, connecting the little moments of their day together and how much they meant to him and hopefully her as well.
Without word or warning, Hermione suddenly threw her head back and laughed loudly. A couple people around them gave her odd looks that went unbeknownst to her. Harry’s insides were now no longer squirming. Instead, they seemed to have been absorbed by a rather vast and all-encompassing hollowness.
‘I’m sorry, Harry,’ giggled Hermione as she tried to restrain herself. ‘The way you said that – I mean, you’d think it was really me you’re crushing on.’
Harry wasn’t sure what happened next, but the next thing he knew was that he was outside, sloshing his way back up to the castle. His legs oddly unsteady, he nearly slipped a couple of times before finally stopping to catch his breath. He looked back and was surprised at how much distanced he’d already put between himself and The Three Broomsticks. As soon as he was about to set off again however, a frantic shout caught his attention and he turned to see Hermione chasing after him.
‘Slow down, I can’t run as fast as you,’ she panted as she finally reached him. ‘Harry, why did you run off? Was it something I said? I didn’t mean to laugh. I thought you were making a joke.’
‘It wasn’t a joke, Hermione. None of it was,’ he heard himself.
Hermione looked shocked. ‘You mean – you mean, I’m the girl you have a crush on?’
‘Yeah, but I’m glad I know how funny you think it is that I like you like that,’ said Harry, gritting his teeth to try and not let the tears stream down his face. He didn’t want her to see how much she’d hurt him. Instead, he turned off and stalked off towards the direction of the castle. He turned around to get a quick look at her as he did and was grimly satisfied to see that she didn’t choose to follow him back.
Dinnertime wasn’t a very pleasant affair. Hermione kept trying to catch his eye, but he ignored her, choosing to instead to listen to Ron grumble and drone on about the nightmare of a Quidditch practice that he and the rest of the Gryffindor team had that day, and how Angelina’s tyranny was driving him up the wall. Feigning sympathy, Harry dully agreed to whatever Ron was saying whilst trying to eat quickly. He then made up some lame excuse about homework and went off wandering the castle alone until he found himself on the seventh floor opposite the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy. The door to the Room of Requirement appeared in front of him, and he wrenched it open. Finally alone, he sat down and took a few deep breaths. It had been a long and confusing day, but at least he finally knew that Sirius was wrong about how Hermione felt about him all along. Hermione never liked him that. The very idea had made her laugh harder than he’d ever seen her laugh. How pathetic he was, pining after her all these weeks when it was so obvious she didn’t have feelings for him, that she’d never once thought of him like that –
‘Harry?’ a soft voice said, interrupting his thoughts. He got up and turned to see Hermione shuffling awkwardly near the entrance.
‘I thought you might be here,’ she said. ‘We need to talk.’
‘I have nothing to say to you,’ said Harry gruffly.
‘But I do,’ she insisted. ‘Please, just hear me out.’ When Harry didn’t say anything, she pressed on and said, ‘I’m sorry. I never should have said or acted like that. I can’t even imagine how much I must have hurt you.’
Harry tried to shrug, but his shoulders didn’t seem to be working. ‘You didn’t really hurt me,’ he lied.
‘Harry, don’t lie to me,’ pleaded Hermione. ‘I saw the look on your face. You were crushed and it’s all my stupid fault.’ She sniffed. ‘You know, I was having a really rotten morning, and then you came and you were so lovely and sweet – ’
‘And then I ruined it,’ snapped Harry. ‘Good to know, Hermione.’
‘No, you didn’t do anything wrong, Harry,’ exclaimed Hermione, shaking her head in frustration. ‘Urgh, I’m just going to say it.’
‘Say what?’ asked Harry.
Hermione sighed. ‘Harry, I like Ron. I’ve liked him for a while now.’
Whatever semblance of feeling he’d been experiencing at that moment was now absolved of. Was this why she came looking for him? To tell him that she prefers his best friend over him?
‘But I like you as well,’ she added quietly. ‘Truth be told, I've liked you before I ever liked him.’
Harry stared at her, his mouth agape slightly as he tried to work out what she was saying. She looked at him a little nervously, and Harry realised she was waiting for her confession to sink in. He then tried to think of something to say. ‘Huh?’ he finally managed.
‘It was always just a small crush,’ she explained, moving closer to him. Her voice was a little hitched, as if the words didn't quite want to come out. ‘This is going to sound really stupid, and I know you're going to hate hearing all this, but you kind of - well, took my breath away a little.' Her cheeks were now very red, and Harry could feel his own face getting warmer.
'I guess it's all the things you did,' she continued, taking Harry's stunned silence as . 'In our first year, you stood there and told me how you were going through that fire to face Voldemort all on your own, and it’s almost too embarrassing even now to tell you how much I was enthralled by that. Then came our second year, with that dratted basilisk. You and Ron went down into the Chamber of Secrets with Lockhart and you got separated from them, and then you faced Voldemort again and slayed the basilisk. It's almost like you were this hero out of a fairy-tale.’
‘But I’m not like that, Hermione,’ said Harry quietly.
‘I know you’re not, but that’s how it comes off to a lot of people,’ explained Hermione patiently, as if she were going over today's homework with him. ‘And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I didn’t get a little carried away as well a few times by that idea. Truth be told, it’s why I admired Lockhart so much when we was in second year. A brave, good-looking wizard who faced danger to fight and protect innocent people? Sounds familiar?’
‘Maybe not the good-looking part,’ mumbled Harry sardonically, his cheeks now uncomfortably warm.
Hermione snorted. ‘You should hear what some of the girls in the D.A. say about you sometimes. It’s honestly rather tiring hearing them go on about how attractive they think you are.’
‘Er, right,’ said Harry, feeling rather uncomfortably flustered.
‘Anyway, I’m sorry that this is all so sudden,’ sighed Hermione. ‘I can imagine that I must be very confusing to you right now, especially with me telling you that I like Ron and everything. Don't get me wrong, I was always perfectly happy being your best friend, but now I find out you’ve actually been liking me for – how long, exactly?’
‘Since last Christmas,’ Harry mumbled.
‘Was that what you and Sirius were talking about then?’ asked Hermione ‘About me?’
Harry nodded. ‘Among other things, but yeah, you were a main focus for a good bit of it.’
‘I had a feeling,’ smiled Hermione sadly. ‘Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I'm sorry if I led you on somehow. I didn’t mean to, I swear.’
‘You didn’t,’ said Harry. She was standing almost as close as Cho was when he had kissed her under the mistletoe. The irony that he was back in the same room having a similarly intense conversation with another girl did not escape him.
‘There were a couple of times over the last year or so where I wanted to tell you how much I liked you, but I couldn’t,’ admitted Hermione, her sweet-smelling breath making him want to pull her closer. ‘I was too shy, and you never gave me the slightest indication that you felt anything like that for me. That’s why I laughed so much earlier today. I thought it was ludicrous that you’d suddenly had feelings for me when I had gone through the same thing and had almost moved on from you completely.’
‘Almost?’ croaked out Harry.
‘I guess some feelings never truly go away,’ whispered Hermione, and then she was kissing him, her arms wrapped firmly around his neck, and Harry’s hands held her closer as he deepened their kiss. It was a whole different experience kissing Hermione than Cho. With Cho, Harry had been nervous about coming off as inexperienced, but it wasn’t like that with Hermione. Kissing her felt familiar, and surprisingly comforting.
Hermione sighed as she took a moment to steady herself, but Harry wasted no time to resume kissing her. Urged on by Hermione’s subtle physical indications, his tongue was soon meeting hers as she tightened her hold on him. Harry was blissfully unaware of her grip, too elated to finally be kissing Hermione, and quite dumbfounded at how much better it was than whenever he’d thought about it.
‘You’ve an awfully good kisser,’ whispered Hermione after they broke apart, her cheeks aflame. ‘I told you that you’re not bad at kissing, remember?’
‘You really good too,’ said Harry, trying to enjoy the effect Hermione was having over him before asking the one thing he wished he didn't have to. ‘But you still like Ron more, right?’ he finally said, suddenly feeling rather miserable again.
‘I don't,' she immediately said. 'I mean, it's not a competition. It never was. I just like you both in different ways.'
'What do you mean?' asked Harry confusedly.
'Look, I'll be honest with you. I was really hoping Ron and I could go to Hogsmeade together today. It’s why I was so moody this morning over breakfast.’
‘Okay. But what about now? You just kissed me!’ said Harry.
‘I know, I'm really sorry. That was really selfish of me,' said Hermione, hanging her head. She finally let go of him, and Harry felt strangely cold. ‘Harry, I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to hurt or disappoint anyone.’
‘But Ron doesn’t know that you like him, right?’ asked Harry in confusion. Of all the revelations that Hermione had just made, that was one he was relatively sure of.
‘No, he doesn’t,’ confirmed Hermione. ‘I suppose he hopes that I do, but I wasn’t exactly referring to him just now.’
‘Whom are you talking about then? asked Harry confusedly.
‘Ginny,’ sighed Hermione. ‘I gave her some advice so that she can finally feel more comfortable talking around you by dating other people like Michael Corner or whoever so that she won’t intentionally be as shy around you anymore. It’s why she’s really suddenly a lot more confident around you.’
‘Oh,’ said a surprised Harry.
‘She hasn’t really given up on you. Not really,’ continued Hermione.
‘Don’t I get a choice in this though, Hermione?’ asked Harry.
‘Of course you do, Harry,’ she said reassuringly.
‘Well, I don’t like Ginny like that. I never have.’
‘Okay then,’ said Hermione. ‘And you’re absolutely sure about that?’
‘Definitely,’ nodded Harry. ‘I only like you, Hermione. Is it really that hard to believe?’
‘A little, but it’s nothing to do with you,' she admitted shyly. 'But that's something I can work on on my own.’
‘Erm, right,’ said Harry.
‘And for what it’s worth,’ she continued. ‘I would like to see where this will go, no matter what I might feel for other people.’
‘Really?’ asked Harry.
‘Definitely,’ smiled Hermione, and Harry found himself grinning back at her involuntarily. ‘But I’d like us to take our time a little. To test the waters so to speak, you know? And our O.W.L.s are coming up soon, and I don’t want either of us to be distracted from them.’ Seeing Harry’s slightly crestfallen look, Hermione quickly added, ‘It doesn’t mean that you and I can’t occasionally be alone like this for a little while though. It just won’t be as frequent as we’d probably like it to be.’
‘Right,’ Harry nodded slowly. ‘So, does that mean you’re my girlfriend now?’
‘Um,’ blushed Hermione. ‘Why don’t we wait a little while before putting a label on things?’
‘Er, sure,’ said Harry, feeling rather foolish until Hermione gave him a soft kiss on his lips, closing his eyes as she did.
‘I’m sorry if I’m being a little too – well, me,’ she said. ‘I just want us to take our time with this. There’s no reason that we have to rush anything, right?’
Harry nodded. ‘I suppose not, no.’
Hermione then smiled at him. ‘You know, I’ve yet to properly thank you for everything you did today, especially considering it was my first ever date and one of the loveliest days that I’ve had in a long time. Even if I did ruin things at the end.’
‘But you didn’t ruin things,' said Harry, as Hermione looked at him disbelievingly. ‘You came after me, told me you liked me back and snogged me. How is that ruining things?’
Hermione looked at him and tried to stifle a laugh. ‘I supposed I did make up for it a little,’ she admitted with a giggle.
‘You definitely did,’ he said. ‘Hey, Hermione?’
‘Yes, Harry?’ she said, looking at him curiously as she gently squeezed his hand.
He gave her a wide smile. ‘Happy Valentine’s Day.’