This was a terrible moment in his life - one that would likely haunt him for all of his days to come (though judging by the steal-an-egg-from-a-dragon task, there probably wouldn’t be that many to come).
For this moment was the first time in his life that he, Harry James Potter, completely agreed with his Uncle Vernon on something; namely that politicians were a bane on any right-thinking folk. Granted, his and his uncle’s opinion on what constituted ‘right-thinking folk’ were still radically different, but the part about politicians? That he definitely agreed with.
Was it the fact that Fudge refused to accept the idea that his godfather was innocent? No, though that still bothered him.
Was it the fact that under Fudge’s administration he was being forced to compete in a contest which started with him facing off against a dragon at the age of 14? Not even - at least he didn’t have to fight the dragon; in that sense, the basilisk was much worse.
All those things he could ignore as part of his usual bad luck; but what Fudge had announced at the end of the first task? That was something he couldn’t forgive.
Not only that - apparently Fudge wasn’t as unimaginative as Lockhart - but they now had a full variety of services available. Chocolate deliveries, gift-finding, grand gestures, flower deliveries.. How did he know?
He had been hit by all of the above in the last month since the Yule Ball; why would they even start something to do with Valentine’s Day this early in the year?! A small part of him thought it was just to torment him, though he realised that was unlikely.
“Look kid, I ain’t asking much, I just have a quota to fill here. Just pick a girl you like and give me a name! I’ll work out the song myself and everything, even leave your name out of it. Whad’ya say?”
There, the source of his problems. One of those bloody dwarves that just wouldn’t take no for an answer - he’d been trying to escape to potions (and wasn’t that a scary thought?) for at least 10 minutes now (he always left at least 15 minutes early so Snape wouldn’t have an excuse to deduct points or assign detention) and at this rate he was going to be late!
“Look, I get having to do a job you hate, but I already told you - I don’t have anyone I want to send a Valentine to!”
Maybe his interest in Cho could have developed into something more serious, but since his life was again in danger, he honestly hadn’t put too much thought into it.
“Tell you what mate, just gimme the name of the last girl that you thought was pretty and I'll get out of your hair, alright?”
A sudden memory of how beautiful Hermione looked on the night of the Yule Ball flashed to the forefront of his mind, and before he could think too much on it he blurted out:
“Hermione Granger, but I really have to head to class now. I’ll pay up afterwards, just find me when nobody else is around!” and with that, he turned and started running towards class.. completely missing the look of glee on the dwarf’s face at that declaration.
It wasn’t until two days later that Harry realised he’d forgotten to warn Hermione. He’d reached the great hall early (using one of the few good things about his status as ‘champion’ to avoid going to History of Magic and try to work out the clue for the second task) to meet up with Hermione and Ron. This allowed him to see the rest of his year-mates in Gryffindor enter the hall, with Hermione storming ahead and seemingly trying to escape from the others, who kept alternating between staring at her and whispering to each other.. with Ron moving to sit between Seamus and Dean, though the sympathetic look he was giving Harry worried him slightly.
The moment she sat down next to him, he turned to ask her what was going on but just as he opened his mouth she spoke first - or rather, her irritation burst forth through a mile-a-minute rant which he could barely follow.
“You wouldn’t believe what some pompous arse just did in History Of Magic! The nerve of some people.. I know most people don’t pay much attention in that class, but I have been keeping accurate notes on every subject since our first year! And what comes in but one of those.. those.. those bloody dwarfs! Constantly singing in my ear as I try think while Professor Binns of course just carried on speaking, which of course means more time spent on reviewing this chapter to make sure I didn’t miss anything..!”
At this point her rant turned into more of a series of incoherent mumbles, but her visible irritation and the fact that she had just sworn made him realise that his hasty response to the dwarf was coming back to bite him in the behind. Harry cleared his throat, thinking this was the time to apologise;
“About that, I actually..” was as far as he got before he realised her mutterings were in fact promises to use the most obscure and strange hexes she’s ever come across in the library on whoever did this.
‘Right then, confessing has just gone completely out the window. Maybe I could try to calm her down before admitting and apologising? Yeah, that sounds good. I’m not even sure why she’s so sure it isn’t a regular valentine - I mean it isn’t, I don’t like her that way I just.. whatever, why am I arguing with myself? The point is, she couldn’t know that.. could she?’
Realising Hermione had been quiet for a few minutes already and that he hadn’t responded yet either, he asked:
“Err.. Hermione? Why are you so sure it isn’t an actual valentine? It wouldn’t be the first one, after all.”
The snort that he got in response to that question had just enough.. something in it, something he couldn’t quite recognise but made him narrow his eyes in suspicion anyway.
“Yes, there were a few serious ones, but there was also that vulgar thing from Malfoy!”
‘Ah, that reminds me. I have to thank Sirius for suggesting that Oedipus Curse; it’s easy to forget he comes from a rather dangerous family when he jokes around so much. Still, Malfoy hasn’t so much as sneered in Hermione’s direction since I got him after potions, so I’d say those few hours of practice were worth it..’
“Malfoy is a pompous git who is nothing but a miniature clone of his father. Besides, that still leaves the three others who were sent you one!”
‘That’s another thing; I still need to.. have a talk with whoever sent those. Just so they know to mind their manner.. hopefully Dobby gets back to me soon.’
“Yes, well, that hardly precludes any other pranks. Besides, these weren’t the regular short rhymes or even the longer poems; this was a 15-minute ballad, and there were three of them! I didn’t even know those were an option!”
Harry carefully kept his face blank. He did know those were an option, since the dwarf that had cornered him had practically read him the entire catalogue of options.. and he suddenly realised he may have been way to vague when he tried to escape earlier. Especially when you considered the dwarf likely worked on commissions..
“Why the bloody hell would you think that three ballads of all things were an appropriate valentine?! I know I told you it wasn’t supposed to be anything romantic, but I didn’t mean go the opposite way and make her want to jinx me!”
The dwarf, who Harry had learned was named Bogni, simply shrugged at him unconcernedly.
“Well I wasn’t to know she’d hate it, now was I? All I got from you was ‘er name - not much to base a ballad off of.”
Harry grit his teeth in frustration.
“Yet somehow you managed to make three.. Whatever, I don’t have time for this. I owe you 9 galleons right? Here.”
So saying, he handed over the rather large amount of money - though he supposed that’s what he got for not thinking things through. Taking the money and pocketing it, Bogni looked at him with a thoughtful expression.
“Ya know, she may not be your girl, but we do have an ‘Apologetic Boyfriend’ package for blokes in your kind of scenario..”
Usually Harry wouldn’t even consider this, but.. well. He was terrible at apologising (which he blamed on the fact that he’d never seen any of the Dursley’s apologise nor had he ever been inclined to apologise to them for his crime of existing) but it usually worked out - he’d apologise, fail miserably, Hermione would laugh at his clumsiness but take the sincere attempt for what he meant it as and they’d move on.
That being said, her current mood struck him more as a hex-first-ask-never situation (which was even more terrifying considering her usual curiosity about anything and everything) and the idea sounded.. extremely tempting.
“Alright, I’ll take your word on it, but just make sure there is no singing and try not to make a spectacle of it. I honestly think that was one of the main reasons she hated the first one..”
Sighing deeply, Harry tuned out the excited assurances from Bogni and started trying to compose a decent apology without revealing it was him who sent it.. and internally hoped to Merlin that this wouldn’t make the entire situation worse.
Harry found himself in a peculiar situation of being both abnormally pleased and irrationally irritated.
The apology he had sent Hermione had found them when they were alone in one of the unused classrooms trying to figure out the clue for the second task (unsuccessfully) and it would seem this attempt had gone much better.. He was especially proud of choosing to send her one of the rarer magical flowers on offer, rather than a bouquet of beautiful but otherwise uninteresting flowers. She had even grinned at the letter, so his apology seemed to work well enough.
..she refused to let him see the card though. Which, fair enough it was a private message and he was the one who had dictated the thing (she’d recognise his handwriting almost immediately), but she didn’t know that. It somehow.. irked him. Nothing as ridiculous as jealousy of course, he was the one who sent it so that wouldn’t make any sense. Even it wasn’t him who sent it, he had no reason to be jealous since they were just friends.
Harry groaned. He was going to hex Bogni the moment he saw him! The dwarf had apparently told a friend that Harry wasn’t cheap when it came to the things he ordered and that had led to another dwarf, Garnak, cornering him after transfiguration to try and convince him to buy another damn valentine!
Worst of all, it hadn’t been too hard.. he had enjoyed the way Hermione’s smile grew when she saw the magical flower he sent her change colours and the small grin that grew from reading the note that accompanied it (turns out he was much better at getting his point across without actually speaking to people).
The thought of doing it again had sent a strange surge of anticipation through him, and so he had caved rather easily. Which lead to the current.. issue. Garnak had mentioned an interesting charm that he knew Hermione would love - a small aurora of different colours that would appear around the target and telepathically share any compliments the caster had recently thought about the target. It was rare, strange, and Garnak could catch the spell through some way he said was inherent to his race and release it later so there would be no connection to him. It should have made her day, and initially it did..
..up until it became clear the spell would last for a full day, no matter what. By which point it became both unpractical and rather irritating. Luckily most of the school had guessed (or gossiped) about what he did to Malfoy for sending her that mocking rhyme, and no one actually insulted her to her face.
Or at least, not after he had jinxed a Beauxbatons witch who had insinuated Hermione sent herself gifts to get attention with a strange spell that made her nose itch while preventing her hands from touching it.. Sirius might be a bad influence on him. He should stop looking up the spells he suggested in his letters.
The spell had just ended, and Hermione had still looked annoyed when she had headed up to the dorms.. considering the spell was based on his thoughts, and he had no idea what it had shared with her? You could say he was rather worried.
Sighing in frustration, Harry realised he was going to have to buy a second ‘Apologetic Boyfriend’ package - but it was going to have to be something different. Maybe a Augury feather quill? He had noticed she seemed rather taken by the one Hagrid had shown them once when they had visited him for tea..
Harry couldn’t hide his grin. He had just come from the library where Garnak had delivered the quill, and Hermione had reacted exactly the way he hoped she would. The huge smile and careful way she kept looking the quill over showed him she knew exactly what it was and that it made her happy.
It was almost a shame that it was over.. but no, he had promised himself he would stop and so he would.
Shaking off the strange feeling, he went to find the golden egg to further think on what it could possibly be. Maybe he would head down to the lake - fewer people to be bothered by the noise and all that.
Alright, so maybe it shouldn’t have taken him as long as it did to realise he was being taken advantage of. Seven times.. Seven times he had been cornered by one of these blasted dwarfs and fallen for their pleas (My wife’s expecting a baby, I just want to afford a gift for my daughter, wouldn’t your smart friend love this signed ‘Hogwarts - A History?) only for the first one to be so over the top it failed completely - leading to him trying to calm Hermione’s ire with something different..
There was small voice in his head that told him he had known it much sooner and simply didn’t care but he squashed it down as fast as he did any thoughts on why he kept wanting to make her smile.
Hermione had become completely fed up with the situation and had started investigating who had sent her everything (though luckily she had told him to focus on the tournament and not to worry about helping her) and frankly he wasn’t sure what she was planning to do when she did find out..
Or how she could find out - the things were advertised as anonymous for a reason after all, and considering how much money the dwarves made off of him he couldn’t imagine them giving up his name.
Hermione had been acting strange ever since the last gift, however (a pair of magically linked journals that would allow her to write to her parents in real time, instead of having to wait for the owl post) and it worried him slightly.. The note didn’t exactly say that it was what she should use it for, though he was certain she would figure it out considering how often she spoke of missing her parents. Which was the main reason he had sent them to her despite how expensive they were..
‘Okay, so maybe I have a slightly enormous crush on my best friend. I’m sure if I just ignore it for long enough it should go away..’
Yet even as the thought crossed his mind, he spotted Hermione approaching him for their trip into Hogsmeade. She had approached him yesterday about going and giving his mind a break from the constant worry about the tournament, and he hadn’t had it in him to refuse.. not that he particularly wanted to, but he was certain it wouldn’t exactly help him get over his newfound feelings for her.
Taking in how broad her smile was along with the fact that she was wearing the necklace he had gotten her (dwarf number five; apology for delivering 12 different boxes of chocolate so large she had to get permission from Professor Flitwick to take them up to the dorms during class) he realised he was kidding himself.
His feelings weren’t going anywhere.. and frankly he no longer wanted him too.
It was only a few hours later after having a great day just going between the different stores, drinking a few butterbeers at the three broomsticks and just generally talking about anything and everything unrelated to all of their death-defying situations at Hogwarts, that they approached the Shrieking Shack.
They had been quiet for the last few minutes, just silently enjoying each other’s company as they approached the place where so much had changed the previous year. He was internally trying to gather up the courage to.. well he wasn’t exactly sure what. Kiss her? Tell her he’d fallen in love with her? Just admit the whole valentine thing was him and that he hadn’t meant for it to become such a large circus?
He liked the first idea; his attention had been consistently drawn to her lips throughout the day..
The second idea made him more nervous than he was the day of his first ever quidditch match, and that included the whole murder attempt by Quirrel thing.
The third option honestly made his hand twitch towards his wand to cast a shield charm, since he still worried she’d hex him.
As deep in his thoughts as he was, he still heard her when she finally broke the silence:
“So tell me, Harry James Potter, why did you send me that first Valentine?”
Her voice was softer and perhaps more tender than he had heard before, which he figured was a good thing, but she had used his full name which had never before been a good thing.. Turning his head to look at her, he realised two things; one, she was a lot closer than he expected and two, he no longer had any time to wonder about his feelings.
Luckily, he always did do better under pressure.
“That’s the wrong question Hermione,” he said, a thrill of excitement shooting through him at the small blush that formed, “the right question is: Why did I keep sending them?” he finished in an almost whisper.
He saw her swallow as she looked into his eyes, trying not to get distracted by how she licked her lips before responding in a somewhat nervous tone of voice:
“Why did you keep sending them?”
Harry knew this was it; this would forever change things between them. If he stepped back now and kept his feelings to himself, things would go back to the way they were - any chance of something more forever gone.
It was like standing at the edge of a cliff, clouds all around its base preventing any chance of knowing what was at the bottom.. yet considering the possible futures, ones he would always want to share with her.. he dived.
“Because I realised I’m in love with you.”
The words had barely been spoken before he saw something flash in her eyes, then her arms were thrown around him and she was kissing him.
‘Oh, he had time to think, ‘so this is what freefalling is like..’