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The boy lay in his bed.  He sighed, feeling the warmth of the girl’s body now curled up close against him, her head resting on his shoulder, her left hand on his chest, the ring on her fourth finger sparkling in the flickering candlelight.

They were no longer a boy and a girl, he reflected.  The activities of the past few hours had certainly proven that.  Yet when he gazed down at the face of the woman he adored, now finally here with him, the dim light seemed to transform her into the young girl of his memories, the one he silently pledged his love to years ago.

How many nights could they have lain together like this, naked in each other’s arms?  How many months and years had they wasted, all because he hadn’t been brave enough?

But now was not a time for regret.  He closed his eyes and focused on the sensations of her wrapped up in his arms: her breathing, her body pressed against him, her heart beating so, so close to his.  His left hand drifted across her back, luxuriating in the softness of her bare skin.  He swore to himself that he wouldn’t waste one more moment: he’d take any chance, any opportunity, to feel like this again.

The boy who wrote that poem had no idea.   That boy, Harry reflected, had thought that the most amazing feeling in the world was to be enveloped in her arms, to be wrapped up in her loving embrace.  But that was only a prelude to a seemingly impossible level of intimacy Harry now felt.  Even the adult Harry had never actually understood the phrase “making love” until tonight: the way that greater love had seemed to literally be created as their bodies had struggled to try to become one.  It was like an intimate bond was forged in the fires of their passionate embrace and strengthened with each motion of their bodies, both of them having no greater desire than to share the pleasure they were experiencing, to hope that the other could attain the same sensations, to give anything to make the other feel that incredible.  Because of their intense feelings of love already existing for each other, some sort of feedback loop must have been created.  It drove them toward a level of ecstatic release that Harry had never imagined could exist, a universe with only Hermione, an ethereal plane where the only thing he could do is grasp on to her with all of his strength until they floated back down to earth together.

Strangely, even after visiting that hallucinatory realm more than once, there was still one more threshold to cross—one action he needed to take, one secret to be revealed to justify the ring on her finger that had seemed so patently absurd just a few hours before.  He thought she would have said it already; she was always the one who was more bold with her affection toward him.

Over the years Harry had learned to parrot the three words, to echo and respond in kind when prompted.  But there had never quite been truth in those words.  How could there be, when his heart had always deep down belonged to her?  It had led to several fights with others, in fact, because he had never uttered those words unprompted to anyone in his life.  Harry was certain it contributed to the end of all of his prior relationships.  He had grown up without anyone saying them to him, and part of him never quite understood what it meant to say them to another.

But now, he understood.  In the stillness and darkness of the night, with her slumbering on his chest, he could finally reveal his most closely guarded secret of all.

I love you,” he whispered, his eyes growing watery with the sheer overwhelming emotion that threatened to erupt.  However, once it had been said—once the thought had been reified and coalesced into actual sounding vibrations spreading out through the quietness of his bedroom—he felt like his heart would burst if he didn’t utter it again.  “I love you, I love you, I love you,” he repeated, the mantra echoing over and over in his thoughts, and his arm grasped her more strongly, pressing her to him.  Then he halted himself, not wanting to disturb her placid sleep.  No one should ever disturb a face that angelic.

A few moments later, though, he continued his whispered confession, finding the courage to speak aloud the things he had always wanted to say.  Soon, perhaps tomorrow, he could find a way to tell them to her in the garish light of day.  But for now…

“You don’t know how much you mean to me, Hermione,” he began in a barely audible tone.  “How much you’ve always meant to me.  I’ve tried to tell you so many times, and sometimes I’ve managed to let you know how amazing and incredible you are.  But I don’t know how I’d have survived without you.  You’ve saved my life so many times.  You’ve never abandoned me, even when everyone else had.”  He paused, trying to think of the right words, to remember everything she had done.  “You know, even as far back as in our first year, when I had to go on alone to face Quirrell, I don’t know that I could have done it without your little speech… and your....”  He swallowed.  “You don’t know this—no one knows this—but I don’t remember anyone ever showing me any affection growing up.  So when you threw your arms around me that first time…”

Harry had to stop talking for a moment to settle himself and take a couple breaths.  His chest shook—he was afraid he’d wake her up.

“You were always the bravest, you know,” he finally managed to go on.  “Even when you were terrified, you’d rush right into something along with me.  I couldn’t draw on that courage without you at my side.”  He thought back to that young girl, so brilliant even then.  “What was it you said?  ‘Friendship and bravery…’”

“... And love,” she whispered, her voice startling him as her lips moved next to his skin.

“What?” he cried.  “You’re awake?  How much have you…?”

“All of it, Harry,” she said, her eyes still closed while she placed a slow, lingering kiss on the top of his chest, just above his heart.  “I couldn’t possibly fall asleep when I just want to relax here with you and feel like this forever.”  She placed her head back down on his shoulder, as her leg that was already wrapped across him made a few passes up and down, the softness and intimacy quelling the little bit of anxiety that Harry felt when she first spoke.

“I was going to speak up earlier,” she went on, “but I wanted to see how much you’d actually tell me when you thought I couldn’t hear it.  I thought of chastising you for only being able to tell me your secrets when you’re drunk or when I’m asleep… except you just made me realize that I certainly haven’t always lived up to the Gryffindor ideal of bravery either.”

“What do you mean?”

Her hand was now leisurely tracing circles around his bare chest.  “Because that’s what I wanted to say.  Back in our first year, that was the rest of the sentence: ‘friendship and bravery... and love.’  Even back then, when we were just kids, you meant everything to me.”  She turned her head to look deeply into his eyes, her own brown eyes shining with profound emotion.  “I love you, Harry.  You have absolutely no idea how much…”

Hermione then shared a slow, tender kiss with him.  When Harry's eyelids slowly rose again, he saw her head was propped up on her hand, and she was staring at him.  “What?” he asked.

“I don’t want to put conditions on anything, Harry.  I said yes, and I absolutely meant it with every fiber of my being.  But I do have one request, to allow this… well, this new and amazing thing to work between us.”

“Hermione, you know I’d do anything…”

She put a finger to his lips.  “Then no more secrets.  No more silent pining.  No more confessions of love in lost sheets of parchment or hidden magical etchings or monologues late at night when you think I can’t even hear you.  When you feel it, just tell me.”

Harry thought for a moment, before nodding. “Okay, I’ll try.”  She smiled and put her head back down on his shoulder, while he pulled her more tightly against him.  “Well,” he added after a moment, “as long as you promise to do the same.”

She laughed softly.  “Oh, you’re going to get quite bored after a few days of how many times I’ll be telling you I love you, then.”

“But I love you more.”

“That’s not possible.”

“I gave you a poem and a ring to prove it…”

She raised her head up again to look at him directly.  “You didn’t give them to me, Harry!  I had to find them myself, after going through a battery of challenges.  If I hadn’t tried to fix that drawer that was slightly askew, none of this would have happened.”  She looked off, as she began to enumerate all the steps she had taken. “You realize I had to take out the drawer, figure out how to open the safe, then locate the hidden compartment, decipher your mysterious poem, and only then get you to finally open up about it all.  Not to mention moving that bloody desk and all of your other stuff.”

“So, what you’re saying...” Harry said in reply, looking up at the ceiling with a mischievous expression on his face, “is that the past day was like some sort of grand adventure, a kind of strategic quest where you had to solve several riddles to uncover some secret, like you always loved to do back at Hogwarts…”

“Wait…” she pulled back.  “Wait… what?”  Hermione now sat fully upright and glared at him.  “Harry James Potter, you are not seriously implying that you planned all of this?  Some insane elaborate Valentine’s Day adventure where you wanted me to investigate that drawer to reveal—” 

But Harry had been distracted by how Hermione’s new position had exposed more of her creamy skin from beneath the sheets, and his hands and eyes had taken to exploring.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about…”

“No, you’re joking,” she went on, ignoring him.  “Either that or you’re... Harry, I love you, but you’re not that clever, are you?”  She finally grabbed his errant hand, causing him to look into her eyes.  “Are you?”

A smirk broke out on his face.  “I guess you’ll never really know for sure…”  She sighed and began chewing her lip, obviously trying to sort out this new puzzle.  He shook his head and ran his fingers down her cheek, marveling at how adorable she looked while her mind was hard at work.  “All I know is that a few hours ago we were friends,” he added, “and now you’re naked in bed with me with a ring on your finger.  You figure out how that happened…”

“You’re really not going to tell me?”

He shrugged and settled back down, folding his hands on his chest.  “Sometimes you just need to have a little faith that things will work out if they’re meant to be…”

“That’s not an answer,” she said, sighing as she gave him a gentle shove on the shoulder before cuddling back up to him.  “You know, you can be a complete arse sometimes, but now you’re mine.”  Harry felt her leg drift across his and her fingers begin to rake patterns lower and lower across his abdomen, causing his breath to catch as he closed his eyes in anticipation.  When Hermione stopped moving her hand, his eyelids flickered open to see her with a cocked eyebrow and wearing a wicked grin.  “You do realize,” she said, “I have a whole new arsenal of options to use to torture you now, if you won’t tell me the truth…”

Harry pressed his forefinger and thumb together and drew them across his lips like a zipper, indicating that they were sealed.  But his eyes betrayed his playfulness, daring her to follow up on her threat.  The exaggerated silliness of it all caused Hermione to laugh aloud.

“Well, you can try to keep that secret,” she went on, lying back down on him, ”but in accordance with our agreement, I am now obligated to mention what I’m feeling—and I still love you, you insane lovesick git.”

“I love you more.”

“No, I love you more than anything.”

“I think I’ve proven that I lo—”

But he was cut off mid-sentence when Hermione climbed on top of him and began kissing him deeply, interrupting any coherent thought for Harry for at least a full minute.  When they finally separated from the kiss, both gasping for air, he opened his eyes to see those gorgeous brown irises staring back, the ones he now would wake up to every morning and say goodnight to every evening.

“I love you,” they said quickly in unison, both then immediately erupting in a fit of laughter.  And when her lips soon fell on his once more, while his hands began to meander up and down her body, he knew that he’d never want to keep that secret from her ever again.