A/N: Well, this is it. The final chapter. Hopefully people like the ending — I know I enjoyed writing it. In fact, I had the ending in mind shortly after I starting writing this, so in a way everything in the story has been leading directly to those last two sentences. Between the fact that plenty of people have enjoyed this story and the fact that I enjoyed writing about these characters, I've written two sequels. The first is "The Power of Love" and the second is "Heart and Soul." Both are accessible from my profile.
The sequels are quite a bit longer and more involved than this story was. Whereas this story was a short, intense character study, the sequels drop the characters into the middle of the main Harry Potter storyline. Of course, it's not exactly the same as you read in the books — there will be new intrigues, age-old conflicts, new revelations about old characters, and of course more prophecies (because it's not a Potter story without a prophecy, right?).
Chapter 4 - Decisions
Hermione yipped in surprise. Despite having had a good idea of what Jasmine's answer would be, she was still totally unprepared to hear the actual words. It wasn't so much that Jasmine fancied her that was shocking — or at least not only that — but that anyone would honestly tell her that they fancied her. She had convinced herself that she'd never be the target of anyone's romantic attention.
"Me? What? Why? How? When?" Merlin, could I be any less coherent? What's the matter with me?
"It's always been you, Hermione — probably since first year, in fact, but definitely since second." Jasmine continued to stare at her lap, refusing to meet her friend's eyes. "And, starting near the end of third year, it became harder and harder for me to ignore certain thoughts about you. I never chose to have feelings like this — I never wanted yet another reason to be a freak, and I certainly never wanted to involve you in it in any way. I tried to think of boys in that way, but the harder I tried the more repulsive the thoughts became. I guess that's why the idea of going on a date with a boy who's just a friend bothers me as much as it does. I have no idea when exactly my feelings for you started moving beyond mere friendship, but it's always been girls who attracted my interest... and starting at some point, it's always been you."
Hermione's brain practically seized up at this point. She had thought she was fine with Jasmine's newly-revealed sexual orientation, but maybe that was only because she had assumed that it didn't involve her. Am I really so shallow that I'm only willing to accept my best friend being gay so long as she isn't attracted to me? No, that's not me — I'm not like that and I refuse to be like that. So if it's not the fact that Jasmine is attracted to me that's giving me trouble, what is the problem?
Unfortunately, Hermione was taking so long to respond or even show any kind of outward reaction that Jasmine started assuming the worst again. "You're repulsed by me now, aren't you? Yeah, this is why I didn't want to say anything. I figured it would be hard enough for you to accept this at all, but I was sure that if you found out how I felt about you, you'd walk as far away from me as possible, as fast as possible. But you're all I've got, Hermione. I wouldn't be alive right now if it weren't for you, and I don't see how I'm going to survive this tournament without you, never mind make it through to graduating from this school. I don't suppose you'd be willing to simply forget I said anything...?"
Had Hermione's brain been fully engaged, she'd have stopped Jasmine's self-deprecating rambling a lot sooner, but too much had been dumped on her that afternoon. Even Hermione Granger had limits for how quickly she could process this sort of news.
"No, Jasmine, stop," she said, holding up her hand to stop her friend talking, though her other arm remained firmly wrapped around her friend's shoulders — she was certain that separating from the vulnerable girl right now would send exactly the wrong message. "I need a moment to organize my thoughts and feelings." Hermione took a deep breath, thinking, I've got to choose my words carefully. I can't afford any misunderstandings here...
"Jas, I am not repulsed by you — I wasn't repulsed when I learned that you like girls and I'm not repulsed to learn that you fancy me in particular. I may not understand it, but I'm not repulsed by it. You will never repulse me and I will never walk away from you — no matter what you do, and especially not because of something that I know you can't control. No one can control whom they fancy or whom they fall in love with — it's something that just happens." Hermione paused for a moment and pinched the bridge of her nose while trying to figure out how to proceed.
"We've never gossiped about boys and now I know why you never brought the topic up. I never gave much thought as to why you didn't, I just appreciated it, though in hindsight your admission is starting to make a lot of things make more sense. With me, though, I never brought up the topic because I wanted to avoid it entirely — I've tried to avoid any thoughts about dating and romance because I assumed nobody would ever think about me that way. I figured that if I never got my hopes up, then I'd never be disappointed. Maybe if I were already heavily invested in fantasies about boys, the idea of you thinking of me in that manner would bother me... but I'm not, so it doesn't."
Hermione paused to let all that sink in. She wanted to be sure that Jasmine understood that her best friend wouldn't be abandoning her, no matter what.
"That's why I have to ask, Jas, why me? If you like witches, then fine — but there are loads of far prettier witches in this castle to choose from, even if just for the sake of idle fantasies. At least one of those pretty witches must have the same inclinations as you — you can't possibly be the only one here. So why not seek one of them out? Why would you settle for someone like me?"
Jasmine slowly raised her head up to look her best friend, a girl she'd just admitted to fancying, directly in the eyes. Jasmine had never had the opportunity to simply stare into Hermione's eyes before. It was something she'd always avoided, no matter how often she stole less-than-casual glances at her, because she was afraid of what such an intimate action might reveal. Now, though, she was past the point of no return and decided that she needed to gather up whatever remained of her Gryffindor courage so she could keep going.
That is, she would if she could stop being distracted by those big, beautiful brown eyes. Merlin, when did her eyes get to be so... so... wait, what was I doing?
Closing her own eyes for a few seconds to reestablish her original train of thought, such as it was, Jasmine plowed on ahead: "Why you, Hermione? Why not you? I always knew that you didn't think much of yourself or your looks, but you need to stop and realize that others don't see you the same way you do. I know you hate your hair and I certainly don't envy you having to take care of it, but I've never thought it looked bad on you. Just the opposite, in fact — a head of untamable hair rather suits your personality."
Hermione snorted in disbelief at this, but Jasmine didn't let that deter her. "In contrast, my hair feels like it's rather straight and boring. I know you hated your large front teeth, too, but they never bothered me — and now that you've had them shrunk, you look even better. You may not look like a fashion model, but you're certainly not plain and you already have a nicely developing figure. You're definitely getting more shapely than I am.
"But in the end, all of those things are superficial. They aren't the most important things about you." Hermione's eyes widened at that statement and she clearly wanted Jasmine to explain.
"Look, I know you're not perfect. You have plenty of bad habits and annoying behaviors, same as me. We live together for ten months out of the year, so I think I've seen you at your worst just as you've seen me at my worst. And more than once, too. The truth is, I've been falling for you despite your flaws. You may not be perfect, but I've been coming to realize that you're perfect for me. And that's all anyone can ask for, isn't it?"
At those words, Hermione's brain seized up once again. She'd never expected to hear anything like this — she had always assumed that her physical and personality flaws would drive people away, not be dismissed or even attract someone. While her brain was trying to comprehend this, the realization started to creep in that that might be just about the most romantic thing she'd ever heard.
This insidious combination of "romantic" with "Jasmine Potter" caused her brain to finally restart, but it chose to do so by presenting combinations of events and feelings that she had never put together before. Jasmine acting as a heroine, saving a damsel in distress from a rampaging troll. Jasmine tightly embracing her one last time before stepping through black flames to face Voldemort. Jasmine holding her petrified hand night after night in the hospital wing. Jasmine and Hermione, taking a scary but romantic flight in the middle of the night on a stolen Hippogriff. Hermione embracing Jasmine, this time before the latter faced off against a Hungarian Horntail.
Wait, what? Where the bloody hell did all of that come from?
"Jasmine, I... I..." At a complete loss for words, she slumped forward, bringing her forehead into contact with Jasmine's. Neither could see that the other was blushing furiously. Hermione tried to start again: "I'm not sure what to do. I don't understand why you're attracted to me, but I'll accept it and not argue against it. I'm not attracted to girls but... well, I guess I'm not not attracted to girls. I mean, romantic attraction isn't a subject I've thought a lot about. I haven't wanted to, so if I'm going to be completely honest I guess I'm not sure exactly who I am or am not attracted to."
Jasmine lifted her head slightly so she could look at Hermione, and the other witch could clearly see a spark of unexpected hope begin in her green eyes.
Sighing, Hermione continued after a short pause, "I can also honestly say that while I've never seriously considered dating or dancing with another girl, the thought also doesn't repulse me. Maybe I only ever connected romance with boys because that's what society — muggle and magical — keeps telling us is 'normal.' Does that mean that I am or could be attracted to girls? I don't know — and I'm not sure if sitting here daydreaming about such things is enough to let me know. Maybe... maybe I should try? Just to see how it feels rather than rely on imagining how it would feel?"
Upon hearing those words, Jasmine pulled back so she could look her friend directly in her eyes. "Do you mean... would you really want to go to the Yule Ball with me? But if you're not sure if you want it, you'll end up being harassed for no good reason! At least with me, they'd be hating me for something that's true about me."
Hermione started biting her bottom lip, an action that always distracted Jasmine, and in this conversation the distraction was worse than ever. "Jas, you're my best friend. I've always stood by you and helped you, no matter what. I've risked my life to help you, so going on a date with you to a ball seems rather minor in comparison — especially considering how important the date is for you. Even if it turns out that I don't have the slightest romantic interest in girls generally or you specifically, a single date is hardly a big sacrifice.
"I'm not going to lead you on and I'm not going to make any promises — I don't know how I'll truly feel about it. But I'm willing to give it a try. It's only a date with some dancing. Aren't you always telling me that I can learn more by doing and acting rather than merely reading books? Maybe this is one of those situations."
Jasmine started biting her own bottom lip — neither she nor Hermione were aware of how many of the other girl's mannerisms Jasmine had slowly been adopting over the years. "Maybe we don't have to go that far and take that much of a risk."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.
Jasmine didn't respond immediately, and Hermione could tell that she was gathering up her courage again. "If you're willing to do something to see if you might be attracted to girls, or even just to me, I don't think it's necessary to go through all the time and effort of a Yule Ball date. I think there's a smaller but more significant option we can try."
"Oh?" Hermione was curious what Jasmine had in mind. Going out on a date seemed like the most obvious and best way to decide if dating a girl was what she wanted.
Jasmine leaned in towards Hermione again and said softly, "Kiss me."
Hermione's eyes widened almost impossibly and she sputtered, "K-kiss?" Her earlier blush returned, stronger than ever.
Jasmine smiled. "Yes, kiss me. If you can kiss me without gagging, then we have a chance. If you kiss me and you enjoy it — despite our total lack of experience at kissing — then I'd say that our chances are very good. But if you kiss me and are bothered by it, then there's no point in going to the Yule Ball together. A kiss is much smaller than a date, but it could be much more significant. And no one need ever know about it, if we don't want them to, so there's less risk for you."
Unable to get out even a single word now, Hermione simply stared at Jasmine, her eyes shifting back and forth from the girl's green eyes to her slightly parted lips. This can't be happening. This is not at all what I expected when I followed Jasmine in here earlier!
Not hearing any objections to her idea, Jasmine leaned forward ever so slightly and tilted her head to the side, waiting to see what Hermione would do. She, having trouble focusing on what her friend said, mirrored Jasmine's movements without thinking about it. Taking that as an invitation, Jasmine closed the rest of the distance and pressed her lips to Hermione's, trying to imbue this first — and maybe only — kiss with all of the emotions she'd been repressing over the past two years. She knew she might never get another chance at kissing Hermione Granger, so she was going to make the most of it while she could.
She didn't get much of a reaction, at least not at first, but she was certain that Hermione started to return the kiss. Before she could be sure, though, she started to run out of breath and had to pull back. When she opened her eyes, she could see Hermione's eyes were still closed and her lips were slightly parted. She looked like she was waiting for something.
"Hermione?" Jasmine asked in a soft voice.
The bushy-haired witch opened her eyes slowly and blinked a couple of times as she gazed distantly at something only she could see. With a slight look of surprise in her eyes, she shifted her attention back, looked intently into her friend's green eyes, and the corners of her mouth turned upwards in a small but clear smile.
A/N: Just in case you missed it in the author's note above, I've written two sequels to this story. The first is "The Power of Love" and the second is "Heart and Soul." Both are accessible from my profile.