May Angels Lead You In

Harry = Madelyn
Hermione = Katie

Harry sat in a darkened alcove, trying to gather his thoughts away from the hustle and bustle of school. It was the seventh holiday he would spend at Hogwarts, and possibly the last. All of the students were quickly filtering through the halls, anxious to catch the train to their families. He had nowhere to go, as the only family he had didn't want him around. Ron had already said a quick goodbye and was probably on the train by now. Harry assumed Hermione would be leaving as well, as she had every year before. So he sat in the silent shadows, trying to clear his mind of anxieties and worry.

Hermione wandered down the hallway. It was deserted as always. Despite its excellent use as a shortcut to Ancient Runes Studies, no one really knew about it. Then again, nobody bothered to study runes anymore. There was a cozy alcove along this hallway, one where she would go to read or study when the common room was too noisy, or she and Ron had been involved in a spat. Of course, she was always the one to leave, never Ron. She was always the one on the outside of the famous Trio. She sighed, quite sick of bemoaning her luck. What did it matter if she wasn't Harry Potter's best friend? She was the second best. Should've been good enough. Hermione turned in the direction of the alcove, deciding she might as well spend a bit of time reading. Ron was gone; she had just said goodbye to him. Harry hadn't been in the common room when she returned. Figured as much, all things considered. She stopped figuring abruptly, however, when she reached the alcove, finding it already occupied by her main train of thought.

His back against the wall, knees pulled up tight against his chest to support both head and arms, Harry let out a sigh. The holidays would be lonely, with the exception of a visit that had become routine since fifth year. No one knew about that though, and no one needed to know. Christmas Day, when the rest of the staff was busy getting sauced in the Great Hall, he would go to the kitchen and share a small meal with one of the last people anyone would think him to socialize with. They would never speak of it outside of that day, probably because it was too painful for either of them to analyze. But for that one day, they would both pretend to have a caring family, exchange a small gift, and enjoy some small measure of holiday cheer. Oftentimes, they spoke of who held their heart. He would recount days gone by spent in a cramped dungeon with an assistant who had long since passed on; and Harry would speak of the girl that had held his heart since the day he saw her. Ironically enough, their respective loves had a lot in common and Harry thought they would have made for great friends, had the assistant not passed away so many years ago. Reaching into his robe pocket, Harry pulled out a wizarding picture of his love and wondered if she would think of him during Christmas. The picture held no answers, simply a soft smile and untamed hair blowing in an unseen breeze.

Hermione watched him for a moment, having gone unnoticed. As always, she thought, mind going sour as an unripe lemon for a moment. He was looking at a photograph. From the angle at which she was standing, she could not tell who was in the photograph. The look on his face told her that she didn't want to know. She was sick of knowing, had never liked knowing that sort of thing about Harry. Oh, she would patiently listen to him when he was having troubles with a girl, and you would act like the supportive friend she was supposed to be. Her heart, however, was selfish. She despised every moment of it, absolutely hated loving. How wonderful love was made out to be in the books, the movies, the songs, and what torture it really was. Still, she couldn't resist giving in the temptation. Despite the hurt, next to him was the best place in the world to be. So, as always, she took a deep breath and cleared her throat.

He looked up quickly, unshed tears shining in his eyes. There she was, and she didn't look happy at all. Her eyes were darting from the picture to his face, and he suddenly realized that Hermione had discovered the secret. He stumbled over the words, desperate to try and salvage the friendship, "I... I can explain!" But what was there to explain? How do you tell your best friend that you've been in love with them for years and couldn't get the nerve up to tell them because you knew they were in love with your other best friend? Standing up, he gently placed the picture in her hands and offered a soft, "I'm sorry..." before quickly walking down the corridor, desperate to escape this painful situation. Tears fell onto his robe as he walked, heart breaking because of the certainty that he had just destroyed hope of even a friendship with Hermione.

Tears. Hermione had never once seen Harry cry. He was the brave one. Without a single tear, he had faced Voldemort, a basilisk, a person whom he thought was a murderous fugitive, Voldemort again. He had watched people die, almost died himself several times. And he marched bravely into those situations, without ever dampening his eyelashes with tears. And here he was now, tears sliding down his cheeks, and there she stood, a picture of herself in her hands, watching her heart's desire flee from her. Hermione could only blink for a moment, looking from the picture, to Harry's back, the realization sinking in. She was the one thing he cried for. His fear of losing her was greater than his fear of losing his own life, of losing to Voldemort. It was as if she suddenly came alive as she dropped the photograph, chasing Harry down the hall. Those tears had to stop; he had to know. She called after his retreating form, "Harry, stop. We need to talk about this!"

He quickly made his way to the only person that knew of his situation with Hermione, hoping to find a bit of good advice, or even a blunt, "Life sucks. Get over it." After a few moments of explaining things in the dungeon, he was shocked to find himself being curtly pushed back out and told, "Go talk to her, you ridiculous fool, and make certain of her feelings. If you haven't learned by now that things are not always as they seem, then perhaps I should do us both a favor and put you out of your misery. Now go, and let me get back to grading these atrocious parchments that students have the unmitigated gall to turn in!" He was left standing there with mouth agape as the door shut soundly in his. He was about to lean his head against the closed door, but a booming voice shouting, "I gave you an assignment to complete, Potter! Get to it before I start taking points and giving detentions!" inspired him to head back down the hall and look for Hermione.

She had lost him. It figured as much. He was the athletic one, after all. Much faster. Hermione leaned against the wall where he had left her. They would have to deal with this eventually. It was very likely that they were the only two people left in Gryffindor Tower, and they would inevitably run into each other. And she would tell him. Perhaps she should have done so sooner. It would have saved them both a great deal of misery, at least on her part. But she was a coward at some things, and Harry obviously was as well. They tried to rationalize, of course. How many times had she told herself that telling him would be pointless? That he could never feel the same way, and to tell him would only ruin their friendship, so why bother? Why summon up the courage she wasn't sure she had? She sighed ruefully, sliding down the wall to the floor. Funny, this had suddenly become quite a bit like a romance novel, the kind where it seems the two have lost each other. But would they have the fairy tale ending? Would Harry come sweeping in and demand that she be his and his alone? Didn't seem like the kind of thing Harry would do. Perhaps she would have to be the broad-shouldered Texan this time.

Harry finally found her, leaning against the same wall he had been using earlier. He shoved aside the fear and self-doubt and approached, "Hermione? I... I'm in love with you. I'm sorry that you found out like this, and I promise I won't ever try to force you to choose between Ron and I..." He looked down at the stone floor, "I know you've liked Ron for such a long time, and I wouldn't try to get in between you two. Could we..." He looked back up, gazing into those lovely hazel eyes, "Could we still be friends?" His mouth felt dry, and his heart felt as though it were being torn apart. Just friends. That was all they could ever be, and somehow it would have to be enough.

Hermione stared, wide-eyed. How had he never noticed? How had she never noticed it in him? How could he think she was in love with Ron, when the only thing on her mind was him? Lip quivering dangerously, she choked out, "Ron?" Hermione cleared her throat and tried again. "You - you think I like Ron?" She shook herself and met his eyes. "I'm a better actress than I thought I was. Harry," she said, reaching out for his hand, "I don't know how you never noticed, but... I'm in love with you. It's always been you." She bit her lip, un-cried tears rushing at her as she added, "And we'll always be friends, Harry."

He stared for a moment, unbelieving. As her words slowly sunk in, Harry wrapped his arms around her, pausing to kiss her on the cheek, "I love you so much, Hermione." He gently stroked through her hair, as had been his desire for quite some time, as he held her, "You've just given me the best Christmas gift I've ever received. Thank you." Ignoring the nervousness that was beginning to cause his hands to shake, he leaned closer and kissed her upon those lovely lips that had been the center of so many daydreams. Unseen by the overwhelmed Harry, a dark figure smiled at the end of the corridor. The figure looked down at a worn picture resting within his hand and gave a bittersweet smile. Before returning to the dungeon that had served as both office and home for so very long, he whispered, "May angels lead you in."