Disclaimer: I don't own HP or any of these characters. That belongs to JKR, Scholastic Books, Warner Brothers, etc.
In the end, she decided it was just a crush.
Realizing that didn't hurt like she thought it would hurt. She thought it would be the most painful thing to know that it was only a crush, that it wasn't serious, and that nothing would come of it. Rather, it was sort of a relief to know it wasn't real, that it was just a stage, and that already she was getting over it.
What spurred her realization was seeing how he acted towards Cho – or to be more precise, knowing how she felt when she could no longer deny that Cho was the girl of Harry's dreams. It wasn't the end of the world. She didn't think that life wasn't worth living or that she could no longer go on. It was crushing, yes, to know he dreamt of someone else, someone who was not her, but she could still breathe and hold her head up high. She hadn't said a thing to him about how she felt towards him and she was glad – there wasn't any reason to bother him with her crush since it was just that. If it were more . . . well, that would have been a different story but as it were, they weren't meant to be and she thought that was fine. She didn't know if Cho was it for him, but in a way she hoped for it – she could trust Cho with his heart. They would each find the person they were meant to be with and that would be that.
Later that year, her heart was broken by him – not by him refusing her, but by him suddenly disappearing. That was the worst time of her life, knowing that he might have been lost forever. It wasn't love . . . at least, not the passionate love that she dreamt of, though perhaps it was a sort of love that made her angst so. Her luck held out and his did too and he found his way back, although he seemed curiously broken. That was when she knew without a doubt what she had to do. It had been just a crush, thank all the gods, but she knew what he needed more than anything else.
She swore to herself that she'd be the best friend that he'd ever have.
Viktor, she thought, was perhaps the best boyfriend she could have. He was a perfect gentleman. He liked her and wasn't afraid to say so. He thought she was pretty and had said that to her face. That was one of her most precious memories. It still made her blush to think of it. She had spent hours getting ready, fixing her hair and making sure that everything was as perfect as it could be. She didn't know how well everything had turned out until she met him. His eyes had widened and his jaw had dropped – and then he said those words that she would always remember, that she was beautiful.
No one else had bothered to tell her that she was pretty, not even her two best friends.
Viktor was very good for her. He was generous with his compliments and what was more, he meant every single one. She was used to being praised for her grades or being told she was smart, but her looks had always been ignored. It wasn't the same with Viktor. He thought she was lovely and charming and told her so every time. She liked hearing those words; they made her feel good. They made her feel like a girl, like nothing else did. He was very good for her self-esteem. She had thought of herself as a rather plain girl, nothing really there to look at, especially as her best friends persisted at looking at other girls though she was the girl they saw the most. The fact that Viktor thought she was beautiful and he had certainly had his choice of witches – that was incredibly powerful to know, that she could be so bewitching to someone. It fed her hopes for the future that she'd one day be seen as a very witchy witch, someone who knew her magic and was sexy too.
He invited her to visit him during the summer and that left her speechless. That could potentially mean so much, that he wanted her to see his land and meet all of his family and friends. At the same time, it made her worry that perhaps everything was going too fast and maybe, just maybe, he was too old for her. He would have to wait three years for her at least and very likely more, as she thought that she rather wanted a career. However, as there were other more pressing things to worry about, she pushed that to the back of her mind and just tried to get through summer.
That was more than enough for her to do. What was bad about this summer wasn't the work – she had that done in two weeks time – or the plans her parents made. It was worrying about Harry and how he was doing that made it so awful. She knew he was the type to blame himself, even though he didn't deserve the guilt. She wondered how could she be a good friend to him if the only way she could offer him comfort was through her letters. She managed to meet him once that summer and spent one, perfect afternoon with him. She hugged him before she left but she still had to leave. She didn't see him again until the end of summer, and he didn't look the same. He looked a bit defeated, a bit worn down, though he grinned that grin she loved so well.
That was when she knew she had to break it off with Viktor. It wouldn't be fair to keep him waiting, while she was busy learning and trying to keep Harry alive. It wasn't fair to hold his heart in her hands, when she cared more for her best friend than she cared for him. She wouldn't want to be shackled to someone who acted more in love with someone else and she believed in that golden rule. Once her decision was made, her problem became how to break up with him. Sending him a letter seemed so insensitive, but she didn't know when she would see it again.
In the end, she put that off too. She answered his each and every letter, though not as promptly as he might have wished. She responded with affection and concern, and without fail, his letters made her smile. He was offered a professional Quidditch position; she eagerly wrote back that she knew he would excel. He was looking for a house to purchase and she wrote him to wish him luck. However, she mostly concentrated on her studies and helping Harry to live. She made sure to be there each time he needed to speak, each time he needed to be able to voice all his fears so that he could simply breathe. It was a very scary year.
Then one day, in the middle of December, a letter came from her boyfriend telling her that he would be there for a visit next week. She waited for him on that appointed day at that appointed spot – and one glance at him was all it took. She had to tell him her decision and she had to tell him now.
He took the news with less grace than was comfortable. He was angry, of that there was no doubt. He didn't scream; he didn't shout. He most definitely did not hit her. Yet there was a rage that shook his entire frame. He asked for an explanation. She gave it to him, in trembling words, telling him that the age difference was too much. She told him that it wasn't fair to make him wait. He responded that he was willing to wait forever. That was when it could no longer be avoided. She looked him in the eye and told him that she couldn't promise him that. He understood what she meant and left.
What he didn't know was that her heart was broken. She loved him, in her own fashion, and if only circumstances had been slightly different, then they would have had that forever that they both wanted. She cried herself to sleep that night and many others. Her friends asked what had happened and she told them the truth, it was over. Ron looked a bit smug and victorious, but refrained from telling her that he told her so. Harry looked a mite sad and told her that he was sorry to hear that. Neither of them understood what she was going through.
She went back to work, with a vengeance, convinced that time would heal her self-inflicted wounds. That was partly true – with time, it didn't hurt as much but she sometimes couldn't stop herself from crying over what might have been. The end of the year rolled around and she went into her annual hysterics. Harry came back alive – she gave whispered thanks for that again and again – but the end of the year meant summer and a time for good byes.
She didn't see him that summer. That was very hard. She kept in touch by writing letters and sent him one every day. For some reason that she didn't quite fathom, it was very important for her to let him know that he wasn't alone and that he'd always have her by his side. She thought he got the point although his letters were not as frequent. Summer crawled by but like all things, it came to an end and she was able to see him for herself, to the relief of her mind.
What was odd about that year was that she started dating Ron. She didn't know what possessed Ron to ask her but she felt she had to agree, that it would be rude and wrong to refuse. She had fun on that first date and she knew he did too for he asked her again. Another date followed the second and before she knew it, they were a couple in the eyes of all at Hogwarts. She liked Ron very much but she didn't love him. She cared for him more than she cared for Viktor, but that was because they were friends. There was something intangible missing from their relationship. They were rarely on the same wavelength and she didn't know how to bridge the void that lay between them. She enjoyed their dates, however – he made her smile and made her laugh. He had a knack at times at getting her to forget her worries. He wasn't the gentleman that Viktor was for he was too selfish for that. Yet there was something comfortable about their relationship – they didn't have to work much to keep it going and it was good to know that they had someone, that they weren't lonely.
Their fifth date was a double, and that was when Harry started dating Ginny. She thought it was sweet but Ron watched with a suspicious, brotherly eye. Since it was Harry dating Ron's precious little sister, Ron eventually accepted their relationship and gave it his blessing. Things got odder after that. It was as if they were one big happy family, who loved to be together. She could feel the fault lines though, both in all four of them being together and in her relationship with Ron too. When Harry was with Ginny, he didn't look at any other witch. When Ron was with her, he usually looked at her and he would say that she was pretty – but sometimes, some awful times, his eye would go wandering. She knew it before she could admit it that she couldn't trust Ron with her heart and so she had always kept that out of the time they spent together. She knew it wasn't going to last but couldn't bring herself to break the news to him at that moment. That was a fault in her, she thought, to put off ending things before they got painful and she resolved not to procrastinate but the words just would not come.
It was an evening, around the beginning of March, when she walked into the common room to find Ron and Ginny shouting at each other. He was yelling that he couldn't believe she broke his best friend's heart. She was screaming that Harry never loved her to begin with. Hermione left them behind to race upstairs, to see how Harry was doing. He wasn't in his room or anywhere she looked. She didn't know what she should do. He didn't make an appearance till the next day. Harry looked resigned to being broken.
Later that afternoon, she confessed her heartbreak of the previous year. She did her best to reassure him that it would get better. She told him and she thought he believed her that eventually it wouldn't hurt as much and one day, not as far away as he might think, the pain would be completely gone. She reassured him that she would be there for him whenever he needed her. He smiled faintly at her and thanked her. The rest of that year was difficult to get through. Their family was broken, albeit not by her, and everyone knew it. Some of their peers snickered behind their backs, but they made it through the year – all of them safe and alive but one of them was not yet whole.
Summer that year was like the calm before the storm. She wrote Harry often again, and wrote to Ron on occasion when she remembered. She knew she had to tell Ron that it was over but she never got around to doing so. She was angry at Ginny then, not only for breaking Harry's heart but for making it more difficult for her to break it off with Ron too. Their group – painfully no longer a family – might not survive another blow, not so soon after that last one. Summer ended without any of them seeing each other. To her surprise, their relationship ended during that time without anyone marking its passing. When she saw Ron again at the train platform, she felt nothing and knew he did as well. They laughed nervously and then shook hands. He said it was over; she agreed. She wished him luck; he told her that he wanted to still be friends.
It was very nice being single. More often, she had a date for Hogsmeade weekends. Sometimes she went without so she could spend more time with her best friends, but it was nice to be pursued. It was good for her to know that other boys thought she was pretty. It helped her self-image to know that some wizards actually wanted to spend time with her. She was almost glad that she had broken it off with Viktor. Tying herself down back then wouldn't have been a good idea, she knew now, but she regretted all those lonely, tear-filled nights.
One afternoon, in November, Harry walked in while she was studying in the common room. It was empty that day as everyone but the first and second years were in town, and even the younger students were outside enjoying the still pleasant weather.
"Can I sit here?" he asked, gesturing to the seat next to her.
"Go ahead," she smiled. He sat down and drew out his books. She continued to study but he didn't start. Wondering if there was anything wrong or if perhaps he just wanted to talk, she asked, "Is something the matter?"
"No." He opened a textbook but didn't bother to look at the page. "I like being together," he suddenly blurted out.
"I like being together too. I like spending time with you." She wanted to wince. That was so obvious as they were friends.
"Why not me?"
"What?" she asked stupidly. That wasn't a question she expected to hear out of his mouth. She thought he'd ask "Why me?" – for why would it be Harry who had everything happen to him.
"Why not me? Why isn't it ever me?"
"I don't understand what you're asking, Harry."
He took a deep breath before continuing. "It seems to me that you're willing to date every wizard at this school but me."
She blushed and said without thinking, "I didn't think you were interested."
He smiled then like she hadn't seen him smile for years. It was that smile that she fancied made her love him. She could see the scrawny boy she once knew in that grin. "Who wouldn't be interested?"
"Well, first you and Cho . . . and then there was that time with Ginny
. . . and I just didn't . . . well, I didn't have any reason to think that
you would . . ."
He clasped her hands in his. "Hermione, you're wonderful. And I know I can be slow and I can be the last to know these things but . . ."
"I thought it was just a crush."
"Fourth year, I couldn't stop thinking of you. But you didn't think that way about me and you were always staring at Cho and so I thought – I decided it was just a crush, just a passing fancy and—"
"What do you think now?"
"I don't know," she stammered.
"Are you willing to find out?"
She bit her lip. She remembered how much it hurt to realize that a relationship wasn't going to work. She remembered how painful it was to end something that had become a part of you. She thought it would be best for her to say no, that she had better things to focus on, when it hit her – she hadn't found anyone or anything that was better than the wizard in front of her.
"Yes?" he repeated in surprise.
"Yes. And I . . . I think I love you."
He leaned forward, until his forehead was touching hers. "For me, there's no doubt. I know I'll love you forever." Then he sealed that promise with a kiss.
In the end, she decided it wasn't a mere crush, that it was actually love.
She decided to toss out all her preconceptions and shred all her assumptions about life. If you can't define a person and place them in a box, then there's no way you can do that with a relationship – which consists of two people but one. She learned this fact in the hardest of ways and resolved to take each day as it came. She would try to love each day and she knew she would love him more as time passed. Yet though she had grown, some things had not changed. She knew what he still needed, more than anything else in the world – but this time –
She swore to him that she'd be the best friend that he'd ever have.
He smiled at her and said she always had been – and always will.
Saying that was going the long way around for a kiss – but the wait
made the kiss all the more dear.
Author's notes: This is another one of my experiments -- the lack of dialogue is quite intentional though I'm not sure exactly if it works. I'd love to know what you thought of this one so please leave a review.
Animagus-Steph -- I just wanted to thank you for your review. You're right that I really do appreciate honest reviews and I'm very glad you left one. I winced when I saw the Justin error and corrected it straight off. One point though is that I never used 'err' to stutter -- I make sure to use three r's to avoid confusion. As for that je ne sais quoi that was missing -- perhaps what was missing was more substance? As that fic was made to be fluffy and not very deep at all. But once again, thanks for leaving that review!