She leaves the library feeling melancholic but excited. The gloomy mood spurred on from the discussion about her parents won't leave her alone, yet she still, somewhat contradictorily, feels abuzz after the meeting.
And she knows why.
Despite her teenage fascination with him, she has never really seen him as a potential boyfriend. He has always been too flashy, too risky, too fast-paced. Even over the recent years, as they grew into close friends, she didn't expect anything to happen. Respect for him has always been there, as has mild interest and attraction, but she has always known it to be nothing more than a trivial musing of possibility and left it be. She loved Ron, after all, back then, and her feelings for him swamped her awareness of Fred by a hundredfold.
Now, however… Now that she is no longer infatuated with Ron, those feelings have had the space to blossom or wilt on their – and Fred's – own merit. They might not yet be at full bloom, but the rosebud has almost finished growing, and she knows that it won't take long for the petals to start unfurling if they continue on as they have been.
She only needs to decide whether she wants to nurture it, giving it the sunlight and nutrients it needs to flourish, or pluck it out at the roots while it still dwells more in the realm of the potential than of actuality.
The image of Fred's face staring at her in impressed awe forces itself to the forefront of her mind, bringing an unwitting fond smile to her face. He called me a natural. He said it was like I was born to do it, once I'd gotten past my inhibitions. He let me explain Camus and absurdity and dualism to him and then discussed it all with me.
It might be too late for her to weed out the flower.
Instead of filling her with dread, however, that just elevates her mood even higher, and she can't stop smiling as she spends the rest of the afternoon running errands. She's still beaming when she finally returns home, stepping through the front door of Grimmauld Place with groceries in hand.
Harry isn't due home for another hour, and Teddy is spending the night with his grandmother, so she fiddles around with the radio until she finds her favourite station. The deep bass voice fills the kitchen as she starts to unpack her shopping bags. "Down hills and over gullies, through hearts and up cliffs, that's how the thestrals run. And so the thestrals run."
"That doesn't even make sense. How do thestrals run 'through hearts'?"
Recoiling, Hermione turns and grabs for her wand, dropping the cabbage on the bench in her haste. "Harry?"
"Wow," he says, mirth dancing in his vivid green eyes. "And people say I overreact."
"After everything we've been through, you're seriously going to say that it's an overreaction to not like being snuck up on?"
At least he manages to look contrite at that. "Sorry. I honestly thought you knew I was home." Gesturing to the remaining groceries, he adds, "Do you want some help with that?"
"Please." As they settle into unpacking together, she asks, "I thought you were going over to Caitlin's after work."
He hesitates. "I was, but we decided to postpone until next week. We, er, both have a lot of work to do tonight."
The adrenaline still pumping through her blood after the scare pushes her forward. "Harry, I really think we need to talk about Caitlin. She… She seems much more invested in your relationship than you are. I'm afraid one – or both – of you are going to get hurt."
Harry's face twitches as his fist tightens around a bag of mushrooms. "And what about you and Fred?" he deflects. "I've seen the way you look at him. Don't pretend there isn't anything there."
"Alright," she says, rising to meet the challenge head-on. It still feels too fragile to talk about, as if exposing it to public scrutiny might shatter its glass veneer, but if that's what it takes, then that's what it takes. "What do you want to know? We're friends. We've been spending a lot of time together lately. I fancy him. I doubt anything will ever come of it – there's Ron to consider, and the twins have always treated both of us like extra siblings – but I don't deny that I like him."
"Oh." He hesitates, eyes wide, and she can tell that he doesn't know what to do with that onslaught of information. "Well, for what it's worth, I think you're wrong about the twins. I don't think Fred has ever seen you as a sister. More like a sometimes-annoying girl with the potential to either be a foil or a comrade."
"Thanks, but that doesn't mean he sees me as anything other than a friend. And that's okay," she adds continues before he can offer her any false platitudes. "Feelings don't lose their value just because they're not reciprocated. If he never returns my interest, it might hurt, but I won't regret fancying him."
"Because we're human," he says, "and love is both our greatest weapon and our greatest defence."
"Yes." Sometimes, he sounds so like Dumbledore that it hurts. The wise old wizard was as flawed as they come, but the knowledge that he was fallible doesn't take away the pain of his passing. "Dumbledore would have been proud of you, Harry."
She expects him to be embarrassed, maybe even flattered, but his expression darkens. "I'm not so sure he would be. I know things aren't right with Caitlin. I like her, and being with her helps, but I can't be anything more at the moment. Not with anyone. Even just thinking about it makes me feel like I need to throw up. I feel horrible about it, because I know she wants more, but I just can't."
"Okay," Hermione replies, drawing the word out to buy herself more time. Sighing, she casts a quick spell so that the rest of the groceries will sort themselves out on their own. She prefers to do it manually, relishing in the reminder of shopping trips with her parents when she was little, but she can tell that the conversation is going to require her full attention.
"Does that make me a bad person?"
"Harry, no; don't you dare let me hear you thinking that way again. Have you been honest to Caitlin about how you feel?"
"Then she is an adult who can make her own decisions about whether or not what you're offering her is enough. You need to be aware that she is more invested in this than you are so you don't lead her on, but if she's agreeing to this as well – "
"She is," he interrupts quickly, eagerly, as if her reassurance is a lifejacket that he's desperate to wrap himself in.
" – it's because she's making an informed decision. If it gets too much for her, she won't hesitate to walk away." She's like Ginny like that, she thinks, but she knows that pointing that out will just make things worse.
Oblivious as always, Harry smiles in relief. "Thank you. But when I said we postponed our date so we could get some work done, I wasn't entirely lying… Do you want to work together in the library until Andromeda brings Teddy back?"
"It depends. Will I need to hound you to keep on track like I did at Hogwarts?"
When he laughs and assures her that he can keep himself motivated these days, she knows that she has succeeded in giving him another reprieve from the demons that haunt him. She can only hope that, one day, he will find the power to vanquish them for good.
A/N: Writing wizarding lyrics is surprisingly fun.