Harry didn't make it to breakfast on time the next morning. Ron and Hermione sat opposite each other, unsure what to make of their friend's absence. It wasn't that it was particularly unlike Harry to run late in the mornings, but this wasn't any ordinary day. This was the day after he had revealed to Ron that Hermione – once – had feelings for him.
"Was he there when you woke up this morning?" Hermione asked, unable to think about even looking at her breakfast.
Unlike the boy opposite her. Ron's mouth was already stuffed with food, which was why all he could do was shake his head at her question.
Hermione thought about that for a moment. "He's avoiding us," she eventually stated.
"He probably thinks we're about to get together or something," Ron offered. "You probably should have cleared up your feelings for him from the very beginning."
Hermione glared at him. "I'm well aware of my shortcomings, thank you very much, Ronald. And, for your information, I wasn't even aware of my feelings in the beginning. And, to add to that, it's actually a lot harder to be brave with something so personal."
He just smirked. "Look, you don't have to convince me," he said. "Although, you should know, I find it all so amazing because it turns out that I was actually right this whole time."
After the bits of conversation she recalled from the previous night, she needed to be sure about what he was referring. "About what?" she asked.
"You and Harry. I had a feeling there was something going on, and now look; I was totally right."
Hermione's features softened. "I'm sorry about the way we acted, by that way."
"You already said that."
"I know, but I still feel bad about it. I just couldn't handle it, and Harry was kind enough to keep me company. Who knew we would end up in this situation after all of that?"
"I would think a lot of people," Ron pointed out. "I mean, I'm not claiming to be some kind of expert on relationships and love and what not, but even you have to have known you and Harry had some special bond."
"You've even got that ridiculous wavelength going on, where you can just look at each other and properly have an entire conversation. It's annoying."
Hermione had to smile at that.
"So, yeah, I would think not too many people are surprised that you two have finally seen what the rest of us see."
Hermione shook her head. "Isn't it just too simple though? Is this who I am in his story? Just the female best friend who is the romantic interest of the Boy-Who-Lived while he works to save the world from the Dark Lord?"
Ron waited a beat before he responded. "Don't ever downgrade yourself to anything less than you are, Hermione. You have to know that Harry sees you as more than that. I do too. Everyone here. You aren't doing yourself a disservice by feeling what you feel for Harry. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."
Hermione had to admit that she was rather surprised by the boy sitting in front of her. "Honestly, who are you, and what have you done with Ronald Weasley?"
He laughed out loud at that. "It's Lavender's influence," he explained. "She's made me see things a little differently, which sometimes isn't such a bad thing. I mean, don't get me wrong, I fully understand why you and Harry retreated into wherever you two went. Lavender can be quite, umm, in your face, but I'm happy with her. For now, at least. Apparently everybody knows that we're not going to last, but I don't see what's so wrong with being happy. And I want you to be happy too. With Harry. Or with whoever. Just as long as you're happy."
Hermione smiled at him, feeling her heart swell up. "Thank you, Ron."
Ron felt a bit embarrassed. "Now all we need is for that git to show up so you can tell him how wrong you were and we can move on with our lives. It's going to be priceless."
Hermione was about to make a comment when she spotted Lavender headed their way. Hurriedly. Hermione knew no good could come of it.
Lavender slipped in beside Ron, immediately linking an arm with his. "You will never believe what just happened," she began, not even bothering to greet either one of them.
"What?" Ron prompted.
"So I was just in the common room, right? And all of a sudden, Dean and Seamus got into a heated row over, get this, your sister, Ginny," she said, her eyes dancing with excitement.
"What?" It was Hermione this time.
"I'm telling you," Lavender looked at her. "They were about to throw punches, or draw wands, I suppose, when Harry stepped in to stop them. It was a right mess, I'm telling you. When I left, Dean and Seamus were being held apart, and Harry was leading a crying Ginny away from it all. Like, can you imagine? What a start to the week!"
Ron seemed to recover first. "Dean and Seamus?"
The only thing Hermione remembered about what Lavender said was that Harry was with Ginny. They were off somewhere talking, and she was probably crying on his shoulder, and he was probably trying to comfort her. And doing a good job of it as well. And before anyone knew it, they would be happily married with three happy children and happily boring lives.
Hermione had to stop herself. She was being ridiculous. And… jealous? That was the name of the feeling. She was being ridiculously jealous. Harry and Ginny were just talking. That's all it was.
Ron shook his head, still unbelieving. "Dean and Seamus?" he asked again.
Lavender nodded her head. "Dean and Ginny have been fighting for so long. Apparently Seamus stepped in and told her that he could treat her better. I guess the boys found out, and they had a right go at each other."
Ron took a deep breath, trying to process everything. "You said my sister's with Harry right now?"
Lavender was about to nod, but then she spotted the broody wizard enter the Great Hall. "Apparently not anymore."
Both Ron and Hermione's attentions turned towards Harry, who walked straight towards where they were sitting at the Gryffindor table. Without a word, he slipped in beside Hermione; not as close as usual, but close enough for her to feel the heat.
Before Harry reached for a muffin, he said, "Good morning."
Nobody said anything for a few seconds.
Lavender broke the silence. "Did she tell you the full story?" she asked Harry.
Harry's hand stopped just before he took a bite. "Excuse me?"
"Ginny," Lavender prompted.
Hermione was about to get up to leave. The last thing she wanted was to hear Harry talk about how he managed to comfort Ginny, in whatever way she needed. Her mind drifted to unsavoury places, and she was quite ashamed of herself.
"She's fine," Harry said, not answering Lavender's question, and keeping Hermione in her seat. "She's with her friends now," he added. "My place isn't there anyway. It's right here."
Lavender looked a bit mystified, but Ron just put a hand on her arm to stop her from questioning Harry any further. The fact that Harry was actually sitting there was enough for him. Maybe there was hope for his two friends to work things out after all.
Hermione kept her eyes focused on the table in front of her. Harry was sitting beside her. He wasn't trying to avoid her. And he wasn't interested in offering comfort to Ginny. He was sitting right next to her. Merely that fact almost made her smile.
"You should probably check on her though," Harry continued, speaking to Ron. "Having friends around is one thing, but it's family that really counts."
Ron nodded his head. "Do you really think she would talk to me?"
Harry shook his head. "Probably not, but that isn't really the point. It's about knowing that you're there. At least that's what I think. I can't claim to know much about family."
It was Lavender who spoke. "No, you're definitely right, Harry," she said kindly, sensing something unspoken lingering in the air.
That's when Hermione decided to speak. She turned to look at the boy beside her. She took a moment to catch her breath and then the words came out: "Harry, do you think I could talk to you? Outside?"
Despite himself, Harry hesitated. "Umm, I'm kind of having breakfast here, Hermione," he managed to say, wanting to put off this potential conversation.
"Mate," Ron said, looking at Harry. "You want to talk to her. It's important."
Harry swallowed, looking from Ron to Hermione, and then back to Ron. "Okay," he said skeptically, setting down his still untouched muffin.
Hermione started to move first, standing up and stepping away from the table. She waited until Harry was also standing up, before she led the way out of the Great Hall and into an empty corridor.
But it was Harry who spoke first, stopping about a metre away from her. "Look, if you're about to tell me that you and Ron are now together, I really don't want to hear it."
Hermione frowned. "No, that's not what happened, after your revelation yesterday. Thank you for that, by the way."
Harry looked down at the cobbled ground, out of guilt and embarrassment. He felt like he had to explain himself. "He was nagging me," he began. "It just sort of came out. I'm sorry."
"No, it's all right, Harry. Really," she assured him. "Ron and I had a talk. It was good for us to get it all out in the open."
Harry looked at her. "So, you guys… umm?"
"We're not together. And probably will never be."
He frowned. "But…?"
Hermione took a deep breath. "I will admit that, for a while there, I was convinced that he was the one I wanted to be with. It just seemed like the way things were supposed to be, mainly because a girl like me never ends up with the hero of the story."
He frowned. "A girl like you?"
"Book-smart. Somewhat awkward. Bossy. Those character traits don't exactly make a girl noteworthy."
He shook his head. This was something he had to say, no matter how hurt he was: "But there's so much more to you, Hermione. The fact that you don't see it breaks my heart. I know that, for years, Ron and I have overlooked you, and that has nothing to do with you. It's us. It's me.
"That day we saved you from the mountain troll, we should have known it would always be a factor in our relationships. We keep saving one another. That's what we do. And I know that it shouldn't have taken me so long to see you as I see you now, but I've finally come to me senses."
"And so have I."
Harry remained silent, curiosity keeping him from speaking. What did that mean?
"It was never Ron," she finally said. "When I was faced with his knowing of my once feelings, I knew it to be true. The fact that he knew and was able to tell me that he didn't feel the same way had absolutely no effect on me. In fact, I was relieved." She watched his features for any sign of what he was thinking, but he gave nothing away. "I was relieved because it all suddenly made sense to me. And you know how much I need things to make sense."
Harry nodded subconsciously.
"I lied to you," she admitted. "After the kiss, everything I said was a lie. I was acting stupid, and I was scared, and it was all very overwhelming. All of a sudden, you were there, looking at me with this fire burning in your eyes, and I realised that it was everything I had ever wanted.
"And you seemed to want it too. You wanted me, and it was probably the most scared I've ever been, which is saying a lot because we've been through quite a bit, you and me. But you were looking at me so expectantly, and I started to worry about the future again, and that would happen if it all fell apart. So I told you I felt nothing. I said those words, when the truth is, Harry, that I felt everything. Everything."
Harry just blinked.
Unlike the boy standing in front of her, Hermione decided it was a good idea to be direct, and say exactly what she meant. "I don't want to worry about the future anymore. I'm sure of you, Harry. We kissed, and I realised that I didn't just love you; I was in love with you. I am. For years, we've stood side by side, facing all sorts of evil and coming out stronger than ever. But it literally took two Weasley siblings to make me figure out that the thing I'll regret most in my life is not telling you, right now, that it's always been you, Harry. It always will. And I just had to make sure you knew."
The silence between them stretched on for up to a minute, as Harry replayed her words over and over in his head. There were so many things he wanted to say, but nothing seemed to come out.
Hermione waited, watching his face with such intensity.
When Harry finally figured out what to say, it was too late. As soon as he opened his mouth to speak, a group of students rounded the corner, interrupting their moment. The students hovered for a while, oblivious to the profound conversation going on between two of the famous student wizards of Hogwarts.
Harry and Hermione stood awkwardly while they waited, deeming it too rude to walk off. They probably should have, because the following onrush of students from the Hall heading to class made it near impossible to speak when the first bell sounded.
Before Harry was swept away in the crowd, he managed to say: "We'll talk later?"
She could barely reply her weak 'Okay' before he was gone.
Harry was on edge all day. He just couldn't sit still. Later couldn't come fast enough for him. He had to see her; to talk to her.
But they kept missing each other. Their classes dragged on, with them stealing glances at each other, unable to pass words. And, during lunch, Harry was roped into a meeting with Professor Slughorn. He would have to endure afternoon classes to finally reply to her morning revelation.
After class let out, Harry hurriedly made his way to the Gryffindor common room. He didn't find Hermione, which didn't bother him too much. If she wasn't there, then she had to be in the library.
He raced through the castle, avoiding people as best he could in his hurry. He slowed to normal walking speed when he got close to their spot in the library, his heart rate also slowing down. Until it picked up again, merely at the sight of her.
Hermione was seated in her usual, reading some large book that he deemed unimportant in that moment. She looked up when she heard him approach.
Harry set his books down on the table before his eyes settled on her. "Hi," he said, his voice breathy.
"Hey," she said softly.
Harry thought about it for a moment. "Do you want to take a walk?"
Hermione answered by closing her book and rising to her feet. They fell into step beside each other as they exited the library and strolled the corridors in silence.
It wasn't until they were in a courtyard, with the glorious sun shining down on them, that Hermione decided to ask him about it.
"Harry, are we ever going to talk about what I told you this morning?"
He stopped walking and turned to look at her. "I was wondering how long it would take you to say something," he said, slightly amused.
Hermione's cheeks tinged pink. "Well…?"
He took a deep breath. "You told me you're in love with me."
She nodded. "I did."
That old mischief glinted in his eyes. She hadn't seen it in a while. "I should have you know, Hermione; that girls tell me they're in love with me, all the time," he said proudly.
Hermione couldn't stop her glare, which quickly turned into amusement, as he continued.
"It's just a thing that I have to deal with, you know, being Harry Potter and all. I don't even know what it is, but the girls, they just cannot resist me. I have to beat them away with my Firebolt sometimes. It's just sad." He was smiling as he stepped towards her. "Now I'm going to have to tell them, no, no, ladies, not today, never again, because I'm taken."
Hermione's eyes snapped towards him. "What?"
He tilted his head slightly. "What? Weren't you listening?"
She punched his arm. "Seriously."
"It's a good thing you told me you're in love with me, Hermione, because it definitely would have made what I'm about to tell you really awkward."
She waited patiently and expectantly.
He smirked, gearing himself up for the rubbish he was surely about to say. "Your hair looks especially out of control today."
She gasped. "Oh my. You positively are the worst, do you know that?"
"So she repeatedly tells me," he said, shrugging. "You better get used to it."
She met his gaze. "Harry."
"You want me to be direct; I'll be direct, Hermione. I'll say it. I'm in love with you too. Is that what you want to hear?" He paused for her reaction. He received a huge smile but no response. "Is that enough? Because I could have said that I can't imagine a life without you, and I want to spend every minute of every day with you, because you make me the happiest I've ever felt. I also could have said that, sure, now I think about the future, with you. I want to have hopes and dreams, and grow old and be happy with a family with lots of Potter children and their sometimes strict, no fun, but amazingly great mother."
Hermione opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out.
"You said it yourself: let Voldemort come. Together, with Ron, with Dumbledore's army, we'll find a way to defeat him. I believe it because you believe it. Because, when it came down to what I wanted from my life, it didn't matter what it was, as long as it involved you." He stopped and took a small step towards her again. "Those are the things I could have said. But you seem to be happy with 'I'm in love with you too.'"
She pressed her lips together, forcing herself to nod her head. "It'll do," she said softly.
He just smiled.
"So," she said, standing up a bit straighter; "Answer me this: are you ever going to kiss me?"
He raised an eyebrow in her direction, shaking his head. "The girl is so impatient." Then: "People could see."
"I don't care."
He stepped towards her again; close enough to feel the heat of her body and her breath on his neck.
"Just be careful," Hermione felt she had to say, as his right hand touched her cheek, and then her neck. "The last time we did this, I almost melted to the ground."
A smile spread across his lips, his left hand finding her waist, as he leaned in to kiss her. Finally. "Don't worry, Hermione," he whispered, hot breath against her lips; "I'll be sure to hold you up."
A/N: Thank you to everyone who has read, followed, favourited and reviewed. I hope I've done the story justice with this ending.
A continuation of this story exists. Check it out, if you're keen: 'Til The Very End.