Disclaimer: I, by no means, claim to own anything remotely related to the Harry Potter Universe. No copyright infringement intended.
A Step You Can't Take Back
"Say, Hermione, do you think we could talk?"
Hermione Granger took her time looking up from the book she was reading to find her red-headed best friend looking at her expectantly. To Hermione, he looked a bit nervous, as if he wasn't entirely comfortable with whatever he was about to say.
"Sure, Ronald," she said, closing her book and setting it down on the table in front of her.
Ron cringed at her use of his full name before he sat down opposite her and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. For the most part, the Great Hall was quieter than usual. Ron supposed that was probably because majority of the students had already finished with breakfast. He figured it was better that it was emptier; he didn't want just anyone to overhear their conversation.
He cleared his throat. "I know you reckon that I've got the emotional range of a teaspoon, but even I can tell that something's up with Harry."
Hermione's brow furrowed. "You want to talk about Harry?"
Ron tilted his head to the left, clearly gesturing towards a spot further along the Gryffindor table where their mutual best friend was sitting. Hermione hadn't taken it to heart when he chose to sit down by himself. She imagined he had quite a lot to think about.
"I mean, just look at him," Ron said, as if that would clear everything up.
Hermione did look at him. In fact, she spent more time than was deemed normal looking at him, studying him, wanting him. "What about him?"
Ron sighed. "I think that there's something wrong with him," he said, somewhat sadly. "He's barely said a word to anyone in two days and he keeps staring into space like a lost puppy. Do you know if anything happened?"
Hermione pressed her lips together. What could she say? "Well, lots of things have happened to Harry, Ron. It might have to do with something that happened years ago for all we know."
"Is this part of the year significant to him?"
It was almost December. In terms of significance, Hermione was sure that it meant very little to Harry. "No, I don't think so," Hermione replied.
"Then what?" he asked, sounding frustrated. "Seriously, Hermione, look at him."
Hermione didn't need to be told twice. Harry was sitting by himself further along the table, holding his mug of tea right in front of his face, seemingly staring at the ridges of the crockery as if they were trying to tell him a secret. He looked particularly handsome, hair dishevelled with a bewildered expression on his face.
Really, to Hermione, he looked to be in utter disbelief, which she found rather amusing.
"Why are you smiling?" Ron asked.
Hermione's eyes drifted back to Ron's face. "I think you're worried over nothing," she said. "I'll talk to him if you want me to."
"Are you seriously trying to tell me that you, Hermione Granger, haven't noticed the way our best friend has been acting? Seriously?"
She was calm with her response, even if her heart rate started to increase. "Not enough to worry over."
"But you're always worrying about Harry," Ron pointed out, his own face portraying his disbelief. "It's one of the reasons why you and I didn't work out."
That interested her. "Oh really?"
"Not that it's your fault or anything," he added quickly. "I just think, well, that you've always been more concerned about Harry."
Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"Not that I'm complaining. Not really. I used to hate it but now I know that he's always needed you more than I have."
"Look, all I'm saying is that maybe he still needs you, you know? Maybe he'll always need you and he just doesn't know it."
She swallowed. Did he even know what he was saying? "So you do want me to talk to him?"
"Great." He stood up. "Do it now."
Hermione also stood up. She felt a rush of something unknown as she turned her gaze on Harry. It was trepidation, maybe, and a bit of excitement. She and Harry hadn't actually spoken in two days; the two days that Ron noticed he barely spoke to anyone.
She was cautious as she made her way towards him. He'd asked for some time to process what she'd told him and she was willingly giving it. Only, she missed him quite terribly. She just craved his company, perhaps more than she craved being held in his arms.
"Harry, do you think we could talk?" she asked, coming to stand over him.
It took quite some time for him to look away from his very interesting mug of tea. He looked at her, unseeing for a moment, and then he grinned at her.
That famous grin.
Hermione felt her knees wobble. How was it that one look from him could render her so entirely lost?
Without a word, Harry stood up and led the way out of the Great Hall. He led them down several corridors until he found what he was looking for. There was a moment that Hermione hesitated before she followed him into the empty classroom. She promised she wouldn't push him and she was worried that this would look like she was.
Harry closed the door behind her, locking it like they were used to doing at this point. These were stolen moments for them, now that they were… whatever they were.
"You're starting to worry Ron," Hermione said, unable to meet his gaze.
Harry said nothing.
"You could at least come up with something to placate his prying," she offered. "I mean, he came to me of all people asking about you."
"Well, who else would he ask?" he asked, surprising her by speaking.
"Out of everybody in this world, Hermione; who would anyone look to if there was something up with me?"
She regarded him for a moment. It was the truth. Even though nobody knew of the extent of their, well, relationship; they were still the closest of friends. "That's not the point," she finally said.
"I'm sorry if I'm not reacting to what you told me the way you want me to," he said, stepping forward and using his one index finger to lift her chin. He wanted to see her eyes. "I'm a little shocked," he admitted.
"Are you really?"
He met her gaze. "No, not really."
"Then you should probably wipe that look of disbelief off your face," she said softly, portraying more calmness that she felt. There was always some sort of electric charge whenever he touched her.
"Disbelief? This isn't a look of disbelief, Hermione," he let her know, stepping even closer to her. "It's a look of wonder."
Hermione didn't bother to hide her blush. He'd seen it enough times. "But you haven't said anything. Are you planning to, any time soon?"
Harry stepped back and dropped his hand. "You said you wouldn't rush me. You said that you didn't expect anything back."
"And I don't," she reiterated. "I suppose it's just nice knowing that you're thinking about it."
"It's all I've been thinking about," he admitted. "You and your words. And your hands."
Hermione only blushed even more.
Harry grinned. "Clearly, I'm not hiding it very well though. I mean, even Ron is noticing."
"That's when you know," she said, smiling up at him.
Harry stepped back towards her, close enough to breathe her in. "So, you know, while I'm doing this whole processing thing, does it mean that I can't kiss you?"
Like he even had to ask.
Hermione lifted her right hand to his hair and pulled his head down so their lips could meet. As with every time they kissed lately, Hermione lost her ability to think clearly. It was just that he was so intoxicating, his smell and his taste, that her thoughts completely escaped her.
Which was why she'd ended up saying what she'd said in the first place.
And when Harry's hands started to roam over her body, pulling her closer to him; the dreadful words slipped out yet again. "I love you."
Harry froze, as he had the first time, and he pulled away from her. "Hermione," he whispered, his eyes closing.
"I'm sorry," she said, looking down at the floor and covering her mouth with her fingers. "It just comes out. I can't help it."
He took a deep breath and stepped back. "I should go. I have to get ready for Quidditch practice."
"It's okay, Hermione," he said, dipping in and kissing her cheek. "I'll see you later, okay?"
She watched him leave the classroom and her heart twisted rather painfully. She told herself she would be patient. She had to be. She didn't have to be his best friend to know that Harry Potter was awful with emotions.
But he was bloody brilliant at everything else.
Especially the whole kissing thing.
Hermione had to admit that she'd always expected him to be good at it, but it was always a pleasant surprise whenever he turned her into a grinning fool just by using his mouth. It was more surprising than the fact that Hermione Granger was the one he wanted to kiss.
Sometimes, she couldn't quite believe it. She even embarrassed herself by how often she thought about their illicit liaisons in various empty classrooms. It kept her up late at night.
Always under the radar.
Hermione worried that Harry didn't want anyone to know about their changed relationship because he wasn't sure about her, or about them. She wouldn't dare allow herself to think that he was embarrassed. She would never survive if that were true.
Hermione left the classroom several minutes later and made her way back to the Great Hall. She didn't retake her seat though. Instead, she retrieved her book and made her way back to Gryffindor Tower. She walked slowly, even strolled down the corridors. As usual, she was thinking about her relationship with Harry.
Was it even a relationship?
He'd given her no indication that he wanted more and now Hermione was forcing the issue. She'd balked at her own admission, just moments after it'd slipped out the first time. Harry's reaction was just as worse, if not more. Hermione didn't think that she would be able to forget the look of utter horror on his face. He'd called it surprise, but she knew. Oh, she knew.
Hermione didn't think it had much to do with the fact that she was the one telling him she loved him, but more to do with the fact that anyone was telling him that they loved him. She didn't think that anyone had ever actually said the words to him before.
Which was why she had to be patient with him, because even she was afraid of the depth of her feelings for him. She could only imagine what he was going through.
Hermione absently said the password to the Fat Lady, and the portrait swung open. She was surprised when Ron came tumbling through, closely followed by the one and only Harry James Potter. He looked especially fetching in his Quidditch practice robes and she had to force herself not to push him up against a wall and have her wicked way with him.
"Hey, Hermione," Ron said. "Are you coming to watch us practice?"
Hermione glanced at Harry, who couldn't meet her gaze. "I've got quite a bit of homework to catch up on," she said softly, blatantly lying. "Do you think the two of you can manage not to kill yourselves without me?"
"It'll be tough," Ron said, grinning. "But I'll keep an eye on him for you."
Hermione managed to look at Ron. "I don't really care," she said. "If he's so intent on pulling crazy stunts, then he deserves whatever he gets."
Harry looked at her then, the sudden hurt very clear in his eyes. "You don't care?" he asked quietly.
Hermione opened her mouth to speak but quickly closed it. What could she even say at this point?
Ron looked at Harry. "Come on, mate, you know she's kidding, and we've got to go."
Harry kept his eyes on Hermione, searching her face for something, anything. Was she mad at him? That was the last thing he wanted.
She was the only thing he wanted.
Ron grabbed a hold of Harry's sleeve and tugged him along. "See you later, Hermione."
Harry continued to stare at her as he was led away from the portrait hole. He didn't look away until she was completely out of sight. He felt stricken, like the world was about to implode. He stopped walking quite abruptly and shrugged Ron's hand off.
"You go on," he said to Ron. "I think I forgot something." He didn't wait for a response as he ran back up the corridor. He almost stumbled out of relief that Hermione was still standing there, looking about as tormented as he felt. He sprinted straight towards her.
When she noticed him, she froze. She braced herself for the impact, because he didn't look like he was going to be able to stop running before he reached her. "Harry!" she exclaimed, when he made contact, practically winding her.
Harry looked worryingly serious as he pushed her up against the wall and gave her a bruising kiss, suddenly not caring if anyone saw them. It was a testament to her will, that she was even able to remain upright.
When Harry pulled away, his eyes were dark with... something. She didn't know what. "You don't get to say that you don't care," he said, practically growling.
"Okay," she whispered, her hands on his upper arms, bracing herself.
He kissed her again, making her moan into his mouth. She was thinking the famous three words even as her brain stopped functioning. If he didn't stop kissing her like this, she'd probably reveal every secret she ever had to him.
He pulled away again and sucked in as much air as he could. "Babe, I've got to go."
She hung onto his shoulders. "Okay."
He pecked her lips one more time, lingering for a moment. "I care about you, Hermione. More than anyone in this world. I just… just don't tell me that you don't care."
"I'll see you after practice."
And then he was going and Hermione watched him go. It felt oddly like watching her heart walking away from her. She wondered if the boy even knew just how important he was to her.
It took her another minute to recover enough to make her way through the portrait hole and up to her bedroom, keen to lie down on her bed. She bypassed curious eyes because she was sure she looked rather dazed. Harry Potter had a habit of leaving her utterly bemused.
Bless that boy and his wanton ways.
Hermione couldn't quite pinpoint when her feelings towards Harry started to change. She'd always loved him in some way, the way a best friend loves another, or the way a sister loves a brother. And then, just like that, everything changed.
If someone were to hold a wand to her throat and demand an answer; she would probably pick the moment that Harry convinced her to go flying with him. How he'd managed such a feat, she'd never know, but she ended up agreeing. It was innocent and thoughtful and practically perfect. Purely platonic as well.
But then Hermione had seen his joy right up close. The boy loved to fly, and she hadn't really understood how much until she was right up there with him, close enough to experience his elation with him.
In a way, it reminded her of their escapades at the end of their third year. Except, this time, nobody's life was on the line and she was finally able to marvel at the sound of his uninhibited laughter. She couldn't remember a time he'd sounded so carefree, so wonderfully happy. It amazed her that he could be that way around her.
She'd told him as much when they finally touched down on the ground again and Harry had dropped his head in embarrassment. And when he'd spoken, something happened to her; something unexplainable, because she'd never experienced it before.
"It's because it's you, Hermione. I can be this way, only when I'm with you."
At the time, Hermione noted that he had said cute and adorable things like that many times, but nothing had made her heart lurch quite like hearing him say those words.
It took her a few days to work through whatever she was feeling. Harry didn't help any by remaining his usual attentive self and asking questions of her changed attitude towards him.
And then her birthday happened.
Bad things tend to happen when too many Gryffindors and Firewhiskey mix together. She got a headache just thinking about it. To this day, she still couldn't remember who the genius was that thought playing 'Spin the Bottle' while half-drunk would be a good idea.
Definitely bad. Bad bad bad.
It went from bad to worse, really, when Harry and Hermione were sent to the boys' seventh year dorm, and the only way to escape was to kiss each other.
Harry had tried everything he could possibly think of not to kiss Hermione. He vehemently refused to go anywhere near her. He'd even tried to fly out of the window, his desire to stay as far away from her ruling his actions. Hermione didn't admit to him then just how much it hurt, as if merely the thought of her would send him running towards a Hungarian Horntail.
Eventually, their friends gave up on goading them and let them out of the dorm but both parties remained noticeably subdued as the evening continued on. Slowly, people started to pass out, or headed to bed until Hermione found herself alone with Harry. Thinking back, Hermione knew that the only reason she'd stayed as long as she did was because she had a question for the famous wizard.
From her position on the floor closest to the fireplace, she started to speak. "Was it really so unthinkable, Harry, having to kiss me?"
He looked at her as if she'd just asked the most preposterous question. "You know that's not true, Hermione," he said, crawling towards her from his own position on the floor. It was an innocent enough move but it suddenly felt incredibly foreboding to her.
"Do I?" she asked, sounding more hurt than she'd intended. He even flinched. "I mean, you all but nearly plunged to your death to avoid kissing me. What am I supposed to think about that? Do you find me repulsive or something?"
He came to a stop just at her side and leaned back on his heels. He was almost towering over her. "Hermione," he said softly. "That's not it at all."
"Then what? Why?"
He took a deep, calming breath. "I didn't want it to happen like that."
She looked at him, suddenly very confused. "What?"
"I didn't want it to happen like that," he repeated.
"What?" she repeated as well, blinking her confusion.
"Our first kiss," he admitted. "I wanted it to be special, just between the two of us. Nobody should have to pressure us into it, and I want to be able to enjoy it without having our friends making crude comments afterwards."
Hermione just stared at him, unable to speak. Did he just say…?
And then Harry took hold of her upper arms and brought her up to kneel in front of him. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Harry just stared at her, the lights of the dying fire reflecting off her perfect face. He reached out to touch her cheek, his fingers featherlight and unassuming.
"The thought of kissing you isn't unthinkable, Hermione," he said softly. "Sometimes it's all I can think about… And I don't find you at all repulsive. I think you're beautiful."
Cue the Granger blush. She wanted to drop her head to hide it but his eyes held hers captive.
"I wanted it to be like this," he whispered before he leaned in.
Now, Hermione Granger had been kissed before. Even thoroughly. But nothing, nothing came remotely close to what it felt like to be kissed by Harry Potter. It was an entire experience all on its own, taking her on an unstoppable roller-coaster that didn't seem to have a seatbelt.
It was the kind of kiss that could only happen in the dark; something the light couldn't touch.
Hermione was almost surprised when he pulled away, grinning like a complete fool.
"Wow," he breathed.
Hermione just nodded, feeling quite dazed.
She nodded again, absently reaching for him.
And that was that. They hadn't really spoken about it but they mutually agreed to keep whatever was happening between them quiet. It was exciting, really, stealing kisses in empty corridors and making plans to meet in abandoned classrooms. It was thrilling and unabashedly exhilarating; something that they both definitely deserved after everything they'd gone through to win the War.
For weeks, now months, Harry and Hermione discovered each other in ways they'd never thought they would: talking, touching and feeling.
And now she was in love with him.
Or always had been.
Hermione was still thinking about their many stolen moments when there was a tapping at her bedroom window. She opened her eyes to see Harry hovering on his Firebolt, looking totally mischievous.
Hermione was up and off her bed in an instant, rushing to open the window and let him in. Screw her Head Girl conscience when there was a boy at her window who looked like that.
Harry entered the room with surprising grace, discarded his broom rather dramatically and then swept her up in his arms, his lips immediately seeking hers. It was something out of a Telenovela, really, that Hermione might have submitted to him right then and there, if he'd bothered to ask.
"Not that you claim to care or anything, but I didn't die," Harry said when he pulled away, already breathless. "Thought I would just let you know." He made a move to leave but Hermione stopped him, fisting the front of his robes in her right hand.
"Umm, where do you think you're going?"
He looked down at her hand that held onto him so fiercely. "Umm, to shower and change," he said. "I'm rather sweaty, if you hadn't noticed."
This time, Harry blushed. "You like it, don't you?"
Harry felt a shock run up his spine, making him shiver. "You want me to stay, don't you?"
He grinned. "Who are you?"
"You tell me."
He raised an eyebrow. "Harry Potter's girlfriend?"
Her eyes widened. He'd never mentioned anything of the sort before. "Harry?"
"If that's what you want, of course," he added quickly. "Do you? I mean, is that okay? Do you want to be my girlfriend?"
She blinked. "Your secret girlfriend?"
He remained silent.
Hermione sighed. Did this count as pushing him? Outing their relationship would be a big step and, even as she thought about it, she wasn't ready for it either. There would be questions and all sorts of curious looks. No, she didn't want that at all. "Yes," she eventually said.
He stared at her, the sides of his mouth threatening to turn upwards. "Yes?"
"I do want to be your girlfriend, Harry Potter."
He let out a relieved breath. "For a second there, I thought you were going to say no."
She tugged on his robes, bringing him closer. "And why would I do something as daft as that?" she asked.
"Well, you have been known to do some questionable things in the past," he pointed out.
"Like letting you kiss me that first time?"
He smiled at the memory. "You did have a considerable amount of alcohol in your system. Any regrets?"
His face fell. "You do?"
Hermione released his robes and cupped his face with both her hands. "Don't look so distraught. It's nothing bad."
"But it is a regret," he countered, placing his hands over both of hers. "What is it?"
"You're really worried, aren't you?"
"I have half a mind to locate a time turner and go back and fix whatever I must have messed up," he admitted. "What is it? Tell me."
"I told you, it's nothing. Really."
"I suppose it's to do with my own recollection of it all. I wish I'd paid more attention. It's surprisingly difficult for me to focus when you're kissing me."
"I know," he said, smirking. "You literally turn to putty in my arms. Makes me feel so powerful."
"You're such a boy."
"And don't you know it."
Hermione just looked at him, her eyes betraying her deep affection for him.
Harry noticed and he suddenly became very uncomfortable. He removed her hands from his face and held them against his chest. "I should go," he said. "Ron is probably wondering where I am."
She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry."
"Stop apologising, Hermione," he said seriously. "You're entitled to feel what you feel, though I'll never understand why."
"Why?" She was about to break into a rant about how it was really quite easy to love him, when he placed his index finger over her lips, stopping her.
"And I'm entitled to feel what I feel as well," he said, quieting her. "Right?"
She merely nodded.
"Now, I really should go," he said, dropping his hands. "Come down to the common room in a bit, will you? I can already feel myself starting to miss you."
She fought the urge to throw her arms around him and he definitely noticed.
He smirked at her. "Seriously, Hermione, now that you're my girlfriend; you never have to keep your hands to yourself. By all means, I beseech you, touch all you want."
Hermione laughed lightly, too embarrassed to speak.
Harry wrapped his own arms around her shoulders, holding her close against him. "I'm still processing," he whispered to her. "I'm working on it, 'Mione. You're scaring me. I want to do right by you and I'm still not sure how to do that. Just don't give up on me."
Hermione hugged his waist tight enough to make him let out an unmanly squeak, which made them both laugh.
"I'll see you later," Harry said, releasing her. He placed a kiss against her forehead before he stepped away from her. "Girlfriend."
Hermione watched him retrieve his broom and then make his way back out the window. Once he was safely hovering, he beckoned her over. He reached for her hand and pulled her towards him until she was half hanging out of the window.
"I've got you," he said, smiling at her. "I just wanted to tell you one more thing."
She forced herself not to look down. "And what's that, Mr Potter?"
He met her gaze, green eyes piercing brown ones. "I have never been happier than I am when I'm with you, Hermione," he said softly, seriously.
"I love you, Harry." It slipped out again but she wasn't even sorry. Not this time. He had to know the truth of her feelings.
Harry swallowed, the weight of the word descending on him. "I know, and I'm sorry."
Before Hermione could question him, he was gone, shooting away at a dangerous speed. She watched him disappear around the Tower, on his way back to the Quidditch pitch. Truthfully, they couldn't keep avoiding the conversation they so needed to have for much longer.
If he was afraid of her love, then he had to tell her. And if he was convinced he was undeserving of her love, then she had to tell him just why he was wrong.
Hermione tried to get some work done but she just couldn't manage it. All she could think about was the darkness that loomed over his face when she mentioned the word 'love.' Why was he so scared of it?
She waited just over half an hour before she headed down to the common room, rather eager to see him. It should have been more than enough time because he was normally quick with his showers, but Hermione found neither of her boys present.
Hiding her disappointment, she moved to sit down on the couch directly opposite the fireplace. Her feet were directly on the spot where they had shared their first of many kisses.
Hermione felt odd, sitting there without Harry. In the common room, he was such a part of her that she was practically invisible when he wasn't around. She hadn't yet decided if that was a good or a bad thing.
Hermione sat for close to ten minutes, staring into the fire, before Ginny came to sit down next to her, her eyes betraying her concern over something. She was practically begging Hermione to ask the question.
"What's up, Gin?" Hermione eventually asked, giving in.
"I'm worried about Harry."
Hermione groaned internally. Not Ginny too? Why was Harry Potter so easy to read sometimes? "What about Harry?" Hermione asked.
"Have you noticed something up with him lately? I mean, our practice today was literally the quietest one ever. He barely said a thing, and he was so distracted. Do you know what's going on?"
Of course she did. She was his best friend. "No, I don't," she lied. "Maybe he's just stressed about tomorrow's match?" she offered.
"It's Ravenclaw, Hermione," Ginny dismissed that notion. "Harry would win the game for us with one arm tied behind his back and his eyes blindfolded."
Hermione looked at the redhead quite pointedly. "Are you only expressing worry over him because you don't want to lose tomorrow?"
Ginny leaned back, clearly affronted. "You know, Hermione, I'm rather insulted by that question. You're not the only one who loves him, you know?"
Hermione sighed. "I know that. I'm sorry."
Ginny eyed her friend. "You do know what's going on with him, don't you?"
She blinked. "Umm, I do, yes."
"Can you tell me?"
"I can't, no."
Ginny nodded her understanding. "But he's okay, right? Nothing too serious?"
That was a loaded question. "I hope not."
"Well, if anyone can help him through it, you can," Ginny said happily, the concern fleeing from her face and being replaced by something wistful.
Hermione took hold of one of Ginny's hands. "Gin, can I ask you a serious question?"
The redhead stilled. "Of course."
She took a deep breath. "When you were dating Harry, did he, umm, ever tell you that he loved you?"
Ginny frowned for a moment. "We weren't together long enough for that," she eventually said. "And I don't think things ever went that deep between us anyway."
"Did you love him that way?"
"Not that way, no. We ended before any of that could happen. But I did love him in a way, yes. I think the War confused everything for us. What I felt was tied to the fact that I just didn't want him to die… I don't know if that makes any sense."
Hermione was quiet as she thought about it.
"Why are you asking?" Ginny had to ask.
Hermione wasn't sure how much she wanted to reveal, and she definitely didn't want anyone to know of her involvement in the famous Harry Potter's sudden sullenness. "I think he's experiencing a conflict of emotions," she finally said.
"About a girl?"
Hermione laughed lightly. "What girl?"
Ginny raised and then dropped her shoulders. "He is Harry Potter, you know? I might not be with him anymore, but even I can appreciate that he's rather nice to look at."
Hermione felt something possessive threaten to take hold of her. It wouldn't do to stand up and scream to all those around that Harry Potter was hers, now would it?
"Anyway," Ginny said, releasing Hermione's hand. "I promised I would help Luna with some research for The Quibbler. Would you like to help us? Please." She was practically pleading.
Hermione smiled sympathetically. "I think I'm just going to wait for Harry," she said. "And Ron," she added as an afterthought. No use drawing unnecessary attention.
"You're going to be waiting a while then."
"They headed down to Hagrid's after practice," Ginny informed the older witch. "Harry practically dragged Ron there. Looked like he wanted nothing to do with coming back to the Castle."
Hermione tried her best to hide her hurt but Ginny must have noticed something in her eyes because she was quickly backtracking.
"But it was probably nothing. They've probably got some prank planned or something," she offered. "I'm sure we'll hear all about it later."
Hermione nodded dumbly.
Ginny rose to her feet and unceremoniously pulled Hermione to hers as well. "Come on. Let's go see what crazy new creature Luna has discovered."
Hermione barely had it in her to protest, which was the only reason that she allowed Ginny to lead her out of the common room. Harry was avoiding her. That much she knew. She had scared him away.
Was this it then? Didn't he want to be with her anymore? Why wouldn't he just talk to her about his worries? Really, she'd never wanted to be this kind of girl, and yet here she was. How exactly had Hermione Granger allowed a boy to dictate her thoughts?
But then again, Harry Potter wasn't just any boy.
Hermione didn't see Harry until much later. He and Ron didn't even make it to the Great Hall for dinner but they did visit the kitchens on their way back to the Gryffindor Tower, and Hermione found them with a platter of sandwiches spread out between them in the Gryffindor common room.
"There she is," Ron said, his mouth stuffed full of food. "We were looking for you."
Hermione looked at Harry. "You were?"
Harry couldn't meet her gaze as he reached for another sandwich. The two boys were sprawled out across the floor, taking up more space than usual.
"Where were you?" Ron asked.
"I could ask you both the same question," Hermione said, standing over them, absently placing her hands on her hips.
"Hagrid's," Ron replied easily. "We needed some advice."
That was the moment Harry looked at her. "Love."
Hermione's eyes widened. "What?"
Ron smiled at her. "Luna and I are in love, you know?"
Hermione barely looked at Ron. "Yes, I do know that, Ronald." She was looking at Harry, but he wasn't saying anything more.
"Sit with us," Ron said. "I'll tell you all about it."
On any other night, Hermione might have dropped down right beside Harry but she wasn't sure how forgiving she was feeling. She sat down on the other side of the small coffee table and leaned her back against an empty armchair. She spread her legs out in front of her and her feet were close enough for Harry to touch if he wanted to.
Hermione didn't even have to prompt Ron before he was telling her about how wonderful he found their friend in Ravenclaw. No wonder the boy was so fine with the fact that he and Hermione had practically crashed and burned.
Looking back, she could laugh about it now. She supposed that the same thing that happened to Harry and Ginny had happened to her and Ron. Their relationships had been born in a time of War, and they just couldn't survive the peace. It was a deeply sobering thought but true nonetheless.
Now she had Harry, and Ron had Luna. They were all happy. Weren't they?
Well at least Ron was. Hermione and Harry had been blissfully happy right until the moment a certain flick of his tongue against her own had made her reveal her deepest feelings.
Really, it was all his fault.
Hermione listened to Ron go on and on about Luna until she was sure her ears would start to bleed. She couldn't remember a time that he'd been this excited about anything that wasn't Quidditch. It really was a breath of fresh air.
"We think Hagrid is going to ask Madame Maxime to marry him," Ron eventually said. He suddenly turned to Harry. "Do you think he'll move to France then?"
Harry wasn't even listening. He was looking at Hermione, willingly losing himself in the perfect contours of her face. It made her cheeks tinge red.
"Hello, earth to Harry," Ron said, waving a hand in front of Harry's line of vision.
"It's late, Ron," Harry said, his eyes merely glancing at his male best friend. "Shouldn't you be getting to bed?"
Ron took a moment to look around and, indeed, the common room was empty but for the three of them. It wasn't surprising, really. The Golden Trio had a habit of existing just with one another, the rest of the world fading into the background.
"Bloody hell," Ron breathed. "I've got to get at least eight hours of sleep if I'm going to be any useful in tomorrow's match."
"Exactly," Harry said.
"You too, mate," Ron said, starting to get up. "Ginny will kill us if we're tired in the morning. She's more obsessed with Quidditch than the two of us put together."
Harry barely looked at him. "I'll be right up."
After a brief goodnight, Ron was gone and, for the umpteenth time, Harry and Hermione were alone. He just looked at her, determined not to be the one to break their silence.
"I don't appreciate your asking me to come down to the common room and then not even bothering to show up," she said, never one to back out of telling him just what she thought.
"It's not funny, Harry."
He just continued to smile. It even turned into a smirk. The idiot.
"Aren't you going to say something?"
Harry was looking at her rather mischievously now, his eyes darkening with whatever naughty thing he had planned.
"Harry?" she asked cautiously, suddenly worried.
He glanced around the room, merely making sure that they were really alone before he started to crawl around the coffee table.
She fought the urge to back away, her heart rate rising dangerously. "Harry Potter, what are you doing?"
He said nothing as he placed his hands over her ankles and turned her on the carpet. Then, without warning, he tugged hard, and Hermione ended up flat on her back, staring at the ceiling. Her school shirt even rose up, untucking itself from her skirt.
"Oh," she sounded. "Well, that was interesting."
Harry tugged on her legs again until he was kneeling between them, his gaze heated. Slowly, with supreme purpose, he started to move up her body, making a point not to touch her. He came a stop when he was hovering over her, his body supported on his arms on either side of her head. He just looked at her, drinking in the sight.
If anyone would have told him that he would have Hermione Granger willingly lying beneath him at any time in his pitiful life, he would have balked at such an idea. And yet here they were, and he couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else in this moment.
"Harry?" Hermione asked, her eyes darting from his eyes to his lips and then back to his eyes.
Harry grinned rather smugly. "What do you want me to say, Hermione?" he asked, his voice low and controlled.
"We both know what I want you to say," she forced out, the scent of him terribly intoxicating.
He dropped his head and nipped at the skin of her neck. "What if I can't?" he asked, his face hovering near her neck as if he didn't want her to be able to see his facial expression.
"Can't?" she asked, her hands moving to run through his hair.
"What if I don't know how to, Hermione?"
She lifted his head so she could look at him. "How to what, Harry?"
"How to love." He stared at her for a prolonged moment before he shook his head in exasperation. "I don't know. What if I'm doing it all wrong? I mean, I know the War is over and all but, usually, the people I find myself caring about get hurt. Is that me? Am I doing that?"
"Harry," she breathed.
He lifted his head out of her grasp and moved to kneel back once more. He was looming over her, looking particularly traumatised as his hands rested on her upper thighs. "I'm just going to end up hurting you, Hermione."
"No you won't."
"How can you say that? I'm already hurting you because, clearly, I don't know how to do this. You deserve to be with someone who is sure; someone who can recognise what he feels and name it without wanting to hide from it. You deserve so much better."
She sat up quite suddenly. "What exactly are you saying, Harry?"
He couldn't look at her.
"Are you saying that you regret it? Kissing me that first night? Starting all of this with me?" She sounded hurt. Her voice was betraying her but she couldn't get it under control. She was hurt.
Harry wasn't sure what to say to her. That wasn't what he wanted her to hear in his words. "No, Hermione," he said. "I regret nothing. Not about you. I just don't want you to love someone who can't love you back."
She swallowed. "Is this about me, or is this about you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you just not love me or do you think yourself incapable of loving anyone?"
"You're perfect, Hermione," he let her know.
She didn't allow his cuteness to distract her. "That isn't exactly an answer to my question."
He said nothing.
"Harry, look at me," she said, reaching for the fabric of his t-shirt. "Look at me."
"I'm looking at you, Hermione. I'm never going to look anywhere else."
"Talk to me," she whispered, ignoring the cuteness of his latest statement. How was he so good at that? "You know that you can always talk to me. I'm still here, aren't I? We fought a bloody Dark Lord and I never once ran. Tell me what's bothering you."
Harry let out a long breath before he shifted his position, coming to sit cross-legged beside her. He rested an elbow on the coffee table as he tried to make sense of his own thoughts. Hermione though he looked haunted.
Hermione also shifted so that she was facing him. She was weary of this conversation. She was certain that they were about to take a step they wouldn't be able to take back.
"I've never actually said the words aloud to anyone before," Harry admitted. "I can't even be sure that what I'm feeling is love. I wouldn't know, would I?"
"It was love that helped you fight off Voldemort's possession," she pointed out.
"Or grief," he countered. "I'm not sure. They're probably so tied together for me, right? That's why I can't really know. I don't know, Hermione."
"I think that you would know if you felt love," she said sadly. "It's just something that you would know. I've never felt this kind of love before you."
"So how do you know that it's the real thing?"
"I just do. I feel it, like an all-consuming fire."
Harry ran a hand through his hair, which was messier now that Hermione had taken claim to it. An all-consuming fire? That didn't sound all that pleasant to him. "I feel something. I know I do."
"But it's not love?"
He risked a look at her. "What if it isn't?"
"I'm not going to break up with you, if that's what you're worried about," she muttered.
"What if I never feel it?"
Hermione didn't know how to answer that question. "You will, Harry. I know you will. Maybe not with me, but some day you will." It broke her heart to say the words. Merely the thought of him loving anyone who wasn't her was enough to bring tears to her eyes.
Harry reached for her closest hand and squeezed it hard. "I want to be able to tell you what you want to hear, Hermione. If there's a person in this world that I could love, it would be you. Believe me. Whatever I feel right now; I've never felt it for anyone but you." He didn't mention the strange sensation that he did sometimes feel. It was no use bringing it up when he didn't even know what it meant.
Was that love?
"What happens now?" Hermione asked. "Because I won't stop saying it. I don't think I could, even if I tried."
He just looked at her.
"Tell me what you do feel, Harry. Put it in words so I can understand. What do you feel?"
Harry dropped his gaze. "I never want to be out of your presence," he said, almost whispering. "I miss you constantly. Even when I'm with you, I get a little melancholy, because I know our time together will end, and you'll go somewhere, and I'll have to go somewhere else. I don't want that. I want us to be able to go to the same place. Does that sound lame?"
She shook her head. "No, it doesn't."
"I find that I can't stop looking at you. Watching you is my favourite thing to do, really. I don't know how I manage to function when looking at you is so much better than everything."
"Including Quidditch?" she felt she had to ask.
He nodded, risking a smile. "You are so much better than Quidditch," he said. "You definitely smell better." He was smiling as he shifted position, moving onto his knees again. "You are very important to me, Hermione Granger. This is all I can offer you right now."
She merely nodded. "Okay." She also shifted so that she was kneeling in front of him. Without saying a word, she wrapped him up in a tight hug, wanting to calm him. Her own heart was beating a mile a minute and she couldn't be sure why that was. It wasn't as if he'd said anything spectacular.
But this was Harry, and Hermione was suddenly sure of his feelings just as much as she was sure of her own.
When Hermione released him, she leaned back to look at his face. And that was the moment she saw it. It was there, in his eyes, in the way he was looking at her.
He loved her and he didn't even know it.
Hermione was okay with that. She could wait for him to catch up.
Harry kept his eyes on her for a moment, trying to read her facial expression. "What?"
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Because I love you," she said seriously.
"Hermione," he breathed.
"No, I told you I won't stop saying it. Let me get it out of my system maybe and then you won't hear it for a while. Just remember that nothing will change, okay?"
"I do. I really love you and I won't take it back, if that's what you want." She stared hard at him, daring him to say something. "I love you, Harry. I love everything about you. Merlin, I even love everything that I hate about you."
He raised an eyebrow. "What could you possibly hate about me?"
"There are many things, I can assure you."
"Really?" he asked, leaning forward and kissing the tip of her nose. "Like what? Tell me."
She stared at his mouth. "I can't think of anything right now."
"And why is that?"
Hermione just shook her head as she tugged on his t-shirt to bring him closer. She brought her lips to the side of his face to whisper in his ear. "Because I can't think straight when you're looking at me like that."
Harry brought his hands to her waist and held them there. "Like what?"
"Like you lo –"
Harry stopped her by kissing her. It was enough talk of feelings anyway. He had to have her, if only to stop her from saying things that further confused his already jumbled emotions.
In the months they'd been doing this, they'd never gone past intense kissing and exploring hands. It wasn't that Harry didn't want to go further – goodness knew he dreamed about it often enough – it was just that it wasn't only about that with Hermione.
What they had was so much more. It came from years of friendship, he was sure. They had a deep trust of each other, mutual respect and endless understanding. They could talk to each other about nearly everything, and sometimes they didn't even have to open their mouths to do it.
It also helped that she was the devil to kiss. Harry had to admit that she'd surprised him in the beginning, but now he reveled in the fact that she gave just as much as he gave, if not more.
Was that love?
In next to no time, Harry had Hermione flat on her back, her school shirt unbuttoned and he was paying homage to the freckle just above her heart. They were hidden by the couch, in case anyone decided to pay a visit to the common room.
As he moved his lips lower, her fingers in his hair, a moan on the edge of her lips; Harry felt it. It wasn't a new sensation but it was stronger than ever before; so intense and so overpowering that his stomach actually did a flip-flop, ridding his lungs of air.
And, suddenly, he knew what it was.
Harry pulled back, gasping for air. His heart was going a mile a minute.
Hermione looked worried, her hands moving to his chest. "Harry? Harry? Is everything okay? Your heart, it's beating really fast."
He couldn't catch his breath as he moved off of her, moving to a sitting position. His hands were shaking; his entire body was trembling.
Hermione also sat up, wary of touching him. "Harry, okay, breathe, just breathe. You're okay. You're okay."
He stared at her, still unable to get his breathing under control. He made a pained sound that had Hermione gripping his arm. He pulled his arm away and covered his face with both his hands, determined to hide from her.
"It's okay," she said calmly, even though she felt anything but calm. "Talk to me."
"It's okay. Just breathe, okay?"
He tried again. "I –"
"It's okay," she said again. "Don't worry about talking. Just breathe."
Harry did just that, making breathy sounds as he sucked in as much air as he could. He groaned at his own failure, even pinching the bridge of his nose in shame. This was a full-blown panic attack if he ever saw one.
Hermione wasn't sure what to do. With her left hand, she moved to start rubbing up and down his back but, at first contact, he cringed away from her, making her reel back.
"Don't touch me," he snapped. Then he looked at her, clearly stricken. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry… Just, just give me a minute." He focused on his breathing once more, and then he stared at his still shaking hands.
"Harry?" she whispered.
He turned his head to look at her. "Why would anybody want this?" he asked, more curious than anything. "I can't even breathe."
"You don't understand," he said, rather accusingly, starting to move away from her. "I didn't want this. I don't want to feel this."
Instinctively, she started to move towards him. "Harry?"
"You don't understand," he said again. "I've never said it to anyone before." He scrambled away from her, her presence too intoxicating to form coherent thoughts.
"You put ideas in my head," he said harshly, accusingly. "I don't want this. Why are you so intent on doing this to me, Hermione?" He stood up quite suddenly, his face pale. "I'm not, I don't – " He shook his head.
Hermione made a move to stand up as well, needing to comfort him in whatever was happening in his head.
"No," he said, putting a hand out to stop her. "No, I can't do this. I'm sorry. I don't want to hurt you." And then he was gone, practically sprinting from the common room and up the stairs to the boys' dormitories.
Hermione was stunned, to say the least. She hadn't even said anything. And, she noted, when she had told him she loved him; he hadn't fled the scene just as he had now. What had just happened?
Relationships were too confusing, she concluded, as she righted herself, attempting to hide all evidence of Harry's wandering hands. She sat for quite some time, replaying everything that had happened since her first slip. It all seemed like so long ago now.
How could three little words have made such a mess of everything?
She was doing things in slow motion, her mind still reeling from the way Harry ran from her like she was some kind of a disease.
Like she was poisoning him with her love.
If Hermione Granger were any other girl, she might have even started crying. She wasn't above crying over a boy, she knew, but it just didn't make sense to do that now. She knew Harry. He wouldn't intentionally hurt her, and she had vowed to be patient.
Was her love that overwhelming?
Hermione took her time ascending the steps to her Head Girl's room. As much as she loved having her own space, she sometimes missed the ambient sounds of having roommates. There was nobody around to annoy her in a single room. It was difficult becoming an only child again.
It was dark in her room, only the moonlight guiding her through the door. Hermione's bedroom window was open, letting in the bitter November air. She rushed to close it, pausing to take in her spectacular view. Hogwarts really was very beautiful. Nobody would be able to convince her otherwise.
"Are you ever coming to sleep?"
Hermione whipped around so fast that her already drawn wand flew out of her hand and clattered on the ground somewhere. She stared into the darkness at a lump on her bed, her heart thumping in her throat. "Harry?"
The lump shifted slightly. "Hermione?"
She still couldn't see his face and, she supposed, somehow, that was better. "Are you trying to kill me? What on earth are you doing here?"
"I wanted to say sorry for freaking out earlier," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "So I came to your window, but you weren't here yet. I decided to wait, and then I lay down, and now I don't want to leave. Your bed is really comfortable."
She swallowed, unsure what to say.
"And I reckon it'd be a lot more comfortable with you in it."
She took a breath. "Harry, we both know that you're not allowed to be in here," she said. "And definitely not in my bed."
"Do you want me to leave?"
She bit her bottom lip. "No, but you still have to go."
Harry made a show of rolling off of the bed and stalking towards her, a lopsided grin on his face. "Okay, I'll go, but I still wanted to say sorry."
"What happened?" she asked as soon as he came a stop in front of her. Her eyes raked over his body in what could only be deep appreciation. He was wearing pyjama bottoms and a form-fitting t-shirt. He looked positively good to eat. She would be wise to get him to leave before she lost her own resolve.
"I had an epiphany," he admitted. "A scary, shocking, mind-blowing epiphany."
He tilted his head. "I would tell you, but you want me to leave." He started to move towards the window but Hermione grabbed hold of his t-shirt.
"I don't want you to go," she said. "Just tell me about your epiphany."
"There isn't enough time," he said, enjoying this a little too much. "You told me to go."
He looked at her. "Can I stay?"
"For a while, yes."
"Will you get into bed with me?"
She shook her head. "I think that, if that were to happen, I definitely won't be able to make you leave."
"I'll be able to leave," he said confidently. "I bet that you're the one who won't want me to."
"You like yourself a little too much, Harry Potter."
"I like you a little too much, Hermione Granger."
Hermione stared at him for a moment, taking in everything she could: his disarming grin, his magnetic eyes and his irresistible charm. It was almost disastrous how much she loved him.
"Go get ready for bed," he said, eyeing her rather seductively. "I'll wait here."
There was something in his eye that she had never seen before. It was the type of look that made her want to jump into his arms and never let go. Something had changed; she just knew it. She reached up to give him a quick kiss before she sent him towards her bed. She rushed to her cupboard and retrieved a set of pyjamas and then disappeared into her private bathroom.
Hermione didn't intend on taking so long. In hindsight, she didn't actually take that long, but she still walked out to find her boyfriend adorably asleep, somewhat hidden under the covers of her bed. He still had his glasses on.
"Oh, Harry," she breathed. Even as she looked at him, she didn't have the heart to wake him up. How could she, when he looked like that? So peaceful, so calm. In her bed.
Without another thought, she climbed into bed beside him. She moved right up close to him, needing to breathe him in. He was so warm.
"I love you," she said softly, almost whispering. "I'm sorry it scares you so much. I just don't want to lose you. You are so very important to me."
Harry shifted beside her, snaking an arm under her. "Stop talking," he said absently, his eyes still closed. "I'm trying to sleep."
Hermione couldn't stop her smile as he pulled her close to him, flush against his body. He was a lot warmer right up close. She even blushed a little when he kissed the top of her head.
"Go to sleep, Hermione," he said, his breath warm and unassuming. "We can talk in the morning."
She snuggled in closer to him. "Goodnight, Harry."
Hermione knew that, whatever happened, she wouldn't forget what it felt like to be held in his arms this way. It felt like they had been doing it for years. She fell asleep to the feel of his beating heart.
But she didn't wake up to it.
Hermione was alone in her bed, feeling particularly relaxed. She rolled onto her back and let out a satisfied sigh. She spread her arms across the bed, and was surprised when her fingers touched a small piece of parchment. She was already smiling before she even read a word.
You've spoilt me, Hermione Granger.
I won't be able to spend a night without you ever again.
See you at the match. X
"Oh Harry," she breathed.
At some point, Hermione had to get out of bed and prepare to face the day. By the time she arrived at the Great Hall for breakfast, the Gryffindor Quidditch team was already gone. Hermione believed that to be a good thing. She didn't think that she could face him this morning, and she wasn't sure why that was.
Hermione had breakfast with Neville. Well, mostly, Hermione ate and Neville just waited for her, and then the two of them made their way to the Quidditch pitch to find themselves good seats. Hermione could think of several other things she would rather be doing with her time but she knew that she had to be here. Really, she was convinced she wanted to be here, to support her boyfriend.
Her boyfriend. Harry Potter.
Suddenly, she was rather eager to see him.
"You reckon we'll win?" Neville asked, leaning over to ask Hermione a question over the sound of the crowd.
"It's Harry," Hermione said, as if that was a sufficient answer.
Neville deemed it sufficient. It was Harry Potter.
The commentator announced the start of proceedings, and Hermione watched as the team took to the pitch. She could see Harry, hovering conspiratorially, and waiting for the signal. He looked so handsome, Hermione found herself silently swooning like all the other girls in the stands. She couldn't even bring herself to scoff at their reactions to the sight of him.
Suddenly, she understood.
When Madam Hooch blew the whistle, the crowd went wild, and the cheering was ringing in her ears. This was why she didn't come out. Too much noise, too many people.
But Harry Potter was worth it.
Even as she watched him fly past, she knew it to be true. That boy loved her, and she loved him.
Harry flew past the Gryffindor stands, searching the crowd for her face. He smiled widely at the sight of her and flew in closer. "Hey, Hermione," he said, his eyes twinkling with mischief.
"Mr Potter," Hermione said curtly. "Don't you have a game to win or something?"
"There are more important things," he said casually, and Hermione just shook her head at how many girls were vocally swooning over his words. At least have the decency to do it quietly.
"Like what?" she shot back, clearly annoyed. But not necessarily with him.
Harry could tell. "Come here," he said softly, beckoning her towards the railing of the stands.
Hermione carefully looked around. Gryffindor House wasn't the only one staring at their exchange and she was tempted to tell Harry to stop whatever he had planned. Because he definitely had something planned. She could see it in his emerald eyes.
"Come on, I won't bite," he added. "Not this time, at least."
Hermione's eyes widened. "People can hear you," she said through gritted teeth.
He winked at her. "Come here, Hermione. The longer you take, the greater the chances I make us lose this match. Do you want that to happen?"
Her nostrils flared in anger. "I hate you," she murmured, resigning herself to moving towards him. She stood up and started towards the railings. "What do you want?"
He was smiling the wicked smile he smiled when he was about to surprise her. The last time she'd seen that smile, she'd had to employ Concealment Charms to cover the bite marks on her neck. She'd complained for days but he was severely unapologetic.
She stopped right at the rail and raised an expectant eyebrow. "Well?"
He reached for her hand and pulled her towards him until she was half hanging over the railing. "I've got you," he said, smiling at her. "I just wanted to tell you something really important."
She forced herself not to look down. As much as she didn't want to, it was easier and less scary to look at his face. "And what's that, Mr Potter?"
He met her gaze, green eyes piercing brown ones. He was conveying so much in just that one look that it was a good thing he was holding onto her hand. There was no hesitation this time. The words wouldn't get stuck. There was no panicking. He felt clam; so very calm.
"I love you, Hermione," he said softly, seriously.
She just stared at him, eyes wide and mouth hanging open in surprise.
"And I'm sorry I took so long to process," he added for good measure. "My head just needed to catch up with my heart."
"Harry," she whispered, her brain unable to process his words.
"I see that look of disbelief on your face," he said, smirking.
"It's wonder," she managed to say.
And then he did the unthinkable. He leaned in and kissed her. Kissed her. Right in front of everyone, their entire school, their Professors! And during a Quidditch match, that he was supposedly playing in!
He was smiling wickedly when he pulled away, releasing her hand. "Do you still hate me now?" he asked, smiling a smile that would put the sun to shame. "Because I love you, Hermione Granger! I love you! I love you!" he was yelling, arms spread to solidify his declaration that seemed to have stunned the entire audience to silence. "Let the whole world know that I, Harry James Potter, love you, Hermione Jean Granger. I love everything about you. Even the things I hate!"
Hermione just blinked, finding no words in her vast vocabulary to use in this very moment.
"Let me go win this game quickly, and then you can kill me," he said smugly, even winking at her. And then he was gone, shooting away so fast that her hair flew back.
Hermione was gripping the railing so tightly that her knuckles were starting to turn white. She didn't dare turn around; she wasn't quite ready to face her House. Or anyone else for that matter.
There would be questions, and curious, maybe envious looks. There would surely be knowing looks as well; ones that practically screamed 'Finally!' Hermione wasn't ready for any of it, and she was certain that Harry knew. She really was going to kill Harry Potter. Her panic over all their reactions made her temporarily forget that he'd told her that he loved her. In front of their entire school.
"AND HARRY POTTER HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH! GRYFFINDOR WINS! 230-40!"
The roar from behind Hermione took some time to sound, after the announcement. They were probably all a little too shocked by what they'd just witnessed between her and Harry. And now she would have to descend the stands with all of them. How was she supposed to avoid questions then?
Hermione felt someone tap on her shoulder but, before she turned, Harry was once again in front of her. He was beaming, and she was sure it had next to nothing to do with the fact that Gryffindor had just beaten Ravenclaw.
That look in his eye was solely for her.
"Come here," he said, flying in nice and close. "I know a better way to get down."
Hermione didn't even hesitate as she allowed Harry to help her onto his broom. As much as she hated heights, she knew she was safe with Harry. Always with Harry. She felt a deep sense of satisfaction when he slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her tight against his front. She didn't dare risk a look at the stands.
"Shall we, Miss Granger?" he asked, murmuring right by her ear.
"Don't you think you've already given them enough to talk about?" she asked, laughing lightly.
"I don't know to what you are referring," he said innocently.
Hermione put her hands over his, one over her stomach and one on the broom. "You told me you love me."
"Now let me show you," he whispered, dropping a kiss against her neck. A moment later, Harry shot off, making Hermione shriek in surprise.
He was laughing that laugh that first made her realise her feelings for him. She could literally feel the vibrations of his inhibited laughter transfer to her own body, making her smile, as he steered them away from the Quidditch pitch.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?"
"Somewhere I can have my wicked way with you," she said, leaning back a bit more.
Harry growled, as he steered them straight to Gryffindor Tower. They barely made it through Hermione's window before she was grabbing at him, eager to get him out of his Quidditch robes.
"Merlin, Hermione, if I'd known you would be like this, then I would have told you I love you ages ago," he said, smirking as she tugged on his shirt.
She stopped quite suddenly. "Say it again."
"Say it again. Tell me you love me."
He grinned. "Come here." He reached for her, pulling her nice and close. He dropped his head to kiss her lips. "I love you," he whispered against them. "Oh, how I love you."
Harry barely had a moment to protest before he was pushed down onto the bed, and then Hermione was climbing over him. "Jesus, Hermione," he sputtered.
"This is it, Harry," she said, pinning him down and hovering over him. "You told me you love me, so this is it for us."
"You and me, Harry."
"You can't take it back."
"I wouldn't dream of it," he said, keeping his eyes on her face.
She dropped her head and kissed him deeply. When she pulled away, he was smiling goofily. "Why did you freak out last night?"
He swallowed. "Because I felt it."
Harry attempted to sit up and Hermione moved back to let him, so that she was straddling him, her arms around his neck. "I don't know how to explain it," he said, wrapping his arms around her waist. "It was sudden, and really strong but, in a moment, I knew that it was over."
He looked at her. "In that moment, I knew I was yours, completely. I wasn't mine anymore. It's scary, Hermione, willingly trusting someone with the most important part of yourself. I panicked at the thought of just how much power you now have over me. Don't you see, you now have the power to break me, and it's bloody scary."
"I won't hurt you, Harry."
He risked a smile. "I know that now," he said. "I mean, I've always known that. I just, I needed a moment. You're not the only one who can't focus when we're kissing."
Hermione blushed, as she usually did. "You know, you really could have told me without letting the whole school know as well."
It was his turn to blush. "I wasn't going to. I mean, I didn't set out to do it like that, but I just saw you and then I couldn't help myself. Like right now." Harry pulled her flush against him and kissed her slowly, meaningfully. It was amazing to him, how accepting that he loved her could make kissing her an entirely new experience.
This was new to him, but he was okay with it. This was Hermione. He couldn't be scared of Hermione.
She loved him, and he loved her.
This was a step for him; one he would never dream of taking back.