It was deceptively quiet here, perched precariously on a broom not far about Hogwarts' tallest tower. Hermione gripped the old Cleansweep with both hands and closed her eyes, imagining that the summer night was as peaceful as it seemed. Only for a moment, though; she was both Head Girl and one of the most visible and outspoken opponents of Voldemort, and she had precious little time for delusions.
Once, not long ago, she would have sshuddered at the thought of being so far above the ground, supported by a piece of wood and a few Levitation charms. Not now. If Harry could do this, she could.
She pushed the thought away and finished scanning the horizon. When she had seen what she needed to see -- what had, at first glance, been concealed by seemingly tranquil Forbidden Forest -- she wrapped her legs around the broom and dove back to the ground as fast as safety allowed. A few feet above the grass she pulled up, just as Harry and Ron had taught her to do, and half-jumped, half-rolled off onto the wet grass. A hand reached out to help her to her feet, and she took it, using the extra leverage to climb to her feet.
"There's definitely an army of some kind heading this way," she said as she grabbed the broom and rested it on one shoulder. "I'd say we have a day, if that."
Ron nodded slowly, as if he had been expecting that. Maybe he had. Although Hermione had spent many sleepless nights with Ron and his girlfriend Padma, pouring over musty Divination texts, she still didn't understand exactly how his Sight worked. No one did.
But all he said was, "How many?"
"More than us. A couple hundred at least. Some don't look human."
"Wonderful." Ron glanced up at the sky, as if expecting an aerial assault at any moment. He stopped and hobbled around to face her, balancing on his crutch as he kept his weight off of his injured leg. Hermione suppressed a wince at the sight. She knew that it killed Ron to have to send her up, but he couldn't fly well with that kind of injury and no one else really knew what they were looking for.
"How is he?" she asked suddenly.
Ron dropped his gaze to the ground. When he lifted his eyes again to meet hers, they were dark with concern. "He wasn't made to be a leader, Hermione. Not like this. He shouldn't have to send people out to die."
She just nodded once. That was the truth, simply and brutally put. She was the strategist and Ron was the general, but Harry was the leader. He had to be. People needed a symbol, and there was none more brilliant than the Boy Who Lived. Even if it meant that he had to look people in the eye and tell them that they probably wouldn't be coming home...
"Someone needs to talk to him," she said softly. "Have you tried..." She trailed off. It was a silly question anyway. Of course he had tried. Ron and Harry were like brothers, just like Ron and Hermione might as well have been the closest of twins. "He needs you," she finished. "You're his family, Ron. He needs his brother."
Ron heaved a sigh. "Talk to him, Hermione. Please."
She nodded again, slowly, although she didn't see the use. "I'm not going to do any good. If he doesn't need a brother, what good is a sister going to do?"
"Hermione..." Ron tucked his crutch under his arm long enough to point at the doors into the castle. "Talk to him. And for Merlin's sake, try to understand."
She blinked at him, feeling uncharacteristically confused. "Understand what?"
"He doesn't need a sister," Ron said quietly. "He needs you."
The old Potions classroom had become a sort of war room, covered with maps and markers and lists. It struck Hermione as unbearably morbid. Yes, she spent quite a lot of time in here, arguing and plotting with the rest of the Order of the Phoenix, but not a moment more than was absolutely necessary. Staying in this place for long wasn't healthy.
Harry practically lived here.
He was sitting at a table, alone, hunched over a list of names. She didn't have to read them to know that they were the names of everyone -- adult or student -- whose death he had caused, however inadvertantly. She and Ron had both tried to coax it away from him, with little success. Harry claimed it was to help make sure he didn't make future mistakes.
Hermione leaned over and snatched it away.
"Hey!" Harry looked up at her irritably, and for a moment he was a boy of eleven, angry at her for trying to make him do his homework. Then the illusion faded and he was a seventeen-year-old icon with ancient eyes. "Give it here, Hermione."
"No." Hermione crossed her arms, keeping a tight grip on the list. "Not unless you come out into the fresh air."
He returned his gaze to a pile of textbooks and maps. "Did you see Voldemort's army?"
"Yes. Ron and the others have already started casting the protection spells."
"Then what's the point of going outside?"
"Oh, for God's sake!" Hermione dropped the list, grabbed Harry's arm, and hauled him out of his seat. Even though he was several inches taller than her, he seemed to weigh next to nothing. Normally Hermione would have been concerned, but all it meant now was that she could easily turn him around and make him meet her eyes. "Listen to me. I'm worried about you. Ron's worried. The entire damn Order is worried. You're not doing them any good by sitting here and letting this eat at you! Understand?"
He smiled faintly at her, reaching up to grip her arms like she was gripping his. "You're shouting."
"I am not -- " She stopped mid-yell. "I'm not shouting," she said softly. "But if you don't go outside right now I'm going to scream."
"Because normally you're calm and collected and never raise your voice."
"That was sarcasm."
"No, it wasn't."
"Yes, it was. You were making fun of me."
Now Harry's lip was twitching. "No, I wasn't."
"And you're a bad liar. I might go so far as to say you're a terrible liar."
Harry actually laughed. It was more a soft chuckle than anything else, but it was rare and wonderful and it had been so long since she had heard it. Hermione knew she was grinning -- grinning and laughing in a war room! -- but she couldn't help it.
Abruptly Harry's eyes narrowed in mock-accusation. "Ron put you up to this."
"Good for him," Hermione retorted, not bothering to deny the accusation. When was the last time she had laughed either? A long time. Too long. Somehow the space between her and Harry had grown much smaller and that was worth laughing about too. She smiled up at him. "See? It worked. You needed me. I made you laugh."
"Because you were being a pain in the -- "
Suddenly there was no space between them at all. She was leaning forward and kissing him. In the middle of the war room, with an evil wizard's army approaching and the light going out all over England, she was kissing him. And he was kissing her back. And none of the jumbled thoughts in Hermione's head seemed to have any problem with this.
It was as if she was actually seeing a weight lifted from his shoulders. She started to laugh again, breaking the kiss as she looked up into his eyes. They were still too old, but they weren't ancient now. There was something sparkling in them. Laughter, and something else that might, perhaps, have been love.
He grabbed her hands, enfolding them in his own, and grinned down at her. "That's your idea of cheering me up?"
Hermione shrugged. "Anything to get you outside, right?" She began to drag him backwards out of the war room. "Come on. We have to tell Ron to keep one of the doors unwarded."
"Just for a while," Harry said, suddenly serious. "I don't want anyone getting hurt because of us." He stopped and looked at her. "I mean, there is an us, right?"
Hermione just laughed, nodded, and led him out of the darkness.