Disclaimer: I don't own HP or any of these characters. That belongs to JKR, Scholastic Books, Warner Brothers, etc.
"Ron, have you seen Hermione?" Harry poked his head into the boys' dormitory, where his best friend Ron was busy packing for the summer.
"Nope," Ron shook his head. "I've not seen her all day. What do you need her for?"
Harry ran a hand through his hair before replying. "I've a book to return to her—"
"But exams have been over for the last week! Why would you want to keep a book like that?"
"No, not that. It's her copy of Quidditch Through the Ages . . . the one that she bought at that used bookshop. I'd forgot that I had it and well . . . I think I ought to return it before we leave."
"Good idea, that," Ron said. Considering how much Hermione loved books, he didn't think it advisable for Harry to keep one of hers over summer. "Have you checked her room? She's likely packing too," he suggested helpfully.
"I can't check there," Harry protested.
"And why not?" Ron received a glare as a response. "Fine then. Why don't you ask Ginny then? She can check for you—" Harry was out the door before Ron could even finish that suggestion.
As it turned out, however, Ginny didn't know where Hermione was and could only tell him that Hermione wasn't in her room. A hurried look into Madam Pince's domain was all he needed to know that she wasn't holed up in the library again, even though they had nothing left to study for. It was only by chance that Harry happened to see Dobby, who told him that 'Her-my-only' had last been seen walking towards the lake.
Harry immediately set off to tramp around outside to look for Hermione. Upon reaching the lake, he looked around several time for Hermione but didn't see any hint that she had been there. Harry couldn't help but sigh. He knew that the lake was large, and that Hermione was likely at some other part of it . . . and it might take forever to find her. In fact, that might be impossible for she might be walking around rather than staying in one place. He weighed his options, wondering if it would be better to go back to the Common Room and simply wait for Hermione. Deciding that he had nothing better to do – aside from getting ready to return to the Dursleys and he'd rather not think about that – he began walking around the lake.
It wasn't long before he found Hermione, though she didn't look much like the Hermione he was used to at all. She was sitting right at the edge of the lake, wearing a yellow sundress, kicking her feet into the water. Her shoes were cast to one side, along with her robe. The difference that really struck him, however, was her attitude. He had never seen Hermione looking this relaxed and carefree. Harry wasn't quite sure if he should interrupt her, though she wasn't doing anything really. All the same, she seemed to be enjoying a bit of peace and quiet, and he didn't want to ruin that for her, especially when he remembered how stressed she had been just last week.
"What is it, Harry?" Hermione suddenly asked.
Startled by her words, Harry jumped. "How did you know I was here?" he asked.
She splashed her feet into the lake and laughed. "I saw your reflection in the water, of course."
"Oh. Of course." Harry sheepishly grinned. "That should've been obvious."
"But is something wrong, Harry?" Hermione started reaching for her robes. "Am I needed back at the—"
"No, no, nothing like that," Harry said quickly. Hermione stopped reaching for her robes and turned to look at him. "I'm sorry for keeping this so long, even after Quidditch ended, but here." Harry shoved the book towards Hermione.
"Oh, it's my book." Hermione sounded surprised. "I didn't expect you to return this."
Harry winced. "I'm sorry that it's been that long—"
"No, not because of that. Just that I'm sure it's more useful to you than it is to me." She laughed. "I can hardly stand to look at a broom after all."
"Yeah, I know. It's surprising that you've never missed a Gryffindor Quidditch match."
"Of course, I wouldn't miss that, Harry! Not while you're playing . . ." She stopped in the middle of her sentence, looking down and away from him as if embarrassed.
"Thanks," he said awkwardly.
"No, it's fine." She handed the book back to him. "And you can keep it. It's fine."
As Harry took it from her, Hermione smiled dazzlingly at him before turning back to the lake. That had been . . . stunning, really. Harry didn't think any girl had ever affected him like that before. He didn't know quite what to think. Needing some time to collect himself, he sat down beside her, searching frantically for something to talk about.
"You know, I don't ever recall seeing you in a dress before," he finally settled on saying. "A skirt when meeting you after summer, yes . . . but never a dress."
"Yes you have," Hermione insisted. "You saw me in dress robes at the Yule Ball."
"Yes but . . . dress robes aren't the same as dresses." Harry only had to glance at her figure to know just how much they were different. Dress robes didn't show off Hermione's long legs like that simple sundress did. He thought that he could have looked at her all day, if only she'd let him.
She softly sighed before responding. "Well . . . I suppose so. It's just strange to hear you say that. I . . . well, honestly, I don't wear dresses all the time, but I wear them fairly often during the summer."
"Oh," he said dumbly. "You seem different today. And I don't think it's just the dress."
"Do I?" She lied down on her back and looked up at the sky. "I guess I do . . . I'm not usually this . . . this much like me."
"Not this much like you?" he repeated, confused at what she was saying.
"I . . . sometimes I think there are two Hermiones. The me who everyone sees and expects me to be – the bookworm, the know-it-all, the genius Muggleborn witch. And then there's the me, the real me, who's more laid back and who nobody ever sees."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. It's the same for me." Harry stretched out on the ground, so he was lying down next to Hermione.
"No, it isn't," she said calmly. "It's not the same. Not at all."
Harry was about to protest when he caught sight of Hermione's eyes. She looked so sad . . . and tired that he was inexplicably upset with himself for bringing her down the way he did. He wondered if it would make her feel better if he left. Certainly she had been happy till he came and ruined it all for her. He was about to leave, excusing himself by claiming he had to pack, when her hand slipped into his.
"It's because you don't have a choice, really. You have to be what you're not. Everyone expects it of you and you're forced into the role. That's not the same as me. I chose to hide myself . . . I don't know why I did, I don't know if I even knew what I was doing then, but I chose to be this way because I like being called the smartest witch to ever grace the halls of Hogwarts. It's just that sometimes I think it's not worth it, that I should be more like myself."
"Then why don't you?" Harry asked, gently squeezing Hermione's hand.
"Oh, this is going to sound stupid."
"It's like this – if no one knows the real me, no one can hate the real me. No one can reject the real me and tell her to go away. And you know . . . in a way, everyone rejected the fake me, back in our first year, so how can I have any hope that the real me will fare any better?"
Harry sighed. The questions Hermione was asking were not easy to answer . . . especially for someone like him who normally didn't think about such things. The thought he couldn't shake from his mind, however, was just how happy Hermione had looked when she was just being herself. "You look happier when you're just yourself," he said. "That has to mean something."
"I'm not surprised to hear that. It's more relaxing to be me, not to care about what people will think or say. But it's scary, to think about being like this all the time. And you know, it's also sort of childish, to keep myself secret like I do. It's sort of like . . . the most precious, the most secret thing that you're given is yourself . . . and to share that with the world, it's scary, it's frightening, and I just don't want to do that but at the same time, I'm tired of being the girl I've been pretending to be. I want to be more like me . . . but I don't want everything to show."
"But I want to know you," Harry found himself blurting out. He cursed his stupidity, for not thinking before opening his mouth, but Hermione only laughed at him and rolled over so that she faced him.
"And that's a childish response too," she said with a grin. "To want everyone else to share though you don't do the same. We might lie and say, we want them to share so that we know it can be done . . . but in the end, we're just selfish really. But if we're not selfish—"
"How about a trade?"
"A trade?" Hermione looked puzzled at his interruption.
"You be the real you around me, even if all I see is bits and pieces . . . and I'll do the same for you."
"How is that supposed to help?"
"Because if we're children, if we're like babies when it comes to sharing ourselves, then we need to start small. Take baby steps. Just start by showing bits of our real selves to one other person who takes the same risk . . . and maybe one day when we know that one person doesn't hate the people we really are, we can do the same on a grander scale."
"Stupid, I know." And now that Harry thought about it, it did sound strange, as if it could never work. "Sorry, Hermione. You've all this big questions that need answers . . . and all you have to help you is me."
"I was going to say that sounds lovely. At least, I'd be doing something to break out of the loop, rather than coming here each year after exams ended—"
"You come here each year?"
"Yes," she nodded. "Of course you never knew because I never told you. But I trust you Harry, probably more than anyone else, and if you . . . that is if you want to, I wouldn't want to—"
"When do we start?"
"Being honest to each other? How does now—"
"Sound? I'm ready if you are."
A nod, a grin, and then there were two.
Author's note: If you've read this far, please take the time to leave a review. They're always appreciated. ^_^
Also, Dobby's pronunciation of Hermione's name was first suggested by
Eb in an old SCUSA post. ^_^ I *like* that idea, to say the