A boy or a gentleman

"We must try not to sink beneath our anguish, Harry, but battle on." Albus Dumbledore, Half-Blood Prince

"I'm sick of Ron at the moment, I don't know what I'm supposed to have done..." Hermione, Half-Blood Prince

Hermione was called a Know-It-All, but she would be the first to admit that she didn't know it all, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, she could name two things she really didn't know anything about:

1. Quidditch.

2. Boys.

You see, you couldn't learn about these things by reading about them, you had to do them. Not literally, 'do' a boy, that's not what she meant. Or was it? It didn't matter. At the end of the day, she knew what she wanted, but she just didn't know how to go about getting it. She felt like she was trapped in a glass house by the beach, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't make it to the sea to swim.

But one, gloomy day, that glass broke, or seemed to show a crack at least. The trouble was, it cracked on a night that was dark and stormy, and the line where the shore met the sea couldn't be seen.

She loved him. Of that she was certain, as certain as she knew that, eventually, Harry would either live or die in this war. None of them may make it out alive. So why should they waste time?

She had tried hard to make her feelings clear. But she felt he wasn't interested. But that night, he had made his feelings clear Hadn't he?

A chilling meeting at Grimmauld place was when it happened. The Head members of the Order were all ashen faced, their tone leaving no room for jokes or even questions. Their seventh year at Hogwarts would be no ordinary year. During that meeting, Dumbledore had remained silent. His hand, now completely black for reasons known only by few, served to remind them all that The Darkness was slowly but surely spreading and would take them all: even the Strongest Wizard of their Time. There was no twinkle in the Headmaster's eye, just a steely expression that made it clear that everyone present in the room had a role to play and there was no backing out now.

As soon as the meeting had adjourned, Hermione watched as Harry bolted out the room and felt her already heavy heart collapse at the sound of him slamming his bedroom door. She knew that now was no time to wallow in her emotions, that now was the time for her Gryffindor courage to save the day and make her a source of strength and comfort for Harry, but the fear and sadness was too much: the prospect that they would lose not only the war but each other was all too real.

Instead, she found herself in the garden, not even noticing the unusual coldness of the summer's night that had sent her body into shivers. She hugged herself, and told herself that she would allow this one moment of fear, of weakness, and when she turned round and went back in the house she would be Hermione, The Brightest Witch of Their Time.

But that was when he came.

His familiar scent filled the night, letting her know it was him before he reached her. He had started wearing more and more cologne recently. Hermione had hoped it was for her, and that night, she felt like she had that confirmation. When he wrapped his arms around her waist, his front pressed against her back, she didn't move or flinch, even though he had never held her like that before.

When he whispered in her ear: 'Are you ok?' Her resolve to remain strong shattered into pieces, making her body wrack with tears. No, she wasn't ok. Would she be strong enough, brave enough, clever enough for this task?

She turned around to cry into his chest which he graciously permitted as he wrapped his arms around her body, his tall frame reassuringly protecting her from the glaring lights of the house.

She didn't want their bodies to part. She was simultaneously so sad about the war-filled future, but - selfishly perhaps - so grateful that this terrible war brought them together.

Or so she thought.

Eventually, they made their way back to the now quiet house and climbed the stairs to their rooms. It was then Hermione had silently pleaded him to spend the night. Yes, Ginny was asleep in her room. But she couldn't face being alone, not now that they had found each other, not now when a faint promise of hope teased its way into the most likely dark, gloomy future.

She held on to his hand as they entered. Ginny was asleep; there was nothing for them to do apart from sleep as well. And so she had laid on the bed and he did too, gently pressing her against his body.

To have someone to hold at night. An old cliché, the loss of which was mourned over in songs by desperate people who didn't know how to be independent or control their feelings. That is what Hermione had thought before she experienced the sheer bliss of reassurance a warm body could bring.

But it wasn't for long, when she woke up, he was gone. She was back in the glass house again, and in the light of the morning, the crack he had made had only served to make her view more and more unclear. He didn't acknowledge what had happened. He didn't hold her the way he had held her that night again. In fact, he didn't even look at her again for the rest of the summer. The scent of his cologne became fainter, its now subtle remnants that had clung to his clothes only reminded her of what she had lost.

At first, Hermione thought that's probably how it should be. But then she realised: no straight male would deny the pleasure of sleeping next to a girl given the opportunity. What's more, not straight male would ever sleep next to a girl and not try something, anything beyond a hug. That's what all the books she had read had said. Teenagers wee horny. Wasn't he a hormonal teenage boy with needs? Then why hadn't he tried anything? Was he being a gentleman?

She was desperate for answers to these questions; she had tried to get him alone, to ask what had happened, whether she had done anything wrong. But he would always make a half-hearted excuse and leave.

He hadn't been capable of staying the whole night next to her. And he couldn't stand the sight of her now.

When Hermione realised this, she hugged her own body, for the first time really understanding how woefully inadequate she was. And, she felt that for the first time, she really had understood boys.

Teenage boys like Ronald Weasley were simply not interested in girls that looked like Hermione Granger.

But this was the twenty-first century. She was more than her body. She loved him. Surely that counted for something?