Disclaimer: One of these days I might just take the time to diligently look up who exactly is on the list of individuals and corporations that actually hold the rights for the highly intellectual property of Harry Potter, so that I may put them here soberly and properly. That day, I'm proud to say, is not today. All I know is that I am most definitely not on that list, and I think that is really most of what matters in the given context.
Introduction: A romantic-comedic one-shot? What an absolute novelty in fan fiction circles! And what's that? It utilizes what likely qualifies as the single most basic premise a story of this kind could possibly go with, you say? We're breaking new ground over here, guys. What a fantastic day for originality!
I should go into advertising.
Harry James Potter had officially had enough.
She had been acting oddly around him for weeks now. For all he knew she was behaving oddly in his absence as well, of course, but by virtue of his lack of presence during those times that was but a matter of conjecture. Conjecture being one of numerous things she was on principle not very fond of, he too tried to avoid it to the best of his ability. When it came to him, and that much at least he could personally attest to, she was distant, evasive and at times even brusque. In fact, as he only came to realize when looking back on this peculiar development to try and figure out when first he had noticed that inexplicable change in her, he could not quite shake off the nagging suspicion that she hadn't really been her usual self ever since returning to Hogwarts for the new term back in September.
Now, almost two months later, nothing seemed to have changed about this mystifying state of affairs, or if it had it had done so not for the better but for the worse. Just the night before, when they had sat side by side on the sofa in the common room much in the same manner as they surely had done hundreds of times over the years, she had actually shifted away from him when he, with his arm comfortably on the backrest behind her, had absentmindedly rubbed her shoulder with his fingertips. And that had never happened before. Not the rubbing on his part, that is, of which he was a flagrant recidivist, but the shifting on her part.
And it had, as he reluctantly had come to admit to himself in the relentless silence of the night, hurt a bit. She hadn't looked at him and they hadn't exchanged a single word about it, which was another recent thing so decidedly uncommon between them. She had simply and more or less subtly squirmed away from his touch and continued reading her book, at which he had retracted his hand in hot-faced abashment. Half an hour later he had gone to bed feeling like an idiot, and surprisingly, with nothing of note transpiring in the meantime, had woken up six short hours later still feeling like an idiot.
Feeling like an idiot was a condition he thought he might possibly be able to live with if it should at some point conclusively turn out that he was, in fact, an idiot; feeling alienated from his best friend most certainly was not. Something was obviously bothering her, and Harry, much to his vexation, was increasingly inclined to infer from the state of evidence presenting itself that the thing which was bothering her was actually him. Something he had done, something he had said... or something he had failed to either say or do, perhaps? So much to do wrong, so little time.
Naturally he had asked her about it on multiple occasions already, but that's where the evasive aspect of her strange behavior manifested itself. Of course nothing was up with her at all! Everything was fine, duh! He was clearly imagining things! Like Harry Potter actually knew anything about his best friend! Har har har! Wasn't he a clod?
Yeah right, missy.
Enough was enough. Was it three or was it four sentences they had exchanged all day long, including Good Morning? Either way, it was bloody unacceptable. And so, with Professor Flitwick dismissing the sixth year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs and the last class of the day thus finally ending, Harry's mind was at last made up. He would not let her off the hook so easily this time; he would not relent before he got a proper answer. Surely he deserved at least that much?
Well, what he deserved probably depended a great deal on what exactly he had done to push her away like that. Come what may, it was high time to find out...
"Hermione?" Harry approached her more timidly than his steadfast determination had originally promised once he caught up to her scudding self out in the hallway. When at first she showed no sign of stopping in her hurried stride, with a leap ahead he added more emphatically, "Hermione, wait! Please, will you not even talk to me anymore?"
That at least got her attention, though for a moment all that came of it was her standing there in the middle of the hallway, abruptly stock-still with her back turned towards him as if he had greeted her with a cordial Petrificus Totalus. When she finally swirled around to face him, her expression was a mask of nonchalance that a disconcerted Harry immediately knew for the façade it was.
"Don't be silly. Of course I will talk to you," she warbled innocuously enough, hugging her books still more closely to her chest. "What's up?"
Harry was once again taken aback by her stilted demeanor, and it took him a couple of seconds to recover. Everything about her seemed wrong somehow. The lilt in her voice was transparently factitious, her cheerfulness blatantly superficial and her whole body language tense and defensive. And not once did she deign to look him in the eye. This was not like Hermione at all, at least not the one he by now had known for years. If he hadn't known any better, he would have suspected he was dealing with a Polyjuiced imposter—and not even a very convincing one for that matter.
"I was going to ask you the same question, actually," he eventually replied once he had fought down the uncomfortable lump that had taken sudden shape in his throat.
"What do you mean?" she asked him levelly, exuding an air of such blessed ignorance the likes of which Hermione Granger was well-nigh genetically incapable of.
Harry at this point was struggling with the limits of his world-renowned patience, as Hermione herself had—unwittingly or not—put it to the test for weeks already. "Are you seriously doing this right now?"
She hesitated for a mere second. "I have no idea what you're—"
"Please, Hermione!" he cut her off beseechingly, drawing more than a few curious glances of students that passed them by. He continued in a hushed yet no less urgent voice, "What is going on here? What is going on with you... with us? Why are you acting like this?"
When she cast her eyes down, some part of Harry was almost relieved to catch a glimpse of genuine Hermione in the reaction, even if regrettably it was only in her shame that he found her. His anger and exasperation with her within an instant all but evaporated as his heart went out to her.
"Listen," he spoke more calmly, his voice soft and subdued yet so unmistakably fraught with conflicting emotions, "I honestly don't know what's happened that could have led to any of this, but I'm here because I want to talk about it, whatever it is. If in any way I've wronged you, or worse yet, hurt you, then I need to know about it so that I can do something about it. Own up to it. Make up for it. Anything!" He paused as his eyes perused her face in desperate search for answers. "I'm sorry to have failed to work this out by myself, but I simply can't make any sense of it. I don't know what it is that I've done to make you treat me like this, but if it's something that makes me deserving of your scorn, then I must know about it! Please, won't you at least grant me this much? Just... just a chance?"
She remained quiet as the seconds cruelly ticked on by, and though it was hard to tell for Harry from the angle from which he could glimpse her averted face, it seemed to him that she held her eyes shut.
"I'm sorry," she responded at last, her voice meek. "I assure you that you have done nothing to deserve this. And I... I promise I'll try to act normally again, okay? Can we just leave it at that?"
He gave her a long, deliberating look, the intensity of which she could not quite bear. When his shoulders fell with a coinciding sigh, they presaged his answer. "I don't think that's good enough," he concluded, and there was a plea in the shimmer in his eyes. "I don't want you to act normal, I want you to be normal and feel normal. I want us to be the same as always, not pretend to be. We've never had to pretend with each other, did we? There's clearly something that's bothering you and you can't tell me I've got nothing to do with it and expect me to believe it. Even Ron picked up on it, for Merlin's sake! That is not a good sign!"
Under different circumstances she might have laughed at that, but these, sadly, were no such circumstances, and so instead she inhaled shakily, waiting for a couple of young Ravenclaws traversing the corridor to move out of earshot.
"It's really not that big of a deal, Harry," she circumspectly implored him to relent already. From top to bottom she looked like she would rather be anywhere but there with him, and it pained him to see it.
He furrowed his brow. "So you're saying you're treating me like a blast-ended skrewt here over some trifling matter that's not even worth talking about. Yeah, sounds reasonable. Sure sounds like the Hermione I know."
Hermione's eyes turned heavenward in futile search of support, the search all the more futile on account of the vaulted ceiling of solid stone a couple of meters above her head. Benevolent divinity, regrettably, was nowhere in sight. Stupid ceiling.
"You're not gonna let this one slide, then."
He crossed his arms in front of his chest. A tacit answer, but a perspicuous one.
Now she was the one to look exasperated, and the visual impression was aptly underscored by a groan of frustration. "Fine," she then all but spat, contemptuously tossing it out there like it was the diametrical opposite of everything that could reasonably be considered fine in this universe and all its possible alternatives. "Great," she added in equally convincing a fashion. "I really don't see the point, but if you must know, well... if you insist, then... well, personally I just feel that you've become a bit... obtrusive, if you will. Lately. Generally. Over a certain... yet equally uncertain period of time. You—you're constantly right there... in my space, you see? All... over... my space."
She made a vaguely spherical motion around herself with her flailing arms to visualize the space she was referring to. In geometrical terms it was a very confusing kind of space. She aborted the demonstration. "I've always been a very private, introverted sort of person, as you know. You of all people ought to understand, really, because while I grew up as an only child you grew up with the Dursleys, so we both should generally favor people's absence over their presence. It's why I'm always a tad uncomfortable at the Burrow, in a manageable sort of way. Don't get me wrong, I really like the Weasleys, but there's just too many of them in too little a space sometimes. It's a tad too entropic, honestly. There's just too much touching—with us, I mean, not the Weasleys. Not that I necessarily prefer to be touched by them. I don't. They're an awfully huggy lot, aren't they? At any rate, it makes me uncomfortable and frankly I don't like it and so I didn't know how to deal with it and I obviously didn't want to bring it up because I didn't want to hurt you, so there you have it."
Harry stood there in stunned silence. His eyes had started to wander off aimlessly at some point during her gabbling and uncharacteristically incoherent elaboration, and he was now staring into a distance that went far beyond their physical surroundings.
"Oh," was all he managed to eject at first, and it was more like an involuntary sound pushed from his lungs after being on the receiving end of a hefty punch to the gut. He cleared his throat once, unsuccessfully, and then a second time. His hand went to the collar of his buttoned shirt and the tight knot of his red and gold tie. Had that knot always been that tight? And if yes, why?
"I... I don't know what to say," he stammered, his voice coarse and uneven. He cleared his throat for the third time, but it hardly turned out to be the charm. "That I did not expect. I thought that your behavior... your evasiveness and your apparent aversion to any kind of physical closeness... to me... was just a symptom—a side effect of your being angry with me for some other reason. I never even considered the possibility that it could be the reason itself. I—"
He broke off, shaking his bowed head as he took off his glasses to rub his eyes. "Bloody hell, I'm so sorry for any discomfort I may have caused you. That wasn't my intention at all. I'm not that sort of person... right? So inconsiderate and... obtrusive, really? I never meant—" Again he stopped, massaging his temples with thumb and middle finger of one hand that further shielded his eyes from view. His whole body was actually swaying slightly from side to side, as if it were at the mercy of an invisible ocean's swell. "It's kind of odd though, seeing how I, like you already pointed out, am not generally a very, uh, touch-oriented kind of person. I mean, I could even do without all that constant handshaking business, right?"
He laughed awkwardly, hollowly, then aborted the pathetic attempt at levity and cleared his throat for the fourth time in the past minute, which likely set a new personal record. "I'm not usually keen on being touched a lot or being the one to do all the touching. Maybe because I didn't exactly grow up experiencing a pleasant side of human contact, I don't know." He hesitated, his chest rising and falling heavily. He looked vaguely into her direction, but not quite at her. "But... with you it's always been different. It just happened. It felt natural and... well, I assumed that you... but that's exactly the problem, isn't it? I shouldn't have just assumed." His eyes briefly flickered up towards her face and came as far as her nose, but never connected with her counterparts before darting off again. "I... I can't tell you how deeply sorry I am. I'm utterly ashamed, frankly. I think I need to be alone for a while and, uhm... try to—try to—"
His hand clutched a fistful of hair at the back of his head as he reeled backwards. "Forgive me." Crestfallen, he turned on his heels and hurried away from her at the brisk pace of a fugitive trying his best to blend into a crowd while getting away from his pursuers. Not that there presently were any of those.
Having looked anywhere but at her perfectly transfixed figure for the longest time, and having avoided her face especially, Harry had of course never seen her expression and how the initial, strained mask of dispassion thereon had rapidly cracked to reveal burgeoning dismay underneath, which itself had soon been swept away in a tempest of warring emotions too multitudinous to be clearly discerned and that ultimately left her standing there in horrified petrifaction. The only thing outracing her desperate heart in that moment was her mind, which went hither and yon in endless ellipses without ever arriving anywhere. When at last her visual cortex was kind enough to inform her of Harry's imminent disappearance at the far end of the corridor, the part of her brain which was still sufficiently functional to observe the sheer lunacy rampant in the rest of her gray matter switched into panic mode.
"Harry!" she cried out in utter indifference towards all prying onlookers, her legs already set into motion even as she was still busy stowing away her books in her shoulder bag with unusual disregard for their well-being. Speeding down the hallway and right through a thoroughly flabbergasted group of tiny, chatty Hufflepuffs (was that Miss Perfect Prefect herself, running in a hallway?) she yelled after him once more. "Harry, stop!"
As soon as she caught up to him she grabbed his arm and pulled him around, finding him looking confused rather than angry, as if he genuinely had not even heard her. For a moment she panted for breath, though her short sprint surely was not alone to blame. Well, let's hope for the sake of her health it wasn't.
"I'm sorry," she told him in dead earnest, "but letting you be by yourself right now is just about the last thing I can do. I think I just committed the biggest blunder of my life and I need to try and rectify it immediately, if that's at all possible." She looked at him pleadingly, afraid he would refuse her while simultaneously feeling he had every right to do so after what she had just so cruelly done to him. In what barely qualified even as a wavering wisp of a voice she asked him, "Will you hear me out, please?"
With a second's muddled delay he weakly nodded his head, still too dazed by the entire sequence of events to manage much more than that. Relief washed over Hermione's features as a jittery breath escaped her lips. She threw a hasty glance over her shoulder, then another over Harry's, and finding nobody looking their way but hearing voices approaching them from around the corner, she took him by the hand and led him a couple of steps back the way they had come, opened the first door they reached and nimbly maneuvered the two of them through the gap.
"Come," she said, pulling an unresisting Harry after her. "In here."
In there turned out to be an old forsaken class room that by the dusty looks of it hadn't been used (or, for that matter, entered) by anyone in years. Their shoes left stark prints in the thick gray layer of dust on the walnut floorboards as they slowly made their way down the aisle towards the deserted lectern, neither of them speaking a word. Prompted by the well-nigh unbearably stuffy air in the room, Hermione proceeded to wrench open one of the large windows next to the blackboard behind the lectern, afterwards wrinkling her nose at the not entirely unforeseeable sight of her palms and fingers. She noisily blew on them, then swatted them against one another a couple of times. The innumerable motes of dust flung wildly into the disturbed air glittered colorfully in the shafts of sunlight falling through the windows, and standing in a lazily dispersing cloud of dust she herself had caused, Hermione sneezed.
"Gesundheit," it came from Harry in a mumble.
"Thank you," Hermione replied, rubbing the tip of her nose with a seesawing index finger.
With all of that done and dusted, she unexpectedly found herself standing right behind the lectern with an audience of one waiting for her impending lecture. As Harry's gaze was elsewhere adrift, she skipped the awkward moment and swiftly shuffled away from the rather ridiculous spot, careful to leave enough steps between her and Harry as she did so, whatever exactly constituted enough in this specific instance.
With her right shoe she swept a rough circle on the ground as free of dust as it could get with this suboptimal method of cleaning, then gingerly, reluctantly dropped her shoulder bag in its center with her nose scrunched up in repulsion. In hindsight she deemed the entire undertaking a bad idea: she now felt irrationally naked.
"So," she finally set out, and that's about as far as she got.
"So," Harry quietly echoed her a moment later, his eyes wandering over the empty seats around him for no particular reason. On a philosophical tangent he wondered how funny it would look if he were to leave butt prints in the fluffy cover of dust on each and every one of them and then magically remove the footprints that connected all of them.
"I guess I'd better get to the point and say what I have to say then," Hermione carefully delineated, and discontinued like that the statement hung in the still rather fusty air for a bit like a nonbinding proposition—an offer everybody was free to refuse. An option which Hermione herself was at present seriously considering.
Harry, however, eventually nodded his head in a semi-affirmative sort of way.
"Right," Hermione commented on the unfortunate agreement. "I'm... not entirely sure what's the best way to say it, but I suppose the one with the fewest words and therefore the least convoluted one would be the best. Obviously the last thing we need right now are any additional misunderstandings. And I believe I really, really owe you the truth now, quick and concise, after the utter mess I just made. Yes, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So here it goes." She paused, did not move a single muscle for a moment, then gave a curt nod. "I'm just gonna say it now, and then it's going to be out there. Frankly, I would have preferred for this to never see the light of day, but it's really my own fault that it has come to this. After what I've put you through, you simply deserve to know the truth. As I've said already. And I don't assume you're planning on vetoing this... ? No? Well, then... then there's just no way around it anymore. So here we are. And here it goes. Here I go."
Like a timorous yet fatalistically inclined kid about to jump off the high dive at a public swimming pool for the first time, Hermione pressed her eyes tightly shut, inhaled one last steeling breath and then, with her arms straight at her sides and her hands clenched into white-knuckled fists at their ends, at last blurted out into the expectant world as fast as she could, "I have a crush on you, Harry!"
Silence ensued. Complete and utter silence. Seconds passed ticking and tocking ominously in her mind as the silence remained unbroken. A soft autumn breeze passing by the windows was all there was to hear, all there was to assure Hermione, whose eyes remained firmly shut, that the world, for better or for worse, was still there, and that she was still in it and that the cosmos had not yet ceased to be. Maybe it should have, really, if only it were a nice, accommodating type of cosmos, but it didn't. Because it isn't.
Slowly, hesitantly opening one eye Hermione risked a cautious peek at Harry, and all but ready to bolt straight out the window behind her at the first sign of whatever exactly it was she expected to find, found him staring blankly right at... her knees?... for some reason?... with perhaps the most fundamentally bewildered expression that she had ever seen on his face or any other. The very moment his lips began to part as if in slow motion—of his own volition or not—both her eyes immediately flew wide open and hastily she proceeded to blabber away:
"Now, before you say anything, let me explain." She began pacing back and forth as she talked. "The most important thing to understand here is that this is not a big deal, okay? If I hadn't made this perfect mess of things just now I would've been able to stick to my nifty original plan of never telling you, and eventually everything would've worked itself out without anyone ever knowing anything about this silly business of mine. And that's really all it is, right? Just a silly crush. And everybody has a crush on someone, isn't it so? Especially at our age. Everybody's had a crush on a celebrity at one time or another, I'd wager. Harrison Ford probably had a crush on himself at some point, and who'd blame him? Ron nowadays basically has a crush on a new Wandpolish centerfold with every monthly issue. And me, well, I naturally had to go for something a bit more complicated than that and neatly develop a crush on my best friend. So what? Same difference, really. You have to keep in mind that this is not a big deal. Are you keeping that in mind? It's very important."
"And before you go ahead and ask me what the hell I had to do that for—develop a crush on you, that is—I swear that I did not do this on purpose! It was an accident! I didn't mean for it to happen, but it did. I don't even know when exactly it began, or how, but it did. And I can assure you that nobody could possibly be more annoyed by this than I am, because frankly I tend to hold myself to higher standards." She stopped her pacing, horrified. "Wait, what? No! No, no—not like that! I mean that I didn't want to stoop to the level of all those vapid fan girls of yours, you see? Unlike them I actually know you for who you truly are and don't just swoon over the Boy Who Lived and all that codswallop." The pacing recommenced. "I hate that I have this stupid crush now because I don't want to be like that. I lov-uh-like and admire you for who you are, not what I make you out to be—and on that I still insist, despite some pesky hormones getting in the way of a perfectly dignified sort of affection that I've always had for you."
"The bottom line is, it doesn't matter. It's going to pass, okay? It's just a fleeting thing. Crushes basically are by definition, I think. Like nine out of ten times, approximately. Seven or eight, at least. I mean, surely I'm not going to grow into an old crazy cat lady after never getting over my teenage crush on my best friend! Please, ha-ha! That's a preposterous thought, you'll have to agree. I do like cats, though, and I suppose there are worse things than being old and crazy, like being... young and... sane?!"
"At any rate, sooner or later this thing will have vanished and we'll both have a good laugh about it together, you'll see. It's a self-solving problem, when you look at it fairly and squarely. And it doesn't change a single variable of the equation between us, really. It doesn't have to. Admittedly, I handled it in the worst of all possible ways and I'm inexpressibly sorry for hurting you. But you have to understand that these days you're just—the effects you're having on me... well, you know how it is. With Cho or Ginny or Whatshertits from Slytherin, or whoever it is for you. When you're close to me I just can't concentrate on anything. Class, homework, my afternoon reading. Having your hand brush against mine is enough to break my concentration these days. When you massage my shoulders or twirl my hair around your finger it makes me dizzy, and constantly having that intoxicating scent of yours in my nose turns my brain into aggravatingly useless mush." The pacing ceased once more. "This, ah... this is probably more information than you strictly required, but ah... where... where was I going with this? The point, of course!"
Harry didn't even try, and there she went pacing again.
"The point is... you can't do that to me, Harry. It's not fair. I'm not getting anything done like that and it makes things very difficult for me. It has for months now. If I'm being totally honest... maybe for a couple of years, in a gradual sort of way. That's why over the summer I finally came to the conclusion that this needs to stop. It's too hard. Too disruptive. And not just in regard to my school career, mind you. Emotionally, too. I mean, I am a human being after all, as much as it pains me to admit it, so... navigating this particular labyrinth is not all that easy, you know? There's a friendship to save here, after all. The most important one in my life, to make matters worse. So I... I have to beat this. And I will. All of this would indubitably be a lot easier if only it were anyone but you, but naturally... this is Hermione Granger's life we're talking about here, after all... it just had to be you. So if you'd agree to help me out just a little bit and maybe keep some distance for the time being—in a strictly physical sense, mind you—it might accelerate the, ah, recovery process, if you will. We both want the same thing here, right? So that's really all there is to it. Not a big deal at all, as I... as I previously stated... already... a couple of times..."
She came to a stop almost right at the midpoint of her prominent trail of pacing in the dust. She coughed quietly against the back of her hand ere the deafening sound of silence returned, and it made itself really comfortable for a bit. Hermione, however, grew increasingly uncomfortable the more comfortable the silence got. Meanwhile, Harry was too far detached from the whole concept of the comfort-discomfort-dichotomy to have much of an inclination either way.
"I'm done, in case that wasn't clear," Hermione thought it sensible to clarify. "So if you've got anything to say about anything at all, now would be as good a time as any, presumably..."
"Right," Harry ejected on the very peak of a sharp intake of breath that seemed to function as an internal system reboot. "Right." He blinked a couple of times, and then again more rapidly, but not enough to pass for Morse code, so there still wasn't much to work with for anybody communication-wise. Finally: "I think I just... don't quite understand."
Hermione's eyebrows sidled up to one another. "Don't understand what?"
"What you mean, exactly."
The perplexity on her face went up a notch, although she had ways to go yet if she ever was to catch up with the levels of unmitigated bedlam still so magnificently on display on Harry's face. "What I mean with what?"
"That crush, I suppose."
Her left eyebrow, always the more expressive one of the two, did the Spock thing it liked to do. "You... you don't know what a crush is?"
"I thought I did," said Harry, "but when you use one and the same word to describe both the thing that Ron's got for those buxom witches he slobbers all over and the thing you've got for me, then that paints a rather broad definition of the term, doesn't it?"
"The difference being, of course, that unlike Ron I actually know the person I'm slobbering over," Hermione forthwith rectified, then immediately blushed rather spectacularly as her eyelids fluttered alarmingly up and down. "Not that I'm literally slobbering over you. Nuh-no slobbering is being done here. At all." She softly cleared her throat with a genteel fingertip at her lips.
Harry by all appearance was more intellectually engaged, more single-mindedly focused than he had ever been while doing his homework or listening to any of the professors go on and on about whatever it was they generally liked to go on about. Probably magic and stuff. "But you do think about me... sexually, right?"
Hermione looked mightily scandalized as her cheeks astonishingly enough turned an even more vibrant shade of red, however exactly they accomplished the impossible feat. "That—that's no question to ask a lady, Harry! My goodness..."
Creases of confusion again made one of their recently rather frequent appearances on Harry's brow. "But you essentially said as much yourself already."
Hermione stuttered an unintelligible thing or two in response, her tongue seemingly tied into something that vaguely resembled a brain while her brain wobbled about much like a functional tongue would do and a brain preferably never should. "Well, I suppose I did," she reluctantly conceded once brain and tongue had solved their joint identity crisis. "Nevertheless... there's really no reason to delve any deeper into this. Surely you don't mean to make me reveal in excruciating detail every last one of the numerous ways I fantasize about you?"
"You—" He gulped quite loudly and therewith practically interrupted himself. "You fantasize about me?"
He winced when Hermione suddenly stomped her foot on the ground, whirling up a billowing plume of dust around her legs. "What is my brain even doing?!" she angrily hissed. "That's not what I wanted to say!" She took a controlled, meditative breath that Gautama Buddha himself would've been impressed with. "Could we maybe not turn this into an interrogation? Is that at all feasible? I'm embarrassed enough as it is without discussing my more piteous journal entries with you."
Harry gave an innocent sort of shrug, abashedly sweeping the floor with his right foot a bit. There was a lot to sweep around there. "Just trying to get my head around this, is all..."
"And what's so impossibly hard to grasp here?" Hermione irascibly snapped at him with her arms firmly crossed below her breasts, just a tad miffed with mostly everything right then. Especially Buddha. "I have a crush on you. I think we adequately established as much by now. And it means that, yes, I do find you attractive. Kind of comes with the package, doesn't it? You're exerting an attractive force on me. You affect me. Emotionally, physically, chemically... altogether irritatingly. Yeah, I fancy you. There, is that clear enough for you, or do you need me to strip down and tell you to take me right here, right now on this disgustingly dusty floor? Mother of Merlin! Do you have any idea how humiliating this is for me?"
For once it was Harry's turn to blush, the reasons for which surely were no less than twofold. "Sorry," he muttered under his breath, bashfully scratching the back of his neck. "Didn't mean to embarrass you." He paused, reiterated his apology in a mumble, then took a moment to rummage through his tumultuous thoughts. A weak sigh seemed to be its conclusion. "It's just that... well, you said yourself that a crush is usually just a fleeting infatuation, right? Because it's really mostly a superficial sort of thing, nourished by wishful thinking and dreaming up that perfect version of the object of one's desire and all that kerfuffle. That would basically be a textbook crush, correct?"
She offered no more than a noncommittal nod in response, refraining from looking directly at him.
"So... my question, I guess," Harry ventured forth, "is how that can possibly apply to the two of us, because, as you've emphasized yourself on more than one occasion, you do actually know me. You don't have to fill in any blanks and you don't just like the way I look and go from there. You... you do like the way I look, though... ruh-right?"
Hermione's eyes once again went skyward, and once again a ceiling was in the way of her desperate solicitation. "Pagan gods of old, give me strength..."
"Sorry," Harry quickly moved on with his palms raised in an apologetic gesture. "What I'm saying is... we're the best of friends already and have been for years, right? Nobody knows me better than you do—and that's not just a corny phrase in my case. Incredibly enough, it's actually true. So when you find that you like me in other ways as well, in ways that maybe go beyond the traditional definition of friendship... well, doesn't that automatically make it more than a crush?"
Hermione heaved a sigh of exasperation, her ire abating only to reveal something far more vulnerable beneath it. "I don't know what you want me to say," she spoke with trembling lips, her mien as hard as her voice was frail. "D'you want me to profess my undying love for you so that I may look even more pathetic to you than I already do right now? I was hoping I'd somehow manage to get through this ordeal with at least some pitiful vestige of my dignity intact, you know, but I guess that one's out the window along with the rest of my evidently woefully unrealistic hopes."
"Hey," he gently sounded, making two inadvertent steps towards her and therewith halving the distance between them. Lingering uncertainty alone stopped him. "Don't even think such rubbish. You could never look pathetic to me. Not in a million years. In my eyes you're like the personified opposite to the very essence of the word. You're my heroine, don't you know that?"
She scoffed bitterly, the concomitant tinge of scarlet on her cheeks perhaps at odds with her gruff dismissal of his words. "Please," she said. "You don't have to try to make me feel better."
He made another step forward, this one more deliberate; she remained where she was. "But I mean it. I'm not toying with you here, Hermione. And don't try to tell me you don't know deep down that I would never do that to you, because that would be an insult to the both of us. I'm not playing any games, and I'm not playing dumb either. Sometimes I actually am a bit dumb, but I rarely exacerbate the issue by pretending. I simply—sincerely have trouble understanding what you're saying, because..."
He took a long, deep breath as he watched her standing there less than an arm's length away from him—so close, so terribly close and yet never close enough. Her face was averted to the side; one angled arm was holding on to the elbow of the other. Her hair was a glorious mess, single wild locks with a mind of their own sticking out beyond the frame of her shoulders. The arcane energies released by the spells they were working with in Charms these days had the most peculiar effects on people, and in Hermione's case, much to her chagrin, it was mostly her hair in which they manifested themselves. Profane humidity was nothing compared to the sheer havoc those spells reliably wreaked on her hair.
And in the unvoiced privacy of his own thoughts he absolutely adored it.
"See," he softly spoke on, "I've been listening to you this whole time as you kept going on and on about this thing you have for me, which you choose to call a crush, and again and again you stressed its... its irrelevance, dismissing it all as this trivial, meaningless little flight of fancy that nobody gives a damn about and that eventually will just evaporate like the insubstantial velleity it is. Yes, I know some words, too. Mostly from listening to you. I listen to you a lot, were you aware? And I listened to you just now as well, closely, and all the while I'm standing here bothered and bewildered, wondering whether that's truly all there is to it or if you are just being... you know... Hermione again, in that unique, inimitable way of yours. So knowledgeable, yet so unknowing sometimes. So incredibly smart, yet so agonizingly insecure."
Shaking his head ever so slightly Harry smiled secretly to himself, his eyes all on her. Her gaze still averted from him, Hermione regrettably missed this golden opportunity to completely misinterpret the expression on his face and thereby prove him right.
"You know," Harry continued musingly, "I don't think I've ever had a proper crush. Not really. Maybe as a child, sure. One of those prepubescent fits that don't really make any sense, like when you see Kim Basinger in that weird alien movie with that one-eyed worm in the purse and it makes you feel a bit tingly inside—Kim Basinger, not the worm—but you don't know what's going on or why. Maybe that. Maybe Veronica Malcolm in primary school. But nothing more. And certainly never on you."
She dropped her head even lower at that. "Of course you don't. I know that..."
Discovering a flame of courage in his heart that was sparked by her confession and stoked by the sight of her fragility as she stood there before him, so exposed and unguarded, Harry made one last step, closing the distance between them. He gingerly put his right hand around her left, which hovered loosely at her thigh; his touch was half question and half statement, neither of which Hermione could truly understand in that moment. In dazed wonder her head came about from one side to the other as her eyes fixated her fingers laced through his in that strangely intimate manner: a puzzling sight if there ever was one...
"No, Hermione," he said to her, "I can assure you in no uncertain terms that I do not have a crush on you, and that, in fact, you're the last person in the world I could ever possibly have a crush on. And all your elaborations on the topic have helped immensely in making that unequivocally clear to me. Because you're right. Of course you are. You just don't know how right you are. The word itself is too small and petty, isn't it? A crush, really? Come on, that's not us. That's not enough. No, Hermione, my dearest friend, my constant companion... over the course of the past couple of years, perhaps from the day we met right to this very moment, I have quite simply, and perhaps inevitably so, seen myself falling ever deeper in love with you, and that is the only right way to put it."
At that Hermione's bowed head swirled up quicker than a Firebolt could twitch and she stared at him as if he had just spontaneously elected to recite random excerpts from Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in Parseltongue for no discernible reason. Her pupils played ping pong between his eyes until at some point they got stuck somewhere in the middle. And the entirety of her brain's most lucid activity at that moment was articulated in the following way:
The faintest semblance of a smile made a transient appearance in the corners of Harry's mouth as he shrugged his shoulders. "That's what I have to say about the matter, anyway. But if it's too soon to say so, seeing how we've only known each other for five years and all that, I totally understand."
Her eyes narrowing into slits of scrutiny, she tucked one half of her bottom lip behind her teeth and nervously nibbled on it for a while. Examining him intently like that, eventually she began shaking her head in rapid albeit minimal motions. Her diagnosis was complete: "You—you're not making any sense."
His lips curled upward more boldly. "I hope you know that I usually trust your judgment implicitly, but I feel like you're having a bit of an off day here, so... I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with you on that. In fact, I think I might just be making the most sense I've ever managed to make on anything."
Very little of all that purported sense was presently translating to the disoriented facial features of Hermione Granger, usually one of the foremost sources of sense in Great Britain and the wider Milky Way area. "Buh-but... but... what?! This wasn't supposed to happen!"
"Not supposed to happen?" he asked, the nascent amusement hidden in his features at last coming into full bloom. "Have you picked up divination again? Professor Trelawney will be delighted to hear it."
"Ew, no," she dismissed the appalling notion. "No, I... I just meant... what did I mean? Whu-where were we?"
That settled it. Harry at this point was positive he had never seen Hermione Granger that stumped, so completely and hopelessly lost. Secretly, moderately, he kind of relished its novelty, and the very sight of it was so disarmingly endearing there was no power that he possessed that could have stopped him from doing it: he laughed.
"I," he accommodatingly enough went on to help her along, "was informing you of my being in love with you, while you were trying to fob me off with that silly crush of yours."
"Stop saying that!" she at once demanded, yet soon reconsidered. "Or... or maybe keep saying it until I finally start believing what I'm hearing. What in the Founders' names am I hearing?"
He grinned at her in a way that unbeknownst to him seriously threatened the structural integrity of her knees, in the knowledge of which he would perchance have politely refrained from grinning in any such hazardous way. Maybe.
"What might you be referring to?" he asked her in faux innocence. "That I'm in love with you?"
"Yeah... yeah, that," she replied as if in trance, staring at him in bright-eyed wonder. "Do you... do you really mean it?"
"My dear Hermione," he uttered with a shake of the head. "Why do you think can I so frequently be found in that personal space of yours?"
That look on her face, the one that rarely failed to make him smile? The one she always got when she knew the answer to a question in class, which was just about all the time she participated in one? The well-nigh uncontainable excitement in her focused eyes, the fierce determination in the furrows on her brow? That look of exhilarating knowledge and intelligent delight? Wasn't there just then.
And so Harry, gazing—much to her blessed undoing—with unveiled affection into her deep, dark eyes, heaved as an overture to the answer to his own question a wistful sigh. "Because," in a low whisper he spoke, "it's my favorite space to be in."
Hermione goggled at him, then goggled at him some more, before her glazed eyes slowly began to wander down his face and drift off entirely without anywhere in particular to go... until she suddenly slapped her free hand against her forehead. "And I told you to stay out of it?! What is wrong with me these days?!"
"I think you already went over that quite extensively," he quipped a bit gleefully.
"I did, didn't I?" She removed the hand from her forehead and ended up placing it on Harry's shoulder instead without even realizing what she was doing. It was just a highly convenient spot for a hand to be placed in, as surely everyone would concur. "So we can both agree that it's entirely your fault, then?"
He grinned. "Didn't expect anything else, naturally."
Something of a whiff of a ghost of a hint of laughter brushed across her lips, but already she was shaking her head, still not on the same page with herself. "Merlin, those stupid, awful things I threw at you out in the hallway..." With her eyes closing she ever so slightly leaned forward, and perhaps it was only due to Harry unconsciously doing the same that her forehead came to lightly rest against his chin. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Harry! I don't know what I was thinking! I don't believe I've ever felt this daft before. Worse than that, actually. How could I willingly risk hurting you just because I was afraid of getting hurt myself? That is not at all representative of my priorities. It is, quite frankly, an insult to my affection for you. I wish I could go back and just tell you the truth upfront, the way you deserve. I'm sorry..."
"Hey now," he soothed her, and his left hand slid to the side of her face with his thumb resting gently against the slope of her cheek. Guided by his touch her eyes came up to meet his again, and a soft gasp escaped her parted lips at his intense proximity. Exactly how close could two bodies get before there was no room left for any more closeness to be gained, scientifically speaking?
"It's okay," he said. "Nobody's hurting here right now. And we've both been just about equally stupid in one way or another, wouldn't you agree?"
"I suppose I would," she allowed. She eyed his tie without much intent as she thought for a moment. "How long have you been feeling this way about... about me?" A solid ninety percent of the question seemed to be contained within those last two words as undiluted incredulity. "That you've been really aware, I mean."
"A while," he answered, then gave a lopsided smile. "Maybe for a couple of years now, in a gradual sort of way."
She exhaled a tremulous sigh with the flimsiest hint of a chuckle hidden among its vibrations. "Why didn't you say anything sooner?"
"I didn't know how," he explained. "What was I supposed to do? Ask you out on a date? We already spend most of our time together as it is. The idea seemed so absurd to me. 'Hey, Hermione. Would you like to spend the day with me? You know, like virtually every day?' I kinda tried it with our last Hogsmeade trip, but I don't think that really got across the way I intended it. Shockingly enough."
"Oooh!" Hermione ejected pure, belated enlightenment. "Oh, that's what that was! I did wonder halfway through the day why Ron wasn't with us, but it didn't occur to me... I didn't really allow myself to entertain the idea—oh my, these are levels of density I did not consider either one of us capable of..."
A chortle briefly came from Harry, ending in a ponderous exhalation. "I just thought this was our... natural progression, you know? From friendship to... to kissing and stuff. Eventually. I didn't think we'd need any big announcements and bells to ring in the next stage of our relationship or anything overt like that. I thought it would just... run its course somehow. Very slowly, apparently. But surely, hopefully."
Hermione smiled warmly at him, and his heart made a leap of joy in his chest at the sight of it. "I guess the course of true love never did run smooth," she recited almost a bit dreamily, her cheeks radiantly ablush and her eyes round with terror a mere second later. "Sorry!" she hastily sputtered, pushing her face against his chest in lieu of any other places in which to hide it. "Don't know why I would say that. Why would I say that? This whole mess of a day is going to keep me up at night more than my post-traumatic S.P.E.W. flashbacks. Oh, just euthanize me already! Stupidity appears to be a degenerative disease. It's hopeless. Let me end this misery on my own terms, lest I die of shame alone."
Harry laughed heartily as he wrapped his arms around her, burying his nose in the chaotic curls of her hair. Some of them, as he really noticed only now that he was all but entangled in them, still seemed to be brimming with residual energy from their Charms class, moving about in various spots in vague resemblance of Medusa's timelessly fashionable if somewhat inconveniently ophidian hairdo. Growing contemplative with one of her wayward locks wafting languidly past his eyes, he at some point hesitantly asked, "It's okay now for me to hold you like this, right?"
A muffled huff came from Hermione. "Of course it is!" she practically exclaimed into his chest, more than a pinch of desperation in her voice. "You don't even have to ask! Please, please just ignore everything I told you earlier! Better yet, know that the very opposite of everything I said is actually true, okay? Well, not of everything. There are a lot of Weasleys around and I do get uncomfortable in large crowds. But you know what I mean. I want you inside my personal space, damn it!"
Harry could feel her tensing up in his arms all of a sudden. He pursed his lips. "That came out way more suggestive than you wanted it to, didn't it?"
A pause. "Yes," it meekly came from her. "Yes, it did. But I'm not even going to comment on my tongue running amok anymore. I have no idea what's going on here, but I'm about done with it. I just wanna go to bed, please. Thanks."
He chuckled softly as he held her, slowly stroking her curved back with both his roving hands. How right her shape felt in his arms, her body flush against his own...
"Say," Hermione after a short while mumbled against his shirt, then leaned back so that she could properly look at him, "just out of curiosity, did that natural progression of ours have us tentatively starting to hold hands in public before or after the heat death of the universe?"
There was a hint of mischievousness in the grin that spread his lips wide, and even more so in that infectious, frisky little sparkle in his emerald eyes. "Why, d'you have something else in mind to help our progression get a move on?"
Hermione puckered her lips with her eyes rolling upward. "Hmmm, I don't know..." A slickly inserted dramatic pause. "What about... how did you put it?" She fixed her gaze on his mouth. "Kissing and stuff."
An audible gulp bounced up and down Harry's throat, and somewhat hoarsely he replied, "Think that would help us along?"
She gave a minimal shrug with her head cocked to the side, her right hand at his tie going tug tug tug... "Might help me believe what you've been telling me, I suppose."
"No facts without evidence, huh?" he whispered back, her rose-glistening lips a tongue's lick away from his.
"Exactly," she answered, her eyelids surrendering to the unbearable weight of anticipation. "It's for science."
"For science," he echoed her breathily, and his parting lips fervidly conquered hers only to capitulate entirely to their overwhelming softness as two personal spaces merged so beautifully into one.
Seventeen and a half seconds later, the rousing crescendo of Hermione's impassioned moans rising from some uncharted depths inside her breast, which already had turned Harry's brain into a puddle of goo that—having its priorities somehow still in perfect order—barely managed to keep his mouth and his hands going while the useless rest was just fried, dropped off abruptly as she tore her lips away from his voracious counterparts against the screaming objections of every last fiber in her being, struggling for breath.
"Good gracious," she feebly whispered into the hot and sultry air between their swelling lips and glowing faces, and a tenuous whimper followed fatefully in its whirling wake. "My knees!"
"Denise?!" Harry lamely queried, having half a muddled mind to turn around and look for some such corresponding person. And this rare and untimely lapse in situational awareness, as well as the contributing factor that he himself at present was feeling mightily woozy in the synapses, sadly sealed their unalterably entwined fates: one pair of knees buckled, and two people were toppled...
"I'm telling you, you got it all wrong," Justin Finch-Flatley informed his housemate Ernie Macmillan. "Caleb Mercer was the one who assassinated Minister Cicero Mortimer in 1879. Callum Masters led the Muggle-born revolt in the Thirteen Colonies in 1774. You've got them confused with a solid century in between."
Ernie's eyes probed various carefully selected spots in the air above his head for the answers his brain unfortunately did not contain. His not entirely surprising conclusion was a dismissive wave of his hand. "Whatever," he scoffed. "They all sound the same to me, anyway."
"That's because everything sounds the same when it's Binns who's talking about it," Neville Longbottom opined, yielding humorous consensus among the group of four.
Then, however, halfway through a precariously chuckle-shaken gulp of Butterbeer, Seamus Finnigan found his attention switching from the cool brown glass bottle right between his eyes to a door a couple of meters away from them, at present swinging open just far enough for two clandestine human figures to pass through, one after the other and hand in hand.
Within a second these three similarities between the two struck Seamus as the most salient ones: firstly, their faces were most vibrantly flushed as if they had just stepped out of a sauna after an hour-long session of dissolving in their own sweat. Secondly, their hair—though strikingly different in color, length and volume—was on both their heads an unmitigated disaster of unparalleled proportions. And lastly, they were—from the soles of their shoes to the outer tips of aforementioned hair—covered in such ludicrous amounts of dust they looked as if they had, a week before the yearly Halloween festivities were to commence, decided to find the cheapest ghost costumes imaginable.
Within another second Seamus actually recognized who exactly these two dusted and busted culprits were, and as his eyes widened with realization he turned his head to stare at them with the exact degree of audacity the moment so clearly called for... neglecting to first adjust the angle and position of the bottle in his hand. Foaming cascades of Butterbeer consequently came gushing against his cheek, running down his chin and soon enough into his sweater, while Ernie jumped back from the splatter of amber liquid on the ground, so perilously close to his freshly polished shoes.
"Watch it, mate," he exclaimed mid-hop. "The hell you're wasting perfectly fine Butterbeer like that?"
With a disbelieving look around, seeking solidary indignation from his peers, he was puzzled to observe that nobody else appeared to care about the spilled beer and his spectacular near-death experience at all, so instead he followed their rather vacant stares to the one spot they for some reason were collectively directed at...
"Hello there, fellas," Harry Potter genially greeted the flabbergasted assemblage. "Didn't... quite expect to meet you all out here, but then again, why wouldn't you spontaneously throw a party in a random hallway at half past four in the afternoon on a Wednesday?"
Nobody in attendance really had anything to say about that.
"Well, then," Harry continued the conversation on his own. "Miss Granger and I," (Miss Granger was standing rigidly at his side with an expression on her face like a boggart that had accidentally turned into its own worst fear. There were remains of actual cobwebs stuck amidst her frazzled chestnut mane.), "we have... business... to attend to. Elsewhere. Separately. So, uh..." He started nodding his head, as far as anyone could tell altogether satisfied with the situation. "See ya!"
And four pairs of circular, unblinking eyes followed the two as they hurried away down the corridor with puffs of dust coming off their clothes in the bouncy rhythm of their most evident precipitance. Justin was the first to process the events and turn his head back into a more comfortable position.
"Well, I'll be damned," he commented, rubbing his neck. "The most oblivious witch of her age and the most myopic boy of all time finally managed to stumble on top of each other."
Neville and Ernie followed suit while Seamus was still busy staring. "That arse on her alone is worth all the attention she's so ignorant of."
"Uh-oh," Ernie sounded, thrice clicking his tongue. "Don't let The Boy Who Lived hear that one."
"Why not?" asked Seamus with a cavalier shrug of the shoulder. "It's a bloody compliment."
"And a most tactful one at that," Neville remarked with mannerly disapproval.
"Verily," Justin haughtily agreed with the disagreement and raised his bottle at the Gryffindor gentleman, who reciprocated the gesture with a simultaneous bow of the head. They both proceeded to take the most moderate sips of Butterbeer ever taken with their pinkies fittingly extended.
Seamus rolled his eyes at their antics, proceeding to wipe his face with a sleeve of his beer-soiled sweater.
"Nice going, by the way," Neville remarked, giving him a pointed look.
"Sod off, ya git," Seamus retorted in good spirits.
"In his defense," said Justin, "it was quite an unexpected sight. I honestly thought they'd need another five years or so to cotton on."
Neville nodded his head in wholehearted agreement. "I can already see them on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, going like," and he went straight for the highest pitch his voice could reach, "'Are you sure you really love me, darling? Oh, I just don't know!'"
And even more shrilly Seamus joined in with maximum affectation, "'Because I've always been so hideous and undesirable with my nice round bum and perfect skin, teehee!'" Lacking any more tempting alternatives as far as he could judge, he opted for slapping his own backside for dramatic emphasis.
And eagerly Ernie added to the increasingly theatrical performance, "'And I've got so much hair! Look at all my hair, Harry! What kind of woman wants so much hair on her head? Oh, how I wish I was bald!"
Finally Justin, in his best and wildly exaggerated bass voice, duly played the part of her brooding beloved: "'Oh, sweetums. I love you despite your countless glaring flaws! But what about me? Could anyone ever truly love me? I'm such an averaged-sized man and my magic hair is so iconically messy all the time! Oh, woe is me! How could any woman ever want a famous tragic superhero type like me?'"
Bellowing laughter broke out among the merry band as in between reverberating guffaws they continued to embellish these outlandish scenes of a marriage even further, occasionally perhaps overstepping the bounds of good taste and decency just a wee bit...
"About time they figured it out, though," Justin concluded on a more serious note once the roaring laughter had subsided, with everyone by then holding on to their aching sides.
"Yeah, I'm glad for them, honestly," said Ernie, emptying his bottle of Butterbeer with one last thorough gulp. "Took them long enough."
"Wait," Seamus tossed in, glancing at each of them in turn, "you all really think they sealed the deal just now?"
Justin raised an inquisitive eyebrow at the famously explosive Irishman. "How long you think this has been going on for?"
"A while at least, for sure," Seamus claimed with a mien of unshakable confidence. "Years, perhaps. Lots and lots of secret snogging, guaranteed. Prolly more than that, too."
"Nah, no way," Neville contradicted his housemate with a shake of the head. "They've been utterly clueless for years now."
Seamus grimaced, unconvinced. "Come on, mate," he said. "Give 'em some bloody credit. How daft could they possibly be?"
~ The End ~
• When in doubt, it's probably Shakespeare: I've been getting the feeling lately that the Bard of Avon's already rather pitiable popularity has been on the decline for a while now, so I thought I'd do what my boy Kanye did for that Paul McCartney dude (who?) and give the poor bugger a little boost, which is why I demeaned myself to quote him in a Harry Potter fan fiction of mine that some people occasionally click on. The line "The course of true love never did run smooth", as uttered by a positively befuddled (and besotted) Hermione, is from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act I, Scene 1). Don't you worry, Shakes! We're getting the word out! I got your back, bro!
• The one-eyed purse worm: Forgot to mention this when I got carried away a bit with my Kanye McShakespeare routine up there. This reference, I think, may just be deemed a bit obscure in earnest. At least compared to Shakespeare. The movie Harry alludes to with his prepubescent Kim Basinger experience is My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988), starring Dan Aykroyd alongside aforementioned Miss Basinger, as well as a one-eyed purse worm. While it can hardly be considered a cinematic masterpiece, it does have Kim Basinger in a negligee, which is probably what the entire original ad campaign was built on back in the day: "Let's face it, guys. The movie sucks. But I think we might just have what it takes to work the very specific and highly demanding target demographic of males who are alive. Take it away, Kim."
In a weird but very real way, L.A. Confidential is basically the far superior remake of My Stepmother Is an Alien. You heard it here first, folks.