Disclaimer: I feel like trying something different this time. See, I don't actually own Harry Potter, but I'm going to say that I do just because I feel like it. I mean, what's the worst that can happen, right? So, yeah. I own Harry Potter! See? Nothing happened. Oh…never mind. A bunch of black SUVs just pulled up outside. I have made a huge mis–
Harry and Hermione walked to the Great Hall together in silence.
No quips about never having any time to themselves at Hogwarts. No halfhearted jokes about the tyranny of Dolores Umbridge. No attempts to lighten the mood. Not even a worried remark from Hermione about the possibility of losing their Prefect badges.
In Harry's defense, he didn't really want to say anything. And even if he did, he didn't have the slightest clue regarding how to go about it.
'Hey, sorry about how the fact that you're in love with me has probably made you the target of the most sadistic woman we've ever met. And I'm sorry that she has so much power and authority over us that there's nothing we can do. Anyway, do you want to go study by the lake after breakfast?'
Besides, there was no way in hell he was ready to talk to Hermione considering he couldn't even look at her. What kind of boyfriend can't look at their girlfriend – at the love of their life?
So, they walked in silence. Awkward, painful, unbearable silence. The kind of silence where every second felt like another brick in a tall, impenetrable wall between them.
In a matter of seconds, he and Hermione had gone from the effortless dynamic they had shared for years to an uncomfortable, walking-on-eggshells level of tension reminiscent of the time in their second year when…
Harry decided he didn't want to think about that.
It really was a testament to Dolores Umbridge's malevolence that she was able to suck every ounce of happiness out of two young people that were very much in love with one another. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Harry wondered if his new Defense professor had some variation of dementor DNA in her genes. Or maybe she was actually a dementor that was constantly drinking Polyjuice Potion, a la Barty Crouch Junior.
With visions of dementors with hip flasks in his head and an oppressive, overwhelming feeling of dread in his gut, Harry walked through the corridors of Hogwarts, pretending he didn't see the worried glances Hermione was shooting in his direction. All things considered, he was starting to long for that night in his first year when he had literally walked through fire in order to fight Voldemort. At least that walk had ended quickly.
After what felt like hours, the pair reached the doors of the Great Hall. For a brief moment, Harry considered turning on his heel and jogging down to the kitchens, but he squashed that impulse as quickly as it came about. Part of it was Gryffindor pride, part of it was hoping that the din of his peers eating and chatting would drown out his thoughts.
So he walked in, with Hermione marching steadfastly by his side. He heard the whispers immediately, like he had every morning for the past week. A few students began passing around copies of the Daily Prophet at once, eager to show off the latest in a long line of libelous literature.
Harry even heard Malfoy yell out some unoriginal insult from the Slytherin table, and if the Boy Who Lived gave even the slightest of fucks, he probably would have shouted something back at the smarmy git. However, since he had run out of fucks to give the moment Umbridge insinuated that she was going to make Hermione's life a living hell, Harry simply ignored him and kept walking. He didn't stop walking until he reached their usual spot at the Gryffindor table, where Lavender and Parvati were already enjoying their breakfast.
The moment he and Hermione sat down, both girls froze.
"Something's wrong…" Parvati piped up first, scrutinizing the two Gryffindors with her eyes like a detective would scan a crime scene.
"I concur," Lavender said with a frown, exaggeratedly tapping a finger to her chin. "Something is very, very wrong."
"Good morning to you too," Hermione greeted the pair curtly. Harry settled for a half-hearted smile and poured himself some pumpkin juice.
"What's wrong with you two?" Lavender asked, abandoning any sort of tact as she narrowed her eyes at the couple in front of her. Hermione turned to Harry, who was suddenly fascinated with his fingernails.
"Oh my god, they're fighting."
"We're not fighting," Hermione immediately countered, her tone laced with exasperation.
"Then what's wrong?" Parvati challenged, raising her eyebrows.
It was the first time Harry had spoken since before Umbridge had caught him and Hermione, and it showed. He sounded hoarse, and even though he had kept his response to just two words, his voice wavered like the legs of a marathon runner on mile twenty-six. A tree stump would have been able to tell that it was a lie.
"Well gee, Parv, I'm convinced," Lavender sighed dramatically, turning to her best friend and smirking. "Aren't you convinced?"
"Thoroughly convinced," Parvati rolled her eyes, absent-mindedly flipping her hair over her shoulder. "I'm sure that the fact that our resident lovebirds are sitting in an awkward silence for the first time ever is nothing to be concerned about."
"Excellent observational skills, Miss Patil," Lavender picked up where her roommate left off. "And while we're on the subject, I'm sure that the ten inches between Harry and Hermione on the bench, as opposed to the usual zero, is also nothing of concern to us."
Unable to stop himself, Harry glanced down towards the space between his left side and Hermione's right. Sure enough, they were about as far apart as the Hogwarts place settings allowed, which had never been the case since the pair had begun dating.
"A fascinating detail," Parvati mused, her eyes twinkling. "Normally, with evidence like this, I would deduce that Hogwarts's favorite couple were in the middle of a fight, but since Harry here gave such a rock-solid testimony that nothing was wrong, that's obviously out of the question."
"We're not fighting," Harry mumbled.
"Clearly," Lavender rolled her eyes, looking about as far from convinced as humanly possible. "Come on, what's the lovers' quarrel about?" She asked, leaning forward and cupping her chin with her hands.
"We. Aren't. Fighting." Hermione answered slowly.
"See, if the Ministry was as good at lying as you two were, not a soul would think that You-Know-Who was actually back," Parvati pointed out with a wry smile as she poured herself some coffee. "Seriously, either tell us why you're fighting or Lav and I are going to keep bothering you."
"Whatever it is, I'm sure we can help," Lavender added, dropping the teasing act and adopting a more sincere tone. "Relationship advice is one of our strong suits, you know."
"One of our many strong suits," Parvati corrected. "Right up there with modesty."
Harry and Hermione rolled their eyes in unison.
"See! Not all hope is lost!" Parvati grinned, throwing her hands up in triumph. "That was the most synchronized eye roll I've ever seen. You guys are still soulmates, despite this little spat that you're having."
"We're not having a spat," Hermione groaned.
"Well, in the unlikely event that you aren't fighting, could you please enlighten us as to why it looks like you're fighting?" Lavender tilted her head.
For the first time since the incident, Harry attempted to look at Hermione. He still couldn't quite do it, but he figured a subtle shaking of his head would be enough to communicate that he did not want to talk about their morning.
"Umbridge caught Harry and I in a…less-than-ideal position."
Maybe he was too subtle, Harry thought dejectedly, as he banged his forehead against the table and kept it there.
"She did not!" Parvati gasped, placing both hands over her mouth. Lavender, for the first time in recorded history, was at a loss for words. "That's like…" Parvati paused to gather her thoughts. "What's the opposite of winning the lottery? Like when something has a next-to-zero chance of happening, but if it does, it completely ruins your life instead of improving it?"
Hermione awkwardly cleared her throat. "Parvati, this –"
"Because, I mean, this really sucks for you guys. Like, this is one of the worst things that can happen to you right now."
"Right, sorry," She squeaked, finally noticing the glares she was getting from Harry and Hermione.
"What happened?" Lavender finally spoke up, leaning forward and lowering her voice. "Did the toad catch you two in a broom closet, or…"
Hermione glanced at Harry, who was now staring down at his lap and rethinking every decision he had ever made. "Well, we were in a corridor –"
"A corridor?!" Lavender repeated incredulously. "Were you trying to get caught?"
"Honey, let the kids finish," Parvati whispered, giving her roommate a nudge. "What did Umbridge do? Do you guys have detention?"
Hermione shook her head.
"She take your Prefect badges?"
Hermione shook her head again.
"What happened, then?"
Lavender and Parvati exchanged baffled looks. "What do you mean, nothing?" The latter clarified.
"Well…" Hermione turned to Harry again, but he was still stubbornly ignoring the ongoing conversation. "She didn't punish us, I should say." She turned back and frowned. "She just said…'Interesting' and wrote something down on a clipboard, and then she left."
Nobody said a word for a beat.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"Oh," Lavender bit her lip.
"That's…" Parvati trailed off. "That's suspicious." She frowned. "That's weird."
"Yeah," Lavender furrowed her eyebrows. "Why would she do that?" She glanced over to the front of the Great Hall, towards the faculty table. Harry followed her gaze and saw Umbridge talking a visibly agitated Professor Sprout's ear off. "You reckon she's had a change of heart?"
"Maybe. She could have gone through…what's that Muggle Christmas story where the cranky old man sees a bunch of ghosts and decides to stop being a git?" Parvati wondered out loud.
"A Christmas Carol?" Hermione deadpanned.
Parvati pursed her lips for a moment before shaking her head. "No, I don't think that's it."
"Whatever your weird ghost story is called," Lavender interjected as Hermione rolled her eyes, "I don't think that's the case," She drummed her fingers against her chin idly and turned back to the others. "Don't look now, but she's glaring at us."
Harry didn't risk it, but Parvati did and immediately winced. "I think glare is an understatement," She muttered, glancing back down at her plate. "So, is it safe to say Umbridge woke up on the regular side of the bed today?"
"Pretty sure Umbridge actually sleeps hanging upside-down from the ceiling," A familiar voice snickered. A moment later, the remaining four Gryffindors in their year plopped down onto the benches and joined their friends for breakfast. "Either that or she burrows into the mud like those toads we studied back in third year," Ron added, throwing Harry a playful elbow.
"Good morning to you, too," Parvati sighed, warily eyeing the amount of food the redhead was piling onto his plate.
"So, you're talking about Umbridge?" Dean asked as he poured himself some coffee. "While eating? That's a bold strategy."
"We're talking about how Umbridge caught Harry and Hermione snogging each other senseless this morning," Lavender clarified.
The thud of Harry's forehead hitting the table drew many perplexed looks.
"No way…" Seamus froze, a forkful of eggs halfway to his mouth. "She's joking, right?" He glanced at Hermione, who had a morose look on her face but managed to shake her head.
"Holy shit," Dean awkwardly put his coffee down and covered his mouth with one hand. "What happened? She give you detention?"
"She didn't punish them at all," Parvati piped up.
Harry was starting to regret befriending the two biggest gossips at Hogwarts.
"She didn't punish them?" Ron repeated incredulously before turning to Harry. "She didn't punish you?"
"No detention, no Prefect suspension, nothing," Lavender continued, either feigning obliviousness to Harry and Hermione's reactions or ignoring them altogether.
"So why does Harry look like Hermione just dumped him?"
"Alright," Harry sat upright so fast he nearly gave himself a head rush. He downed the rest of his pumpkin juice and stood up. "I've had enough," He sighed, slinging his bag over his shoulder and striding out of the Great Hall.
He was nearly done with the introduction of his History of Magic essay in the library by the time he heard footsteps approaching. He didn't look up when they neared his table, and he still didn't look up when the chair across from him slid across the floor and creaked as someone sat down.
Reluctantly, Harry laid his Sword of Gryffindor quill down on the table and glanced up to see Hermione across from him.
"Hey," He offered a half-smile before picking up his quill again.
"I would have come sooner, but Lav and Parvati made me stay so I could…pass a message," She began, and Harry froze for a moment before resuming his writing.
"They could have told me themselves. You're not an owl," He mumbled.
Hermione let out a laugh, but there was a distinct lack of amusement in the air. "That's exactly what I told them. And they will, believe me, they just…well, I thought you might not want to talk to anyone else."
It was Harry's turn to fake laugh.
"They want you to know they do feel awful for telling the rest of the boys about what happened. They didn't think…well, they didn't think at all," Hermione explained, her voice wavering slightly.
Harry simply nodded and kept working.
"Keeping things to themselves doesn't come naturally to them," She continued. "But they really do feel bad for just blurting everything we'd told them."
"Everything you told them," Harry pointed out, his tone much angrier than he intended. His words lingered in the air like cigarette smoke in a poorly ventilated room, making both Gryffindors more uncomfortable by the second.
"Harry…" Hermione spoke up. "Do you really not want to talk? About…about this morning?"
Harry just kept writing, only taking his eyes off his parchment to check his notes about the 1612 Goblin Rebellion.
"I think it might be for the best, Harry."
Apparently the goblins came really close this time around, at least according to Harry's notes.
"Seriously?" Hermione sighed. When he said nothing, she let out a longer, much more exasperated sigh. "You could at least say so…" She muttered.
Harry fought the urge to roll his eyes, settling for placing his quill back on the table and sitting up straight. "Okay," He said pointedly, making eye contact with Hermione for the first time. She looked momentarily surprised at his bluntness but quickly composed herself. "No, I don't want to talk about it," He said. "And, I have Quidditch practice tonight, and on practice nights I usually go straight to bed, which means I won't be able to do homework tonight. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to make the most of this morning."
And with that, he went back to writing, ignoring the burning feeling in his cheeks and his racing heart. The ensuing silence was even longer than the last one, but it too eventually broke.
"Well, I think we should talk about it," Hermione cleared her throat. "In fact, now I think we really need to talk about it."
"And I think we shouldn't," Harry answered as nonchalantly as he could. "And definitely not while I'm working on this essay."
"And what about after your essay? Do you think we can talk then?"
"I've still got Runes. And both Potions essays."
"What about when you go to lunch? Do you want to get food from the kitchens and talk alone someplace?"
"I'm not hungry."
Another silence. One so devoid of sound Harry was pretty sure Hermione could hear his heartbeat. Still, he just kept writing, pretending Hermione wasn't there until she spoke up, her voice uncharacteristically cold.
"You know Umbridge would be thrilled if she saw you acting like this, right? She would think she beat you like –"
If electricity could be generated by pure rage, Harry Potter could have powered an entire continent.
In the blink of an eye, his Sword of Gryffindor quill, the one Hermione had gifted him for his thirteenth birthday, one of his most valued possessions, snapped into two pieces in his now white-knuckled grip. He looked up from his essay and knew the look on his face was one of pure fury, considering the stunned expression Hermione adopted as soon as they made eye contact.
"Do you…" He began in a voice trembling with anger, but he had to stop and take a breath so that he didn't end up shouting. "Do you seriously think I care more about some moral victory over that fucking toad than I care about your well-being?" He hissed, rolling up his half-completed essay and grabbing his bag. "Is that really what you think I'm upset over?"
And for the second time that morning, Harry found himself storming off.
He ended up back in the unused classroom he and Hermione had used the previous year when he had taught her how to cast a Patronus. After casting a Locking Spell and a couple privacy charms on the door, he made himself at home at the teacher's desk and spent the remainder of the morning working through his various assignments.
His quill – thankfully – was good as new with a simple Reparo, but he doubted he'd be able to fix some other things with such ease. He decided he'd rather not think about that for the time being.
Nonetheless, he worked through the morning, finishing two of the four essays he had due on Monday before lunch started. He briefly considered taking a break and going down to the kitchens, but the knot of dread in his gut had yet to dissipate so he opted to keep working. And when he finished his Potions essays, he decided to keep his hot streak going and moved onto the Charms notes that were due Tuesday, along with his Herbology assignment.
After what was actually hours but felt like barely any time at all, the sun began to dip towards the horizon and Harry realized he had to get changed into his Quidditch gear if he wanted to arrive early to practice. After putting the finishing touches on his report on Screechsnaps and how to handle them, he packed his bag and exited the classroom, making his way back to Gryffindor Tower for the first time since morning.
The common room was relatively crowded considering it was a Saturday evening and it was quite nice outside, but Harry didn't see too many familiar faces. He figured his teammates were either getting ready to leave or already had, and the only members of the Gryffindor Gang he spotted were Dean, Seamus, and Neville. The latter appeared to be showcasing his mimbulus mimbletonia to the other two.
Trying not to think about where Hermione might be, Harry slipped through the clusters of chairs and people and made his way up the boys' staircase to his dormitory. He pushed the door open and found Ron sitting on the edge of his bed, staring down at his broom: a Cleansweep Eleven.
The redhead glanced up and offered a smile. "Hey."
"Hey, Ron," Harry tried to return the smile, coughing slightly at his raspy voice. "You ready?"
"Not really," Ron confessed, a weak chuckle escaping his lips. "I still can't believe I made the team."
"You earned it," Harry reassured him, dropping his bag and grabbing his own broom from his trunk, as well as his Quidditch gear. "You heading down now?" He glanced at his watch.
Ron swallowed. "Mind if I walk with you?"
Harry shrugged. "Works for me."
A couple minutes later, the pair were decked out in their respective uniforms and ready to walk down to the pitch.
"Jersey's a bit baggy," Ron noted as they exited the dormitory.
"You'll grow into it," Harry said, rolling up the sleeves of his own jersey as they descended the stairs. They each received a few cheers and pats on the back as they made their way through the common room, with Seamus being the most profane in his praise.
After about a minute of walking down to the ground floor in silence, Ron cleared his throat.
"Didn't see you at lunch today," He said, awkwardly glancing in Harry's direction only to look away.
"Oh, yeah…" Harry trailed off, rubbing the back of his neck. Had Hermione talked to Ron? He doubted she would, considering she once said he had the emotional range of a teaspoon a few weeks ago at Grimmauld. "I had a lot of essays and stuff I wanted to get done. Ended up working through lunch."
"Cool," Ron nodded. "Get everything done?"
Harry blinked. Was Ron voluntarily talking about homework? "Uh…yeah. Eventually."
"Nice," Ron nodded again. "This O.W.L. workload is, uh, something else, right?" He offered in what seemed like an attempt at a casual voice but ended up sounding cringeworthy.
"You okay, Ron?" Harry asked. "You don't talk about schoolwork. Like, ever."
"Course I do."
"No, you don't," Harry shook his head. "What's going on? Are you nervous about practice?"
"No," Ron shook his head quickly. "Well…yeah, a little, but that's not really it," He ran a hand through his hair and looked down at the ground.
"What's up?" Harry asked. Ron seemed reluctant to even acknowledge the question, but after a few beats, the redhead sighed and squared his shoulders.
"I…uh…" He began rather eloquently. "I know I'm not very good at…feelings…"
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"Wait, let me…" Ron groaned and closed his eyes before taking a deep breath. "I know that I'm not really the type of friend that people go to for…emotional stuff. Talking about feelings and being…what's the word…"
"Exactly," Ron threw Harry a grateful smile. "I know I'm not really that friend in our group. And I'm more than okay with that. It's for the best. I know I kind of have…"
"The emotional range of a teaspoon?" Harry offered before he could stop himself.
Ron blinked. "Ouch."
"Sorry, that was –"
"No, that's okay," Ron waved him off. "It's…accurate. Painfully accurate, but accurate."
Harry couldn't help but smile.
"Anyway, insults that hit a little close to home aside," Ron sighed, "it's pretty obvious that whatever happened this morning with…you know, the devil in a pink dress…"
There it was, Harry thought to himself.
"Look, I'm not going to give you any advice," Ron said quickly. "Again, that's not what I'm good at."
"Okay…" Harry nodded uncertainly.
"But I do think…well, I think you need to talk about whatever's going on inside your head right now," Ron explained, shifting his shoulders slightly. "And I know that's probably not what you want to hear, considering you spent the whole day not talking to anyone. But I'm just saying that I think, as your friend, and as Hermione's friend, and as someone who wants to see you two be happy, that you have to address whatever's going on. This mood that you and two have been in since breakfast is just awful to watch."
Harry opened his mouth to point out that Ron hadn't seen him since breakfast, but the redhead beat him to the punch.
"And I know you were holed up somewhere doing homework or whatever all day, but still, I know something's off with you." He paused as they pushed open the doors of the castle and began moving across the grounds. "Before this morning, I've never seen you storm away from the group like that. At least, not that I can remember. And I know Lav and Parvati were out of line and I know you had a shite morning, but even I can tell you weren't your best self today. You never do homework by yourself on weekends. You always either help the rest of us mere mortals catch up or you go to the library with Hermione and power through a zillion chapters at once."
Harry found it hard to refute those points.
"Something's clearly up," Ron concluded, sounding more certain of himself now. "This," he gestured towards Harry, "isn't you, mate. And Hermione's not herself either. Right now, you guys aren't the scrawny nerds I met in that train compartment. You're not the idiots who thought you could rescue me from Snape, Lupin, and Sirius Black all at once in the Shrieking Shack." He paused. "And you're not the happy couple that I want to try and be like someday, with a girl of my own," He finished with a sigh.
Harry blinked, completely floored by his friend's words. If he didn't have a Quidditch practice in ten minutes, he would probably go lie down in bed and reflect on what Ron had said for hours on end. The whole conversation had been well out of the redhead's comfort zone, but every word felt oddly authentic, like it had both been rehearsed and come from the heart all at once.
"Wow…" He whispered.
"Merlin's taint," Ron groaned as he sat down on one of the locker room benches, sweating and panting as if he had just run a marathon.
"Thanks for the awful image," Harry sighed, taking a seat as well and removing his gloves. "Enjoy your first practice?"
"Are they all like that?" Ron wheezed.
"It gets easier," Harry assured him, leaning backwards and letting out a long exhale. "It never gets easy, but it gets easier."
"How'd I do?"
"Not bad," Harry said truthfully, running a hand through his very sweaty hair. "Not phenomenally, but nobody in their right mind would expect that. You'll be fine."
Ron seemed pleased with that answer, grinning and nodding his head a few times. "Thanks! The few moments when I didn't feel like I was dying, it was actually quite fun out there."
"That's usually how Quidditch goes," Harry sighed.
"Lovely," Ron drawled sarcastically. "Well, Fred told me that he and George are smuggling some food from the kitchens up to the common room, so I'm going to go shower up in the dorm. You coming?"
Harry shook his head. "I need to sit down for longer," He shifted in his seat. "I'll see you up there, though. Try to save me something."
"No promises," Ron winked as he removed the last of his pads and shoved them into his locker. "Cleaning those is a problem for future Ron, right?"
"Good call," Harry nodded, giving his friend a thumbs-up.
"I'll see you up there," Ron grabbed his broom and placed it over his shoulder. "And remember to talk to Hermione!" He yelled out as he made his way out of the locker room. Harry smiled to himself and lied down on the bench he was occupying, grabbing a clean towel off the rack and placing it under his head like a pillow as he caught his breath.
He would talk to Hermione, he thought resolutely to himself as he stared up at the plain concrete ceiling. Tonight.
Between Ron's conversation and being back on his broom, zipping back and forth and enjoying the thing that came naturally to him the most, his head felt clearer than it had all day. And although he still felt dread about what Umbridge had in store for him and Hermione, he knew that talking to her about how he felt was what he ought to do. It would be a tough conversation, but a necessary one.
After a few minutes of thinking over what he would say to Hermione, Harry forced himself to get up, shower, and throw on a clean change of clothes. Once he was certain he had scrubbed all the sweat and grime off of himself, he tossed his jersey and Quidditch attire into his bag, slung it over his shoulder, and left the locker room, broom in hand.
He froze, letting the door slam shut behind him. Before him stood Hermione Granger herself, bundled against the nighttime chill and holding her bag in her hands. After a few seconds of stunned silence, which Harry mostly spent trying to figure out how long she had been waiting for him, she nervously held out the bag for him to take.
"I brought your jacket," She explained sheepishly as Harry dropped his Firebolt and took the bag. "And some food, since I didn't see you at lunch. I figured you'd be famished by the time practice ended."
Harry blinked, then slowly opened the largest zipper to reveal the familiar white and scarlet fabric of his Gryffindor letterman jacket alongside a brown bag of what looked like a half dozen sandwiches. Swallowing, he looked up from the bag to see Hermione watching him with anticipation. Much to his relief, she looked just as relieved – albeit a bit nervous – to see him as he was to see her.
"Can we talk?" He finally managed to speak.
The smile that blossomed on Hermione's face was one he'd never forget.
They ended up sitting right there on the grass. Hermione cast a few Warming Charms to get rid of the dew and Harry threw his letterman jacket on to fend off the cold.
"I'm so sorry," He blurted.
"Me too," Hermione nodded, tapping her fingers fretfully on her legs. "Can I go first?"
Harry nodded; it was clear that she really wanted to.
"I never should have made that Umbridge comment," She began, looking down at her lap in embarrassment. "I knew it was a bad idea when it popped into my head, I knew it was a bad idea when I opened my mouth, and I knew for sure it was a bad idea as soon as you reacted." She paused, shifting slightly. "I didn't quite expect that reaction, but I knew based on how you were acting until then that pushing the subject and mentioning her by name would just set you off, but for whatever reason I…I wanted to," She finished, her voice barely a whisper by the end.
"I wanted you to be angry because I was angry," She continued. "Though I was angry with you for not wanting to talk to me, it wasn't only you." She sighed, rubbing her eyes with her hands. "I was mad at Umbridge for being…well, Umbridge. And I was mad at Lavender and Parvati for just blurting out what had happened when we clearly didn't want to talk about it anymore. And I was mad at myself for not dragging you into an empty classroom or something before I started all that 'Professor Potter' nonsense. But overall, I was just mad. And I should have just left the library when it was clear you didn't want to talk to me. I should have left you alone before I let my temper go, but I didn't, and now…now we're fighting."
"We were fighting," Harry corrected as he pulled a sandwich from the bag. "This doesn't feel like fighting to me," He added.
"I just feel awful. I have since the moment I opened my mouth," She continued. "I pride myself on being logical and not letting emotion get the best of me all the time, but this morning in the library I just let all of that go and it was just the worst possible time. All because for a split second, I wanted my boyfriend to feel as bad as I did," She finished, her head dropping in shame. "God, it sounds so stupid out loud."
They were silent for a few moments, with the only sounds being the wind in the trees and a few owls making themselves heard from the Owlery.
"Okay," Hermione finally sniffled, looking up and giving Harry a tearful smile. "Your turn."
He nodded. "Right," He sat up straight and nervously rubbed his palms on his thighs. "Um…"
"Nothing's been the same since…since that night," He began, taking a few deep breaths.
"Since the graveyard?" Hermione asked tentatively.
Harry nodded. "That's part of it." He closed his eyes for a moment before steadying himself and looking Hermione in the eye. "I watched you die that night, Hermione," He exhaled. "I watched you die right in front of me and I just…froze. I stood there like a statue and watched the love of my life bleed out in front of me."
A lone tear fell from Hermione's eye, but she remained silent.
"And…this is going to make me sound like a terrible boyfriend…" He paused, shaking his head at himself before pressing on. "But it was sort of easy to not really dwell on that for a while because…well, because of what happened later that night. And what's happened since then." He paused and saw Hermione nod in understanding. "I just…obviously I thought about it, but whenever I thought about that Boggart, about watching you…it was either when I was in the Hospital Wing after the Tournament, and you were right there with me and safe, or back at Grimmauld, where you and I were both safe and constantly protected.
"But today – this morning," He swallowed. "It just hit me all over again, with Umbridge and everything. It hit me that today, it's Umbridge realizing that she can use you to get to me. But tomorrow, maybe it's a Death Eater that makes that connection. Or Voldemort. And I just…I couldn't look at you without seeing that Boggart in the maze. In that moment, when Umbridge walked away, I just…I realized that you're not safe around me. Ever. Things are different now, and I have to protect the one thing I can't live without. You.
"And I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't even want to talk about it," He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Because I couldn't even fathom the guilt, and the dread, that came with knowing I may kill you. Indirectly, maybe, but it would still be my fault." He paused again to catch his breath. "And I know I should have just told you about it. I thought it would be right to not tell you, but…you deserve to know. I don't know why I didn't in the first place, I just had this…" He struggled to find the right words. "I was a lot angrier than I actually was. I wasn't…me. And I'm sorry."
By the time he finished, he was no longer looking Hermione in the eye. He was staring down at the few inches of grass in between them, wondering if they were about to widen. Hermione's silence only made him wonder more.
In the blink of an eye, Harry went from looking at the grass to gazing at the stars, albeit through a blurry mass of bushy brown hair. In true Hermione Granger fashion, she had flung her arms around him in a rib-crushing embrace and sent him onto his back.
"Ow…" He muttered feebly.
"Oh, Harry…" Hermione mumbled into the shoulder of his jacket, somehow finding the strength to squeeze him even tighter.
"Ow…" He mumbled again, now almost certain he had cracked a rib. At least he had twenty-three others. After a few more seconds, Hermione showed mercy and eased her grip, slowly pushing herself into a sitting position until she was more or less straddling his hips against the grass.
"Sorry about that," She said, catching her breath and brushing a few errant curls behind her ears. "Are you alright?" She asked, looking down at Harry and worriedly biting her lip.
"I'm a little better now," He groaned, gently placing a hand on his ribs. "What was that?"
"That was called a hug, Harry Potter. I've been giving them to you for quite some time."
"You know what I meant."
"Not really," Hermione shrugged.
"I literally just told you that you were in danger just by being around me, much less dating me, and your response is to hug me?"
"Mm-hmm," Hermione hummed, nodding her head.
Harry was at a loss for words. "Why?" He finally spluttered.
Hermione shrugged again. "Well, there's a whole list of logical reasons. Even if we were to break up – which is what I think you're implying, which is not happening – we've still been close for four years now. That's bound to make a target for Death Eaters whether I'm your girlfriend or ex-girlfriend." Harry raised his eyebrows, but she pressed on. "Plus, there's the fact that I'm already in grave danger from the likes of Voldemort, seeing as I'm Muggle-Born. Not to mention, you make me a better witch, and I think it's safe to say I make you a better wizard, so wouldn't it make sense for us to stick together and help each other fight this war? Hmm?" She glanced down at Harry, who was still stunned.
"I could go on, really, there's a whole list of rational reasons. I had to come up with as many as I could in order to get my parents to even think about not pulling me out of Hogwarts and cutting all ties with you. I think my final list had just over fifty legitimate, logical reasons as to why it makes sense for us to stick together," She continued. "But do you want to know the main reason I don't want to do this whole 'break-up-for-my-protection' nonsense?" She leaned down slightly and gave Harry a smile that sent his heart racing faster than his Firebolt. "Do you want to try and guess? It's not a very logical reason, I'm afraid."
Harry, still barely processing the past ninety seconds, blinked. "What is it?" He managed.
Hermione grinned at him.
"Because fuck it, I love you."
Harry's jaw dropped.
"You heard me."
"No, I really think I need to hear you say that again, Miss Granger."
"Don't push it," Hermione giggled, leaning down and pressing a quick kiss on his cheek. "Professor Potter," She whispered against his skin.
A/N: Uh…hey, everyone. Told you I'd never abandon this story. Now, to be honest, I had to take a very long break from this story, Harmony, and Harry Potter in general. I know how much this story means to so many of you, and you're more than welcome to rip me to shreds for my hiatus. Seriously, you're more than welcome to. Just let me explain the perfect shitstorm that caused such a long break.
So, for starters, I was back home for the holidays in Pennsylvania when the last chapter was posted. And the holidays in Pennsylvania means snow and Christmas and New Year's and happy times for like, eight days. And then after that it sucks. It's all gray and gross and cold and everyone's in bad moods. And I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which makes me enjoy the things I like significantly less than I normally would. So my mood instantly plummeted after New Year's, and it was already down pretty low because COVID and stuff was still ruining my life as best as it could. Then, when I went back to school in Florida where SAD wouldn't be as much of a problem, I decided to reread my story to try and re-energize myself and get this chapter done. Which was a terrible, terrible idea. I've never thought that I was a phenomenal writer, but I always thought I was like, okay at least. But I have never suffered such a blow to my self-confidence as I did when I reread Strangers on a Train. I have always been my worst critic, but imagine Simon Cowell's and Gordon Ramsay's love child on steroids of pure hate. That's how much I abhorred what I had written thus far. It sucked and completely killed my motivation to write. Then I had midterms before I knew it, then finals came up out of nowhere, then a vacation with my parents, and finally I got a few days back home. So I capitalized on it. I watched some classic Harmony edits on YouTube (shoutout to tennisgirlxoxo, she's been doing the Lord's work since I was in elementary school) and wrote this chapter, which would have been a very difficult chapter to write even without the multiple mental health crises, school, etc etc. I mean seriously, this chapter had a) Harry and Hermione fighting, ugh, b) I had to find a way to write Harry going through Scarcrux-induced anger without turning him into a total cunt, which is a thin ass tightrope to walk, c) I forced myself to not use any references or borrow from pop culture for Ron's speech because I wanted that to be from the heart, to make it as SOAT Ron as possible, and that was difficult, and d) I had to write convincing apologies from both Harry and Hermione, that managed to both rationalize their earlier anger and make them stronger than ever as a couple. I really have nobody to blame but myself, because this is exactly the chapter I wanted, but man did it take a long time to get here.
Anyway, on that note, there's not too many references here. Harry's apology takes a few cues from Tony Stark's 'Nothing's Been the Same Since New York' monologue to Pepper in Iron Man 3, Harry's line "It never gets easy, but it gets easier" is paraphrased from the song It Gets Easier by Jason Isbell, and Parvati's and Hermione's dialogue about A Christmas Carol is inspired by a scene from the TV Show Schitt's Creek involving characters Johnny Rose and Roland Schitt discussing The Godfather.
I truly do love and cherish all of you. Thank you to everyone who stuck with me, and thank you to everyone who sent PM's and left reviews sending me well wishes. Your words really did mean the world to me in what was perhaps one of the darkest points of my life. You guys are great, and I'm so glad I can contribute this to hopefully make your guys' day better. Thank you all, and stay safe!