Harry threw the rest of his stuff in his suitcase without looking. Feeling miserable, he silently bade his four-poster bed good-bye before gathering up his stuff. Hedwig squawked at him in annoyance, clearly upset at being stashed back in her cage.
"Well, you know what?" he said irritably. "You should enjoy your last few moments here as best you can. We're back to the Dursley's again this summer, you know."
Hedwig's eyes bore back at him accusingly, as if to say, 'Well, why don't you enjoy your last few moments here?'
"Because I'm leaving Hermione," he told her, realizing that was the first time he'd uttered the words out loud. "And I don't know what's coming and I don't think I can say good-bye and I don't know how to tell her that!"
"Who are you talking to, Harry?"
Harry spun around. Seamus was frowning at him in unease. Harry was forcibly reminded of the beginning of fifth year when Seamus was certain he was going mad.
"I'm not talking to anyone," Harry muttered, brushing past him. "You're hearing things."
Seamus looked skeptical. "Sure, Harry," he said easily.
Harry merely nodded, hauling his suitcase down the stairs. Hedwig looked quite indignant about being bounced around. As he neared the common room, Hermione's voice floated up. She was obviously quite riled up about something and Harry sincerely hoped it wasn't something he had done.
"Quite ridiculous! Honestly, to even imagine that a sixth year would organize such a frivolous contest! It's a violation of privacy, that's what it is! I assure you, McGonagall will be hearing about this! She most certainly will not be impressed."
Harry grinned a little to himself, watching as Lavender Brown cowered under Hermione's piercing stare. Though Lavender stood a good half a foot taller than Hermione, she was shrinking against a corner as Hermione bore down on her. Dropping his suitcase and Hedwig's cage next to Ron's stuff (Hedwig gave Pig a disapproving stare), Harry went over to join Hermione.
"—permission, Lavender! Hoaxes like this require permission! It is completely incomprehensible to me why you would have attempted something like this in the first place!"
"Well…" Lavender said weakly. "I thought it would be fun."
"Fun? I'll tell you something, Ms. Brown, this contest has certainly not been—Harry! What are you doing here?"
Lavender looked faint with relief. "Harry," she greeted, looking at him pleadingly. "How are you?"
"Fine," Harry said, looking back and forth between the two girls. "What's, uh… going on?"
Hermione gave him a piercing look that clearly told him he should have already figured it out. "Remember that contest that Lavender started? For Hogwarts'—"
"Star couple?" Harry finished, with his eyebrows raised. "Yeah. I remember."
"Well!" Hermione gestured to where Lavender was currently quaking. "We were just discussing it."
Harry refrained from pointing out that Hermione had a very interesting definition of the word 'discussing.' Lavender sniffed, pulling herself up straighter. She seemed to have gained a little bit more confidence in herself. "Well, I'll have you know," she said snottily. "You and Harry did not win."
Hermione and Harry blinked at her.
"I'm sorry," Harry finally managed. "I thought you said that… that…"
Lavender looked smug. "That you two didn't win? Yeah, I did. You know why?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Why?"
"Because," Lavender said slowly, looking more pleased with herself by the moment. "Ginny and Neville won. That's why."
"Ginny and Neville won?" Harry and Hermione both repeated in shock.
Lavender smiled prettily. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a red-head I have to be congratulating…"
Lavender flounced away, leaving Harry and Hermione staring after her in shock.
"We didn't…" Hermione began, looking dazed. "Win… how could we not win?"
"Dunno," Harry said, feeling just as confused himself.
"Oooh…" Hermione said, face beginning to heat up. "She did it purposely, that little two-timing—"
"Err, Hermione," Harry cut in hesitantly. "You do remember how riled up the contest made you in the first place, right?"
Hermione had the decency to look embarrassed. "Well… yes. But, Harry, you know we should have won."
"Alright," he conceded. "We should have won."
They stared at each for a moment.
"We really think a lot of ourselves," Harry finally managed. "Didn't really fancy being in the spotlight again, anyway."
Hermione still looked a little put out, but didn't press the issue farther. "I was just heading down to the Great Hall for breakfast… train's leaving in an hour…"
Harry felt his stomach tighten up and found he wasn't in the least bit hungry. "You go on. I'm not really hungry."
"Well—you could come with me."
Harry shook his head, feeling misery crashing down around him. The last thing he wanted was to sit in the Great Hall as students gathered their belongings together and bid each other good-bye.
"It's fine…" he said. "You go eat… I'll be, uh… around…"
Hermione's face fell and Harry quickly turned before she could do anything else to stop him. Heart pounding, he pushed past the gaggle of girls that were clumped together ("Ooh, Ginny! Congratulations! You two are so perfect for each other!") and exited out through the portrait hole. Studying the ground, he shuffled his way out of the castle.
Outside he breathed out a tiny sigh of relief, the quiet of the grounds a welcome haven. Slowly he made his way down the hill, Hagrid's hut appearing in his line of sight. Vaguely Harry felt he should be saying good-bye to the half-giant, but the prospect of doing so only further depressed him. Dropping down, he contented himself with sitting on the ground. He picked morosely at a few blades of grass, feeling hopelessly lonely and guilty for abandoning Hermione.
"Well—if I knew you were just coming out here to pout, I probably would have stayed with Ron in the Great Hall."
Harry jumped, twisting his neck around as he did so. Hermione was glaring down at him, a plate of food in one hand and the other on her hip.
"I'm not pouting," he said crossly. "I just wanted to be alone."
Hermione looked stung. "Well—you may be perfectly alright getting rid of me, but I'm not!"
"Perfectly alright getting rid of you?" Harry repeated, vaguely realizing that his voice was rising.
Hermione bit her lip and Harry could see that she was struggling to hold back tears. "What's going, Harry?" she said softly. "I mean, one moment you're fine and then the next… are you that eager to get rid of me?"
"Of course not!" he snapped. "I can't even bear the thought of—Hermione, every time I think about leaving you… it's more than…" Harry trailed off, frustrated by his inability to put what he was feeling into words.
Hermione seemed to understand. She sunk down next to him, her plate of food balanced precariously on one knee. "I know… I mean, I thought that was what was bothering you…." She let out a long sigh, turning to look at him sadly. "It's hardly forever, you know. It's only for the summer."
"Yeah," Harry mumbled, avoiding her eyes.
"I'm going to be okay," she said softly. "I promise."
"Yeah," he said again, feeling his stomach give a furious little lurch.
Hermione studied him for a long time. Carefully, she pushed her plate off to the side. "I'm not really that hungry, either," she admitted. "But my parents always told me that breakfast was the most important meal of the day."
Harry swallowed past the lump that was gathering in his throat. "You should eat, then."
Hermione shrugged. "You're not."
"I'm hardly an example worth following," Harry muttered.
"Oh, stop with the pity part, Harry," Hermione admonished gently. "Do you really want me to go back inside?"
Harry shook his head. "No."
"Okay, then," Hermione whispered. He turned his face to study her, surprised to see the same misery he was feeling reflected in her eyes. It suddenly hit him that she was feeling much of the same things he was.
She looked up, her eyes vulnerable. "Yes?"
"I love you."
She smiled faintly and gave a little nod. "I know."
Harry let out a relieved breath. "It'll be okay, right? I mean… it'll only be a few weeks…"
"I'm scared," Hermione blurted out before flushing. "I mean…" voice controlled, Hermione fidgeted nervously. "For you and… me, a little, I guess… but mostly for you…"
"They shouldn't be separating us," Harry said determinedly. "It's stupid."
Hermione nodded, looking far away. "Will you write me?"
"Of course I will," Harry said, surprised that she'd even asked. "Every day."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Well—I was lucky if I so much as heard at all from you last summer."
"That was different."
"Yes," Hermione agreed quietly. "It was."
They fell into silence. At some point, Hermione closed the space separating them. Then they were kissing, a kiss full of urgency and desperation as if it could somehow push away the uncertainty of what was to come.
The Hogwarts' Express let out one long shrill whistle, announcing its approaching departure. Harry hastily climbed aboard behind Ron and Hermione, Hedwig's cage swinging dangerously in one hand and his suitcase in the other. Quickly they found an empty carriage to store their stuff.
"I suppose you two have to make your rounds now," Harry said quietly, trying to keep the accusing note out of his voice.
Ron and Hermione exchanged a look. "Yeah," Ron finally said. "Gotta see Luna first, though… make sure she got in okay…"
Once he was gone, Harry found himself unable to look at Hermione. She cleared her throat hesitantly. "It shouldn't take long, Harry."
"Yeah, okay," he muttered. "I'll be here."
"I'm really sorry," she said apologetically. "I don't want to, but… Oh…"
She leaned in to kiss him. When she pulled away, Harry couldn't help the grin that spread across his mouth. "You know," he mused. "If you had done that a couple of years ago, I don't think that being abandoned by you and Ron would have bothered me nearly as much."
Hermione smiled fondly at him before leaning up to peck his cheek. "I'll see you later."
She didn't move.
"Right," she muttered, snapping to attention. She slowly backed out of the compartment and gave him one last longing look before leaving.
Alone, Harry took a seat by the window. He stared out at the passing landscape morosely, watching as the distance between himself and Hogwarts increased. When the trolley cart came by, he managed to raise himself from his stupor to buy some food—though he wasn't certain of what he'd purchased and had a nagging suspicion that he may have been overcharged.
Neville and Ginny came by and attempted to engage him in conversation. When he answered their questions in short, monosyllables they gave up.
"Have a good summer, Harry," Ginny finally said, standing and bringing Neville with her.
"Thanks, Ginny," he mumbled.
Neville smiled, sending Harry an apologetic look. "Hey, did you hear? Ginny and I won Hogwarts' Star Couple of the Year."
Harry attempted to smile. "That's great, guys."
"Yeah," Ginny said, beaming. "Thought for sure it'd be you and Hermione."
Neville nodded. "Me, too."
"Nah," Harry said, trying to sound polite. "You two deserve it."
"Well…" Neville said uncomfortably. "See you next year."
"Yeah," Harry said dismissively. "See you."
They left and Harry let out a tiny sigh of relief, going back to staring blankly out the window.
"It can make you cross-eyed, you know, when you stare out a window too long," said a disembodied voice. "Daddy told me so."
Harry slowly raised his head. "Oh… hi, Luna."
Luna smiled and sat down opposite him. "Hope you don't mind, my compartment was getting awfully crowded and Ronald told me to meet him back here."
Harry shrugged, desperate to be left alone, but not having the heart to tell Luna as much. "Sure, there's plenty of room."
Luna studied him curiously for a moment. Pulling out an old issue of The Quibbler she promptly turned it upside down and disappeared behind it without another word.
Harry felt a rush of gratitude. His eyes shifted to the compartment door, his mind willing for Hermione to return.
He didn't have to wait long. She and Ron returned silently, for once not bickering. Without saying so much as a simple greeting to Luna, Hermione went straight for him. She settled herself against him and Harry felt himself relax, his arms curling around her tiny frame. For once, he didn't care who was watching, nothing would have stopped him from holding her.
Ron was uncharacteristically silent for most of the rest of the journey. Occasionally he tried to draw Harry into conversation about Quidditch or he attempted to poke fun at S.P.E.W. When he didn't get much of a response from either of his friends he gave up and spent the rest of the trip trying to distract Luna from reading The Quibbler.
"What's a hornhumble?" he said, peaking over Luna's shoulder.
"Very endangered species, you know... Daddy believes that the Russian government has been secretly trying to eradicate them for years..."
"You don't say," Ron said, trying to sound interested. "And what's a—"
"Hornhunkle?" Luna asked vaguely. "Distant cousin, very smart creatures... more useful to wizards... that's why no one cares about the deterioration of the hornhumble..."
"Ahh..." Ron said weakly. "I see..."
Harry and Hermione spent the rest of the voyage right where they were. Ron went off to do a final prefect round, but Hermione didn't so much as budge. They didn't say much and exchanged only a few chaste kisses when they thought no one was watching. Harry didn't care, wishing that the train would never stop.
All too soon it seemed as if they had reached King's Cross Station. The train jostled to a stop and compartments doors slid open in great haste, students pouring eagerly out of the Hogwarts' Express and onto the platform. As soon as they stopped, Harry felt his heart drop and he tightened his arms around Hermione. She let out a small gasp, but didn't make any attempt to move out of his arms.
Luna calmly set down her magazine. Her large protuberant eyes slid over to them for a moment. "Let's go, Ronald," she said brightly. "Time for you to meet Daddy…"
Ron made a small, chocking noise. "Excuse me? Meet…"
"My father, yes," Luna said, smiling eagerly. "It's your duty, you know, as my boyfriend."
"Duty?" Ron squeaked, shooting Harry a pleading look.
Harry, who felt a rush of gratitude towards Luna, nodded in the direction of the compartment. "Go on, Ron. Be good for you."
Ron scowled, looking betrayed, and followed Luna out of the train. Once he was gone, Hermione gave a small chuckle of laughter. "Oh, poor, Ron," she said. "You're lucky I'm not making you meet my parents."
"I've already met them," Harry said. "'Sides, even if I hadn't, they don't approve of me, remember?"
Hermione sighed. "They just don't understand."
"Yeah," Harry said quietly, wishing that he could go and properly greet Hermione's parents, like any normal boyfriend would.
Hermione seemed to know exactly what he was thinking. "It doesn't matter," she whispered. "Let's not let them ruin this for us, alright?"
Harry smiled, the knots in his stomach tightening to painful levels. He nuzzled her neck below her ear. "Let's just stay here…" he whispered. "No one'll ever know…"
"Okay…" Hermione said, her voice sounding oddly strained.
The fact that Hermione had so readily agreed to do something so against the rules should have thrilled him. However, it only helped to make Harry feel worse. He slowly brushed his lips along the skin of her neck under her ear, smiling when she shivered slightly against him.
"Harry…" she said haltingly. "We have to…"
Harry pulled away. "I know."
She climbed off him and rubbed at her eyes. Harry could see that she was struggling against tears. She made as if to gather her stuff together before stopping.
"No," she said, looking around at the empty train. "Let's say goodbye here. Not out there where everyone can see."
Harry nodded. "Okay."
"Well…" Hermione said, swallowing. "Promise me you'll be careful. Do all your homework, I know you don't want to, but you must to stay ahead, especially in potions. And do look out for yourself, Harry. With everything going on... well, just don't take any unnecessary risks. I know the Dursleys are horrid, but you must—"
Harry kissed her, partly in an attempt to end her lecture. Her arms wound around his neck, holding on tightly. His hands skimmed down her back, her hips. Her tongue probed his mouth, her body pressing tightly against his own.
When they broke away, the mingled sounds of their harsh breathing filled the quiet of the compartment. Harry tenderly tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, leaning forward until his lips brushed over his forehead. He pulled away and Hermione grasped at his hands, her eyes wide.
She shook her head, as if to prevent their approaching separation. "Promise you'll be careful," she said again, a little desperate.
"I promise," he said softly.
She nodded, looking intensely worried. "It'll be fine..." she said, trying to sound reassuring. "It'll all be fine..."
"Yeah," Harry agreed in a hollow voice. "It'll go quickly."
They looked at each other and Harry knew neither of them were convinced.
"And... I..." Hermione said hesitantly. "I love you, Harry."
"I love you, too."
They stared at each other helplessly for a few moments, knowing there was nothing left to say. Hermione released him and took a step back, taking in a sharp breath of air. They gathered their stuff together, not looking at each other. Hermione left the compartment first and Harry slowly followed, glad to see that crowd had thinned out.
The Weasleys waved to him. "See you soon, Harry!" Ron called out, giving him the thumbs up sign. Harry waved back, figuring that Ron's meeting with Luna's father must have gone well.
He spotted Hermione enveloped in the arms of her parents who were openly staring at him from across the platform. He steadfastly ignored their gazes and looked around until he spotted Uncle Vernon. He was trying to hide behind a pillar, but he wasn't doing a very good job of it, his large belly noticeably stuck out.
Harry approached him slowly, feeling as though his feet were weighted down. Uncle Vernon made quite a show of looking at his watch as Harry approached. "Finally decided to come out, boy?" he sneered. "Almost left you behind."
Harry just shrugged, lacking the energy to respond to Vernon's hollow threats. He followed his uncle out of King's Cross station, waving goodbye to classmates as he went, much to Vernon's dismay.
"Now keep that bloody bird out of people's sight, boy," he said menacingly, glaring at Hedwig.
Harry shrugged again, not making any attempt at concealing Hedwig. He saw Aunt Petunia and Dudley waiting in the car, clearly unwilling to step into the train station in case they might be forced into interaction with a witch or wizard.
Harry stored his belongings in the trunk and settled himself into the backseat with Hedwig's cage on his lap.
"So," his aunt said, swiveling around to look at him as Vernon started the car. "I hope you're grateful to us for allowing you to come back this year."
Vernon snorted. "Almost didn't," he said challengingly. "Dangerous having the likes of you around."
"Oh, don't worry," Harry said, beginning to get angry. "I'm right grateful! That this is the last year I'll ever have to spend with you!"
Vernon and Petunia flinched and Hedwig hooted indignantly in her cage.
Dudley pouted. "Why'd he have to come back at all, Dad? House is so much bigger when he's not around."
If anything, Dudley seemed to have gained more weight since Harry had last seen him. Harry resisted the strong urge to point out that Dudley's mere existence made the house seem smaller.
Instead he merely leaned back, letting a small smirk play around his mouth. "You know…" Harry began slowly. "It's a good thing my girlfriend can't hear what you lot are saying about me… it would really upset her…"
Several things happened in quick succession. Dudley made an odd chocking noise and shoved his fist into his mouth. Petunia's head snapped back around to look at him, the colour draining from her face. Vernon's hand slipped on the wheel and the horn let out a long, shrill squeal.
"Your… did you just say you had a… What did you say, boy?" Vernon demanded angrily.
"Well, it's just that," Harry said innocently. "My girlfriend—she's awfully protective. Smartest witch at Hogwarts, you know. Way more powerful than me."
Dudley twittered nervously, eyes widening in fear. "You," he said in slow disbelief. "Have a girlfriend?"
Harry nodded, enjoying the horrified looks on his aunt and uncle's face. "Yeah… she's quite dangerous, really… once put a full body-bind on a kid when we were only in our first year… he was in her way, you know…"
"She put a full… were you just talking about the m-word?"
Petunia visibly shivered, looking faint. "Oh, Vernon," she wailed. "Be careful what you say… he might write to her…what the neighbours would say if his lot suddenly started showing up…"
Uncle Vernon was clearly disturbed by that thought because he accidentally leaned on the horn again. Dudley was still staring at Harry with wide eyes.
"You?" he repeated again. "Have a girlfriend?"
"Why?" Harry asked smugly. "Don't you?"
Dudley looked a little put out and decided that staring out the window and ignoring Harry was the best policy. Harry leaned back, feeling slightly smug about being able to torture his aunt and uncle. They kept shooting him panicked looks in the review mirror, clearly nervous about what to say in front of him.
Harry grinned to himself. He couldn't wait to tell Hermione.
If you have made it this far, I congratulate you.
I really wanted to thank people, now that I'm done with Lines Crossed. So, without slipping into a long speech or anything:
Kristin and James. My lovely betas. They're both adorable and never miss and opportunity to feed the all-important-ego.
To all my lovely reviewers, the support for Lines Crossed has been overwhelming. I love you all. Especially those of you who have given such lengthy reviews on nearly every chapter.
Also, even though she'll probably never read this, my best friend Lindsey deserves tons of thanks. Without her, there probably wouldn't be a Lines Crossed. She was present when the idea first hit me and she listened to me ramble for hours when I was in the planning stages of this fic. She's just the most amazing supportive best friend in the entire world and a supposed "non-shipper," so she has to put up with a lot from me.
Well. So much for not babbling on. Those of you still reading, I'm wondering why, but I thank you.
One quick reference, no one caught the blatant Buffy ripping off I did in chapter 15. The Ron/Harry punch was based upon the Oz/Xander punch in Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered. In which Oz comes in and punches Xander and they follow with what has got to be a classic moment of television:Oz: (still shaking his hand) That kinda hurt.Xander: (rubbing his cheek) Kinda?! What was that for?Oz: I was on the phone all night, listening to Willow cry about you. Now, I don't know exactly what happened, but I was left with a very strong urge to... hit you.
Heh. Okay. I have my references covered. What else?
The sequel. There will be a sequel. I'm in the middle of writing an angst-y (yes, I do write angst on occasion, thanks) multi-chaptered fic called Bend and Not Break, but I'm planning on starting on Lines' sequel after I finish that.
And leave me a review. Because feedback is lovely.