Free & Easy

October 2004

It was the cry that startled Hermione out of the depths of sleep. She sat up, rubbing her eyes tiredly, blearily wondering what time it was. She looked around the room, examining the dark lumps that were the sleeping forms of her dorm mates. Parvati turned onto her side; Lavender muttered something incoherent. The room was still. Hermione decided the cry had been part of a dream; no one else appeared disturbed by it.

She settled back, pulling her blankets around her, eyes slipping shut. Sleep caught her in its arms, soothing her, taking in her into darkness.

But there it was again, such a lost, miserable sound. Hermione once more sat up, wide awake and slightly afraid. Lavender made some sort of rude comment, and swiped at the air above her. Hermione ignored her and slowly untangled herself from her bedclothes. Standing with bare feet on the wooden floor, she shivered; cold air nipping at her exposed arms and ankles, goosebumps rising on her skin. She rubbed her arms, seized a pink shawl from her trunk, flung it around her shoulders and left the room.

Again that lonely cry. Hermione stood on the stairs, on hand on the banister, looking over the common room.

In an armchair closest to the fireplace she saw Harry; his glasses were slipping off his nose, his head resting against the head of the chair, a single tear sliding down his cheek. His hands gave a jerk and pain flashed across his face.

"Hermione!" he called; there was no strength in his voice, replaced by exhaustion and bitter sorrow.

Hermione shivered again, clutching the shawl tighter around her and ran down the stairs to him, because he was calling for her.

"Harry..." she whispered, brushing damp bangs out of his eyes. His face was pale, marked by deathly fear; his tears running down his face, falling onto the white t-shirt he wore that day. She touched his cheek, gently wiping away the tears; Harry's eyes sprang open at her touch.

She knelt in front of him, one hand resting lightly on his knee. Disbelief reflected at her from his emerald eyes. He blinked several times; more tears fell.

"Hermione, you're here," he said; his voice was hoarse, choked with surprise and grief.

"Well, of course I am," Hermione replied, frowning a little. "Where would I have gone?"

He did not smile; he adjusted his glasses and before she could blink, he was on the floor next to her, arms wrapped tightly around her.

She was frozen in her surprise, unable to return his hug. She could feel more tears on his skin; he wept silently. Neither acknowledged it. Harry hated to cry and hated even more to admit those bitter tears belonged to him.

Her heart beat harder than ever before; Harry never held her like this. He never held her at all, actually.

"You were dead, Hermione," Harry said, voice broken by guilt. "I dreamt you were dead and it was all my fault."

Her heart clenched, she closed her eyes and held him fiercely.

"It was just a dream, Harry. Only a dream."

"But, it could have been Voldemort--"

She cut him off, surprised by the bitter anger swelling in her heart.

"Voldemort is a dirty liar," she spat, a scowl finding its way onto her face.

Harry fell silent; occasional shudders ran through him, followed by a shaky breath, but there were no more tears.

"I can't lose you, Hermione," he told her, in a voice so soft she might have imagined it altogether.

He pulled away, bright eyes locking with hers.

"I won't lose you," he promised, eyes glittering with passionately determined fire.

"You won't," she assured, wondering at his mindset.

His hands, resting on her shoulders, went to his eyes; he swiped at the remaining tears. If not for the redness in his eyes, they might never have been there in the first place.

He stood, lacing his fingers through hers, and pulled her to her feet.

"Go to bed. We've got reviews tomorrow," Harry said; he dropped her hands and seemed hesitant to look her in the eye.

Hermione nodded; she only had to stretch a little to kiss his cheek.

"See you in the morning, Harry," she said, turning away.

Harry blinked again, one hand resting where she had kissed him, an unconscious smile touching his lips.

"See you in the morning, Hermione."