Disclaimer: These characters belong to JKR, her publishers, and Warner Brothers. Naturally, no infringement is intended.
Spoilers: up to and including OotP.
Implied H/Hr, romance/drama/fluff, General.
Summary: A wistful Hermione, a sleepy Harry, and a shared moment.
Feedback is, always, appreciated.
The First Day of Spring
It was the first sunny day of the year, in the middle of the Easter holiday. After weeks of rain and blustering winds, it seemed that spring had finally arrived, and the grounds of Hogwarts were no longer deserted. The only students who could resist the beckoning call of the bright blue sky and pleasantly warm temperature where those who were labouring away in the library preparing their OWLs and NEWTs.
Hermione, Harry and Ron had managed to secure a spot under a large beech tree, near the lake, which had become their favoured place to settle at in previous years. Since they'd had their OWLs last year and their NEWTs weren't until next, they didn't have the enormous workload and pressure that the fifth and seventh years were having at that same time. As a result, their studying was conducted much more leisurely that the previous year. Even Hermione had mellowed when she'd seen how beautiful the day was, and had allowed herself to be dragged from the library. Since she'd started revising in January, she supposed one day of casual reviewing wouldn't do much harm. Now she was lying on her stomach in the grass, the sun warming her back, and her elbows resting on the cloak she'd discarded.
Though their books, quills and notes were spread around them – evidence of their good intent – in reality there wasn't much studying being done. Hermione was chewing the end of a sugar quill and reading Hogwarts: a History secretly behind her huge potions tome (she didn't care for the teasing that would follow if she'd show the boys what she was reading). Ron was scribbling in a notebook, his bottom lip between his teeth, most likely devising Quidditch manoeuvres to present to the Gryffindor team captain Katie Bell. Though Katie chucked most of them for being, in her own words, "mentally deranged," this didn't stop Ron from masterminding new ones. One or two had actually made it into the roster, so his efforts weren't completely without merit.
Harry, on the other hand, wasn't doing anything productive at all. Instead, he was fast asleep, half on his side and half on his back, a forgotten transfiguration text resting in his limp hand.
Hermione had watched Harry from the corner of her eye, half reading the familiar history before her nose, and half following the process of him falling asleep. First he'd rolled from his belly to his side, the book held up before his face by one hand. He'd blinked languidly in the light of the sun, and yawned a time or two. Then, his eyes had fluttered while in the middle of a sentence, and the arm which supported the book had lowered to the ground, while his free hand came up to rub at his eyes and brush his fringe back from his forehead, before coming to rest on his chest. He'd allowed his eyes to close for a moment; his lips had parted and his breathing had deepened, and he'd been asleep.
That had been over half an hour ago, and none of them had really moved in the mean time. No one came to disturb them but the occasional buzzing insect, landing on daisies and dandelions, them zooming off. The placid lake lapped tranquilly at the shore, and the Giant Squid was no where in sight. Occasionally Hermione threw a look over at Harry, to see if he was still sleeping peacefully, and – she couldn't quite explain it – because he looked so cute doing it.
"I'm hungry!" Ron exclaimed suddenly, throwing down his notebook and quill. He stretched with a groan and added: "It's been hours since lunch!"
"Shh!" Hermione immediately shushed. She motioned towards the sleeping Harry, who, so far, wasn't showing any signs of waking up.
"Oh," Ron nodded his understanding and lowered his voice. "I'm going to find Dobby and see if he can fix us up with something to eat. You want anything?"
"We had lunch two hours ago," Hermione admonished softly.
"Like I said, hours," Ron rolled his eyes. "You want anything?" he repeated. "You know you want to."
Hermione shrugged. "Whatever they have is fine with me."
"Whatever they have. That'd be everything then," Ron muttered as he got up and brushed grass off his robes. "I'll get us some sandwiches and pie then. Be back in a bit."
"Bring fruit!" Hermione called after him as softly as she could without Ron missing it. He waved an arm to show he'd heard.
Hermione watched him leave for a moment, then sat up and stretched the kinks from her arms. She curled her legs until she was seated comfortably and laid her book in her lap, before turning her eyes back on Harry. The reason that they didn't want to wake him was as simple as it was complicated. Ron had confided in Hermione that Harry still had regular nightmares, though they were no longer about secret corridors and closed doors. They didn't have to think hard why Harry's sleep was disturbed so. They both knew their friend had been through enough in the past year alone to satiate his night terrors for the rest of his life. If Hermione had to believe Ron, Harry had nightmares almost every night… and she did believe it. She didn't miss how Harry often had dark smudges under his eyes betraying how bad dreams plagued him; how he seemed lethargic and short-tempered at certain times when he obviously hadn't slept at all; and how he was consistently the last one up and first one around in the Gryffindor common room at nights and mornings.
What Harry needed was a good night's sleep. And if he could get that, during the day, lying at the edge of the lake, with his two best friends watching over him, then Hermione would make sure he got it.
Watching him now, Hogwarts: a History forgotten in her lap, she found she couldn't easily look away. For some reason, she was completely fascinated by him. In a way, she always had been, but lately it had subtlety changed. She cared greatly about the two boys who were her best friends, but somehow, Harry had been different from the beginning. Perhaps it was because she and Ron were all he ever really had, because she knew there was no one in his life who counted him as their very first priority, as her parents did for her and Ron's for their children, which made her want to gather him close and hug it all better. Perhaps it was the way he made her feel safe even when she wasn't, because he seemed so brave and determined whenever the situation turned sour, because she knew he would never leave her behind. Perhaps it was because she knew how much he cared even when they had a falling out, because they knew they'd always be friends, and they would work through the argument in the end. She'd never been able to keep friends when she was younger, and she appreciated the devotion of this friendship more than anything. She knew she could be difficult, just as Harry knew he could be, but they accepted it and even embraced each other's differences, defending them to others, and worked stronger together because of it. Whatever it was, it made her want to make sure Harry was as happy as he could be despite the circumstances; it made her want to make him feel better at any cost. She knew there were other people who cared about Harry too, who wanted what was best for him, who fought for his welfare, but she couldn't trust them with Harry the way she trusted herself. She knew he needed her. It made her heart swell just looking at him.
She needed him too.
And so she watched him, taking in his messy hair, and the jagged scar on his forehead which he hated so much but which she loved along with all the rest of him, and his slightly curled fingers that caught snitches so deftly. She leaned over and took the book from his limp hand, marking where he left off before closing it and putting it beside his bag. She wished she could brush her fingers through his fringe to keep it from falling in his eyes, but didn't dare risk it for fear of waking him.
Nearby voices made her look up for a moment, and she watched as several third years passed chattering, never coming close enough to be noisy, and she thought back to how afraid she'd been during her own third year, when her boys weren't talking to her, and a supposed murderer had found his way to the boy's dormitory, slashing his knife at them. How life could trick one! To suppose that the man who'd terrified her – a supporter of Voldemort whose sole mission had been to murder Harry – had turned out to be such a welcome addition to Harry's life. What great tragedy that the same man had been ripped away from Harry merely two years later, when he'd only gotten a taste of what it meant to have a parent. Now he didn't want to discuss it, and if Hermione tried to bring up the subject or offer solace, she'd be gently but firmly rebuked. He kept it all inside… but that didn't stop her from seeing his pain. If he'd let her, Hermione would've gathered him up in her arms and never let him go.
She had to compose herself not to do it now.
A moan and sigh called back her attention from the retreating backs of the younger students. Her eyes shot to Harry, alarmed to find him no longer sleeping quietly. His long lashes fluttered against his pale skin as his eyes moved under the lids, and his face had tensed, lines appearing on his forehead and around his mouth. She could see his jaw tightening as he clamped his teeth, and he shook his head, moaning: "Nn… No."
Unsure what to do, Hermione moved closer, until she was right next to him, her hand hovering in the air but not yet touching. Should she attempt comfort when it might risk waking him?
"No!" uttered Harry again, face tightening more and fists balling beside him.
Making up her mind, she started to tenderly stroke his hair, allowing her fingers to brush the skin of his forehead, the softness of his cheeks. "Shh, Harry," she hushed. "It's all right. You're all right. We're all safe." She could feel him trembling through her touch, the nightmare slow to retreat.
But as she continued to stroke and murmur, his body stilled and his face relaxed. She hummed a nonexistent tune when she'd run out of things to say, and allowed her eyes to roam lazily over his body, taking him in fully. She knew she cared for all of him, from his knobbly knees to those intense green eyes of his, and for a moment heat flared through her body, making her shiver and blush, and she was glad she was sitting down. Taking a deep breath, she calmed herself, pushing confusing desires back to their recesses, and rested her eyes once more on his face, where her hand was still brushing through his unruly hair.
She froze, startled, when she found his own eyes watching her, heavy-lidded and unfocused with sleep. For a moment, neither moved, taking each other in, coming to grips with the positions they found each other in.
Then Harry raised the hand that had lain on his chest and took her free one, pulling it back to rest in the same place, his fingers twining with hers.
"I dreamt you'd died," he whispered, his voice hoarse with sleep.
Hermione's gaze softened instantly, and in a soothing tone she said: "I'm not dead."
"No," sighed Harry, closing his eyes again, sleep not far away from where he was. "But you almost did…"
"I'm here, Harry," said Hermione gently. "I'm not going anywhere. Go back to sleep." She squeezed his hand, ensuring him that she was there, that they were safe. He sighed again and his breathing evened out as he slipped back into the sleep his body craved so much.
Hermione sat next to him, holding his hand and imagining she could feel his heartbeat underneath. She brushed his hair until Ron returned, a picnic basket swinging on his arm. She wondered what she would say to Ron to explain her sitting so close to Harry, or the way the sleeping boy had her hand in a tight grip she didn't want him to let go of, but Ron took it in stride and acted as if it was as natural as anything. She supposed he felt the same protectiveness of Harry as she did.
Though as she remembered the heat that had flared through her earlier, perhaps not exactly the same.
They ate their food without talking, washed it down with pumpkin juice, and saved a fair share for Harry to eat when he woke up.
Hermione was glad she'd allowed herself to leave the library. It was a good day.