How would Hermione react if Harry left to fight Voldemort without telling her first? And what if everyone else knew but her? I don't think she'd take it very well. And if Harry returns alive, will she finish the job Voldemort started?

Without a Word

Hermione flopped onto the bench by the Gryffindor table tiredly, pulled a stack of toast closer and poured herself some juice. She peeled a banana absentmindedly, took a bite and began chewing mechanically as she struggled to wake up. It was still early and there were few people in the Great Hall this morning. Since it was Saturday, most of the students would be sleeping in and coming down for a late breakfast. Normally she liked this quiet time of the morning when she could eat quietly and think before the hall filled up with chattering students but she hadn't slept well the night before. For some reason, she had been tossing and turning the entire night. She knew that until she was fully awake, there was no point in going to the library and studying for the NEWT exams she and the other seventh year students would be taking in a few weeks.

She was nearly finished with breakfast when the post owls began dropping off newspapers and mail to the students who were in the Great Hall. She patted the owl affectionately and dropped a few knuts in its pouch as she took the paper and unrolled it on the table. She finished skimming the last page before looking up and glancing around at the Hall again. Padma and Lavender were a few feet away, gossiping as usual. Ginny was talking quietly with several of her roommates a few seats down. Hermione glanced quickly up and down the table curiously. Where were Harry and Ron? Where were Neville, Seamus, and Dean?

"Ginny, have you seen Harry or Ron this morning?" When Ginny shook her head negatively, she asked again. "What about Dean?"

Ginny shook her head again. "I haven't seen any of them this morning. I thought they would be down here having breakfast already."

Hermione snorted. "Don't tell me they're still sleeping! Somebody should go wake up those lazy…" Her words trailed off as she saw Ron and three of his roommates enter the Hall and head towards their table. Something about the four of them looked odd as she stood up.

"Good morning, sleepyheads," she teased cheerfully. Something twinged in her stomach as she realized that none of them would look her in the eye. "Where's Harry? Is he sick this morning?" she asked, a note of concern creeping into her voice.

"No, he's not sick Hermione," mumbled Ron, who looked up from the table to stare over her shoulder as he stopped.

"Did he…" her voice dropped to a whisper as she waited for the other three boys to pass her and sit down while she stood in front of Ron, a sick, cold feeling spreading in her stomach. "Did he have another dream? I thought his Occlumency lessons with Dumbledore were helping…"

Ron's face went pale and his eyes widened to stare at Hermione before he quickly glanced away again. "No, no, it's nothing like that…"

"You're lying to me Ron," she whispered in a cold voice that held the first edges of her growing anger. "What's wrong? What are you trying to hide? If this is come kind of joke…and what are you staring at?" She turned to look behind her, but all she saw was the head table where the professors usually sat to eat their breakfast. There was nothing strange there except…Dumbledore was not in his usual seat. Neither was Hagrid. Or Snape. Where was everyone? She noticed a strange expression on Professor McGonagall's face as she rose from her seat and then a wave of fear passed through Hermione. A cold feeling of dread grew in the pit of her stomach. She felt her heart begin to beat faster as the adrenaline began to hit her system, and her thoughts began to race. She took a moment to try and regain the control she could feel rapidly slipping away before turning back to Ron.

"Where is Harry? What's going on?" she asked again, her voice slightly higher than normal, her anxiety overpowering her frustration momentarily.

Ron's face flushed again as he stuttered. "Look Hermione, he made me promise not to tell you…"

The normal buzzing sound of students talking and laughing in the Great Hall began to die down even as the whine of panic inside of her own head grew louder. Hermione could feel the eyes of some of the students begin to turn their way as she continued to interrogate Ron. She didn't care. "Tell me what Ron! What is it! TELL ME NOW!"

Her words echoed in the Hall for a moment as all conversation stopped and heads throughout the room snapped around to watch the two Griffyndors. Some looked in simple curiosity, while most eagerly anticipated another one of their infamous rows.

"Hermione, I'm sorry. I can't. I gave my oath…not a word." explained Ron sadly.

"He's gone, isn't he?" she whispered in a small, quiet voice. "He's gone after Voldemort, hasn't he? Harry and Dumbledore, and all the rest…they're going after…"

A sickeningly smug voice drowned out the rest of her words. Unnoticed by either Ron or Hermione, Draco and several of his stooges had slithered out of the dungeons and found their way into the Great Hall for breakfast. "So, Scarhead and the others have gone to face the Dark Lord, have they? If they're stupid enough to do that, there won't be enough pieces left of them to fill a Floo powder jar." Draco laughed, followed by the forced chuckles of Crabbe, Goyle, and Parkinson.

Hermione stepped around Ron and glared furiously at the group of Slytherins. "Sod off Malfoy. Nobody asked your opinion."

"How dare you speak to me Mudblood! But it seems like I'm not the only one who can't stand talking to you. Apparently Scarface has finally realized that Mudbloods aren't worth…"

Draco immediately stopped speaking as Ron's large fist slammed into his chin and he fell backwards. Goyle leaped forward at Ron as Crabbe fumbled in his robes for a wand. Ron raised his fists defensively as a ray of light shot past him and Goyle suddenly flew backwards, his body completely stiff and rigid. Crabbe managed to pull out his wand, only to watch stupidly as it soared out of his hand while he fell over backwards, sliding along the floor on his back until he slammed hard into one of the walls, next to Goyle. Neither got up or even showed signs of consciousness. A flash of red hit Ron and he fell backwards, crying out in pain.

"Just me and you now, mudbl-" taunted Draco until Hermione hit him with a Stunner so hard that he flew backwards twenty feet, never touching the ground until he slammed into the wall and then fell forward on his face, out cold. Some dust and a few rock chips fell on Draco's motionless form from the small crater in the wall his flying body had created.

Pansy's shrill shriek pierced the stunned silence of the Hall as she lunged at Hermione with her fingers stretched out at Hermione. "How dare you hurt Draco you filthy…" She stopped short as Hermione held her wand steadily at her throat.

"Just give me a reason you nasty little…"

"Hermione, no!" shouted Ron.

"Miss Granger! That is quite enough! Attacking other students in the Great Hall! You are a prefect! I have never seen behavior like this in all my years! That will be fifty points from Gryffindor and a week's worth of detentions. Now you need to calm yourself and come with me and…"

Pansy shakily backed away from Hermione, nervously watching Hermione's wand steadily follow her. She ran towards Draco and kneeled by his side whimpering as Hermione slowly turned around to face McGonagall. She noticed Neville and Ginny kneeling by Ron whose face was covered in painful blisters before looking up at a furious Professor McGonagall. But she no longer cared. Nothing mattered anymore. As the adrenaline racing through her system from the rather one-sided duel slowly ebbed away, she was filled with an icy cold that made everything seem crystal clear even as it prevented her from feeling anything.

"You know what's happening, don't you?" She knew she was right as soon as one of McGonagall's eyes twitched. Hermione's voice grew louder. "And nobody told ME! WHY? Why didn't Harry tell me? How could he leave me without a word?" She didn't notice the small tear slowly rolling down one cheek or realize that she was pointing her wand at McGonnagal as she yelled.

"Miss Granger," continued McGonagall in what she tried to make a soothing tone as she glanced around at the Great Hall, realizing that not only was every student hanging on their every word, but many of them were moving swiftly and silently to stay away from any area close to where Hermione's wand happened to be pointing. "We can continue this discussion outside." She stepped forward and extended her hand slowly to grasp the wrist of her favorite student, whom she was deeply worried about right now.

Hermione backed away, a fierce expression lighting her face. "You know what, I don't care anymore. I don't want to know! But you might as well make it an even hundred points for Gryffindor." McGonagall's eyes widened in surprise as Hermione turned on her heel, raised her wand and blasted the doors to the Great Hall with a Reductor curse so powerful that the exploding splinters burned themselves out before they hit the ground. Hermione walked towards the burning, smoking hole she had just blasted in the wall and turned one final time towards a completely silent Great Hall. Every eye watched her in awe and many with no small amount of fear.

"And if I so much as see another one of these Slytherins again today," she spat out with contempt, nodding her head at the three motionless bodies she had defeated moments before, "I guarantee it will take Pomfrey a week to patch them up." Then, without another word she walked through the smoldering ruin that was all that was left of the Great Hall entrance. She stepped over several lumps of molten metal, all that was left of the massive hinges and doorknobs and disappeared from sight through the thick smoke that hung heavily in the air.

Ginny stood up but McGonagall grabbed her by the elbow and shook her head. "Mr. Longbottom, help Mr. Weasley get down to Madam Pomfrey. I'll bring Mr. Malfoy and the other Slytherins down later. Miss Weasley, you can go visit your brother in a few minutes, but first I want you to spread the word among the rest of the Gryffindors to leave Miss Granger alone today—though I'm sure they will all know what happened in a matter of minutes." A sad, wry grin crossed her face briefly before disappearing just as quickly as it appeared. "I don't think we need to warn anybody else to stay away from her today. If she wants to talk to anybody, let her make the first move. I think it would be best if we gave her some space for a while—I don't want anyone trying to get her to talk today if she doesn't want to." Her glance flickered from Ginny and lingered on Ron for a minute. "Now off to the infirmary with you two."

Ginny nodded and went back to the Gryffindor table while Neville gingerly wrapped Ron's arm around his shoulder and helped him stand. McGonagall went and muttered the countercharms that would release Crabbe and Goyle and then realized she needed to awake them as well. After several attempts to revive them, they managed a few moans and groans.

She simply shook her head in amazement at the display of power the entire school had just witnessed. If You-Know-Who doesn't kill Harry, Hermione just might she thought wryly. As soon as she thought it, her face blanched and she tried to push away the gnawing fear that suddenly gripped her. She knew she had to stay strong for the sake of the students, there was no sense in worrying them about events over which they had no influence. She had tried to warn Dumbledore that it would be a mistake not to inform Miss Granger about the terrifying vision Harry had seen last night and their attempt to prevent it, but he had brushed aside her concerns. Harry and most of the Order had left early that morning to try and catch Voldemort in the very trap he had laid for Harry. She had a feeling that today would decide everything, one way or the other. She hoped it would end soon—she shuddered as she remembered the constant Death Eater attacks over the last two years since Voldemort's appearance at the Ministry of Magic. She glanced quickly around at the nervous and fearful faces of the students looking towards her for guidance. She decided she was going to have a very long talk with Dumbledore if—no, when he returned—about leaving her here to try and deal with these anxious young students. She levitated Draco's body—she had been unable to awake him—and directed Professor Flitwick to take him and the other two who could barely stand down to the infirmary while she tried to think of something comforting to say to the rest of the students.

Hermione couldn't even remember how she got here. All she knew was that she couldn't stand the idea of talking to anyone else right now. She had locked the door and then cast several other charms she was sure that none of the other students would be able to break. She then lay on the floor and reached up under the bed and pulled out the Maruaders' map where Harry kept it hid.

She whispered "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good," and spent the next twenty minutes scanning the map looking for any sign of Harry. When she finally admitted to herself that he was nowhere to be found on the school grounds, she let the tears begin to fall down her face unchecked. Though she already knew the answer, she checked Harry's broom case where he kept his beloved Firebolt. It was empty as she suspected. In vain she tried summoning his Invisibility Cloak, knowing full well that he would have taken that with him as well. There was nothing left to check. There was no other possible explanation for why Harry and the other Professors were all missing, why Ron and McGonagall were so evasive, why Harry's Firebolt and Invisibility Cloak were missing. He had gone to face his destiny with Voldemort.

She shivered as she remembered the afternoon he had told her and Ron and Ginny about the Prophecy and pulled on a sweater she found lying by Harry's bed. She and Ginny had saved most of their tears for later that night after Harry had gone up to bed. She and Ginny had talked quietly for several hours while sharing tears and hugs before Hermione returned to her own room and cried herself to sleep. She hadn't cried a tear since that horrible night until today. She sat on Harry's bed, pulled her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around her legs tightly, and gently rocked back and forth as the tears continued streaming down her face silently.

She didn't know how long she had been asleep, but judging by the sunlight streaming in from the window, it had to be late afternoon. She jumped up in alarm and reached quickly for the map, hoping against hope that maybe Harry had returned while she had fallen asleep. Ten minutes later she sighed in exasperation and pushed the map away from her again. She stood up and stretched to relieve some of her aching muscles. She reached back for the map and walked over to the large window that looked over the front courtyard towards the gates of Hogwarts castle. She transfigured one of the wooden chairs into a very comfortable seat where she could sit in front of the window. For the next two hours, she alternated between watching the front gates through which anyone Apparating to Hogwarts would have to walk through to get to the castle and examining the Marauders' Map in case they used a secret tunnel or some other method she was unaware of to return to the castle. She sat in complete silence, ignoring both hunger and thirst in her lonely vigil as the afternoon sun dropped lower and lower in the brooding sky.

"I think one of us should go up there! It's not good for her to be all by herself up there this long! At the very least, she needs some lunch."

"Gin, McGonagall said we should leave her alone."

"Who cares what she said, Ron. I'm worried about Hermione!"

"I am too, but you saw what she did to Ferret and his sidekicks. Not even Pomfrey could wake up Malfoy," explained Ron as he absentmindedly patted one of his recently healed cheeks.

"She wouldn't do that to one of us."

"Not on purpose, but she's pretty upset. And I'm perfectly willing to let her stay in our room until she's ready to come out. I don't mind sleeping on one of these couches down here and I think the other guys feel the same."

Ginny looked around grimly at the other seventh year Gryffindor boys. "Are you sure you lot belong in Gryffindor? None of you are looking very brave at the moment," she snorted angrily. "Fine, if none of you are willing to help her, then I'll go up by myself."

"Gin!" shouted Ron as he scrambled out of his chair and tried to catch up to his sister as she headed for the stairs leading up to the boys' rooms. Everyone in the room froze when they heard a muffled explosion from upstairs. A moment later, the door from the boys' stairs slammed open, nearly falling off its hinges. Ron and Ginny leaped aside as Hermione sprinted at full speed right past them without even looking at them.

"Bloodrake wingclaw!" she shouted as she ran for the portrait door. The group paralysis within the room shattered as Gryffindor students everywhere in the room ducked behind tables and couches or flattened themselves against the walls as they watched in amazement and some fear as Hermione drew her wand. Realizing the Fat Lady was either gone from the portrait or would not open the door in time, Hermione pointed her wand as she ran and screamed "ALOHOMORA!"

The door slammed open so hard it broke one of the hinges and sagged to the ground in front of an astonished McGonagall. Hermione turned and sprinted past her down the stairs as if she never even saw her.

As Ron climbed out from behind a small chair he looked through the door at McGonagall in shock before smirking as he saw Ginny climbing up off the floor. "And you were going to be our fearless leader, were you?"

"Shut it, Ron."

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded McGonagall.

"We don't know. She's been quiet all afternoon up in the seventh year boys' room until thirty seconds ago. Then she just tore out of here like a bat out of hell," explained Ginny. "uhh, Professor."

"Yes, I caught the last part. Did she say anything?"

"Not a word," answered Ron.

"Well, perhaps we should follow her and see what she is up to. Ron, Ginny, Neville, you come with me. The rest of you stay in here." She raised her wand as if to repair the damage done to the portrait, but then sighed and muttered something under her breath as she led the three Gryffindors down the stairs that Hermione had just descended.

Hermione paused for a moment on the last stair, unsure if she was really seeing what her eyes were showing was right in front of her. Remus Lupin had his arm looped around Tonks' shoulders and was leaning on her heavily as he limped badly. She seemed to have several nasty cuts and bruises on her face and the robes of both were singed and sliced in various places. Hagrid's hulking form was carrying a limp body dressed in shredded black robes. The clothes of both appeared to be in terrible shape and she could see where the blood had soaked his shirt and pants in several places. The greasy hair of the Potions Master flopped with each stride that Hagrid took, revealing an extremely pale face beaded with sweat. Between the two strode Dumbledore, his robes charred black in places, but he easily carried the body in his arms. Hermione cried out loud at the terrible sight that met her eyes and the weary group in front of her paused for a moment, as did her four friends two staircases above her.

The anguish in her voice as she cried out Harry's name seemed to freeze the blood in all those who heard it and shocked them into stillness. Hermione was the first to move and she rushed to Dumbledore, never taking her eyes from the still form he held in his arms. Cuts and scrapes covered his face, his glasses appeared to be broken and one of the lenses was missing. If he had been wearing robes or a cloak, they were long gone. His t-shirt and jeans were ripped and torn in more areas than she could count, and she wasn't sure if it was the threads, or the clotted blood that was actually holding his clothing together. His eyes were closed, his face was pale and white where it wasn't covered with blood and she couldn't tell if he was breathing.

"Is…is…" she struggled, but couldn't force the words out.

"He is alive, Miss Granger. But we need to get him to Madame Pomfrey as quickly as possible."

"Then follow me," she snapped and began climbing the stairs. At the top, she turned around and hissed angrily, "Hurry! Hurry!"

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled but he refrained from saying anything. He gave a quick nod to McGonagall and she gave a deep sigh of relief before following with the other Gryffindors.

When Hermione burst into the Hospital Wing, Madame Pomfrey bit back the comment that was on the tip of her tongue for the person who had sent her the three patients she had been tending all morning when she saw the expression on her face.

"They're bringing in Harry now. How can I help?"

Instead of telling her simply to stay out of her way, she said, "If you could bring me a dozen clean bandages, some wraps, a vial of Purative potion and then start warming a Skin Restorative potion, that will be a good start. I will have some other work for you after I've finished examining Mr. Potter more fully." Wordlessly, Hermione went to gather the items requested.

"Albus, you need to speak with her. She refuses to leave his side—even to sleep. She barely eats anything we bring in, and she hasn't spoken a word to anyone since you brought him in. She can't keep this up much longer before…"

"I will speak with her Minerva, but I think we all know there is only thing that will truly help her feel better. And we have done all that we can to help Mr. Potter recover. All we can do no now is wait and pray for the best."

Dumbledore's eyes returned to gaze with sadness and concern at the two young students resting in the infirmary. Harry lay still and pale in the bed he all too regularly occupied during his frequent visits to the infirmary, the bedsheets and blankets barely rustling as his chest rose slightly as his shallow breathing continued. A table full of potion bottles and bandage wraps testified of the seriousness of his condition. A thin faced girl with thick, unbrushed hair sat quietly by his side, rocking slowly back and forth as she held one of his hands between her own and slowly, methodically, almost mindlessly alternated between patting it and rubbing it. The scene before him hadn't changed in the nearly three days since the final battle with Voldemort in which Harry had somehow managed to defeat him.

Regretfully, he realized that Minerva had been right. He should have informed Hermione before the Order left with Harry to confront Voldemort. It had been cruel of them to leave Hermione in the dark. The strength and depth of her attachment to Harry was now obvious to anyone with eyes and a minimal amount of common sense. Even very old wizards. And he now understood why Harry had wanted to leave without telling her—she would have never stayed behind and out of danger otherwise.

He grinned slightly as he recalled Madame Pomfrey's attempt to send Hermione to her own room the first night only to find Hermione's wand aimed at the tip of her nose. An exhausted, but determined young witch had then made it very clear to everyone within the infirmary as well as several of the surrounding hallways that she was staying with Harry until he was better.

Dumbledore then turned and looked at Harry with pride and joy, still amazed at Harry's courage and strength, and his determination to not only confront evil, but his incredible ability to survive as well. No other wizard could have brought down Voldemort and defeated him, let alone survived the encounter. Dumbledore knew that even he wouldn't have been able to do it.

Dumbledore then shook his head in sadness as he recalled the celebrations that had erupted in the wizarding world when news of Voldemort's defeat had spread. Just as before, the world had neither cared nor fully understood the sacrifice that had been paid for their peace. Dumbledore could only hope that this second defeat of Voldemort wouldn't require the life of another Potter.

He watched Hermione gently, tenderly hold Harry's hand and whispered a silent prayer that Harry would recover—for the sake of both of them. As he stepped forward to talk quietly with Hermione, he noticed a slight movement on the bed in front of him and he snapped out of his reminiscences.

Harry coughed several times and then slowly opened his eyes. Professor McGonagall stepped forward and then paused as Dumbledore gently grabbed her arm. Madame Pomfrey bustled out of her office and rushed forward and then paused as Dumbledore shook his head slowly and held up his other hand to stop her for a moment. "Give them a moment," he whispered softly.

The three adults moved quietly towards the door at the other end of the room in order to give the young adults a few minutes of privacy.

"Hermione?" croaked Harry feebly.

"I'm here Harry. Everything's fine. Don't worry, I'll take care of you. Everything will be fine."

"Thanks. And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I didn't tell you before…"

"Shush. You don't need to say another word. You just concentrate on getting better Harry. That's all you need to worry about right now."

"Is everybody…did…"

"Everybody else is fine, Harry. You did it. Voldemort's dead. It's all over now Harry. You just need to rest now."

Harry smiled weakly and lay back with his eyes closed. He clasped her hand and squeezed it tightly. "Thanks, Herm…" He quickly drifted off, falling back to sleep, his breathing a little deeper now, a little more steady. She moved to pull away and discovered that Harry was still clutching her hand tightly. With a slight smile, she put her other hand over his and sat quietly, whispering softly to Harry as he slept.

After a few minutes, she too fell asleep in her chair and never noticed the return of Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Pomfrey to check on her and Harry.

A week later, Harry was sitting up in bed, finishing off a large bowl of chocolate pudding while Hermione was scrubbing the floor two beds over.

"So let me get this straight, Hermione. After you single handedly blasted Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle into unconsciousness, you blew up the door to the Great Hall. And you told McGonagall to take off an even hundred points from Griffindor? And that's why McGonagall sent you in here to clean this week—it's for your detention?"

Hermione straightened up from where she had been on her hands and knees scrubbing the flagstones with a bristle brush, wiped the back of her hand against her sweaty brow, and glared at Harry. "Yes Harry. For the tenth time, that is why I'm here scrubbing the floors. I got a week's detention and lost Gryffindor one hundred points because I blasted those Slytherin Neanderthals and blew up the door to the Great Hall. Is that what you wanted to hear?" Her glare intensified as Harry started laughing again.

"I wish I could have seen that!" He then easily caught the soapy brush that she threw at his head. "Hermione," he snickered, "you're going to have to do better than that. I am a Seeker after all. Speaking of which, do you have any idea how hard it's going to be for me to win back all of those points you lost for Gryffindor in the Quidditch match next week?"

"What! You're blaming me! And what do you mean by winning points back in the Quidditch match next week? You are not going to be playing Quidditch next week!"

"Yes I AM!"

"No you are NOT!"

"Of course I am. We have to beat Slytherin!"

"It's against Slytherin? Well…NO! Absolutely not Harry. You are not going to play next week and that's that. You have to get better first."

"I would heal faster if you would stop yelling at me about playing Quidditch next week Hermione."

"I am not yelling Harry. This is my 'persuasive' voice."

"It sounds like your 'talking with Ron' voice," mumbled Harry.

"What was that?"

"Nothing. Look, Hermione, I don't really want to argue with you about this."

"I know, I'm sorry Harry. I just…"

"I know. Look, I promise I won't play unless I get fully cleared by Pomfrey. Will that make you happy?"

"It's not about me being happy or right, Harry. I…I just don't want to see you get hurt again or…"

"I know. I know. Look, there's something else I want to talk to you about. I still feel terrible about leaving without saying anything to you. I feel like it's my fault you got detention so…"

"Harry, I told you not to worry about it. It's not your fault…"

"I want to make it up to you. Accio wand."

"Harry! What are you doing? You shouldn't be…"

Harry easily caught his wand as it came soaring towards him. "SCOURGIFY!"

"Harry! I was supposed to clean this by hand, without any magic!"

"Well, they didn't say you couldn't accept help. And they didn't tell me not to use magic. Besides, it's clean now."

"That's not the point Harry."

"I know, but now that you don't have anything else to do right now, there's something else I…uhh…err…"

Hermione glanced at the suddenly blushing Harry and her face softened as she brushed back a stray curl out of her eyes. As Harry struggled to finish his thought, Hermione walked over and sat in the chair next to his bed.

"What is it, Harry?" she asked softly, sensing the serious mood that had overcome Harry.

"Look, I don't even know how to start…I…err…I wanted to try and explain why I left without telling you."

"I told you Harry, it doesn't matter now. It's over and you're safe and that's all that's important."

"Please, just listen Hermione. I knew that if you knew what I was planning, you would insist on coming with me."

"Of course I…" she stopped at Harry's look. "Sorry. Go on."

"But I knew I had to go. I had to stop Voldemort from launching his plan. Ron knew something bad had happened when I finished reading the letter that arrived in the middle of the night, but I could make sure he didn't try to come. He wanted to, but I told him I was going with Dumbledore and the other members of the Order of the Phoenix and so he agreed to stay behind. He wasn't happy, but he stayed. But I didn't want you to find out, so I made him promise not to say anything to you because I knew you wouldn't stay behind. And…and I couldn't bear the idea of you getting hurt again on my account."

Harry turned his head away from her, but she noticed the tears welling up in his eyes.

She waited for a moment and then asked. "What was in the letter Harry? What was so important that you had to go right then, in the middle of the night?"

Harry stared out the window for a few moments before returning his gaze towards Hermione. "They were going after you and your family to try and get to me. They were going to capture your parents, two of the Death Eaters were going to use Polyjuice to impersonate them and pick you up in a few weeks at the train station, and then kill your parents and use you either as a hostage or as bait for a trap to get me."

Hermione's hand flew to her mouth as a horrified sigh escaped from her lips. Her face paled as Harry reached for her hand.

"Hermione. It's OK now. Your parents were never in any danger. We portkeyed there immediately and Molly then took them to the Burrow where they would be better protected. Then we waited for Voldemort and his Death Eaters to show up. We caught them in their own trap."

"But who sent the letter? Who would warn you?"

Harry laughed bitterly. "Wormtail. I don't know if he finally found a scrap of decency or if he felt compelled to finally pay off his wizard's debt to me. And frankly I don't care. After I read the letter, Ron and I went to Dumbledore and we confirmed it through my connection with Voldemort. He helped me lower my mental shields just enough to see if Voldemort was really planning something like this."

"Wow," was all that Hermione could manage.

"There's something else, Hermione."

Hermione looked intently at Harry, wondering what more there could possibly be.

"The whole time I was there at your house, waiting, all I could think about was how worried I was that you might get hurt if we failed. And I wanted to do everything in my power to keep you as far away from all of this as possible. But at the same time, I felt so alone. There I was, surrounded by friends from the Order of the Phoenix and pictures of you and your family, but I have never felt more alone in my entire life. Then when they finally showed up, all I could feel was anger and rage. Every one of those Death Eaters came to hurt you or your family and I was furious. I was beyond furious, I…it was scary—I never want to feel like that again. There were spells and countercurses everywhere, bodies falling, screams—a hundred times more intense than at the Department of Mysteries. I chased a pair of Death Eaters outside and then…and then I found Voldemort. He was in that patch of woods just behind your house, trying to break the anti-Apparition wards Dumbledore had established to keep anyone from escaping. He turned and just laughed at me. He thanked me for saving him the trouble of tracking me down by simply showing up. And then he laughed again and said that when he was done with me and my friends from the Order, he was going to kill you next."

Hermione clasped Harry's hand and squeezed as Harry turned towards the window again, several tears streaming down his cheeks.

"I don't remember much after that except I started casting every spell I could think of at him and trying to dodge and counter his spells. And then he was down and not moving and I was on the ground too and I hurt so bad I just wanted to die." Harry then slowly turned his head back towards Hermione and gazed deeply into her eyes. "But before I did I wanted to see you again and apologize for leaving you without a word and for not…for not telling you that…"

"I love you, too," whispered Hermione, as she gently caressed his cheek with one hand.

"I love you," finished Harry at the same time. Then his eyebrows shot up in surprise. "You do?"

"Of course I do, you silly boy. But I didn't realize that you felt the same way," she confessed as she wiped away the tears from her eyes with her free hand.

"I don't think I really knew how I felt about you until I almost lost you. It was a hundred times worse than any Dementor. When he said that he was still going to kill you, I knew I couldn't let him win. I had to beat him somehow. And when it was over, I couldn't bear the thought of dying before I told you. I was so afraid that I would never…"

"I'm right here, Harry." Hermione's hand slid along his cheek behind his head and gently pulled him forward. "And I'm not going anywhere…" she whispered softly as they both leaned forward. Their lips brushed softly at first and then the kiss deepened as they sensed the amount of love each felt for the other.

Gasping for air and grinning happily, Harry managed to find his voice again a few minutes later. "A few more kisses like that and I'll be ready to play Quidditch by this afternoon."

Hermione smirked in reply. "Well, I guess I'll be leaving then. You are not stepping on the Quidditch field until you're fully healed and have Madame Pomfrey's approval."

"I think I'm more than competent to judge whether I'm fit enough to play Quidditch," insisted Harry.

"I wouldn't bet on that Harry."

"Hey! I just finished off the most powerful dark wizard of our time so I think you can cut me a little slack and…mmph"

"Oh, shut up," retorted Hermione and kissed Harry again. Neither had noticed the door open and then quickly close again.

"Ah, young love," mused Dumbledore.

"Well, I never…" huffed Madame Pomfrey. "I thought Miss Granger…"

"has finally gotten what she deserved?" finished McGonagall with a slight smile.

"How can the two of you allow them to stay in there and…and…"

"kiss?" chuckled Dumbledore. "That is hardly a crime. She is seventeen and he will be this summer. She is one of the most talented witches this school has ever seen and he has just defeated one of the most feared dark wizards of all time. I believe they deserve a moment or two of happiness and joy together. Do not worry Madame Pomfrey. They are both very responsible, very mature…"

"teenagers full of raging hormones, Professor Dumbledore!"

"We're talking about Hermione Granger and Harry Potter. They're not exactly typical or normal by any stretch of the imagination, Poppy," added McGonagall.

"Well, I believe young Harry is definitely feeling better, wouldn't you agree Poppy?"

Madame Pomfrey simply sputtered as she tried to respond.

"I agree Albus. In fact, I would imagine Harry will be up for Quidditch in another week or so."

"Just in time for the final match against Slytherin?" asked Dumbledore.

"Of course, it will be up to Potter to decide," declared McGonagall.

"Of course," agreed Dumbledore.

"The last time I checked, I was still responsible for the health and safety of the school's students," insisted Pomfrey as she loudly opened the door and waited for a moment to enter. "And I will judge whether or not Mr. Potter is in any condition to play that barbaric sport you call Quidditch." As she walked into the room she muttered under her breath, "Though why I bother fixing him up when I'll just see him again right after the match…"

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled as he gestured for McGonagall to walk into the room ahead of him.

Hermione pulled away reluctantly when she heard the door open, but Harry held on to her hand and did not let her move too far away from him. She glanced down and smiled as she sat back in her chair, still holding his hand. She saw the twinkle in Dumbledore's eyes and the slight smile tugging at the corners of McGonagall's mouth and ignored the dour, disapproving glare of Madame Pomfrey.

"Have you been enjoying your detention, Miss Granger?" asked Dumbledore with a hint of humor in his voice.

"Well, I'm done with the cleaning for today and I've had good company, so I guess I can't complain too much."

"Yes, I am very impressed with how quickly you got it all done—and with how thoroughly," added McGonagall, glancing with arched eyebrows at Harry, who fought to keep a straight face. "Well, I think you've learned your lesson, so there will be no need for you to return to the infirmary tomorrow…unless you'd like to."

Harry realized they were teasing Hermione and tried to stifle a laugh. Hermione noticed as well and responded. "Why thank you. But I can't really think of a good reason to come back—I'll probably head to the library tomorrow."

"Hey!" protested Harry, squeezing her hand.

"Oh, alright, Harry. I'll bring you a book if you'd like," and she smiled innocently at Harry.

"Uhh, thanks, Hermione."

Neither noticed the amused smiles of Dumbledore and McGonagall. Madame Pomfrey checked Harry's bandages and gave him several potions. Then the three adults left the young couple still holding hands.

Harry glanced up at Hermione and smiled as she reached down and brushed back his unruly hair. She then stood up and walked over to a wooden chair next to a large window which gave a breathtaking view of the grounds between the Forbidden Forest and the lake. She opened the window to let in the fresh, fragrant air of late spring and then, with a wave of her wand, she transformed the chair into a comfortable couch for two. Harry managed to walk over on his own, refusing any help from Hermione. Standing in front of the couch, he then tumbled backwards into the couch, wrapping his arms around her waist as he did so and pulled her down with him. She laughed in surprise and then laughed harder as he began tickling her. When he finally relented, she caught her breath and leaned back against him, pulling his arms slightly tighter around her. They sat by each other quietly, listening and watching the beautiful spring afternoon unfold just outside the window. They had said what they needed to share, and they both knew they had all the time in the world to share, to dream, to make a life together. Peaceful and untroubled, they were content to simply hold hands and enjoy the moment. With an occasional look or glance, they communicated easily and understood each other perfectly, strengthening their bonds of love and affection, all without a word.