Title: From Me
Disclaimer: In which JKR owns all, and I own nothing.
Spoilers: All five books.
Rating: Oh, hell, I don't know. I'm going with R, just to be on the safe side.
Cause I need you
Like the dragonflies' wings need the wind
Like the orphan needs home once again
Like heaven needs more to come in
I need you here like you've always been
He looks good, Hermione thought to herself, watching Harry's confident strides around the D.A. classroom. He was sure of himself. He exuded an aura of leadership, slipping into the role of commander like he was born for it.
The others in the room looked up to him, respect shining from their eyes. Their club had grown in the last couple of years. Dumbledore had even provided them with their own classroom. Harry had been reluctant at first about continuing the D.A. past their fifth-year, but Hermione has persisted until he gave in.
With her support, he started it up again last year. Harry had quickly realized the power in his position. When he was in charge of the D.A., he changed. His voice became louder, surer. He drew confidence from the rapt attention of their peers. Outside of the D.A. room, he had still been the same Harry—bumbling, uncertain, and grieving for Sirius.
He changed. She changed. It changed them. Harry had relied on her in ways he hadn't in the past. They had grown closer than they'd ever been, something that caused tension with Ron on more than one occasion. Their relationship entwined together with an intensity Hermione had found frightening at times.
And then seventh-year happened.
She hadn't noticed at first, it had been so subtle. He pulled away from her, slowly withdrawing himself from her life. To anyone else, it would be impossible to notice. He still sat with her and Ron at meals. He still did his homework with them. He still played Quidditch.
But he'd stopped treating her like his best friend. He no longer sat with her by the fire, talking for hours about the war or plans for the D.A. or their lives. He stopped taking interest in her. She couldn't remember the last time he'd smiled at her or touched her in some way. His looks were emotionless, his voice flat, sometimes even cold when he spoke to her.
It was destroying her.
In all her years at Hogwarts, she'd never questioned her feelings for Harry. Those feelings had grown until she was nearly bursting with them. His refusal to allow her to bestow them upon him left her feeling helpless and trapped. He was pulling away from her and she didn't know how to stop it. The further he got, the more helpless she felt.
"Hermione, how about a demonstration?"
Hermione's eyes widened, a faint blush spreading over her cheeks when she realized all D.A. members were staring at her.
Harry stood directly in front of her, eyes cool. "You weren't listening, were you?"
"You know I wasn't," Hermione said softly, searching his face.
His expression didn't change. With a pang, Hermione remembered when his eyes filled with warmth when he saw her. She remembered a Harry that would never deliberately embarrass her in front of her contemporaries.
"Surely you must see why this is a surprise," Harry said, taking a step closer to her. He didn't look very surprised. "You pay attention in all your classes. Everyone knows that. Hermione Granger—the girl that's kept me from failing all these years."
There was no compliment in his words. Hermione barely recognized him—this boy that had consumed her life for years.
She took a step back from him, wishing she could melt into the floor. She could feel every eye on her—hungry and curious. She couldn't believe Harry was doing this to her, now, in the middle of a D.A. meeting, in front of everyone they knew.
"Let's see what you've learned, then," Harry said. "You've always been best at everything. Certainly you could take me on."
Hermione drew in a sharp breath. "What… you want me to fight you?"
"Yeah," Harry said, eyes flicking up and down her body as if he was summing her up. "It's called a duel, actually."
"I'm quite aware of what it's called," she snapped.
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Fine. How about it?"
Hermione didn't know what to say. Surely he must know he could win easily. He'd made his point—she hadn't been listening. But this was only a club, nothing more. He couldn't scold her or give her detention. And, besides, in many ways, this was just as much her club as his. She'd been with him every step of the way when they created it. She'd helped him prepare for meetings. She'd researched with him. She'd reassured him when he wondered if it was worthwhile. Now he was treating her like she was beneath him.
"It'd be a good demonstration, don't you think?" Harry said, nodding his head in the direction of their audience.
She wanted to ask why he was doing this to her. She wondered if this was some sort of protective measure because he was frightened he'd begun to care too much. Or if he'd simply decided he no longer wanted to bother with her.
Throat too tight to speak, Hermione hoisted her wand as silent consent. They each took a few paces backwards, ready for the first move. She kept her eyes on his face, searching for some kind of reassurance—a promise that he wouldn't hurt her. She found nothing. She tried to arrange her own features to seem as closed off, but knew she could not manage.
Without warning, Harry launched his first curse at her. A quickly, muttered, "Stupify!"
She barely had time to yell out, "Protego!" And then he was flinging curses at her and the only thing she could do was the shielding charm over and over again. Harry was much better than her at this stuff—better than anyone. When it came to Charms, Potions and Transfiguration, she was far and above superior. But, here, when it was about reflexives and instincts and there was no time at all to think, Harry was unbeatable.
His hands never flinched as he rained curses on her and she was beginning to pant from the exertion of holding up her shield. It was clear he wasn't holding himself back for her sake. She didn't quite know how to react to that. To her, Harry had always done his best to keep her safe from harm. It was that instinct that made him rush off to save an eleven-year-old girl from a troll in only his first-year.
Now, his purpose wasn't protection. His purpose was to win, to beat her, to show her and the D.A. that he was superior. What she once was to him was irrelevant.
She didn't know who he was anymore. She didn't know if she wanted to know who he was. But it made her ache for her old Harry—her best friend, who would be horrified by his current treatment of her.
With a small cry of surprise, Hermione dropped her wand. He'd landed a perfect stinging charm to her wrist and she could feel her wand hand tingling with pain. Harry stared at her, unblinking. He didn't appear at all apologetic.
Without warning, Hermione felt tears spring into her eyes. She bit her lip to keep herself grounded and in control. It was only the pain in her wrist, now a dull throb, that made her strengthen her resolve.
She was vaguely aware that Harry was speaking to the rest of the D.A. She bent down to retrieve her wand. When she straightened, most members had filed out the door.
Harry turned back around and, for a moment, she was hopeful he'd ask how she was and apologize. He didn't do any of those things. Instead, he began gathering his things, barely looking in her direction.
Hermione fought blind hysteria. He's going to walk out of here without saying anything.
"You really hurt me," Hermione blurted.
Harry finished packing his things. He glanced at her wrist and Hermione was certain she saw his eyes flicker with unguarded emotion. When he met her eyes, his cool expression was back.
"No, I didn't," he said. "That was a basic charm. I could've done worse."
"Oh, and I suppose that makes it okay, does it?" she said.
Harry's face was expressionless. "Go see Madam Pomfrey if it bothers you that much."
Dismissing her, Harry continued to the door.
Desperation exploded in her chest. "Harry… please, hold on…"
He stopped, keeping his hack to her. "Hermione, I have loads to do—"
"I don't care!" she said, pushing away her hurt to find anger. "Do you even know what just happened? You hurt me! On purpose!" She paused to let that sink in. "And you don't—you don't even care."
Harry whirled around. "We were dueling, Hermione! What do you want me to say? 'Gee, I'm sorry I didn't let you win?'"
"Of course not," she snapped. "It's not—oh, Harry, it's not about the stupid duel and you know it."
"Yeah? Then what is this about?" He took a step closer to her. "You want me to give you special treatment, is that it? Because we're best friends?"
She goggled at him. His refusal to face the reality of the situation left her momentarily speechless. Finally, she gave a bitter laugh. "Best friends? Best friends?"
Harry looked frustrated with her and Hermione felt her spirits bolster. That's right. Get angry. It's more emotion than I've seen from you in months.
"We've always been best friends," he said, voice tight. "You, me, and Ron."
She shook her head. "No," she said. Her throat tightened and her words were choked. "We used to be best friend."
His tone was clipped, like she was wasting his time. "What are you saying?"
"Don't you dare blame me for this, Harry," she said. "I can't—I can't take this treatment from you any longer!"
"Oh, for Merlin's sakes," Harry said. "It was one duel. One you agreed to, I might add. Honestly, you should have been prepared for that last curse. Perhaps you should put more effort into your practice."
"Stop making this about the duel," Hermione said, voice low. "It was never about that. It's about… it's about the way you look at me."
"The way I… you have got to be kidding me."
She fixed him with a stare. When she spoke, she was surprised by how calm her words were. "You look at me like I'm nothing. You look at me like I'm beneath you. You look at me the same way Draco does."
Harry slammed his stuff down. He came closer to her. "Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm not," she whispered. "I'm telling you the truth."
"You're imagining things. How can you compare me to Malfoy?" Harry spat the name like it was a dirty word. "I'm nothing like him."
Hermione didn't look away. "You're right. Draco can look at me with hate and I don't care. When you look at me like that… it destroys me a little more. Every day."
Harry flinched. For the first time, he seemed to be stunned into silence. Hermione wiped her cheeks, realizing they were wet with tears.
He took a deep breath. "You need to be ready."
His voice was soft. Startled by this change in demeanor, Hermione took a step closer to him.
"Ready for what?"
Harry hesitated. "The war… everything."
"I don't…" Hermione trailed off. "I don't see how—how the way you're treating me will accomplish that."
His eyes flickered shut. "You don't understand."
"Well, that's obvious."
He cracked a smile. "It's not because I hate you, you know."
Hermione leaned closer. The temptation to reach out to him was overwhelming. "What are you talking about?"
"Why I look at you that way." Harry opened his eyes and Hermione felt the breath go out of her lungs. He was looking at her like he used to—in a way that she'd begun to believe she'd imagined. Only this look was more intense, almost fierce.
"It's because I…" his voice was strained. "I care too much."
Without realizing what she was doing, she reached out to grip his wrist. "That's not possible."
"You don't know." He was almost begging. "You don't know what this war means for me."
"Then tell me!" Her voice took on a bossier tone—a tone that signified her control of a situation. "You had no right to treat me like you did. You can scarcely understand what it's been like for me—"
Hermione stopped. He was far too close, all of a sudden. She could barely breathe. All she could hear was the pounding of her heart.
His fingers slipped under her chin, brushing against her skin.
"Hermione…" her name was strangled and he seemed to be on the verge of breaking down.
"You had no right to treat me the way you did," she whispered again.
The words had barely left her mouth when Harry kissed her.
Harry was going to die.
There were too many conflicting emotions jumbled in his head. The strain of closing himself off made him fragile. She was going to break him.
She was going to break him.
He thought he might die if he didn't kiss her.
It was a battle he'd been fighting all year. One he hoped to win with distance. She didn't understand. She couldn't know. He would not put her in that danger. Needing her as much as he did was unacceptable.
But he lost. He lost when he challenged her to a duel, hurting her with one purpose in mind. It was too hard to keep himself away from her. She'd have to do it for him.
But he lost.
He was going to die if he didn't kiss her.
"… You can scarcely understand what it's been like for me—"
She stopped her words, staring at him with a mixture of hurt and incomprehension in her eyes. Her cheeks were still moist from her tears.
How badly have I hurt you? he wanted to ask.
Instead, he gave in. He touched her. A light touch. Fingers brushing underneath her chin.
He was going to die.
There was naked vulnerability in her eyes. "You had no right to treat me the way you did."
He kissed her.
It wasn't a soft and gentle kiss. No—it was tongue plunging into her mouth, hands grabbing blindly, muffled noises kind of kiss. He held her face in his palms and sucked her bottom lip between his teeth, needing to taste all of her now, right now.
She'd be horrified if she knew how many dreams he'd had of her, naked and spread out underneath him. In some dreams, he was gentle and worshipful, whispering to her all the things he was unable to say to her during their daily life. In other dreams, it was more of a mindless passion, the need to be inside her his only concern. He dreamed of entering her, feeling her tight and clenched around him, until the rest of the world melted away. He dreamed of what her hair would feel like running through his fingers. He dreamed of her breasts mashed up against his chest, fingers gripping his hair, his name coming out in pants over and over and over…
He kissed her and he thought he might die.
They slowly began moving backwards, tripping over things as they continued to kiss. She gripped his tie in one hand, the other holding the back of his neck. They stumbled to a desk and she leaned against it, continuing to kiss him. Their tongues melted together and she pulled him closer, that hand on his tie forcing him to do what she wanted.
She hopped up on the desk, and they barely paused for air before they were on each other again. It was much better this way—they were more equal in height. That was Hermione—always thinking with her practical mind.
His hands traveled down and they wanted so badly to touch her skin. Quickly, he came to the conclusion that he hated Hogwarts' robes. They had far too many layers. It was with nervous anticipation that he began to peel it off. He found he couldn't meet her eyes. He didn't know if he was strong enough to ask for permission. For a moment, he hated himself.
He kissed her neck and he could feel her panting breath in his ear. Her skin was smooth under his lips. One of her hands found their way into his hair, fingernails brushing his scalp, as she held him to her insistently.
She was wearing only a white blouse now and it had already become untucked from her skirt. He began undoing the buttons, a job made harder by the fact that he'd found her lips again. Her tongue swirled his, rubbing in slow circles around the inside of his mouth.
He found that his glasses were getting in the way, so he took them off, making the job of undoing her blouse even harder.
He got there eventually. He pushed her blouse back over her shoulders and was rewarded with the sight of her white, cotton bra. He could make out the top of her breasts, curving over the material. Breath harsh, the blouse dropped to the floor. He could hardly believe this was happening—this fantasy that he'd spent forever trying to prevent.
Her skin was white and smooth. He traced his fingertips up her sides, making her shiver. He reached her breasts and rubbed his thumbs in small circles over her nipples, pulse quickening when they hardened under his attentions. She gasped and closed her eyes, body tensing up.
He followed her bra around to the back, fingers working on the clasp when she leaned forward, resting her forehead on his.
Voice shaking, she said, "No."
For a moment, Harry was dumbfounded—certain he'd heard wrong.
"No," she said again, voice stronger. "No, Harry. I'm not… I need you to stop."
Faced with such a plain command, Harry let his arms drop down to his sides, certain that he really was going to die. The seconds ticked by, the only noise in the classroom was their harsh breathing.
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest, flushing. Harry looked away and bent to retrieve her blouse. Silently, he handed it back to her.
He stared at his feet as she put it back on. He felt vulnerable—standing like this in front of her. He felt like he'd given too much away.
He heard her sniff. He glanced up to find that Hermione's hands were shaking as she tried to do up her buttons and her face was strained. All at once, her control seemed to snap and her face crumpled. She left her blouse opened and buried her face in her hands, sobs rocking her body.
Harry felt a lump gather in his throat. He stood there, watching her cry, and he hated himself. He couldn't look at her. He looked wildly around the classroom, searching for something to distract him.
His eyes settled on a banner Dobby had made them. Scrawled across it in pink writing was: Dumbeldoor's Armee: The D A. It was a horrid thing to see as one walked in the door, but Harry had appreciated the sentiment.
Hermione's sobs quieted to dull hiccups. Her tears seemed to have exhausted her. Shoulders slumping, she sat with her hands still over her face, breathing deeply.
Harry felt her anguish go through him. With every breath she took, he grew more disgusted with himself. He almost reached out to her. Almost.
"Are you alright?" he said.
She shook her head and wiped at her eyes. "No."
"What's going on?"
His voice was impatient and annoyance flared up within him. Being in this room with her was unbearable.
Hermione lifted her face, her pain written all over her face. Harry's annoyance grew. See? He thought. This is why. She can't keep anything inside. Look at her! Look at what they could do to her!
Her voice was no more than a whisper. "I was so in love with you, Harry." She gave a small smile. "I doubt you'll ever know how much. I think—I think I loved you with everything I had."
He was so thrown by her admission that it took him another moment to realize she was speaking in the past tense. When that sunk in, Harry felt like the breath had been knocked out of him.
Some of what he was feeling must have shown on his face because Hermione said, "This can hardly be a surprise. It's what you wanted, isn't it? Congratulations, Harry. You won."
Harry felt light-headed. Here it was, he could walk away now. He'd won, which is what he'd wanted and Hermione didn't love him, not anymore.
Hermione didn't love him.
He couldn't breathe.
A simple realization and everything came crashing down. The walls he'd spent the better have of year constructing crumbled. He'd won—he'd done it—what he'd set out to do. He'd made Hermione stop loving him.
He hadn't counted on it hurting this much. It was like everything inside him started breaking. He was surprised to find he could still stand. He couldn't believe they were still in this classroom—this stupid D.A. classroom where he'd challenged her to a duel and purposely lashed out at her because he was weak and he couldn't stay away from her any longer.
He won. He'd made Hermione stop loving him.
His instincts told him to do something to make her take her words back. He obviously wasn't strong enough to take this. He almost threw himself at her feet to beg over and over again. Not true—Oh, God—don't let it be true…
Instead, what came out was, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Hermione. I'm so—fucking—sorry."
"I loved you so much," she said again. She sounded resigned and looked unaffected by the horror he knew must be showing on his face. "I loved being with you. I loved your kindness and your bravery. I loved the way you looked at me—like you could hardly believe I was real. I loved how I felt with you—like you would do anything for me."
She hiccupped and her voice broke. "But now… I cried and you wouldn't touch me. You challenged me to a duel so you could make a mockery of me. You kissed me… and I felt like you were using me."
She paused and bit her lip, hands clenched together at her sides. "I can't… I can't love someone like you."
Her chest hitched and Harry felt relief slam into him.
She was lying.
"But you do," he croaked. "I know you do."
She averted her eyes and didn't say anything.
She's testing me, Harry thought. If I mess this up, it's over.
He stood there in indecision, feeling helpless. What do you want me to do? He almost asked. If it's over, that means you're safe.If it's over, I don't think I can go on…
The tenuous control that he'd been holding onto all year long broke in that moment. It all became too much. Pushing her away, holding himself back. He simply could not do it anymore.
And, with a flash, Harry realized what she needed from him. Everything she'd done thus far, she'd wanted to him to give her some kind of reassurance. Not mindless snogging. She wanted him. She wanted to know he still cared.
It all seemed so simple all of a sudden.
Show her you love her.
He started with her blouse. Hands steady, he did up the rest of her buttons. He paused over her breasts and met her eyes. She smiled, waiting, and so he closed that button too.
That job done, he took her wand hand and brought it to his lips, pressing a kiss to the spot where he'd landed a stinging curse earlier.
"Does it still hurt?" he whispered.
She shook her head, eyes filling.
Next he leaned forward to press his lips to her cheek, where her tears still glistened on her skin. The slight tingle of salt landed on his tongue. He kissed her other cheek, hands curving around to brush her back in slow, gentle circles. She sighed and relaxed. He kissed the tip of her nose, her forehead, the corner of her mouth. Soft kisses. Tender kisses. Promises. He finished with a soft brush of his lips on hers.
He'd barely pulled away when she threw her arms around him, gripping the back of his neck in a frenzied hold. For a long time, neither of them said anything. They just held on.
He touched her hair, slowly, her stands soft as they slipped past his fingers. He could feel her chest expand with every breath she took. She was pleasantly warm.
Finally, he started speaking. "I love you, Hermione. More, I think, than I've ever been able to love anyone. More than Ron. More than Sirius. It's a desperate kind of love. It—it was bloody terrifying, I won't lie. The more I started to depend on you, the easier it became to imagine you slipping through the veil. And this time you wouldn't be there to help me through it. It made me disgusted with myself, and the more I needed you, the more I started to resent you."
She held him tighter and when she spoke, her voice was muffled against his shoulder. "What about the other stuff, Harry? What can't I understand?"
Harry sucked in a breath. "I can't tell you."
"Yet," he said hastily. "I will, I promise. I just… I reckon we need to start with rebuilding… our relationship first."
"Alright. I suppose I can be satisfied with that."
Harry smiled, turning so he could kiss her temple.
She shook her head. "I should've figured it out earlier."
"All this time that you were pulling away… you were just waiting for me to stop you."
To most people, the change in their relationship would be impossible to notice. Hermione suspected that Ron had an inkling of what was going on, but he kept his mouth shut.
Hermione felt like she had Harry back. Her real Harry.
There were still trust issues hanging between them, further complicated by her knowledge that he was still keeping things from her. They were trying to build up their relationship, beginning by recovering their friendship. They were a lot more affectionate than they used to be, but they hadn't engaged in any of the heavy snogging that had passed between them in the empty D.A. classroom. She'd caught him looking at her more than once—unbidden warmth in his eyes. It was a look that made her want to weep with relief.
She sometimes wondered how much truth had been in her words to Harry. Being in love with Harry was so integral to who she was. She needed to love him. She wasn't certain she could ever stop. But it had been getting too difficult—loving Harry had always been hard, filled with challenges and tribulations. Loving Harry when he was doing his best to push her away had simply been too painful.
At Harry's soft words, Hermione smiled warmly and moved over on the bench to make room for him. He slid in next to her, hand lingering on her shoulder for a second.
"Morning," she said back.
Ron emitted a loud burp in greeting, barely pausing before going back to shoveling his breakfast into his mouth.
Harry smiled and rolled his eyes at her before helping himself to food. Hermione felt like her chest might burst. It had been too long since she'd felt such powerful warmth from a simple interaction between her two best friends.
Harry grabbed her hand under the table and gave her fingers a small squeeze. Their legs were brushing and Hermione's face felt warm. She surreptitiously glanced around the Great Hall, wondering if anyone else was paying attention to them. The idea that they were engaging in a relationship of sorts, right in view of everyone else without their knowledge, gave her a pleasant tingle.
Harry tried unsuccessfully to pour himself a glass of orange juice with his left-hand. His coordination was off and he ended up spilling the jug into Hermione's plate.
"Bugger," Harry said. Ron burst into gales of laughter.
Hermione stared at her plate and frowned. "I've always been rather fond of soggy pancakes."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Harry said, scowling. He let go of her hand to attempt to wipe up the spilt juice.
"It's alright," Hermione said.
Harry stopped what he was doing, a napkin stained with orange juice clutched in his hands. His eyes gained a desperate tint. "Really?"
Hermione was about to reply that of course she was, it was only a bit of juice after all, when the look in Harry's eyes stopped her. They stared at each other, the rest of the Great Hall melting into a blur of colour and noise. All she was aware of was his eyes, green and pleading.
A vague part of her mind registered that Ron was glancing back and fort between them, a confused frown on his features. She was aware that Dumbledore was making his plate of pancakes disappear and reappear, much to the delight of the first-years. She was aware of Seamus and Dean arguing over when their Transfiguration homework was due.
She was aware of all that and it didn't matter. The world had been reduced to a Great Hall whose sole occupants were she and Harry.
I'm sorry, he seemed to say. I'm sorry I've hurt you. I might try and pull away from you again, but please—oh, please—don't let me because, whatever else, I love you.
Tears pricked her eyes. Do this, she thought. And that's it. Do this, and he'll be part of my life forever.
She nodded. "I forgive you."