Disclaimer: Still Jo's. Still not mine.
Pairing: Harry/Hermione. Duh.
A/N: Written because I needed therapy after reading Demosthenes' oh-so-brilliant-but-scary fic Push.
For Demosthenes and the rest of my OBHTF—it doesn't always have to be about death and mayhem, girls. Only sometimes. grin
"Alright." Ron drew in a deep breath. "This was… unexpected… but I think… no, I'm certain… we can bounce back…"
Ron trailed off with a sigh. Despite his optimistic words, his facial expression was gloomy. The rest of the assembled Quidditch team shifted uncomfortably in their mud-splattered uniforms.
Harry leaned back against the lockers, his head throbbing. "Sorry, Ron."
The entire team turned to look at him, exchanging nervous looks with each other. Harry pretended not to notice.
"Oh…" Ron looked around. "That's… it's… so you had one bad game… it happens…"
Ginny shot Ron a disgruntled look. "It's alright, Harry. You have a whole team out there, you know. You mustn't blame yourself."
"Well, if he had managed to dodge that Bludger Crabbe—"
"Ginny's right, Harry," Ron said hurriedly. "I mean, it was only one game. One game. We'll come back."
Ron brooded over this for a moment. Harry could practically see him planning out their strategy in his head. He was lost in a world of points and moves and tactics—the things all captains seemed destined to worry about.
One of their new Chasers sighed. "Makes me sick to think of the Slytherins out there celebrating."
"Bloody hell," Ron said, slapping his forehead. "I can't believe we lost to Malfoy! Malfoy!" He rounded on Harry. "Bugger all, Harry! You've never let Malfoy beat you to the Snitch before!"
"I know," Harry said, from between clenched teeth. "I'm not exactly ecstatic about this, okay?"
Ron looked like he wanted to say more, but he clamped his mouth shut. For what it was worth, Harry appreciated it. As captain, Ron had never been afraid to let someone know when they hadn't given their best performance. Harry knew it was only their bond as best mates that prevented Ron from crossing a line.
Crabbe had hit him with a Bludger so hard, it had lodged Harry off his broom. He'd fallen all twenty feet the ground. Stunned, the only thing he could remember was the roar from the Slytherin crowd as Malfoy dived to catch the Snitch. Next came the pain. It felt like he'd slammed into the Quidditch pitch with every part of his body.
"We'll come back," Ron said again, almost to himself. "We'll step up more practices, that's what we'll do. Yes—more practices. Twice as many. Best way to do it. More practices."
Ron continued mumbling to himself, gaining a manic gleam in his eyes. There was a collective groan from members of the team. They shifted miserably in their dirty uniforms, eyeing the clock.
Harry gripped the bench he was sitting on, hoping very much Ron would end his "pep talk" soon so he could go lie down.
The door to the Gryffindor Quidditch changing room burst open. The team flinched, giving each other worried looks. They weren't particularly popular with the other Gryffindors at the moment.
It was only Hermione. Harry felt a jolt of relief at the sight of her.
Ron looked livid. "What are you doing here? We're in the middle of a team meeting, Hermione!"
"Oh, honestly, Ron," she snapped. "What? Discussing your brilliant strategy moves for today?"
Harry winced. His earlier relief faded a little.
Ron turned red. "You can't be in here! This—this is the Gryffindor changing room! You could see… you know, stuff."
Hermione stared at him. "Then I guess it's lucky I didn't catch you naked."
Ron sputtered. "That's it! Get out! OUT!"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh, for Merlin's sakes, Ron."
Harry could see Ron was primed for a fight.
"We're in the middle of a meeting," Ron said. "You have no right to distract us from it!"
To her credit, Hermione seemed to be handling the situation well. She pulled out a book and plopped down on one of the benches.
"I'll just read, then, until you're finished. Go on."
Ron glared at her. "Team meeting, Hermione! Team meeting! You can wait outside—like the rest of the bloody school."
Hermione slammed her book shut, looking like she was nearing the end of her patience.
"Nonsense. I'm staying right here, Ronald Weasley, and you can say whatever you'd like, but I'm not moving. I came in here to make sure Harry's alright, and I'm not leaving until he does. So go back to discussing your 'strategy' and I'll sit here until you're done."
Ron shot an angry look in Harry's direction, as if he was somehow to blame for all of this. Harry gave a hesitant smile.
Looking angrier than ever, Ron turned back to the team. "Oh, fine!" he yelled, waving his arms about. "It's only my final year—there's no need to take this seriously. Doesn't much matter to me whether or not Gryffindor wins the cup."
Grabbing his stuff, Ron stomped out of the Gryffindor changing room. The younger members of the team looked near tears.
Harry pressed a hand to his abdomen, shifting on the bench in hopes of finding a more comfortable position.
"He'll be fine, guys, really. He just needs some time to cool off," Harry said. "He's just… disappointed, is all."
"Didn't know that being disappointed gave you an excuse to act like A Great Big Prat," Ginny muttered, picking up her broom
The younger students looked even more worried.
Harry silently willed everyone to leave so he could talk to Hermione. And perhaps stop hurting so much. "Really—he'll be back in fine form soon."
Hermione tutted from behind her book. "That's debatable."
Harry felt a tug of longing and he gave a fond smile in her direction. When he turned back around, he found the entire Gryffindor team looking at him expectantly. He silently cursed Ron for leaving him alone with them.
"Well," he said. "Er… why don't you all get some rest. Perhaps take a shower. The… er… the mud can't be good… for… your… er… hair."
"Thanks, Harry," Ginny said, narrowing her eyes.
To Harry's immense relief, however, the team began packing up. Harry closed his eyes and waited for them to leave. Undistracted, his body seemed in more pain than before. He was certain he could feel blood trickling down his skin in several places.
Feeling a warm hand on his forehead, he opened his eyes to find Hermione peering at him. She chewed her bottom lip in concentration.
"My, but you really banged yourself up."
Harry grunted and closed his eyes again.
The warm hand was back on his forehead. "I don't know, Harry. You should be up in the Hospital Wing."
"I can't move." Harry cracked one eye open. Hermione's blurry face came into view. "I'm mostly okay. Nothing broken or anything. I just… I need… to sleep it off."
"Humph," Hermione said. "Stay here, I'm going to get the first aid kit."
"Oh, drat. I was planning on going for a run. What a pity."
Returning with the first aid kit, Hermione bent down to rest on her knees. Her forehead creased into a frown as she rummaged through it.
"D'you think Ron's still going to be mad at me in the morning?" Harry asked, as she began dabbing at a cut on his forehead.
"I don't know."
"Yes, you do. You know everything."
She let out a huffy breath. "It's Quidditch, Harry. I've never seen Ron this obsessed over anything. For all you know, you've shattered his biggest and brightest dream. He may never recover. Heaven knows, nothing is more important than Quidditch."
Harry studied her. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," she said. She bent down and rolled up his pant legs. "You're going to be right black and blue in the morning."
Harry chanced a glance down at his legs and immediately wished he hadn't. They were bleeding in multiple places, along with a hefty gash just below his right knee. Blood had soaked through the material of his pants.
"I think I might be sick."
Hermione shook her head and reached for rubbing alcohol and gauze. "It's only a bit of blood. Honestly, from the sheer amount of Quidditch injuries you've achieved over the last few years, I dare say you should be used to it by now."
She applied the gauze with a little more force than necessary. "Not to mention, all the time you spend in the Hospital Wing. Really! You should learn how to do all this yourself!"
She rolled down his pants and sat up before furiously undoing his shirt from his pants. When she reached for his buckle, Harry stood up a little straighter.
"Hey—hang on! What are you doing?"
"Trying to get your shirt over your head!" she snapped. "Merlin, Harry, this is isn't exactly the most appropriate time to be thinking those things."
"I know," he said weakly. "That's why—"
The rest of his words were cut off when Hermione wrenched his shirt up over his head. Harry shivered when the air touched his bare skin.
Hermione made a small sound of disgust. Harry glanced down. His stomach was a fiery red, with mini cuts making a jagged pattern over his skin.
"Great," he said. "Just. Great."
Hermione reached out a hand and Harry hissed when her fingers brushed his stomach.
"Merlin, Hermione, what are you doing?"
"Oh, stop being such a baby," she said.
Harry was about to retort when the look in her eyes stopped him. She was staring at the quickly forming bruise on his stomach, eyes wide and watery. Harry grabbed her hand hovering over his stomach and gave her fingers a quick squeeze.
"I'm alright. Honest, Hermione. It's nothing."
A tear trickled down her cheek. "I just—I can't help but think… what would happen if I wasn't around when—when you needed me?" She sniffed. "I always seem to fail you when you need me most."
"I saw him, you know. I knew exactly what Crabbe was going to do before he did it. Not that I could do anything about it, of course."
Sniffling and hiccupping, she fixed up his stomach. Harry clenched his jaw, resisting the urge to make grunts of pain. Silently, she helped him back into his shirt.
"You okay?" Harry said.
She shook her head. "Seven-years I've watched you play this horrid sport and I'll never get used to you falling off your broom."
"It doesn't happen that often."
"It happens enough," she said. She took a seat next to him on the bench. "It happens far more than it happens to everyone else."
"I'll quit, if you want."
Hermione straightened up and turned to look at him. "What? You can't be serious!"
"You love Quidditch!" she said. Her bottom lip trembled. "I know you do. I know you love how you feel when you're up there. You shouldn't have to stop because you're worried about me."
"It's not just that, Hermione. It's… everything else. You know why I missed the Snitch today?"
"Crabbe hit you with a Bludger. You had your back turned. It wasn't your fault."
"No, it was." Harry stared ahead for a minute. "Ron knew it too. That's why he's so angry with me."
"What are you saying?"
"I don't care about Quidditch anymore." Harry shrugged. "At least, not like I used to. I was up there today and… none of it seemed to matter. In two months I'm leaving Hogwarts. Two months, Hermione. We both know what that means."
She took a deep breath. "Well, there's no way to be certain. It could be… it could be years from now, Harry."
"I don't think so," Harry said. "It's coming. I know it is. And… it all seems so pointless all of a sudden. It's hard to focus on catching the Snitch when I might die battling Voldemort in two months. Hard even to care that Malfoy won, if you can believe it."
Concern shone from Hermione's eyes. "I don't know, Harry. I don't think that's good. It sounds… well, it sounds an awful lot like you're giving up. Like you don't think there's anything to live for."
"Course not," Harry said. "That's not what it is at all, and you know it. I have loads of things to live for."
Hermione looked like she might cry again. Harry rushed to continue.
"Anyway—I'm not going to quit. All Ron seems to care about is winning that stupid cup. So I'll stay. For him."
"Nonsense!" Hermione said. "I'm sure if you explain to Ron how you feel, he'd understand."
"Understand?" Harry repeated. "Sure. Perhaps when he's forty."
They shared a tentative smile.
"So," Hermione said, pretending to sound casual. "These… things you have to live for. Would they include me?"
She saddled closer to him. "That's not a very good answer, Potter."
"Ouch. You used my last name. That's never any good."
Hermione arched an eyebrow. "Well—honestly. I'm the reason you're not going to die a virgin. A bit of respect is called for, I think."
Harry frowned. "Hermione, that was a rather morbid joke."
"It wasn't a joke."
"Oh, I see. That makes it better, then."
"Hush up, Harry." She moved closer to him. "Have you learned nothing in all the time we've been together?"
"We've been together three weeks."
"Yes, well, we were best friends for seven years. And I've been in love with you for three years, five months, two weeks, five days, and… about four hours."
"You're scaring me a little."
"I was approximating! Honestly!"
"I meant—shouldn't you include minutes to go with those hours? I'm not certain I got, you know, an exact time frame."
"Didn't I tell you to 'hush up?'"
"I'm a slow learner."
"Harry, hush up."
"Alright… Hang on! What are you doing?"
"Well, I was trying to kiss your bruises better… stop wriggling so much…"
"Ouch! Hermione, that hurts!"
"I didn't mean 'stop!'"
"I think you're getting a black eye."
"Thank you. Would you like it better if we turned off the lights? Would that help?"
"Hold on… there, is that better?"
"Actually… it is. What did you do?"
Hermione smiled coyly. "I've been doing a little extra reading—oh, be quiet—and I've been dying to practice some of these Healing spells for ages."
"That's what you want to do, isn't it? I mean… after Hogwarts. You want to go into Healing."
"I want to help you," she said softly. "And… well, others I suppose. Becoming a Healer… it seemed like the best way to do that."
"Hermione, you know you help me more than that, don't you?" Harry searched her face. "I need you. Just… you. That's all."
"Of course I know that," she whispered. "I just… I like—no, I need to feel like… like… I'm helping you. Making things easier for you… somehow."
"No, honest. What I was saying before? That I do have things to live for? It is you. It is what we have. Alright? That's what I see when I look in the future. You. Us. And I think that's bloody well saying something, me being able to see a future at all."
"No. Hermione—for the love of—don't cry again…"
She kissed him instead.
"Mmmff!" he mumbled. "Rather sensitive in places… mmmkay… gentle is good…"
"Do… be… quiet…"
"I—hey! You're undoing my trousers again!"
"You really are a slow learner, Harry."