A/N: Wrote this on a whim around 4 AM, and couldn't sleep until I finished. It's unbeta-ed, but I'm posting it anyway. Oh, and as for the disclaimer – I do not own this, as I'm not JKR, and you can be sure I'm not, since Hermione shockingly remembers that she's Harry's friend in this fic. JKR would never write something that weird. sarcasm is an excellent coping mechanism
So, I hope you enjoy, and I hope this gives you a bit of hope for Hermione's character.
And before you ask, yes, for Merlin's sake, I am finishing Kissing Lessons very soon.
Meant to Last
Harry fell back onto his bed in another random inn in another random part of England. Again, they'd failed to obtain a horcrux – two, just two, were missing still. They'd found Hufflepuff's cup and destroyed it with deceptive ease when they began their quest. A month later, Voldemort had foolishly sent Nagini to spy on them, thinking, perhaps, that a snake would be less detectable than a wizard, not knowing that the snake was precisely one of the things they were after. Nagini was dead before Voldemort could find out.
But there were still the two missing objects – the locket, taken by the mysterious R.A.B., and the still unknown relic of Gryffindor or Ravenclaw.
Hermione spent most of the time at Hogwarts now, holed up in the library with Dumbledore's private collection of books now there to assist her, researching names, objects, locations – anything that could be of use, but little ever was these days.
Meanwhile, Harry and Ron trekked the country, searching for potential hiding places. If they found something, one would Apparate to a point just outside Hogwarts grounds and call Hermione; she would come, and they would take her to the place. Once there, the three would work through Voldemort's elaborate enchantments and puzzles. Harry was becoming quite adept at detecting magic, Hermione was cleverer than ever in decomposing them, and Ron – well, Ron was still Ron, and that was enough.
Tonight, Harry was tired as all hell. This was the fifth location that had not panned out, and his hope was waning more rapidly with each failure.
He found he couldn't quite remember what it was like to worry about Quidditch and girls and exams, petty rivalries and bickering housemates. All that was gone now, replaced with the seriousness of their mission.
Hogwarts had closed. Dumbledore's death left the school too susceptible to attack, the board had decided, and most mothers were thoroughly disinclined to send their children back, anyway. Harry hated leaving Hermione there in the lonely, abandoned castle with only the Order to protect her, but she insisted that she must. "I'm the one who finds the answers," she'd told him quite firmly in the beginning. "You risk your neck your way, I'll do it mine."
Hermione was staying with them tonight, however, too magically exhausted from heavy spellwork to travel back. He tried not to think about her sleeping just across the hall. Her very nearness had him wanting to be closer lately, and he wasn't exactly sure why.
Thoughts like that, he knew, were a betrayal to Ginny. Sometimes, Harry couldn't quite remember why…but they were. After all, he'd loved her, hadn't he? And the could still be together, after…they could have a normal life together.
But for some reason, that thought didn't comfort him like it used to. Harry couldn't quite imagine going back to Ginny at the Burrow and having a chat about Quidditch or poking fun at Ron. He couldn't imagine trying to tell her all he'd been through, all the searches and the near-death experiences…but just now, he couldn't imagine talking about much else, either.
No…he couldn't imagine a life after this mission…after Voldemort, provided he lived through that confrontation. If he did…he wasn't sure what he'd do with his life. Plans such as those would have to wait until he was at leisure to make them – until the seventh piece of Voldemort's soul was destroyed.
There was a soft knock on the door. Harry knew it was probably Hermione. Her late-night visits weren't frequent, but they weren't unusual, either. Nevertheless, he grasped his wand as he called through the door, "Who's there?"
"Honestly, why would a Death Eater bother to knock?" came his best friend's muffled voice.
Harry grinned, loving this part of the ritual. "What's your favorite jam flavor?"
The exasperation in her voice was potent as she replied, "For the millionth time, raspberry."
Harry opened the door for her with a flick of his want, and she walked in, illuminated by the light of her own wand. She shut the door behind her, and Harry could see by the furrow in her brow that she was performing a series of nonverbal security spells.
Satisfied, Hermione turned back to him.
"What brings you here?" Harry asked as she made herself comfortable on his bed.
"Same thing as always," she said, valiantly faking a pleasant tone of voice. "I miss talking to you."
Harry offered her the usual sad smile. "I miss talking to you, too."
"You're not looking too well," she said, peering critically at the bags under his eyes and the stubble along his jaw from not shaving in five days.
Harry shrugged helplessly, noting the matching bags under her eyes. "Is anyone?"
"No, I suppose not."
There was a long silence before Hermione asked him something she'd never asked him before.
"Do you miss Ginny?"
Harry was slightly surprised by the question. Of course, it hadn't used to be unusual for them to discuss his love life, but that time seemed so far away…they'd talked about very little other than the search lately.
"I – I don't know. I can hardly remember what it was like to be with her. I can hardly remember who I was with her."
"Do you think that will change, when this is all over?"
Harry wondered why she was so curious after four months.
"Honestly? I doubt it. I know she's probably counting on us to be together again, but…I don't know. We've all changed so much. How can it ever be the same?"
Hermione gave him an odd look. "Can I be honest as well?"
She shifted, settling back against the headboard of his bed. From the angle he was looking at her now, he couldn't easily read her expression.
"I don't think that relationship was ever meant to last. I know you were really happy with her, but…she never could have understood your world. Everything that you've been through, and all we're doing now…the prophecy and all you've given up to do this. I know that not even Ron and I fully understand, but…Ginny, she really doesn't know who you are."
Harry stared at the ceiling as the truth of her words sunk in. Yes, that was exactly why he couldn't imagine returning to Ginny. Ginny only knew the Harry that returned miraculously alive from his latest adventure to win the House Cup for Gryffindor. She never saw the part where he fought tooth-and-nail for survival. Well, she had – she'd seen it for herself in the Department of Mysteries, and sure, she'd been brave and handled it well…but she hadn't insisted on standing beside him when he'd ended their relationship and left her behind…not like Ron and Hermione would have done, had he tried to push them away.
"Yeah. I suppose you're right. Again."
Hermione reached for his hand and patted it in a simple but oddly comforting manner. "Do you think maybe you were more in love with the idea of her than Ginny herself? You know…something normal? Something that, for awhile, wasn't affected by Voldemort?"
Harry craned his head on his pillow to smile slightly up at her. "Why ask? You've got it all figured out already, haven't you?"
Hermione shook her head in that you'll-never-learn sort of way that used to drive him nuts. He found he missed it now. "Harry, I'm trying to help you figure it out."
He looked up at her, not at her face this time, but eyeing the curves of her body, not quite hidden under the satin dressing gown she was so fond of. He'd always known she'd had a pretty face – that was simply fact. But he hadn't quite seen the merits of her body until lately. Harry sighed, remembering the subject of their conversation. "I think I get the gist of it now."
Hermione seemed satisfied with this. She readjusted herself again so that she was lying alongside him, propped on an elbow. They often ended up like this.
"So…what about you and Ron?"
Neither Ron nor Hermione had ever spoken to him about their relationship, if there was one. Harry would have liked to think that they would have told him…but he couldn't be sure. Perhaps they thought it best not to distract him, to leave him thinking his two best friends were entirely devoted to him.
Hermione, to Harry's surprise, looked completely, genuinely confused at his question. "What about me and Ron?"
"Well, are you two…you know…together?"
Hermione looked very uncomfortable. "Harry…whatever my behavior – or his – last year may have suggested, there was never really anything between us."
And Harry'd thought he was done with puzzling over relationships. "There wasn't?"
"No. I – I'm really embarrassed about the way I behaved, actually. I wasn't really jealous because I wanted to be with Ron, I just…I didn't like that he'd moved on. He'd fancied me for the longest time, and even though it was for all the wrong reasons, I sort of liked that…I'd gotten used to it. And then other girls started taking an interest in him, and when I saw that he was enjoying that…well, I just…panicked, I suppose. It was like I had to prove I was better than Lavender and that he wasn't the only boy that would ever fancy me, if only to myself, although I wanted him to get the message, too.
"In any case, Ron and I were both moving on by the end of the year. I think he had to realize that I wasn't the only girl around just because I was the closest to him, and I had to get over my silly insecurities…but we're well past that, now."
She smiled awkwardly. "In retrospect, I feel like I let you down. I was so busy acting stupid and immature to really help you – I could have tried harder to help you figure out what Malfoy was up to. I should have believed you. We – we could have stopped it, somehow."
Her voice cracked with tears as she finished, and Harry wished somebody, somewhere had taught him how to comfort a crying girl.
"It wasn't your fault, Hermione. You know that," he said, watching her wipe furiously at her eyes. "Dumbledore knew what Malfoy was up to…he knew he'd been assigned to kill him, and he never did a thing about it. I think…I think Dumbledore'd almost gotten through to him that he didn't have to do it, but then the Death Eaters showed up, and…we couldn't possibly have expected Snape to turn out the way he did."
"You did," Hermione said, her voice strained. "You knew."
"And I tried to tell Dumbledore, and he didn't care," Harry said firmly, feeling as though he should offer some physical comfort somehow, but he'd never quite gotten the hang of physical gestures. "Hermione, there was nothing you could have done that I didn't try, believe me."
Hermione nodded, sniffling. "I just wish he was here…he'd know a way to find the horcruxes. He'd know what to do. And I have no idea."
Harry tried placing a hand on her upper arm. It didn't seem to do much. "Nobody expects you to find all the answers, Hermione. We're working with you on this…we'll find them, we always find a way."
She looked up at him, her eyes shining with tears and honesty. "I feel like I've let you down."
Harry shook his head. "No, never think that, Hermione. You've always done your absolute best to help me – I've never thanked you enough for that. You've worked so hard, just for me…how could I possibly ask for more?"
"You deserve more," she said quietly. "You deserve more, when you've given me so much."
Harry swallowed. So she'd finally gone mad. "Hermione, I've never given you anything."
"You're wrong," she said insistently. "Don't you see? You gave me my life! Without you…I would have been lonely and friendless forever, buried away in my books."
"You would have been safe."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh, really, Harry, no one's safe, no matter whose side they're on. If I hadn't been friends with you, I'd still have had to leave Hogwarts this year…I'd be home with my parents, where I'd probably be captured and killed simply for being Muggle-born. I'm safer with you, Harry…you're the only one that can defeat him, after all. Who better to protect me?"
Harry felt tears pricking at his own eyes. "Yeah, well…I'm not so sure how easy that's going to be, considering how well things are going just now."
Hermione reached up a hand to cup his cheek. "You said yourself, we'll find a way. We always do."
Harry nodded and found himself amazed by her. There she was, clearly as disheartened and hopeless as he was, and yet she was trying to tuck it all away, only to comfort him. It was astounding to him at times, the extent of her loyalty.
"You really think we can do this?"
"Of course, Harry. I have faith in you – in what we can do together. I wouldn't be here if I didn't."
Harry felt his cheeks flush. Hermione had faith in him. She always had, he supposed…more than anyone else.
I wouldn't be here if I didn't.
And Harry supposed that was why it was her lying on his bed in the middle of nowhere, and not Ginny or anyone else. She was the only girl – the only woman – that had ever believed in him enough to do so.
It all fit together like a very elaborate puzzle, ten thousand or more pieces that had been slowly and meticulously put together throughout the years, starting with a childhood friendship that had been built onto until the bigger picture was so much more, and so drastically different.
She looked at him expectantly. "Hmm?"
"You know how you said you thought me and Ginny were never meant to last?"
Her eyes took on a curious glint he'd seen many times before. "Yeah?"
Harry wet his lips. "You think…you think we were?"
Hermione smiled at him in a way she hadn't smiled in a very long time – a radiant, beaming smile that made her eyes dance with life. "Yes…yes, I think we were."