Warning: This is something of a H/Hr fanfic. Now, I don't begrudge the fans that got their wish for their preferred pairing. You have your preferences and I have mine. So please either read the story with an open mind or leave me be. Thank you.

Author's Note: There's more hope than you realize. I was inspired by kyc639's words at the end of chapter 2 of Four's a Crowd at Portkey to write this story. We cannot allow one book to overwhelm the inertia of the five that came before. I still believe in H/Hr though it might never come to pass. So what? It will exist in our minds and hearts. In the plane of imagination, all worlds are equally valid. JKR's vision may be the first and foremost whatever it may be, but that does not make our vision wrong or inferior.

I hope I will be forgiven for borrowing the phrase from the remarkable author stated above:

'eternal optimism in the face of overwhelming odds is my specialty.'

Harry sat in the Gryffindor common room staring at the flames in the fireplace.

In the morning, he would go to the others with the Burrow and prepare for Bill and Fleur's wedding. Normally such an event would take months to plan, but in these trying times, luxuries such as time could not be afforded.

He was glad of that, in a way. He wanted to see at one happy event, one sign of what it was he was fighting for before he left on his quest to defeat Voldemort.

Harry snorted quietly to himself. The thought was amusing in an if-I-don't-laugh-I'll-cry kind of way. He may have been more skilled than the average wizard, but he knew, deep down, that he didn't have a chance in hell.

He had always imagined that the final confrontation would happen when he was out of Hogwarts and that at the very least Dumbledore would alongside him. The old headmaster hadn't even taught him any new spells or started his Occlumency training again. Perhaps his mentor... his friend... had simply expected there would be more time.

But he didn't want to think about Dumbledore. Doing so would mean thinking about Snape, and if he started thinking about the traitor, the man who had caused old Dumbledore's heart to break before his very eyes...

Tears formed in his eyes, but they did not fall. How could such a smart man been so foolish? Even Voldemort considered the possibility that Snape was a traitor to his side! Was he just supposed to believe that Dumbledore never had second thoughts and believed Snape without question? There has to be more to it than that!

He hated thinking of Dumbledore as a blind fool, but what was the alternative? He wanted there to be a really good reason that he trusted Snape absolutely, an ingenious method that pulled the wool over his eyes. Or perhaps he just couldn't bear to think of the wizard as merely human.

For hours, Harry sat and thought about his life. He would be leaving Hogwarts soon and in doing that, leaving his friends, his home, and his reasons for existing. No, that wasn't quite true. Ron and Hermione would be with him. And as much as he would have liked for them to be safe and far away from him, he was gladder than he could ever say that they would be with him.

He could do anything as long as they were all together.

This thought caused Harry to bite his lip in thought. But what about Ginny? Shouldn't her support matter to him as well?

It was this thinking that he had been trying to avoid for most of the night. He had broken up with her to keep her safe, and it had hurt. It had hurt very much.

But it hadn't hurt as much as he would have thought.

And he thought he knew why.

It's been like... like something out of someone else's life, these last few weeks with you. But I can't... we can't... I've got things to do alone now.

The last part was no longer true. He wouldn't be alone. Ron and Hermione had shown him that it would be stupid to leave them out. They were just as much in danger even if they didn't come along.

So why hadn't he asked Ginny to join him?

He wanted to say that it was because she was too young, too inexperienced, or that he cared about her too much. These reasons were all true, but the bigger truth was... she really wasn't a part of his life. His real life.

...something out of someone else's life...

With Ginny, he didn't have to think about Sirius, or the prophecy, or Voldemort. He wasn't the Boy-Who-Lived or the 'Chosen One' or whatever idiotic thing the Daily Prophet was calling him these days.

He had told Hermione and Ron about the prophecy, his suspicions of Malfoy, and the details of Tom Riddle's life. He hadn't told any of that to Ginny though she more than many others would have been interested in the history of Tom Marvolo Riddle.

But he hadn't told her because he didn't want her to be involved in that part of his life. She was supposed to be there for him to talk about Quidditch, to go on Hogsmeade trips with, and to sit around and make dumb jokes with.

Ginny offered normality.

The problem was that he wasn't being himself. He wasn't normal. Oh, he could be as lighthearted and carefree as any ordinary boy, but as much as he hated to admit it, his scar and his destiny was just as much a part of him as his love for flying.

And as much as he liked Ginny, he didn't feel he could ever share these parts of him with her or feel that she would understand even if he did.

Harry sagged into the couch as he came to the inevitable conclusion. Ginny would always be his first real girlfriend (he didn't think Cho really counted), but he didn't see anything beyond the superficial. He didn't see a real future.

Watching Ginny and Dean together had given him a yearning for something he thought he would never had, a chance to be free of worry with someone who cared about him. He had gotten it and he would always treasure that time, but that chapter of his life was over.

The only consoling thought about this emotional mess was that Ginny would probably understand. She hadn't fought their break-up and she hadn't even asked to come with him even after she discovered that Hermione and Ron were.

I knew you wouldn't be happy unless you were hunting Voldemort. Maybe that's why I like you so much.

He didn't know what to make of Ginny's words. Was she saying she liked him because he was a hero? He didn't think that was it. It felt more like she was saying that he wouldn't be happy being ordinary.

That was absurd. He wasn't happy being in danger and having his friends fall left and right. And Voldemort wouldn't be around forever. What if he actually killed the bastard and survived? He'd want to be normal, right?

That was the dream.

Then why did he want to be an Auror? To dive into more danger and mayham? Hermione was right. He did have a 'saving people thing.'

Ultimately, that was why the dream could be only a fantasy. For it to come true, he'd had to stop caring whether people lived or died. He'd have to stop being a hero.

But his dream of a relatively peaceful life didn't have to completely die, did it? Wasn't there someone out there who could accept every part that made up Harry Potter? Oh Merlin, he hoped so.

Harry remembered watching Dudley read Spider-Man comics as a child. Dudley would always snicker about what a loser the crimefighter was for enduring so much misery and despair for total strangers.

Harry had understood though. Peter Parker may have been miserable some of the time, but he would have felt worse doing nothing at all. Some people were simply like that.

Perhaps Dumbledore was right. Maybe his ability to care so very much was a power after all.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

Harry looked over in surprise to see Hermione sitting on the cushion next to him. He hadn't even heard her come down.

"Nothing that interesting," Harry replied.

Hermione gave him a look that combined skepticism with a promise to be unmerciful if she had to ask again.

"I was thinking that I've been trying very hard not to be myself lately," Harry said at last.

There was a pause.

"That makes two of us then," Hermione said with a deep sigh.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, please. Are you going to tell me that you haven't noticed that I've been acting like I had multiple personalities all year?"

"You have been a bit touchy this year," Harry admitted reluctantly.

Hermione grinned. "And you should know, Harry 'I'm Going to Treat Everyone Like Crap' Potter."

"I wasn't that bad fifth year!" Harry protested.

"Yes, you were," Hermione said. Then her grin faded. "We've both been jerks."

"I should have listened to you about the book," Harry groaned, putting his head into his hands. "You're almost always right and I refuse to listen anyway. I'm such an idiot."

"I imagine you might have listened if I hadn't acted like a jealous, snotty brat," Hermione replied quietly.

Harry saw her turn her head away from him and something in his chest constricted. "Oh, Hermione..."

"I was angry at you, Harry. Angry that though you already had enough trouble coming at us, you had to go out and find some more!" Hermione cried, wiping her eyes. "I was tired of being the reasonable one, the one who had to tell you not to put your hand in the bear trap. I just wanted to just pretend that there wasn't a war going on and that the only thing I had to worry about was NEWTs and being a teenager just for a little while."

"So you wanted to pretend that you had never met me," Harry said hollowly.

"No!" Hermione yelled, grabbing his arm. "That wasn't what I meant at all. I just... I simply... Most girls aren't..." Her shoulders slumped.

"I understand," Harry said.

"Yeah, I think you do." Hermione gave a weak chuckle. "I think we're the only teenagers at Hogwarts to go through a midlife crisis."

Harry hesitated.

"What is it, Harry?"

"I've been meaning to ask you this, but it's hard to ask without sounding like I'm calling you a maniac. Uh, what I mean is..." Harry looked nervously at the girl.

"Crazy Hermione is not in right now," Hermione said wryly. "Please continue before she gets back."

Harry grinned and relaxed. "Okay, the whole thing with Ron's been confusing me. I always thought you liked him, but I never thought you'd help him cheat or try to make him jealous. No offense."

Hermione turned pink. "That was rather shameful, wasn't it? Oh, I wish I could explain it. I never thought I would be one of those girls who'd get so worked up about a boy that she loses all her marbles. I knew going to Parvati for advice about boys was a bad idea!"

"So you guys are together now?" Harry asked hesitantly.

After a long moment, Hermione said, "I think that we'd be better off as friends."

"Why's that?"

"A relationship has to be more than just feelings. There has to be trust and commitment... All we do is fight. Ron's not just ready to tie himself down to one girl yet. There's dozens of reasons. And well, remember when you tricked Ron into thinking he drank Felix Felicis?"

"Yeah?" Harry said uncomfortably.

"What you did to Ron was a great psychological trick."

Harry stared at her, astounded. "You were mad at me for days about that!"

"Because I didn't think of it! And because... I felt horrible that you seemed to respect Ron's abilities more than I did. I mean, you helped him access skills you knew he had. I had to cheat for him because I didn't believe he could do it on his own.

"Don't get me wrong. I think Ron's a great guy, but when I'm around him, I'm not rational. I'm not me."

Harry stared at Hermione for a moment then he said quietly, "And you thought not being you was a good thing. It felt new and exciting. You could forget about the problems holding you back. You didn't have to think about S.P.E.W or the D.A or anything like that."

"I thought that was what I wanted," Hermione said softly. "I thought I wanted to be normal for a little bit, but I just felt sad instead. You want to know why I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off?

"I felt useless. You wouldn't listen to me anymore. Dumbledore was telling you things that wouldn't be in any library. And, petty as this may sound, you were beating me at the one thing in my life I was good at without trying."

"You never had any problem with me beating you at Defense," Harry said, confused.

"Because you're naturally good at it like you are at flying. But with Potions, you always had to come to me. Do you know how it feels to be replaced by a book? It was like you made a new friend to give you all the answers."

Harry wanted to say something, anything, but comforting sad girls had never been his strong point.

Hermione stared off into the distance. "I thought chasing after Ron would... oh, I'm so pathetic."

Without even thinking about it, Harry wrapped an arm around Hermione. "No, you're not. And if you are, we both are. I don't need you just to give me answers. I'm sorry if I made you think that."

"I'm sorry for how I've been treating you," Hermione said.

"Why don't we just agree that we still have some growing up to do?"

"I can agree to that." Hermione held out her hand. "So, friends?"

"Friends," Harry stated firmly, grabbing her hand back. "I don't study in the library with just anybody, you know."

Hermione smiled at him, her lips curving into an expression of happiness that he hadn't truly seen for some time. Harry saw a girl that he didn't know he had missed so much until he saw her return just then.

The two spent the rest of the night talking and rebuilding a bridge of friendship that may have been shaken a little but was still solidly anchored in its foundation.

AN: Sometimes, it requires a step back in order to move forward.

A lot of people seem to be worried about Hermione's out-of-characterness in book 6. I was too, but I've had some time to think about it. I like to think I'm a pretty rational person myself, but I had a crush on a girl, a close friend of mine, in high school that made me act like an absolute idiot for a long period of time. After awhile, I realized that I hated acting and feeling so irrational and thinking that maybe if I was different, she would like me back. I was around Hermione's age, which goes to show that emotional stuntedness sometimes goes along with intellect.

I'm not too worried that we won't see the old Hermione again. We all have our lapses from time to time. And remember, Harry was a prat his fifth year and now he's not yelling in capital letters anymore. Startling, drastic character changes seem rather routine in JKR's world. And Hermione did seem much more like herself at the end of the book. Hope only gets stronger in the face of adversity, not weaker, or else there would be no point to it.

And one more thing to think about. JKR wrote Harry and Hermione rather well in OOTP, and she wrote Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny rather badly in HBP. What can we infer from this?

P.S. I wrote this in a span of three hours, which is the fastest I have ever written a story. Please forgive my errors.