Where Does the Good go?

By attica

Chapter Six: TRUST With a Dangerous "US"

November passed in a shroud of dead leaves and frigid, snowy mornings. They were nearing their winter holidays now, and there wasn't a corridor in sight that wasn't humming with the thrum of excitement and thrill.

The trio's holiday plans were officially decided on a Wednesday morning on their way back to their dormitories from a tiring round of classes. They were weighed down with – once again – a heavy load of coursework, which Hermione had happily raved on about for a straight seven minutes before Ron had told her to shut up before he made her eat hers, his, and Harry's homework combined.

"Is it a crime to be excited about homework?" she asked him, irritated.

"No, but it's a crime to tell other people about it!" snapped Ron. "Keep it in your head if you can't suppress it from its whole existence."

Even Harry's nerves were getting a bit dodgy when it came to Hermione rambling on about their assignments. The professors had made sure to be generous in their distribution, especially now that they knew most of the students would be gone to celebrate their holidays with their families until the start of January.

Harry was feeling quite glum and bitter about the subject. He knew he was going to be stuck here in the castle again. But he tried to look on the bright side, telling himself that at least he wouldn't be returning to the Dursleys more than once (summer) a year and recalling that the food they served those two weeks were much better than the meals they served on normal days. He'd heard Seamus and even Neville were also going to stay behind, so maybe he could just make the effort to get to know them a little better.

Somehow, during the time he was lost in his thoughts about the holidays, they had eased their discussion to that area.

"… Well, Gin and me and Fred and George are going to France to visit some distant relatives we haven't even heard from since I was three months in me mum's womb. They came out of nowhere, I tell you. They've invited us all to a wedding because their eldest son, Geoffrey, is getting married."

"Oh." He was envious of Ron's Christmas plans. "Well, I'll just be staying behind again. As usual." He didn't know if let his bitterness show through in his gloomy voice, but he did see the look Ron and Hermione shot each other.

"My parents are going to be up in Germany to visit my grandmum," said Hermione, adjusting her bookbag on her shoulder, looking ahead. "So I'll be staying in the castle as well."

That relieved Harry. At least he wouldn't be totally alone. Spending time with Seamus was an appealing notion, but it was the idea of spending time with Neville that made him slightly nervous and precautious. But, he figured, as long as they kept him away from any potions, potion making, boiling cauldrons, and Snape, then there was hope that all of them would escape their two weeks without any injuries.

"Great. You can keep Harry company."

Harry didn't say anything. He knew exactly what he meant, and found that he didn't so much as appreciate the comment his friend had made.

"I'll be owling as much as I can," continued Ron. "With any luck, Geoffrey's had a secret mistress and she'll run in and crash the wedding." His eyes twinkled mischievously.

Hermione made a disgusted sound from her nose, looking away before vocally scolding him about his behavior and expectations.

While Harry, sighing heavily, just tuned out both of his friends again.

oooo

Harry and Hermione were in the common room when Ron finally came down with his luggage. He was dressed in a maroon sweater Mrs. Weasley had made him and sleeves of clothes were peeking out of his suitcase. He was flushed and breathing heavily.

"Where have you been? We were getting worried. The train leaves in ten minutes. We thought you'd gone AWOL," said Hermione. "Ginny and the twins were looking all over the place for you."

"Sorry," he mumbled, yanking out his scarf from his suitcase. "Luna cornered me…"

"What?" said Harry, not hearing what he had said.

"Lu – never mind, it isn't important," said a flustered Ron, wrapping the tatty scarf around his neck.

"You'd better hurry," said Hermione. "We don't want you to miss the train. Have you packed all of your textbooks and assignments? We've got four essays due at the end of—"

"Yeah, yeah," said Ron hurriedly, obviously ignoring Hermione. "I'll see you two in two weeks. Harry," he said, turning to him, "remember: hide all of her books and homework. Hermione," he said, his gaze flickering over to her, a smirk spreading across his face, "good luck because you're never going to find them." And before Hermione could start yelling at him and ask just what on earth he was talking about, he ran out of the common room, out the portrait hole, and out of their sight.

"What was he talking about?" huffed Hermione, looking at Harry with stern eyes.

"To be honest, I have no idea," replied a confused Harry. He didn't remember Ron telling him to hide her books at all.

She sighed beside him on the couch, letting her body relax and melt into the comfortable cushions, releasing all of the tension from her muscles. Her gaze was directed at the playful fire inside the hearth. Harry could feel her arm against his arm, and though it was utmost an innocent touch of physical contact, he felt his mind swarm with those thoughts again.

After the Halloween party, things had gone back to normal. His odd feelings he had experienced that night had rapidly plummeted, but he did feel a flutter every now and then when she did so much as simply touch him, smiled at him, or felt his knee brush against hers underneath the table.

He was relieved that he did not feel those stomach-turning sensations as he did that night. He just didn't think he could live that way. It was… disturbing. She was Hermione. His friend. It wasn't right.

But now, realizing that they were now completely alone in the common room, he felt ecstatic movement deep inside his body. His skin tingled where she was touching him and her mind-intoxicating scent ensued in making his head feel dangerously light again.

"At this rate, he's going to grow into someone worse than Fred and Geroge – Fred and George combined," whispered Hermione. Her soft, gentle tone tickled the inside of his ears.

"Yeah," said an uneasy but fuzzy-feeling Harry. He realized he liked sitting like this with her. It felt different. He'd sat with Ron many times before and he remembered being completely at ease. With Hermione he wasn't at all completely at ease but his limbs felt like a distant cousin of jelly and his brain had turned into something similar to putty, making his thoughts seem frighteningly dream-like.

His skin felt pleasantly warm. Her arm had conjoined with his and was now filling him up with holy, sacred warmth.

However, catching himself and slightly shuddering, he shifted in his position, sitting up. He quickly glanced at her, and she was looking down at her feet. He trailed his eyes down and noticed that she had gotten new trainers.

"Do you suppose Ron's gotten over Lavender?" asked Hermione suddenly. Her voice was clear but quiet and concerned. "He seems to have. Whenever she enters the room he no longer freezes up and makes up an excuse to go outside and try to punch his fist into a wall only to chicken out at the last minute and miserably sulk by his self." She turned her neck and her eyes connected with his. "I mean, as much of a prat Ronald is, I would hate him to go and suffer from a broken heart for too long."

"He seemed fine at the Halloween party," shrugged Harry. "And you're right – I noticed the normality of things. It's still tense, but that's about all there is to it. Thing is, he seems enamored by something else…"

A smile blossomed on her face, startling Harry. "I've noticed it too."

Harry looked away, feeling peculiarly nervous. "Maybe it's that Ravenclaw prefect he met at the party."

"Maybe," agreed Hermione.

He watched her sigh from the corner of his eye.

They sat in silence for a moment or two, and he felt her foot brush against his leg, making his heart jump for a quick second.

"Lunch is in ten minutes. We can get to the Great Hall early if you like."

This surprised Harry. Hermione'd never been early to any meal before – if anything, she was always about twenty minutes late. But Harry and Ron always managed to drag her, so it reduced down to thirteen minutes on a good day. Still, he didn't let his thoughts linger around the subject too long, for he knew during the holidays there wasn't much to do around the castle except go outside (where it was freezing), or do the assignments their cruel professors had given them. The library was also closed this year, for Madam Pince had decided to go visit her daughter in the States. He knew that when Dumbledore had announced this piece of news Hermione had been greatly disappointed and all of her winter holiday plans had been tread upon by the great boot of misfortune.

Hearing that Hermione's personal haven had been closed for these two weeks had relieved Harry. Not that he didn't want his friend to enjoy herself, it was just that he had had a feeling that all she would do was stay in there day and night and Harry would be forced to stay there and read with her or go out with Neville or do something drastically similar. And knowing that every one of his peers were all out there opening presents and having as much fun as they possibly could, he also wanted a bit of fun himself, even if it could not match up to theirs the slightest bit.

No offense to Hermione, but he knew for a fact that no one read as many deathly boring books as she did. Though, he had to hand it to her, some of it had come in handy at times – and not just for livening up the fire in the fireplace, as Ron would put it.

Even though Harry really just wanted to sit here with her and had the very odd urge of just wanting to hear her speak, he nodded, getting to his feet almost as fast as his heart had reacted to his rash thoughts about his best friend.

"Sure," he replied. He thought that being in public surrounded by people was what he needed right now. Being alone with her even made his rushing blood waltz against his bones.

Hermione followed after him through the portrait hole and soon caught up beside him, talking to him about what she had read in one of her books about Salazaar Slytherin.

As important as Salazaar Slytherin was, Harry only found himself concentrating on the sound of her voice and not all of the things she had actually said, though he clearly already knew that it was probably something very clever and "fascinating." That is, if his mentality and brain capability was on the same level as hers.

When they reached the Great Hall, adorned with massive holiday decorations and singing Christmas trees that chanted carols, they sat beside Seamus and Neville and a fifth year named Jemma Eisley.

Harry remembered her face and immediately thought that she was one of Ginny's friends. But before he could ask her, he noticed the color of her cheeks that were brightening by the minute and thought better of it. Instead, he turned back to Seamus, Neville, and Hermione.

"Seems quiet, doesn't it?" said Seamus.

"I happen to like it," said Hermione, helping herself to the roast beef. "Besides, a little quietness never hurt anyone."

"I dunno, it seems sort of odd, but I suppose Hermione's right," said Harry, realizing how close he seemed to be sitting next to her. He wanted to scoot away but something in his head noisily objected that made him stop from doing so.

"You… you don't suppose Malfoy and his Slytherins are going to try something, do you?" Neville nervously twittered, cautiously glancing behind him.

Harry watched as Hermione's gaze rested to the top of the Slytherin table where the remaining Slytherins that had stayed behind were bunched up. Her stare stayed there awhile, her eyes acquiring that faraway sheen inside them again.

Meanwhile, Harry didn't know why it was that she was looking over there for so long and wondered what it was that she was thinking. He wanted to ask her, but he bit it down and opted to ask her later, when they were alone – God forbid, whenever that would happen again before he started to feel all wobbly again.

Malfoy seemed to have noticed her stare and gave her a defensive cold look, but just as he was to open his mouth and say something witty and terrible, he seemed to think better of it and didn't. Harry watched as instead he and Hermione shared a quick glance before he went back to his cronies.

Feeling something boil inside him, he impulsively grasped Hermione's hand beside her eating utensils, where it had been lying still and motionless. Her head snapped in Harry's direction at the realization of bodily contact as their eyes met, and then trailed down to see Harry's pale hand overshadowing her own.

Swallowing hard, and mentally scolding and asking himself just what in the hell he had been thinking, he swiftly withdrew his hand and resorted to awkwardly busying himself with his plate of food.

Hermione smiled nervously as she looked up to see Neville and Seamus staring at them in silence. Both of them looked lost and very, very bewildered. Harry could vaguely see her wiggle her fingers on the table before lowering her hand down to her lap when she spoke.

"No, I don't think so," she clarified for Neville. Harry could've sworn he had heard a weak tremor in her voice but was convinced his mind was only playing tricks on him. "But you'd still best stay out of their way because I can't guarantee you anything in that department."

"Yeah, Neville," said Seamus, giving both Harry and Hermione an odd look as he reached over for a pumpkin tart. "Haven't you heard, mate? The Slytherins are an entirely different species."

"That's not true," said Neville.

"You don't believe me? Why don't you ask Malfoy? He'll tell you exactly what I'm telling you right now: they're made of snails, ogre bogeys, horse turd, giant's mucus, Snape's bodily discharge, sewer water, serpent entrails, blast-ended skrewts, and just about every disgusting, revolting thing you can think of," smirked Seamus. "He'll tell you. Except, o'course, with much less nice words."

Harry and Hermione, however, remained clumsily quiet for the rest of their meal.

When they left the Great Hall, Seamus and Neville were with them and were engaged in a rather interesting but ghastly conversation about which Hogwarts professor would end up with who.

"It's Dumbledore and McGonagall, hands down," said Seamus.

"No, it's Dumbledore and Trelawney."

"Trelawney?" choked Hermione. "You must be joking!"

"What about Dumbledore and Madam Pince?"

"Or Madam Pomfrey?"

They all made disgusted faces. Seamus made a gagging sound and Neville turned green.

"Pass," said Harry, and they all enthusiastically agreed.

"Think about their children!" laughed Seamus.

"I thought we made it clear that we were no longer to elaborate on that couple, hmm?" said Hermione as they ascended the stairs.

"It doesn't hurt to explore," mumbled Seamus.

"What about Snape?"

"Oh, no," said Neville, paling in the face.

"Relax, Longbottom, it'll be good for you. Like that time you pictured him a velour green dress. That was tasteful," remarked Seamus. "Now, let's see, Big Bad Snape… what about that sleazy article lady? Rita Skeeter?"

Harry laughed at Hermione's expression. Her face was twisted in bother and revulsion. "They'll birth absolute monsters!"

"Yes, with bad eyesight so that'd make them have to wear horrible red glasses, and they'd have scales, greasy hair, and tentacles!"

They all burst into laughter.

"Seriously, though, think about it," said Seamus when they sobered, "Old bat McGonagall. Uptight, anal. Spinster. But she has a soft side for Dumbledore. Doesn't that tell you something? Five knuts says they get married within the year."

"I'll take you up on that bet," piped up Neville.

Seamus smiled devilishly as they shook on it.

"I don't know," said a skeptical Hermione. "McGonagall? Dumbledore? It just seems a bit too obvious…"

Seamus brightened. "What was I thinking? Of course it's too obvious! Because it's Snape and McGonagall!"

They all halted in their step to look at Seamus.

"What?" they all exclaimed in unison.

"Think about it," insisted Seamus. "McGonagall loathes Snape. But maybe she only despises him to cover up the physical attraction she feels for him. Or to fool all of us. Oh – I just remembered! I was out late one night, and I saw two professors go into one of the deserted Ancient Runes classrooms, and I could've sworn I'd heard Snape's greasy drawl and seen McGonagall's topknot in the distance! It was them!"

While Harry and Hermione could only gawk at him, Neville collapsed to the floor in a dead faint.

oooo

"I could spend hours marveling at your sick and twisted imagination, Seamus," said Hermione as they made it to the Gryffindor corridor an hour later. They had taken Neville to the hospital wing only for him to then gain consciousness. Madam Pomfrey had seemed preoccupied (with what, they couldn't possibly know, but she'd never forced out a patient before) and shooed them out with a swaggering Neville following behind.

"I think it's Neville who deserves that comment," said Seamus. "He's the one who fainted – nobody else fainted except him, and so that means he had to have thought something exceptionally nasty and X-rated."

Neville groaned, clutching his stomach and head. "Shut it, Seamus."

"Yes, please do," quipped Hermione. "Before you make him faint again. Look at the poor boy, Seamus."

"He seems fine, Hermione," said Harry.

She looked at him and he could see that she was genuinely worried. "I just don't understand why Madam Pomfrey had to kick us out like that. She didn't even check Neville's health! What is her problem?" she heatedly ranted.

"That is a question I have been asking myself ever since she stuck a spoon down my throat that time I spit tonic all over the curtains," Seamus thoughtfully said.

"Can you honestly blame her?" snapped Hermione.

"Yes, I can! That hurt – and, she could've almost killed me!" exclaimed Seamus, trying to reason with her.

"Oh yes, and Neville falling to the floor while unconscious and hitting his head, almost bashing his skull open isn't a form of pain?"

Neville moaned again.

"You did say he was unconscious," muttered Seamus as they finally reached the Fat Lady's portrait.

"Pecan Petal," said Seamus.

The Fat Lady was smiling mischievously, which Harry noticed and exchanged looks with Hermione. "All right then, step right on in…"

The portrait swung open, revealing a hole-like passageway to their plush common room. Seamus went in first, heading to the couches, before Harry and Hermione started to walk in, side by side. But it was then that a squeal filled their ears and they both jumped, startled by the horrible noise.

"You! You two!" said the voice of the Fat Lady. Harry and Hermione were bewildered at how she could still see them. "Look up! My goodness, how you couldn't have noticed is beyond me, but look up! You're standing underneath mistletoe!" she shrieked excitedly.

Harry was almost afraid to do as she said, but when he did, he felt his heart give out a violent shake.

She was right. He and Hermione were standing right underneath mistletoe. He felt fear and overwhelm and anticipation overrun his body.

Seamus let out a low whistle, his eyes twinkling with laughter, while even Neville seemed to have stopped his moaning.

"Do it, you must do it," said the Fat Lady's voice. "You must kiss her! It's tradition!"

He was standing dangerously close to Hermione. Her eyes were wide but he watched as she consciously licked her lips, her gaze suddenly filled with panic, but there was another indistinct emotion blooming inside her chestnut orbs that he didn't recognize.

"Kiss her, Harry!" shouted Seamus. "It's tradition!"

Even Neville seemed to be encouraging him. "Kiss her, Harry," he said in his usual nervous and quiet voice.

Hermione wasn't protesting. Neither was he. But the fact that his chest was pounding so hard he could almost swear they could see it, and his mouth had gotten so dry in such a short amount of time and his stomach was dancing around with his skin burning from all of the attention, he didn't know if he could.

But he wanted to. It was tradition after all, wasn't it? He had to kiss her… had to… because it was tradition… and he didn't want to be known as the foolish one who broke tradition….

He was leaning in, and he watched as her eyes fluttered closed, leaving him to observe her long, dark eyelashes. She wet her lips again, tiptoeing up to meet him, Harry gently gripping her arms… He was going to kiss her, he was… He was going to kiss her….

Her lips were right under his, and it seemed as if everything in his body had frozen still to feel the entire impact of the softness of her mouth against his, and he could even feel that each of his nerves and muscles and tendons were aching just for him to just kiss her….

… Except, when the time came, he didn't. Instead he froze, panicked and incredulous. Her face was hovering dangerously close to him, her rare, soft breaths delicately brushing against his face and making him shiver from inside out. He wanted to kiss her, so very badly – and that's what had made him freeze up on the last second.

He wanted to kiss her. Hermione Granger. His best female friend.

Worse: he hadn't even known how much he wanted to until now.

Which was: very, very much.

Confused and frantic, he pulled away, letting go of her in a hurry. Glancing at a mystified Seamus and a puzzled Neville, he stepped back; almost stumbling over himself, and hastily ran to his dormitory, quickly slamming the door behind him.

Seamus sighed, collapsing back on the couch. "What a coward," he breathed aloud.

Hermione opened her eyes in time to catch Harry run away from her. Her cheeks were aflame with humiliation and foolishness and she herself felt like cowering away in her dormitory until their two weeks of winter holiday had ended. She was so embarrassed and mortified she felt as if she was burning up with an exceptionally nasty fever.

"If you want," suggested Seamus, "you can kiss Neville."

Hermione laughed nervously, before escaping very quickly to her own dormitory.

Seamus shrugged. He turned to Neville. "Better luck next year, mate."

Neville gave him a begrudging look.

oooo

Harry avoided Hermione for the rest of the day and the day after that. Even Hermione herself seemed all too tentative about being in his presence, for which he didn't blame her at all. He could tell she was embarrassed – and, worse: he had embarrassed her. He felt ashamed of himself when that fact had enough courtesy to stab him in the gut. Which was about – oh, let's say, twenty-five times a day, at most.

He felt he was not ready to face her yet with his new realization. He didn't think he fancied her at all – he didn't feel like this at all with Cho Chang, after all. That had been, well, chaos and utmost beastly, but Hermione was far too different from Cho. They were two completely different girls – almost entirely opposite. Like fire and ice. So dissimilar.

He thought maybe that he was only attracted to her. He was a teenage boy with raging hormones – it made sense. And Hermione was the girl he'd looked to almost all of his years here at Hogwarts, and he trusted her, he cared for her. And they were alone. Here. At Hogwarts. No Ron, no anyone else, with the exception of Seamus and Neville but they were as good as gone as they were usually out doing rubbish or dead asleep in the dormitory for twelve whole hours.

Obviously there was no denying that Hermione was a very pretty girl. She was attractive. She had a charming smile, striking features, and a clever brain. Wasn't that what all men wanted? The perfect girl? Was Hermione a perfect girl? On paper, it certainly seemed like it.

But was there even the slightest possibility of him fancying her? Thinking about the simple idea alone scared him. He couldn't like Hermione – no, not in that way. What would people say? What would Ron say? What would Hermione say? What if Hermione got a boyfriend and Harry was stricken with jealousy? Would he act like an arsehole just like Ron did when he had found out about Viktor Krum? He didn't want Hermione to despise him as she had despised Ron in their fourth year.

However, as he had resorted to taking his plate and eating it on his bed the last few meals, he couldn't help but think that this wasn't how he'd planned to spend his Christmas at all. He was supposed to have fun, supposed to spend time with Hermione. Not hiding out like some paranoid creep with a phobia of mistletoe and kissing his girl best friend.

Chewing the last of his cookie, he fell back on his bed, sighing.

Tomorrow, whether he was ready or not, he would face her.

Just for the sake of Christmas.

oooo

It was a magnificent, snowy morning when Christmas day dawned.

Harry yawned, feeling the bitter sting of the air as he budged in his sheets. He tried to rub the sleepiness from his eyes while his other hand patted down his side dresser for his glasses. When he finally fixed them on the bride of his nose, he looked around to find the room empty. Neville and Seamus, he guessed, were probably already downstairs with their gifts.

Stretching, he got up from his bed and made his way to the loo, his mind set on taking a nice, warm shower to start out such a beautiful day.

However, just as he was in the shower, savoring the feel of the warm water rattling against his tired muscles, his mind suddenly skittered across the dream he had last night.

A lazy smile spread across his wet face as a picture of Hermione began to construct inside his mind. But it was then that he felt obvious heat trickle down from his stomach and start to throb intensely in the area between his legs, and he felt a slight jerk, making him widely open his eyes. He looked down, and he groaned, squinting his eyes in pain and agony.

"Oh no," he said, as he reached out his hand and turned the knob of the faucet until he felt the water become frigidly cold.

When he got out of the shower, feeling slightly relieved and shivering a bit, he ran his hand through his damp hair, his towel in his hands. His feet left a moisture trail as he plodded across the wooden floor to the boy's dormitory.

He entered the room, sighing and closing his eyes for a moment, before he opened his eyes and jumped, dropping his towel, surprised at who it was sitting on his bed with a pile of crimson-wrapped gifts by her side.

"Hullo Harry," she said cheerily. "Happy Christmas."

"H-Hermione," he stammered, confused at why she was here. He bent down to retrieve his fallen towel. "What are you doing here?"

He saw a flicker of apprehension inside her eyes. "You hadn't come down yet. I was worried."

"I overslept," he said quickly, his dream of her popping up inside his mind again. "Sorry," he said timidly.

He hesitated, but walked over to where she was, dropping his towel beside his tangled sheets. He tried his best not to meet her eyes.

He could feel her watching him, and he felt his stomach tie itself over in painful knots. He walked over to his trunk and tried to find some clothes for today, trying to ignore the sensations her presence was causing for him to feel.

"I brought your gifts," she said. Harry glanced over at her and caught a glimpse of the bare flesh of her legs, noticing the burgundy corduroy skirt she had on. He tried to furiously shake it away as he felt tremors break out from his skin and send a river of heat flow through his body.

Harry was feeling increasingly uncomfortable by her company in the dormitory, considering the fact that they were the only ones there.

Then tension between them made the air feel strangely foreign.

"Great," said Harry, finally picking out a dark shirt. "I have yours, too… somewhere. Maybe we can open them later on tonight." He sent her a forced smile, but he could see that she wasn't impressed, nor convinced.

He was well aware that he was giving off the impression that he didn't want her there, which wasn't the case at all. Or, actually: he didn't want her there because he felt nervous and scared that she'd look right through him and know that he'd had a very inappropriate dream about her last night and storm right out. He wanted to assure her that he didn't want her here because he didn't like her – but for an entirely different reason altogether.

Getting the hint from the weak answers he was giving her (rather sparingly, at that), she tried to reassuringly smile at him before brushing off her skirt, standing up. Harry cemented his gaze at her nose – not at her lips, for that would make him feel even more unstable, not at her eyes for then he would reveal his ridiculous anxieties, and not any further down than her chin because then his stare would be magnetized to her legs, which she'd notice right away just because she was anything but dense.

"All right then, I'll leave to you to your business," she said. "I'll see you when you get down."

He nodded forcefully, not saying anything, as he didn't bother to watch her make her way to the door and walk out.

He clutched his head.

How had he not seen her like this before? Why was he seeing her like this now? Was it an overnight curse?

He dressed himself, his conflicting feelings about her now in an all-out war.

oooo

Harry went down a few minutes later, feeling his damp hair plaster against the nape of his neck and water droplets drip down to the collar of his jacket. He tried to keep his thoughts off of Hermione by thinking of Ron and the Weasleys and how their visit to France was going, or how he was going to possibly finish those four essays by the time their classes had started up again. He only came to the predicted conclusion that he would have to cram by staying up all night again before his eyes glimpsed at the figure lying down on the couch with a book shielding her face.

He gulped down hard, wanting to run back up the stairs and hide in his room until he was convinced he was well again. His eyes could not detach themselves from her long, lean legs displayed on the couch. He had even noticed the crinkle and fold of her skirt near the crotch, riding it up in that particular area.

"Harry?"

His eyes tore themselves away from the creamy sight before him and rocketed to her face. He tried to refuse the blush that would soon be making its appearance on his face.

Her face was expectant. He was relieved that she had not noticed him staring. She marked her page in her book (leather-bound and titled Mad About Mammal Transfiguration in wispy silver letters) and closed it, laying it down on her lap. "Are you ready?"

He shook his head, trying to mentally shoo away those bothersome shivers. "Yeah."

"Smashing," she beamed, getting up and smoothing out the wrinkles in her clothes. Harry denied the impulse to see if that crinkle had been straightened out. She took hold of her book and gestured for him to come along.

He walked to catch up with her, and as soon as their strides were equivalent to one another's, he found himself tangled inside her flavored scent again.

"Hermione?" said Harry, looking at her.

"Yes, Harry?" she replied, turning her head as they headed out of portrait hole.

"Happy Christmas."

She grinned widely. "Happy Christmas, Harry."

oooo

For dinner, spirits had certainly livened when they entered the Great Hall. Snow was falling from the ceiling that vanished without a trace before it made it to the tops of their heads, and the noise level had surely skyrocketed up from before. Almost everything sparkled – the massive Christmas tree ornaments, their silverware, Albus Dumbledore's hat.

They started their meal right after their headmaster's cheery holiday message, where Seamus and Neville had occupied the seats across from them again. They filled their plates in a quick two minutes and ate it twice as fast.

Their tables were filled with food that made Harry's eyes glaze over and his mouth water. Roast beef, chicken, buttermilk rolls, mashed potatoes, roasted duck, lemon meringue pie, raspberry tarts, chocolate pudding and fudge cake with strawberries and ice cream frosting the tops and sandwiched in between, and many other plates and plates of delicacies that made a roar of hunger rumble deep from inside his stomach.

Harry's and Hermione's awkwardness and intense discomfort from their past situation quickly dissolving against the warm atmosphere and the hearty laughs and the taste of a sweet, sweet Christmas, they laughed all they could and spent their meal in completely jolly spirits.

After they had stuffed themselves and filled their stomachs up to its fullest capability, the four Gryffindors trekked back to the common room telling stories again – this time, without discussing their professors and their private lives, which Harry could tell immensely relieved Hermione.

They were all bubbly and grinning so widely their jaws had started to become sore because of the almost lethal amounts of butterbeer they had ingested. Their bodies felt dangerously light and their limbs flew with overenthusiastic gestures as they spoke, not even getting to finish a sentence before bowling over with loud, rambunctious laughter.

They reached the common room with sore lungs and aching mouths, but still exploding with laughter with every little thing anyone said. They collapsed on the couches of the common room, the fire rapidly erupting from the black and dusty floor of the fireplace and blazing as soon as Hermione announced the spell aloud, making their bodies feel even warmer. Seamus was on the floor still doubled over in laughter, Neville on an armchair, and Harry and Hermione lying together on the couch, breathlessly laughing.

Glowing orange embers swooped out of the fire, glowing like little fireflies, before it died and blew away in the air.

"I think we're intoxicated out of our wits," said Hermione, still trying to catch her breath. Her head was on Harry's stomach and her brown curls spread all over the dark material of his jacket like a fan. He could feel her body heave and shake as she lapsed into another fit of giggles.

"I agree. Drunk silly."

"Drunk silly as hell," agreed Seamus.

"But doesn't butterbeer…" trailed off Harry, before his expression descended into one of confusion. "I honestly don't know where I was planning on going with that."

And they laughed again, Harry feeling a shot of electricity and heat race through his body as he felt Hermione begin to vibrate with giggles against him.

Twenty minutes later, they had finally gotten their breathing patterns back to normal and they had calmed themselves down. Though they were still bubbly and feeling very flighty and disconnected from the rest of their bodies, a little of the butterbeer's effects had worn off.

Suddenly, right out of the blue, Neville's body shot up, as if he'd just been burned by a coal brander on his bum. "Trevor!" he squeaked. "Bloody hell! I forgot him! I forgot him!"

"What?" asked Hermione, wrinkling her nose, biting her lip to keep herself from giggling.

Neville wobbled as he stood on his feet, swayed a bit to the right, before he grasped the arm of the chair and steadied himself. "Trevor! I brought him to the Great Hall! And-and now I don't have him!" He was twitching, diving his body down to the rug, swiping his hands underneath the chair, looking beneath the cushions. He was bug-eyed and mumbling very fast under his breath.

Harry and Hermione looked at each other.

"Look, Neville, maybe you should get some sleep—" said Hermione, straightening herself up from Harry without even noticing the very peculiar position they had been in.

Harry, however, immediately noticed the lack of pressure and softness against his stomach and body and felt strange as he squirmed in his place, trying to clear out his head from all of the nebulous thoughts vacating it.

"No! I've got to find Trevor!" He stood up from his knees so quickly that Harry thought he was going to fly right out of his shoes to the ceiling, and darted out of the portrait like Scabbers being chased by Crookshanks on a bad day.

Hermione had turned her body around and was staring at the portrait hole. "Harry, maybe we should—"

"No need, Hermione, I'm on it," said Seamus. He stood on the floor very slowly, furiously blinking his eyes for a few seconds, before following after Neville.

Hermione sighed; turning back around and closing her eyes, letting her head roll back against the settee, exposing the bare and smooth whole of her throat to Harry.

Harry felt himself become slightly feverish, his body uneasily shifting again. There were throbbing joints all over his body – even in the very back of his skull. His fingers buzzed as he curled them into a fist and out again.

When she leveled her neck again, she looked at him. Her eyes were dreamy but he could tell she was fighting to regain control of her head. Harry knew the feeling. He wasn't feeling like himself. He felt like he was a cloud, a seamless spring breeze, a soaring bird… until he shook himself out of it and came back into focus with the scene before him. Hermione.

She was closer now. He hadn't remembered her moving, but he sat up, clearing his throat, looking at her. Her eyes had a luster to them and it looked as if she was trying to decide something as he noticed the white bone of her teeth biting into the mound of flesh that was her lip, but Harry knew that she was not herself, either. Her expression was light and she was looking at him so welcomingly, so warmly, so affectionately.

And he himself felt his chest rattle and shake his basket of ribs inside his upper body. His mouth became dry as he stared into her eyes, a deep brown that managed to melt every single thing inside him like hot summer wind, and his vision became hazy and dreamlike. In a matter of seconds, she looked as if she glowed and her hair had been spooled from glittering silk. Harry felt his breaths release sparingly, his veins pulsing with immeasurable force.

It was so quiet in the room. He could only hear her breathing, saw the subtle rise and fall of her chest underneath her navy jumper from the corner of his eye. His eyes flickered down to her lips and he felt his heart skip a beat as he saw them to be deliciously moist.

He could feel his spine rigid and his limbs felt frozen, but the warm, squirming cluster inside his belly made him want to inch closer to her until he could brush his mouth against hers and feel just how deliciously moist it was.

"Harry… do you trust me?" Her words seemed to reach his ears a moment later than he had watched her mouth form them.

Startled, clarity swept over his vision and he looked at her uncertain eyes. "Yes," he told her, though he didn't understand why she had asked him such a question. Of course he trusted her. She was one of his best friends. "Yes, I trust you."

For the first time in a very long motionless period, she looked down and shifted nervously in her seat.

"Why?" he asked, finding himself whispering it to her.

She couldn't meet his eyes. "I just… I really… No – never mind, I'm an idiot, I'm going to bed—" she got up abruptly and Harry watched as she trembled on her legs for a second. On impulse, he reached out and snatched her hand, trying to steady her. She breathed a sigh of relief, telling him thanks, before she tried to tug her hand away. Harry didn't let go.

"You can tell me, Hermione," he said to her. She was silent, and she sat back down beside him.

"You're going to think I'm an idiot. That I'm trying to pry into your privacy—"

"I won't."

She sighed, looking down. She was smiling awkwardly. "It's just that… have you ever been kissed?

Surprise darted across his face. "Have I-have I ever been kissed?"

Slowly, as if her neck was stiff, Hermione nodded her head.

Harry never favored personal questions. Most particularly this one. His cheeks flared with a vicious blush. "I… yes, I have."

"I mean… a real kiss," elaborated Hermione, saying the words as if they were foreign to her.

Harry's expression drew into one of pure bafflement. "I… I don't know." The questions she was asking him were making his mouth salty, coarse and arid, as if he had just attempted to eat sand.

She was hesitant to speak on, but she did. "You know when they pointed out the mistletoe that day… and we almost… but we didn't…" Harry nodded in a robotic-like fashion, never once taking his eyes off of her. He felt that spade of shame again, dipping inside his chest.

She looked up and met his eyes. The curiosity in them dazzled him. "Tell me – was it only awkward because everyone was watching?"

Harry was in a daze. Was it only awkward because everyone had been watching? Or was it awkward for different reasons? Was it because he had just found out that he was actually attracted to his best friend and that was a very, very bad position to be in, especially now?

Her eyes were earnest, but as he opened his mouth and couldn't even stammer out a single syllable to answer her with, she shook her head again, looking down. "I know I'm going to sound like the biggest selfish fool in the world, but I was just… well, I… never mi—"

He didn't how he could know what she was asking him. But there was just something about her – her fidgety motions, her uncertainty, her flushed cheeks, her darting eyes… she was flustered, and Harry had never seen her that way before. She had always been witty Hermione, the Hermione who had answers for everything – she was never confused or uncertain. She was headstrong and unyielding. But now she wasn't. It was if he was seeing a completely different side to her.

He didn't even know how his bubble of silence had finally burst to allow him to let out a sound, but it did. "Okay," was what he found himself saying.

Hermione froze. She stayed that way for a few moments than looked at him with wide eyes, blinking once, twice. "What?" she whispered. "I mean – are you-are you sure? You're completely sure?"

He steadied his eyes on her. He was sure. He was certain. His heart was beating along with the two fitful, fleeting syllables of the word. He said it again, trying to keep in the quiver as he did so. "Okay." He heard her take a very shaky sigh. She looked doubtful now.

"Oh, Harry. I don't want you to be doing this because you feel obligated to. I mean, it is a very stupid and selfish request to begin with, and we aren't level with our heads because of all the butterbeer we poisoned ourselves with. I don't want to do it if you're going to end up regretting it. It'll be simple. Innocent, completely innocent, between two friends. Sort of like… experimenting." She said the word and it lingered. On her lips, in his ears, in the air. "Experimenting."

Shock was still dancing against his bones. He had never thought he'd see the day when Hermione Granger was asking him for such a favor. Then again, he'd never thought he'd actually say yes. But he wanted to. Maybe it was just the butterbeer. They had ingested gallons more than they had ever drank before – maybe this was a side-affect. Wanting to kiss one's best friend.

And, like she'd said: it was completely innocent. Just between two friends. Nothing more. It wouldn't be awkward. It would be simple. Innocent. Experimenting.

"Are-are you sure about this?" She asked him this in a gentle and nervous breath. He could see the stars of anxiety burning bright inside her eyes. "I really don't want to push you—"

"It's completely innocent, isn't it?" said Harry. "You said so yourself. There's nothing to worry about. It's innocent." Somehow, the word never clung on.

"Right." She let out another sigh, one that made her nostrils flare. "Right." She then scooted closer to him. Tentatively at first, stopping to see if he would back away, and then she inched until he could feel her soft and warm body against his again. Even that made him swallow down hard as if he'd just salvaged a drink of water in a desert.

Her voice was trembling. "I'm going to take your glasses, all right, Harry?" He nodded wordlessly, and she reached for his face. Her hand brushed against the front of his bangs, sweeping it to the side; before he felt her velvet-like fingers touch the sides of his face. She slowly slid off his glasses.

Harry couldn't move. He was hopelessly frozen. He was rooted to this spot.

He suddenly felt very naked as he looked around, watching her set his glasses aside. It made a quiet "clink" on the table. Yes, he felt very naked indeed. It felt strange without his glasses. Everything seemed blurry and his surroundings were just hazy blots and blotches of colors and indefinite shapes. But, as Hermione was just positioned right in front of him, he could see her just fine. The light freckles peppered across her nose, her warm chestnut eyes with wrinkled, worried, perfectly arched brows hovering right above it.

"Are you… ready?" Her voice almost seemed distant and feathery to him. He mentally tried to shepherd all of his wandering thoughts and focused on her. On her expression, her face, her emotion. Yet all it did was make him feel listless again. But the thought of kissing her and trying to deny that he truly, truly wanted so much that it made him feel guilty and ashamed and unworthy to be her friend made him look on with a calm appearance.

Which he thought was rather funny. Because he wasn't calm at all.

He nodded almost barely. "Yeah," he said in a single breath. Then, suddenly, he found her face nearing his. He unconsciously moved towards her too, and he noticed that her eyes had trembled closed before he unknowingly closed his eyes as well. And then they kissed. Softly at first, hesitantly and apprehensively, but they soon began to melt into it. Hermione's mouth molded against his and he felt her fingers settle just below the nape of his neck. Harry's hands found themselves snaking around her waist to tangling inside her curls, and before he knew it, he was kissing her furiously, his tongue darting out to greet her in a sensual exploration.

In one mere moment, their innocent kiss had turned into something… well, not-so-innocent.

Harry felt a tumble of heat roll down through his stomach to the tip of his toes, sparking something entirely rash and unthinking and ferocious inside him. Every thought was too complicated, too unwanted, and so his mind was swept over by the simple, almost animalistic urges of the satisfaction and yearning that surged through his veins from the feeling of her reciprocate his kiss. There was a taste to her; a spark that ignited deep in his bosom as their lips connected and he had felt her heat aggressively transfer over to him.

He felt her clutch tighten on his neck, and he felt tremors shake his body and skin when he felt the trails of her slender fingers as they slid into his hair, sending a wave of hunger to hammer down into his skull and drill further down through his shoulders, through his ribs, through the bones of his hips.

He felt warm. Feverish. And there was a madness about him, the way his fingers griped at her, the way he tried to hold her as close as he could. He never knew such a wild rush could tear through him with such speed and power that not even his brain could not attest to. For the first time in his life, here was an experience where there was no pain, no memories. Just intensity and feeling. Tenderness. Love.

Their bodies were pressed close. So close he could almost feel every curve, every pulse. He felt something soft yet solid against his chest, compressing against his broad and wide frame, felt the impact of her kisses as she responded, felt the natural warmth generating from her body colliding with his.

When they pulled back for air, it was only then that the full reality of what they had done crashed down upon them.

Her lips were swollen and her hair was mussed, even after Harry had untangled his hands from them. Harry was smart enough to know that he didn't look any better. He could feel a fire on and inside his mouth and could oddly still taste the distinct tang she had left behind.

His hands fell limp at his side, breathing hard, not believing what they had just done. Hermione was silent, her face contemplative then panicked and alarmed. Her eyes widened at him, those lips he had just been kissing parting slightly in surprise, her hand to her mouth as if she'd just realized what they had done – and how non-innocent their kiss had really been.

So non-innocent it made Harry's head spin.

Her breathing got even more ragged and heavy, and Harry wanted to scoot away to give her (and himself) some space before they went mad out of their wits, but he couldn't. His shoulders were taut; his spine was like a stiff wooden ruler. Even the breaths he was trying to squeeze out from his lungs seemed restricted beyond obvious repair.

A few moments later, he had seemed to gather enough moisture inside his mouth to crack out a word to break the silence. "Hermione, I—"

"It's not your fault, Harry." Her voice shook. She was looking at the table where his glasses lay and wringing her hands, her skin tightly stretching across her knuckles that it turned bone-white. "It's not your fault. It was mine. I made up the stupid proposition. And I actually had enough stupidity to ask you. I just…" She trailed off in silence. When she spoke again, she had adapted her stern voice again, albeit the nervousness that rattled it. "Obviously, no one can know about this."

Harry unknowingly flinched.

"After all, it was a one-time thing. And we must – must not let it get in the way of our friendship. That would be… that would be horrible." At the word "Horrible," she looked up and met his eyes. She tried to emphasize it by saying it again. "It would be… horrible."

As if repeating it didn't help, Harry heard it chime again in his mind. Again. Again. Again. And again.

"Harry? I'm so-I'm so sorry. I know it's going to be strange between us for the next few weeks and it's all my fault, but these things fade away soon enough. I'm so sorry. You're not-you're not going to tell Ron, are you?"

"No," said Harry, feeling as if his soul had been lifted straight out of his body and thrown away into some illusory horizon. "No, I won't tell Ron."

Not like I could, he thought bitterly. Remembering that he still couldn't see a thing, he reached over to the table and fumbled as he felt the table for his glasses. When he found it, he felt a wave of relief as he put it on and the splotches and fuzzy shapes of color transformed into furniture and designs on the rug.

She let out a sigh of relief. "Look, I'm so sorry, Harry. I really am." Her eyes were pleading at him. Then, suddenly, she got up and crossed the room to where their Christmas tree was. It was decorated with gold griffins, red bows, and some socks that Dobby had given him. She got down on her knees and grabbed presents from underneath, standing with two boxes in her hands. She turned towards him and Harry only watched her as she sat back down on the spot she had been sitting before. She was smiling, and though Harry could see that the ruined state of their evening had managed to shake her up a bit, her smile was still genuine.

"Happy Christmas, Harry." She held out the two crimson boxes to him. There was a gold satin ribbon on each of the boxes that he didn't remember seeing this morning, and so he figured she had done it when she had been waiting for him.

"Thanks, Hermione," he said. His hands felt clammy as he reached out to retrieve them. It was then his turn to get up and get his present for her from underneath the tree. He returned with a box in simple scarlet wrapping paper – with nothing special like gold ribbons like she had bothered to put. He held it out for her. "Happy Christmas to you too."

Smiling gratefully and Harry's heart enacting an extra violent beat at the twinkles in her eyes, she took it from him. "Thank you."

They both looked down at their gifts, silent and ill at ease with each other.

Harry was the first to speak. "Well, I should head up to bed," he said, standing. "Thanks again for the gifts." He couldn't help but hate it that now there was this unneeded bulky wall between him and Hermione. It was a perfect way to end his Christmas.

Really.

"I'm going to stay here and read a bit," she said, but lowered her eyes as she did so.

Harry nodded, feeling an unwelcome constricting inside his throat. There was a bothersome fidgeting inside his belly. "All right, then. Good night, Hermione. Happy Christmas."

"Good night, Harry. Happy Christmas."

Giving her a smile, he left her and ascended the stone staircase to the boy's dormitory, wanting to repeatedly pound his head on the wall until he had no further recollection of this evening.

But with still-burning lips and still-burning hands and an overheating skull, he only collapsed on his bed with his eyes squinted closed, as if he was in pain. The image of her looking regretful and frightened had been engraved into his mind. The memory of the succulent, pillowy tips of her mouth as it pressed against his sent fires thriving through his entire being.

He curled up on his bed, taking off his glasses and setting it on his side dresser with her gifts. He shut his eyes closed tight. The butterbeer made the world whirl around him that he felt a dull pounding in the back of his head that almost made him nauseous. He reckoned he would just open her presents in the morning when he wasn't feeling as if he was so near to the brink of his sanity.

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