Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter etc. I am only messing with the characters.

Author's Note: Please read this before reading the story, to clear up a few things. This story is going to be AU. It takes place in Hermione's seventh year of Hogwarts. Also, Dumbledore is alive, Slughorn is still the Potions professor, and Snape is, of course, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Enjoy!

Chapter One - Problems

I had never thought much about the one year age gap between Harry, Ron, and me until recently. I'm sure that to some, one year means very little. However, it is proven that girls mature much faster than boys; and although Harry and Ron are very smart and clever in their own ways, it doesn't much amount to their maturity level. It also doesn't help that our interests have begun to differ to the point of argument – me, of course, with my books, and them with Quidditch, and, as of the past two years or so, and increasing interest in girls.

As awkward as this may be, I can't say I haven't been thinking about boys differently myself – because, in fact, I have since I was thirteen. But their interest in girls is much different than mine in boys – and I have more often than not picked up the drift of many of their conversations about them. I am not sure if it is normal to talk of girls as much as they tended to last year – and, quite frankly, the manner in which they spoke of them was rather distasteful. I am thankful, however, that I have never heard my name in any of these discussions, and was hoping that this year would be the same. But when I arrived at the Burrow in early July, I received a surprise that knocked anything so trivial from my mind.

From the moment I arrived, I noticed a large change in both Harry and Ron. Harry was quiet and spoke only when spoken to; Ron, on the other hand, talked very much. He rambled most of the time, and I felt it was to fill up the abundance of silence Harry left hanging in the air. I won't deny that I didn't help contribute to this. Everything was so awkward; I didn't know what to do. However, I must admit it was almost comical to see and hear poor Ron make up for all of the silence by himself, but Harry knew as well as I that there was no longer anything to say. Everyone knew the truth about Harry's destiny, and I'm afraid that it had begun to weigh heavily on Harry's heart. While I could have said something, anything, to comfort him, no words could come. There were times when I almost did say something, but the words became lost in my mouth somehow, causing me to swallow them back down.

Needless to say, we all of us spent a lot of time alone at the Burrow that summer.

Once at school, I began a very demanding daily routine. Mainly it involved studying, of course. To this day, I still can't imagine why I spent so much time studying, as I have an excellent memory and I knew everything I studied. I would guess that studying was the only thing that helped me escape the hassles of life, which, up to that point, were actually not that bad. Once I began my seventh year, I noticed the lessons and homework that the professors gave us were harder than I had ever imagined. But if Harry and Ron were struggling, I never knew of it.

Because in fact, I had hoped that the start of the new school year would knock some sense into the both of them, but mainly Harry. However, I had hoped in vain. Harry had taken up a habit of staring out of the window in the Gryffindor common room, while Ron was hardly ever there at all. I felt as if our "trio" was slowly beginning to melt away, much like the snowflakes of the first snow. I tried several times on different occasions to engage Harry in a conversation, but he shrugged them off. If he absolutely had to speak, he responded with one or two worded answers. My heart ached for him horribly. Then, on October the first, I decided to give it one more shot.

After dinner that night, I found Harry sitting by the window, staring out of it as if he were expecting something, like he did every night. Everyone had gotten used to it by now, but I sat down next to him and was silent for some time, watching him.

As much as I would hate to say it on any other occasion, he had grown up, in more ways that I had ever noticed. His face was sharper, the angles were more pronounced. He had let his hair grow out over the summer, and while it did frame his face nicely, I couldn't help but think that he didn't grow it out just to change his look; it was more or less the fact that he didn't care how he looked. His eyes, as green as ever, had changed as well. They reflected a sadness I couldn't name, and I felt an intense emotion of sadness and hopelessness watching him.

"Harry…" I began. I had no idea what to say. Our almost icy silence toward each other wasn't something I knew how to mend. I wanted to reach out to him, to hug him, to do anything to let him know that I still cared for him, that I still loved him as the best friend I had ever had.

"Harry…" I said again, my voice wavering. He wouldn't even look at me. "Please, Harry, just look at me for one moment."

He obliged, turning his face towards me. Our eyes met for one moment, and then he looked down at his hands, which were resting in his lap.

"I don't know what's gotten into you lately Harry…but I just wanted to let you know that I…that I still care for you, no matter how much you choose to ignore me. We're in this together, aren't we? Aren't we, Harry?"

I don't know what made me ask him that with such question in my voice. I knew we were in this together; Harry, Ron, and me. But after asking the question, hearing the words come out of my mouth, I began to doubt myself. Were we in this together?

Harry was silent for the longest time. I found myself almost dreading his response. I wanted him to nod, I wanted him to say, "Yeah, of course, 'Mione," and everything to be back to normal. I wanted Ron, Harry and I to start laughing again, to stay up until all hours of the night doing homework and scheming about nothing in particular. I missed our friendship; I missed Harry.

Just as I was about to give up hope, as I was about to turn and leave him alone, I heard him speak.

"Hermione…it's over. You can't deny it. Ron's still trying to. Dumbledore expects so much of me. I'm as good as dead. It's over."

"No! No, Harry. You know that's not true!"

Harry said nothing. He turned his head to look out of the window again, his face bearing an emotion I had never seen on it before. He looked…defeated.

And then I left him.

I'm not entirely sure of why I left him. I could have stayed, I could have tried to coax more words out of him, to break him down, to make him realize his withdrawal from us was unhealthy, or even borderline mad. But, as I practically ran down countless flights of stairs, I realized Harry was right. He was so right.

This wasn't my battle, or even Ron's. This was Harry's battle, the battle between him and Voldemort. I was a stupid girl for ever thinking that anything I could do would help save him from what he had to do. When he confronts Voldemort for the last time, he will be alone, and neither I nor Ron would be there to help him. Up until this point, I had so much faith in the fact that Harry was strong, and that he was brave, and he could never die when facing Voldemort. It had been that way on numerous occasions. But I mentally slapped myself when I thought about it. Harry had been lucky each time he faced him. Sheer, talent less, unconvincing luck.

After rushing through the halls of Hogwarts, I became quite breathless. I slid to the floor, contemplating everything that has been happening, and everything that would happen in the near, unsuspecting future. I panted, my heart thumping madly in my chest. I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand. And then, quite suddenly, I began to cry.

Oh, all of the reasons to cry! I was crying for Harry, and for Ron. I was crying because I was frustrated. I cried because of all the homework I had to do, and the demands of my professors day in and day out. I cried because I didn't know what else to do.

Finally, I made myself regain composure. I gave a tremendous sniff and stood back up, wiping my tears away. And then, quite suddenly, I became aware of someone watching me. I squinted in the darkness and realized it was Professor Snape.

A wave of panic swept over me. How long had he been standing there? He made no effort to move or to speak, even with me staring at him. When my stare turned into a glower, however, he stepped forward and cleared his throat.

"Are you quite done, Miss Granger?" he asked.

"Why do you care?" I snapped.

I can assure you that at any other time I would have been my respectful, bootlicking self. But now however, my nerves were tapped and I was in no mood for his snide, sarcastic comments.

Snape narrowed his eyes and stepped forward again. When he spoke, his voice was in a deathly whisper.

"You should take care not to speak to me in such a tone, Miss Granger."

I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes. It was quite like Snape to make himself seem better than us mere students. My emotional distress obviously meant nothing to him. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he was annoyed by it.

"I'm sorry sir," I replied, forcing my voice to be as sarcastically polite as it could. "I didn't realize you cared so much about me. But yes, I am done crying, if you're so curious to know."

My words made Snape absolutely livid. I was about to add something on top of that when I heard a voice speak behind Snape.


I recognized the voice, but Snape very obviously didn't. He whipped around quickly, his body visibly tense. But when he realized it was Dumbledore, he let himself relax, but only a little.

"Yes?" he said curtly. He sounded very unpleased that Dumbledore interrupted the confrontation.

"I apologize for this, but we need to have a discussion in my office immediately. I daresay you can continue after, if you wish."

It amazed me how old Dumbledore sounded. I was watching this scene when our eyes met. I thought I almost saw a twinkle there.

"Yes, yes, of course," Snape said shortly. "And no, this doesn't need to continue."

With that, he followed Dumbledore, and I watched them until they disappeared around the corner. They had left me alone, and I decided to go back to the common room and to try to get some sleep.

Well, that's the end of chapter one. Kindly inform me of your comments, suggestions, or anything else. I do like to know that my stories aren't complete fiascos. I am also looking for a BETA, if anyone is interested. Thank you.