Disclaimer and Acknowledgements

The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment. At least a few of the ideas in this story are original with me. If J. K. is interested in using them she's welcome to them.

Thanks to Old Crow and Dee Weasley for prereading this chapter and offering helpful suggestions.



End Game is a continuation of Soul Searching, and takes place during Harry's seventh year at Hogwarts. If you haven't read Soul Searching yet, STOP RIGHT HERE AND GO READ IT NOW! Even if you have already read it, you might want to go back and reread it. If you're anything like me, you are reading quite a few fanfics concurrently, and sometimes it's hard to remember what happened in what story. Quite a few things that happened in Soul Searching will have a major effect on End Game.

In Soul Searching, the horcruxes were found and destroyed, all except for Nagini and the piece that still resides in Voldemort. Now the trio is returning to Hogwarts for their final year, and to prepare to kill Nagini and take on Voldemort himself. Much of their time will be spent in a waiting game, honing their fighting ability and developing their attack plan, while others do most of the fighting against Voldemort's forces. But as in Soul Searching, a large part will still be about relationships. Harry's relationships with all of his friends, especially Hermione and Ginny, will change as things are revealed that had been kept hidden.

Just to be absolutely clear about the relationships. This story is H/G at the beginning. It may stay that way or it may change to H/Hr. You'll have to read it to find out.


Chapter 1, Return to Hogwarts

September 1

At first glance, Platform 9 ¾ looked much the same as it did every September first. The bright red locomotive sat puffing away, clouds of steam rising into the sky. Students were milling around, dragging trunks, greeting friends, saying goodbye to parents. Younger siblings whined and were shushed.

On closer inspection, though, it was clear that this year was different. The platform was not as crowded; there would be many fewer students on the train this year. The crowd was not as boisterous as in other years. Instead of running back and forth, eagerly checking up on their comrades the students huddled together in small groups. Two sets of questions dominated every conversation. "Who's here? Who's not here?" and "Is it really safe? Do you think there's going to be an attack?"

There was a noticeable Auror presence on the platform as the Ministry was aware that this was a high profile target and was taking no chances. There was a less noticeable presence as well, visible only to the few who were in the know. The Order of the Phoenix was also here in force. Each time the barrier to the platform flared, conversation paused and everyone looked up, cataloging the new arrivals, mentally updating the 'coming back/not coming back' list as the newcomers scurried into the crowd seeking the safety of a cluster of students.

Once more the barrier flared, but this time there was a difference. Three students strode confidently through the barrier. There was no ducking, no cowering with this trio. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger had arrived. No longer the shy youngsters they had once been, wondering if anyone would befriend them, these three warriors had been in battle, seen death and dished it out, and emerged victorious. There was no fear in their eyes, but a wary, alert, yet commanding look as they glanced left and right and nodded to their fellow students.

With Harry in the center, Ron on the right, and Hermione on the left they swept down the platform, their initial serious expressions being replaced with smiles as they caught the eyes of particular friends and exchanged greetings. As they moved down the platform the silence was broken by gasps and murmurs among the older students as the effects of the summer workouts and increased confidence as well as – in one case – better fitting clothing became apparent. "Has Weasley always been that tall?" "How come I never noticed him before?" "When did Potter become such a hunk?" "Is that really Granger?" "She never used to look that good, did she?"

Hermione was dressed in designer jeans and a short sleeved knit top, both comfortably snug. Harry was wearing a dark pair of pants and a collared knit shirt that emphasized his noticeably bulked up torso. Ron had on jeans and a tee shirt, and all three had wand holders strapped to their legs, ready for instant use. They looked like nothing so much as a trio of gunslingers from the American west striding into town to clear out the bad guys.

Suddenly someone started clapping, then another and another, until the entire platform was applauding. Most of the students couldn't have explained why, but somehow everyone felt a little less apprehensive now about going back to Hogwarts. Despite McGonagall's assurances, the rumors had persisted that the Gryffindor trio would not be returning this year and more than one set of parents had struggled with the agonizing decision of whether their son or daughter would be better off staying home or going back.

Up until recently Harry would have been mortified by all this attention, but he knew that he had accepted a position of leadership for his school and he knew that this went with it. Fear was the enemy's greatest weapon and if his presence or his words could combat that fear everyone was better off. As they made their way to the center of the platform and the applause showed no sign of letting down he felt a squeeze in his left hand and turned to give Hermione a brief smile, then turned the other way to see Ron's grin.

Ron stepped forward and quickly levitated a couple of trunks into a makeshift stage, then motioned to Harry. Harry climbed up and turned and extended his hand to Hermione and helped her up as well, and the crowd quieted in anticipation.

Hermione, knowing how much Harry disliked attention, decided to go first. "Hello everyone. Thank you for that nice welcome. It's great to see all of you again. We're so glad you made the decision to return to Hogwarts this year. Harry and I have been working with the professors to make sure this will be a special year." She glanced at Harry and he nodded for her to continue.

"We all know that Hogwarts will be different now without Professor Dumbledore." A murmur went through the crowd at this. While surprised that she would refer directly to the tragic event that ended the prior year, many of those gathered appreciated her honesty in confronting the topic that was on everyone's mind.

"It's obvious that Professor McGonagall has a real challenge facing her in trying to live up to his legacy. But we feel that she has made some excellent choices and has put together a plan that will provide an outstanding educational experience for everyone. And we all intend to make sure that Hogwarts will be a secure learning environment. Hogwarts has long been considered the safest place in Britain and will remain so." She paused, and there were a lot of approving nods from parents.

Harry stepped in to continue. "You all know that I've had a few more adventures than the average student at Hogwarts." That line received quite a few chuckles from the older students and earned him a smile from Hermione and another squeeze of his hand. The onlookers relaxed a little. "After one of them Professor Dumbledore told me something that has greatly affected my life. He said that it is the choices that we make in life, not our abilities, that make us who we are. You all have made a choice to stand up to your fears. We thank you for making that choice, as hard as it may have been." He paused and looked around. There was complete silence on the platform as everyone pondered what he had said and the decisions they had made.

"The last thing I want to say to all of you is the same thing that Professor Dumbledore told the whole school right after Voldemort returned two years ago. The time has come to decide between doing what is right and what is easy. You have all decided to do what is right, and we will not let you down." This elicited even more applause from the assembled students and parents, along with many shouts of encouragement.

As the applause died down, Hermione noticed that two girls in particular were interested in something other than their words. Parvati and Lavender were huddled together whispering, and nodding at her and Harry. He had not let go of her hand after helping her up, and was still holding it. Hermione then did a very non-Hermione-like thing. Catching their eyes, she shot them a conspiratorial smile, followed by a quick wink. Parvati and Lavender's eyes went wide at this, and they returned the smile with a look that clearly said, 'you are going to tell us all about this later', then turned and started mingling with the other students. Hermione knew two things for certain. By the time the train reached Hogwarts, every student would know that something was going on between the Head Boy and Head Girl, and there would be an interrogation tonight in the Gryffindor girls dorm.

Spotting some red hair in the crowd, they hopped down from the trunks and joined Ron in heading over to the Weasleys. They were briefly detained as Hermione stopped to greet Carolyn and Mark and their parents, and Harry waved to Laura and Kristin. All four of them were muggleborn first years that they had met at the orientation session the previous week. He smiled as he noticed Laura standing back listening while Kristin chattered excitedly to some fellow first years about how they had already met the Head Boy and Head Girl.

Quite a few eyes were on them as they approached the Weasleys, some anticipating some fireworks from the girl who, last anyone there knew, was Harry's girlfriend. But those onlookers were disappointed as Hermione gave Ginny a welcoming hug while Molly did the same to Harry. Ginny handed Crookshanks back to Hermione and the older girl enthusiastically greeted the large half kneazel that she had been parted from during the summer. For his part, Crookshanks accepted the transition calmly, as though it was a simple matter of his exchanging one servant for another.

Molly then turned to give some last minute motherly instructions to Ron and Harry found himself face to face with Ginny. She gave him a knowing smile as they exchanged hugs as well, then her eyes went wide as he leaned down and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Friends are allowed to do that," he informed her with a twinkle in his eye, and she grinned back at him and returned the favor as he moved on to give a farewell handshake to Arthur.

Finally pulling themselves away from Molly, the four students continued through the crowd until they found themselves in front of the students Harry was looking for, the only three Slytherins who had returned for their seventh year.

Harry remembered Blaise Zabini from the Slug Club, and from his ill-fated attempt to sneak into the Slytherin compartment on the train the previous year. He was quite handsome, having inherited his looks from his famously beautiful mother, and supposedly had quite a way with the ladies. Daphne Greengrass was a statuesque blonde, gorgeous, with a knockout figure. Ron's type, Harry smirked to himself. Tracey Davis was about Hermione's size, with no-nonsense short dark hair and an alert look about her. He realized that he knew absolutely nothing about her, as he couldn't recall a single encounter with her in six years. None of them had been among their tormentors in Malfoy's gang, so that was a mark in their favor, although Zabini had reported to Malfoy about the initial Slug Club meeting.

"Hi Blaise. Daphne. Tracey," Harry said in a friendly tone, acknowledging each one in turn. Their uneasy looks lightened a little and they nodded, appreciating the effort he was making.

"Hi Harry, Hermione," responded Tracey, followed quickly by the others. "Congratulations on making Head Boy and Girl. Although there wasn't much doubt about Hermione, was there?"

Hermione smiled at the compliment, and they engaged in a little small talk before going their separate ways. Harry made an effort to keep his face neutral as he noticed the appreciative look Blaise was giving Ginny, and decided that they needed to find Neville as soon as possible.

A warning blast from the train's whistle signaled the students to begin boarding. One after the other a steady stream of parents hugged their children, waved them onto the train, then came over to shake Harry's hand and thank him for being there, the unspoken plea to keep their children safe lingering in every pair of eyes. He graciously responded to each one, thanking them in turn for entrusting their offspring to Hogwarts and reassuring them as well as he could. Finally the last student was loaded and the final trunk was stowed, and after glancing up and down the platform he and Hermione waved to the engineer and boarded the train.

The Head's compartment was considerably nicer than the ones on the rest of the Hogwarts Express, and quite a bit larger as well. Even so, it was crowded for the prefects meeting. Blaise and Tracey were the new seventh year prefects from Slytherin, with Padma Patil and Anthony Goldstein from Ravenclaw, Hannah Abbott and Ernie MacMillan from Hufflepuff, and Ron from Gryffindor. Except for Blaise and Tracey of course, all had been members of the DA and this was the group that Harry and Hermione were hoping would take the lead in unifying the school. Harry didn't know any of the fifth and sixth year prefects except those from Gryffindor, and a few that had played quidditch, but Hermione had learned everyone's names and greeted them all as they arrived.

Hermione smoothly began the meeting with introductions and explained their expectations for the year. She informed them the prefects were primarily responsible for their own houses and were not going to be permitted to take points from other houses this year. This surprised her listeners, but after having gone through the abuse of the system by Malfoy and Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad they understood the reasoning for it. Harry added that if they found a situation involving members of other houses that required disciplinary action they should inform the head students or their Heads of Houses.

Next Hermione gave them advance notice of some of the things that McGonagall would be announcing at the Welcoming Feast about the changes being instituted to increase interhouse cooperation. Most of the prefects liked the idea of being able to get to know students from other houses better, and one of the fifth year Slytherins cracked that this would give Zabini a larger group of girls to date. Harry noticed several girls glance in his and Ron's direction, and a couple of Ravenclaw boys looked thoughtfully at Hermione.

Harry then explained how quidditch was going to be different this year, which really caught their attention. The idea of quidditch without house teams was difficult for them to grasp. Several of the guys immediately wanted to know which team Harry was going to play for.

They finished by dividing the castle into four zones for patrol purposes and assigning one house to each zone. They all crowded around the map that Hermione had made to see who had what part of the castle. It was quickly agreed that Hufflepuff had the greatest number of broom closets to check, Ravenclaw had the majority of the classrooms, Slytherin had more secret corridors to worry about, but Gryffindor got stuck with the Astronomy tower.

After the meeting ended Ron went to invite Ginny, Neville, and Luna to join them in the Heads' compartment but Tracey and Blaise hung back as the other prefects left.

"Potter," Blaise began, "I need to tell you something. I know what happened on the train last year after we left Slughorn's compartment." Harry glanced to Tracey and she nodded. Blaise had informed her of the incident in Malfoy's compartment. Blaise continued, "I want you to know that despite the fact that I hung around with Malfoy and said some things you probably didn't appreciate, I was never a supporter of You Know Who and neither were Tracey or Daphne.

Hermione moved to stand beside Harry. "We realize that. If you were a Voldemort supporter McGonagall would never have let you back into Hogwarts." Harry was concentrating on Blaise and Tracey's faces as Hermione said this, and as expected both flinched at the use of Voldemort's name, although Tracey's was almost unnoticeable.

Blaise turned his attention to Hermione. Noticing the way the two Heads stood by each other, he glanced back and forth between them. "Are you two together, then?"

Hermione blushed slightly and looked up at Harry, but he kept his eyes on Zabini. He wasn't too happy about the look on the Slytherin's face.

"Yes, we are," Hermione finally replied.

"So Weasley …?"

"Is going with Neville Longbottom," Harry stated firmly. Now he thought he knew what Zabini's game was.

"Longbottom? Really?" Blaise raised his eyebrows.

Before he could say anything else, Tracey grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the compartment. "Come on, loverboy, you can try somewhere else." She shot Harry a quick grin as they headed down the corridor. Harry grinned back. He wasn't sure he trusted Zabini but Tracey Davis struck him as someone he could get to like.

The rest of the train ride passed uneventfully. Ron returned with Ginny, Neville, and Luna and everyone caught up for a while. When Luna was told that Ginny was now dating Neville and Hermione and Harry were together she looked intently at each couple then responded simply, "That works."

Harry and Hermione got quite a few surreptitious glances during the two times when they went out to patrol the train, but there were no disturbances. Most of the troublemaking students had not returned. The six friends enjoyed each other's company for the remainder of the trip.

When the train arrived at Hogwarts Harry and Hermione helped Hagrid make sure all of the first years got into the boats OK, then made their way to the carriages. As Ginny, Ron, and Hermione stopped before getting into a carriage, Harry suddenly realized that they could all see the thestrals now. Luna and Neville had always been able to see them, and they gently took Ron and Ginny by the hand and pulled them into the carriage while Harry did the same for Hermione. They were all quiet as they rode to the castle.

Without really thinking about it, Harry and Hermione were holding hands again as they entered the Great Hall. It was only after Neville turned to look at them and then took Ginny's hand that Harry realized that they were making another statement to the other students and he smiled as he felt Hermione squeeze his hand before they broke apart to sit down at the Gryffindor table. Harry sat with Hermione on one side and Ron on the other, while Neville and Ginny sat across from them. Suddenly the hall quieted as Professor Flitwick led the first year students in.

This, as much as anything else that happened that day, served to emphasize that things would be different this year. As long as anyone could remember, it had been McGonagall leading the first years in while Dumbledore watched serenely from the center of the faculty table. Now she sat in his accustomed spot, and the reminder of his mentor's loss sobered Harry's mood.

Right up until he spotted Kristin waving happily to him as she marched in with the other first years. That kid was going to be as irrepressible as the Creeveys, Harry decided. He then sat back to await the sorting. Once again, the Sorting Hat implored them to put aside their divisions and unite to face their common enemy. This year, Harry thought grimly, they were going to follow those instructions or die trying.

To everyone's relief, the number of first year students was not much lower than in previous years, and the students were divided fairly evenly among the houses, with the exception that Slytherin house had only about half as many as the other three. Harry wondered how many students had unknowingly influenced their placement by thinking 'not Slytherin' as the Hat was deciding, just as he had at his own sorting.

Harry and Hermione noted particularly where the muggleborn students that they had met with ended up. Quiet Laura and chatty Kristin both ended up in Gryffindor, Kristin practically bouncing all the way over to their table. The twins Mark and Carolyn were separated, Mark going to Hufflepuff and Carolyn to Ravenclaw. Harry whispered in amusement to Hermione that Mark had probably told the Hat "anywhere but Ravenclaw" after his sister had been sorted. Finally, Jon ended up in Ravenclaw.

After McGonagall gave a few words of welcome, the feast began. When everyone's appetite was satisfied (even Ron's) the new headmistress began the announcements.

First Harry and Hermione both stood to another round of applause as they were introduced as Head Boy and Head Girl, then all of the faculty were introduced, followed by the announcements that Lupin and Slughorn would be the new heads of houses for Gryffindor and Slytherin respectively. There were nearly as many new faculty this year as in all his previous years combined, Harry realized, with Arabella Figg taking over from Filch, Augusta Longbottom for Binns, Lupin for Snape, Tonks for McGonagall, and Ted and Andromeda Tonks combining for Muggle Studies.

Harry noted that Trelawny and Firenze were continuing to share the Divination post. He wondered if Trelawny had overcome her drinking problem, but decided that was McGonagall's problem, not his. Inwardly he winced a little as he thought about this. McGonagall had never got along very well with the flaky Divination professor. He suspected that Dumbledore only kept her around to keep Voldemort from coming after her. Oh well, he thought, as long as she stays in the castle she'll be safe.

McGonagall then revealed the first of her surprises when she introduced teaching assistants for each of the subjects. In addition to Harry in Defense, Hermione in Transfiguation, and Charlie Weasley in Care of Magical Creatures, Lavender and Parvatti would be assisting the two Divination professors, Padma Patil was assisting in Charms, Tracey Davis in Potions, and Neville in Herbology. Susan Bones was announced for History of Magic, which caused Ron to mutter that it had probably been hard to find someone besides Hermione who had stayed awake during the classes.

The Ravenclaw boys were represented with Terry Boot in Ancient Runes and Anthony Goldstein in Arithmency, while the Hufflepuffs had Justin Finch-Fletchly in Muggle Studies and Ernie MacMillan in Astronomy. McGonagall finished by stating that Ron Weasley would be assisting Madame Hooch with quidditch, about which there would be another announcement later. As she finished, Harry realized that with the exception of Tracey every one of the students mentioned were DA members and was once again impressed with McGonagall's machinations.

Next McGonagall stunned the assembled students by announcing that effective immediately Muggle Studies would be required for graduation, except for those students with at least one Muggle parent. (Or who were raised by muggles, Harry added in his head.) For this year, she explained, that meant that all first year, fourth year, and seventh year students would be taking the course if not exempt. By way of explanation the headmistress stated that wizarding society had become too ignorant of the culture that they shared the country with, and that it was time to rectify this. This announcement did not go over very well with the pureblooded students. Many of them saw no reason why they needed to learn about an inferior culture. Even Ron was griping about it, although Harry and Hermione had already persuaded him to take the class. McGonagall stood firm, her stern expression unchanging as she waited for the grumbling to die down.

Finally she was ready to take on the major issue. "For the last several years, the Sorting Hat has urged us to set aside our divisions and come together as a school. So far we have failed to do that and it has cost us dearly. The staff and I, with the help of the Mr. Potter and Miss Granger, have come up with several ideas to help bring this about."

"First, in order to make it easier to study with members of other houses, we have set up study lounges for each year. These are located here on the first floor just down the corridor from this hall. In addition, the Great Hall itself will remain open until curfew for larger groups to meet."

"We want to encourage study groups and clubs of all kinds and ask that any such groups be open to all houses. One group in particular that I would like to mention is a Defense study group organized by Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. Some of you are already aware of this group as it was first formed two years ago. Mr. Potter and Miss Granger have agreed to resume this group this year and …"

"All right!" McGonagall was interrupted by a loud voice from the Hufflepuff table, probably Ernie MacMillan. He was immediately followed by a whoop from Colin Creevey, and soon twenty students were cheering, while many others were smiling and the rest had looks of curiosity. McGonagall managed to keep a straight face and waited patiently until the cheering died down.

"Yes, then, it seems that this may turn out to be a popular club," she noted wryly. "I'm sure that Mr. Potter and Miss Granger will be providing more details at a later date; please watch your house boards for further information. I have a few other announcements regarding social events as well," she continued. "We will try to have at least a few Hogsmeade weekends again this year, but due to security concerns they will not be announced in advance. In lieu of them, we will occasionally have weekends where we will invite certain merchants to set up booths in the courtyard."

"Think we can get Fred and George in here once or twice?" Ron whispered to Harry with a grin on his face. Harry agreed that the prospect of the twins selling their merchandise on the Hogwarts grounds was quite entertaining.

"Our major social initiative," McGonagall was now saying, "will be all-school dances." This caught everyone's attention. Looking around, Harry was amused to see generally delighted looks on the faces of the girls and panicked expressions on the guys. "There will be four such dances," the headmistress explained. A Halloween costume dance, a Yule Ball immediately prior to Christmas break, a Valentine's day dance, and an end of year dance. Each will have its own theme."

"It is my understanding that for Halloween, muggles traditionally dress up in costumes, some of which are intended to imitate witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins and so forth. For our Halloween dance you are encouraged to come dressed as muggles – that is, in traditional muggle party attire. I am sure that our muggleborn students will be happy to give the rest of us advice on costume selection for this event. Further, in the spirit of encouraging interhouse friendships, we are asking you all to attend either as a single or with a partner from a different house." There was a lot of murmuring about this, followed by some nervous chuckling as the older students began to consider alternate dating options. "This dance will be open to students of all ages."

"The Yule Ball will be a formal dance requiring traditional dress robes. It will be much the same as the Yule Ball held here three years ago, which you older students will remember. This dance will be for students fourth year and higher."

"There will also be an unusual twist on the Valentine's Day dance. This dance will require partners but the girls are to ask the boys this time." This announcement evoked even more nervous laughter from the boys and a great deal of giggling from the girls.

"Finally, the end of year dance will be a traditional party open to all students. Informal party clothing will be the order of the day, and weather permitting we will have a variety of entertaining outdoor activities for you to participate in."

Throughout these announcements there had been a gradually increasing level of murmuring in the hall. Students realized that this would be a year unlike any in recent memory, and the more thoughtful ones understood that the Hogwarts administration was making a supreme effort to ensure not only their educational success, but also their physical as well as their emotional well-being.

McGonagall's last announcement brought the Great Hall to complete silence. For it was at this time that she announced that there would be changes made in the way quidditch would be contested this year at Hogwarts. Rather than the traditional four house teams, there would be an unlimited number of teams competing in a tournament for the Quidditch Cup. There would be a month of quidditch practices that would be open training sessions for anyone who wanted to play, after which teams would be formed and competition would begin. While the exact rules regarding the composition of the teams would be revealed later, it was expected that each team would contain members from multiple houses. During practice times pickup games would be encouraged, and formal practices with specific teams would be limited. The idea was to get as many players involved in the sport as possible, but still be competitive.

After a short period of stunned silence, a buzz arose which quickly grew into loud chatter as the students realized the implications of these changes and began discussing the possibilities. As the dinner broke up and the prefects began to lead the first years to their houses several Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw students began migrating over to the Gryffindor table to find out if Harry or Ron had any more details, and not incidentally what their thoughts were on who they might like to have on their teams. Ron and Harry both assured everyone that everything would be made clear on the first practice the following Saturday, and wished them all good luck.


Harry and Hermione were relaxing on the sofa in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room. The room was almost empty as most of the students were in their various dorms settling in and renewing acquaintances. The day seemed to have been a success but they were glad it was almost over.

"Harry?" Harry looked over to Hermione to see her looking slightly nervous. "Have you ever thought about what you're going to do next year?"

"You mean after Voldemort's gone? If we survive?"

"When we survive, Harry," Hermione chided. "Have you?"

"Not really," Harry admitted. "The only time I really thought about it was 5th year when we had those sessions with McGonnagall. Then I thought I wanted to be an Auror."

"And now?"

"Now I'm not sure. I think I might have had enough of fighting by then. I haven't really thought about any kind of future every since Dumbledore told me about the prophecy. What about you?"

"I'm not sure either. When you were talking about going into the Aurors I was thinking about doing that too." She noticed the surprised look on his face and punched him playfully in the arm. "Hey, someone's got to keep an eye on you. Wouldn't want you to do something stupid and get yourself killed," she smirked. He smiled back and she continued. "Other than that, I guess maybe go to an advanced school, and get a mastery in something."

"They have advanced schools?"

"Yes, you prat. How do you think people become masters?"

Harry shrugged at this, then looked at her shrewdly. "You weren't really talking about careers were you?"


"I guess I thought I'd get back together with Ginny, and see what happens."

"You don't know?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"Well, we only dated for a few weeks. How can I know how it will turn out? Maybe we're right for each other and maybe we're not …" Harry trailed off, not noticing the look on Hermione's face.

Hermione leaned toward him and took hold of his hand. "Whatever happens, I want to still be a part of your life."

Harry looked puzzled. "Oh. I never really thought of that."

Hermione's heart fell at these words and tears welled up in her eyes. Seeing this, Harry immediately realized what that had sounded like and grabbed her into a fierce hug.

"No, no Hermione, I didn't mean it like that. Of course you'll still be a part of my life. It never occurred to me that you wouldn't and so I never thought about whether you would be or not. That's what I meant. Jeez, I say stupid things sometimes. I'm so sorry."

Harry reached out and a tissue appeared in his hand. He clumsily tried to dry Hermione's tears, continuing his apologies all the while.

Hermione took his hand and pulled it back. Her eyes sparkled through the remaining tears, and a bright smile had returned to her face. Her heart returned to its correct location and was beating once more.

She touched his cheek tenderly and said, "It's OK, Harry. I don't know why I reacted like that. You're right of course. We'll always be a part of each other's lives." She paused. "I guess I was just thinking about what would happen if you weren't with Ginny."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, she understands our relationship and would be OK with it. What if you get another girlfriend who isn't so understanding?"

"Oh, you mean like Cho was."

Hermione nodded.

"Well, any girlfriend of mine who can't accept the fact that you're my best friend just won't be my girlfriend very long." Harry paused thoughtfully. "I kinda hope the same would be true of any boyfriend of yours?"

An even bigger smile grew on Hermione's face. "Of course it would be." She looked into his eyes. "I love you Harry Potter."

"I love you Hermione Granger."

A gasp interrupted them and they turned to see two second year girls who had overheard the last two sentences staring at them, their hands over their mouths, excitement in their eyes. They turned and ran for the stairs to the dorms.

"Well, I guess we're doing a good job of establishing our cover," Hermione commented wryly.

"Maybe we can do an even better job."

"What do you mean?" she asked, looking up at him. His head was moving toward hers. Her eyes grew wide and her lips parted automatically just before her eyes closed. He gently touched his lips to hers and a thrill shot through her. She kissed back lightly, her heart pounding now, but she refrained from anything deeper. After a few seconds he pulled away. Eventually she opened her eyes to see him grinning at her. "What?"

"I guess there was."

"Was what?"

"When we kissed this summer, you said there wouldn't necessarily be a second kiss. I guess there was."

They stood up and he took her hand, leading her to the stairs. "Come on. We need to check all the dorms and then get back to our rooms. I'll probably stay a while with the seventh year guys and visit."

"Uh, don't remind me," Hermione grimaced. "I'm sure I'm in for a long cross examination from Lavender and Parvati. I imagine those two second years just now have spread the word all through the girls dorms. Don't wait up for me, I'll just see you in the morning."

As they walked to the stairs to the dorms, Harry kept glancing at her expectantly. She knew what he wanted to ask but just smiled at him, making him say it. Finally he gave in. "So, was it as good as the first one?"

She just kept smiling back at him. "No, the first one was better."

His smile grew. "Well, we'll just have to see if we can do better on the third one won't we?" he teased.

"I guess so," she teased right back.

They finally reached the stairs. "Goodnight, Hermione."

"Goodnight, Harry." She started to turn to go up the stairs, but he gave her another quick kiss first. She smiled up at him one more time. "Hmm, better luck on the fourth one, then." She turned and ran up the stairs before he could respond.

As she hurried up the stairs she was aware of all the excited faces peering down from the different girl's dorms. She couldn't keep the smile off of her face. No, pretending to be Harry's girlfriend isn't going to be hard at all.