Harry stood silently against the cold, stone wall of the Great Hall. The graduation party for all the Seventh Years and their dates was in full swing, and despite the lively atmosphere Harry was not in the mood to celebrate. The past year had taken a huge emotional toll on him, and it felt like the weariness of it all had finally caught up with him. Looking out on the floor he once again spotted Ron and Hermione in each other's arms on the dance floor. In spite of his convictions, he was beginning to lose control. Each second he found himself on edge waiting to look up and see Ron on bended knee in front of Hermione. He was being driven crazy with emotion.
'Can no one hear what my heart seems to shout?' he thought bitterly looking away. For once he was thankful that he would be staying at Hogwarts, and Hermione and Ron would be leaving for London tomorrow. He would miss them terribly, especially Hermione, but they would stay connected through letters and such. He needed to be alone. At least for a little while until he could build his resolve back up.
Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by a dreamy voice to his left, "Hello Harry Potter."
Looking over to his left he was surprised to find Luna Lovegood standing beside him. Despite her participation in their Fifth Year DA as well as The Department of Mystery, Harry had not seen her too much over the past two years. "Hello Luna. What are you doing here?" asked Harry. He winced at the bluntness of his question, but truly he was surprised she was there.
"Well, a Seventh Year Ravenclaw invited me, but I found out once I got here that it was meant as a joke. I thought I'd leave but Professor McGonagall was nice enough to let me stay and enjoy the party," she replied quite cheerily not seeming insulted at all..
Pity immediately coursed through him as he looked at her. "I'm sorry that happened to you. You didn't deserve that," he replied sincerely. He paused for a few moments waiting for her to comment; however, when she just stared blankly at him he attempted to carry on the conversation. "I didn't see you much this year. I'm sorry about that," he said, not so sure he meant it but saying it anyway.
"No need to apologize Harry. You were awfully distracted this year," she replied simply.
At her comment Harry's gaze flickered towards Hermione and Ron, who were now talking with another couple near the punch bowl. Remembering the struggles of the past year with Hermione, he responded while still gazing away, "Yes, I was rather preoccupied this year."
"Yes, NEWTS must have been terribly time consuming," commented Luna.
Harry quickly looked back at Luna realizing his mind had been elsewhere. Responding quickly, "NEWTS, of course. NEWTS were very overwhelming." He mentally kicked himself, telling himself to focus.
They stood there for several more minutes without saying anything. Harry looked around nervously feeling more awkward by the minute. Luna however, didn't seem bothered by the silence. Resolving to say goodbye and walk away, Harry began to slide away from her when she finally spoke again. "It's a shame you know, both of us here alone…dateless," she said seeming to eye Harry.
Harry backed away nearly horrified and said before he could help it, "Are you hitting on me?"
She looked at him as if he was crazy for thinking it. "God no Harry," she exclaimed. Harry tried not to be offended but couldn't help it. "You're a nice guy and all, but you don't need another female to complicate your life," she continued.
He laughed awkwardly, "I've been dateless all year, no need to worry about that."
"I was talking about Hermione," said Luna.
Harry's breath caught in his throat. As calmly as he could, he answered, "I'm not involved with Hermione."
At this comment Luna didn't answer, but gave him rather a knowing smile, which made him uncomfortable, and merely walked off. He sighed in relief as she walked away; however, he couldn't shake her last comment. Slowly he turned around, and across the crowded room he found the owner of a pair of chocolate brown eyes silently watching him.
Frozen in place he watched as she left Ron's side and slowly made her way across the room towards him. Smiling at him, she extended her hand, "Would you care to dance?" Harry knew he should decline. Being that close to her would push him over the edge. However, before he could take control of himself, he felt his hand slid into hers, and he was led onto the dance floor.
After dancing in silence for a few moments Hermione broke the quiet. "You walked off after the ceremony, but I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you. You're going to make an excellent teacher. You were always great in the DA," she said warmly.
Harry fought with himself to not retort to exactly why he had walked off, and he instead tried to continue the conversation peacefully, "Thank you. Though I'm rather nervous since McGonagall told me I'm only the second…"
"…student in school history to be asked to teach straight out of school," finished Hermione.
He looked at her quizzically before replying, "I guess you aren't Head Girl for nothing. You do seem to know everything."
"Not everything," she replied softly. She paused before continuing, "I didn't know seven years ago that I'd fall for both of my best friends."
Harry stiffened at her words. He couldn't take this right now. "Well you obviously knew which one you truly wanted," he said eyeing Ron over Hermione's shoulder.
"No, I just knew only one of them wanted me," she said pulling his gaze back to hers.
Lost in her eyes he spoke before he could help himself, "Hermione, I always wan…"
However, Ron coming up from behind him interrupted. "Hey guys," he said cheerily.
Neither said anything, and Harry felt his heart fall as he felt Hermione's arms drop from his shoulders. "I was wondering Hermione if you would take a quick walk with me around the lake," asked Ron.
Harry instantly froze, the time he'd been dreading had come. Hermione quietly assented and putting her arm through Ron's stood next to him.
Turning to leave Ron said, "We'll see you later Harry." Harry felt like he'd been stabbed in the heart when Ron gave him a discreet wink. Painfully he watched them leave the Great Hall. Mentally, he willed them to come back, begging for a delay. Hope surge through him when he saw them pause at the door. Hermione slowly turned around looked at him, awareness in her eyes. She was waiting for something. For five second his mind and heart waged a violent war. He wanted to say something, anything, but he found he couldn't. He tried to force his body to run after her, but found himself immobile. All he could do was watch. His heart burst when he saw her turn back towards the doors and exit with Ron.
As she left his view, his body suddenly became unfrozen, and he found himself shaking. He knew by the burning in his eyes that he was fighting back tears. Needing to be alone, he ran all the way to his room.
Arriving to his common room, he slammed the portrait shut. Walking over to his desk, he smashed both his fists into the hard wood. Pain shot up his arm, but it was nothing compared to the pain in his heart. He crouched over the desk, leaning heavily into it.
'You knew this was coming Harry,' an inner voice told him. 'You had so many opportunities to stop this, but you let it happen. Now face the reality."
He shook his head not wanting to think about it. Quietly he whispered, "I thought I was strong enough. I can beat freaking Voldemort, but I can't beat myself. Why does doing the right thing have to hurt so much?" The agony was apparent in his voice. Stumbling over to the fireplace, he leaned against the mantle.
He didn't know how long he stood there, before he heard the creaking of the portrait door. Turning around, his heart stopped when he saw it was Hermione. She seemed startled to see him, and her face was heavily flushed. "I'm sorry I didn't realize you'd be here. I thought you'd still be at the party," she said hurriedly.
"No," said Harry, "I had some thinking I needed to do."
"Yeah," she replied softly. "Me to."
Although since he saw her he tried to keep himself from looking, he felt his gaze fall to her left hand. His eyes widened when he saw nothing there. An immense feeling of relief overcame him. He started towards her when a glint of something caught his eye. Suddenly he found himself staring at a simple ring with a small diamond on Hermione's right hand ring finger.
Looking into Hermione's eyes he could tell from their frightened look that she knew he had seen the ring. Although he knew perfectly what it was, he couldn't keep himself from asking, "Hermione, what's that on your finger." He tried to keep his voice calm and collected.
"It's from Ron," she said simply not quite meeting his gaze.
"It's on the right hand. What is it a friendship ring then?" he asked rather sarcastically because both knew different. He didn't know why he was acting this way. He'd been able to control himself when they'd been dating. Why couldn't he now, even when he had been expecting it. 'Because when she's married I really don't have another chance,' he thought.
"Just stop it Harry," retorted Hermione stiffly. "You're not stupid. Ron asked me to marry him."
"Why isn't the ring on the left hand then?" he asked failing to come under control.
"Because I told him I had to think about it," she replied her voice rising with his.
Harry's heart lifted at these words, but his mind was on a path of destruction, and before he could help it he said, "Think about it! Don't pretend you didn't know this was coming. You've had weeks to think about it. Heck even if Ron hadn't told me, I'd have been an idiot not to see it."
Suddenly Harry saw Hermione's eyes widen and she spoke with a shaky voice, "You knew?"
Harry realized he shouldn't have said anything, but it was too late so he meekly replied, "Yes, Ron told me three weeks ago."
Her eyes blazed, "And you didn't say or do anything!"
At her tone Harry began to get offensive again. "What kind of person would I be if I told a girl her bloke was fixing to propose?"
Hermione gave Harry a meaningful look, "That's not what I meant by that question Harry. You knew he was going to ask me, and you just stood by. You didn't even try to fight for me."
Her statement shocked Harry. "For your information. Five minutes before Ron told me he was going to marry me, you were telling me you didn't even want to be friends. You wanted nothing to do with me. What the heck did I have to fight for?"
Her face flushed with anger, "You knew I wanted you Harry. I made it pretty clear Christmas Eve. I was yours for the taking, and you backed away. So I followed your lead and backed away too. That's all we've done is backed away from each other, ever since that bloody kiss on the train last year." She paused and took a few tentative steps towards him. "The reason I didn't answer Ron's question tonight wasbecause I didn't want to say yes without knowing if you and I even had a chance. So here it is Harry, our chance. I'm done backing away. Are you?"
Her gaze softened at her final words. Looking into her eyes, he wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and tell her that he loved her. However, when his gaze flickered to her ring, a ring given by his best friend, he found he still couldn't let go. Looking down at the floor he answered, "It's not that simple."
Still looking down, he felt a soft hand graze his cheek and pull his gaze up. Looking into his eyes she responded, "You're the one making it difficult."
Pulling away, he glared pointedly at her ring and said, "I beg to differ on that point."
Taking a step back, he created a cold distance between them. Hermione looked at him with pain in her eyes, which echoed in her voice, "So that's it? You're not even going to try for us." Still gazing at him her voice took on an edge, "Fine then, but I would like to know… What happened to my friend Harry? The one who did spontaneous, passionate things because he thought what he was doing was right. To the Harry who thought as long as he kept on fighting everything would turn out alright."
Harry turned toward her pain flashing in his eyes, "He realized people got hurt when he did that. Sirius, Ron, Dumbledore,…you. He realized afterwards it wasn't worth the pain."
Hermione took a few hesitant steps towards him. She tentatively grabbed one of his hands; the warmth of the touch spread throughout his entire body. Looking at him in the eye she replied, "You've spent the last seven years saving others, but trust me, one day you are going to wake up and realize you need someone to save you."
Suddenly she let go of his hand, turned away from him, and began to walk towards the door. For some reason with every step she took away from him his anger dissolved and was replaced by a hollow feeling. Unable to help himself he called out to her, "Where are you going?"
She turned around at the door and smiled sadly at him. "To find Ron. I think he deserves an answer," she said simply. Without further ado she left.
Harry slumped. After the conversation they just had, he knew what her answer would be. What was worse was that he wasn't going after her. He knew what he wanted, but he just couldn't go after it. 'Hermione was right,' thought Harry, 'what had happened to me?' Walking into his bedroom he shut the door and proceeded to the nightstand where his photo album lay. He opened it to the last page, and looked wistfully at the last picture of him and Hermione. Sighing he whispered into the night, "I fell in love, and now I know what it truly means to sacrifice."
Closing the book, he turned off the light, collapsed onto the bed, and dreamt of a world where he and Hermione could be together, all the while knowing that the world didn't exist.
Harry woke up rather groggily the next morning. Judging by the amount of light entering the room, he realized that he had slept pretty late. Sitting up on the edge of his bed in yesterday's clothes, he straightened his glasses and looked at his watch. He gasped when it read 10:50. He was supposed to see Ron and Hermione off on the train at 11:00. Not bothering to change into fresh clothes, he hurriedly opened the door to his room and ran out nearly slipping on a piece of paper in front of his door.
The castle was nearly vacant, except for the random student hurriedly carrying a hastily packed suitcase down the stairs to the train station. When he arrived at the station, the platform was nearly vacant to, except for the random student waiting to board with a friend. Looking hastily for a tall red head, he was surprised to find only Hermione waiting with her trunk at the other end of the platform. He silently watched her as she appeared to be anxiously looking around with her hands in her pockets. He didn't approach her right away, knowing that it would be a long time before he would see her again he simply watched her, taking in the view. As he watched her, she suddenly saw him, and her entire face was radiant. He was slightly taken aback because of the harsh words from last night, but he decided that for seven years of friendship despite the last year of conflict they could part amicably. One thing he knew for sure was that he would not even glance at her hands.
Silently walking towards her, he noticed that her eyes seemed expectant. When he finally reached her, she didn't say anything, like she was waiting for something from him. Not sure what to say he asked, "Where's Ron?"
She seemed surprised by his words, but she replied, "He's already on the train."
Seeing that she wasn't going to add anything to the comment he continued, "Well I guess you better be boarding too. It's getting late. Be sure to tell Ron I said goodbye."
At his words he saw Hermione's eyes drop and begin to tear. He could tell she was trying to keep it under control. The sadness in her eyes brought pain to his eyes. He couldn't believe he was actually telling her to leave. Gaining some resolve he heard her say, "Yeah, I better get going." She paused before continuing, "I'm going to miss you Harry."
Looking to her eyes he replied, "I'm going to miss you too Hermione. More than you'll know."
"Oh I think I do know," she replied sadly. "Goodbye Harry."
She turned to leave, but he couldn't help himself from calling out, "Why goodbye and not good luck?"
She turned and took a step back toward him with a slight smile on her face, "Didn't I say that to you the night the final battle started?"
"Yeah," he smiled remembering, "You kissed me on the cheek and said you would see me later. Even knowing I was going to face Voldemort I couldn't help but believe you."
She smiled sadly, "Well then, for old time sakes. Good luck Harry Potter." She then took a confident step towards him, and he knew she was going to kiss him on the cheek. As her face drew nearer to his flashes from last years train ride flashed in his head. He saw himself accidentally turn into the kiss. Like it was yesterday he felt the warmth of her lips and the sensation as she'd deepened the kiss. It had been a whole year sense that moment, and all he wanted was for one moment to feel her lips on his again. A true finish and goodbye. Slowly he felt himself turn his head towards hers. He saw her lips in slow motion inch towards his mouth. He waited in anticipation closing his eyes, but the moment didn't come. Opening his eyes he saw Hermione's face a centimeter from his. She was smiling sadly, and as he looked into her eyes he saw their first and last kiss playing in front of her eyes too. Still close to his face she whispered, "Not this time." There were tears in her eyes. Backing away from him she grabbed her luggage as the trains whistle sounded. "I'll see you later Harry," she called her voice slightly cracking. He watched her get on the train and vanish down the corridor. 'I'll see you later Harry,' crushed his heart, because, this time he didn't believe her.
Arriving back to his room, he let the tears flow. He never imagined how hard it would be to truly let her go. Nothing would ever be the same. All he could think of was Hermione with Ron. Walking into his room, he once again noticed the piece of paper he slipped on coming out of his room earlier that day. Hastily he picked it up, realizing that it was an envelope. His breath caught when he saw his name written in Hermione's handwriting. With a shaking hand he opened it and pulled out two items. Carefully he unfolded the first and read it:
I wanted to tell you this in person but when I came back from talking with Ron you had already gone to bed, so it looks like this letter is my only option. First, I wanted you to know that I gave Ron his ring back. Whether or not you were willing to give us a chance, I knew that I could never be with him because I couldn't love him, not when my heart was with you. It has always been with you Harry and always will be. For once in your life forget about being noble and go after what you want.
Now you see, here is wherewe have a problem. I know what I want, and that is you. But you see, I don't know what you want. If what you want is to live your life as the sacrificing hero, then go ahead I know I can't stop you. However, if you want me… my heart has always been here for you to take.
Something I didn't tell you was that the reason I knew you were the second student in Hogwarts history to get offered a teaching job was because I was the first. McGonagall offered me the Transfiguration job, so she could be a full time Headmistress.
I want to stay at Hogwarts Harry. To teach and more importantly to be with you. Now, all I want to know is if that is what you want too. Do you want me to stay?
Tomorrow morning I will be waiting for you with my trunks on the station platform. Please meet me there. Please ask me to stay.
P.S. I left you something for your album.
With a shaking hand, Harry pulled out the second thing in the envelope. A single tear rolled down his cheek when he saw a picture of him and Hermione at the Yule Ball. They were dancing, their eyes penetrating each other's. He watched them slowly turning around the floor like there was no where else they would rather be. Subconsciously, he turned over the picture, and he was surprised to find a small note written in Hermione's hand on the back.
"In case you were still wondering, this is what I saw in the mirror."
In a flash Harry saw his own vision in the mirror, the midnight broom ride, the hospital wing, the photo album… Everything led him to this moment. Quietly, as he turned to look at the picture again, he whispered, "All I want is you." Throwing down the letter and the picture, he knew what he had to do, for Hermione and for himself. Bursting into his room he grabbed his Firebolt. Sprinting out of his room, he ran out onto the balcony and leaped over its ledge. Plunging down, he threw his broom under him and accelerated forward. When he found the train track, he began to follow the thought of Hermione willing him forward.
His heart leapt as the train came into his sight. Pushing forward, he flew along one side of the train and began screaming, "Hermione! Hermione!" He attracted plenty of attention, but he had yet to find Hermione.
Suddenly from behind him he heard an annoyed voice, "Harry, what the heck do you think you're doing?" Turing his head around, his heart rejoiced when he saw Hermione sticking her head out the last compartment window.
Slowing down to meet her at the window Harry began to shout over the rushing wind, "I didn't know you were waiting for me. I just found the note."
Hermione's face dropped at this, "It's too late Harry."
Harry wasn't about to give up, not this time. "Not for us Hermione. I know I've kept pushing us away. I know I've hurt you, but we're meant to be together. I know this now."
Barely holding back tears she responded, "If it was meant to be it wouldn't be this hard."
Smiling slightly Harry relied, "Anything worth having is worth fighting for Hermione. Look at me I'm riding a broomstick next to a speeding train. How much more spontaneous and passionate do you want me to get?" He saw her crack a smile at this. "I want you Hermione. I'm asking you to stay… with me."
The tension of the moment was coursing between them. Harry stared intently at her, waiting for her to answer. Looking up at him she asked, "Why should I stay?"
Harry smiled, before easing up on his broomstick. He heard Hermione scream, "Harry!" but by that time he had already flown to the back of the train and boarded. When he entered the last compartment he tried not to chuckle when he saw her still with her head out the window looking every which way.
"Stay," he said causing her head to whiz back into the compartment, "because I'm in love with you." Upon saying the words to her, he felt his heart lighten. He'd finally put himself out there.
He saw her eyes brim with tears. "No," she whispered. Harry was shocked. What was she saying? However, his heart eased when she smiled slightly and rushed toward him. "I'll stay because I'm in love with you."
Upon hearing those words Harry grabbed her around the waist, and pulled her close for a searing kiss. He felt her wrap her arms around his neck and deepen the kiss. After what seemed like an eternity they pulled apart both with smiles on their faces.
"I've been waiting a year to do that," said Harry happily.
Hermione laughed, "I've been waiting a year for you to do that too." She then proceeded to pull him into another kiss. A kiss that held the promise of eternity.
And so it is finished. A big thank you to all of my readers and reviewers. You have all made my first writing experience an enjoyable one. Give me a shout if you enjoyed the story. If you didn't. Well, I guess you can keep that to yourself for the sake of a first time writers self-esteem. Thank you all for the support.