By Tiger

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter in any way, it belongs to JKR and the publishers.

SUMMARY: He tries to leave Godric's Hollow to save them, but she won't let him. Set three months after HBP. Harry looks into his changing relationship with Hermione.

Harry always watched her through the crack of her door when she slept. He noticed how peaceful she seemed at this time of night. In her face, he saw that the once innocent features of a child were slowly melting away to reveal the breathtaking beauty of a young woman. As he stared and wondered, he wished he never had to leave her, not like this, not without a good bye a thousand times better than leaving a note on the dining room table. But he couldn't wish for more than that. He was afraid that if he saw the tears in her eyes, he would never be able to leave, or worse, she would come with him.

He couldn't let her do that, not even after she stood by his side at the Department of Mysteries, especially after that. He didn't think he could go through that fear and pain once again. He couldn't defeat Voldemort without knowing that she was alive somewhere. She would be quite angry at him for leaving her behind, he knew, but Hermione angry at him was much better than Hermione unconscious in his arms, or dead in his arms. He sighed at the doorway and blew her a silent kiss; he did every night, as a sort of apology to her for watching her. He couldn't leave, not yet.

As he walked back to his parent's room, Harry contemplated the events of the past two months. Leaving the Dursley's had been pleasant. Leaving the Dursley's of age to perfom magic with Hermione and Ron next to him was even better. Forcing Peter Pettigrew to reveal the whereabouts of Godric's Hollow after negating the secret-keeper spell (of course, it was Hermione who figured that out) had left him with a bitter feeling of satisfaction. Spending the next two weeks cleaning up the mess that was his baby home left him little time to think of anything other than horcruxes, Hermione and Ron accompanying him, and his parents.

He had thought of nothing of Ginny until Ron explained to him that Ginny was sorry for not coming with them, but she was too shocked from the funeral. Ron shrugged after he explained that Ginny said that she would wait for him to come home. It was only later on that Harry realized that Hermione had pursed her lips and glared at the book she was reading at the mention of Ginny. He wondered about that, but let it go only because he felt a flash of irrational anger towards Ginny. It was true, he had broken up with her for her own safety, but he had expected something a bit more caring than an apologetic message saying that she couldn't come. He had glanced at Hermione and he was filled with relief at the time to know that there was someone who would fight to come with him because they cared. It only made him angrier at Ginny.

The library became silent as Ron sat and stared out the window, Harry paced, and Hermione watched Harry swim inside his own thoughts. After a few months of being in a relationship with Ginny, Harry couldn't help but wonder why it was Hermione who had her hand squeezing his arm to calm him down, and why it was Hermione, who fought and argued with him to come and join his lonely quest. As he had calmed down and looked into Hermione's beautiful worried eyes, he couldn't help but wonder why he wanted Hermione safe more than he wanted Ginny.

Harry tucked himself into bed. Despite the usual fogginess in his vision that accompanied not wearing his glasses, he could clearly see the picture of his parents sitting on his nightstand. Looking at his mother, he couldn't fathom how anyone thought Ginny and his mother were alike. Yes, they both had the red hair and were quite beautiful, but his mother had a warmth in her smile that Ginny lacked. Not surprisingly, he found himself comparing his mother's smile to Hermione's. He supposed to that he had to be in love with his bushy-haired best friend if he really was making comparisons. His heart sped up a little with the thought of loving Hermione, and painfully constricted in his chest when he realized that he would never truly be able to express his love for her, not until the threat of the Death Eaters were over. He fell into an uneasy sleep, full of dreams where he would have Hermione only for a little while before being forced to watch her die.

It was the same routine, night after night, for a week and a half. He would wait until Hermione fell asleep, and then watched her as she slept. In the day time, he acted no differently towards her, other than to comment here and there, and show his appreciation for her years of friendship and loyalty, knowing that he would have no other chance to do so. One night, he couldn't take it anymore. He couldn't just sit there in front of her, helping her research, and be able to pretend that he cared for her as something more than a friend and brother. Most of all, he couldn't stand at the doorway and watch Ron try and flirt with Hermione.

Quickly and silently, he took one last look at his parent's room, shaking himself out of his own memories. The room was almost exactly as it looked like in his parent's photo album. His eyes caught onto a photograph of Hermione and himself on his night table. Without thinking, he grabbed the moving picture and stuffed it into his bag. He shrank the now full bag of supplies and left.

Harry silently crept down the hall of the upstairs floor. His heart quenched as he passed Hermione's room. It pained him to leave her behind, but it had to be done. He didn't mind leaving Ron so much, he figured that Ron would be happier leading the students at Hogwarts anyways. But Hermione…how could he leave her? His best friend, his Jiminy Cricket? At that thought, he nearly turned around to run up the stairs, pound down her door and demand that she go with him.

He couldn't do it. Harry couldn't bring himself to uproot Hermione from even her research of Horcruxes. He wanted Hermione to have some semblance of a normal life, even if that meant lonely hours of researching, so be it. She oculd be happy and alive at the end of it all, even if he wasn't. He didn't really like the thought of Hermione happy without him (with Ron, he supposed) made him see a short flash of green. He had to remind himself that he was the one forcing the choice onto her. Turning the doorknob to the front door in his hand, he let out a sad sigh and opened the door.

"Going somewhere, Harry?" A soft voice behind him made him jump. He whipped around, his wand at the ready only to find a fully dressed Hermione, staring at him with a raised eyebrow and crossed arms.

"What are you doing up?" Harry hissed, trying to calm his heart, which had turned into that of a hummingbird's.

"I should ask you the same thing," Hermione wryly replied. She walked up towards him and began to straighten him out. "But I know the answer already. You might be able to fool Ron, but you can't fool me." She looked at him pointedly.

He suffled his feet as she tried to pat his hair down. "Then you see why I have to go alone."

"No, I don't, Harry!" Hermione exclaimed with a glare. "You have friends who want to help you, why don't you let them?" Though her face was angry, her eyes were pleading. That did it for him. It was always her eyes.

"Because I can't lose you!" he exploded, pushing her away. "I need you, and I need you alive!" He turned to run, to get away from her. He couldn't say no much longer.

"I'll always be alive, Harry, as long as I know you are!" She yanked him away from the door, causing him to stumble and grab onto the wall for support.

"Do you really think I'll always be there to protect you? I can't always save you, Hermione, you should have learned that in fifth year!" He moved to run away from Hermione, from the thought of leaving her. But he couldn't push her away, couldn't even use a full body bind to make her stay and be safe. Her arms were wrapped tightly around him with a surprising strength.

"Let me go, Hermione!" he cried, trying to twist himself out of her embrace. In response she only clung to him tighter and buried her head into his chest to hide her tears.

"Hermione!" he tried again.

"I'm not Ginny, Harry," she cried softly, looking up at him. Harry thought he never saw eyes more beautiful than hers in that moment. Her eyes and tears held genuine concern for him, for just Harry.

"I'll never let you go, no matter what sane reason you give me," she whispered, her face inches away form his own. "I'm certainly not about to let you go now. I'm not going with you so you can protect me, I'm going because I need to help you."

Harry didn't hear anything after her first two sentences. His mind already came up with at least ten different images of Hermione dying if she came with him.

"I can't always save you," he repeated himself, hiding his face in her hair. "I can't lose you again." He cried bitter tears, remembering how she fell at the Ministry, and how it shattered him.

"You never lost me to begin with," she pulled him away from her to look at him. "Please, let me go with you?" Hermione held both of his hands in her own.

"Yes." The words were out of his mouth before he oculd stop them. He felt the dread inside his heart ebb away as he was rewarded with one of her brightest smiles. He almost forgave himself for agreeing to let her come with him. Almost. He had to admit though, he had been wondering how he was going tog o alone without her knowledge or unwavering support.

"Oh, Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, half laughing, half crying, and threw her arms around him, squeezing his breath out and nearly knocking him over.

"Can't—kill—Voldemort—if—I—can't—BREATHE!" The last word came out louder than he intended when Hermione let him go.

"Oh! I-I'm so sorry, Harry!" she stammered, looking away and hoping that he wouldn't notice the blush on her cheeks. She needn't have worried, Harry was still quite focused on the fierceness of her hug.

"Don't," he rasped, cupping her face in his hand, his thumb stroking her cheek. "Don't ever apologize because you show you care. It's what makes you different from the other girls—especially Ginny."

"I've always loved 'just Harry'," Hermione replied, the corner of her mouth quirking up.

Harry smiled and used his other hand to intertwine his fingers with hers. He marveled for a moment at how right it felt to be holding her hand like this before replying.

"And I've always loved 'just Hermione', only I didn't know it until very recently."

"Really, Harry?" she asked him with a shy smile. He took her breath away when he kissed her.

"Really," he replied, and rested his forehead on top of hers.

"Let's go," she whispered. "The sooner we get this over with, the better." She shrank the trunk that had been sitting next to the coffee table.

"What about Ron?" Harry asked. Now that his part with Hermione was settled, he couldn't easily forget his other friend anymore.

"What about Ron?"

"Well, wouldn't he go a bit mad knowing that we left on some grand adventure without him?" Harry was quite happy to have Hermione all to himself, but he didn't think he could go through another one of Ron's cold spells again.

"Oh, he already knows," Hermione answered. "He's not happy about it, but he thinks that he'll be more useful being our contact at Hogwarts. Dumbledore's portrait is there you know."

"True," Harry admitted, somewhat relieved. He wasn't sure if he wanted Ron to come anyways, seeing how he handled himself at the Ministry. Hermione at least knew how to duel. Still, it was strange to realize that the three of them would not start out together this time.

"It's better this way, Harry," Hermione assured him. "He hasn't quite grown-up enough to leave school yet."

"What about you?" Harry looked at her with eyes full of worry. "You've wanted to be Head Girl since your first year."

She smiled, and he was reminded of her in their first year, right before she drank Snape's potion. "There are more important things to life than books and cleverness. Things like—"

"Friendship and bravery." He finished for her with a smile.

"Well—yes, but only if you put love in there too." She took his hand and they walked outside onto the road together. "I'll follow you wherever you go, whether you want me to or not."

"I don't suppose I can convince you otherwise?" She raised her eyebrow. "Well, you can't blame a bloke for trying to keep his girl safe."

"I can't" Hermione said, and they walked away from Godric's Hollow in silence, holding hands, leaving the past behind.