Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling does. I'm just borrowing it for my and your mutual entertainment.
A/N: This is set after HBP, and assumes that the trio returned to Hogwarts for their 7th year.
Sighing, she turned over in her bed for about the fiftieth time. Try as she might, she couldn't force herself to sleep. Her mind was abuzz, so much so that she could practically hear her thoughts zooming back and forth, feel them bouncing off the inside of her skull. Frustrated, she finally threw back the covers and sat up. Perhaps some air would help. Finding her slippers, she padded across the room to her closet and tugged on a robe. It was mostly for proprieties sake; it really wouldn't do much to keep her warm, just cover her in the unlikely event that Harry was up.
Harry. She shook her head as she silently opened the door that lead to the balcony shared by the Head's suites. Good, old, reliable Harry. She wished she could talk to him. He was always so sensible about things, could always be counted on to comfort her when she needed it, to listen to her, to give her advice. Granted, not all of the advice was worth something but she appreciated the effort. Not like Ron. Oh, to be sure, Ron was a great friend, but he just wasn't capable of understanding the way Harry did. She supposed that all of Harry's experiences, good and bad, gave him a better understanding of how emotions affected people. She really did wish she could talk to him. Under normal circumstances she wouldn't have hesitated to walk over and knock on his door, sit down on the couch they shared in their common room, and have a chat. But she couldn't this time.
Because Harry was what she was thinking about.
Sighing, she leaned against the stone balustrade and gazed out over the Hogwarts grounds. They had a wonderful view, looking out over the lake. There was a full moon tonight, and its light sent silver highlights sparkling off the lake waters. It was beautiful. Some small part of her mind wondered how Professor Lupin was doing tonight, and if he had taken his Wolfsbane potion like he was supposed to. She remembered her third year, meeting Sirius Black, tracking him to the Shrieking Shack after he had dragged Ron there; finding out his rat Scabbers was actually Peter Pettigrew. Emerging from the tunnel under the Whomping Willow after discovering Black's innocence. Lupin transforming, running away into the forest, using the Time Turner, saving Buckbeak, watching Harry fighting off a hundred dementors, saving Sirius.
Sighing, she briefly glanced over at the door that led from the balcony to his bedroom. If only she could talk to someone...wait! She remembered reading about a spell that she had discovered while doing research on Pensieves for Professor Flitwick. It used a person's own memories to create a kind of image of a person, with their personality, that a person could talk to. Hurrying back inside, she grabbed her wand and then darted back to the balcony. Concentrating on her memories of Harry, she placed the tip to her temple, and then slowly drew it back. Silvery stands followed, then congealed around the tip of her wand in a slightly glowing ball. Flicking her wand, she cast the silvery substance into the air and whispered, "Phasmatis Anima." The silvery blob, which had been drifting slowly, suddenly darkened, expanded, and morphed into the form of Harry, right down to his glasses, dressed in the bathrobe she had seen him exiting the bathroom from that night. As she watched, it settled somewhat and became more solid. The not-Harry blinked, looked around, and then turned to her.
"Hey Hermione. What's up?"
She smiled without really realizing she was. It certainly sounded like him. "Hey Harry. Glad you could join me."
Inside his own bedroom, the real Harry awoke. He didn't know why, but something had caused him to wake. Rubbing his eyes and sitting up, he fumbled around his bedside table for his glasses, and put them on. Glancing around, he thought he saw a soft silvery glow coming from the balcony. Grabbing the robe that was lying by his bed, he slipped on his trainers, slid his wand into a pocket, and moved towards the door.
"Anything for you, Hermione. You know that." The phantasm gestured vaguely off towards the lake. "Lovely night. Do you do this often? Sneak out here without telling me?"
She nodded. "Oh yes, every night."
Not-Harry looked offended. "I'm hurt. I thought we shared everything."
Turning away from the spectral Harry, she stared out at the lake. "Not everything."
Real Harry peeked through the door and was startled by what he saw. There he was, standing about three feet from his door, dressed in the same robe. And further away, leaning against the stone balcony, was Hermione, looking out over the lake. Harry suddenly found his mouth dry.
She was wearing a blue silk robe, tied at the waist. There must have been a breeze, because her hair was moving gently behind her, exposing her neck. The moonlight shot reflected silver highlights from her robe, and illuminated her face in profile in a manner he found exquisite. The same breeze that was moving her hair had brushed the robe back from her legs, revealing a set of pajama pants that, while still covering everything, managed to give a mouth-drying outline of her legs and rear end . Tugged back by the wind, the robe was drawn taut against her chest, tantalizingly outlining her pert breasts. She was, in a word, gorgeous. It wasn't like he'd not appreciated how she looked. Hermione had always been pretty. But viewed like this, it was like she had assumed some otherworldly grace and appeal. She appeared to be saying something. As quietly as he could, he eased the door open. He heard himself speak.
"Is there something you want to tell me?"
She snorted softly. "Of course there is. You wouldn't be here if there wasn't."
Silence for a few seconds. Then, softly, Not-Harry said, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
Sill she looked out at the lake. Real Harry felt slightly uneasy, as if he was intruding upon a private moment. But, he reckoned that she had conjured up the spectral version of him out of some misguided attempt to not wake him, so substituting himself for the other version wouldn't really be wrong. Still moving quietly, he slipped out into the balcony and moved up behind his ghost. He reached forward, touched the specter with his wand, and thought as hard as he could, Finite Incantatum. The ghost disappeared and he quickly moved forward, assuming its place.
He heard her sigh. "It's just...difficult."
He nodded, even though she wasn't looking at him. "Take your time."
Still she said nothing. Perhaps he'd have to break the ice himself. "Is it about Ron?"
She snorted. "I wish it was. It would make things so much easier. No, this...this is about someone else. You, actually."
Harry felt surprise arcing through him. Me? Oh no... "Me? Did I do something? Whatever it was, I'm sorry...I probably didn't mean it."
She looked back at him, finally, an amused look on her face. "That's my Harry. Always trying to make me feel better." That's odd. He looks a lot more solid than before. Almost real. "No, believe me, it's not about anything that you may have done that inadvertently hurt me."
Despite his trepidation, he could feel his curiosity emerging. "Then what is it?"
Silence again. "You don't know how wonderful you are, do you?"
He tried, but failed, to keep some of the amusement out of his own voice. "Apparently not. Although I'm sure you're about to tell me."
"Cheeky bugger. Yes, I am. You're an amazing friend, Harry. You've always looked out for me, all the way back to first year. The troll first year. Stopping the dementors from getting my third year. Fourth year, helping Ron and I make up after our fights. Not laughing at me like everyone else about S.P.E.W. and worrying about me after the battle fifth year. Last year, trying to stop me from making a fool out of myself with McClaggen, trying to comfort me after Ron hurt me, for still trusting me and being nice to me after I was horrible to you all year. And this summer, helping me train, protecting me from Death Eaters and dementors and everything Voldemort threw at us while we were looking for the Horcruxes. Taking care of me after my 'relationship' with Ron imploded. You've always been there for me, always been so nice to me."
Harry was surprised to see tears sparkling in her eyes. "Not always, Hermione. I didn't listen to you fifth year when you tried to stop me from going to the Ministry. I sided with Ron third year when he thought Crookshanks had eaten Scabbers."
She wrung her hands. "Oh, but Harry, you see, you didn't let those things impact our friendship. You forgave me. You still let me be your friend. And...I...I...I care about you. I care for you. So much...when you fell off your broom third year I almost died, I was so scared, and fourth year, you fighting the dragon, I almost couldn't watch, I was terrified you were going to get hurt, and fifth year you were so depressed at the start, I was afraid you were going to be expelled and I'd never see you again, and all of that horrible stuff with Umbridge. And I've been so proud of you too. Don't you see, Harry...I..." she trailed off.
"Hermione? What is it?" he took a step forward. She looked so lost, so forlorn, that he wanted to take her in his arms and hold her, comfort her, but he realized that a phantom would hardly be able to do such things.
She looked out over the lake, then down at the ground, and said, in such a quiet voice that he almost didn't hear her, "I love you." Then, stronger. "I love you, Harry."
He was stunned speechless. He had had no clue that she had any kind of feelings for him. They had always treated each other like brother and sister, like best friends. There hadn't been anything that would've given him an inkling of an idea that she felt like this.
She seemed to take his silence in stride. "I know. Quite a shock, isn't it? You have no idea how hard it's been to conceal it. I've dreamed of you...for so long. Dreamed of you holding me as your own, of your lips on mine. Desperately wished to see love in your eyes, to hear you say those words, 'I love you', for you to take me in your arms and let me sink into heaven. I've hidden it so well...but you haven't needed a girlfriend out of me. You've needed a best friend, someone who could support you and guide you and help you without all the extra emotional stuff getting in the way. And I..." her voice broke. "...I know that...you...I know I'm not...not the kind of girl you want. I know you want Ginny, and I know that after this is all over, you and she will get back together, and probably get married and have a dozen children, and who could blame you for wanting her? She's pretty and vivacious, and fun, and popular, and I'm just me. Plain, boring, bookish Hermione Granger, sidekick extraordinaire. Your best friend, nothing more. And I'm happy just being your best friend, because it means I'll always have a place in your life."
Harry finally found his voice. "Hermione, you're far from plain. I happen to think you're very pretty. You're hardly boring; you always have something interesting to talk about. Granted, sometimes I have no clue what you're talking about but my point stands. You understand me better than anyone, you always seem to know how I'm feeling, and you anticipate my needs. You've supported me more than anyone, standing by my side even when Ron and I were having our fights. You're far more than just a sidekick. I care about you, I really do."
And it was true. While listening to her talk, he had realized something. Yes, Ginny was great. He enjoyed spending time with her, her brother was his best mate, and he loved her family to death. But other than Quidditch, they really didn't connect on any other level. Some part of her always viewed him through that 'Boy-Who-Lived' glass, the one that made him into some larger-than-life hero figure. His adventures this summer had only reinforced that. She didn't understand some of his mood swings, and simply got angry when he tried to explain or wanted to be left alone. Hermione, on the other hand, was like his other half. She understood the way his emotions flowed, knew about his visions and dreams and scar pains, and had almost a mystical sense of how to go about comforting him. She knew when he should be left alone, when he needed company, or when he wanted to be left alone but in actuality needed someone to come and drag him kicking and screaming back to the world. And she was far prettier than she gave herself credit for.
She was giving him a small smile. "Thanks, Harry. But I know better. It's all right, you don't have to try and lie and make me feel better. In fact, since you're literally a figment of my imagination, I wouldn't have put it past myself to be making you say things like that."
He took another step forward. He knew what he had to do now. "Perhaps. But what if you're wrong? What if I actually love you back?" He tried not to let his own nervousness show. He hadn't actually said it, just asked the question, but his emotions still swirled in response anyways.
Hermione closed her eyes. Imagined, just for a second, that it was true. Imagined how his lips would feel on hers as he pulled her closer, as he...she shook herself. It was a fantasy, nothing more. Sadly, she turned away. "No. I wish it were true. I wish there was even a chance of it being true. But there isn't. I know my place. I know what I have to do. I'll be there for you, always, as your friend, but nothing more. I can't be." She took a deep breath, trying to get herself under control. This little conversation hadn't quite gone the way she had expected, and far from calming her down, had only seemed rile her emotions up more. Without looking, she flicked her wand towards the fake Harry and said, "Finite Incantatum." Sighing, she started for her door, and then froze.
Harry had just cleared his throat.
Slowly, tremulously, she turned back, to see him still standing there, gazing at her. No...oh no...no...she raised her wand, her hand shaking, and pointed it at him. Maybe she had missed, maybe she had done it wrong..."Finite Incantatum." Still he stood there, looking at her. His back was to the moon, his face shadowed, and she couldn't read his expression, his real expression. "Oh god..."
He took a slow step forward. He knew she was on the verge of bolting, of running away. Her face was frozen in a terrified expression, her eyes full of panic. "Hermione...it's alright. It's ok..."
"Ha...ha...Harry...I...you...you heard? Everything?"
Still moving forward slowly, he nodded. She started to shake, tears were welling up in her eyes. "Oh god..." she backed up until she was pressed against the wall, then slowly slid down it, curling up into a ball. "Oh god, no..."
He sank down to the floor beside her and hesitantly put his hands on her shoulders. "Hermione, it's alright..."
She was sobbing now, tears flooding down her face. "I didn't, I couldn't...Harry, you...you must think I'm some sort of crazy, you must hate me..." she was terrified. He had heard everything. He probably thought she was emotionally deranged, or that she was some sick psycho who had planned on raping him someday. She was scared that he would send her away, that he would never speak to her again, that he would abandon her. The last thing that she expected was to feel his arms around her. Startled, scared, and on the verge of completely losing it, she tried to push him away.
"No, Harry, no, I can't, you can't, no..."
But Harry wouldn't let go. He fought off her feeble pushes and drew her to him, wrapping her up in his arms and pulling her head into his shoulder, and began to gently rock her back and forth, whispering random words of comfort to her as she finally lost all control and cried her heart into his shoulder, her own arms clutching him like he was her lifeline to sanity. Which, he reflected, he probably was at the moment.
Some minutes later, he didn't know how long, her sobs had ended and she had stopped shaking. He still held her, stroking her hair gently. He could smell her...a scent he couldn't identify, but it was distinctly Hermione. He kissed the top of her head and felt a tremor run through her. He leaned back and looked down at her. "Are you alright now?"
She wiped her eyes and nodded miserably, not looking at him. "Yes, I think so. You...you aren't mad? You're not going to send me away? Are we still friends?"
"Hermione, why would I send away my best friend? Besides, didn't you hear what I asked before?"
She shook her head. She didn't want to think about any of this.
He said, gently, his voice full of emotion, "I said, what if you're wrong? What if...if..." he swallowed, fighting his own nervousness, and forced it out. "What if I love you too?"
She shook her head, still looking down. "You don't. You can't. You love Ginny." Her voice was small, barely more than a whisper.
He shook his head slowly. "No. I don't love Ginny. I care about her, certainly, but I don't love her. I don't think I ever did. To be fair, she is a lot of fun, and I can talk to her about Quidditch and stuff, and she is pretty, but I don't love her. However, there is a person who I DO love. She's beautiful, although she denies it. She doesn't give herself enough credit for her own looks. She's got the most amazing eyes, eyes that will enchant you if you look too long. Her hair is wonderful too, a perfect shade of chestnut brown, untamable, just like her spirit. She intelligent, brilliant actually, the smartest witch of her age. She's read more books in the past six years than more people read in their lifetimes. I'd be surprised if she doesn't have the whole Hogwarts library memorized. She's kind and caring. She always seems to know what I need, when I need it."
Hermione couldn't believe her ears. She held Harry tighter, not daring to hope, as he continued to talk.
"She's a free spirit, strong-willed, stubborn. She's always willing to help out others, even if her help isn't always appreciated. She's not afraid to speak her mind. Despite the fact that she says she doesn't like Quidditch, I found two books on flying and another on Quidditch tactics in her room the other day." Harry felt her quiver with what he hoped was laughter. "She's got a great sense of humor, when she allows it to show, and a quick wit. She's never quick to judge, always willing to give people a second chance. She doesn't hold people to their mistakes, but helps them work through them. She has a huge heart. She is my best friend. She is the girl that I love."
She shifted around and looked up at him, as his own gaze dropped and their eyes met. She whispered, "Harry James Potter, this had better not be some kind of a joke, or I will never forgive you." Her heart was racing, her blood boiling. Still, she fought the rising sensation of hope, of joy. She wanted, no, she needed to hear him say it. She gazed up into his eyes and felt herself being drawn into them, losing herself in his eyes. "I love you, Harry."
He looked down into her hazel ones and found himself sinking into their warmth. A tide of emotion swept him, and he whispered back, "I love you, Hermione." He felt her shaking. Gently, he reached up with his right hand and caressed her cheek, feeling its warmth, its smoothness, brushing back her hair from her face. Her eyes closed, her mouth opened slightly, and he heard her whimper. Somehow knowing it was the moment, he leaned forward and touched his lips to hers, nibbling on her lower lip for a second, then pulling her into a gentle kiss.
Hermione thought she was going to die from the way he held her. When he had touched her face her emotions had nearly overwhelmed her, as she reveled in the feel of his hands on her skin. She had been unable to stop her eyes from closing and a moan from escaping her lips. Then he had leaned forward, nibbling on her lip in a way that was somehow incredibly erotic to her, and then kissing her, sweeping away her senses. She felt herself melting inside. Helpless against her own desires, she pulled him yet closer, and deepened the kiss, tongue tentatively tracing against his lips until his own mouth parted and then meeting his tongue as they gently explored each other's mouths. The feeling was electric.
They held the kiss for what felt like ages. Time was swept away by the tide of their feelings for each other. Harry felt an incredible feeling of warmth, of happiness, spreading through him in a way he had never experienced, and he didn't want to let go. Finally, reluctantly, he drew back, dimly aware than his bum was getting both cold and sore from being seated on the hard stone. Panting slightly, he opened his eyes to look at the woman he loved. Once again, she met his gaze. Unspoken words seemed to pass between them, as their eyes and souls expressed their devotion to each other. Harry finally managed to find his voice.
"I don't know about you, but I think we should get inside. It's starting to get cold out and my bum is getting sore."
Hermione grinned wickedly at him. "And such a cute bum it is."
He flushed, hoping it was hidden by the darkness. Hermione giggled; no such luck then. It was an unfamiliar sound, but he decided he liked it. "Come on, love. We'd best get to bed." He rose, and pulled her up, then took her into his arms and just held her for a second, reveling in the feel of her body against his, her scent filling his senses. He was brought back to reality as she drew back a little and looked up at him.
"My room or yours?"
His mind blanked. "W-what?"
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Harry Potter, you can hardly expect me to sleep by myself when the boy...man...who I've been secretly in love with for years just expressed his own love for me not two minutes before." She paused a moment, then seemed to come to a realization. "Oh." Her expression softened. "We're not ready for that quite yet. I just want to spend the night in your arms, so I can wake up and know this wasn't a dream."
He grinned sheepishly down at her. "If it is a dream, I'm pretty sure I don't want to wake."
A comfortable silence as they continued to just hold each other. "Your room? Um...mine is something of a mess."
Sighing, she shook her head and took his hand, leading the way into her bedroom. "Boys."
Harry flushed as Hermione discarded her robe and then turned around slowly. Her pajamas were loose, but still gave a tantalizing hint of what lay beneath. "Enjoy what you see?"
He buried his face in his hands as she giggled. "Since when did you get to be such a tease?"
He felt her move up against him, her hands untying his own robe, letting it fall to the floor and leaving him shirtless and only wearing his boxers. "Since I finally got someone worth teasing."
As his own robe fell to the floor, he felt her hands caress his chest, then he felt own hands being pulled away from his face and found himself being led to her bed. They both slipped in, her back to his front, as he put his arms around her, wrapping one around her stomach and the other holding her hand in front of her. She wiggled her bum into him, drawing a gasp from Harry as the motion pressed up against a sensitive organ.
She just giggled again and snuggled closer. They both lay there for a few minutes, reveling in the feel of each other's bodies pressed up against each other, drinking in their scents, enjoying the shared warmth. Both started drifting off, and as her eyes closed, Hermione heard Harry whisper in her ear.
"I love you.
She smiled as she felt herself succumbing to sleep. "I love you too."