Disclaimer: Harry Potter has never been mine, isn't mine, and never will be mine. Think that clears that up!
A/N: I'm still a diehard H/Hr fan, but I can appreciate the "canon" beauty of their uber-awesome friendship. So this is non-shippy, but since it IS written from my perspective, there's flavorings of a ship I wish had been. Nothing to revolt you canon shippers, though. You should be able to appreciate it, too.
Twilight had fallen over the Burrow, and Harry Potter sat on the front steps, his head angled back, and his emerald green eyes traced the constellations behind battered and familiar round glasses. He let out a soft sigh, but like nearly all the sighs he uttered now, it was one of peace, just a slighter heavier exhalation, no longer tainted with anxiety or sorrow.
For now a sigh was just a sigh, and a scar was just a scar.
Twenty-two years had passed since Tom Riddle's fall, and Harry had amazed himself by thinking of the previously feared wizard only a handful of occasions; Voldemort's reign of terror had faded as surely as the light from his scarlet eyes, and he was scarcely more than a dusty memory shoved in some untouched box in a long-forgotten corner of Harry's mind.
The door opened and shut quietly behind him, but Harry didn't turn to identify the person. He didn't need to.
"Hello," Hermione greeted softly as she sat beside him, her shoulder nudging his. "Why're you out here all alone? The party's inside."
He glanced at her briefly, a small smile curling his lips. "You really do need to know everything, don't you?"
She batted his arm playfully and then propped her own crossed arms lightly on her bent knees. "I was simply curious, Harry. Nothing wrong with good clean curiosity."
Harry shrugged, although a chuckle escaped him at her words. "I dunno. Just thinking, I suppose. About Hogwarts."
She nodded. "I do that often. Probably because both my children are there now."
"How are Hugo and Rose, by the way?"
Hermione laughed. "You mean since you asked me last Saturday? They're fine, fine."
"I heard more than fine from Ron. He was bragging all over the place that they're both top of their classes. Good thing you had the dominant genes, eh?"
"And to think that you're Ron's best mate," Hermione said, but a distinct smile was flitting about her lips, and Harry knew that she wasn't affronted in the slightest.
"You must be very proud," Harry offered before adding, "Even if Hugo's in Ravenclaw."
She smirked. "Ron's still convinced he asked the Sorting Hat out of spite for his comment at King's Cross that day, about disinheriting him. But never matter; Rose is in Gryffindor, which I believe placated Ron a bit, and deep down I know he's terrifically proud to have a son in Ravenclaw."
"Yeah, Ron's always been a bit thick," Harry remarked with a smirk of his own, earning him another playful hit from Hermione.
A comfortable silence fell between them, and sounds of chatter and laughter drifted from the Burrow behind them; it had become tradition for the Potters and the Weasleys to join each other for dinner every Saturday ever since the original trio of friends had departed school those long years ago. It was refreshing to Harry, and he assumed to Hermione and Ron as well, that some things never changed: they were still, undeniably, a trio.
After a long while, Harry cleared his throat. "I know this seems out of the blue and all, but since Ron had been petrified at the prospect during our school days, I have to wonder sometimes if…"
"If what?" Hermione prompted gently when he fell quiet for some time.
The words, somehow, flowed easily from Harry's lips. "If it could have happened, or if it were ever considered…you and I, being more than friends," he added upon seeing her slightly confused expression.
He had expected more of a reaction than the thoughtful look that graced her features. "I must confess I wondered about that when Rita Skeeter was writing those awful articles about us," she related calmly. "But if I ever actually saw you like that, I've forgotten by now, and it hardly matters anyway." Another pause, completely relaxed in nature, and then, "Why do you ask?"
"Curious," he told her with a grin, and she gave him her trademark I-don't-believe-you look. "Well, I suppose it's because we've always been so close, and in some way, I know that I'm closer to you than to Ginny, and I reckon that in that same some way, you're closer to me than to Ron. But I've never been able to figure it out."
She smiled, the faintest twist of her lips. "We were the better pair of friends, Harry, that's why. Ron and I argued all the time, and you and Ginny rather skipped the whole friend step entirely. Come on, Harry, I told you our first year that there're more important things than books and cleverness…"
"Friendship and bravery," he finished for her, the phrase burned into his mind as surely as the scar upon his forehead. "You were the first person who ever really hugged me, you know. And the first person to show me immeasurable depths of solidarity and loyalty. And the first person who kissed me, albeit on the cheek. And the first person who saw my parents' grave, actually the only. I guess I always wondered why it was you…"
Hermione looked at him squarely, brown eyes on emerald. "It's not that difficult, Harry. I love you."
"Like a sister for a brother?" he asked, his gaze not wavering from hers.
She tilted her head to the side, and he could easily tell she was pondering the question, the possible meanings it possessed. And at long last she replied, "No, I don't think so. I've never had a brother, so what would I know about sibling bonds? But in any event, it's different than familial love, different than romantic. I suppose it occupies that elusive place in between."
He nodded, absorbing that, and asked, "What place is that?"
She made a vague gesture towards herself and him. "It's a love born of many years and shared experiences, of the deepest understanding of another person. Ron still manages to mystify me, usually with a new facet of his Ron-ness, but you're like a book I've read countless times. I know you, heart and mind and soul, and I think that's only possible because romantic love never had a chance to blind me, and I had to accept you and understand you as you were, as you are."
"My conscience still speaks in your voice, I hope you know," he said, half-teasingly, half-seriously. "It still tells me on the rare occasion that I'm being reckless."
Hermione smiled softly, and she took his hand in her own. "Don't for an instant think I've regretted just being friends with you. Because for me, it's not about that just—that seems to imply a limitation, and I know there is none. I love you as deeply as I love Ron but in a different way…and not as a sister, as a friend," she emphasized, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
"Your friendship does mean the world to me," he told her, returning the smile. "I want you to know that."
He could read in her eyes that she already knew, and it seemed that she was aware of his awareness, as circular as that seemed, and for a minute, no words were spoken, as none were needed. She rested her head on his shoulder and he leaned his head against hers, and they simply sat there, gazing up at the stars twinkling high, high above. And at length she broke the warm silence.
"Sometimes I wonder why people are always haring after romance and being miserable when they're only friends," she murmured to the night, "because from where I'm sitting, friendship can be the most beautiful love of all."
"Don't let Ron hear you say that," Harry teased, and without looking, he knew she rolled her eyes.
They sat there on the steps, best friends for twenty-nine years, and were perfectly content with that.