a/n: Sorry for the wait guys!! For your patience, I give you a longer chapter... Well, longer by my standards...
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Harry followed Hermione out of the Great Hall, ridiculous, he knew, but he needed an answer, and if he didn't have one for himself, maybe she could give him one to borrow, at least for the time being.
"Hermione, wait!" he called out, cursing himself for sounding like a character out of a muggle soap opera.
She stopped halfway up the flight of stairs she was on, but didn't turn around to face him, which made what he wanted to say all that much harder. He saw her shoulders heaved with what he supposed was a sigh.
"I love you, 'Mione, really, I do," Harry began uneasily, staring at the portrait closest to him, a garish country hunting scene. He watched as the powerful black horses stamped their hooves impatiently as if prodding him to get on with it.
Hermione's back visibly stiffened at the utterance of those words, but she remained silent, the hand that she had placed on the banister to steady her climb shook. Her grip on the dark wood tightened and Harry could imagine her biting her lower lip in dread.
"Yes, there's always a 'but,' isn't there Harry," she interrupted with a quiet intensity.
Harry sighed and continued as if she hadn't spoken. "I just need to know if you love me too."
Her brown curls that Harry had always found so beguiling, though Hermione hated them, bounced slightly as she shook her head. "You know I do, Harry."
"But do you love me as a best friend, or something more? Because I think we need to decide."
Hermione laughed, a high-pitched, mirthless sound. She turned finally, her face rosy with frustration, but nowhere near on the verge of tears, as Harry had assumed by the watery quality to her voice. "I can't…" she began then shook her head again, looking above her towards the staircases that shifted silently above her.
"Then tell me why," Harry pleaded, taking a step towards her. "Why is it so difficult to give your heart to someone?"
"I just can't do it again, Harry!" she said sharply holding her hand up to stop him from saying anything else. Harry bit his tongue and tried to force the words that he had always wanted to tell her back down his throat where they had been for so long.
"Obviously, this whole… endeavour was a bad idea," she continued in a strained business-like tone. "While I am glad that I got it out of my system, I don't think it's prudent that we continue to carry on like… over-stimulated teenagers."
Harry's face fell and he nodded, thinking about what she had said and staring at the flagstones beneath his feet. "So you'd rather push me away and pretend like sex doesn't matter, like I don't matter, than tell me what happened to you?"
"I thought I had changed that year," Harry continued as he made his way up the staircase to stand on the step just below her. Hermione shied away slightly, but she didn't back away. "I got back, hoping beyond hope that maybe I could have a little normalcy. But my two best mates wouldn't speak to each other and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why and neither one of them trusted me enough to tell me…
"What happened?" He grabbed Hermione by the shoulders and shook her, her hair flying around her scrunched up face as she winced away from him
"Nothing happened!" she yelled in his face, pulling herself from his grasp violently. She glared at him as she straightened her robes indignantly where Harry had mussed them up. "And don't blame this solely on me because you have no fucking clue what you want either."
"Maybe that's true," Harry said with a shrug. "But at least I'm willing to admit that I'm confused instead of pretending that everything's fine." He turned and grasped the handle of the doors to the Great Hall. "I'm here when you're ready to talk, but other than that, I see no need to try anymore."
Dramatically, he wrenched open the doors and went back inside the bustling room.
Hermione watched as the door shut behind him. She couldn't help but feel as though a weight had been lifted. He had made the decision for her, but, as always, Harry Potter had chosen the unforeseen third option: Completely severing their ties.
Tears threatened to spill over, but Hermione sniffed hard, ignoring the itchy feeling at the back of her throat.
Who was he to judge her? Just because every moment of his life was chronicled in magazines, newspapers, and even a few books about the war and an unofficial biography that was in the works didn't mean everyone else's history was just as readable.
Ron was the first, but he was by no means the last, and she had given her heart to every single one of them. Hermione didn't even know if there was any of the organ left for herself to use.
That had been a long time ago, it seemed, but old habits die hard and keeping secrets die harder. It was just easier if she remained open, because as soon as she committed, she would be disappointed.
With a final sniff and a press of her forefingers to her cheekbones to see if her face was puffy, Hermione collected her thoughts and continued up the stairs to her new office.
"Zanier, Bernice?" Harry called. A girl on the Slytherin side of the room with short black hair raised her hand and lowered it again slowly, her dark eyes appraising Harry silently. Harry nodded to his quill, which swiped an X on the roll sheet next to the girl's name. The paper promptly disappeared with a puff of smoke and the quill floated to rest in the inkwell on Harry's desk.
"I'm Professor Potter," Harry said, leaning against the edge of his desk. It was the first time he had ever actually uttered his proper title. And when he folded his arms and stared out at the class- his class- he could almost believe he really was a professor. "Now that we're acquainted, does anyone have any questions?"
At least ten hands shot into the air, but one girl, who reminded Harry a lot of Hermione in both appearance and attitude, spoke out without being called upon. "Is it true you were friends with a werewolf?"
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a contemptuous snort from the Slytherin side. "I heard it was just an animagus who turned into a big, black dog. That's nothing special. My mum's an animagus." Harry's mouth snapped shut.
"Where are your glasses?" asked another Gryffindor female, smiling flirtatiously and leaning over her desk with her hands under her chin.
"I think he looks better without them."
"But he's not Harry Potter without the ruddy glasses!"
"Can you show us your scar?"
"Say, you're pretty good friends with Professor Granger, aren't you?"
Harry sighed and ruffled his hair in annoyance. "Does anyone have a question that pertains to the dark arts?"
Every arm that was raised slowly sunk back down, their owners casting glances about the room, curious to see who could possibly have something more interesting to talk about when The Harry Potter was standing before them.
When no one spoke, Harry gave the class a tight-lipped smile. "Turn to page fifty-three." The silence was filled with the rustling of pages.
Hermione sighed as she watched the last few students trail out of her classroom. It had been a fairly good period, she supposed. No one had fallen asleep, but a few Hufflepuffs had come dangerously close. She shuffled some papers on her desk absently and thought about her next lesson. The previous teacher had left so much untaught, she really didn't know where to begin...
She looked up to see who had interrupted her thoughts and found the boy who had been staring at her unabashedly during breakfast to be the one responsible. Lucky for her, she also had to endure his leering a whole class period twice a week. She doubted if he even knew what her face looked like, seeing as he only found it necessary to direct all questions and comments to her chest.
Stifling a groan of aggravation, Hermione forced her lips into a thin smile. "Yes, Casper?"
"I'm a bit confused…" He smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders, but Hermione wasn't buying it. There was a certain glint in his blue eyes that said he was up to something. Hermione had been best friends with two teenage boys back when she was in school. If she couldn't tell when a guy had a plan, there was something wrong with her.
Still, she played along. "About what?" She folded her hands across her desk importantly and tried not to look too gullible.
Casper's smile widened ever so slightly. "Everything." He gave her a pitiful laugh and threw the hand that didn't hold his Arithmancy book into the air helplessly. "You're a much better teacher than Professor Vector was. Your lessons have more... depth." Hermione did not like the inflection he put on that last word. "I'm afraid I can't keep up."
With a sigh, Hermione stood, gathering some papers in her hands as she did so and piling them in her arms to shield her breasts from his wandering eyes. "Well, I offer tutoring…"
Casper sighed as if hearing the news was a huge relief and let his shy smile fall into an easy one. "You're a lifesaver, Professor."
Hermione nodded and made an affirming noise in the back of her throat. "Tomorrow after class," she said to him as made his way to the door.
"Tomorrow," he repeated over his shoulder, giving her a tiny, imperceptible wink as he turned the corner.
She watched him go with a look of horror blatantly obvious on her face. "What have I done now…" she chided herself.
Harry inhaled the musty scent of old parchment and smiled. He let his fingers trail across the books on the shelves that circled the room. These books had been there for centuries, he'd wager, their true owner long dead and forgotten.
Curious, Harry pulled one from the shelf and opened it to a random page. "Henrietta's creamy white skin tingled at Gregory's touch, her ample bosom swelling with anticipation as he grasped his wand and-"
"Doing a bit of light reading, I see?"
Harry snapped the book shut guiltily and looked up to see who had entered his office, though the gesture wasn't necessary, as he could determine the intruder by his voice.
"May I help you, Malfoy?" Harry asked tersely, a bit unnerved at his unexpected appearance, but not at all surprised by it. Malfoy had spent the better part of his Hogwarts career sneaking up on people. He probably knew more secret passages that Fred and George could have ever dreamed of.
Malfoy laughed and strode towards Harry at a leisurely pace. "I was just checking up on Professor Potter." He gave the other man a sarcastic look of pity. "I heard we had a bit of a time getting our students to cooperate today."
With a shake of his head, Harry turned to put the book back up on the shelf where he had gotten it. "Are you just here to torture me with your presence, or is there something you needed?"
He smirked. "No, just here for the torture…" Harry gritted his teeth. "But, I do have some advice for you, professor to professor," Malfoy corrected quickly, taking note of Harry's flaring temper.
"And I was wondering if we could talk over dinner, perhaps?" Malfoy's smile grew inexplicably.
Harry took a step back in surprise and measured the look on Malfoy's face. He appeared to be sincere, but maybe that was his plan...
"Come, now, Potter," Malfoy said in a bored tone as he leaned against the side of a bookcase, his ankles crossed and his arms folded. "We're adults now, there's no need to keep up with this childish animosity. Quite frankly, it wears me out."
Harry nodded, trying to see the trick in Malfoy's latest scheme. "Yeah, dinner would be nice," he agreed warily.
"Great." Malfoy righted himself and dusted off his hands. "I'll see you tonight then."
"Tonight," Harry repeated as the blonde strode from his office without a second glance.
Once he was out of sight, Harry sighed loudly. "What have I done now…"
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