Chapter Five:

A New Day

The next morning, Hermione pretended to be asleep while Ginny padded around the room getting dressed. Once the door closed behind her roommate, however, Hermione rolled onto her back, kicked her legs in the air, and mimed a silent squeal of joy toward the age-yellowed ceiling.

Harry had kissed her. And kissed her. And kissed her.

Hermione's fingers drifted to her lips, which felt permanently frosted from spending so much time pressed to Harry's. Unable to suppress her giddiness, she flattened her palm over her mouth to stifle a sudden fit of giggles. Oh, this was not like her at all – giggling, daydreaming, sighing happily. It was like some other girl had taken over her body.

At the moment, though, Hermione was finding it difficult to care. Because every time the stern little voice in the back of her brain ordered her to get it together since they were all facing some bloody well terrifying evil, the oh-so-not-Hermione voice that seemed to have appeared in her mind overnight would start shouting again that Harry had kissed her.

And kissed her.

And kissed her.

Letting her eyelids drift shut, Hermione gave herself over to dreamy memories. To her, Harry's kiss had been totally unexpected: One minute she had been bordering on hysterical fear as she contemplated the task Dumbledore had solemnly appointed Harry – and by extension, whether anyone else liked it or not, Hermione and Ron – and the next, she had been swimming into a pair of lovely, emerald-green eyes. They had kissed shyly at first, soft and uncertain, lips barely meeting before parting, until suddenly, Harry had clasped her waist with both hands (she could still feel the heat of his palms burning through her thin robe and cotton nightshirt) and pulled her firmly to him, his mouth covering hers in a much deeper, much more passionate kiss than any Hermione had experienced up to that point.

She wasn't entirely certain how long the kissing had gone on. Time had virtually stood still for her; she might as well have been trapped in an enchanted sleep of her own. Fingers tangled in Harry's messy dark hair, lips tingling from the pressure of his, she had gone completely weak-kneed almost instantly, grateful for Harry's strong arms holding her to his chest. At some point his lips had traveled across her jaw to her earlobe and then down her neck to her collarbone, a sensation so amazing that simply thinking back on it sent delicious, ticklish shivers down her spine. She had wanted to kiss every inch of him right back, and she would have, too, if Harry hadn't reluctantly stepped back from her, his eyes as bright and feverish as her own, to suggest rather breathlessly that they slow down a bit.

Hermione blushed as she remembered the little growl that had escaped from her then. Stopping had been the last thing on her mind, though as her head had cleared a little, she had been thankful to Harry for being such a gentleman.

Like he wasn't perfect enough, she reflected, forcing her eyes open again. Turned out Harry Potter was also good old-fashioned chivalrous on top of being a knight in shining armor.

The door opened, breaking Hermione's daydreams, and Ginny peeked in. "You feeling all right?" she inquired, a natural question since Hermione was hardly one to lie abed half the morning – she usually beat everyone besides Mrs. Weasley downstairs for breakfast. "I heard you get up in the night. Were you sick?"

Hermione bit her lip, considering her response. She hated lying to Ginny – to anyone, really, but particularly to Ginny, the only female friend Hermione really had. It felt like a violation of their all-but-sisters bond to not tell Ginny what had transpired in the kitchen last night.

Harry hadn't said anything about keeping secrets. Still, a niggling doubt crept into Hermione's heart, wedging itself between her over-the-moon happiness and her blooming adoration of Harry. Did kissing make them a couple? Did Harry think of her as his girlfriend now, or was she just someone to snog? Would he find her as silly and trite as she found so many of the girls at Hogwarts if she gushed to her best girl friend about what an absolutely delectable kisser he was?

Although she was bursting to share her news, Hermione's practicality got the better of her. She would wait until she saw Harry and judged his behavior for herself, she decided, while making excuses to Ginny about being kept up by worries – which, honestly, had been the reason she'd gone to the kitchen in the first place, when the little bedroom had become too crowded with her fears about the future.

Ginny accepted her explanation easily enough, and as Hermione changed into a yellow tee-shirt Tonks had once remarked brought out the golden highlights in her hair (not that she was trying to impress anyone, of course) and a white linen skirt with yellow daisies circling the hem, the two friends debated the plan the Order of the Phoenix had decided on. The plan for Harry, accompanied by Ron and Hermione, to forego returning to Hogwarts so they could uncover Voldemort's Horcruxes and, one by one, destroy them. Meanwhile, Dumbledore and the other Order members would be turning up the pressure on the Ministry to publicly acknowledge Voldemort's return; Dumbledore had plans to declare Sirius' innocence, to call in the loyalty he had earned amongst the wizarding community during his long, distinguished career in hopes that, sooner or later, the Ministry would be forced to openly declare war against Voldemort and his Death Eaters once again.

"I hate being out of the action," Ginny groused. She and Hermione were hurrying down the stairs toward the now-empty kitchen (breakfast was long over, thanks to Hermione's lie-in), and even though Hermione sympathized with Ginny's plight, she was also keeping her eyes peeled for a certain mop of unruly dark hair. "What's the D.A. going to do with Umbridge keeping tabs on us all semester?"

"Harry thinks Hogwarts is probably a hiding place for one of You-Know-Who's Horcruxes," Hermione offered. "You may end up doing more than you'd like for the Order, actually."

Jaw set in a stubborn way that reminded Hermione decidedly of Ron, Ginny tabled, "I'd do anything for the Order. I just don't see why you and Ron can go while I – "

"Because that's how I saw it."

Harry's sudden appearance in the kitchen doorway caught Hermione off-guard; she nearly dropped the carton of milk she'd just taken from the icebox. A warm flush spread from the roots of her hair to the tips of her toes. Had he always been so handsome? Or was he even better-looking now that his lop-sided grin was aimed directly at her, now that his gorgeous green eyes sought her out first in the room?

Even a blind person would have noted the change in the room's atmosphere as Harry came forward, his gaze trained directly on Hermione, who found herself frozen in place, hardly daring to breathe. Without so much as a flinch of hesitation, Harry dropped a quick, light kiss on Hermione's cheek. Then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to kiss her good morning, asked lightly, "Sleep well?"

Hermione glanced sideways at Ginny, whose open-mouthed astonishment nearly brought on another fit of giggles. "Fine," she managed, turning away to pour herself a glass of milk. She knew her cheeks were bright red, but she honestly didn't care at the moment, for Harry had just answered the most important question on her mind right then.

Apparently, a kiss was more than a kiss to him after all.

Turning back to Ginny, Harry continued like nothing out of the ordinary had just passed between him and Hermione. "Hogwarts is incredibly important in all of this, Ginny. For a long time I thought maybe it was just that way to me, because it was the first place I ever really felt at home, or because Voldemort's been so fascinated by it. But I don't think that's true. Our history, the history of wizards in Britain, it's all bound up with Hogwarts. It's a place of power. And right now," he concluded, settling down into a chair across from Hermione, "Hogwarts is in enemy hands."

Hermione shivered a bit. Reminded of the danger they were all facing, she felt some of her happy glow over this budding romance with Harry fade ever so slightly. Enemy hands. Umbridge was vicious and cruel, yes, yet thinking of her as an enemy – as in, someone she might someday face in battle – still struck Hermione as strange.

Gazing across the table at Harry while he and Ginny (who had recovered nicely from her momentary shock and, it seemed, had decided to treat Harry kissing Hermione like an everyday occurrence) debated the merits of splitting up the D.A. instead of sending them all after Voldemort's Horcruxes, Hermione reflected how unperturbed Harry seemed by all of this. It was like…

Like he's already been to war. Like he's already lived through things going from dark and scary, like they are now, to utterly and completely nightmarish, like they're about to become…

Those thoughts brought Hermione inevitably back to her misgivings about Harry's enchanted sleep. Finding the locket with Kreacher had washed away her doubts regarding the truth of Harry's vision; even more definitive than that proof, she had to admit that something fundamental had changed about Harry since he had awoken, something that bespoke a person operating on far more than intuition and educated guesses – Harry knew what he was doing, in a way even Dumbledore couldn't match. But the fact that whatever trance Harry had fallen into had allowed him to see into the future – well, Hermione didn't feel especially comforted by that, particularly since Harry had seen more than the "future." He had seen into Voldemort's past, into the would-be Dark Lord's mind, in a way that no other Seer Hermione had ever read or heard about had done.

The connection between Harry's mind and Voldemort's, the prophecy proclaiming that neither could live while the other survived, it all unsettled her deeply. And not simply because she was hopelessly infatuated with Harry, either, she realized. Because the fate of their entire world rested on the decisions Harry was making, and she couldn't escape the nagging fear that without knowing where his information came from, without understanding what had driven him into a months' long enchanted sleep to begin with, none of them could be certain that the choices he was making would ultimately lead to victory over Voldemort.

We might be playing straight into his hands after all…

"Hermione?" Ginny's voice brought Hermione back to the present. Something in her tone suggested it wasn't the first time she had said her friend's name. "What do you think?"

Blushing, Hermione tried to cover how far off from their conversation her mind had wandered. "About what?"

A knowing smile on her lips, Ginny explained patiently, "About Harry going to see the Centaurs to find out more about being a Seer."

Hermione nearly toppled off her chair. "But-but I thought," she began, staring at Harry in frank disbelief. "Yesterday you seemed so determined to be off after Voldemort straightaway. I thought you weren't worried about where your visions came from."

"I wasn't," Harry answered honestly. Underneath the table, his foot brushed her ankle, and even that small contact sent shivers through Hermione, whose pragmatic inner voice scolded her for being so silly and girlish when such serious matters were on the table. "But you still are, and pretty much every time I don't listen to you, I end up wishing I would've, so…"

From the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Ginny slip quietly from the room. She silently thanked her friend for allowing them some privacy. "But what about Umbridge?" she pressed. "How are you going to get back on the Hogwarts' grounds, convene a meeting with the Centaurs and then take off again, right underneath her nose? I mean, as far as the rest of the world knows, you're still in a coma."

Harry reached across the table and folded both of her hands in his. "You forget," he responded, a teasing gleam in his eyes, "that I have some pretty big connections at Hogwarts."

"Hagrid?" Hermione couldn't keep the ring of doubt out of her voice. "I don't know, Harry, I'm not sure he's the best person to…What?"

This last was prompted by the wide grin spreading across Harry's face, a grin Hermione found irresistibly contagious. "Not Hagrid. Don't be so literal, Hermione. By 'big,' I mean 'powerful.' And that would be – "

"Snape," Hermione realized, chiming in on Harry's last word. He nodded approvingly, as if pleased to see she'd worked out the puzzle for herself. While Snape certainly seemed like a better ally for undermining Umbridge than Hagrid, Hermione found her curiosity getting the better of her again; she couldn't stop herself from asking, "Why is it that you suddenly trust Snape so completely, Harry? You've always acted like he was, well, basically like he was still a Death Eater."

Harry tilted his head slightly, smiling in such an endearingly sweet fashion that Hermione went weak-kneed all over again. "And you've always said if Dumbledore trusts him, so should we," he countered. "Having second thoughts?"

"No," Hermione responded truthfully. "Just trying to figure out what's going on in that head of yours, that's all."

"I promise, sometime soon I'll let you in on all of it." Harry's voice had taken on a husky tone that did nothing to bring back the strengths to Hermione's knees. "But for right now, I'm going to have to ask you to trust me, like I'm trusting you."

Hermione shook her head, feeling dazed by all that had happened in the past twenty-four hours. "I still don't understand how we're going to ­– "

Ron's angry voice from behind her cut Hermione off mid-sentence. "I think you've both got a bit of explaining to do, about quite a lot of things, if you ask me."