Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, that's JKR's biz.
A/N: This is AU. It takes place in 7th year. Most of the events of HBP happened but the trio are back at Hogwarts for their 7th year. There isn't much story in the way of plot or adventure, just a little fic on Harry and Hermione's relationship.
A/N II: Some people reading this may think it seems familiar and that's probably because it is. I first posted this fic back in 2006 – originally titled Wide Open – but took it down a few months ago because I was really struggling on where to take the story and didn't think I was ever going to finish it. But after putting my nose to the grindstone I am finally done with this beastly (for me anyway) thing once and for all. Here's hoping it turns out half-way decent. If you read I hope you enjoy!
Coming Around Again – Part I
The portrait to the Gryffindor common room swung open and Harry threw himself gratefully across the threshold. Bleary-eyed, he nearly trampled a pair of awe-struck first years as he stumbled across the room to where Ron and Hermione sat next to the blazing fire. School books carpeted the floor around his two best friends and Hermione's head was bent so closely to her parchment that Harry wondered how she could see.
Ron looked up just as Harry rounded the arm of the sofa, his face the picture of misery.
"Hi, Harry. Finished studying for the night?" Ron dropped his frustration-frayed quill and stared at Harry with a pathetically hopeful expression.
Harry grunted in answer before dropping his bag to the floor and throwing himself forward across the sofa, his head accidentally knocking into Hermione's thigh. Hermione, who had been too engrossed in her homework to notice Harry's approach, jumped in surprise, sending her Transfiguration notes sliding from her lap to cover Harry's head.
"Harry!" she squeaked. "Are you all right?"
"Harry?" Hermione asked again, lifting her notes from his head to peer down at him.
From his stomach, Harry raised his head and looked up at his bushy-haired best friend. She wore a startled expression and one of her hands was hovering above Harry's hair, as though to touch it. Her wide eyes roamed his person, no doubt checking for torn clothes, blood, or any other signs of unusual wear and tear. One side of Harry's mouth quirked in amusement at her always ready concern.
"I'm fine," he assured her. "Just tired. I've been studying for," Harry lifted his watch to his face, "more than five hours straight."
"Are you serious?" Ron looked at his own watch, horrified. "What a complete waste of an evening."
"Ron." Hermione leveled the redhead with a disapproving look as her hand grazed the back of Harry's neck, just above his collar, in a comforting gesture. "There's no call to make fun of Harry for being responsible."
Too exhausted to weigh in with his own opinion, Harry shrugged and lowered his face back into the couch, letting his eyes drift shut. It felt so good to finally lie down, his entire body finally able to relax, that Harry didn't think he'd ever want to move again. Warmth from the fire spread a comforting heat across his back, erasing the chill that had crept over him after an even spent in the library, and by degrees the frenetic pace of his mind slowed, allowing spells and incantations to slip away. Gradually the noise of the common room became muted and indistinct as Harry hovered thankfully on the edge of sleep, no longer truly conscious of what was going on around him. The only things that registered with his decompressing mind were the softness of the cushions that seemed to absorb him, and the blissful relaxation of his muscles.
But just as he was about to tumble headlong into unconsciousness, a peel of laughter broke through his muddled senses, grabbed the back of his collar, and yanked him back to wakefulness.
Harry's eyes snapped open. He knew that laugh.
With a resigned sense of the inevitable, Harry pushed himself to a sitting position and looked over the back of the sofa. What he saw made his stomach clench.
Ginny and her new boyfriend, Hugh Martin, had just come through the common room door, arriving from someplace only they knew where. Probably a deserted tower or some other secluded make out spot, Harry thought grimly.
Hugh, a tall and athletic fifth year, had one well-muscled arm draped possessively across Ginny's shoulders. Her face was flushed with amusement and one of her hands pressed against his chest as she laughed and leaned into him with intimate familiarity. Hugh's own smile looked disgustingly happy and Harry wanted to throw something at him. Something heavy. It didn't matter that he'd broken things off with Ginny at the end of last year, and it didn't matter that he'd tried to prepare himself for her moving on. Harry hadn't moved on and the wounds were still raw.
It shouldn't be this way, Harry told himself for the hundredth time that day. With Voldemort on the loose and a full-scale war looming – not to mention NEWTs – his feelings for Ginny shouldn't be consuming him like this. It wasn't right, but so far his stubborn heart hadn't listened. Dispiritedly, he wondered what Hermione would say if she knew his recent bout of studiousness was only his most recent lame attempt to get Ginny off his mind.
"Harry, if you're so tired maybe you should go to bed." Hermione's voice broke through the haze of confusion and pain that circled Harry's mind.
"What?" he croaked, forcing himself to turn away from the scene before him. Harry cleared his throat and tried not to notice that Hermione looked anxious and that Ron's eyes were carefully averted.
"You should go to bed," Hermione repeated gently. "We have a difficult lesson in Potions tomorrow. You don't want to be tired."
Hermione smiled kindly and Harry knew she was trying to pretend she didn't have another reason for suggesting he head upstairs, and it rankled. Even though her concern was kindly meant, Harry didn't like his friends thinking he was too fragile to be around Ginny.
He would get over her. He had to.
"Yeah, you're right." There was that croak again. Embarrassed to be so obvious about his discomfort – and justifying Hermione and Ron's concern – Harry got clumsily to his feet. He reached for his bag, tossed it over his shoulder, then gave Ron and Hermione a little nod. Without another word he made a line for the boy's dormitory, wanting nothing more than to fling himself across his bed and sleep until all his pain magically disappeared.
The Next Day
"Today we will be brewing a potion that will test even our most talented students." Professor Slughorn paused just long enough to smile indulgently at Hermione, who straightened in her chair and tried not to look too pleased. "It is called the Siphon Draught and, as you all should have read, this potion strips a witch or wizard of their ability to do magic. Temporarily, of course," Slughorn added when several students shifted uncomfortably.
Harry, who had not read the lesson before coming to class, bent his head toward Hermione. "And why would he teach us this?"
Hermione shrugged. "I certainly don't think I'd find an occasion to use it." She looked darkly at Malfoy, who didn't bother to hide his excitement. "Though I can't say the same for others."
Instructions began to appear on the board behind Professor Slughorn and Harry had to force himself to concentrate on them through drooping eyelids. Despite his best intentions, he had not slept at all last night. Most of it had been spent tossing and turning with him unable to get the thought of Ginny and Martin out of his mind. Whenever he closed his eyes all he could see was Ginny touching Martin's chest, it was like the image had been seared to the backs of his eyelids.
Harry mentally shook himself and forced the thought of Ginny out of his mind – for the time being anyway. He had a potion to brew and if Slughorn said it would be a challenge for Hermione, then it was going to be near impossible for him, especially if he let himself be distracted.
He laid out his ingredients and began separating them with movements that were jerky and lethargic, no matter how hard he concentrated. Twice he knocked his wand to the floor and once he sent his carton of newt eyes tumbling over, spilling its contents across the table. Hermione, who'd been watching him from the corner of her eye, eventually took pity on him and helped cut the rest of his ingredients when Slughorn's back was turned.
"Thanks, Hermione." Harry smiled gratefully and Hermione ducked her head in acknowledgement, though she seemed preoccupied.
Silence fell between them as each began adding ingredients to their cauldrons. But, once again, Harry found his mind drifting to Ginny, to Hugh Martin, and to wondering why he was still so affected by Ginny's presence. They were broken up. He had done it to protect her. A fight with Voldemort was brewing and the odds were he wouldn't live much longer anyway so he should be happy she'd found someone else. Wishing otherwise made him selfish, didn't it?
"You didn't sleep at all last night, did you Harry?"
Startled, Harry glanced toward Hermione. She was looking at him with an expression that bordered on alarmed and felt a twist of guilt in his stomach. So much for being able to wallow in his misery unnoticed.
"I got a few hours in, but Ron was snoring loud enough to shake the tower down."
Hermione leveled Harry with a look that told him exactly what she thought of that excuse.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked softly a moment later.
Harry looked at her from the corner of his eye, suddenly too embarrassed to maintain eye contact.
"I mean, I know how much you don't like talking about the things that bother you." Hermione spoke without looking at him, keeping her eyes fixed carefully on her potion. Harry wondered if she was avoiding his gaze on purpose, because she could sense his feelings, or if she were just trying to make it look like she was completely focused on her work for Slughorn. "But I'm your friend, Harry. And I'm here for you no matter what you need. I hope you know that."
Harry cleared his throat uncomfortably and stared down at the table, not sure what to say.
"I'll get over it, Hermione," he mumbled finally, after a long and uncomfortable silence. "It's just that being back in school, seeing her all the time..." Harry trailed off and shrugged.
"Harry." Hermione put her hand on his forearm, a silent request that he look at her. Harry glanced down to where she gripped his arm. Her fingers were warm against his skin, probably from being so close to the fire beneath her cauldron, and Harry felt the muscles of his arm flex involuntarily beneath her fingers.
When he looked up her eyes were painfully sympathetic and Harry was more than a little surprised that she was trying to discuss this in class. Normally any sort of conversation not directly related to the course work was strictly out of bounds as far as she was concerned, and Harry didn't know whether to feel grateful or alarmed by her sudden and undivided attention. It was obvious she wanted him to talk to her, to let her help him, but he'd never been big on confiding.
"I mean things besides Ginny, too," she said gently.
Harry nodded once, not having to think hard to know she meant Voldemort and all the baggage that came part and parcel with that hornet's nest of a situation.
"It's all right, Hermione." Harry gave her what he meant to be a reassuring smile. "I'm fine."
She didn't say anything, just regarded him skeptically with those dark eyes until Harry began to fidget uneasily. Then, with a shrug, she turned back to her potion, brow furrowed in thought.
"Your potions should be a dull green at this moment, and rather thin."
Slughorn's voice jerked Harry's attention away from Hermione and back to the task at hand. Apprehensive, he dropped his gaze to his potion, hoping for the best but definitely expecting the worst.
And the worst was what he saw.
Instead of a dull green, his potion was a putrid yellow and appeared to have a consistency similar to toothpaste. With a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, Harry stole a glance at Hermione's cauldron and saw a simmering green liquid. Exactly as Slughorn had described.
Harry dropped pressed a hand against his forehead and groaned softly. "Bloody hell," he muttered, borrowing Ron's favorite phrase.
"Oh, Harry." Hermione leaned across him to get a better look at his cauldron. "What did you do?"
"I don't know. Just help me undo it," Harry whispered. He looked toward the front of the class where, thankfully, Slughorn was bent over Malfoy's cauldron, his back to their table. Maybe they would be able to fix it before Slughorn noticed anything, he thought with a faint surge of hope.
Harry waited, fidgeting as Hermione stared down at his ingredients and began mouthing silently to herself. In a vain attempt to be helpful, Harry re-read the ingredients on the board to see if he could pinpoint where he'd gone wrong. But nothing on the board looked even vaguely familiar and Harry wondered with some panic if he'd actually read the directions at all. Likely not, he admitted to himself. Thoughts of Ginny were truly taking over his life, it seemed.
"Here, try adding this and then stir it counter-clockwise three times."
Harry grabbed a handful of pickled slugs from Hermione and tossed them into his potion. As they quickly dissolved into the bubbling stew a faint steam began to form and rise into the air. Harry did his best to ignore it but with each counter-clockwise stroke of his ladle the steam became thicker and blacker.
"Um. Hermione? I don't think that worked."
Hermione's eyes were fixed on his potion. "No," she murmured in quick agreement, "I don't think it did either." Her brow still knit, she tapped the fingers of one hand nervously against her lips.
"Add your eye of newt next. But one at a time, Harry!" She grabbed his wrist as he'd been about to throw all dozen of them in at once.
Far from improving things, the potion sputtered and coughed with each eye added and then Harry's nose was assaulted by the thick stink of rotten eggs. Fearful he might gag, Harry put the back of his hand to his nose and coughed, his eyes tearing.
"I don't think there's any saving it." Harry poked the revolting sludge and watched Hermione cover her face with part of her robe.
"I'm sure there is, Harry. We just have to find out exactly where things went wrong."
Harry opened his mouth to tell Hermione she didn't sound very optimistic when a sudden, piercing whistle erupted from his cauldron. Harry whipped his head around in shock and beside him Hermione squeaked in surprise and took a startled step backward.
"Oh Merlin," he heard her moan.
"Potter. What's going on back there?" It had taken the better part of ten minutes but Slughorn had finally noticed there was something very wrong with Harry's potion.
"I don't know, Professor!" Harry had to shout to be heard over the racket his potion was making. It was now both whistling and bubbling with fervor, and getting louder by the second.
"Harry," Hermione grabbed his arm and tried yank him toward her, "I really think we need to get out of here."
There was real fear in Hermione's voice and that's when Harry noticed that most of the students in the room were already edging toward the safety of the storeroom. Slughorn himself was leading the retreat and Malfoy was smirking at Harry from over the professor's shoulder. Harry cast one more helpless look at his potion and decided Hermione was right.
"Yeah." Harry put a hand on the small of Hermione's back and gave her a gentle push just as he heard his cauldron begin to crack. Sure what was coming, he only just managed to shove Hermione beneath a table before the cauldron exploded in his face.
To Be Continued...