Disclaimer:The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story.

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Paradoxically Enough

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Summary: He'd told himself that he was okay without her, that he didn't need her, that life wasn't empty without her. He just wished that his body would listen to what his mind told him.

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"It takes a minute to have a crush on someone, an hour to like someone and a day to love someone - but it takes a lifetime to forget someone."
-Anonymous

There was a knock at the door and Harry found himself almost reluctant to open it once he heard it. There was simply something daunting about the sound, why he wasn't sure. It was an odd feeling of foreboding that washed over him, the sort that he wasn't quite sure how to put to words… out of nowhere it came, like a click in the back of his head, telling him that something was about to go oh so terribly wrong.

Still, though, he went and opened it.

"Hi," Hermione greeted him with a shy smile when he did.

He couldn't help the slightly befuddled look that crossed his face once he found her standing at his doorstep. She was the last person he'd expected, to be sure. "Um… hey."

Hermione's smile widened a bit as she ducked her head to attempt to hide a small flush that swept across her face. It was a futile one, though. "Hi," she repeated—another pointless move, but she seemed to think that it eased the awkwardness, even if by only a little.

"Do you want to come in?" he asked, moving out of the way so she could enter if she wished.

And she appeared to want to as she silently stepped in, making her way into the both familiar and foreign room. When standing in the middle, just before the chesterfield that was facing the opposite direction, towards the hearth, she turned back to him.

She paused before speaking, leaning back onto the rim of the back of the chesterfield and biting her lip ever slightly in a clear show of nerves. "I… I wanted to talk."

Harry simply nodded, a bit dazed and far more than a bit confused.

"Um… well… see, the thing is-" she stopped herself to let out a frustrated breath, clearly agitated over her fumbling words—she never was one to take ineloquence well, especially if it was one on hr part. "Seamus asked me out," she finally blurted out.

Harry didn't know what to think or say in reply to that. It was an odd feeling of destruction and… nothing. His world seem to crash down all around him when she uttered those words, but, simultaneously, a stillness like no other washed over him, draining him entirely.

"Oh," he finally managed to choke out.

Hermione almost fell over from her fluster over that lackluster response. "Oh? That's it?" she asked, her expression almost disappointed.

Harry nodded mutely.

A flash of hurt crossed her eyes, but it was gone as soon as it came and Harry assured himself that it must have been just a trick of the light. "So… that's it? Nothing else, nothing to add?"

He shook his head.

"After everything?"

"Do you like him?" Harry asked, his voice sounding croaked to him.

But Hermione seemed to fail to note that as the wounded look never left her face. "I… he's nice, he treats me well, and he talks…"

Harry winced as that last one cut him to the core. "Then… then I hope you two are happy together."

"Oh," she gasped. She stood there silently for a minute, looking almost as lost and confused as he felt, but once the minute was up she rushed out of that apartment so quickly that Harry was left asking himself if it was all a hallucination.

--

"Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of withering, of tarnishing."
–Anais Nin

It was two days later that he heard that same knock again, one that this time didn't sound as timid as it had those days prior, but this time held more of an urgency and bite to it. He told himself not to open it, to pretend he wasn't there.

He didn't listen to that little voice, again.

"Hermione?" he choked out in surprise when he opened the door to the familiar and yet, oddly enough, unfamiliar site of her. It was a newly rediscovered habit of hers that had a knack for taking his breath away in the most unpleasant of ways… and yet he always found himself opening that blasted door regardless of the fact that he knew her knock, disguised by pretense or not.

"Hi," she stiffly greeted him, pushing past him and making her way into his flat.

"Make yourself at home…" Harry quipped as he closed the door behind him and turned to her.

"We need to talk," Hermione announced, her arms crossed across her chest in the most intimidating of ways—one that Harry had learned to fear over the years… as well as feel a bit of heat over whenever he caught a glimpse at that pushed up cleavage or the fiery look in her eyes…

He shook his head so as to shake those thoughts out of it. It didn't do much for that cause as they remained, but he regained focus to a certain extent.

"What about?" he innocently asked.

"Two… two days ago I came by-"

"For the first time in four months," Harry innocently noted.

Innocent or not, though, the words seemed to deliver a verbal bitch slap to Hermione as she immediately sent him a hurt and affronted look. "You… you know that wasn't my fault," she whispered furtively and angrily. "You were the one that-"

"No, you gave the ultimatum, Hermione, and you were the one that decided we couldn't even be friends after it ended so don't go on lying to yourself," Harry ordered, his voice lowering a few octaves as a wave of fury throbbing through his veins.

Her nostrils flared a bit and she didn't back down in the slightest despite the anger that was pulsating off of his body. "I came here and I asked you if it was okay that I go out with him and all you had to say was a blasted 'oh', Harry! That's it, really?" she cried out, jabbing him in the chest with her pointer finger.

"What the hell do you expect, Hermione? We haven't spoken in four months, since you last walked out of this flat, to be exact," he retorted.

She stilled, her air growing flabbergasted. "You… you really don't care?"

That was a heavy question, whether there ever was a right answer to it, he wasn't quite sure, but what he did know was that he regretted his answer to it.

"No."

And again she flew out of his flat so fast that his head was left spinning.

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"You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel."
–Anonymous

"She's out on a date with him right now, you know?" Ron asked as the two of them sat in some Irish run tavern enjoying a simple pint.

Harry coughed when the drink that he'd been holding up to his lips accidentally made its way down the wrong tube. "Who?" he asked, his voice raspy.

"Hermione, she's with Seamus," Ron informed him with a knowing look that Harry didn't find becoming in the least; in fact, he found it rather unnatural.

"Really?" Harry asked, his eyes avoiding Ron's. He didn't want to see that galling look on his best mate's face, he wasn't one for the annoying "I told you so speech" unless he was the one giving him. But, then again, wasn't everyone like that?—or so he reassured himself.

"Yeah, he's been after her for ages, actually."

"Ages, huh?" Harry asked, leaving the rest of the question unsaid.

Ron chose to ignore that silent inquiry as to why he'd never told Harry about the interest, rather continuing his previous thought. "He's head over heels for her, I think. Can't stop talking about how smart and witty she is… among other things." He smartly let that innuendo hang in the air, choosing to watch the way that Harry tightened his grip on his mug of ale instead.

"Really?" Harry rasped out again.

"Yep," Ron nodded.

Harry let out a deep and angry breath. "So does she like him?"

Ron shrugged. "I don't know, she doesn't really like to talk about that stuff… never has. I suppose so, though… I mean, he's the first bloke she's given a shot ever since the two of you fizzled out."

"We didn't fizzle out," Harry corrected with a low and guttural growl, his knuckles whitening as he tightened his vice-like grip by inane proportions. It was a wonder that that mug didn't break under the pressure.

"Oh really?" Ron sardonically asked, purposefully goading Harry. "You're right; I suppose… there was that whole argument over how many hours you work. You know, the one where Hermione told you to come and find her once you finally have time for her… but, the thing is, you never did come, did you, Harry?"

Harry sharply turned to his friend with a glare. "You don't know what you're talking about," he informed Ron through gritted teeth.

"I think I know a lot more than you want to let yourself believe, mate," Ron said, tone hushed that time as he let the truth wash over them. "She loved you, she did… but you're so-"

"If you call me crazed I will box you in the ears, I promise," Harry threatened with a growl, keeping his menacing gaze focused on the ale before him.

Ron chortled lightly. "No, I'm not as blunt as her, but you did let it get in the way, mate. You've been so focused on catching Malfoy-"

"Are you saying that that's a bad thing?" Harry asked, turning to face his friend for the first time since the topic of his ex had arisen. "I was trying to protect her—us, and our future. You know Malfoy and his vendetta against us as well as I do, can you fault me for trying to stop it? I was trying to do the right thing, Ron; I just wanted her to be safe! Is that so wrong?"

"No, it's not," Ron admitted. "But I'm not sure that it's worth it. It's the past, Harry… it's all just the past now. You're losing her, mate… more and more each day… and all for a ghost. He's gone, Harry; he's let it go and he's escaped. You just need to move on, too," he informed his friend before taking out a few pounds, throwing them onto the table, and clapping Harry on the back before walking out—purposefully leaving Harry to his daunting thoughts.

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"Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love."
–Charlie Brown

As he lay on his bed, throwing the quaffle into the air simply for the sake of having something to distract him, he found his thoughts drawn to the subject of the picture on his bedside table time and time again. He groaned as he turned back to the couple simply sleeping, entwined together on the divan in his library, and slammed the image down onto the table, so forcefully that it broke the glass.

He told himself that he didn't care, that he could just continue lying there and playing with his quaffle. He told himself that it didn't matter, not anymore. He told himself that it was just some broken glass.

What he told himself didn't matter as he shot up again, dropping the quaffle onto his bed as he turned back to the picture. He immediately picked it up, letting the glass fall to the floor and shaking it for good measure, before moving to extract the still.

He sighed as he took it out, dropping the frame onto the floor—he'd always hated it anyway, it was too silver and modern for his tastes, he preferred the warmth of rustic wooden ones as it was. He stared down at the picture that he'd worked so hard to ignore for the past few months, but never had the strength to put away.

It was a simple image, nothing particularly spectacular about it, but it was his favorite. It was so them—spectacular in their simplicity and peace.

He groaned as he grabbed for the WiziCell on the opposite bedside table, wincing as he dialed a number that would probably tell him things that he so didn't want to know.

But he did it anyway; he ignored the little voice again.

He put the phone to his ear once he finished entering the number, waiting for the ringing to end and for someone to pick up already.

"Ron?" he finally asked. "I… I need you to tell me… tell me about her and Seamus."

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"Every man is afraid of something. That's how you know he's in love with you; when he is afraid of losing you."

–Anonymous

This time it was him knocking on her door and he had to admit that he didn't quite like the feeling of it. It was a terrifying sense of entering an unknown abyss that he could easily get lost in. no, it wasn't nice at all.

She soon opened the door and immediately made a move to slam it in his undeserving face, but he stopped her, all the while thanking Merlin for the fact that being an Auror was finally helping him in some facet in his love life.

"Wait," he begged in an odd croak. "Just… just give me a chance, Hermione. Hear me out."

She rolled her eyes, standing firm. "Don't you think I've given you enough of those, Harry?"

He nodded in assent. "Yeah, you probably have… but that doesn't mean I'm ready to give up just yet."

"And what if I am? You're not the only one affected by all of this, Harry."

Had he not been so determined he probably would have let his heart shatter at hearing that. "I—I know… I just don't want to lose you, Hermione," he admitted, his voice weak with fear.

"You already are," she informed him, her voice soft and regretful.

"Can… can we at least talk, please?"

She silently widened the way for him, letting him through. As soon as he entered her flat he let out a deep breath that he hadn't known he'd been holding; at least step one was complete.

"What do you want to talk about, Harry?"

"I need to explain."

"It won't change anything, I can't just let myself be strung along like I have… and Seamus… he's nice, Harry. He could make me happy, I think," she shyly admitted as she took a seat on a chair across from her chesterfield.

Harry, in turn, to the seat across from her. "I made you happy, and there was no thinking about it," he noted.

"Yeah," Hermione admitted with an acquiescing nod. "When you were there… but that was rare in the last few months, regardless of what I said…"

He winced. "I… I didn't mean to hurt you."

"I know," she assured him, her voice soft and regretful. "But the thing is that you still did. And… and you never even came; I gave you a chance, Harry, but you never cared enough-"

"No," he stopped her with a forceful growl, his eyes flashing dangerously. "It was never that, Hermione. I just… I thought that it would be for the best, that you'd be happier."

Her body pushed back a bit in hurt at hearing his words and it took her a moment or two to recompose herself. "Well… maybe I—we will be…"

"I don't think we will, though…" he immediately argued. "I know I haven't. I thought—I thought that I could just go on with the case as if nothing happened, that maybe once that was over we'd stand a chance if things were still the same, but… but I don't care about it anymore, Hermione. I just—it's not worth it anymore, I just want you. I've been miserable without you, Hermione, I—I can't lose you, not to fucking Finnegan or anyone or anything, not again. I need you, and I may be a bastard, but I'm one that loves you."

"Sometimes that's not enough, though. I think our relationship proved that," she argued, her tone desperate and tired.

He shook his head adamant, a small smile creeping up on his lips. "Come on, Hermione," his tone seductive and goading as he leaned forward a bit. He grasped her hands in his as he spoke: "Give me a chance. I messed up, I thought it would be better… that we might be better off, but I was wrong."

"You can't just say something like that and expect it to be all fine and dandy, Harry. Life's not that easy."

"No, you're right," he admitted. "It's not, and I think I'm finally starting to realize that I don't want it to be, I want to fight, Hermione, don't you? Don't you want to fight for us?"

"This… this—it isn't fair," she shook her head, her eyes beginning to glisten with unshed tears. "I came to you, Harry, and I asked you what you thought and you didn't say anything, either time. How can you just expect another chance? I'm out… I have to be."

"But-"

"No," she stopped him with a frail voice that somehow held more steel then he'd ever been witness to. "No… just go; I have a second date to get to."

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"Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cynical about it...It really is worth fighting for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk everything, you risk even more."
–Erica Jong

"Wh—what are you doing here?" Hermione stuttered, wide eyed when seeing the surprising sight of Harry lounging in her chair with his feet propped upon her desk.

"Your wards here are pathetic."

"That's not what I asked…"

"I should really do something about it you know," he continued regardless. "It's not safe for you to have such weak ones; anyone can just come in and attack you. You're a target, Hermione; don't allow yourself to forget that."

"Anyone like you, right?" she retorted, her shoulders slumping in defeat as she walked towards the desk and let herself fall into a chair across from her usual seat.

Harry sent her a sheepish grin that he knew she always had a weakness for; it was a weak manipulation on his part, but he was desperate. "We need to talk," he announced, whipping his legs off the desk and under it.

Hermione sighed loudly. "Do we have to?" she asked, allowing an undertone of petulance to creep into her words. "It's over and done with, Harry."

"No, it's not," he forcefully argued, his eyes growing steely.

Hermione tiredly slumped forward, her body seeming to lose all energy upon hearing Harry's proclamation. "Why do you have to do this? Why now… why not earlier when you still had the chance? I even made it easy for you, Harry… I came to you even when I promised myself I wouldn't…"

"I know you did; I just—I just thought that it would be safer… that it would be easier for us if we let go."

Hermione's jaw clenched ever so slightly before a humorless laugh escaped her. "Well maybe it is then."

He winced, clutching the ends of his blazer tightly in his anxiety. "I don't believe it though; I don't want to lose you, not again."

She shrugged helplessly. "You hurt me," she admitted, her voice cracking slightly with the words.

He nodded, frowning in embarrassment. "I know."

"No," Hermione shook her head. "I don't think you do… I don't think you realize just how much it hurt when I waited for you to come and you never did. I've given up, Harry… it took me ages, but I finally have, so just let me be," she pleaded.

Harry paused for a moments, his back stiffening as he observed the doe eyed look she sent him, so innocent and helpless that it left him defenseless. He was at a loss as to what to do, he'd never considered, not once, that she'd beg him to just give up like that. Finally, he made up his mind as he got up out of her chair, letting it roll back into a window as he did, and walked to her. He knelled down before her and she sent him the most frightened look that he'd ever seen cross her face.

"I can't," he admitted with a murmur. "I can't just give up, I want us too much. We're right, you know that we are."

"I'm not so sure anymore, though."

"Come on, Hermione," he goaded. "You know it's true. We've had out fair share of messes to date, but it doesn't mean anything, not like that. Don't… don't just give up."

"You did before me."

"And it was a mistake," he persisted. "I was miserable without you, love. I need you."

"But I don't want to need you anymore, Harry," she cried, her voice tinged with desperation as she angrily pulled at her hair, so embarrassed with herself for being weak like that. "It hurt last time; I don't want to go through that hell again… I can't, I just don't have it in me anymore."

"I won't mess up this time, though, I promise."

"Don't do that, Harry; don't say things you can't mean…"

"But I do," he swore. "I've never broken a promise to you before, and I won't ever do it, give me this chance to prove it," he begged, bringing a hand up to her cheek and softly touching it.

She leaned into it despite herself and everything that her brain told her. It was an impulse, one that surpassed any logic that she might try to overwhelm it with. "What… what about Seamus?" she asked, her tone hushed and hesitant in a last attempt to fight it.

"Screw the fucker," Harry growled. "He shouldn't have gone after you in the first place. He—he knew what you meant to me, I have no regrets over hurting the bastard."

She knew she should condemn him for being so domineering, but she couldn't, not with him gently rubbing her face like he was. She looked at him with half-lidded eyes as she spoke: "don't hurt me… please."

He smiled despite the somber note, unable to help himself. "I swear."

"You do?" she asked, lightly sniffing in trepidation.

He nodded noiselessly.

She bit her lip. "It still scares me, you know?"

"I know," he admitted, flushing a bit in embarrassment.

"And it probably will for a while… I won't immediately be able to trust you fully," she warned.

"I know."

"Don't resent me for it," she ordered. "It… you know me, it takes a lot for me to do something like this, and it's going to take me time to believe in it fully."

"I know," he repeated.

"Good."

The corners of his lips twitched upwards. "Yeah?"

She nodded with a shy smile. "Yeah."

"…So does this mean we can seal the deal?"

She bashfully played ignorant by replying: "how so?"

Harry didn't bother verbally replying to that one, some things were simply better shown than said.

Fin.

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author's note: must admit that I'm not too sure about this one, even if it is a repost. Hopefully, though, others might like it or give me advice on how to ameliorate it and I'll gladly revise, again.

p.s. in regards to how quickly she was able to dump Seamus… well it was a short period here in this piece so keep in mind that she only really had time for two or so dates.

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