"Ow! What are you—that hurts!" Hermione stepped on Harry's foot; he hissed air through his teeth. "Serves you right, that's the second time you've made me hit my head."
"Maybe if you stopped wiggling around like a Bowtruckle's gone down your top we'd be able to get situated here." He held out a hand; he sucked in his breath before he connected with what he thought was Hermione's shoulder. Holding her in place, he pulled his wand from his waistband and whispered "Lumos" into the small space. Hermione's blinking eyes came into focus; a dark cloud of mussed hair floated behind her.
She grabbed his wrist and lowered the brightly lit wand until it was at waist level. "Potter, care to tell me why you dragged me out of the library and into a broom cupboard? If I didn't know better I'd think you had completely lost your mind." Hermione stared at him in the dim lighting. Her eyebrows drew together. "Scratch that. I don't know that you haven't."
"Look," Harry began. "I've been trying to talk to you for days, but—"
"Don't 'look' me," Hermione interrupted. "I'm really not in the mood. Do you know I have three essays to finish? And I have to finish revising for the Charms exam tomorrow. I should get back in the library before Umbridge gets rid of the rest of the useful texts." She started to stand up and then winced, dizzy from her recent knock on the head. Rather than try again, Hermione pulled out her wand and conjured a small cushion. She landed on it with a small plop. Harry sat on the floor across from her, wedged awkwardly between her legs in the limited space. She tugged at her school robes until they were bunched between her bent knees. "Now explain," she demanded.
"I don't know where to start," Harry said. "Sometimes, I don't think I know what I'm doing around you at all."
Hermione stared at him for several long moments, her eyes widening and eyebrows lifting as she waited for him to continue. "Right…well, I'm sorry my presence seems to be so vexing for you. Can I go now or do you have something to add?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "You can be so frustrating sometimes, you know that?"
"You brought me here to tell me all the reasons you value my friendship?" She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall behind her. "You're doing a stellar job so far."
Harry laughed, the sound filled with a uncharacteristic sharp edge. "I don't know what it is about you. You're stubborn, bossy, argumentative, " he said, gesturing to the crossed arms and pouting lips that she was affecting. "I swear you'll drive me completely around the bend one of these days." He smiled and the lines on his face softened. "But you're also one of my best friends. You support me, even if you don't entirely believe in what I'm doing. You're always there with advice."
"Even if you hardly ever take it," Hermione put in. She relaxed her arms.
Harry nodded. He took one of her hands in his. He was relieved when Hermione didn't pull away, but his stomach filled with knots as he considered what he was about to say and do. "And you and I understand each other in a way that others can't." He looked down at their intertwined legs and a soft blush colored his cheeks, just visible in the dim light. "Sometimes it's scary that you can read my mind most days, but you have no idea how much it means to me," he whispered. "Especially after all that's gone on this year."
Hermione squeezed his hand. "Harry, this is sweet, but you didn't have to pull me into a broom cupboard to talk to me." He looked up. She was smiling. The knots in his stomach loosened a bit. "I'm happy to do these things for you," she continued. "You're the first person I felt close to here and in spite of the fact that you're going to get us all expelled one day," she grinned at Harry's abrupt laughter, "I'm glad to have you as a friend." She glanced at their surroundings again.
"Now, as touching as this little surprise exchange has been, I really have to go back to the library," Hermione said. She started to get up again. "Unless you have something to add?"
Harry squeezed her hand and then pulled his away to wipe the sweat from his palm onto his robes. It hadn't been this bad that first time with Cho. Of course, he hadn't spent over a week planning that. Still, it hadn't ended well. Harry didn't know what he would do if things with Hermione ended in a similar disaster. "I—I didn't really bring you in here just to talk. I wanted…no, I had to see if…crap," he whispered. Hermione didn't know it, but she could be more intimidating than being surrounded by Dementors.
"Harry, just come out with whatever it is," Hermione said. "You know you can share anything with me."
"I hope so," he whispered. Feeling clumsy in the small space, he bent over and planted his lips over hers. He felt Hermione gasp against his mouth before he pressed forward, moving until her back rested against the far wall and he had to prop himself up on his arms to keep from falling into her lap. After a few seconds, he pulled back. He'd dropped his wand in the exchange, plunging them into darkness. Now, the anxious feeling returned, filling his stomach. Harry knew the feeling wouldn't go away until he'd gotten her response. He groped around for his wand and lit it again.
Hermione stared at him, speechless for one of the few times that he'd known her. After several long moments, she finally found her voice, faint but echoing in the small space. "What was that?"
Harry smiled. "I like to think it was a kiss, but it's possible I wasn't doing it properly. Not much experience to speak of." He leaned forward again, brushing Hermione's knees to either side with his legs. "You gave me my first, remember? Still my best. Until now."
At this, Hermione blinked quickly, and Harry knew she was thinking back to the brief kiss on the cheek she'd given him at King's Cross almost a year previous. Given what had just happened, that innocent moment seemed a lifetime away.
"I never...when did...?" Her voice trailed off and she stared at him in the near-darkness, her expression unreadable. She hadn't rejected him outright, Harry had that to hold onto. But the confused jumble of emotions playing across her face wasn't exactly comforting. "How long have you thought about me as...more than a friend?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I've relied on you as a friend for a while now. I suppose you came to mean a little more to me without my realizing." Hermione's expression changed. Harry looked down at their intwined legs, avoiding her gaze. He didn't want to guess what she was thinking. Not yet. Not until he'd had a chance to get everything off his chest. He might not have the courage otherwise. "Maybe Cho saw something that I didn't. I see it now." He looked up again. "And I'd like to know if you see it as well." He took her hand again, mirroring the small smile she gave him.
"This probably seems a little crazy to you. I doubt it would make sense to anyone who knows us, as much as we denied it last year." He paused. Hermione was still smiling. Harry felt a little braver. "Some might even say it's not smart to change a friendship like this. But you once said to me there are more important things than cleverness. Like friendship, which we've tested again and again." Hermione moved then, adjusting her legs until she was kneeling in front of him. Their eyes locked. "And bravery," Harry whispered. Hermione squeezed his hand again before lacing his fingers with hers. She licked her lips.
"But there's also..." He stopped; the words dying on his lips. Hermione had leaned close, until her mouth was inches from his. In her eyes he found the word he was looking for, the beginnings of an emotion he didn't want to put a name on yet. It was there in the way Hermione held his hand, in the way she pressed her body to his in the darkness, their breathing slowly synchronizing, and in the way she kissed him then. They didn't need words to know what was most important. They had an understanding.