Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Harry Potter. It all belongs to J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers. I write these stories purely for entertainment purposes; no copyright infringement is intended.

Cries in the Night

"Harry! HARRY!"

Harry sat up in bed with a gasp, his heart pounding. He had thought that the echoes of his mother's screams would fade with the death of Voldemort, six months before, but her voice had still been haunting him at night. Harry couldn't shake the feeling that there was something different about the voice; as much as it reminded him of Lily Potter's cries, it wasn't the same.

Harry glanced around his room as his breathing slowed, making sure everything was in its proper place. Nothing was missing or moved from the bedroom in his London flat – his clothes still folded over a chair, his Firebolt in the corner, his old trunk from Hogwarts resting at the foot of the bed, closed and locked, his picture of himself, Ron, and Hermione on the bedside table . . .

Hermione.

As Harry stared at the moving photo of his best friends, the "something" that had bothered him clicked into place. His hand clenched convulsively around his wand, although he didn't remember grabbing it as he woke.

The screaming voice in his dreams wasn't his mother's. It was Hermione's. Harry had never heard her scream like that, with such agonizing pain, not even when she was being tortured at Malfoy Manor.

Suddenly frantic, Harry leapt out of bed and snatched the knapsack he always kept ready for emergencies. He hadn't seen Hermione in several weeks, since his Auror training at the Ministry and her Healer training at St. Mungo's tended to conflict, but he was one of the few people who was allowed constant access to her flat. Clever witch that she was, she had found a way to key the anti-apparition wards so that they recognized and permitted certain individuals to apparate. He stood in the center of his living room, wand in hand, and turned on his heel.

CRACK!

Hermione jumped at the sound, the mug in her hand smashed into her kitchen sink, and she whipped around with her wand in her hand, shouting, "Expelliarmus!" Harry had reacted just as quickly, though, and a shield spread silently in front of him before Hermione's spell could reach him.

"Harry!" she gasped upon seeing her best friend. "You scared me to death!"

He lowered the shield and rushed over to her, folding a surprised Hermione in his arms. "Hermione! You're all right?" he asked, looking into her face.

"Of course I'm all right," she replied, her brow wrinkling in concern. "Harry, what's wrong?"

"No one's been here? No one's tried to hurt you?" he pressed, keeping his eyes locked with hers.

"No," she shook her head.

Harry sighed in relief, pulling her into a hug once more.

"I'm sorry I scared you. Come here, sit," he said, pulling her over to the kitchen table. Setting her down in a chair, he turned back to the sink, murmuring, "Reparo." The pieces of the mug flew back together, and Harry poured the tea that was waiting on the stove. He set the mug in front of Hermione, who gave him a grateful smile before she sipped at the hot liquid.

Harry sat across from her, studying her face in the light. He noticed that Hermione had circles under her eyes, as though she had been sleeping badly, and now that they were in the light instead of the shadows by the sink, he could definitely see traces of tears. His eyes darkened with worry.

"You've been crying," he said quietly.

Hermione looked up from her tea, startled, then flushed and looked away from him. Harry glanced around them again, looking and listening for anything unusual.

"Hermione," he said, his voice low, "if there is anyone here, if anyone has been here, you can tell me."

Hermione looked at him, astonished. "Harry, of course I would tell you! How can you even question that, after all we have been through?"

Harry nodded. "I just wanted to make sure. There are still Death Eaters out there, and if one of them was here and threatening you, I know you would try and protect me."

Hermione nodded in her turn. "I would, but I would still tell you, Harry. Besides," she added, "the way you just appeared, they would not have had time to hide."

Harry smiled at her and reached over to take her hand, squeezing her fingers reassuringly. His face grew thoughtful again as he looked at her.

"So why have you been crying in the middle of the night?" he asked gently. "Why are you even awake at this hour? I didn't know whether I would find you here, but I certainly didn't expect to find you awake and in your kitchen."

Hermione flushed again, her eyelids lowered. "I had a nightmare. It woke me up, so I decided to make some tea."

Harry squeezed her hand again, but his brain was working rapidly. She didn't seem to want to talk about the nightmares that were troubling her, yet they clearly were terrible enough to make her cry and prevent her from resting. Considering all the things they had gone through in the last three years, that wasn't surprising.

"What was the nightmare about, 'Mione?" he questioned, still keeping his voice as gentle as possible.

Her lips turned up a little at his use of the nickname, but her eyes remained dark and she sighed. "The battle. It's almost always the battle, various pieces of it."

She got up from her seat and went back over to the sink, staring out the window that overlooked the street. She was silent for a while, and Harry let her be, knowing that if she was going to talk to him, she would do it when she was ready. They had always been able to be silent together, never needing to converse simply because they were in each other's company. Their uncanny ability to read each other's thoughts extended to knowing when they each needed to think.

The trio of friends had spent many bad nights talking about the war after it was all over – it had done terrible things to all of them. Ron had gone to Romania to work with Charlie after a month, still grieving for his brother Fred and more solemn than he had ever been in his life. Harry remembered the morning that he left – Hermione had looked awful, Ron hadn't been much better, and he was sure that he himself had looked equally dreadful. It was so hard to have one of their trio leave, particularly when everything was so raw, but Ron had been convinced that he needed to go.

"I have to do this, mate," he had said to Harry the night before he left. They had all been at The Leaky Cauldron having dinner, and Hermione had gone to refill their drinks. "I feel like a git for leaving you both, but I have to have some time to get my head on straight. Things are so different, with Fred gone, Bill married, you and Ginny permanently broken up" – he arched an eyebrow at Harry, who grimaced –"and none of us can still think of anything but what happened that last day. I need to see if being somewhere else can help me sort things out."

Harry had nodded. "It makes sense, Ron. Just keep in touch, all right?"

Ron had nodded back and smiled briefly, but his face became sober again. "Harry, Hermione and I had a long talk last night, and we've agreed – no strings. We care about each other a lot, and nothing will change our friendship for each other and for you, but I don't think either of us is sure about more than that anymore. Merlin, everything's been so terrible that it would be a wonder if we could just go on as if nothing had changed. Look out for her, though, Harry, would you?"

"Of course," Harry said. "You know I would anyway."

Ron smiled again. "I know."

For once in his life, Ron had kept his word about writing. He sent letters to Harry and Hermione fairly often, sometimes brief but nevertheless cheerful, telling them how he was enjoying working with Charlie and the dragons – it was dangerous work, but he found it exhilarating and interesting all in one. The other positive about the work was that it kept him relatively safe from outside dangers. Charlie had insisted that everyone on their team be thoroughly trained in case of an attack, but even Death Eaters seemed to think twice about trying to attack a compound full of dragons.

Once Ron left, Harry and Hermione had taken over as each other's confidants. They had always been extremely close, but now there was no one else who could quite understand how they felt about the war, how it had forced them all to grow up so quickly, how they were still haunted by all the death that they had seen and the fighting they had been forced to do. Although it had been difficult to find time to see one another, they exchanged letters almost continuously and had gotten together in person when they could. Hermione had told him about every new lesson, and he had told her of every captured Death Eater, every small victory for their side. Harry often thought that they had both chosen their professions as ways of coping with the war. Hermione felt that healing made up for all of the fighting she had done, while Harry felt that being an Auror gave him the chance to continue saving others – only this time it had been his choice, rather than prophecy and necessity.

After a few minutes of silence by the sink, Hermione turned back to him, a question in her eyes.

"Harry, why did you come here tonight?" she asked. "With your emergency kit, no less," she added, her eyes flickering to where his knapsack still lay on the floor. "I know you thought I might be in danger – the way you questioned me was enough to tell me that, if it wasn't enough that you apparated to my flat at three in the morning – but why did you think so?"

Harry sighed. He had known she was going to get around to asking him this sooner or later; she was Hermione, after all. He wasn't sure she was going to like his answer, though, for any number of reasons. He ruffled his hand through his dark hair and looked at her a moment before speaking.

"I heard you screaming," he said simply. "I've been hearing you in my dreams for months. I thought at first it was my memories of my mother, again, but the voice never sounded quite right. I didn't put the pieces together until tonight, when I woke up. I was afraid you'd been hurt, that they'd taken you or were going to. It's been your voice screaming, ever since the . . ." He trailed off as realization hit him, and he stared at his best friend. Her face had turned white and her eyes were wide.

"Ever since the battle," he finished in a whisper. "I've been hearing your voice, screaming my name, ever since the battle."

Hermione didn't move. It was as though his words had frozen her in place. His eyes locked on hers, Harry rose from his seat and walked toward her slowly, still talking.

"You've been having nightmares about the battle, and I've been hearing your screams ever since the battle. You haven't just been dreaming about the battle," he said, reaching her. "You've been dreaming about me in the battle. I've been hearing your screams in my dreams." He lifted his hands and cupped her face, tilting her head up just a little to look at him. His brows were furrowed in thought and concentration. Hermione still hadn't spoken, but Harry could see in her eyes that he was right. There was apprehension, grief, and something else in Hermoine's dark eyes, something else that made his breath catch.

"'Mione," he said softly, stroking her cheek, "what do you see in the nightmares?"

Hermione had borne his scrutiny until now, but she suddenly found that she couldn't look into Harry's green eyes and say what she needed to say. She wouldn't lie to him about this, but if her world was going to crumble in the next few moments, she didn't want to watch it happen in his face. She lowered her head, pulling away from his touch, and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her cheek to his chest. She was trembling, and Harry's hand stroked her long, heavy curls, trying to soothe her. When she spoke, her voice was thick with unshed tears.

"It changes," she started. "Sometimes I see Hagrid bringing you out of the forest with Voldemort, and you lying at his feet – sometimes I see what happened in the forest, or a version of it, even though I wasn't there. Sometimes I see you and Voldemort fighting in the Great Hall. But the end is always the same." She shuddered, and Harry put his arms around her, knowing where she was leading.

"You're dead," she whispered. "You're dead, and I'm next to you, screaming for you to come back. Sometimes I wake up and I'm still screaming." Her eyes overflowed then, and she clung to Harry, weeping.

Harry tightened his hold on her for a few moments, then picked up her slight frame and carried her to the couch, where he held her close, murmuring quiet words of comfort, her legs over his lap and her head tucked into his shoulder.

"I didn't die, 'Mione. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. You don't have to worry. Voldemort's gone forever; he can't hurt us anymore. I'm here."

He continued the soft, reassuring words, anything he could think of, until Hermione's tears gradually slowed. Eventually he asked tenderly, "Why didn't you tell me, 'Mione?"

"Oh, Harry," Hermione sighed. "You've always shouldered burdens, for all of us, for Ron and I especially, even when we did our best to share them with you. I know how guilty you still feel over Sirius, over Dumbledore, over Remus and Tonks, over Fred, over Bill's injuries – even though you shouldn't," she admonished him firmly, looking him in the eyes, "– but I know you do. I didn't want you to feel guilty or burdened over this, too, when you aren't to blame. We've all been through so much horror that of course we're going to have nightmares about it. I know you still do, even though you never talk about them." She looked up at Harry and he nodded, his jaw muscles tight. "I know that you're here, and you're alive and well, and most of the time, when I wake up, that's enough."

Harry was still stroking her hair, almost unconsciously. The feel of it was just as soothing to him as his touch was to Hermione.

"What about when it isn't enough?" he asked.

Hermione looked up at him and shrugged sadly. "Tonight it wasn't," she said simply. "So I got up, and I came out to the kitchen, and if you hadn't appeared I would have made myself tea and read a book until I fell asleep again."

Harry tightened his arms around her again and kissed the top of her head.

"I'm glad I could be here, this time," he said.

"Me, too," Hermione whispered.

After a moment, Harry spoke again. "You only answered part of my question, Hermione."

Hermione lifted her head up from his shoulder so their eyes met, her brow creased in puzzlement. "What was the other part?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" he whispered, putting his palms to her cheeks. Without warning, he pressed his lips to hers.

Stunned, Hermione could hardly comprehend what was happening for a moment. Harry was kissing her – her best friend, whom she had secretly loved for years, was finally kissing her. Somehow he had seen it in her eyes, even though she hadn't told him outright – but then, why was she surprised? He had always been attuned to her, almost always known her feelings even when she tried to hide them. His lips were so soft, so warm, and Hermione thought she might cry again from sheer joy, from the beauty of this kiss that she had wanted for so long. She reached up and put one hand on the back of Harry's neck, and threaded the fingers of her other hand through his hair, and lost herself in the feel of him.

When they finally broke apart (and it might have been minutes or hours, Hermione thought wryly), her brown eyes opened only to focus on his green ones, those brilliant green eyes that were threatening to drown her with all of the emotion they held.

"Harry," she said softly. "I love you. I love you so much." She smiled, a luminous smile of joy, and Harry answered with one of his own, that rare smile of true happiness that always made Hermione's throat tighten with emotion.

"I love you, too," he answered, his voice as quiet as hers. A thrill went through her at his spoken confirmation of his feelings, at the look in his eyes that she had never dreamed she would see. She brushed her lips over his once more, smiling.

However, she could still see his earlier question in his eyes. She answered, "I never told you because – well, for so many reasons. For the longest time, I didn't think you cared for me that way, or ever could. You were with Cho, and then Ginny – and they were everything I never was, pretty and popular and socially adept – and Ginny is so fearsome with those magical abilities of hers, and she has the daring to go with them. Plus, she is Ron's sister, and he's like a brother to you. Being with her made you even more a part of their family, in a way. It just seemed to make sense that you two would be together, and I was glad to see you happy, even if it wasn't with me."

Harry shook his head, incredulous. "Hermione, Ginny is an incredibly talented witch, but she doesn't hold a candle to you. You weren't the smartest witch in our year and Minerva's prize student for nothing. And besides," he continued, putting his palm against her cheek, "it was you who kept me alive for the last seven years, not Cho or Ginny or anyone else. Ron's saved me as well, but we both would have been killed – or expelled – multiple times over without you." He grinned cheekily at her and she laughed, remembering her own words from their first year. "As for being daring, you are the one who went back in time with me to save Sirius, and you came with us to fight in the Department of Mysteries even when you knew it was a trap, and most of all, you were with me last year when no one else was, and we spent months in what seemed like a fruitless search. You have always been there, always willing to risk anything, and I've always known it. I've never told you how grateful I was, but I was so terrified of letting on how I felt about you, so afraid of losing you, that I couldn't say it. Finally, don't ever say that you are not beautiful, Hermione Jane." He caressed her cheek again, looking into her eyes. "You are amazingly beautiful."

Hermione couldn't speak for a moment, but her face told Harry how much it meant for her to hear that from him. He saw her eyes sadden a little as something else occurred to her. "Did you really think you couldn't trust me with your feelings, Harry? Didn't you know that nothing could ever make me stop being your friend, even if I wasn't in love with you?"

Harry heard the hurt in her voice, and shook his head. "That wasn't it, 'Mione. I always trust you with everything, and I would have trusted you with my feelings for you, too, eventually – but even though I could admit them to myself, I wanted more than anything to keep you safe. I've lost too many people that I loved simply because they were associated with me. I couldn't let that happen to you."

"You don't think being part of the 'Golden Trio' is enough to make me a target to begin with?" Hermione pointed out.

"Of course it is, but having everyone know that you are the woman I love would make it exponentially more likely that someone will come after you. That's still going to be true, even if Voldemort's gone," Harry said.

"I know that, Harry, but I wouldn't give up the opportunity to love you just because it will be a little more dangerous for me," Hermione answered earnestly. "I wouldn't give you up for anything, Harry James, don't you know that? Do you think I've spent seven years constantly having a backup plan for your impulsiveness only to leave your side now? Because if you do, you've gone absolutely mental, as Ron would say."

Harry chuckled, and Hermione nestled herself against him. They sat quietly for a few minutes before Hermione asked the question that Harry had known she would.

"How long?"

Harry laughed softly. "Since the moment you walked into our compartment on the Hogwarts Express, although I didn't know it then. All I knew was that you seemed to understand me the moment you met me, underneath that know-it-all exterior of yours." His amusement at and affection for the girl she had been was plain, and it warmed Hermione through to know that he had loved her for herself from the beginning. "I think I knew I cared for you more than anyone else in the world the night you helped me save Sirius, although I don't think I recognized it as 'love' even then. It wasn't until the Department of Mysteries that I knew how much you meant to me." His voice grew thick, and he pulled her closer as he remembered the night that Dolohov had left Hermione unconscious on the floor, the night that Sirius had died. Hermione felt tears prick her eyes as she heard the grief in his tone. "When I saw you lying there on the floor, all I felt was sheer terror. When Neville told me you had a pulse, I felt as though I had been given a reprieve from my own death. I knew then, and the evidence of what could happen to you if you were too close to me was right in front of my eyes."

"Oh, Harry," Hermione whispered. She reached up and stroked his cheek, looking into his green eyes that were as wet as her own. He sighed, shrugging painfully.

"So I locked it away, all of it. Ron fancied you anyway, and you were much safer being with him than with me. You seemed to make each other happy, and that was enough. I wanted you both to be happy, you most of all. I cared about Ginny, but I could also keep her from coming with us so nothing would happen to her. I couldn't keep you and Ron away and I knew it, but I was determined not to let anything happen to either of you if I could help it. When I went into the forest, thinking of you made it easier – along with Mum and Dad."

Hermione held him tightly then, and neither of them spoke for a long time. They simply stayed curled together, bestowing soft touches and occasional gentle kisses. Finally, Hermione raised her head from where it had been resting on Harry's chest and found his eyes with her own.

"I'll never leave you, Harry. I've been here with you for seven and a half years, and I'm not going anywhere. Anyone who thinks they can take me away from you, now that I know we love each other, has no idea what they are up against."

Harry smiled, his eyes promising her everything. "No, they don't."