Disclaimer: Obviously, I do not own Harry Potter or anything connected to it. If I did, I would not be drowning in student loans. (Sorry - had to put this up there. I've forgotten about this and just wanted to state it for the record. Apparently there's some such going around about new copyright laws. Fun stuff.) Anywho, hope you enjoy!
"If You Only Knew"
The night progressed with laughter and stories of all that Harry had missed the last five years. George kept his distance, though Harry was more than preoccupied enough to not dwell on it too badly. In truth, he welcomed the shunning. He'd screwed up and while he missed George, he couldn't help but think he was in the right of it.
More visitors popped in and out of the house, the rest of his team and Professor McGonagall included, as well as Hagrid.
It left a bad taste in Harry's mouth to realize that he'd seen Draco Malfoy before he'd seen Hagrid. And he'd been at Hogwarts to boot. Hagrid's should have been one of the first places he'd gone to, if not the first. But he hadn't really been thinking clearly when he'd realized he'd announced his presence to the wizarding world. He'd meant to go back to the castle to finish his visit with McGonagall, but there just hadn't been time.
"Sorry I am late," a melodic, French accented voice chimed from the doorway, "but Evangeline refused to stop fussing. She is much like her father that way."
He turned to find Fleur standing there with a bouncing baby girl and Harry could barely stomach the shock. He supposed he knew somewhere in the back of his mind that Bill and Fleur would always try for children, but he'd never suspected Ron was an uncle already. Why hadn't he mentioned it before?
Ron looked apologetic. "Sorry, mate. I had too much on my mind."
"Too much to mention your niece?" Fleur reprimanded. "Shame on you, Ronald."
Apparently Ron never got used to having Fleur around all the time because his ears still turned just a shade red. Hermione snickered under breath and Harry had to bite the inside of his cheek.
Mrs. Weasley rushed over to her daughter-in-law and was rewarded with her gurgling granddaughter. Harry smiled, watching her coo over the infant and tickle her in the belly, making the appropriate baby faces. "Fleur, dear, there's food out back in the yard, still warm. I had Bill fix you up a plate."
"Bless you, Molly. I am starving." The blonde worked her way over to Harry and kissed him on both sides of the cheeks. "It is wonderful to see you again, Harry."
He smiled at her as she walked away. When he turned his attention back to Ron, he saw his friend's ears were still red. Harry raised an eyebrow. "What's the matter with you?"
"I promise it wasn't intentional that I failed to mention Evangeline to you."
Ginny grinned and placed an arm around her brother. "It's probably true. Usually Ron prattles on and on about Evangeline to anyone who will listen. I think he's most likely the world's proudest uncle."
His ears flamed red again. "Well, she's a cute little thing, isn't she? I can't believe there are people in the world that are actually that small. She's got a monster grip, though, let me tell you. She'll wrap her little fingers around you and then when you hold her she likes to tug at your hair. Blimey, Harry, I'm really sorry. I should have told you."
Ron started babbling and Harry, in an oddly good mood, laughed and placed his hand on Ron's shoulder, stopping him. "Relax. I think given the circumstances I can see why it slipped your mind."
Harry lifted himself up on a tall chair in the kitchen and he looked around the place, loving that he was back again. Not even seeing Hermione standing across the room could bring his mood down.
Ron joined him on the neighboring chair and locked his ankles around each other. Harry bit down a spurt of jealousy at the height his best friend had gained over the years. While Harry wasn't short by any stretch of the imagination, it was still something he had private grumbles over.
His friend smirked at him. "My legs are quite envious, aren't they?" Harry's face tinged pink. "Don't feel bad, mate. All the ladies admire them, too."
He rolled his eyes and leaned against the counter and huffed his chest out mockingly. "Yes, well, the ladies fawn all over my dark hair and green eyes. Beat that."
"I was on a professional Quidditch team. They threw themselves at me," he said, sticking his nose in the air.
"Yeah, yeah," Ginny said, biting into a roll. "Harry saved the bloody world which trumps any measly accomplishment you've done and makes him far sexier in the eyes of the imaginary women you two are making up. Please do shut up."
Harry started laughing at the scowl on Ron's face. While most men would have bragged about how non-imaginary the women he'd been with were, Harry wasn't proud of it, so he kept his mouth shut. Besides, the look on Ron's face was priceless. He turned to Dean, his posture defensive. "You're going to let your fiancée talk about another man that way—to her ex-boyfriend, no less? Have you no pride, man?"
Dean shrugged. "It's true. If I weren't straight and one hundred percent madly in love with your sister, I'd go for Harry any day of the week if I thought he'd have me," he said with a wink to Ron, then placed himself by Ginny's side, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his chin on her shoulder.
"Bloody unbelievable," Ron muttered under his breath.
Jim must not have caught onto the fact that Harry didn't want to brag about the women he'd been with because he started spewing out word vomit. "Ginny, I can assure you that the women chasing after Harry definitely weren't imaginary. He was a regular skirt-chaser," he said with a beaming grin.
He missed Harry signaling him to shut up and his face turned bright red. "Oh. Oops. Sorry, man."
He couldn't help noticing Hermione stiffen at Jim's declaration. Ron raised an eyebrow at Harry and it was actually Ginny who snickered at the situation. "Come on, Dean. Let's give this bunch some privacy. I have a feeling Harry's going to need it."
"Wait for me!" Jim piped up, grabbing his drink. "Sorry," he mouthed again to Harry on his way out the door.
Ron stared blankly at him. "So you were a skirt-chaser?"
"Um . . ."
Hermione still remained abnormally quiet. Normally she would have thrown her two cents in already, but it was like she hadn't even heard the conversation so far.
"That doesn't sound like you," Ron stated. "You're the relationship type. You can't help it. It's just in your nature. So what gives?"
"Look," he said, feeling slightly defensive of his past behavior, "it's not like I'm still that way now. I honestly can't remember the last time I even had sex." He admitted that with great cost to himself; he could feel the heat rush to his face and wanted to sink to the ground. Maybe that was why he was so frustrated and moody lately. He kept thinking about sex, sex with Hermione in particular, and had no way to do anything about it.
He studiously avoided Hermione's gaze and focused on the floor. "Besides, I wasn't exactly fit to be in a relationship or anything at that point in my life. I was a bitter old man of eighty-five trapped in a nineteen year-old's body," he tried joking.
He wasn't surprised that it fell flat.
"Okay, so what made you stop doing that, then?" Ron asked, curiosity plain as day.
It was honestly making Harry uncomfortable. "I don't see why you're taking such a keen interest in this. I'd rather not talk about that particular part of my time in New York."
Hermione sighed and finally walked over to them. "Harry, you can't blame him for being curious. The three of us have been best friends since our first year in Hogwarts and you were missing from our lives for five years. We want to know about it. About . . . everything."
And now he was officially uncomfortable. "You want to know about my sex life?" he deadpanned.
Her face flushed and Ron's lip twitched. "We don't want the details, no. At least I don't, anyway. But what about your relationships? Have you had any or were they all just romps in the sack?"
He flinched at the crudeness of her word-choice. They wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the slightly accusatory tone she was using.
Feeling his feathers get ruffled, he raised his chin and stared her, dead on. If she was going to give him the third degree, she'd get her answers, no matter how unpleasant she found them. "No, I didn't have any relationships, not unless you count the one with my godson."
She snorted. "So they were all just warm bodies?"
"Hermione," he said with a sigh, "what is the point of this? Do you really want to know that I was such a mean bastard at that point in my life that I hate remembering it? I was insufferable to everyone but Ted. I was drunk half the time and when I wasn't drunk, I was working. I got a good kick in the ass from his nanny and she put my head back on straight for me. Anything else you want to know?"
She smiled sweetly at him. If anyone else were to have seen this smile, they would have thought it normal, pleasant even. Harry, and likely Ron as well, knew better though. "Well, it's funny you should ask—"
"Okay," Ron interrupted, clasping his hands together, a bright, fake smile on his face. "I think this concludes our Q&A session for the evening. Who's up for a nice game of Quidditch in the backyard then? Any takers?"
Silence drifted through the room, winding around them, taunting Ron for his valiant effort to set the conversation on track.
Hermione's gaze flicked to Harry's, her expression completely unreadable and closed off to Harry and the tension in the room seemed to thicken. Ron looked back and forth between his two best friends, appearing to be feeling rather helpless. Harry wished he could do something to make him feel better, there wasn't much to be done.
He would have to remember to have a long talk with Jim. There were just some things about his time in New York that he'd rather not share with his best mate. Things were on rocky ground enough as it was without the help of his debauchery added to the list. He knew Jim hadn't meant to muck things up for him, but now he had to at least attempt to explain himself and he had no idea how to go about doing it either.
He wasn't quite sure what Hermione wanted from him, either. She seemed quite determined to keep him at arms' length, yet she was the first to question him on his past regarding his relationship statuses. It was frustrating. Did she really have the right to be questioning him like this under the guise of their past friendship?
He could probably handle it if he thought she was questioning him out of jealousy. Instead, he realized he had no idea what her true motivation was and it was tempting to infuriate him. He'd forgotten how well she knew how to push his buttons.
She shook her head and walked away from them silently, leaving Harry and Ron both baffled.
"I guess that's a no, then," Ron said quietly.
Harry offered him a weak smile. "That went well, don't you think?"
"I really don't know what's up with her, but she'll come around. I suppose it's just a little strange hearing about you having casual sex when the idea of it used to make you balk before. It's just weird."
His patience was wearing itself thin. If he were any other man on the planet, his actions wouldn't be questioned. Though he had to admit that he was a little grateful that Ron recognized that tidbit about casual sex—that must mean Ron knew somewhere in his soul that Harry hadn't gone behind his back because he'd simply wanted to have sex with Hermione. That was something at least.
"So I had sex with willing women who wanted no strings attached. So what? I'm sure you had romps with your Quidditch groupies to scratch your itches, but is anybody batting an eyelash? No."
Ron shrugged and leaned back in his chair. "That's different and you know it." Harry opened his mouth to argue, but the redhead stopped him. "I'm expected to be the screw up. You, on the other hand, are expected to be perfect and therefore, you're the golden child who can do no wrong."
Harry was relieved to find that there wasn't a trace of bitterness in Ron's tone, that it was teasing, even. Maybe there was hope yet. "Oh please. Of the two of us, I'm the one who opted to break the rules at every turn. When a new one was made up, I made a sport of trying to see if I could get away with breaking it."
"You're forgetting one very important fact, mate. I grew up with Fred and George, the two Weasleys who absolutely lived for breaking the rules. Their mischievousness was bound to rub off on me," he pointed out. "Besides, if you hadn't suggested breaking the rules, I would have been right behind you suggesting it instead."
"True. You're a bad influence on me."
Harry was grinning now, remembering some of the times the three of them had gotten themselves into trouble.
"Speaking of George," Ron said slowly, "he'll come around. He's only being a git to you because he thinks you deserve it."
The easy grin slid from Harry's face as he thought about George. The normally care-free Weasley had seemed to take extra care in avoiding Harry for the evening. Not once had Harry managed to talk to him. "It's okay," he said, keeping his voice light. "I'm honestly surprised I haven't run into more problems with your family. I was expecting it."
Ron sighed. "Did you really think we'd hang you out to dry after everything we've been through together?" He paused for a minute and Harry wondered if this was it. If this was going to be 'the talk'.
Judging by the look on Ron's face, it was safe to assume that it was. "Okay, I think this conversation is long past due since it's clear you think you're still entirely at fault. Maybe you've forgotten parts of the story, but I haven't. Things changed after the war, mate. We all had our own scars we were dealing with and we failed to be the support system we should have been. I shouldn't have let you go for so long—you were right when you called me a coward before.
"I saw what you were going through but I didn't know how to deal with it so I pretended it would all go away on its own. I didn't know how to reach you. I guess . . . I guess part of me knew that the only person that would be able to was Hermione. And that was on me.
"I knew that when I left during the search for the horcruxes something changed. She stayed with you and that's not something you forget. She was there for you when I wasn't."
"Ron—we already forgave you for that a long time ago. I thought we talked about it already."
Harry honestly wasn't quite sure where this confession was coming from. He held no grudge against Ron for leaving during the war. All of them recognized that a large part of the rage that had come from the youngest male Weasley stemmed from the necklace. They hadn't blamed him for that.
"You may have forgiven me but I haven't." Ron ran a hand through his hair. "How many other times have I nearly screwed up with our friendship in the past? There are a number of examples I could give you but I really don't think I could stomach it right now. Besides, you're family, Harry," he said with a fierce renewed determination. "You forgive family for their indiscretions like you've forgiven me in the past, for their idiocy. If your own family can't forgive you, then who can? Look at Percy. You think we had an easy time forgiving him? Hell no."
His face darkened and Harry knew that Percy's past wrongdoings still bothered Ron very much indeed. "There are days I want to hex him for being that snobby, pigheaded, ambitious prick and for putting Mum and Dad through all that unnecessary hell. It's maddening thinking about it, so I try not to. But we got through it all. We got past it and forgave him. He's family. Same goes for you. Look, I'm not saying that I'm thrilled with how things happened.
"I hate that you two went behind my back and it still makes me see red if I think about it too long. But I think we can get past this. I'll need a little time to wrap my head around it, but I think I'll get there. You just need to stop beating yourself up indefinitely over it. It was fun for a while, now it's time to move on. You're one of us, Potter. I'm afraid you're stuck with us."
"Well said for a speckled git," a deep voice said from behind. Harry and Ron turned to find George standing behind them in the doorway, leaning casually against the frame. "Don't get me wrong, I still think you're a tosser for leaving us the way you did and you can expect to find nice surprises from me littered throughout your house and maybe your office as well." He walked over to the bin holding the bread rolls and bit into one, talking with his mouth full of food. "Like this midget said, though, you're stuck with us and whether I like it or not I have another puny brother I have to deal with."
While Harry didn't exactly trust having George standing this close to him, he had to admit that he felt better knowing he'd just been given an acceptance of sorts. "Thanks."
"Now don't get too comfortable with yourself, Potter. You're not quite off the hook."
Harry's lips twitched and he folded his arms, peering at George. "And how exactly do I get off the hook?"
His answer was a devilish grin that made Harry want to weep like a baby and cry for mercy. He knew George well enough to know that he was about to be headed for rough waters. George made for the doorway again and Harry reached for his drink he'd been nursing for hours. "Sure you want to drink that?" Harry peered inside his glass, wary all of a sudden. It had been fine earlier. "Happy chatting boys," he said with a wide grin and exited through the archway.
Ron was grinning like a Cheshire cat before he finally burst out laughing. "Oh man, you know he's going to screw with you for a good long while now, don't you? You're his new guinea pig."
"At least he's talking to me," he said with a careless shrug. "I'll be his guinea pig for a year to get things back on track again."
"Don't let him hear you say that ever, or he'll milk it for all it's worth."
Harry chuckled and used his wand to get a new drink since he definitely didn't trust his current one. The two of them sat in a companionable silence, putting Harry at ease. It didn't last long, though.
"So," Ron started, his voice nervous, "there's something I should probably tell you." Harry's heartbeat kicked up a notch. He knew this tone in Ron's voice, knew that this conversation would, without a doubt, be centered around Hermione.
This was it. This was where he would have to suck it up and go back to pretending to be happy for his best mate. He'd nearly tossed his friendship down the drain once. He wouldn't do it again. If Ron and Hermione wanted to be together, then Harry would find a way to be happy for them and let her go. Obviously he wasn't meant to be with her. "Hermione and I, well, we talked and—what's wrong with you?"
"What are you talking about?"
His friend eyed him strangely, studying him far too intently for Harry's liking. "You have this fake smile on your face that looks like it actually hurts. Seriously, I'm in pain just seeing it and not just because it's your face that it's on."
"Ha, ha," he said dryly.
"I'm serious, what's the matter with you?" Ron's own facial expression suddenly turned furious, leaving Harry baffled. "Come with me." He grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him off the chair, dragging him out the door, ignoring the perplexed looks on everybody's faces.
When they got outside, Harry yanked his arm out of Ron's grip. "What are you doing?"
Before answering, he did a silencing charm around them, which Harry supposed was probably for the best if they were going to exchange words and judging by how livid Ron looked, they were going to.
"Good, now that that nosy lot won't be able to intrude, let's get a few things out in the clear. We're never going to be friends again, not the way we used to be, if you do this whole fake happy thing that you just pulled in there. You thought I was going to tell you that Hermione and I were getting back together, didn't you?"
Harry looked away from Ron. He couldn't tell him that the idea of him and Hermione getting back together made him want to spew.
"You were just going to sit back and let your misery build like you did last time, weren't you? Well screw that!" Ron was shouting so loudly that his face was actually turning red. "Stop trying to extract yourself from us, mate! What we do affects you, too, so quit being so damn self-sacrificing. If it's going to make you unhappy, then bloody say so!"
He let out a bitter laugh and crossed his arms. "Right, because that wouldn't make you resent me."
"Oh for Merlin's sake," Ron groaned, "I think you get off being a martyr or something. Can't be happy unless you're sacrificing something, is that it?"
Harry ignored that bit. He could see why people would think that, but he wouldn't bother justifying himself to his best mate. "Ron, you know it's true. Can you honestly tell me that if I said I had a problem with you getting back with Hermione, you wouldn't be a little bitter about the fact?"
Ron released a frustrated scream. "You're not listening! Forget about me for just a second. Take the fact that we've been friends out since our first year of school out of the equation and just admit it already! Last night, you wanted to kill me for offering Hermione a place to stay. You wanted her at Grimmauld Place with you, even though you were still angry with her."
"She's free to stay with whomever she wants to."
"STOP! Enough with the lying." He took a deep breath, shook his head. "I thought we said no more lies. I thought we said that from now on, we were going to be one hundred percent truthful with each other if we had any hopes of getting our friendship back on track. We said that, didn't we, or did I just imagine that?" Harry said nothing, knowing Ron had a point. "Then admit to me that you still want her. Say it right now. I may not want to hear it, but it needs to be said so let's get this over with."
For a moment, the only thing to be heard was the sound of their heavy breathing. Harry shut his eyes, wishing he could say that no, he didn't want Hermione, and mean it. He couldn't help it though. He never stopped wanting her—not for a single second that he'd been away. He would probably always want her, always love her. Need her.
Out of everybody, she was the one person that he could count on for anything, the one constant in his life. Even when she sent him away after their one shared night of passion, he knew that if he ever needed her, she would be there in a heartbeat. She was his person and it took him five years to realize it.
His throat tightened as he recalled her words to him six years ago, remembered as she said them even with the tears streaming down her face . . . "I'll go with you."
She would never know how much it meant to him that she'd have faced down anything with him, even if it meant her own death. He hadn't realized back then exactly what the funny feeling in his chest was, hadn't recognized the deeper affection, the deeper feelings. He'd had other things on his mind at the time, like facing his certain death.
His eyes fluttered open and he looked at Ron, their gaze locking, an understanding passing between them. "I love her," he said simply. "I'll always want her. It's not just that, though, Ron."
"That's what I thought."
"It doesn't matter what I want. She doesn't want me back, not that way."
He remembered her question when they'd still been in Greece, if they would ever be friends again. She hadn't asked if they had a chance at a relationship, no. She'd wanted friendship.
The words hurt to admit aloud. That was such a large reason why he was prepared to ignore everything again. He would rather ignore it then have to deal with that sting he knew would never go away. She would always choose Ron, whether it was because it was what was expected of her or if it was her true desire, he didn't know.
But her reasoning didn't make her decision less painful. He swallowed. "I think she's made that perfectly clear."
"You really are thick," Ron said. "Do you want to know what Hermione and I talked about last night?"
No he didn't want to know, especially not if it meant that he would have to hear about his friends getting a happily ever after.
Ron didn't wait for an answer. "We talked about you, you dolt. What else did you think we would talk about?"
The redhead threw his hands in the air and made a strangling motion with his hands. "Yes, you! Does it really surprise you? Did you really think she and I wouldn't talk about what you told me? We're still friends, Harry. It's not like it used to be and I know she and I get into fights at the drop of a hat and she still has an uncanny ability to drive me barking mad, but we still tell each other everything."
Harry instinctively knew that his skin paled. He was quite sure all the color washed away from his face. He wasn't quite sure what he expected, but it wasn't that Hermione would divulge every detail to Ron. "She talked to you about . . ."
"No! No, no, no. No," he said, shaking his head. His eyes were closed and he was covering his ears. If Harry weren't feeling so dumbfounded, he probably would have laughed. "Never that. There is such a thing as crossing the line with too much information. I was talking more along the lines of why she did it, of where it leaves all of us now that the truth is out in the open." Ron took another shaky breath. "Hermione and I, well, we've decided we're officially not trying again. We've agreed we're better off as friends. We both love each other, just not enough."
"I'm not quite sure what you want me to say to that." Was he supposed to say he was sorry when, in fact, part of him was jumping for joy, a very large part? It felt like he would be lying if he tried to offer soothing words.
"You don't need to say anything. I just wanted to let you know, so that you can . . ehm . . . well I can't say that part of me won't be jealous and that I won't act like a jealous idiot, but can you blame me? Hermione's a good catch."
He raised a dark eyebrow at his best mate. That sounded nice in theory, but he wasn't quite sure that he bought it. While it was great that Ron admitted he would be jealous, Harry knew that could be problematic. Ron had always been a jealous person, which Harry honestly couldn't blame him. With all the attention he had to compete for, with always being outdone by his brothers and even his sister, it made sense to Harry.
All of this and more was why Harry couldn't see that Ron was so easily giving his 'blessing'. "And you'll just be magically okay if she and I happen to work things out? You can sit there and tell me that you won't resent me?"
"I'm not saying that it won't be awkward." Harry snorted at the understatement. "Okay, it will be majorly awkward," he admitted.
"Thank you. Yes it will be."
"And I'm not saying that part of me won't hate it . . . and you . . . just the tiniest bit. I'm not that noble. But there's no sense in all of us being miserable, is there? Besides, it's not like I don't go out on dates and things like that. I admit that she's a good catch, but I'm hardly pining after Hermione. It would be stupid for you two to suffer as some sick sort of punishment. It's over and done and you can't un-have sex with her. Just know that I'm expecting some really nice birthday and Christmas presents for many, many years."
Harry's lips twitched, despite himself. "Noted."
"I also have one requirement if things do work out. If and when you and Hermione decide to stop being stupid about this whole thing, please keep the snogging to a minimum. At least until you introduce me to your nanny friend," he finished with a big grin.
The mention of Kate brought Harry crashing back into reality. He should have heard from her by now. She would have responded to his owl because she knew he would be worrying if he didn't get a reply back.
He couldn't believe he hadn't thought about that. The entire night his thoughts had been one huge ball of distraction. With so many things going on, Kate hadn't crossed mind before now. And it had taken Ron mentioning her to bring him back to reality.
A frown must have shown on his face because Ron tilted his head to the side, curious. "What's wrong?"
"We need to go back to New York," Harry said abruptly, not even noticing how easily he'd used the pronoun 'we'. It seemed it didn't take long to slip back into old habits. "I need to check on Kate and Ted."
"But we were just there," Ron protested. "Why didn't you do it before we left for Greece?"
While responsibility dictated that Kate's should have been his first stop, Harry hadn't been able to bring himself to do it, despite the itching need to wrap his arms around Teddy.
His weakness for his godson had kept him from checking in on them. He'd known it would be far too difficult to leave again if he saw Teddy, even for a few minutes. However, if he'd known that Kate believed she was being followed, he'd have been there in a heartbeat. He should have gone over there the moment he'd gotten her owl.
How much of a worthless cad was he? He rubbed a hand over his face and silently cursed himself for being thoughtless. "Because I'm a bloody idiot, that's why. Come on."
Harry moved quickly back to the house and prepared to tell Mrs. Weasley that he needed to leave for a bit. It was going to be a touch conversation, he was sure, but hopefully she would understand that he wasn't leaving this time and not coming back.
"Wait," Ron said, his voice hesitant. Harry paused and turned back to look at him. "What if . . . could we maybe tell Hermione and have her come with us?" Harry said nothing and stood there in stunned silence. It wasn't that the thought hadn't occurred to him to invite Hermione along. He just hadn't wanted to actually go through with asking her. Seeing Harry's hesitation prompted Ron to speak quickly. "It's just that we only just now got her back. If we keep this from her, it will likely put a huge halt in any progress we've been making."
They'd been making progress? That was funny since Harry couldn't tell.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," he said slowly. "Things are still kind of rocky between us. I mean you saw what happened in the kitchen. She wanted to tear my eyes out."
"And how would her coming with us to New York make things worse?"
Harry thought about it and he supposed Ron had a point. The only thing that was in true danger of suffering was his pride. He sighed. "All right, then. Let's tell Hermione that we're going to New York."
Ron grinned and reached over to ruffle Harry's hair. "Just like old times."
His overly tall best friend made a mad dash for the house, leaving Harry standing there already questioning his decision. Was this wise? He wasn't sure it was but he supposed he didn't have much choice in the matter.
He sighed and made his way into the kitchen. He got angry with himself when his heartbeat kicked up a notch at the sight of Hermione standing there, listening intently to what Ron was saying. This was not fair. Why was she so unaffected? Why could she stand there and not care that he was standing right behind her?
As if she felt his gaze on her back, she turned slowly and gave him a small, tentative smile. "We're going to New York, then?"
"You're coming?" he asked stupidly. He knew Ron was going to ask her, but he honestly hadn't expected her to say that she would come.
Her smile faltered and Ron glared at him. "I mean I thought I was. Ron said—"
"Sorry," he said quickly. "I guess I'm just not used to a lot of company anymore. It's going to take me a little while to become acclimated with everything again."
He was surprised that it was actually the truth. For the longest time, it was just him and Ted and occasionally Kate. Sure, he saw Oliver and his teammates, but that was mostly at work. Being surrounded by so many people again was proving to be a little overwhelming.
Ron gave him a pointed stare and Harry realized that he was going to have to bite the proverbial bullet and extend the invitation himself now that he completely muddled everything.
He took a deep breath and shoved his hands in his pockets. Merlin, he felt like he was in Hogwarts trying to ask Cho on a date for the first time. His palms were actually sweating. He'd faced down countless Death Eaters and he couldn't face the idea of inviting the woman he was in love with to come check on his godson with him?
He shook his head at himself. Get a grip, Potter. Man up.
"I want you to come with us, Hermione. If you want to, that is. I mean—"
"Yes," she said, surprisingly quickly. "Yes, I want to come."
A knot that Harry hadn't realized was settled firmly in his chest slowly untied itself. It was strange how much relief five words could bring.
"All right, then. Let's go."
The smile that she gave him was almost worth all the troubles they'd been through since his return. It was strange what one smile that he'd missed so much could do for him. He felt . . . hope.
His eyes locked with Ron for a moment and though Harry didn't know why, all he did know was that he needed to talk with Hermione before they left. He was tired of the elephant in the room. And though they hadn't been best friends in years, the connection still seemed to be there—Ron got it.
Because in the next breath, Ron cleared his throat. "Right. I'm going to just go see my niece before we have to head out."
Hermione looked panicked. "Ron—"
"See you two in a bit. Try not to kill each other."
Ron left the room and suddenly he was very much alone with Hermione. Silence overcame the room and he was acutely aware that Hermione was looking everywhere but at him. He let out a frustrated sigh. He was tired of this. If he couldn't have her, he at least wanted his friend back. He missed her too much.
It was painful that he would never be more than a friend to her, but if that was all he could have, he would have to take it.
She gave him a weak smile, still not meeting him in the eye. "I'm sorry for what I said earlier about your past in New York. It was out of line and I shouldn't have said anything."
He released a breath and nodded. "Apology accepted." The apology helped, though it wasn't exactly necessary. He'd expected the questions and the confusion from his friends when they found out. He hadn't wanted them to discover that part of him, but he'd known that it was only a matter of time before they did. It was better that it was all out in the open now, anyway.
Harry walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She tensed under his touch and he saw her breathing kick up a notch. "What are you doing?" she whispered.
"We need to talk."
"I . . ." she backed away from him, her cheeks flushed. His face must have betrayed him because she finally looked him in the eyes. "I'm sorry, I just need the space. I can't think properly when you're this close to me."
His lips parted at the admission. That was news to him. She always seemed so bloody unaffected by him. It was part of why he was so frustrated with everything. "Look . . ." he started awkwardly and shoved his hands in his pockets. "I hate that we're not talking. I hate that we can't. It's completely ripping me apart, Hermione."
She stood there for a moment, not saying anything. "But you're the one who's been so angry with me! I thought I was doing what you wanted by staying away from you!"
"What?" he barked out. "You thought I wanted you to go with Ron? Are you mental?"
Her cheeks flushed again. "You would barely look at me the night we got back and went to Grimmauld Place! What was I supposed to think? Of course I went with Ron."
Harry winced. "I was mad at you—I am mad. Do you not understand that you took my future out of my hands Hermione?" He thought of his life before the war, before he knew that part of Voldemort was inside of him. He thought about the fact that his life had been mapped out without him knowing it, that he'd been allowed to live long enough so he could die at the proper moment.
He supposed he understood why it was done the way it was done, but that didn't make him like it. He never thought his friends would take important decisions out of his hands, least of all Hermione. "I've had enough people doing that to me in my life. I didn't think I had to worry about it from the woman that I was going to fight to be with!"
Tears welled in her eyes. "I know that you would have fought for me, Harry. That's why I did it. That's why I could do it." She sniffled a little bit. "I guess it gave me the strength that I needed knowing how much you cared. But Harry, please. I was there since the first year—I saw you go through all the ups and downs with Ron. Do you think that I wanted to be the reason that you lost your best friend . . . your brother?"
Harry paused for a moment. How was it that he had never considered that particular angle before now? Why was it that he'd never thought about it from her perspective?
He swallowed roughly. Hermione continued before he could say anything. "I knew when I decided to do it that there would be consequences. How could there not be? But Harry what we did . . . it was wrong. We were both in the wrong. No matter how good it felt at the time," she finished in a whisper.
There it was. The elephant.
But Harry had to argue with her on one point. "Right," he corrected.
She glanced up at him with a befuddled expression on her face. "What?"
Harry moved closer to her, following her as she backed away from him. When she was trapped against the wall, he reached up and brushed a strand of hair from her face. Her breath hitched and he couldn't stop his own pulse from kicking up a notch. "You said no matter how good it felt. I disagree."
"Oh?" she squeaked out.
"It didn't just feel good, Hermione. It was right—no matter how wrong it was." Her lips parted as if she were going to say something, but he didn't let her. "We haven't been the best with communication, but I think that it's time for that to come to an end. You should know that I would have done anything, given up anything and everything to be with you. Hermione, you know that wasn't just a fling for me."
Her eyes flickered shut and a single tear streamed down her cheek. "I know."
He swallowed and braced himself for an answer he might not like for his next question. "Was it for you?"
A beat of silence passed and Harry's heart thundered erratically in his chest. Whatever she said next would be the truth. She wouldn't lie to him a second time. He was sure of it.
"No. You know that, too, Harry. You always knew I was lying."
He nodded, surprised that it was the truth. Perhaps deep down, part of him always knew that she'd been lying and he'd simply used it as the excuse he'd needed to run away. He'd felt so suffocated back then, so stifled that not even Hermione had been able to help him. If anything, his feelings for her had made it all worse.
The timing hadn't been right.
Ron popped back in the kitchen and Harry slowly backed away from Hermione, frustrated with everything. "Right, then," Ron said cheerfully. "Are we ready?"
And now, standing there in the Weasley's kitchen, the only family he'd ever really known, he had to ask himself . . . would it ever be?
Thanks for the ongoing interest! I can't believe this still had any reviews going for it. LOL.
I'm going to try to stay as focused on this as I possibly can. I've been watching the Potter films and it's been inspiring me to write. So hopefully the inspiration sticks.
Chapter 14 still needs to be completely written, unfortunately. However, with as well as things have been going, I'm aiming to have it finished within a week or two. That being said, it may not happen, as you are all well aware how awful I am with updating. Plus with work and such, it's really hit and miss with finding writing time. But I'm determined, so my fingers are crossed.
Hope you all enjoy the chapter!