category: Harry Potter
disclaimer: I don't own it.
The first time she met him was on the Hogwarts Express. It wasn't a memorable meeting, conducted over the issue of missing toads, and lengthened over the prospect of a yellow rat. But she did give him her name, and learned his. And she remembered the jagged scar and the mop of disheveled hair and the greenest eyes she'd ever seen.
They met again and again afterwards, and one thing led to another, and by the time it was Christmas, the three of them were the best of friends.
When they were in the room with the riddle and the potions, and Harry moved onward and she back, she could hardly breathe. For here was her first good friend, and he was possibly walking forward without ever coming back. And so she couldn't help it when she threw her arms around him in a desperate hug.
It wouldn't be the last.
They moved on through their schooling, and second year was full of fear. She knew that death was lurking around each corner – for her especially – and she doesn't know even now how many nights she lay in bed, trying to put together the pieces. She doesn't remember much more of those dark days, but she still feels the thrill of waking up after nearly a month of being petrified. And she can still picture her reunion with Ron, with Harry, and how she ran down the aisle and straight into his arms, because she really couldn't think of anything else she'd rather be doing.
Third year came and went before she could blink. It was a quick year, but a significant one: Crookshanks and Scabbers, time-turners, Buckbeak, lycanthropy, and Sirius Black all kept her mind occupied until it was June and time to go back home. If anything stood out though, it was the endless night before school finished. Not so much because of all the things that happened within those six hours, but because it had provided her with the perfect opportunity to reconnect with Harry. Growing tensions and worries and fear had distanced all three of them until they hardly remembered what bound their friendship together so tightly. And when the night was through, she couldn't place her finger on what exactly had stirred her so. Perhaps it was finally seeing exactly how powerful of a wizard Harry could be, and perhaps it was just the swooping feeling she had felt in her stomach when he taken her by the hand and led her through the Forbidden Forest. But felt it she had, and she knew that the difficulty breathing she had when he sat next to her boded anything but well.
Fourth year brought with it first love and first heartbreak. When Viktor Krum asked her to the Yule Ball, she didn't really understand, because she was just the brains in the trio, and even her two best friends usually passed over the fact that she was a girl. But she said yes, because she honestly didn't know who else would ever ask her. And if every other female student present longed for an invitation from the famous Viktor Krum, and she received it, then why shouldn't she accept?
When she made her way down the Great Hall on Viktor's arm, and heard the whispers flying about her robes and her hair and her teeth, she reveled. Because Harry was one of the whisperers, and just the thought of him finding her to look pretty made her heart beat nearly out of her chest. Even still, she couldn't push away Ron's biting skepticism as to Viktor's motives in asking her, or how he hung on to each of Fleur Delacour's words, or the longing looks Harry passed in Cho Chang's direction when he thought no one was watching. Sometimes, it seemed as though no one really had time for her.
Fifth year was the grimmest time they'd had yet. Voldemort was on the prowl, and to associate the Order of the Phoenix – let alone be a part of it – seemed to be a danger in itself. Harry was temperamental, and distant, and she didn't know how Cho managed to keep him interested for all those testy months. She checked her own feelings each time they threatened to push through, because she knew that now was not the time. In retrospect, she knows that deep down she realized that it would never really be the time. And she also knew that those emotions, under the nurture of her wild hopes and fantasies, had morphed into something much greater.
Sirius died, and Harry was all the more angry and disturbed. She wanted to set a hand on his shoulder, hold his freezing hands in hers, and tell him that she was still here for him, but she didn't. It wasn't her place – it never would be.
Then they were sixteen, and it was almost as if the sun came out for a day. The troubles beleaguering the wizarding world seemed few and far away under the umbrella of fresh love. Harry finally reciprocated Ginny's feelings, and with a passion he had never put into any previous relationship. She could do nothing more than watch, and pretend to be happy, and pretend she meant it when she told Ginny to go for it.
But Ron was there. And as she watched Harry come to better and better terms with his feelings, she let herself fall for Ron. He was a good man, kind and loyal and brave, and she knew him almost as thoroughly as she did Harry. So it was not a big step to convince herself she felt things she did not, and that she was infinitely jealous of Lavender Brown when really she wished her nothing but good luck in her relationship. But real feelings did develop out of that twisted make-believe, and when Ron was poisoned, she cried tears of genuine love, and not just friendship. Yes, she would repeat as she fell asleep to a terrible vision of a hovering Dark Mark over the Astronomy Tower, she truly loved Ronald Weasley.
Before she realized it, they were on the run. School and family and Dumbledore and safety had all vanished in a flash, and now they were adults, facing certain death at a degree higher than ever before. Ron walked away. It was just her and Harry, and she felt familiar stirrings in the pit of her stomach as he would take her hand and pull her out of the way of a deadly green beam, but it was not right. He had Ginny waiting at home, and she knew that Ron would always be there too. Then he returned, and although he didn't say why he was so angry at Harry, she wasn't stupid. She had common sense, and knew that Ron thought that she preferred Harry over him. She did, years ago, but if she did now was unknown to even her.
The war ended with a flood of blood and tragedy and death, death, death. She had kept a list of people she had known who had died during the war in the back of her diary since Sirius' passing in the fifth year, and as she looked over it the day after Harry killed Voldemort, she realized that she would never smile the same way again. But life moved on, and she came to terms with the fact that she wouldn't see Mad-Eye's whizzing electric blue eye, or Tonk's bubblegum hair, or Remus' worn face, or hear Fred's crazy laugh, ever again. Things were falling into place: not as she had dreamed them to when she was twelve and on top of the world, but according to a bittersweet reality.
She shifts a little to allow Harry to reach over and turn the page of the album lying across their laps. She watches a snippet of a Daily Prophet story (the one about her supposed love triangle with Harry and Viktor that Rita Skeeter had come up with to make some quick galleons) pass over the edge, and finds herself looking at a moving photograph of Harry and Ron in their scarlet and gold Quidditch robes from sixth year.
"Remember how maniacal we were when it came to Quidditch?" Harry asks with a laugh. "You always did hate it."
"I remember," she answers. "I did some silly things for you two during the Quidditch season,"
He nudges her with an elbow. "Like Confound Cormac McLaggen so he choked during Keeper tryouts?"
She smiles a little. "Like that."
Harry flips over to the next page of the album, a compilation of photos and newspaper clippings and letters and miscellaneous important pieces of parchment from their Hogwarts years that she and Ginny had spent years digging up from various classmates.
"That's from the Yule Ball!" he says in surprise, pointing. "I thought those photos were only for the Hogwarts archives."
"Rita was everywhere," she counters tersely, concentrating on the photo, "It doesn't seem to be a big surprise."
It's a group picture of all four contestants of the Triwizard Tournament, and their dates, and she studies her posture with Viktor's arm firmly around her waist and her shoulder slightly bumping Harry's on the other side. She had still had a crush on him then.
The house is quiet save for them. All the children are in bed, and Ron and Ginny are out to fetch some more drinks; it's certainly a night to celebrate. Tomorrow James will return to Hogwarts, and Albus and Rose will leave too, for their first year.
"I…ah," she begins, her voice tapering off as Harry turns to look at her curiously. She wants to tell him, because it's been twenty-six years since they first met, and if not now – then when?
She folds her two hands on top of the album, looks straight ahead and away from Harry, and clears her suddenly dry throat. "Remember the Yule Ball?"
Harry nods, but his mouth is twisted in confusion.
"And how you had wanted to go with Cho Chang?" At his repeated nod, she continues. "I was horribly jealous."
There is a short pause, but she does not allow herself to think and lose her pluck. "I had a crush on you then."
Then there is another silence, and it is much longer, and she counts the second hand of the grandfather clock tick forty-three times.
"Really?" He speaks softly, as if the entire affair is a secret to be kept.
"Really." There is a finality in her tone, but inwardly she wants him to pursue the topic further. She needs the closure she has been seeking for twenty years.
"He came later, much later." She pulls up the neckline of her dress, more to have something to do than out of necessity. "First there was only you."
He thinks for a bit. "How long?"
"It started at the end of first year, although I suppose I didn't come to terms with it until third."
"But until when?" he persists.
She turns her head with a jerk to meet his eyes for the first time since she initiated the conversation. She is confident now, because she knows that after coming this far, there is nothing to lose. "Now."
He takes in a deep breath with a swoosh and falls silent. They sit, both contemplating what has just happened. Minutes pass.
"Do you ever think of what it would be like if we had ended up together?" he ventures.
"Every time I see you," she answers, because it's the truth, and it's been pushed away far too long now.
"I think it could have happened, if we had given things a chance," It's his turn to be candid now. "I didn't feel it as strongly as you apparently did, but it was there." He laughs bitterly. "I can't lie: I did have some doubts about which girl I was chasing when I saw you walk down with Viktor Krum." He shifts his gaze to out the window. "But even more than that, really. I kept second-guessing all through the years. Because you were always there, when Cho and even Ginny weren't. From the beginning, through the Battle of Hogwarts, and still today."
It is quiet, and they are both focusing on different objects in the room, trying to ignore the tension in the air. He wordlessly moves his hand to rest on hers, and her heart does that familiar flip-flop, even after all this time.
An eternity later, they hear two soft pops outside, and they know that Ron and Ginny are on the front walk.
He squeezes her hand with a newfound urgency and meets her eyes. "I shouldn't be saying this now, because it's far too late for anything, but I want you to know: those feelings will never go away." He pulls her into a tight embrace, and she chokes back a sniffle.
His voice is a ghost when his mouth comes close to her ear. "It's not the kind we could have had, but I still love you, and you love me."
She closes her eyes, and can almost pretend that they are thirteen again, and things will be all right even when he unwinds his arms.
The door opens, and there is a breeze of warm air and a rush of voices and the clink of a dozen glass bottles. And there is Harry, next to her, and they are pretending to laugh over some generic photo in the album, but she wants nothing more than to sob uncontrollably.
Closure she has received, but she wishes she hadn't.
Her love for him was like the beacon of a lighthouse on a distant shore. When there were clear skies, the light could travel for miles undeterred. But with the arrival of storm clouds, the beam was diffused and weakened, until it finally died out completely in the cold sheets of rain.
A never-ending storm has moved into their lives.