For the Challenge That Must Not Be Named, and for the Unlikely Pairings Challenge (mine was Harry/Hermione, hot cocoa)


Like A Sister To Me

I've never had…friends like you and Ron before. I've never had friends before, honestly. Dudley always scared people off—I wasn't worth the risk of offending him. And now—I can't believe how amazing it is—friendship. So I guess I just wanted to say thanks, Hermione. Thanks for being my friend.

And thank Godric for the troll, eh? I can't imagine not knowing you. Not having you nag me about homework, and tell me when I'm being stupid…or going on too long, as I obviously am right now…My point is—

You know what? Forget my point. I don't need a point—I just need you. My dear, dear friend. Thank you.

Harry

P.S. Please write back quickly—I need to know this past year wasn't just a dream.

--

I took a deep breath, wishing I could actually send my letter. But the Dursleys would never let me, and anyway, I wasn't quite brave enough for that—in spite of being a Gryffindor.

Blushing, although there was no one to see me, I scribbled the word before I could talk myself out of it again.

I wasn't going to send this letter, anyway, I reasoned. It was just so embarrassing.

My dear, dear friend. Thank you.

Love,

Harry

Love is honesty—even if it's only to yourself.

--

"Pipes."

Certainty flooded me. All these adventures—Aragog, Dumbledore getting sacked—and now, I knew.

She'd given me the one piece of information left to figure out the whole puzzle—the strange voices I'd been hearing, Hagrid's roosters—I couldn't believe it.

It was all falling into place.

And the rest is history, by now—literally, in my case. Thank Godric 12 Grimmauld Place is still Unplottable, or the latest Rita Skeeter wannabe would photograph me in the shower—but anyway.

"We couldn't have done it without you," I remember telling her, after the feast.

She smiled and shrugged and laughed it off, and went back to complaining that we had no exams, but I was serious. Without her, I really would be lost.

Love is trust—even if the danger seems more than you can face.

--

"Miss Granger, three turns should do it. Good luck."

Just like that, we were left completely in the dark, with an impossible mission. Story of my life.

"Good luck?" I repeated, absolutely bewildered.

But she knew what to do. "Harry, come here—Quick!"

I had no idea what time travel would actually mean—how could I? But Hermione did.

And she still stepped into that unknown, even though she knew we could meet our past selves and create some kind of paradox—it must've taken real bravery.

Knowing the danger and braving it anyway is much harder than ignorant posturing, as I've learned from bitter experience.

Instinctively, I understood the magnitude of what she was doing for me and my godfather, my mess (if only I'd been faster)—and I was lost, again—

Only this time in admiration.

Love is respect—realizing how much others surpass you.

--

"So you and Cho are really broken up?" Hermione asked. It was a painful subject, but not nearly as bad as Dumbledore being gone, or Voldemort's gathering strength.

And I'd take it over more nagging about my O.W.L.s any day.

"Yeah," I sighed. "It wasn't working."

We sat in comfortable silence for awhile—Ron had already gone to bed, and we were sitting in the common room. Hermione was keeping me company while I finished an essay.

Well—while I pretended to finish an essay. Every couple of minutes I'd write a sentence or two.

"Oh, Harry," Hermione sighed. "You're going to find the right person, you know. Someday."

"Yeah," I shrugged, not really thinking of anyone in particular.

"I mean, you're an amazing person, and you deserve happiness," Hermione went on, her brown eyes wide with emotion.

I laughed bitterly. "Voldemort wouldn't agree."

"Don't!" she said harshly. "Don't think that way, Harry—don't let him win! The minute you give up, that's it—V-V-Voldemort wins."

"Hermione," I protested, "it's two o'clock in the morning. I'm entitled to a bit of a defeatist attitude."

She looked at me. For a minute I thought she was going to scold me more—"You're head of Dumbledore's Army, Harry! You're the Boy Who Lived! You have a responsibility!"—but instead, she got up, with an air of decision.

"I know what'll cheer you up!" she said, with far too much energy for the time of night. "Hot cocoa! I'll make you some."

She disappeared up the girl's staircase, and came back in a moment with a mug of water and some powder—the Muggle kind, but I didn't mind.

"Here," she said, handing me the warm mug. I sipped gratefully.

There was silence while she curled back up in her armchair and I scratched a fresh sentence on my parchment.

"Thanks, Hermione," I said at length.

"For the cocoa?" she inquired.

"And for sparing me the lecture," I added ruefully.

She gave me a look, half affectionate, half exasperated. "No problem."

Love is the little things—time spent with those you care about, just being together.

--

"Why?" Hermione screamed through her tears. "Why us? Why—Oh, Godric, Harry—I don't know if I can stand this—he's gone and you won't even look at me—I don't understand!"

She was yelling at me, at the unfeeling sky above our shield charms, at the world—at Ron, if he could hear her.

Guilt flooded me. It was all my fault; I had no idea how to find the bloody Horcruxes, absolutely none, and I'd dragged my friends with me on a pointless suicide mission—Ron had finally realized I was utter rubbish as a leader or, Godric forbid, a hero—and now I'd failed Hermione, too—

It was only a little thing that set her off. She'd found us some food, but then it had fallen into the river nearby, and been washed away and disintegrated before either of us could do anything. All her hard work, wasted.

I told myself that was why she was crying—but I knew better.

"Well," I said, reaching out rather hesitantly to pat her on the back. "You know it's not us, it's just me—you don't have to do this, Hermione—"

She turned and glared at me, freezing me where I knelt beside her, on the water's edge. "You think—you actually think—" her voice was getting high and hysterical—"that I would abandon you now? Harry, you're the one thing—the only thing in my life that still makes sense to me—" she blinked back more tears, and continued, angry again—"besides, I would never go back on my promise," she finished with bitter triumph.

In that moment, she was like a goddess—she was tearstained and covered in dirt from the ground by the river, and she looked like someone exhausted beyond human endurance—but she was beautiful.

And more than that.

I tried to explain. "Thank you, Hermione."

"What for?" she whispered tiredly, and she was my own dear friend again.

"For giving me hope," I whispered back. "For reminding me that I can't lose, not with you by my side."

She smiled skeptically, and entwined her fingers with mine. "You are so brave," she said wonderingly.

And I laughed—because she was always stronger than I.

Love is bitter. Love is pain. Love is living.

---

"Hey," Hermione blinked at me, and swayed on her feet.

I wanted to reach over and steady her, but I wasn't sure I had the energy myself, even after sleeping for three days straight. When I woke for the first time after the Battle, the world seemed changed somehow.

Brighter. Calmer.

Kreacher brought me food, and then I got up the strength to stagger out of bed and go in search of friends and news.

Three days—I had to have missed the first of the funerals.

"Hey, yourself," I said, still leaning against the wall.

"How are you?" she asked.

I shrugged. "I'm alive."

And that in itself was a miracle, considering all that had happened. And I don't just mean Voldemort—I thought telling Ron and Hermione and Dumbledore the whole story would finish it, but there were still so many people to see, so many thanks…it made me dizzy again just thinking about it.

"Where's Ron?" I asked at length, and Hermione's lips thinned.

"With—with his family," she choked. "F-F-Fred's funeral is tomorrow."

Of course. Well, in some detached way, I was glad I hadn't missed it. It was hardly an experience I was looking forward to. I sighed heavily.

"Ginny's there, too," Hermione said, watching me.

I opened my mouth. "Hermione, I—"

I think she was going to lean on me and sob on my shoulder, or maybe even kiss my cheek—but somehow, we met in the middle, and, for the first and last time, I felt Hermione's lips on mine.

It wasn't particularly romantic—not the sort of thing girls swoon over, unless I'm much mistaken—and yet, it was the most romantic moment I had ever experienced.

It was me, and it was Hermione—and that was what mattered.

We broke away at the same time, and Hermione stared at me, white-faced. "That was a mistake," she said decidedly.

I nodded.

"I love Ron."

I nodded again; hadn't I always known it was inevitable?

"You love Ginny."

Another nod. It was the truth.

And a whisper—"They can never know about this."

Hermione's like a sister to me.

Love is protecting those you care for—even if you have to lie.

--

"Your turn!" Ginny said playfully, from where she perched on my lap. "I've told you about Michael Corner and Dean Thomas; now you have to tell me about all your old girlfriends."

"You already know," I protested, laughing.

She pouted adorably. "Tell me."

Well, I could hardly refuse her; that stern expression is really quite intimidating.

"Just Cho, really," I shrugged. "I've never been as crazy about being with anybody as I am about you."

That got a grin, and she snuggled closer to me, leaning her head on my shoulder.

"I went to the Yule Ball with Parvati Patil," I said, remembering. "But it didn't go well."

"I know," Ginny agreed, and we were silent for awhile, while she played with the hem of my sleeve, picking for stray threads, and the fire played across her fiery hair.

"Harry," she said. "Did you ever…I mean, you and Hermione weren't…were you?"

"No, never," I replied, surprised that she'd ask that, since, as far as I knew, Hermione and Ron were happy together.

"Never?" She turned to look at me. "So you're saying, in seven years of adventures, you never even thought about Hermione that way? Ever?"

My voice was calm, but my arms tightened around her, trying to reassure myself that she was here, that she really wanted to be with me—me, not some nameless bloke or faceless stranger, but me

"No," I said. "I've never thought of Hermione that way."

"Good," Ginny said, and kissed me. "Then I have you all to myself…"

I've never thought of Hermione that way. Liar.

But I stared into Ginny's warm brown eyes, and thought:

Sometimes, love is letting go.