Regardless

Summary: Nobody would understand his feelings for Hermione. What he feels for Ginny is entirely different. OneShot, movie- and book-verse.

Warning: spoilers for the seventh book and for the seventh movie Part One. Fractured.

Set: During the movie (Harry and Hermione travel), during the later chapters of the book (the battle of Hogwarts), future

Disclaimer: Standards apply.


He has no idea what to do now and where to go next.

Doubts, hopes, wishes – he has buried everything, one after another. His hopes when Dumbledore died. His wishes when he left the Burrow, when he, Hermione and Ron ran from Bill's and Fleur's wedding and when he left behind all the people he held dear (including Ginny). And finally, he buried his doubts when Ron left him.

Now, the only thing that propelled him forwards was the knowledge that there was a way. There had to be. Failure is not an option. Dumbledore had known there was one. He, Harry, had to find it because there was no other way, no other ending. No other outcome than "The boy who lives fights Voldemort". Because if he didn't – who would? If he couldn't, who could? There was a way. He wasn't sure how to find it but he had no doubts he would. There was nothing else left. His parents were dead, Sirius was dead, Dumbledore was dead. Ginny was far away, Ron had left. There was nothing else…

Yes. Yes, there still was someone. Someone hadn't left him yet. Someone was there – Hermione.

He never would be able to tell her what she meant to him.


They travel across the country, always on the run. And Hermione is the one thing that keeps him going.


Ron has gone.

Harry can still hear her, calling out for their lost friend. Her voice loses strength with every hour that passes. Sobs even now lace her calls though she has started crying hours ago. She doesn't seem able to stop and he would like to cry, too. But he can't. Hot rage burns inside him, anger and betrayal. Ron is his best friend and watching him leave is like a testament to his own uselessness. But his departure has also pushed aside the last bits of doubt he still had.

There is no other way.

Even before morning dawns, he leaves the tent and finds Hermione standing in front of it. She doesn't seem to have moved at all. Tear streaks are painted on her cheeks. She seems to have aged years in one night. Maybe it would be easier to hate Ron for doing this to her (to them?) but he feels too empty. So he takes her inside instead and heats up water on the little stove in the corner they never use because they would need to gather new firewood. He goes through the dusty cabinets and finds old instant powder for hot chocolate and dumps it into the water, tastes it and burns his tongue. Too tired to even curse he takes the pot over to the bed on which Hermione is sitting, curled up like a cat, and coaxes her into drinking some.

She almost smiles.

They sit in silence for one hour, still too numb from the shock and the realization that He Is Gone. Neville would have tried to talk about it. Luna would have told him funny stories to cheer him up. Ron would have taken him outside for Quidditch training. Ginny would curl up beside him and wrap her arms around him and tell him she loved him and while he would love to see every single one of his friends right now he knows Hermione is the only one he can just sit there with and not talk. Their eyes meet now and then and leave each other again as both try to recover from the nights' shock.

And it works, because she is Hermione and he is Harry and they have something to do.

So, when the first birds begin to sing in the winter forest, Hermione gets up and starts packing her beaded bag and he leaves the tent and cleans up all the evidence of their presence. Today, they both work slowly, hesitantly, and Hermione repacks her bag at least four times. But finally she is finished and Harry has cleaned up and taken down the tent and they stand on a forest clearing and know they have to leave but don't want to. Finally, Harry buries his last doubts (he won't come back) and takes Hermione's hand and she makes a brave face and almost smiles.

And the world around them disappears in a whirl of colors and the darkness of apparition.


Her feelings affect his in a strange way.

When she is happy, he is happy, when she is sad, he is sad. Not for her, but with her. It's the same way the other way round. And he tries to make her happy because her smile is so much prettier than her frown.


Meanwhile, he doesn't even notice the sound of the radio anymore. But when he enters the tent after his watch and sees her sitting in Ron's alcove, her knees pulled up to her chest, her face pale and thin, the sound suddenly is loud in his ears.

It shouldn't be like this.

This hopeless, this sad. They shouldn't be down like this, because they have something to do, an aim, a goal, and the two of them are the only ones who can do it. And she shouldn't be like this – shouldn't be sad and tired and lonely. He knows how she feels – how could he not – and in his chest, anger and guilt battle and are beaten by something even stronger.

You shouldn't be lonely, Hermione.

So he reaches out for her and she takes his hand and lets him pull her upright. Careful not to get tangled in her hair, he unfastens the locket and throws it onto the bed without a further look. She still looks sad, but the darkest parts of her aura have disappeared. Still, when he starts moving in the rhythm of the song, she stares at him as if he has gone mad.

He smiles.

And she can't help it – she smiles, too, and lets him distract her for a few precious minutes. They dance the way they feel like, without caring for the rhythm of the song or the correct hand position or male and female steps. They laugh as Harry almost steps on her foot and he whirls her around and strands of her hair shine in the candle's soft light. Hermione sends him into a spin and almost twists her wrist because he isn't used to the movement and clings to her hands. They hold each other, her head resting on his shoulder, his face in her hair. As the song rises into a crescendo, they are spinning wildly, laughing breathlessly. And the song hasn't even ended when they both know they have to move on.

But still, it hurts.

He holds her hands a few seconds longer and then she gives him a bitter, tiny smile and turns around to take the locket again. Harry knows there isn't anything he can do to make her entirely happy again. There is just one person on earth who is able to do so. But he sees her shoulders and her high-held head and he knows she'll go on, by his side, no matter where it takes them. Because she is so much stronger than Ron, maybe even stronger than Harry himself. She might still cry into her pillow at night, she might still wait for him to come back every day. But she continues on, just like Harry does.


He is not proud at the fact that he goes on. But what else is he supposed to do? Probably, if Hermione wasn't there, he would have given up long ago.

She holds him, as much as he holds her.

He can't explain it. Who would understand? When he takes her hand, he knows she won't misunderstand. When he offers her his arm, she smiles. When he is frozen in shock, she holds him.


The village. The graveyard. The ruins of the house.

He shouldn't have come here, but he has. He had to see the place his parents have lived and died in. He can feel the danger in the air, cold and threatening. But it is Christmas Eve today. So he offers her his arm and Hermione takes it and, together, they wander through the quiet streets. The snow falls softly, muffling every noise. No sound is heard except their breath and the sound of their soles on the fresh snow.

Some people would call it romantic.

But is it romantic, walking through the snow of the graveyard on which your parents are buried? Is it romantic to see their graves, the white, cold marble? Is it romantic to feel tears in his eyes?

Whoever would have seen them at that moment: he wouldn't understand. Maybe he would see two young people, probably lovers, standing in front of a grave, holding each other. Maybe he wouldn't even think about them further. But nobody would understand what Harry felt when Hermione stood next to him and anchored him to the earth. She has done it so many times before. When nobody talked to him during the Triwizard Tournament, not even Ron, she talked to him. When everybody believed what Rita Skeeter wrote about him, she believed what he said. When he felt like he wasn't able to carry the burden Dumbledore had placed on him, she knew what to do and how to go on. This, after all, was all her idea. And when he fell in love with Ginny and watched her go out with – who had it been? Seamus? Dean? – she had sat with him and hadn't said a word.

Now, she was here, too, and he was glad.

He feels her arms on his and her warmth and thinks Ron is a stupid idiot. But the thought only touches his mind and leaves again. There is so much else to think of and to think about and right now. Suddenly, the overwhelming grief for his parents, Sirius, Dumbledore, Mad-Eye and all the muggle-born who have been killed since the war began feels raw and edged again. When he feels something warm in his face and lifts a hand, he notices he is crying. But that's okay because it is Hermione who sees him. And the grief mixes with all his hopes and wishes and doubts and dreams (it seems he hasn't been able to really bury them for once and for all) and the sadness is overwhelming.

But Hermione is there.


Harry is the one who makes the decisions. But Hermione has to agree with the plan first.

She is the best pathfinder he could wish for. Over the years he has come to realize that whenever Hermione doesn't agree with a plan, there is a flaw in it.


"I would like to go to Godric's Hollow."

It's a crazy plan.

Voldemort expects him to go there. He'll be waiting.

But what choice do they have? Nothing is moving towards them, so they have to move towards something. And when Hermione sighs and tells him she has thought of going there, as well, he feels relieved. So maybe it's a bad idea and maybe Voldemort is waiting for him. But Hermione is there, and as long as she is by his side…

He doesn't continue the thought because it inevitably ends in darkness.

By now, Harry should be used to the fact that whenever he really thinks he has to do something it turns into a catastrophe. He can write novels about it. And besides, hasn't he seen enough stupid muggle movies with Dudley? The hero is the one that is being fooled. He should know better by now. But no, he falls into the trap again and he doesn't even realize he's talking Parseltongue. And an old lady turns into a snake and he is being attacked.

Again.

At first he doesn't even think of pulling his wand (Nagini is too fast) and then she still is too fast and he loses it to her within seconds. If the noise of the breaking furniture and the crashing house wasn't that loud he would have yelled for Hermione. But she comes on her own and, again, she saves him. Okay, maybe the window wasn't a good idea. But they are alive.

She breaks his wand in the process.

He feels awful. This wand has been an extension of his arm. He has fought with it, defended his friends and his life with it. His Patronus, the Triwizard Tournament, the Graveyard, Voldemort, Priori Incantatem. Without his wand, he is nothing. Hermione looks like she wants to cry again and he thinks he can't stand the sight of her tears for him since she has saved him even if she couldn't save his wand. A part of him, tiny as it is, blames her, too, but at the same time he knows there is no use to do so. It's not her fault. It's not. Her. Fault. If it is anyone's it's his because he wanted to go to Godric's Hollow. So here he is now.

And her knowing, sad eyes make him feel even more miserable.


He would do anything to protect her.

Sometimes, he feels stupid that she seems to be more able to protect him than he is protecting her. But those times become fewer. When has he started accepting that she is an individual person and can think, act and decide for herself?


He cannot stop her once she has set her mind on something.

He doesn't want to, either. Mostly, he is just glad she decided to come with him. Ron was right: without her, he wouldn't even have made it into the first week in hiding. Her presence is reassuring and reminds him there is something he has to go on for, especially when he feels so cold and lost (without Ginny) he wants to crawl into an alcove in their tent and never come out again. But sometimes, he desperately wishes she was somewhere else.

Now, for example.

As he hears her frantic screams echo trough the dark cellar they have been thrown into in Malfoy Manor his heart is beating furiously. Every single one of her screams pierces his skull like a hot knife and the pauses between them drive them in deeper because he knows they won't last long. They start again and again and again and his mind is racing while he tries to think of a way to save her. But he can't. His brain seems to have turned to mush – he can't think, there's nothing in his head. No way to save her. No way to save them. Absolutely no way and Hermione is screaming again and Ron is shouting her name and Luna and Ollivander are whispering rapidly but he can't hear a thing. There's just the rushing sound of his own blood in his ears and her screams and he grabs the only thing that he still carries with him – the shard of the mirror. Sirius' mirror. Someone has to help them – has to help her, has to save her because he can't do anything, he is useless, helpless, unable to save his best friends and himself. His racing heart pumps blood through his ears and he hears his surroundings through a veil of noise and the piercing blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore stare at him unblinking through the small shard.

"Help us!" He yells. "Please, help!"

His savior appears with a sharp, cracking sound. Long, pointed ears, a worn-out towel and sneakers accompany him.

"Dobby has come to save Harry Potter!"

Luna first, and Ollivander. He has to function. He is Harry Potter, as Dobby kindly has reminded him, and he can't allow himself to fail. He has to save Hermione and get her, Ron and himself out of this hell. How many Death Eaters stand in his way? Too many probably and he doesn't really want to know. Bellatrix Lestrange is the worst of them, he'll have to be wary of her. There's Ron, who is storming forward, screaming and shouting hexes, and he has to protect him, too. Someone has to. And besides, Hermione would have wanted him to do so if he hadn't wanted to do it himself in first place.

His actions save Luna and Ollivander, and Ron and Hermione, as well. Or rather, Dobby saves them. But because of Harry's decision Dobby dies and the weight seems too much to bear. Here they are again, the doubts, nagging and clawing at him like the names of the dead he hears when he turns on the radio. They visit him in his dreams, return again and again, just like Hermione's screams. They haunt him. He can still hear her, whenever he closes his eyes. He hears her screams and Ron's frantic calling and Dobby's proud voice when he dies. And he knows it is his fault.


But they are individual beings.

They make their own decisions. They decide whom to follow and whom to believe in. They have made up their mind to follow him wherever he goes.

(Look where he has taken them.)

Hermione has paid most dearly for his actions. She has lost her parents and her home. Her friends when she left Hogwarts. She has lost Ron when he left them. She has lost her childhood and her teenage years and so much other things he wishes he could grant her in the future but can't. And yet, she has decided to follow him.

He can't undo what has happened to her. He can just try to succeed in his quest, because Voldemort's death will be the only thing that will give them peace. And peace will be the only thing that is able to let her have the life he wishes she will have.

He always believed he was responsible for everyone's protection. But he isn't. It is Hermione, besides others, who protects parts of him.


In the midst of the last battle Harry sees Ginny coming through the tunnel and something in his heart unfreezes. Something suddenly feels right again, like he can breathe again because a huge stone has been lifted off his chest. The battle isn't won, hasn't even begun yet. Death Eaters surround the castle; Voldemort is standing at the gates. He still hasn't found the second-last Horcrux, he doesn't even know what the seventh Horcrux looks like. He feels the pressure heavy on his shoulders. People will die, in those next few hours, and he will be at fault. He needs time. They will buy it for him, will die so he can find and destroy Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem. And he can't even say whether they will die for a good cause because he can't say what comes after this, after this battle.

But Ginny is here.

Her eyes shine with the same mixture of emotions he feels in his heart. Her hair surrounds her face like a corona and she never was more beautiful than right now. Her hand is soft and warm as she touches his face. Her lips are sweet and bitter at the same time as she kisses him and his arms encase her as naturally as he breathes. He holds her like he always wanted to and he doesn't care that her family is watching them. The part of his heart he thought frozen feels light and warm again and he wonders how this can be so: Isn't the battle about to begin? Isn't she in grave danger, isn't she in the very place where she most probably won't be able to survive? But this instant, this moment, he doesn't care. It feels so good to hold her again, to feel her soft hair in his face and her warm body against his. The part of his heart he thought he had locked away forever opens again and he feels like laughing and crying at the same time.

Where do those emotions suddenly come from? Hasn't he closed himself to his feelings, shut down everything that would hinder him in fulfilling his duty? Why can he still feel, still love, still hope?

His eyes find her.

Hermione smiles at him, a smile that awakens the memories of countless – countless what? Adventures? No. Their fights have been too real, too much of dead-or-alive, to be called adventures. Her smile awakens memories of cold, sad nights and dark chambers and gruesome animals. And of memories of laughter in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room, of studying in the library, of evenings spent at the Burrow. A tent at night. A cold, snowy grave yard.

Her eyes wander to the right and he sees Ron, gazing at her like he has done for a while now. Harry has seen the looks he has given her since he came to realize what she means to him (finally, stupid idiot). He knows what Ron means to Hermione, too. There is a short pang of if-you-ever-hurt-her-I'll-really-hurt-you-because-she-is-my-best-friend-and-I-care-for-her which he savors and then pushes away and he feels Ginny's hand in his and there is hope again. Tiny and fragile – and yet. But Ginny isn't the only one that has made this possible.

It was Hermione. She has protected the tiny part of him that still believes.


He still believes when he comes to understand.

This is the way it has to be. This is the way he has to die. He is Harry Potter, the seventh Horcrux. He is Harry Potter, the boy who lived. And as such, he has to die.


What will be after that?

He cannot say. But he knows what he has to do. And he is not alone. This time, he doesn't leave behind what's important to him. This time, he takes them with him: All the people he loves, all the people he knows and cares for. All of Hogwarts' teachers, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid, Snape. Yes, he takes Severus Snape with him because as much as he hates the dead teacher (and as much as Snape hates him) he is a part of him now. He takes with him Remus and Tonks, the last, mow dead, remnants of his father's circle. The Weasleys, every single one of them, and every member of the Order. Dead and alive, all alike. He takes every single student of Hogwarts, even the Slytherins, because they, too, are part of something more, something greater, than they ever will know. Luna is with him, helping and healing even though she looks like hell. And Neville, carrying the dead, suddenly so much more than the nervous, shy boy he was in the past. Onto his shoulders, Harry places the burden to kill the snake, the last Horcrux. He knows Neville won't fail. And Ginny is there, so close he thinks he can feel her warmth. He withstands the urge to touch her, to kiss her one more time, because he takes her with him as he continues his unheard and unseen walk towards his destiny. He takes Ginny with him and all his friends. And Ron and Hermione, the way he has seen them last: holding each other, Ron with a tear-streaked face, Hermione stony, determined and strong. The way she always was, always. And he loves them, all of them, every single one of them. They are his hope, his belief – his strength. And his family is with him, too: His mother and his father, his godfather, their best friend. He is not alone as he walks the last part of the path of his life, his head held high, towards his end.

Thank you.

Harry Potter dies as a happy man.


His death is his life and the salvation of thousands.

Maybe Ron doesn't understand. But he knows Ginny understands. He knows for sure. When the day comes he makes her his, he sees it in her eyes.


When he married, Ron was a nervous wreck.

He was sweating and shivering and running back and forth in his best clothes and shoes. Harry and George stood at his side, trying to hide their grin. George's still was small and forced and they all still felt the gap Fred had left. But George was joking again and together they managed to get Ron to the huge, white tent without further incidents. And Harry watches Hermione walk down the aisle, her eyes fixed on Ron, her eyes blazing with love. But she looks at him, too, and he tries to put everything he feels for her in his eyes: his love, his trust. His thanks. And she smiles at him in the same way and he understands.

They are similar. That is why they understand each other so well.


He gives her away on her wedding day. She gives him away on his. Nobody knows but them and Ginny.


At first, he was afraid his bride wouldn't understand. There have been too many incidents with girls he has experienced to not worry about such an outcome. He is determined to tell her why it is that Hermione is so important to him, why he still talks to her often, why he spends so much time with her. But when he stands there, in his dressing gown, lost in a tiny room with only Ginny in it, he is at a loss for words. She is beautiful – so beautiful he is sure she must have the blood of a Veela, what other explanation could there possibly be?

"Ginny," he starts and different words slip from his tongue than he has intended.

"I love you."

Her smile is blinding. And in her eyes, he sees she understands. He can say those words; he can tell her he loves her again and again. The words don't grow old or used because I love you means many things at once and as they grow old together he can say them with different nuances every day. He marries her for exactly this reason: because his love for her changes and grows with their progressing relationship. Because she can still make him blush when she kisses him and her smile still makes his heart race when she looks at him. Her touch still makes him shiver and the warmth of her hand still cures sadness. He loves her with all his heart and even though they fight at times there is nothing in their relationship he would ever regret.


He would be lying if he said he never wondered if he could have fallen in love with Hermione.


He has, on many different occasions. But the thoughts were what-would-it-have-been-like and strange-it-didn't-happen rather than wish-it-had-been-like-that. And he doesn't want her to be anything else than his best friend. He won't ever be able to tell her what he feels for her. It's something one doesn't say, he supposes. Unlike his love for Ginny his love for Hermione remains steady, reassuringly familiar and constant. Saying anything would mean defining something and he doesn't want to do that. Her friendship means more to him than a defined relationship. She has been there when he needed support and hasn't left when everyone else had. She always was honest with him. She has criticized him, laughed with him and cried with him and if anyone asked he would tell him he wouldn't exchange her for a million other friends. It doesn't matter if nobody understands them. It doesn't matter if he can't tell her. She knows him, so she knows what he thinks and feels. That's enough for him.

He feels guilty when thinking about Ron and Ginny, though. People have been gossiping enough about him and his supposed girlfriends. More than once, the yellow press has targeted their relationships – his and Ginny's, Ron and Hermione's, his and Hermione's – with nasty comments and accusations. And even though Ginny knows and Ron, at least, accepts, it is difficult at times. It hurts. But they always knew people wouldn't understand. They themselves don't even understand, so how could others?


Hermione is Harry's best friend, greatest supporter and strongest critic. He doesn't love her like he loves Ginny, with the same raw emotions and overwhelming need. There is another corner of his heart reserved for his best friend, a part of him that always will belong to her no matter what people say, think and believe.

And he loves her regardless.