Getting hit with a spell in the middle of Apparating would be a problem for anybody, so the first thing that Harry did when he reappeared was check to make sure that his extremities were all there. He'd been practicing hard since his birthday, and he'd made a lot of progress at keeping the noise down, but his confidence in his own Apparition skills was still a little shaky. Clearly, he'd missed his destination. He'd planned to appear in the Grangers' back garden, under the little flowering tree, but he was somewhere dark and indoors.
Even as he was verifying that he remained intact, he considered who might have hit him with a spell as he was leaving the Burrow. It felt like a stinging hex when it hit, so it probably wasn't the prelude to a Death Eater assault. Things had been awkward with Ginny since their last lengthy conversation, but she was avoiding him, not attacking him. Ron had been out flying, and Arthur had been at work. Could Molly have hexed him? It didn't seem like a motherly thing to do. (Back at the Burrow, the newly arrived Fred verified that no pieces of their first investor had been left behind, then thought no more of it.)
Once he'd counted ten fingers, ten toes, two ears, and one nose, he began thinking about the safest way to figure out where, exactly, he was. He thought about lighting his wand, but it was possible that he had ended up somewhere dangerous, and calling attention to himself might be a bad idea. So instead, he muttered, "Silencio," and took a tentative step forward. He was rewarded by smashing his toes against a wall. Or perhaps a door; it had given slightly. He reached one hand out to the side, and grazed his knuckles on a more solid wall. The other hand found some cloth, which a little investigation determined was probably clothing, hanging from a bar behind his head.
OK, he was in a closet, then. He felt in front of him, and quickly found a doorknob. There didn't seem to be any light coming from under the door, so he decided to chance it. He pushed the door open slowly, each inch revealing more of a cozy, slightly feminine, probably Muggle bedroom. As the door opened, he eased himself forwards as stealthily as he knew how, but it wasn't until the door was nearly all the way open, and he'd taken two tiptoeing steps, that he saw Hermione, her back to him, stepping into a pair of jeans.
"Urk!" he said eloquently. Hermione gave a strangled scream, leaped out of the jeans, stumbled across the room to her bedside table, and grabbed her wand. She whirled to face him, a curse no doubt on her lips, but she was able to stifle it when she recognized him.
And that is how he found himself in Hermione's room, with her in her knickers, pointing a wand at him.
"Harry!" she half-sobbed. "What are you doing here? You scared me half to death, I nearly cursed you. What on earth were you thinking?" But Harry was retreating into the closet.
"Hermione," he called bravely through the door. "I swear I didn't mean to end up here, and I didn't know where I was. But can we discuss this after you put some clothes on?"
Her answering cry didn't contain any words, but clearly conveyed her frustration, and hinted at a certain amount of fury as well. It was only half a minute before she spoke, though. "I'm dressed now, Harry. Come on out and start talking."
He wasn't really surprised to see her wand still in her hand, and he was very careful to move slowly and keep his own hands in plain view. "Like I said, I don't know how I ended up here."
"Do you expect me to believe that?" she demanded. "You just happened to Apparate into my closet, instead of the back garden you've been to a dozen times in a row? And it just happened to be when I was getting dressed?"
He sighed. "It didn't just happen, but I didn't do it on purpose. Somebody hit me with a spell of some kind as I was Apparating. When I arrived, I didn't know where I was, so I moved quietly, and then there you were."
"Yes, Harry, there I was. Or there my bum was, anyways. Why didn't you just Apparate to somewhere safe as soon as you realized you were in the wrong place?"
He rubbed his chin with one hand. "That would have been the smart thing to do, it's true," he admitted.
She glared at him, but dropped her wand to her side. "So you got hit with a hex in the middle of Apparating, and somehow ended up in my closet? That's your story?"
"It felt like a stinging hex. And I couldn't have done it on purpose," he said. "I've never been here before."
That seemed to mollify her further. "All right," she said. "I wonder—you must have felt the hex hit, and believed you were in danger, and so you Apparated to a safe place very near your original destination." She sat down on her bed and looked at her knees. "No harm done, I suppose."
"Hermione?" he said, wondering at her shift in mood. "I really am sorry."
"What, exactly, are you sorry for, Harry?" she challenged.
He looked puzzled. "For scaring you, and for accidentally seeing you in your knickers."
"It doesn't matter. We've all been swimming together before, right?" She still wasn't looking at him.
"Hermione?" he asked again.
She glanced in his direction. "Well, what was I supposed to think?"
Harry had no idea where this conversation was going. "Goodness, I'm glad that wasn't a Death Eater?" he guessed.
She rolled her eyes. "What would you have thought?" When he didn't answer right away, she tried again, more angrily. "What would Ron have thought, if I'd Apparated into his closet?"
Comprehension dawned. "He would have thought it was his birthday and Christmas all rolled into one," he said. She let out a snort. "So, once you established that I wasn't a Death Eater, you freaked out because you thought I fancied you?" She turned away, and his heart sank. "You hoped I fancied you, and then it turned out to be an accident. Do—do you fancy me?"
She hurled her wand at her pillow. "No! I mean, no, I don't fancy you, but that's not even it. I just wish the idea of you fancying me wasn't so ridiculous to you. I'm your best friend, and I'm a girl, and this is not how I wanted this conversation to go." She was shouting by the end of the sentence.
Harry didn't know what to say, but he knew he had to say something. "If I did fancy you, is this how you think I'd tell you?" She looked at him in disbelief. "Really," he continued, "Apparating into your room for a dramatic confession? Wouldn't I just—"
"Harry, unless you mean it, you had better not finish that sentence," she interrupted, anger still evident though the volume was lower. "This is not a joke to me."
"Well, what about you and Ron?" he asked defensively.
"I don't know!" she wailed. "There's something going on in his head, but I don't know what it is. I'm not going to be the next Lavender, and I don't know if he understands that or not. If something were to happen between us, he would have to be completely different, and I want him to be different, but that's just stupid. And what about you and Ginny, for that matter?"
"What does Ginny have to do with this?" he asked, at a complete loss. But she glared at him, until he admitted, "I said some things to her that I probably shouldn't have." The glare continued, and he sighed. "I may have said something about how creepy it was that she was raised from birth to idolize me."
Hermione put her hand to her mouth, and Harry couldn't guess if it was from shock, or to cover her laughter. "Did she start hexing right away?"
He shook his head. "No, she looked like she was going to be sick. She hasn't looked me in the eye since."
"Oh. That's, uh, surprising. And probably not good."
"Probably not, no. So I think she might really believe that we're not getting back together." He sat down heavily on the bed beside her. She didn't object, and he collected himself for a moment. "I don't know how people become couples," he said abruptly.
It was her turn to look lost. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, it seems like it's all big public gestures. Dramatic kisses in front of the whole common room, or appearing hand in hand at the Yule Ball. But I don't know what happens in people's heads before that. I don't know how two people get to the same place at the same time. You can't just wake up one morning and say, 'To hell with it, I'm going to kiss her today.' It just doesn't work. Or it didn't work for me and Ginny, and it didn't work for Lavender and Ron. Kissing Ginny like that—I mean, it worked out fine in the short run, but it was one of the dumbest things I ever did. I didn't have the slightest idea how she felt about me, and she would have had every right to smack me right there in the common room."
She didn't say anything, but his eyes were far away, and he continued to speak. "Before I did that, I always thought that I would just have to keep getting closer to someone, that I would like her and trust her and that one day we would just know. Both of us, together." And he reached his hand out and put it on her shoulder.
She sat there for a moment, feeling its warm weight, and whispered, "Harry, what are you doing on my bed?"
He moved his hand across her back to the far shoulder. "I hoped it would be us," he said.
She leaned her head on his shoulder and put one hand in the middle of his back. "It doesn't work that way," she said. He swallowed, and considered Apparating to the middle of the Irish Sea, but she wasn't finished. "You can't just wake up and know. You have to make it happen."
"I don't know how," he said, blinking.
She smiled; he couldn't see her face, but he could hear it in her voice. "I think you're about two thirds of the way there, actually."
He tried to take a deep breath, but his chest was too tight. "Hermione," he said, "I think you're the most important person in my life. And I think I like it that way. Can we—will you—?"
She didn't let him struggle for long. "Yes, we can," she said.
And that was how he found himself embracing Hermione fiercely, on her bed, as the late afternoon sun cast their shadow on the far wall.