Summary: After the release of Skeeter's vicious article on the supposed love-triangle between Harry, Hermione and Viktor, Hermione was injured by a hate-mail. Feeling guilty that his best friend got injured due to him, Harry tries his best to make up to her and puts a name to his deep feelings for her. At the same time, Hermione puts things together and uncovers his past. An alternative to GOF.

I do not own Harry Potter.

April 1995

It wasn't the first time his best friend was injured because of him.

A tiny furrow was upon his brow as he tried to concentrate on his lesson. It was his fault, he shouldn't been so quick to anger. Even the pleasure from the Care Of Magical Creatures lesson could hardly distract him about thinking about his good friend. His Niffler, a fluffy black creature with long snout was diving into the freshly dug soil again to look for the gold coins that his first friend, Hagrid had hidden.

The repercussion of Skeeter's article was nothing he could imagine, leaving a part of him stunned, another worried, and the rest just plain guilty about the whole affair. The Witch Weekly's article on the supposed Harry-Krum-Hermione triangle had the readers sending nasty letters to her. One vicious reader had even included undiluted Bubotuber Pus in the hate mail, which caused large excruciating sores when it came in contact with skin.

Who were they to decide to mete out justice? An image of Hermione with tears streaming down her cheeks, carefully holding up her swollen fingers filled his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut. He could almost see those yellow painful sores on her fingers and smell that strong pungent smell of petrol.

He opened his eyes, barely noticing the dirt that his Niffler had thrown on him.

She'll be alright; there was nothing Madam Pomfrey couldn't put right. After all, the school matron helped him re-grow all the bones in his right arm in just one night. That thought reminded him of the reason why he wasn't with her—the pain of the re-growth made sure that he did not want to go near the hospital wing.

The boulder in his chest was lifted fleetingly when he spotted his best friend walking towards them, across the lawn. He soon grew concerned when he noticed an air of misery surrounding his best friend and her heavily-bandaged hands. His simmering rage gave way to genuine concern.

'Well let's check how yeh've done!' said Hagrid. 'Count yer coins! An' there's no point tryin' ter steal any, Goyle, 'he added, his beetle-black eyes narrowed. 'It's leprechaun gold. Vanishes after a few hours.'

'Are you alright?' asked Harry, leaning closer to Hermione. The billowing wind ruffled her wavy and brown locks. Her brows scrunched together for a brief moment when she realised that she could not rake her fingers through her hair.

Absently, Harry parted her stray locks to the side, resolving that small crisis. Their shoulders briefly brushed against each other when he spoke to her.

'I'm better, Harry,' said Hermione, with a tiny smile on her face, looking up so that their gaze would meet.

He knew that look well—it meant "I'm really alright, Harry."

'That's good,' said Harry absently, turning away. It was difficult to imagine that she could still write with such swollen fingers—they were thrice the usual size. How long would it take to recover? His bookworm friend wouldn't be able to live if she couldn't hold a quill and write.

The bell rang across the grounds for lunch; the rest of the class set off back to the castle, but Harry, Ron and Hermione stayed behind to help Hagrid put the Nifflers back in their boxes. They were not too anxious to return to their boxes after all the fun they had searching for the gold coins and needed convincing.

'What yeh done ter your hands, Hermione?' said Hagrid, looking concerned.

Hermione told him about the hate mail she had received that morning, and the envelope full of Bubotuber pus. Harry did not understand why seeing his friend this unhappy would make him feel somewhat upset.

'Aah, don' worry about it. I got some o' those letters an' all after Skeeter wrote abou' me mum. 'Yeh a monster, yeh should be put down.''

'No!' exclaimed Hermione, looking flabbergasted and outraged. She could not believe anyone would write such mean things about someone who was as gentle as Hagrid.

A brief smile stretched across his face, as if Hagrid had expected Hermione to react precisely in that manner.'Yeah, they're jus' nutters. Don' open 'em anymore. Chuck 'em straigh' in fire.'

They chatted with Hagrid for a while before deciding to return to the castle for lunch.

They were walking across the lawn when Ron asked suddenly, 'Why didn't you tell me about the gold?' It jolted them out of their reverie.

'What gold?' said Harry, wide-eyed. He blinked continuously and waited for his friend to elaborate.

'The gold I gave you at Quidditch World Cup.' said Ron, stuffing his hands into his pockets—a clear sign that he was going to start sulking. 'The leprechaun gold I gave you for my Omnioculars. In the Top box. Why didn't you tell me it disappeared?'

Harry had to think for a moment before he comprehended what Ron was talking about.

'Oh…' said Harry, the memory coming back to him at last. 'I dunno. I never noticed it was gone. I was more worried about my wand, wasn't I?'

Silence ensured as the trio climbed the flight of stone steps into the Entrance Hall. For once, all of them were consumed by their own thoughts, even Ron.

'Must be nice,' said Ron abruptly, when they had sat down at their table. Harry and Hermione automatically sat next to each other while Ron slipped into the seat directly across them. Ron's words distracted Harry from his musing. Ron was serving himself roast beef and Yorkshire pudding absently. 'To have so much money you don't notice if a pocketful of Galleons goes missing.'

Harry's cutleries fell onto the table with a resounding 'clank'.

'Listen, I had other stuffs on my mind that night!' began Harry, drumming his fingers on the table. 'We all did, remember?' Harry was referring to the night of the Finals of the Quidditch World Cup when surviving from the panicking stampede and his missing wand took precedence over the contents of his pocket—He was too preoccupied with the appearance of the Death Mark, the symbol of Lord Voldermort, the man who killed both of his parents when he was just a baby that he didn't bother checking.

'I didn't know leprechaun gold vanishes,' Ron muttered, frowning. 'I thought I was paying you back. You shouldn't have given me that Chudley Cannon hat for Christmas.'

'Forget it, alright?' said Harry, raking his hand through his hair. Being poor were an issue that troubled Ron constantly. After all, he came from a large family that was dependant on whatever money the breadwinner, Mr Weasley, could bring home. The salary of one lowly Ministry worker could barely meet the needs of nine people.

If he wasn't too worried about Hermione, he would have been more patient with him. He was watching Hermione out of the corner of his eyes and found her struggling with a simple task of loading her plate.

Ron speared a roast potato on the end of his fork, glaring at it. Then he said, 'I hate being poor.'

It was the bitterness in his tone that got their attention. Harry and Hermione exchanged looks between themselves, neither knew what to say.

'It's rubbish,' said Ron, still glaring at his potato as if it had committed some sort of unpardonable sin against him. 'I don't blame Fred and George for trying to make some extra money. Wish I had a Niffler.'

Hermione decided to take the look that Harry had shot her as a cue to speak.

'Well, we know what to get for you next Christmas,' said Hermione brightly, fleetingly forgetting about the trouble she had performing a simple task like picking up her cutleries. Then when Ron continued to look gloomy, she said, 'Come on, Ron, it could be worse. At least your fingers aren't full of pus.' She cast a brief gloomy look at her stiff and swollen fingers. Her eyes narrowed in frustration. 'I hate that Skeeter woman.' She burst out savagely. 'I'll get back for this if it's the last thing I do!'

'Here,' said Harry, pushing the plate of nicely-cut roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to her. She was astounded to find them neatly cut into bite-size so that she would only require a fork to eat. Harry then pulled her untouched plate to him and began eating.

It looked as if it was the most natural thing for him to do. So focused was he on his food, Harry did not even notice that Ron was actually gaping like a fish.

Several other Gryffindors had stopped chatting just to observe them.

Hermione stared at the plate of food, her brows knitted in a frown. 'Harry,' said Hermione finally, 'You don't have to do this for me.' Sure, Harry was selfless but he was never this caring towards her—it was almost odd. When the shock of his actions had subsided, Hermione was conscious of the warm and fuzzy feeling in her chest.

Harry held up his hand and swallowed his food before speaking. It was a gesture that Hermione appreciated —Harry had picked up proper table manners to avoid making her upset. It did encourage Harry to learn when he watch Ron ravage his food as if he had not been eating for days—he was so put off that he made up his mind not to behave like him. 'It's partly my fault that you're in this predicament.'

'Don't be silly, Harry. I goaded Skeeter and she took revenge. It has nothing to do with you,' bristled Hermione brusquely, turning slightly so that she could look at her best friend. To her surprise, Harry was done with his meal.

He let out a sigh as if giving up and pulled her plate back to him.

A smile of triumph lighted up her face momentarily but it died almost immediately.

Harry, instead of adhering to her wishes, took it upon himself to feed her. He speared a piece of the roast beef and held it in front of her front, waiting for her to eat it, much to her mortification.

Sounds of someone choking on his food distracted them. Ron's cheeks were nearly as red as the root of his hair as he tried to dislodge the food stuck in his throat.

'Are you alright, Ron?'

Harry leapt to his feet nimbly, leaned forward and hit him hard on his back until Ron finally spat that piece of food out. Hermione swiftly offered him his goblet of pumpkin juice. He snatched it from her and gulped it hastily.

It was a while before the pinkish hue from his cheeks faded.

'Bilmey! What in Merlin's name are you doing, Harry?' demanded Ron loudly when he could speak, setting his goblet aside.

Harry seemed nonplussed as he picked up the fork with the pierced piece of roast beef and held it in front of Hermione again. 'Hermione can't even pick up her fork so I'm trying to help her.' Harry made his actions sound as if it was the most natural thing to do.

Her cheeks pinked instantly. 'I-I really appreciate the thought, Harry. Look, I can eat by myself,' persuaded Hermione, lifting her hands in protest.

'Open your mouth, Hermione,' said Harry patiently, ignoring her objection. 'You were struggling with your fork.'

Hermione couldn't deny the assertions. Her mind raced with the many possibilities to persuade Harry from being so pig-headed in attending to her needs. 'What would others think, Harry? You don't want others to continue believing that we're an item, do you? 'whispered Hermione, swiftly glancing around the Great Hall. She wasn't taken aback to see that all eyes had swivelled to watch them.

It should do the trick, thought Hermione, since her best friend hates being in the limelight.

Harry gave her an arched look.

Hermione felt blood rushing into her face when she understood his look— he knew exactly what she was doing.

She lowered her gaze in mortification.

'Yea, mate. Everyone's looking,' quipped Ron, 'What would Cho think?'

'She's with Diggory,' replied Harry almost nonchalantly. He had made up his mind that it would be futile to pursue her. It was quite obvious that Cho would never consider him, since she was so happy with Diggory and Diggory clearly returned her feelings since she was his hostage for the second task.

Harry's gaze never left Hermione for a moment.

Astounded, she met his stare—there wasn't a hint of bitterness if he had accepted it calmly as a fact. A furrow creased his brows as he gave her a challenging look. 'You want to get back at Skeeter, don't you?'

'Harry,' Hermione mumbled, glancing at Ron from the corner of her eye. She was uncomfortable at the odd way Ron was looking at them. 'It's very embarrassing,' muttered Hermione, under her breath, lowering her gaze.

The frown on his face faded away and his look grew gentle and understanding. 'It's going to take some time to heal,' continued Harry, his tone softening. 'I don't want you to go hungry.'

Harry remembered experiencing hunger continually for a long time during last summer and didn't want Hermione to go through the same experience.

A flash lit the witch's eyes and the corners of her lips lifted in a smile. She opened her mouth coyly—a sign that she had relented.

The corner of Harry's lips lifted in a small smile at this resounding triumph. Wordless, he began his task straightaway before Hermione changed her mind.

Ron's stomach lunged uneasily at the sight of best mate being so attentive to Hermione. He was somewhat used to their lack of conversation—they could communicate with just a look, a frown or an expression. He felt a bit left out, as if he didn't have a place in their tiny world.

Yet, he could not deny that they look so contented together. He shook his head, as if he wanted to dislodge that thought from his mind. There was a slight buzz in the background and Ron could see, out of the corner of his eyes, everyone in the hall was talking about his best mates.' It's going to be difficult to convince that they aren't together,' muttered Ron to no one in particular.

Harry took it upon himself to feed Hermione again during dinner, much to the chagrin of Ron. This time, Hermione did not object to it. Neither of them noticed that they were the talk of the school during mealtimes.

Hermione retired early that night since she couldn't hold a book or do her homework. It did not escaped Harry's notice that she was quite upset. Harry and Ron decided to rest early too.

Harry and Ron were in their own comfortable four-poster beds, trying to fall asleep. Neither of them could fall asleep, since they were preoccupied with their thoughts. Steadily, the rest of their friends had returned back to the dorm and were already fast asleep.

Ron found himself tossing and turning in bed for the millionth time, harassed by the mental image of his best mate, Harry feeding his other best friend, Hermione: the tenderness in his eyes, the identical smiles on their faces. It was driving him barmy. He flipped himself violently to the other side, trying to erase that thought. It was fruitless—he could see her eyes lighting up with delight—pleasure of basking in Harry's attentions.

'You still awake, mate?' questioned Ron gruffly, lying on his back.

Harry grunted an affirmation almost immediately. 'Can't sleep?'

'Yea. You know feeding Hermione, it's just not right. It's something lovers will do with each other,' said Ron, rolling over to stare at his good friend. His voice betrayed the anxiety that he had felt.

Harry was lying on his back, with one of his arm cushioning his head, gazing at the ceiling as if he was thinking.

The only response he had gotten from was the slight ceasing of Harry's brow.

'I mean everyone's saying that Skeeter is right, mate-'

Harry sprung into a sitting position immediately, glaring at Ron.

'-You know there's nothing between Hermione and me,' said Harry, temper rising quickly.

Ron had to know that Hermione being allegedly linked to him romantically was the reason why he had to feed her in the first place. His voice hitched dramatically. 'Her fingers are hurt. It's the least I could do. I can't even help her with her homework tonight. She's upset that she's having a lot of difficulty holding a quill-'

'Well, it's good for her to learn how to rest. She's always studying or reading-'

'-Did you even notice how upset she was tonight?' snapped Harry loudly, his frustration apparent in his tone. The room grew silent at once. He frowned at the memory of reading frustration in her eyes when she realised that she could not hold a quill with her stiff swollen fingers to take down the notes for the class. An image of a younger Hermione petrified filled his vision. He remembered grabbing those stiff hand tightly, wishing with all he had that she was fine.

He blinked then expelled a breath, calming down visibly.

'There's nothing romantic about it. I'm the reason her fingers are injured in the first place. Now if you're that concerned about it, you could feed her breakfast tomorrow.'

Ron's cheeks turned beet-red instantaneously. 'Er… no thanks, mate. Do it your way I guess. Night,' mumbled Ron, before turning to his side.

Harry lay on his back, one of his arms tucked neatly under his head as he contemplated about his best mate's words.

He began examining his indifference to the idea of being with Hermione closely. It was far more than just ignoring it; it was as if he wasn't concerned by it. The article about them infuriated him because Skeeter had besmirched Hermione's reputation by spinning false tales—that Skeeter, she would do anything to boost readership. Hermione was a fantastic witch and did nothing to deserve that tainting. He blinked continuously—befuddled by the blossoming need to protect her. Strangely, the idea of being with her was agreeable with him.

With that thought in mind, he rolled to his side and slipped into the world of dreams.

Harry watched Hermione suffered for the next two days and tried to assist her in any way her pride would allow. It wasn't easy since the strong-willed and highly-independent Hermione didn't like to be pitied.

He understood her need to reject help so that she would appear as if she wasn't bothered by the injury but Harry knew her well and pressed in on the issue.

Ron was quite surprised at how dogged Harry was about helping and that Hermione would actually eventually relent. He knew that Hermione always had a soft spot for him but he was astonished at the things that she had allowed Harry to get away with. Naturally, he kept his opinions to himself—he could tell that Hermione was quite upset and did not need him to distraught her any further.

On the third morning, the boils were completely healed and Hermione was given permission to remove them. Anxious to have full use of her fingers, Hermione was up in the early hours of the morning to get rid of the bandages. The idea of not having the use of her fingers made her feel so crippled and helpless—she couldn't do anything in these two days. It resulted in a backlog of homework and plenty of research to do. That Skeeter woman would pay, she thought viciously. She would celebrate by working on a plan to exact revenge from her.

Hermione realised that she wasn't upset most of the time.

The constant battling of wills between her and Harry were the only high points for the past few day. Harry made the idea of allowing him to assist her a favour to him, rather than a burden—she felt a strange sense of empowerment and joy to see him smile when she finally cave in to his protective ways.

The boy could be so Slytherin too, she thought fondly.

Harry would use all sorts of methods to convince her to let him care for her—he resorted to appealing to her logic, emotional- blackmail, even puppy faces and she found herself entertained by it. Harry could be so creative and sneaky about it too.

The smile faded from her face when she finally unwrapped all of the bandages, revealing ten normal-size fingers. She stared at them, with her brows knitting into a frown, trying to understand the strange sense of disappointment instead of relief.

It dawned upon her that she could no longer bask in Harry's attentions. She couldn't remember the last time he was so attentive to her needs. It was a side of Harry that genuinely amazed her. Sure, Harry was selfless when it came to his friends but Harry was mostly oblivious to everything around him and no one could blame him since everything seemed to happen to him.

It was his rare open displays of concern, other than the constant clashing of wills that cheered her up for the past two days.

Her cheeks blushed at the way he attended to her every little need, as if she was a princess. She blinked that thought away—it was ridiculous that she was behaving like some five-year old girl. If she continued to harbour that thought, she might end up doodling hearts with his and her initials on her notebook in class like Lavender-

-'I'll shoot myself if that happens.' That thought made her shudder. Another thought crossed her mind: would that affect his chances with Cho Chang?

A furrow appeared between her brows as she chewed her bottom lip. Harry was so hung-up on the Fifth-year Ravenclaw Seeker that he always lost his head whenever she was around. It was comical watching her best friend lose his speech in her presence as if he really liked Chang.

It wouldn't be fair to Harry if he lost his opportunity with Cho just for her. So, Hermione decided that she had to make it very clear that the article was false. That decision made her winced inwardly.

Hermione grabbed her large book on Charms and dashed down the winding staircase, making a mental to-do list—she had lots to make up. The sight of seeing someone on the armchair before the fire halted her steps.

It was slightly after the crack of dawn and no sane Gryffindor would wake up earlier than her.

She gasped when she realised that the figure sitting by the fireplace was Harry Potter. Her gaze fell upon the table Harry was working on and she discovered that it was cluttered with written parchments and books.

Hermione stood rooted to the spot, watching him work.

His black robe was thrown messily over the back of an armchair. The sleeves of his shirt were hastily rolled up to his elbow as he scanned the parchment with an intense look of concentration. Harry carelessly swept his black fringe back when it got into his line of vision and checked with the various books and parchments.

She was perplexed—there wasn't any pressing work that would require Harry to rise so early to work on.

Harry tipped his round-rimmed spectacles up the bridge of his nose before leaning to dip his feather into his ink bottle. She couldn't help but noticed awfully small and thin he was for his age. Definitely underweight, she thought.

-'I don't want you to go hungry.'

Her heart ached at the thought that his rotten family might have starved him in the past. It seemed almost logical. Harry had never talked about the Dursleys but it seemed obvious from the way he reacted—he was always anxious about sending food to Sirius, as if he was afraid of starving him.

Then, there was the Triwizard Tournament hanging over his head like a death sentence.

How much more did he still need to go through before he could have a normal life like the rest of his peers?

As if sensing her presence, he looked up from his work and noticed her. A large smile stretched across his face as he climbed onto his feet. Her heart fluttered at the sight of that brilliant smile that nearly spilt his face and she forgot about all that she was contemplating.

Automatically, she returned a smile, affected by his unusual cheerfulness and excitement.

He crossed the room quickly.

'Morning, Hermione. All healed!' babbled Harry enthusiastically, lifting her hands up so that he could have a better look at them. 'Completely healed. You can start on your homework after breakfast. 'He winked at her before walking back to the table to pack up. 'Give me a minute. I just need to pack up then we can go for breakfast together,' Harry sorted the parchments neatly into two piles.

'What are these, Harry? 'asked Hermione inquisitively, walking to his side.

He handed her a pile of parchments for her peruse. She arched her brows when she realised that they were notes on their lessons for the past two days. The idea that Harry took notes was startling but it wasn't the only surprise. Her eyes widened when she notice that they were not written in the same untidy scrawl, but it was penned very neatly as if Harry had taken a lot of effort to write.

Harry nervously scratched the back of his head, staring at his trainers. 'Er ...hope you don't mind. It's sorta untidy. I noticed you didn't take notes so I thought you might want mine.'

Hermione widened her eyes incredulously. 'For me? You don't take notes, Harry.'

He gave a nervous laugh, tucking his hands down his pockets. 'It's a good habit, keeps my mind focus on lessons. I reckoned that I've been copying from your notes too many times. Er... it's not as good as…'

Harry never had a chance to complete his sentence since Hermione flung her arms around him and embraced him in a bone-crushing hug.

'Thank you,' whispered Hermione into his ear. Tears of gratitude filled her eyes as she locked her arms tightly around him, squeezing him.

To her surprise, she felt his hands on her back, returning the hug. Both teenagers felt unusually comfortable staying in embrace with each other.

His voice was gruff when he finally answered her. 'Don't thank me, Hermione. I haven't been doing enough for you.'

She moved slightly away from him so that she could gaze into his face, her arms left around his neck. 'What do you mean you haven't been doing enough? You've been feeding me …'

'I'm the cause of all these, Hermione. Look, I ought to do all this,' declared Harry emotionally, lowering his gaze. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to continue with his tirade but stopped himself at the last second, raking his hand through his hair.

She dropped her arms as she quietly contemplated his words, allowing silence to fill the room. He shifted hastily away from her, as if he had just discovered how physically close he was to her and went to the table to continue packing. 'I'm famished. Let me pack up while you keep those.' It was clear that he wanted to avoid the issue.

She grabbed his hand and halted his actions. She spun him so that he met her gaze—there was a hint of surprise in his eyes. 'Harry, you're not the cause of all this,' said Hermione with deliberate slowness. 'That horrible Skeeter is—she wrote that bloody article.'

He cracked a smile at her cussing. 'I never thought I'll live to see the day when Hermione Granger would actually curse.' His eyes twinkled with mirth.

'Prat,' spat Hermione, pretending to be annoyed, smacking his arm. Harry grinned from ear to ear at that reaction.

Then she remembered—recalled the solemn look when he told her that he didn't want her to go hungry as if he was familiar with that kind of suffering.

The smile from her face faded away suddenly as she guided him to their favourite armchair. He recognised that look—she had something important to talk to him.

Quietly, he sat close to her, watching her intently.

Her brows were knitted in a frown and she looked as if she was on the verge of crying.

'I've been a horrible friend, Harry. I've never put the signs together. How did those horrid Dursleys treat you?'

He became wide-eyed.

She grabbed his hand firmly. 'They starved you, didn't they? That's why you did all these for me, for Sirius… I'm such a horrid friend, I never noticed.'

Harry was completely shell-shocked; surprised that she would arrive at that conclusion. He would never admit that the things at the Dursleys were that bad.

'Ron said that there were bars on your windows. Fred was talking about a cupboard under the stairs. Oh Merlin, oh, I should've known…'

Harry snapped out of his revive when he noticed tears streaming down her cheeks. 'Hermione, please don't cry.' He was at lost at what to do.

'Did they hit you too? Is that why you hate going back to them?' Her tears were gushing down her cheeks with each question asked. She couldn't imagine his childhood. She couldn't imagine how he grew up. Did he even have friends? Why did no one spot the signs?

He was completely at lost—no knowing what to think or feel. No one had ever cried for him, cried for the things he went through. He told no one.

He was the strange delinquent kid with no friends. The freak. His parents were drunks who killed themselves in a car crash and left him with relatives who saw him as a waste of space. The freak with a scar.

Something deep within him broke.

His vision grew blur.

She launched herself on him, wrapping her arms protectively around him.

'Hermione, it's fine,' muttered Harry, his tears streaming down his cheek. 'I'm fine.' He held her close to him. Her warmth surrounded him, lending him strength. Indeed, he felt better. He felt lighter.

He didn't understand why but he felt safe. She wouldn't hurt him.

She sat up straight, meeting her gaze. Her eyes were blazing with anger, despite the tears. 'It's not alright, Harry. It's not alright. No one has the right to subject a child to this. Not to you.'

A small smile crept onto his face at her fierce loyalty. Hastily, he swiped his hands across his face to clean off the tears. Then, he told her his past briefly. His tone shook at several parts but he kept the detached tone as if he was recounting the life of another unfortunate child.

She grew increasingly troubled, crying for the child who had a loveless childhood. She also cried due to the failure of the adults to take care of him.

Her tears cleansed him, filled him with hope that he could rise from the ashes.

'We must tell someone. Have you ever told Professor Dumbledore about it?'

His shoulders slumped. 'He says it's essential that I return to the Dursleys'.

Her brows arched. 'He didn't explain why?' Hermione chewed her bottom lips, deep in thought. 'I'm quite sure there are laws regarding treatment of children. Do you mind if I bring my parents into this? They are trained.'

Her eyes shone with a promise to do right by him. Oh, he knew that look: Hermione was determined to see that things were righted. She had the same look when she threw the chain around his neck—the same righteous and determined look.

Harry dipped his head in a nod, placing his trust in his best friend. He always trusted Hermione to think of something to protect him and the people he cared for. Hermione had saved Sirius from an unfortunate fate of being kissed by a Dementor almost a year ago. She would do all she could to protect him.

He held her gaze. 'Thanks, Hermione.' The words were not sufficient to express the gratitude he had for her.

A tiny sombre smile appeared on her face. Gently, she laid her head on his shoulder, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist.

Gratefully, he laid his head above hers, returning the hug he knew she needed.

He didn't know how long they held each other. It didn't matter. He was preoccupied with own thoughts. Harry wasn't too sure if he could trust another girl the same way he relied on Hermione. Heck, he didn't know if he couldn't tell another person of his past. He didn't know if there was another girl who could calm the storm within him just as effectively as her. He didn't know love but he knew that he was safe with her.

He knew that she would always be there for him.

'What do you say to that breakfast now?' asked Hermione, lifting her head from his shoulder. There was a smile on her lips and he returned a similar smile of his own.

'Just give me a minute, I'll be back,' said Harry. He picked up all his things and returned them back to his dorm. Hermione placed the notes Harry had given carefully into her satchel as if it was her treasured possession.

The sight of her being so careful lifted his spirits.

'So any theories about how Skeeter managed to eavesdrop?' asked Harry when he had returned back from his dorm. It was as if things had returned back to normal and they did not cry in each other's arms.

'A few,' answered Hermione absently. 'Before we go…' There was a flash of determination in her eyes as she tip-toed, leaned in and kiss him chastely on his lips.

Harry felt a jolt.

He stood rooted to the ground, gaping at her, as if in trance. The feeling of those soft lips against his was so remarkable, that it temporary disabled his thinking functions.

'Thanks,' whispered Hermione, turning pink. She realised that she had conveniently forgot about the task she had set earlier in her room.

He mumbled a response absently, touching his lips with his fingers. His heart was fluttering at the recollection of her lips.

Together, they fell into step and made their way to the Great Hall. The Great Hall was empty when they entered the place. Very few students would begin their day that early.

They only broke the silence between them after they had sat down.

A frown etched deeply on her face. 'I was thinking along the lines of the Invisibility cloak and disillusioning charms but those don't really make much of a sense to me. There is no better invisibility cloak than yours and I don't think Skeeter could cast a powerful disillusioning charm. '

'So you're hitting the library straight after breakfast?' questioned Harry with amusement as they sat down. Hermione began pouring them two cups of tea while he prepared two plates of breakfast for them

'Well, I've a lot to catch up. I need to finish my homework too.' Hermione picked congee for breakfast instead.

'Do you think she might have bugged you?' suggested Harry, spreading butter onto his toast.

She arched one of her brow.

She sighed, knowing that he was clueless about it. 'You can't do that in Hogwarts. All electronic equipment do not work in here. It's in-'

'-Hogwarts: A History,' finished Harry, smirking. 'You're the only one I know who would read that book.' It earned him another smack on his arm as he laughed brightly. He became thoughtful. 'There must be a magical way to eavesdrop though.'

'There must be,' answered Hermione, her eyes flashing with resolve.

Harry recognised that expression and left her to her thoughts.

Quietly, they finished their meal.

Their plates and bowl disappeared almost instantly when they rose to their feet.

Students had begun to fill up the hall. They greeted some of the Gryffindors who joined the table. Ginny was excited to see that Hermione's fingers had recovered well. The other girls from Gryffindor joined in, expressing their exhilaration at her quick recovery.

'It looks completely normal!'

Harry noticed the distant look in her eyes—it was clear that Hermione wanted to escape so that she could begin with her research or her homework.

'Would you excuse us? I need Hermione to help me with my task', interrupted Harry, putting a hand possessively on Hermione's shoulder. He steered a baffled and speechless Hermione towards the exit of the Great Hall, ignoring the looks of surprise and speculation.

'I don't think they will take too much offence if you're helping me out with the competition. You could use a hand in finding information,' explained Harry calmly as he ushered her out of the hall.

Hermione made a face. Before she could protest, he held up his hand, halting her from speaking.

'Please listen to me, Hermione. She's the reason you were so miserable for the past two days. I'll be a terrible friend if I pass out on the opportunity to exact revenge from her,' continued Harry fiercely, his protective side rearing.

Hermione knew it was impossible to dissuade him when he became that protective and it was difficult for her to put up any argument to dissuade him since she was the one who convinced him that her injuries was Skeeter's fault . 'Look, I don't have to take the tests so I've plenty of time to do both,' continued Harry in a gentle tone. 'Anyway, I could really use your help to prepare for the final task.'

Without a warning, she launched herself onto him, crushing him with her embrace. She was amazed by his consideration for her and upset at the idea of him participating for the final task. Her heart swelled up with pride at the thought of Harry.

At that moment, she truly knew how important Harry was to her. She loved him. He became important to her when he reckless threw himself on the troll in a desperate attempt to save her. She was certain she could do the same for him. He had to be fine. She would not fail him like the rest of the adults.

They were conscious of their own fluttering of their hearts as they held each other close, ignoring the swirling of crowds as they entered and left the hall.

Harry didn't want to let her go, not when he felt so safe and warm. He wanted to savour these rare sensations—they kept him going. He lo-no-cared for her. Yes, he cared for her greatly. He admired her courage to protect those she treasured and her immense loyalty.

They distanced themselves only moments later, reluctantly, looking at each other.

Together, they headed up to the library to begin their research, their shoulders touching, an intimacy that was absented just a day ago.

A/N: Thank you for reading. Thank you for your reviews so far and your amazing support. I did not expect 30 reviews in just a day. I'll continue the story after finish H J Potter. Thank you.

Edited on 24/04/2012