Title: Him or Me
Summary: Ron's return and the incident with the Horcrux prompts Harry to reconsider their friendship. In the process, he comes to realize there are possibilities he had never considered before.
Rating: General—or at least I think it is. Sometimes I'm not sure with this site, but I certainly don't consider anything in this to be suggestive.
Disclaimer: I do not make any money off of this story. Everything belongs to JKR.
Author's Notes: It seems that all fanfic writers who favor Harry and Hermione as a couple eventually write one of two kinds of stories: what should have happened after Ron left them in the tent, or what should have happened when he returned. Although I have a WIP which attempts to answer the former, it has bogged down and gotten a lot longer than I had originally intended. Hopefully I can complete it at some point. This is my attempt at the latter.
I conceived the idea for this story some time ago, but I had only written about three paragraphs before I bogged down, not knowing where to go with it. I happened to be looking through my writing folders last night, and it jumped out at me when I opened it. Needless to say, it wrote itself from there. It's funny how that happens sometimes. This is a one-shot.
Please note that I am not kind to Ron in this story, though he does not actually appear on screen. However, I don't consider this bashing so much as just common sense and the consequences of his actions. If you're a Ron apologist, you may wish to move along to something else.
Him or Me
"Him or me."
The words hung between them like a huge chasm, and though Harry felt that somehow he should care that he had put his best friend in this position, he could not. Too much had happened—too many incidents lay between them, culminated by Ron's abandonment all those weeks ago, for Harry to trust him completely. Forgiveness was one thing—Harry had always found it easy to forgive those around him. Trust was another matter entirely.
The moonlit landscape lay about them, blanketed with the crystalline beauty of the snow. Here and there, little drifts dotted the landscape, piled up against the sides of trees or rocks, or merely shaped by the wind in its whimsical manner, without any discernable pattern. The air was silent and still with nary a breath of wind, and as it could be surmised, being as it was very late, devoid of birds, or any other creatures in evidence. It almost appeared as though the world beyond the campsite did not even exist, and that the world consisted of nothing more than that dimly lit clearing, the tent to Harry's back, and the young woman in front of him. The landscape could be termed beautiful, if one was conscious of it and mindful enough to look for the beauty in an otherwise untenable and dangerous situation. But Harry was not in such a mood on this evening. It was late at night and Ron was sleeping in the tent, while Hermione took the watch. But Harry, though he should have been sleeping, had found that his irritation with his friend—or what he was rapidly beginning to consider his former friend—had not allowed him any sleep. He had instead stalked out into the night, and though he had intended merely to work off some of his anger and frustration, had blurted the words out as soon as he had emerged from the tent. "It's him or me, Hermione! Him or me."
"Harry… what… what did you say?" Hermione's voice carried a tremulous undertone which was not part of the normally confident girl's usual manner of speaking.
"You heard me, Hermione," Harry responded, forcing down his pique. His argument was with Ron, not Hermione, and he did not want to give her the impression that he was angry with her. As such, he made certain his responding tone was gentle and warm, belying any harshness his words might have otherwise conveyed. "I cannot take this any longer. Ron needs to go. He cannot be trusted any longer."
Hermione's eyes widened and her mouth worked silently for a moment. Harry felt bad about surprising her. And more to the point, he felt bad about causing her distress—he had always hated it when Ron had done it, after all—but he could not regret his words. On the contrary, something had to be done about his one time best friend. Ron's "triumphant return" had been accomplished the previous day, and though Harry had initially welcomed him with open arms, Ron's flippancy, his lack of manners, the complaints which were already beginning yet again, told him that to attempt the quest with Ron as part of the team would end badly. Or it would end badly if Harry could restrain himself from hexing the git to oblivion before. Something had to be done.
"Harry, I… I… can't believe that you just said that," Hermione murmured with astonishment.
"You can't?" Harry demanded. "I'm surprised, Hermione. When he first showed up again, I was the one who welcomed him, while you were the one who almost decked him. I'd have thought that you would be happy to see him leave."
"I was mad at him—I am mad at him. But to just kick him out…"
As she trailed off, Harry could see that Hermione's thoughts were troubled as she considered the situation. But Harry was relentless. She had to see as he did, had to accept that he would not allow Ron to continue with them—if she could not, then she would have to go too. He would finish this by himself, if he had to. Or he would die trying. That was what he had originally intended in any case.
"Hermione, he's not helping us," Harry said gently, moving toward her and rubbing his hand down one arm to comfort her. "He was not back for more than two hours when he had already made comments about how little progress we've made and the lack of any good food. Do you want to carry his dead weight around any longer?"
"He's right," Hermione pointed out. "We've not discovered a whole lot—the Horcruxes are still out there and we don't have any more clues as to what they are or where they are."
"I'm aware of that," Harry replied with exasperation. "The point is that Ron is making snide remarks about how little progress we've made when he has not helped us with the little progress we've made! He never did help! All he did was moan and complain and play with his stupid deluminator."
"He did destroy the Horcrux."
By now Harry's frustration was beginning to boil over and he threw his hands up in the air and stalked around the clearing in front of her. Among Ron's protestations when Hermione had taken him to task for leaving, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it!" and "I just lost my mind!" were particularly annoying, but the one that really stuck in Harry's craw was Ron's claim that his running away had been "worth it", as now that he had come back, they had managed to destroy another Horcrux. And even more than the claim, it was the insufferable smug smirk with which Ron had delivered the words which had caused Harry's already escalating anger to take on an almost tangible quality. The idiot actually considered himself and his belated return responsible for destroying the locket, even though Harry had done all the work following the patronus and retrieving the sword, and he and Hermione had spent the past month researching everything they could find. And this did not even mention the fact that they had had to attempt to move on without their best friend who, though he had certainly not been much help in research or discovering the Horcruxes, had at least been present—a warm body, as it were. There was some truth in the saying, "misery loves company", and Harry thought it accurately described the comfort of Ron's previous presence on the Horcrux hunt.
All of this went through Harry's mind, but in response to Hermione's statement he only said with an overwhelming measure of sarcasm and bitterness, "Oh yes, Ron destroyed the Horcrux. And a bloody good job he made of it too!"
Hermione eyed him curiously. "What do you mean?"
"I guess we never did tell you what happened," Harry responded, running his hand through his hair. "There's a reason why the Horcrux affected Ron so badly—several reasons, in fact—his stupid jealousy, his insecurity, not to mention his complete lack of any kind of mental defenses or common sense.
"The Horcrux taunted him, Hermione," Harry continued as he turned to face her. They had known each other for a very long time, and Harry willed her to understand, to read him like she had always been able—understand that he was serious this time. "It picked up on his thoughts and his insecurities, told him that you and I had been seeing one another behind his back, and that we were glad he had gone because it gave us time to be together."
"And Ron?" Hermione said with a gasp. "What did he do?"
"He sat there, unable to move with fear and anger," was Harry's dismissive reply. "Never mind trusting a friend who had been with him through thick and thin for seven years now. Ron should understand that though there have been betrayals in our relationship, none of them have ever been mine!"
"Harry!" Hermione snapped. "That's unkind."
"But it's true!" Harry shot back. "The tournament comes to mind, even before he betrayed us and left us out here on our own, and I'm sure I could come up with a half dozen other things if I thought about it for a moment. What if he had been captured by Death Eaters? We'd have had all of Riddle's forces out here looking for us, and he'd have made damn certain that we'd never get close to his Horcruxes. Don't those sound like betrayals to you?"
Hermione was silent for several moments before she hung her head in defeat. Harry knew his arguments were irrefutable—Ron had betrayed them, in a most despicable way. Hermione had been mad at him—and rightly so—but Harry knew she had never seriously considered the fact that it may not be best for Ron to continue to accompany them. At least, Harry hoped she could see it that way; otherwise, he might end up losing his only two friends before the night was through.
"I guess you may be right, Harry," Hermione responded after several minutes of silence. "I just can't believe that he would just believe what the Horcrux was showing him so easily."
Harry snorted. "You can't?"
"We've never felt that way for each other—Ron should have known and trusted you."
"If you don't take into account his damned jealousy," Harry muttered. He turned away and took at deep breath—this part of the conversation was going to be difficult and, unless he missed his guess, the part which was most likely to send her running from him. But he would not allow her to stay under false pretenses. Everything needed to be open between them, or she had best get as far away as possible.
"Actually, I've been thinking about that," he admitted.
"Thinking about what?" Hermione asked, her brow crinkled with confusion.
"Our relationship," Harry clarified, turning to face her. "What the Horcrux showed to Ron got me thinking. We've been friends for seven years—grown up together, actually—we're both young and reasonably attractive, we share everything… Why have we never considered each other that way?"
Hermione's incredulous stare met his gaze and she colored under his scrutiny. "Because we consider each other to be more like a sibling?"
"How would either of us know what a sibling is like?" Harry asked with another snort. "You are an only child and I sure as hell didn't consider Dudley to be a brother."
Eyes narrowed, Hermione peered back at him. "So is that what this is about? You want Ron out of the way so that we can… what? Jump in the sack and shag like bunnies without having to worry about him interrupting us?"
Harry froze and looked at his best friend with astonishment. It was not long, however, before his surprise turned to an icy rage and if her sudden look of consternation was any indication, she was well aware of his change in temper.
"If that's what you think," he rasped, "then maybe you should just go with Ron."
Spinning on his heel, Harry stalked toward the tent, his fury giving away to a sense of devastated loss. By tomorrow morning, he would be on his own.
Footsteps sounded behind him, and he felt Hermione grasp his arm. "Harry, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"You shouldn't have." Harry's voice was stony and he wanted nothing more than to go back to his bed and leave her behind. "But you obviously meant it."
"I didn't," Hermione persisted. "I was angry and upset and shocked, and I did not express myself properly. Please, come back so we can work this out.
"Please!" she repeated when he hesitated.
Reluctantly, Harry allowed himself to be drawn back to the far side of the clearing away from the tent. Still filled with hurt and disappointment he did not look at her. He could not look at her for fear that he would burst into tears. A part of him wished that he had kept his mouth shut, about his changing feelings if nothing else. Then he would not be running the risk of losing her, like he knew he had already lost Ron. Friends were on pretty short supply for the Boy-Who-Lived—they had always been. He didn't need to lose any more. But the larger part of him would not allow her to stay unless she understood the entire situation. He owed her that much. And more.
"Now Harry," Hermione began when they had sat beside the tree they had used as a backrest while on watch, "please tell me what this is all about."
"The Horcrux got me thinking," he began hesitantly after considering what he wanted to say. "I saw the projections from the Horcrux. I saw us locked in an embrace, and I suddenly got to wondering. Why have you and I never even considered the possibility of something more than friendship with each other? And it wasn't the first time."
"Do you remember the night we danced?" Harry asked, his eyes once more seeking out hers.
She watched him intently, her gaze boring into his own for several moments before she responded. "I do."
"I wanted to kiss you that night, Hermione. It was an almost overwhelming urge and I was only barely able to restrain myself."
"Then why did you?" she asked.
Surprised, Harry peered back at her, trying to get some indication of what she was feeling. But she remained expressionless, waiting for him to continue.
"A couple of reasons, actually," he finally admitted. "I was scared and surprised at the sudden impulse and I couldn't understand why it appeared out of the blue. That and I didn't know how you would react. I figured you'd slap me, likely as not. You seemed so sad—pining after Ron, to be honest."
"I was," Hermione replied. "I'd been trying to get close to him for months and he suddenly loses his cool and he up and vanishes."
"You see what I'm trying to say then?"
"Much as I'd like not to, I do, Harry. But this isn't a step we should take lightly. He'll never forgive us if we send him away."
"I'll never forgive that he went away," Harry snapped.
"That's your right, and I can't say you're wrong to feel that way." Hermione paused for a moment before continuing, "And now that you have opened my eyes, I'm not sure that I don't feel the same way."
They were silent for several moments, Hermione apparently deep in thought, while Harry watched her, trying to get a sense of what she was thinking. And while he was watching, for the first time since they had known one another, he consciously allowed himself to indulge in thoughts of her which were far more than brotherly.
In truth, Hermione had changed over the years, going from a buck-toothed, bushy haired know-it-all who had vaguely annoyed him when they had first met, to a close friend, and finally, to a very desirable, attractive young woman. He had never been too concerned about her teeth, but the slight shrinking Madam Pomphrey had done in Hermione's fourth year had put to rest that imperfection, and her formerly untamable hair had straightened out, falling over her shoulders in waves, rather than jutting out like she had stuck her finger in a light socket. And moreover, Harry was well aware of the fact that her face had matured, shed the baby fat she had had when he met her, settling into smooth lines, the overall effect of which made her appear uncommonly pretty. Those attributes, together with her slender and graceful figure, with curves in all the right places, added up to the fact that Hermione had become quite attractive over the years.
And moreover, Harry knew that she was a wonderful person underneath her physical appearance. Sure she could still tend toward a little bossiness, but she was kind and considerate, and she was a genuinely nice and affectionate person, always willing to help others, and always interested in improving the lives of others, though, again, she could be a little single-minded at times—her obsession with the lives of house-elves testified to that aspect of her character. They were particularly well-suited toward one another, he thought, and they knew each other so well that adjusting to something more would not be particularly difficult.
"Well, we seem to have gotten off track," Hermione finally said, looking up at him with a smile.
"I guess we did," Harry replied. "But I want you to know that this decision has been growing for months, long before he ever came back and probably before he even left. And whatever you and I may have in the future plays no part in this decision—Ron just cannot be trusted any more."
"I know, Harry," Hermione said, placing a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry I said what I did—I know it's not true."
Hermione began chewing her lip like she did when she was thinking, before blurting out, "What about now?"
Harry frowned, confused by her seeming non sequitur. "What do you mean?"
"You found reasons not to kiss me when we were dancing. Do you have any reason not to now?"
His eyes dropped to her lips and Hermione's eyes fluttered with anticipation. "None that I can think of," he whispered as he leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers.
They were soft, he thought as they touched, and very pleasant against his own. Not wanting to end it there, he began moving his lips, teasing hers with little nips and bites, until she began to respond and deepen the kiss. It was a moment before they truly began to feel the other and know how the other was moving, and then the kiss truly became one of passion and of promise. There were no fireworks or bells, nothing like the poets will often describe a first kiss, just the sweet pressure of two young people, pouring their feelings and passions out through their kiss.
How it happened, Harry could never be certain, but when they broke apart some moments later, her realized that Hermione had somehow ended up in his lap, her arms clasped around his neck, while his circled his back, one hand creeping up into her hair. They peered in each other's eyes for a moment, and Harry thought he saw true affection and love reflected in their depths. This was where he belonged.
Dropping her head against his shoulder, Hermione sighed and leaned into him, one arm still wrapped around his neck. Harry, for his part, kept both of his arms around her, never wanting this feeling of closeness to end. It was several moments before either of them had the presence of mind to say anything further.
"So why do you think we never considered this?" Hermione finally broke the silence.
"Seems to me it all comes back to Ron."
Nodding against his chest, Hermione said, "He would have been mad with jealousy if he knew that we fancied one another."
"He would. I'm not sure, but I think I always pushed any thoughts or feelings I had for you away because of that. By fourth year he was already showing signs of his pathetic infatuation for you, and if I had given any indication that I was interested in you, our relationship would have gone downhill really quickly."
Hermione giggled. "He was pretty pathetic about it sometimes. And that whole thing with Ginny? Were you serious about it?"
Sighing, Harry said, "No, I wasn't. Don't get me wrong—Ginny's a really nice girl, and the short weeks I spent with her were fun and all. But I always got the impression that she'd never really gotten over her Boy-Who-Lived hero worship thing."
"You think she got together with you because of her childhood infatuation?"
"I'm sure that's at least part of it," Harry confirmed. "She has heard stories about the Boy-Who-Lived ever since she was a little girl, and I don't think she really knows me, Harry. She just knows the story."
Hermione nodded. "I can see that."
"And there's something else…"
"Well…" Harry replied hesitantly. "I just can't help but remember that story Mrs. Weasley told you about the potions she used to attract Mr. Weasley's attention…"
Sitting bolt upright, Hermione regarded Harry with shock evident on her features. "You think Mrs. Weasley potioned you?" she asked incredulously.
"I'm not accusing anyone of anything," Harry soothed. "But it does seem rather suspicious, you must admit."
"How do you mean?" Hermione asked with narrowed eyes.
"I'm not rightly sure," Harry admitted. "I just can't help but wonder why you and I never considered each other as a possible romantic interest, especially with how close we are and how well-suited we are.
"It was not until after Ron had left that I began to wonder, that I began to see you in a different light and to notice how attractive you have become. Even if I had always considered you nothing more than a sister, shouldn't I have at least noticed that?"
Hermione colored at his praise and looked down, and Harry decided right there and then that he would not put up with her lack of confidence about her looks. He grasped her chin gently and nudged her face up so that he could look her directly in the eyes.
"Don't do that, Hermione," he instructed gently, but firmly. "You've grown and matured, and become a very attractive woman. I think it's evident that I think so, and trust me—I'm not complaining about your looks. I would have thought it would have been obvious."
He pressed his lips against hers once again, kissed her, showing her his appreciation for all her fine qualities.
"Please don't brush off the compliment," he murmured as he withdrew slightly. "To me, you are a wonderful, attractive woman, and I could not be more honored if you were to consider entrusting me with your heart."
"Thank you, Harry," Hermione whispered as she snuggled up to him again.
"But back to what we were discussing," Harry said after a moment, "it just seems a little coincidental. I don't know for sure, and to be honest, I don't think that I care to know. But it just struck me—that's all."
"Ron would never be able to do it," Hermione declared. "His potion making skills are abysmal."
"No, but Mrs. Weasley certain can," Harry replied. "She's done it before, and she could have sent enough along with him to keep potioning me. Or us, if it comes to that."
Hermione paused while she digested this. "Do you really think they have done this?"
"I really don't know and like I said, I don't want to know," was Harry's firm reply. "It was more just a random thought which made sense as I thought more of it."
"So what do we do?"
"I think we need to tell Ron that he had better go home. Then, I think we don't worry about it any more until we have to. When we're finally around Ron and his family again, we can use detection charms on our food if we think it's necessary."
Pulling away from him again, Hermione directed a pointed look at Harry. "Are you sure about this, Harry? I hate to say it again, but you have to know that if we send him away he will never forgive us.
"And furthermore, if we do get together—"
"Have gotten together, if those kisses meant anything," Harry interrupted.
Hermione smiled and leaned forward to peck him on the lips. "When he learns that we have gotten together, he'll claim that the Horcrux was telling the truth and we've been going behind his back."
"Like I care what he thinks," Harry responded with a dismissive sniff.
"Didn't you tell him something like you considered me to be like a sister?"
"I did," Harry affirmed. "But it was more because he was almost hostile and had a wand, while I didn't. I didn't want to push him into anything, so I told him what he wanted to hear. And besides, I hadn't worked through everything yet. I was still confused."
"It could cause problems down the road," Hermione stated, searching Harry's eyes.
He nodded slowly and hugged her to him. "It likely will. But I'm not going to give you up because he has some misguided sense of entitlement which includes you. Shouldn't you have some say in who you want to date, and if it comes to that, marry?"
Hermione colored at the term "marry" but her gaze never left his. "Yes, I should."
"Then Ron needs to understand that. If he doesn't—if he can't be happy for us—then he was never the friend we thought he was."
"Agreed," Hermione said. "But there is one other thing. If we are going to send him away, then we need to do it properly—he could be captured after all."
"He can just go back to Bill's. He'll be safe there."
"I know, but we can't take the chance. We need to remove his memories, Harry. At the very least, we need to remove everything about where we are and what we are doing."
"The Horcruxes?" Harry asked.
"Yes. Riddle capturing him would be disastrous if he remembers them."
"Agreed. It might not hurt to relieve him of that deluminator too. He found us once using it; he could do it again."
"You're right," Hermione agreed. "Maybe we could arrange it so he forgets it. I don't know that I feel comfortable stealing it from him."
"Maybe it has a charm on it which allows him to find us," Harry mused. "It belonged to Professor Dumbledore, and we both know how he liked to keep track of me."
Hermione gasped and she looked up at him, concern in her eyes. "You may be right. And if so, if the Death Eaters ever get their hands on it and figure out how it works…"
"Whatever happens, Ron doesn't leave with it then," Harry declared. "If nothing else, we can make certain he gets it back when this is all over."
Harry suspected that Hermione still was not comfortable with it—Harry was not either—but their safety was at stake. They would have to devise some way to keep the device and possibly even study it. Harry was more than a little disturbed that there may be something which was attuned to him—it could be used against him in any number of ways. Maybe they could figure out how to remove the enchantments from it. He would feel a lot better if they did.
They sat silently for several moments, while Hermione moved off Harry's legs and settled in beside him, leaning into his shoulder while he draped an arm around her, while her right hand was clasped in his left The night remained quiet and still, and Harry felt contented for perhaps the first time in his life. He might have been on a life and death mission with the fate of the Wizarding world hanging in the balance, but he was here with the one person in the world who meant the most to him. With her by his side, he could not fail.
They stayed that way until dawn broke, neither of them feeling the fatigue of a sleepless night, reveling in their closeness and newfound feelings. Thoughts and secrets were exchanged, interspersed with affectionate kisses and, while they did not stray further than simple kisses, they both felt the promise of a bright and loving future.
They spoke no more about Ron and what they would do the following morning. Ron could wait. Now was the time for just the two of them.
A/N: I know there will likely be some comments about the potions issue, so I thought I'd get my response out of the way right now. Harry does not know if the Weasleys used potions on him and Hermione, he just has a set of circumstances which seem to fit. Personally, JRK's weird idea of what constitutes a healthy relationship aside, I've always thought that love potions were a good explanation of why Harry and Hermione saddled themselves with their respective Weasleys, regardless of who was responsible for the actual potioning. I left it intentionally vague—it's up to the reader to determine if they actually did use potions. There will not be a sequel, and I will not return to this.