Disclaimer: I don't own HP or any of these characters. That belongs to JKR, Scholastic Books, Warner Brothers, etc.
"Where's Hermione?" were the first words out of Ron Weasley's mouth as he sat down for breakfast.
"Good morning, Ron," Harry replied evenly, a tad miffed that Ron hadn't even bothered to greet him.
"Good morning, Harry." Ron rolled his eyes at his best friend. He quickly speared several pieces of toasts onto his plate. "So?" he asked, after taking a bite from his food.
"So what?" Harry feared that he knew all too well what Ron's reply would be.
"So where is Hermione?"
Harry closed his eyes before answering. "I don't know," he lied, not wanting to tell Ron that Hermione had left early for class, as she wanted to avoid the redhead. He opened his eyes just in time to see Ron's face droop in disappointment.
Harry sighed inwardly. He wished that Ron would stop chasing after Hermione. When Ron had first started to ask Hermione out about a month ago, Harry had done his best to support him. After all, as much as Harry wished otherwise, he knew that Hermione didn't think of him as anything other than a very good friend. So Harry had put his feelings aside and had helped Ron as best as he could.
It didn't make any difference, however. Hermione's answer was always the same and was always no. Unfortunately, Ron didn't seem able to get the hint and had continued pestering her long after Harry thought it was time that Ron should quit. That had led to Hermione avoiding Ron as much as possible and the trio was now rarely seen together. Harry had done his best to not take sides between his two best friends but somehow, he always found himself helping Ron by leaving the two together. That wasn't completely Harry's fault—after all, it wasn't very comfortable to stay put when Ron was making not-so subtle hints that Harry should go away.
Of course, that wound up leading to Hermione avoiding Harry as well as Ron.
That had hurt. Even if Harry couldn't be with Hermione, he wanted to be by her as much as possible. He could see her side in the matter, however, and he had decided that he hadn't been fair. He had two best friends, not one, and he should treat them equally. The only problem with that idea was there seemed to be no middle ground in this case. Ron wouldn't stop bothering Hermione for a date while Hermione absolutely refused to go out with him. As he couldn't find a middle ground and as Ron, at least, wouldn't let him stay out of the argument, Harry had resolved to switch sides on a weekly basis. It wasn't the best solution but it was the only one he could think of that would be fair to them both.
This week was Hermione's and already Harry had lied to Ron several times about what she was doing. It didn't get any easier as the week went by to tell Ron those lies and Harry desperately wished that Ron's attentions would soon switch to another girl. That way Harry wouldn't have to take sides and the trio could be together again. Harry missed being with both of his friends at once.
"Didn't Hermione say that she was going to Transfiguration a bit early to study?" Dean Thomas said suddenly, startling Harry who had been lost in his thoughts.
"She did?" Ron asked excitedly. Seeing Dean nod, he hurriedly gathered his things. "Well, then, if you excuse me, I've something to ask her." Without another word, he dashed off in the direction of the classroom.
Almost immediately, Harry began to gather his books. He couldn't let them stay along together for too long, as he suspected Hermione wouldn't appreciate that. After double-checking to make sure that he had placed everything back into his bag, Harry set off for Transfiguration.
He hadn't left a moment too soon. As he drew near the classroom, he could already hear Hermione and Ron's raised voices, even though he was still in the hallway leading up to the room. He broke into a jog, anxious to get there before things could deteriorate into a fight.
"No, no and a thousand times more no!" Hermione angrily picked up her books and stalked over to another desk to get away from Ron.
"Oh come on now. There's no need to be this stubborn." Ron turned around and straddled his chair so he could face Hermione. "Everyone knows that you like me."
Hermione slammed her books down on the desk she had moved to. "I cannot believe that you are this delusional! Whatever gave you that idea?"
"Oh, it's obvious. You're always looking at me . . ."
"I never look at you!"
"You're looking at me now," Ron scoffed.
"You're not who I'd chose to look at. If you'd excuse me, I'd like to be able to study a bit before class starts."
"Stop it already, Hermione. Don't fight what you feel. You spend too much time with those books and you should spend more time with me."
"Did anyone ever tell you that women don't like being told what to do by their significant others? You might want to work on your attitude just a touch before you ask another girl out."
"Well, I wouldn't have to be so pushy if you weren't being so pigheaded by saying no all the time!"
"I don't like you like that Ron and I wish you would get that through your thick skull. The answer's still 'no' and there is nothing that you can do to change that."
"I could always kiss you." Ron confidently got up out of his seat and began to walk towards Hermione. "You couldn't deny your feelings then."
"I'm not denying my feelings now. Why can't you understand that? Are we speaking the same language here?"
"I think I understand perfectly. You're always staring at me with that faraway look on your face—daydreaming about me kissing you, aren't you?"
"I've never dreamed about that."
"I don't know why you'd think I'd like a boy who calls me a liar! I never stare at you, I never daydream about you. Don't you get it? It's not you. It was never you. It's Harry I love!" Hermione finished just as Harry reached the room.
Stunned by this revelation, Harry found that he could do nothing as Hermione buried her head in her hands while Ron shot daggers at him with his eyes.
It was all over Hogwarts before the day was out.
It was inevitable that a bit of gossip so delectable would be spread about so quickly. Harry wasn't quite sure as to who started the rumor but he had no doubt that they had heard Ron and Hermione's shouts from afar. The rest of the day had been rather unpleasant for him. Hermione straight out refused to speak to him after she had realized that he had heard her confession. Ron, on the other hand, wouldn't stop speaking to him, reminding Harry at all times about what good friends they were.
Harry desperately tried to block out the sound of Ron's jabbering as he sat in the common room that evening. The concept of Hermione being in love with him was just so . . . unbelievable.
"Right, Harry?" Ron said loudly to get his friend's attention.
"Sorry." Harry scratched the back of his head sheepishly, slightly embarrassed that he had been caught not listening. "I didn't hear what you were saying."
"I was just telling Neville, here," Ron nodded his head in Neville's direction, "that we're best friends and all that."
"Yeah, Ron," Harry agreed with a sigh. "You and Hermione are my best friends."
"Exactly. And best friends don't go around betraying each other, now do they?" Ron leaned threateningly in Harry's direction.
Harry's eyes narrowed. He could see where Ron was going with this line
of conversation. "You know I'd do my best to not hurt either of you," he
equivocated. He quickly glanced around the room.
"Where's Hermione?" he asked when he noticed she was still not there.
"Oh you know her. She's probably out studying in the library. I tell you, that girl is barking mad with the way she studies. She needs to get out more."
"It's important to her." Harry glared at Ron, incensed that he could be so insensitive. "She cares about her grades more than you or I and that's why she spends so much time there."
Ron rolled his eyes knowingly. "See, this is exactly why you wouldn't be good for her. You'd let her study herself sick instead of stopping her. Not me. I'd step in and help her to relax. She needs to loosen up."
"In case you haven't noticed, Ron," Harry's jaw clenched as his ire rose, "you always seem to get her more upset, rather than calming her down. Not to mention that if you really loved her, you'd accept her as she is, instead of trying to change her. Yes, she has her faults. Yes, she can be too wound up about things at times. I'd like to see her get past that but in the end, I love her in spite of those faults. I love her because of those faults—she wouldn't be Hermione without them."
"In case you haven't noticed, Harry," Ron replied, his voice thick with sarcasm, "she enjoys arguing with me. She thinks it's fun. And I'm not even going to touch the rest of what you've said as that would so clearly lead to Hermione winding up in the infirmary."
"Oh yes, Hermione does like a good argument. But it's hardly ever that with you. That would imply that you're listening and we all know how often that happens. How long had she been telling you 'no' before today?"
Ron's face was rapidly turning red with anger. "I don't think you understand what's between me and her. She likes arguing with me. Right now, she's just a bit confused about her feelings but we'll get everything all sorted out if you'll just keep yourself out of our business!"
"Did you ever ask her if she's having fun? No? I didn't think so. Because you never ask. You just assume you know what's best for her. And do you know what? That's pretty damned arrogant of you when she's the smartest out of us all. She knows what she's doing. She usually knows what's best for her and she can take care of herself. She doesn't need you telling her what she should do. She knows what she likes and it's certainly not fighting with you because you never listen. And she definitely knows that she doesn't like you!"
"Oh, I can see what you're trying to do hear. You're trying to justify taking advantage of her now, aren't you? Some friend you are, Harry Potter. You might say you'd do anything for your friends but it's all a cover. The real you is not that nice and is rather selfish."
"I can't believe that you're calling me selfish. Take a look at yourself." Harry rose from his seat, determined to find Hermione as he now knew what he wanted to do.
Ron followed closely behind him. "You better not do it, Harry. If you try to—"
Harry whirled around. "There's no 'if' about it. I have two best friends. I've tried to treat them equal. I've tried not to choose sides in this fight of theirs. So that's why I've stayed out of this for so long. And don't you say a damn thing about me betraying you. I haven't done anything about my feelings for her so I could stay out of your way. I thought what would be the point—she wouldn't return them and I'd only be ruining your chances. But now, I think you've pretty much managed to screw things up yourself and I see no reason why not to believe that Hermione's telling the truth."
"Don't you dare pull that noble, suffering act on me. Don't bother pretending not to be happy. I know better than that."
"Happy that Hermione might actually like me, might actually even love me? I'm absolutely ecstatic. Happy that you're going to be miserable about this and act like a complete prat for the next several weeks? Of course not, don't be ridiculous. You're still my best friend. But the way I see it is that I can either make two of us happy or all of us miserable and that's not even a choice."
Without another glance backwards, Harry left to find Hermione.
Hermione blinked furiously, trying to get the words on the page she was reading back into focus. It didn't work. She had been studying for too long and the words continued to melt together into a sea of nonsense. She groaned softly, lowering her head to rest it on top of the book. She wanted nothing more than to go to sleep but she had to wait before returning to the common room. She couldn't risk running into either one of them right now and so she had taken refuge in the school library, hoping against hope that neither would come after her.
Unfortunately, while she had not ran into either Harry or Ron in the library, she could hear all too clearly the whispers that were going on around her as her fellow students had become impervious to Madam Pince's glares in light of the new gossip. Hermione longed to get up and yell at them all to stop it. That would only get her thrown out, however, so Hermione had settled merely for acting like she couldn't hear them. Eventually, the whispers would stop. It might take weeks, or even months, but with time, the other students would find something else to talk about.
That was how Hermione knew that the sudden silence that spread about the room suddenly couldn't be a good thing. They shouldn't have stopped whispering so soon. There was only one thing that could have done that and that was the arrival of one of her best friends.
Her conjecture was confirmed with a hand coming down to lightly rest on her shoulder. "Hello, Hermione," said a voice she loved all too well. "Can we go someplace else to talk?"
She didn't want to have to deal with that right now. "I'm sorry," she said primly, "but as you can see, I'm busy studying."
"Actually, it looks like you were busy falling asleep." The corners of Harry's mouth stretched in amusement into a small grin, which faded as he saw Hermione gather herself to protest again. Meeting her chocolate eyes directly with his, he simply said, "Please."
That single word was her undoing. Mutely, she nodded and picked up her things. A feeling of dread gathered in the pit of her stomach as Harry took her hand and led her outside the library. There were only two possible outcomes to the conversation they were about to have and she didn't like either of them.
Most likely, he would say that he didn't like her like that. He'd say that he still wanted to be friends but nothing more. Hermione had sought to prepare for this outcome ever since she had realized that she liked Harry but it hadn't done any good. Her throat became parched and her eyes began to water at the mere thought of hearing those words come out of his mouth.
The second possibility was even worse. He'd say that he liked her and that he would love to be with her except that he couldn't possibly do such a thing. That would hurt Ron and Ron was best friend. Harry would say that he couldn't do something that would injure Ron like that and then stoically leave her behind, setting aside his feelings for the benefit of his friend.
The only problem with that reasoning was that Hermione always thought that she was Harry's friend as well. She knew that there were some things that Harry shared with Ron that he didn't share with her. That was a natural consequence of her friends both being boys who shared the same dorm. Nevertheless, she thought they were good enough friends that he wouldn't ignore her pain and do such a thing, although she didn't want to put that assumption to the test. It was far better to live in blissful ignorance than to know it was the cold, hard truth that Harry was a better friend to Ron than he was to her.
Harry suddenly stopped in his tracks. "I think we've lost everyone," he stated, after looking around to see no one in sight.
Hermione looked up, startled at his words. While she had been pondering what was about to occur, Harry had been deftly leading her away from the gossips that had followed them out of the library. Ironically enough, they were in a corridor near the Transfiguration classroom, where this mess had all started.
"We'd best get back," she said, tugging her arm out of Harry's grasp. "It's late and we're out wandering the corridors. We don't want to get caught and lose points for Gryffindor." She took a few steps away from Harry and prayed that he would not bring up the subject she feared.
"Did you mean it?"
Hermione sighed. Not a single thing had gone her way during this entire awful day. Harry's simple question called for a simple response, with no real chance at equivocation. "Yes," she said softly.
Those were the last words she had expected to him to say. Shocked, Hermione looked back at him to see that a grin had broken out across Harry's face. "It's great?" she asked.
"I mean . . . well, okay perhaps the way you said it wasn't the best . . . not that I mind any way you'd choose to say it, it's not like I said it first but maybe not in front of— "
"Are you saying what I think you're saying? Or what I think you're trying to say?" Hermione interrupted Harry's confused ramblings.
"Sorry." Harry leaned back against the wall, pausing to catch his breath. "I wasn't making any sense there, was I? I meant that maybe it's not great because of everyone else's reaction but—Hermione, I've loved you for a long time now. I wanted to say something, really I did, but I thought you didn't feel the same. Ron was always asking you out and I didn't want to do something that'd ruin my friendship with both of you."
Hermione couldn't bear to look at him any longer. She knew what was coming next but she didn't want to face it. She didn't have to have to look at him while he told her that they couldn't be together because of Ron.
Harry could sense her pulling away from him although the expression on her face didn't change. "What's wrong?" he asked. "Whatever I did, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say anything to make you unhappy."
"It's not that. Of course I'm happy to hear that you love me back. But if you expect me to jump with joy while you say we can't be together because of Ron, then you have another thing coming."
"I didn't say that, did I?"
"Not yet." Inexplicably angry, she turned to glare at him. "I know it's coming though. I can just hear you say those words. We can't do this. You can't betray your best friend like this. You can't expect me to—"
"You're my best friend as well," Harry interrupted abruptly. "Did you think that I'd forget that?"
"No, of course not. But you've always seemed closer to Ron because you're both boys and I can just see—"
"Hermione, I never meant for you to feel so left out. Just because there're some things that I don't share with you because you're a girl, doesn't mean you mean any less to me. You're both my friends. You're both equally important. I don't want to hurt either one of you."
"I don't think you have much of a choice here, Harry." Hermione bit back a sob but wasn't able to completely stop herself from crying. The day had been too long and too emotionally fraught for her to have the strength to do so. She blinked rapidly, trying to will the tears away with no success.
"No, I don't," Harry said sadly. He gently brushed away the tears from Hermione's cheeks before continuing. "I don't like having to choose to hurt one of you but I don't have a choice. I hate that but there's nothing I can do about it. But given that I have no choice, I'd rather be a little selfish and have both of us happy instead of everyone unhappy."
"Do you mean it?" Hermione asked, unconsciously echoing Harry's earlier question.
"Yes, I do." He reached out his hands, framing her face between them so he could gaze straight at her. "Actually, I didn't have to think about it. Knowing that you love me means so much to me, love. There was never any chance that I'd throw such a precious gift away. I wish Ron would be happy for us and I think eventually he will. We'll work through this and any other problems we might face later on. But for now, I just want to enjoy my time with you."
There was only one way Hermione could think of to respond to his words.
Her lips met his in a tender first kiss, both of them relishing in the
knowledge that from now on, they would never be apart.
Author's Note: *sigh* Yes, Ron is slightly out-of-character at best -- but I couldn't figure out a way to get him completely in character and be able to bring up the shipping arguments I did. In any case, I hope you enjoyed the fic and I'd love it if you could leave a review letting me know what you think. Thanks.