Title: The Fourth Step

Characters: Harry Potter and Hermione Granger.

Notes: Funnily enough, I actually have another one-shot series for Harry and male characters, for the Slash/Femmeslash challenge. I almost completely forgot about this one, but never fear! It's back, and I sincerely hope you enjoy!

She loves him.

That is simple enough, isn't it? She has loved him since... well, maybe before the Horcruxes; maybe before the Yule Ball; maybe before she was more than just a little bookworm, when he was a hero who saved her from an evil troll. He is Prince Harry, and she isn't a princess - not even close - but Hermione wants her fairytale, just like any other little girl lost in a world of magic.

And is that too much to ask?

Still, though, her prince ran away to fight the dragon, and she is left alone on her little fourth step, waiting for him to come home.

Princess Hermione is left alone in her castle turret, waiting to come down.

"And though they don't live happily ever after, they do live, after, and they're maybe even happy. And it's better than any other fairytale, because it's them."

Hermione closes the fairytale book, and hugs it close, the window glaring down at her as she breaks the silence. It was her grandmother's, once upon a time, and she wrote it when she was young and whole and so much more than just a damsel.

Hermione's mother grew up with the tale, and Hermione after her, but she is the end of the cycle.

She is where all the traditions stop.

Because they don't live - Hermione survives and Harry dies - and they're most definitely not happy. And the fairytale wasn't theirs to begin with.

After all, Harry was not her husband - not even her boyfriend. She does not deserve to mourn, they say; she is the best friend's girlfriend, the girlfriend's best friend. Nothing more, they say. Nothing less, though.

Strangely, it has always been Ron-and-Hermione, but now, Ron just looks serious and pale, and not angry. Hermione is honestly surprised, because there's something wrong with just... Ron-and. She can see the link; it is tangible, hovering in the air. An extra piece that can't replace the broken heart.

She can also see the cracks in her own heart from where she tore herself away to fit with Harry's shattered half.

Ginny doesn't understand why she's so upset - Ginny was left behind, too, and surely Harry meant more to her? - but she kind of gets it, in a way, because she recognises the dead look in Hermione's eyes. She recognises the pain and the love and the anguish, and that's enough, so she doesn't ask.

Ron leaves her alone, for the most part, and hugs her when she needs it, but somehow, Hermione thinks he knows better than anyone.

The princess waits in her lonely tower for a prince who won't ever come; sometimes she looks up at the stars and she thinks of freedom, while he always looks down from the stars and thinks of her, just her.

The dragon is defeated. But the princess hasn't been saved.

The fourth step creaks beneath her as Hermione holds her head in her hands and cries.