Summary: Harry and Hermione — a series of firsts. Oneshot, AU.

Notes: I don't remember where I first saw one of these "series of firsts" things but I quite enjoyed the idea. I've done one for another fandom and had a bit of fun. Please review; tell me what you guys think!

Disclaimer: the HP universe does not belong to me.

I. Hermione

The first friend Hermione Granger ever makes is Harry Potter.

She is ten years old, and an ugly duckling, and she knows her uniform looks ridiculous on her, and when she looks in the mirror all she sees is a pair of buck teeth and frizzy, untamable hair. She is new to the school, and she is the ideal target for rowdy boys who like to tease ugly, swotty girls. She knows this, so she keeps quiet like always, carrying her books in her arms and keeping her head down.

It's when she's crossing the courtyard to her favorite spot for lunch that Draco and his friends catch her. They begin taunting her, and a boy with bright green eyes and wild black hair and awful glasses (they are broken; Hermione will come to learn that Harry's glasses are never not broken) comes out into the courtyard, snarling at Draco to shut his mouth. A red-headed boy, tall and gangly (she will also soon come to learn that this is Ron Weasley, Harry's best friend) lingers behind Harry, scowling enthusiastically at Malfoy and his friends.

Hermione watches in complete shock as Draco and Harry begin to throw punches. It takes both of Draco's friends and Ron to break up the fight. Harry and Draco are both given detention by the rather stern Mrs. McGonagall.

As he is being led out of the courtyard by his ear, Harry shoots her a small but kind smile.

I. Harry

The first girl Harry has a crush on is Cho Chang, and Hermione is the first to figure it all out.

He is thirteen years old and, as always, is sitting on a bench with Ron and Hermione, ignoring their bickering and watching as Cho walks by with her older boyfriend, Cedric. He is handsome, she is lovely, and as they stroll across the courtyard together, she throws her head back and laughs. She has a perfect laugh, and her glossy black hair gleams in the sunlight. When she looks back at Cedric again, she touches his arm, her cheeks glowing with affection for him. Under a tree, he steals a kiss from her.

"Harry," Hermione snaps. "Harry!"

"Uh — sorry — yes?" Harry feels his neck flushing and he avoids Hermione's eyes.

"Come on, 'Mione, he doesn't know either. No one gives a pig's bollocks about school history but you."

But Hermione is not listening to Ron; she is looking shrewdly from Harry to Cho and Cedric.

"What?" demands Harry indignantly. Hermione has a catlike grin on her face.

"Oh, nothing," she says airily. Harry glowers at her.

"If you say anything..." he begins, because there is no question in his mind that Hermione has figured everything out. She cannot seem to stop grinning.

"What the bloody hell are you two on about now?" As always, Ron is late to the proverbial party, and he begins to sulk when Harry and Hermione do not explain themselves.

Harry glances one more time at Cho. His back is turned so he misses how Hermione's face falls. But Ron does not miss it.

II. Hermione

The first boy to ever ask Hermione out is Viktor Krum, and Harry is the first boy to come in between them.

She is fourteen. Viktor is the drool-worthy exchange student from Bulgaria — he would be unremarkable at best if not for his stellar football skills, which turn him into an instant star. On the field, simply kicking that silly ball around, he becomes something completely different. He's fast, he's strong, he's powerful.

But Harry is all those things too.

Hermione doesn't realize it at first — it doesn't occur to her. She's too busy dealing with Ron, who apparently is sulking that Hermione happens to, in fact, be a girl that other boys find date-worthy. She and Ron sit on the bleachers in stony, unforgiven silence as Harry and Viktor play alongside each other in what is supposed to be a friendly lunch-time pickup game of football.

Viktor and Harry are chasing the ball down the field, towards the goal, and Harry edges Viktor out just as they reach the goal; Harry kicks the ball and scores for the team. The look Viktor is giving Harry's back is nothing short of murderous.

After the game, Viktor wants Hermione to walk with him to his locker, but Hermione has promised she will quiz Harry last-minute for his daunting chemistry exam next period while walking with him. That same hate-filled expression crosses Viktor's face.

"Fine, go with your boyfriend," he hisses acidly, before turning on his heel and stalking off. Hermione arches her eyebrows, too stunned to be mad — yet.

"What was all that about?" she turns to the boys. Ron is looking smug and Harry is looking sheepish. This can't be good.

"Er — don't worry about it, Hermione," says Harry hastily. He touches her arm and she tenses. "You don't have to help me with chem."

"Of course I'm going to help, Harry, don't be silly. Who knows what's up with Viktor," she says briskly, already leading Harry towards the building. Ron follows behind them.

"I think I have a fair idea," he mutters darkly. "Harry's competition in more ways than one."

"And just what is that supposed to mean?" Hermione rounds on Ron, who holds up his hands.

"You're the brilliant one — you figure it out."

II. Harry

The first girl to ever hurt Harry is Cho, and Hermione is the one to comfort him.

He is fifteen. He is sitting on the floor of a bathroom stall, the school dance's music just barely audible. There is a physical ache in his chest, and he wishes he could punch something. He hears a clacking sound, and then, in the space between the stall door and the tiled floor, he sees a pair of sensible, sturdy heels.

"Harry, I know you're in there," says Hermione matter-of-factly. The door jostles. "Open up."

"Hermione, this is the men's bathroom." He can feel Hermione rolling her eyes, even if he can't see it.

"Really? Funny, it didn't say that anywhere."

In spite of everything, Harry finds himself smiling. If there is anyone he would want to see at a time like this, it would be Hermione. Reliable as always, she has turned up when he most needs her. Hermione jostles the door again, and, grudgingly, Harry reaches up and unlocks the door. Hermione appears. She is wearing a blue long-sleeved dress, and her bushy curls have been pulled back in combs. She is also, mysteriously, smiling at him. She shimmies into the stall and puts the toilet seat down before sitting down and taking out her little beaded bag. From it, she draws forth a pack of tissues, two pieces of candy, and a comb. Harry marvels at how prepared she always is. Hermione always has exactly what is needed for any given predicament.

"There is no way all that stuff can fit in there," Harry teases, having forgotten his pain for the moment. Hermione is grinning as she hands him some tissues and a piece of candy.

"It's like the Tardis — bigger on the inside," she jokes. Harry almost chokes on his candy at the fact that Hermione is making a joke — albeit quite a nerdy one. Then she reaches forward, holding the comb, and begins to comb his hair. "Sorry, but you just look a complete mess. You can't have Cho seeing you like this."

"I don't care what she thinks," Harry says fiercely. Hermione shakes her head.

"You need to keep your pride. You can't let her see that she's hurt you." She pauses and hurries over to the sink, wetting the comb, before returning to Harry. From his lower angle, he observes that her legs actually look quite nice. The dress is modest, but her skin looks soft. He shakes his head, feeling that such a thought about Hermione is weird.

When she runs the wet comb through his hair, it is surprising how soothing it is.

"Thanks," he mumbles. Hermione rises to her feet.

"Don't mention it. Come on, up you get — you can dance with me and Ron."

On their way out, Hermione suddenly turns around to face him, and throws her arms around him in one of her signature bone-crushing hugs, knocking the breath out of him.

"Alright, Hermione?" rasps Harry as he tentatively returns the hug, patting her back awkwardly.

"Oh, I'm sorry. It's just — ugh. I just want to kill her," sniffles Hermione, her voice suspiciously wet-sounding as she turns away. Harry belatedly realizes Hermione is in tears, and he reaches forward, about to place his hand on her shoulder. He is completely shocked that she cares so much, and has no idea of how to react. He has never felt so loved in his life.

But then she turns back, and her eyes are dry, and she is smiling, and the moment has passed. So he retracts his hand and follows her back out.

III. Hermione

The first time Hermione gets drunk is at university, and Harry is the one to carry her home.

She is nineteen, and though she has been at university for an entire year already, this is the first time she has gone to a party. Thanks to Ron, Lavender, Ginny, and the others egging her on, she is so drunk that when she goes to use the bathroom, she has forgotten why she went there in the first place. She only remembers just in time, just before she has the chance to wet her pants.

She totters back out of the bathroom, gripping the walls and watching the world sway. At first, being drunk was perfectly fine. It was even a little bit nice! But now everything feels out of control. Her mouth feels cottony and the world is refusing to stop moving, and she has just enough sobriety left to realize that she has already embarrassed herself several times tonight.

This isn't Hermione Granger. Is it? God, she hopes it isn't. Hermione finds herself in a hallway and she sits down against the wall, enjoying the peace and quiet of being away from the party. Downstairs there are all kinds of shenanigans going on, and Hermione is finding that she wants less and less part of them. All she wants to do is be sober, curled up in her dorm room, highlighting her Ancient Civilizations textbook. Why is she here again? She doesn't belong here.

The sound of moaning jars her, and Hermione scowls, looking around for the source. She is sitting by a bedroom door that is slightly ajar, and she peers into it, without thinking. There is a tangle of limbs on the bed, and flashes of blonde and ginger hair.

"Oh, Ron," sighs a female voice ecstatically. Even stinking sodding drunk, Hermione is clever enough to figure it out, but she lacks the motor control to storm off or hit Ron or do something else similarly satisfying.

Instead, remaining completely unnoticed by Ron or Lavender, she crawls back into the hall, quietly tugs the door closed, and lets out a series of blubbery, embarrassing sobs. She has never cried this openly, even by herself, before. But being drunk has killed her inhibitions and pride, and snot and tears dribble down her cheeks and chin as her chest heaves, and she wonders how this could have happened. Years of rejecting Ron flood her memory and so, on top of feeling so miserably rejected, she feels like a prize idiot as well.

There is the sound of creaking, and for a moment, Hermione assumes it is Ron and Lavender getting more enthusiastic. But as it turns out, it is Harry, climbing the stairs. His hair is mussed and there is a smudge of lip gloss on his neck. Clearly he has been snogging Ginny.

"There you are," he sighs, as he comes to crouch down next to Hermione. Upon seeing her face up close, he freezes. "Oh. Damn. Um... I'll be right back." He rushes to the bathroom and comes back with a wad of toilet paper, and uncomfortably thrusts it at Hermione. Still whimpering, she takes it and nods gratefully. Harry sits back against the opposite wall, looking everywhere but at Hermione.

"H-how did you know...?" Hermione begins, in between wet hiccoughs. She is too drunk and too miserable to care about how completely disgusting she looks right now. Harry presses his lips together.

"Heard from Gin," he explains with a shrug. He rises to his feet and pulls an unwilling Hermione up with him. "You're smashed, Hermione," he adds plainly, as Hermione totters and sways before slamming into his chest. He fumbles before bracing her upright. His hand rests on her waist, her arm around his shoulder, as he guides her towards the stairs. He looks anxiously from Hermione's swaying form to the stairs and back again, before he suddenly lets go, apparently to change positions. Hermione falls backward and knocks over an expensive-looking vase, and Harry swears. "You know what — I'm just going to carry you," he says hastily before picking Hermione up bridal-style.

By now she has forgotten why she is crying, and she studies Harry's face freely. It is twisted into a grimace with the effort of carrying her down the stairs without hitting her head on the wall or tripping and falling. She reaches up and brushes her fingers against his neck, where the lip gloss is. A love-bite is forming.

"You and Ginny seem to have been having a good time, and I interrupted it," she slurs sadly. Harry ducks out of the party and out into the chilly autumn evening without mentioning it to any partygoers. He stops on the lawn, apparently contemplating something.

"I'll just carry you the whole way," he finally mumbles, mostly to himself, before readjusting his grip on her and beginning to make the long journey back to campus.

"I knew it was going to happen and I don't know why it hurts," she continues in a sob, once she remembers why she is upset. Harry's face is impassive. "And it's so much worse because I've been such an arse tonight because I was d-d-drunk!" She is full-on sobbing again.

"Everyone's an arse when they're drunk," says Harry unhelpfully. Hermione chokes out a laugh before resting her head against Harry's chest. "Especially Ron, though," he adds thoughtfully, a breathlessness to his voice from the effort of carrying her. "He's a complete git. Same with Lavender."

Hermione finds herself giggling, absurdly, now.

"If I weren't drunk, I'd've —" she begins, but Harry shakes his head.

"Remember? You've got to keep your pride," he reminds her. Flashes of memories of being sixteen and writhing in pain at Harry's heartache come rushing back, then leave as abruptly as they came. "This way, no one knows you were upset."

"Thanks, Harry," she sighs. She breathes in his scent; he smells like cotton and deodorant, with a hint of Ginny's flowery perfume playing about his shirt. "Are you in love with Ginny?" she slurs. She feels Harry laugh slightly.

"Ah, who knows." She can hear the smile in his voice.

"I'm happy for you," she replies, her voice muffled by his shirt.

They reach her dormitory. Harry has to get a bit creative with positioning as he unlocks her door, as Hermione is half-asleep now. It is a single, with everything in its place. It is sterile and neat, and when the standard-issue fluorescent lights flicker on, the sight of such an orderly place after the chaos of the house party is comforting to her half-conscious brain. Harry gently lays Hermione down on top of her perfectly made bed, before rummaging in the space under the bed for any extra food she might have.

"Gotta eat," he urges her, shaking her awake again, holding a tin of biscuits. "I'll be right back — eat those." He disappears and Hermione sits up and mechanically chews the crackers, getting crumbs on her chest and not noticing or caring. The world is still spinning but she feels warm and strangely happy, like waking up after having had a very good dream. Harry returns bearing her mug, now filled with tea from the kitchenette lounge down the hall, and a bottle of water from the vending machine.

He sits on the edge of the bed and grabs her laptop while she eats. She is too sleepy and drunk to tell him off, and she watches as he begins poking around the internet.

"Anything interesting?" She is finishing up the crackers now, and moves on to guzzling the water. Harry is riveted to the screen, and she watches as he goes bright red.

"N-nothing," he stammers, though Hermione can see the tell-tale signs of Harry being really, really pissed off.

"What?" she crawls forward clumsily, nearly smacking into Harry, and gets crumbs all over the bedspread as she pokes her head in front of his. He has Facebook open, and Harry hastily covers the screen. But it is not in time for Hermione to be spared from seeing that Ron and Lavender are now "in a relationship". "Oh."

She leans back again, falling against her pillows. Harry puts the laptop back on the desk. She hears him draw in a deep breath, as though preparing for a long speech.

"Y'know... it took me what — seven years? Something like that — to really notice Ginny," he remarks. There is a heartbreaking but lovely tenderness to his voice. "And before that, for me there was Cho, and Gabrielle, and for her there was Dean and Michael...and loads of other blokes she won't admit to," he adds thoughtfully, earning a chuckle from Hermione. It is rare for Harry to talk this much about something unrelated to sports. He is trying to comfort her, she realizes, and though his words themselves are about as comforting as shards of glass, the effort is touching.

"I don't even know where my feelings are coming from," Hermione admits. She stares at the ceiling. "I never got with Ron when I had the chance, and he never got with me. And now...all of a sudden..."

Harry gives a dry laugh. She feels him shift on the bed, so he can lean against the wall.

"Maybe, Hermione...from now more drinking?" Hermione pushes herself up on her elbows a bit to see Harry grinning cheekily at her, and she feels herself smiling in response.

"Perhaps not."

She lies back down, and somehow, suddenly, minutes later it seems, she is waking up with a slight, dull headache, with light streaming in through her window, and she is under the covers. There is a note on her desk.

You snore.



III. Harry

The first time Harry ever buys perfume — and, he prays, the last — Hermione goes with him.

He is twenty-two. In the glossy, golden atmosphere of Harrod's, Harry slinks past the shoe selection, gripping Hermione's hand out of pure fear. This place — with its pointy shoes and shiny, tall women and pulsing yet subtle techno music and mirrored surfaces — is not a place he belongs.

"Oh, honestly, Harry. Get a grip. It's just a department store," snaps Hermione as she drags him towards the perfume counter.

"It's too horrible," he groans, sharply averting his eyes as they pass by a mannequin garbed in nothing but a pink lace teddy. Hermione rounds on him with a look of icy disdain.

"You know Ginny only likes expensive things, Harry. So it's either perfume, jewelry, or lingerie." She folds her arms across her chest, arches her brows, and begins tapping her foot impatiently. Harry sighs in defeat. He knows he absolutely cannot afford any of the jewelry that Ginny likes — inheritance or no inheritance — and lingerie... oh god. His face burns beet-red at merely the thought of it. He might die of embarrassment before even setting foot in the lingerie section, let alone choosing something or even purchasing it. And what if — god forbid — the saleswomen think he's lying and actually buying it for himself?

"Perfume is the safest option," he says through clenched teeth. Hermione nods, her hair swishing with the movement. He absently notes that something about it is different, but he can't put his finger on it.

"You can't mess this one up, you know. You've had too long a string of failures." She holds up her hand as she begins to list them, counting them off on her fingers, which Harry just notices have dark red polish on them. "The football autographed by David Beckham wasn't too terrible because we all know she fancies Beckham; the bunny alarm clock was cute but would have been more suited to a four year old; the sleeping bag — I don't really even know what you were thinking there —"

"Okay, I get it," Harry interrupts loudly, his face flushing again. Hermione sighs and looks squarely at him.

"It'll take five minutes, and with my help you'll pick the best one. Come on." And she again grabs his hand and resumes dragging him towards the perfume counter. An impeccably dressed sleek blonde woman with drawn-on eyebrows immediately swoops down on them, bearing a tray of perfume samples.

"Can I 'elp you today? What sort of perfume eez ze mademoiselle looking for?" she greets them in an almost-theatrical French accent. Harry begins to sputter that he and Hermione aren't dating, but with a well-timed trod on his foot from Hermione, he shuts up.

"I'm looking for something chic and floral, but different," Hermione explains. She slings an arm around Harry. "Fresh and young, but sexy. Something he likes to smell on me." This must be meaningful and make sense to the woman, but Harry has no idea how perfume can be all those things.

The women looks between them before a catlike smile spreads across her lips. She looks Hermione up and down.

"I see you are a young lady of sophistication. Might I recommend Chanel?" She holds up a glass bottle with golden liquid. It is only now that Harry realizes why Hermione looks different today.

She's dressed like Ginny.

Hermione is wearing slim jeans and tall boots and carrying one of those weird bags that Ginny seems to favor. And, her hair is different, too. It's straight and shiny like Ginny's, and it weirds Harry out. Probably Hermione specifically dressed like Ginny so they could properly pick out perfume, based on Ginny's style, but it is weird to see Hermione out of one of her practical sweaters and khakis and in something so... impractical. Still, he loves Ginny's style, mostly because she never bothers him about it. Any time he does remark on her clothing, she loudly reminds him that his opinion, as a straight, painfully unfashionable male, is completely irrelevant, and that independence is sort of a relief to him.

"Why don't you spray some on a card for my boyfriend?"

It feels so weird to hear Hermione of all people calling him her boyfriend. Nevertheless, the saleswoman obediently sprays some on a small strip of cream-colored cardstock for Harry to scent. Almost immediately, he wrinkles his nose, ready to sneeze.

"Not that one," he says hastily.

"I'll be right back — I think I know just the thing," says the saleswoman, and she bustles off to another counter. Immediately, Harry rounds on Hermione.

"Why the bloody hell are you wearing Ginny's clothes?" He wants to tell her she looks ridiculous, but she sort of...doesn't, actually. Perhaps that is what is bothering him. Hermione shrugs.

"Ginny has very specific taste, Harry. If we want to find a perfume that matches her, we've got to have some examples." She gestures to her clothing. "I had to borrow some clothes from Parvati, but this is a good approximation. Apparently all the right designers, at least."

Harry finds himself looking Hermione over.

"But this isn't permanent, right?" he asks weakly. Hermione rolls her eyes.

"God, no. I honestly have no idea how Ginny walks in these things every day. And the hair! You know, Ginny's hair is actually wavy, but she blow-dries it every day. Can you believe it?"

"I have no idea what blowdrying entails, so you may as well be speaking Greek," Harry says flatly. "Just go back to being my Hermione soon," he adds wearily, massaging his temples. There is something about the sight of Hermione's bum in tight denims that is doing his poor brain in. He had no idea she looked like that.

He looks up, realizing Hermione is looking at him peculiarly. Only now does he realize that there is coppery stuff — eyeshadow? Is that what it's called? — around her eyes. He wants to rub it off, he wants to fix her hair so it goes back to being Hermione, he wants to chuck that stupid spangled bag away from her. "What?"

"You just called me... ...Never mind," she finishes abruptly, as the saleswoman comes back bearing three different bottles.

"Try zees one," says the woman, spraying a blue expensive-looking bottle onto a card and handing it to Harry and Hermione. This one doesn't make him sneeze, and Hermione lights up.

"Oh, that's nice," she says eagerly. The woman grins again, apparently seeing she is about to make a sale.

"Why don't you try eet on for your boyfriend?" Before either can protest, the woman is pushing aside Hermione's hair and spraying it on her neck. "The neck is the most sensual part of a woman's body," she adds as an aside to Harry. He feels himself going beet-red, and almost retorts that he can think of a few other locations, but suddenly the saleswoman is pushing his head towards Hermione's neck. "What do you think of eet on 'er?"

Harry breathes in, and the fresh scent mixes with Hermione's scent — a scent he hadn't ever realized he'd even known about, and yet, is as familiar to Harry as the back of his hand. He's known this scent longer than he hasn't, at this point in his life. His eyes close and he inhales deeply, his hand resting on the small of her back. Hermione totters a little, for the first time, in her heeled boots, and Harry's lips and nose graze the soft skin of her neck.

Immediately, they pull away.

"Er...not that one," Harry says, clearing his throat. Hermione is bright pink. Feeling cornered, though he can't determine why, Harry points at another bottle at random. "What about that one! Just spray it on the card." He snatches the card from her, and immediately declares it The One. Hermione agrees without even really smelling it, and Harry announces that they will be buying this perfume.

"That will be sixty pounds," says the saleswoman crisply., the accent suddenly nonexistent. "Can I interest you in the matching lotion and bath-wash?"

Hermione nods fiercely at him, and he shrugs. "Then, it brings the total to ninety pounds. And how will you be paying today?"

After the perfume is paid for, Hermione and Harry awkwardly part ways. Harry feels relieved, and he walks home clutching the shiny bag from Harrod's, wondering what that was all about. He reflects on how strange it is that Hermione, with a bit of makeup and different shoes and that weird straight hair, can look just like Ginny. Not like her, obviously. Ginny is freckled and red-headed and petite and slim-hipped, and Hermione is more...curvy, and with curly, bushy hair and pale, unmarred skin. Yet with just a few small changes, Hermione can look...trendy, and superficial. It is weird. He doesn't like it.

He hadn't realized before just how much he likes Hermione — just the way she is.

IV. Hermione

The first time Hermione is truly heartbroken — not the silly kind one can get over in a month with enough ice cream and romcoms — is when Harry proposes to Ginny, and Harry has no idea of what he has done.

She is twenty-five. Things are beginning to finally even out — she's in law school, she has her own place, and she's finally getting a handle on her bushy hair. She thinks she is doing well, and that it'll be relatively smooth sailing for a while. She thinks she is in love with Ron. They're living together, they've been together for two happy years, and they say 'I love you' to each other, all the time.

It's at Ron's family's home, jokingly called 'the Burrow' for its uneven, much-renovated facade, that Harry upsets everything. It's Christmas, and the extended Weasley clan is piled into the sitting room round a fat, overly-decorated tree. Everyone is feeling pleasantly sleepy, with glasses of eggnog, and Hermione is standing by the fire, her head on Ron's shoulder. She's noticed that Harry's been looking a bit peaky this evening, but there's been too much commotion, and she's not found the chance to ask if he's alright.

Suddenly, Harry is clearing his throat, and in front of the entire Weasley family and their significant others, he goes down on one knee and presents his mother's ring to Ginny.

There is a peculiar rushing in her ears and she feels like she may faint. Hermione grasps Ron's arm as Ginny tearfully shrieks 'yes!' before deafening applause breaks out. She claps weakly. Later she will learn that Harry has already proposed to Ginny, and that this event has been orchestrated, as Ginny wanted her mum to have the chance to see her only daughter be asked for her hand in marriage. Later, she will also wonder why Harry has not discussed these plans with her beforehand, and she will feel their friendship slipping away between her clumsy fingers.

The commotion is such that she can easily slip outside, into the garden shed. Gripping Arthur's work table, she tries to get a grip on her emotions as well. She draws in deep breaths and yet her lungs do not seem to be taking in any air.

Why does this hurt?

She's happy for Ginny and Harry — they deserve each other. She loves Ron, and they deserve each other too. So why does it feel like she's been slapped in the face, or punched in the gut? Against her will, hot tears slip down her cheeks. She is praying that this is just a bad dream, and she will wake up in her bed with Ron and...what?

No, she realizes, she does not want to wake up to her normal life. She wants to wake up in the parallel universe where she has already figured out her feelings, where she is the one on that couch, with Harry down on one knee in front of her.

Hermione, logical and grounded as always, knows that this is not possible.

Her knuckles bleach as she clenches the edge of the table. She knows it is her own fault, for ignoring her feelings. She remembers half her life ago, sitting on a bench with Ron and Harry and watching Harry who was watching Cho Chang. That day, she had somehow decided, somewhere deep within herself, that Harry would always be watching girls like Cho Chang, girls like Gabrielle, girls like Ginny. He would never be watching a girl like her. That day, she had told herself to give it up, because it would never happen to her. That day, she somehow set her sights on Ron.

Had it really all been so arbitrary? Does her attraction to Ron come not from chemistry between them, but from her reaction to her attraction to Harry? And if that is the case...then where do Ron's feelings for her come from? Is their relationship a lie, if it is based upon Hermione's acceptance that she cannot marry the prince; that she is not the princess?

It's too much, and it's too cold in the shed, and she's shaking and crying and confused, and she's sick from too much rich food. Everything is all wrong — she is in the wrong body, in the wrong life. It is like watching her dreams from behind unbreakable, soundproof glass: always visible yet forever unreachable. She can cry and scream and beat her fists against the glass, but it will not bring her any closer to the thing she wants.

And now, with that ring on Ginny's finger, it is too late. Ginny will probably get pregnant soon, and then they will have a beautiful child that they will name after one of Harry's parents, and they'll live happily ever after. And Ron and Hermione will trod along after them, forever the sidekicks, forever the lesser ones, their happiness measured in their ability to mimic what comes naturally to Harry and Ginny.

She wipes her tears away on the tissue packet in her purse, and grits her teeth, and tells herself she will get through it — she must. When she returns inside, no one has noticed she has gone. They are still talking about the wedding, already making plans.

Amid all the happiness, Hermione is silent. Across the room, she locks eyes with Harry, who is also silent, and she knows she cannot hide her soul from him — his bright green eyes see all of her. Yet the expression on his face is not one of joy or rapture, and again Hermione has the peculiar sensation of being on the wrong side of soundproof glass.

IV. Harry

The first time Harry ever feels real heartache is when he proposes to Ginny in front of her family, and no one seems to have any idea that anything might be wrong...except for Hermione.

The decision had been made a week ago, after making love one morning. Like slipping down a snowy slope, it went from playful talk of 'one day' to, suddenly, making plans. And even though he has been in love with Ginny for years now, there is something wrong, and he doesn't know what it is.

Harry is not good at examining his own emotions. He has always sort of depended on Hermione to determine what he is feeling and analyze his feelings ad nauseum before directing him on what he should do next. It is because Hermione knows him best that he has not told her about his engagement to Ginny.

...Because he knows she will realize he is not positive about it, and she will figure out why, and Harry is not really sure either of them wish to know the answer.

Thus he has blundered on; he has retrieved his mother's engagement ring from his vault; and now he has slid the ring onto Ginny's lovely, delicate finger. When he looks up into her beaming face, he is overcome by her beauty, her radiance. Ginny shines, she glows. You cannot help but follow her with your eyes when she walks into a room.

The cheering is thunderous; his ears will be ringing hours from now. He turns, instinctively, and Hermione is not there. Probably just in the bathroom. But something about this doesn't fit. When Hermione finally does reappear, her eyes are wet and red and she looks ghostly pale.

Across the room, their eyes meet. Hermione is unhappy about this engagement. Is she unhappy that Harry has not told her?

Either way, there is something satisfying — there is something right — about Hermione being upset about the engagement. Amidst all of the confusion and pain, there is something about Hermione's obvious turmoil that feels just a little bit good.

V. Hermione

The first time Hermione is dumped is when Ron chucks her, and it is because of Harry.

She is twenty-seven and is on her way to finishing law school. She and Ron have gotten engaged, moved in together officially into a bigger flat, and she has watched (and helped) Ginny with endless wedding preparations. She has watched Harry find reasons to push the wedding further and further away, and she has watched her friendship with Harry dissolve until it is unrecognizable, and as fragile as spider silk. She has felt her heart rip apart and knit back together, faulty and loose.

They are at Harry and Ginny's flat, helping them pack up to move into a better one across town. Ginny has gone out to Tesco to get more boxes, taking Ron with her. They have left Harry and Hermione alone. It is the first time they have been alone together in a long time.

For a while they are silent as they pack stuff into boxes. It is summer and intolerably hot, and sweat trickles down Hermione's back and in between her breasts, making her shirt stick uncomfortably to her skin. She keeps stopping, worrying that her deodorant has stopped holding out. Being around Harry makes her feel self-conscious. All this time spent not actually being his best friend has reinstated his male-ness, and all of the things that made him a boy that she had gotten used to over the years are now brought to the fore. His lean arms ripple slightly with subtle musculature as he picks up a box, balancing it on his knee as he shifts his grip, before he moves it to the front door. Sweat drips down his temple and onto his cheekbone, and she cannot help but watch him rub it away absently. In the summer heat, Harry is beautiful. His eyes blaze green as sunlit cornfields and his skin is just slightly sun-kissed.

"'s been a year and a half... what's the hold-up on the wedding?" Hermione finally breaks the silence, in a forced joking tone. Harry is crouching down by a bookcase, arranging paperbacks into a cardboard box. He glances back. Between them is Hermione's tears on that Christmas night. Neither has forgotten — how could they? — but neither has spoken of it.

"No hold-up," Harry grunts, using the act of lifting the box as a way out of really answering. He sets it on top of the others by the door. "Just been busy."

He's avoiding her eyes. The heartache happens again, and she feels like those loose, sloppy seams are all coming undone all over again.

"Harry..." she sighs, rising from her spot by Ginny's shelf of photos. She wipes sweat from her brow, blinking rapidly at the sudden onset of tears. "Why aren't we friends anymore?"

This is a futile question — Harry will, like always, avoid the question, insist that he doesn't know what she's talking about, and either fall back into tense silence or swiftly change the subject to something meaningless.

But this time, he doesn't.

He stops and rises too, and across the room they regard each other. Harry's face contorts in pain at the tears in Hermione's eyes.

"Don't cry, Hermione," he pleads. She bites her lip and looks down at her trainers. Silence follows, and she hears him let out a huff and shift slightly. When she looks up, he is staring out the window, his arms crossed over his chest.

"What happened to us?" she chokes. She feels like, all this time that her friendship with Harry has been strained, her life has sort of been on hold. She cannot take it anymore.

Harry turns back to her, and across the room, their eyes meet. How many times has she looked into those emerald eyes? Yet nothing has ever before felt like this.

"We're back!" calls Ron cheerily. Ron and Ginny come into the sitting room, and their cheer is erased. They both could not possibly miss the tension that is strung across the room tight as a bow. "What's up with you two?" he demands, setting the stack of collapsed cardboard boxes on a coffee table. Ginny is scowling suspiciously.

"Why are you crying? Harry, what did you do now?" She trots over to Hermione, handing her a pack of tissues. "Don't mind Harry; he's always especially idiotic when he's got to move."

I happen to have known him just a bit longer than you, Hermione seethes, but all the same, she accepts the packet of tissues and turns away, blowing her nose. Harry turns away as well, rubbing the back of his neck.

"H-he didn't do anything wrong," says Hermione in a voice shuddery from unshed tears. She turns back to Ginny and Ron and smiles brightly. "I dropped a box on my foot just before you guys came in."

Neither Ron nor Ginny is fooled by this, but there is no further comment on it. The two couples spend the rest of the afternoon packing, and though their original plan is to celebrate a hard day's work with beers and chips afterwards, Ron announces he's got to go into the office in the morning — even though it is Saturday — and that he and Hermione have to leave early.

In the car ride home, Hermione is in the passenger's seat. Usually she drives, but for some reason, tonight Ron insists that he will. They drive through the suburb of London, as the humid summer evening rolls by them. Children on bicycles with training wheels ride past their parents, teenagers walk along hand-in-hand, and old couples sit on porches, as fireflies twinkle in the shrubbery.

For minutes that feel like eternities, there is strained, tense silence in the car, until finally Ron speaks.

"I don't think you love me, Hermione."

His tone is even — surprising given that normally, when Ron is upset, he is especially emotional and tetchy. It takes Hermione a moment to process his words and summon the appropriate response to them.

"What! Ron, I don't know what you're talking about." Even to her own ears, the words fall flat. In spite of this, a world of emotion bubbles up inside her. She feels her life as she knows it slipping away through her fingers, and she is scrambling to trap as much of it as she can.

"I suggest," he continues, still looking ahead and acting as though she has not spoken, "that you and Harry work out whatever the fuck it is that is going on, before my sister walks down that fucking aisle and gets her heart broken." Only now does his apparent rage leak out in his words. His grip is like a vice on the steering wheel, and she can see the muscles in his jaw leap as he grits his teeth.

"Ron, you're being ridiculous. There is nothing going on between Harry and I —"

"I don't bloody want to hear it, Hermione!" he explodes. She is silenced, and she stares down at her lap. Silent tears stream down her cheeks. "It's always been this way. Don't you dare try to tell me otherwise. It is over. We're over. I'm moving out in the morning."

"...Where will you go?"

"The Burrow."

The rest of the drive home is silent. Ron sleeps on the couch, and Hermione sits in the dark, staring out at the cars going by.

V. Harry

The first time Harry ever goes back on his word is when he breaks off his engagement with Ginny.

He is twenty-seven, and his life is falling apart. For the first time since he was ten, Hermione is not here to help him through this, because she is the cause of the problems. He sits on the edge of his bed, staring out at the cars on that summer night, thinking of what has happened today. He recalls the tension strung between him and Hermione, the faint lines of electricity begging to be reconnected between them. And he recalls the epiphany he had, while standing there staring at Hermione.

As he watches the headlights on cars streak through the night like blurred fireflies, he thinks of all of the times he has seen Hermione cry, starting from that first day they became friends. Like the fiery headlights, her face, wet with tears, falses through his mind's eye, coming to rest on that Christmas night.

They are with the wrong people. They, all four of them — him, Hermione, Ron, Ginny — they're all living a lie. Harry knows that when Ron and Ginny came into the flat, they saw it too. And for one pendulous moment, the truth was exposed, only to be quickly covered again, like a star disappearing behind a cloud. Harry knows that none of them can forget that moment of raw exposure, and he knows they cannot move past it. He sees it in Ginny's eyes, mirrored in his own. This is the end, but it's also the beginning.

"Come to bed?" Ginny calls softly from the other side of the room. Harry does not move; he stares out at the cars.

"We can't move in together. We can't get married," he says flatly. He tenses, anticipating a fight from Ginny, but there is silence. He hears her soft, light footsteps, and then the door clicks shut. From the other room, he hears her sob.

The next day is exhausting. They have to undo the lease on the flat they have just signed for; they have to separate their stuff. Ginny will stay at the Burrow while Harry moves in with Sirius. They have to alert Mrs. Weasley of the breakup. It is all done surprisingly dryly, with minimal tears. When he and Ginny finally do discuss it, they both agree that it has been coming for a while. Mrs. Weasley does not take it so well; as it turns out, Ron and Hermione have split up too.

As much as this doesn't surprise him, it terrifies him.

Life moves on; Harry moves in with Sirius. The summer turns into Autumn. He and Ginny begin, slowly, to build up their friendship again. Ginny is already seeing Dean again, and it is a relief. He even grabs lunch with Ron. Things are tense, but slowly, they too rebuild their friendship.

The only person he hasn't seen is Hermione.

He waits. Sirius urges him to just go see her; Harry disagrees. The truth is that he is terrified that he has shaken up everything he could have had for something that may not even be real. What if Hermione doesn't love him? What if he has completely misinterpreted everything? Ginny insists that he hasn't; she insists that it was all too obvious that day...and all the days before it. Everyone tells him that this is a fact, that he and Hermione have been in love since they were ten.

The only person he has left to hear it from is Hermione herself.

VI. Hermione

The first time Hermione gets into a car accident, the first person she rings is Harry, though they have not spoken in months and, technically, are no longer friends.

She is twenty-eight and it is late November and pouring freezing rain. Her shite car skids on a curve and some drunken git smashes into her at the same time. The impact is enormous; she could never have anticipated how loud a car crash is. The horrible metallic crunch leaves her ears ringing and the impact leaves her hands shaking and her heart racing. In the inky darkness, she squints through the spider-web of cracks in her windshield at the car she has smashed into. The hood of her own car has folded up, absurdly reminiscent of an accordion, and obscures the other victim. With a shaking hand, she reaches up to feel an itch on her forehead, and gasps when she sees her hand is covered in blood. Strangely, there is no pain.

In a dream-like state, she stumbles out of the car, her wellies crunching on shards of glass, and fumbles through her purse for her mobile. A light goes on in the house nearby, and within seconds, the wailing of sirens fills the wet night. The police are coming, she realizes. A woman comes out of the house, wrapped in a coat.

"I called an ambulance!" she yells. Hermione nods, though the woman cannot see her. She looks down at her mobile numbly. I'll ring Harry.

The sirens get louder when he picks up.

"Hermione? What —"

His voice is the most beautiful sound she has ever heard. Smiling dazedly, Hermione leans against her car.

"I got into a car accident," she explains. Harry draws in a sharp breath.

"What a coincidence — I'm on my way to a car accident." He cites the location, and Hermione giggles absurdly.

"I have no idea where I am!" she sighs. She hears Harry scoff.

"You are in shock. I'll be right there," he says gruffly before hanging up. Only now does Hermione remember that Harry is a police officer, and this is part of the area he covers.

"Excuse me, miss, are you — oh my goodness," the woman gasps as she reaches Hermione. "Sit down, love. The ambulance will be here soon," she says soothingly, draping a blanket round Hermione's shoulders. Hermione shrugs.

"Actually, I feel fine," she replies.

Just then, the ambulance and police car arrive. A door slams, and then, Harry is rushing towards her, his hair plastered to his forehead from the rain. He looks fierce and protective in his uniform, and in her shock, Hermione allows herself to openly swoon.

"God, Hermione," he swears when he sees her. The EMTs explode out of the ambulance as Hermione wilts slightly, falling into Harry's fierce embrace. "This is terrible." He pauses and turns to the woman who called the ambulance. "Thank you so much, ma'am."

Everything is a blur as Hermione is somehow put on a stretcher and inside the ambulance. Just before the ambulance doors shut, she glimpses Harry's face. The world swims around her; suddenly she doesn't feel so good. But the fierce, burning tenderness in his eyes is enough to floor her. As the ambulance doors shut, she calls:

"I love you, Harry."

VI. Harry

The first time Harry ever says 'I love you' in public is at the Hogsmeade Emergency Room.

It is in the wee hours of the morning. He is twenty seven and running on adrenaline and coffee. Finally, the accident having been cleaned up and the report filed, he can go to the ER. The man in the other car is alive and, for the most part, just fine. He has been proven to be quite drunk and was already swerving on the road when Hermione's car skidded.

The fluorescent lights give the early morning a dream-like quality that scares him. Hospitals are never good places to be, and Harry has spent too many nights in the ER, only to find out that he has yet again lost someone come morning. His uniform is drenched with rain and sweat and he feels physically ill as he strides through the busy ER, flashing his badge before anyone can try to order him out. He bursts in through curtains in search of Hermione. He will find her. Her last words ring in his ears even now, lighting his blood on fire. He must find her.

Hers is the last cubicle in the ER. Shrouded by curtains, Hermione is resting, covered in bandages. She has been given something for shock and received a blood transfusion, and the color is returning to her pale cheeks.

For a moment, Harry stands there at the parted curtains, watching her chest rise and fall. It hits him just now that he has come close to losing Hermione; he has come close to losing her without telling her how he really feels. The notion clenches around his heart and lungs, and he has to draw in a sharp breath. This hurts. This hurts more than he could have imagined.

So he goes and sits beside her little bed, the sounds of the ER around him but muddled by the curtains and the beating of his heart in his own ears. Only now, as he takes Hermione's limp hand, weighed down with the IV, does he appreciate the miracle that life is. Only now can he appreciate what a strange existence this is, that he and Hermione and everyone around them are so transient. They are blood and brain and bounding heart and it can end at any time. He loops his fingers through hers.

"I love you too, Hermione," he replies quietly, tightening his grip on her hand.