Author's note: I know, I know; I'm just the worst type of muggle imaginable! I can only apologise for the absurdly long delay with this chapter (it hasn't been a very good year for me, personally, and I just haven't felt like writing, I'm afraid).
I took the advice of a reader and have tried to make this a little more easily readable, hopefully it's an improvement.
It took me a while to get back into the swing of things but hopefully this is still true to the characters. It's a two-parter and the next part will be up by the end of next week. There's a lot of dialogue at times because I think there's a talk between certain characters that's long overdue!
If anyone is still interested in reading this I promise I will update more diligently. Reviews and constructive criticism are always welcome. Enjoy :)
10. Confessions part I
5th March 2006
Harry had arrived home to Grimmauld Place early hours in the morning, his stomach doing somersaults in anticipation of seeing his best friend/girlfriend/potential life partner, or whatever they were now. Unfortunately for him, Hermione had not been exaggerating about the demands on the hospital and she'd been called away before he'd arrived. Rather than wallow in his disappointment, and having nothing better to do, Harry had taken himself off to bed to catch up on some well deserved sleep.
Harry awakens to a soft purring, like a distant lawnmower, so soft that he almost manages to slip back into unconsciousness when a small, rough tongue lazily drags itself across his cheek. He cracks one eye open, just enough to see a blurry, orange fuzz ball gracefully jumping off his bed; he takes that as his cue to get up. He's shocked to note that he's slept for almost ten hours and, as it's now early afternoon, he begrudgingly gets himself up and showered before, finally, feeding an increasingly impatient Crookshanks.
With still no sign of Hermione, Harry decides to make good on his promise to visit his Godson and floos over to Andie's, uninvited, stepping out of the fireplace as dramatically as his nature allows and calling "Surprise!" into the seemingly empty room. He has to wait precisely two seconds before the sound of small, bare feet can be heard pelting along the upstairs hall, and a further five seconds before his arms are filled with an ecstatic, squealing little boy. The smile on Harry's face is the first genuine one he's produced in weeks and he happily spins Teddy around the living room until a gentle cough interrupts their reunion.
"Harry, my dear", Mrs Weasley's warm, welcoming smile is a sight Harry will never get tired of. "It's so good to have you home."
Harry steps eagerly into her open arms, almost lifting her off her feet in the process.
"Of course it's absolutely wonderful to see you, Mrs Weasley," he assures her, "but may I ask what you are doing here?"
Molly smoothes down the front of her faded, flowery dress before motioning for Harry to put down the scrawny boy still clinging to his neck and disappearing into the kitchen. Harry disentangles himself from Teddy and tells the youngster to draw him some pictures whilst he speaks to the Weasley matriarch.
The Tonks' kitchen is almost as homely as the one in the Burrow, if a little less cluttered. The wooden cupboards, the fridge and even the back of the door are filled with family photographs and pictures that Teddy has drawn over the years. Mrs Weasley is busy making tea in a decidedly muggle fashion, seemingly to try and delay whatever it is she has to tell the bespectacled man making himself comfortable at the kitchen table.
"There we are," she says, plonking two steaming mugs down on the wooden worktop. "Arthur will be proud; that's the first time I've used that thing without it exploding."
She smiles at Harry again, but there's a weariness to it that was not there before as she takes one of his hands in her own and tries to steel herself for what she has to say.
"Now, Harry," she begins, softly, "don't you be getting yourself all worked up; I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. Besides, we really can't have Teddy getting upset now, can we? Merlin knows the poor boy has had enough to contend with over the years."
"Molly," Harry says, warily, "what's happened? Where's Andie?"
Molly glances nervously at the door, checking Teddy is still out of earshot, before continuing.
"Andie's in the hospital," she holds her hand up to cut off whatever Harry had been about to say, "please, just let me finish. She's okay, we think. She collapsed last night; probably just fatigue from her trip. Thankfully Teddy was asleep in bed, he had no idea. I'd floo'd over, luckily, and found her out cold. She'd banged her head but she came around when they were taking her to the hospital. I called Hermione and she said she'd go in and check on her."
Harry stares silently at his still full mug of tea. He was trying to process Mrs Weasley's information rationally: there was no need to fret when Andromeda was in the best place for whatever her ailment was and, like Molly had said, she was probably just exhausted from her trip abroad, nothing sinister to it. Plus, if anything worse were afoot, Hermione would surely have let him know by now.
"Harry," Molly continues, tentatively. "There's something else you should know-"
Before she can get any further, there's a squeal from the living room and giggles from more than one person. Harry can't help the smile that crosses his face as a tired, but still absolutely radiant,looking Hermione appears in the kitchen doorway with a purple haired Teddy clinging to her back. Completely ignoring the fact that his once future mother-in-law is in the room, Harry flies over to the young witch and captures her in a searing kiss, and even dips her slightly, almost unseating a delighted, if somewhat confused, Teddy in the process.
He eventually pulls away and is more than content with the soft blush that has spread to every visible inch of Hermione's skin. He'd happily go in for round two but he forces himself to focus on the more pressing issue at hand.
"How's Andie?" He asks, his voice more breathless than he'd like.
Hermione's smile is all the answer he needs, but she reassures him anyway.
"She's fine," she cups his stubbled cheek in her soft hand, allowing him to lean into her touch, before she spins Teddy into her arms and plants kisses all over his face, punctuating each one with, "she's fine. She's fine. She's fine."
"I'm glad to hear it," a quiet, stern voice breaks into the celebrations and the trio's attention is forced onto one Molly Weasley, looking less welcoming and kindly than she did before the Healer's arrival. "If you'll excuse me," she continues as she stands and starts to gather her meager belongings, "I shall have to get home; I've yet to see my son. I trust you can handle Teddy from here?"
Without waiting for an answer, she bends to kiss Teddy on the head before heading into the living room fireplace and disappearing in a flash of green flames. There's an uncomfortable silence following the Weasley matriarch's exit: Harry is trying desperately to think of something to say, whilst Hermione takes great interest in her shoes.
"Who put a bee in her bonnet?" The question, spoken so earnestly from the tiny wizard standing between them, sends Harry and Hermione into a fit of laughter.
"Never you mind," Hermione manages to wheeze out between giggles, "Now, why don't you show us what you were drawing before I rudely interrupted you?"
The little boys races off in the direction of the living room, giving the two young adults a few moments alone.
"I've missed you," Harry smiles, taking Hermione's warm hands in his own and giving them a squeeze.
Hermione answers him with a kiss, shorter and sweeter than their previous one, but enough to keep them both smiling when Teddy barges back in and directs them into separate chairs whilst he describes in great detail the images they can clearly see for themselves.
Harry spends the rest of the day marveling at the ease with which Hermione and he fill the roles of surrogate parents to Teddy. The little boy is full of questions about the kiss he witnessed between the two friends; the pair try, really they do, to fend off his queries with jokes and avoidance but, the youngster is very, very persistent so it's somewhat a relief when Andie returns home in the evening and refuses their offer to take her Grandson with them for the night.
Finally arriving back into the quiet of Grimmauld Place, Harry and Hermione are struck with a sudden shyness. Harry can't help but over analyse every word they'd spoken over the past few months, every glance and touch they'd shared. Before he can put into words all of his worries and hopes, Hermione brings her soft lips to his in a sweet, chaste kiss and leads him over to the sofa, pulling him down next to her.
"Spill, Potter", she laughs at his dumbstruck expression. "I can practically hear the cogs whirring in that beautiful head of yours; so what's up?"
"I don't know where to start, really," he takes her delicate hands in his much larger ones, revelling in the feel of the small calluses from years of excess writing. He can imagine those hands writing the letters that had kept him going over in Germany. "I want so much for this to work, Hermione, so I think we should be really honest with one another."
"Okaaay," she drags the word out, letting her confusion show clearly on her face.
"I just mean," Harry fumbles around for the right words before continuing; "that a lot has happened very quickly, and we haven't really spoken properly about what either of us wants, or, well anything".
She smiles lovingly at him, rubbing his knee gently through his jeans, and shifting closer to him on the moss green sofa.
"Harry, I want you to listen to me without interrupting, okay?" she waits for his affirming nod before continuing. "When I was twelve years old you became my first real friend and I have loved you as a friend since you saved me from that troll in the bathroom. I've watched you grow up, Harry; I've watched you grow into a devilishly handsome, kind and brilliant young man. I truly want you to be happy, Harry, and if I get to watch you be happy as your friend then I shall be happy too; but I would much rather share that happiness with you as, well, as your partner."
Harry lets her words wash over him like warm water, delighting in the sound of this beautiful young woman telling him she wants to share her life with him. There are questions, however, that he needs answering, and things he knows he needs to tell her before they take their relationship any further.
"What about Ron?" he notes the shift in her posture; how she angles her body a fraction further away from him.
"Well," she begins, a little uncomfortably, "you said he was okay with this, in your letter. Has he said anything since? Has he changed his mind?"
"No, no; I mean with you and Ron. You were in love with him, Hermione, you chose to be with him and, well, we've never really spoken about why it ended."
He's startled by the giggle Hermione lets loose, and further still by her lips smashing against his cheekbone.
"Oh, Harry," he's amazed at the passion shining in her eyes, directed solely at him. "Ron and I were never a great fit, let's face it. I loved him, I won't deny it; he was -is- funny, kind, brave; everything I should have wanted, and I did, for a time anyway. It was never enough though; I stayed with him so long because I thought it was the right thing to do. I knew I could never, and would never, act on my growing feelings for you, so I stayed quiet."
He watches her intently, waiting for her to get to the part he's been curious about for so long. Ron, whenever they'd talked about it, seemed under the impression that they'd been deliriously happy until Hermione had decided, out of the blue, that she didn't love him anymore. They sit in silence for a few moments before Hermione finally continues in a quieter voice.
"I thought about you so much when I was in Australia, Harry," she tells him. "Much more than I should have been thinking about my friend, especially as I had a boyfriend waiting for me at home. I've loved you both since I was a little girl, Harry, but I'd convinced myself that it was Ron who I was supposed to be with: Blamed sisterly affection for my closeness to you. Away from you both though, I just couldn't deny it anymore and my feelings for you overtook me completely. Ron was suspicious, of course, and it killed me to lie to him, but I was desperate to prove my younger self right and I was sure you only thought of me as a sister anyway."
She pauses again, taking a few deep breaths before finally getting to the crux of the matter.
"I left him, Harry, because I was absolutely, madly in love with you, and, although I never in a million years dreamed you would look twice at me, never mind try to snog my face off every chance you get, I just couldn't go on lying to someone who I cared so much about. I told him I had fallen out of love with him, which was true, but I still love him as a friend, and we'll always have that history between us, but it's you I want to share my future with, Harry."
To say that Harry is astounded would be an understatement; the rumours and questions about their relationship that had dogged them through the years start to make a little more sense. It would seem that only he was blind to the less than platonic nature of his bushy haired friend's feelings for him.
"Wow," is all he's able to verbalise for a while. He lets her confession settle in his mind but he cannot fathom the fact that she's had these feelings for him for so long, and he'd been completely oblivious. "I had no idea. Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Now," she smiles wryly at him, "why on Earth would the famous, wonderful Harry Potter ever want to be with a bookish, know-it-all when he could be with the incredible Ginny Weasley, or Cho Chang, or Romilda Vane for Merlin's sake?! I never imagined you could feel the same way, Harry, and I couldn't bear the thought of losing your friendship over it."
Harry is absolutely flabbergasted, to say the least.
"Hermione," his voice is sterner than he intends, but he needs her to understand, "you should know by now that I am by no means as bright or clued-in as you, and I won't lie and tell you that I've been in love with you forever, because I haven't."
He rushes on quickly because he's not sure that was the correct thing to say after her heartfelt confession.
"I have always admired you, Hermione; I've always thought you were beautiful, and brilliant, but I only ever thought of you as a friend and I guess, in part, that was because of Ron. He was always jealous, even before the two of you got together, and you seemed to return the feelings he had for you so, anytime I felt the stirrings of anything other than friendly affection, I batted it away and put it down to hormones. Then, all of a sudden, Ginny seemed to blossom right in front of me and being with her completely consumed me for quite a while."
He barely notices Hermione's discomfort as he brings his ex up; he's started now and he needs to get all of this off his chest.
"I loved her so much, Hermione. She was everything to me for so long, and I was ready to start a family with her. I think, for a long time, she was apart from everything we went through, with Voldemort I mean, and I felt I could have a normal life with her. She wasn't completely messed up like we were, but she also understood what we'd been through and I needed that. There were times though, over the last year, when I knew I was close to losing her. I didn't want to go back to being alone so I clung on, tried to be more romantic, more spontaneous, but I guess I knew it was over before I even bought the ring, I just couldn't admit it."
He smiles gently at his oldest female friend, glad he's finally admitted something that's been bothering him for a while, but his smile freezes on his face when he notices the tears in her chocolate coloured eyes.
"Hermione, what's wrong?" he asks, worried he's said something to upset her.
"I can't tell you, Harry, so please don't ask again," she whispers.
"Hermione, if I've upset you please tell me. I'm only trying to be honest."
The young witch only shakes her head and motions for Harry to continue what he was saying, whilst wiping furiously at her glistening eyes.
"Well," hesitantly, Harry continues, "as I've told you before, that night in the tent, when Ron was gone, I started to look at you a little differently. I've always thought you were beautiful but it was the first time I'd felt attracted to you because of it. It scared me and I tried to put it to the back of my mind, focus on the war and then on Ginny. I remember when Ron got the owl to say you were heading back from Australia; I was hurt that you hadn't told me yourself, and when Ron said you would be having alone time as a couple before I could see you I almost lost it! Ginny calmed me down and, when I'd had time to think, I was shocked at how jealous I felt over him being your boyfriend."
He checks she's not going to start crying again before pressing on.
"As I said, I threw myself into my relationship with Ginny, ignored any feelings I had for you as much as I could and it worked, mostly. I can't deny, however, that I wasn't a little bit relieved when you ended things with Ron. I felt bad for him, and I wanted you both to be happy, but I was never fully comfortable with you being together. Until Ginny ended our relationship, though, I still denied my feelings for you. Now, though, I can finally be honest; I love you, Hermione, and I want to see where this could take us."
She gives him a watery smile, laces her fingers through his and takes a few steadying breaths.
She gets no further before a flash of green alerts them to the appearance of a dishevelled and alarmed looking Ronald Weasley; the pair spring apart as quickly as the gangly redhead appears and stand facing him, breathing like they've just run a marathon.
"Ron," Harry puffs out, "what are you doing here?"
Ron's face is almost as red as his hair; he looks angry and Harry gets a sinking feeling in his stomach that his oldest friend is about to ruin all the progress he's made with the woman he's just confessed his deepest feelings to. What he says, however, leaves Harry's blood running cold.