Harry and Hermione had drifted through the rest of the ball both of their minds elsewhere. The only reason Harry hadn't disappeared right after the incident was because he had promised Hermione he wouldn't vanish again. He lurked in the shadows standing as far away from her as possible mentally cursing himself for what had happened. He had lost control and his secret was no longer so secretive.
Hermione couldn't quite wrap her head around what had happened spent the rest of the celebration pretending to engage in a conversation with Ron and Ginny and when the time came to leave and go to the three broomsticks she shook her head and murmured something about being tired and decided to return to the Burrow alone to collect her thoughts.
Harry had managed to hide for the remainder of the evening, but not before Molly Weasley had cornered him insisting that he return to the Burrow at once. Harry politely tried to decline, but Mrs. Weasley was persistent as ever and finally Harry caved compromising on a small gathering in a few weeks for his birthday.
"Would you at least do me one small favor before you head back to Grimmauld Place dear?" Molly asked Harry towards the end of the night.
"Anything Mrs. Weasley," he responded sincerely.
"Please, would you escort Hermione back to the burrow? I think all the excitement has exhausted her."
Harry's throat constricted and before he could even utter a response Molly was already motioning Hermione over from across the room. "Hermione dear," she called, "Harry here has agreed to accompany you back to the burrow. Now I know you are perfectly capable, but it would make me feel much better if you went together. Who knows maybe you'll even get him to stay the night."
Harry nearly choked on his tongue and he cleared his throat awkwardly as Hermione avoided his gaze her eyes jaded and suspicious. "Travel safe you two…" she murmured kissing both of them on the cheek. "Are you sure you don't want to join us?"
"I'm uh really tired…" Harry swallowed dryly scratching at his neck, "and I have to go home and feed Kreacher."
Even Hermione looked at him with a puzzled expression for she had never heard a lamer excuse.
"Well even so," Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips. "I will be seeing you on the 31st am I correct?"
"Yes ma'am," Harry nodded as he bid her farewell and Hermione waved goodnight.
The walk to Hogsmeade was beyond awkward and Harry didn't even bother looking up from the ground as he followed Hermione at a far distance making sure to keep some space between them. She stood feet in front of him shoulders hunched and her arms crossed defensively over her chest and she too was having a staring contest with her feet.
After what seemed like hours the pair reached the edge of the Hogwarts grounds. Harry stopped behind Hermione and nervously pulled at his black tie. The tension could be cut with a knife as they both avoided eye contact unsure of what to say to the other.
"Harry," Hermione finally spoke breaking the heavy silence. "What was that tonight?"
Harry raised his eyes to meet hers and he shrugged his shoulders opening his mouth struggling to find the words. "I… don't… know."
"Do you… do you… like me?" she asked uncertainty and fear swimming in her eyes. It sounded so odd coming out of her mouth directed at Harry.
Harry did something strange. He laughed at the top of his lungs and buckled over gripping at his stomach.
"What the hell is so funny?" Hermione was beyond confused and she watched in awe as her best friend doubled over in hysterics as she stood trying not to cry. "Harry!"
"I'm sorry," Harry chuckled out catching his breath, "It just sounds so stupid and simple when you put it like that."
"What are you talking about?"
"Nothing," Harry replied seriously, "forget I said anything."
"Harry… you… you kissed me! Why?" she asked flailing her arms in the air, "I've been trying to wrap my head around it all night; it had to be a mistake… right?"
"Yes," Harry chortled out almost bitterly, he didn't know what was coming over him, but he toed at the ground his hands deep in his pockets, "It was just a mistake."
"So you don't like me?" Hermione clenched her jaw line tight willing the answers from him. How she wished she had some veritaserum right now and she watched his face change as he gritted his teeth.
"No Hermione I don't like you," Harry said honestly. He didn't like Hermione; he was in love with her.
"Then why did you kiss me?" she screamed at the top of her lungs running her fingers through her hair in frustration.
"What do you want me to say?" Harry yelled back, "honestly Hermione are you that unperceptive?"
"What are you talking about?" Hermione spat out a fire glowing in her eyes.
"Are you that blind?" Harry mumbled quietly pressing his fingers to his temples. "How do you not know?"
"Know what?" Hermione murmured helplessly her eyes shining with tears.
Harry bit his bottom lip and stepped forward grasping her shoulders with his fingers firmly. The familiar pull of the tunnel of apparation surrounded the both of them and Hermione gripped the front of Harry's vest tightly caught off guard by the gesture. In a matter of seconds the crackling subsided and they both landed feet apart in a familiar patch of forest.
Hermione looked around curiously her mouth hanging open. They were far from Hogwarts that was for sure. She recognized the place immediately and she glanced around at the large oak trees that stood strongly against the shadowy night. It was the Forest of Dean and a lump formed in her throat as she pictured her parents. She spun around her hair whipping in the breeze and she was met with the anxious gaze of Harry. "What are we doing here?"
Harry breathed out in exasperation trying to catch his breath, "I lied to you, I haven't been staying at Grimmauld Place. I've been here." He motioned with his hand to the campsite that Hermione had failed to notice. The tent was there, along with a fire pit, and a clothesline hanging between two branches.
Déjà vu screamed in Hermione's mind as she looked around in shock her eyes and mouth hanging open in disbelief. "Why?"
"Because," Harry hesitated, "it's the place I feel closest to you."
There was a moment hanging in the air that night. A moment of honesty and vulnerability shared between two people who were so utterly familiar with one another, but at the same time were facing something completely unknown. They were facing each other like they had so many months prior. There was a moment after the dance they had shared in the tent. Hermione had been inches from Harry, and they had let the moment pass without mention. Now, months later they stood in the same forest with the same moment hanging in the air. Harry didn't know what possessed him to do it, but he didn't allow the moment to pass this time.
He grabbed Hermione by the waist and pulled her towards him, his eyes were hungry with desire and he smashed his lips against hers holding her tightly against his chest.
Hermione wasn't thinking clearly and was caught off guard as Harry assaulted her lips with his own. She didn't understand the strange new sensation and she pawed at Harry's chest, her mind telling her to stop, but her body telling her otherwise. She wasn't even aware that she started to respond to his kiss and pretty soon she had reached up and snaked her arms tightly around his neck deepening the kiss as they both let go of inhibitions and found an unbridled pleasure within the other. Harry stumbled forward not breaking the kiss and he slammed her against a nearby oak tree his hands exploring her back and stomach while she grasped his neck tightly with her own. Harry broke apart for a split second to reach up and discard his glasses onto the ground and he captured her lips just as he had before as she struggled to catch her breath against his mouth a light murmur escaping from her throat. She yanked at his tie with her fingers and yanked his vest open trying to undo the buttons of his dress shirt with shaking hands. Hermione had never felt anything like what she was feeling and the desire in stomach was clouding her logic. Harry shrugged out of his jacket and vest as he grasped her by thighs and in one swift motion had pulled up her dress to her waist and hoisted her up against the tree his body supporting hers as she snaked her legs tightly around his middle.
Hermione didn't know what this was, what she was feeling, or what was going to happen and a large part of her didn't seem to care as she attacked Harry hungrily with her lips running her hands through his thick brown hair scraping at his scalp sending shivers up his spine.
Harry groaned into her mouth and he bit her lip as he pulled back to look her in the eyes. He had to know if this was really happening. He abruptly broke the kiss and pressed his forehead up against hers staring deep into her eyes. They stayed like that for a few seconds and with the absence of the feverish kissing logic slowly crept its way back into Hermione's head. She pushed her hands against Harry's shoulders and he stepped back lowering her to the ground his expression puzzled.
"What are we doing?" Hermione gasped out tears pooling in her eyes, "what is this?"
Harry's voice was full of overwhelming fear and he ran a hand through his already tangled hair. "I don't know."
Ron's smiling face popped into both of their heads and a sickness like no other flooded Harry's gut and nausea set in. He couldn't help it as bile rose up in his throat and he retreated to behind the oak tree spilling out the alcohol from earlier in the night. How could he be so stupid?
Hermione hunched her body against the tree the tears freely falling down her cheeks as she trembled shivering with the absence of Harry. She had not only just kissed somebody that wasn't Ron, but she had kissed Harry. Guilt was ringing in her ears as she pressed a hand over her mouth muffling her sobs that wracked her petit frame.
Something had just changed. An invisible line that had been crossed earlier in the night by Harry had now just been erased completely by both and they collapsed against opposite sides of the tree wondering what was held in store. Harry listened helplessly as he heard Hermione's muted cries from a few yards away and he bit his lip and held back the tears that threatened to spill from his blurry eyes and he wasn't surprised in the least when the familiar crack of apparation filled the air a few moments later and the girl he had just been feverishly kissing minutes before had disappeared as fast as he had six weeks prior.