Title: Walking Side by Side  (1/1)

Author Name: bohemian vixen a.ka. queen of slytherin

Author Email: alexandrea@badasschick.com

Category: Romance

Keywords: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, H/Hr

Rating: PG

Spoilers: All four books

Summary: Hermione and Harry take one of their usual walks beside the lake…but it doesn't go the way it usually does.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

A/N: Those people who are active in the SCUSA thread and the Death March thread know that I do not ship H/Hr, and that is putting it extremely mildly.  I primarily ship R/Hr and H/G. That's why when the AT challenge was announced, I knew I had to write a good (I hope) Harry/Hermione a-tad-fluffy romance. I gave all my writing efforts in this fic. This is one the most difficult things I ever did.  But I have to admit that I enjoyed writing it. It felt good to write this fic. :)

I'd appreciate if you read and review. Though I did my best, I don't know if my best was good enough (eep, somehow that sounded like an old James Ingram love song…) For all I know, this has already been done a hundred times or so.  So H/Hr shippers, tell me what you think! :)

Walking Side by Side

Cardinal Rule of Friendship: Thou shall not fall in love with thy best friend, if thy best friend does not feel the same towards thou.

Hermione Granger did not mean to violate that rule. She did not mean to be so careless as to let her emotions get away with her.

She did not mean to fall in love with Harry.

But here she was, and she could not help what she was feeling for one of her closest and best friends. She had thought that it was just a flight of passing fancy…or some sort of defense mechanism against her loneliness. After all, just about everyone in Hogwarts was part of a couple—part of a little world that only lovers share. Even her closest friends had their own special someone—Ron had Cho, and Ginny had Colin. Yes, her best friends had someone to hold, to care for and to love.

Except for her.

And for Harry.

Yet, Harry did not seem to have a need for such matters now. Hermione knew that. He had a lot of things in his mind—Death Eaters, the Dark Lord, the terrible Great War. Harry would not have time to spend on such trivial things such as having a girlfriend, would he? And even if he did, Hermione knew that she would not be his choice, anyway. She was the best friend, the sister he never had.

She sighed. Thinking of such things always managed to leave an empty and indefinable ache inside of her. She had known for long that she was indeed in love with Harry. Not with The Boy Who Live, not with The Best Quidditch Player Hogwarts Had Seen, not with The War Hero, not with any titles that reduced Harry to some media figure. No, Hermione was not in love with all that. She was in love with the Harry she knew—the noble, thoughtful, understanding, good, kind, smart, and very brave young man that he was. She was in love with the whole of him—all his positive attributes, and all his negative ones. She accepted him for all he was. She knew and loved him as a person who was imperfect just like anyone else, and not as a super human being who most people thought he was.

She had thought of going to him and telling him everything she felt. But she had decided against it. She vowed not to make things more difficult for Harry by giving him more matters to think about. Telling him what she felt would strain their friendship, especially since Harry did not feel the same way about her. Surely he would feel guilty, and that would stress him, and any additional stress on his part was not necessary. He did not need her to be anything but his friend. Thus, she contented herself with the fact that at least she was able to help him with his hardships by being at his side.

But there were times when Hermione wished of something more, and such a time was now. Harry was sitting across her at the Gryffindor house table in the Great Hall. It was breakfast time on a warm Saturday morning. Most students were eating happily and talking noisily, except for Harry. He was hardly eating. He kept on pushing his toast around his plate with a fork. A pensive and troubled look clouded his normally bright green eyes. To someone who did not know Harry well, he looked like he was just still sleepy, which accounted for his tired look. But to Hermione, he looked like he was thinking deeply and worrying frantically over matters that typical sixteen-year-olds should not worry about, or even think about. She wanted to reach out to him, to comfort him, in any way she knew how to.

Ron was over at the Ravenclaw table, sitting beside Cho, so it was up to Hermione to cheer Harry up. At times like these, she knew what to do. She would ask him to go for a walk beside the lake. They did not have to talk about anything; in fact, they did not have to talk at all. The silence that usually hung between them during their walks was not the uncomfortable silence between awkward strangers, but the comforting silence between the best of friends.

She was about to open her mouth to invite Harry for a walk when suddenly, he looked up at her and spoke.

"Want to go for a walk?" he asked with a small smile.

"I was about to ask the same thing. Sure, let's go," she said, and in a moment she was out of her seat and ready to go.

They walked out the Great Hall and crossed the entrance hall quickly, and soon enough they were crossing the lawn towards the lake. All the while they moved on silently until they reached the lakeside. Harry and Hermione both looked at the peaceful surface of the water. The sun's rays were brightly reflected in the water, giving the lake the sparkling quality of the world's best and rarest diamonds.

They closely stood there side by side for a few moments, just taking in the beauty of the day. Hermione snuck a look at Harry, and she saw the same troubled expression on his face she had seen earlier at breakfast. She could not help but worry.

"Anything wrong, Harry?" she asked softly. Of course she knew the answer to that. Almost everything was going wrong with Harry's life, with the Dark Lord out to kill him. Still, she asked the question out loud, just to let Harry know that she cared and was willing to listen.

Harry shrugged, still not taking his gaze off the lake. Then he said with a tad of bitterness, "Look at the lake. It's so…calm. Wish my life was anything like that."

After many years of friendship with Harry, Hermione learned when to keep quiet around him. This was one of those times. No amount of comforting words would ever make things fine. At times like this, silence was more comforting.

Harry suddenly turned to look at her. "Hermione, how many times have we walked by the lake, ever?" he asked, much to her surprise. He had never asked that question before, and she had never thought about it.

"Um, I really don't know," she answered, for lack of a real response. "A countless times, maybe?" she supplied further, although she knew that it wasn't much help. She wondered why Harry asked that out of the blue.

"Why do you ask?" she questioned out loud as she looked at Harry closely. Her heart was beating fast, though, for some insensible reason, at the sight of the expression in Harry's eyes. She always knew what he was feeling just by looking at his eyes, but right now, the expression in them was something she had never seen before. And even if she could not read it, she had a gut feeling that it was not something entirely unpleasant.

"Nothing. It just popped up in my head. It just occurred to me that I lost count, too," he said in a nonchalant tone.

"Oh," Hermione said. What was she expecting, anyway? Why was she expecting anything in the first place? Such a thought was completely irrational. She was reading too much into things. She forced her eyes to stay focused on the lake. She willed her heartbeat to return to normal speed.

Just when her heart rate returned to normal, Harry said in almost a whisper, "You know what, you're the only one I've ever had these lakeside walks with."  The tone of his voice made Hermione's heart drum wildly against her chest.

She dared to look at Harry right after he spoke. She realized that it was a mistake, but even without thinking, she knew that it was a mistake that she was willing to commit. Harry's brilliant green eyes bored into hers, and what happened next was beyond her control.

It all happened so fast. They were standing so close to each other, and the mood of the moment seemed to engulf both of them. He leaned closer to her, and she didn't step back. It was inevitable that his lips met hers in a soft kiss.

It was nothing like anything Hermione dreamt of. She had often imagined what it was like to feel Harry's lips on hers, but nothing could ever prepare for the realization of such a long-time dream. The kiss was nothing passionate—Hermione had experienced far more torrid kisses than this with other boys—but the feelings she felt now were very intense. The all-over warmth and utter contentment she felt now was absent in other kisses she had. It was the first time she was kissed by someone she truly cared for. It was strangely terrifying yet exhilarating.

Hermione was about to respond to his kiss when suddenly, it was all over. It ended as soon as it had started. Her eyes flew open, and an empty feeling sunk in her stomach. She took in Harry's horrified expression, and even in her dazed state she knew that something terrible was coming her way.

Harry stared at her in shock and horror, and he stepped back away from her. "I'm—I'm so sorry, Hermione. I really am, really. I—I didn't mean to, really. I'm so—so sorry," he stammered as his cheeks went a fiery shade of red.

Of course he was sorry. He did not mean to kiss her. She should have realized sooner that Harry was a normal boy whose hormones could take the better of him. He was sixteen, after all, and a sixteen-year-old boy wanted to kiss a girl at least every now and then. He was just carried away by the moment, and that was all there was to it.

"It's fine, really. Forget it," Hermione said flatly as she forced herself to look away from Harry. It took all her effort to control her voice from shaking. Suddenly, the sun's rays did not seem to generate enough heat at the moment. She shivered and pulled her robes closer to her.

"Hermione, I understand if you're mad at me. I shouldn't have done that. I'm so sorry," Harry said pleadingly. Hermione did not speak. Instead she continued staring stonily at the lake.

 "Hermione, look at me, please," he continued. Harry suddenly touched her on her shoulder, which caused her to violently shrug off his hand. The last thing she needed right now was Harry touching her. She did not need that, not if he did not feel toward her the way she felt toward him.

"Just—just don't touch me," she said a tad harshly. She caught a glimpse of the puzzled and hurt expression on his face, and she softened. It was not Harry's fault that she felt this way. He didn't even have any idea that she was feeling this way.

Hermione took a deep breath, and the next thing she knew, the words were rushing out her mouth. "Listen, I'm not mad. It's both our fault, and it happens. We just got carried away, is all. What's a kiss between friends, anyway? I mean, you're a boy, I'm a girl, and hormones happen, but that's just that!" she exclaimed. Her voice took on a shrill note that she could not quite suppress. Hermione knew that she was not far from crying, so she decided to get away fast.

"I got to go," she mumbled. She turned on her heels and was about to run as fast as she could back to the safety of her own bed when she heard Harry call out loud to her.

"Is that what you think? It's not just that, Hermione! It isn't just that!"

She froze in her tracks for a few moments. Then she turned around, and faced Harry again. He was looking at her intently.

"What do you mean?" she asked cautiously.

To her surprise, Harry again blushed furiously and looked at the ground. "I—I didn't mean to kiss you—I mean, I meant to, but I didn't mean to…oh what the hell!" He raised his head and looked into her eyes. "I mean, I shouldn't have kissed you."

Did Harry have to rub it in that he really did not want to kiss her? It was like rubbing salt to a wound. Hermione frowned, feeling very hurt. "I don't know what you're trying to say, Harry, but I really have to go," she said curtly.

"Wait! Hermione, wait! What I said didn't come out right. I'll give it another shot, please just wait and listen," he pleaded.

There was something in his voice that made her want to stay and listen to whatever he had to say. She stood rooted on her spot. "What?" she asked, her arms crossed. She would not let Harry know just how embarrassed and disappointed she was. He shouldn't know if she did not want to put a further strain on their friendship. The kiss was bad enough a strain.

"Hermione, I-I don't want to put you in any more danger than you already are in. It's not fair to you," he said in a low and intense voice.

"Wha-what did you say? What do you mean?" she asked in confusion. That was the last thing she expected him to say. For the life of her, at that very moment she could not place a connection between what Harry said and the kissing dilemma they were in.

He took a deep breath. "I said—I said that I don't want to put you in any more danger than you're already in," he said. "What I meant by that is—is—what I meant—bloody hell, don't you know what I mean?" he asked exasperatedly.

She had a very vague idea of what he meant, but it could not be. It could not possibly be. Hermione flat out refused to even dare think about it.

"I—I don't know what you mean," she said feebly instead.

He walked up to her until he was standing very close to her. He was so close that she felt his breath on her face.

"I can't believe I'll be saying what I'll say, but I just don't want you to go and think that what happened was just the influence of hormones. I just can't," he said. "I really meant to kiss you, Hermione. I've wanted to for a long time, but I shouldn't. And it's not because of hormones. It's because of what I feel, something that's…real and deep."

"Why shouldn't you kiss me, Harry?" she whispered. Her whole being was anticipating his answer. It all depended on what he was going to say.

"Because I know that Voldemort wouldn't hesitate to use as bait anyone I care for. If Voldemort found out that I—that I care for—for one of my best friends in more than a friendly way, he wouldn't hesitate to use that person to get to me," he said.

"You care for Ron in more than a friendly way?" she asked teasingly. She did not know how she managed to make a joke at this moment, but somehow, humor could make her cope with the heady rush of happiness that was flowing through her. It was the first time she felt completely happy. Harry cared about her. It was like being in one of her daydreams; only this time, it was for real.

Harry laughed. "I don't think Cho will like that. And I find my other best friend far, far more appealing to my taste," he said. He tenderly brushed a strand of hair off her forehead. However, a moment later, the intense look in Harry's face was quickly replaced by realization and embarrassment. Hermione looked in puzzlement and in panic as Harry stepped away from her.

"I just had to say that, Hermione. I understand if you don't feel the same. I understand if you don't want to be my friend anymore," he mumbled.

Hermione rolled her eyes. So that why he stepped back. Trust Harry to ruin the perfect romantic moment. She had been terribly afraid that he realized that he did not mean what he said.

"You didn't even hear out my side of the story, Harry Potter," she said with mock authority.  She walked up to him to close the distance between them.

She stood in tiptoes and whispered in his ear, "I feel the same way, Harry. I've felt for a long time already." Then, she rested her head on his shoulder. His hands wrapped around her waist, and they stood there for a few minutes in silence. Hermione took in every sensation and emotion of the moments that passed them by.

"You know we can't be together, Hermione, not when Voldemort is still around and out to kill," he said after a while.

She slightly pulled away so she could look up at him. "Is this about putting me in more danger than I'm already in?" she demanded.

"Er, yes, it is," he said.

"Look, Harry, you don't have to worry about putting me in danger. You know as well as I do that I myself would put myself in danger for you. Nobody has to do it for me. You can't stop me. Nobody can," she insisted.

"Well, now that you've mentioned it, yes, I know that," he said in a joking voice, but Hermione could still see the worry etched all over his face.

She took both of his hands in hers and said, "We don't know how long each of us will last, Harry. We can die anytime. We might not want to talk about it but we know it's true. Even Ron knows that, underneath all his jokes. That's why I hope we can make good use of the time we still have. I want to be happy. I want you to be happy. It might not last, but at least it will be good while it does," she said softly.

Harry stared at her for a long time, and she was nervous because he might still insist on his belief.

"I guess we can make it work then. We can make it worth our while. After all, you're one of my very best friends, and I don't think I want to make it work with anyone else," he said at last, much to her immense relief in particular and overwhelming happiness in general. He leaned in slowly, and their lips met once again.

In the dangerous time they were living in, Hermione had no illusions—she could die tomorrow for all she knew. But there was one thing she was sure of—at least she would die happy.

And oh, there was another thing she was sure of. She did not violate the Cardinal Rule of Friendship, after all.

The end

A/N: Oh my. I wrote a Harry/Hermione romance fic. O.O Hell just froze over. :lol: So there. H/Hr shippers, I hope you liked it. It is rather fluffy—it's because I dared myself to write a fluffy H/Hr fic. :D To my fellow R/Hr and/or H/G shippers, don't worry, I'm still your shipmate. :D