Author's Note ~ Hello, lovelies! I'm late again, I know. I could blame Thanksgiving, but I think mostly it's that this chapter annoyed me so much that I couldn't get it finished. I have another story in the works, and my mind has been frustratingly stuck on that one, unfortunately. This one is going to have one more chapter to tie it up and then it will be done. The chapter may have 10,000 words, but I am NOT writing a ninth chapter for a story that I said would be wrapped up in no more than three, darn it! It's a matter of principle.
Anyway, kudos go out to my betas, B00kw0rm92 and Witherwings01, (especially Witherwings, who must have nearly fainted when he saw the sheer number of typos I sent him this time. Not to mention an entire section that he had to re-write, and then was kind enough not to send me a note saying, "Merciful Heavens, Leigh! What were you smoking?" because he totally should have.)
I still don't own Harry Potter, or any of the other characters...except maybe Matthew, but I really don't want to claim him.
"Harry? I think that we need to talk about...well, everything that's happened recently, and about our relationship. I'm a bit confused."
Harry and Hermione had agreed to a walk after breakfast, ostensibly to show Harry the sights that Hermione's muggle friend has shown her the day before, but in all honesty they both knew that they needed to get some things out in the open. Harry frowned, reflecting that he had never heard of anything good coming out of "talking about a relationship", and he was certain that nothing good could come out of Hermione being confused. That meant that he was going to have to explain himself, and he wasn't sure that he could. He didn't really understand anything that had happened in the last couple of days, other than the fact that he suddenly knew without a doubt that he needed to be with Hermione as much as he needed to breathe, and he had no idea how he hadn't known it all along. He decided to start with that.
"Hermione, I've been an idiot. I've..."
"HERMIONE!" someone called out from behind them, and before Harry even knew what he was doing he had pushed Hermoine roughly behind him and was reaching for his wand. Only her hand on his arm, and her cheerful response of "Matthew! I didn't expect to see you today!" kept him from hexing the stranger.
Well, he's a stranger to me, at least! Harry groused to himself.
Schooling his expression to one of cheerfulness rather than the one of supreme annoyance that was his inclination, Harry took in this Matthew person's too-neat appearance.
What kind of bloke dresses like that?
He wore a ridiculous combination of sky blue trousers turned up at the ankle, a striped polo shirt and shoes without socks; his slicked-back blond hair reminded him eerily of Malfoy. Couldn't this ponce see that they were busy? Couldn't he see that he was about to pour his heart out?
I wonder if the Statute of Secrecy extends to Australia? wondered Harry as his imagined simply vanishing the bothersome boy.
Hermione quickly introduced them, and Harry was slightly mollified that she referred to him as her "very best friend" and to Matthew as "the boy that I wrote you about, the one who offered to show me around yesterday". Take that, Matthew! He thought to himself snidely, subtly (or maybe not so subtly) leaning his body closer to Hermione as she spoke. And you will always just be the boy who offered to show her around, if I have anything to say about it.
They exchanged pleasantries, but Harry barely payed attention. He was too busy watching the way that Matthew stared at Hermione, and the cheerful way that Hermione spoke to him. Stop being so nice! He wanted to tell her, but he realized that doing so would be rather rude, and that Hermione was not likely to be pleased with him. She's nice to everybody, he reasoned. It's one of the things that I love about her. That didn't make this any easier, though. He was fighting the urge to hit the smiling boy in front of him, and Matthew hadn't even done anything to warrant it. Harry simply hated him, on sight, and without any provocation. Go away! He wanted to tell him. She isn't interested.
Or was she? Harry couldn't help but notice that Hermione wasn't trying to rush the conversation. Instead, she was chatting with Matthew quite animatedly about a museum that they had visited the day before, and Harry couldn't help but notice that Matthew's eyes weren't glazing over like his and Ron's sometimes did when Hermione went on about history or art whatever else she was fascinated with at the time. He was listening to her, and asking questions, and Harry could see quite plainly that Hermione was in her element. Why didn't I listen to her more often? Harry chastised himself. He would admit that Hermione was often trying to say something useful, and at least a little interesting, but he had many times brushed her off to talk with Ron about quidditch or to play exploding snap, or any number of other things. Why did I always seek Ron's approval over hers? It wouldn't have hurt me to pay attention to her more often. She was almost always trying to tell me about something that would have helped me in the long run.
He thought about all of the quidditch games and practices that she had attended for them, and felt even more guilty. He was realizing, more and more lately, that Hermione had always put more into their friendship than either of her best friends had, and that bothered him more than he could even express. He wanted to go back in time and smack his younger self over the head. What had he been thinking for all those years? Yes, Ron was a lot of fun, and he was the first real friend that Harry had ever made in his life, but Hermione gave so much (and gave up so much, He reminded himself) and got so little in return. He promised himself that he would spend the rest of his life making it up to her.
"What do you think, Harry?" Hermione asked, and Harry realized with a start that she was assuming that he had been following the conversation. Brilliant. There's a good start. I've just vowed to start listening more to Hermione, and I begin it all by letting her know that I wasn't listening.
"I'm sorry. What were you saying?" He stammered. "I was thinking about how I had never been to a museum like the one you were talking about, and I got a bit distracted."
"Well, I was just telling Matthew that you and I had a lot to catch up on, and that perhaps we could all get together later for dinner? He wanted to tell me more about the area, but I said that you had just gotten in."
"Oh! That's...that's fine. Dinner is fine. We'll see you later!" and with that he took Hermione's hand and proceeded to pull her away, leaving her to hastily call back a time and a place to meet, neither of which Harry payed any attention to whatsoever. He was hoping that Hermione would forget about it anyway (as if that were likely), and he was so relieved to be alone again with her that it took him a few minutes to notice that she had grown suspiciously quiet.
"Is everything okay? I know that you wanted to talk, and I just figured..."
"Harry, that was rude! Matthew has been nothing but nice to me since I arrived, and you just blew him off as if he were nothing. I like him! He's very nice, and if you are just going to show up here and act that way then..."
"No, Hermione! I'm not, and I'm sorry. I'll apologize to him later, I promise. I just really, really wanted to talk to you, and...I don't know. I shouldn't have treated him that way." Harry hung is head, wondering if he would ever stop messing things up with Hermione. She deserved better than him, that was certain.
Suddenly he felt her hand in his, and he looked up to see her smiling at him. "It's all right, Harry. You've been through a lot lately, and I suppose I can forgive you for acting a bit irrationally. Just promise me that you'll behave when we meet later, all right? I don't want him to think that I'm not grateful for all of his help."
I just bet he wants you to be grateful, Harry thought, but he readily agreed to play nice at dinner. He couldn't afford for her to think that he was taking her for granted again, and not respecting her opinions. If she liked this Matthew person, then he'd just have to like him too. Or at least act like it.
They walked along in silence for a while, until they found a bench under a red cedar tree that was a little bit off the main path. They were silent for a while, both of them lost in their own thoughts, until Harry sighed and tried to remember what he had been about to say earlier, before they were interrupted.
"Hermione, I know that I've been an idiot. I've been so confused about what I wanted, and I've been kind of allowing everyone around me to make my decisions. I think...I think I've had feelings for you for a long time, I just didn't know what they were." He paused, trying to gather his thoughts. "I figured that you and Ron would end up together, and I couldn't let myself think of you that way if you were going to be with him. I knew that I needed you, but...Hermione, I haven't had a lot of time to figure any of this out. I just know how I feel, and that you're the most important person in the world to me. I know that I need you, and everything else will just sort itself out."
"But what if you're still confused, Harry?" Hermione asked, and the anguish in her eyes cut Harry to the core. "What if you change your mind, and decide that you need the Weasleys more than you thought? What if I'm too boring, or you see all the beautiful girls that are going to continue to throw themselves at you because you are a hero, or you realize that you never really had a childhood and decide to go play quidditch forever?" Her voice was shaking, and Harry got the impression that she had been thinking about all of this since she read his letter last night. "When I broke up with Ron I was sad and a bit angry with the way that he reacted, but I knew that I would be okay. I'd get over it, and we'd forgive each other, and life would go on. But Harry...you are the one person who could completely destroy me. I know how damaged you are by the war, and how much of your life was taken from you. If I let myself love you the way that I want to love you, and you can't handle it, or you decide that, in the end, you need more than me...I don't know what I would do, Harry. I don't think I could bounce back from that."
"But that's just it, Hermione!" Harry practically shouted, he was so determined that she would understand him. "I may be confused about a lot of things, but I'm not confused about you. You're the one constant that I've had since I was eleven years old, and now that I know how I feel it's like I've always felt this way. I have lost almost everyone on my life that I have ever loved, and I can't afford to lose anyone else." He took her hand is his, and reached with his other hand to turn her face to look at him so that she could see the truth of his words. "Hermione, I need you, and if you'll have me I will never, ever leave you. I don't even care what else we do. I'll follow you to the ends of the earth if that's what you want. Just give me a chance."
Harry watched the emotions play across her face. He could tell that she wanted to trust him, and he was elated to see that she felt just as strongly for him as he did for her. But there was still something there, something warring with her emotions, and he could tell that he still had not completely convinced her.
"I'll give you a chance, Harry. But you have to understand. I've spent a lot of years being second best." Harry tried to protest this, but she just shook her head and talked over him. "No, listen to me! I've always known that you cared about me, and that you would defend me against anything...unless that "anything" was Ron. He was always your best friend, and you were mine; that's just the way it's been since the beginning. It's difficult for me to comprehend you choosing me now, honestly. I can't promise you that Ron will forgive us for this, you know. He's going to feel angry and left out, and then there's the problem of you breaking his sister's heart. What if you don't get his friendship back? Will you resent me for it eventually? Can you honestly tell me that you will be all right if you lose the Weasleys?"
Harry sighed, running his hand through his hair and trying to think of what he could possibly say to convince her that he had counted the cost already. "Hermione, I promise you that I've thought about all of this. I knew when I walked out of that house that I might be seeing it for the last time, and even though I hope that I'm wrong...if I'm not, it will be okay. They are wonderful people, don't get me wrong, and I don't want to lose Ron, but I can live without them if I have to. I've had to live without them before, remember? But I've never had to live without you until you came here to restore your parent's memories, and I was just...lost. You're a part of me, Hermione, in a way that none of them could ever be. Please believe me."
Hermione squeezed his hand, and Harry noticed that she was staring at their joined hands now, instead of looking at him. He wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad one, but when she did look back up at him he noticed that there was a bit more light in her eyes than had been there before.
"All right, Harry. I do believe you, but I'm going to have to take things slowly. This is a lot to process, you know? I do love you, though." Harry thought that his heart might just burst out of his chest hearing her say that, and she smiled at him when she saw the delirious happiness on his face. "I don't think I can live without you either, and that's why this is so hard. I've been following along after you for so long that I don't know where to go without you. Just promise me that you won't break my heart."
Harry stood up, pulling her to her feet and kissing her lightly on the lips. She smiled, and rested her head against his shoulder, feeling as if everything that they had been through all those years might finally be turning around. "I promise you, Hermione, that I will do everything in my power to be the man that you deserve, and I won't break your heart, because I think mine would break along with it. I think, as long as the two of us are together, we can get through anything."
They held each other for another long moment, and then Harry pulled away and took her hand once again. "Come on. We've got a long time until we have to meet your friend for dinner, and I think it's high time that you introduced me formally to your parents." At Hermione's immediate protest, Harry simply shook his head and kept talking. "Come on, Hermione. Let me at least try to talk to them. It can't make things any worse, can it?" Hermione looked at him as if to say, Of COURSE it could get worse, but Harry just smirked at her. "Okay, I suppose it could make it worse, but we've got to talk to them sometime, don't we? And besides," he pulled her closer and put his arm around her shoulder as they walked, "I happen to think that today is my lucky day. And even if it's not, we'll still have each other, right? I happen to believe that everything is going to be just fine."