Shortly after Harry's flight from Snape's dungeon, Hermione catches up to him in the corridor.
What He'll Sorely Miss?
Harry Potter hurried through the halls of Hogwarts, not quite running, but certainly walking faster than usual. He didn't have aparticular destination in mind. All he knew was that he needed to put as much distance as possible between himself and that git Snape's dungeon, the site of his humiliation.
He still couldn't believe what he'd just blurted out. After experiencing nearly four years of the unique torture that was Potions with Severus Snape, he thought he'd gotten better at controlling his emotions and refusing to let the greasy-haired snake provoke him. When Snape insulted Hermione, however, Harry simply lost it. And that's when it all went wrong.
Hermione had been on Harry's mind almost constantly in the nine days that had passed since the Second Task. It was more than a bit disconcerting. She'd always meant a lot to him, and had occupied his thoughts with increasingly regularity since the Yule Ball, but never had she monopolized his focus to the extent that she had over the last nine days. Something about seeing her at the bottom of that lake, unconscious, helpless, had awoken something inside of him. And now, he couldn't get her out of his head.
It hadn't taken Harry long after the task to decide that the judges had made a mistake when they chose Ron as his hostage. He loved Ron like a brother, and missed his friendship dearly during their rift earlier in the year. But seeing Hermione at the bottom of the lake forced him to evaluate exactly what she meant to him, and imagine what his life would be like without her support, her guidance and her friendship. Any time he tried to picture it, he shrank away from the thought almost immediately. The mere thought of living his life without Hermione Granger by his side was too much for Harry to bear.
It took him longer to figure out what that truly meant, but he got there eventually.
Thanks to the Yule Ball and those periwinkle-blue dress robes, he'd already accepted the fact that he no longer thought of her as asister. After seeing a different side of his friend at the Yule Ball, he now considered her every bit as pretty as Cho, the girl he'd fancied for quite some time. But his feelings for Hermione were just so much...more than what he'd felt for Cho. He had become physically attracted to Hermione, yes, but that was just a part of what he felt for her. She was, without adoubt, the most important person in his life. And over the previous nine days, he'd come to accept that he wanted his best friend to become...more than his best friend.
He had been petrified at the thought of telling her about how his feelings had changed. Petrified that she didn't feel the same way, that it would ruin everything between them. Plus, he still wasn't sure just how close she was to Viktor Krum. He may have believed that there was no way Krum would truly miss Hermione more than he would, but if she'd been chosen as Krum's hostage, maybe there was more to that relationship than he knew? He didn't want to risk it all with Hermione, only to find out that she was already involved with Krum.
Now, the decision of whether or not he should tell her how he felt had been taken out of his hands. He'd been so angry with that git Snape for insulting his Hermione that he blurted out his feelings in front of every Gryffindor and Slytherin in their year, Hermione included. Now, she knew. The next time she saw him, she'd smile at him sympathetically and explain that she considered him a friend, and nothing more. He could practically hear her voice now, calling out to him so she could get the rejection over with.
“Harry! Harry, wait!”
Harry stilled at the familiar voice, wondering if his uneasy mind were playing tricks on him. He turned around and saw that Hermione really had followed him out of the Potions dungeon. She was hurrying towards him, moving as fast as she could while lugging around all of her school supplies.
Harry felt a tightness in his chest as he watched Hermione approach him. He knew that, after the conclusions he'd reached in recent days, the conversation he was about to have could very well go down as one of the worst moments of his life. Still, he would do his best to take Hermione's rejection in stride, so he could at least keep her in his life as his best friend.
“Hey, Hermione. Why'd you follow me?” he asked, doing his best to sound nonchalant. He met her eyes briefly, but quickly looked down at his shoes, afraid of the pity he'd see in her eyes.
But if Harry had managed to maintain eye contact, he would have seen determination, not pity, in Hermione's eyes.
“We can talk about that in a moment, Harry. But first, why don't we find a more private place, where we don't have to worry about being overheard or interrupted? The middle of the corridor isn't exactly a great place for a legitimate and important conversation, even if almost everyone else is in class at the moment.”
“I guess you're right,” Harry agreed. “Wanna look for an abandoned classroom? I'm sure there's one around here somewhere.”
Hermione nodded in agreement, and the two friends began walking side-by-side down the corridor. Neither of them spoke a word, as they each were engrossed in thought, contemplating the conversation they were about to have. For Harry, the walk went by entirely too quickly. Part of him thought he wouldn't mind if the walk stretched on indefinitely, if it would prevent the rejection he was anticipating.
Of course, he had no way of knowing that Hermione felt just the opposite. In her opinion, the walk was taking far too long. She couldn't wait to set Harry straight, and assure him that he still was, and would always be, an extremely important part of her life.
Maybe the most important part.
“This one should work,” Hermione said as they finally came across an empty classroom. When Harry signalled his agreement with another nod, she opened the door and stepped inside, holding the door open so Harry could follow her lead.
Harry stepped into the room reluctantly. While Hermione set her various school supplies down on the nearest table, Harry stared at his shoes and tried to figure out what he was going to say. Would he try and pretend that Snape didn't know what he was talking about, and insist that he still wanted to be her best friend, nothing more and nothing less? Or would he confess that Snape and Rita Skeeter had the right of it, that he had fallen for her, and beg her not to let his...feelings...come between their friendship?
Before Harry even had a chance to decide on his course of action, much less utter a word, Hermione took the choice out of his hands.
“Yes, Harry, Viktor did ask me to visit him in Bulgaria this summer. But I declined. He's a friend, and nothing more.”
Harry blinked, surprised. That had not been what he'd been expecting her to want to discuss. He was greatly relieved, of course. While he had been convinced there was no way Hermione meant as much to Krum as she did to he himself, he'd been second guessing the exact nature of that relationship over the past few days. It was certainly reassuring to hear her say that she and Krum were just friends, but...
“Err...is that what you wanted to talk about, then?” Harry asked in confusion.
“Well, I just thought that you'd like to know the truth. Viktor's nice, and I truly do consider him a friend by this point. But he's nowhere near as important to me as you are, Harry. I'm here for you whenever you need me, Harry. I'll always be here for you.”
Harry wasn't sure quite what to say in response. The determined look in her eyes and the sincerity in her voice as she spoke made him distinctly uncomfortable, considering his recent revelations regarding exactly how he felt towards her. He settled for a quick grin, and hoped that Hermione would not notice the slight reddening of his cheeks.
He should have known that Hermione Granger was far too observant not to pick up on his nervous reaction.
“Isn't that why you reacted so strongly to Professor Snape's taunts? Because you were worried that I'd start spending most of my time with Viktor, and not be there for you as much?” Hermione slowly asked, not sure what to make of Harry's strange reaction. He seemed almost...embarrassed. But why? She didn't see any reason for him to feel embarrassed about not wanting such a strong friendship to be diminished.
“Well...no, not really,” Harry answered honestly. “I mean, I had been wondering about your relationship with Krum, what with you being his hostage and all, and I'm glad you told me. But that's...not why I got so upset,” he finished with a blush.
Hermione stared at Harry, surprised that her assumption had evidently been incorrect. But someone as inquisitive as Hermione was not going to dwell on her mistake. She had a problem to solve, after all.
“So why did you get so angry, then? I mean, I know it always upsets you when Professor Snape insults you or your friends, but honestly, he's said worse things about me before. There has to be more to it than Professor Snape simply reciting an article that insulted your friend. So, if you weren't on edge because you thought I might start spending more time with Viktor than with you, why did you confront Professor Snape like that?”
If Hermione was surprised at the way this conversation had gone so far, Harry was every bit as surprised. Hermione was more than just book smarts; she also knew him better than anyone else. All along, he'd been afraid that she'd be able to see right through him, see that his feelings had changed. After his verbal confrontation with Snape, he'd considered it a foregone conclusion that Hermione knew exactly how he felt, and he had been trying to figure out whether he'd admit the truth or attempt to deny his feelings. It never even entered his mind that Hermione might draw the wrong conclusion. Maybe he'd be able to escape this without damaging their friendship after all.
“It's nothing, Hermione, really. I've just been a bit stressed this year, with the tournament, and the problems with Ron and everything, and I guess it all just kind of caught up to me today. I'm sorry; I know I shouldn't have reacted like that, and I only made things worse with Snape and the Slytherins. And now you're surely in trouble with Snape too, because you were worried about me and left in the middle of class. I'm sorry, Hermione. I'll try not to let the greasy git get to me like that again, I promise.”
Harry inwardly sighed in relief, very pleased with himself and his little fib. Thank Merlin that Hermione had gotten it wrong for once! Now she wouldn't think he was some sort of pathetic loser with an embarrassing, unrequited crush. She wouldn't start acting any differently towards him, or even possibly stop spending time with him. Things would remain exactly the same, and he would not lose the most important person in his life. Not only that, but he'd also established an excuse for his recent odd behaviour, which he knew Hermione had been worried about. It really couldn't have worked out any...
“You're lying, Harry.”
Hermione's simple, blunt statement stopped Harry cold. How could she tell? He thought he'd been rather convincing. Still, she'd already been wrong once today. Maybe he could convince her she was mistaken once again.
“Wha-what makes you say that, Hermione? I'm telling you the truth. You know how stressful the first two tasks of the tournament have been. Heck, they've stressed you out. And you know how important Ron's friendship is to me. Ron was my first friend my own age, and he's still my best mate. It was awful when he refused to believe that I didn't put my name in the Goblet of Fire. Everything I said was true.”
“Oh, I know all of that, Harry. I know the tournament has been rough, and I know that you were miserable when Ron was off being astubborn git. But none of that explains your reaction to Professor Snape today. You've never let him get to you like that before. Plus, your strongest reactions have always been when he insults your father, and he didn't mention him once today. If all of that weren't enough, you're a terrible liar, Harry. If I'm even halfway paying attention, it is painfully obvious when you're lying. So, what is it, Harry? What's really been bothering you, and why did you really cut Professor Snape off?”
Great. Just great. Her inexplicable failure to spot his feelings for her aside, she really did know him far too well for his own good. Now, there seemed to be no way out of this situation. He had no chance of talking his way out of this one, now that his confidence in his ability to tell aconvincing lie was thoroughly shot. And, with everyone else still in class, he had little hope in being able to change the subject.
Harry decided that he only had one last option left, other than admitting the truth and altering their friendship forever.
“Look, Hermione, you're right, there is more to it. There is something that's been bothering me lately, which you already knew, obviously, because you've tried to ask me about it before. And it's also why Snape got to me so badly today. But I'd really rather not talk about it. It's...personal.”
Harry's blush returned in full force, and his fleeting eye contact vanished as he ducked his head down and stared at the floor.
Hermione could see how uncomfortable Harry was, but there was simply no way she was going to let the matter drop. Not now, not when she had him alone. Not when her instincts were telling her it was vitally important to help Harry through this.
“Harry, please? I can see how much this is bothering you. You haven't been yourself lately, and it seems to only be getting worse. You need to talk about this, whatever it is, with someone. Let me help you, Harry. Please. You can trust me,” Hermione beseeched, desperate to help the boy she adored.
Harry's heart felt as if it were about to explode, so fast was it beating. He had refused to meet Hermione's steady gaze when she first began her plea, so she had reached out and gently cupped his chin, forcing him to look into her eyes as she compelled him to open up to her. Looking into her warm brown eyes had unnerved him. Never before had he seen them from so close a distance, and in doing so, he decided that they really were quite pretty. More than anything, though, they made him nervous. In those eyes, he saw all of her compassion, all of her loyalty, all of her courage. The thought of doing or saying anything that could jeopardize her friendship terrified him.
Maybe sharing that little piece of information with her would get her to drop it.
“I'm scared, Hermione,” he said, his voice barely above awhisper.
“Scared? Why in the name of Merlin would you be scared? You've confronted the most evil wizard of our lifetime, in one form or another. You killed a basilisk. You came face-to-face with both the man who you thought betrayed your parents, and the rat who actually did. You stole the egg from the Horntail. You went into the lake to save Ron—and the rest of us, while you were at it. After all that, how can talking to me scare you?”
Harry let out a deep sigh as Hermione finished her speech, deceptively quiet considering all of the emotion contained within. It would appear there was no avoiding it, then.
“I'm scared because you mean so much to me. Your friendship is so important to me. I don't want to ruin it.”
Hermione stood stock still for several long moments, her mouth agape. She didn't think she'd ever been so surprised in her life, not even when she learned that she was a witch. Though she'd never even dreamed of that possibility before it had happened, it just seemed to...fit. But this? Never in a million years would she have expected Harry to say what he had just said. Furthermore, she could tell that Harry was deadly serious. It was there, in the slight hitch in his voice, in the tense look on his face, in the slump of his shoulders.
“How can you even say that, Harry? Nothing you could say would ruin our friendship, ruin what we have between us. Nothing. I meant what I said, Harry: I'll always be here for you. You are one of the most important parts of my life, and nothing will change that. So please, Harry. Talk to me. Let me help you, just like I always have, just like I always will. Please.”
“Are you sure about that, Hermione? Are you sure you'll always be there for me, be there to help me, be my friend, no matter what? People change, you know. Feelings...feelings change,” Harry finished, quietly.
“Oh. I think I understand what you mean, Harry,” Hermione whispered.
Harry grimaced as Hermione closed her eyes and sucked in a breath. He turned his head away from his friend, unwilling to look at her as everything they had fell apart. Here it comes, he thought resignedly.
“This is about Fleur, isn't it?”
Harry's head whipped around, shocked, to look at Hermione. “Fleur? W-what are you talking about, Hermione? What's Fleur got to do with this?”
“Well, maybe it's not Fleur, Harry. I know it's either her or Cho, though. You've fancied Cho for months, and after you saved her sister at the Second Task, I think it's fair to say that you have as good a chance with Fleur as any boy at Hogwarts,” Hermione explained. She then looked squarely at Harry and flashed him a smile that looked to him to be slightly forced, and continued speaking before Harry could chime in.
“You don't need to be so embarrassed about discussing this with me, Harry, even if I am agirl. I'm a girl, yes, but I'm your friend first and foremost, and Icertainly don't think any less of you because of this. I don't know what you were so worried about, Harry. This won't affect our friendship in the slightest, as long as you still make time for me and Ron. It's perfectly natural, you know.”
Harry squinted at Hermione, not following her thought process in the least. It also did not escape him that, try as she might to talk normally, she did not sound anything like the brilliant, confident Hermione he knew and lov--liked.
“What do you mean, Hermione? What's natural?” he questioned.
“That you've developed...feelings...for a girl,” Hermione stammered, blushing. “You're a 14-year old boy, after all. Cho is with Cedric, of course, but Fleur is available. I think you might have achance with her, honestly. I think you should go for it, Harry. Maybe you could ask her to meet up with you in Hogsmeade tomorrow, after we have our little chat with Sirius, of course.”
Finally, Harry understood. It amazed him that, as brilliant as she was, Hermione could not see what was right in front of her. Maybe she doesn't see it because she doesn't want to see it, he thought gloomily.
“You think I want to be with Fleur,” Harry stated simply.
“Well, of course,” Hermione replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Mere minutes ago, Harry would have gladly allowed Hermione to keep her mistaken belief, so he could keep the truth to himself. But now, he found himself compelled to forge ahead. Something in her behaviour bothered him, and he felt an overwhelming urge to suss it out. Plus, he was too interested in figuring out what led his friend, normally so intuitive, to her entirely incorrect conclusion.
“Even though Skeeter's article, the one that Snape read, the one that got to me so much, was about you? If it were a crush on Fleur that was getting to me, what would that have to do with that article?”
“I suppose you're the only one that can answer that question, Harry, but I'm assuming it was because you were afraid Fleur would read the article too, and would think that you really were involved with me. You worried that the article would hurt your chances with Fleur, and that put you in a bad mood. Then, Snape insulting me just set you off.”
“I guess that would be possible,” Harry conceded. “But it still wouldn't explain why I blushed and ran out of the room when Snape made his little remark about Krum maybe not being the only one that fancied you. I think you're overlooking the most obvious explanation.”
“And what would that be?” Hermione asked, cocking an eyebrow at Harry.
“That Skeeter and Snape were right. That it's not Cho or Fleur that I like, but you,” Harry finished quietly.
Hermione's cheeks felt as if they were on fire, thanks to Harry casually hinting at her greatest desire. If only, she thought to herself.
“Th—that's not funny, Harry. I know you don't mean that, so don't joke about things like that,” she said sternly.
“What makes you so sure, Hermione? It is the most obvious explanation, after all. Or do you just not want me to fancy you?” Harry challenged, almost offended that she'd so quickly brush off that possibility.
“Don't try and turn this back around on me, Harry Potter,” Hermione chided. “Of course I heard what Snape said, and I saw your face turn red before you ran out of the room. But there's obviously no way you fancy me, so there's clearly some other explanation, even if you stubbornly refuse to admit to it,” she spit out.
“There's obviously no way I fancy you? Why do you say that?”
“Come on, Harry!” Hermione nearly shouted. “The very idea is utterly ridiculous! You're Harry Potter! The Boy-Who-Lived! A Triwizard Champion! You could have your pick of any unattached witch here at Hogwarts, and I'm sure plenty of the Beauxbatons girls would jump at the chance to date you as well. Why would you want to be with Hermione Granger, the buck-toothed, bushy-haired bookworm? Of course you ran out of the room when Snape suggested it! You were probably mortified that other people might actually believe it!”
Her voice was fierce and angry, but those brown eyes of hers gave Hermione away. More specifically, the tears threatening to burst out told Harry all he needed to know. At last, he understood why Hermione had not seriously considered the possibility that he had become attracted to her. She doubted herself.
Harry wasn't going to allow it.
“You want the truth, Hermione?” Harry asked, gripping her shoulders as he looked into her eyes intently. She nodded, blinking back her tears, so he continued. “The truth is, you're right. If what I felt for Cho is what it means to fancy someone, I don't fancy you.”
Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but Harry kept going before she could do so...and before he lost his sudden nerve.
“I fancied Cho because Ithought she was pretty. But recently, I've realised that I really don't know anything about her, aside from that she's good at Quidditch. That's all she is to me: a pretty girl who likes Quidditch. But you, Hermione? I know you. I know how loyal you are. I know that you're smart, brave and compassionate. I'm so lucky to have you in my life,” Harry said sincerely.
Hermione smiled in spite of herself. It was wonderful to hear Harry say such nice things about her, and she could tell that he meant every word. Still, it didn't change the fact that he could never fancy her.
“That's sweet, Harry. Thank you,” she said, smiling as she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Still, it doesn't change the fact that you don't find me the least bit attractive, which brings us back to the fact that you could never fancy me. So stop trying to change the subject.”
“I don't find you the least bit physically attractive?” Harry repeated aloud, ignoring the last bit where she told him to stop trying to change the subject. After all, this was the subject, even if she refused to consider it as such.
A simple nod was all the response he got from Hermione, so Harry continued on.
“Before, that was probably true. I never thought you were ugly, but I didn't consider you a girl, really. I mean, I knew you were agirl, of course, but I always thought of you as just...Hermione, one of my two best friends. I had as much...interest...in you as I did in Ron.”
Hermione's face soured in distaste at his comparing her to Ron in that way, so Harry hurried to clarify.
“I didn't mean it to come out like that. I look at Ron as kind of like my brother, so with you, it was like you were my sister. Or what I always imagined having asister would be like, anyway. But that all changed at the Yule Ball,” he said in a rush.
“The Yule Ball? What do you mean?”
“It was...Merlin, Hermione, Inever knew you could look like that! I didn't even recognize you at first, you know. When I realised that the beautiful girl in the blue dress robes with Viktor Krum was actually my so-called “sister”, it was like something went off inside my head. Before that night, I'd never noticed how pretty you were. Since then, you've been on my mind almost constantly. I can't believe I never noticed it before, but you are really, really pretty, Hermione. Just as pretty as Cho.”
It was now Hermione's turn to deal with a rapidly beating heart. She could feel the joy and elation that begged to be let out after Harry's declaration, but the cautious, self-confident part of her refused to believe what her romantic, optimistic side was telling her. Not yet, at least.
“You really think I'm pretty?” she asked hesitantly. When he nodded, she voiced the second half of her thought. “You said you don't fancy me, though.”
Harry braced himself, knowing it was time. Here goes nothing, he thought to himself.
“That's right: I don't fancy you. “Fancy” doesn't cover what I feel for you. You're just so much...more. I fancied Cho earlier, but since the Yule Ball, I've realised how stupid it was. I don't know Cho; how could I want to be with her? As for Fleur? She's beautiful, of course, and she has to be a pretty special witch to have been chosen as a Triwizard Champion—a true Triwizard Champion, even. But I can't imagine being able to talk with her, laugh with her, relax with her, like I do with you.”
“J-just what are you saying, Harry?” Hermione mumbled, wide-eyed and trembling.
“What I'm saying, Hermione, is that you are the most important person in my life. They got it wrong when they picked Ron to be my hostage, because you're what I'd sorely miss. I've been through life without Ron this year. It was miserable, but I know that I could survive it. But you? I couldn't live without you in my life, Hermione. It was hard last year, when I was being a git about the broomstick. It would be impossible now.
“When I first began to realise that, after the Second Task, it scared me. It scared me that I could care this much about someone. And, even after I realised how I felt about you, I was too afraid to tell you. What if you didn't feel the same way? I didn't want to risk what we already had, so I decided not to tell you. But, knowing me like you do, you could see that something was eating at me. Unfortunately, after my little outburst, so can every Gryffindor and Slytherin in our year, not to mention Snape,” he said ruefully.
Harry saw the light in Hermione's eyes; he could tell that he had broken through her self-doubt. All that was left was to put it all on the table—and let her decide where they went from there.
“Snape was right, though. I know for a fact that you don't need some love potion to get a boy to fall for you. You managed it all on your own.”
Hermione finally lost her battle with her tears, and they began streaming down her cheeks. Harry, who had next to no experience dealing with a crying girl, was thrown off by the sight. Still, he would do his best to finish what he had to say.
“I don't know how you feel about me, Hermione, and I don't know if this is going to change everything between us, but the truth is...I like you. A lot. Maybe it's even love; I don't know, I never got to see real love growing up. I really hope this doesn't ruin things between us, but you wanted to know what was bothering me, and at first I didn't want to tell you the truth, but I didn't like hearing you put yourself down, so I just...”
“Shut up, Harry,” Hermione interrupted softly, placing a finger on Harry's lips to stop his rambling. Immediately, Harry went silent, and he stood completely still as he waited to see how Hermione would react now that she finally knew the truth.
His question was answered when Hermione removed her finger from his lips and leaned forward, her lips meeting his. Being the first kiss for both Harry and Hermione, it was awkward at first, with noses bumping together and lips moving tentatively, hesitantly.
As far as they were concerned, it was brilliant.
Just as she was the one who initiated the kiss, it was Hermione who broke it. She took a step back and looked into Harry's eyes, her entire face lighting up in abeaming smile as she allowed herself to soak in what had just happened. She was crying again, but Harry now realised that these were tears of joy.
“So...you feel the same way, then? You want to be with me?” Harry asked, grinning himself. Her happiness was rather infectious, he decided. At that moment, he made a silent vow to himself to do whatever he had to do to make Hermione smile like that as often as possible.
“Oh, Harry. As if you even had to ask.”
This time, it was Harry who took the initiative. He wrapped his arms around Hermione, pulled her body snug against his own, and lowered his head to kiss his girlfriend—/Hermione was his girlfriend!--/for the second time.
This kiss had none of the tentativeness or hesitance of their first. This kiss spoke of everything they felt for one another. It was, in a word, perfect.
Hermione took Harry by surprise when she ran her tongue across his lips, requesting entry into his mouth. As he recovered from his shock enough to part his lips and give her what she wanted, he realised that, as well as he knew her, he still had a lot to learn about Hermione Granger.
Hopefully, he'd have a lifetime to get to know her.
A/N: I'm not really happy with the way this chapter turned out. Maybe because I'm not as comfortable writing dialogue as I am with narrative? It also felt too...sappy, perhaps? In any case, I'd like to hear what everyone else thought of it.