It's dawn, the illusions never fade
…:: Chapter 12::…
The tree branches rustled loudly in the wind, their hollow, dry shell-like surfaces rattling as they brushed upon each other. Hermione felt hollow, just as the raspy sound of the branches was. Her chin quivered and she thought she might cry again, but there was a realization dawning in her that empty tears would give no conciliation. Instead, she tried to think about what to do next. I hurt Neville's feelings, I bet, dragging him out there like that. What was I thinking? I'm a crazy idiot!
She turned around, her nostrils flaring angrily. She half-expected to see Ron or Neville standing there, but instead she saw that it was Harry. He didn't appear to be joking around. In fact, he looked dead-serious, and also apologetic.
" What are you doing here?" Hermione exclaimed angrily. " Shouldn't you be dancing with Cho?"
" I've been so wrong. I'm so sorry." He waded right into the water, up to his knees in the freezing lake. He looked at her, shivering cold, her skin bluish from the reflections the water cast upon her. His eyes were filled with tears and he wrapped his arms around her in a hug. She didn't know what was going on; she stared in a startled way at him from the corner of his eye as he held her close; and then she felt his body quiver. She thought he was laughing – is this a joke? Did Cho put him up to this?
Hermione was getting angry, when all of a sudden, she felt Harry's cheek against hers – it was wet with tears. " I'm such an idiot. Will you forgive me?" The whisper in her ears made everything inside of her die away, fall in a startled and faint heap inside her body. Only the feeling of grief and sorrow over the past few days washed over her, anew.
About a half hour earlier
The room froze in shock. Harry felt his heart thudding heavily against his ribcage and he took a step apart from Cho and towards the doorway, where Hermione had just disappeared. Hermione! All anger inside of him had faded away into concern. Over everything, he still felt for her, though it was an angry and misunderstood rebuttal of love, but at least he still held it inside of him. And, above all, she was his best friend since first year. Nothing could tear them apart, not even a pack of wolves. Though all of them had gone through various fights through the years, they had always made up. Right now, his first and only concern was to go outside and help her.
Cho could see the look on his face. She grabbed his sleeve. " Harry, leave her be. She'll just be mean to you again!"
Harry looked at Cho. Sometimes she seems to know nothing about me. " I can't just let her - - did you see what just happened? Can you imagine what she must be going through now?"
Neville looked at Harry questioningly. " Well, its not like you didn't hurt her anyway. You chose Cho over her way back, didn't you? At least she was nice enough to still want to go to the dance with me, since I was stuck without a date."
Just like the way I offered to take Cho. So Hermione didn't cheat with Neville in any way… but… I was so sure… but why? The only person that seemed to confirm it was Cho. Cho…Harry glanced at Cho in a questioning way.
" Neville, you liar." Cho said, suddenly. She let her chin quiver. " How can you say that? You and Hermione - - you've been seeing each other for so long behind Harry's back!" Her eyes were filling with tears on cue.
Neville's ears burned red. He shook his head and then said: " I wish I could have, but I know Hermione loves Harry. All she did all evening was look at him. Like I said, she felt bad that I didn't have a date, and since Harry decided to take up Cho, she was really nice and asked me to the dance." Neville glared at Harry. " The only thing that isn't clear to me is why you did what you did, Harry."
Harry was taken aback. Cho whispered into his ear: " Harry, let's go sit down. Don't believe his lies."
Maybe he's not the only one that lied, Cho.Harry felt foolish. Why didn't I even check anything? I just took everything Cho said at face value, as if for some reason she knew everything. But… but why would she do it? Who's telling the truth?
Neville put a hand on Harry's shoulder and looked him dead in the eye, all honesty: " Harry, I'm your friend. We've been friends for so long. Listen to me – why did you do it? Why did you hurt Hermione that way? She loves you."
Harry felt limp. " I … I didn't cheat on Hermione! I took Cho to the dance because she didn't have a date… and that was only because Cho told me you and Hermione were going out behind my back." Then, he realized who it was that looked guilty here, like a deer caught in the headlights of a car – first, Hermione had seen him and Cho going to the theater together. Then, they were caught kissing. And now, they ended up going to the dance together. I was so stupid… and what do I have against Hermione? I never even saw her with Neville, except for what Cho said.
Cho looked furious. " Harry, I can't believe this. Hermione is such a conniver! She must have brainwashed poor Neville." She was dragging Harry to their table.
Harry slapped her hand away. " Stop!"
Cho's eyes released the tears now. They ran down her face. " Why don't you believe me? What have I ever done to you? Look at what Hermione did to you – all she did was make misunderstandings, hurt your feelings!"
Harry shook his head. " Why should I believe you? Why should I believe you over my friends? I didn't really even know you other then from around school, and suddenly you're the authority?" His stomach was hurting. He felt ill and desperate to find out what was going on.
Cho's eyes snapped from Harry's face to Neville's, then she saw Ron approaching them and panicked. She began to blurt out: "I didn't even tell you another thing! She also cheated with Ron, too! On both you and Neville!"
Neville rolled his eyes.
Ron was already by Harry, saying: " Listen, Harry, I think its' time I told you everything, starting with what Hermione told me from her point of view, and what you told me from your point of view. Also, I think I should tell you what I pieced together… what Cho did to make you have these misunderstandings."
" WHAT I DID?" Cho shrieked. She jumped at Ron, screaming and crying. " How can you say these things? Harry? Harry, why aren't you saying anything? Your best friend is betraying you!"
Harry's face looked cold as stone.
Cho felt her insides drop. " This is insane! I didn't do anything! You have to believe me, Harry, you have to!" She banged her fists on his chest angrily, sobbing.
" Somebody, get Cho out of here for a second. I can't hear myself think." Harry whispered, his cheeks hot and angry. He turned to Ron. " Alright, I think it's time we talk for real…"
Ron's eyes softened. Harry was finally back, and Cho's claws were finally out of his back and back at her sides, where they belonged. They sat down at a table and Ron began, finally uninterrupted, finally to his aide. Ron didn't hold anything back – he admitted where Harry faulted and where Hermione made her errors. At the same time though, he made heavy emphasis to the parts where Cho was the leading hand in the events that were taking place.
When he was done, Harry jumped from his seat. The chair fell backwards with a clatter to the floor. He headed for the doorway.
" Harry?" Ron jumped up too.
" I'm going to find her. I can't believe this. I was so stupid!" Harry was jogging now across the room. He burst through the doorway, pushing the heavy doors open and then slamming them behind him. He ran down the dark hallway and to the Hogwarts doors. Just as he opened them, a hand slammed hard against them.
" No!" A voice hissed in his ear.
He turned and saw Cho's face, demonic in the moonlight. Her cheeks were stained with a thousand tears; her hair was a mess, her dress ruffled and messy on her body. Her dark eyes had no compassion, nothing but sheer and pure stubbornness. " I won't let you go to her!" She said, her voice shaking with tears.
" Leave me alone right now, Cho. I can't believe you." Harry said, his voice low. " If you had any sense, you would never speak to me again."
" Harry, listen to me."
He pushed her hand off the doorway and readied to open it.
" Fine, I'll tell you the truth." Cho whispered, frantically. " Ron lied - - I didn't want to just hurt Hermione. He told you that my reasons were to simply break you and Hermione up, that I just hated her and I wanted to make you both miserable. That's not true."
Harry looked away from her. " I don't believe you."
Cho's chin quivered. " Harry, this is the truth this time!"
He was opening the door, walking down the steps, leaving her and her entire wagon of lies, hate, and misconception. Cho shouted after him: " I did it because I love you! I did it because Hermione doesn't deserve you! You deserve a girl that's going to treat you like the perfect boy you are!"
Harry's ears turned hot. He turned back to Cho.
" You might not believe me, Harry, but you were the first boy I ever felt that way about. It … it feels even stronger then for Cedric, I think… it's burning inside me, Harry. And… you were my first kiss. I never kissed Cedric, well, on the cheek maybe, but… yours was the first real one." She was crying again.
Harry felt his stomach ache increase. " Cho, stop it." He whispered.
She was running after him, her hands had wrapped around him in an embrace. " I'm so sorry for what I did, I really am. Please, I'm not a bad person. I … I just didn't want Hermione to have you. I really think you deserve someone better… she doesn't even know how to kiss, I bet. I bet she doesn't know how anything but her books."
" Stop it!" Harry shouted.
" She'll never be good for you! I'll be good for you! I'm perfect for you, don't you get it?" Cho shouted after him.
He turned around and grabbed her, finally, and said, in her face, his voice hard: " I'll never, ever respect you again. I just hope you realize that you could have destroyed Hermione."
She pushed her face upwards to his, trying for a kiss, finally grabbing his collar and bringing her lips to his again. Then, she broke away and stepped backwards. " Harry…" She sobbed. " I really am not a bad person, please, believe me. If only you could understand what I was thinking…"
" No, Cho, I don't think you even knew what you were doing." Harry murmured. He looked at her in disgust. " You really need help." His voice wavered. Then, he turned and headed for the lake – he knew that's where Hermione would go. Deep inside, Harry knew Hermione, and he knew something else – he loved her after all, above everything, as it was written by fate. They were destined to be together, and nothing could tear them apart.
I'm so sorry, Hermione… I was such a fool… please forgive me…He whispered in his mind, staring at the moon in the sky for guidance. I hope it isn't too late. I really hope its not too late to get back to where we were before.
Hermione began to cry too. She hugged him and said: " Harry… Harry, Cho lied." She choked back a sob. " Neville… I, I didn't…"
" I know, I know…" He cried, running his hands through her hair, hugging her closer.
" I'm so sorry." She whispered into his ear.
" No, I'm the one that should be sorry." He pulled away and looked at her. His face was streaked with tears, just like hers. He laughed softly. " Look at you… me too, actually… we're a mess."
She laughed too and then brought him closer. " I just knew you'd come… I felt it inside… I just always knew…" Her voice trailed away. " But why?"
" I'll tell you later… but we have to get you inside before you get sick." Harry said, hurriedly, removing his tuxedo jacket and draping it around her shoulders. He shivered in the bitter winter wind in just a white shirt and slacks. He helped her up and then kissed her, slowly and passionately. The wind whipped around them, bringing Hermione's hair alive, tumbling in the wind and brushing against Harry's face, her eyelashes skimming his forehead as his kisses trailed along her jaw and then up to her lips again.
" I'm so sorry." He whispered, again. Then, the two figures made their way back to Hogwarts again, in a silent agreement that everything would be reconciled, it would all come back to normal again. It wasn't too late at all… it would be just the beginning of a love that would last to the end of their lives.
Author's Note: Okay, basically Harry took her after that to Madame Pomfrey's in the hospital wing since she got a pretty bad chill from being outside in that freezing water… oh, and there will be one more chapter, sort of an afterthought or epilogue.