The Three Broomsticks was packed. Hands in her coat pockets, she scanned the busy place. Hermione had never seen the place so crowded before. The place was filled with lively chatter and laughter; clearly, the young witches and wizards were enjoying themselves.
Hugging herself to ward off the chills that were threatened to run up and down her spine, Hermione thought. 'My last Hogsmeade Weekend.'
Shifting from one foot to the other, she silently recalled the important event that happened the day before. She still couldn't believe that she, along with Harry, Ron and their other friends, had gone through their final examinations for their last year at Hogwarts.
Hermione straightened as she saw Madam Rosemerta clear one of the tables. As soon as she was done, it was immediately occupied by another group of students. After taking their orders, she hurried off to the counter.
Hermione shook her head as the middle-aged woman wiped her perspiration; she must be having a hard time.
As an end of the year grant, the Headmaster allowed the 7th year students to visit Hogsmeade every day for the next three weeks until The Commencement Feast, which was to be held the night before their graduation.
After a whole day of shopping and seeing sights, most of the students decided to stop by the Three Broomsticks instead of returning right away to the castle. Their time to return at school was not until seven-thirty and it was only ten minutes after six. It seemed that all the seventh years decided to enjoy their remaining student days in the cozy place.
She shivered at the thought.
She would be graduating in three weeks and the only thing on her mind right now was how to tell Harry and Ron her plans after Hogwarts. It was not an easy decision, but she figured the Wizarding World wouldn't miss her all that much.
At such a young age of 17, she had become a graduate student; a feat rarely accomplished by anyone. Sure, she hadn't finished a course in some university, but it was all right. She wasn't born for universities, after all. She was meant for this world.
But she had been having second thoughts. It wasn't because of what she believed. Contrary to what she thought, she had always felt being a witch was her destiny. However, rational thinking made her consider that she may be wrong. And the only way she can find out what's right was to gamble everything she had just to see what fate really had in store for her.
Where she would go---she had no idea. All she had now was the thought that she couldn't live the rest of her life thinking what would have happened had she gone the other way instead of taking the path everyone expected her to take.
But for now, she had to figure out how to tell Harry and Ron.
This thought suddenly led her to search the crowd again for her two best friends. 'Where are they?' She asked herself. With Harry's unruly mop of raven hair and Ron's fiery tress, they weren't hard to see.
She turned around and heaved a sigh of relief as she saw Ron a few feet away, moving through the crowd.
"What took you so long? I've been here for an hour." Hermione asked, crossing her arms and giving him an exasperated look.
Ron's lips curved into a smile. He was still pushing his way through the crowd and already she was lecturing him. When he finally made it to her, he sighed and put a hand at the back of his head and looked at her timidly. His hair was a fiery mess that seemingly coincided with his face that wasn't light either. "Sorry, I overslept."
Hermione rolled her eyes and instead of lecturing him, she asked instead. "Have you seen Harry?"
"He's not here yet? Funny. I thought he'd be waiting with you." He said slowly.
"Obviously he isn't." Hermione turned her wrist to look at her watch. "Perhaps he's just late."
"Perhaps he's not coming," he said. "He never does."
Hermione threw him a glare and said sharply. "He'll be here. He promised, remember?"
"Yeah, I do. But I also remember the times he backed out on his word. I know you've been hurt too many times to forget." He regarded her with an impatient look. "Hermione, when are you going to stop this?"
"I can't answer that, Ron." Hermione said; her eyes distantly troubled. "I can't stop anything I didn't start."
He looked confused. "Maybe you should face the truth. He does not feel the same way."
"Please, Ron. For once, be supportive."
Ron chose not to reply to Hermione's statement and instead turned his attention behind her, just in time to see the subject of their conversation. "There's Harry..." and with much bewilderment, he added in regret for speaking with too much haste, "...with Cho."
Ron tried to lower his tone, but it was too late. Hermione was already staring painfully at a familiar green-eyed teenager who was seated with a pretty girl at the far corner of the packed place.
Hermione suddenly felt humiliation and stupidity as she realized that Ron had been into thinking that Harry had abandoned his promise---again---to spend time with his girlfriend. Don't get her wrong. All three of them knew when Harry began dating that things wouldn't be the same again.
But this was too much.
He had promised to spend the rest of the night with them and had purposely told Hermione and Ron that he would be in Hogsmeade's famous pub, waiting. She choked back a bitter laugh as she thought that Harry at least kept a part of his word. As it turned out, he really was waiting in the Three Broomsticks, but instead of waiting for them, he was seated beside an unwanted excess---an unwanted, beautiful, black-haired, Quidditch-playing excess.
Ron instinctively knew how she felt as he looked at Hermione's expression. He patted her back to show sympathy. He didn't want this night to be ruined; but the look of annoyance on Hermione's face, as Harry began to cozy up with Cho was enough for him to take her away from the view and lead the way to another table.
"And what will you two have?" Madam Rosemerta appeared before them, quill and paper at hand.
"Two butterbeers, please." Ron said absentmindedly as he debated on whether to continue his appreciative gaze on Madam Rosmerta, or mind Hermione's downtrodden expression.
"Two butterbeers it is. I'll be right back." She said before disappearing through the throngs of people.
Hermione glanced around wearily. 'Why did I have to be so thick?' she asked her self, slouching her back more. She flinched a little as Harry whispered to the lovely girl beside him. wishing it was her he was whispering who-knows-what to.
'Our last year.' she remembered.
It only seemed yesterday, Hermione thought, that she was boarding the Hogwarts Express for her first ride to Hogwarts, where she met a boy who tried to turn his pet rat yellow and a scrawny kid who sat beside him, very eager to see magic.
She would've never thought that after six years, she'd be one of these boys' best friends and she'd be hopelessly in love with the scrawny kid who now knew more power than countless wizards put together.
As she persistently watched the couple a few meters away from them, her mind wandered through her past and landed on the instant she had come to regret the most…
It happened almost a year ago…
'I can't breath…yes, I can…no, I can't breathe. My God, I can't breathe…'
Hermione thought as she fanned herself with her hand while pacing back and forth in the common room, waiting for Harry. After glancing at the wall clock, she heaved a heavy sigh.
'What could he possibly want to talk about?' Hermione asked herself.
Harry met up with her earlier that day and told her to wait for him in the common room after her last class. His explanation was brief and could be summarized into one simple sentence: he had something important to tell her. This thought alone made Hermione more nervous than ever.
Excited for a good thing or just plain nervous, she didn't know. All she was sure of was her need for her nerves to be for something positive.
Her Arithmancy Class had ended 10 minutes earlier than usual and instead of making her way to the library like she always did every Friday afternoons, she instantly hastened to the Gryffindor Tower to see if she could have some time alone for herself before having this talk with her most loyal friend.
The one who accepted her as the bookworm and academic witch that she was…
And the guy she fell in love with…
The realization that she loved him wove into her mind as easily as if loving Harry was what her heart had always known. There were no questions, no doubts or whatsoever about why. Though it took her a long time to realize it, she never had any fears the instant she knew.
And now, time was the only thing stopping her from telling him. She almost lost him once and would have regretted losing him if she had not been able to tell him how she felt about the relationship she wished were more than just friends.
Just before the previous year had ended, Harry and the rest of the Wizarding World were awakened into a war between good and evil. It was the scariest thing she had ever witnessed in her life. Flashes flying off everywhere, injured wizards and witches dispersed around the battlefield, people crying, destroyed homes and edifices...
It had been a long fight; no one wanted to give up the battle.
But after a slow and excruciating period, silence reigned between the two sides. Those who were too weak to continue had fled, leaving their master alone, only to find themselves facing the ministry's authorities a distance away.
And then it was just the two of them.
Harry and Voldemort.
Aware of the battle drawing nearer, Harry had readied himself for the realization of his nightmares.
The face off had promised to be a spectacular display of prowess since he had been trained profusely for that fateful day. But, however good Harry was, he assumed that he had no chance of winning against Voldemort who had so much competence in battle. But as soon as Voldemort hit a spell that he didn't knew would be his last, Harry did the most unexpected thing that even he could never fathom.
He absorbed the curse, not even knowing how he had done such a thing, and threw out a more powerful one, combining it and the magic charm he was all the while conjuring. Voldemort was astounded at the unexpected upshot that he had no time to put up a counter attack, causing the curse to hit him directly. He perished on impact, ending the immorality he had done in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds.
Harry, on the other hand, though he had won, lost consciousness for a month with no sign of movement or life.
During this lingering stage in her life, Hermione had never been more scared. She kept on thinking then that if Harry would never wake up, she would never get to tell him how she feels. That's the reason why she had decided to tell him that present day. Knowing that life was too precious to waste, she wouldn't take her chances with fate.
So, after a lot of agonizing and unending sacrifices, nothing could stop her from letting him know---that day.
If she can figure out how--- that is.
Looking at the clock again, Hermione exhaled impatiently. She had been waiting for almost half an hour, but still, Harry and Ron had not yet returned from Divination, which was supposed to have ended 10 minutes ago. Tired of pacing, she stopped and sat down on the couch in front of the fireplace. Her gaze dallied on the fire dancing in the hearth and the warm ambience that was radiating from it made her begin drifting off to sleep.
Half an hour later, a slight nudge on her shoulders woke her up.
"Mmm…" she mumbled, not wanting to be taken away from her peaceful rest.
"Hey, sleepyhead…" a baritone chuckled, his breath fanning her face.
The sound of his voice and the feel of his breath dropped ice-cold water over her senses. She instantly bolted up. He was wearing a grin while looking at her. Hermione stole a quick glance around and saw that she and Harry were only the occupants of the common room that afternoon.
Despite her faintness, Hermione's heart skipped a beat.
Now she can tell him in private.
She didn't want anyone else to know.
Not even Ron…
"Hey." Hermione said groggily, still having a hangover over her sleep.
Harry sat down beside her, but didn't say a word, and just began staring at the blazing fire. They both sat there, quiet, thinking deeply. The only sound breaking the silence was the low crackling of the burning flames in the fireplace.
After a while, Hermione spoke up with what she hoped was a nonchalant voice. "Didn't you want to talk to me about something?"
"Oh, yeah." Harry considered, looking directly into her eyes. "That."
Hermione nodded intently as Harry broke the connection.
Her heart was beating so fast she silently prayed that Harry would not hear it.
After a short while, he said…
"This morning, I ---" he began, "…asked Cho out."
Hermione blinked and dared not open them again or just until this nightmare was over.
'This can't be happening.' She thought. 'There must be some mistake. Maybe I heard wrong.'
But even as she continued to think of reasons how it could not be possible, Hermione knew that what she heard from Harry was true and she couldn't do anything about it at all. She hesitantly opened her eyes and smiled crookedly. "What's the big deal, Harry? You've asked Cho out so many times now, haven't you?" She asked, every word poisoning her mouth.
"Yes…" Harry said. "But it's quite different this time."
Hermione wanted to tell him that Cho wasn't right for him. But then, what excuse would she have? She couldn't say they were meant to be together. There's not enough evidence for that. Come to think of it, had there ever been any evidence at all?
"I asked her to be my…" He paused as if embarrassed to say anything else.
"Um-hmm …" Hermione said softly, trying hard not to avert her gaze no matter how much she wanted to run away.
Harry remained silent.
"Why did you want to talk to me about it?" She finally asked after taking deep silent breaths. "Are you asking permission?" She chuckled feebly wanting to show him that she thought it was one of the most absurd things she had ever heard of.
After hearing this, Harry visible relaxed. "Well, sort of. I just wanted you to know. You're my best friend and I care about your opinion."
'Yeah, your best friend.' Hermione thought bitterly. "What about Ron?"
"He already knows."
"He says it's brilliant." Harry said with a small-smile.
"So what do you want me to say?"
"I dunno." Harry replied. "Something. Anything."
Hermione was quiet---the word 'anything', reverberating in her head. And from the depth of her frenzied mind, her inner self urged on.
'Now's the right time to tell him…'
Still, she didn't move.
'Ok…now would be the best time. Just spit it out!'
She opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated when she saw the look of ecstatic joy on Harry's face. Outside, she was calm and reposed. But inside, she was screaming and hurting. With the greatest amount of effort she had ever exerted in her life, she finally spoke.
"If that's what your heart tells you---then, no, I don't have any problem with that." She said, mentally berating herself.
But Harry didn't seem to notice anything different about Hermione's mood; on the contrary; he was so overjoyed to even see anything bizarre with her. Hermione quickly composed herself before Harry gave her a last appreciative look. He strode over to the portrait hole and disappeared behind it.
Right there and then, her heart shattered into pieces and she spoke as softly as she could to release some of the pain. "How could I be so stupid?"
Too busy feeling sorry for herself, Hermione didn't notice somebody walk up to her discreetly and had jumped in surprised as she heard someone say:
"Because you can't be perfect…"
She stood up and turned around quickly, her jaw dropping as she saw the person who had spoken.
He stepped closer.
"Did you…? Were you…?"
"It was difficult not to. You would think that you were in opposite poles with your voices that loud."
"How did---" Hermione seemed speechless.
"I arrived when you and Harry were talking."
Hermione blushed, slightly frustrated that Ron didn't even acknowledge his presence when he should have had and had almost heard one of the most private conversations that would have been remembered by her and Harry for the rest of her life had she decided to continue in telling him.
Ron proceeded to look at her without much of a word that she began to get annoyed and conscious after some time.
'How could he turn up at such a wrong time?!' Hermione asked herself as she felt a sudden lump in her throat, threatening to rise.
"I…I'm going to…er…" Hermione began to excuse herself when Ron planted his feet in front of her and to her surprise, drew her close into a hug.
"Stupidity just isn't you, Hermione. But you'll be more foolish if you don't let this one out." He pointed out.
When he said that, Hermione lost all hopes of hiding her feelings and broke down into tears.
Hermione sighed. That day was something to remember, all right. It was the day she lost her chances to be with Harry, when she let stupidity get the better of her. But then again, it was also the day Ron became the friend he had been keeping inside for so long.
And now, a year had passed. A year full of pain and anguish. Regret and blame. It was because of this awareness that made Hermione reconsider her life in this world; more importantly, her life in Harry's world.
Even after staying beside him for seven years, she still didn't know what her place in his heart was. Sure enough, he had never gone through a single day in the past without telling her how much he loved her and how glad he was that she was there. She had been satisfied with their simple bond for some time, but suddenly, it wasn't enough.
She found herself wanting more---wanting what has no limit, no boundary. But, unfortunately, her sanity had reached a limit once and it caused her the greatest pain she knew she will never experience again.
"Oi. Our drinks are here." Ron leaned over.
In surprise, Hermione rapidly looked up and banged her forehead against Ron's temporal.
"Ow!" they both exclaimed at the same time, stopping, and then rubbing the bruised parts of their head. Hermione looked smugly at Ron while massaging her forehead. Then, out of the blue, a harsh sound of laughter escaped his lips. His shoulders started to shake and then fits of laughter started spilling from his mouth.
Ron's hilarity emerged on top of the noise from the other students, creating a racket inside the Three Broomsticks. Hermione merely raised her brow at him, although her eyes showed a hint of amusement in them.
A few feet away, Harry and Cho looked up from their table as they heard the slight commotion made by Ron head lolling, as he tried to consume his laughter. Hermione, busy swallowing her own, didn't see Harry stand up and walk over to their table, with a surprise and irritated Cho following after him.
"Don't do that." she told Ron under her breath when they quieted down.
"What?" Ron said as he flashed at her his knowing grin. "You were too busy to notice me."
Hermione looked at him quickly and said something like "Busy doing what?"
"You see---I'll talk to you about it later---" Ron said seemingly distracted, then leaned closer again and whispered in a hushed but clear voice. "Do me a favor and try not to look too obvious."
"Why?" Hermione asked.
"They're headed this way." Ron said plainly, not bothering to say who 'they' were.
Hermione's heart started pumping wildly as she heard this. She couldn't see them together. Every time she does, she always ends up saying something bad about Harry's long time fantasy.
"Hey, Her---mione." Harry started, but as he saw the distant look in her eyes, he became unsure of how Hermione would take his presence. Before he could ask about it, Hermione answered it for him by standing up in a rush as if her seat was on fire.
"See you later, Ron." Hermione said, glancing at Harry airily, then smiling feebly at Cho with what's left of her pride and generosity. She patted his back before moving away from the table and fighting her way through the mad crowd.
"Is something the matter with her?" Harry asked casually as if he hasn't a clue on why as he took the place of Hermione.
"Go figure. She's a nightmare." Ron said heavily as he, too, stood up to leave.
"Ron! Where are you---?" Harry started to ask when Ron turned away from him.
"Later." He said bitterly, causing Harry to look disturbed.
Ron ignored it and met Cho's gaze and locked with it, but his eyes had already lost its bright sparkle.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Do you happen to know any other place where Hermione and I can go next time we come to Hogsmeade?" He asked in livid voice. Without letting her answer, Ron left. They watched him disappear among the pack, leaving Harry clueless on what just happened.
"Harry, I don't think Ron likes me at all." Cho concluded in a priggish voice.
"He's just not used to you, don't worry, he'll adjust soon." Harry murmured, ignoring the tone in Cho's voice, mistaking it for plain sadness and regret.
Hermione's blood rushed through her brain in irritation as she trudged along down the street in Hogsmeade. From the moment she walked out of the pub, away from them, she had been trying to shut the memory of Harry with Cho. But, so far, she still hadn't succeeded. Because every time she even came close to accomplishing her goal, something always reminded her of them.
She didn't know what made her ignore Harry like that but she was sure that if she hadn't left, she would have done something she'd have regretted for a very long time and she couldn't afford to feel sorry for more things, lamenting for so many lately.
As her footsteps gradually slowed, Hermione felt the urge to cry there and there, to relieve her discomfort and run to her own bed, submerge herself in her own tears and stay there as soon as she has calmed down.
Everything she was seeing and had been seeing was already too much for her to bear. She had had enough! And for the first time since Harry and Cho had started dating, Hermione had never looked forward more to seeing Ron in a few hours. However, instead of heading towards the castle grounds, Hermione found her way walking around Hogsmeade ceaselessly even as rain started to pour.
In the common room, a little while later, Ron was sitting just in front of the fireplace, eating while waiting for Hermione to arrive. Placing his foot on top of his knee, he impatiently glanced at his wristwatch and frowned as he realized that she should have been there by now, being the first to leave the Three Broomsticks.
'Strange.' He thought.
After a few minutes, he finally saw Hermione clambering through the portrait hole and in his thrill to see her; he barely noticed her present state. "Been in the library again?" He declared good-naturedly, advancing towards her.
But Hermione didn't respond.
Confused, Ron stepped a bit closer and what he saw made him fume in worry. "Does it rain in the library now?" He asked, eyeing the wet clothes clinging to Hermione's body.
The girl only remained silent, not saying a word, her clothes stuck to her body and her hair was plastered all over the side of her face. And then…her lips began to tremble.
Ron grimaced as he saw this but didn't need ask anything, already aware of what was going on. "Hermione, I know you're not stupid, but you didn't have to walk around in the rain." Ron reprimanded her as they sat down on the couch.
She found comfort on Ron's shoulder as she rested her head on it and began to mumble incoherent words. Fortunately, not too many people were in the common room at that time so there wasn't any risk of being given false interpretations.
"I can't take it anymore, Ron." He heard Hermione finally whisper in a breathless but rational manner.
All jokes aside, he said. "Yes, you can, Hermione."
"No, I can't. Don't you understand? Every time I see them together, I get hurt so much because I know I had the chance before, but I blew it."
"No, you didn't." Ron proclaimed sternly. "You just wanted Harry to be happy. Don't blame yourself for wanting what's best for him. And I guess you know it already, but by the looks of it, he has never been happier.. "
"I know, Ron." Hermione said. "That's why it hurts." He heard her add under her breath.
Ron held her hand and gripped it hard to make sure she knows that he was sympathetic and didn't let go of it for quite some time.
A few minutes later, Harry walked in the Common Room heavily, wanting to talk to Hermione and Ron about the way they had acted around Cho. The girl was busy with her life outside Hogwarts and the last thing she needed was to be abandoned.
He swiftly glanced around the common room, expecting that one of them was in some corner, reading or goofing around, but he certainly wasn't expecting to see what he saw. Suddenly, Harry felt disheartened and angry for an unknown reason. But pride got the best of him.
So instead of approaching them like what he intended to, he shoved his hands in his pockets and tried to walk nonchalantly to the stairs headed for the Boys' Dormitory as if he didn't see anything at all.
But it seemed like fate had something in store for him instead because just as he was about to take the flight of steps up the stairs, Ron looked up and saw him.
"Harry!" Ron shouted.
The boy turned around slowly and Ron was stunned to see Harry's eyes blaring with annoyance. And then, not much to his surprise, he ignored his call, turned around again and went up the steps.
Ron shook his head in edginess as he heard the door of their dormitory open and close with a slight bang.
He looked at the person beneath his arms and wondered what she was thinking. If she had been hurt by that, she was terribly good at hiding her depression because no sound came from her and her appearance hadn't changed either.
However, even though it seemed so, Harry's coldness made Hermione's insides twist.
What had she done to deserve this? All she had been was a good friend. She never wanted more than what he has been giving, did she? She let him have his happiness even if it had broken her heart.
If only she had done what she had convinced herself to do that day, then all these wouldn't be happening to her right now.
If only she could just change it---
"That's it!" She shouted unexpectedly, straightening up from her position.
As the Gryffindor students watched in surprise at her sudden outburst, Hermione grabbed Ron's arm and hauled him to the corner of the room, ignoring the eyes that were focused on them.
Fumbling to get out the words, not knowing which one she should go first, Hermione spoke quickly the first thing that came to her mind. "Ron, I need your help."
He merely rolled his eyes as he said, "And what do you think have I been doing, remember?"
Ignoring this, Hermione continued. "I know this is a crazy idea, but we can try." Then she began muttering to herself. "Of course I don't know if it's going to work or something---I need to do some reading first. But---ooh---this is going to be brilliant. Why didn't I think of it before. Stupidity, maybe. It's always because of stupidity."
"Excuse me! Have I become invisible? I'm still here and I don't know a thing about what you're mumbling about." Ron asked. "What's this about a crazy idea? If that involves getting the spiders to tickle the crap out of Harry, consider me out."
"Rubbish." She said waving him off. "We just need to get this book in the library."
"A book?" Ron asked, obviously relaxing.
"Yes, a book." She whispered quietly.
He scratched his head, confused. "What do you need my help for? Just check it out."
"I can't," Her answer was simple yet so clear that Ron groaned, knowing well what she was about to say. "It's in the Restricted Section."
"Why am I not surprised?" Ron said with incredulity.
She looked at him with annoyance. "Just do what you have to do to borrow Harry's cloak! When you get it, meet me in the Common Room at midnight, and then we'll slip out and go to the library." Hermione said excitedly in hushed whispers as she paced back and fort, already planning the night's exploit.
"Would you pause and think about this? How would I be able to borrow something from a guy who most likely wants to rip both our heads off?" Ron asked.
Hermione smiled wryly at him. "You'll figure something out. Oh, come on, Ron. Please---"
Even as she gave him her best pleading look, Ron wasn't too sure about this. Breaking more rules wasn't something they should do weeks before graduation. It would cause Hermione terribly as she was to be honored as the top in their class.
As for him, it wouldn't matter that much. He'd just be there to accept his diploma and be glad school's over. But if they would be caught, Hermione's position would be gotten. He couldn't bear to see something she really wanted taken away from her again. More importantly, she wouldn't have the strength to bear it. But, just as he was about to say 'no', he was reminded of Hermione's plea earlier that evening.
'For once, be supportive.'
This simple reminder caused him to think again and with reluctance, he finally agreed. "All, right." He nodded gravely, knowing that sooner or later, something bad was bound to happen. "Bloody hell." He added as an after comment.
"Brilliant!" Squealed Hermione, hugging him tightly.
The boy smiled a little; glad he had made that decision, as he saw Hermione smiling her first genuine smile in a long time. And then he remembered, "What do you need the book for anyway?"
Hermione grinned sheepishly, before leaning over and saying, "To travel back in time."
"What?!" Ron yelled out in shock. "Hermione, you're mental!"
Hermione grinned. "I might be a little bit---" Then she added quickly seeing the look of disapproval on his face, "Oh, get over it, will you? Everything would be safe as long as the instructions are followed. Besides, have I ever made a mistake with potions before?"
"No, you haven't." Ron agreed, half-heartedly.
She beamed at him. "I'm going to go in the Girls' dormitory and try to look for a reference material about this book. You go borrow the cloak from Harry; I'll meet you here later." With these final reminder, Hermione dashed up the stairs to the Girls' Dormitory, leaving Ron with his own, profound thoughts.
'What would she think of next?'