Harry Potter stood hidden among the crowd of students gathered in the Gryffindor common room as they cheered the performance of their newest Quidditch Keeper. For the first time in a long time, Harry wasn't the centre of attention after a match, even if he had actually been the one to win the game for them. He was the Seeker after all.
Instead, Ronald Weasley was basking in the glory as he stood atop a table; detailing every save he had made that afternoon. Of course, Ron didn't mention anything to do with the Liquid Luck he may or may not have consumed before they took the field. Harry was certain he never would.
"You're properly the worst, you know that," he heard a voice say from behind him, automatically bringing a smile to his face. Hermione Granger stepped forward from her position just behind him to his left. "He's never going to stop now. The next few years are going to be unbearable."
That made Harry laugh. "Well, then, this is my apologising in advance for what we're about to endure."
Hermione regarded the boy to her right for a moment. "It's nice to see you smile," she eventually said, knowing that she would make him feel uncomfortable with her words. Nevertheless, it had to be said.
Harry shifted from foot to foot, his eyes looking at his best friend on the table again. He didn't know what to say to her comment. The truth really was that he was convinced nobody was paying enough attention to notice. Although, he had to admit he wasn't surprised it was Hermione. It was also becoming increasingly difficult to keep up the façade that the current events of the year weren't bothering him.
"Didn't think I would pick up on it, did you?" Hermione continued, keeping her eyes on him.
"We did just beat Slytherin, Hermione," he finally said, sidestepping her comments. The last thing he wanted was to get anywhere close to this conversation in a room full of their classmates. "Am I not allowed to be happy about that?"
"Well, technically, no, not if you cheated," she pointed out, her voice dropping to a volume only he could hear. Even though she disapproved, she had no intention of getting him in trouble.
Harry turned his body to look at her. "You're one to talk, by the way. How is what I supposedly did any different from what you did?"
Hermione should have expected him to refer to her magical intervention during the Quidditch tryouts that invariably led to Ron being chosen as their new keeper. "That was different because this is a match, Harry. You could get expelled."
"Or worse, killed," he said quickly, mischief glinting in his eyes. He would never let her forget where her priorities lay, especially now that the three of them had managed to escape death on so many occasions.
She fought a smile. "I'm trying to be serious here."
"As am I," he said, leaning in a bit closer to her so only she could hear his next words. "And, for your information, I didn't cheat," he said seriously.
Hermione could tell he was telling the truth, which made her frown. "I was there before the game, Harry. I saw you put that vial of Liquid Luck into his cup."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Did you now? Did you actually see me pour it in?"
She was still frowning. "Are you trying to tell me that you didn't actually pour anything into his cup?"
He didn't answer as he reached for something in the front pocket of his shirt. "I didn't," he admitted, pulling out the still full vial of clear liquid and showing it to her.
"You only pretended to," she said, nodding her understanding.
"What?" Harry asked innocently, pocketing the vial once more. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Like you disapprove."
She nudged him with her elbow. "I do not disapprove. I suppose I'm just a bit surprised. Who knew you could be so sneaky?"
He smiled at her, proud that he had somehow managed to outsmart her. "That's not the question to be asking. You should be asking, who knew that psychology would be equally effective as magic?"
Before Hermione could respond, the common room erupted in loud applause and vehement cheering, stealing Harry's attention away from Hermione. He turned towards the commotion to see Ron held in a lip-lock with another Gryffindor sixth year, Lavender Brown.
Harry's amusement at Ron's sudden inability to talk was cut short by the feel of cold space behind him, which forced him to turn back. Hermione was no longer there. She was heading away rather abruptly and he just managed to catch sight of her loose brown hair bouncing away in a hurry. The sick feeling that something wasn't right with her made his breath catch.
Without much thinking, Harry followed Hermione out of the Gryffindor common room, feeling like it was the thing he had to do; he wanted to do. He used the sound of quiet sobs to guide him, which were becoming harder and harder to handle the closer he got.
Hermione was seated on the third step of the stairs leading up to Gryffindor tower when he finally found her. She heard him approach, the sounds of his steps all too familiar to her in the dark corridors. She would recognise them anywhere.
"Charm spell," she spoke first, acknowledging the canaries flying around just above her head before he asked about them. "I'm just practicing."
"Well," Harry sounded, moving to sit down beside her. "They're really good, as expected."
Hermione waited a moment in their silence before she seemed to make a decision. This was Harry. She could trust Harry with her thoughts and feelings, just as he could trust her. She took a deep breath and turned to look at him before she asked her question. "How does it feel, Harry, when you see Dean with Ginny?"
His body tensed in panic. "Oh, umm," he mumbled, unsure what to say. His mind told him to deny but the memory of the sounds of her sobs told him that this was no time to lie; not that he thought he could actually tell her an untruth. The foundation for their relationship really was built on profound truth.
"I know," she said, having felt the air between them grow cold. "I see the way you look at her. You're my best friend. How could I not see it?"
Her words did nothing to calm him but, before he could respond, Ron and Lavender came rolling in, giggling together. They came to an awkward and sudden stop when they spotted Harry and Hermione seated at the bottom of the steps.
"Oops," Lavender sounded, her annoying voice filling the darkness. "I think this room is taken," she faux whispered to Ron, keeping a firm hold on his arm. "Let's go somewhere else; somewhere more private." She giggled once more before she headed back out, expecting Ron to follow.
He didn't. He kept his eyes trained on his two best friends instead, raising his eyebrows questioningly. "Everything all right?" he asked.
Hermione didn't trust herself to respond and, at the sight of her lips pressed together; Harry thought it best to speak up.
"All right," he assured his friend. "It was just getting a bit stuffy in there."
"Right," he said, nodding. "So what's with the birds then?" It was a question directed at Hermione, which he should have realised was a terrible mistake.
Without answering, Hermione rose to her feet, her eyes steel. Her voice was equally as hard when she spoke. "Oppugno."
The canaries quickly moved from flying innocently in a circle into a triangular formation, clearly preparing for attack. Sensing it, Ron began to back away, the question never leaving his mouth.
At the stamp of Hermione's foot, the canaries headed straight for Ron, which sent the ginger-haired boy running for safety. The birds eventually crashed into a wall behind where he once stood, silencing them all.
Without another word, Ron disappeared, not wanting to anger her any further; even though he wasn't particularly sure he had actually done anything wrong. Although, she could have been angry at anything he had done in the past six years. The female half of their species could be like that. His mother was still holding the incident with the flying car over his head. He was sure that, even when he was old and grey, the woman would still refer to it whenever she could.
Hermione fought the flurry of tears as she sat back down next to Harry but it didn't seem to be working. The battle of the sobs continued until they eventually turned into a fit of laughter, which really only confused the boy sitting to her left.
"Umm, Hermione," Harry queried. "Are you all right?"
She stopped laughing quite suddenly. "Do you think that was maybe a little dramatic?"
Harry risked a smile. "Well, I wasn't going to say anything but now that you mention it…"
"Oh hush," she said, softly punching him in the arm. "Or I'll end up charming a set of birds just for you."
They descended into comfortable silence after that, the tears temporarily pushed aside. Truthfully, it had been quite a whirlwind of a day and Harry hated that it was ending this way. He didn't want his best friend to cry, for any reason. Especially not on the day they beat their arch rivals Slytherin at Quidditch.
Not any day.
"Umm," he sounded, breaking the silence and getting her attention. "That thing you were saying about Ginny…"
"Don't worry," she said quickly, saving him from having to finish. "I won't tell anyone; least of all Ginny. Or worse, Ron. Your secret is safe with me."
He let out a relieved breath. Then, more out of curiosity, he asked: "Is it really that obvious?"
"Apparently not," she answered thoughtfully. "I don't think you even had a clue until you found out that she started dating Dean."
Harry turned his head to look directly at her. "Well, did you know you fancied Ron before Lavender? Or Cormac?"
A response didn't come immediately, which told him all he needed to know. In fact, no response actually came. It seemed to be a thought that was really bothering her.
"How did we get here, Hermione?" he asked, sounding oddly defeated.
"Whatever triggered the feelings doesn't matter," Hermione responded eventually. "Just that they were. It's up to us to deal with them now."
"On top of everything else."
"Welcome to sixth year," she muttered under her breath. "It will only be as great as we make it." Her tone lacked any conviction, which told him that she didn't quite believe it herself.
Harry leaned back, thinking hard about his situation once more. "I suppose it would help if she were happy, you know," he found himself saying. "It's all I really want, right? Well, all I should want. Ginny should be happy. It's what I want for her. Even if it isn't with me."
Hermione put a hand on his shoulder, her way of comforting him. "Then you're definitely a better person than I am."
His eyes settled on her, a certain kind of mischief glinting in them. "Well, we already knew that." He endured another – harder – punch to the arm before he ran a hand through his hair, his palm coming to rest against the back of his neck.
They fell into that comfortable silence again. The sounds of voices seemed very distant, existing only in the background. Something was happening in that very moment, and they both knew it.
It was Hermione who asked the question. "We're going to be fine, right?"
Harry didn't know how to respond to that.
"Tell me that it'll eventually stop hurting like this."
Still, he had no words. And the sounds of her returning sobs meant that he definitely couldn't lie. So, instead, they sat in silence, Hermione's head eventually coming to rest on his shoulder. Harry shifted in closer, linking their arms. He had a feeling this was the way it would always be, and a part of him would have been perfectly fine with that. There were far worse things in life than having Hermione Granger sitting right beside him.
"Good morning," Harry remarked, sliding into position beside Hermione for breakfast the very next morning. "How are we feeling today?"
Hermione had to admit she was surprised by his mood. Once he was settled, she regarded him for a moment. He was, unfortunately, a master of hiding his truth and she needed to see his eyes to be able to tell what was really going on with him. "Harry, are you all right?" she had to ask, worry clear in her tone.
He nodded, reaching for a slice of toast. "Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?"
She bit her bottom lip in thought. In the end, her worry vastly overweighed his blatant attempt at avoidance. "Well, I don't know," she said, raising an eyebrow rather sarcastically. "Last night was quite a loaded one. Full of some several revelations."
"That's true," he agreed. "But surely then I should be asking if you're the one who's all right. I've had a lot longer to deal with my Ginny problem. And I'll have you know that I didn't send any charmed canaries her way either."
"Haha," she faked a laugh. "But tell me the truth. Does it look like I've been crying?"
Harry looked at her then. In fact, it was probably the first time he had looked at her, and actually seen her. Her eyes were a perfect brown, drawing him in. Harry hadn't noticed before. She also had the slightest laugh lines around her eyes and, of course, the growing frown lines on her forehead. Schoolwork tended to do that to a person.
"Harry?" Hermione asked, starting to feel a little self-conscious under his scrutiny.
He cleared his throat, remembering himself. "Umm, what exactly am I looking for?"
She frowned. "Never mind. You're probably the wrong person to ask anyway."
He turned his attention back to the slice of toast on his plate. "Probably," he agreed.
They ate in silence for a few minutes. Harry busied himself with spreading some butter on his toast, eventually nibbling on it, while Hermione nursed a bowl of cereal. It was painfully clear to both of them that neither of them was particularly hungry.
Hermione's sudden gasp made Harry turn to her. "What? What's wrong?"
"He's headed this way," she mumbled, clearly referring to Ron. "What do I do? What if he says something?"
Harry put a calming hand on her arm. "He won't."
Her eyes snapped towards him. "How do you know? Did you two talk? What did he say?"
He had to blink a few times to ward off how overwhelmed her questions made him. "I just do. No we didn't. Nothing."
She let out a breath. "Sorry," she said, patting the hand of his that was on her arm. "I'm just a bit rattled. I suppose I merely assumed that we Ron and I had taken some kind of step forward, what with the Slug Club party coming up."
The party. Ah. Harry had almost forgotten. Well, he was desperately trying to forget about it. The truth was that the whole thing didn't seem at all appealing to him. It was just plain masochism to get all dressed up to watch the girl you like dance with someone else. He imagined it would be about the same as getting struck by lightning.
"Who are you planning on taking, by the way?" Hermione asked, trying her best not to pay attention to the fact that Ron made a pit stop at Lavender before eventually heading their way.
Harry didn't have an answer for her. And Ron's arrival seemed to save him from having to give her one for the time being.
"Morning," Ron said, sliding into position on the opposite side of the long table and immediately digging into his breakfast. He decided that was all he would say, in case Hermione sent him flying across the room. It wouldn't be the first time.
They endured a few more minutes of complete silence before Hermione excused herself and stood up. "I will see you both in Herbology."
Harry gave her a pleading look, silently begging her not to leave him with the questions Ron was surely bound to ask once she left the Great Hall.
She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder before she started walking away, barely acknowledging the food-filled grunt Ron gave her.
Ron didn't even wait until she was out of sight. Once she was out of earshot, he spoke up. "What is her problem anyway?"
Harry didn't respond immediately. There was no way he could tell him about Hermione's feelings. She would kill him. That was what he told himself, at least. Harry couldn't quite stop himself from thinking that he quite enjoyed being the only person who knew.
"I mean, seriously," Ron continued. "I don't see what's so wrong. It's not as if I'm about to marry Lavender or anything."
Harry still wasn't sure what to say. There wasn't much he felt he could say anyway. So, being the best friend he was supposed to be, at least to Ron; he decided to be happy about it. He leaned forward. "So," he almost sang, his face breaking into a big smile. "You and Lavender, huh?"
Ron's face turned the colour of his hair. "She's relentless, that one," he said, laughing. "I'm not sure exactly what we have going on but I find I'm rather excited by it all."
"Good," Harry found himself saying. "I'm really happy for you."
Ron stopped eating for a moment. It was only a moment, which was enough of a milestone when it came to Ronald Weasley and his food. "Why couldn't Hermione have just said that?"
Harry wanted to tell him that she couldn't because then she would be lying, but that would have opened up an entirely new can of worms.
"And don't say it's because she's been the only girl in our lives for a while, and she's not used to it… because she was perfectly fine when you liked Cho."
Harry took a breath to think about that. Ron was right in that regard. Hermione had been more than fine with it. She also seemed to be fine with his liking Ginny. She was fine with all of it, which actually made him feel uncomfortable. It was a perplexing feeling, really, that he wasn't quite ready to dissect.
"Maybe it's that time of month," Ron concluded. "That's when girls tend to get crazy."
Harry neither agreed nor contradicted him. This was a part of their lives from which he would like to move on. And plus, he had his own feelings to worry about. He risked a look in Ginny's direction. She was sitting a few metres away, surrounded by girls from her own year, talking rather gleefully about something he couldn't make out.
Despite himself, Harry found himself smiling at her smile.
Before anyone caught him out, he stopped quite suddenly. He cleared his throat and looked up to find Ron staring at him.
"You and Hermione both," Ron said, shaking his head. "All kinds of weird today."
Harry tried to laugh it off. "I'm still delirious after that win over Slytherin," he said, knowing full well that getting Ron to talk about Quidditch was always a good distraction.
The day went slowly. In fact, it was probably the slowest day Hermione had ever experienced. She was normally very focused in class – bar Professor Trelawney's gabble – but this day was different. She had never allowed her emotions to dictate her approach to her schoolwork and she was at a stump as to whom to talk to about it.
There was Luna, of course. Only, Hermione wasn't entirely sure she was patient enough to sit through Luna's way of looking at the world.
Then there was Ginny. Hermione didn't feel comfortable with that though. She convinced herself it was because she wouldn't be able to talk to her about Ron, her brother. That was the reason. It was definitely the reason.
And then there was Harry. Oh Harry. He was the one person she was certain knew about her feelings towards Ron. But would she be able to talk to him. He was going through his own turmoil with Ginny. But perhaps that was precisely the reason why he would be the best person to talk to. He would understand.
Thankfully, lunch rolled by without incident, which was mainly because Hermione steered clear of the Great Hall entirely.
Everyone seemed to notice.
Ron was busy basking in Lavender glory, which left Harry trying his very best to ignore the sound of Ginny's beautiful laughter a few metres down the Gryffindor table from him.
Well before the hour was up, he got up to leave, packing a muffin in a napkin for Hermione. The question was silently asked from those around him as to where he was going. Harry mumbled something about the library to Neville specifically before he headed out of the Great Hall.
Hermione was not in the library. Harry found her in the Gryffindor common room, elbow deep in a large book about something important.
"There you are," Harry said, almost exclaiming at the sight of her. He moved towards her and fell onto the opposite end of the couch on which she was sitting. She was seated facing him, with her feet up, her toes mere inches from his left thigh. "I brought you something," he said, handing her the napkin. "Lemon poppyseed. Your favourite."
She was already overtly emotional and his sentiment merely made it worse. "Thank you," she said softly, taking it from him. "But I'm not really that hungry."
"I guessed as much," he said, putting out his hand. "Give it back then."
She laughed. "No, no. Okay, okay. I'll eat it. I'm going to eat it."
"You're sure?" he asked, smiling widely. "Because I can always eat it."
She shook her head. "Na ah, I said I'm going to eat it."
"Thank you, by the way," she mumbled, her heart being pulled in several directions. "I, umm, I'm kind of, umm, tired. Yes, that's it, I'm tired. Aren't you?"
Harry thought about that for a moment. "I suppose. I try not to think about it too much."
"And how exactly are you doing that?"
He shrugged. "I used to use Quidditch as a distraction," he admitted; "but she's right there now. All the time."
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"So now I go where she isn't," he continued. "I'll admit that it's made Hogwarts much smaller but a bit more bearable."
Her eyes settled on him. "You'll have to fill me in on the best spots because, right now, it's like he's everywhere."
Harry's eyes glinted with mischief when he looked at her. "Fluffy's old room is rather comfortable."
That garnered quite a laugh from her.
"The dungeon also has its perks," he went on; "but my personal favourite, Miss Granger, is the Chamber of Secrets."
Hermione leaned her head back because she was laughing so hard. "My goodness, you're somewhat twisted, you know that?"
He nodded. "I definitely have my moments."
They descended into comfortable silence. It was quickly becoming a common thing for them.
Eventually, Harry let out a sigh. "You know you can talk to me, right?"
Hermione looked at him. "Excuse me?"
"You can talk to me," he offered. "About whatever is going on with you. I want you to talk to me. I'll listen. I might not say the right thing all the time but I'll definitely try my best."
She took a deep breath. "You're very special, Harry Potter. Thank you."
Harry let those words hang in the air as they drifted into comfortable silence once more.
"We can hide out in the library," Hermione eventually said, filling the silence. "Ron never goes there."
"Nor does Ginny."
"At least until this all blows over," Harry added. "There is no way Ron and Lavender are going to last."
"Are you just saying that to cheer me up?"
"Definitely not," he said. "If I were really trying to cheer you up; I probably would have told you about the bit of toothpaste you've had on the tip of your nose all morning."
Hermione gasped, her hand immediately flying to wipe her nose. She stopped only at the sound of his laughter. "Oh. Wow. You are the worst."
Hermione relaxed into the couch and released a long breath. All she wanted was for the day to be over, but she found that she was perfectly fine sitting there with Harry and his misplaced humour. He was a welcome distraction and she truly appreciated what he was trying to do. She hoped that she could do the same for him.
It took a great deal of will power to get them to attend their afternoon classes. Like the morning, nothing particularly exciting occurred. Well, to be perfectly honest, one thing did happen: between classes, Harry bumped into Ginny. Literally bumped into her, knocking her set of books to the ground. He quickly apologised, as he bent to retrieve her books. She joined him, and their hands even brushed each other, electrocuting his entire body.
Later, when Harry told Hermione about it in the library; she looked rather amused.
"What?" he asked innocently. There were books spread out on the table between them, and they were trying to be as diligent as possible, given their perilous circumstances.
They weren't in Hermione's usual spot, mainly because Harry insisted they find themselves a new one, which would henceforth be theirs. After rolling her eyes at his notion, they decided on an unoccupied table deep into the library, where they could talk and laugh and be far away from the possibility of witnessing heartbreak.
Hermione bit her bottom lip before she finally spoke. "It's just, well, it just all sounds like something out of a film." She looked a bit worried. "You do know what I mean when I say that, right?"
Harry just nodded, raising an eyebrow in her direction. "You do realise that I did grow up as a Muggle, right?"
"I know that."
"Granted, I was by no means treated like a normal person, but I know quite a few things about the Muggle world."
"Is that why you won't take Muggle Studies?" she found herself asking. This was something they hadn't properly spoken about before.
Harry wasn't sure how to respond to that question. His feelings towards the Muggle world were mostly conflicted.
"You don't have to answer if you don't want to," she said, giving him the option.
"I do," he said quickly. "I mean, sure, there are dark forces out there in this Magical world, wanting to kill me, but this feels like the place I belong. I guess I'm afraid that learning the truth about the Muggle world will change the way I feel about this one, and I don't want that to happen. I didn't know how nice it felt to belong."
Hermione's heart broke for him and she would have said something about it, but she didn't want to embarrass him.
Harry shook his head, as if snapping himself out of a trance. "Anyway, back to our homework," he said, and then exaggerated a gasp. "Never in my however many years did I think I would actually willingly say those words."
Hermione laughed at him, wondering just how severe of an effect the fact that Ginny was with Dean was having on him. This humour of his was a mask, she was sure, and the last thing she wanted was for him to avoid the problem for her sake.
"Do you think the Charms test next week is going to include the things he was saying about his time in Norway with his colleagues from the Ministry?" Harry asked.
Hermione stared at him for a good minute. Who was this boy? "Excuse me?"
He didn't notice the surprised look on her face. "The test for Charms next week, do you think…"
She cut him off. "No, I heard you. It's just, well, you've never been particularly clued up with everything going on in class."
"Umm, okay, I'm going to try not to take offence," he muttered. "I thought I already told you that I've had to find other ways to distract myself. One of those being actually doing this whole school thing you always seem to be raving about."
She was still shocked, even blinking a few times in quick succession.
"And, just so you know, it really isn't as much fun as you make it sound. I'm just saying."
"Then you're definitely not doing it right," she said, having recovered. "And to answer your question: no, I don't think that's in the test. He said it in passing; something to think about."
"Well, if you're not going to study it, then I'm not."
"If those aren't words to live by, I don't know what are, Mr Potter."
He looked at her, slightly amused. "I'm glad you're feeling better," he told her truthfully, wishing he didn't actually have to remind her of her earlier mood. "Or, at least you look like you are."
"I do think I am," she admitted. "I don't know how long it will last. The truth is that we won't actually be able to hide forever, Harry."
"I know that," he said. "Trust me, that much I know. But right now, it just seems like the thing to be doing."
"Okay," Hermione said, nodding her head. "But we should give ourselves a time limit. We're going to have to continue living in this world eventually, with or without them."
He took a deep breath. "Okay."
"Until the end of the week," she offered, putting out her pinkie.
Harry laughed at how Muggle they were suddenly being, but he hooked his little finger with hers anyway. "Until the end of the week."