Chapter 26

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The night found Harry and Hermione upon the Hogwarts battlements. Harry stood by the barrier, looking out at the view, while Hermione sat leaning against the wall with her robes pulled tight around her, arms around her legs and her head resting on her knees, watching him.

Harry looked back at her, over his shoulder, catching her gaze upon him. Hermione blushed, embarrassed at being caught staring, and hid her head in her knees. Smiling, Harry walked over and sat down next to her.

'Are you cold?' he asked softly.

Hermione shook her head, still hiding her red face from him.

'Hey,' he said, 'look at me.'

Hermione glanced up ever so slightly. Harry continued to smile, trying to soften her embarrassment.

'You are so cute, do you know that?'

If possible, Hermione went even redder, and hid her face again. Harry shook his head, laughing a little. His smile dropped a little as his mind drifted back to his time in the hospital, to someone he hadn't thought of for some time now.

'I used to know someone like you, you know?' He paused, long enough for Hermione to peek at him again. She looked surprised and curious. 'She was a patient at the same… hospital as me. She was mute, like you. But she was worse. She didn't talk, at all, or make any kind of attempt to communicate. She just sat wherever they put her, and if someone tried to touch her she screamed. They had to sedate her just to move her. She wouldn't talk, but she'd rock back and forth and moan sometimes. Her name was Alice…'

Harry stopped, closing his eyes. Hermione waited patiently for him to go on.

'When I got there, she was already there. I started sitting with her, because no one else would. Sometimes I'd talk to her, but I think she preferred it when I was silent like her.' Harry smiled. 'She seemed better when I was with her though. She didn't rock and moan then. She just sat quietly. She never smiled or showed any kind of emotion, so I don't really know for certain. But I thought she liked me to sit with her…'

Hermione pulled out a little bit of parchment she'd brought for this occasion and wrote a small note: That's nice.

'You remind me a little of her,' Harry said. 'I mean, you're not the same. Not by a long way. But… well, you know. You're similar.'

I understand, Hermione wrote.

'I liked her, but we could never have any kind of real relationship.' Harry looked at Hermione, meeting her eyes. Normally she would turn away, but his gaze froze her and she couldn't, didn't want to look away. 'Not like you and me. You've come so far, Hermione. And you'll come further. I know you will. And I'll be here the whole time.'

Hermione felt her heart thumping in her chest.

'You understand loneliness… like me… how it eats at you, like a black pit inside your heart. No one else can understand. They've never been alone… not like you and me. We're the same in so many ways. I never had anyone. My aunt and uncle, they weren't nice people. They kept me locked in a cupboard under the stairs. That was my bedroom, until I woke up and the house had burnt down. After that, I was truly alone, until I came here and met you. And you… you know that it's like. Maybe you had your parents, but not really. They can't understand you… they might pretend to understand, but really, they don't. I won't lie and pretend I understand fully, how you feel, what its like to be you. But I understand the loneliness. How it hurts.'

Hermione had tears in her eyes, which she hastily wiped away. She grabbed her parchment and wrote: It doesn't hurt anymore.

Harry smiled. 'We're not alone anymore. We have each other. Forever.'

Hermione smiled. Forever, she wrote.

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