Hermione felt better than she had in days.
She had gone to Harry last night just to talk about Ron. It had been her way to test the waters on Harry's new commitment to being there and had been pleasantly surprised at how in tune they could be.
Hermione knocked purposefully on the door adjoining their two rooms. After about a minute she heard his footsteps before a very groggy looking Harry appeared in the doorway.
"Hermione? Is everything okay?" Even as groggy as he was, his concern shone through.
"Yeah, it's just…"
"Sinking in that it's over?"
Hermione could feel her eyes begin to water and simply nodded. Harry pulled her in and hugged her as she fought a losing battle against her sobs. It struck her that this was twice that she found herself crying into his shoulder in a matter of weeks. Not only that, but tonight he had initiated it. This was something different in their relationship: it was usually Hermione that initiated any physical contact.
"Thanks Harry." She managed to hiccup. She broke off their embrace and wiped her eyes. Harry ran his hand through his hair and Hermione could see the wheels turning.
"Er…sorry that I'm not sure what to say. Never been any bloody good with this stuff." His honesty had a way of making his cluelessness endearing.
"I'll give you a hint Harry: Ice cream."
Harry chuckled. "Alright then, go settle on the couch and I'll see what I can do."
He went into his bedroom and Hermione only heard footsteps before the hall door seemingly opened and closed of its own volition. She chuckled to herself, he had donned the invisibility cloak. It would have been easy enough to simply disapparate to an all-night supermarket and buy the ice cream, but Harry still had his taste for adventure, even if he kept it to simple endeavors like nicking ice cream from a hotel café' nowadays.
They had spent the next hour or so on the couch watching the lame re-runs that television stations play at four am and eating ice cream. Hermione didn't remember falling asleep, but the next thing she knew she was waking up in her own bed and the sun was out.
After a shower and some breakfast with Harry, he had taken her on a grand tour of the city. They toured the Acropolis as well as many temples and other ancient structures. He also took her to a magical museum that chronicled how witches and wizards had influenced Greek culture.
She of course, had the time of her life examining the many exhibits and pointing out to Harry the names she had run across in her many readings. Harry, for his part, had seemed genuinely interested in many of the sights (or at least had been polite enough to feign it).
They finished off the day by finding a cozy spot for an evening picnic to watch the sun set over the Aegean. They long sat in silence sipping on some local wine selections before a thought came to her mind.
"Harry? When did I fall asleep last night?" Of course she wasn't really interested in what time it had been, she wanted to hear from him how he got her to her own bed.
"Right about five in the morning. You fell sleep with your mouth open and your hand still going for the ice cream, it was actually quite funny. Oi!"
Hermione had smacked him on the arm. "What was that for?" He faked being indignant, but was doing terrible. He still had his lopsided grin and couldn't stop laughing.
"I was tired!" the heat rising in her cheeks.
"Yeah you were. Didn't even wake up when I carried you back to your room."
Hermione blushed. "That was very sweet of you Harry."
Now it was Harry's turn to blush.
"Don't mention it."
Another amicable silence fell as the sky turned a brilliant mix of oranges and pinks. It had become a ritual almost every day for them to watch the sunset. They all had a favorite so far. Ron had liked the way the sun had set off Notre Dame while Harry had liked Rome's the best. Hermione thought her new favorite was the one in front of her.
She briefly wondered what Ron was doing. He was probably doing something fun with Charlie, maybe involving some dragons. She personally had had enough dealings with dragons for a lifetime, but hoped that Ron was enjoying himself.
When they had vanished the picnic, Harry and Hermione walked a little further across the field until they found a low stone wall. Harry took a seat leaning against it while Hermione situated herself leaning against Harry's chest, sitting between his long legs.
By the look on Harry's face she had taken him off guard with their seating arrangement, but Hermione really wanted the feeling of being held. It made her feel better about Ron's absence, which had slowly been creeping back into her conscience.
So they sat that way until the sun disappeared and the first stars came out. They then slid a little further down in order to look up at the clear night sky. They pointed out constellations to one another and made up new ones. When he wasn't pointing, Harry's arms wrapped around Hermione, making her feel safe. She had always felt safe in his arms.
She wasn't sure why, but the air seemed warmer laying there with Harry. The smell of the grass blended with his scent which had a calming effect like she had rarely felt before. Soon all thoughts of her broken heart were far from her mind. She was having the best day in months with her best friend. Right then that was all that mattered.
Harry was taken aback by Hermione's choice of seating arrangements. He had planned on their usual side by side, but she had situated herself in between his legs and leaned back into his chest. He could smell her hair which had a very pleasant scent that Harry couldn't place.
They sat that way for a while, Harry comfortably draping his arms around her, when suddenly something clicked in his mind. He had the sudden image of a furious Ginny and realized that this was perhaps not the best idea he had had. What if Ron came back and found them like this?
Hermione could feel her eyelids getting heavy when Harry's next words woke her from her reverie.
"Hermione, I think we should head back. I don't think Ron or Ginny would appreciate the way we've been sitting here." His voice was thick with guilt.
Hermione's mind whirred. Had she really been so thick as to not think about how this would look to an observer? Anybody who spotted them lying there probably saw star crossed lovers instead of best friends.
Hermione had completely forgotten about her best female friend. She could picture the look of fury the redhead would have if she saw them together right then. Hermione felt herself flush at the thought and leaped to her feet before helping Harry up with a trembling hand.
"I..I'm sorry Harry. I don't know what I was thinking. I was just, I just wanted to feel safe and…..oh Harry I'm so stupid. I.."
Harry placed his finger on her lips.
Hermione's eyes went wide and she instantly stopped her stammering. Harry couldn't help but notice she was blushing furiously. He wondered what made her have that reaction, but couldn't help but notice how cute she looked right now. And what was that part about feeling safe?
"It's okay Hermione. It's not like we were out here making out or anything. It's like you said before, we just have to be careful how we act. And if Ron or Ginny had walked up they wouldn't have liked the way we were sitting here. You did nothing wrong, we both were simply enjoying the company."
Her face was the same shade of red as Weasley hair. What on earth had gotten into her?
He hated that the Weasley jealousy kept them from just being themselves with each other, but none the less he felt like it had been the right thing to do. It had been her idea to be careful how they acted after all and Hermione was usually right, especially when it came to people's feelings. He just wished he knew what in blazes was going through her mind that had made her blush so hard. Girls could be so weird sometimes.
As if she wasn't already embarrassed enough at thinking about being seen with Harry by Ginny, he had to put his finger on her lips like that. Why was she blushing like a schoolgirl? Harry had touched her loads of times without so much as a trace of pink in her cheeks and here she is turning scarlet at the lightest of touches.
Maybe she was just in a sensitive mood with the whole Ron thing so fresh. He lowered his hand and she looked him in the eyes. God his eyes were beautiful. She had always known that but why had she never really noticed it before. This of course made no sense even in her mind. She was vaguely aware that Harry was talking.
"…It's not like we were out here making out or anything."
A sudden image of herself furiously kissing Harry flashed through her mind and a fresh rush of blood swept up to her face. What was wrong with her? She hadn't thought about kissing Harry since that time in first year before Harry went to face Quirrell.
It registered in her mind that Harry had finished talking. She hadn't really been listening at all but knew she was now expected to give some sort of response.
"I…yeah you're right. Wanna go for a walk?"
"Uh..sure. We'll take the scenic route back."
Glad to be escaping the embarrassing mess she found herself in, Hermione settled into stride next to Harry. She had to take a few more steps to keep up with his lengthy strides, but years of practice held her squarely next to him.
Nothing disturbed the quiet for a while before Harry broke the silence.
"Can I ask you something?"
Harry stopped walking and Hermione turned to face him. The moonlight reflected off his skin making it look paler than usual, though the effect was flattering. It really set off his jet black hair.
"Of course. What is it?"
"Remember when we were in the Forest of Dean? And you suggested that we just stay there and grow old?"
How could she have forgotten it? It was right after their harrowing run in with Voldemort in Godric's Hollow and she had labored for what seemed like years without rest to treat Harry's wounds. She had been so deathly afraid of losing him then, of being left utterly alone.
"Yes I do Harry, why?"
"You knew then, didn't you?"
She knew without asking he was referring to himself being a horcrux. She had indeed just figured it out when Harry had woken up. She had had a hunch before, but the previous events had all but assured her she was right. She had never wanted more to be proven wrong. It had been her worst nightmares come true.
Harry gave her a searching look. He knew there was more to her answer, but Hermione wasn't about to volunteer anything.
Hermione's answer set off a chain reaction in Harry's mind. He had been going over all the details of the past year ever since they had left England, working his way through trying to process it all. He thought it would help him gain some closure. By and large it was true, but it also brought with it questions.
At the time, her statement had struck him as Hermione losing hope. He remembered the icy feeling in his chest knowing that even Hermione, who trusted him more than anyone else, was beginning to think their battle hopeless. But now he understood. In her mind, it would have been the only way to keep him alive.
He felt a knot twisting in his gut at remembering that the very next thing that had happened was he had blown up at her about his wand. She had just saved his life for the umpteenth time, was trying to save it again, and his response was to be a selfish git and bemoan his wand. Everyday seemed to provide a new reason to be grateful for Hermione.
"I'm sorry I was such a stupid git about my wand."
There he went, being guilty again. She swore one day she would break him of feeling like he had to be guilty about something at least once or twice a day.
"It's understandable you would be upset about your wand Harry."
Truthfully there was a part of her that was grateful to hear him apologize about it. She had been in such a horrible place in her own heart; his attitude about his wand had nearly broken her at the time. But there was no sense in rehashing it all now. It was all ancient history.
Yet, she wanted to tell him. Something inside of her had been gnawing away at her to tell him exactly how she had felt ever since he had told her that he wanted to be there for her. Somehow, his new found attitude about caring for her left her feeling like she owed him the truth about how she had really felt about him all this time.
He was looking at her with curiosity; he knew she was lost in thought. She really couldn't hide from him.
"Harry, there's something I want to say." She took a deep breath, it was now or never. "You can't possibly know how desperate a place I was in at the time. You said you're sorry, and I believe you, but I think you should know this. I've never been more upset or bitter about you than I was that night. When I was sitting over you, desperately trying to heal your wounds and get you to wake up from whatever nightmare you were having, I was in a complete panic. Ron was gone and I thought for sure I was going to lose you too. Then, even after you woke up, I put the pieces together and knew I was going to lose you anyways. That the only way the whole nightmare would end was if you died. I wasn't joking when I suggested we stay there Harry. I had no idea what I would do without you. Then you snapped at me and I nearly lost it. I nearly lost my will to fight on that night. Only by talking myself into believing that you were in just as fragile a state of mind as me, and that you needed me, was I able to keep going."
Hermione hadn't realized a lone tear had escaped her eyes. Harry looked deeply hurt, not because she had offended him, but because of how badly he knew he had hurt her. Hermione almost smiled. She may not be able to hide from him anymore, but he did no better at hiding from her.
Even in her darkest moment, it had been her care for him that brought her back from the brink. How in the world did Harry deserve someone like Hermione Granger in his life? He would probably never know.
He couldn't even bring himself to say thank you, but a knowing look entered her eyes and he knew he didn't have to. She already knew.
As long as they were laying cards on the table, there was one more thing he had to know. He had to deal with this doubt in his mind that Ron had put there a week or so before.
"You said you would go with me."
So they were going to lay it all out there tonight huh? Hermione guessed that this was as good a time as any. She never expected they would go their whole lives without those words coming into conversation at some point.
"Yes, Harry and I would have. I just said it once, I'll say it again: I didn't, I don't know what I would do without you. You've been my best friend since I was eleven years old Harry. I've lived the past seven years of my life with you constantly by my side. I love you Harry. I was, I am with you to the end."
She hadn't meant to say that she loved him. It wasn't that she didn't love him, she loved him more than life itself, but she wasn't so sure in the moment how exactly she had meant it. She felt like she covered herself well, calling him her best friend. After all, that's exactly what he was. She had never felt as close to Ron as she did to Harry.
She felt a twinge of pain thinking about Ron. Ron was the one that she had pursued a relationship with. Ron was the one who always wanted her that way. Harry never had. Harry was much more like an older brother. He was protective and affectionate, but never once had it stopped them from pursuing romantic interests with others. Surely that meant something right?
Harry surely understood what she meant when she said she loved him. He had never once showed any romantic interest in her, so there simply wasn't anything to misunderstand. Their relationship was set in stone: the very best of friends and nothing more.
The only thing Hermione wasn't sure of was who it was she was trying to convince.