"Hermione?" Harry was careful to approach her slowly, ready to back off in case she didn't want company.
"Hey Harry." Hermione took a shuddering breath. "I'm sorry, we just…" and she plunged her face into his shoulder and started crying. She stayed this way for a few minutes before she seemed to gather herself.
"I'm sorry Harry. I know we shouldn't be fighting. I thought we had agreed to not talk about any of this until we got back to England." Hermione sat up and brushed the tears off her cheeks with her sleeve. She stood up and started pacing back and forth in front of Harry.
"Don't apologize Hermione. You can't just put your life on pause."
"Don't tell me you actually agree with him?" She rounded on Harry, giving him a look that would probably melt a man on the spot if it had been anyone else.
"No Hermione, that's not what I meant." Harry sighed. He was trying to keep his cool. Shouting wasn't going to help things. "I meant that if you and Ron have stuff to work through then you can't just press pause and deal with it later."
"Isn't that what you did when you told Ginny she couldn't come?" Hermione shot him a filthy look. It hit Harry a little closer to home than he'd ever care to admit.
"That was different."
"How Harry? How is it any different?"
"For one, she didn't spend the year living on the run like we did. Not that Hogwarts was a cakewalk mind you, but I thought we were the ones who needed to get away. You told me that yourself."
Hermione seemed to deflate a little at Harry's logic.
"Not to mention that ultimately it came down the fact that I wanted you two with me. Not her. You're the ones I can barely stand to have out of my sight, not her."
Hermione's eyes went tender at this statement. "Harry…"
"It's true and you know it." Harry was stating a fact. Even the moments he thought he wanted to himself usually turned into fitfully finding his way back to them.
"Well it's pretty hard to stay mad at you when you say things like that." Hermione took a seat next to Harry again. "Thank you. Though, you probably shouldn't tell her that you feel that way about me."
"Let's just say Ron is not the only Weasley to have a little green monster."
Harry sighed. The jealousy the Weasleys was really tiresome. "Don't they think that if there was anything between us that we would have acted on it by now?"
"Well, maybe we wouldn't have." Hermione answered simply. Harry wasn't sure he followed her and it must have showed on his face. "Sometimes is takes people awhile to figure these things out Harry. I'm not saying that's what is happening with us, but it does happen. I'm just trying to say that they're not exactly being that unreasonable."
Harry frowned; he had not been expecting Hermione to defend Ginny and Ron like that. Hermione again picked up on his train of thought.
"I'm not exactly defending them Harry. They still are too overbearing and jealous when it comes to you and me, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be more aware of how we act around each other sometimes."
The two sat in silence for a few minutes. Harry was unsure about what Hermione had said. He didn't think it was fair that he and Hermione had to change anything when they both had done nothing to prove that they were disloyal to their respective partners. Deciding to put the thought aside for the moment, Harry stood up. It was time to find Ron.
"Do let him know how much I care about him." Hermione looked up from a book she had started reading with a concerned air about her.
"I will. I'll be back once he's cooled off. Just promise me you two will try and work this out."
Hermione gave Harry a look he didn't quite understand. "Okay Harry."
Unsure exactly what was going through Hermione's mind, Harry set off in the direction Ron had left. After walking for about ten minutes, he eventually found him sitting on a bridge. Dropping rocks into the stream below him.
"Keep it up and you'll damn the whole creek up." Harry tried to lighten the mood. It didn't seem to work.
"She would have died with you." Ron's voice cracked, like he had been crying.
Harry already was alarmed at where this conversation was going.
"Ron, we've all risked our neck for each other more than we can count. She would die for you in an instant and she still would. So would I, for the record."
"You don't get it Harry. She said it herself. She would have gone into the Forest with you. She would have died with you Harry. She'd rather die with you than live with me."
All the blood left Harry's face. He had no idea how to respond to what Ron had said. Filing it away for further thought later, he knew that for the sake of his friend, he had to think of something.
"Ron…" Harry started, trying to feel his way out of this. "Ron you know she didn't mean it like that. She's my best friend, just like you. She knew that I wouldn't have ever asked you guys to go with me, but that all the same I had no desire to be apart from you forever. That was simply her way of saying that she didn't want our trio broken up either. I know you felt the same way, even if you didn't say it. Because I would feel the same way if our roles had been reversed and so would she."
Ron lifted his face to look at Harry. There was a deep well of hurt inside of them. Ron seemed to be scrutinizing Harry's face.
"A part of me believes you. I really do, but another part of me thinks that you just don't see what I do." Ron turned his face down to look at the water again, a fresh tear leaving his eyes.
"Ron, she loves you. You know that right?"
"I don't question whether or not she loves me mate, I question whether or not she loves you more."
"Ron how could you…" but Ron didn't let him finish.
"She fancied you before. Did you know that?"
"Well Rita has always been known for pin point accuracy.."
Ron looked at Harry and then laughed. "Boy you really can be thick Harry. It's not that. Everyone could see it. I knew it even before she told me so herself."
Harry could feel his face heating up. "When was this?"
"She told me during fifth year, but it started before that. Don't you remember how she was during fourth year?"
"Fifth year?" Harry was flabbergasted. He had spent most of that year in a dysfunctional relationship with Cho or being a borderline nutter. Fourth year was a daze of simply making it from one task to the next. Sure Hermione had helped him immensely, giving up loads of time, but she had been mad at Ron for not asking her to the Ball. He had always assumed she was just being the amazing friend to him that she always was. Where in all of that did he miss that Hermione was interested in him? Ron almost seemed genuinely amused at Harry's lack of knowledge on the subject. Harry straightened his thoughts out, determined to bring the conversation back to Ron.
"Well, I never knew she felt that way and it doesn't matter. We're not in fourth or fifth year Ron. We're in the here and now. And here and now you are the one she wants. I've never lied to you about how I felt about her. I never wanted her in that way."
The silence hung on the air too long for Harry's liking. Ron seemed lost in thought.
"I know Harry. I'm grateful to have a best mate like you." His expression softened.
"Ron, you're my best mate, you've given me the family I never had. You've been with me through thick and thin." Harry raised his hand to stop Ron's retort, "No Ron I mean it. I told you to leave that night didn't I? It was as much my fault as yours what happened that night."
Ron opened his mouth but said nothing. "I have more to be reason to be grateful for you than you for me." Harry quietly finished.
Harry didn't wait for him and turned to make his way back to Hermione. Ron's footsteps behind him told him that he was following a short distance behind. While it wasn't exactly what he had in mind when they planned this holiday, Harry supposed that it made sense for all three of them to work through some things while they could. The more he thought about it, the more Harry realized had happened in the short year since they had left on the Horcrux hunt and the more sense it made that they wouldn't be able to simply ignore it all until they returned. Maybe it was good that they got away from the pressures of home to sort through everything.
They found Hermione once again wrapped up in her book. Before anything else could be said, Harry quickly suggested that they return to the hotel to loaf around for the rest of the day. Not hearing any arguments he led them down the road to return.
When they got back to the room, Hermione retired to her veranda to continue reading her book while Ron stretched out to watch television. He had a new found fascination with muggle sitcoms. Harry retreated to his own room.
He stretched out on the bed lost on thought. He was disturbed by Ron's attitude about Hermione.
I'll go with you.
He had barely been able to comprehend her words at the time. Barely able to accept what she meant. In hindsight, he felt terribly guilty that he had never said anything back to her. To show her how grateful he was to have a friend like her.
Surely she didn't mean it like Ron had said. Harry couldn't bring himself to think that Hermione was choosing him over Ron.
The thought occurred before he could stop it. But he wouldn't let his mind go there. She wasn't choosing him over Ron. It had never been that way.
But then what had Hermione been trying to get at? The more he thought about what she had said about "people taking awhile to figure these things out" the more mystified he became. What was that supposed to mean? Why was she defending the Weasley children for thinking there was something between them?
And what about what Ron had said about Hermione fancying him? Why had she never said anything? Had he really been so daft as to never recognize that his best friend had feelings for him?
Harry didn't like where this line of thinking was taking him. He forced himself to think about Ginny. About how he could finally be with her without having any fear for her safety. They could finally be a normal teenaged couple.
Oddly, that prospect didn't affect Harry the way he thought it would. It was a pleasant thought for sure, but it wasn't the wonderful end game he had thought it would be. In fact, Hermione had been a lot closer to home than she thought when she accused Harry of avoiding Ginny.
It wasn't that he actively didn't want to be around her. What few moments they had had together before the Trio had left were nice enough. Even with the Weasley family in mourning over Fred. He had comforted her as best he knew how and even found comfort in being with her. But something was missing. She no longer made his stomach do somersaults or awakened that creature in his chest. It wasn't that he no longer found her attractive either. She was as pretty to him as ever. There just wasn't anything beyond that.
He didn't understand it. He had spent the months on the run thinking about her, missing her, wanting nothing more than to be with her. She had been the last thing he thought of when he gave himself up to Voldemort. It should have been his dream come true to finally be with her, but something just wasn't there anymore. Instead of their grief bringing them together, it seemed to be pushing them apart. Harry felt guilty that Fred had died fighting a battle for him. He wondered if perhaps, deep down, Ginny blamed him as much as he blamed himself.
Harry pushed all these thoughts aside. Ginny would never think that. He could here Hermione's voice in his head telling him that Fred didn't die for him, that he had made his own choice and that Ginny surely saw it that way.
With that thought in mind, Harry drifted off to sleep.