The End of the Beginning

Chapter 26

It had been three days since Hermione had accidentally kissed him and Harry was just now getting his thoughts into some semblance of order.

Classes had started right away, so he had been forced to put his brain to work on something other than the giant elephant in the room between himself and his best friend. He spent most of his free time that he wasn't doing homework trying to sort through why exactly a harmless accident had turned his mind into a circus.

It bothered him that he had been so affected by it. It had been hard to get the feeling of her soft lips against his out of his brain, no matter how hard he tried. It made being around Hermione awkward, which was a feeling he had never before associated with her. Hermione and Ron both had always been his comfort zone, the one place he always felt sure of himself. Now the sight of her bushy hair sent his stomach into his throat. The worst part was that he wasn't even sure why.

"Well, have you ever thought about kissing her before?" Ron asked during a private chess match in Harry's bedroom.

"You really want me to answer that?" he gave his friend a skeptical look. He didn't want to tread on sensitive territory.

"Yeah, come on. Me and Hermione are ancient history now, you can tell me." Ron's knight began pummeling one of Harry's pawns.

"There was once, it was when we were in the tent after you had gone. The radio was on and this song came on, I was being stupid and we started dancing. I just wanted to see her smile. When the music ended, we were standing there….and it was only for a moment….but it was just us, I thought about it."

"Then what?"

"Well, nothing happened. We went back to business as usual, until we went to Godric's Hollow." For some reason the mention of his parents' home made the corners of Ron's lips twitch just enough for Harry to catch it. "What?" Harry gave his friend a questioning look.

"It's nothing Harry. Why don't you just talk to her about it? What's the worst that could happen?"

"I know I need to talk to her about it." Harry added lamely. "I just lose my nerve every time I try."

"What exactly are you afraid of?"

"I guess I'm just afraid to make it worse."

"Harry, don't you know you can trust her by now?"

"Of course I do."

"Then trust her. Trust that she wants to sort this out just like you. I think you're blowing this a bit out of proportion. Both of you really. Then again, it wouldn't be the first time."

"Come on Ron, it was a kiss! With Hermione! While I'm with your sister at that!"

"An accident Harry. Unless there's something about this you're not telling me, then it's a simple accident. No harm, no foul."

"Alright, alright then." Harry was getting frustrated by the conversation and the fact that Ron didn't seem to understand that it wasn't just a simple accident. He had crossed a line he had never thought he'd cross with Hermione, and even if it hadn't been on purpose it still shook up the existing order of things. But Ron was right about one thing, he needed to talk to Hermione.

"Look, I've already talked to her and got her side of the story and I'm telling you: just go talk to her. I'm positive if you took five minutes you both could be passed this and stop being so bloody awkward." Ron was grinning as his bishop cornered Harry's king to end the game. Harry knocked his king over as he pulled out the Marauder's Map to see where Hermione was. She wasn't in her dorm or the library; she was in what appeared to be an empty classroom on the third floor. Except Harry knew better, he had been through a trap door in that particular room over seven years before.

"What's she doing there?" he asked out loud.

"Where?" Ron asked, placing the chessboard in its case.

"Third floor, the room where the Sorcerer's Stone was."

"Weird, maybe you can go play hero one more time if Fluffy is renting again." Ron laughed.

"Shut it." But Harry was laughing too. "By the way, you talked to that girl from the train yet? What was her name? Ashley?"

"Aubrey." Ron corrected, his ears turning red.

"And here I thought you hadn't been paying attention." Harry playfully shoved him. It made him feel wonderfully young to be taking the mickey from Ron over a girl.

"Yeah I have actually; she'll be joining us at the Gryffindor table for dinner tonight." Ron mumbled.

"Really? I'll have to tell Gin, we can tell her all about that Pygmy Puff tattoo of yours." Harry started laughing, Ron flushing the color of beets.

"That's not funny! People actually believed that!"

"Consider it payback for being over-protective with Gin back in sixth year." Harry clapped him on the back. "Well I'm going to go find Hermione, good luck mate."

"Same to you."

Harry suddenly felt a lot better about talking to Hermione. Talking with Ron had put him in a cheerful mood and the thought that he was only a few minutes away from straightening everything out made his heart soar. Everything would be back to normal.

Except those lips. Those aren't going anywhere. And the smell of coconut. Why does she smell like coconut?

Hermione wasn't sure what had brought her here. She had been on autopilot when she went looking for some solitude. She had expected her brain to take her to her favorite privacy haunts in the library or Prefect bathroom but surprisingly it took her to a door on the third floor corridor that she had passed through only twice in her Hogwarts career: Once to escape Filch and once to stop a corrupt teacher from stealing the Sorcerer's Stone.

It was, after all, a place nobody ever ventured to. It had never been put to use after the Stone had been destroyed and so students never made any use of it, especially because of the legends that surrounded it based on the handed down stories of her, Harry, and Ron's exploits.

Her feet had walked her here, but she had reason to believe there was some magic in the castle that prodded her because she had been surprised to find that it was not entirely empty.

There was a large mirror against the back wall with strange words written across the top. But it was when she looked in the mirror that she had received the real surprise. She had simply stared at it, her heart fit to burst with longing and sadness. She had settled onto the floor with her legs crossed and was content to simply look, completely losing track of time.

She knew what this was, the boys had both told her at different times about this mirror. It was the Mirror of Erised. Of course, she was the one who had pointed out that "Erised" was "Desire" spelled backwards, but that was academic. This was her first time seeing the mirror for herself and now she understood what could be so intoxicating about it.

"Hard to turn away isn't it?" a quiet voice came from beside her. Harry was taking a seat next to her.

She wasn't sure if she was pleased they were going to talk about this, or terrified by where that conversation might lead.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Hermione not breaking her gaze from the mirror and Harry not breaking his gaze on her.

"You know we can't keep dodging this forever." Harry broke the silence quietly.

He was right of course. She had been distancing herself during classes and at the table in the Great Hall for three days now. Head patrols had been the worst. At first she had tried to nervously fill the time with idle banter or by going on long diatribes about their homework, but they all eventually ended in incredibly awkward silences.

"I know." She answered simply. She couldn't bring herself to take the first step, so she waited for Harry to say something.

"Was….it was just an accident….right?" Harry asked, nervously running his hand through his hair.

"Yeah." Her voice sounded like it was very far away from where she sat. "Yeah, I was just going to kiss you goodnight, on the cheek, like always."

"Like always." Harry repeated, a strange note to his voice.

"I'm sorry…"

"Don't be. It was just an accident." Harry cut her off. "I'm sorry that I rushed out. We could have talked about it then and avoided having the most awkward three days of our lives."

They both laughed but it was quickly stifled.

"Can I ask you something?" Harry blurted out.

"Of course Harry." Hermione felt herself tremble slightly, an unease that she never remembered feeling around Harry filling her chest.

"If…." He took a breath, "If it was just an accident and it doesn't really mean anything….then why did you and I both freak out about it?"

Bless him. Harry could be so lovably naïve. Of course she knew why it freaked her out. Her best friend in the entire world, the one she had been slowly falling in love with for months now had kissed her. It may have been an accident, but the softness of his lips and the bolt of lightning that had shot down her spine had been impossible to forget.

Not only that, but the fact that it had freaked him out had sent a wave of hope crashing over her that had nearly swept her off her feet. Hope that maybe, incredibly, he was feeling the same way she was. Hope that it had affected him the same way it had affected her.

Hermione shoved those things forcibly to the back of her mind and set the more logical parts of her brain into motion.

"I'm sure that it was because it was something we've never experienced before, between the two of us, something we never would have thought would happen given our romantic interest, or lack thereof in each other."

There was at least some truth to that. The part about not having experienced it was true at least, even if that was certainly not what made her blood hum at the very memory of that little kiss. She could see the wheels turning in Harry's mind. She had never told him before how adorable he looked when he was thinking really hard about something.

"Maybe." His voice was full of skepticism. "It does feel like we crossed some sort of line." He was looking right into her eyes now and for the first time in her life she was using every ounce of her willpower not to let him really see her. Their innate understanding of each other had always been a source of comfort in the past, but now it made her feel like she was dangling over a ledge.

"Yeah, I guess you're right. As usual." He laughed and flashed her that stupid grin of his, that grin that made him look so very much like his father. She felt a wave of relief wash over her that was strangled in the next instant by sadness. Only Harry could make her emotions veer so wildly back and forth.

"So what do you see?" He asked, looking towards the mirror.

Right. Forgot about that

"Er…" she scrambled to put her brain into overdrive. "I see us. You, me, and Ron. We're happy, whole, and ready to make the world a better place." She placed a smile on her face, "Just like we are now."

"Well, we could always start by making you Minister of Magic in a few years." Harry teased, playfully nudging her with his shoulder.

"How about we put you in charge of the Auror office first?" she teased back, pleased he accepted her half-truth. Sickened that she had lied to him. "Wouldn't want my security to be too lax."

"Oh for you? We'd make sure no one got within fifty feet." Harry flashed her that dumb grin again sending a flutter to her heart.

"What about you?" she countered.

"Only works one at a time." He replied simply. "Besides, I reckon it's not likely to change is it?"

"Actually, I think it very well could change over time. Our desires themselves often change after all." She was reminded forcefully of a time in the not too distant past where a very different image might have greeted her. "I think Dumbledore was wrong about the mirror."

"What, that it's not dangerous? He said people have sat and wasted away in front of it."

"No, not that part. I think he was wrong to say that the mirror doesn't give knowledge. I think, for someone who doesn't fully understand themselves, the mirror could be very informative indeed."

Easy for you to say isn't it?

"Hmm, never thought of it that way. You're brilliant you know that?" she felt a blush creep up her cheeks.

"It never hurts to hear it." She gave him a genuine smile. He stood up to go and she stood up next to him, close enough that she could smell that clean, masculine smell that simply said Harry.

The few seconds they spent standing next to one another stretched themselves to impossible lengths until Hermione forgot completely where they were or what they had been talking about.

"Hermione?" Harry's voice cut through the haze enveloping her mind.

"…what?" she tripped over her own words, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks.

"I was just saying I'll see you in a while for dinner." He gave her a puzzled look, though she noticed a tinge of red in his cheeks too.

"Oh, yeah sure." She nodded her head, watching him go and letting her gaze linger on the shut door.

She turned her head to look one more time at the real image in the mirror. It was her, Harry, and Ron all right. Harry was in the middle with Ron on his left, arms around each other's shoulders and laughing. Harry had his other arm around Hermione's waist and turned to her every so often to plant a kiss on her lips. She had one arm around his waist and the other hand on his chest and looked positively radiant. They all looked like they were having the time of their lives.

A knot formed in Hermione's chest as she willed herself to look away. Dumbledore had been right about the dangers of the mirror, she could certainly understand the desire to simply stand here and waste the time away. But she wouldn't live for a vision in a mirror. She did have a very happy and very real Ron and Harry that she had the distinct privilege of enjoying for the rest of her life Voldemort-free.

That was enough for her.

Knowledge? Maybe I was wrong after all. Real knowledge is knowing what you have and being grateful for it. The logical part of her brain triumphantly proclaimed, only to be countered by a deeper and quieter voice that sent a very real shiver down her spine.

Books and cleverness? There are more important things…..friendship, bravery, and…..

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