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Chapter 1 : Of Love and War
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Ron pushed a large hand through his red locks exasperatedly. ‘He won’t come out. He’s been shut up in there for two days.’
‘I know, Ron. I just thought…’ She let her sentence trail off, knowing it was unnecessary to finish it.
The three of them had arrived at Grimmauld a couple of days ago. They’d been frustrated, tired, dirty and starving. Their most recent search for the horcruxes had been a dead end and they had had to come back to the dark, depressing house to recoup. They’d eaten with a few members of the Order who had filled them in on the latest news; all of it bad. As Tonks rattled off the names of those killed by Death Eaters, more names than not had a familiar face to go with them, and their frustration and anger rose to the fore with Ron cursing a blue streak at everything that had gone wrong. Hermione pushed her plate away nearly untouched and put her face in her hands, trying to ward off the tears for those that were gone forever. Harry had let his fork clatter to the table, breathing a barely audible ‘Fuck.’ None of them had any appetite left after hearing the news and then everything got blown to hell. Tonks asked them about the horcrux hunt. Harry shoved away from the table violently, anger radiating off his body in waves.
His voice was deceptively soft and he let out an ugly laugh. ‘You mean what kind of progress have we made? How many did we find?’ He shoved his hands into his pockets and stared at the floor; self loathing teemed through the one syllable word. ‘None.’ He looked up at the woman and saw the hope die in her eyes. ‘While our friends and family have been fighting and dying, we didn’t find a goddamn thing.’
He stalked out of the kitchen then, his anger that night somehow worse than the outright screaming he’d done in their fifth year at Hogwarts. And that was the last time any of them had seen Harry. He’d gone and locked himself in Sirius’ old room and had refused to open the door. Hermione and Ron thought that Harry just needed time to himself and had given it to him, not even approaching the room.
Mrs. Weasley however, would not abide it and had repeatedly entreated him to come out. She was met with a stony silence every time as was everyone else she had convinced to try. Harry Potter was simply not answering; he wouldn’t open the locked door, let alone speak to anyone.
Those events had Ron and Hermione sitting at an old table in the old, dark house, in the basement kitchen worrying over cold, mostly untouched coffee, about how they were going to get through to Harry. Obviously giving him time had been the wrong thing to do. As far as anyone could tell, time alone had only made Harry more closed off than ever before.
Ron looked up at Hermione. ‘So what do we do?’
‘We get him out of there,’ was her matter of fact reply.
Ron snorted. ‘Just like that? Bloody brilliant, Hermione. Everybody in the damn house has tried to get into that room. How do you propose we go about this?’ He got up and started pacing. ‘He did this before, you know.’
‘I remember,’ Hermione said softly. Harry had blamed himself for an attack on Ron’s father in that notorious fifth year where seemingly everything that could go wrong, did.
‘Guess that means you are going to get him out then,’ Ron said firmly.
‘What? No, I can’t do this by myself,’ Hermione’s eyes went wide. ‘You have to help me, Ron.’
Ron just shook his head. ‘No, Hermione. This is just like before, only worse. Everything is a thousand times worse and that Christmas, the only person that he opened his door for was you.’
Hermione gazed intently at Ron, at the odd glint in his eyes as he told her she would be the only one Harry would listen to, just like before. Hermione nodded. ‘I’ll try.’
Ron squeezed her shoulder in support and Hermione turned and walked up the stairs, not knowing what she would be walking into, or if Harry would even let her inside. Ever since Voldemort had risen at the end of their fourth year, Harry was volatile and moody and one could never tell what would set him off. One minute he was the gentlest soul imaginable and the next moment would find him in a towering temper that few had the mettle to brave. Hermione’s apprehension seemed to pool in her stomach as she knocked softly on the locked door.
There was a soft knock at the door; it wasn’t the first time in the last couple of days that someone came looking for him. He was no more inclined now than he had been any other time in the past forty-eight hours to see anyone, so he kept his back to the door, scowling into the night.
The knocking became louder, more insistent. He sighed heavily. This time of night it could only be one of two people. Truthfully, he was most surprised that either of them had let him be this long, but perhaps they had other things to occupy them, he thought darkly, the envy that he went to great pains to hide rising up. Ron and Hermione were now…something. Not that he’d ever seen them together, but it was inevitable, was it not? He had left Ginny behind last year and he knew it was for the best but at the same time, he was jealous of Ron for having a woman to help him through this war. A woman that loved him.
His reverie was broken by a strident whisper. ‘Harry!’
Hermione. He didn’t answer her.
‘Harry! Open this door; I want to talk to you.’ Somehow the whispered words managed to be shrill. ‘I’m not going away, we have work to do and you can’t stay in there forever!’ she began to bang on the door in earnest.
With a dark look at the door, Harry slowly made his way across the room and unlocked it, opening it just a crack. ‘Are you trying to wake the whole bloody house?’ he snapped, before walking back to the window and resuming his moody stare.
‘Whatever it takes,’ she leveled back at him.
Hermione walked inside and shut the door behind her with a soft click. She watched him for a moment; he was brooding and still angry. It was not that she didn’t understand; it was simply that they did not have the time for this. They’d been at Grimmauld Place too long already and needed to resume the search; the search that they hoped would end this war forever. She padded, barefoot, across the cold surface of the floor and took a seat on the bed. She looked at him silently, only able to see his profile, but even that was set in hard lines. Anger was etched into his face and his stance only accentuated the fury he held inside.
‘Harry,’ she stopped. She wasn’t sure what to say and he was still refusing to make eye contact in any case. For all her bravado in the doorway, she was at a complete loss at how to proceed. What on earth gave Ron the idea that she could help and why wouldn’t he look at her? Well, this was getting them nowhere, she thought tiredly, and rose from the bed.
Harry inwardly breathed a sigh of relief as he heard her rise from the bed. He’d been certain a lecture about how everything will be alright and they just have to keep going was forthcoming. But perhaps, even Hermione had tired of him. Maybe he was just too much emotional work, even as just a friend, after all. The thought etched deep into his heart, making it ache. First, Ginny had let him go without so much as a whimper, let alone putting up a fight and now, Hermione was walking away too.
Lost in thought, he glanced down, surprised, to find her small hand touching his arm. A sardonic smile twisted his lips. He should have known better. She was going to force the issue, of course she was. She was Hermione Granger. He looked down, vaguely surprised that he had grown tall enough for that to be necessary, and into the soft brown eyes that he knew so well.
‘Something on your mind, Hermione?’
Hermione’s eyes hardened as she glared up at him. He may as well have asked her what she thought of the weather. ‘You know perfectly well, what,’ she snapped.
‘Do I?’ His green eyes glinted in the sparse light and he turned his gaze back toward the window.
Her fingers tightened on his upper arm. ‘Dammit, Harry, look at me. I know this is hard. But I…we need you in this fight.’
‘Fight?’ he gave an ugly bark of laughter. ‘Me? I’m not doing any fighting; just stumbling around like a blind man in the dark, chasing smoke.’ He was looking at her again. His eyes were lit with an angry fire within and it was apparent that he was spoiling for a fight. ‘So we just ignore all the death and destruction around us and go right back out to looking for something we haven’t the foggiest idea how to find and don’t know what to do with it, if we do find it!’ he raged.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Harry. Of course we don’t ignore the pain and the loss, but you can’t just hide in here and refuse to talk to anyone!’
‘Great, I’m ridiculous now.’ Sarcasm dripped off his words. ‘So sorry to inconvenience you by not reacting to death properly.’
‘That’s not what I meant,’ Hermione said, her voice softening. ‘I want to help you. Ron and I just—‘
‘Just what?’ he snarled, cutting her off. He shoved a hand through his hair, the movement disengaging her hand from his arm. His tone was curt. ‘Maybe it’s easier for you and Ron. You have each other…’ he trailed off momentarily and then said tiredly, ‘Just go back to Ron and leave this alone, Hermione.’
‘No,’ she bit off. ‘I won’t.’ She stepped closer and gave him a slight shove, ‘And you can start by telling me what the hell you are on about, because none of this is easy; for any of us,’ she railed at him. ‘We’re in this together. We have been ever since we were eleven,’ she finished quietly.
The more she tried to get through and help him, the angrier he felt. ‘In this together? Right,’ he huffed.
‘Of course we are. Why are you making this so hard?’ she asked, exasperatedly. ‘Like we’d ever leave you. No matter what, whatever it takes, we’re with you, Harry.’
Harry expelled an angry breath. ‘I’m not making this hard! It’s already bloody well impossible.’ His voice was rising to a shout. ‘Don’t you get it?’ he grabbed her upper arms and shook her. ‘Dumbledore is dead, gone! We’re clueless about the horcruxes as evidenced by our last attempt, and then there’s that so-called power the Dark Lord knows not,’ he sneered. ‘Love; it’s all down to love, like that helps.’
Still held tight in Harry’s grasp, Hermione’s eyes filled with tears. ‘It always helps; love saved you once, Harry.’ She reached a hand out to his chest and placed it over his heart. ‘It’s the most powerful force there is.’
Harry and Hermione both looked at her hand covering his heart and Hermione felt her breathing hitch a bit as she noticed for the first time that Harry was only wearing the bottoms of a red and gold plaid Gryffindor pajama set. Her fingers curled, her nails resting lightly on his skin. She knew she ought to move her hand, but she didn’t.
Harry’s eyes flicked from the movement of her hand to her face and he relaxed his grip on her arms, yet found himself unable to release her completely. He felt something warm curling in his belly, but he ignored it, Hermione’s words ringing in his ears. His voice was hoarse, ‘I—I can’t,’ he shook his head vehemently. ‘Everyone that loves me dies,’ he finished simply.
Hermione shook her head. ‘That’s not true,’ she smiled softly at him as he gaped at her, sure that Ron was right and she was mental. And then she moved the hand on his heart and let them both cup his jaw. ‘I’m still here, Harry, and I love you. I have always loved you.’ Her voice and eyes reflected the depth of her emotion and Harry’s breathing became labored.
Harry’s heart hammered in his chest and he tightened his grip on her arms and yanked her flush against him, becoming painfully aware of the thinness of the baby blue camisole pajama top she wore. He could feel his body responding to her very female curves.
Hermione gasped in reaction to the hardness of his body, her hands splayed against his chest. She could feel the lean muscle under her fingers and something hard was pressing into her stomach.
‘You love me?’ his voice came out hoarse as he tried to breathe normally. ‘But you and Ron…’ He could feel the envy creeping into his heart again, but this time it was worse, because his heart wanted her to be his, not Ron’s. Ron already had everything; his parents, a family that loved him. He could feel the jealousy seething as he waited for Hermione to answer him.
‘Ron?’ she looked confused. ‘No, Harry. Ron’s like the brother I never had. I’m in love with you, Harry James Potter.’
She was the first person to ever say that to him. His hands came up to tangle in her hair, pulling the rubber band loose that held the plait. Combing through the strands, he tangled his fingers in the brown curls. ‘Gods, Hermione, I don’t know what…’ his voice shook with fear. ‘Everyone who loves me dies,’ he whispered again. ‘What do I do now?’
Hermione gazed into the brightly shining green eyes. ‘All you have to do is love me back,’ she answered softly. ‘That is, if…if…’ she trailed off as beautiful and animated Ginny Weasley popped into her mind, and she dropped his gaze, resting her forehead on his chest, willing herself not to cry. Why, oh why hadn’t she thought of this before, she berated herself.
She wrenched out of his grasp and turned her back to him. For once, words failed her as the enormity of what she had done washed over her. What had she done? The question hammered over and over in her brain mercilessly.
Harry frowned at her back, her behavior puzzling. ‘Hermione?’ He took a tentative step towards her, but she vanished before his eyes. She had apparated right out of his room. How could she tell him that she loved him and then disappear? His frown deepened into a scowl. Bloody hell. He had no idea what he’d done wrong, or even where she had gone. He sighed. He had no choice; he was going to have to find her. He knew she was in the house somewhere; the wards prevented anyone from apparating in and out at will. He would search the house top to bottom if necessary. Might as well start at the top.
Hermione stared sightlessly out at the night sky from the roof of the house. Her brain had been in overdrive since she had popped up here. She had no rational explanation for her behavior, no idea where the words had come from. They had just tumbled from her mouth so naturally, almost of their own volition. She sighed heavily, but now there was an even bigger problem; she couldn’t those words back. No matter how much she wished she could play them off, she had taken it too far. Her own voice echoed mockingly in her head; the voice proclaiming, without doubt, that she was in love with him and he was in love with Ginny. She heard footsteps behind her, but she didn’t turn around. She really didn’t want to face this…him.
Harry stopped about a foot behind her, simply watching her. She was motionless except for the slight breeze that ruffled her hair. Luckily, the summer night was fairly warm or they both would be shivering.
‘Hermione,’ he paused for a moment. ‘I think…’ she still had not acknowledged his presence at all. He stepped up and touched her arm. ‘Hermione, what happened in there?’
She finally looked up into his eyes, tears yet to fall were swimming in their brown depths. ‘I don’t know, Harry.’
He swallowed visibly. ‘Right, then…you didn’t mean it,’ the words came painfully out of his mouth. He had not realized until just then how happy those three little words had made him. It had all happened so fast and she was gone. He hadn’t processed it, but just saying aloud that it wasn’t true felt like someone had ripped a hole in him.
‘It’s okay, Hermione.’ Harry couldn’t help but feel that something precious was sliding from his grasp, but he had no idea how to stop it.
‘No, it is not okay, Harry,’ Hermione fumed. How could he be so calm? How could he think that the word love came out of her mouth so lightly that she would take it back minutes after she said it? ‘How can you say that? Everything is a right mess.’ One tear escaped down her cheek.
He instinctively reached a finger out to catch the tear, the sight of it ripping at his heart. He flinched when she jerked out of his reach.
‘Don’t,’ she wiped at the offending tear angrily. ‘I can’t take it, don’t be nice to me.’ Her words picked up speed, as though she were trying to get them all out before some invisible deadline. ‘I mean…I, well. I’m sorry, alright? I shouldn’t have said it. I know that you are still in love with Ginny and that this war is the only thing keeping you apart.’ Hermione was so consumed with her own babbling and trying to fix whatever was left of their friendship that she never saw the puzzled frown on Harry’s face. ‘I know you don’t care for me like you care for her. It’s okay. It will be okay. I’m fine, you’re fine. We’ll just go back…’
‘Hermione!’ He finally shouted. ‘What in the bloody hell are you on about? You’re not making any sense at all,’ and that was more than disconcerting for Harry. Hermione was the most sensible person he’d ever had the fortune to meet and she was acting like a madwoman. ‘What does Ginny have to do with this?’ he gesticulated wildly at the two of them.
‘What—oh, honestly, Harry. We all know that you’re in love with Ginny.’
His eyes narrowed imperceptibly. ‘We do, do we?’
‘Well, we all know you only broke up with her because you feared for her safety and you didn’t want her getting hurt.’ Hermione’s no nonsense, sensible tone was back. All signs of emotion gone.
It rankled slightly that everyone had decided he was in love with Ginny and no one had bothered to even ask him about his own bloody feelings. ‘Well, for your information, I am not in love with Ginny,’ he sighed, anger draining rapidly at the surprise registering on Hermione’s face. ‘Of course, I care about her. And I couldn’t stand it if something happened to her, especially because she was with me, but I don’t think it was love,’ he finished thoughtfully.
Hermione gazed at him. ‘Don’t you miss her?’
‘No, not really. This is my fight, one I couldn’t run from even if I wanted to. It has stalked me since that Halloween in Godric’s Hollow.’ His green eyes took on a haunted cast. ‘Ginny being here would just be someone else to worry about and, well, maybe it’s all for the best. I care for her and I always will but my time with her is over and thinking of it is like looking at a memory in a pensieve. It’s like watching someone else’s life,’ he said, sadly. ‘And it’s not as if she fought the decision I made; she was very accepting.’ Sarcasm crept into his tone as he voiced the thought that had plagued him earlier. ‘Perhaps I’m just too much work, emotionally,’ his face twisted into a grimace. ‘Maybe the Boy Who Lived just wasn’t worth the trouble.’
She could hear the abandoned little boy in his last words and it broke her heart. She looked at him as tears swam anew in her eyes. This time, the tears were for him, not for herself. She faced him directly and closed the little distance between them. She took him in, from the top of his perpetually messy, raven hair all the way down to his bare feet. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his pajamas and his head bowed as he tried to collect himself after revealing so much. Did he realize how much? She reached up and framed his face in her small hands.
‘Don’t you dare, Harry Potter,’ she whispered fiercely, forcing eye contact with him. ‘Don’t you ever say that you’re not worth it; don’t even think it.’ Her tears slipped free, leaving a trail down her cheeks.
Harry met her brown gaze with shock; she sounded almost angry, but something more. He withdrew his hands from his pockets and once more tried to wipe away her tears only this time, she let him. He watched her eyes close briefly as his callused thumbs gently stroked the wetness away.
She opened her eyes, lit with that same fire. Not anger at all, but passion. She struggled to continue, nearly choking on her words. ‘You are worth it; worth loyalty and faithfulness. Worth love,’ the fierceness was still in her voice. ‘Worth the kind of love that knows no bounds, Harry. The kind of love that is worth any price. The kind of love that is everything.’
Harry looked intently at her, his green eyes searing into her. His heartbeat was erratic again and he felt as if he were shivering from the inside out. He grasped her wrists, pulling her hands from his face, and pulled her against his chest, their hands trapped between their bodies, effectively keeping her from escaping again. ‘Hermione,’ his voice held a quiet edge. ‘Stop.’
‘Harry, about what I said in your room,’ she wanted to look away in case she was doing the wrong thing, but found that she couldn’t.
‘Hermione,’ his voice was still soft, but held a warning.
‘I—I meant it,’ she stammered. She saw the pained look in his eyes. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have said it, but I can’t lie to you. I do—‘
‘Don’t, Hermione,’ his grip on her wrists tightened, her nails grazing his skin lightly. ‘Don’t say another word,’ his voice cracked slightly. ‘Don’t you dare say that again…not unless you mean it,’ he hissed.
‘Oh, Harry,’ her voice was soft, full of love and longing. ‘I did mean it. I do mean it, I love you,’ her last words came out as a whisper.
He stared at her for a long moment; possibly the longest moment in Hermione Granger’s life. She forced herself to meet his eyes and not look away. She gasped as he suddenly released her wrists and his hands came up to frame her face and he kissed her hard on the mouth, her freed hands reaching up into his hair. She sighed as she found his inky locks to be as silky as they looked. Harry took advantage of her open mouth to deepen the kiss, tasting her fully, and one arm slipped down to grasp her around the waist, lifting her up off her feet without ever breaking the kiss.
When they at last broke apart for air, they were both breathing heavily and he set her gently back on her feet. Hermione felt dazed as he pulled her into an embrace. She rested her head on his chest, basking in the warmth there and marveling that she was here, held close against him, quite unplatonically, and she smiled.
Harry buried his face in her hair; her declaration had left his heart singing and that kiss had sent his body humming with desire, wanting more.
She felt his lips grazing her hair and as she replayed the kiss and what led up to it in her mind, her smile faded. She realized that Harry had only kissed her. He had never said he loved her back.
Hermione pulled back and looked up at him, a frown creasing her brow. Harry shook his head negatively. ‘No, Hermione. No,’ his lips thinned, as his mouth hardened. ‘I won’t let you take it back,’ he shook his head. ‘And I felt it when we kissed. I felt so much,’ he leaned in to kiss her again, but she prevented the contact, laying a single finger against his lips.
‘Felt so much what, Harry? What did you feel for me?’ she whispered.
The question caught him off guard; he was terrible with words. He sighed heavily against her finger. He watched her take a deep breath as his own blew against her skin and she drew her hand back, curling it into a fist over her heart. He resisted the urge to smile at the way he physically affected her. He knew everything hung on how he answered her questions.
‘I felt…’ he put his hands on her shoulders, his brow furrowing as he tried to put his feelings into words. ‘Oh damn it all,’ he finally ground out. ‘You know I’m rubbish with words, Hermione. I don’t know how to tell you, I don’t have the words.’ He turned away in frustration, balling his hands into fists at his side, sure he was blowing it all.
Hermione went to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, burying her face in his back, breathing him in. She finally lifted her head, her voice soft. ‘Try, Harry. Please.’ She hated herself for sounding so desperate to her own ears, for needing the words.
He turned around slowly and faced her. He picked up her hands, palms up, and brought each, in turn, to his mouth for a kiss. The sensation caused her tummy to flutter pleasantly as she waited. He brought his eyes up until they met hers. His voice was barely audible when he finally spoke.
‘When you told me you loved me downstairs, it was like something in me woke up.’ He dropped her hands and looked at her. He put a hand into his messy hair and smiled rather sheepishly. ‘I’ve always envied Ron, you know.’ It was a statement, not a question.
Hermione shook her head. ‘No, I didn’t.’ When he didn’t continue, she prompted him. ‘Why?’ She wasn’t sure where this was going or what it had to do with her question, but she was afraid he’d never get it out if not in his own way. There would be no pushing this, she knew.
The smile faded and his voice was hoarse with emotion. ‘He had everything, has everything. Two parents who are alive, an entire family that loves him and is proud of him and would do anything for him. And then there was you, Hermione. I thought he had you, too,’ he looked up at the sky for a moment. ‘I’ve always envied him for his family. I’d trade everything I have in exchange for the lives of my family, to have them back, to have what Ron has. And in this last year, the envy grew since I thought you two were together. I never knew why, just that Ron had everything and I felt so alone and trapped by events that were never in my control.’ He reached out to caress her hair and wound a curl around his index finger and tilted his head as he looked down at her, unsure whether her silence was good or bad. He continued. ‘I was so frustrated. I have been for months, with our lack of progress. And after Tonks’ report on the war, I just felt so useless. But there you were, in my face, telling me I was wrong, telling me that you love me, that you’ve always loved me,’ his eyes lit up. ‘And up here, you said it again even though I begged you not to, but you did. And it was like something was suddenly right that had never fit before. And that kiss…’ their gazes clashed as the memory washed over both of them.
Then Harry pulled her into his arms roughly, lowered his head and kissed her, not hard, but softly this time, sucking gently on her lower lip. Their tongues met and the kiss intensified until they were gasping for air again. Hermione let her head fall forward onto his chest, her heart hammering wildly. Harry wrapped his arms around her tightly, as if he would never let go, kissing the thick curls atop her head, breathing in the scent of her shampoo. She raised her head and he kissed her forehead…each eyelid…the tip of her nose, muttering as he did so, the words a thick growl. ‘Mine…mine,’ before he claimed her mouth again, this time possessively. His lips left a trail of kisses down her jaw line and she gasped for breath.
‘Yes, Harry. I’m yours,’ she said breathlessly.
He gave her an intense look. ‘You don’t want to take it back?’ he asked struggling to keep the fear of her answer out of his voice.
‘You said I couldn’t,’ her brown eyes twinkled up at him, a small smile playing at her lips.
‘Don’t tease,’ he whispered in her ear. ‘Not about this.’ He felt a small bit of satisfaction as he felt her body shudder at his voice in her ear.
She sobered at the serious look in his eyes. ‘No, I don’t want to take it back. My heart is yours.’
He breathed a sigh of relief as he crushed her to him, burying his face in her neck. ‘Mione,’ he expelled on a breath. ‘I love you, Mione.’ He looked up and found her eyes misty once more. ‘Shhh, no, luv, no more tears. I hate it when you cry.’ A smile lit her face from within at the endearment.
Hermione grabbed his hand and pulled him to the small wall that encircled the roof. ‘Let’s sit.’ Harry leaned his back against the brick and Hermione nestled herself between his legs, leaning back against his chest, his arms holding her close. Hermione closed her eyes in pleasure as he dropped a kiss on her neck, tilting it slightly for better access.
He smiled at the soft sounds she made, even listening to her breathe as they relaxed against each other, heads resting together. He didn’t know how long they sat, content just to be together. Perhaps Dumbledore had been right, he mused, as she stilled after a bit. Loving and being loved was, indeed, extraordinary. And for the first time in over a year, he felt the beginnings of something he’d thought lost a lifetime ago. Hope. Hope for the future, because now he knew what made all the fighting worth it. He had his own, real, flesh and blood reason to fight and to win and she was sleeping in his arms.
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