Chapter 2 : Step by Step
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The Great Hall was full of students. It seemed that everyone was talking about classes, Voldemort and of course about the Quidditch Final. There didn’t exist a single soul in Hogwarts who didn’t know that it was Harry Potter's last game, even Professor Binns. In a few days, Harry would play for the last time at Hogwarts. To his own surprise, he wasn’t nervous, not about this game. True be told he didn’t care anymore. In a bad mood, he pushed his porridge away untouched.
“You have to eat, Harry. Look, I don’t want to lie if Hermione asks,” Ginny said as she pushed the porridge back in front of him.
“You mean she asks you if we eat enough?” Ron inquired, looking shocked and forgetting for a moment to scrape the last bit of porridge out of the bowl.
“No, she asks if Harry eats enough,” Ginny replied loudly.
“Why? I’m her friend, too.” He put his bowl back on the table and started to eye the full one in front of Harry. It didn't take long before Harry had had enough of Ron’s longing look and pushed the bowl to him.
“Because she knows you. If I ate as much as you do, I would explode.” Ginny's worried eyes were fixed on Harry. “You look tired,” she said finally.
“Sorry, but I have to side with Ginny there.” Ron’s voice sounded only half as cheerful as before.
“There's no reason to worry. I’m fine.” Harry tried to smile, but it was more of a grimace.
“You’re not, mate. Even Parvati keeps asking me if you're all right. Mind you, she still stops to corner me even after I told her you and Hermione are fine. True, Hermione is still recovering, but there is no reason to keep asking. Really, I’m tired of this.” Ron shook his head in disbelief.
“Ron, she has every reason to ask,” Ginny muttered half aloud so that only Harry and Ron could hear her. “Hermione has been in the hospital wing for weeks. I can’t remember a student who was ever there so long. Madam Pomfrey said there's no potion or spell that can help her; that’s why it's taking such a long time for her to recover.”
Slowly, Harry closed his eyes and tried not to think what this could mean. Of course, he had already known that there was no potion capable of helping Hermione. He had been there as Madam Pomfrey told her. She hadn’t argued or made any comments; instead, her face had remained tense, without any emotions showing. Somehow he wished she had cried, or argued, or done just about anything other than keep that awful silence, as if in acceptance of her fate. How foolish had Harry been to promise her to search through the entire library to find a solution? But he hadn’t found anything -- it was hopeless.
“Come off it,” said Ron. “Hermione will be fine. Last week she couldn’t move her fingers or hands, but now she's able to hold one of her books and read. Who would've thought the first thing she'd do was read a book?” He laughed loudly.
“Yeah, but do you know how hard this was? How painful? She’s torturing herself. By Merlin, but I don’t know where she gets her willpower.” Harry sighed deeply at Ginny’s words but remained silent.
“Anyway, what time is it?” she asked.
“Enough time 'til classes, Ginny. Lucky for us that we don’t have them anymore, eh, Harry? No more Snape and his one-eyed looks. Couldn’t they leave at least have found him a fake eye? I’m really sorry that you have to put up with him for one year longer,” Ron said gleefully as he scratched with his spoon.
“Thanks, but I still want to know what time it is,” replied Ginny.
“It's half past nine in the morning,” Harry answered, annoyed. This was how every day started. It was driving him crazy. Why couldn’t they just shut up? It was already enough to feel the fixed stares on him every day as he went through the Great Hall to sit down at the Gryffindor table. Why did he still bother going into the noisy hall anymore? Here it was visible like no place else that some people were no longer alive. Harry didn’t dare to look up to the staff table anymore, unwilling to see that Dumbledore was no longer sitting there. Instead it was McGonagall, and at her side Snape, with his one remaining eye.
At the Gryffindor table, too, there were some places left empty. Dean had been one of the first who died in the sixth year. He hadn’t come back from summer. His place at the table remained, just like in the dormitory. It had been a hard year for all of them. Still, Harry could remember how Hermione got the news about her parents ….
“It's time for us to go to the hospital wing!” Ginny's shout knocked Harry out his reverie. Ron gave his sister a questioning look, but Harry just glared at her. He wasn’t in a good mood.
“I – I can’t!” he growled.
“You have to go! Hermione asked, and she’s expecting us. I promised her I'd bring you along,” Ginny retorted, glaring right back at Harry.
Without warning, he slammed his fist on the table. “Damn it! What possessed you to do such a thing? Why?”
Every one of the Gryffindors was watching them now. Suddenly, the table had gone very quiet, the usual noise gone as the other students leaned in to hear. “You don’t want to visit Hermione?” Ginny hissed angrily.
“Of course I want but not now. Not like this,” he snapped back.
“Well, you're just going to have to swallow your bad mood. It's not that difficult. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then do it for her!”
Harry stood up straight at that and saw Ginny and Ron looking at him as if they expected him to start yelling. “Shall we?” he inquired, in a voice unlike his own. Surprised, Ron goggled at him for a moment before standing up silently.
With great self-control, Harry left the table. He started to walk quickly, not caring that it was difficult for Ron and Ginny to keep up with him. The portraits and corridors blew past him, as interesting now as when he had first come to Hogwarts. But today he didn't have the will to take a look around. It seemed his own emotions were betraying him. It wasn’t fear about his future that made him so moody. It wasn’t even the fact that he was haunted by the past. He wished it were so easy. Since his last visit to Hermione, he had been very confused. At this very moment, though, he finally understood his own feelings. Why, then, was he more lost than before? There was a reason why he only felt good if he was with her, but at the same time so lost if he left her. A reason why it hurt so to see the possibility that she might not recover, hurt more than anything he'd faced in the past seven years. His worst fears were realised -- he was in love.
Harry Potter felt like someone who didn’t know how to be in love. As he reached the door to the hospital wing, he took a deep breath at the sight that greeted him. There was Luna Lovegood gazing dreamily around and waiting for them. This wasn’t a normal visit anymore, it was planned and that made him angry. “What are you doing here?” he shot out as he reached her.
“A good morning to you too, Harry!” was her not unexpected response. She was smiling and only barely looking at him; her gaze was rather aimed at Ron, who reached both of them at this moment, Ginny at his side. “Exactly on time.”
Puzzled, Harry glanced at Ginny, but she kept ignoring him and opened the door. He gave up on trying to get her to divulge what was going on here.
A familiar smell emerged from the hospital wing, which he knew quite well by now. Madam Pomfrey was nowhere to be seen as they entered the wing; she was probably with Snape or just out on the grounds. Through the large windows, daylight lurked lightly into the room, illuminating the scene before him. Harry held his breath as he saw her. This wasn’t possible. There she was, standing on her own feet far away from any bed. Hermione was wearing normal Muggle clothing, a pair of crutches held at her sides. Harry was speechless, truly speechless. There was no thought in his mind at this sight, only an unbelievable warm glowing feeling spreading throughout his body as if someone was hugging, holding him. A broad smile appeared on his face. It nearly hurt, so much did he smile at this, and she was beaming back at him. Her face showed that she was concentrating hard, as it was tense, but there was also a slight glow to it. “Wait! I'm coming to you,” she said, as Ron was about to rush to her.
Everyone was strangely quiet at this. It had been weeks since they had seen her on her feet, and Harry feared they might not see it again. Slowly, but certainly Hermione was walking with the help of crutches, step by step. It was an amazing sight that would have made him cry if he hadn't been so happy. Nothing in his entire life could compare with this happiness that kept washing over his heart as she came closer and closer. Her eyes had been fixed on the floor, but as there were only a few steps left, she raised her eyes to him. As her eyes met his, her face softened, the tense look melting away. On her next step, however, she put her foot down differently, causing her to lose her balance. As if in slow motion, one of the crutches fell to the floor with a loud crash and she staggered, trying desperately to stay on her own feet. Everyone seemed too shocked to react, Ginny putting her hands over her mouth and Luna forming a large “No!” with her lips. Harry was the first to move, dashing towards her, but was too late -- she was already falling. As he reached her, Ron on his heels, she was already on the floor.
Hermione was lying on her stomach. “Are you all right? Did you hurt yourself?” Harry was on his knees beside her.
“I’m fine,” came a muffled answer.
He could tell she was crying, her head buried in her arms so he couldn’t see her. It hurt Harry immensely to see her like that, but slowly he started to feel annoyed that Ginny, Luna and Ron were still goggling at Hermione like the statues in the hallways. “Get out! Go!” Harry yelled at them.
“What?” Ron asked doubtfully.
“Leave her alone. Go!” Harry replied in a sharp tone as he saw how Hermione’s shoulders had started to shake. To his relief, Ron nodded and turned around. Seconds later Harry heard the door close. Carefully, he touched her back and before he quite knew what he was doing, he had gathered her into his arms.
“I can’t-” Hermione started to say, but he interrupted her as he ended the hug and looked at her intensely. Tears were still streaming down her face as he brought his hands up to hold it tenderly. “Hermione, it's all right. You hear me, it's all right. Don’t make yourself crazy!” he whispered, as he tried to wipe away her tears.
Still, her eyes were shining. “But – but --“
“No buts. All that counts is that you are here. You're alive, and that's everything I'll ever need. Just to know that you didn’t leave me makes me so incredibly happy.” Harry smiled at her.
“You don’t know how happy you make me,” Hermione said slowly as she touched his hands.
“I have an idea, though,” he laughed as he bent down and kissed her forehead.
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