Chapter 1 : With the Intent to Love
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The wedding bells announcing the start of the procession made Harry’s stomach twist and turn in his stomach. He had never thought this day would really come; he never could have imagined that one day, this wedding would be taking place. Again, his stomach felt like it had just been punched. Harry had to force himself to breathe, remembering that it would not be good to faint at this moment. In fact, drawing extra attention to his sickly pale face would serve no purpose at all and would be best to be ignored if he could help it.
As the flower girls and the ring bearers paraded down the aisle, all Harry saw was a blurring of colors. His focus had been lost the moment he had walked into the church, his thoughts reserved for one woman and one woman alone. No one else deserved to be thought about at this moment. Not when the most beautiful woman in the world—or at least in Harry’s opinion—was about to walk down the aisle towards the alter.
Everything about this day was perfect, though. If Harry had bothered to look around, the decorations would have amazed him and the smiling people who no longer had to worry about a war would have made him smile as well. The sun had even decided to warm up the air for this day. It was perfect, with the exception of one thing.
It wasn’t Harry that Hermione was about to marry.
The stars were hidden behind a thick blanket of fog that loomed over London and had it not been for the streetlights that were strategically placed just close enough so that he only stepped into darkness for a moment in between the light, Harry would have been lost in the city. As it was, he continued on his way, desperation urging him to keep on sprinting, his breathing irregular as he pushed himself to go faster and faster, as if every second was another strike against him.
Which was rather odd, considering he already had fifteen years stacked against him.
But he finally came to a stop outside her apartment building where she was living. For three more days, Harry had to remind himself bitterly. And in three days time, she would be getting married, she would be moving into a different apartment, she would be stuck with another man without ever knowing. And that was why Harry was desperate to get to her now, for she needed to know.
Knocking—or more like banging—on the door, Harry was impatient as he stood on the other side, the icy wind whipping across his skin. For fifteen years he had had her by his side, never thinking that she might be gone. And now, only when she was about to leave that spot forever, was he able to admit to himself how he felt for her. The way he felt for no one else in the world, not even Ginny.
Finally, the door opened, and Harry found that his words were caught within his throat as she stood on the other side of the threshold, confusion etched in her eyes. “Harry?” she asked softly, a yawn escaping her lips. “What are you doing here so late?” In his desperation, Harry had forgotten the fact that normal people were sleeping at one in the morning, not up pacing like he had been until he finally decided that what he needed to say needed to be said now.
“Hermione,” he started, but the only words that he wanted to say were words that would forever change things between them. She had always been his best friend, someone that he could always count on being there, no matter what happened. If he said those three words, nothing would ever be the same. A simple kiss on the cheek would mean so much more, a friendly hug would no longer simply be friendly, a smile from across the room would signify more than acknowledgment. “Can I come in?” he asked, partly to just escape the cold, partly to stall for more time.
He had been so stupid to come here. What did he expect to happen? Even if he spoke the truth, she was still getting married. What good would it do? She wasn’t going to all of a sudden change her mind and decide that the wedding was off and she was going to run away with him. Things just don’t work that way. Nothing had ever been that easy for Harry; why should this be any different? “Of course,” Hermione ushered him inside, breaking his train of thought as the warmth of her apartment enveloped him and the door was shut behind him. “Now, what’s wrong? Harry, are you all right?”
And that was just so Hermione that it made Harry smile. She didn’t care that it was one in the morning and that he had woken her up from her sleep. She didn’t care that her hair was all over the place, almost to the point of overwhelming. All she cared about was the fact that she thought Harry was in trouble, because, really, what other explanation would there be for him showing up at her place in the middle of the night?
Besides the actual reason for him being there.
Harry was a Gryffindor, but in that moment, he felt like the most cowardly man in the whole wide world. Because while the three words that needed to be said were on the tip of his tongue, he was not able to say them. Instead, he swallowed them down with his failing courage. He sighed inwardly, “I just had some ideas for the wedding.” He was such a coward, it was pathetic.
But Hermione smiled and that was enough for the moment.
The double oak doors opened to reveal Hermione with her arm linked in her father’s, her white dress falling over the curves that had developed at some point over the years, but there was still a part of her that was the same Hermione he had met on that first train ride to Hogwarts. Her bushy hair was pulled back under her veil, but it was still there, despite her efforts to tame it. And there was still that sense of knowing it all and knowing that she knew it all.
Harry’s eyes never left her as she came closer and closer to him with every step, until she was close enough that he was able to realize that her eyes were locked with his. And he couldn’t seem to tear his gaze away. Despite the fact that Hermione was about to get married, Harry still had a tiny spark of hope that maybe she would change her mind.
But that was a hope that would never be fulfilled. There was no doubt in Harry’s mind that she would continue her walk down the aisle and she would get married. He had done everything he could possibly do, but it still wasn’t enough. And he had no one to blame but himself. For fifteen years he had taken her for granted and now, it was too late to make up for that.
They were sitting on the edge of the bridge, their feet dangling over the water of the lake, not too far away from Harry’s house. “Harry,” she started, and his eyes immediately jumped up from the rippling water to look at her. “When you came to my house the other night, it wasn’t because you wanted to discuss flower changes.” It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. And really, even if it did, Hermione would have figured it out anyway. But that didn’t change the fact that Harry was still too cowardly to tell her the truth. “Come on, Harry, you can tell me,” she pleaded with him, and that was his breaking point.
Gulping down his fears, Harry turned to face her completely. “Hermione, I—” once again too afraid to speak the words. There was only one day left now, not enough time to make up for almost a lifetime. One day was not nearly a long enough time for him to say everything he was sorry for. One day would never be enough time to tell her how much he loved her. One day was one day and Harry didn’t want to ruin her wedding.
But at the same time, she deserved to know. She deserved to have an option, didn’t she? After everything that she had done for him over all these years, didn’t she deserve to know the truth?
“Hermione, I—I love you.”
There it was said, it was out in the open, the words were ready to be devoured by the sharks. And just as Harry could have guessed, the look of surprise on her face was exactly what he hadn’t wanted to see. The look that told him everything he needed to know. “I’m so stupid.” He turned his head back away from her, eyes drifting back to the lake beneath his dangling feet. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it. It was—”
“Harry,” she cut him off and he tentatively looked back up at her. “You love me?” He nodded, unable to say more, afraid that his words would betray him. And there was another moment of silence that hung over them, but the look on her face had morphed from confusion to understanding and Harry sat up just a little bit straighter, still not daring to believe what he so desperately wanted to. “Harry, why didn’t you tell me?”
The honest answer? Because he had never admitted it to himself. He had somehow tricked himself into believing that he loved Ginny, that he was going to grow old with her, that that was the way things were supposed to be. It hadn’t been till Hermione announced her engagement that these feelings had started to erupt inside him until it was too much to take. Feelings that he had never felt towards Ginny, feelings that he would never feel again, he was sure of that. “It was never the right time,” he finally managed to say, and that was enough truth that he could settle with it.
“And this is?” Her eyebrows arched and Harry shrugged, feeling like he was a fifth year again and struggling to find the words to ask a girl out on a date. “What do you want me to say?” If anyone else had spoken that sentence, Harry would have sworn it was accusatory, but coming from Hermione, it was simply a question. Plain and simple and she expected him to answer.
He wanted her to tell him that she loved him too, that she always had, and that they would figure out a way to be together. “I want you to say the truth.” And that was all he could really ask for in the end. If she loved him, she loved him, if she didn’t, she didn’t. There was no more time for him to change things. He had wasted too much time before. Years and years worth of time that could have been spent with her.
In a series of moments that were a blur to Harry—though he would look back on this day and remember everything with extreme clarity—her hand found his cheek, a finger running down his jaw line as she took a deep breath, appearing as if her own words were hard to say as well. And instead of hearing her speak as he was expecting, she leaned forward and laid the softest of kisses on Harry’s lips. A kiss that explained the bitter regret more than words ever could. “I love you too, Harry.” She pulled back and he noticed the redness of her eyes as she attempted to bat back tears that he knew were threatening to fall. “But you’re too late.”
And when she walked away, Harry knew it was forever.
When she walked past him, Harry felt his heart plummet. This was it. There would be no more hoping, there would be no more wishing. She was going to get married and he was going to have to just go on with his life. A hand wrapped around Harry’s and he turned his head only to remember that he was here with Ginny, a fact that he had forgotten while he had been wrapped up in Hermione. His girlfriend smiled at him and Harry forced a smile back, though he would never be able to explain to her why he couldn’t feel this way towards her. But she would never have to know, either. His exchange with Hermione the day before would be their secret for the rest of eternity.
“We are here today to celebrate the union of Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley.” And this was the worst part. The man that was taking Hermione away from Harry was his best friend. How could he have wanted to ruin his best friend’s life? Ron loved Hermione, Harry knew that. Ron had been the one with the guts to ask her out, the guts to propose to her, the guts to love her like Harry never had. But that still didn’t stop Harry from wishing that it was him up at the alter at that moment. It didn’t stop the fact that when it came to the part where the priest asked if anyone had any reason for Hermione and Ron to not get married, Harry wished he had the courage to stand up and say something. And when it came to the part where Hermione finally said, “I do,” Harry couldn’t help but silently wish that she would say, “I don’t,” at the last minute and run off with him.
But that wasn’t how things worked out and when those words were finally said out loud, Harry was pretty sure that his heart just broke in two. “May I present to you for the first time,” the priest addressed everyone, “Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Weasley.” And that made Harry sick. She did not deserve to stand on the arm of her husband and share his name. She would always be Hermione Granger to Harry. She would always be her own individual who could always make him smile, who would do whatever she wanted without caring about what others thought. He loved her and for some reason he had thought that that would be enough.
When she and Ron walked back down the aisle to exit the church, Harry caught her eye one last time and he saw the one tear that rolled down her cheek as her eyes locked with his. To anyone else who bothered to notice, it would appear to be a tear of happiness, but Harry knew better. He knew that the tear was for him, an apologetic sign of regret for something that would never happen. But Harry had told her, he knew that had been the right choice. Now, there would never be any wondering what could have happened if he had spoken up. He knew now that it would never matter. Because even if she did love him, she loved Ron more.
I love you, he told her silently with his eyes. Always. And if there ever came a day that she changed her mind, he would drop everything to be with her. Forget anyone else, Harry would stop everything and anything in his life to make room for her. Because he realized now that that was what you did for someone you loved. It just happened that he also learned at the same time that sometimes, the person you love most just doesn’t love you back. But he didn’t care. He would always be there on the sidelines. If she ever wanted an out, she knew where she could find him. And he would be able to do what she hadn’t. He would be able to love her more than anyone.
Because he had every intention of loving her forever.