Chapter 6 : Departures
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Hermione walked in and headed straight for her bedroom. As she had just gotten home from work, she went about doing her usual ritual of changing out of her Ministry robes and into a more comfortable pair of jeans and a jumper. She had already planned her meal for the evening- she made it a habit to plan her week’s meals each Sunday so as to make her trip to the grocer more efficient.
Normally though she bought for two.
Her and Harry had made it a kind of tradition to have dinner with each other just about every other night. It was more cost effective since both of them were living alone, but more than anything they simply enjoyed the company. They’d trade on and off, him cooking for her and then her cooking for him. Tonight was supposed to have been her night. She didn’t think that was likely to happen though.
They hadn’t spoken at all since last night. To be honest, they had hardly spoken before that. Not since the aftermath of the Cannon’s match last Friday. The details of which she had still not told Lily about despite their conversation in Slug and Jigger’s earlier that morning.
Hermione went to the living room and set a fire in the hearth curling up on the sofa next to the armrest.
“So you’ll be leaving soon I take it,” stated Hermione as Lily crossed the room to sit on the edge of the coffee table much like she had done the night before except of course this time Hermione was in no danger of passing out.
“Glad to be rid of me?” joked Lily.
Hermione smiled momentarily, but her face fell after a second. “No, not at all actually.” The two had spent the day together: getting Harry’s potion, going to work, meeting new people. Lily had even helped Hermione on a few cases she had been struggling with at the Ministry. And, they had talked about everything under the sun. She had learned all about the First Wizarding War and what it was like, but also Lily had told her other more happy anecdotes. Stories of the Marauders back at Hogwarts, of how she’d come to fall in love with James, of Harry’s birth and his first word- it was ‘Da-da’ which according to Lily had James floored for weeks and he still to this day used it as a point for their arguments if he was desperate. She always countered with the fact that it was her sacrifice and her blood that protected him for sixteen years… but who’s counting right? James normally went silent after that.
Lily too would miss Hermione and her stories of the trio’s adventures. She loved hearing about Harry’s Quidditch matches which Hermione seemed to remember play by play. In just a short time, she had learned a history of her son detail for detail from the most observant witness and for that she was mighty thankful. She had picked a good choice. But there still was one last thing she had to say before she left.
“It’s almost time, Hermione,” stated Lily as she tilted her head to the side. It was like she could almost hear the time counting down. Somewhere deep inside of her recognized that her departure was imminent.
The young witch’s face grew more somber and her eyes filled with tears at the thought of Lily having to go.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t have spent your day with Harry,” said Hermione as a set of tears spilled from her eyes. Hermione couldn’t help but feel guilty that the ghost’s day had been spent just talking to her instead of actually being with the son that she desperately wanted to know. Lily inched forward and wiped a few tears away.
“I had such a lovely time with you, dear. Plus, I’ve learned so much about Harry. More than I would’ve had I actually been with him… Don’t worry my dear. I picked the right witch to haunt.” Lily stood up pulling Hermione with her and embracing the girl in a warm hug which Hermione returned.
Pulling away, Lily brushed a strand of Hermione’s curly hair out of her eyes. “There’s one last thing I have to tell you… When I came here I told you that James got to pick first, but that’s not true. It was me who got to pick first.” Hermione’s eyebrows furrowed with the older witch’s confession. “See I just had to get to know you…”
Lily smiled teary-eyed at the girl before her. “Remember me telling you that in heaven you dream of things?” Hermione nodded. “Well… last week some time… I dreamt of Harry telling me all about you. He told me how you were so loyal to him… even when others weren’t. H-he talked about how brilliant you were and how witty. How some people called you plain, but he thought you were the most beautiful thing in the world. My dream lasted hours of him just rattling on and on all about you. So you see… I picked you for a reason, Hermione. In my dream, Harry told me just how much he wished that-that I could meet you. How badly he wanted me to meet the girl he loved. So I just had to find a way. And I did.”
Hermione seemed taken aback. Her mind was racing. All she could muster to say was, “H-he told you he loved me?”
Lily just smiled and nodded.
Suddenly the fire in the hearth turned white and the entire room surged with new light. It was gentle despite its brightness and they both felt an instinctive peace wash over them looking at the glow. Lily turned to it recognizing that this meant it was time for her to go. Facing Hermione one last time with tears in her eyes, she hugged the girl that had taken such good care of her son.
“I’m so happy to have met you Hermione Granger.”
“Me too,” said Hermione.
Lily stepped over to the fire and with one last look, she was gone.
Harry approached Hermione’s apartment complex with shaky knees. He stopped just before he reached the door to turn back to his father.
“So… errr… this is her place,” said Harry gesturing towards the building.
“Yeah… seems nice,” nodded James. They stood there on the sidewalk awkwardly. Harry had never felt so scared in all of his life. He contemplated turning back and going home, but instead just twirled the flowers he had bought in his hands. James had picked white lilies to give to Hermione. Harry had argued that it was too clichéd, but James simply fired back about how Hermione was a girl and would find them cute and romantic especially since he got the flowers his mother was named after. At the time, Harry had simply conceded knowing that James would never stop nagging him until he did. But now as Harry stood outside of her place twirling them anxiously he found them to be rather beautiful.
“So do you think she’ll like them?” Harry asked as he switched his weight to his other foot.
“She’ll love them,” reassured James placing his hands on Harry’s shoulders. Taking a look over him, James made sure his jacket was straight and picked a few spare lint particles off of it. Although James tried to convince Harry to wear dress robes or a suit of some sort, Harry vehemently refused. If he was going to make any sort of declaration then it was going to be a Harry dressed and a Harry worded declaration. Ultimately James agreed knowing that it had to be a Harry kind of honesty. But he had won a few small battles like the lilies and he also got Harry to buy himself a haircut- which of course did NOT work.
“It’s amazing that your hair just grows back like that, son,” James had said as they walked out of the barber’s. Now as he was about to send his son off to the girl he loves, James couldn’t help but attempt to flatten the unruly hair that matched his own.
“Dad… stop. It’ll never straighten,” muttered Harry as he batted his father’s hand away.
“Sorry, I know... It’s just I’m nervous beyond all belief!” cried James.
“You’re nervous?!” exclaimed Harry raising an eyebrow.
“Right… well I guess you are doing all the talking and everything.” James eyed Harry and checked how apprehensive the boy was. “It’ll be fine, I promise. She feels the same… And even if she doesn’t, I can make a deal with the Reaper so that I can haunt her until she does,” smirked James successfully getting a small smile from Harry. “You ready to go up there?”
Harry gulped and then nodded.
James gave him an encouraging clap on the back and then turned Harry to the stairs that led up to the front door of the complex. With a tiny shove, he sent Harry off.
Harry climbed the stairs and got all the way to the top before he noticed his Dad wasn’t following him. Stopping abruptly, he turned back to his father to see him there at the bottom of the stairs watching him happily. “You’re not coming?”
“No, my boy. I’m afraid my time is up.” James could feel the pull at his navel begin and knew that heaven was calling… again.
Quickly Harry descended the stairs. “You mean you have to go?”
James nodded with a bittersweet smile. “Twenty four hours… that’s all I got,” he said with a Potter-like shrug. “To think I almost didn’t come at all! You never would’ve made it through that date that’s for sure!”
Harry tried to smirk at James’ attempt at humor, but he found he really couldn’t. His throat felt dry and he could feel his eyes getting hot. He didn’t want his father to go. As much as they had teased each other in the past twenty four hours, Harry knew he would miss his father’s back and forth with him. He had wished for all these years to have a day like this and now he was distraught to see it go.
“Ahhh don’t look like that… We’ll see each other again one day.” Harry nodded glumly wiping his eyes as he did. James couldn’t help but see the small toddler of a son instead of the twenty-one year old man before him. It was the same face and posture of the little boy who was crying from falling off of that toy broom Sirius had bought for Harry as a birthday present. James went up to his son and wrapped his arms around him. “It was absolutely fantastic getting to be with you. I’ll never forget it… not for the rest of my death.”
“Me too… minus the death part,” mumbled Harry.
James chuckled. Pulling away from Harry, he sighed as he looked his son in the eye. James took a couple of steps back. He could feel the surge of magic around him and knew that it was time.
“I’m proud of you, Harry… Now go get her, my boy.” And with one last flash of a grin, James was gone.
Hastily, Harry wiped away the last of any tears from his cheeks. He certainly couldn’t go up to Hermione’s looking like he’d been crying. With a resolved breath, Harry took to the stairs again and entered the complex.
As he neared her door, he tried to muster up all of the courage he had. He remembered the words his father said and knew that he had to do this; he had to tell her right. Slowly raising his hand, he knocked twice on the door. He only had to wait a moment.
There holding the open door was a very teary eyed Hermione.
“Are you alright? Is everything ok?” asked Harry immediately concerned. He stepped over the threshold.
Hermione just waved his worry to the side. “It’s nothing… I-I’m just acting like a fool.” She didn’t want to say that it was because she had just said goodbye to his dead mother after having spent a wonderful day with her. So instead, she just moved aside to let him in even though he still appeared to be quite worried.
“You’re not a fool, Hermione.”
Hermione couldn’t help but smile with his comment. Wiping away at her puffy eyes, she finally noticed the flowers he held in his left hand. Following her gaze, Harry suddenly remembered the whole reason he was there and found his nervousness was renewed.
“Oh right… these are for you,” he said timidly as he handed her the lilies. She took them and smiled.
“What for?” Harry felt his throat tighten with that question. “You seemed to have picked the perfect time to bring me flowers,” she said referring to her recent bout of tears.
“Well… I’ve always had a great intuition about these sorts of things.”
Hermione smirked at him before lifting the lilies under her nose to smell their lovely aroma. She turned and made her way to the kitchen to get a vase. Harry followed her. As she summoned the crystal vase from one of the top cupboards, she turned on the water to the sink and put the lilies’ stems underneath the running water.
Harry stood next to her leaning up against the counter watching as she cut the stems and removed the lilies from the plastic wrapping. She filled the vase with water and then went about arranging the flowers.
“I didn’t think you’d come over tonight,” she admitted keeping her eyes trained on handling the lilies. Harry didn’t know what to say, so he remained still and resided to simply observing her as she carefully placed each bud.
“You’ve been upset with me lately,” she said quietly raising her eyes to him as she finally finished with the flowers. Her brown eyes searched his green ones.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” he stated.
It was now Hermione’s turn to not know how to respond. The whole time Harry surveyed her face trying to once again pick at her brain, but finding that he could not. Even though at times he felt like they really were telepaths with how well they could predict the other’s movements, it was times like these where the ability to know what she was thinking completely escaped him. She was a mystery all of sudden.
“I remember what I told you that night,” he affirmed knowing that was the entire reason for her evasion. She had refused to be alone with him ever since the night after the Cannons match and it wasn’t until last night, nearly a week later, when they had finally been together privately again… at least semi privately thought Harry recalling his father’s presence.
Her eyebrows furrowed with his statement. He knew it was now or never.
“I meant it, Hermione.” She seemed to have gone mute like she had done every time before when he had admitted his feelings. She was once again standing stock still. Harry closed his eyes briefly and plunged forward. “Th-things have been different for me… for a while now. I keep trying to tell you but it never comes out right or I never say it at the right time. And you’ve been avoiding me so I-I lose my courage to tell you again.” Harry took a shaky breath and kept going. “I don’t want to go on dates with other girls or be with any of them. I just- I just want to be with you.”
Harry could feel his heart racing. He felt like he was saying far too much. After all she was just standing there like stone. But he remembered his father and knew that he had to be completely honest. “I’m… I’m in love with you Hermione.”
Her eyes looked straight into his. As much trouble as he had at reading her, he knew that she could read him so easily and he hoped more than anything that what she was registering right then was truth. He wanted her to know that it was for real and he prayed she could see that in his eyes. They stood like that for what seemed like days staring at each other trying to interpret the other’s movements and body language.
“Hermione, please say something,” he said quietly unable to bear her stillness. He felt his nervousness creep back up and he fought against himself to stop any possible fidgeting that his hands wanted to do.
“I-I don’t know what to say,” she admitted slowly.
Immediately Harry’s face fell with her words. All he could mutter was a small, “Oh.” He felt like the wind was knocked out of him all of sudden. It was Hermione after all so it wasn’t like he expected her to jump into his arms or anything. But he at least figured maybe a smile or a ‘I feel the same way too, Harry.’ Instead, he got nothing.
Feeling deflated, he quickly turned and made for the door. He couldn’t stand to be there in all her quietness and contemplation. If she needed time that was fine, he just didn’t feel like his vulnerable heart could stay around and watch as she went through the ups and downs of being with him. He’d rather have time to himself to build his defenses back up for when she officially refused him which now judging by her statuesque rigidity she was going to do.
He didn’t even make it a second past the counter before her hand reached out to grab his.
Harry turned hesitantly, his eyes glued on his feet. He feared looking in her eyes and seeing pity. Pity was something his poor heart could not take. It was rejection in its cruelest form. She pulled him towards her and ever so slightly took a few steps to close the distance between them. Her hand still held his. Harry watched their intertwined hands with a sickening dread for what her words were going to be.
Instead, he felt soft lips graze against his own in the most shy and wonderfully timid kind of way. Harry’s eyes closed instantly. It only lasted but a moment. When the kiss ended, he felt dazed. Even though he kept his eyes closed, he could still feel Hermione linger just millimeters away from him.
Hermione’s other hand rose and gently caressed his cheek. She smiled slightly as she felt the rough stubble from Harry having forgotten to shave beneath her palm. Looking up she saw that his eyes were still closed. His expression was so hopeful that Hermione couldn’t help herself. Her hand guided his face to hers again and she kissed him once more. This time firmer, but still just as tender as the one before it.
Harry felt his mind sore as she kissed him again sealing their first one by adding a second. It was everything he’d ever wanted. When they pulled away this time, Harry couldn’t stop the grin that spread across his face. He opened his eyes and there she was smiling with him too.
“You really need to give me a moment to think before you dart away. You don’t always have to be so rash you know,” she whispered leaning her forehead against his.
“You know I’m not one to wait… now if you would’ve just led with the kiss, I wouldn’t have to make such rash decisions,” retorted Harry as he wrapped his arms around her waist to bring her closer. Tilting his head, he leaned in and stole another kiss.
Her hands drifted up to comb their way through the sides of his hair. They broke apart, both still with their lids shut reveling in the feeling of just holding each other, of just being with each other. It was something they’d both wanted for so long.
She smoothed the sides of his messy hair. Her hands finally coming to a rest on either cheek holding his face to hers. With a content sigh she looked up at him. “I love you too, Harry.”
And finally with another kiss, she sealed her words.
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