Chapter 1 : s p l i t .
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There were times, rare as they were, when he would watch her. She would have seemed peculiar to anyone else, but he was too used to her to pay any mind to her quirks. What he did notice, however, was that every now and then, her eyes simply lit up. There was no pattern to it; no rhyme or reason. Out of nowhere, her eyes would just smile.
And whenever that happened, he couldn’t help but smile back.
It wasn’t lust. It wasn’t desire and it wasn’t want.
It was something much more powerful, and of course he would know, because he’d experienced lust before. Lust was weak. Lust was one wall in a flat that had four. This was not lust.
It was admiration. Fierce, burning admiration. And intrigue; it was a little bit of that too.
But it was also more.
It was the line between admiration and love, and it was a fine line indeed.
It was such a fine line that most days, he simply viewed her as a friend. His very best friend, in fact. But other days, he couldn’t help but question what they were. After everything they’d been through, after all the things she’d done for him, could they really just be friends?
Could they really just be friends, when she’d stuck with him when no one else had?
Could they really just be friends, when she was the only person in the entire world who could possibly understand him- all of him- because she’d been there the entire time?
Her being there, no matter what the circumstance, had to count for something. That and the fact that she had put up with him throughout the years. She had put up with all of his bad moods and all of his outbursts and all of his nearly-insane plans. She accepted him. She knew him. She cared about him.
So why did he feel like it wasn’t ever going to be enough?
“No, this is important. Listen to me.” He surveyed her from across the table. “What is this... this thing between us?”
“What thing? We’re friends, best friends. Surely you know that.” Her voice was too high; he knew her well enough to recognize that she was getting nervous.
“Okay. We’re best friends, but what else?”
He was testing her and she knew it. Any traces of anxiety had evaporated from her eyes. She was good at tests.
“Nothing else.” The words slipped out of her mouth in a whisper. She’d meant to say them louder. She should have said them louder.
“Do you mean that? Do you really mean that there’s nothing else between us, or do you mean that there’s nothing else you’d care to admit to? Nothing else you’d care to admit to... because of Ron.”
A tear slid down her cheek. Clearly she’d failed the test. It was time for the truth. “Of course it’s because of Ron! Ron-“
“Ron what?” he murmured. He leaned across the table so that his face was merely centimeters from her own. “What if Ron wasn’t in the picture? Then what?”
She bit her lip. He was too close, yet at the same time, he wasn’t nearly close enough. “Then… then it would have been you.”
He slumped back into his chair and pulled away from her. He had so wanted to hear those words, but now that she’d said them, he just wished that she would take them all back. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. Because then she’d be lying and they both knew it.
“But Ron is in the picture,” he said, defeated.
She gave him a hard look. “So is Ginny.”
“Ginny is the same thing to me that Ron is to you. I’m not saying that I don’t love her, but… but she’s not you. She could never understand what we’ve seen, what we’ve been through, or what we’ve had to do.”
“I know. Oh, you’ve got to believe me, I know.” She was crying now. He wished she wouldn’t. “Does this change anything?”
“It should change everything.”
“Sh- should we let it?” she gasped between sobs. He hesitated and then wiped a tear from below her eye with his thumb.
“No.” He didn’t want to say the words, but he had to. “Ron and Ginny, they’re still in the picture. I care about both of them, and I know you do too. So maybe, in a different lifetime, it would have been you. In fact, I’m sure it would have been you. But we can’t do this. It’ll never be right in this lifetime.”
He kissed her forehead before standing up to leave. He kissed her forehead and she held onto the feeling for a different lifetime.
It was her turn.
It was her turn to say goodbye to him, but when she reached the cold, black casket, she couldn’t think of anything to say. They had already said goodbye, many many years ago. When he had kissed her forehead and left, well… that had been the real goodbye, hadn’t it?
That had been the end of what had never even begun, right?
Instead of saying something, she pressed a shaking hand to the casket. It was so cold, so unlike what the man who was lying inside it had once been.
She stayed there for a minute, or maybe it was a month… she really didn’t know. All she knew was that the man she had loved was dead. Standing behind her, waiting patiently to say his goodbye, was the other man she had loved. His red hair had almost turned completely gray, but there were still faded strands of red speckled throughout. He didn’t matter to her today, though. And deep down inside, she sensed that he knew it.
Hermione stared down at the casket.
“In another lifetime, Harry.” The words slipped out of her mouth in a whisper.
She should have said them louder.