Chapter 7 : Back at the Burrow
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"You took your time?" She smiled nervously, a book was under her arm as was so often, and her bag still hung from her shoulder.
"Yeah, got a bit caught up," Harry returned her nervous smile.
"That's your excuse for everything nowadays," Hermione's face now held the familiar look of understanding Harry had come to both appreciate and find annoying, "Anyhow, Molly's got Ron and Ginny feeding the chickens for their punishment already and the rest are degnoming the garden, I think it's to try and get their minds off of...off of Fred... so as everyone else got given jobs I said I'd wait for you."
"Oh, okay," Harry felt a sudden feeling of rejection burning inside him that he felt instantly guilty for, "So, erm, what will we do now?" He added nervously, the tension between Hermione and him now getting a little too unbearable for him to handle.
"I don't mind, we could go join Ginny and Ron to feed the chickens?" Hermione asked, although her eyes seemed to hold a different message that Harry could not place.
"Right, so... You didn't tell Ginny did you? About the... The..."
"The kiss Harry? No, and I didn't tell Ron either, but I don't want it to happen again Harry, not..." Hermione tailed off. Harry hardened his gaze on her.
"Not?" He asked, his words piercing. Sudden butterflies erupted in his stomach which he found a little unnerving. He had convinced himself he had no feelings for Hermione, so why did his stomach like to tell him otherwise?
"N...nothing...it's nothing, erm, well, do you want to go and have a look at these things or go and feed the chickens?" Hermione gestured to her bag, quickly changing the subject, her eyes flicking around the room, refusing to focus on Harry.
"Would you mind if I took a look at the stuff in here?" Harry took the bag from Hermione, "and would you mind helping me, erm, I mean could you help me look at it all?"
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea..." Hermione trailed, the book under her arm now grasped in her hands, almost as if it was her only life line.
"Please? You helped me get them, it's only right you have a look. And I need someone to help me sort through it?"
"Can you not ask Ginny, or Ron?" Hermione floundered.
"No, they're busy aren't they, feeding the chickens" Harry said, "Come on, I promise it won't take long."
He took Hermione's hand in his and began to lead her up the stairs. His hand tingled as she grasped his more firmly and followed.
As they reached the sixth landing Harry noticed a door ajar. He pushed it open silently, Hermione still behind him.
"Hello?" He said timidly. There was no answer so he stepped into the room. It was bare only for a small couch, barely large enough to fit two people, and a single bed.
"This was Percy's room, it's perfect, no one will disturb us in here," Harry smiled and threw the bag onto the sofa. Hermione let loose of his hand and went to sit down, whilst Harry closed the door behind him. Hermione had already stacked all the things from her bag on the floor by the time he'd turned around to join her. He still didn't understand how she did everything so quickly, even after seven years of being her best friend.
"So, what do you want to look at first Harry?" Hermione smiled at him tentatively as he sat down next to her, their legs touching as the couch was so small.
"There was a letter, wasn't there? On the top? I think reading that would be the best start?" Harry smiled back.
"I thought you'd say that." Hermione took the letter from the closest pile and handed it over to Harry, but Harry pushed it away.
"No, no, I think it would be best, if... if you read it, it'd feel more like it's from my Mum then, having a girl read it aloud."
Hermione nodded to herself, the understanding look on her face that was always so common now contorting her features once more. Then, she began:
You've just been born, only days old. Your father is overjoyed, he always wanted a son first. He told me so in second year during a Muggle Studies class, the first time I ever sat next to him, strange to look back on that now. Anyway, Sirius visited yesterday, said you looked just like your Dad, I must say I can definitely see it, your hair is already as jet black and bedraggled as James's. Remus has visited too, seems to think you have my eyes, well that's what he said, although I disagree, they're a much brighter shade of green I think. To me though, you are perfect, and I will be proud of you whatever path you choose to take in life, whether it be the prankster like your Dad, the clever clogs like me, or if you choose to dig your own path, your Dad and I will always be behind you. No matter what. I want you to know that we love you, we love you with all our hearts, and nothing can describe the joy I have when I see you smile, or the heartbreak I feel when I hear your cry. Keep that in mind as you read what I'm about to write.
Dumbledore suggested your Dad and I go into hiding once we left St Mungo's with you, told us it wasn't safe for you, that Voldemort was coming. I don't doubt Albus in the slightest and he seemed quite serious, and that means I can only guess what will happen in the future, and that is why I have written this letter to you and entrusted it with Severus, in our box, so it can be given to you when your older, in case something goes terribly wrong. If you are reading this now, then your Dad and I must be dead, it is a terrible thought to have and I hope you never have to read what I am writing down, but if you do, then I want you to know you can always find us in your heart. Remember that, and remember that love and friendship conquers all and that you can't travel your path alone, else you'll hit a ditch you cannot cross. Voldemort will most certainly learn that the hard way. Your Dad and I love you to the ends of the Earth and I want you to know I'm incredibly sorry if I ever let you down. Keep your heart in the right place and the world is your oyster my beautiful boy.
Lots of love,
From Mum xxx"
Hermione finished, a tear rolled off the end of her nose and onto the parchment. She looked up at Harry, her lip quivering and her eyes bloodshot, she reached up and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
Harry smiled. The letter had filled in a missing piece, it had made his jigsaw heart complete. Tears rolled down his cheeks but they weren't sad tears, they were joyful, Hermione's voice still rang in his ears but it wasn't hard to believe it was his Mother's, wasn't hard to imagine her reading it to him as a little boy.
"Thank you Hermione, that... That was beautiful," he sniffed, reaching out and taking the letter from Hermione's lap, where she'd let it fall. He read it over himself, just to check it was definitely from his Mum. He recognized the cursive writing and smiled.
"She was right, wasn't she?" Hermione said, her bloodshot eyes fixed on Harry's face.
"About Voldemort," she attempted a smile but all that spread across her face was an awkward grimace.
"Yeah, she was," Harry smiled again, looking down at the letter, his emerald eyes shining.
"And about you," Hermione lifted Harry's chin.
"What do you mean?" Harry's heart was in his mouth, the monster which he'd forced to remain silent raged once again in his stomach, he tried hard to press it down, he'd promised himself not to get involved with Hermione. The sudden guilt made him feel physically sick.
"Being perfect," Hermione looked down at her lap as she said this, realising the mistake she'd made. Harry stared at her, baffled, but his innards were bouncing about in pure glee, the monster desperate to escape.
"Hermione, I... You said we weren't going to do this... I... I don't know what to say..." Harry still had his eyes fixed on her, willing her to lift her head so he could look her in the eye. She did so, almost as if she'd read his mind.
"I do. I know we can't do this Harry, it would ruin Ron I know it. You know how badly it would hurt Ginny too. So no, I know we can't, but please know, I chose to stay with you when Ron left us in that tent because I wanted to be with you, not because I wanted to continue what I saw to be a pointless task." Hermione stood then, looking to make her way out through the door.
"Hermione, wait, please," Harry said, grabbing her forearm. Her head spun, staring at him.
"Please Harry, no." She attempted to shrug him off but he just strengthened his grip. She sat down, defeated.
"Look Hermione, I really can't thank you enough, for everything... You've saved my life more times than anybody, more times than your realise." Harry said, his eyes holding hers.
"No Harry... You don't understand."
"I do, I understand more now than I've ever done before. I understand everything. Dumbledore was right, he always was, love, friendship, that's all that matters, that's all that's ever mattered. Voldemort never understood that, but I did, and that's how I managed to defeat him. I found love, and friendship, because I met you, and Ron, and Ginny, I felt like I had finally found a place where I belonged, have you ever felt like that Hermione?"
"Yes..." Hermione smiled timidly, "When you and Ron saved me from the troll, and you accepted me, that was the first time."
"Exactly. Do you know what I think about, whenever I cast a Patronus?"
"I mostly think of you. You're the reason I'm still here. Without you, I would have never have stopped Quirrell. Without you, I'd have never known about the Basilisk until it was too late and Ginny would be dead. Without you, Sirius would have been given the Dementor's Kiss. Without you, Dumbledore's Army would never have been formed. Without you, I wouldn't have known how to destroy the Horcuxes. Without you Hermione, Voldemort would still be very much alive and I would be dead."
"You could have done all of that without me, I'm just a know-it-all, my worst fear is failure, I'm narrow-minded and..." Hermione trailed as Harry butted in again.
"No Hermione. You're logical, you're intelligent, you're caring, you're brave, you're quick-thinking, you're always willing to stand up for what you believe in. You mean the world to me, and more, I can't bring myself to think that you could have died for me, on so many occasions, and that I took you for granted almost every time. You really are the best witch of your age, and not just because of your grades." Harry grinned at her, embarresment creeping across his face.
Hermione beamed at him. Now she understood. She leant forward and kissed him on the forehead lightly, then, without warning, her lips suddenly found Harry's. He had not expected it. In fact, it was totally out of the blue, but he could not stop himself from kissing her back, no matter how much he kept thinking about the promise he'd made to not get involved with her. It was like fireworks were suddenly going off in his mind, and it was beautiful.
Her lips were soft and warm against his. Harry's skin crawled with electricity, his stomach filled with butterflies. He pulled her in closer, his hand lost in her bushy brown hair. She pressed her lips harder to his, the gentleness of before suddenly sparking into something deeply more powerful.
But then the kiss was over, quicker than it had even begun. Hermione pulled away, but not completely. Her body was still close to Harry's, their noses and foreheads still touching, their lips only inches apart, but Harry knew there would be nothing more, that it would go no further.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said as she opened her eyes. Her brown ones found Harry's green ones instantly, as they were so close. As Harry studied them he could see the pain, the conflict and the suffering clearly. She was still fragile, still grieving. It was like looking at a reflection of himself, and in those brief moments he and Hermione were joined as one, the horrors they had endured tying them together, sealed by the identical emotions they now felt.
"It's okay, I know," Harry breathed. A single tear escaped from Hermione. It ran down her nose and onto Harry's. Slowly it slid off Harry's nose and fell, dripping onto Hermione's top.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a tight hug. Harry slid his arms around her, holding her to him. It wasn't courage that held them together, it wasn't love, it wasn't even friendship. It was pure and gut-wrenching grief. It overcame them both like a tsunami, engulfed them totally, and for the first time both of them truly let loose the feelings that had threatened to overcome them for so so long. Harry's whole body shook, his sobs loud and miserable. Hermione cried silently, her tears like tiny rivers snaking down her cheeks and face, snot ran from her nose yet she made no effort to wipe it away. Instead she held Harry to her even more tightly, pressing her body against his like he was the only solid breathing life form left in the broken world they now faced.
Harry had never felt so connected to anyone, not even Ginny. With Ginny he had had to explain, explain everything, but with Hermione it was different, she understood everything because she had been through it all with him. He didn't think anyone could have understood him totally, he had refused to think even Ron or Hermione could, but he'd been wrong, so so wrong. Hermione knew him better than anyone, and he adored her for it.
Suddenly the door sprung open with a crack and broke Harry from his thoughts. He looked up to see Ron, stood like a statue in the doorway, his mouth hanging open and his face paler than snow even though it was streaked with mud. Hands pushed Ron into the room and Ginny followed in. As soon as she saw Harry and Hermione her face turned cold and angry. Harry only just realised he and Hermione were now lying on the couch, his body on top of Hermione's, still in an embrace.
"You had something you were going to tell me Harry?" Ron said, his words were harsh and rather contemptuous. Ginny only glared, which was somehow even worse than Ron's obvious resentment. Harry quickly withdrew from Hermione, he was in deep trouble.
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