Chapter 2 : The Bigger Picture
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The weight of five years of friendship came crashing down on him like lumber and of all the racing thoughts that spun inside his head one loomed more prominent than any and filled him with an odd mix of excitement, fear and sadness as it sat uncomfortable on his chest. "This is going to change everything." The statement was true and unavoidable though he had no idea of the outcome, nothing could be taken back, he'd done it. Had he gone too far? Had he let the moment get the better of him, should he have given more thought to such a reckless action?
The image of Hermione's retreating figure from the room hung in front of his eyes. Her pained tormented look, the moment of passion in her eyes extinguished upon the sound of Ron's voice, the tears cascading down her face as she turned away from him. It surprised Harry to realise what little thought he'd given Ron's feelings up until this point and a tight knot of guilt punched at his gut. At this moment he could not envision a way to be with Hermione and not completely wreck his best friend's life in the process. How could he possibly separate the two, how could he weigh each side and decide.
Harry remained in Ron's room for the rest of the morning until the sound of Mrs Weasley's voice came singing from the bottom of the stairs calling him for lunch. Harry sat perched on the windowsill and turned towards the door catching sight of himself in the bedroom mirror on the wardrobe. He still felt no better, no less unsure, no less guilty but no less elated by the thought of Hermione's admittance only hours earlier. He raked a hand through his hair and let out a long sigh rocking onto his feet as he made his way towards the stairs.
He could hear Ron and Ginny arguing in the kitchen, it was Quidditch related but was hard to make out the details from Ron's food filled mouth. Harry eased into the room and cast his gaze across the sunlit dining table. Ron was the first to notice his presence and raised his eyebrows, he pulled another buttered roll off the pile in the middle of the table and sat back sinking his teeth into it as he did so. "Afternoon." He grinned rolling his eyes and then narrowing them in his direction. "Where have you been? We needed you. Ginny plays far too dirty for my taste and Hermione wasn't even paying attention. He pointed a judging finger at his sister who merely shrugged and waved her fork at him. "You want to tryout for the team this year then you need to get used to proper game conditions Ron." She argued with a wry smile creeping across her lips.
"If you break my arm there won't be any trying out will there?" he shot back waving his bruised elbow to the room.
Ginny ignored her brother and grinned at Harry who smiled back as he wandered over to the kitchen sink to wash his hands. He was about to ask the whereabouts of Hermione when the girl herself came into the room via the open door leading to the garden. She stopped short in the entrance when she noticed Harry and cast her eyes between him, Ron and Ginny and went to take a step back into the garden but stopped, instead walking over to the kitchen table and sitting down on the chair next to Ginny. "Hi Harry." She greeted reaching for the Daily Prophet Ron had been using to wipe the butter off his bread knife. She didn't look his way and her voice caught a little in her throat, her cheeks slightly flushed her eyes scanning the pages desperately for something to focus on.
Ron frowned at her as he took in another mouthful of his lunch. "You alright?" He questioned giving her a puzzled look. Even Ron caught the hint of awkwardness in her voice and cast another puzzled look at Harry who merely shrugged as he joined them at the table.
"Of course I am." Hermione replied this time checking her tone and sounding her usual self. She cast a very brief glance at Harry before going back to the newspaper. Harry could understand Hermione's nervousness but he just didn't feel the same. The moment she had entered the kitchen he felt buoyed by the very sight of her. All the toing and froing and mental gymnastics his mind had been performing earlier had evaporated and right now it was taking all his composure not to lean across the table and kiss her.
"Morning Hermione." Harry replied. Hermione once again looked up from her reading and met her eyes with his. They both burst into a smile and started laughing. It was stupid and made no sense but Harry's heart raced and thumped, both their minds casting back to the events of this morning.
"Eh?" Was all Ron could mustered as he surveyed the two of them. Ginny too looked slightly perplexed. Remembering where she was Hermione rid herself of her smile and shook her head. "It's nothing. Really." She shot a glare at Harry then straightened the paper and held it high in front of her face. She remained that way throughout lunch and didn't so much as glance in Harry's direction until Ron had long left to feed the ghoul in the attic and Mrs Weasley had accosted her daughter into helping her clear out the twins room of all their old Snackbox that still lay in a jumbled pile in the corner of the room.
Harry sat there at the table leaning back on his chair and watched Hermione as she finished off her toast and went to work on the Daily Prophet's crossword which would be no small task in itself even if the clues didn't change at random intervals.
Harry waited patiently, hoping she would soon take a moment to cast her eyes his way or to put down the paper. After sitting in silence for fifteen minutes Harry finally gave up and rose from his chair moving round the table to sit in the one next to her. "So is this it then? Is this how we're going to carry on from now on? Not looking at each other and only traveling in groups to avoid being alone?" He leaned on the table with his arm and peered into her face a mischievous smile playing on his lips.
Hermione shifted awkwardly in her seat her stern determination to stay focuses on her crossword broken as she stifled a smile.
"I mean we could split the house down the middle for the rest of the summer if you'd like, so that we don't have to be in the same room together. You could take the the first two floors and I'll take Ron's room and the attic. I'm sure the ghoul will set me a place for dinner. I just hope he has his own bathroom or I'm in big trouble."
Hermione covered her mouth with the prophet and started laughing. She turned to look back at Harry grinning. "At least you'll have some company." She put the paper down on the table and pushed it to one side. She cast her gaze to the kitchen window and let out a long sign before turning her attention back to Harry once again.
"Look Harry, I'm not going to pretend what happened this morning wasn't..." Hermione flushed red and focused her eyes back onto the kitchen table. She laughed nervously, rubbing her nose gingerly before looking back at him. "This is so strange." She remarked to herself. She took a moment just staring back at Harry, the room silent apart from the sound of birdsong lilting in through the open window. She leaned her chin onto her hand whilst reaching up with the other, placing it onto Harry's chin, wiping off a spot of toothpaste. She ran her hand up to his hair and pushed it back holding it so his face was unobscured by his usual messy mane. Harry held his breath for what seemed like an eternity, it felt like something inside his mind had switched off momentarily rendering it useless, he felt stranded as if the gap between them was miles away when he need only lean forward to feel the heat of her breath, the touch of her lips... yet something was stopping him, something that had nothing to do with their surroundings. He looked at Hermione and could sense the same hesitance from this morning.
Hermione let her hand fall back to the table and cleared the emotion from her throat before she spoke. "But we can't." She tried to feign a stern tone but failed and hit somewhere between distant and disappointed. "I can't."
Harry went to reply but she shook her head and pressed her palm onto his chest. "You don't understand, it's not just Ron." Every word she spoke sounded wrapped up in guilt as she struggled to keep eye contact. "It's not only Ron we'd be hurting..." She stopped short of continuing her next words and instead looked over towards the entrance to the kitchen. "It's not the right time maybe in a few years..."
"Hermione listen I..."
"No Harry, you listen. How long have you felt like this, honestly?"
Harry was taken back by the question and frowned. He trawled back through his memories over the past few months, back to the bouts of jealousy and longing, the dreams and guilty thoughts. "Maybe since Christmas. It's hard to say but..."
"Try two years Harry." She replied her voice breaking slightly, gritting her teeth forcing her chin not to quiver.
Harry couldn't hide his shock. "That long? Why didn't..."
"Why didn't I say?" She cut him short and fixed him a determined look. "Well Cho for one thing and it's not as if I haven't thought about it Harry but..." She clenched her fingers tightly. "It not just some crush for me. It's not just curiosity, not just a passing thought."
"Oh and it is for me is it?" Harry couldn't help the hurt in his voice creeping up from his stomach.
"I don't know Harry but do you? Truly? I hate being so rational all the time but I can't just do what I want, not now. There are bigger things going on right now, bigger than you and me. If I tear things apart now, when so much is at stake when you need us, both of us with what's to come. I can't just..." she looked angry but Harry couldn't tell who it was directed at. Suddenly he felt a surge of guilt wash over him. He hadn't given thought to the months, years ahead. Not when it came to the two of them. He felt childish. The gap between them suddenly felt larger than ever. "But how can we go back to being just fr..."
"We just have to." Hermione glared at him suddenly letting the anger she felt at herself, towards Harry and towards the everything get the better of her. She shot up from her chair and turned away from Harry placing her hands on the kitchen counter. "Don't say that Harry, please don't say that." She turned to face him her eyes stern, her hands clenching the edge of the counter hard. "So that's it is it? After all these years. If this..." She motioned between the two of them, "...can't be what you want it to be then what, we just what?" Taking her eyes off him she looked down at the floor hiding her expression from him. "If I can cope with two years of watching you and Cho, being happy for you, hoping you work things out all the while I..." Her arms were trembling, she hunched her shoulders and buried her head deeper into her chest. "I didn't think you would ever... I thought I'd made my peace with it and now..." She shook her head as if trying to rid the memories of the last two years from her mind.
Harry got up from his seat, "But Hermione we can't just..."
"Fine have it your way. Let just ruin everything!" She pushed herself off the counter and walked over towards him, she grabbed his shirt with both hands and pulled him towards her. "You want to be selfish then have it your way." She hadn't planned on this but the swirl of emotions coursing through her took hold in a moment of blind madness. She leaned up and kissed him hard. Harry stumbled backwards and hit his legs against a kitchen chair which scrapped loudly across the floor. Harry placed one hand behind him onto the table and the other he instinctively placed on her waist. This kiss felt different to Harry than before this wasn't tender or cautious this was pure self indulgence, instinctive, something Harry had never felt from Hermione in all the years he'd known her. His head swam, the heavy touch from her lips intoxicating and exciting. Hermione ran her hand roughly through his hair and grabbed the back of it. Was she just angry or tired of holding back she didn't know, she wasn't thinking, she didn't care. She pulled her mouth from his and looked hard into his eyes, pushing her nose against his.
Harry stared back, he wanted Hermione more than anything, outside of this room right now the world didn't exist. There was no Ron diligently feeding the ghoul in the attic, no Ginny arguing with her mother over the state of her school uniform, no Voldermort hidden from sight plotting Harry's downfall, Harry's murder. He pressed his body into hers and she reciprocated, he kissed her again and again his hands running where they please, greedily taking in everything that was Hermione. His best friend, one of the few people who'd shared in every moment of happiness, every moment of doubt and every hardship. One of the few who didn't see him as "the chosen one" or "the boy who lived" just plain old Harry Potter, the scruff of a boy from the cupboard under the stairs and she wanted him not Ron Weasley, not Victor Krum, him.
It was a moment Harry never wanted to end but his eyes snapped open when he felt the dampness of Hermione's cheek on his, the taste of salt on his lips. He pulled away watching the slow track of tears roll down Hermione's face, the expression of joy and passion replaced with pain and agony in her eyes. He could see that this was as equally torturous for her as it was heaven. Hermione wouldn't be Hermione if it wasn't. Always seeing the bigger picture, always thinking of anyone but herself, be it a house elf who needed freedom or a best friend who thought the world of her, a best friend whose heart she would be breaking if he could only see them embracing now.
The moment sobered him and he pulled his body off hers. He was back in the Weasley's kitchen, back at The Burrow. The world outside crashed back into his life with the force of a tidal wave. They were both breathing heavily. He placed his hand gently on her forehead and rested his own against it. "I'm so sorry Hermione." He grasped her hand as he stepped away letting it slip away as he dropped his hands to his sides. "I wasn't thinking." He was finally seeing straight. He knew for sure this wasn't just some teenage crush, just a moment of madness, yet the certainty of this realisation made him see the bigger picture. What good was this feeling if he wasn't going to be around to explore it when the chance came around. Could he really be so selfish to trade a few years of contentment for a lifetime of bliss.
Never before had the fight ahead of him seemed so daunting, so terrifying.
"You will never lose me Hermione." Harry told her looking longingly into her eyes. "You're my best friend and you always will be."
Hermione smiled as another tear rolled down her cheek a hint of sadness returning to her features. The brief hint of selfish hope taking a step back from her eyes. She nodded heavily and pushed her hair from her face with a shaking hand. She looked defeated, her cheeks red, her chest still rising heavily as she regained her breath.
"So if we have to wait... five years, ten even..."
Hermione snapped her face upwards stunned. She looked momentarily confused before feeling another heavy wave of tears push against her eyelids. She bit them back.
"Then I'll wait." The certainty in his voice was unrelenting.
"You will?" Hermione asked trying not to let the relieved tone linger too heavily in her voice. She let her gaze rest content on Harry before letting it slip across the room taking a step back in shock as she registered the presence of another person in the room. Someone else standing at the kitchen door. The flaming red locks of hair tied into a ponytail, resting across her trembling shoulder. The fiery brown eyes staring back first to Hermione then to Harry, the shocked and hurt look in her them uncontainable. Ginny raised a hand to cover her mouth, she shot a final accusing look at Hermione before turning swiftly and running back into the hallway. Her footsteps echoing in Hermione's ears as they thundered up the stairs. The slam of Ginny's bedroom door rattling the panes of every window in the house, waking up the guilt ridden feelings Hermione had temporality discarded only moments ago.
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