For the first time
Summary: Harry has never belonged anywhere. He was a wizard and a muggle, a halfblood. He has always been unique and where everybody else says ‘special’, he replies, quietly in his own heart, ‘alone’.
It was now two months since Ron left.
Harry knew because not only had he been keeping count but also because of the faraway look Hermione’s eyes had adapted ever since they woke up that morning. She glanced at the entrance of the tent every once in awhile and Harry wasn’t sure what to make of it. He ignored the pinprick of hurt in his heart and thought of the possible cause of her behavior rationally, or at least tried to, while jealousy burned at his heart.
Was she hoping to see Ron enter through it as though he had never left? Or was she reliving the memory of the night he left them?
His musings were put to a halt when Hermione herself plopped down beside him in his bunk and put her head on his shoulders. She murmured, her voice muffled,
“I miss Ron.”
His chest tightened and a lump suddenly formed in his throat. Clearing it, he said,
“Yeah. I do too.”
He felt her start to shake and she said,
“I’m so tired of crying over him. It’s just so—frustrating. Every time I think of him and what he did to us, I get so angry and sad I…,” she lifted her head and wiped her tears away furiously. “…God. I feel so pathetic. Crying over someone who’s not even worth it.”
She laughed bitterly and shook her head.
“I won’t cry anymore—not for someone who abandons his best friends because he couldn’t take it anymore, always whining and complaining but never doing something about it. I can’t believe we’ve been friends with a prat like him for years—” she snorted. “Merlin knows I’m tired of crying because of him, tired of feeling helpless like—like a little girl! I’m a very competent witch, I’m the best in our class! I don’t need a man—I don’t need Ron to mess up my life. It’s already hashed up enough without his help, thank you very much!—”
He listened to her rant, amused. Then, the humor of the situation went right out the proverbial window when he heard,
“—one unrequinted love is enough! I do—” she cut herself off, realizing her mistake.
But the damage was already done.
She turned to him, eyes wide as saucers, before she cleared her throat loudly and tried to change the subject.
“Well, anyway! I really—”
But Harry’s brain was already running rapidly, asking himself who it could be and scanning every memory he had of Hermione interacting with other males. Krum? Cedric Diggory? Malfoy? Who could it be? It occurred to him that the only way to find out was to ask Hermione directly.
So he did.
“Hermione,” he cut her off. “you said no secrets.” Hypocrite, he hissed to himself. You’re such a hypocrite, Potter. “Who is it?”
She shook her head, face white as sheet and lips trembling. Seeing her expression, he dropped the subject, immediately regretting his prying. Silence reigned for a few minutes while Harry berated himself furiously.
‘For Merlin’s sake! You’re such a hypocrite! No more secrets, huh? And then you almost acted like the jealous boyfriend in front of her when you don’t even have the right to be jealous.’ He thought to himself angrily, squeezing his eyes shut in self-hate.
After a minute, he finally calmed down and opened his eyes, immediately seeing Hermione’s miserable face. Wishing he could hex himself to oblivion, he opened his mouth to apologize.
“Hermione, I’m sorry I—”
She stood up abruptly, her back facing him and he could see the tense lines of her shoulders, her spine rigid, and the way she held herself protectively as if he would suddenly lash out and hurt her. The though of hurting her was quickly rejected. He would sooner cut his wand hand than do anything to hurt her. And he loathed the fact that he was the reason she was acting like that.
“It’s fine, Harry. Anyway, I’ll go and take watch outside. See you later.”
He could only watch as she briskly walked out, feeling regret and self-loathing consume him.
Harry watched the snow fall around him as he sat by the entrance of the tent, still seething and hurt from finding out everything he knew about Dumbledore—that the Albus Dumbledore he had known and respected wasn’t real, a fake. He couldn’t believe how—how gullible he had been to Dumbledore’s lies, how he’d readily believed him and allowed himself to be manipulated.
Lies, everything Dumbledore had told him were all lies.
He was furious that Dumbledore never told him half the things he’d done as a teenager that it never seemed to occur to him that it mattered whether Harry knew about his friendship with Grindelwald. Dumbledore had asked him to risk himself again and again, expecting Harry to trust him blindly and never trusting Harry in return. He had been told lies of omission—never the whole truth. Hermione told him that she knew Dumbledore had loved him, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe her. How could
have Dumbledore claim to love him when all the old headmaster had left Harry was a mess of things unfinished, broken, expecting him to fix them all by himself.
It hurt that Dumbledore—his mentor, who had been like a beloved grandfather as he grew up—had trusted his arch nemesis Gellert Grindelwald more than he trusted Harry. He felt betrayed.
He closed his eyes and wished—hating himself for it—that what Hermione said was true; that Dumbledore really had cared.
Harry entered the tent a few hours later and stopped in his tracks when he saw Hermione hastily wipe her eyes, face red and cheeks wet. She straightened up from where she sat on the stairs, the Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore open in her lap. She cleared her throat.
“Harry, I do—”
“I’m gonna get some sleep. Can you take watch?” he asked, cutting her off.
She nodded and he strode towards his bunk, stopping in front of it for a second before climbing in and lying down with his back to her. He heard a shuffle as Hermione put the book away and footsteps, presumably exiting. He barely held a flinch when a hand was abruptly placed on his arm.
“Harry, just because Dumbledore hadn’t told you of his association with Grindelwald doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t trust you. Maybe he just wanted to forget the mistake of leaving his siblings for his wild ideas about world domination with Grindelwald. Remember that because of his decision, Arianna died and Aberforth loathed him for it. It must have been painful—losing the only family you had left because of a stupid, careless choice. Some things are just too painful to remember, and to talk about it when you still haven’t forgiven yourself after so many years…it’s—” she squeezed his arm gently. “Don’t forget that his view when he was young had drastically changed. He wasn’t the Albus Grindelwald had known after his sister died. People change and Dumbledore had changed for the better.”
He didn’t respond, mulling over her words silently, and after a few moments he heard her sigh and felt the hand on his arm pull away. He heard her footsteps walking away and exit the tent.
Harry watched Hermione read on the floor quietly from where he sat on his bunk, wanting to talk, to apologize—anything, just to break the suffocating silence inside their temporary house. He could hear the cold wind outside whip past their tent and shivered.
It had been a week since the previously warm, relatively happy atmosphere between them had vanished to be replaced by this hesitant tenuous silence and five days since they had read Rita Skeeter’s book. Harry couldn’t help but feel as if they hadn’t had progress at all, that they were back to square one, the first few weeks after Ron left them.
‘All good things end. It was high time you stopped being all happy and content and start being miserable again.’ The snide voice in his head told him.
He shook his head, as if the action would make it disappear. From his periphery, he saw Hermione lift her head to look at him and he turned to her, their eyes holding for a moment. Hermione watched him worriedly but a little hesitantly, like she was afraid that he’d get angry if she expressed concern for him.
The corner of his lips twitched up in a sad smile.
Hermione’s gaze dropped down to the floor in front of her and her mouth turned down into a miniscule frown. Harry wanted to reach out and smooth out the furrow in her forehead.
He decided he would.
He got up and walked towards her, stopping when he was in front of her and bending slightly. He pressed his index and forefinger on the crease gently and she looked at him, the frown disappearing. He straightened up and offered her his hand. When she only stared at him questioningly, he smiled and took her hand in his, pulling her up. He wound his arms around her waist and in turn, she put her arms around his neck. He refused to think of how intimate they must look, opting to sway them slowly while he started to sing, lowly at first, in her ear.
She’s all laid up in bed with a broken heart
While I’m drinking Jack all alone in my local bar and we don’t know how
How we got into this mad situation
Only doing things out of frustration
Trying to make it work but man these times are hard
Her arms tightened around his neck and he put his forehead against hers, emerald gaze drawing her to him. His voice took an apologetic tone.
She needs me now but I can’t seem to find a time
I’ve got a new job now in the Unemployment Line
And we don’t know we got into this mess, It’s a gods test
Someone help us cause we’re doing our best
Trying to make it work but man these times are hard
But we’re gonna start by drinking old cheap bottles of wine
Sit talking up all night
Saying things we haven’t for a while, a while yeah
They swayed in circles, his voice the only thing they could hear and he felt like they were the only people in the world, alone but not quite. He watched as her eyes closed, a content expression written clearly on her face and felt like he was falling in love with her all over again.
We’re smiling but we’re close to tears
Even after all these years
We just now got the feeling that we’re meeting
For the first time
It was true; over the past few weeks, the more they talked over things they didn’t normally talk about, he felt like they were getting to know each other again, but this time, they didn’t have to worry about being ridiculed or rejected because they already knew each other so well, it felt like they’ve been friends for more than seven years.
She’s in line at the DOLE with her head held high
While I just lost my job but didn’t lose my pride
But we both know how we’re gonna make it work when it hurts
When you pick yourself up , you get kicked in the dirt
His grip on her waist tightened slightly, hearing his voice hitch a little, and a cross between a sob and a laugh sounded from his throat before he sang again.
Trying to make it work but man t hese times are hard
But we’re gonna start by drinking old cheap bottles of wine
Sit talking up all night, saying things we haven’t for a while
A while yeah
We’re smiling but we’re close to tears
His song was drawing to a close, and the last few lines were sang in soft tones, the song telling the way he had been feeling these past few months more coherently than his own words ever could. He was surprised when Hermione sang with him, her gentle melodic voice mingling with his perfectly.
Oh, these times are hard, yeah
They’re making us crazy
Don’t give up on me baby
They had ceased swaying and Harry stood still, staring at Hermione as she opened her eyes, a few tears slipping out and running down her cheeks. She looked at him, her brown eyes conveying gratitude, fondness, understanding and another unreadable expression he couldn’t for the life of him fathom. It had always been there, from the moment they met and up to now. He had never thought it odd, strange, because he had accustomed to it over time that he just ignored it whenever she gazed at him with it mixing with the other, easily identified emotions. He had never understood it and the feelings it caused him to feel—hope for something more, fear that she knew his true feelings for her—were ignored.
But now, as she looked at him with that frustratingly confusing look—yearning, loving, fearing, doubting—he found his heart beating rapidly and every fiber of his being become aware of how close they were, how warm she felt, how right it was for her to wrapped in his arms. He could see her come nearer, the miniscule distance between them decrease slowly. He found his gaze glued to her petal, pink lips—were they as soft as they looked?—and he felt his brain explode when they touched his, rendering his higher brain functions useless.
He felt…stunned was an understatement. Gobsmacked. He felt gobsmacked. He couldn’t think and he couldn’t breathe. The only thing he could do was feel—feel the softness of her lips against his, the gust of hot air on his face, the warmth emanating from Hermione. In fact, it was as if his whole world stopped and narrowed down on Hermione in that moment.
Then his brain kickstarted.
—Merlin, she’s kissing me—she’s kissing me, what do I do—
Both his mind and heart protested when Hermione pulled back. They looked at each other, Harry still speechless and Hermione…resigned.
“Hermione,” he started slowly. “…what the bloody hell was that?”
She bit her lip, eyes downcast. She squeezed her eyes closed before blurting out,
“I’m in love with you.”
His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. His brain was doing haywire inside his skull as he struggled to understand what she just said, struggled to convince himself that this couldn’t possibly be real, that he was dreaming again or maybe he just died and went to heaven while he was asleep because—because Hermione wasn’t supposed to be in love with him, she was supposed to be in love with Ron, who was both their bestfriend and—
“What?” he asked, mind still reeling, unable to wrap his mind around the idea of her being in love with him because—it wasn’t possible! He had been prepared to pine, for heartbreak, not—not this.
“I’m in love with you, Harry. I’ve been in love with you for the last seven years, right from the moment you saved me from that blasted troll, until now.” She explained, her voice curiously subdued.
“But—Ron—” he sputtered. “—I thought you were in love with Ron!”
“No. I’m not in love with him. I wanted to—Merlin knows I wanted to—but I can’t, I just can’t. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t. I can’t seem to fall for anyone but you.”
“But—” he took a deep breath, calming himself. “Explain, Hermione.”
“I…” she choked out, tears falling from her honey-brown eyes to trickle down her cheeks. Harry immediately cupped her face, cradling it gently in his hands, and wiped her tears away with his thumbs. She refused to look at him and with a sigh, he tilted her chin up and said,
“Mione, please look at me.”
There was a second’s hesitation until brown finally looked into green.
“I’m confused, Hermione. I’ve always thought that you and Ron—that you were bound to get together eventually. So I didn’t get my hopes up. I wanted you to be happy and if you were happy with Ron, then who am I to say no? But now…now you’re telling me you love me? Please, explain.”
He caressed her cheeks with his thumbs and whispered,
She nodded, swallowing a bit before saying,
“I first found out about Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, when I read the school books. I was entranced and extremely curious about him because he survived even after being cursed by the Killing curse. I started reading books about him and before I knew it, I had developed a fascination over him. Then we met and school started. I wanted to ask him a lot of things, but I couldn’t, because he had this friend who was extremely hostile towards me and often steered Harry away when I got near. And then, that Halloween when I got cornered by a troll inside the girl’s bathroom, he came and saved me, even though his friend told him it wasn’t their business whether I got hurt or not. While he fought that troll for me, I should’ve felt more afraid than I was, more anxious, but he was there and I felt safe. That was the moment when Harry Potter became Harry for me. I felt an electric current shot right through me when our fingers touched as you helped me up. You were my first real friend and those books I read about the Boy Who Lived…they were nothing compare to Harry.”
Harry remembered that instant as well, and he could still feel the spark that went through his arm to his whole body from their clasped hands. He wondered if that was some kind of sign.
“And after that, I knew. This feeling,” she gestured towards her chest. “…it’s uncontrollable and it never fades. The more time I spent with you, the more it grew, stronger. And seven years later, it’s still the strongest, most wonderful feeling I have ever felt.”
“What about Ron?”
“I…like Ron. I think I might’ve loved him if I…didn’t have feelings for you. My feelings for him—I do love him, I’m just not in love with him.”
He shook his head. “I find that hard to believe. You’ve been crying over him ever since he left. The way you act around him is…different. Hermione, you are in love with him.”
Hermione sighed, tired and weary, as if she’d already had this conversation many times before.
“If I’m in love with him, then what do you suppose is this thing I feel about you? Because, when it comes to you, everything seems more—magnified. The fear, the doubts, the happiness, the love—they’re stronger compared to what I feel about Ron.”
Harry pulled his hands away from her and stepped back, putting distance between them, because he needed to think logically and the nearer they were to each other, the more he was tempted to throw caution to the wind.
“Hermione, I love you. I’m in love with you—I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t,” she looked at him tempered hope, as if not wanting to hope too much for the prospect of them being together. “But I need to know that…these feelings we have for each other—that they aren’t something to be taken lightly. Now that I know we’ve apparently been pining for each other for seven years…I don’t want us to rush this. I don’t want to put our friendship on the line for something we might regret eventually.”
She nodded, complete comprehension clear on her face.
“I know. I feel the same way; it’s why I never told you. But Harry, I think—I know we can risk this. If I was going to change my mind, I would’ve done so already, don’t you think?”
“Are you sure, ‘Mione?” he asked. “We never know—I might die tomorrow or the next day. As long as You Know Who’s alive, he isn’t going to stop until he kills me. ‘Mione,” he placed his hands on her shoulders and said, “I don’t want you to suffer in case I do.”
Her eyes became shiny, a warning for the tears she wasn’t willing to let spill yet. He could see that his death terrifies her, maybe even more than it does him.
“Even if we decide not to be together, I’ll still suffer. The pain might even be doubled because now that I know how you feel about me, I’d regret never giving us a chance. And Harry, don’t forget that I might be killed too, because I’m a mudblood. So it goes both ways.”
He nodded, pulling her to him in a tight embrace. He was gratified when it was immediately reciprocated.
“I love you. I don’t care if you don’t want me—or if you change your mind, and if you hate it—I’m never letting go of you.”
He felt her smile against the crook of his shoulders.
“What if I run away?”
“Id you do, I’d probably come chasing after you and lock you away.”
“Don’t worry then, because I won’t. But, I’d probably leave just to have you chase after me.”
He laughed, long and hard, because he was happy—as happy as he would ever be.