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’.
Harry was just coming down the stairs when the door opened and Ron entered the house.
“You’re back.” he stated needlessly, pausing.
Ron gave a somewhat awkward shrug and shuffled his feet, looking at the floor. Harry stared at him, noticing the dark bags of exhaustion under his eyes, his pale face lined with worry and weariness under the scratches and bruises. Harry pushed away the guilt that threatened to overcome him as he saw Ron’s overall state of exhaustion, willing himself to put his best friend first before his self-flagellation because once again, he had dragged Ron to a mess they barely got out alive off. With him looking at Ron closely, Harry saw that something was worrying him.
“Is something…wrong, Ron?”
Ron’s head jerked up and their eyes locked before he shifted his gaze from Harry’s again.
“Aside from the fact we’re being hunted by You-Know-Who and his minions? And the Wizarding World in chaos?” his lips twitched up in an almost smirk before thinning. “No, everything is just…fine.” Ron refused to meet his eyes.
Harry frowned, recalling the brief flash of some unfamiliar emotion in Ron’s eyes when their gazes had met. It nagged him, his gut instincts telling him that his best friend was obviously lying.
“Are you sure?” he asked again.
Ron nodded slowly.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry.” Ron assured him.
He hesitated, wanting to prod further, but decided against it. Ron would tell him sooner or later what it was that was bothering him. He sighed, rubbing his neck tiredly.
He continued down the stairs and was about to make his way towards the kitchen when he heard Ron call his name. He turned and gave his best friend a questioning look.
Ron was wearing a strange expression on his face, his brows furrowed and a mix of determination, resignation and something else Harry couldn’t identify written on his face.
“Ron?” he prodded.
“I love Hermione.” Ron blurted out, his voice quiet and controlled. “I’m in love with her.”
Harry took a moment’s pause before answering, guilt welling up inside him that was slightly overpowered by the flash of mineminemine he immediately pushed away and locked under the numerous emotions threatening to burst into surface. His voice was as quiet as Ron’s as he stated simply,
He saw Ron curl his hands into tight fists and his back stiffened, body straining defensively in reflex.
“I know I left you guys, left her, when I was needed the most, and I’m sorry for that. But I came back and I’m not leaving again, I swear. I won’t abandon you and her anymore.”
Harry opened his mouth to reply, I know I trust you not to, but Ron cut him off, not finished speaking,
“I know I don’t have any right to say this, that you’ll think I’m being selfish and arrogant, but—I really love her. Hermione, I mean. And I…deserve her—I will be someone who’s worthy of her.”
Ron took a deep breath and continued,
“I’m not like you, Harry. I’m not powerful or smart or good-looking—” Harry immediately tried to deny all of this but Ron only shook his head. “No, it’s true, mate. Almost everyone adores you, and I don’t really blame them—and Hermione—she—she adores you too. But me? I’m just plain old Ron. I can’t compete with Harry Potter but I—I can’t just give Hermione up. She’s the only person who doesn’t treat me like a nobody compared to you—she loves me because I’m…Ron. And I need that, want that.”
Harry didn’t know what to say, he had no idea Ron’s insecurity of him was this deep, no idea that he felt this way. He felt like an arse for not knowing—realising—that his best friend felt this way about him. But at the same time, the selfish part of him wanted to tell Ron that he needed Hermione too and that she loved him, Harry, so it was no use for Ron to even hope to have her.
“So please, just let me have her. You have my sister waiting for you back home.”
Harry flinched at the mention of Ginny, not having thought of her in weeks. Immediately, the feeling of guilt returned. ‘That’s right…she doesn’t know I—” Harry thought, the guilt making it harder to breathe, his chest tight.
He knew Ginny would be hurt and even though hurting her would pain him as well, he didn’t want to give what he had with Hermione up, not with all the pining and love they had to keep from each other over the years. And Ron, he was pleading with Harry to give her to him—the mere thought made him frown with the wrongness of it. Hermione wasn’t a piece of property or a thing to be passed so carelessly. The only person who had any right to give her to anyone was herself.
“I can’t wrong. I have no right to give Hermione to you—to anyone—since I don’t own her. She’s not something I can simply give to you, mate. Of all people, I thought you’d know this. She would be hurt—” Not to mention furious, Harry added in his mind, “—if she heard you say this.”
Ron flinched upon realising the truth in Harry’s words.
Both of them jumped and turned to look at Hermione, who was hesitantly hovering at the top of the stairs, frowning at them.
“What are you two talking about? Why such serious faces?” she asked.
“It’s nothing.” Ron immediately denied. “Just…guy talk, that’s all.”
The frown did not leave Hermione’s brow and she shifted her gaze to look at Harry. The look she gave him was inquisitive and suspicious.
“Really?” The question was directed at Harry, who slowly nodded in affirmation.
Her frown disappeared but there was a thoughtful tilt to Hermione’s head as she said,
A short pause reigned between the three of them, heavy with unspoken words and secrets, before Hermione broke it and said,
“I have finished the Polyjuice Potion.”
Harry was restless, haunting the cottage silently, feet light and breathing almost inaudible, like a thief in the night scourging for valued possessions. He could not sleep, body thrumming with anticipation and mind running through thoughts with ruthless efficiency. He stopped walking before entering the kitchen, gazing at Hermione’s still form illuminated by the moon through the window, her skin turned pale ivory under its light. She had two steaming cups of tea in front of her, one obviously for Harry as she tilted her face to look at him.
He went towards the table and sat down, sipping the tea she prepared for him quietly, letting the silence between them calm his frayed nerves.
Suddenly, like a magnet, his eyes were drawn to the scar in her hand, angrily inscribed in jagged lines. Without a word, he reached out his own, the words I will not lie flashing back at him, and placed it beside hers and thought they were almost beautiful in the moonlight.
“Do you feel like something’s changed?” Hermione’s words broke through his reverie.
Harry turned to look at her.
“It’s just—I feel like I understand you better now, because of this scar.” She nodded towards her hand.
“I feel connected to you in a way, as if this scar has opened something deep between us and—and bonded us. I understand your emotions better now. You hide yours not because you’re ashamed, but because you don’t want people asking questions. The scar…it helps put things into perspective, doesn’t it? Only people filled with hatred can cause such great pain, can revel in the hurt, and those people are the ones that need to be stopped the most. I feel the same way, I’m not ashamed of mine. There is nothing shameful in being a Mudblood—because it doesn’t matter, blood purity doesn’t matter when thousands of people are being killed by a half-blood who desires an all pureblood world.”
Hermione gave him a small smile, the corners of her eyes crinkling slightly, expression earnest.
“What does matter is that there are also thousands of people willing to fight him, of finally being free of him. I have complete faith that you’ll lead us to victory, Harry. You’ve never failed us before, and I know you won’t start now. So don’t worry, peace is coming.”
Harry couldn’t help but return her smile with one of his own, because it was such a Hermione thing to do, her knowing of his inner thoughts and feelings and always ready to do what was needed to help him, her unflinching faith on him no matter what. He felt his mind and body settle with her assurance and linked their hands together, their scars that were made of hate now something that made him even more connected to her, something that was cherished, treasured.
He didn’t quite know how to articulate how much he loved Hermione, the love he was feeling making his chest tight and his throat lumped, so he settled for simply leaning over the table that separated them and placing a tender kiss on her forehead.
The beam that Hermione gave him showed how much she returned the sentiment.
Harry looked at Ginny, saw the happiness and the longing in her eyes and he couldn’t stop himself from looking away, heaving with guilt.
He could feel everyone in the Gryffindor common room watching the both of them, probably expecting a heartfelt show of longing and joy in the form of a passionate kiss, like in the Muggle shows his Aunt Petunia used to watch obsessively. Harry tasted something bitter in his mouth at the thought. He especially felt Hermione’s gaze on him, weighing much heavily than the others.
“Harry.” he heard Ginny call breathlessly.
He turned to look at her again, watched her as she slowly walked towards him, arms lifting, outstretched towards him, in a gesture that was meant to gather him in her arms. He could see Hermione in the corner of his eye, her expression carefully blank as she continued to watch them. His stomach lurched and he took several steps back, increasing the distance between Ginny and him once more.
Ginny’s arms dropped and a look of hurt and confusion surfaced in her face.
“Harry?” she asked tentatively, a question.
He swallowed the lump in his throat and croaked out, a forced smile stretching his face muscled painfully,
She looked at his face, bright brown eyes searching his own for a moment, a small crease marring his otherwise smooth forehead. Then, she opened her mouth and whispered, voice almost hoarse,
His gaze dropped down to the ground and he frowned, silent.
“What changed?” Now her voice was blank, calm.
His heart contracted painfully, and he whispered softly,
There was swish of robes and quick footsteps walking away. Harry looked up and saw Hermione turn around the corner over Ginny’s shoulder. He swallowed and heaved a sigh, aware of the many eyes watching them.
“We should talk. Privately.”
Ginny squeezed her eyes shut and nodded, expression painfully weary. She turned and walked away briskly from the curious onlookers, Harry’s quick footsteps just behind her as they went up the stairs towards the boys’ dormitories. Harry felt a pang of nostalgia as he looked around, seeing the scattered belongings of his fellow Gryffindors.
‘If it wasn’t for Voldemort, I’d still be here, I’d be normal.’ he thought wistfully.
“So. Let’s talk.” Ginny stated, a hint of anger skulking around the edges of her voice, face tight.
Harry opened his mouth, only to close it a second later. He couldn’t find the right words that would hurt her the least, make her understand that they couldn’t go on like this anymore, he couldn’t make her wait for something that was never going to happen.
He hadn’t thought it would be this hard.
“I think we should stop this.” his voice came out forced, hesitant.
He looked at her, gesturing around them helplessly.
“This—” he couldn’t say relationship because—because what he had with Hermione, it was a relationship and what he had with Ginny—wasn’t. “—whatever this is we have—we should stop now.”
“Why?” was her choked off question.
Harry hated himself a little bit more.
He heaved a shuddering breath and whispered softly, hoping she would understand.
“Because I’m not going to come back.”
Her reply was immediate, almost clock work, like she had been down this road a thousand times before and knew the automatic response that would reassure him the most. Harry wondered how many times she had thought of this moment before, how long she had known this moment would come.
“Don’t say that, Harry! Of course you’re going to come back! You have to.”
He stared at her, seeing the disbelief and complete faith in him swimming in her brown eyes. He clenched his fists because he didn’t want to disappoint her—all of them. He wanted to live, but it was a improbable wish, no assurance that it would be granted. He wanted to tell her he was going to come back but it would be a lie and he couldn’t do that to her, add another lie to the growing pile of broken promises he had already given her.
He didn’t love her as much as he did Hermione but it didn’t mean he didn’t care for her. He did—she was still Ron’s little sister, and the one who took care of his sanity while his heart was quietly breaking—and he regretted not showing her just how much.
“I’m going to die, Gin. And I don’t want you waiting for me—it would be cruel for me to do that to you. I don’t want you to stop living your life for someone with a death warrant in his head.”
Ginny took a few step forward and stated fiercely, hands balled at her sides,
“If that’s the only reason you’re going to give me, Harry Potter, then I’m not—I won’t let you go. I love you so much—I’m not letting go of you. Not now, not ever.”
He sucked in a harsh breath and turned away from her determined gaze. He closed his eyes and wished that this was easier to do, that saying the words that would hurt her easier to say.
“I—” I can’t do this anymore. “—I’m not good enough for you—you deserve so much more—more than I can give you, Ginny.”
“No—no, don’t say that, Harry! You are—you’re more than enough for me.” she stated pleadingly. “You’re everything I ever wanted, you’re perfect. You’re Harry Potter! The boy I’ve been in love with for five years!”
Harry’s ears rang. Harry Potter—the Boy Who Lived—the person than Ginny wanted, that everyone wanted. The boy who had a lightning bolt scar in his forehead, who was indestructible, powerful, a hero. Not Harry, whose parents died protecting him, whose godfather died fighting for him, whose mentor—who was the most powerful wizard of the century—died to give him a fighting chance against Voldemort, who had been abused by his own family growing up. Not Harry who was just human, who got lonely, and sad, and happy and who hurt.
No, never Harry.
I’m not the one you want, Ginny, he wanted to tell her, scream at her, because she was one of them, the people who only saw what they wanted to see, whose ignorance was almost intentional, blinding themselves to the fact that he was just Harry, and he was going to fight against someone 50 years his senior, overwhelmingly powerful and cruel in his prejudice, and Harry was almost certainly going to die, and with his death—because of it—the world would be torn apart.
Harry felt trapped in his own skin, Ginny’s presence oppressing him, threatening to overwhelm him, sucking the little happiness he had away from him.
‘Why can’t anyone see me? Why can’t anyone realise that he was terrified of dying, that he had dreams he had wanted to fulfill just like any other person, and with everyone’s expectations, the prophecy, Voldemort, he would never be able to do them?’ he wanted to scream at the world at large, frustrated and angry.
“You don’t always have to fight your own battles, Harry.”
Hermione’s words jolted him from his inner turmoil, the memory piercing him with the determination that had been in Hermione’s voice as she had stated it. He wanted to get away from Ginny—away from here—even for a little while. He wanted to feel like he could breathe again, wanted to feel like he was worth more than his name and most of all—
He just wanted Hermione.
Her name rang clearly in his mind and made the fog of everything that had been building inside him disappear, the certainty of her place in his life reassuring him more than Ginny’s words could have.
“Harry?” Ginny called out his name tentatively, cautiously, pulling him out of his thoughts.
He blinked and looked at her, truly looked at her, and saw a girl lost in her own dreams, rose tinted glasses covering her eyes whenever she looked at him, her protector, her Prince Charming, saving her and everyone from the big bad Lord Voldemort and then swooping her off of her feet to carry her into the sunset and have their happily ever after.
She loved him, in her own way perhaps, he thought, feeling his stomach tighten nauseously, ut not enough to see beneath the glory and fame of The Boy Who Lived.
He couldn’t help but wish that his life was more like the Muggle fairytales, where the hero, the Prince or the knight, saved everyone, the Princess most especially, and not die in the process. He wished he could just save the Princess by kissing her and have everything that was wrong be okay again.
Harry released a weary sigh and shook his head.
“I…need to go.” he muttered, not waiting for her reply before walking out of the room and down the stairs to the common room.
Everyone in the room was looking at him the moment he was visible. He ignored their curious stares and walked straight towards the exit, intending to find Hemione and sort everything out before—before. He was halfway out when a hand gripped his arm and twisted him around. He saw Ginny’s face and everyone staring at them over her shoulder before he felt soft lips pressing against his and a whispered I love you echoing emptily around his heart.
He immediately recoiled from her, pushing her away and taking a step back, his mouth clenched and frustration tightening the lines of his face. He saw Ron’s half-accusing, half-knowing expression and Ginny with hurt in her eyes before he was stomping away, the Fat Lady’s painting slamming shut loudly after him.
Hermione was, hunchbacked, sitting in one of the tables surrounded by a hundred piles of books when Harry found her. He didn’t even have to think, before he was racing through the corridors and the ever moving stairs of Hogwarts towards the Library. Books were Hermione’s constant, the only things that had never let her down, never hurt her when the world was ganging up on her, bullying her just because she was different, different in a way that made other people anxious, because she was brilliant, smarter than them in all the ways that counted and they were afraid of it, of all the things she knew that they could never even hope to understand, of all the things she could accomplish.
Books made Hermione shine, brighter than all the stars and the sun combined, and Harry never wanted to stop looking.
He plopped down heavily on the seat next to her and watched her honey brown eyes move as they read each word carefully, committing them to memory, for a few moments until she glanced up at him, the frown on her forehead deepening.
“Hi.” he mumbled, giving her a hesitant smile.
Her lips quirked up for a second but she held it down, tightening into a straight, stiff line.
“Why did you leave?” he asked softly, unwilling to break the stillness blanketing the library, the darkness almost swallowing them if not for the lighted candle hovering above their heads.
She gave him a tiny shrug, her robes rustling slightly at the movement. She turned a page and hunched even more, curling around herself as if somebody was about to strike her.
Harry blinked, swallowing the lump that had suddenly clogged his throat.
“Hermione…I…” he trailed off, unsure of the words he was about to voice out loud, the thoughts he wanted to cover to her muddled with all the others fighting to be let out.
He was startled when there was a sharp snap of a book being abruptly closed. The sound was not loud, only heard because of the deathly silence around them.
“She—Ginny didn’t take whatever you had to say well, did she?” Hermione asked flatly.
“I—Yeah. I tried to break it off with her but she refused. She doesn’t think we should, just because of the war. She doesn’t think that I—” he cut himself off, hearing Hermione’s sharp inhale.
He looked at her, not liking her suddenly pale countenance, the pained expression weighing her down. He gulped and sucked in a slow breath. He said, voice hesitant and hoarse,
“Hermione, I—I will, you know? I’m…I’m going to die—”
“No.” She shook her head vigorously, face crumpling. “Don’t say that—I won’t—I won’t let you die, Harry. I can’t.”
He heaved a shaky sigh, rubbing the nape of his neck tiredly.
“‘Mione…I…you know what the Prophecy says, don’t you? ‘Neither can live while the other survives’ it said. Vol—You-Know-Who, he’s powerful, so much more powerful than I am, but he’s not invincible. If I had to die just so he could be killed, I’d do it.”
He reached out both his hands towards her and put them on her shoulders, gently turning her to face him. He cupped her face in his palms, thumbing her trembling cheeks. She let out a shaky breath and turned her face to his touch, eyes closing.
“No matter what happens to me—you have to—you need to remember I’m not just doing this to save the Wizarding World—I’m doing this for you, so you would have a future—where you won’t have to hide who you are to avoid being killed—where everyone will know you as the brilliant person that you are. EverythingI’ve done has always been for you, Hermione. It’s not going to change now.”
“I can’t—not without you.” she stated, almost a plea.
“You can. You’re the smartest, strongest person that I know, ‘Mione—”
“Harry, no—remember what I told you? Years ago? Books—cleverness, they don’t count. Friendship, bravery…” the hand over his tightened meaningfully, “love—they matter. Books won’t help me if I lose you. I just can’t.”
Harry made a small, inaudible noise at the back of his throat, the despair in her words and voice squeezing his heart painfully. But he didn’t know what he could do to comfort her, words that would put her mind to ease—lies would only hurt her more.
“But you will—it’ll hurt you and I won’t be there to make it better.”
She looked at him, hands gripping his shoulders painfully tight, wide eyes imploring as they searched his.
“I’ll go with you.”
Those words, her tears, her anguished words, all of it a plea to help him, save him. Hermione, by those words, had just declared that she would die with him, for him. Her loyalty and devotion to him made his heart both swell and break at the same time.
Harry thought of all the times she had sacrificed herself just so he would be safe, starting from when they were eleven, when she had forgotten her rigid belief on being honest—on being good, lying to Professor Mcgonagall so that he and Ron wouldn’t get into trouble in the incident with The Troll, to everything she had done throughout the years of their friendship, the ways she helped him when she was stuck or lost, to when she would bodily shield him from danger—just to keep him alive, safe. He knew she loved him—loved him so much she was willing to die for him—but it—her devotion was—it was never put out in such raw clarity until now, this moment.
It devastated Harry as much it made him happy.
No one had ever loved him like she did—does. He doubted Ginny would leave her parents, her family for him like Hermione had done—leave her childhood, her whole life, behind her, sacrifice so much, her everything—for him. Harry would never have asked anyone of that—never Hermione—but she had.
And Harry hadn’t known whether to be angry or guilty or shamelessly relieved.
For a moment, just one terrifying, reckless moment, he thought of letting Hermione come with him, this one last time, if only he could say goodbye properly, let her know how much he loved her, how much it hurt him to see her cry, hurt because of him—always because of him—he wanted to take her face in his hands and kiss her, wipe her tears away and whisper I love yous into her mouth and I’m sorrys into her forehead and just never let her go, damn the consequences—but he couldn’t allow himself to be selfish, to hoard another piece of her she might never get back, in front of Ron, of all people.
He looked at Hermione—so beautiful, so brilliant, his perfect Hermione—and watched her heart break slowly because she knew—she knew what was going to happen and she wanted to die with him, wanted to protect him, but she knew he wasn’t going to allow that—never, never, never her—and felt his own shatter and he wished—wished so many times he’d already lost count years ago while the darkness hid him, hid his fears and insecurities and everything that he was ashamed of in the veil of the night, his heart whispering guiltily, feebly because he knew it was going to happen and he didn’t want to hope but he wanted—wanted to so hard, so desperately—he wished he wasn’t Harry Potter and she wasn’t Hermione Granger, just two ordinary people who’ve been living life normally and meeting and falling quietly in love, so quietly that they wouldn’t have realised it at first until years later, one day they just looked at each other and thought, ‘I love you’.
Hermione, she was everything to Harry and now—he knew he was everything to her too.
He wished they had more time—more time to be happy, to be sad, to bicker, to laugh, to cry—together but.
I can’t let you die for me.
He knew the moment she understood, watching as honey brown eyes filled with tears, regret and grief, breathing anguished and pained and could do nothing to ease the pain—he hurt her, however indirectly, he was the reason she was hurting so badly and it hurt him too because she was the love of his bloody life, she was irreplaceable, she was Hermione and he could only gather her into his arms tightly, not offering promises, words, because they both knew that this embrace—it could possible be their last.
He didn’t want to let her go, to let this momentary comfort end but he had to.
Harry looked at Ron from over Hermione’s shoulder and saw the resigned acceptance on his face—of what, he didn’t let himself think over it. Their gazes locked.
Take care of her.
Slowly, carefully, as if she was made of glass, he pulled back from Hermione and looked at her, memorising every detail, committing this moment to heart and wiped the tears still falling from her eyes.
I love you. So much.
Without another look back, he left, Hermione’s stifled sobs echoing behind him.