[Fanfic] Living Past the End -Chapter 10

Living Past the End

CHAPTER 10

Writer: avonlea_dreamer (aka bingblot)

Summary: A fiction about Trio after war, how each of them face to normal life. Ron feels good, but Harry and Hermione don’t feel the same way. Harry can’t sleep, and he has a nightmare.

Source: here

LivingPastTheEnd_10

Harry jerked awake with a sharp gasp. His chest was tight, the blanket weighting him down, smothering him.

He surged upright, flinging the blanket away from him, as he tried to catch his breath. He clutched at his chest in an automatic, instinctive gesture.

Bloody damn, it was happening again.

His chest felt tight, as if it were being squeezed, his lungs collapsing even as he tried desperately to suck in air.   He couldn’t.   His lungs had stopped working—why had they stopped working?! He felt as if he were trying to suck molasses through a straw. And it hurt—it bloody well physically hurt as if his heart was trying to break free from his chest or his ribs had cracked or—

“Harry?”

He heard her voice as if it were far away, through the haze of dizziness and his own thundering heartbeats and shallow wheezing for breaths.And then he felt her arm going around his back, heard her voice in his ear.

Her familiar, calming voice.   “It’s okay, Harry.   It’s all going to be okay.   Just breathe.   You know how to do this.   Just breathe in and then out.”

In and then out. It was hard—everything in his body seemed to want to fight against it—he couldn’t breathe, he needed to breathe more, faster, to get more air, he shouldn’t be slowing down!

But he listened to her.   In spite of everything, his panic, his fears—or even, in a strange way, because of everything—he listened to her.   It was one thing he’d learned in these last years, one thing he trusted in spite of everything.   She was the one thing he trusted even when he knew nothing else, trusted nothing else. By now, his instinct to trust her, to listen to her, was engrained into him deeper than anything else and it was somehow enough to help him override the panicked messages of his body that he couldn’t breathe and needed to breathe more.

So he forced himself to listen, to do as she said. Forced himself to breathe in time with her words. In. And then out.

But with his panic over suffocating receding, the other terror—the one that had woken him—intruded and he felt another sharp stab of unreasoning fear.

He couldn’t—he couldn’t

In an abrupt movement, he shifted, turning just enough so he could wrap his arms around her, tugging her in against him with a suddenness that made her grunt softly into his shoulder as he clutched her.   Clutched her and let the solid warmth of her, the reassurance of her presence—there, with him, alive, safe—sink into him, seep into the cracks in his fragile hold on calm and fill them. She was like glue holding him together and without her, his tenuous ability to function, to get through each day, would shatter like glass.

He was, he realized belatedly, trembling slightly as he held her, the tremors becoming more noticeable now that his chest wasn’t heaving as he fought to breathe. And as his heartbeat slowly returned to normal, he realized, too, that she was murmuring to him, her voice soft and half-muffled against his shoulder.

“We’re safe, Harry.   We’re all going to be okay.   We’ll be fine…”   Just those words, over and over, in a quietly reassuring mantra.

He needed her so much.   He couldn’t—he could not lose her.

A slight shudder passed through him at the thought, his fingers tightening on her.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed before he realized he was calmer, he could breathe normally, his head clearing enough that he realized just how tightly he’d been holding her and that—

His thoughts abruptly froze, his mind blanking—or not blanking so much as focusing, everything in him zeroing in on one thing to the exclusion of all else.

She. Wasn’t. Wearing. A bra.

He could feel her—her breasts—oh Merlin oh damn he could feel her breasts— flattened against him and—and it was quite clear that there were only two layers of cloth, their pyjama shirts, separating them—and he couldn’t decide whether to bless or curse the fact that it was summer and their shirts were so obviously thin.

He was suddenly hot, forgetting entirely his panic, his terror, his nightmare, everything that haunted him, so he was only conscious of her and how close they were and that he wanted her.

He released her, letting her go and pulling away as if he’d been burned—and he felt as if he had been, swore he could still feel the way her breasts had felt against him, could still feel the twin points of her nip—he cut off the word, the thought. No no no oh no, he would not think it, had not noticed it.

This was Hermione, his best friend, not some random girl whom he could lust after.   He could not—he would not think that way about Hermione.

He could sense her looking at him, sense her confusion and—hurt?   He winced, suddenly thankful that it was too dark for him to see her face.If he saw her face, if he saw that he’d actually hurt her, he might just do something irretrievably stupid—like kiss her.

He yanked his thoughts away from that.   He needed a distraction.   Now.

“Talk to me,” he blurted out.   “I need a distraction.”

“Okay,” she said slowly. She paused for a moment and then finally began, “I got my Hogwarts letter here. My parents, grandparents, and I had come down for a week on holiday and right in the middle of it, this letter arrived and, well, I guess I knew that my life would never be the same.”

“What was it like for you?” he asked, suddenly amazed that he’d never asked her about this before, to find out what the normal Muggle-born, non-Hagrid-involving experience of getting the letter from Hogwarts was like. And welcoming this neutral topic to focus on, all the better that it was from so long ago from when his friendship with Hermione had been so completely platonic, so simple.

“It was a shock but in an odd way, it was also a relief. To have an explanation for the weird things that kept happening to me, the weird things I kept causing. To know that I wasn’t just… a freak.”

“You’re not a freak.”

“I know that now,” she said and he heard the slight smile in her voice. “So it was a relief for me. I think it was just a shock for my parents and grandparents. Luckily, the letter came with a packet of information, a FAQ for Muggle-borns, and it gave a brief history of Hogwarts and the separation between the Muggle and Magical worlds, and detailed instructions for how to get to Diagon Alley, that sort of thing. Mum didn’t really want me to go—it was so new and they knew nothing about the magical world and she wasn’t too keen about the idea of me going to a boarding school—but my Dad and my grandfather and I managed to convince her, at least to let me try it. My parents told me that if I didn’t like it after the first year, I could leave and just go back to my old primary school and we’d never talk about it again.”

“Did you really think you might not like Hogwarts, that you’d leave it after the first year?” He felt a sudden chill go through him at the thought of that, of trying to get through the other years of Hogwarts without Hermione.   He would probably have been dead long before now…

“I… I thought about it,” she admitted after a moment.   “For the first few weeks at Hogwarts, I thought about it and a couple times, I even thought I’d decided, for sure, to leave after just a year.”

He gaped. “You—you did?   What—what happened?”

He sensed rather than saw her smile, heard it in her voice as she answered. “A cave troll happened.”

He gaped. “You mean us, me and Ron happened?” he asked, incredulously and ungrammatically.

He heard her soft laugh and then he felt her move closer to him, her arm going around his shoulders in a quick companionable hug as she leaned her head against his arm for a moment. “Yes, you.   It was the one thing I really hoped for, really wanted, from Hogwarts—real friends.   Learning about magic was great, of course, and I liked it but it was still just studying and I could study, not the same things but the normal Muggle subjects, at home and be with my family.   I thought… since I could really be happy studying pretty much anywhere, if I was still going to be alone with no friends, then I may as well be alone with no friends at home where I wouldn’t also be homesick.”

He hadn’t known that—how could he not have known, how could he not have seen that she was lonely all those years ago?   How could he not have recognized that she was friendless, as he had always been? “I didn’t… I didn’t know it was that bad for you those first few weeks,” he managed to say.

She shrugged—was it possible to hear a shrug?—and yet somehow, he knew that she shrugged even though he couldn’t quite see her. “I never mentioned it but yeah, I was pretty lonely at first so I did think about leaving.   I liked Hogwarts itself but I’d always liked school so Hogwarts was almost like every other school I’d been to in that sense and some of the magical experiences were frightening too and not all that fun to learn about.   But then I got to know you and Ron and, well, that changed everything. Having real friends—that was different.   I’d never really had friends before and I’d always wanted them and I knew I couldn’t leave Hogwarts after that.”

He was suddenly almost dizzy with relief that she hadn’t left, that she’d stayed, but even so, couldn’t keep from blurting out, “Even though Ron and I still thought you were kind of annoying that first year?”

“I was annoying our first year,” she admitted candidly. “But you and Ron put up with me anyway.”

“No, you weren’t,” he said quickly. “You were just… yourself.” Funny but when he remembered First Year and what Hermione had been like then—yes, she had been a know-it-all but now, thinking about it, what he really remembered was her loyalty, how much she’d helped him… A know-it-all, yes, but a know-it-all who hadn’t let him go face danger alone, who had, somehow, given him courage when he needed it…

“Mum asked, after First Year, if I really wanted to stay at Hogwarts.   I think she knew the answer already from my letters but she had to ask and I told her that I couldn’t possibly leave yo—leave Hogwarts after all that had happened and I didn’t want to either.”

“I’m glad.   I’m—really glad you didn’t leave,” was all he could think to say, entirely inadequately. And he was.   He had acknowledged before that he would very likely have ended up dead, several times over, long before now if it hadn’t been for her—but somehow, now, the hypothetical possibility of it struck him forcefully, a retroactive shiver going through him over a danger narrowly avoided. Knowing that she really had thought about leaving the magical world, about leaving Hogwarts… Knowing how close it had really been especially since he had to admit that he and Ron had not been the best of friends to Hermione that first year… He remembered all the times he’d found Hermione to be irritating, all the times he hadn’t listened to her—but she had stayed.

She laughed softly and he felt her give his arm a playful nudge with her elbow. “I know you are. I’m glad I stayed too.”

You’re glad? Why are you glad? You—you ended up in a lot of… trouble… because you stayed,” he blurted out, opting for the lesser word and wanting to avoid saying outright that she wouldn’t have been in danger of her life so frequently if she’d left. He knew she didn’t blame him for it but he could hardly believe that some part of her had not wished she could be safe, could have avoided all the fear and the danger by leaving Hogwarts—and he had to admit that if she had left Hogwarts after First Year, he might not have thought much about it or missed her all that much at the time.   Blind, stupid git that he had been. She had a happy home to return to, unlike him; Hogwarts with all its dangers was not the sort of haven for her as it had been for him.

“Of course I’m glad I stayed at Hogwarts, Harry. We ran into trouble but, well, I used to think sometimes that it was an adventure too and it was never boring.”

He stared at her—or stared into the darkness at where he knew she was, a more solid shadow in the dark room, his throat suddenly feeling tight as a wave of emotion, a mixture of awe and affection and tenderness, engulfed him.   He couldn’t even have said exactly why he was reacting so strongly but the depth and simplicity of her courage right then amazed him.   To call being petrified by a basilisk an adventure…He knew her too well to think that she might have been unaware of the very real dangers they had faced or that she might have deliberately made light of them to somehow trick herself into not feeling afraid.   No, she would have known and considered the risks back then—just as she had always known and considered the dangers they faced and it had not made a difference.

Unlike him, who had not really understood any of the risks or the dangers until this past year or so and had never really stopped to consider it either, as if some part of him had known that if he’d stopped to think about it, he wouldn’t have gone on, would have run. His bravery, such as it was, had been the product of ignorance and impulse and instinct and desperation.

Her bravery was different, a knowing courage, a thoughtful courage.

One hand lifted, almost of its own volition, and certainly without his having consciously decided what he was about to do, touching her hair and then her cheek, lightly.   He sensed rather than heard her slight intake of breath, felt her utter stillness…

He kissed her. He couldn’t even have said why except that, at that moment, with his throat still feeling tight with emotion and then, on a more instinctive level, realizing that she’d reacted to his touch, the subconscious realization that his touch, as relatively platonic as it was, could affect her so strongly—he simply couldn’t not kiss her at that moment.

His hand cupped her cheek, his lips found hers, his eyes closed, her lips softened and clung to his and—

And his brain belatedly caught up to what he was doing—stupid, stupid, so stupid!—and he tore himself away from her, almost yanking his hand back.

“God, Hermione, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have don’t that! I didn’t mean to do that and I shouldn’t have done it!” he blurted out in a frantic rush of words, as if by speaking he could somehow blot out the memory of her lips or the way he swore he could still feel the pressure and the slight movement of her lips against his as she—his thoughts momentarily stuttered—kissed him back…

She didn’t say anything for a long minute and he was torn between a wish that he could see her face and desperate gratitude that he couldn’t see her face—no, that wasn’t true. He wasn’t torn, he didn’t want to see her face right then, was immediately certain that seeing her face would only make this worse somehow.

“It’s okay, Harry,” she finally said in a voice that sounded preternaturally composed. “You don’t need to apologize for not fancying me like that. I know I’m―”

“What―are you daft?” he interrupted her, his bafflement getting the better of his tact and his sense, “I never said I don’t fancy you or that I didn’t want to kiss you; I only said that I shouldn’t have done it!”

“You—you wanted to kiss me?”

His brain belatedly caught up to reality, shrieking a warning that he really shouldn’t answer that. “I shouldn’t have,” was all he said again.

“But why?”   She hesitated and then said, “You know Ron and I aren’t—”

“It’s not that,” he interrupted her.   “It’s because I can’t risk losing you. I—with Cho, even with Ginny, it didn’t… matter.   Not as much. I didn’t—I don’t need them but you—you’re different.   I—I do need you and I―”

She kissed him.   One moment, words, somewhat incoherent and rambling as they were, were spilling from his mouth, the next, his words were cut off, swallowed, by her lips, as she kissed him. Her lips were somehow soft and forceful all at once and then she licked his lower lip and his lips parted automatically as she deepened the kiss and… and… the last remaining thoughts in his head disintegrated, leaving only want behind.

All the reasons he’d told himself he couldn’t do this, all the risks—hell, what was left of his sanity to say nothing of the entire rest of the world faded away and all he was aware of was her, of the softness of her lips, the taste of her, the touch of her hands on his cheek and then her fingers tangling in his hair… Heat and lust were spiraling up inside him, streaking through him like bolts of lightning. Good God, the fuzzy thought drifted through his mind, if he’d had any idea that kissing Hermione would feel like this, he would have kissed her years ago…

She was the one to break off the kiss and he felt the loss of her lips against his like a physical blow before his brain woke up and he realized—right, he hadn’t wanted to do this…   At the moment, he was finding it hard to remember why but he had his reasons. And once he could think again, he would remember them.

She rested her forehead against his and he could hear that her breath was coming fast—as was his—could feel the soft, rapid puff of her breath against his lips—and he had to forcibly shove aside the impulse to change the angle of his head and close the distance between their lips.

No no no no, he wasn’t going to do that. He wasn’t going to kiss her anymore. Again. Really. He wasn’t. He wouldn’t kiss her again.Somehow.

“Harry, I—I don’t know what will happen to us after this but I promise you, no matter what, I’ll always—always—be your friend.   I can’t imagine not being friends with you.”

“Neither can I,” he admitted automatically—before his brain caught up to his mouth and he belatedly realized that it was true.   He wasn’t entirely sure how much of his certainty was from—the “thinking” of his, er, lower body that just wanted to keep on with the kissing—but he knew it was true.   He hadn’t been able to imagine not being friends with Hermione for months, even years, now.   But that didn’t make it any easier to risk changing the most important friendship of his life.

“I—I need you too, Harry.   And I—”

“You do?” he interrupted her almost in spite of himself.   He was so used to thinking that he needed her but somehow he’d never thought, never even dared to hope really, that she might need him too.

“Of course I do.   You’re my best friend and I’ve tried to tell myself it—this—wasn’t worth the risk but I just… I can’t help… caring and… and wanting this and I—I care about you too much not to try…”

It was, he thought, the most… uncertain, diffident thing he’d ever heard her say and entirely unlike her usual decisive tone.   She sounded… different. Vulnerable. Yes, that was the word.   She—strong, confident, brave Hermione—was vulnerable.   Because of him, because she… cared… cared so much about him…

And that was really what did it. It wasn’t the surge of exhilaration he felt at her confession that she wanted this—wanted to kiss him like this—although that was powerful enough to make him feel almost dizzy at the thought.   But it wasn’t that.   He might—probably, possibly, maybe—have resisted that. It was her tone, more than her words, that did it. Part of him might still be—was still terrified at the thought of risking their friendship, at the thought that if she realized she could do so much better than him, if she got tired of dealing with his nightmares and his lingering guilt, he could lose her or their friendship would become the awkward pseudo-friendship that was his relationship with Ginny right now.   But he could not hurt Hermione. She was… vulnerable… she cared about him—and if he turned her away, he would hurt her.   And he couldn’t do it.

“Hermione, I—are you sure? I mean, you—I’m kind of… a mess and, well, I know I can be a git and—you won’t get tired of me?”

“Oh, honestly, Harry!”

He couldn’t help smiling slightly at this return to the Hermione he knew so well—and then fleetingly wondered if there was something wrong with him to find her somewhat exasperated tone to be so comforting.

“I know you, remember?   We fought a War together and spent almost every minute of the past year together—if I were going to get tired of you, I think it would have happened by now.”

He kissed her.   There was no other possible response to what she’d just said, to the adorable—adorable?—thread of exasperation mingled in with affection in her tone.   At least not for him, not at that moment. He lifted his hand to cup her face, tilting it just enough so he could, and he kissed her.   And she made a soft sound in the back of her throat and kissed him back, pressing herself against him.

His other hand slid around her waist, keeping her against him, and almost of its own volition, his fingers found the hem of her pyjama top and slid inside to touch the bare skin of her back.   Oh Merlin… His eyes almost rolled back in his head from the sheer rush of pleasure.   Her skin was so smooth, so soft, so warm to the touch.   He could become addicted to the feel of her skin under his hands.

His hand cupped the back of her neck beneath her hair and then skimmed down the lithe line of her spine as she shifted closer to him, his hand sliding to explore the curve of her waist and the flare of her hip. The memory, the mental image of her at the beach a few days earlier, of the way she’d looked with her wet shirt clinging to her, flashed through his mind.   And he was momentarily stunned, amazed all over again, that this was Hermione he was kissing like this, touching like this. Hermione he wanted like this, after years of platonic friendship.

His other hand had wandered at will over the bare skin of her back—dear Merlin, the feel of her skin, the heat of it, the smoothness of it beneath his hand… He was addicted to it, addicted to her, could never get enough of the feel of her, as his hand ventured further, deeper within her loose pyjama top until he abruptly realized that his hand had wandered to the side of her—of her breast.

Sudden panic gripped him—this was Hermione and he couldn’t—wouldn’t—go that far, pressure her like that!   It didn’t matter what he wanted; all that mattered was her and he wouldn’t go any further, do anything more, than what she wanted, was comfortable with.

Anyway, it wasn’t as if kissing her like this and touching the bare skin of her back wasn’t heady enough.   He let his hand slide back down her back, retreating from how far it had ventured beneath her top.

Her hands had been in his hair but then they left him as she broke off the kiss and he froze—oh God, he knew he’d gone too far, done too much—but then he felt her fingers wrapping around his wrists and before he could blink or breathe or think anything, she brought his hands up to cup her breasts through her flimsy top.

Oh gods…

He thought he might choke on his own tongue as he gasped, his breath—to say nothing of what little remained of his sanity—leaving him in a rush.

She was incredible.

It was his last coherent thought as she gave a soft moan and then arched, pressing herself further into his hands.   And any last hope he had of resisting, of stopping, died a quick death.

He cupped her breasts, learning the shape of them, the weight of them.   Her breasts were small but… but… perfect… He could feel her nipples harden beneath her pyjama top and, on an impulse, gently pinched them between his fingers and she gave a soft, breathless cry.

“Harry,” she panted, “I want…. Let’s get out of these clothes.”

God, yes…   He’d never in his life heard anything more erotic than those words and more than the words, the way she’d said them, the husky, breathless want in them.

He caught her shoulders, tugging her to him for a quick, hard kiss.   “Yes,” he breathed against her lips. “Yes,” he repeated and then blurted out, inanely, “I want you.”

She let out a huff of breath that was halfway between a laugh and a sigh. “I want to feel your skin.”

He changed his mind.   No, that was definitely the most erotic thing he’d ever heard in his life and it ripped a groan from him as he released her.   He almost tore off his shirt—vaguely surprised that he didn’t rip it in his impatience—and then fumbled to push off his pyjama bottoms.

He could sense Hermione’s movements next to him, heard the faint rustling and then the soft plop of her pyjamas being dropped on the floor and the sound of it, the awareness that she was taking off her clothes, ratcheted up the tension, his arousal spiking to near painful heights.

Taking off his shorts was a more clumsy exercise than he would have liked, his hands almost trembling from impatience and lust, but he managed it and then almost groaned at the sheer relief of his arousal being freed from the confines of his shorts before he flung them away.

It was still too dark in the room for him to see anything but really, they didn’t need to see, he found himself thinking vaguely, suddenly convinced that even without it, he would sense her, would be drawn to her like a magnet.

His hand found her shoulder, her hand found his arm, and he was tugging her to him or she was tugging him to her—they were both just reaching for the other as they fell back together onto the bed, landing in a messy tangle.

She landed awkwardly half on top of him, her elbow finding his ribs, and he grunted and she let out a half-laugh. “Sorry.”

“’s okay,” he rasped as he shifted, rolled, until he was the one half over her, the length of his body pressed against hers.

No, he couldn’t see her but he didn’t feel like he needed to see her. He could feel her, feel the heat of her skin and the softness of it, feel the length of her legs against his, feel the curve of her waist and hips under his hands. He could feel her and he already felt like he might explode right then and there; he was suddenly, even irrationally, convinced that if he could see her too, the sight of her would really be the end of him.

And there was an added eroticism, too, to the darkness, the inability to see heightening all his other senses until he felt hyper-aware of every inch where their bodies touched. He could hear her every breath, swore he could feel her heart beat.

“Harry…” she breathed and then he felt her reaching for him, her arms sliding around him as she pressed herself closer against him. God…

One of his hands slid into her hair as his mouth found hers and he kissed her, hard, his tongue sliding into her mouth, tasting her, claiming her, until he had to break away just to breathe. But he didn’t go far, too addicted to the feel of her, the taste of her.   He only slid his lips to her cheek, pressing soft, slightly damp, kisses, down to her chin and then along the line of her jaw, his lips finding the slight hollow just in front of her ear and then letting his tongue flick out to lightly trace the whorl of her ear before returning to her temple.

“You’re so… lovely,” he breathed against her skin. Funny, how he had become so used to thinking of her as being lovely that the words came so readily to his lips even now when he could have sworn he wasn’t capable of a coherent thought.

All the while, she’d gasped and then panted but at his words she laughed suddenly, softly, and he froze, pulling back slightly, confused.

“Hermione?”

“You can’t even see me. And I know I’m not—”

He cut her off with another kiss, fairly quickly, but lingering with enough force that he knew she could feel all his passion. “I know what you look like and you are lovely. You’ve always been lovely; I was just too stupid to see it.”

“Oh, Harry…”

“Besides,” he added, letting his hand skim down her body in a light caress of the side of her breast, her waist, her hips, her thigh, “you feel lovely too.   I don’t need to see you to know it.”

“Oh, Harry,” she said again in something like a moan and it was her turn to kiss him, flattening her lips against his and pressing herself against him with a force that knocked the breath from his body and him onto his back. And then she was lying half on top of him, her breasts flattened against his chest as one hand wandered over his chest, pausing to lightly pinch one of his nipples—he groaned—and then down his stomach until her hand—her evil, wonderful hand—closed around him and his entire body jerked.

“Hermione!” he choked out.

She paused—while he tried to suck in air and not choke on his own tongue in the process—and then slowly, too slowly, she let her hand move on him, stroking along the length of him and then feathering her fingers along the end of his aching arousal—

And he grabbed her wrist with his hand, pulling her away from his body. “Enough!” he groaned. “I can’t—” He gulped for breath and for some last remaining tendrils of sanity.   “It’s your turn,” he managed to gasp.

He moved one hand to her shoulder to push her gently back and then it was his turn to touch her, to explore her, more than he had already.   He cupped her breasts—small and perfect—shaped them and then replaced his hand with his mouth, tasting her, running his tongue around her nipple, and then gently sucking.

She cried out, arching her back as her hand came up to tangle in his hair holding him in place. And he smiled slightly against her breast, feeling an odd, amazing thrill go through him at the realization that she liked what he was doing.   She liked it… And suddenly all he wanted in the world was to learn more of what she liked, to please her again, more.

He scattered kisses across her chest to repeat his caresses on her other breast, licking her, savoring her.

His hand slipped down her body, caressing the soft skin of her stomach and then down, tracing her hips and her thighs.

She moaned and stirred, pressing closer to him, her thighs parting. “Harry,” she panted. “I want… touch me.”

He almost stopped breathing but he let his hand stray, smoothing over her thigh and then finally, carefully, touching the center of her.   She was so… so hot, so wet, so slick…

Oh God oh God oh God oh Merlin… He felt like his heart were trying to pound its way out of his chest, his lungs frozen, and he swore his eyes almost crossed.   This was Hermione and he was—he was touching her, touching her there and… and…

“I don’t… tell me what to do,” he blurted out and he knew he was blushing, was, for the first time, thankful for the dark that didn’t let her see that.   He couldn’t believe he’d said it but he had to—he needed to know what to do.   He didn’t know much but he knew it wasn’t always… er, good… for girls but this was Hermione and she mattered to him too much.   He needed to make this good for her.

“I… I just… move your hand… touch me more…”

He did.   Carefully, tentatively, at first, and then with more confidence as she stirred against him and moaned.   He explored her with gentle fingers and then, almost by accident, one finger slipped inside her. And oh Merlin, she was so wet, so tight… He thought he might explode himself just from touching her even though she hadn’t tried to touch him in minutes.

She cried out sharply, her hips arching. “Yes… oh, yes…”

His thumb passed over a small nub of flesh and she—she shrieked. There was no other word for it and he froze, suddenly terrified that he’d done something wrong, that he’d hurt her.

But then she gasped, “That… do that again…”

She had liked that. Warmth burst inside his chest and if it made any sense, he felt as if his very heart were smiling even though his features felt frozen, unable to move, too focused on her, on the feel of her. Emboldened, encouraged—and desperately aroused—he moved his thumb again, finding that nub of flesh, rubbing against it—and she shrieked again and then she was gasping, almost sobbing, her wet passage tightening around his finger, her body arching as her hands clutched at him.

She had just…   He had made her… come, he thought fuzzily. If he could have, if it hadn’t felt like his face was frozen into a rictus of pained arousal, he would have been grinning like a maniac. He was almost dizzy with arousal and triumph and pleasure and possessiveness and joy.

On the surge of fierce emotion, he forgot all else, forgot any uncertainty, just flattened himself against her, crushing his lips against hers as he kissed her with all the added passion from knowing he had made her come.

The thought, the words, were the hottest, sexiest thing and he swore sent another jolt of desperate desire sizzling through him, setting his every nerve on fire before pooling in his groin. God, he needed her. Needed to be inside her. He was going to die if he didn’t come as well.

He could feel her, the hot, wet center of her, against him and he rocked against her, his hips thrusting in mindless, brainless instinct.   And then he thought his heart would explode from wonder and gratitude as he felt her hips shift beneath him, arching, wordlessly guiding him until just the tip of him found her, slid into her, and then he lost his mind and plunged forward―

She stiffened and cried out—not from pleasure, he didn’t know how but somehow he knew that, could hear the difference in her tone—and he froze again, the thought of her pain ripping through his haze of desperate wanting.   Oh God oh no, he’d hurt her. He was an idiot, an arse, and he didn’t deserve her.

“Hermione?   Are you… okay?” he managed to choke out. He was in physical pain. It was torture. He needed to move, needed to come, thought he would go insane or… or something if he didn’t explode soon but he couldn’t hurt her, would rather die than hurt her…

She was breathing in soft, shallow pants, still stiff beneath him.   “I’m… fine…”

No, she wasn’t.   He didn’t know much but he knew that. He could feel it in her stiffness, the tension in her body, feel it in the sudden added pressure of her hands on him.

It was… for him, he suddenly realized. She was reassuring him, comforting him.   As she always reassured him and comforted him.   Even after he had just hurt her, even though he knew she was still distinctly uncomfortable, at best, if not in outright pain, at worst.

He felt a sudden swell of painful tenderness that almost drowned out his arousal and lowered his lips to hers, kissing her softly, gently, and then moving on to touch his lips in feather-light caresses to her nose, her eyelids, the corner of her eyebrow, her cheek. Oh, Hermione…

She slid one hand into his hair, bringing his lips back to hers, as she kissed him, softly, and then with more passion.

And then amazingly, he felt her body stir, shifting and softening beneath him. And she broke off their kiss to breathe, “It’s okay, Harry. I’m okay. I want this.   I want you.”

I want this. I want you.

He’d never heard anything more beautiful in his life.   He released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in a gasp, kissing her again, as he let himself move, his hips finding an instinctive rhythm.

She returned his gasp and then she was clutching him, her hands moving from his hair to his shoulders down his back and then up again in restless caresses.   He could hear her soft pants, feel her breath against his cheek…

And then he almost felt as if he were going blind and deaf and he could no longer hear her panting, couldn’t hear anything except for the roaring of his own blood, his own heartbeat in his ears. He was trembling, he was dying, he was burning, he was exploding inside her with a last thrust…

He collapsed on top of her, boneless, breathless, brainless. He felt drained, emptied, as if he had given her his entire life, his mind, his heart, even his soul…

He wasn’t sure how long it was before he regained some ability to think and realized he must be too heavy for her, lying on top of her as he was, and managed to roll over onto his back.

In an unspoken accord, more instinctive than out of conscious decision, they shifted, rearranging themselves more comfortably, as she ended up nestled against him, her head resting on his shoulder.

He let his eyes close, the better to enjoy the feel of her pressed against him, the solid warmth of her delicious curves.   It felt… amazing… just as amazing but in a different way if that made any sense than it had been to touch her, to be inside her… but there was something about this, an intimacy, about feeling her body against his.   A sort of lazy, even sleepy eroticism about feeling her breasts—amazing, beautiful breasts—flattened against him. Not to do anything or actively caress her—he was still too sated for that but just to feel her.

He curved his arm around her, settling her just that tiniest bit closer against him, his fingers idly finding and playing with her hair.   His other hand found hers where it rested on his chest, tangling his fingers with hers, and then bringing her hand to his lips so he could press a kiss to her palm. Her fingers automatically curved around his cheek in a caress of sorts and he felt her breath against his skin as she sighed a little, heard a soft humming sound that he could only describe as a purr. He felt a flowering of tenderness and something like joy in his chest at the sound—he’d never known that Hermione would purr like that—and turned his head just enough to brush his lips against the top of her head.

This was peace, he realized vaguely. Deep, drugging peace and… and happiness… of the sort he couldn’t remember ever feeling before…

The fuzzy thought drifted into his mind that he never wanted to move again, could happily stay like this—just like this—forever.   Wanted to be with her—with Hermione—like this forever.

And then with a little more clarity, he realized—Hermione! It was Hermione he’d touched and caressed and… and shagged…

He wasn’t quite sure why the thought suddenly struck him as being significant. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been aware, hadn’t always known, that it was Hermione’s body he was exploring—he’d been more than aware of it. He suspected—no, he was sure that this, everything they had just done, wouldn’t have meant so much to him if it had been with anyone else.   Only with Hermione…

But for whatever reason, he did feel like it was important, somehow, to realize, again, that this was Hermione.   Hermione, who had been his platonic best friend for so long.   Hermione, who was now his… what?   His thoughts were still sluggish, he couldn’t think of a word to describe what Hermione was to him now.

“Hermione,” he murmured before he’d even realized he was going to.

“Mmm?” She didn’t move, only made a sort of inquiring sound in the back of her throat. And something about the sound seemed to settle inside his chest, warming it.

He smiled slightly, automatically, his eyes still closed. He was just… content… “Nothing.   I just wanted to make sure it was really you.”

He felt her lips curve into a smile against his skin—and felt the tingle of heat that went through him in response all over his body. God, that was… hot…

“It’s me and I’m not going anywhere,” she murmured.

“Good.   That’s good.”   It sounded like… the best thing ever. It sounded like all he wanted in the world, this warmth, this peace, with Hermione.

He didn’t know how much time went by as he drifted… not fully awake but not quite asleep either, always pleasantly conscious of the warmth of her against him, the feel of her curves against him.

He could feel her breathing becoming deep and even, a slight, rhythmic stirring of the air against his skin.

She stirred, nestling against him, and then a sleepy murmur.   “Love you.”

His eyes snapped open as he was abruptly jolted back into full awareness.   Did she—had she really—she had just said she loved him.

The words were echoing in his mind almost as if they’d been shouted rather than the soft, rather fuzzy, whisper they had been.   Love you.Love you. Love you…

He turned his head on the pillow as much as he could without moving anything else, not wanting to disturb her.   The room was still too dark for him to see much beyond the indistinct pale oval of her face but he stared at her anyway, his mind filling in what he couldn’t see.

She loved him?   She loved him.

He heard the words in his mind again—love you—savored them.   He’d never heard the words before, he suddenly realized, at least not to remember.   He supposed his parents must have said them to him but he couldn’t remember it.   And since then… no one had ever told him, said those words.

Until now.   Until Hermione.

Hermione loved him.

It was… amazing.   Even miraculous.   Not only to hear the words but to know that Hermione—Hermione—loved him. Amazing because it was Hermione and he knew how loyal she was, how caring she was, how honest she was… Amazing because he knew that if she said it, she meant it, and if she meant it…

Hermione loved him—and that meant it would be the truest, deepest, strongest thing in the world…   And he was the luckiest person in the world.

She loved him.   And he loved her.

It should have felt like a revelation.   He’d never thought the words, never realized or thought to identify all he felt for Hermione as love.   But now, he knew it—and somehow felt as if he’d always known it.   Of course he loved her.   There was no other way to describe all she meant to him, all he felt for her.   More than friendship, more than affection, more than loyalty, more than gratitude, and much more than simple lust…   He loved her.   Of course he did.   It suddenly seemed like the most natural, most obvious thing in the world.

His name was Harry Potter. The sun rose in the east.   Water was wet.   He loved Hermione.

He felt a bubble of laughter in his chest at the seeming absurdity of his thoughts and bit it back, not wanting to wake her up.

He loved Hermione.   And she loved him.

Love you.

His entire life, he suddenly felt, had been leading up to this—everything he’d done, everything he’d been through—it had all been for this.   For this moment, for this knowledge, for this love.

And of course it had been Hermione who was the first person to say those words to him.   It could only have been Hermione.   It had always been meant to be Hermione.

Images, memories, flickered through his mind.   More important things…   friendship and bravery and— oh, Harry!    Hermione’s face just before she’d hugged him—the first time in his memory that anyone had hugged him.

The look on Hermione’s face, the tears streaking her face, when he saw her after—after everything that had happened at the end of Fourth Year, on that terrible night, the worst night of his life until then.

And Hermione’s face just before she’d kissed his cheek the first time—the first time in his memory that anyone had kissed him.   He suddenly remembered the fleeting touch of her lips to his cheek, the brief warmth of her nearness.

And—with an inward shudder—other memories came winging into his mind, tearing at his newfound contentment: the sound of her scream, the way she’d looked under the Cruciatus…

He yanked his mind away from those memories, focusing instead on the reality of her against him at that moment—and found that, for once, it wasn’t hard to do. The terror of his memories receded, vanished, as quickly as a mist disappeared in sunlight   She was here, with him; she was safe.   He tightened his arm almost imperceptibly around her, careful not to disturb her, as he focused on her.   Focused on the warmth of her bare skin against him, focused on the steady sound of her breathing.   Focused on the memory of her words.   Love you…

He closed his eyes, relaxing further into the mattress.   He was with her and there was nothing more he wanted.

“I love you, ‘Mione.”   And he wasn’t sure if he only thought the words or actually murmured them aloud.   Not that it mattered.

I love you.

After all these years, after all they had been through together, after all the smiles and the laughter and the tears and the dangers…

A memory drifted back into his mind.   He knew how to finish her sentence. There were more important things, like friendship and bravery and love…

And on that vague thought, he slept.

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