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Harry woke up the next morning feeling uneasy, having suffered through the first nightmare that he’d had in weeks. He certainly hadn't missed the sensation of getting little to no rest, his mind buzzing as he shook the static from his eyes.

Knowing that he had very little time to dwell on it, Harry dressed into his trunks, with his uniform and robes on top, as quickly as he could. He took his Gillyweed from a glass jar by the side of his bed and stuffed a good few portions into a pocket in his trunks. Making sure he had everything prepared, he took one last look at himself in the mirror, took a deep breath and walked out of the dormitory.

He descended the stairs into the Common Room, expecting to see Hermione waiting for him like she always did, looking up from a book with her usual bright smile, ready to take his hand and lead him into a new day. Only she was nowhere to be seen. She wasn’t on the sofa, nor in the corner, nor by the fireplace. She wasn’t there.

It was something so small, not having Hermione there to greet him, but its absence was seriously disorientating. It was akin to accidentally taking an extra step at the top of a flight of stairs. A brief, almost instantaneously shock to the system that hit it at the core.

He checked the time on the grandfather clock. Half-past seven in the morning, around halfway through breakfast. Hermione would typically be up by half-past six and sitting in the Common Room by seven o’clock, so there was no way that he had woken up before her.

Maybe she had just gone down to the Great Hall for breakfast without him, he thought, but even that idea didn't sit well in his head. Hermione had never done so before. She had always waited for him so that they could have breakfast together. Why change that now? Was it something to do with her meeting with Dumbledore? Had it all gone horribly wrong and she really did have to go home? Did she not want to see him?

Harry couldn’t decide which idea he hated more.

Forcing himself to move, simply for the fact that he needed to eat something before the task, Harry put those thoughts aside and left through the portrait hole. Before he knew it, Harry found himself walking into the Great Hall alone. His eyes quickly scanned up and down the Gryffindor table, searching for a familiar head of bushy brown hair.

Again, she was nowhere to be seen. The sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach only grew more intense, as he double- triple-checked every face in the Great Hall. His search bore no fruit and his nerves spiked once again.

Where could Hermione possibly be? She wasn’t in the common room. She wouldn’t be sleeping at this hour. She wasn’t in the Great Hall for breakfast. Surely she wouldn’t be in the library at this time? Would she? Honestly, it was like she had gone completely missi-

A horrible, dreadful, mind-numbingly awful thought popped into Harry’s head. It latched its claws into his brain and dug in until it was all that he could think about.

We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss.

The clue. The bottom of the lake. Trapped. Only one hour before it’s lost. What if the thing that they had taken hostage really was… a hostage?

‘No,’ Harry begged in his head. ‘Oh god, no.’

Dumbledore’s meeting with her last night. They had taken Hermione. Hermione was at the bottom of the black lake right now and unless he rescued her in an hour...

Harry spotted Cedric Diggory at the Hufflepuff table, picking at his food. He was clearly irritable, nervous, glancing around every few seconds, looking for something. Or someone.

The beginnings of a theory converged in Harry’s head. A hypothesis, Hermione had called it. If Cedric was missing someone as well, then maybe it really was connected to the task. If that were the case, then the stakes for failure had been considerably raised. Harry had to test it out.

“Cedric-“ Harry called as he hurried over to him.

“Oh, hullo, Harry,” the Hufflepuff boy said, his usual cheeriness missing as if his mind was elsewhere. “Nervous about the task, I bet. Listen, I don’t suppose you’ve seen Cho around, have you?”

“Because you haven’t seen her all day, right? Harry interjected his theory. Taken aback slightly, Cedric eyed him curiously.

“Well, yes-“

“Since she went to go talk to Dumbledore last night?”

At this point, Cedric had sat up to his full height, his attention now entirely on Harry.

“How did you know that?” he asked.

“I can’t find Hermione either,” Harry explained.

The older boy paused in deep thought, mulling something over, before his eyes found Harry’s once again.

“You don’t think…?”

The two boys looked at each other, understanding each other perfectly and yet dreading the conclusion they had both happened upon. Immediately they both began searching the Ravenclaw table for platinum blonde and found the Beauxbatons champion looking equally as anxious. The two rushed towards her, ignoring the stares from the other students in the Great Hall.

“Fleur,” Harry spoke hurriedly, grabbing the girl’s attention, “are you missing anyone? Someone important to you?”

Fleur looked at the two boys, her mouth pinched tightly, before nodding.

“My sister,” she replied. One look from the boys told her that they too had the same problem. “But zey can’t, can zey? Gabrielle, she eez only a child. Surely, zey wouldn’t…”

Harry, who had regularly rubbed shoulders with Hogwarts’ habit of casual child endangerment, chose to remain quiet.

The time between breakfast and the task was a blur. Harry couldn’t have eaten anything, although considering that his stomach was no longer aching and was now just queasy, he must have forced some food down his throat at some point. It wasn’t long after they arrived at the shore of the Black Lake when Harry found himself lining up with the other champions of the jetty, ready to dive into the cold water.

Now stripped down into only a vest and some trunks, Harry could feel the cold air brushing against his exposed skin. His muscles were shivering, not just to keep himself warm, but in sick anticipation for the start of the task. Every second that he was standing there, waiting to go, Hermione was down there, somewhere, alone. He didn’t know how they were keeping her down there, in what conditions, for how long, but as the minutes ticked by, the need to find her and bring her to safety became agonising.

He barely listened to the announcer as he listed a quick explanation of the task, too focused on staring at the waves splashing in front of him. His hand fiddled with the Gillyweed nestled in his pocket.

The moment the countdown ended, a loud bang erupted from the referee’s wand. Harry dove straight into the water, without a moment’s hesitation. The second he broke beneath the surface, he took a portion of Gillyweed and stuffed it into his mouth. Ignoring the telltale pain in his neck, ribs and limbs, he kept on swimming towards the centre of the lake. Over time, each stroke became easier and more natural to him, until he was gliding through the water towards his destination.

The lake was darker than he expected. Light barely penetrated beyond a dozen metres down. However, with the help of a point-me spell, one that Hermione insisted he learn, Harry quickly found his way. Following the glowing arrow pointing into the depths, he kept his eye out for anything that might want to take a bite out of him. And, true to the many books he read on the subject, he quickly crossed paths with some.

The first was a pack of Grindylows that were easily disposed of. A quick stunning spell here and there, targeted at a select few was enough to spook the swarm. He had to dodge a couple of bold ones, which was much easier with his new fins, which let him pirouette through the water like a bird in the air. As he ventured further into the lake, he wisely avoided swimming too close to the lake bed, in case another pack of Grindylows emerged from the weeds and made for his legs.

The next form of life he encountered were Eels, which was an unwelcome surprise. The magical menagerie hadn’t mentioned those, more focused on the Merpeople and the Grindylows and the Kelpies. Harry had forgotten that there were non-magical creatures in the lake. For a moment Harry worried that he might come across a shark on his travels, only for a voice in his head that sounded remarkably like Hermione to remind him that not only were sharks not native to Scotland and that they hated cold, fish water, but that the lake was landlocked. How a shark was supposed to get into a land-locked lake was laughable in itself. Then again, Harry might have preferred coming face-to-face with a shark than those eels. They were ugly, slippery, biting creatures that appeared far too similar to snakes for Harry’s liking. They were surprisingly fast as well, giving Harry’s seeker reflexes a run for their money. He hoped he wouldn’t have to face them again on the return trip. 

Harry continued on, following the lake bed down into deeper and deeper waters. Along the way, he met the giant squid, darting out of the darkness right beside him. Just as Harry had predicted, it left him alone, far more interested in a school of fish for lunch. Not wanting to get its attention, just in case it decided it was still hungry, Harry hastily moved on. He briefly wondered how the Merpeople felt about having a giant squid in their immediate vicinity. Then again, it must have been somewhat comparable to Hogwarts having a colony of Acromantulas practically next door. No wonder Hagrid always had his hands full as the groundskeeper.

Eventually, he came across what looked like a collection of large rocks, however as he swam closer they started to resemble buildings more and more. Large structures made of sweeping shapes, big enough to compare to the houses of Privet Drive. Their sides were stained with algae. Eelgrass lined the front of each structure like garden lawns. Large rocks marked with intricate Mermish paintings were dotted around the place, leading him further into the colony. He followed what looked like a street, into an open area, where a crowd of Merpeople floated in a large circle. In the middle stood a towering statue of a Merperson, holding a trident, and to its base were tied four people.

Without even considering the point-me spell, Harry immediately knew that this was where he was supposed to be. He kicked his feet, speeding through the water. The darkness faded away and he saw his prize. There she was, floating like a corpse, tied to the giant statue with the other hostages to who he barely paid any attention. He was here for Hermione. She was what mattered to him the most.

He swam up to her, ready to cut her free with a small, sharp rock, only to be met with the pointed end of a trident and the snarl of the mermaid that was wielding it.

“Let me through,” Harry warned, readying his wand. The mermaid shook its head. “Get out of the way! I need to save her!”

“You must take only your own,” it said in Mermish tongue, pointing to another hostage at the end of the line. Harry turned to look at the far body, noticing for the first time their head of bright ginger hair.

As he swam closer to the hostage, Harry’s confusion turned to shock, then surprisingly to anger, as he recognised the face that sat below the flaming hair. It was Ron Weasley, the boy Harry hadn’t spoken to in weeks, maybe even months at this point. This was who they thought he would miss the most?

Well, to give them some credit, Harry had missed Ron, in the few moments where he had spared the boy a thought. Sorely missed, however? Absolutely not. In truth, he was too angry at Ron to truly miss him, disappointed in the lengths he would go to maintain his pride. Whenever Harry thought of Ron, it always ended in him wishing that his first friend could just get over himself and make up for what he did. In a way, he had missed Ron, or rather the Ron that he had built up in his head as this perfect friend who always meant well. Because no matter how much easier it would have been for it not to be true, Ron would always be Harry's friend and Harry would always want him back. However, he certainly wasn't the person who Harry missed the most, not enough to make him ill with worry, whose absence put him in a perpetual state of anxiety.

That person was Hermione, as this morning had just proved. Hermione was a part of him now, not just a friend, or even best friend, but someone he could always rely on to be there. And having her suddenly missing in his life was an experience that he never wanted to have to go through ever again. Even the thought of never seeing her again was paralysing. It was enough to propel him through miles of freezing water faster than any other champion, only to be presented with this cruel surprise. 

This led him to another thought. If Hermione wasn’t his hostage, then who was coming to save her? It couldn’t be Cedric, because Cho was floating next to him, tied right next to Hermione on the statue’s tail. A little girl with familiar platinum blonde hair floating next to Cho was obviously Fleur’s missing sister. And apparently, Ron was his hostage. A sickening sensation gripped Harry’s stomach as he realised that the only champion left, the one who was meant to save Hermione, was Viktor Krum.

Why Krum? What was his connection to her? Was it because he had taken Hermione to the Yule Ball? Was the selection process really that superficial? Or did Krum care about Hermione far more than Harry initially thought? Did Hermione care about him the same way? Maybe that was what she was hiding from him, all this time. Maybe that was what she was working out behind those eyes, secretly comparing him and Krum all this time.  The thought was enough to send his heart spiralling in his chest. Hermione, cosying up with Viktor Krum and not him. Leaving him all alone to be forgotten…

Harry floated in place, staring at his two friends that he had somehow found himself between once again. He could just say, ‘sod the rules, she’s my best friend,’ and take Hermione back up to the surface before anyone could stop him, but then who would save Ron? He doubted Krum would be very happy with having to save someone who wasn’t his hostage, let alone someone he barely knew.

Then again, what should he care about what Krum thought? Harry wasn’t going to roll over and just let him have Hermione all to himself. Krum didn’t know Hermione as well as he did. Harry had fought for her, bled for her, saved her life, been there for her when it mattered. He could make her laugh, he could- the image of Hermione’s brilliant smile emerged to the forefront of his brain, that dazzling smile that lit up the entire castle. That had been Krum’s doing, he realised, not his.

Krum had asked Hermione to the Yule Ball first. He had seen that in Hermione before either him or Ron and he had given her that one shining moment that he and Ron couldn’t help but ruin. Everything that Harry had noticed recently about Hermione, those little things that made her so beautiful, Krum had noticed first. Krum saw Hermione for who she was long before Harry did and it had only taken him a few months, compared to Harry’s three and a half years of ignorance.

As much as it pained Harry to say it, as much as it wrung his heart to even consider it, maybe it would be best if he let Hermione go.

After all, Krum was everything he was but better. They were both famous, but Krum was famous for his achievements, not his parents or some legacy that he inherited. Krum was a star quidditch player, playing in an international team, far eclipsing Harry’s meagre schoolyard successes on a broom. Krum was a tall, strong and handsome young man who people universally loved. Harry was a weedy, clingy thing that was wrong, always the outcast, the pariah, the one whom everyone blamed if things went awry. Krum would never have to worry about Voldemort, or dark wizards, trolls, basilisks, dementors, and - if she were to leave everything behind her and run away with Krum back to a cushy life in Bulgaria - neither would Hermione. She could be a normal person, something that Harry could never be.

Maybe Harry did need Hermione, but Hermione didn’t need him. She deserved someone so much better than him. If Harry cared about her as much as he thought he did, the best thing he could do was let her go. Even if he’d rather have his soul sucked out than live without her. Hermione would absolutely be the one he missed the most, but she was never his possession, it wasn’t up to him. Hermione was her own person and she deserved to choose for herself. And if she chose Krum, then Harry would have to live that somehow.

But that didn't mean he had to give her up without a fight. There was no way he was just going to leave Hermione on her own, stuck in the depths of the Black Lake. No, he wanted to make absolutely sure that she was safe. So, until Krum arrived to untie Hermione and whisk her off to safety, Harry would stand guard over her unconscious body, and if any creature of the deep tried to harm a hair on her head, they would have him to contend with. 

Eventually, a shape of something emerged from the weeds. The dim light revealed its form and Harry’s heart leapt into his throat. It was a shark! A real shark! How the hell was a shark in the Black Lake?! Were the tournament organisers crazy?! Why would they put a shark in with them?! Especially a shark with- legs? And swimming trunks and arms? Was that the Durmstrang emblem?

Having quickly recovered from the initial shock, Harry immediately realised what was going on. Rather than use the bubblehead charm or some Gillyweed, Krum had chosen to transfigure his head into that of a shark’s. In Harry's eyes, it wasn’t the most practical or elegant of solutions, but if it got the job done who was he to judge?

The Durmstrang champion swam towards Hermione’s unconscious body, only to find Harry’s wand preceding a defiant glare. Harry had stood his ground, whether through fear or courage, he couldn’t say. The two competitors stared at each other, wondering what was supposed to happen now. If Harry got his way, Krum would realise his mistake and agree to take Ron instead, leaving Hermione for Harry. But then, how likely was that to happen? They only had so much time, and the quicker one of them made up their mind, the quicker Hermione would be out of the lake.

No, it was up to Harry to be the bigger man. Lowering his wand, he reluctantly swam aside, making way for Krum to take hostage. Krum moved in to bite through the ropes holding Hermione in place when Harry grabbed his arm and pulled him away. The older champion’s shark head bared its teeth at him until it saw the sharp rock in Harry’s hand. Recognising the gesture, Krum graciously took the rock and carefully sliced through the ropes. Hermione’s body came free and fell into Krum’s human arms. The sight made Harry’s insides grind together and he grit his teeth, reprimanding himself for even considering the idea of jinxing Krum and leaving him there.

The Durmstrang champion and Professional Seeker, Harry’s superior in every way, spared him a glance as he readjusted Hermione’s body in his arms. Harry shook his head and pointed to the other hostages. Krum’s shark head nodded in reply, having understood his intentions. Wasting no time, he began swimming upwards, carrying Hermione away from the Mermish village.

As Harry watched the silhouette of Krum and Hermione disappear up towards the surface, he wished them well. He would miss Hermione, more than anything else in his life, but if she was truly happy, he could at least make some peace with that. She deserved to be happy. She really did...

Harry blinked away the sting in his eyes, blaming the salty water for irritating them, whilst conveniently forgetting that the Black Lake was freshwater. He focused on the remaining hostages, trying to ignore the pain in his chest. Because Krum hadn’t just taken his best friend from him, but a piece of Harry’s heart with her. 

As the minutes ticked on and his time ran out, Harry began to consider just taking Ron and leaving, if only to stay in the competition. Those thoughts rarely lasted more than an instant, of course. Despite wanting to beat the other contestants and prove himself in the tournament, this wasn’t just about him. He couldn’t just leave the other hostages to their fate, not when he could save them. It wasn’t right.

He was down to only two hostages left now. Cedric had appeared not a few minutes after Krum and rescued Cho. Ever the sportsman, he offered to stay and help Harry with the rest, but Harry refused. Cedric deserved his place in the tournament, it wouldn't be fair to ask him to sacrifice that.

With Cedric having taken Cho with him, Harry’s theory of the little girl being Fleur’s hostage was proven correct. Now all he had to do was wait for her to arrive and they could swim back up together, with Fleur slightly ahead, as the gentlemanly thing to do. However, no matter how long Harry waited, there was never any sign of Fleur. What happened to her? Did the Grindylows get to her? Did she get lost? Harry didn’t even want to consider the idea that she had drowned. They wouldn’t have let that happen, right?

As time ticked on, the situation looked direr and direr. Harry checked his watch. The hour was quickly expiring. There were only ten minutes left before the end of the task. Weighing up the odds in his head, Harry decided that it wasn’t likely that Fleur would make it in time to save her hostage. He had to leave now and he was taking both hostages with him.

Picking up the sharp rock he had offered to Krum, he used it first to cut Ron free, before turning to the little girl. That was until he remembered how the Merpeople reacted the last time he had tried to take a hostage that wasn’t his. He quickly turned around, spying the guards floating surrounding him, the points of their tridents gleaming in the dim light. If he was going to have any hope of doing this, he’d have to be quick.

As fast as he could, Harry swam to the hostage and began slicing the ropes around her. He was about to pierce the first rope when he felt several webbed hands grabbing at him, the sounds of garbled laughter ringing in his ears. He shouted at them to stop, but they ignored him. As a last resort, Harry cast a stunning spell at the nearest Mermish guard. It was sent careening away, freeing his arm. Wriggling around like a fish caught in a net, Harry broke free from their grip and brandished his wand.

“Don’t try and stop me,” he mouthed, piercing them with a warning glare.

The laughter stopped, and the tridents were lowered. Apparently, that was enough for the Merpeople to back down, choosing only to stare at him with something close to amusement. Maybe they just wanted to see if he could do it? Maybe they were impressed by his nerve? Maybe they just thought he was an idiot? It didn’t matter all too much to Harry, as long as they let him take both hostages.

Moving before they could change their mind, Harry swam back to Fleur’s hostage and sliced through her ropes. Picking up the little girl in one arm and Ron in the other, he placed both feet on the statue and kicked off. 

Even with the added boost, Harry was much slower than before. Despite having ages to deliberate over whether he was going to rescue the hostages, he hadn’t actually considered the effort of swimming whilst carrying not only one but two people.  As if the extra weight didn’t already make swimming difficult, being without the use of his arms only added to the strain. He just had to hope that his fins would suffice for the long journey back to the shore. He had only ten minutes to make it back up to the surface, after all.

After many torturous minutes of frantic kicking, the water around them began to lighten up. The patterns on the water's surface were starting to become visible. Harry couldn’t help but be glad that his ordeal was almost over. That was when he caught something moving in the corner of his eye.

He turned his head just in time to see a mass of gleaming dots and sharp teeth emerging from the eelgrass. Grindylows, a whole swarm of them, coming his way. 

Harry immediately let go of Ron and Fleur’s hostage, pushing them upwards so that they would float to the surface. He scrambled for his casting spells left, right and centre at the creatures. A couple fell and spiralled away as Harry dodged the rest, enjoying his mobility as best he could. He sent another stunning spell at nearby Grindylow when he caught a blur in his peripheral vision. A stinging sensation ripped through his thigh and he screamed. Enraged, he turned and blasted the Grindylow into pieces. Realising that he was not to be trifled, the rest of the swarm scurried away.

Harry finally had a moment to breathe. He lifted his leg, inspecting the injury. The Grindylow’s claws had scratched right through his trunks, tearing them apart, right into- Harry’s heart stopped. The Grindylow had somehow managed to slice the exact pocket where the rest of his Gillyweed was held. Except now there was nothing left. The rest of his supply must have sunk to the bottom of the lake by now.

And to make matters worse, to Harry’s horror, a pain in his neck told him that his gills were retracting. 

He would only have a few seconds of air left, so he had to make it count. There was no time to go get the Gillyweed and he couldn’t waste air summoning it. As the pain in his neck reached its peak Harry took several hasty, deep gulps of air. He took one big breath into his lungs, just as his gills disappeared. Now he really was in trouble. He had to surface as quickly as possible or he never would.

Harry looked, spotting the silhouettes of Ron and the little girl and immediately began swimming up to them. He grabbed their arms and kicked as hard he could up to the surface. Every inch of progress Harry made felt like a Herculaneum task. Every kick against the force of gravity and the combined weight of two people and their wet clothes made every inch of his ascension torturous. He didn’t know how much time he had left before his lungs gave out, but it had to be soon.

Fighting the burning in his lungs and the feeling of his legs turning to lead, he struggled on if only for it to be over. Just as the edges of his vision darkened and his mind wavered, Harry gave his all into one last burst of energy. Screaming into the water, he focused everything into one desperate flail.

In an explosion of water, Harry emerged. He took a deep gasp of cold air, his mind coming back into focus. His rasping was echoed at his sides by the two people he had rescued from the bottom of the lake.

The larger one, Ron, Harry ignored for the moment. Ron knew how to swim and he could bloody well look after himself for the moment. Instead, Harry turned his attention to the young girl spluttering on his left. She seemed fine if alarmed, paddling on the water’s surface.

He heard calls of someone’s name from across the water. “Gabrielle! Gabrielle!”

“Gabrielle?” he asked between mouthfuls of freezing lake water. The little turned towards him, and Harry put two and two together. “Are you okay?”

The little girl nodded, shivering against the biting chill. Harry reached an arm behind her and began shepherding her towards the shore. Ron, having goggled at Harry for a good few moments, took the initiative and began swimming alongside them.

“Harry,” he spat through the waves lapping against his face. “Harry, mate.”

Harry glanced at his friend, seeing the genuine remorse on his face.

“Ron,” he replied dutifully, accepting. 

That was all that was needed for now.

The three emerged from the lake into a sea of fussing people. Harry felt himself get wrapped in several towels, cocooning his body in a warmth that he so desperately craved. As he noticed Ron refusing towels, passing them over to a shivering Gabrielle, Harry allowed himself to zone out as persistent, rapid voices washed over him, congratulating, celebrating and thanking. Harry simply nodded at it all, barely registering half of what was happening around him.

Until suddenly, he was knocked out of his daze by the force of a body impacting his front and the squeeze of two arms wrapping around him.

“Oh, Harry, are you alright? You’re not hurt, are you? Did the Gillyweed work? You were brilliant, you know! I’m so sorry that I worried you, I wanted to come back tell you what was happening but Dumbledore forbade it. And you saved Fleur’s sister as well! Though you really didn’t need to, you silly boy. We were all perfectly safe. It’s actually fascinating the enchantments that they used to keep us down there, I’ll have to ask Dumbledore about it some time-“

Harry simply looked at her face, only managing a single word amidst her symphony.


The girl in question smiled at him, reaching up and planting a firm kiss on his crown.

“I’m so proud of you!”

He had so many questions, and yet asking any of them would undoubtedly shatter the moment. So, instead, Harry freed himself from the mountain of towels around his body and picked up Hermione in the most desperate hug of his life. He heard her laugh tinkling in his ear, which only made him hug her harder, holding as much of her as he could manage, as much as he could get.

“I thought it was you,” he managed to say, setting her down after a while of just holding her. “I thought you were my hostage.”

Hermione smiled at him, that same dazzling smile that he had seen the night of the Yule Ball that sent his mind reeling, as she recognised exactly what it meant. 

“Me too,” she nodded.

Then, as if the moment couldn’t get any more spectacular, she reached up onto the tip of his toes and kissed him on the cheek. 

Just like that, Harry’s heart clicked back together and proceeded to beat harder than it ever had before. He pulled her in for another hug, wrapping a towel around the both of them, for he didn’t plan to let go of her any time soon.

For a moment, Harry spotted Viktor Krum in the distance, staring at them both with a strange expression on his face. Harry’s only response was to pull Hermione ever closer into his embrace, staring back at the world-star Quidditch player and Durmstrang champion, his eyes conveying one clear message.

Looks like she’s chosen.

There were few things as cherished in the Scottish highlands as a day of clear weather, but even by those standards, today was exceptionally agreeable.

After many weeks of grey and early darkness, it was like the world was opening up again. Every tree, every plant, the entire world even, had sprung anew. The temperature sat in this perfect balance between the warmth of the beating sun and a light breeze carrying the last gasps of Winter. The sky above, cloudless and astonishingly blue, stretched on forever. 

The Hogwarts grounds had rarely looked so beautiful, finally allowed to show its true majesty after so long.

Days like these were meant to be spent outdoors, enjoyed with others, making memories. So, it was a good thing that they were doing exactly that. Today was the first Hogsmeade weekend since January, Harry’s first true opportunity to experience what the town had to offer, unencumbered by the need to hide or keep to himself. However, that wasn’t the only reason why this trip was a special one, because Harry wouldn’t be going alone. Today, Harry and Hermione would be going to Hogsmeade together, for the first time, as a couple.

After the second task, the first thing Harry did was ask Hermione out on a date, not wanting to waste any more time. To Harry’s immense relief she agreed, although he had a feeling that it was a forgone conclusion considering how enthusiastically she agreed. It took a while to sink in that, from that moment on, they were dating. Neither of them really knew what that meant in terms of how they should behave, especially towards each other. They could only infer that they were meant to get to know each other, spend more time together, hugs and kisses and all those grand gestures. There was a slight problem, however. All of those things that they were supposed to do were routine for Harry and Hermione, even before they were a couple.

They already spent most of their time together, studying, relaxing, training; they already knew each other better than they knew anybody else; their shared history was full of gestures that could easily have been romantic (they had ridden a Hippogriff together, which, Hermione later pointed out after looking them up, was a symbol of love). In the, they both decided to just carry on as usual, which they both did very well.

And so, their life as a couple was very similar to their life as very close friends. It was hard to pinpoint if anything had changed in their relationship, but to say that nothing had changed altogether would have been a lie.

That unspoken thing that lay between them was not quite unspoken anymore. It was no longer this mysterious entity that neither could acknowledge, now it was something they could embrace with open arms, quite literally in most cases. It was a liberating sensation, to not have to hide the truth from her anymore, to be able to just say all the things that he thought about her, like how much he loved her laugh, how cute she was when she bit her lip, how much he wanted to play with her hair.

His feelings for Hermione ran deeper than he had ever realised and now he was following them wholeheartedly, as was Hermione. As they slowly got used to the whole ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ label, they realised that it awarded them the excuse to do things that simply being friends would never have permitted. They allowed themselves to be closer and touch more often, whether it was leaning against each other in class or cuddling in the Common Room. Their hugs became far more frequent, they would pepper each other with kisses for any reason at all. Harry had never been much of a physical person in his life - he never received any affection from the Dursleys and nor did he feel comfortable receiving it from friends - but with Hermione, he couldn’t get enough of it. Only she could bring out that side of him, only she could fulfil that hunger for physical comfort because it meant so much more coming from her. She had given him his first hug after all and, technically, his first kiss.

This newfound union, which had really always been there, was quickly flourishing, and unfortunately left their friendship with Ron in a somewhat strange place.

Ron had apologised in the end, at the after-party for the second task, during which he explained it had taken him so long. At first, Harry didn’t want to hear his excuses, but as Ron started talking, he quickly realised that they both needed clarity between them. The reason why he hadn’t come back to them earlier was partly guilt for how he treated Hermione, knowing that he was wrong, and partly pride. He would flip-flop between thinking that he didn’t need to apologise and realising that he had so much to apologise for that he wouldn’t know where to start. In the end, his nerves continued to get the better of him, time and time again. It was only when Ron was finally ready to suck it up and say the words when he noticed how close Harry and Hermione had become in his absence. Seeing them together, doing perfectly fine without him, made him realise that even if he apologised, things wouldn’t just go back to normal.

Harry couldn’t help but think that Ron was correct on that assumption. Even with the trio back together, their relationship would never be quite the same as it was before. Things had shifted between them. Rather than the trio consisting of Ron and Harry at its centre, with Hermione orbiting as a constant companion, now the core of the trio was Harry and Hermione and their unbreakable bond, with Ron acting the third wheel of sorts.

That was the difference, and both boys knew it. That was why Ron was so reluctant to approach them in the end. He didn’t want to experience being slowly phased out of their dynamic. And every day followed only made him more sure that they neither wanted nor needed him in their lives anymore. It was only with the second task, being chosen as Harry’s hostage, that gave Ron hope that he still had a place in Harry’s life - Harry didn’t dare tell him the truth on the matter.

Despite a part of him wanting to call his best friend an idiot and pretend that he was stupid for not just talking to them, Ron’s confession had struck something close to Harry’s heart. He knew how Ron felt, to some degree. He understood that desire to keep everything the same, to pretend that they were all best friends of equal value and trust, just like when they were eleven. However, Harry also knew how trying to keep everything the same only made you more aware of how things were always changing. Like how trying to hold onto sand only made it slip faster through your fingers.

The trio had changed drastically. Even with Ron back in the fold, Hermione still came first in Harry’s heart. She was everything to him now, whereas with Ron there was part of him that was constantly guessing how long it would take before he left again. Hermione would never leave him, Harry would never leave her. That was the fundamental truth of their relationship.

So, as much as he valued Ron as a friend and a brother, he could never replace Hermione. Harry knew that he could trust Hermione with not only his life but his heart. Whatever happened with the two of them, Harry was here for the ride. A very neat and carefully curated ride, apparently.

“Now, if we’re going to do this properly, we’ll need to prioritise,” Hermione announced, to which Harry merely nodded along.


“We’ll only have so much time to spend around the shops today, as well as all the sights to see. Oh, Harry,” she squeaked, “there are so many things we can do.”

“I’m guessing you want to go to the bookshop though, don’t you?”

Her face gleamed with a blush that made her cheeks look oh-so-kissable. 

“Not just the bookshop,” she mumbled in a slight indignant manner.

“But that’s the main one,” he smirked, making sure to nudge her elbow to let her know he was only teasing.

“We could go somewhere nice afterwards,” she offered, “like, say… Madam Pudifoot’s?”

The suggestion filled Harry with a cringing sensation that boiled over onto his complexion.

“Probably not Madam Pudifoot’s.”

Now it was Hermione’s turn to smirk, her eyebrows raised mischievously.

“And why is that?” she asked, revelling in the opportunity to tease him back. She could be a little minx when she wanted to be, and though Harry wouldn’t change that for the world, it did often leave him struggling to keep up.

“Well, it’s…” Harry struggled for the right words, “it’s very… pink.”

After a moment of failing to hold it in, Hermione laughed at him and although Harry wanted to be offended, he couldn’t. He adored her laugh; it had an almost musical quality to it that was as enchanting as any spell.

“Oh, you don’t like pink do you, Harry? Is it because it’s a girl’s colour?”

“But it is pink!” he exclaimed, trying not to chuckle himself, which only made Hermione laugh even harder. “Everything in that teashop is pink! Bright pink! Even the tea is pink!”

“I personally don’t mind pink,” Hermione pondered after she had calmed down. “Though, it’s not my favourite colour.”

Harry could only hum in agreement.

"No. Between you and me,” he leaned to whisper, “I prefer Periwinkle.”

He only meant it as a casual comment, but the effect on Hermione was instantaneous. She stopped in her tracks and turned to stare at him for a moment. For a moment, Harry wondered if she had been hit with a body locking jinx, or that had been petrified again.

Then, without warning, Hermione walked up to him and leaned up onto her tiptoes. The next thing he knew, he felt her lips collide gently into his. 

Not knowing how to do anything else, Harry's eyes fluttered shut as he enjoyed his first real kiss.

Even with all the ways he had imagined it, it was somehow so much better than he could have hoped, simply for how it wasn't. It wasn't this explosion of feeling or a burst of light or anything so exciting. This was comfort, calm tangled in exhilaration, the soothing pressure of her lips against his lulling him into a sensual state of zen.

After what felt like an eternity in bliss, and yet no time at all, Hermione pulled away. Harry breathed. He opened his eyes to find Hermione's face hovering inches away from his.

“What was that for?” he asked, no doubt with a dumbfounded expression on his face.

For a few seconds, Hermione didn’t reply. She instead chose to gaze into his eyes, reading him carefully, before she flashed him an innocent smile.

“No reason," she chimed. Harry blinked.

“Can you do it again?”

“Maybe," she shrugged. "If you’re good.”

There was a solid five seconds where Harry’s brain refused to function. That was until he noticed just how long he had been silently gawking and quickly snapped himself out of it.

“… So, bookshop!" he announced, catching Hermione by surprise. Before she could say otherwise, he linked his arm through hers and began pulling her down the path. "Better hurry if we want to beat the crowd!”

“And then somewhere nice afterwards," she said happily. 

“Hermione,” Harry replied, “anywhere is nice as long as it’s with you.”

In spite of his attempt, she scoffed and rolled her eyes at him.

“It's not going to be that easy, Potter.”

“Really? Because being with you, it's the easiest thing in the world for me.”

The delay in Hermione’s retort told him that he had been more successful this time, if only just. 

“Okay, that one was close," she admitted, slightly out of breath. "But flattery will get you nowhere.”

Harry looked her dead in the eyes and put on his best cheeky smile.

“Won't it?” 

Hermione glared at him, trying not to reciprocate his grin and failing miserably.

“Stop it," she demanded as one would to a misbehaving pet, which only made Harry more defiant.

“Not a chance.”

The two accompanied each other down to the carriages, ready for a long day of searching through shops, walking along country paths and enjoying the sunshine, with the constant highlight of being by each other’s side every step of the way.

Harry reminded himself, as he pondered his girlfriend during their lunch break in the Three Broomsticks, to ask Neville about Hermione’s birthday gift. It might take a while to perfect, but it wouldn’t be due for a good while yet. He had time to prepare. He had all the time in the world.

Despite all the bright moments and the happy memories he had made, the year ended in the shadow of perhaps his darkest day.

Voldemort had returned and was now no longer vulnerable to the protection Harry’s mother had imbued him with. The Death Eaters had their leader back and had been emboldened. Harry had only escaped by the skin of his teeth. Cedric was dead. And perhaps worst of all, no one believed him. 

Not a single person, even the Minister himself, wanted to acknowledge the threat looming at their doorstep, let alone do anything about it. 

It infuriated and disheartened him to no end. Things were only going to get more difficult from here. A war was rapidly approaching, one that Harry was inevitably going to be in the centre of.

However, he wasn’t alone, because he had Hermione. She had stayed by his side the entire time, never wavering in her support, never doubting in his words. She believed him, comforted him, acted as his rock throughout the whole ordeal, proving once again why she was the most important person in Harry’s life. He didn’t know how- if he would have survived without her, not against the guilt that had built up since that awful night.

No matter how much Hermione tried to convince him otherwise, Harry would always think of Cedric’s death as being his fault. If only he had just taken the cup for himself. If only he had been more aware of his surroundings. If only, if only, if only, constantly going around and around in his head, refusing to give him even a moment of peace. That is, unless Hermione was around to stop it. For some reason, she was the only one who could break him free from his brooding. Her presence alone was enough to put his mind at ease, simply knowing that there was someone nearby who he could rely on, who would never hurt him nor judge him for his mistakes.

Even now, just sitting with her, side by side in a compartment on the Hogwarts Express, helped distract him from the worst of his thoughts. His arm was resting around her shoulder, beckoning her close into his side. Her own arms were encircled around him, her head resting on his shoulder, her even breathing she napped peacefully. Harry didn’t think he could love any more than he already did, but every day he was somehow proven wrong. He knew how teenage romances usually went. This was different. He knew it, she knew it, the rest of their friends knew it too.

So, to honour that, to show her just how much he cared, Harry wanted to give her something, to help her through the next few months without him. Harry looked up at the luggage hold above him, remembering the secret birthday present he had made with Neville’s help, with a few choice charms added on with the help of Professor Flitwick. His heart drummed wildly in his chest. He really hoped that she liked it. He had never put this much effort into a gift before, and to have her not want it would be a miserable parting note for the two of them.

Ten minutes before the Hogwarts Express was due to arrive at Kings Cross station, Harry gently woke her with a kiss on the forehead. He heard a small groan emanate from her throat before her eyes blinked open, gazing up into his before she realised where she was.

As they pulled into King's Cross and departed the Hogwarts Express, Harry quickly reached into his trunk and pulled out the gift. He checked it over for any damages and saw that his charm-work had been successful. His attention returned to Hermione, who had found a couple of trolleys for the pair of them. 

The pair escorted their things towards the end of the platform, however, just before they reached the ticket barrier, Harry gently grabbed Hermione's arm before she could walk through.

“I’ve got something for you. I wanted to give it to you for your birthday but after what happened…” His mind threatened to send him back to the graveyard, to Cedric, but he resisted. He pulled his focus back to Hermione, his rock, his beloved, and forced himself to speak. “I don’t want to wait any longer.”

"What is it?" she asked. Harry took a deep breath and presented his gift. From behind his back came a small jar, its neck wrapped in a thin quilt handkerchief and inside, amidst a clump of soil and moss, in its own little terrarium was a flower. It took Hermione a moment to recognise exactly what kind it was, but the second she did, her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. "Is that-"

"A Periwinkle,” Harry nodded, laughing anxiously. Hermione stared up at him then back down to the jar then back to him, lost for words. “I asked Neville to help me grow one, and I also put a few charms on it. If I did it right, it’ll glow in the dark and when you water it’ll make a sound like a little bell. And the jar won't break, either, so it’s really safe…” He rubbed the back of his neck, blinking rapidly. “Do you like it?”

His question spurred her into action and Hermione wasted no time in wrapping her arms around him and pulling him into a ferocious kiss. Far more used to her kisses by now, Harry eagerly kissed her back, with the frantic energy of a boy starved of love, indulging in it as desperately as if it were the first time.

Just as hastily as it had started, their kiss ended, but neither pulled back. Rather, they leaned into each other, resting their foreheads against each other with the Periwinkle sitting brightly between them.

“I love it,” she whispered, so softly that it was almost lost in the furore of the crowd. “Thank you.” 

The couple stood together for a few minutes, just holding each other while they could. Harry could happily stay there for the rest of time, holding her, cherishing her, ignoring the rest of the world, but that could never happen. He didn’t know if they would have the chance to be a normal couple next year, or ever again, so every second he could have with her, he would happily take.

As much joy as took from having her in his arms, it was tinged with sorrow, knowing that this would be the last time he would be able to hug her for a while. After spending so long together as a couple, never too far away from her should ever crave her touch, he would now have to live without, and no letter could ever substitute having her in his arms, or seeing her smile and feeling the smallest of touches that made him glad to be alive. As if their minds were linked, Hermione sensed his despair and took his hand in hers, rubbing it softly.

“I’ll see you soon, okay?” she cooed.

Harry nodded, trying as best he could to be strong for her, if only so she didn’t worry about him. They wouldn’t be apart forever, they never were, but every second away from her sure felt like an infinity in itself.

“I know,” he said and gave her a genuine, if melancholic smile, one that was mirrored in Hermione’s face. 

They passed the ticket barrier soon after, where Hermione’s parents were waiting for her. As were the Dursleys. Deciding that they could wait another five minutes, Harry had a brief meeting with Hermione’s parents. However, it seemed like they already knew plenty about him, citing Hermione’s numerous letters that had been sent to them since her first year. Upon seeing Hermione’s face erupt into a brilliant red, it took all of Harry’s self-control to not snog his girlfriend right in front of her mum and dad.

Once he realised that the Dursleys’ patience had worn well and truly thin, Harry bid the Grangers a goodbye, planting a gentlemanly kiss on Hermione’s knuckles, much to her embarrassment and her parents’ bemusement, before walking away to his fate.

The couple departed King Cross with a longing gaze towards each other, silently promising that they would meet again soon.

Hermione’s new Periwinkle, Harry’s gift to her, spent the summer on her bedside table. Every night, just before bed, Hermione would take time to look at it, imagining how it had been made, the enchantments that caused its fluorescent glow. It sat as a constant reminder of Harry, how deeply he loved her, how she loved him in turn, sitting always in reach, always in sight, whenever she needed it. Hermione grew to treasure as one of her most prized possessions, so much so that when the Order of the Phoenix came to pick her up and take her to their headquarters, she was adamant about bringing the flower with her. It was worth it if only to see the pure joy on Harry’s face as he spied it sitting by Hermione’s bed when they were finally reunited.

The Periwinkle lasted for many years, somehow never wilting despite the many years it weathered. It was always there for both of them, nearby in their best times and illuminating their darkest moments. It carried them through the war, to their final battle, and later their wedding day and beyond.

And many years later, it found a new purpose as a night light for their daughter, who loved it just as much as her mother had when she first received it in King’s Cross all those years ago. Hermione saw it as only right, considering the flower’s true meaning, according to a book on botany she found in their family library.

As she read the entry on the blue periwinkle, snuggled into her husband’s side as he rocked their daughter in his arms, she smiled and nudged him in the side. Harry glanced down at the passage her finger was pointing to and chuckled.

“Well, would you look at that,” he said as he softly kissed his wife’s crown.

For it truly was quite a peculiar coincidence. Hermione hadn’t known back when she was choosing the colour for her Yule Ball gown, that the Blue Periwinkle flower was a symbol of purity, friendship, the beginning of something new and everlasting love. Nor could she have ever predicted what came next between her and her best friend, even in her most optimistic dreams. Perhaps there was a part of her, deep down, that hoped beyond hope for what might be when she chose that shade of blue that had so thoroughly caught her attention. It might be a sign of some divine intervention, something that her logical mind detested, even to this day.

Or maybe it was just a coincidence. They did live in a world of magic, after all.