Chapter 1: Part I
If the night of the Yule Ball had started off as a balloon filled-to-bursting with adolescent excitement and anxious energy, it had long since deflated by now. At this point in the night, the party had diminished to a few couples stepping in time to a slow song. The entire hall was lulling in a drunken sway, perfectly happy to bask in the afterglow of a raucous night.
That is, except for one couple.
“He’s using you.”
“How dare you! Besides, I can take care of myself!”
“Doubt it. He’s way too old.”
“What? What? That’s what you think?”
“Yeah, that’s what I think.”
Harry could hear their voices from outside of the Great Hall, engaging in one of their usual arguments. How Ron and Hermione hadn’t killed each other by now was beyond him, what with how often they were at each other’s throats. Tonight was no different. Ron was saying stupid, belligerent things and Hermione was running herself ragged pointing how stupid and belligerent those things were, just like always. And, just like always, here Harry was, inevitably, stuck in the middle of it all.
Shuffling awkwardly past another drunk couple, Harry spotted the pair heading his way. Any second now, he would be forced to step inside the ring and mediate. Maybe he could turn around and pretend he had disappeared from the common room.
“You know the solution then, don’t you?” Hermione retorted as they paced ever nearer.
“Go on,” Ron huffed, trying his best to appear aloof and failing.
“Next time there’s a ball, pluck up the courage and ask me before somebody else does! And not as a last resort!”
Harry could read the impact on Ron’s face. Hermione had hit the nail quite soundly on the head there and all his friend could do was flail.
“Well- th- that’s out- that’s completely missing the point.” Ron quickly looked anywhere else but Hermione and found him. Harry shook his head, not wanting to get pulled into the argument, but it was already too late. Ron had just called out his name, beckoning him to come save him from Hermione’s wrath, which was now fully directed at him. Harry preemptively tried to appear occupied but his meagre effort did little to deter his fate.
“Where have you been?” Hermione’s seething voice struck Harry like a slap across the face. She was rarely ever this angry at him. It immediately set him on edge.
Harry was about to reply with some quick excuse - that he had just gone out for some fresh air - when he finally noticed the state she was in. The words disappeared from his tongue as he took in her face. There were tears shimmering at the sides of her eyes, her lip was quivering, her shoulders shaking. The elegant twirl that she had somehow twisted her hair into was now a frayed mess. She looked like she was barely keeping herself from bursting into sobs. Her face was a picture of genuine distress akin to physical pain.
By the time he had gotten his bearings back, about to rattle off something about going outside to… well, whatever, Hermione had already interrupted him.
“Never mind! Off to bed, both of you!”
Harry stared at her for a moment, before his eyes then found their way back to Ron’s indignant face. As Harry walked past Hermione, he glared at Ron, as if to ask what the hell he had done to get her into this state.
As they ventured up the stairs out of the entrance hall, Ron was still looking back at Hermione, not ready to let her have the last word. Harry was about to tell him to shut up and carry on walking, but the words had already left Ron’s mouth.
“They get scary when they get older.”
The effect was immediate and vicious. Hermione wheeled back towards them, her volcanic fury exacerbated by uncontrollable sobs.
“Ron, you spoiled everything!”
The pair jumped out of their skins and doubled their pace up the stairs. Harry half-imagined Hermione would chase them down and kick their arses with her high heels. That was not what happened. Instead, Harry noticed as he glanced back over his shoulder, she came to rest on the stairs leading down the Great Hall, crumpling in on herself and she began to cry.
The sight froze Harry to the spot. Hermione, his friend, who he liked to think of as indomitable, was crying. She looked so defeated, despondent in a way that was so unbecoming of the Hermione he knew so well.
The image sat in stark contrast to earlier that very same evening, the joy that she radiated in beams. Harry remembered that moment well, when his brain had collapsed in on itself and his jaw dropped to the floor at the sight of her walking down those steps. In fact, it was those very steps that she was now sitting on, sobbing into her bright blue dress that once gleamed as bright as her smile. This was supposed to be her big night. How the hell had it gone so wrong?
Oh, yeah, Ron. Of course, it was Ron. How could it not be? If there was one person who knew how to push Hermione’s buttons it was Ron, and he frequently did just that. The truth was, this was not the first argument of theirs that had ended in tears, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.
As he followed Ron up to the Gryffindor Common Room, Harry only wished that there was something he could do.
Then a thought occurred to him and he stopped.
Why? Why was he not allowed to do anything? Why did he feel so indentured to whatever Ron wanted to do? He had done nothing but insult, demean and antagonise Hermione all night, he was clearly in the wrong, and yet Harry was just supposed to follow him as if this was all business as usual? His friend was on her own, right now, probably still in fits of tears. Was Harry just supposed to leave her to it? To just abandon her as if she meant nothing to him?
Harry turned around and gazed down the hallway, thinking. By this time, Ron had noticed that his friend was standing stock still in the hallway and had turned back to face him.
“You coming or what?”
Harry glanced up at the redhead, gritting his teeth with indecision.
Hermione would never have left him alone if the positions were reversed. She would have stayed by his side no matter what, even if she thought he was in the wrong because she was his friend. That's what friends do, they help each other when they need it.
And with that, Harry made his decision. He swivelled on the spot and began walking back down to the Great Hall.
“Where are you going?” Ron called out to him.
“To be with Hermione,” Harry replied.
He heard a scoff from behind him.
“Oh, I see. You’re picking her side, are you?”
Harry knew he should have just shrugged it off and carried on walking. It would have been the more reasonable thing to do, but at this point - at some early hour past midnight, feeling tired, angry, hurt, confused - Harry was beyond reason and he was beyond tired of being silent. He had been silent all night and look where that had got them.
So, Harry stopped and glared at Ron from over his shoulder.
“You know, you make it so hard to be your friend sometimes.”
Without another word, Harry continued walking.
“What does that mean?” Ron’s voice echoed through the hallway, but Harry ignored him. “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?”
Harry strode and fast as he could back towards the Great Hall, the image of Hermione crying by herself propelling him through the castle as fast as his legs would carry him.
When he arrived back into the entranceway, Hermione was still there, clutching the folds of her dress in one hand and her shoes in the other. Her whole body was hunched over, jittering with quiet, uneven sobs. It broke Harry’s heart to see her like this. He felt ashamed with himself that he had even thought of leaving her in this state.
Treading carefully down the stone steps, Harry approached her. Slowly, he sat himself down next to Hermione and reached his arms around her shoulders. Her body stiffened against his intrusion.
“Harry, go away,” she sniffled, trying to shuffle away from him. Harry wasn’t about to let her go so easily.
“No,” he replied resolutely as he tightened his grip around her.
“I said go away, Harry!” Hermione cried, now pushing against him. Harry’s hold refused to acquiesce.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he insisted. “You see, my friend needs me.”
“Stop it!” she said, even as he felt her resistance begin to wane. “I don’t want you here!”
“Tough,” he soothed, rubbing circles into her back with his palm. “I’m staying.”
“Go away!” Hermione’s cries had dulled to hoarse whispers. “Just, just go…”
She had stopped trying to push him away by now, having exhausted all of her energy in crying. He felt her wilt against him, clutching at his evening dress robes to pull herself into his embrace.
“Harry…” Despite saying only one word, Harry understood her perfectly. He adjusted his embrace, allowing him to shift her legs into his lap.
“I’m here,” he smiled reassuringly. “I’ve got you, now. Just relax.”
Eventually, Hermione’s head came to rest against his shoulder and she closed her eyes. Harry was almost convinced that she had dozed off until he heard her whisper.
“I… hate him.”
Harry continued rubbing her back affectionately, lacking the spirit to say otherwise.
They just sat together for a while, until they were one of the only few couples left that had yet to go to bed. By now, the band were playing their final slow songs of the night, winding down the audience for the end of the ball. At that point, the sniffles had faded away and Hermione gave into the quiet mood that now echoed through the Great Hall. Without realising it, Harry had started rocking back and forth, ever so slightly, to the beat of the music. Hermione must have found it relaxing because she didn’t stop him, allowing herself to be moved in time. It was their own kind of slow dance, just the two of them, and Harry preferred it that way. Harry found that he preferred the quiet; maybe it was just in his nature.
It was as the band announced their final song when Harry decided that they had best be leaving. He carefully jostled Hermione out of her daze, jolting her awake. She quietly studied him, only to cringe as she looked down at his robes.
“Oh, Harry,” she gasped, “I’ve ruined your shirt.”
Harry couldn’t help but laugh softly at her.
“Sod the shirt, Hermione,” he chuckled. He stood from his seat, pulling Hermione up with him. “Let me look at your dress.”
“Don’t bother,” she scoffed. “I’ve probably ruined that too.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Harry muttered under his breath, before offering Hermione his hand. “Come on, it’s getting late. Let’s go back.”
For a moment, Hermione didn’t move, which puzzled Harry. She subconsciously wrapped her arms around herself and Harry worried for a moment that she might be cold.
“I don’t want to go back if he’s going to be there.”
A cold wave of realisation washed over him. He had forgotten all about Ron since he arrived, having focused entirely on making sure that Hermione was okay. He had hoped that Hermione would forget about him too, but clearly, she hadn’t. It was evident from her entire demeanour - from her face to her body language - that she was dreading meeting the redhead again. He could imagine why. The chance of meeting him again in the common room, potentially alone, would only provide him with another opportunity to renew their argument, to make her share in his misery of a night gone wrong. She was afraid that she was going to be hurt again, by someone she cared about.
That won’t be happening tonight, Harry promised himself. With a renewed resolve, he took Hermione's hand in his and squeezed it in calm solidarity.
“I’ll be with you.”
Those words must have done the trick because she stood a little taller and nodded to him. There was still a trace of reluctance in her face, but she was squashing it down, channelling her Gryffindor courage. Her fingers wrapped around his and a moment later he was leading her up the stairs out of the entrance hall.
They walked hand in hand back to the common room, never straying far from each other along the way. Every so often, Harry spared Hermione a glance, just to make sure she hadn’t spooked, but every time Hermione was there, ready to meet his gaze with a tentative smile. As they made their way through the castle, Harry felt Hermione’s side pressing closer and closer into his as if seeking constant reassurance. It was strange, Harry noted, to be the one giving Hermione comfort, to be her rock, as opposed to relying on her support as usual. It felt nice, though, to give something back to her after how much she had helped him when he needed it.
Eventually, they found themselves in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait, which swung open for them at the mention of the password. Whatever hope the pair had that Ron had decided to just go to bed evaporated the moment they entered the common room. They found the redhead in question lounging on the sofa, staring into the fire. Sensing their arrival, his eyes turned towards them and glared.
“You two enjoy yourselves without me, then?” Ron grunted at them, which only served to stoke Harry’s nerves.
“Ron-“ Hermione began before Harry interjected on her behalf.
“Ron, we’re both very tired so either shut up or go to bed.”
Both Ron and Hermione gawked at Harry, stunned by his steely tone of voice. Ron was looking particularly scandalised, possibly because every time he and Hermione had fought, Harry had dutifully chosen either his side or no side at all. This was far from Harry’s usually delicate approach, but by this point, Harry’s patience had well and truly been worn thin. After having spent most of his night having to tolerate Ron’s attitude, seeing him insist on being the victim in all of this was the last straw. The redhead was silent for a few moments reeling in his seat before he began speaking again.
“What the hell has she been-“
“I said shut up!” Harry shouted with enough force to make Hermione jump by his side. “I’ve had to put up with this all night and I’ve had enough of it! We’re not going to argue with you, so unless you apologise to Hermione right now, you can get lost!” He waited for a response, but all that came was a wall of stunned silence. “Well?”
Ron blinked, opening his mouth to say something and then closed it again.
“Yeah, whatever,” Ron eventually managed to reply, grumbling as he rose from his seat. “See you tomorrow, I guess.”
He slouched out of the common room up to bed, leaving Harry and Hermione alone in the aftermath. Harry let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding and felt his body sag. It would be far too awkward to follow him straight up to bed, into his nice, soft sheets and slip off to sleep, but he certainly wanted to. Well, it looked like he was stuck down here, for now, so he might as well get used to it.
“You didn’t have to do that,” he heard Hermione whisper from his side. He glanced at her, reading her anxious body language as easily as she read any tome.
“Who said that was just for you?” Harry scoffed, trying to lighten the mood. He let go of her hand and unceremoniously fell onto the sofa. “Besides, he doesn’t get to say those kinds of things to you anymore.”
Hermione stood by herself for a moment, observing but not really seeing, before allowing herself to sit beside him.
“You two only just started talking to each other.”
“Yeah, well, what’s he gonna do? Stop being my friend again?” Harry sighed, palming his forehead as it started to sink in. He imagined what it would be like to have Ron ignore him again, how he did at the beginning of the year. It would be extremely annoying to lose that companionship so quickly after he had only just got it back, but then again, he’d still have Hermione. It should have been a comforting thought, and it was, but it served just as well to remind Harry of other incidents, going further back. Those times when he had chosen to remain neutral, to let the arguments boil over and be forgotten, only to emerge once again more vicious than before. Every time, he had chosen Ron over Hermione, even when he knew it was wrong. Even when he knew Hermione wouldn’t have done the same.
“I’m sorry, for what he said,” Harry spoke, breaking the silence that accumulated in his mind’s absence.
In the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione’s hair tussle as she shook her head.
“It’s not your fault that he’s jealous of Krum,” her small voice attempted reassurance but it came across as more defeated than anything else.
“Not just that,” Harry instead. “I mean everything else he’s said to you, from the beginning. I’m sorry that I never brought him up on it, that I never stopped him.”
“Harry,” the Hermione he knew, that authoritative spark, was starting to reappear, “Ron’s behaviour isn’t something you need to apologise for.”
“But I want to.”
“I know you do, but that should be Ron’s job, not yours.”
He knew she was right. She was always right, even, paradoxically, when she was wrong. However, the guilt that sat in the pit of his stomach refused to go away, reminding him of just how long it had taken to finally choose her side for once. How many times he had failed to act like her friend. He was brought out of his brooding when he felt Hermione’s hand take hold of his.
“Hey,” she whispered, beckoning him to focus on her face. Harry looked up into her big, brown eyes, wishing that he had the words to say just how sorry he was. “When it comes to you and me, there’s nothing that needs forgiving.”
“Are you sure?”
She replied with a calm smile that sent a wave of comfort rushing through him.
Despite the certainty with which she spoke, there was still a niggling feeling in the back of Harry’s head that refused to let him rest. She had cleared him of all wrongdoing, all possible guilt, that should have been enough. Why wasn’t it enough?
“Why do I still feel like I need to apologise?” he asked because of course, she would know. She often knew him better than he knew himself.
“Because that’s who you are,” she answered as if it were obvious. “You always want to make people feel better. It’s something I like about you, your kindness.”
Harry blinked, feeling the heat slowly creep up into his cheeks.
“Thanks, Hermione.” He looked at her for a moment, trying to think of what to say. “I… I think you’re kind, too.”
“Really?” she asked, to which Harry nodded back eagerly.
The smile he got in return was small, but to Harry it was radiant.
They sat side by side, listening to the fire crackle away, burning the last few logs down to ash. Hermione had turned away to peer at the last embers of the fire, allowing Harry a better view of the once-intricate knot that kept her hair in place. How she had managed to get her tresses into this intricate twirl was beyond him. The amount of time it must have taken to get each stand exactly right beggared belief. Even now, in its admittedly more unkempt state, each lock still moved like waves and danced around her face. Her pale skin, contrasting so vibrantly against her dark chocolate hair, complemented by the soothing blue of her dress coating her shoulders. His eyes drifted downwards, following the intricate shapes of the fabric appreciating the way the dim light danced across the material and made it glisten.
Harry could stare at Hermione like this all night. He took a moment to capture her in his mind's eye, burning the image into his head, so that one day in the future, when Hermione ever doubted herself, he could remind her of just how beautiful she looked on this night. How she had turned every head at the Yule Ball without even trying.
“You look great in that dress.”
The words tumbled from his lips and dropped between them with all the grace of a boulder in a pond. Immediately, Harry’s brain went into panic mode. Oh god, had Hermione heard that? He really hoped that she hadn’t. Nope, she was looking right at him now. And now she was blushing. For the love of Merlin, she was blushing, this was officially a crisis! She must be embarrassed and Harry couldn’t blame her one bit. Oh god, when did it get so quiet in here? Course correction, course correction!
“I mean,” he stammered, “it’s a really nice dress. And you look great on you- I mean, in it, and I- It’s blue, right? I mean, of course, it’s blue, I can see it’s blue, but it’s nice and I think it’s just-”
“Periwinkle,” Hermione interjected before Harry could continue to embarrass himself. “The colour, it’s actually periwinkle.”
Harry blinked, then he found himself smiling.
“Isn’t that just blue?”
“No, Harry,” Hermione smiled endearingly at his confusion, “it’s not just blue. It’s a very particular shade of blue.”
“But it is blue, right?” he insisted, happy to push the conversation into a new direction.
“Yes, I suppose it is blue,” she conceded in a manner that reminded him suddenly of McGonagall in its imperiousness, “but it’s called periwinkle.”
“Doesn’t that get confusing?”
“No, because it’s named after a flower and therefore the colour of that flower is called Periwinkle.”
“Ah, like how orange is named after an orange?” Harry concisely observed, to which Hermione rolled her eyes.
“Oranges are not flowers, Harry.”
“I never said they were-“ he spluttered before he noticed her smile growing wider and wider, creating dimples in her cheeks. His eyes squinted at her. “You’re just teasing me now.”
His indignant tone sent her spiralling into a chorus of childish giggles. Harry huffed, dramatically crossing his arms across his chest.
“After all that I’ve done for you,” he accused with as straight a face as he could pull, “and you’re teasing me. Honestly, I’m insulted.”
Hermione laughed gleefully, relaxing against the cushions, so contagious that Harry couldn’t help but join in.
“I’m sorry. But yes, periwinkle is a kind of blue, just like how apricot is a type of orange and lavender is purple.”
“I thought she was blonde,” he immediately replied, earning him a slap on the shoulder as he laughed at her.
“You’re an absolute prat!”
They both continued to laugh at each other, their attempts to keep the noise down only making their mirth more intense. Still, Harry considered the risk of waking the rest of the house worth it, since it meant he got to see Hermione happier than she had been in quite a while. It was a welcome change from the state she had been in not half an hour ago. If he had the power, Harry would endeavour to make sure that Hermione was never unhappy again, because seeing the joy that she was experiencing at that moment fulfilled him in a way that made his heart fill to the brim.
It wasn’t long afterwards when they both went to bed, but not before Hermione stopped Harry on his way up the stairs and wrapped him in a tight hug. As he hugged her back, he felt her softly whisper into his ear,
“Thank you for coming back for me.”
“You’re welcome,” he whispered with all the sincerity that he could muster. “I’m here for you, now and always.”
Even after he bid her goodnight, Hermione remained at the front of his mind and refused to leave. Those few moments at the beginning of the evening kept repeating in his head. The sight of her walking down those stone steps, in her blue- no, periwinkle dress, her hair, her smile. Over and over again they would appear, like a broken record, so much so that he had trouble sleeping that night. When he eventually did fall into an unconscious embrace, those thoughts of Hermione followed him into his dreams and for the first time in far too long, Harry woke up the next morning having had a good night’s sleep.
Ron was still sulking throughout the next day, refusing to speak to either him or Hermione, so Harry continued to ignore him back. It felt like he had travelled back in time to the day after Halloween when Ron stubbornly refused to believe that he was telling the truth about the tournament. It frustrated Harry how Ron could fall into old habits so easily, even after all they had done to try and bring him up on it. However, as much as it pained him to go through this whole fiasco again, he wasn’t going through it alone. Just like last time, he had Hermione with him to keep him company. She also helped to remind Harry how, even though he hated being so distant from his friend, this was a lesson that Ron needed to learn.
No longer would Harry or Hermione accommodate his poor behaviour. Unless he owned up to his mistakes and accepted that he was wrong, they wouldn’t give him the time of day. Hermione was just as much Harry’s friend as Ron was, and she deserved to be treated with respect. If Ron couldn’t understand that then he could go stuff himself.
There were a couple of times when Ron tried to insert himself back into their conversation, as if nothing had happened - his usual technique - but Harry was having none of it. His only response was to remind Ron that they were still waiting for his apology to Hermione and that they wouldn’t be back on good terms unless they heard it straight from his mouth. To Harry’s immense disappointment, Ron decided that keeping his pride intact was more important than admitting that he was sorry for his actions. And so, their relationship with Ron remained distant.
That night, Harry and Hermione stayed up in the common room until after hours, waiting just in case Ron decided to come down and finally say that they had been waiting to hear. However, Ron never turned up. The pair went to bed that night, disheartened but not ready to give up on him just yet. Harry felt the urge to apologise on Ron’s behalf resurface frequently, just so it would go back to normal, but he resisted every time. Just like Hermione said, it wasn’t his job to make up for Ron’s mistakes.
Harry and Hermione were still waiting for that apology the following day, and the next day, until ‘maybe tomorrow’, became ‘maybe next week’. Slowly but surely, they feared an apology might never come.
“Maybe we’ve been too harsh on him,” he heard Hermione say as they were eating breakfast by themselves once again. “I’m sure that he’s sorry by now-“
“If he was he would’ve said it,” Harry insisted.
“He’s not good with expressing his feelings-“ she pleaded.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione’s shoulders sag as her fingers wrestled nervously. Just like on the night of the Yule Ball, he carefully laced his hand through hers, bringing her anxious fidgeting to an end. “Hermione, you deserve that apology.”
“Harry-“ she shook her head, ready to say how she wasn’t worth all the trouble, but Harry was having none of it.
“You do.” Her eyes looked up at him through her fringe, wanting to believe him, to which Harry sent her a look that brokered no argument. “I won’t let you diminish yourself like this. If I’m not allowed to apologise for his behaviour then neither are you.”
That was the end of the matter, but Harry’s hand remained encased in hers throughout all of breakfast. Eating toast with one hand was admittedly a challenge, but for Hermione’s sake, he’d overcome any obstacle.
Later that evening, as the last shadows of twilight melted into the night, Harry and Hermione found themselves back in the common room, it all came to a head. The pair were sitting in adjacent armchairs, quietly reading to themselves - or at least, pretending to, because despite having sat there for at least half an hour, Hermione had yet to turn a page. Every so often, the portrait hole would open and both of their eyes would shoot up from their forgotten books, only to look away in disappointment when they didn’t see their redheaded friend. Just as the wait was starting to become unbearable, the portrait hole opened once more and three people walked through. Dean, Seamus and, trailing along behind them, Ron.
Harry and Hermione immediately sat up to attention. As Dean Seamus departed up the stairs, he spotted them sitting in their usual seats by the fire. Time froze as the three friends regarded each other, waiting for something to happen. For a moment, Harry locked eyes with Ron, pleading to him in his mind.
‘Come on, fix this. There’s no one else around. We’ll forgive you.’
His eyes ventured from Hermione to Harry and back again. His foot inched forward and his mouth began to open, only for him to stop very suddenly. He stood frozen in the middle of the common room for a few seconds, just looking at them. He looked like he desperately wanted to say something to them, but he couldn’t. Instead, he turned away and strode up to the boy dormitories. The pair were left alone, suffocating in the emptiness of the room.
Harry glanced over to Hermione and saw something slowly breaking inside of her. Like an automaton, she slowly closed the book that she wasn’t reading and made her way out of the common room. Harry was alone, left only with his many thoughts and a sense of having lost something very dear to him. It was a while before he followed Ron up to the boys' dormitories. He couldn’t face seeing his friend again so soon after he had turned his back on them. He could only imagine how Hermione felt in all of this.
‘This is for her sake,’ Harry reminded himself. ‘This isn’t about you. It's about being there for her. If Ron can’t do that or even say that he’s sorry, then he doesn’t deserve someone as brilliant as Hermione in his life.’
He took some solace in that fact. Ron’s actions had cost him far more than they had cost them. Harry only wondered how long it would take for Ron to realise that fact. He hoped that it wouldn’t take forever. Maybe one day they would have Ron back in their lives, but it would be on their terms from now on.
He promised Hermione that he would always be there to help her and he wasn’t planning on going back on that promise any time soon. She was a friend worth standing up for, even if no one else would.
Chapter 2: PART II
From then on, it was Harry and Hermione against the world. desperate to think about anything other than Ron, they dove headfirst into solving the puzzle of the egg. Breaking down what they knew - that the egg emitted a horrible, screeching noise whenever it was opened and that it held the key to figuring out the next task - made Hermione’s mind race with dozens of hypotheses. Harry had suggested the idea of magically silencing it and seeing what happened, but their test in an abandoned classroom resulted in nothing to show for it and they were sent back to the drawing board. They had also concluded that there was nothing inside the egg, meaning that the egg was more likely just for show. Harry did wonder if the engravings were some kind of ancient language, but they didn’t match any known scripture.
Eventually, Hermione supposed that the screaming itself was the clue. That led them to the idea that it wasn’t just an annoying sound but another language that they couldn't yet understand. The rest of their week was happily spent together studying in the library, pouring over dusty tomes in search of a language that, to human ears, sounded like the egg’s cacophonous call.
After many hours of searching, from Mandrakes to Dragons to birds of all shapes and sizes, the endeavour landed them one particularly interesting answer: Mermish, otherwise known as the native tongue of the Mermaid. Hermione remembered reading in Hogwarts: A History that the bottom of the Black Lake was home to a colony of Merpeople, which would only make sense as the location for the next task.
With this in mind, they began their further research. It took them several days to thoroughly comb every text on the subject - Hermione was never one to do things by half, and Harry was just happy for the distraction. Besides, it allowed him to see Hermione in her element, and by doing so, he began to notice more and more things about his best friend.
There was nothing as big as the revelation that was her appearance at the Yule Ball, rather smaller things that, once he noticed them, stayed with him and commanded his attention. The way she bit her lip when she was concentrating, whether she was writing or reading a difficult passage. How she would wind a lock of her busy hair around her finger when she needed something to fiddle with. The way her eyes would light up with excitement when she found the answer she was looking for. The way she treated each and every book like a treasured item, carefully turning each page, stroking their spines as if they were alive. How her face glowed a bright pink whenever she noticed him looking at her, despite his best attempts at subtlety.
All these tiny things that made Hermione in a more complete picture, that made him really look at there and want to keep looking. Harry was confident he could examine Hermione Granger for the rest of his days and still find new things to like about her.
During these occasional glances, he couldn’t help but compare the image of Hermione in her element to how she looked on that Christmas night. Of course, she lacked the cascading blue dress and the intricate hairstyle that were immediately remarkable, but Harry was surprised to note that, beyond those superficial things, little had changed.
Her eyes, a light brown that reminded him of varnished wood and chocolate, were still as bright and entrancing as they ever were. Her bushy hair surrounded her head like a lion’s mane and glowed like a halo in the evening sunlight, framing a face that Harry had only recently recognised was maturing into that of a woman’s. A very pretty woman, in fact.
Though Harry did recognise that even as recently as the last few days, her mane was slightly less wild than it used to be. It had more of a healthy sheen to it and the ends, rather than fraying out, flowed into elaborate curls. Harry had presumed that it was simply her hair mellowing as she grew older, but now he wasn’t so sure.
In fact, there were a few small differences that Harry could point out now that he really looked - not hugely, glaring differences but still ones that stood out to him in particular. For example, her eyelashes were darker than before. Her skin shone in a way that highlighted her cheekbones and complimented the subtle blush in her cheeks that wouldn’t go away. He found his eyes wandering to Hermione’s lips, noting how they were pinker glossier than he remembered. For a fraction of a second, Harry wondered what they would be like to kiss.
It was like her features had been enhanced, just enough to define the jewels of her complexion. It wasn’t long before Harry’s curiosity was boiling over, leading him to unceremoniously blurt out his thoughts during an afternoon study session in the library.
“Are you wearing makeup?”
The moment he asked, Hermione froze, glancing at him nervously in a way that made Harry want to punch himself for his lack of tact.
“Yes,” she replied tentatively, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Why, is it really obvious?”
“No, it’s nice,” he hastily said. “ Really nice even!” He didn’t mean anything by it, it wasn’t an accusation, he only wanted her to know for the sake of it. “You look pretty.”
Hermione blinked in surprise.
“I- I do?” she asked, staring him in the eye.
“Yeah,” Harry replied, trying desperately not to let his tongue twist into knots. “I mean, you’ve always looked pretty, with or without make-up, but you look really nice now. I like it.”
For a moment Harry was sure that he said the right thing, in fact, he felt quite proud of himself for finally managing to not screw it all up. That momentary pride was shattered the moment he saw Hermione visibly deflate and duck away from him. A sheet of paper crinkled in her tightening grip. Oh god, what had he said wrong? He only was trying to tell her that she didn’t need to rely on make-up to look nice. Or was that one of those things that Dean and Seamus said you should never, ever say to a girl?
“Don’t patronise me,” she finally said after many agonising seconds of silence, which only served to further confuse him.
“I’m not,” he insisted. “Why would I-“
“Harry,” Hermione gave him a sad smile, “I saw you staring at me at the Yule Ball. Evidently, I don’t always look like that. I know I’m not pretty. You don’t have to lie make me feel-“
“What? No!” he exclaimed with a flare of righteous anger. There was a short pang of guilt as he saw Hermione’s startled expression, but he ploughed on regardless. He refused to let her think of herself that way for a second longer. “No, that’s not why I was- I was staring at you back then because you do !”
Hermione sat in her seat, staring at him, clearly taken aback by his sudden shift in demeanour. Her eyes locked onto his, squinting at him curiously.
“What do you mean?” she finally asked after several seconds of quiet observation.
“I mean, I was staring at you because… Well, I…”
Harry felt like he was standing at the edge of a precipice. A strange weight sat in his stomach. His legs felt uneasy as if they could give way at any moment. He had no idea why the thought of admitting his honest answer terrified him so, but he knew that once he did, his relationship with Hermione would never quite be the same again. However, no matter how much he feared what it might cause between the two of them, Hermione deserved the truth. She deserved to know that there was someone in the world who saw her as anything but ‘not pretty'.
And so, Harry summoned up the rest of his courage and pushed the words out of his mouth.
“I realised that you do always look like that and I just never noticed.”
That sentence had sounded far more eloquent in his head. He thought that he had said so much and yet, he realised, he had said barely anything at all. He wanted to elaborate, to explain further exactly what he meant, but then he saw Hermione’s face and he knew that she had understood exactly what he meant. Her mouth was opening and closing like a fish. Her eyes were wide open, staring at him like he had grown a second head.
“How…” she mumbled faintly. “I thought… how could you ever…“
“For the longest time,” Harry explained before she could stop him, “I only ever saw you. I would look at your face and I just think... Well, I would think of your name and everything that you meant to me, which is a lot. And that was all I needed, so I didn’t really look . And then that night, at the Ball, seeing you, it made me realise that you are pretty. Not like, ‘wow, Hermione can look nice, what a surprise,’ but more like… I thought…”
“You thought what?” Hermione whispered with bated breath, her chocolate eyes sparkling with excitement.
Gazing into the depths of her pupils, trying not to explode, Harry felt closer to Hermione than he had ever felt before. For whatever reason, they had always been aware of each other in a way that even he and Ron simply hadn’t, but now he was exposing parts of himself that he had only just realised existed. He and Hermione, what that meant, was changing before his very eyes. Boundaries they had silently constructed, invisibly stringent, were melting away. Harry felt his hands shaking as he desperately tried to keep ahold of himself. Swallowing the knot in his throat, he continued.
“I thought to myself, ‘Hermione is beautiful and she’s always been beautiful.’ I just never had a word for it until then, but now I do. And I’m just amazed how I never saw it before.” He stopped before his nerves got the better of him and his voice turned into a garbled mess.
His eyes immediately searched Hermione’s face, dreading for a moment that he would find it twisting into some horrified expression. However, what he saw was anything but. The corners of her mouth were twirling into a smile. Her cheeks began to glow a bright red. Her eyes were shining brighter than stars, gazing at him with wonder.
“You really thought I was…?” Hermione’s smile blossomed into a bashful grin at the word she couldn’t quite say. “Even with my squirrel teeth?”
“I never minded them,” Harry confessed, shrugging in an excuse to tear his eyes away from hers if only to hide his blush. “I thought they were quite cute and if you’d kept them I would have liked them because it’s a part of you. And I think you’re beautiful, inside and out.”
The air between was positively crackling. The rest of the library fell away as if a silencing charm had been cast around them. Not daring to look her in the eye just yet - he felt like this face was on fire from how intensely he was blushing - Harry’s senses hyper-focused on the sound of her breathing. He counted the long, slow, shaky breaths that told Harry that she was still there, she hadn’t run away. That was a good sign. There were a good few moments where Harry sat there, considering whether he had crossed the line from sweet to cheesy when suddenly he heard a sniffle. His eyes shot up immediately to check if she was okay and saw her eyes were rapidly filling with tears.
“Oh, god- no- please, don’t be sad,” he sputtered, checking her over, “I’m sorry. I- I didn’t mean-“
But she wasn’t just crying, Harry quickly realised, as another sound broke through his rambling. It was hard to make out at first, but soon he recognised what it was. It was the sound of soft, affectionate laughter. Before he could figure out what was happening, Hermione had put down her book and all but leapt across the bench to wrap him in a hug that left him breathless.
Something shifted inside Harry, as he slowly reciprocated Hermione’s embrace, unlocking itself from deep within his core. It was a sense of true content, having finally found a connection that he had been missing for so long, but that he had no name for. As the two sat entwined together as the seconds drew on and they fell into each other, Harry was sure that they had both crossed a line in their friendship. But thinking about what that was could wait for another day. For now, they were happy to stay as they were, in the knowledge that neither of them was going anywhere.
He had Hermione all to himself, for this one brief moment, and he was going to cherish it for as long as he was allowed.
They still had a month and a half until the second task, but for Hermione, that was far from an ideal amount of time. Having yet to confirm their theory on the egg’s cries being Mermish, they were desperate for some way not only to prove their suspicions but to translate the message. All accounts said that in the open air, Mermish was unrecognisable, but when submerged in any body of water, it would become immediately understandable to human ears. This meant only one thing: they had to find some way to get the egg underwater.
This was easier said than done. The banks of the Black Lake were usually crowded with students during the day and barred off at curfew in the night, not to mention the waters were cold, dark and deep. Not exactly desirable in mid-winter. However, there were other options. The most alluring of those options was the Prefect Bathroom that only the most trusted of students were allowed to use. Rumours said that this was far more luxurious than the common shower rooms, including a bathing area as large as a swimming pool as well as a sauna. Unfortunately, this treasure trove of watery delight was only accessible for those with a password, kept only by prefects and the head boy and girl.
Getting that password was going to be a challenge, or at least it would have been if it hadn’t been for Cedric randomly bumping into them one day as they were passing each other in the hallway.
“Harry! You got a moment?”
The Gryffindor Champion silently judged the older boy, sizing him up in case this was some sort of trick. Then again, knowing Cedric, was that really going to be the case? Logic dictated that Cedric wasn’t going to try and hurt him or pull one over on him, considering his track record. If there was anything that Harry had learned from Hermione, listening to logic every once in a while wasn’t a bad thing.
“Uh, yeah, sure.”
He squeezed Hermione’s hand in reassurance, silently asking her to wait for him, as Cedric led him to a quieter part of the hallway, away from prying eyes.
“So, you figured out your egg yet?” the Hufflepuff champion casually asked.
“Not exactly,” Harry replied. “Why, have you?”
“Indeed, I have,” Cedric grinned. “Here’s a tip: take it for a bath.”
A sense of real vindication ballooned inside Harry’s chest. He gaped wide-eyed at Cedric in delight.
“So, it is Mermish! That’s what’s coming out of the egg!”
In stark contrast to his excitement, Cedric was looking almost disappointed, if slightly amused.
“I thought you said you hadn’t figured it out,” he asked.
“Well, we figured out that bit,” Harry clarified, “but nothing else yet.”
“Let me guess, Granger helped you?” he supposed with a sly grin. Harry nodded and Cedric huffed a small chuckle. “Right, well, if you ever decide you want to hear what it says, the password to the prefects’ bathroom is ‘Pine Fresh ’.”
It took a moment for Cedric’s sentence to sink in but the moment it did, Harry had to restrain himself from celebrating.
“Really?” Harry asked and this time it was Cedric’s turn to nod. “Thank you so much.”
“Don’t mention it. Consider it a late Christmas gift for warning me about the dragons. Now, we better get out of here before we’re seen conspiring with each other. Good luck, Harry.”
“You too, Cedric.”
The two champions parted and let the crowd take them away. Fighting through the rush, Harry found Hermione, who, like always, was waiting patiently for him to make his way back to her.
“What did he want?” she asked once she noticed his arrival. Rather than just blurt it out to anyone who could happen by, Harry looped an arm through her’s and leaned in to whisper.
He leaned back in time to see Hermione’s confused expression.
“What does that-“ She then went very quiet and her eyes widened like an owl. “Oh.”
Her hand gripped his forearm and pulled him in closer, a manic relief glinting behind her eyes. Harry grinned back at her, sharing in her elation at something having finally gone their way.
Now all they needed to do was actually go to the Prefect’s bathroom and listen to the clue. Harry assumed that this was something he would do on his own, but for some reason, Hermione decided that the only logical way forward was to go with him.
“You might need help deciphering the riddle,” she reasoned. “What if you forget to write it down? Or what if it needs further translating? Besides, two heads are always better than one.”
Harry knew Hermione well enough to know that once she had an idea in her head, it was almost impossible to talk her out of it. So, wisely, he decided not to argue.
Sneaking out of the Gryffindor Common Room that evening was easy enough, what with his invisibility cloak able to hide the two of them and the golden egg. Although, with the way they were having to squeeze together to fit under the cloak, Harry could swear that it had shrunk somehow since their last adventure. It used to easily cover three people, albeit three younger people, but now, with only the two of them, they had to stick rigidly to each other's sides for its edges to reach the floor. Maybe they had grown more than he thought. Or maybe now he was just far more aware of the lack of space, what with Hermione’s body squished up against his.
Harry tried his best to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other, but every time he felt Hermione’s hip bump into his, her hair tickle the sensitive part of his neck or her hand graze his fingers as they held up the cloak, his mind would suddenly lose focus and drift away from him. He never used to be this easily distracted, especially on vital missions such as these. What on Earth had changed in him so drastically?
Despite his best efforts to stay alert, he was barely present for most of the journey to the fifth floor. He finally managed to bring himself back to the present as they passed the statue of Boris the Bewildered, seeking out the fourth door to the left and citing the password. The door unlocked and the two pushed inside and out of sight.
As they shuffled up a small set of steps, into the main chamber, they finally got a good look at the legendary Prefects Bathroom. It was just as amazing as the rumours had described, if not more so. There was indeed a bath the size of a swimming pool as well as several smaller hot tubs, but no one told him about the marble surfaces that evoked a Roman temple, the bubble bath taps, or the stained glass windows depicting swimming Mermaids, waving at them as they passed by.
“I can’t believe I’m going to say this,” Harry spoke aloud, grabbing Hermione’s attention by his side, “but I want to be a prefect.”
Rather than admonish him or laugh at his joke, Hermione instead peered at him with a strange look in her eye. One that Harry had never seen Hermione make before, but it made him feel very hot all of a sudden. Harry was about to ask if she was alright when Hermione blinked as if realising where she was. Without another word, she walked into a nearby changing room, presumably to swap into her bathing attire, leaving Harry staring after her, utterly perplexed.
Deciding that it was best not to get into it, Harry decided that it was best to follow her example and get changed in the opposite changing room.
Luckily for the pair, they had chosen an evening when the bathroom was empty, meaning that they had it all to themselves for the evening. That meant they could spend as much time as they wanted to figure out the clue within the egg. And, if they managed to work it out quick enough, they could always take some time to enjoy the luxuries available to them. No one said this trip had to be purely about the egg, and Harry was eyeing up a particular hot tub in the corner with anticipation.
Harry quickly undressed his robes, revealing the baggy t-shirt and swimming trunks he was wearing underneath. He folded the rest of his clothes, along with his cloak and threw them into a pile in the corner of the changing room. Making sure that the egg was securely shut, he picked it up and walked out to the edge of the pool-sized tub. He settled it on the rim, making sure it couldn’t fall in and waited for Hermione to make her entrance with the rest of their equipment. Very soon, he would know exactly what he was up against for the Second Task and they could finally begin to train and prepare. Harry was far more confident now than he had been before the first task, what with the extra foresight and experience he now had. He just hoped he wasn’t going to have to fight the giant squid - he doubted a firebolt would be much use underwater.
The sound of soft footsteps against marble caught his ear, alerting him to Hermione’s arrival. Harry turned around to greet and froze. In an instant, he felt his brain short circuit. His eyes struggled to comprehend what he was seeing.
Hermione was standing on the other side of the tub, with her charmed notepad and quill in hand, wearing a simple one-piece bathing suit. No shorts or t-shirt, or anything else to cover her.
Harry honestly didn’t know why his head was having such a crisis. Most girls her age wore stuff like this to the beach all the time. What else was she supposed to wear? It wasn’t like she was going to sneak a full scuba suit under her robes. Besides, her swimming costume was absolutely nothing scandalous or revealing, in fact, it was quite conservative. There was no reason for him to be so overwhelmed.
Except for the one tiny, little fact that it was Hermione who he was seeing in that bathing suit. It wasn’t some stranger that he hardly knew, to who he had no connection to nor emotional context for. This was someone who he cared for deeply, someone who he trusted. He knew her, or rather he thought he did. Despite her claims to the contrary, seeing her now with so little hidden, Harry knew she was more than just pretty, she was absolutely gorgeous. Just one look at her was evidence enough that Hermione Granger was most definitely a girl. If seeing Hermione in a dress was a revelation then this was the answer to life itself.
Harry stood statuesque for an embarrassing amount of time. In truth, he would have stayed there forever, staring at his best friend, if he hadn’t noticed that his body was reacting against his will. Realising what that meant, he panicked. Before Hermione could spot the evidence, Harry vaulted into the tub, sending water splashing everywhere. Hermione swivelled on the spot to see what was happening, only to spy her friend’s bright red face bobbing on the surface.
Harry tried to play off his all-encompassing blush as a result of the heat of the bathwater. It must have worked to some degree because Hermione didn’t bring him up on it.
Desperate to get back to the purpose of their visit, Harry invited Hermione into the water. Stubbornly ignoring the grace with which she slipped into the tub, Harry reached over and picked up the golden egg. He carried it over to Hermione, staring at it intensely, compelling it to reveal its secrets. Giving each other a small nod, Harry slipped the egg beneath the surface of the water and reached up to the top and unlocked the mechanism. The egg’s golden shell fell open.
The pair braced themselves, expecting to be bombarded with a muffled scream as they two submerged themselves. However, to their surprise and great satisfaction, their ears were met instead with a choir of angelic voices. They were hearing Mermish the entire time! They were right! Their many hours of studying and investigation were worth it! And now they were able to enjoy the fruits of their labours, as the clue to the second task was recited to them in song.
“Come seek us where our voices sound,
We cannot sing above the ground,
And while you're searching ponder this;
We've taken what you'll sorely miss,
An hour long you'll have to look,
And to recover what we took,
But past an hour, the prospect's black,
Too late, it's gone, it won't come back.”
The moment they resurfaced, Hermione rushed to the edge of the bath and readied her waterproof notepad, reciting the verse under her breath as she went. She hastily scribbled down as much as she could remember, with help from Harry who supplied her with the lines that she had forgotten. Once they had a framework, they listened to the song a few more times, just to make sure they had everything jotted down correctly. Harry then closed the egg and set it back on the side of the bath.
The next few minutes were spent deciphering the song. The two worked through each line, picking apart what it meant for the next task and what he would have to do to succeed.
“It’s obvious that it’s going to set in the Black Lake,” Hermione mumbled to herself. “They’ll take something of yours, something that you’ll need to get back… only an hour to do it… it says you won’t get it back but I’m sure that’s just for dramatic effect. I doubt they’d steal something so important only to not return it once the task is done… then again I doubt whoever organised this mess really cared about the champions’ well-being enough to… So, you’re probably going to have to fight a few water creatures, Grindylows especially. There are lots of them down there, but we covered those last year with Professor Lupin, didn’t we? The giant squid shouldn’t be much of a problem, it never actually hurts students. Finding where you’re supposed to go might be tricky but there are spells for that… I think that’s all there is to note.”
Harry leaned in to get a closer look at her notepad, where the song was neatly transcribed in her handwriting. We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss. What would he miss that could be taken from him? Sorely missed, in fact. Its disappearance had to hurt, deep in his heart. What could he never imagine being without? He could think of a few things, like his firebolt, his invisibility cloak, his photo album. He dreaded thinking about any of those trapped underwater for any amount of time.
“It seems really simple now that we know what to do. And the task is on the 24th of February, which gives us… a little less than a month and a half to prepare. Well, that’s great!” she cheered. He turned to her just as she looked up from her notes. “Oh, Harry, that’s plenty of time to-“
Her voice died in her throat the moment they both realised just how close their faces were. Harry, suddenly aware of every atom of his being, sat stone-still, peering straight into Hermione’s eyes. Neither dared to breathe. The only movement in the room was small waves lapping against them, the soft running of water echoing in the background. Those small distractions faded away the longer he stared at Hermione’s gleaming face. And Hermione, similarly paralysed, did the same.
He briefly saw her gaze fall to his lips, then back up to his eyes. Her bottom lip disappeared as she softly bit into it, as she always did when in deep contemplation. Then all of sudden, she gasped, as if broken from a trance. Like a spooked doe, she quickly shuffled away, disturbing the waters as she went. Similarly startled, Harry sat up, taking deep breaths as he fought to calm his beating heart.
“I, um-“ Hermione stammered, her ability to speak stripped from her.
“Yeah,” Harry breathed, agreeing to what she might have said. “So- um…”
The abrupt shift in mood left both teens floundering. Determined to at least say something, Harry stood up in the shallow waters.
“I’m going t- go sh-shower,” he announced through his shaking jaw.
“A-alright,” he heard Hermione’s reply meekly. “I will too, then.”
A few seconds later, Harry had yet to leave the bath. Giving up on trying to think of something else to say, he climbed out and briskly retreated to the changing room. He took a few minutes to have a small meltdown before shimmying out of his soaking trunks, drying himself off with a towel and dressing in his uniform.
By the time he reappeared from the changing room, Hermione had left the bath, probably to go change back into her robes just like him. Looks like his idea of spending some time relaxing in the prefects’ bathroom had gone out of the window. He waited as the minutes ticked on, pacing back and forth, trying to think of something to say that would ease the tension between them. Nothing came to mind. Useless brain. What had it ever done for him recently?
He had hoped that things would go back to normal once they were reunited, both fully clothed, but like many of Harry’s hopes, it was quickly dashed. The walk back to the common room was akin to torture. It wasn’t as awkward as Harry feared it might be, but there was certainly this feeling between them now, this charge that neither could ignore. Conforming to Hermione’s body as they walked was now so very sensational, knowing what was hidden underneath those baggy robes of hers. He could barely look her in the face without being reminded of their staring contest. Because it was only a staring contest, right? It wasn’t like it could have led to anything else, right? Something more…
Harry shook his head, forcing the subsequent images out of his head. This wasn’t working. No matter what he did, his thoughts always returned to Hermione, how she was right beside, walking alongside, so close that he could reach around her and-
‘ STOP IT! ’ Harry cried out in his head. ‘ Oh, god, am I ill? Am I possessed? What’s happening? ’
This just wasn’t like him. He had never had these kinds of ideas about Hermione before. Until recently, he had only wanted her as a friend. They were happy that way. Now, however, he couldn’t stop thinking about what if? What if they weren’t just friends? What if he wanted more? What if he wanted her in a different way?
‘ And what way would that be, huh? ’ Harry interrogated his own brain. ‘ What would that be? Nothing improper, I hope? Or weird, perhaps? it definitely can’t be about how close she is to you right now, how very, very close and how her warm body makes you want to lean into her and just- oh, for God’s sake, even my conscience is turning against me. I really must be mad. ’
Harry continued to battle against his own inner monologue when Hermione suddenly grabbed him. He threw his arms out randomly to stabilise himself as he felt a hand push against his chest. He was about to ask what was going on when he saw a small, skinny, dust-coloured cat with bulging yellow eyes sitting on the stone tiles right in front of them. Mrs Norris, Harry recognised. The pair stood as still as they could possibly be as Mrs Norris blinked at the spot where they were standing. Neither Harry nor Hermione dared to move, to breathe, frozen under the cat's supernatural glare. After a tense few moments, the cat huffed and trotted down the hallway, having seen nothing.
Once they were sure that wretched cat was nowhere to be found, they let out a collective sigh of relief.
Now was the time where he would congratulate her profusely for her quick thinking and move on. That was how it would have gone, had it been the year before. However, now, at that moment, his brain was too busy hyper-focusing on the fact that her hand was directly on his chest, directly over his heart. Hermione had clearly noticed it too as she was staring at the offending hand in stunned silence. He could see her brain firing into overdrive, just like his, trying to calculate the next move that wouldn’t end in… well, Harry’s mind refused to even imagine it.
To be perfectly fair to Hermione, though, it wasn’t like his hands weren’t also in a precarious spot. Somehow in his panic, they had instinctively wound themselves around her waist, pressing into her back and accidentally drawing her closer to him. They were truly wrapped up in each other. Their faces were possibly even closer than back in the bathroom, eyes gazing into each other, willing the other to make the next move. Whatever that may be.
Harry’s heart was racing despite the thrill of almost being caught by Mrs Norris being long forgotten by now. What’s worse, he was certain that Hermione could feel it through his chest. That little detail somehow made this whole scenario all the more intimate. He couldn’t hide from her, nor she from him. They were completely alone. No one would be able to interrupt them. No one would even know.
Anything could happen , a voice inside Harry’s head whispered. Anything at all.
He saw a similar battle of will in Hermione’s wide eyes as they studied his face. She was looking at his lips again. Harry didn’t even pretend to not know what was happening, what she was considering.
It took every ounce of will in Harry’s soul to loosen his hold of her body and step away. The moment was gone. Hermione too relinquished her grasp of him and put some distance between them. Rather, as much distance as the cloak would allow, so really, not much distance at all. What little space there was, though, made all the difference.
“I think we can go now,” he said dumbly. Hermione blinked, taking in a sharp breath.
“…Yes. Yes, I think we can.”
They didn’t speak again until they were standing in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait, only to speak the password. They didn’t actually address each other until they found themselves at the bottom of the staircase leading to their dormitories. That was usually when they said goodnight to each other before bed. It seemed neither of them was so far gone that they wanted to forgo that ritual.
The seconds dragged on as the two waited for the other to speak.
The pair clammed their mouths shut the instant they realised they had spoken over each other.
“Oh, no, you-“
Harry sighed. This was getting them nowhere. Why the hell was it suddenly so awkward between them? What was he so reluctant about? This was Hermione, for God’s sake. His best friend, someone who would never think little of him or hold anything against this, who always had his best wishes in mind.
This should be easy like it used to be. There was a barrier between them now, that made their smaller interaction fraught with tension. They had begun to second guess each other. Harry was determined to break that habit before it became a real problem. Clearly, words weren’t going to do either of them any good. That left only one thing for it. Harry looked at her and chose to throw caution to the wind.
He reached forward and, before Hermione could stop him, wrapped her in a firm hug, lifting her off of the ground as he did so. He heard Hermione squeal as he picked up her, and her arms wrapped around his back if only to hold on for dear life. Her body remained rigid in his grasp for a few moments, before eventually relaxing into the hug.
“What’s this?” she asked with a hint of mirth in her voice.
“Well, you’re always giving me hugs,” Harry explained as, whilst still holding her right against him, he put her down onto her feet, “so I thought I might as well return the favour. In fact, I think it’d be good if I do that more often.”
Hermione smiled brightly up at him.
“I’d like that.”
That unspoken thing between them was not exactly forgotten, just thrumming beneath the surface for now. He was okay with that, however, simply because he was so happy to have that familiarity between them back. To just hold her and not feel like he was breaking some sort of natural law. Harry could debate for hours over what that unspoken thing really was, but for now, he couldn’t care less. He was hugging his best friend and that was what mattered.
Their hands lingered as they drew apart, wearing the lightest dusting of blush on their faces. In stark contrast to their time in the bathroom, however, they didn’t shy away from it. They had nothing to hide anymore and Harry preferred it that way. As such, he was allowed to see Hermione’s broad grin as she ascended the stone staircase with an extra spring in her step.
Harry went to bed with that image in his mind, amongst… other images of Hermione that he really wished he could just ignore.
The next few weeks passed far too quickly, but Harry and Hermione were hardly idle. Being the thorough student that she was, Hermione was with him every step of the way in developing a plan to confront the lake. She helped him study up and practise a bunch of new charms to help him breathe underwater, one of them being the Bubblehead charm. On top of that, she also went around pestering anyone and everyone for tips and ideas.
She kept up this ravenous quest for knowledge until she managed to pry the idea of using Gillyweed out of a startled Neville Longbottom. He offered to try and procure some with permission from Professor Sprout. What Gillyweed was and what it did, he quickly found out during practise sessions in the lake. It was safe to say, it was not his favourite plant, but it was certainly useful.
Before he knew it, January had met its end and the days of February were rapidly devoured by the brief sunlight hours spent studying, reading, training and simply being with Hermione. They hadn’t directly addressed what had happened that night. At this point, Harry didn’t want to jinx it. He was just happy to be able to hold a conversation with her again without his face becoming a tomato or his legs turning to jelly.
If he could keep their relationship in this cosy safe space, then he would happily do so. However, as he soon came to realise, his attempts to keep everything the same were futile from the start. Something was changing between them, day by day and yet faster than he could process. Worse still, he was letting it happen- they both were.
It could be seen in their times together in the common room before bed, how they would sit together on the large sofa, large enough for three people at least. And how, every night, they were inching closer and closer together, with more and more of the sofa going unused. Neither acknowledged how much the distance between them had decreased because, in truth, they hardly noticed it. To them, it was just normal to sit next to each other even when there were other seats available. That was normal for two friends to do, right? To want to be close to one another? Harry certainly thought so.
From there, it progressed to other things. Small actions that slowly became habits without him noticing. Harry would often find himself pulling chairs out for her, putting her books away, handing her things like her bag and her quill, all without being asked. They just happened. it was like blinking to him, just something he did often and without question. He also discovered that he had a dormant ability to seek out Hermione’s hand and latch onto it. In turn, she always managed to fit her own hand perfectly into his, to the point where it felt like they had been doing it for years.
Over time, this prescience extended further. He slowly learned how to read Hermione as well as she read even the most advanced text. He could almost sense when she was tired after long sessions of study; he could pick up her slightest of agitations; he felt when she was happy, sad, angry and every emotion in between. In fact, he became so attuned to Hermione and her needs, that when he was alone, he almost didn’t know what to do with himself. He would feel strangely empty like something was missing.
The most curious aspect of this whole experience, however, was that it had happened in only a few short weeks. Well, actually, it had happened over the past four years and he was only paying attention to it now. He had always had these thoughts in his head, he realised. There had always been a part of him that felt connected to Hermione on a deeper level, just like how he always thought she was beautiful, but only now was he allowed to fully express it. Whether it had been the fact that Ron was always around, the distraction of more important matters or simply the fact that he had become less afraid to let that side of himself out, but now he felt comfortable in flexing this extra limb that he had kept behind his back all these years.
And Hermione, being the observant and rather brilliant girl that she was, had taken note.
At first, Harry could tell his pandering was a point of minor contention between them. Hermione didn’t want Harry to pull chairs out for her or hold doors open for her or carry her stuff, simply because she presumed it came from an antiquated manner, something he was using to impress her. However, after a while, she realised it wasn’t anything like that at all. It was simply Harry being more of himself. So, Hermione allowed herself to enjoy it, just a little bit. It didn’t take long after that for them to fall in a rhythm.
The effortless dance that he had only seen in their joint adventures now commanded every second of their time together. So they danced, tip-toeing around each other, not worrying about what the other might think. They knew each other, better than anyone else in the castle. Sometimes, Harry thought he knew Hermione better than he knew himself.
Except, there was one thing that Harry couldn’t decipher. This stare she would sometimes give him, identical to one she gave him in the bathroom. If he had to describe it, it was like she was tiring to work something out in her head and he had something to do with it. Her face would be suspended in between frustration, awe, fear, hope and… mischief, of the most evocative kind.
Too many emotions in a single look and yet it came across as this mask, behind which he could imagine a maelstrom of thoughts and ideas. Her eyes would stare right at him and yet a thousand miles away at the same time. It was an absolute enigma and it never left him.
Every time he asked about it, she had given him some short, meaningless answer and carried on, so he tried to ignore it. He would let it cook in the back of his head, only for it to ruin every subsequent time he bore witness.
Clearly, as much as he thought he knew Hermione like the back of his hand, he really hadn’t the first idea of what was happening in her head. He may never know, in all honesty, but that wasn’t going to stop Harry from trying.
The day before the second task crept on Harry, despite his preparedness and the constant reminders from Hermione. A part of him hoped that this day would never come, but alas it was here. Whatever dangers lay before him were fast approaching. He wasn’t alone though, and for that, he was eternally grateful.
Harry and Hermione sat together in the Common Room, studying the riddle once more to see if there was anything else left to find. Going through line-by-line, it seemed like there was nothing that they hadn’t considered already. He knew which spells to use, how much Gillyweed he would need, how much time he had and a basic route to take once he was in the lake. The only relatively unknown quantity left was what would be taken and that Harry couldn’t help but worry about. He remembered having to be reassured by Hermione that there was no chance that his wand would be used as the hostage. He had to be able to compete after all. The organisers of the Triwizard Tournament tournament may be grossly negligent but they weren’t sadistic. He hoped.
The clock passed nine o’clock in the evening when the portrait hole opened and Professor McGonagall made herself known.
“Miss Granger,” she addressed. “Professor Dumbledore would like to see you in his office.”
“Why would he want to see me at this hour?” Hermione pondered, glancing at the grandfather clock in the corner of the room.
“Is this about the second task?” Harry interjected, earning him a piercing look from McGonagall.
“It concerns only Miss Granger and the Headmaster, Mr Potter.”
“But- But why…”
Harry glanced at Hermione as a wave of anxiety tore through his body. A part of him screamed to grab Hermione and never let her out of his sight. The task was tomorrow after all. There were still a ton of things that they could go over again. And besides, what on Earth would Dumbledore need to talk to her about, anyway? Why only tell her now, just before curfew?
What if it was serious? What if it was about her family or something else outside of school? What if she had to leave Hogwarts? That couldn’t happen, she couldn’t just leave! He needed her! How could he-
A pair of hands clasped around his own, pulling him out of his thoughts.
“Harry,” Hermione’s voice called out to him. “I’ll be fine.”
He wanted to believe that, he really did, but he was still so worried. For no real reason, as well. Chances were, whatever Dumbledore wanted to talk to her about was of no consequence to him, but Harry couldn’t help feeling like something bad was about to happen.
Those past few weeks with Hermione had been so brilliant. He finally had something that he didn’t know he was missing. He didn’t want everything to suddenly change. He wanted to stay on this sofa with her forever, hand in hand, reading, studying or just talking. As long it was with her.
But of course, that wasn’t an option, so Harry swallowed his regrets and tried to put on a brave face.
“Okay. If you say so.”
Hermione saw through it instantly. She was looking at him intensely, biting her bottom lip, her brow furrowed. That was her worried face, one she reserved for thinking about him, worrying about him. He heard her sigh as she realised that McGonagall was growing impatient.
“Look, it’s getting late.” Resorting to her young ‘bossy’ tone, trying to comfort him. “You need your sleep for the task. Go to bed, and I’ll see you in the morning, okay?”
Harry tried his bed to sound convinced, even managing a smirk at her tone.
“Yes, ma’am,” he joked, happy to see that it made her smile.
Hermione made to leave, seemingly satisfied before she stopped. She reached over to him, gently cupping his cheek.
“You’re going to do really well,” she told him. “I believe in you.”
The absolute sincerity in her voice warmed in his chest. Like an inflated balloon, he sat up in his seat, feeling like he could run a marathon. He gave her a genuine smile in response, one that she reflected back at him.
From the other side of the room, the sound of a throat being cleared signalled that they really must be going. Hermione stood up and walked over to the Gryffindor head of house, ready to leave. She gave him one last smile as she was escorted from the room. He stared at the closed portrait hole for a few minutes, replaying her voice in his head again and again, until the echoes faded away and he was left in silence.
Despite Hermione’s encouragement, Harry stayed up for a while longer, reading about the creatures of the Black Lake. In that short time, no more than half an hour, he lost track of how many times his eyes instinctively wandered to his side, only to snap back to the page when he remembered that Hermione wasn’t there.
Realising that he wasn’t going to get anything else done tonight and that rest would help him more than reading at this point, Harry stood up from the sofa and went up to bed.
He dreamt of the dark and the depths he would have to venture into and the feeling of having a part of him torn out and stolen away. That part had a face and a name that he couldn’t quite see, but he knew it was important. It wouldn’t be until the following morning when he realised why.
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.
“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.
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.
This one is a little late, sorry about that. I didn't realise how big this chapter was going to be, I predicted that it would half the length at most. Well, clearly it didn't turn out that way, but I\m glad I put in the extra work to flesh out the story. Considering that this is a self-contained ficlet, I thought that having an inflated word count was worth making this feel more like a complete story, so I'm happy with how it turned out. I hope you all enjoyed Periwinkle, I had a lot of fun writing it. This is a very specific premise I've wanted to see explored for a while now and I'm happy that I got to do it.