Pairing: Harry/Hermione (spoilers for OotP)
Summary: “Be careful what you wish for.” One-shot.
Word count: 4,867
A/N: Many thanks to tome_raider and swatkat24 for encouraging me to dip my toe into the HP waters.
Be careful what you wish for.
Staring into the fire, Hermione Granger decided that she hated that particular Muggle cliché. For the last two months, there had hardly been a thought in her head that hadn’t included Harry Potter in one way, shape or form. For the last two months, her main mission in life had been to return to 12 Grimmauld Place so she – and Ron, she added hastily – could see Harry, make sure he was okay, then start preparing for what lay ahead.
Three days ago, her wish had been granted. She’d had two visitors in quick succession – an owl from Dumbledore, then Tonks – the result of which was that she was now sitting in the living room of 12 Grimmauld Place. Harry was sitting on the other couch, watching Ron and Ginny as they played a rather raucous game of chess. He was sitting no more than a few feet from her, and she’d never felt further away from him in her life.
She scowled at the fire. Be careful what you wish for, indeed.
They’d celebrated Harry’s sixteenth birthday this evening, a belated event given that he’d been with the Dursleys on the day itself. The party hadn’t been a great success, at least not in Hermione’s eyes. If it had been a success, perhaps the guest of honour wouldn’t now be glowering in a corner and looking as though he would bite the head off anyone who dared to come within three feet of him.
She sighed inwardly. This situation was becoming unbearable. They’d all been together at Grimmauld Place for three days now, and neither she nor Ron had managed to get more than polite small talk (if you could even call it that, she thought darkly) out of Harry. After the first day, they’d fallen into taking turns at trying to get him to talk to them, but neither of them had had much success. She was very, very tired of walking on eggshells around someone who meant so much to her, and she suspected Ron felt the same.
She glanced around the room. The party had dwindled to just Harry, Ron, Ginny and herself. Lupin, Tonks and Moody had left an hour ago, while Fred and George had made mysterious noises about an important midnight delivery to the shop and Apparated with a single crack soon afterward. The senior Weasleys were now upstairs, presumably asleep, although Mrs Weasley would no doubt be sleeping with one ear open, Hermione mused. All in all, it seemed like an opportune time to try to talk to Harry. Again.
Picking up her half-drunk bottle of Butterbeer, she rose to her feet and casually walked to where Harry was sitting, then dropped down beside him. “Hey, stranger.”
He darted a lightening quick glance in her direction, then looked away. “Hi.”
So much for the bright and breezy approach. Taking a sip of Butterbeer, she prepared to make some polite small talk of her own. “Having a good night?”
He shrugged. “I guess.”
His gaze remained fixed on the chess board across the room, but Hermione had the feeling that he wasn’t actually seeing it. She struggled against the growing twin feelings of resentment and frustration for a moment, then opened her mouth and promptly broke her cardinal rule of ‘think before you speak’. “It was good to have everyone together again, don’t you think?”
“Not everyone.” He turned to look at her as he spoke. When his gaze met hers, it was like having the wind knocked out of her. His eyes were dark with grief, his voice rough with pain, and she wanted nothing more than to rip out her own tongue. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
She had to clear her throat before she could speak, and her voice didn’t sound like her own. “I’m so sorry, Harry.” It was all she could think to say, but those three little words seemed so inadequate in the face of what she’d just seen in his eyes. She reached out a tentative hand, finding his where it lay on the couch between them. “I didn’t mean to…”
He blinked slowly, then an odd, almost blank expression stole across his face. It was as though a shutter had dropped in front of his eyes, and she felt the gulf between them widen as surely as if he’d actually put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her away. “I’m okay, Hermione.” He gently but determinedly disentangled his hand from hers, then got to his feet.
Painfully aware of the fact that she had just single-handedly made matters worse, she decided she might as well put her other foot in her mouth. “Harry, please don’t run away again.”
He flushed, then shook his head. “I’m not,” he muttered, not quite meeting her gaze. “I just need a…a…glass of water,” he said carefully. And, once again, she sat and watched him leave the room as though Voldemort himself was nipping at his heels.
Determinedly blinking back the tears that had been threatening to surface for the last three days, Hermione twisted her hands together in her lap and began to lecture herself ruthlessly. Stupid, stupid, stupid. What were you thinking?
She wasn’t thinking, that was the problem. Not since she’d arrived at Grimmauld Place to find that her best friend wouldn’t look at her, wouldn’t talk to her. During the seemingly never-ending weeks she’d spent at home, her head had been filled with plans and tactics and hopefully inspirational speeches, but none of that meant was of any use while Harry kept them all at arm’s length. She couldn’t do anything about anything until he talked to her. Until he talked to them, she amended silently, glancing across the room to where Ron sat playing chess with Ginny.
She sat and stared at the fire until the flames and wood and kindling began to blur. She still couldn’t believe she’d been such an idiot. The memory of Sirius Black permeated every inch of this house. Every single moment Harry spent was another painful reminder that his godfather was gone, and her thoughtless remark had been no different. No wonder he ran away from me, she thought miserably.
Eventually, she became aware of someone standing in front of her. “Where’s Harry?” Ron asked in a low voice. Frowning, she jerked her head in the direction of the kitchen, and she saw her own concern mirrored in Ron’s face. “Do you want me to, you know…?” He was doing his best to look enthusiastic about the prospect, but it was impossible to miss the longing glance he threw over his shoulder at the chessboard.
She shook her head. This one was her mess; she needed to be the one to fix it. “No, I’ll go.” As soon as she stood up, a relieved grin split Ron’s freckled face. He may as well have had ‘you’re so much better at this stuff than me, anyway’ written across his forehead, something that would have made her smile if she wasn’t feeling so miserable.
As she reached the kitchen door, she heard the unmistakable sound of breaking glass. Her heart suddenly in her mouth, she pulled her wand out of her jeans pocket and pushed open the door. Harry was standing by the sink, his hands empty, the water still running. He looked at her with dull surprise.
She glanced at the sink, then at him. “What happened?”
His eyes were red-rimmed, and his glasses were slightly crooked, as though he’d pulled them off, perhaps to wipe his face. “I dropped a glass.” His tone was calm, but there was a sharp edge beneath his words that made her heart ache.
She studied the pile of shattered glass that lay on the floor. It was a good five feet from where Harry was standing, and looked as though it had been thrown against the wall with great force, rather than accidentally dropped.
Doing her best to hide her unhappy thoughts, she slipped her wand back into her pocket, moved to the sink and turn off the gushing tap. Silently cursing the underage Wizard Laws, she searched the cupboards until she found an old dustpan and brush. She could only assume they had once belonged to Kreacher. She tried not to dwell on that fact.
“You don’t have to do that.”
Harry said nothing further as she swept up the broken glass, but she felt his gaze on her. Every time she looked up, however, he was looking anywhere but in her direction. Finally, after she tipped the glass into the dustbin, she fixed him with what she hoped was her sternest glare. “What’s wrong, Harry?”
A hunted expression flickered across his face, then he shrugged, stepping away from the sink, putting more distance between them. “I don’t want to talk about Sirius.”
“But this isn’t just about Sirius, is it?”
His gaze narrowed. “I don’t want to talk about it, Hermione.”
Hermione felt something – her patience, she suspected – snap inside her. “Fine. Have it your way. We’ll talk about something else.” She took a step toward him, her voice brittle as she began to toss meaningless platitudes at him. “Lovely weather we’re having lately, don’t you think?”
He scowled. “Hermione…”
She took another step toward him. “How do you think the Cannons will do this season, Harry?”
“This is stupid - ”
She cut him off, taking another step toward him. “I agree. Read any good books lately?”
The dullness had faded from his eyes, only to be replaced by the glow of anger. “Why are you doing this?”
She threw up her hands. “Because I want you to talk to me. Because I don’t know what else to do!” Her voice cracked on the last word, and she took several deep breaths that did absolutely nothing to calm her thoughts.
There was an awkward silence, then he shrugged. “I’m sorry.”
Despite his words, he didn’t sound particularly apologetic, and Hermione felt the spark of her anger re-ignite. “I don’t want you to apologise to me, Harry. I want you to tell me what’s wrong.”
“What makes you so sure something’s wrong?”
She looked at him sadly, wondering if it was possible that he didn’t realise just how much he’d withdrawn from them all, if he really didn’t know how worried everyone was about him. “Because I know you, Harry.”
His expression tightened. “You know what, Hermione? I’m sick and tired of people telling me that they know me.” Stung by the bitterness in his voice, she could only stare at him, her heart pounding a slow, almost painful tattoo against her ribs. “You want to know what’s wrong?” He smacked his palm hard against the nearest cupboard door, making her jump. “I just turned sixteen but I’m still treated as though I’m a child.” Every single word sounded as though he was forcing it out through clenched teeth. “I have NO idea if I’ll live to see seventeen, and EVERY single person around me seems to think that they know what’s best for me!”
Hermione swallowed, trying to dislodge the sudden lump in her throat. “I said that I know you, Harry,” she replied in a small voice. “Not that I know what’s best for you.”
Her answer seemed to deflate him. His shoulders slumped, then he put his hand to his forehead. She watched in silence as he pressed two long fingers against his scar, biting her lip to stop herself from asking if it was hurting. After a long moment, he sighed. It was a heavy, sad sound. “I’m sorry.” He lifted his head, finally meeting her eyes. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
It was a very different apology from his last attempt. She took one more step, closing the distance between them. “Please tell me,” she whispered pleadingly.
He hesitated, then shook his head. “I just can’t.”
“It’s about him, isn’t it? About Voldemort.”
She held her breath, the loathed name hanging between them like a challenge. Misery flickered in Harry’s eyes, but he just shrugged and looked away. “Isn’t it always?” he asked quietly.
The lump in her throat was back with a vengeance. He sounded so young, so much like the eleven year-old boy he’d once been that she had to blink to make sure she was still looking at a sixteen year-old Harry. Then, just as she’d done in the living room, she reached out her hand, trying to bridge the gap between them. Grasping his hand in his - the hand that still bore a faint reminder of Umbridge's detentions - she squeezed it, hard, her mind racing. She did know Harry. She knew that if she could make him laugh, that would be half the battle won. “If you keep this up, Harry, I’m going to have to start thinking that Rita Skeeter was right.”
He blinked, then frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean if you think for one minute that any of us are just going to let you walk off into the sunset to face Voldemort alone, then that scar really has addled your brain.”
He stared at her for several seconds, then the corner of his mouth twitched with a hint of a smile. Encouraged by the sight, she gave his hand another squeeze and went on, careful to keep her words lighthearted. “I mean, I’d hate to admit that the old bat has been right all this time, but I can’t think of any other reason you would suddenly decide that you don’t need to talk to any of us.”
His smile faded, and that hunted expression crept across his face once more. “I have been talking. We’re talking now!”
She’d never wanted to shake some sense into anyone more in her life. “We’re only talking now because I came chasing after you and you’ve said more to me in the last three minutes than you have in the last three days!”
They glowered at each other for a long moment then, to her surprise, he smiled. It was a wan smile and it didn’t reach his eyes, but it was a smile nevertheless. “You’re not going to slap me, are you?” he asked lightly.
She felt the air rush out of her lungs in a giant whoosh of relief. “Of course not,” she assured him hastily, very glad he hadn’t been able to read her mind a few seconds earlier.
“Good.” The half-smile became a smirk. “Because I’ve seen you in action with Malfoy and…”
“Oh, you -” Before she had time to think about it, she was flinging her arms around him. He staggered slightly under her weight, but she was too happy to care that she might be crushing him. All she cared about was that he was talking to her again and he was letting her hug him without turning into a stone pillar in her arms.
“We’re all in this together, whether you like it or not,” she told him shakily, her voice muffled against his shoulder, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist. He’d grown taller over the summer, but he was still far too skinny – she could have traced the outline of his ribcage with her fingertips. She scowled at the thought. Just when she’d decided that she couldn’t hate the Dursleys any more than she already did, she discovered that she could. “I’m sorry, Harry. I didn’t mean to push you. It’s just that - ”
She felt him pat her on the back a few times, his touch endearingly awkward. “It’s okay.”
She sniffed loudly, teetering on the brink of losing the struggle to keep her tears at bay. The last thing she wanted to do was to blubber all over Harry. She knew that a sobbing female definitely wasn’t on his list of favourite things. “You don’t have to tell us anything until you’re ready.”
“But I thought that’s what you wanted!” He sounded completely bemused, as though she’d just attained the status of Confusing Girl in his eyes and he wasn’t quite sure what to think about it. “What was all that about, then?”
She grinned, safe in the knowledge that he couldn’t see her face. “You might be the hero of the Wizarding world, Harry, but you can be such a prat sometimes.” A tremor shook his body, and his snort of laughter was loud in her ear. She tightened her arms around his waist and hugged him again, her pulse quickening when she suddenly realised he was hugging her back just as tightly.
It was as though a flashing neon ‘danger’ sign had suddenly gone off inside her head, activating her well-worn sense of self-preservation. This is not a Good Idea. Too close, much too close. Flustered, she pulled away, trying to disentangle herself gently from the embrace. “Let’s go challenge those Weasleys to a game of Exploding Snap.”
When she started to turn away, she felt his hand on her arm. “Hermione?”
His eyes locked with hers, and she felt an odd lurch in the pit of her stomach. “Thank you.”
He looked faintly sheepish. "Some party, hey?"
Buoyed by an almost violent sense of relief, she was seized by an impulse she couldn't resist. Leaning closer, she brushed her lips against the smooth skin of his cheek. “Happy Birthday, Harry,” she whispered. The scent of soap and warm male skin washed over her, making her feel strangely lightheaded. It was a scent that was at once alien and strangely soothing. Her lips were tingling. She’d impulsively given Harry the exact same kiss at the end of Fourth Year. Why then, she wondered with a faint sense of panic, did this one feel so different? She had hugged him countless times, so why was she now uncomfortably aware of being pressed against him from shoulder to knee and that she could feel the warmth of his body through her clothes?
Realisation dawned with a mighty thump. Oh, no. This is Bad. This is Very Bad Indeed.
Clearing her throat, she pulled back slightly, frantically trying to think of the best words to diffuse the awkwardness that suddenly had enveloped them. “Sweet sixteen, and all that,” she joked feebly.
Harry said nothing. He just kept studying her, his expression one of intense concentration. It was, she realised with a start, the same look he had when he wasn’t wearing his glasses and was trying to make sense of the blurred world around him. Which was ridiculous, of course, because he was wearing his glasses and could see her perfectly well.
Then his hands were cupping her face, his palms warm against her skin. Startled, she opened her mouth to speak only to find her mind was a blank. He was so close that she could see herself in his glasses. Her heart pounding, she stared at him through her own reflection, a hundred thoughts hurtling through her head. The day in Second Year when she’d overheard Lavender and Pavarti giggling about snogging and how the logistics of it all had baffled her; the relief she’d felt the night of the Yule Ball when Viktor given her nothing more than a gentlemanly kiss on the hand. The butterflies that burst into life in her stomach when she’d first hugged Harry in this very house last year. The way she felt when she was with him. The way she’d always felt.
Then Harry’s lips touched hers and she stopped thinking altogether.
It was a tentative kiss, shy and sweet and chaste. It also made her wanted to sink into Harry and forget everything outside the kitchen door. The ever-present little voice in her head, having recovered from its initial shock, started telling her that this was a very bad idea and that now was not a good time to be doing any kissing, particularly with Harry, and definitely not a good time to be doing any sinking. Even if she knew how to sink, which she didn’t, it added smugly.
Then Harry’s hand curled slowly around the nape of her neck, his thumb brushing against her jaw, and she stopped listening to the little voice and leaned instinctively into his touch, tilting her head to one side. When his lips softly parted, she blindly followed where he led, aware of nothing more than the feel and the taste of him and the sound of the blood roaring in her ears. When his teeth scraped against her bottom lip, her breath caught in her throat. When the tip of his tongue touched hers, her whole body was suffused by a rolling wave of heat that instantly shocked her out of her languid torpor. Literally tearing herself out of his arms, she took two hasty steps backward, her palms pressed against her hot face.
They stared at each other in silence, Harry apparently as lost for words as she was. Distracted by the violent pounding of her heart, it took her a few seconds to notice that Harry both looked and sounded as though he’d just run a Muggle marathon. His face was flushed, his breathing ragged.
After several painfully awkward seconds, she finally found her voice. “What was that?”
He looked at her, his eyes bright, almost feverish. After a few seconds, a shaky half-smile tugged briefly at the corner of his mouth, then faded. "And you’re supposed to be the smart one,” he said teasingly, his voice not quite steady.
“You know what I mean,” she snapped at him, suddenly furious and more confused than she’d ever been in her life. “What – was - that?” She could feel her eyelids prickling, and prayed that she wouldn’t burst into tears.
Harry ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end even more than it already was. He looked at the floor, the kitchen table, then finally he looked at her. “I’m not sure.” His eyes frantically searched her face, as though he might find the answer in her expression.
Hermione closed her eyes in despair. This wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Not now, not yet. But it had happened and now she wanted to put her head inside the nearest charmed cupboard and scream until her throat was raw. She wanted to walk up to him and throw her arms around him and tell him how she felt about him. How she’d always felt about him, even before she was old enough to understand her own heart. She wanted to tell him that she would die before she’d let anything happen to him.
But she didn’t. After all, hadn’t she decided a long time ago that she had no right to selfishly indulge her own emotions while Voldemort’s shadow was still hanging over their lives? Her feelings for Harry were her painstakingly nurtured secret and were something to be kept until later - much later - no matter how much it pained her to see him pining over another girl or how a little part of her died every time he was hurt. Her plan had worked beautifully for over three years, and she would be damned if she was going to ruin all her hard work by doing something as silly as telling him the truth.
Easy to decide, harder to do, she thought in despair. “You’re not sure,” she repeated flatly, trying desperately to buy herself some time.
He shot her a pleading look. “Are you sure?”
She hesitated, knowing she should blame their kiss on temporary insanity, too many Butterbeers, the fact she had been channeling Lavender Brown…anything. She opened her mouth, praying for inspiration, and suddenly the truth was there, on the tip of her tongue, tumbling out of her mouth. “I am.” She blinked, not quite able to believe what she’d just said, hardly daring to meet Harry’s eyes to see the impact of her words.
He was staring at her, his mouth slightly agape. “You’re…”
“…sure.” To her dismay, the words just wouldn’t stop falling out of her mouth. “Quite sure, actually.”
Harry couldn’t have looked more shocked than if she’d announced she was joining the Gryffindor Quidditch team as a new Beater. Her stomach flipped over unpleasantly, and she was suddenly filled with the desire to flee, and quickly, before his dazed expression could turn to dismay.
“It’s okay,” she added briskly, vaguely pleased that her voice sounded normal. “You don’t have to do anything about it. I just suddenly thought I should tell you. Sorry about the bad timing.” She knew she was babbling, but it seemed that her mouth just wouldn’t shut. At this moment in time, she could scarcely believe she’d once been awarded points for the cool use of logic in the face of danger. “Shall we go back to the living room?” She turned to leave, but his voice stopped her in her tracks.
“What if I wanted to do something about it?”
Her heart did a strange little jig, then she slowly turned back to face him. He still appeared slightly shell-shocked, but now there was a look in his eyes that made her feel as though someone had reached into her chest and squeezed her heart. Did he have any idea that he had just offered her everything she’d ever wanted on a silver platter? She doubted it. She folded her arms across her chest, more to hide the fact that her hands were shaking than anything else. “Do you?”
He looked more bewildered than she’d ever seen him. “I – uh – I don’t know. I’ve never -” He broke off and stared at his feet, rubbing the toe of his trainer over an non-existent spot of grime on the kitchen floor. “But we – uh – that didn’t feel wrong to me,” he said finally, glancing at her rather shyly.
She wished he hadn’t said that. She wished he would stop looking at her like that. It made sticking to her resolve so much harder. But she wasn’t in Gryffindor just because she was good at Charms, she reminded herself desperately. Gathering up every scrap of her willpower, she walked back to his side to take his hand in hers. “I know,” she said softly, wishing she didn’t have to say what she was about to say. “But you can’t. We can’t. Not with everything else that’s going on.”
He looked down at his feet again, and was silent for so long that she began to think he wasn’t going to answer her. But eventually, after contemplating his trainers for what felt like an eternity, his gaze lifted to study their linked hands, then met hers once more. “You’re right.”
Hermione couldn’t remember ever before hating being told she was right, but there was obviously a first time for everything. She flashed him a bright smile, unhappily aware that her careless words had changed everything and that there was no going back.
“What about afterwards?”
She shot him a startled glance. “What do you mean?”
“What about afterwards?” His voice was soft as he repeated the question, but there was a curious gleam in his bright green eyes.
Afterwards. Her chest felt tight. Whatever secret Harry was keeping, it was bad enough to make him hide away from the people who loved him most. For all her brave words, she knew that ‘afterwards’ might be a very long time coming - if it ever came at all. The words seemed to scratch her throat as she spoke. “Anything is possible.” It wasn’t quite a vow, or even a promise, but it was enough.
Harry looked at her for a long moment, then he nodded, his expression rather serious, as though he’d just made an important decision. “Good,” he said softly. “Good,” he said again, almost talking to himself, then started to pull her toward the door. “Come on. There’s something I need to tell you. Ron and Ginny, too. I hope they’re still awake.”
“I’m sure they will be,” she murmured somewhat automatically, her heart starting to pound once more. Be careful what you wish for. He was going to tell them. Her mouth went dry. She had desperately wanted him to share whatever secret was tearing him up inside, and now that he was about to do just that, she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it. She wasn't sure she was ready to know just how close she might come to losing him.
When they reached the kitchen door, he turned to her. He looked as though he wanted to say something else, but didn’t know where to start. Hermione bit her bottom lip, not trusting her own voice. Everything had changed. Once they left this room, things would change even more. Finally, he tugged on her hand, pulling her closer. The feel of his lips brushing her forehead made her want to run through the house, skipping through the dusty hallways, yelling at the top of her lungs.
But she didn’t. That was something else to be kept for afterwards. Squeezing his hand, she let him lead her from the kitchen.