A/N: Hi! This chapter is from Hermione's POV, the first and most probably the last one. I thought it would be nice to see what's on that brilliant mind of hers. Enjoy!

CHAPTER 8: First Dates and Unvoiced Reservations

Hermione stole another glance at the young man walking beside her, one of many since they had had breakfast at the Great Hall that morning. He was staring at his feet with a frown on his handsome face. If Hermione didn't know any better, she would think that Harry hadn't walked in snow before, what with the way he was watching his feet turn snow into muddy water with every step. If it hadn't been for the excited chatter of the students around them, they could even hear the squishy sounds.

It had been nearly fifteen minutes since he last said a single word to her or Ron. Hermione turned her eyes to her red-headed friend walking at the other side of Harry. He had also given up on trying to strike a chat to cheer Harry up some minutes ago. When Ron shrugged at her questioning stare, Hermione sighed and looped her arm through Harry's, jerking him into reality.

"Ron, how about we meet you at the Three Broomsticks in an hour? I'd like to take Harry somewhere."

In a normal day, this request would surely draw some teasing from the boys but this was not a normal day and Ron was aware of the situation as well as Hermione was. So, he just nodded in a knowing way and pointed towards the general direction of the shops with his thumb,

"No problem, I will meet you at Three Broomsticks, then." He briefly clapped Harry on the back and winked at him in a last attempt to cheer him up, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Well, maybe Ron was still Ron no matter how serious the situation was.

Hermione turned to Harry without waiting for Ron to disappear from sight. She was half expecting, hoping, to see that mischievous glint in his eyes but he wasn't even looking at her.

"Come on, Harry." Her hand clutching the crook of his arm tightened as Hermione started walking in the opposite direction of where Ron went. "I think we have some things to talk about."

After a few minutes of walking, leading from Hermione's side and following without a question from Harry's side, they arrived at the most secluded place in Hogsmeade, the Shrieking Shack. Although for them, the place was now only a reminder of their third year, it was still a mysterious and scary house for the villagers and the students.

Hermione pulled Harry under a pine tree, careful not to disturb the snow-covered lower branches as she rested her back against its trunk. This was becoming their heart-to-heart position lately.

"So, tell me. No wait," Hermione reached out to Harry who was sitting beside her in a similar position and gently turned his face towards her. Her hand lingered on his chin, her fingers lightly caressing his slightly stubbled cheek. She smiled when Harry subconsciously leaned into her hand, his eyes were closed. Hermione waited for them to open and when they did, she leaned forward, capturing his gaze with her own, "Now tell me, what's going on?"

She was half expecting his denial but he just took a deep breath and answered with a soft voice. So soft, if they weren't sitting side by side, she wouldn't hear a thing. "Why can't I forget? Why can't I move on, Hermione?"

He hadn't averted his eyes yet, so of course, she didn't either. Why would she look away from such beautiful eyes?

Hermione caressed his cheek once again before dropping her hand to hold his, "Because it's too soon." She whispered, her tone matching his.

"But what if I never can? Then, you can't either. Sometimes I wonder if it's better if I-"

"Better if you go away? Leave us?" When Harry nodded and finally averted his eyes, Hermione squeezed his hand, trying to make him look up again. It didn't work. "Firstly, I wouldn't allow that. Secondly, that wouldn't work. No matter how far away you are, I would continue to think about you. It would only cause more worry and hurt… And it would make my nightmares worse."

That did the job, Harry's eyes flew up to meet hers, "Nightmares?"

"You think you are the only one who has them? It wasn't just your war, Harry. We fought, too. We saw things that affected us, too. Do you really think you're the only one who has nightmares about the war? About losing someone you love?"

He didn't answer but the perturbed look in his eyes was enough to make her continue, "If you go away, the nightmares won't leave us alone. I know that you check the Map after a nightmare to make sure that we are all safe."

"How do you-"

"I know you, Harry. I know you so well it's like having a second body. Now, imagine me. My only way of knowing is seeing you. I like having you waiting for me in the morning after a night full of nightmares. What would I do if you weren't there? Not knowing where you are, if you are alive or healthy or happy? It's already a nightmare in itself."

Harry blinked rapidly at her words, it was apparent that he wasn't expecting an answer like this. Hermione's heart broke at his expression. He really had no idea how much he was loved.

'He doesn't allow himself to realise.' Hermione's thought startled herself. He didn't know but he should. He deserved all the love in the world. And she wasn't sure if she was the best person to provide that for him. 'Maybe not the best but certainly the most convenient one.'

"Hermione..." Harry sighed, he almost sounded defeated and Hermione hated that tone on him.

"So, the answer is no, Harry." She continued, turning her eyes towards the Shack. It was still standing tall despite all the things it went through, almost like it was mocking the time. In a way, it was like them. "Your going away wouldn't heal us. Out of sight out of mind, huh? Total bullshit."

"I can't help but think that you are going through this because of me. If I wasn't born-"

"Then, Voldemort would still be alive." She could feel Harry's stare at the side of her face but she defied its effect by keeping her eyes ahead. There were some things he needed to hear and in order to keep herself together, she shouldn't meet his eyes… yet.

"Can't you see Harry?" She started once again after taking deep breath, the sharpness of the winter cold in her lungs soothing her. "If it weren't for you, Voldemort would still be here. You didn't make him who he was. The world was already fighting him, your parents were already fighting him before you were born."

She paused to take another deep breath, almost expecting Harry to interfere. But he didn't. Maybe deep down he knew he needed to hear this, too.

"If Voldemort hadn't chosen you as his equal and you had grown up as a normal boy, as normal as you can be in the middle of a war, do you think you'd stand back and let your parents fight without getting involved with the Order?"

She saw him shook his head from the corner of her eye, not that she needed his confirmation to know the answer to her question. "Of course, you wouldn't. It's impossible. You're too noble for that, too brave. Too Gryffindor?"

Hermione heard his small snort beside her. She couldn't help herself anymore and once again, turned her gaze to him. "You would still fight this war, not as The Chosen One but as Harry. Just Harry. And who knows where I would be without you. I'd probably die fighting somewhere in the castle."

"Don't say that. You are Hermione Granger. You are smarter than all of them combined, and powerful."

"I wouldn't be the same person if we weren't friends. You, and of course Ron, made me who I am."

Harry took a sharp breath, almost like her words had hurt him physically. "Do you think we wouldn't be friends if I wasn't the Boy Who Lived?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. That was the last thing she would think and she knew that Harry knew it, too. "Well I certainly didn't make friends with you because you were 'the Boy Who Lived'" She said, making air quotation marks around his nickname, "But circumstances pushed us together, don't you think? I would probably be in Ravenclaw, studying in a corner of the library while you were playing Quidditch and having fun with your friends."

"What does your house have anything to do with this?"

Hermione felt the warm tingles of a blush on her cheeks. He really was asking the wrong questions today, or maybe in this case, the right question that she didn't want to answer.

"The Hat asked me which house I'd want to be in and I said Gryffindor." She replied, "You already knew that."

"Yeah but what does it have anything to do with me?" Another bullseye question.

"Well, I… Promise me you won't say a word of this to Ron or anyone, otherwise I will never hear the end of it."

"Of course." Harry said, the eagerness that was missing all morning slowly appearing in his voice.

"Oh, you'll think it's cheesy."

"Now you're just trying to make me curious." Harry poked her side with his hand, "Just spit it."

"Okay, okay, no poking." Hermione laughed, pushing his hand away from her. She sighed and rested her head against the trunk of the tree, her eyes once again drawn to the battered building across from them. "The Sorting Hat said I could be in any house if I wanted to. Well, except for Slytherin but that's because of my blood-status, the Hat said I was cunning enough to make the House proud."

She saw Harry's raised eyebrows from the corner of her eye and closed her eyes. She really didn't want to see his judging look. 'Don't be silly. Harry never judged you and he never will.'

"And it said I could be in Hufflepuff, too. As you can guess, I can be pretty dedicated to the things I love."

"And people."

"Hmm?" Hermione asked, although she had heard him quite well the first time. She just didn't know how to answer to that.

"Go on, please." Harry said, obviously not comfortable enough to repeat his words.

"Well, you know about the Ravenclaw side of the story. Actually, it was the biggest option. The Hat didn't consider the other two that much. It just said I could be in them if I wanted to. Then, it asked if I wanted to be in Ravenclaw or in Gryffindor."

"And you chose Gryffindor."

Hermione nodded as she took a deep breath and turned to him. "I wasn't going to."

"What?" Harry's brows once again shot up in confusion.

"I was going to choose Ravenclaw. Because… Well, I won't be humble here, even then I knew my intelligence was above average. Maybe I was aware of it more than now. It was really the only quality about me I could be proud of. And that drove people away from me." Hermione felt the need to swallow before she could speak again. It did nothing to ease the pain in her throat.

She didn't want to cry, not now. Not when Harry was in such a bad mood. She looked up in an effort to keep the tears from spilling. All the while, Harry hadn't tried to fill in the silence and waited for her to compose herself patiently. Oh, how she loved the boy… 'As a friend.'

"I thought that if I was in Ravenclaw, I could make friends there. Nobody would make fun of me for raising my hand to every question or finishing my homework even before it was given." Her voice wasn't cracking which was always a good thing, "I knew my strengths. I was known for my smarts and grades, not my bravery. And the Sorting Hat hadn't said anything about Gryffindor or my qualities for that House, other than it thought I could do great things in both of the Houses."

Hermione quickly wiped her eyes, hoping maybe Harry wouldn't catch the movement if she was fast enough. Even if he did, he didn't comment on it.

"And then I saw you in the crowd. Ron was saying something to you but you were too mesmerised with the castle to do anything other than nod your head, and you looked a little lost. Like me. I don't know, I just knew that you were going to be in Gryffindor, so I found myself thinking I want to be in Gryffindor. And the next thing I knew, the Hat was shouting Gryffindor and here I am."

"And which part makes you think that Ron will make fun of you? You just told me that you are so perfect, even the Sorting Hat didn't know which quality of you was superior."

Hermione couldn't help the snort that escaped her, "Don't be silly, Harry. The Hat basically said that I had a little of everything and I would be good in Ravenclaw. He didn't even say I was brave enough to be in Gryffindor."

"That's the problem, isn't it? You think you were only in Gryffindor because you wanted to be. And you didn't tell anyone this story because you don't want people to think you are a Ravenclaw in a Gryffindor uniform."

"I'm sure it would make being accepted a little bit more difficult. And don't tell me Ron wouldn't like to rub it in my face anytime we had a fight."

Harry rolled his eyes, "You are right. He can be quite annoying in a fight."

Their light laughter filled the silence as they gazed at the Shack. Hermione felt Harry shift beside her and before she could process what was happening, Harry had plopped his head on her outstretched legs.

"You know what," he began as if nothing had changed and it wasn't his head resting quite intimately on her lap, "I think you have proven yourself a true Gryffindor with that move, 'Mione. You chose adventure over safety. Like you said, you could be a nobody with high grades but you chose to be Hermione Granger, the Saviour of the Saviour of the Wizarding World."

That made Hermione laugh.

"That could be my favourite nickname of yours. Maybe I should write an anonymous letter to the Prophet referring to you as that. I'm sure they would like to use it in their next article about you."

"Don't you dare." Hermione threatened as she poked his side.

"I may consider not doing it if you do that thing where you run your fingers through my hair."

Hermione bit her lip as her hands found their way in his unruly hair. His hair was really soft despite its wild look. "You are a prat. You know that, don't you?" She whispered.

Harry just shrugged as his eyes closed leisurely. There was a carefree smile on his lips which had been absent all morning. Hermione couldn't help her own smile, that was what she had been fighting for. Not just that morning but all these years. Just to see him smile this way.

He had nice lips. Hermione's eyes widened at the casual assessment. Of course, he had nice lips, she had seen, and felt, them up-close yesterday. And what an experience it had been…

But that was that one time. He hadn't tried to kiss her again after that incident. Of course, their near-death experience could have a part in that but Harry hadn't seem as shaken as her with the accident. He was more like dazed than shaken. Was that a good thing, that her kiss had left him dazed enough to lose control? But why hadn't he tried to kiss her again, then? Maybe he wasn't dazed but just confused. Maybe he hadn't felt the things she had and it had left him with question marks and he wasn't so sure about them anymore. Was that the real reason behind his dispirited mood that morning? Maybe he was dreading to have 'the talk' with her. Maybe she should make it easier for him. 'Don't be silly, Hermione. He is happy right now, isn't he?'

He might be happy right now but that didn't mean she was the only one who could make him happy. She was one of his best friends, of course he was happy with her.

Hermione sighed. Her eyes going over the features of the young man lying on her lap. She was going to make sure that he had what he deserved. Even if that meant that this wouldn't work out as she would like it to. After all these years, she was going to make sure that he would be happy. And she was going to be there right beside him, whether as his friend or something more.

"Is it selfish that I am glad I survived that night? When my parents... died." Harry's voice broke through her thoughts. His eyes were still closed but the carefree smile had left its place to a small frown.

Hermione chastised herself for her thoughts. Harry obviously had deeper problems than their so-called relationship. She had to focus on him now, and later, when she was alone in her bed, she could contemplate her own problems.

She carded her fingers through his hair, making sure to scratch his scalp soothingly just as she knew he liked. "Nothing can compensate for the loss of your parents. I won't even pretend that I understand what you are feeling right now but… I think the fact that you feel this way means that their sacrifice wasn't in vain. They died so you could live. I think this is exactly how they wanted you to feel. I'm sure they are up there watching you with content smiles on their faces, waiting to see what your life will be like from now on."

"You really think so?"

The hopeful look in his eyes was everything she needed to smile and nod her head, "And they have Sirius and Professor Lupin, too. They must be telling them everything about you. I'm sure they are proud of you, of what you have achieved with your life so far."

"I'm sure Sirius and Remus are telling them about you, too. I think they would love you. Especially my mum." Hermione felt the unmistakable warmth of a blush on her cheeks upon his words. And that grin… That lopsided, playful grin which never failed to make her heart beat faster. "From what I've heard about her, you two would get along."

"Really?" Hermione couldn't help the expectant question from slipping out.

Harry reached up to grasp one of her hands and brought it down to his chest. His fingers were once again back at their new hobby of playing with her palm and fingers till she could feel nothing but their tingle for hours afterwards.

"Yeah, think about it. You two were so alike. Remus told me she was the top of her class, she was Head Girl, you know? And she was smart, like you. And so loyal. She was the anchor of their friend group, just like you are ours. Sirius once said that she had saved their arses more than he could count." Harry's grin returned as he winked at her, "I guess she had a soft spot for lost boys, too."

"Oh, Harry."

"And of course, she was a Muggleborn, just like you." Harry added as an afterthought.

"I've always wanted to meet your mum. From what I've read and heard about her, I always thought she was an amazing woman." Hermione said, her hand which wasn't in his gentle grasp was now trying to smooth down his messy hair. She already knew it was a lost cause but her combing seemed to make the situation even worse.

"You read about her?" His surprised tone made her scoff.

"I read about anything and everything, Harry. Of course, I've read about Lily Potter. She gave me my best friend."

"I guess you are right. I shouldn't have even asked."

Harry's playful retort marked the beginning of another silence. Just as Hermione was about to suggest returning to the village, Harry's voice once again cut through the silence,

"Can I ask you something?"

Hermione looked down at the young man still lying on her lap, he was gazing up at her with sincere curiosity.

"Of course." As if she could deny him anything when he looked at her with those eyes.

"That day… Was that because of a nightmare?" He was speaking in that tone that he used when he was unsure of the territory he was stepping in. It usually happened whenever she was sitting under the great oak near the Black Lake. She didn't think he was doing it consciously but whenever he used that tone, she just wanted to reveal all her secrets to him.

"No, it wasn't. I just wasn't feeling good." Hermione lifted her gaze up to the grey sky once more, she couldn't feel the bite of the cold on her face anymore but when she took a deep breath, it cut through her lungs. Since the tent days, she had learnt to appreciate the cold air in her lungs, the sharpness of it was a reminder that she was alive. "It's just… Some days I woke up and just know that that day won't be a good one, you know?"

She could feel Harry's head moving up and down on her lap as a nod.

"Are your nightmares bad?" She asked, her eyes meeting his to detect any untrue answer, "Do you need help?"

This time Harry shook his head from side to side, making her wish he would speak instead of rubbing his head on her thighs. She would never say this to him, of course.

"I manage somehow." He murmured, "They come and go. I got used to them."

This time it was her who nodded her head, "Let me know if there is anything I can do." And before he could nod again, she freed her hand from his grasp to caress his slightly stubbled cheek, "I mean it, Harry. Talk to me."

Harry leaned towards her hand, his eyes closed at the contact. "Okay."


They stayed like that for a few minutes in total silence. Harry with his eyes closed, his cheek nestled in her palm and Hermione with her head resting against the trunk of the tree, eyes fixed on the cloudy sky, looking but not seeing. Hermione took a deep breath to spill what had been on her mind for weeks now, hoping that Harry would agree with her,

"When the year is over, I'm thinking of seeking psychological help, could be some kind of therapy, I don't know yet. And I don't know how or when or where but I think it will help." Hermione looked down at Harry to see his reaction to her words, his eyes were open but the only emotion she could discern was curiosity. "Maybe it can help you, too. I will research it, of course, and if you want, I can let you know."

Her voice had faded towards the end of her sentence. She had hoped that he would speak to fill the silence but he hadn't. After a few seconds of more silence, Hermione opened her mouth to say something, anything, to let the awkwardness pass but Harry beat her to it.

"What will we do? I mean, in therapy?" Harry asked, "I've never attended one. Is that even the right verb for it, I don't know?" He had knitted his brows in confusion. She thought he was cute which was totally besides the point of their conversation.

'Concentrate, Granger. He is interested, answer him.'

"Umm, actually I am considering Muggle therapy. So, there won't be any magic and potions and stuff."

"Why? Aren't there magical ways? Wouldn't it be faster?" He was really interested in the topic, she could see that. Harry wasn't one to ask many questions on topics he didn't care about.

"I know that there are mind healers but psychology is healed with magic in the magical world." Hermione started. She had thought about this so much, talking about it out loud now only felt like a repetition of her many inner monologues. "They use magic to push the memories that trouble you to the deepest corners of your mind. They sometimes even erase them. I don't know if I want my memories to be lightened. No matter how disturbing they are. I…" She paused for a second to gulp down the emotions settled in her throat, "I lived them for a reason, Harry. I don't want to forget the experience or repress them. I don't think it's healthy for my mind. I want to learn to live with them. So, I thought maybe I could find a wizard or a witch who works in the Muggle world as a therapist. I don't know, it feels like the better option."

She was babbling and she knew it but talking about this had felt like the dam had finally broken, releasing her thoughts to run free.

Harry didn't answer her at once. He was lying still on her lap, staring up at her with a look that made her feel like he was trying to read her. He most probably was.

"You want to be a healer, don't you?" He asked, she could hear the surprise in his tone but she couldn't discern the reason for it.

"I haven't decided yet but I'm thinking on it, yes."

"I can't believe I haven't asked you this before." So, that was the reason behind his bewilderment.

"I can't say that we had a lot of time to talk about our future, don't you think?" Hermione smiled despite the darkness of the circumstances. When her eyes met Harry's emerald ones, the bittersweet thoughts left their place to hope. "But we can talk about it now. What do you want to do after Hogwarts, now that you're finally free to grow up and be whatever you want?"

"When you put it like that it sounds too good to be true." One side of his lips tugged upwards, but instead of the usual playfulness, his smile was rueful. "I don't know what I want to do. Do you really think I can do whatever I want now? I can still feel their expectations on my shoulders."

She didn't have to ask who 'they' were. "They have no rights on you, they never did. You- We didn't fight this war for anyone, not any more than we did for ourselves. Do whatever you want to do and I will be right beside you, supporting you in every way I can. I promise."

We fought this war for no one more than we did for ourselves

"Even if I want to be a Quidditch player." Harry was grinning but Hermione could see the serious question in his eyes. He wasn't joking.

"Believe it or not but even that." He laughed at her words, "I think I would prefer it over you being an auror, to be honest. At least this way, I can keep an eye on you while you are trying to get yourself killed."

As his laugh left its place to a slight smile, he started chewing on his lower lip. Hermione wanted to run her thumb over his now slightly bruised lip but held herself back. He was trying to pull his thoughts together and she didn't want to distract him. And also, she wasn't sure if she was allowed to touch him like that.

'Come on, Hermione! You were snogging the boy not even a day ago and now you are not sure if you are allowed to touch him?'

"It would be nice." Harry's voice startled her from her thoughts.

Had she said any of that out loud? What would be nice? Before she could say anything, Harry saved her by speaking,

"I mean I would like to be a professional player but isn't it too… I don't want to be…"

"You don't want to be under the spotlight?" Harry nodded and Hermione raised an eyebrow, "Don't you think it's a little too late for that?"

"Yes, but I don't want to be famous anymore." Hermione could swear that she saw him pout a little before he got his emotions under control.

"Yeah, well, sorry but there is nothing we can do about it. You will be famous even a few centuries later." This time Harry didn't bother hiding his pout, making Hermione laugh and pat his cheek lovingly. "But look at the bright side, you can't be any more famous than you are now, even if you win a few dozen Quidditch cups."

"Gee, thanks 'Mione! That really helped." Although his tone was sarcastic, he was smiling.

"No, you missed my point. What I mean is, I think playing Quidditch wouldn't add to your fame as 'the Saviour of the Wizarding World'. On the contrary, it could even distract people from that. You can't get rid of the spotlight, Harry. I'm sorry but you'll always be famous. But why not change the lights to a colour you like. I mean-"

"If I'm going to be famous no matter what I do, why not be famous for something I'm actually good at?"

"Yes. Even if that thing is playing the deadliest sport in the world." Hermione finished.

"I think you're right. Alright, you are always right," he added as he saw her roll her eyes. "I'll think about it, okay? I have no idea how someone becomes a professional player. Do I need my N.E.W.T.S. at all?"

Hermione shrugged, she had never thought about the topic before as her athletic abilities were not eligible in terms of magical sports or many kinds of sports on that matter.

"Thank you." Harry smiled, as he took her hand resting against his cheek once again and left a chaste kiss in her palm that still managed to make her feel hot and bothered.

"You are welcome." Her voice sounded hoarse even to her ears. She cleared her throat before continuing, "I just hope I won't die from a heart attack when I see you play that bloody game every week."

"At least, I'll have my own personal healer this time, huh?" The prat had the audacity to wink at her after his comment. Didn't he know she was already feeling things, dangerous feelings, and that when he winked at her while holding her hand and lying on her lap, it did nothing to ease those feelings? Maybe he didn't know, she hadn't been that open about her feelings, had she?

'And maybe it's for the best.'

Although these last few days had been great, she still couldn't shake the thought of failing and losing Harry's friendship. It was too dangerous.

"'Mione?" Hermione's eyes met his. "Are you okay?"

"Hmm? Oh, fine. I'm fine." She replied quickly. Maybe too quickly for him to not get suspicious as the next move from Harry was sitting up and cupping her cheek. The concern in his eyes wasn't helping the dangerous feeling at all.

'Change the subject, Hermione. Make a joke or something.' Hermione took a deep, and shaky, breath before smiling,

"I'm fine, Harry but if you go around injuring yourself just because your best friend is a healer, and a mind healer at that, I can promise you that you won't be fine."

"My girlfriend."

"What?" The question left her mouth without her acknowledgement. Of course, she knew what he had said but she wasn't expecting him to say that.

Harry didn't repeat his words, he just smiled that lopsided grin of his, dangerous feelings, and stood up. Extending his hands to her, he motioned the village with his head,

"How about some butterbeer? We can continue later."

Hermione nodded as she took his hands to get help. Holding his hands had always felt good but now his touch was like electricity, spreading from her fingers straight to her brain, making her stop thinking anything other than him.

'God, what is he doing to me? And more importantly, what is he doing with me?'

The Three Broomsticks, with its many customers clustering inside, was the warmest place in Hogsmeade no matter the weather but Hermione was sure that if Harry was to remove his arm, which was cosily wrapped around her waist, she would shiver. But she didn't need to test her theory as Harry never let go of her waist when they entered the pub.

She was expecting him to release her, to be honest. Even though they had come to an agreement about hiding their 'relationship', they had done nothing to support that decision except maybe not kissing in public. Not that they had kissed in private apart from the Kiss of Death, as Hermione had come to call it.

She could see the back of Ron's head at a booth at the far end of the pub, his bright red hair was hard to miss even in the crowded room. Hermione touched Harry's shoulder to get his attention,

"You go ahead, I will get the drinks."

"I can come with you." Harry's arm tightened around her waist, making her insides tighten as well. Hermione gestured to the crowd gathered around the bar with her head,

"No need to make more crowd, I will be quick."

She could see the hesitation in his eyes but when she smiled and stepped away from his hold, Harry smiled back reluctantly and walked away.

Hermione let out the breath she was holding and approached the crowded bar.

Was it suddenly cold in there or was her brain playing tricks with her?

After placing her order of two mugs of butterbeer, Hermione turned her attention to the room, her gaze immediately got drawn to the booth her friends were sitting at. And she froze. There were more people than she had expected sitting with Harry and Ron and she didn't know most of them. She could see Seamus and Dean but there were also some girls. She couldn't discern who they were from the distance but she was nearly sure that she didn't know them personally. But it seemed like Harry was getting to know one of them. He looked genuinely interested in the conversation they were having, which was a very rare occasion with Harry and strangers, especially with girls he didn't know.

Hermione took half a step back and sat on the empty bar stool. This was the exact projection of her recent thoughts, doubts, expectations, whatever you'd like to call them. Harry's sudden interest with her had made her question the nature of his feelings at the beginning but she had somehow managed to repress them. Seeing him now with a new girl, smiling and seemingly happy with the interest, made the doubts resurface with a renewed force.

What had made him ask her out suddenly?

Their conversation from last weekend came to her mind, they had talked about the difficulties of finding someone who would see them as themselves, instead of the two thirds of the so-called Golden Trio. Could that be the reason? Did Harry think she was the only woman who could see and love the real Harry?

Hermione's eyes once again focused on Harry talking with the brunette. She was pretty. And she was funny from the looks of it, Harry hadn't stopped smiling for the few minutes she had watched them conversing. She wondered if Harry had ever smiled this much while he was talking with her. She certainly remembered laughing with him but she wasn't sure if it was her who made him laugh or if she was just there to witness his happiness.

'Don't be too harsh on yourself, Hermione. You are one of his best friends, of course, he enjoys your company.'

But wasn't that the problem. She was his best friend; did he really need her as his girlfriend in his life? Did she need him as something more than a friend? Were they together because they had a connection in a romantic sense or because it was easy, convenient, expected of them to be together? Could he be happy with another person? Could she be happy without somehow having him in her life?

She didn't know the answers to all of these questions except the last one. There was no way she could be happy without him. But was it necessary for them to be in a romantic relationship? Was it really worth the risk of losing him forever if things didn't work out?

Before she could ponder more about the endless questions swimming in her brain, Madam Rosmerta's voice broke through her thoughts. She took the mugs the older witch offered her with a distracted thank you and made her way towards the booth which held the source of her confusion.

As she came closer, she realised that there was no room for her at the booth. Before she could reach the table, Harry noticed her and made a move to get up. Hermione shook her head subtly. She didn't want to disturb his conversation with the new girl.

"It's okay." She said, summoning an empty chair from a nearby table as she placed the mugs on the table. "I got this."

"Wow, you can do non-verbal and wandless magic?"

The amazement in the girl's voice startled Hermione. She had forgotten where she was, it wasn't something she liked to do in front of other students. It made blending in harder when your peers thought of you as someone superior.

"Just a few spells." Hermione muttered, she could feel the heat on her cheeks. She hoped it was because of the temperature and not her blushing.

"More like any spell you can learn at Hogwarts and fifty more." Harry's words confirmed her suspicions, she was blushing to the roots of her hair. She just hoped they would chalk it to the warm temperature of the pub.

"Don't be ridiculous, Harry, I don't even know that many spells." Harry just raised his eyebrows which was enough to make Hermione roll her eyes and laugh, "Okay, you may be right."

"That's so cool." The unfamiliar voice of the girl reminded Hermione that they were not sitting under some tree and they were certainly not alone.

"Oh, I haven't introduced you." Harry broke in, "Hermione, this is Hazel. And Hazel, Hermione."

"Of course, I know who she is. Who doesn't? It's so nice to meet you." Hermione couldn't say anything as the girl, Hazel, grabbed her hand and shook it enthusiastically.

"Nice to meet you, too." Hermione heard herself mutter. She still wasn't accustomed to this kind of reaction from strangers and couldn't even imagine how Harry dealt with this since he was only eleven. Her eyes found Harry's sympathetic ones. He looked amused, to say the least, probably thinking the same thing as her.

Just as the silence between the three of them was growing awkward, Harry cleared his throat and gestured to Hazel,

"Hazel's sister is a chaser in Kenmare Kestrels and her father is the coach of Appleby Arrows." Harry said as if that was the answer to a question she didn't ask. And it was, in a way. It explained many things. Pretty girl with straight shiny hair who had an interest in Quidditch. It couldn't be any more obvious than that.

Harry's words from a few days ago echoed in her head.

"I'm not attracted to sporty girls. It was just a coincidence that both Cho and Ginny liked Quidditch."

Sure, he was not. Hermione suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. It was obvious that he had a type, he just wasn't aware of it.

Not knowing what to say to this information, Hermione smiled at the girl, "It must be hard to pick a side when they are playing against each other."

'Decent for a small talk about Quidditch, I guess.'

Hazel shrugged with a small laugh, "Well, as long as they're not playing against Puddlemere, I'm fine. When they do, things get ugly."

Hermione turned her gaze to Harry just in time to see his eyes sparkle at the mention of his favourite team. It wasn't everyday Harry found someone to discuss his team with, with Ron being a fan of the Cannons. She had got caught in the middle of many arguments between the two about whose team was the best. As far as she understood, Ron was thinking of Harry as a traitor for not choosing Cannons as his best mate. And it had been another blow to him when they had forced her to choose between Puddlemere United and Chudley Cannons and she had chosen Puddlemere (she liked blue more than orange).

"You support Puddlemere? Me, too." Harry's excited voice broke through her thoughts.

"Really? I guess this is the first time I'm upset Benjy Wiliams is so good. We don't even need a reserve when we have him. It would be nice to see you play for Puddlemere." Hazel winked, and something inside Hermione's chest tightened. She took a large gulp from her butterbeer in hopes of drowning whatever it was clutching her chest. It didn't help.

"Benjy Wiliams is the seeker of Puddlemere." Harry explained to Hermione, she appreciated his effort to keep her in the conversation but she was more interested in how Hazel knew Harry wanted to play professional Quidditch than who Benjy Wiliams was. Maybe they had been talking longer than she was aware of. "It's okay, I should aim for more reachable teams anyway. Like Cannons maybe? Huh, Ron?"

Upon hearing his name over the conversation he was having with Seamus and Dean, Ron raised his eyebrows and called back, "Oi! I don't know what you just said but that smirk tells me you have bad-mouthed Cannons again."

Hazel laughed at the boys' antics and bumped her shoulder against Harry's as she tried to reconcile, "He just said he could consider trying for them as a seeker." She turned and winked at Harry, "Right, Harry?"

Harry's answering grin in return made the clutch in her chest tighten. It felt like there wasn't enough air in the pub for her to continue breathing. She tuned out the conversation as they had started talking about Cannons' chance at being in the top four this year (Ron was practically yelling that they were at least in the top two). Her eyes once again got drawn to Harry. He was laughing at something she had no idea about. Probably something Hazel had said as he was looking at her direction.

Hermione took another sip from her butterbeer, just to keep herself occupied. She turned her gaze towards the window behind them. And her mind once again wandered to her previous thoughts.

Had he ever laughed like this when he was with her? Certainly not in the first ten minutes of meeting her. She had probably scared the poor little boy when they had first met. It took her years to get him to be this comfortable with her and here he was talking about his career choices with a girl he had just met. He looked happy with her, happier than he had been all morning.

'He is healing, of course, he is happy. Didn't you spend all morning trying to make him feel better?'

But was she the reason behind his carefree smile or this new girl, Hazel? Wouldn't he be happier with a girl like her as his girlfriend? It wasn't like they weren't going to be friends anymore, he could have a girlfriend that shared his interests and he could have her as his best friend who was always there to listen to him and maybe help him with his work.

'By interests, you mean Quidditch which he already said he doesn't care if you are interested in or not. And why would he need another girl if you are the one he wants?'

Hermione sighed deeply, it was so hard to reason with herself when there was so much distraction around her. She had to get out of there and find a quiet place to think.

"Hermione, are you okay?" Hermione jumped back to reality when Harry grabbed her wrist. She was clutching her mug so tightly, her knuckles had turned white. It was a good thing the mugs were unbreakable. She only nodded as her grip loosened.

"I'm good." Her voice was hoarse but at least it wasn't trembling.

"You wanna get out of here?" Harry asked, he was rubbing the inside of her wrist with his thumb, making it even more difficult for her to think. She wanted to get out of there but not with him. She had to be away from him to be able to think.

"I'm good, Harry. You don't have to leave because of me." She replied, taking another sip from her mug in order to move her hand away from his touch without drawing attention to it. Harry didn't seem to realise the intent behind her action as he smiled sweetly.

"Come on, let's take a walk. It's getting stuffy in here."

Hermione sighed and nodded. A walk was better than sitting here and getting drowned in her head. Maybe she could excuse herself and go back to her dormitory, she needed some silence to reflect on her thoughts.

As they were saying their goodbyes, Hermione saw Hazel quickly scribble something on a piece of parchment and hand it to Harry. But that wasn't the sole reason for the clenching in Hermione's stomach, it was also Harry's brief nod and tight smile. His uncertainty fuelled her certainty about the content of the parchment. She had given him her address so they could keep in touch over the holidays and Harry, being his loyal self, would never owl Hazel as long as he was with her. And she was also certain that she didn't want to affect his chances with the girl just because they were trying something.

When they were finally outside, Hermione took a deep breath of fresh air, welcoming the sharp, cold feeling in her lungs. She needed this to clear her head. But before she could fully recover from the fuzziness of the pub, she felt Harry's hand in hers, pulling her closer to him. She closed her eyes for a second, as the cold air suddenly felt heavy in her chest. She wanted to enjoy Harry's touch, wasn't this what she wanted from him all along, to be more affectionate? Why was it hurting to be close to him?

'Maybe because you know one day he will realise his feelings aren't really romantic and this will end. It's better if you don't get used to it.'

"So, should I find a tree or can we talk without sitting under one?" Harry tugged their joined hands to draw her attention.

"Huh? I'm sorry?" Hermione lightly shook her head, now was not the time to be thinking these things.

"What's the problem?"

"What problem?"

Harry stopped walking suddenly and pulled her to a nearby alley. As he leaned his back against the wall behind him, he tugged her closer until she was standing between his legs.

Oh, how she wanted to enjoy their closeness…

"I know you as much as you know me, 'Mione. I know something happened in there." Harry said. Hermione was sure if she were to look up, she would find his emerald eyes boring into hers. He had that look which always made her feel like he was searching through her soul. He was probably not aware of the power of his gaze on her as he would surely use it more if he did.

"Nothing happened. I'm just feeling a little tired. Maybe I should go back to the castle."

"We can return." Hermione winced as she felt Harry's gentle touch under her chin. Even before this whole 'giving a shot' thing, Harry's touch would affect her, as it was not a frequent occurrence. For the last few days, however, Harry had taken the habit of taking her hand or guiding her from the small of her back or this, lifting her chin with the gentlest of touches. Hermione closed her eyes a second longer than normal before she met his eyes.

"You don't ha-"

"We can return after you tell me what happened." There they were, his eyes were once again boring into hers and there was nothing she could do except enjoy the attention as long as it would last.


"Don't 'Harry' me, Hermione. Did I do something wrong? Is it Hazel?" Hermione glanced away for a second, she didn't want to say anything to contradict his question. Although Hazel wasn't the whole problem, she had somehow made Hermione see things clearer. She didn't want to lie and until she could sit down and think things through, she didn't want to discuss her thoughts with Harry either. He was distracting enough with his presence, she couldn't imagine discussing her feelings when he was standing this close to her. He must have taken her silence as an answer as he continued, "There is nothing for you to feel jealous of, I don't even know her."

'But you can get to know her.'

"It's nothing, Harry. Really. She is really pretty and she is clearly interested in you and I felt… I don't know. Whatever, it's silly. Don't worry about it."

Harry smiled slightly, his hand slid smoothly from her chin to cupping her cheek. "So, what if she is pretty. You are beautiful."

Hermione felt her eyes widen at his unexpected compliment. "You're saying that to make me feel better."

"Of course, I'm saying that to make you feel better." Hermione snorted at his answer, but his next words and his hands caressing her cheek made her shut up quickly, "But that doesn't mean I don't mean it. 'Mione, you know me, I'm not the type to share my thoughts or feelings easily, although with you, it's somehow easier. But, anyway, just because I'm not saying it, doesn't mean I don't think it. Just for this time, I'm putting aside my shyness, please just take the compliment without making me explain why I think this way." Hermione felt the tell-tale warmth of a blush on her cheeks under Harry's intense gaze, "You are beautiful."

'Oh, God, this is getting really dangerous.'


"Just accept it. Please."

Hermione laughed at his pleading command and shook her head lightly, "I guess I'm a jealous girlfriend after all."

And throwing all caution to the wind, she did something she was sure she would think about all night. She kissed him. It wasn't mind-boggling like their first kiss, second if you count the peck in the library, just an innocent touch of lips but it had still left an electrifying feeling in her stomach.

'Just something more to think about.'

The night sky was clear, in contrast to Hermione's cloudy mind. After that small talk with Harry outside the Three Broomsticks, he had persuaded Hermione to stay a little longer. They had spent the whole day walking hand in hand and occasionally stealing kisses from each other whenever they were sure there wasn't anyone to see them. The sun was setting when they had returned to Hogwarts.

Why had she allowed herself to get drawn into this when it was obviously going to end with a heartbreak, she didn't know. Maybe she wanted to give herself this last day of being his girlfriend. But why did this have to be the last day? Harry seemed happy with her. She certainly was happy him. Why couldn't they continue like this?

'Because he deserves better.' She thought, turning sideways in her bed to see the starry sky better. He might not be aware of it now but she couldn't let him settle on her just because she was there and she was convenient. One day he would surely find someone else he would want to explore his feelings with. She couldn't have him regret committing to her if, when, something like that happened. She knew how loyal Harry was, he would never look at other girls while he was with her and she couldn't do that to him just because she liked him. It wasn't fair, both for him and for her. She had to make him see reason. She had to, before it was too late for her. She didn't want to hurt more than she would now.

He deserved better.

He was perfect and she was falling for him, hard and fast. And with the rate she was falling, it was going to hurt a lot to let him go.

A/N: Hi everyone!

As always, I have a few things to say :)

First of all, I want to apologise for jinxing 2020 by saying in my last Author's Note that I hope the rest of the year would be better than the first two months. Boy, was I wrong…

Secondly, I want to apologise for the loooooo…oooong wait (and for making you go back to remember the story). Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it. I have so many things I have to do, I don't even know how I managed to write this chapter. BUT I will finish this story. I have even re-drafted the whole story!

And lastly, I want to reassure you that this story is not an angsty one. At least, not in the relationship department. I have never, and will never, write relationship angst (unless I am abducted by aliens and they demand angsty Harmony to release me).

This chapter was necessary for the plot to be realistic. I honestly cannot believe that Hermione wouldn't think these things. The next one is necessary too, so if you are here for the fluff, please just wait! You cannot have long stories without some confliction and I prefer inner conflict to relationship conflicts any day.

So, don't worry! If I put anything that resembles angst in my stories, it's because I want to pave the way for some major fluff :)

Thanks for all the support and thanks for reading and reviewing (please!)!

I hope to see you soon with the new chapter!

Take care! -xo