"Okay, side with Ron, I knew you would!" Hermione said shrilly. "First the Firebolt, now Scabbers, everything's my fault, isn't it! Just leave me alone Harry, I've got a lot of work to do!"

Hermione was so angry she didn't even grab the very large pile of books from the table in the common room she had been working at when she bolted up and started storming off toward the girls dormitory.

But she wasn't the only one angry, Harry realized, as annoyance coursed through him. He shot up, nearly bowling over a first year as he ran to cut her off.

"Hang on, Hermione!" he said, blocking her path. "I'm getting a little tired of you running off every time you're upset with me. Especially when it's not even my fault!"

Hermione's mouth was hanging open. "What's that supposed to mean?" she asked loudly.

Harry looked around uncomfortably. They'd attracted a fair amount of attention — they were more interesting than homework, he supposed — and unlike Ron and Hermione, who often had shouting rows in the common room, he didn't much fancy everyone knowing his business.

"Come on," Harry muttered, grabbing Hermione's hand and pulling her toward the Fat Lady. To his relief, she didn't fight him on it.

Neither of them said anything until they were standing in a mostly empty corridor. There was a painting of some pastoral scene nearby, but it was mostly cows. There was one man sleeping under a tree, hat over his face.

Hermione looked at him, hand on her hips.

"I wasn't blaming you," Harry finally said, "but you ran off without talking to me — again."

"You said that Ron was right," Hermione countered. "You said you thought Crookshanks ate Scabbers—"

"Yes," Harry exclaimed, "because that's what cats do! Believe me, I spent enough time at Mrs. Figg's growing up to know about cats."

He knew more than he'd ever need to know about cats in 12 lifetimes.

"But that doesn't mean I think you wanted Crookshanks to kill Scabbers, or that you snuck him into our dorm in the middle of the night in some mad scheme to hurt Ron," Harry said. "Just because I have my own opinion about something doesn't mean I'm taking sides."

Hermione looked down and leaned against the castle wall. "Sorry," she said, her voice small, her stance defeated. She slid down the wall to sit, and Harry noticed just how dark the circles were under her eyes. Was she getting any sleep? "I guess I just figured you'd side with him about this since you did about the Firebolt."

Harry slid down the wall too, sitting next to her. While she was cross-legged, his legs stuck straight out. He fiddled with a piece of lint on his robes.

"I wasn't siding with Ron," he told her. "I was angry about the Firebolt — my Firebolt, not his."

Hermione turned her head toward the side, her expression hidden by her hair.

"Are you still?" she asked quietly.

"No. Why do you think I came over to you in the common room the other night? When I got it back?"

He'd approached her and they'd started talking about Arithmancy — but then Ron had stormed downstairs, thinking Scabbers had been killed, and everything went wrong.

Harry had thought that things would go back to normal — he'd felt lighter than he had in a month — and now it was even worse. At least, between Hermione and Ron.

"Can I ask you a question?" he ventured.

"Yes," Hermione answered cautiously.

"Why didn't you talk to me about it?"

Hermione turned toward him, aghast. "I tried!" she said. "On Christmas morning! But then Ron and Crookshanks and Scabbers — and it all went so wrong!"

Harry frowned. "Yeah, but it's not like you passed Professor McGonagall on the way down the stairs," he countered. "You and I sat in the common room together for hours before you told her. Why didn't you say anything then?"

Instead, she had simply divided her time between glaring at Ron — who was glaring right back — and glaring at the Firebolt.

Hermione bit her lip. "I suppose I was scared," she finally said. "What if I told you and you went out flying that broom anyway? It was so obvious to me that it was sent by Black — I guess I figured it must be obvious to you, too, so you knew on some level and didn't care."

Harry considered that. "It wasn't obvious to me," he finally said. "Maybe it should've been, but—"

Hermione looked at him curiously. "But what?"

Harry blushed, but plowed ahead anyway. "Well, I don't exactly have a lot of nice things," he admitted. "My dad's cloak, the jumpers Mrs. Weasley sends me, and my completely destroyed Nimbus. I spent three weeks admiring the Firebolt in Diagon Alley this summer, and it was the first time in my entire life I ever got the good Christmas present everyone wanted."

He'd had a lifetime of watching Dudley open those.

"I don't think I'd really thought about anything beyond that," he said.

Hermione watched him thoughtfully. "Would you have taken the broom to McGonagall?" she asked. "If I'd told you?"

Would he have? The thought of stripping down a broom as good as the Firebolt made his skin crawl — but that feeling was nowhere near as bad as hearing his mum's dying cries. And Black had done that.

Would he have done the sensible thing, like he did this summer when he didn't buy himself the Firebolt? Or would he have been reckless?

"I don't know," Harry answered truthfully. "But I would've liked having the choice."

Hermione nodded, her expression anxious. "It wasn't about trying to control everything, Harry—oh, I suppose I was— but it's just that I was so scared. After everything Mr. Weasley told you, after everything we've been through — I'd rather you be mad at me than have something happen to you."

She sounded somewhat frantic, her face extremely white.

"I always knew why you did it," he assured her. "I'm not that thick."

Hermione seemed to relax at his words, and Harry studied the piece of lint on his robes once again.

"But it's nice to actually hear," he said quietly.

Hermione smiled tentatively at him. "Next time, I'll just talk to you," she said, nodding briskly with her declaration.

Harry smiled. "Good," he said. "In case you haven't noticed, I haven't exactly got a lot of friends. I can't really afford to lose one for weeks."

Hermione laughed, which highlighted the circles under her eyes. "Well, you know, my social calendar is oh-so-busy."

Harry eyed her. "Well, you're definitely busy," he agreed. "Now will you tell me what's so special about Arithmancy that you couldn't possibly drop it even though it sounds absolutely terrible?"

Hermione laughed again, but it was lighter this time, launching into an explanation of a subject that sounded nutters to Harry, but he didn't much care, glad to have their old friendship back again.

Hermione glanced across the common room to Ron — who was playing a game of chess with Fred — before turning to Harry. The expression on her face told him she had something very serious to talk with him about. The fact that she carefully moved Crookshanks from her lap to the floor confirmed it.

"Listen," she said, leaning in, hands folded primly in her lap, "I wanted to talk about last night."

That surprised Harry. After Ron and Hermione's massive fight at the Yule Ball, they both had spent the morning pretending it never happened, acting strangely formal with the other.

"What about it?" Harry asked warily.

"You know that going with Viktor didn't have anything to do with you, right?" she asked eagerly. "I would never tell him any secrets or help him and not help you or—"

"Hermione," Harry interrupted, dumbfounded. "I know you'd never do anything like that — I trust you."

Considering he could count on one hand the amount of people who believed him about entering the tournament and everything she'd done helping him with the First Task, there was no way he'd think she'd do anything like that. He'd thought that was obvious.

Hermione looked relieved. "Okay, good," she said, sounding better. "I thought so, but with everything Ron said…"

"I told you last night that I didn't have a problem with you going with Krum," he said.

"Well, you said it rather quietly," Hermione countered.

Harry gave her a look. "Compared to you and Ron, a dozen trolls fighting would be quiet," he retorted, and Hermione blushed. "Did you really think I'd be mad about Krum?"

Hermione blushed harder. "Well, you spent all night with Ron," she said carefully, studying her nails. "I didn't even see you the rest of the night. Logically, I knew you weren't mad, but a part of me… wasn't sure."

Harry shook his head. "I spent the night with Ron because the two of you are my best friends and his date ditched him," Harry reasoned.

"Deservedly so," Hermione sniffed, and Harry didn't disagree.

"And you were off with Krum, your actual date," he pointed out. "It would sort of be bad form to horn in, wouldn't it?"

Not to mention they'd spent most of the night on the dance floor, a place Harry was desperately trying to avoid.

"I'm sure Viktor would've loved dancing with you," Hermione joked, smiling.

Harry grimaced. "No thanks," he muttered. "I've had enough dancing for a lifetime."

Hermione laughed. "You danced to one song," she said.

"Exactly," Harry quipped. She smiled at him, but she had a sort of faraway look in her eye.

"You seemed to be having a good time with Krum," he said. "At dinner, I mean, and when you came over to us. You looked like you were having fun."

He might not have been excited about the dance, but she had been, and he hoped the fight with Ron hadn't ruined everything.

He eyed her curiously. "Was your night ruined?" he asked.

"No," she said quickly, and he felt relieved.

"And was Krum an all right date?" Harry asked. "Or did I misread dinner?"

Hermione smiled. "He was a perfectly good date," she agreed. "Though I wouldn't have minded spending some time with my friends, too."

"I wasn't going anywhere near that dance floor," he said quickly.

"We could've sat and had punch," Hermione countered. "Funnily enough, I'm actually quite fond of spending time with you, Harry."

Harry grimaced. "I suppose you didn't come round to see me again because I was with Ron all night, huh?" he asked, and the look on her face confirmed it.

"I didn't fancy another shouting match," she said, a dark look on his face.

"It was bad form, what he said," Harry said. He didn't want to disturb the peace Ron and Hermione had brokered so he added, "But he seems to have cooled down. You both have."

Hermione shook her head miserably. "Well, that's our pattern isn't it?" she asked. "Bicker and argue until it turns into a massive row, feel awful, cry, go back to normal, and do it all again."

Harry blinked at her, surprise coursing through him.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. "You look shocked," she said.

"I guess I always thought… well, I guess I thought you two liked arguing on some level," Harry answered her, stunned. "I mean, not the fights like last night, of course, but the ones you get into on the way to class or when we're studying."

Hermione's jaw dropped. "I don't like arguing," she admitted, equally stunned. "Well, all right, I suppose I do like arguing when someone challenges me intellectually, when someone brings a different perspective or facts. But when it gets personal — and it always seems to get personal — that's never fun."

She slouched back against the sofa, arms crossed, a glum look on her face.

"I didn't know," Harry said simply. He'd just thought they liked fighting. He'd thought he was the odd one for hating their loud arguments. He felt awful that he'd never known.

Harry nodded at her. "Next time, I won't be so quiet," he assured her.

Hermione thanked Harry in a choked voice as he handed her the belongings she'd left in class, before making her excuses and running away. Luna looked up at him, her eyes owlish, and he was certain she was judging his next move — well, not judging exactly, but was certainly interested in it.

He was torn — he still had no idea what he was supposed to say to Hermione to comfort her, but he knew he had to try.

"Sorry, Luna," Harry said apologetically, "but I've got to run." He turned hastily while Luna gave him a little half-wave, and ran in Hermione's direction.

"I thought we decided in third year that you weren't going to run off when you were upset," Harry said when he finally caught up to her.

Sure, that conversation had been about when she and Harry were in a fight, but they hadn't had very many of those since. None, really, except their disagreement over whether Sirius was in trouble last year — Harry felt a pang of guilt and quickly tried to think of other things — or their disagreements about Malfoy and the book this year — but neither of those had done anything to change their friendship. Those disagreements were nothing like third year.

"Oh, leave it alone, Harry, I'm allowed to want to be alone when I'm upset!" Hermione said, wiping her hands angrily at her tears.

He certainly knew something about that. He and Hermione were a lot alike in that way. Whereas Ron never hid his emotions — you always knew exactly what he was feeling, which made him an easy person to be friends with because he always telegraphed exactly what he needed from you — Hermione had a tendency to run off and lick her wounds when she was really hurt. And while Harry didn't usually isolate himself physically, he understood the impulse to keep everything inside.

But then last year happened.

"That's what I thought last Christmas," Harry said quietly. "Luckily, I had a very bossy friend who knew better than me and barged into Buckbeak's room."

Hermione sniffled, but she smiled slightly. "This is different," she said miserably. "I don't even know what I've done."

"You haven't done anything to deserve it," Harry said vehemently. Neither had Demelza Robbins, whom Ron had also reduced to tears with his foul attitude.

"All I did was laugh at his stupid mustache," Hermione said, referring to their Transfiguration class.

"I laughed at it, too," Harry agreed.

Hermione let out an angry breath. "We don't have to talk about this," she said. "You don't have to take sides."

After their conversation after the Yule Ball, Harry had tried to intercede in Ron and Hermione's arguments when it started to move from banter toward personal attacks, but he still mostly tried to keep the peace.

"I'm here, aren't I?" Harry asked.

He could've walked out of Transfiguration with Ron. He had chosen to be here.

Of course, now that he was here, he had no idea what he was supposed to say to make Hermione feel better. He wondered what she'd say if their positions were reversed.

Hermione shook her head in an unfocused sort of way. "It's been ages that he's been like this, though," she said sadly. "Normally, I know what's set him off. But I thought… I thought we were going to…"

She shook her head. "None of it matters now, does it?"

Harry felt guilty. This wasn't the first time she'd said something like that, but he had no idea how to tell her that Ron was mad about something that happened two years ago, something sixth-year Hermione had absolutely no control over.

What could she do with the knowledge? What would it change?

Hermione would still have a past with Krum, and Ron still wouldn't be able to handle that. He'd still be spending his nights glued to Lavender's lips.

Harry watched her. Her eyes were stormy, a dark, moody brown that he wasn't used to seeing, and anguish lines marred her face.

What could she do with the knowledge?

Maybe have some peace of mind. He knew what it was like to have people keep important things from him — things that affected him. He couldn't change the prophecy, he couldn't stop it, he couldn't make it go away, he couldn't do anything but continue on, but Dumbledore had been wrong to keep the truth from him.

Harry had deserved that much.

So did Hermione.

"Ginny told him you kissed Krum," he said, his voice seeming to echo in the empty corridor. "He didn't much like that."

Hermione's jaw dropped, the moodiness in her eyes turning to fury. "He's mad that I kissed a boy two years ago? I kissed another one three years ago — is he going to try snogging Parvati now, too?" she spat.

"You what?" Harry blurted.

It wasn't the most helpful response but he was thrown by this new knowledge about his best friend.

Hermione blushed, swatting at the air like it was nothing. "It was a holiday kiss," she said. "A boy I met in France. It was nothing. I t was my first kiss and it was his and it was —" she blushed even harder — "well it was wet."

Harry nearly choked, remembering how he'd described his kiss with Cho to her.


"He was quite exuberant," Hermione nodded. "In any case, what does any of that have to do with Ron?"

"Nothing," Harry agreed quickly.

"Argh!" Hermione let out an angry little scream of fury. "I can't believe I thought… what sort of worthless… to think I've been crying about this and been so petty over Lavender — she can have him."

There was a decisive look on her face.

"I doubt they'll last," Harry said.

"I don't care if they do," Hermione said vehemently, and she looked like she meant it. "I don't want a relationship with the sort of person who would hold one kiss two years ago when we were just friends against me. I want a relationship with someone who —"

She cut herself off, her cheeks pink.

"Someone who what?" Harry asked curiously.

Hermione's eyes softened. "Someone who trusts me," she said quietly, holding his gaze. "Someone I can trust."

Harry felt something shift in the air, though he didn't quite know what. He cleared his throat, and Hermione broke their gaze.

"Of course, now I've still got to find someone to go with me to Slughorn's party," she said irritably, starting to walk down the corridor again. Harry fell into step with her.

"Well, so do I," he said.

Hermione eyed him speculatively.

"I still don't dance," he warned her.

She laughed. "I'm well aware," she said dryly, linking their arms. Harry could almost pretend that whatever shift he'd felt had shifted back.

"I've found some over here, Hermione."

She was standing a few yards away from him, but walked with purpose when Harry called out. They were out in search of mushrooms — Ron was keeping watch on the tent — and this was their first bit of luck today.

She eyed the mushrooms. "These will do," she nodded, moving to scoop them into a bag. She was brisk and efficient, and the task was done in a matter of seconds.

She stood up and eyed him. "Are you going to tell me what really happened last night?" she asked.

Harry furrowed his brow. "We told you," he said. "Ron destroyed the horcrux."

Hermione put her hand on her hips. "For weeks, you've been just as angry as I've been," she said. "Felt just as betrayed. Felt more betrayed, probably. But just like that, he's back, and it's like I'm the only one who remembers what these past few weeks were like."

"I remember what they were like," Harry said roughly, thinking of the days they spent talking in circles about the horcrux hunt and the nights they spent avoiding talking about how hurt they felt, how scared they were, how keenly they felt the scars that Ron left.

He also remembered that night in Godric's Hollow, how she had been there with him, pulling him back to the living when he'd been so close to wishing he was buried beneath the snow with his parents.

"It's like you're just fine, though," Hermione said, her voice half-hysterical. "How can you just be fine?"

Harry doubted he was just fine. Ever since Bill and Fleur's wedding — probably even before that — things had happened quickly and he hadn't had time to process anything. He didn't have the luxury to figure out if he was fine with Ron being back, if things were different between them, whether he wanted things to be different between them.

He had a job to do and the entire wizarding world was depending on them to do it. Figuring out his feelings would have to wait for later.

"What happened last night?" Hermione asked.

Harry hesitated, but she needed the truth. They were going to find more horcruxes, and they might be like the locket. She should be prepared.

"The locket laid Ron's insecurities out for both of us to see," Harry told her carefully. "It wasn't pretty."

Hermione considered that. "About his family?"

They'd all been friends for years. She knew Ron well.


"About you?"


It was her turn to hesitate. "About me?" she finally asked.

After Hermione found out why Ron was so angry at her last year, she'd been true to her word, and whatever fledgling crush she might have had died a quick death, but Ron still held a torch. That much was made clear to Harry last night.

She took his silence as the confirmation it was.

She narrowed her eyes. "About you and me?" she asked, voicing the question neither of them had voiced since Ron left.


"What did you tell him?" she asked.

Harry remembered telling Ron that he thought of Hermione like a sister. He remembered how he couldn't look Ron in the face when he was saying it. If Ron had seen Harry's eyes, he'd have spotted the lie. They'd been friends for years — they knew each other well.

"I lied," Harry told her.

She moved closer. "And if you'd have told him the truth?"

Harry let out a ragged breath, considering her. Her hair was as untamed as the forest they were standing in and her eyes were a turbulent brown, but her face was locked in an expression he was used to seeing— one where she knew the answer she was looking for, but was asking questions to get the other person to admit she was right.

She was the most familiar sight in the world and also completely unrecognizable because the shift he'd been feeling since the day they'd decided to go to Slughorn's party had irrevocably changed something. She was still his best friend, still the person he trusted most, still the person who believed in him the most, and yet, there were moments that felt alien and exciting and new and confusing and — the wizarding world was depending on him. He didn't have the luxury of sorting out his feelings.

"I don't know what the truth is," he said roughly. "I know that Dumbledore gave us this impossible task and everyone is counting on us. I know that we can't afford for Ron to run off again."

Hermione's eyes darkened. "Why not?" she asked acidly.

"Because he knows, Hermione!" Harry practically exploded. "Weren't you listening to his story last night? He apparated right into snatchers! What if they'd been competent and taken him to someone who could've figured out who he was? Snape, Bellatrix — they can read minds, they've got veritaserum. He wouldn't even mean to do it, but one word from him and the horcrux hunt is over. One word from him about where we are and we're dead. One word about where your parents are and they're in danger. The wrong person finds him and what happens to his parents who've been telling everyone he has spattergroit? We've got to keep him with us. To keep everyone safe."

She considered that, and for a moment he thought she would argue, but then she nodded. "So you lied to keep him from running off again?"

"I lied because it was the only thing I could think to do in the moment," Harry said honestly. "I don't know what I'm feeling, but if I'd tried to explain it to him last night, he wouldn't have understood."

Harry gazed at her.

"Or he'd have understood perfectly," he admitted.

Hermione's eyes turned impossibly darker at that, but she didn't say anything. They stood in silence, listening to the wind blow snow off the bare tree limbs.

"You deserve more than, 'I'll figure it all out after I fulfill some mad prophecy," Harry finally said.

Hermione held out her hand. "It's all right," she assured him. "I trust you."

A/N: Written for the HMS Harmony Discord Server 4K Challenge: discord dot gg/2GcXw8R