III – Interlude

“I worry about you. It’s over, Hermione. We did it; Voldemort’s dead. We can live now.”


Harry removed his invisibility cloak.

“Harry! Wha– how did you get up here?”

Harry sat on the bed, and without a second thought, banished the basilisk armour underneath. It really wasn’t built with comfort in mind. He was currently putting spells on the Gaunt Family Ring that could protect him sufficiently, but until then, his armour would have to do. He had to practice Constant Vigilance, after all, especially around the other houses. But he trusted Hermione with his life.

“I shimmied up the staircase.”

“You… you what?”

Harry grinned as he fell back and his head hit her blanket-covered lap. “It was a trick someone taught me, and as it turns out, it works. See, when a bloke tries to run up the staircase, it turns into a slide, right?” Hermione nodded. “And the rail disappears when you grab for it, right?” She nodded again, furrowing her brows. “But what if you grab the rail first?”

“If you touch the stairs at all, then the rail disappears, regardless,” Hermione replied, biting her lower lip as she stared down at Harry, her back leaning against the headboard. She moved her books off to the side.

Harry nodded. “Exactly.”

They were silent. Hermione took this as her cue to put the rest of the pieces together. Even she had long ago accepted the fact that while she was still the smartest witch in her generation, it was rather clear that Harry wasn’t far behind as the smartest Wizard in his generation. They were a formidable team together; the events of their past summer made that obvious.

During the comfortable silence, Hermione began stroking Harry’s hair in concentration. Harry practically purred as he closed his eyes, patiently waiting.

“So… you shimmied up the rail? And you didn’t touch the stairs at all?” She guessed.

Harry nodded, smiling, his eyes still closed. “Yeah. If I had known that before, I would have been doing that every day. Does wonders for exercise.”

Hermione glanced down at his stomach. She had noticed.

She tore her eyes away, thankful that he was still in his own land, and she ran her fingers through his head. “So, how does it feel now that you have full access to us girls and an invisibility cloak?”

“Pretty good, actually,” Harry muttered, and Hermione tapped him lightly on the forehead. He chuckled. “You know I’m kidding, ‘Mione. I’ve only actually done it once before, when I found out of a certain list’s existence.” He cracked one eye open. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Hermione cocked her head. “What list?”

Harry lifted his head and concentrated, before a small scroll appeared in his hand. Hermione had to grin at Harry’s impressive feats of magic every time he did it. “Apparently, every year for the past four hundred years, there has been a list of the most attractive males in Hogwarts. It’s been on the wall, right next to your dorm room.”

He wordlessly handed her the list, and she seemed surprised. She quickly got over her shock and looked down to him. “I had no idea,” she stressed, and Harry nodded, pleased at her answer. She took a glance at the parchment.

1. Harry Potter
2. Cedric Diggory
3. Fred / George Weasley
4. Neville Longbottom
5. Lee Jordan
6. Justin Finch-Fletchley
7. Dean Thomas
8. Ernie MacMillan
9. Blaise Zabini
10. Zacharias Smith

“I can’t help but notice that all of the top names are war heroes,” Hermione commented, smirking.

Harry said nothing, still relaxing as one of her hands was still rubbing at his scalp.

“Not arguing about the first name, of course,” she said, and Harry hmm’ed in appreciation. “And I guess that at the right angle, there is a certain sparkle about Cedric… but I don’t particularly think some names deserve to be on this list. Number four, for instance. While Neville is a great person, I don’t think he should be on this list. That’s not a slight against him or anything, it’s just that he seems to be the same Neville that we always knew.”

“That killed Bellatrix,” Harry muttered, “and Rockwood. Dueled both of the Lestrange brothers to a standstill before he got help. That’s sexy.”

Hermione moved the paper aside and smirked down at him. Harry opened his eyes.

“You know what I mean,” he said dryly. “The act is very attractive. It appears it’s always been more like the most eligible bachelor list instead of actually going on purely physical attraction. For instance, Draco was high on the list last year. I did a bit of digging and talked to Lav; apparently, his money made him very attractive. The fact that his dad is dead, his mother shames him on a daily basis, and he’s a Dead Dark Lord supporter, but he still looks like Draco Malfoy, is not as attractive.”

Hermione snickered. “They should have seen him two years ago.”

Harry smiled as he remembered that day. Draco was talking about Buckbeak getting executed weeks before the trial, and Hermione had clearly had enough.

She really was a bomb waiting to explode, what with the constant use of her time turner. It was strange, really. He had used his own many more times than she ever did, but she was the more stressed. Technically, by this point, he was older than she was, when he kept his and her rotations logged. He could legally do magic outside of school by Christmastime, while she had to wait until mid-march.

Harry was secretly in the process of having a legitimate trial for Buckbeak, and he eventually won the case, but he decided not to tell Hermione until a few days before the trial – while Buckbeak’s impending doom worried her, it would be downright distressing if she began making notes, gathering evidence, and overall tiring herself unnecessarily.

So she did not know of the Hippogriff’s fate. And when Draco had claimed in a loud voice, meters away, that he just sent a letter off asking Macnair if he could buy the ax that’s going to take the beast’s head off, unwashed, and the head itself, stuffed, she lost it.

He was proudly stating that Hippogriffs were a rare delicacy, and that he would be selling the meat at a hundred Galleons per kilogram when she approached him and punched him in the face, sending him to the ground and skidding a few feet. Crabbe and Goyle were quick to react, but Hermione had already – wandlessly – stunned Crabbe, who was closer, and Goyle was quickly stunned by Harry. Hermione slowly tied up her hair in a rubber band, removed her dark pink hoodie sweatshirt and tossed it to Harry, and put up her fists.

“Stand up,” she threatened quietly to the Malfoy spawn.

Draco scrambled to his feet. “You crazy Mudblood! When my father hears of – ”

“I’ll take him down, too.” She charged at him, faster that he could have seen her coming, and socked him in the eye.

Draco screamed as he was hit, having never been hit before in his life. He almost fell to the ground, but she had already grabbed the end of his tie, wrapping it around her hand carefully until her knuckle was connected to the knot. She hoisted him back to his feet, and his jaw connected to her fist once again.

He cried and mumbled a few words, but she couldn’t hear them clearly enough. But she knew that they were coming out too clearly for her tastes, so she hit him again, in the same spot. When she heard a small crunch, she dropped him to the ground. She leaned over him and quickly located his right front pocket of his robes for his wand. She pocketed the wand as a souvenir and roughly kicked him in the side. When he grunted, she nodded to herself.

“You tell anyone, I snap this wand,” she whispered roughly. “And I’ll make sure to come back to snap the other one. I’ll finish the job Buckbeak started – I promise that.”

She walked over to Harry, who wordlessly handed over her sweatshirt. “Too much?”

Harry shook his head. “Personally, I would have snapped the wand in front of him, and shoved both broken ends up his arse.”

“Language, Harry,” she chuckled, and they both walked along, Harry disabling the notice-me-not charm. “Besides, I don’t think that’s much of a punishment for him. I don’t want him to accidentally enjoy it.”

Harry laughed loudly, and they stepped into the school together.

Back in the present, the duo chuckled at Draco’s ‘mysterious absence’ from the school. Madam Pomfrey was paid quite handsomely by Lucius to place him in the bed in the corner, surrounded by curtains and wards, hidden from the rest of the wing. To this day, Poppy wondered if the money was worth it, to hear Draco’s voice complain and whine, but she still could not get a name from him.

“Miss Granger’s first foray into the abyss of depravity,” he laughed. “Still one of my favorite pensieve memories.”

Hermione smiled tenderly at him. “Thank you for the gift, by the way. I’ve always wanted one of those.”

“It still has all of Dumbledore’s memories in there. The useful ones, anyway.”

She nodded. “I checked out a few. It may not surprise you that he and the Dark Lord Grindlewald were the best of friends.”

Harry nodded. “More.”

“Hm?”

“More than best friends.”

“How can… don’t answer that. Please don’t answer that.”

“Like I said – only the important memories.”

“I’m sorry you had to sift them out,” she said genuinely, scratching through his raven locks with both hands.

“I don’t understand how a memory like that can’t just combust into flames the second it leaves his head.”

Hermione chuckled. “I believe that should count as one more Life Debt owed, Potter.”

Harry smirked as he relaxed. “I’ll collect on it soon enough.”

Hermione blushed crimson, her legs shifting together. Harry, for one, loved his head tossed back and forth as he was gently rocked, and he smiled wider at the sensation. The two sat in a comfortable silence, lost in their own thoughts. Crookshanks was sleeping peacefully in the corner, and Harry concentrated on the half-kneazle’s breathing patterns for a moment, to regulate his own breathing. When Hermione shifted, Harry remembered why he was there to begin with.

“You know,” Harry sleepily murmured, “I worry about you.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Why do you say that?”

“You look more tired every time I see you. Ever since we returned, you practically locked yourself up here. Romilda tells me that she has to deliver your homework back and forth, and you only get up when you have to.” He debated with himself for a few seconds. “It’s over, Hermione. We did it; he’s dead. We can live now. I can understand wanting to escape the public eye, but still… I worry about you.”

“I leave the room every once in a while, Harry,” she soothed, “there’s nothing to worry about.”

Harry cracked an eye open, and she fidgeted against the intense stare. “You’re wearing the same jersey from when I last saw you.”

“Sorry? When did you last see me?”

“I was under the cloak,” he said, pointing to the silver sheet on the floor, “looking at the list for the first time, a week ago. You walked by me, I suppose on your way to the showers.”

Hermione blanched. “Oh. I see.” She cleared her throat, trying to slow down her fiercely beating heart.

“I didn’t follow you or anything,” Harry noted, enjoying her reaction.

“A warning would be nice,” she squeaked.

“Fine, then. I’ll warn you if I want to follow you into the showers,” he grinned. “But I have to warn you now, Padma may not like it.”

“Ah, yes, I heard from Parvati,” Hermione smiled, thankful to get away from their previous conversation, even if it was about Harry’s love life. “She said something about a list; I’m guessing it’s the list you just showed me. How did that spark an argument between you three, and then you asking Padma to Hogsmeade?”

“Actually, that wasn’t the list at all.” Harry reached down into his robes pocket and pulled out a small scroll. “This is the list.”

Hermione daintily unrolled the paper and glanced at the two names before she noticed the title. “The Top Ten Most Beautiful Girls in Hogwarts by Harry James PotterReally, Harry?”

Harry shrugged. “It sounded like a great idea at the time…”

“Doesn’t it always start that way?”

“…but it’s a really stressful job, honestly.”

“There’s not many names here for it to be very stressful yet. Only two so far, starting with number ten.”

“I’m adding one per day.”

“Why?”

“I like the suspense.”

“Are you sure you just don’t need ‘more time’ to form the list?” She asked suggestively.

Harry smiled. “While it would be fun to see what they would do to try to convince me, I’ve planned out the list since day one. You’d be surprised how many people take my word as law, even something as stupid as a list.”

“I’m not that surprised,” Hermione said with mirth. “So, so far you have Padma as ten, and Katie as nine. You started this list two days ago? How was the reaction?”

“Well, so far, Padma demanded that I take her to Hogsmeade,” Harry began with a fond smile, “and Katie wants to be my back-up date.”

“Impressive,” Hermione smiled at him, genuinely happy for him. “While this may lead to a clear abuse of power and an ego-trip you may never recover from, this might make for an interesting social experience and I’m sure I will love the crash-and-burn consequences that will follow.”

Harry guffawed loudly at Hermione’s prophetic proclamation. “Maybe,” he countered, “but I have a few cards left to be dealt before it all comes crashing down.”

“Oh, really? What?”

“Not what. Who.”

“Fine. Who, then?”

“You.”

“Me? What can I do? I’m not bailing you out of your mess.”

“Maybe not, but we both know you won’t completely abandon me,” Harry smiled, and she shook her head at his not-misplaced arrogance.

“Not completely, no. What did you have in mind?”

“Simple. You go to Hogsmeade with me.”

“Backup number two? I’m not that kind of girl.”

Harry shrugged. “A guy can dream. But I wasn’t asking like that. I want you to be under the invisibility cloak. I want you to completely study her, watch her every movement, and at the end, grade her.”

“Grade her? You’re making her my assignment?”

Harry shook his head. “No, she’s my assignment. I need you to find out if she would be more compatible to me.”

“I’m not exactly a matchmaker. How can I – ?” She paused at his meaningful look. This was what she had been avoiding. “Harry – ”

Don’t give me that. You… you’re the only girl that ever meant much to me, ‘Mione. You know that. I know that.”

Hermione’s hand trembled – her breath took a sharp intake. “Harry…”

“It’s probably something you don’t want to hear, but it’s true.” Harry paused at the instant change in the atmosphere, but ultimately decided to press on. In for a penny…

“You know there’s something there. I don’t know if it’s something like a sister, you mean too much to me for me to think of you as a relative.” He looked up into her eyes. “I’m going to live, with you by my side. The day that I die, you’ll be holding my hand, and you’ll be the last face I see. We’ve been through so much together that regardless of feelings, no matter who else you or I try to fall for, that much is going to happen, I’m very sure of it. And after that night at the Yule Ball, when you told me that I should see what else is out there for me, I refused to listen to you. You are damningly stubborn; I didn’t account for that. So I’ll take your advice. Your decision is final. If you don’t think she’s good for me, I’ll let her down as gently as possible. If you decide that she’s great for me, then I’ll be happy.”

She looked misty as Harry sighed. “And if you decide that what happened between us was meant to happen, and that I’m not a delusional nutcase with a slight incest complex, then I’ll be happier than you could ever know.”

Harry slowly sat up in the bed. He wordlessly incinerated the males list and took his own list from Hermione’s limp hands. Without looking at it, he poked the paper. A bright flash later, he put it back in her hand. “I want you to see if Padma is compatible to me. You know me better than I know myself. I listened to you before when it comes to my choice on girls, and while I still don’t like your judgment, I’m not going to question it.” He tiredly rubbed at his eyes and stood. “It’s getting late; I should go. Wouldn’t want to get caught like this, do we?” He gave a forced chuckle. He picked up his cloak and wrapped it around his shoulders.

A part of him had always wondered that with Voldemort gone, he might have been allowed to actually live. They had taken him down together. He had assumed… he had assumed that she would listen to reason, that his decision still stood.

Enough time had passed for her to think about it. He wasn’t stupid. He knew her. He knew what she felt for him. He could read her like a book. She was avoiding him. That much was also obvious.

But he was desperate. He needed an answer for this. Before this went any further, she had to know.

Now she knew. And tomorrow, this day will never be mentioned again. He’d accept that. Because she knew.

“Harry, wait!” She yelled, before he crossed the doorway. He turned back to her, and her lip trembled. “I… I’ll try. I know. And I’ll try. I promise. I will try.”

Harry nodded, and a small smile whisked past his lips. Before he could turn back around, Hermione ripped the covers off the bed and she quickly got up, her long, flawless legs padding across the floor to put him in one of her crushing hugs. Harry welcomed her. Her face burrowed into his neck, and her hands hooked onto the back of his shoulders. Harry smelled in the scent of her shampoo – vanilla – And clung to her.

“I’ll always be there for you, Harry,” She murmured into his chest. “I’ll always be with you. That will never change.”

Harry nodded as he stroked her brunette curls. “And that’s all I can ask for,” He whispered. And he was honestly okay with the thought. He had said it himself – they would be together as long as they drew breath. No matter what happened in their personal lives.

They held on for minutes – taking comfort from each other, drawing the strength from each other – and pulled back.

Cinnamon brown met emerald green, and Harry pressed his lips against her forehead softly. Hermione closed her eyes and relished the feeling.

“Why?” She asked in a shuddering whisper.

Harry paused and pulled back. “Why, what?”

“Why do you think I’m s-special? Why… did you always think I’m special? Ever since that night we became friends, you… you saved me. Ever since then, you’ve been my only friend, the only friend I’ve ever needed. I-I don’t know what the bloody hell I did to make you think that I’m… someone good enough for you. It just…”

A rustle of paper distracted her. She felt it whiz past her ear into Harry’s hand. He slowly unfurled the sheet and showed it to her. “Here’s the full list. Tell me what you think.”

Her eyes quickly focused on the first name on The List. She found herself wanting to laugh, but she couldn’t. It was too unbelievable – a joke taken to the extreme! “Harry, this is ridic – ”

I solemnly swear I’m up to no good.” Harry croaked, and at the bottom of the page, words started forming.

I swear on my life and magic that the order of names on this list is completely unbiased and is, to the best of my knowledge, what I truly believe it to be.
Harry James Potter

Hermione stared at the words, then back at the name, trying to put the two together. She gazed at her own name for what seemed like hours, and when Harry spoke again, her mind struggled to process every word in her out-of-body experience. “I think you’re special because you are. I think you’re the most loyal, trusting friend I could ever have in any lifetime because you are. I think you are the most beautiful girl in Hogwarts, the most beautiful girl on this earth, inside and out, because you are.”

Harry took her free hand and placed it on his heart. “This happens,” he breathed, “Every time you’re near me. I’ve never found a way to stop that. It just beats so bloody fast I can barely hear myself talk to you. One day, I’ll die of a heart attack, I just know it. Being around you just isn’t healthy, and that’s coming from me. It beats because you have it, ‘Mione. It keeps beating because it thinks that one day, you’ll take it.”

Hermione was silent. “I… I want it.” She looked up to Harry’s eyes again. “I really do. I want it. I keep telling myself, I can’t, I can’t do it. But I can. And, if it’s not too late, I will. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything more in my life.” She breathed heavily, her own heartbeat deafening in her ears. “And that’s what scares me. It’s always scared me. I keep thinking that one day you’ll figure it out; that I’m not good enough for you. Damn the fact that you’re the slayer of a damn Dark Lord, you claim that I’m the only one that can see you for who you are; the real Harry. But there might be a time, a moment that you realize that anyone can fall in love with you, anyone with half a brain could get to know you if you let them, and they’ll know that the Boy-Who-Lived can’t hold a candle to you. It took a troll for you to accept me as a friend. You don’t let people in. And when you finally do… when you finally do…”

“You will always be the first person that accepted me. You will always be the one that comes to mind as the one person that I’ve always seen myself with. No one will know the things you know about me. No one will do the things you’ve done and taken the steps you took with me, for me, for us. We’ve practically taken on the world together, ‘Mione. What makes you think that this will go away? If this…” he clasped his hand over hers, “…if this ever ends, this bond that we’ve forged together, then there isn’t a chance that anything else will matter.”

Hermione looked at her hand clasped within Harry’s larger ones, and couldn’t believe how perfect it all felt. She slowly slipped her hand from his grasp. She held it there for a moment, before she lifted her hand to his cheek. She stroked his clean face delicately. “I could never do this. I could never say those words. You… you’re so brave, Harry. Since the day I met you, I… you were always the reckless one, and yet it’s never backfired. What did I tell you once? First year? About there being more to being a great wizard than things like books and… cleverness?”

Harry didn’t need Occlumency to recall the memory. But first, he knew that they had been prolonging what he had wanted to do for years. He slowly leaned closer to her. She met him halfway as she stood on her toes and quickly pecked him on the lips. Before he could lean back, Hermione quickly stretched her arms around his neck and melded her lips with his with a ferocity they both didn’t know she had.

‘Friendship, bravery, and love, Harry. Don’t forget that. You can’t be stopped if you have enough of each. Books? Cleverness? That makes you a theoretically great wizard, but that doesn’t help against the things you find yourself in. Friendship. I’d like to think that you’re my best friend. Bravery – you were always a brave wizard. I don’t think we’re old enough to love, Harry. But you’ll find it. I know you will. Maybe I – … I believe in you.’

Harry stepped back from her. “I believe in you, too, Hermione. More than anything else.”

Hermione’s heart soared – she got the message loud and clear. She kissed him again, before she quickly ran out of breath. She kept her hands linked around his neck as she rested the tip of her chin on his chest, breathing heavily.

Harry’s breathing was just as heavy as he pressed his forehead to hers. He gulped in a lungful of air, and closed his eyes. “Any regrets so far?”

“No, I don’t think so. And you?”

“No crash-and-burn consequences yet,” he whispered, and they both chuckled together.