Harry & Hermione
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chem prof - End Game
Chapter 15 - Confronting Reality
Disclaimer and Acknowledgements
The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.
Thanks to Old Crow and Dee for prereading this chapter. And thanks to all of the reviewers who responded so forcefully to the question in my author's note last week.Chapter 15, Confronting Reality
The Christmas holiday was not going nearly as well for the Weasley family as it was for the Granger family. Ginny had pretty much shut herself up in her room every day, despondent over what had happened with Harry. Molly was furious. She had expected to have a wonderful holiday, being able to fuss over how marvelous it was that Harry and Ginny were together, and had even harbored faint hopes of a possible engagement announcement. And then came the bitter news that not only was their relationship on the rocks, but he hadn't even come to the Burrow with her and Ron.
Ron was in the doghouse for trying to defend Harry, insisting that he wasn't to blame for the breakup. Of course Molly could never believe that Ginny could be responsible. She would never break up with Harry; after all she had been pining for him for years. It didn't help that Ron couldn't explain exactly what had happened. For one thing, he didn't know. Harry wasn't talking about it, Hermione had point blank refused to say anything, and he knew there was no way Ginny was going to tell him about it. Of course he had heard a few rumors about what had happened, but there was no way on earth he was going to share them with his mother since most of them did not reflect favorably on Ginny.
After a few days of undirected ranting, Molly had eventually decided that it wasn't Harry's fault either and had latched once more onto Hermione as the culprit. Anything to do with Harry always seemed to come back to her after all. Obviously, Hermione must have stolen him from her Ginny. The only thing that slowed her at all was Ginny's refusal to blame Hermione for anything, but when it slipped out that Harry was spending the holiday with the Grangers the resulting explosion was a sight to behold. She had tried to send Hermione a howler, but the States were far outside poor Errol's range. When he returned with the undelivered howler she exploded again.
Now it was a few days after Christmas and Ron was sitting alone in the kitchen, eating some biscuits, and thinking about his two best friends. First off, he was determined to repair the rift that had grown up between them. The estrangement was his fault, after all, so he would take the initiative to set it right. He would make sure that they knew they had his unconditional support for anything they set out to do. And that included whatever was happening between the two of them.
Ron wasn't blind, after all. Sure, he was as clueless as the next male, but dating first Lavender last year, and now Hannah this year, had taught him to pay attention and notice things about relationships. Due to his concern about Harry and Ginny with regard to Harry's pretend dating of Hermione he had been paying extra close attention to his long term friends. And he was seeing something between the pair that definitely went past friendship. He suspected that Hermione had probably figured it out first, since Harry was no more knowledgeable about romance than he was. It might have started when they were living together during the summer – Fred and George seemed to think it had – or it might have only taken hold at the start of term when they were pretending to date.
He was also sure that Hermione wouldn't do anything about it as long as Harry was with Ginny, and would keep her feelings to herself rather than betray her friend. And Harry, if he did notice any extra feelings toward Hermione, would have ignored them for the same reason. But the way Harry treated Hermione, the way he talked about her, the way he looked at her, Ron was pretty sure he had been starting to realize it lately as well. It had been most noticeable since the Halloween dance – probably since the revelation about the love potion. That was when Harry had started looking at Hermione differently. The confirmation, for Ron, was the Yule Ball. Harry and Hermione had been much too happy for two people who had just had disastrous dates the preceding two nights. Once they were both, at least temporarily, without other commitments their feelings for each other would have been free to emerge. And apparently they had.
Of course, there was no way he was going to share this conclusion with either Ginny (she would find out the painful truth, if such it was, soon enough) or his mum (he did want to keep eating, after all).
At that point there was a knock on the door. Luna Lovegood had come to visit Ginny. After thanking her for coming, and quickly filling her in on the situation in the Weasley house (but not his suspicions about Harry and Hermione – Luna was observant enough to make her own conclusions about that) Ron sent her up to try her luck with Ginny.
Then, since he was in the uncommon mood – for him – of thinking seriously about relationships, and since he still had plenty of biscuits, he turned his thoughts to his own love life.
The blonde Ravenclaw that had just passed through the Burrow's kitchen was an enigma. For most of his life she had been the annoying friend of his kid sister, and he had done his best to ignore her. But somehow she had insinuated her way into first the original DA, and then into the group of six that had gone to the Department of Mysteries. He still wasn't sure how that had happened. And then, Harry had decided that she was a friend and that was that. Amazingly, the more time he spent with her the less annoying and the more amusing he found her. Her bizarre outlook on life made him laugh. So he now considered her to be his friend, too, but she would never be more than that. She was just too strange.
Ron wasn't sure if Hannah Abbott was the one either. From a physical standpoint, she was just what he wanted. There was no doubt he was turned on by her. And she was certainly nice enough. But, there was something missing. There wasn't enough excitement in their relationship. Over his more than six years at Hogwarts Ron's life had been one exciting moment after another, and he had become accustomed to sharing that excitement with his friends. It wasn't that Hannah was boring, but she wasn't the sort of girl who would plunge unhesitatingly into one of their adventures. Not like Ginny would. Or Hermione, for that matter. What he guessed he wanted was a girl with the looks of Hannah or Lavender but who was as spirited as Ginny or Hermione. Bill had found someone like that in Fleur. Ron decided he would just have to keep looking.
Luna ignored her friend and pulled out her wand and unlocked Ginny's door. Ginny looked up from her bed and sighed. "Luna, go away. I don't want to see anyone right now."
"OK," Luna replied absently, not really looking at Ginny. "Close your eyes and we'll just visit."
Ginny groaned and rolled over. Maybe she could just ignore her. But she knew her friend well enough to know that probably wouldn't work.
"You have a very nice room, Ginny," Luna commented while wandering around looking at the pictures on Ginny's walls.
"Luna, you've been in my room hundreds of times," Ginny retorted, rolling her eyes.
"You're right. Let's go outside," Luna decided, turning to Ginny and reaching out to pull her up. "It's a beautiful day out. And we can get away from the Nargles."
Ginny sighed and gave in. Deep down she knew she was being ridiculous, and it couldn't hurt to go outside for a while. Perhaps some of the odd topics Luna was certain to bring up would help distract her from her problems.
The two walked out toward the back of the Weasley property and the woods beyond. Luna cast a warming charm (she had turned seventeen the previous month) and they sat down in the spot that had always been their special place where they would sit and share secrets. Luna had begun reminiscing about how magical these woods had seemed when they were little when Ginny broke down.
"Luna, what am I going to do? I've wanted him all of my life!"
Instead of answering her directly, Luna turned to her with a faraway look in her eyes.
"Remember when we were five? I had my stuffed toy doggy and you had your Harry Potter doll. I loved my doggy and you loved your Harry Potter. We used to make up the best pretend stories about them. My doggy could become any magical creature I could imagine and we'd go on long adventures searching for it. And you came up with the most wonderful stories about Harry Potter. You were always the princess who had been captured, or lost, or in danger, and Harry Potter would always come and rescue you. And we would tell our stories to our mums. My mum would listen to me about all of my imaginary creatures and always tell me that they might be real and I might find them someday. And your mum would listen to your stories and always tell you that you might meet and fall in love with the real Harry Potter some day."
Luna's voice dropped from the light tone she had been using and became lower and quieter. "But in the end, my magical doggy was just a stuffed toy and your Harry Potter was just a doll."
After a brief silence, she seemed to perk up again. "The summer when we were eight I fell in love with Cedric. He was back from his first year at Hogwarts and he was so handsome. We used to hang around the village so I could get a glimpse of him. You stayed loyal to Harry and insisted you were still in love with him, no matter how handsome Cedric was. You teased me about Cedric and I teased you about Harry. But at the end of the summer he went back to Hogwarts and I forgot about him."
Luna's eyes glazed over and her voice faded almost to a whisper. "And then when I was nine my mum died. I came over to stay at your house for a while. Her birthday had been just the week before and I had given her a necklace I made of butterbeer corks. After her funeral my daddy gave me back the necklace so I could have something to remember her by. I spent the whole week at your house not talking to anyone, just thinking about Mum."
Luna shook her head and resumed her dreamy voice. "But that's when I first noticed Ronald. When I finally went home I used to sit and daydream about him. He was going to take care of me and make everything better. I thought I was in love with him, too. But he always ignored me after that. When I would follow him around he would yell at me and tell me to go away and stop bothering him. I never gave up, though. I knew he would fall in love with me someday."
Luna now looked directly at Ginny for the first time and her prominent blue eyes fixed Ginny with a penetrating stare. "But now we're grown up and I know that will never happen. At least he's my friend now, though. Even if someone isn't in love with you it's very important to have friends." Ginny could only nod. "Do you know that Harry was my first friend at Hogwarts besides you?" Ginny nodded again.
Luna looked away and her normal dreamy expression returned. "So, Ginny, when did you really fall in love with Harry Potter?"
When Luna had gone Ginny returned to her room to think about what she had said. She forced herself to take a good hard look at herself, and she didn't like what she saw. She had been behaving like a spoiled child who didn't get her way. It was no one's fault but her own that Harry had backed off. She knew very well that she had gone farther with Michael and Dean than she should have, and that some people would not approve. If she had had enough sense to stop and think about it she might have guessed that Harry wouldn't. Hermione certainly hadn't, and had let her know that in no uncertain terms. And who would know Harry's thoughts better than Hermione? She shuddered as she remembered the look in his eye when he and Ron had caught her and Dean in that deserted corridor. She wondered what Ron had been about to call her before she cut him off. Probably his old standby, 'scarlet woman'. That was a bit much, but 'loose' or 'easy' would have been accurate. Fortunately, she and Dean had only been snogging at the time, although they had been on their way to a broom cupboard where it certainly would have gone further. It was fortunate indeed that Ron (or Harry!) hadn't broken in on that.
She sat and stared out of her bedroom window as her thoughts went back to those two relationships that had so affected her life. She had only been thirteen when Michael had asked her out. She had been shocked, because at that time she hadn't considered herself that attractive - her figure was only slightly distinguishable from that of a boy's. Only Neville had even thought about asking her to the Yule Ball, and that was only after Hermione had turned him down. It had certainly never occurred to Harry to ask her. He hadn't even considered her after Cho had said no – his thoughts had turned next to Parvati. So Michael's interest had been a surprise. Since he had been a year and a half older than her, he had initially dominated the relationship. But it didn't take long before she noticed that other boys were giving him envious looks and her self-confidence rose.
She still remembered the snogging session during her fourth year where his hands had ended up under her robes in a place where they shouldn't be. She had found that she liked kissing a lot, and was evidently pretty good at it. She realized at once what he was doing but she was enjoying the kissing so much she didn't push him away immediately. To her disappointment, she didn't really get anything out of it. Frankly, between the heavy jumper she had on and the padded bra her mum had insisted she wear (lined, not padded, she could still hear Mum correcting her) she could hardly feel it. On the other hand, Michael had certainly seemed satisfied. But if he was going to enjoy it she wanted to get something out of it too. The other girls in her dorm who had let their boyfriends cross that line certainly made it sound like she should be feeling something. So she came up with the ingenious idea to wear a light blouse and leave the bra in her clothing drawer on the next date. She was easily small and firm enough that she didn't need it.
Now that had been more like it! She didn't know if she had been more turned on by the delightful tingle that pulsed through her insides or the shocked and aroused expression on Michael's face. The guilt about what she was doing had gone away eventually. As their dating continued she let Michael know that the groping wasn't going to go any further, and he was satisfied with that. She also noted that she was getting some appreciative looks from other guys, and realized that Michael wasn't the sort to keep that kind of conquest to himself.
When she eventually tired of Michael and broke up with him she discovered that guys were falling all over themselves to ask her out. Of course, there were more than just the one reason for that. She had blossomed both physically and mentally that year. Her figure had developed enough that she no longer needed the padded bra. The scared, shy little girl that came out of the Chamber of Secrets was now a beautiful, clever, outgoing, confident, mature young woman.
The relationship with Dean had been more one of equals. He had been carefully selected, of course, to get Harry's attention. Not to make him jealous, although due to Ron's use of the love potion that's exactly what had happened, but to demonstrate to him that she had grown up from the blushing little kid sister and was now eminently datable. And kissable.
Dean, of course, was trying to uphold a reputation and was interested in going further than she had with Michael. He had liked to tell her that she was a perfect fit for his hands. She wondered how he felt about that now that he was with Lavender. He certainly couldn't fit one of hers in one hand. But while Ginny had let Dean touch her more directly than Michael had, and had delighted in the pleasant sensations it gave her, she had kept his hands above her waist. That part of her was reserved for Harry. She so much wanted Harry to touch her the way Dean had, and eventually go farther. But now …
She sighed. Now it was time to grow up and face the truth. She didn't have any more right to Harry than anyone else did. This wasn't a fairy tale. Just because she had fantasized about him before she even met him didn't mean she necessarily 'deserved' to be with him. Just because he had saved her life didn't mean that he automatically 'belonged' to her somehow. If anyone 'deserved' Harry, she had to admit, it would be Hermione, given all that she had gone through for him.
When had she really fallen in love with Harry? Only this year, to be honest, when she actually got to know him and spend time with him. At the same time he had been falling in love with her, she had finally been seeing the real Harry Potter. She saw him when he was happy and when he was hurting. She saw up close how much he cared about people, his loyalty, his humor, his kindness, his determination to do what was right. She saw him for what he really was and fell in love with him, not just a romantic image of him.
And that's what made it hurt all the more. She loved him now, and had discovered the awful truth that nothing is so painful as when you hurt or are hurt by the one you love. She realized that he had been devastated by her actions. But she wasn't going to let him down in any other way. If she couldn't be his lover, she would be one of his best friends. She would take what he was willing to give her and in return give him everything she had. She wasn't going to give up on him, not by a long shot. But now she would focus on doing what was best for him. And when he finally made a decision, she would support it.
Ron looked up in surprise as Ginny came down the stairs with a determined look on her face, her mournful expression discarded.
"Hey big brother. Want to go flying?"
The young couple stood on the balcony of their room in a Miami Beach hotel, looking at the moon over Miami. (Hermione had explained that it was such a cliché, they simply had to do it at least once.) It was their last night before returning to Britain.
Everyone had enjoyed the move to Miami. Somehow Viktor had got their ages wrong on their passports, so they were officially old enough to partake of the nightlife for which the South Beach area was famous. And the topless beaches had been much more to Emma's and Hermione's liking. From Miami they were also able to take a day trip into the Florida Keys to snorkel at a coral reef. The experience was so different from the other time Harry had spent underwater during the Tri Wizard tournament that it didn't seem possible. (Of course, Hermione had no memories of being underwater during the second task since she was unconscious the whole time.) The colors of the fish and the fascinating coral formations left all of them spellbound. When they finished both Harry and Hermione vowed to return someday with gillyweed.
As they stood together on the balcony, Hermoine leaned back into Harry's arms and sighed. The holiday had been so perfect that she was reluctant to return. Not surprisingly, since they so frequently thought alike, Harry voiced exactly what she had been thinking.
"I wish we could stay here forever and never go back." Hermione shuddered at this, which had the delightful result of having him pull her more tightly into him. Did he really mean what that implied? That he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her? She turned and looked at him, with the unspoken question in her eyes clear to see.
"I think I could be perfectly happy being with you like this for the rest of our lives," he answered solemnly. "But …"
"But we both know that's not what life has in store for you – for us," she completed the acknowledgement for him.
He nodded. "We have other things we have to face. We need to finish training, finish getting the students ready, get rid of Nagini. And then we need to fight and destroy Voldemort. Only then can we think about living our lives."
"And Ginny?" She didn't want to, but she knew this subject needed to be dealt with sooner or later.
"I'm sorry, Hermione. But I'm just as confused as ever. I thought I could get over her but I can't." His shoulders slumped as he berated himself that he had let her down. He was with Hermione now. He should have been able to give up on Ginny and move on.
"Don't Harry. Don't blame yourself for this. You were falling in love with her for six months. You can't just expect to forget all of that in a few weeks." She put her arms around him and rested her head on his chest. "That's something you don't have to decide right now. Let's just leave it be for a while. After Voldemort's gone we'll have plenty of time to sort all of this out."
"OK, if you think so." He hugged her to himself, thinking about the task ahead, now looming closer than ever. "I can make it through this Hermione - as long as I have you with me."
"You know I'll never leave you."
"I love you, Hermione."
"I love you, Harry."
Upon their return to London they first stopped at Grimauld Place so that Remus, Viktor, and Moody could bring them up to date on what had occurred during their absence. The initial news was good. Voldemort had had some success recruiting on the Continent, but not as much as they had feared. And when he had tried recruiting the dragons he had been in for a rude, and very painful shock. The leader of the Dragon Kin had answered him with a wall of flame. He was last seen activating an emergency portkey while resembling a human torch. They estimated that it would be weeks before he recovered from his burns.
Harry could tell from their faces that the next bit of information was not so good.
"Peter Pettigrew has escaped. He was being transported and the Auror either got careless or was secretly a Voldemort sympathizer. In any case, he's at large again."
Harry was unhappy, but truth be told had been surprised this hadn't happened already. "I imagine you've already thought of this, but are the secret tunnels to Hogwarts all secure?"
"There's no problem there," Remus responded. "We warded all of the tunnels after he escaped the last time. This year we added an extra layer that prohibits the passage of anyone with a dark mark. Like the one the Death Eaters used in the attack last spring only in reverse." Harry nodded, recalling that no one but Death Eaters had been able to get past the barrier up to the Astronomy Tower in that battle. "A bigger problem is that he could still enter in his rat form through the Forbidden Forest. But we have the acromantulas watching out for him, and the centaurs have let us know that while they are staying neutral, they will not permit any from the other side to pass through the forest either. I think he's too much of a coward to risk being caught by a giant spider while he's a rat."
"So," Viktor said, summing up, "the main potential threats right now are trolls and inferi. We're pretty sure he has assembled a good-sized troll army. We don't know where he intends to use it. We still have no idea if inferi even exist, much less how to fight them."
Harry looked up in surprise. "They exist all right. Dumbledore and I had to fight our way through them when we got the locket last spring." He shuddered at the memory. Remus and Viktor merely stared at him. Hermione seemed torn between wanting to comfort him from the horrible memory and being embarrassed that they had forgotten to tell the others those details. Fortunately, with the aid of a penseive this oversight was quickly remedied. They immediately made plans to learn the flaming lasso spell Dumbledore had used on the inferi and teach it to Viktor's strike team, the Order, and the DA.
Next the discussion turned to the ultimate showdown with Voldemort. "It's too bad we can't take advantage of his injuries and attack now," offered Viktor, referring to their foe's dragon induced burns. "But …"
"But there's no point until we destroy the last horcrux," Harry agreed. "I really don't want to have to go through all this again if we just drive him from this body, only to have him resurrect himself once more."
"What kind of progress are you making on finding his hiding spots," inquired Hermione. Moody reported that they had an approximate idea of where Voldemort was about half the time, but much less so with Nagini. Voldemort was evidently keeping him under wraps. They all agreed that the top priorities of the Order and its allies were finding a way to get Nagini isolated from Voldemort and then figuring out how to get Voldemort away from his Death Eaters and other allies. In both cases it would be just too risky trying to deal with multiple threats. Harry needed to be able to put his full concentration into killing Nagini, without any distractions from other fighting, then the same again with Voldemort.
The last bit of information was positive – they had no indication that Voldemort was aware that they were hunting horcruxes, much less that they had destroyed five of them.
As the meeting broke up, Remus gave the pair a stack of mail and they settled down in the drawing room to look at it. Harry found a message from Ron and his face fell as he read it.
"It looks like we won't be welcome at the Burrow any time soon." Fearful of what exactly that implied, Hermione hurried over to read the note over his shoulder. She slumped back in disappointment.
"No, Harry, it says I'm not welcome at the Burrow."
Harry turned and took her arm, pulling her into his lap. "Hermione, we're in this together. Molly is just going to have to accept that. She either takes both of us or neither of us."
"But …" Hermione began to protest. She didn't want to come between Harry and the only family he had known for so many years. Harry put a finger to her lips and gently shook his head.
Returning to the message he continued. "But on the good side, Ron stuck up for us. Let's ask him to come over to visit. It looks like he could use some friendly faces right now."
Hermione regarded him thoughtfully. It still amazed her how ready he was to forgive those who had wronged him if he considered them friends. She was far from being ready to let Ron off the hook for his actions of the previous term. But she had to admit that they needed Ron, and when things got serious he was as loyal to Harry as anyone could be. She nodded, then gave him a little hug before climbing off his lap. It was one of Harry's many noble traits, and she loved him for it.
Ron was thrilled to hear Harry's voice on his mirror. He had thought that his two friends would be returning one of these days, but was uncertain what their feelings toward him were just then. In no time at all he was in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, eating some of Dobby's delicious food and enjoying their company. It almost seemed like old times again, and he nearly choked up at their warm welcome. After they settled down and he had eaten a bit, he filled them in on the details.
Fred and George, as usual, had taken Harry's side and were keeping away from the Burrow as much as possible. Bill and Fleur were also on their side, but were trying not to antagonize Molly, as Fleur and Ginny had never got along all that well in the first place. Fortunately, Fleur was getting a free pass at the moment because they had announced at Christmas that she was pregnant, and Molly was thrilled at the prospect of a grandchild. Percy had come home for Christmas dinner, but stayed noncommittal about everything. Charlie had always tended to be protective of Ginny, and so was inclined to follow Molly's lead and ostracize Hermione, but he did have a grudging respect for her after the dragon riding incident, so he was torn. The best news was that Ginny herself, after a few bad days, was doing all right and had not once badmouthed either Harry or Hermione, much to the irritation of her mother. Harry was especially glad to hear that Luna's visit had apparently been of some help in pulling Ginny out of her funk.
When Ron had finished catching them up on everything it was late and he agreed to stay the night. Harry and Hermione were both relieved and impressed that Ron took their new relationship in stride. They made sure to reassure him that they didn't want him to feel left out, and he was still as big a part of their lives as before. The three best friends spent the evening and the next day gradually restoring their relationship as they discussed their plans for the possible upcoming battles.
Strangely enough, when they returned to Hogwarts the students in general weren't particularly interested in Harry and Hermione's relationship. For one thing, it was old news. Since Harry had changed girlfriends five times since the beginning of November, it just wasn't that big of a deal to the Hogwarts gossip network any more. And besides, he had dated Hermione already this year. For another thing, the head students as a couple were rather boring. Aside from a quick kiss when they parted for different classes, all they did was hold hands.
The last reason was that the hot new couple at Hogwarts this term was Ron Weasley and Daphne Greengrass. The idea that the most anti-Slytherin Gryffindor in the school was going out with the most desirable yet aloof Slytherin of her year was the final blow that crumbled the wall that had divided the houses for the past two decades. The couple was quite amusing to watch. The elegant Slytherin knew exactly what she wanted from the relationship and the lanky Gryffindor mostly hung on and enjoyed the ride. While Daphne would never put on the public display that Lavender had with Ron the year before, she certainly managed to keep his interest. A smoldering glance here or an intimate touch there left no doubt as to her intentions. As Hermione watched the romance unfold she realized how much she and Ron had both matured since the prior year. He was able to keep his activities much more discreet, and she was able to accept his attraction to voluptuous women without taking it as a personal affront.
With regard to the head students, however, the students who had thought themselves 'in the know' regarding Harry's relationships were puzzled. Ginny's turn with Harry had been supposed to last longer than it had, presumably through the Valentine's dance. And Hermione wasn't supposed to be next in any case. Gradually, beginning with Tracey, and Luna, who had also carefully observed the couple during the Yule Ball, their close friends began to realize that Harry and Hermione weren't pretending this time.
The rapprochement between Hermione and Blaise went off without incident. Slughorn had already been instructed to change the Potions partnerships, and Hermione was now paired with Ernie Macmillan. After a brief conversation where he apologized for his overly presumptive behavior, the rest of the Potions class saw to it that the two were kept at a comfortable distance from each other. Hermione was always accompanied to and from the dungeons by several classmates.
Reconciling Harry and Ginny would not be so easy.
"Hermione? Can I come in?"
Hermione had been dreading this moment. Ginny had come to visit the Heads suite while Harry was in Defense class. Ginny, of course, knew Harry's schedule as well as her own and knew that she would be able to talk to Hermione alone.
"You're in love with Harry too, aren't you?"
"I'm sorry Ginny! I didn't mean to. I couldn't help myself," Hermione admitted, the anguish clear in her voice. "It's just that we grew so close this summer, and we were doing everything together and it ended up being just the two of us most of the time and it … it just happened," she said helplessly.
"Hermione," Ginny said, taking a deep breath to control her emotions. "I understand, actually. I guess I can't really blame you for falling for such a lovable guy." She gave a weak laugh. "I know you wouldn't do it on purpose. When did you know?"
"I finally admitted it to myself by the end of the summer. But I swore I would keep it to myself. I really didn't try to break the two of you up, believe me."
"I believe you. I figured it out on your birthday, and from then on I could see how much you were struggling to keep it in. It's not your fault I messed up." She sighed, then went on. "You know, I think you actually fell in love with him before I did." Hermione's eyebrows disappeared into her forehead in shock. "It wasn't until after the whole love potion thing and I saw how nobly he reacted to it that I realized how shallow my feelings had been before. Only since then have I really understood what love is." She wiped away a tear that had insisted on emerging despite her best efforts. "I finally understood what you were trying to tell me last summer about love. And then …"
Hermione pulled the heartbroken girl into a hug. "Oh Ginny, I'm so sorry." Ginny sighed again, gathering herself for the next question.
"So, is he in love with you now?" Hermione bit her lip. This would be the perfect opportunity to end Harry and Ginny's relationship once and for all. But she couldn't do that to either of her friends.
"Ginny, it's not quite what you think. He's realized that he has those kinds of feelings for me, but he hasn't gotten over you either. That's why he's been so awkward being around you. He doesn't know how to deal with what he's feeling about you right now."
Ginny's hope was suddenly restored! She forced herself to stay calm. "So now what are we going to do?"
"Well, he and I have agreed to not push what we have any farther for the time being. I mean, we haven't even gone as far as the two of you did, and we aren't planning to either. We think we should wait until after … you know." Hermione couldn't bring herself to say that there wouldn't be any decision to make if one or more of them didn't survive the upcoming battle. "We'll just work it out later."
"But in the meantime the two of you are still together?" Ginny asked, proud that she had resisted asking that question with a catty tone in her voice.
"Well, we do live here in the same suite, so …" Hermione shrugged uncomfortably, but then her resolve returned. She had the upper hand right now and intended to keep it. "Right now, he's more comfortable with me than with you," she pointed out.
Ginny winced. It was one more reminder of how she had messed up. "OK. I guess I can accept that. It's a lot better than I thought it was going to be when I came in here." She paused, then decided to go ahead with what she had planned to say when she first arrived.
"Hermione, whatever happens, I want us to stay friends. It would be tough enough losing Harry; I couldn't bear to lose your friendship too." Tears came to Hermione's eyes as she heard this. Ginny had been her best female friend since her second year, and she had felt the same fear that Ginny had just expressed. Of course, this caused Ginny to start crying again too, and the two girls hugged each other as the tears flowed, helping to relieve the stress that had built up during the difficult conversation. Finally, Ginny pulled back, wiping her eyes.
"And can you help me do whatever I can to keep Harry as a friend too?" she pleaded. Hermione embraced her again and vowed to do her best to help dispel the awkwardness between the pair.
Hermione filled Harry in on the conversation when he returned, and he hugged her in relief, thanking her for handling the situation so well. The next time Harry and Ginny encountered each other, she gave him a hesitant smile, which he returned. From then on they managed to act normally around each other, although to her disappointment, he seldom gave her hugs anymore.
"I have some information for you."
"The word is going around among a few of the students in Slytherin house – Stay in the castle during the next Hogsmeade visit."
"So you think …?"
But no one noticed as a silver pawed rat crept into the woods near Ottery St. Catchpole.
A/N Regarding Luna: Since there are only three wizarding families living in the area of Ottery St. Catchpole, and one of them has six boys and a girl, and another apparently has only a girl, I find it inconceivable that Ginny and Luna would not have been playmates growing up. What we know from canon is that Ginny first introduced Luna to Harry on the train in Book 5 as a girl she knew from her year, and she asked her how her summer had been like they were friends.