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Hermione and the Muggles

By Mena Baines

Hermione woke up early the morning before she left Hogwarts for the winter holidays. She hadn’t been sleeping well lately—too much was going on. She opened her eyes, rolled over and faced the window. It had finally stopped snowing, and the sun shone in brightly through the curtains.

“ Herm-oine!” Rosa was up early too, and jumping onto Hermione’s bed, an excited grin on her face. “ Merry Christmas!”

“ Rosa,” Hermione said, “ It won’t be Christmas for two days now.” She sat up and rubbed her eyes, and Rosa scrambled off the bed and pulled a little package out of the drawer on her bedside table.

“ Yes, but this is the last day we’ll see each other before then!” Rosa said, “ So it’s Christmas for me and you, okay?” She thrust the little red and green package at Hermione.

Hermione felt horrible as she carefully un-wrapped it. She hadn’t gotten Rosa anything. How was she supposed to think about gifts with everything that was going on? She opened the box inside the paper and found a small bracelet, hanging around the neck of a chocolate frog.

“ Cute.” Hermione said, pulling the bracelet off the frog. There was a tiny arrowhead charm hanging from it. “ An arrowhead?”

“ Yeah,” Rosa said, her eyes sparkling. “ So… I guess I’ll go get dressed…”

“ No, wait,” Hermione said, sliding the little bracelet onto her wrist. “ I have to give you your present…” she said, climbing out of bed and scouring the room for something she could give her.

“ Oh!” Rosa said with glee, falling backward onto the bed, “ You didn’t have to get me anything!”

“ Well, we are friends aren’t we?” Hermione said, spotting the perfect gift on her dresser. “ Shut your eyes, okay? I didn’t have time to wrap them.”

“ Okay!” Rosa said, shutting her eyes and giggling. Hermione found herself wishing she could be so cheerful and carefree as she swept up her grandmother’s earrings and walked over to Rosa. The little earrings had been in her family for years, but Hermione didn’t have pierced ears, and she didn’t mind the idea of Rosa having them, anyway. She sort of reminded her of the wild grandmother she’d inherited them from. Hermione realized as she handed Rosa the earrings that she was looking forward to having a nice holiday at home with her family. She missed her grandmother, her little cousins, and especially her parents.

“ Oh, Herm-oine!” Rosa squealed when she opened her eyes to have a look at the earrings she was now holding. “ They’re little roses! How PERFECT!” She threw her arms around Hermione, and, although she couldn’t breathe, Hermione couldn’t help but laugh and return her hug.

Rosa tacked the earrings on, along with the twenty or so other sparkling silver pairs she already wore. Hermione put on a nice dress and her peacoat, and threw a few remaining items into her travel bags.

They met some of the other girls in the hall and exchanged gifts. Hermione felt dreadful, as it was the first year she didn’t have anything for any of them. Rachael Butterfield gave her a box of peppermint toads, Tippy Gates gave her a bottle of Christmas tree scented perfume, and even Pavarti shoved a candy cane in her hand. Hermione apologized immensely, and they all insisted they didn’t mind.

Embarrassed, Hermione escaped into the common room. She saw Harry, and all her worries about him returned in a rush. He and Ron grinned at her and approached her with gifts. Hermione just threw her arms around both of them, relieved for the moment that they were both in one piece.

“ Easy!” Ron said, “ You’ll break it,” He handed her a sloppy package and Hermione unwrapped it to reveal a little jewelry case.

“ Thanks, Weasel.” She said, grinning, calling him by his stupid nickname for the first time in awhile. She handed him the book she’d gotten him. It was a little fiction story about a rat who could talk, something she’d seen at a Muggle bookstore over the summer and immediately purchased for him.

“ Har har.” He said, rolling his eyes and smiling, “ Harry got me a skateboard. He thinks I should enchant it like Rosa did with her Waverunner.”

“ Oh, that’s brilliant.” Hermione said sarcastically, looking at Harry. He grinned. He was holding something behind his back.

“ Here you go, Hermione,” he said, handing it to her. It was a snow globe, with a miniature Hogwarts castle inside. “ So you won’t miss us too much while you’re away.” Hermione beamed and watched the little castle as the snowflakes fell around it—it was beautiful, and the lights in the castle’s little windows went on and off, while tiny shadows moved around inside.

“ Incredible.” Hermione said, “ Where did you find this?” Harry just shrugged and smiled.

“ Well, here you go, you old bugger,” Hermione said, handing him his gift. “ I thought you might appreciate this.”

Harry took her present and examined it—it was an umbrella with a map of London on it.

“ So you won’t get lost—or wet—when you fly to London on your ruddy broom and visit me.” Hermione said with a grin, her cheeks turning red.

“ How…thoughtful.” Harry said, smiling and tugging on her hair. Hermione grinned at him, clutching the little snow globe to her chest, trying not to think about what Professor McGonagall told her the other night.

“ Hey, Ron, Harry—there you guys are!” Rosa said, trotting over, “ I hope you don’t mind, but I got you both the same thing.” She proudly held out two small packages, which the boys grabbed and ripped open.

“ It’s….an earring.” Ron said, holding up the little silver hoop.

“ Yeah…” Harry said, “ Um…thanks?”

Rosa giggled, “ You’ll have to get your ears pierced, first, of course,” she said, and then turned to Hermione. “ Wouldn’t they look cool?” she asked.

Hermione was laughing too hard to answer.

****************************************************************************

Everyone gathered at the train station early to say goodbye to their friends. Seamus was walking along with Ron, Harry, Hermione and Rosa, still sort of glum about his break-up with Ginny.

“ I just don’t get it,” he said sadly, “ Where did I go wrong?” Hermione heard Ron snicker, and thought it was awfully wicked of him.

“ McNally,” they heard someone mutter behind them, and turned to see Draco. He was red in the face, clutching flowers behind his back. “ Come here. I got you a gift.” Now Ron was REALLY snickering, and Hermione punched him in the shoulder.

“ Hey,” Ron said with a chuckle, “ Who’s side are you on?”

“ Oh, geez, Draco, you didn’t have to get me anything,” Rosa said, beside herself with happiness as she accepted his flowers. The rest of the group stood nearby, pretending not to listen.

“ Yeah, well…” Draco muttered, embarrassed. “ They were just…lying around. Merry Christmas.”

“ Well,” Rosa said, giggling, “ I didn’t get you a present, but, uh—here.” She grabbed him and kissed him on the lips. Draco sort of staggered, put his arms around her and returned her kiss.

“ GROSS!” Ron said loudly, and Hermione yelled at him, but Draco and Rosa ignored him anyway. It was stupid, but Hermione was actually jealous. She glanced over at Harry, and he quickly looked away.

“ Ron Weasley!” Ginny appeared, lugging a huge bag behind her, “ Could you please help me with this?” she said, deliberately avoiding Seamus’s eyes.

“ Uh, I’ll help you,” Seamus said, awkwardly reaching for her bag.

“ Oh, Seamus,” Ginny moaned. “ Don’t bother…”

“ I’VE got it,” Ron said, snatching the bag before Seamus could reach it, and boarding the train with his sister.

“ Hey, wait a minute!” Seamus said, following them on. Left alone on the platform with Harry, Hermione nervously turned to him and shoved her hands into the pockets of her peacoat.

“ I…talked to McGonagall.” She said, wanting to get it out in the open, “ The other night. About…” she trailed off, assuming he’d know what she meant.

“ I don’t want to talk about that.” Harry said quickly.

“ Of course not.” Hermione muttered, annoyed.

“ Don’t get mad,” Harry said, pinching his eyes shut. “ McGonagall—she, she doesn’t know how it feels…”

“ How what feels?”

Harry sighed, “ Forget it.”

“ No! Why can’t you just say it?” Hermione asked.

“ Hermione…you don’t understand.”

“ What, Harry? What don’t I understand?”

“ You—“ he began, and then restarted with more composure, “ You don’t know how it feels…to…care about someone…and know that…that you’re putting them in danger.”

“ That’s a lot of rubbish.” Hermione said, “ A poor excuse for being too scared to take a chance, that’s what I call it.”

“ I…take chances.” Harry breathed, inching closer to her. Almost all of the other students were on the train now, save a few first years who were rushing to drag their bags into the luggage compartment.

“ You never take chances with me.” Hermione said, boldly, taking a step closer to him. His hand brushed hers, and then held it. “ You’re more afraid of me than even Voldemort, that’s what Ron thinks,” she said, and Harry laughed. His breath smelled like candy canes and peppermint toads, from all the sweets they’d been eating.

“ That’s…not true.” Harry said, his face leaning so close to hers that their noses touched. Hermione reached up and pulled off his glasses and they both giggled nervously. “ What’dya do that for?” he asked, whispering now because they were so close together.

“ Why should we be afraid of anything, as long as we’re together?” Hermione asked, her voice soft. She brought a trembling hand up to touch Harry’s cheek, and he shut his eyes and put his other hand around her waist. “ I think we could do anything,” Hermione whispered, and she shut her eyes too, felt Harry’s hand gently cup her cheek, and his lips softly touch hers—

“ Hey Hermione, the train is leaving!” someone shouted loudly, and Harry looked up. Hermione turned to see Lavender Brown hanging out the window of the train, Pavarti and Cho Chang not far away, laughing. Lavender gave her a wicked smile as she stuck her head back inside, the train whistle sounded and it began to move out of the station.

“ Great Wizards,” Hermione moaned, beginning to imagine ways she could kill Lavender before the train reached London, “ I’ve got to go.” She said, grabbing her bag.

“ Um…right,” Harry said, shaking his head. “ Sorry.”

“ It’s okay,” Hermione said, a bad feeling rising inside of her. What if this was the last time she ever saw Harry? What if Voldemort struck during the winter holiday, when everyone had their guard down?

“ Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, tormented by her own thoughts. “ Don’t do anything foolish while I’m away!” Harry laughed.

“ Of course not,” he said, and they began to run to keep up with the train. “ I’ll see you in two weeks!” He might as well have said two years, Hermione thought glumly as the conductor pulled her onto the train.

“ Wait,” she said, glancing at her hand, “ Your glasses!” without thinking, she stuck her head out of one of the windows near the front and tossed them to him. Harry reached out and caught them like any professional Quidditch Seeker would. Hermione beamed at him out the window as the train pulled away and he proudly held the glasses over his head. “ Nice catch!” she shouted, and the train left the station.

Great Wizards, Hermione thought, falling into her seat, out of breath for a million reasons, I love him. What will happen now?

****************************************************************************

Hermione’s parents picked her up at the train station, standing on the platform with huge grins on their faces. Hermione ran to them, dropped her bag, and threw her arms around her mother.

“ Oh, Ma,” Hermione said, “ Great Wizards—so much has happened!”

“ Listen to her, Stanley,” her mother said, teary eyed but smiling, “ Great Wizards! Oh, the things you must pick up at that school—come on, darling, tell me all about it.”

“ Hello Daddy,” Hermione said, stiffly giving her father a hug. He was one of those stanchy British businessmen that were hard to know, and Hermione never felt entirely comfortable around him.

“ Out with it, then,” said her mother, putting an arm around her as they walked to their car. “ What’s been happening with you? I haven’t got any wild owls flying into the house bearing letters in ages.”

“ I know, Mum, and I’m sorry,” Hermione said, “ I’ve been really busy…with school and all…”

“ That’s good, Hermione,” her father said, “ Don’t listen to your mother. Schoolwork comes first.”

“ Oh, rubbish!” her mother said, squeezing her, and Hermione giggled. “ You can stop cracking the books long enough to write your Mum every now and then, eh?”

“ Of course you’re right, but I just don’t know how to say all of it!” Hermione said, grinning despite everything. Should she tell her mother about the dreams she had of the Forrest? She certainly couldn’t tell her about Voldemort’s threats—she had never told her mother those sort of things, fearing she would never let her set foot in Hogwarts again. Should she even tell her about Harry?

“ Oh, Mum, I might as well come out and say it,” Hermione whispered as her father loaded her bags into the trunk of their car, “ I think I’ve fallen in love with someone and it’s positively awful…”

“ Awful?” her mother asked, eyes wide.

“ Well, then again it’s really very wonderful,” Hermione said, grinning, and she and her mother giggled. “ Oh—you’d just love him, Mum, he’s so smart and charming, and we’re the best of friends—“

“ You girls ready to head off?” her father asked, and Hermione stopped.

“ We’ll talk about this later, eh?” her mom said with a grin as they climbed into the car.

“ Okay,” Hermione said, smiling and buckling her seatbelt. She was so happy to be home she could hardly stand it. But part of her was very sad that she’d had to leave Harry behind. He’d have to stay at Hogwarts all by himself until Ron got back from his holiday after a week. Hermione wished she’d at least gotten in one good kiss before she’d gone. She shivered and smiled to herself just remembering how it had felt to have Harry’s lips on hers, even for a millisecond.

****************************************************************************

By two o’clock that afternoon Hermione had settled back into her room at home, and the house had filled with relatives. Hermione couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been surrounded by so many Muggles. There was aunt Rachael and uncle Carter, the somewhat backwoods relatives from the country, and their kids Stevie and Linc. Then came grandmother Adeline, in her new black convertible, with her hair dyed a fresh shade of blonde. Hermione’s father’s side of the family was a bit more refined—uncle Marcus and his new wife Kathleen showed up with their arms full of packages, followed by her father’s parents, grandmother Jane and grandpa Lars—whose nickname was Papa, and who was going a bit crazy in his old age. They were accompanied by their middle-aged son Derrick, a conscientious bachelor who took care of them when he wasn’t busy with his job as a pilot.

Finally came Hermione’s favorite relatives—her mother’s sister Claire and her three children, Buddy, William and Stephanie. Hermione hoped to be a lot like her aunt Claire when she grew up—she was a lot of fun, but responsible at the same time. Claire’s husband Ricky had died five years ago, and she hadn’t even lost a step since then—handling it with grace, and not doing anything selfish like re-marrying.

“ Hermione—look at you!”

“ Why—you’ve grown up while you were away at school!”

“ My goodness—you’re as tall as me now!”

“ What have they been feeding you, dear, you look thin.”

They always said the same things. Hermione just grinned and hugged everyone—even her squirmy little cousins.

“ Lookit,” her cousin Linc said, holding up a Gameboy, “ I gotta Mewtwo!”

“ Um—that’s…wonderful!” Hermione said, puzzled.

“ Hermione, for God’s sake, when’s the last time you colored your hair?” her grandmother Jane asked, “ Your roots are showing, dear.”

“ Um,” Hermione frowned. She’d never colored her hair...what was that about roots…?

“ We got you a telescope.” Buddy said, standing beside her and shoving his hands in his pockets. Buddy always told her what her present from Claire was the moment he walked in the door. It was tradition.

“ Neat-o,” Hermione said, though she already had one.

“ Guess what, Hermione?” William said, tugging on her dress, “ I’ve gotten accepted to Eton! Isn’t it wonderful?” the boy asked, beaming. Hermione couldn’t remember how old William was, but she guessed he was about twelve. “ Well of course you did, aren’t you the smartest boy in the family?” Hermione asked, hugging him.

“ Hey,” Buddy said with a smirk, “ I go to Eton, too, you know.”

“ By luck, of course,” Hermione teased, “ I always thought you’d end up with me at Hogwarts.” Buddy shrugged and grinned.

“ Hermione!” screamed Stephanie once she’d spotted her, running into her arms. Stephanie was a very quiet little girl, but she came out of her shell around Hermione. “ Will you teach me some more magic this year?” she whispered, “ Buddy won’t let me do anything.”

“ Well they’d throw you out of finishing school, Steph,” Buddy said, “ If you started turning teapots into turtles.”

“ So I hear you have a sweetheart this year, eh?” aunt Claire whispered in her ear. Hermione turned and threw her arms around her aunt.

“ Oh, yes, it’s horrible!” Hermione said, grinning from ear to ear, “ I’ve turned into one of those girls who can’t think about anything else!” Claire laughed and squeezed her.

“ Come on, then,” she said, “ Your mother and I are dying to hear it all!”

****************************************************************************

Hermione snuck up to one of the guest bedrooms with her mother, Claire and Stephaine as soon as they could. They stretched out on the two twin beds, and Stephanie watched with wonder as Hermione brought her stuffed animals to life with her wand. Two plush cats pounced on each other, and a little toy unicorn pranced over to Stephanie and nudged her chin. The little girl giggled wildly.

“ You’re so lucky, Hermione,” Stephanie said with glee, “ You must be happy all the time!”

Hermione half-smiled. She could only wish that were true.

“ So tell us, then!” Claire demanded, “ Who’s the lucky boy?”

“ He’s….Harry Potter.” Hermione said, knowing his name wouldn’t have the same dramatic effect as it would on a wizarding family.

“ Oh, little Harry?” her mother asked, “ Yes, I remember you writing to him during the summer—it seems you’ve been friends with him for awhile, no?”

Hermione nodded, “ We were always friends…but, I dunno I think we always LIKED each other.” The two older women giggled.

“ Well, how do you know?” Claire asked with a smile, raising an eyebrow, “ Has he written you love poetry?”

Hermione laughed for a moment, thinking of Malfoy and the love potion disaster. “ No,” she said, “ But we went out to dinner the other night—at a REALLY fancy restaurant!”

“ Did your teachers know about this?” her mother asked, suddenly worried, “ You didn’t let him pay for you, did you?”

“ NO, Mum, we went Dutch. We’re not that serious—yet!” she said giggling with Claire. She knew she was being silly, but it was fun to forget the drastic situation she was in for a moment.

“ And?” Claire said, “ There must be more.”

“ Well—Yeah!” Hermione said, her cheeks turning red, “ But I’m embarrassed—it’s stupid!”

“ Not stupid—out with it, girl!”

“ Oh, okay,” Hermione said, getting up, “ He so very almost KISSED me!!” she said, laughing, and Claire joined her and threw a pillow at her.

“ Ew!” Stephanie said with a laugh, and one of the stuffed animal cats bounced into her lap.

“ All right, then,” her mom said, “ I suppose I approve of kissing—“

“ Well, how was it?” Claire asked, “ A good kisser, eh?”

Hermione fell backwards onto the bed and giggled, “ Well, how should I know, I haven’t got any experience. And anyway, we got interrupted—the train was leaving.”

“ Oh my goodness,” her mother said, playing with her hair, “ Sounds awfully romantic.”

“ Yeah,” Hermione said, staring up at the ceiling, “ It was.”

Suddenly the door burst open and Buddy and Stevie stepped in.

“ Allo, ladies,” Buddy said, “ We were wondering if we could borrow Hermione for a game of kickball?”

“ Ugh,” Stephanie said, “ Boys. How can you stand them?”

****************************************************************************

By Christmas Eve, Hermione had almost forgotten about Voldemort and the silver boots, and everything McGonagall had said. It all seemed so far away now—in a world where she ate her aunt Rachael’s cookies for breakfast, stayed up with Buddy and Stephanie doing magic all night, went for rides in her grandmother’s convertible, and snuck games of Pokemon on Linc’s purple Gameboy. She hadn’t even been having her Dream.

But she did miss Harry. She would find herself wondering what he was doing at the moment, while she sat eating another large family dinner, pulling on her amethyst necklace and wishing he was sitting with his arm pushed up against hers, like he did in the Great Hall. She daydreamed about how it would have felt to kiss him, had Lavender not interrupted. She was doing just this as she sat finishing her ham on Christmas Eve. The cousins were beginning to get antsy about Santa Claus arriving the next morning.

“ He better bring me my talking Pikachu.” Linc said, huffily, “ Or I’ll have a bone to pick with him!”

“ What did you ask for, for Christmas, Hermione?” Buddy asked her, reclining in his chair.

“ Oh, nothing, really.” Hermione said, pulling on her necklace, “ Maybe a sewing machine. It doesn’t matter.”

“ I’m getting motorcycle boots from grandma Addy,” Buddy said with a grin. “ Pretty cool, huh?” Hermione nodded and grinned. She excused herself from the table and crept upstairs. She went into her room, and opened the window, cringing against the cold of the night. Hermione searched the sky until she found it—the Christmas star, shining brighter than all the rest.

“ Please, please keep Harry safe.” She whispered, feeling sort of ridiculous. But a little Christmas wish couldn’t hurt, she decided, shutting the window. She just wished she had some way of knowing whether or not it would come true. Hermione went back downstairs and joined her family in the great room, and crawled over to where Linc had fallen asleep on the floor, snatching up his Gameboy for another round of Pocket Monsters before she went off to bed herself. It didn’t take long before her own eyes began to droop, and the parents began gathering up their children to tuck them into bed.

“ Hey, Hermione,” Buddy called from the doorway, rubbing his eyes, “ There’s someone at the door for you.”

“ Hmm?” Hermione said, getting up. She couldn’t imagine who would be calling at nine o’clock on Christmas Eve. Unless….

Hermione jumped up and dashed out of the room, running to the door. Sure enough, there he was. Harry Potter, at her doorstep, holding an umbrella with a map of London on it. Hermione stared at him through the glass pane of the door for a moment, not believing her eyes.

Then, coming to her senses, she flung open the door, and ran out into his arms, pulling him to her in a tight hug.

“ Harry, you nut!” she said, her voice almost cracking, “ I didn’t mean for you to come here on the holiday!” But even as she said this she thanked the Sages that he was there in her arms. She felt him pull her closer to him, and then he pushed her off sort of abruptly.

“ Hermione,” he said, his eyes gazing at her sadly. “ I didn’t come here…for a visit.”

“ What do you mean?” she asked, frowning.

Harry sighed, and looked out at the falling snow for a moment. “ I came to say goodbye.” He said, without looking at her, “ For good. I’m leaving Hogwarts—well, I’ve already left.”

Hermione took a moment to let his words sink in. “ Have you gone mad?” she asked, “ Why??!”

“ I-I’m not running from Voldemort, that’s not what this is about,” Harry said, his hands trembling, “ He’ll find me no matter where I am. And that’s why I don’t want to be at Hogwarts. I’m putting everyone I love in danger.” He looked at her, his eyes pleading with her to understand.

Hermione looked away from him “ What do you want me to say?” she asked, her voice shaking, her eyes threatening to overflow with tears at any moment, “ You know how I feel about…you.” She couldn’t say anymore.

“ No I don’t.” Harry said quietly.

“ Oh, for the sake of Great Wizards!” Hermione cried, throwing out her arms, “ Are you deaf? Blind? I love you, Harry.” She said it in a tiny squeak, but it all seemed useless now anyway. “ I don’t want you to die…” she choked out a sob and began to cry, feeling like a fool for thinking she could ever be very important to Harry. He was fighting for his life, trying to avenge his parents, and she was just this insignificant crying person.

Hermione felt his arms go around her, and melted into them, though she hated him for coming here and telling her all of this. She tried to quiet her crying as she leaned against his chest. He was so warm…he was holding her so close… but it would all be gone in a moment. All because he didn’t want to hurt her, he was destroying her by leaving.

“ You shouldn’t matter this much to me.” Hermione whispered against his chest. She wrapped her arms around him and shut her eyes.

“ I shouldn’t have come here,” he said, kissing the top of her head, “ I shouldn’t have. I had to. You think I want to leave Hogwarts?” he scoffed, “ I hate this. But I’ve already been too selfish. Look at me now. I should be as far away from you as anyone. Just standing here is putting you and your family in danger. But…here I am…”

“ Yes, you’re such a horrible person,” Hermione muttered sarcastically. She thought about the possibility of kidnapping Harry. He wouldn’t be able to go if she took him inside and locked him up in her room.

“ Hey, look at me,” he said, reaching down and lifting her chin so that she was looking into his eyes. “ Are you going to be okay?” Hermione let a few more tears spill down her cheeks.

“ What do you care?” she asked, “ You’re leaving anyway, aren’t you?”

Harry looked down. “ I’m going to try,” he whispered.

“ All right, then,” Hermione said, wiping her eyes and shoving him off of her, “ Get going, if you’re going to go.” She shivered and crossed her arms across her chest. Being out of Harry’s embrace was like coming out of a nice, hot shower and stepping into a freezing cold bathroom. She couldn’t stand it. But she had to.

“ Hermione,” he said weakly, “ I’m sorry I made you…cry.”

Hermione nodded, and looked away, stubbornly.

“ So…it’s not like we won’t see each other again.” Harry said, picking up his broom. “ I mean…I’ve got the map…on the umbrella…”

“ Yeah, sure, whatever,” Hermione said, cursing her stupid eyes and their endless supply of tears.

“ So…” Harry said, “ I guess this is goodbye…for now.”

“ Uh-huh.”

“ Hermione—I really mean it, I’m not coming back to Hogwarts!”

“ Right.”

“ Hermione!” Harry cried, dropping his broom and running to her, grabbing her shoulders, “ I love you, okay? Is that what you wanted to hear? Now beg me to stay, already!” he said, his eyes filling with tears.

Hermione looked into his eyes at last, and choked out a sob. “ Please stay,” she whispered. Harry pulled off his glasses and kissed her gently on the lips, and Hermione shut her eyes and wrapped him into her arms. He returned her embrace, and Hermione kissed him back. She could feel how much he needed her in the way he kissed her, felt his tears fall onto her cheeks and mix with hers. In all of her sorrow, Hermione was happy for a moment as Harry kissed her, holding her closer to him—so close that her blood turned to butter and her heart melted for him, and she forgot for a few seconds that he was leaving.

They separated, and Hermione regained her breath slowly, not wanting to open her eyes. When she did, she saw Harry hurriedly wiping away his tears, and she kissed his cheeks softly.

“ Hermione,” he whispered, trembling in her arms, “ I want to stay with you. Why can’t I just be normal? Why do I have to be Harry Potter, huh?”

“ Because,” Hermione said, pushing his bangs off his forehead and touching his lightening scar, “ If you weren’t Harry Potter I’d be in love with someone else.” Harry smiled at her for a moment.

“ I’m such a baby,” he whispered, “ I bet my dad wasn’t scared.”

Hermione sighed, and kissed him again. “ I’m sure your mother was.” She said. “ Scared for him. And you.”

“ I don’t want you to worry about me,” Harry said, resting his head on her shoulder and kissing her neck, “ I feel like I’ve ruined your life.”

Hermione laughed, despite everything, “ Not quite,” she said.

Harry sighed, and Hermione shivered as she felt his breath on her neck. She stroked his hair and watched the falling snow, thinking for a moment that she might keep him there, safe in her arms forever.

“ Maybe I should come with you,” Hermione said, wistfully.

“ NO.” Harry said, his head jerking off his shoulder. “ That’s the last thing I want.” She gave him a pitiful look, and he glanced down at her shoes. “ You’re—you’re going to have a great life, Hermione. You’re smart and beautiful and—“

“ Harry—“

“ And I don’t want to wreak everything for you now, here, when you’re only seventeen…” he trailed off and sighed again. “ So…goodbye. I didn’t come here to kiss you and make you think—I mean, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help it.”

He turned to go, but Hermione caught his arm. “ Harry,” she said, “ McGonagall was wrong.”

“ What?”

“ She was wrong. It’s not dangerous for us to be together. It’s dangerous for us to be apart.” Hermione said, thanking the Sages that she’d been in Harry’s room that night…

“ That’s…wishful thinking,” Harry said. He pulled his arm out of her grasp. “ Hermione—this is hard enough as it is—“

“ What about…” Hermione took a breath, “ What about My blood, your blood?” she asked, the very words sending a shiver down her spine.

Harry turned to her and frowned, “ How could you possibly know about that?” he asked.

“ I was in your room, remember?” Hermione said, her voice quavering, “ I heard you talking in your sleep.”

“ I…I don’t even know what that means.” he said, looking away.

“ Yes you do.” Hermione said. He looked at her and Hermione could see how tormented he was by all this. Was he a traitor if he stayed? A coward if he left?

“ Harry,” Hermione said, something springing to her mind, “ What if you found out your parents were alive? And—and they had only been hiding from you to keep you safe?”

“ I…” he stuttered, “ I suppose I would hate them for what they put me through with the Dursleys, had they been alive all that time.”

“ But you were safe, weren’t you? With the Dursleys?”

“ I was miserable…” Harry trailed off, seeing her point. “ Oh, Hermione,” he said, taking a few steps closer to her, his eyes full of longing to take comfort in her again.

“ We’ll be okay.” Hermione said, actually believing her own words, “ I can feel it in my bones.” He took two more steps toward her and collapsed into her arms.

“ Great Wizards, what am I supposed to do?” he muttered, kissing her absently and sending her to heaven again. “ I can’t go…” He caught her on the lips and kissed her until he was out of breath. Hermione’s heart fluttered into attention and happily did somersaults. “ I can’t stay…” He rested his forehead against hers and shut his eyes.

" Nonsense,” Hermione said, stroking his cheek, “ You can stay. You ARE staying. Come inside and go to sleep by the fire. Have some cookies or something. Everything will look better in the morning.”

****************************************************************************

Hermione bustled around the kitchen, her heart still reeling from all the mixed emotions Harry had laid on her. He had kissed her! And Hermione had never felt so good in her life. She wanted to go back into the living room, where Harry was lying on the sofa, and kiss him and hold him and never let him go. Part of her felt like she could—he said he LOVED her! He actually SAID it, and she’d said it too. It should have been the happiest moment of her young life.

But was he serious about leaving Hogwarts? Hermione would do anything to try and convince him to stay, but she wasn’t sure if it would matter. She knew how much Harry loved Hogwarts—it was the only real home he had ever known. He wouldn’t just flippantly suggest leaving…Hermione gathered up the plate of food she’d fixed for him and hurried back into the living room, praying to the Sages that she could find the words to make him stay.

Harry was curled up on the couch near the fire, which was low and almost burnt out. The only other light in the room came from the sparkling Christmas tree lights, their multi-colored bulbs casting a soft glow over the room. The parents had already laid out the presents—their red and green packages stacked in towers, spread out along the walls and over-flowing from under the tree.

“ That’s a lot of presents,” Harry said, sitting up when she came in, “ Almost as much as Dudley gets,” he said. Hermione grinned, and sat down with him on the sofa, handing him his plate.

“ Aw, geez,” he said, taking it, “ You didn’t have to fix me anything…” he said, though he scarfed down the cookies and ham sandwich like he hadn’t eaten in days.

“ It’s okay,” she said, leaning her head on his shoulder as he ate, “ I don’t mind taking care of you.” Harry finished his dinner and looked up at the tree.

“ What if your parents come in?” he asked, putting his arm around her.

“ My father will most likely kill you.” Hermione said calmly, shutting her eyes against the cloth of his shirt.

Harry chuckled. “ Okay.” He said, “ I’ll risk it.” He kissed Hermione’s closed eyes and she giggled. She felt Harry’s chest rise and fall heavily as he sighed. “ I wish I could live in this world.” He said sadly, glancing around the beautifully decorated room.

“ Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, “ I’m not really this spoiled. All of my cousins are here—that’s why there’s so many presents.”

“ That’s not what I mean,” he said quietly, “ Sorry. I’m feeling awfully sorry for myself, I think.”

“ What else is Christmas for?” Hermione said, and they both laughed. Hermione knew she should feel more worried. Harry was in mortal danger. Her parents would kill her if they found her asleep on the couch with a strange boy. But she was too warm and cozy to make herself care. Harry was rubbing her back, and just letting the rise and fall of his chest lull her to sleep was enough to make her forget all her worries for a moment. Just the fact that Harry was alive, breathing, and in love with her. Hermione had a smile on her face as she fell asleep.

She had a strange dream as she slept there on the couch. It wasn’t about the Forrest, it was about Harry. She was standing with him in the middle of something that looked like the sky—there were stars all around them and it was dark. He was wearing a nice collar shirt and looking up at the stars, as they cast a ghostly glow across his face. He turned to Hermione.

“ I wished for you,” he said quietly.

“ What?”

“ When I was little. Every night I used to pray to the stars and the moon that there was someone in the world who loved me.” He said, reaching for her.

“ I did love you!” she said, catching his hand in hers. “ I loved you when I read about you in the Magical History books—and somehow, I loved you before that.”

Harry smiled at her, his features very soft and handsome in the starlight. “ I know,” he whispered.

****************************************************************************

“ Hermione! Hermione!” someone was screaming at her, “ Check it out!!”

Suddenly there was a large, bright yellow beast in her face.

“ Pika-CHU!” the thing whined. Hermione shoved it away.

“ Huh?” she said, sitting up and rubbing her head. It was morning—where was she? In the living room… “ Ohhh…” she moaned, remembering last night. The room was rapidly filling with cousins, including Linc, who was dancing about with his new talking Pikachu. I have to hide Harry, Hermione thought frantically.

But he was gone.

Hermione looked around the room. The only thing he’d left was the plate he’d eaten off of. She tried not to let her eyes water up. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep…she cursed herself. Great Wizards…I’ll never see him again.

“ Linc!” Aunt Kathleen was in the doorway, wearing her robe and looking over-tired, “ Stevie! William! You aren’t supposed to open presents until EVERYONE WAKES UP!” she whined, “ Way to go guys, you’ve totally ruined Christmas!”

“ We have not!” Linc said, happily spinning around the room with his Pikachu.

“ Hermione!” Kathleen said, frowning, “ Why didn’t you stop them?”

“ Oh…” Hermione said, rubbing her eyes, “ Shut up.” All the cousins cheered. Kathleen’s mouth fell open. “ It’s not the end of the world.” Hermione muttered. Buddy walked in laughing as Kathleen ran off.

“ I think she’s going to tell your mother,” Buddy said with a grin. Hermione shrugged.

“ I don’t care.”

“ Are you all right?” he asked, “ Your eyes look kind of red…”

Hermione nodded slowly, “ I’ll be okay.” She said quietly, managing a smile. Buddy patted her on the shoulder and went off to open his gifts. More relatives filed into the room, the adults bearing cameras and the children with huge grins on their faces. Hermione’s mother came in with a tray of pastries.

“ There you are,” she said, setting it down and wrapping Hermione in a hug, “ Why aren’t you opening your gifts?” she asked, fixing Hermione’s hair.

“ Oh,” Hermione said, trying to look happy, “ I thought I’d let the younger kids get to them first.”

“ Hermione, you’re so thoughtful,” her mother said, hugging her again. “ I’m so glad you’re home! Merry Christmas, baby.”

“ Merry Christmas, Mum.” Hermione said weakly.

“ Here, Hermione!” Stephanie said, trotting over to her with a little package. “ Open a present!”

“ Oh, thanks,” Hermione said, taking it, “ Is this from you?”

“ Nah.” Stephanie said, “ We got you a telescope. I found that under the tree. It’s got your name on it!”

“ It sure does,” Hermione said, with a wearied grin. She pulled off the ribbon and un-wrapped the paper to find a pair of shoelaces, and a little note. Hermione frowned, and examined the laces. They were silver, and heavy. For the boots, she realized. But who would have left this for her? McGonagall? She picked up the little note and read it:

Keep the boots laced. Just in case. Love, H.

“ Oh, Harry,” Hermione whispered, “ When will I see you again?”

The End.