Despite the cold, rainy weather outside, it was stifling in the tent; not because of the temperature, which was at a pleasant magic-regulated level, but because of Ron’s absence. It had been weeks since he’d left, Apparating out of Harry and Hermione’s lives. Neither of them knew if they would ever see him again.
Hermione had cried practically non-stop for a week, and even though she was no longer crying in front of Harry, he knew that she still was sometimes, when he wasn’t there to see. Their stop at Godric’s Hollow, and the close encounter with Voldemort, had only been a momentary distraction from her misery. As if Harry didn’t have enough to feel guilty about; he knew how his two friends felt about each other, even if they were both too scared to admit it openly. Harry knew that Ron’s hot temper, brought to boil by the Horcrux, had been what ultimately made him leave…
And yet, Ron hadn’t been wrong. Harry knew it—he’d tell Ron so straight off if he were still there now. Ron had had every right to believe that Dumbledore had given Harry more to work with in their hunt for the Horcruxes, and his anger over their grasping for straws was completely justified… as justified as Harry’s anger was, and perhaps even moreso, since Ron had taken it on blind faith—on Harry’s word.
Hermione was on guard duty that night; Harry had suggested that she not wear the Horcrux for a while; although she hadn’t answered directly, they’d silently agreed to hang it up in a specific place so it wouldn’t be lost, in order to spare them the horrible thing’s contaminating touch. Hermione had hung the chain over the nail, and walked slowly to the tent’s door without looking at Harry.
Now Harry was laying in bed, staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t sleep. Insomnia was becoming a problem for him. His dreams, when he did sleep, were dark and unsettling, so he wasn’t inclined to hunt them down, no matter how tired he was. But he knew he needed his sleep; if he was exhausted he would be unable to help Hermione when they broke camp, or set up the new one, and that was unfair. He’d been unfair to her enough already.
Tossing the sheets off, Harry sighed. Thinking about Hermione missing Ron just made Harry think of how much he missed Ginny. That snog Ginny had given him on his birthday had been—
It hadn’t even been the most they’d done together. They had gone a good bit further over their short relationship the previous year, although never that—Harry was too nervous to bring that up. But when Ginny’s lips had touched his that day in her room, he’d remembered every stolen moment with her, every kiss, every caress, and had wanted it all again. He was almost grateful to Ron for interrupting them, because if he hadn’t then Harry might have tackled Ginny onto her bed, and they’d definitely have forgotten locking and silencing charms and then they’d have had much more serious trouble.
Harry groaned as his body responded to his thoughts of what he might have done to Ginny. His hand slipped inside his boxers and circled his hardened cock; closing his eyes, his vision swam with images of Ginny—her hair, her smile, her small, pert breasts and slim hips. The freckles that were sprinkled across her chest, and (as he’d discovered one magnificent evening) even lower.
He pushed his boxers down to free his straining cock. His breathing grew rapid as his hand increased speed, feeling the pressure building at the base of his spine—Ginny’s eyes, her smooth skin, the sensitive spot right at the base of her neck where she liked it when Harry—
He came with a huge exhalation of breath, spurting into his hand. But the release was… unsatisfying, Harry thought glumly as his breathing returned to normal. It just reminded him of how he was alone…
Well, not completely alone. Hermione was still there—not exactly the sort of company he was craving, but at least she was company, even if she was upset with him. Harry rolled his head toward the tent door to see if he could see the light from Hermione’s wand, and gave a strangled yelp.
Hermione was standing just inside the door to the tent. She was staring, Harry realized, at Harry’s softening cock, her mouth wide open and her eyes wide, as though mesmerized.
Harry’s yelp startled Hermione out of her trance; her eyes met Harry’s for a split second, and by the light of her wand Harry could tell that she was blushing as deeply as he’d ever seen. Without a word, Hermione spun around and raced out of the tent, dropping the flap without looking back, leaving Harry to clean himself up.
He felt completely mortified. Ginny hadn’t even seen him naked like that—all the touching they’d done had been above the clothes, although she had brought him off like that even so. But for Hermione to—and she and Ron—how long had she been watching?
Harry couldn’t bring himself to mention it again, and neither could Hermione. He feigned sleep when she finally came inside later, and the following morning they both pretended that it hadn’t happened. Harry felt—well, relieved that Hermione was willing to not mention it, but also guilty all over again. He knew from the way that Ron and Hermione always danced around each other that they’d never even kissed, let alone done anything like that. Hermione had almost definitely never seen a naked man before. Harry shouldn’t have been the first—Ron should have. Just one more thing that Harry had done wrong where Ron was concerned.
The next day was very awkward; Hermione was talking to him again, but in a stilted, falsely cheerful sort of way that betrayed both her unhappiness over Ron’s departure and her discomfort from the night before. Harry responded by withdrawing slightly, and they ended up packing the camp up in silence. There was another deeply uncomfortable moment when they had to hold hands to Apparate to their new spot; they both let go very quickly.
Harry went about casting the protective Charms, while Hermione set up the tent. When they were through it was still very early. Hermione stood staring off across a field of swaying grass, her arms wrapped around her in the cold. To distract himself, Harry looked around; they were at the edge of a thick woods, with sweeping hills all around. If the sky hadn’t been so grey, and the fields so dead-looking, Harry suspected that the spot would be beautiful. “Er… where are we?” he asked.
For a moment Harry wasn’t sure if Hermione had heard him, but just when he was about to ask again she spoke; “Mrs. Weasley showed me a photo of herself and Mr. Weasley at this spot a couple of years ago. She said that it was one of their favorite vacation spots before they started having children. We’ve just come at the wrong time of year.”
Harry nodded. “I wouldn’t mind seeing this place during the summer,” he offered.
Hermione turned to face him and smiled slightly—the first smile she’d given since Ron had left. “Nor would I. Maybe we could surprise the Weasleys with a trip out here.”
“That’s a great idea.”
They both fell silent again; Harry felt the awkwardness creeping in. He needed to say something, anything…
“Harry?” Hermione asked, “where are we going to go next? What’s our next step?”
Seizing onto the offering like a lifeline, Harry threw out the first thing he could think of: Hogwarts. Hermione immediately countered with objections, and they began another of their long conversations about how to proceed with the Horcrux hunt. Harry welcomed it, not just because it helped disperse the awkwardness that had lingered over from the previous night, but also because he missed talking to Hermione; with Ron gone, they only had each other, and if they weren’t speaking then things were going to get awfully lonely on their mission.
They went inside, had a makeshift breakfast and went right back to arguing. Not that they came up with anything new—they hadn’t had any really new ideas for a long time. But it was good to try, and by that evening Harry thought that he might have worn Hermione down a bit more about Hogwarts; with any luck, he might be able to convince her to go there soon.
Sunset came and went, and the dark of true night settled over them. Harry borrowed Hermione’s wand to light some lamps, and smiled when Hermione covered a huge yawn with her hand. “You didn’t get much sleep at all last night, did you?” he asked.
Hermione looked up at him in shock. “What? I…? What do you mean?”
“Er… just that you were on guard most of the night,” Harry said nervously, not wanting to mention what had happened. “So you’re probably tired… right?”
“Oh—yes,” Hermione agreed, looking oddly relieved. “I suppose that’s true.”
“Go ahead and get some sleep,” Harry said, standing up. “I’ll take watch tonight.”
Hermione stood up too and smiled her thanks. “If you get tired, wake me and I’ll take over for you,” she said.
“I will,” Harry agreed, and ducked out of the tent flap.
It was impossible to get comfortable. The little chair that they used while keeping watch was wobbly, and too small for Harry. He eventually ended up like he always did while on watch: slumped down with his back and head resting against the tent. Harry was still pretty tired, not having slept much the night before, but he found it hard to care whether he fell asleep while on guard duty.
Harry jerked awake. He’d been asleep a while—the first hints of pre-dawn sunlight were creeping over the hills. Straightening, Harry winced as several muscles protested wildly—he hadn’t fallen asleep in a comfortable position.
He wondered what it had been that had woken him. He was a bit on edge, so almost any sound might have done it; he listened carefully, trying to pick out any sound that might not have been a natural ambient noise in their surroundings…
Then he heard it. A soft moan, coming from inside the tent. Hermione sounded—
Like everyone tells me I sound when I’m having a nightmare, Harry thought. Was Hermione dreaming of Ron? Was she worried that he was hurt? Harry certainly was—they’d had no news from anyone in the Order since well before Ron had left. They really had no idea how bad things had gotten—which was enough to give anyone nightmares.
Harry stood up and, after a moment’s hesitation, ducked back into the tent. Hermione, as well as Ron and the rest of Harry’s friends, had helped him when he’d had nightmares in the past—he should at least try to help her.
But the thought was driven from his mind—as was every other thought—when Harry got inside and saw that Hermione was most definitely not having a nightmare.
Hermione was in her bed, naked from the waist down; her jeans and knickers were bunched at the foot of the bed. Her nipples stood out sharply through the thin fabric of her t-shirt. Both of her hands were between her legs, and Harry could clearly see three fingers of her right hand were buried up to the second knuckle inside of her. The fingers of the other hand were moving rapidly back and forth over a spot that seemed to be driving her wild.
Ginny had explained, she’d even let Harry bring her off through her knickers, but he’d never seen. And Hermione was—and both her hands were—Harry’s mouth was completely dry. Hermione, bossy know-it-all Hermione, half-naked Hermione, was wanking right in front of him.
As Harry watched, Hermione’s breath grew shorter. Her fingers, he saw, were moving in and out of her cunt, and they sped up, plunging over and over, and her other hand was a blur as she rubbed on that spot until she gasped; her whole body went rigid and her breath caught, and Harry realized that she was coming.
It took Hermione a bit longer than it usually took Harry to come back to herself. When she finally did, she sighed—and then, to Harry’s shock, she began to cry, softly. It was probably the last thing he’d have expected, although it made perfect sense—who would she have been thinking of while wanking other than the one person who could really make her cry?
Before Harry could react, or decide what to do, Hermione, sniffling, rolled over to reach for a tissue on the nightstand by her bed—and saw Harry. She froze, looking exactly the same as when she’d caught Harry in just the same way the night before. Their eyes met, and Harry realized that there was absolutely nothing to say—just the conclusion which Hermione had undoubtedly come to. Spinning, Harry yanked the tent flap open, and dropped it behind him as he stumbled out into the open air, his cheeks burning.
The night before, had Hermione felt the way he did at that moment? Had she been as aroused as he was? Harry’s cock was so hard it hurt, and if it hadn’t been so cold that night he might have just had a wank right then, and be damned what the squirrels or the birds saw. Instead, he collapsed into the tiny chair, closed his eyes and thumped his head against the side of the tent. But the image of Hermione, legs spread, her fingers penetrating her own body, sprang into his mind and wouldn’t leave. It’s not right, Harry told himself sternly, thumping his head harder. I don’t—I don’t want to think of Hermione that way! It’s not my place! And besides, Ginny—
The moment he thought Ginny’s name, the young redheaded girl took Hermione’s place in his mind. He could see her in the same position; though he’d never seen her naked in person, his imagination—and his newfound understanding—created a vivid picture. Ginny’s fingers were slimmer than Hermione’s, but in Harry’s mind so was just about every part of her—her legs, dangling loosely over the edges of the bed, her hips, which writhed as her fingers crept over and into her most intimate place. Harry could see Ginny as if he really had, as if she was there; his hand was inside his jeans, and never mind about the cold, because if Harry didn’t relieve himself he was going to burst. Ginny’s taunting image in his mind, far more intimate than ever he’d imagined before, drove him over the edge again, and he had to make judicious use of cleaning charms before he could relax again. And relax he did, for the orgasm had a far greater effect than the one the previous night had; Harry felt a surprising satisfaction from it that hadn’t been present the night before.
Harry stayed on watch all night. Hermione never came to offer to relieve him, but Harry didn’t mind—he wasn’t sure he could look her in the eye just then. When the sun was high enough he couldn’t put it off any longer, so he slipped back into the tent.
Hermione was already up, cooking breakfast. She turned and looked at Harry, but returned her attention to the stove before their eyes met. “I think we should move on again,” she said in that same falsely cheerful voice. “We’ll need to find a spot that’s a bit more hidden, where we can stay put for a while. Or at least until we decide for certain what our next step is going to be.”
She was going to behave exactly as she had after the first night. That suited Harry just fine, since the previous night had been even more awkward than the night before it. “Okay,” he replied. “Did you have somewhere in mind?”
“I think I know a spot,” Hermione confirmed, grabbing some toast from the toaster and laying it on a tray next to a jar of jelly.
“Good. Let’s eat quickly and get moving.”
Neither of them said anything else for the rest of the morning. They went through their usual process of packing up their camp and eliminating all traces of their having been there, and were ready to go very quickly. Harry took Hermione’s hand, trying not to think of how it was the hand that had been—he drove the thought from his mind just before Hermione Apparated them to their new location.
The forest of Dean, where Hermione had taken them, was beautiful, if barren. Hermione told Harry that she’d been camping with her parents at their new spot some time ago. Harry felt wretched, knowing what Hermione had done to her parents in order to protect them. It was bad enough not having parents—he couldn’t imagine how terrible it felt for Hermione, knowing that they were out there, but that they didn’t even remember she existed, and wouldn’t even recognize her face to face.
After they’d reset the camp, they both stayed outside. It was still cold, and there was a good bit of snow on the ground, but neither of them wanted to go inside the tent. So they stood outside, occasionally stamping their feet, and debated about what their next step should be.
Around midday, they still hadn’t covered any new ground. Harry sighed; at least the weather had warmed up a bit. “I still think—”
“That we should go to Hogwarts, yes, I know, Harry,” Hermione said wearily. “But we need to focus! If we lose sight of our ultimate goal—”
“Then what? Voldemort will win?” Harry snapped. “I’ve got news for you, Hermione—he already has!”
“No he hasn’t!” Hermione gasped. “Don’t say that!”
“But it’s true! He’s won! He’s taken over the Ministry! His people are running wild, with no one to challenge them but a handful of dissidents with no real power!”
“We’re opposing him, Harry!” Hermione said. “What have we been doing all this time, isolated from our friends and families, if not giving everything we have to try and bring Voldemort down?”
“I don’t know,” Harry said wretchedly. “All I know is that right now, the only thing I’ve accomplished is to ruin the best friendship I ever had.”
He regretted it the instant he’d said it. Hermione’s face twisted, and she turned away from him, running back to the tent. Harry stood there cursing himself silently for being so stupid. Hermione had chosen to help him, because she’d promised; she let Ron walk out of her life, when she could have followed him, and Harry wouldn’t have blamed her for it, but she hadn’t, and now Harry was pouring salt on her wounds.
It was almost sunset by the time Harry finally got up the courage to poke his head in the tent. Hermione was sitting in a large stuffed chair, flipping through some notes. She looked up when Harry appeared, and smiled shyly. “You missed lunch.”
Harry shrugged. “There’s always supper.” He dropped his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “For all of it. What I said, what I’ve gotten you into…”
“You haven’t gotten me into anything, Harry,” Hermione interrupted gently, standing and walking over to him. “I admit that sometimes, when I’m feeling unfair, I do think that, but—well, it’s not true. If I’m being honest, I got myself into this. I could have let you push me away, like you were trying to do so much. I decided not to. Maybe I’m just stubborn, but that wasn’t in me. Anything about what’s happened these last few months that I don’t like, I’m more to blame than you are.”
Harry sighed. “I’m still sorry.”
“I know. But try not to be, okay?” She smiled when Harry nodded sheepishly. “I don’t think we do have anything for supper, you know. Unless you want to try and find a supermarket?”
They did eventually choose to track down a little supermarket, and picked up enough food for a week of good meals; Harry felt guilty that Hermione was spending her money, but she dismissed it, saying that they needed their strength to keep going. Harry didn’t argue further, especially once they’d cobbled together their first really complete meal in weeks. Neither Harry nor Hermione was a very good cook, but what they managed was like a feast compared to their recent fare.
Harry felt himself drifting when he heard Hermione giggle. Startled—since he hadn’t heard her laugh or giggle in a long time—he looked over at her. “What?”
“Oh, you just look all in,” Hermione said with a smile. “You reminded me of my dad for a moment, actually… he always got drowsy after a really big meal.”
Harry grinned. “Well, let’s hope your mum’s a better cook than you are!”
With an indignant hmph, Hermione threw a pillow at Harry. “Oh, go on,” she grumbled.
“I’m just kidding, Hermione. That was really good—seriously. I feel a lot better now.”
“So do I,” Hermione admitted, accepting Harry’s half-apology. She smirked when Harry yawned. “And just like my dad, you want to go right to sleep after stuffing yourself. You’re just lucky it’s my turn to take watch!”
After a moment, Harry and Hermione looked away from each other awkwardly. Hermione glanced at the clock, which read almost nine-thirty. “I suppose I’d best get out there, it’s well past dark,” she said, standing. “If you can sleep now, you probably should—I’m rather tired myself, and I doubt I’ll last through the night.”
“Do you want me to—?”
“No,” Hermione said firmly, pulling on her warmer clothes. “You were out there all last night; we’re taking turns, it’s only fair. Goodnight, Harry,” she said, and stepped outside. Harry smiled in spite of himself; that had been the first time since Ron had left that Hermione had said good morning or good night to him.
Harry got undressed and climbed into bed. He was tired; very tired. His sleep the night before hadn’t been nearly sufficient, and it was bliss to climb onto the rather lumpy mattress, flop down on his back and just let his muscles relax.
However, after about half an hour, Harry was still awake. It wasn’t the usual insomnia… it was more the fact that the last time he’d tried to fall asleep in this bed, he’d made the mistake of wanking first, and Hermione had walked in and saw everything…
Harry’s cock twitched. He couldn’t help it—thinking of two nights ago meant thinking of last night as well, ad that meant thinking about Hermione’s naked form, and that meant thinking about Ginny’s naked form, and that led to Harry’s cock growing stiff. He wasn’t even touching it—just the images in his head were enough. Harry groaned, throwing his arms over his head, and tried to will his body to stop.
The tent flap lifted, and Hermione stepped in. Harry sat bolt upright and made to cover himself as Hermione’s eyes fell on him again. Oh Merlin, not again… he thought.
But Harry stopped when Hermione’s eyes met his. There was something there, just behind the slight surprise of seeing Harry with his boxers tented like they were—something that hadn’t been in her eyes the previous time. Something.. longing.
They stayed like that for a long moment, their eyes locked, until finally Hermione broke away. But her gaze simply drifted down Harry’s body until it rested on his crotch, where his still very stiff penis was clearly evident. Without taking her eyes off of it, Hermione reached out, grasped the back of a wooden chair, and swung it around behind her. She s down gingerly, with her hands resting on her thighs, and simply waited.
Harry didn’t know what to do. it was fairly obvious what Hermione was expecting, but… when he wanked, he fantasized about Ginny. As much as he cared for Hermione, and as much as seeing her wanking had aroused him, it wasn’t her naked image that drove him to completion. To let her think that it was would be wrong—doubly wrong, considering how he hoped Ginny still felt about him, and triply wrong, considering how he knew Ron felt about Hermione.
Nevertheless, Hermione’s gaze made Harry act without thinking. He pulled his boxers off, revealing himself completely to Hermione for the second time. She obviously wasn’t as surprised as the first time, and her expression didn’t change; Harry still noted that look in her eyes, and thought that he recognized it as hunger.
Harry lay back down, closed his eyes and grasped himself. The only way he could possibly wank was to forget that Hermione was there; he brought to mind the image that had gotten him going—Ginny, her legs spread wide, thrusting her fingers into her hot, wet cunt. Harry pumped his hand and imagined asking Ginny to let him and having Ginny say yes, imagined feeling that heat, that wet tightness himself, as he thrust into her, her lean, strong arms around him, her legs pulling him in, urging him on…
He came with a groan, too lost in the fantasy to remember to cover himself properly, and come shot up over his stomach and chest. Panting, Harry came back to himself, and recalled where he was—and who was there with him. He turned his head just in time to see Hermione stand up. She was still looking at his cock, now softening in his hand, covered in sweat and come. Then, without looking directly at Harry, she turned and stepped outside.
Harry cleaned himself up and pulled his clothes back on. He was deeply confused; what had been the point of that? He almost felt like he hadn’t just wanked off at all. And the look Hermione had been giving him—he didn’t know what to make of it. As he lay back down, he stared at the ceiling again, feeling guilty and mystified, and certain that he would be even more awkward around Hermione the next morning.
When he did drift off to sleep, his dreams were vague and disturbing, weighted with emotions of hurt, shame and betrayal. He woke up sweating, feeling even worse than when he’d gone to sleep.
It was still early, but Hermione was already making breakfast. “Er… I could have done that,” Harry said nervously.
“You were obviously tired, you needed the sleep,” Hermione said shortly, not turning around. “I’d like to try and find some news today—maybe see if we can get hold of a copy of The Daily Prophet.”
Harry bit back a comment about the uselessness of the Prophet. “You mean you want to move again? But…”
“No, I think we should stay here,” Hermione countered. “I’d just like to get a paper.”
“Are we very far from London? Or Hogsmeade?”
Hermione frowned slightly in thought. “Fairly far,” she admitted. “But we may be able to Summon a paper all the same.”
Harry offered to try; he pulled on some clothes, laced up his shoes and stepped outside; it was very cold, even colder than the day before. Shivering, Harry tried several times to Summon a newspaper, but nothing happened. He was grumbling when Hermione stepped outside as well. “It’s no use,” he said, thrusting out the wand to her. “I can’t do it with your wand. You’d better have a go.”
Hermione dropped her eyes, looking as though she might cry, and Harry kicked himself again; Hermione still felt guilty about breaking Harry’s wand. He didn’t blame her—escaping Voldemort was worth almost any cost. Although he did feel disturbingly vulnerable without it.
It turned out not to be a matter of whose wand Harry was using—Hermione was unable to Summon a copy of the Prophet either. Eventually they decided to Apparate to a nearby Muggle town and pick up a few things, including all the Muggle newspapers they could find, just in case there was some wizard activity reported.
Unfortunately, it meant packing up the tent and the site, since they couldn’t leave it without the magical protections, and if they left the protections up and left, they’d never find it again themselves. Fortunately, by that time they were quite adept at the entire process, and it didn’t take them very long.
They returned to the location well after noon, laden with a stack of Muggle papers and magazines. After a quick lunch they started sifting through the stories. It didn’t take much for them to tell what was magic-related—the Ministry under Voldemort’s control wasn’t taking much care to disguise magic from the Muggles.
They had a brief dinner, at Hermione’s insistence; they’d only gotten halfway through the stack of papers and she wanted to get back to them. Harry found the whole thing frustrating; ironically, he’d much rather have had the Prophet—at least they knew all the stories were magic-related, and all they’ have to do was read between the lines for the truth.
Harry tried to return to the papers after eating, but his heart wasn’t in it. All they’d found so far were “accidents” that were most likely hate crimes performed by Death Eaters, which wasn’t exactly comforting reading. He found his mind wandering; he thought about the Order, and wondered whether they’d managed to accomplish anything since the fall of the Ministry. He wondered, oddly enough, about Kreacher, and whether the house-elf had managed to survive the influx of Death Eaters into the House of Black.
Mostly, though, he wondered about Ron. In a moment of indignant anger, he hoped fervently that the rest of the Weasleys—Ginny in particular—were giving Ron hell for abandoning Harry and Hermione when they really needed him. But then Harry felt guilty for even thinking that.
He stood up abruptly, making Hermione look up in surprise. “I’m going outside,” he said. “We’ve been in here for hours—I just want a bit of fresh air.”
To his surprise, Hermione nodded. “All right,” she agreed, also setting aside her paper and standing up. “I could use a break as well. Reading about deaths isn’t exactly a pleasant way to spend an evening.”
But when they got outside it was already dark, and it had turned even more cold. Despite the many layers of clothes they were both wearing, it was too cold to stay outside for long. “Go on,” Hermione said, gesturing towards the tent. “I’ll take watch tonight.”
“No, it’s my turn—”
“I don’t mind, really,” Hermione said, her cheeks very pink.
Harry frowned. Hermione had taken watch the entire previous night—except for the time she had been inside, watching Harry… “Hermione, forget it,” Harry said firmly. “It’s my turn, and you’re tired and you’re clearly freezing.”
Hermione’s teeth were chattering, so she could hardly refute it. “Y-yes, but—”
Hermione looked up at Harry, and he thought he saw a flash of something in her eyes—the same something he’d seen the night before… and a dawning understanding. Of what, Harry had no idea. “Nothing,” she said abruptly. “Here.” She handed Harry her wand. “Thank you,” she said softly, and turned and went back inside.
Harry stepped back into the entryway, where a small, localized heating charm kept the worst of the cold off. After a few tries, he transfigured the chair he’d been sitting on into a fairly comfortable cushion. Mildly pleased with himself, he sat down and tried to get comfortable.
But with nothing to do, he ended up dwelling on Hermione. Her insistence on staying outside was odd… very odd. She hadn’t slept since two nights earlier, she was clearly very tired, and it was freezing out. And yet she’d been very firm about being the one to stay out. At least at first, and then all of a sudden she changed her mind. It was bewildering.
I mean, what is there out here? Harry wondered, glancing around at the dark, snowy woods. Nothing. I wonder what she did out here last night?
I wonder if she… got off, he thought with a blush. After all, she did walk in on me, and sat down and watched while I—
And then it hit him. He knew exactly what Hermione had been thinking, offering to let him be the first inside. And when he’d refused, she’d gotten that look in her eyes, and changed her mind, because that meant that things were reversed…
Harry stood up. He turned to the tent flap. Then he turned and walked a few paces away before stopping again. The cold cut at him, but he was oblivious as he glanced over his shoulder at the tent. If he went inside, was he going to find what he thought?
I can’t, he thought bitterly, closing his eyes. It’s not right. I don’t even—it’s not fair to her. If she’s… she doesn’t even want me that way, she’s just thinking about Ron! Just like I’d only be thinking of Ginny!
Was that why she was doing it? The night before, when Harry had—performed for Hermione, he’d had the strangest feeling that he wasn’t doing it for himself—he was doing it for her. He’d been certain that she was looking at him and seeing Ron… was she trying to return the favor? Or had he been mistaken, and she really was seeing him? And if so… what did that mean?
Harry waffled for over ten minutes before deciding. Even so, his hand hesitated; he took a deep breath to steady himself, and pushed the tent flap aside.
Hermione looked just as she had two nights earlier; her legs were stretched out straight on the bed and she was propped up on her elbows, but otherwise she was in the same post, and just as—unclad. Her hands were resting on her bare thighs, and she was staring at the tent flap. At Harry.
The chair that Hermione had sat in was still next to the door. After staring for a very long moment, Harry reached out without looking, pulled the chair over, and sat down. Hermione didn’t smile, or frown… but there was a definite look of gratitude in her eyes. Licking her lips, she lay back on the bed, closed her eyes, and slowly spread her legs.
This time Harry got to watch from the beginning; the circumstance had Hermione already aroused, but it was still from the first touch, the first gasp, that Harry saw. He saw her fingers grow slick from her own wetness, saw them spread her open, saw the first curl down and inside her. He heard each gasp, each whimper and sigh, until that familiar stutter came; her breath caught, her limbs stiffened, and Hermione came.
Harry waited until she opened her eyes before standing. He didn’t look up at her, though; his gaze was fixed on the openness of her sex. Swallowing, Harry stayed just long enough to be certain that Hermione saw him; then he turned and swept the tent flap aside, stepping back out into the cold.
His legs only supported him as far as the cushion. He collapsed onto it with a thump; his hand was already undoing his jeans, slipping inside and grasping his aching cock. With his eyes closed, it was easy to imagine those legs, those hands, that cunt… and almost as easy to imagine Ginny’s. In his head, Ginny stroked herself for him, and watched him watching her, and said the most unbelievable things… Harry came within moments, groaning softly.
He cleaned himself up and readjusted his clothes, and then sat staring out into the darkness. He waited for guilt to wash over him—guilt that he was hurting all three of the people who mattered most to him in the world. But nothing came—nothing, except a lessening of the loneliness he’d felt growing steadily worse over the last few months. He felt calm—truly calm and relaxed, like he hadn’t felt since… since before he could remember.
Harry woke with a start. His neck was stiff from the odd position he’d fallen asleep in, and he flexed it to try and loosen the muscles. Judging by the moon, he thought he’d been asleep for a few hours already. Amazingly, he didn’t remember dreaming—just a sound sleep that left him feeling deeply refreshed in spite of its shortness.
It was incredibly dark. The moon was no more than a few bits of hazy silver light glittering through the snow-covered branches, and the sky was empty of stars. Harry was reminded of the old expression “can’t see your hands in front of your face”.
He was about to put the adage to the test, when a brilliant light blossomed out of nowhere, right in front of him. Scrambling to his feet, Harry pointed Hermione’s wand. He opened his mouth to shout for Hermione, but stopped himself when the light took form. Harry squinted… and gasped when he saw its shape.
After a long moment the silvery doe turned and walked away. Harry thought he spoke, but he didn’t recognize his own voice. There was nothing he could do… no way he could not follow.
Once again, Harry was staring at the ceiling. It was already dawn, and he was more tired than he ever remembered being. Coming from the next bed over, Ron’s snores were oddly comforting, reminding him of the six years of school and summers in between that Harry had had to get used to it.
Harry thought briefly of the sword—Godric Gryffindor’s sword, securely stashed away in Hermione’s special bag. It was a miracle that they had it—a number of miracles, considering the circumstances by which they’d gotten it. But Harry found himself having trouble really caring, because none of that stuff mattered even a little compared with having Ron back.
It was almost like a dream. Harry remembered breaking the ice in the pond, stripping his clothes off and jumping in; he remembered the feel of the locket’s chain constricting around his neck; he remembered strong arms heaving him above the surface, remembered screaming at Ron to strike the Horcrux, destroy it, as a piece of Voldemort’s soul almost destroyed what was left of his best friend’s self-worth. But it was all like a dream, like some distant yet vivid memory that he couldn’t even be sure was really real.
The only part of it that was solid in Harry’s mind—the only part that he wanted to cling to, to make certain that he would never, ever forget it—was what he’d said to Ron after. In Ron’s weakest moment, when he was most likely more vulnerable than he’d ever been, Harry had managed, somehow, to say exactly the right thing, managed to give Ron exactly what he needed. Harry didn’t feel proud of himself for it—it wasn’t a matter of pride. But when he thought of everything that had happened that night, that was the moment in which he believed a miracle had occurred.
And part of what he’d said had been a lie. I reckon she feels the same way about me…
Or…might have been a lie. Harry wasn’t sure. That was why he couldn’t sleep. He didn’t want to think that Hermione had grown fond of him, assuming that what they’d done was anything more than a substitute for what—for who—Harry really longed for. But he didn’t know for certain.
Hermione had gotten up, dressed and gone outside hours ago. Harry had feigned sleep when she did, but now he knew he had to talk to her. Slipping out of bed as quietly as he could, he dressed quickly and headed for the door.
Hermione was sitting on the cushion just outside the tent, her wand draped across her knee. She looked up and smiled weakly at Harry when he came out. “Don’t tell him,” she said, “but I am glad that he’s back.”
“I figured that,” Harry admitted, sitting down beside her; the ground was very cold, but he didn’t complain.
“Did you do this?” Hermione asked, plucking at the cushion. Harry nodded. “A good job, Harry! I thought you had trouble with such advanced Transfiguration!”
“Yeah, well… it’s amazing what you can do when your arse is so sore,” Harry said wryly. Then he realized what he’d said and blushed. “Um…”
“I know what you meant,” Hermione said with a soft smile.
She turned and looked out at the forest; the sun was just visible through the trees, and it reflected off of all the snow, making the forest brilliantly bright. They were both silent for a while, but Hermione finally spoke; “He can’t ever know, Harry.”
Harry looked over at her in surprise. “What?”
“He can’t know,” Hermione repeated. “Or her. Even if nothing ever—I don’t want to make things worse. And I just don’t think they’d understand.”
There was no need to ask who “he” and “she” were. “So you—you did know, then?” Harry asked hopefully. “That I wasn’t—”
Hermione looked around and smiled sadly at him. “I never deluded myself into believing that you were thinking of anyone else but her,” she told him. “And I wouldn’t have wanted you to. We—we have enough to worry about without that much complication.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed, relieved more than he could believe. “We do. I just didn’t want to hurt your feelings in the process. You’ve had them hurt enough recently.”
Nodding, her eyes definitely wet, Hermione looked back out at the forest. “Sometimes,” she said thickly, “sometimes I wonder… I wonder why I—”
Harry took Hermione’s hand. She looked around at him, utterly shocked, and he knew why; it was the first time they’d touched, except to Apparate, in days. “I don’t,” Harry said with a grin.
Hermione sighed. “Well… yes, all right,” she agreed reluctantly, making Harry grin wider. “I—thank you, Harry. For everything, even—well, I’d never—”
“I know,” Harry said. “Me either—not that, at least.” His grin widened. “He’s a lucky man. Or at least, he will be.”
Hermione went scarlet.