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Happy Birthday, Hermione

The day was November 19, the time was nine in the morning, and where was Hermione? She was in Gryffindor Tower, finishing an essay about the last battle between the Goblins and the Imps. Although a seemingly boring subject to be assigned an essay to, she found herself addicted to describing the casualties of the historic battle, the numbers growing to dangerously high numbers within a matter of hours into the fight. Hermione suspected that her growing interest in her schoolwork was due to the increasingly growing difficulty that the professors were dishing out. Difficulties were what made her strong in training and she knew that when she was challenged at a school, then she would come out stronger. At the beginning of the term, she had been able to predict everything that was going to come out of their mouths before they even thought of what they were going to say, but now she was furiously scratching her quill across her parchment, trying desperately to keep up with their lectures. She had thought a few times to ask someone for help with the more difficult subjects, but decided against it. Hermione Granger didn't need anyone's help.

Another and more potent reason was that the feelings that she first acknowledged a few weeks ago, were now fully dominant in her daily life. No matter where she went, no matter what she did, Harry was always on her mind. Studying and homework made for a good distraction, if only for a little while. But half of the time Harry usually found her and asked if she could use some company. Her conscious mind always screamed against it, but her big, fat mouth refused to listen. Then she ended up having another easy-to-maneuver conversation with him and fell even deeper into the hole she knew was being dug. Why couldn't she ever say no to him? It was as if he had put a spell on her or something! But no matter how much Hermione tried to divert the blame from herself, she knew that it was far from the truth.

Distractions could only last so long when you are trying to avoid something.

“Hey Hermione”

At first, when Hermione felt a presence coming up behind her, she thought it was Ginny. After all, she was the only person that got up as early as she did on a weekend. Unfortunately, she was proved wrong. “Hello Harry”

He took a seat next to her and gave her a smile, one that made her stomach twist in knots again. If this is what friendship felt like, why was she so adamant in convincing herself that it wouldn't be so bad? It hurt like hell! He kept smiling and soon the pain was too much to bear.

“What?!” she said harshly.

“Do you want to go down and eat breakfast?” he asked levelly, not affected by her harsh tone.

Hermione narrowed her eyebrows suspiciously, “But Ginny and Ron aren't even up yet.”

He nodded, “Exactly”

“Not usually the words used to explain the absence of your best friend and girlfriend.” Hermione commented, looking at him pointedly.

He shrugged his shoulders, “I want to show you something.”

She looked at him reproachfully, wondering what had brought this on. “Why?”

He shook his head in bewilderment. Hermione opened her mouth to speak up again, but he took her hand and led her off of the couch. His touch on her hand caused her to drop her quill as a shock as fast as lightning zapped through her body, starting from her fingertips to her toes. What in Merlin's name was that?

“Come on” was the only thing he said as he led her out of the tower and into the hallway.

Hermione remained silent as he led her down a series of halls and stairs. She didn't want to think, didn't want to ruin this… this moment. The only reason she even considered this a moment was because his hand hadn't let go of hers since they had left. It wasn't as if she were gripping on for dear life, begging him not to let her hand go; her hand was virtually limp, only curling around his slightly so she wouldn't lose grip and fall behind. She wondered vaguely if he could feel her hand beginning to sweat at the pressure. At least, she thought it was because of the pressure.

It was when Hermione came into view of a large portrait of a fruit basket that they stopped. Hermione observed the area, wondering what was so special about this place. There was only a portrait. She turned to look at him with an odd look, “What am I supposed to see here?”

Harry only smiled at stepped up to the portrait, coming to focus on the pear buried within it. Hermione opened her mouth to question him when hi hand came up and he tickled the pear. That's right, tickled. Hermione stood there, transfixed by the movement and almost jumped when the portrait swung open. He stood agape at the hidden doorway as Harry turned to look at her. He took her hand again and led her into the room.

It was as though she had died and gone to heaven.

The kitchen, she was in the Hogwarts kitchen.

“Oh Merlin” she breathed as she started to look around the room. She saw cabinets upon cabinets filled with food of every kind—ranging from sliced carrots to packaged meats. Pots and pans aligned the walls and she could see a brick fireplace on one end of the large room. In fact, the room was so large, that she thought it was an exact replica of the Great Hall, with tables that looked like the house tables, but empty. Cooling spells were present to preserve the foods which needed it and she could feel the slight chill they gave off. She spun around to look at Harry to see him looking at her with a grin on his face.

“Happy Birthday, Hermione”

Her mouth dropped open. She had forgotten that today was her birthday and he had remembered it, just like he said he would. “Y-you remembered?”

“Of course I did” he said.

She took another look around the room, “And this—”

“This is my present. You told me that you loved the food here so I thought I'd share my little secret with you: unlimited access to the school kitchens. But only Ron knows, so try to keep it on the down low, yeah?” he asked in a hush.

Hermione nodded, “I just… no one has really ever done something like this for me before”

His brow furrowed, “Really?”

“Yeah” she answered honestly.

“Not even your parents?” he asked.

She shook her head and caught a glimpse of movement in the corner of her eye. She turned and saw a house elf bustling around the kitchen and had to contain a gasp. She turned back to Harry, “What's a house elf doing here?”

“Oh, well they're the cook's here.” he explained.

Hermione looked startled, “Really?”

He nodded, “But don't worry, I know one who gets paid to work here. They all love it working at Hogwarts.” he pointed to a table near the middle of the room, “Wanna take a seat?”

Hermione smiled and followed Harry to the table. She sat down across from him as a house elf with tennis-ball shaped green eyes came to halt next to him. There was something familiar about this elf, but she couldn't quite place it. “Mister Harry Potter, sir! Dobby is so pleased to see you!”

It was then that it clicked. Dobby! Her old house elf, Dobby! Her eyes widened and she bowed her head down, suddenly conscious of her appearance. If he recognized her, she would be in deep shit! Although half of her wanted to shout out who she was, if only to talk to him as if nothing had changed, she knew that that wasn't the best idea at the moment. Hopefully time had been good to her and disguised the 13-year-old he used to know.

“Hello Dobby, how've you been?” Harry asked politely.

“Dobby has been good, sir, very good! Who is Harry Potter's new friend?” Dobby looked over to Hermione and she met his eyes, trying to mask her fear.

“Oh, where are my manners, Dobby this is—”

“If you don't mind, Harry, I would just like to get something to eat and get back to my essay.” Hermione interrupted, plastering an innocent smile on her face.

Harry gave her an odd look, “Umm… alright, then. Dobby, could you just bring us some flapjacks and breakfast muffins with eighteen candles on them, please?”

Dobby nodded enthusiastically, “Right away, sir!”

The house elf scurried off and Harry turned over to Hermione, looking at her oddly. She smiled at him meekly and tried to avoid his gaze. “What was that about?”

“Nothing, I… I just want to get back to my essay is all.” She lied.

He didn't believe her. “Hermione, it's your birthday. You need to relax, take it easy.”

She shook her head, “It's just another day, Harry—another day, another essay that I need to complete.”

He sighed, “I used to think that.”

She tilted her head at him in curiosity, “What do you mean `used to'?”

“Well, after so many `surprise' parties courtesy of the Weasley's you get used to the idea of your birthday being worth celebrated. Plus, the gifts aren't half bad, either.” He said with a grin.

“So you're just in it for the presents, then?” she asked humorously.

He smirked, “Naturally.” When her face lost the small traces of humor, he spoke up in a serious tone, “You have celebrated your birthday before, right?”

She scoffed, “Of course I have.” A flash of her last “birthday present” and she let her already rising temper show in her features. Harry seemed to notice this and raised an eyebrow at her, knowing that there was something else she wasn't telling him. She thought about it for a second, wondering if she should let him in again. On the logical side, it was the right decision, trimming the edges of anything that would give away her true identity. Besides, she had already done it a few times before and he never seemed suspicious of her motives. She sighed, “My… family's way of celebrating it usually only benefitted them rather than me. It got to the point where I just couldn't take it anymore and asked them to stop about three years ago. But my… boyfriend always insisted on giving me a gift every year and the same thing happened. You can use your imagination for the rest.”

He nodded in understanding, a slight frown present on his lips, “What constitutes only benefitting them?”

She smiled smugly, “Well he usually finished before I—”

“I meant with your parents” he said, a repulsive look on his face, probably caused by the mental picture Hermione had just drawn for him.

She laughed quietly at his face and answered him, “Parties, balls, anything designating as a formal get-together where the only thing I was needed for was to blow out the candles.”

He looked at her placidly, “Must have been horrible.”

She shook her head, “Not really, the cake was always good.”

He chuckled, “You know what I mean.”

Nodding she tried to search for another sarcastic comment to keep her from digging up these old wounds. There was nothing. So, she settled for being pathetic as a sad look washed over her features. “You sort of become numb to it after a while. Your birthday slowly turns into another day where the only thing different is that you grew a few inches more than last year."

He leaned back in his seat, “Well when I was growing up, my birthday was never celebrated.” Hermione was surprised at his confession. “So it's safe to say that you're not preaching to the wrong choir. But even though it was just another day, I still tried to do something to acknowledge it like bake muffins at midnight when my aunt and uncle were asleep or go to the playground for the whole day even if it meant extra dishes to wash that night.”

Hermione thought for a moment before replying, “I guess… I never really cared much for growing older. The older you are, the more you grow weaker, loose agility.”

He looked at her for a moment, “That's not entirely true. The older you get, the wiser you get.”

“Yeah, but wisdom isn't always an easily acquired trait.” She reasoned.

“It just depends what kind of people you're around.” He said in a lucid voice.

She turned to look at him and sore she saw something flash in his eyes. It was like he was trying to read her. She immediately put up her walls but didn't feel anything trying to press against then. Maybe he's using another way of reading you, her mind supplied, like actually studying you and trying to figure you out the normal way. But something in the back of her head was rebelling; something was telling her that she shouldn't be thinking too much on this. There were consequences of thinking too much, like showing emotion. She saw him lean forward on his elbows slightly, tilting his to the side and continuing to look at her with that searching look on his face.

“Here you are sir and miss!” Dobby's voice perked up from beside them.

Harry's neck craned over to where the smiling house elf was standing and smiled politely at him. “Thank you, Dobby.”

Dobby nodded with a wide grin, “It is no problem, Harry Potter, sir! Dobby enjoys his company very much!”

Hermione couldn't help but crack a smile at the familiar enthusiasm. It had always made her smile when she was younger, and it was a small relief to know that even with years apart, he could still affect her so. Dobby left with a slight bow and disappeared into the kitchen. Hermione looked after him for a moment before turning to her food. She couldn't help but let her heart swarm at the assortment of muffins and flapjacks, each with a lit candle or two on them. She looked up at Harry to see him smiling at her.

“Make a wish” he said briskly, nodding to the food.

Hermione bit her lip as she thought of what she should wish for. She already had everything she wanted at the tips of her fingers, so what else was there? Taking a chance, she leaned down and blew out the candles with the one thing she had always used to wish for on her miserable birthdays: happiness. Even though she was completely content with her life, she had never been truly happy. Although she knew it was a long shot, as the wish had never come true thus far, it was still the only thing she was missing. Each of the eighteen candles went out as though a large gust of wind had blow by. Hermione smirked as she looked back up at Harry.

“So what did you wish for?” he asked, reaching for a muffin.

Hermione beat him and grabbed the muffin her was reaching for, plucking the single candle out and taking a bite. He looked at her amusingly and she smiled, “You know as well as I do that you don't tell anyone your wish or else it won't ever come true.”

He nodded and grabbed another muffin, taking a bite, “Yes, but now I know that it was something you really want to come true. Usually, when it's a silly wish, people tell others what they asked of the Birthday Fairy.”

Hermione chuckled, “Interesting analogy.”

“I like to think I'm a genius when it comes to these things.”

“Yeah, well don't get to full of yourself, you might explode or something.” She said, beaming at him blithely.

“It would make good old Voldermort's job much easier. I can see the headline now, `Harry Potter: Death by Humongous Ego'” he said with a laugh.

Hermione, however, didn't hear anything past the Dark Lord's name. “You… you speak his name?” she asked, trying to hide the awe mixed with anger that she felt.

He shrugged nonchalantly, “Well yeah, it's just a name, isn't it?”

Hermione shook her head, “It's the name of the most powerful Dark Lord of all time! I thought people feared speaking it, not say it as though it were the name of their confidant.” Control yourself, Hermione, she told herself, one slip and you're screwed.
“You obviously haven't gotten to know me well, if that's your conclusion. When you're number one on someone's hit list, you don't have a problem telling people who it is.” He said calmly.

She narrowed her eyes, “You're very stubborn, aren't you?”

He raised his hands, “Sue me.”

Hermione couldn't help but smile. He was definitely different from anyone she had ever met. No one had dared speak his name in front of her before, or anyone else for that matter. It was a… relief. Even she had never spoken his name aloud and here was this guy who said it so fluently that she couldn't help but be in awe. She should be angry, she should be yelling at him, she should have some sort of emotion breaking through her other than abatement. But Hermione couldn't do anything but feel admiration. He was brave, and she hailed it.

Maybe this was what friendship was supposed to feel like, and the other contractions of her stomach where an unpleasant side-effect. Admiration, the new feeling that she was growing to like, was now pouring over her. She didn't know what to say, she was unable to speak. Luckily, Harry chose that time to look at his watch and his eyes widened.

“Shit!” he cursed as he began to wipe the crumbs off of his shirt from the many muffins and flapjacks he had been consuming. “I have a Quidditch game in twenty minutes!”

Hermione nodded and got up from the table, grabbing another muffin for the trip. Harry sent a quick “Thank you!” to Dobby as they rushed out of the kitchen side-by side. Hermione tried her best to keep pace with him, but felt herself wavering as they followed the single corridor. When they arrived in the entrance hall, she looked behind her, trying to memorize the way for future references. Hermione ran to catch up with Harry as they ascended all the way to the seventh floor. Harry said the password to the tower and the fat lady let them through, Hermione nursing a slight stitch in her side. She needed to get back into shape.

Harry turned to her, “Are you going to come?”

Hermione found herself nodding, “Of course, I wouldn't miss it.”

He sent her a dazzling smile and he sprinted up the stairs to his dormitory. Hermione sighed and left the common room, following the route she knew led to the Quidditch pitch. Today's match was Gryffindor versus Slytherin, the first game of the year. It was supposed to be held a week previous, but due to an injury on the Slytherin team, it had been postponed a week. Hermione found herself becoming excited at the premise of the game. She had gone to a few with the Malfoy's when she was younger, but when she moved to Riddle Manor, she was forbidden to leave unless otherwise ordered. She had missed watching the sport and the fact that it was her best friend up against her… other friend, made it increasingly appealing.

She arrived at the pitch and took a seat in the Gryffindor stands. Ron, Ginny, and Harry were all on the team so she found herself sitting alone. Not that she minded much, she was used to being by herself She sat in silence for awhile, observing the view from the stands. You could see the forbidden forest from where she sat, the trees blowing slightly in the cool breeze. She had elected not to grab a coat on her way out, knowing that the forecast for today wasn't going to call for one.

She heard the click of a megaphone and adjusted her position in her seat, turning her head to look over at the commentator's booth. Her housemate Dean Thomas's voice boomed throughout the pitch, “Welcome one and all to the first Quidditch match of the season!” Cheers were heard throughout the stadium and he continued, “And here comes the Slytherin team: Malfoy, Goyle, Crabbe, McLaughlin, Broadcorb, Zambini, and Vaisey!” The players all flew onto the field and did a lap, circling the stands. Hermione saw Draco wink at her and she scoffed. “And the Gryffindor team: Weasley, Robins, Weasley, Arndt, Yettaw, Wooster, aaaaannndddddd POTTER!” The stands erupted in cheers once again, this time more lively and Hermione clapped her hands and let out a scream for her house team. They also did a lap and Ginny waved at her. Hermione waved back and watched as they all flew away.

She observed as they all assumed their positions and waited for Madame Hooch, the referee, to blow the whistle and throw up the Quaffle to begin the game. She saw the older woman say something to the players before blowing her whistle loudly and releasing the scarlet ball. The students cheered as the players all swooped throughout the field. Ginny caught the Quaffle and sped towards the three golden hoops on the Slytherin side of the field.

“Weasley has the Quaffle! She passes it to Wooster, to Yettaw, back to Weasley and… she scores! Ten points to Gryffindor!”

Hermione cheered along with the rest of Gryffindor and a majority of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. It continued like that, Ginny scoring most of the goals for Gryffindor and Broadcorb of Slytherin getting some in as well. She realized that Crabbe and Goyle were horrible at beating Bludgers away, as most of their team had already been hit more than once by them. Not that she was surprised, as they were both complete idiots.

Harry was circling the pitch, his eyes focused on finding the snitch and Draco was on his tail. Hermione rolled her eyes at his predictable behavior. He always had to follow someone, even if it wasn't intentional. Once in a blue moon he would take action, but most of the time he was still a slime ball waiting for orders. It was only when he was with her that he found the need to be in control.

“Potter has seen the snitch!” Dean's amplified voice screamed.

And it was true, as Hermione saw a glimmer of gold in the path of Harry's broom. Draco came up beside him and began pushing him out of the way. Hermione frowned as the two boys fought furiously for the snitch. Draco continued to push Harry out of the way and she fought the urge to scream at him. Why, she did not know. If truth be told, she should be rooting for her best friend, the one she had known her whole life. But she felt compelled to root for Harry, the one who had clearly spotted the snitch first.

“McLaughlin scores, ten points to Slytherin!”

Hermione held her breath. The score was now tied; eighty to eighty and the pressure was all on the two seekers. The snitch was long gone and both boys were scowling at the other. It was then that Harry made a dive to the ground, Draco immediately following him. Hermione saw that there was no snitch and knew what he was pulling. She had seen many seekers do it before, but only a few had pulled it off. The name of the dangerous move escaped her as her focus stayed on Harry and his decent towards the ground at a maximum speed. Draco was on his tail by a few inches and Hermione held her breath again, biting her lip until she felt the copper taste of blood fill her mouth.

She leaned forward as she saw Harry pull up inches from the ground. Hermione let out her breath and closed her eyes in relief, thankful that he was alright. A gasp filled the stadium and her eyes shot open. Draco was lying on the ground, rolling around in pain. She felt a tug in her gut as a floating stretcher popped onto the field. The game continued on as Draco was levitated onto the stretcher, looking to be unconscious. Hermione was so focused on him that she didn't see when Harry had flown sharply to the left towards her side of the stands and catch a shiny, golden ball in his palm.

“POTTER HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH, GRYFFINDOOR WINS!”

Hermione jumped up from her seat and screamed, all thoughts of Draco evaporating from her mind. The Gryffindor team flew down to congratulate their seeker and Hermione smiled as he was caught in a group hug. But Hermione's smiled faltered as he saw Harry pick up Ginny, twirl her around and kiss her passionately on the lips as if in slow motion. The pain was in her chest this time. She felt the breath leave her as she pushed her way past the people exiting the stands onto the field. They were all gathered below around the team, congratulating them, and she had to shove her way past them all. The exit was on the other side of the crowd and she was almost there when she heard someone call her name.

“Hermione!” his voice was loud; she could hear the grin in it.

She chose not to acknowledge it and pushed her way through the crowd further, nearing the exit. She heard him call her name again, penetrating her, making her chest ache even more. If all he did was causing her pain, why was she even here in the first place? Why had she agreed to come?

Hermione reached the exit and she walked the way to the castle, her arms folded across her chest. A wind blew against her and she shivered, cursing herself for forgetting about wind chill. Her feet carried her and she was numb to her surroundings, just following wherever her instincts told her to go. She heard the laughter and loud chatter behind her and quickened her pace into the castle. She turned right at the main staircase and followed the long corridor to the portrait of a fruit basket. She tickled the pair quickly and climbed into the doorway, leaning against it once she was safely inside. Hermione didn't know what led her here, but she was relieved that her mind had chosen a secluded place only few people knew about.

Hermione let her head loll to the side and let her body relax. She took a seat at the nearest table and put her head down, letting her mind rest from the conflicting emotion running through her mind. Her collective period was short-lived, however, as the pitter patter of footsteps interrupted the silence. Jerking her head up, she saw big, green eyes staring up at her and she relaxed.

“Hello Dobby” she said, picking her head up and looking at the small house elf.

Dobby smiled at her widely, “Hello Miss Hermione!”

Hermione's blood ran cold as he continued to grin at her. “How… how did you know it was me?”

“Dobby is very good at remembering his former masters” He stated proudly.

“Well, then why did you ask who I was earlier when I was with Harry?” she asked curiously.

“I never said it took Dobby a short period of time to remember.” He said with a blush on his cheeks.

Hermione smiled sweetly at the elf when a thought struck her. “Dobby, how did you end up working here at Hogwarts? I thought Lucious—”

“Dobby was set free, miss!” he cut in enthusiastically, “Harry Potter helped free Dobby from that horrible man! He planted a sock in the diary, he did! He got me a job at Hogwarts, a paying job!”

“He—he did?” she asked in wonder. So it had been Harry who took Dobby away from her? Harry had set her elf free? But by the look on Dobby's face, she knew that it was for his own good. Luscious had treated him horribly, and sometimes he would come up to her room, crying from the pain he had inflicted on him. Hermione used to tend to his wounds with a spare first aid kit she had always kept in her room and her wand. She would let him stay in her room until the next morning, when he had to make breakfast. So really, Harry had saved Dobby.

“You have grown up much, Miss Hermione.” Dobby commented in awe.

She smiled, “I see you haven't changed much, Dobby, save for a bit more confidence.”

He nodded, “Dobby is not afraid of anything!”

Hermione giggled and she looked at him seriously for a moment, remembering what she wanted to ask of him. “Do you mind not telling Harry about how you know me, Dobby?”

Dobby tilted his head to the side, “Why, Miss?”

Hermione bit her lip and spoke in a hushed voice, “I'm just… embarrassed about growing up with the Malfoy's and want to tell him myself… later. Please, Dobby?”

“Keep a secret from Harry Potter?” he thought for a moment and saw the sad look on Hermione's face. “Alright, but only if Miss Hermione gives Dobby a pair of socks for Christmas”

Hermione smiled and nodded, “Of course, Dobby, thank you so much!”

She embraced the elf and pulled back grinning. Dobby spoke up once more, “Why is it that you are at Hogwarts, Miss Hermione? You were not allowed last time Dobby was around.”

Hermione faltered, “They… they changed their minds after a while, I guess.”

Dobby beamed, “Dobby is glad you are here, Miss Hermione, Dobby missed you!”

“I missed you too, Dobby” she said honestly.

“You want something to drink, miss?” Dobby asked politely, backing away towards where the food and drinks were stored.

Hermione thought for a moment before she settled on the one thing she knew would calm her nerves. “Got any firewhisky?”

Dobby frowned, “We is only supposed to use it for special occasions…” Hermione's face fell and Dobby seemed to consider something for a moment. “But Dobby thinks seeing his Hermione again is a special occasion.”

Hermione grinned as Dobby pulled out a glass full of Ogden's finest. He poured her a small glass full and she drowned it quickly, feeling the slight burn as it etched its way down her throat. She looked up at him with a dark look on her face, “You might want to give me the whole bottle, Dobby”

“The whole bottle, miss?” he asked, slightly taken aback.

Hermione nodded wordlessly, “It is a very special occasion after all.”

Dobby seemed reproachful for a moment before sliding her the whole bottle. Hermione smiled in thanks and nursed the bottle to her lips, gulping down the sharp tasting liquid. She knew she should stop, thinking of the hangover she would have in the morning. She was never one to enjoy the blistering headaches and dizziness. Hermione asked Dobby if he knew someone with a hangover potion and he replied that he had some left over for his friend, Winky. He said she could borrow the rest of it and Hermione's resolve flew out the window. She chugged the bottle of firewhisky until the last drop fell onto her tongue, her last thought being of Harry and Ginny kissing on the Quidditch pitch. She flinched at the picture and asked for another bottle. Dobby complied hesitantly, but brought her another one after she insisted.

She was going to have one hell of a morning, but she didn't care.

Harry and Ginny could go fuck themselves.

~*~

A/N: Thank you all for your fabulous reviews! I'm so glad that you like the story!! Sorry that the updates are taking so long. But hey, that's life. Please continue with your fabulous feedback and I'll update quickly =]

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