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Chapter 18- Not Strong Enough to Break


Luna awoke that morning to a loud rapping on her door. At first she of course thought it was merely a dream as lately her dreams had included bongos, but she pulled herself awake when she realized the beat was a bit off.

Tying her robe and hurrying to the door, she unlocked it to reveal a frazzled looking Hermione.

“I ate the entire tin of chocolate covered slugs,” she explained meekly. Luna nodded and simply moved aside letting Hermione enter the apartment. The witch looked positively panic ridden with her hair wild and sticking out in all sorts of places. Her clothes were obviously thrown on in a hurry.

Hermione entered the apartment but she didn’t stay still. Immediately, she began pacing. On the other hand Luna walked lazily over to the sofa and took a seat taking in her friend’s state at six o’clock in the morning.

“So you were saying?”

Hermione threw her hands up in the air. “Luna, I ate the ENTIRE tin of chocolate covered slugs!! WHY! Why did I have to do that?!!”

“I happen to like chocolate covered slugs… I think they’re good. I’d eat the whole tin too if the opportunity arose,” said Luna with a distant look.

Hermione stopped to glare at her. “Luna, I’m talking about the metaphor.”

“So am I.”

Hermione caught the platinum haired witch’s subtle wink quickly followed by a happy smirk. She brushed it aside with a wave of her hand. “Luuuunnnna this isn’t helping…” She groaned as she resumed her laps around the living room.

With a sigh, Luna ventured towards the next hurdle. “Did you use protection?”

Hermione stopped and looked at her confused. “What? Why would I need protection with-” Realization finally sunk in and Hermione’s eyes went wide. “No! We didn’t do that!! Merlin… ha noooooo. Thank God we didn’t do that! WE just snogged. I thought the slugs were just snogging?”

“It’s a metaphor… it’s open for interpretation,” shrugged Luna. “So… how was it?”

Hermione paused and sat down on the sofa’s far end arm rest. She looked up at Luna with pure agony. “At first… it was bad. I think I caught him off guard.”

“Then after that?”

Running her fingers through her hair, Hermione sighed before saying, “Bloody fantastic.”

Despite her friend’s obvious discomfort and angst with the whole situation, Luna could not help the wide grin that spread across her face with Hermione’s words. “I told you he’d be good.”

“You did not! You said he’d be good in bed!” exclaimed Hermione. “There were no in bed relations going on between us.”

“Well where were you?”

“On the sofa…”

“Oh… you’re right then,” conceded Luna with a glint in her eye that made Hermione feel like she had not really won the argument at all. The playfulness in Luna’s eyes slowly melted though to only be replaced by genuine concern for her friend’s worries. “What happened last night?”

Hermione slid into the seat on the sofa. Then quietly she went through and explained the entire night. How she had ended up sharing the couch with Harry, how she had gently began combing her fingers through his hair to get him to rest, and how it all had escalated. “Then we just went to sleep… and I woke up this morning next to him with his arm around me. So… I got up and came straight here,” finished Hermione.

“And? What are you going to do? Are you going to talk to him?” Hermione stood up anxiously wringing her hands together. She hadn’t a clue what she was going to do. She hadn’t a clue what she was going to say to him. That’s part of the reason why she ran. She had a pretty clear idea of how awkward waking up with Harry was going to be and so she avoided that little piece of torture by fleeing to Luna’s for the morning.

“I don’t know, Luna… what should I do?” Luna’s eyes traveled over her confused friend standing before her asking her for advice. The blonde’s face was sober and serious when she addressed her.

“You already know what you’re going to do… You don’t need me to tell you anything, Hermione. You already know what you’re going to say. You’re just scared to say it, but don’t be scared. It needs to be said.”

Hermione’s eyes masked over with emotion.

“Why do you always have to be right Luna?” She asked quietly, her mind already made up.

“I’ve heard people ask you the same thing,” said Luna with a small smile. Then with a great sigh, Hermione stood up.

“Are you going back to talk to him?” asked Luna.

“No… not yet. I’m gonna go take a walk. Try to think,” she muttered with a shake of her head. Luna nodded and bid Hermione goodbye as the older witch made her way out the door leaving Luna to return to her bed, her dreams and the bongos of course.


**********


By the time Hermione had built up her courage to come home it was late in the evening. She walked into silence. The flat was completely quiet as she entered. The only sound being the click of the door closing behind her as it rang out throughout the apartment.

A nervousness enveloped her and she balled her fists to keep them from shaking.

Then down the hall she watched as the door to Harry’s room was pulled ajar. He had been waiting to hear that sound all day, the door to their flat opening and Hermione returning home to him. He appeared in the hallway, the light from his room overflowing into the hall and casting a glow on him.

She leaned back against the door as his eyes caught hers. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said back.

Hermione knew what she wished would happen. In her head she had this fantasy that she would close the door behind her, Harry would come out of his room, and then without hesitation he would stride down the hall and kiss her senseless. No questions, no worries, no need for her to say what she knew she was going to say. He would silence her every thought with the same mind numbing kiss he’d given her last night.

But her fantasy never came true.

Harry stood at the opposite end of the hall shifting his feet awkwardly, hoping she would begin the proceedings first and yet wishing she would not. He knew what she was going to say. He knew it the moment he woke up that morning with her gone. It was even more solidified as the day went on and she stayed away from him. A much larger part of him than he was ready to admit did not have the courage to extend last night into the day. They had kissed under the cover of darkness, under the blind eye of the moon. The night had enchanted him even more with her and emboldened him to do something he had wanted to do for quite some time, but now that his curiosity had been sated and the day had returned he felt the sharp sting of reality. He knew the moment she left his arms that morning that neither of them was ready to fully accept the consequences for those actions.

But a part of him wished she wouldn’t say it. A part of him wished she would just run to his arms and let them be. But alas, Hermione was not a worry free girl and he knew she would not come back to him ready to face the day. So he prepared himself for the inevitable regardless of what he personally felt.

When Hermione found her voice, she could feel her throat constrict with some ill fated, too late emotions. She forced her voice through it knowing she was not ready for what heartache was sure to come if she continued on the same path as last night.

“Harry last night was,” Hermione felt her entire body seize. She hated herself for saying what she was about to say, so she closed her eyes in an effort to fool herself into thinking it was some other person’s voice speaking the word, some other person’s body, “a mistake… We’ve both been through a lot these last few months. It’s no exaggeration saying that each of us have been on quite an emotional rollercoaster.”

Harry’s eyes hit the floor and stayed there. A mistake?

“I meant to comfort you last night… I let it get out of hand and I apologize for that. You were vulnerable and I mistook that. I took advantage of the situation.”

Her words hung in the air like a cold chill sweeping through a valley. Harry could feel the cold sink deep under his skin until it rattled his bones. His head was screaming to object, to say that he had kissed her back and that it had been his choice too. He had let things get out of hand too. But for some reason he held his tongue.

“I hope that this doesn’t taint our… our friendship,” she finished. Her mouth felt dry as she uttered the word that she had for so long known to associate with the boy in front of her. But now that word felt like a lie, like some betrayal against her heart. It made no matter. It was for the best. With nothing left to say, or really nothing left she could say, she moved past him to her own room. Without even a look behind her or a goodnight, she shut the door and left him alone in the hallway.

Hermione walked steadily to her closet and began getting undressed for the night. She was fine. Everything was fine. She had done the right thing, the most sensible thing. And that’s who she was. She was the sensible one.

She felt her eyes get hot and sting with unshed tears. Her lower lip quivered as she shut her eyes as tightly as she could forcing them back in. This was stupid, she knew. What’s the use in getting all bent out of shape over something so foolish? But still, the tears came.

It was only a stupid snog for Merlin’s sake. At least that’s what she kept telling herself.


**********


The next two weeks were God awfully painful for the two. It was like the Prophet had come out with a whole new article with the way they avoided each other. Thankfully, by the end of the two weeks they had somehow fallen into some acceptable level of interaction, one that was neither uncomfortable nor comfortable.

But they lived with it. Going through their days at the Ministry, Hermione occasionally traveling, and then coming home back to their flat that was filled with a tension that no matter what level of acceptable interaction they had established they could never totally get rid of.

Soon, Harry found himself somehow missing the girl that lived right down the hall. She was a short walk away, only a few paces. Yet he felt like she kept herself on another continent, she was so distant from him.

His mind kept drifting back to that night, their one night together.

He had never slept so soundly, not even after the war was well and gone. But it wasn’t the sleep he missed. He longed for the tranquility that had engulfed him at the same time his arms had engulfed her. And his mind turned around and around everyday thinking of it, thinking of her. Where had his courage gone? Where had the brave lion heart within him disappeared to?

In Paris, he remembered how empty he had felt sleeping alone on the sofa. That same emptiness was cutting through him except ten fold stronger. His sanctuary in the living room from the past that plagued his bedroom was now a plague in itself. A constant reminder of his cowardice to actually vocalize his feelings to the one person that he had always been able to say those things to, even the most embarrassing of feelings. So now he preferred the bedroom. He could handle the bed. It was the sofa he could no longer handle.

A picture had made him see her, had made him wonder what her kiss would taste like. And now, a few short kisses had made him want her above anything else, above anyone else. So he could not take their silence any longer, he could not ignore that swell in his chest. That swell had grown and escaped his chest overtaking his entire body, his entire being enraptured by the movements of just one person, a person he’d regretfully overlooked the last eleven years of his life. And he was no longer willing to do so anymore.


**********


Harry entered the flat after his day at work. He’d gone to her office before he’d left to see if maybe she’d fancy a walk home, but he found the door locked. The secretary had said that she’d left early for the day.

So Harry had walked home alone.

The apartment’s living room was a spectrum of soft hues flowing from the fireplace. Hanging his cloak in the hall closet, Harry glanced in catching his favorite witch sprawled out on the sofa, her head against the arm rest. True to form she was biting her lip and was obviously deep in thought as she poured over a boulder of a book that stood upright on her belly.

He recognized how engrossed she was and knew that she had failed to register his presence as he leaned up against the opening’s frame. That moment seemed like just as good as any other to him.

Gathering his courage and mustering all the charm he could, he pushed off from the entryway. Quietly, careful not to disturb her, he strode over to her feet and lifted them. Seating himself underneath, he gently placed them back down over his lap. Even though, Harry sat tall he could not see her expression from the massive tome she hid behind. But he knew all the same that she was hyper aware of his presence now and he sat silently relishing that little fact.

“Whatcha doing?”

“It’s this new thing… it’s called reading.” A smile tugged at Harry’s mouth with her humor.

“Ha-ha… what are you reading?” asked Harry peaking over the edge of the book to catch her eye.

“Wouldn’t you like to know…” she muttered, her eyes never leaving the page.

Lifting her legs up again, Harry scooted himself as close as he could, her bum pressed up against his right thigh. Whether this was affecting her at all or not, he hadn’t a clue nor had he decided did he care. Leaning in and cocking his head to the side, he was able to read the pages that she was apparently so enthralled by that she couldn’t even spare a glance to him.

“Goblins? It’s six o’clock in the evening on a Friday and you want to read about goblins!”

His head turned to look at her incredulously. Hermione couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Yes well some of us actually have these things called jobs. And it’s really crazy, but they require you to go to them on the weekends… prepared too! Unlike some people who never work on the weekends and sit around in their pajamas,” she countered in a mocking manner.

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll have you know that I am ALWAYS prepared for my job… and my boss LETS me have the weekends off. Unlike some people who get to make their own work schedules yet still feel the need to go in on the weekends even when it’s completely pointless.”

“I’ll have YOU know that I am preparing for my trip to Bulgaria where I will be speaking with a number of Bulgarian goblins,” she stated matter of fact like.

“Oh yes… of course. Well Bulgarian goblins are indeed the worst.” Harry’s eyebrows lifted sarcastically.

Hermione finally pulled her eyes away from her paragraph to glare at Harry. What started as a glare quickly turned to something else entirely as she suddenly realized how close Harry had leaned in. Her face felt hot and her stomach fluttered as her eyes traveled up and down his profile. All the while he pretended to read.

As she turned her head to the side to look at him one more time, she found that her nose was only mere millimeters away from his cheek. She had to suppress the urge to nuzzle into that cheek, to shower feather light kisses down into the crook of his neck. With all her resolve, she forced her eyes back to her page.

“Hermione, this book has somehow surpassed Binns. This might be the most boring read I’ve ever skimmed across.”

“And we all know you’ve skimmed across many a read,” she quipped smugly.

Harry turned to sneer at her just as she did to smirk at him. And then they were stuck. Just like two weeks before on the very same sofa, their eyes were locked on each other’s. The corner of his mouth tugged into a small smile as he realized their predicament while Hermione’s expression quickly turned sober. Harry watched as her cheeks tinged slightly and he couldn’t help but feel like patting himself on the back. This was the proximity that he had been dreaming about. Without even a moment’s hesitation, he leaned in until his nose was nestled against hers.

She couldn’t move. Hermione felt like her entire body was frozen under him. It felt like an out of body experience. She could see herself, a statue on the couch as Harry neared ever closer bridging some gap that had been forged between the two for the last couple of weeks.

But before he could tilt his head and give her a taste of the kiss she had missed so much, she heard her brain scream, a scream so loud that it reverberated throughout her entire body and her mouth had no choice but to form the words that it willed her to say.

“No… No, Harry.” Her hand came up on his chest to halt him from moving forward. Then just as quickly as he had created the moment, he lost it as Hermione got up and left for her room.

What had he done wrong?


**********


The next week Hermione avoided him, very successfully as a matter of fact. Harry quickly found, even though he should have realized by that point, that the witch was far too good at whatever she set her mind on, the current model case being skivving off from ever seeing Harry again.

He was beginning to grow desperate. This was getting completely ridiculous. And so he decided to pull out all the stops. Yes, he was going to play dirty. He had enlisted the help of Aldo. The more than obliging house elf had sent Harry three of his best recipes, all of which were Hermione’s favorites and were dishes she often requested whenever she visited the Tattoris back in Italy.

Cooking had been one of his fortes having basically been the Dursleys personal slave since he was a toddler. And so that was his plan. He’d cook her one of her favorite dishes, they’d sit and talk, and hopefully he’d finally get to let her know what was going on his head.

It had to work. He couldn’t stand this avoidance, this tension. He wanted his best friend back. He wanted to be able to talk like they used to. And he knew that the only way to take a step in that direction was to stop this unhealthy denial. He knew he had feelings for Hermione and he was quite willing to admit them. The hard part was going to be getting her to admit hers too because he knew, in his heart of hearts, that she had to feel it too. There wouldn’t be the tension if she didn’t. She wouldn’t have kissed him in the dark under the glow of the moonlight had she not felt something too.

So it was decided. Their tension filled apartment was going to hit a peak tonight, the scales were about to tip. And as Harry made her favorite dish with all the care in the world, he prayed to the Gods above that the scales tipped in his favor. He prayed that he would not get his heart smashed because he didn’t know who was going to be there to put it back together again. The last person to do the job was the same person he was about to hand over his badly damaged heart to. So he cooked and he prayed with every fiber of his body. He stirred his sauces just as he stirred those ingrained childlike beliefs that he had, those certainties that no matter what happened would not vanquish or deter. Because as it turned out Harry the twenty two year old man, was still the same boy he had always been, the boy who believed in happy endings and resolved conclusions.

The door to the apartment opened and shut.

Hermione walked into the kitchen slowly taking everything in with a calculating eye. Harry had been bustling around preparing their supper, but stopped when he saw Hermione’s serious eyes.

“What? What is it?” he asked worried.

“What are you doing?” Her face was expressionless but Harry could see the hurt in her chocolate depths.

“I… er… I’m making dinner… ermm… for you,” he managed still unsure of why she appeared to be so put off by the sight of him cooking for her. She hadn’t even taken off her cloak from the Ministry. She stood, cloak and all, like a stranger to the place.

She nodded to herself before closing her eyes as if in some sort of deep pain that Harry could not understand. Then she turned and started right back for the door.

“Hermione...” ventured Harry confused, but she didn’t stop. “Hermione! Wait!”

Harry threw off his apron and ran to catch up to her. He managed to stop her in the living room. She stared down at her shoes unwilling to meet his eyes. Something about the situation was causing fear to creep into his bones and he didn’t like that one bit.

“Are you… are you ever going to talk to me?” he inquired staring at her intensely even though she refused to meet his eyes.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” she stated. Her body was like an icicle before him, statuesque and unforthcoming.

“Like hell there isn’t! You’ve been avoiding me pretty much since that night, Hermione… I just want to know what’s going on. We need to discuss this,” pleaded Harry.

“There’s nothing to discuss.” She shrugged sadly and moved around him towards her escape, but Harry wasn’t having any of it. He grabbed her hand to stop her. And she did stop, something he was thankful for. Slowly he turned her back towards him and even though she faced him her eyes still avoided him. Harry’s other hand found its way underneath her chin and lifted it.

“Hermione we’ve always been able to talk and I know it’s scary… but we have talk about what’s going on between us. I can’t keep living like this… I can’t… I can’t stay away from you like this.”

Her eyes were brimming with tears. “Harry...”

“Please Hermione… I don’t care if it’s going to hurt. I just need you to talk to me.”

With a deep breath she stepped away from him, letting his hand fall limply to his side. Harry looked confused and scared all at once. “Harry… whatever this is between us it won’t ever happen… It can’t. I won’t let it.”

His eyebrows furrowed with her words. She knew he wasn’t going to like what she had to say, but if he wanted the truth then he was going to have to accept what he’d asked for.

“You miss Ginny,” she stated. Harry was going to protest, but she didn’t let him. “I know you do… And a part of this, whether you realize it or not, is just you projecting your feelings for her onto me. You miss being in a relationship. You’re lonely and the thought of sleeping alone in a bed kills you. I’ve been there. I’ve been there for the last two years… But I am just your substitute for her.”

Harry’s breath was unsteady when he took it, his face marked by the most outraged of expressions. “You really believe that? That my feelings for you aren’t real? If you honestly think that then you don’t know me at all.” Harry swallowed the hurt and anger down to his stomach. “And I suppose I’m just your substitute for Ron?”

She looked down at her hands. “Yes.”

“I don’t believe that. I don’t think that this is just that,” he muttered harshly.

“It doesn’t matter if it is or if it isn’t!” Her own voice matching his intensity. “Ron will come back. So will Ginny. And what will we do then, Harry?”

Harry couldn’t help but raise his voice. “I don’t know… You’re thinking TOO FAR AHEAD!!”

“BECAUSE YOU NEVER THINK AHEAD!! I have to!” She screamed, tears of frustration wetting her eyes. She inhaled a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself. “What would we do if we started something and they came back?”

She inched closer to him, looking with all her severity right into his emerald eyes as he stood quiet and immobile. “Would you tell Ginny? Would you tell Ron?”

Harry faltered with the question. “I-I… I don’t know, Hermione.” He honestly didn’t know how to answer that question. The two Weasleys seemed so far off from the little world they had created in that flat. “Ginny’s gone for a year. Ron’s been gone for months and he’ll probably be gone for more.”

“BUT they will come back, Harry. They will!”

“WHY DOES THAT HAVE TO MATTER NOW?!!!” He shouted finally losing his temper.

“BECAUSE I CAN’T DO IT AGAIN!”

The words hit him like a brick wall, but not nearly as bad as the tears that started streaming down her cheeks.

“I-I… I can’t do it again, Harry,” she breathed with anguish. “I can’t fall for someone just to have my heart broken in return. If we continue whatever it is that we have, it won’t matter because they’ll come back. They will. And I’ll fall in love with you. I know I will… I know you and I know me… and I will fall for you.” Hastily she wiped the tears from her cheeks before looking him directly in the eye. “And if you can promise me… right now for certain… that when the time comes you will tell them straight to their faces. IF you can look me in the eye right now and tell me that when the time comes you would choose me over Ginny… then yes I’d love to have dinner with you. Then yes I’d love to stay and fall head over heels for you.”

Harry was completely still, though his eyes were lined too with the same tears as Hermione’s were.

“But the fact is you won’t tell them and you won’t choose me. And I don’t know if I’d do the same either… So you see… Whatever this is between us it’s doomed and it’s not going to work.”

Hermione closed her eyes as she spoke. “And you’ll go back to her… and I can’t, Harry… I’m sorry. I just can’t… I can’t be that girl crying on the bathroom floor over someone again… I don’t even have Italy to run off to anymore,” she smiled sadly though it never reached her eyes.

With a shaky inhale, Hermione sniffled before turning back around and making for the exit once again. She stopped though when she heard his broken voice.

“W-Where are you… where are you gonna go?”

She turned one last time, “Luna’s. I’ll stay there from now on. I should probably think about getting a place of my own.”

Then without even a goodbye, she left him.


**********


“Hermione…” He breathed her name.

That was all it took for her. Her name rolling off his tongue with longing and intensity. She couldn’t handle it. She finally broke.

She kissed him.

Soft and firm all at the same time. Then before he knew what was happening it was over. Harry barely had enough time to close his eyes before she pulled back. The sweetest kiss against his lips was offered and gone before he even had time to react to it, to register it.

She stayed close though, waiting for that reaction whatever it might be. Surprise, regret, uncertainty, pity, longing, and she even dared to hope… happiness?

Whatever the emotion, Harry hadn’t decided upon it yet. The only thing he knew was that that particular kiss was not nearly long enough to effectively discern what emotion was rising up in his chest, the same swell he had experienced just before she joined him on the couch. His hand, still gently holding hers against his cheek, slid down her arm and up to her neck. He stopped there only for a second before pulling her to him again.

This kiss was much fuller, much longer. And he didn’t let her go. He held her to him even as he ended the kiss keeping her just a fraction away from him. He felt her inhale a deep breath like she couldn’t believe he’d kissed her. His brain was a soft hum of numbness. He didn’t want to think what this might mean. He only wanted to bask in this beauty, this delicate angel that had been denied from him for far too long.

The flood gates had been opened for the both of them.

She closed the inches of space in between them as his hand guided her into another searing kiss. That was all it took. She tilted her head allowing him to deepen what was happening between them. Soon his tongue grazed the edges of her lips. She wasted no time letting it enter so she could dance hers along his too. They explored each other, not hungrily or in any way animalistic. There was heat, yes indeed there was heat, between their two bodies pressed flush against one another. But it was tender all at the same time.

He broke away only for a moment before kissing her once more softly.

Her thumb resumed its light caresses against his cheek as her other hand wound its way up to his other cheek to hold him to her. She could’ve held him, cradled, to her like that forever. And he wouldn’t have dared protest.

Somewhere in between mixed kisses and calm, barely there touches against his cheek, they drifted to sleep keeping each other close in an innate and natural way, in a way they had never been permitted to in the past.

They slept in peace. Blissful peace.

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