Introduction: Contains HBP spoilers! Hermione is dating Ron in secret and when Harry finds out his own feelings for Hermione are revealed. When Hermione won’t choose between them the boys choose for her

Now that they would be heading for Kings Cross Station tomorrow, Harry didn’t know why he had let Lupin talk him into going back for his seventh year.

At the start of the summer, he had confided in Lupin everything he head learned about the Horcrux from Dumbledore, along with the failed mission to retrieve the locket because someone with the initials R.A.B had already beaten them to it and put a fake in its place. Even if that R.A.B person had destroyed the Horcrux like they said they were going to, there were still three more left to find, as Voldemort himself would represent the seventh and final Horcrux. Two of them were most likely Helga Hufflepuff’s cup and Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, and the last was very likely a relic from Rowena Ravenclaw.

But even having all that information seemed useless to Harry because he had no idea where to look for the Horcruxes and Dumbledore had left no instructions for him before his death.

Though he had refused to tell Professor McGonagall anything at the end of last year, after listening to weeks of Hermione explaining the futility of keeping the information a secret, when he himself did not even know where to begin searching, he had gone to Lupin and explained everything. He had even told him about his plans to hunt down the remaining Horcruxes instead of returning to Hogwarts in the fall, as the school governors had voted to keep the school open for the time being but were doubling the security measures from last year.

Lupin had promised to begin searching for any scrap of information on the remaining relics, and that he would share all his findings with Harry. Lupin had asked him to return to school until they had some concrete leads on the Horcruxes. Although Harry had argued, saying he could go after Nagini, Lupin had made him promise not to do it, saying that Harry wasn’t prepared for that. With Voldemort controlling Nagini, he said it should be the last Horcrux he should go after before taking on Voldemort.

Now, the more he thought about it, the more he wished he hadn’t given Lupin his word to go off to school and pretend like there wasn’t something he could do. More innocent people were being murdered every day and he was going off to hide behind the protective walls of Hogwarts.

He figured that was why Lupin had asked to speak with him that night at The Burrow. He wanted to make sure Harry was going to keep his word and take the Hogwarts Express back to school tomorrow.

But when he left Ron and Hermione upstairs, he found that Lupin wasn’t alone at the Weasley’s kitchen table. Tonks was sitting there with him.

Since Lupin had promised he would operate in secret in his search for the Horcrux, Harry wondered what this could be about.

“Wotcher, Harry,” Tonks greeted him with a wink. Her pink hair seemed to grow more vibrant every time he saw her and he knew it was because of the man sitting across from her.

“Hey, Tonks,” he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. But he had been feeling completely drained all summer and was sure it showed on his features. “Are you going to leave your appearance like that when you’re at Hogwarts?”

Now that she was Headmistress, McGonagall was extremely anxious about letting on any new teachers that she didn’t already know personally, and since there were already going to be so many Aurors at Hogwarts, she thought who better than to have an Auror teach them Defense Against the Dark Arts.

“Why? Do you think it’s a bit much?” She asked him, grabbing a strand of her hair and examining it closely.

Lupin chuckled. “It is a little extravagant.”

“You’re right, I should be dull and stuffy like you,” she returned. She scrunched up her face and changed her appearance then so she had shoulder length straight brown hair and a long nose on a plain face.

Lupin didn’t look the least bit offended by her remark. In fact, Harry couldn’t remember Lupin smiling like that or looking this healthy in all the years he had known him.

“If Tonks is done playing around,” said Lupin, pulling his foot out of the way so the Auror couldn’t step on it, “we can tell you why we wanted to see you.”

Tonks morphed back to her usual pink haired self. “How would you feel about extra defense lessons, Harry?”

“Really?” He said, sound genuinely excited. He still wanted very much to be an Auror and to have someone like Tonks train him was too good to pass up.

“I’m not talking about covering standard jinxes and hexes either. I’m talking about real things that could save your life in battle. If you want to tell Ron and Hermione that’s fine, but I want the three of you to keep this to yourselves,” she added, sounding uncharacteristically serious. “The things I’m going to be training you in, they don’t teach at Hogwarts and you would probably never see unless you joined the Auror program.”

Harry nodded excitedly, already wishing they could get started. He wondered if this had been Lupin’s suggestion.

“Harry, these lessons will be critical in the event you face Voldemort one day,” Lupin said to him.

Harry had also confided in Lupin about the prophecy, and he assumed that had a lot to do with Lupin insisting he become more skilled as a wizard before he went after Nagini and Voldemort.

Harry had a tough time admitting that his power and strength were nothing special but a few a short months ago that hadn’t mattered to him. He had wanted to hunt down Snape and kill him in the same callous manner in which he had murdered Dumbledore. If he ever saw Snape again he wouldn’t let him escape, not even if it cost him his own life. He would be ready to use the Unforgivable Curses on him next time.

“I’ve got to check in with the Ministry but I’ll see you on the train tomorrow, Harry,” said Tonks. She leaned across the table and gave Lupin a quick kiss before leaving through the kitchen door.

They could hear a tiny pop as she apparated.

“You understand now why you need to go back?” Lupin said, looking at him.

“You don’t think I’m ready to face him.”

“No, you’re not,” Lupin said without hesitation. “I know the extraordinary things you’ve done, but you need much more than that to be able to take on the Dark Lord,” he said in a grim tone. “And while you’re training with Tonks, I’ll find out whatever I can on the whereabouts of these Horcruxes.”

“Are you going to disappear underground again?” Harry asked. He had missed not hearing from him for months at a time last year.

Lupin shook his head. “I’ve reached a dead end with the werewolf society and because I was seen at Hogwarts by Fenrir Greyback, I do not believe it safe for me to return. I’ve already explained to the Order that I have another special project to take on that concerns you. Since they know you and Dumbledore were involved in something together before his death, no one is questioning it. Absolute secrecy is a must now in everything we do, especially with the alarming number of people being put under the Imperius Curse.”

“Remus, I know you want me to be ready, but I can’t sit around for another year and do nothing.”

“I didn’t expect you would, seeing as how much you’re like James and Lily,” he said with a reminiscent, but sad smile. “At least give me until Christmas to find something out about the Horcruxes. After that, we’ll discuss how next to proceed.”

Harry agreed to wait that long, knowing that it wouldn’t be a complete waste of time since he would be working with Tonks.

“You should go pack for tomorrow,” Lupin said, as if knowing Harry had yet to start. “Molly’s going to be expecting us to head out the door the second the ministry cars show up.”

It was already late as Harry climbed the stairs, but he was going to put off packing a while longer to tell Ron and Hermione about the extra defense training Tonks was going to be giving him.

He thought nothing of opening Ron’s door without knocking. After all, he couldn’t hear anything from the outside, which meant they weren’t fighting, so it was safe to walk in. But as soon as he had the door open part way, he knew why it had been so quiet.

To his astonishment and something else he didn’t want to name, he saw Ron had Hermione backed up against the wall. If they were just kissing that would have been bad enough, but the way they were wrapped up in each other was far more intense than any of the snog sessions Harry had been forced to witness between Ron and Lavender last year.

They didn’t even notice him standing there. He backed out of the room, closing the door as quietly as he could, even though what Harry really wanted to do was slam it shut.

He walked back down to his room on the second level, wishing now more than ever that he wasn’t going back to Hogwarts.







* * *

Ron and Hermione were completely oblivious to any intrusion. Ron parted her lips and plunged his tongue into her hot mouth. Hermione responded by deepening the kiss and pressing her tongue against his. She finally came to her senses, albeit reluctantly, when she felt how aroused he was and pushed him away.

“Ron, we can’t,” she said, short out of breath. “Harry will be looking for us soon.”

“No, he won’t,” Ron insisted. “Whatever Lupin wanted to talk to him about it sounded serious. They’ll be downstairs for hours.”

“I doubt that,” she said, unconvinced.

“Once we go back to school tomorrow it’s going to be hard enough to find time alone without Harry or anyone else getting suspicious. And you’re going to be so caught up with your Head Girl duties and NEWTs we’ll barely see each other.”

“We’ll see each other plenty in class,” she pointed out.

He scowled. “That’s not what I mean.”

“I do have my own room this year,” she said, arching an eyebrow at him.

At what she was implying, Ron said, “I really do have the best girlfriend a bloke could ask for.”

It still felt almost strange to hear Ron call her that. It was hard to believe that after six years of fighting, bickering and hurting each other they had finally put aside all that and admitted their feelings.

With the seriousness of the war and the knowledge they would very likely leave Hogwarts with Harry in the next few months to find the last Horcruxes, made them realize how short time was. People they knew were dying all the time. No one was safe anymore.

It had happened by accident one night at the start of summer while Harry was still at the Dursley’s. She had stopped by Ron’s room to say goodnight and he had been pouring over the Apparition pamphlets, worrying over taking his exam again in a few weeks with Harry. She didn’t know what came over her but Ron had seemed such a nervous wreck she didn’t know what else to do except kiss him.

It was hard to tell which one of them was more shocked, and they spent the next three days avoiding each other because of it. She felt embarrassed and decided to leave the next move up to Ron. Though she couldn’t stop herself from worrying she had ruined their friendship, and that despite his jealousy over Viktor Krum and McLaggen, he didn’t want her the same way she wanted him.

Finally, Ron approached her when it was just the two of them outside. After many minutes of stuttering and stammering, Ron had given up on words entirely and just kissed her.

Things had progressed quickly after that, which Hermione attributed to the years they had wasted being too stubborn to admit there was something deeper than friendship going on. Even after seeing him with Lavender Brown, something that had been almost too much for her to bear and had nearly destroyed their friendship, she had been too scared to say anything to him.

Once Harry arrived at The Burrow, he’d been so withdrawn they didn’t think it was the right time to tell him about them. Now, it was the end of summer holidays and they were no closer to telling him. Hermione decided then they were just going to have to find a way to broach the subject to him because she knew Ron also didn’t want to spend their last year of school lying to him.

“Don’t think that flattery is going to make me do your homework for you,” she said in response to his remark.

Ron flashed her a lopsided grin. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

He wove one hand through the curls of her and brought her face closer to his. Sensing the hesitation she was still holding onto, he brushed his lips against hers more gently than before. Then he started trailing kisses down her throat before sucking on the sensitive spot on her neck causing her to whimper. Any thoughts she still had of going back to the room she was sharing with Ginny were gone now.

She pulled out her wand and moved her head just enough so she was able to cast a locking charm on the door and a silencing charm around the room.

“Always thinking,” murmured Ron against her neck.

When he pulled away from her, she protested the loss of contact until she felt him pick her up and send his lips crashing against hers. She wrapped her legs tightly around his waist and he groaned in response, dropping her onto his desk. He took his time unbuttoning her shirt, enjoying the impatient noises she made.

“Stop teasing,” she said in a breathless voice.

He gave her a wicked grin. “Oh, you’ll know when I’m teasing.”

Just to prove his point, he finished with the last two buttons and started messaging her breasts through the thin material of her bra. She arched against his touch but he was only just getting started. He undid the clasp on her bra, something he had only recently gotten the hang of before kissing his way down passed her collarbone into the valley between her breasts. He took his time kissing and suckling each one, growing more and more turned on by the noises she was making. When he glanced up to watch the look of ecstasy on her face, she leaned down to capture his lips in a bruising kiss, mingling her tongue against his own.

“I suppose I should take care of you,” Hermione said a moment later in a sultry voice. She pulled off his t-shirt and then moved her hand over the bulge in his trousers, moving it up and down ever so slightly. His hips bucked involuntarily towards her.

“Fuck, Hermione,” he said through gritted teeth. When they were like this it was the only time he could get away with such language.

She deftly undid his trousers and slid her hand inside his boxers, wrapping her fingers around his hard member.

“Fuck,” he cried out and braced himself against her.

She grinned impishly. “I believe you already said that.” She continued to stroke him, alternating between feather light touches and hard strokes.

“It’s not nice to tease,” Ron growled.

“Don’t seem to like it as much when the shoe is on the other foot, do you?” she said a second before Ron’s lips landed on hers. She took mercy on him and began stroking him in rhythm, pulling her hand away when she felt him tense up. His groans of frustration were drowned out by her saying in a commanding tone, “fuck me, now.”

He almost came right then. The only thing sexier than seeing a flushed faced and half naked Hermione, was hearing her swear, abandoning her bookish self to a side that nobody else got to see but him

Ron shucked off his boxers and trousers. He unbuttoned her shorts – the incredibly short ones he was convinced she took to wearing these last few weeks to drive him mad – and then slid them down her legs. When he went to remove her knickers, he could feel how wet she was for him.

He plunged inside her already half mad with lust as he felt her all around him. She raked her fingernails down his back, leaving marks. They had discovered early on that despite their mutual inexperience they were neither timid nor gentle when it came to sex. The rougher the better and never in Ron’s wildest fantasies did he think Hermione would be such a minx in the bedroom.

Stars exploded behind Ron’s eyes and he came crying out Hermione’s name. Hermione wasn’t quite there yet, so he added a couple fingers to where their bodies were joined and she soon orgasmed.

When their breathing had almost returned to normal and they were still clinging to one another, Ron said, “I’m going to have a fun time explaining these scratches in the shower at school”

“Sorry,” she apologized.

“Nah, I don’t mind,” he said, giving her a kiss. “I’ll think of something to tell them.”

“While you’ll doing that, you should also think of something to tell Harry.”

Ron pulled back a little to look down at her, his eyes wide with horror. “You want to tell Harry we’re shagging?”

“No, we don’t need to give him any specific details but it’s time we told him about us.”

“Maybe we could just have him walk in on us and then we wouldn’t have to explain anything.”

“That’s not funny, Ron,” she said with a frown. “We’re his best friends. He should hear it from us.”

Ron sighed and kissed the top of her head. “All right, we’ll tell him once we’re back at school.”

“Ron, he’ll be okay with it,” she said, looking up at him. “He was the one who was trying to get me to tell you how I felt last year.”

“And instead of taking his advice you tried to make me jealous with that prat McLaggen.”

“Oh, and is if you weren’t trying to do the same thing with Lavender,” she said, raising an eyebrow at him.

“You started it with Krum.”

She rolled her eyes. They would be eighty and he would still bring up Viktor Krum. “Why don’t you just ask me what I did with him instead of making assumptions.”

“Because I don’t want to know,” he stated evenly. He’d already spent far too many hours thinking about it, and did not like any of the conclusions he had come up with.

“Fine, then I’ll show you.”

“What?!” He cried. It was already turning out worse than he imagined. “Hermione, I bloody-well don’t want you to show me what you and Vicky did together – “

She ended his words by kissing him softly and quickly on the mouth.

Dumfounded, he said, “What was that?”

“That was what I did with Viktor,” she said smoothly.

“That was it? Just one kiss?”

She nodded.

“And there was no tongue involved, right?”

“No, Ron, there was no tongue,” she said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes at him again.

Though he was far from thrilled that she had actually kissed the git, at least that was all she had done with him. He smirked inwardly. He bet Krum had wanted to do more but Hermione had turned him down.

“Are you done being a jealous prat now?”

“For the moment,” he answered, and leaned down to cover her mouth with his own


The Ministry cars had come early to pick them up so they could avoid the usual last minute scramble. As always, Harry had piled into a car with Ron and Hermione, while Lupin rode in the front with their Auror driver. Ginny, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley took the second car together.

Ron had tried to make small talk with Harry about Quidditch but when he kept getting one or two word responses had decided to leave Harry be. He had exchanged a look with Hermione while Harry was staring out the window, and he could tell she was worried. Harry had seemed like his old self for the most of his stay at The Burrow. He didn’t hide in his room to brood or purposely distance himself from anyone. The only time Harry got angry was whenever Moody or Kingsley or one of the other Order members would come by to give a report and they mentioned Snape’s name in connection with an attack or reported sighting.

The blazing almost manic look that appeared in Harry’s eyes every time Snape’s name was mentioned made Ron shudder just to think about it. He had only seen that look on Harry’s face once before. That had been in the Shrieking Shack back in third year when Harry had been ready to kill Sirius because he thought he was the one who had betrayed his parents.

When they had all reached the station and safely crossed the barrier leading to platform nine and three quarters, Ron felt his mother latch onto his and Ginny’s arms after saying good-bye to Hermione, who had quickly boarded the train so she could change into her school robes and put on her Head Girl pin.

“Ron, I want you to take extra good care of your sister this year,” Mrs. Weasley said, grabbing his arm so tight she was cutting off the circulation.

Both Ron and Ginny had to smother their smiles. Ginny needing protection? The thought was almost laughable. After the way she had flown her broom into the commentator’s box last year because of Zacharias Smith’s horrible commentating along with her infamous bat-bogey hexes, made Ron think people had a reason to fear his sister, not the other way around.

“And if I so much as get an owl home saying you’ve been caught sneaking out of the castle, so help me I’ll come down to the school myself and deliver your howler in person,” his mother warned in her strictest voice.

Ron was offended to see she was only looking at him and not at Ginny. Ginny had their parents completely fooled into thinking she was still their baby angel.

Then their mother embraced them in tight, oxygen deprivating hugs before kissing them both on the cheek. His mother had become such an emotional wreck over the last two months Ron didn’t dare complain about how embarrassing her motherly affections were.

“Be good, but more importantly be safe,” she said drawing out the last word. “No foolish or unnecessary risks. If something seems suspicious – ”

“All right, mum, we get it,” Ron cut her off. “If there’s a piece of lint on my bed that I don’t remember seeing earlier, I’ll go straight to McGonagall.”

This time Ginny couldn’t contain her laugh, though she tried to hide it behind a hacking cough. However, Mrs. Weasley did not look the least bit amused. Fortunately for Ron his father appeared and draped an arm around his wife’s shoulder.

“Molly, I think our children know how to handle themselves better than most in a crisis,” Mr. Weasley said gently.

Mrs. Weasley knew her husband was right but that didn’t make it any easy to say good-bye to her two youngest children. “Just be careful,” she told them, her usual good-bye tears starting to fall down her cheeks.

“We promise, mum,” said Ginny, leaning forward to hug her mum once more and then did the same with her dad.

“Where’s Harry?” Ron asked, searching through the crowds for his dark haired friend.

“He’s just finishing up a chat with Remus and then he’ll be on the train,” his father told him.

Now Ron could see Harry standing with their old professor off to the side and away from the crowds, which he noticed for the first time weren’t nearly as large this year.

“Off you go,” their mother said, urging him and Ginny onto the train.

A moment later, Harry was right behind them on the steps after surviving a fierce hug from Mrs. Weasley.

“You’d think she wasn’t going to see us at Christmas,” said Ron, as they moved through the corridor. “You should have been there, Harry. Mum was telling me to protect Ginny, when I should have told her people need protecting from her.” Ginny swatted him hard on the arm. “See, what I mean?”

Harry shared a grin with Ginny, but the younger girl didn’t look at him for too long.

“Well, I’ve got some people to meet. I’ll see you two when we get to school,” said Ginny and she disappeared down the hall.

“New boyfriend?” Harry asked Ron, trying to sound casual.

“Who knows? I’ve given up on trying to figure out my sister’s messed up love life.” Ron, remembering that Harry had been a part of that so-called messed up love life, said, “I didn’t mean it like that. I know you and her, were – ”

“It’s fine, Ron,” Harry told him, sparing them both any further embarrassment. He didn’t want to get into his relationship with Ginny in the middle of a busy corridor.

He was convinced he had done the right thing, even if Ginny was acting indifferent and sometimes cold towards him. He didn’t need to give Voldemort any added reasons to go after her. But Ginny wasn’t the only person he harbored deeper feelings for so maybe it was better this way, instead of staying with her and hurting her down the road.

“Where is Hermione?” Ron grumbled, looking through the compartment windows. “You would think the way she jumped on the train she could have at least picked one near the front. There’s enough empty ones.”

They crossed paths then with Dean and Seamus who were standing at the entrance to their compartment watching the students passing by.

“Weasley, Potter,” Seamus said coldly.

Harry knew the callous greeting was because Seamus’s parents had been killed in an attack at the start of July. Harry stared back unflinchingly at his fellow Gryffindor.

“So where’s your group of bodyguards?” Seamus asked looking up and down the hall. “You’ve got so many Aurors at your disposal its no wonder there weren’t any around to save me mam and dad.”

“Finnigan, you’re mad,” Ron spoke up in Harry’s defense. “Harry doesn’t have his own set of Aurors. The Aurors on the train are here for the whole bloody school.”

“Forget it, Ron,” Harry said.

“I can’t believe you even came back here,” Seamus went on, speaking through his grief. “Haven’t enough people died already because of you? You just stood there hiding underneath your cloak while Dumbledore was murdered.”

Seamus’s voice was carrying and now a small crowd was gathering around them.

“You shouldn’t talk about things unless you’ve got the whole story,” said Ron in a heated voice. “Dumbledore had cursed Harry so he wouldn’t be able to move.”

Seamus was just shaking his head as though it didn’t matter if Harry had been bound or unconscious. He still should have found a way to fight.

“Why don’t you judge Harry when you’ve finally done something yourself,” Ron growled, taking a step closer to the Irishman. “I didn’t even see you the night of the attack last year. I guess you were hiding up in the dorm, huddled under your blanket, hoping it would all go away.”

“You calling me a coward, Weasley?” Seamus said in a dangerous tone.

“I don’t see you ever putting your life on the line for anyone,” Ron shot back.

What would have happened next no one would ever know because several Aurors appeared on scene, separating Ron and Seamus.

“Get to your compartments,” the closest Auror barked at them.

Seamus threw Ron and Harry one last contemptuous look before allowing Dean to lead him back into their compartment.

Soon after Harry and Ron started walking again they were greeted by Hermione, who was running in their direction dressed in her school robes.

“What happened?” She asked, slightly out of breath. “Neville and I just saw a bunch of Aurors run down the hall.

“It was nothing,” Ron assured her. “Seamus was just taking some shots at Harry.”

Hermione looked relieved to hear that was all it was. “It’s understandable. He just lost his parents.”

Ron was livid. “Understandable? Death Eaters killed his parents, not Harry.”

“I know that,” she said, looking sympathetically at Harry. “But it’s easier to blame someone you can see.”

“It’s fine,” Harry grumbled, feeling irritated. “It’s not the first time I’ve been blamed for something Voldemort did, and it sure as hell won’t be the last.”

“I got us a compartment with Neville,” Hermione said after a moment. “I need to go start the prefect meeting with Ernie.”

Harry wordlessly brushed passed her, heading for their cart, but Ron hung back a moment.

“Harry’s probably going to deal with a lot of that this year,” Hermione said, purposely keeping her voice low. There had been deaths reported in the Prophet almost daily some weeks during the summer. “You can’t go picking fights with all of them.”

“I can try,” he said, smiling at her. Without thinking, he leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers. He was waiting for her to push him away or scold him because someone could might see them, but she let him kiss her.

“Go start your meeting,” he said when he pulled back. “MacMillan’s probably having kittens because you’re not there yet.”

“I’ll see you soon,” she said and walked off.

Ron started towards his own compartment, passing by a half dozen empty ones along the way. It was unheard of for there to be any empty cabins on the Hogwarts Express. He figured when they got to school and sat down at their house tables they would see just how many parents had pulled their children out of school.

Ron wished he had sat in one of those empty compartments when he got to his own. Lavender Brown was inside, sitting beside Neville.

“Hi, Ron,” she said, smiling sweetly at him. “I hope you don’t mind but I didn’t want to sit by myself. Parvati’s parents didn’t let her or Padma come back this year.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Ron answered, sitting by Harry on the opposite seat and as close to the door as possible.

It was most definitely not going to be a pleasant train ride back if Hermione came back to their cabin and found Lavender in there. He prayed that because Hermione and Ernie MacMillan took their Head Boy and Girl duties so seriously, they would keep those prefects in a meeting until they reached Hogsmeade Station.

“I saw Hermione earlier. Are you and her together yet?”

Ron sunk a little lower into his seat. “No,” he mumbled. What else was he supposed to say? He and Hermione had discussed telling Harry together. It would not go over well if Harry found out at the same time as Lavender and Neville.

“Oh,” was all Lavender said in response, but Ron could hear the barely contained joy in her voice.

Neville, sensing the awkwardness settling in, said, “anyone want to play exploding snap?”

“Yes!” Ron said, practically leaping out of his seat. Anything to avoid having to talk with Lavender.

Harry joined in, though with much less enthusiasm, while Lavender pulled out a magazine from her luggage in the overhanging above them and began to read.







* * *

Hogwarts felt eerily different from the moment Ron set foot in the Main Hall. It was as if with Dumbledore gone, so had its warmth. Ron looked around, seeing he wasn’t the only one who got a cold chill from being there.

They filed into the Great Hall, with Ron, Harry and Hermione taking their customary spots at the Gryffindor table. Ron was hoping Hermione would sit with him but she chose to sit across from him with Harry.

“You can’t possibly be mad at me for that,” he said, giving her an exasperated look.

“And why not?”

“What was I supposed to do? Kick her out of our compartment?”

“That would have been a good start,” Hermione said, sending him a piercing look.

“She had no one else to sit with,” he argued. “I was just being nice.”

“Really? I didn’t think that was possible,” she said scornfully.

“Look, nothing happened, all right?”

“Except the way she was flirting with you when I walked in,” Hermione countered.

“She was flirting with Harry too.”

“Leave me out of this,” Harry said. He hated when they tried to drag him into one of their mud-slinging matches.

“Maybe you can ask her out again, Won-Won.”

What Ron really wanted to do was lean across the table and show her she was the only one he wanted to be with, despite how infuriating she was being at the moment. He settled instead for tapping her foot under the table with his own, at least he prayed it was hers and not Harry’s.

He had guessed right but Hermione shot him a look saying he would lose that foot if he touched her again.

At least he had been spared Lavender’s presence at the feast. She was sitting in a group with Neville, Dean, and Seamus, but even that wasn’t enough to make Hermione stop being angry with him.

Fed up that she was getting her knickers in a twist over nothing, he gave up on getting her to talk to him. Instead he glanced around at the other House tables and then looked up and down his own. The number of students this year was cut down to almost half of what it normally was.

The staff table was full, with Tonks sitting on the other side of McGonagall, who rose to her feet then.

With less students, it took a fraction of the time for everyone to quiet down and give the Headmistress their full attention.

“I want to welcome back all of you who chose to return for another year. And for some of you, this will be your last,” McGonagall started. “For those who did not return, I wish them to be safe with their families, wherever they may be.” McGonagall gestured to the large man beside her. “Professor Slughorn has agreed to stay on as our Potions instructor.”

Slughorn gave a very dramatic wave at the students, at which Harry rolled his eyes at. Everyone else in his so-called Slug Club, applauded graciously, including Hermione.

“Nymphadora Tonks, an Auror with the Ministry of Magic has graciously accepted our Defense Against the Dark Arts post.’

Tonks looked anything but gracious at Professor McGonagall’s announcement of her first name. She gave a simple wave at the students, knocking her goblet over in the process. With one flick of her wand, McGonagall cleaned up the mess.

“As I’m sure all of you have seen, there are now a great many Aurors patrolling the grounds and inside the school. This is for your safety, so I caution you not to go using magic carelessly in the hallway or give them any other reason to bring you to your head of house.” McGonagall’s voice was much graver when she spoke next. “Although the school governors voted to keep Hogwarts open, there will be no sorting this year. A decision has been made not to allow any new students. A decision that has been fully supported by the wizarding families of these first-year children.

“Extreme measures have also been taken to protect all of us during these dark times. There will be no Hogsmeade trips this term and no one is permitted to leave the school grounds for any reason,” she continued, raising her voice to be heard over the groans of protests, especially from the third years since this would be their first time being allowed to visit the wizarding village. “Quidditch will still be allowed but no one is to be outside after dark, so captains will have to arrange their practices accordingly. Those students caught wandering the halls after curfew will face a much more hefty punishment then they are used to seeing, including loss of house points and other privileges. Prefects, as well as our Head Boy and Girl, I wish to inform you that nighttime patrols will be unnecessary this year, as the Aurors will be patrolling the halls at all times. However, all your other assigned duties still stand.”

Hermione looked crestfallen at not being able to do patrols and Ron couldn’t resist a snicker, which earned him another steely gaze.

“I know that this last year has been difficult on all of us,” McGonagall continued, her voice losing some of its severity. “We have all experienced loss, some of us more than others, but I urge you not to let that grief consume you. If Dumbledore were here,” the corners of her mouth twitched slightly, “he would tell us that these are the times in which we must stand and fight together. It is our differences that will tear us apart, but by uniting we can become an unstoppable force.”

Professor McGonagall sat back down, signaling the end of her speech. Immediately afterwards, the start of term feast began as the tables filled up with more food than was needed to feed those present.

“It’s like a bloody broken record,” Ron said, grabbing the plate of pork chops that appeared. “It’s the third year in a row they’ve talked about inter-house unity. Maybe if we didn’t have the Slytherins that would happen.”

“Maybe if we had all just listened to Dumbledore the first time he said it there would be no need to keep repeating it,” retorted Hermione. “If it wasn’t important, I highly doubt they would keep giving us the same message year after year.”

Harry, sensing another argument about to start, turned his attention to the Slytherin table – not surprisingly it was the fullest. But with Malfoy not there, it appeared less intimidating. Crabbe and Goyle looked lost without him and Pansy Parkinson looked pale and sullen, now that her precious Draco had abandoned her. Only Blaise Zabini had an arrogant air about him, and Harry figured he’d inherited Malfoy’s self-imposed leadership of the House.

Harry turned back to his own table, finding Seamus staring at him with that same cold look he’d given him on the train before her turned away.

Harry focused on his own meal after that. Hermione was still upset about Lavender sharing a cart with them on the train, so she spoke to Ron as little as possible.

Harry made no attempts to patch things up between them. There was already more going on with them then they were telling him, so as far as Harry was concerned they could work out their own damn problems for a change.


Ron’s assumption that he and Hermione would be too busy for one another once they returned to school turned out to be exceptionally accurate. The first week of classes had gone by in a blur for Ron. He was given so much material to read – all of which his professors hinted had showed up on past N.E.W.T. exams – that he felt like his head would quite literally explode.

Hermione seemed to be doing all right so far, even with her difficult course load. But Hermione thrived under pressure to the point where she drove herself and everyone else around her crazy.

Ron had wanted to say that at least they didn’t have to deal with Snape this year, but after seeing the way Harry looked during the summer whenever their former Potions Master’s name was mentioned, he thought it best not to make any references to Snape.

Now that he thought about it, Harry had been pretty withdrawn all week. Ron figured it was hard for him to be at Hogwarts now that Dumbledore was gone, so he and Hermione had given him his space.

On Friday night at a little after seven, Harry disappeared upstairs to change for his first extra lesson with Tonks.

When he was gone, Hermione moved close to Ron on the sofa in front of the fire, saying in a hushed whisper, “we should tell him now.”

“Now? Why don’t we just wait until he comes back from his lesson with Tonks?”

“Because we’ve already put off telling him all week and I know you’ll just come up with another excuse as to why we shouldn’t do it when he gets back,” she said tersely.

“Fine, let’s just tell him and get it over with,” he said, growing annoyed. She had put off telling Harry as much as he had, so she shouldn’t be trying to make this out to be all his fault.

They climbed the stairs leading up to the dormitories, finding the door to the seventh year boys’ room open. Harry was sitting on his bed pulling his trainers on.

Hermione walked briskly inside, taking charge, and Ron dutifully followed after her.

“Harry, can we talk to you for a minute?” She said, coming to stand in front of him.

He looked at her and then at Ron, who was hanging back a little, before shrugging. “All right, what is it?”

She suddenly felt a lot less confident. He’ll understand. He’s your best friend. Just explain it to him logically and rationally, said a small voice in her head. But a much louder voice said, all he’ll understand is that his two best friends have been shagging behind his back since the summer. You’re too smart to delude yourself with the notion that he’s going to be all right with it. The latter seemed to be the much more likely outcome of the two.

“Ron and I need to tell you something,” she said, hoping her voice didn’t betray the anxiousness she was feeling.

“That you two are together? I already figured that out for myself,” said Harry. Seeing his friends stunned expressions he added, “I saw you at The Burrow together.”

He didn’t sound upset but he didn’t sound overly thrilled by it either. Hermione was starting to think this was part of the reason he had been distant with her and Ron for days now.

“How long has this been going on?” He asked them.

“Since July,” Ron spoke up.

“Finally decided I was worth telling, did you?” Said Harry, barely controlling his temper.

“That’s not why we didn’t say anything,” Hermione jumped in. “We weren’t sure how you would react to the news. We didn’t want you to feel like anything would change between the three of us. No matter what our relationship, Ron and I are still your best friends.”

Somehow that thought wasn’t very comforting to Harry at the moment. “I need to go,” he said, standing up. “I’m going to be late.”

Harry walked passed them without another word. He had known for a while that his friends’ feelings for one another were much more than strictly platonic, especially after the way they had acted towards each other last year. That was why he had made a promise to himself that he would never betray Ron by acting on his own feelings, which he had spent years trying to bury.







* * *

On Saturday afternoon, Hermione wanted Ron go up to the boys’ dorm to talk to Harry, who had refused to talk to either one of them since the night before.

“Hermione, I’m telling you, he just needs some time to cool off and he’ll be fine.”

Hermione could not have disagreed with him more. “Ron, this isn’t some meaningless row you like you and I have, where if we ignore it long enough things will go back to the way they were,” she argued, from where they sat at their own table in the common room. “We’ve been lying to him since before he came to The Burrow. That’s not even the worst part. He’s going to be feeling betrayed and thinking that we don’t need him anymore. That our involvement is going to change our friendship. He needs to know we’re still going to be there for him.”

“Since you seem to know an awful lot about what Harry’s going through, why don’t you talk to him?” Ron said.

She shook her head. “I can’t. You have to do it. You’re his best mate.”

“So are you.”

“Yes, but it’s different. This is something you and Harry need to work out.”

“All right,” Ron said, pushing back from the table. He still didn’t understand why he had to be the one to do it, but if he didn’t go talk to Harry Hermione was just going to spend the rest of the weekend nagging him. “But if he hexes me, you get to talk to him next.”

With that, Ron reluctantly trudged up the stairs. He climbed them more slowly than he normally would, trying to prolong his confrontation with Harry. But all too soon, he reached the dorm they shared, finding Harry sitting on his bed with his Charms text out in front of him.

“You know, you can read that downstairs with us,” Ron said, strolling into the room.

“There’s less distractions up here,” Harry said, keeping his eyes on the book.

Instead of skirting around the issue further, Ron said, “look, I’m sorry we didn’t tell you sooner.”

“Ron, it doesn’t matter,” Harry said, finally looking at him. “I already knew you were going to get together and after last year, this doesn’t come as any great shock.”

“If you saw this coming then why is it bothering you so much?”

“It doesn’t.”

“Come off it, Harry,” he said, not believing the lie for a second. “You wouldn’t be sulking up here if it didn’t.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t wish you both the best, but you didn’t need to come up here and give me a speech on how we’re all still friends and nothing’s going to change,” said Harry, getting irritated.

“That obvious, huh?” Ron said sheepishly.

Harry didn’t answer, he just went back to staring at his book, though Ron was sure he wasn’t reading it.

Hermione wasn’t going to let him off the hook until he came out of there with something. “What’s bothering you then?”

Harry had to compose himself before responding. Ron was turning into as much a nag as Hermione. “Let’s see,” he said, pretending to think it over. “Dumbledore’s dead and left no instructions for me on how to find the remaining horcruxes. Snape, the person who’s responsible for my parents deaths is still out there somewhere. I’m going to have to leave Hogwarts before the end of the year to fight Voldemort, whether Remus finds where the horcruxes are or not. And I’ve got Seamus along with half the people here thinking I’m the reason their friends and family are dead, while the other half walk around like I’m some sort of hero. Take you pick,” he said, as he finished ticking off each item on his fingers.

Ron didn’t know what to say to Harry after that. He’d been there since the beginning with Harry, but even now he marveled at all Harry had to deal with and yet was still able to maintain his sanity.

“You’re really okay with us together, then?”

“Yes, I’m fine with it,” Harry snapped.

Ron wasn’t an expert at reading people but ‘fine’ was not the word he would have used to describe how his friend was feeling. “Harry?” He prodded.

Harry gave him a pained look. “Ron, please just leave this alone.”

“For Christ’s sake, Harry, you’re my best mate,” Ron said, sitting on his bed across from Harry. “Tell me what’s going on.”

Harry just raked a hand through his hair. This was the one secret he had worked so long and so hard to keep. The one secret he had shared with no one, and didn’t even like thinking about himself because every time he did he felt like he was betraying Ron in some way. But one look at Ron and he could see the stubborn resolve on his friend’s face. Ron wasn’t going anywhere until he gave him an answer he was satisfied with. And if Ron didn’t go back downstairs soon, Hermione would probably come up to see what was going on and that would just make everything worse. But he already shared everything with Ron, so what was one more secret?

“It’s Hermione,” he mumbled, speaking so low and so fast Ron could barely make out what he said.

“What about her?”

Harry just looked at him. Did he have to spell it out for Ron? Fortunately, Ron’s mouth opened to form a small ‘o’ as he finally figured out what Harry was saying.

Ron was so thunderstruck he didn’t know how to respond. “Blimey, Harry, you never said anything. I thought you and Ginny – “

“I care about Ginny,” Harry stated immediately. All he needed was for Ron to think he had used his sister because he could never have Hermione. “But it’s not the same.”

Then, quite unexpectedly, Ron got angry. “All these years and you never said anything to me!” Ron shouted at him. “Did you feel sorry for me, was that it? Did you think that if Hermione knew the brave and righteous Harry Potter fancied her she would forget all about someone like me?”

“No, that’s not it at all,” Harry said in return, his own temper shining through. “I never said anything because I always knew you were the one she wanted. It was like you two had this connection I couldn’t touch.” If Ron really knew Hermione at all then he would know she didn’t care about things like fame or money. She wasn’t like Pansy Parkinson who used to leach off of Draco Malfoy, hoping he would some day marry her and she would inherit all the wealth that came with being a Malfoy.

Ron didn’t look like he heard a word Harry said. He shot off the bed and came face to face with Seamus who was standing in the doorway.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“It’s my room too,” was Seamus’s response.

“Then don’t skulk around eavesdropping on other people’s conversations.”

Seamus snorted. “As if I care about you fucked up little threesome.” Then he flounced down on his bed and pulled the hangings shut.

Predictably, Ron stormed out of the dorm after that.


“Impressive, Harry,” Tonks complimented, after he blocked all but one of her last string of attacks.

Harry wiped the sweat off his forehead and bent over grabbing his knees, trying to get some air back into his lungs.

“Your endurance is pretty good,” she said, tossing him a bottle of water. “All those years of Quidditch have come in handy.”

Harry took a long drink from it before saying, “you should tell Hermione that. She’ll be glad to know I haven’t been wasting my time.”

“Speaking of Hermione, I’ve heard some pretty interesting rumours circulating lately,” the Auror said, watching him closely.

Harry shrugged and put his water bottle down on one of the empty desks in the classroom.

“I take it you don’t want to talk about your girl problems?”

“No.”

“Fair enough,” said Tonks. “It’s not as if I was very forthcoming last year about my feelings for Remus. Even now, he still goes on that he’s too old for me, and I just say Sirius would be proud of him for taking advantage of a much younger woman,” she finished with a grin.

Harry smiled as well, because that definitely sounded like something his godfather would say. It was still difficult to think of Sirius sometimes, but it was getting better.

“Ready to attack me this time?” She asked him.

Harry nodded and raised his wand, glad not for the first time Tonks had offered to give him extra lessons. It gave him a way to vent his frustrations, even more so now since everyone in school thought he and Ron were fighting over Hermione thanks to Seamus. But even though they all gossiped about it, no one seemed the least bit surprised by it.

That didn’t make it any easier for Harry to look Hermione in the face, not that she was talking to him any more than was necessary since the rumours started flying. He should have just kept his mouth shut like he’d been doing since fourth year and everything would have been fine.

What he really needed to do was get over his jealousy and his own personal feelings for Hermione, otherwise it was going to cost him not only his best friends but the two people who meant more to him than anything else in the world.

Tonks kept him at it for another hour. He spent most of that time trying to break through her shields, something he still wasn’t able to do even after more than a week of training with her. Tonks wasn’t discouraged by this. In fact, she hadn’t been expecting him to break through her defenses, at least not until they had been training together for a few months. She had joked their first lesson saying what kind of Auror would she be if she allowed someone who hadn’t yet completed school to get the best of her?

But it wasn’t all for naught. Tonks was impressed with his defensive skills and reflexes, so she worked on making them better by removing the holes in his fighting stance and getting him to try different approaches.

Just like all their other training sessions, he came out of his Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom feeling sweaty and completely drained. It was too close to curfew otherwise he would have used the Prefect bathroom, which he could still use because of his Quidditch captaincy – not that being out passed curfew had stopped him before. But for once, he didn’t feel like sneaking around under his invisibility cloak.

But when he gave the fat lady the password and entered Gryffindor Tower, he wished he had stayed away. Ron and Hermione were locked in a passionate embrace in the middle of an empty common room.







* * *

Even after six years of friendship there was little else Ron and Hermione did better than bicker. And just like always, it didn’t take much to get them going.

Ron, who had been in a bad mood for much of the week, had chosen to take it out on a group of third years who looked at him the wrong way. If he had just told them to ‘sod off’ that would have been bad enough, but when he started swearing that was all it took for Hermione to look up from her Arithmancy homework to scold him for his language. It had all spiraled downhill after that.

“Don’t expect me to stand here all night while you nag me to death!” Ron shouted at her.

“I wouldn’t have to nag if for once you could remember to watch your mouth around the younger students!” She yelled back.

“It’s not as if they haven’t heard the words before,” he said, as if that made it all right.

“That’s not the point,” she said in a sharp voice. “You should be setting an example.”

“That’s your job, remember? Not mine. You’re the one who likes to boss everyone around and try to mould them in your image.”

Normally she would just turn the other cheek when he threw in a snide remark about her Head Girl status, but he had been giving her such a hard time about it lately that she found her own temper reaching the breaking point. If she was honest with herself, she had also been more snappish than usual with him in recent days.

“Would you rather them take after you? Copying other people’s homework and sleeping in class?”

“At least they’d be having fun instead of sitting there thinking homework is the be all and end all of life.”

The common room had long since cleared out. They’d been having a go at each other so often lately, no one wanted to be around once the yelling got started. Of course, that would only add more fuel to the rumours, but at the moment Ron and Hermione were too incensed to care about that.

“Well, I’m sorry if I’m not as much fun as Lavender. Maybe you’d rather have her as your best friend,” she shot back.

Understanding flashed in Ron’s eyes. “You’re upset ‘cause she’s been hanging around us.”

“No,” she lied unconvincingly.

Ron sighed. “I don’t feel that way about Lavender. If I did, why would I have ended things with her?”

Why did Ron do half the things he did? She knew she was just being insecure, but it was hard not to. What did Ron see in her after being with someone like Lavender Brown? It didn’t help that Lavender was always being overly flirty with him. She wanted to tell that cow to back off and find her own boyfriend, even though that probably wouldn’t have deterred her in the slightest. Although she did feel the tiniest bit empathetic towards Lavender since she was forced to go through her last year without her best friend. But Hermione would rather face a pack of angry centaurs than admit that out loud.

“I know we’ve both been at each other’s throats more than usual because of what everyone’s saying,” said Ron, most of his anger gone now. “But maybe things would be better if we just let everyone know we were together.”

“We can’t. Not until we sort things out with Harry.”

Ron glowered. “I don’t see that happening any time soon, especially because of goddamn Finnigan and his big mouth.” He could kill Seamus for starting the rumour that he and Harry were both after Hermione. He had already threatened his dorm mate on several occasions to sleep with one eye open.

Hermione didn’t say anything. She had spent the last few days working out in her head how to solve their problem, and she kept coming back to the same answer. The only way to preserve the friendship between all three of them was for her to break things off with Ron. She was in love with Ron, but there was also a small part of her, which she often chose to ignore, that contained her feelings for Harry. Feelings that she never thought Harry would return because for years he had been wrapped up in Cho and then last year had fallen for Ginny. Harry had always been an expert at keeping his feelings and emotions hidden. She had just never realized how skillful he was at it until now. That was why she knew what she had to do.

Without giving it another thought, she kissed Ron long and hard on the mouth. Ron, though surprised at first, quickly recovered and slipped his tongue into her mouth. He slid his hands down to her hips, wanting to pull her full against him, when movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

He pulled back from Hermione and she quickly turned around, knowing Ron had stopped because there was someone there.

It was Harry, standing there watching them. “Sorry to interrupt,” he muttered and started walking back towards the portrait hole.

“Harry, wait,” she called, taking a step towards him. “We should talk.”

Harry turned back around, though talking was the last thing he wanted to do.

Ron, tired of having to hide his feelings for his girlfriend for Harry’s sake, kissed her on the cheek, saying, “I’m going up to shower.” He left without giving Harry so much as a look.

When Ron was gone, Harry said, “we don’t need to talk about anything. You and Ron are happy, and I’m not going to stand in the way of that.” He wished she would just forget about everything like he was trying to do.

Hermione said the exact same thing Ron did, except her voice was barely above a whisper. “You never said anything.”

“What was I supposed to say? You were Ron’s.”

“Excuse me?” She said in almost an exact likeness of Professor McGonagall and giving him the glare to match. “I’m not some piece of property. I don’t belong to Ron or anyone else for that matter.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he said quickly. “It’s just that Ron has fancied you for ages and it’s been kind of obvious the last couple of years that you feel the same way. I didn’t want to interfere, not like I stood a chance anyways.”

“I’m not sure what to say,” she said. It was as much a shock to Harry as it was to her that for once Hermione Granger didn’t have all the answers.

“Whatever, it doesn’t matter. I’ll get over it,” Harry said in an offhand sort of way. He just needed to stop thinking about her in a way that was other than best friendly and move on to some other girl that wasn’t off limits. But the problem was he didn’t want any other girl. He wanted the know-it-all bookworm who scolded him when he neglected his studies and had been willing to die for him more times than he could count. The person who saw him as just Harry and not The Boy Who Lived and was completely oblivious to how beautiful she really was thanks to superficial people like Lavender and Parvati.

“In some ways you’re just as thick as Ron,” she said to him. “He spent all these years being jealous of Viktor but never said anything to me about how he really felt. I was fairly certain I knew how he felt, but if he couldn’t say it himself I wasn’t going to force him to do it. I wish you’d told me about your feelings.”

The one thing she never understood about Harry was his ability to just shut off his emotions whenever he felt like it. He just stood there looking like this wasn’t affecting him at all. “What’s wrong with you? You should be angry or upset but you’re acting like none of this matters. Harry, this isn’t something you can just suppress like you do with almost everything else.”

Harry’s green eyes blazed, the first hint of emotion he’d shown since walking in there. “Would you like it if I got all angry and jealous like Ron does about Viktor Krum? Would it make you feel special to have two blokes fighting over you? I’m sorry but I can’t fight for something that was never mine to begin with.”

“Harry, I care for you – more than Ron knows,” she said, admitting that out loud and to herself for the first time.

“But you’re in love with Ron,” Harry stated, not allowing himself to feel any kind of joy at her admission.

“Yes, I am,” she admitted truthfully.

“Then why are we even talking about this?”

She took a deep breath. “What I feel for you – it’s complicated, Harry, because I’ve never allowed myself to really think about the possibility of us getting together. I would never want to hurt Ron like that and there always seemed to be some other girl that wasn’t me you were chasing after.”

“I guess it’s all my fault then, isn’t it?” He said bitterly. Story of my life, he added silently.

Before Hermione could say another word, he took out his invisibility cloak and covered himself with it. The only way she knew he was no longer in the room was when she saw the portrait hole swing open to let him out.

He had left before she could explain the kiss he had walked in on. It had been a goodbye kiss. The friendship between the three of them had to come first, and she knew Ron would never be able to do it, so it was up to her to make the difficult decision for the both of them.



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