“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?”
“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.