The air was much more festive than it had been only a day before. Everyone, from the first-years to the soon to be graduates to even the tired faculty members was finally relaxed for the first time in a very long time. The fears of the hidden future still stayed nearby, but no one cared. Lord Voldemort, who they had called “You-Know-Who” even when everyone thought he was long gone, was dead. And his death had come at the hand of the one who had banished him so long ago—Harry Potter.
The band this time was a group of seventh-years that called themselves the Unisex Pistols. They were very skillful with their instruments, playing old favorites and new hits with the prowess that even some professional bands lacked. The best part of their act, however, was when they did a game called “Mimicry”. They took requests of names from the crowd, and after conversing amongst themselves for a few moments, played a satirical song about the person. Most of their targets laughed; few, like Argus Filch (the Pistols had made a song about his pants that he didn’t quite appreciate), fumed quietly in anger.
But for now, a slow, romantic song drifted through the Great Hall, and every student danced with his favorite partner. Some danced as friends, holding each other so that space could be seen between them; some danced as lovers with their bodies making full contact. The teachers watched on, letting the hormonal behavior continue; in fact, some joined the students in slow dancing.
Of the two types of dancers, Hermione and Ron were definitely in the second category. Hermione Granger leaned her head against the shoulder of her boyfriend Ron Weasley as they danced to the music. She sighed happily. Ron smirked.
“What’s on your mind, Hermione?” He asked, whispering sensually into her ear.
Hermione sighed again. “It’s just… It’s just that it’s over. We don’t have to worry about living our adult lives under this great big shadow. We won’t have to fear the Dark Mark being flung over a loved one’s house. We can just have ordinary, normal lives, with ordinary, normal jobs, and ordinary, normal children.” She paused as a pair of fairies flew past her face, laughing all the while. She smiled. “Well, perhaps not too normal.”
Ron shrugged and Hermione lifted her head off of his shoulder to look at him. “That’s all in the future, Hermes,” he said softly, brushing her brown hair back from her face. “I think that the present deserves some consideration too, don’t you?”
Hermione grinned, showing her teeth. “I think you’re right, Mr. Weasley.” They leaned even closer to each other, their bodies pressing against each other. They indulged in each other’s eyes, forgetting everything else except each other. Their hands crept slowly to hold the other’s head gently. Then, they kissed passionately, still swaying to the gentle throb of the music.
Their mouths were still pressed to each other when they both became aware of a foot tapping the floor behind them, loudly enough to be heard over the music. They reacted as any hormone-driven teenagers would react: they ignored it. The following not-so-subtle cough was as easily ignored, and after a few moments, the interloper decided to take an even more direct approach, and tapped Ron on the shoulder. He disengaged from Hermione to turn his head back towards the annoying disturbance.
It was Harry Potter, the Head Boy of his year. He was wearing dark green robes, as usual, and there was nothing in his posture or costume that even indicated that he had defeated the Dark Lord less than a week earlier. “All right, you two,” Harry said, his face completely solemn, “there’s first years here at the dance, too. Don’t want to corrupt them now, do we?”
“Sod off, Bighead Boy,” Ron said flippantly, and turned back to recommence on the task at hand. His lips touched Hermione’s, but an instant afterwards, she pulled off of his kiss, giggling. She shook her head.
“He’s right, you know. Being the Head Girl, I shouldn’t be setting such a bad example.”
“You said it, not me,” Harry said, smiling slightly for the first time that night. He raised his hand towards Hermione as the current song ended, and another slow song began. “May I have this dance, Smarty?”
Her eyes twinkled. “I’d love to, Scruffy.” She looked at Ron expectantly, but he didn’t seem to get the subtle hint. He stayed where he was, holding her close to him. She stood on tiptoes and kissed his cheek to get his attention. “Honey, I’m going to go dance with Harry now. Let go of me?”
Ron threw a quick glance at Harry, and very deliberately swooped down to kiss her passionately once more. Harry watched, face emotionless, as the kiss continued. Finally, Hermione broke it off, her eyes slightly glassy, and turned towards Harry. As Harry and Hermione smiled at each other and put their arms around each other, Ron glared at Harry with vehemence. After a moment, he stalked off towards the drinks.
As for Harry and Hermione, they were silent, just enjoying the comfort between them. They listened to the lead singer sing out about soulmates, and true love, and destiny. Hermione looked up at Harry after a moment.
“So, Mr. Hero-Slytherin-Man,” Hermione teased, “how are you going to celebrate beating Voldemort for the final time?”
Harry smiled at her. “What do you think I’m doing right now, Smarty?”
Hermione blushed slightly. “Yeah, well- I don’t think you’ll ever need to worry about your future in the wizarding world. I think you’ll be able to do whatever you want to do. I’m sure you can start modeling for towel companies, and still you’ll get a lot of money.”
Harry’s grin had faded while Hermione had been talking. He looked down at the floor, away from Hermione’s face, as he mumbled “Well, I’m not too sure about my future. It doesn’t look too bright for me.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “Harry, what are you talking about?”
Harry shrugged. “It’s… it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.” They continued to dance, falling back to silence.
Hermione frowned. For the first time that night, she noticed that Harry was agitated over something. (No one else had noticed; Hermione Granger had gotten so used to Harry’s moods over the years to recognize his near-imperceptible moods.) She leaned up on tiptoe, against his body, to whisper in his ear.
“Harry, what’s wrong? Don’t even try to brush it off as nothing again. I know you better than you know yourself, Mister, and there’s something bothering you.”
Harry sighed. His eyes met hers, and he seemed to drink in the sight. “I can’t bear it any more.” He whispered. He smiled sadly. “I know I’m not going to see you after we leave Hogwarts.”
Hermione shook her head and chuckled slightly. “What are you talking about? We’ll still live with Mom and Dad for at least the summer. And didn’t you want to move in with Ron and me in London?”
Harry laughed bitterly, a sound that Hermione knew all too well. After they had entered Hogwarts, Harry had grown too cynical and too sarcastic for Hermione’s liking.
“Hermione,” he said, his body still jerking from his mirthless laughter, “Did you actually dream that Ron and me could get along? He hates my guts.”
“He just hates Slytherins: he has nothing against you personally.” Hermione answered feebly.
“Hermione,” Harry said again, and placed his hands on her shoulders and held her at arm’s length. He stopped dancing. “Ron Weasley has always hated me, and not just because I’m a Slytherin. He only pretends to tolerate me around you because I’m your best friend. And I know you’re smart enough to know that.”
Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. She nodded, and was silent for another moment. Harry placed his arms around her once more, and they began to dance again.
The song had drawn nearly to a close when Hermione suddenly realized what Harry had done. Though everything he had said was true, to her dismay, she realized he had driven her away from the answer of her original question.
“You… you git!” Hermione said, grinning. “How dare you use that Slytherin cunning to trick me! Answer my question!” She looked up at his eyes again, and found them hard and sad.
“Hermione, I can’t take it any more. I’m going to run.” Harry whispered into the air, looking up into the ceiling to avoid her gaze.
Hermione frowned. “What do you mean, Harry? What can’t you take? Harry, Harry—you know I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you. You’re like a brother to me.” She reached up with her hands to touch his face, but he jerked away.
“That’s exactly what I mean, Hermione. I’m like a brother to you.” He paused for a moment, then took a deep breath. In a whisper almost unheard over the music, he murmured, “I love you.”
Hermione nodded. “I love you too, Harry. I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember ever loving someone. You know that.”
Harry smiled sadly. “You still don’t understand.” The music had stopped, and the Unisex Pistols was pausing from their jamming to address the audience. Everyone had stopped dancing, and were laughing and cheering at the band’s jokes and insults. Ron had noticed the intense looks Harry and Hermione were giving each other, and had started to walk in their direction. Some of the crowd began to migrate towards the bathrooms and the refreshments, moving past the Head Girl and Boy still standing in the middle of the hall.
But the world seemed to have faded away to Harry and Hermione. The crowds glided past them, their mouths moving but producing no sound. Color seemed to drain out of everything else in the room, leaving only each other vibrant to their eyes. Ron was millions of miles away to them, and he was forgotten in the crowd, his yells to Hermione lost in the bustle of the crowd. Both could hear the beating of their hearts, painfully loud in their ears.
Harry slowly grasped Hermione’s hands with tenderness.
Harry looked into Hermione’s eyes, his green meeting her brown.
“Hermione,” Harry said solemnly, “I love you as a man loves a woman, as your father loves your mother. I love you so much it hurts me to ever be away from you.”
Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
“I love you enough to know that you don’t feel as strongly as I do. I love you enough to let you be with whomever you love. I love you enough to let you go.”
He smiled again. “Thank you for the dance, Hermione.”
Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
She read in his eyes what he would do moments before he moved. Still, for reasons she herself could not explain, she did not budge when Harry leaned down to kiss her.
It was sweet, soft, and gentle—and perfectly gentlemanly. Harry had kissed her on the cheek, as a brother would to his sister— as Harry had given to Hermione many times before in their lives. When he straightened once more, both had tears falling from their eyes. Something was being lost in that moment—and both of them knew it.
Harry smiled shakily despite his tears. He grazed her left cheek gently with the back of his hand, wiping away some of her tears.
“Good bye, Hermione. God bless you,” were Harry’s last words to the woman he had lived with, bickered with, cried with, laughed with, danced with, played with, and studied with for all of his life.
At first, no reaction came from Harry’s disappearance. Everything continued normally, and only a few had noticed that the Hogwarts Head Boy had just gone AWOL. (Those who did had either two reactions: they either didn’t care, or they figured it was one of his odd tricks.) Hermione grasped at all the possibilities, unable to accept that he was gone.
The only thing he could have done was to use an invisibility spell of some kind, Hermione thought, her mind racing for answers. Everyone knows nobody can Apparate from Hogwarts, it’s in Hogwarts, a History—
As if to mock her thoughts, an audible pop was heard all throughout the room, heard over all the other sounds—the telltale mark of an Apparation. Before anyone could question what that was all about, a horrendous ripping sound reverberated through the air. The ground shook violently, and the lights magically floating in the air flickered repeatedly before the Hall was overcome by darkness.
Hermione collapsed to the floor, unnoticed by anyone. Through all the chaos and confusion, all Hermione could do was cry. On that night, one supposed to be filled with happiness and revelry, she had received the greatest sorrow of her life. She hadn’t just lost a best friend and a brother; she had lost part of her soul.
Harry Disapparated into a stall of a restroom in London, away from all inquiring eyes. He stayed there for a few moments, trying to gather his senses together. He let himself cry for a few more minutes, in the privacy of the stall; then, with robotically short movements, he put the past away from his mind and changed clothes with the spare he had left in the restroom an hour earlier, during his preparations. After all, a Slytherin wasn’t a Slytherin if he couldn’t detach himself from his emotions.
When he was presentable once more (which included a Wrinkle-Remover spell and a spell to get rid of his tear streaks), he stepped out of the restroom and into King’s Cross station. He unlocked the restroom door, and removed the “Out Of Order” sign from its front. A few bystanders looked curiously at the young man who had stepped out of the restroom no one had seen him enter.
He checked his Muggle watch and saw that it was now ten thirty. Thirty minutes early, he mused as he found the patch of wall he had marked earlier, while making his preparations. He quickly cast an Avoidance Charm, muttering the incantation under his breath. When he was sure it was in effect, and that no Muggles could see him, he dispelled the Camouflage charm and retrieved his belongings. He mingled with the crowd in an instant, and made his way over to Platform 10.
He sat down on a bench and waited for the time to pass. Despite himself, he could feel tears start to well up behind his eyes. He shook his head furiously.
This is all for the best, Potter, he told himself. Best get used to it as soon as possible. Though… I could do without the damn memories. Just my damn luck, to have my Muggle train be so close to Platform 9 ¾…
He stared at the wall hiding the entrance to Platform 9 ¾ for a moment. He could remember so much from his life, and so much had to do with the girl he had left crying in the Great Hall…