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Reciprocity

 

When Hermione gets McGonagall’s owl, she does not think twice before signing up for the eighth year. Everyone already expects Hermione Granger to go back to school, and in this instance she does not disappoint anyone.

Ron scoffs at the letter but Harry contemplates over it for a while.

A few days later, both of them get letters from Kingsley about their Auror training. She is slightly surprised when Ron asks her about it. She does not understand why he asked for her opinion.

But Hermione only shrugs and says she trusts him to make the decision.

Three weeks later, Harry and Ron start their training and Hermione has never felt more alone than the moment she boards the train.

Her logical side scolds her for feeling so. She knows that if she had only asked Harry, and maybe Ron, to go with her, they would have. 

But that is the entire point though, her emotional side rebels. 

She should not have to ask.

 


 

Hermione expects the worst year. But in reality, it is not even half as worse.

She deepens her friendship with Luna. She is not bothered by Luna’s eccentricity anymore. To her, loyalty had always meant more.

She begins a tentative friendship with Theodore Nott. She likes the change of pace, likes that he actually listens to her.

War has a way of making you feel small.

Unheard.

She has never liked the spotlight.

But when she talks, Nott listens.

Even as whispers begin behind their backs, Hermione clings to her new friendship.

Roaming in the walls of Hogwarts does not make her melancholy anymore.

She wants the familiarity, craves it even. But she hates the onslaught of memories of the good old days.

Sometimes she just wants to forget everything and cringes when she remembers her parents’ anger after she had found them.

Hermione is nothing but a contradiction these days. She finds a similar conflict in Nott, the son of a dead Death Eater.

What a contradiction.

 


 

Hermione used to think fighting was the hardest thing she had to do. 

But it is not. 

Living is harder. Breathing is harder.

A year ago it was easier to justify her desire to get comfort from someone.

They were alone.

There was a war going on.

They had not known they would survive. 

But now, she cannot justify why she wants the comfort of another when she should be seeking comfort in Ron’s arms.

The conflicts of her soul drive her to ignoring her two supposed best friends.

But they are busy too, and Hermione feels a profound relief overpowering everything else.

(Even the fact that she is supposed to miss one more than the other.)

 


 

For all her intelligence, Hermione still cannot believe she was so stupid. 

How could she possibly ignore the bond that ties her to Harry Potter?

It is Halloween and Hermione can barely breathe the whole day.

She knows she should go, even with all her hurt emotions.

The previous evening, Ginny had been complaining how Harry had refused all dinner invitations from Molly for tonight.

He had preferred to be alone.

“But why does he want to be alone on this day?” Ginny had protested. “He should be spending it with his family!”

But Hermione knew where Harry’s family truly was.

And so, Hermione seeks permission from the Headmistress.

“There is somewhere else I have to be.” Hermione explains offhandedly.

Minerva gives her a knowing look as she gestures towards the fireplace.

 


 

Leaves crunch under her boots as she makes her way towards the kissing gate.

She knows he is there without really seeing him.

Hermione can hear the crowds from a distance.

But where she is going, there is no soul except one.

She sees him sitting on the ground, his invisibility cloak hanging off his form. He looks like a mess and Hermione remembers it had rained this morning.

The ground is muddy. And Harry is sitting in front of his parents’ graves, staring at nothing.

He does not even react to her footfalls.

An irrational part of her wants to scream at him for being so reckless.

Voldemort might have been vanquished but some of his followers were still out there.

Harry should not be so careless.

(She ignores the thought that Harry does not react because he has memorized the sound of her footsteps.)

She reaches him and sits down without a prompt.

She makes sure that there is some distance between them.

There are no flowers, so Hermione conjures the same she did last year.

She feels Harry’s smile grow.

But this time, it makes her heart burn.

 


 

Hermione does not know how long they sit there.

Harry stays quiet and steals a few glances at her. But Hermione stares at nothing.

Haltingly, Harry starts talking about his training and Hermione leans her forehead on her raised knees.

She inhales deeply and relaxes.

She had forgotten how much peace his voice brings to her.

She listens and stays silent.

Harry quietens after some time.

Hermione is sure it is almost dawn when Harry speaks again–

“Do you think they would still love me if they were alive?”

She wants to go home.

She does not want to get caught up in this again.

So, she says nothing.

 


 

Hermione stays at Hogwarts for the holidays. 

She cannot bear Ron’s accusations of her fraternizing with Nott.

She already feels the weight of his judgment from his sparse letters.

She knows she cannot tolerate the silent judgment from the Weasleys even when Ginny vehemently tells them time and again that Hermione-and-Nott-are-just-bloody-friends.

Hermione has dealt with Ron’s irrational jealousy.

He accuses her of having feelings for Nott.

Last year, he had accused her of being in love with Harry.

It does not matter that only one of the accusations was true.

It does not matter because she is so tired.

She is tired of defending her feelings and staying unpardoned.

 


 

When Harry and Ron finally finish their six months training, they plan a party inviting all of their friends.

Everyone wants to go.

Everyone except Hermione.

Her conflicts are still warring with each other and she knows she risks disappointing them.

From the sound of it, Hermione knows it will be a loud, obnoxious party.

Ginny does not even bat an eyelash when she refuses to go.

She just sighs and tells Hermione to take care.

 


  

As most of her friends leave for the party, Hermione spends the day with Nott in the library instead.

He convinces her to take a walk outside and she relents.

It is the weekend after all, and it is quite pleasant outside.

When Harry and Ron come to retrieve her, Hermione hardly knows whose look of betrayal pierces her more.

But she forgets their pain when she remembers her anger.

Once upon a time, Hermione Granger would have been happy that her two boys had abandoned their own party to come for her.

She would have run after them and apologized profusely for not showing up.

She would have even apologized for Nott.

But she is not that girl anymore.

She ignores the looks and carries on with Nott.

 


 

After reading a scathing letter from Ron, Hermione cannot sleep.

She is all out of tears by now.

Instead, she reminisces. 

She remembers that awful day just like yesterday.

 


 

They had been in the Forest of Dean.

Ron had finally gotten the courage to come back and join them.

Their friendship had been so fragile.

It had not taken Ron long to suspect that the deepest fear he had faced when he had destroyed the locket might have been true.

He had yelled and cursed at them.

He had thrown accusations.

But Hermione had still been reeling from Ron’s sudden arrival and so, she had made a mistake.

Hermione had loved Ron just as she had loved Harry.

But she had been in love with Harry.

In love with him enough to know that he had been desolate without the companionship of Ron. In love with him enough that she had straight out denied the fact to Ron.

When Ron had asked her to choose, Hermione had chosen Ron.

But he had gone a step further.

“I don’t want to feel this way, Hermione.” Ron had said. “If you love me, then it shouldn’t be hard for you to choose me every time. If you love me, it shouldn’t be a surprise for me to expect you two to never be friends again. How else am I supposed to trust you? What other way would this ever work?”

She had been ready to argue back, making pointers in her head.

In some way, Ron’s horrific request had not surprised Hermione.

No.

What had surprised Hermione had been how quick Harry had been to acquiesce.

Surely Harry must have realized how she had felt about him, she had told him multiple times.

Surely Harry must have realized that she had only chosen Ron to keep the peace, she had done it for his sake.

Then, she had started doubting that Harry had ever reciprocated her feelings, because she had realized that he had not been ready for her.

And perhaps he would never be.

Because he had been so desperate to choose Ron over her.

But that would have been fine, if Harry had not also wrecked years of friendship with a quick agreement.

Like nothing she had offered had ever been enough.

 


 

It was still true though.

She had not been enough for either one.

One wanted her love because her friendship was not enough.

One wanted her friendship because her love was not enough.

Of course, Ron had later magnanimously granted Harry and Hermione leave to be friends again once he knew Hermione was his.

But the damage had been too much.

It did not matter to Hermione that she missed Harry so much and she was still desperately in love with him.

It did not matter even though she wanted to mend him and offer him all of her love.

Harry tried to mend the bridge between them but Hermione started suspecting his intentions. Harry was broken beyond belief and wanted her only when his demons were wailing.

So, Hermione recoiled.

Because this time, it was not enough for her.

 


 

Hermione had been determined to be with Ron and to love him despite everything. But his accusations about Nott had hit too close to home.

She could not allow his accusations of her loyalty.

Hermione was not sure she had forgiven Ron his faux pas. In the light of the situation, she had simply rearranged her priorities. She had been so eager to please him that she had viciously ignored how he had been disloyal first.

But how could she forgive him?

Making her choose was one thing, but abandoning the two of them had been something else entirely.

She had internalized it so deeply she had hardly known how much resentment had built up because of it. 

But she should have known. 

Hermione never forgave anyone’s disloyalty against Harry. Why should this be any different? Even if it was her boyfriend. 

 


 

Hermione is studying with Ginny in the Common Room and all she can think of is the pile of letters she has in her room. She had already started receiving offers from many departments of Ministry and Gringotts.

It is a personal letter from Kingsley that has her occupied. 

He has personally asked her to join the Elite Auror Task Force. With her skills and intelligence, he wrote, Hermione might as well head the DMLE in a couple of years.

However tempting the offer is, Hermione knows that she will decline.

She is not as tired of fighting as she thought she had been. She misses the adrenaline and the rush. She misses the chance of proving her mettle through fighting.

But the Auror Task Force has two people she has no wish to be in close proximity with at the moment.

Hermione knows that she is letting her pride and feelings get in the way of her future career, but she has always been as logical as she has been emotional. Logically, she knows that she can work for the Aurors. Emotionally, she knows that it would be hell.

She knows she should not have to hide or run away from people she is supposed to love.

But these days, she does not feel like a Gryffindor.

Ginny’s third sigh in five minutes snaps Hermione out of her thoughts and she looks sharply at the redhead.

“What’s wrong?”

Ginny startles for a second before settling down with a frown.

Hermione has always liked the fact that Ginny does not beat around the bush. Today is no different.

“It’s Harry. I –uh – I’m not sure what is going on with him. He seems more withdrawn than usual. Then, there is you and Ron. When we were younger, I used to envy the friendship you three had. But now, it feels like it’s just…gone. Given your history with Ron, I understand the volatility. But you and Harry? I don’t think I have seen you two fight or be indifferent to each other more than once maybe. So all of it just makes me think that something went terribly wrong while you three were off on your hunt. I’m right, no? I don’t know anything but only one thing comes to mind that could have destroyed things like this. Is it true, then?”

Hermione processes the verbal vomit, a stony expression on her face.

She wonders how long Ginny has been meaning to ask her this. She hopes her answer would not alienate another Weasley.

“You are not wrong. Something did happen, but believe me when I say that it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

Ginny stares at Hermione for a few minutes.

“If all of you are this miserable, how can it not mean anything?”

“It is a misery of our own making, but that doesn’t mean it is valid or important now.”

“Of course it is!” Ginny snaps but Hermione does not flinch. “How can you just pretend that it’s nothing?”

Hermione lets out a harsh laugh.

“No, that’s not true. I am just saying that it does not matter. I am too tired of everything to let it matter. I am too jaded to fight for something that is lost. So no, Ginny I am not pretending and that is because it was everything and now, it is nothing. ”

 


 

The dam breaks just as it was supposed to.

 


 

Hermione can only avoid her conflicts for so long.

She actively tries to participate in the end of the year celebration. School is over and she is briefly living with Luna at her father’s place.

She plans with Ginny and makes funny invites with Luna. She learns to enjoy herself again.

She tries to pretend she wants to celebrate with her best friends. It is much more than a truce, she knows. Fortunately, Harry and Ron agree.

They decide to keep the party in a Muggle pub. Given the guest list, it was bound to get out of control if they had stuck to the Wizarding World.

Hermione is about to Apparate to the pub when a silvery patronus startles her and she takes her wand out in a flash.

Nott’s hurried and alarmed statement reaches her ears and she is Apparating before the patronus vanishes.

 


 

Some hours later and she is still with Nott at St. Mungos.

Her eyes are sparkling with unshed tears.

Nott had been attacked, by his own friends no less.

Hermione wonders when the rotten prejudice would stop.

She still wants to change the world.

But now she is not sure the world wants to be changed.

 


 

When Nott is feeling better, she goes back to the Burrow. She squares her shoulders like she is marching to war.

Because it is true.

Hermione knows what battles await her there.

She enters and finds Ginny arguing heatedly with Ron, both of their faces red.

It does not take long for Ron to flip when he sees her over Ginny’s shoulders.

He marches over to her and he begins shouting.

The same accusations.

The same words.

The same righteous anger.

She notes that some of the Weasleys try to stop Ron.

But they give up too easily and let Ron shout and scream at her.

She tries to acknowledge how Ron must feel.

But how can she when he has never acknowledged her feelings?

How can she understand him when his vitriol has turned half of the Weasleys against her?

And this time, Hermione does not think logically.

Her bone-deep resentment flares to life.

She does not argue back.

She does not say anything until Ron questions her loyalty.

Hermione snaps.

“How can you be such a hypocrite? You? Accusing me of disloyalty? I was helping a friend out. But I doubt it is a concept you would understand when you abandoned me and your best friend while we were on that blasted hunt.”

From the gasps that follow, Hermione is correct in her assumption that Ronald Weasley had never shared this vital detail.

She does not stop there.

“And when you came back, you had the audacity to make me choose between two people I loved. Well, let me enlighten you – I lied.”

She catches green eyes burning into her and holds the gaze for a few seconds.

It is fair to say that after that, the situation escalates quickly.

Within a single night, Hermione has lost some of her family, her boyfriend and her cowardice.

But she has regained herself.

And that is more than a worthy trade-off.

 


 

When Hermione storms out of the Burrow, a scuffle has broken out, but she feels lighter than the air.

She runs as the wind rushes at her.

She laughs freely and the sound is the most beautiful thing she has heard in a while.

 


 

She and Luna rent an apartment together. Although with the amount of time Luna spends on explorations with her father, Hermione could safely say it was her apartment. 

It is like the world has been waiting patiently for her decisions.

Everything falls into place after that.

She starts her job at Gringotts as a curse breaker, Bill Weasley proudly giving her his recommendation.

Ginny comes to her weeks after The Night.

She informs Hermione that she has broken up with Harry.

Ginny waits for Hermione to look happy.

But Hermione only engulfs the redhead in her arms and lets her cry.

 


 

Hours later, she remembers Ginny’s red-rimmed eyes and her echoes of why she was not enough for Harry and could never be.

Despite everything and her own feelings, the thought had resonated so deeply with Hermione and her own relationship with Harry that she had comforted Ginny. Tempted as she had been to check on Harry, she had felt strangely betrayed by his ability to hurt Ginny like that. To have made Ginny so insecure that she doubted her own worth–

Because if he could hurt the first girl he loved that way, what chance did Hermione stand?

 


  

She thinks she can now understand love a little better.

Love should not hurt other people to get its way.

Because that is not love.

Maybe love is not a choice, but what you choose to do with it certainly is.

 


 

And so, Hermione builds her new life.

She does not go to the Burrow or the Grimmauld Place.

She does not ignore Harry’s owls because of her pride.

She ignores them because she has no idea what to say to him. She knows he would never understand.

 


 

Another Halloween and Hermione finds herself sitting beside Harry again.

Except, Harry does not talk and Hermione cannot find it in herself to fill the silence.

When dawn approaches, Harry asks the same question again–

“Do you think they would still love me if they were alive?”

But, Hermione only sighs.

 


 

Life gets busier and Hermione revels in it.

 


 

Hermione Granger knows she has been in love with Harry Potter for a long time.

At first, she had been terrified because she had loved the good parts and ignored the bad ones.

But then, she had realized that maybe she was supposed to love the good in spite of the bad.

And now, she knows that she loves both the good and the bad.

But it is not her job to fix the Boy-Who-Lived.

Not his glasses. Not his wand. Not his personal life. Not his past. Not his insecurities. Not his heart.

And it is definitely not her job to fix their relationship.

 


 

Some days she thinks that Harry had only agreed to end his friendship with Hermione forever because he had been sure that his forever would not have lasted that long. 

Maybe no longer than a few months.

Maybe even shorter.

 


 

The owls from Harry stop.

Hermione does not know whether to be relieved or concerned.

 


 

She hears snippets of what the Savior is doing from Ginny mostly.

Ginny and Harry have struck a tentative friendship over the past few months.

Ginny is playing Quidditch professionally and dating Viktor Krum of all people.

Hermione is constantly amused by the turn of events.

If Hermione had not known better, she would think Ginny was trying to play matchmaker.

“Harry is in Brazil these days, didn’t you have to do an investigation there? When will you go?”

“The French Ministry wants Harry to join their Auror Head Office ever since he worked with them. Do you think he should say yes?”

“Bill told me about the curse-breaker project in Egypt. I think Harry was there on one of his covert missions.”

Hermione knows that Ginny means well but she just laughs it off.

 


 

Ironically, it is in Egypt that Hermione accidentally breaks the Halloween tradition.

Her team is investigating the Djara cave when an ancient curse sets off and traps them inside – with magic barring any outside contact.

While her team is efficient and smart, it still takes them hours to break themselves free.

That is when she discovers that the ancient curse had been a time anomaly and she had missed Halloween by five days.

She gets back home and deals with her frantic friends.

But she does not know what to tell Harry, even as the guilt weighs her down.

It is not like they are on speaking terms that she can just explain herself to him.

 


 

Unbeknownst to Hermione, not showing up on Halloween shattered the world Harry had been complacent in for far too long.

 


 

When Ginny comes to her office and tells Hermione that Harry is seeing a Mind-Healer, Hermione stares at her friend in bewilderment.

She opens and closes her mouth for several minutes and finally decides on–

“Finally.”

 


 

Hermione is having lunch with Nott and Luna in Diagon Alley.

Luna has just gotten back from her expedition and is telling them about her run-in and subsequent relationship with a certain Rolf Scamander.

Luna is dreamier than usual and her friends tease her lightheartedly.

Her blue eyes focus on Hermione suddenly and she begins solemnly–

“I met his grandfather, you know. He seems to be a fan of yours especially when I confirmed stories of Buckbeak and S.P.E.W.”

Hermione blushes to her roots, partly in horror at what Luna could have told him and partly in remembrance of her own exploits.

She is still laughing when she catches movement in a booth across from theirs and turns in that direction.

Harry Potter is sitting in the booth with his Auror team, judging by their robes.

He is staring at them, a lopsided smile gracing his face.

As his gaze focuses on her, Hermione realizes she has not seen him in over a year.

Her heart stutters.

For a few seconds, she gets nervous that he would get up and join them but he remains seated.

He stares at her and there are so many emotions in his eyes that Hermione can barely sift through all of them.

He gives her a faint smile.

She returns it before focusing on Luna again.

 


 

She hears from Ginny that Harry has asked for Ginny’s forgiveness for the way he had treated her.

Ginny tells her she has forgiven him.

There is a loaded look but Hermione only shrugs.

 


 

It is August and she is moving towards the exit of the Diagon Alley after making some purchases when George stops her and tells her he has been on a lookout for her for days.

Hermione looks him up and down and scoffs.

“Stalker.”

George gives her a big toothy grin and slings an arm over her shoulders to lead her back to the shop.

And back to a sheepish Ron.

 


 

They have an awkward conversation.

Nothing is entirely forgiven yet, but there is less resentment and anger.

Hermione doubts they would ever be best friends again.

But something is better than nothing.

 


 

Hermione wakes up on Halloween with no small amount of trepidation.

As she works in her office, the apprehension only increases.

She makes her way through the village, finally realizing why she has been feeling that way the whole day.

As she approaches Lily and James Potters’ graves, there is no figure sulking in the shadows.

She conjures the same flowers.

She falters for only a second before she realizes where Harry James Potter might have gone.

Of –bloody–course.

 


 

The Forest of Dean looks no different except maybe she can see more green than white.

This is where it all began and ended.

Harry is sitting against a tree when she appears.

Even though she had walked away from this for the right reasons, she feels as if Harry has been sitting there for a very long time, waiting for her to come back.

She almost hesitates but Harry is already straightening up.

His smile is so bright, Hermione feels blinded for a second.

And then, there so many whispers in the night.

Repetition of apologies.

"I was so wrong about so many things. But I am glad that you were not there to correct me this time. I learned a lesson that I will not forget. I took your friendship and threw it back in your face, and the worst part is I don't even know how many times I have done that. I am truly, truly sorry that I-"

Assertions of friendship.

"You have always stood in the middle of me and all the dangerous things that wanted to consume me. But people have always told me that I was so brave, but how brave could I possibly be when I could not even face the darkness in my head and in my soul? You protected me from the storm, even myself-"

Declarations of affection–

“It’s not like I can’t live without you. It’s just that I don’t want to. I was so convinced that you would always be there no matter what that when you weren’t, my world became unstable. It felt like I had lost the person that I was aligned to, except it was years ago and I didn’t even realize it. When you love someone deeply, you have a responsibility and I failed. But I don't want to fail–"

  


 

Hermione takes it all in stride.

She does not know how to answer because she knows there has never been a shred of doubt about her love.

Harry talks.

Hermione listens.

But their dynamic has changed.

Maybe the reciprocity has always been there, but Hermione knows this now for sure–

She is more than enough.

And he is ready to accept it because so is he.

 


 

Four years ago-

Godric's Hollow

 

Harry had not stopped looking at the graves of his parents and Hermione had felt so bereft without his stare.

“Do you think they would still love me if they were alive?”

She had answered the question straight away, knowing there was never another answer. 

Because the answer would never change. 

“Oh Harry, I don’t think they would ever stop.”

 


 

After sitting on the ground for a long time, Harry gets up and stretches. Hermione follows him.

They have been sitting in the same spot their tent used to be in the Forest of Dean.

He looks at the sky.

It is October 31st, 2001 and there is a full moon on this Halloween.

Hermione swears she can hear a werewolf howling somewhere in the distance and remembers her third-year suddenly.

Maybe not every memory is tainted by their haunted ghosts.

Harry turns his head to smile at her, his eyes sparkling in amusement.

He extends a hand towards her. 

“Could have used Buckbeak today but that's our cue. You coming?”

She takes his hand and barely registers Harry’s answering smile. He hooks an arm around her waist and whisks her away. 

There is so much more to their story.

But for now, this is a very good start.

 

 

-fin-