He walked away from her again, and for the second time in her life, she was sure that she was going to actually punch someone. Hermione had never been particularly violent, and she never really counted punching Draco Malfoy in the face for being an ugly, little berk. They were the best of friends now, so it was all forgiven anyway.
She sighed, “Haven’t I passed the test?”
If he heard her, he gave no indication and kept walking. Maybe he was already crying for reasons she could never know. His emerald eyes had been glossy with tears and disbelief. Rather than dwelling on it, she turned back to her car and drove home.
His hands had trembled despite the way he spoke to her with that high-born air she still wasn’t completely convinced of. It felt different than speaking to Draco. There was something practiced about it rather than Draco’s refined, cultivated elitism. Nevertheless, she’d been impressed that he’d been willing to let her plan the date. It had probably freaked him out considering she told him to show up comfortable and prepared to walk for a few hours.
Harry, to his credit, had shown up in shoes that seemed comfortable, new, and more expensive than her entire outfit, well-tailored jeans, and a t-shirt that did things to her insides. They walked for hours on the pier, drinking hot cocoa, eating fair food, riding carnival rides that had him squinting in distrust and pleading for a break in between as she rubbed his back and coaxed him through breathing. He’d flushed and told her he’d never been on a roller coaster. She promised that she’d take him to a real amusement park as soon as their schedules allowed it. He’d paled and demanded something to help settle his stomach. It was his luck that one of the stands had ginger ale. Despite all of the culture shock, they’d had fun, yet in the end, he’d shut down on her once again as soon as it was time for them to part ways.
She got home and looked at her phone. She texted him goodnight and let him know that she enjoyed their time together. She showered and sank into the tub of hot water with a sigh. He had been out of his element, out of control. She knew that it would bother him, but she hadn’t thought that he would go running after losing himself to the evening. Maybe it had been too much? If that was the case, why wouldn’t he just say so?
What’s going through your mind, Harry?
Shaking her head, she enjoyed her bath and did her usual scrubbing routine before finishing up and crawling into bed. She had work in the morning no matter what. She woke up and found he hadn’t replied, but didn’t think much of it. Harry kept late and early hours as a sales representative and manager. Sometimes, they went more than just a few days without speaking when he was caught up in a project.
She got dressed for work and headed to the lab with a grin. She waved at Luna on her way in and settled into her seat. Luna gave her the same sympathetic look she always did, offered her a bisquit and told her she had their mutually favored creamer hidden in her desk drawer.
Hermione worked nearly through lunch before realizing that she hadn’t eaten and she hadn’t spoken to him at all. While packing up, she gave him a call.
This is Harry Black. If you would leave a message, I will return it as soon as I can.
“Hey Harry, it’s Hermione. I just wanted to check and see if you would be free for lunch. Seems like you’re busy, so I’ll try and contact you a little later. Have a good day!”
She hung up and her stomach turned.
He was running for her.
It became obvious over the next few days of no communication outside of simple sentences that Harry was doing more than just running from her. If she didn’t know better, she would dare say he was attempting to ghost her and she just wasn’t taking the hint.
The problem was that Harry wasn’t that kind of guy. She couldn’t say how she knew that given his behavior, but her instincts were stubborn about not giving up on him, so she could only be a little disgruntled about it and focus on dealing with the mountain of research projects she had stacking up. Her issues, past and present, didn’t need a chance to tell her everything she didn’t want to hear about Harry’s behavior.
Hadn’t he warned her that there were times he had to withdraw? Didn’t she promise to respect that? Everyone needed to guard their own peace in whatever way that seemed fit. It just seemed so odd that he went incommunicado the week leading up to Halloween of all things. She’d had plans for couple’s costumes, drinking, and at least second base.
She had just arrived home when Harry’s number flashed across her cellphone screen. With a deep breath, she answered it.
“Hi, Harry. How are you?”
“Hi, Hermione.” He let out a breath that seemed far too frustrated and anxious for an evening call so close to Halloween. Had something happened? “I was hoping you had a bit of free time this evening.”
“What time?” Hermione asked.
“For dinner. Seven o’clock.”
“I should be more than free. Where are we going?”
“…a park of sorts.”
She frowned and worried her lip before forcing a smile, “Should I wear a sundress and a bonnet hat?”
He chuckled, his voice a little thick, “I think it will be a bit too cool for that. I’ll pick you up?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Harry arrived at six fifty-five, rang her doorbell, and greeted her promptly. He was wearing all black save for his green tie. His eyes looked glossy, but he smiled at her, a small trembling thing.
“You look lovely.”
She smiled up at him. The sweater dress was one of her favorites, a nice autumn orange. Her boots were thigh-high and just sexy enough to be date-appropriate without being too overt about it. She had to play it cool as she still wasn’t sure what was going on.
He ushered her into his car and they drove for a solid thirty minutes before they reached a park she had never visited.
The sign said Godric’s Hollow. She frowned and turned the name over in her mind. It snagged on some old newspaper clipping or some conversation she had overheard as a child, but she couldn’t quite grasp it. They stopped, and Harry helped her out of the car. He went to the trunk and pulled out a picnic basket of all things and a large rolled-up blanket.
It was strange, but she said nothing as she followed him down the path. He wasn’t trying to make small talk or even normal conversation as they walked down the winding path to a stone monument of a man, a woman, and a baby. Her stomach turned as he lay out the blanket and set the basket on top of it. He helped her sit down and took the seat beside her.
“I… I’m sure you have questions?”
“A mountain, but none of them will be asked if you don’t want.”
Harry eyed her and nodded, “I… I’d like to go first.”
Hermione took a deep breath and nodded.
“First, I must tell you I’ve been the most unmitigated and comprehensive ass.”
She bit back the laugh but couldn’t stop from grinning at him. He gave her a nervous, boyish smile.
“Is that so, Mr. Bingley?”
He chuckled, “I will take being Mr. Bingley over Mr. Darcy, the poor sod.”
He blew out a stilted breath and looked up nervously at the statue.
“What do you know… of the Death Eaters?”
Hermione flinched at the name and turned her head, “Enough to know that there is something very, very large that you are about to tell me.”
“My name is Harry James Potter.” Hermione stiffened. His voice cracked at the end, but he kept going, “Not Black. Sirius Orion Black was my godfather and he adopted me when I was fifteen years old… just a few months before he was killed.”
Her heart clenched, and she looked up at the statue then back to Harry. There were so many things she could say, such grief and regret that she could express, but she knew better than most that he was probably tired of hearing it. So much of their relationship made sense now, so many little quirks of Harry’s made sense.
How had she let this go on without getting it out of him earlier?
She shook her head. That was a ridiculous thought. Harry withdrew when pressed. If she had pressed too early, he would have run. The fact that he was opening up to her now, showing her this, allowing himself to be vulnerable with her now meant that she had passed some test in his mind.
She sighed, “… Well, Black. You have a great number of things to work on.”
His eyes widened.
“This is not a proper introduction to your parents, you cad.”
He blinked, seemingly lost before his eyes went glossy and his face broke into a wide, helpless smile. He looked so relieved, throwing his head back and laughing high into the night.
When he reached over and pulled her close, burying his fingers in her hair and just holding her, she smiled and hugged him back.
It seemed she really had passed the test.
“I’ll do better next time.”