Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
He needed to sleep.
He needed to not be thinking of the pretty time-traveller with the riotous curls and chocolate-brown eyes. He needed to not think of the weight of emotions constantly swimming in the chasms of those golden and cinnamon flecked irises.
He really needed to focus on the fact that his potion essay was still six whole inches shorter than Sluggy assigned, and unlike Evans, James was never in good favour with that supercilious old codger, and he should probably be getting to the library before breakfast to try for at least another couple of inches…
“Hang it all,” he groused to himself, throwing back his quilt. Carding his hand through his hair several times, he summoned his glasses from his bedside table and swung his legs over the side of the bed, slipping his feet into Puddlemere United bed slippers.
Licking his lips, he took a quick survey about the room, finding everything the definition of normal and well. Sirius and Peter seemed to be in competition for most obnoxious snore again, while Remus’ curtains had been drawn around his bed, and given that they were only a few days out from the full moon James couldn’t even detect the soft thrum of Remus’ breathing, his friend with a furry little problem had likely cast a Silencing Charm over his bed…
Waking anyone for a midnight lark about in the forest in animal form was a piss poor idea then…
“Bollocks,” James muttered. Bollocks everything. Deciding that sleep was pretty much useless at this point, he grabbed his wand and crept to the door, casting a Silencing charm over the squeaky door hinges. It looked like he’d be spending another night in the Common Room by the fireplace.
James had always loved fire. Had always been drawn to the bright flickering flames of gold, orange and red. Had always almost felt called to the brilliant and blazing source of light that had the capacity to warm and sooth. He’d get lost in the mesmerizing flickers and crackles, always finding comfort in the consistency of fire.
Coming to the end of the staircase, he padded across the large grey stone floor to the couch, already basking in the large shadows cast by the surrounding furniture in the soft light of the lit fireplace. He made his way around the couch, lifting his wand to conjure a blanket.
And stopped short.
The couch was already occupied.
Someone was already on his couch. Curled up under a large blanket of her own…
And it was most definitely a witch, because James would know that mane of curls anywhere… He’d only dreamed and fantasised about sinking his hands in them every night for the last month. Only thought of them and the witch they belonged to everyday in the last three months since she’d appeared at Hogwarts…
“Hermione?” he queried softly, testing the waters, uncertain if she were awake or not. If he’d be welcome to intrude upon her solitude or not…
“James?” The patchwork blanket dropped as her body unfolded and she sat upright on the sofa. She blinked up at him, eyes wide and full.
It was strange how drawn he’d been to her; she’d kept herself at such arms-length for the most part since she’d fallen back in time, stumbled into his life and somehow managed to make such a strong impression he no longer remembered a time she hadn’t been here. Hadn’t been this silent swotty presence in his life that looked at him with such—
“Couldn’t sleep, either?” she asked, lifting up the corner of her blanket in an unspoken and very surprising, but not unwelcomed, invitation.
James attempted to shove aside his nerves with a snort as he flopped down the space beside her. “A bit hard to with Sirius and Peter snoring a symphony tonight.”
She giggled as he tugged the blanket over his legs, trying to appear more casual than he felt, but there was something about the way her eyes reflected the dazzling flames, beaming them into him. Searing into his soul. “You are a wizard, are you not?” She jerked her head towards his wand. “There are charms to take care of such troublesome hazards of male roommates.”
“True.” She had him… Maybe he should just opt for transparency. “Maybe I just needed an excuse to sit by the fire, then.”
“Oh?” Her pretty brow puckered and furrowed. “Is there something—” Her jaw slapped shut, and she seemed to be at war with herself as she gnawed heavily on her lower lip for what seemed to be a lifetime of its own. “You don’t have to talk if you’d rather not; I know I haven’t availed myself for much heat-to-heart confessions, but if there’s anything in particular on your mind, you can share. I’m a better listener than I used to be.”
Her lip quirked in a slight but definitely-there crooked grin, as if sharing an inside joke with herself, and he couldn’t help but chortle in response. “Seems here you’d done more listening than talking, even in class. Even though I can seeyou already know the answers.” In a moment of pure Gryffindor bravery, or recklessness and stupidity, he nudged her with his shoulder. “But I take it that’s not who you usually are in your time?”
“Something I’m working on,” she answered, shattered life as he knew it by nudging him back and sinking deeper into the couch. And not moving back to her original place after their shoulders brushed, just enough away to create plausible space. Plausible, but almost non-existent. She blew out a long sigh eyes darting back to the fire. “I’m quite known for voicing my opinion usually, but here… It’s different. This isn’t my time, and I live in constant fear of saying something that could derail my own future, or change the course of events that are supposed to be…”
She trailed off blinking back to him, the unmistakable mark of sorrow etched across her features now. Her throat bobbed and there was a watery edge to her voice when she spoke next. “But then, maybe coming here and seeing all of you, knowing you personally, maybe I don’t want things to be as they were meant to turn out. Maybe… maybe I’d learn to live and move on if Dumbledore never found a way to send me home. Maybe I was never meant to exist in my own time anyways, and this is Fate’s way of correcting itself.”
“Fate?” He’s brows shot into his hairline at that… “The most I’ve ever seen you talk in a single sitting was when you were debating Lovegood about fates and divination, and you seemed quite emphatic about nothing of the sort controlling things.”
“Yes. Well…” Her head dropped back into the sofa, slipping down. Down, down, down. To just a breath away from his shoulder as she gazed at him with heavy eyes. “It seems three months in another time can alter one’s opinion of things.”
“I see.” His voice had never sounded so strained. So strangled and forced. But he needed to peel away more layers. Needed to know more in order to set the world right for this witch. This witch with tempting lips, an adorable nose, and eyes he wanted to get lost in forever. He willed himself to follow her lead and sink back, head dipping lower as well. “You still don’t want to share where you come from?”
A sad smile. “Correct.”
“No hints at all if you know me?”
“No insider knowledge of Quidditch that would allow me to win a small fortune this year at the World Cup.”
A soft huff of a laugh that puffed warm breath across his arm, shooting shivers up his skin and down his back… Settling into an area that could prove problematic very shortly… “I wouldn’t tell you even if that were something I’d committed to memory.”
“Hmph,” he groused in faux indigence. “Do you miss your friends?” The words slipped out before he could stop himself, and frankly, he could just kick himself. Because of courseshe did. Of course she rather be back in all the familiarity and comforts of home…
But she surprised him yet again with another sigh. “I do, but… it’s strange. I feel they’re somehow managing just fine enough without me.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” he protested, meaning to say more, but her head closed final gap between their bodies, and his shoulder was now in the delightful position of being a headrest for Hermione Granger. He was soaring, and he never knew sitting by the fire could be so… so much… so much more. A thick swallow and a cleared throat later and he tried for words again. “They miss you.”
“Maybe so,” she murmured, though it was obvious she wasn’t thoroughly convinced of it herself. “My best friend lost someone.” She paused to swallow herself, and her voice was impossibly softer when she spoke again. “Someone very close to him, and I tried reaching out to him over the summer, but without any response. At the time I brushed it off as him working through his grief, and it was good seeing him act almost normal and be pining so for a witch on the Hogwarts Express, but then… There are other things that have me worried for him. That make me want to get back to help him.
“But then I remember for as much as he’s on his own over the summer, Hogwarts has always been his home; its inhabitants his family. And I’ve always been the one who’s the outsider more than anything. Maybe this is all how it’s supposed to be so they don’t have to put up my abrasive ways.”
“Stop.” James had heard enough and in an instant he’d shifted the two of them so that he was leaning over her, his hands wrapped around her arms in a protective hold. “I may not know you very well, and you may be leaving any day now, but I can’t let another minute go by without you knowing that I think you may be the most special witch I’ve ever met.”
Tears welled in his eyes. “You don’t mean that, James.”
“I do,” he insisted, his forehead dipping dangerously close to hers. “I think it’s adorable how you squirm in your seat and you cross and uncross your legs every time you know the answer in class but decide not to answer unless called upon. I love the way you cradle a morning cup of tea, and how you savour every sip. I love the way the you take over half a table in the library all by yourself when you settle in for homework in the evening. I love how you look when the sun sets and you have this golden glow about you in the light of the sconces.”
He chanced it, eyes dropping to her lips because bollocks if she wasn’t so very close…“I’m quite taken with how you chew on quills and your lip when you’re in deep thought, or nervous about something…” Her breath hitched and he brushed his nose to hers. “In fact, I’ve thought of a great many places I’d like to become more acquainted with these lips if you’d allow it…”
There. He’d said it. And it was all up to her now…
The fire crackled and sparked as she nuzzled her nose against his, not leaning in, but not pulling away either. “James… There’s so much I wish I could tell you. So much I want to say...” He loathed that she began to pull away—only to have the world spin and turn upside down completely when soft lips pressed to his cheek, eyelashes fluttering just over where her lips lingered.
“Hermione…” he breathed, her name a prayer and a plea as she pulled back.
Her lips curled in another of those sad sort of smiles. “You’ve been most surprising of all this. And I think there’s room to talk more and… maybe see about a friendship or… Or… I don’t know.” Her throat bobbed, even as his own swelled and choked on his heart. “But for now, d’you think you could just hold me?”
His lips found her forehead, his arms winding around her delicate frame as he pulled her to his chest. “Anything you want, Hermione,” he whispered over her curls. They shifted until they at last found a comfortable position to maintain. Until her back was nestled safely against his torso, and her curls were tucked under his chin. She threaded her fingers through his as his grip around her waist tightening, and together they sat, blinking into the flames.
Sharing in the silence of the night. Basking in whatever time left they would have together.
Slipping off into a world of dreams, tangled and clinging to each other as if afraid they’d wake to find this all some trick of Fate, hoping all the while for more… for each other even after the fire had died to embers and ashes, and dawn licked the horizon.
The last conscious thought James remembered before surrendering at last to the reality of slumber was that he knew he’d always loved fireplaces for a reason…