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Dancing Through the Dark

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September 14, 2019, Part 1

“Alright, cupcake.  Tell me something that only Harry Potter would know.”

Harry winced, shaking his head.  “Hermione, you know it makes me all frazzled when you call me cupcake.”

Hermione smirked half-heartedly and threw up a hovering bauble imbued with the area-of-daylight spell she’d invented, making their immediate environs as bright as it might be on an overcast day.  She did not lower the wand she had leveled at him. “Yes, well, Harry Potter is far from the only one who knows that .  And last I saw him, he hadn’t gotten a trendy new haircut.”

Harry huffed a long-suffering sigh, supposing it was good that her Auror training and the lessons of the war were still firmly ingrained in his best friend’s behavior. “You made me finish your run of dance lessons you’d already paid for with you when you and Ron called the wedding off.  Muggle studio, Thursday evenings, twelve weeks. Swing and ballroom. Sworn to secrecy, almost made me make an unbreakable vow. And one time when we were working on lifts your skirt got caught and-”

“Yes yes that’s fine,"  Hermione scowled. “Cupcake.

“See, everyone else has let me live that down, so I don’t need further proof it’s you.”  Harry shot her a wry grin, shaking his head and starting to walk from the Apparition point into the storm.  “Anyway. Thank you for coming, Hermione.”

“I take it you called me about this storm everyone’s been worrying about?”

He nodded. “The radius of this thing keeps expanding, and communication, both Muggle and magical, in and out of Orkney and Shetland down to… well… here, so Inverness-ish?... has gone dark.”  He paused, holding a whippy pine bough aside to let her pass with a little bow and a flourish before continuing. “Brooms won’t work, either.”

“Why?” Hermione asked, continuing into the wood.  “Wind too strong? It’s frightful even down here on the ground but the trees look ready to go discuss storming Isengard.”

“Nah, magical flying craft forget all the charms on them, everywhere they’ve been tried to get into the gyre.  Standard portkeys aren’t activating, and no one can Apparate further north than… well, about fifty yards south of where you came in, now, it looks like.”  Jogging up beside her as the woodland path widened, he shook a small, hand-drawn map of the British isles with what looked like a meteorologist’s colored diagram of the storm pulsing and growing over it on it.  “This is how I’m tracking it - it’s rough, but seems to be working, even inside.”

She paused, taking the offered map and looking it over.  “You’ve been reverse engineering the Maurader’s Map, haven’t you?”  She shook her head, smiling slightly as she ducked beneath a creaking oak branch.  “Clever work, Harry.”

“Yeah, yeah.  I’ve also come up with some charms that will work like my mobile when I’m in high-magic areas, too., trying to cobble together...eh… something useful.”  He shrugged, stepping carefully as the path took a turn downhill, becoming rockier.  

“Wizarding GPS?  Harry! You should write a paper, Harry, or a book.  Apply to the Office of Magical Patents and Publishing. Not that I expect you will.. .”

“Professor Granger, would you please stop trying to assign me inches?  Tell you what, though-” he said, waggling his eyebrows at her and holding out his glasses.  “You cast one of those keeping-glasses-dry charms for me, and I’ll tell you how it works as we walk and you can put the knowledge out there, Ms. Wizarding Wikipedia.”

Hermione scoffed.  “I teach you how to do this charm at least once a year.” 

“And yet!” he grinned, tripping a bit as he tried to walk on despite everything more than three feet away being a blur. “Mine never hold a candle to yours.”

Shaking her head, Hermione whispered an impervius over the specs in question with a small tap of her wand, handing them back.  “Flatterer.” She sighed as he delightedly put the glasses back on, wondering how he ever went anywhere without her.  “Anyway! Speaking of my little encyclopedic project, just before I headed up to meet you I had to suspend all edits to EWE until I can get George and Lee to stop vandalizing the articles.  They keep attaching rude drawings to the entry on Salazar Slytherin and adding… colorful and uncited adjectives... to the article about Snape.” She smirked. “Think they’ll notice when they can’t get around it with another alias incantation in the morning?”

“Hermione!” Harry gasped in not-altogether- mock -horror, walking more confidently backward to face her now than he’d walked forward without glasses a moment ago.  “What do you think those two will get up to, now you’ve taken their favorite toy away?”

“Oh, pish.” Hermione rolled her eyes, pushing wet hair off her face.  “They’re creative. They’ll think of something.”

“And that doesn’t worry you?  We’re likely to be out here at least a full day, and they know where both your office and your flat are.  Your wards are keyed to let them in.”

Hermione paled slightly, her eyes widening. “They would not. I’m hardly Umbridge.  We’re adults.

Harry just looked at her. “I think the other thing that happened to distract Ron in the middle of the Great Wheezing Expansion may have made a lasting impression?”

Hermione gave a little growl, stomping ahead more quickly through the puddled forest.  “Fuck.”

Harry’s eyes widened and he stopped a moment before hurrying to catch up.  “You… you use that word now, huh?”

She snorted at him, walking quickly and not bothering to hold aside the next springy pine bough for him.  “It’s become something of a favorite, along with some of its four-lettered friends. Let’s get this over with and you can help me check everywhere for boobytraps after.  With any luck, other colorful additions to my personal lexicon will make themselves known in the process.  Fuck!  Couldn’t they just make a new sort of snackbox?  Can’t I get to be smug over keeping the hentai tentacle monster pictures out of the Devil’s Snare article for just a couple days?!”

Spitting wet pine needles, he rushed along behind her.  “But you have to admit that paragraph on Peeves was insp-”

“No.  No, I do not.”

“Oh, fine .”

She plodded along quietly for another few minutes before speaking again.  “Also, the thing with Ron was a mutual sort of heart-shattering - as you well know.”

Harry glanced over at her, seeing the tight set of her shoulders and her familiarly clenched hands. “I… I do.  Sorry, Hermione.”

“He was the prat who left but he was also the prat who put his life on the line alone, again and again in the dark, in the winter, to find us.  I...it... ” She sighed and scrubbed the rain from her face ineffectively with her increasingly damp sleeve. “He deserved mutual understanding and shared goals, and he could never even seem to grasp that I wasn’t raised expecting to be a parent in my twenties , let alone my teens.”

“Didn’t mean to dredge it up.”

“I’m more or less over it, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t again.”

Harry stepped ahead, jumping down into a small troth before turning to lift her down after him.  “You know, I believe I saw some changes to the name on his jersey in his article’s photo, too… Weasepee?”

“Huh.  Imagine that.” 

“Unusually subtle work for George and Le-”

“Oh do shut up.”

Early October, 1991, Hogwarts

“For Godric’s sake, Harry, where does that little nightmare get off?”  Ron seethed as they walked out of the double Potions, still scratching at the place where their thoroughly botched Scouring Draft had spilled on his arm.  “ Oh, you had to go one and a quarter times widdershins, not one and a half !”   he mimicked, his voice a shrill falsetto.  “I’ll give her one and a quarter times my …”

Harry tuned out, more tired of both their inability to make headway under the stern tutelage of the great greasy Potions master and of the itch he was fighting not to scratch across his splashed hand than of Ms. Granger’s unerring ability to pinpoint exactly where they’d cocked things up.

As Harry and his best friend topped the stairs and rounded the corner down the passage to the great hall, he vaguely noticed that Ron’s tirade was continuing, now with rude gestures.  He had found a more interested audience in Seamus, who Malfoy had started calling “the eyebrowless wonder,” which Harry could admit to himself was funny without letting himself laugh aloud.  Harry decided to excuse himself and pause for a moment of peace to calm himself to give Ron the continued opportunity to let off steam out of range of his own jangling nerves.

Only half-planning his destination, Harry found himself walking toward a small courtyard he found soothing.  He almost never saw other students there, and he enjoyed the small stone bench under the ancient copper beech growing there when he needed to gather himself.  Why couldn’t anything go right?  This new life, it was supposed to be his chance to be himself - to leave the Dursleys and a childhood he was becoming increasingly aware had been abusive behind him.  And it was better, certainly, but also fraught with things others assumed he’d know, skills they’d assumed he’d have, weighty expectations, and this overhanging air of foreboding he couldn’t shake.  

Harry was on the brink of stepping out of the archway and into the late morning light when he stopped, hearing a quiet sniffling.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Sure, Hermione, try and help people after everything’s ruined, you’ll make tons of friends that way.  God, you useless idiot!”  Harry’s jaw dropped as, from the shadowed doorway, he listened to his bushy-haired classmate excoriate herself.  

Sitting and hugging her knees on the same stone bench he himself had been headed for, Granger sat shaking her head as quiet tears rolled down her face.  Gone was the smug know-it-all, and in her place here sat a painfully familiar mirror of the loneliness he had felt for most of his life.   

He couldn’t bring himself to approach her, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave her there by herself, either.

Harry stood in silent solidarity and sympathy just out of her view, torn, for several minutes.  Finally, she took several deep breaths, scooted her feet off the bench and back down to the ground and stood, shoulders taut, hands curled into fists so tight her knuckles whitened.  

When Harry looked down at his own hands, he noticed that, as they so often did, his hands were doing the same thing.  Quickly, he shook himself away from this thought, flexing his hands open for good measure, and jogged down the hall to round the next corner before she could see him standing there.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 2

Perhaps an hour of plodding later, Harry and Hermione found themselves walking along a train track for a ways. He noticed that her expression was growing increasingly peevish over the first several minutes of this leg of this journey, culminating in the look of frank irritation she wore as she started muttering spells to pull and incinerate random shrubs and weeds from along the tracks as they went.

“Um.” Harry looked at her, concerned and a little worried. “I… won’t let the bad plants hurt you?”

Hermione scoffed, punctuating each of her next words with little flicks and bits of flaming foliage. “ Buddleia davidii ...and… Microstegium ... vimineum .”

“Huh.” Harry watched, fascinated, as the cleansing of these hapless plants continued. “Isn’t Buddleia another name for butterfly bush? Aunt Petunia loved hers. I had to prune them back every fall, though even cutting them to the ground didn’t really seem to bother them any.”

“Yes,” said Hermione grimly, incinerating a broad swath of the offending flora before stomping on through the ashes. “She would.

“Um, have they offended you?”

“Don’t you read ANYTHING from the Muggle world anymore?” Hermione spared him an exasperated glance. “God, it’s as if wizards just forget that we live right alongside Muggles, sharing their infrastructure, their basic societal structure, and ultimately, a lot of their problems. We live in close quarters in shared countries, in a shared world.” 

“Er…” Harry pinched a messy spike of his own hair that had managed to ignite from a floating ember despite the relentless wet. “I think I know that better than most? But it’s been busy, and there seem to be quite enough things going on in the Auror office most days for me to be getting on with. What specifically do you have against butterflies, though?”

“Nothing! I like butterflies!” Zap. Sizzle. “That’s why this bollocks has to burn. Someone brought a ‘butterfly bush’ here, gave it that cutesy name and a few others, and sold them to your Aunt…” whoosh “... Petunia… hiss “... and now they’re taking over. The plants that are native to this part of the world are getting paved over by these damned things, and without them, the butterflies won’t have any place to lay eggs, their caterpillars won’t have any food to eat, and pollinators in general will suffer, because their food supply collapsing, which causes our food supply, which is dependent on their labor, to collapse…” zap hiss sizzle “...because Muggle food is the same damn food as wizard food, even if we are more hard-in on the pumpkins. Then everything goes to shit, we perpetuate a mass extinction that spans the Muggle and Wizarding worlds, and we all… just… die! zap pop hiss.

“That’s pretty catastrophic, Hermione. I mean, is it that bad? We have people moving here from other places, and I know where you stand with respect to immigrants of other ethnicities. Shouldn’t they be able to bring familiar plants from their homes? I mean, there have to have bugs that fancy helping them get a stem over that could come, too. Maybe, if it doesn’t make sense to have a uniformly jolly-old- English culture, it doesn’t make sense to paint wild things that thrive here as villains even if they take up some space English plants are accustomed to monopolizing.” Harry glanced at his friend, who seemed more offended by the pretty - if sodden - purple flowers by the minute. “What am I missing here?”

Hermione growled, darting a glare his way. “ All humans are problematic, Harry. Human immigrants, especially refugees, I have no problem with. A lot of mass human migration is happening in the world right now in part due to the damage witless humans both magical and Muggle have done to it, for that matter; the Marshall Islands and Bangladesh will be underwater soon, and non-magical storms almost as dreadful as this one occur more and in different places than anyone can anticipate lately. Countries that are luckier - hell, even sometimes culpable for other regions’ destabilization - have a moral obligation to help displaced populations resettle and thrive. Not that we ever actually seem to.”

Harry felt an odd little tug in his stomach as he tried to place the magical creature his friend in her towering temper was reminding him of. Valkyrie, he thought. Shaking his head to dislodge the thought, he replied, “But… we still need to save the planet from the universally problematic humans?”

For them, Harry. For humans.” She sighed, barreling forward and then pulling him to her, turning on the spot as she pointed her wand over his shoulder and just burned almost everything in a twenty-foot radius. “The earth will be here, and it’ll be different, but it’ll be fine. Plants and animals are already dying out at an astronomical rate, and while I have no doubt replacements for them and us too could evolve in time, I would like to stem that tide and salvage what’s here. It’s what a lot of what my work is about, within the magical world and when I go out to political protests, volunteer with Citizens UK, and donate to the British Ecological Society in the Muggle world. But with these extinctions and other changes accelerating, it’ll be a bloody miracle if humans can survive, or at least human civilization as we know it, because we’re doing a spectacular job of undermining the systems that support us.” 

Harry plodded along beside her, looking thoughtful and sad as he processed her words.

Hermione sighed, hauling her ruminating friend along down the track by the hand as she continued to weed while they walked. “It’s also not the case that migrant populations brought these plants - they came here with affluent Europeans, in every case I can think of. When I was in primary school, probably the most memorable field trip I ever took was about yanking that -” she said, pointing at a red-stemmed plant with white plume-like flowers, “which is commonly called Japanese knotweed - out of a wood where it was killing off everything else. One amateur herbologist with an interest in both Muggle and magical plants brought it back here in the early nineteenth century because he thought it was pretty and it’s been wreaking havoc ever since. I’d class that less with nostalgia and more with people being hot for the exotic in an objectifying way that overlooks inconvenient subtleties, which is something that hurts both people and ecosystems, and which I think is ultimately a shade of the xenophobia you seem to be confusing my stance with. This is a very different variant of ‘get off my lawn’ - I hope I’ve explained that in a way that makes sense.”

Harry considered the vaguely attractive plant, knowing he’d seen it before without giving it a second thought. “I didn’t really know. I donated to your snidget sanctuary project and I try to support your work for the rights of magical creatures through the Black seat on the Wizengamot, but I hadn’t really thought about environmentalism or any of this stuff since before Hogwarts, watching the news when Uncle Vernon deigned to let me. And… well, his politics are not exactly in line with anything I’d say would be helpful, here.”

“Well, you can’t get a mortgage for a plot of land with knotweed. It’s a property value killer. He’d probably care about that, if only to say the regulations that made it so were bollocks.” 

They walked in silence for a little a few more steps before Harry joined Hermione in her campaign of plant-zapping, falling into step beside her quietly and taking the right side as she took the left. After so many years of learning, fighting, and simply being together, they easily fell into an efficient rhythm.

“Zabini’s editing the Prophet these days. I bet he’d be open to starting a column to catch folks up on current events in the Muggle world. He’s already made some sensible changes.”

“Mmmph,” Hermione frowned, liking the idea but not exactly the publication or the wizard. “You get along these days, do you?”

“I can talk to him. We see each other at press conferences fairly frequently, occasionally grab a drink to talk off-the-record.”

“Hmm.” Hermione continued along for a long while, quiet. “Are you registered to vote in the Muggle elections?”

“I… no, I can’t say that I am.”

“Let’s fix that, after this damned storm clears. We all should be, and I know you already have Muggle identification and whatnot.”

“Alright.”

They plodded along, Harry absentmindedly stepping onto the right rail and balancing on it for several steps in an area Hermione told him was just full of ox-eye daisies, which were fine and good. She watched in silence for a long while, wondering at how he could so effortlessly balance on the wet metal.

“...Thank you,” she said, shaking off her reverie and looking over at him. “For listening, for helping. For changing your mind and getting invested. I’ve found that combination… rare, and in someone as frankly capable as you, it’s… it’s incredibly comforting and empowering to have you agree with a cause I care about.”

Harry looked at her. “Of course. I’m sorry I didn’t already know. I’m mostly only good at recognizing things as threats when they cackle and hex me - oh don’t give me that look, I’m not trying to be self-deprecating, but you have to admit I’ve have more cacklers and hexers in my way than your average Tom, Dick, or Harry, and maybe I’ve had to focus in that direction because of it.”

“Yeah, alright, that’s fair,” she laughed. 

He shook his head, continuing. “But you… you have a broader, longer, and more informed view. You always have, and you’ve never…” he sighed, running a hand through his hair in irritation. “You’ve never treated me like I was too stupid to follow your reasoning or to reach my own conclusions. You take the time to argue with me. I like that you do that.” 

“Hm.” She half-smiled at him. “Thanks. I solemnly swear to be neither Voldemort nor Dumbledore.”

“Right, thanks. I still don’t even know how to feel about Albus. Like, literally am torn between naming a child after him and going and telling his portrait off. But…” He grinned. “I mean, I know you joke, but you take the time to argue with all of wizarding society, so I know it’s not just me, but especially in light of our endlessly wealthy old families and after all the sneaky bastards and manipulators who seem never to stop coming out of the woodwork, all of whom don’t care about giving anyone a choice...all of whom I know you could out-maneuver backwards and forwards if that were your way… I can’t tell you how much I love that you… you seethe at plants and talk to me about it and rail at the Wizengamot and generally tear bad things down in the clear light of day.”

Hermione watched him, forgetting to zap a few shrubs. 

“What?” he said, finally, squirming a bit under her unguarded gaze. 

Hermione shook her head, quickly seizing his cheeks between her hands and kissing his nose before blinking sheepishly and walking on. “Nothing. Thanks. Let’s keep moving.”

He stood blinking a moment before he remembered to walk again.

April, 2018, Wiltshire

Her hands scrabbled for purchase on the smooth ebony banister, bracing against the onslaught. Cursing under his breath, he yanked up the flowing skirt of her diaphanous evening gown, a frustrating expanse of the gauzy pleated fabric impeding his progress. Finally clearing the last of it, he reveled in the familiar curve of her ass in his hand and quickly tore away her already-drenched knickers, stuffing the scrap of fabric remaining in a pocket. 

She heard him unfastening his belt before he nipped at her ear. “Quiet, now - if you can.”

Without further warning, he slammed his full length into her. She moaned, a shudder running up to her shoulders as her hips canted toward a better angle. Mercilessly and immediately, he took up a punishing rhythm, timing the slap of his pelvis against her ass with the beat of the fast waltz playing below to cover the sound of their exertions. 

She hissed her inarticulable pleasure, then spoke, her voice low and heated. “Yesss… Hurt me, Draco.”

With a quiet growl and a quick muffling charm, his bruising grip on her hips shifted, fingers splaying to spread her apart, and he thundered into her harder. She felt her eyes roll back, her sparking nervous system thrown into chaos with every snap of his hips. With one particularly brutal thrust, her softly keening mouth slammed shut, drawing blood from the inside of her cheek - not that she could bring herself to mind.

Below their shadowed spot on the upstairs landing and across the grand stair and cavernous entry hall below, Astoria stepped out of the cloakroom, straightening herself, followed shortly after in her stride back to the festivities outside by Cormac McLaggen, who looked, if possible, more smug than usual. Draco scoffed, raking his nails punishingly over the side of her hip. 

“Want to look at them, do you? Well.” On his next thrust, he paused fully seated inside her, roughly pulling her right leg up to her chest before pulling it and her around to hook her knee over his shoulder, turning her face to face with him without relinquishing his claim on her cunt. His hips resumed their movement and his lips quirked into a smirk. “I’m prettier, Hermione,” he drawled silkily, trailing his fingers down the side of her face before they tightened around her neck, squeezing away her air for several thrusts and making her meet his stare. “Look at me.” 

He let her breathe right before he was sure the giddiness would have made her come - not yet, not so soon - and lost himself for some minutes ploughing into her like this, his gray eyes boring into her brown, neither gaze relenting. At some point he shifted her slightly and hit some deeper point within her, and she blinked, gasping and losing their little spar for dominance. Exalting, he bit kisses along her shoulder, tearing one of the thin shoulder straps of her gown with his teeth and letting that side fall down to expose her breast. 

She let go a shaky breath, not returning her gaze to his as he added tearing away the other strap to his tender ministrations. “I see you.”

He smirked through the sheen of sweat filming his aristocratic features. “I know.” His hand drifted down from her bouncing tits and between them, lower, ducking under the mountain silk to flick at her clit. He bent her elevated leg back further against her torso, thrusting deeper as she whimpered at the stretch, at the brutal pace. “I know you do. And you,” he smiled in grim satisfaction as her eyes finally fluttered closed, her back arching perilously back over the rail, “You know I’d never fuck you so poorly you’d emerge without a hair out of place. Don’t you, my wanton... little... golden... girl?”

As his punctuated thrusts found their mark, he pinched her tenderest bundle of nerves and pulled . Losing herself, she spasmed around him, head lolling and back rolling into an arch as a high, thin keen escaped her lips. He gripped her hips firmly, not letting her fall, and relishing her pleasure as he continued to roll into her. When her eyes refocused slightly, he disengaged himself long enough to push her into a sunken sitting area across the landing, turning her face toward a broad, three-storey window and yanking her hair down her back to arch her into a kiss. “That’s one. I fancy we can get, oh, maybe five tonight, before I’m ready to come in your hot little snatch. But,” he started to inch her skirt back up behind her, “what would you like to learn about the cream of wizarding society this evening while I debase you?”

Hermione shakily caught her breath, looking back at him over her shoulder as he continued to inch up her hem, dark promises in his pale eyes. “I want to know everything you know about the votes against establishing the Hong Kong Demiguise preserve that might be swayed. Who to approach. How…” she paused, inhaling involuntarily as he teased her slit with the head of his cock. “... how we can change their minds.”

His eyes darkened. “Making a blood traitor of me one assignation at a time, Granger.” He shook his head, guiding the taunting tip of himself upward as his smile sharpened. “It will cost you.”

Hermione arched a brow at him over her shoulder, casting a wandless lubrication charm. “I don’t do this to buy you. I do this because you make me feel.”

“Do I?” His hips twitched forward as he inquired, his hands again gripping her deliciously sore hips. Slowly, the first third of him penetrated the charm-slickened tightness of her ass. “Do you feel… that?”

Levelling a sneer worthy of his house at him and silently relaxing her muscles with a low exhale, she rammed herself back, taking him all in and watching in hazy satisfaction around the dark spots forming in her vision as he helplessly threw his head back and loosed an ecstatic sob. “Yes,” she panted, beginning to move back and forth against him, slowly, vision clearing. “Do you?”

Finally coming to himself, Draco pushed her forward, her hips colliding with another bannister, this one in front of the window. As he rutted into her with increasing vigor, she helplessly pitched forward, her cheek and one bare breast pressed flat against the icy expanse of glass. She burned deliciously around the hot, grinding girth of him, enjoying the stream of filth he whispered to her about exactly what he was feeling as he drove on and on. Through her lashes, she could see the couples waltzing on the patio below, the chamber musicians soberly plying their trade on at the edge of the expansive lawn. She let the oblivion of pleasure and pain take her for a time, not thinking of whether the glass might have a privacy charm on it, not worrying about the volume of her soft cries in time with his thrusts. 

At some point, he pressed a hand between her shoulder blades, pushing her more firmly against the glass, her chest compressing against it in time with his thrusts. With his other hand, he wandlessly rimed the glass with frost, burning her nipples with excruciatingly pleasurable cold. 

Finally, with a gutteral snarl, he pulled out of her, cast several quick cleansing charms, and then shoved himself back into her cunt, picking her feet up off the ground and wrapping her legs behind him, one of his hands grasping each of her crossed ankles. Her weight rested on the front of her delicately jutting hip bones on the railing, her face and chest slipping, smearing, squeaking against the glass. He knew to cast a modified silencing charm around them, so he only could still hear her. Then, he reamed her. She came screaming for him, twice.

As she recovered from the tremors of her third little death of the evening, he slowed, lowering her feet to the ground before bending over her to look out the window beside her. “There, by the jasmine arbor, is the new head of the Rosier family, recently moved into their ancestral seat in Sussex from Provence.” His thrusts were stately and slow as he spoke, almost absentmindedly teasing one, then two, then three fingers into her puckered rear portal, moving them in time with his unhurried cock. She shuddered, but listened, and looked. “You will find Lord Rosier is very interested in hunting, and grows bored of conventional prey. Besides that, his invisibility cloak is looking a little shabby, so he is feeling distinctly uninterested in putting more tedious regulation between himself and his quarry.” 

After this, Draco quieted a moment to sink his teeth into the juncture of her neck and shoulder and assail her with a flurry of sharp, hard thrusts, the fingers of his free hand gliding into her mouth in rhythm to inundate her every orifice at once. When she finally jerked with a sudden cry around his hand, he nearly lost control himself, biting down on her tender skin hard enough to draw blood, its coppery tang both arousing and shaming him.

“Sorry.” He cast a wandless healing charm, laving away the red with his tongue to leave only a more conventional love bite behind. His continued thrusts gentled somewhat but did not relent. “That witch over there by the fountain, flirting with Pansy, is Rosier’s new mistress, Lyra Blishwick. I hear she fancies herself a Diana and they hunt together as foreplay before he repeatedly takes chase and pretends to rob her of her virtue - and he is ever so eager to woo her. If she were to get it into her head that Hidebehinds might be more challenging pray, I suspect you could steer their next expedition to the Americas. Then, you could con him into claiming the cause of fighting an invasive, bastardized, and violent species… which would mean he’d lose face for not changing his vote on preserves in keeping with similarly noble sentiments. Mmmm.” He buried his face in her hair, inhaling its scent of sweat and sex and orange blossoms as he freed and cast cleansing charms on his hands. “He’d bring three or four of the trying-not-to-look-evil block with him, should you succeed, because they’re all tripping over themselves trying to swindle him out of his new fortune. I suspect that would be enough.”

Hermione felt a heady fatigue pulling through her, her nerves rubbed raw, her mind thrown by the ambiguity between love and hate, sincerity and calculation. “Thank you. I’ll invite her for tea.”

He slipped from her, turning her around and pulling him to her, kissing her deeply. “You’re very welcome.”

She smiled up at him, willing herself to gather strength as his hands brushed over the planes of her face, his eyes softening to look at her with something perilously close to purity of intent. “You owe me one more. And you… even satyrs must surrender in the end.” Wrapping her arms tightly around him, she apparated them to his bed, landing atop him. Gazing up at her, he chuckled and, finally in privacy, ripped her soiled gown away from her body with relish and a self-satisfied grin. 

“There you are,” he darkly crooned, running his hands over the bared curve of her stomach and up under her breasts. He sat up, vanishing his robes as he moved. Flush chest to chest, he reveled in the feel of their naked torsos pressed against each other. “Hermione. Come live with me and be my love, and we will some new pleasures… and pains… and debauched little games… prove...” He suckled her firm, high tits between words, arms tensing to lift and lower her heat over his cock.

She chuckled, pushing him down onto his back and stretching expansively before starting to ride him in earnest. “No time for silken lines and silver hooks tonight, Draco. And even though the house is enormous, and you’re wings apart, I suspect that eventua-”

“Don’t.” His finger crossed her lips, stopping her words. “Don’t.”

Looking down at his sad eyes as they gazed at her, she slowed and kissed his fingertip, flicking her tongue briefly over the pad, before taking his hand and moving it to her breast. “Alright.” She wondered, as she rolled her hips and watched him finally loosen his control, if in some other world, they might have been happy.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

September 14, 2019, Part 3

“I’m not sure this is a normal sort of wet, cold, and miserable”

Harry looked up at her as they descended back into the woods, their path having finally diverged from the now-singed railway. “What are you thinking?”

Hermione shivered, shaking her head. “The last time I heard about a storm like this happening, it was used to disperse a potion. I think that could be happening here, too, and might be related to whatever is restricting travel. Something to hurt us, or something to make us want to fuck off and go home.”

He looked alert and a little worried. “If it is, it’s subtle.”

Hermione chuckled and shook her head. “I’ll try to suss it out. Anything terrifically dangerous, at least if it’s a known concoction, should have made one of my protective or warning charms alert me. Still there’s… something. For now, I guess, just lead on.” 

“As the lady commands, so shall I proceed,” he intoned with mock gallantry, earning a half-hearted smack to the back of the head, then turned to continue on. 

Some minutes later, following along, she found she had become distracted from their plight. Rather than trying to puzzle out what felt odd about the precipitation, she was lulled into a sort of hypnotic state, captivated by the way the muscles shifted across Harry’s upper back as he cleared the path ahead. His shirt was very very wet.

He liked that she argued with people, too, she recalled. 

At some point, it was just possible she’d made wrong decisions, and life had not come out quite as well as perhaps it ought to have.

Unfortunately, one of the ways it could get worse was through large hail, which started pelting them shortly.

“Fuck.” Hermione growled, pointing her wand skyward and muttering a Bombarda , rendering the ballistic ice balls into something approximating snow mixed with pine needles and leaf scraps for about ten seconds before another ice ball pelted her shoulder. “FUCK.” She glowered as she hurried on, pulling next to Harry, linking her arm with his as if to keep him under the canopy of her umbrella, and casting another resentful bombarda at each ten second interval. 

Harry beheld her fury, power, and refusal to be fucked with with a slightly dopey smile. “Yep. Guess you do use that word.”

She looked over at him, brows knitting. “Why are you looking at me like that? Ooof. Bombarda!”

He blinked, becoming self-conscious. Why was I looking at her like that? “Um, hail-confunded maybe? Hopefully we can get back to the pissing rain again and howling wind again soon.”

Hermione fumed. “Near Hogwarts, and when we were on the run… bombarda... do you remember how there always seemed to be a convenient cave?... bombarda… I would just like to say that I would like to know… bombarda… where all the caves are hiding right now.”

Harry shivered. “I mostly remember the highly inconvenient cave full of soggy zombies.”

Hermione paled. “Ah, right. Maybe they aren’t so great.”

Harry shook his head. “Want me to bombard for a while, oh demolition-witch-in-chief?”

“GOD, yes. There might be sexual fav… there might be cocoa in it for you.” Hermione blushed scarlet, noticing his eyes widening and refusing to look at him as they plodded on. At this point in her life, she’d have made that joke with anyone else she knew up to and including Snape, may he rest in peace, without batting an eye, but for some reason… not Harry? This worried her and so she shoved it away and staunchly refused to think about it.

Harry didn’t know how to respond, and had definitely lost the polite zinger reply window, so he bombarded with great vigor and was confused.

“I feel that I should note,” Hermione said, trying to rub some warmth back into her arms, “that Impervius doesn’t seem to work on my skin or my clothes in this utter wanker of a storm.”

“That… would have been helpful.”

“Yes. Yes, it would have.”

“My warming charms also sputter out in, like, two seconds, and I can’t transfigure my wet clothes to oilcloth or anything else water resistant or indeed anything else at all, which I have tried.”

“Yep. Can’t wait to meet the charmer behind all this.”

“We may need to stop to get warm first.”

“Well, I have a tent,” he said.

Eventually, there was snow for a while.

Relieved to be resting his wand arm, Harry was finally able to look over at Hermione again. The moon had peeked out from behind the heavy clouds behind her, and its light shone through her ice-studded ringlets, rivulets of melt running down her cheeks. She shuddered with cold and looked so fragile but so powerful, striding doggedly on through the night beside him. Her eyes took in everything, shifting, calculating, burning with her brilliance and concealing something… a little bit sad. 

He had always wanted to lift away that sadness when he saw it. He also knew that they understood each other better because of a shared undercurrent of melancholy. Without it, he wasn’t sure he would be brave enough to look into those burning eyes and crack lame jokes, throw out underdeveloped ideas, and ask for help from time to time.

“Thank you for being here with me, Hermione. I know this isn’t the loveliest stroll you’ve ever taken in the countryside, and I cannot express how much I appreciate your being here with me.”

She turned to him and for a moment the full weight of her mind seemed to be turning itself to interpreting his words. He found he had reflexively held his breath under her scrutiny. That moment fractured under her sheepish smile. “What are friends for?”

“Um… risking life and limb and slogging through freezing god-awful storms all night long with you to face mortal peril?”

“I mean, for us, that’s what they’re for.” She winked at him. His stomach lurched in a way that made him feel vaguely panicked. Is this why we don’t go to the Leaky or Rosemerta’s anymore? 

“I suppose that may well be.” Absently, he touched his nose, looking far away.

“Before the next time I hare off after you, I’m pausing long enough for proper rain gear and one of those vinyl floppy hats, though.”

“Oh.” Harry considered. “ God , now I want one, too.”

“Misery loves company!” she sang, hip checking him in a way that was somewhere between bratty and playful, then stomping onward. 

December, 1994, Hogwarts Yule Ball

Sitting at the table his friends had claimed, Harry sat and watched Cho dancing with Cedric Diggory. 

Lucky bastard, Diggory. 

Cho just… floated along, laughing at what he guessed were Cedric’s witticisms and charming jokes. She had painted her nails a sparkling ice-white since lunch earlier in the day. He wondered what she wore while she did it. He imagined a towel, for some reason. Pink, and insistent on coming untucked and slipping perilously. Maybe while the other girls of her house, clad similarly, giggled and gushed over her, helping to coil her hair into its elegant updo. 

Maybe they snuggled together on the cold nights. Maybe they had pillow fights. 

He wondered what her dorm looked like - and imagined a powder blue satin bedspread sliding under her long legs as she considered which underthings she should wear this evening, a lacy array laid out for her perusal. 

He wondered if she’d let Diggory see them. Wondered if he’d get to pull them gently off her and see, touch what lay beneath. 

As yet, Harry only had the most abstract understanding of what Cho’s lovely dress robes covered, but for some reason, he found the mystery romantic - right up to the point when it was Diggory who might get to undress her, which burned at him cruelly. 

Spinning on the dance floor, the witch of his dreams laughed and blushed prettily at whatever spell that bastard was weaving over her.

He really shouldn’t have warned Diggory about the dragons.

Shaking himself from his reverie, Harry glanced around him. Ginny, he noted, looked quite lovely as she danced by with Neville. He hoped she was recovering from her trials last year, and resolved to try to coax her out of her shyness and get to know her more once the tournament was behind him. She was certainly chatting animatedly with Longbottom.

Parvati sat to his right, basking in the prestige of her captive champion and fidgeting with his hand, which she’d seized in her own and dragged into her lap. Padma sat to his left, chatting flirtatiously with a boy from Beauxbatons, who was kneeling beside her chair and cupping her ear, bending close to be heard. Ron sat on her far side, muttering under his breath. Harry caught the gist - Ron was sour about the absent Hermione, and smug he was right that she’d lied about having a date. Harry hadn’t had the heart to draw a line for him between Krum’s lovely companion and their other best friend yet. Padma glanced at her date periodically as if hoping her French admirer might make him jealous. Unsuccessful, she eventually gave up and stalked off to dance with the more attentive wizard.

“Witches, Harry. There are words that rhyme with witches.” Ron grumbled darkly.

“Care to dance, Harry?” Parvati asked brightly, eyeing him before gazing wistfully at her twin, who was fully immersing herself in the spirit of international magical cooperation on the dance floor.

Harry started to turn to respond, but then his eye snagged on the dancers again - specifically, on Hermione and Krum. She looked so different - lovely, but different. He couldn’t believe he was so flustered during the opening dance with Parvati to have almost failed to recognize her. A sort of raw quiet grew inside him as he watched her laughing and talking with Krum. He found he was angry as he noticed that other wizards, who had never done so before, were staring at her with appreciation. Godric’s balls, did Malfoy just bow to her? He shook the thought from his head, sure he was mistaken. Krum was famous and talented, sure, but he was hardly setting her off with his beauty. The dress and the hair were pretty, in a sort of generically good-looking way, but he found himself missing her unruly curls, and the jeans and jumpers she’d more typically wear on an informal evening. 

Harry was happy to an extent that struck him as weirdly disproportionate when he noticed that one of his best friend’s curls had escaped its confinement during her exertions on the dance floor and was now bouncing in time with the music at the nape of her neck.

At some point, Parvati shook her head and walked over to join her sister.

At some point in his reverie, Harry realized that Ron must have figured it out, because he had gone very quiet and very still. 

Together, Hermione’s best friends watched, each with his own roiling stomach, as she faded out of the thick of the dancing crowd into the dimly-lit periphery of the ballroom. Laughing, she leaned her back against a pillar and fanned herself with her hand while Krum fetched them both punch. Her eyes were alight with their animated conversation, her hands gesturing enthusiastically, in a way that was so… herself. Taking her in, Krum’s eyes darkened, and Harry found his own eyes narrowing at the sight. 

When Krum put their now-empty punch glasses aside and pressed Hermione against that shadowed pillar, Harry sat back in shock at the tumult in his stomach. He watched in confusion and something that felt suspiciously like pain as Krum lifted Hermione’s chin and kissed her, his hands drifting lower on her waist. 

“Cheeky beggar..!” Ron spluttered, standing and knocking over his chair. 

Harry jumped, his attention mercifully seized by something he could change. “Sit down , Ron.” Harry grabbed Ron by the wrist as the hot-headed ginger surged forward, pulling him into Padma’s vacated chair. “Hermione is free to snog whom she chooses.”

“That’s… that’s not just a snog..!” Ron protested, throwing out his hand toward the couple helplessly. “He’s got years on her. Groupies! A herd of gyrating veela mascots at his beck and call! That’s… that’s a bloody lion singling out an antelope, is what that is.”

Harry glanced back and then quickly away, dully noting that Krum had pressed himself into Hermione, holding both her hands between them with one of his own, kissing along her knuckles, and… where was his other one?!

Ron’s lips had parted in a snarl, his eyes burning and not looking away. He didn’t even notice a disheveled Fleur Delacour hauling Roger Davies behind her toward the courtyard when they passed right in front of him.

Harry thought wistfully that Ron must like Hermione very much, and that he ought to be a good friend and help him realize it.

A minute later, the couple pulled apart. Krum looked smug and Hermione had bright spots of color high on her cheeks - but she was smiling. She laughed, looking down shyly as Krum kissed her forehead lingeringly. Harry could see that she was flustered but happy as she pulled her date back out to the dance floor, their bodies moving closer together as the Weird Sisters moved the party still further from waltzes toward heavy backbeats and whining guitars. 

Harry noticed in a detached sort of way that Parvati seemed to be enjoying herself, dancing between a boy from Durmstrang and another from Beauxbatons so close their hips were all rolling together to the beat. At least Hermione wasn’t dancing like that with Krum. Blinking, he glanced around guiltily. At least Cho wasn’t dancing that way with Cedric. Right. In fact... 

In fact, Cho and Cedric were no longer dancing at all, nor were they anywhere to be seen in the twinkling ballroom. He wondered moodily where they’d gone off to.

-

Harry was looking at Hermione, and found himself transfixed. 

The moon shone behind her as she looked back toward the dancers, her expression both fragile and strong, heartbroken and murderous, after her confrontation with Ron - who, it must be said, had really been a prat. 

Tears rolled down her cheeks, and her chin both protruded stubbornly and trembled. Her eyes were incendiary with racing thought. At some point, as part of the evening’s decorations, oversized snowflakes had begun to fall. Several of them jeweled the tumble of Hermione’s hair, which was coming loose from the tidier configuration she’d arranged it in earlier in the evening. Backlit and sparkling, burning with such intense spirit, she stood there breaking, and Harry… Harry… 

Harry had to think of Ron, had to help him fix this. Harry blinked for a long moment, drawing in a deep breath to collect himself, and when he opened his eyes again, she was gone, and Ron was stalking back toward the dormitory, boiling with an aura of wanting to be left alone.

-

After a surreptitious walk around the garden, Harry realized that this was turning out to be quite an evening for unnerving discovery. At this point, this entire ball seemed like some strange dream, alienating him from things and people he thought he knew - including himself. 

He was preoccupied by realizations of his own feelings. 

About… Cho. Yes. Had to do something about Ron and Hermione, of course, for the good of all - that’s why he was thinking about that. Cho. Hmm. Yes.

Thus preoccupied, a dazed Harry wandered back to his seat, picking up his punch and draining it in one.

Casting about for something it didn’t hurt to look at, he once again saw Parvati in the gyrating throng. Spotting him, she smiled, beckoning him over with a cant of her head and a raised brow. 

Well, why not , he thought, standing and making his way to her. 

He felt slightly guilty for how little attention he’d been paying to his date this evening, but she hardly seemed to be having difficulty shifting for herself. Several boys from the visiting schools stood around Parvati and her sister, vying for their attention and lavishing compliments on them. They did both look quite beautiful this evening, though there was a sort of wicked poise Parvati was nurturing that made him a little uncomfortable. He’d probably just stick around for one more song then say goodnight.

As he reached the dance floor, Harry felt himself unexpectedly begin to relax into the beat. When she shimmied over to him, interlacing their knees and dancing close against him, he took Parvati’s waist without any prompting. Almost abstractedly, he marvelled at the shape of her, finding he could almost touch finger to thumb with both hands around her at the navel, while, when his hands abstently drifted lower, they enjoyed the much greater breadth of her hips. 

She noticed his attention, smirking. “I see you’ve decided to pay attention to me.”

He started, looking up and her guiltily and starting to snatch his hands away. Unphased, she tutted at him, catching his hands and placing them back on her body - one on the curve of her backside, and the other, with a firm press, against her left breast. 

He turned scarlet. She bent close to his ear, purring. “I want you to pay attention to me.”

Gulping, he tentatively moved his hands a bit, stroking out with his thumbs, then squeezing slightly. She seemed to like that, jutting her curves into his grasp and guiding his upper hand to pinch her nipple through dress robes. He panted, feeling lightheaded but transfixed, kneading and pulling at her soft flesh as she pressed herself against him and pulled him into a low grind to the beat. He noticed with a worrying lack of apoplexy that she was riding his leg, dancing as she dragged her center over his quadricep rhythmically. 

He was growing unbelievably hard feeling her body and listening to the little mewling noises she was making. Again, he wondered at how brazenly he was engaging in this without collapsing under terror or nerves.

“I… feel… odd. Is this… is it okay with you, Parvati?” 

The witch in his arms chuckled, resting her forehead against his as she continued to rub herself against his leg. “It is. In fact, I may have put a little something in our punch to help us enjoy the moment.”

Harry did startle slightly at that, looking at her.  “What?!”

“A mild aphrodisiac draught.”  Parvati sighed and then smiled, pulling him back into motion and half-pulling, half dancing him out into the courtyard as he goggled at her, his hands slipping from her body as he stumbled after her. The music was still clearly audible, and she pulled him back into the dance, its tone changed somewhat for their now being alone. After a minute to retrieve their rhythm, she glanced around; there was no one in sight of the shadowy corner she’d brought him to. With some subtle act of wardrobe alchemy involving a loosened sash that managed not to visibly expose her, she guided his hand under her robes and between her legs. She pinned it between his thigh and her heat, and moving her knickers aside to leave his fingers somewhere strange, soft, and wet. “You don’t mind, do you, Harry?”

Her eyes were so large, and so dark.

Harry did mind a little, but he was also a teenager under the influence of testosterone having a very strange night, with chemically reduced inhibitions and a beautiful witch - even if she wasn’t the right witch - blowing through several frontiers he’d never explored with him in rapid succession with every appearance of enjoying the ride. It felt slightly wrong and exceptionally captivating. “I’m… fine. Thanks.”

She smiled, nipping at his lower lip before pulling him into an open-mouthed kiss. He was surprised at how easily it came to him, how to react, how to tease his tongue against hers. She tasted pleasantly of anise. 

When she finally pulled back, she shivered a little, glancing down and then back to his eyes. “Now, I’m going to teach you some things.” Between them, she grabbed his hand, redirecting it subtly. Guiding his index finger, she gave him a guided tour of her anatomy, lingering over the clitoris (“Rub here… like this… mmm… that’s nice, too.”) and the hot channel inside her (“Try… there. Now put another… and another… yes. Now, move in and out. Hook your fingers back toward you… ooo… that’s nice. Does your thumb remember where my clit is? Let’s see how coordinated your clever Seeker hands are…”)

Harry almost came himself when she shuddered and fell against him, sucking at his neck and murmuring praise as her pulsed tightly around his dripping hand. He felt as if he was watching this all happen from a great distance, simultaneously dismayed, awed, and a little smug at his achievement.

She suggested he try it again, without her instruction. It was faster the second time. 

He was still dazed when she started, hearing someone else nearby, and disengaged his hands to pull him by his wrist into an alcove garden, glancing around before pulling him to a spot nestled between a thick hedge and the stone castle wall. 

She pushed him against the wall with the length of her body, and he shuddered as her hips made contact with the jutting evidence of his arousal. Harry’s adolescent body responded mechanically to her Parvati’s touch, her smell, even while he felt in a small and vehement way that they were… somehow off. 

Laughing, she nuzzled against him, inserting her face into his field of view before sucking at his neck and murmuring in his ear. “I think you deserve a reward for being such a clever learner, Potter.” He blinked in shock as she sank to her knees on the grass before him.

“Ah Harry,” she mused, licking her lips as she ran her hands from his ankles to the backs of his knees. “I know we’re not a long-term thing, but I’ll always be able to say I was the first to taste the infamous boy who lived. Try to stay still and enjoy the ride.” With that, she ducked under the hem of his dress robes, leaving him speechless and scrambling to comprehend what exactly in the hell was happening. 

In a moment, he felt her hands freeing him from his trousers. “Ooo, a challenge.” She laughed, the sound muffled by his robes. 

He had a moment to feel confused and completely awkward and ridiculous. He looked around, wondering how he could make a strategic retreat as he felt hands kneading up the backs of his thighs.

He almost choked at the sensation of a wet tongue dragging over the head of his cock. He fell back against the wall, struggling to breathe at the intensity of the sensation. The same tongue traipsed slowly up the length of him from underneath, swirled around the tip of him, and then took him into its sucking warmth. 

Instinctively, he bucked his hips a little, groaning. Parvati responded to this by grasping his hips and slamming them back against the wall, holding him still and swallowing deeper. He felt one of her hands and perhaps a few fingers of the other pumping him under the reach of her lips as the bobbing outline of her head moved under his robes. 

Shocked and overwhelmed, Harry only briefly had the wherewithal to wonder how the hell Parvati knew how to do this. Then she shuddered and somehow swallowed him deep into her throat, nearly to the hilt, making little noises as she struggled to breathe but seeming to exalt in unhinging him. Her hands reached around to grab his ass, pulling him to and fro, in and out in a counterpoint to the movement of her upper body.

Harry gulped air, looking upward at the fireworks overhead, his hands awkwardly avoiding her head and fluttering like confunded moths in his confusion about where he was supposed to put them. 

Time passed and he gulped and panted, whimpered and moaned. 

Finally, his head sagged back against the stones and, helpless, he felt himself at the brink of coming apart. Three more thrusts, several choking gasps, and he came so hard he thought maybe he never really had before, his vision tunnelling and his body convulsing madly. Parvati chuffed triumphantly around his cock as he pumped helplessly into her throat, her nails digging into his cheeks painfully as he unthinkingly grabbed her head and thrust into her roughly to the rhythm of his climax. 

His vision fading to white, his knees buckled, he imagined he smelled something… someone?... familiar, someone right , someone who he wanted to feel this with, but before he could grasp it, the feeling slipped away.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 4

“I give up,” Hermione grumbled. “Here, I think we cut a path.”

Staggering under an especially violent gust, she cast one look back at Harry, shrugging. Turning north once again, she slashed her wand, machete-like, at the dense undergrowth they’d been trying to find a way through, and it parted before her.

Harry sighed in overtired exasperation, and once again fell into step to help. 

She slashed on one footfall, he on the next. They fell into a rhythm so effortlessly is unnerved him for a minute. He’d worked with so many aurors, more and less experienced, some for years, without ever being able to just… work together like this. 

There was almost a beat to it. He smiled, thinking of when they danced while they were on the run that one time. What came first, he wondered - the beat, or the dance?

Chuckling to himself, he added a jaunty little step between footfalls and wiggled his hips, dancing to the rhythm of their monotonous and grueling work. Hermione rewarded him with a reluctant smile, as if she were trying not to indulge him somehow, and they pressed on in quiet grace until, reaching the lee of a large boulder, he swept her into a spin.

“Harry!” She laughed as he pulled her into a pretzel, waggling his eyebrows at her in a mockery of seduction. “This is…” She squealed as he spun her out and then rolled her back to him, spinning her waist along his arm. “This is very serious magical storm business, you unbelievable prat!” 

He dipped her and solemnly blew a raspberry at her before pulling her back up, warming as she dissolved in giggles in his arms.

“Okay, but seriously, Harry? Har-eeeeeeeeeeee..!” She shrieked as again he spun her out. 

He gazed at her there, at a sort of perigee, trying not to laugh and failing utterly. Still so close at the furthest point of her orbit before he would pull her back to him. What if he let her collide with him and stay there a beat? The impulse shook him, scared him, called to him, somehow. 

She gazed at him through her laugh-creased eyes, at her farthest point spinning from him. In the rain. Soaked and exhausted and freezing but so warm . His green eyes widening as the smile started to slip from his lips, the elasticity of her momentum poised at the moment of snapping back. 

She remembered that night they’d somehow wound up dancing, all those years ago, for the first time.

Early December, 1997, A Tent in the Woods

“Fuckity fuck fuck fuck,” Hermione fumed, slouching back a moment and rubbing her eyes. She tried only to swear when Harry wasn’t around because he’d lost enough in this damned war without his image of her wholesomeness going down the drain. 

The silence and the oppressive aura of the locket had burned in their little home these several fraught weeks. Hermione looked up wearily from Hogwarts, a History - her twenty-seventh re-reading - and told herself again that she’d revisited the beloved old text for research rather than some melancholy nostalgia for her once-home, or for comfort in the embrace of well-worn pages.

Feeling stiff as an octogenarian, she set the book down beside her and ratcheted herself up from the camp chair, thinking she might make some tea - only to pause when the wizarding wireless sputtered into life. 

“It’s on?” Harry was there in an instant; he must have heard from where he was outside, checking and refreshing the wards.

“Psssssst… This evening’s broadcast is brought to you by You-No-Poo, sold exclusively by Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. Guaranteed 100% undetectable by any wanker wearing a Dark Mark. You-No-Poo, your unexpected guest teatime treat!...”

The two exchanged a little smirk at the bantering portion of the evening. That had to be one of the twins. Oh!  And that was Lee. They were sure of it, now, though they’d hotly debated if it might be that Ravenclaw bloke for a while. 

“Wait,” Harry whispered, “That’s Lupin, isn’t it?” They bent to listen.

“There’s nothing major to report in terms of new crimes against the Muggle population or altercations of strategic importance tonight. Unfortunately, we do have updates to our list of the missing and departed…”

With a dull resignation, they shuffled nearer the wireless to listen, unthinkingly sidling closer together and hunching their shoulders toward each other. 

Only five new names.

Both sighed and stepped back from the radio, as if it were a bomb they’d just disarmed. 

It had been a good night - they’d been able to pilfer some duck eggs and forage some watercress and wild onions - a better meal than they’d had in a week at least, and enough to push the malaise out just a bit, just enough to create a small amount of breathing room. 

No Weasleys on the list. No Ron. No one they knew.

There wasn’t really anything to say to each other. 

They weren’t the only two people suffering in the dark, and there was something reassuring about hearing friends, however far away, and knowing that others were out there listening and alone, too. Wondering how the hell this was going to end, too. 

Maybe not with a mission to end it entrusted only to them , for the others, but still. 

Anyway...

After a moment of silence and static following the list, a familiar voice cleared its throat awkwardly. “This evening, maybe we should remember some of the beauty in the world and the people we love in it. This one’s for them that need it out there - you know who you are.”

 And then, for the first time on this renegade station, music began to play. 

The absurdity of such an upbeat dance tune could only have been chosen for such a moment by one of the Weasley twins. 

Harry and Hermione looked up from the separate random spots they’d each been blankly staring at, catching each other’s eyes, both laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it. 

“You have got to be kidding me. Are Aqua wizards?” Hermione asked. “Because this sounds a lot like Aqua.” 

Harry’s eyes widened at the observation before he nearly fell over laughing, “ You know about Aqua ?”

“Yeah - wait , how do you know about Aqua? I may have grown up around Muggles, but you lived with Dursleys! ” 

Their laughter rasped - their voices hadn’t been getting much exercise, especially for this sort of thing. It also went on a little longer than it might have had they not, at this point, been slightly unhinged under the weight of everything and so, so desperate not to return to silence.

It couldn’t last, though. Hermione’s giggles died with a sudden shudder, her hand unconsciously grasping toward the locket hanging heavily around her neck. Harry saw it, a wince of pain flashing across his face. Hermione saw him see it, distantly grateful, as she stilled her mind, breathed, and braced herself better not to stumble beneath the weight they now alternated in carrying.

Harry watched this familiar sequence, frowning, tired, and suddenly seized the horcrux with his seeker’s dexterity, removing it from around her neck before she can object. “Nope. Nope, I’m done watching you wear this thing for right now.” 

Hermione tried to grab the cursed thing back, face creased with worry. “Harry! It’s not your turn yet! And it’s… it’s bad for your occlumency!”

“Hermione, watching it wear on you isn’t good for my… my anything .” Harry shook his head, starting to lower it toward his own head, then paused mid-motion as he took in the dull pleading flitting behind the resignation in Hermione’s eyes. She sat back down, holding her head in her hands as she watched him. Sighing, he pulled the thing away from his head, feeling its reluctance to give up the stranglehold it clearly enjoyed having on them. He looked at it in his hands briefly before hanging it from a hook below the lamp at the apex of the tent’s ceiling, the sound of the music becoming less dim in his hearing almost immediately as he let go of it. 

“Well.” Inhaling deeply and letting his breath out slowly, he turned back to Hermione, who was scrutinizing his actions with a slight cleft between her brows. “I think that, for right now, it’s unlikely to get away.” Then he did something that he thought might be a little stupid, but which was already done before he’d thought that.

Hermione looked at his extended hand for a moment before understanding it was some sort of invitation.

Trying to put aside both her stiffness and her general dubiousness, she rested her hand in his, letting him pull her to her feet, looking at him curiously. She was too tired to object properly to the less secure storage of the locket and curious as to where this was going.

She goggled in disbelief, however, when he started waggling his hips and pulling the backs of his hands, index and middle finger vee’ed, across his eyes. 

With a shock of startled laughter it took her a moment to realize is her own, it registered that he was dancing

“Wow, you alright, Harry?”

He paused to stick out his tongue at her before spinning around and alarmingly dropping to a split before popping back to his feet, defying gravity in ways she didn’t know he could without that damned broom. 

“Am I… awake?” She couldn’t look away.

He, not entirely averse to being the center of some attention, pointed at her with a comical wink and a smile before turning to commence something that looked suspiciously like the chicken dance. 

She started to vaguely bounce from her knees despite herself, shifting her weight rhythmically from foot to foot in time with the music. She honestly didn’t know if the bounce of her head was a part of the dance or a sign of her accepting his invitation to come out of the darkness and play.

We’re seventeen, she thought. We should be dancing. We should be laughing, and listening to ridiculous music. 

Maybe Harry shouldn’t be doing the twist, though. He was oddly good at it, and the view caused an odd feeling to pool low in her stomach. 

Where the hell did he learn the Time Warp?...

His patience with her hesitation seemed to snap. Suddenly, he swept her into his arms (“HARRY!”, she shrieked, laughing) in a gross parody of a tango, holding his nose aloft in a fashion that reminded her ludicrously of Malfoy’s parents as he pulled her to one end of the improbably large tent and then turned rapidly to strut her toward the other. Once there, despite the candy-floss beat of the ridiculous, ridiculous after-show music, he swept her into the waltz they both actually knew how to do beyond parody, both finding it came back surprisingly easily despite the years since the Triwazard Tournament.

His glee fell away from his features, and she knew he was remembering that very strange evening, remembering the Yule Ball and that entire awful year. She saw him drifting away from her. She suddenly knew that she could not let him - he had worked so hard, too hard, to bring her into the moment and let her live a bit, and she refused to let him fail to do the same. 

So she seized the lead. She dipped Harry absurdly, stumbling over their intertwined feet as he bent too far back in his surprise, letting out a sort of squawk as she barely caught him to pull him back up, laughing. Before he could drift away from her again, she was doing a dance with her arms folded in front of her and her feet kicking out in front - something she vaguely remembered from seeing flowers do in the movie Fantasia when she was little. 

As recognition dawned in Harry, who seemed thrilled and relieved that Hermione had decided to help carry their little moment of release, he sank to his knees and started doing likewise. Around the tent he bounded, with knees kicking and an occasional deep shout of “HEY!” with a motion almost like the furthest extension of the jumping jack. 

Then the song began to fade out, and they both slowed, a trembling worry stealing over their fragile peace. Bless the twins, though - some wizarding big band tune about a low-down mermaid floated up from the threat of silence. 

Hermione paused. “Do you know anything about swing?”

Harry didn’t answer, but he did step up and pull her into a dance frame, one hand resting on her waist. Hermione honestly couldn’t tell if her friend, who always had a comfort in his body that she frankly envied, was making it up or knew what he was doing. Whatever the case, he wasn’t bothered, and led them into a credible attempt at something like the movement that should happen to a song like this. 

To her shock, he even picked her up, seating her on his shoulder and spinning around before pulling her down and dipping her almost to the ground before sweeping her back up again, stomping twirling, sweating, and half-closing his eyes as he let the beat take him - and she let him take her .

Seeing him like this, and the intimacy of this abandon he’d surrendered himself to with her, maybe even for her, in the midst of everything that had been closing in around them, pressed a warm, still finger to her heart as she watched his face from the most distant step of a twirl he lead her into. Suddenly, she was barrelling dizzily back, her waist the reel and his arm the cord, and she knew they were about to collide, pressed together and out of breath, their giddy bodies flush, when her spinning stopped. 

She didn’t know if this predicament would complete the spell he had cast, or if, with it, the spell would break. It was a spell, after all. They aren’t all done with wands and known magic, as she well knew. 

It happened in a fraction of a second. 

Sure enough, his arm captured the momentum of her outward arc, snapping her into a spin back, her head whipping around in a subconscious relic from her childhood ballet lessons, spotting his face as she turned. Turned into his arms. Her breath caught and time seemed to slow, and as it did, his eyes snapped wide open, his goofy grin fading to a sincere, tentative smile she knew mirrored her own as they crashed together and looked at each other.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have happened if the horns hadn’t crescendoed to their last long wails at that point, giving way to an absolutely absurd slow song by Celestina Warbeck. But Harry didn’t ease her back out to their previous, comfortable dancing distance. They stood awkwardly a moment, staring at each other, before both smiles began to fade toward seriousness and, perhaps, caution. 

His arms crept tight around her waist. Her arms, around his neck. 

Perhaps a little winded and definitely breathing heavily, Harry hesitantly reached up. Lightly, carefully, he raked the backs of his fingers across Hermione’s flushed cheek before cupping the side of her face in his hand. Hermione felt her eyes widen slightly and the last of her smile fade at his touch. Dimly, she heard the know-it-all voice in the back of her head, petulantly muttering that this was just a seed Ron planted, and that Harry was like a brother to her. Narrowing her eyes as she gently pressed her cheek into his hand, though, Hermione wondered. 

Their eyes never leaving each other’s, the two settled into a sort of slow sway. His hand gently, gently stroked down her neck and shoulder, lightly along her side, resting on her hip as his other arm pulled her waist more closely against him. A shudder ran up her spine and her eyes darkened. His eyes raked down from hers as he noticed her lips parting, so very near his own. They blinked at each other slowly, confused and frightened to have found themselves in this position. 

They only noticed they were still swaying long after the music stopped. Slowly, they stopped, too. Harry was looking at her, for the first time she felt certain at her , with that look that always crossed his face as he was steeling himself to do something rash but brave. His hands stilled and tightened on her body, and she felt an absolutely non-platonic indication of his regard pressed between them. He blinked at her, brow knitting, face moving infinitesimally closer, eyes starting to close. 

There was a shriek outside. 

They jumped apart, propelled by both the adrenaline always so close to the surface and a dash of inarticulable guilt. They grabbed their wands, and Hermione dashed back a step to grab the locket and shove it over her wild hair and around her neck as Harry ran out of the tent flap.

--

It was only an animal, they eventually decided - probably a fox. After searching, determining this, they prepared nonetheless to move camp in the morning, and fell exhausted into their bunks without speaking - although neither of them could immediately sleep.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 5

With a slow swoop of tension in her lower abdomen, a soaked, mud-encrusted Hermione spun back to Harry, her hand arriving on her shoulder and bracing her at a polite distance before she could collide with him. She looked at him warily as he looked back at her. 

She… she had so many questions. Does he, too?  

After a beat, she wondered if what she saw flickering through his eyes was recognition. 

He, after just long enough that the awkwardness of the moment was debatable, dropped his arms.  With a sheepish smile, he swung them at his sides and looked around them. 

“Well, you’re a little more alert now,” He shrugged, and for a moment she viscerally hated that goofy grin he put on to transition from one subject to the next, before she sloshed ahead.

“Okay. More alert. Right.” She took stock of their surroundings, occasionally stealing a glimpse back at his face, as if that were where the danger lay instead of in the storm and the dark. Shaking her head, she eventually spoke. 

“I have no idea how exactly we’re meant to track a thunderbird under the thrall of an unknown dark wizard through the middle of a magical monsoon in the middle of the fucking night, Harry. How exactly did you get me into the field? I’ve been quite happy at my desk, you know. I do good there. I know this -”, she said, gesturing haphazardly around them, “is normal for you, that you still go out and wallop evildoers, but wouldn’t an Auror with some subspecialization in creatures have been at least as good to support you in this fiasco?”

“You know, you’re technically still an Auror, so that’s sort of who I brought?” His pitch went up at the end as he shrugged, holding his hands palm up. “Not actively assigned in the department, but you’ve kept your certification up and you still train...”

“You know what I mean,” she grumbled, kick-splashing a puddle at him.

He dodged lithely. Not that she was currently hyper-aware of how he moved. 

Sighing, he shook himself off a bit, which she wished she’d gotten a picture of for the EWE article on Sisyphus. “You also don’t report to me, Hermione, and I don’t currently have any Auror temporarily without an assigned partner to drag with me by default, or a team that was right for something this huge - and that’s also from Kingsley, who asked that I come to see what was happening myself.

“Besides that, though…” He sighed. “None of them are as smart as you, and none of them would care if the bird survived.” Harry watched her face guardedly. “There are only three males of the species left, Hermione. I couldn’t come back to tell you that it was on my watch that one of them died. You’re the one who keeps telling me about the incredible negative impact it has on the rebuilding of creature populations when no one manages to muster a sense of urgency until there’s only one pair left and the species is doomed, at best, to horrendous inbreeding.”

Hermione sniffed. “How do you reckon that? That I’m always telling you ?

Harry flushed briefly, mumbling. “Okay, so you’re telling Skeeter, who tells the Prophet, who tells me. I also do read your memos, Hermione. Flourish and Blotts has my order for the book too, when it prints.”

Hermione tabled her questions as she watched him stretch his neck from side to side and then his arms over his head. The way the motion plastered his shirt to the musculature of his chest and stomach made her remember a sense of increased awkwardness when they went out together without more people in the group. Still, she mustered a flat look; she at least still tried to plan nights out. “That’s not the same as being someone who’s there to listen, Harry, and you well know it. This is the most time we’ve spent together since the summer after the war.”

“That’s not true!” protested Harry, fisting his hands in his wet hair in frustration. “We were together for a week at Teddy’s graduation from his mastery with Sprout last year, when we were all in that cottage in Hogsmeade…”

“That was the year before last. And… were we actually together?” Hermione turned on her heel and walked backward so she could peer at him, finding the path ahead clear enough for now. “When you and me and Ginny and Cho and Ron and Parvati and Hurricane Aanya and the various other Weasleys shared that cottage and everyone tip-toed around all the history and the awkwardness and held it together to congratulate the only person who could still bring us to the same place and time like that - together then , you mean?  When we, I donno, exchanged some words about passing the toast?” Hermione turned in disgust when her back collided with more foliage, irritated at the world for putting yet another vine athwart her path as it parted before her wand.

“And Malfoy,” Harry said, watching her body language as he said it and seeing her shoulders go still. “I heard his voice there that night, Hermione, before you cast your silencing charm.” 

With a narrowing of her eyes, Hermione seemed to physically try to shake the observation off, stomping forward again without stopping to meet his gaze. “Everyone’s got to have a hobby,” she remarked, in a voice somehow both flat and shrill.

“I… I thought you ended it, is all. I knew, but then you went out a couple times with Davies, and I thought maybe you’d gotten over it, didn’t need that anymore.” 

Hermione stomped on, her boots squelching in the mud. “And yet.”

The next hour or so passed not in silence, but in only the sounds of his chattering teeth, their muttered oathes, and the spells necessary to create a path before them. The horizon was starting to pick up a sickly light, dawn overshadowed by the storm, when she spoke again. 

“Some fucking heroes we are.” Hermione huffed, slashing with an exhausted determination at the undergrowth. “Save the fucking world, then again, then save this, save that. Who will fucking save us? ” 

“Not, I think, Malfoy,” said Harry quietly, following doggedly behind, blinking back exhaustion.

“Oh fuck Malfoy!” Hermiony spun to him, fuming. “He tries, he tries to insert himself into situations where he can make a difference - cautiously, incrementally, reminding himself that he’s damned all the way - while we just get thrust at catastrophies like we’re each some kind of fucking miraculous literary device. Or better yet, we thrust ourselves, barmy Gryffindors that we are. I don’t even know if Draco notices the right thing to do on his own recognizance or because he knows it’ll get him something he wants. Draco’s entire thing is self-flagellation by way of debasing the fucking golden girl paired with redemption by trying to make her - make me - happy. I’ll credit him at least with the capacity to make me stop thinking so damn much.” She threw up her hands in exasperation. “Really, if I weren’t so fucking selfish, I would drive him off to go see if he could truly love somebody - hell, maybe even his wife - without ten tons of tragic history and twisted motivation attached. Maybe he could even find out that yes, he could do the right thing without tearing up all my knickers in the bargain.” 

Hermione trudged forward, determinedly ignoring Harry’s choking, hacking cough at the knickers remark. He determinedly abstained from further comment and tried to picture a number of random things having to do with neither Hermione’s knickers nor Malfoy, much less any combination of the two.

She realized she was sniffling a bit. Fucking ferret.

July, 2005, London

Harry laughed and sipped his lager, condensation on the cold brown glass soaking his hand in the unusual heat. Different colors of light pulsed to the bass of the low electronic music, every corner of the roof covered in people dancing. 

Also one centaur, who was wearing aviator sunglasses and one of those humorously-named American necklaces of flowers. He was smoking something that did not appear to be tobacco and had slung two giggling young witches up onto his back behind his torso. They draped themselves across his back, passing the pipe around and looking well smitten as he pointed up at the stars, affecting a wise look as he solemnly related their counsel. Harry noticed that the hand not pointing was sliding under the shirt of the girl sitting further behind, to which she responded by closing her eyes and gnawing at her lower lip, squirming astride him. 

Shaking his head with a laugh, Harry had to hand it to Hermione - she was definitely ploughing through some barriers between sentient magical species in ways he never would have anticipated with her reform work at the Ministry.

Next he spotted Neville, who had Oliver Wood kissing his neck from behind and two women whose faces Harry couldn’t see dancing together in the loop of his arms. Neville had this beatific smile on his face, which he broke briefly to grin and wave. Harry saluted him in response and kept right on laughing.

Then, there she was.

“Harry!” Harry turned as Ginny’s voice rang out from a few metres away, finding her flushed and dancing, indiscriminately embracing whoever shimmied near, appreciatively groping and spanking at assorted body parts as they came within reach - doubtless while asking how the new job was going, or complimenting new hair styles. Harry suspected he might need more than beer to meet her halfway, but was happy to see her thriving. The noise, the physicality, the celebration - this was her element. 

Now that training season was over and she was back in the city, he was looking forward to spending some time in it with her. 

When a path opened between gyrating bodies, Ginny ran at him, jumping up and wrapping her powerful chaser’s thighs tightly enough around his hips to hold herself up, breathing with him as their noses touched and her red hair tumbled into a curtain around their faces. 

“I…”, she paused, biting his lower lip, “...am so…” she licked his adam’s apple “high.” She grinned at him, her pupils blown, before she thrust her tongue into his mouth in a kiss that held nothing back, just like the witch giving it, playfully, shamelessly grinding her center against him. She pulled back a moment, leaving him speechless, and ruffled his hair fondly before hopping down, grabbing his hand, and pulling him through the throng. 

“I have a present for you!” She smirked, looking back over her shoulder as she wove through the press of bodies, free hand wandering appreciatively enough as she went that no one really seemed to mind. “But you’ll have to share with me…” Harry wondered what on earth this end-of-exile bacchanal had wrought, listening to her cackle as he was tugged helplessly along, wondering what his Aunt Petunia would have to say about a gathering like this. Also, if succubae were a real thing, and if Ginny might have one for an ancestor. Hermione would probably know how to find ou… 

Harry’s thoughts were cut off when he walked right into Ginny’s back, which she somehow turned from an awkward collision into a sinuous dance. She turned in his arms, gyrating against him for a few beats, pulling him into the moment, and into her mood, just a bit - just enough that he could start to find his all-consumingly randy fiancee a little more smouldering and a little less frightening. He himself wasn’t a bad dancer, and as he settled into their rhythm he bent her backward, her hair brushing the ground as she shrieked a little giggle that reminded him that they were still, despite how often he felt otherwise, so very young. 

“How was training this year? Or the tryouts?” Harry yelled near her ear to be heard over the noise. 

Ginny effected a pout. “Well, we’re all well fit to fly again, but it was long… and hard… and not in the ways I missed about you.” Her hand nipped downward, removing any last modicum of subtlety her words may have had by sinking her fingers under his waistband. 

He yelped slightly and readjusted his grip on his beer before shaking his head, gazing at her, torn between admiration and disbelief. “I think I may need some of whatever you’ve taken.”

Smirking, Ginny took a miniscule vial from her decolletage and poured a couple drops of a potion, warm from her body, onto his tongue. “It’s good. Come up and meet me here.”

Harry tried to fight off his instinctive revolt against the fuzzing influence of the potion. He wasn’t always great about letting his guard down, and he was still a little thrown by the last and only other time he’d danced while drugged. But this was Ginny. Ginny, who only unwound like this at moments of triumph in the season, and who worked at her trade just as fiercely most of the year, and who loved him with no less passion. 

He began to mellow, losing track of the boundary between volition and his instinctive movement to the beat, his instinctive response to her body after two months apart. 

“I wish they let you visit, or me. I’ve gone mad without you. You wouldn’t believe how many extra shifts I’ve pulled, how many Death Eaters I’ve caught trying to reprise their glory days, to distract me from how cold the bed is without you, Gin.”

She shuddered against him, a smugness settling in her smile. “Well, I think we’ll definitely reheat it some tonight. You asked about tryouts, eh? We did manage to find a new seeker last week.”

“Oh yeah?” Harry asked brightly, smiling. “Anyone you know?” 

Ginny snorted, rubbing her nose against his before replying. “Yes, actually. Though, last time I saw her, we had some unsettled business. That said… happy birthday, Harry.”

Harry hadn’t noticed that Ginny’s hand had darted out behind her until he saw that she was hauling at the wrist of another woman, tall but slight, clearly enjoying the alchemical refreshments and dancing with her long black hair sticking to her bare shoulders with sweat. She smiled a little shyly as Ginny ducked behind her, pressing this newcomer between herself and Harry and continuing to dance. “Hi, Harry,” said Cho Chang, the apparent new seeker for the Holyhead Harpies.

Harry blinked. “Umm… wow, I… what a surprise!”

Cho blushed, grinning behind her hand, even as Ginny pressed her firmly between them, her hips caught in their grind. “I’ve been practicing, and I got into Krum’s clinic last year, so… yeah, might even be able to give you a run for your money, these days. It’s… good to see you.”

Ginny’s sly smile appeared over Cho’s shoulder. “On top of that, Cho agreed to play a role in a little surprise for you tonight,” Ginny said, flushed in victory, a beautiful contrast to Cho’s embarrassed glow. “As I said, you’ll have to share, but… you like?” Cho shuddered and her head rolled back onto Ginny’s shoulder as the redhead’s hand was wrapped around the brunette’s throat with a breath-hitching squeeze, then traipsed downward, trailing over Cho’s chest until both of Ginny’s hands pushed her present’s trembling breasts up from beneath, as if offering them to Harry, pausing to flick their nipples and looking quite lasciviously pleased with herself. Cho looked up, almost sleepily, her embarrassment giving way to something darker, and Harry tried to cover his shock as she bent forward to kiss him. He was pleased that this time the kissing was much less wet than he remembered, from that other time long ago. 

He and Ginny had talked about this. She’d said she’d like to try it sometime, with someone, but...it had all seemed very abstract. At first, she wanted to invite Neville to their bed, and sure, he was fit, but Harry wasn’t sure he could handle it given all the departmental meetings they shared. He was not unaffected by the lurid verbal picture of how Gin imagined it would play out, though - painted as she demonstrated how loudly she could appreciate “the chosen’s wand” thrusting up her ass that night. Recently, though, she’d been keener on a woman. As Cho’s fingertips traced up under his shirt, Ginny’s sheer charisma keeping them all locked in the dance, he rather wished it hadn’t been someone he’d known, had a history with. Or that he’d been forewarned. 

A few moments later, Ginny tugged Cho’s head back to her with an ungentle pull of her hair and kissed her, and as he watched and the potion encroached more upon his desire to be driven by anything other than sensation and instinct, Harry’s thoughts drifted away, and were replaced by a building warmth and an increasingly aching hard-on. 

Her lips still firmly attached to her conquest’s, Ginny’s eyes darted up to Harry’s, and she broke off, smiling, as she grasped him by the buckle of his belt and turned on the spot, apparating the three of them directly into bed.

--

The next morning, Harry woke to the sounds of lapping and a sharp moan, followed by soft laughter. His head didn’t ache yet, but it promised to resolve into a hell of a migraine later. Foggily, he glanced beside him to see Ginny’s bright eyes looking at him, smiling from where she had just collapsed on top of a Cho still shuddering and breathing sharply through the waves of an orgasm. 

“So that did happen,” Harry said, blinking at the two women and noting that Cho’s fingers were already starting to trail down his fiancee’s stomach, on a clear path toward reciprocation. 

Harry blinked, unable to look away, feeling himself growing stiff despite the ache of the previous evening’s hard use. 

Ginny, shuddering as the other woman found her mark, looked through half lidded eyes at Harry as she moved against the other woman’s hand. “Take me from behind? Either way you like - there’s… ooo… there’s... room… unless you’d prefer...” Her eyes flitted down his torso, licking her lips. 

Harry gulped, shaking his head slightly and feeling an odd premonition of loss. “Maybe later? I’ll go fix breakfast - I think I’m shagged out for now. You have fun with… er… my present, yeah?”

“For you, anything.” Ginny said, sitting up and smiling brilliantly at him as Cho, beneath her, scooted down to align her mouth to assist her hand’s work. By the time he was walking into the hall, he heard the familiar keening that he had thought only he could bring from Ginny’s lips.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 6

After a few long minutes of quiet following their talk of Draco, Hermione stopped, sighing, to peel leaves from her face and assess the best way to get past a fallen old oak athwart their narrow path through the thick undergrowth. “Ron’s at least broken out of the fugue and had a family, cut back on overtime, embraced the… the fun ” she said, spitting the last word as she tried to imagine living with herself in this broken world by retreating toward comic relief. “ And now he can directly correlate how much adulation he’s getting from the masses through revenue reports.”

“It’s cost him. It hurt him to step back from the DMLE.” Harry sighed, weaving his fingers to offer her a step up. 

Hermione gave him a skeptical look - one eyebrow furrowed, the other, raised - before carefully seating her foot in the stirrup of his hands and letting him boost her to the top of the gnarled old trunk. He scrambled up after her, briefly astride the hulking relic before throwing his leg over to slide down and steady her descent. He didn’t think he’d ever compete with her for general competence, but at least his relative size gave him something to offer her.

“It’d hurt you and me more to leave the Ministry, I don’t dispute that,” he continued, brushing damp bark from the seat of his pants. “But you know neither of us have his brilliance when it comes to strategy, and you know neither of us can cut through the tangles of thoughts we both get snarled in as well without an occasional chat with Ron, even now. Maybe it’s enough. Maybe we should be happy he’s experimenting with making a...a…” Harry threw up his hands in frustration, casting about for an example. “...a magical variety of whoopee cushions!”

“Whoopee cushions,” fumed Hermione, “are perfectly adequate to their purpose just as Muggles made them.”

As they resumed their slog onward, Harry grimaced, silently admitting to himself that she might have a point. Although Ron’s new ones that emitted little belching stinky smoke dragons were on to something, and in general, Ron’s cleverness with magic was thriving in an environment where he wasn’t under the sort of life-and-death pressure that has always made him doubt himself. At least he wasn’t on to more things like Peruvian instant darkness powder. That one had come back to bite them all a few times, and Ron had been vigilant, since leaving the Aurors, about not unwittingly creating the next accidental weapon.

The darkness powder thought just made Harry need to picture things that were not Malfoy again for a while.

His thoughts ran a few minutes before she spoke again. “Isn’t it just amazing how all the common knowledge prophecies - I’d marry Ron, you’d marry Ginny, tra la la la la - just all went bollocks up in the end.” 

“Heh. Maybe,” he granted. “But I think they’re both happy.” 

Hermione stopped a moment, looking across her shoulder at him quizzically. “Speaking of which... why exactly are you always so polite and awkward around Parvati? She and I actually get on better than ever, but you never say no when she asks you to chop the vegetables or do the dishes or mind little Aanya for an afternoon. She’s almost smug about it, whenever she mentions she’s detailed you to some task or other. I can’t even get you to meet me for a pint.”

Harry’s eyes blinked and then darted to the path ahead, pointing. “Is that a thunderbird feather?”

Previous conversation forgotten, Hermione dashed forward, cursing under her breath as she dropped to her knees beside an elegant bronze plume the length and breadth of her thigh. “Yes.” She picked it up, wincing a bit as a visible little bolt of static shocked her hand on contact. Shaking it off, she examined the bloodied tip of the thing. “Yes, and I’m no Scamander, but I don’t think these are shed typically, and the calamus is all gory. It looks like it was pulled out.”

For a moment, their eyes met, worried, before they both started to look around the clearing for further clues.

2007, Ottery-St.-Catchpole

Hermione bustled around the Burrow’s kitchen, at a bit of a loss. Molly, her future mother-in-law, was down with dragon pox, and while Hermione could hack things together over a campfire, trying to fill the shoes of the Weasley matriarch was beyond her ken. With a huff of despair at her inability to conquer this task, she fumed; the brains of the golden trio, head girl, unmasker of the beast of Slytherin, daunted and demoralized by a frittata and some damned biscuits - despite a potion master’s attention to the recipes, no less.

While she’d fumed, Ron had quietly seated himself on a stool at the counter, and when she turned to cast about for that spatula she was sure she’d just been holding, she saw him, head canted and supported by his hand, gazing at her adoringly.

“I love seeing you in the kitchen, ‘Mione. I know it’s hard right now, but I’m sure when mum’s up again, she’ll be able to teach you the spells that will make this all easier than doing it the Muggle way. But.. that apron…” He shook his head appreciatively. “Why don’t you take it back to ours later, eh?”

Hermione stared at him before darting to seize the spatula from under the Prophet ’s sport page. “You mean to tell me that in all this time, your mum never taught YOU the wizardly art of cooking? You swore, when we were on the run, that you’d learn so you’d never be subjected to mine again.” She doffed the apron and threw it at him. “Scrub up those pots, Ronald.” 

“‘Mione!” Ron looked stricken and wounded, eyes wide and hand clutching at the general vicinity of his heart. “You may have noticed things have been a little busy since then. What with the war, and reconstruction, Auror training, trying to mop up the dregs of the Death Eaters…”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. “And exactly how have I had any more time than you through all that? I may have transferred to Magical Creatures last year, but it was because there was more work to be done there, not less.”

With a somewhat less melodramatic, slightly sad look, Ron said, “Hermione, when are you going to stop fishing for ways to satisfy your need to compete with me? Because I can’t. You win, every time. I will never deny that. I love that you’re so driven, but I’d also love for you to be able to find other outlets for your… your… your need to be best. You know I’m the average so-n-so of the golden trio. I love you, though. And I’m here, loving you, and waiting for you to ratchet down from this edge you live on.”

Hermione busied herself drying a mixing bowl with a tea towel silently, which gave her an excuse to look at something other than him for a minute before she replied. “I refuse to touch the ‘average so-n-so’ thing with you again, because you know I don’t believe that, but also… that’s all beside the point, Ron, of how it is you expect me to have learned to keep house with no time to devote to it, and, frankly, with less interest than you have on my most homebody-ish day.” She brushed some flyaway curls out of her face and sighed. “And maybe the edge is where I want to be, Ron. Maybe it’s where I belong, pushing boundaries to closer to where they should be and being challenged to help others.”

Ron just gazed at her. “Right.” He set to washing the pots quietly beside her - not, she noticed, catching the drips and splotches on their handles and exteriors, though she bit her tongue. “Because you haven’t done enough of that yet.”

“Ron… look, this kind of thing,” she said, gesturing around the kitchen, “It just isn’t me. And it’s… it’s thankless, having to deal with lobbyists and the families with deep pockets to eke out every last inch of reform. I never catch the bad guy, I never break the curse. I know that I’m doing good but it’s draining. It drains away any ounce of energy I might ever have been able to muster to gain the… the matriarchal skills I worry you want me to learn. But if I don’t do the work, I truly worry about bringing children into a world that needs so much work before I could ever consider it to be a safe and good place for kids to grow up.”

“Tcch… ‘Mione… no world is perfect.” Ron shook off his hands, stepping up behind her and embracing her, resting his cheek atop her head. “Look.  Soon, we’ll be married, and with the mischief and brains any kids of ours are likely to have, who’s to say just raising them wouldn’t give you plenty of new perils to face?” He curled his fingers around the slight softness of her stomach, possessively. “If you keep yourself out of bodily harm, I think you might find meaning in other sorts of victories, which might change you. And I’ve been thinking… You’re right, family is my priority and I’ve saved the world more than enough for several lifetimes.  George needs help in the shop, and you know we can’t get together without spitballing ideas, and I have loads of fun each time we talk about it. Some of the things I’ve helped create have been hits, ‘Mione. And George is really raking in the galleons, and the with strategy I’m helping him with to expand internationally… it’s going to be a lot of work but it’ll bring some joy to a world that’s gone through some hard times of late. Maybe it’s time for me to take the inclination toward puttering about the house you say I have and live a quieter life, helping him, and keep that clock hand a little farther from ‘mortal peril’ all the time. I don’t… I don’t kid myself that you’re going to want to stay home. But I could, at least a lot of the time. I could balance something a little safer with caring for our family.”

Hermione turned in his arms, an eyebrow raised quizzically. “You… you do so much good as an Auror, Ron. You say you’re the normal one, but you spot patterns like no one. You know you’ve helped to win the war and keep it from resurrecting itself. You really want to walk away from that?”

Ron tucked an errant curl behind Hermione’s ear and stooped to kiss her forehead. “You did, sort of. And maybe I have enough scars. Maybe...maybe saving the world has never been so much a part of me as it has been of you, and Harry. Maybe I’ve done enough and now I can enjoy peace and help... help make something new just for us. Maybe...maybe you could give it a chance?” Looking at her wary eyes, he stooped to kiss her. She stilled a moment before quietly responding, reciprocating. Her eyes remained open, though, as his fluttered contentedly closed - and her gaze bounced about the room as if searching for the exit. 

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 7

Hermione woke dazedly, her head sloshing with a dull ache that suggested it had been magically healed after a significant blow. Taking inventory, she determined that it was still wet… that it was still raining sideways… but she was a little warmer and... mysteriously all swaddled and swaying for some reason. Also, something smelled incredible . Blearily, she nestled her nose into the soft warmth surrounding her, inhaling deeply, scenting rosemary and sweat and...she jerked her head upright. “Harry! Why on earth am I being carried? What in the...what is this contraption?!”

Hermione found her nose had been buried at the joint of Harry’s shoulder and neck, her arms thrown around his neck, her torso draped diagonally across his chest and stomach, wrapped in something that secured her against him and supported her weight in her legs, which were folded under her such that her lower body was slung to the side, mostly out of the way of his plodding legs. She felt like she was kneeling, hugging him, and also in a hammock. Harry doggedly trod into the storm, his hands free to brush aside and spell-slash foliage as he carried her. 

“Give me,” he panted, “give me a minute, I’ll figure out a good place to let you down and I’ll explain.”

It took rather more than a minute.

Now, instead of watching Harry’s back, with each step Hermione could feel the movement of the muscles in his chest pressed wetly to her own, and her breasts, the traitors, were quite smug about this. Hopefully, with all the intervening layers, he couldn’t feel her automatic response to this.  She, alas, could think of little else; she didn’t think her nipples had ever been so erect without intentional provocation, which by itself was painful, but her misery was compounded as the swollen nubs throbbed in time with her aching head and, with his every step, chafed against the ridges of the embroidered lace of bra she’d only intended to wear for a dinner date before running off to this fiasco late yesterday.  

She sighed heavily, which made it all worse.  No one ought to smell this edible after this sort exertion, the great prat.

Finally, he seemed satisfied to stop. “So,” he huffed, coming to the edge of a relatively level clearing, “about an hour ago, the wind rather ran away with itself and led quite a large limb to break and pretend it was attached to an angry whomping willow. Your head was in the way.” She scrunched up her face and felt at the crown of her head gingerly as she listened.  “Per your very own first aid instruction,” he continued, “as there were no apparent additional injuries,I tried to let you rest after I patched you up. It was… it was rather bloody and there were splinters but I think I got the worst out of your hair with some tweezers-scale levitation charms and an Aquamenti - Scourgify and the rain don’t seem to get on.  Anyway… scanning spell said I healed it before you needed a blood replenishing potion, but only just. Do you… are you okay?” He stumbled to lean his hip against an obliging boulder for a moment as Hermione looked around, still trying to get her bearings and fidgeting at her awkward position.

“My head rather aches, but not so badly it feels like I was badly injured. I think you did well.  How’d you heal me and how on earth did I end up in… this thing?”

Harry nodded, having anticipated these questions.  Meanwhile, one of his arms encircled her waist to hold her steady as the other hand tapped his wand against an odd knot in what turned out to be his cloak, letting her feet tumble down from her improvised sling. (She bit her lip to stifle a gasp at the press, but was extremely glad not to be relying entirely on her own knees just then.) “Dittany and a couple Episkeys . I suspect it’ll still ache some. As for this…” he gestured at his cloak as he let go of her waist, trying to rearrange the garment, “I didn’t know how best to proceed so I took a little inspiration from that thing Ron and Parvati were always carrying Aanya around with. I tried slinging you across my back at first but I...I kept bumping your head on twigs and leaves, and you were kind of kicking my butt with every step a little more literally than usual, so front carrying was what eventually worked.”

Hermione colored, helping him set his cloak to rights. “Well. A baby sling. That… that’s new.” 

Smiling goofily, Harry conjured a rattle, giving it a festive little shake at her. 

With a snort, Hermione rolled her eyes, vanishing the tiny maraca and shaking out her cramped legs. “Inventive, I’ll give you that. Couldn’t have levitated me, though?”

“I tried, but you kept getting whipped about by branches when I didn’t really have a sense of your weight and position to bat things away, and you got a cut on your cheek - already healed,” Harry assured her when he saw raise her fingers to her face to look for it.  “So yeah, that wouldn’t do - I’m… I’m still freaking out about how close it was to your eye.” He grimaced. “Very sorry.” 

She waved him off with a psssssssh. “You were brilliant, Harry.  No self-recrimination allowed.” 

He nodded, smiling meekly, and continued. “Anyway… I wouldn’t say the sling exactly worked well - I’m knackered. We should both take some pepper-up before we get going again. I just… I knew you’d be a lot less gentle with my poor tender posterior when you woke if I dared stop and pitch a tent rather than trudging onward, there was no help to be had, and leaving you alone and concussed was not an option. This damn vortex’s anti-apparition thing is really starting to grate on my nerves. I did try your emergency superpowered Portkey - yes , I know you carry an emergency Portkey in that ridiculous bag of yours, and that it’s not legal because you’ve done experimental stuff with it and made it outside Ministry oversight and who knows what else, and no , I’m not going to arrest you, and yes , I probably also want one - but right now, it might as well only be an Amnesty International badge.” He huffed. “Should have ridden hippogriffs.” Sighing, he started walking onward again, smirking slightly at Hermione’s frenzied check to make sure he hadn’t fouled the organization of her bottomless clutch.

Grudgingly determining that Harry had kept her organizational scheme perfectly, Hermione half-limped alongside him, vaguely irritated at how frequently he was not going out of his way to be solicitous of her diminished physical condition. She twitched every time she noticed him subtly gauging her pace, walking beside and a smidgeon behind her so he could avoid pressuring her to keep up with his habitually faster steps, and she scowled every time he cleared her path before she could do so herself. She knew her feelings on receiving help were more tetchy than rational, though, so tried to distract herself by sublimating some grouchiness into swottiness.  “Hippogriffs are sentient creatures, not beasts of burden, Harry,” she grumbled.  “They are also exceptionally territorial and proud. You would not want to bring one to meet another large, aerial predator, especially a hitherto unknown invasive species like a thunderbird. It almost certainly would not go well.”

Harry narrowed his eyes at her, very maturely not sticking out his tongueponx. “Fine. Thestrals.”

“Most of the same problems.”

Harry paused, considering. “What about one of those giant flying horse things with the poncy names?”

Hermione shuddered. “After Amsterdam, in ‘01? No. Never. Never again. We will not speak of giant flying horse things or their poncy names. Or, for that matter, single malt whisky.  Just… no.”

“But-”

No. ” Hermione paused, shading her eyes against the increasingly bright lightning strikes and looking upward, marking the increased frequency and density of  thunder and flash. “I think we’re getting closer to the center, if it has in fact stopped moving - and it appears to have.”

“Right.” Harry shrugged, unslinging the bag hanging at his shoulder and sinking his arm in it to the shoulder. “Then we’re resting briefly so we’ll be in fighting form when we get there.”  Hermione opened her mouth to object but he ploughed on. “It isn’t Perkins’ for space - I’m afraid it’s more a personal bolt-hole I carry than something equipped for two because I left straight from Shacklebolt’s office and didn’t think we’d need to stop.  It’s better appointed, in other ways, though – it has an real bed, a small stove, and an actual functioning bathroom…and while it’s only the one, it’s a fairly spacious bed and there’s enough floor I can kip there if you don’t fancy the old expedient of one person’s head at the other’s feet or similar.” He pulled a folded stretch of cloth from the bag, looked briefly around, and tossed it at a relatively even stretch of ground. Hermione growled something under her breath and folded her arms, watching. “You’re awake now, so I’m reasoning with you as the agent in charge of this case,” he said. “Please do not kick my ass… more. But we need to warm up, eat, and rest some.”

Hermione huffed in exasperation. “We don’t need to make a bloody stop, Harry, I’m fi -”

Yes, we do! ” Harry didn’t shout, but he did raise his voice a bit despite himself. “I’ve learned the value of not going on half-cocked and exhausted these last several years. The rate at which I’ve been nearly maimed or nastily scarred has dropped precipitously as a result. I know you were out for a while, but it wasn’t exactly a nap you took, and I can still see you weaving on your feet in exhaustion, and I know you’ve got pent up hexes after scratching out proposals at a desk most days, but do not fight me on this, Hermione. If only for my sake, I’m half hypothermic, which I think those potions you theorized are in the rain may be responsible for, and I need rest . I want to have that pint with you on the other side of...of all this,” he said, gesturing at the purples and blood reds of the swirling, angry sky. 

Hermione glared at him. “I don’t like to be told what to do, you know that, Harry. You could have consu-”

“Not on this.” Harry glared right back. “Right now, you will defer to the director of the Auror Office. You are concussed, I am exhausted, and on this subject, I am the more experienced, higher-ranking Auror, and I know better than you.”

Hermione ground her teeth, silently arguing with herself, before she exhaled shakily. “Fine.” 

The folded stretch of cloth, as they spoke, had unfurled itself into what looked vaguely like a one-person tent, just the size and shape to accommodate a reclining figure in a sleeping bag. As it had staked itself, it had turned muddled brown in a way that blended into the texture of the forest floor through some sort of disillusion work subtle enough that a Muggle wouldn’t notice anything remarkable about it once the colors stabilized. Hermione toed the flap aside to see wood slat stairs leading downward within.  

She shook her head and raised her wand to start casting wards… only to see that Harry was already half done doing so. Never ceasing his steady stream of gestures and incantations, he shook his head warningly at her, pointing to the tent flap with his free hand. With a mutinous pursing of her lips, she threw up her hands and stalked inside, calling over her shoulder as she went. “I’ll rest, but I still can’t cook, so that’s on you, Chosen One.”

2008, London

“Granger. Getting reckless, are we?”

Hermione sighed, not looking up, already familiar with the speaker from his distinctive drawl. “Malfoy, we’re not doing this. 50/50 odds that I have the votes, and if I’m lucky, this is going to be a far far better change than what I could ever wrangle compromising with you.”

The personification of insouciant elegance draped himself across the small couch for visitors (and, let’s face it, late nights) across from her desk, his familiar smirk in place. “Really? You think your odds are that good? I’m not so sure. And with just a little… flexibility…” he said as his gaze raked over her body, making her wish her desk were wood with a modesty panel rather than this glass travesty, “why, you could be certain to have your most basic needs met.”

“Werewolves’ basic needs, Malfoy. Not mine. And we have a chance to do more. I think I have you on this one, and I’m going to remember who I am and bloody well be brave instead of sparring endlessly for half an inch you’ll take a third of.”

“How disappointing.” Malfoy’s eyes flickered over her face, still bent determinedly over her parchment, his eyes lingering briefly with a genuinely sad smile he was sure she wouldn’t see. “You should know you don’t have Shafiq’s vote, then. Are you counting on that?”

Hermione stiffened. “As of when? I just talked to him Tuesday.”

“We had lunch - today.”

Hermione sneered. “Malfoy, every once in a while I truly think you might be some sort of ally in all this. Someone to check me from rushing ahead faster than others may be able to adjust to, rather than just to shut me down. But the only reason, the only one, not to approve this proposal is sheer bigotry.” She assessed his face coldly. “I don’t think that’s you, so who exactly are you bending for, or if it’s not outside pressure, exactly what do you want?”

Malfoy looked back a moment without speaking, his expression impassive.

Hermione, looking back, cocked an eyebrow impatiently. “Well?”

Softly, he replied, “I hear you postponed the wedding. Are you alright?”

She scoffed, shaking her head and looking back down at her work, fishing the quill from her ink pot. “That’s none of your concern. I don’t know how you even hear these things.”

“I listen. I could listen to you.”

“I find myself disinclined to unburden myself to a political nemesis, thanks.”

Malfoy leaned back, a cast of incredulousness breaking through his controlled veneer. “Nemesis? Do you know how much I do to help you? Are you that blind? Further, do you have any idea how much capital it would take to fully grease the wheels squeaking at this newest onslaught of yours? Don’t avada the messenger, Granger. Would anyone else even tell you, if not me? If you’ll just listen , what you need to do is - ”

“No.” Hermione paused, slowly replacing her quill, and looked up, her gaze burning with the force of a hundred concessions she never should have made. 

Suddenly, he looked wary. “No? I can tell you how to fix this, and what you have to say is… no?”

“Draco.” A slight smirk twitched her lips as she saw him startle at the familiarity of her using his given name. “Draco,” she repeated, letting the vowels roll long and low over her tongue. “You seem to be laboring under some misapprehensions about me.” 

Hermione stood up, padding on her bare feet - which she noticed him gazing at, his attention arrested - over to her office door and closing it with a soft click. It was well past six, now, and in all likelihood, no one else was still here, but she twitched closed the blinds on the transom and cast locking and silencing spells before walking, slowly, back to him. 

Draco sat up, swallowing at the effort she was making to create a private space - mysteriously, with him still in it.  His eyes darted between the sway of her hips and the wand in her hand as she approached, finally finding her face, gazing beatifically down at him in a way that he found somewhat frightening. 

Incarcerous ,” she murmured, thin ropes flying from the tip of her wand, whence they wrapped around his wrists and carried his arms over the back of the couch, securing them behind it and tying off to its rear feet. 

“Granger, what in the hell…! Hermione! You can’t-”

“Hush - quiet from you, now.” She pressed a finger to his lips, standing between him and her desk. “And - yes, I can.

“In fact… what I can’t do anymore is listen to prattling wizards telling me giving me unsolicited advice and even orders about what I need to do. Mostly, you all just tell me to wait my turn, not try so hard, not rush into the fray.” She paused, tipping his chin up to make him meet her gaze with the tip of her wand. “You don’t want me to stop fighting your kind and their well-funded scramble to maintain the upper hand, do you? You don’t want me to stop arguing with you. Don’t want… to… control me? Tame me and let my field certification lapse? Tell me maybe I’d be more at peace with the way things are if I invested more of my energy into starting a family?” She paused consideringly, looking at him through his involuntary shudder, noting his darkening eyes. Draco had never been hard to look at, and she had, in fact, noticed him looking at her. Noticed him writhing in blood supremacist angst that she always just beat him for top of their class in school, years ago. Noticed him trying, starting with that note of fascination, to figure out what exactly to do about Hermione Granger - and never being able to leave the dilemma that he found her to be alone.

“You...” she said, then paused with a shrug, planting one knee on the couch beside him and resting her wand on her desk.  Gazing down at him, she pulled his hair back to force him to look up at her. His breath was coming heavily, and she noticed.  Then, quirking her brow, she looked lower and saw undeniable evidence that he did not altogether dislike the turn the evening had taken bulging rather impressively against the front of his trousers. “You try to distract me from how much you like my company by treating me to the same tired, lascivious flirtation you demean other women with, but you’re smart enough to know I find it repellent. And you run your filthy gaze all over me, but your eyes never attach unless you think I’m looking elsewhere. Draco, I think you like me fighting you. You like my raging at what you tell me to do, and who you tell me to be. You have never been able to stop watching me do it.” 

Hermione looked at him, really looked. He wasn’t trying to free himself. Wasn’t trying to speak. Was agitated, but watchful, waiting, wanting to see where she would take this. Was surrendering himself to her mercy. 

“You know that everything is better when I win. You... are doing all of this for me,” she realized, her hands sliding out of his hair and down to his stubbled cheeks, her fingertips marveling over his sharp cheekbones with light caresses. “You don’t have to work. You hate people gawking at you since the war. You’re here at the Ministry… you actively took up the Malfoy seat and employment to be near me. Didn’t you?”

Slowly, his gaze still locked on hers, he nodded.

After a moment’s consideration, she swung her other knee to the far side of his legs, straddling him. “I am done being told who to be and what to do. I do what I think is best. I do not take orders, not anymore. Do you hear me?”

Perplexity and hope flickering across his face, a little more hesitant this time, he nodded.

She looked down at him briefly before ripping open his shirt, utterly unconcerned about a rich man’s buttons. “Let’s cut to the heart of this, shall we?”  While his eyes widened, she fumbled briefly for his zip before she seemed to remember that she was a witch. Softly tsking at herself, she picked up her wand, vanishing his clothing - all of it - before hiking up her skirt and slowly, slowly, but without preamble, pulling her knickers to the side and sinking down toward him, stopping as his twitching, engorged cock grazed her now-dripping entrance. She bent to kiss his shoulder with more teeth than affection, and he shuddered, burying his face in the riot of hair he spent their childhood denigrating.

Leaning slightly forward, and wrapping her arms around his neck, she whispered in his ear. “Draco, I’m going to tell you what I want, and what I need, who I want you to be and what I want you to do, and you will move every mountain necessary to do it for me.” Her nails raked from the center of his scapulae to his shoulders, tearing into his skin as, ever so slightly, she let him in, lowering herself so infinitesimally that he wondered if it was really happening until she tilted her hips, slowly, sinking a little further and smirking as he gasped and panted at the feel of her, his head falling back. “You will empty your vaults on my slightest whim, and you will clear your schedule to scratch my slightest itch, you will leave the table in the middle of dinner with your pretty pureblood wife-”

He startled, straightening to meet her eyes. “You know I had absolutely no choice in th-”

Her Silencio cut across him. “-and you will do it with gratitude for all that I choose to give you in return. Isn’t that right?” 

Slowly, as if worrying she would strike him or run, he leaned toward her, brushing his cheek against hers. She shook slightly at the enormity of her own coldness and his gentleness before she felt Malfoy nod, nuzzling against her neck with a small and silenced whimper.

She got over it quickly. 

“Good.” With a twitch of her knees, she let herself sink down on him completely, taking all of him in with one bitten-back moan as he silently threw his head back, his lips mouthing inaudible ecstasy. Pausing there, filled by him until she could take no more, she drew in a long, shaking breath, a single tear running down each cheek. 

Slowly, she started riding him.

He let his head loll and roll one way then the next as her motion shook him. A line from a poem flitted through his mind - “wept and fasted, wept and prayed” - but he never thought… Delirious at this unexpected culmination of such fervent fantasy, he let himself cry out, the silencing spell taking the sound before it could ever be heard, though he relished the sound of her thighs, her ass, as they slapped down against his lap, and of her cunt as it wetly swallowed him - again, and again… 

Only after he’d grounded himself in the reality of the moment enough to start bucking up into her did he really dare look at her face… and slow. She let him bring them to a halt, twitching around his girth straining inside her as her knees splayed out from under her. He surveyed her a moment in stillness. 

Gently, he bent forward and kissed the tears from her cheeks.

She sniffed quietly, looking up at him, and wandlessly cast a Finite Incantatem to unbind and unsilence him. Slowly, his arms wrapped around her, pulling her close as, the spell now broken, she cried quietly against his shoulder. 

“You… you haven’t before, but with him, have you?”

Sniffling, she shook her head.

“Her… Hermione… it doesn’t make you a bad person that you grew apart from the person you fell in love with when you were both still children .” Still sunk deep inside her, his stilled hips seemed to scream for him to let them move, but he held them still. For a brief and aching moment, it was so incredibly easy to choose sympathy for a woman he was coming to realize was just as damaged as he, over the incredible, unebbing feeling of finally being joined with her long-yearned-after body. 

She wiped at her eyes, pulling herself up and steeling her facial expression. “Draco. Just… just fuck me.” Slowly, with a hiccup as she quelled her last shaking sobs, she got her knees back under her and started rolling her hips against his, biting her lip, tears flowing freely but silently down her face. “Please, just fuck me until I don’t remember we had this moment. Until I don’t remember my name. I’ll scream yours, I’ll voluntarily fulfill your every fantasy, join you in every debauched odyssey you can imagine, I’ll equal you in every wicked thing that’s ever made another lover run from you, but I cannot handle insightfulness and care right now. What I need is my damned wandering mind to be screwed back into my body.” 

He remained still for a moment, fighting the tide of her rolling over him, gazing at her, looking torn. 

Her neck bending back, she groped for her wand on the desk behind her, vanishing her own clothing, watching his eyes blink away from her face and rove over her newly exposed body, his hands smoothing almost reverently up her back. 

She shook her head.  “What I need, Draco… is for you to pulverize every broken thing inside me unto nonexistence with your cock until it and clarity are all that’s left.  I know how you fuck, Draco. I’ve heard talk. Don’t be so precious as to make love to me when what I want is obliteration... and when no man has ever trusted I meant it when I’ve asked him to make it hurt .”  

He shuddered, his hips involuntarily twitching toward hers, but still he hesitated. 

She lifted herself until he almost slipped out of her before forcefully impaling herself down again, the wet slap of their uniting flesh ringing in the quiet room. His attention returned, she thought, to where she wanted it. His eyes riveted themselves to hers, a frantic thirst in his face, his lips parted. 

She spoke clearly and slowly, punctuated forcefully, her gaze into his eyes more arresting than a thousand binding hexes.

“Draco.” slap Please .” slap “Fuck.” slap “Me.” slap “As hard.” slap “As you can.” slap.

With a half despairing, half feral snarl of tender sentiments put aside, he cast a wandless extension charm at the formerly diminutive couch, rolling her beneath him so that her hands were pinned above her head to one armrest while his feet braced against the other. Growling at his inability to articulate his roiling emotions, he sank his teeth into her shoulder bruisingly in his frustration, and ploughed into her again and again, their cries mingling as he made her shake with the effort to brace herself against his onslaught - and poured himself into becoming the tether she needed.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 8

He finally finished setting all the wards - Hermione’s set, not the standard Auror rota. Hers was more extensive and he didn’t want her to feel he half-assed this after she just deferred to him. 

In fact, asking her to back down generally made him feel like rancid bubotuber pus, so he stood in the rain, taking a minute alone. He wasn’t getting any colder or wetter.

At some point, there’d started to be a sort of intensity in being around Hermione that made him instinctively shy away. All these after years of not examining that tendency too closely, the dive into this rather fraught night was a lot to process. It had felt both so strange and so familiar to traverse miles and miles of annoyance and hardship with her.

And then he’d ordered her about.

As a rule, he knew Hermione has fought like hell to clear her life of people who told her what to do, because when you have to tell the smartest witch of the age what to do instead of agreeing on a course of action with her, 99% of the time you are wrong and 95% of the time that’s because of bias, hubris, or resentment. That she managed to restrict the times that she was swayed by temper, stress, or strong emotion to only 1% put her leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else he knew.

After his own family had worked so hard to marginalize him in his childhood, and after watching her struggle against the prejudices she’d had to contend with as a Muggleborn and a woman amid the unevenly antiquated mores of the Wizarding world, including with Ron and as an active Auror, he didn’t blame her and tried like hell to call out the bullshit she faced wherever he encountered it and have her back.

It sat uneasily with his own fraught relationship with being at the helm to argue with her. He didn’t know how to feel about the fact that he seemed to be caught up in a disproportionate part of that 1% of the time.

He had no doubt that woman would be the Minister for Magic someday, and that she’d be a damn good one. He was so exceptionally proud of her. 

Even if he had to cast the damn fiddly wards. He always did, even when she wasn’t there, because casting wards always reminded him of her and how devastated she’d be if something ever happened to him when he hadn’t gone that extra mile. Loving Hermione Granger entailed striving at all times not to let her down, and she was… 

His mind skittered away from finishing the thought, like my sister .

2012, Edinburgh

Harry stepped through the fireplace and into the hall, seeing colleagues milling about with drinks and little plates bobbing along beside them as they stood around trying to be friends with each other. 

God, he missed Ron and Hermione. Lord, how did most of these people end up reporting to him? At least he wasn’t altogether out of the field, but it kept being a near thing, with so much time spent having to grease all these people the right way and convince them to do this or organize that or solve the other , all the time, without respite.

He forced a smile, walking through the crowd and nodding at people, fixing his authoritative, professional front in place. The buffet. That would make a good purposeful destination, right? Coordinates locked, Potter underway. 

He glanced around between forced greetings, wondering why they bothered to hire a banquet room in a restaurant when it looked so much like the myriad meeting rooms at the Ministry. 

He was pleased, a few minutes later, to find that the kitchen here beat the canteen’s, at least.

He glanced at a clock on the wall, and, determining that his welcome and introduction of the minister’s speech was still twenty minutes out, locked on to the bar as his next destination. Step, smile, shake a hand, ask after kid. Step, smile, shake a hand, how’s that injury healing? Step, smile, sorry about the breakup, that’s rough, buddy.

When he got there he felt he’d been wandering in the desert for days, and considered asking the barkeep for whatever came in the biggest glass. Instead, after a surreptitious glance around to make certain drinks as stiff or more so were within the event’s norms, he ordered a firewhiskey, tapping his fingers on the bar as he waited for it. Others were further up in the queue, and Harry Potter did not trade on his name or his position for special treatment, even when he really needed that fucking drink, so he schooled his patience.

“So, what’s next on your rounds of wearing down the clock, Potter?”

Harry looked around, seeing a pale, black-haired witch with sparking hazel eyes and a sort of smug insouciance about her. She sat a few stools away from him, twirling a paper umbrella idly in one hand, and looked at him expectantly.

“I’m sorry?”

The witch - Byrne? Byrne. - smiled at him. “I recognize the signs. I was director of the Belfast field office for a while, and I cannot tell you how I hated... this,” she trailed off, waving the umbrella at the crowd. “I found it gave me another stalling tactic if I brought a cloak that needed hung up. Slow barman helps, though.” She sipped her drink, her eyes laughing over the edge of her glass.

Harry smiled a little more genuinely this time, and offered his hand. “Órla Byrne, right? I think you’re next on my partner dance card.” Harry’s compromise, when he was promoted to head up most of the Auror operations, was to make it clear that the head of the DMLE overall would have to oversee most of the tedious desk work, both as a reasonable check and balance and because he would manage best if he knew what his people were like on the ground ( and flourished best with sunlight and fresh air, and could still sod off and play for Puddlemere). As such, he always had a case going, and partnered with whatever Auror was between other partners due to illness, injury, retirement, vacation, or whatever else came up. 

“Charmed.” She put her hand in his as if expecting he’d kiss it, rather than shake it, and he stood there dithering and holding it a moment, trying to figure out if she was serious or if she was fucking with him.

He hadn’t worked directly with Byrne but knew that she’d been a Ravenclaw about six or seven years ahead of him and was from an old Irish pureblood family. He also knew that she’d been married to a Death Eater who’d been killed by the Order during the war. She had already been an Auror before Voldemort’s return, starting in the same cohort as Tonks, and hid herself in some bolthole from the fall of the Ministry through the final battle at Hogwarts. In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission it was documented that the match with her septuagenarian spouse at the age of fifteen was arranged and not of her choosing. Remarkably, she'd gotten her husband’s leave to independently study for her NEWTs, though he wouldn’t let her continue her studies at Hogwarts, and then to pursue a career. Granted, this was likely because he intended to cultivate her and use her position for the Death Eaters' cause. But she was never marked and hid from him, too, when everything hit the fan. To her own family, now dead, she’d been a pawn in some alliance machination. To her husband, she'd been a biddable young tool; to the best of anyone’s knowledge, they were not in love. They hadn’t produced any heirs; according to her medical file, a nasty miscarriage shortly after the wedding, which was treated too late because of her husband’s insistence on protecting the fetus over her, had almost killed her and had likely put paid to future possibilities in that regard.

This flashed through his mind in the second it took him to decide, gallantly, to bend over her hand and give it a perfunctory peck. “Likewise.”

She didn’t let go, and he felt his eyebrows lift as she slowly stroked her thumb over his knuckles, one side of her mouth quicking. “I look forward to dancing with you, then, Potter.” She made a show of looking around to make sure no one was listening before stage-whispering, “You know, after the introduction, I think I can sneak you out the back and no one will be the wiser. The slow barman’s my Squib second cousin.” 

“Eh, feck you too, Órla,” the barman grumbled, sliding Harry’s drink down the bar. 

Harry picked it up, weighing it in his hand a moment, before dashing it back and putting the empty glass back down. “Yeah, alright.”

--

“Hmm. Cute, you like to joke. Now, though, I’d like you to obey."

Harry looked up from the whiskey she'd poured him, startled at this sudden turn in what had been small talk. She was gazing at him levelly, unsmiling.

"I want you to take off your shirt. I want you to do it slowly, and I want you to look at me while you do it.” She watched him patiently, sipping her drink, with every indication that it had never crossed her mind he would do anything less than comply.

“Um. Maybe this wasn’t a go-”

She shot to her feet and plucked his wand from his sleeve, tossing it behind her before slamming him against the wall with some unvocalized hex. “I wonder if, perhaps, you did not hear me clearly.” She stepped toward him slowly while he began to panic, thinking the Commission must have been wrong, scrambling for a plan to buy time or get out. He’d thought she was bringing him back to her old stone house to cast herself as an old warrior mentor, or maybe for a slightly inappropriate snog. This… was unexpected. It occurred to him that he was now somewhere in Ireland, sandwiched between a whole lot of sheep and the deep blue sea, isolated from any help and completely caught off guard. His fists clenched and his breathing sped up.

He was pretty sure he still had control of his arms, but she stood out of reach.

“I want,” she said, loosening the scarf from around her neck, which he felt daft registering had covered a fairly scandalous neckline, “for you to take off your shirt. I would like you to do it slowly, and I would like for you to look at me while you do.”

He just looked at her, angry and anxious and full of adrenaline.

She looked coolly back at him. “Do not make me repeat myself again, darling boy, or I will have to punish you.”

Buy time . His hands twitched up, slowly approaching his top button. 

She smirked at him, leaning almost close enough. “Not that slowly. Unless… do you want to be punished, darling? Because I can punish you. But if you are good,” she smiled, stepping close enough to run a hand along the inside of his thigh, from knee to groin, “you will find I know how to reward a good boy.”

Was this…? He knit his brows, unbuttoning the top button as he thought. Seriously?! 

Dully, he realized he probably could have reached her when she stepped in to touch him like that, but between shock and a sickening sort of arousal, it hadn’t occurred to him. 

He had good reflexes, or he’d be many, many, many times dead. Why…?

She watched the thoughts flitting across his face. “You want to know why?”

Mutely, he stared at her, forefinger and thumb closing over his second button.

She sat, leaning back comfortably, watching his hands, and his face. “You are so, so very tired of responsibility.”

His hands stuttered, and she watched, expectant, until he progressed to the next button before she continued.

“You are worn out, and it drips off you. You ache with it, but you can’t seem to extricate yourself from under the burdens you carry, can you?” 

He stared at her, moving to the next button.

“You occupy an important position, darling boy, but you are one nerve short of collapsing under the unrelenting weight of everyone wanting you to fix everything. So many lives hang in the balance - the people under you and all who they serve.” She licked her lips ponderously, looking at the triangle of his chest slowly being revealed.

Another button.

“You can’t afford to buckle under it all, and you can’t afford to go off half-cocked for a rush. So I’m going to do for you what once someone did for me. I’m going to save you, Harry Potter.”

He stopped, looking at her quizzically.

She stood, strode over to him, and, conjuring a stepstool and climbing it without breaking her stride, came to stand looking down on him and yanking his gaze up to her with a tug of his hair. “When you are here, you control nothing. You obey. I am the only deity in your heavens, and you fear me, love me, and pray. I am the only beauty in the world, and you live only in hope that I will allow you to bask in my light, and you will crawl if I tell you to, in hope of my favor. The entire scope of your responsibility is limited to what I tell you it is, and the entire world that concerns you begins and ends within the boundaries I delineate for you.”

Harry had seen enough insanity recognize that Byrne was utterly in control of herself, despite everything she was saying, so he unbuttoned the second-to-last button and struggled to think.

“If I say no?”

“Don’t. If you do, I will not stop you, and we won’t talk about this again - but instead I advise you to think of a word you don’t otherwise think will come up, and if you say it, I’ll know to stop whatever specific thing has given you pause.” She looked down at his hands, loitering over the last button, then back up to his face, an eyebrow cocked in inquiry.

He muttered something.

“I’m sorry. What was that, darling boy?”

“Spew. My word.” The last button fell open. 

She climbed slowly down, vanishing the stool, and let go of the spell sticking him to the wall. Brusquely, he shucked the shirt off his shoulders, dropping it behind him, and then looked up at her defiantly. 

She smiled. “You will call me… My Lady.”

He looked down at her, still calculating, wondering what exactly in the hell he was doing. “Yes… My Lady.”

Her smile widened. “Clever boy. That wasn’t exactly a model of compliance, though, was it? Now, you will kneel...”

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 9

With a dog-like shake to remove any water that would detach itself beforehand, he stumbled into the tent. 

He reached the bottom of the stairs quaking with cold, the involuntary motion so pronounced that it was difficult to muster the dexterity necessary to use his wand. In the small, brick-walled room at the bottom of the stone stairs, he found Hermione’s sodden heap of clothes… Christ, why on Earth did she take off her knickers?!... at the foot of the tent’s double bed, which was lofted above cabinets and drawers across a narrow walkway from a potbellied iron stove.  He’d tried, but a Floo hookup and a tent refused to work in tandem, so this had seemed the most efficient way to go.

He snapped out of his thoughts when he heard movement in the small bathroom he had eventually figured out how to plumb, and tried to look at the clothes as a logistical problem to solve instead of the implication of an attractive, naked woman at large in the tent. 

Then, he tried again, and basically got it on the second go. 

He assessed a moment, looking between the bathroom door, the stove, and his own water-wrinkled hands, before moving into decisive action. 

First, he levitated a good quantity of dry wood from the half cord neatly racked against the wall into the belly of the stove, igniting it a bit overzealously in his desperation to get warm. Teeth chattering too hard to say incantations, he cast a silent spells to string a stowed length of rope and then hang her clothes above the half of the room where the stove sat.

Yes, those were definitely, knickers, and her... well, blimey, she picked that bra for a traipse through the Highlands..? Didn’t have one of those on the horcrux hunt...

Logistical problem to be solved, Potter! he thought.

“Hermione, stay in there a bit so I can change, will you?” he called toward the bathroom door before starting to peel his own sodden garments off. 

He was down to his boxers before it occurred to him it was odd she hadn’t replied and he didn’t hear her moving around anymore. He picked up his wand, edging toward the bathroom door and giving it a little knock. He called to her through his chattering teeth, “Hermione?”

No reply.

“Hermione, are you okay?”

He thought he heard a little moan.

“Hermione,” he called, “I’m worried about you. I’m coming in.” He muttered under his breath before Alohamora ing the door. “Please have a damned towel on.”

She had collapsed face down on the floor. She did not have a towel on. 

“Fuck! Hermione? Hermione! Hermione!” Harry skidded to his knees next to her, realizing she was exceptionally pale, and, when he put his fingers on her shoulder to try to gently shake her, ice cold. 

His hands shaking, he took her pulse (slow) and made sure she was breathing (not enough). 

He pulled her into his lap, holding her suddenly small-seeming, limp body in his arms, and trying to surround her with himself, chafing at her arms to try to encourage her circulation. “C’mon, Hermione. Come back to me.”

After the longest thirty seconds of his life, her eyes flickered slightly open. “Burning. Harry, I’m burning .”

Without thinking, Harry firmly kissed her mouth. “Oh thank God I thought I’d lost you. Burning? Your skin is like ice!” He continued chafing her skin with the hand supporting her under the knees, which could reach her thigh. 

Hermione sluggishly lifted her arm, looking at it blearily. “M’naked.”

Harry shook his head. “Don’t worry about that, Hermione, we have bigger problems.” 

Hermione looked up at him slowly. “Paradoxical… undressing.”

“What?” Harry wrinkled his brow, pulling her necklace off over her head so it wouldn’t tangle in her hair. He vaguely registered that she’d made a pendant of the tiny lucky cat figurine he’d given her while he waited for her to muster a reply.

“Hypothermic. Have to get warm. Could die. Stop rubbing,” she said, half-heartedly trying to bat his hands away, “‘s dangerous for… heart.”

As she’d used it to turn Auror certification and continuing training testing on its head, Harry was all too aware that, among her collection of off-hours masteries, Hermione had gotten one in field healing. “What’s the best way to do that, Hermione?” She looked like she was losing consciousness again, and he shifted her in his lap so he could hold her face between his hands and make her look at him. “Hermione, tell me how to help you or I’ll just have to guess.”

She tried to focus on… so green . “Warming charm.”

Harry nodded, and cast one immediately. Nothing happened. He tried five more times, her head lolling against his shoulder. 

“Fuck, Hermione, they won’t work. They wouldn’t work outside. I think this is whatever potion was in the rain, resisting.”

Blearily, she nodded. “Got worse inside. Probably designed to… to bite harder when not being constantly… reapplied. Dark magic.” 

“What…” He cast about for ideas, tears streaming from his eyes, making it hard to see. “What else can I do? What do Muggle doctors do?”

He had never seen so beautiful a derisive little snort. “Lots we can’t. Dry warmth. Warm drinks. Think… you have to get… bloody potion off first.”

His lips twitched slightly, encouraged she had the verve left for minor expletives. “How can I most expeditiously do that? Do I need to brew something? Will something I have on hand work?” he asked, because did Hermione Granger also have a mastery in potions? You bet your ass she did. 

She let her head fall back over his upper arm, looking at the shower. “Good news - easy off, I think. Not too long. Not too hot. Soap. Thorough dry. Warming charms...may work on blankets. You… you need to wash, too. You too.” 

She lifted her head back up a little, seeming to realize suddenly that he was very nearly in her same predicament. “You’re… shaking. Shivering… it’ll keep you warmer longer, but still… in danger...” She her neck turned a little, and she frowned at him, her voice whining plaintively, her eyes brimming with tears. “You’re... shaking! Why are you… always...in trouble… worrying me?!”

Her eyes widened and then drifted closed, her body going limp.

“HERMIONE!” 

2004, Grimmauld Place

“So it turned out it wasn’t load bearing, and I just took out the entire wall.”

“You what , Harry?” 

Harry wiggled his fingers in a gesture reminiscent of jazz hands. “Reducto.”

Hermione roared with laughter, falling over across Harry’s lap. “Oh my god. You did not!

Harry helped her get settled with her head propped on the cushioned armrest. “Oh yes I did. Had to figure out how to limit the scope around the edges, but it was glorious. ” Her legs swung onto Ron’s lap at the other end of the couch. Pausing to smile over at her, Ron absentmindedly kneaded at the balls of her feet while returning to an animated conversation about Quidditch with Seamus and Ernie. It was so nice look around and see friends, mostly from the DA, perched on chairs and sofas all over the large living room - life had gone on, and they didn’t see each other much anymore, but Harry had wanted to throw a housewarming once he finally felt the old house was habitable.

“What,” Hermione said, squirming to reach her firewhiskey on the end table and taking a careful, semi-reclined sip. “What did she say ?”

Harry chuckled and tucked a pillow under her upper back to make her more comfortable. “Oh, you know.” He unleashed the tremulous falsetto. “ Muuuuuuurder, Muuuuuuuurder in the most NOBLE house of BLACK! Filth! Filth! Blood traitor scum! MURRRRRRDERRRRR! I’ll strangle you with my Sunday bonnet strings you iniquitous curr, you indecorous fornicating demon, and your scarlet whore, too! Infamy! Infamy and shame!”

“Uuuch, that frigid bitch. It wasn’t like the curtains were open when we broke in the foyer.” Ginny walked up behind the couch, licking a swath of icing off her cupcake before leaning in to kiss him, icing still on her tongue. “She would never,” Ginny said, booping some of the icing still on the cupcake onto his nose and then licking it off, “EVER have let us make any use of the new fainting couch out there in peace if you hadn’t figured out how to send her to her doom.”

Hermione’s eyes widened as she listened, guffawing behind her hand. “You guys got frisky in the foyer in front of Walburga?! I can’t believe she didn’t hex you from beyond the vale!”

Harry smirked smugly, tossing back the rest of his drink before pouring them all more. “Yeah, well, I donated her to the Ministry, where I hope she’s enjoying a very nice eternity locked in a dark vault. They can’t destroy the painting because it’s of historic significance. Something about the artist.”

“Well, good riddance, and I’m so glad you’ve gotten the place curse-broken and habitable, Harry. Also, that you've gotten into baking, although," she paused, looking around at the various horizontal surfaces festooned with his creations, "I think you made more cupcakes than all of wizarding Britain could eat." 

"Hey! I didn't see you complaining about the four you put away earlier!"

She shrugged. "I had to try all the flavors - it was for science.

“Seriously though, Hermione, Harry’s nesting harder than an owl on eggs. It’s hilarious.” Ginny giggled, messing up her fiance’s hair. 

Hermione chuckled, looking around and estimating that at least two hundred cupcakes remained uneaten within view. “How did Kreacher take your monopolizing his kitchen, anyway?”

“Well,” said Harry, “As there are 6 ovens and 3 mixers, I honestly don’t know why he wouldn’t want the lot put fully to use, but he did stand there and just sort of loom at me, which given the difference in out heights was quite something. I tried talking to him about it but only got the ‘Master is master and Kreacher has only lived here his entire wretched existence, following ten generations of his family in service to the Blacks, oh no, oh no, mustn’t mind Kreacher’ treatment. So… I sort of picked him up and carried him around on my shoulders as I baked to diffuse the tension?” Harry cringed a little while smiling sheepishly at this recollection.

Hermione almost inhaled her drink guffawing. “And how did that go over?”

Harry colored slightly, “Um, a little music helped after a rocky start.”

Ginny chortled. “Ha!” She crowed, turning to Hermione in full-on storytelling mode. “Harry, right, who’s baking in his pants and torn up old Gryffindor jersey as well as these squave hippogriff-head slippers he fancies, starts dancing around with the little terror on his back. He made up a song - how did it go? ‘Dancing with an elf, I’m just dancing with an elf, I won’t say he’s mine, so Hermione’s fine, I’m just dancing with this el-lf, oo ooo oo oo…” Ginny twirled around to demonstrate as she sang, then leaned back over to them, smirking. 

“I told Kreacher we wouldn’t talk about that, Ginny…” Harry colored a bit and looked warily around.

“Oh pssh, he’ll stay in the boiler room all night, you watch!” Ginny laughed. 

Kreacher, who had been invited to the party and was wearing a surprisingly fetching little jacket made of old potholders over his habitual tea towel, Apparated next to the couch. “I thought perhaps the Miss was calling to Kreacher, but I see she is instead airing his shame for all the world to know. Kreacher will suffer it, though - Kreacher will… hmm…”

In a blink, Kreacher re-Apparated standing on the top of the back of the couch, where he nimbly snatched the glass of firewhiskey from Ginny’s hand, grinned, and Disapparated again while taking a sip.

Hermione couldn’t breathe for laughing, and Ginny considered being annoyed for perhaps two seconds before fetching herself another tumbler and pouring. 

“Cheers to plucky little devil elves!” Ginny cried. Harry, Ginny, & Hermione’s glasses clinked together, one unfortunately spilling over and pooling in Hermione’s cleavage. She shrieked and squirmed, “Napkin! Please! Eep!”

Ginny, who’d had her arms slung around Harry’s neck from her vantage behind the couch, got that wicked gleam in her eye. “Ooo.” She disengaged from Harry and leaned forward, leering. “Now that has possibilities. Need help cleaning it up?”

Hermione was beet red, her hands covering her face as Ginny howled with mirth, climbing over the couch to sit tangled in her friend’s legs.

Harry, whose eyes were at risk of bulging right out of their sockets, looked from Hermione up to Ginny before handing the former his handkerchief and lifting the latter with a levitation charm and dropping her, sprawling and laughing, on a large pouf on the floor. He took a moment to speak, during which he was exceptionally glad that the pillow he’d put under Hermione was between her and his lap. “You really are! You are a scarlet whore! My God, she was right!” 

Ron, who had apparently caught some of this, started blustering at his sister. “Mind yourself, you! That’s the woman I intend to marry, you little… grrraaah!” He pelted her with three cupcakes in rapid succession.

Ginny was off like a shot, cackling as she grabbed her own sweet ammunition, with Ron roaring and chasing after her, both dodging around doorways, getting icing everywhere, and eventually thundering up the stairs to disappear in a series of bumps and shouts from above. 

As the rest of the DA veterans roared with laughter, Harry and Hermione just looked at each other, shocked, and eventually laughed. She curled up against him more, her head snug against his shoulder, and looked up at him conspiratorially as she remembered the movie they’d caught last week. “Two Weasleys enter. One Weasley leaves. Who will survive to make sure one or the other of us spawns innumerable ginger children?”

Harry cracked up, shaking with laughter, which was abruptly cut off when she smacked another cupcake right into his face, squishing it in with a little twist. “And that ,” she said, “is what you get for sloshing firewhiskey on my tits in front of your lascivious girlfriend, cupcake! ” 

"That was an accident!" He sputtered and took off his glasses so he could peer down at her. “Et tu, Brute?” 

“Stab stab, stabby stab stab?” she giggled, poking at his stomach gently with her index finger. When he blinked down at her, she was flushed and smirking saucily while licking up the crumbs that had stuck to the foil wrapper. Chunks of chocolate cake and melting dollops of raspberry buttercream had rained down on her face, neck, and chest, catching in the spirals of her hair, rolling into the dips around her clavicles and sticking to the still-wet the skin at the meeting of her breasts. For a moment, he could only hear the blood rushing in his ears. She was the most unutterably exquisite mess he had ever seen.

Had he ever properly looked at her before? 

He could never have her. 

His reverie was broken when basically all the rest of his friends started grabbing and tossing cupcakes at each other. 

“CUPCAKE FIGHT!”, Neville roared. 

A raucous battle cry rose as Seamus used a spell to shoot an entire tray from atop the bar at once. Kreacher popped into place already raining cakes from the chandelier, crying out in triumph. Harry yelped and tried to duck and hide, Hermione curling into him and squealing as they suffered collateral damage.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 10

“HERMIONE!” 

Harry couldn’t feel Hermione’s pulse, but he was shaking so madly (and so unable to face that possibility) that he didn’t trust his hands. 

He slipped around on the wet tiles as he raced to lay his best friend on the bathroom floor, worrying he would have to begin CPR. His hands trembled madly as he tilted her head back to make certain her airway was clear, refusing the parallels his mind helplessly drew to all the bodies he’d tried to arrange with dignity in the war and its aftermath. 

As he lowered his head to her chest, he mentally prepared himself for what he might need to do, running through the course she herself had designed and insisted all Aurors take annually: in event of a heart stopping, call an emergency Healer ( if only ), cast Defribulo, weave one hand with the other before planting them at the center of the chest, then start compressions, quickly and hard even if a rib should break, then pause to deliver another Defribulo and a rescue breath every 25 or so until help arrives. Which it wouldn’t. 

He sobbed in relief when, ear pressed to her ribs, it proved unnecessary - her heart was beating. 

He could not see. His nose and eyes were running all over his face. He threw his glasses at the bowl of the sink and scraped a towel across his cheeks before trying to cast an Enervate . He only managed to muster a wisp of power. 

After three deep breaths to calm himself, he tried again, this time succeeding.

Her eyes fluttered open so slowly. When they fixed on him and focused, his calm shattered again, and he sagged over her.

“Oh fuck Hermione, Hermione I thought I’d lost you, please stay awake now, Merlin I’m sorry.” It was all he could do not to collapse, so he hovered over her pulling at handfuls of his own hair because he was scared he’d hurt her if he touched her. “Are you okay? Does anything new hurt?”

She took a few breaths before opening her eyes. “Nothing new… still… losing consciousness when severely hypothermic is... not recommended.”

He laughed and sobbed, then swore, grabbed his wand, and cast a few more diagnostics over her. She’d hold on but was still far too cold, colder still than he was. Shaking himself into action, he stepped over her to the shower, starting a stream of warm water. He saw her little beaded bag in the sink and took an educated guess, opening it and pointing his wand inside. “ Accio pain potion!”

A small bottle flew into his hand. “This won’t harm you?” he asked her as he uncorked it, stooping beside her head.

“No.” She said, opening her mouth to swallow it down. 

Taking a moment to take a deep breath and think, he conjured a small stool into the shower and stood to peel off his boxers. 

She blinked dazedly, looking up at him. “Huh. Not… the angle… I usually have… this fantasy from.”

Harry didn’t reply, but he also blushed quite remarkably as he stooped to pick her up, pulling her into a standing position and hugging her to his chest before waddling her over to the shower. 

2010, The Leaky Cauldron

“Wait, first SPEW, now EWE?”

Hermione’s wet knit hat splatted into his face. “Shut up! This one’s much less of a reach!”

“Uh huh.” Harry tossed the hat back, taking a smug pull from his bottle of butterbeer.

“You know, I could get you a glass for that.” Hermione offered. Something about the way his lips wrapped the bottle’s neck was making her shift in her seat uncomfortably.

He put the bottle down, shaking his head. “Nah. Maybe if Hannah were here, but Tom’s on, and believe me, this is more hygienic than whatever washing up he’s done. But back to your project…”

“Ah yes,” Hermione smirked, proud of her latest invention. “Everyone’s Wizarding Encyclopedia, or EWE. Here,” she said, handing him something that looked like a red moleskine notebook, an elastic band holding it closed. “I brought you a copy.”

“Yeah?” Harry said, opening it. “Oh, hey, look at this.”

Hermione scooted out of her coat and hung it on the hook at the end of the booth. “Yeah, trying to go for way less creepy than Riddle’s diary, but the general format works.  It’s meant to be something that has the flexibility of a Muggle internet thing called a wiki without scaring off magical folks. They’re all Muggle-repelling, of course: if anyone but a wizard looked through that, they’d just see algebra notes.”

Harry poked at the first page, which was asking him for his name and confirmation of his identity. “I know Wikipedia, it’s brilliant.  Is this… is this like a login prompt, then?”

She nodded, considering a moment and then crossing to sit on the bench next to him so they could look on together. “For now, everyone has to identify themselves to use it, because there are so many edits and additions that need making that I want them to just expect to contribute and have their contributions tracked. But, here,” she paused to press his thumb against the prompt, then put his wand in his hand and guided him to press the tip of it there, too. “There! See? Now, you can write something in here with your finger, like Swype, to search for articles, or if you flip to the other pages,” she demonstrated, resting her ear on his shoulder to see better, “you’ll get instructions for use and making changes.  That’ll change to a continuation of the displayed article after you’ve looked something up, though.”

Harry watched, interested, but when she shifted back to sit up straight he took a deep breath, trying to place the scent that wafted over him. “Orange blossom?”

“Oh, yeah.” Her cheeks colored slightly. “Washing my hair with something that makes the curls a little less likely to go on a megalomaniacal rampage. Does it smell okay?” She looked at him, her eyes a little worried.

His adam’s apple bobbed. “Oh, yeah, yeah, it’s nice. Em… okay, so if I go back to page one, I can, say, look up hippogriffs, right?” 

He proceeded to try, and they bent their heads over the little book, chatting, for several minutes, pausing only when she ducked out to grab another round at the bar. Several more people walked in, alone and in groups, as he watched. It was a Saturday, and while it wasn’t exactly bustling yet, he already heard some wizards bragging to each other about their feats of virility. He also knew Tom would be slow, so he occupied himself with EWE, querying new things as he thought of them. Of course, Hermione had already added a lot of content, but Quidditch was only a stub, so he started fleshing that out for her, citing his own authority as a past Quidditch captain for Gryffindor when prompted.  Malfoy would love that.  

His concentration on this task stuttered to a halt when some of the words in the standard pub din jumped out at him.  With a sinking in his gut, he realized they were coming from the booth immediately behind him.

“So, okay, the most glorious slag ever to fly for England is riding my face to a lather, right, but I can still see her girlfriend’s hands yanking on her nipple piercings in a way I’m sure any bloke would be hexed ballsless for while she’s up there, moaning and screaming. Filthiest mouth I’ve ever had around my cock, by the way, you would not believe…”

Harry carefully closed the EWE and tucked it into his inner coat pocket, afraid he’d rip a page.

“Fuck me,” another male voice said, awed. “Alright, that may actually beat having Pansy under the banquet table when Lord Parkinson hosted the Wizengamot dinner last week.”

“Oh, but I’m not done, mate,” the first voice chortled. “See, while the ginger bitch is coming, and coming, and coming for my mouth, Chang’s not just groping her but bouncing up and down on my cock like her ass has springs. I swear, she was faster than my heartbeat, which I assure you was up. Tightest little pussy I’ve ever had, and I don’t know how, because I saw Weasley fist her while she was sucking me off.”

Harry planted his elbows on the table and fisted his hands over his ears, but he still heard the other man laugh.

“Shit Zabini, how do you get into this stuff, and why am I not invited?”

“Pssh, it wasn’t hard, they’d just won the qualifying match and they were looking for a toy with a pretty face and a willing member. I do have an open invitation to come back and bring a friend, but I encourage you to have a couple first if you want me to bring you by later.”

“Why?”

“Because Theo, you don’t even know what you’d be getting into, mate, I haven’t finished yet - and blimey, the night was not over. By the time they got done with me, I was in bed for days, but what was a simple sailor such as myself to do but be of service?”

There was a roaring in Harry’s ears, heightening in pitch to a whine, but he could still. fucking. hear them.

“You must have had to come back from the dead. The hell else happened?”

“Well, Chang donned a strap-on and... and they have these cuffs , like, like the one’s in Malfoy’s dungeon, right, but padded and hanging from the fucking ceiling. So Chang, right, she locks Weasley in, so high up she can barely reach the floor with the tips of her toes, and then we fucking double-teamed her. I had her ass and Chang took her minge, because - and believe me that to say so is no insult to my own fairly epic ramrod - Weasley, who is fit as fuck but still tiny, wanted the dildo in her gash because, and I quote, ‘it’s got those little bumps along and it’s so big .’ I could feel the thing right through her while me and Chang fucked her. I couldn’t even figure which set of babs to squeeze while we were doing it, and Ms. Chaser there clawed such great ruts down my back I had to use a spell to heal them. Never come so hard in my life. And Weasley just hung there, laughing, pretty pink streams of cum dripping down her legs because she made me pound her until she’d bled , and speaking of those legs…”

 With a low boom , every pint glass, every tumbler, every bottle, and every window pane in the Leaky exploded. 

Harry hadn’t moved. It just happened. Thank God Hermione had been walking back, having given up on waiting at the bar so her hands were empty. She saw him having a panic attack and had got her wand out fast, ready before he went off. Every shard that wasn’t actually in someone’s hand just hung there under her spell to minimize the damage, and it seemed like only Zabini had been actively touching his drink.

Hermione looked between the swearing Slytherin seated behind Harry and her best friend, and decided Nott had the Slytherin’s situation well in hand. 

“C’mon, Harry, I think we should head back to yours.”

She grabbed his elbow and got him to his feet. Several others were also leaving quickly, but some sat still or looked around and muttered, looking shocked. Hermione dealt with the latter, when some stood in their way, by glaring and telling them to stop whinging and use some Reparos. Finally, she got him out the door. She led him to the Apparition point, rubbing circles on his lower back and cooing soothingly that he would be okay. She side-alonged him straight to his room at Grimmauld. 

He had started crying. She stroked the side of his face before pulling him into a hug. 

Eventually, she got both their shoes off and maneuvered him onto the bed, fully clothed, letting him curl up with his head on her shoulder while she stroked his hair. When he stopped crying, she sang him lullabies, and eventually, he fell asleep. Later, she did too. In the awkward light of morning, she still hadn’t asked him why. He looked up at her face, waking her, and she stretched, smiling, and said, “Ah, good. Let’s go make you some toast, alright, Harry?”

He shuffled down to the kitchen behind her, letting her will the morning into something approximating normal.

Hermione would read in the next day’s Prophet that the effect of Harry’s outburst had also reached down Diagon Alley as far as Gringotts and even into Muggle London, where the damage was attributed to a jet engine’s sudden acceleration. An investigating team could only tell that it was caused by accidental magic.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 11

When the water hit her, she screamed, jerking against him and crying.

“Hermione! Hermione, what’s wrong!” He put his foot up on the stool between her legs, resting her weight on his thigh so he could position her face where he could see it. By the time he got her there, though, she had already started to shiver and quiet.

“Water felt like it was… burning. Like… like cold feet in the hot bath, all over.” She sank her forehead against his, and he flopped her still limp arms over his shoulders to get a better hold on her. 

He let them stay like that, the water streaming over them, and panted for a moment, trying to collect himself. 

“Soap and scrubbing? You don’t think rinsing will work alone?”

“Not...not if it’s based on cooling balm, which is...designed to last when you move and sweat. And I think it is.” 

Harry was relieved she seemed to be catching her breath a little, but she still felt freezing cold, so he pulled her against him with one arm as his free hand grabbed for the shampoo. “Sorry. I don’t have your curly hair stuff, so your hair will have to suffer like mine.”

She mumbled into his neck, her lips tickling at his pulse point. “It wouldn’t work anyway. Cleansing conditioner, not soap. Lather me up.”

He blinked and concentrated with every occlumency-related scrap of self-control he had, for a multitude of reasons, on not dropping the naked woman while he focused on squeezing a dollop of shampoo into his hand and lathering her head.

As he dug his fingertips into her scalp, she moaned. “Unngh… little to the left.. Ooo… there… yeah… fuck…” She flopped her arms a bit and managed to clasp them together around his neck. “You… your hands… help. Mmmph.”  She sighed and slumped against him, making him keenly cognizant of her wet breasts, now compressing against his chest. “More soap,” she cried, like a benevolent monarch calling for ale, “soap everywhere!”

Harry clamped down on his mind with everything he had, feeling a little nauseated by the rollercoaster the last twenty minutes or so had been. Then he washed his own hair as quickly as he could manage with thoroughness and reached for the body wash and the little meshy-poofy exfoliating thing he’d started using instead of a flannel. 

As he started scrubbing her back, she nuzzled into his neck. He squirmed and turned to rinse her before venturing as low as the roundness of her bum, both in order to stall and so he could use the motion to displace her nose from his neck and commence washing it. 

A thought occurred to him as he gently stroked suds over the planes of her face with his fingertips, especially gentle with her closed eyelids. “Hermione, is there alcohol or morphia of any kind in your pain potions?”

He was supporting the weight of her head with the hand behind it as he washed, but he felt her faintly nod. “Firewhiskey. Tastes better, good solvent. Absorbs quick… because of the murtlap… but willow bark and honeywater prevent hangover.”

“So…” he said, moving the poofy thing around her neck and shoulders as he tried to compose his question carefully, “Right now, what outside actors are impacting your ability to think clearly and regain bodily autonomy, and is there anything other than cleaning and warming you I should be doing to help you?”

She opened her eyes, which were pretty blown.  Probably just because she’s hurt and knackered , he told himself. “Clean, dry, warm, warm drink. Tinned soup...summon in my bag. Spells, potion were good. Bumped head on sink falling - Episkey. Check pupil response. If uneven, keep me awake until I’m… more me.”

Harry leaned her head on his left shoulder so he could wash her left arm, putting off her torso as long as he could. “Alright. But your ability to think clearly?”

She sighed, closing her eyes a minute. “Right. Possibly concussed - for the second time in a few hours. Alcohol. Shock, hypothermia, and…” she bit her lip and turned her face into his shoulder.

Harry repositioned her to get her right arm. “And?” He prompted her to continue, figuring she’d lost her train of thought but had more she needed to tell him.

She mumbled something.

He craned his neck around to try to see her face, “Hermione? Are you okay? I couldn’t hear you?

“involuntaryhormonalresponsenakedshowerplasteredagainstyou fuckoff ” 

His scrubbing slowed while he parsed that, then when he had, his occlumency shuddered and groaned, and he started scrubbing faster, taking care of his own arms and back as best he could while he held her up.

“Em… sorry. Are you… are you able to finish washing yourself.”

Her voice sounded so small. “.. no.”

“Is it okay if I… if I continue?”

“You have to.”

He sighed, steeling himself. “Okay. I’ll be as quick as I can. Em. This is... distracting, difficult… for me, too.”

Because he figured he had to do it when she was still upright, he started by scrubbing her ass. He tried to touch her with the poofy thing - thank you, God, for the poofy thing - rather than his hands. “How… how thorough, exactly..?”

“We were completely drenched?.. There was also... waist-deep wading in run off... when we crossed that creek. Cooling balm is... 80% effective even when mostly abraded away, and… only meant to be applied to pulse points, sparingly.”

“Okay.” The poofy thing made a few valiant passes between her cheeks, and despite being very very fucking good at Occlumency now, thanks, he shuddered a little and noticed some of his bloodflow redirecting inconveniently.

He spun, rinsed her, and then placed her gingerly on the stool, breathing hard and thoroughly scrubbing himself everywhere while picturing his Aunt Petunia yelling at him.

Sitting there, she narrowed her eyes, peering up at his chest. “A tattoo? There’s… there’s a mad little cat running around your left pec.” 

“Um…” He blushed a little. “Yes. It’s how I know when you signal me with the little lucky cat, and vice versa. It heats up.”

She watched his face with a closeness that made him want to squirm. “I got a little figurine and you got a tattoo?”

He shrugged, turning his back to her. Adjective: callipygian, she thought, but bit her tongue and jerked her eyes away from the assets he had so unthinkingly displayed right before her eyes, no doubt never imagining how she might salivate at the sight, fingers twitching, wanting to reach out. “Well, I wanted to make sure I could never lose it. And… Crooks gave me the little figurine. Just showed up at Grimmauld and pointedly dropped it on my pillow in front of me. Scared the shit out of me when I was trying to go to bed.” He glanced back over his shoulder at her, noticing that she was both slipping and nearly cheek-to-cheek with his ass. “Oh, em... Oh dear, hold on a moment.”

He righted her and tried to keep a hand on her shoulder after that so she wouldn’t slip again. She, meanwhile, closed her eyes - presumably out of courtesy or exhaustion or both. He checked to make sure she was still breathing and asking her inconsequential little questions to check if she was awake frequently as he worked. “I noticed you turned the figurine into a pendant. It’s on the floor.”

“Oh… yes. After the last time I had to call you… I worried at how easily it might be able to fall out of a pocket, I guess. Or how I might not feel it… if I left it in the wrong coat… and you needed me.”

Then he was done. Carefully, he crouched down in front of her. “Okay, your turn for finishing up. I’ll be as quick as I can.”

He tried to wash her stomach and her chest by feel without looking, but in some ways it was worse to have to grope around than to really look at her, so he stopped. It had been years since they’d had only the privacy of a turned back in their days in the tent, and it had fueled some awkward dreams, but he would have given a lot for that much room to breathe right now. 

He made sure the water was aligned to rinse the front of her then looked away from the suds streaming over her body, checking every few seconds until they had all been washed away.

He then picked up her right leg and tried to figure out the logistics of getting the bottom of her foot. He bent her knee up to rest her ankle on his shoulder and was then able to get the foot by reaching over behind himself before working his way from her ankle up to the top of her thigh… 

… and then freaking out, pressing his back against the far wall of the shower, hyperventilating, hugging his knees and clenching his fists.

“Hermione?” he asked, his voice quavering.  “Are you… are you awake enough to just tell me what to do? Give me instructions? I need to get your left leg and...and between your legs, but it will help me calm down if you give me instructions. I...I know it’s weird, I haven’t needed...in a while, but... but it would really help,” he pleaded.

Hermione opened her eyes and looked at him, her face creasing with concern immediately. “Of… of course, Harry. I’m sorry. I know this… it’s incredibly weird. Er... Scoot this way a bit, and prop my left ankle on your shoulder the way you did my right.”

He did, concentrating on completing the tasks she set him and working to slow his breathing. 

“Now, scrub the sole of my foot. Great, now wash the toes, and in between them. Emm… top of my foot, please scrub...” 

Hermione was working on her occlumency, too.

“Okay, Harry. Now, please scrub my lower leg, shin and calf. Now, go around my kneeyaaah! Aah!” Her leg jerked in his hands as he reached the back of her knee. His eyes flew to find hers, worried.

She was covering her eyes with her hands and gnawing on her bottom lip, twitching. “Sorry.” She said in a small voice. “Sensitive there.” She felt the wetness pooling in her and could not do a damn thing about it.

She forced her hands down, bracing them on the sides of the stool, looking at his hands where they had paused on her knee before closing her eyes again. “Okay, now you need to scrub the back of my thigh, from knee to… the top of it.”

Shuddering slightly, he did. She slipped sideways a little, and he had to pause to right her, which he somehow managed to do without without bumping his thickly flopping and exceedingly unhelpful erection against any of her treacherously chaotic limbs before he could hide, crouching again. 

“Scrub the outside of my thigh from knee to hip, then the front.” 

He did, straining not to think ahead.

“Okay… Harry, forgive me, this is hard, and I might… have trouble with making noise or,” she squeezed her eyes tightly shut, “... or involuntary movement.” She took a deep breath, adrenaline eroding at the haze in her mind too sharply, too fast. “You need to scrub the inside of my thigh from the knee to the top now.”

He couldn’t tell if he was actually working his way up slowly, or if it just felt that way. Hermione covered her mouth with her hand as his hand arrived at the juncture of her legs and paused. 

She made herself move her hand down but didn’t open her eyes. “You can scrub my mons with the loofah thing, but, er, if you could not for my... my...for my insert euphemism here … it’s...very sensitive for that kind of abrasion.”

Harry took a deep breath and began. He became so focused on trying to respect her wishes about her body that forgot to be so achingly nervous as he rubbed suds over the thatch of hair. She tried to hold very still. He let the water sluice over her and rinse while he squeezed some body wash directly onto his fingers. 

He reached out, his fingers pausing just short of her. “Cunt,” he said quietly, looking down at the suds still washing away. “I’ve always been partial to that one. Old, earthy. Puns in Shakespeare. Was in The Canterbury Tales, even.”

Hermione’s eyes flew open, her lonely inner nerd shoving her pain and lethargy a bit farther out of frame. “You’ve read The Canterbury Tales ?” she said, searching for his gaze. “Did you read in translation or in Middle Eng…” 

Her tongue stuttered to a stop as he, just as involuntarily, looked up from below to her meet her eyes. His eyes were raking over her exposed vulva, pupils completely blown. When her gaze jerked down, following his gaze helplessly, his lathered hand had stilled an inch from her. He looked dazed. His lips were slightly parted and he was breathing hard.

Her eyes went back to his and she clutched the sides of the stool, managing to spread her thighs open wider, the moment for hiding past.

“Okay. Please...wash my cunt now, please.”

His eyes rose to meet hers, their gazes locking together as his hand moved forward, gently soaping a circuit around her outer lips. Her head jerked back, but she kept her eyes on his, panting.

“Sorry,” she squeaked. “Keep going.”

Eyes darting down and then back to hers, he gently stroked suds along the outside of her inner lips.

He snatched his hand hurriedly away when her hips twitched back just before he reached her most sensitive area. She shuddered, her eyes dropping then darting frantically toward anything but him, her knuckles white where they held on to the stool. “OhgodIliedbyomissionsorrysosorryum… um... wait- ” she gasped.

He looked at her warily and let her catch her breath, his hand pulling back, his eyes watching the thoughts and emotions flitting rapidly across her face.

“I...I’m not… I mean… I’ve thought of you… and… not… not like a brother… and…I… I don’t know… I don’t know… please don’t touch me if you seriously… if you haven’t… if you don’t…if you… maybe you could soap my hand and just… just steady my forearm and... ”

His voice was oddly deep. “Hermione.”

“I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t -”

“Hermione, you are not even remotely like a sister to me.”

Her face was white with shock when her eyes dragged back to his.

He shifted to a kneeling position, lowering his knees from where they’d bunched in front of him so his legs no longer concealing his throbbing cock. Her gaze dipped and widened as he dragged his fingers over her slit, hissing at the viscous evidence of her arousal that seeped onto his skin the moment he touched the merest edge of its pooled accumulation.

Watching her for any sign he should stop, he stroked his entire hand, letting his fingers drift into the folds that opened under them, from her mons to her perineum. Then again, less tentatively. She rocked against his hand, a thin mewl squeezing past her self control, her head hitting the tile behind her. Quickly, gently, he spun his smallest fingertip and its suds around the hood and swelling nub of her clitoris. She shuddered and arched her back with a little cry. He had to blink his mind clearer to remember the task at hand.

His hands drifted to angle her hips so that he could see the water spill over her, watching the soap rinse away.  He stroked a hand through her again under the running water, helping to part her folds and encouraging the water to reach her every nook and crevice before adjusting her slipping seat on the stool once more. When the soap was gone, he looked up at her, his thumbs stroking fidgeting circles over her hip bones as he held her steady.

“Hermione,” he said, looking at her like she was the fulcrum at the heart of the world, “You… you’re kind and honest and good and you work so hard and understand so much. You are the most terrifying and the most achingly compassionate person I have ever known. You’re...you’re also so incredibly beautiful, to me, that at times I have thought that simply looking at you would break my heart, because...because I thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t...well.” He drew a calming breath. “I need you to tell me what you want me to do, and I need you to consider what your mind and body have recently been through before you do so. I do not want to endanger your health, and I do not want to hurt you in any way, now or ever, or to do anything you might regret. Can you let me know what I should do next?”

Hermione looked at him a moment before she spoke. “I... “ She swallowed. “We both need to get dry, drink something warm, and get under as many blankets as possible soon-”

“-I.. sorry…” Harry cut in, hands pulling back in a gesture of surrender. “I’ll-”

“-but not immediately,” Hermione added breathlessly, everything but vulnerability falling from her eyes as she let her heart leap at him.

He stared as she surged off the stool and into his arms and kissed him, pouring the life she had been reaching toward since the day they met writhing into a new reality. 

2017, Somewhere in Rural Ireland

He emerged in her living room, dappled light mottling the walls from the large windows facing the sea. She wasn’t in the room. 

“Órla?” He ducked his head into the foyer, glancing around. 

A moment later, he heard a muffled reply, and he waited a minute before she appeared at the top of the stairs. Her long black hair was mussed as if from sleep. She appeared to have just pulled on a jumper and track pants, complete with adidas piping down the leg, and somehow it made her look very young and significantly less like the impeccably-finished pureblood she was. She leaned on the railing from the landing, looking down at him. “Hello, darling boy. I don’t recall telling you to come here today.”

Harry looked at her a moment, a sad smile quirking his lips.

“Ah.” She took in his posture, more his authoritative and professional stance than that of her darling boy, and the expression on his face, and started, slowly, to descend the stairs. “I take it it’s time to have a conversation, is it, Harry?”

It was odd to watch her lips form his given name.

She finally arrived in front of him, and the different versions of her he’d known of cycled through his mind, comparing themselves to the woman standing in front of him, her hands planted in a way that was more fidgeting than strong on the backs of her hips. She was five foot nothing and all soft, generous curves, redolent more of Venus of Willendorf than de Milo, all carried in a way that had always made him want to sink into every bit of her. Without his lady’s mask in place, without the sharpness of an on-duty Auror, he tried to look at the woman he wasn’t sure he knew at all, and wondered where, in all their time together, her heart was. He truly, truly did not want to cause it pain. 

Before today, he wasn’t even sure he’d actually called her Órla aloud.

Impulsively, he reached out and pulled her into a hug, burying his face in the dark riot of her hair and holding her close and tight. Hesitantly, she let her arms come around him, too.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice muffled by her hair. He stroked her back, continuing to hold her. “Thank you. But yes, I think we should talk.”

She pulled back, looking up at him. “C’mon, then, I’ll put the kettle on.”

A little time later, they were seated at a small table in the kitchen, and he was watching her stir honey into her tea. 

“Might this have anything to do with your impressive feat of Apparition away from Palm-Mar?” she said, looking over at him. 

“Heh… not entirely. But it did get me thinking about some things, and after the last time we were together, a lot fell into place.” Harry sipped his tea, thinking. Byrne just looked at him expectantly, content to wait while he mustered his thoughts. “I think,” he said, swirling the warm liquid in his cup absently, “that perhaps there are things one needs to undergo in life because of a transitional state, or because of low times or high, in order to come out whole on the other side. I think that such things may be precious to us - vital to our ability to progress - but also instrumental in the very changes that force us to move on.”

She smiled. “I suppose the life you’ve led would make anyone philosophic.” Taking a sip, she looked out the window, where the shadows of clouds patched the hills and gambolling lambs irritated their elders. “Not that I can disagree with you. This game of push and pull, it didn’t start out for me with being the one who pushed, as I have with you, and I don’t know that I ever would have turned the way I did had I not seen such… such sorrow and concealed panic in you. I recognized you.” She looked at her folded hands a moment before looking back to meet his gaze. “Did it help you?”

“More, I suspect, than I could say.” Harry reached across the table, taking one of her hands in his. “There was a place in the world in which I didn’t have to take charge of anything. I didn’t have to scramble to survive. There were rules that made sense, and a person… who gave me her undivided attention. I am glad to have experienced those things, and they gave me some space to heal, but I don’t think that I can live within the boundaries they entailed indefinitely. Again… thank you. I hope… I hope you really understand.”

“Huh,” she smirked, leaving her hand in his. “It may be time for me, too, to put some dust cloths over the dungeon. There’s a distance in what we had, at least for me, as much as there is a very raw sort of intimacy - and I suspect you know what I mean. Maybe I’ll find I’m brave enough to try without it.” She chuckled. "Maybe you can look me up when you're back to being a kinkless Romeo, show me how a romantic roll in the hay works.”

He looked at her, searchingly, for a moment, weighing his own feelings. “I think… that I could try to show you now , I think I’d like that, but I don’t think I could be the one to stay.”

She’d never seen her blush before. She wouldn't look at him. "Don't mess with me, I can still flog you raw."

"I'm not." 

She measured the sincerity his gaze warily before blushing redder.

“Would .. would you, please, Harry? I think it might be a good end to close out this chapter together.”

She looked so… different. Nervous. Unwilling to meet his eyes, fidgeting with her saucer. 

As a habitual hero and a long-time associate of George Weasley, he basically couldn’t help it. 

He stood, striding across the table to her. “And now,” he said in an exaggeratedly husky voice, “the student becomes the master.” Then, without preamble, picked her up in a bridal carry. She shrieked and threw her arms around his neck as he started walking back to the stairs. 

“Harry, I’m too heavy! I’ll destroy your back! Put me down!” She squealed and turned strawberry red as only the exceptionally pale can. “I don’t want to hurt you!”

He snorted, gazing at her with a combination of fondness and sass as he carried her up. “Órla, you’re perfect. Also, in case you don’t remember all the restraints I’ve broken these past few years, my strength isn’t all in my magic.” Reaching the second floor landing, he bent to kiss her chastely but firmly on the mouth before tossing her up and catching her to prove his point. 

Reaching the threshold of her bedroom, which he’d seen through the doorway but never entered, he looked down at her flushed face, noting the darkening of her green-and-amber eyes. “Are we doing this?” he said softly, all teasing retreating from his voice.

She looked at him a moment, then nodded. “Yes. Let’s try me not telling you what to do and see if you can be good enough that I don’t have to haul off and spank you anyway.” She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling a moment. “Lord, thank you for this opportunity to say goodbye to one truly spectacular ass.”

Harry snorted, entering the room.

“... and his pretty posterior, too,” she finished, smirking.

Harry threw her onto the center of her bed in mock outrage. “Have you seriously had a sense of humor this entire time , you brazen creature?” He took off his glasses, leaving them on her dresser.

Órla shrugged, the twitching corners of her mouth foiling her attempt to affect nonchalance. 

Harry looked at her, enjoying this moment to see her disheveled and uncomposed, and increasingly turned on by the intimacy of seeing her like that and in this forbidden room. “I think,” he said, pausing to pull one of her socks down her calf and off her foot slowly, then the other, “that I am going to tease all of your secrets out of you today and tonight, mistress.” He paused again to suck a love bite into the delicate arch of her small foot, which seemed to both tickle and arouse her.

“Ha! Do you really think I have anything left to hide, now? ” she said, kicking at him playfully. 

He shrugged. “You’ve never let me see you without at least a corset on before, and I’ve never bent you over a bed to see what noises I could make you make by slamming my cock into you, and I have never made you lose control - so yeah, I suspect you’ll have some surprises for me. And maybe I will for you, too.”

Her eyes had been widening the entire time he spoke. “Alright. I think we’re wearing too many clothes now.”

“Agreed.” He yanked her track pants from her like a stage magician pulling a tablecloth away without disturbing the plates and cutlery, then climbed up her body. He inched off her jumper, kissing along each inch of her soft stomach as he went, punctuating his words. “You… are… fucking… gorgeous. Never… believe... this… body… should... be,” he paused to bite just-exposed nipple sharply, eliciting a low mewl from Byrne, “hidden,” he pinched the other firmly, “again.” He tore the jumper the rest of the way off, staring at her a long moment before kneeling to lick, suck, and knead at her heavy breasts, letting her see how he reveled in palming the weight of them, licking the long path from the fold where they met her rib cage up and under until he reached her nipples again. At some point she stopped watching him and her head fell back as she arched under him.

“Jaysus, you should have told me to tell you to do that ages ago, you slatternly little tease,” she grumbled, writhing, as he applied a dark lovebite to the inside of her right breast. 

He growled up at her, his face still buried in her soft flesh, snuffling about as he determined where to suck and bite a brand her left breast. “God, these are magnificent. In my defense, you never exactly let me touch them without specific instructions before, taskmistress.”

“You loved it.”

“I certainly needed it.” He looked up and her, smiling wryly, before climbing higher over her to kiss her. “And I’m enjoying this part where I get you to bend.” 

Her lips opened under his. Kissing was different, like this, too. He’d forgotten how a kiss he gave could be a claiming, and thoroughly enjoyed nipping at her lower lip, sucking on her tongue, and probing her mouth suggestively until she whimpered and knotted her hands in his hair. 

He had never been allowed to touch her hair when it was down before, so he carded it with his fingers, buried his nose in it, and used a lock of it to tickle her neck, whispering in her ear about how exquisite she smelled.

His mouth diligently attended to her neck, her delicate clavicles, her shoulders. He worked his way down each arm, finding that she cried out in pleasure when he sucked at the inside of her left wrist - but not the right. He worked his way down her side, lingering with praise and kisses over the folding flesh of her in soft torso as she tried to swat him away, grumbling. He plumbed the depth of her navel with his tongue, and sucked little bruises into the soft swell of her hip while murmuring that she was beautiful. 

He heard a lot more of her voice, and many fewer of her words, than on any other occasion on which he’d spent time in this house with her. 

When his weight disappeared from on top of her, she whined a moan of disapproval, only to gasp as he pulled her knickers down her legs and efficiently shucked off his own clothing.

She smirked up at him, smugly folding her hands under her head. “Alright, you undress better under instruction, but the final presentation is still impressive.”

“Uh huh. Keep sassing me, Byrne. See how that goes for you.” He tossed his t-shirt at her. 

“You can’t do anything to me, Potter. I transferred back to Belfast for your precious professional ethics the minute I finished spanking you that first day, you may recall,” she said, tossing it aside. 

He smiled darkly. “You don’t reckon there’s anything else I might be able to do to derail your wit, eh?”

“Oh, hit me with your best shot, golden boy,” she grumbled, shaking her head and and affecting boredom.

He shrugged and then surged back onto the bed, roughly sucking at the back of her right knee (her knees he knew about) before spreading her legs with her shoulders breathing her in. “You don’t have me retrained anymore. Just remember you asked for it, Órla.”

The next hour and a half involved a great deal of licking, no small amount of sucking, only sparing application of teeth, and four fingers nearly crushed under the clutch of three orgasms. Few actual words were spoken.

As her cunt fluttered around only two fingers early on, he came up for air long enough to ask, “Do we call them Órlagasms?”

She threw two pillows at him, hard, before he distracted her by scissoring his fingers.

By the time both of them were slick with sweat, he decided that they were exhausting this avenue. Still pumping most of his hand into her as she moaned and squirmed and swore, he asked her, “Would you like the rest of my hand in you? Would you like me to fuck you with my fist, spread my fingers and thumb inside you? Do you think I could reach into you past my wrist, you insatiable succubus?” 

“Fuck, where did you learn to say this stu…” She was cut off by a scream as she came around his fingers, again. She did eventually respond, “No. No. There’s something else we’ve never done, and I think that that’s where this should end.” 

She shuddered as, slowly, he withdrew his hand from her. He flopped on his side next to her, bringing their heads level, and watched her almost come again without him even touching her as her eyes followed his mouth while it slowly licked and sucked his dripping fingers clean. Her hand wandered to his cock, stroking it distractedly as she watched him.

When he finished, he looked at her. “How would you like me, Órla?”

She looked at him, then spanned her fingers a couple times around his erection, as if taking the measure of a familiar object for a new purpose. “It’s only just dark. Let’s try everything, starting with that bending over the bed thing you mentioned.”

His eyes narrowed and he snogged her ferociously before suddenly bounding up and flipping her over by her ankles and pulling her hips to the edge of the bed. Now that it was there for him on a fucking pedastal , it had to be said; “If you could see how fucking mouthwatering your ass is,” he moaned, sinking the fingers of both hands into groping her spectacular backside. “I could spend the balance of my life just finding new ways to make it bring me tears of joy.” Speculatively, he wet his small finger against her inner lips and used it to circle around the entrance to her back passage.

She jumped a little, then glowered back at him. “I’m glad you like the thing, but I’d rather have less of it.” she said, not believing he was making her talk about another sensitive part of her anatomy. 

Harry looked up, removing his finger. “I like all manner of asses, but I’m fairly sure that speaking ill of this one is a crime. This ass,” he said, letting his cock slide through the deep, sweat-slick cleft of it, “is a cathedral, Byrne. If our agenda were any less crowded, I’d devote hours to easing it open so I could properly bounce my hips off while I fucked it. In fact,” he said, pressing her cheeks together around his cock and rutting into her crevice, “maybe you should just leave me and your ass alone.”

“Less talk, more cock, Potter!” She looked back at him, undeniably enjoying elements of her anatomy that a thinner woman might not have, and even making her enjoy them, and flushed. “That monster of yours is going to strain the opening that’s rolling out the welcome for it as it is, and you’ve already worked to limber that one up tonight, so thank you, but proceed with the proceedings, please.”

“As you wish - but I make no promises I won’t still manage a bounce or two.”

“Oh, do your worst.”

Gripping her hips, he cocked his head in consideration a moment, stepping away long enough to grab his wand. He cast cleansing charms on his hand and his cock and spelled the bed frame a little taller. Aligning himself with her slit to check the height, he teased himself against her before nudging her dangling knees apart with his thighs, standing between them. Bending down along her back a moment, he stroked his hands up her sides and then over her arms, interlocking their fingers, his hips twitching against her almost unconsciously. “Órla, have you been taken like this before?”

She shook her head minutely. “No. Erasmus was… he was much older, and we hadn't been married long when he died. He only rutted me front to front, me on my back, and only when my cycle was right to get an heir. I don’t think he actually fancied women. The others since… were relationships like the one we used to have, and this was off the menu. Well… no, there was Eve - the one I mentioned who did for me what I did for you, when this all started - and she had a harness and she kept saying maybe if I was a good enough girl, and I wanted her to, one day...” She swallowed, turning her head to see him better. “The day didn’t come. I didn’t think I was missing much, but you’ve made me wonder.”

Harry looked at her a moment, wondering if everyone, no matter their proclivities, still retained some innocence they had yet to lose.  This woman had taken him into a very well-equipped dungeon for a full day every two weeks for the past four years, and it seemed that she did. “Thank you for trusting me with that - I know you don’t like to talk about your past. Please forgive me, but I’m finding this all a bit surreal. Órla… are you sure you want me to be the one you do this with?” He tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear. “You could wait for someone… someone you were in love with.”

She chuckled, pushing her ass up into him rhythmically. “I’m far from being a fainting waif or a blushing virgin. I believe knowledge is power, and you can’t think I’ll let you leave here alive after all this build up without letting me have this, Potter. Besides, I think with you, I won’t be nervous. Maybe it’ll make me more likely to bother finding somebody else to play with.”

He took a moment to remember how to articulate with her wiggling against him. “Alright. Gentle, or no?”

Her voice was a purr. “Are you or are you not going to try to make me make new noises tonight, Potter?”

--

Bent over the bed, she liked it hard. 

She also liked riding him, facing his face and facing away, once they negotiated a rhythm. She figured out she could spin from one to the other with him inside her, which was new to him and made him come the first time in shock.

She liked it when he guided her onto her back and hooked her knees over his shoulders, folding her over on herself. When he used his weight to push her legs straight, grasping her ankles to push them over her head, then basically did extremely enthusiastic pushups off of them, she yelled continuously until she was hoarse and accidentally clawed open both his hips - but he didn’t notice until later. 

He showed her what it was like when he stroked her clit while he penetrated her from an angle that didn’t abrade it, and made it absolutely clear that it only made the entire thing hotter when she did so herself.

She really, really liked it on her hands and knees. Crawling over her petite frame, he made her feel completely surrounded and small, which she found incredibly arousing, but she still had the mobility to slam herself back into his thrusting hips.

They stopped for water and food at some point, and she liked it with her legs around his ass as he pinned her to the kitchen wall. They startled the hell out of her cat, though.

He thanked whatever gods may be that wizards, long of lifespan, retain a youthful resiliency into their fifties - and also have a charm for refractory period shortening - or else she might have killed him. There was still a growing ache, but it was still worth overcoming. He wondered if this would be easier for Eve with her harness.

When the horizon started to lighten, they learned that she liked it gentle and front to front, her on her back, when kissing and affection were involved - but doing that, looking into each other’s eyes, made them both a little thoughtful and sad.

They had scratched different itches with their relationship, and had spent little time actually exchanging sexual touch. It had been five years since he’d had intercourse, and around twenty years since she had.

He realized that, at some point, he’d gained the ability to look back fondly on fucking Ginny, whose insatiability and penchant for trying absolutely everything had made him a better and a more perceptive lover. For so, so long, such reflections had only hurt.

Órla did make some new noises. 

At dawn, he dressed and kissed her goodbye. They would likely not see each other again unless they crossed paths in their work; both were fairly sure they’d be doomed to fail if they tried to top the last day and night, and both also wanted to hold on to a burgeoning sense of being open to the start of something new.

After he’d already thrown the Floo powder, though, he paused a minute, grabbed a notepad and pen she kept on the mantle, and jotted something down for her.

“This may be daft,” he said, tearing off the note he’d written and handing it to her, “But I think you should owl this witch. She’s another Ravenclaw, more like my age. You’re very different but you also both really… see people with an acuity that most of us lack. Her name’s Luna. Just… just tell her I said you should get tea sometime, if you feel like it.”

She looked from the note to the wizard quizzically. “Em… I’ll think about it?”

With an awkward chuckle, he stepped into the fire and went home.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 12

As she fell on him, Harry’s arms went around her, forearms pressed along the length of her back, hands on her shoulders. Their lips smashed together and her arms tightened around his neck as their tongues danced around each other.

She’d fallen onto his kneeling legs, her bent knees astride his, and even as he could tell she was still having trouble holding herself up, her hips pulsed forward, the dark hair between her legs brushing his cock. 

It was so fucking overwhelming he thought he’d die. 

They tangled together, mouths unable to get close enough even overlapping, embrace unable to get tight enough even when they couldn’t breathe. They writhed through the intensity of the kiss, until she let slip an inadvertent yelp, a hand reflexively flying to one of the places she’d hit her head as she twitched in his arms.

He pulled back, looking at her and pushing the damp hair out of her eyes. She whimpered and tried to lean forward, to recapture his lips. “Hey,” he said. “Hey, you’re hurting, Hermione.” He stroked from the crown of her head to the small of her back gently, still holding her to him with one arm. He used the motion to subtly check, and the bumps raised on her head were bad enough to send a sympathetic lance of pain shooting through his own head.

He knew what headaches were like.  

“I can handle pain,” she fumed, bending to suck at the juncture of his neck and shoulder, which somehow still smelled of rosemary. She moved her hips into his thighs again, trying to bring them closer.

Harry’s eyes flickered shut a moment before he forced them open again. “I can’t.” He pulled her chin up, kissing her forehead before he met her gaze. “I don’t… we… Hermione , I feel like I’ve been seeing how incredible you are for the first time and pushing the feeling away every few years for half our lives now. I will never… I can never do that again. But I can wait. We should wait until we’re both well and out of danger, and we should probably also talk.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, huffed, and let her forehead fall ungently against his, but spoiling it when the jarring of it ripped through her in a little wince. How dare he choose now to be the voice of reason to her

“Fine,” she grumbled. “We don’t survive this and I’m haunting you, though.” 

He chuckled and lifted her by the hips to place her back on the stool before he stood, grabbing towels. She watched him, still a little dazed, as he wrapped one around her hair. 

He started drying her. He was smiling softly and a little flushed. She noticed he no longer asked for direction.

When he was done with her second foot, he threw the towel on the floor of the shower to insulate her soles from the wet tile, and she spoke. “I saw you, too.”

His blush deepened, but he didn’t look away from her eyes as he set about drying himself. “I… I wasn’t sure.”

She canted her head, eyes flicking away from his periodically to appreciate the view. “I… saw something sometimes but… wasn’t sure, or wasn’t sure you were sure. And… whenever I felt more sure, one or the other of us was engaged elsewhere, or it was a trick of the light, or you were… supposed to be…”

“Your as-good-as brother?” He finished.

“Yes.” She watched, quiet, while he wiped and replaced his glaces, then summoned a tin of mushroom soup from her bag. He looked from it to her. 

“Em, can you hold this?” She reached out her hand and he passed her the soup, their fingers brushing each other shyly. Then, he picked her up, one arm under her knees, the other, her shoulders. 

As he carried her out to the main room, she spoke. “I guess that happened.” She skated her fingertips around the shell of his ear, distracted as she marvelled that she could. “... that this is… happening.”

He looked at her as her fingers brushed lightly over his hairline along his forehead, not even seeming to register the scar, then down his cheek and throat. “Yes.”

“Yes.”

He was so reluctant to move.

Finally, he awkwardly pointed his wand from under her shoulder, casting warming charms over the bed and blankets as best he could while holding her. After a moment of looking between her and the ladder up into the bed, he subvocally cast some charm to pull the covers back, and then she felt herself levitating up and out of his grasp. 

“Wingardium leviosa variant?” She asked, still a swot.

He smiled, the normality of her asking such a thing somehow reducing his fear of breaking something that still seemed so fragile. “Yeah. I’ll teach you, when you’re feeling better.”

“I’m feeling quite a bit better.” She grumbled, narrowing her eyes at him and burrowing into the bed as he pulled the blankets over her. “Much better.”

“I’m very glad to hear it,” he said lightly as he plucked the soup from her hand then turned to set about opening it then pouring it in a small pot. 

She watched the entire bare back of him as he worked at the stove. “You know, Ron was right.”

“Eh?” He looked at her over his shoulder, confused at this somewhat uncharacteristic admission.

“It is pretty fucking hot to watch the person you love cooking for you.”

He was on top of her so fast she was pretty sure he’d flown. She only had a moment to be livid he’d never taught her how.

September 13, 2019, London

Hermione sat across the couch from Michael, swirling her wine and smiling. “So how do you find working with the Wizarding Examinations Authority? I thought it was an interesting shift, from International Magical Cooperation.”

“Actually, I think it’ll give me some leverage to work on a pet project of mine. You know IB programmes, in Muggle education?”

She perked up. “Oh! Are you trying to patch something like that together for us?”

He nodded, his artfully tousled long hair gleaming in the firelight. “I am. I’ve got contacts associated with the governance of Ilvermorny and Castelbruxo working on it with me, and I’ve got a dinner with the new head of Durmstrang on the books for next week.”

“Oh, Michael, that’s brilliant! I’ll be fascinated to see how it turns out. Everyone in the Muggle world moves around more internationally these days, and I’m sure that a more widely understood secondary credential will be useful to the magical community as our society inevitably shifts to become more global. Tell me more!” She touched his knee unselfconsciously, only noticing when it was already done.

He glanced at her hand, smiling and covering it with his own before he looked back to her eyes. “Actually, I know this is only our third date, but I was hoping… well, the dinner’s in Riga a week Friday. I have a Portkey all worked out, and I admit I took the liberty of making the dinner reservation for four. Balodis is bringing his husband, and I was wondering if you’d be my date.”

She beamed at him. “I’d love to! Just owl me the details, or tell Tracey next week.”

He grinned back at her. “I’d also love your input - I know you’ve got battles yet to fight as Director of the DRCMC, but I know you’ve got your ear to the ground, and you’re… well, you’re brilliant .” He blushed slightly, stroking softly at the back of her hand. “I’m looking forward to working under you before long.”

She raised a brow flirtatiously. “Is that so?”

He smiled, putting down his glass, then leaned across the space to kiss her. After a few minutes of increasingly heated snogging, he pulled her into his lap, where she giggled, nipping at his nose, as his hand crept slowly along her leg and up under the hem of her skirt. “Is this alright with you, Hermione?” he asked, looking up at her. “I mean, you’re through with Roger and Cormac, right, and there’s no one else serious in your life?”

She smiled and shook her head, shifting her legs to open them slightly and letting her own hand drift to the button on his trousers. “I have no conflicts in my interest in you, but I appreciate your asking.” 

Just as the tips of his fingers teased at the edge of her knickers, the little cat pendant warmed. Her hand flew to her chest, feeling a strong and sudden need to go… somewhere. Somewhere she didn’t know, somewhere north.

Corner must have mistaken it for a passionate response, because she had to still his hand with a shudder as he stroked down her inner folds. “Michael, I am so, so sorry, but we have to stop - I just received an emergency summons from the DMLE.”

He blinked, looking up at her and helping her off his lap before adjusting his trousers awkwardly. “Oh… em, wow. At this hour? I didn’t know you still did worked with them.”

She had bent to unbuckle the straps of her heels from around her ankles. “I usually don’t, but sometimes something comes up and they need to call me in to consult because of an unusual case. I am… God, I’m so sorry. I -” She leaned over to kiss him, deeply but quickly. “I really enjoyed tonight. I definitely want to come next week. I have no idea, though, if this call be over quickly - could you enjoy the wine, keep eating, and if I’m not back within an hour, maybe let yourself out?”

He smiled, cupping her cheek. “Of course.”

She gave him a parting grin before running barefoot to her bedroom to throw on some trousers so she could go find Harry.

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 13

Her hands couldn’t decide if it was more important to clutch at his head and neck as he kissed her or to try to yank down the linens pinned between them. His hips pulsed against her through the fabric, and she moaned.

He did, too, but he sounded torn about it. “Hermione.” He cupped her face with both hands, dotting it all over with little kisses as he rocked against her. “Hermione, you’re not well. We,” he groaned, dropping his mouth to the spot just behind her earlobe and stroking it with his tongue, smelling his soap on her. “We can’t,” he moaned, his words muffled as his mouth worked against her skin.

She’d managed to at least finagle the blanket low enough so that the fine hair on his chest chafed at her nipples deliciously as he moved. “ You flew on to me , Harry,” she reminded him, finding the same spot behind his ear to return the favor.

Apparently he liked that spot, as his full weight ground into her pelvis as his back arched, bucking into her so forcefully she forgot there were words to be spoken.

It took him a moment to unbend and calm himself. “Aaaah you’re right. Oh, hell, sorry. Sorry.” He shook his head as if to clear it and drew a deep breath, forcing himself still. She frowned at him like he said he hadn’t completed tomorrow’s Transfiguration essay and he laughed, kissing both of the downturned corners of her mouth with slow, chaste pecks. “Only, you kind of called me the person you love.”

Well, she couldn’t hold on to the frown. 

He looked at her dawning smile with such childlike hope and happiness it hurt her heart. 

Then, with a hiss, the pot boiled over, and he jerked his back to the wall at the unexpected sound, producing his wand from somewhere. She glanced over at the stove, then back at him, arching a brow. “Don’t worry, baby, I won’t let the mean chicken and veg hurt you.”

“Mushroom,” he corrected, trying to scowl at her but ending up laughing with her instead. Collecting himself, then, he took a little revenge by rolling over on top of her, his hands landing on her breasts, kneading and plucking, putting his weight on his hips grinding down against hers. “You know, Ginny was right,” he breathed against her lips as his pelvis gave a wicked little thrust, his gaze flickering up the planes of her face to stop, smouldering, at her eyes.  

“She… was?” Hermione gasped, all pliant and yielding in his grasp.

He burned down at her as he let one hand leave her breast with a parting pinch and slip downward slowly, waiting for her eyelids to grow heavy and her lips to part. His voice was rough, low. “It’s pretty fucking hot to see the person you love oozing lust to the point of wanting to hex you.”

Understanding dawning as he held his hands up in surrender and sunnily smiled, she smacked him. He stayed, though, long enough for them to pull each other into another long kiss before he rolled off her, her arms and an angry whine flailing after him, to attend to the soup. 

--

She remembered she had a concussion potion after the soup had warmed her. He gave it to her, and cast a few more healing spells under her direction, which meant she could safely get a little sleep. 

She convinced him they should share body heat, so he carefully climbed into the bed with her.

After about thirty seconds, they were both complicit in numerous acts of not going to sleep. 

By the time she got her hand around his cock and dragged its weeping tip against her wetness, he shuddered, bracing to push past her threshold… and then remembered she’d just had a bloody near-fatal hypothermia and two head serious injuries and shot out of the bed, panting. 

“Harry!” She actually kicked her feet and punched her hands against the bed like a toddler having a conniption. “I was doing something with that!”

“You,” Harry wagged a finger at her, his breath still heaving, “Are a temptress. A very badly injured temptress who has not yet seen a Healer. And,” he couldn’t help the whining edge that crept into his voice, “since when am I the one in charge of making us not go off half cocked and do something needlessly dangerous? You are clearly not entirely well.”

Though the movement made her cringe a bit, giving proof to Harry’s concerns, Hermione managed to roll onto her side to better glower at him. “Welcome to sharing emotional labor and the work of making a relationship succeed. Also,” she said, letting her gaze sink lower a moment before rolling onto her back. “In case you never looked around the Quidditch locker rooms when others were dressing, Harry? I feel you should know that I was very, very much looking forward to going off at least one-and-a-half cocked, by the standards of most mere mortals, and possibly getting there several times.”

Harry’s cheeks burned (and his complimented member twitched). “I’m going to put pajamas on now. Or… whatever I’ve left in this drawer.”

So he did. He also found a sleeping bag and charmed it warm, dragging it up onto the bed next to her and resolutely getting into it and lying on top of the side that could be unzipped. Which it took her about five seconds to determine and fall into a sulk about, because of course she’d tried to get to him again. 

“I’ll never be able to rest, Harry, this is...this is a major turning point in our lives and I’m… and I’m extremely and justly agitated!

Within thirty seconds of his spooning around her, she had started, very softly, to snore. 

2017, Gloucestershire

On a bright summer day, in a field of bright red poppies and indigo cornflowers, a blonde woman led her brunette friend to a bright blue picnic blanket. The blonde smiled dreamily, enjoying the beautiful time and place; her skin was warmed by the sun, the scent of living things thriving all around her

“Luna, this is lovely! Have you been coming here long?

“Oh, yes. It’s mostly a forgotten place, but sometimes that’s the nicest, I think. When there were more Lovegoods, this was a field where corn would grow.”

“Huh.” Hermione looked around, unable to see beyond the gentle slopes of meadow, parted in their valley by a chirruping little stream. 

“Yes. I like to listen to the birds and buzzing things. Sometimes I nap here. It’s nice.”

“Is there… is there still a house here, somewhere?” Hermione paused to untangle the buckle of her sandal from some grabby foliage.

“Yes. Several.” Luna replied, arriving at their destination and stretching out on her back there with relish. 

Hermione stood there, looking around, with the air of someone doing arithmancy in her head, or counting species of insects, or some other thing that rather missed the point.

“Come on, then. Join me,” Luna said, patting the space beside her before she snuggled her shoulders into the embrace of the soft clover beneath the crisp cotton quilt. She gave Hermione time to process the confusion and awkwardness she knew the brunette was feeling.  Finally, as her friend set about situating herself, Luna let her own eyes close for a moment, just concentrating on what her body could feel. When she opened them again, she laughed and waved her hand lazily upward, following the unhurried saunter of a comma butterfly flying low overhead. She giggled shyly when it perched a moment on her stomach, tickling the bit exposed where her blouse had pulled up from her jeans. When it floated away, its flight seemed so effortless. 

“I’m so proud of you, Hermione. You just came, instead of asking and asking why.”

Hermione looked back at her. “I admit I’m curious, nonetheless.”

That cloud looked just like a dabberblimp!, Luna thought, tugging her hair from under her shoulders to fan out in the sun. Oh, she wished she could show Hermione, but she didn’t know that the witch would be able to recognize it, and it was best not to distract her from the matter at hand. Still, such an auspicious sky sign could only portend good things to come, and Luna was pleased.

Then, she began. “We’re here to get you ready, of course.”

Hermione puzzled, her brows knitting as she looked around, trying to figure out if there was something she was meant to be seeing but missed. Luna, meanwhile, laid her arms out over her head, fingers carding through the flower stems, torso stretching out in happy anticipation. Waiting was no trouble, none at all. Waiting would bore her friend’s wrackspurts away, and then it would be easier to do what needed doing.

Eventually, Hermione just sighed and looked at the sky. A minute or two later, she picked a poppy bobbing overhead and threaded it through the plaited crown of her own hair. 

Then she was just...still. 

“There now,” Luna smiled. “What do you think?”

“I like it here.”

“Good.”

They lay there a while longer, the shadows of the clouds skirting round them as they passed, before Luna spoke again.

“Hermione, it’s been a very very long time since you’ve known peace.”

Hermione’s head twitched to the side, meeting Luna’s eerie eyes. “What?”

“Don’t misunderstand.” Luna reached out and grasped her friend’s hand comfortingly as she rolled onto her side to face her. “You are a beautiful fighter, and you’re needed to fight. But the war, the time when there was little space for anything else, ended a long, long time ago. Can you remember the last time you just sat and watched the world go by?”

Hermione propped herself up with an elbow and looked into the kindness of those pale blue eyes, which stopped the defensive words her mouth was moving to form. A minute later, her face fell into something that looked a little lost.

Luna stroked the side of her friend’s face as if trying to calm a forlorn lamb. “You see. Ah, there. Good. Well done.” 

“There’s never any time , Luna! Every second is another opportunity for so many horrible situations to get worse.” Hermione sounded sad, at least, rather than angry.

Luna nodded. “Yes. But you can’t fix all of it, and even if you could, different sorts of suffering would occur. Everyone is grateful for you, Hermione. But if their lives have intrinsic value, then so does yours. If they need safety and rest and dignity, so do you. You will become too like the people who have caused the things you struggle against, if you do not honor yourself, too. Can’t salve pain with pain. Can’t stave off love with sad shadows.”

Hermione dashed a tear off her face and rolled back onto her back. “I’m not sure you understand how bad things are. The worst of what’s coming isn’t even spoken of outside the Muggle world, so we blithely run around in ignorance of it.”

Luna looked past her friend into the wind-tossed flowers, looked at the insects that still roved over creation, and noted the absence of others that should still be there. “Yes. The earth is changing.”

Hermione folded her arms across her chest, tears streaming from her eyes. Luna watched her for a moment.

“You work very hard. You are burdened with great intelligence. You will make the storms ahead as much better as any one can, and more than most, and I am thankful for that.” Luna pressed a finger over Hermione’s lips preemptively. “Don’t scoff at my gratitude - your reflex to dismiss warmth from others is at the heart of what is hobbling you.

“If you let yourself be a part of the love and beauty around you,” Luna said, tugging loose one of Hermione’s hands to hold it again, “it would be best. If no other reason can satisfy you now, I propose a good-faith experiment on your part. I posit it will prove that if you learn again how to let warmth, peace, love, and joy into you, your practical efforts, especially where persuading others and thinking clearly are concerned, will be more fruitful. Maybe if you try, under a pretense you find palatable, the child you were will help you to open the door the rest of the way.”

Hermione wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “I have known you to See things I didn’t before. This isn’t about nargles, and it’s clearly important to you... and since a fairy tale helped save the world a few years ago and I can admit that I’m tired , I will try.”

Luna shook her head, looking a little exasperated, if fondly. “So many words, but good.”

Hermione rolled back up onto her side to hug her friend, then pulled back, remembering something. “Wait… you said get me ready. Ready for what?”

Luna laughed softly. “You’ll see.” She leaned toward her friend fondly, gently booping her nose. “Wouldn’t dare ruin it for you.”

Hermione looked at her friend skeptically. “Okay…”

“Indeed.” Luna’s face brightened. “Oh! There’s a thing I’ve forgotten. You’re curious of course, and while it’s only a small thing in the scheme, you over-steep everything in that head of yours so we’d best tidy that away with knowledge, I think. If you’ll permit me?”

Hermione canted her head, curious. “I mean, I guess, sure?”

It was done very gently for something that happened so quickly. Before she could react, Hermione had been pulled into a deep and languid kiss. While she lay there passive in shock, Luna pulled back long enough to doff her shirt, under which she wore no underclothes, then rolled back and kissed her friend again.

Shortly, Luna let go Hermione’s mouth to spatter gentle kisses on her neck and start working on her shirt buttons. Hermione blinked from her confusion and spoke. “Er, Luna…”

Luna pulled her face up, smiling at her friend dreamily from so close their noses touched. “Oh, no. I’m not what you need to be ready for.” She paused to place a slow peck on Hermione’s lips, unbothered by her friend’s present hesitation. “I’m here to show you this can happen in peace. Hmmm.” Luna pulled Hermione’s hand up and pressed its palm to her bare breast, eyes closing happily. “Yes, that’s nice.”

When Luna returned her attention to buttons, kissing along Hermione’s shoulder, she paused to roll them both, topping her friend while humming to herself absentmindedly. 

Hermione’s hand remained frozen against the other woman’s breast. It was very different touching someone else’s. Also, this entire predicament was still exceptionally strange... and worryingly fascinating.

Then, Luna leaned aside to dart her tongue under the lace of Hermione’s bra, laving at the nipple beneath, and Hermione shuddered, her hand opening and closing tentatively. “Ah, Luna... I…”

Luna looked up, Hermione’s nipple pulling from her lips with a pop. “Oh, also you’re interested in determining if the Sapphic arts suit you, too, yes? Peace is more important, but you’ll regret if you don’t try loving a woman, too. So you know, you’ll like it, but generally not as much. This is the only time you’ll do it - though we’ll do it in quite exhausting variety - and I’ll make certain you have fun. Alright?” 

Hermione gulped. “I… alright.”

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 14

When Hermione opened her eyes, she was warm, and his green ones were inches away, smiling.

She looked at him as if confused for a moment before her mouth set firmly into a pout. “Oh no!”

Harry’s heart sank, his face falling, thinking about all the thoughts she may have reconsidered and feeling himself start to go cold. 

Hermione, swept up in irritation, didn’t see it, and let loose a frustrated little huff. “I fell asleep right away, didn’t I? There’ll be no living with you, now.”

Laughing breathlessly as his heart seemed to remember to beat, Harry shook his head and kissed her softly. “I hope that’s not true. I need someone to cook for, and I was hoping you might interview for the position.”

“Hmmmm.” She scrunched her face in mock consideration. “What’s the compensation like?”

“Well,” he smiled, pulling her against him and stroking her back. “Room and board, of course-”

“Oh, of course, as long as costs are split equitably for maintenance and restocking.” she nodded, snuggling against his chest.

“But you would have to share a large bed with this bloke who is, just, really a lot. He just cannot lay off the cuddling habit, so I’m sure that would be a hardship. Also, he thinks he’s funny.”

“Ah,” her voice feigned concern, but she smiled against him. “Sounds difficult.”

“Let’s see, there’s a house elf on the premises, but he’s moody because someone insisted he be paid-”

“Mmmhmm?”

“And when all parties are fit and amenable, obscene quantities of love will be made.”

She quirked an eyebrow, pulling back to look up at him. “And so it was that the boy who lived grew into the mushiest and most preposterous man alive.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Well, it depends, are you any good at the obscene quantities of lovemaking, because-”

Hermione! ” 

“Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes.”

“Even though I’m going to make you get out of bed so that we can put an end to this storm and then take you to St. Mungo’s instead of ravishing you right now?”

She sat up and, with a world-weary expression on her face, hit him repeatedly with her pillow as she spoke and he curled into a ball, laughing. “I suppose, fine .”

2018, The Leaky Cauldron

“Three cheers to the imprisonment of Rabastan Lestrange, may he rot in Azkaban!”

Together, they picked up the first shot.

“Hip hip!”

Empty glasses were put down. Full glasses were picked up.

“Hip hip!”

And again.

“Hip hip!”

The last two glasses clattered onto the bar.

“Hooooooooray!” Nevile exalted, dancing around in a little circle with little thrusts of his hips, his hands in the air in triumph. 

Harry was doubled over coughing. Which eventually stopped.

“Neville, what the hell was that we just drank?”

Neville sank back down onto his stool, patting Harry’s back and smirking. “Lobe-blaster. From the states. And let me tell you, it lives up to that name, mate. We are going to have FUN tonight!” 

Harry sat up, marking the characteristic motion blur he associated with about three drinks’ more tipsiness after twenty minutes’ more time. “Well, this should be interesting.”

“Psssh. Live a little, Potter - we put a bad, bad man away tonight, and we put him in a place where he will not actually literally rot, because of the reforms we’ve helped make to the penitentiary system.” He sipped another drink that had appeared in his hand...somehow. “I say that means we can have the delicious embrace of clean, clean consciences while he spends his long, healthy life extremely annoyed. Heroes, that’s what we are - in your case, a hero who finally has a good haircut for once. Also, WE. KILLED. VOLDEMORT! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, see them here, the conquering Aurors, kicking ass and taking names since before we had our NEWTS!”

Harry looked at Neville, who had indeed drawn the attention of just about every person in the Leaky dressed like they were looking to pull. He was huge - and Harry had grown up plenty once he got past the malnutrition of his youth, so that was saying something. Also, all the awkwardness about his youthful face turned into… well, it turned into what he’d once heard Ginny call “sex on a stick.” 

Neville didn’t take a blessed moment of his good fortune for granted, and played it to the hilt. Every night, from what people said, and often repeatedly.

“So, Harry, you’re still single, right? What are you looking for? I imagine, as the man who is to this day a gold standard in the sack for one Ginevra Weasley, may she reign eternal, that you’ve mostly done everything - well, at least since last winter - but tonight is a night of luck, my friend! Any favorites to revisit, anything new you want to try, and by our heroic magnetism and profound hotness combined, we will Make! It! Happen!” Neville roared with triumphant laughter, and Harry had to admit that yes, it was a truly unique experience getting drunk with Mr. Longbottom, and perhaps he had put it off too long.

“Neville, you go nuts, man. I’m just here to enjoy the gentle glow of your charisma. You’re a legend, and I most humbly submit,” Harry said with a theatrical bow, “to the learning that will no doubt be heaped upon me by basking in your glorious presence alone.” 

“Pssh, damn right, but if you don’t at least make an effort, I’ll have to drag you back to my place again, and my tutelage won’t be the only thing you submit to.” Neville smirked wickedly, letting his eyes rake Harry up and down. “Not that I’d mind.” Neville thoughtfully ran the fingers of one hand through Harry’s long angled fringe while the thumb of his other played at the texture of the buzzed side behind his ear.

Harry blushed, batting the other man’s hands away after a moment. “That… that was a hell of a night, all right? I don’t regret it, but the week of taking soothing baths with epsom salts after was rather a lot. I still don’t know how you were walking around fresh as a daisy in the morning. I’ll… I’ll.. look, there’s Susan!” Harry pointed, spotting a lifeline. “You know, I hear she’s single again, Neville - weren’t you pining she’d make an honest man of you, like,” Harry waved his hand around vaguely, “in seventh year?”

Neville looked across the room consideringly, and Harry subtly pumped his fist to see his gambit work. “Single, you say? Finally ditched that Davies bloke?”

“Free and clear, and already through some sort of rebound thing with, of all people, George,” Harry confirmed.

“Heh. Don’t doubt the prowess of the King of Pranks, Harry. That one’s tricks have tricks. Glad she’s been able to let off a little steam.” Neville continued to look at the pretty witch, and, to Harry’s horror, his ever-present bravado seemed to fade away from him. Neville blinked several times, staring. She’d let her hair loose from its habitual long plait and was so animated about her conversation - looked like she was sitting with Hannah, Padma, and Katie.

“Go talk to her!” Harry gave his now baldly vulnerable-looking friend a little shove.

“Aw, I don’t know, Harry, I… she’s...and...” Neville held up his hands toward her, struggling for words.

“Wow, Neville,” Harry pulled back, starting to actually really worry. “I haven’t seen you blush since before the war, mate. Er…” Harry handed him his drink and guided him to sit back down on his stool. Neville sat, looking so unlike his usual (well, adult usual) self that Harry started to worry. “Man, er, do you need food? Can I get you another drink? Em, I could fancy a snog, I guess, if you reckon it would-”

“Hi, Neville!” a bright, female voice called out from behind Harry’s back. Harry stepped to the side and turned, seeing that the witch herself had walked over.

Neville perked up, the look in his big brown eyes reminiscent to Harry of all the puppy memes Dudley had used to try to repair old wounds when they re-established contact. “Hi, Susan! Gosh, you look well. It’s been a while. What have you been up to?”

Susan beamed. “I’ve been coming around here, hoping I might run into you.”

Neville’s eyes widened and his feet slipped right off the ring around the bottom of the stool, but he smoothly turned his near topple into a rather suave combination of standing up and putting a windmilling arm around her shoulders. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” She bit her lip, looking up at him from under her lashes. “I understand you have some rare orchids in your greenhouse, and I was hoping we might introduce them to my collection, do a little cross pollination. You… you always did understand how to make exotic flowers thrive.”

Harry shook his head at the slow smile growing across Neville’s face. “And that, folks,” he muttered as he snuck toward the fireplace, “is how the Longbottom dynasty’s future was secured.”

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 15

For all Harry cared, it might as well have been a beautiful, sunny day. It was, at least, a little brighter than the night, though not by much.

Before they’d left the tent, Hermione had stuck a mug out the flap and left it for ten minutes before collecting the accumulated precipitation with dragonhide gloves. The chemical-stained protective gear looked pretty adorable curled around the “World’s Greatest Godpa” mug that Aanya had painted for him when she was five.

He could hear occasional shouts of “That utter piece of harpy shite! ” and similar invective coming from the other room. Hermione had made him go wait in the bathroom because she didn’t want him sitting and watching. She said she couldn’t concentrate if she could see him, even if he didn’t look at her, because then there’d be his back and things, and he could live with that. Harry poked his nose out after he heard what sounded like packing up. 

“Um, can I stop being exiled to the loo now?”

“Oh, sorry, yes, come out.” Hermione’s hair had the tell-tale volume it tended to achieve when she’d been working over a steaming cauldron, and she was shoving a last few things in her bag. 

Harry walked over and put an arm around her, kissing the top of her head. “That sounded infuriating. What did you learn?”

“That this… this arsehole has been using ingredients that can only be sourced through the slaughter of extremely rare creatures to tweak his little concoction.” Hermione crammed her curls into an endearingly sloppy french twist with a sticking charm, taking a breath. “I was right that it’s based on a chilling balm, but it also has elements of cooling draughts and some nasty custom bits to prevent specific spells that might otherwise be able to counteract its efficacy. What it did to us is basically what it was designed to do. The upside of the nasty bits, though, is that they work in part by specifically feeding off the intrinsic magic of the victim - so Muggles will only have to deal with flooding, wind damage, and the usual chaos. I cannot figure out how, even with the black market, this utter maggot got some of what went into this. I mean, everyone knows a snidget heart’s properties, which is why the snidgets we’ve got left are almost all captive-raised on public and private preserves.”

Harry listened, but he also enjoyed the rare sight of the bare column of Hermione’s neck, so he hugged her from behind and kissed her nape, pausing to ask, “And is there anything we can do to protect ourselves, now that we know?”

Hermione leaned back against him, sighing. “Yeah, I mixed up a thing that will do the job, along with something that, if the Thunderbird can help us distribute it, should neutralize the evil little puddles.”

Harry had kissed around to the side of her neck. “And you sound unhappy about this because…?”

“It smells really, exceptionally bad, and what I might otherwise be able to use to counterbalance that would react poorly with the rain.”

And she was not wrong.

The ointment she’d made to help managed to keep the falling precipitation away from them. It did this by means of a mostly-permeable sort of bubble that the rain slid right off of. The substance itself was thick, a virulent shade of orange, and had to be streaked around their necks to work. It didn’t work as well on inanimate objects, but a little around the toes also seemed to effectively waterproof their shoes.

Under intense interrogation (there were threats of undressing, though two articles had to actually be removed before he believed her), Harry explained how his flying thing worked as they walked away from their campsite, the tent tucked safely back in his pocket. “I mean, it’s… it’s not like Voldemort flying, not really. I just did some messing about with my old broom when I retired it, did some modifications on a lark, and found that a few could be convinced to stick to a person. Nothing that would make it safe to go high up and not most of the standard things that could make it comfortable or stable, but it sometimes gives me an edge that helps in my work. I guess it’s a slight drain on my magic to maintain, but it hasn’t been a problem.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ve got the power to spare, Mr. Leaping-Entire-Continents-in-a-Single-Apparition.” She shook her head. “Glad the rain didn’t wash them off a person like it has brooms. It will get us across anything we might otherwise need to ford, yes?”

“Yes, but I’d need to carry you - there’s preparation and time that goes into setting the spells, and I’m not sure, given how you get on with brooms, that you could learn to control it without a lot of practice.”  He smirked. “Handy in a fight, though. I’ll teach you when you next come up to spar, and I promise to catch you if you careen off.”

Hermione looked at him pointedly. “So.  Your work’s all you use it for, is it?”

He gave her a wicked little grin. “Love, you’re the one and only person to ever make my heart so light my feet just left the ground.”

She stared at him a moment. “If somehow you happened to become a parent, your jokes would get worse, wouldn’t they? Only, I’m trying to inform future decisions, here, Harry, and...”

Which is how, fifteen minutes later, they came to be still in the same place, with Hermione’s legs wrapped around Harry’s waist like a python, his hands supporting her ass as they nearly experienced death-by-snogging. It was probably for the best that Harry didn’t have a free hand to mess about with any clothing and that Hermione wasn’t getting her nose any closer to the foul orange stuff around his neck. Also, as they were all drenched, he couldn’t lean her back against one of the sopping trees.

Eventually, she pulled her lips from his with a whine. “I hate this storm. We should be naked!

Harry bucked his hips up against her a few more times before gathering his wits to reply. “It’s had its upsides.”

It was his instinct to nuzzle her neck that put an end to it.

She really tried not to laugh as she touched up her ointment and found a solvent to get it off his lips, but it wasn’t altogether successful. Harry waited sullenly with his mouth contorted into an exaggerated pucker to try to keep any more from getting in. The taste, apparently, outshone the smell.

Shortly after, they walked on. They held hands, and that was all the rainbows and little hearts and singing birds and stuff Harry needed to feel the day was grand.

“We’ll be there, soon.” Hermione said, appraising the sky. “It didn’t expand as much while we were sleeping, and the center has held position, more or less.” 

Harry glanced as his map. “True. Which suggests there isn’t an organized team taking shifts. That’s consistent with my observations of the storm’s movement earlier in the week - I think whoever’s running the show is alone and has to stop to rest.”

“And doubtless entrench and boobytrap everything around their evil little bower.” Hermione grumped. “Do you think there are snakes?”

“No.” Harry shook his head seriously, despite the fact Hermione had (mostly) been joking. “This is too barmy for any of the Slytherins this side of Azkaban. Intelligence went into it but also some seriously uneven planning, a complete lack of sneakiness, and a balls-out disregard for painting a several-hundred-mile diameter bullseye on oneself.”

They walked a minute in quiet. “That sounds like -”

“I know.” Harry said. “But let’s not borrow trouble yet.” 

September 13, 2019, Ministry of Magic, London

“Harry! Please come right in.”

Harry nodded as he stepped past the Minister’s secretary, a former Auror who wanted to reach retirement with his remaining body parts intact. 

“Minister, it’s good to see you.”

Shacklebolt shot Harry a long-suffering look from where he sat, reviewing a document, at his desk. “How many more years am I going to have to beg until you’ll just call me Kingsley again?”

“Eh, well, c’mon up to the pub sometime, and then I can manage, but in this building that’s probably dependent on when you plan to retire, sir,” Harry replied, smiling and dropping into one of the visitors’ chairs across the desk.

“Well, I guess I’ll have to live with it.” Kingley straightened his papers aside and leaned forward, steepling his fingers and adopting a more serious expression. “Listen, Potter, I wanted to tell you personally that the team you sent north to investigate this weather emergency was found by Muggles this evening, unconscious. We intercepted them on admission to a Muggle hospital and they were brought to St. Mungos. I looks like their brooms failed in the gyre and they were battened about something fierce at high altitude before they managed to lock arms and attempt to side-along to the ground. Unfortunately, in addition to other strange circumstances, there seemed to be some sort of Anti-Apparition field around the storm, so they were both badly splinched. The attempt probably still saved their lives, though.”

“My God! Are they going to be alright?” Harry leaned forward in his chair and braced his hands on the armrests, about to jump up and run to the fireplace. “I should-”

“Relax, Potter.” Shacklebolt cut in with a placating gesture. “Our best team was on it fast - we’re lucky they were found quickly. They’re all cleaned up and the right pieces are reintegrated back to the right bodies. Even scarring should be kept to a minimum with treatment over time. Emm…” Kingsley picked up a report. “It looks like Mrs. Byrne-Lovegood is unworried and waiting hand-in-hand for her wife to wake and Neville’s groggy but talking being fed soup by his fiancee, the young Bones girl.”

Harry slumped back, relieved, but shook his head a little. “The Bones ‘girl’ won’t see 35 again, Minister. Hermione went to a lot of work to help us all speak of each other more respectfully around here, and I know you know better.”

“You’re right.” Shacklebolt sighed. “I’m old.”

“Pssh, you’ve got another hundred years in you, unless you let this office grind you down.”

“Well,” Shacklebolt smiled, “I have been considering who I might throw my support behind for this office after me, come to mention it. It’s been a hard road since the war, but I feel like I’m close to having given back enough.” The Minister picked up a pen and started fidgeting with it, watching how the pieces came apart and marveling over the ingenious little built-in inkwell rather than Harry for a moment. “You know, it’s been said that you’d make an exemplary Minister, Harry, and a beacon of hope besides. Your work with the Aurors has done nothing to diminish people’s faith in you.”

Kingsley studiously kept his eyes on the Muggle writing implement as Harry started to sputter. “ Me , sir?! How could you even… what are you thinking?!” The young wizard came to his feet, pacing fitfully behind the two guest chairs. 

“Now, Harry, shouldn’t you be flattered? Surely such high regard is something to be proud of...”

Harry fumed, his hand raking through his unruly black hair. “Not even remotely, sir!” he said, his volume rising. “You’re overlooking the most hard-working, intelligent, compassionate, credentialed, accomplished, decorated-” Shacklebolt raised his eyebrows as the string of adjectives-as-accolades piled up. “- qualified candidate the post has ever known. That candidate works appalling hours in this very building doing thankless tasks, heading up one of our more marginalized Departments for the benefit of all, almost every damn day of the year, and she has turned the tide of the pureblood superiority movement all but single-handedly! Considering anyone else at all is an outrage, Minister, a gross injustice, and I will use every ounce of my professional credibility and good name, every spell I know and every galleon in my vaults, to ensure whoever is saying I would be an acceptable Minister for Magic see that Hermione Jeanne Granger is the one and only choice for the next Minister of Magic.  She would enact the reforms and provide the guidance we need to bring not just Wizarding Britain and Ireland but the entire sodding International Confederation into an acceptable future.” Harry’s chest heaved when he finally took a breath. “Whoever would put me in front of somebody like her for any purpose other than casting a good Protego should be subject to inquiries on the basis of sexism and blood prejudice. There is only one future I will countenance for our world, and that is her future!”

When he finished, the pendeloques on the chandelier were humming quietly, and a low vibration was shaking dust off the window panes.

Shacklebolt looked up at Harry mildly, subtly waving away his secretary, who had appeared in the doorway, wand out. “Good! Then we’re agreed. Won’t you sit down? You seem quite agitated, and I quite like my windows, Harry.”

Gulping each breath and confused, Harry sank back into the chair, looking warily at the Minister for Magic.

“Now,” Shacklebolt said, leaning back in his chair and absentmindedly spinning it a few degrees from one side to the other as he spoke, “Glad to know you’ll support my recommendation when it comes - don’t worry, I’m not done yet, but I would note there’s another election in four years. Meanwhile, there is the matter of the storm to discuss.”

Harry visibly tried to refocus, drawing in and exhaling a deep breath before he replied, sounding much calmer. “Yes. We’ll have to try another approach.”

“Actually, Harry, reports are saying it’s grown rather worryingly in the past day, and now we know that it’s, well, boobytrapped, if you will, I wanted to get the most versatile Aurors I’ve got into the field - if you don’t mind my making a request for how you staff this assignment, that is.”

Harry shook his head. “Of course not, sir.”

“Ah, good! When can you leave?”

Harry’s eyes widened slightly. “Oh, you want me to go? Er, glad you hold my versatility in high esteem, sir, but...”

“Oh please. You’re Harry sodding Potter. I may think that there is a star still brighter in the firmament - for some purposes, anyway - but you’re easily among the five most powerful wizards of my lifetime, and most of the rest have been evil.”

Harry blushed. “Thank you, Mister Minister, sir, but I haven’t a partner at present - everyone else is paired up, and it would be awkward to just borrow someone from an existing pair.”

“Hmm. Well, I wouldn’t want you to go without backup. Can you think of anyone at all who might be able to accompany you?”

“Well…” Harry made a face. “Nah, she hasn’t been in on a case in years...”

Shacklebolt cocked a brow. “Who?”

“Well, Hermione might be the best person for the job, if she hasn’t got anything urgent going on here. She’s maintained all her qualifications, continues to train, and was the one who led the team that identified the probable source of the threat, a male thunderbird recently reported missing from Nevada. She knows the species, having worked on international population regrowth and protection efforts, and is also… all of those things I just told you she was.”

“Hmm. I think we can spare her for this. Approved - please set out as soon as you can.” Kingley nodded, the problem clearly solved in his mind.

“But, Minister, we don’t know who’s doing this, it could be… could be…” Harry trailed off.

“....could be dangerous, Mr. Potter?” Shacklebolt raised an eyebrow, looking a little put out. “Exactly how to you suppose Ms. Granger would feel about you excluding her from an important assignment because you felt it was for her own good?”

Harry looked at his hands, which were folded in his lap.

“Now, look.” Shacklebolt say, rising and sorting some things into his briefcase. “Authority in this matter belongs to you, and I will not insist, but I ask that you consider my strong recommendation that you follow your own instincts on this. There’s a strange whiff about it all. Mrs. Byrne-Lovegood asked me in the hospital earlier - yes, I checked in person, Harry, I used to be an Auror, too - she asked me if I’d wish you and Hermione good luck later this evening, and now, I’m fairly sure I know why. I’m afraid you’ll have to convey my best wishes to the witch in question, but Luna has never said something to me offhandedly that wasn’t good advice, at least not unless it was about a creature I’d never heard of.”

“Alright, Minister, I’ll get some things together.”

“Thank you. And Harry? Don’t take too long. By noon tomorrow, at this rate, the storm will be impacting London, Ireland, and the mainland unless we shut it down.”

Harry nodded grimly and strode out of the office. Shacklebolt slumped in his chair, shaking his head after the door closed behind him.

“Oh, I feel you laughing at me in there, Albus.” he grumbled, glaring at the as-usually empty frame beside his desk. “I don’t think it could possibly hurt to get the kids to spend time looking at each other, particularly when opportunities so handily present themselves. For two brilliant people they’re notably dense as osmium about each other.”

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 16

“So… you’re saying that Kingsley said that Luna said… good luck?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Harry replied, swinging their clasped hands between them like a twitterpated tween.

It was pretty cute. It also was not tripping them up for now, as they were in a large field that had recently been cut for hay, so there was less to bump into.

“Huh. I haven’t seen Luna in a while. The last time was …” Hermione stopped walking, and he could almost hear the gears turning furiously. “ Son of a toad on a chicken’s egg!

Startled, Harry looked around, then back to Hermione. “What? What’s wrong?”

Hermione resumed walking, tugging him along. “ Luna. She was telling me I had to get ready for...us, I think, and she wanted to help.”

“Wait. Us , us?” Harry looked confused.

“Indeed,” she confirmed, looking like, if she’d been a cat, she’d be twitching her tail in agitation.

Harry looked puzzled. “What did… getting ready for us entail?”

Hermione blushed a little, scrunching her face and looking carefully at where she was placing her feet. “Um, she took me to this pretty field - apparently there’s a whole huge unplottable Lovegood Estate, by the way, but they live in that weird little tower instead because nargles , of course - anyway, pretty field, sat down and talked, she made me cry and admit I wasn’t happy and was kind of an ass to myself, which I defended by saying, well, yeah, but for the greater good, and she said nah, enjoy peaceful stuff and warmth, and then… and then we kind of shagged.”

Harry tripped and barely used the flying spell to catch himself before he went face-first into the cursed mud, floating slowly back to his feet. “Ah,” he said, uncertain of how to reply to that.

“Em, she said I needed to see that it could be peaceful? And that if I didn’t try I’d always be worried about never having tasted a bit of crumpet, because, em, sometimes I fancy women?”

Harry considered a minute, eyes glazing. “A pretty field, you say?”

“Oh, yeah, it was completely full of red, red poppies and cornflowers as far as the eye could see, low rolling hills and a brook, it was just lovely, and-”

“-And did you…” Harry cocked his head and wagged his eyebrows.

“Did I what?”

Harry bit his lip and blushed, gesturing vaguely toward his lower abdomen.

“Harry, are you asking if I’ve performed cunniligus?”

Harry cringed. “Er… yes?”

Hermione sniffed. “I did. Three times. It was pretty, it smelled incredibly hot, and she made nice noises and helped me figure out how to do it. And, you know. What to do with my hands. Some other things, too.”

Harry had wished there was a dry place to sit down and get less confused. “Um, thank you for telling me, and sorry I was hopeless at asking. I agree, it’s great, and one of my very favorite things to do. Ginny used to get annoyed I’d go for hours before moving along and her legs got too wobbly for feats of kinky athleticism.”

Hermione’s smirked a little, a slight sway going into her step.

“...Er, but after Ginny, I… do you... “

“Oh!” Hermione looked at him waving both her hands. “First, NEVER touched Gin, though not for lack of invitation - like, seriously , one on frilly stationary with an RSVP card - but also... No , I prefer...I rather prefer masculine partners, thanks, and I’m fundamentally oriented dead-on at closed monogamy, not that it’s seemed to work out for me amazingly. Also… well, you, and me, so…”

They were quiet for a few steps, but he grew visibly calmer until they arrived at the edge of a loose slope they had to skitter down carefully.

Harry sighed, scrubbing his hand over his face after reaching the bottom. “We must be almost there. That’s not just wishful thinking, right?”

Hermione nodded. “Yeah, it’s not, we’re closing in now.”

Harry was quiet for a moment. “You… you’ll leave Malfoy?”

Hermione took in a shaky breath and nodded. “Yes. I won’t tell you it won’t be hard. In another world, I hope we were all friends. He’s… he’s become a good man, Harry, and if he could overcome just a few things, I… well. Maybe this will be the kick in the pants he needs.”

Harry’s grip on her hand tightened slightly. “The kick in the pants part of that sounds on target,” he muttered.

“Oh hush,” she said, looking at him in exasperation. “Look, since it seems we’re airing all the things that could otherwise be timebombs anyhow, is there anything about your personal history that I should know which I don’t?”

“Em…” Harry plodded, gathering his wits a bit. “Yeah.”

Hermione looked at him, waiting.

“Well… Luna’s wife was my Dom for four years or so,” he began.

“WHAT?!” 

“-and then I sort of tried to unleash half the less-kinky sex acts I know on her in our last day and night together to help her move on and introduced her to Luna, er,” he rushed on.

“Holy...”

“...and I don’t do that sort of thing so much anymore but, you know, it might come up, don’t think I’m really supposed to be a sub, though, and… emmm,” he took a deep breath before pressing forward, “I’ve done, like, almost everything at least a little, I mean, Ginny , and then… last year I… kind of shagged Neville, and-”

Hermione nodded, seizing on known territory. “Oh, yeah, everyone’s shagged Neville.”

You’ve shagged Neville?”

She blushed, “Well, yeah, I’m part of everyone, so yeah, I hit that.”

“Huh. So, how many times did you…”

Hermione sniffed primly, adjusting her grip on his hand. “17. You?”

Harry blinked at her. “12.”

They just walked together, woolgathering, a moment.

“I needed a long soak-” she started.

“Oh god, an hour at least every day for the next week, yes,” he said, nodding vehemently.

“Huh. Alright, you done?” She looked at him curiously.

“Um. Parvati kind of drugged me and got my vaguely dubious consent to suck me off at the Yule Ball...”

“SHE WHAT?!” Hermione’s eyes blazed.

“...which was my initiation into more-than-kissing, and when I realized I’d always be a notch people wanted to put on their belts because, Chosen One...”

Hermione nodded, pointing at her chest. “Golden girl.”

“...And there have been a few shorter-term or less-serious things but that’s mostly it that I can think of?” He exhaled, watching her for any sort of response. “Er, you?”

Hermione pulled in a deep breath, thinking. “I kind of started the Malfoy thing because I could tell he was sweet on me and kept helping me and, well, he’s fit as fuck and I could make him crawl and I was tired of being treated like I needed permission from others all the time. We’ve… pushed some boundaries - I mean, he was already in his marriage, however arranged, when it started - and it’s always been… problematic. Stained and it won’t come out. If… if that weren’t the case, it might have been a different story.”

Harry was way better at not interrupting, but he didn’t look thrilled.

“Aaaand… well, you know about Luna. Em. Got myself Rogered for a while, but Davies didn’t really hold my interest outside the bedroom.  You vaguely know, but I gave McLaggen a go for about six months a couple years ago, for bad reasons, and he was… was just the most miserable lover, my god, in the history of the world, but I’ll spare you details…”

“Em, appreciated, unless you need to talk about it.”

“Thanks,” she nodded, combing her mind. “Oh, shit, and Michael. Er. I’ve gone on a few dates with Corner, and that was… nice, and I was meant to again, I was actually… I was with him when you called me…”

Harry’s brows went up. “Um, with him, with him?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, no, we haven’t. Em. We might have though had you not called when you did. I left him in my parlor with some wine and I hope he went home when I didn’t come back after an hour, which is what I’d said to do, so… but… he’s not you , Harry.”

Harry smiled a little, looking at her. “Anything else of note?”

She thought a minute. “Don’t think so? Few flings, some run-ins with men who didn’t want to hear no, but that’s not statistically significant.”

Harry edge closer to her, worry creasing his brow. “That’s… if you’re actually unruffled, alright, and I don’t want to disturb things that you’ve put to rest, but it hurts me to hear you couch anything painful that has happened to you as insignificant.”

She frowned at him. He held up his hands. “Just… just imagine the better things that Luna would say about this for a moment, and think about it. That’s all I ask.”

Hermione nodded slowly. “Yeah alright.” She shook out her shoulders. “This is a point people who care about me have brought up before, and I am trying to work on it. That said, the vast majority of what I have to share was consensual, even if not all of it was advisable, and by and large I accept my past and feel fortunate to have learned from it. And I suspect that’s all I’ve got.”

Harry kissed her cheek. “Alright, that was… well, no moss growing on us, I suppose, and an important conversation had.” He was quiet but clearly thinking a moment, so Hermione waited for him to form his thought.

“Hermione, would you please ask me, when we’re out of this, to tell you about the history of how I feel about you , rather than all this other stuff? Because.. I’d like to have that conversation, but maybe not as a follow up on the other. I’d… I mean, if you… I’d like to hear from you, too. We can… we can laugh at near misses, or realize this couldn’t have happened until now. Maybe understand old memories in new ways.”

Hermione grinned. “Yes. Yes, let’s do that. Ah! And the little cat tattoo had better be in there somewhere.”

He nodded, smiling. “It will be.”

Hermione sighed as they stepped back into woods, thankful they weren’t so undergrown they’d need their still-clasped hands to clear a path, at least. They picked their way along, wary of their surroundings, before something occurred to her.

“I mean,” she said slowly, “if Susan’s still turning Neville out when she’s sore, we could give her a night off sometime, probably.  Could be fun being in the middle, and she’s begged me to help her out a bit.”

He snorted, grinning as her cheeks reddened.  “You too? Yeah, alright. I can share that far, I think, sometime, as all parties involved are trusted and I don’t think it’d complicate things.” 

Hermione smiled distantly, running logistical trials on various positions through her mind as they walked.  Then, something occurred to her.  

“What was your safe word, Harry?”

Harry turned his head to her slowly, and then just started cracking up.

“What?” she asked, looking a bit miffed.

“I just… I can’t…” The laughing resumed, Harry stumbling on gamely as he tried to rub the tears from his eyes.

Well, it’s a good thing the laughter isn’t as loud as the storm anywhere outside the bubble , Hermione supposed.

And then, suddenly, they heard him.

“Ah, Hermione. Look at you - all wet, frustrated, and left out in the cold.”

Hermione’s head snapped up and Harry immediately ceased laughing and looked swiftly around, searching for the source of the deep, arrogant drawl.

“Who was that?” Harry hissed. Hermione shook her head, shrugging and furiously scanning around the forest floor and the trees. Their hands parted and both drew their wands.

“And look, you brought your… dance partner .” They could hear the sneer as the speaker spat these last words.

“He… he sounds like…” Perplexity and disbelief flickered across Hermione’s face. “But…”

“Hello, princess.” A wizard who might have been handsome were it not for the cruelty contorting his features appeared, seeming to step out of nowhere. “Welcome to the Ancestral Highland Hunting Grounds.”

Both Hermione and Harry stepped back in shock, exclaiming at the same time.

Cormac?!” 

“Fucking McLaggen?!” 

2017, Cambridge

Hermione fidgeted with the embarrassingly bulky diamond tennis bracelet he’d given her as he droned on, wondering how in the hell she’d wound up here, with him, playing girlfriend.

“And then the Minister said, he said, ‘But Cormac, how did you know I loved Mermish Opera?’ Ha! Can you believe…”

She made a half-hearted attempt to smile or laugh politely at the junctures when he clearly wanted her to. 

She tried to fuel her tolerance with the knowledge that she’d finally figured out how to Gemini the bracelet convincingly, after unearthing Snape’s notes on his sword of Gryffindor replica. Cormac had bragged so extravagantly about how there were “positively hundreds of similarly becoming pieces in the family vault awaiting a future Mrs. McLaggen, my sweet” that she felt little compunction about her plan to sell the original to endow a sizeable addition to the Welsh Green preserve hidden near Snowdonia, rather than returning it as might a woman breaking off a courtship in a more genteel age. 

The matching necklace itched at tops of her breasts, but she didn’t fiddle with it, since he seemed to be addressing her décolletage about as much of the time as he was talking to her face. She’d worn a fitted, low-cut black velvet cocktail dress, on which he had complimented her effusively on at a Ministry function about six months ago. That had been about a month after Draco had pissed her off by saying that at least he was trying to have a “marginally successful, socially-acceptable partner relationship” that would fulfill his house’s expectations that he continue his line with a legitimate heir. 

(Astoria had recently announced that, finally, she was expecting a perfect little pure-blood Malfoy heir. There was a picture of the happy couple in the paper, her hand demurely draped atop her rounding belly.)

The evening it happened, she had been drinking.

When Cormac sauntered over and remarked on the dress, it had been such a frustrating several weeks that she, remembering his fondness of cloak rooms, had shoved him into one - receiving a short and only marginally satisfactory fuck against the wall for her troubles. Apparently not convinced she’d cast a contraceptive charm and not competent to do so himself, he pulled out and came all over her exposed ass without asking if it’d be okay. After, he held her still while he drew a smiley face across her the cleft of her cheeks with his finger in the sticky fluid, snickering that he wouldn’t give her any little McLaggens - yet.

She could not believe it when the exceptionally pink bouquet appeared on her desk the next day, festooned with ribbons and accompanied by a little lavender toy of a puppy with grotesquely huge eyes. 

Thus, their courtship had begun. When he strolled into her office to announce he’d managed dinner reservations at just the place, she’d been simultaneously too appalled and too morbidly transfixed to tell him to fuck off.

He made a point of showing her off at official events and all the trendiest restaurants - not just in Britain but around Europe. He took her to Paris’s Wizarding Fashion Week and insisted on ordering her a wardrobe he thought befitted his fiancée-in-training (though she managed to sway things in the direction of better taste in the private fittings that followed). She was pretty sure he was advising the Prophet ahead of their expected appearances, because there were always cameras, and they became the darlings of the society pages. 

At first, for shits and giggles, she hammed it up. 

She had not foreseen and did not premeditate some unexpected benefits. He wrote the most appallingly large checks for the causes she went dewy around the eyes about, and votes she could never have swayed went her way when she mentioned to him that she was having a frustrating day. This, of course, was due to the conservative houses who allied themselves with the McLaggen family and their predisposition to be convinced more by the loan of an Erumpent trap than by peer-reviewed data. Regardless, Giants were allotted a more remote preserve in the Balkans, a sizeable chunk of the Channel was made safe for Merfolk, a pilot program to allow Goblins in good standing to use wands was introduced, and many of the Acromantulae introduced to Britain were re-released in their native Borneo as she experimented with being a high-profile society girlfriend. She could not interest him in her “adorable little Muggle causes,” though, despite her repeated attempts to cultivate some spark of giving damn in him even where he wouldn’t earn political or personal capital for it. She felt like she owed him the attempt to treat him like he could become palatable company.

He also let her make over the McLaggen estate’s gardens and grounds, which she laid waste to and rebuilt in a magi-ecologically-friendly image with grim satisfaction. Hagrid, Luna, and Neville helped her figure out what to introduce and how to source it. She fastidiously avoided releasing any magical creature on the grounds that might tempt Cormac and his Uncle Tiberius to hunt it. Both halves of the couple were pleased that the Prophet ran a generous spread on the project and its rationale, if not for the same reasons.

His mother didn’t say much, but seemed grateful when occasionally Hermione joined her in listening to Cormac talk over tea. 

With his various efforts to pamper her in the ways he expected she would appreciate, she even found out there was even this one brand of lipstick she could actually stand.

He made a point of being especially handsy when they happened to cross paths with Ron at fundraising soirées, which led Parvati to tell Hermione how sweet they were together and Ron to turn a splotchy red. Astoria was, finally , aware of Hermione’s existence and overtly disdainful toward her. 

Draco kept showing up at her apartment in the middle of the night (she never bothered changing the wards, nor had she told Cormac they’d be exclusive). She couldn't bring herself to give him up and granted him permission to continue, and he had taken to waking her with mind-blowing oral alongside his pleas for forgiveness and an end to her "charade with that utter tosser." She had a guilty suspicion that a large part of her motivation for giving Cormac a go was to turn the tables on her Slytherin paramour, who, to her horror, she increasingly realized she respected a great deal more than her fellow Gryffindor. Logistics weren't a problem, as Cormac neither came to her humble abode nor wanted her to spend the night on “the Ancestral Estate,” saying that to do so would “besmirch” her reputation.

There were some difficulties on the occasion when Draco had dragged her behind the rack of cashmere overcloaks at a Wizengamot to-do, as he insisted on demonstrating how cloakrooms properly ought be used while Cormac was schmoozing. Hermione had had to owl McLaggen the next day saying she’d left with a headache, as Draco had plotted an in flagrante delicto Apparition tour of some of London's finest outerware repositories, including the cloakrooms of the British Museum, the Tower of London, the fucking Ministry (how?!), the Royal Opera, and the Queen's own coat closet. No splinching occurred and it turned out that penetration-joined side-along made her come screaming under the hand he had clasped around her mouth every single time.

Meanwhile, after dinners for two with Cormac across his absurdly long formal dining table, she’d lie under his grunting body looking for patterns in the shadows on his bed canopy as he swived her. That was the word she decided she would use to describe it and cordon it off away from other, fonder associations she had with intercourse. Cormac, swiving her, was loud, leering, and prone to leaving saliva dripping all over her shoulders and breasts. He insisted on keeping the lights on, and always finished by spraying his cum all over her and proudly playing paint with the pretty results. In his bed, after he was done both diddling and doodling, he’d roll over and tell her to have a safe Floo home as he fell asleep, always sporting a shit-eating grin.

Mostly she’d stumble through the hearth still naked and, on emerging in her own flat, proceed directly to the shower, wondering why she was doing this. Sometimes she’d get herself off with her own fingers and wonder if she had a weird sort of self-abasement fetish or morbid fascination with the patriarchy’s greatest hits.

He would also swive her in closets at work sometimes, especially when he decided her attempts to get him to let her work in peace were in fact "being a naughty little tease." Swiving away, crushing her spine against sharp edges of shelves and protuberant doorknobs, he told her how lucky she was that he made her little life more meaningful. Sometimes, when he was really proud of himself for something, he pushed her to her knees, thrust thoughtlessly into her mouth while she gagged, and told her what a common little slag she was, how lucky she was to eat his princely cock. When he did, he always came on her face or her tits, without warning, and of course wrote or drew on her in the sticky mess - usually “C + H” in a little heart, recently. He started carrying a little mirror to show her. She had become exceptionally adept at wandless, unvocalized cleansing charms.

Sometimes he’d try something other than bending her over or lying her on her back and end up telling her how clumsy she was (but that he’d forgive her) when he couldn’t make the physics of more complicated positions work. He was strong, and even his abbreviated attentions often left her sore. She learned to be very nimble of hips after the time he'd unwittingly sodomized her without preamble or lubrication - he hadn't noticed anything amiss, but was so aroused by her screams that he hardly lasted, at least.

He had, two weeks ago, performed an incredible six minutes and twenty-two seconds, then fallen asleep on top of her, snoring, with his seed congealing between between their stomachs (he’d drawn a squirrel, apparently under the impression that that was her Patronus). Lying there then, feeling sliminess give way to crustiness, she resolved to find a way to end it.

Tonight was to be step two of that process. Step one had been showering immediately after, then inviting herself over to Neville’s to have an embarrassing conversation with her friend, who had grown up right and was pretty pleased with his reputation as the best bike in town. She told him truthfully that she was screwing up her courage for something and asked him to spend the night with her because she was desparate to remember what good sex was like, and she had heard he might help her with something suitably mind-blowing and uncomplicated. 

Which he had delivered, she thought, wondering if she still had that lovebite on her...

C’mon, Granger, focus on step two!, she thought, resisting the urge to reminisce. 

So she focused on the now. This involved pushing her food around on her plate (he had ordered for her without asking what she’d like) and watched his lips move with a sort of fascinated disgust as he went on and on about his upcoming hunt with his uncle in “the colonies.”

Finally the entrees were cleared away. Hermione noticed she’d more or less single-handedly finished the bottle of wine when he paused to take a sip of his. She was literally opening her mouth to address the elephant only she knew was in the room when he outdrew her.

“Now, my sweet, I know you work so hard to maintain your figure, but I hope you won’t mind that I’ve ordered us a little spot of dessert. Be good for daddy and try just a little bite, won’t you, princess?

She noticed a vaguely nauseated-looking server standing beside the table, listening and holding a small plate with a silver dome over it. Cormac waggled his eyebrows in a form of encouragement he thought she found charming.

Out of pity for the server as much as anything, she said, “Well… alright, Cormac, let’s see what you’ve got us.” Trying to conceal her sigh and muster a weak smile, she reached toward the lid, pausing a moment as she noticed he was leaning forward slightly and looking oddly hungry.

Under the dome, there was a blue velvet box, with “C + H” picked out in rhinestones (they had to be, right?) across the top.

Oh fucking hell no , she thought, glancing up at his face, now settled into a wolfish leer. He wiped his mouth, salivating.

Morbid curiosity was a powerful force, so she picked up the box and, bracing herself, then opened it to take a look. 

A little jet of tinsel-confetti burst in her face, and she sneezed before it cleared so she could see.

There had never before been another such a hideous, gaudy creation made by the hands of goblinkind. 

“Isn’t it just scrumptious? Almost as much as you , my little princess.”

The ring featured a strangely protuberant heart-cut diamond about the size of a marble. The uncomfortable-looking band was formed of little conjoined heart-loops in different colored precious metals, some set with additional little heart-shaped diamonds. 

She tried to clear some confetti from her lashes, speechless.

McLaggen had already started to gush. “Now, no tears, my sweet. I know - it’s breathtaking, isn’t it? I had a little family heirloom reset just for you by a goblin smith Dolores has been just gushing about. I thought it so beautifully symbolized the passionate, fiery coming together of our… great potentials.” He paused for what he clearly thought was a rakish wink as she picked the ring up, rotating it between her fingers, scrutinizing it from different angles in horror.

“I thought maybe the Ministry Lobby, in May. I’m sure Kingsley would be happy to officiate - you are old chums, after all, and it would give me an opportunity to bring him around on a few things in the bargain. Then, of course, a honeymoon in Bavaria - not that I expect we’ll leave the hunting lodge much. I promise not to kill too many things from your endangered list, darling, worry not. Then…”

She gawked in disbelief as he continued prattling on.

Slowly, she replaced the ring in the box and snapped it shut, looking at him and waiting for a break in his monologue. 

“Cormac, I’m afraid I can’t accept this.”

McLaggen paused, his mouth already open to resume speech, and looked at her as if she were being a bit thick. “My dear, I assure you, I can afford it. And what you wear on that little hand of yours reflects on me. You mustn’t be daunted by its splendor - and I’m sure we’ll have many, many years of wedded bliss during which you may demonstrate your gratitude.”

Hermione blinked a moment under his expectant gaze, trying to determine where to start. “Cormac, was there intended to be a question for me in there, somewhere along the way?”

“Aaaah!” He nodded knowingly, giving her another repulsive little wink. How have I not put his eyes out already? “You want romance, my princess. Very well, let me take a moment to compose a speech, and will present it to you again, on one knee. Perhaps we could make certain dear Rita has a good vantage from which to view the show, you know, for posterity...”

Hermione shook her head firmly, once. “No no, I wouldn’t want to put you out. Allow me to save you the trouble.” She looked him in the eye, enunciating clearly. “I will not marry you.”

“Now, princess, this is perhaps a bit too far to take your little games of hard to get. Unless…” He bent close, whispering loudly. “Did you fancy the cloakroom as we came in? I can certainly remind you of everything I can do for you.”

“That,” she said, standing up, “will not be necessary.” She shoved the odious little box back in his hand. “I’m so sorry to disappoint you, Cormac, but I have faith that things will turn out for the best this way. I will let you go about your evening, and I apologize for wasting your time. I think it best we stop seeing each other.” She turned and left, feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from her. She heard him sputtering behind her.

--

London

She got back to the courtyard of her building before he Apparated in front of her, his eye twitching. She stopped short, wary.

“Cormac.”

“Princess, you’ve been such a bad, bad girl.”

“Please don't call me princess, bad, or girl. Granger would be my preference, but Hermione is also permissible.” Quietly, she thumbed her wand, which was tucked into the sleeve of her cloak, to make certain she could draw it quickly if necessary. “I realize you may be upset that this evening did not turn out the way you wanted it to, but I must point out that at no point did I invite you to my home. What are you doing here, Cormac?”

He took a couple of steadying breathes. His shoulders shook with tension before he spoke, his voice unusually low. “I think I deserve some answers, you ungrateful little Mudblood whore.”

She took a step back, slowly putting her free hand in her pocket and thumbing the little lucky cat figurine Harry had given her. “What would you like to know?”

“How dare you. How dare you say no to me?” he spat, spittle dotting his chin as he lurched a step toward her.

“Cormac, I think we see the world very differently.”

He just stared at her, lurching another step.

“You… Cormac, you don’t understand anything about how others who haven't grown up with your privilege live.” She sighed, figuring honesty might both be due and buy her some time. “You feel very entitled to things that are only yours due to the luck of your birth, as well as several things that are not, and you don't seem to want to broaden your understanding of the difficulties others face through no fault of their own - difficulties often linked to the unexamined machinations of your class. These things make it impossible for me to relate to you, though I have sincerely tried to create common ground. I... I’m from the Muggle world. I grew up the child of two working members of the middle class. I have also survived times when, because of the accidents of my own birth, my rights to live, to practice magic, and even to control my own body have been imperilled. I have endured starvation, assault, and torture. And I am luckier than many."

He sneered at her. "Are you fishing for a guarantee of income or some other privilege with the marriage contract? Because I have to say that these reminders of your humble origins, given everything I have been willing to overlook, are crass. Frankly, after this… embarrassment … I'm only likely to cut back on your pin money allowance until you find some way to make amends."

She had to take a few deep breaths before she could reply. "I am afraid that you seem determined to miss my point, and that you continue to be incapable of hearing me. What you see as shameful, I am proud of. What you see as beneath you, I am driven to remediate. I do not want to become more like you and have no interest in attaching myself to your name or your vault. Everything I have, I have worked for and also recognize that, to some degree, I lucked into. Everything I hope yet to achieve I expect to get through work. You react patronizingly when I try to show you the world as I see it. I’m grateful that you’ve supported some of the causes that are important to me, and we’ve had,” she made herself choke through the words, “some passionate good times, but I really feel that I need someone who better understands how I see the world, and I just don’t think you’re interested in doing that.”

His eyes showed white all around both irises. He stepped forward, and she stepped back, putting a small shrub between them. The little cat figurine had become warm.

“Really, I’m sure you can find so many women who will agree with your views and support your goals, women who would fall all over themselves to be your Lady McLaggen, but I just can’t be what you need.”

“But I want you. ” He sounded anguished, but more in the way of a child denied a new toy than a man whose heart was breaking. “I need you.”

“Cormac… I don’t know why you think that, but if I ever marry, I will marry someone I trust, respect, and love. And that’s… not you.”

“Bitch!” he screamed, his hand tightening on his wand.

“Cormac, I understand you are upset, but I really must insist you go. Now.” Hermione did not want to have to hex this bastard and have him talking to Skeeter in St. Mungo’s in the morning.

“How did you put it, Princess? No .” He ran at her.

At the same time Hermione cried “Petrificus totalus!” she heard another voice, behind McLaggen, shout “Incarcerous!”

He went over slowly, like a felled tree. She cast a cushioning charm to spare the shrubbery as Harry rushed up, stepping over the bound, prone McLaggen, and pulled her into his arms.

“Hermione! What in the hell happened? Are you alright?” He pushed her to arm’s length and turned her head from side to side, sliding his hands over her to check for signs of injury.

She smiled wearily. “Better, now. Thanks for coming, Harry.”

She let him fuss a minute before explaining what had happened, and why she hadn’t just immediately laid him out.

“Well,” Harry said, surveying the bound and immobilized wizard, “You hardly have the monopoly on making questionable relationship choices, I suppose.” 

She looked at him, cocking her head. “And sometime, when we don’t have an audience, you’re going to have to say a little more about that for me.”

He cringed, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “Yeah, that’s fair. Now, though, I had to Apparate in from Tenerife, and -”

“From where?! Harry, you could have killed yourself!” 

Harry waved his hands placatingly. “Don’t worry, I did it in two jumps.”

Harry!” She didn’t know anyone else who she thought could do it in less than five, with breaks in between. "Are you certain you're well?" She started a reciprocal effort to check him for injuries, gasping when she spotted a thick band of bruising around his wrist. "My God, it looks like you've been manacled! Did you splinch something?"

He shook his head, gently pulling his hand away. “Hermione, not the time. Look, you… you get out of your dress robes and drink some camomile tea, okay? I’ve got this. McLaggen is uninjured, and I’ll take him in to cool off overnight in lockup. Do you want to press charges for stalking or assault?”

Hermione shivered. “Not unless you think I need to.” 

Harry nodded swiftly. “Right, then. We’ll have a little talk in the morning and I’ll see if he’s calmed down. I’ll owl you, either way, alright?”

Hermione looked around, bleary-eyed and a feeling the adrenaline withdrawing. “Right. Thank you, Harry.” She turned and started walking toward her door, kicking her feet up to her hands to take off her heels and carry them as she went.

Harry looked at her, torn. “Hermione?” 

She turned around to respond and found herself swept into a crushing hug, which she shakily reciprocated.

“I’m… I’ve missed you. I’m sorry to see you under these circumstances, and I’m really really glad that you’re okay. I will make sure this tosser leaves you be, okay?”

She sighed, not wanting to get into it with him about being able to take care of herself; having a witness who was a high-ranking Auror didn’t exactly hurt, and besides, she knew he’d been scared. “Thanks, Harry. Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 17

Cormac was not well pleased by their surprise. “Exactly who else could have successfully orchestrated this wake up call, do you think? You, at least, Hermione, you should have known better.” He looked at her like she was food and he’d skipped some meals. “ You sent me down this path, after all.”

Hermione carefully kept her face neutral. “What path, exactly, and why do you say that, Cormac?”

The wizard scoffed, absently checking his nails. “Cleverest witch alive, indeed.”

Harry was slowly spreading left away from Hermione, but didn’t think he could get a quick enough cast out yet. McLaggen could duel some - he bragged about training in it, in Quidditch, and he wasn’t stupid or inept, exactly, just… had questionable taste in priorities and a tendency to gravely misjudge some things about himself, especially in relation to others.

Hermione schooled her tone, trying to keep his attention on her. “Cormac, please, I’m sure you’ve got reasons - won’t you help me understand?”

His eyes flickered back to her, then Harry, then back. He put a thick old oak between himself and the Chosen One before he replied, sidestepping slowly as Harry tried to adjust from a greater radius.

“It’s quite simple, really. Once I had reflected on it, I determined that that noble thing to do would be to visit your… people… so that I could learn more of their customs and correct whatever faux pas I had committed in my initial overture to you. Obviously , the intricacies of Muggle society were more complex than I’d accounted for, or so I soon learned.”

“Um… how… romantic of you.” She did her best to smile, even when he said initial . “How did you go about that?” she asked, trying to do the big, earnest-eyed thing that Neville was so good at as she sidestepped slightly, trying to help Harry and also not lose him behind the unhelpful tree.

Cormac shrugged. He hasn’t had anyone to talk to in days, probably hasn’t had anyone to brag to about this whole scheme at all… talk, McLaggen, talk… 

Aloud, she said, “From what perspective did you decide to learn about Muggles?”

She swirled a fingertip through the beads of sweat above the scooped neck of her shirt - just as well the spare she’d had was low-cut. His eyes snapped there and stuck. “Cormac?”

He kept looking. “As we had discussed before you spurned my proposal, I had been planning a hunting trip with my uncle to the colonies. After we first parted ways, I was despondent and saw little point in proceeding with the expedition, but he brought me around. While we were there, of course, Uncle Tiberius commended my skills and qualifications to the local government, MACUSA, and I received permission to stay there a while and engage in some examination of the Muggle world. I was curious about this science I’d heard tell of, and have always excelled at potions, which I understood shared some principals...”

Behind him, Harry suffered a professionalism failure and dropped his head back in disgust, then mimed a running mouth with his hand. Hermione reflexively glanced at the motion, making Cormac look. McLaggen missed the jibe but paused in his account to shift his position. 

Hermione glared at Harry, who raised his hands placatingly and mouthed “sorry.”

Hermione scraped at her thoughts “Um… yes, I remember hearing Slughorn complimenting your fine work…” (she hadn’t) “...and Snape was always asking the rest of us why we couldn’t have your instinct for the most precise art.”

Cormac preened, taking a step closer to her and putting his hand on his hip, striking a sort of devil-may-care pose. “Just so. At any rate, what I know best, though, is government, so in coordination with MACUSA, I was able to attain a position as an assistant to a high-ranking official at something called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the Director of MACUSA’s Bureau of Covert Vigilance and No-Maj Obliviation that helped guide me to find and obtain the position - quite keen for box seats at the World Cup, and I was happy to share.” 

He shook his head, picking up steam but still too wary to let himself be surrounded. “Let me tell you, I was grateful that my family isn’t one to prune its Squibs - the entirety of Muggle society is obsessed with computers, but at least I had had some prior experience from visiting my afflicted cousins. Between that and some discreetly applied organizational spells, I managed quite nicely, and sent reports back to the Bureau, which believed Muggle technology used by NOAA might be capable of detecting magical beasts, workings, or settlements if unmonitored. They weren’t wrong - though the Muggles were always delighted to come up with the most absurd alternate explanations for what were clearly magical phenomena, so perhaps the extent of the fuss was unwarranted… but… Hermione... ” 

His eyes grew wide and frightened. “Those sodding Muggle muppets are halfway to killing us all.”

Summer 2018, Covent Garden, London

What the hell, she thought, stuffing her placard into a recycling bin. “Yeah, sure, I’d love a pint, Mira.”

“Great! You never come out with us, Hermione!” The sweet woman grinned. “Got to keep your spirits up to fight this war!”

“Or keep them down once you’ve imbibed them!” another volunteer jeered. Funny fellow, coached football somewhere. Thought his name was Lorcan.

“Yeah, let’s avoid any trouble with that tonight,” said another, fellow named Ben who worked with Forestry England. “Those were my favorite shoes, Fraser, and they came out of the wash weird.”

“Gentlemen! It was a long march. Let’s just drink long enough to stop picturing that grotesque baby balloon and live to rise up another day, okay?” 

Mira was clearly the Hermione of this group. Hermione enjoyed just being able to skate along the outskirts, which wasn’t usual for her in the world she’d...well… emigrated to, sort of. 

Being the stranger in this strange land (the land in question being a pub in Covent Garden) had its ups and downs, though. 

“So, Hermione… What do you do for work?” asked Fraser, who had been imbibing at an alarming rate, was leaning toward her with a leer he might have thought was a smile.

“Em… I’m just a civil servant.  I’m at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Yourself?”

“I’m between things, as it happens - going back to read Economics this year, though. But the JNCC - so I guess you must be a brainbox, trying to fight the fight inside the system, yeah?”

She smiled a bit, nudging her stool a bit farther from him surreptitiously. “Well, I put in a lot of hours, so.”

“Oh, but you have to live your life, too, my dove!” He put his hand on her knee. “When’s the last time you had a good time? I just love a bird who takes the fight for global justice to the streets.” 

And then he lurched, trying to kiss her. She stepped neatly aside, plonking a note on the bar. “Oh, I manage. Listen, lovely to talk to you, Fraser, but it’s half ten, and I have to work tomorrow, so… ta for now.”

She shouldered her bag and indulged the urge to make a face when he could no longer see it. Lorcan fell into step beside her when she started heading to the door. “Was he bothering you? Are you okay?”

His smile was solicitous and kind. She returned it. “I think you’re right that some of the merry band could stand to partake of fewer libations, but I’m fine. Thank you for checking.”

“Yeah, well,” he shrugged, “taking better care of each other has to start locally, or so they tell me. And it was nice you came out. I get the sense you don’t see the sky much.” He grinned at her sheepishly, which turned out to be a good look on him.

She paused, not wanting to just blow him off, standing there. “So, em… your team having a good year?”

“Oh, yeah, sure - are you a fan?” His eyes brightened a little.

Hermione gave a cringing little shrug. “Em, I care that you’re happy and succeeding, and I have some friends who ended up playing in the pros, but sport isn't really my thing. Hiking, maybe, but that’s not terribly exciting.”

“Huh,” he said, looking cocking his head at her and smiling still. “See, you have this air about you of someone who’s competitive. I guess it comes out other places, yeah?”

She laughed, because he wasn’t wrong. “I suppose it does, yeah.”

They stood there a minute, not saying anything.

“Um, well, would you like me to walk you to the Tube?” he said.

Hermione had been planning to get to the alley and Apparate, but couldn’t say so. “Em, no, I know you’re enjoying the company, and I don’t want to rush you out the door just because I’m leaving -”

“No no, it’s no trouble.”

Apparently he was the kind of bloke who helped a woman on with her coat, because he did. As he was doing so, she saw - “Neville?!”

The wizard glanced her way and looked a little surprised, then gave her a wink before returning to a tête-à-tête with an attractive older Muggle woman in a tight black dress. She had some interesting tattoos peeking out from under the sleeves and neckline. 

“I said, beg your pardon?” 

She snapped out of it, glancing back to Lorcan. “Oh, so sorry - just - spotted someone I went to school with.”

“Oh,” he said, looking disappointed. “Do you need to go say hello, or…”

She glanced back, and Neville and the woman were snogging vigorously. The Muggle woman looked about ten seconds from trying to climb onto his barstool with him.

“I think he’s… occupied.” She considered dimly that Neville’s short-lived encounters with Muggles likely worked out better than her own few attempts at dating them. Less talking meant less lying.

Lorcan followed her gaze and spotted Neville looking well and truly occupied indeed.

“Huh. Good for him. Shall I walk you?”

They went out the door. She followed him, turned about and not certain how to get to the nearest Tube station. They fell into step together easily. “Lorcan, tell me, is it a normal thing for everyone to have an old school friend who seems to have shagged the entire population of Britain? Because I thought I knew that one’s courting grounds, but once again, he has surpassed my wildest dreams for just how far a bike will go.”

Lorcan laughed, leading her into a small park, its lawn dotted with old shade trees. “Yeah, I might be that bloke to my old chums, if I’m honest.”

“Oh!” Hermione flushed as he paused, standing smugly beside one of the trees in what she realized was a very dimly-lit and out of the way park. “Oh.”

“It’s alright, love. Just means I know all the things to do.” He chuckled, walking toward her until she backed into a broad trunk. “I wasn’t actually sure you were game, but when you followed me away from the Tube, I have to say it made my night. I’ve had my eye on you.”

“Em, Lorcan, I did not intend to give you the impression that I...”

He frowned, shaking his head. “Oh, c’mon, woman, are you going to make me play the game where I chase you around the tree? No way you came here unless you wanted it.”

Quickly closing the gap between them while took a breath with which to more firmly refuse him, he pinned her to the tree with a thrust of his hips. She could feel his erection, and she raised one hand placatingly while the other fumbled for the little cat in her coat pocket.

It wasn’t there. She must have left it in her robes when she changed. 

“Lachlan, I am not playing a game, I don’t usually take the Tube, I was following you because I didn’t know...”

There was a sickening crunch, and the light dimmed, as her head slammed back against the tree. She felt a warm gush of fluid from her nose. It tasted like blood.

Lachlan was ranting, “Oh, you knew. And I was about to get my night with Mira, but there’s the elusive lonely bird, and who knows if she’ll be on the menu again? Teasing slag, I’ll...”

The cat wasn’t in her pocket, but her wand was in her sleeve. She case a silent bombarda , sending him crashing back into the tree he’d stood by earlier. He slid down the trunk, dazed, as Hermione cracked her neck and prodded experimentally at her nose. Fuck . It would need to be set.

Taking a breath to collect herself, she decided it wouldn’t risk magical secrecy to tie him to a tree with an incarcerous. 

Then, she looked through his pockets. She’d been an Auror, after all. She found a mobile, a wallet, and in one large inner pocket, 8 pairs of knickers, worn, in a variety of sizes and styles. She sighed and dialled 999 on the mobile. 

“Hello, I’d like to report a crime. Please do not interrupt me - the situation is in hand but I do not have much time.” She paused, irrationally irritated that doing this meant she had to listen to her own distorted, nasal voice. “I am… a public figure and an official of a foreign government, and for various related reasons, prefer not to give a statement beyond this: I was attacked by a man called Lachlan Bridgewater, of Highgate, approximately ten minutes ago. When I declined a sexual invitation, he used unwelcome sexual touch, to wit grinding me against a tree, to restrain me. When I continued to try to decline without escalation, Mr. Bridgewater struck me with a closed fist, breaking my nose. I am calling you from his mobile, which has GPS enabled. I am...trained in self-defense and was able to incapacitate Mr. Bridgewater, who is currently restrained with a convenient rope in a park you will find when you locate the phone. I am going to leave for medical attention, but wanted to alert you for both Mr. Bridgewater’s safety and in case you have any open cases in which women’s knickers have been taken as trophies, because Mr. Bridgewater has some interesting things in his pockets. There is a woman named Mira Baum a the pub about a block away - sorry, don’t know the name, but it’s all yellow inside and out - sitting on the farthest stool from the door, petite, brunette, white - who I believe was Bridgewater’s originally intended victim, and as they have a relationship that may give him continued access to her, I would very much appreciate it if you could warn her, even if you can’t connect him to any outstanding reports.” Hermione looked up, hearing whistles. “I believe you have officers nearby now, so I’m going to leave. Thank you for your assistance.”

She dropped the phone on Larcan without hanging up, and gave him a disgusted look but decided not to kick him before she Apparated away. 

….Which was a stupid, stupid thing to do with a broken nose that hadn’t been set.

When she landed, she staggered against the mantel in pain, blood gushing down her face alarmingly. “Help! Please!” 

A startled house elf popped into the room, eyes widening in alarm as he immediately disapparated again. 

Ten seconds later, Draco was there in formal robes, pale and running to her side. “Hermione! Oh, God, are you alright? What happened?”

Hermione winced, pointing at her nose. “ Episkey me?  Worried I’ll align things wrong if I do it myself.” 

God, she sounded like a munchkin.

He did, and it hurt, but then it didn’t so much. A moment later, after a hurried exchange, an elf went and returned with some first aid supplies. 

“Here,” Draco said, sitting her guiding her to a white wingback chair near the fire. 

“I’ll get blood all over it, Draco, I-”

“You think I give a damn about that?  I’ll buy another if it can’t be cleaned. Sit.”

Sighing, she did, relieved at least to sound like herself. He handed her a potion for the pain and then gently daubed the blood from her skin with a soft, soapy cloth, then just a wet one. Several minutes passed in silence. 

Finally, he was daubing some sort of bruise balm on her cheeks and around her eyes, his gray ones still pinched with concentration and what looked like worry.

“You should have seen the other guy.” Hermione joked half-heartedly.

Draco mustered a weary smile, still working. “Get into it with a big bully again, Granger?”

She rolled her eyes. “I didn’t escalate to physical violence this time, thanks. I’ve become very mature in my old age.”

He smirked but refrained from comment.

“You’re all dressed up,” she noticed. “What did I interrupt?”

He sighed, finally finishing and wiping his fingers cleaned. “Nothing, really.”

“Ah yes, those are your ‘nothing really’ formal robes.”

He rolled his eyes, packing up the first aid things. “If you must know, we had Astoria’s parents over for dinner, along with Daphne and her new beau. Lady Greengrass, it seems, is eager to apprise us of,” his jaw flexed a bit, “a new healer at St. Mungo’s who specializes in fertility issues after a loss.”

“Ah.” Hermione looked down. “That sounds important. I’m sorry - I should have gone to...”

He spun and pulled her into his arms. “You should have come right where you did. I’m glad you’re alright. Those people matter nothing to me.”

She dimly realized there was now blood on the white cuffs of his robes, and slumped into his embrace. “I was scared.”

“Who hurt you?” he stormed. “Where are they?”

“You know I won’t tell you,” she smiled weakly.

“You know I have to try ,” he ground out.

She looked up at him. “I didn’t leave without making certain he’d be taken care of by the appropriate authorities. Probably better it was me than whoever else he might have targeted, given my training and abilities.”

His brows went up. “So he intended to… and you know that he’d, before...” He closed his eyes a moment, resting his chin on her head. “Hermione, why is your predominant thought when someone tries to hurt you relief that it was you instead of someone else? Do you never… worry about you , like the ones who love you do?”

Hermione stilled. That word had not come up before. She took a minute before she spoke.

“I suppose it helps me to feel as if my suffering was a price that needed to be paid for something to be solved,” she murmured. “My relationship with life is based on identifying and solving problems of systemic violence and abuses, so it dovetails nicely. Maybe I’m trying to be strong for… for the ones I love. Maybe… because Draco, if I didn’t, after everything we’ve lived through, I’m not sure how I would function.”

He held her a little closer.

“Stay here tonight. I… I can just hold you, or go elsewhere, or sit in the chair, if you like.”

“I think I’d like for you to hold me, if that’s alright.”

Chapter Text

September 14, 2019, Part 18

Hermione paused, thinking. “Is what you’re talking about a sort of climate crisis?”

Cormac looked shocked. “You know?

Hermione considered her reply, noting that McLaggen had forgotten to keep sidestepping. “How did you find out?”

Cormac pulled at his hair. “They… Muggles… they have this...it’s …” He shook his head. “I don’t… but I’ve seen it work - like… like alchemy or magic, responsible for many of the things in their world… but… but it’s all like some...some perverse sort of dark blood magic , if you could somehow use the entire sodding planet as the sacrifice made to gain power...through burning the remains of things dead millions of years...”

Hermione bit back her instinctive inclination to suggest terms he might be grasping for, like fossil fuels , trying instead to watch for Harry to get a good opportunity. There was no need to rush this and risk someone being hurt.

“I confess it’s more complex than I can explain to you,” he sniffed, finally. “Suffice it to say, over the last lifetime or so - that’s all the time it’s taken - they have… poisoned everything . The,” he scrubbed at his sniffling nose, “The oceans, nothing will be alive in the oceans, in less than 50 years, and… and plants and animals are going extinct at a maddening rate and no one’s even hunting them, they won’t be there to be hunted, or eaten, or bred in preserves, or...anything. 

“They’ve… they’ve changed the air, some infusion of acid to the humors, and it’s destroying everything. Everything . Our children, Hermione, they won’t live to die of old age, we may not even. I mean, I checked their Arithmancy, thing, and it all seemed to check out, and not just one researcher or one field, but as if… as if every department of the Ministry, every subject taught for masteries, as if just herbology plants and creatures and charms and transfigurations all started going off , in directions all pointing to the same cause. And... if there’s a way for magic to fix it, I’ve looked, and I don’t think we know it yet. But that’s not even the worst… part…”

He paused to shoot a hex at Harry, viciously and without warning, before putting his back to the tree, breathing heavily. Hermione tensed, almost certain he’d dodged, but on edge because she could no longer see him.

“There are things they could do to… to give us a chance , with some modicum of difficulty, and they know, they know, and they do nothing. Well, they...nothing….nothing good . I… I found out because I was tasked with destroying records of the work the scientists who report to the NOAA were doing, hiding them from the public, even delivering notices of termination to those who discussed the fruits of their research anyway. But then, then, some of them were talking, and they had gotten information to... to whatever they have instead of things like the Prophet, I guess, or the wireless… and it was all published , but printed right alongside manipulations saying it was all lies, and buried among a thousand other things people would find more urgent, like some sort of... Slytherin-orchestrated campaign of diversion. It’s mad. And… and it’s working , like the damned war all over again, and everyone’s too scared to put their head up, and there’s… no order, no Dumbledore, no… no…” 

He turned and shot several angry hexes where last Harry had been, growling. “No… fucking… POTTER… to save us all only for us to die excruciatingly a few years later.”

Hermione was grimacing, now, which was just as well because she’d probably get hexed, too, if she didn’t show any alarm when hearing why it was that McLaggen was coming apart at the seams.

He turned back to her, wiping his sleeve across his lips. “I might be able to forgive your little indiscretion , Hermione, but your sodding great hero is a limp straw man on fire. You should know: the Death Eaters may have been right all along. If we’d had the Muggles in hand - not,” he raised his hands placatingly, “the trusted families that produced Muggleborns, perhaps, I’m not heartless - but if we’d… if we’d kept the filthy masses in check, the sort that could never have created an incredible anomaly like you , with your...your talent and charisma and your…” He shook his head, pushing away the distraction. “They should never have been trusted, not any more than your precious Potter , and we may all burn.”

Where to bloody start? Fucking McLaggen… Hermione chewed over her thoughts. Wait, indiscretion? “Cormac, are you...are you talking about an involvement between Harry and I?” No one should know, no one’s been in this mess but us…

McLaggen sneered, angry enough to stalk forward and jut his wand under her chin so fast that she didn’t throw her Expelliarmus fast enough. “Oh I heard ALL about how you couldn’t WAIT to get your legs around the Chosen One, princess. I suppose at least there wasn’t a bedroom to hand, and perhaps from what my elf overheard, he hasn’t had the chance to soil my favorite little twat, and you can thank me, soon, that he never will. I went to suffer for your little games, Hermione, and I learned that the world needs a real savior in the process. But you just can’t keep your knees closed long enough for me to get back? Wanton little tease, we will have our reckoning.” 

He had increased the pressure on her throat as he spoke, and she coughed a little to find her voice. “Nella, you brought her here?”

He rolled her eyes at her stupidity. “Why would I do that?” He nudged her forward with his wand jabbing up and under her jaw, pushing toward her incisors.  She followed as he backed toward the tree again. Reaching it, he looked around for Harry before he continued. “I told you - these are the Ancestral McLaggen Hunting Grounds.” He smirked. “The Lodge has its own elves, and it’s quite near. It was a simple matter to guide those pissants who came before, and then even you.  I simply manipulated which path was easiest, so you stayed in places still under the wards.”

Hermione couldn’t help arguing. “That’s not possible, Cormac, we’ve come such a distance, there’s no way...”

“Yes, not now, not anymore, but before, and still much of it! Some of the lands were sold in my Great Great Grandfather’s time, to settle some debt. But even from the diminished holdings, I figured out how to make the family wards remember . It was a simple enough matter - my great uncle hasn’t spoken for years, he was wasting away, really, and his sacrifice helped make all this possible.”

Hermione paled, becoming less hopeful she could talk her way through this. “Cormac, what did you do?”

“I tied the wards to all the land that should be ours. No magical ownership since, no curse breakers, no one to clear away the traces. It was clever, Hermione, and maybe if you’re very contrite I’ll teach you, I know cleverness makes your knickers a mess.” He smirked, considering the possibilities. 

Hermione, meanwhile, wished she shared the New World vultures’ capacity for self defense through rancid projectile vomiting.

But still she tried to feign being impressed around some half-genuine curiosity. “So, the...the travel restrictions, then, with the storm, they’re to do with the wards, are they? I didn’t think those were in the rain…”

He laughed. “Yes, though hilariously mixing the old man’s blood with poor dear Zappy’s in a potion here, a ritual there, has made it so that as the storm expands, so too do the wards, to an extent. I wonder - will the Ministry be so grateful they’ll overlook my little annexation? I suppose time will tell, once the truth is known…”

Well, I’ve never known him to name any animal that wasn’t a trophy, so if “Zappy” is the Thunderbird…

Showing a degree of perceptiveness he’d never evidenced before ( or perhaps a newfound interest in legilimency , she thought with a sick feeling in her stomach), he seemed to guess what she was thinking. “Oh I haven’t killed him, yet. He’s still got work to do, and I thought I’d let you try to persuade me to let him live.”

Right, arsehole, write me a list of the things you expect me to grovel for in my lingerie. 

Her inner monologue was making her feel a bit better, in the absence of an intelligent interlocutor. 

“He’s been a trial, though,” he sighed. “At first, I simply bound him to wander anywhere over the wards, but last night I had to forge a chain directly to the Lodge - he’d tried to land, you see, and that was not permitted. At least I had the pleasure of hunting him again, even if I couldn’t kill him, and even if the savor was sour when, thanks to the perception of the wards, I could Apparate directly to him.”

“I still don’t get it, Cormac - maybe you can explain to me. Why this? Why the storm and the miserable freezing potion in the rain? Do you know you almost killed me with it?” She added the last a little impulsively. She’d not be over that in a hurry, and her list involved him groveling in a dark cell in Azkaban, where she’d never have to hear it.

He furrowed his brow. “No, I didn’t. I thought you were the last person that idiot Potter would send up here, much less bring himself. And I am sorry for that, love, but I had to act.” He looked around at the whipping branches and discolored sky. “Zappy was a happy accident of a second American expedition, south of the first. I confess I brought him down by accident, not having recognized his species from a partial glimpse - thought he was a rogue hippogriff. I’d understood Thunderbirds were vanishingly rare, and generally resided southeast of where we were. 

“When I saw what I’d brought down, and that it was alive, well, I couldn’t very well tell MACUSA I’d near-fatally injured one of their most coddled creatures, could I? I managed to Disillusion him and snuck back in the night, intending to finish the job - probably make it look accidental somehow... But then I thought… What if there were a catastrophe so unprecedented the Muggles would HAVE to act? I mean, I knew Wizards would figure me out, but I could buy the time to do significant damage to the jewel of the civilized world, here at the heart of the Empire, maybe even beyond, with such a powerful tool. It was easy enough to use the creature’s injury to control him and, sure enough, the Portkey brought him along with me back to here, simple as anything.”

Hermione wanted to scream. “If you did this all for me, did you consider how I would feel about the torture and enslavement of a sentient magical creature, given everything I have done to try to protect others like him, Cormac? Honestly, I...”

“Oh do shut up, woman, you misuse your mouth.” he cut across her. “You’re always on about the one endurring hardships for the good of the many. Just because I designate another, lesser being to endure instead of of myself, you judge me? That seems a very masochistic sort of conceitedness to me, Hermione, and it looks ill on you.” 

She just sort of twitched, casting furtive glances behind him whenever his flat wide eyes let go of hers.

He sighed, stroking the side of her face. “But I can forgive you. The work here will be done soon - the storm is undeniable and it will get more so still before the bird falls down from exhaustion.” He stepped a bit closer, the stab of his wand lessening as he examined her face. “Then, with both it and Potter gone, I suspect much can be explained in the best possible light when I take you back and unveil this grave new threat and what I’ve done for my allies, along with what I’ve planned to save us. I will be heralded as the new, true savior of our kind around the world and we will prevail. You will have the great honor of standing behind me as I take the seat of power and we face the Muggle blight to fend off our annihilation. You are the most suitable witch possible to be my helpmeet and my solace in the difficult days to come.”

Alright, enough, some risk is worth it to stop listening to this tosser and make sure Harry’s okay. Hermione was fairly sure she’d set her hair on fire with accidental magic if things continued in this vein.

“Cormac… when you were in the Muggle world, did you happen to watch any movies?”

“Ah,” he smiled. “Yes. I didn’t forget to explore your cultural heritage, princess. In fact, I quite enjoyed a...fillum?... about a baby who wore little muggle dress robes…”

Hermione sighed, leaning her cheek into his hand. Delighted at her compliance, he stepped closer, lowering his wand and moving his mouth toward her parted lips, pausing when she spoke. 

“Shame you missed the ones with the consequences for long-winded villain monologues, then.”

Which was when her bombarda caught him in the ribs. Because in his unmitigated arrogance he’d never taken her wand, and because she was good at working out her angles, and because she was something of an expert at casting that particular spell silently.

With a wet crunch, he flew about twenty feet sideways before falling limp to the ground. She stumbled a couple steps in the other direction with the recoil, which she’d braced for. 

--

An instant later, as she straightened herself and shook her head, Harry took off the invisibility cloak. He’d been about six feet behind Cormac. They looked at each other.

She smirked a little, rolling her head on her shoulders with all the braggadocio she could muster. “Too slow.” She mimed a mic drop, with a little pssssssssssh - boom sound.

He rolled his eyes as he walked up to hug her and ascertain she was okay. She started prodding at him to do the same. 

“You know, Hermione, I could say that that was an unnecessary risk, but you just so enjoy gloating, and I’d never rob you that.”

“Oh shush, I didn’t know you had the cloak - when I didn’t see you, I thought maybe he’d got you.”

He looked at her quizzically. “Hermione, it folds down to nothing. Of course I had the cloak. I always have the cloak. I just had to circle until the wanker would take a shot at me so that he’d think I’d gone down instead of engaged in trickery.” He ruffled her hair. “Also though, you’re a majestic creature and that was pretty hot.”

She grinned and softly punched his arm. “Yeah it was.”

--

There were a lot of things to do. 

McLaggen was unconscious, but as they neared him to make sure he was neither faking nor dead, the house elf he’d had helping him appeared, terrified, and reaching to try to Apparate him away the second he landed. Harry was the one quick enough on the draw to prevent that.

Hermione felt vaguely guilty as she let Harry scare the elf - only a little - into taking all four of them back to the so-called Lodge, saying it was the only way his master would get timely medical attention - which was not untrue.

Cormac still enjoyed leaving around little messes drawn in the bodily fluids of others. Hermione was able to dispel his modified wards by quickly studying the spell circle he’d drawn in the lodge’s trophy hall, but not until she could stop retching. His poor, poor great uncle. Through the gore, he very much resembled Cormac’s diffident mum.

Harry convinced Hermione not to truss and gag Cormac up and hang him on the wall opposite a disintegrating, taxidermied merman in the foyer. There was an empty space the right size and everything, but he was probably right that it could have complicated the trial. 

So trussed and gagged on the floor it was.

Shortly after that, the Thunderbird made a hard landing in the garden. It was alive but looked grim - several feathers had been lost or pulled, and it had several seeping wounds. Hermione, at a rare end of her ability to think before she acted, walked right up and hugged its neck. After a startled moment, it closed its eyes and huffed, and seemed to fall asleep. Accidents and Catastrophes would have to find another way to disseminate something to neutralize the hypothermia puddles. 

They cast what healing charms they could on the beaten creature then agreed Apparition should now work, so called for backup. 

Hermione collapsed face first onto an overstuffed chesterfield and let Harry send his Patronus to the Ministry. 

While they waited for help to arrive, he stole a few inches of sofa from the exhausted Hermione, and sat beside her, gently stroking her back. “So that stuff he was saying - how much of it was mad bollocks and how much of it was true mad bollocks?”

Grudgingly, she suffered the laborious act of turning over onto her back so that she could look at him. “Well you know some of the score. If you haven’t been looking lately, you may not have seen the stuff about the oceans going sterile and all, but it, and the time frames, are about on target with what’s being said right now. And several Muggle governments are colluding on misinformation campaigns to marginalize science and cast doubt on the evidence, including the one in the US, which… don’t even get me started on that. The most major cause of it all is carbon build up in the atmosphere, but the processes that contributed to that buildup are… well, there are lots of them and Muggle and Magical Society. Let’s face it, witches and wizards get to fob a lot off on the Muggles getting stuff done, and we would all have to make massive changes to mostly salvage things at this point. And fast. Like, over 11 years, fast. Bye bye, fossil fuels and meat-consumption and… well, yeah, it’s a mess and we should all be terrified.”

She drew in a breath. “That said, I have submitted numerous bills and memos on this subject - ones, I might add, that Cormac has been copied on, over the course of years.  I have found some Muggle-born allies in other departments helping to, say, experiment with transfiguration and alchemy that might be able to make massive changes to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. This crisis is not something that Cormac discovered like some foul plot that only he could be the hero to save us from. The fact is that those of us who are worried don’t get much more traction with the Ministry than the Yanks get from their government. The Magical community, and especially its members with seats on the Wizengamot, which is so antiquated it’s painful … their disdain for Muggles is just rampant, Harry. The crux of it among mages is that no one credits people like my mum and my dad with the intelligence and ability to be able to destroy the earth’s capacity to support human civilization within a century or so.”

Harry picked up her hand, looking searchingly around the room as he processed this. 

“You know… I think I’m going to call a very interesting press conference to debrief the Prophet and the international correspondents in London about this storm. I hate the things, so everyone will be curious why the Auror’s Office is talking for once. I think,” he said, scooping her legs into his lap so that he could better fit with her on the sofa, “that I’ll schedule it for shortly after you’re released from St. Mungo’s. Maybe, if you could guide me to some published evidence and smart overviews, I could meet with Blaise beforehand, see if we might work something out for a special feature. With an exclusive.”

She smiled. “An exclusive with the Chosen One, eh? Going to save us again, Harry?”

He guffawed. “With you , you ridiculous witch, who is at least as responsible for any saving that gets done around the Ministry as anyone! I mean, I’ll come too if you’d like, but mostly just to combine celebrity power and nod along.  You’ll be doing most of the Press Conference talking, too.”

She smiled a little at him. “Maybe a day between hospital discharge and the Rita rodeo, for other matters to be attended to? I’m afraid I have a goodbye I’d like to say in person.”

He kissed the knuckles of her held hand. “Do whatever you need to do to move on - I know… I know he matters to you. I’ll be there after.”

“Thanks.” Hermione smiled, basking in the unfamiliar warmth of trust. “I love you.”

“Eh, I guess you’re alright...”

She summoned a pillow, half-heartedly lobbing it at him. 

“Oof… fair. Then… I absolutely adore you, love you, and… am strangely unphased by the suddenness of all of this because it feels like it’s the only possible way it should ever have been.”

“Better.”

March, 1996, Room of Requirement, Hogwarts

Things had been going so well until Fred and George ducked back in, predictably carrying the makings of a party. Hermione hadn’t even noticed that they’d left. 

“Alright, ye band of siblings, tonight we take libation, for tomorrow, we may die!” Fred’s voice carried over the pairs of students practicing shield charms as he ran into the center of the room, seizing a practice dummy to spin and dip it. 

“Especially if we’ve got Binns, who seems to want to form his own club by way of deaths by boredom.” George said, conjuring a huge, low table that rose up below some of the students’ feet where they stood. “Who wants a drink?” He upended a bag of wizarding treats and pastries on the table, pulling an impossible number of bottles of gigglewater and firewhiskey from inside his jacket to add to the offerings.

“Fred! George!” Hermione huffed in exasperation (and Harry had to stifle a laugh when she actually stomped her foot). “We’ve been making excellent progress on protective charms tonight, and I don’t see why-”

Titillando!” Fred yelled, aiming his wand at Ron, who managed to shield himself in time, only to have the hex rebound on Lavender. She took full advantage of the opportunity to fall down giggling in his arms.

“FRED!” Hermione was incensed and started stalking toward him. 

George shrugged, peering out from behind his brother as if perplexed as to what the problem could still be. “ Redactum Skullus!” He aimed a head-shrinker at Neville, who both shielded himself and lept up with a snarl and a successful disarming charm.

“You see, Hermione?” George pulled Fred with him, backing  away from the advancing witch. “Everyone’s gotten quite good! No harm now in a rest and building up some camaraderie, now, is there?”

She was fuming stubbornly and kept coming. “No harm until we’re all so hungover tomorrow we’re sitting ducks if anything happens, you mean.”

Mouthing something profane, Fred summoned George’s wand and handed it back to him. “Alright, alright, we can see you need a better demonstration. George?” George nodded at his twin... before the two released a cavalcade of jinxes, hexes, and curses at Hermione. 

Hermione shielded and lost some ground under the attack. Harry heard a Tarantallegra , a Steleus , and a Mucus ad Nauseam before he scrambled up beside Hermione to madly cast shields beside her. There was a Locomotor Mortis , a Ducklifors , and a Flipendo before Ron extricated himself from Lavender and leapt up on her other side. After additional cries of Levicorpus, Furnunculus, Anteoculatia, Slugulus Eructo, Locomotor Wibbly, and Calvorio , the three had drawn level with the two tricksters, who laughed and tucked away their wands, holding up their hands in surrender. 

“Now, see that?” George started applauding, nodding to encourage the others around the table to join in. “That’s work well done, if you ask me, and a lot of why it works so well-”

“-is teamwork!” Fred continued seamlessly, gesturing to the three of them. “And the team that plays together, stays together!” Fred beamed. Hermione cast a revolted look over her shoulder at Ron, who started and scurried back to Lavender, then surveyed the unusual mirth on people’s faces. 

“Oh very well.” She sniffed as everyone started joking, conversing, and serving themselves drink.  The Room, of course, had conveniently provided some glassware. “Everyone stay sober enough you can get back to your dorm undiscovered later,” she growled.

Harry chuckled as she stalked to throw herself down on one of the floor cushions that had also appeared around the table. Yep, he was definitely the general here. Huh. Had that disco ball been there before?

As the lights sank to become less dojo and more disco, the unmistakable sounds of The Weird Sisters started playing in the room. It occurred to Harry that he had no idea how recorded music worked in the Wizarding world, and he made a mental note to ask someone later. For all he knew, the Room had just made its own bootleg during the Yule Ball.

The thought of the Ball made him scurry to sit near Hermione, entirely as a show of solidarity (despite the fact he thought maybe they did need a break a bit) and not at all because Parvari and Padma had started dancing around together, drinking Gigglewater on the table.

--

“And then, and then, she just… psssh. I don’t understand girls, Hermione, I don’t.”

In the background, she dully registered that Fred was explaining how some game involving kissing worked and draining the last few swallows from a bottle of  firewhiskey as he went. 

Harry, meanwhile, took another sip of his gigglewater, shaking with a sad little chuckle from his sideways slump against Hermione’s straight back. She’d turned her back to him because it seemed the best way to keep him upright without it getting awkward. 

“Well, Harry, I’m sorry I haven’t got a manual for you. I suggest you try considering her as an individual, though, rather than a member of the ominous set of people who fall under the heading, girl .” She shook her head, peering over her shoulder to see if he seemed alright. “I’m sure many of the things that would help you make headway with Cho, say, wouldn’t work with, well, Ginny, or me, or Parvati-”

“WHERE?!” Harry sat up quickly, looking around.

Hermione brushed his hair back from his face soothingly, a little confused. “Um, I think she’s sat down to play Fred’s game, want to go and see what they’re up to?”

Harry nodded slowly, doggedly hanging on to her sleeve as she shuffled down to the end of the table where everyone else had congregated. Well, except for Ron and Lavender, who had disappeared behind the back of a couch facing the other end of the room a while ago. Not that she’d particularly noticed. 

“Parvati… Parvati is… hidden depths, Hermione, that that is all I will say! A gentleman… a gentleman…” He hiccupped and seemed to forgot what it was he’d felt was so important about gentlemen. 

Hermione wished she were underhanded enough to surprise the details of whatever that was out of him when he sobered up tomorrow. Ah well. 

Meanwhile, Cho was crawling across the table to snog Fred, who did not look at all disappointed as he leaned to meet her. Leers and jeers around the table broke into applause as the younger girl colored and scurried back to her seat, giggling to Susan and darting little smug glances at Harry, who had, until recently, been her boyfriend. 

Harry’d gone rather sniffly as he watched his ex settle back into her seat. “A Manual. Think you’re onto … to something, there.” He looked thoughtful before his face fell into a pout. “That didn’t look wet at all! My snog, the one I got, ‘s just drenched, sopping!...” He whined, folding his arms. 

Hermione wet her lips with the finger of firewhiskey she’d been nursing since this ridiculousness started and tried to conceal her laughter. Poor Harry. 

Apparently it was Fred’s turn at … whatever this was now, because with great fanfare, he got a running start to slide into the middle of the table on his knees, pointing and winking at several of the ladies from the Quidditch team as he came to a halt. With a rather salacious waggle of his brows, he spun the bottle. 

When it came to a stop, it was pointed right at Hermione. 

She hadn’t really been paying attention, but she still knew this could not possibly be good. Meanwhile, though, Harry had mopingly curled up with his head on her lap, so she couldn’t really dodge the incoming ginger, who went from looking skeptical to evaluating and increasingly happy as he slid on his knees over to her. 

The assembled crowd was catcalling and started chanting her name. She put down her drink and rolled her eyes. “I suppose this means we kiss now?” She yelled to be heard over the jeering. 

Who’s kissing ‘Mione?!” Ron’s head shot up from over the back of the couch, whipping about before it settled on his brother. His unbuttoned shirt was barely hanging on to one of his shoulders. 

She also heard a muffled “Huh?” from her lap as Fred looked between her and Ron, his expression ratcheting down several notches from positively lascivious to mostly innocent. He flashed Ron a disarming smile and then gave Hermione a chaste peck on the lips. He then handed her the bottle, scurrying back to his seat. Ron growled at him but then seemed to be tugged down behind the back of the couch again, yelping shrilly as he went.

Hermione was left holding the bottle. Harry looked up at it, confused. “Am I having a really odd dream?”

“If you are,” she said, “I don’t appreciate your dragging me along into it with you.” She sighed and helped him sit up before walking primly to the center of the table. “I spin it, yes?” She placed it down and held it from rolling off with one foot. 

There was a chorus of “yes.”

Sighing, Hermione toed the bottle into a credible spin, her mouth a long-suffering line as she waited for it to slow. Various bits of unsolicited advice to the widely-assumed-innocent prefect were shouted over the laughter as everyone waited with her. 

Hermione, who had dated an older wizard whose more popular groupies had groupies, was irritated by this. Whatever she’d said to ease Harry’s mind, they hadn’t only studied together - and some of what they had studied had lead to practical experimentation, of course. She was sick of all the assumptions that someone logical, smart, or rule-abiding couldn’t also be hot-blooded. It set off feminist twinges in parts of her brain nestled near the bits where she was pissed off by the plight of house elves, or the summary execution of innocent hippogriffs. It added a particular irritation to it all that she supposed this was a case in which she herself was the subject of dismissive assumptions. No one should have to be lessened unfairly. No one should be judged superficially or told by others what their place was. 

Hermione had smouldered down to the bit of her brain where she was so steeped in the respect she was so adamant all people deserved that she thought the whole lot of them (ie, the same people who deserved respect) were utter tossers. Then, the bottle finally stopped. 

It was pointing at the spot between Angelina Johnson and Ernie Macmillan. Hermione looked over to George and Fred, who were snickering. “Well, what do I do? There isn’t a clear choice.”

“Well…” George straightened up, smirking. “You could pick one. The daring thing to do is to kiss both, though.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Really? No one else has done that yet, and I’m sure this can’t be the first it’s happened.”

Fred grinned. “Well, yeah, but it’s the first it’s happened to a Gryffindor .” He made a little claw swipe gesture at her. “Got some daring and nerve to set you apart, Granger?” He winked, sure she was seconds from telling them all to get back to their dorms.

Instead, she said, “Fine. Assuming you consent to this absurdity, over here, then, both of you.” She beckoned to Ernie and Angelina, pointing to two places in front of her. The two looked at each other in amused surprise, and then stepped up to her across the table. 

“Hermione, you don’t-” was out of George’s mouth, and “If it won’t be fun, just-” was out of Fred’s before she went up on her toes and threw her arms around Ernie’s neck. He made a little squeak as her lips moved against his, his eyes rolling around in a daze before he finally shuddered and shut them, his jaw visibly opening to let her in. After about ten seconds, one foot had lifted up behind him, the toes of his stocking foot curled as he finally let his hands settle on her waist, pulling her into him. Then, finally, she pulled back. When his lower lip left her mouth, it did so with an audible pop. 

There were roars from her housemates and gasps and reluctant claps from others as Ernie stumbled back to his seat. Hermione turned to Angelina, who was already smirking at her expectantly. Hermione, surprised to find she’d finally reached the other girl’s height, leaned to whisper in her ear. “You have any points that need making to anyone in the wings?” 

Angelina’s gaze swept over Lee, George, and Fred before returning to Hermione’s with a smirk. She bent to whisper back. “Let’s make it good. Mess up my hair - never let Lee or Fred touch it, it’ll drive them spare.”

Hermione shrugged and then leaned in, pressing her lips sweetly to Angelina’s, her fingers combing up from the nape of her neck into her hair as she paused to trace over the older girl’s lower lip with her tongue. 

The peanut gallery was complaining. Lee tried to assign her some sort of Quidditch foul.

They grinned at each other and Angelina’s hands tangled themselves into Hermione’s hair, pulling her back for more. 

Well, they both looked pretty windswept by the time they were done. The twins and Lee had decided to enjoy the view instead of protesting the unfairness of it all at some point, and were only jostled out of their gaping reveries when Angelina took Hermione’s hand and swept her along into a bow. 

Hermione laughed, having to admit this was pretty hilarious. Until she saw Ron, agog, staring at her from over the back of the couch, and Lavender, irritated, trying to button her blouse.

She shook her head. “Alright, I think that’s enough party. I’m headed to bed,” she said, whereupon Angelina shrugged and gamely offered the younger girl her arm. “ By myself. Um. Have fun, don’t stay out too late.”

Only one thin “yes mom” came back from the hooting and laughing and perplexed DA for a change as she walked to the door. She found Harry waiting there with her bag in hand and the Maurader’s map out. He grinned and offered a soft “well played,” then they set off back to the tower.

Chapter Text

September 16, 2019, Part 1

By the time she stepped through the grate, it was late morning, and the light coming into the room was at such an angle and of such brightness that it had its own shape rather than simply illuminating what it touched. It had always been a pretty time of day in this room. She sighed a bit at that thought, then dusted herself off, nodding to the little elf who had appeared before taking a seat in the light. 

She was exceptionally relieved to have gotten out of St. Mungo’s this morning, and both surprised and grateful to have found Shacklebolt so receptive to the plan she’d concocted during the hours since their return when Harry had been persuaded to gingerly lie, fully clothed and taking up as little space as possible, beside her in her hospital bed to sleep. He’d refused to leave her side, but he was exhausted. 

The press conference, later this afternoon, would be her last duty before taking a healer-ordered week off to rest. While at the Ministry, after talking with the Shacklebolt, she had managed to slip into the Wizarding Examinations Authority and have a word with Michael, who was surprised and sad enough to have to apologize and take a seat, but who was very kind and understanding when she made her best attempt at the concise explanation she felt she owed him. He promised to still keep her in the loop about the international exam and credential, but of course, time would tell. 

Which left her current errand. 

She fondly skimmed her hand over the spines of the books on the small case below the bedroom windows, thinking that it would be a bittersweet thing, not to visit them again. And then he was there.

She stood up. “Draco, please forgive me. I have done you a great wrong, these many years, in never telling you before today that I love you.”

The graceful man before her stopped mid step along his way to meet her, turning pale. They looked at each other a moment, her eyes sad, and his eyes widening, before he sat on the bench at the end of the bed and asked, “Ah. Tell me what has happened?”

She walked over to sit beside him, the light slipping down her back her as she walked out of its direct reach. She intertwined their hands and kissed him, leaving her forehead leaning against his. “I have loved you a long time. Since very close to the beginning, certainly by the time you risked telling me. I am so, so sorry. I am so sorry that I never said.”

He sighed, nodding slightly against her. “I know. I understand, love. And I know.”

She sucked in a shaky breath, pulling back to sit upright and dash tears from her eyes. “I think I’ve been very selfish. I think I’ve kept you for myself and robbed you of chances you may have had to find a love you would live rather than simply endure for. What happened… what happened was… was Harry.” 

Draco slouched back, his shoulders falling onto the foot of the bed. He was quiet a moment, his eyes screwed shut.

“Draco, I didn’t know, I didn’t intend, it just-”

“Hush. Hush.” The second time he said it, he did so less quickly and more soothingly. “I was wondering if that bit of sheer idiocy your otherwise incredible mind nurtured would ever get rooted out. He… well, he’s just a lucky tosser who I will have to murder if he ever hurts you, and I really don’t fancy seeing the inside of Azkaban again, so I ask that you pass on my most sincere regards.”

She flopped back alongside him, cupping his cheek to her hand. “I want you to be happy. Please believe me that you deserve that in ways that I think we both know, after everything, neither of us could give the other. You… you deserve to be good in the open and to love without it being a knife you cut yourself on. You deserve forgiveness from yourself. And for whatever it’s worth, you had mine a long time ago.”

He was quiet a moment, looking back at her. “I’d like to believe you.” He sighed, looking up at the canopy and massaging the creases between his brows with thumb and forefinger. “I… Astoria has made it to week 34. I haven’t dared mention it; she’s been poorly and in seclusion, but the child seems a font of life yet. I don’t think that until very recently it even occurred to me that this time could be different, but it seems more likely than not, now, that I will be a father. I would...I would so like to get that right, Hermione. I desperately hope I can.” His face turned back to her. “Maybe that’s where the stain can lift, for me.”

Hermione nodded slowly. “I can’t imagine you being anything less than an exemplary parent, Draco.  I… I would love for there to be a playful time in your life, finally. You would never hurt another as you were hur- oh, don’t make a face, you know this, you know you were hurt, and that it was reprehensible, what your parents unleashed on you as a child.”

He snorted. “Yes. Well…” He sighed. “On a related note, do you know Potter and I see the same mind healer about our charming past traumas? I passed him in the waiting room once. Absurdity and eventually drinks once a month ensued.” 

Hermione looked up, avoiding his gaze and fidgeting with the embroidery on the coverlet with her fingers. “I… may have referred you both her way.”

Draco nodded. “We figured that out. She… she’s helped.”

They held each other for a long moment, after that. 

Finally, he spoke. “I have been anticipating the end this entire time. I don’t know if there could ever have been any getting out from under that. For what it’s worth, I feel a little lighter, even as it… hurts. For what it’s worth, I’m happy for you.”

She squeezed him fiercely. “Thank you.”

They shared a final kiss, shuddering against each other, and then she ran through the fire before it all could shatter, before they could be broken together, again.

2017, Hogsmeade

“Git,” he said with a nod.

“Tosser,” he said, sliding onto the stool beside him.

Mutely, they both picked up their pints, twisting the glasses to different vantage points to take them in. The blonde blew some dust off his before leaning over the bar to pour it down the sink. His companion shrugged, looked around furtively to see if the barkeep was anywhere to be seen, and did likewise. 

Then, the two stepped behind the bar, casting Scourgify on… well, everything. Three broken glasses on the floor were mended and put into the bin to wash. Then, with a moue of distaste, Draco tossed wilted-looking citrus slices in the bin, swearing to find it nigh overflowing. While he took the rubbish out back to empty, Harry pulled each of the liquor bottles down in turn, noted which were empty, and then tucked into the back room to replace them. When he shuffled back juggling various spirits and decoctions, Draco was slicing new lemons and limes he produced from his pockets.  

They fussed over updating the inventory together  and shoved the bar’s new order through the Floo to London when they were satisfied.

When they were done, each pulled himself a new pint and they clinked their glasses together, taking their first sips just as an old but hardy-looking wizard creaked down the stairs into the room. 

The two younger wizards raised their glasses to him in salutation, quiet. Aberforth, meanwhile, eyed them suspiciously. 

“Awful quiet and awful sober this evening, gents. That’s all you’ve managed all this time?” He gestured at their nigh-full glasses.

The darker of the men shrugged disarmingly. “Worknight.”

The barkeep narrowed his eyes, glancing between them. “Riiiight. Well,” he shook his head, “better have at least three then before I see the backs of you, and I’m looking forward to that, so drink quick.”

The blonde smiled with a supercilious little bow. The barman responded to this by cupping his sharp, pale face between two huge, grimey hands. The blonde squeaked, his feet scrambling off the rung on his stool to find purchase on the floor as he was pulled forward. “What’s that, again, son?”

“Uh… yes, Mr. Dumbledore, sir,” Draco said between choked gasps. 

The barman stared flatly at him for a long count to ten before releasing him, sending the younger man scooting back to his stool before his elder could think of some other way exorcise his grumpiness. “Malfoys. Sass from the tips of your pretty golden locks to the nails on your pretty pink toes. Psssh.” 

Shaking his head, Aberforth grabbed a bucket of goat feed from under the bar and walked out the back door.

Harry continued valiantly not laughing but couldn’t look at anything other than his pint until the moment was a little farther past. Malfoy stretched his neck to one side then the next.

“Do you suppose, Potter, that anyone other than us, the ex-Death Eating nincompoops you catch here, and Beeta and Prue ever drink at the Hog’s Head these days?” 

Harry shrugged. “Not sure. Hermione got him a Muggle tablet and showed him how to use Etsy, though, and apparently he’s making a killing on goats’ milk soaps and cashmere yarn, so I’m not entirely sure it has to.” He took another sip before he could look at his companion, who was peering at the spinning wheel in the corner. Last time they’d met here, Aberforth had been deep in his own firewhiskey and singing sea shanties as he spun, which was an unforgettable evening’s entertainment. 

Finally, Draco shook his head. “Well. As long as he’s well.”

“I’m curious, Draco: why you care so much. Care to let me in on it?”

“Well… he knows I didn’t kill his brother, and everyone knows he didn’t like his brother, but I was a part of that whole mess. And…”

“Oh ho, a story!” Harry rubbed his palms together, settling in with relish. “I knew there was something.”

“Yeah yeah, go give yourself an Order of Merlin First Class… oh wait ,” Draco widened his eyes, pointing skyward theatrically, “you already have one, you obnoxious little wanker, so do you want to hear or not?”

“Oh,” said Harry, gesturing magnanimously with his pint. “Do go on.”

“Oh, oh, thank you , o Chosen One, for condescending to listen to this poor little Death Eater, sir, thank you so much.” Draco sneered as Harry nodded airily. “ As I was saying, also, the last time I visited my father in Azkaban, we knew he wasn’t doing well - nothing to do with the conditions, thanks for that, but that much dark magic, you know the drill. So… I was allowed to bring in some 1683 Blishen and we had an interesting talk, and it turns out-”

Wait, ” Harry cut him short, his forefingers pressing his temples and his face going peeved. “You are telling me that you had a drunken end-of-life bash with your dad and no one on the Auror squad was alerted to be there with extendable ears?”

Draco smiled beatifically. “Potter, perhaps, one day, I’ll drown you in the galleons in my second-smallest vault, and then you’ll understand exactly the impact obscene wealth can have.”

Harry sulked. “Oh go on, then.”

Ahem . Well, turns out, during the Battle of Hogwarts, when Aberforth charged onto the scene, my father was dueling with Shacklebolt in the Transfiguration corridor, somewhat too preoccupied to notice Galumphing Goat-Lover there coming up on him. So Aberforth picks him up by his color, right, an’ he looks down his considerable nose at Lucius Malfoy , inventor of nose-looking-down, and says ‘Miserable little toerag still in trouble? Ye’re nae soddin’ worth it’... and hit him atop the head. When father came to, he was in the recovery position on the floor of the Prefect’s Bathroom, and Peeves was throwing water balloons at him.”

Harry nodded slowly. “Which probably...”

“... which definitely saved his life.” Draco nodded once firmly. 

“Huh.” They both sipped their stout. 

“That isn’t even all, though.” Draco got very, very flushed around the cheeks. “Um, so it’s not well known, and it’s only because I saw him with her up the wall by the goat shed, but… well…”

Harry’s eyes were saucers. “ Who?!”

Draco winced a little, grimacing. “Rosmerta.”

Harry choked, his beer shooting from his nose. “You are full of it! Full of it. No way.

Draco shrugged. “Apparently, she likes them older, I guess. But, em, he probably knows about the little, well, Imperius thing, so…” Draco shrugged. “I feel there are amends to be made.”  He canted his head consideringly. “Plus, well, he’s the prime example in these isles of the prickly old bastard with a dark past, and I need good role models.”

“Huh.” Harry finished his tidying of his person and looked thoughtfully at Draco. 

“Oh sod off.” Draco said, waving away the other man’s too-sincere regard. “I’m… trying. To… to do better.”

“Yeah,” Harry sighed, swirling his glass. “Just… don’t do it to the exclusion of all else, or it feels worse again.”

“Yeah, yeah, St. Potter, you’re not among my household idols and icons, never you fear.”

Harry paused, searching for tactful phrasing. “So… Hermione...”

“Is not a subject we shall discuss, Potter.” Draco said lightly, his eyes shuttering as he took a sip of his drink.

“I,” Harry groped for the words. “I was just wondering if she’s okay?”

Draco turned and peered at the other man, quiet and calculating.

Harry squirmed. 

Draco canted his head, still watching.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Malfoy, what?” Harry’s cheeks were tinged pink.

“Are you asking me…” Draco drawled slowly, “about your best friend, the most brilliant mage of our age, about so high, who you consistently manage not to be available for a sodding pint with, to the extent sometimes she cries, to me, about how she misses you and feels so damned lonely and forgotten? That Hermione?”

“...Yes.” Harry replied in a small voice, looking down at the last swallow or two of his stout in its glass, his eyebrows knitted but somehow more thoughtful than embarrassed.

Draco watched him just as attentively as before. Then a little longer. Then threw his hands up and turned back to his own drink, a look of abject disgust on his face. “Oh fuck me, you have got to be...”

“Be what, Malfoy? What?” Harry stood up so fast he knocked over his stool, his wand suddenly in his hand. 

Draco also stood, eyes narrowing as he slowly drew his wand. “You know Potter, I actually don’t think you’re asking that as a rhetorical question.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Malfoy?”

“Ooh no, no no no no,” Draco lowered his want, chuckling and heading back to his seat. “No, this one you figure out without relying on brains outside your own head, you...”

Draco didn’t get any farther than that, when, with a roar, Harry tossed his wand over his head in frustration and threw himself at the man.

They sputtered, each getting the upper hand in the resulting grapple in turn for a little while. As a point of honor, neither of them hit the other’s face as they rolled around the filthy floor, sinking fists into stomachs and ribs and spitting curses of the good old profane kind at each other. At some point, Harry lost a shoe trying to kick Draco’s shin.

Which is what they were doing when the lovely elderly hag couple walked in, stilling in the doorway with rattling gasps of surprise at the nice boys who also drank here sometimes.

Harry looked up at Draco, and Draco looked down at Harry, straw from the floor caught both hair both black and near-white. Straw from the floor, in fact, all over them both, and their bodies pressed close together as their breath came in ragged gasps. 

Harry wished he could sink right through the floor. Draco, meanwhile, smirked and stroked the side of Harry’s face, his wink altogether evil.

“Oh, hello, Beeta, ‘night, Prue!” Harry panted, mustering a welcoming grin and trying to squirm out from under Draco, who suddenly seemed quite comfortable stretched out over him. “Um, Aberforth’s out back, but shall I tot you up a couple sherrys, then? One twist lemon, one lime?”

Harry gave the other wizard a look that screamed, ‘ seriously?!’ , and Draco hesitated another long beat before he gave the darker man a lazy smile and climbed off of him, dusting himself off with aplomb. 

Harry managed to get rid of the worst of his mess (glaring mutinously when Draco helpfully brushed his arse off for him), then grabbed the offered drinks. When he placed them down, Prue covered his fingers with her own greenish ones and rasped up at him that she was so happy for them, nice boys that they were, before relinquishing his hand with a motherly pat.

Harry walked over and sat, unwilling to be seen running out the door. He finished his pint while Draco side-eyed him, smirking, then put a galleon on the bar.

Harry gritted his teeth. “Always a pleasure, Malfoy. I’ll… I’ll see you next month, but have recalled that I have to debrief Neville this evening. Em.  Urgently.”

Malfoy lazily held up his glass, grinning wickedly. “Cheers.”

Harry walked stiffly to the fireplace, toeing on his missing shoe as he went and not looking behind him.

Chapter Text

September 16, 2019, Part 2, The Ministry of Magic

Hermione looked around the raised hands surrounding the podium. “Question from M. Le Epineux-Scruter,” she said, pointing to the foppish correspondent from Le Monde des Magiciens

“How, ixactly, vill your Meenistry change, Mlle. Granger?”

Hermione nodded. “Thank you for asking, Jean-Pierre. As of today, the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is being renames and reorganized to become the Department for Magical Creature Advocacy and Cooperation. As the head of this department, I will assemble a commission to restructure its subsidiary offices to better reflect our new mission. 

“In addition to that, because he strongly felt that these actions should justly go hand in hand, Minister Shacklebolt has formed a new Commission on Magical-Muggle Relations, and has appointed myself and Mr. Potter as its founding officers. Others will be selected to serve on this committee from the Wizengamot and Ministry Leadership, with the goal of assembling a team that represents the full spectrum of Wizengamot and Ministry operations as well as a broad spectrum of blood statuses. The majority of the Commission’s seats will be held by Muggleborns or half-bloods with enough experience of the non-magical world to be fluent in its customs and norms. The Commission will thoroughly examine the current structures within the Ministry’s several departments that deal with our interactions with the non-magical population and government and assemble them under one new department. Like the reformed Magical Creatures Department, this Muggle-related department (as yet unnamed) will serve a mission of greater cooperation and understanding.”

“Em, if I may -” Harry stepped up from behind her, and she stepped back to where he had stood, beside Shacklebolt. “This most recent incident of the gyre, which thankfully the Ministry has been able to resolve...” Harry signaled for a few people cheering to quiet down, “was caused in part by ongoing ignorance by the magical population of the non-magical world, and involved the serious abuse of a sentient and endangered magical creature. This incident was caused by not just a wizard, but an educated and influential pureblood Ministry official who sincerely believed himself to be doing the right thing, and who fought with Dumbledore’s Army at the Battle of Hogwarts. Several of us in the Ministry, especially those who were active in the Order of the Phoenix during the war, believe that we need to take bold steps in order to substantively redress the problems in our society that have opened doors to so much bloodshed and loss in our recent history. And, on reflection, our steps so far haven’t been bold enough.  This was an opportunity for us to see and confront that.” Harry stepped back, nodding his thanks to Hermione as she returned to the podium.

Hermione looked over the crowd and bypassed Rita Skeeter, who was bouncing like a small child in need of the loo, in favor of her colleague. “Question from Mr. Zabini of The Daily Prophet .” Hermione, who noticed a mutinous glare from reporter to editor as Blaise stood, asked herself if she was bothered - and found she was not.

“Ahem, em, thanks, Ms. Granger. First, I’d like to go on the record to say that The Daily Prophet supports this overhaul and that we will work diligently to ensure our editorial board and reporting staff cover this process and its stakeholders fairly over the months to come. Additionally, for many of the same reasons the Ministry is changing, we have recently started a Muggle News Desk, whose responsibility it will be to broaden the magical community’s understanding of news that may originate in the Muggle world but will impact us all.”

“You are to be congratulated and thanked, Mr. Zabini, but is there also a question?” Hermione smiled wryly.

“Oh, yes, er… sorry, usually I just edit.” The attractive wizard blushed and smiled sheepishly, earning some sounds of encouragement from the other press assembled. “I was wondering, since the problems the Ministry hopes to address aren’t unique to the UK and Ireland: Are more global efforts also underway?”

Hermione nodded. “Excellent question. I’m going to hand this one over to Minister Shacklebolt.”

She shuffled back beside Harry, hoping no one noticed that their feet and wrists were brushing against each other, as Kingley stepped forward, his gravitas stilling any fidgeting in the ranks.

“I personally will be leading a task force within the Department of International Cooperation and especially working in concert with the current holders of our seats on the International Confederation of Wizards to report on the changes we are making here and encourage others who may only need to see an example, our example, of such a movement succeeding to have the courage to do what’s right. If possible, we will try to form an international coalition to support such changes through preferential trade statuses, patented potion and spell sharing, and so forth. The longer I live, the more I fight, and the longer I hold this office, the more I learn about the ways we harm ourselves and others through stubborn misunderstanding. We have made incremental improvements since the War - enough, I think, to open minds and doors toward the larger changes that are truly needed to get us on the right path. This is work that I am proud to be a part of, especially with such brilliant and dedicated colleagues helping to lead the charge.”

Hermione grudgingly took one additional question, from Skeeter, but then said it was time to wrap up without answering when the question turned out to be about who had designed her clothes.

Fortunately, in her irritation, Skeeter missed Hermione’s hand on Harry’s lower back, guiding him out the door back inside, after the wrap-up.

2008, Diagon Alley

Harry’s eyes were drifting over all the changes to the familiar street as he walked up to the latest of several attempts to successfully occupy the space once occupied by Florian Fortesque’s Ice Cream Shop. This one sold sweet and savory crepes, and he was looking forward to trying it, even if the location had some bittersweet memories attached.

 “Ah, there you are, Harry!” He looked around to the speaker just as she enveloped him in a tight hug. 

A full minute later, he gently pushed back at her shoulders, feeling fairly awkward that she wasn’t letting go of him. Of course, she wouldn’t notice, he supposed. She smiled up at him dreamily, her pupils tiny pinpoints in seas of silvery blue in the bright afternoon sun. “How are you?”

Harry smiled, walking with her to a table. “I’m hanging in there, I suppose. For some reason, today, I’m looking around at everything that’s changed,” he said, gesturing around himself to the various shops that weren’t on the Wizarding high street of London when first he’d come here. “It’s different, but I finally feel like this place has fully recovered from the war.”

“Mmmm.” Luna nodded, her gaze sweeping around them before settling back on him. “Even Knockturn Alley is beginning to find its feet again. It’s worth a walk, if you haven’t been.”

Harry chuckled, racking his fingers through his hair. “Well, it hasn’t gotten wholesome enough down that way that I don’t still have work visits every week or two. It’s interesting to see that there’s a not-entirely-dodgy book shop, now, though, and I think there’s a new place that does magical tattoos.”

Luna nodded, eyes skimming her menu. “Yes, they’re quite beautiful. Cho got a really lovely one last spring of a Chinese Fireball that flies the entire circuit around her hips.”

Harry winced a little, “That sounds painful - it must be huge.”

“Oh no!” Luna smiled thoughtfully, looking around and finally picking up the pepper mill. “No bigger than this - it just flies about. Shoots plumes of fire a little bigger than it is, sometimes, too. I like looking at it. It’s very nice.”

Harry shrugged. “I’ve never seen a magical one. I suppose it makes sense they would move.” 

The conversation paused when a server came to take their order. Luna ordered a savory one that featured billywig eggs, which Harry thought she was more than welcome to as he anticipated his own Nutella-banana creation. 

Luna, whose tendency to seem dreamy was really excellent camouflage for her perhaps literally uncanny perceptiveness, answered the question he hadn’t asked. “Yes, I did. I hope you don’t mind. It was lovely, and I think they work well together. Ginny still misses you, though.”

Harry sniffed, looking down at his folded hands. “I miss her, too.”

Luna watched him a long moment. “It will mend.”

He shook his head. “I really hope so, Luna. It feels a long way off.” 

She smiled. “Close, too, though.” 

When their food floated over from the kitchen, she looked like a cat with cream, eyes closing as she waved the steam from her plate toward her nose. “Billywig eggs make you float, you know - around the heart and off the floor. Peppery, too. Always nice, but especially in low times. You really should try them sometime. You’re welcome to a bite, if you like.”

“Maybe… not today, but thanks.” He savored the first bite of his own crepe. “This is excellent, too. Feel free to try some, if you like.”

She did. They ate in companionable quiet for a while.

“What’s that, Harry?” Luna nodded to the hand that was absently fiddling at a small bulge in his breast pocket. 

“Oh!” Harry fished out the tiny little figurine, perhaps the size of an acorn. “Luna, maybe you’ll have some thought about this, actually. It’s the strangest thing. I mean, now Herminone’s moved into her apartment, we’re only a few blocks apart, but Crookshanks showed up the other night, of all things, in my bedroom. Great orange blighter appeared to be waiting for me - he was glowering straight as the door as I walked in it. Frightened the pants off me. I put my wand away and caught my breath, and then he just looked at me while he put this thing on my pillow. He’d been carrying it in his mouth.” Luna had picked the little cat figure up and was studying it. “I went to try to collect him, give him a pet, and return him to his mistress, but the great fiend just jumped past me and walked right into the fire. My bedroom fireplace isn’t even on the Floo network. It was really weird.”

“Huh,” she said. “A maneki-neko, but it still manages to look a little like him, don’t you think? They’re usually less grumpy.” She poked its nose affectionately.

“What did you say it was?”

“A maneki-neko. They’re Japanese. Meant to be good luck, and maybe based on a fairy tale about a kneazle - though I guess there’s a Muggle version with a cat - that brought new fortune to a struggling inn by beckoning to customers, or something like that.” She handed it back to him. “It feels important.”

“Right? Some sort of magic, though I can’t really identify it.”

“Yes. He was a clever cat.” She smiled wistfully.

“Wait, was?” He leaned forward, suddenly much more alert.

“Yes,” she sighed. “Rolf and I were in the Ministry this morning to get a portkey together for our expedition to the Galapagos, and I stopped to say hello. Hermione had Scourgify’ d her hankie to a pulp, so we left her both of ours. He passed last night. She said she wasn’t getting much done and she’d probably go home early today, which…”

“... which I’ve never heard of her doing without being forced at wand point before,” Harry finished, remembering the time she’d gotten a horrible case of Levitation Sickness and just would not put aside her revisions of whatever reform she was working on at the time.  He’d had to pick her up and carry her to St. Mungo’s after she’d nearly fallen over. 

He fell back in his chair, rubbing a hand across his eyes. “Like she hasn’t had enough misery on her plate, with Ron and all. A hell of a time to lose another friend. She must feel so alone.”

When he looked up, Luna was staring fixedly at him. He sat up straighter, shifting awkwardly under her gaze. “What’s on your mind?”

She smiled a little, canting her head. “I think that little cat might make her feel better, after a little time has passed. Maybe wait on mentioning where it came from, though.”

“Because he gave it to me, and not her?”

“Yes.” She looked at him knowingly, though he had no idea what exactly she was knowing , as usual. “Interesting, that, isn’t it?”

He looked at her quizzically a moment before finding a new subject. “So... things are still on track with Rolf, eh? You have noticed that he’s absolutely smitten with you, I hope.”

She grinned. “Oh yes. I expect he’ll want to be married after a week or two of beaches covered with lancing wilbins and chartreuse whistlepigs. The long term’s not to be, but I’ll handfast him, I think - a year and a day could be nice, and I think he’d be a good parent.  Enjoyable to become one with, too. I’ve already been researching charms to increase the chance of twins.”

Harry marveled at… Luna. “Wow. That’s... Congratulations?” 

She stood, leaving some coins on the table, and crossed to kiss his cheek. “Yes. I’ll invite you, of course.” They walked toward the Apparition point nearby. “Do tell Hermione she’s welcome to keep the handkerchiefs, won’t you? I know she’ll try to return them, and there’s really no need. I have more to do at the Ministry, of course, so I’ll stop by the DMLE and tell them you’ll be out this afternoon. I’m sure they won’t mind.”

Harry stopped, backing up his thoughts from where they’d already progressed to Apparating to Hermione’s right away.  He shook his head and hugged his most mysterious friend. “I… yes, I’ll do that right way. Thanks, Luna.”

“You’re very welcome.”  She positively beamed at him.  “We’ll always help each other, Harry.”

Chapter Text

September 16, 2019, Part 3, Grimmauld Place

One moment, he was taking her into his arms at the Ministry Apparition point, and the next, they stood together on the top stair outside number 12 Grimmauld Place. The facade had been washed and the windows and balconies were full of planters of red geraniums and yellow and orange snapdragons - the Muggle kind, not the magical cultivar that nipped. The door had been repainted a deep red, its serpentine knocker replaced with a brass phoenix. He’d told her about the knocker but she hadn’t yet seen it. It was early evening by now, so the likeness of Fawkes, which Harry had made change to indicate the time, was looking rather bedraggled - around ten, it would burst into bluebell flames and light the portal until near dawn, the knocker itself the shape of an egg nested in the flames. 

Reluctantly taking his hand off her as she took it all in, he reached out to the doorknob, which unlocked instantly under his hand. 

“Shall we?” he asked, watching her take in his now-welcoming home. She looked back at him with a shy smile, biting her lip as she nodded. 

Inside the foyer, they both sat on an upholstered bench to remove their shoes, both smiling softly and keeping their eyes on their feet until they were done, and awkwardly standing. 

He faced her, smiling, and cast some wordless spell that turned music on softly throughout the house. It sounded to Hermione like Billie Holiday. 

She cocked her head, meeting his eyes in her curiosity. “Another techno-magical triumph?”

“Later,” he said, smiling and pulling her into the expansive great room that now made up most of the ground floor. She noticed that it had become a still warmer space since last she was here, through a combination of decor clearly inspired by the Gryffindor common room and an air of having been lived in amiably for some time. Then, still looking around, she looked up to find herself in Harry’s arms as he gazed fondly down at her.

They swayed a moment before Harry moved her into a slow triple step. She chuffed a little laugh and followed.

She dimly heard the lyrics “ I’ve heard it said / That the thrill of romance / Can be like a heavenly dream” as he pulled her through an underhand turn into a cuddle step, pausing to pull her off balance into a lean against him hip to hip and kissing her temple before spinning her back out again. 

Hermione caught his eye through the flurry of arms and twirls she thought might have been called the tabletop, and saw him mouthing along to the lyrics, “ I go to bed with a prayer / That you'll make love to me / Strange as it seems…

No longer did each turn stutter with questions. Every time Harry pushed her out into a spin, she came back to him into a close, effortless closed position. Around the tenth, they were so close they were nearly tripping over each other, pressed together more intimately than would work with any faster song. The world seemed to slow around them, weight clinging to each step, each beat, each moment.

Somewhere in the verse “ Hugging and a kissing / Oh, what we’ve been missing,” Harry dipped her almost to the floor, holding Hermione suspended in the death drop as he gazed down at her unruly curls pooling below her on the floor. 

The song came to an end. 

With some clever maneuver, Harry leaned over Hermione and snatched her from the air, his hands seeming to simultaneously let go of her and appear beneath her, lifting her up into his arms. As he started toward the stairs, she realized he didn’t intend to put her down and snuggled into his grasp. 

“You practiced.” She said, smiling up at him and indulging the urge to alternately kick her feet from the knee, where his arm wrapped under -  an expression of glee as light as her heart. 

“I have tricks now, too,” he confided, chuckling as he took in her self satisfied smile and bubbling energy. “You know, aerials, stunts, lifts, drops. I’m looking forward to showing you something called the lock up, and another called around the world - no long-distance Apparition involved, I promise. And… maybe not the tornado for a while.”

After her giggling died down, their ascent of the stairs became quiet, the sounds of their breath clearly audible over the strains of, “Our Love is Different,” which had started to play. Their gazes seldom flickered apart. 

At some point she whispered, not wanting to break whatever spell seemed to be woven of the moment and its quiet. “I thought this was the last floor before the attic?” 

Harry smiled and shook his head. “I did too, until the house finally gave up on being rid of me - or appreciated my exhaustive use of Scourgify on its grimy mug.” 

He carried her up one more floor to a small landing with a single door, then into a bedroom almost the size of the great room below. The dark wood floors were mostly covered by a variety of beautiful, mismatched carpets - Hermione remembered that Harry had enjoyed an Auror-swap mission in the Turkish Ministry a few years ago when she saw them. There was a large lit hearth on the near wall, opposite a large four-poster bed with deep red hangings and a blue counterpane speckled with embroidered stars. Every wall featured large windows and views over London, which should be impossible… but she’d gotten somewhat used to such things by now.

He gently lowered her to her bare feet on a teal tree-of-life carpet in front of the fire, his hands settling on her hips. Without hesitation, she stepped into him, her fingertips skating along the beltline of his trousers as her arms encircled his waist. He leaned his forehead down against hers. 

She smiled up at him as she began, slowly, to untuck his shirt at his spine. Her fingers darted beneath his shirttail when it came loose and slid up the taut musculature of his back for a moment before working their way back around to his navel. 

He relished the feeling of her deft fingers and of his own body stirring in response as he watched her, still conjoined at the hairline, though her eyes darted between his own and her work. 

Untucking done, her fingers rose to alight on the button at his throat, pushing it through and out. Then she paused, gnawing her lip for a moment as she considered the many buttons left to go before smirking and returning her eyes to his as some unvocalized, wandless spell neatly severed the thread holding each remaining button on as her hand swept down. Her hands skimmed under the parted fabric, barely touching him as she pushed the shirt off his shoulders. Her palms finally slid back up his softly twitching triceps as he willed himself to stillness, the sleeves bunching in folds around his wrists. She bent forward and placed a claiming kiss on his shoulder, whirling her tongue over his skin and loitering to hear a breath hiss through his teeth.  Then, her lips tickled just under the outside end of his collarbone. His grip tightened on her hips as she nipped at him with her teeth before sucking a purple bruise into his skin, its shape reminiscent of her smirk. 

Harry shuddered but remained still, watching her and smiling softly.

Hermione looked back up at him coyly as she tugged his cuffs past his wrists, the shirt falling to the floor. His eyes narrowed slightly as he spotted something mischievous shift in this woman he still found it difficult to believe was here with him, like this. She had gone expectant and still. So, moving slowly, he eased his grasp up to her waist. Biting his lower lip, he pulled her jumper up in one smooth motion, lifting her arms with it as he removed it and tossed it aside.  He clasped their raised hands together for a moment before he slowly brushed his fingers down, from her own all the way back to her waist, and finally curled them up her spine to pause at the closure of her bra. Looking up at him, the playfulness in her eyes gave way to some heat, she nodded once, assenting to his silent question.

She could never pop the thing loose so quickly, and he grinned at her flash of annoyance at his dexterity. His voice rumbled low between them. "Think of it as a way I can make myself useful to you. I'm skilled at fastening and unfastening all manner of things. You can devise challenges for me - I know how you love exams, and revising," he said, pausing to kiss her softly. "You drill me on how to undress you and re-dress you in pretty knots with ropes, or," he sucked along her neck to her pulse point, "I can tie your ankles to the bedposts and leave you open to my ministrations until you want to throttle me for just tickling you for hours on end, or," he bent to whisper at her ear, “if you’re clever, I’ll play the stern professor and assign you,” He paused to punctuate his remark by pulling her hips into a grind against his, “inches.” He lost track of his words a moment as he listened to her hitched breaths and thrust his clothed length against her a few more times. “Though, as you’ve already observed, my essays can be quite hard, and maybe lengthier than what most are accustomed to…”

“Such absurd innuendo, Harry,” she mock chided, rolling her hips against his. “I’d say don’t be thick but I can see … mmm… feel that you can hardly help it.” Then, with a little growl she caught his mouth with hers, sucking any backtalk from his flippant tongue. While he played and she pounced, their mouths moving together and apart, she tore her bra down her arms and pushed him back, spinning to pin him to the wall beside the mantle. 

His eyes raked over her exposed chest - open to him with intent and as an offering, rather than as a joke of fate, this time.  “Hmm. I think, Ms. Granger, that you’ll find terms like profound and prolific are better words to describe me.”

"Hmmm.  Perhaps,” she mused, stepping into him.  “I do find I wish to be a star pupil - shall we begin?" she said pulling his hands together with both of hers and fastening them at the wrist with a sticking charm. “I think you’ll find I enjoy showing off just how capable I am,” she murmured into his shoulder before she broke to lift his arms, sticking his bound wrists to the wall just over his head. She enjoyed the play of the dim light over his rippling abdomen as he wriggled a bit, testing the strength of her charms. 

"Quite," he said, blowing an errant lock of his fringe out of his eyes. "But now that you’ve embarked on this ambitious project, what’s next, I wonder?" He watched the shift and shake of her glorious breasts, arching out from the wall in a vain attempt to rub his chest against them. It wasn't fair that he could see, could salivate, but not kiss or touch or ...

She smiled as his attention returned from thwarted aspirations to the present when she sank slowly to her knees in front of him. “I thought I might start viva voce ,” she smirked, her regard seeming to sear his skin as it raked up him. 

He gave up trying to parse the latin with an involuntarily gulp as her hands perched lightly on the buckle of his belt.

They lingered there a moment before slowly, slowly she pulled the leather end through and out. His abs dipped in behind the fabric at his waistline, pulling away from her slightly as her hot breath teased his navel. The bulge beneath his zip strained and twitched under her scrutiny. After a moment of watching him rouse for her, she reached up to let her nails scratch lightly down from his pecs, pausing to flick at his nipples, then skate down over his obliques. Finally, they drew together and unfastened him, pulling his trousers and pants down to his bare ankles in one quick tug. She was preoccupied by the sight bobbing before her as she helped him step out of each leg. 

"This may be a rather good consolation prize for the whole born-into-prophecy thing, Harry," she pronounced to his guffaw as she moved her head to behold his cock lingeringly from one side then the other. The engorged member leapt and swelled a little larger under her scrutiny. She pulled back, leaning her weight into the heels of her hands behind her to take in the whole wizard, who was looking down at her with a raw mixture of hunger and vulnerability, all tensed long muscle and faded scars. "Fuck, you're gorgeous," she breathed.

He looked at her, kneeling there, her skirt rucked up into a crumple around the middle of her creamy thighs, her breasts bobbing high and firm over the soft curve of her stomach, her face rapt in contemplating his carnal possibilities, and it was hard to speak. "You're transcendent. God, I can feel your eyes scalding me," he rasped. "Let me touch you."

She shook her head. "No.  Not yet. I suspect once you start I may not have the advantage of you like this again for a while. Please, indulge me." She leaned forward and laved the weeping tip of him with her tongue, relishing his groan as his knee buckled, his weight catching on his wrists above him as she tipped forward, gently pulling back his foreskin and enclosing his glans in her mouth. 

"Hermione…!" he gasped, trying to keep his hips from jumping. He hung there, deliriously oblivious to everything except her mouth on his cock. As her lips enclosed him, he felt her warm, wet tongue swirl up his slit then tease the circumference of his corona, finally settling into a rhythm of licking along his frenulum as she began to push her mouth down over him, then withdraw, in and deeper, then withdraw. He groaned in an agony of pleasure, looking down his body at her familiar expression of determination turned to an utterly new pursuit. 

Looking up at him, she strained to hold her mouth open wide enough, savoring the challenge he posed as she worked to meet it. She cast three silent, wandless charms, one to take some of the sting out of holding her jaw thus, one to minimize her need for oxygen for the next half hour, and the last to safely disable her gag reflex. She made sure he was meeting her gaze as she stretched her neck upward and pulled his hips toward her, taking him in to the hilt.

His eyes on hers flickered and he moaned so abjectly it startled him. This… like this… hadn't happened since the first time. 

Jesus, he thought, did they all sit and compare magical tricks for fellatio in the dorms at night? Shit.

Harry sputtered as what now looked like the truly monstrous bulk if him slid all the way out of Hermione’s small, rosebud mouth, and she paused to plant a chaste little peck on the very tip of him before swallowing him down again. He moaned and gnawed his lip raw at the sensation as she repeated it again and again before fixing on a quick rhythm and thoroughly fucking him with her tongue, lips, and throat. She'd even pinched his ass to goad him into jumping and thrusting into her - which he'd never - but he somehow got his knees cooperating and tried because, Godric, she wanted him to. As soon as he did, she freed his hands with a wink, and he found his fingers snarled in her hair as he fucked her mouth, his bollocks rhythmically slapping her chin as she kept pushing and pulling at his hips. 

Their eyes remained locked together through the most primal, visceral thing Harry thought he'd ever done.

She, for her part, was pleased as a cat in cream she'd figured the spells right to be able to do this impossible thing properly, and pleased as a cat amongst feathers to see him coming so unravelled for her. 

Just when he began to hear some corner of his mind protesting that this should not be the first way he came with her, Hermione gave him a last strong suck and, with a pop, pulled off him. He shivered as his glistening cock bobbed in the cool air while she cast a Finite on her throat and mouth. Then, she rose to her feet and they stood there, panting at each other for a moment, as she picked up his hands and he attempted to reorder his mind. 

Which happened very quickly, when it did, and involved Harry grabbing her skirt at the waist and tearing it away with both hands down the side seams, tossing the cloth away from her body with a low sound somewhere between a purr and a growl. He then dropped to a crouch, pulling her knickers down to her ankles as he went. Finally, he picked up her feet one at a time to step her out of the last remaining stitch of clothing between them. With the second foot, he pulled the tender underside of the arch into his mouth and bit , his free hand shooting to her hip to still her as she yelled and grasped at his hair to stay upright. Teeth gave way to tongue and he sucked his own small, dark welt into her flesh, grinning around his hold as he noticed the wet of her arousal dripping down her thigh, one brazen drop rolling past the inside of her knee. 

Which is how Harry came to lap a line up her leg to the source, pulling her thighs over his shoulders before he stood, lifting her until her palms flattened against the high ceiling. She shrieked in pleasure and shuddered as he buried his mouth in her soaking cunt. 

Mewling, Hermione listed to the side as his tongue unsprung each of her tense muscles from her center out. Her eyes lost focus and color rose in her cheeks. She pulled at his hair to give ungentle direction and feedback to his lips and tongue. 

When he gave a long, hard suck to her clitoris she cried out, her back bowing ominously, before she found herself landing supine on the bed. She forgave herself her uncharacteristic failure to even vaguely notice he’d been carrying her across the room and immersed herself in the sensations of his incredibly distracting tongue as he crawled up after her, splaying her thighs wide with his callused hands. She had never felt at peace with feeling so exposed before, but underlying his demands for access was a lifetime of trust and his clear relish at nuzzling deep into her damp curls. 

She wondered if it had been someone in a situation like this one had first devised Locomotor W-

Before Hermione could finish the thought, her back bowed off the bed and she screamed, her weight balanced on her crown and her sacrum as Harry’s hands clamped down on her hips to hold them steady. His lips and tongue continued their attentions as she shuddered through her orgasm, her legs involuntarily kicking out in spasmodic little bursts as the force of it swept and rebounded through her.

She realized, a bit later, that she’d closed her eyes. When she opened them to find him hovering over her, lifted on his elbows. He’d cast his glasses aside somewhere - she suspected they might need a Scourgify - and was looking down at her adoringly. “That was the most exquisite coming undone I have ever witnessed, Hermione. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

She blushed and moved to swat at him in embarrassment but he seized her chin and kissed her, letting his weight sink into her as his tongue did. She tasted herself on his lips and moaned, returning his kiss with such overshadowing heat that she didn’t even notice she’d wrapped her legs around his hips until after it was done. 

He had noticed, though.

He pulled back, looking at her flushed cheeks, her dark, bright eyes, the tendrils of her hair writhing all around her on his bed. With a slight shift of his hips, he was poised at her threshold. 

“Like this?” he asked. 

Years of coitus in challenging, research-based, fascinating, sexy, deep-penetrating, clit-stimulating, and/or g-spot-trammeling positions flashed through her memory in an instant. For the most part, they all tended to be high on rhetoric but low on intimacy - they avoided close eye contact and prolonged snogging, though, she had to admit, she’d managed that in missionary position by clamping her chin over a lover’s shoulder, too. With so much of the great wide world that was sexual congress, one endeavored never to come face to face enough to know if their partner had bad breath because one seldom had the luck to be copulating with someone whose state of hygiene was eclipsed by trust and love. She couldn't remember the last time she'd fucked and unreservedly wanted to feel her soul grasp and entwine with another's as much as to work out some other agenda, physical or cerebral.

She wanted to do this face to face. 

"Yes. Like this is perfect. Just like this." Sinking her teeth a little off-center into her lip, she shifted, angling up to meet him. 

His unearthly beautiful, loving, open, clever, snarky, sly, worshipping green eyes bore into her, leaving her breathless, speechless, as it began. 

When the gentle little strokes that eased him into her body started, it was yet another revelation.

They kissed slowly, deeply but gently, their half lidded eyes open and pouring phrases of reverence between them in ways that were so often were by mere speech. 

I love you , they said. 

You are what I've waited for. 

I cannot believe that this is happening. 

I cannot believe that this is finally happening. 

I cannot believe it took me so long to recognize you.

My family.

My home.

You who I will walk beside.

You, who would walk beside me forever. 

Exalted. Hallowed. Everything. You.

The punctuation of every unspoken declaration was in their hips, in their bodies rolling and sliding and colliding slick against each other. It was in the squeeze of Hermione’s legs around him as she bucked up in counterpoint to his thrusts, and it was in the way having her naked legs constricting around him made Harry’s mind and body incandescent with the need to join more and more deeply with this beautiful, new, familiar woman beneath him. 

Hermione gave a little gasp of pain and ecstasy as she finally held the entirety of his length within her, and her head fell back with a shiver that tore down her, interrupting the congress of their eyes. 

She looked back at him dreamily, hooking one of her knees over his shoulder while the other heel dug in to his buttock for leverage. She wanted him to sound that sharp, deep note against her cervix again. 

Understanding, Harry wrapped his arms under her and grasped her shoulders from behind. Then, with a final soft kiss to her mouth, he started pulling her whole torso down rhythmically into each snap of his hips, and the depth he ceded and reclaimed with each beat intensified, each reunion coming with a loud clap as everything sharpened. 

She smiled at him beatifically and he worshipped her fervently with a rhythm that soared and spiraled toward a dizzying end. He smiled at her beatifically and she prayed to him in little gasps, little cries, in coming two more times and thrashing against him in inarticulate bliss when she did, in her telling him not to dare slow down, not at all , as she ground into his every stroke.

In the aftershocks of her fourth climax, while she was still tightening and fluttering around him and laughing and sobbing his name, Harry ground into her with several deep, hard strokes that threatened to drive her hips through the mattress. He found her hands, interlacing their fingers and buckling into her with a deep, prolonged cry - “ Hermione!” Godric but she shone so bright he could hardly keep his gaze locked to hers while he sobbed her name again and again as her pulsing tightness milked every drop of fluid from his straining, pulsing cock.

She held him, stroking his hair, his shoulders, and his back as his shudders into her decreased and finally stilled.

When Harry collapsed panting atop her, face buried between her neck and shoulder, their fingers remained woven tight together and his slowly softening shaft was still within her. 

Hermione was able to speak a little before he could. Looking up from planting long, soft kisses around his temple, she pulled loose her fingers to frame his face with her hands and pull his gaze back to hers. "Marry me, Harry?"

He blinked with an inarticulate gasp and embraced her, heart hammering. Not knowing precisely how he’d come to it, he found himself crying against her shoulder while she smoothed his hair soothingly. Finally, his glistening eyes met hers again and he nodded, shakily. "Yes. I love you. Yes, if you'll have me, yes. Yes.  Yes."

It took awhile for the kissing to die down again.

They exalted in their joy by pulling the covers up to their chins and asking Kreacher if he could please bring them a half-gallon of raspberry ripple ice cream and two spoons. Hermione had wanted to just go and get it herself, but Harry explained that Kreacher had responded to his attempts at self-service by hiding refrigerators (and thus, all the food) in various crawl spaces, the labyrinthine tunnels branching from the basement, the roof, and the attic. While Harry had found out about the surprisingly spacious back garden and the carriage house that way, he wasn’t eager for a repeat - and didn’t want Kreacher to learn about the relationship by stumbling upon it in, er, action.

When he cracked into the room, the old elf looked at his nervously beaming master and that witch, who was blushing beside him as if she’d been brought home to meet a parent or one of those similar things humans did. Kreacher shook his head, smirking at Harry and croake drily, "Perhaps the master is not so hopelessly thick as Kreacher has feared these many years after all. Kreacher looks forward to less work washing despoiled socks." 

He Disapparated while Harry was still groping for words in a mixture of outrage and embarrassment. Hermione cackled and buried her scarlet face under the counterpane. 

--

When the ice cream appeared, it was accompanied by two spoons, a very old bottle of cold champagne, and two beautiful crystal flutes. It was just as well it had shown up unattended on the bedside table, as Harry had started a pillow fight.  He’d done this without considering how competitive his fiancée was, in an attempt to assuage his abraded ego when she would not stop laughing at the sock remark. It had, of course, given way to grappling. That grappling had given way to groping, and now… now Hermione was exultant atop Harry, her hands braced on his chest as she bounced determinedly atop him, her breasts rippling hypnotically each time her hips rebounded from his, riding his again-rigid cock ragged in triumph.

He suspected he’d really enjoy baiting her for a long, long time to come.

It wasn’t until after concluding this round of crescendo and climax, they noticed their snack, which had been thoughtfully placed under a stasis charm.  Kreacher, it would appear, liked Hermione considerably more than he’d let on.

After some adventures in helping each other with spills in bed, they ended up in the ridiculously large and ornate bathtub in the en suite, enjoying the champagne amid an embarrassment of soap bubbles fit to compete with the Prefect’s bath at Hogwarts. They made certain to wash each other thoroughly - without threats to life and limb hanging overhead this time - and eventually, filthy and wet again but ensconced in bed and each other’s arms, they slept, knowing that whatever tomorrow might bring, they would wake together to face it.