If Hermione had to decide when it was that everything changed, she would have to say it was that rainy, cold Thursday morning in early October, when, at half-past six, there came a heavy pounding at her front door.
Startled, she stood up from the couch, just as Bertie, her cat, lifted his head and scowled. Her mouth was dry with fear, even as reason told her that none of her security charms had gone off, so whoever it was, they weren’t a threat. Before she could form words, however, there came a shout from the other side of the door.
“Bloody hell, Hermione, I’m dripping wet out here—!”
Fear morphed into confusion as she frowned and headed for the door, because she knew that voice. “Harry?” she said as she opened the locks. “What on earth—”
“Finally!” He pushed past her into the entryway, and he hadn’t been lying. The man was soaked from head to toe, clearly having been caught in the downpour outside. His glasses were askew, and his hair lay flat to his head, for once. “You took your time!”
“I— I—” Hermione stammered, her fingers fumbling as she locked the door. “What are you doing here? It’s six in the morning!”
“Half past,” Harry corrected her, pushing a hand through his hair. “And I know you’ve been up for ages.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and crossed her arms against her chest. He was right, of course. “That’s beside the point. And what happened to you?” she added, gesturing to his sodden clothing.
“It wasn’t raining at Hogwarts,” he replied, then gave himself a shake, and a moment later, he was bone dry, hardly a hair out of place. He shot her a cheeky smirk and adjusted his glasses. “And I Apparated outside, didn’t I, just like I’m supposed to, since Honestly, Harry, the noise will frighten the neighbors—”
And this was what she got for living in Muggle London. Bad impressions of herself. “Why are you here?”
But he was already turning and heading for her dining room, which was less of a dining room and more of a library. “I need a book.”
Frowning, she followed him. “And what’s wrong with the Hogwarts library, may I ask?”
“Why would I go to the library when I can visit my dear friend Hermione, instead?”
The room was packed with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that needed more than a little magic to keep standing, not that Hermione wanted to admit it. Harry spun on the spot, pointed to a shelf, then crouched and reached for a slim volume.
He remembered that I alphabetize, thought Hermione, then gave herself a shake. She recognized the book. It was a recent and well-written publication on vampires. “I’m surprised you don’t have a copy of that.” After all, he had mentioned it, what — two, three letters ago?
“Lost it,” he replied, with a sudden grin. “Couldn’t tell you where it got to.”
“Right,” said Hermione, because this was a bit much. She hadn’t seen him in months.
“Lesson-planning,” he said, like it explained everything. “Still a bit early for the fourth-years to be learning vampires, of course, but always worth getting ahead.” And with that, he wandered into her kitchen. “Cup of tea?”
Once again, Hermione followed him, more bemused than anything else.
Harry tapped the kettle with his wand, sending a spout of steam into the air, then went rummaging through her cupboards, pulling out a box of PG Tips and a half-eaten packet of Rich Tea biscuits. “Blimey,” he said, taking stock of her kitchen as the kettle began to whistle. “Bit bare, Hermione.”
“I’m not here all that much,” she replied, taking the milk out of the fridge. Bertie, who had come with them into the kitchen, hopped up onto the counter and watched with unblinking eyes.
Harry nodded, went about making two mugs of tea, splashing a bit of milk on the counter. “Right, right. How’s the job, anyway?”
“The same,” Hermione said. She’d actually been in the middle of some research when he’d arrived — the same project that had dominated the past few weeks of her life — on a particular labor law that allowed house elves to be inherited. An old law, but one in the process of being turned over, especially now that house elves had to be paid for their work.
“See much of Kingsley these days? He’s quite busy of late, so I hear.” He passed her a mug and took a slurp from his own. Outside, thunder rolled.
“We go to lunch every few weeks, and I see him in our weekly meetings, of course.” She sipped her tea. He’d brewed it perfectly. “How’s Hogwarts?”
Harry smiled then, a quick, bright thing, and bit a biscuit in half. “Fantastic. I’ve got a really good batch of third-years at the moment, and the O.W.L. students are keeping pace.”
“That’s great, Harry.”
Silence fell between them, and thunder rolled again. She noticed that Harry was watching her, and something in his eyes was bright, playful.
“What?” she said, immediately suspicious, because this was Harry, for crying out loud. For all she knew, he could have a flask of Polyjuice and a half-baked plan up his sleeve.
“Let’s get dinner,” he said, which, what.
“Dinner,” she repeated. “It’s a bit early for my taste.”
“Not now ,” he replied, polishing off the biscuit. “This weekend.”
“Saturday,” he said, all pleased. “It’s been a while, Hermione.”
Her stomach jumped. “A while,” she said, because that was all she could do right now, go on repeating whatever it was he said.
“Since we caught up. Properly.”
Hermione looked at him. His eyes were still bright, keen behind his glasses, and if she tried, she could almost spot the fading scar that lingered behind his fringe. This is Harry, she thought. “Yeah, sure.”
“Great.” He drained his tea, even though it must have been scalding, and put his mug in the sink. “Gotta run. McGonagall hexes me if I’m late to breakfast, and I’ve got to walk all the way back from Hogsmeade.” And with that, he went out of the kitchen and back to the front room.
Frowning again, Hermioned put down her mug and followed him, again. “Sorry, did you burst in on my morning just to invite me to dinner? They do have owls for that sort of thing, you know.”
He paused at the door, turned to give her a smile. “Don’t be ridiculous, Hermione, I needed the book.” And he waved it in front of her for full effect.
She sniffed, reaching to unlock the door. “My home is not a library, Harry.”
“Could have fooled me.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and opened the door. Then she turned, and realized that they were much closer than she’d thought. Harry was only a few inches from her — she could see his stubble, smell his rich, woody aftershave.
“Well, Harry,” she said, looking up at him. She’d always hated that he’d ended up quite a bit taller than her. “Don’t let me keep you from McGonagall’s hex.”
“Cheers, Hermione,” he said, then he ducked in and bumped her cheek with his in a goodbye kiss, his mouth hot and brief on her jaw.
Then he was gone, and she closed the door with a pounding heart and, if she was being completely honest, trembly knees. Pull yourself together, she thought, turning back to the couch, to the stacks of parchment and her abandoned notebook. Then, I wish he had stayed a bit longer.
“Right,” she said to Bertie. “Time to get ready for work.”
“I know,” Hermione murmured, reaching to pick him up. “I want to go back to bed, too.”
“Bloody hell. You look like you’ve had a morning.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in, and when they did, Hermione looked up. Verity had evidently just arrived, coffee cup in one hand and her umbrella in the other. She was smirking.
“What?” said Hermione, perplexed. She did a quick mental scan of her body — no, she wasn’t naked, her shoes were on the right feet, and her hair was its usual unruly self, though pulled into something resembling a bun. “What do you—?”
“Shirt’s inside-out, love,” said Verity, stepping into Hermione’s office and shutting the door behind her.
“Shit .” She stood up as Verity went to the window and shut the blinds — enchanted or not, you never knew who could be watching. She tugged off her blazer, then her shirt. The cool air of her office made goosebumps rise along her arms and shoulders, and at least she’d remembered to wear a camisole. “Thanks for spotting that.”
“Does he have a name, or is he battery-powered?” said Verity, perching on the edge of Hermione’s desk.
Busy turning her shirt the right-way out, Hermione didn’t catch on. “There isn’t any him. I just had a weird morning.”
“Weird morning, right.” Verity took a sip of her coffee, coupled by another smirk. “What happened?”
“Nothing really.” She had her shirt back on now, and she reached for her blazer. “Harry stopped by.”
Verity’s eyebrows spoke volumes and third editions. “Harry? Why?”
Hermione scowled and sat back down, flicking her memo draft out of her line of sight. Bugger it. “He needed a book. How’s the day looking?”
“Nope, you’re not pivoting away from this.” Verity leaned forward, far too eager. “I need a lot more details.”
Hermione scowled at her properly now. “You’re being ridiculous—”
“I don’t think the woman who wore her shirt inside-out to work gets to decide that,” Verity said. “So what did he say? Were you dressed? Please tell me you weren’t dressed—”
“Merlin,” she muttered. Verity had been on about this for as long as she and Hermione had been friends — her conviction that Harry and Hermione needed to get their heads out of their asses, shag each other senseless, and declare their love in front of the entire fucking Wizengamot. Ridiculous, thought Hermione, though that word wasn’t strong enough. “All right. He shows up soaking wet on my doorstep, he barges in, grabs the book, makes himself a cup of tea, dazzles me with small talk, then invites me to dinner and buggers off. Basically a typical Thursday, as far as Harry is concerned.” She raised her eyebrows. “Satisfied?”
“Not in the least, babe.” Verity’s eyes were huge. “Dinner?”
“Yes, a friendly thing that two friends who have known each other for years do together, as friends.” Hermione waved her hand at her office door and it jumped open. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a memo to finish.”
“I’ll bet you do.” Verity smiled in an unwavering, cat-who’s-about-to-steal-the-cream kind of way. But she made to leave regardless. “See you at lunch.”
The door closed behind her, and she slumped back in her chair with a sigh. This was getting exhausting.
Because, the lame truth of it all was simple — Hermione had been in love with Harry for years now, and there was nothing she could do about it.
No one knew, either. She had built her walls carefully, with diligence and skill, a side-effect of the war and everything it had taken from her, from Harry, from Ron, from everyone they knew and loved. Even a decade and-then-some later, some things still felt fresh, alive, ready to crawl from the shadows and choke their lives apart.
Mungo’s had done good work on Hermione’s arm, and it was almost impossible to see Bellatrix’s handiwork now, but there was some part of it that wouldn’t fade. It’s because of the dark magic, the Head Healer had told her in a low murmur, his aged eyes kind and bright. Some things can’t go away. So when the light caught her arm in a certain way, or when her muscles flexed as she lifted weights at her crowded Muggle gym, she would see it. At first, it was too much, too strong of a reminder, and it would clog her throat, make her eyes itch. But now, with passing time and months after months of routine, some of its power had faded, and she would look at it and feel nothing.
The cynic in Hermione would say that realizing she was in love with Harry had almost been the same, just in reverse. Years of nothing, apart from friendship, close regard, and perpetual annoyance. Of thinking that the feelings stirring in her chest, her gut, were directed to Ron, even when it was just her and Harry in that goddamn tent, drowning in the sound of rain but both of them unable to sleep.
It’s like waking up, she thought once, when Harry was still at the Auror office. She had passed him in the Atrium, seen him frowning deeply at something ridiculous that the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation was spilling into his ear. He caught her looking, flashed her a smile that was so brief, warm, private. Something about that moment, that glimpse of a Harry that only she was allowed to see, hit so profoundly home that it was like being caught by a bullet. There, in the fucking Atrium, her ears ringing and her stomach at her feet, she had finally known — it was Harry. Always Harry.
It explained a lot. Why her relationship with Ron had fizzled, after too many months of silence, tiptoeing, makeup sex, and fights that never seemed to end. They’d parted ways not long before Hermione’s twentieth birthday, and even then, as she would sometimes remember after a glass of Firewhiskey, it had been Harry who had knocked on her door, bottle of wine in one hand and a packet of Jaffa Cakes in the other, who had sat through a Die Hard marathon with his hand on the knee of her balled-up leg, who had handed her tissues and pressed in close when she eventually realized that she felt lost.
At least they didn’t work together at the time of her astonishing realization.
They were both in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, but the Aurors were in another wing entirely, and Hermione’s branch — the team of legislators working for the Wizengamot, in conjunction with several other Departments — was rather secluded. It was easy enough to avoid Harry during the day, even as a small part of her looked for excuses to run into him.
Harry, who had started as the youngest, brightest, best qualified Junior Auror in the history of the Ministry, had hit the ground running after their year of makeup NEWTs and barely looked back. Hermione wondered, sometimes, if maybe he should have done that — looked back a bit more. But no one complained when, fresh out of training, he took the entire Auror division under his wing, rebuilding the ranks that had been so devastated by the Death Eaters. More than a few of the old DA gang had joined up as well, and the first few years after the war had passed in a blur of delightful chaos and disarming peace.
The only real thing that gave any of Harry's friends pause was the fact that he and Ginny didn't get back together right away, or at all. Hermione, especially once she was deep in the well of her own unrequited mess, had tried to ask Harry a few times about what had happened, but each attempt was met with a brief non-answer and a twitch of Harry's shaggy head. So she had to leave it where she found it — at that.
They both had nursed their Weasley breakups, and not long after Harry’s twenty-first birthday, Molly's occasional invitations to Sunday dinners started cropping up among the morning owls once again. It took time, obviously, and more than a few awkward meals, but soon, things were back to normal, or as close as they could get. The new normal, Hermione would think with a grim smile, watching as Ron stuffed his face with mashed potatoes. Then Ron started dating Padma Patil, all awkwardness about the Yule Ball forgotten, and he was happy. It was infuriating.
Then, as he'd approached his twenty-fifth birthday, Harry had a bit of a crisis, which surprised everyone except Hermione, because hello, this was Harry Potter they were talking about. He needed a crisis every five years or so, just to keep things interesting.
He'd started to have serious doubts about being an Auror long-term, a revelation that had shocked Hermione when she first heard of it over coffee on that nondescript April morning. Out of everything she’d expected, she hadn’t expected that. But she told him the truth, that she supported him no matter what and that it was time they made a list of pros and cons, ideas and dreams. After that, months began to roll past, months full of countless drinks at hole-in-the-wall Muggle bars, piles of takeout on Hermione’s floor, marathon walks around the Tate, running with him in circles and circles and circles until finally, at four in the morning, the night infinite and velvet-black around them, Harry looked up at her and said, “I think I’d like to teach.”
It was different now, three years after Harry had left London for Hogwarts, three years after Hermione’s best friend had moved away and she had found herself weirdly, pressingly alone.
They still kept in touch, of course, but it wasn't the same, not when Fridays and weekends passed with no real punctuation, or when the office interns started joking that Hermione and the old sixteenth-century files were practically interchangeable because neither got taken out much. She almost hexed them based on poor humor alone, then thought it wasn’t worth the disciplinary paperwork.
At least Verity took pity on her. Hermione did love finally having a Muggle-born friend who knew what the BBC was and why David Tennant’s cheekbones needed to be discussed in depth at least twice a week over a latté. That she couldn’t do with Harry.
But of course, she still found herself preoccupied by the most useless of images — the corner of Harry’s mouth, and the way it would twitch when she made a joke; the tousle of his hair at 2 AM; his bare feet when he stumbled from her couch into her kitchen for some Hangover Relief potion. His cheeky grin, the twist of his hands when he was explaining a spell, the laugh that would ring out like a shot in the halls of the Ministry. The way a look from him would turn her stomach inside-out, make something inside her clench with possibility.
Hopeless, she thought now, looking out across the busy streets of London from her office window. Absolutely hopeless.
Because it was, wasn’t it? For as long as they had been friends, she had always been reminded, confronted, buffeted by reality — Harry loved her like a sister, didn’t he? It was certainly what everyone knew, what everyone said, what Harry himself had said once or twice, though she doubted he knew that she knew about it. Besides, she wasn’t sure if she could do that to Ron. Even after everything, the bitterness, the anger, the fights — could she date his best friend, the very same best friend who had dumped Ron’s own sister?
Apart from that, there was the whole friendship question to consider. Hermione would be the first to admit that Harry was her closest and dearest friend. Spending your formative years saving his arse and traipsing around England together to stop a murderous dark wizard would do that, Hermione supposed. But their friendship had never rested on a crux of obligation — made all the more clear by the long periods they would go without seeing each other. If Hermione ever dared to dream that things between them might be different, might be ready for a deep dive, it would be in those moments when she caught Harry’s eyes lingering on her mouth, her hands, her chest. Or when he hugged her just a little closer than usual, his fingers pressing into her shoulder blades. But those sparks would fade as she saw his attention shift elsewhere, as she allowed her own doubts to creep in. What if they dated briefly and things ended in catastrophe? Hermione would lose her best friend, and be even lonelier than she was now, because surely Harry would take Ron and the Weasleys in the hypothetical divorce. More to the point, she thought, with a brief flare of anger, would Harry tell someone he had feelings for about all the women he shags on the weekends?
That was Harry’s bit, at the moment. One-night stands, no commitment, and usually Muggle women who only knew him as another anonymous bloke. Harry traveled easily through the Muggle world, escaping Hogwarts when he needed a night off, staying at Grimmauld Place and occasionally meeting Hermione for a hot chocolate on the steps of the National Gallery. She would listen to him unspool the events of his night out, gaping and smirking when she was meant to, but always parting with a sense of relief.
So it was easier now, with Harry gone most of the time. The distance made the stupid heartache easier to bear. She didn’t have to sit through meal after movie after coffee-run, staring at his face and wanting to scream.
This whole “Let’s go to dinner!” thing certainly wasn’t helping, either. In fact, it was a real thorn in her side, a buzz of annoyance that was making it difficult for her to focus on her work. Hermione knew the danger of playing in what-if’s — but it was always so tempting to unravel into a pile of drool, to let herself imagine Harry reaching for her across a table, murmuring something far too endearing and leaning in to press his mouth to hers.
Hermione twitched, gave herself a shake. “Pull yourself together,” she mumbled, for probably the hundredth time that day. “It’s just dinner.”
And with that, she turned back to her desk, resolving to forget all about Harry for at least the next forty-eight hours.
She failed miserably, of course, but that was beside the point, especially once eight o’clock on Saturday night rolled around and her fireplace exploded.
Well, maybe not exploded. Although that was certainly how it sounded.
There was a flare of bright green light, a huge crash, a burst of sparks, a cloud of ash, and a bellow of, “Hermione!”
Hermione stared in horror, then whipped out her wand, calling out, “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
Because she’d covered up the fireplace. With a massive oak bookcase.
With a wave of her wand, the bookcase shuddered, rose, hovered two feet to the left, and plopped back down. From the fireplace — or what used to be her fireplace — a huge black smudge with two eyes blinked her.
“Bloody hell, Hermione,” said Harry. His mouth was pink underneath the ash. “Anyone would think you didn’t want visitors.”
“Sorry,” she said again, and waved her wand once more. The ash and soot vanished, leaving behind a Harry wearing Muggle clothing and an unamused expression. Another wave, and her fireplace went about tidying itself; Harry stepped aside as a dustpan and brush went for the pile of ashes by his feet.
“I should’ve noticed that the other day.” Harry took off his glasses and polished them on his jumper, an old habit that he refused to shake. “Wasn’t blocked off before.”
Hermione felt a twinge of guilt. To be completely honest, it had been months since she’d gotten a visitor via the Floo, and she hadn’t thought twice about covering the fireplace. “Are you all right?” she asked him, to keep from apologizing again.
“Fine, apart from the concussion and bruised pride. But I must say, it’s a lucky thing I was out of Floo powder until today.” He replaced his glasses and shot her one of those damned cheeky smirks of his. “Ready?”
She nodded, holstering her wand. It was force of habit, bringing her wand everywhere with her, even into the Muggle world, and she often had to get creative with it.
Harry noticed and cocked his head to watch. “That’s a new one.”
“Works well,” she replied, tugging her pant leg back into place. She had a calf holster, lightweight, slim, and rendered unnoticeable by a clever couple of charms. “I like it better than the arm.”
Harry nodded, patted a spot on his hip, where he kept his own wand. The Golden Trio were many things, and paranoid was definitely one of them. To this day, none of them went out into the Muggle world unarmed. He looked at her, and there was something different in his gaze. “You’re wearing heels.”
She rolled her eyes, grabbing her bag from the side table and waving a hand at the lamp, throwing them into half-darkness. “Yes, Harry, sometimes I put in an effort.” Hermione pulled on her coat and opened the front door. “What do you want to get?”
“Indian or Thai?”
“Let’s do Indian.”
Once they were at the restaurant, a snug hole-in-the-wall about a mile from Hermione’s apartment, seated with wine poured and their usual order on its way, Hermione stopped looking at the people seated around them and let herself look at Harry.
His eyes were bright, as usual, and she knew that soon, the wine would spread a pleasant flush across his nose and cheeks. He was still devastatingly good-looking, in that old-fashioned and sporty way that was entirely unfair, even as she noticed the slight droop to his shoulders and the shadows under his eyes. He smiled at her scrutiny, and her heart skipped a beat.
“Don't try Legilimens on me, Granger.” He took a sip of wine, his fingers tapping the stem of the glass. “Go on, then. What is it?”
“Nothing.” She sat back and took a sip of her own wine. “You look tired.”
Harry nodded. “I was with Hagrid most of today. Did you know that there are some magic-resistant types of weeds? And those weeds just happen to love pumpkins?”
Hermione smiled at the image of Harry digging through Hagrid’s pumpkin patch, knee-deep in mud and swearing at the top of his lungs. “Grapshot’s just written a fascinating treatise on magical resistance among some strains of plant life. He argues that it’s an evolutionary by-product stretching back centuries, perhaps even longer.”
“Good for bloody Grapshot. I could give him some excellent field notes.”
“So Hagrid’s doing well?”
“Of course. Same as ever.” Hagrid wasn’t teaching anymore — something that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were privately very glad about — but he split the greenhouse responsibilities with Neville and the magical creature-tending with Tara, the new Care of Magical Creatures professor. “He told me to send his best. He misses you, you know.”
Hermione nodded, taking another sip of wine. “Send him my best in return. Come to think of it, I might owe him an owl.”
“Life is easier if you assume that you always owe someone an owl.” Harry tapped a slow rhythm on the tabletop. “Have you ever thought about visiting?”
Something inside Hermione came to a screeching halt, and she tried not to show it. Yes, a thousand times, she thought, the words battling at the back of her throat, but if I go, I might never leave. “No, not really.” This was something he’d brought up before, she recalled, though it had been a while. “Besides, you know how busy things are at the office.”
Harry gave a dismissive shake of his head. “Things will always be busy at your office. Busy and yet unbearably slow.” He downed half his glass of wine and shot her another glance. “You should think about it. People at Hogwarts miss you.”
Hermione barely contained a scoff. “People? What people?”
“People like me.”
Hermione’s heart leapt into her throat. She glanced up and saw him watching her, his eyes a murky green in the low light of the restaurant. Her first thought was that this was very unlike Harry — he could do banter, yes, but a statement that was emotional, even vulnerable? If she didn’t know any better, she’d think he’d been Polyjuiced. Her second thought was that she had a sinking suspicion he was using this dinner to corner her, and maybe not just about Hogwarts.
“Well,” she began, clearing her throat and suddenly wishing she’d worn a thinner sweater, because Merlin it was getting warm in here. “Well, I—”
Just then, the waiter appeared with their food, steaming hot plates of curry and rice and fresh naan. Once the food was on the table, Harry struck up a completely different conversation, peppering Hermione with questions about the Ministry. She found herself relaxing as they talked, trading gossip about their old classmates and high-ranking members of the Wizengamot.
This is nice, she thought after a while, between bites of aloo saag. They had always been able to do this, just jump back in, no matter how long it had been. A warm, contented feeling was curling its way through her stomach, a feeling she knew all too well and tended to distrust, because it guaranteed disappointment. But it was hard to ignore, especially when Harry flashed her a crooked smile as he eavesdropped on the couple sitting behind him, muttering a Muffliato so he could tell her about their weekend at a Furry convention in horrifying detail.
“Come on, then.” Harry drained the last of his wine and pulled out his wallet. “I want some ice cream.”
Hermione rolled her eyes but let him pay. It was his turn, after all. “In October?”
“Yeah, why not?” His expression was impish, teasing.
Hermione leaned back in her chair. She did love this, their easy camaraderie, the feeling that they were always in on the same joke. “All right, then. Where do you want to go?”
Before Harry could answer, a Muggle woman squeezed past their table on her way out. In the brief moment that Hermione saw her, she noted that the woman was quite gorgeous. But the woman wasn't looking at her — the woman was looking at Harry. And then, she smiled, and winked.
Harry blinked, and his ears went red.
Hermione swallowed a sudden lump in her throat. Pull yourself together.
“Uh,” was Harry's clever remark. The Muggle woman had continued to the exit, and he stared after her, looking as if he’d been hit over the head. He dropped a few bills on the table and stood up. “Ready?”
Hermione nodded, gathering her coat and following him to the dark, damp road.
The Muggle woman was lingering on the sidewalk with her mates, and she looked up as Harry and Hermione came out of the restaurant, shooting Harry another dazzling smile, evidently waiting for him to approach her. Hermione tried not to feel a stab of pride — or surprise — when Harry ignored this, offering Hermione his arm. She took it, and they turned and headed for the main road.
The walk to the ice cream shop wasn’t long, but there were a lot of people out. Harry stayed close to Hermione, and out of habit, she kept her hand in the crook of his elbow, relishing the heat of the contact, the light scent of his clothing. The noise of the road kept them from talking much, and once they had their ice creams, they perched by a tiny table to eat.
“How's Ron?” she said, for lack of anything better to say.
Harry nodded, deep into his Butterscotch Mocha Chip. “He's doing well. Since the season’s just getting started, he’s still got some spare time — I think he said he's working on the guest bath.”
Ron and Padma had a lovely, large house in Bristol, not too far from Padma's parents. It absolutely did not make Hermione want to throw something. “Sounds like Ron.”
Ron had worked himself up to a position as an assistant coach for the Wimbourne Wasps, a career decision that surprised exactly no one. Through various whispers at the Ministry, Hermione knew that he was doing a very good job of it, though Ron, surprisingly, was far too modest to say anything like that himself. So much has changed since Hogwarts, thought Hermione, watching Harry watch the Muggles around them.
The ice cream shop was hot, cowded, and loud, so they ate quickly and left soon after that, walking the mile and a bit back to Hermione's flat. She briefly wondered, as a passing streetlight threw Harry's profile into focus, why he didn't suggest that they Apparate. She almost would have preferred it. Being this close to Harry, near enough to sense his warmth, to see the smudge of chocolate on his lower lip, was overwhelming, made it difficult for her to pay attention to what he was telling her about a stray Bowtruckle in Hagrid's pumpkin patch. It was all she could do to nod along, to ignore the bone-deep longing in her chest. When they finally made it up the three flights of stairs to her front door, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Harry followed her inside, shucking his coat, then tickling Bertie's chin. Hermione scowled at the cat as she hung up her coat, because honestly, traitor.
“I’ll get out of your hair in a minute, ’Mione,” said Harry, which was, okay, a little surprising. Usually, he would stay for a drink. “I know you’ve had a rough end of the week.”
Her newest bill, Section 4 of the new Rights and Authorities of Non-Human Magical Creatures Act, was still in contest when the Wizengamot closed court on Friday. The court’s winter recess — a two month-long break through November and December — was due to begin in a few weeks’ time, so the pressure was on for legislation to get locked in before the New Year. Hermione had been hoping for a one-day decision, as had her whole office, and it was discouraging, though not damning, to see it delayed as such. But Hermione had had bills shot down before, so this delay was nothing by comparison.
She and Harry hadn’t talked about it at all over dinner, and she realized he must’ve seen it in Friday’s Evening Prophet, which always reported the daily court record. “No, that’s all right. Another day, another delay. Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
Harry raised his eyebrows and sat down on the couch. “Want to talk about it?”
Emboldened by the alcohol, and maybe by a stroke of the old Granger gumption, Hermione smirked in reply and toed off her heels. “Allow me to answer that with a bottle of wine.”
They settled on the couch, each removing their holster as Hermione conjured a little blue fire in her now-exposed fireplace. Said bottle of wine quickly disappeared and soon, Hermione was giggling into the crook of her elbow while Harry did a near-perfect impression of Mulbanius Craw, one of the older Wizengamot members who was very ‘old-guard this’ and ‘needs must that.’
“What I simply cannot condone,” Harry was saying, in a perfect posh accent, his brow furrowed and his mouth in a scowl, “is this relentless condemnation of traditional Wizarding life—”
“Stop,” Hermione wheezed, weak with laughter, pushing a hand into his side. “Please.”
Harry acceded with a grin. “Cantankerous old geezer. Every time he speaks, I want to shove his head into a cauldron. He really seems to have it out for you, the bastard.”
“He owns house elves and he loves goblin gold,” said Hermione, with a wave of her hand. And Craw wasn’t the only person on the Wizengamot who did. “Of course I get under his skin.” She squinted at him. “Wait, how do you know that?” She didn’t usually get into the sticky details of the courtroom, partly because they weren’t supposed to while a bill was in adjudication.
Harry shrugged. “I listen to the Wizengamot broadcast, sometimes,” he said, his tone so matter-of-fact that it was like she had just asked him if the sky was blue.
Hermione’s heart skipped a beat, because that wasn’t just checking page three in the Prophet every once in a while, that was tuning in to the Ministry radio channel when he knew that she would be in court. It involved planning ahead, caring enough to remember the things she said when she ranted about work, keeping her voice in the background as he graded papers.
Holy shit, she thought, her mind going blank, because best friend or not, this was a lot more than she’d ever expected from Harry Potter.
He shifted forward then, closing the space between them, his body languid and loose with wine. “I don’t like the way he talks to you.”
“Really,” she said, her voice tiny, blood pounding in her veins. She felt a bit light-headed.
“I’m surprised you haven’t sent a small army of birds to his office.” Harry lifted a hand and reached forward, brushing an errant stand of hair off her cheek. His touch left a burning in its wake, and he cupped her head, the heel of his palm rough on the side of her jaw.
Oh my God, some back corner of Hermione’s brain screamed. What was happening?!
Harry was watching her, his gaze more keen, more alert than it should’ve been with all that wine, and for a moment, Hermione thought she was dreaming.
“Hermione?” he said, his voice low and full of something she couldn’t name.
She took a breath, or tried to, past the throbbing in her throat. Around them, the air crackled. “Yes?”
Harry kept looking at her, his fingers rough against her skin, and then he kissed her.
His mouth was warm, plush, damp with wine, and the earth fell from beneath Hermione’s feet. She pressed forward with embarrassing eagerness, barely restraining a moan as his mouth fell open under hers. His hands were everywhere, sliding up her sides and across her back, and she responded in kind, running her fingers through his hair, pulling him deeper into the kiss until he was practically on top of her.
His body was a line of tense, delicious heat, he tasted of Merlot, and his tongue was pressing against hers, sweeping through her mouth with an almost possessive ferocity. She kissed him and kissed him and kissed him, drunk on the way he flooded her senses, overwhelmed her body and her mind. When he pulled away to snag her bottom lip between his teeth, she couldn’t stop herself from letting out a gasp, and the sound seemed to jar him, snap him back to reality.
“Hermione?” Harry breathed. He really was on top of her now — at some point, they had shifted down the couch, and he was braced above her, their legs interlocked and his torso just inches from hers. He still had his glasses on, and a delightful flush was spreading across his cheeks.
Holy fuck, she thought, her heart pounding. You just snogged your best friend, whom you may or may not be in love with. You can't do this.
But you've already started it, a second voice piped up, sounding far too much like Verity. So why stop now?
Hermione slid his glasses off and dropped them somewhere on the floor before reaching for his belt. “Don’t let’s talk.”
Harry nodded, grabbed the hem of his jumper and pulled it off in one fluid motion. Hermione barely had time to appreciate the view before he reached forward, slid his arms under her body, and picked her up.
Hermione didn’t scream, but it was a near thing. Breathless, she could only stare and cling on for dear life as he carried her, firm and steady, down the short hallway to her darkened bedroom. He placed her on the bed with surprising gentleness, then dove in for another kiss, his tongue sliding along the roof of her mouth, and Hermione was so turned on that she thought she might explode.
She shed her sweater and blouse with surprising speed, almost missing the moment when Harry undid his belt and unzipped his trousers. He stood up to shuck them, and her mouth went dry at the sight of his erection, pointed and straining at the front of his briefs. Hermione took a quick breath, then looked up to find Harry staring at her. Something in his gaze was sharp, fiery, and she felt a rush of heat sweep through her. She’d never thought he’d look at her like that.
Hermione quickly did away with her jeans, and the moment she was mostly naked, Harry climbed up her bed like a cat, caging her with his body and mouthing a line of searing kisses up her neck.
It was unbelievable, the feeling of his skin on hers, the heat and the rough and the dusting of hair on his arms, legs, chest. Hermione kissed him and kissed him, reeling from the pleasure spiraling down her spine, shooting sparks in her calves, her shoulders. She couldn’t keep herself from touching him, pressing against every inch of his body, pushing his briefs out of the way to wrap her hand around his cock and swallow his moan as she stroked him.
Why is this so easy? a part of her couldn’t help but think. It’s never this easy.
Things began to blur, the silent room flooding with the sounds of their breath and the wet slick of her hand, but Hermione came back to her senses when Harry sank his teeth into a particularly sensitive spot on her neck. She let out a groan as he sucked a mark into the skin, followed by another just a few inches away, and then another on her chest. She was useless, a writhing puddle of tension, as he mouthed at her ear and pressed his fingers to the clasp on her bra. A brief flash of heat, and it was unhooked, sliding down her arms. Harry tugged it out of the way and made equally quick work of her knickers, then he fastened his mouth to her nipple and Hermione forgot how to breathe.
It was almost like torture, the languid, unhurried way he slid his tongue over each of her breasts, teasing her nipples until they rose to peaks, then nipping and tugging at them as she writhed against him. He worked her over with a devotion that was dizzying, and just when she was starting to get a hold of herself, he pressed his thumb to her clit and slipped a finger inside her.
“Oh,” she breathed, pulling his mouth to hers. She ground against his hand and he made a pleased huff against her cheek.
Her body was like a live wire, charged and beating as Harry's fingers circled, pressed, as his mouth slid and murmured and licked. Even as her heart pounded, overwhelmed by the fact that this was Harry who was touching her, holding her, kissing her, she couldn't keep herself from shuddering with pleasure.
Harry mumbled something, then his mouth found the juncture between her neck and her chest, sucking yet another mark into her skin, and his voice was low in her ear, “Can I—?”
She was already reaching for his briefs, tugging them down his thighs. “God, yes, please—”
He muttered off the few requisite charms they needed, pressing a kiss to her inner thigh. When he slid into her, it was with slow, sure care, and she couldn't help but melt underneath him as he let out a groan.
Hermione ran her hands across Harry's back, clutching at his shoulders as he thrust into her, and she noticed that he was shaking, trembling as her body opened beneath him. A delightful tingling had swept through her, and once she regained enough control of her senses, she began to thrust up to meet him, grinding against his pelvis and shuddering as the friction sent pleasure spiraling down her thighs.
Harry’s breathing became more intense, a hot rush next to her ear as he picked up speed. She let out a gasp and responded in kind as he began to hit something profoundly deep inside her, clinging to his shoulders and mouthing at his collarbone, his chest, every bit of skin within her reach. Her heart was going a million miles a minute, thudding in her ears as spools of heat and light chased themselves around her body, as pleasure wound tight in her core and curled at the pit of her stomach.
She clenched around Harry, relishing the way it made him stutter and groan, “Hermione ,” deep and guttural into her ear. His eyes found hers in the dark, and his hands found their way around her torso, clinging to her as he bucked and groaned. Time began to pass in a gelatinous slip-and-slide, spooling out around them and marked only by the sounds of their weighty breathing and the damp slap of skin on skin.
Soon, she knew she was getting close, and as she began to unravel, Harry pressed his mouth to hers in a deep, sloppy kiss, his hips snapping forwards at a pace that was determined, almost primal.
It was too much. White-hot pleasure seared through her body, and all she could do was gasp, “Oh God, Harry, Harry—”
Hermione came with a stifled cry, her body shaking as she fell over the edge and into a deliciously dark abyss. Harry groaned above her, and it took only a handful of thrusts before he came as well, pressing his face into her neck as he shuddered and collapsed on top of her.
The quiet of the room seemed to close in on them, and Hermione allowed her hands to wander, tracing circles on Harry's back, threading her fingers through his hair, where sweat had beaded at the base of his neck.
Her body felt heavy, languorous with satisfaction, but electrified by the knowledge that nearly a decade of anticipation had finally been broken, shattered into the sheets between them. A sudden swell of emotion rose in her throat, and she thought, Merlin, I really don't want to talk about this. Because underneath the giddiness, and the delight, there was the bone-deep conviction that here she was, just another weekend shag.
Something tugged her out of her thoughts — Harry, pressing feather-light kisses to her cheeks, forehead, neck. In spite of herself, she smiled, thrilled by the tenderness of the moment. He slipped out of her, and tucked himself in beside her, his arm draped across her torso.
A pleasant sleepiness had already begun to overtake her, and she tried to ignore just how right it all felt, the way they slotted in next to each other with natural ease.
They had shared a bed before, when the nights in the tent had become unbearable, when the weight of their journey had become so oppressive that neither of them could sleep. It had started when Harry couldn’t bear her crying one night a few days after Ron had left, continued even after the incident at Godric’s Hollow, and they had never once spoken about it.
Having him in her bed again was like the continuation of a cycle that neither of them could control, an eventuality that was always bound to find them. Now, Hermione tried to commit to memory the way Harry had sounded when he came, the feeling of his hands on her body, the heat of his mouth on hers, because she knew that this would probably never happen again.
It was Harry who spoke first, his voice a low murmur in the darkness. “Is it all right if I stay?”
She turned, her hand on his arm, and pressed a kiss to his temple. “Of course.”
He huffed in response, brushing a kiss to her nose and pulling the duvet over both of them.
Not long after that, she fell asleep in his embrace, his breath light and warm on the back of her neck.
Hermione woke slowly, her body languid and snug beneath the duvet. She sighed into her pillow, and became conscious of the arm across her middle, the leg nestled between her own.
Her eyes flew open, and the reality of the previous night hit her like a bomb.
The arm, with its light dusting of dark hair, belonged to Harry. The leg belonged to Harry.
Oh my God, she screamed internally, praying that he wouldn’t notice as she tensed, a thousand different scenarios blazing through her mind. Would they pretend that nothing had happened? Would he blush with embarrassment, unable to look at her in the light of day? Would he tell her that it didn’t mean anything, that it was a mistake, and they would part ways, embarrassment fading into a silence that would last for weeks, maybe months?
“’Mione,” came his sleepy rumble, followed by his mouth pressing to the back of her neck. “I can hear you thinking.”
She almost laughed. “Morning,” she said, breathlessly.
Harry did laugh then, a chuckle into her hair. “Morning.” He began to trace the line of her neck and her shoulder with his mouth, kisses that slowly melted her tension and sent tendrils of pure content down her spine. “How did you sleep?”
“Very well,” she said, trying to get a handle on everything. This was not what she had expected — she was still surprised that he had stayed. “What about you?”
“Very well,” he parroted back at her, then continued peppering her back with kisses, his mouth sliding open and damp against the skin. Hermione tried very hard to remember how to breathe. Past the headache from the wine, and the waning shock of sleeping with her best friend , delight was settling over her like a blanket.
Then, Harry curled in closer, latching onto her neck and sucking in earnest, his mouth plush and hot, his chest pressing against her, his arm curling tight around her. A hand slid up to cup her breast and slip a thumb across her nipple, and Hermione couldn’t hold back a gasp.
“Mmm,” Harry rumbled, sounding far too pleased with himself. Then, he slid his other arm underneath her, and in one fluid motion, rolled her over and towards him.
Hermione gasped again, her heart thudding. The Harry in front of her, holding her, was devastating. His hair was everywhere, a pillow crease was fading on his cheek, and his eyes were sleepy and soft, even as they darkened under her gaze.
She could see, now, the scars that hadn’t been visible the night before. There weren’t many, just a few scattered across his chest, one on his shoulder, another on his hip. Jagged lines from dark curses, a ragged chunk from a poisoned dagger. She knew the stories, had helped him sneak out of Mungo’s on one memorable occasion, but had never seen them up close. They made him who he was, and now? Hermione felt her stomach tremble at the sight, because Merlin. How could she not love him like this?
Harry reached up and cupped her jaw, a gesture that she was beginning to recognize as one of his favorites. When he kissed her, it was without hurry, his tongue soft and teasing against her own, and Hermione couldn’t stop herself from kissing back, morning breath and all. It was nice, even for a while, to pretend that this was real, that she could have Harry all to herself.
She pushed forward, deepening the kiss, and Harry hummed in pleasure. His erection pressed up against her thigh, hot and heavy, and something inside her trembled at the reality of it all, at the knowledge that she was the source of his desire. It wasn’t just the wine, or the opportunity. He could’ve left before she woke up, and he hadn’t. Maybe that meant something.
Hermione pulled away for a moment, taking in the way Harry’s mouth tried to chase hers, the way his hands squeezed her hips, her bum, like he was waiting for her to disappear. She mouthed a line of kisses down his jaw, reaching around to squeeze his ass in return, and made a decision.
“Hermione?” he breathed as she slid down his body, pulling the duvet away. “What—?”
She took his cock into her mouth, and the rest of his words dissolved into a moan. Hermione prided herself on this particular skill of hers, and she relished the way Harry shuddered as she swirled her tongue, coating him with saliva. She bobbed her head, sucking and licking her way up and down his length, using her hand to squeeze what she couldn’t fit into her mouth.
“Merlin—” he groaned, tangling a hand in her hair. Hermione hummed in reply and sped up, pressing the tip of her tongue to the vein on the underside of his erection as her hand twisted up and down the shaft.
Minutes passed as she worshipped his cock, snaking her other hand up to graze across his nipple and squeeze at his chest, trying to drink in as much of his body as she could. Her mouth had become loose, sloppy, and Harry’s hips twitched a little as he tested her limits, a ghost of his actions from the night before. Hermione welcomed it, keeping her tongue flat and her mouth relaxed, squeezing his hips to discourage him from thrusting too hard. He took what she gave, moaning as he pushed ever deeper into her mouth.
“Oh, Hermione,” he mumbled, and she squeezed him in reply, loving the way he pulsed between her lips. Harry gave a full-body twitch, gasping, “I’m going to—”
She swallowed him whole, continuing to stroke him through it. When he finally relaxed, his body going slack beneath her, she wiped her mouth on the sheet and crawled back up, kissing his stomach, his torso, as she went. Hermione remembered the way Harry had pinned her down the night before, and she busied herself leaving two, three lovebites across his chest, followed by one on his neck. His skin was smooth and just a little bit salty, firm beneath her mouth, and she relished the way her marks bloomed reddish-purple beneath the surface.
This at last seemed to bring him back to his senses. Harry curled one hand in her hair, the other at the small of her back, a chuckle deep in his throat. “Petulance,” he mumbled, and before Hermione knew what was happening, he rolled them both over, flattening her to the mattress and kissing her deeply, his tongue sweeping through her mouth with determination.
It was all she could do to keep up, her hands skating up his back and into his hair. When he pulled away, she couldn’t stop herself from letting out a mumble of disappointment, and she blushed at the way Harry smirked at her.
“Don’t worry,” he said, pressing kisses to her stomach as he slid down her body. “I’m not going far.”
Then he parted her thighs, braced himself between them, and slid a hand up to her breast. He gave her a squeeze, and then licked a stripe right up the center of her cunt.
Breathe, Hermione told herself, as her body twitched. For God’s sake, breathe.
Harry was just as merciless as he’d been the night before, his tongue lapping and circling with keen precision as his fingers worked at her nipple, pinching it while his tongue flicked at her clit. He was maddeningly slow about it all, content to tease and pull her apart until she was a moaning, stammering mess, her body throbbing and sparking. Tingling waves of heat were overtaking her, pulling her up and down, tugging her closer to the edge before letting her fall away. She kept a hand in his hair, stroking it and pulling it in equal measure, wanting to sob at the way that he felt, at the devotion that was leaking out of her body.
Finally, he seemed to give up on being patient. Harry hitched her closer and pressed the tip of his tongue straight onto her clit, and Hermione’s stomach trembled in time with each flick, each swirl. It felt as though he were plucking a cord that ran through her whole body, and she couldn’t fight the heat, the light, the intensity that built inside her. Then he fastened his lips to her clit and sucked, and that was it for Hermione.
When she came back to herself, Harry was kissing and caressing her thighs, his mouth hot and wet on her skin. He glanced up at her, his eyes bright in the early morning sun, and Hermione felt another spasm wrack her core. What I would give, she thought, almost rueful save for the boneless pleasure and exhaustion that weighed her body down. A night and a morning of the best sex she’d ever had — and soon enough, she was sure, she’d never get to have it again.
Hermione reached for him, trying to make this last as long as possible, and he obeyed, crawling back up her body to meet her in a sloppy, formless kiss. She could taste herself on his mouth, just a hint of salt and bitterness, and she groaned, bringing him in close and shivering at the feeling of his skin on hers.
“Good morning,” he mumbled into her neck, before leaving a series of kisses there. He pulled away slightly, and once again, she found herself surprised by the keen, open affection in his gaze. She kept waiting for the ball to drop, for his face to shut down and close itself off, but it kept not happening.
“Good morning,” she mumbled back, her hand resting on his shoulder.
“Tea, I think?” said Harry, smiling now.
Hermione nodded, and he ducked in for another kiss before sliding off the bed and padding into the kitchen, giving her quite the view on his way out.
Once alone, Hermione’s thoughts began to unspool, and she sank into a brief reverie, entranced by the sight of her crumpled bedding, Harry’s briefs on the floor, his trousers by the armchair. It was similar to many a morning-after that she’d had before, but it wasn’t at the same time. This was Harry , she kept saying to herself, somehow unable to forget it or equate it with the man in her kitchen. “Impossible,” she whispered, twirling a bit of hair between her fingers.
When Harry came back from the kitchen, a tray full of tea and toast hovering in front of him, he walked in on her, now wearing pajamas, mid-snuggle with Bertie. “Prophet arrived,” he said, waving it as proof, and she realized he’d found his glasses. God, did he look incredible naked. “And who said you were allowed to put clothes on?”
Hermione swallowed a bark of laughter, because honestly. “Me, because I was cold. Cheers,” she added, taking the mug that floated to her across the bed. The tea was hot and, of course, perfect.
Harry, busy making himself comfortable on what was clearly becoming his side of the bed, snorted. “Brightest witch of her age and she still gets cold.” He handed her the paper. “You’ll like the Sunday feature.”
“Oh?” Hermione glanced at the front page, and he was right. An extra-long story of the best wizarding gardens across the United Kingdom, complete with color pictures. She settled in amongst the pillows, Bertie curling up next to her, and pulled out the Sports section. “Here.”
“Cheers,” he said, brushing a kiss to her hand before taking it and snapping it open, instantly absorbed in a story about the Chudley Cannons.
She stared at him for a moment, trying to ignore the butterflies that had fluttered in her stomach. Had he really just—? In broad daylight?
He just shagged you in broad daylight, too, my dear, came that snide little voice again. Now’s not the time to get persnickety.
Was he always like this? Hermione couldn’t help but wonder, her gaze skating over the loose spill of Harry’s limbs under the duvet, the points of his profile above the newspaper, the way he slurped his tea and gave Bertie an occasional pat. They’d split the paper more times than she could begin to count, but had Harry always had this side? This boneless physical affection that seemed to pour out of him, glimmering like glass in the sunlight? A week ago, she wouldn’t have thought it possible, but maybe, she had just never noticed it, and now that the proverbial dam had been broken, the rest of it had just eased to the surface.
A week ago, she thought grimly, turning back to the wizarding gardens, taking a bite of toast.
As they read, ate, and drank their tea, Harry kept one hand on her knee, and although everything about this was weird, it was also incredibly not weird. Hermione tried to ignore that it felt natural having Harry in her bed, bringing her breakfast, his warm, naked body just inches from her own. Don’t get attached, she told herself.
Then, suddenly, a Patronus came zipping in through her bedroom window. They both stared in surprise, realizing it was Neville’s Patronus, an English sheepdog. It came to a halt at the foot of the bed and spoke, its voice carrying Neville’s characteristic worry:
“Harry, I’ve just found Teddy trying to sneak into the kitchens. I think you’d better get here before McGonagall gets ahold of him.”
With that, the Patronus faded, and Harry groaned.
“Little bugger. He’s been at Hogwarts a grand total of less than two months and is already gunning for Fred and George’s title.” He stood up with a sigh, grabbing his briefs and pulling them on. Hermione refused to feel disappointed.
“What do you expect?” she said, setting the paper aside. “He takes after his mother. And his godfather,” she added.
Harry rolled his eyes, busy putting on his trousers, and grinned. “Cheers, Hermione. Can always count on your support. Shit,” he said, tapping his bare chest, forcing her attention to the marks she had left across it. “Jumper?”
Hermione didn’t blush. She didn’t. “Sitting room.”
Harry nodded and left the room. Hermione dropped her head into her hands, rubbing her eyes, because honestly. She knew this was going to end at some point. Why not now?
“So,” said Harry, already back, wand in one hand and his coat in the other. “I’ve got half-term coming up at the end of this week.”
It took Hermione a moment to follow, the gears grinding in her brain. Hogwarts had added half-term breaks about five years earlier, in response to the increased number of Muggle families who preferred a schedule closer to that of the other Muggle schools. Hermione had actually been a member of the advocacy committee, but it still took a moment to remember the change. “Right,” she said, a little confused. “And?”
“And it would be nice, you know.” Harry looked at her, waiting for her to catch on. When she didn’t, he added, “To see you.”
“Oh!” A blush flooded Hermione’s neck. “Yes, sure.”
Harry smiled, his face bright and pleased. “Good.” He came around to her side of the bed, all tousled and devastating in the morning light, and her stomach gave a swoop. “Sorry to run off like this,” he said.
“It’s f—” she started to say, but then he was kissing her, gentle and brief.
Harry pulled away, and something about his expression was different, but before she could say anything, he said, “All right if I use your Floo?”
“Yes,” she said, breathless. He shot her one last smile before leaving the bedroom, and a moment later, she heard the characteristic roar of the Floo, followed by the recognizable, padded silence of her empty apartment.
Hermione fell back into her pillows, her head buzzing. Because instinct told her that this was going to happen again. Because whatever this morning had been, it certainly wasn’t an ending.
“Bloody hell,” she said aloud, and Bertie meowed at her in reply.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
sorry for posting this a day late, meant to yesterday and well my boyfriend and I got a little too invested in our farm in stardew valley. heh
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Two things happened on Thursday, because, she supposed, it always had to be a Thursday.
The Wizengamot Chairwoman lifted her gavel, her gaze firm and icy blue. “Proposed Section 4 of the Rights and Authorities of Non-Human Magical Creatures Act: denied, with the possibility of revision, as secured by a majority of less than ten votes.” Bang. “Dismissed.”
Hermione went a bit numb. She nodded along to whatever Jeremy was muttering by her ear — “Sodding old windbags, you know it's Craw buying the vote” — and gathered their materials, taking a quiet exit from the hall as the rulings continued. Once they were out in the Atrium, which was emptying out from the morning rush, Jeremy’s complaints rose to normal volume.
“—you know, I bet if Subsection D didn’t include that whole bit about trade rights we would’ve had Alban’s vote. He’s got such a broomstick up his arse about embargoes—”
“Exactly,” Hermione murmured, only half-listening to what he was saying as they entered the lift. Her mind was already churning, thinking up a list of revisions to present as part of a new draft on Monday. Ten votes was nothing, a pittance, they could pull that off—
“Sorry to hear that, Granger,” said Mulbane, turning around when they entered the department offices. The reception area in the antechamber had once been tidy, she’d heard, but generally, it contained the overflow of old files. Verity, whose desk was out there, said she was so used to the clutter that she would miss it if they ever tidied — thankfully, Hermione noted, she was nowhere in sight. Mulbane was perched on a box of documents, wand tapping on his knee. Behind him, the low murmur of the court broadcast came from the wireless radio. “Shame, but at least you get another punt, eh?”
“I'll take what I can get,” she replied, breezing past him into her office. Her boss, Thewlyn Ross, was thankfully nowhere to be seen — she assumed he was in a meeting of some sort. Jeremy followed her, and they immediately began unpacking their notes and documents, stacking everything into appropriate piles.
“I think we can have a new draft ready by the end of the day,” she said to Jeremy, waving her wand to wheel out the chalkboard from behind her door. It was still covered in their notes from the week before. “Thewlyn will want something complete before tomorrow.”
“Sure,” he began to say, then was cut off by a knock at her office door.
“Sorry,” came a very familiar voice. “I'm not interrupting anything, am I?”
Hermione stared at her visitor, who stood on the threshold wearing a sheepish expression. “Ron?” she said, frowning. “What are you doing here?”
“Ron Weasley?” said Jeremy, his voice going rather high-pitched. “Coach for the—?”
Dear Lord. Hermione rolled her eyes. She almost missed the days when all they were known for was taking down Voldemort.
“Yeah, mate.” Ron shook Jeremy’s hand and shot him a smile. “Nice to meet you. Is it all right if I borrow Hermione for a minute?”
“Sure!” Jeremy practically leapt in his enthusiasm to leave the room, closing the door behind him.
“What’s wrong?” said Hermione at once, worst-case scenarios spiralling through her head.
Ron’s eyebrows scaled his forehead. “Blimey, nothing, Hermione! Padma made cookies last night and I was just dropping some off to Dad, thought I’d come by and say hello.”
Arthur Weasley was in his last year at the Ministry and had never gotten so many office-calls in his life. His children worried. Hermione let out a breath and sat in one of her chairs. “Good.”
Ron sat as well. “How are you, then? Doing all right?”
Hermione tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. “Fine.” She hadn’t expected to react like this to seeing him for the first time she and Harry — “What about you? How’s Padma?”
“Oh, great, she’s great, we’re great.” Ron cleared his throat, and his ears went a bit pink. Hermione raised an eyebrow — that never meant anything good. “Actually,” continued Ron, looking everywhere except at her, “that’s what I came here to talk to you about.”
She frowned. “What, Padma?”
“And me.” Ron fidgeted, and his eyes finally met hers. “I thought you should hear it before everyone else does, before the announcement goes in the Prophet this weekend.”
Oh, she thought, something inside her falling and falling and falling. “Congratulations,” she said, a bit stiffly. “When did it happen?”
Ron’s face broke into a smile, the relief evident on his face. “Well, you know, I had this whole plan. Got a reservation at this stuffy Italian joint, worked up a whole speech. But we were in the kitchen making dinner this past Saturday night and, I dunno, it just all happened. She cried and everything, but at least I had the ring ready.” He looked at her again, and his smile drooped a bit. “Hermione—”
“No, that’s great, that’s really lovely,” she said, smiling so hard her cheeks felt tight. “I’m so happy for you guys!”
Ron relaxed again, and he let out a laugh, standing up and ducking in to give her a kiss on the cheek. She returned it, fighting the urge to scream as he pulled her into a hug.
“We’re okay, aren’t we?” he said, his voice low in her ear.
Hermione felt a pang, and swallowed a sob. “Of course,” she whispered, rubbing his back. “Of course we are.”
“Good.” He stepped back, and his face showed many of the things that she felt — nostalgia, regret, affection. “I’ll let you get back to your day, all right?”
She nodded and smiled — or tried to — again. “Thanks, Ron. And really, congratulations to you both.”
Ron’s grin was blinding. “Thanks, ’Mione.” Then he opened her door, gave her a last wave, and was gone.
Hermione took a breath and followed him out, pausing in her doorway. She took one look at Jeremy’s eager face, said, “Sorry, could you just give me a few minutes?” and closed her office door.
“Silencio,” she muttered, waving her wand a little too vigorously and accidentally gouging a chunk out of the paneling. But that didn’t matter, because as soon as the charm settled, she began to scream.
Her lamp sparked and blew out, her notes went cascading across the floor, her books of laws hit the ceiling and fell back down, her chairs turned over, and her hair went wild. She kept yelling nonsense, anger boiling hot and ceaseless inside her, chasing a tide of old hurt and the frustration borne of whatever it was that she and Harry were doing now.
When she finally stopped for breath, and immediately felt all of the energy drain from her body, she surveyed the consequences of her temper with a twinge of annoyance. Adrenaline, she thought grumpily, glancing out at the rainy streets below her window, her thoughts whirling. Ron’s getting married, she couldn’t stop thinking. Ron’s getting married.
It took a few minutes and a few little charms to get everything back to sorts, and when she sat down at her desk, she had made up her mind. “Right,” she said, brushing a piece of hair out of her face.
First, she pulled out a new piece of parchment, and spent ten minutes writing up a list of revisions to Section 4.
Then, she pulled out another piece of parchment and wrote a brief note to her boss, explaining that she would be out until Monday for personal reasons, but she would be reachable by owl and had every confidence that Jeremy could handle himself. Finally cashing in some of that unused vacation time, she thought grimly, her signature quick and sharp.
When she opened her door, briefcase in one hand and pieces of parchment in the other, Jeremy looked at her from his perch on Verity’s desk and his face immediately fell. “You’re leaving?”
“Yes, sorry. Bit of an emergency. I’ll be back on Monday.” She handed him her list. “This is everything I thought of for the revisions. You can reach me by owl, but you won’t need my help, and I’ll be back before we’re in session. This,” she said, handing the sealed letter to Verity, “is for Thewlyn.”
“Sure,” Verity replied, her gaze keen. “Everything all right?”
“Oh, yes,” said Hermione, in her best offhand manner. “Everything’s fine.”
Verity raised an eyebrow and Hermione quickly turned to leave the office before her friend could spot anything wrong. “Good luck,” she called over her shoulder, heading straight for the Atrium.
When Hermione walked into her flat, she forced herself to take a breath. It was barely past ten, somehow, even though it felt like it had been years since she’d left this morning. She dropped her bag, toed off her loafers, and took a massive bite out of the fresh baguette she’d bought from the bakery around the corner. It was warm and perfectly crunchy, with just a faint tang of salt, and she headed straight for the kitchen.
As she dug through the cupboards, Bertie hopped up on the counter and gave her the sort of look she was used to getting from Verity. “Don’t,” she said, pointing her baguette at him before unscrewing the lid from the jar of Nutella. Hermione dunked the end of the baguette in the jar and took another bite. “I don’t want to hear it,” she told him as she continued digging through her cupboards. Soon, she found the half-full bottle of Firewhisky, and took a swig.
An hour later, she was in the middle of her bed, having taken her skirt off, staring at some terrible Muggle daytime TV and chewing on the second-to-last bite of baguette. Bertie was curled up next to her, his eyes shut. Hermione had a pretty good buzz going — she’d had about half of the Firewhisky, and the Nutella jar was empty.
“Why am I freaking out?” she said aloud. Her body was loose, slack from the alcohol, but her heart was pounding as steadily as it had done since Ron left her office, her stomach was still fluttering whenever her thoughts turned to Harry. It was precisely these feelings that she’d been trying to shake, but she seemed to have only made them worse.
“We broke up almost ten years ago. He and Padma have been together for six. Why am I freaking out?” she repeated, her voice rising.
Because your ex is getting married and you shagged his best friend, who you also happen to be in love with.
“Dammit!” Hermione threw a pillow across the room, scrubbed a hand across her face. She hated this, the sick, unceasing roil of emotion pulsing through her body. It felt completely out of her control, and she wanted to sob from the weight of it, from the pressure threatening to crack her from the inside out. “This is awful,” she muttered, pulling her hair into a bun, and, she reminded herself, precisely the reason she’d resolved to be a hermit for most of her twenties. Now, with some hindsight, the decision to leave work and go on a short holiday seemed laughable, especially at the thought of sitting here, alone and stewing in her own solitude, for four days.
But where else can I go? she thought, with some bitterness. She wasn’t made of money, so any grand holidays were out of the question. Her parents still struggled to remember things, and they didn’t do well with stress, with seeing her in any state other than cheerful and carefree. Verity’s flat was tiny, and she would ask too many questions. Grimmauld Place—
Hermione tried to stop that thought before it finished, but it didn’t work. In an instant, she imagined flinging herself into Harry’s embrace, lying with him in his four-poster bed, cooking spaghetti in the kitchen with his arms around her middle, sitting by him in the library while they read and listened to the fire crackle—
She launched herself into the bathroom and dove for the sink, splashing cold water on her face. The shock pulled her back to reality, and she stared at her reflection, at the mascara trickling down her cheeks, and realized that she was going insane. Definitely. “Pull yourself together,” she told herself, then went about taking off her makeup and washing her face properly.
Besides, the snide little voice popped in, he’s not at Grimmauld Place, is he? He’s at Hogwarts.
Her face now clean, Hermione straightened up and stared at herself again. Now that was a crazy idea. “Crazy,” she muttered aloud, wiping an errant drop of water from the tip of her nose.
But what’s one more crazy idea on a day like today?
Without even thinking, Hermione changed into the comfiest jumper she owned and packed a bag. She had no idea how long she would be gone, so she threw together whatever seemed best, shrunk it all, and squeezed it into an old handbag done up with an extension charm. Bertie watched all of it with his inscrutable gaze, though he meowed appreciatively when she charmed his food and water to automatically refill.
“Be good,” she told him, giving him a cuddle and a kiss on the head. “I’ll be back soon.”
And with that, she found herself in front of her fireplace, Floo powder in one hand and her bag in the other, realizing what a truly insane idea this was.
But something inside her was firm, resolute, with just a hint of courage. “Stop thinking,” she whispered, and threw the Floo powder into the grate.
Hermione stepped out of the fireplace and into Harry’s sitting room.
Professors’ chambers were snug, and Harry was lucky to have gotten digs that were two rooms instead of just one. Facing the fireplace was a plush red sofa, bracketed by two equally plush red armchairs, and the stone walls were lined with bookshelves half-full with Harry’s own collection. In the corner was a Wizarding chess table with a game left in progress, and on the opposite wall was a small kitchen table dominated by a stack of old Prophets and a few empty mugs. The door to his bedroom was across from her, and it was open — she could see the corner of his unmade bed, a discarded set of robes on the floor.
The rules had changed since their time at Hogwarts. Professors had been granted access to the Floo network through their own private fireplaces, just as long as they kept a careful eye on their security wards to make sure that students stayed well away. It would be just like Fred or George, or even Teddy, to try to do a bunk through a professor’s fireplace.
She checked her watch — a quarter to noon. Harry would be finishing his class, then heading to lunch. He probably won’t be back in his rooms until the end of the school day, she supposed, fighting a shudder of intrigue. She wanted to know what it was like, his life at Hogwarts. For as much as he told her about it, it still felt quite separate, distinct from the life she led in London. Not something he shared.
Hermione looked out the large window that faced the western side of Hogwarts, at the stone parapets and the Hufflepuff common room that she still remembered helping to repair not two months after Voldemort’s death. Beyond that were the fields, and the edge of the lake. A steady rain had begun to fall, and she shivered.
They hadn’t spoken much since he’d left on Sunday morning. He’d owled her a clipping from a Prophet columnist, who condemned the Wizengamot for failing to push her law through immediately, with a jaunty note that read, “Finally, the Prophet and I agree on something.” Then, just the day before — Was it really only yesterday? she thought — she’d opened her desk drawer to find a box of her favorite chocolate truffles. There hadn’t been a note, but it was clear who they were from, especially since there were only two people who could work their way around the charm on her lock, and Ron had no reason to do so. She’d slammed the drawer shut and only allowed herself to eat one in a rare moment of solitude between court sessions, because that way, she could dodge the questions that Verity would be sure to ask.
She’d also tried, unsuccessfully, not to think about what the chocolates meant — maybe he did it out of guilt, and it was a distant sort of farewell; maybe he did it because he felt something, but didn’t know what to say after everything that had happened. But every time Hermione reached that sort of thought, she shook it away — best not to imagine what she wanted, but rather to meet Harry halfway, to take what he gave her and not ask for anything more.
Seems like he wants light and breezy, she thought. I can do light and breezy.
It was definitely a bit of a gamble, coming here without warning or even asking him. She had absolutely no idea how he would react — if he would be glad to see her, or horrified by her presumption. But all she knew, even though she tried not to face it, was that he was the only person she wanted to be with right now.
Hermione found herself standing in front of the bookshelves, scanning the titles with a smile. Some of them were from their time at Hogwarts, others from the Black family collection, and still others that Harry had slowly been amassing since his time at the Ministry. She had to admit, he’d taken to the whole professor thing very well — there were whispers of his popularity as a teacher, reminiscent of what it had been like when they were in the DA.
It felt a bit weird going into his bedroom, so Hermione stepped away, even as curiosity prickled at the back of her mind. She selected a book from one of the shelves — some newer publication on counter-jinxes — and made herself comfortable on the couch. Her anxiety had faded a bit, but between the alcohol and the emotional roller-coaster of a morning, her stomach was still in knots and she felt unsettled, off-kilter. So she opened the book, let down her hair, and tried to lose herself as best she could.
The book was well-written and detailed, just what she needed, and soon, she found herself relaxing into the cushions and conjuring a thick, fuzzy blanket to pull over her feet. As she immersed herself in the author’s theory about the possibilities of a Shield Charm, the fire popping and crackling in the background, a familiar content draped itself over her body. She breathed it in, feeling warmth and comfort and—
Hermione woke to a gentle hand on her calf. She frowned, and cracked open her eyes to see—
Harry, squatting by the couch. He was still in his teaching robes, but he looked a bit rumpled, and his expression was soft, wary.
“Hello,” she mumbled, rubbing an eye.
“Hello,” he replied, his voice low. His hand was still on her leg, and he gave it a bit of a squeeze. “Fancy seeing you here.”
She swallowed, trying to gather her thoughts. “Sorry,” she decided to start with. “I had a rough morning, and—”
“You don’t need to explain,” he said, his voice still doing that soft-low thing that was far too attractive and entirely unhelpful. Harry nodded at the wireless radio. “I managed to catch the verdict this morning after breakfast.”
“Oh.” Hermione forced herself to take a breath. In the wake of Ron’s visit, she’d forgotten all about court, and the Wizengamot had never felt further away. But she didn’t want to get into it, to answer the questions that Harry was sure to have, so she said, “What time is it?”
“About three o’clock.”
“Good Lord.” She sat up and yawned, realizing too late that all it did was bring them closer together. “I guess I’ve been asleep.”
“I’m sure you needed it.” His thumb tapped on her shin. “Kreacher came up to tend the fire and told me you were here.” Harry scrutinized her for a moment, trying to be casual about it. “What did you tell your boss?”
“That I was finally going to cash in some vacation time.”
Harry smiled, quick and bright. “Good. It’s about time you did.” He stood up. “Listen, I know you just got here, but the seventh-years have dueling practice today, if you’d like to come along. I’m sure they’d love to meet the witch who spent most of her younger years saving my arse.” He offered her his hand, waggling his fingers.
She stared at it, and he must’ve seen her hesitation. “It’s my last class of the day,” he added, his voice going soft again.
Hermione’s heart skipped a beat, and she quickly decided not to panic. “Sure.”
Harry beamed at her. “Let’s go, then.”
Hogwarts looked pretty much the same as it had when she’d left it ten years before, save for a couple small changes where the structure of the castle had met too much damage to restore properly. As Harry led her down the hall, down a staircase, through a tapestry, and up another staircase, Hermione had to keep reminding herself that the war was over, that she wasn’t going to turn a corner and see one of her peers lying half-dead on the floor.
Finally, they reached the same old DADA classroom, and Hermione found herself almost overwhelmed by memories. That was where she’d been standing when Ron’s spider Boggart lost its legs; that corner was where Umbridge had perched and smirked as they all took notes; that desk was where she’d sat, laughing at a joke Harry and Ron had made before shushing them once the lesson began.
Class didn’t start for another five minutes, so she indulged herself, looking at the room, taking in everything that had changed and everything that hadn’t. Harry had a few glass cases that housed the skeletons and remains of different creatures, complete with anatomical diagrams and lists of useful counter-jinxes; it had a distinct Lupin-ish air about it, and she felt a pang of grief. In one corner was a pile of pillows, which she guessed was for practicing charms and jinxes.
At the front of the room, facing the sea of desks, was Harry’s own desk and lecture podium, complete with a framed photo of the Golden Trio, the three of them roaring with laughter about something that Hermione couldn’t remember. There was also a recent photo of him and Teddy, wherein Teddy stuck his tongue out at the camera and smirked just like his mother. She also noticed an old novelty mug that was a gift from Ron, and there, on the corner of the desk, was a small, though unmistakable, statue of Big Ben.
Hermione almost did a double-take. That had once belonged to her . Harry had bought it for her when she first moved to London, a tongue-in-cheek joke because she thought it was easily the most ridiculous landmark in the entire city. Then, when he’d left for Hogwarts, she’d pressed it into his hands, a going-away gift, she’d told him. She hadn’t expected him to keep it, let alone put it out where people could see it.
“What do you think?” said Harry.
Hermione twitched, coming back to the present. “I like what you’ve done,” she said, weaving between the desks, heading for the back corner. The further apart they were, the better. “It feels like a proper classroom.”
Harry chuckled, shucking his robes. He began rolling up the sleeves of his button-down and Hermione turned away, her cheeks flaming. Honestly. Forearms had no right to be that sexy. “I’ll just sit back here,” she told him, pushing a desk into the back corner. “Keep out of your way.”
“No, don’t—” he said, but was cut off when the classroom door opened and students began coming in. They were all chattering, electric with energy, and Hermione couldn’t help but smile. A few of them glanced at her as they took their seats, but they kept to themselves, and she curled up, ready to watch the lesson.
The class was about thirty students, and Hermione was pleased to see the Houses mingling freely. Evidently, the harsh divides had softened somewhat in the wake of Voldemort’s demise.
“All right,” Harry called out, bringing the room to immediate silence. “I know I’m one of just a few roadblocks between you and half-term, but let’s try to keep the focus, all right? Now—” he clapped his hands together, and Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine— “We’re going to continue to work on our dueling, everyone, since we need to have you in tip-top shape for the practical.” There was a general groan at this, and he laughed. “Come on, dueling beats writing papers! Especially when you’ve got Madam Pomfrey to patch you up.” This got a few titters. “But first I would like to introduce a special guest.” His eyes found hers, and her stomach dropped to approximately the floor. “Hermione?”
Blanching, Hermione stood up, and a sea of faces turned to her. What the fuck. They certainly hadn’t discussed this.
“Miss Granger is an old friend of mine, and she works as a Senior Legislator for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” Harry continued, his expression bland save for the smirk she could tell was threatening to break through. “She’s also gotten me out of more scrapes than I can count. Now.” He paused, looking around the room, and Hermione wanted to kick him. “Who would like to see a proper wizards’ duel?”
As the room erupted in cheers, Hermione felt the rest of the blood drain from her body, only to rush back in with renewed heat, even anger. “Wonderful,” she said, quick and under her breath, weaving her way between the desks.
When she got to the front, Harry just smiled at her. She could throttle him. “We’ll go by the rules,” he said, as much to her as to the class, but Hermione didn’t believe him for a second. “Keep it traditional, stick to the syllabus of the practical. No deadly charms.”
Two could play at this. “All right,” she said, putting on her best smirk, bending to retrieve her wand from its holster. As she straightened up, twirling it in her fingers, she could feel Harry’s gaze on her, prickling and electric. She tried not to think about the fact that here she was, an off-duty Ministry official, in jeans and a pair of fucking Uggs. Merlin, she thought, not for the first time that week, what is my life turning into?
“As you all know, traditional conventions of a proper wizards’ duel dictate that the wizards begin standing back-to-back, then walk ten paces, turn, and fight. And that will be the format of the practical. But I can tell you that if you find yourself in a situation where you must confront another wizard, you rarely have time to do anything like that, and it’s equally important to practice dueling when you’re unprepared for what’s coming at you.” Harry pulled out his own wand, casting a Shield Charm in front of the students to protect them from any rebounding spells. “For the sake of realism, Miss Granger and I will put the traditional formalities aside.” He eased back into what she knew to be his favorite stance, turned to the side with just a bit of weight on his right leg, and smiled again. “Ready when you are.”
Hermione moved without thinking. They had done this more times than she could remember, usually in the basement of Grimmauld Place, while Harry was still at the Ministry. Her, Harry, Ron, and any other Aurors or old DA members they could get to show up. It was cathartic, even after the Battle of Hogwarts, to get to fight each other, to keep their skills sharp. Paranoia , she found herself thinking as she lunged, shooting off a volley of Jelly-Legs Jinxes before conjuring a length of black cloth and sending it straight for Harry.
He dodged her jinxes and transformed the cloth into a jet of water. He spun his wand, turning it into a whirling jetstream, but Hermione was ready. The water thundering towards her evaporated, and she turned, firing off a few jinxes before she lunged forward again, muttering a few words under her breath. This time, the floorboards rose and rippled like waves, crashing in towards Harry and closing over his feet, trapping him to the floor.
But that didn’t stop him. A cloud of papers rose into the air and streamed towards her, a hurricane that surrounded her with a roar. Her visibility was shaken, and she ducked on instinct, dodging a jinx that whirled over her head. Hermione almost smiled, then started to turn on the spot, chanting a spell as the papers slowed and began to gather around her legs.
Harry could barely contain his look of surprise when she straightened up. The papers had swarmed into an amorphous mass that wrapped around her feet and calves, holding her up and bracing her several feet off the floor. He cursed, even as he smiled, and immediately copied her, getting the floorboards to wrap around his legs and do the same.
They were at even height now, some ten feet off the ground, and Hermione barely registered the way the students were gaping at them, transfixed. She grinned at Harry, then braced herself as they began to duel properly.
Expelliarmus. Petrificus Totalus. Stupefy. Hermione lost count of the spells they traded, the Shield Charms she cast, the way Harry’s mouth twitched when she got especially close to hitting him. They were almost evenly matched in this regard, and after what felt like too long of a standoff, she braced herself against her supports and leaned forward.
She moved quickly, almost too quickly for Harry to follow, riding the wave of papers to sweep across the floor and, to his noticeable surprise, along the back wall, closing in on him. Harry tried to recover, tried to copy her, but didn’t move fast enough. Hermione slammed into him, the papers crawling up his sides as she shot off a Tongue-Tying Jinx that landed home — “-er-my-nee,” gargled Harry — and disabled the spell on the floorboards. They sagged, dropping Harry straight into the colossal mound of paper. He vanished from sight, and Hermione lowered herself to the floor.
Breathing heavily, she aimed her wand at the mound of paper, then, still moving quickly, blew the papers away with a fierce gust of wind. Then, dodging Harry’s jinx, she disarmed him, his wand clattering into the corner, and pinned him to the floor with one knee, her wand pointed right at this chest.
Silence fell, and the world shrank to the space between them. It wasn’t much space. Hermione could feel the heat rippling off Harry’s body, the tension locked in his limbs. She could see the specks of gold in his green irises, could see the way his gaze darkened as he stared up at her, his mouth twisting into a hungry, arrogant grin.
Hermione’s heart skipped a beat. Oh. Her leg was still pinned against his torso, and she felt something twitch and press up against her shin. Oh oh oh, she thought, her mind scrambling as she realized that Harry was turned on.
Heat rushed through her and she quickly stood up, undoing her spells with a silent wave of her wand.
“Well,” said Harry, getting to his feet and disabling the Shield Charm with a sweep of his hand. He was still smiling, and she looked away, her cheeks burning. “That, class, is how it’s done. Thank you, Miss Granger.”
The students erupted into applause, and Hermione’s blush deepened. She could hardly believe she’d gotten herself into this mess.
As Harry called the class to attention and broke them off into partners, clearing away the desks to give them the most room possible, she settled back at her desk in the corner. It was almost impossible to ignore the way Harry kept glancing at her, his gaze no less intense than it had been before, and Hermione felt as if she were being x-rayed, seared through to her core. She couldn’t concentrate even as she tried to watch his pupils trade jinxes and Shield Charms, because watching them meant watching Harry, the way he corrected them, encouraged them, spoke to them like they really mattered. It reminded her intrinsically of the DA, of the hours spent learning from and with Harry. If he’d been intoxicating then, it was nothing on how he was now.
Soon enough, the class ended, and the students charged for the door, one or two of them stopping to shake hands with Hermione and ask her a few questions about her job.
Harry lingered by his desk until they were all gone, and the moment the door closed, he strode over to where she sat, purpose and intent radiating from his body.
Hermione stood up, a shiver running down her spine. “What—?” she began to ask, but was cut off when he took her face in his hands and kissed her.
The kiss was hungry, fierce, with very little of the delicacy or care she had come to know on Saturday night. He took her mouth, holding her in place as his tongue swept through her, as his teeth fastened on her lip and pulled.
When he finally broke away, Hermione felt dizzy, her chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath. Harry chased the movement with his hands, sliding under her sweater and the band of her jeans. Hermione almost giggled, even as he fastened his mouth to her neck.
“What are you—?” she tried to say, breathless. In response, Harry flung a hand at the door behind her, and she heard the lock slam home, followed by the echoing throb of a silencing charm. Oh shit. Hermione grabbed his hair with a moan, arousal flooding her body in sudden, silky heat. This is ridiculous, this is stupid, this is a terrible idea, who even has sex in a classroom—?
Harry cut off her train of thought, pushing away her bra and pinching her nipple, his teeth sinking into a spot just below her ear. Gasping, she pressed up against him, thrilling at the jut of his erection against her stomach, and pulled his mouth back to hers.
The kiss was less of a kiss and more of a battle of wills — all teeth and tongues — as Harry guided them back to the front of the room. Hermione came to her senses when he lifted her up onto the top of his desk, scattering its contents across the floor with a furious wave of his hand.
“Oh,” she squeaked, and Harry finally paused, staring at her with eyes that were somehow brighter and darker than usual.
“Is this okay?” he said, voice low with arousal, his hand resting on one of her boots. Waiting for permission, she realized.
Words were clogging the back of Hermione’s throat, so all she could do was nod, and he was on her again in an instant, ripping off her shoes, then her jeans and her pants in one clean motion. The cool air hit her skin and she shivered, reaching to draw him close, but Harry was kneeling in front of her, spreading her legs apart, and oh.
For all his merciless kissing, he teased her now, licking and drawing lazy patterns through her folds, but never touching her clit. It was maddening, and as her heart thundered through her body, beating in time to the strokes of his tongue, Hermione slid a hand into his hair and, bracing herself on the desk, pushed him deeper.
Harry huffed a chuckle into her inner thigh but obeyed, wrapping his hands around her thighs and pulling her to the edge of the desk. Then, without warning, he went after her, and it was all Hermione could do to hold on, to keep from falling onto the ceiling. He drew her to the edge with relentless precision, held her as she bucked against his mouth and pulled at his hair. Hermione’s last still-functioning brain cells banded together and she realized that he knew her body, was learning how to pull her apart. She didn’t know how to feel about that.
But just as she was getting close, he pulled away. “Wait,” Hermione mumbled, trying to catch up, her body and mind slack from pleasure, “what—?”
Harry was back a moment later, his mouth on hers and his arms wrapping around her, and Hermione hummed, pleased, then he shifted and slid into her in one fluid motion. They both let out a groan as he bottomed out, Harry pulling her in for another kiss.
She looked up at him, up at the eyes and the person she knew so well, and tried to think that his expression held all the tenderness, all the emotion and longing that she felt. It was only a moment, and it passed when he braced himself on the desk and began to fuck her in earnest.
That was the only word for it. It was guttural, relentless, animalistic, and all Hermione could do was cling on for dear life and try not to slide off the desk. Time blurred and her thoughts disappeared as he pounded into her, as her fingernails dug into his back and her body opened beneath him. It didn’t take long for her to reach that edge again, and soon she was falling over it, shuddering and gasping her release.
Harry groaned, sinking his teeth into her shoulder before his mouth found hers in a sloppy, artless kiss, dragging his tongue through her mouth. Hermione wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close, then he buried his face in her neck and came with a strangled moan.
They stayed like that, their chests heaving as they caught their breath, for several moments. Hermione could feel Harry’s heart pounding, the cooling sweat on his lower back. I get to touch him, still, she thought, aware that parts of her body were a bit numb. Harry’s face was still hidden, and she noticed his breath puffing by her collarbone, his hair tickling her neck.
Finally, it seemed, Harry pulled away, slipping out of her. He looked wrung-out, but nonetheless very pleased with himself. At some point, his glasses had disappeared.
Hermione tried to smile, dropping her arms and tugging her bra and sweater back into place. “Someone’s a sore loser.”
His expression twitched, definitely hiding a smirk. “I don’t know what you mean.” He ducked in and brushed a kiss to her cheek, and when he stepped away, she realized that he hadn’t even taken his trousers all the way off — they were bunched around his ankles.
A blush flooded her cheeks and she hopped off the desk, focusing on getting her clothes and shoes back on. Honestly, she thought, waving a Scourgify through her legs, you’ve had sex with him before, you know what he looks like after— And it was true, of course, but there was something different about this, about knowing that Harry had wanted her so badly that he hadn’t even bothered to fully undress. A quick bolt of satisfaction zipped through her, but she ignored it — any bloke in his position would have done the same.
When she turned back to Harry, as put-together as she could be, she found that he had done the same. He was fully dressed again, polishing his glasses on the corner of his shirt, and when he caught her looking, he smiled.
“What about your desk?” she said, because she didn’t know what else to say.
“Oh.” Harry replaced his glasses and drew his wand. Waving it in a slow arc, he lifted the contents of his desk off the floor and directed them back onto his desk. It being Harry, of course, they threw themselves together into haphazard, half-neat piles.
Hermione couldn’t keep herself from smiling. “Honestly,” she said, drawing her own wand and stepping in beside him. He smelled like sex — warmth and sweat and salt — and she twitched, forcing herself to concentrate as she waved her wand across his desk. The papers, books, quills, and knick-knacks all snapped to attention and sorted themselves out, filing into perfect piles.
Harry shook his head with a rueful grin. “Always the best at spells.” He stepped away, giving her a gentle tug on the arm. “Come on, let’s get some dinner.”
They ate in his chambers, picnic-style on the couch, as the rain picked up and lashed at the window. Kreacher brought them enough from the kitchens to feed half a House and even bowed his greeting to Hermione. Hermione quickly realized she was famished, and tucked into the roasted chicken and potatoes with eagerness. Harry produced a cheap bottle of wine from one of his cupboards, and all said, it really was quite a feast.
After some time, when she was in the middle of buttering a crusty bit of bread, Harry spoke up. “You’re welcome to stay, you know.”
Hermione tried not to stare at him. “Well, it’s half-term—”
“Teddy’s with his grandmother.” Harry smiled, a quick, lop-sided thing. “And I’m not going anywhere, Hermione.”
Her cheeks flamed. This was rapidly descending into uncharted territory.
“Well,” Harry continued. “I technically have a trip booked for next week — doing a bit of research in the mountains — but until Monday, I’m at your disposal.”
“I don’t want to impose,” she said, her heart beginning to thud in her chest. “Really.”
Harry shrugged, seemingly at ease. “Whatever works.” But he was watching her with a glint in his eye as he took a sip of wine. “Poor weather for traveling.”
A few dozen replies hurtled to Hermione’s mind, including, You and I both know the Floo Network doesn’t answer to rain, Harry. She ignored all of them and tried not to stare back at him, tried not to ache with the want to stay, to fall asleep tucked into his side.
She knew that he just wanted her there for the sake of another shag — every fiber in her body screamed at her to leave, stupid girl — but she couldn’t help leaning in to meet him, pressing her mouth to his and climbing into his lap, doing everything she could to drown out the voice in her head that told her this was a mistake.
Somewhere between the inside-out shirt and the fact that Hermione turned up on Monday morning with half her hair falling out of its bun, Verity caught on and wouldn’t drop it.
“You don’t have to tell me his name,” she said, draping herself across one of Hermione’s office armchairs. “Or hers,” she added.
Hermione scowled at her over the sandwich she was currently demolishing. “His,” she said, mouth full. A small hunk of tomato dropped onto her desk.
“His. And that’s very attractive, dear.” Verity took a neat bite of her pear. “I’m just happy you’re finally getting shagged witless. It’s about time.”
Face burning, Hermione didn’t reply. A long weekend together does not a relationship make, she reminded herself. Even if she’d had more fun than she was willing to admit — traipsing through Hogsmeade, visiting Hagrid, taking several long walks in the mountains above the village, curling up in front of Harry’s fire, drinking tea spiked with Ogden’s, playing Exploding Snap, fucking until they were boneless, then dozing and waking back up for another round — they still hadn’t had any sort of conversation about what, precisely, they were doing. And it was maddening.
“Shame it’s not Harry, though.” Verity’s expression was bland, flat with false earnesty. She knew. Hermione wanted to throttle her. “How is he, by the way?”
“Fine, I guess.” Hermione chewed through a tough corner of bread. “Hogwarts is on half-term, he’s up in the Highlands somewhere.” He’d only Apparated north once he saw her back to her flat and left a hickey somewhere she was too polite to mention — hence her messy hair.
Verity hummed. “Nice vacation.” She shot Hermione a glance. “I saw in the paper. About Ron and Padma.”
Hermione nodded, wishing her blush would go away. The whole wizarding world knew, now. At least it wasn’t like Hogwarts, where everyone and their sister would be giving her pitying looks. But she was happy for Ron.
Verity looked at her, properly. “Is that why you left on Thursday?”
Hermione looked back at her, then shrugged.
“Got it.” Verity nodded to herself and leaned back in the armchair. “Dropping it now.”
A revised Section Four passed with a majority of six votes on Wednesday. Hermione went slack with relief as the motion was read, squeezing Jeremy’s arm underneath the table, and the euphoria lasted well into the afternoon. In fact, she practically forgot about Harry until she got home and saw his owl, Forsythe, waiting on her windowsill.
Just saw the news. Let’s celebrate. Meet me at Grimmauld Place on Saturday night, 9 o’clock?
The next morning, Hermione went to work with his note burning in her pocket. She hadn’t replied yet, and she didn’t know what she would say. Yes? No?
She walked into her office, and had closed the door and was halfway through putting her coat on the stand before she noticed the black box on her desk.
“No,” she said aloud, the pieces slotting together in her head before she was aware of it. She recognized the packaging, and she went over to her desk, her heart beating in her ears. “Shit,” she breathed, reaching for the lid.
Whatever was inside was wrapped in red tissue paper, and on top of it was a card in handwriting that she knew all too well.
To my dear friend Hermione —
Try being a little wild, yes?
“Shit,” Hermione said, louder now, and reached for the tissue paper with shaking fingers. She ripped through it in an instant, and underneath it—
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
It was a black satin crotchless thong, and a matching balconette bra with intricate stitch detailing. There was also a pair of shiny black platform heels — stilettos — that were at least an inch taller than the ones she usually wore.
Hermione sat down and slowly counted to three. Fucking Thursdays. Only Verity would march into the most exclusive lingerie shop in Diagon Alley and drop a small fortune on these scraps of fabric for someone other than herself. Now with stain proof charms — wash and forget! one of the tags boasted, and Hermione suddenly wished that the ground would swallow her whole.
Although. She hooked a finger through one of the straps on the thong. It was very soft, and she’d certainly never worn anything like it before. Maybe there really was a first time for everything.
Blushing, she reached for a piece of parchment and her favorite quill.
Yes, Saturday at 9. See you then.
ah bear with me? lol
*rubs hands together* y'all r gonna wanna throw things at me. u ready???
also, did someone ask for... a date?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Right,” Hermione said, turning and twisting to try and see every angle of her dress. “Well, I think it looks fine.”
“Charming,” her full-length mirror replied.
“And you’re sure you can’t see the bra?” she added, turning around again, wobbling ever so slightly on her heels. They weren’t too difficult to walk in, but, Merlin, were they tall.
“Absolutely,” the mirror said, dry as a bone. Bertie, who was lying on the floor washing his face, continued to ignore her.
“Right.” Hermione tried not to blush as she once again became conscious of the slight breeze drifting through certain areas that were normally not left to the open air. You’re covered, she reminded herself for the thousandth time, brushing a hand down the back of her dress.
“Right,” she said again, and a jolt of butterflies went through her stomach. The clock was just striking nine, and she reached for her bag. “Guess I’d better go. Be good,” she said to Bertie as she pulled on her leather jacket. “You’ve plenty of food and water, so don’t terrorize this place.”
He continued washing his face, and she smiled at him before twisting on the spot and Disapparating with a crack.
She landed on the front step of Grimmauld Place and caught herself on the railing for balance, letting the usual tide of memories wash past her as she stared up at the house’s bleak facade. This is different, she thought, even though the images of Yaxley, Ron, and countless mornings waiting for Harry felt so fresh. She knocked on the door, hoping that her nerves wouldn’t show on her face.
A moment later, the door opened, and her stomach swooped at the sight of him. Get a grip, she chided herself, because it had been less than a week, but it seemed a bit hopeless — Harry was wearing a thick woollen coat, a black button-down, and a pair of jeans that were almost too tight. We match, she thought bleakly — she was in a mid-length black sheath dress with an open back, a leather jacket, and her hair was pinned into a French twist. He grinned at her, then blinked. They were at even height, now — usually, he had to look down at her.
“Wow, Hermione. Hi.”
“Hi,” she said, somehow breathless. “I wasn’t sure what the plan was, so I sort of dressed for everything.”
“You look incredible,” he said, stepping closer, and she tried not to blush with pleasure as he pressed a kiss to her cheek. He pulled the door shut and tapped on the handle with his wand. “Ready?”
She nodded, then he came even closer, his aftershave swirling in the air between them, the heat of his body just a few inches away, his hand on hers. He was looking down at her, his eyes dark in the dim glow of the streetlight, and then he pulled.
They Apparated, and a moment later, they landed on some nondescript street in… Soho?
“Where are we?” Hermione wondered aloud, then turned when Harry tugged on her hand.
“This way,” he said, taking her around a corner and down another street.
Almost out of nowhere, a trim black awning sprung from the dim white stone of a large, nondescript building. Beneath it were a pair of gold-trimmed doors, and Hermione had to remind herself not to gape as a doorman guided them through the entryway. Before her eyes blossomed a dark, richly furnished restaurant, gleaming in twinkling candlelight.
“Harry,” she breathed, turning to him, but he shook his head at her with a smile.
It wasn’t too busy — there was a rich murmur of conversation from the other patrons, and they were quickly guided to a table in a back corner. Their waiter left them without a word, and Hermione took a moment to compose herself, because what was Harry playing at, bringing her to a place like this? She knew he was more than well-off, but this was—
“I don’t think I said before,” said Harry, his eyes bright in the flicker of their candle. “But congratulations.”
Hermione shivered. The waiter had taken her jacket, and she was all too conscious of the air on her back, of Harry’s eyes on her throat.
“Thank you,” she said, wondering if she would ever catch up with him. She gripped the armrest on her seat, just to keep a hold of reality.
“I mean it.” He was still looking at her. “You’re doing incredible work, and you deserve some recognition.”
A beat passed, and she stared at him, her mind suddenly jumping back to the previous weekend, which by now was little more than a blur of lazy, delicious moments spent camped out in Harry’s bed, talking and laughing and eating and fucking and napping until time lost all its meaning. She was still learning, she realized, how to handle this version of Harry — the version that was so much like the Harry he’d been before, and yet not like him at all.
“How was your trip?” she said, desperate to change the subject.
That was enough to keep him talking for a while. Hermione listened with interest to his stories about the herds of unicorns in the wild Scottish forests, sipping at the delicious wine their waiter brought them at some point.
This is Harry, she reminded herself when he grinned in that cheeky, elated way, his hands twisting as he described a tricky bit of magic he did to avoid a nasty ghoul haunting a hidden lake. She began to relax, and ordered dinner with relish.
They ate slowly, Harry peppering her with questions about work, about court, about the Wizengamot. She could tell he wanted her to run for a seat, but she wasn’t about to do that — she still liked being behind the scenes, for now.
Not once did he mention Ron, though he must’ve seen the announcement and likely heard the news from the man himself. She tried not to think about it.
The food was incredible. Upscale French, with just a hint of Spanish. Halfway through the second course, Hermione began to worry that she was going to split out of her dress, but she quickly decided she didn’t care. This was too much fun.
It was odd, though, to be sitting across from him for the third, fourth, time in as many weeks. She’d gone from not seeing Harry in months to suddenly spending most of her free time with him. I should ask him about that at some point, she thought, not for the first time.
“Don’t,” Harry said, when the bill arrived. He quirked an eyebrow and she immediately blushed. “It’s my treat.”
She sighed, sinking back into her chair. Her dessert plate sat empty before her, practically licked clean. “If I’d known that we’d be eating like champions, I would’ve worn something different.”
He grinned, tucking his bank card into the billfold and handing it off to a waiter. “No, you wore the right thing. The evening isn’t over yet.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean?”
Fifteen minutes later and a few blocks away, he led her past a long line of Muggles and a pair of bouncers into a dark, fragrant hallway. As they continued walking, she began to hear the distant throb of music. “Ever been to a Muggle club?” he murmured in her ear, his grip tightening on her arm.
“No,” she said, breathless, and the next moment, they walked into a huge, open room split into three levels. The lights were neon and tucked into the far corners, throwing beams of pink, purple, red, and blue light across the room, and the lower floor was heaving with people dancing. A bar stretched along the far wall, and waitresses in sleek black uniforms moved gracefully through the crowd, swinging drinks and artsy appetizers between tables.
Harry led her to the bar and ordered them a few drinks. Hermione refused to think about the fact that he knew her order — an Old Fashioned — and instead looked around the room, taking it all in. The music was loud, but not so loud that she couldn’t hear herself think, and it was good, too, not just meaningless noise. She sipped at her drink, once again becoming aware of where the air hit her body, the lines of her dress, the tight grip of the balconette bra, the sleek absence of her underwear. She watched the people dancing as the alcohol settled low and warm in her belly, and felt a tingle when Harry’s arm brushed hers, when his hand rested on the small of her back.
“You’ve been here before,” she said to him.
He smiled at her, coy. The alcohol had made him relaxed, cheekier, and his eyes were bright in the darkness. “Yes, I have. Why?”
Hermione smiled back at him. “You knew the bouncers.”
“That I do.” He took a sip of his drink — scotch, neat — and followed her gaze to the dance floor. “D’you fancy it?”
“Why, Harry, you know me better than that.” She watched two girls on the dance floor pull each other close, grinding against each other, their hands wandering. Cheeks burning, she quickly looked away. It was impossible not to imagine Harry here, picking up girl after girl, night after night, living one of the countless stories he’d told her before.
“Well, the Hermione Granger I thought I knew wouldn’t wear that dress, either.” He was speaking next to her ear again, his breath hot on her cheek, and his hand began tracing light circles at the base of her spine. She shivered. “Might be fun.”
“You say that now.” She took another gulp of her drink. “You’ve never seen me dance.”
“You held your own at the Yule Ball. And at Fleur’s wedding.”
Damn. She really was blushing now. “Well, that was proper dancing, not—”
Harry chuckled, low and acquiescent. “I won’t force you, ’Mione. But I think I might go, if you don’t mind.”
“No,” she said, breathless.
He stepped away, and she immediately felt the absence of his body. He was smirking again, and he made his way to the dance floor in a leisurely lope, not unlike some sort of panther.
Hermione turned away, clenching the edge of the bar. “Get a grip,” she muttered to herself, then knocked back the rest of her drink. She finished off Harry’s too, for good measure. She felt hot all over, her skin buzzing, and she told herself it was from nerves, not jealousy.
It was a deep voice. Amused, friendly.
She whipped round, quickly enough that she had to grab the bar again.
The voice apparently belonged to a tall drink of water with blond hair, a jawline that belonged in Vogue , and piercing blue eyes. He smiled at her, still friendly.
“Hello,” she said.
He stepped closer, closing in on her portion of the bar. She caught a whiff of his cologne — light, spicy — and noted that he was in well-tailored slacks and an equally well-tailored shirt. What the fuck is happening, she thought.
“Buy you a drink?” He nodded to the empty glass in her hand.
“Sure,” she replied, before her brain could catch up. She blinked down at the glass. “That was my friend’s, actually—”
“All the more reason, then,” he said with a chuckle, signalling to the bartender. “What are you drinking?”
“An Old Fashioned. With rye,” she added.
He raised an eyebrow, then ordered it, along with a beer. “Not what I was expecting,” he told her, leaning against the bar.
Hermione smiled, or tried to. “What were you expecting?”
“Vodka soda,” he said, deadpan, and she had to laugh.
“No, sorry. Can’t stand vodka.”
“That makes two of us.” Their drinks arrived and he handed her her glass, then tapped the edge with the neck of his bottle. “Cheers. I’m Charlie, by the way.”
“Cheers,” she replied. “I’m Jean.” Bloody code names, she thought, taking a sip. Standard practice, since the war. She, Harry, Ron, and the other remaining members of the Order never gave their real names in places like this, in case they were recognized — and not in the good way.
“Jean,” said Charlie. “Lovely to meet you.”
“What brings you here tonight, Charlie?” Hermione said, trying to relax against the bar and not look for Harry. She could just see him — or someone she thought was him — on the right end of the dance floor, in the middle of some swaying bodies, very close to a girl with long dark hair.
“Boredom,” he replied, and she tried not to roll her eyes. “Figured I should do something other than order pizza and watch Lewis with my cat. Or is that too much detail?”
“No,” she said, surprised, choking on a laugh. “What’s your cat’s name?”
“Mr. Cheese,” he replied, studiously not looking at her.
Hermione really laughed, then. “Mine’s called Bertie.”
It’s a shame, she found herself thinking a few minutes later, while Charlie explained just how boring it was being a finance analyst, he’s sort of the perfect man. Because as handsome and lovely as Charlie was, she couldn’t help feeling a bit annoyed by his presence, and wishing that Harry would come back, maybe pull her onto the dance floor.
“So what’s his name, then?”
Hermione did a double-take, her heart in her throat. “What?”
Charlie was smiling in a rueful sort of way. “This so-called ‘friend’ of yours who you haven’t stopped watching since I came over here.”
She sighed, scuffing her heel against the floor. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He shrugged. “I’ve been there.”
“His name is James,” she replied. Even after all the years of practice, the name still felt weird to say. “We’ve been sleeping together for the past few weeks.”
Charlie had the grace not to look too shocked. “And, what, he leaves you alone at the bar? When he’s the one who took you out in the first place?”
“I guess so,” she said, feeling a small prickle of anger.
“Right.” Charlie drained his beer, put down the bottle, and held out his hand. “Let’s give him something to think about, shall we?”
Hermione didn’t know what to think, what to feel. All she knew was the pounding of the music, the heated press of Charlie’s — Charlie’s! — body against her own, the tight grip of her dress, and the sweat pooling at her lower back. She smiled, the beat throbbing into her mind, and wondered if she would fall off the edge of the world. Muggle clubs weren’t so bad, really.
She felt Charlie laugh — a quick vibration against her back — followed by a tap on her shoulder. “Look,” he shouted by her ear.
She opened her eyes and did just that, her gaze landing on an all-too familiar face. It was Harry, not six feet away from them, his arms around some girl who Hermione quickly forgot. His gaze was locked on them as they danced, and she recognized the flash in his eyes — he was angry.
“It’s working,” Charlie shouted into her ear again, and he turned her around, pulling her closer. Breathless, Hermione closed her eyes again, trying not to panic — she’d never danced with someone like this before, certainly not someone she’d met less than an hour before. Relax, she chided herself, wrapping her arms around Charlie’s shoulders. Relax.
Later, when she tried to remember how it happened, she wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure when she and Charlie separated, dancing and laughing a few feet apart from each other, but she would never forget the way it felt when Harry stepped in behind her, his arm wrapping around her middle and his breath warm on her ear.
“I thought you didn’t dance,” he said, almost too low to be heard above the music. The grip on her waist tightened.
Hermione smirked, even as her heart began to race. Charlie took one look and turned away, flashing her a thumbs-up. “Maybe I just needed to try,” she replied, and then they started dancing, and she lost the ability to think.
It was an odd, almost cathartic feeling, having his body pressed against her, his hands on her waist, her hip. The heat was stifling — Hermione really was sweating now, and she spared a brief prayer for her makeup, not that it really mattered. This felt too good, too freeing, to start worrying about her eyeliner. And fuck, could Harry dance.
At some point, she became aware of something digging into her arse — Good, she thought with a smirk. She knew Harry was turned on, could read it in the way he clung to her, pulled her close. Serves him right. Then, he dragged his mouth along the line of her shoulder, up to her neck, and Hermione shuddered, her mind reeling.
She turned to face him, wrapping her arms around his body, pressing against him with abandon. He huffed with surprise but quickly recovered, one hand quickly finding its way to her ass, the other pulling her in for a kiss.
The kiss was all-consuming, dominating. She surrendered to him with a moan, rubbing her hip against the hard line of his cock. Blood pounded in her veins, and her stomach swooped as he held her, his tongue sweeping through her mouth, his hands sliding down the back of her dress. Then his fingers were under her hem, slipping between her inner thighs, his touch hot and insistent, and she broke away with a gasp.
Harry was looking at her, his eyes ablaze, his hands still braced under her dress. How she wasn’t flashing half the dancefloor, she had no idea. She looked back at him, instantly reminded of the moment in his classroom. This is Harry, her brain chanted at her, almost in reproach, for probably the millionth time in the past two weeks.
But she ached with want, and this was a night of firsts, wasn’t it? Hermione raised an eyebrow at him, then lifted her leg and hitched it around his hips, trembling as the air hit her crotch.
Harry’s grin was blinding, and his fingers went back to grip at her ass as he kissed her, holding her in place. Hermione kissed him back eagerly, her blood singing, not giving a shit that they were in the middle of a club, that anyone could see them. She was so distracted by him, by the way he tasted, the way his teeth grazed her lower lip, that she almost missed the moment that his hand slid along the back of her thigh, under her dress, between her legs. She came back to earth, though, when his fingers brushed the edge of her thong, where her skin was already damp with sweat and arousal.
Hermione shuddered again, breaking away to pant into his neck. His hands froze, with shock or surprise she didn’t know.
“Fuck,” Harry growled into her ear, and his fingers clenched, slipping just under the edge of the band, to a spot that normally would’ve been covered. “Are you—?”
Hermione responded with a kiss, licking into his mouth and trying to press forward, higher, desperate for him to keep going, to slide his fingers all the way—
Harry broke away again. “Bathroom, now.”
Hermione only nodded, dropping her leg and taking Harry’s hand, letting him pull her through the sea of hot, sweaty bodies, away from the dance floor. He headed straight to the back corner of the club, and a nondescript swinging door banged open from a wave of his hand. He pulled her in behind him — somehow, the bathroom was empty — then into the far stall. Hermione heard the lock of the stall slide home, then he was on her, his hands pushing her dress up and out of the way, pressing her against the wall and hitching her up against the tile.
She spared a brief thought for hygiene — how often were these places cleaned, anyway? — but quickly forgot how to think when she heard the chink of Harry’s belt coming undone. He murmured something in her ear, and she clung on to him for dear life as he lifted her even higher. She wrapped her legs around him again, felt the hot weight of his erection in the crease of her inner thigh, then he shifted, almost tentative, and finally slid inside her.
Hermione let out a moan, the last of her control slipping away. This is madness, some part of her thought, the part that felt the bunching of her dress around her hips, the cool tile against her bare back. But once again, she found that she didn’t care, and as Harry fucked her into the wall, his breath a hot rush in her ear, she let herself go, clinging to him with heady delight.
It didn’t take long, for either of them. Hermione gradually became aware that she was making sounds, a heated litany of moans and gasps and things she’d never thought she’d ever say aloud, and she gripped his shoulders, ducking to suck a mark on his neck. Harry swore, his hips stuttering before he slammed into her again, and pleasure rushed through her like a wave, her orgasm hitting like lightning. Trembling, gasping, it was all she could do to stay upright as he thrust once, twice, and again before coming with a groan.
A beat passed. The world slowly returned to normal. The throbbing bass of the music crept back in — she could hear the clink of bottles, a drunken conversation outside the bathroom.
“Harry.” He was draped over her like a blanket, his mouth doing something rather lovely to her shoulder. She poked him. “Someone’s about to come in.”
He nodded, slipping out of her and stepping away, letting her get her feet under herself. Hermione almost laughed — he looked ridiculous, trousers half-open, hair sticking out, mouth red, shirt clinging to his sweaty chest. He caught her looking and smiled, dopey and cheeky, then buckled his trousers, reached out, and slid the lock open.
“What—?” she began to ask, but then he took her hand and pulled her out of the stall. She stumbled, and a pair of girls came into the restroom, stopping short when they saw her and Harry. Harry grinned at them, and they giggled.
Mortified, Hermione ducked her head and let herself be pulled out of the restroom and back into the club. The music was still pounding, electric, as Harry steered her towards the bar. They grabbed their jackets, and he slid a twenty pound note onto the counter.
“Come on,” he said into her ear, and she shivered. “Let’s get out of here.”
They Disapparated some twenty feet from the club entrance, around the corner and near some dustbins, and landed in his bedroom at Grimmauld Place.
Feeling dizzy, Hermione wobbled over to his bed, toed off her heels, and collapsed across the duvet. She was still weak with pleasure, dazed from the alcohol. She took a deep breath, trying in vain to steady herself.
Harry copied her, kicking off his trousers before flinging himself down onto the bed, his head by her ankles. For several long minutes, there was only the sound of their breathing, the occasional rustle of the duvet.
“Well,” she said, beginning to catalog what she was feeling. Sweat drying in different parts of her body, her crotch still damp, his cum trickling down the inside of her leg. She swallowed, shaky, and pulled the pins out of her French twist, letting her hair fall. “I’ve never done that before.”
Harry chuckled. The sound was low, confident. “Lots of firsts for Hermione Granger tonight.” He rolled over to look up at her, bumping into her side. His hair was still a disaster, and he looked as if he’d just done a few dozen laps around a windy Quidditch pitch. “I think it goes without saying, but…” He leaned in to press a kiss to her knee, then to her thigh. “I like your underwear.”
Hermione gazed down at him, butterflies erupting in her stomach. Stop it, she scolded herself, and forced a laugh. “Yes, I could tell.”
He looked up at her again, then carried on kissing her leg, slowly working his way up her thigh. His mouth was warm, plush, lazy. “In fact,” he said, his voice low. “I like it very much.”
Hermione made herself take a breath. “Really?” She pushed a hand through his silky hair, trying not to wonder when she would lose this. “Prove it.”
His gaze darkened, and as he pressed her down into the bed, his breath hot and insistent on her inner thigh, she squeezed her eyes shut. Stop thinking, she told herself, so she did.
When Hermione woke with a pounding head and a dry mouth, she was alone. She rolled over, blinking at the empty sheets, and began to register that she was naked and a bit hungover. And that it was pouring outside.
“Ughhhh,” she groaned, rolling over again. This time, she spotted a small bottle on the bedside table. Hornbacher’s Hangover Relief. “Thank God,” she said aloud, thankful that Harry (probably) couldn’t hear her. At least he had the good grace to share his supply.
Sitting there, in a nest of pillows, sipping at the potion, her mind began to clear, and Hermione began to think.
Harry was gone, and had been for a while — his side of the bed was cold, and the rest of the house was quiet. On Sundays, he usually liked to whip up huge breakfasts and play lots of the Beatles at high volume. Unless, of course, he was at her flat, she supposed. She couldn’t smell the tell-tale bacon and eggs, and she certainly couldn’t hear McCartney.
Almost immediately, a river of past Sundays rushed through her memory, but none of them mattered. They were all from a time gone past, from the years she’d spent suffering in silence, pining from afar. Before the war, after the war, before Hogwarts, after Hogwarts, what did it matter? He was probably at Gryffindor’s Quidditch practice, just like it was when they were sixteen. “Arse,” she muttered to herself, polishing off the potion. He’d left without so much as a note, and clearly didn’t give a damn what she did.
How different, she couldn’t stop herself from thinking. How different this is from last weekend, or the one before. After seeing Harry like that, sleep- and sex-rumpled, warm and cuddly under the duvet, it was almost impossible to believe that the same man had left her alone today. It was likewise impossible to match the Harry that had pressed her into the sheets and claimed her with his mouth with the Harry that had walked away at some point this morning.
She felt something settle in her stomach, something cold and firm. Something that felt like resolve. If Harry didn’t care, then neither did she. Up until now, it hadn't been clear to her what this was, whatever it was they were doing.
Now, she did. No strings, no obligations.
“Get going, Granger,” she told herself, and hopped out of bed.
Too late, she remembered that the only thing she had to wear was her dress from the night before. It was crumpled on the floor, and quite a mess. Rolling her eyes, she went into the ensuite bathroom and began washing her face. Her eyeliner had resolutely smudged under her eyes, and she sighed, giving up, and opened a drawer in the counter for a new toothbrush.
In the middle of unwrapping the toothbrush, she stopped short. There, in the drawer, was a handful of hair ties. A loose hoop earring, a gold choker necklace with a broken clasp, a scrunchie, a cloth bracelet.
Ice seeped through her stomach, and she slammed the drawer shut. Idiot, the voice in her head sneered. What made you think you were different? What made you think you were the only one?
Forgoing the toothbrush, Hermione marched back into the bedroom and tugged on her dress, sparing a brief thought for her underwear, then deciding she didn’t give a fuck — he could even put it in the drawer, if he wanted to. Another trophy for his collection.
She had wondered, since spending that first night with Harry, when she would reach her breaking point. Now, she thought. This is my breaking point.
This was when it stopped, whatever it was they were doing. The fallout would be the fallout, and the future would be a negotiation.
Hermione could handle that. She was excellent at negotiating.
She whirled round, grabbed her shoes and her leather jacket. Thankfully, she’d had enough foresight after dinner to shrink her purse into one of her jacket pockets, and she un-shrunk and clung on to it before Disapparating.
Or, well. Trying to Disapparate.
She spun on the spot and tottered into the four-poster bed. What the fuck?
It clicked faster than she’d expected. “Wards,” she said aloud, rolling her eyes at her stupidity. Only Harry and Kreacher could Apparate in and out of Grimmauld Place itself. She’d have to Floo, or else get to the front door.
Floo it was. She didn’t want to risk anyone — even a Muggle — seeing her in this state.
The mansion was quiet, save for the rain. Harry had done a lot of work on it over the past decade, and it no longer looked even close to the way it had when it belonged to Sirius. The old portraits had been removed, along with the elf heads and the wallpaper, and it was a charming, stately, if old-fashioned, home. It was familiar, at this point, but Hermione felt like the walls were laughing at her. Idiot, again and again — Idiot.
Getting down the staircase in her platform heels was ridiculous, and she refused to wonder if any of his other hook-ups had had the same problem. She stumbled into the library, and reached for the vase on the mantelpiece.
Throwing a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace, she took one last look at the home around her, wondering when she’d see it again. That couch was where she’d fallen asleep after a particularly crazy Halloween party, those shelves were the same ones she’d combed for any hint of Horcruxes, that piano was where she’d sat with Ron, trying not to laugh as he played Chopsticks.
“Fuck memories,” she said aloud, then turned and stepped into the Floo.
Her apartment was unchanged. Quiet, dark.
She turned as the flames petered out and got quite a shock — the clock on the wall told her it was just past one. Merlin, had she slept! Half the day was gone.
“Right,” she said, and Bertie came wandering into the room. “First thing’s first.” Hermione pulled out her wand. She turned her Floo onto its Do Not Disturb setting and levitated the bookcase back in front of the fireplace, where it wobbled before settling home.
Then, she pulled out her mobile — a Muggle luxury many wizards were indulging in these days, but a necessity for Hermione, given her parents — and sent Verity a text, asking if she wanted to do a late brunch at their usual spot.
Briefly, her thoughts went to Harry — where was he? Had he gone back to Grimmauld Place yet, and found her missing?
Forget it, she told herself, heading to the bathroom. She needed a shower.
Monday morning hit like a wave of cement, and Hermione seriously considered calling in sick. It wouldn’t exactly be a lie, she thought, pulling her duvet up over her nose. Rain was coming down thick and angry outside her window, and the thought of dragging her body out of bed seemed as insurmountable as dragging her body out of its eventual grave.
It was difficult, being back in her apartment, more difficult than she’d expected. All of her spaces, which had previously been meticulously private and rarely shared, were suddenly tinged with memories of Harry in a fresh way they hadn’t been before. Perhaps that was because things had never felt quite so final, so closed off, now that she’d reached an end that, for her, couldn’t be undone. She couldn’t sit on the couch without thinking of the way he’d first kissed her, all those weeks ago; she couldn’t stand in the kitchen without remembering the impish look on his face when he’d invited her to dinner; she couldn’t lay in her bed without tasting the tea and toast they’d shared on that first Sunday morning, Harry’s hand warm on her leg.
This, she told herself, for probably the two-dozenth time since the day before, this is why you were never supposed to kiss him in the first place. You knew this would happen, and you knew you would get hurt.
And was it worth it? she would wonder. Was it worth feeling like this? Like the earth has tilted under your feet, like you’re on the brink of a bottomless pit? She wasn’t sure.
Sooner, rather than later, Hermione had the thought that she was being rather melodramatic, and found that she didn’t care. She figured she was allowed to, given that there was an invisible hand twisting her insides, sending her mind into endless circles.
“Really,” she grumbled, pushing her duvet away. “Pull yourself together.”
Work was a welcome, though bothersome, distraction. They were in the final week of active court; recess would begin after the last hearing on Friday, the first Friday of November. No one was really putting any new bills forward. Most of the focus was on tidying up a few legislative loopholes, and reviewing the sentences of those imprisoned for minor offenses who were due for parole. Hermione was fighting to keep busy, but she managed to do so — she told herself she was getting ahead for the spring, and it wasn’t exactly a lie. Jeremy was going a bit manic — they’d been paired up on her next two projects — and sometimes, she felt bad about dragging him along the way she did. Another casualty of being an idiot over Harry Potter.
Don’t, she told herself, jaw working as she looked over Jeremy’s latest draft. Don’t let yourself go there. So she didn’t, and crossed out an unnecessary clause with more vigor than necessary.
The owl — or, rather, the first owl — arrived just as they were breaking for a late lunch on Monday. “Is it urgent?” Jeremy asked, half of his sandwich in his mouth.
Hermione frowned, putting down her yogurt. “No idea.” She didn’t recognize the owl — barn, male, beautiful. She reached for the letter and, once she broke the seal, felt her heart drop into her gut.
Came back from Quidditch practice yesterday and you were gone. Look, I know I’m rubbish at these things, but I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I didn’t mean to leave you hanging or anything. Let’s just grab some lunch tomorrow, yeah? Or even dinner, I know you’re busy. Owl me when you can.
Heremione read it twice, then again to make sure she wasn’t imagining things. The absolute nerve of this man—
“Everything alright?” Jeremy said.
She found herself nodding. “Yes.” She put down the letter and folded it shut. “Everything's fine.”
The barn owl stared at her for a moment, waiting for a reply. Hermione shook her head, and it blinked at her. Then, after what seemed like a short eternity, it spread its wings and flew off.
“So,” said Hermione, picking her yogurt back up. “How’s your mum doing?”
Later, when Jeremy was out on a coffee run, she took the letter over to the fireplace and dropped it into the flames, watching as the parchment curled and turned black.
The second letter arrived the following day, before she left home for work. She didn’t even bother to open it, conjuring a little blue fire that ate the parchment with more eagerness than necessary. Bertie watched her, his eyes big and inscrutable.
The third arrived on her desk while she was in a meeting, and once again, Hermione dropped it into the fire. Melodrama suits me, she thought, watching the letter turn to ash.
Looking back, she should’ve known that the ominous silence that followed was just that — ominous.
Thursday arrived, the first of November, and she was already more wary than usual. The past few Thursdays had certainly been enough to amp up her paranoia. After a night of fitful sleep, she woke sweaty and with a thumping head, bleakly wondering when things would go back to normal. If they ever could.
First thing that morning, her office went down to court to sit in on the hearing for an amendment put forward by one of Hermione’s coworkers. It passed, and they went back to their chambers in high spirits. Hermione was chatting to Verity as they walked into the antechamber, then she saw who was leaning against Verity’s desk and she forgot how to breathe.
Harry’s face was smooth, pleasant, and she immediately felt a spike of fear. In the years since Hogwarts, he’d developed a habit of staying deathly calm when he was furious. Sometimes, she would think of his temper, the way he’d fly off the handle at Umbridge or Snape, and sort of miss it. But then, she thought, sometimes a slumbering lion is far more terrifying than a roaring one.
“Mr. Potter,” said Verity, surreptitiously stepping on Hermione’s foot. “What a delightful surprise! How can I help you? Did you have an appointment with Mr. Ross?”
“No, and I wish you’d call me Harry, Verity.” He gave her a twinkling smile and Hermione’s fingers itched to conjure some canaries. “I was seeing if Hermione had a few free minutes, just on personal business. Weasley matters.” He winked.
Verity laughed, a delicate trill, and Hermione opened her mouth.
“Actually,” Verity cut in, “she’s free for the rest of the morning.” She practically shoved Hermione in the direction of her office. “Take your time.”
“Splendid,” said Harry, and, for the first time since she’d walked in, he looked Hermione directly in the eye. His gaze was bright, sharp, inscrutable.
Bollocks, she thought, but collected herself and marched into her office, not waiting to see if he followed.
He did, closing the door behind him, sealing them in a bubble of relative silence. Hermione went to her desk, keeping her back to him, and began rifling through stacks of parchment, trying to seem very important and busy.
“Well,” she said, because why not get it over with. “I thought you’d be in class.”
Harry chuckled, but the sound was dry and humorless. “Half of sixth year is out with a mild case of dragonpox, so I ended up with some free time this morning.”
She didn’t know what to say to that, and silence fell again, save for the shuffle of parchment.
When he spoke again, his voice wasn’t as even. “Why did you leave, Hermione?”
“Really?” Hermione closed her eyes, pressing her fingers to her temples. “We’re doing this now? Here?”
“What other choice did you give me?” he replied. “You left before I got back, you took your Floo offline, and you never replied to any of my letters—”
“I don’t owe you anything.” To her horror, her voice began to tremble, and she cupped a hand over her mouth, taking a breath before continuing. “You made it clear you felt the same way towards me. No obligations, no strings, whatever people call it these days. But I’m done with it.”
“Done with what?”
“This!” Hermione exploded, whirling around. “Shagging! Whatever it is we’re doing, I’m done. I can’t do it anymore.”
Harry’s face was a study in controlled emotion. “You make it sound so—”
“So what, Harry?” she bit out, her patience waning. “Tell me what I’m supposed to think. We were drunk the first time, but not the second, and definitely not the third. At some point, it stops being a mistake and it starts being a—”
“A what?” he said, his expression still neutral.
“A… thing.” Hermione forced herself to take a breath. She bit her lip and thought, fuck it. “I can’t do something casual. I can’t shag you and pretend that there isn’t something more. I can’t.”
Harry was still watching her, inscrutable. She’d forgotten that he’d technically been trained to be a master interrogator, an ability that was serving him all too well at the moment. “Hermione,” he finally said. “Why did you come to Hogwarts two weeks ago?”
Her stomach dropped, anxiety rippling through her. If she told him the truth, she knew what it would look like—
“I’ve invited you to visit Hogwarts more times than I can remember, and if your vacation had been planned, you would’ve mentioned it. I’m guessing you spoke to Ron, and when you heard the news, you were taken by surprise. You cashed in some vacation time, and you ended up at Hogwarts. On my couch. At Hogwarts, the place you’d made very clear you had no interest in visiting.” His voice changed, and she heard a bitter undercurrent rise to the surface. “You could’ve sent me an owl, or a Patronus, but instead, you show up without any warning and fall into my arms, and what am I supposed to think, Hermione? That you’re there for me?”
Shit. “Harry,” she said, her voice small as her throat clogged and tears threatened.
He shook his head. “Listen, I understand what you said before about not wanting to just be mates who decide to have a quick shag. But how should I feel, when I know that again, you came to me because Ron upset you—”
“That is not fair,” Hermione bit out, angrily swiping a loose tear off her cheek. “Yes, Ron’s news took me by surprise, of course it did, and I might have freaked out a little, but that is not why I went to Hogwarts, Harry. I did that because seeing Ron after— after everything— was too much. And I—” she hiccupped a little now, the tears flowing too fast for her to catch, you stupid stupid girl — “I didn’t know what to feel, but you snuck me a box of chocolates and—and said it would be nice to see me—I just thought—”
Harry reached for her, his face finally showing a glimmer of concern. “Hermione—”
“No!” She backed away, towards the windows “No, you don’t get to do that! You don’t get to send me a fucking box of chocolates after shagging me twice and pretend that things are just going to go back to normal, because they can’t.” Hermione took a shaky breath and steadied herself. “More to the point, you don’t get to crash through my door looking for a book at six in the morning. Or take me to a fancy dinner, or shag me in a club bathroom. Or tell me I look incredible, then leave me in your bed without so much as a note.”
“Why not?” said Harry, like this was news to him. Egging her on, the bastard.
“Because I am not your plaything, Harry Potter!” she cried, relishing the way her words seemed to slap him across the face. “You don’t get to waltz in and out of my life at will, you don’t get to shag me and kiss me in broad daylight just because you can — you — you don’t know what it does to— and you don’t get to string me along like all the other women you sleep with. I won’t let you, and I’ve known you for too long to just sit back and go along with it.” Hermione gripped the back of an armchair and wiped at her cheeks again. Hopefully, those tears would be the last.
“So that’s it?” he demanded, angry again. “I don’t get to say—”
“You have had plenty of chances to say anything you’d damn well like,” she fired back, keeping her chin up and her shoulders square even as she felt the world crashing down around her. “And you’re not gullible enough to think that we could just carry on, never talking about what this is or what it means. Don’t try to tell me that you, of all people, are incapable of speaking your mind.”
Harry stood there, not making any attempt to comfort her, and she couldn’t tell if she hated it or not. “Hermione,” he said again, as if he didn’t know what else to say.
Buck up, she told herself. “Apart from anything else, Harry, I will not have you think that I’m a liar. I haven’t had any feelings for Ron in years. You saw the way I mourned the relationship, the way I got myself back to a place where I could spend time with the Weasleys. Of course Ron’s news took me by surprise, but to accuse me of using you as his replacement—” Hermione broke off, unable to finish the sentence, then shook her head. “I had no idea you thought so little of me.”
“I don’t,” he began, then gulped and took a step back. “I never— I didn’t think—”
“That much is clear,” she bit out, and waved her hand through the air. Her door flew open, banging into the wall, and the sound was like a gunshot through the silence. “Please leave.”
Harry stared at her, his expression finally cracking. To her astonishment, she felt no response. She was too numb, trembling from adrenaline and heartbreak.
And he did. He left, his cloak flapping against the door frame on his way out.
A beat passed. Then two. Hermione fumbled at the armchair, then sank into it, her head falling into her hands.
It had happened. Just as she’d always feared. Her best friend. The only man she’d ever really loved. Gone. It occurred to her, slowly, that this was like the first morning-after she’d shared with him — she had no idea where this left them, what happened next. But, unlike that morning, it was all awful.
A sound by the door grabbed her attention, and she looked up to see Verity standing there, her face blank with astonishment. “I only heard about half of it,” she said, closing the door behind her. “But good for you.” She knelt by Hermione. “I almost hexed him on his way out. Can I get you a cup of tea?”
Hermione nodded. “Please.”
“We can get you something stronger after work,” Verity said, and Hermione nodded again.
The cup of tea arrived faster than she’d expected, and she sipped at it, wondering if she was starting to lose her grip of all reality. Verity was still watching her like she was a bomb about to go off, which, Hermione guessed, was understandable.
If she was being honest, the pain was almost crippling. It had been bad enough before, but now, it was acute, fresh. It was almost as if she’d lost a limb, as if she’d suffered some agonizing trauma, and now had to go about life differently. She tried to take a breath, staring at the fine grain of her wooden floor. “I know, logically, that it’ll get better, it’ll pass. But, Merlin.”
Verity’s face twisted in sympathy, and she reached out, squeezing Hermione’s knee. “I know, love. I know.”
u guys n ur comments give me life <3 tysm for reading!
wash ur hands n stay the fuck home
what was it verity said... back at the beginning?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The night passed, as nights would. Hermione had a few too many shots of Firewhiskey and managed to get a few hours’ sleep, and when she blinked awake at 5 A.M., groggy and with her arms wrapped around Bertie, she had a few blissful moments of ignorance before reality hit her like a bomb. If she’d thought she wanted to call in sick on Monday, that desire paled in comparison to the way she felt today. It wasn’t even raining, but through her window, she could see that the sky was muggy and a fierce wind was tearing through the city — not encouraging.
But she couldn’t miss today. The Wizengamot recessed with a formal ceremony in the late afternoon, and she was standing with Thewlyn at the Closing of the Scrolls. Best foot forward.
“I can always take Monday off,” she reminded herself, tangling her fingers in Bertie’s fur. He was staring at her again — something he did more often than not, these days — even as he purred. “Or I could just… not go back.” Hermione almost smiled, a testament to her lack of sleep. “That would be very rebellious of me, wouldn’t it, Bert?”
His purring got louder, and she gave him an extra scratch under the chin. Even if she didn’t have anyone else, she’d have him.
Later, staring at herself in the mirror in the middle of pinning her hair, Hermione’s stomach swooped and she forced herself to swallow. “Don’t,” she told her reflection. “Don’t lose your nerve now.” Another pin, and she reached for her blush and mascara. “There are better things in this world than Harry Potter.” Though she wouldn’t have thought so the month before, probably. “And there are going to be lots of eyes on you today. Lots of cameras. At least two reporters. You can’t lose your shit now. Just picture strangling him, if you have to.”
And with that, she headed off to work with a steely resolve, a part of her blindly hoping that it would last.
The Closing Ceremony was at four, and the morning passed with little incident. Verity eyed her hair and raised a brow, saying, “Nice one, Granger.” This caused Jeremy to look up from his pile of scrolls and say, “Oh. Your hair’s… smaller?”
Hermione smiled, and the action almost felt foreign, like her skin was cracking. “Well-spotted, Jeremy. Yes, it is.”
No one was really in the mood to work — even Thewlyn was spotted dozing over the Prophet at his desk — and they shifted around piles of notes and books to clear a space by the fireplace in the antechamber. Everyone sat down to chat, charming spare bits of parchment into different airplanes while they talked. Someone went and fetched a box of pastries at some point, and Hermione bit into a bear claw with relish. Thank Heavens there were Muggle-borns in this office — she’d had enough canteen cauldron cakes for a lifetime.
Eventually, because Hermione was cosmically cursed or something, the conversation pivoted to topics of romance.
“This job is like a Weakening Solution for your dating life,” Mulbane was whinging as he stuffed half a donut into his mouth. “Try getting together with someone when you work until 9 P.M. on a Friday and sometimes have to sit in court on a Saturday. ”
“I know,” Annabella chimed in, absently flicking her wand at a bit of parchment. It folded half a wing and quivered to a halt. “I haven’t been on a date in months.”
Everyone joined in at that point, even Adam, who was happily married and with a baby on the way. Long hours and piles of constant research didn’t discriminate, it seemed.
Hermione looked down at her half-eaten bear claw, which had just gone dry and pasty in her mouth. Well. Couldn’t be helped.
“What about you, Granger?” came Mulbane, from across the circle. The question was nonchalant, but it pierced through her ribs like a knife. “You seeing anyone?”
Verity’s hand brushed her ankle, then gave it a squeeze. Hermione swallowed.
“No, not at the moment,” she said, wrapping her bear claw in a napkin.
The conversation continued, but she tuned it out. Verity’s hand stayed on her leg, and Hermione forced herself to focus on that, counting her breaths as the roiling emotion slowly leaked out of her body.
A day at a time, Granger, she thought, letting her gaze drift to the window. The weather hadn’t improved — intermittently rainy with spots of cold sunshine — and clouds drifted over the sun, throwing White Hall into a momentary shade. A day at a time.
The afternoon arrived sooner than it should have, and Hermione made her way to the Second Row of the Wizengamot in a daze, her thoughts drowned out by the ceaseless hum of the court. She couldn’t stop replaying the fight with Harry, wondering if she should’ve said anything different, if anything would’ve helped. If they could’ve salvaged some part of their friendship.
But then there was the banging of the gavel, and the ringing of the four bells, which signalled that court had come to pause. A few words were said by the Chairwoman, then by Kingsley, who was looking very dignified in his dark purple robes.
Hermione felt it all as if from a great distance, the speeches echoing in her ears but not having any meaning. Normally, these ceremonies were moments that echoed with history and importance, grandeur and self-reflection, but she was numb to all of it. The world had lost some of its color, and she took a quivering breath, trying to steady herself as she wondered if it would ever go back to normal.
“And now,” said the Chairwoman, her voice bright and cheerful. “If there are no other cases to present before the Wizengamot, the Court will close—”
“Wait!” came a voice — an all too-familiar voice — from the other end of the chamber.
Hermione whipped round, and her stomach Apparated to Antarctica. Heart pounding, brain threatening to give up entirely, she caught herself on the wooden barrier and prayed that she’d lost her mind, because Harry Potter was marching onto the floor of the Wizengamot.
The Chairwoman stared at him in shock. The words she’d spoken had been a formality. They weren’t a literal invitation for someone to— “Mr. Potter—”
“I have a case,” said Harry, lifting a scroll of parchment for everyone to see. “I have a case to present to the Wizengamot. It won’t take longer than ten minutes, I swear.”
The Chairwoman looked to Kingsley, who looked to Thewlyn, who shrugged. “Planning ahead was never your strong suit, Harry,” said Kingley, his deep voice carrying well across the courtroom. Hermione redoubled her grip on the barrier. “But you may proceed.”
He certainly had everyone’s attention now. “Thank you, Minister,” said Harry, and his gaze flickered to Hermione for just a spare second. She stared back at him, trying to pack as much outrage and coldness as she could into one look. What the fuck are you doing? she wanted to scream, but her boss was standing next to her, and he was giving her a look that was all too shrewd.
“You may proceed, Mr. Potter,” said the Chairwoman, and the Court Secretary stood up, one quill in hand while another perched atop a floating parchment, ready.
Harry grinned — he fucking grinned — and conjured a large wooden podium, unfurling his scroll of parchment and pushing a hand through his hair. Oh, you’re nervous , thought Hermione savagely, her nails digging into the wood, you’re not the one surrounded by every single one of your coworkers and some of the most powerful witches and wizards in Britain, having to watch while the ex-friend you may or may not have been shagging is—
“Witches and wizards of the Wizengamot,” said Harry, his voice ringing clear and bright across the court. “I stand before you in High Court today, on the third of November, in the Common Year 2009, to admit guilt and plea amnesty.” He paused, just for a moment, and licked his lips. “I am here, in short, to make a case for the forgiveness of one person — Hermione Granger.”
The world was ending. It had to be. Anything would be better than this. “Merlin,” Hermione breathed, wobbling in her heels — why had she worn heels?! — as everyone turned to stare at her in astonishment. “Steady,” hissed Verity, who was suddenly there, her hand on Hermione’s elbow, somehow holding her upright.
“I’m going to murder him,” Hermione whispered, blushing and then going pale. The Chairwoman’s mouth was actually hanging open.
“I know,” Verity whispered back. “But let’s see what he says, first.”
“Hermione Granger is one of my oldest and most trusted friends,” Harry went on, and the fucker was blushing now. “Many of you are aware that she saved my life on more than one occasion, and that she’s far more clever, far brighter, than I could ever be. But I ruined everything.” To Hermione’s shock, he cleared his throat, then looked her dead in the eye. “I took advantage of her kindness. I monopolized her time. I was careless with her emotions. I was a terrible friend, and.” He paused again, took a breath. “I was a terrible boyfriend.”
Once again, shock rippled through the room — people gasped, even swore. The Chosen One, the Savior, and Hermione Granger—?
“Because that’s what we were, Hermione,” Harry continued, as if nothing had happened. “That’s what was going on between us, even though we never put a label on it and we never talked about it. I owed you more honesty. At the very least, I owed you that. Because I’ve been lying to you for a long time, maybe the most over these past few weeks. And I can’t remember how many times we promised each other that we wouldn’t do that.”
This isn’t happening, Hermione thought, dimly, as a roar kicked up in her ears. Or maybe it was just the sound of a thousand fresh chains of gossip knitting together across the courtroom.
“I’ve been lying,” Harry said, repeating it as if to make it more true, “because I’ve loved you for ten years, maybe even longer than that.” He gave a lopsided smile. “I guess being stuck in a tent with someone for an extended period of time will make you face a few unknown truths.”
Now, thought Hermione. This is when I faint. But somehow, she didn’t. It was as if she were spellbound to stand there, watching Harry say everything she’d ever dreamed of hearing, while Verity’s nails dug into her elbow and Kingsley grinned like he’d won the lottery.
“I should have told you, and I knew it. I knew it, but I couldn’t get myself to tell you the truth, because I never thought I had a chance.” Harry shook his head, then, absurdly, grinned. “If I’d just had the courage tell you, then maybe I wouldn’t have lost you. You said yesterday that I’d had plenty of time to speak my mind, and you were right. I’m guilty of doubting myself, of doubting you. Of thinking that I was following your lead, when really, you were following mine. I’m guilty of wasting our time, letting years pass us by, letting you think that you weren’t the most important thing in my life, because I couldn’t trust myself enough, couldn’t be brave enough, to tell you the truth.” He paused then, his finger folding and unfolding a corner of the parchment in a nervous tick she remembered well from Potions class. “I’m definitely guilty of ruining our relationship, our friendship, whatever you want to call it.”
Harry looked up at her again, and his gaze was bright and shining in the dim light of the courtroom. “I’m sorry, Hermione. I came here today to set the record straight, and to ask for your forgiveness. I would ask for your heart, if I could, but I know I’m not entitled to that privilege. So I’m hoping we can start here, with this. Because even if I’ve lost you as a lover, I will fight to keep you as a friend. I will fight to make it up to you, Hermione, for as long as it takes.” He turned to look around the room. “I, Harry James Potter, admit guilt in the case of breaking Hermione Granger’s heart, and hereby submit myself to the mercy of the court.”
What followed was a ringing silence. Hermione stared at him, her stomach doing somersaults.
“Well, Mr. Potter,” said the Chairwoman, clearly baffled by what had just happened. “Thank you for your testimony—”
“Madam Chairwoman,” said Hermione, her voice far more steady than she might have expected. Verity’s nails reached bone and stayed there. “Under Article 15, subsection B, of the Wizengamot’s founding Rule of Law, I believe that the party addressed in a formal plea is permitted to make a response.”
“You are correct,” said the Chairwoman, with just the ghost of a smile. She sat down in her chair. “Proceed.”
“Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.” Hermione braced herself on the wooden barrier, looking down at Harry with an odd sense of dejá vù. He’d last been in this courtroom persecuting a runaway, low-tier Death Eater, and she’d sat in on his testimony. Harry looked back at her, his face open and earnest. Suppressing a shiver, she began to speak. “Mr. Potter, why did you feel it necessary to come before court today?”
That seemed to throw him. He twitched, then recovered. “Because I thought you wouldn’t want to speak to me again. But then I remembered something you said yesterday. You said you couldn’t… be with me, and pretend there wasn’t something more. I had to hope that there was something more. And why not take advantage of the resources at my disposal?”
“No doubt this has been a very interesting use of the court’s time,” said Hermione, arching an eyebrow. “Whether it was necessary is a separate consideration entirely.”
That got a few titters. Harry’s ears went red, even though his expression was bland.
“And yet,” she continued, feeling her own face flush with heat, “you’ve made a fairly convincing case, though with little concern for your own embarrassment, not to mention a complete disregard for professionalism and the importance of the ceremony you just interrupted.”
He looked down then, and rolled up his parchment. “Understood,” he said, speaking to the floor. “I’ll just—”
“However,” she said, raising her voice, and he stopped, looking up at her, and his gaze was full of so much emotion that Hermione’s heart went into her throat, and she had to try again. “However, as I said, you made a convincing case. Convincing enough, in fact, that I’m willing to accept.” Ignoring the gasps that echoed around the room, she turned to the Chairwoman. “Madam Chairwoman, please consider this plea resolved, and the matter closed.”
The Chairwoman was smiling. “Certainly, dear.” She banged the gavel twice, the sound short and clear. “Matter closed. Now, let us resume.”
The ceremony continued, and Hermione went through the motions, stepping forward with Thewlyn to present the Closing of the Scrolls. But she couldn’t have been paying less attention — she only had eyes for Harry, who paused to look at her before he left the courtroom. He was smiling so hard it was like looking at the sun, and when she smiled back at him, he twitched his head in the direction of the corridor. I’ll wait? he was asking.
Hermione nodded, then smiled down at her feet when the door closed behind him.
“What a day, eh?” Kingsley murmured. He was standing next to her, all too shrewd for her liking.
“Yes,” she agreed, and turned pink when he grinned at her in reply.
For a brief, alarming moment, when Hermione exited the chamber and entered the steady flood of Wizengamot members fighting to get to the Floos, she couldn’t see Harry anywhere. She turned on the spot, her heart starting to thud, searching for the scruffy black hair—
“He’s there,” came Verity’s voice, turning her in the direction of a little alcove near the courtroom opposite. She gave Hermione’s hand a squeeze and winked. “Let him have it.”
Harry looked up as she approached, and he took his hands out of the pockets of his robes.
“Hello,” she said, stopping just in front of him.
“Hi,” he replied, giving her that smile again, that same, small, warm smile.
Her stomach erupted into butterflies, and she scolded it for being so ridiculous. “That was rather dramatic,” she said, leaning against the panelled wall.
“I had a lot of ground to cover.”
“How are you here right now? I thought McGonagall would hex you into next year for skiving off."
He shrugged, looking sheepish. “Got Neville to cover my last class.”
“He’ll probably make you do Snargaluffs in return.” She bit her lip and said, “All right, Harry. Go on.”
He had the grace to look bemused. “What?”
“Tell me whatever it was you couldn’t say in there.”
“I—” Harry looked at her and seemed to deflate. He leaned back against the wall opposite. “I still don’t know exactly what went wrong, Hermione. Yesterday, it seemed like— Well. It seemed like you were mad about more than just one thing.”
Hermione blinked at him, too surprised to hide it. “What do you mean?”
“About Sunday—” His hand went through his hair, and she watched as it tried to break a gravitational record. “I am sorry about that. I thought I’d told you I had practice. Then I slept through my wand alarm and nearly broke my neck getting down the stairs, it would’ve been funny if it wasn’t so damn pathetic. And then you were gone.” Again, the hand through his hair, and he looked at her, and she suddenly realized that he was being quite vulnerable. Moreso, perhaps, than he had done a half hour before. “Why did you leave?”
“I—I had to.” Hermione forced herself to swallow past the tightness in her throat. “I went to clean my teeth, and I found—” She broke off, almost laughed. “I couldn’t stay. Not after that reminder.”
“You found what?” Harry said, and he just. Stared at her.
Hermione stared back, hardly able to believe him. "The drawer, Harry. In your bathroom?"
"Drawer?" he repeated, now frustrated as well as confused.
Hermione was well on her way to that stage herself. "Yes," she said, heat flooding her neck again. "Full of—"
"Full of what, Hermione?" Harry said, then looked as if he’d been hit over the head with a Bludger. “Oh.”
They stood there in silence for a moment, as the crowds in the hallway thinned out. Hermione looked at the edge of his shoe, which was less than two feet away from her own, and, somehow, felt as if he’d never been further away.
“Kreacher,” Harry said. “If I don’t chuck things, he keeps them, puts them away. Nasty habit, I’ve been trying to break it.”
“But you knew about it?”
"Yes. No." Harry winced. "I noticed it once, a few years ago. Tossed all of it and gave him a right talking-to, thought that was the end of it. I honestly never bothered to check again."
"Well." Hermione noticed that her voice was rather flat, and she scuffed her heel on the floor. Her euphoria was certainly fading, now. “It's there.”
Harry glanced at her with a frown. “Why did it bother you, Hermione?” Then, a moment later, he straightened, almost like a hound who’d scented a rabbit. “Is this what you meant just now, when you said that whole bit about a reminder? ”
“Yes.” Hermione stared back at him, crossing her arms against her chest.
“You thought—?” Harry was defiant now, his body livid with energy. “You thought I was sleeping with other women while we were—?”
“Yes, Harry,” she bit out, glancing over her shoulder to make sure nobody heard. “Or, at the very least, that that was all I was to you. Just another weekend piece—”
She stopped, then looked at him. He was standing there, stubborn as anything, his eyes flashing.
“Hermione,” he said again, and Merlin, that voice— “I thought we were together the whole time. From that first night at your place. That’s what I thought we were, that’s what I wanted us to be.”
Hermione blinked, then stared at him. Then blinked some more. “Oh.”
Harry actually began to laugh, relieved and absurd. “Merlin, no wonder it was like we were speaking two different languages yesterday! This whole time, I thought you were the one who wanted to keep things casual and you were just upset because I’d left, not that—”
“Oh,” she said again, because her brain was apparently broken.
He reached for her, his hands warm and firm on her arms, gently pulling her away from the wall. “Hermione, for the love of God, the last thing I feel about you is casual.” Harry grinned suddenly, his neck flushing red. “As I just made very clear in front of the entire Wizengamot.”
“Harry.” Because apparently she was incapable of full sentences? Hermione wanted to punch herself in the head. Merlin, what an idiot she had been—
“I’m sorry if I was acting like a tosser,” Harry said, nearly stumbling over the words as he tried to get them out. “I know I said it earlier but I’m saying it again, because even if I thought you wanted something else, I never want you to feel like you don’t—”
“It’s all right, Harry,” she said, and she meant it. She reached for him, clung to him, her heart knocking into her spine and the earth twisting beneath her feet.
“Merlin,” he said again, his voice flooded with relief, and then he closed the distance between them and kissed her.
It was eager, a little too sloppy, but Hermione didn’t care. She let herself drown in it, let herself lean into his body and feel the weight of his sure presence against her. It was the best feeling in the world.
Harry pulled away, grinning, then reached for her hand. “Is this okay then, Granger?” he added as he wove his fingers between hers.
“You just kissed me in the middle of the Ministry, and now you’re asking if it’s okay to hold my hand?”
“Yes,” he said, a bit breathless. His hand was warm, a bit dry, with irregular callouses. Something that was familiar, at this point, and yet something new.
For a moment, she could only look back at him, her face heated and a little bit numb. I can’t believe this is really happening, she thought.
“I hope I didn’t embarrass you in there,” Harry said, honest concern flickering across his face.
“Not seriously.” Hermione had to smile at that. “Though it’ll be on the front page of the Prophet tomorrow.”
“I don’t care.” He took in her expression and added, “I mean, I don’t care if you don’t.”
“I—” Hermione tried to think, and failed. All she could focus on was the fact that he was standing here, in the Ministry, holding her hand where anyone could see. “No, I guess not. But what about—?”
Harry nodded. “Ron knows, Hermione.” The corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk. “Gave me one hell of a telling off, actually.”
She blinked at him. “Really? Ron?”
“Yeah. Told me to pull my sorry face out of my arse and realize what I’d lost.”
“Really,” she said again, trying and failing to imagine it.
Hermione smiled, giddy, and he smiled back. “Can I ask you one more thing, Harry?”
“Why did you come to my flat, all those weeks ago? We hadn’t seen each other in months, and you just turned up out of the blue.”
His smile twitched and he sucked in a breath. “I did need the book. And, well. It sounds corny, but like you said. It had been a few months. I woke up that morning, and I couldn’t stop wondering how you were.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “And your solution was to invade my flat and make me tea?”
“Yes. Worked though, didn’t it?” His smile stretched into a grin, and Hermione laughed.
“You’re insane,” she said, giving his hand a squeeze.
“Probably.” He squeezed back. “All right then, Granger.” Harry stepped even closer, and she felt as if she could count the flecks of gold in his eyes. “Where should we start?”
“How about dinner?” she said. “I think I can get the rest of the afternoon off.”
Hermione toed off her heels and suppressed a thrill of excitement as Harry came in the door behind her. The last time they’d walked through her front door, they’d just been friends. Now, they were—
“Hallo, mate.” Harry gave Bertie a good scratch under his chin, and a rumbling purr ensued. “He’s in a good mood.”
“Well, I’ve been so stroppy this past week,” she said, fighting a blush. “He’s just glad to have someone else around.”
“Really?” said Harry, still scratching, but he looked up at her. “Stroppy?”
“Very.” Hermione did blush then, and she took a step away. “Wine?”
“Please.” Harry shucked his jacket — which were actually his Transfigured robes — and kicked off his boots. Hermione watched him as she went into the kitchen. He looked completely at ease where he was, undoing his cuffs and loosening his tie as he went over to the sofa.
Opening a bottle was easier said than done, and Hermione resorted to magic after almost taking off her fingernail with the corkscrew. “Pull yourself together,” she muttered as the wine poured itself because, really. She had no reason to be so anxious. After all, they’d hashed everything out at dinner, hadn’t they?
They’d eaten at a little Italian hole-in-the-wall half a mile from her apartment. It had been romantic, and fun in a way that she hadn’t expected. They’d talked about everything, from their misunderstanding to their colossal fight the day before — it all seemed a tremendous joke now, a ridiculous distraction that they could’ve avoided. Though the pain was still there for both of them, Hermione had realized, and it would take some time to heal. The things they’d said to each other had been real, about feelings that were rooted in insecurities that weren’t going to disappear anytime soon. Harry’s worry that she was using him as a replacement for Ron hadn’t come out of nowhere, and was something she would have to show time and again wasn’t true. Just as Harry would have to show her that he was serious about her, even though the only thing he’d been serious about the past few years was teaching.
And, Harry had done what she’d always dreamt of — taken her hand across the table, kept one foot pressed to her ankle, brushed a kiss to her cheek as he’d helped her into her coat. This is really happening, she kept thinking throughout the meal, and something she thought again now.
“Thanks,” said Harry, taking his glass. He had settled into his usual corner of the sofa, and Bertie was lying across the top of the sofa’s back, clearly determined to stay as close to Harry as possible. While she’d been in the kitchen, the bookcase had moved and a cheerful fire was blazing in her fireplace.
She sat down in the opposite corner of the sofa, tucking her feet underneath her. “Cheers,” she said, tapping her glass against Harry’s.
“Cheers.” He looked at her, his eyes sparking in the low light.
Hermione fought off a tremor and took a quick sip of wine. Merlin, but he was unhelpful, looking like this without any due cause. Then, swallowing a wave of panic, she cleared her throat and said, “Harry, how does this work?”
He seemed bemused. “How does what work?”
“Being together. As a couple.” Her fingers itched for a parchment and quill, to draw up a contract and a list of rules. “I mean, we’ve established that it’s something we want to do, but we need a set of guidelines. At the very least, we need to decide what to tell people, if we're going to tell people, when we’re going to tell people. And then there’s the question of seeing each other. You’re at Hogwarts, I’m at the Ministry, we both have demanding careers, we barely have enough free time as it is, and—”
“’Mione.” Harry was grinning. “Breathe.”
She sucked in a breath and put down her glass.
“Good.” He took his hand off of Bertie and put it on her knee instead. “How about we start with what it is you want?”
“What I want,” Hermione echoed. A dozen thoughts spiralled through her head, and she dismissed all of them.
“Because we’re sort of in a unique position.” Harry’s thumb dragged across her knee, then again, tracing a warm circle. “We don’t have to jump through all the hoops. We don’t have to learn all the small stuff, like how we take our tea and what we like to do on a Saturday night. And we already know a lot of the big stuff. I know a lot of your flaws, and you certainly know mine. Merlin, we’ve already lived together, even if it was a long time ago.”
“Harry,” said Hermione. “The point, arrive at the point.”
“It doesn’t have to be very different,” Harry said. “It’ll be like we already were, just more, y’know.” He gave her a rakish grin. “More snogging.”
“Harry. ” She fought off a grin and smacked his arm.
He chuckled, his thumb going back to tracing patterns on her knee. “How about this? We don’t have to spend every night together, because we both know that’s impossible for the time being, but we can assume there’s an open invitation on weeknights. And on weekends, we can stay here, or at Grimmauld, and we can go out as much or as little as we want to. I would love for you to come to a Quidditch game every once in a while, and I’m sure your friend Verity would like to interrogate me over lunch at some point. And, on the nights we don’t get to see each other, we can always do a firecall.” He looked at her then, and something in his gaze was so tender that she fought off a tremor. “But I do like sleeping next to you. And I’d like to do that. Quite a lot, if possible.”
“Really,” said Hermione, her voice faint, a part of herself still not believing this was real. “I’d like that as well.”
“Good.” He shifted closer, briefly bending over to put his wine glass on the floor. “And we can move as quickly or as slowly as you’d like. Because I’m serious about this, Hermione.” And everything in his face told her it was true. “This isn’t just some passing fancy.”
“I know. And normally, I…” Hermione took another breath, and reminded herself that this was Harry. “Normally, I would want to take things slow. But.” She smiled. “You’ve met my parents, I know the Weasleys, and we’ve already shagged each other senseless, so we’ve skipped past steps one through twelve, I think.”
“One through twelve?” Harry repeated. “Blimey, I sort of want to know what those are, now—”
She took his hand, gave it a squeeze. “I’m ready to not move slowly. I feel like we’ve already lost a lot of time just by being idiots, and I don’t want to be idiots anymore. I can’t think of much I’m not ready to do with you.”
“Okay.” Harry grinned, bright and happy in the low light. “Would you like to live together? Properly, I mean.”
“Yes,” Hermione said, surprising herself by how quickly she said it. “I hate living alone. I always have. I just pretended I didn’t.”
“When would you like to?”
She noticed how neither of them feigned that they would live anywhere other than Grimmauld. “I’ve been here so long I’m month-to-month, I can leave whenever I like. I just have to check with my landlord.”
“All right.” He bumped their intertwined hands against her leg. “I can talk to McGonagall. It isn’t a requirement for professors to live at Hogwarts, so I can’t imagine she would have a problem with me Flooing in.”
Hermione frowned. “Why did you stay, then? You were there all the time.”
“Well.” Harry cleared his throat in a quick cough. “Hogwarts was my first real home, you know that. And it was nice, my first year back, to really immerse myself. But in all honesty, it was hard to stay away from you while I was in London, and I always felt like I was bothering you.”
“Bother me?” Hermione repeated. “You never bothered me, Harry.” She took one look at his face and chuckled. “Well, if I seemed bothered it was because I was entirely too frustrated by the fact that you seemed to have eyes for every other woman except me. It was maddening.”
“I must be a better actor than I thought, then.” He quirked an eyebrow. “Because the opposite was true.”
Warmth flooded her belly. “Harry. ”
He leaned in closer, and his hand slid from her knee to her thigh. “Have we covered enough of the basics now?”
“Almost.” Hermione bit her lip, wishing she wasn’t about to say this. “How do we handle Ron? And the Weasleys?”
Harry took a breath and leaned back, though his hand stayed where it was. “Well, Ron really did seem fine with it when I talked to him. But he’d probably like to hear it from you.”
She nodded. “Right.”
“And as for the rest of the Weasleys.” Harry shrugged. “We can still go to Sunday dinners whenever you’d like. I can’t imagine Molly will be upset, but if you’re ever uncomfortable, we don’t have to go, or we don’t have to stay.”
“Okay.” Hermione took a breath. “Okay, I can work with that. So we’re really doing this?”
“Hermione.” Harry gave her a coy look. “What’s my favorite thing to do on a Monday night?”
“Order in and watch Big Brother,” she said, almost automatically. “Followed by a rerun of Kitchen Nightmares.”
“And you hate reality telly until you’ve had two glasses of wine and half a packet of Cadbury fingers.” He raised an eyebrow. “You would also eat your weight in Fitzburn’s chocolate truffles, given the chance, and you never take the short way from your office to the Floo because you’d pass by their stand next to the fountain. You don’t trust yourself not to buy a whole box every day.”
Something in her stomach gave a delightful flutter, but she didn’t know what to say.
“See, Hermione?” Harry shifted back into the corner, reaching for his glass of wine. “We know each other almost as well as we know ourselves. I think we have a good chance of being okay.”
Hermione bent over and picked up her wine to hide the fact that her face was turning red. She took a large glug of it before sitting up again, unable to break eye contact with Harry. Surreal, she thought. This whole day has been completely surreal. “What about Teddy?” she found herself asking.
Harry rolled his eyes, but fondly. “The little swot has been after me for ages to get a girlfriend. And he already worships you, so.” He looked at her, his gaze careful. “I know I have a unique position in his life. I’m a godfather, but I’m also a parent. Don’t feel like you have to step into that role or anything.”
“I’m not worried about that,” Hermione said, which was honest. “But it’s just been the two of you for eleven years. I don’t want to intrude.”
“You wouldn’t be. You’re family.”
Hermione blushed, but scooted closer to him. Harry noticed, and put down his glass. Bertie gave them both a thoroughly unamused look and jumped off the couch.
“Harry,” she said, her heart thudding. “This is real, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” He reached for her, his hands coming up to cup her face. His thumb ran along the line of her jaw, then settled in the dip below her ear. “Thankfully, yes.”
“Good,” she said, then she leaned in and kissed him.
It was slow, tender, and it made Hermione melt. Harry held her close, his body languid and immersive, and it was all she could do to keep her head.
Is this irony? she had the brain power to think at some point. That’s two beginnings on this couch. It probably wouldn’t survive a third.
For a while, they just stayed there, locked into each other, Hermione reeling at the fact that this felt new, even though it was hardly their first time kissing. She ran her hands across Harry’s back and pulled him even closer, relishing the way he moaned.
Harry broke away and shoved his glasses up onto his head. She almost laughed at what it did to his hair. “Hermione, you said we skipped steps one through twelve. Was one of those steps snogging on your couch?”
She swallowed a giggle. “Absolutely not.”
Harry hummed and dropped his glasses onto the floor. “Shame. Let’s change that.” And he leaned in again, fastening his mouth to her neck, pushing her down into the cushions. Hermione reminded herself to breathe as he settled between her legs, reaching up to card her fingers through his hair. He kissed his way up her neck, then licked his way into her mouth.
Hermione groaned, her legs turning to jelly, reeling at the press of his body against hers. She slid a hand under his shirt and pressed her fingers against the smooth, warm skin, accidentally brushing against an old scar.
How long they stayed like that, she didn’t know. She lost herself in the feeling of his mouth, the graze of his teeth, the confident way he touched her body, propping himself up on one hand so he could bury the other in her hair, holding her in place as he kissed a lingering trail from her mouth to her neck, again and again, until she shivered with longing.
We’re still in our work clothes, she thought hysterically, and it was true. Harry in his tie, slacks, and button-down, her in a blouse and skirt. It was sort of absurd, necking on the couch as if this were any other day.
“Hermione,” Harry mumbled, pausing with a hand halfway under her blouse. “Do you—”
Some part of Hermione’s brain switched back on, and she suddenly realized how long it had been since— “Shower.”
Harry stopped and pulled away. He frowned at her. “Sorry?”
“I just—” She exhaled in a rush and sat up. “If I’m going to take my clothes off, I need to shower. I sort of, well.” She inched back from him, her face flaming. “I forgot to, last night.”
He smiled at her, warm and just a bit teasing. “All right,” he said, leaning away. “I’ll meet you in the bedroom, then.”
Hermione nodded and stood up, brushing her hand against Harry’s shoulder. “Sorry,” she said, smiling as she headed for the hallway. “But we haven’t been together for long enough for you to get me when I’m pongy. Even if I love you.”
Hermione froze in the doorway, her stomach dropping. Merlin, she hadn’t realized— A part of her wanted to run down the hall, but she stayed where she was. Courage, she told herself, and she turned to look at Harry.
He had that hit-by-a-Bludger expression again. “Really?”
“If— if that’s all right.”
“I— of course.” He smiled a little. “Of course it’s all right.”
“Okay,” Hermione breathed, then she turned and went straight for the bathroom, closing the door behind her. “Well done, Hermione,” she muttered to herself, and switched on the shower.
She’d meant for the shower to be quick, perfunctory, but she lost herself in the methodical rhythm of washing her hair. The steam loosened the tension in her body, allowing her heart rate to slow down. She let the reality of the past few hours rush over her again and again, let herself feel each emotion as it came before letting it ebb away.
Hermione went to her bedroom in a towel, with her hair wrapped up in an old t-shirt. As she neared the doorway, her stomach gave an unsettling swoop, and she reminded herself that there was no reason to be nervous. They’d definitely had sex before, for Christ’s sake. And he’d certainly seen her in a worse state than this.
Harry turned one bedside lamp on, and was lying naked in the bed, the sheet covering him from the hips down. His glasses were on the nightstand, and he looked up when she came into the room, giving her a crooked grin that did stupid things to her insides. “You look happy.”
She smiled back at him, dropping the towel and undoing her hair. It fell in damp waves across her shoulders, and she slid stomach-down onto the bed with relish. Cold sheets after a hot shower were one of her favorite things. “Can’t think why. Must be some sort of clerical error.”
Harry rolled over to face her. “You’re beautiful.”
Hermione blushed, fighting the urge to bury her face in a pillow. “So are you.”
“So am I?” he echoed, grinning again. “Smooth, Granger.”
She watched his face, tracing over the features she knew so well. His five o’clock shadow was coming in a little darker than usual, and she guessed he’d neglected to shave that morning. There was a new freckle next to his ear lobe, and his nose twitched as he shifted closer.
Hermione didn’t gasp at the first touch of his hand, but it was a near thing. His hand slid up the length of her body, from thigh to shoulder, pausing at the dip in her back. Her eyes shut as he did it again, sinking into it with a sigh. His touch grew bolder, skating over the entirety of her back, her shoulders, her legs, and she had the fleeting thought that she could probably stay here forever, just like this.
Then, with a rustle of sheets, Harry closed in on her body, his mouth fastening on the space between her shoulder blades. He squeezed her bum, her hip, held her in place as he kissed his way down her back.
Merlin. Hermione fought the urge to just spread her legs in an open invitation, even as heat began to pool in her gut.
Harry settled over her properly. His hands were on her hips, his thumbs pressing into the tense muscles at the base of her spine as he mouthed at her neck, and Hermione buried a moan in the pillow. He really was relentless in everything he did.
How long they stayed like that — Harry braced above her, his hands everywhere except right where she wanted them, his mouth tracing patterns across her skin — Hermione had no idea. She was rapidly losing hold of reality. Her world had shrunk to the endless feeling of Harry’s mouth, Harry’s touch, all of it so warm and loving that it made her breath catch. Suddenly, she remembered their first morning together and how she’d marveled at Harry’s easy affection, unable to account for it at first, but now, it made sense. He’d acted like they were a couple because that’s what he’d thought they were. You’re an idiot, Hermione told herself, then gasped when Harry’s teeth grazed a particularly sensitive spot.
Eventually, he rolled her over, and she erupted into goosebumps, then blushed. Harry just smiled at her before leaning in, kissing her once, twice on the mouth, before resuming his ministrations. His hands, his mouth, wandered across her skin, mapping her like unknown territory, and Hermione shivered, raking her fingers through his hair. She couldn’t shake the feeling that this felt different, but of course it felt different. It was the first time they were doing this with a mutual, shared understanding of what it meant.
He licked at her hip, one hand caressing the soft skin below her right breast, and Hermione fought the urge to shove his face into her crotch. It was maddening, what he was putting her through, and she knew he knew it, but she wasn’t about to fight it. She was more than content to let him take the lead. And take the lead he certainly did — he seemed determined to kiss every inch of her body, except where she most ached for him to. He was aware of it, too. She caught a smirk before he pressed his open mouth to a spot above her ankle, and one of his hands slid up the inside of her leg, coming within two inches of where she needed him most before sliding away.
His arousal was evident, of course, but it was only a small part of what was happening. The lack of urgency was heady, an ongoing rush that made her cling to him, overwhelmed by the love and adoration that by now was pouring out of her in waves. Now that she could feel it, was allowing herself to feel it, it overtook her, claimed her, and it was all she could do to hold on.
Hermione was almost embarrassed by how easy it was for Harry to do this to her, to bring her up a steadily-growing summit without even a touch to her clit, her nipples, anything. The anticipation was building low in her gut, electric and alive, and she clung to it, a part of her wishing that it would never go away.
Then, he paused, and Hermione opened her eyes. As she watched, Harry pressed a final kiss to her calf and slowly lifted her leg, guiding it apart from the other. She shivered at the feeling of cool air hitting her damp arousal, and he chased the feeling with his hand, skating up the inside of her leg again before brushing against her with his thumb. Hermione moaned, low in her throat, and saw heat surge through Harry’s gaze. He settled between her legs, his hands coming up to grip at her hips, and the sight of him, scarred and devoted and beautiful in the low light, nearly broke her.
When he finally entered her, Harry pressed his mouth to hers in a kiss so affectionate that Hermione fought the urge to sob. One of his hands was in her hair, holding her in place, and the other went to her thigh, keeping it wrapped tight around his body. He set a slow, lingering pace, punctuating his thrusts with kisses to her mouth, face, neck, chest. She was already embarrassingly close, and she realized that Harry might be as well — his arms trembled when he thrust into her, and he buried his face in her neck, moaning into the skin.
He built a burning, ceaseless edge, and Hermione chased it, feeling as if she were falling out of her own body. She clung to him, her fingers digging into his back as waves of pleasure tingled up her spine. She was drunk on the way he felt, the thick, warm heat of him inside her body, and she clenched around it. “Harry,” she breathed, her spine arching, “I’m going to—”
Her orgasm was languid, unhurried, and Harry eased her through it, stilling almost completely as he pulled away to watch her. She shuddered again and again under the burning light of his gaze, pleasure sparking through her arms and legs in wave after wave, and when they began to fade, Harry bent down to kiss her, his stubble scraping her chin as he thrust once, twice—
“Harry,” Hermione whispered, her mouth wet against his neck, “Harry, I love you—”
He came suddenly with a moan, his hips stilling, and she ran her hands up his back, thinking that that had to be one of the best sounds in the world.
"I love you, too," he managed, and Hermione chuckled, pushing her hand through his hair.
Later, when they were lying in the dark, and Bertie was purring on Harry’s chest, his voice came to her in a mumble thick with sleep.
“’Mione.” He shifted closer, and his foot pressed up against her calf. “When I owled you, on Monday, it wasn’t just because I wanted to check up on you.” He took a slow breath, seeming to sink further towards sleep. “McGonagall wanted me to talk to you.”
That got her attention. Hermione opened her eyes and stared at what she could see of his face. “Why?”
Harry opened his eyes, too, and she realized he might have been more awake than he’d sounded. “She’s planning on retiring soon. In a year or two.” He licked his lips, seemed to mull over his next words. “What’s your plan, ’Mione? You’re already the top civil Legislator in the Ministry, and you aren’t even thirty. What’s coming next, Wizengamot?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered, even as her heart rate picked up. “Seems a bit boring.”
“Right.” He smiled. “Ever going to use that Arithmancy masters?”
Ah, yes. It had been a fun eighteen months with Professor Vector after their NEWTs, and a welcome distraction from the slowly-spiraling mess of her and Ron’s relationship. “Maybe.” Hermione blinked at him. “Harry, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying…” Harry took a deep breath. “McGonagall’s making her succession plan. And she’d like for you to be in it.”
“Me?” There went her stomach, off to Antarctica again. “You mean as—?”
“Headmistress, yes. Assistant Head, first, and Assistant Professor of Arithmancy.” His smile turned into a grin, and it was blinding. “What about it, Granger? Going back to Hogwarts. It’s not as bad as I’ve made it out to be.”
“I think.” Hermione took a deep breath, and felt a tidal wave of possibilities sweep over her — the smell of new parchment, the oncoming rush of new students, endless summers spent tramping wild corners of the world with Harry, duelling until they ran out of breath, speaking to the school on the first and last days of the year, shepherding pupils along the corridor, curling up next to a familiar fireplace with Harry, reading until he pulled her closer, kissed her — then found that she could hardly speak. It was as if she’d been waiting for something, and hadn’t known it until now.
“Hermione?” Harry’s voice was sharper now, and he reached for her, his hand coming to the side of her neck, his thumb brushing the line of her jaw. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” she managed to say, and felt a rush of surprise when tears came leaking out of her eyes. “Yes, I’m just— that would be brilliant— I’m so happy—”
Harry chuckled and kissed her, brushing the tears away. “I know, me too.”
i hope that was a good enough almost-ending for everyone! it isn't necessary to read the epilogue if you're happy with this where it is.
Chapter 5: The Epilogue
so i'm a major fluff-ball, what else is new
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hermione tapped her thumbnail on the bathroom counter, doing the math again in her head. There was no point to it, really, she had a goddamn Mastership in Arithmancy, she wasn’t about to mess up a casual sum. But she did it again anyway.
“Forty-four,” she murmured, and once again felt a wave of panic threaten to overtake her.
Just then, much to her relief, her wand timer went off, and she silenced it immediately. Then, she reached for the stick propped on the edge of the sink, and the earth dropped away from her feet.
The word, in clear blue lettering, bored deep into her head, and she felt a peculiar type of numbness sweep through her body. Her stomach twisted, and she wondered if she was about to throw up, was this what morning sickness felt like—?
They’d been together — officially — for six weeks, and she was almost embarrassed to admit how simple it was. Any doubts she’d ever had about dating her best friend had quickly evaporated. That was, of course, until her period was two weeks late.
“Hermione?” came Harry’s call, followed by the sound of his voice on the stairs. She’d left him in the study, neck-deep in some text on ghouls with Bertie on his lap, part of his usual Sunday afternoon lesson prep. “Why don’t we order in for dinner, I’d Impedimenta someone for some pad thai—” He stopped, probably in the doorway to his bedroom — our room, she corrected herself, she’d been living here for almost three weeks, now that Harry wasn’t staying nights at Hogwarts — and called out, “Hermione? Are you up here?”
“I’m here,” she called out, surprised to find her voice so steady. Hermione pushed the test into the basin of the sink and turned away from the mirror as he came into the bedroom, a part of her wondering if she was about to tell him the truth, but of course she was going to tell him the truth, what else—?
“Oh.” Harry appeared in the doorway of the bathroom, and she could see the worry outlined in his frame, the concern in his gaze. “Everything all right?”
“Yes, of course.” She tried to smile, and instantly knew that it didn’t work. “Pad thai sounds good.”
“Okay.” He looked at her for a moment, then took a step closer. “What’s wrong?”
Bollocks. “Harry.” Hermione gripped the counter for support, wondering where on earth this would go. “Harry, I’m pregnant.”
A beat passed. Then two. Then three. Hermione began to wonder if Harry had gone comatose standing up.
But then, to her astonishment, he gave her a grin that was blinding, brighter than the sun. “What?” he said. “Really? You’re sure?”
She could only nod, numbness sweeping through her again. “Yes, I’ve—” She reached for the test, held it up. “I took this, and I did the spell, and I checked the math—”
Harry made a strangled sound, reached for her, pulled her into a hug. He was trembling, she noticed, and then he began to laugh.
“What?” Hermione said now, trying and failing not to laugh as well. “You’re— you’re happy about this? Are you joking? I’ve only just started as Assistant Head, I’m not even teaching until January, and in case you’ve forgotten, Harry, we aren’t married— ”
“I— I don’t care—” he spluttered, then pulled away to beam at her, his eyes shining with emotion, and Hermione felt a lump form in her throat; she’d never seen him like this before. “Look, I know it’s unplanned, and more than a little unconventional, but—” He grinned again, at a loss for words. “You’re pregnant!”
Heat flooded Hermione’s face. “I think so, Harry, yes, but—”
“Well,” he said, then sobered. “If you don’t want to be, if you want to wait—”
“Harry.” She held onto him, felt the sure warmth of his body, his presence, and her anxiety melted like snow. “Of course I wasn’t sure. We’ve only been together for a few months, barely, and I didn’t know how you’d feel about this. But if you’re ready for it, if you want it—”
“Yes, yes, I—” He kissed her, and Hermione kissed him back, dropping the pregnancy test somewhere on the floor. His mouth was firm, plush, and she sighed happily. Harry pulled away to press a kiss to her temple, her cheek, her nose. “You’re going to be such a good mum—”
She laughed, a touch hysterical, and said, “McGonagall really will have to stay another year, I guess—”
“Damn right, she will.” Harry laughed too, then paused, looking down at her, holding her close. “This was all I ever wanted, Hermione.” His voice was low, and she swallowed, telling herself not to cry. “Really.” He pressed another kiss to her forehead. “You, and a family of my own.”
She hiccupped, sweeping a finger under her eye. “Harry, stop—”
“No, I won’t.” Harry pulled away, ducking back into the bedroom with a wink. “Talking about my feelings in front of the Wizengamot really made me turn over a new leaf, I’m a different man, Hermione—”
“Harry.” Hermione laughed again, giddy and overwhelmed. “You’re being ridiculous—”
“I know.” He reappeared in the doorway, looking smug. “Ridiculous enough to plan ahead.” A small black box appeared in his hand. “How about it, Granger?”
Hermione’s heart leapt into her throat, and she found that again, she couldn’t speak.
“You don’t have to say yes to this, if you don’t want to,” he said, lowering himself to one knee. “If you don’t want to get married, or get married yet, that’s fine. I won’t be angry.” Harry smiled up at her, and Hermione thought she might really faint this time. Harry Potter, the smug little shit, her best friend in the entire world, the love of her life, down on one knee on Grimmauld tile, ring box in hand. “You just got a little ahead of me, that’s all. Nothing new about that, though.” He popped open the box, and she gasped at the sight of the ring — bright gold, definitely an antique, with a shining garnet surrounded by a wreath of diamonds. Gryffindor colors, she thought absurdly, and wanted to smack him and kiss him all at once.
“It was my mother’s,” he said, his voice soft. “Her eighteenth birthday present from my grandparents, so I’m told. She left it in my vault.” Harry cleared his throat again. “So, Hermione?”
“Ask me, Harry,” she whispered. “Ask me properly.”
“Hermione Granger.” He grinned, and if she’d thought it blinding before, it was nothing compared to now. “Marry me?”
“Yes,” she breathed, reaching for him, feeling a thousand fireworks explode in her stomach. “Yes, Harry, you absolute—”
Then they were kissing, heated and electric and sloppy, and Harry broke away to slide the ring onto her finger, and she clung to him, unable to think, her heart soaring and—
“Just out of curiosity,” Harry mumbled. “Did you figure out when it was? When we—?”
“Oh.” Hermione attempted to gather herself, nodded. “I think it was— that night, at the club— I guess we were too drunk, we must’ve forgotten—”
“Ah.” He straightened up, smirking again, pulling her close and sliding his hands up her back. “Well, I really liked your underwear, you know—”
Laughing, Hermione pushed him backwards, and they tumbled into the bedroom, breathless and ecstatic, and she clung to him, overcome with love and excitement, and undeniably ready for everything that was coming next.
anyhow. thanks for coming on this wild little journey with me! i love u all, ur incredible <3