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If You Get There Before I Do

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Hermione's going back to Hogwarts in less than a week.

He knows this. He's done all the practical arrangements. He's set a schedule with her for when he can visit. He went with her when she went shopping for school supplies, though that seemed to make more of a mess than be a help.

He had a stifling awkward dinner with her parents in Australia last week, listening as Hermione spoke rapidly about her plans for her last year of schooling, what career she's angling towards. Her parents listened, their eyes a little distant, unhappy. But they had already been over that. She was trying to change the subject. So he knew the ends and outs of her class plan and second half of the year internship options.

Half way through a sentence expanding on the benefits of taking NEWT level potions versus pre-mediwizard training, her mother reached out her hand and pulled Hermione's arm forward, pushing her light sleeve back at the same time.

The word mudblood had faded from the raised angry red of before; all soft and pink and pale now. But it was still easily visible. Her mother's lips trembled. "I suppose I could ask how you got that, but then, I don't really expect you to answer." She stood, leaving the living room and disappearing down the hallway in quick even strides.

Her father bent his head into his hands, rubbing his face as he turned to look at her. "Just give us sometime, Hermione."

She nodded once, then again, her face turning red, her eyes blinking rapidly. Her father lightly touched her hair as he left and walked down the same hallway.

Neither of her parents so much as looked at him.

Fair enough.

He was lying in bed, sent home after a rogue reductor curse sent him flying this morning in training.

He didn't want to admit it as he had hobbled upstairs but his ankle was rather sore, even after the potions.

He's lying in bed, looking at the freshly whitewashed ceiling, his arms flung out. This is how he can sleep starting next week. He rolls onto his side, ignoring the twinge in his ankle as he stares across the empty expanse of his bed.

He rolls off the bed, taking unsteady steps down the flight of stairs, turning the corner into the now open and bright library.

She's sitting there, her eyes rapidly going through an index, humming as she turns the pages in another book. She looks up at him as he sits, eyebrows raised. "Training accident?"

He nods, putting his leg up on the chair next to him.

She glances over his face before putting a bookmark in where she was reading. "You should be lying down."

He shrugs, "I'll be lying alone in that bed enough here soon."

She frowns and then bites her lip. "It will be fine, you know. Me and you didn't used to be sown together at the hip and we survived just fine."

"I didn't picture myself being the clingy type either." He gives a small half smile.

She huffs a laugh. "You aren't clingy. Or at least, you aren't any more clingy than I am."

They eat dinner and listen to the wireless while Hermione does some more preparation reading.

"So you actually read through the textbooks before school starts? I mean, I know you did first year, but I thought that you were just excited."

"Yes, I read all the textbooks first, though maybe I'm being more fastidious this year. I missed a whole year of schooling."

"It wasn't like you didn't study the entire time. You can think of it as a practical sabbatical."

She sighs. "Most people who go on sabbatical go to tropical islands or places related to their work. I just wandered around in the muck in the middle of a terrible British winter."

He laughs. "Yes, that's all you were doing."

They go to bed, the bedding lavender. It smells like her shampoo, the nice kind that helps tame her curls.

He wakes up sort of all at once, turning to see her sitting up, silhouetted by the moonlight. "Hermione?"

She starts a little, her shoulders jerking up. Her face is completely concealed in darkness, the light shining through her curls.

"Why are you awake?" They ask at the same time.

There's a beat of silence, Harry waits longer, listening as she takes a couple of short breaths.

"How did it feel to die?"

He stills, then rolls to his side to grab his wand and turn on the lights. She blinks rapidly in the sudden light, but doesn't change her position, her knees drawn to her chest.

"Why do you ask?"

She isn't frowning or smiling at him. Her dark eyes shine bright, thoughts flashing. "I want to know if it hurt."

He's avoided talking about this with her in great detail. It always brings back those tired feelings, the sorry and the angry. But her face is set, there is something stone-like about her, unwavering.

"It didn't hurt at all. Sirius told me wouldn't. It-it feels like a change. You know something has changed, something permanent, but it doesn't hurt. I didn't even feel afraid."

She hums, her head tilting to the side. He feels sort of surreal, the lights oddly too bright, the night glowing white from the moon through the window. "How did it feel for you?"

She scrunches her eyebrows. "I didn't die and come back."

"No, how did it feel when you saw me? When Hagrid carried me out of the woods?" It's a harsh question, one he doesn't fully understand why he's asking. He carries it around all the time.

Hermione blinks at him, but oddly doesn't seem sad or offended. "I felt like - I don't know. I felt, first, that I was struck by lightning. Then I felt… I felt like all the joy left me all at once, like a dementor was close by, but not, maybe nothing like that at all." She looks away from him, towards the wall and then back. "More than anything, I sort of felt - determined."

He leans forward. "Determined?"

"That you shouldn't have died for nothing. That we would finish this once and for all that night. I felt empty except for that. I only had that. It felt like a heatless fire in a dark room."

He doesn't know how to respond. "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you first."

She raises her eyebrows. "That would have been very foolish of you."

He feels his eyebrows raise too. "Foolish?"

She leans back against the headboard with a small grin. "I'm better than magic than you and would have never let you go."

He scoffs then waits a beat and swallows. "You-You aren't angry then?"

"That you wandered off to your death without so much as a by your leave?"

He nods.

"Yes. I was furious. I wanted to destroy the whole earth; I was so angry when we couldn't find you. But I wasn't angry at you."

"You weren't?" They hadn't talked about it this whole summer, but he had felt the tension. Pauses, lapses, side looks. He had thought it was about this, in some part of his brain.

"You think I was angry with you? Because you had been forced, by your own nature, by Voldemort, by the deaths of people we love, to go off to face him alone? I didn't even know about the Horcrux in you at the time and I knew that you would feel like you had to go. I ran around searching for you, but I knew. I already knew that you would go."

"I've felt so sorry to you for so long. I still am. All the time."

She looks over at him, surprised. "To me? Why?"

He sighs, looking at the bed sheets, clinching the comforter. "What do you mean why? After everything I've done, after every mistake, every time I've put you in danger? Your parents hate me and they have the right of it. They understand that it was my fault -"

"My parents don't understand anything at all. That's my fault and they have every reason to be angry with me. They don't have the right to be angry with you for doing what's right, or with me for knowing that you were right. I can't expect them to understand, but they aren't right to be angry at you."

He grits his teeth. "Why aren't you being honest with me? Call me a reckless idiot. Slap me for leaving you alone and going into the forest without saying anything to you."

Her hand is on his cheek. "Oh, I think you're an idiot sometimes, but not for facing Voldemort when you were eleven, not for going into the chambers, not for any of those times, and especially not for walking off into the woods."

He can't seem to look away. She reaches up her other hand and kisses him lightly, sweetly. "You silly man, I'm so proud of you and everything you've done."

He shakes his head, something in his chest clenching and releasing.

"I'm so excited you're here and that we can have a future together. I was never angry at you for making hard choices, I wouldn't have been even if they hadn't worked out. How could you think that I would ever be angry with you for being a hero?"

"You said - 'The Saving People Thing' - I thought -"

She closes her eyes, then looks down. "I'm sorry about that. It came out so wrong. You have to understand, for me, it's been the constant pull between admiring your decisiveness, knowing that you're right, and wanting to just stop, wanting you to consider yourself, to be more careful. I may not have known that I love you in this way until this year, but I have loved you for a long time, Harry."

She reaches for her wand and turns off the lights, moving over to him, lying her head on his shoulder against the headboard. "I love everything about you, why would you be sorry to me for being yourself?"

He wonders that too as they lay there, Hermione drifting back off to sleep after a while, his arms wrapped around her. "Why were you awake? Why did you ask if it hurt?"

She makes a sleepy humming sound. "I dreamt that you were screaming, swallowed by a green light."

"That's terrible."

"It was. But it didn't hurt and you're here. You're here." Her breathing is even and deep. He's smile is easy and sure.

The next few days drift away, fast and fluid.

She's leaving. She's standing on the platform, hugging Mrs. Weasley and Ron, smiling with Ginny, waving at Luna.

He feels fine, really. He knows he'll see her soon.

He does, he sees her at the first Hogsmeade weekend. She comes over secretly and plays with Teddy. They walk along the forest to Hagrid's hut, his eyes peering for a glittering stone, knowing he won't see it.

Ron comes over and they play chess. They go out with Neville, Seamus and Dean, drinking firewhiskey until too many people notice Harry.

She comes home for Christmas, unsuccessful in hiding her tears in the kitchen after her parents don't send anything.

He gets her a giant box of Valentine's Day chocolate and calls her Herm Herm in his note.

It's fine. It's good.

He finds himself falling asleep on the sofas in the living room, in the library. Sometimes he falls asleep on the window seat in Teddy's room. He hates waking up in the middle of the night to silence, no soft snore, no deep breaths.

Then she's standing in front of the great hall which has been cleared out of it's long wooden tables and instead has rows of seats. The sky in the ceiling is clear and bright. The Weasleys have flowers in their hands, decorated with little flying brooms zooming throughout the stems for Ginny, books lazily flipping through pages resting on some of the pedals for Hermione.

McGonagall gives all the graduates pins with the Hogwarts' crest on them, about the size of the palm of a hand. They walk across the stage and wave goodbye to the professors, who beam at them with pride. Hagrid has to keep dabbing his face with a handkerchief. McGonagall hugs her close and whispers in her ear as she takes her pin. Harry can't take his eyes off her radiant smile as she turns to look at him.

After the ceremony is over and she's sitting next to him at their last meal at Hogwarts, he flips the pin over. Inscribed on the back is "Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home."

She takes hers back and hands him one. "McGonagall wanted me to give you this."

Two years later, Hermione's climbing her way through the ministry with frightening speed. He's fighting his way through something at the auror department, but it's not always clear what it is.

He wakes up one gray afternoon in St. Mungo's. He blinks awake and watches Hermione chew her thumb nail, her eyes glancing at him, catching his. She stands up and leans over him, her hand on his cheek. "I think they want to make a martyr out of you."

He wants to argue, but it hurts to breathe at the moment. She frowns, tapping her wand against something on the wall by his head. A few seconds later a woman in lime-green robes shuffles in, glances to Harry's pale face before heading over to a cabinet and pulling out a small vial filled with neon yellow potion.

Wordlessly she hands it to him and he shoots it down. It takes like grass. She takes the vial back, tapping her wand against the side of the bed, writing a short note on a piece of paper there. She checks his vitals again and gives a small grin.

"You had a nasty number done on your ribs, but it looks like all the potions are doing their job."

There's an awkward grunt by the door and a slim man with a perpetually scowling face is standing there, his arms crossed over his chest. The healer glances between everyone and then leaves, sliding behind him in the doorway.

The man's voice is like gravel in his throat. "Potter. Good to see you awake. The healers say that you should be good to go by tomorrow, so be sure to come into the office for a debriefing."

Harry nods and the man leaves. Hermione sinks into a hard looking chair next to the bed. She watches the door for a minute longer before sighing and absently taking his hand. "I was reading an interesting article today during lunch. You know how I'm learning about the Lightning Bird?"

She's speaking as though they are having lunch at home, the tea steeping already. He nods.

"It's difficult to classify their intelligence levels. On one hand they sometimes seem like phoenixes, knowing and proud, and on the other, sometimes after they transport from one place to another, following storms, they seem lost and almost comically confused."

She's silent, staring into the middle distance and he wonders when the last time either of them had a true, good night's sleep. "Anyway. The article was speculating that the Lightning Bird's confusion after following a storm is because it evolved the ability to transport with lightning before it developed the ability to process what that meant. So it knows to follow them, to fling itself into the bolts, but doesn't truly understand how it ends up somewhere else so far away."

He doesn't really understand what she's getting at and the mix of potions are making him kind of groggy.

She glances over at him with a small smile. "I think wizards are the same. We know we can fix problems, but the rest of us don't really understand. We both know she fixed your bones and cleared your lungs, but the body takes a while to understand why it's all better. And I wonder if it's the same sometimes with everything else too. You were able to kill Voldemort after a flash of deep and confusing and primal magic. But maybe the rest of us, the rest of the world needs more time to understand what's happened."

He's brain is really fuzzy so he's not sure if he's saying it in his head, or out loud, or if Hermione's whispering into his ear. "Maybe we should stop trying to be Lightning Birds, doing everything all at once."

The next day after he is discharged he goes into the office. He doesn't really get what Hermione was talking about with the Lightning Birds, but he does know that when he stands and stretches in the middle of the briefing which is quickly turning into his next assignment, and quits, it feels right.

A year later he's laying on the floor of the living room, watching as Teddy builds a shaky tower of blocks, a letter from Headmistress McGonagall and his Hogwarts pin lying on the coffee table.

" 'aaarrry. Hhhhhharry." They've been trying to get him to pronounce his hs correctly, but so far he's been swinging from one extreme to the other. "Watch. Look, I'm going to make it taller than me."

He watches, eyebrows raised, as Teddy stands on his tippy toes, placing a blue block with deep concentration on his small face, so intent his hair matches it. He wobbles but holds steady, his chubby fingers delicately placing the block on his precarious tower.

The fire turns green and Hermione steps out of the flames, as graceful as anyone can come out of the floo. This startles Teddy, who lands heavy on his heels, his arm swinging wide, the tower no more.

Both Teddy and Harry wail, Harry's tinged with laughter, Teddy's decidedly not.

She looks at them both, her quick gaze picking up on what's happened right away. She puts her bag down on the side table and sweeps across the living room, regal looking in her gray-silver magical law enforcement barrister robes. She stops before Teddy, who looks up at her with watery eyes, still sniffling.

Flopping to the floor, she puts the back of her hand to her forehead and speaks with a dramatically breathless voice. "I'm sorry Teddy, however should we fix this?"

Teddy, so surprised to see her there on the floor, giggles. "Fix it!"

"Fix it? But I don't know if I can make such a nice tower as you did."

He giggles again, and watches Hermione and Harry try to build the tower again, letting out exaggerated noises of frustration every time it falls over. "I think you better do it, Teddy. You make the best towers."

They applaud when he makes one nearly a head taller than him. He turns to beam at them, looking back at his tower with pride.

Another year goes by and Harry comes back from a meeting at Hogwarts to find Hermione pacing in the living room, biting her finger nail. She looks at him as he leaves the flames, stops mid pace, opens her mouth, sucks in a deep breath of air, before turning and pacing again.

"What's wrong?" He's never seen her like this before, doesn't know what to make of it. She looks like a completely bizarre mix of a girl trying to ask a boy to the dance, and someone who's agreed to jump out of an airplane without a chute and an iffy wand that's not theirs.

"You know I'm pretty decent at potions, right?" She's not looking at him, running her hands through her hair.

"Yes, and spells, and ruins, and law, and most things. Why?"

She scoffs, shaking her head, then groans. "Do you know what the main ingredient in the contraceptive potion is?"

"Flaxseed?" He's bought the ingredients for her here and there through the years, has watched in interest as she makes it sometimes, enjoys watching potion making much more without Snape sneering in the background.

"Right. Yes. There are two different kinds of flaxseed, brown and golden. Most of the time, in cooking for example, it doesn't make much of a difference. But in potions it really does."

He sits as the urge to pace comes over him as well. Instead he watches her, knowing but uncertain, waiting for her to get there, not wanting to get there before she does, doesn't want the emotion of it in case he's wrong.

"The brown seeds are stronger in potions. The apothecary switched, I guess, to golden ones at some point and I guess I just didn't notice."

She looks over to him, her eyes wide and frightened. "I'm pregnant."

He thinks, then, of Hermione's notebook, small and blue upstairs. She left it open one time, the pages turning to a timeline.

She wanted to reach mid-counsel by twenty nine, have the outlawing of Elfish physical punishment act repeal appealed and permanent by the time she's twenty eight. She would be okay with getting married anytime between twenty seven and thirty, or whenever he's up for it. She would like to wait until she's between thirty and thirty two to have children, as that leaves her time to at least make her career solid before taking leave to have them.

The age twenty three was nowhere to be seen in that.

He stands and pulls her into a hug, smiling into her hair. "I can't say I'm too surprised. None of our plans ever go, you know, to plan."

She laughs and sinks against him.

He feels joy and fear, but mostly joy, like he's on a broom going fast and high.

The next day is Christmas and they go over to the Weasley's after exchanging presents in the morning. Harry also gets a present from Andromeda, a potions guide for beginners, which he laughs at, but knows he'll probably use. Hermione gets a present from her parents, a small book on gardening.

There was a period of time when The Burrow was sadly quiet; Ginny was at Hogwarts, Ron living in London, George in Diagon Alley, everyone scattered here and there.

Now is not one of those times.

"You can hear them from out here." Hermione shakes her head in a grim sort of wonderment.

Harry smiles and pulls her towards the door which flings open before either of them can knock.

Ron's face is red, his expression harassed, his breath smells of eggnog and brandy already. "Blimey, you two," He leans forward, wrapping his arms around them both easily with his large frame, "please save me from these people."

Suddenly Ginny's there, peering under Ron's arm. "They can't save you Ron, they're one of us." She tugs Hermione away, spinning her into the chaos of the kitchen, a swell of voices greeting her.

Ron pulls Harry in too, closing the door behind him. It's bitter cold outside but inside it's almost hot between the stove and the fires and the people. Ron hands him a glass with a grunt. "You're going to need it, it's a rowdy lot this year. I swear if one more person asks me who I'm dating…" Ron takes a deep drink from his glass. "Anyway, how are you mate?"

Harry smiles, wide, too wide, and shrugs. "I'm doing great."

Ron raises his eyebrows, grinning, his head tilted a little. "That's good to hear. What-"

Hermione's there, her hair mused. "They're a rowdy bunch this year."

"Cheers." Ron gives her a class, which she almost puts to her mouth.

"Does this have Brandy?"

"Yes, what's the point otherwise?"

She sighs, placing it back on the table.

Mrs. Weasley totters over. "Not in the mood for Brandy, dear? I've got a spot of chocolate port, much too sweet, but goes well with fruits-"

"Oh I shouldn't."

Mrs. Weasley's eyes narrow and then widden. "Shouldn't?"

Hermione flushes. "Ah, yes, well, you see, the thing is, I-I, I mean to say that-"

"We're pregnant." Harry can't wait any longer, Hermione's stammering torturing him.

Mrs. Weasley swoons for a second, then straightens, then flings her arms around them and more or less shrieks into the air, "Pregnant!"

Thus announcing it to the room, there's a split second of silence and then chaos. Mr. Weasley is slapping him on the back, Ginny and Fluer are hugging her around the shoulders and waist, a crowd is forming. Behind him he can hear Ron saying blimey over and over again, then pulling him into a headlock before he releases him and spinning Hermione around in a circle. Percy and his wife are already sprouting advice from somewhere in the room.

Molly leans against the table, taking Arthor's hand. "Oh Arthur, another grandchild."

Harry blinks, and blinks again, trying to stop any tears from dropping.

There are baby's breath and daisy bouquets everywhere. There is a pavilion and the weather is warm and bright. There are some additions though. A pond with a fountain that changes shapes, a cocktail bar, and a messy, dark haired baby named Rose Lily Potter.

He fingers the soft, shifting fabric of his invisibility cloak. His daughter is fifteen. Older than he was, she still seems too young. But she's sitting there with her mother's dark intelligent eyes and he knows it's time. "You can let James use it too, just, I don't know, just don't let him injure himself or others."

She laughs. "You know I can't promise that."

He sighs. His son has appeared to inherit all of his recklessness, all of his mother's intelligence and none of her reservedness or his moodiness.

"Fine. How about we aim for nothing permanent?"

She smiles, somehow already an adult in some ways. Calmer than either of her parents ever were. "I can try." She wraps it around herself, gone but still there.

He feels a poke on his nose and his glasses raise and lower on his face before he hears a giggle and the sound of steps going upstairs. Definitely not an adult in some ways either.

Later, he's a little nervous to tell Hermione what he's done. But she just freezes for a second and then sighs. "I can't imagine she'll do anything worse with it than we did."

"That would be fairly hard to do, thinking about it."

She sighs, turning to her side. "I'm thinking of running for Minister of Magic in the future."

He takes her hand, giving it a squeeze. "That sounds stressful."

"Ultimately our jobs aren't so different. You have to deal with teenagers whinging all day about essays, and I have to listen to adults whinging about paperwork all day. All being Minister would mean is that I get to feel fancy while doing it sometimes, I suppose."

"I definitely think I've got the better of it."

"Most definitely. Anyway, this wouldn't be for a few years out, maybe."

He hums, pulling her closer. They drift in silence for a while.

"Do you remember, in the tent, that night we made a fort?" Her voice is low, sleepy.

"Yeah?"

"I'll wait for you there, should I leave before you do. Will you do the same? Instead of King's Cross? Now that you've given the cloak away?"

"Sure. And you know, if you get there before I do, I'll be close behind."

She pushes her face into his chest with a deep breath and some part of him still feels seventeen.