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How to get engaged to Hermione Granger

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Hi everyone!

So, I got back into fanfiction writing with Oh, to be young and to feel love's keen sting!. I'm hooked again. It's contagious! I just loved reading your comments so much, and as I have some time to spare, I couldn't help but to continue with a completely unrelated story. It popped into my head when I was doing the dishes. These things do happen, right?

English is still not my first language, so if you have any tips for me to improve on my writing style: please let me know! I read all of your reviews and I love seeing you give kudos and bookmarks to my story, so please do so! I will try to update this story regularly, but I have a very weird schedule atm due to the virus. Let me know if you want me to speed up or slow down with my updates :)

This story will be a bit more serious and a bit more explicit in terms of sexual behavior. I will add warnings when they are applicable.

Thank you for giving this story a chance! You are awesome.

Love,

Flora.


Chapter 1: How Hermione had a dreadful day and how Harry tried to cheer her up

Harry wasn't used to this. And as Harry had moved on from the "you'll never know if you'll survive next week"-kind of lifestyle he had known as The Chosen One, he didn't like not being used to things. He needed clarity, structure, sanity. Especially when it concerned his friends. And it this case, it didn't just concern any friend.

Hermione had been moping. Moping, for crying out loud. Harry had never seen her mope before in his life - but here she was, during their lunch-break, picking aside her sushi like a twelve-year old. Harry frowned. When they had moved to London to both work in the Ministry (he then as an Auror-to-be, she as an intern at the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures) they had decided that they would spend two of the five lunches they had each week together, just for the sake of old times, and to not dissolve into their work too much. The first few lunches they had, had been accompanied by Ron, but that fell apart when Ron and Hermione broke off their relationship, just 9 months after the end of the war. Their kiss during The Battle of Hogwarts had been a fluke, they decided, fueled by feelings of hopelessness and adrenaline. When the dust of the Wizarding War settled, so did their feelings, and soon they began bickering like they had never stopped. So, for their own sanity, Hermione and Ron had ended it, and they parted on friendly terms. Ron was currently dating Nicky Littleton, a Hufflepuff three years younger than them, that he met during his business endeavors with George. She was witty, sweet and doting and most importantly: she worshiped Ron. Harry and Hermione had agreed that they were a perfect fit, but it had driven some kind of wedge in their Golden Trio. Ron was away for business a lot, and when he wasn't, he spent almost all of his time with Nicky. They couldn't blame him, though. He finally seemed happy not to be in someone's shadow for once, and Harry and Hermione both found this to be a very good thing for him. Ron deserved to shine and it made him a lot less toxic and a lot more comfortable in his own skin.

Back to lunch. Hermione was moping. Harry tried to distract her a number of times, with talk of Quidditch (that one didn't work, unsurprisingly), news about a raid in Malfoy Manor (it sparked a little interest, but didn't last for longer than a minute) and, as a last resort, even office gossip (his secretary had told him that Cormac McLaggen had been sighted flirting with a very pregnant and married Parvati Patil). All to little avail. Now it was Harry's time to mope. This was very unlike Hermione and even though he still wasn't comfortable with talking about feelings at 23 years of age, he felt like he needed to.

'Something's bothering you,' Harry said, already feeling like he was prying.

'Hmm?' Hermione said, a bit annoyed.

'You haven't finished your dragon roll,' Harry said. 'You have never not finished your dragon roll. We traveled all the way to Soho just for this particular dragon roll, Hermione. We're dining between muggles because you said you needed this dragon roll, less than an hour ago.'

'I'm just not hungry,' she said, waving her hand. 'I have been feeling a bit off today. It's nothing.'

'You're not sick. You behave differently when you're sick.'

'Do I?'

'Yes,' Harry said. 'You are always honest to me. If you would have been sick, I would have seen it on your complexion. You always crinkle your eyebrows when you have a headache and if you were nauseous you wouldn't have pressed on going to this place. If it would have been something at work, you would have rattled on and on about it, because that's what you're used to. You don't make sense, Hermione. And I'm... well...'

'What?' Hermione asked.

'I am a bit worried, that's all.'

Hermione gave him a sarcastic look at first, but when her face turned caring when she understood he actually meant it.

'Harry, really, it's nothing-...'

'It's absolutely something,' he contradicted. 'Don't tell me it's nothing. I've never seen you like this. At least not since the war. What's the matter? Is it... Ron?'

'Merlin no, it's not Ron!' she almost shouted. 'You know I adore Nicky-...'

'Well, then it's something else. Talk about it.'

'Harry-...'

'Now.'

Hermione sighed.

'It's... It's some stupid thing, it's really not worth mentioning-...'

She doesn't get it, Harry thought, irritated, so he put his hand on top of hers. This caught her attention.

'It is. Now, tell me.'

'Harry-...'

'I'm your best friend,' he reminded her. 'I don't want you to feel down. Your face looks like Dudley's back in the day when he didn't get one more present than the birthday before. Talk.'

She let out a soft smile and then sighed.

'Fine. It's gonna annoy you, because it's not me. None of this is me. I don't know what's gotten into me that I'm suddenly so irritated with all of this, but-...'

'No excuses,' Harry replied. 'Just say what's bothering you, or I'll finish that dragon roll.

'Never...' Hermione whispered jokingly, hunching over her plate with her body to protect her sushi, but then she sighed. 'Right, okay then. It's my family.'

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. She never spoke like this about her family - the only thing he heard about her parents were loving, kind words, which were all very well deserved. When he and Ron went to Australia with Hermione to retrieve them, he had gotten to know them and they were still on friendly terms, though he didn't see them that often.

'What about them?' Harry asked, not to draw any conclusions just yet.

'It's... Ugh, okay. It's my grandmother.'

'I thought all your grandparents were dead?'

'Oh what a joy that would be,' Hermione deadpanned. 'But no, she is very much alive. I thought she was dead for the biggest part of my life, though. Mom had cut all ties with her for ages - they fell out when she was... You know. Pregnant with me. Without being married to dad yet. Mom never mentioned her to me, so I always assumed she had died, but I found out a couple of years ago that she is actually still going strong. And when I say strong, I mean strong.'

'I know all about annoying relatives,' Harry said, trying to sound sympathetically. 'My aunt Marge was the devil's re-incarnate.'

'Yeah, well... My grandma does her best to live up to that too, let's keep it at that.'

'Right. Because?'

Hermione sighed, took a gulp from her white wine and now she was the one who took Harry's hand in hers.

'Mom rekindled their relationship after returning from Australia. Ever since I've seen her, she's been... A hag. And I don't mean that she actually possesses magic, she is just a... a godawful...'

'A witch with a B,' Harry chimed in. Hermione snorted and for the first time that day, she looked a bit less stressed.

'You could say that, yeah. Or a swat with a T.'

'A door with a number of different letters, namely...'

'Yes, enough,' Hermione chuckled. 'But you get it. Well, I have been visiting her every few months now, and she has been annoying, but I can cope with it. But now she has this feast planned, and she has invited all of her side of the family. It's an annual thing, to celebrate her birthday. Last year I went and-... Ugh!'

'What happened?'

'Please don't think I'm sensitive or something, but they are just so awful. Her sisters all have grandchildren my age, and they always come in couples, and they always... They're just awful to me, let's keep it at that.'

'What do they do?'

Hermione shrugged and played with her wineglass some more.

'I'm never able to tell what I do for a living, so they just... Take the piss out of me, I guess. And I don't have a boyfriend, that doesn't help either. Usually I'm kind of thick skinned, I know I am, but mom and dad always try to protect me when they go wild and then those idiots get at them, and that gets to me. So, I was thinking about not going this year. I made this whole elaborate plan about telling those fools that I had this big important work thing, and then I told mom and dad about my plans, and... Well...'

'They told you to come anyway?' Harry asked, with a frown.

'No,' Hermione said. 'Worse. They said that they completely understood and that I was in my full right as an adult to make my own decisions.'

Harry blinked with his eyes a few times.

'In what universe is that worse?'

Hermione snorted.

'Still no big improvement on the tact, huh? That means they are going to go alone this year. And that was fine with me at first, but I went back to my apartment, and then I thought about what they would all say to mom and dad about me not being there, about making excuses... They already have such a hard time fitting in and... Aargh, I just feel awful! I've been feeling awful this entire day, okay? I know it's nothing, and it's silly, but-...'

'It's not silly,' Harry retorted. 'It's completely understandable. I would be mad too if I knew that-... Well, I don't exactly have parents, but I just want to say... I get it, is what I mean. Your parents are lovely people. They don't deserve to get dragged by those stupid, prejudiced morons.'

'Exactly!' Hermione agreed. 'They don't! So, take one wild guess who's going to swallow her pride and go to that damned birthday anyway, just so she can get insulted by some stupid, far relatives all night? Me!'

Harry rolled his eyes and shook his head.

'Oh c'mon, Hermione. You don't mean that.'

'What choice do I have? I have to torture myself for five hours this Saturday. I want to die. I would rather... I don't know, face Voldemort again. Or worse: I would rather get together with Ron again.'

'Noooo, please no,' Harry laughed. 'That was a disaster. It was like watching a train wreck. I'd rather face Voldemort again than have you two at my table, bickering about whatever you could think about.'

'Well, just to illustrate to you how god-awful I feel about this Saturday,' Hermione nodded. 'Now you feel my pain.'

She scowled, looked down at her dragon roll and sighed.

'No one has ever spoiled sushi for me. No one. They're criminal.'

Harry chuckled. He was glad she was getting her humor back, but he still hated to see her so distressed.

'Would it help if I'd tag along?' he suddenly asked, surprising himself in the process. 'I faced Voldemort and your tragic relationship with you. If you say this dinner party matches those, it would be very wrong of me not to stand by your side in this battle as well.'

Hermione laughed.

'Don't be ridiculous. You really don't want to torture yourself that bad, Harry.'

'Why not? Maybe we can have some fun. You seem to have forgotten that I am actually very good at annoying muggles. I was practicing that before I could spell my own name, according to the Dursley's. They thought it came very naturally to me.'

'You... You're serious?' Hermione asked hesitantly. 'I mean... It would make it a lot more bearable for me, but... They can be brutal, you know. I'm not exaggerating.'

'I'm sure they're not as brutal as Rita Skeeter when she found out Ginny Weasley turned out to be a "raging lesbian",' Harry smiled, quoting her. 'Do you remember her article about The Holyhead Harpies sharing showers?'

They both shared some memories about Harry and Ginny's break-up, now nearly two years ago. Their romance had been long gone, but Harry and Ginny had kept the relationship afloat, because it just felt so safe and it stopped the rumor mill from going wild. That was until Ginny joined the first division of The Holyhead Harpies and met a very lovely Swedish Girl named Jaana. He and Ginny had departed on good terms though, and he tried to attend any match he could. He still loved watching her play.

'Right, all joking aside,' Hermione ended their banter. 'You mean it? You're actually serious about what you're saying?'

'As the plague,' Harry said, dramatically. 'I am willing to face the demons that dare to call themselves your family, Hermione-...'

'Stop,' she laughed.

'-even it's the last thing I'll ever do.'

'Gosh, so valiant,' Hermione teased. 'A true Gryffindor. That hat made a giant mistake by even considering Slytherin, you know.'

Harry smiled proudly.

'Exactly!'

'Okay, thank you so much. I will never be able to repay you, you know that. I'll call grandma tonight to tell her I'll bring a plus one. Be prepared for grilling though, you know that she won't understand me bringing a friend with me that is in no way romantically involved with me.'

Harry smiled contently, as he watched her clamp one part of the dragon roll between her chopsticks.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: How Harry ended up fake proposing to his best friend

Harry had been fidgeting. He had no idea why - there was no reason to be so extremely nervous about meeting Hermione's family. We're going to have a good laugh, he reminded himself. We're going to take the mickey out of some stupid relatives and that's it. Her parents already know me, they adore me, I'm with my best friend. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, right? Nothing!

But his train of thought hadn't calmed him down. Years of working as an Auror had finetuned his instinct and he knew, he knew when shit was about to hit the fan and he had the gut-wrenching feeling that today would be such a day. Just stay calm. Don't do anything stupid. Nothing can go wrong.

Hermione's grandma had accepted her plus-one, under the condition that Harry would come "appropriately dressed". Apparently, a standard blouse and jeans would not suffice, so Hermione had bossily made him buy a tux. He tried a few on, but the assistant in the shop had kept bugging him to take a smaller size. Harry loved dressing oversize. Growing up wearing oversized clothes, he had come to appreciate the fact that it would hide his fragile figure and give him ample room to stuff his pockets. Not that he wore sizes that would fit Dudley anymore, but he liked to be able to move in his clothes without fearing to tear a seam. The shop-assistant must have caught him at a very insecure moment, because for whatever reason, he had listened to her compliments about "choosing something that would show of his frame", and now he was wearing this - a tight fitting, very sophisticated attire, that would surely show to Hermione and her entire family how much auror-training had forced him to work out over the last couple of years. He growled, trying not to feel so bloody self-conscious. He was way passed those teenage fears. These weren't his dressrobes and this was not the Yule Ball, for crying out loud!

With one last-ditch effort to comb his hair - fruitless, of course - he grabbed his wallet and keys, activated the security-charms on his apartment and apparated a block from the home of Hermione's parents. They would show op together to the diner in Mr. Granger's finest car. He understood how important image must be to those family members, so he had agreed immediately. With a stomach making somersaults (dear Merlin, that hadn't happened to him since he was sixteen!), he rang the doorbell. Mister Granger opened the door - a quite small man with large, triangular glasses and a big head full of curly hair, he looked incredibly eccentric, but Harry had grown accustomed to the man and his dorky attire.

'Harry, my boy! How long it's been! So kind of you to join us tonight - you sure made Hermione happy, I can tell you that!'

'Everything to make your daughter happy, Mister Granger, you know that,' he replied. 'I'm actually looking forward to meet this grandmother.'

'You're saying that now,' Mister Granger replied darkly. 'Oh, and please call me Jerome, boy. We've been over this at least a dozen times.'

'Jerome! Please come here so I can try to tame that crazy mane of yours,' Mrs. Granger yelled, her voice booming down the hallway.

'I'll try to remember it,' Harry replied, as Jerome give him a knowing look.

'Coming, Isa!'

They both retreated to the living room, where Mrs. Granger sat in a big arm chair, surrounded by pots of hair wax and gel. She greeted him happily, remarking on how good he looked, and Harry pressed his lips together in a shy smile. He wasn't good with compliments, he never had been. Then she began the attack on poor Mister Granger's hair. She looked very groomed, with a nice, appropriate dress and a clean face. Her brown eyes scanned Mister Granger's hair for options and Harry chuckled.

'Hermione will be down in a second,' Mrs. Granger remarked, as her husband howled under the admissions of her comb. 'Stay still, Jerome.'

They chatted a bit, about work and what-not, until Harry heard a stumble at the stairs. The door opened and Hermione emerged.

'Oh, Harry, you're already here!'

Harry took one good look at Hermione and he felt himself involuntarily begin to beam. She looked amazing. She hadn't chosen a dress for the occasion, which surprised him, but instead she wore an even more sophisticated jumpsuit, black, simple and absolutely stunning. The upper part of her hair was fastened with some sort of jewel, but the lower part of her hair fell down in soft curls, framing her face. She wore winged eyeliner and red lipstick to match her look. Hermione never really cared to dress up, she thought it a waste of time, so when she did, she always managed to completely floor Harry. This time, it didn't seem a one way thing, though. They both stared at each other, kind of at loss for words.

'You look... Good,' Hermione muttered, with a shocked stare.

'You... Too,' Harry replied, just as petrified.

They both heard Hermione's parents burst out in laughter, and that broke their incredibly awkward silence.

'Don't sound so surprised, the both of you,' Mrs. Granger said. 'Take something to drink before we go, it's quite the ride. If only Jerome's hair would be more co-operative-...'

'Ugh, mom, just use my products,' Hermione said, shaking her head. 'They actually work. You're torturing dad. Look at him!'

Harry smiled at the three Grangers bantering and sat back, feeling a bit more at ease.

The ride towards grandmother's Eugenia house - or, for lack of a better word, mansion - was a long one. Luckily, Mister Granger drove a very comfortable car, and they passed the time by chatting with each other about their jobs. Hermione especially amused Harry by remembering how Professor McGonagall introduced her and her parents to the world of magic, a story which Harry had never heard, and all his nerves and fidgeting was gone by the time they arrived at the enormous driveway that led to Eugenia Blisters's house.

'My name was never Blisters,' Mrs. Granger explained. 'My father's name was Goodall. She changed it back to her maiden name after he died.'

'Did she not have a good relationship with your father?' Harry asked.

'Oh no - he doted on her, absolutely spoiled her. But that's just mother. He died when I was fourteen. I guess she didn't want to be a widow for the remainder of her life.'

Interesting, indeed, Harry thought. Their car stopped at the entrance of the enormous compound and the car doors were opened by two very stern looking stewards. Harry felt slightly ill-at-ease, but when he saw Hermione roll his eyes at him and make a dramatic face, he chuckled. Right. They were here to have fun, remember?

'M'lady,' Harry said, striking a mocking voice, and Hermione laughed, as he gave her his arm. 'May I accompany you inside of this pit of beasts?'

'Of course you may, good sir,' she countered. 'I couldn't think of a more enervating activity!'

Merlin, he loved being in her presence. And when she let her guard down like this, she was even more amazing.

They got up the steps and then Harry realized that this birthday party was not a small one. It was huge. He had no idea how big this "other side of the family" was, but he saw at least 80 people already mingling and sipping at their appetizers, and they had been early.

'Come on, Hermione,' Mrs. Granger said, uneasy. 'Let's see if we can find Aunty Penelope.'

'She's the first big hurdle,' Hermione whispered in his ear. 'Almost deaf, nearly blind, but still thinks she can have an opinion about anything and anyone. She was the one who rekindled mom and grandmother, however, so I guess you could say we kind of owe her...'

Harry nodded and followed suit. They found Aunty Penelope - completely covered in lilac silk and pearls, clutching her silver walking cane, sitting in a large, luxurious recliner - and before they had properly greeted her, she decided to announce to everyone who wanted to listen in that Hermione "wore so much black, it looked like she was attending a funeral". The Grangers went pale, and Hermione was about to mutter an excuse, until Harry decided to join the conversation.

'Maybe that's true, Aunty Penelope, but she's one of the only ones in this room not wishing to attend one. Right, fellas?'

He gave a knowing grin to a few of the blood relatives and their faces went blank and then angry. Aunty Penelope was silent for a moment, but then she began to laugh hysterically, as she patted Harry on the arm.

'Oh, that's lovely! It's such a long time since someone has actually made a joke to me. Usually they don't have the guts, you know. Tell me dear, what's your name?'

'Harry, madam. Harry Potter.'

'Well, Harry. You certainly have a sense of humor. I like that very much, very much indeed!'

She urged him to sit next to her, and he chatted comfortably with her for a while, until Hermione felt safe to join in the conversation. Aunty Penelope was a lot sweeter to her this time around, and she kept patting Harry on the arm. When they excused themselves, after a good ten minutes of talking and laughing, she touched his arm one last time.

'It's great to actually talk to someone who doesn't treat me like I'm about to burst into flames any minute,' she smiled. 'You are very lucky to be dating this man, Hermione. Keep him close! Other girls will surely try to snatch him away from you!'

'Oh, Aunty Penelope, we are not-...'

'She sure is,' Harry said, loudly talking over Hermione. 'Take her word seriously, Hermione. Your old Aunty knows what's up!'

After they said there goodbyes, Hermione looked at him intently.

'Why did you say that we are dating?' she hissed, nervously. 'If they find out-...'

'Are we pranking them today or not?' Harry replied with a sneaky smile.

'Yes them, Potter! Not me!'

'Oh dear, you've used my last name,' Harry grimaced. 'I'm in trouble, aren't I?'

She looked at him sarcastically and punched him playfully.

'Stop it, you.'

He replied to her with a grin and she sighed.

'I just don't think it's a good idea if you go around spreading that rumor,' she clarified. 'I mean, you would have to accompany me on more dinners, if I don't want to look like a... You know. Slag.'

Harry snorted. Hermione had many sides to her, but he could never in a million years vision her as someone with that kind of reputation.

'You know what, if Aunty Penelope is at all your family engagements, I wouldn't mind accompanying you. I'd gladly chaperone you in this manner until you have found - someone.'

Hermione puffed.

'I might take you up on that, Potter. If you don't stop acting so brazenly, I'll have no other choice but to-...'

'Oh look! If it isn't the bastard of the family!'

A sneering voice pierced through the room and a small group of the crowd fell silent. Emerging from the flock of people was a young man, with a face so full of arrogance and hatred, it reminded Harry of someone he had feuded with, not that long ago.

'You didn't tell me you were related to Draco effing Malfoy,' he whispered.

'I know,' Hermione replied, trying not to move her lips as much. 'The resemblance is uncanny, don't you think?'

She was right about that, Harry thought, although this Malfoy had dark brown hair and brown eyes. Hermione's eyes, he realized. He never knew those beautiful eyes could look so ugly on someone else's face.

'What did you think, Curly? Are dresses beneath you? Are you too much of a "free-fought feminist" to wear skirts?'

The crowd that listened in on the conversation - almost all people of Hermione's age, Harry saw - laughed harmoniously at the bully's remark. Git.

'Absolutely,' Hermione replied. 'You have managed to see right through my psychological mind-games, cousin. It's a surprise they haven't handed over that doctorate to you yet, just because of your quick wits.'

'My doctorate is not far off,' the young man replied, now getting angry. Apparently Hermione had hit a sensitive spot and Harry loved her all the more for it. 'But even it it wasn't, that wouldn't matter, because in comparison to you, anyone seems like a career tiger, right? Someone's got to be the lousy slacker of the family - the big disappointment, the downfall of our family name, isn't it, Curly?'

'She's an acclaimed advocate for equal rights,' Harry heard himself say, before Hermione could reply. 'She's praised in our work field and has gotten promoted to Head of her Department last fall. I have never met anyone in my life who is so amazingly determined and smart. Hermione is not a slacker.'

Hermione closed her eyes and sighed, while a girl in the crowd wolf whistled.

'Oh my God, Granger! Do not tell me you bribed someone to pose as your boyfriend!'

The cousin laughed and now a larger crowd payed attention to their conversation.

'You must have payed quite a sum as well, to hire this escort, look at those muscles-...'

'He is not an escort,' Hermione boomed. 'He... We...' She hesitated for a moment, looking at Harry for strength, but then she doubled down. 'We are dating, actually.'

The crowd howled.

'Dating? You?' Her cousin said.

'Yes, she is,' Harry replied, gritting through his teeth. 'We have been for quite some time now, actually.'

'No way, Stranger. Last year, you told us you were single-...'

Before Hermione could recant, a overdressed waiter announced that they were to be seated for dinner. The crowd separated, mumbling about Hermione and Harry's announcement, and he felt himself grasping her hand. She looked at him, puzzled.

'What are you doing?'

'Playing along,' he whispered back. 'We've held hands a million times, remember?'

'Yes... Harry, please don't do anything-... Rash or stupid.'

'You know me,' he reacted. 'The one who's known for his well thought-out responses.'

Hermione laughed.

'This was such a mistake, but at least I'm having fun. And-... I guess... Oh, what harm could it do to pretend like this for an evening, right?'

'Exactly,' Harry said. They had reached their seats - they were situated at the end of the table, far away from anyone of real importance, it seemed. He could see Hermione's grandmother now - dressed in a salmon gown with a ridiculously large hat, adorned with flowers and feathers. They both chuckled for a bit, as Harry exaggerated by pulling Hermione's chair back first and making sure she was properly seated before he did himself. She rolled her eyes at him again and smirked.

'Oh, look at you, being so smooth. Don't over do it, please.'

'Why not? I'm having a great time. I'm actually going to lay it on as thick as I possibly can.'

After an obligatory speech by Hermione's oldest uncle, they all toasted to Eugenia's health and began with their fist course. They had some small talk with a daughter of Aunty Penelope, vaguely describing what their jobs were, but they were able to keep the focus away from them for the first three meals. It was at that moment, that the douche of a cousin decided to mock Hermione once again, out of their earshot.

'Is that true, Hermione?' Eugenia's voice suddenly echoed through the room. Harry and her had been discussing muggle affairs with her parents, and he sensed how the room fell completely silent.

'What is, grandmama?'

'That you are dating this young man you brought. I thought you said you would bring a friend?'

'I-...' Hermione started to reply, but Harry saw how nervous she was, so he took a hold of her hand and smiled at her.

'That's right, madam. We are dating. I asked her not to tell you, as we wanted it to be a surprise for you. I am sorry it was spoiled for you - we tried to keep it hidden, but a few family members were all too keen on finding out, I'm afraid.'

Hermione looked at him with a glint of victory in her eyes. One - zero.

'That's quite alright, dear boy,' Eugenia said, her wrinkled mouth in a smile. 'Why don't you tell us something about yourself?'

All ninety gazes focused on Harry. He saw Mister and Mrs. Granger look somewhat frightened, and Hermione's cousin looked annoyed and bored at the same time. Damn you, Malfoy, Harry thought. I'm going to let you squirm. Here comes the whole tear-jerking lifestory, you prick.

'Of course. I am originally from a wealthy family, but my parents died during a tragic car accident before my second birthday. I was raised by my aunt and uncle, who unfortunately weren't quite keen on raising me, but who loved receiving child support.'

He received a few sympathetic sighs from the crowd and smiled humbly.

'Luckily, my parents had already taken care of my application for an expensive boarding school, and at age eleven I was allowed to get away from them. It was at this time that I met your wonderful granddaughter, Hermione. We were in the same year and we rapidly became friends. I have known Hermione for twelve years now and in all those years I have never met someone so truly wonderful as she.'

He squeezed her hand. She looked at him smugly. Right then. He was going to up his game. These uptight snobs wouldn't know what hit them.

'I work at law enforcement, in the secret service. I am not allowed to disclose much about my job, other than that about 90 percent of it is considered confidential. Hermione has helped me tremendously with her wits and charm. She actually flew with me to Bulgaria, six months ago, to stop a very brutal criminal circuit in Skopje.'

'That's right,' Hermione added. 'I got special leave from work to accompany him. Harry and I spent a few weeks tracking them down, but we managed to dismantle the entire organization.'

Hermione's family members reacted very positively. They asked interested questions and seemed excited. Mister and Mrs. Granger confirmed Harry's story and came through with some extra information regarding to Harry and Hermione's early years in "the force". There was some truth to it, of course. Being an Auror was like being in the secret service, and they had actually gone to Skopje last spring, to track down some remaining death eaters.

'That is highly fascinating, dear!' Eugenia said, enthusiastically. 'How long have you been dating? And why have you never told us about this man?'

'Oh, because of Harry's work, we try to keep as much of a low-profile as possible,' Hermione smartly said. 'He just kept on pushing to meet my family and well, he can be relentless if he sets his mind on something...'

'Of course I am,' Harry said jovially. 'And I'm actually sorry that I didn't push earlier, because these are lovely people, Hermione. Grandma, to answer your question, we have been dating officially for a bit more than three years now, right?'

'Three years, three months and five days, to be exact,' Hermione lied, with a bright face. 'And we are still as much in love as that first day.'

An unanimous "Ahw" rose from the table and Harry saw a few female family members actually bat away a tear. To appease the crowds, he bowed to Hermione and gave her a light kiss on the cheek. He had done that a million times before as well, but he felt Hermione's heartbeat quicken when his lips met skin. He couldn't blame her - it was kind of exciting to lie like this, and he was surprised at how much of the positive comments he had made towards Hermione he had actually meant out of the bottom of his heart.

'That's all absolutely fascinating,' Hermione's cousin said, angrily, 'and I'm sorry to be raining on your parade, but as you are only dating and not actually a serious couple, Lydia and I have a few announcement regarding our upcoming wedding. Right, honey drop?'

'That's right, poo bear,' Lydia said, flaunting her huge engagement ring. 'As you all know, Philip and I have been engaged for eleven months now, and our wedding is to be held at...'

Harry tuned out and he gave Hermione a smile.

'They seem to be liking you now,' he whispered. 'No one has called you an awful nickname in approximately thirty minutes.'

'And this agent facade is brilliant,' she replied, softly. 'It means I won't have to make excuses for you not attending any other events, you know.'

They both chuckled and whispered some more, but Philip and Lydia were relentless with pulling everyone to talk about their wedding, and they would seem rude if they wouldn't fake paying attention.

'-and we want white doves and peacocks at our venue,' Lydia cooed. 'See, Philip? We are still the talk of tonight's party.'

'Everything for my honey drop,' Philip added, with a sickening voice. Harry pretended to throw up on his plate and Hermione laughed out loud, drawing attention to them. They both looked down guiltily, as nothing had happened.

'Are you making fun of us, Stranger?' Philip asked, offended. 'Just know that you haven't arrived just yet. Just because you have a boyfriend who is somewhat successful, doesn't mean he won't drop you immediately if something better comes along, and believe me, if you're up against anything, something better will come along.'

'Don't be vile, Philip,' his father said to him, but Philip shrugged with an evil look in his eyes.

'You can't say that I'm wrong, father. We all know how secret agents are like, right?'

'Absolutely not,' Harry said, angrily, feeling blood rush to his head. 'Hermione is the love of my life and if you-...'

'Oh shut up,' Philip laughed cynically. 'You have been dating for more than three years now and you haven't even proposed, yet. Do you call that treating "the love of your life" with respect?'

Oh gosh. There it was. The hotheadedness that had almost cost Harry his spot for Auror-training. The impulsiveness that had always gotten the better of him. He thought he was able to control it, but apparently, he was wrong. Because, before he knew it, Harry found himself grabbing his wand, and transfiguring one of the rings on his key, and standing up and shouting.

'Way to go, Philip,' Harry heard himself shout. 'Way to ruin this surprise.'

The entire family gasped and looked at Harry, eyes widened. Then they saw the small, black box that he clasped in his hand. Hermione's eyes grew to the size of small saucers and dropped her jaw.

'What are you-...' she muttered, but Harry was determined to get down on one knee. He sat down, and took her right hand between his fingers.

'Dear, sweet Hermione. I wanted to do this tonight, in the privacy our your grandmother's garden, but because of someone's prying nature I see no other option but to do it right here, right now,' he said.

Hermione shook her head, but then she realized that there was no turning back now. She gasped, lifting her other hand to her face to cover her reaction as good as possible. He read it in her eyes, though. What the hell are you doing, Harry?! What the HELL?!

'You are my sweetheart, my soulmate, my one-true-love,' he heard himself say, trying to mimic one of the muggle movies Aunt Petunia had always watched when Vernon had been away on business trips. 'I can't think of anyone else to spend the rest of my life with. Having you by my side, completes me. So, dear Hermione Jean Granger, would you do me to honor in becoming my wife?'

Not a sound was to be heard in the packed dining room. A few seconds ticked by - excruciating, horrible seconds, in which he realized the gravity of what he was doing right now. He had gone too far. He had gone way too far, and now the only thing to safe him would be Hermione declaring that she had no intention of marrying him. It would make her desirable and a witch with a B at the same time, but it was the only way to get out of this wretched mess.

She didn't decline, however. She looked at Harry, her hand still pressed to her face, totally shocked with the entire situation, and nodded.

'Yes,' she said so silently, that no one would have heard, if the room hadn't been so eerily silent.

'What?' Harry asked.

'Yes,' she said, a lot louder now. 'Of course, Harry! Yes, a thousand times yes!'

Oh Merlin. Oh, sweet, sweet Merlin.

Harry had no idea how he managed, but he got up, scooted Hermione in his arms and held her tightly, feigning absolute happiness. When they broke apart, they looked each other in the eye, but they both knew there was no way back. Absolutely, no way back. He sighed, she sighed, and he didn't know who started, but their lips met.

Her lips felt so soft, Harry registered, as he clutched his arms around her, still holding the black box in his hand. Her lips felt soft, and sweet, as he tasted the wine of the last course on her mouth. He tilted his head, so he could deepen the kiss, and he felt Hermione put her hands in his hair. It actually feels really, really good, he thought, guiltily. It feels too good, if I'm being really honest. He felt his heart soar, his stomach making twirls, and when he let go of her lips, he immediately ached for her touch. Uh-oh. That couldn't be good. I mean, this whole situation was dead-awful, but the reaction that his body had given proved even more problematic.

'Congratulations!' a lot of family members yelled, and he felt himself smile somewhat genuinely right now, reveling in the feeling of... what? Their kiss? The fake proposal? Hermione seemed to actually smile as well, leaning into Harry's touch.

'Show us the ring, show us the ring!' Some younger girls yelled, and now Harry handed over the box to her. He hoped he'd managed to Transfigure something believable.

Hermione got out a delicate, silver ring, adorned with small, green emeralds. It was actually very intricate and Harry felt quite proud of himself.

'It's beautiful!' A girl squealed, as Harry assisted Hermione on putting it around her finger. He took the excuse to capture her lips with his own once more, softly but lovingly. Oh, this was not good. This was not good at all. He had never seen Hermione as anything but an amazing friend. He had meant the kind words he spoke, but he always thought he was so enamored with her because of the strong bond they had - a very platonic bond, a very "absolutely just friends"-bond, because man would it turn complicated if it was something more.

Harry looked at Hermione, at her family members, and realized that he had been right to feel that gut-instinct that morning.

Shit hit the fan alright, Harry thought, grimly. Shit absolutely and unquestionably hit the bloody fan.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: How Hermione convinced Harry to actually go through with it

'You did WHAT?''

Harry looked into the bulging eyes of his other best friend, Ron Weasley. He brought the cup of tea to his lips and tried to keep a straight face.

'You heard me.'

'You proposed to her?'

Harry sniffed seriously as he looked his red-headed friend change from surprised to absolutely convulsing with laughter. It took several minutes for Ron to compose himself, and even then, when he took but one look at Harry's annoyed face, he started over again.

'Stop,' Harry pleaded, finally. It was bad enough that he hadn't spoken to Hermione since Saturday. Ron wiped a few tears from his face and sat upright in his chair.

'Mate, you can't be serious. You didn't. You did not. Please tell me-...'

'I did!' Harry yelled. 'Okay? I was mad at that Philip-guy, he was being very annoying and he was implying that Hermione would never get engaged, so I just went for it, okay? I got down on one knee and-...'

Ron got another fit of laughter and Harry leaned his face into the palm of his hands. 

'Ron, honestly, this is hard enough on me without-...'

'It's not hard on you,' Ron replied, wheezing. 'It's finally happened. Bloody hell, Nicky owes me a galleon.'

Right on cue, his blonde girlfriend came through the door, supporting a heavy steaming cake tray. 

'Well, looks like you're having fun,' she said, curiously, when she looked at his red face and teary eyes.

'Tell her what you did, Harry,' Ron grinned, while kissing his girlfriend on the cheek. 'Go on.'

'What do you mean "it finally happened",' Harry asked, offended. 'No, scratch that, what do you mean, "Nicky owes me a galleon?!"

'No way!' Nicky shouted, setting down her tray. 'Did you and Hermione... Are you...'

'No!' Harry stammered. 'No, we aren't... It's not... We have...'

'He accidentally proposed to her,' Ron said, starting to laugh again. 'Oh no, I can't take it any more. My belly hurts.'

'What happened?' Nicky asked, shocked, and Harry explained the story to her. Ron did his best not to laugh again, but he couldn't help a giggle every few minutes. Nicky - sweet, dear, Nicky! - didn't dare to laugh, and looked very serious when Harry had finished his story.

'That sounds crazy, Harry! Why did you do that?'

'I panicked,' Harry said, simply, and Ron cackled. 

'You panicked, so you transfigured an engagement ring and went on one knee?'

'Well, you know, after I gave the first inkling of what was about to happen, I couldn't exactly back down now, could I? I would have made a fool out of Hermione and her parents!'

Nicky looked sweet but concerned.

'Did she say yes?'

'Of course she did,' Ron replied, before Harry could. 

'What do you mean, "of course she did"?' Harry replied, confused. 'If we hadn't been keeping up appearances, she would have surely turned me down-...'

Ron and Nicky shared a knowing look and that didn't agree with Harry at all.

'You think she wouldn't have?'

'Mate, there's a reason why I was so jealous of you and Hermione, all the bloody time,' Ron stated. 'There's a reason why Cho, and Rita Skeeter, and Krum, and you know, half of our school thought you and her had something funny going on. Because, the truth is, for years you and her did have something funny going on. It's just that you're both too bloody stubborn to do anything about it.'

'Are you saying that Hermione has feelings for me?' Harry pressed. 'Because-...'

'Absolutely,' Ron interrupted. 'And that you return them.'

'I don't!' Harry yelped. 'I never have! We are friends, Hermione and I, just really good, really close-...'

'You are so close it's frightening,' Ron went on. 'I always felt like a third wheel for most of the part because you know, I was. Hermione and I never had the connection that you and her have. I realized that when she stayed with you in the tent, during the hunt. It was always bigger than whatever was going on. She would have always picked you. Always. I blamed her back then, but it's very obvious actually. She cares about you more than she cares about her own sake. And you repay that. I'm sure if it would have been the other way round, you would have picked her over Ginny. Always.'

'That's not fair,' Harry argued. 'Me and Ginny were more pals than lovers-...'

He had spoken the sentence before he realized what it meant. Ron and Nicky shared that look again.

'I don't mean it like that,' Harry sputtered. 'I mean that... Of course I care about Hermione! But like a sister, I've known her for so long.'

'I would report myself to the authorities if me and Ginny were that close,' Ron grinned. 'You and Hermione are not like siblings, mate. Me and Hermione - yeah. The constant bickering and fighting. Not you two. You two are so much more than that. She always gravitated towards you: all the big gestures, everything she did, it was always for you. And you have always taken care of her, haven't you?'

Harry thought for a moment, as Nicky began to cut her freshly baked cake.

'That smells delicious, Nick, thanks,' Ron said softly, as he kissed her on the lips. 'Lemon custard?'

'Your favorite,' Nicky replied and Ron smiled. It all went over Harry's head - the cogs in his head turning like clockwork. Was Ron right? Had he felt... More, towards Hermione, than just friendship? Maybe... He certainly loved her, deeply, but he loved many people. Like Ron, Nicky, Ginny, Neville, Luna - Harry loved all of his friends, and he would go through hell and back to help them out. But isn't Hermione a separate category in that? A voice teased. Isn't she the most special, the most treasured? Won't you always go the extra mile to please her, to be with her?  Harry badly wanted to ignore that voice in his head, but it popped in another, infuriating question. And what about that kiss? 

No, Harry did not want to think about that kiss. That wonderful kiss, the first, that had lingered on his mind for two days now. Everywhere he went, at some point of the day, those damned lips would pop into his mind. Their touch, their taste. He wanted those lips again. He wanted them again, badly. So badly that he thought he would go completely mad.

But Harry wouldn't be Harry if he didn't decide to bury all of those feelings and stick them away, somewhere in a far, dusty corner of his mind. They were too much, too complicated. And he knew Hermione through-and-through as well: if she was a pro at anything, burying and ignoring her feelings were on top of that list. It was too hard to face right now, so the kiss would definitely not be something they would talk about. Besides, it was Ron who said this. Ron was a great friend, but he was still a bloke, and not the brightest or most tactful one either. His observations were probably wrong, very wrong indeed, he convinced himself. 

Very wrong. Nothing to worry about. Hermione and I will just have to power through this absolute mess, Harry thought. Just do some damage-control and we'll be fine. You'll see, Harry, you'll be eating sushi again and banter like old friends in no time.

He hated lying to himself, but over the years, he had gotten damn good at it.

'Do you want a slice, Harry?'

Harry nodded and took a bite. Absolutely delicious, like always. Nicky had started a pastry shop in Diagon Alley, thanks to a loan Ron had given her out of the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes's fund, and it was booming. Last year she had been able to hire two new assistants to keep the shop open, so she was able to go as she pleased - Ron had felt so pleased with that, because it meant she was able to accompany him on a lot of his trips now. 

'I'm just going to have lunch with Hermione again, tomorrow,' Harry decided. 'Then we're gonna talk about it. I'm sure we'll figure it out.'

'No galleon for you yet, Ron,' Nicky quipped. Harry tried not to let it bother him as he wolfed down the remainder of his pie.


Harry hadn't been able to sleep that night, and on top of that he had been useless at work. He was filing - the favorite part of his job (NOT), and it took him four hours to realize he had been putting all the B-related files (Banshee-sightings, Be-headings, Bewitchment, Burglaries, etc.) upside down in the filing cupboard.

Grumpily he went to the right floor and Hermione's secretary Mimsy allowed him to walk through straight away. He hesitated for a moment and did a double take before knocking at Hermione's office door. He did not want to have this conversation. He wanted to run away, owl Hermione that "something had came up" instead, but he knew that he needed to talk with her. If he wouldn't talk with her now, he would talk with her never, and he didn't want to lose her over something so bizarre. Right. Here went nothing. 

'Come in,' her voice sounded, muffled because of the door, and he slowly opened it, to reveal Hermione's office. Her face was friendly, but changed when she saw it was him.

'Oh,' she said. Harry had never hear her react to him so coldly, at it made his heart ache. 

'Ready for lunch?' he asked, ignoring her statement. 

'I-... Well, I'm quite busy, but... I guess...'

'You've never skipped lunch with me,' Harry added. 'Don't start now. I wont let you.'

She grunted, sorting her papers into even piles and shook her hair.

'Alright. I'll be there in a sec.'

They walked in silence along the rainy streets of London. It was frustrating, it was painful, bit it was necessary. 

'Try out Dial once more?' Harry said - his first words in ten minutes. 'They have great sandwiches.'

'Sure.'

Yikes. 

When they were seated in the lunchroom, Harry took off his coat and took a deep sigh. He needed to. He couldn't do it, but he-...'

'We need to talk,' Hermione interrupted his train of thoughts. She looked sad and strict at the same time. 'We have to thank our lucky stars that none of my other relatives are wizards. If they would have been, the Daily Prophet would have had a field day.'

'I know,' Harry said.

'How could you be so stupid?!' Hermione groaned. 'I know you meant well, I swear to God, but I just need to ask you this. How on earth-...'

'I just got so angry! It was that Philip bloke...'

'I eat bullies like Philip for breakfast,' Hermione said, darkly. 'I have dealt with bullies my entire school career. I've had Malfoy call me every disgusting name in the book. I've been hexed, I've been excluded on base of my bloodstatus, on base of my sex, I was petrified by a basilisk for being who I am, for Merlin's sake. Why on earth did you get your knickers in a twist over a pathetic piece of-...'

'I didn't get my knickers, whatever... I don't even wear knickers, Hermione!'

'It's not my concern what kind of underwear you wear, Harry,' Hermione replied snidely. 'But you know what is my concern? My marital status. The whole reason I asked you to come with me was so I wouldn't get worked up over my idiot relatives calling my parents stupid names. Instead, you end getting worked up, so freaking worked up that you proposed to me!'

'You could have said no,' Harry countered. 'But you didn't do that, did you?'

'Of course I didn't!' Hermione said urgently. 'My family members were throwing themselves at your feet! I had no choice, did I?'

'It would have made you more desirable to-...'

'While they were treating you like the second coming of Jesus Christ? Please Harry...'

'Well-... well-...' Harry said stammering, thinking of other excuses. 'Then at least you shouldn't have overreacted like that. With that cooing voice of yours-...'

'I don't have a cooing voice,' Hermione jabbed. 'Don't you dare insult me like that, Potter.'

Harry saw a glint of comedic offense in her eyes and smiled mischievously.  If he could make her laugh, it would make all the difference.

'"Yes, a thousand times, yes!"' he imitated her, with a high-pitched voice. '"Oh Harry-..."'

'Stop. Stop this nonsense, right now,' Hermione said, with a stern look, but Harry crooked a smile.

'"Of course, Harry! Yes, a thousand times-..."'

'"Dear, sweet Hermione, you are my one-true-love, blah blah,"' Hermione started, mimicking a lowish baritone. "'Please do me the honor of becoming my wife, you absolute miracle of birth and life-..."'

'I didn't say that!' Harry said, grinning. 'That's not fair.'

'"Having you by my side, completes me, oh Hermione!"'

'You do a very poor impression of my voice,' Harry remarked. 'And that face you're pulling... Embarrassing, really.'

'Yeah, you know what's embarrassing, Harry?' Hermione replied, in her normal voice this time. 'That car ride back to our place. That was embarrassing.'

Hermione wouldn't budge just yet, Harry realized. A waiter came to take an order and an awkward silence ensued. Hermione looked at him arrogantly, studied the menu and ordered a salmon bagel. Harry just said "same", as he and Hermione usually shared a taste, and she ordered two cappuccino. 

With pursed lips he thought about that those long, long 30 minutes. Jerome and Isabelle had been over the moon at first - beaming and overjoying in the announcement of their betrothal, like any normal parent would. Then - because they were not complete idiots, like a lot of others from Hermione's family, or, just maybe, because they knew Hermione and Harry a bit better - they had decided that this had been an accident. They had played along, but Isabelle had feigned a headache and soon after the announcement they had driven back to their house in London. They had both been chewed out. Harry hadn't been scolded like that since he departed from Private Drive. With every reason of course - Hermione and he had risked the finally healing relationship of Isabelle and her mom and they had felt very guilty about it.

'Yeah, I have to admit to that. Okay, you know what? I am sorry. I really am. I was really mad and I just wanted to wipe the grin off that idiot's face. I didn't think about any consequences.'

'Naturally,' Hermione said flatly. 'Because, why would you.'

'You can call up your grandmother, and announce that you found me in the bed with three young blondes, how about that?' Harry suggested. 'Make me out to be the bad guy. Like that moronic cousin of you said - special agents do tend to have a reputation. Just paint as bad of a picture of me as you can - make me an adulterer. Say that I would hit you with the carpet-beater...'

'I'm going to do no such thing,' Hermione replied shocked. 'A carpet-beater, which decade are you living in? Muggles use vacuum-cleaners, you know that. And no, I'm not going to hurt grandma. You didn't see how happy she was.'

'You can't beat someone with an entire vacuum-cleaner,' Harry mumbled, and he got a reprimanding look from Hermione, that said: "Oh no? Try me."

'Okay, so what then? Pretend to be engaged, not let me show for any parties or whatever and just casually let it fizzle out over the next few years?'

'That's one of the options I was thinking, yes,' Hermione nodded. 'Then, of course, there's one other...'

'Like what?' 

'We could... You know... Pretend like it's actually real between us. Just for those few events, of course, which will be like... Once a year or maybe twice, at most.'

Harry's eyes widened and he was speechless for a moment.

'Oh, don't look at me like that,' Hermione said, irritated. 'They absolutely adore you. Mom, dad and I never had such a laid-back evening. It was nice, you know, to not be the laughing stock for once.'

Harry still wasn't able to speak and Hermione fidgeted with her napkin nervously.

'I'm sorry for asking,' she said, after a long moment of silence, and she licked her lips. 'I shouldn't have. I know it was wrong of me to-...'

'Let's do it,' Harry said brazenly.

'What?'

'I said: let's do it. That last option. Let's do it.'

'But...' Hermione hesitated, and she looked at him insecurely. 'You-... You mean that?'

'Of course,' Harry said. 'I was the stupid idiot to cause this chaos, I'd better see it out through to the bitter end, right?'

Hermione laughed.

'It's not your fault. You were actually being really sweet, you know. Stupid, yes. But sweet. So, if you don't want to...'

'No, I won't mind,' Harry said, feeling a weird, prickling sensation in his abdomen. He tried very hard to ignore it. 'As I said: I'd love to chaperone you to those events, if it makes you feel more comfortable. You have my word on that.'

'Oh,' Hermione said, clearly relieved. 'That's... Wow. Okay. Thank you, Harry.'

Harry smiled and thanked the waiter, who put their orders in front of them.

'I have one condition,' he said, finally. 'No more "a thousand times yes, Harry". That was absolutely awful, no one's going to buy that nonsense from someone as straightforward of you.'

'Oh, I just reacted in line with your tooth-rotting proposal,' Hermione teased. 'You would have kind of fallen flat if I'd just responded with "Yeah, sure bud. Whatever."'

Harry laughed loudly and he looked at Hermione. Gosh, she was amazing. He felt weirdly culpable, knowing that the reason he said "yes" to her request so easily was because he had thought of her lips again. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: How Harry was driving himself insane

It didn't take long for them to fall back into their routine. They saw each other every Tuesday and Thursday - Harry's favorite days of the week - and they had fallen back into their banter and keen friendship. It was like Harry had never popped the question; it was like Hermione had never said "yes"; it was like the entire birthday of grandma Eugenia hadn't taken place. It was easier that way, and Harry was incredibly relieved to find that, aside from the casual teasing and Hermione jokingly referring to him as "fiancé" one time during lunch, their bond had been almost unscathed.

Almost. There was one thing Harry hadn't been able to get over. Colorful dreams, that filled his head at night, were proof of that one, persistent thing, and Harry was ashamed to admit that he would sometimes go to bed early, in hopes of lengthening his dreams to their full extent.

That kiss. It was like he had been blind, for 12 long years, and that one kiss had given him his sight back. He now saw Hermione - not like his bookwormish friend, but like a woman, with curves and lips: amazing lips, soft lips, never-ending lips, that tasted of white wine and so much more. His dreams had started out innocently enough, but they had started to develop into territory he had never dared to let his mind wonder. Dreams where Hermione had worn her jumpsuit, and then just the bottom part of it, and then no part of it at all. He dreamed about her naked body on his bed, her back pressed against his chest, while he grazed his lips over her earlobe, her neck, her collarbone. He let his hands wander over her naked frame, dip in between her breasts, cup them softly in his hands, play with her pink nipples. She would sigh against his skin and he would do his best to make her produce little sounds - gasps, moans, giggles. Then his hand would travel south, smoothing the skin against his palm as he went, and finally he would dip his fingers into her wet folds. The way she moved against his chest, while her incredible sounds filled the room, made him absolutely crazy, as he pleased her with his fingers, over and over, until her eyelids fluttered and she came apart in his strong hold.

He awoke flushed, rock-hard, incredibly frustrated and so angry. This was wrong - this was wrong, wrong, wrong, Harry Potter! He knew he had no controls over his dreams, but he was still able to hate his subconscious for torturing him like this. She is your friend, he scowled inwardly, for the umpteenth time. She is your friend, and the fact that you shared a kiss is no excuse for dreaming disgusting things like this. And don't you even dare to think about taking care of that hard-on: that's a cold shower for you, sir!

Harry had expected the dreams to wear off over time, as their interaction as an engaged couple waned, but unfortunately, I did not. It was the middle of November when Harry woke up, cursing and as red as a ripe tomato, thinking about how his perverse mind had made him do that to her again, and the only regret he had felt waking up was not that he had done it, but that he had woken up before he could have made her finish. Eyes shutting forcefully, he tried to block out her softly moaning voice, that was still echoing through his head. 'Harry,' he heard her voice. 'Oh, yes, Harry...'

No, NO. He shook his head, forced him to walk to the bathroom and started to undress. He had accepted that these dreams were a somewhat weekly occurrence right now, but he would not allow him to have these dreams on Tuesdays and Thursdays. No, sir. It was too complicated, too painful - he needed to stop acting like a freaking teenager. So he stepped into the shower, turned on the cold water tap and screamed bloody murder until he felt a little bit less ashamed.

Luckily work took his mind off things. Theodore Nott - once a scrawny, pathetic Slytherin - had took on the idea that Voldemort's demise had meant there was a vacancy for a "Dark Lord"-position in English society. The past few months he had been recruiting followers: mostly dimwitted idiots, impressionable youngsters, pureblood fanatics and insane zealots. Harry had hunted most of them down by now, and especially the last two categories had been affiliated with Voldemort in some way, so an arrest had been swift and pushing for a sentence had been problemless. Nott was relentless though, and as he had spent the last 5 years training to be a lot stronger, they hadn't been able to catch him. Harry spent hours and hours tracking his latest move. He loved hunting - it was a lot more thrilling than the camping and hiding he, Hermione and Ron had been doing in their seventh year. Harry loved the rush of adrenaline he felt during his hours spend working in the field.

That morning Harry had been hunting once more in a small town near Glasgow. They hadn't found Nott, but they had tracked down one of his henchman, a 17-year old boy named Quirinius Lackey. After he and his colleagues had cast an Anti-Disapparition Jinx, Harry had chased Lackey through the town and finally managed to trap him inside a chicken coop. Absolutely pleased with himself, he brought Lackey back to the Ministry and handed him to the Law Deparment at the Auror Office. It was their job to find out what they would charge him with - his work was done.

He was a bit late to lunch, as he saw Hermione tapping her foot and checking her watch, looking anxiously in the hall of the Ministry.

'I'm sorry Hermione,' he blurted, as he came down the hall. 'I was-...'

'Plucking a chicken?' she laughed, picking a feather from his jacket. 'I'd love to hear all about it. It's my turn to choose - what do you say we go to Soho, to get one of those amazing-...'

'Sushi-monster,' Harry teased. 'Alright then, let's go.'

They side-alonged to Soho, installing themselves in their favorite booth quite quickly. They ordered a number of sushi, with of course a dragon roll for Hermione, and waited for their food. Harry explained the tale of his fight with Lackey in great detail, and Hermione had tried to keep up with him, but after a while she seemed to be distracted by her own thoughts. Oh no, Harry thought. Here we go...

'You are moping again,' Harry groaned, as he poured some soy sauce in a tiny cup. 'What is it?'

'I am not-...'

'Don't contradict me, you are. I see you are.'

'Fine,' Hermione finally muttered. 'My parents called me this morning.'

Harry nodded, knowing that Hermione had a muggle phone installed at her office for her parents to contact her when they needed to.

'Are they in trouble?' he asked, worriedly. 'Is there something wrong?'

'Well, not exactly,' Hermione said, biting her lip. 'They were more... surprised than anything, I guess...'

Harry frowned, but did not interrupt her. Hermione sighed and ruffled her hair, making it even more bushy.

'They got an invitation.'

'Right.'

'From grandma.'

Harry raised his eyebrows.

'Oh?'

'And when I say "they", I mean "we". We got an invitation from grandma. The four of us.'

Harry halted. Oh Merlin. He didn't know whether to be excited or horrified.

'For what?' he asked, innocently.

'Her... Christmas Ball,' Hermione hesitated.

'Ah,' Harry replied, trying very hard to keep his cool. 'Big fans of Christmas, your family?'

'Clearly,' Hermione said, irritated. 'We were never invited, but it seems to be a huge thing that we are now. Mom has been waiting years for this to happen. Grandma used to throw these Christmas Balls too when mom was younger, but mom hasn't been invited since they broke off contact.'

'Right, that sounds important then,' Harry said, trying to keep his voice straight. The news sounded more and more exciting. An evening with Hermione, being in her presence, having her close to him... Of course, it would be extremely awkward if this whole fiancé-thing were to be discussed, but aside from that, it meant a good night of fun with his best friend. Sort of like an undercover mission that they had planned together. And I'll keep it strictly platonic, Harry thought to himself. I'll show Ron and my idiot subconscious that there is nothing funny going on.

'You're sure we're allowed to attend? I mean, I know we kind of left an impression with that whole public announcement, but-...'

'The letter was apparently addressed to "Isabelle & Jerome Granger, and soon-to-be Hermione & Harry Potter",' Hermione grunted. 'I am not kidding you. She even put in another note stating that "she couldn't wait to see her favorite grandson-in-law again". What did you do to her, at the party? Did you snog her too?'

Harry chuckled. 'I gave her our present,' he answered. 'You know, that glass swan. You were there, she congratulated us and all, but it wasn't that big of a deal, right? I have no idea why that would leave such a lasting impression...'

'It's probably Aunty Penelope,' Hermione sighed. 'Mom and her have been calling a lot lately and she told me to be prepared for when we meet her again. She's apparently very interested in us.'

She rolled her eyes, then smiled at him sweetly, causing a warm feeling to spread through Harry's limbs.

'Prepare for a cross-examination, then,' Harry said, wisely.

'So it would seem...'

She played with the little candle that was seated in between them, pressing her fingers in the hot wax.

'Look, I know you said that you would accompany me, but... does the offer still stand?'

She looked at him expectantly, half-excited, half-bracing herself for a negative answer. He loved the look on her face and he laughed.

'Of course it does! I promised I'd come, and I never break my promises.'

'Yes! You mean that?' Hermione cheered, as Harry nodded. 'Oh, I am so relieved! I know you wouldn't back down but still, there was that chance, because well, frankly, if you think about it, this whole engagement thing is still absolutely bonkers and-...'

Hermione jabbered on, as Harry watched her with glee. She looked so precious, when she was gushing on like this, it was probably one of his favorite versions of Hermione. He took a gulp of his drink, when the waiter came with the sushi.

'Oh, yum! This looks delicious!'

They battled over the first bit of a roll, clashing their chopsticks, laughing cheekily. With a victorious grin Hermione managed to put the first bit of roll into her mouth, savoring the taste and letting a deep moan escape from her throat.

'Yes,' she said, exaggerating. 'Ohhh, yes, I've been waiting for this moment the entire week!'

Luckily, she didn't notice Harry had dropped his sushi. He tried to hide the redness that steadily crept up on his face, hearing her voice in that very explicit tone. Don't be a creep, Potter, he said sternly to himself. He laughed nervously.

'Me too,' he replied, with a thin voice. 'Absolutely.'

Hermione was wonderfully oblivious the rest of the lunch, but Harry knew that he would probably have another rough night ahead of him.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 5: How Hermione was driving Harry insane

Harry'd been late.

He hated being late, especially to important occasions like these, but the raids at his work had gotten more frequent. As Theodore Nott's web of infiltrators and henchmen began to unravel, Harry's hunts became a weekly occurrence, and the moment Harry hadn't been actively hunting he had been investigating leads or pressing suspects for information. The last couple of days, he had barely been able to squeeze an hour or four of sleep in each night, which made him tired and groggy and had given him eye bags that wouldn't feel misplaced on the face of a seventy year old lady. As Christmas was far approaching, Harry's Christmas cheer seemed to be very absent.

On the other hand, Harry had also been thankful for his work, as it had been a very welcoming distraction from the Christmas Ball and from his very un-brotherly interest in Hermione's lips. When he first heard that the dress code would require him to wear white tie, he had rented a black dress coat, white bow tie, wingtip collar and Piqué white waistcoat. In the shop he had felt very out of place when he tried it on - way too formal and constricting for his taste, but after all, he needed to please grandma. And Hermione, a voice had said in his head. You want to look good for her too. He'd ignored that voice.

Nicky had stepped in his office one evening to bring him dinner - as Harry had been working late for four days in a row and she wouldn't let him order the usual garbage from the Ministry's kitchen again - and she had been the one to suggest that he'd give Hermione a corsage.

'A what?' Harry asked, concerned.

'A corsage,' Nicky had chuckled. 'It's a flowery bracelet to give a woman at a formal dance. It's been getting big in the Wizarding World as well. Ron gave me an enchanted one when we were first invited to one of those business dances he has once a year. I thought it was so sweet! It's definitely a thing to impress people with, you'll be sure to make a statement.'

So, Harry had been to a muggle florist, and he felt himself fidgeting again when he apparated on a cool, winter evening at December 21st, near the steps of grandma's mansion - small white box with corsage in one hand, small red box with a gift for grandma in the other. He quickly pinned his flower on his coat and checked himself in a passing windows as he made his ways up the stairs quickly.

I look like a penguin, Harry thought. A very tired, very disheveled penguin. He made an attempt to make his hair a bit less unruly, but again, it wouldn't budge.

The party was in full swing already. The place was beautifully decorated, with enormous purple, silver and white Christmas ornaments, scattered all over the holly-covered walls. At least a dozen of Christmas Trees lit up the enormous ballroom, in addition to the crystal chandelier, who seemed to sparkle even brighter tonight than it had before. Harry had to dodge several waiters on his way to the crowd, who offered him champagne, other beverages and delicious looking tarts and appetizers.

It didn't take long for him to find Hermione, who was obviously being ridiculed by Philip and his gang of malicious cousins. It angered him, seeing her singled out like that, and he immediately decided that he was going to make quick work of this. Hermione stood in one of the corners of the room, wearing a beautiful, figure-hugging, night-blue dress, with a lace key-hole back and delicate cap-sleeves, trying to deflect any comment they made against her, until their eyes met and he saw her gaze change from annoyed and angry to a look of joy and relief. He strode towards her, as confidently as he could, making sure that his eyes would be on Hermione and Hermione only.

'Hi love,' he said, as if he always addressed her like that, ignoring the stares of Hermione's family members. Without thinking about it properly, he pulled her in for a small kiss, as if by greeting her, and he felt his stomach twist and twirl in a fit of unprecedented happiness. She smiled against his lips, appreciating the way he cut her cousin's accusations short by not uttering a single word.

'Any advancements towards the case?' she asked, quite loud, so others could hear where Harry had been.

'Yes, I've been checking out this new lead today,' Harry said truthfully. 'It took some legwork. I'm sorry for being late, you know how much I hate-...'

Hermione looked at her side, eyeing her mocking family-members, and to Harry's great delight, broke his statement off by closing the space between them for another quick kiss.

'I'm just really happy you're here now,' she said, with a sincere look in his eyes, fidgeting with his bow tie. 'And you look absolutely gorgeous, by the way.'

'Don't lie. I look like I haven't slept in ages.'

'I said: you look absolutely gorgeous,' she repeated, teasingly. 'Don't contradict your fiancee, mister Potter.'

'I wouldn't dare to,' he said, with a knowingly smile. 'Also: I've got you a present.'

He gave her the white box and when she lifted the lid, she couldn't help but gasp and then sweetly smile at him.

'Oh Harry, that's so kind of you!'

'Nicky gave me the idea,' he explained honestly. 'Let me help you with that.'

Harry was pleased to see that the flowery bracelet, with one red rose and several blue berries and white flowers, matched her outfit perfectly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lydia scolding Philip for not being as considerate and he decided to lay it on thick.

'Now everyone knows we're here together,' Harry said, feeling weirdly proud when he said those words, loud enough for anyone to catch on. 'No one's going to snatch you away from me tonight, my soon-to-be-bride, no matter how amazing you look. And you do, by the way. You look absolutely breathtaking.'

He hadn't expected the next kiss to be such a fiery one, but Hermione had thrown herself into his arms and clashed her crimson red lips against his in a matter of seconds. Slightly taken aback by her, he caught her embrace and quickly melted against her mouth. He felt shaky and wonderful and victorious, all at the same time, and she tasted of champagne and strawberry cake. He never wanted this kiss to end - he never wanted to stop feeling whatever he felt right now. This was pure bliss, pure, unequivocal bliss, and he wanted to savor every lasting moment of it.

He internally debated whether to make their tongues touch, ever so slightly, but immediately after the thought crossed his mind, he punished himself for it. Aside from it being really inappropriate to french openly at a public event - now that he thought about it, him and Hermione going at it like this would probably already be considered very impolite - it wouldn't be necessary to seal the deal on their engagement-ploy. It was just something he wanted in that moment, to be even closer to her, but he wasn't going to be selfish and give in to his own delusions. With a meaningful sigh he let go of her lips, also being spurred on by one of Hermione's cousins, who snidely commented on them to "get a room". Well, at least they had succeeded in making them feel uncomfortable.

Hermione looked very flustered and very pleased with herself at the same time and Harry grinned at her. Purely platonic, he had to remind himself, as he appreciated the redness of her face and the shyness of her smile. We're just successfully pretending to be very much in love, remember? She's still your best friend!

Thank you, she mouthed to him, as Harry winked and turned his attention to her family-members, for the first time that night. A small group, of three boys and three girls, all looked at him sullenly.

'Merry Christmas,' he said, with a cheeky grin, and he saw a few of them grit their teeth as he lead Hermione through the crowd, on their way to give their gift to grandma.

'That was brilliant,' Hermione said, clearly impressed. 'You are really good at making them seethe. I know you promised you'd be good, but still. This is some pro-level at being annoying.'

'Thank you. I can't see why they keep singling you out like that, though. They're grown-ups, for Merlin's sake.'

'Because I'm new to the family, and I'm frightening the shit out of them,' she explained. 'They're not used to being contradicted or anything like that. I probably should have shut my mouth the first few times they came at me, they would have lost interest by now, but you know how I am.'

'You can't keep it in,' Harry nodded, laughing. 'I'm glad you don't, you know. Bullies like them should be stopped at some point. Are your parents here as well?'

'Uh-huh,' Hermione nodded. 'They're probably in the lounge, though, just like grandma. You know, comfortable seats and sofa's to rest those poor old legs...'

Hermione was right. As they left the ballroom and entered the lounge, Harry saw that they had transferred the lounge into a conversation space for the people who had danced enough or weren't that keen on dancing to begin with. Even more waiters and maids were attending to every guest's needs, refilling glasses and plates as the people kept talking with their conversation partners. Harry and Hermione first went to see grandma Eugenia, who was over the moon to see them, and complimented them on their outfits. She took a moment to very openly display her fondness of their corsages, commenting on it loudly and drawing attention to the pair, making them feel awkward. As she had enjoyed the glass swan so much, Harry and Hermione had decided to gift her a small glass stag and otter for Christmas. Eugenia had no idea why Harry and Hermione shared a look when they gave her the gift, but she was absolutely pleased and told them it would look marvelously on her mantelpiece, alongside her other glass sculptures. They talked for a bit, discussing their work and her health and the beautiful decorations, and when other guests came along they saw a great opportunity to sneak off and join Jerome and Isabelle, who were seated next to Aunty Penelope.

Harry greeted Isabelle and Jerome, and they looked absolutely pleased to see him.

'Aunty Penelope!' Harry smiled, and he shook her wrinkled hand. She wore a creme-colored dress, with little shimmers, and a big, interesting looking hat.

'Oh my dear boy, I was worried you had forgotten the party!'

'I wouldn't dare to,' he assured her. 'I'm sorry I missed the beginning, but I got caught up at work.'

'Confidential?' Aunty Penelope asked, looking curious. Harry laughed and gave her a conspiring look.

'Very.'

'Well, you are doing our great country an absolute favor, my boy,' she decided. 'Hermione must be incredibly proud of you.'

'I am,' she said, as they both sat down on two adorned poufs. 'But not just now. I have been proud of him ever since I met him.'

She squeezed his upper leg with her hand and looked at him sweetly. He knew this wasn't pretend and had to hide the redness that was suddenly stinging his cheeks.

'Ohh,' Aunty Penelope said, with a dreamy look on her face, 'I remember when old Geoffrey used to be so sweet to me... It didn't last longer than a few months after the wedding, of course, but you know, that's what happens when you're stupid enough to get married...'

She grinned, as she saw Hermione's shocked face.

'I thought Uncle Geoffrey was very sweet to you.'

'I am joking, dear,' she said, with a mischievous glint in her eye. Harry chuckled. He loved Aunty Penelope's sense of humor.

'I'm just messing with you. He was the purest soul I have had the good fortune to meet, and I was lucky enough that he decided to fall in love with me. God knows I never deserved that man. The most extraordinary thing was that he became even more sweet when he started to lose his mind. The old fool couldn't remember left from right, but he always remembered me after I'd given him a kiss. "Dear Nelly!" he would say - always. Even on his deathbed. He was a giant sweetheart.'

'That sounds incredible,' Harry said, smiling. 'I wish I could have met him.'

'Oh, he would have loved the both of you,' she said smiling. 'My Geoffrey came from a very common family. My father didn't agree at first, you know. It was quite the scandal when he courted me, back in the day. But then he enlisted in the army and got back with enough ribbons to decorate an entire house, so father had to agree. And of course he saw how much he doted on me.'

Harry and Hermione spent the next hour at Aunty Penelope's side, reminiscing about her past. Harry was absolutely fascinated by her. He had never had a familiar connection with an older person, having both of his biological grandparents die before he could remember them. Uncle Vernon's parents had moved to Malibu after retirement, and lived a careless life until they passed and were buried there. He remembered Dudley had done everything in his power to take the most bit of advantage of the situation, feigning intense grief, both by begging for extra toys and making sure he got treated more lenient at school. Harry had been forced to stay with Mrs. Fig for five days while his uncle, aunt and nephew flew there to attend the sermon. He had been 9 years old, and he quite clearly remembered fantasizing about how it would be like to have grandparents. He imagined them to be kind, funny, and baking lots and lots of cookies. While Aunty Penelope was currently not baking anything, she did portray the first of those features quite heavily, and Harry noticed he grew fonder and fonder of her by the minute.

'-... So, then our father comes in, and Geoffrey tries to hide behind the curtain, but obviously to no avail! Oh, I can still remember his face. It got me grounded for at least a month, but at that moment, I didn't care.'

Harry, Hermione and her parents laughed at the story, envisioning how that would have played out. Harry noticed Hermione had took is hand in her own, and had started to lazily stroke it with her thumb. It felt very soothing and he gave her a warm smile.

'I've never heard you tell that story,' Isabelle commented. 'That's wonderful, Aunt.'

'It's because no one ever wants to listen,' the old lady said. 'They either treat you like a child or a lunatic. Everyone does that, when you get older. Especially when you're a wealthy older woman - they'd try to crawl up your backside if they could, let me tell you that, but they never actually listen.'

Harry gave the older woman a sympathetic look. He could relate to a certain extent. Since the war he had met a lot of new people, bust most of them were only interested in his nickname, or how it would further their careers. It had been hard to not be able to confide in anyone outside of the friends and acquaintances he had established before the end of the war.

'Now, unto other things. Say, what are your plans for Christmas, dear? Are you and Harry planning something festive?'

They looked at each other.

'Eh-... Well, of course, we wanted to visit Jerome and Isabelle,' Harry said, thinking of the logical response of that question. 'And usually, on Boxing Day, we have a bit get-together at our friend's parents house. It's a huge event: he has six siblings, and the oldest have started their own families now, so it's really crowded, but it's fun. Other than that: we don't. Right, Hermione?'

Hermione nodded.

'I probably have to work the day of Christmas Eve. You too?'

'I always have to work,' Harry chuckled. 'Most of the time when I've planned something else. What are your plans, Aunty Penelope?'

The woman looked bravely and hopefully at them, before she opened her mouth.

'I was actually... Hoping the four of you wanted to join me for Christmas Eve and the beginning of Christmas Day. It has been so long since I've had some nice company and I have plenty of room for you to spend the night. Now of course, I can imagine that you'd rather spend a quiet evening alone, the both of you, but... Well, it would make it possible for the four of you to be together, and it would mean the world to me, as my own children always celebrate Christmas skiing in France, and over the last couple of years I've missed company so much-...'

'I would love to, Aunty Penelope,' Harry replied immediately. He blurted it out before he had even looked at Hermione or her parents and felt like he overstepped directly.

'I mean, unless Hermione would like to-...'

'Of course,' she said, without hesitation. 'We would be honored to celebrate Christmas at your place, Aunty.'

'We'll be there too!' Jerome said, enthusiastically. 'It's been ages since I've celebrated Christmas with more people than just me and Isabelle. I'm looking forward to it!'

Harry had seen quite a lot of expressions on Aunty Penelope's face, but never this expression - one of pure gratefulness and joy.

'Really? Oh, that would be fantastic!'

She clasped Harry's hand and he thought he saw her lip quivering of emotion, but only briefly.

'Now,' she said, regaining her former devil-may-care attitude, 'I won't be having anything as silly as this. No big, fancy dresses. And I won't allow for that wretched boy of a Philip to come near my house, let alone stay the night!'

'Glad to hear that,' Hermione said. 'Wouldn't want to ruin Christmas by committing a family tragedy.'

They discussed details for a bit, but then Hermione dragged him back to the ballroom, where they secured a secretive spot near the exit to share a dance. As he placed her hand on her lower back and guided her to a soft sway on the music (he didn't have any experience with any other dances - of all the talents he had, dancing had never been one of them!), she laid her head against his shoulder, to whisper in his ear.

'You're sure, Harry? It's easy to pretend for an evening like this, but for maybe even 24 hours...'

'I'm sure we'll manage,' he whispered back. 'I'm sorry for agreeing so soon, though. I should have-...'

'You've never had a family, apart from the Weasleys,' she nodded. 'I know. I see the connection you have with her. It's actually really sweet. I just hope we don't ever have to break her heart by telling her that we are in fact not going to marry... Oh well. We can pretend for as long as none of us gets a relationship, at which point we'll convince everyone that we've parted on friendly terms. She'll understand, hopefully.'

'That sounds like a solid plan,' Harry sighed. 'But until then, let's just enjoy tonight. This is actually a really nice party, apart from the cousin and the snobbishness. I mean, the drinks, and the food-...'

'I've already had enough champagne,' Hermione joked. 'Three, four flutes? I don't even remember. So you're right. Let's enjoy ourselves. Let's be young, for Merlin's sake.'

'Yes please,' Harry said, liking the feeling of Hermione pressed so closely against him. They danced like that in silence, for a moment, as the smell of Hermione's hair made him smile. He didn't know whether it was the alcohol - it probably was, Harry had had enough thanks to those amazing waitresses - but Hermione seemed to emit a soft glow. She looked absolutely beautiful and he felt more than privileged to be able to hold her against his chest.

'If you see a waiter, you should try the strawberry shortcake,' Hermione suggested, after a moment of silence. 'It's absolutely delicious. I tried it earlier tonight.'

'So I noticed,' Harry chuckled. They shared a look, and Harry could have sworn his heart skipped a beat, but then they were interrupted by a tap on the shoulder.

'Well, seems like you lovebirds have picked the right spot,' one of Hermione's uncles chuckled. The man had a big, busy mustache, like a walrus, and flowing, grey hair, that he had tied in a neat bun. He was so large, that the buttons on his waistcoat seemed to tighten against his chest with every breath he took. Poor buttons. Harry noticed his thick, wurst-like finger point to something above their heads, and by the looks on the Uncle's face, he wasn't sure if he wanted to look, but he feared that he had no choice. Turning their heads, they both noticed a beautiful bush of mistletoe, dangling from between the holy decorations.

'You know what that means, right?'

'Thank you, Uncle Leonard,' Hermione smiled trough her teeth, as he let out a roaring laugh.

'Don't worry, don't worry, I'll give you two some privacy!'

As he scuttled away, Hermione gulped.

'He's single,' she said. 'He doesn't mean harm, but he can be a bit overbearing sometimes.'

'Ah,' Harry replied, throat suddenly dry, as he kept eyeing the mistletoe. 'Right.'

It was weird, as they had no clear audience this time, but they knew that Uncle Leonard had to be watching somewhere.

'Is it okay?' Harry whispered, putting a stray hair back behind her ear. Hermione didn't wait to reply, but brought her face to him slowly, slowly, slowly, until finally, their lips met.

Harry pulled her closer to him, stroking her exposed back through the keyhole in the dress, placing his other hand on her middle. Their lips kept colliding, slower, slower, until their pace was almost lazily. Harry felt positively drunk - it was like his intestines were on fire. As their lips met, and met, and met yet again, he suddenly felt Hermione opening her mouth every so slightly, and very carefully, he felt her tongue touching his. It was a brief moment, it probably didn't even last a second, but Harry felt lightning shooting through his veins and his grasp on her body increase. He tilted his head again, to kiss her deeper, a fire rising inside of him that wasn't extinguishable, and he felt his tongue searching for hers, finding it, and reveling in her taste. It was heaven, and so much more. She sighed against him, grasping his hair and neck, their lips attached like they had fused together. She tasted like alcohol, so much alcohol, but he wanted to taste more of her. He needed to taste more of her. He felt her move against him and suddenly, there was that friction of his bodily reaction against her small frame, and it was all too much. Not here, he thought. Not like this. You'd promised yourself! What are you doing?!

He felt her breaking off the kiss at the same time, staring at him. Oh no! He coughed, feeling panic rise to his throat, and then he noticed that now they had attracted an audience. A few very smug looking uncles, and Merlin no, Hermione's father, looked at Harry with looks varying from utter amusement to outright embarrassment.

'Sorry,' Harry muttered, pointing upwards. 'Mistletoe. Alcohol.'

He left the ballroom, Hermione closely behind him, as the men laughed.

'I am so, so so so sooo sorry,' he started to sputter, as soon as they were out of earshot of any bystander. 'I didn't mean to-...'

'No, I'm sorry,' Hermione emphasized. 'It's the alcohol. It just felt so good and... I just wanted...'

She shook her head, causing a few loose strands of hair to fall across her face.

'Never again, okay? Never again.'

'Never again,' Harry repeated. 'We won't let this ruin what we have.'

'We won't,' Hermione agreed. 'We won't. We can't.'

'We can't,' Harry said. 'We... can't...'

But as he spoke those final words, he felt the words sink in his body, as bricks of lead, pulling him down. He tried to force a smile, and feigned a yawn.

'I should probably, you know-...'

'Of course,' Hermione nodded. 'Too much work. Sleep. Stress. I get it.'

'I could stay and accompany you and-...'

'It's better,' she said. 'It's better if I just go with mom and dad. We'll be going anytime now, anyways. It's an early day for me too, tomorrow.'

They were standing just a feet apart, but Harry had never felt so much distance between him and Hermione. He waved at her - pathetic! - told her to say that he had been called away for work, and disapparated.

It had been a long time since Harry had felt so dreadful. What a mix of emotions - first the excitement, then the lust, then the utter disappointment. She must have felt him through his trousers, Harry realized, absolutely horrified. That's why she broke off the kiss...

Harry felt the urge to cry, but he didn't. Instead, he took off his clothes, throwing them angrily across the room, and retreated to take a punishing shower, that would sting his skin with a coldness that would force him back to reality. It didn't matter how much tired he was, he surely knew he would not be able to sleep that night.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 6: How Harry's awkward dreams were not making things any easier and how Hermione kept her cool, as usual.

'You weren't at lunch today,' Harry said, accusatory. He stood in Hermione's office, wearing his Auror robes. He had just come back from a raid - he felt the soreness lingering in his bones. Hermione was still fixed on the stack of papers on her desk.

'I know.'

'Why?'

'Because it's too hard.'

He watched her face, that was filled with concern, and saw her bite her lip.

'I can't face you. It's ruined. Everything is ruined. We have to cancel our stay at Aunty Penelope's, I can't-...'

'You can,' he heard himself say, a raw tone in his voice. 'We will overcome this.'

He moved closer, as Hermione stood from her desk and they looked directly at each other.

'We just need some closure,' he heard himself say. 'One kiss... Just allow me to...'

The look on Hermione's face intensified. She stepped from behind the desk, letting her hands wonder over his uniform.

'Just one kiss,' she sighed back, walking closer to him, and her eyes looked heavy and hazy.  'Let's do that, yes. Let's share just one... Just one more...'

Their lips pressed together. Quickly Harry slipped his tongue into her mouth, tasting her, taking her, claiming her. He groaned against her lips, feeling himself grow hard, pressing against her. She moaned approvingly, completely overcome with lust - documents were banished from her desk, and soon she lay on her back, Harry straddling on top of her, never wanting their lips to part again, but he knew he needed to let go if he wanted to taste more of her, and frankly, he didn't think he ever wanted something so badly in his life. He released her lips, fumbled with his uniform, caught up in the buttons and whatnot, when Hermione used her wand to cast their clothes aside.

'Now,' she demanded, locking his lips with hers again. Her naked body looked blurry, as Harry did not know the details of her most intimate places, but he didn't mind. He focused on her lips, on her tongue, as he knew them all too well.

Slowly, he trailed down his kisses. Down her neck, her collarbone, her breasts, her stomach. He heard Hermione gasp when he slowly opened her up to him with his fingers. The gasp turned into a deep, wanting moan when his lips touched the most private part of her body, and her hands started to curl in his already messy hair to spur him on.

'Yes, Harry, please,' she pleaded. He didn't know what she pleaded for, but he Harry did know that her voice turned him on immensely, and that he wanted nothing more but to linger on her wonderful taste.

He loved being attentive towards her body like that, exploring her womanhood with his mouth and fingers, and as he felt Hermione start to tremble underneath him, he had never felt so powerful. She was loud, maybe too loud as they had not silenced the office, but who cared? The grasp on his hair tightened painfully as Harry drove her over the edge, but he didn't mind, he dove in deeper, to make sure she was as satisfied as she could be. Her body contracted heavily, and Harry felt victorious and so aroused.

'Up,' she sighed, out of breath, eyes still having trouble focusing from her waning orgasm. 'Up, I want to-...'

He got to her eye-level and their lips crashed together. She tasted herself on his lips, smiling seductively, and then let her hand trail to Harry's abdomen. He shut his eyes and growled contently. Yes, he thought. I have waited so long for this moment... Her fingers felt amazing, stroking him, as he kissed her wonderful, puffy lips. He wondered if she would be as skilled as he imagined she was, stroking firm and with confidence, letting Harry lean into her while he felt his climax come closer and closer.

'Hermione,' he moaned. 'Oh God, Hermione...'

He saw stars, as Hermione increased the speed on her strokes, and his orgasm rocked through him, as it washed over him, wave by titillating wave. He slumped against her, mumbled her name, and opened his eyes.

His dreams had gotten worse. Harry felt incredibly guilty as he felt the sheets span around him, damp with the intensity of his fantasy, and then he noticed a wetness in his briefs.

'Merlin,' he muttered. 'I really am a teenager again.'

He'd had a wet dream. A wet freaking dream, for crying out loud.

He placed his head in his hands, feeling absolutely worthless. Not about Hermione, not about her... It was the first Tuesday since their awkward mistletoe-incident. Today was lunch-day, he thought. Of course it was Tuesday, of course it was lunch-day, of course it had to be so stupid and complicated... Harry considered using the pensieve he had gotten to get rid of the currently still very clear memory of the dream he'd just had - he had done it with the most brutal recounts of what happened to him during the War on advice of his Healer. Then he decided against it. The process of removing memories and then replanting them was grueling, and he didn't want to get more exposed than he already was.

Maybe he should skip lunch with Hermione this time, though. Just to be sure.

After his obligatory cold shower, Harry arrived at the Auror Office, where he was immediately asked to assist in another hearing of Lackey, who'd been very tight lipped for the past few weeks. Usage of Veritaserum was not permitted on suspects, unless they were charged with murder or caused an imminent threat to the society, and currently, Lackey applied to neither. Harry hadn't sat face-to-face with Lackey up until that point: his presence had been disguised by an Undetectable Charm, as was protocol with higher officers, and functioned like how muggle officers used a two-way mirror.

'He's not budging,' Head Auror Holywell had mentioned - a stern, older woman, with bright blue eyes and blond hair that she always wore in a tight bun. 'We just need some kind of confession from him, Potter. We thought that he might start talking if he'd see you again - you know, refresh his memory a bit.'

Harry knew what Auror Holywell meant by "refreshing his memory" and he looked back sharply.

'You know I don't work like that, Eleonore.'

'Well, we need him to talk,' the woman said. 'His statement is vital.'

'Let me observe him first,' Harry decided. 'I want to see how he reacts to certain questions, before I reign him in.'

'Fine,' Eleonore Holywell said. 'But I am not against Memory charms or Occlumency. If you ask for a permission form, we'll give it to you, Potter. You know that.'

Harry watched Lackey being interviewed for a few more hours. It was exhausting to watch, but probably even more to go through, as Lackey cut off every question with a quick "no comment". Sometimes he would pause before replying, but it was only those words that escaped his lips. "No comment. No comment. No comment."

At two o' clock Lackey was allowed his mandatory break. As the other Aurors exited the room, Harry discussed their interrogation tactics with some of his colleagues, until he was interrupted by his secretary.

'Harry, sir?' she asked, sounding a bit pressured. 'Miss Granger is waiting for you at your office.'

Shit, he had forgotten to owl her.

'Didn't you tell her that I would be on Nott's case all day, Polly?'

'I did, but she was very persistent. She said that no matter what, she needed to talk to you today.'

Harry flinched inwardly. This was not good.

With led in his shoes, he walked to his office, bracing himself when he opened the door. Hermione sat in front of his desk, quill behind her ear, engrossed in a file she had brought with her. When she looked up, he saw spots of ink on her face indicating that she had a busy morning as well, and he couldn't help but smile. It reminded him of simpler times, at Hogwarts, where Hermione would be so concentrated on finishing her notes in class that she would involuntarily cover her face in ink splatters.

'You-... You've got some...' he said, as he stepped over the threshold.

He pointed to his face and Hermione touched her cheek, felt an ink smudge and cast a quick Scourgify.

'Busy day as well then, I reckon,' Harry diverted, but Hermione sighed.

'I'm always busy, and I know you are too. But as you said last time, you've never skipped lunch with me. I know things have been... awkward. Don't get me wrong.'

She looked pained, and Harry felt his heart sink.

'Really, Hermione-...'

'We promised we wouldn't let this change us, so... Don't do this. Don't avoid me.'

Harry sat down in his chair, rubbing his temples.

'I know. I'm sorry. It's just... I overstepped. And it makes me feel so awkward.'

'What do you mean, you overstepped? was the one who overstepped, clearly.'

'You?'

Hermione snorted.

'Who was the one who... Well... Oh Harry, don't make me say it. You know what I did.'

'I instigated that second kiss,' Harry defended.

'Yes, and I was the one who... Fine! Who put their tongue down your throat.'

'And I was the one who pressed his hard-on against your thigh,' he retorted, feeling angry.

Hermione's angry face softened and she looked stunned.

'You what?'

'I-... Well, yeah,' Harry said, ashamed. 'You must have noticed that.'

'No, I didn't,' Hermione said, with an awkward pause.

'Oh...'

Harry felt himself turn absolutely crimson. They fell silent for a moment, and were only interrupted by Harry's secretary, that brought in a plate of sandwiches. Harry seriously contemplated throwing him out of the window.

'You ordered this, Miss Granger?'

'Yes, thank you Polly.'

Hermione cleared her throat and ruffled through her hair.

'Sandwich?'

He accepted, chewing on the hopefully poisoned bread, knowing that he had to continue what he wanted to say. I wish I could sink through the floor and disappear, he thought to himself.

'I thought you felt it,' Harry said, quietly. 'I mean, you broke the kiss off after that, and I can't blame you for it. It was totally wrong of me.'

'Of course it wasn't wrong of you, Harry,' Hermione said, empathetic. 'It's a bodily reaction. It's not like you could help it, right?'

Harry avoided eye-contact with her and stared at his turkey-sandwich, as if it would come and rescue him. Hermione noticed and touched his right hand with her fingertips.

'If I'm completely honest - I was worked up too. Way too worked up, might I add. I just have to thank my lucky stars that I'm not a boy, I guess. But we were drunk, Harry. We were both drunk, we haven't had a relationship for a while. I can't even remember when my last kiss was. Probably Ron, now I think of it, but I can't say that was something memorable...'

They chuckled and Harry was able to look at her again.

'You looked really handsome, and you had been so sweet, and the champagne just make me lose my cool. I'm sure you felt the same. It was a weird feeling. But it was just that - a fleeting feeling, right? We were vulnerable, we took advantage of each other and our needs and the situation. Bad, yeah, but... We can move on from this, can't we? I mean, I wouldn't know what to do if-... If-...'

'Me neither,' Harry said, coarsely. 'I couldn't live without our friendship, Hermione.'

'Well, that settles it then,' Hermione said, matter-of-factly. 'We won't let this get in the way of our friendship. It's probably a good idea to break off this whole engagement-scheme, but... Well, we might want to wait until after Christmas...'

'Aunty Penelope,' Harry nodded. 'I agree. I want to give her a memorable Christmas. She deserves that more than anything.'

'Can we pretend for just a few more days?' Hermione asked. 'If we agree to each other that we won't kiss, no matter how intoxicated we are or how much people pressure us, we'll be good, right? No reason to be tempted. We've spent Christmas a million times before, it will be just like that. Hanging out, playing games, opening presents and Christmas crackers, singing silly carols... We can do that!'

'We can,' Harry said, incredibly relieved. 'No kissing, and we will probably have to make something up about the sleeping arrangements as well, but... Well, we'll think of something. It'll be good. We won't risk what we have.'

'We won't,' Hermione agreed, and she weaved her fingers through his. 'You are too important to me, Harry. We won't.'

They looked at each other, and Harry managed to repress the jitters in his stomach for long enough to make meaningful eye-contact. God, Hermione was amazing. He felt himself smile sincerely. He would not lose her. Not now, not ever.

'Then I guess, we'll see each other the 24th, this Thursday? I'll come and pick you up around lunchtime, as usual, and we'll apparate to Aunty Penelope's place. You'll have to take me on a side-along, because I have no idea where she lives...'

'Sounds perfect.'

He looked into her eyes, wondering how it was possible that so many beautiful shades of brown existed, and why he was only now seeing that, and when in God's name he had become that cheesy. They had a pact. They would survive. That was all that mattered.

'Now, Harry, for another subject. Do you know how to be tactful around Goblins? I want to find a way to incorporate them in our new laws, and I have tried setting op advisory counsels, but-...'

They released their hands, both took another sandwich and sat back comfortably in their chairs. As they both discussed the subject of the goblins, Harry felt himself calm down a bit.

AN: Next up: Christmas-fluff! Yay! Can't wait to write it :) I hope to have enough time tomorrow, but I want to do a good job, so it might be longer. Love you!

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: How Harry realized that sometimes, it was okay to be a total wreck.

It snowed. Of course it snowed - it was almost Christmas Eve. As Harry and Hermione apparated on a little hill near Aunty Penelope's cottage, tagging their trolleys with luggage and a very happy Crookshanks behind them, he thought about how long ago it was that he had actually looked forward to Christmas. Longer than he liked to admit, he reckoned, and soon after he realized that maybe he had never looked forward to Christmas this much.

Christmas was a party that merely consisted of confirmations that everyone else had what Harry had not. A real family. As a child, Christmas had been pure torture, where Dudley would be showered in gifts and he would usually get none. Especially when he still used to believe in Santa, Christmas had been a horrible time of year, where he was convinced that he was "a bad boy" for not receiving any special gifts, aside from some worn-down clothes of Dudley or the occasional broken, second-hand toy. He would see his nephew get the greatest gadgets, the most shiny and beautiful presents, and he would be left with nothing but disappointment, that left him feel hallow through and through.

'Santa hates you,' Dudley would tell him. 'He thinks you're a rotten boy and that's why he's not giving you anything special. He won't bother letting his elves slave away at your expense. Freaks don't deserve gifts, after all.'

Harry tried to be so good in the months leading up to Christmas - making the best breakfast, helping out with all the chores without a hint of complaining and even seeking out tasks that he could do without his aunt and uncle asking him, but would still be happy with - but all to no avail. Coal in Harry's stockings, for the first eight years of his life. So, even when he learned that Santa wasn't real, Christmas had left a poor taste in his mouth, and even though the Weasley's tried their best with their jumpers and their amazing cooking, Harry would always feel left out. He would attend their celebrations, and he would always see himself as an outsider, the one who couldn't actually fit in, no matter how hard he tried, because he didn't actually belong. He was just another invitee, a testament to the Weasley's caring nature, not an actual participant. It had felt less forced when he and Ginny had dated, and over the years he had grown to like giving his friends gifts and receiving them in return, but Christmas would always feel like a holiday of what-could-have-been's. At Christmas, Harry missed his parents, like it was only yesterday that he'd lost them. At Christmas, Harry usually grieved.

Hermione knew this. She was one of the first ones to realize, as she had been with him at Goderic's Hollow at Christmas Eve, and she had seen the look in his eyes. She had stood by him, she had hold his hand, and she had looked at him as the tears had streamed down his face. She had summoned the wreath of roses, she had let him be, she had been there for him. He never spent another Christmas without her, and every Christmas Eve, they would find a minute or two to hold each other's hand and share that moment again. Harry hated crying, but tears would usually well up in his eyes for a brief moment, and Hermione would always let him grieve in silence, for just a little while. She wouldn't verbally comment on it, he knew she knew how he felt, and her presence was all he needed.

He visited his parent's grave that morning. He had conjured a wreath of his own and had talked to their gravestone a bit - ridiculous, he knew that, but he liked talking to his parents, even though it was probably just make-believe. When he briefly explained to them that he would spend Christmas with Hermione's family because of his temperamental fake-proposal, he swore he could hear his father snicker beyond the grave, and he imagined Lily slapping him punishingly on the arm. "James, Harry is serious about this, you know!" "Oh, I'm sure he's very serious, alright. Merlin Harry, that is the most creative pick-up line I've ever heard. Next time, be sure to buy a girl dinner first." "I am not actually dating her, dad!" "Right, you don't have feelings for Hermione. Except you do. You know you do, and just so you know, you'd absolutely have our blessing if you'd get actually married to Hermione." "Stop pestering him, James." "What's the fun in that? After all, it's not really Christmas without a little family quarrel..."

Harry knew for sure that Hermione would give him their moment today as well, to think about the loss of James and Lily once more, and he was also sure that he wouldn't feel as left out this Christmas as he usually would. The Weasley's were fun, but they were also loud, and abrasive, and very relentless in their Christmas bantering. They always had these family traditions, that Harry could never feel a part of, because it was so crowded, and there would always be people he didn't always see eye-to-eye with. It had made him skip Christmas Day with the Weasley's for the past few years, instead celebrating Christmas Eve with Hermione, Neville and Luna, and spending Christmas Day alone or at work. This time he would spend the days with Mister and Mrs. Granger, who had always been calming and sweet, and Aunty Penelope, who seemed very upfront at first, but who was possibly just very lonely, just as he was. And of course, there was Hermione. The one he supposedly should be starting a family with of his own, if he would act on their so-called "engagement". He looked at her, the coldness stinging her cheeks red, snowflakes in her flowing hair, brown eyes bright and just as sparkling as the snowdrops that fell out of the sky. He couldn't help but think that the guy that would eventually start a family with her, was one lucky bastard.

'I'm actually really excited,' Hermione said, as she stroked Crookshanks through his pet carrier. 'Aunty Penelope is been said to make a mean Christmas punch. Mom is making her own Beef Wellington - it's absolutely divine Harry, I swear. Of course, we'll miss Luna and Neville's stories of the countries they've visited this year, and the elaborate descriptions of the next crumple-horned snorcack she couldn't find, but I'm sure she'll make that up on New Year's Eve...'

Harry chuckled, loving listening to Hermione's rambling, and he told her that he couldn't agree more. She looked back to him, smiling sweetly, understanding what he said and the meaning behind it. When they halted before the door to Aunty Penelope's cottage, she squeezed his hand a bit.

'It'll be fine. You'll see.'

'I know,' Harry replied seriously. He was making this way too awkward already, wasn't he? Why was he so gloomy today? This was just Christmas, for Merlin's sake. He'd celebrated it with Hermione at least a hundred times, and he had always been fine. Never as a betrothed couple, though, a pestering voice said in his mind. You're sure you won't find any mistletoe in Aunty Penelope's house? I'm certain you wouldn't actually mind, would you... He paused for a moment to curse his messed up subconscious and took a deep breath. Normalcy, that was key here. Some freaking normalcy. He shook the thoughts out of his head, messed up his hair some more and then grinned mischievously at Hermione.

'I know, because I'm always fine when I'm with you, darling.'

'You're going to make me barf,' Hermione said, appreciating his change of tone and immediately jumping in on the banter. 'You're telling me I should tone it down with the "a thousand times yes!"-statements, it's only fair that you back down as well.'

'I never said that I would stop exaggerating,' Harry said slyly. 'By the way, did I tell you that, if the snow wasn't as pearly white as it is right now, it would surely pale in comparison to your astounding beauty...'

'I'm this close at hexing your mouth shut, you absolute Philip.'

'Philip? Philip? My God Hermione, I've never heard you swear like a bloody sailor! Wash your mouth, young lady!'

Hermione elbowed him hard in the ribs and Harry laughed and winced at the same time. She used the doorknocker in the shape of a lion and it didn't take long for a servant to open the door - an older gentleman, with a lot of wrinkles and a tuft of hair on his head that he had tried to comb as flatteringly as possible.

'Ah, Miss Granger, Mister Potter. You are being expected. You can leave your luggage here - thank you. Now, please follow me.'

Aunty Penelope's house was big, absolutely, but it was by no means a mansion. She had a nice entrance foyer, with a substantial wooden staircase that had wooden shields carved into it, but the servant - who introduced himself as Alan - was the only staff Aunty Penelope had, and he led them to the lounge, that somewhat reminded Harry of Gryffindor Common Room. Two comfortable love seats, bookcases, a crackling fireplace... Harry immediately felt at home. As Mister and Mrs. Granger were still working in their practice, Aunty Penelope was alone, and she greeted them warmly, letting Alan serve hot cocoa to them.

'I am so pleased that you're both here, absolutely. And you both look so wonderfully ordinary!' she exclaimed. 'My Harry, that jumper looks absolutely lovely on you.'

Harry mustered a shy grin and thanked her. Hermione let Crookshanks out, and the cat immediately started to investigate the house with a keen interest.

'Thank you for letting him come over, Aunty,' Hermione said, as she installed herself on one of the love seats. 'I couldn't leave him home all alone on Christmas.'

'I understand. Geoffrey and I used to have lots of pets - I was very found of our pug, Grumpy, but when he got older he used to smell like he'd already died,' Aunty Penelope said, sipping at her afternoon tea. 'We once had a cat as well, you know. Siamese type, can't remember the name. There was probably something wrong with him, as he was insatiable. I can quite clearly remember one time we couldn't find him - he'd got himself stuck in our cooking pot and when we found him, he'd eaten the biggest portion of the stew. But dear Geoffrey didn't want to get rid of him, he didn't have the heart, although he did come quite close when the beast stole his medium-rare steak during his birthday-dinner...'

Harry leaned against the wall, warming his hands with the hot cocoa and smiling gleefully.

'Crookshanks has his antics too. He tried to eat the pet rat of our friend, Ron, during our third year at boarding school. Oh, how they fought each other over it...'

'And may I mention that Crooks was totally justified doing that!' Hermione cut in. 'Ronald's pet rat wasn't exactly... Well... Let's just say, he deserved to be eaten.' Harry laughed.

'That's true, Hermione-...'

'Oh, please dear, you can sit next to your fiancee,' Aunty Penelope gestured. 'There's no need for you to keep your distance or to be all fuzzy about that. I lived through the sixties, you know.'

Harry quickly looked at Hermione, but she seemed perfectly content with it, and why wouldn't she be? They had set next to each other so many times... He placed himself next to her on the sofa, but he noticed she still kept her distance. She still felt the awkwardness somewhere, but so did he. He didn't mind it for now.

'The sixties, Aunty Penelope?' Harry asked, friendly. 'Do tell.'

'Oh, I haven't drunken enough port for that, dear boy. I could tell you stories that would make your hair curl, but I don't think you'd feel any better if I'd tell them to you,' Aunty Penelope said, dismissively, but then she winked. 'Although, I guess I could tell you about that one vacation that Geoffrey and I had in India, where we tried some quite exciting mushrooms...'

Harry and Hermione had a great afternoon, talking with Aunty Penelope about her weird experiences with drugs and other travel stories. She truly was an amazing story teller, grasping their attention for every second, and Harry felt Hermione slowly relaxing against him. Finally she ended up with her back against the arm rest, her feet perched on Harry's lap, as Harry lazily stroked her calves.

'But how did you get passed customs with all those goods in your bag?' Harry asked, dumbfounded, after he listened to a story of how Aunty Penelope and Uncle Geoffrey had managed to smuggle a huge quantity of a quite illegally distilled beverage across the border.

'You have no idea of the influence I had on men at that time, boy,' Aunty Penelope said, with a wink. 'Oh, I believe I hear the car of your parents, Hermione. Make sure to never mention a word of what I've just told you both. What do you say we move to the kitchen? I wanted to bake some Christmas cookies for tonight...'

'Cookies?' Harry asked excitedly, as if he were eight years old and not 23. 'Are you good at baking, Aunty Penelope?'

'As good as any Aunty,' the old lady replied, dignified. 'Alan sure tries, but he never puts the right amount of almonds in them... It's a feeling, you know, not something you can achieve with a measuring cup. Do you love cooking, Harry?'

Hermione grinned and affectionately stroke him through his hair, as he got up from the sofa.

'Oh yes, I do. I used to cook almost all the meals when I still lived with my aunt and uncle. I used to do a lot of taste-testing, because they usually didn't let me eat the same amount of food as they did. Anyway, they wouldn't notice when I would nick a few ingredients from the pantry and whip something up myself when I was hungry, so I became quite good at you know, pastries and omelets and stuff. Work has made me too busy though, so I don't have a lot of time to cook at the moment, I'm afraid...'

'Remind me to be particularly nasty next time I see your aunt and uncle,' Hermione growled, as they entered the kitchen. 'I tend to downplay how appalling they treated you.'

'It's okay,' Harry said quickly. 'I do too.'

Hermione didn't like that reply, as she pulled Harry into a tight hug, burying her face in the crook of his neck. Harry felt that now familiar warmth spread through his limbs, as he leaned in and took in the smell of her hair. They stood there for some moments, while Aunty Penelope got some of her kitchen utensils out of the cupboards, trying very hard not to be too obvious about listening in.

'I hope you never tell yourself that you deserved how they treated you. You don't. Never forget that.'

Harry didn't know why, but he felt a lump in his throat. Possibly because no one had ever said those words to him. No one had ever told him he didn't have it coming, that he didn't cause them to be so hurtful towards him. "It's your own fault", that was their mantra. "It's your own fault for being so useless, for being so different, for being a freak." Hermione's kind words hit him hard, especially today, when he thought about how little Harry would usually spend Christmas Eve hoping that tomorrow would be a total change from the usual Christmas morning's, only to have his little heart shattered each and every year, and he felt himself biting his tongue to stop himself from crying.

What is with you, today? He asked himself. Get a grip, Potter!

'It's alright, Harry,' Hermione said, with a soft and soothing voice. 'It's not a weakness to show you're hurt.'

He felt her softly draw circles on his back, comforting him and holding him like he had never experienced, and he couldn't hold back anymore. He cried, and she held him, firmly, and Harry thought he would crumble if she would ever let go.

It took him some time to get a hold of his emotions, but when he did, he saw that his glasses had blurred, and that two silhouettes were standing in the opening of the kitchen door. Hermione's parents.

'I'm sorry,' Harry apologized. 'I didn't know what came over me. I-...'

'Don't you dare apologize,' Hermione said, sternly but sweet. 'It's okay to not always be okay. I'm actually really proud of you.'

And then she broke their promise - she kissed him on the cheek, but he instinctively knew she would always have done that in a situation like this, fake-betrothal or not. That was just Hermione. Sweet, awesome, Hermione. Weirdly enough, the crying made him feel a lot better, like a black cloud was taken from his mind, and when he cleaned his spectacles and hugged Hermione's parents, he knew that today would be a lot easier.

'Right,' he said, after putting an apron on. He rolled up his sleeves and walked towards the counter. 'Cookies. What ingredients do you use for the dough, Aunty Penelope?'

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 8: How Hermione made Harry realize he was head over heels in love with her.

Cooking with Aunty Penelope proved an absolute joy. She had a very good taste, an eye for detail and excellent teaching skills. Harry found himself creating a few batches of batter that contained the most delicious cookie-dough he had ever tasted. As Mister and Mrs. Granger started to prepare the dinner for that night, Hermione installed herself on a kitchen stool, engrossed in a Charles Dickens-book she had grabbed from a bookshelve, Aunty Penelope next to her, as she was unfortunately too frail to actually stand behind the counter for longer than a few minutes at a time. Harry gave them a few test batches of dough to try, and the two women delighted in commentating on Harry's baking skills. They were either going easy on him, or he managed to do quite a good job right away, because Hermione gave nothing but praise and Aunty Penelope would occasionally suggest a bit more nutmeg or a bit less salt. Following Aunty Penelope's list of ingredients, Harry finally made one batch containing white chocolate chips and cranberries, and one batch containing dark chocolate, almonds and orange zest. They both reveled in the delicious smell filling the kitchen, as Harry decided to help out Mister and Mrs. Granger as well.

'You're sure I shouldn't help too, mom?' Hermione asked.

'Absolutely - remember last Christmas?' her mother said, with a knowing laugh. Hermione huffed and assisted Aunty Penelope back to the lounge. Harry looked at Mrs. Granger quizzically.

'Last Christmas?'

'You know we love Hermione with all of our hearts,' Mister Granger answered, 'but she is not that great in the kitchen. Last year at Christmas Day, she insisted on making the main course without any assistance. When we sat down to eat it, she had messed it up so bad, it was absolutely inedible. Oh, how disappointed she was... We had a laugh about it eventually, but you know how insecure Hermione can be.'

Harry nodded, cutting open a chicken breast, filling it with red pesto, mozzarella and basil.

'It does explain why she was so silent last New Year's Eve when I asked how her Christmas had been, though.'

They chuckled, working with the food in silence.

'So,' Mister Granger finally said. 'You and Hermione are still engaged, right? How is that going for you?'

Harry tried very hard not to hide his shame, but he felt redness creep on his face immediately

'Good,' he lied, shortly. 'It's just a-... Well...'

He fell silent as he stuffed one of the chickens a bit too full. He wasn't able to fully wrap the bacon around it and muttered a curse under his breath.

'Jerome told me about what happened at the Christmas Ball,' Mrs. Granger pressed on. 'Under the mistletoe.'

He knew that would come back to bite him in the arse. He gulped and managed a fake smile. A knot had formed in his stomach that made it difficult for him to breathe.

'Yes. Hermione and I are sorry about that, by the way. We didn't mean for you to see that, Mister Granger.'

'Jerome, Harry!' Mister Granger corrected him. 'Hermione said it was all part of the plan. We obviously don't want to pry, but we just want to make sure that you both are okay. We know how much you mean to Hermione. You have been her rock through all the bad things she faced since her eleventh birthday. We don't know how well she would cope without you. To be honest, it was a fear Isa and I used to harbor a lot before the end of the war.'

Jerome looked at his wife, and she smiled at him.

'Don't get us wrong,' Mister Granger continued. 'Hermione did a stellar job at hiding the largest part of the chaos in the Wizarding World to us, but we managed to sneak away enough Daily Prophets to get a grasp of how big it was. She finally admitted to us that there would be a chance that you wouldn't make it out alive, and she was absolutely broken. I'm not saying that this engagement-ruse is the same as then - the contrary. This is a happy, joyful thing, a joke between friends, right? But we just... I guess we just want to warn you, Harry.'

Harry felt the knot tighten and tried to look as naturally at possible. Of course Hermione's father would warn him - to stay away from Hermione and try nothing funny, for example. The things he had told himself over and over, especially after he had woken up from a vivid dream.

'Your friendship is powerful, and it will withstand a few blows, but you need to be mindful of her heart too. Hermione is a very sensitive soul, and although we would love to welcome you into our family as something more than just Hermione's friend, you know she compromises. That's her nature. She will downplay her own feelings in order for others to feel better. Especially you, Harry. We know that you wouldn't take advantage of her, not in a million years. We just ask you to pay attention. And we just want you to know, how she is possibly more affected by all of this than you understand right now.'

Harry hadn't expected that, to say the least. It confused him. First there was the fact that they would gladly welcome him into the family - that was... something. And what did Mister Granger refer to in terms of her vulnerability? Did he suspect Hermione to actually harbor feelings for him? But she had told him it had been a fleeting thing, something that came over her, nothing more, nothing less. Surely, he was ought to trust Hermione's own words, right? Right? "She will downplay her own feelings... For others to feel better..." Harry thanked Mister Granger, assured him that he would be very good to Hermione, as always, and then they finished up the preparations for the meal. "Especially you, Harry. Pay attention."

Harry was lost in thoughts when he washed his hands and cleaned the kitchen block. When retreating to the lounge, he saw Hermione had curled herself up on one of the loveseats again, Crookshanks pressed up neatly against her. She looked absolutely serene - her large eyelashes batting slowly as her eyes devoured the pages in front of her, a content relaxation showing on her face. Crookshanks's loud purring filled the room. It almost felt like they were back in their common room. There was no sign of distress or insecurity on her face, and she pretended to look up when Mister and Mrs. Granger announced that they would go for a little stroll. "She is possible more affected by all of this than you understand."

He sat next to her, and she looked up briefly to acknowledge him.

"Pay attention."

He decided not to touch her this time, but turned his attention to Aunty Penelope, who was reading a glossy magazine, with some members of the Royal House printed on them. Prince Charles and his new fling (a women he thought looked remarkably like a horse), grinned sheepishly at the cover.

'I take it you don't cook a lot anymore, Aunty?'

'Oh, Harry, is the preparation for tonight done? No, I'm afraid not. I'd love to, but I can't reach the counter anymore, you see. I could sit on my walker, I guess, but my arms get too tired. I miss it a lot, actually. I had quite my way with a whisk, if you'll believe me.'

She feigned a smile.

'On the other hand, Alan gets to serve me every day now, which is a blast for him, isn't it, Alan?'

She had meant it as some kind of jab at her servant, but if he realized, he didn't show it on his face when he answered.

'Certainly madam.'

'Are you going home for Christmas tonight?' Harry asked.

'Absolutely, Mister Potter. My girlfriend and I plan to visit church and then we get the first slice of her Christmas Pudding.'

'He has a girlfriend,' Aunty Penelope said giddily. 'He asked her out not that long ago, didn't you, Alan? He met her in Turkey.'

Alan, who looked a lot less stiff when he talked about his girlfriend, explained how they met during a scuba diving lesson. He had been divorced, she had been widowed. They hit it off instantly.

'Don't you have the intention of marrying her, dear Alan? I mean, if my soon-to-be son-in-law can pop the question, so can you!'

Harry laughed nervously and glanced over at Hermione, but she was too engrossed in her book. The tip of her tongue stuck out of her bottom lip and he knew she was too far gone to hear anything from the conversation.

'I have been saving for a ring some time now,' Alan confessed. 'It's just hard to know what a woman likes, if I'm completely honest.'

'Take a look at Hermione's ring,' Aunty said. 'Maybe that will inspire you.'

Hermione looked disturbed as Harry loosened her tight grasp on her book.

'What are you doing? I was just in this really exciting bit about-...'

'Your ring, dear,' Aunty Penelope chirped. Harry looked apologetic and Hermione sighed. She removed the small band from her finger and showed it to Alan, while she kept on reading with one eye.

'Oh, that is very delicate indeed,' Alan nodded. 'May I ask you where you bought it, Mister Potter?'

Harry tried to keep a straight face.

'I... I didn't,' he said, truthfully.

'You didn't?' the old woman asked, puzzled.

'No, because... Well... It's an heirloom, you see,' he lied.

'Oh, is it really?' Aunty Penelope sighed lovingly. 'That gives even more meaning to it. You said your parents were wealthy, Harry.'

'Yes, they were. My grandfather was the inventor of a product for haircare, but they also had some old money,' Harry jumped into the subject, now he had deflected them from the engagement. 'When my parents died, their house was sold and let's just say that I don't have to worry about my finances, I'm very lucky in that sense.'

'So Hermione's marrying well off,' Aunty Penelope said, approvingly. 'I wouldn't have mind it if you were more common, Harry, obviously, as Geoffrey was. But it's good to know that a man can provide for their family. Especially a woman as sweet as my niece.'

Harry didn't like Aunty Penelope being this conservative, but well, she was seventy-seven. He couldn't blame her that much, he supposed.

'So, tell me, Harry,' she continued. 'I know you met at boarding school, but how did you get together?'

There it was. The predicted cross-examination.

'That is a very, very interesting story,' Harry said, with a broad smile. 'And I think Hermione should be the one to tell it.'

He nudged her in the side and she scowled.

'I'm reading!'

'But Aunty Penelope wants to know how we got together,' Harry said, slowly. The look on Hermione's face changed from angry to stressed to fake laughing.

'Oohh, well, that is a wonderful story,' she said.

'It is, right? I thought you could tell it best.'

'Me? Oh no, Harry, we both know you are the best story-teller.'

'Absolutely not,' Harry replied, trying to do as good of a job as her at fake complimenting. 'Besides, she is your Aunty. She probably wants to hear it from you.'

'I'm sure she'd love to hear it from you as well, Harry. You are a lot better with words.'

'You remember more details.'

'You...'

Hermione was out of words and squinted her eyes.

'No, you tell it,' she decided. 'I always have to tell it, you always pull this on me. I want to hear if you actually remember.'

'I-... Ohh. That one's filthy, Miss Granger.'

'I play dirty. You know me. And by the way, that's "Future Mrs. Potter for you", Harry.'

She grinned at him and playfully stroked his cheek. He felt his skin light up with her touch.

'Now, let's hear it.'

'Why did I have to date the brightest-... woman of her age?' Harry asked, with a hint of drama in his voice. Hermione chuckled and couldn't help but place a small kiss on his cheek.

'You'll do fine. Now tell Aunty Penelope, and if you miss something, I might be gracious enough to fill you in.'

'Oh, you might be gracious enough? Lucky me!'

She slapped him playfully on the arm. Her eyes were glistening cheekily and he couldn't stifle a grin.

'Fine. Fine, you little minx.'

Aunty Penelope looked very amused at their bantering and he possessively put an arm around Hermione's waist and pulled her closer. "We know you won't take advantage of her, Harry..." She leaned into him, with a sigh and a smile, and he knew that he shouldn't be doing this, but her touches were absolutely addicting. He brought her against his chest and nuzzled his nose in her hair, kissing the top of her head.

'Hermione and I have always had a very strong bond,' he started, figuring that it would be easiest to keep it as close to the truth as possible. 'We were always together, and throughout our teenage years we had quite a few adventures. And obviously, since she's the next best brilliant mind since Einstein, she-... Ouch, Hermione!'

Hermione slapped him, while Harry continued: 'She helped me pass about every course I ever took, because of her supreme intellect - I'm sorry, I won't be sarcastic, stop!'

They both laughed as she ended their wrestling.

'I think the first moment I kinda started to notice something different, was when we had the Yule Ball. She wore a beautiful blue dress, and I was completely floored, do you remember that?'

'I didn't remember you were "completely floored",' Hermione joked. 'You had a different date, remember? And you were totally eyeing Cho Chang the entire time.'

'Well I absolutely noticed you, Hermione,' he countered. 'It was the first time I saw you not wearing enormous sweaters or school robes, and me, being a simple teenage boy, absolutely took note of that.'

Aunty Penelope laughed out loud and so did Hermione.

'Classic. Go on.'

Harry paused for a moment, remembering Hermione said that they were dating for a bit more than 3 years during Eugenia's birthday party.

'I think it slowly developed into something more. I always cared for you more than I cared for anyone else, obviously, but my eyes weren't opened until after graduation. I dated Ginny in between. You dated Ron-...'

'Worst mistake of my life,' Hermione mumbled nodding and Harry grinned.

'True. Total train wreck. I've seen crime scenes that were less messy.'

Hermione elbowed him again and Harry laughed.

'Ouch! Stop attacking me!'

'You're asking for it!'

'Well, then, one afternoon, we had this game night planned with our group of friends and everyone blew us off, remember?' Harry fabricated. 'Neville and Luna went on a date night, Ginny had Quidd-... I mean, sport-practice... And we were like "screw them, we're going to have a fun evening either way".'

That night had taken place, around that time, and Harry clearly remembered how that went.

'Now comes the interesting part,' Hermione said to Aunty Penelope. 'What happened?'

'We ended up on the couch together, and we started talking a lot, and drinking, and we had fun. And then there was that moment...'

He remembered it as clear as day. They had a great evening, but suddenly, on that couch, Harry had felt a pull between him and Hermione that he couldn't quite describe, but it wasn't the first time he had felt it. He had felt it at school, a few times, and in the tent, a couple of times, and when they had been alone after that, quite a lot of times. This pull was the largest he had experienced up until that point, and he had looked at Hermione, and she had stared back, and he counted every freckle on her face and thought to himself that he never allowed himself to entertain the thought of being something more than just her friend. He'd moved in closer, and so had she - the firewhiskey had clouded his mind, almost as much as her eyes looked clouded, and then they heard the noise of the fireplace and knew Ginny had returned from her practice. He and Gin had still shared Grimmauld's Place at that point and were living together, although it was more for the fact that he wouldn't charge Ginny rent and she functioned as a facade to keep Rita Skeeter and her annoying reporters at bay. The moment between him and Hermione broke, when Ginny stepped through the door, but for a few weeks he had thought about it, almost obsessively. What if Ginny hadn't walked it? What then?

'I looked at her and it all just dawned on me. That she was the one I had always been looking for. That all that time, it was more a realization of "oh, so it is her!", rather than anything else. Suddenly it all looked so simple. So, I gave her a kiss.'

'And I kissed back,' Hermione chimed in. 'Then we had a few dates, and finally he asked me to be his girlfriend. We have been together ever since.'

They looked at each other - Hermione's eyes brightly shimmered, and he counted her fading freckles again.

'Oh, that is a very sweet story,' Aunty Penelope squealed. 'And you told it so gentlemanly, Harry!'

Harry grinned, ruffling his hair.

'Give your lady a kiss, then,' Aunty Penelope pressed on. 'Only appropriate after you've told such a sweet tale!'

He wanted to. Merlin, he wanted to. Since the moment they had agreed not to kiss he had only thought about her lips. He sensed Hermione's breath on his skin, and he felt her tilting her head to allow him access. You have an agreement, you stupid arse! He heard an angry voice yell at him. You both agreed that you wouldn't do this again, no matter who asked you, no matter what circumstances!

Well, it takes two to tango, Harry countered in his mind, as he stroked her loose strands of hair. And she's not backing off either, is she? He slowly leaned forward, being incredibly aware of how intimate their positions were, as Hermione was nearly sitting on his lap, and kissed her. It was brief, it was quick, but it was probably the most meaningful kiss they shared yet, as Harry softly pressed his lips to hers, basking in the sense of her mouth against his. Hermione hummed softly, a sound so amazing that it shot arrows through his spine and made him realize that that was quite possibly his favorite sensation in the world: her voice vibrating against his lips, the smell of her on his skin, the touch of her hands against his face... The kiss couldn't have lasted more than two seconds, but when he opened his eyes again to stare at her, he knew he was in trouble.

And that's the moment it all just dawned on me, he thought, ironically, but he knew it was true. The look in her eyes, the comfort he felt when she was in his arms. It was her. All this time, it had been her, and it would probably always be her. Hermione. His best friend, his big-brained bookworm, his saving grace, his comic relief, his everything, was now not just everything, but so much more than that. He saw it. He sensed it. He felt it. It ran through his veins, it settled in his head, and it made his heart burst. So it was her. So it had always, always been her.

'I love you,' he heard himself say, simply because it was the only sentence that his vocabulary seemed to contain in that one moment. Right after he said it, he knew he shouldn't have. It made things more complicated, more hard, but then he realized Hermione didn't look like she was freaking out or stressing.

'I love you too,' she replied.

And as their lips slowly touched again, Harry figured that this would absolutely be the best Christmas Eve he ever had.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 9: How Harry couldn't stop laughing about Hermione's fascination with male anatomy

Christmas Eve was great. Mister and Mrs. Granger had given them a little preview of how delicious tomorrow's Christmas Feast would be - Harry had stuffed himself with roasted potatoes, stuffed chicken, green asparagus and green beans. For dessert they enjoyed treacle tart (his favorite!) and to top it all off they ate his freshly baked cookies while playing charades and scrabble. Even though Harry had been raised by the Dursley's, he had never played those muggle games, but he and Hermione found out that they were a great charades-team.

They couldn't stop touching. It was as the words "I love you" hung between them like a spoken promise and when Harry didn't find an excuse to have his arm wrapped around Hermione, she'd find an excuse to touch his leg under the table, to remove some crumbs from the corner of his mouth with her thumb, to place butterfly kisses on his face after a particular quick guess. At the end of the night he found himself on the loveseat once more, but this time Hermione was perched up against him, leaning into his chest and sighing contently. She was reading her book again, completely mesmerized by the content, and Harry spent his evening listening to the records Aunty Penelope had put on, stroking Hermione's hair and placing soft kisses on her temple, talking with Mister and Mrs. Granger, watching the pack of snow outside grow thicker and thicker. He had never felt so happy, so completely at ease, and Harry knew that the next Patronus charm he would cast would probably evaporate any Dementor in close proximity to him.

It was about half past 10 when Hermione fell asleep against his chest. She had dug her hands into his sweater, resting her head just underneath his collarbone, and Harry had never tried to stay so still. He slowly got the book out of her hand, preventing it from falling, and marked the page. Then he turned to the first page and began to read the story himself, fittingly called "A Christmas Carol", as he rested his head carefully on top of Hermione's.

Aunty Penelope went to bed first, and Mrs. Granger didn't follow that much later. When Mister Granger finally put down the book he had been reading, he gave Harry a knowing look.

'So... Should I welcome you, then?' he asked, with a fatherly smile on his face.

Harry chuckled.

'Perhaps. We need to talk it over, still.'

Mister Granger nodded and smiled.

'Well, best of luck. She can be feisty. When she does decide to go along with this, be sure to tell me. We can have that stern father-boyfriend-talk that I promised myself I would give any man who deemed himself good enough for my girl. It had your friend Ron scared out of his wits.'

'I'll make sure to be mentally prepared, sir,' Harry snickered, remembering his other best friend as he came crashing into Grimmauld place with a complete look of terror on his face. "Mister Granger said he'd run me over with his Audi if I'd break her heart! It's me and Hermione - of course I'm gonna break her heart at some point. I'm doomed! And what the hell is an Audi?"

Mister Granger bid him goodnight, reminded him to put out the fireplace before he went upstairs and closed the door behind him.

They were alone. As some American jazz musician played some very comforting music in the background with a nice trumpet solo, Harry allowed himself to take a good look at the sleeping girl that lay half on top of him. He had always thought Hermione to be pretty. Not conventional pretty, like a movie star, but stunning nonetheless. She had beautiful eyes, the sweetest smile, the softest lips, the cutest nose, the most adorable freckles. He adored her hair - chaotic, feisty, and smelling so good. He slowly placed a kiss on her hair, then on her forehead. He knew he shouldn't wake her up, but he didn't have a choice. His lips wanted to tell her that he loved her, like he had said earlier, and now he knew for certain he didn't want to spend one moment without telling her how much he cared. He kissed her temple, her nose, her cheek. He bent his head in an awkward angle to kiss the corner of her mouth, and that's when she stirred.

'Hmm?' she asked, sleepily, but Harry pulled her face closer to his and softly placed his lips against her.

'Hmm,' Hermione said again, but this time it was approvingly, as she opened her mouth and allowed him to taste her. He slowly massaged his tongue against hers, making their touching so much more intense, and he immediately felt a lower part of his body wake up. They kissed - long, slow, deep kisses, that made them feel connected, that made them wonder whether they could possibly be any closer to each other. Hermione roamed her hands over his chest, Harry let his hands wander over her face, over her back, but he was very careful to avoid the most intimate places of her body. They had time, and he didn't want to scare her.

Finally they broke apart, and then the couldn't help but smile, then chuckle, then laugh. Hermione's laugh was amazing - it filled the room and made Harry's belly flutter.

'I guess we've stopped pretending,' she said, stroking through his hair.

'I have,' Harry said, amused. 'I don't know about you, but I have.'

They were silent for a moment, and Hermione looked mesmerized by her own hands, that played with a few strands of Harry's hair. She touched his forehead, his scar, the bridge of his nose. Finally she caressed his lips with her thumb and when their gazes met, he could swear he caught fire. He wanted her. He wanted her, now.

He kissed her again, feeling the heat inside of him building, as he sat up straight on the bench and pulled her underneath him.

'Tell me when I'm going to fast,' he mumbled, between kisses, as he placed hot and firm kisses on her mouth. Their tongues met, but this time it wasn't slow and soft - their lips clashed and battled for dominance and when he heard Hermione elicit a very arousing pant, he felt a lower part of his body twitch. He desperately needed more friction, and he tried to be very tactful about pushing himself against her body, but he felt an immediate gasp escape Hermione nonetheless - a gasp that sounded a bit too surprised to be only arousal.

'Sorry,' he said. 'Am I-...'

Hermione was breathing heavily, her chest rising and falling, and she looked a bit crazed.

'I... No, you're not, it's just... I wasn't... Expecting...'

'I'm sorry,' Harry repeated, feeling guilty. He told himself they had time not ten minutes ago - what was wrong with him for acting so brazenly?! He distanced himself from Hermione a bit, but she stopped him from moving away by grasping his jumper.

'No, please don't. It's amazing. You're amazing. That thing, that you just did, it was... Wow. But I...'

She sighed.

'It's just that I... Oh, this is going to be so embarrassing...'

Harry watched her worriedly, but she took a deep breath, as to muster up the courage, and then looked at Harry directly.

'Ron and I never really... I mean, we kissed. We kissed a lot. But with him, it actually felt kind of gross, and I let him touch my breasts once, but... I never really felt aroused or anything, so I didn't let him... I mean...'

'You've never done anything apart from kissing with Ron?' Harry replied, shocked. Ron had asked him a couple of time how sexuality normally developed in a relationship, but Harry, being an oblivious idiot, never put one and two together. Of course Ron had been inquiring about him and Hermione, the only reason why he hadn't been more pressing was probably because he didn't want to know what Harry and Ginny had been up to.

'Not with Ron,' Hermione nodded, speaking slowly. 'Not with anyone.'

Harry was stunned. Hermione was a beautiful girl - she was funny, talented, attractive. How in Merlin's name Hermione had managed to stay a virgin was beyond Harry's comprehension.

'Well, I mean, I've kissed blokes at a bar, and believe me, they tried, but... I'm not as confident as I sometimes seem, Harry. It's a big step.'

'I get it,' Harry nodded. 'There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is a big step, it makes you vulnerable and there's nothing wrong with you not having experience.'

Hermione looked uncertain.

'Are you sure? I mean - I literally have no idea what I'll be doing, and I'm 24, it's actually kind of pathetic...'

'Stop it,' Harry said, irritated by the fact she could think like that. 'You are not pathetic. Don't ever say that again. There is no one in this world I find less pathetic, actually. If you're insecure about it, it's okay to wait. Please don't feel bad about that. And please don't beat yourself up about it - this stuff is personal, Hermione. You don't have to compare yourself with anyone else for once, that's not what intimacy is about.'

He softened his face and smiled at her.

'It's actually no problem at all. We'll kiss and I'm certainly enjoying that, as you've noticed. It was wrong of me to press against you anyway, I wasn't thinking-...'

'No, that's not what I meant by pulling away,' Hermione said, quickly. 'I meant-... I mean, I want to. With you. Right now. When you pressed against me, man, that... I just... I don't have experience, and that kind of frightens me, because I always know what I'm doing, but I do want to move further than kissing tonight. Absolutely. I mean, I've never wanted anything more, to be really honest about it, and...'

A smile grew on Harry's face as he brought her face closer to his.

'Let's set boundaries, then. We won't go all the way right now, we're going to save that moment and make a very special occasion out of it when we're both ready for it. And any other step we're making tonight, we're going to communicate through it, with each other. You tell me if it's okay, and also if it isn't okay. I'll tell you what I like and what I don't like. How does that sound?'

Hermione looked at him with nervous anticipation, which Harry strangely affiliated with Hermione during exam week, but she nodded.

'Okay,' she breathed. 'I can do this. I can do this.'

'Yes, you can,' Harry said. 'Just relax. And when you're not relaxing, we're going to stop. Okay? I want you to enjoy this. Is there anything I should know that you don't feel comfortable with, right away? Certain areas you want me to avoid?'

'No,' Hermione said, shaking a bit. 'If I don't feel comfortable, I'll tell you. I just... Harry, I just want you really bad.'

Harry grinned and tried to pull Hermione in for a kiss, but she stopped him with her hand.

'We should probably silence the room, though. Do you have your wand?'

Harry had to get his wand out of his coat, but he figured it was worth the walk. When he came back, he locked and silenced the room, and comfortably nestled himself on top of Hermione again.

'Just remember,' Harry said, breathing against her skin, 'I really, really do love you.'

'I know,' Hermione replied, and she pulled him in for a kiss again. Harry decided to take it slow, as agonizing as it was, but he wanted to savor every minute of their first contact. He snogged her, until they were both blushing and out of breath, and then he began placing small kisses on her cheek, on her earlobe, on her neck. He roamed his hands through her hair, along her arms, activating her entire body for him. The delay drove him crazy, and he felt himself strain painfully against his trousers, but he was patient.

Surprisingly, Hermione got fed up with his touches first, and grabbed his hands to place them firmly on her covered breasts. Harry chuckled.

'Impatient?'

Hermione didn't reply, but closed her eyes as Harry slowly massaged her breasts. Her jumper was too thick, though, and Hermione quickly agreed to pull it over her head and cast it aside. She wore a black tanktop underneath, that did a way better job at showing of her assets, and Harry smiled as he cupped her breasts through the thinner fabric. Slowly he kissed the exposed flesh, tasting her skin with small french kisses, and Hermione gasped. One hand sneaked under her top and then under her bra, and he felt her already stiffened nipple against the palm of his hand.

Gosh, she is incredible, he thought, as he felt her wriggle under his touch.

Hermione finally pulled her top over her head too, and loosened her bra, exposing her breasts to him. They were wonderful, with darker nipples, which fascinated him as he had never seen that before. He kissed them softly, massaging them and taking the time to suckle gentle on each of them. Hermione panted, and moaned, and rubbed her legs together.

'Too much clothes,' she breathed, finally, pulling at Harry's jumper. 'Get it off.'

Harry planted one more kiss on her lips before he disregarded his jumper and T-shirt in one go. He felt slightly insecure suddenly, even though he was with Hermione for goodness sake, but that quickly faded when he saw the look of pure admiration on her face.

'When in Merlin's name did that happen to you?'

'Did what happen to me?' Harry asked, feeling a blush creep up on his cheek.

'That... You know... You've got muscles!'

'Obviously,' Harry said. 'I think I should have been diagnosed with a severe illness by now if I didn't have any muscles.'

'Yeah but, this... Oh my God, you've got abs?'

Harry laughed loudly and looked down at his belly.

'Well, I am slightly tensing right now...'

'Oh I'm sure you are,' Hermione teased. 'You didn't have that when we were in the tent!'

'Work has forced me to do a lot of cardio, what can I say. I need to be in good shape to catch all those crazy pureblood fanatics. Do you... Do you like it?'

'Do I like it?! Merlin, Harry. Come here!'

Harry chuckled as Hermione tried to devour his face.

'Easy, Hermione. Easy!'

'Sorry,' she said. 'But this is just so exciting! I'll go slow, I will, just... Okay, kissing first. Just like you did.'

Harry nodded to her, amused, as she was clearly taking every bit of Harry's movements in as notes as if she were preparing for another set of OWL's. He reciprocated the kiss, as she caught him in her arms, and he let her take control. She was actually very sweet, kissing his forehead and his scar, his nose, a place behind his ear that Harry had no idea was that sensitive. Damn, Hermione was good. He knew she was thorough but he never knew she'd take it all that seriously!

She kissed his Adam's apple and his chest, softly licking his nipples. He didn't really care for that, but he appreciated the effort, as she began placing her kisses lower and lower and lower. Harry felt an unstoppable warmth build in his body and he knew that he would go crazy with want if she were to tease him for any longer, but then she came up and kissed his lips again. Her right hand slowly began to explore his buckle, and then she put her hand on the very clearly showing bulge in his pants. Harry groaned, already loving the friction, and Hermione let out a inquisitive "oh!".

'What?' Harry managed to ask.

'It's hard.'

'Yes. That's what penises do if a girl is doing a good job.'

'I know. It's just... Interesting.'

'Interesting? Blimey Hermione, I'm not some study object of yours...'

'Oh, aren't you?'

Hermione chuckled and kissed that sensitive space behind his ear again. Harry gasped and pressed into Hermione's open palm more.

'I love getting good critiques.'

'Hmm, will you get on with it, you bloody sadist,' he groaned.

She began to move up and down, but the fabric was making it hard for Harry to get the entire sensation.

'I... I want to take off my jeans,' Harry said. 'Is that okay?'

Hermione nodded excitedly and wanted to help Harry get out of his trousers, but he wanted to be quick and used his wand. She grinned.

'Someone's a little eager.'

She placed her hand back again, and gasped at how she felt Harry pulsate through the thin, black fabric. When she tentatively began to stroke up and down, Harry moaned and pulled Hermione closer, burying his head in the nape of her neck.

'Too much?'

'Absolutely not,' Harry gritted. She stroked him for a few minutes, unsure of what to do, but Harry wanted to give her the time to explore his body without him making any comments, no matter how worked up he was.

'I want to remove them too, if that's okay,' Hermione said almost breathlessly. Harry nodded against her, and held his breath when he felt her slowly pull down the elastics of his underpants.

'Oh... Oh wow,' she said. 'I've never seen... Well, obviously I have, but never one actually in front of me...'

Harry stifled back a snicker, with a lot of effort, and refrained from commentating. She carefully brought her fingers to his member, and then she squealed.

'It's soft!'

'No, it's pretty hard,' Harry assured her.

'That's not what I mean - it's hard but it feels... The skin, it feels really nice... Oh wow!'

And then Harry couldn't take it anymore. He felt laughter erupt from his chest and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't control it.

'What is it?' Hermione asked, confused, but Harry literally split his sides. It was so awkward, so absurd, and he loved her being such a dork so immensely, that he couldn't possible hold back. After a few seconds Hermione joined in, and that made him laugh even more.

'You are amazing, Hermione. Absolutely amazing,' he said, wiping away a tear that stung the corner of his eye. 'Oh my God. I have never heard such amazing comments on my penis. Please never change. Please.'

'Well, it is soft. You don't expect a rock-hard dick to be soft now, right? It's weird.'

'It's absolutely not soft, Hermione-...'

'It feels soft!'

'It's just skin,' Harry exclaimed, having sore cheeks from all the laughing. 'What did you expect? Scales? Spikes? Sandpaper? Or maybe-...'

He elicited a deep, guttural moan as she took him in her hand firmly.

'There, that shuts you up,' Hermione laughed, amused. She started to stroke up and down, pulling back the foreskin lightly. Harry stopped her for a moment, spit in his hand and stroked himself a couple of times.

'Is it better when it's wet?'

Harry nodded, concentrating on her returning fingers. She quickly found a rhythm that he liked, and it didn't take him more than a few minutes to reach his climax. He cried out her name, like he had in his dreams, but as the stars in front of his eyes waned, he couldn't help but feel that his dreams didn't even come close to how amazing it was with her.

Harry quickly used his wand to vanish his seed from their bodies, and Hermione pulled him in for a long, seemingly everlasting kiss. They were still on the sofa, Harry's legs getting slightly sore from the awkward position, so he stood up and took Hermione's hands in his.

'I would very much like to touch you now, if that's okay.'

Hermione nodded, answering his kiss, as she felt him remove her trousers. He undressed her, until she was just as bare as he was, and he pulled her closely against him. They stood in front of the fireplace, skin to skin, his head resting on hers, and he felt so vulnerable and exposed, but at the same time, he felt nothing but complete, he felt wanted. He had never experienced it so intensely as in that moment, and it was absolutely perfect.

Then, he softly turned her around, and he sat back on the bench, having her on his lap. He slowly kissed the nape of her neck, moved his hands to her breasts, and slightly rubbed her nipples. Hermione closed her eyes and leaned in to him, tossing against him, as he made sure to pay all the attention that he could to her body. He felt her arousal slowly trickling on his leg and his member twitched slightly. Hermione made wonderful sounds as he caressed her body, and he carefully made his way to her lower regions, dipping his fingers softly in the wet surface. Hermione tensed a bit at his touch.

'Are you okay?' he asked. 'Tell me if it's too much.'

Hermione nodded.

'I just feel so... exposed.'

'Maybe a different position?' he suggested. 'Or shall we go to sleep?'

'NO,' Hermione almost yelled. 'Dear heaven above, I want this. I really do. I'm not scared, I just... I think it's the position, yes.'

Harry chuckled at her reaction and helped her stand up from his lap, then he laid down in front of the fireplace.

'Better?'

She lay beside him, nodded, and when he touched her folds again, she did not flinch.

'I just want to see you,' she said, softly. 'To know it's you.'

'Like this?' he said, bringing his face close to her, kissing her face.

'Yes. Like that.'

He slowly explored her body, and decided that he would not insert his fingers, but just touch her until she would come apart in front of him. He enjoyed looking at her so much, and it felt so right to watch how her eyebrows clenched when he slowly rubbed his fingers over her sensitive spot, when she would let out a silent "oh" every time he brushed through her exposed folds. Slowly, he began circling her little nub, and Hermione had trouble keeping her eyes shut, which fascinated him greatly. Hermione, surrendering - that was a rare sight. Finally, she decided she needed to feel him near her, so she dug her nails into his back, while he stroked her gently, circling and circling and circling, driving her over the edge with every soft motion of his fingers. Hermione was loud, he found out, as she couldn't hold back moans when he was halfway through pleasing her, and was positively screaming on top of her lungs when he reached her climax, her nails digging painfully in his back. When she came undone she shuddered and squealed and yelled, and then her eyes went from hazy to clear, and she looked at him, and jumped his bones.

Harry laughed as he felt her attack him with appreciation and lust and love, so much love, as their limbs entangled on the floor.

'I have the faintest idea that you probably liked that, huh,' he said, extremely proud of himself, being showered in her kisses.

'I feel like I'm dying and I feel like I can climb a mountain at the same time,' she sighed. 'I have no idea how you managed to do that. I can't do that.'

She got off of him and spread her limbs over the carped. He smiled at her, cheekily.

'Don't worry, I'll gladly do it again.'

'Not today, you're not. Oh Merlin.'

Harry grinned and pulled her in for a kiss. He cast another scourgify on Hermione and his fingers and collected their clothes.

'Let's go to bed. It's - oh damn, it's half past two.'

'Yes, we have to rise early tomorrow.'

They put back on some of their clothes for good measure, tidied the lounge, put out the fireplace and shut off the gramophone. After brushing their teeth, they got into bed together, both just wearing a top and their underwear. Harry couldn't believe that two days ago, he and Hermione had agreed to not kiss again. That it would ruin their friendship. Now they had done so, so much more, and weirdly enough, he wasn't worried at all. It felt good, it felt safe, it felt incredible. He pulled her into his arms, spooning her, as Crookshanks jumped on their bed with an approving purr.

'Thank you for being so sweet,' Hermione said, softly.

'Thank you for being so amazing,' he countered. 'And just don't forget, I really, really love you.'

Harry couldn't see her face, but he imagined she was smiling.

'I really, really love you too, Harry.'

'So, to over-complicate things, aside from the title "best friend", "heroine to the Wizarding World" and "fake fiancee", would it be alright if I started calling you my girlfriend as well?' he heard himself ask. God knew where he got the courage from, but he did, and he held his breath when he waited for her answer.

'Oh, Harry. Of course.'

And she melted against his lips one more time, before they fell asleep.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 10: How Hermione loved receiving an early Christmas present

The scent.

The scent was the first thing she noticed, when she slowly drifted out of a very comforting slumber. It wasn't all that pleasant - it was a typical morning smell, after all, but somewhere in between the smells of drool and fast sleep, she smelt that. An intense smell, that made her stomach go crazy with want, and butterflies, and do somersaults like there was no tomorrow. Harry's smell. She had smelt it all her life, but never like this, never mixed in with the other scents she was so familiar with, and it thrilled her. Then she became aware of her hands, that were laying on a very comfortably breathing chest, pressed up against soft cotton. She felt a strong arm around her, hanging loosely on her waist, fingers faintly peeking under her tank-top and caressing her hipbone. Their embrace was tight, but not so tight as to be uncomfortable, and Hermione sighed so deeply, that she felt light-headed for a moment.

So, this was real, she thought. Yesterday night wasn't the most vivid and amazing dream I've ever had. I actually did that with him. We were kissing, we were... touching. He saw me naked, he was able to touch me right there, and I didn't freak out.

If she only dared to open her eyes... Harry's right hand, that had laid on his stomach, moved to his chest and found hers. He intertwined their fingers, made a soft murmur, and fell silent again.

It was real. It was very, very real, and she didn't want to waste one moment not looking at him.

Harry smiled in his sleep. He looked a lot younger when he was so relaxed, and for a moment it was like Harry had never been "The Chosen One". He was a young adult, who looked extremely cute with that feint smile playing around the corners of his mouth, a slight stubble growing on his chin. He seemed happy, like she had never seen him before, and that filled her with an intense joy. That joy exponentially increased when she realized that - hold on! - she was the reason for his happiness. She felt like singing.

Hermione had been in love with Harry her entire life. It was a cliché, it was bad, it was wrong, but from the moment that little boy with the big green eyes had thought of her first when he realized a giant troll was roaming through the school, she knew that what they had, was special. Her entire life, up until that point, had consisted of being bullied and being singled out. She was used to it, had tried to create a thick skin at a very young age, but there was a glimmer of hope inside that little girl that when she would go to Hogwarts, she would finally belong. Up until Halloween she'd had bad luck. No one accepted her, people laughed at her for wanting to achieve academical success, and she seriously contemplated if she wouldn't have been a better fit for Ravenclaw, but then the troll incident happened. The two boys that she had tried to befriend, had come to her aid, and the fact that Harry had thought of her first, made her little twelve year old heart soar. She developed a childish crush at first, but quickly decided to not let a single soul know of her deepest secrets. That childish crush developed into something more, a lot more, and when she was fourteen, panicking about Sirius Black and Harry's safety, she knew that this was not something that would simply pass over.

If Hermione had known that she was just "in love", she wouldn't have freaked out so much. Being in love was easy. It was something she could rationalize - these were chemicals that made her do crazy things and it would fade over time. It had with Viktor, it had with a few boys from primary school, it had with that summer romance she met when she was on vacation in France with her parents. What she felt with Harry, was absolutely a lot worse than being in love. It was deeper, it was a connection she could not ignore nor rationalize, and it drove her completely insane. She cared more about Harry than she cared about herself, most of the time, and it scared the hell out of her. This wasn't normal. Being in love with someone made her want to kiss and hold hands and go on a date. Being close to Harry made her want to give up everything she held dear in order to help him or be with him. She fought it sometimes, scolding herself for how completely idiotic it was to get so influenced by a boy, but over the course time, she'd accepted it. It would be Harry - it would always be Harry, and that was fine.

She knew Harry didn't experience the same feelings. Obviously he remained Harry - he was gentle, considerate and appreciative most of the time, but he was completely oblivious. When she noticed that Harry became interested in girls, most noticeably other girls, she felt defeated and heartbroken for some time, but then she decided to move on. The relationship she and Harry had was great: it was a deeply rooted affection and love that she had always wanted to experience with someone and the fact that it was not romantic or sexual, did not make it any less valuable. She made peace with it. She would never marry her best friend, the only person she had that connection with, but she would be able to experience his closeness in almost every other way and that was all that mattered.

So, she turned her attention to other boys, and Ron was the first available option to her. She knew he liked her, with his teasing and his protectiveness, and somewhere that felt like a safe option. He was loyal, she knew that, and he truly cared a lot about her. Their relationship had almost ended in shambles, though. Aside from the fact that she did not want to be intimate with him - it grossed her out - Ron was too insecure for his own sanity to date her. He had always been in their shadow, and having to face the death of his brother, he couldn't take one more minute of not being fist place to someone, his grief was just too raw. Hermione had agreed - Ron deserved someone who thought the world of him, who would always put him before their own needs. She hadn't been able to provide that for him. He simply wasn't the most important person in her life. Harry was, and Harry had always been.

Their last fight had been memorable. Ron and Harry, both in auror-training, had traveled to Hogsmeade to be with their still-studying girlfriends. It was awkward: Harry and Ginny were clearly still on their post-war high, and Hermione and Ron - not some much. They'd separated their ways, Harry and Ginny obviously sneaking off somewhere to share a good snog, and she and Ron had been alone. They searched out an empty alleyway, and exploded at each other, insulting and swearing at the other until all their resentments had cleared. She finally admitted to Ron that she did not love him like he loved her, and that that was extremely unfair, and that he deserved to be happy. He had listened this time, and he had pulled her in for a hug, and they had both cried.

'I am so, so sorry Ron,' she sniffled against his shoulder. 'I want to be this person that you want me to be, but I just can't...'

'And I can't be the person that person for you either,' he said, sympathetically. 'You are brilliant, Hermione, just the way you are. It's just that we can't work together.'

'No,' Hermione said. 'We're making each other very unhappy.'

'We're driving each other nuts,' Ron agreed, and then they both laughed.

'This is going to be so hard,' Hermione said, biting her lip, but Ron shook his head.

'This is going to be as hard as we're going to make it for ourselves. I've had enough hardship for the past year, I won't allow us to dilly-dally. We're going to tell everyone that we're just friends, and we're going to make the most of it. I will always love you deeply, Hermione. You know that.'

'And I will always love you,' Hermione agreed, wiping away her tears. 'Thank you for... everything.'

'Thank you,' Ron smiled. 'We needed this. It would have always been that "could it have been"-question between us. It's good we've tried it, right?'

Hermione nodded, but then Ron's face turned serious again.

'It's Harry, isn't it?'

'Wh-what?' Hermione stammered.

'The reason why you can't commit to anyone. I'm right. It's Harry. It's always been Harry. Am I wrong?'

Hermione felt her heart sink. Her breathing increased and she didn't want to look her friend in the eye.

'Talk to him, Hermione. Please. Before he proposes to Gin and you will always regret not having said anything. Don't torture yourself. I know you never put your own needs first, but you deserve to let your feelings out. Harry will decide what to do with it.'

'I can't,' she whispered back. 'He doesn't feel that way, Ron.'

'You don't know that.'

'I do-...'

'You've never talked about it. You don't, Hermione. I think he likes you a lot more than he realizes, but he is being holding it in as well. Because he values you too much, just as you do for him. Don't withhold his chance of speaking up for himself, just because you've decided that it would be too hard for him. You are the strongest woman I know, but you don't always need to be strong. That thick-skin needs to go sometime, Hermione. You'll regret it otherwise.'

The words had always stayed with her, but she had made her choice. If Harry felt like that, he should discover that on his own terms, and she wouldn't interfere with that. It was his journey and whether he would feel the same at some point in her life or he wouldn't, she would continue to support him as his best friend, because that's what she was.

The last couple of years it became clear to her that nothing would ever change. Harry was single for a couple of years now. In the beginning he'd bring some one night stands home (and Ginny offered to pose as his girlfriend to recover from the harassment that he faced from the Daily Prophet), but that had faded as well. She'd expected him to make a move right then, but when she was with him, it was still familiar, reliable Harry. Nothing changed. And with that, all the hope she had harbored vanished. It didn't even sting as much any more. She was used to it, and she still got to be close to him, laugh with him, banter with him. Life was fine and she was happy, in her own way.

But then the engagement happened. Touching Harry was always nice, but when they had kissed that first time, surrounded by family, she thought she had died and gone to heaven. A moment later she realized it was all a ruse, but still - his touch lingered on her, and even though she knew she needed to give Harry a stern talking, she secretly reveled in the memory of his closeness. The next kisses had driven her mildly insane, and it had cost her a lot of pain to suggest to Harry to stop this all together, but she knew it was the right thing. Harry doesn't feel that way, she reminded herself. He's just trying to help you out and you are taking advantage of him. You are the worst friend in the world if you keep this up, just because it's what you crave.

And now... Yesterday happened. Christmas Eve. The most happy Christmas Eve of her life, certainly. He had kissed her, he had told her he loved her, he had done all those wonderful things to her body in front of that fireplace. He had allowed her to touch him, to ask questions, to be intimate and vulnerable. And, she recalled, he asked me to be his girlfriend.

She was Harry Potter's girlfriend. She was Harry Potter's girlfriend. SHE WAS HARRY POTTER'S GIRLFRIEND. She wanted to scream it from the rooftops.

She raised her head and looked at him, the boy that lay against her, and she slowly kissed his jawline, as that was the only thing she could reach in this awkward angle. Her heart danced, her mind soared. This was real. Harry Potter was hers, finally, and she would try her hardest to make this relationship as successful as she could. She wouldn't lose him.

'Stop staring at me,' Harry mumbled, gently pushing Hermione's head down.

'I can't help it,' Hermione whispered back. 'You just look so amazing. In my bed.'

Harry chuckled.

'Yeah, I feel pretty smug myself. Can I get a good morning kiss?'

Hermione grinned and obliged happily, crawling on top of him. His mouth was nice and firm, his body feeling comforting and solid underneath her. She placed her legs on the outside of Harry's thighs, and when she connected with his lower body, she felt him. She'd never recognized it before, but now she did. Goodmorning indeed, Mister Potter, she thought, with a slight grin on her face. The hardness both excited and interested her, and she ground slowly against him, making Harry moan in the middle of her kiss. She liked that response, she liked that very much, so she repeated her movement and felt Harry's member grow firmer and firmer with each stroke she made. It made her feel intensely powerful and she liked that.

'You're driving me insane, Hermione,' Harry rasped. She broke the kiss to look at his eyes, that were clouded with lust, and she grinned. Yesterday, they had unleashed a monster, but there was no way she was going to reign it in today.

She grabbed her wand from the nightstand, redid the silencing charm on their door, and began rubbing against him more intensely. Harry now matched her movements, digging his fingers in her hips, as he kissed her deeply and eagerly. She wanted to feel him so badly, and she stopped for a moment to lift Harry's T-shirt from his head. He quickly did the same to her, latching his mouth unto her nipple immediately as the flesh was exposed, tracing circles with his tongue. She moved against him again, but Harry stopped her, turning her on her back with a quite smooth swoop.

'My turn to drive you crazy,' he said with a low baritone, that made her insides squirm. 'Tell me when I'm going too far, okay?'

'You won't,' she said, thinking that the pure bliss that Harry caused her last night was all she wanted to experience again. 'I'm quite certain, you won't.'

And she was right. Harry kissed her face, her neck, her breasts and her stomach, until she thought her skin couldn't get anymore sensitive, his stubble scraping over her skin like the most subtle massage. Then he slowly traced his fingers over her panties and she heard herself make a very embarrassing noise. He slowly drew his index finger in straight lines, up, down, up, down, alongside her opening, soaking the wetness of her core into the fabric of her underwear. It felt so good, so intense, but then again not intense enough, and just when she wanted to plead for him to remove her goddamn knickers for crying out loud, she gently felt something else touching her panties. Harry's tongue.

Oh my God, Hermione thought. Harry softly kissed her privates, being covered by just the flimsiest bit of cotton, and Hermione didn't know if she would be able to take it. On the other hand, she wanted to feel his mouth against her skin, against her skin right there, and she brought her hands towards her underwear to pull it down.

'Oh, I guess someone's ready for the next step,' Harry laughed, but Hermione didn't reciprocate. She wanted him. Lust was serious business.

She thought she had gone mad when she felt Harry plant a very gentle kiss. Then one more, one more, and slowly, his tongue started to open up her folds. It was a very weird feeling, but definitely a good one. She could get used to this. He slowly lapped at her core, taking his time to taste her for the first time, spreading her open for him with his fingers. He was so tender, so goddamn considerate, and his tongue gradually drove her more and more insane, until her entire back arched and she screamed bloody murder. Harry paused for a moment, looking up at her mischievously, and when she settled herself down, he continued. He continued. Hermione wanted to stop him, tell him she couldn't possibly take it, but soon she felt that heat build in her body again and she rolled her eyes back into her head.

'Yesss,' she hissed, placing her hand in Harry's hair, slowly pushing him deeper. Harry obliged, now using one finger to stroke soft rounds on her sensitive nub, and Hermione thought she was bursting. She came again, unexpectedly quick, and yanked at Harry's hair, driving her fingers deep into his skull. Harry groaned against her core, waiting for her orgasm to subside, and then continued again.

'Harry, no, I can't, I really-...'

'You can,' he said, softly. 'And you will.'

Their eyes met - his emerald green eyes, looking so differently without his spectacles - were burning through her soul. Hermione gave in, leaning into the pillows once more, and Harry now lifted one arm under her body, so he could position her better. His administrations were quicker, more adamant this time, and his other hand slowly circled her entrance. Slowly he pushed one finger inside, while he suckled gentle on her post sensitive spot. It felt so weird to have Harry's finger inside of her, but it was also amazing and anything she ever wanted. He curled his finger upwards, familiarizing himself with her body, and suddenly he hit something that sent a jolt to her core. She moaned, deeply, and she felt Harry chuckle against her. His finger, grazing that spot again and again and again, and his tongue and lips idolizing her core, were simply too much. Hermione saw literal stars this last time, body trembling and contracting, and when her climax left her shaking, she felt Harry envelop his arms round her.

'You okay?'

She had no idea where she was, but she knew that she was with Harry, so she nodded, as he smiled and tenderly brought her face towards his and pulled her in for a kiss.

Harry tasted like her, she realized. It was a weird taste, but it was very exciting, and she tried to participate as much in the kiss as her love-drunken state would allow her.

'Merry Christmas, Hermione,' he chuckled confidently. 'This was my first gift of the day. The other you'll find under the tree.'

'Hmm,' she replied, pulling herself as close to him as she could. 'I doubt it will be as good.'

'I've tried me best, actually,' he said. 'You'll see.'

'I want to thank you properly though,' she decided, quickly. 'I want to make you feel good too.'

'Oh, what makes you think you haven't?'

She finally managed to push some of her post-orgasm high out of her head and looked at him smugly.

'It's not the same. Let me get you off.'

'Tonight,' Harry whispered. 'We're late for breakfast already.'

'But you're... You know... Ready for action,' Hermione said, surprised.

Harry laughed and kissed her temple.

'Hermione, you'd be surprised at how many times I'm ready for action. If I'd actually do something all those times, I'd have blisters on my dick.'

Hermione rolled her eyes and stomped his arm.

'Right, I know a nice compromise, then. We'll take a shower together, and if you can make me keep my hands off you-...'

Harry shook his head, laughing loudly.

'Noooo, lady. You need to learn that you don't owe me anything. Believe me: I enjoyed this immensely. I've got a number of mental images that are going to keep me very busy this Christmas dinner, and that's enough for now. We don't want Aunty Penelope to wait that long just because we, you know. Discovered this.'

He kissed her again and jumped out of bed, with a very visible hard-on in his boxershorts. He winked at her.

'But I will definitely take that offer on that shower sometime. That sounds really hot.'

He playfully pulled his boxers down, giving her full view of his erection, and walked into the adjoining bathroom. Hermione sprung up and slammed her hands on the closed door.

'Ever thought about the fact that I also get satisfied from getting you off, idiot?'

She heard him laugh and turn the shower on.

'Harry, I need to pee!'

She heard a deep sigh and then the sound of a spell opening a lock.

'Well, here comes the awkward first moment,' Harry said from behind the shower curtains. 'I'm gonna hear you pee. That's always a milestone. Kind of frightening we've accomplished that in less than 24 hours of getting together.'

'We got engaged minus a month before getting together,' Hermione replied, amused. 'We're not exactly a normal couple.'

She cleaned herself up and flushed the toilet, then opened the shower curtain.

'What are you doing? I told you-...'

'I am just as stubborn as you are, Potter. And it is actually quicker to shower together. Make some room, will you?'

Harry snorted, pulled her close and gave her a big kiss on her cheek.

'Fine. I love you, by the way.'

'I love you too.'

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 11: How Harry made Hermione burst into tears over her Christmas present and how Hermione helped Aunty Penelope snowball him in the face

When Hermione got downstairs that Christmas Morning, her mother was quick to take her aside to "set the table". She could hear by the tone of her voice that this was clearly not about Christmas breakfast and for a few moments she feared that she had miscast her Muffliato.

'So,' her mother said, after the usual "slept well?", "Merry Christmas, dear!" and some forgettable comment about the weather, 'do I need to see my optician a bit sooner than I anticipated, or are you and Harry pretending to be engaged a bit too convincingly?'

A preferred response would have been something along the lines of "My love-life is none of your business, mom" or "Indeed, Harry and I have decided to take our relationship to the next level" or even "Harry asked me to be his girlfriend yesterday evening and I couldn't have asked for a more thrilling start of our relationship", but grown-up Hermione decided not to show up that morning. Instead, Hermione turned beet red, and giggled.

Hermione never giggled. Giggling was about as non-Hermione-like as it could possible get. But still, here she was, acting like a bloody school girl. She blamed Harry's tongue for melting her brain to a non-functioning puddle.

Her mother watched her with pursed lips, stifling a broad smile and nodded.

'I see. Well, let me just say that I am thrilled for you. Harry is an absolute sweetheart and he obviously worships the ground you walk on. As he should be, might I add. He might be the first man that is actually worth of dating my smart, beautiful, heroic daughter.'

Hermione smiled humbly.

'He was actually very sweet about it, mom. He asked me to date him near the fireplace last night.'

That was not completely true, naturally, but she couldn't tell her what actually transpired there. Her mother smiled mysteriously.

'Your father and I were wondering why it took both of you so long to come upstairs. We heard some rumbling, then Harry got something out his coat and it was followed by a deafening silence. Too deafening, if you ask me. But that explains at least a part of it, I suppose.'

Hermione's redness, that had subsided a bit, returned in full force. She saw her mom smile victoriously while she rearranged the napkins.

'I think that's it, dear. Do you want me to tell your father or will you do that yourself?'

Breakfast went great. Her mother did not waste another word on what they had discussed earlier, but instead served roasted buns and feast bread. Harry helped Jerome making five poached eggs and served crispy bacon. Aunty Penelope amused them with a delightful story about how Uncle Geoffrey managed to lose his dentures on Christmas Day and it wasn't until the 30th of December before they were found - in the freezer.

After that, they decided it was time for presents. They sat around the tree, sharing gifts - she loved seeing the surprised look on Harry's face, as he received gifts from all family members, and a few extra ones for good measure. She knew Harry still wasn't used to getting presents. The moment Aunty Penelope gave him expensive cufflinks that had belonged to her late-husband, Harry stood up to hug her tightly and she saw him holding on to her a little longer than he normally would. Harry tried very hard to not show how touched he was when he sat down.

Hermione had given him two tickets for England's first qualification Quidditch game for the next World Cup. She'd clarified that she expected him to bring Ron or Ginny, because they would actually appreciate the game, but Harry said that he needed someone closer to him to withstand the horror that would probably be another nightmarish debacle for England's team. She knew it was another excuse for Harry to spend more time with her, but she appreciated the gesture a lot. Aunty Penelope did ask what "Quidditch" was, but Harry explained it was a sport he was quite fond of, and that was enough explanation for the old woman, who was munching down on Harry's cookies like it was no tomorrow.

Then she got a thick, bookshaped-like parcel from Harry. She usually got books from Harry, which she loved, because he had a very good hunch about what she actually liked.

'I hope you won't get mad,' Harry said, when she pulled on the big ribbon.

'Mad?' Hermione said, laughing. 'Why would I get mad at you? I'm sure you've chosen a very-...'

The wrapping came off. Hermione fell silent, and she held her breath. No. No, he had not.

'Harry, I can't-... You haven't-...' Her fingers dragged over the cover, tracing the lines of the Runes. It was the same book. It was the same book.

'What is it?' mom asked, concerned.

'Well, when Hermione and I were in Skopje last spring...'

Hermione felt herself rise up from the floor, like she was being controlled by someone else, and with the book tightly held against her chest, she left the room. She stood in front of the stairs, with labored breath, tears stinging in the corners of her eyes. He couldn't have. He couldn't have. Soon she heard footsteps - familiar footsteps, as she would recognize the rhythm of his step anytime.

'Harry, I can't accept this,' she heard herself say. 'It's too much. The whole reason why I decided against it, was because it cost a month's worth of my salary at the very least, and even then-...'

'Calm down,' he soothed, as he stood behind her. Hermione couldn't bear herself to turn around, but she held the book against her heart, as if it could protect her.

'Face me, Hermione. Please.'

She didn't move. Harry fidgeted behind her and finally spoke up.

'I mean this well, okay? I told you: if you can't stop thinking about it, buy it. And since you couldn't shut up about it, our entire trip, I did, because I don't care how much it costs-...'

'Harry,' she interceded, but he ignored her.

'You told me it's the only known version of this book that you've seen outside of a library. It's nowhere to be found in England, only outlines of it, and they don't cover the most important details. This scripture will help with your work, with our work, I actually think I did a great favor to our society by investing my money into buying this for you.'

'I don't care Harry - it's too much! It's too much. You have to return it, somehow.' She turned around and looked him in the eye.

'Fine,' Harry said, angrily. 'No problem. Let's just go the Department of Magical Transportation and bother them with making another portkey for us, so we can go back to Skopje's version of Diagon Alley and try to return a book that I've bought this spring. I'm not sure how Percy will handle it, but you know, since he's practically family, I'm sure he won't mind...'

'You bought it during our trip?' she asked, dumbfounded. 'I thought you had gotten it here somehow, by delivery or something... When? I didn't notice you buying it?'

'Yes, I bought it during the trip! As I said, if you can't stop blabbering about it, buy it. So when we returned to that store the last day, and you were still so obsessed with it - don't you remember? You nearly cried when you had to leave it behind, you were so devastated! So I made up some excuse to lead you to another part of the store and then I sneaked back and bought it. Because I wanted to make you happy.'

'But, Harry... I'm just... I'm just not...'

She couldn't bring herself to say it, but the fact that he had spend more than 175 galleons on a book, made no sense to her.

Not on a book, a voice inside her head said. He didn't spend that much on a book. He spend it on you.

'You're not what?' Harry asked, demanding. 'Hermione, you said so yourself, that even though it was much, it was actually really cheap for the value of the work. Didn't you?'

'I did, but...'

'And you said that it was an absolute work of art in pristine condition-...'

'I did, Harry...'

'I enchanted it so your parents and Aunty Penelope aren't able to read it, so don't worry about that either, okay? It's just... I'd hoped... Why don't you like it?'

She shivered.

'I can't believe you spend so much money on me, Harry. It feels really... Really...'

She couldn't finish her sentence, but Harry nodded and sighed.

'I thought so. Open it. I think you should read what I wrote on the inside.'

She opened the book, at the first page, and saw that Harry had scribbled something in with pencil.

"12-05-2003
Dear Hermione,
You are worth every knut.
I couldn't have done it without you,
your support and your kindness.
You help me so much more than you realize.
Thank you for everything.

Harry."

'You wrote this in Skopje already,' she said, tracing over the date.

'Yes. I contemplated on giving it for your birthday, but I always take you out for dinner and I thought that would kind of been an overkill...'

'You wrote in a book, that's probably over 500 years old, that's known for being an exceptionally rare edition, to tell me that I'm worth every knut.'

'Because you are,' Harry emphasized. 'And I hope you read it every time you open it up from now on, so it can actually sink in. I meant what I wrote, and I still mean it today. You are amazing, Hermione. I have no idea why you doubt yourself so much sometimes. Will you just let me spoil you, for once?'

Against her will, she felt tears building up in her eyes again, but this time they felt a lot more pleasant. Tears of joy, maybe? Tears of love - definitely.

'Thank you,' she whispered, softly, and as she leaned into him, she felt his arms around her and a firm kiss on her forehead.

'You stubborn, obstinate, insanely gorgeous idiot,' she heard him mumble. She chuckled, and he wiped away her tears, and then he brought his face to hers with a tender nudge of his finger and they kissed. They kissed lovingly, and longingly, and as their tongues slowly slumbered together, Hermione let out a satisfied sigh.

'Ah - everything seems to be alright then,' her dad's voice suddenly boomed through the hallway, clearing his throat. 'Just wanted to check if an upcoming marriage wasn't falling to ruin. If you've found each other's tonsils, would you please return to the Christmas tree, so we can unpack the last presents?'

'Dad!' Hermione said, shocked, but she heard Harry cackle.

'Of course, Mister Granger.'

'Call me Mister Granger once more instead of Jerome and I might just revoke my permission for your betrothal,' her father said, cheekily, and then he went back inside.

Harry and Hermione shared a look and then burst into laughter, before walking back into the lounge as well.

The rest of the day went great. After the presents, they decided to make a nice Christmas stroll around Aunty Penelope's property - they all went walking, except for Aunty Penelope, who asked Hermione to push her wheelchair - and it wasn't long before Harry and Jerome broke out into a snowball fight. Harry threw a lot better than her old father, but he didn't back down, and when her mother came to aid, Harry was positively pummeled with snow balls left and right. Hermione wanted to come to his rescue, but then Aunty Penelope pulled her aside and she agreed to make snowballs for her old aunt, so she could have her own go at throwing at Harry. For a 77-year old almost blind lady, she had an extremely strong arm. When Hermione made a substantial supply for her aunt, she threw herself in the line of fire with Harry, and they spend the next half hour defending a quickly erected fort. At the end they were all cold, with red-stained faces and snotty noses, but they laughed until their bellies were sore.

Back in the house, her dad made them hot cocoa and Hermione put on her new cozy slippers, that she had gotten from her mom. They passed the time with board games and singing carols, until Harry and Jerome disappeared into the kitchen to prepare dinner. When they finally all sat at the table for dinner, they pulled Christmas Crackers, put on their silly paper hats and read the corny jokes aloud. They dined for hours and hours, sharing anecdotes and small talk, and when Hermione and her mom began with the dishes, it was nearly midnight.

Aunty Penelope went to bed, thanking them thoroughly for an unforgettable day, and they promised they'd still have breakfast together before they'd leave. Hermione came into the living room, finding her dad and Harry having an intense conversation about Quidditch. They spend another thirty minutes talking, but they were both getting tired, and Hermione was determined to still make good on her promise from that morning, so she announced that she and Harry would go upstairs as well.

'So, dad gave you the talk?' she asked, after silencing and locking the room with her wand. Harry grinned.

'I thought he would. I remember Ron being scared out of his wits when he'd had the talk, so I was prepared for something extremely frightening, but he didn't. He just extended his hand to me, said that he was very glad to welcome me into the family and that he trusted me to treat you well, which I promised him I would. That's it.'

'Really?'

'Yep. And he asked if I wanted to stop snogging you in his presence, as you still are "his baby-girl".'

'And what did you reply to that?' she said, with a smirk.

'That I agreed to that, only if he stopped walking in on us.'

They both chuckled and sat down on the bed. It didn't take long for them to abandon their clothes, kissing each other frantically, and Harry pinned Hermione down to eat her out again. Hermione didn't protest as he brought her to her climax twice, and her senses tingled with satisfaction when Harry finally allowed her to touch him. She was careful, curious, cautious, caring. He was nervous, she sensed - he tended to be a lot more nervous when the attention was on him and not on her. She reminded herself to ask him why that was, but not now, not in the spur of the moment. She made a few mistakes: pulling on his foreskin a bit too enthusiastically, which made him wince, and when she first touched his balls, he yelped when she gave them a squeeze.

'Oh, I'm so sorry! Are they sensitive?' she asked, apologetically.

'They're my balls, for Merlin's sake, of course they're sensitive,' Harry teased with a grimace, and he managed to laugh when he saw Hermione's worried face.

'It's fine, Hermione. Really. You're eager, I don't mind that.'

'I didn't know they were that sensitive, you know.'

'Toques exist for a reason,' Harry added, but then he kissed her lustfully. 'You were doing a very good job, though. Please don't stop.'

Hermione decided that getting Harry off was one of her favorite things to do. She loved looking at his expression when she pleasured him, she loved the little sounds she could have him make - moans, pouts, grunts. She loved the feeling of his member in her hand, the pulsating thickness, it felt so alien and still so arousing - it fascinated her immensely and when she found a steady rhythm that Harry really seemed to like, she made a mental note to research on different ways to pleasure a man. She wanted to become as good at this as she possibly could be.

Harry came with a shudder and an intense groan, that filled her body with butterflies. As it was too sensitive to touch him after his orgasm, he told her to let go of him gently, and then they kissed until their lips were sore. Hermione was fulfilled with intense joy and satisfaction when they went to brush their teeth, and then they got into the bed together and snuggled close for warmth.

'I think that was a very good first day as a couple,' Harry said, kissing her knuckles. His emerald eyes were glowing so lovingly, and Hermione reveled in the closeness they felt. It was such a complete, such an overwhelmingly happy feeling...

'I agree,' Hermione sighed, slowly stroking his chest. 'Can't we spend an eternity in this moment? I wouldn't mind.'

'Me neither.'

He kissed her temple, she laid her head on his chest, and she listened to the beating of his heart.

'We need to talk about tomorrow though,' Harry said, waking Hermione up, as she had been dozing off a bit. 'About the Weasley's. What are we going to do? Shall we tell them that we're dating?'

'I think it would be wise to keep it a secret for just a little while,' Hermione decided. 'We need to figure out how this works. It's a very recent development and... Well... You know how they can be, no matter how well-meant the gesture is...'

'I agree,' Harry said. 'Don't get me wrong: I want to tell literally everyone that I've managed to pull my head out of my arse, but let's do that in a few weeks, maybe. Just enjoy it for ourselves first.'

Hermione nodded, shut down the lamp on the nightstand. She gave Harry a goodnight-kiss and hugged him again.

'I also want to wake up early tomorrow to help modify Aunty Penelope's kitchen,' Harry hesitated, his voice filling the dark. 'We can tell her that we've worked on it all night. She's as deaf as a post, she wouldn't have heard it anyway, and it would give her an opportunity to cook again. She's missed that so much... Do you think that's a good idea, Hermione?'

'I think that's really sweet,' Hermione smiled against him. 'That's a great idea, Harry.'

'Okay. I love you, Hermione. Goodnight.'

She told him she loved him too, and when he weaved the fingers on his hand around hers, Hermione fell asleep with a smile still playing on her face.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 12: How Hermione and Harry faced the Weasleys together

It was quite late in the day when Harry and Hermione disapparated from Aunty Penelope's and arrived at The Burrow. It wasn't their fault: after they had risen three hours earlier than planned, they sneaked downstairs to remodel the kitchen to perfectly fit the old woman's requirements. They found a way to make the countertops easily adjustable for different heights, so Aunty Penelope and Alan could manually reset the kitchen to their needs, and they had made sure to make a special seat for Hermione's great-aunt so she had room to rest her tired legs. It took them quite some time to do the Transfiguration properly, especially because it had to be usable for Muggles afterwards, but eventually they succeeded, and when Aunty Penelope came downstairs, she was absolutely astounded - in a very good way. Hermione's mom later told them that no one had seen Aunty Penelope cry since Uncle Geoffrey's funeral, but that day, when she walked into the kitchen, tears freely fell from the old woman's face, as she couldn't stop thanking them. Hermione had cried as well, because she was a goner as soon as anyone else started, but even their parents had a hard time fighting back the tears. Aunty Penelope had insisted they stayed for a proper English breakfast, as she was now able to cook alongside with them, and with their tummies bursting they walked onto The Burrow's lawn, a bit later than they usually would.

'Act as we normally should have,' Hermione reminded Harry, not because she thought he needed reminding, but because she herself needed to say out loud why she wasn't allowed to hold Harry's hand anymore.

'Got'cha,' Harry replied. 'Got the gifts?'

Hermione nodded, and when they neared the front door, they could hear the noise of a big family gathering already in full swing. They shared a understanding look and Harry knocked on the door, only to realize that it was opened already.

'Victoire! Victoire, do not take that cracker from Louise - I will give you a new one! Has anyone seen Molly? Molly?!'

They both chuckled at the roaring voice of Mrs. Weasley, coming from the hallway, and stepped over the threshold.

'I believe you are Molly, Mrs. Weasley,' Harry said, friendly, when they stepped into the living room. It was absolutely packed with people: a very pregnant Fleur and Audrey sat in the corner of the room, talking animatedly together; George, Angelina and Bill had taken a spot in front of the fireplace; Jaana, Ron and Nikki had spread themselves over the couches in the living room and Mister Weasley was busy bouncing a very happy Teddy on his lap, sharing a friendly conversation with Andromeda and Percy. Mrs. Weasley ran around the house, chasing after the three toddlers - the oldest three years old, the youngest one and a half.

'Oh, Harry, dear. And Hermione. We were wondering if you got lost - please, come in, Merry Christmas, of course!' She kissed them both twice on the cheek and then roared "Has anyone seen Molly?!" through the living-room.

'I have her, Molly!' Audrey replied. 'She's here, with me!'

'Oh thank Merlin... Yes, thank you-... LOUISE THAT DOES NOT BELONG IN YOUR MOUTH!'

Louise began crying loudly as Mrs. Weasley yanked a stray wand out of the little girl's mouth.

'Oh, is ze being a bad girl?' Fleur said, standing up. She was quite far along, Hermione remembered that the last baby was probably due end January.

'I've got it, mon chéri. Sit down,' Bill commented and he picked Louise up, which stopped her crying.

'Don't play with Uncle Ron's wand, that's very bad for you. RON, will you please come and retrieve your wand from me and DON'T leave it around for little toddlers to find? Thank you!'

Ron was beet red when he took his wand from Bill and he smiled and greeted Harry and Hermione. Harry with a hug, Hermione with one as well, but not after a very visible hesitation. That would never go away, probably, but she was happy he tried nonetheless.

'Merry Christmas, Hermione.'

'Same for you, Ron. Harry and I got you all some presents to...'

'Oh yes, of course. You can put them under the tree, but make sure Teddy and Victoire don't notice. Last year was the last time in the Weasley-family that we could openly deny the existence of... Well, let's not call him You-Know-Who, but you know who I mean.'

The three of them grinned and they secretively placed their gifts under the tree. Then they shared their Christmas wishes with all the guests. Harry was quickly swept away by a very happy Teddy, who yelled "Uncle Harry!" as soon as he laid his eyes on him. Harry took the boy in his arms, twirled him around and gave him a big cuddle, making the boy cheer with happiness and change his hair-color from dark blue to bright yellow. Hermione loved seeing Harry interacting with Teddy - it was such a naturally loving relationship and the little boy obviously doted on him.

'Where is Ginny?' Hermione asked, settling down with Nicky and Jaana, while she watched how Harry blew air-bubbles against Teddy's cheek, making the boy giggle.

'Oh, she is in the kitchen with Charlie and a girl she brought named Olga,' Nicky said, looking quite nervously.

'A girl?' Hermione asked, interested, looking at Jaana. 'You are still together, right, Jaana?'

Jaana, a beautiful Swedish girl, with stereotypical sea-blue eyes and white-blond hair, laughed out loud.

'Ginny and I are doing fine Hermione, don't worry. No, we invited Olga, she's one of our newest team members and a total elskling. She's originally from Germany, and she had nowhere to stay for the Holidays.'

'Oh,' Hermione said. 'That's very kind of you. She must be overwhelmed, though.'

'Yeah, and that was before Harry came in,' Jaana joked. 'Ginny is thinking of setting them up together, as it's been far too long since Harry's been on a date. She's been hyping Harry up for the last few weeks. Not that she had any trouble doing that, I mean, he is the Chosen One after all... His reputation is known in the entire Wizarding Community, Sweden as well!'

Hermione felt her throat go completely dry, like sandpaper, as she watched Harry settling on the couch with Teddy and a picture book. As Harry read the pages to him, he mimicked the expressions and hair color of the recurring characters and he looked absolutely adorable. She didn't notice Nicky looking at her intensely.

At the same moment, Ginny and Charlie emerged from the kitchen, both carrying a tray with pastries. Then, just seconds behind, came Olga. Hermione immediately felt her stomach tighten.

Olga was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. She had long, strawberry blonde hair, big, enchanting green eyes, and when she laughed with her nice, full lips, she had a dimple in both cheeks. She was well formed as well, wearing a red-dress that clung tightly to her body and left nothing to the imagination. She wore a fluffy Christmas Santa hat. Hermione saw Ginny nudging Olga in the arm and gesturing to Harry with her plate. The approving expression on Olga's face made Hermione flinch.

You have nothing to fear, a strong voice in her head said. Harry is sweet, loyal, and caring. He won't be impressed by this... Busty... Bimbo.

But then there was another voice in her head, a voice that Hermione had been very familiar with for her entire life, that told her something completely different. She pursed her lips, dug her fingernails in her palms, and laughed amicably when Ginny sat down with them and shared her plate with pastries. Her mask came on and was immediately fully operating. Hermione knew this territory. She had been accustomed to it for 12 years. So she went on a rant about goblin laws, and how she had trouble communicating with them because they found out that she had been part of the group that destroyed the Lestrange Vault, and that she was looking for a mediator. As soon as she spoke the words, her eyes drew her to Bill, that was trying his best to restrain a wrestling Louise. Of course! She excused herself, but Nicky stood up alongside her.

'I told Gin that it's bad timing,' she said under her breath. 'Harry has told me about the fake proposal. How are you holding up?'

Nicky's piercing eyes revealed that Ron had told her about Hermione's feelings for Harry.

'I'm fine,' Hermione said, dismissively.

'Harry likes you, he does. More than you know-...'

'I know,' Hermione replied. 'We've... We're in a good place, Nicky. Don't worry.'

Nicky tilted her head.

'Oh? A good place, huh?'

'Not here,' Hermione pressed. 'But thanks, Nicky. You are a good friend.'

Nicky nodded, pretended to go to the loo, and Hermione joined Bill, who was distracting his daughter with silly faces. They discussed some interesting tactics, and he gave her a few contacts she could try to set up a meeting with. After some time he handed her Louise, who had been whining for some time to be held by her aunt, and she immediately started playing with Hermione's hair. Louise and Victoire loved Hermione. She didn't know why, but they did.

'Be gentle with Hermione's hair now, Louise,' Bill said fatherly. 'I can remember last time you yanked an entire strand out.'

'Hewiowe,' Louise purred, putting a tiny hand on Hermione's cheek.

'Yes, that's right! Hermione!' Hermione cooed. 'Such a smart girl!'

'Hewiowe,' Louise said again, and she yawned and placed her head against Hermione's chest.

'I think she wants to take a nap on you,' Bill apologized. Hermione chuckled, until she felt a hand on the small of her back.

'Well, who can blame her. I would too. How are you, Bill?'

'Harry! Good, good, busy, obviously. And now with the third on the way, it's been absolutely crazy, but Fleur is an absolute trooper.'

If Bill thought Harry's comment was weirdly intimate, he didn't show it. Hermione looked at him punishingly, but she felt a little flame light up in her chest. Harry must have seen the look on her face.

'Hermione!' Teddy yelled, seated on top of Harry's shoulders. He transformed his hair to jetblack, just like his godfather, and his eyes shone like emeralds.

'Oh, my, you've gotten big, Teddy!'

'I am already this old!' Teddy said back, holding out his hand and showing her all five fingers. 'I am almost a big boy!'

'Oh, absolutely,' Harry agreed. 'Why won't you be a big boy and see if you can help Grandma Molly chase after Victoire?'

Teddy nodded, as Harry put him on the ground, and he gave him a little kiss. Hermione's heart fluttered.

'When is Fleur due?' Harry asked Bill.

'She's at 37 weeks now, so... You know, she could come tonight, but most likely the end of January.'

Harry and Bill talked a bit more, and Hermione focused on little Louise, that indeed fell asleep against her chest. She was such a sweet looking girl, with her father's red hair but her mother's delicate features. She quietly sat down on a vacant sofa, very careful as to not disturb Louise, and Harry broke off his conversation to join her.

'You are being quite obvious, Harry,' Hermione said, softly, commenting on the fact that he sat closer than would be necessary.

'I hoped you would be able to rescue me, actually,' Harry replied. 'Have you seen who Gin brought with her? She's been ogling me for a good twenty minutes now and it makes me very uncomfortable.'

Hermione laughed, relieved.

'Of course I'll rescue you, but I thought that we would keep this all under wraps as to-...'

Harry put his arm around Hermione and kissed her gently on her lips. A few Weasleys noticed, nudged each other and the room went a bit more quiet. Harry pretended not to notice.

'I know what we agreed, but... We've been hiding what's between us for far too long anyway. We deserve to be young and to enjoy each other's company, like everyone else here. And, you know. I really-...'

'Love you,' they said in unison, smiling at each other. Louise stirred a bit on her chest. She soothed the little girl, stroking her head, and gave Harry a small kiss back.

An enormous cheer erupted from all over the room.

'No way! Harry and Hermione!'

'Oh Merlin, congratulations!'

'Finally! Pay up, Nicky!'

Hermione saw Olga show clear disappointment, but she couldn't care less, because Harry's eyes lit up at the positive comments from the Weasleys. Mister Weasley was the first to join their conversation and expressed how happy he was for them. Soon Weasley's flocked their sofa, all wanting to hug them or hold their hands. Molly was one of the latest to join, but she was so suffocatingly happy that she trampled all the others with her reaction by pulling them in for such a tight hug at the same time that Hermione thought she couldn't breathe.

'Oh, how wonderful! Finally! Arthur and I had been hoping for such a long time that you would eventually find each other, after it didn't work out with Ron and Ginny... We wish you nothing but happiness! And may I say, Hermione and Harry, a baby looks great on the both of you.'

She gestured to Louise and winked. Harry and Hermione laughed hard.

'Oh, I thought you had your hands full on three grandchildren,' Hermione teased. 'Are you sure that you want to add the devil's spawn that will be our offspring to that?'

'I would be honored,' Molly said, beaming. 'I wouldn't want it any other way! I'd love to babysit - of course, Monday's are for Victoire and Louise, I visit Andromeda on Tuesday and Molly comes on Wednesday and Friday, but I'm sure we'll be able to work something out when it comes to it... Oh, Victoire. Victoire! Not those sweets, grandma made some low of sugar for you dear, let me... Yes, I'll fetch them for you!'

Mrs. Weasley disappeared to the kitchen and Mister Weasley, that still sat opposite of them, chuckled.

'Please wait a few more years with kids, please. I think Molly might be getting a burn-out if she gets another set of grandkids on top of the two that will soon be joining us...'

They laughed contently.

The rest of the day went swimmingly. Luckily, Olga was not only beautiful but quite friendly as well, and she accepted her defeat with grace. They shared presents, put on their Christmas jumpers, enjoyed the enthusiasm the little kids had with unpacking their gifts. After they shared a nice lunch, the young adults decided they wanted to play some Quidditch. Hermione felt tired - she had barely slept last night, and the crowd drained her energy. On the other hand, she really wanted to write to the contacts Bill had given her, so she excused herself and told the family that she would be going home to do some extra work. Harry was being considerate in asking her if she was sure, and if she didn't want him to come with her, but she said that she would see him on Tuesday or maybe sometime sooner, and they shared a kiss.

Hermione was very happy to be home alone, in her little apartment, and after she send out her owl with letters to the goblin contacts, she drew herself a long, hot bath, ate a sandwich (lunch and breakfast still had her feel stuffed) and got into bed. She was asleep for a few hours when she felt the bed move and opened her eyes. It was Harry.

'I didn't want to wake you,' he apologized, 'but I was in my own bed and I couldn't sleep and... Well...'

Hermione smiled sleepily, wrapped herself in Harry's embrace, and fell back to sleep.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 13: How Hermione asked Harry some very personal questions.

The next days felt like something out of a dream, or something out of a very cliché Hollywood-movie. The first years of her life, Hermione thought she hated romcoms. She associated it with her time at primary school: a time where girls that were regarded as "popular" would not invite her to sleepovers where they would watch such films and gush about the male leads and their unrealistic romantic antics. On top of that, her parents thought those films were too shallow for her, so she watched a lot of documentaries, or movies based on real life events. And then she got into Hogwarts, where movies weren't a thing at all. But then...

It was one of the first things they had decided after the war: now was the time to live their lives and have some fun. Ron, Harry and herself would get to pick an activity each month - not only to have fun, but to spend some time together, to get to know each other even better, to bond over something that wasn't hurtful. One of the first things Hermione could think of to do with her best friends was to go and see a Muggle movie. She guessed Ron had never seen a movie in a theater, so it was exciting to show him something he wasn't familiar with, but she was shocked to find out Harry had never been to one as well, as his aunt and uncle never wanted to waste money on him. Upon hearing that, she was sure she was going to take them to a cinema, and she was going to pay for their fizzy softdrinks and buttered popcorn as well.

When deciding on what movie to pick that summer in Australia, on their way to retrace their parents, her options were limited. There was Saving Private Ryan, Mulan, Blade - all good movies, but they all had to do with bloody war, and she figured they'd had enough of that. So, she picked a romantic comedy, named "There's Something About Mary", and there was an awful scene involving a penis that got stuck in a zipper and semen that was used as hairgel, but it made them laugh. It made them forget. Ron had talked hours and hours about all the Muggle inventions that he had seen in the movie and just didn't understand, and they had made it a ritual of sorts to go to the theater more often. Somehow, they always ended up picking romcoms, because it was safe. It gave no bad memories, just happiness, silliness, goodness. She had enjoyed the movies, but she'd always feel some kind of weird envy as well, because in romcoms, the guy always got the girl, and always with some crappy romantic gesture, and always with a sappy song playing in the background. Her parents had been right - it was shallow, but at the same time, she would have given up anything in the world to be one of those girls.

And now, she actually was, and she didn't have to give up. When she woke up, she would find a very charming man in her bed, with stubble, muscles, soft lips and caring arms. He could cook, he was athletic, he was heroic, he was irresistible - sometimes literally, as she ran late for work and Harry still managed to pull her into the shower with him or pin her down on the bed once more. He was caring, passionate, attentive to her needs: Hermione would always, always receive at least one climax when she was with Harry, and he would be thoughtful and communicative in the process. And of course, he was Harry, so he was the sweetest, most lovable guy she knew. She had no idea how Harry managed to pack so much tenderness inside his bruised and battered body, as his soul surely must have been hardened by the war, but it seemed that Harry wouldn't let it change him. He grieved, he felt pain, he even had nightmares sometimes, as Hermione noticed on the third day when Harry woke up so distraught that she had to get out of bed to fetch a glass of water for him - but he didn't turn bitter. He had seen enough hatred in the world, and as it seemed, he was determined to fill it with love and nothing but love. She gladly helped him with that.

Of course, Harry wasn't perfect. He had accidentally farted when they went to sleep on December the 27th, but he found Hermione's appalled reaction so funny, that he kept doing it on purpose, just to put her off. He hogged the bathroom. He didn't talk about things that genuinely bothered him, like the losses he suffered, or bad things at work, or his past. The drool he produced in his sleep was quite possibly enough to fill an entire pond with. And, of course, there was that other thing regarding their intimacy that she thought about a lot, but never voiced to him.

But, all that aside, it was the epitome of happiness: a true, gut-wrenching, gag-reflex activating display of a sickeningly sweet romance. When she woke up on the morning of the 29th, a Tuesday, and she noticed how Harry snored softly in his pillow, she felt nothing but love when she looked at her boyfriend: she didn't care that his hair looked like it had exploded on his face, that he had wrinkles of the cushion pressed into his cheeks, that he was currently doing his best to drown his poor pillow in saliva, that he emitted an odor that could also be smelled around wild boars - she found him bloody adorable and incredibly attractive. So she placed a kiss on his cheek, and on his temple, and on his forehead, and on his scar: she peppered kisses all across his face until Harry grumbled and started squinting his eyes.

'Hello, mister Potter,' she chuckled. 'This is your wake-up call.'

'Hmmfb,' Harry replied, wiping his mouth and rolling his head to the other side.

'As you implied yesterday you wanted to shower this morning, so I woke you a bit earlier than I normally would. Would you like to use my snooze button?'

Harry groaned and opened one eye, but closed it again when he saw her.

'Yes.'

'Alright. But this alarm needs to remind you that you will miss out on shared showertime...'

She slowly began to undress, lifting her tanktop over her head very casually exposing her naked back to Harry. Then she stood up and bend over to let down her underwear. She did it deliberately as calm as she could, and indeed, when she was fully unclothed, she felt Harry's frame press against her, his arousal very prominently pushed against her back.

'You are killing me, Hermione,' he groaned again. His lips caressed the nape of her neck, her hands slowly stroking her arms, then her sides, then focusing on her breasts. Hermione sighed and leaned back into his arms, as he let his right hand sneak between her legs. He softly played with her left nipple, as the fingers on his right hand slowly opened up her folds, spreading her wetness over her entire core.

'Harry, we should actually shower,' Hermione panted. 'We don't have that much time, and I don't want to be late again for work...'

To her surprise, he let go of her, and she immediately winced at the loss of his warmth. She told him to stop, but she didn't want him to stop, and luckily Harry knew her well enough as he stood in front of her and removed his clothes as well. He snogged her, pressing their tongues intensely together, and then he got onto his knees in front of her. Hermione didn't understand, until Harry took a hold of her hips and slowly placed a kiss on her vagina.

'Harry!' she gasped, surprised, because they had never tried this position before, but when she looked down and saw Harry look up - crazed hair and brightly shining eyes, that looked extremely bemused and enticing at the same time, she couldn't have been more aroused. Making a mental note of how Harry sat in front of her, she placed her hands into his black locks, pushing him wantingly closer against her, and she felt Harry snicker against her core.

Climaxing standing up was a challenge for Hermione, because her legs felt like mush and she had to put a lot of effort into not collapsing into the floor, so when she was almost there, Harry stood up, scooped her in his arms and used his fingers to push her over the edge. She whined against his skin, and he grinned, and placed kisses on her eyebrows.

'You are being too good,' Hermione mumbled, relishing in his embrace, and he smiled proudly.

'I know. Now, let's shower.'

'Nuh-uh,' Hermione said, smiling seductively. 'You can't do that to me and not expect me to want to touch you too.'

She started to roam her hands over Harry's chest, but he shook his head.

'Believe me, I'd love to, but you were kind of right. We don't have that much time.'

'Harry...' Hermione protested, kissing his neck, trying to reach that place that made Harry's breath hitch.

'I'm serious,' he decided. 'Maybe tonight. Let's go.'

See? The voice in Hermione's head said. He's avoiding you! They showered - Harry way quicker than her, and she was braiding her hair when she walked out into her little kitchen, where Harry was setting the table.

'I made scrambled eggs,' he said, smiling broadly. 'Gosh, it's Tuesday already... I can't believe it was actually a week ago when we decided not to kiss again. Would you have then predicted us to be at this stage of our relationship by next week? It's so great, it's better than I ever imagined it would be!'

He kissed her cheek and pulled her chair away from the table, so she could sit down.

'A bit of Philip-like chivalry never hurt anyone, right?' he said, with a grin on his face. Normally Hermione would have muttered something along the lines of "show off", or she would have swatted him on the arm, but today she smiled absentmindedly and sat down. Harry looked at her puzzling.

'Are you alright, Hermione?'

She looked at the scrambled eggs in front of her, and debated for a second, but then she decided that she should ask him. The mask had to come off. No more "what ifs", no more filling in for the other person. Communication was key, so she would use it.

'I'm fine. It's just... Can I ask you a question?'

Harry narrowed his eyebrows.

'You, brighest-witch-of-her-age, Hermione Granger, asking me a question? I thought you knew everything!'

'I... Oh sod off, you,' she groaned, rolling her eyes at him. Harry grinned and sat down as well and, pouring them both some orange juice.

Hermione had been struggling with these thoughts since the day after Boxing Day. They had been snogging and groping and whatnot, and Harry had treated her to the best of his abilities, as she was used to by now. But when she suggested to him to return the favor in terms of oral sex, Harry had become visibly nervous and told her that she could, but not right now. This had made her think. The focus would always be on her pleasure, on her climax, not on his, and that worried her. Was it her fault? I did mess up the first time, she thought critically, I hurt him. I didn't know what to do and so I hurt him. I must have scared him off. But then again, he had allowed her to touch his member last evening, so it couldn't have been that traumatizing for him. Right? But now she thought of it - it had been really quick, and Harry had acted quite fussy...

She had never noticed before that Harry might have been self-conscious about his sexuality. When he was dating Ginny, they had been very sexually active, to the point of it being annoying and awkward. When their relationship broke down, Harry had had quite some one-night-stands, and she knew that they had given him the experience that she was now benefiting from. So why was he shy with her, of all people? But, every time she thought about bringing it up, Harry had done something incredibly thoughtful and sweet, and it felt like being overly critical at her part as well. He is doing everything he can to please you, Hermione, she thought to herself. He is being so nice, so gentle. Why would you bother him with these mundane questions of yours?

But now she felt she didn't have any other choice. She was worried, and when she was, she was very bad at hiding it, especially from Harry.

'It's... A weird question, actually. But I do hope that you answer it seriously.'

Harry raised one eyebrow, but nodded to show that he was okay with that.

'How... How far did you and Ginny go? Exactly?'

Harry tried to keep his face straight, but he didn't really manage.

'Seriously? Is that what you want to know?'

'I know it's silly, but-...'

'All the way,' Harry answered, directly. 'I actually believe we had sex the first time we were alone together after the War. Why are you interested in that?'

'Oh, right. So you didn't take it easy with her? You just... Went all the way, immediately?'

'Well,' Harry shrugged. 'I mean... Yeah. We were kind of worked up and we figured... Well, I'm ashamed to admit it but probably figured that that was the next step.'

'Did you touch her like you touch me?'

Harry pursed his lips.

'Yes. But it didn't feel the same, Hermione. This feels a million times better, like it actually makes sense now, and-...'

'Did she touch you too?'

Harry blinked a few times, distraught by the fact that she broke off his sweet and heartfelt statement, and pondered for a bit.

'What do you mean, did she touch me?'

'You know. Like I do, sometimes. With her hands. Or... Other parts of her body.'

'Why are you interested in that?'

'I... Have a point, I promise. Unless you don't feel comfortable me knowing that, then of course...'

'She didn't,' Harry replied. 'She'd... Brush against it, I guess, but she never actually... No, she didn't.'

'Never?' Hermione asked, astounded.

'Well, she didn't exactly like penises,' Harry said with a snicker. 'She kind of avoided it, when she could. That should have been a sign for me, I suppose.'

'And with the one-night-stands you had?' Hermione pressed on.

'My God, Hermione-...'

'Again, if you're not comfortable-...'

'I am! It's just. Well. No, not really. I touched them, but they were not really interested, or-... I also didn't want them to-...' Harry gulped and couldn't look her in the eye, it seemed.

'They wanted to get laid by the Chosen One, you see, and I was eager to show how good of a lover I was, I suppose. I was very insecure that time, you know. So...'

Hermione's heart ached. She knew Harry had used girls as a coping mechanism for a while, and she had never judged him for it, but hearing him admit it was something different.

'So, they didn't touch you either?'

Harry looked pained, like Hermione touched a nerve inside of him that he had tried to hide.

'Hermione... I barely touched myself before I was 17.'

He spoke quietly, so quietly that Hermione had almost missed it, but she didn't.

'Really?'

'Trying to defeat a bloodthirsty Evil Sorcerer doesn't really work wonders for your boner, strangely enough,' Harry quipped, hiding his emotions. 'And it also didn't help that I was aware that we could see into each other's minds. Whenever I started to think something sexual, I thought about how Voldemort would find out, and believe me - if something kills a hard-on, it's the knowledge that you're sharing all your dirty fantasies with the Dark Lord.'

'Merlin, that never occurred to me...'

'Be glad,' Harry said, taking a spoonful of egg. 'I would have a lot of wet dreams, because I didn't dare to take care of whatever business the lower part of my body was in, but still. I didn't really suffer from it, don't worry.'

'That explains so much,' Hermione whispered. 'I thought you didn't like me, that I was doing something wrong-...'

'What?!'

'It's not you're fault,' Hermione said, quickly. 'It's just my insecurity. I didn't understand why you weren't keen on me touching you, as Ron was a lot more eager to have me touch him all - the - freaking - time...'

'Did he? That's disturbing.'

'He was a teenage boy who didn't have to fear for an Evil Wizard to invade his sexual fantasies. Don't be too hard on him, Harry.'

They chuckled for a bit.

'Wait... Did he ever have those thoughts?'

'Who? Ron?'

'No. Voldemort.'

Harry looked at her for a few seconds and then howled with laughter.

'Oh my God, Hermione!'

'No! I mean, pure out of an academical standpoint, that-...'

'You perverted, little-...'

'Not like that!' Hermione squeaked, with a head that turned bright-red.

'No, he didn't. Oh, thank Merlin almighty that he didn't. That would have been... Yikes! No, Voldemort was not someone to love, and he was not someone to lust either. Luckily for me. I mean, I won't say that the war didn't leave any scars, but that would have really damaged me beyond repair. Christ!'

Harry shuddered and they both laughed, making a few jokes between them about Voldemort's absent sex-life. Harry drank the last bit of his orange juice, and asked if Hermione wanted a refill.

'No, thank you, Harry. I have one more question, though.'

'If they are about other private memories of Voldy - no, I've never seen him take a dump-...'

She laughed, slapping Harry on his arm.

'Ew! Harry! No, I mean... About this... Exploring yourself, thing. I get that you never really took the time to do that properly, right?'

'Hmm,' Harry nodded. 'But I don't mind. I like watching you. Pleasing you.'

'I've noticed,' Hermione grinned. 'And don't get me wrong - you are amazing. But I want to explore that part about your body as well. Maybe we could do that together? Tonight?'

'Oh, Hermione, I don't know,' Harry said, suddenly really nervous. 'I mean... That would-...'

'Yes, you would have to let me find my way with your body. And no, you won't be allowed to distract me by touching me with your golden fingers.'

Harry laughed, but then he rubbed his temple.

'I don't know, Hermione,' he finally sighed.

'Do you trust me?' she asked, silently.

'Of course I do.'

'We will communicate through it,' Hermione said, repeating what Harry had told her earlier on Christmas Eve. 'Whenever you tense or flinch, I'll stop. And whenever you're uncomfortable with something, I'll stop too. Allow me to make you feel as good about yourself as you have made me feel. I want to do this for you, Harry.'

Harry pressed his lips together for a moment, but then he smiled.

'Alright. If I got you over that threshold, it's only fair that I give myself to opportunity to experience that as well, right?'

'Right! And who knows what you missed out on!'

They both laughed. Harry stood up, pressed his lips against Hermione's, and charmed the plates and pan to the sink, where they began to wash themselves.

'So... Tonight?'

'Tonight,' Hermione said, eagerly.

Harry gave her a look that made her want to drag him to the bedroom right then, but she didn't. They brushed their teeth, packed their stuff, and flooed to the Ministry using Hermione's hearth. They agreed to not show any signs of their relationship at work, mostly because of the Daily Prophet, but when Harry left her side to go down to the Auror Department, he gave her a look that increased the slowly burning fire in her belly. Tonight, she thought, with a smile on her face. She would make sure to make it an unforgettable evening for her boyfriend.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 14: How Harry would never see pineapples in the same way again.

'Just relax,' Hermione whispered, her lips brushing against his skin. Harry let out a strained breath.

'I'm not used to... you know. Not being the one in control,' he replied, softly.

'You are in control. If there's anything you're not okay with, we'll stop.'

He nodded then, confidently. It was past dinnertime. They had both run late, ironically, because their agreement had ran constantly through their minds that day, but work had been too demanding for both of them. For Harry, it was because he had finally been able to coax some kind of confession and information out of Lackey. For Hermione, it was because she had finally gotten word back from the mediator Bill suggested. And because she had done some much needed research on a topic she had never really payed any attention to.

Male anatomy.

Hermione knew that it was perhaps a bit weird, but when she started this... thing with Harry, she wanted to prepare herself. Hermione was used to do research, to submerge herself into subjects to gain the best results. She always wanted to do her best, regardless of what topic she was preparing for, but this time it was a lot more complicated. Hermione didn't just want to be the best for herself, she wanted the best for Harry.

She quickly realized that Wizards were just as unadvanced at technology as they were at sex education. During their entire schooling at Hogwarts, not once did she receive proper explanation on the subject - she guessed that there should be spells or potions to prevent pregnancy at least, but no one had spoken about it. She could remember that at primary school her very nervous teacher had explained to a full class of nosy 10-year olds how puberty worked, obviously in a very clandestine manner, and then she of course had had the talk with her Mom over the summer holiday when she was 14. But at Hogwarts, no a single person of authority had spoken about it, so the only information Hermione received in her life about sex in their community was from Lavender and Parvati. Not the most reliable of sources.

The only option the Wizarding World provided in terms of sex ed, was a very dodgy shop in Knockturn Alley, that had turned her cheeks bright red whenever she had been forced to pass it on her way to another store. Being "The Heroine of the Golden Trio", she didn't really feel like barging in there and requesting information about pleasing a guy, so she opted for the only other option she had. Her muggle library card. Reading had always been her passion, and no matter how amazing the books were that the Wizarding World provided, they were non-fictional most of the time. She needed to be able to escape into a world of fantasy and story now and then, so when she got her new apartment, she also got a card to the nearest library, and she would pick up new books every six weeks.

She had been in that same library today as well, roaming the non-fiction section for books on sex education. It was a good idea, she thought, but she couldn't help but be extremely embarrassed when she opted for no less than four books on sex and male anatomy. The librarian did a very good job at keeping a neutral face when he scanned them for Hermione, and though she kept a brave and "so what?" kind of attitude about herself, she released a little squeal as soon as she stepped out of the building. That was terrifying. Not as terrifying as defeating Lord Voldemort, but still.

Then she went to work, and when she finished prepping for the meeting with the mediator, she gave a deep sigh and opened one of the books. You should have given yourself some more time to prepare, she scolded herself, roaming through the pages. There was so much to read, it seemed, but she quickly decided to read up on a chapter about foreplay first, on male anatomy and pressure points second, and she would make sure to take notes of each and every important step. Information about the actual "deed" and positions and whatnot would come in handy at a later stage - maybe she should also scan through the female sections, just to make sure, as Harry had kind of opened her eyes to things her body could experience that she had never been able to do by herself.

She had gotten so engrossed in her reading that she almost forgot to hit the drugstore, where she spent a good twenty minutes feeling extremely awkward in front of the lubricant-section. When she came home, still a bit flustered, Harry had already been making shepherd's pie and they ate and talked about work. When the dishes were done, a tensed silence fell between them. Harry cleared his throat and fumbled with his hands, until Hermione placed hers on top of his and looked him in his big, emerald eyes.

'You ready?'

Harry had pursed his lips, but smiled.

'As I'll ever be.'

'Good,' Hermione nodded, 'because I have done some shopping and studying.'

'Shopping?' Harry asked, his smile now widening into a grin of disbelief. 'You're kidding, right? How many hours did you spend on preparing yourself, today?'

'Too many. Don't ask. Judge me when we're finished.'

He laughed while saying her name, kissed her warmly, and it had all been fine, until they partly undressed and she announced to Harry that she was going to give him a massage. She had assured them that he was in control, that nothing would happen that he didn't like, and he decided to trust her and lay flat on his stomach, so she could gain enough access to his unclothed back.

So, there they were. Venturing into this new thing, together, as they had done with a lot of things, but this was not exactly like learning a Summoning Charm. She appreciated how Harry looked, still kind of tense but so trusting, with just his black boxers on, spread out on her queen-sized bed. She rummaged through her purse, taking her notes and stashing them away near the bed - just in case - and then focused her attention on a small, orange bottle that she had gotten in the store. Hermione had chosen an "exotic fruit"-flavored mix of lubricant and massage-oil. She heated the stuff with her wand for a bit, as was recommended on the package "for a titillating sensation!", and she made sure it wasn't too hot before pouring some on Harry's back. He made an approving sound when Hermione started to move her hands in strong circles across his shoulders.

'Merlin Harry, your muscles are stiff as a board,' Hermione said, feeling the knots under her fingers. She pushed firmly on one between his shoulder blades, and Harry yelped.

'Oh, sorry-...'

'No, don't apologize. It feels actually really good,' Harry mumbled, pushing his head into his pillow. 'I don't know if I feel comfortable with you making me smell like a pineapple, but other than that-...'

She smirked and pushed on the knot again, making Harry howl.

'Uncalled for, Miss Granger!'

'I told you to relax, and if you are still able to make those quips, you are clearly not relaxing.'

Harry chuckled, came up for a bit to press a soft kiss against her mouth, and leaned back into the cushions.

'I will say no more. Work those magical hands of yours, please.'

And she did. She made sure to follow the muscle lines in his shoulders, that started at the base of his neck and went all down to his spine, with butterfly touches and hard strokes, alternating each other - then she traced another line, beginning at the sides of his arms, swerving towards his shoulder blades. She loved kneading and pushing against his flesh, extracting small, approving sounds from Harry, who slowly began to drift in a very peaceful state of relaxation. He looked absolutely handsome, glasses cast aside, eyes fluttering close, his mouth half-open with the anticipation of the next sensation on his skin, as Hermione dragged her fingers slowly across his spine, making Harry elicit a guttural moan.

She unclasped her bra and slowly straddled herself on Harry's upper legs, pressing her bare breasts against his skin for a moment, causing Harry to produce a deliciously sounding "hmm". She now payed attention to his lower back, admiring the way the oil made his skin shine bright, showcasing the defined lines of his rear side. She managed to loosen up some of his knots, then dragged her nails playfully from top to bottom over his back, causing small red lines to flush against his skin. Harry breathed deep, so she did it again, now stippling the tips of her nails against him. She had fun doing this, causing pleasure to her best friend - no, she corrected herself, to her boyfriend. When pushing her fingers deep into his skin once more, softening and smoothing the flesh under her fingertips, she felt herself grind against his backside a bit.

'May I... remove your...'

'Please,' Harry managed to mumble, and she grinned. Slowly she pushed the soft, cotton fabric down his legs, as Harry tried to lie as still as he possibly could, not to stir the trance he was still in. She nestled herself to his side again, admiring the view of Harry's fully naked form. She began to massage his feet, his strong calves, his thighs. Finally she caressed his buttocks, which were firm and nice and rounded, and she couldn't help but think that she loved staring at Harry's bum. She had no idea if that was appropriate - was it normal for women to appreciate a man's behind? - but she slowly let her hands run from his thighs to his lower back, over the cusp of his backside. Harry didn't seem to mind, he loved every second of her fingers on his frame.

She decided to be bold and sit back on his upper legs again, but this time she removed her panties as well. Her breath caught in her throat as the fabric slipped passed her legs, anticipating the contact. She laid herself partly on top of him, her breasts swelling against his body, and she slowly stroked Harry's sides, which were slightly ticklish as she felt them spasm under her touch. She then moved higher up to his body, dragging herself over his backside to sit in the small of his back, her thumbs caressing the muscles between Harry's head and neck. He must feel my arousal, she thought, nervously, as she moved her core against his spine, staining his body with her fluids. Harry's breathes became labored, as he shifted a bit. Yep, he definitely feels it.

'I want you to turn around,' Hermione whispered, as she lifted herself up a bit, using her arms to hover over Harry. He complied, swinging his hands across Hermione's back, pushing her against him again. She felt their genitals touch - Harry's stiff member against her throbbing core - and she gasped. Gently she moved her folds against Harry's member, stroking from base to tip, rubbing her nub against the hardened flesh. Harry, his eyes still closed, groaned approvingly, restraining himself from thrusting upwards.

'Yes, you need to stay still,' Hermione purred, bringing her lips to his neck. 'I know it's hard, but try to let me.'

Harry nodded, one hand moving to her back to guide her movements, one hand cupping her breast. She spread her arousal over his body with her controlled motions, and the thought popped into her head to guide him inside of her, to feel him, but she knew that was a thought that was based on lust and not on anything else. Still, the rubbing did nothing to decrease that need, and she soon decided that she needed to stop teasing or she would lose her mind completely. With a lot of self-preservation she removed herself from him, and now Harry did open his eyes, looking at her questioningly.

'I really liked that, Hermione...'

'Me too. Too much,' she explained, as she nestled beside him. Harry grinned at her, whispered a silent "thank you", and pressed his lips against hers, tasting her tongue. She felt Harry's hands began to roam, and even though she wanted his touch so bad, she shook her head.

'No sir, I'm not done with you yet,' she smiled.

'But-... Argh, fine,' Harry resigned, when he saw her stern look.

'Oh yes, you're having such a hard time,' Hermione teased, as Harry laid back flat on his back and chuckled.

'Exactly. I have this gorgeous naked woman in my bed and I am not allowed to touch her!'

'Yet,' Hermione corrected him. She picked up some more oil and spread it on his torso, his legs - being very careful as to touch and feel every inch of his body. Harry visibly struggled with keeping his hands to himself, biting his lips and forcefully shutting his eyes, but she wanted to prolong this as long as she was able. Then finally, she began stroking Harry's penis - she held a grip, but not too tight, and made sure to not pull the foreskin back just yet. Harry let out a content sigh at the anticipated contact, as his breathing hitched in turn with her caresses.

'This is amazing,' he whispered. 'I had girls wank me before, but it was usually just to get it up in order to move on, and even in my fantasies, I imagined you being so damn considerate, but this... This... Thank you. And please - just, please...'

Hermione smiled and felt her heart make a little jump.

'Well, still tell me when I'm hurting you or anything. I'll try not to, but you know how excited I can get...'

'Don't worry, I'll-... Oh God, Hermione, yes,' Harry moaned as Hermione began twisting her wrist softly during her pumps, cupping the head of his member with the palm of her hand. She read about this, about the movements that would intensify the sensation, and as Harry pushed his head further and further into his pillow, his mouth in an silent "O", driving his hips deeper into her grasp, she knew she was doing a good job.

She continued her administrations, as Harry raised his hands above his head, pushing his forehead against his knuckles. He winced, he peeped, he made a very cute but quite feminine high-pitched yelp, that was followed by a dark and low "uummf", and Hermione slowly moved one hands towards his balls, ready to change it up.

'Don't!' Harry haltered. 'Don't-just-please-I..,'

Hermione chuckled and repeated her earlier movement, earning a hissed "yes" from Harry, that was now humming moans and twisting his head against his wrists. He made an "O"-sound, and then an "Ohoh", and then he roared as his climax hit him, making his eyes roll, and his muscles tense. His load erupted from him, landing on his torso, and Hermione couldn't help but feel incredibly smug. She had done that to him, she had extracted that reaction from him, and she couldn't get enough. She made sure to milk his climax until Harry saw stars and he slowly guided her hands away, overcome with insensitivity.

'That-... That-...'

'You don't have to talk,' Hermione chuckled, resting beside him. Harry was still not able to open his eyes yet, gasping for breath, but he did pull her against him. It took him a good five minutes to recover, and Hermione couldn't help but giggle against his arm, loving the way he had given himself so openly to her.

'I love you,' Hermione said, kissing the tip of his nose. Harry grinned softly, but still didn't open his eyes.

'You... You...'

His breath caught in his throat and he coughed, making Hermione erupt in laughter. Harry tried to join, but he was still too high, chuckling slightly with a shit-eating grin on his face.

'I have no... You can't... It's not...' He huffed and opened his eyes, slowly, laughing like an idiot.

'You were absolutely incredible, Hermione.'

She tried to look modest, but she couldn't stop grinning, feeling wildly proud of herself.

'I was so sensitive after that massage - I thought I was going to burst, and then you took so, so excruciatingly long to touch me there and... I thought I would go crazy, literally. My whole body was tingling. It's still tingling, damnit. What have you done?'

'I did my research,' she said. 'That's all.'

'Oh God. Did you - of course you did. You took notes, didn't you. Where are they? You've got them here, somewhere, right? Did you read them during the massage?'

'What- no! I didn't read them during the massage-...'

'But they do exist?' Harry smirked. 'Oh, Hermione. Please don't tell me you've color coded them.'

She fell silent, leaving a pregnant pause, and then they both cackled with laughter.

'Well, it's just easier!' she defended, and Harry kissed her on the cheek.

'Hey, no judgement! If you can do that to me again because of those notes, you can color code anything. Heck, you can even color code me, I don't mind.'

'Right,' Hermione teased, 'I'll go get my markers. What color should I use on your genitals?'

'Blue for my balls, going by your stalling,' Harry countered. She hit him softly, and then they kissed, and Harry pinned her down underneath her, ravishing her lips, her throat, the swelling of her breasts. Hermione gasped, feeling how Harry took her nipple in his mouth, suckling and nipping at the sensitive button.

'Hmm,' he mumbled, against her skin. 'What is that taste?'

'Exotic fruits, or something, going by the bottle,' Hermione sighed. 'Please don't stop.'

'Oh, you didn't just have to make me smell like a pineapple, but taste like one too?'

Hermione snickered.

'Oh, like you mind, Harry.'

Harry grasped the little flask, squirting a bit in his palm and smoothing it between his fingers.

'I certainly don't, Hermione. Now, where to start...'

Hermione heard her sniggers turn into a lustful cry as Harry applied the lotion to her body. As she let him roam his hands and lips all over her, Hermione thought how lucky she was to finally have him.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 15: How Hermione didn't want to marry but okay, maybe to Harry, she secretly did.

That could've been better.

Her meeting with the mediator went a lot worse than she expected. Of course, she knew that the fact that Ron, Harry and she broke into Gringotts would be a painful point during negotiation, but Bill's co-worker told her that there was no chance in hell any Goblin would ever want to do any deals with her. They had destroyed part of the building, of course, she remembered that, but the Ukrainian Ironbelly that they set free had unfortunately fried at least a dozen of their workers before escaping out into the open. Right, she thought, as the mediator spoke coyly, how could I have been so stupid as to forget about that?

She owled Bill, thanking him for the tip on the mediator, and immediately asked him whether he'd be interested in talking with the Goblins about the changing Wizarding Laws on her behalf. She knew Bill wanted to discontinue his job as a Curse Breaker for at least a few years until the kids were a little bigger because of the risk of him getting injured. Her supervisor, Alan Greengrass, was more than willing to involve him in the process, as his credentials spoke for themselves. The rest of her Wednesday was spent talking with Bill, who was very interested in the job, and when she got back to her office, Mimsy told her that she had heard "the Muggle phone ring a couple of times, Miss Granger".

Ah. Her parents, probably.

She called them back, but they didn't answer. After sifting through some paperwork about her upcoming meeting with Dobby's Institutionalized Memorial regarding Welfare, Integrity and Tolerance on the Topic of Elfish Development, her phone rang again.

'This is Hermione Granger.'

'Hermione, dear! It's your grandmother speaking. Your father was kind enough to give me the number to your landline. I sure hope you don't mind.'

'Oh, ehh, no, of course not, grandmama. Not at all. Did you have a nice Christmas?'

'I did my dear, thank you. And thank you for the Christmas Card, you and Harry both looked absolutely stunning.'

Hermione chuckled, thinking about how during one of their lunches, they decided to amp up their game for the whole engagement-ploy and made a very awkward personalized Muggle Christmas Card, with matching sweaters. They sent it out to Hermione's entire family.

'We hoped you'd like it,' she said truthfully.

'Well, cutting right to the chase, I always organize a little reception for the New Year. Just a little get together, mind you, nothing as extravagant as I've shown you for the past couple of events! I usually invite about twenty people, but Penelope's daughter, Gwendolyn, extended her stay in France with her family, so we've got some spots left and my sister explicitly asked me to send out an invitation to you and your husband-to-be.'

'Oh! That is most kind of you, grandma-...'

'Penelope told me how you worked through the night to remodel her kitchen. You and Harry truly are an amazing couple - it's a shame you deprived us of him for so long! Such a loving boy... Penelope told me you were very cozy together when staying over there, if you know what I mean. I could always do with a few extra great-grandchildren, you know...'

'Haha,' Hermione faked, 'yes, well, Harry and I should get married before we embark on that adventure, right grandmama?'

The fact Grandmother Eugenia made jokes about getting children out of wedlock while not 25 years ago it had been the reason for her to disown her own daughter, was beyond Hermione's comprehension.

'Of course dear!' her grandmother warbled, ignoring her slight stab. 'On the matter of that: Penelope and I have discussed this quite extensively, but we would be honored to contribute to your wedding in some shape or form. Have you visited venues already? I have some very influential acquaintances who can get you into almost any wedding location in London within a reasonable timeframe. And I would personally be honored to be invited to your dress appointment, dear. I have a very good taste, as I say so myself, and it would be an absolute shame if you'd show up into some attire that you usually thing is befitting of the occasion - fashion sense is not something you've inherited from our side of the family, but there's nothing your old grandmother can't fix for you!'

Oh no. They had created a monster.

Harry wasn't home yet when she crashed into the kitchen at half past six. Grandma Eugenia had been relentless - Hermione tried to cut her off a couple of times, but she kept on jabbering and jabbering so finally Hermione sat the phone down, and continued her work for DIMWITTED with interjecting the occasional "oh really?" and "sounds interesting!" and "I'll ask Harry". The call lasted an hour and a half. Her grandmother was determined to have her say in their fake ceremony and Hermione had gotten the feeling that Harry and herself had dug a hole for themselves that was impossible to escape from.

The feeling dawned on her that there were two options. Either go through with it fully - fake ceremony, fake friends, fake table pieces and refined china and silver cutlery - or come clean about their deceit. Neither options were attractive. Admitting to lying to her grandmother would surely cause her to break her contact with them again, and to think that Aunty Penelope would have to stomach their betrayal after celebration Christmas together was something she couldn't face. On the other hand - actually throwing a fake wedding ceremony was insane. There was no way they could pull that off without anyone from their world finding out, and if the Daily Prophet got wind of their marriage, they would have a field day. But Grandmother Eugenia wouldn't let Harry and Hermione get away with a small, quaint ceremony. It would be big, it would be extravagant and it would be unbearable, even with someone as sweet and understanding as Harry.

And, of course, there was another nagging feeling that Hermione had gotten during the conversation with her grandmother. A feeling that had been enhanced by the dream she had last night, obviously fueled by the satisfying feeling Harry had left in her belly after some good and thorough love-making. In her dream, she had worn a white gown, and Harry had worn the smoking he had bought for her grandmothers birthday, and they had been standing underneath a canopy in a beautiful forest clearing.

A part of her wanted to marry Harry. She had always been bonded to him, through love, through life-events, and she had always pictured her life with Harry somewhere in it. Hermione wasn't a girl who dreamed about her wedding day - but at the occasions where she had pictured it, usually because Parvati and Lavender couldn't stop gushing about it, she imagined Harry would be there to watch her get married to some anonymous bloke without a face - and he would be supportive and kind. Now their relationship took off as well as it had over the past couple of days, and they had called each other "fiance" by joke more and more each day, Hermione got the dreadful hunch that deep down, she was picturing her wedding day with Harry again. And now he wouldn't be supportive of her and some other guy, but he would be standing at the altar, dolled up and eager, and they would spend the rest of their life together. Hermione realized she wanted him to be with her for the rest of her life like that, not as a best friend, but as a husband. The fact that they were now fake-betrothed, and that there was a chance that her grandmother would taint her being together with Harry because of how impulsive the both of them had been, made her sad. She wanted a genuine start with Harry, not something fake. It would be ridiculous to attend a fake wedding and then repeat the whole thing in private a few years after, just because Harry hadn't been able to control his temper around her thickheaded cousin.

Aside from that, she didn't know what Harry wanted. How Harry felt. She knew he loved her, but this whole engagement-charade made things a lot more complicated. She would have discussed marriage with him in a few years, not within weeks of them getting together, but at their New Day's reception, they would both have to come up with excuses or they would have to agree to plans that others made for them. It saddened her, it angered her, and when she started cutting courgette for the lasagna, she couldn't help but scowl.

A noise in the fireplace alerted her to Harry's arrival and she straightened out her face. Now was not the time to be in a bad mood - she and Harry had been doing so great lately, and she didn't want to waste one second in his presence not being happy.

'Harry!' she called out, and when he turned the corner to her kitchen, her mouth fell open.

'What happened to you?!'

'What happened to me?' Harry replied, taking a few steps back and looking in the mirror that stood in the hallway. 'Oh, that. Wait. Scourgify. No harm done.'

'No harm done? No harm done?' Hermione repeated. 'You are bleeding.'

'Oh I'm not, it's just a-...'

She rushed past him to pick some bandages as Harry touched the side of his head.

'Oh damn, I am.'

'Yes, I know you are. Stay still.'

'Normally I go to the nurse after a raid, but-...'

'Then why haven't you?' Hermione asked, concerned. Harry looked moody - a look she had been all too familiar with in school.

'Because I didn't want to see anyone except for you for a while, to be really honest. And I thought I had been careful...'

'Yeah, super careful, with that gash in your head,' she said sarcastically. 'Sit on the table, I have something to ease the pain a bit.'

She cast some healing incantations, stemmed the bleeding and cleared the wound with a potion. Harry hissed when the cotton came in contact with his wound.

'I'm sorry, I didn't want to-...'

'Enough,' Harry snapped, swatting her hand away. 'This was a mistake. I should have gone to my own apartment.'

'And what makes you say that?' Hermione said, accusatory.

'I thought you would be nice to me, Hermione.'

'I am! I'm trying to, but I'm not really good at healing spells, you know that-...'

'I should have gone home,' Harry repeated, angry.

'Oh, well, listen, if you wanted to be babied, you should have gone to the nurse, as you should have anyway,' she heard herself say, way more harshly then she normally would, a sniff caught in her throat. 'I am actually trying to help here. What's wrong?'

'Wrong? Nothing's wrong.'

'Was this Nott's doing? Did you fight with him?'

'It doesn't matter, Hermione.'

'Was it Nott? Was it someone else?'

Harry glared at her, and sighed.

'What is wrong?' Hermione pressed. 'You haven't been sulking like this since our school days and as far as I know, you defeated Voldemort some time ago, so unless you have a very good reason for being so moody, I won't put up with it.'

She dampened a cloth and pushed it against Harry's flushed skin. He groaned, but didn't pull away. A few moments of silence passed and then Harry exhaled deeply.

'Can... Can you give me a kiss?'

He said it so softly, that she could have imagined it. She pressed her lips together and looked him in the eye, his green eyes big and remorseful.

'Please?'

She complied, placing her lips on his, pressing herself firmly against him. He caught Hermione's hands in his as he avoided her gaze and then gently placed his wounded head on her shoulder, hugging her tightly. The contact lasted longer than was usual for a hug and she petted his hair.

'I'm sorry, okay,' he said, when he pulled away. 'I had a row at work and I got so worked up... I know it triggers you when you see me like this, I know how much it hurts you, and-...'

'It's okay,' she replied. 'Really, Harry.'

'It's not. This case, it's just so...'

He sighed and looked at her directly, his eyes eliciting a fiery spark that spoke of his anger.

'They placed a memory charm on Lackey. Without my permission, but Eleonore went ahead with it anyway. The memory led us to a den, and a fight broke out, and... I was still so angry at Eleonore, that... Well, you're right. My temper got the better of me, yet again. I wasn't careful. Not one bit. One of the guys his Sectumsempra missed me by just an inch or so. Then another succeeded by hitting me with a cutting charm. We've arrested one or two blokes, and found a lot of evidence, but the majority escaped. I wasn't on top of my game, Hermione. I can't afford that.'

Hermione stroked her thumbs across his cheek and hated how the war had damaged him. Sometimes she thought that he shouldn't have joined the Auror Department - that more trauma was the least that Harry needed, but she understood that Harry had grown up with danger and that he craved it. He needed it, like an addict needing a fix, and on top of that he was bloody good at his job. The Wizarding World would be a worse place if it weren't for Harry working in the Auror Department. It was some hard work, reforming the ways of the Ministry, but together they could succeed.

'Your glasses are cracked again,' she noted. 'Occulus Reparo.'

'Thank you,' he replied. 'You are all I need right now.'

'Let's make you a hot bath,' Hermione coaxed and Harry pulled her face against his, to place a smoldering kiss on her lips.

'I have no idea what I'm doing to deserve you.'

She smiled faintly.

'Well, you proposed to me,' she said, squeezing his hand, walking to the bathroom. With an Aguamenti and a heating charm she began to fill the tub.

'You said yes,' Harry reminded her. 'If I recall correctly, you even said yes "a thousand times".'

'Oh look who's got his cockiness back,' Hermione grinned. She glanced sideways at Harry, who began to undress himself. It was weird with how casually he cast aside his clothes, especially considering she hadn't seen him naked until last week. It was even more private to see him when he was not aroused. She was used to his erect member by now, but she hadn't seen too much of Harry in a non-horny naked state. She didn't want to pry, but she couldn't help herself, and when he stepped into the water, resting his head against the back of the tub, she noticed how his penis bobbed against the water surface.

So penises float, she thought. That is... weird. And interesting.

'I'll go and make dinner,' she said. 'We're having lasagna.'

Harry closed his eyes, but extended his hand to her.

'What is it?'

'Join me?'

'Harry, I-... Dinner. And. You know. The bath is too small.'

Harry picked his wand from the side of the tub and extended the bath magically, without even opening his eyes. His open hand beckoned her again.

'Harry-...'

'Not even to be frisky or something,' he mumbled, 'but I just want to feel you against my skin. I just need a cuddle. A watery cuddle.'

'What about food?'

'I'll help you. Or we'll order something in.'

She thought for a moment, but then she felt her hands raise her jumper above her head. Her decision was made.

She didn't remember ever sharing a bath with someone. The water was nice and warm and she immediately sunk into Harry's arms. He laughed against her skin, placing soft kisses against her temple and blowing butterfly kisses on the back of her neck.

'Please forgive me for saying I should have gone to my place. You know I'm an idiot sometimes, right?'

'I've known you for twelve years, Harry.'

'That says it all, then. So, now you know how my day went. How was yours?'

Hermione exhaled deeply.

'Oh Merlin,' Harry replied. 'Not much better, I reckon?'

She told him about the mediator, about Bill, about her grandmother. Harry didn't interrupt her, but kept running his hands across her arms, along her sides, placing soft kisses on her shoulders and jawline.

'So, in other words, we're screwed. I know for certain grandmama wants to have a part in the ceremony and whatnot, and that's a huge problem as there won't be any. It's just such a mess.'

'We can just tell her that we're engaged,' he assured her, between kisses, 'but not getting married anytime soon because of the risk of my job. That would make sense, right?'

'Wouldn't that mean that we should be married more quickly? To make sure to spend the most time that we have married to each other?'

'I can tell them it's too risky right now for you to share my last name.'

'Oh come on, Harry. Your last name is Potter! Not that it's not a nice name, but there are thousands of Potters in the UK.'

'But it will link you directly to me, right? Some criminals could find out and use you as a pressure point, something like that...'

Hermione nodded, but knew that those reasons were not going to cut it. They had to think of something better. Something more convincing.

She shifted against Harry, resting her head against his chest, but then she felt him stirring and growing against her. She chuckled, as Harry didn't waver with his small kisses, his gentle touches.

'And I thought you said you just wanted watery cuddles!'

'I cannot be blamed,' Harry mumbled under his breath, his kisses becoming more demanding. 'You are way too delicious right now.'

She leaned against his arm, so Harry had access to her lips, and he swept his tongue inside her mouth, tasting her, tasting her deeply. He squeezed her breasts, kneading the flesh against the palms of his hands, and she could almost see the lust growing inside of him, the fire erupting from his lips, his fingers, his body, with his nibbles, his touches, his thrusts.

They touched each other, but decided quickly that water was actually not that great of a lubricant, and got out of the bath to retreat to the bedroom. They were still wet, but they really couldn't be bothered, as Harry hoisted Hermione onto the bed and jumped on top of her, leaving a red trail of small marks on her skin as he ravished her. He moved his mouth to her breasts, her nipples, her abdomen, and that's when Hermione stopped him.

'Oh, are you not-...'

'I am,' she clarified. 'But I want to try something different. I want to... Take you into my mouth as well. And, if that goes well, we might be able to... Ehm...'

She felt herself blushing and pursed her lips, but Harry's eyes were still clouded with lust.

'Sixty-nine?'

'I, well... Yes...' she answered, breathing heavily, remembering the position she had read about in one of her library books. She thought that he would decline, because he had never allowed her to orally please him, but to her surprise he nodded and licked his lips.

'That sounds incredibly hot, Hermione.'

'Really? You're okay with me doing that?'

'Yes, one hundred percent. Just don't do it when you don't want to, because-...'

'Don't worry, I want to,' she emphasized. Harry leaned back into the pillows, a nervous smile on his lips, watching how she got her passion-fruit lubricant out of her nightstand.

'It still smells like you're spreading a fruit cocktail on my dick,' Harry chuckled.

Hermione rolled her eyes, as her fingers started to spread the lubricant over his member. He quickly groaned, gripping the now soaked sheets in his hands. She looked at how his penis reacted to each feathery touch, enjoying the fact that everything she did made him produce a different sound, and when she was certain she coated him entirely, she moved her face closer to his erection.

What would she do? She was a bit hesitant, not knowing what to expect, and Merlin knew why, but she opted for the slow-burn, yet again. Gently she flicked her tongue across one of Harry's balls, and Harry guffawed in surprise.

'Oh, wow, you're... Okay.'

Hermione laughed as well, but was determined to not let his reaction distract her too much. She slowly used her mouth to kiss his scrotum, licking long strokes and Harry panted.

'Please, get on with it Hermione, I really-...'

'Sshh,' she soothed, continuing her ministrations. Harry groaned yet again, as she gently made her way to the base of his shaft. Harry had one quite protruding vein, that she followed with the tip of her tongue, lapping at the base and slowly sliding upwards. Hermione liked doing this to Harry, she realized, as she gently teased him by lapping and licking at every part of his base, very steadily moving upwards. Harry was kneading his knuckles against his head again and she had to stifle back a giggle. Her fingers cautiously fondled Harry's testicles, as she lapped upwards and upwards and upwards, and just when she reached the swell of his head, she felt her fingers push a testicle upwards and it disappeared.

'What?!' Hermione gasped, shocked, and she stopped immediately with what she was doing.

'What was that? What happened? Oh my God, are you in pain, Harry-...'

'It's fine,' Harry grumbled, getting off his high a bit, and she saw him pushing against his groin, causing his testicle to descend back into his sack.

'Holy-... Was it in there?'

'Yes, no biggie, please get on with it-...'

'I didn't hurt you? Is that normal?'

She looked at him with big, concerned eyes and Harry kissed her on the cheek.

'Very,' he said, trying hard not to laugh, 'I'll give you a complete 60-minute seminar with what's, if's and but's when we're finished, but please right now just... continue.'

Hermione was still kind of shocked, and she decided that she would keep off his testicles for the remainder of the evening at least. She began at the base again, taking her time to activate all of Harry's nerves, and he was panting and thrashing his legs a bit when she finally swirled her tongue across Harry's slit. She tasted him - it was a weird, kind of bitter taste, but mixed with the flavored lube she actually really enjoyed it. She loved that Harry's body reacted to her like that - to her, no one else, and she suckled softly on the exposed flesh, cautiously pulling his foreskin back, exposing more and more of him to her. She finally took him fully in his mouth, which caused Harry to make the most amazing sound she had ever heard in her entire life, and began bobbing up and down slightly. Being very careful not to brush her teeth against his skin, she managed to take him halfway in, using one hand to stroke the lower part of his genitals.

Oh, how powerful she felt, and how loving she felt, and how close they were. Hermione loved pleasuring Harry, especially since he had had such a bad day, and when she began to move her head with the same twist as her wrist had moved the other day, Harry absolutely lost it. He sputtered something that was probably meant as a "sorry", and tried to warn her, but then his orgasm hit the back of her throat and Harry just let out an amazingly deep grunt. She was taken by surprise by the fluid, coughing and spilling it on Harry's stomach, but he didn't care. He was panting heavily, eyes shut closed, hand pushed to his forehead, still shaking a little bit.

'I'm sorry, it just came over me and, I-... Too damn good,' he whispered and Hermione felt incredibly proud.

'I made a mess of you, though. And we should probably reschedule the sixty-nine-thing to a later date.'

Harry nodded, and then grinned, and wrapped his arms around her.

'I freaking love you, Hermione.'

They decided to order pizza and Harry claimed Hermione as his desert.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: How Harry convinced Hermione that 2004 was going to be one heck of a year.

'3... 2... 1... Happy New Year!'

The group of friends cheered, holding tightly unto one another, as a cascade of lights, stars and loud bangs filled the night sky. She saw Ron pulling Nicky closely against him, a enormous grin spreading on his freckled face, holding her tightly in her long arms as he gave her a fiery kiss; she noticed Luna, eyes beaming and large, smile up at Neville as their lips sweetly met, she recognized Ginny, disappearing in her girlfriend's embrace, almost knocking her off her feet. Then she looked to her right, straight into the most beautiful, bright green eyes she had ever seen, covered by plain, round glasses. Last year they had also celebrated New Year's together, she remembered, and their six best friends had reacted very similar after the countdown. As they were occupied with their partners, Harry and her both filled their loneliness with unmeant laughter. A pang ran through her chest at that point, realizing what would never be between her and him, and how there would be times in her life where she would always find that trying.

This year was different. She looked to her right, saw those eyes, and didn't hesitate to close the space between them with a searing snog, wrapping her fingers in his unruly, black hair. Their friends noticed and wolf-whistled, but Hermione couldn't care less. This year, 2004, would be the best year in her entire life. She quickly sneaked her tongue past his lips, making Harry growl a little inside her mouth, and then she teasingly broke away from his lips. Harry's eyes were heavy lidded and smug, as he brought her knuckles to his lips, keeping her pressed firmly against him.

'Happy New Year, Hermione,' he said coarsely, lips like a promise on her fingers, and Hermione couldn't stop but grin.

'Happy New Year, Harry,' she replied. For a moment it seemed like they were alone on that rooftop, that there were no fireworks surrounding them - it was just them, and a lot of future promises. This was going to be one hell of a year, but come what may, Harry would be there at her side. Not just as a partner, not just as a friend, but as hers. It was bliss, it was perfection, and Hermione leaned into her boyfriend again to taste their happiness on each other's lips.

Then a particularly loud *BANG* pulled them from their high and they congratulated the others, enjoying the fireworks together. They were not as good as Ron's own, as he liked to remind them, but they had agreed that they would spend New Year's Eve spend together and that everyone would get their year of organizing the event. This year, it had been Hermione's turn and she wanted to celebrate New Year the Muggle way.

Hermione had woken up that morning, with a cheerful Harry bringing her waffles in bed, and then they spent the first half of the day at work, until noon, when Harry came by her office accompanied by a very happy Ron and a huge bag full of groceries. It was another tradition they had brought home from Australia: celebrating the New Year by cooking together, - Ron tried his best, but was more useful at taste-testing than actual cooking, as was Hermione, so it would usually be Harry delegating the two to do easier prepping tasks - and while their food cooked or stirred or hardened in the fridge or in a magically secured stove, they went to see a movie in the theater. Harry always insisted on paying the tickets, Ron always insisted on paying (and picking) the snacks, and Hermione would always decide which movie they'd go to. As Billy Mack's "Christmas is all around" was still booming in the charts, she opted for "Love Actually". It was probably one of the funniest films she had seen in a while, and they chatted about it, re-enacting part of the scenes, until Nicky, Jaana, Ginny, Luna and Neville flooed into Hermione's little apartment. It had been such a long time since she'd seen Luna and Neville, and they didn't stop chatting, laughing and reminiscing until it was almost midnight.

'Let's go to the rooftop,' Hermione suggested, as the midnight hour came closer and closer. 'You have a great view of the firework show on the Thames from there.'

They did, they counted down, they kissed the ones they loved and enjoyed the company of their friends. As the bells of the Big Ben rang in their ears, they locked hands with each other, and started to scream on top of their lungs.

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne!"

She had always sung it with her parents at New Years, but Nicky was the one to introduce it to their group of friends three years ago, when they started dating. Being a Muggleborn, she was very keen on restoring some Muggle traditions, and Hermione had gladly helped her teach their friends the lyrics. It gave a sense of pride, of solidarity, of harmony. The fireworks only lasted 3 minutes, which disappointed Ron a lot, but they had fun, and when they sat down in Hermione's living room again, making sure everyone had ample to drink, they all realized how lucky they were to have each other.

'So, Harry... Hermione... How did this come to be?' Neville asked, taking a sip of his butterbeer., gesturing to the hands they had intertwined. 'Last time I saw you together there was no sign of... Well, of course each and everyone in this room was praying for the day to come that you would finally stop dancing around each other, but still...'

They all laughed and Harry looked at Hermione with a look full of fondness. She loved that look - it filled her with butterflies and she couldn't help but beam.

'Yeah, well. That's actually a really weird story. It started when Harry offered to accompany me to this god awful party that my grandmother hosted in November...'

'A very gracious offer, may I add,' Harry chuckled. They told their story together, filling in the other, teasing each other for acting like an idiot when the story called for it. Harry ended by telling how he realized his love for Hermione at Christmas Eve, and how they shared their first kiss. He let out the whole ordeal in front of the fireplace - obviously.

'It was that fresh when we found out at The Burrow?' Ginny said, astounded. 'Oh, good. I felt so ashamed with this whole Olga thing at Boxing Day, I thought I had missed something important...'

'You couldn't have known,' Harry said, sympathizing. 'And Olga did seem very friendly. I hope she's doing alright, it must have been so awkward for her...'

'We introduced her to Michael Corner yesterday, she'll be fine,' Ginny chuckled. 'I'll hear all about it Saturday, before the match, I'm sure. She's partying with him tonight, so...'

They talked a bit about old classmates, sharing the latest gossip and antics.

'I would like to ask you to be discreet about us, though,' Hermione added. 'You know how the Daily Prophet can be, and we're not really ready to face all the press right now-...'

'Goes without saying,' Ron said, with an assuring smile. The others agreed.

'What are you going to do, though? I mean, your family thinks you're engaged. Are you going to go through with that?'

'We have no idea,' Hermione said, truthfully. 'It's a bit of a mess. We actually see them again tomorrow, so...'

'Always be truthful with people you care about,' Luna advised, with a kind smile.

'That's great advice, Luna. And what do you suggest to do with people you want to punch in the face on sight?' Harry asked with feigned diplomacy.

'The one doesn't have to contradict the other, per se,' Luna added.

'Oh, that Philip can't be that horrible-...' Ron interceded.

'He is Malfoy's even more entitled Muggle twin,' Harry replied.

'He is,' Hermione nodded. 'He once told me that I should count myself lucky for the existence of sperm donors, because no living human being would ever, and I quote "consider entrusting his precious swimmers to such a horrid munter like you".'

'He what?!' Harry replied, choking on his wine.

'Yeah,' Hermione smiled. 'That was one fun party. I told him not to worry, because he was so full of shit that his swimmers probably wouldn't be able to exit his urethra anyway.'

'What's a munter?' Jaana asked, sheepishly.

'A very ugly woman,' Ron explained, with an angry face. 'What a cock. Is there a way for me to punch him in the face?'

'Maybe we should let that fake wedding take place, Hermione,' Harry said simply. 'It would give me a great excuse to lure Philip to a secluded corner and, I don't know. Rip his vocal chords out of his throat and stuff them up his-...'

'I'll gladly assist!' Ron answered darkly. Hermione rolled her eyes.

'It was a long time ago, probably the first time I met him,' she said. 'He was just trying to scare me off, that's all. All mouth and no trousers.'

'Probably a prick the size of a peanut,' Ginny added. 'Insecure guys say weird things.'

'Maybe he fancies you a bit, Hermione,' Luna said, playing with the cocktail onion in her Gillywater. 'You know, like Ron used to be awful to you sometimes.'

They shared an awkward glance and Harry broke the silence with a laugh.

'Well, if Philip sprouts red hair and freckles and starts accusing me of putting my name in The Goblet of Fire, I'll let you all know.'

He winked to Ron and punched him in the arm. Ron chuckled and punched him back.

'Yes, I was an insecure prick too. But I would have never said something like that to Hermione. I always thought she was quite pretty.'

'Quite pretty?' Harry asked, exaggerating. 'She is a goddess, Ronald Weasley, and I will not accept anything else from you!'

'Oh barf,' Ginny said. 'If you are going to be just as goo-goo eyed with Hermione as Ron is with Nicky, I'm going to be sick!'

'Says the girl who had her face plastered to her girlfriend for the first five minutes of this year,' Neville chuckled.

'Well, I will definitely not stop being goo-goo eyed with Nicky,' Ron said, with a glimmer in his eye, 'because... Do you want to say it, Nick?'

Nicky hadn't been feeling all to well that evening, so she had listened and laughed a lot and not interjected herself, but now she showed a mischievous smile.

'Well, we just found out, and obviously, we hadn't planned on this already, but... Ron and I are expecting.'

The group fell silent for a moment. Ron had never looked more proud, he puffed out his chest and grinned from ear to ear, swinging his hand around his girlfriend, placing one hand firmly on her belly.

'You-... You're pregnant?' Hermione said, mouth widened in surprise.

'Yes,' Nicky answered, as she got a bit red. 'As I said - it wasn't planned. Potions are 99% sufficient, but still - ninety-nine is not a hundred. I stopped getting my periods a few months ago and we took a test on the 28th at the doctor's office. I'm 11 weeks. 11 weeks!'

'That's amazing!' Harry said, rising from his chair to pull Nicky in for a hug. 'Congratulations!'

The others followed suit, hugging their friends tightly. Ron and Nicky were positively glowing.

'The due date is the 15th of July as of now,' Nicky smiled. 'It's going to be a strain on our working life - Ron and I are both so busy with our businesses, but we're going to make it work. I'm sure of it.'

'And,' Ron said, 'because we want to be considered husband and wife when the baby comes, we will be getting married on Easter Sunday. If you won't give us a fake wedding, we'll throw one ourselves! And Harry, I would be honored if you...'

Harry cracked a wide smile.

'I would love to! Oh, I'm going to have so much fun organizing your stag night...'

'And Neville, it would be great to have you as a groomsman!'

'I want you to be bridesmaids, Hermione, Ginny, Luna,' Nicky smiled. 'It won't be too big, though. Just a little ceremony.'

The next hour was spent discussing wedding plans - 'You should cast a strong Patrificus Totalus on mom before you give her the news" - and the baby - "Well, if you start having kids already, you could also easily reach the Weasley-Standard in terms of offspring, Ron!" - and then Nicky and Ron went home, so Nicky could rest a bit. After they were gone, the group discussed how a wedding and a baby would change the dynamic of the group. They had all been forced to grow up way quicker than any normal young adult, but for some reason, the fact that two of their friends would soon become parents was a much more definite way of growing up than any war.

'Well, I could use a drink after hearing that I'm going to become an aunt thrice this year,' Ginny said. 'Who's with me?'

Hermione detested club dancing: it was loud, the music was bad, the guys were obnoxious, there was no room for proper conversation and the bathroom stalls were criminally filthy. So, obviously, being the host, she wanted to say "absolutely not", but then she saw the anticipation on Harry's face, and she figured it would be hilarious to see Luna on a Muggle dance floor. Right. How bad could it be?

Bad, it turned out. But an amazing kind of bad. They had clubbed a few times before, but she had forgotten how much Harry liked it. He loved going crazy on the dancefloor to the worst kind of music, because when he was there, he was not The Chosen One or the Boy Who Lived, he was just some crazy young adult, and she couldn't help but be find it contagious as Harry smiled broadly while jumping to some stupid electronic tune. Neville was actually an amazing dancer, creating quite a buzz as he and Luna did a way too serious improvised dance routine on Crazy in Love by Destiny's Child. Ginny and Jaana both tried to trump each other by requesting the most ridiculous songs at the DJ-booth - Jaana, who was way more into Muggle music, easily won by requesting Right Said Fred's "I'm too sexy" and "We are the Cheeky Girls" by... Well, that kind of goes without saying.

Harry persuaded Hermione to join him on the dancefloor, as he made her howl with laughter by acting out the most ridiculous dance moves. Luna was quite good at making some moves up on the spot, dragging them along in the process, and as Neville made sure that they kept on drinking, Hermione felt more and more lightheaded with each passing minute. She didn't know whether it was the alcohol or the fact that she was just so freaking in love with Harry and this party.

'I think the DJ had it when we requested Witch Doctor,' Ginny grinned. 'I mean, it's his New Year's Eve as well, I think he nearly had a nervous breakdown... Who wants some shots?'

Hermione raised her hand, as they all cheered to an amazing year, her head buzzing and turning from the booze and the sound and the sensations, and then another song came on and she couldn't help but sway against Harry, drowning in his scent and his muscular frame. Harry quickly accepted her touches, leaning into her, slowly stroking her arms, her neck, her face, before pressing his lips firmly onto hers. Harry was needy - his kiss felt hungry, insatiable, as they leaned against the balustrade that separated the dance floor from the rest of the bar. It wasn't just Harry who was hungry - she needed it as well, was desperate for his touch, and when she felt his heat flush against her leg, she groaned against his mouth, and the alcohol made her not care that she was very obviously frenching her boyfriend in the middle of a dance club.

Harry lost all sense of composure, as he pressed Hermione tightly against him, leaving her lips to ravish her throat. Hermione tilted her head back, her moans lost in the music and the crowd, and just when Harry moved towards her bosom, Ginny felt the need to interrupt them.

'I think it's time we brought you home,' she said, with a cocky smile. 'So you can finish whatever you're doing without an audience.'

If Hermione had been sober, she probably would have turned beet red, but she wasn't. Instead, she blinked with her eyes a couple of times, feeling annoyed that they had been ripped from their delicious contact, and then slowly nodded.

'You're coming, Hermione? Harry?'

She felt Harry's hand linger on her hipbone, possessive, and grinned. Hermione didn't really remember how she got home, she didn't even remember the others leaving or saying goodbye, she just remembered that Harry helped her take off her black jumpsuit and that it took mere seconds for them to fall unto the beds, half naked limbs intertwined. Harry kissed from her neck to her bosom to her navel, and Hermione closed her eyes to anticipate the contact of having him there with his mouth, but when she closed her eyes, she couldn't actually open them again. The last thing she felt was Harry sighing deeply and resting his head contently on her upper thigh.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: How Hermione loved a scheming Harry.

Harry had been late.

He had been late before, and now especially with the whole Lackey-debacle, she shouldn't have thought twice about it. It was just that conversation that they had that morning. When they woke up on January 1st and Harry had still been awkwardly positioned against her crotch, they laughed about it, then panicked because they realized they were both very late for work, and jumped into the shower together. As Hermione was massaging shampoo in Harry's hair, something Harry enjoyed letting her do, Harry had inquired about Philip again. She didn't think he would, but he was apparently still angry about what he had said to her a while back.

'How did the rest react, when he said those things to you?' he wanted to know, squinting his out to keep the soap out.

'Don't worry, Harry, it's no big thing. I'm used to people being awful. Philip wasn't the first and he certainly won't be the last, you know that.'

'It's just so... vile. And wrong, obviously. I know I'm not far from blind right now, and I have my eyes closed, but I know for a fact that I am standing in the shower with quite possibly the most beautiful witch that the Wizarding World-...'

'Stop,' Hermione laughed, rubbing a bit harder on his skull. 'Makes me see why Ginny thinks we're clingy.'

'Pff, Ginny had her face attached to Jaana for half the night,' Harry remarked. 'She doesn't have the right to complain. But, anyway, back to that awful cousin of yours...'

'Don't,' Hermione said, rubbing the residue of the shampoo in the little chest hair that adorned the upper part of Harry's torso. 'He's not worth the air he breathes, let alone our time. You can rinse your hair by the way.'

She quickly rubbed some soap on her skin as Harry made very cute sounds while getting the shampoo out of his black locks. He got out from under the shower, shaking his head like a dog and Hermione shrieked.

'Hey, Sirius Black! Will you stop it? You're soaking my bathroom!'

Harry chuckled and began to towel dry his hair.

'Does that cousin of you have any insecurities? You know... Pressure points?'

'His doctorate,' Hermione said, flushing the soap from her skin and turning the tabs off. 'He keeps telling he will graduate soon, but it has been delayed a couple of times. I like to remind him of that when he's being particularly asshole-ish.'

'Hmm,' Harry pondered, putting his towel around his waist and putting his glasses on. They immediately fogged up and he groaned irritated. Hermione laughed sweetly at how normal their routine seemed, having dated for just a week, and she leaned against him to place a kiss on his cheeks.

'I love you,' she said, without giving it too much of a thought.

'I love you too. A lot. But, back to that cousin of yours-...'

'Please don't tell me you've got something planned,' Hermione said. 'I want to have a quaint dinner for once. You know, without weird fake proposals, without my uncles watching us snog each other under a mistletoe, just normalcy.'

She untied her hair and let the dampened curls fall freely on her naked back. She began to rub her arms dry, ever so softly, and it took her a few moments to realize that Harry was staring at her with a look that could only mean pure adoration. It made her blush.

'What?'

He stepped closer to her, taking the towel from her, and start rubbing her back, while closing the space between their lips. He was soft, he was gentle, and he applied just the right amount of pressure to catch her breath in her throat.

'I really appreciated you telling me that the Dursleys were wrong, my entire childhood,' he said quietly. 'It made me come to terms with some of the feelings I've been having my entire life and... I've noticed it, the last couple of days. I'm more confident, it's been easier for me to keep the bad thoughts at bay, as it were. And... I know you must have those thoughts too, Hermione. In a different way, obviously, but you have also been told a lot of untrue things your entire life. That you are only as good as the research you do, as the results you show. That you're not pretty or desirable.'

Harry's words hit her hard. She suddenly felt vulnerable around him, and she swallowed.

'It's fine,' she said, hating the fact that her voice cracked, and she took the towel back from Harry.

'It's not fine,' Harry replied, not backing away. 'You are amazing, also when you don't have your nose stuck in a book. You know I admire how smart you are, and I really do think that's one of the reasons why I love you so much, but it's not everything you are, Hermione. You are kind and caring. You are the most caring person I know. I don't want anyone to tell you any different and most importantly, I don't want you to tell that to yourself. The fact that Philip said that-...'

'Harry, really, it's Philip-...'

'The fact that Philip said that,' Harry repeated, louder now, 'is a big thing. It's huge. It's insane and wrong and hurtful and he should apologize. So yes, I am planning something for dinner, if you don't mind. I'm planning for that git to eat his words. And you won't stop me.'

He placed his right hand on her cheek and kissed her, fiery and sweetly at the same time. Hermione felt conflicted - she couldn't express how grateful she felt for Harry saying those words, understanding that she had desperately needed to hear them, but on the other hand, she couldn't let Harry's words reach into who she was just yet. She knew Harry loved her, it was obvious he said those things, he was her boyfriend, and her best friend. If he didn't think she was smart, amazing and beautiful, who would?

'That's really sweet, Harry.'

'You don't believe me, huh?'

She smiled faintly.

'I really, really appreciate you being so sweet to me, Harry. And it's making me feel really good, sometimes I just need to hear someone say those words. But you're right: it's going to take some time. As it will for you, won't it?'

Harry smiled, but bitterly.

'We're both a work in progress, I guess.'

'That's why we fit so well together,' Hermione noted. 'Both misfits. And, both incredibly late for work. Greengrass is going to chew me out if I don't appear into my office in twelve minutes.'

'Shit,' Harry grumbled. 'Okay, you get dressed, I'll get some of the left-over pastries Nicky brought from her bakery out of the fridge. How does that sound?'

That was this morning - about ten hours ago, and she had not seen him since then. The gathering had started at 5 PM and it was now quarter past 6 - a lot family members had made inquiries about Harry. She told them that work had been crazy for the past couple of days, with new leads that Harry had to follow, which wasn't untrue. It didn't stop Philip and one of her cousins from snickering though, and she could clearly hear his sister Paula hiss "Oh my God, he dumped her on the first day of the year!' under her breath when she walked past.

'Harry knew the time, didn't he?' Jerome asked, worriedly, and Hermione nodded. She began to feel a knot in her stomach as well, remembering the slash that was cut into Harry's face just a few days ago.

When it turned 6.30, the staff informed them they were ready to be seated. There were about 30 guests, including Aunty Penelope, Uncle Monty, all of her grandma's children and a few grandchildren. It seemed that Philip and his soon-to-be-wife Lydia, Paula and her husband Thierry and the triplets of her aunt Catherine with their partners were the only ones invited. Harry's seat was very visibly empty next to her. She fidgeted nervously in her own chair, and just as she seriously contemplated on going outside and sending a messaged Patronus to check in on him, she heard a loud *PLOP* outside, that meant someone had Apparated on the premise. Thank Merlin, Hermione thought, relieved, and she nodded to her parents, who looked at her quizzically.

It didn't take long for the decorated doors to be opened by two waiters. Harry strode into the room, bowing his head to grandma as he stood behind his seat, giving a new meaning to the word fashionably late. His jacket, swung casually on his shoulder, dressed in the blouse that Hermione recognized from the tux he had bought, late Uncle Geoffrey's cufflinks glistening at the starched cuffs of his sleeves, he made an absolutely dazzling impression. His striking green eyes contrasted so handsomely with his raven hair, and as Hermione saw the fabric of his blouse cling to his very athletic body, she couldn't help but gloat. He was hers. And, she quickly realized, if this was the opening move to his grand scheme to annoy Philip, she had no idea what he'd planned next.

Harry apologized publicly for being late, attaining the perfect mix between boyish charm and handsome grace, and he bowed down to Hermione to place a sweet but slightly lingering kiss on her lips. She involuntarily pouted at the loss of his mouth on hers and he grinned as he took place beside her, weaving his fingers with hers possessively.

'You look absolutely stunning, as always, love,' he commented a bit louder than he usually would, and Hermione couldn't help but glare at him. Ugh, Harry.

'Yes, well, I didn't want to pale in comparison to my divine looking fiance,' she reciprocated, causing Harry to almost break his act by crying out in laughter. He didn't though, moving his lips in a smug grin, and winked at her. She saw Philip's jaw-muscle tense and that made her feel even better.

'My goodness me, Harry, what have you done?' she then heard, the words spoken by a very shocked looking uncle Leonard.

'Hmm?' Harry said, tearing his eyes from Hermione, but the sound in his voice was a bit too nonchalant. Oh boy.

'You've got a cut, on your temple! It's bleeding a bit!'

Harry sighed, seemingly embarrassed.

'Oh dear, the nurse assured me that it had stopped, I'm so sorry-...'

'You're bleeding again?' Hermione heard herself react, without being able to stop herself. 'What happened now?'

'Confidential, my love,' Harry said, with a conspiring look. Hermione scowled and moved her fingers to his chin to turn his face towards her. She indeed saw a cut, not that deep as the one he had gotten a few days earlier, but with the markings of the same spell. Had Harry been reckless to put on this show tonight, or were the raids really getting more violent and risky? The concerned look on her face was not played and Harry assured her by squeezing her hand softly. She looked at the cut again and now she recognized the signs of a healing spell that a nurse must have cast, not that long ago. She also noticed how deliberate scratch marks appeared on the corner of the cut, and she gave Harry a stern look, before playing along.

'Yes, well, I agree that you shouldn't blurt it out over the table, as the information is very delicate,' she nodded, looking to her grandmother, 'but at least let me assist you to a nearby chamber so I can help stop the bleeding. I need to take care of my soon-to-be-husband if he's hurt.'

'Nonsense,' Harry said boldly, doing a very good impression of how Horace Slughorn would talk to his Sluggers. 'It's not that bad and I don't want to miss one more minute of this delicious dinner. Nothing a little band-aid can't fix. Right, love?'

A server near Harry bowed and quickly left the room.

'Was it who I think it was?' Hermione asked dramatically, seeing from the corner of her eye how Philip got more agitated by the minute. She picked up a napkin and dabbed his face tenderly, loving how their family members drunk in every bit of the performance they were giving in. They loved it. And, she realized, so did she. It was hilarious.

'Indeed,' Harry nodded bravely. 'But we've almost got him. It won't take much longer to lock him up, I can assure you.'

She did a good impression of a very non-Hermione-like girly sigh and she saw a few of her aunts join in. She couldn't disagree with them, Harry looked absolutely ravishing with the cut on his face, in his figure hugging blouse, with two open buttons giving them a nice but still decent view of Harry's chest. She always knew Harry was competitive, but she had kind of forgotten he could get this swept away by all of it. She liked it, though. She really, really liked it.

The server came back and Hermione assisted with applying the bandaid to his face, earning a few "ahw!"s from family members. By this time, Philip had almost bitten his tongue in half, and Lydia was stroking his arm with a worried look on his face.

The first course arrived. While they ate, Harry entertained her family with a Mugglified story of one of Harry's first raids. He had been send out to Greece, to track down a smuggling ring, an the story contained a lot of great chases and plot twists. The leader of the ring, a grizzly man named Nikos Demopoulos, was finally found out by Harry to use Muggle children as slave-laborers in one of his factories, and he had received another Order of Merlin for liberating the children and returning them safely to their parents. Hermione had known of his mission and had even assisted him on a couple of leads, corresponding about clues and whatnot via owl, and she remembered Harry had been very modest about his success when he returned home. He didn't want to hear the slightest of praise, saying it was "just his job", and that what he did was nothing special because he couldn't have let those kids stay in a horrible condition like that. Now, all that humbleness was thrown right out of the window, as Harry spoke about it in exciting detail, earning great reactions from his appreciative crowd. When he mentioned how he found the children, and described the looks on their faces, she even saw her grandma sob into a serviette.

'Your great work keeps our country safe,' Grandma Eugenia wailed. 'If only we had more courageous men like you, Harry.'

'Oh, but you do,' Harry said, with a grin that couldn't have been wider. 'I mean, look at your amazing grandson, Philip! How's that doctorate coming along, cousin?'

Hermione did her best to conceal her amusement in her salad. Philip's face was priceless - he looked like he tried his best to incinerate her boyfriend with just his death glare, but Harry's sweet and mockingly supportive look didn't give him a chance to snap back with the viciousness that he wanted to.

'It's... It's fine,' he mumbled under his breath. Harry pursed his lips and squeezed Hermione's hand. She couldn't possibly love him more.

'Oh Philip, you should be so glad that Hermione decided to introduce Harry to our family,' Eugenia continued on. 'You always say that influential men are vital to your social circles, isn't that right? Why don't you invite Harry along for your stag party? He is almost family, after all. I'm sure he'd be delighted to join you! Won't you, Harry?'

Whack. It was like she and Harry were both slapped square across the face, as their jaws both dropped and they were speechless for a moment.

'Sorry?' Harry said, his big words all gone.

'His stag party! All the important men of British society will be there. I'm sure Philip would be delighted to welcome you to his social circle, wouldn't you be?'

'I-... I guess I-...'

'Well, that's settled then,' her grandmother decided, as if she had any say in who was or was not to attend on her grandson's celebration of his single life.

Harry and Hermione were silent for a moment, and then Harry began eating his salad with a very serious look on his face.

'It's next Saturday,' Philip said, with a slim voice. 'Lydia is having hers at the same day. You could join her as well... Hermione.'

Hermione was speechless again. Philip had never, not since the moment they knew each other, called her by her real name. She looked at him, not sure if he meant this invitation as a kind gesture or a jab, but Hermione couldn't turn down his suggestion. There was no way.

So she nodded, and they both thanked Philip and Lydia for their graciousness with clenched teeth.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 18: How Harry reassured Ron everything would be alright and how Ron... would always be Ron.

'Nyberg throws the quaffle to Sandifort, Sandifort throws the quaffle to Weasley: a bludger is coming her way - hit by a very masterful swing of Brodeur, if I say so myself - but she dodges it, she flies past Conwell, manages to evade Van Broekhoven and... She scores! What a masterful fake-throw, she's having Wood make a right fool of himself! That let's the Holyhead Harpies lead this game in 70 to 40, and no snitch in sight yet! A very thrilling game indeed, ladies and gentlemen, but let's see how Puddlemere United fares now they are once again able to take the offense...'

Harry applauded and cheered as Ginny finished her victory round and took position again. Ron, seated next to him, was glowing and roaring "That's my sister!" on top of his lungs for a good five minutes. Harry chuckled - Ron had always been protective of his sister, obviously, but he was also incredibly proud of her. Harry had put on a Holyhead Harpies shawl, just for good measures, but Ron had adorned himself in a "Weasley" Harpies-jersey, with shawl and matching socks, and he had painted green and golden stripes on his face to enhance his support of his baby sister's team even further.

'If I see that Brodeur take one more swing at her, I swear to Merlin's saggy right testicle, I'll-...'

Harry laughed on the comment and flinched as he saw the girl he recognized as Olga swing a nasty blow at one of Puddlemere's chasers, who received the bludger in the pit of his stomach and vomited all over his broomhandle. Ron's insults were muffled by the audiences disgusted reactions.

The chaser was attended to by a medic, when Ron turned to Harry's side.

'So,' he said. 'You and Hermione have finally done it, then!'

'Done... Done what?' Harry asked, feeling redness sting his cheeks.

'Got together! You finally stopped that stupid denial-thing that you've done for ages. You know Nicky swore that it would have taken you at least 2 more years to get together, you know that? That's what the bet was all about. But I won, hah! I mean, not that a galleon's that much to me anymore, these days, but it's a good feeling, you know?'

Harry looked at his best friend, bemused, as Ron yelled at the chaser to "get yourself together man, let's play!".

'Yes, well... It's kind of funny how everyone on the planet actually saw this coming, except for me.'

'Yeah, makes no sense,' Ron said, with a sarcastic grin on his face. 'I mean, you're usually so observant with the ladies, am I right?'

'Oh, you're one to talk,' Harry countered. 'This guy knocks his girlfriend up and suddenly he's all that...'

'Hey! I didn't-... That's... It's not...' Ron sputtered, but Harry laughed and shoved him against his shoulder.

'I'm joking, Ron. Merlin, get a grip. Congratulations again, by the way. And now I will get an honest reply because it's just you and me: how freaked out were you when you got the news?'

'I almost pissed myself,' Ron said earnestly. 'Don't tell Nicky, though. The first few days were really rough. She was quite happy - shocked, yes, and surprised, but happy, and I was just... I mean... A baby, for crying out loud! Last Christmas I remember sitting in our living room, thinking, "dear sweet Merlin above, I am so happy that I do not have to deal with shit like diapers and naptimes and all that just yet" and then, what do you know, next day, BOOM! She turns out pregnant! In 6 months time I am going to be doing all that stuff.'

Harry nodded.

'So... You're scared shitless?'

Ron wasn't able to look him in the eyes but sighed.

'I don't blame you, Ron. I don't know what I would do if... Well, Hermione and I haven't actually done that yet, but still, hypothetically. I would freak. And you and Nicky are actually in a very solid relationship already, living together and having the businesses, but still, it's a baby. It's a huge responsibility. If it's just you, you can screw up, but if it's your kid...'

'Don't tell me that,' Ron groaned, fidgeting in his chair. 'Just for the last three years of my life I've been feeling that I'm not actually screwing everything up daily. It's been nice - Nicky really loves me, you know, and the business needs me. For the first time in my life I'm actually feeling good about myself. Like, really good. I'm proud of who I am today. At Hogwarts... Don't get me wrong, Harry, I mean, I wasn't miserable or anything, but it's just a nice thing to... Well...'

'Achieve some success of your own without having Hermione and me upstaging your ass at everything,' Harry nodded. 'I get it. We've talked about if before, you know that I don't mind that you felt that way. It's understandable and it's a good thing that you're achieving success without me and Hermione having anything to do with it. It let's you thrive.'

'Right,' Ron nodded. 'But well, I'll be having to take care of a mini-me or a mini-Nick in six months... It has taken me far longer than I'd like to admit to take care of myself properly, I have no idea how I'm going to manage to do that for another human being. What if I suck at being a father, Harry?'

'You won't,' Harry assured him.

'I will!' Ron said, as the chaser got back unto his broom with a loud cheer from the other part of the crowd. 'At Christmas, I left my wand on the floor and Louise nearly hurt herself! What if something serious had happened-...'

'But it didn't,' Harry countered, watching how Ginny made a quite risky maneuver.

'Yes, but what if-...'

'Ron. It didn't. There's no use.'

Ron didn't reply to Harry, and when he turned to look at him he saw that the insecurity, that Ron had managed to keep at bay for the last couple of years, had resurfaced greatly because of Nicky's pregnancy. He recognized the sad look in his eyes, the defeated hunch in his shoulders. Harry hated seeing his friend like that.

'Hey, you know what, I was raised by two of the worst Muggles in the history of mankind. They were mean and abusive and they hated my guts. Your baby - son or daughter - is going to be raised by two of the most loving, amazing people I know. Your kid will be brought up in a home that is full of laughter, and light, and love. And yes, of course you're going to screw up eventually, but so did your mom and dad, and so does everyone. No one's perfect and that's not the point, okay? I know for a fact that you'll be an awesome father.'

Ron's shoulders relaxed slightly and he smiled at Harry.

'You really think so?'

'I know so,' Harry assured him. 'And I would really appreciate it if you told me the same thing in 5 years time when I'm having the same nervous breakdown.'

Ron grinned nodded.

'Thank you, mate. You're the best. And, well, I'm getting used to the idea already as well. We've been talking about the nursery, and we're going to have the first big ultrasound on Monday, so that's going to be great. I'm kind of thrilled to see how the Weasley and Littletons are going to combine themselves...'

'You two have probably created a food-monster,' Harry laughed. 'Molly is going to have to cook another Christmas dinner just for your offspring for the next couple of years.'

Ron shoved Harry painfully in the ribs as Ginny scored another goal.

Quickly enough the game proved too exciting to talk about personal business, as Puddlemere came back when they brought on a new substitute that managed to score 10 goals in the span of thirty minutes. To make matters worse, Brodeur managed to knock-out the Harpies's Seeker. As their sub for the Seeker was not fit to participate as well, Ginny stepped in to cover for her unconscious teammate and a grueling half hour followed, with a dazzling chase for the Snitch. When Ginny managed to catch the little golden-winged ball, an enormous roar erupted from the stadium, as the crow cheered for "Weasley". Ron almost exploded with pride.

It took quite a while for Ginny and Jaana to get out of their muddy Quidditch-gear, but Harry and Ron didn't mind, as they chatted some more over a beer at the bar. They discussed Harry being the best man in the upcoming wedding of Ron and Nicky, then they talked about Harry and Hermione's relationship some more. Harry was relieved to find out Ron really didn't mind, and was actually happy for them. In the back of Harry's mind he couldn't help but think Ron would be at least a bit jealous - the vision of a Horcrux Harry and Hermione emerging from the locket burned into his mind - but the questions he asked about how Harry finally realized his feelings for Hermione were considerate and supportive.

As the barman poured them another pint, Ron even scooted a bit closer to the table.

'And... Well, Hermione never really wanted to get... close during our relationship. You've said that you haven't done that yet - is she still? I mean, is that her thing? Does intimacy scare her, or...'

'Oh, no,' Harry assured him. 'She's... She wants to move on further than what we've done so far. It's just that... It sounds weird, but I'm not ready for it yet. I love Hermione, I always have, and I really enjoying being with her and... you know...'

Harry got a bit flustered again and Ron grinned.

'You like snogging the living daylight out of her. I've heard from Ginny - you apparently did your best to melt your face with hers in the middle of the dance-floor in some Muggle bar.'

'I'm not just talking about snogging,' Harry replied, with a hushed tone. 'She's... We've...'

He hesitated, not sure how to broach the subject, but Ron was his best male friend after all. If he could discuss it with anyone, it was him.

'I had plenty of girls after Ginny for a while, and it sort of... I don't know, desensitized me? I used the intimacy as a way to not think about anything and it worked, for some time, but it made the act a coping mechanism. And Hermione is actually showing me that that's not... Right. That that's not how it's meant to feel.'

Ron frowned.

'What do you mean? You don't like shagging?'

Harry looked around, nervously.

'I never didn't like it,' he said, with a gulp. 'The act itself, I mean. But it was just... Something I did because it helped me get to a point of... I don't know. It was a combination of self-loathing and relaxation, I suppose. I needed some confirmation that I was capable of doing that with girls I didn't know and it would feel great when I was doing it but I would always feel incredibly shitty after the girls went home. I don't want that with Hermione.'

'She's not going home after you've shagged her, mate,' Ron said, with a lot more seriousness than the words implied. 'She already is. She wants to stay with you, you've realized that by now, right? You are her bloody home.'

Harry pursed his lips and stared at his pint. He knew Hermione was devoted to him, of course he knew, but knowing something was not the same as being absolutely one-hundred percent convinced of it.

'I know, I'm being stupid. I should probably just get over myself, right?' Harry asked, with a pained expression.

'Yep,' Ron said, simply. 'If you ask me, shagging is the best thing in the world. And this is Hermione, this is not some broad you've picked up from a bar. She's a lot more. How tough can it be?'

Harry nodded vaguely, but couldn't ignore the knot that had formed in his chest for the past couple of days. Hermione hadn't pressed him - of course she hadn't, Hermione was tactful enough to know that it was probably a harder subject for Harry than it was for her, even though she was the bloody virgin and he wasn't, - but he had felt the stress nonetheless. Being with Hermione was amazing - she took care of his body, of his needs, and she had brought him places that he truly never realized he could be. He loved her dorkiness in the bedroom, her need to research and investigate, the way she payed close attention to his every move when she touched him at those places that made his heart soar.

A part of him felt guilty for how he had behaved with those girls in the past, trying to please them to salvage a part of his soul that felt broken as soon as the war had ended. Living up their expectation of an all-giving, all-sacrificing Chosen One - the One Who Conquered With Love, as some Daily Prophet reporter had dubbed him after it was revealed how Harry had managed to dodge the Killing Curse as a child. He had given his all to those women - his body, his soul, his dignity. It had made him feel utterly empty. He knew Hermione was not like those girls - obviously. But he feared what he would feel after they had taken the last threshold. He didn't want to hurt her, he didn't want to hurt himself. He didn't want to lose her.

Maybe you're not afraid of how she will react, a stern voice in his head said. You're just scared of how you will react, you coward.

'I always admired the way you just picked up girls, you know. Like you didn't have a care in the world. And it gave you this cool stud-like reputation that I always craved in school but never had. But hey, if it really still bothers you that much, why not talk to Hermione about it? She has always been great with feelings, I'm sure she'll understand.'

'Yes,' Harry said, dismissively. 'I'll do that. Thank you, Ron.'

But he wouldn't. Not yet, at least. He loved Ron dearly, as a friend, but his reaction reminded Harry of the fact that he was just that - Ron. Ron, his best friend and the guy with the emotional range of a teaspoon.

At that moment a loud cheer alerted them both to the arrival of the team members. When the "Weasley, Weasley!"-chant subsided a bit, Harry saw his redheaded ex and her girlfriend reach their table.

'Ron! You look amazing! Who did the facepainting?'

'I did it myself,' Ron said, grinning. 'And hey, did you know that your team sells a jersey with my name on it?'

Ginny shook her had in disbelief but Harry noticed her beaming when she hugged him. Ginny loved the fact that Ron reveled in her success as much as any little sister would.

Harry hugged both Ginny and Jaana as well and they both ordered a Gillywater with extra lemon. They began a long talk about how the match had been - discussing details and tactics and of course, complementing Ginny on her catch of the snitch. The bar grew emptier and emptier and Harry felt heavy-lidded from all the pints he had taken.

'Yes, so, we're now 4th in rank. If we beat the Falmouth Falcons next Saturday, we might still be able to win the Cup this year! I can arrange tickets for you both, if you want to come?'

'Yes please!' Ron said, eagerly, and Harry wanted to say "yes" as well, but then he groaned.

'Ugh, I would love to, but I can't...'

'Why not? It's set quite early in the morning, so you might be able to catch the first half of it...'

'I have a stag party,' Harry groaned, thinking about the disastrous dinner they had at Grandma Eugenia's.

'Hey, the date is supposed to be a surprise!' Ron huffed, but Harry glared at him.

'Not your stag party. Philip's.'

'Philip?'

Harry explained how he had wanted to make a fool of Philip, and how he had succeeded, but how his James Potter genes had gotten him into a lot more than he bargained for. All three of them laughed in his face for a bit, but then started asking questions.

'So, it's the entire day?'

'Yes it is,' Harry sighed. 'I got the official invitation yesterday. It starts at 10 AM - Merlin knows why. We're going to play some sport early in the day, then we have a lunch with a snooker-tournament, we're dining in some kind of posh restaurant and then we're going to end the day by clubbing in this high-end Muggle Bar called "The Artesian". It's posh, requires you to wear a waistcoat or you won't get in.'

'Oh, a high end Muggle Bar,' Ginny chimed. 'I thought Muggle Stag Parties had strippers?'

'How would you know that?' Harry asked, and Ginny and Jaana tried to feign innocence. Hmm. Interesting. Ron looked uncomfortable as well.

'Well, don't expect any at Philip's party. Ugh, I'm gonna die. Maybe I'll fake an injury during the morning sport thing and try to get out of it. Philip won't mind, I won't mind. Hermione has a stag party to attend to as well - or is it called stag when it's a woman?'

'A hen party or bachelorette party,' Ginny filled in, and Ron and Harry gave her those looks again. 'What? That's common knowledge, boys!'

She and Jaana shared a look and a giggle and then Ginny tilted her head with a look that wouldn't spell good news.

'So,' she said. 'Any idea if it's an all-male bar, or are girls allowed as well?'

'No idea,' Harry said. 'Why?'

'Hmm,' Ginny shrugged. 'Jaana and I might wanna check this Philip out. See if he's really as much as a douche as you tell him to be.'

'Oh no, please don't,' Harry said quickly. 'You do your game and go home. The whole Granger-family ordeal is a disaster as it is, please try not to overcomplicate things...'

'Jaana and I wouldn't dare to overcomplicate things, would we, Jaana?'

'Of course not,' the girl said, blue eyes twinkling. 'We wouldn't dare.'

Harry regretted everything.

AN: Stay tuned for some stag-party fun! :)

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 19: How Hermione and Harry witnessed the ending of an engagement

Harry had expected Hermione to say many things when they both woke up that morning. Among the options were "Come on Harry, it won't be that bad!" and "We're going to make the best of it", all varying in encouraging tones that he was so used to from Hermione. Instead, he got a deep groan, a whine, and then two hands who desperately clawed at his clothed chest.

'It's Saturday again, isn't it?' Hermione asked, with a thin voice.

'I'm afraid it is,' Harry replied, with a tone that would have been fitting at a memorial service.

'I suppose there's no way to skip past the next couple of hours without actually having to live through them?'

Harry chuckled at their shared misery and shook his head.

'Afraid not, Hermione. But... You know, I might be able to give you something to keep you going for the next few hours.'

Hermione looked at him, her beautiful brown eyes still stained with sleep and he closed the space between their lips gently, grazing her bottom lip with his teeth. She smiled, he could feel that against his lips, and he smoothly stroked his tongue against hers. She moaned in his mouth, a sound that shot straight to his groin, and he groaned in response, as he bucked against her.

'I want to taste you,' he said, more confidently than he actually felt, grinding his slowly growing erection against her body. 'Is that okay?'

Hermione purred and pulled his lips against hers more intensely this time. They both didn't taste great - they had just woken up, after all - but still Harry appreciated the sensation of how their tongues touching each other made his belly flutter and his limbs tingle. Kissing her was still as great as the first time, and he would never grow tired of it. Her hands settled possessively on his neck and shoulders and Harry loved how whole he felt with her body pressed up firmly against his. He also scolded himself yet again on how stupid it was that they had not made this move years earlier.

Hermione let go of his lips, producing a soft gasp at the loss of his touch, and nodded.

'You can taste me. But I want to taste you, too.'

Harry loved the lustful look she gave him, although he sensed a bit of shame as well. He understood - being sexually active and being open about it, admitting to wanting to do these things with words, was not something Hermione was used to.

'That can be arranged,' he replied, smugly, trying his best to show her how much he appreciated her. 'I love you, you know that?'

They tried to come up with a good position on how to accomplish their goal - as Harry laid on top already, Harry turned around and they shimmied out of their underwear and T-shirts, but the position was awkward and not very pleasant. They laughed about it as they switched, so Harry lay on his back and Hermione lay on top of him, facing his crotch. It was still awkward, and it was foreign to both of them, but this position worked better immediately, as Hermione took Harry inside her mouth quickly, making Harry moan. Having her mouth around him felt so amazing. The first time he experienced it, he had been in awe of how warm and hot and wet it felt. And her tongue, Hermione's tongue - she exceeded all expectations and he had come too quickly, without a proper warning, but Hermione didn't mind. She was eager to please him, eager to make him feel good - maybe that's why they worked so well together. That's who they were as people - they wanted to please the other, wanted the other to succeed and thrive.

Harry had to do his best to not focus so much on what Hermione was doing - which was, as it always was, close to divine. He settled his hands on the outside of her thighs, bringing her core closer to his face. He slowly opened her folds with his tongue, enjoying the taste of her on his lips, and he soon found a rhythm in his ministrations that had Hermione hum around his member. It was too much - the feeling of her mouth around him, the feeling of her juices in and around his lips - he didn't know where to focus and what to enjoy the most. Hermione seemingly agreed, because when Harry opted for a faster pace, lapping at her steadily, she dropped him out of her mouth and moaned deeply.

'Can't... Harry, it's too... Harry!'

Harry grinned against her, delighting in the fact that she had caved in first, diving deeper into her center to continue his soft laps at her clitoris. She panted, gave in to the feelings that washed over her and Harry felt her muscles contract against his mouth. It made him feel powerful, dominant, and he continued and continued, until Hermione was a blubbering mess of pants and moans and pleas. Merlin, he loved when she pleaded, and when her climax was done, he turned her onto her back, climbing on top of her again, kissing her temple, her forehead, her nose, her soft, peachy lips. Hermione's eyes were half open, half closed, and Harry didn't think he'd ever seen something so pretty.

Slowly his kissed trailed to her belly. He wanted to taste her again, wanted to make her do that again, and when Hermione told him she wouldn't be able to take it, he looked at her sternly, emboldened by the powerful feeling that still coursed through his veins.

'You can,' he said. 'I want you thoroughly satisfied, Hermione.'

Hermione made an "unff"-sound when he kissed her privates again, but she quickly pushed his head deeply between her legs, tugging at his hair. He loved it when Hermione was a bit rougher - it meant that she was letting loose, that she was letting the heat take over her body. It aroused him, thinking about how she wanted him, how she loved him, as he entered her with one finger, pumping in and out of her body slowly, grazing and curling his finger against the spot he knew would make her lose it again. It didn't take long for her to reach another climax, clawing at Harry's head, pushing him so deeply into her center he wasn't able to breathe. When she finally let go of him, and pulled him against her, his lips were sore and his mind was full. They snogged, for minutes and minutes and minutes, and as she tasted herself on his tongue, Harry couldn't help but feel so... fulfilled. This is what he had craved all those months, when he felt so alone and so vulnerable. To feel cherished, to feel complete. Here, in Hermione's arms, everything was right. And he realized that if he just focused on that, nothing could go wrong. That Hermione would always be there for him.

'Don't leave me,' he heard himself whisper against her shoulder, shuddering involuntarily. He meant so much more with that sentence, but he couldn't explain how hurt he had been after the war, how all the deaths of his friends and loved ones had been crushing down on him, how the responsibility of rebuilding their world had felt a burden too heavy to bear. How he was sorry that he had pushed that all away, how he pushed his own feelings away, just because feelings had been scarring him for so many years. She pulled him closer against him, rubbing his back, kissing his forehead and his scar.

'Never,' she replied. And he knew she understood.

They cuddled for at least fifteen minutes, before Hermione turned her attention to Harry's body, and Harry allowed her to explore him, because he trusted her with his life, with his body, with everything he had and everything he was. When he showed her how much he enjoyed her hands, and that he didn't care that she popped his testicle in his loins again by accident, and that he didn't care she pulled too hard on his foreskin again because of her enthusiasm, she became more confident, paying close attention to Harry's reactions. He relaxed, let the feelings take him to another level of intimacy, and felt his orgasm wash over him, wave after wave after tantalizing wave, and he didn't care that he made weird noises, and he didn't care that he made a mess, and he didn't care that his face looked ridiculous and that he was so exposed, because it was Hermione.

He was too far gone for at least a few minutes, until the stars that blurred his vision faded, his breathing evened, and he felt feeling returning to his limbs. He realized he was smiling - an intense, broad smile, and he sensed that Hermione lay pressed up against his chest, placing small kisses on the scar that the locket had left there, all those years ago.

'Hermione,' he said, with a coarse voice. 'I... I think I want to have intercourse with you, next time.'

He opened his eyes and saw Hermione's gaze, enamored by his looks and his words, and she understood and smiled.

'I would like that very much, Harry.'

They kissed, tongues slowly dancing against each other, basking in the afterglow of what had just occurred. He wanted to, he realized. He wanted to, on his own accord, and this would be the first time that he would do it like it was supposed to: not to forget, but to remember. He wanted to remember her, her body against his, he never wanted anything else but to remember how they would become one. It was such a freeing feeling, that he didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so he opted for another shudder, for Hermione's embrace, and he pressed her so closely against him that he knew she would have trouble breathing for a few seconds, but he needed her to know.

They decided it would happen tomorrow. Was he scared? Yes. Was he also really looking forward to it? Yes. He just hoped everything would go right.

Then they got out of bed, took a quick shower together, and made breakfast. The reality of the fact that he would spend the rest of the day with Philip and his toffee-nosed pals was annoying, but when Hermione made a joke about the rest of the day and how they managed to still mess up their lives, even without a Dark Lord to conquer, Harry felt blissful. This whole situation was a mess, but it had given him her. He would endure weeks of torture by Hermione's agonizing family for the same outcome.

At least, so he thought at breakfast, when he was still on his post-orgasm high, talking with his favorite person in the world and had delicious scrambled eggs to fill his stomach.

By 8 P.M., the tables had turned. Harry was absolutely miserable.

It began at 10 AM, when Harry had met the group, and they had decided that they all needed to wear themed outfits. Harry had no idea this was a thing during a Stag Do, but Philip's best man had arranged for all of them to wear pirate costumes, because some Muggle movie in 2003 had apparently made pirates "cool" again. Harry felt uncomfortable in his large embroidered jacket, his neck tie was itchy, the boots they had given him were a bit too tight and hurt his feet. Philip's friends dressed the stag in the clothes of the main character of the franchise and they had great joy in applying a bit too much eyeliner. It became very clear that Harry was an outcast and would not be allowed into their "social circle", as Grandma Eugenia had hoped. Philip's friends all knew each other and they had for a very long time now. All their parents occupied successful jobs, had lots of money to burn and the most of them had met during college - they all went to Cambridge. Judging by their intelligence, not everyone has gotten in because of their grades, Harry thought grimly.

The first joke the friends made was when applying some make-up to match the pirate look. "Harry doesn't need to," Philip had said, sneering, "he already has a scar on his face." Philip was not wrong - aside from his lightning bolt, Harry sported a small cut under his right eye, that was the result of a nasty jinx he received a couple of years ago and no magic spell had been able to heal it fully. Aside from that, the cuts on his temples from the previous raids were still visible as well, and he looked a lot less well-groomed than the other young men, who all sported squeaky clean-shaven faces and a hairdo that would actually listen to their hair care products.

Then they started to pester him about his glasses, asking him if he didn't have any contacts with him because he was ruining their "pirate aesthetic" and when he replied no, they told him to lose the glasses altogether. Harry flat-out refused, which made Philip's best man, a large bloke called Vance, absolutely livid. He tried to take Harry's glasses from him, but at that moment Philip's father, Uncle Eric, joined their group, and asked what the commotion was about. As Uncle Eric and Harry got along pretty well, Philip calmed Vance down, but the next few hours were nothing short of a living hell. Luckily, Harry was used to being picked on and singled out, so he didn't mind when they decided that Harry wasn't allowed to join in with their game of polo because "they had an odd number". Harry hated horses anyway, so he stood aside and watched them play.

I could have been watching Ginny right now, he thought, irritated. I could have been having a great time with Ron, but no, here I am, forced to watch 12 preppies bounce around on their fancy ponies. I hope one of them breaks something.

The teams would occasionally ask him to fetch water for them, which made him feel even more idiotic, as he ran around with water bottles in a pirate's costume. But, he knew he had no choice - he needed to be a good sport if he wanted to stay in the family's good graces.

After the polo, they had lunch and played snooker. Harry had never played snooker in his life and he was openly laughed at by all of Philip's friends, earning him the last spot in the tournament. It was half past two when Harry decided he had deserved his first beer.

They went to dinner together in a way too fancy restaurants, where they stood out as a sore thumb because of their costumes. Philip had to do a few "scandalous" assignments and drink a few pints, but Harry couldn't be entertained. Instead, he tried to envision how he would be together with Hermione tomorrow. How he would be sensible and sweet and caring, how he would pay attention to her body, and then he started to imagine how it would feel to move inside of her, to push through her folds and engulf himself inside her heat. He tried to imagine the look on her face, the sounds she made, as he thrust inside of her, over and over, filling her up with his flesh, joining their bodies as one, indulging in the feeling of her tight, wet core, surrounding him from tip to hilt. It kept him busy during the first half of dinner, but then he realized that he had become rock-hard and that that was not really desirable in the middle of a packed restaurant with a bunch of extremely unfriendly obnoxious idiots surrounding him.

The last few courses took way, way too long, as Philip was forced to play a game of "truth or dare" and he was made to confess to a few things he and Lydia had been up to behind closed doors. Well, if anything would kill his boner, it would be the thought of that asswipe's sexual encounters, so Harry tried to participate in some way, but he was ignored or ridiculed with every word that passed his lips. When they roamed the streets of London on their way to the bar with the posh name that Harry had forgotten, he felt sad and irritated and alone and, well... Absolutely miserable. It was 8 P.M.

The establishment knew they were coming - apparently Philip and his gang had been regulars of some sort - and they were greeted with shots and booze. Harry took as much as he could reach, dousing himself in alcohol, not caring about what anyone thought. He knew that as soon as Uncle Eric would call it a day, he would apparate straight to Hermione's apartment. Gosh, he truly hoped she was having a better day then he was!

Uncle Eric had no intention of leaving, though. An hour had passed and Harry was seriously contemplating on bolting out of the door anyways, coming up with some lame excuse. He spent almost 12 hours with Philip and his posh pirate pals, enough was enough. He tried to think of something to use as an out - a sick family-member? No, they knew he didn't have any. An emergency at work? Maybe, but how had they contacted him?

Then the doors to the bar swung open again. Harry looked to see who it was, as he had done all the other times before because he was so damn bored, but this time it wasn't some random group of friends. He recognized fiery red hair, followed by a white-blonde ponytail.

Oh no, Harry thought. She would not. She could not! But then he realized it wasn't just Ginny and Jaana. He recognized more girls and, with a tightening stomach, he realized that Ginny had brought along the entire Holyhead Harpies team.

Harry panicked. He didn't know what to do. Should he go to Ginny, and ask her to leave? Should he use Ginny as an excuse to bail on this nightmare? It was a very tempting thought, but then he realized that he had his and Hermione's reputation to uphold. The best way to get out of this was acting like he didn't knew the girls, none of them, and observe from afar what kind of havoc they'd wreak. It wouldn't offer him an out, but it did give him some entertainment at least.

Philip's group reacted very positively to the new girls coming in. A few of Philip's friends were single, and they feasted their eyes on the women's athletic Quidditch bodies. The girls didn't seem interested in them, though. They didn't seem interest in anyone but one person in the entire room.

Ginny had ordered the girls to treat Harry as somewhat of a Veela, he realized. He saw their looks, their over-the-top flirtations, the small waves they gave and the way they showcased their breasts to him. Harry got a dry throat and coughed into his beer, as a girl he recognized as the Chaser named Sandifort, tried to get his attention by jumping up and down, her boobies bouncing in her skimpy dress.

'Nice!' a friend of Philip said, that stood close to Harry. 'Let's see if I can get some tonight.'

He couldn't. As soon as the boy approached the girl, she gave him the most disgusted look. She asked him something, and the friend shook his head in disbelief and pointed to Philip. Another look of disgust, and the friend retreated.

'She... She's into you,' he said to Harry. 'Said she wants to get to know you better or something.'

'Well, I'm spoken for,' Harry said, truthfully. Gosh, he hated this. He didn't want to be the center of attention, he'd never been good at it anyway. Ginny knew that!

'You're... You're serious? Look at her, man! All tits and fun, you don't want to...'

Harry looked at the boy flatly, as he did a weird thing with his eyebrows.

'You know... Boom-chick-a-wow-wow?'

Harry snorted.

'I get enough "boom-chick-a-wow-wow" at home,' he replied, 'but even if I didn't, my engagement means something to me. I'm not going to risk my amazing relationship for some girl who's nearly flashing me.'

'Ugh, I wish she would be nearly flashing me,' the boy wined. 'I might try again, wait a minute.'

Harry rolled his eyes and then saw that the other friends of Philip noticed the girls as well. Ginny was currently talking to Vance, stroking his arm and introducing him to Jaana, no doubt telling her they were looking for a plus one that evening. Oh God, Ginny had gotten off the rails. She leaned into Vance, whispering something in his ears, and Harry could see the look on Vance's face darken and his mouth almost water. She gestured to Harry, and Vance violently shook his head. Ginny gestured to him again, and Vance kept on shaking, until he beckoned Harry with an arm movement to come closer.

'What is it?' Harry groaned, looking at Ginny, who had a way too smug look on her face.

'This-... Ehrm, this... Lovely lady, here, ehm... I mean, these lovely ladies, they, ehm...'

'We were wondering if you were willing to join us tonight,' Ginny said, feigning innocence. 'You see, my girlfriend and I have been dying to find a real man to fulfill all of our dire needs, but we just can't seem to find anyone fit to do the job...'

'I told them you are engaged,' Vance said sharply, looking extremely jealous at how Ginny's hand now roamed over Harry's shoulder. 'And that you won't be available.'

'Vance is right,' Harry said, without batting an eye-lash. 'I am spoken for, I'm afraid. But I really appreciate the offer, thank you very much.'

Ginny pouted visibly, and so did Jaana.

'But, I was looking forward to it,' Jaana exaggerated. 'We have been looking for so long, Ginny, and now we finally thought we found someone handsome enough and manly enough to handle the both of us, he won't comply!' Ginny nodded sadly and made a soothing noise.

'I know, sweetheart. Let me try to brighten your day.'

She pulled her girlfriend in for a very sexual kiss, right in front of Harry, Vance, Philip and the rest of the group. Harry turned red and averted his gaze, feeling incredibly awkward, but the rest of the group did no such thing. Their jaws dropped, their eyes seemed to bulge out of their sockets and they watched with anticipation. Philip wasn't able to resist the two pretty girls either and cleared his throat, looking around. Lydia's father, who had tagged along the entire day as well, was nowhere to be seen.

'Well, if you two would do me the honor, this is my Stag Night, so I am available...'

He tried to pull a face that should have been sophisticated and sexy, but by now his eye-liner was smudged and he looked like a clown.

'You?!' Ginny emphasized. 'You think we'd be interested in you? It's an understatement to say that you and this guy here' - she gestured to Harry - 'are not even in the same league. And what, you said you're getting married? Well, that's the surprise of the evening. You are such an ugly, hideous ogre, it would surprise me if anyone in this world would ever let your dick within a five foot radius of their womb. The least thing anyone should want in this world is for your sorry, pathetic arse to procreate.'

Ooohh, wow. You could count on Ginny Weasley for an amazing payback. Harry tried to hide his involuntarily guffawing with a deep cough, but he didn't really succeed. Philip was unsure what to do - he was hurt and upset and unbelievably angry, all at the same time, but Ginny did nothing but smile sweetly at him. After a few seconds of dumb staring, and silently fuming, he stormed out, followed swiftly by Vance, who tried to talk some sense into him.

'How was that?' Ginny asked, under her breath, and Harry looked at her appreciatively.

'The way you told him exactly what he told Hermione without being too obvious about it, was pure art. Thanks, Gin.'

'Let's inform the girls to not pay any attention to Philip at all, no matter how hard he tries,' Jaana said, excitedly. 'All of the other boys are allowed some attention now, except for him. Let's drive him mad. He has no problem with cheating on his fiance? He can get it - we'll give him the bluest balls he's ever had.'

Ginny winked to Harry and disappeared in the crowd, following her girlfriend. Harry knew he shouldn't like this as much as he did - Ithey were kind of ruining Philip's Stag Do, but after an entire day of pure prejudiced torture he felt it was more than deserved. He dodged a few more Harpies and then decided to sit on a stool at the bar, watching with a snicker how most of the men from Philip's party managed to get one of The Harpies to make out. Philip and Vance had reappeared again, and while Vance was quickly whisked away by one of the girls - he was quite good-looking, after all - Philip remained lonely. It made him desperate. Harry couldn't help but grin widely as he saw Philip try and butter up to any sweet girl he could find, only to be insulted once again.

Hermione was wrong, Harry thought to himself. The hat wasn't wrong to consider Slytherin. It just should have considered Ginny for that house as well.

It didn't take too long for Harry to be joined by Uncle Eric, who looked worried. He couldn't blame him - Philip was making a real fool out of himself. The bar got more and more crowded. It seemed a Hen Do had entered the establishment as well, and it didn't take long to realize it wasn't just any Hen Do.

'Harry!'

A wonderful voice boomed across the music and Harry turned his head to see where it came from. His bushy-haired girlfriend swung her arms around him before he got to take a good look at her and he chuckled.

'Hermione! It's so great to see you!'

'Oh, I hoped you'd be here!' she said, and then acknowledged her uncle. She was wearing a military cap, that she placed on Harry's head immediately, and a skimpy camouflage skirt that she had decided to wear over her regular trousers.

'It was awful,' she whispered in Harry's ear. 'We had a workshop were we had to make our own dildo.'

Harry spat out his drink and looked at her shocked.

'What? But Lydia is such a prim and proper girl-...'

'Yeah, well, not. I've heard things about my cousin that I will gladly take with me to my grave, don't ask me to repeat them.'

Harry snorted and pulled her closely against him, kissing her shortly.

'I won't. Don't worry. My day was awful too, if you really want to know. It's just gotten a bit more interesting since... Well...'

He gestured to the dance-floor, where Jaana and Ginny did their best to drive another male from Philip's party absolutely crazy. She wanted to shout something, but Harry shook his head and leaned over to Hermione's ear to explain why The Harpies were here and what had happened.

'They said that to him?' she whispered back, eyes glistening with pride, careful to stay out of earshot of her uncle. Harry nodded.

'Yep. He had a good slice of humble pie today. What do you say, shall we go home? I think we've seen the most important parts of tonight, haven't...'

A loud, earth-shattering shriek filled the ballroom. Everyone turned their heads, disturbed, to where the sound was erupting from. In a corner of the ballroom, Lydia stood, looking at a frazzled Philip, that had his fingers embedded deeply into the knickers of some club girl. Not a Harpie, Harry noted - this was just a stray girl that he picked probably out of sheer hopelessness.

'Philip? Philip, what are you doing?!'

Harry and Hermione looked at the scene, looked at each other, and realized that there most likely wouldn't be a Philip-Lydia wedding taking place.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 20: How Harry and Hermione didn't do it just yet.

'Stop studying,' Harry grinned. It was half past 12 - they had slept in today, as neither of them had to go to work, and Harry had taken a long shower after breakfast, preparing them for... later that day. Hermione seemed to have been preparing as well, but not in the sense Harry had. She really was treating the loss of her virginity like a final she had to pass and she was revisiting some of her notes while she sipped from her tea.

'It's not healthy. You'll get into your own head.'

'Hmm?'

Harry sighed, kissed her forehead and grabbed the Sunday Edition of The Quibbler - the magazine had greatly expanded since the war, earning its name as a paper that was not controlled by the government. He leaned against the door frame, studying the front page that read "To Forget About You-Know-Who, We Need You! 10 Ways To Make A Difference In Today's Society!"

'I said: stop studying.'

'I'm reading up on the goblin rights!' Hermione protested. Harry smirked, swung his wand and a book called Global Goblin Affairs and their Most Noteworthy Repercussions that Hermione had used to cover her notes was sent flying, exposing her lie. She turned crimson as her notes fell into her lap.

'Well-... That's-... I'm just... Harry!'

Harry put aside The Quibbler and walked towards her, leaning closer to her face so he could place a small kiss on top of each of her eyebrows, kissing her frown away.

'Harry,' Hermione sighed, with annoyance in her voice, and Harry chuckled. He placed a small kiss on her nose, on both her cheeks, and then he gently cupped her jaw, as he rubbed his lips against her, earning her another sigh, but Harry was quite sure it wasn't out of annoyance this time.

'Harry,' Hermione said again, but he noticed the undertone in her voice by now. He grinned and kissed her deep and wanting. Hermione growled, gripping her hands around Harry's neck, pulling her close to him. He wrapped his hands around her small waist, helping her up from her chair. They stumbled towards the doorpost, where Hermione pushed him firmly against the frame, her deliciously soft body pressed up firmly against his. She kissed his lips, then his face, neck and collarbone, tugging at the soft cotton of his T-shirt. Her lips and tongue tasted and worshiped his skin, as Harry leaned back against the wood, controlling his breath.

Finally she found that place behind his ear again, and Harry heard himself mewl. It was a foreign sound on his lips, and he would have felt ashamed with anyone but Hermione, but now he didn't have to. She giggled mischievously, while her tongue and teeth grazed the sensitive spot, and Harry felt her hand wander to the front of his jeans. He swore when he felt the palm of her hand press against him firmly and confidently. Oh, how different this felt from a few weeks ago!

'Someone's enjoying himself,' Hermione teased. Harry groaned again, allowing her delicious pressure on his member, but then he felt the heat that was building inside his body take over. He couldn't help but grumble "Bed, now!" as he took her body in his arms, dragging her to the bedroom, or perhaps, as he hadn't spend a day in the New Year without sleeping in it, their bedroom?

He tossed her on the bed, a bit more roughly then he intended to, and Hermione let out a large "oof!" when she came down. A moment of fear struck Harry, but then he saw that Hermione was laughing hard and his worry subsided.

'Yes, someone's definitely enjoying himself,' she mocked. Harry stuck his tongue out at her, then winked and started pulling his shirt over the top of his head, forgetting the fact that he still was wearing his glasses. They got entangled in the shirt, and Hermione laughed hysterically as she saw him wrestle with the fabric.

'Hey, it's my first time, you know.'

'Doesn't mean I can't be nervous,' Harry countered with a grin, as he finally managed to get the upper part of his clothes off. He jumped on the bed with her, making the spring squeak and they both giggled as Harry nuzzled his face against Hermione's neck. He noticed her labored breath and knew that it wasn't only because of her arousal. Hermione had gotten herself worked up over all of this, preparing and studying. He knew he had to find a way to make her feel at ease with the situation.

'Did I mention already that I am very much in love with you?' he asked, slowly nibbling at her skin. Hermione chuckled and then gasped, as Harry bit down a bit harder. 'And did I mention already that you look absolutely breathtaking and that I am feeling like the luckiest man on the planet right now?'

He dragged her loose fitting sweater down, and pressed down the underside of her breast to pop a nipple out of her bra. He engulfed the bud with his mouth, softly suckling and caressing, warming up her senses to him. Hermione began to pant a bit as he felt her stiffen under his ministrations. She lifted the shirt above her head and stopped Harry when he wanted to undo her bra.

'Wait, I... Let me show you something,' she said, with a blush on her face. Harry looked at her distracted as she pulled her trousers down, exposing matching dark blue panties to her bra. He noticed her hands were trembling a bit.

'Oh, you've been shopping!' Harry said, with a wide smile.

'Hmm,' Hermione nodded, looking nervous but confident, as she lay back into the pillows. 'Do you like it?'

He took in the sight of her, matching underwear, with a bit of lace but not too much to be too racy to wear. It was modest, but inviting and beautiful all the same, but to be frank, Harry didn't really care for lingerie.

'You look beautiful,' Harry said, 'I really appreciate you taking the effort. But I know a place where those articles of clothing will look even better.'

'If you dare to say "our bedroom floor", I will stomp you,' Hermione said.

Harry looked caught, catching a laugh in his throat and then they both cackled.

'Fine, don't let me make my terrible jokes,' he said, letting one hand roam on her back to undo the hooks on her bra. Hermione shook her head, taking his hand in hers.

'Front,' she said.

'Oh, can I unpack your boobies like a present?' Harry asked, enthusiastically.

'Harry!' Hermione said, pretending to be shocked.

'Yay! Boobies are the best kinds of presents!' Harry said, producing a boyish laugh that he knew Hermione loved, as he used both hands to undo the clasps on the front of Hermione's lingerie. Her breasts looked absolutely mouthwatering when they were exposed to him - soft, round, with dark, stiffened nipples that just begged to be touched. He bit back a laugh and pushed his head between her mounds, blowing air against her breasts and shaking his head, producing a loud "PRRFFT".

Hermione burst into a loud shriek, and when Harry finally removed his head from between her breasts, she had tears in her eyes from laughing.

'You are an absolute idiot,' she guffawed.

'Well, you decided to say "yes" to my proposal, so who's the real idiot?' Harry quipped with a smile. He helped her get out of her bra and they lay side by side for a while, kissing and smiling, until Harry decided to pay attention to Hermione's exposed body once more. She moaned with a content look on her face, fully relaxed, and she rubbed slow circles on Harry's back as he repeated that pattern with his tongue on her nipples. His plan had succeeded for now - he managed to take her worry away.

He continued his lovingly touches to her chest, as he let his fingers roam across Hermione's underwear. He used his index finger to stroke lines on her slit - up and down, up and down, and he grinned against her soft skin as he felt her wetness through the fabric. He noticed his own erection pulsate in his trousers, but he wouldn't allow to touch himself yet. He was used to give the girl the attention, and he wouldn't stop now. He moved his face to hers again, grinding her tongue against hers slowly, as he pressed a bit harder on the fabric, finding the sensitive nub once again. She whimpered against his lips.

'What do you want me to do?' he asked quietly. 'Do you want me to use my mouth or my fingers?'

'Both,' Hermione answered, with a coarse voice. 'Both, please, Harry.'

Harry felt himself twitch in his trousers at those words and nodded, kissing her one last time, deeply and sensual. He moved lower, pushing her panties aside a bit, as he brushed his fingers across her folds, spreading her soaking wetness across her heat. He kissed her again right there, and again, and finally placed a loving, french kiss on her core, earning him a deep, guttural moan from his girlfriend. He lapped at her wetness, tasting and devoting himself to her, making sure to stimulate every part of her core. It didn't take long for her to reach completion, shuddering against his lips. He kept his fingers on her heat, as he sat up straight, bringing his lips to hers, so she could taste herself on his mouth. They always love that, he thought.

'I'm going to enter you,' he whispered, and moved his middle finger inside of her. He slowly pushed against her center, feeling her muscles give away to allow him inside of her, and Hermione sighed. She felt so hot, so warm, and Harry immediately knew he wouldn't last long when he would enter her with another part of his body. His fingers sought that spot again and grazed against is slowly, curling his finger gently and carefully. Hermione made such sweet, harmonious sounds, completely giving her to his touch - he felt honored to be allowed to watch her like that.

'Just imagine, Hermione,' he breathed against her skin. 'Imagine me being inside of you like that... Filling you up... Hitting that spot, over and over... Would you like that?'

He winced a bit as he realized what he was doing - he had used this tactic on other girls as well, the "dirty talk". It had always worked. He had no idea why his brain decided to do it with Hermione too - he didn't need to be an imposing seducer with her, he didn't even like this side of him, the side that tried to impress and not be authentic, but he was surprised to find out that in that sense, Hermione didn't differ a lot from the other women he'd had. He felt her tighten around his finger immediately, responding to the words from his lips like she was envisioning it in front of her, and she started to pant.

'Yes, Harry... Please. I want you so bad...'

Gosh, she was a sight. Slightly puffed lips from all the snogging, soaking wet and begging around his finger, Harry didn't think she could look any more arousing. He began to unfasten his belt, almost mechanically, and he felt himself halting. He wanted her - why did he stop in his tracks? She looked like absolute heaven and he had her begging for him, but it didn't actually feel like... Like he was present. It felt like a different Harry had taken his spot, in his bed, with his girlfriend. An annoying voice in his head, that sounded a lot like Ron, was scolding him for not shagging her on the spot. Just look at her, you absolute idiot! She wants you, you want her - get the hell on with it!

Ron was right. He just needed to get it over with. All his sexual encounters would be tainted by the ones he had before, that's just how it was going to be. And he wanted this - he knew he wanted this, he felt the prove of that painfully throbbing against the fabric of his briefs.

He undid his trousers, his socks and his underwear, all in one go. As he got close to her, fully unclothed, he picked up his wand and whispered the anticonceptive spell that Ginny had taught him when he was 17. It was 6 years ago - it seemed an eternity. Hermione was stunning, and she wanted him, and he knew he wanted her. He knew that, he assured himself.

'Let me know if it's uncomfortable,' he heard himself say, as he had said a dozen times at least, and when he pushed himself against her, he felt Hermione's hand on his forearm, stopping his movements.

'Harry... Are you alright?'

It was like he broke out of a trance. He looked at her, truly seeing her, realizing that the concerned look she had in her eyes had been there for the last five minutes at least.

'Al-... Alright?'

'Yes,' she said. 'I get weird vibes from you.'

'No-no... No weird vibes,' he chattered. 'No weird vibes at all. You are beautiful, you know that?'

She smiled at him lovingly, but not lustfully, and she got up to face him. Harry gulped, and realized his hands were the ones that were shaking now. How long had they been doing that?

'We don't have to do it today,' she spoke.

'We do,' Harry corrected her. 'I want to. I really want to.'

'Then what's wrong?'

'Nothing's-...'

'Don't say that. Talk to me. Be honest with me.'

Her face was worried and Harry didn't like that. He didn't want to be the one to cause her worry or harm - he never wanted that. Especially not on the day where he would take her virginity. She took one of his hands inside hers when she spoke again.

'You were truly enjoying yourself when you did the crazy thing with my breasts - how is that called? Motorboating?'

Harry managed to laugh genuinely.

'I-... No idea,' he honestly replied.

'Right,' Hermione said, copying his smile. 'But then you started to be all suave and, don't get me wrong, I don't mind that, but you started to get fidgety and... It kind of felt like Harry left the room and someone else took over. Am I sensing that wrong, or...'

She studied him carefully as Harry bit his tongue.

'Harry - I don't care how good or how bad of a lover you are,' Hermione ensured him. 'I don't care if you don't make me climax a dozen times, I don't care if you fumble around and miss the mark completely, I don't care if you think about yourself for once. I don't care if you make a mistake, if you mess up or hurt me. You know I've made mistakes with your body - and I hurt you occasionally, but do you like me any less because of it?'

Harry snorted and shook his head.

'No, but it's just-... I want to do it right, with you. Especially with you. Because it's you, and not a lot of people have cared about you like that. And that's wrong. You deserve the world, Hermione, truly.'

'I might deserve the universe in your eyes, Harry, I know,' she replied. 'But I don't want the entirety of the universe in my bed. I want Harry. Not some fake, pretend, heroic, "savior of the Wizarding World" - I want Harry. Just Harry.'

Harry felt a lump caught in his throat as he looked at her. Sweet, loving, and so, so wise. Wise beyond her years. She understood him. Damnit, she did.

'This is kind of the same situation like when you gave me my Christmas present, don't you think?' she continued. 'We both totally downplay our worth to the other person for a dumb reason. I thought I wouldn't be worth the effort to you - but I was. And you know what, I have read your note every time I opened that book. I read it every day. You say I am worth every knut, well, same goes for you. You told me that you have no idea why I doubt myself so much sometimes - well, again, same goes for you. You are amazing, just the way you are. Will you just allow me to be in love with you, without giving me a version of yourself that I don't need? I am not in love with The Chosen One, Harry. The guy that had his head printed on the cover of the Daily Prophet a thousand times is not the guy that was so mad at my cousin that he proposed to me; he is not the same guy as the one who buys me sushi whenever I ask for it; he is not the same guy as the one that just... Well... Made farting noises between my boobs.'

Harry laughed, and only when he did that he noticed the wetness on his cheeks.

'But that weird, rambunctious, impulsive moron is the man that I am deeply in love with. And I want him. I wanted him since I was very, very young and I still want only him.'

At the moment a warm feeling filled his chested, caused by Hermione's sweet words, Harry realized that the wetness came from his own eyes. He felt so stupid, so inherently idiotic, but Hermione wiped away the tears with her thumbs and kissed him on his nose.

'I don't cry,' Harry said. 'I have no idea why I do now.'

'Because you're a mess,' Hermione said. 'We both are. We have been since the war and we are finally getting shot at happiness and normalcy. It means a lot to me that you are, actually. It means that I'm already getting through to you, just a bit.'

'One bit at a time,' Harry smiled, and he allowed Hermione to wrap her arms around him and straddle him, holding him against her bare body.

'I love you so much, Harry.'

He closed his eyes, leaned against her and sighed. He didn't need to tell her. She knew.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 21: How Hermione was right to worry about her grandma.

It was half past seven when Harry finally reached Hermione's apartment – his back ached, his arms and legs felt sore, the stunning jinx that had hit him, was still lingering in his bones. He needed to work on his shield efficacy: it had given out after seventeen minutes, at a very unfortunate moment in the raid. Fighting off stunning jinxes was part of Auror-training: some recruits called it "torture", but Harry didn't mind learning to fight off spells. He loved the feeling that coursed through his veins as he overcame the effects on his body, the adrenaline rushing, blood pumping in his ears, but it had weakened him substantially and it had resulted in the disapparation of his target. Again. Eleonore wouldn't be please and at this point, he couldn't blame her. He wasn't on top of his game, he hadn't been since he discovered the memory charm that was placed on Lackey. It made him feel angry, anxious, rebellious and less professional. Eleonore Holywell, Head-Auror, knew this, but was wise enough to not confront Harry so directly about it. She didn't want to damage the feeble bond she had with her golden boy, The Chosen One.

It was bad enough Harry knew about this favouritism and used it to his advantage. It was very un-Harry-like, so he felt, but working in the Auror Department was one of the reasons he hadn't completely driven insane past the war. The constant danger fuelled Harry's live, drove him forward, and he needed it desperately. How he would resolve the corruptness and old, backwards habits the team had developed over the years would be something to tackle once he became Head of Department. Something that would hopefully happen soon. Harry was certain if he were to crack the case on Nott, Delilah Bagman (sister of Ludovic and head of the Justice Department) would give him the benefit of the doubt over Eleonore. He just needed to succeed. And he hadn't exactly been doing that the past couple of weeks.

Well, Harry had heard that once some parts in his life would start looking up, another part would fall to ruin. Harry wanted to be the youngest Head of the Auror Department in at least a century – it had a nice ring to it, after all – but he would gladly give it up if the other part of his live would keep on thriving like it was. Stepping out of the fireplace he smelt Hermione put on some nice scented candles and he realized that he had never felt better about coming home, even though officially he hadn't been "home" since Christmas Eve. He went to his apartment to pick up some clothes a week or so ago, but that was it. He didn't want to be alone again, in his cold apartment, chewing on some quickly assembled meal that usually consisted of instant mash potatoes, frozen meat or fish and canned veggies.

Hermione had brought in some take-out, he saw, and he smiled when he recognized the brand on the bags.

'Sushi?' he grinned.

'It's been nearly a month,' Hermione replied, nose stuck the book he had given her for Christmas. She looked up to smile at him and allowed his lips to meet hers in a loving, sweet embrace.

'Hmm,' Harry mumbled against her lips. 'I've missed you.'

'You saw me not twelve hours ago.'

'A criminally long time to be away from such a lovely witch,' Harry nodded. 'I agree.'

Hermione slapped his arm playfully and pulled Harry in for another kiss.

'I won't deny that I'm very happy to see you as well,' she said. 'How has your day been?'

Harry sat opposite of her as they opened the bags. Hermione gave Harry the bamboo-chopsticks from the bags and they sat down to eat there dinner. Harry made a point to block her chopstick a few times with his, which caused Hermione to become playfully irritated. He loved getting her on edge.

He told her vaguely what happened, not able to tell her the full details of the case this time as he had signed an Unspeakable Agreement on the specific subject. Unbreakable Vows were deemed ineffective by the Auror Department ages ago, because it caused valuable members of their Auror teams that succumbed under pressure of torture to confess, causing their own deaths. Instead, a very powerful enchantment was invented, which rendered it simply impossible for them to communicate about certain aspects of their work. If they tried to speak, for example, their jaws would lock themselves automatically, and their vocal chords would be blocked. The Unspeakable Agreement would have to be signed specifically for each case, and needed to be update a few times throughout the process. The contract also gave them specific time measurements for when solved cases would be discussable.

'I have read a lot about approving shield charms,' Hermione said pensively, as Harry had been able to tell her what went wrong that day. 'I might be able to help you…'

She immediately jumped up from the table, running to her bookcase, as Harry smiled. Merlin, he loved her. She was absolutely stunning – the way her eyes focussed on the titles on the case, the way her fingers drifted past the spines of the sometimes completely worn-out works, her lips pressed in a look of pure determination. She wore her past-work clothes: an oversized jumper (his), jogging pants, her hair in a messy ponytail. He wondered if she was wearing a bra. He would make sure to check on their way to the bedroom.

She came back with a book, where they discussed excerpts from. Harry practiced with the shield, succeeding in summoning it, and then projected a shield unto Hermione. She yelped as the charm prevented her from grabbing another sushi. Harry chuckled as she pouted and tried to vanish the shield – in vain. Only Harry would be able to remove it, and he teasingly put another part of sushi in his mouth, moaning obscenely.

'Oh Hermione, have you tasted this roll? It's so good…'

'You bastard,' she cursed, with a scowl. Harry laughed, vanished his charm, and held out a bit of the roll in front of her with his chopsticks.

'Here, for you.'

Hermione squinted her eyes playfully, but accepted his offer nonetheless.

'That's the last time I'm ever helping you again,' she huffed, mouth full of roll.

They bantered a bit, discussing work, discussing the disastrous hen and stag do, discussing Philip and Lydia's breakdown.

'I have something important to ask you,' Hermione said, a sullen look on her face.

'What?'

'I got a call at work today. It was grandma. She wants us to come over for dinner, tomorrow.'

'Oh? Another social event.'

'No, the holidays are over,' Hermione said, with a bit of a fearful voice. 'I'm afraid this is… Well, she said she just wants to "catch up", or whatever. But it's grandma, you know. She is obviously planning something.'

She sighed, rubbing her temples.

'We need to talk about this engagement-ploy, Harry. What are we going to do with it?'

'What do you mean?' Harry asked, sipping from his water. 'We're just going to say that we're not getting married right now, and not next year either.'

'They will want to hear a date from us, you know,' Hermione said, sceptically.

'I'll give them a date,' Harry said. 'Sometimes before 2010.'

Hermione snickered.

'Right. Like that's going to cut it. I'm just… I have this feeling that Philip and Lydia have permanently cancelled their wedding, Harry.'

'Well, good riddance,' he pointed out. 'He was a total idiot for diddling her skittle in the middle of the bar.'

'For-… What?'

Harry chuckled. 'Phrase Ron told me. Anyway – she would be right to call it off. Philip is a prick anyways. He doesn't deserve one shred of happiness.'

'First of all, I think that even the worst kinds of people deserve happiness,' Hermione said, good-heartedly as she was. 'Even if they are my obnoxious relatives. Secondly, I'm afraid… The fact that the cancellation of their wedding, is going to put more pressure on our fake one. Grandma probably wants to pay more attention to it, be more involved in it than she was before.'

'So…?' Harry asked. 'We'll tell her "no". We won't get married right now.'

'You say "we", but you know how bad I am at telling my family "no", Harry. Especially if grandma pulls the old "I am old and tired and alone and sad"-card. The one she's definitely going to pull.'

'Good, then I will tell her "no".'

'Hmmhmm,' Hermione said, with a look of pure sarcasm on her face. 'Like how you said "no" to not get affected at grandma's birthday, or how you said "no" to celebrating Christmas with Aunty Penelope, or how you said "no" to kissing me under the mistletoe-…'

'In fairness, I wanted all of those things,' Harry said light-heartedly, as he caressed her hand with his thumb.

'Oh. Yeah, I get that you don't want to marry,' Hermione said, quickly, looking at how their hands were touching. 'I don't imagine you would want to-… Marry-…'

'Yet,' Harry filled her in, as Hermione replied with a very quiet and sad "Me".

'You?' Harry said, dumbfounded. Oh God, how on earth he managed to turn a light and funny situation in something so drastically different in the matter of a few seconds, he had no idea. He needed to make it right.

'Hermione, if I'm going to marry anyone in this world, it's going to be you. How would you think it would be anyone else? I haven't spent one evening alone from you since we celebrated Christmas. I just told you that I missed you, after not seeing you for a day at work. I love you. Hell, I was just thinking how much I loved you when I saw you near that bookcase…'

Hermione looked a bit embarrassed and nodded.

'I know. I know you love me. It's just-… I need to remind myself, sometimes. I spent the largest part of my life believing that you never would, after all.'

'That was a grievous oversight on my part,' he admitted. 'But I always loved you, you know. Maybe not romantically, but I always cared more for you than for anyone else.'

'I know,' she replied. 'I know you do, it's just sometimes… I get insecure.'

'Completely unnecessary,' Harry said. And then, he continued with a mischievous grin on his face, feeling the tingles grow in his belly: "What if I show you how much I love you?"

Hermione's painful face turned a bit softer and she let out a sigh.

'Oh, is Mister Potter getting randy from all the sushi?'

'Mister Potter has checked the bag and found that "most likely to be future Mrs. Potter" failed to get a desert,' Harry said. 'So, I reckoned I'd claim it anyway.'

Her face turned into a smile as Harry stood up from the table, still clasping her hand tightly.

'Fine. So, before we head back there – dinner, tomorrow?'

'Sure.'

'Good. Last one to the bed is a crumple-horned snorcack!'

She shouted the last words, pointing her wand at Harry and casting the shielding charm.

'Unfair!' Harry whined, as Hermione ran to the bedroom, laughing hysterically.

Luckily, that Tuesday, Harry hadn't been forced to go on a raid. He'd filed some much-needed paperwork and attended a meeting, where the plans for the next planned raids were discussed. He noticed Eleonore tried to talk to him in private, but tried to avoid and ignore her as much as he could. At the end of the day, she managed to corner him, but he was very quick to tell her he had a dinner date.

'A date, Mister Potter?' Eleonore asked, interested.

'With an 86-year old,' Harry nodded. 'I'll see you tomorrow, Mrs. Holywell!'

He flooed to Hermione's apartment, where they both tried to match their outfits somewhat. Hermione had rented a car for the occasion, a quite expensive looking one, and as she was the only one with a driving's license (Harry hadn't bothered yet), she drove them to her grandma's premises. One of the many butlers let them inside the mansion, and they were directed to one of the smaller rooms Harry never had been in.

'Hermione! Harry! So wonderful to see you!' Eugenia wailed, and she tried to stand up. The room they had entered was still too luxurious for Harry's taste, but it was a least a bit more homely, as he actually saw the mantelpiece with their glass figurines, some family pictures, some knitting on the sofa that proved that grandma Eugenia actually lived in this giant building as well, not just rented it for obscenely expensive parties.

Also, to his surprise, he saw Aunty Penelope, who looked very happy to see both him and Hermione again. That feeling was mutual, as he hugged the women, until he realized that Grandma Eugenia probably realized that she might not be able to coax Harry into some insane wedding plans, but Aunty Penelope surely was. He groaned, reminding himself to be very, very careful.

'You both look dashing,' Eugenia commented. 'You've picked such a handsome groom, sweetheart.'

Hermione laughed uncomfortably as her grandmother stroked Harry's cheek.

'Yes, I know. He's a catch.'

'He must get a lot of female attention,' Eugenia went on. 'Be very popular with the ladies.'

Harry felt incredibly awkward. He was addressed in the third person while being stroked.

'He sure is,' Hermione said, hesitantly. 'But I've reeled him in, obviously. Why do you say that, grandma?'

'Oh, the talk about that horrible Stag Party, dear. You must have heard – or what am I saying, you were there! Don't you think it's absolutely awful?'

She clapped unto Harry's cheek and Harry couldn't help but grimace.

'That's quite enough, sister,' Aunty Penelope interjected. 'You're making the poor boy squirm!'

'Oh, of course. Please, dearies…'

Grandma Eugenia gestured so the both of them could sit down. Aunty Penelope looked at them with a bemused look in her eye, as a butler brought them tea.

'Well, anyway. It was horrible. Horrible!'

'It sure was,' Hermione said, her calmness a funny contrast to her grandmother. 'Do you know if they've broken the engagement off?'

'Lydia gave her ring back, yes,' her grandmother sighed. 'I mean, I can't blame the girl. He was acting rather scandalously…'

'Yes, he shouldn't have given a strange woman a slippery salute on a crowded dancefloor,' Aunty Penelope agreed. 'That's no way of showing manners.'

Harry spat his tea across his blouse, breaking out in a fit of laughter. Hermione looked mortified, which made him laugh even harder.

'Penelope!' her sister shrieked.

'Oh Genie, lighten up, will you? The end of their relationship is not the end of the world! I never liked that Lydia to begin with…'

'She was a very respectable girl,' Eugenia defended. 'Very well-off family…'

'Money can't buy everything, dear,' Aunty Penelope quipped.

'No, you should know, as you picked Geoffrey as your husband! Totally against the will of our father.'

'Geoffrey was a good man,' Aunty Penelope said coldly. 'And didn't feel the need to change my last-name back after he passed away. You live in a large, empty mansion, with just a few dozen servants to keep you company. I live in a small house, but that house was filled with love that I truly and deeply felt, dear sister. I think that says a lot, don't you?'

That turned sour quickly. Harry looked at Hermione, who hadn't stopped looking any less fazed. She accepted his soothing hand on her knee. The sisters quarrelled some more, until Grandma Eugenia shook her head.

'Done, now. Done! We agreed we wouldn't fight anymore, Penelope. And if we are, please let's not do it in front of my lovely grandchild and her soon-to-be-husband.'

Aunty Penelope nodded and sipped her tea in disagreement.

'Anyway, Hermione, Harry. We didn't invite you over just for the sake of chatting. As Philip and Lydia have now cancelled their wedding, we have a little… Problem.'

'A problem?' Hermione asked, worriedly. Harry worried too – but not for Hermione's grandmother's sake.

'Yes. You see, I booked the venue they are getting married in. I arranged for the caterers, the decorations, everything. It regrets me to say that the venue is not refundable. Insurance doesn't cover-…'

'Tickling the bean of another woman at the groom's Stag Do,' Penelope finished.

'Dear sister,' Eugenia said warningly, but this time, Harry didn't smile, as an anxious feeling crept up on him.

'So, there's an open spot at the 3rd of August, ready to be filled in. You both have been such great guests for the last couple of months. I have really gotten attached to the both of you, especially since you did so much good for Nelly, and… Well, we both wanted to suggest…'

'You can take the spot, if you want to,' Aunty Penelope agreed, with a lovingly smile on her face. 'We will cover all the changes, all the alterations. You won't have to worry about anything in sense of paying. It would be the perfect gesture from our family to you, Hermione. We have wronged you and Isabelle in the past. Haven't we, Eugenia?'

'We have,' her grandmother said, with a tear in her eye. 'I missed my darling daughter so much, and I am so glad she found a way to reach out to me. Now you and your new flame are such loving additions to my family… The both of us just want to contribute to the happiness that you are both creating in our family. We want to… Make amends, so to speak.'

'And we know that money can't buy everything,' Penelope added, hastily. 'But… Well, we would be honoured to be able to fulfil this for you. And we'll both make sure that you will be able to make your own additions to it – no white peacocks, for example! It will be a Harry and Hermione wedding, through and through.'

'So…' Grandma Eugenia said, a hopeful glint in her eye so beaming, Harry felt blinded a bit. 'What do you say?'

Three hours later, Harry and Hermione emerged from the mansion. The looks on their faces changed from forced obligatory happiness to chagrin.

'What do we do now?' Harry spat, as he slammed the car-door shut with a loud *CLANG*. 'There is no way we can back out from this… We've totally cornered ourselves – I think we could ask for a mass Obliviation at the Ministry, maybe that would solve it, but… No, there's no way we can safely Obliviate that many muggles for a memory that has lasted longer than a month…'

'There is a way,' Hermione said, with laboured breath. 'But you're not going to like it.'

'What?'

'They are only giving us the spot because it's vacant now,' Hermione explained. 'We just have to make sure that… Well, that the spot is no longer free, if you get what I mean.'

'To have another couple come in to get married at that date?' Harry asked.

Hermione shook her head. 'No. The spot is reserved for our family, after all. We just have to make sure the wedding… Isn't cancelled.'

She bit her lip and looked at him.

'We have to get Lydia and Philip back together, Harry.'

Chapter Text

Chapter 22: How Harry uncovered Philip’s lies.

When Harry and Hermione got home, they decided on their game-plan. First, Harry would call Aunty Penelope and Hermione would call Grandma Eugenia: they’d thank them for their kind gesture and say that they were totally on board but that the both of them did want to talk with Philip and Lydia in advance to know if they were absolutely certain about cancelling. It was sensible, thoughtful, and a good excuse to buy them some time. They figured that after that, they would both visit Philip and Lydia this week – Harry would pay Philip a visit, Hermione would go and see Lydia, and they would both come up with some kind of strategy as to how to get them back together. Although they both loathed the pair, Harry and Hermione did agree that they fitted rather well together, and that there was no other option for Philip to find a new broad to get engaged to in the span of seven months.

They also decided that, while the situation seemed chaotic and insane, they both actually looked forward to this matchmaking ordeal. It felt like they were back at Hogwarts again, figuring a tactic on how to orchestrate yet another insane plan, and it brought back some great memories. Harry had always loved working together with Hermione – she was meticulous, intelligent and fierce in her decision-making, something a lot of his current colleagues lacked, and it made him realize how much he missed being around Hermione in his work field.

They didn’t talk about what would happen if their matchmaking failed. Harry didn’t want to talk about it, as it would make things too complicated, and Hermione didn’t touch the subject either, convincing Harry that the both of them would succeed. Hermione even suggested a memory charm as a back-up plan – something Harry was vehemently against, but didn’t voice towards her. The Unspeakable Agreement made him unable to talk about the ambiguity of memory charm usages in their department. Merlin, he needed that promotion.

It did highlight to him how desperate Hermione clearly was to not get married on August 3rd and though Harry would not say it out loud, it did made his heart ache just a tiny bit. He didn’t want to get married to Hermione yet, that was true, but the more thought he put into being around her for the rest of his life, the more he thought about her bearing the title of “Mrs. Potter” without irony, the more he thought about how he would be able to wrap his arm around her in public places, declaring that she was his wife, the more he started to… Warm up to the idea? No, it was more intense than that, Harry realized. He had always envisioned Hermione would wed a high placed Ministry official – a man with class, dignity, a good sense of humour and a witty intelligence. He always knew that he would be there to support her, and thinking about that future had always been a normality for him, but the last few days he realized that he really, really didn’t want that.

He wanted to be that guy for her.

But it was too quick – they had gotten together 3 weeks ago. Normal couples would be having regular date nights and meetings with parents and other family members for the first time at 3 weeks. Normal couples would be seeing each other two or three days a week at most at that stage. Normal couples would still get to know each other, would still test the waters, would still be very cautious in a number of ways. Living together would be discussed a year or so later, and two or three years after that, maybe marriage would be thing to consider. Harry realized that Hermione and he had skipped past the “regular” couple things a lot faster. He and Hermione basically lived together already and they knew each other better than they knew themselves, sometimes. That was to be expected, after everything they went through together. But marriage… Marriage! That was serious business, not something to be jumped right into, right? It would bind himself to her for the rest of his life. That was no small matter.

An annoying voice in the back of his head, asked whether he wasn’t bound to Hermione already.

As he usually did – he ignored that voice. Hermione was clear. Marriage freaked her out, at least for now, and he would respect that.

So, getting that surrogate-Malfoy and his posh princess back together was the only way to dodge this uncomfortable bullet. Harry had been working that morning, preparing for next day’s raid, and had decided to sacrifice his lunch to see the muggle version of his arch nemesis. It didn’t take long for him to find Philip’s address, but it wasn’t want he had expected. Because of Philip’s high-class friends, and the fact that he was currently working on a doctorate, Harry had the vision of some extravagant Victorian-style house. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Philip lived in a very large, very dirty and very underwhelming flat in a dodgy part of Cambridge. Harry was let in by a guy with long, sticky hair with dreadlocks, that kept a joint between his teeth as he opened the door. He didn’t know Philip, but a name plate on the letter boxes pointed Harry to the fifth floor of the large building. The entrance smelled of piss and vomit, the stained concrete floor blurry with substances Harry didn’t want to identify. He climbed the stairs, mindful as to not touch the bars, and each floor he reached emitted a different sound of misery – rowing couples, crying children, intoxicated men that roared the lyrics of a long-forgotten song. When Harry reached Philip’s apartment door and rang the doorbell with the sleeve of his shirt covering his fingers, he kind of expected to be at the wrong address. Surely, Mister prissy, puritanical “white pigeons and peacocks” Philip didn’t actually live here?

‘Y-yes…?’

The door was opened just a few inches. Harry could see an unshaven chin, could smell a foul breath that was laced with alcohol. He wanted to back down, call “wrong house”, but then he caught an eye peeking through the door. Beautifully brown coloured, with large, fluttering eyelashes, that looked so pretty on the face of his girlfriend. This eye was bloodshot, it’s pupil was dilated, but recognizable nonetheless.

‘Philip?’ Harry asked, trying not to sound too judgy.

‘Who are you?’

‘It’s… Harry. You know, Harry from… The Granger Family.’

Philip shut the door and Harry sighed. That was to be expected. If Philip was in such a bad state, there was a slim chance of him wanting to see the guy that had been present at the humiliation of his lifetime. Harry was about to turn around, but then he heard Philip unlock the key chains on his door.

‘Why are you here?’ Hermione’s cousin’s voice sounded.

The door swung open, revealing a very sad Philip. He wore wrinkled pyjama-bottoms, a worn-out shirt that had a least seven different coloured stains on it, and two socks that showed part of his toes. His dark-brown hair was no longer sleek, but looked more like Harry’s after he hadn’t tried to comb it for a few days.

‘I came to check on you,’ Harry said, nonchalantly. ‘May I come in?’

‘You came to gloat,’ Philip scoffed, but then he let out a bitter smile. ‘Can’t say I blame you.’

‘I don’t,’ Harry said. ‘I… wanted to see how you’re doing. But, by the state of it…’

Philip snickered.

‘Yes. Well, if you really must, I guess you’re welcome.’

He disappeared into the living room. Harry was shocked. He expected all kinds of scenarios, but he had no idea what he had gotten himself into now. He wished Hermione was with him, she would have known what to do.

The first thing Harry noticed was the litter. There was trash everywhere, it seemed to cover every spot of the floor, of the furniture. Whatever was going on, this was a systematic problem, something that had been going on way before the Stag Do. The smell was hideous. Harry muttered a quick smell blocking spell that he had learned to cast whenever he covered a crime scene with a corpse that had been laying there a bit longer than it should be.

Philip was seated in front of the sofa, the only clear spot of the entire living room. He was playing a football game on a Playstation or something like that – one of those things Dudley had owned as well, years back.

‘Beer?’ he asked.

‘Ehh-…’ Harry said, but Philip threw him one either way. Harry kept the can closed as he sat on one of the stained cushions.

‘So… You’ve found me out,’ Philip sneered. ‘You must be over the moon.’

‘I’m not,’ Harry said. ‘Honestly. I’m not.’

Philip shrugged his shoulders, saved the gamefile and closed it down.

‘Well, it says something that you’re here, I guess. I’m always very good at keeping friends at bay. No one has ever visited me here. They don’t know I live here. How did you find me?’

‘Work,’ Harry said, honestly. ‘I used my contacts.’

‘Hmm. Good to know the government knows where I live, at least.’

Philip took a large gulp from his beer and gave a loud burp. Harry frowned.

‘I… Sorry, Philip, I’m really confused. Are you the same guy I have met over dinner, a couple of times? The big, expensive suits, the large ego, the well-groomed face: is that you? Or is this who you really are?’

Philip laughed again, but Harry saw pure sadness in his eyes.

‘I got kicked off my doctorate a year back,’ he said. ‘I didn’t meet the targets. I had been slacking – I have these episodes where I feel like pure shit, and I don’t know what causes them. Can’t really explain what it is, but basically, it numbs me, and I’m unable to get out of bed. I hide it. No one knows how I feel most of the time, and I just… Couldn’t bear to tell dad or Lydie what happened when I got kicked off… So I kept it silent, told them I was still working on it. Ever since I was forced to quit, I have been a mess. My doctorate covered my expenses, so when it stopped, I was kicked out of my house. Moved in here, but I kept that from Lydie and dad as well. Made up a lot of excuses for why they couldn’t come over, et cetera.’

Philip sighed and took another sip.

‘For the last year I lived with Lydie, and I came her occasionally if I told her I had to be at “school”. She was so supportive, so sweet… And I… I couldn’t bear to tell her… She started pressuring me about a marriage proposal and I have no idea why but I… I just obliged. I know she would have been supportive of my situation, but she… She doesn’t deserve someone like me… I am a liar, I am a pathetic human being… And now I cheated on her too…’

Harry saw tears building up in Philip’s eyes as he downed the rest of his beer, crushed the can and threw it across the room.

‘I  caused her so, so much pain, just because I wasn’t thinking straight – like I never am! I was just so jealous, of you, of the other boys, and I had been drinking so much… I never meant to act like that, I just wanted to show off a bit, but that girl, she was really randy and… I knew she was, I should have backed down, but I am just so tired and so sick of myself, Harry… I keep punishing myself, keep hurting myself, and I’m just so heartbroken that she’s gone! Lydie was my honey drop – I know that’s cheesy and shit, but I properly loved that girl. I still love her! That’s why I drove her away, that’s why my subconscious didn’t stop me from fucking my life up. Because of her. Because she’s worth everything, and I’m… I’m…’

He was downright crying now.

‘I am absolute filth, Harry. I don’t deserve to live. Maybe it’s better like this. She can move on, at least… She deserves someone who actually… Matters in life…’

Philip pulled his knees to his face and curled up like a ball, convulsing under the pressure of his sobs. Harry felt awful. It was hard to face, but somewhere, Harry understood a bit of Philip’s pain. He was fortunate to have a good support system – Ginny, Ron, Hermione; they’d kept him off the wrong path, made sure that he saw the right healers at St. Mungo’s, forced him to talk about hard things when it was absolutely necessary. He had survived because of them, he knew. And even with their support Harry had been acting reckless because of how he felt sometimes – the sexual contacts he had when he moved on from Ginny were proof of that, as were the scars that he earned from blowing off steam at work.

So, Harry decided to come down to Philip’s level, and clumsily patted him on the back a few times, as the tactful guy that he was.

‘Have you never talked about this with anyone?’ he asked. Philip shook his head, covering his face with his arms.

‘Well… That must be really hard. To walk around with a secret like that.’

Philip didn’t reply and Harry looked around. The room was an absolute wreck. If muggles had to clean this up, it would take at least a few days, maybe a week or even more. For Harry, it would be less than a few hours on cleaning spells.

‘Philip, have you slept well, the last few days?’ Harry asked, knowing the answer. And indeed, Philip shook his head.

‘Why don’t you go to sleep, right now,’ Harry said. ‘Take a shower first, then take a nap. I’ll see how I can help you, alright?’

It took some persuasion, but Philip finally gave in. Harry’s well placed Confundus probably helped with that, he had to admit.

With Philip sleeping, and Harry making sure that he would stay asleep for a while at least, he got to work. He cleaned the apartment from top to bottom, vanishing garbage of months and months, collecting dirty clothes from the floor, countertops, chairs, magically rinsing and folding them. The kitchen took Harry an entire hour, magically washing what seemed to be three months’ worth of dishes. Harry sent a Patronus to his secretary and to Hermione, informing them that he would be out of office for the next couple of hours and would return late to clean up his desk.

When Philip woke up, four hours had passed, and the young man didn’t recognize his apartment. It took another Confundus for him to believe Harry managed to sneak in a professional cleaning crew in behind his back, but in the end, Philip was ecstatic. The apartment was clean, smelled amazing and looked actually decent. Harry felt good about himself, but he was quite exhausted.

‘And I thought you were a dick!’ Philip exclaimed, marvelling at how he could walk around his flat without stepping on trash.

‘I kind of am,’ Harry said, grinning. ‘Don’t worry. You just manage to catch me on a good day, I suppose.’

‘No, I was totally wrong about you! I must-…’

‘Really, save it,’ Harry insisted. ‘This is just a minor step compared to what needs to be done for you to win Lydia back. Because that’s what you want, right?’

‘I… Yes, of course I want that, but… As a better man. Someone who’s worthy or her affection.’

‘Then you need therapy,’ Harry said. ‘These episodes you talk about, they aren’t normal. We need to consult with a doctor about the possibilities for treatment for you. And then we need to see how we can fix this doctorate problem.’

‘I should confess, probably. Come clean about it to Lydia and my father…’ Philip said with a thin voice, but Harry shook his head.

‘Not yet. Maybe someday, yes, but not yet. I’ll speak to your professor about it. What’s his name?’

‘You… You think you can convince him to take me back?’ Philip stammered, wide eyes and open mouth.

‘I’m quite sure,’ Harry said, patting the wand in his jeans. ‘I’ll find a proper excuse for your delay and make sure you get back into the program. Being productive will help you back on track.’

‘But… How?!’ Philip asked, exasperated.

‘Working for the government makes you fairly persuasive,’ Harry replied, with a mysterious smile. ‘I’ll pay a visit to him tomorrow. What’s his name again?’

‘Oliver Humphries. He’s a judge, and a college-professor at Cambridge.’

‘Good. But now, that doctor of yours. I think it’s a good thing if we make an appointment right away…’

It was half past 9 when Harry got back into his office. He had accompanied Philip to his General Practitioner, then Harry bought them both dinner. Philip had hugged Harry when he left: hugged. Philip was a lot less awful when he wasn’t overly insecure and he hadn’t made one snobbish comment to Harry the entire afternoon. Harry wondered if he maybe would be able to tolerate Philip by the end of this ordeal. He feared that he might.

Polly had been a dear and cleaned out Harry’s desk for him. Harry sighed contently, sorting the last files into the accompanying folder. He checked his raid bag, packing extra blood-replenishing potions, when he saw something move in the corner of his eye. Someone was asleep at the chair that sat in the corner of his room.

Harry carefully closed his bag and took a step to see who it was. It didn’t take long for him to notice the red hair and the freckles.

‘Ron, why in Merlin’s name are you asleep in my office?’ Harry growled, poking his friend with his wand. Ron yelped, shot up and fell of Harry’s chair.

‘Harry! Oh thank you, I thought you’d never come… Where were you?’

‘Development in the engagement-scheme,’ he sighed. ‘I’ll tell you all about if after you’ve given me the reason why you’re asleep on my chair.’

‘It’s… It’s Nicky,’ Ron hesitated. ‘We had an extra appointment today. Last scan, the Apprentice Healer wasn't sure what she saw, and she was the only one present, so we went again this afternoon to do a double check, and… And…’

‘And what?’ Harry asked, suddenly concerned. ‘Is she sick? Is the baby okay?’

‘Yes, Nicky, she’s fine, it’s just… Blimey, Harry…’

‘What?’ Harry pressed, agitated. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s not just a baby, Harry. It’s bloody twins!’

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: How Hermione would always be on Harry's list

The first thing Harry noticed when he stepped out of the floo, was the smell of her shampoo. Not seconds later he registered her body, pressing up against his, her lips firmly planted against his cheek, her fingernails scraping against his neck, clawing against his leather jacket. Ah, yes, there she was. His home. Hermione.

‘Harry! My goodness, it’s so late!’

Harry smiled automatically. He knew that this emotion would be first – relief and joy. Queue the next. Anger.

Where have you been?!

Yep. There it was.

Harry chuckled and stuck his nose in the tender space between her head and her neck.

‘You smell nice.’

Hermione huffed and when he moved away from her, he noticed the real concern in her eyes.

‘I don’t care, I want to know where you’ve been! Are you hurt? Was there a raid?’

‘No raids today,’ Harry assured her. ‘I sent you a Patronus.’

‘Yes, but I thought you would be home after dinner. It’s 11 PM, Harry. 11 PM.

He paused and nodded.

‘I know. I’m sorry. I would have been back earlier, if it wasn’t for Ron.’

‘Ron?’ Hermione asked, bewildered. ‘What’s he got to do with it? I thought you would go to Philip, and that something must have gone terribly wrong there, otherwise, why would you be so late, I mean-…’

Harry laughed and cut her rambling off with a sweet kiss. God, those kisses. They would drive him nuts.

‘I will tell you everything, if you allow me to step out of your hearth, and unwind a bit,’ he grinned against her lips. Hermione blushed a bit at her own bossiness and obliged.

Harry shed his coat and his shoes, and followed Hermione to the bathroom, where she offered him a toothbrush. They brushed in silence, but Harry made sure to have his arm firmly wrapped around her waist, to show her he was sorry and to give him the contact that he craved so much. They pulled funny faces at each other in the mirror and one particular face of Hermione had him laugh so hard that he spit some of his toothpaste out. Hermione shrieked disgustedly, which made Harry laugh even harder.

Finally they ended up in the queen-sized bed. It was a particularly cold night, so they put an extra blanket on the bed and turned on a light heating charm.  Hermione was pressed up tightly against the worn-out cotton of his sleepshirt – it was one of the shirts he had worn during the Triwizard Tournament, and Hermione circled the Gryffindor emblem as she sighed happily against his chest.

‘Right, as you’ve got more to tell, I’ll go first,’ Hermione said. ‘Boring day at work, so there’s that. Now Bill’s got my case I’m kind of back in the Elfish welfare – which I love, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve heard their arguments time and time again and the research is getting kind of dry. Second: got news from Ginny, around 8 PM. Fleur’s given birth.’

‘That’s great!’ Harry exclaimed. ‘Is she okay?’

‘Yes, she is, and the baby is too. It’s a boy, they named him Louis. Didn’t Ron tell you that?’

‘Ron was… occupied,’ Harry replied. ‘I’m not even sure if he knew, going by the state he was in. He had other things on his mind. Their own pregnancy, most of all.’

‘Oh?’

‘Ron and Nicky are expecting twins,’ Harry said, with a grin.

‘What?! No way!’

‘Yes way. It was confirmed today. Now, we could have kind of seen it coming – Ron having twins-brothers, Nicky having twin-sisters and a mother who is a twin herself. They kind of hit the genetic lottery jackpot for creating twins, I suppose.’

‘Of course! That we didn’t think of that before… And Ron freaked out so bad that he waited for you at your office?’

Harry told her in detail how he managed to calm his friend down. He had no idea if he managed successfully – Ron had Fred and George in his mind, after all, but he did go home with less tension in his shoulders. Hermione and him contemplated on that for a bit – twins, for crying out loud! – and they both decided to pay them a visit soon, to tell them that they would be there to support them. They would need it, after all.

Then he told her about Philip. Hermione was shocked, to say the least, but emphatic.

‘Oh, I feel so bad for making fun of his doctorate now… No wonder that he snapped…’

‘He still called you ugly,’ Harry reminded her. ‘He still said things that were really uncalled for. No matter how bad things get, he shouldn’t have done that.’

‘No, I know, but-… Well, it kind of makes sense now, doesn’t it?’

‘He was miserable, jealous, and depressed. Yes. But I have felt like that, Ron has felt like that, and neither of us have told you that you were ugly. So, he’s not just a wreck, he’s also bloody blind,’ Harry said, still a bit angry.

‘Says the guy who can’t see straight without his glasses,’ Hermione quipped.

Harry grinned cheezily.

‘Well, even without my glasses I know that you are absolutely breath taking, you know,’ he chuckled, leaning against her lips. She rolled her eyes, as if she was irritated, but after a while he saw a smile creep up on her face as well. She deepened the kiss, opened her mouth, allowing her tongue to seek his. Harry groaned approvingly, enjoying the taste that was so purely Hermione combined with a minty freshness.

‘We should go to bed,’ he said, as he pulled her closer to him. Hermione nodded against his mouth, kissing him again and again, sweeping his tongue across his, desperate to get a reaction out of him.

‘We should go to bed,’ she agreed, as she pulled on Harry’s shirt. He lifted it above his head, exposing his chest to her, and she kissed his cheek, then his neck, then the place behind his ear. Harry moaned.

‘We should go to bed,’ he repeated, as he forced Hermione to break off the delicious contact in order for her to hoist her shirt over her head. She didn’t wear a bra and Harry latched onto her nipples immediately. Hermione let out an approving murmur, pressing him closer against her chest.

‘We should go to bed,’ she sighed, as she sat upright, bouncing up and down against his mouth. She broke his movements off, only to straddle on his lap, and have their cores meet. Harry was already half-mast and he shut his eyes, enjoying the friction that her body gave, moving against him with nothing but the flimsy fabric of their underwear between them.

‘We should… go…’ Harry panted, the contact sending a rush of blood to his groin. He kneaded his knuckles against his forehead, and let out a whimper when Hermione stopped her delicious movements. He needed her against him, like he never needed anything else in his life, and then there she was, removing her own underwear, then removing Harry’s, and stroking her hands up and down his length.

Her lips engulfed him and Harry thought he would go mad. He gave up control, shuddered against the sheets and focused on her mouth and her tongue. She tried to take him in deeper than she had any time before and that just aroused him to no end. He brought his hand to her head, slowly caressing her scalp.

‘Can I... Guide you?’ he groaned, his own voice unfamiliar in his ears, clouded with lustful love. He had never acted like this with a girl, but Hermione hummed encouragingly against his member and he felt his hand push gently on the back of her head, as he thrusted upwards. The sensation was so freaking good and Harry just couldn’t help the sounds he was making. He tried to be as gentle as he could, assuring that Hermione was capable of breathing and that he didn’t push too far. She gagged once, but was so enthusiastic in her bobbing that Harry didn’t even feel guilty about it.

‘Merlin, Hermione. You’re… Ugh, yes,’ he heaved, as he picked up the pace. He saw stars, released the hand on her head and stopped thrusting, so Hermione could decide how he climaxed. She took him in as deep as she could muster and allowed him to finish inside of her. The sensation was overwhelming, it made him tug and wither and then completely still as he felt himself releasing.

Hermione wiped her mouth and kissed his abdomen, while the only thing Harry could do was lie down and breathe with his eyes closed. She giggled, pulled the sheets tightly around them and used her wand to dim the lights.

‘We should go to bed,’ she said sternly, when she felt his hands wander to the lower parts of her body. ‘You’ve got to learn that you don’t owe me anything, Harry.’

He chuckled, thinking about how he told her the exact same thing not that long ago, and curled himself against her soft body.

‘That’s not fair. I like getting you off, too, you know-…’

‘Should’ve gotten home earlier then,’ Hermione teased, but she kissed him nonetheless.

‘Point taken. I love you, Hermione,’ he whispered against her skin. She nestled a bit tighter in his arms, enjoying his warmth.

‘I love you too, Harry.’

Next day’s raid turned out to be a complete disaster. When they got to the compound it had been abandoned – and abandoned with care, as every scrap of evidence was either vanished or irretraceable. It didn’t do wonders for Eleanore Holywell’s mood, the Head Auror, as she barked commands at the team for the rest of the day. When Harry announced that he would spend his lunchtime outdoors, Holywell even remarked how the so-called “Golden Boy” was abandoning ship. She loved playing mindtricks on him like that, trying to convince him to stay, bit he didn’t give in.

Convincing Philip’s Muggle Professor that he had made a grievous mistake, was easy enough. Harry used a transfiguration charm to make himself look a bit older, gave himself a made-up title and feigned importance, and with some disillusion-charms and a few well-placed Confundus incantations, Oliver Humphries immediately admitted that he had been very, very wrong to throw Philip off the program. Harry made sure that Philip was not only allowed back on his post, but that he would be compensated for the months that he had spent without income and that he would get a good personal counsellor to guide him through the process of getting back into the school system. Harry liked being thorough, and as the old Mister Humphries bowed humbly while writing his autograph on a number of documents that would definitely seal the deal, he felt good. Philip would benefit from this greatly – if it didn’t give him Lydia back, it would surely give his life back, and Harry kind of felt obligated to do so after witnessing the breakdown of the boy in person.

Harry made sure to eat his lunch with Hermione. Since their relationship had developed into something more, Harry and Hermione had both skipped their lunch-appointments most of the time, as they would be seeing each other the rest of the evening anyway. Hermione was delighted to see him, however, as he strode into her office with some salmon bagels he brought from Dial. They chatted a bit, about Philip, about work, about who would do the groceries, about politics and family and nothing special really, but they had such a good time that Mimsy had to come knocking to remind Hermione that she was very, very late to an important meeting. Their half-hour lunchbreak had turned into an hour and a half. Harry had to repress the urge to kiss Hermione when she left her office, but there simply was too much risk with Mimsy watching.

See you tonight, Hermione’s eyes told him. Harry winked, and squeezed her hand, to tell her that he cared for her. Mimsy didn’t think twice about the gesture – he and Hermione had been fairly close in touches for ages now – and Harry rushed to his own quarters.

‘You’re late.’

It was the voice of his mentor and Deputy Head, breaking the silence in Harry’s office. Harry had only just installed himself behind his desk.

‘I know, Mrs. Holywell,’ Harry replied, opening the top file that lay on his desk. ‘I’ll work over-time.’

‘That’s not the point,’ she said. The way she held herself reminded her of Professor McGonnagal a bit – the stern face, the knot – but her manners were too much influenced by Alastor Moody and Cornelius Fudge to like her as much. She was reckless, without fear, convinced that the end justified the means no matter what, exceptionally strong and good at magic, but she wasn’t a fan of leg work. Like Fudge, she was ambitious, and didn’t back away from using sly tactics to get her employers to act exactly how she desired. With different guidance, she would have been a bloody good Auror, Harry thought often, but that prick of an ex-Minister just had to poison her mind.

‘Then what is the point, Mrs Holywell?’

‘Your work-ethic for the past month,’ she replied. ‘You have been acting irresponsible in the field, getting injured. The insight that you usually bless us with during the reviews of our raids has been lacking, to say the least. And don’t even get me started on you disappearing without a reason, taking days off without giving notice to our board, seriously overstepping your lunchbreaks…’

She sighed.

‘If you weren’t who you are, I would have been forced to officially reprimand you.’

‘Then officially reprimand me,’ Harry said coolly. ‘If it’s what every other Auror would have gotten, don’t hold back. Treat me like the others.’

‘I might, actually,’ she said, sharply. ‘But I also know you as a person. You don’t slack, you take pride in your work. So, before I make any harsh decisions, I would like to know from you what happened. Is it the way we handle the memory charms? I know you disagree with them, but that wouldn’t make you so agitated. Your work is your life, Harry! What’s changed?’

Harry wanted to make a snide comment, but then he paused. Eleonore was right. Something had changed. Normally, cases would consume him. Heck, in the first few weeks of his “engagement” to Hermione, had had thrown himself into it like he didn’t know what else to do. Work was something he used to cope, to distract him, and for the past month… Harry didn’t want to be distracted. Not in the way he wanted to be before, anyway.

‘I have changed,’ he said, slowly. ‘But I’m afraid I don’t want to disclose to you what has caused that change.’

‘Is it permanent?’ Eleonore asked. Harry paused again for a few moments.

‘I certainly want it to be.’

Eleonore Holywell sniffed and nodded.

‘Alright. I see. I think I’m right at assuming that this has a direct correlation with you and the date you had, last week?’

Harry didn’t answer her, he didn’t need to. As trained as Harry had become in Occlumency over the past couple of years, his face was still very bad at hiding his true emotions.

‘And I don’t have to remind you, Harry, that everyone in the Auror-department is forced to give openness about their family life? That we need to make a list of everyone that is of close meaning to you, so we know who possible victims are, should you be personally targeted? If you want this to be permanent, it is of the utmost importance that we know, so we can provide them with the protection they might need.

Eleonore whipped out a list from her bag – Harry’s “hit list”, he knew – containing just a few names. The people on that list represented Harry’s weaknesses, his pressure points. The few people in the world that Harry would do absolutely anything for – that would make him confess all the Ministry’s deepest, darkest secrets, were someone to take them and harm them. She grabbled in her bag for a quill and some ink, but Harry stood up from behind his desk.

‘Don’t worry, there’s no need to add anyone,’ he said, grimly.

He packed his files and his bag.

 ‘She is already on there.’

It was silent for a moment, as Harry gathered his things. Eleonore was stunned.

 ‘If that’s all you want to discuss, I’ll be working from home today,’ he added, with a little hoarseness to his voice. ‘If you want to officially reprimand me, this would probably be a good time.’

He had no idea why he was so acting so careless, but to be honest, he just couldn’t be bothered. Eleonore read the five names on the list again – and then smiled.

‘I won’t, Harry. Don’t worry. And I will keep this information about you and Miss Granger absolutely confidential.’

Harry held in his breath as he briskly walked past her.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 24: How Harry didn’t think he could be but in fact did get even closer to Hermione Granger

 ‘A Knight bus!’ Teddy Lupin gasped, wide-eyed. ‘My very own Knight bus! Thank you, Uncle Harry!’

Harry knew he was spoiling his godson, but he hadn’t been able to resist buying the replica for him when he saw it at the store that Friday, browsing for an appropriate maternity gift for Fleur. He and Teddy had taken the Knight Bus not that long ago, as Harry knew the little boy was fascinated by cars, trains, busses and brooms.

‘D’you wanna play with me?’ Teddy asked, eyes glistening with excitement, and Harry laughed.

‘Of course! What are we playing?’

‘Well, I’ll be the chauffeur, and you can buy a ticket from me!’ the little boy explained.

‘The chauffeur has to drive,’ Harry reminded him. ‘You know who does the tickets, right? Not the chauffeur, but-…’

‘The conductor!’ Teddy squealed. ‘Now I remember! Yes, I want to be the conductor, and gramps can be the chauffeur. Okay gramps?'

Arthur, who sat adjacent to them, was bouncing little Molly on his lap.

‘Of course, little Ted!’

‘All aboard!’ Teddy started, and Harry laughed.

‘Well, if you’re a real conductor, you need a proper hat, don’t you?’

Teddy nodded fast, a glow in his little eyes, as Harry drew his wand and began to sketch the outlines of Stan Shunpike’s hat. Aside from Potions, Transfiguration was one of the subjects Harry had really picked up on, as he had been practicing a lot for it during his Auror training. Disguising and concealing had been one of the biggest subjects, so Harry had been forced to become really adept in clothing spells, as he was supposed to transfigure or summon articles of clothing that would make him blend into any crowd.

It took Harry just a few minutes to create a replica of Stan’s cap, and it was a bit too big for Teddy as the visor kept falling over his eyes, but he looked absolutely adorable.

‘Where do you wanna go, sir?’ Teddy asked.

‘I need to go to the Ministry of Magic,’ Harry said.

‘Okay! That will be… Two sickles, please!’

Harry put some air into Teddy’s open palm and he chuckled.

‘There we go!’

Teddy picked up his bus and ran across the conservatory, creating a large “VROOM”-sound. The room, with large glass windows that went up to the ceiling, was absolutely packed with red-haired family members of its owners. Bill and Fleur Weasley.

Harry watched as Teddy would ask other family members to buy non-existent tickets as well. Hermione sat a few chairs away from him, Dominique draped across her chest as she usually was, in deep conversation with Nicky. She and Ron had decided to tell the family members about their own pregnancy today.

‘Are you nervous?’ Harry asked to his best red-headed friend. Ron had been entertaining Victoire with the present Harry had bought her, as he knew how painful it could be to watch others get a present at that age without receiving one themselves. The glistening, pearl-white plushy neighed softly as Victoire cuddled it on her uncle’s lap.

‘I’m okay,’ Ron said, smiling lovingly at the little girl on his lap. ‘It’s just… Like we talked about on Friday when you guys came over, a normal pregnancy is a lot easier than a twin pregnancy. Nicky is… You know, she’s it, for me, there is no one in this world that can amount to how much I care about her. And I don’t want any harm to come to her. It’s like I know that she’s at risk, but there’s no way that I can keep her from it, this time. She will be at risk for the next couple of months at least. And that scares the sh-… the shoot out of me.’

Harry nodded.

‘I understand. But the Healers at St. Mungo’s will keep a close watch, right?’

‘Yes. Check-ups every two weeks for now. She has to take these potions to keep her levels up – no idea what kind of levels or what they do, but the potions taste like-… They taste bad,’ Ron said, scowling at himself for almost swearing twice in the matter of a few seconds with a toddler with very good hearing on his lap. ‘And she has to do it all by herself, under her own power. The only thing I can do is run to the store at 2AM to get her whatever she wants. And you know, backrubs and massages and all that, but it still makes me feel utterly useless. I hate that.’

‘You’re doing all that you can and you’re doing it well,’ Harry said. ‘Don’t worry about that. You and Nicky work as a team. I talked about it with her when we were in the kitchen preparing the food for our culinary disaster boy- and girlfriend last Friday. She’s really happy with all the effort you’re making.’

Ron’s chest puffed out a bit and he smiled.

‘By the way, when I asked “are you nervous”, I didn’t mean the pregnancy itself. I meant the announcement. Molly and Arthur know, right?’

‘Yep. And Gin, but you were there when we told her. She doesn’t know about the double trouble, though.’

‘Should be fun,’ Harry grinned, as Teddy came running back to him.

‘We have come at your destination, sir!’ he exclaimed, face bright. ‘We hope you have a pleasant day! And now, if it’s okay Uncle Harry, the bus is feeling a little tired, so can I sit on your lap?’

He climbed on Harry’s legs and put the conductor’s cap on Harry’s head. Harry laughed at what Teddy said.

‘Oh, is the bus tired? You’re sure Teddy’s not tired as well?’

‘Nu-uh,’ Teddy said, shaking his head with sleepy eyes. ‘Just the bus, Uncle Harry!’

He was so unbelievably fond of the boy. He had never experienced anything like it, but when Teddy made little bus-noises, riding his toy across the table, he couldn’t help but feel very protective and very… fatherly? It was a good feeling, a feeling he only got when he was with Teddy, something he had felt when he first held him but had only grown stronger and stronger over the years. Ron read the look on Harry’s face.

‘I know. Just imagine though, having two of my own in a few months’ time,’ Ron said, lovingly stroking Victoire’s head as she had fallen asleep against his chest, the Unicorn pressed tightly against her. ‘I mean – when they sleep or play quietly, they are really kind of nice, don’t you think? It’s probably not so bad. And when they’re older, they have each other to keep themselves busy, right?’

They were interrupted when Bill and Fleur entered the room, holding a little bundle in their arms. The family cheered and yelled their congratulations. Everyone lined up for a little peek of the newest Weasley. Harry, Teddy perched on his shoulders, and Hermione gave their presents together. It was nice to be able to wrap his hand around her waist and place a soft kiss on her lips, without the antithesis of having to worry if they looked engaged enough and without having to worry that they looked too close to be just friends. Hermione gave him a heart-warming smile: the kind that made his stomach flutter, and Teddy cooed from Harry’s shoulders.

‘Uncle Harry and Aunt Hermione are in love!’

‘Yes, we are,’ Harry answered proudly, and Hermione playfully rolled her eyes.

They gave Fleur and Bill their present – a charmed mobile that played both French and British children songs – and looked at the blonde-haired boy. He was absolutely precious. Teddy wanted to look closer and Harry hoisted him over his head and held him in front of the baby, so he could get a proper view. Harry noticed that Bill whispered something to Hermione, with a concerning look on his face. He didn’t manage to catch what he was saying, however, and Teddy quickly demanded his attention, before he returned to his chair.

‘Now, different subject: how is the engagement going?’ Ron teased as Harry sat down again.

‘Oh, sod off.’

‘No, you said you managed to Confund Philip’s professor, how did it go?’

‘He’s been accepted back into the program,’ Harry said. ‘Philip called yesterday morning to thank me once again. He’s got this grand gesture planned for Lydia this afternoon – flowers, candles, the works. Hermione had been talking with Lydia the last couple of days. She was fuming at first, but Hermione really got through to her. She has a way with words.’

‘Sure Hermione didn’t use Confundus as well?’ Ron grinned. ‘Joking, you’re probably right. She gets into your head, that one. And if that grand gesture works, the wedding back on?’

‘Yep!’ Harry said, happily. ‘So they’ll get off our backs and Hermione and I will probably either lie to Aunty Penelope and Grandma Eugenia and tell we’ve eloped, or...’

‘Or what?’

Harry felt some colour rise to his cheeks and checked if no one was listening in. Teddy was playing on the ground with his Knight Bus, Molly was running after the other grandchildren except for Dominique, who had resumed her slumber in Hermione’s embrace. The other Weasleys were either busy with Louis or had conversations of their own. 

‘Or... You know... It’s going really well, so...’

‘No way! You’re thinking about asking her?’ Ron almost yelled and Harry looked punishingly at him.

‘Maybe shout a bit harder for the people in the back, I don’t think everyone got that,’ Harry groaned.

‘Oh, shit,’ Ron cursed, and then he looked around to see if there were no kids around. ‘Sorry. But, wow! You’re sure?’

Harry shrugged, playing with the hat on the table.

‘It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a week or so. As you say, Nicky is “it” for you, well... I don’t need to tell you how much Hermione means to me. And the thought of her marrying another guy has given me murderous tendencies for the last couple of days. That’s telling, don’t you think?’

‘I’m sure she’ll say yes,’ Ron said, determined. ‘She is crazy about you. I mean - she’s always been crazy, but... You know what I mean.’

Harry smiled and looked at Hermione, who casually kissed the top of Dominique’s head as she lifted her up from her chest and gave her to Fleur, so she could take her nap.

‘I’m not sure if she’d have me, though. Eventually - sure. But with this whole engagement thing... I don’t want to rush things just because I wanted to make an ass out of her cousin. The same cousin I’m helping now, mind you. It’s too soon, right? We’ve been dating for a month. It wouldn’t be... appropriate.’

‘Sure, that’s a fair point for almost every couple on the planet,’ Ron nodded, ‘but not for you two. You don’t have to go through all the same rules normal couples do. You’ve done a lot of those things already without the official relationship label. Hard situations? Check. Camping trip for a few months? Check. Seeing each other at your lowest points and still supporting each other? Double check. Loving her, not just when she’s dressed up but also if she just got out of bed and smells like a proper health-hazard? Check!’

Harry laughed.

‘Ron, we all know you had the worst morning breath out of all three of us.’

‘Not the point, mate. You get what I’m saying. When Nick and I started out, we needed to get to know each other. You don’t. You know her better than anyone and, if I’m honest, Hermione knows you better than you do yourself. She always has.’

Ron sighed, and caught on a signal that Nicky was sending him.

‘Time for the reveal, I guess. But still, Harry: you guys dated since at least our fifth year and you can’t convince me otherwise. I know Gin and I got in the middle of there somewhere, but that’s beside the point. This was always supposed to happen and frankly, the only new thing about your relationship is the shagging. Or, is there?’

‘Stop prying, prick,’ Harry chuckled. ‘I’m not going to tell you anything if you’re such a dick about it.’

‘I’ll take that as a hard no, then,’ Ron said cheekily and Harry punched his arm.

Ron stood up, picked up his glass, walked over to his girlfriend and cleared his throat.

‘If I may have your attention, please? Thank you. Nicky and I have an announcement to make.’

It took a while for the family to fall silent, but they finally did. Harry saw that Ron was nervous by the twitching of his fingertips, but he tried not to let anyone notice.

‘Right, here’s the deal. Seeing as mom is doting on her grandkids so much, Nick and I thought it would be selfish to deprive her of our own any longer. So, in short: Nick is pregnant.’

The family was silent for a moment, but then they reacted audibly, with cheers and yelps of surprise and joy. Nicky beamed: the smile on her face couldn’t have been brighter.

‘And,’ Ron continued, ‘because we don’t do anything half-assed, we made sure not to just make one - in June we’re expecting the arrival of not one but two new Weasley’s!’

Even more reaction. Harry laughed out loud as he looked at the astounded looks of Ron’s siblings.

‘Twins! That’s incredible!’

‘Congratulations!’

‘So I’ll be an aunt four times? Four?! Merlin, Ron!’

‘Make sure to add enough space to the living room for Christmas, mum!’

And then, finally, the family turned their attention to George, who Harry had not seen look as sad as on that fateful day in May. There was that moment where everyone realized that something might be painful to someone present - and a deafening silence fell. Angelique, who sat next to George, tilted her head at him and whispered something to him. He nodded, blinked a couple of times, then cracked a smile and stood up.

‘Being a twin was the best thing that ever happened to me, Ron. I am really happy for you. And for you as well, Nick.’

Angelique looked up at her boyfriend and took his hand, squeezing a bit for comfort. George looked back at her and winked.

‘And please note that I see it as my personal duty to teach them how to properly torture their parents,’ he added, with a devilish grin. ‘It’s kind of a family tradition, after all. They’ll have a reputation to live up to.’

It was a lot later than anticipated when Harry and Hermione returned to Hermione’s apartment. Celebrating the birth of Louis, the pregnancy of Nicky and Ron and their imposing engagement prompted a zest for partying in the Weasleys that they hadn’t known for a while. When Harry and Hermione left, the largest part of the family was still present, sipping a drink and cracking a laugh, but his girlfriend had insisted that they had a long day ahead tomorrow and he hated it, but he had to agree.

However, he soon detected an ulterior motive. As soon as they stepped out of the hearth, Hermione’s lips were on his. Harry yelped against her mouth, and his surprise continued as Hermione eagerly started to massage her tongue against his. She tasted of wine – a lot of wine.

‘Hmm? Where’s this coming from?’ he said, breaking off the kiss, but allowing her to press her frame up against his so she could feel what her snogging did to his loins.

‘Watching you with Teddy the entire afternoon,’ Hermione said, linking her arms around his neck. Harry grinned as she kissed him again, but he broke her off another time.

‘Oh? And why would that… excite you?’

‘Ovaries,’ Hermione mumbled against his lips, straight-up refusing the lack of contact. ‘Exploding. Too much. Clothes.’

Harry erupted with laughter as Hermione pushed him against the wall, nibbling at his neck. His joy was soon swept over with lust however, as she reached that place behind his ear, and he bucked against her with want. His mind clouded – it had already been clouded with alcohol, as was Hermione’s, but he felt the lust take over as he felt her delicate hands rub him through his jeans. He moaned embarrassingly loud.

‘Harry,’ she panted, against his frame, struggling with his blouse and his belt at the same time. ‘Harry, I want to… Feel you. If you know what I mean. Are you… Do you want to?’

Harry couldn’t think. His blood wasn’t exactly providing his brain with enough oxygen to function properly, and he could only reason with the throbbing need that rushed through him like adrenaline. The fact that he was drunk didn’t really help. So he nodded, as they both stumbled towards the bedroom, shedding articles of clothing along their way, pressing each other up walls and furniture in the process. When they finally reached the bed, Harry was wearing his boxershorts and his socks, Hermione was wearing nothing but her bra.

She soon cast that aside as well, tearing the last remaining clothes of Harry’s body, kissing his chest and shoulders, pushing him on his back. Harry had no idea what happened to Hermione – she wasn’t usually so upfront; then again, she wasn’t usually as sloshed – but he did agree with himself to spend a lot more time with Teddy if it meant getting this in return.

Hermione wasted no time and planted herself in Harry’s lap, cradling him against her chest, settling herself on top of him. He felt his member align with her entrance and felt her shifting, but he stopped her, fighting his intoxication.

‘Hermione… Are you sure? We haven’t done foreplay, we can take it slow, it’s really-…’

I want it,’ Hermione emphasized, and he read in her eyes that she meant it. ‘Do you want it?’

‘Of course I do, it’s just… This will be your first time.’

‘And I’m sure there will be a first second time and a first third,’ she said, with laboured breath. Harry couldn’t tell if it were nerves or just excitement. ‘And I want to spend them all with you. Really Harry, I’ll be fine.’

He realized she did seem honest. And, if he thought about this, this was the perfect opportunity. It happened so quickly, there was no way for him to lose himself to doubts or to act like someone he was not. Yes, they were drunk, but not too drunk, right? They didn’t slur their words, they would still remember this night. So he nodded and, after casting the appropriate spell, let her position herself on top of him, kiss him softly, and then he felt her entrance open up slightly to him, encasing him just a little bit. He drew in a deep breath – the pressure was already enough to make him explode, which was incredibly embarrassing, but it was Hermione. There was nothing he craved more, he realized.

She pushed down an inch, and then another one, and then she inhaled sharply. He felt her walls tighten against his tip as she forced herself lower on him. Another sound – a whine, and now not only her walls clenched, but her whole body did. Harry removed himself from her chest, to check on her face.

Pain. Hermione was clenching her teeth and looked like she could cry. A sickly feeling landed in his stomach, like a brick, and he guided her off of him. She was wincing and when Harry checked, he saw that Hermione was bleeding a bit.

She was bleeding.  He felt two other bricks fall down on top of the previous one, taking the breath out of his lungs. She was bleeding, she was bleeding.

He was speechless. The situation was too much. The damn alcohol made his brain unable to function properly anyway and he could only think about how he hurt her. How he hurt her. How he hurt her.

‘I’m… I’m sorry…’ Hermione stuttered, breaking the long silence.

That sobered him up a bit. He shook his head.

‘What?’

‘I’m sorry. This-… I thought I wanted you enough… And I-… I ruined everything… Oh Harry, I’m so-…’

‘Don’t you dare,’ Harry roared, a lot louder than he meant to. ‘Don’t you fucking dare say you’re sorry!’

Harry rarely swore like that. He didn’t register the shock on Hermione’s face.

I was the one who hurt you, wasn’t I? I hurt you – the one person I promised to never hurt. And now… I… I…’

The little spec of blood hadn’t been much, but it poisoned his vision and it was all he could see. He felt panic rise to his throat, and then he realized it wasn’t just panic. It was bile.

He made it to the toilet just in time. They had been a lot more drunk than they thought, Harry realized, as he emptied his stomach. He was shaking, violently, and he couldn’t help but hear a screaming in his head. Her screaming.

He was back in the basement of Malfoy Manor. The cold tiles beneath his knees enhanced the sensation of the marble stone. He was there, he was there again, with Ron, and her voice smashed through the ceiling, like daggers stabbing him. Not real, Harry’s magically enhanced voice boomed. Not real. He imagined Bellatrix constraining Hermione, carving cruel letters in her arm - he saw the blood seeping from her the wound, spelling that awful word. His fault, his fault… All his fault… If he hadn’t… Then she wouldn’t…

It was the first memory his Healer had removed from his head and one of the last ones she’d re-implanted, because it caused so much hurt. So much pain. It had taken him weeks to recover properly, to be on top of it, to stop the nightmares.

The screaming continued. Not real, he repeated. Not real. Focus on what is real. Focus on why you’re here. Focus on your senses. You know what you learned. Use it. He focused on his feet, on how cold they were, on how his mouth tasted foul, on how his hands clasped unto something that felt like porcelain. Something porcelain? That couldn’t be in Malfoy Manor, right?

Of course – it was the toilet. He had thrown up. He had thrown up, because Hermione bled, because they had been stupid and careless and thought they could just jump each other’s bones without proper foreplay, without taking into account that Hermione was stressed and always tensing and that now, of course, her muscles had strained themselves in their first time because she didn’t take the time to relax them, and he hadn’t allowed her.

Hermione.

She was alone. He was retching in the bathroom, and she was alone, confused and afraid on the bed. Bleeding.

He slapped himself hard on his face, forced himself violently to stand up, even though he slipped a bit and stumbled back into the bedroom.

‘Hermione,’ he tried to say, but his breath choked and he cried a bit. He didn’t want to, but it was those stupid nightmares, they changed him, they warped him.

‘I shouldn’t have run, are you… Does it…’

He climbed back onto the bed. Hermione looked worried and hurt, but it didn’t look like she was in physical pain anymore. She allowed him touching her face, as he did his best to force away his tears.

‘I am sorry. It’s a mess, it’s all a mess… I should have protected you… I didn’t protect you…’

And the dam broke. Harry felt the sadness take over his body like he had only allowed once or twice during therapy. He began to sob and sob and sob, like a child, as he clasped onto her tightly, like the world would end if he didn’t. He apologized. Over and over and over, as the tears stung his cheeks. He felt broken, he felt humiliated by his own weakness, he felt defeated.

‘I d-didn’t p-protect you,’ he repeated. ‘I f-failed. I f-failed you, Herm-, Herm-, Herm-io-…’

‘Sshh,’ she soothed, and she took his glasses from his face and embraced him. He knew she knew he didn’t mean just now, just this moment. She understood. She let him. She drew soothing circles on his back, as he had gotten accustomed to over the last couple of weeks.

‘M-my biggest re-regret, it h-haunts me, I’m so s-sorry, Hermione, I’m-…’

‘Don’t you ever apologize for that, Harry,’ she interrupted him, sternly.

‘I sh-should have taken your p-place,’ he countered. ‘If I h-had any decency, I-I should-…’

‘And be exposed? Harry, your life was more important than mine or Ron’s in that war. You know that. If Voldemort would have gotten hold of you, it would have been disastrous. I knew what it meant to go on the hunt with you. Ron knew. We were willing to die for you.’

She kissed him on his temple.

‘I know you hate to hear that, but it’s true. Ron and I decided that it was worth the risk. We brought it upon ourselves – it was our decision. Just like it was my decision tonight. Can you accept that?’

Harry shrugged, but when he felt her lips on his face again, he felt himself relax a bit. It took a few minutes for him to stop crying, but eventually he managed, furiously wiping his tears away and sitting up straight.

‘Pff. I don’t like all this weakness I’m showing,’ he grumbled, as he put his glasses back on. ‘The Dursleys hated the sound of me crying. They told me very early on that they loathed it and they would punish me for it, so I learned myself not to, from an early age. But, well… Sometimes it just comes out.’

‘That’s not weakness, Harry,’ Hermione corrected him. ‘That’s strength. And I’m really proud you’ve shown that to me. I don’t think you’ve ever been so brave with me.’

Harry smiled weakly.

‘Yeah, well, you weren’t there when I slew the Basilisk, so, I guess that’s fair.’

‘I saw you battle a dragon.’

‘Touché. I hadn’t thought about that.’

Hermione kissed him softly and the last bit of tension that was still residing in his shoulders, let go.

‘Are you hurt?’ he managed to ask softly.

‘I’m fine.’

‘No, really. Have you checked?’

‘I have,’ Hermione said, hesitantly. ‘But I already cleaned the sheets. I realized it triggered you.’

‘I mean, your body,’ Harry clarified. ‘Are you hurt?’

Hermione shrugged this time.

‘If I don’t touch it, it’s fine.’

Harry nodded and summoned his bag, retrieving some health salve from it.

‘Can I take a look? I know if it’s bad.’

‘Harry, really, it was nothing, you only penetrated me for like 2 and a half inches, it happens sometimes-…’

‘Still, I want to check, if you’ll allow it,’ he interrupted her. ‘I have better healing skills, you know that.’

‘But… It’s my vagina,’ Hermione said.

‘I know,’ Harry countered. ‘I have seen your vagina many times up close. I think I’ll be able to tell where you’re hurt and what I can do to ease the pain a bit. Please let me help you – I was the one who hurt you, so-…’

‘No, I was the one who hurt myself,’ Hermione interrupted. ‘Really, Harry. You were hesitant about it, we were both high from alcohol and lust, I went too fast because I wanted to please you and… I don’t know. Take you like a woman, satisfy you like “I should”, or whatever crap was running through my mind.’

‘Don’t ever think that again,’ Harry replied directly. ‘You have no obligation to do whatever with me. I want you to want it, or I don’t want it at all.’

‘I know that! That’s what I’m saying – I know how sweet you are, I know you’ll accept me, but I put that pressure on me myself. I feel like I should do more or be more for you, so that’s why I… Went too far. It’s not your fault. It’s mine.’

‘I didn’t stop you and I noticed that you were tensing,’ Harry said. ‘So it’s my fault too. I should have been more careful. Now, please, can I examine you?’

Hermione sputtered a bit, but finally complied. Harry noticed a few lacerations on the skin, but nothing too big. He applied one of the healing salves on her wounds – it wasn’t sensual or sexual, but it was loving.

‘Maybe apply something inside of you as well,’ Harry thought out loud. ‘If there’s an overstretch or small laceration there, it will heal more easily, and it helps with the soreness of your muscles too.’

‘Sounds good,’ Hermione replied promptly. ‘I want you to do it.’

‘Me? But you’re tender down there.’

‘That’s why I want you to do it,’ Hermione said. ‘Because you are more mindful of my body then I am. I know, that if you’re in control, you won’t hurt me.’

She looked at him directly and Harry felt a warmth spreading through his limbs. I know you won’t hurt me. That’s what she thinks. I won’t hurt her. Trust her word.

And so he did.

Then they showered together, tenderly and sweetly, and they both thanked each other a lot without saying what they were thanking the other for. They knew. It was everything.

Hermione spooned against him, and Harry snuggled against her, pressing her body against his, feeling her warmth.

‘I never knew you were such a snugglebug, Harry.’

‘I’m not,’ he chuckled. ‘Just with you I am. I promise you – I’ll be suave and manly again tomorrow. I’ll try, at least.’

Hermione laughed out loud.

‘Suave and manly… Suave and manly!

‘Don’t say it like it’s something I never am,’ Harry protested jokingly. ‘I was sorted in Gryffindor.

Then they both heard the *BEEP* that announced the recording on Hermione’s answering machine. It didn’t take long for them to recognize the voices.

‘This is the answering machine of Hermione Granger. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you!’

‘Yes – Hi Hermione!’

‘Hey Hermione!’

‘We just wanted to call you and say thank you, also to Harry, because we just had the greatest night together!’

‘Yes, yes – Phill had this big dinner planned, it was truly amazing, and I thought a lot about what you said to me and well… We’re still getting married! He also told me about how he got kicked off Cambridge as well but how he’s back on the program because of you, and I realized that I am here to support him every step of the way. Through sickness and health! And I need to practice what we’re preaching, right gum drop?’

‘That’s right honey bear, so, we will still be taking up the spot on August 3rd! But we’ll be sure to talk about it with grandma – maybe she can arrange something else? Anyway: thank you both so much for letting us find each other again, we’re eternally grateful, bye bye!’

‘Oh thank Merlin,’ Hermione sighed and they both shared a laugh. Good. That was one less thing to worry about.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 25: How Hermione witnessed what could quite possibly be the end of Harry Potter's career

Hermione woke up to find herself clutched tightly to Harry's chest. The events of yesterday rushed back to her as she yawned off her slumber.

They had been drunk. They attempted to have sex. They didn't manage. She bled a tiny bit. Harry panicked.

Her heart ached when she thought about Harry, so vulnerable in her arms, childlike and sweet and broken. The war took its toll on all of them. She had often wondered why Harry hadn't been more damaged by the war, but it was only now she realized that he had hid it on purpose. She was also convinced that if the event's hadn't spiralled out of control, like yesterday, he would have hidden it from her as long as he would have been able to.

That was the big taboo. Talking about the effects of the war. Not talking about events, or about people they lost, but talking about what it did to them. Nicky told her Ron had a lot of nightmares as well, but never spoke about what they were exactly. She knew Harry had them. She had them. But whereas the nightmares kicked Harry violently awake, they stunned her in her sleep, making her unable to move a muscle. She feared those nights more than anything, but was glad to find that Harry seemed to have a good influence on her subconscious, as she hadn't experienced them since they shared a bed together.

It's one thing to talk about heroic deeds. Another to admit the burden they brought. Hermione was open and communicative, but she understood why Harry hid his insecurities, as she hid some of her own as well. She had seen a Muggle psychiatrist for three years, who performed something called EMDR-therapy on her. It had helped her with her traumas tremendously. She knew Harry had seen a Healer, who had done something similar but with the de- and replacement of his memories. Talking about it seemed moot, though. They were alive, they had each other, they worked at good jobs and their families were intact. There was so much to celebrate and to enjoy. No need to wallow in self-pity.

So, the fact that she bled a bit, that she hurt – she would overcome it. She would lie to herself if she said she didn't feel guilty or ashamed – she did. She was a girl. Penetration should come natural to her and failing was one of her deepest, darkest fears. A few books had warned her about overthinking, Harry had warned her, and her body had seemed to close off yesterday because she had done just that. No, it would be completely different next time. She would be relaxed, they would take it slow. No more randy attempts at shagging until they had they time to experience the real thing together. There were other things to try at such moments.

She looked up at Harry, who was drooling on his pillow, face stained with fabric wrinkles, hair exploded. It made her smile. Come what may, she thought. We will manage.

She kissed his chest, his shoulders, then moved up to kiss his nose, his scar, the corner of his mouth. Harry made a soft humming sound and opened one eye.

'I am sleeping,' he murmured.

'I am awake,' she countered cheekily.

'So I've noticed.' He closed his eye again and pretended to drift off to sleep again.

'You've drooled on my pillow.'

'Have since Christmas.'

'Does that make it okay?'

Harry grinned and pursed his lips.

'Kissy.'

Hermione laughed and placed her lips on his.

'I'm sorry for vomiting yesterday,' Harry said. 'It must have freaked you out.'

'It's okay. Was it the alcohol?'

'Possibly,' Harry admitted, eyes still closed. 'Or you bleeding. Even though it ended up being three drops at most and I've experienced crime scenes. I shouldn't have run off. Should've thought of you first. You know, checked if you were bleeding out before running off to the bathroom.'

'I wasn't bleeding out,' Hermione said, reacting to Harry's sarcasm. 'And by the way: you panicked. You can't control your body when you do, Harry.'

He opened his eyes now and traced his fingers across Hermione's bare arms.

'I know. Thank you for holding me. It meant a lot.'

'Of course. I love you.'

'I love you too,' Harry said, leaning forward and brushing his lips against hers.

'Ugh, you smell like a moose.'

Hermione opened her mouth in an offended "O" and Harry cackled as he jumped out of the bed.

'You get back in here and give me a proper kiss, you moron!'

Harry grinned at her as he fled to the kitchen. She chased him and managed to pin him against the kitchen counter. He let her, she knew, because he could have escaped any time, but he indulged in their kiss and swept his tongue against hers, holding her firmly in his arms.

'Hmm, I really do love you, kissing you with a breath like that,' he chuckled against her skin. He kissed her cheek, her neck, pinned his hands against her bum and pressed her into him. Hermione gasped.

'Merlin, I want to have you for breakfast.'

He breathed against her skin, teasing her collarbone. She felt his erection grow against her frame and a heat immediately began to pool between her legs.

'You can,' she whispered back.

Harry reacted with an approving groan and she felt him guide her towards the dinner table.

'What do you think you're doing?' she heard herself ask.

'Putting my breakfast on the table,' Harry grinned, as he tried to lift her off the floor.

'No, Harry. No. Harry! It's my table – We eat our food from there!'

'Nothing a well-cast Scourgify can't fix,' Harry tried, but she looked at him sternly.

'I will not have the possibility of anything of… us contaminating our food, thank you very much.'

'Okay, fine. Sofa?'

'Sofa is good.'

'Nice,' Harry decided, as he lifted her up by her waist and clumsily carried her to the living room. Hermione protested lightly – only lightly, because she loved how affectionate Harry was being.

'The fact you want me in your living room, in closer proximity to your books, is insane. I never guessed food was more important to you! Madam Pince is going to be very disappointed with you, Hermione.'

'"Disappointed" is not the right word, I think. "Jealous" would be more fitting,' she said, brushing her hand through Harry's silky, black hair. God, she loved the soft texture of his raven locks, the way it never seemed to abide by any normal laws of physics, just like hers. If they would ever procreate, their kids would be doomed.

Soon she was touching those hairs again, but this time it was more of a tugging, as she desperately tried to guide him between her legs. The sight of Harry opening her folds carefully with his fingers, then lapping at her centre was enough to get her very close to climaxing. His emerald eyes sparkled with joy and lust and admiration – they looked naughty and sweet at the same time, and Harry refused to break eye-contact as his tongue meticulously traced her folds. He was so gentle, attentively exploring her body, making sure to not create any soreness or pain. He wetted his middle finger before he pushed inside of her. There was a slight, slight pain, probably caused by yesterday's friction, but it subsided quickly as Harry moved in and out, making sure he was suckling slowly on her most sensitive spots. Hermione saw stars, as the combination of his mouth and his finger was too intoxicating, and when Harry let her breathe for a few moments, he continued with his ministrations. Slowly, softly, he removed his finger, then wetted his index finger as well.

'Is it okay if I try it with both at the same time?' he asked, and Hermione couldn't do anything but nod, as her half-lidded eyes focused on his green orbs. They were mesmerizing.

It wasn't comfortable at first. Harry had never been inside of her with two fingers before, and for the first few moments, she didn't know if she liked being stretched. It was foreign, and the surface of her vagina stung a bit. She felt herself tensing to the weird feeling, but as Harry brushed that part inside of her, she let out a mangled "Ugh".

'Try to relax around my fingers,' he said. 'I feel that you're not. I will only move if I feel that you are comfortable, okay?'

Hermione nodded. She felt ashamed for not liking it instantly – weren't all girls supposed to love being penetrated? – and she felt herself tense some more. She could feel herself squeeze painfully around Harry's fingers. Calm down, she heard herself say. Harry's expecting nothing from you. This will be nice if you allow yourself to focus on how good it feels, and not on how anything is supposed to be.

Harry sensed Hermione's unease and began placing sensual kisses just above his fingers. He circled his tongue lazily around her nub, flicking it, closing his lips around it, teasing it, and Hermione could literally feel the tension glide from her body. Harry felt it as well, as he began to pump his fingers in and out now, at a steady rhythm, making sure to curl the fingers inside of her after each thrust. The feeling of being stretched and licked at the same time, was incredibly overwhelming. She yanked at Harry's hair, which stopped him for a moment, but he continued when he realized it was a good yank. Their gazed met again – his green eyes were filled with deep lust, they seemed to be darkened a little, and he looked so freaking handsome with his rowdy hair, his puffed lips, his smug look, his gleaming eyes. Harry hummed approvingly at their eye-contact, smirking against her centre, and closed his mouth around her clitoris, suckling in a rhythm that mimicked the movements of his fingers. It was right then that Hermione's climax hit her body again. It was so intense she started heaving, and her body contracted heavily, and she really did forget who she was for a second. The only thing she knew were those eyes, those beautiful green eyes, and that she would commit bloody murder for them.

When she woke up from her trance, Harry lay pressed against her on the now magically enlarged sofa, stroking her hair and purring contently.

'You have no idea how beautiful you are when you allow me to take control,' he whispered. It weakened her knees immediately and she produced a weak smile, still exhausted.

'I'll take your word for it.'

'You should. I've been watching you almost the entire time.'

She now noticed that he held her hand between his fingers. His lips were grazing over her knuckles and he looked at her with a look that could only mean pure adoration.

'We should be getting ourselves ready. Work is in thirty minutes.'

Hermione shook her head and leaned against Harry's shoulder, basking in his warmth.

'Just a little longer.'

'Who are you and what did you do to "prim and punctual" Hermione Granger?'

'What did do?' she laughed, accusatory. 'You know damn well I didn't do anything. I just had to lie down and enjoy the treatment.'

'And enjoying you did,' Harry chuckled. 'Right, just a little longer then, okay. I can never say no to you anyway.'

'Good,' Hermione said, as she felt herself move up from the coach.

'What are you doing?'

'You said you could never say "no" to me, right? I want some breakfast too.'

They were both fully satisfied and also ten minutes late when they finally entered The Ministry together. It was stupid – they always made sure to go to work with a separation time of at least a few minutes, but because they were both late, they decided to step out of the hearth together for this one time. Usually it would be too crowded for anyone on The Ministry to really notice.

Today was no such day, though. It was simply tough luck – one Daily Prophet journalist and his photographer had been doing research for a very boring article in the Arrival Hall, as Harry and Hermione almost simultaneously stepped out. They hadn't been as stupid as to hold hands, thank Merlin, but it was very clear that they had taken a floo from the same apartment.

'Mister Potter, Mrs. Granger! What a surprise – am I assuming correctly that you came from the same address?' a young, annoying reporter asked, that looked like she would be a good apprentice to Rita Skeeter.

'Harry and I had some confidential business to discuss,' Hermione said promptly, before Harry could open his mouth. 'I have been assisting him in a case and he came to my apartment to ask for advice. We will continue our talk in Harry's office and it would be very much appreciated if you would give us the opportunity to get there without too much of a disturbance.'

They passed the witch without giving her a second glance.

'You've always been so quick with your wit,' Harry said under his breath. 'I have no idea how you come up with those ideas so quickly.'

'Because I wasn't lying – not fully, at least,' Hermione explained. 'Bill had something interesting to discuss with me yesterday. I actually do want to come to your office to talk it over with you.'

'Very good at keeping us and work separated, huh,' he grinned. 'I appreciate that.'

Hermione gave a sideway smirk to him as they both descended to the Auror Department. Hermione scribbled a quick memo to let her secretary know she was with Harry for at least the first part of the morning.

Harry's office was un-Harry-like clean, but it was still undeniably his, as pictures of him and Teddy and him, her and Ron laughed at them from the walls. An old picture of Lily and James, that Hermione recognized from his nightstand at Hogwarts and the Horcrux Hunt, had a prominent place on his desk, just next to his name plate. Harry took off his overcoat – a navy blue coat with black hem, to reveal the official Auror uniform he wore underneath. It was a nice, fitted jacket with deep grey, shiny buttons and a high collar, that made Harry look incredibly handsome. She would never admit it out loud, but Harry looked mouth-watering in his working outfit and she had quite often found him wearing it in some of her not so appropriate fantasies. Maybe she could ask him to wear it in that way… Someday, at least.

Harry offered her a chair, as he asked Polly for two cappuccino's. Then he closed the door, sat behind his desk and cleaned his glasses.

'What can I help you with, Miss Granger?'

He mockingly used an over-official tone and Hermione giggled.

'Well, Mister Potter, this is actually a very serious conversation. Bill has… evidence, that something is amiss with the Goblins that asks for the concern of the Auror Department.'

'Oh?' Harry asked, curiously. 'Do tell.'

'You know Bill has been taking over the negotiating position for establishing better rights for the Goblins. It's something that should have been done years ago, as the Goblins could have played a vital role in the assistance of the Ministry during the First and Second Wizarding War, but as there is a deeply rooted problem with racism in our Departments, actions haven't been taken thus far. Goblins are treated like second class citizens and they remember that. The reason why I stepped down from the project was because the Goblins still felt very offended over our Gringott Heist.'

Harry nodded respectfully.

'We need to make amends and me and my colleagues have looked at extensive ways to make them feel at ease with the Wizarding Community again. For example, we might want to propose the allowance of wand usage for Goblins and House-Elves, something that has been widely requested by the first group for centuries now. We also want to propose something regarding the property of Goblin-made antiquities. Bill has been testing the waters about these ideas with Goblins he has befriended over the last couple of years as his job as a curse breaker.

Right, to cut to the chase – Bill has heard that we are not the only group of Wizards who are trying to get into closer contact with the Goblins. Even his closest friends were very reluctant to talk to him, which struck him as odd. After some pressing, one of his Goblin friends told him that they were already negotiating with another group of Wizards. A group that has been trying to overthrow the current Ministry.'

'That sounds like Nott,' Harry immediately stated. 'We did find some old artefacts during the raids. We thought they were treasures at first – I'll have them checked, they might all be goblin-made.'

'Exactly. Now, I know you aren't allowed to tell me about the places the raids took place in, right?'

'No, I am,' Harry said. 'It's an Unspeakable to share them with anyone outside of the Ministry's jurisdiction, but you fit right into it. I actually have a map of all the previous den's, let me get it for you.'

He stood up from his desk and opened a wooden cupboard, where he started to rummage through some big posters. Polly knocked on the door and entered with a tray filled with cappuccino and a plate with biscuits.

'With chocolate chip, Polly! You're spoiling us,' Hermione said, smiling. 'Thank you.'

'You're welcome, Miss. Also, Mister Potter, Mrs. Holywell has been looking for you.'

'Well, she's knows where to find me,' Harry grumbled, uninterested. 'Where is this darn… Ah! Here!'

Triumphantly he held the rolled-up poster above his head.

'Thanks for the coffee, Polly. You are amazing. Did you have a good weekend?'

Polly nodded with a slight blush on her cheeks and retreated from the office, as Harry magically straightened the roll. A map of the United Kingdom appeared, with a variation of coloured dots indicating the den's.

'Okay, so, the width of the dots tells how big the hide-outs were we discovered,' Harry explained. 'The colours indicate if we discovered henchmen, clues, or other important leads of information about Nott's network. Do you remember the day we went out for lunch and I had feathers on me?'

Hermione nodded, thinking back fondly of that moment. It seemed an eternity ago.

'Right, that was the day I caught Lackey. So, this purple dot near Glasgow, indicates that we caught one or more suspects at the scene.'

'Interesting,' Hermione said, finding herself get excited and nervous at the same time. 'Did you know there is a Goblin society near Glasgow as well? As they don't like sunlight, Goblins usually build their houses at least partially underground. That's also why humans guard the outside of Gringotts – they hate going outside… And this dot' – she pointed at the biggest one, located near Nottingham – 'is near a very prominent Goblin village. Voldemort himself targeted the village as well to put pressure on the Goblins to join him.'

Harry looked at her astounded.

'You-… You're kidding! So all these dots could possibly be located near goblin societies?'

'Seems so,' Hermione said, pensively. 'I mean, I also see a few on the map where I can't link an immediate Goblin-connection with, but you can't expect all their hide-outs to be built just to enforce some kind of influence on the Goblins… But wow, Harry, do you know what this means?'

'You have totally cracked our case wide open,' Harry said, excitedly. 'This is exactly what we needed! You are brilliant, Hermione, absolutely bloody brilliant… Oh – I could kiss you!'

'I'm afraid that would be very inappropriate.'

A clear, female voice cut through the room. Hermione turned her head and recognized Harry's superior – an older woman with blond hair, tied in a tight bun on top of her head.

'Mister Potter, you were late, this morning.'

Hermione looked at Harry, whose expression changed so quickly that it could have been comical if the situation wasn't so serious. He sighed angrily and got up from his chair.

'Yes. I'm afraid I overslept.'

'We talked about this, Mister Potter-…'

'I know. I will stay late, as I always do. I'll try to be more punctual next week. But Eleonore – Hermione and I found some very good evidence that will get us further on the case, and-…'

'The Nott-case?' Mrs. Holywell asked, her voice now shrill. 'You are discussing classified information with an outsider without consulting me, first?'

'I received some important information from another worker at the Ministry that might be of interest to your investigation,' Hermione interjected. 'came to Harry with this information, as I know him best, he didn't do anything wrong.'

'Oh, but he did,' Mrs. Holywell stated simply. 'Harry knows that if valuable information is acquired, he should always invite his superior to join the conversation.'

'I would have told you,' Harry said, trying to stay as calm as he could. 'I was simply testing out if Hermione's information was indeed in connection to our case. I didn't want to-… disturb you yet, as you've been so busy lately, Eleonore. But of course, if the information proved to be of value, I would have invited you immediately.'

He smiled at her thinly, without the gesture actually meeting his eyes, a smile his boss reciprocated. Hermione got the feeling that Harry hadn't been honest with her about how work had been going lately.

'Good. How much longer do you need to test out the value of this information?'

'Forty minutes or so,' Harry lied, looking at Hermione. 'I want to ask some detailed questions about the credibility of her source. I will try to report to you in an hour.'

Hermione knew Harry lied because he wanted to talk about this promising lead some more. She had felt the excitement and rush too – it was like they were back at Hogwarts, getting to the bottom of an interesting mystery, and they didn't need any snoopers present for that. Hermione knew Harry regarded his superior as a definite busybody in that sense.

'Forty minutes… Right.'

Eleonore Holywell gave that same, unmeant smile again, as she began to retreat from the office. Harry was on edge: Hermione noticed that by his stance, the way his breath quickened, the look on his face.

'I'll see you in an hour, then.'

Eleonore almost turned a corner, but then popped her head back in, as if she remembered something.

'And Harry – if you and Miss Granger are occupying your office together, I expect your door to be wide open from now on. I'm sure you'll take no offence.'

Eleonore stepped out of the office, with that same sickening smile, and Hermione could almost hear Harry's boiling point getting reached.

'Harry, no, please, don't do anything stupid,' she pleaded, but Harry rushed past her like a bull heading for a red target. That temper of his! She always hoped he would grow out of it as puberty hit him, but no such luck.

'What did you say?' Harry seethed, from the doorpost, at his superior that walked away in the very public hallway.

'I don't think I need to repeat my request, nor do I think that I need to explain it, Mister Potter.'

'Hermione is my best friend,' Harry countered. 'I have done dozens of cases with her for this Department. She has proven to be of great value to our team and has spent hours upon hours in my office with the door closed. Aside from that – it is my office, and I decide what I do with my bloody door!'

'And am your superior and I will not allow members of our team to frolic on their desks under my supervision!'

Even from her seat across Harry's desk, Hermione could see Harry turn pale with anger.

'"Frolic" on my desk?' Harry spoke calmly, but a tremor in the undertone caused him to sound incredibly dangerous. 'You think I treat my job as some kind of joke, Eleonore?'

'As of late – yes, actually,' his boss countered. 'You have.'

'Then reprimand me, you spineless hag,' Harry spat. 'I am the only bloody Auror in this whole damn Department who actually works for this case. Who uses his intuition, who goes the extra mile. You know that. You know that, and somehow, you treat me like some irresponsible golden child, who needs to be mothered and polished to do your every bidding-…'

'How did you call me?' Auror Holywell shouted. Hermione imagined red sparks flying from her wand, but she was frozen to her chair.

'I called you a spineless hag,' Harry repeated. 'You are just as dishonest as all those other left-overs from Fudge's rule over the Ministry. You're a brainwashed, old-Fudge's wrinkly asshole licking, weak-willed coward.'

Hermione put her hand across her mouth in shock. Oh Harry!

'Well, that settles it then, Mister Potter,' she heard Head Auror Holywell say. 'I will not reprimand you. But you are fired. Immediately discharged, without honour. I want your Office cleared out by the end of the day.'

Chapter Text

Chapter 26: How Hermione and Harry actually took that final step and how it was unperfectly perfect.

There was a silence when Eleonore Holywell uttered those words. “You’re fired!” seemed to echo through the room, bounce against the walls and settle between their ears. Then Harry slammed the door shut with a force that made the hinges shriek loudly and caused one of the pictures to fall down from the wall.

‘Harry...’ Hermione started, as her boyfriend sat down behind his desk, clawing at the railings of his chair as if they did him personal harm. He clenched his jaw heavily and stared at the raid-poster, that lay out in front of him.

‘Harry,’ she tried again, after a minute or so, when he didn’t respond to her.

‘Don’t-... Don’t scold me, please,’ he said, defeated, taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes. ‘I know I’m a bloody idiot-...’

‘I wasn’t going to,’ Hermione responded, with a frown on her face. ‘I was actually going to tell you that I’m glad you finally stood up to her. She’s been giving you grief for ages now, right? From the moment you joined and she started to parade you in front of those reporters every other week to the memory charm-incident.’

Harry growled, reliving the mentioned incidents.

‘Yeah, that was pretty rough.’

‘Right,’ Hermione nodded. ‘She may think that you’re unprofessional, but she hasn’t been acting professional for ages. Personally, I think she had it coming.’

He stopped rubbing his eyes.

‘You really think that?’

‘Yes,’ Hermione said, taking his hand in her own, stroking her thumb against his skin. ‘And, honestly, it’s kind of flattering how you fly off the handle anytime someone says something remotely negative about me.’

Harry chuckled bitterly, messing up his hair with his free hand. Hermione knew he felt uneasy.

‘Well, yeah. She has no business suggesting that you and I would-... I mean, we have been working so hard for so many years, and for her to insinuate that now we’re dating we can’t spend one moment together without dry-humping is just humiliating.’

‘Though we have done a lot of dry and not so dry-humping lately,’ Hermione cheekily pointed out, trying to make him a bit more comfortable.

‘But... That’s... No, you’re right.’

He managed to produce a slight smile but then he grimaced again as he pulled his hand out of her grasp.

‘Oh, how could I have been so... I know that I am pulling a lot of weight, but phrasing it like that is highly offensive to my co-workers and they have been helping out a lot... Ugh! I need to finish this case! Not just for them - I have been working so hard on it, for so long, I can’t be taken off! She... She’ll come round, right?’

But they both knew that that was highly unlikely. Eleonore Holywell was not someone to back out of her promises, especially when there was a chance that others had heard them.

‘Why don’t you take it up with Kingsley?’ Hermione suggested, but Harry shook his head. Of course he wouldn’t - it was Harry, the boy who had refused to seek help when he was tortured by one of his own teachers. His stubbornness hadn’t waned.

He stood up and began to pace.

‘She’ll expect that and I don’t want Kingsley to think that I can’t stand my ground. I’ll have to find another way. Maybe do some private investigation - if we follow up this goblin-lead, and I provide some good evidence, maybe she’ll reconsider...’

‘We’ll think of something,’ Hermione nodded. ‘I’ll help you get packed. Clear the desk.’

She rose from her chair and then noticed a naughty smirk on Harry’s face.

‘What?’

‘Well... You know, just to spite her... We could...’

He gestured to the desk and gave a suggestive eyebrow-wiggle.

‘Harry!’ Hermione gasped. ‘That is very inappropriate!’

Harry blinked a few times with his big, green eyes, causing her to snicker.

‘Yes, I know, that’s kind of the point.’

She reached across the desk to hit him on the arm and he laughed.

‘Haven’t you had enough this morning?’

‘Never,’ he said, with a glint in his eyes. ‘And by the way, having you on a desk at work has actually been a long-living fantasy of mine.’

Hermione felt her complexion turn red as she tried to stay neutral.

‘Oh? How long?’

‘As soon as I realized how good it felt to kiss you,’ he admitted, reaching out his fingers to stroke her arm, causing her goosebumps. She shook her head and steadied her breath.

‘No matter how... tempting that sounds, it would make matters worse. And on top of that, we should save doing it on a desk - not do it because something bad happened, but for a celebratory occasion.’

‘Oh, like what?’

‘Like when you get Mrs. Holywell’s Office because you’ve replaced her as Head of the Auror Department. Now that would spite her!’

 

After she helped Harry clean out his office, and watched an overly emotional Polly assure them “she would always be loyal to Mister Potter”, he went home and she went to work. A delegation of House-Elves, led by none other than Kreacher, provided a good distraction, especially when Hermione noticed that the demeanour of some Elves did begin to shift. Hogwarts payed some thirty-five percent of all their House-Elf staff now - a record, as Dobby had been a sole “one” in a crowd of many not that long ago.

Kreacher stayed a bit longer than the other Elves, chatting about his work in the Kitchen, asking about hers and “Mister Harry’s” well-being. It had taken at least a year for Kreacher to go from Master Harry to Mister Harry, still adjusting to his free life, working at the kitchens as a way to pay honor to Regulus Black. The old Elf endured a lot of hardship in his lifetime and living at Hogwarts among other Elves had made him the happiest he had ever been.

Hermione didn’t want to admit that she had a relationship with Harry, but she didn’t really have a choice when Kreacher noticed her too-bright smile when she talked about him.

She needed to talk with Harry about their relationship. More and more friends and colleagues began to notice - it wouldn’t take long for one of them to “accidentally” slip up and take the money The Prophet would surely pay for a scoop like that. The Chosen One and The Brightest Witch - they would make headlines for at least a week, Hermione predicted. She wasn’t really looking forward to it.

 

Hermione came home to a lovely sight. Harry, dressed in cozy sweatpants and a hoodie, sat on the sofa, Crookshanks curled up on his lap, the radio playing some Muggle station in the background as he was deeply concentrated on a magic crossword. The house smelled of home-made lasagna and something sweet she couldn’t quite place: a weird combination, but it made her mouth water nonetheless. As soon as the flames around her died down, she saw his expression change from angry confusion at his crossword to sheer happiness. She felt immediate butterflies attacking her stomach. Oh, did she love him.

‘You’re home!’ he exclaimed, with a child-like joy and she couldn’t help but laugh.

‘I can’t believe your Patronus is a stag. It should definitely be a puppy.’

She bowed down to give him a chaste kiss, but Harry took hold of her neck and deepened their angle, tasting her mouth with his tongue. The butterflies increased their attack on her insides and fluttered down and down, until Harry pulled away.

‘Merlin, I missed you,’ he sighed. ‘How was your day?’

‘Good,’ Hermione said, ignoring how hot she felt. ‘Kreacher says “hi.” Oh, hello Crookshanks! Has Harry been keeping you company?’

She scratched the half-Kneazle behind his ears, as he purred loudly. He began to knead his paws into Harry’s lap and Harry yelped.

‘Ouch - that’s quite enough Crooks! He turns absolutely crazy when you use that cooing voice, Hermione, you know that! But good, so, your day went better than mine, I reckon? Didn’t get fired?’

She rolled her eyes and snorted.

‘Greengrass is not an incompetent arse. At least not all the time, let’s put it that way. Did you manage to take your mind off this morning?’

Harry nodded.

‘Yep. Went over to Ron’s - he wasn’t at home, of course, but Nicky was. We baked a “sucks that you got fired but good on you for growing a pair”-cake. She actually wrote that entire sentence on, in frosting. It’s in the pantry. We had a lot of fun together, in spite of it all, so that was good. Then I went to the graveyard, bought mom and dad some new plants and flowers and tended to their stone. And I bought you something too!’

He gestured to the table, where she saw a beautiful bouquet of red roses. So that’s where the sweet scent came from!

‘Figured I should at least stay on your good side, don’t want to lose my job and my girlfriend in the same day.’

‘Damn, that’s cheesy,’ Hermione teased, as if she wasn’t giddy and flattered, kissing Harry on the forehead and then ran to the table to look at the bouquet a bit better. Red roses again – the same as in her corsage. It was a beautiful flower, meaning love, passion, bliss and respect. She couldn’t help but utter “They’re beautiful!” and the sensation of Harry’s satisfied grin burned at the back of her head.

‘What’s a potion ingredient that starts with an A?’ he asked, picking up his quill again. ‘I’m stomped.’

‘Arnica? Asphodel?’

‘Seven letters.’

‘Agrippa?’

‘Nope. Thought of that too. Second letter is a C, unless there is another Quidditch-team whose motto was “We shall conquer” until it was changed in 1972.’

‘Chudley Cannons?’ Hermione said, smelling the flowers. ‘What is their new motto?’

‘”Let’s all just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best”. Much more fitting if you ask me – don’t tell Ron I said that… And, wow! Did I just beat Hermione Granger at a random trivia fact? I thought you read Quidditch Through The Ages…

‘I did – but it’s a Quidditch-fact,’ Hermione chuckled. ‘You can’t possibly expect me to remember all of them!’

‘Right. You have all those “Hogwarts: A History” facts still stored up there somewhere, that’s got to take up some space,’ Harry joked.

‘Ha-ha. That book has done more for me than Quidditch Through the Ages, Harry. And I believe the ingredient you’re looking for is Aconite.’

‘Aconite! Merlin, how come I didn’t think of that? Well, seems like you can keep The Brightest Witch of Her Age title, at least for now.’

He winked at her and patted Crookshanks on the head, who rewarded him with a contented purr.

‘By the way, not crossword related – I also cleaned the kitchen and made dinner. Should be ready in about twenty minutes.’

‘Thank you,’ Hermione said, sincerely. ‘That’s really sweet of you – you would have been totally justified if you would have just crawled on the couch and wallowed in self-pity for the rest of the day. I know I would have.’

‘I always thought it would be something like that too – guess not! My coping mechanism is basically throwing myself at chores and buying you stuff as if I messed something up,’ Harry laughed. ‘I have no idea why, but I feel like I owe someone something. Don’t know to whom, don’t know why, but I can’t help but feel guilty for being fired. It’s not that I really feel bad for myself right now – I know I’ll get back sooner or later. It’s just… A weird feeling. I feel guilty now, just chilling on the sofa, like I should be up and running and saving the world like I’m supposed to, but I guess I can use Crookshanks as an excuse for not moving for almost an hour. Isn’t that right, Crooks?’

Harry made a mushy face to her cat and he almost seemed to smile back at him.

‘We’ll figure something out,’ Hermione assured him, wringing her hands. She didn’t like it when Harry was not coping well – it was expected, of course, but she was used to go the extra mile to make him feel the best he could. ‘It’s natural for you to feel that way – you have been living mission to mission since you were eleven, you have no idea how to handle anything else! I will consult with Bill tomorrow, I’ve owled him already, he has time, and we’ll find a way to incorporate you into the case again. Gosh, I felt so bad this morning, having her attack you like that and knowing that it was probably because you were mad at her for something she said about me, and I couldn’t help but think about it the entire day, and-…’

‘Sounds great,’ Harry interrupted, as he used his wand to turn the radio a bit louder and removed an offended Crookshanks from his lap. ‘Bill will help, for sure. But right now, let’s not talk work, you’re stress-jabbering. Have you heard this new song? It’s so cool – it’s been playing all day. Shake it like a polaroid picture!

He banged his head up and down and then swooped her in his arms, forcing her in an awkward dance to the music. Crookshanks looked on judgingly, sad to see her cosy spot on Harry’s lap go, and he followed their movements with his yellow eyes. Hermione screeched in surprise, and then she cracked up.

‘Shake it, shake it, shake it!’ Harry bellowed, exaggerating movements with his arms and his butt, trying to make her laugh harder. By the time he pouted his lips in a weird smoulder, Hermione was crying with laughter as Harry tried to take her down in some kind of awkward shimmy while the music filled the room. Their hands were intertwined as Hermione tried to copy his goofy movements, tears rolling down her cheek, her sides hurting.

When the song ended, Harry looked smug and satisfied and pulled her in for another searing kiss. He wiped some remaining tears of her face, and Hermione revelled in the gentle touch of his hands, enjoying how her cheeks hurt from the grinning, how his tender lips felt against her tongue.

‘You’re sure you’re alright, Harry? You’re not going mental?’ she teased, and she gave him a broad smile. She was so glad, so freaking glad that she almost felt guilty about it.

He smiled back at her, tugging at a loose strand of hair that escaped her messy bun.

‘Absolutely not. There are just too many reasons to be happy and I don’t want to waste one more minute pining on that hag and her stupid decision making. She’s not worth my time. Not while I’ve got you in my arms, and we could be doing another crazy dance.’

A new song began to play – a song Hermione did recognize, about milkshakes. They both hollered, deeply, and the sound of their voices overthrew the stereo.

‘Ehm, nope,’ Hermione said, and Harry cackled.

‘What? You’ve got lovely milkshakes. It brings this boy to the yard, for sure!’

‘They are not called milkshakes!’

‘Well, you can shake them, at a certain point in your life they might have milk in them as well. And I can blow bubbles between them, remember?’

‘No, Harry, don’t you-… Harry!

He had already unbuttoned her blouse and found the front clasp of her bra, exposing her to him in the flick of his fingers. She looked at him quasi-sternly, but Harry had a daring glint in his eyes, as he suckled on her left nipple, causing her to pause and moan. Then his head disappeared between the mounds and he began to shake his head, making her shriek.

‘Harry!’

He blew air against her skin, then he peppered kisses against her flesh, drew a nipple between his lips and kissed the sensitive nub.

‘Harry…’ She sighed, leaning into his touch, as she weaved her hand through his raven locks. He was gentle but persistent, continuing his kisses and licks and laps, ignoring the pleas that sounded hoarsely from her throat and that she didn’t mean. Or, she did mean them, but they were no longer urging him to stop.

One hand travelled down her robes, pushed underneath her tube skirt and fluttered against her in tights-covered legs. This was no longer playful, she recognized, as she felt her breath hitch in her throat as her boyfriend suckled sharply on one of her breasts. He then used the hand that steadied her against him to loosen her hairbun. As her hair cascaded down, Hermione caught a look in his eyes: a look that meant nothing but lust and pure admiration, a look Hermione never thought anyone would have for her – a combination of affection and worship, of love and lust that was so pure, so intense, that she closed her eyes and titled her head back, surrendering to his hands completely.

‘You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Hermione.’

His breath whispering against her nipples got her mewling for his touch and he gave her what he wanted, pushing his hand underneath the waistband of her tights and her underwear, slowly exploring her folds. She wasn’t as wet as she thought she would be, which was weird because she was so aroused, but Harry stuck his finger in his mouth and quickly pushed them under her garments again.

‘You look so sexy in your office clothes… So unbelievably sexy…’

For a moment he broke away from her lips, to admire how she must have looked at that very moment – curly hair, puffy lips, reddened breasts that were still somewhat confined between the sides of her bra, her nipples stiff from his touch, her cream skin contrasting with the dark brown fabric of her cardigan. Hermione felt vulnerable, but beautiful, and she wanted no one else to see her that way. She was Harry’s and Harry’s alone.

 He clearly enjoyed the sight, as it caused him to groan and ravage her mouth, plunging his middle finger deeply into her heat, stroking his tongue against hers. Hermione relaxed herself against the arm that steadied her in the small of her back and placed her hands on either side of Harry’s face. The steady rhythm of Harry’s mouth caused his glasses to clash against her nose, so she lifted his glasses and placed them on top of his head.

‘Bedroom?’ he mumbled against her lips and she could do nothing but nod as Harry removed his finger from her knickers and lifted her up so she was able to lock her legs around Harry’s hips.

‘Oh, Harry,’ she said, as he carried her clumsily to the bedroom. ‘The lasagna…’

‘Good call,’ he said, retrieving his wand from his holster and waived to the kitchen to turn the oven off. ‘Dinner later, right? Appetizer first.’

‘Merlin yes,’ Hermione agreed, clawing onto him more desperately, and Harry grinned against her lips as he lifted her a bit better. In this angle she could feel Harry’s member press against her core and it made her almost shudder. She realized she wanted him, more than anything.

Harry took his time with her body and rejected any advances she was making towards him. Finally, she gave in, allowing him to undress her fully. She settled on her bed and placed her hands on her breasts, slowly kneading and teasing a nipple when she felt like it. She enjoyed every second, feeling Harry’s experienced tongue on her body, savouring the feeling of Harry’s fingers inside of her. When he brushed the spot inside of her, she felt her head tilt back and a moan escape from her throat. Her wetness was now coating her thighs, and stinging to Harry’s stubbly face, but he clearly didn’t mind. It didn’t take long for her climax to hit her, and it almost felt like an out of body experience. She saw stars and stars and then nothing, she just felt Harry’s mouth on her, moving and licking and sucking, drawing every little squeal from her throat she could muster. It seemed to last a lifetime, and when it ended, she felt wobbly and boneless and absolutely amazing.

When Harry looked up at her, glasses still on top of his head, lips red and swollen, she beamed and giggled and gasped when he flicked his tongue against her nub.

‘Careful,’ she hissed, and Harry chuckled as he got up to lay beside her.

‘Seems like you enjoyed that, huh?’

She didn’t answer, still drowsy with her orgasm, and Harry smugly kissed the top of her head.

‘I am such a lucky guy, you know that?’

‘I want you,’ she sighed, staring at him through half-lidded eyes.

‘You didn’t have enough?’ Harry answered, surprised, as he lifted his hoodie over his head, exposing his naked torso. ‘I thought I did a good enough job to keep you satisfied for at least a few minutes-…’

‘No, I mean. I want you,’ she explained. How could he not understand? She was aching for him, every part of her body was, she felt empty without his fingers inside of her and she desperately wanted, no, needed him to complete her fully.

‘What-… Oh…’

Harry leaned back on the bed, forgetting about undressing and looked at her seriously.

‘Are you sure? We tried yesterday, after all, and the last thing I want is to rush something again and hurt you.’

‘We’re not rushing, are we? You just spent at least fifteen minutes going down on me.’

‘I know, but I thought… You know, I would plan something with… I don’t know, a corny massage and flower petals on the bed and some very bad, cheesy musical soundtrack on the background, like Celine Dion or something like that. Like it’s supposed to happen the first time, like how it’s in movies and books.’

‘You just want to control the situation again,’ Hermione noted. ‘You want to make it perfect.’

‘Well – do you blame me? You deserve that!’

Hermione smiled at him, half thinking that he was the cutest thing on the planet, half contemplating whether she should call him out on his words and make a “barf”-noise.

‘That’s really considerate, Harry,’ she decided, ‘and I really appreciate that, but to me, this moment is perfect. You and your weird dance moves to cheer me up, the sweetness you just showed to me. Your round glasses perched on top of your head like the total dork that you are.’

Harry smiled and bit his lip, moving his hand to remove his glasses, but she stopped him.

‘Please. I love you, just the way you are. Do you want this?’

‘Are you kidding? Of course I want this.’

‘No, I mean… Does it feel right for you, right now? Do you feel… You?’

She looked him into his emerald eyes and Harry frowned for a moment, but then he smiled.

‘I do. It feels good. Different from last time and the time before that.’

She smiled back and inhaled deeply, something that Harry mirrored.

‘Okay. So, this is it, then?’

‘This is it,’ Hermione nodded.

‘Pff… Right. I’m really excited, actually.’

She smiled at how innocent that sounded coming from his mouth.

‘Me too!’

She could barely hide her own giddiness, which would have made her feel ashamed with everyone on the planet, but not Harry. Never Harry. She didn’t even have her color-coded stack of notes and she was totally fine with that.

‘Good,’ Harry said, and an awkward silence fell between them, which they both broke up with laughter.

‘Let me… I’ll touch you, first.’

She guided her hands to the front of Harry’s sweatpants, cupping his member through the cotton fabric. Harry wasn’t fully erected anymore, but she could actually feel him somewhat twitch when her palm pressed against him. She liked how that part of Harry seemed to have a mind of its own and it was very interesting to see how it reacted to the difference of her caresses.

‘Don’t use me as a study object right now, Hermione,’ Harry groaned and she laughed.

‘I’ll try not to! It’s just-… I love touching you.’

‘I know,’ Harry chuckled as he pressed himself to her a bit firmer. ‘Please don’t be such a tease today.’

‘Oh, like you mind,’ she countered, but she did run her hand up and down, until she realized something.

‘Merlin, Harry. Are you going commando?’

‘Why don’t you put your hands down my pants and find out?’

She rolled her eyes at him, dipped past the elastic waistband and gasped.

‘You are! Damn, Harry!’

‘I am commando most of the time when I wear jogging pants,’ Harry said apologetic. ‘I hope you don’t mind.’

‘Do I mind? Merlin, no, it’s hot! So, when you wore them last week, you were also-…’

Get on with it already,’ Harry said, through clenched teeth, as her fingers ghosted over his erect flesh. ‘Yes, I was, but that’s not important right now.’

‘Well, not investigating that then is now the biggest regret of my life,’ Hermione chuckled. ‘But fine, I’ll “get on with it”, Harry.’

She stuck her tongue out at him, drew a bit of saliva on her hand and began to stroke him steadily. She loved the feeling of Harry’s flushed skin right there, and she build up to a nice pace, but Harry stopped her quickly.

‘Am I doing something wrong?’

‘You’re doing it too right,’ Harry said, under his breath. ‘I want to last.’

He removed his pants and got on top of her, retrieving his wand from his holster and casting the anti-conception spell before putting his wand on the bedside-table.

There was a moment of a knowledgeable look between them, before Harry closed the space between their lips. He kissed her carefully, as if they had never kissed before, taking his time to press his lips up against hers, again and again and again, until he slightly opened his mouth and deepened the kiss. Hermione sighed in his embrace. She was nervous, she was tensing, but she had faith as well. This was Harry, after all.

He summoned the bottle of lubricant from her nightstand and started foreplay again, as if they hadn’t been doing that for the last half hour at least, kissing her lips and neck and earlobe and collarbone, all down to her breasts, as his hands kneaded her shoulders, her arms, her hips. He pushed one, then two fingers inside, cautiously preparing her for him. While she enjoyed his touches, she couldn’t help but tense a bit, and Harry noticed.

‘Relax,’ he murmured against her skin. She nodded and closed her eyes, focusing on her breathing. It was one of the things her muggle therapist taught her for panic attacks, something called “mindfulness”, and it helped her keep her guard down.

She felt Harry’s fingers deliciously twisting and rubbing inside of her, shooting sparks of arousal through her entire body, and when he withdrew she whimpered slightly at the loss.

Then he shifted, and she felt the tip of Harry’s penis pressing against her entrance. She had been anticipating this moment for so long, she was prepared, and most importantly, she loved him. There was no one she loved more on the entire planet than this crazy, raven-haired boy, with bright green eyes and his round, black glasses still nestled in his locks.

‘Is this the right position? I really want to face you and look at you, so I can check if everything’s alright,’ Harry explained sincerely.

‘It’s called the missionary,’ Hermione informed him, remembering her notes. ‘And yes, it’s perfect. It’s intimate, I like that you’re close to me and that you can give me kisses if you want to.’

Harry grinned.

‘Of course I want to!’

He bowed down to give her a slow, French kiss, and Hermione felt her toes curl.

‘Are you ready?’ he then asked, with somewhat of a nervous tremor in his voice. She found it endearing.

‘As I’ll ever be. I love you.’

‘I love you too, Hermione,’ he answered, emphasizing her name, as if to tell him that he was actually making this next step with her. ‘I’ll go as slowly as I can, okay? And I’ll pay attention to you as much as I can, but please do stop me if I get too-… You know. Carried away.’

She laughed at that statements because it made his cheeks grow a bit red, but then she felt his tip push slightly against her entrance. She gasped as she felt him enter her body for the first few inches. It was a painful again, a sharp sting rushing through her body, and she felt her breath hitch in her throat. Oh no, she thought. Oh no.

‘Relax,’ Harry repeated, with a soft, humming voice. ‘I feel you’re tensing again. It’s okay. And if we don’t succeed today, we’ll try again another time, and if we’ll never succeed, I won’t mind either.’

He kissed her forehead. She nodded and breathed through her nose. She was not used to losing control like this – it was something she had read about, in severe cases it could cause vaginismus, which made the vagina clamp down entirely during penetration, causing extreme pain and no room for a finger, a tampon or a penis, and she knew that this painful sensation was in her head. She knew she would be able to fit him, he was only a bit broader than his own two fingers, and naturally she should be able to pass a child through there. So it was a question of letting go, of trusting him completely, of surrendering to her feelings of fear and a wrong sense of incompetence.

She placed her hands on Harry’s shoulders and kissed his arm, taking note of her steadying breaths. She counted them, focused on the movement of her belly, and with Harry’s supportive kisses on the side of her face she felt the tension in her body subside. She almost felt her body give way to him and Harry noticed it to, as he was now peppering kisses of encouragement.

‘That’s it. I feel it. You’re doing it, Hermione!’

She couldn’t help but let out a relieved laugh and nodded.

‘Move a bit.’

Harry pushed in a few more inches at a very slow pace, and while Hermione did still feel a slight burn, it was nowhere near as bad as it felt at the beginning. He halted again, checking her face, and she noticed that Harry was frowning as he offered a reassuring smile.

‘Are you okay?’ she asked, noticing that she was a bit out of breath.

‘More than okay,’ he said. ‘Too okay, in fact. I can hardly keep it together. Are you okay?’

She chuckled as she placed another kiss on his arm.

‘It’s going good. You can move.’

He nodded, focused on his stance and pushed inside a few more inches. It was an incredible feeling – being filled, bit by bit, and it became quickly overwhelming. She was gasping and moaning and trying very hard not to move, because she wanted to thrash around, having a hard time adjusting to the incomprehensible pleasure. Her back ached, her shoulders tensed, her hips bucked as Harry bottomed out, and they both let out a groan in tandem, which made them both snicker.

‘Oh my God,’ Harry panted, breath hot against the side of her face. ‘I don’t want to be vulgar or anything but Christ Almighty Hermione, you are so damn tight. It’s like a vice. A damn vice.’

Hermione looked at him, still foggy because of how intense it felt to have him inside of her fully, and she blinked a few times.

‘What did you compare me with?’

‘A-… Oh I’m sorry, it’s just… I can’t bloody think, I have no blood left in my brain – Merlin.

Hermione snickered some more.

‘A vice? You mean, like… prostitution? Or a felony?’

‘What? No, God no, I mean like the thing that’s attached to a workbench, you know, where you put in the stuff to not let the stuff move around - please don’t laugh, it’s making it worse, you are really killing me-…’

But she did laugh. She couldn’t help it. His horny stammering was too much.

‘Oh Hermioneeeeee,’ he wailed, eyes pressed close, but she saw the corner of his mouths curl up as well. ‘Stop, I’m literally going to last no longer than a minute, I swear…’

‘I’m sorry,’ she giggled, ‘your face is just so funny-…’

‘This is supposed to be romantic!’ Harry countered, still smiling, and he kissed her on the mouth. ‘Oh well. At least you’re not in pain anymore, right?’

‘Not much,’ she answered. ‘You feel incredible. It’s such a weird feeling. But it feels right. Like this is how it’s supposed to be. Minus the vice-observation, obviously.’

‘Obviously,’ Harry answered. ‘Am I allowed to move? I might go crazy if I don’t move any second now.’

‘Yes, be careful,’ she said, knowing that that last remark was not necessary, and Harry drew back with care, only to very slowly roll his hips again, filling her up. The sensation was overwhelming again, but it felt less unnatural this time, and she felt her hips accommodate to Harry’s member. When he bottomed out again, it was nestled nicely against her cervix, going too slow to hit it but nudging it enough to make her feel like he was in every way connected to her. It felt amazing.

‘Again,’ she said, and Harry obliged. He moved, and then he moved again, and with each time the sensation was less overwhelming and more enjoyable. While being penetrated wasn’t as mind-blowing as her regular orgasms, she really did love the feeling of Harry inside of her. It was different, but it felt really, really good. She felt claimed by Harry, and when she normally didn’t like being claimed at all, she couldn’t think of anything more satisfying in that very moment. She felt important, powerful, and so, so loved.

Harry was slow, and gentle, and especially with the last few inches he was very careful not to hurt her. He kissed her neck while penetrating her, muffling his moans and hisses and sighs against her throat.

He picked up a slight pace. He was still refraining from thrusting inside of her with force though: he was rolling his hips in a hypnotizing wave, causing her muscles to ripple and her nails to dig into his back. He wanted her to have no pain this first time, albeit it pleasurable or not, and she was so, so grateful for Harry’s thoughtfulness.

Harry didn’t last long, but Merlin did the poor boy try. The sounds he made became increasingly loud and more extreme, high-pitches and low-pitches alternating the other, causing Hermione to fondly bite her lips. She stroked the back of his neck until she felt a shudder surge through his body, and he thrust inside a few times more sharply than he had ever done, overcome with lust. The sound that escaped his throat was deep and low and so hot – Hermione smiled proudly as she felt Harry come apart in her arms, his member twitching inside of her. He lost his strength for a few seconds, crushing her under his weight, but she didn’t mind.

As soon as he noticed he was squeezing her, he stuttered an apology and got off of her. His hands folded around her waist and he pulled her against him, in a tight spoon.

‘I don’t normally swear but-… Fuck. That was absolutely amazing. You are amazing. We are amazing. This was just-… Too good.’

She chuckled as he lazily kissed the back of her hair.

‘Really? I had no clue you were enjoying yourself, Harry,’ Hermione teased. ‘Next time: don’t be so silent about it. I love to hear your feedback upfront. Especially when you choose working-equipment to illustrate it.’

He groaned in response, cuddling her more tightly, but then he reacted as something had stung him and he sat up straight.

‘Oh my God! You didn’t-… I didn’t make you cum, did I?’

‘Harry-…’

‘Your first time, your bloody first time having intercourse and I just didn’t take the time to-… How could I not have noticed that you-…’

‘Harry,’ she said, a lot louder, ‘calm down. I loved every second of it. It was truly fulfilling and satisfying and I enjoyed it very, very much.’

‘You… Yes? You’re sure?’

‘One hundred percent,’ she said, truthfully, getting up to his level and placing a kiss on his mouth. The movement caused a liquid to trickle down her thighs and she pulled a face.

‘Ew! That-… Oh. Right. Of course. Gravity.’

‘What?’ Harry asked, but a moment later he understood. ‘Oh. Yes, that happens. Scourgify.’

They looked at each other, both radiating and so proud, and Harry pulled her in for another cuddle, putting his arms around her possessively.

‘I did it,’ Hermione sighed happily. ‘I didn’t think I could, but I could! And it didn’t hurt – it was amazing. It was everything that I wanted it to be. It truly was…’

‘Perfect,’ Harry nodded, smiling against her skin. ‘You were right. I felt like me, you were able to relax, it was just as it should be. Now, let’s cuddle until our stomachs tell us to get the hell out of bed to make some dinner. Who could have thought? Got fired today, but this is still one of the best days of my life.’

Hermione leaned back against his embrace, a broad grin spread across her face, and she had never felt so complete in her life before.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 27: How Hermione could get used to a mundane life with Harry James Potter.

The next couple of days had Hermione live on cloud nine. She had lost her virginity to the love of her life, and while she knew that sex was normal and natural, she couldn’t help but feel 16 every time she thought about that first time. It made her blushy and happy and cheerful, it caused her to shine and beam and glow, it made her even more affectionate towards Harry and she felt their bond had increased even deeper, because they had shared their bodies in such a complete way, and it made her feel whole. Everytime she’d look at Harry, over the pages of her book or the top of the Daily Prophet, she couldn’t help but feel giddy, no matter what he was doing. She was his. He was hers.

It finally dawned on her that their sudden chance in their relationship on Christmas Eve was not a fluke. She had hoped it wasn’t, she had hoped it would be real, but now they had been together like that, she could feel it in her bones. This was it. He was it.

So, naturally, over the course of the next few days, they did it again. A lot. And while the beginning was always a bit trying for her - she could always feel herself tense involuntarily, no matter how much she knew that it was going to be okay - Harry knew exactly how to make her feel at ease, how to relax her muscles, how to make her open up to him. He was patient and understanding and she trusted him.

But, no matter how much she loved him, she knew she needed to treat boyfriend-Harry and colleague-Harry differently. So, when she sat down with Bill the next day, they came up with a plan to integrate Harry in their negotiation, giving him room to legally interfere into the Nott case without causing any problems with the Auror Department. She had felt quite nervous when she proposed the idea to Harry.

‘Bill and I found a way to get you back on your case,’ she explained to him, while they sat in her office, Tuesday afternoon. ‘It will give you ample room to investigate into the Goblin-villages in relation to Nott’s hiding places. We got personal permission from the head of the Justice Department, Delilah Bagman, to put you as one of our own on the case. Bagman will of course ask from us to report if we’ve found anything that would require Auror-interference, as you will be working at a Regulation-employee, not an Auror, and we might have to give a seminar about our findings when it comes to taking the investigation further, but she thinks it’s a good idea if we explore this lead like this and she has assured us she’ll talk to Holywell to agree as well.’

‘That sounds perfect!’ Harry replied, excitedly. ‘That would allow me to continue exploring the Goblin-lead without Holywell’s intervention!’

‘Indeed,’ Hermione agreed. ‘There is one catch, though. We don’t have room for another full-time contract: Greengrass can’t fit the hours in right now, we checked. So, we want you to work at our department as an intern. I know it’s a step back, but we did negotiate some kind of pay for you, something just above minimum wage.’

‘No problem,’ Harry replied directly. ‘I will do whatever it takes to finish this case: I would have done it for free.’

‘I know, but that wouldn’t feel right. Now, second catch: as you’re going to be an intern, you will-...’

‘Have to fetch everyone a coffee for the first three months, as is common,’ Harry joked. ‘Yeah, I know the drill.’

‘Well, it’s not mandatory, I’m sure everyone would appreciate it though – but that’s not the point!’ she laughed.

‘I know. I was just pulling your leg. You mean I’ll need a supervisor,’ Harry filled in. ‘We’ve both been interns before, I’m aware of that and it won’t be a problem. Whoever it is, I’ll be as professional and forthcoming as I can be.’

‘I know you will. It’s just... Well, since Bill is on temporary contract, and we didn’t want anyone else to interfere in the Goblin case - Greengrass specifically wanted things to stay confidential, same for Bagman - we are kind of forced to... Well...’

You are going to be my supervisor?’ Harry exclaimed.

Hermione didn’t reply. She didn’t need to, because the redness in her cheeks answered the question for him. She was glad she came clean to her own Department Head about their relationship, to be as open in their dialogue as she could. Bill assured Greengrass in her presence that Hermione would stay professional - he took their word for it, understanding that Hermione took enormous pride in her job and wouldn’t think about defiling it, so he agreed.

‘Well... That’s perfect, isn’t it? We can focus on the case as intensely as we want, we can go on raids together, we can discuss all the intel without some kind of stupid Unspeakable Agreement- it’s just what we need!’

‘I know,’ she answered, relieved. ‘I am so glad you’re taking it well! I mean - our work-relationship has to be strictly separated from our own, but I think we can manage that.’

‘Me too,’ Harry nodded. ‘It’s going to be strictly old Harry and Hermione at work. We’ve done that for more than twenty cases at least, it has never been a problem before, so I’m sure it won’t be one now.’

‘My thoughts exactly,’ Hermione said. ‘We will need to set boundaries, though. Like the reminder that you will not be allowed to perform Auror-specific practices, as you will be a Law-maker, not a Law-enforcer. And the fact that I will be your supervisor and will have to stay natural in the assessment I make of your behaviour to Greengrass. But we will talk about that some more when you get to work.’

 ‘Got it,’ Harry said, with determination in his voice. ‘Oh, I’m so excited! When can I start?’

‘Tomorrow. You will have to work part-time, as you know is usual for interns, so you will be able to work Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday. That means you will have a lot of spare time-...’

‘I’ve been thinking of asking Andromeda if I can take Teddy for a day,’ Harry said contemplating. ‘So she has a bit of time to breathe. And I don’t mind getting an extra day off. I have been really stressed lately, maybe it will help me to relax a bit more.’

They smiled at each other for a while, noting to each other that this was actually a very good situation to be in, and they handled the tedious paperwork that came with accepting an internship.

‘It surprises me you haven’t made a weird intern-joke yet,’ Hermione confessed after a while, as she filed the contract Harry had just signed. ‘I thought you would jump right into it.’

‘Please,’ Harry said, rolling his eyes. ‘I’m not Ron. I would never say anything insensitive about that. But, if you ask me kindly to butter your biscuit after I’ve given you your morning coffee, I might-...’

‘Ew! Harry!’

He grinned boyishly and she slapped him lightly on the arm.

‘Joking,’ he followed-up, ‘although I will probably tear your tube skirt from your body as soon as we are at home again from all the sexual tension that I can’t relieve at the office with you. But I’m sure that as long as it’s at home, you won’t be able to fire me for that.’

‘I might fire you if you won’t,’ she replied with a cheeky grin. They both fought the urge to kiss each other.

So, Harry started the next day. He got a desk in the hallway opposite to Hermione’s secretary, as interns didn’t get their own offices, and had an office outfit tailored. Whereas the Auror Department worked with a navy blue military look, the employees of the Law and Regulation Department were donned in brown pinstripe suits, ties and blouses. Hermione knew Harry disliked wearing ties while working – he wanted to be able to move in his working clothes, and found that the whole office-mentality reminded him of his Uncle Vernon – but he complied nonetheless. All for the Nott-case, she knew. And, if Hermione was completely honest, even though brown would never be Harry’s signature colour, she loved it when Harry dressed up nicely. He looked very smart in a suit.

Harry began his first day by barging into her office, like a hyperactive puppy, balancing a tray stacked with coffee cups in one hand, a stack of files in the other. He told her, with a sly wink, that as an intern he was giving the entire Department their first rounds of coffee for the day, and as he left her office door open, she could hear her secretary Mimsy comment positively on his arrival. Actually – most colleagues were more than thrilled to have Harry Potter on the force, especially since he was bringing them their hot beverages every morning, and he also gained a lot of popularity from their secretaries as they were given some room to start-up the day. There was some speculation over his switch, obviously, but Harry explained sincerely to them that Hermione had given him an opportunity to work on an important case from another perspective. None of the lawyers questioned that: they knew Harry and Hermione worked in tandem since day one.

Over the next couple of days, Hermione showed him the ropes. She taught him the proper way to file their documents, whom to report what to, what colleagues were allowed what kind of intel, et cetera. The first hiccup occurred at Friday, when Hermione showed him where the mailroom for their Department was. A reporter noticed them walking side by side as they exited a staircase and asked some questions about Harry’s attire, as a photographer made flashing pictures.

‘Is it true that you are no longer working at the Auror Department, Mister Potter? Your uniform indicates a switch.’

‘That is true,’ Harry said. ‘I am working alongside Miss Granger for the next couple of weeks.’

‘What made you change Departments, Mister Potter?’ another reporter wanted to know. ‘Have you been falling out with your superior?’

‘Well-…’ Harry wanted to reply, thinking back about what occurred between hem and his boss, but Hermione cut in.

‘Any questions about Mister Potter’s employment for the Auror Department will be directed towards Head Auror Holywell, as is custom. If that’s all – me and Mister Potter have other business to attend to. Thank you-…’

‘Is this why you and Miss Granger left the same apartment a few days ago?’ another reporter asked, a girl Harry recognised from a few days before. ‘Is it the same case you’re working on?’

‘All cases I work on are confidential,’ Harry replied coolly. ‘Good day.’

Hermione and Harry didn’t think too much of it, but apparently the Daily Prophet thought differently, as Harry noticed when the paper was rushed in the next morning by a barn owl.

“FAVOURITISM AT MINISTRY FOR MAGIC: HOW POTTER USES HIS INFLUENCE TO COVER UP HIS DISCHARGE.”

‘Oh for crying out loud,’ Harry groaned, gesturing at the headline and the adorning picture: one where a very irritated looking Harry and Hermione tried to rush through a crowd, both adorning their working uniform.

‘Of course they try to spin it like that,’ Hermione huffed. ‘No matter what we did for the Wizarding Community: if there is a chance to slander us, they’ll take it. Sensation sells.’

‘No, not like that, I know how horrible the Prophet can be. Look. We look like morose, unidentical twins that were dressed by a very hateful mother. Or even worse – a middle-aged, sexless couple going to a lecture at the local library about real-estate investments.’

Hermione snorted and peeked over Harry’s shoulder.

‘Oh Merlin, we do. Yikes!’

‘I really appreciate you got this job for me, Hermione. I do. But if this is how we look together, I might want to go back to Holywell to beg for forgiveness on my bare knees,’ he joked. ‘Anything to be able to wear my original uniform again!’

In the end, he didn’t. Harry quickly adapted to his place at Hermione’s Department and more specifically, in her taskforce. He missed the legwork, so he told her over dinner almost every night, but the intense investigating and the fact he got to work with Bill made up for a lot of it. And, Hermione reminded him, he would be able to do legwork, as soon as Alan Greengrass would give them permission to do some research in actual Goblin Villages, but he had been reluctant so far given their past.

In the meantime, Harry and Hermione’s life got mundane in a great way. Harry picked up Teddy every Thursday after school and they would go to the mall, or the zoo, or the park, and then they would cook dinner at Hermione’s place, and he would return him to Andromeda before bedtime. On Tuesday Harry would visit Nicky in the morning, helping her deal with her pregnancy as Ron was unavailable at that time, taking care of groceries or help around the house and basically just catch up. Hermione liked that Harry had found a true and unbiased friendship in Nicky. He would usually leave her around 11 AM, to allow Nicky time to take a nap.

A new tradition was born when, on Harry’s first free Tuesday, he paid Philip a visit during lunch to ask about him and Lydia. Now Philip wasn’t acting like a pretentious cock 24/7, he and Harry got along quite well, and Philip actually appreciated Harry’s honesty in conversation. Philip confided in Harry, Harry started to tolerate Philip, and it didn’t take too long for Harry and Philip to get along in something that could be described as “friendly”, so they met every Thursday to talk about Muggle sports and therapy and Merlin-knows-what men discuss when they’re alone. Hermione couldn’t imagine Harry and Philip share gossip or girl banter, but she was glad that Harry showed interest in her cousin and seemed to rub off on him.

Then, after lunch, Harry would go to Aunty Penelope to cook some dinner together. Hermione would join them after work, and she loved how caring Harry was towards her Great-Aunt, how well they got along, how playful they acted around each other. Harry would let her Aunty boss him around more than he would tolerate Hermione, she knew, and she would always grin when watching her old Aunty and her boyfriend semi-quarrel about how to prepare a certain dish. Harry usually gave in to Aunty Penelope and Aunty Penelope usually was right.

The first Tuesday Harry and Hermione had eaten dinner at Aunty Penelope’s place, this time completely without a grandmother or either of her parents present, and Aunty Penelope confided in them that she was kind of bummed out that the wedding of Philip and Lydia was back on again. Harry had explained to her that it was for the best, that Philip and Lydia were actually a great match and that he and Hermione were honoured that they had been able to turn it around for the young couple. She insisted it wouldn’t be easier to find a way to break the pair up again, and Harry had laughed hard at the deviance of the old lady, but he had assured her that Philip and Lydia were right for each other. Trusting Harry and Hermione’s judgement, Aunty Penelope reluctantly agreed, but she did mumble something about “prejudiced scum the lot of them” and “white peacocks” until she gave in.

The week after, Grandma Eugenia joined them for dinner. The old ladies decided that they were not ready to let go of this whole “Harry and Hermione should be wedded ASAP”-concept, but this time, Harry and Hermione did succeed in convincing them that they at least wanted to wait until after Lydia and Philip’s big day, as to “not rain on their parade”. The two begrudgedly complied – the adjective specifically used for Aunty Penelope. Grandma Eugenia was tactful enough to then decide that “you two might not get married, but I will not allow yourselves to make a fool out of yourselves at my dancefloor yet again”. Harry and Hermione wondered what she could mean by that – did word of their snogging under the mistletoe reach the old woman? -  but they soon understood when she handed them an envelope with a card.

Grandma Eugenia had given them ballroom dance lessons.

Of course they said “oh thank you!” and “how thoughtful!” and “just what we need!” when they received the gift, but as soon as they got home, Harry and Hermione broke out in laughter in unison. It was ridiculous. They knew they weren’t any good – Harry had two left feet, and Hermione tried to be graceful but failed for the majority of the time – but to actually put them on dance lessons as to not embarrass themselves… It felt rather humiliating, and they decided to return the gift the next week.

They spent the next weekend at one of Ginny’s matches: Ron, Nicky, Luna, Neville, Harry and Hermione, all cheering their friend on, all celebrating the winning streak the team was currently on, and that’s when Neville and Luna convinced them to actually go through with it. Neville had taken a lot of dance classes with Luna, apparently, and going by their stories, it had been a lot of fun. Hermione knew Harry needed some kind of physical work-out: his complaints about not being able to release his energy on raids had been non-wavering, and she had noticed his need for letting loose in his increase in libido. Now, Hermione didn’t mind that, in the slightest. She loved how active their sex life was, how Harry would literally try to show her all the corners of her bedroom… And of her bathroom… And her living room… And how that one time he wanted her to go to the balcony but she called him crazy, so he opted for the next best thing, which was against the wall.

But, blowing off some steam through a dance work-out didn’t sound that bad. Besides, it was a way to be very close to each other, and Hermione clearly remembered how Harry loved to dance, albeit crazy, guilty pleasure dances at the club. So, when they got back from the weekend and Harry had done his utmost best to satisfy her as thoroughly as he was able, and she had opened herself up to him so he could sink inside her heat, and they had made such amazing, amazing love together, she brought it up again when they were enjoying their post-orgasm bliss. And Harry had looked at her, squinting his eyes a bit, and he had smiled sheepishly, and agreed.

So, there they were. Hermione had used her telephone to call the business that was named on the card, she had set an appointment, and they were due to begin their lessons Wednesday the 18th of February. Hermione was glad they would start a week and a half later than planned: the upcoming week would be crazy, with Harry intending to go on his first investigation and Hermione having to finish her first draft on a bill regarding Elfish Welfare. Harry had already hinted that, come what may, at Saturday they would have a real proper date to look forward to. It wouldn’t just be a Valentine’s Day Date, it would be their first real date. And Hermione didn’t want to feel sappy or overly giddy, but she was already really excited. Life was perfect right now. And surely, there was nothing that could ruin it.


Unbeknownst to them, an ambitious new reporter, was working on her newest scoop in secret. She knew it wasn’t really legal to do a stake-out as a journalist – especially when it didn’t concern investigative journalism – but right now, she couldn’t care less. If she was able to break this story, she would be getting the promotion of a lifetime.

She had almost been caught, just a few days ago, when Harry Potter had noticed her after he came back from grocery shopping. He preferred the Muggle shops, Merlin knew why, and had decided to walk home to the apartment, instead of Apparating. It was a beautiful, sunny winter day, after all, and he didn’t have that much to carry with him. She hadn’t been expecting him, staring at the window of Hermione’s apartment intently, when he asked her if he could help her with anything.

She thanked heaven and earth that she had decided to use Polyjuice Potion that day. Harry surely would have recognized her. She pretended to be a tourist with an American accent. He fell for it, and was actually very friendly in showing her the exact route to the metro-station she said she was looking for. She walked in the direction he had pointed her in, and turned around to see him walk to Hermione’s front door and disappear. He didn’t have a key, but Hermione must have allowed him access through her enchantments, she guessed.

Neighbours reported that Harry hadn’t been seen in his own apartment for at least a month and now Harry Potter was bringing groceries to the house of Hermione Granger.

The scoop of a lifetime indeed. The only thing she needed, was one final push.