Hermione blinks awake to the smell of coffee and the sound of rashers frying. The next thing she registers is a dull throbbing behind her eyes, brought on by the sunlight - she rolls over, shutting out the brightness by dragging the comforter back over her head.
A comforter that smells like cedar and sweat and most certainly not her peppermint shampoo. Bollocks.
Hermione tosses the sheets aside in alarm before she recognizes the trappings of Harry’s bedroom. With a sigh of relief, she pads into the kitchen and takes in the familiar sight of Harry, in Gryffindor pyjama pants and fuzzy slippers as he reads through the Ministry bulletin. Something warm fills her chest and brings a sleepy smile to her face.
He looks up at her greeting and an unrecognizable expression flashes across his face for a moment before he’s returning her smile. “Morning, Hermione. Coffee’s on the counter,” he says with a nod towards the breakfast bar. Hermione makes a beeline for the steaming mug.
She inhales the scent greedily and takes a small sip. It has the perfect amount of cream and sugar - after all the mornings she’s spent here, she supposes it’s not a shocker that he knows exactly how she takes it, but it’s still a pleasant surprise. “Have I ever told you that I love you more than anyone else in this world?” she calls over her shoulder while rummaging through the pantry for bread.
From across the room, Harry abruptly chokes on his tea. Hermione’s too busy fixing herself a plate of breakfast to notice.
“I believe you may have mentioned it once or twice,” he says drily after recovering from his small coughing fit. “You can have first go of the bath - I already Scourgify’d your work suit from last night. And the Floo’s all sorted to get us to the Ministry.”
“Mm, thanks. Not flying in today?” Hermione asks around a mouthful of toast.
“Nah, thought I’d give our Deputy Minister an Auror’s escort today. Just in case she’s still too sloshed to walk straight,” Harry teases.
Hermione doesn’t deign to respond to that - she flicks her wand at him and enjoys his surprised squawk as his papers escape his grip and zoom over to her. She scans the notices as she downs the last of her coffee, one headline in particular standing out.
“Blimey, I completely forgot it’s Valentine’s today - no wonder that git last night was asking if he could come up,” Hermione mutters. “I hope I didn’t ruin any romantic plans by crashing last night, Harry,” she says sheepishly. He ambles off the couch and throws an easy arm around her shoulder.
“Rubbish. You know my door’s always open for you,” Harry declares, snatching his papers out of her grasp. “Now hurry it up, or you’ll ruin both of our spotless attendance records.”
She laughs at that, both of them knowing full well that Harry’s usually tardy to work on the days she’s not around to drag him out of bed. “Glad to see my good habits have finally started rubbing off on you,” she quips, poking him in the stomach. He starts to make an indignant sound but it dies in his throat when Hermione stands on her tip-toes to give him a friendly peck on the cheek.
She makes her way to Harry’s washroom without looking over her shoulder to see Harry’s stunned expression, his fingertips resting over the spot her lips had just touched.
After seeing the inside of Umbridge’s office at Hogwarts, Hermione didn’t think it was possible to be overwhelmed by the color pink again in her life.
She was wrong.
The Department of Magical Festivities and Decorations has truly outdone itself today - the usually dreary green-tiled walls of the Ministry are now an ombré wash of magenta, fuschia, and bubblegum. Fresh roses hang in complicated arrangements from the ceiling and adorn every statue, including each member of the Fountain of Magical Brethren. In the lifts, heart-shaped notes and candy grams whiz through the air instead of the usual paper airplane memos.
Suffice to say, Hermione’s headache has returned by the time she finally reaches her office.
Her co-workers are on her the moment she walks through the door: Jamie runs towards her, squealing, while Dylan grabs her by the shoulders. “Finally, you’re here! Tell us absolutely everything, Herms,” he gushes.
“And don’t skimp on the scrummy stuff!” Jamie pipes in eagerly.
Bewildered, Hermione can only respond, “What are you both on about?”
The office is silent for a moment as they both stare at her, aghast. Finally, Dylan speaks up, “Are you having a laugh? You were out with Darren Broadmoor last night! You know, the bloody Seeker for the Falmouth Falcons?”
“Please tell me you took him back to yours. And give me every detail!” Jamie begs.
“Oh, right.” Hermione had nearly forgotten about her awful date last night. “Err, turns out we didn’t have much in common, so...we called it quits after dinner,” Hermione informs them, setting her bag down on her desk.
Both of their mouths drop open in shock at the same time. If she wasn’t somewhat embarrassed by the whole thing, Hermione might have found their expressions comical. She escapes Dylan’s grip and slides into her office chair.
“But...but he’s so fit! And he told everyone how much he fancied you, how could you not shag him?” Jamie asks, now visibly distraught.
Hermione turns beet red. “Jamie! For Merlin’s sake, we’re in the office - can we please not talk about shagging when the minister could walk in any second?” she hisses.
Dylan crosses his arms over his chest. “Poppycock. You’re wearing the same blouse you wore yesterday,” Dylan points out smugly.
Hermione rolls her eyes. “Because I kipped over at Harry’s, thank you very much. Now could both of you please drop it and get to work?”
Hermione pulls out her favorite quill and a massive stack of files that still need to be condensed into a single-page brief for their meeting in 30 minutes, but her co-workers still don’t move an inch. From above her paperwork, Hermione notices the pair of them exchanging conspiratorial looks.
“What?” she finally asks, exasperated.
Jamie and Dylan raise their eyebrows simultaneously. “Oh, it’s nothing,” Jamie says innocently, scurrying back to her own desk.
“We just couldn’t help noticing...you certainly spend a lot of time over at Harry’s, don’t you?” Dylan asks with a knowing glance. “Is there something you’re not telling us? Like perhaps why so many of your date nights seem to end in his bed?”
Hermione feels her ears warm, but the questions are nothing new - there’s been gossip about her and Harry in the Daily Prophet since they were teenagers, a few cheeky comments from her colleagues aren’t enough to rattle her.
“I’ve told you, we’re just friends. We split a bottle of wine and went to sleep. That was it.”
“Right,” Dylan says, “Just friends. Friends who have both been single for years and spend all their time together and drank together the night before Valentine’s day - ”
“And share a bed,” Jamie adds.
Hermione sputters at that last one. “He slept on the couch last night!”
“Last night. But not the time before that?” Dylan asks with devilish gleam in his eye.
“We are not talking about this,” Hermione says curtly, turning her attention back to the scrolls on her desk.
Jamie lets out a frustrated sigh. “Honestly, this is ridiculous. It doesn’t take a Deputy Minister to see how you feel about - ”
For better or worse, Jamie’s point is cut-off by Kingsley bursting through the office doors.
“Good morning, team,” his booming voice somehow fills up the entire office space, echoing off the floor-to-ceiling windows. “All ready for today’s Wizengamot meeting?”
“Yes, Minister!” Hermione responds eagerly, standing up to shake Kingsley’s proffered hand. Jamie and Dylan stare daggers at her over the Minister’s shoulder, clearly irked at having their conversation cut off.
Kingsley beams, completely oblivious to the tension in the room. “Jolly good. We’ll see you in the conference room in 15 minutes.” With that, he sweeps his deep crimson robes behind him and strides into his private study, leaving his three deputies with tense expressions and a pile of work to get through. In unison, they each run back to their desks and start scribbling their final meeting notes furiously.
“This isn’t over, Hermione,” Dylan calls out from behind his desk. “This isn’t the first time you’ve ended a date at his flat. It’s clearly something more than friendship between the pair of you.”
“You turned down Darren Broadmoor,” Jamie says in monotone, as if that statement alone explains everything. “You’ve obviously got it bad.”
“I haven’t the slightest idea what either of you are talking about,” Hermione responds airily.
But for the first time in her life, as she remembers the fleeting touch of Harry’s hand on her shoulder and the smell of coffee on her lips, it feels just a little bit like a lie.
It comes up again after lunch, as she and Kingsley are on their way to sit in on a trial in the Department of Mysteries.
“So...you and Harry, eh?” the taller man asks with a broad grin. “It’s about time!”
Hermione trips over her own feet, almost face-planting until Kingsley grabs her shoulder and steadies her. Heat pools in her cheeks as she stares up at her boss, flabbergasted.
“What- what do you mean, Minister?”
There’s a twinkle in Kingsley’s eye, like he’s sharing a private joke with her. “Come now, Hermione, surely you can let me of all people in on the secret! I saw the two of you coming from the same Floo this morning,” he says jovially.
Hermione blushes so fiercely she’s sure her face is the same color as Kingsley’s robes. “I- No, it’s not like that! I just stayed the night, we didn’t- we don’t...we’re just friends!” she stammers out, looking desperately at the floor. Why oh why did everyone have to choose this morning to be so observant?
Kingsley has the decency to look uncomfortable. “Ah. I see. My mistake, then.”
Hermione lets out a strangled squeak that sounds like a mix of “yes” and “help”, which Kingsley doesn’t know how to respond to. Instead, they keep walking in awkward silence until they reach their destination. Just before they walk into the courtroom, Kingsley clears his throat.
“Just so we’re clear, Deputy Granger...I completely understand and support your decision not to mix business and personal affairs. However, I do have to ask that you disclose any sort of, ah... ‘romantic relations’ with the Department of Wizarding Resources. Even those you wish to keep things quiet from the rest of the office. That is all.”
Kingsley walks through the archway, leaving Hermione alone to contemplate banging her head against the wall and starting a new campaign to remove Valentine’s Day from the Wizarding calendar entirely.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mum and Dad!” Hermione is knackered after a full day of dealing with work (not to mention the incessant pestering from her co-workers), but she still summons the enthusiasm to greet her parents with a hug after Apparating to their doorstep. Today of all days, she’s desperate for an escape to the normalcy of Muggle life. Her parents’ quiet home in Manchester is a breath of fresh air after so many days in the hustle and bustle of London.
“Hermione! What a surprise...we weren’t expecting you ‘til next weekend!” Her mother cries as she returns Hermione’s fervent hug. Her father claps a hand on her back and she breathes a sigh of relief. It’s good to be home.
“I had the time to pop by,” Hermione starts as they release her from their embrace, “so I thought I’d come visit - wait, what are you wearing?”
Both of her parents are dressed smartly: her mother looks like the picture of elegance in a long evening gown and her favorite set of pearls, and her father has clearly combed his hair and wrangled himself into a navy blazer.
Her mother blushes, a more natural glow than the dusting of rouge on her cheeks. “Actually, duckling, your father and I actually thought we would celebrate Valentine’s with a nice dinner this year...the reservation is only for two, but of course we’ll just call it off and spend the evening at home with you - ”
“No!” Hermione interrupts. “No, I mean, of course you shouldn’t...it’s a lovely thing to do, of course you should go to dinner. I’m just surprised you didn’t tell me…” she trails off, lost in thought at how in love her parents still look after so many years together.
Her father shifts uncomfortably. “Well my dear, we really thought you’d be spending the holiday with Mr. Potter, like last year.”
Hermione feels her shoulders tense at the mention of Harry. He is still a touchy topic of conversation in the Granger household after the events of the war - explaining to her parents that Obliviating them and dropping them off in Australia was the only way to guarantee their safety because helping her best friend save the world was more important than staying by their side was a difficult conversation, to say the least. Her parents had never outright accused her of choosing Harry over them, but sometimes that unspoken truth felt like a weight sitting on her shoulders.
Kind of like right now.
“That was a one-time thing for work, Da. We’re just friends,” Hermione says woodenly. How many times has she said that today? She feels like a broken record. The words feel less like an explanation and more like an excuse with each repetition.
Her parents share a knowing look that somehow still makes Hermione feel like a naive eleven-year-old girl who knows nothing of the world. Her mother places her weathered palm against Hermione’s cheek, meeting her daughter’s confused gaze.
“My darling girl, you’ve always been so smart and so brave. But you’ve never been much good at looking after your own heart. Tell me, is this really the home you wanted to come back to tonight?”
Her mother’s tone is soft, heartfelt, and Hermione realizes that maybe her parents never thought of her decision all those years ago as choosing Harry over family. Maybe, she thinks, she’s been the only one making the distinction this whole time.
Her heart thumps painfully in her chest, suddenly filled with a million emotions she doesn’t know how to name. Her hands shake and her head is spinning, but she thinks of Harry: his warm hand in hers, the sound of his laughter, his bright green eyes...and she knows exactly where she wants to be tonight.
“I...I have to go. Bye, Mum! Bye, Da!” She rushes through the words before turning on her heel - she catches a glimpse of her father’s proud expression before the world blends together in the kaleidoscope of Disapparation.
She arrives at the entrance to Harry’s flat, pulse still racing wildly. She’s trembling as she fishes desperately for the spare key he’d made for her - he’s probably not home yet, he’s rarely out of work before her, but that’s OK, she’ll just wait for him to get home and then...and then -
She turns the key in the lock and stumbles through the door, still not quite sure what she wants to say to him, but all thoughts of planning escape her when she looks up to see Harry standing in his kitchen.
With Ginny in his arms.
Harry turns to see Hermione frozen in the doorway, expression horrified. He releases Ginny in an instant.
“Hermione? What are you doing here?” He takes a step towards her, voice filled with shock.
Her throat constricts painfully. “I’m...I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude…” she whispers, barely able to form the words. She feels tears burning at the back of her eyes and immediately turns away, fleeing before she breaks down on the spot.
“Hermione, wait!” She hears Harry call behind her but she ignores it, desperate to get as far away from him and these feelings as soon as possible. It’s all because of this stupid holiday, she decides...if it weren’t for all of the ridiculous thoughts of love on everyone’s mind, maybe she’d never have had to realize just how far she’d fallen for her best friend. She could’ve stayed perfectly content at his side without hoping for anything more, wouldn’t feel completely broken at the sight of him wrapped in someone else’s embrace -
A hand catches her wrist, yanking her to an abrupt stop. She doesn’t need to turn around to recognize Harry’s calloused touch. His breath is ragged from sprinting after her, matching her own labored respirations.
“Hermione, please. That wasn’t what it looked like, I swear - tell me what’s wrong?” he pleads, tugging her to face him. She keeps her eyes trained firmly on the cobblestone, knowing that she won’t be able to keep anything hidden if she looks at his face.
“It’s fine, Harry, you didn’t have to come after me,” she says, voice cracking. “It’s nothing urgent, you should go back and spend Valentine’s with the girl you fancy - ”
Harry snorts. “Don’t be daft, Hermione. I don’t fancy Ginny. And she was just leaving, anyways." He takes a small step towards her. "Come on, you look like you need a hot cup of tea,” he says gently, lacing their fingers together. The heat of his palm sends a shock up her arm and she withdraws from him instantly, as if burned. A hurt expression flits across his face but he quickly gets himself under control, shoving his hands into his pockets instead.
“What’s going on?” he asks, more guarded now. It doesn’t escape him that she hasn’t met his eyes since she stumbled out of his apartment - she's tense and upset. It fills him with dread to see her like this.
“Nothing,” Hermione gets out after a few beats of silence, “I just don’t want to interrupt. Merlin knows I’ve probably done it enough all these years.” She tries to offer him a smile, but it falls flat. Harry’s brows draw together in dismay.
“I’ve already told you, you didn’t interrupt anything,” he says slowly. “Can we talk about this inside? Please?”
It’s the softness of his plea that opens the floodgates. Tears stream down Hermione’s cheeks as she starts crying, knowing that whoever Harry gives his heart to deserves every ounce of his generosity and kindness. And that person isn’t her.
Harry recognizes the sound of her sobs and moves to wrap her in a hug immediately, but Hermione pushes him away. This rejection hurts more than any of the others - she’s never recoiled from his hugs before. It feels like a punch to the gut. “Hermione, I don’t understand what I’ve done...are you mad at me?”
He sounds so panicked it might make her laugh in another situation. Instead, it makes her plaster on a comforting expression to meet his gaze. Unfortunately, this day has scraped away every layer she’s built around herself, leaving her completely raw - she doesn’t have much to cover it up with and if Harry’s worried expression is anything to go by, she’s not doing a great job of holding it together.
“You don’t need to lie, Harry. I know you’ve fancied her since sixth year,” she says, the words bitter on her tongue. Something shifts in his face at that - his lips turn down, his face becoming closed off.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says coldly. His eyes look as hard as flint, unyielding and glinting with bitterness. She shivers instinctually - she hasn’t seen this kind of anger from him since Sirius’s death. But his temper didn’t scare her then, and it certainly isn’t enough to scare her now.
“I just want you to be happy, Harry,” she says with a watery smile, “And I know you’re in love with her - “
“I’m not in love with her,” he spits out, sounding actually offended now. “That’s the most idiotic thing you’ve ever said.”
Despite everything else she’s feeling, her pride still stings at the word ‘idiotic’. Irritation lends volume to her voice as she snaps back at him, “And pray tell, what’s so idiotic about it?”
“Because I’m in love with you!” he yells.
Hermione’s breath catches in her throat, scarcely believing the words that just left his mouth.
But Harry’s not done. His chest heaves as he plows on, “I’ve been in love with you since sixth year. But then you and Ron were together and I had to watch him muck it all up, and after you ended things I didn’t want to make you more confused because I knew you only saw me as a friend...then you started seeing other people and I just didn’t want to risk losing you completely, and Ginny was just here to encourage me to finally tell you how I feel and - I’ve bollocksed it all up now, haven’t I?” he says miserably. “Look, you can just pretend I didn’t say a word, I only - ”
Without another thought, Hermione launches herself at Harry and presses her mouth to his. Her teeth bump against his lips and the whole thing barely lasts a moment, but when she pulls away and sees his eyes wide with astonishment, glasses sitting crookedly on his nose, Hermione decides it’s the best kiss she’s ever had. She wraps her arms around Harry’s neck and his hands come to rest her waist like they were meant to fit there.
“I think I’ve been in love with you too,” she whispers against his chest, listening to his heart beat faster at her confession.
“Is this a dream?” Harry asks in a hushed, disbelieving voice. “Is this some kind of elaborate Valentine’s prank? I swear, if this is some new Weasley Wheeze hallucination, I’ll murder George and Ron myself.”
Hermione laughs at the seriousness in his voice and presses a soft kiss to his collarbone. He stills against her, pulse racing again. Her toes curl at the realization that this is real, and all for her. “It’s not a dream or a Valentine’s laugh, I promise. It’s a complete coincidence that I realized it today. I’m really, truly in love with you, Harry Potter.”
“Huh. First time I’ve realized something before you,” Harry says, voice still filled with wonder. She smacks him at that and Harry decides that he must be awake now - his grip on her hips tightens instantly, pulling her in closer. He never wants to let go.
And as he leans in, forehead resting against the top of her head and warm lips moving to meet hers, Hermione thinks that maybe, just maybe, this holiday isn’t so bad after all.