Harry had honestly thought his life would be different by now. He was twenty-three, hurtling towards twenty-four, and he was alone. Ron and Hermione had each other, and had never wavered. Even Neville had Luna. But Harry just had a series of bad relationships that hadn’t lasted more than a year, and tended to average more like a month or three. The latest had made the comment that she’d always thought a hero would be bigger, and left Harry bewildered and wondering just how big a hero was supposed to be, since he’d always thought he was adequate and hadn’t had complaints before.
But that was the problem, in the end. They all wanted the hero. Well, Ginny hadn’t, but she also hadn’t entirely wanted him. She’d fancied him for so long that she’d built an entire persona for him in her mind, and by the time they’d spent a year together without a war to fight, they’d both realized it was never meant to be. Ron hadn’t spoken to him for a week after they broke it off, until Ginny had explained it was as much her fault as Harry’s.
Ultimately, though, he kept ending up in exactly the same spot as he always was, sitting in the cafeteria at the Ministry, having lunch across from Ron and Hermione, and wishing he had something closer to their life.
“What about Abigail, in Mysteries?” Ron swabbed a chip in the small puddle of malt vinegar that had pooled on his plate before popping it into his mouth. His words were muffled when he continued, “She’s fit, isn’t she? All—” his hands came up to indicate the shape of her chest.
“Ronald!” Hermione hit his shoulder and rolled her eyes affectionately. “I swear, I could give Ron a name and he’d be able to tell me her cup size.”
“Aurors are observant,” Ron pointed out with a grin, ducking her next good-natured swat. “What d’you think, Harry? You want to give Abigail a go? Hermione could set you up, I’m sure.”
Hermione had her head bent, hair falling in a wave of curls, obscuring her features as she looked at something she was writing. Her shoulder jerked, and for a moment Harry wondered if her affection for Ron was an act, if she truly was angry about how much Ron looked around at all the girls. He thought about reaching across the table, tucking a finger under one curl to tug it back and let him see her eyes, so he’d know if she was angry or not. Harry well-remembered how those eyes flashed when Hermione was upset. Or intrigued.
He caught himself before he did, hand slightly raised from the table, and he covered it by reaching for his glass of water. “Don’t think so, Ron. I think I’m looking for the wrong things, or else all the wrong folks have been looking for me and I’m tired of it. Think I need a few months off.”
Ron’s eyes went wide. “Mate, are you mad? Here you are, biggest hero the wizarding world has to offer, and you’re going to go months without sex? Bloody hell, you can have it off with anyone and you’re choosing your hand instead. You’ve got to be mad. I’m taking you to St. Mungo’s when we’re done our shift.”
“Not everything’s about sex,” Hermione snapped softly. Harry watched her, waiting for that peek at her face, worried when she stayed so carefully hidden.
“Not for us, maybe, but Harry’s still young! Unattached! He’s got all these witches willing to throw themselves at him for five minutes in the sack, and here he is, wasting himself by locking himself up.” Ron shook his head. “Bloody waste, it is. Tell him to live his life while he’s still young enough to do so. He’ll find himself married soon enough, won’t he? He can get all serious then.”
“Like you?” Hermione’s gaze snapped up, pinning Ron. Harry was right, fury was coming into her expression, her fingers tight around the pen she held. “Is that what you wish, that you’d gone off and shagged every witch who wanted a war hero in her bed before we got involved?”
Ron blinked. “Um. No?”
“Right, so that’s why you can’t keep your eyes off their breasts then, when you’re talking.” Hermione pushed back her chair and stood. She took a moment to pull her hair back, twisting it into a bun and securing it with a quick spell. “I’ll see you at home then, unless you’re late again.”
“Late again?” Harry gave Ron a look as Hermione walked away. “You’ve been getting off shift on time, haven’t you?”
“It’s not like that,” Ron protested. “You know she doesn’t really think I’m having it off with someone else, or she’d have hexed my balls blue long since.”
Harry didn’t think that was true. He had a feeling Hermione thought exactly that, and was retreating back to that place where she’d once thought she wasn’t good enough for Ron. “You aren’t doing that, right?”
“I’m not.” Ron raised his hands. “Promise, mate. I’m just going out for a pint or two, that’s all. Things have been—difficult at home lately. I like to loosen up a bit before I get home.”
For a brief moment, Harry almost asked why, then he decided he didn’t really want to know. If there was trouble between even his best mates, who had one of the most rock solid marriages he knew, what did that mean for his own chances? “Bloody hell, Ron, just don’t hurt her. We need her.”
“I know.” Ron looked down at the table. “Don’t you think I know that? I just—”
Harry didn’t wait to see if Ron figured out what he meant to say after he trailed off. “I’m going to go have a talk with her.” He pushed in his chair as he stood and grabbed his wand, levitating his tray off to dump itself in the bin and lay itself in the waiting stack of trays.
“Harry! Ron! Wait!” Neville caught Harry just as he turned, hands going up to stop him from going past. “Meeting,” he huffed, out of breath as if he’d been running. “Something’s going on in Otter’s Ridge, and we’re needed in with Auror Shacklebolt immediately.”
Hermione was already gone, and Harry had no idea where she’d gotten off to, other than probably back to her office in Mysteries, where he couldn’t follow her anyway unless he had reason to go there. Ron was busily cleaning up his things, not looking at Harry at all, while Neville shifted his weight from foot to foot, waiting.
“Right then.” Harry motioned for Ron to follow. “Come on. Seems like we’ve got work to do.”
And maybe he’d head over to Ron and Hermione’s after work for a bit. If Ron was going to be late again, seemed like that might be the best time for Harry to check in with Hermione without Ron looking over his shoulder.
Harry tried not to think about why he had to check in with her, and make sure she was all right. After all, she was one of his best mates, wasn’t she?