Chapter 1: This is My Life
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?
Chapter 2: Tempest in a Teacup
“Yeah.” Harry didn’t have any more words than Neville did about the briefing. What Kingsley Shacklebolt had told them was chilling and disturbing, and quite possibly one of the hardest cases they’d ever had. Harry wasn’t even exactly sure why it was on their slate, in particular, other than that Shacklebolt seemed to regard the three of them as miracle workers of a sort, after the war.
Ron worked quietly on setting up the board, laying out notes and evidence as Neville handed him items, and Harry watched, thoughtful. Otter’s Ridge was a small Wizarding town, down near Surrey and hidden from Muggle view. In all things, it was a completely normal place, and when Harry thought about it, he realized that he thought a few of his friends from Hogwarts might’ve come from there.
“Put Terry and Hannah on the list of folks we want to talk to,” Harry said, arms crossed, gaze fixed on the board. “Let’s go over the details again, and we’ll figure out who’s doing what tomorrow.”
“It started in March.” Neville touched a picture of a young witch, about five years older than themselves. Slytherin, Harry remembered from the briefing. Anna Pemberton, and he couldn’t remember what her name used to be before she was married. In the picture, she swayed with a toddler on her hip, glancing from him to the viewer. She looked upset. “There was a bit of a cold snap and Mrs. Pemberton tried to light her fire to warm the place up, but the spell wouldn’t work.”
“Wasn’t able to cast a Warming Charm either,” Ron added. “Or fix her baby’s meal. So she headed out and went to her Mum’s place in Falmouth, and everything seemed to be fine. She put it out of her mind, and all was good when she went home. She figured maybe she had a bit of a bug that had caused the trouble and didn’t tell anyone.”
“Until five days later, when Mrs. Ruhl,” Neville tapped another picture, “started up her dishes and couldn’t get the water to turn off magically. Had to get up and twist the faucet herself in order to stop it. But it overflowed before she noticed the spell hadn’t worked as she’d thought, so she went to clean things up, and her drying spells didn’t work. She reported it as a defective wand, citing Ollivander’s product as shoddy. So we came in and investigated.”
“Turned out the wand worked outside her house, about six feet past her doorstep,” Ron said. “Thing is, this time everything didn’t go back to normal on the inside. And right about then, the Pembertons said their magic went away again as well. Woke up one day, couldn’t cast a thing. No better than Muggles.”
Harry couldn’t control the shiver he had at that thought. He’d been raised in the Muggle world and while he wasn’t always sure about the division between Muggle and Wizards, he didn’t want to go back to a non-magical existence either. “And what happened when they came to St. Mungo’s?” He shuffled through the pages, looking for the details, but they were already in Neville’s hands.
“Nothing happened.” Neville was sober, rifling through the pages. “They haven’t been able to do magic, no matter what spell or wand they use. Wands’re dead; Ollivander says they’re just wood now, and he couldn’t enchant them if he tried. It’s up to three families now, from three different parts of Otter’s Ridge. Their houses are dead zones. Once you walk in, nothing works. We’re to get equipment from Muggle shops before we go, see if their torches work since we won’t have a proper light in some corners of the houses otherwise. But they’re not sure even that’ll work, since no one’s tried yet.”
In the end, as Harry listened to Ron and Neville go on about the evidence, the perimeter of the effect, how many families it affected and the spot in the middle of a field that apparently had gone magic free as well, he had to wonder one thing. “Why’re we being assigned to this? Seems more like it ought to be something for Mysteries. We’re not usually the sorts to dig into things like this, miracle workers or not.”
“There’s nothing to fight,” Ron agreed.
“Not exactly.” Neville flipped through the file, bringing out one piece of parchment and unrolling it carefully. “There’s a report of folks seeing things, just out of the corners of their eyes. Dark things, like ghosts or Dementors, but no one’s seen them straight on well enough to know. Seems like when folks turn towards it, it just disappears, like it was never even there. Folks’ve been talking, and some of them are starting to move out. Saying Otter’s Ridge has been cursed. Or that it’s been settled by Dark Creatures.”
“Which explains how it got settled on us,” Harry said quietly. “Okay, that makes some sense. So we go in and figure out whether it’s something we can fight or not, or else we bring in the Curse Breakers, or Mysteries—”
“Or all of the above,” Ron pointed out. “I’m sure Hermione or Bill wouldn’t mind helping out a bit, and we’re cleared to ask in whoever we want for reinforcements.”
Harry wasn’t sure bringing Hermione in would be their best bet, but maybe he’d sound her out about it a bit tonight, after they’d finished talking about Ron. He thought she might need a good listener more than she needed more work on her plate, in particular work that put her up close working with Ron for the job. “We don’t need either of them for our first trip out,” Harry said firmly. They might all be partners, but he was the leader when it came down to it. After all those years, Ron and Neville still looked to him for direction, and Harry was used to giving it. “We’ll head out first thing tomorrow and go into London for some torches and a few other things, then we’ll head straight to Otter’s Ridge. Have Sofia send out owls to the folks still living there, letting them know we’ll be on site and expecting to talk to them.”
“Do we want to warn them?” Neville asked. “What if one of them’s behind this?”
“If someone takes off, we’ll look into them,” Ron said with a grin. “That’s brill, Harry. They’ve asked for our help, so they’ve got to be there, right? Either we’ll talk to them and catch ‘em in a lie right off, or they’ll scarper off and be suspicious.”
“Exactly.” Harry laid the notes back on the table, standing to stretch. “I don’t know about you two, but I’m ready to get out of here.”
Neville glanced at his watch and winced. “Bloody hell, Luna’s already home. I promised I’d be there right off, so I’d best be going.”
“Hot date?” Ron teased.
Neville flushed bright red. “Um. Not quite sure, but I know she’s got something up her sleeve. With Luna, that might mean she’s going to meet me starkers at the door, or we’re heading out to find Sparkling Bloombugs under the moonlight. Either one, she’d be disappointed if I’m late, so I’ll see you two tomorrow. Harry, will you handle getting Muggle money for the trip?”
“I’ll do it,” Ron offered. “I need to go by there on my way out.”
Harry let Neville go then reached out to catch Ron’s arm. “Hey. You going home after that?”
“In a bit. After I get the money, then go have a pint.”
Ron wouldn’t look him in the eye, and Harry had a feeling there was something he wasn’t saying. “Right,” Harry said quietly. “Don’t stay out too late then. Sounded like Hermione wouldn’t mind having you at home tonight.”
He gathered up his own things as Ron headed out, then made his way to the Apparition point. Time to go see Hermione.
Chapter 3: Sunshine Gleams
“Harry!” Hermione had changed out of her work robes into a jumper and jeans, her hair now simply pulled back from her face and otherwise cascading down to her shoulders. She looked past him as they stood in the doorway, out into the street, a frown furrowing her brow. “Is everything all right with Ron? Is he with you?”
He should have realized that she might think he was bringing bad news. With a sigh, Harry shoved his hands into his pockets. “No, Ron’s not with me. He’s gone to get Muggle funds for our mission tomorrow.” Which wasn’t entirely a lie, but not the truth, either. Harry decided to redirect the conversation as best he could, even if it was still going to be about Ron in the end. “You seemed bothered earlier, and I was going to check in on you, but we were pulled into a meeting.”
Hermione simply looked at him, saying nothing. Harry gestured to the door. “Are you going to invite me in?”
“Right, of course.”
It was as if his long time mate had disappeared, replaced by someone lifeless and dull. Even her hair seemed to echo her mood, limp and ragged, despite the fly-away wisps. She stepped back and pulled the door wide, waiting for Harry to come in before she closed it behind him.
“There’s nothing really to talk about, Harry.” Her tone was clipped and she walked away, moving into the kitchen where she was working on putting together dinner. She picked up the knife and started to chop carrots with careful, precise moves. For all that he’d gotten used to magic, Harry found the idea of cooking the Muggle way still strangely comforting, and Hermione was one of the few he knew who actually did it.
“It seemed like there was earlier, ‘Mione. You were pissed off at Ron.”
“Since when is that new?” Hermione’s chin tilted up as she regarded Harry, jabbing the knife in the air for emphasis. “We argue all the time, don’t we? Half our relationship is founded on arguments, and the other half on making up.”
“Oh, I bet Ron likes that half,” Harry said before he quite thought through it. Hermione’s ears pinked, and Harry’s felt his cheeks warm in response. “Sorry. I really shouldn’t be talking about your sex life.”
A carrot died, chopped in half roughly by a sharp swing of the knife. “That’d assume we have one,” Hermione muttered. The pink on her ears bled down to her neck; she was flushed and embarrassed by the admission. “I know you said that’s what you want, to just be on your own for a while, but it’s not what I want. He’s my husband, and I’d like it if he were home for dinner, and to be in my bed.”
“‘Mione…” Harry wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. He’d stuck his foot in it, that was for certain at the very least. He came up behind her, hand resting at the nape of her neck, rubbing lightly. “Ron’s an ass sometimes. We already knew that.”
“And I thought he was done running away when we were eighteen.” The movement of the knife slowed, and she set it down, leaning on the cutting board with both hands, head hanging down. “I thought we were done with that part,” she whispered, the words muffled slightly. “I thought we were going forward, then a few weeks ago, he just started getting home later and later. He said it was work keeping him, but you’re his partner, and here you are.” She turned to look at him, and Harry had to take a step back and put space between them. “So tell me honestly, Harry. Have you been working late?”
He should be a good mate to Ron and lie. But he needed to be a good mate to Hermione and tell the truth. He shook his head slowly. “No, we haven’t.”
When she collapsed against him, crying into his shoulder, his arms went around her awkwardly at first. He gathered her close, trying to comfort her, lips brushing against her temple and hands smoothing over her back. He whispered nothing words, knowing she wouldn’t hear him past the tears, not at first anyway.
Her face was buried in the crook of his neck, mouth warm against his skin, breath coming in soft little ragged gasps between the sobs. And Harry wanted to damn himself because he found her beautiful. Crazy hair, miserable red face, and she was still gorgeous. Worse yet, he was holding her in his arms, all soft and pliant, and he couldn’t stop thinking that this was his ‘Mione, and that she deserved better than she was getting right now.
He smoothed her hair back, kissing tears from her cheeks, tasting the salt of her sorrow. He whispered things that made no sense, and she murmured back, hiccuping as the tears slowed. His hand cupped her face, lifting her chin until she looked at him with wide brown eyes that were rimmed in red. With a sigh, he pressed a kiss to her lips.
The world stilled then, halted for that one moment in time when he was sure that everything had changed. Her mouth was soft beneath his, slightly open, her tongue flicking out to touch his lips. His hand tightened behind her back, fitting her to his body in ways that he hadn’t really thought of before, but seemed perfectly right at this moment. When she moaned, Harry tasted it, let his tongue slip inside to tease another moan out of her, then another, until his answered as well.
He broke away from her with a shuddered groan, putting distance between them as he stepped back. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
She didn’t say a word.
Harry turned away. He wanted to stare at her, to take in that startled fawn expression, but he knew that if he did, he was going to kiss her again. And he couldn’t do that. She belonged to Ron.
She picked up the knife again, slowly slicing through carrots, the sound of the knife sliding against the cutting board the only thing louder than their breathing.
“We have a new case,” Harry said. When he finally looked over she was head down, hair falling to hide her, just like she had been earlier. He did this to her this time, and his gut ached from knowing it. He wanted to say I’m sorry but that would acknowledge it. Give life to the desire to do it again. So he tried to ignore it.
“Oh?” she asked, her tone as mild and neutral as his own.
Harry nodded and crossed his arms, leaning back against the counter on the other side of the kitchen from her. “A difficult one. We’ll likely need some help from Mysteries, and I’d like you to work with us, if you think you have the time. There’s a village that’s been losing its magic.”
That did the trick. The knife slowed, and Hermione glanced up, the familiar expression of someone caught by a puzzle written in her face, instead of the pain. “How?”
“We don’t know yet, but we’re going out tomorrow to investigate. I’ll make sure you get a copy of our notes after,” he told her.
The door opened, and they both jumped, glancing at each other. Harry saw Hermione’s cheeks warm. She called out, “I’m in the kitchen, Ron!” and he caught a faint smile.
She loved him, Harry knew. Hermione loved Ron and had always loved Ron, and that’s just the way things were and would always be. He watched her go into his arms as if she hadn’t just been ranting about him, watched them kiss long and slow and deep. And Harry wondered if Ron could taste him on her lips, taste the fact that Harry had wanted to betray him. He felt jealousy coiling sharply, and realized this time that it wasn’t just the relationship he envied. He envied that Ron had Hermione and he was angry that Ron didn’t come anywhere near close enough to treasuring her as much as he ought to.
“We were just talking about the case,” Harry said, letting his gaze drift anywhere else while waiting for the kiss to break.
“Oh, hey mate, I didn’t see you there.” Ron touched his pockets. “I’ve got the money we needed for tomorrow, or what they’ve told me is enough anyway. So I’ll see you at the office in the morning then?”
That was a clear enough dismissal. Harry shoved his hands in his pockets, taking in the way Ron’s hand lingered on Hermione’s bottom, and the flush on her skin as she leaned into him. Maybe he’d taken Harry’s words to heart. Maybe Ron would fix this mess he’d made. Either way, this wasn’t the place for Harry to be right now. “Right, office in the morning,” he said. “And we’ll be sending notes on to Hermione, in case we need Mysteries along the way.”
“Right.” Ron wasn’t paying attention to Harry any more, kissing his wife again.
Harry figured they’d forgotten all about him, and let himself out. He should be glad that things were looking better for his best mates. Instead, he just felt sick.
Chapter 4: I'm a Selfish Punk
Ron whistled as he set his coffee cup down on the desk. He whistled while he settled into his chair, tilting it back to prop his feet up. And he whistled while Harry winced, because it wasn’t even very good whistling. “Ron,” he muttered.
“Late night?” Ron asked, nudging Harry. “You look like you haven’t slept, mate. Did you take my advice, go out for a bit, get some pull?”
Harry glared at him. “No, I didn’t. I told you, I’m not interested in any of that right now.” And he wasn’t going to mention to Ron that the object of his fantasy last night had been Ron’s wife. “I just slept like shite. You look like you slept brilliantly on the other hand. Patched things up with Hermione?”
Ron’s grin widened, and he sat up straight, motioning for Neville to join them and sit, and waiting until he did. “We made up,” he said in a low voice, leaning forward like he was giving up secrets. “For about three hours. Thought the neighbors were going to come running, she was screaming—”
“Ron!” Harry’s voice was sharper than he meant it to be, but Ron stopped, looking bewildered. “Do you really want to tell us that your wife screams in bed?” He pinched the bridge of his nose. Had Ron always gone on about Hermione like this? Harry supposed he had, but maybe he was better at tuning it out before.
“You’re my mates,” Ron said. “Who else am I going to talk to about this shite? I don’t want some stranger knowing about what happens in the bedroom.”
They didn’t need to know either, but Harry could see that Ron wasn’t likely to listen to logic. He glanced across the table to where Neville sat, flushed and tired. “Is this bothering you?” In a way, Harry hoped it was, so Ron would just hush about it.
Neville shook his head. “You do mean the good sort of screaming, right?”
“Course I do,” Ron assured him. “Like that little shriek that she does when she’s getting close, or the long scream when she clamps down so tight I can’t help but—” His voice trailed off as Harry glared at him. “What? Mate, we’ve talked about this shite before. Remember how you used to tell me about how that one girl—Dolly was it?—used to practically yodel when you got her off with your tongue?”
Harry remembered Dolly, but the worst of it was, thinking about it now made him wonder what Hermione would sound like if he did that. And he had a horrible feeling that if he asked, Ron’d tell him, and he didn’t need to know that much. Not from Ron, especially. As much as Ron was willing to share while talking, Harry knew Ron would have his head if he had any idea Harry was actually thinking about Hermione that way.
Or that he’d kissed her.
“There should only be the good sort of screaming in bed, Nev,” Ron said sagely. “If she’s screaming and she’s not happy, then you’re bloody well doing something wrong.”
“What if she cries?”
That caught Harry’s attention. “What?”
Neville stared at his cup of coffee, twisting it and turning it in place on the table. “She cried last night,” he said in a low voice. “When um, when we were done. She finished first, and it took me a moment after, and by the time I was done, she was all over tears. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Girls cry sometimes.” Ron shrugged. “It doesn’t mean you did something wrong.”
“Or it does,” Harry said, giving Ron a dark look. “What did she say after? Was she hurting?”
“I asked if I’d been too rough, and she said no.” Neville frowned. “It was one of the sorts of nights where she was waiting in bed. She’d brought dinner in there, and she said we had to feed it to each other. And it was odd, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. We had Lingonberry jam on crackers, and then two oysters each. I didn’t like the first, and tried to give her the second, but she said I had to eat it. Then we had something called Unicorn Pate, which she said wasn’t actual unicorn, which is good, since I wouldn’t want to eat one. And dessert was sour, puckered my mouth right up. She made sure we ate every bit of it, right in order, and she wouldn’t let anything change. I couldn’t even drink the wine when I was thirsty; I had to wait.”
“Luna’s always been a bit dotty.”
“Ron!” Harry elbowed him sharply. “Sounds like some kind of a ceremony. Was it your anniversary and you forgot?” Harry didn’t think it was time for that yet, and it definitely wasn’t Neville’s birthday. He was fairly certain it wasn’t Luna’s birthday either, at least his date book hadn’t reminded him of anything coming up.
Neville shook his head. “Nothing like that, and when I asked what was wrong after, she just cried harder. I didn’t know whether I ought to get up and leave or hold her.”
“Leave,” Ron suggested.
“Hold her,” Harry said firmly.
“I did,” Neville replied with a nod to Harry. “Until we both fell asleep there. But it was a bloody well odd night.” He hesitated, then added, “And she wants me home on time again tonight.”
Ron winced. “Bring flowers, mate. Whatever sort she likes best, bring them to her. In a pot even, since you can keep them growing properly,” he suggested, waving one hand. “Birds love it when you bring them flowers, and if you can make them last, won’t you win more points there?”
“It’s the right idea,” Harry said, because as poorly as he said it, Ron was on the right track. “Maybe bring her something nice and apologize for whatever you did last night. Even if she won’t tell you what it is, at least you’ll have said sorry. Although maybe you ought to see if you can find out what it is, so you don’t do it again.”
“She asked if I’m allergic to Caperbaras,” Neville muttered. “I don’t even know what the bloody hell a Caperbara is, or why I’d need to be near one. Or eat it.”
Ron summoned the nearby Book of Criminal Creatures, just in case, but Harry didn’t join in as the pored over it. Maybe Ron was right. If even Neville’s bizarrely awkward sex life was making Harry melancholy, then he needed to get out. Or just find some way to forget about all of it.
“Oi.” Harry pushed the book down until he had the attention of his partners. “We’ve got a case to get on, and we’re all here. Let’s get our arses out to Otter’s Ridge.”
Because work was always the best way to forget about personal problems, at least for a little while. And Harry had no problems working as long and as hard as he needed to, in order to make sure they stayed forgotten.
Chapter 5: The Spooky Town
“I don’t like the looks of this.” Neville stood in the middle of the main street of Otter’s Ridge, his hands hidden in his pockets as he turned slowly to look about. “Where is everyone?”
Ron moved down the street, nose lifted. “I smell cinnamon. Someone’s up and cooking, yeah? Oi, there’s a cafe right down here. Looks like it has an Open sign hanging. Anyone want coffee?”
“We’re not here for coffee,” Harry snapped. His skin crawled, flickers of magic licking at the surface, irritating him with the way it came and went. One moment it felt like a Muggle village, and the next he felt the full rush of magic in his blood. The sensation made him irritable. “We’re here to do a job, or don’t you remember that?”
Ron glared at him, and Harry relented, pushing his hair back from his face with his fingers. “Bloody hell. Can’t you feel it? I’d think anyone here must be going mad with it.”
“Feel what?” Ron asked, looking around, frowning.
“Nothing.” Maybe he was imagining it, just because of the descriptions they’d read. And the place was creepy, without a single person out on the street. “C’mon, let’s get you your coffee. And a pastry.” Because he knew Ron would always get the pastry, given the chance.
“I feel it,” Neville said quietly as they walked down the street. He had his wand in his hand, fingers clutched tight around the cherry length. “It’s like the place changes, from spot to spot. Right here, magic’s strong.” He stood, his wand raised high, and he shot sparks from it. His frown deepened. “And um. Now it’s gone.”
“Like you used it up?” Harry held out one hand for Neville’s wand, looking it over for signs of tampering. He tapped it with his own, and felt a surge that came from his own gut, like the magic bled out of his body for the spell, rather than anywhere around them. There wasn’t anything strange about the wands, but that was definitely wrong. Magic could be exhausting, after a time, but not like that kick in the gut. “I don’t like this. Ron, you get coffee, and talk to the folks in that shop. If they’re baking, and they’re open, then they can talk. Nev, come with me. We’re going down to the pub.”
“A bit early for a drink, isn’t it?” Ron asked, laughing as he walked away.
Harry didn’t have drink on his mind. The pub would be one of those places that had a lot of traffic. Folks went down to the pub after work every day, and when folks drank, they gossiped. The bloke who owned it would have heard a good deal in the last few days, and Harry hoped that something from it might help them make sense of it all.
He pulled open the door, motioning Neville inside the small room. He figured it didn’t seat more than twenty or thirty, at full capacity. There were a few seats around the bar itself, and a handful of tables, each set with chairs ringing it, and a bottle of malt vinegar waiting atop it. No one was there now, though, aside from an older woman behind the bar, washing it down with a greying cloth. She glanced up, gaze narrowing.
“Aurors, are ye?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Harry responded. “We’re investigating the problems folks have been having with magic not working, and we were hoping you might have some time to talk to us about it.”
“Wouldn’t it do ye more good to go check on the homes that’re having the problems?” she asked sharply. “We haven’t had a problem yet, here, and we won’t. We’re good folks. Keep our heads down and noses clean.”
“No one’s said that the other folks did anything wrong,” Neville said quickly. “It just seems to be random.”
“Is it?” The woman leaned both hands on the counter. “Then you tell me why Sadie Ruhl was in here just two days before her magic went wrong, talking about how her uncle that was in Azkaban finally passed. Said she’d inherited a few things from him, then next thing we know, she’s claiming her wand’s gone defective, and poor Anna and Sam Pemberton are in hospital because their magic’s just gone. It’s her, you know. She’s got some artifact in her house, draining good folks of their magic.” She pursed her lips, and scrubbed at the countertop viciously. “We don’t allow folks like her in here.”
The war had ended years ago, and still people held on tightly to those injuries they’d received during it. Harry thought of the sign outside declaring this place Bruno’s and sighed. “I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am. We lost a lot of good witches and wizards during the war. Was he your husband?”
She looked taken aback. “Brother,” she admitted. “This was his place, but I’ve been running it since the war.”
Neville glanced at Harry, and nodded at the door. Harry nodded once in return. “We don’t know if it’s Dark magic, ma’am, but we’ll be looking into it. If you happen to think of anything else, or anyone needs us, I’m Auror Potter, and this is Auror Longbottom, and we’re working this case with our partner, Auror Weasley. Just contact us if anything comes up.”
She smiled then, and for a moment Harry thought she was going to come around the bar. Probably to touch his forehead, he thought, since they all seemed to do that, wanting to see the scar for themselves. He didn’t take a step back. He used to, after the war, when everyone seemed to think that touching him would bring them some part of his luck. But he stood his ground now, waiting, and she came to her senses and stayed where she was.
“If you could point us toward the Ruhl and Pemberton houses,” he asked, even though he had a map tucked into the inner pocket of his robes with those two places, and the Hedel place marked as well.
She came around then, leading them to the door and pointing out the directions. “You ought to check out the Hedel place, too,” she confided. “Dark doings out there. Folks’ve seen creatures about the place, and that family’s disappeared into their house and not come out in a week.”
Because they’d gone by Floo to the Ministry, Harry could have pointed out, but he didn’t think this busybody needed any more information about her neighbors. Instead he simply thanked her for her time, and ushered Neville out the door.
“Are you going to stop by and see Gabriel Minnerton?” she called after them.
They both turned, Neville frowning deeply and pulling out his notebook to look through the pages before asking, “Who?”
“Gabriel Minnerton. Two doors down from the Ruhls.” She nodded emphatically. “Came in this morning saying his mum’d disappeared.”
“And you think that’s got to do with the magic problems?” Harry asked, not quite sure of the connection. “It hasn’t seemed to have done anything violent before.”
“Well, she’s a ghost,” the woman said, as if they ought to’ve known. “Died about five years ago, and has been keeping up a good haunting since, telling him what she thinks of that girl he married. First bit of peace they’ve had.” She shook her head. “Can’t say I disagree with Gabriel’s mum, though. That girl’s not—”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Neville interrupted. “We’ll make sure to stop in and see the Minnertons while we’re here today.” He pulled the door closed behind them before she could reply.
“Oi!” Ron greeted them by lifting the three coffee cups he held carefully between his hands as he approached. He handed one to Neville, and one to Harry. “Try that. It’s sodding brilliant, that’s what it is. Best coffee I’ve had in an age. But their pastries…” his voice trailed off and he made a face. “Terrible waste, that. Their ovens wouldn’t warm up this morning, so they tried to get them restarted. Superheated, the whole bloody lot of them. Roasted the beans and cinnamon in a blink; that’s why the coffee’s so bloody good. But it burnt the scones and other pastries to crisps. Just when they thought they couldn’t shut them down, the whole lot stopped again. Haven’t been able to get things started since.”
“Coffee’s cold,” Neville noted.
“I know.” Ron nodded. “Magic’s gone to shite in there. Couldn’t even warm up my cup.” He drew out his wand and tapped his now, smiling when the steam rose. “Ah, that’s brill. I was testing every few feet out, until I saw you two. Seems to extend out about thirty feet this way from the shop before magic’s working again.”
Harry motioned for the others to follow, and as they walked, he and Neville caught Ron up on what they’d learned.
“It’s getting worse,” Neville said. “You really can’t feel it, Ron?”
Ron shook his head. “Not a thing. Just feels like any other place, where magic works sometimes, and magic doesn’t others.”
“Does Muggle London feel different to you?” Harry prodded. He’d wondered that, sometimes, if everyone felt magic the way he sometimes did, like a palpable thing sitting in the room with them.
Ron shook his head, but Neville nodded, flushing a bit when the other two turned their attention on him. “It feels flat,” he said. “It’s not just that it smells, or that it’s odd compared to what Diagon Alley’s like. It feels flat, like I’d have to work harder to do anything. But even there is better than here. This feels dead.”
Harry felt a chill trickle up and down his spine at his words. “That’s a good word for it,” he said slowly. “This doesn’t feel like the world’s gone Muggle. It feels dead. And I’m not sure it’s safe for folks to be staying here.”
“How’re we going to get them to go?”
“We’re going back to the office and setting up an official evacuation notice,” Harry decided. “I don’t want anyone else ending up like the Pembertons. Even the ghosts.”
Chapter 6: My Moon and Me
It took them most of that day and the next to arrange for suitable evacuation, but even then, many of the residents of Otter’s Ridge refused to leave. Neville and Ron led a group there to try to get as many out as they could, while Harry remained behind, packing up evidence and information as it came in, in order to deliver it to Mysteries.
He looked up from the pile of paperwork, smiling to see the petite blond woman standing there. “Luna. How long—have you been waiting long?”
She had her hands crossed in front of her, and seemed the perfect model of patience. “Not terribly long. You seemed to be concentrating terribly hard. You must be careful, Harry.” She touched his forehead, smoothing his fringe without exposing his scar. “Working too hard can make your brain swell. Or other body parts.”
He flushed. “Have you been talking to Ron?”
Head cocked, she seemed quizzical. “No. Why?”
Of course she hadn’t. Harry just had the thought on his mind, and had for days now. He shook his head, sighing. “Nothing. No matter. So. Are you looking for Neville?”
The smile that lit Luna’s face whenever her husband’s name was mentioned was blinding, full of love and fondness. “I wasn’t. I wouldn’t mind seeing him, of course, but actually, I was looking for you. We have a lunch reservation.”
“We do?” Harry glanced at his desk, wondering if he’d missed a note, or perhaps forgotten something.
“Of course we do. It’s been forever since we had lunch, hasn’t it?” She offered him one small hand, and he took it, coming to his feet. Luna had always had this effect on him, the sea of strange rationality in a world that kept changing around him. He knew others found her logic boggling, but he’d usually been able to find the actual logic in it, at least when applied to him. She had a way of seeing through to the heart of the matter.
“Let me just get my cloak then.”
He followed where she led, trusting that even if the place turned out to be a tiny hole in the wall, it would have some reason why they would be there.
“Best curry in Glasgow,” she said, as they stepped out of side-along apparition, her arm neatly tucked into his. “Which isn’t the same thing as the best curry in London at all. They curry the most fascinating things here.”
As long as it was edible and not likely to bite back, Harry was alright with that. Eating with Luna was sometimes an adventure, and he knew he’d only seen the milder things. Some of the stories Neville told of dinner were enough to make his appetite disappear for hours.
Once they were settled, Harry looked at her across the table. She sat with her hands wrapped around the glass, turning it slightly as she stared at it, seemingly searching for something in the depths of the water. Her fingers shook, and she wet her lips, tongue just flicking out nervously.
“What’s wrong?” he asked gently.
“I don’t think Neville wants a baby,” she replied with a sigh. “And I can’t think why, Harry. He’d be such a lovely father, don’t you think? I could show our children the Nargles, and he’d make sure they don’t get eaten by the Galloping Rhododendron in the backyard. We’d need someone else to properly teach them how to fly; I’m quite alright with a broom, and Neville’s not entirely awful, but neither of us is particularly good at it. But I know dozens of bedtime stories, even the ones most people never tell because they’re afraid of what people might think. Not because there’s something wrong with the stories, but rather, they don’t believe they might have happened. But Neville believes. And he does love children. So why doesn’t he want any with me?” She paused, eyes watery around the corners. “Do you think he’s reconsidered being married to me?”
Harry’s mouth opened, then closed again. He took a quick drink of water to give him time to compose an answer, when truth was, he had no idea what to say. “I—I’m sure he still loves you, Luna,” he said. “I know he does.”
“Then why didn’t he want to eat the Capobara cakes?” Luna sighed heavily. “He’s not allergic, I checked. But you have to do it at just the proper time: after I’ve had three orgasms, and he’s had two, and then you eat the Capobara cakes and it’ll ensure he’s ready for a third round and on that one, I’ll get properly pregnant. And I’m quite sure it’ll work. It has to be better than the rack we tried on Monday.”
“Rack?” Harry couldn’t manage more than the one word, trying as he was not to think about what a Capobara cake might be and stopping in the middle of sex to eat one. Not to mention thinking about his best mate having sex with his wife.
“It’s quite simple.” Luna sat upright, hands moving as she described it. “It’s about so tall, and it rotates. It was terribly hard getting it into the house properly, so I set it up in the living room. It wouldn’t have fit in our bedroom, not with the bed still being there. And I know the best place to conceive a baby is the bedroom, but I thought that this once, perhaps the living room might do. So what you do is you bind your hands together and feet together, properly to the frame, then it flips,” she gave a big swoop of her hands, “upside down. And you start. And it flips again, every so often, making certain that everything goes where it ought to. And there’s a pattern. You have to make certain that you finish at just the right moment, or the incantation doesn’t work.”
“Incantation.” It was no longer a question as Harry stared at her, boggled by the information.
She smiled brightly. “It’s all somatic components, no words. Because our mouths were rather busy, of course. It’s quite difficult to remember the words to a spell while making a baby. Neville can never manage more than mumbling please or Luna, and sometimes he’s just reduced to grunts and moans.”
And that was just too much information. Harry’s mouth was open, and it took him a moment to close it, grabbing his water and downing it, wishing it would wash away the heated flush from his cheeks. “Um, Luna, maybe I don’t need to know quite so much detail about your bedroom practices.”
“But you do,” she protested. “How else are you going to help me convince Neville to help me get pregnant?”
“Does he know you want to get pregnant?” Harry had to ask it, even though he couldn’t imagine things having gone so far without Neville having any idea. But the other day, he’d seemed as bewildered as Harry was now.
“Of course he does,” Luna said. “What else could the rack possibly have been for?”
“Er—” Harry decided not to point out some of the things they’d seen while busting up a prostitution ring just the last month, in case Luna happened to think any of the equipment might be put to different use. “Have you said it specifically, I mean? Said flat out Neville, I’d like to be pregnant?”
Luna giggled, her smile fond as she touched his hand. “That’s quite an amusing image, thinking of you saying that,” she said. “Even though boys can’t have babies. And of course—well, not exactly like that. But he knows I’d like to have children.”
Harry sighed inwardly. “Maybe you ought to try saying it again, just like that. Tell him that you want to do it now, in your bed, just the normal way two people do it. He loves you, Luna, and he’d give you the world. You know that, don’t you?”
There was something sad about her smile for a moment. “I thought I was going to lose him to you, once,” she said quietly. “He loved you so much during the war, but it wasn’t like this, like he and I have. Don’t worry.” She patted Harry’s arm, smiling at his flush. “I don’t think it was ever quite like that. Besides. It wouldn’t have mattered if he did fancy you in that way. You’ve always loved Ron.”
For a moment, Harry heard the wrong name. He heard her speak, and could have sworn she said Hermione, and he sputtered, “How did you—” Then he parsed backwards, realized what she had actually said, and his eyes went wide. “No. Luna—no. I mean, Ron’s my best mate, but it’s never been like that. I’d walk through fire for him, but I don’t want to—we’re not going to—we’d never—bloody hell, Luna, where do you get these ideas?”
Her smile never changed, gentle and knowing as she stroked the back of his hand. “You oughtn’t fight it, Harry,” she said. “Love is one of the best things we have. Take it to heart and hold it there, or else you might lose it entirely.”
Lose Ron’s love? He was going to lose his friendship if Ron ever found out he’d kissed his wife. Harry leaned his elbows on the table, head in his hands. “Luna, don’t go telling that idea to anyone else, all right? Not even Neville.”
“Of course not, Harry.” She dipped her fork into her curried lamb and sighed happily at the taste of it. “But don’t worry. When you’re ready for it, you’ll be ready to see that he loves you too.”
Harry almost choked on his own food, but managed to wash it down with a long gulp of water. “Thanks, Luna. I’ll remember that.”
Chapter 7: Shed Some Light On Me Please
“Mysteries is going over the details you’ve provided, but of course, we’d like to have our own agents in the field to procure evidence.” Hermione stood in the conference room, hands clasped behind her back, lips pursed as she spoke. She didn’t look at Ron, who was sprawled in one of the chairs, his gaze fixed on the way her shoulders being back pulled her robes tight across her chest. She continued, “They’ve asked me to go out and perform some specific measurements. I assume this request will be considered?”
“Of course.” Harry nudged Ron. “Why don’t you take ‘Mione out to Otter’s Ridge to take a look around the magic dark houses. Neville and I can—”
“Shouldn’t it be you or Neville?” Ron sat upright, the front legs of his chair hitting the floor with a thunk. “Not that I don’t want to spend the day with my wife while still getting a paycheck.” He grinned at Hermione. “But you both have that thing where you said magic feels different. And I still don’t feel a bloody thing. Neville had to come back here early the other day, and we ended up picking who stayed there by who felt the least miserable.”
“I’d rather not go back if I don’t have to right now, Harry,” Neville admitted. “I spent most of a day there, and I kept thinking I was going to walk out a Squib. I might not have the best magic, I know, but I like what I’ve got.”
“You’ve got plenty of fine magic, Neville,” Hermione said firmly. “And I don’t care who’s willing to accompany me, as long as one of you does. Since you’ve placed a block around the village to keep folks from going in, I can’t exactly go on my own. And this is not an excuse for a bit of a snog mid-day, Ron.”
“I didn’t say it was.” Hands in the air, Ron spread them, shrugging. “I said you ought to go with Harry and do your work things. It’s not all that fun to watch you wave your wand in the air, doing all those tests.”
This wasn’t going well at all, and Harry didn’t like to see them working up to sniping properly at each other. “I’ll go,” he said. “I don’t mind taking her in through the wards, and I’ll wait while she does the tests and make sure she gets back safely, Ron.”
“Fine.” Hermione picked up the files, tucking them neatly into satchel, then tapping it with her wand to shrink it down to pocket-sized so she could stow it away in the pocket of her robes. She started to walk away, then seemed to think better of it, turning back to brush a perfunctory kiss against Ron’s lips. “I won’t be late,” she said.
There was a moment’s hesitation before he replied, “I’ll see you at dinner then.”
Harry stayed silent until they’d passed through the apparition point and made their way to the base that had been set up not far from Otter’s Ridge. The Ministry had established it as a place to apparate to and from, as well as a holding location for automobiles and brooms, and other possible ways of traveling into Otter’s Ridge safely.
Hermione eyed a horse warily. “They haven’t actually been allowing Aurors to ride across Muggle grounds to get to Otter’s Ridge, have they? I’d think that would rather stand out as unusual.”
“It’s quite possible they have,” Harry admitted. “But we’ll be taking a car.” He pulled open the door for her and helped her settle before climbing in himself. “Neville doesn’t like it, but then, he’s uncomfortable with most Muggle things. And I couldn’t keep Ron from trying to press all the buttons, just to see what they did.”
Hermione’s smile flickered briefly. “That’s Ronald, isn’t it? More curiosity than thinking ahead. Leaps before he looks. Just goes on and does what he wishes.”
Harry’s fingers tightened on the wheel. “I thought things were better. He came home—”
“That night,” Hermione said softly. “He came home that night, and everything was brilliant. Since then it’s been even worse. I really do think he’s having an affair, Harry.”
“Ron wouldn’t do that to you.” Harry kept his eyes on the road, his hands on the wheel. The car rolled to a stop just outside of Otter’s Ridge, magic and technology not mixing any better than they usually did.
“Ron wouldn’t think you would kiss me, either,” she pointed out, staring at her hands in her lap. “But you did. And I kissed you back.”
And he wanted to do it again. No matter how much he tried to avoid thinking about it, Harry remembered how Hermione had felt in his arms, soft and pliant and warm and willing. And he wanted that. He reached over, covering her hand with his and squeezing gently. “Ron loves you, you know.”
“I know. I don’t think he’s stopped loving me at all,” she said, not looking at him. “But I don’t think he wants me terribly much anymore, either.”
“He couldn’t stop staring at your chest earlier.”
She laughed without humor. “He stares at every girl’s chest. He’s obsessed by breasts, and I suspect he thinks that if he stares long enough, he might well develop the ability to see through clothing. But wanting to see my breasts isn’t what our marriage ought to be about. It’s as if the magic’s gone.”
Harry didn’t know what to say to that, so he simply gave her hand one last squeeze before he pulled away. “We ought to go on in.”
“Of course we should.”
She stood stiff and straight next to the car while Harry worked to lock it properly. He led her directly to the Pemberton home, then watched as she sloughed off the thoughts of personal matters and took to her work. He followed her throughout the house, a quill in hand to transcribe her words as she performed test after test. They were more intriguing to watch than Harry had expected, since the house was entirely without magic. She had tried to use her wand several times, in several different types of spells before she had tucked it away and instead brought out a case of vials and papers, and tiny amounts of liquids.
Much of what she said meant nothing to him, but then he had never thought much about the theory of magic. It either worked, or it didn’t, and for him it generally worked. Otter’s Ridge was the first time Harry could remember being in a place where he couldn’t cast a spell, no matter how hard he tried.
After several hours, Hermione knelt, fitting vials now carefully topped and sealed back into her case before she closed it. “I can’t shrink it again, or I’ll risk damaging the contents,” she said, “so we ought to head back to the car soon. I’d like to analyze these back at Mysteries, where I’ll have more tools available.”
“Right, let me carry that for you then?” He stepped close just as she stood, his arms coming around to steady her when she wobbled. Brown eyes caught his with such longing that he couldn’t resist. He pulled her in close, hand coming up to gently cup her head as she watched him. “‘Mione…” he murmured.
He only meant to brush her lips with his. Brush her lips, then her nose, then her forehead. Affectionate and sweet, everything a best mate ought to be. But the soft sigh when his mouth covered hers undid his control, and he pulled her closer, drinking in the taste of her. When he touched her lips with his tongue, she opened to him, allowing him inside and groaning when he took the chance. Her arms snuck up over his shoulders, pulling him down to her, clinging as she swayed against him. His hand slid to her hips, fitting her against him, feeling how soft and warm and welcoming she was to his heat. He wanted more. And he didn’t want to stop.
He pulled back, breath a harsh rasp in the silence of the house, the shadows shifting from mid-day into early evening. It was time to go back. To go home. Both hands came up slowly to cradle her face. “Come home with me,” he said hoarsely.
She only nodded once, a hand pressed to her mouth as if she didn’t trust her words, then bent to pick up the case. Harry took it from her, intending to apparate them both as soon as they reached a point where magic worked. He could always come back for the car later.
Chapter 8: This Heart's On Fire
They managed to return the car after all, and to drop the case at the Auror research station to be properly sealed and delivered to Mysteries. Moments later they appeared inside Harry’s flat, standing amid the piles of papers and books, the Quidditch gear that was set to one side, and the robes that had been carelessly left hanging over the back of the sofa.
Hermione stood there, a moment’s uncertainty in her expression as she looked around. “I think we ought to find someone to do a bit of tidying up for you, Harry,” she said. “I thought—”
“I don’t want to talk about a maid service, or about Kreacher,” Harry said. He shrugged out of his robes, tossing them onto the pile on the sofa. It felt good to be out from under the heavy fabric, leaving him in just a t-shirt and his jeans. He toed off his shoes, while Hermione’s gaze followed him, noting each item of clothing removed.
He stepped in closer then, fingers at her throat, at the clasp of her robes. He looked at her, questioning, smiling when her hands came up to shakily undo it. She was dressed much the same beneath, only her t-shirt clung to her curves, nipping in at the waist and flaring out into her full hips, covered by jeans that only emphasized her shape. “You’re beautiful,” he murmured, pulling her close for another kiss.
Passion bloomed more slowly this time, taking those moments to taste and tease, to learn rather than devour. But the heat still burned bright and hot, coiling in his gut and spilling over into his groin as he hardened quickly. Each soft whimper or moan, each wriggle of her body against his was going to drive him into madness. He backed her up slowly, until the wall was behind her and he could press close, freeing his hands to nudge her t-shirt up, fingers seeking skin. Her touch answered his, sliding under his shirt to his back, small fingers strong as they splayed over him, stroking, memorizing him.
Her shirt inched up slowly, fingers skimming over her belly, over the soft skin of her ribs. He paused, breath tight in his chest, then pulled back to yank her shirt over her head. She looked at him with such trust and heat in her dark eyes, and he felt his heart twist. This was right. This had to be right and he couldn’t think about how wrong it truly was. Instead her lowered his head to let his mouth graze her throat, tongue teasing until her head dropped back as she moaned. He nipped along her collarbone, trailing down until his hands cupped cotton, and his mouth teased at the line of fabric along her skin.
He left her dressed, wanting to tease her. Wanting to drive her mad until she couldn’t help making more of those sounds, more of those whimpers and cries that let him know he was wanted here. He mouthed her nipple through the cotton, soaking the fabric until it came to a tight point and she pressed into his touch, begging for more. He slowly nudged the fabric down, until her nipple peeked out at him, and he met it with his teeth, nipping it, then soothing it with his tongue before he sucked it into his mouth. He left her panting, and switched to the other breast, teasing it in the same way, until she groaned and sagged against him.
His name on her lips was a potent aphrodisiac. He lifted her, cradling her hip to hip as he pressed into her, hungry for her breasts, and to bury himself inside of her. But he didn’t want to move, didn’t want to stop what he was doing, not when she wriggled against him, hips moving, pressing against his hard length. He never let go of her breasts, wondering if she could crest this way; when her hands tangled in his hair, pressing his head to her breast as she cried out and tensed in his arms, he knew she had.
He ached, uncomfortably hard in tight jeans. He let kisses drift to her neck, then her mouth, tasting the heat of her skin as she flushed.
“I haven’t done that since—”
“Shh.” He hushed her with a kiss. “You’re gorgeous, ‘Mione, and I love that you’re passionate. Think you’ll be ready for another go?”
The flush only intensified, suffusing her skin with warmth. “If it means you’ll be naked, then yes, Harry. Yes.”
He kissed her while he carried her to his bedroom, kissed her while he laid her out on his bed. He needed to let go long enough to pull her jeans off, taking her knickers with them, and tossing them aside. His own clothes were gone in short order, and contraceptive charms applied, then he stretched out on the bed next to her.
She looked at him, worrying her lower lip with her teeth. He frowned, stroking her cheek to ease her. “We can stop any time, ‘Mione.”
Hermione shook her head quickly. “No.” She rolled on top of him, hips sliding down to cradle his length in her warmth as she began to move, letting him slide between her slick lips. He groaned, pressing up into her, hands on her hips to hold her close. Her smile was wicked as she canted her hips just so, and dropped down, letting him thrust in deep.
“Yes.” Harry groaned, lost in the feel of her. This was perfect, and this was where he was meant to be. He dragged her down close, claiming her lips with a hungry kiss as he thrust, feeling her gasp spill into his mouth. He managed to slide one finger between them, teasing at her clit, wanting to feel her explode around him again. He wasn’t going to take long.
“Merlin—” She gasped, crying out sharply as he pressed deep into her, so he drew back and did it again, loving the feel of her shuddering around him. “Harry—Merlin—don’t stop. Don’t stop!” She bore down on him hard, hips snapping, taking her own pleasure as he fucked her. Wild hair made a dark halo around her, lit by the lamps on the wall shining through. She was an angel, his angel as she sat back, body arching, breasts thrust forward. He reached up and pinched a nipple, rewarded by a surprised cry as she broke around him, body tight as he thrust one more time and spilled inside of her.
She fell forward on top of him, and he stroked her hair, murmuring soft words that had no real meaning as he let his mind wander in the blissful haze that came after an orgasm.
Her soft hiccup alerted him, and when he tilted her head to look at him, he saw the shine in her eyes. “‘Mione…”
She shook her head. “I can’t—we shouldn’t—I need to get home.”
And with that, Hermione withdrew, walking away on shaky legs to find her clothes and pull them back on. Harry followed her, calling out, but by the time he reached the living room, he saw only the afterlight where she had been. Her robes still lay over his couch, left behind in her rush.
Harry carefully folded her robes and brought them into his room, placing them out of sight, just in case Ron showed up unexpectedly. This would destroy his best mate if he knew.
So he could never know.
Chapter 9: Another Pale Moon
They had covered two tables with their notes. Harry had commandeered a conference room, claiming that they needed a command center back at the Ministry, as well as the one in the field. Notes were hung on the walls, chalk boards covered in diagrams and possibilities, and folders and evidence trails were scattered across the tables in a pattern only Neville and Harry truly understood. Ron had been sent to direct people in the field, leaving Neville and Harry to try to piece together the puzzle from what little they knew.
Harry lifted up a folder, trying to make sense of it. “There has to be something here.” He glanced over at Neville who was sitting with his hands folded on the table and a quizzical expression on his face. “Have you found something?”
“Do you think it’s possible to know how to be a father when you’ve never had one?” Neville’s frown grew deeper, creasing his round features. “I’ve never had siblings, Harry. I don’t know what to do with a baby, and Merlin knows, I doubt Luna does either. Although I’m certain she’s read books on it.”
The only question was whether those books dealt with infants of the human variety or if they were something more… intriguing. Harry frowned. “Nev, we need to—” At the look Neville gave him, Harry sighed and sank into the seat next to him. “Look, Nev, I think you’ll be a brill father. Haven’t you wanted children?”
Neville shook his head. “I never really thought about it. We didn’t talk about it before, then there was the war, then the aftermath, and when were we supposed to all think about it? I wouldn’t have wanted them before, not when things were complete shite and we didn’t know if we’d live or die.”
Harry’s lips thinned, thinking about Teddy Lupin, left orphaned by the war just like he had been. “I know,” he said, “but now that things are calmer, and you’ve got a wife, and she wants children, don’t you feel like you, well, ought to?” It was the natural progression, after all. Grow up, get married, have children, raise little ones who had your view of the world. Or something like that. He’d seen others of their classmates doing it already, and couldn’t be entirely surprised that Luna wanted to now. He supposed that if he’d stayed with Ginny, maybe that’s where he’d be now, too.
He tried to focus on the folder in front of him, vaguely uncomfortable with the conversation even though he wanted to support his best mate. “I think you’ll be fine as a dad, Nev,” he said quietly. “You’re a good bloke. You’ve got a brilliant heart, and you’ll raise a good son or daughter. Or five or six, if that’s what you and Luna decide on. Don’t worry about whether you’ll be good at it, because you will, okay?”
Neville fidgeted, finally reaching out for a folder and opening it to stare blankly at it. “That’s what she’s been doing. All this time she wants me home. She’s trying all sort of odd things, Harry. I’m not sure—”
Harry had to smile at that, reaching out to squeeze Neville’s shoulder. “I don’t think it matters whether the things she tries works or not, Nev. You’re still having fun along the way, and I’m figuring you’re doing the bit that needs done.” He held that hand up between them then, and shook his head. “I don’t need the details about that part.” And he wasn’t going to mention that Luna had already divulged some of it. “Just love your wife, and you’ll be fine.”
“Oh, shite.” Neville’s voice dropped low, the folder falling from his fingertips.
“Something wrong?” Harry frowned, going back over what he’d said. “You do still love Luna, don’t you?”
“Hm?” Neville glanced over at him. “What? Yes, of course I do. It’s not that, Harry, it’s this.” He nudged the folder over, showing an in-depth analysis of particulates that had been done of one of the magicless sites in Otter’s Ridge. “I’ve just re-read the information taken down from the family. They don’t have a pet. Turns up, the bloke’s allergic, so they couldn’t. But if you’ll look, there are remnants of occupation by a creature of some kind. Might be whatever folks have been thinking that they’re spotting but haven’t been able to identify.”
“An invisible creature?” It sounded like one of Luna’s theories, which likely meant she might be helpful to ask. Or she might not. Harry frowned, not entirely certain about this. “Look, let’s pull together everything we can find in this and start a new track of the evidence that might point to a creature occupation. Then we’ll find the physical evidence that we’ve got that matches it, and take that down to Mysteries for analysis. Might be that if we look at it in a new light, we might find something.”
Neville nodded. “And if there are creatures going through, there has to be a nest somewhere. Nothing just walks around. They’ve got homes, places where they sleep and eat.” He paused, pushing his fingers back through his hair. “Bloody hell, what do they eat?”
Harry swallowed hard, because that answer seemed obvious to him. “Magic,” he said quietly. “They must subsist on magical energy somehow, and they’re what’s happening in Otter’s Ridge. Which means we need to find that nest, if it exists, and destroy it before the rest of Otter’s Ridge goes magic blind.”
“Except that we can’t use magic to fight against them,” Neville pointed out. “We’re going to need to find out what they are, and what they’re actually vulnerable to in order to take them out.”
Because it couldn’t be simple, could it? Were they Dark creatures? Harry couldn’t think they were anything benign, not if they sucked the magic out of places and people, and ghosts. His lips pressed together thinly and he started separating the folders, aiming for some kind of logic to the organization as he split them between himself and Neville. “I’ll start a new board for the trace that might indicate creatures. Start going through, and we’ll get it all listed. Then you get yourself home a bit early and meet up with Luna, and I’ll take it all down to Mysteries.” Not like he had anywhere else to go, and he wanted to take a moment to try to talk to Hermione when she couldn’t run.
It had been three days since he last saw her, after all, and he hadn’t wanted to contact her with anything Ron might misinterpret. Not that it would be much of a misinterpretation. With a wry smile, he bent his head to his work.
“You shouldn’t work so hard,” Neville said quietly.
“There’s not much else that I need to be doing,” Harry pointed out. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine, Nev. Let’s get this done so you can get out of here. I promise, when this case is over, I’ll take a vacation if that’ll make you happy. A whole three days off with no work whatsoever.”
Neville grinned at him. “I’m going to hold you to that, mate.”
With things settled, they were able to get back to work. But it was the thought that once it was done that he’d get to see Hermione that carried Harry through the day.
Chapter 10: It Feels So Wrong
By the time Harry and Neville finished patching together a trail of trace evidence, it was mid-afternoon. They collected up the physical remnants, much of which had already been through some analysis, and made up a package. It was close to end of day by the time Harry shoved Neville towards the apparition point to go home, promising that he’d deliver things to Mysteries but not stay late for work.
Which wasn’t entirely a lie. Harry didn’t intend to go home, but he didn’t plan on working, either. He just wanted to spend more time with Hermione, see if they could figure out what this thing between them was, and whether it was going to happen again.
He walked into the laboratory cautiously, glancing around for anyone else as he called out, “Hermione?” He was still turning around in place, hands in his pockets, having set the case of evidence down on a handy bench. It looked like folks had cleaned up, things washed and left to dry by the sink, cabinets closed neatly. Nothing bubbling unattended (or attended for that matter).
“They’ve all gone,” Hermione said, her tone carrying a sharp undertone as she approached. She still wore her robes, but they were undone in the front as if she were getting ready to change. Harry caught a glimpse of her white blouse with every step, until she gripped the edges of the robes and pulled them closed. “It’s almost time to go home, Harry.”
“I know.” He couldn’t help the way she made him smile, and when a slow answering smile came to her expression, that pleased him too. “I’ve actually brought work down. Neville and I think we’ve found a collection among the trace from Otter’s Ridge that might help identify what sort of creature has taken up residence there.”
“Creature?” It pulled her, the way he knew it would, and she came closer to him in order to get to the case of information. She opened it and sifted through the evidence, lips pursed as she mentally catalogued what she found.
Harry reached out, touching the fall of curls down her back, where her ponytail tried to keep her hair in check and failed. “Do you have plans tonight, ‘Mione?”
She gave him a sharp look. “I’m not going to start processing your evidence right this second, Harry. I understand that this is a high profile and terribly important case, but I—”
His hands framed her face and he silenced her with a brush of his lips against hers. Once, meeting her unyielding response, and again when he felt her sigh, felt that soft breath as she met his kiss with her own. He gathered her close, tasting acquiescence to his unasked question, and he didn’t need anything more from her right now. This touch, this understanding that it wasn’t just him, that it was everything to him.
“Harry, we can’t.” She pulled back, her hands against his chest to push away. “Especially not here. What if someone were to come in?”
“You’ve said they’re all gone.” It was reckless, but then he’d never been known for thinking through everything before he leapt in. “It’s just us here, and even if we don’t kiss, we ought to talk.” He reached out to pull her back close to him, one hand stroking her cheek. “Although I’d rather keep on with the kissing.” And more, taking her home to lay her out on his bed again and do everything they’d already done and more. But he contented himself with meeting her lips for now, stealing another taste from her and swallowing the soft whimper that escaped on her exhalation.
“We shouldn’t,” she protested when the kiss broke. She laid her head against his chest, sighing as he stroked her hair. “Harry, I do love Ron.”
Which twisted something in Harry’s gut in ways it hadn’t twisted before. He knew that, knew that his two best mates had always been meant for each other with no room for him. And he thought he’d found his place with Ginny, but he’d been wrong. He just hadn’t expected it to ache so much when he finally found his place, and it turned out not to be his after all. “I know,” he finally said. “He’s my best mate, Hermione. But you can’t deny what’s between us, either, can you? If he can’t—” he hesitated, then plowed ahead. “If he can’t give you what you need right now, and I can, why not take it? We’re best mates. I’m here to keep your head above water, sane when things around you are entirely mad. And you know I love you.” Which was no less than he’d ever said before, although it meant something entirely different now.
“I know,” she said softly. “I love you too, Harry. It’s just—”
His hand slid beneath her robes, over the soft silk of her blouse, then up to caress her until she moaned. “It’s just Ron, I know,” he whispered, lips pressed against her throat. “I’ll make him come back to you properly,” he promised softly. “And when he does, we’ll leave off with this.” Because Ron was what she wanted, not him, no matter the heat that they generated right now. “But for now, while he’s being an idiot—” He groaned against her skin, palm going flat over her breast, and groaned again when she arched into his touch with a tiny moan of her own. “This feels right, ‘Mione.”
“I know.” Her breath caught, and she pushed his hand away, catching his head to pull him up so she could kiss him until he felt the burn down to his toes. “I know it does,” she said. “I don’t want to stop either. We’ll have to be careful. Find times to meet when it’s safe.”
Harry nodded. “Come over tonight. You know he won’t be home until late, so does it matter if you’re home waiting for him?”
A door swung open, and Harry and Hermione jumped apart at the bang of it against the wall. Hermione grabbed her robes, twisting the ties together quickly, and regaining some semblance of order, while Harry turned back to the case of evidence and began to set things out across the counter.
“Back here, Ron,” she called, her voice shaking. Harry glanced at her, trying to say with his eyes that everything would be fine, but she refused to look at him. Instead a smile was plastered on her face as she waited for her husband to approach.
“Oh, hey, mate. Nev said you might be down here.” Ron gave the case of evidence a look of interest. “Is that what the two of you did all day? They’ve got this bloody board covered with notes about parasites, hairs, and all manner of things I don’t want to think about creatures having or doing,” he said to Hermione, his hands going wide to indicate the board that wasn’t there. “So of course they trucked it all off to you to sort through what it’s going to be. But you’re not starting that tonight, are you?”
Hermione busied herself with undoing her ponytail and shaking her long hair free, fingers combing through it as she tried to get it under control. “No, no, of course not.” Her tone was crisp and businesslike. “I’d planned to go home and have a bit of dinner, and charm the rest to stay fresh until you bothered to come home.”
Ron frowned. “I’m not going anywhere after work today, Hermione.”
“Well, how would I know that, Ronald, when you haven’t bothered to inform me of your plans in weeks?” She crossed her arms, glaring. “You haven’t bothered to come home more often than not. I’d actually thought I might get some take away, and feed Harry so he didn’t have to eat alone.”
Harry winced and refused to look up, hearing the double meanings underlining Hermione’s words. “Really,” he said. “I’m all right. I’ll just pick up some curry on my way home.”
“See, he’s fine.” Ron dismissed the problem of Harry with those few short words. “I don’t have anywhere else I need to be, and I thought we might go out for a bite, then home for an evening in.”
A glass vial clunked as Harry dropped it, hurrying to catch it and keep it upright before the contents spilled out over the lab bench.
“I’m not in the mood for an evening in,” Hermione said slowly.
Harry didn’t want to look, didn’t want to see how she was considering the idea. He didn’t like the spike of jealousy he had at the thought of Ron and Hermione in bed, with Ron’s freckled skin stretched over Hermione, as he drove into her. Harry’s breath shuddered as he finished setting things on the bench. “I’ve got all the paperwork right here, ‘Mione,” he said quietly.
Hermione took it, her fingers brushing his briefly before she stepped away to sign it, and hand one piece of parchment back to Harry for the official evidence trail in his files upstairs. “Thank you, Harry. Ron—” she paused, then smiled, her expression softening. “Just let me go get changed and hang up these robes for the elves to take care of,” she said. “Then we can go out.”
Ron glanced over the things laid out on the bench, touching them, expression musing. “Seems like a good path you and Neville found here,” he said. “Thanks for putting the work in. Hopefully you two’ll be able to get back out in the field with me soon and we can track these things down and get rid of them.”
“Once Mysteries identifies what they are, I think we’ll be good to go,” Harry said.
The silence that fell was odd, and a little awkward until Ron broke it. “Look, mate, I didn’t mean to not be friendly. You know we ought to have you over. Maybe Friday, yeah? Dinner after work. We’ll plan ahead for it.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt your shagging time,” Harry said with a sour expression. “Look, I’m just going to go out and get something to eat, and maybe find myself a bit of pull.” He stopped at the soft breath on the other side of the room as Hermione came back in, robes abandoned, her blouse having been straightened and tucked into her trousers properly. He wouldn’t look at her, couldn’t look at her. “But Friday for dinner sounds brill. I’ll see you both then. And ‘Mione—” He waited until she looked at him, and he nodded at the evidence. “I’ll be by tomorrow to discuss the results. Likely around lunch or so.”
“I’ll see you then, Harry. Bring your lunch with you, and we can work in my office while we eat,” she suggested, and Harry knew that she’d caught on to the thread of his thought.
He nodded to her, a small smile peeking out. “Tomorrow then.” And for tonight, he’d try not to think about his best mates together, because he had his own time with Hermione to look forward to. He left the two of them there, and didn’t look back.
Chapter 11: I Know
“We’re still on for tonight, mate, yeah?” Ron sat on the edge of Harry’s desk, reaching for a quill that happened to be lying there, twirling it between his fingers. “Dinner, I mean. You’re still coming over.”
“Of course I am.” Although if Harry were honest with himself, he dreaded the idea of being in their house alone with Ron and Hermione. He glanced over at Neville, who was engrossed in reading the book of evil creatures, still searching for a clue. “Do you want to change things up, go out and invite Nev and Luna along with us? They could probably use a chance to get out.”
Ron followed his look, and shook his head. “He’s looking a bit peaked, isn’t he? Think Luna’s shagging him to exhaustion?”
“I don’t want to think about it.” Harry shuddered and shook his head. “That’s their business, no matter how much they talk about it around us.”
“The way I see it, if they’re not shy about it, why should we be?” Ron hooked a nearby chair with one foot, bringing it over so he could drop into it, lanky form folding awkwardly. “It’s a natural thing, Harry. They shag. Me and ‘Mione shag. You… well you get your pull, and the way I see it, you’ve been getting some lately.”
Harry did his best not to wince. “Yes,” he answered. “Been getting a bit on the lucky side.” With Hermione, in his own damned bed, every night after work while Ron was out having his pints and getting home late just to prove he wasn’t tied down. “Been nice to get out of the dry spell.” As if this were anyone else, as if he weren’t shagging Ron’s wife. “The way I see it, once we get results from Mysteries about Otter’s Ridge, we’ll all be too buried in work to get a chance for anything else.”
“Have you seen this?” Neville finally emerged from the pile of paperwork he’d been buried under for most of the day. “Three more families have gone off to St. Mungo’s today. One of them, it’s just the little girl, another it’s the wife, and the last it’s the whole lot of them.”
“Little girl?” Harry reached out for the file, glad for the change of subject away from shagging. “How young? And how do they know she’s lost her magic?”
“Metamorphagus,” Neville replied. “They woke up, and she was crying inconsolably. Wouldn’t stop, just kept starting up again when they thought she might be winding down. Finally her father looked at her, realized her eyes were blue. Guess they’re never blue when she’s upset, they’re always this shade of purple or some such. They remembered the magic then, and headed off to St. Mungo’s straight away. Diagnostics turned up that her magic’s so low, she can’t even do any natural shifts, and likely it’s bothering her when she tries to. They’ve got the wee one on potions now to keep her calm, but they can’t keep it up for too long without endangering her.” His expression twisted. “Can’t hardly imagine that. Hearing your child sobbing like that, and not being able to do a bloody thing to fix it. Can you think how long it must’ve been before they figured out what might be going on? How do parents do it?”
“This isn’t normal, Neville,” Harry reassured him. “Most parents don’t have to deal with something this difficult.”
“But some do,” Neville said. “Luna thinks this is going to be easy, but the world’s not easy. She knows that, after her mum… and my folks, well, I know it, too. Those parents must feel awful.”
Harry glanced at Ron, then jerked his chin at Neville as he decided, “Neville, why don’t you go interview the parents? See how they’re faring, and find out what they were doing still in Otter’s Ridge at all. I thought the evacuation was proceeding.”
“It is,” Ron said. “These folks might be in one of the outlying areas, which means it’s spreading, which isn’t good and means we need to act faster. And some folks are going back in with escorts to get things they left behind when they were rushed out. No one ought to be sleeping in the central village though, not anymore, unless they’ve managed to avoid the Auror patrols.”
“That’s what happened with these folks.” Neville flipped to a different part of the file. “Bloke went back to his house on his lunch to pick a few books he’d left behind, and walked in on his wife shagging her boss right there in the bed. Guess she thought it was a safe place to go, with the evacuation and all. They got into a bloody awful row, and when she tried to apparate out, she couldn’t. Thought at first it was just the house, but when they left the place, her husband apparated straight away, and she couldn’t do a thing. Her boss brought her into the hospital to be looked at, and she’s been there since.” Neville shook his head. “Hell of a situation.”
“I think ‘Mione’s having an affair.”
Harry’s heart dropped into his gut at Ron’s non-sequitur. “What?”
“I can’t think she would, Ron,” Neville set the file down, turning to give his full attention to their friend, who’d started to pace.
“She has to be,” Ron said, the words spilling out. “I was thinking about it before and had put it out of my mind, but that—” he gestured at the folder. “It just reminded me, and bloody hell, I don’t want to walk into my house someday to find someone else fucking my wife.”
“What makes you think it, Ron?” Neville asked. “This is Hermione. She doesn’t do anything without thinking it through beforehand. And you know she’s loved you since what, our fourth year? Remember the fit she pitched over you not asking her to the Yule Ball?”
“I know,” Ron said miserably. He crossed his arms, leaning against the wall. “Thing is, she’s been getting home late most of the week. Might not’ve noticed, but I finished up at the pub early and thought I might surprise her. Brought home flowers and takeaway, and then she wasn’t there. And I didn’t want to let on that I noticed she was late, so I headed back out and got home my normal time, and there she was, like she’d never been gone.”
“She might have worked late,” Neville said quietly. “We’ve put quite a bit onto Mysteries, what with Otter’s Ridge. I’m sure it’s taking a good bit to go through.”
“That’s what I thought that first day,” Ron said. “At least at first, until I thought about how she hadn’t wanted a shag the night before. But when I asked how her day went, she didn’t say she’d been late. In fact, she had takeaway or something that made it look like she’d cooked and left my meal in the warmer like usual.” His lips pinched. “So I checked the next day. And I watched, and I saw her come in with the takeaway and she was all disheveled and rushing. When I came in, her cheeks were flushed and she seemed surprised to see me. Tried to kiss her, and she wasn’t having anything of it.”
He turned his attention on Harry. “You’ve gone down to see her for the evidence, mate. Did she seem off or anything to you when you were there? Chipper? Elusive? Like she might be hiding something from me? She hasn’t said what she’s been up to after work, has she?”
Harry tried to work through what to say so that he could manage it without lying. He swallowed, sorting words in his head, relieved when Neville barged in instead.
“She’s not going to have an affair, Ron,” he said firmly. “This is Hermione. She must be doing something else she doesn’t want you to know about. Maybe she’s planning something for when your birthday comes up next. Or some other surprise with your family. Or maybe it’s just—” he flushed brightly. “There are times when a girl doesn’t want a shag. Might be then. Luna gets bloody well cranky sometimes, all snappish and blunt.”
“I don’t think it’s that,” Ron muttered. “I know my wife, and something’s wrong.”
“You’ve been arguing these last weeks,” Harry reminded him, still not looking up. “She wasn’t happy that you were staying out late.” Silence, and he knew Ron didn’t like having his own error pointed out. “Anyroad. Why don’t we split up to cover getting personal statements from these folks? Nev, you take the little girl. I’ll take the woman with the affair, and Ron, you take the whole family. Be back here by half four, and that’ll give us time to go over our notes and put things together to take home for the weekend. I’m hoping we’ll get results from Mysteries by Monday.”
Ron stood by Harry as he rose from his chair, and reached out to grab his shoulder. “We’re still on for tonight, right?” he asked again. “Maybe you’ll see something I don’t. Or maybe she’ll confide in you. You’re her best mate, too.”
Harry smiled tightly. “Hermione’s not going to tell me something she doesn’t want you knowing, Ron. She knows I hate keeping secrets from you.” Which was true. This was making his gut churn, as if he might be ill at any moment. He had to recover something of it, no matter how awkward it would be to sit down with his best mates and pretend that nothing was going on. “But yeah, everything’s on for tonight. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Ron clapped him on the shoulder, frown replaced by a broad grin. “Thanks, mate. It’ll be good to have a bit of normalcy for a while.”
Right. Normal. Harry sank back down into his seat to review the files one more time as Ron and Neville headed off to their assignments. Nothing was normal anymore, and the worst of it was, Harry couldn’t find the resolve to give up what he had.
Chapter 12: If Your Heart Is Pure
Mysteries didn’t have results for them on Monday morning, and by lunch Harry was itching to move on with the case. Ron had gone back out to Otter’s Ridge to personally verify that everyone had been properly evacuated, and Neville was poring over book after book of Luna’s, searching for some obscure reference that might match what they were experiencing. That left Harry with the rest of the files, searching for connections that might have been missed.
When Luna appeared, offering to take him to lunch, he readily accepted, needing a break from the day. “You look good, Luna,” he said as he held her chair out for her, waiting until she’d settled into it before taking his own seat. “I’d say you look far more alive than Neville. I think we’re working him too hard; he’s got bags under his eyes.”
“We’ve been getting up early for sex,” Luna said. “I don’t think he’s fond of the sleep schedule, but he’s most definitely enjoying the activity. Although I do think he’ll be able to sleep more now.”
Harry blinked in the onslaught of personal information. “Er. He will? I mean, I didn’t think it was possible to have so much sex that you looked about to fall over. But why are you stopping? Have you decided it’s not the right time for a baby now?” He thought Neville might actually be relieved if that were true; Monday morning had brought a new stream of worries, after Neville had spent some of the weekend with the little girl who had lost her magic last week.
She shook her head, smiling that calm smile that she always had. “I’m pregnant.” She took a chip from the basket that had been delivered for them to share, and dipped it in the puddle of malt vinegar that she’d made on her plate.
Harry’s eyes went wide. “You are? Well, bloody hell, Luna. Er, congratulations. Neville didn’t say a word.” And it occurred to him then to ask, “Does Neville know yet?”
She leaned back, her hand falling to her slim belly. “He doesn’t believe it yet, but I told him over breakfast. He insists we can’t possibly tell for days, since we just had sex this morning, but I’m positive that I am.” Her smile widened, and she leaned forward, confiding, “She’s going to be a little girl. The Ebblings told me.”
“Ebblings,” Harry echoed.
“Ebblings.” Luna’s gaze shifted to the ceiling, as if seeking something, only to shake her head a moment later. “They like to hover in the rafters. Sometimes you’ll see them, sparkling like dust motes in a sunbeam, but you have to listen close to hear their whispers. They are attracted to childbearing and kittens.” Her finger traced an unseen pattern on the table. “That’s why kittens like to lie down in sunbeams, you know. And why babies smile at nothing at all.”
Harry had thought those smiles were just gas, at least, that’s what Andromeda had said when he’d pointed out Teddy was smiling back when he was a baby. “I see,” he said, and decided to let it go. That was often safer where Luna was concerned. “Neville’s been talking to you about the case, hasn’t he?”
Luna’s eyes widened happily as her lunch was set before her, and she waited until the server was gone before she spoke again. “Of course he has, Harry. I’ve given him every book I could find on Dark creatures, but I can’t recall a single thing that sounds like what you’ve found in Otter’s Ridge. You realize, this could be a terribly important discovery,” she said, her gaze intent on him while deft fingers picked apart her fish and popped a piece in her mouth. “You might have discovered a new magical creature. You have to make certain to catalogue every detail, so we can publish the information properly in the Quibbler once the case is solved. It sounds terribly dangerous, and everyone ought to be aware what to look for, so they don’t find themselves infested like Otter’s Ridge.” She cocked her head, thoughtful. “Have you asked if anyone there has traveled recently? Perhaps to the Orient? I don’t have a terrible lot of information about creatures from the Orient.”
“We’ve a list of where folks traveled and when,” Harry said. “Maybe you could stop by and make notes on which ones you haven’t read as much about, and we can look more closely at getting information from those places.”
“Of course,” Luna smiled. “I’d be happy to help.” She leaned back, still picking her fish apart by hand as she watched Harry dig into his shepherd’s pie. “You look different, Harry. Your energy is better. Have you decided to shag Ron after all?”
He inhaled sharply at her question, choking on a bit of potato that headed down the wrong pipe until he coughed it out with the help of Luna’s small hand pounding between his shoulderblades. He flushed to his ears, hot and red. “No, Luna, I’m not shagging Ron. It’s still not like that between us, and not likely to become that way.”
“Oh.” Her brow furrowed. “Are you quite certain? You haven’t seen yourselves together, not the way I do. And something has most definitely changed, Harry. For the better. You’re looking much more alive than you did.”
“I—” Harry stumbled to a halt, not sure what to say. There was a part of him that wanted to admit the truth. He needed someone to confide in, but could he trust Luna not to carry tales back to Neville, that would then get back to Ron? And what did it mean that Luna kept insisting there was something between him and Ron? Bloody hell, he shouldn’t say a word. But as he looked at her, waiting there, head cocked and expression calm, he felt an ease spread over him. “I am seeing someone,” he said slowly. “But it’s someone I oughtn’t be seeing. So it’s complicated.”
“Why shouldn’t you be seeing them?” Luna asked calmly.
“Her, Luna. Her.” Because Harry wanted that clarified, in case Luna suddenly decided there was some bloke other than Ron that he ought to be shagging as well, when he had no intentions of shagging any bloke at all. “And because she’s married. I shouldn’t be seeing her at all because she’s already married to someone else, and I’d never want to hurt either of them. But being with her is the most right thing I’ve done in years. Since the war, really. I feel alive with her, like I was sleeping my way through life and now everything’s gone bright and different. And she’s been in a bad place for a while, but she’s doing better now, too. We’re helping each other. Giving each other someone to lean on when things are rough.” He fiddled with his fork, pushing it through the meat and vegetables, making them swim in the gravy. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Luna sat quietly for a long moment, then smiled slowly. “It’ll be easier when you decide what you’re doing with Ron as well,” she said. “I can’t imagine it’s easy to hide this from him. She does love him, you know, just as much as she loves you.”
She was taking it awfully well. Calmly. “Did she already talk to you about it?” Harry had to ask.
But Luna just shook her head. “She didn’t have to. Anyone with eyes can see the ties that bind the three of you.” She reached over, patting Harry’s hand. “I’m glad you’re happy, Harry, but you do need to make sure you get this settled properly. If you keep secrets, you’re going to tear the three of you apart. And that would be awful.”
“I can’t just tell Ron I’m shagging his wife,” Harry muttered. “He’d kill me.”
“Likely, yes.” Luna considered it while she nibbled at her lunch. “But he’ll come around. I’m certain of it.”
If it were anyone else, Harry would have called them mad, but he’d never say that to Luna. Unconventional, yes, and she most certainly had her own unique outlook on life. But she wasn’t actually insane. Which meant Harry needed to sit down later and pick through everything that had been said in order to figure out what bits of it might help him out. “You won’t say a word of this to anyone,” he cautioned. “Not even Neville.”
“Of course,” she agreed easily. “And you won’t whisper a word about the baby. It wouldn’t be fair if others knew before Neville truly believed about it. Except for you.” She smiled at patted his hand. “You’ll be her godfather someday. Of course, we’d best make certain we find out what’s happening in Otter’s Ridge before then, lest the magical world not be quite so magical before she’s born.”
Grateful for the change of subject, Harry took it, steering the conversation back into a discussion of what evidence they had, and left the topics of babies and affairs behind.
Chapter 13: Blind In The Sun
“Luna was up half the night reading through books on the Orient,” Neville said as he gathered together his kit of Muggle devices. “Said you were talking about it over lunch yesterday, and she’s got it in her head that the creatures, if they’re in Otter’s Ridge, have to have come from the Orient.” He sighed, then added with a flush, “Have to say, it was nice to get to bed early, and get to lie in a bit this morning, rather than having to, er, rush into things.”
Harry well remembered Luna’s insistence that she was pregnant, and rather thought that Neville might not have to worry about things for a while, now, at least not at the fevered pace she’d been pushing him in recent weeks. “Seems like she’s distracted, and I’m sorry for that, mate, but this is one place where we can use her expertise. We’re not looking at anything traditional here.”
“It’s quite all right.” Neville closed the bag with a tug on the catch to make sure it was secure, then tossed it over his shoulder. “Ron’s firecalled in twice already this morning, so we’d best get out there. We’re going to be looking through the Spinnet home today.”
Harry winced. “Alicia—”
“—Wasn’t there,” Neville completed his sentence. “She’s moved out, long ago, but her little brother’s been living with their Mum, and they both evacuated when we told them to. There’ve been lights spotted lately, though. Flashes in the windows. Ron took a team in yesterday but they didn’t find any evidence that anyone’s been living there in the meantime. But magic definitely doesn’t work in there at all, not even a hint of light.”
“That’s what the torches are for.” Harry patted his own bag at his side with a grin.
Ron met them at the apparition point outside of Otter’s Ridge, scowling as he stood with his arms crossed. “Took your bloody time,” he muttered. “But then, I expect you had to wait for your morning shag, Nev, and Harry, Merlin only knows what you’ve been up to.”
“Nothing,” Harry said firmly, and it was true. He hadn’t seen Hermione that morning, and the night before had been mostly work. He wasn’t looking forward to trying to explain that Luna knew, and was considering just leaving it out until he absolutely had to tell her about it. “We’ve just been gathering together our gear, Ron. How early were you here this morning?”
Ron shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets. He’d forgone the robes for a simple jumper and jeans, and motioned to a place where Neville and Harry could leave their own robes if they desired. “Not sure, but it was before everyone else. Woke up and couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d come out and get ready.”
Harry’s jaw set, and he looked away to hide the rueful smile. It was a bloody mess already, and Ron didn’t even know the half of it. “Well then.” His voice was too loud, and he lowered it with a sheepish smile. “Let’s just head straight out. You’ve already been over the house once yesterday, Nev said.”
Ron nodded, motioning for them to follow as he strode ahead, long legs quickly eating up the distance. “And we didn’t find anything. It’s like one of Luna’s invisible monsters has gone ahead and moved in, only this time we’re not imagining it.” He glanced to his left. “Sorry, Nev.”
“Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” Neville said mildly. And Harry knew he was right; after all, there were the thestrals. Who knew what else was out there, hidden just out of sight, where most of the Wizarding world couldn’t see it?
“But how does something magical live where magic’s gone?” Ron protested. “That’s the thing. There’s no magic left in there, not a bit. Hermione sent Pucey out here yesterday, looking for trace and other evidence, and he didn’t turn up a single trace of magic in that house. It’s worse than Muggle. The place is dead.”
“When we figure out what it is, we’ll be able to figure out how it works, and how to fight it,” Harry said firmly. “I’m not going to give up and let it beat us just because we don’t know the answers yet. We’ll find something today. And if not, I’m staying the night.” He glanced at the others. “You two should go home if it comes to that. I’ll be fine on my own. Spend some time with your wives.”
“You’d think she’d want to spend time with me,” Ron muttered, pushing open the door to the Spinnet home.
Harry lit his torch, flashing the light around and frowning at the dark shadows in the corners. “Of course she wants to spend time with you, Ron. She loves you.” It wasn’t easy to say the words, but they were the right thing to say, and he knew it was still true.
Ron snorted derisively. “You’d think that, too. But I’m not so sure anymore. Do you know, she got home an hour after I did last night, then said she was just going to bed? Alone. We haven’t had a shag in more than a week. Even when I tried to surprise her and get off work early, she said she just wasn’t interested.”
“What about the weekend?” Neville asked. He gestured with his own torch: stairs or back of the house? When Harry pointed back, the three of them headed in that direction.
Harry’s beam swept the walls, the floor, lingering over furniture and noting portraits that hung strangely stiff and still on the walls. Photographs were frozen in odd poses, mid-wave or mid-speech, or sometimes with the subject missing entirely.
“Working,” Ron said. “Or so she said.”
“She was,” Harry said. Most of the time. Although they’d left a bit of room for other things as well. He needed to end this topic of conversation before it went down a path he couldn’t follow without having to start lying. “I’d asked her to, because we needed results from Mysteries as soon as possible, and we’ve still not got them. Wait until this case is over, Ron, and I think your life will be back to normal. As long as you’re not the one going to the pub until all hours.”
He didn’t mean the dig, it just slipped out, and ahead of him he saw Ron stop and turn slowly, until his torch focused on Harry like a spotlight.
“This isn’t my fault,” Ron said slowly. “She’s the one stepping out on me, Harry. I’ve never even considered—”
“Bollocks,” Harry snapped. “Of course you have. You know the cup size of every bloody woman at the Ministry. You can’t possibly tell me you haven’t thought about each and every one of them naked at some point, and likely down on their knees in front of you.”
“Those are fantasies!” Ron yelled. “Bloody fantasies, Harry. Not realities, and not anything I’d bloody well actually do. I love my wife. There’s never been anyone else but her for me, and you bloody well know it.”
“Lavender,” Neville said quietly, raising his hands and taking a step back when Ron glared.
Harry held up one hand. “Shh.” He heard something scritching, skittering, a fleeting sound of nails across wood.
“I was sixteen, and I was thinking with my—”
“She might think you’re thinking the same way now,” Neville pointed out, his tone still mild although he kept his distance from Ron. “Maybe you ought to stop looking at the other woman, just for a bit. Remind her that she’s the center of your world, yeah?”
“I said quiet,” Harry snapped, waving his hand between the two of them without looking. His head cocked, he tried to pinpoint the sound, but it came from above him, next to him, around the corner.
In the sudden absence of voices, the noise came clear, echoing around them.
“Bloody hell, my torch isn’t working!” A clang as it bounced off a wall, and Harry thought Ron must have thrown it.
Bright green eyes shading into gold staring at them, a mouth opening up, yawning wide, teeth bared. Harry didn’t think, just reached out and grabbed the shape in front of him, squeezing hard.
“How many of them are there?”
“Are they attacking us?”
“I think they want us to get out of here.” Still gripping the one he had, Harry started to back up. “Carefully now, just the light from the outside. Let your eyes get used to it, then head for the door. I think we’ve gone and stumbled into a nest.”
“I think I’m going to sick up,” Neville muttered, and Harry felt rather than saw him pass by, reaching the door first and throwing it open. He stumbled out, falling to his knees on the lawn outdoors, head bowed and pressed against the grass. While he wasn’t sick, he certainly looked a bit green, and when Ron joined him, he didn’t look much better.
“I touched one,” Ron said. “Felt like everything was draining out of me, like I wasn’t going to have a bit of magic left when it was done.” He rubbed his hand over his face, crouched down low. After a moment he looked up at Harry, and his eyes went wide. “Bloody hell, Harry, what’ve you got there?”
It was strange how he couldn’t look at it too closely in the light of day. Those same eyes that he’d seen inside, and a thick leathery skin that would be excellent for blending into shadows. But somehow light bent around it, and Harry guessed that if he let it go, it would shimmer into the sunlight and disappear, so he tightened his grip. He felt that draw, that drain that Ron mentioned, as he held on.
“I don’t know,” Harry said. “But I’m certain it’s a class one hazard that I shouldn’t be taking into the Ministry without proper preparatory procedures. I’m also certain I don’t have time for those.” He looked at Ron and Neville. “Be careful, but now that we know we have a nest, find out what else you can. I’m taking this back to Mysteries.”
“You need to do something to neutralize it,” Neville said, expression worried. “Or else you might not make it back to Mysteries. Can you even apparate with it?”
“The longer I wait, the worse it’ll get,” Harry said. “So I’m going now.” He did a quick check to make sure he was in a spot where magic worked still, then clutched the creature more tightly. “I’ll see you back at the Ministry.” Then he spun and disappeared.
Chapter 14: Young Rebel
The answer was yes, Harry could apparate with the creature, although he was exhausted when he arrived. His grip slipped, and the thing tried to get away, twisting in his grasp. He clung to it, wrestling it and ignoring the painful draining sensation when its teeth clamped down on his forearm, leaving a nasty bite before he got it under control.
By the time he arrived at Mysteries, he imagined that alarms must be going off somewhere, ringing frantically that he carried a magic draining creature through the Ministry. Several people poked their heads out to look at him, but he imagined he presented a worrying image with blood dripping over his forearm, a writhing creature in his grasp that was all darkness and teeth, and a determined expression as he stalked towards Mysteries. Not a one of them interrupted him, and in Mysteries, he saw no one as he walked in.
“‘Mione?” he called out. Harry grunted as he tucked the creature under his arm, trying to ignore the strange combination of burning and numbness in his arm. “‘Mione! I need you out here! I’ve brought you something import—bloodyhell!” He almost dropped the creature as it twisted unexpectedly, teeth raking over his arm again.
“What is it, Harry? Oh my!” Hermione drew her wand from her sleeve and quickly cast something Harry didn’t recognize. To his relief, the creature went limp in his hands.
He didn’t dare let go, in case it awoke again. “What spell was that?”
“You’re bleeding.” Hermione took his arm, bringing him into the light so she could see it more clearly. “Harry, that thing bit you. What is it? Do I need to worry about poison, or get you to St. Mungo’s?”
“I don’t know what it is,” he admitted. “It’s one of the things infesting Otter’s Ridge. We found a nest of them, and I grabbed this one to bring back to you.”
“That’s against protocol,” she admonished. But that didn’t keep her from slowly prying it from his hands and locking it carefully into one of her cages. “But thank you. Now that I can study it, we should be able to determine what it is, and how to keep it from affecting anyone else.”
“And help those who’ve already been affected.”
She smiled. “Of course, Harry. The trick will be keeping it from draining the magical wards here in Mysteries, but I’ve a room set up specifically for this sort of situation, and I’ll keep it there, and I’m certain it will be fine. Let me just get it settled properly and safely, then I’ll be back to take a look at you.”
Harry glanced down at his arm, wincing. “You don’t need to do that, ‘Mione. I’ll just go wrap it, and it’ll be fine.”
She paused in her turning away, glancing back over her shoulder at him, expression fixed and stubborn. “You’ll sit right down on that lab bench, Harry Potter, and let me look at your arm. I won’t have you being cursed because you’re too bloody stubborn to stop long enough to have an injury seen to properly.” She picked up the cage, calling, “Take off your shirt,” as she walked away.
Harry had to drop his robes to one side, the sleeve shredded by teeth and claws, then he carefully unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off. Blood stained the crisp white fabric, and he sighed to see yet another good dress shirt ruined. He was holding it up to the light, trying to decide if it was salvageable, when Hermione came back.
“Let me see that.” Her voice was low as she took his hand, drawing it closer to her. “That’s a nasty bite, but I need to see if it has magic in it.”
“Or null magic,” Harry said. “Whatever that creature is. Parts of it feel like burning, but other bits feel weirdly numb.”
Hermione’s brown eyes widened in alarm. “You ought to’ve mentioned that straight away, Harry. The bite could be venomous.” Wand in hand, she drew it gently over Harry’s arm, casting a number of diagnostic spells he didn’t recognize as medical.
It occurred to Harry that what Hermione did down here in Mysteries was actually, well, something of a mystery. She didn’t speak about the specifics of her work, but he could see now that it included a large repertoire of spells that he had no idea existed. And he wondered how many of them were original, created by Hermione herself. He was in awe of her mind, not to mention in love with it, and the thought of her skill and creativity drew him in.
He touched her cheek lightly, waiting until she looked up at him, then bent to kiss her lightly. One kiss led to another, and another, until she drew back, breathless and flushed. “I need to finish looking at your arm, Harry.”
That didn’t mean he couldn’t use his other hand to lightly comb through her wild curls as she bent her attention back to his arm. He could still watch her, could still lightly stroke his thumb along her cheek and feel her shiver. He let his touch drift to her shoulder, fingers slipping beneath the collar of her shirt to stroke her skin. Touching her. Feeling her. Showing her that he still wanted her as much as he had on any day since that first time, perhaps since before that.
Her work was slowed, perhaps, by his attentions, as she stuttered once on a spell, taking two tries before he felt the wound sealing closed. Blessed cool to put out the fire, and wake up the numb spots. Comfort.
And when she finished, she pressed her lips to his skin, kissing away the last of the pain. “Do you remember being little, and thinking kisses were magic, Harry? When all it took was a kiss on a bump to take away the pain?”
He had a rueful smile at that. “My life wasn’t like that, ‘Mione. Maybe for Dudley, but not for me. I was just told to stop wibbling so much and rot like that. I never really was let to be a little boy.” He watched as she did it again, bending to brush a kiss against his skin, and he felt it in places he’d never really associated with touching his forearm before. “But I think kisses are magic, all right, so you can do that as much as you want.”
“Kiss your arm?” Hermione’s lips drifted down to his wrist, finding the tender skin inside it. “Or your fingers?” She caught the tip of one finger between her teeth, tongue teasing it, and Harry felt himself react, growing rapidly hard as he wanted that tongue somewhere else.
“Come here, ‘Mione.” He refused to think about Ron’s suspicions, or the case, or anything else as he tugged her closer, wrapping his arms around her. All he wanted to think about right then was the woman in his arms, and the healing power of kissing her. He wanted to get lost in her, and for a time, that’s what he did.
Chapter 15: Keep a Calendar
Harry decided that lab benches were the perfect height. Hermione had assured him that they were alone before he sat her on one and stepped in close so she could fit her hips to his and wrap her legs around him. Her skirt hiked up around her hips, and he felt the dampness of her knickers as she pressed close to him, his prick still well-trapped behind his pants. But his shirt was long gone, and her blouse and bra were open, baring her lovely breasts to him to play with. He bent his head, teasing first one nipple, then the other, while she clung to him, moaning softly as her hips wiggled, begging for more.
He didn’t hear the door open, only the sharp intake of breath; just enough time to look up, blinking into the light before the explosion.
“What the bloody fucking hell is going on here?” Ron’s voice, louder than any Howler Harry had ever heard.
Harry pulled back from Hermione, turning to face Ron and trying to look nonchalant without his shirt. “I—”
Ron stormed over, right in his face. “You told me she wasn’t having an affair,” he said, voice shockingly low. He jabbed a finger at Harry’s chest, pointed and hard. “You told me she wouldn’t do that to me, that I should trust her. And here you are, and it turns out you’re the one shagging her behind my back. I can’t believe you did that to me.”
“Ronald.” Hermione slipped off the bench and grabbed his arm, trying to turn him away, but he shook her off roughly.
“I don’t even want to talk to you. You’ve been shagging Harry when you’ve been late, haven’t you?” He gave her a dark furious look. “You didn’t just go fuck someone, you had to fuck my best mate who’s also my partner at work?”
There was a part of Harry that wondered how different this was from when Ron and Hermione had gotten together in the first place, and Harry had seen it as a sort of betrayal, his two best mates going off without him. But he didn’t think Ron would understand that if he said it now.
“And what have you been doing all this time?” Hermione shoved at Ron, her voice rising rapidly in pitch. “You’re the one that started coming home late all the time, not telling me what you were up to. Harry was there when I bloody well needed someone, and we didn’t mean to be starting this, but we did, and it’s good between us. It’s bloody well better than shagging you when you don’t even care about me in bed half the time. You’re just arsed off because now that I’ve got someone good in my bed, I don’t sit there and beg for the scraps of attention you bother to give me once in a while.”
“Scraps of attention?” Ron’s voice rose, shaking with indignation. “Bloody hell, Hermione, you’re always so bloody busy. We could be in bed, and half the time inside your mind you’re still analyzing something back in the lab. How am I supposed to compete with your bloody work?”
“Maybe if I didn’t know that you’d rather memorize the measurements of every bloody woman in the Ministry than try to think of a good birthday gift for your wife, I’d pay more attention when we’re in bed!” Hermione shot back.
Harry wondered, as she said that, how much of this was revenge against Ron, and how much of it was about a relationship with him. And he wondered if he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and had fallen in love with entirely the wrong woman. But there was nothing to be done for it now; he was in love with Hermione, and that wasn’t going to change.
“I didn’t set out to have an affair with Hermione,” Harry said, trying to put himself between the two of them, afraid it was going to come to blows. “It’s like she said, Ron. It just happened.”
Ron gave him a scathing look. “Your tongue just happened to fall down her throat, and your hand just accidentally went under her shirt. Harry, you can’t tell me that. An accident’s when you trip in the cafeteria and put your hand on someone’s tit when you catch yourself. Having my wife naked on a lab bench is not a bloody accident.”
“She wasn’t naked,” Harry pointed out, before he thought better of it.
“Stop calling me your wife like I’m a bloody possession.” Hermione shoved at Ron, and Harry caught his friend’s arm to steady him before he fell over. Ron shook them both off so he could stand, arms crossed, expression mutinous.
“You are my wife,” Ron pointed out. “And I’m your bloody husband. We took vows, Hermione. Vows. We’re supposed to be faithful.”
She snorted. “That’s what you call lusting after every woman you see?”
“I’ve never touched any of them!” Ron yelled. “I look. I’m married, but I’m not bloody well dead. But that’s all I do. I’ve never touched one, and that’s not for lack of opportunity. May Warner, down in the Hit Wizard bullpen? She pinned me in the locker room one day, said she wanted a war hero like me. And that’s just the most recent one. It happens all the bloody time and not once have I ever given in.”
“Get out.” Hermione’s voice was flat and low as she pointed at the door, her other arm crossed over her chest, holding her blouse closed. “Get out, and I don’t want to see you tonight. I’ll be staying at… at… I’ll be staying with Lavender.” Which stated quite simply how little she wanted to go home, if she was willing to put up with a night in Lavender’s flat instead.
“Fine.” Ron turned sharply and stalked out, the door slamming behind him.
“‘Mione,” Harry said softly. He took a step towards her, hand out, stopping when she held up her hand to him as well.
“No. You get out, too.” She pointed at the door, and when he didn’t move, she jabbed her finger strongly in that direction. “I mean it. I don’t want to see you, I don’t want see Ron, I don’t want to see anyone tonight. I’m going to go to Lavender’s, and I’m going to try to forget just how much the men in my life are complete idiots and how much of an idiot I am when I’m around either of them.”
Her jaw set, but he could see the quiver, see how close she was to tears. There was a soft gasp, and she stepped back, shaking her head when he would’ve reached out to her.
“I mean it.” Her voice shook. “Go away, Harry. Please.”
It was the please that convinced him. He tugged his shirt back on and turned his back while he buttoned it carefully. “I love you,” he said quietly.
And when she didn’t say it back, he wondered if he’d had everything wrong all along. Heart heavy, he left.
Chapter 16: Shine Like Shark Teeth
“Harry.” Neville sank down into the seat next to Harry in the cafeteria.
When Harry glanced up, he saw Neville’s somber expression, and offered a rueful smile in return. “I suppose you’ve heard then.”
Neville flushed. “Er. Yes. Quite loudly, last night, when Ron stopped by. Luna mentioned after he left that you’d told her, and I said it was best she not tell Ron she knew beforehand. She thinks he’s jealous.”
“Of course he’s jealous. I would be, too, if I were in his shoes.” Harry nudged at his cup of coffee. “I suppose I’m jealous of what he has with Hermione, too.”
“Because they have it, or because of who she is?”
Neville always managed to ask those questions that struck through to the heart. It made Harry see how perfect Neville and Luna were together, the way they thought and the way they both saw true. “Both,” he admitted. “I can’t seem to get it right, and honestly, the one person who’s felt the most right to me has been Hermione. But she’s not mine, she’s Ron’s. The thing is… ever since they started up, we’ve felt wrong altogether. I didn’t notice it at first, because I had Ginny. But it was like the three of us became a pair and an extra. And I’m the extra.”
“Luna thinks you and Ron ought—”
Harry stopped that line of conversation with a look. “I love your wife, Nev, but sometimes I don’t know what she’s thinking,” he said quietly. “Me and Ron? That’s not the way either of us is. We’re just in love with the same woman, not each other.”
Neville had his own cup of coffee in his hands, and for a moment, it took his attention, until it was drained dry and he set the empty down upon the table. “Everything’s changing. Doesn’t it seem that way to you, Harry?”
Harry frowned. “You and Luna are still good, aren’t you?”
“Of course,” Neville agreed quickly.
Too quickly, Harry thought, as Neville flushed and stared at his hands, clasped together on the table top. “Do you want to talk about it?” he nudged his best mate.
The flush only intensified. “Everything’s still brilliant, it really is,” Neville said. “It’s just that—we’re grown up now. We’ve got jobs, and Luna wants a baby, and she thinks she’s pregnant already, although I don’t think she can know that yet. It used to be all new, and now it’s just… there.” He huffed a low sigh. “Do you think that’s what happened with Ron and Hermione? That the magic just went out of their marriage?”
So that was it: Neville was afraid that his own marriage might falter. Harry nudged him lightly. “Luna’s not going to cheat on you. She loves you to distraction, you know that, right? She wouldn’t be having a baby with you otherwise.”
“True.” Neville still seemed dubious. “But that’s what Ron thought, that nothing could come between himself and Hermione. They always seemed perfect to us, didn’t they? They argued sometimes, but all couples do that. But then they just—”
“Broke,” Harry supplied with a rueful smile. “Which was all my fault, Nev. Put the blame where it goes. Just because the magic’s quiet doesn’t mean it’s gone altogether. There’s still a spark of it there, and Ron and Hermione will figure out how to rekindle it, and they’ll be fine. And Luna and you will have this brilliant baby, and you’ll ask me to be godfather of course, and it’ll be like a whole new influx of magic in your lives. That’s what happens. Sometimes things are better, sometimes they’re worse, but you’ll climb out of the odd bits and be happy.”
Neville was nodding along as Harry spoke, and at the end he reached out, touching Harry’s hand. “Someone will come along for you, too,” he said. “You’re not going to be in the dark forever. You’ve got your sparks, too.”
Harry pulled his hand back and lifted his cup, not sure he believed Neville. After all, he’d found his spark, bright and shining and glorious. Except he’d stolen it from Ron’s fire, and he wasn’t allowed to keep it, and he hoped he hadn’t lost his best mates in the process.
“Oi! Neville! Harry!”
Harry glanced at the door to see Ron looking into the room, somehow avoiding looking directly at them as he called them over. He couldn’t erase the rueful look as he motioned for Neville to get up, and shrugged into his own outer robes that he’d discarded. He left the empty cup behind on the table.
“He doesn’t look like he’s willing to talk to you,” Neville said quietly as they threaded through the crowd towards the door.
“I’m sorry you’re stuck in this position,” Harry murmured in return. “But we’re all still partners, and still working together, and at least he’s being professional enough to deal with that. I just get the feeling you’re going to be stuck as interpreter.”
Neville shook his head. “I trust Ron to put the job first. What we’re doing is important, and in the end, you’re still our team leader.”
“And I’m still the man who shagged his wife,” Harry said bluntly. “I don’t think he can put that aside so easily.” No more than Harry had been able to look at Ron before without feeling guilty about what he was doing. It was going to sit there, between them, until they dealt with it. They just weren’t ready to deal with it yet.
“Just got word that three more houses went dark in Otter’s Ridge,” Ron said curtly, his gaze fixed on Neville as if Harry weren’t there. “We’re going out there immediately, since it seems the nest’s awake.”
“Do we have information yet from Mysteries on what the creatures are, or how to fight them?” Harry asked.
There was a long moment of silence as Ron’s jaw set tight. Harry could imagine the war in his mind, with Ron deciding whether to listen to him, or to make Neville interpret. And worse yet, Harry had invoked Mysteries, and thus, Hermione. A flush rose under Ron’s freckles, and his voice went tight. “No. We don’t have anything from Mysteries to go on, so we’re going in with Muggle torches and we’re going to do this the hard way. We don’t have time to wait for more information.”
“Right.” Neville pushed at Ron, then Harry, shoving them both out into the hall. “Then let’s get moving. It’s already heading towards dark, and we don’t want to make this any harder on ourselves than it already is. I’ll pick up one of those Muggle things for communication, and if Mysteries has any better ideas, they can fellytone us.”
Ron didn’t look at Harry as they walked down the hall, and Harry felt that wall grow between them, thick as stone. He wasn’t sure he was ever going to be able to get through that wall again.
Chapter 17: She Took My Heart
“I could’ve gone with Neville,” Harry said.
“Neville went with Blake,” Ron replied flatly. He swept his hand side to side, the narrow beam of his torch illuminating the living room of the house they were exploring. “Four of us, and this is how we’re paired up. It’s fine.”
It clearly wasn’t fine. Ron’s shoulders were hunched, his back tense, his jaw tight and set. His skin retained a flush under the freckles, and his breathing was rough as if he were ready to start yelling any moment.
Harry would almost have preferred that—if Ron had yelled at him. Then they could fight and get it out in the open. This silent, sullen stewing was going to drive him round the bloody bend. “Look, Ron—”
“Shut up.” Ron stopped at a door and put one hand on the handle. He twisted slowly, then nudged it open, inch by cautious inch.
“No.” Harry crossed his arms, the beam of his torch landing on the wall, casting a silhouette from a nearby lamp. “Let’s have this out, Ron. If we don’t, you’re going to be distracted, and I know I’m going to be bloody well distracted, and then it’ll come out at the worst moment. Let’s be done with it before we’re in too deep.”
Ron spun back to face him, the door bouncing shut. “Have it out? Is that what you want?” He snorted darkly. “This isn’t something we’re going to talk out and have it be all better, Harry. You fucked my wife, and she broke my bloody heart. It’s not simple.”
“I know it’s not simple,” Harry protested. “How the bloody hell do you think I felt when the two of you started up back when we were seventeen?”
“You said you were happy for us!” Ron shouted. “In fact, you pushed us together. You were with Gin, and I was with ‘Mione, and everything was perfect. That was supposed to be our life, Harry, but then you had to go and arse everything up. You broke it off with Ginny and nothing’s been right since.”
“Oh, so this is my fault? I’m not the only one who’s been an idiot here!” Harry yelled back. “Ginny and I breaking up had nothing to do with it. She wasn’t the right person for me, Ron. She wasn’t, and no one else has been until—”
“Until Hermione?” Ron sucked in a breath, harsh in disbelief. “Harry, you’re talking about the girl I’ve fancied since I was fourteen. She doesn’t want you, she wants me.”
“She doesn’t want you to be an arse to her,” Harry snapped. “You’re the one who was feeling flat and who decided to go out a bit. You’re the one who pushed the envelope until she got lonely. I didn’t make her kiss me and I didn’t make her shag me. There’s something between us, whether you want to see it or not. And it’s something brilliant.”
“She’s mine,” Ron growled.
“She’s not a bloody possession!” Harry yelled. He took a step back, huffing out a frustrated sigh. “Look, it’s over. She doesn’t want to see me any more than she wants to see you. And I’m not even going to try to change her mind about me.” Which broke his heart but what else could he do? This was Ron and Hermione and he’d known all along it was the wrong thing to do. And now he’d hurt them both, which was worse than hurting himself. So he had to try and fix things, the only way he knew how. “You need to woo her. Start over again.”
Ron gave him a dark look. “I don’t have to start over again. We’re still married.”
“And she’s still entirely pissed at you,” Harry said. “She was before we were shagging. You need to admit you’ve been an arse about things, and you need to spoil her. Take her out. Stop talking about other women in front of her. Else next time it might not be me she goes to for comfort.”
As if going to anyone else would make it easier. Harry wondered if it were better to be betrayed by a friend or a stranger, or if betrayal was just betrayal, no matter what. “Look—” he started to say, stepping forward, one hand out.
Ron turned away, hand on the door again. “No. We’re done talking about this.” He twisted the handle and shoved the door open quickly.
He was standing in the doorway when something came flying out of the depth of the darkness beyond that door. Something. Two somethings. More than two somethings, more than Harry could count.
They swarmed over Ron, rushing past him, coming at Harry, who dropped his torch and the light went out with a crack. He sought his wand, but when it came out and he shouted a spell, nothing happened. There was another thunk, and the room went completely black.
“Ron!” he yelled.
“No magic!” Ron shouted back. “And I dropped m’bloody torch!”
In the dark, the battle began.
Chapter 18: Bloody Reaper
Harry couldn’t count the creatures. His eyes adjusted quickly enough to the faint light from the windows so that he was able to catch the movement of hazy shadows, but his mind went from one, to two, to swarm. Too many of them, all moving quickly.
All arguments stopped as Ron pushed towards him, and they turned, back to back, facing the creatures that circled them. There was a momentary pause, and Harry shook his wand as if that might somehow make it work again.
He raised it, leveling it at the creature and cast.
There was a fierce chittering, and the shadows moved.
“Harry!” Ron shook his arm, and one of the creatures flew off and back into the depths of the darkness. “Bloody hell, these things have sharp teeth!” Then the time for talk was over.
Harry didn’t know what to do. He’d trained to fight physically, but his training had never accounted for anything so small, or so numerous. For creatures like this, he had magic, and he had protocol. Subdue. Contain. It was supposed to be simple, but in the dark and without his wand, it wasn’t simple at all.
A claw swiped at his hand, and he flinched, dropping his wand. He heard it strike the floor and bounce, rolling away to somewhere unseen. He needed to find it later, but there wasn’t time to think about that now.
As creatures climbed him, he grabbed them, trying to knock them into each other, or throw them away from himself. But it seemed like for every one he pulled off, another two appeared. He remembered the way he had gripped the one he brought to Hermione, and he tried that, trapping arms against its body, careful of the teeth. It worked for a moment, then he felt claws on his shoulder, clinging to his neck. Felt that drain as if magic slipped out of him, and he panicked.
After years of training, after all that time spent working towards destroying Voldemort. After being the saviour of the wizarding world, Harry panicked because he felt his magic slipping away. And if his magic were gone, would he still be Harry Potter?
With a guttural shout, Harry flung the one in his hands away. He heard it strike the wall, heard the cry of pain, shrill and sharp and inhuman. It pricked his ears, and he yelled back, charging at the creatures. He wasn’t going to lose everything he had become, everything that had saved him, to these creatures. He had already lost Hermione, and Ron, he refused to lose himself as well.
He yanked open the door to the room again—there must be a nest in there—and started throwing the creatures into it as hard as he could. They were fast, scrabbling towards him to escape again, but he managed to get a half dozen of them in before he slammed the door shut. He wasn’t sure how many were left, though. “Ron!” he yelled. “How many have you gotten rid of? What’s left?”
Harry stilled, taking a moment to listen. There was movement in the shadows, but nothing big. Nothing shaped like Ron.
Oh bloody hell, no.
Harry waded in, pushing his way through creatures, throwing them this way and that, heedless of their teeth and claws. There was no way he was going to win this fight, no way to destroy these creatures. What he needed to do now was get Ron and get out.
He felt something roll under his feet and slid down to his hands and knees. His palm rested on his wand, and he pocketed it without thinking before crawling forward, reaching out. Fingers slid across the floor until he struck something soft. Ron’s hand. And not a sound from him. “Bloody hell. Ron.”
Harry wrapped his arms around his partner and worked his way to his feet. Ron was taller than Harry, and hard to drag as a dead weight, unconscious. Harry prayed he wasn’t actually dead, but he wouldn’t know for certain until he got him outside.
He kicked a creature away when it tried to climb his leg, and grabbed another off Ron’s shoulder and threw it across the room. He gained speed with each step so he could barrel through the door, shoving it open with his shoulder. He stumbled onto the front porch. In the dim light from the moon, he saw the creatures come into the doorway and hesitate before slipping back.
They’d just been defending their nest. As soon as he was out of it, they didn’t care about him anymore.
Harry slid to the ground, trying to let Ron down easily. Fingers slid under his jaw, seeking the faint thread of a pulse. He felt tension slip away when he found it, and he moaned softly, worried at just how faint it was. He needed to heal Ron, but he wasn’t sure he could muster the magic. Farther from the nest… Harry needed to move them both away from the house, put distance between them and the creatures, whatever they were.
He wrestled Ron over his shoulder again and made his way down the steps and across the lawn with slow and stumbling steps. He didn’t set Ron down so much as they both fell to the ground, Harry half on top of Ron. He pulled his wand out, fingers sliding over exposed skin, seeking bites and scratches and starting to heal them.
“Don’t die on me, Ron,” he whispered. “I know you hate me, but bloody hell, you’ve been my best mate for half my life. You can’t leave me now. I need you.”
It felt like every spell slipped beneath Ron’s skin, seeping into him without working, as if his body were hungry for the magical energy. So Harry gave it to him, casting over and over, pouring healing energy into him until he felt it build like a bright light around them.
When Ron stirred, murmuring, Harry didn’t stop. He was exhausted, but magic was still being absorbed by Ron, still being sucked away as Harry gave it, and Harry wasn’t willing to risk Ron’s life if he stopped too soon.
Harry didn’t want to let creatures steal his magic away, but if it took giving all he had to save Ron, he’d do that. He’d rather live without magic than live without his best mate.
He felt it draining him, felt exhaustion stealing over him, making his limbs heavy and leaden. One final spell, cast into a bright light, like stars in the sky around them. Then Harry’s eyes closed, and everything went blissfully away.
Chapter 19: I See a Storm
Harry opened his eyes into a brightness stronger than daylight.
He was wrapped around Ron, clinging to him as wind swirled around them. It was a magical storm battering them, and Harry ducked his head, burrowing in close against Ron’s shoulder, gratified when he felt Ron’s hand at the back of his head, protective.
“What is this?” Harry yelled.
“Don’t bloody well know, but it’s magic!” Ron yelled back. “Can’t you feel it?”
And he could feel it, once Harry thought about it. Magic, seeping into his bones, making his body buzz with the light of it. Pure magic. Raw magic, with him and Ron at the center. He nodded, and that sensation was odd, his cheek against Ron’s chest. He felt Ron’s heartbeat, and his own echoing the same pace, swift and true.
“Maybe I did it when I healed you!” Harry’s arms tightened around Ron, and he pulled. “We should sit up!”
“I tried!” Ron shook his head quickly. “Wasn’t a good idea. Fell right back over, with you on top of me. You were bloody well out of it.”
“So were you, not all that long ago.” The sound of the storm abated somewhat, letting them speak, but the winds still swirled. “But we’re both awake now.”
Ron made a noise, and Harry wasn’t sure if it was assent or frustration. So he just lay there for a time, not sure what to do, and oddly comfortable despite the position.
“I’m still angry at you,” Ron said.
And Harry knew that. He could feel it, simmering beneath the surface, bubbling and waiting to burst out again. But he also knew Ron was worried, and upset, and exhausted, and somehow comfortable here as well.
All things he ought to have no way of knowing for certain, and yet if someone asked him what Ron felt right now he’d stake his life on knowing the answer.
“I know,” he replied quietly, because he didn’t want to talk about the rest. It was just the storm, and the healing, and of course Ron was bloody well exhausted. They both were. Losing magic would do that to a person.
His eyes closed against the brightness. He didn’t need to see the storm; he could feel it buffeting him constantly, pushing him closer to Ron until they had no choice but to cling together and wait it out.
Muffled voices, yelling, indistinct words and phrases, barely heard over the beat of Ron’s heart. They were calling to him, but Harry didn’t bother to answer. There was a storm in the way, and if they wanted him, they could stop it. There was nothing he could do.
The silence when it finally fell away was a shock.
Harry blinked into the darkness, the bright of the magic leaving strange trails in his vision. Without the storm pushing at him, he was able to disentangle himself from Ron and sit up.
Harry blinked, looking back at Ron in confusion. His hand rested against Ron’s chest, palm pressed against his heartbeat. He slowly pulled it back, and felt bereft, then angry for the sensation.
The two of them pushed away from each other, coming to their feet roughly until Blake caught at Ron and Neville slid an arm under Harry’s shoulders.
“Don’t push yourself,” Neville said quietly. “It was like you were in a magical cocoon. What did you do?”
“Healed Ron,” Harry said, his gaze drifting back to the other man and catching him scowling. He dropped his gaze and sighed. “He was in bad shape, and I had to pour magic into him. More than usual. Those things sapped what he had and he was going to be—”
Like those people in St. Mungo’s who would never be magical again. Ron would’ve been like a Muggle. Mundane. A Squib. And it would’ve killed him. Harry knew that like he knew his own name, and his own thoughts on the subject.
“I can stand just fine on my own!” Ron shoved Blake away, then wavered there, hands out, keeping his balance before he stumbled a step and caught himself. He crouched slightly, lowering his center of gravity, waiting until he had control before he stood again.
And Harry felt every moment of it. He knew why Ron stood the way he did, the fact that he hated looking weak and feeling like he was dependent. He knew Ron didn’t want to look like he didn’t know what was going on, so he’d fake it and act strong and in control. He knew Ron didn’t want to look at him, but kept sneaking glances anyway in a swift wash of anger, jealousy, and fondness.
Harry knew things that there were no way he should know. And when he caught Ron’s gaze, gobsmacked and confused, he knew Ron was having the same reaction.
“We need to get back to the Ministry,” Neville spoke as if he didn’t notice anything odd going on. “Blake, you take charge here, and make sure things get cleaned up. Don’t go back into the house. I’m guessing they found a nest.”
“Big one,” Harry said, spreading his hands. “I don’t know if we actually killed any of the creatures—”
“Demoraguin,” Neville supplied. At the quizzical looks Ron and Harry gave him, he shrugged. “That’s why I was coming to get you. Luna’s found something about them. They aren’t Oriental at all. But they aren’t common either, and they’re dangerous.”
“We noticed,” Harry said dryly. “We had to fight them off by hand, and every time they bit us, a bit of magic seeped away. They swarmed Ron, and well, you’ve heard the rest.”
“Right.” Neville gave him an odd look, and left it at that. “Can you both walk on your own? We’ll head back to the apparition point, then we can go from there to the Ministry. Hermione and Luna are waiting for us.”
Ron’s lips pressed thin, and Harry couldn’t look at him again after that. He could feel the waves of anger rolling off of him.
“Couldn’t she pass it off to someone else in Mysteries?” Ron muttered.
“No. It’s her project, and you’ll have to be professional about it,” Neville said bluntly. “This is something for the five of us to solve. We started it, and we’ll finish it, same as we ever did. And you two will just have to put things aside for the moment to get it done.”
“I can do that,” Harry said quietly.
There was a moment’s reflection, and a soft bubbling of frustration, before Ron said, “Yeah, I can too. Sooner we’re done with this—”
The sooner they could be done with each other. Ron didn’t have to finish the sentence; Harry could hear it plain as day.
Chapter 20: Where Am I Now?
Harry had never felt this awkward with these particular people before.
The only one who looked comfortable was Luna, who stood near the table at the center of the room, her expression lighting with a bright smile when she saw the three Aurors come in. She rushed to meet them, hugging her husband first, then reaching to take first Ron’s hands, inspecting them closely, then Harry’s. She hmmed softly as she looked over the now-healed bites and claw marks, her brow knit in a frown.
“The book did say that the Demoraguin have vicious claws,” she said, still holding Ron’s hand as she regarded him, head cocked.
Harry looked past her to where Hermione stood, arms crossed over her heart as if she could hold herself together that way. She caught her lip in her teeth, gaze shifting when he saw her looking at him. Worry was writ in her expression, but she didn’t go to either Ron or Harry.
He nodded at her, trying to motion for her to join Ron, even as he stepped off to the side, out of the way, but she didn’t move. Harry wanted to tell her that it was okay, that he was stepping back and there wasn’t to be any pretending. He knew she loved Ron, and he knew Ron loved her.
He felt that leap in Ron’s heart echoed in his own when he finally looked at Hermione, and a slow, shy smile bloomed. He felt the flush beneath Ron’s freckles, felt the sudden tightness when Hermione again looked away.
Harry felt too much, and not enough, and that made his skin itch in uncomfortable ways. Maybe Hermione had the right of it, so he crossed his own arms, telling himself that he wasn’t wrapping his arms around himself to keep from flying apart.
“I’m so pleased that you and Harry were able to sort things out properly,” Luna said cheerily, finally letting go of Ron’s hand.
“What?” Ron sputtered. “We haven’t sorted anything.”
Well, they had, Harry thought, but not the way Luna was likely thinking. “In a way,” he said.
“Oh?” Hermione didn’t move, but both eyebrows slid up.
Harry felt Ron’s hunger, his need to hold his wife. He shivered, trying to keep it at bay.
Luna cocked her head, attention shifting from Ron to Harry and back again. “It’s quite obvious you’ve come to an understanding,” she said. “It’s your energy, entwined again, possibly even more tightly than before. Did you find time to—”
“We didn’t do anything,” Harry said quickly, before she could blurt out any ideas of him and Ron doing, well, anything. Like shagging. Or being oddly closer than they had ever been, even though Ron was still bloody well furious at him. “We got in a fight, Luna, and Ron almost died. I healed him. End of story. Just a typical day’s work.”
At that, Hermione finally moved, slow steps until she was by Ron’s side, his hand in hers as she looked at the wounds. “You healed him,” she said slowly. “I remember how much work it took to heal you when that creature bit you. And the effect it had on you.”
This was the part Harry couldn’t explain, so he simple shrugged. “I don’t know. I just—he didn’t have enough magic of his own, so I poured mine into him as best I could. It seems to have worked.”
“Can you cast spells?” Hermione looked up at Ron’s face, and he gazed down at her, wary and wondering all at once.
It took a moment, then Ron nodded. He shook his wand out of his sleeve and brought it up, casting a quick Lumos just to prove he could. They both looked at Harry then, and he brought out his wand to do the same.
“See, we’re fine,” Ron said. “Just as good as when we went in.”
Only they weren’t, but Harry wasn’t ready to explain that to Hermione, not when he didn’t understand it himself. Debriefing. Rest. And at some point he needed to talk to Ron, who he was fairly certain didn’t actually want to talk to him.
“Let’s sit down and go over what we know, then I think Ron and Neville and I all need some rest before we go back in.” Harry gestured at the table, yanking out a chair and dropping into it. He waited until the others sat as well before he continued. “The real question is, do we have any answers that are going to help us? You’ve got a name for these things, right?”
“Demoraguin,” Luna said. She opened an ancient book on the table and nudged it toward where the three Aurors sat together, Neville between Harry and Ron as if they needed to be kept apart.
Harry would rather have sat next to Ron right now, and for that reason alone he was relieved that Neville had placed himself between them. He didn’t want the distraction of trying to examine his instincts.
He pulled the book closer, and took a good look at the images on the page. It was definitely the same creature, from the bulbous head to the skinny body, to the three inch claws and the sharp rows of teeth.
“The name is derived from a goddess of magic,” Luna said. “I think she wasn’t a goddess, but rather she was a witch, and she was powerful, and legends say that once upon a time she grew angry with a lover and chose to drain him dry. Of life and of power. So she created these creatures to do her bidding. Each bite or claw strike steals a whisper of magic’s breath, until the person is drained dry. Or if they live with them, just being near them can do the same, much like it’s done to Otter’s Ridge.”
“So what are these creatures doing in Otter’s Ridge now, and how do we get rid of them?” Ron asked, leaning forward to look at the book. Harry reached for the page at the same time as Ron did, their fingers bumping, and Harry pulled his hand back to let Ron turn it.
The next page showed a dark circle, and the creatures being sucked through it, like a vortex.
“The legends say that they were exiled after Morrigan created them,” Luna said. “Three wizards worked together to create the hole that sent them away.”
“Where?” Hermione asked.
“It doesn’t say,” Luna said. “Just away.” She smiled then. “All we have to do is what they did, and we’ll send them away as well.”
As if it were just that simple. Harry loved Luna for her outlook on life, and her quiet belief, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to face these things with only that belief on their side. “So what did they do? How did they create something that looks a lot like a magical hole in the world when they couldn’t use magic?”
“I don’t know.” Luna didn’t seem bothered by that at all. “There were three of them, and the book implies that it only worked when they were together.” She cocked her head, fingers lightly brushing the illustrations. “Of course, there were fewer of the Demoraguin then, and they were less entrenched. I think it might take all five of us,” she decided. “Odd numbers are magically strong, primes particularly so.”
Harry wished he believed her, but at this point, they didn’t have anything better, so he just nodded. “I hope that works, Luna.”
“It will,” she said sagely. “I’m quite positive of it. Then the Demoraguin will be sent back to wherever it is that they belong, and Otter’s Ridge will be safe.”
“How do you think they got here in the first place?” Neville wondered aloud. “Do you think that’s important?”
“Jealousy,” Ron muttered.
Harry felt the twist in his gut at that. “Not ours,” he said quickly. “Otter’s Ridge started long before that. But someone there must’ve been so furiously jealous that they invoked the dark magic to pull them out of their prison. They probably didn’t realize that the Demoraguin would wreak havoc on the whole village, not just whoever they were angry with.”
“I don’t think it matters who brought them in, not while we’re working on banishing them,” Hermione decided. “You’ll have to sort that out later if you want to bring charges against them for dark magic. Right now, thought, we need to exile them again.”
“Before anything else, I need some sleep,” Ron said, rubbing the heel of his hand against one eye. “I’m bloody well exhausted. Might have my magic, but I still feel like I’ve been drained dry.”
Harry felt the same and just wanted to collapse. But at the same time, he felt this energy slipping through him, making him all too aware of the man who felt too far away right then. He glanced at Ron, looking down when he saw him glancing back. “I think we should stick together,” he said.
“You’ll sleep better if you’re together,” Luna said. “If you and Ron are too far apart, your energy will falter.”
Hermione’s lips pressed thinly, and she drew her wand out. When Ron pulled back, she shook her head and made him sit quietly while she examined him. At each soft “hmm” from Hermione, Luna’s smile only grew.
“Do you see?” Luna asked.
“Best to put them in one room,” Hermione said, tone flat. “Do you think the two of you can manage not to kill each other?”
“I’m not going to his flat,” Ron said. “And I’m not sleeping in any bloody bed where he shagged you.”
“I’m not exactly comfortable being thrown into the bed where you live with ‘Mione,” Harry admitted with a small glare.
“We’ll go back to our place.” Neville had gotten up, and now stood with his arm around Luna’s shoulders, seeming somehow taller with her petite frame pressed against him. “We’ve two guest rooms, and everyone can get some rest. We’ll sort the rest in the morning and make plans over breakfast, and tomorrow we’ll finish this out.”
“Hermione—” Ron’s voice faded at a look from his wife. “I just wanted to know what you—”
“We’re not talking about this now.” Her tone was no longer flat, pained in a way that tore at Harry’s heart. “Just get some rest. You and Harry’ll both feel better in the morning, and we’ll make sure neither of you is still injured then.”
There didn’t seem to be much else to be said or done. Harry reached out, touched Ron’s shoulder, hand staying in the air when Ron twisted away. “I’m sorry,” Harry said quietly.
“You seem to be saying that a lot lately, and shite keeps happening,” Ron said.
He wouldn’t let Harry anywhere near him as they traveled to the Longbottom home. But once they were in the same room, in the same bed, Harry felt the mattress shift behind him before Ron’s back budged up against his own. And touching like that, he was finally able to relax, and close his eyes and slip off to sleep.
Chapter 21: Broken Into Fifty Pieces
Harry woke when the bed moved. Ron had rolled away, hugging the edge of the bed, leaving a body-warmed empty space between them. Harry idly swept it with his fingertips, as if he could still feel Ron’s impression there, and he didn’t want to look too closely at the ache he felt at its loss.
He closed his eyes so he could let go again, but sleep eluded him. He breathed into the darkness, trying to ignore the flashes of memory. The feel of Hermione’s soft sigh when he kissed her. The fear that clenched at his gut when the creatures swarmed Ron. They mixed together, swirling into strange not quite dreams that only made him more tense as time went on.
He swung his legs out, sitting up, elbows on his knees as he bent forward, head in his hands. He rubbed at aching eyes, wishing for sleep, and wishing for something else he couldn’t define. Maybe getting up, just for a moment, would help.
Harry made his way on bare feet into the kitchen, clad only in a pair of Neville’s trackies that he’d transfigured to fit his shorter frame. He dug around in the cabinets until he remembered where the glasses were, then ran himself a bit of cold water from the sink. He was just leaning against the counter, staring at the ceiling, glass in his hand when he heard movement elsewhere.
He walked into the living room and smiled when he saw a wand lying on an end table, a soft Lumos setting a gentle halo around Hermione as she curled in the corner of the sofa, reading. “Couldn’t sleep?” he asked softly.
She glanced up, eyes wide as a startled fawn, then smiled slowly. “Not very well, no.” The smile didn’t reach her eyes, leaving her expression cold and forlorn. “I haven’t been sleeping terribly well lately.”
“I’m sorry, ‘Mione. I made a mess of things.” Harry sank down onto the sofa next to her, leaving the glass on the coffee table nearby. He lifted one arm, offering her space, tucking her in against his side when she accepted it.
Her hand fell against his chest, her head curled in close. “It’s not just your fault,” she whispered. “It’s mine. It’s his. We all had a part in making this mess. It’s just—”
“What?” He let his hand slide over her shoulder, soothing her in ways he would have before, when they were just friends. Giving her the comfort he hadn’t been able to give before.
“Something’s happened,” she said softly. “Everything’s different now, Harry, and it hurts.”
“You don’t.” She swallowed hard, and Harry felt a spot of dampness starting on his shirt and knew she must be crying quietly. “I feel like—I feel like everything’s shattered. We were so perfect, the three of us, and now we’re nothing. We’re a complete mess, and I don’t know what to do.”
“‘Mione…” Harry waited until she looked up at him before he touched her face, tilted her chin up and pressed a light kiss to her nose, then her lips. “No matter what else happens, I love you. He loves you. You know that, right?”
“I know. And he loves you, too, Harry. He’s arsed off right now, and nothing’s right, but you’re still his best mate. He can’t live without you.” Her voice was soft and earnest before she leaned in and kissed him again, a soft whimper of knowing what she did with each touch.
“I can’t live without him in my life either,” he admitted. But it didn’t stop him, couldn’t stop him from offering what Hermione needed, and taking what she offered. Soft comfort, light touches. Nothing urgent, nothing needy, just the gentle outgrowth of the friendship they had always shared, shown in nuzzling kisses and light massage.
“I know,” she murmured against his mouth, his cheek, his neck. “I know.”
And right then, nothing seemed impossible. Harry felt like somehow they would work it out. They would find a way to be the Golden Trio again, no matter how much hate and frustration and anger poisoned them at the moment. And he wanted to stay in this place where everything bad was hidden away in the darkness, taking comfort in the light of a wand and Hermione’s kisses.
He should ask what next. He should wonder what would happen in the morning when they went back, and worry about whether all of them might be safe, or might return. He should be afraid of what could happen in the face of those creatures. But he put all of that aside, mouth sliding over Hermione’s shoulder as he tugged her across his lap, cradling her close. Tomorrow would be another day, and they could deal with it then.
Chapter 22: You Know You're Mine
Harry tried to be quiet as he went back to the room he was sharing with Ron, but it didn’t seem to matter. Ron rolled over, pushing himself up to sit as Harry closed the door. “Couldn’t sleep?”
It felt like an odd echo of his conversation with Hermione, and what was worse was that Harry could almost imagine it ending the same way. As he sat on the edge of the bed, he felt Ron’s tension, and the way the other man moved away from him, giving him plenty of space.
“Yeah,” Harry said. He stretched out slowly, lying back with his arms behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. “Too much on my mind.”
“Yeah.” Ron stretched out as well, mirroring Harry’s pose, a foot between them on the bed. Harry felt that nearness like an ache, and was torn between reaching out the bridge the distance and moving further away.
Silence slipped in around them like a tangible thing, blanketing them with waiting and wondering who would speak first.
“What did Luna mean?” Ron’s voice was low and quiet, the words careful as if he’d thought them over before speaking. “About you and me, what did she mean?”
“Luna’s got some daft idea that you and I ought to be—” Harry couldn’t finish the sentence. He knew Ron was tolerant, that he’d handled relationships among their friends with more tact than Harry had expected from him. But he also knew Ron wouldn’t ever consider such a thing for himself. He filled in the empty space with a shrug. “It was something she said to me a while back.”
No response save Ron’s hoarse breath. Harry counted the length of each inhalation, then exhalation, waiting.
“You know how Luna is sometimes,” Harry added softly.
“Yeah, I know.” Ron didn’t have to add that all too often, Luna was right. She saw things no one else saw, things no one else was able to look for.
But Harry wasn’t sure she was seeing true in this case. “Look, it’s just—”
“Just what, Harry?” Ron said. He rolled away, back to Harry, facing the other wall. “Just that I can feel you being twisted up inside. That I woke up when you left and felt how tense you were, and I felt when it changed.” A pause, Ron’s swallow audible. “You were with Hermione out there, weren’t you?”
Harry felt that tumbling sensation in his gut. “Yeah.” Almost too soft to be heard. “She couldn’t sleep either, so we were talking.”
Ron snorted. “That’s not talking, Harry. You were snogging my wife again.”
“Stop saying that, because you’re not.”
Harry had to admit, Ron was right. He was sorry he’d hurt Ron, but he wasn’t sorry about the time he’d spent with Hermione. “I love her, Ron. I think I always have.”
“So do I, mate.” Ron finally rolled back, onto his side, facing Harry, and Harry rolled to match him. “And you knew that when you started up with her.”
“Yeah, bloody well complicated.” Ron stared at him, and for a moment Harry thought there was something else he would say. “We can’t have this between us. Not now. Not if we’re going to survive tomorrow.”
“Our argument almost got you killed.” Harry still couldn’t forget the image of Ron buried under the creatures, the fear that he was going to lose his best mate for good.
“Yeah. Thanks for healing me.” Ron’s gaze drifted to somewhere over Harry’s shoulder.
“Course I did, what else would I do?” It had been pure panic and fear of loss that drove Harry. “But we can’t let that happen again. I’m not sure I could’ve brought you back from worse.”
“We’ll have Neville with us; he’s got a brill head on his shoulders.”
“So do Luna and Hermione,” Harry said. “We’ll all get through it together.” He hesitated before reaching out across that short distance between them. His hand covered Ron’s, squeezing it gently. “We can get through anything, yeah?”
Ron’s jaw was set with quiet tension, but he nodded. “Yeah. And Harry?”
Ron swallowed, his voice low when he spoke. “I forgive you. So yeah. I know some of it was what I did, and I know it was wrong on all sides. But I forgive you for being an arse.”
Harry’s smile quirked. “I forgive you, too. Let’s just get through tomorrow and we’ll figure out the rest then.”
Assuming they were all still alive. As his eyes closed, Harry tried not to think about that outcome, that five of them were going into Otter’s Ridge, but there was a chance they wouldn’t all come back. They had to come back. Anything else was impossible.
Chapter 23: Caught In The Wire
Harry didn’t like the feel of the thing in his ear, but Hermione had insisted that they needed a way to keep in touch. It was a Muggle ear bud and it looped over the top of his ear and nestled inside it, a tiny microphone budged up beneath his ear, against his jaw. He could hear every whisper of sound from his team, from Ron’s grumbling at the hour of morning to Luna’s soft humming. Hermione had assured them all that they didn’t need to speak loudly for it to work, and Harry was glad for that since he didn’t want to attract attention from the creatures. But it also meant there was nothing that they didn’t hear.
“Luna,” he murmured. “You need stop humming.”
“Or it’ll drive us all spare,” Ron grumbled.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Luna said cheerily. “I didn’t even notice that I was doing it.”
“You always do, love,” Neville offered.
“I do? Oh, it’s likely because my father taught me to. It scares off the Telios, you know. They can’t slip into your mind if you’re making noise.”
“Telios?” Hermione’s voice, curious as always, followed by Ron’s groan.
“Telios,” Luna confirmed. “They slip in through your ear and drive you quite mad thinking of all the might have beens that came out of things you’ve done. Insidious tiny creatures.”
Silence, and Harry wondered how many of them were thinking that they didn’t need any creatures for that sort of regret.
Neville’s voice came calmly. “I don’t think we need to worry about the Telios today. Is everyone set in position?”
That ought to have been Harry running this operation. Harry was the leader of this team, and he was in charge, but his mind wasn’t focused nearly well enough. He was glad that Neville could step in, and at the same time, frustrated that no matter how much he had promised to stay on track, he still couldn’t keep the proper level of focus.
They each sounded off, and Harry added, “Check in with what you’ve completed. We can’t afford to forget anything.”
Five nests had been identified, including the one Harry and Ron had stumbled into the night before. Luna had woken up early that morning, before anyone else, and sketched out a plan to drive the creatures together. It used magic, but they had mapped the places where magic still worked and used them to their advantage. They created pathways of magical darkness, so that they could flush the creatures out. The creatures loathed light, and by creating spaces of light and darkness, Luna had decided they could choose where the creatures would go, guiding them down a path of their own devising. When the creatures reached a magical space, the magic would fail, making that space bright and forcing them to flee into the next space of darkness. In the end, they should be able to gather all the creatures into one location.
Harry wasn’t sure what would happen next. Luna had assured him that they would figure it out, not at all worried that they didn’t have a specific plan for sending the creatures away. Harry, on the other hand, couldn’t stop thinking about that missing piece of information. Anything he could think of implied that they needed to have magic, but magic failed in the presence of the creatures.
He was the leader. He should know what to do to keep his team safe, and he had no idea. He had Luna’s faith, Neville’s calm, Ron’s stubborn energy, and Hermione’s resolve. But he didn’t have a plan.
However, he couldn’t deny that they were as ready as they could be. “Neville, did Blake confirm that the village is empty?”
“Everyone’s been evacuated,” Neville said. “He found a few that were still lingering, but they got them out on the sweep last night while they were looking for nests. Found one bloke who didn’t want to leave his house, even though there was a nest right in it, and his magic was dead gone. His wife already left a bit ago. She’s pregnant, worried what it’ll mean for the baby.”
“There weren’t any pregnant women in the legends I read,” Luna offered. “I would think that the baby would recover faster than the mum, though. Did she lose her magic?”
“She left not long after his mum disappeared,” Neville said. “Said anything that got a ghost like her out was something she didn’t want to be around, since she’d been trying to get the ghost out for years herself. But Minnerton wasn’t ready to leave until we told him he had to.”
Harry wondered if the marriage would survive that, with Minnerton choosing his mother’s ghost over his wife’s welfare, or if they’d talked it through beforehand. Talking, that was the key to all of it, he thought, although right about then he felt talked out.
And distracted still, no matter what he did.
“Right then,” Harry said quietly. “Seems like we’re ready to go. Is everyone in place?”
They sounded off again, each one standing in the living room of the home where their assigned nest lay. Harry was back where he’d been with Ron just the day before, and before he’d darkened the room (using drapes rather than magic, as it wasn’t working inside the house) he’d seen the scratches and marks in the floor from the fight they’d had.
He drew in a deep breath, let it out slowly. “Then we’ll start now. Lights!”
He yanked open the door as soon as he said it, shining the huge, bright torch into the room. It lit the room immediately, light bouncing even into the corners. Harry had just enough time to think oh bloody hell there are a lot of them before the seething mass of darkness in the center of the room moved.
“How many of the bloody things are there?” Ron’s voice was a shout in Harry’s ear, spurring him to movement. He fell backwards, through the doorway and into the darkness of the living room, scrambling out of the way as the crowd of creatures flooded past him.
“A lot.” Neville sounded breathless. “Haven’t been bit yet. Or scratched. Herding them out the door now.”
Right, herding them. Harry pushed to his feet, looking to the front door where a corridor of magical darkness was visible. He grabbed the heavy drapes he’d hung and yanked, letting sunlight into the room.
The chittering cry was shrill and angry, claws scrabbling against the floor. They weren’t all out of the nest yet, and when Harry looked back he saw a few cowering in corners, lingering in the few shadows that had been left, unwilling to flee into a room which was also bright.
Nothing to be done about it except going in and taking care of them on his own.
He waited until the creatures left, then stepped in quickly, wand out as he automatically tried to cast an entangling spell and grumbling when it failed.
“It’s working perfectly!” Harry could easily imagine the fist pump that went with Ron’s gleeful shout. “They’re running into the darkness,” Ron continued. “They don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Oh dear.” Luna’s voice was soft.
“Luna?” Neville sounded urgent. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s not terrible,” she said. “I’ve just been bitten.”
Harry reached out, grabbing one of the creatures in the corner, momentarily not sure what to do with it. At another soft oh dear from Luna, he decided and quickly shoved it through the window, out into the light. The creature cried out, piteous and angry, leaving behind a long scrape on his forearm before he dropped it.
“How many times?” Neville asked.
“Six.” A soft pause. “Make that seven. But don’t worry, it doesn’t feel awful. I don’t feel drained; it just hurts.”
Harry could agree with that; the scratch on his arm burned something awful. “We need to keep going,” he said, even though he wanted to tell Luna to step back and rest. “We need to get them all to the site.”
“Harry—” Neville sounded strangled.
But Harry imagined he could hear the calm smile in Luna’s voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll be quite fine. I promise I won’t endanger our baby.”
“You’re pregnant?” Ron said quickly.
“We’re not sure yet,” Neville told him.
“Of course I am,” Luna said. “What else did you think we were using the rack for?”
“Congratulations,” Ron said.
“Luna—” Neville started, but he cut off with a shout and a curse.
“Focus!” Harry shouted. “We need to focus here and get these creatures driven to the site. Luna, can you move?”
“I’m quite fine, Harry. I shan’t collapse until later.”
“Comforting thought,” Ron muttered.
“Come toward me, Luna,” Hermione said. “I can help you.”
Harry looked out, seeing creatures and darkness dropping, and knew he should have been running already. There was nothing else for it; he had to catch up. He grabbed the last of the creatures and took them with him, tumbling out through the window and into the sunlight. Then he ran for the site they’d prepped for the end. Hopefully by the time they all got there, they’d know what to do.
Chapter 24: Killer in the Hallway
Luna was sitting on the steps of the darkened home, blood on her forehead and scrapes down her arm. Her skin was pale, and her hair was streaked with red. Neville sat next to her, her small hands cradled carefully in his larger ones, his full attention on Luna.
“They’re all inside,” Hermione said quietly, from where she stood near Ron. “If you listen, you can hear them scrabbling about. But we don’t have any way of making sure they stay in there.”
“Luna can’t do more,” Neville said quickly. “I need to get her out to where there’s magic again, so I can heal her.”
“Don’t be silly,” Luna replied. “We can make bandages, and I’ll be fine.” She pushed herself to her feet, swaying slightly as she stood for a moment before her legs buckled and she sat back down with a soft exhalation of surprise. “Or perhaps not. It seems to have taken more out of me than I thought.”
The look Neville gave Harry was pained, and for a moment, Harry’s heart caught in his chest. Neville had been his constant through so many things, always there beside him, no matter how risky, no matter what the possible cost. But he could read the worry and love in Neville’s eyes, and knew he couldn’t ask him to do it again. “Get her clear,” he ordered curtly. “Go the edge of the zone, then go another hundred feet at least. It might grow with all of them gathered in one place. Ron, Hermione and I will take care of things.”
He risked a glance at his mates, at the two other people who had made him whole over the years, and was relieved to see them both nod. He felt Ron’s resolve settle under his skin, and he smiled slightly at that. They were still together here, and they wouldn’t let each other down. After all this time, after everything that had happened, they were still a trio when it counted.
Neville hesitated, then nodded once. “Our contact will be cut off once we’re back in the magic.” He tapped his ear with one fingertip, waiting a moment for Harry to realize what he meant.
They’d be alone once Neville and Luna left. No way to call for help. Just them, and that’s it. Harry returned the nod. “I know. It’s the only way this can work, Nev. You take care of Luna and make sure she’s all right, and let folks back in London know what’s going on. We don’t know what’ll happen when we finish exiling these creatures, but I have a feeling there’ll be a boom no matter what.”
“Couldn’t finish something this big without blowing something up,” Ron quipped. “Don’t worry, Nev, we’ve got everything in hand.”
“We’ll see you soon,” Hermione added, soft and serious. “I promise. Nothing’s going to happen to us.”
It was a good way to look at it, Harry supposed, keeping a positive outlook on life. But nothing was definite and Hermione couldn’t promise something like that, not truly. He couldn’t let his trepidation show.
Neville clasped his hand, then pulled him in for a backslapping one-armed hug, then did the same for Ron. Hermione wouldn’t let him go without a proper hug and a kiss to the cheek which left him blushing. Then he gathered Luna up in his arms, cradling her close as he walked away.
“Nothing left but to go on in,” Ron said.
“Last time we did that—” Harry’s voice trailed off, and he glanced at Ron. He didn’t miss Hermione’s worried glance, either. They both knew what he was thinking. “Look—” he began.
“Don’t say anything,” Hermione interrupted, stepping in close. “Whatever it is you’re going to say, if it comes out anything like goodbye, I’m going to be bloody well peeved with you. This isn’t goodbye, it isn’t any sort of an ending, and we’re going to send those horrible things back where they came from.”
She was standing right in front of Harry when she finished speaking, her hands on her hips, dark hair in a wild halo around her hair where it had escaped from being pinned back. And all he could think was how much he wanted to kiss her right then. He glanced past her and saw his own wry smile mirrored on Ron’s face, and with a sigh he said, “Right then, how about good luck instead?” He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek, holding out one hand.
After a moment, Ron joined them, one hand on Harry’s shoulder, his other arm resting across Hermione’s shoulders. Harry breathed in deep, let it out slowly, feeling the other two do the same. As silly as it seemed, the group embrace grounded him properly for the first time in months. He looked up, smiling at both of them. “Let’s go.”
Harry held his wand in one hand, fingers tight around the smooth, familiar wood. He knew it wouldn’t work, but he knew that at some point it had to work, because they had to open a vortex back to the right place. Hermione claimed she knew what would open it, but the trick was still the magic.
Hermione stood next to the door, a small pouch in one hand. She upended it, letting dust fall into her palm as she nodded at Ron, and he yanked the door wide. She whipped her hand out, letting dust fly through the open doorway, sparkling even in the non-light inside, naturally luminescent.
Harry wouldn’t pretend to understand, but Hermione had done her research. Whatever it was, it created tiny spots of pinprick light, all over the room. Creatures scuttled away, trying to hide, but it was just enough light to see them move in the shadows as Harry, Ron, and Hermione hurried in.
The door closed behind them, and Harry felt his heart thud with the kathunk of it closing.
Then the damned creatures attacked.
Hermine and Ron were supposed to fight while Harry focused on opening the vortex. Wand out, he repeated the spell, shouting it into the air trying to hear himself about the clicking of claws on wood or the scrabbling and shouts. Once. Twice. Three and then four times, and still nothing happened.
And at each shout and groan, something coiled in his gut. He felt each rip of Ron’s skin; he shuddered at the soft squeaks Hermione let slip when she was clawed.
“This isn’t working!” he yelled out.
“Try again!” Hermione called back. “We’re fighting them off best we can, but we need to do something.”
“There’re more than I can handle,” Ron yelled. “And when I cut them, they just… seem to keep coming.” He had a machete in hand, swinging it wildly. The metallic scent of the creatures’ blood was thick in the air, sickeningly overpowering.
Harry reached out with his free hand, seeking blindly. Fingers brushed against Ron’s shoulder and he felt a jolt slip through him. “Come here,” he ordered. “Closer. Both of you.”
“Can’t fight them if we’re right on top of you, mate,” Ron pointed out.
“He’s right, it’s not safe. We should stay where we are.”
“I don’t think we can get through this if you do,” Harry said. “I’ve got an idea, but I need you both over here with me.” Fingers slid against Ron’s shoulder again. “Do you feel that?”
A soft hiss of breath under the growls and scrabbling. “Yeah,” Ron said softly.
“Stop fighting them, then,” Harry said. “I want both of you right next to me. Hold onto my wand with me, and we’re going to do this together. Pool what magic we’ve got inside of us. I think it’s the only way.”
He wondered, for a moment, if it would be better with Neville and Luna there. If they needed five people to do this instead of three. But as Hermione’s hand closed over his, then Ron’s, doubt fled. He felt the warmth and spark as their fingers tangled and tightened.
Harry repeated the spell, slow and careful. Ron’s voice joined in, and Hermione’s, but a beat too late. He nodded once, then they did it again in perfect unison.
He felt the magic. Not like he usually did, as if he manipulated something that came from outside of him. No, this came from deep in his gut, pulling through him, stripping him from the inside. He felt the gasp from Hermione, felt the moment when Ron leaned more heavily against him, and knew they were affected too.
But it worked.
The stream was thin at first, a sickly white light bursting from the wand until they repeated the words again, and again, the magic flowing more strongly with every uttering of the spell.
It began to spin slowly at first, then picking up, becoming the vortex they had found in their research.
When the creatures began to scream, it made them falter, step back once, but they held on, and repeated the spell again, not letting it fall. They didn’t feel the pull, but the creatures did, scrabbling for purchase on the ground, on Harry, Hermione and Ron, on anything they could reach as it yanked them in. One by one they slid into it at, then two by two, then so fast that Harry couldn’t keep count.
It ached to hold the wand out like this, ached to feel this much power flowing through him, a bit like he thought getting hit by lightning might feel. But he took strength from having Ron and Hermione there, the three of them leaning into each other, keeping each other standing until the room was clear and a rush of sudden light bloomed.
When magic rushed back into the empty space, it knocked them off their feet. Spells whirred in the background, coming to life after being dormant, although at first Harry thought it was just the ringing of his ears. Still, he couldn’t deny the lamps that were lit magically, or the cuckoo clock that began to ring as if it needed to make up for months of missed song.
“It was a little bit of a boom,” Ron said.
Harry disentangled their fingers slowly, trying to take stock. He was lying on his back, Hermione against one shoulder, Ron’s head against his belly. His wand clattered to the ground as his hand fell to Ron’s hair, fingers idly making contact, slipping between the soft ginger strands. His other arm was around Hermione’s shoulder.
It seemed good until Hermione moved, pulling back, giving him an odd look. Then Ron slid away and suddenly they were three separate people instead of one linked trio and Harry felt bereft for it.
“You’re hurt,” he said, spotting blood staining their robes, not to mention his own.
“We all are. We ought to get back straight away to have these seen to,” Hermione said practically. “Those things might not be able to drain us further, but the wounds could still be infected.”
“Right, we ought to get back.”
Harry felt Ron withdraw with those words, felt the shift and change in how they related. He pushed himself to his feet, tucking his wand away. “Let’s get Neville and Luna and report back to headquarters. They’ll want a full report, and we’ll get our wounds seen to. Then everyone deserves a few days off.”
And maybe when those few days were done, things wouldn’t seem so awkward. Harry knew they’d never go back to normal, not after everything that had happened, but the least he could hope for was something civil.
Although looking at Ron’s stony expression, and Hermione’s carefully blank face, Harry wasn’t sure he could even hope for that.
Chapter 25: You Need Someone
After the events of Otter’s Ridge, time off wasn’t optional; it was required. The five of them had been debriefed, then sent to hospital for treatment, and told to take the next week off work. No one cared what they did with their time,as long as they didn’t show up in any of their respective offices.
Harry went home.
For the first day, he slept. Hours of sweet dreamless sleep, aided by a potion and followed by a long hot bath to soak his aching bones, then back to bed again directly.
When he woke late in the second day, he was sick of sleep, and heartily sick of his own flat. He still felt that bone deep ache, but it was easier to set aside the physical distress and look at the emotional ache beyond it. He dressed slowly, pulling on jeans worn almost too thin to be decent, and a soft Puddlemere t-shirt. He’d go out, he decided. He didn’t have anywhere specific to go, and even though felt like he ought to keep working out, he didn’t have the energy for a run. Maybe just a walk around the park, nothing too strenuous. Time to think and figure out where he was going to go from here.
He yanked open the door and paused, staring at the familiar ginger who stood with his back to the door. Ron turned, flushed to his ears, offering a small hesitant smile to answer Harry’s bewildered expression. “Hey, mate,” Ron said.
“I didn’t expect to see you.” Harry stated the obvious, but pulled the door open, motioning Ron inside. Whatever they had to say to each other, he knew it wasn’t going to be walk-in-the-park appropriate. Better to keep the private things private.
“Yeah, well.” Ron scrubbed a hand through his hair, smile rueful now. “I didn’t expect to be coming here, either, but this is where I ended up. Almost didn’t come in,” he admitted. “I was just about to walk away, if you hadn’t come out just then. Were you going anywhere in particular?”
Harry thought Ron seemed hopeful, as if they could get out and escape this conversation that was hanging over them. He shook his head slowly. “Just out to walk. Get some air. Try to… figure some things out.”
“Yeah.” Ron sighed. “Look, mate—” He took a deep breath, freckles dark against the flush on his cheeks. “I spent last night with Hermione. Rather, she actually came home last night. Spent it with me.”
It felt like a kick in the gut, swift and sharp, and Harry gritted his teeth against the urge to double over and protect himself against another blow. “Course she did,” he said, trying to keep his tone even. “She’s your wife. I’m glad she’s forgiven you. And you’ve forgiven her,” he added after a brief hesitation. “You two’ve always belonged together.”
“Yeah.” Ron made a face. “Sorry. It’s just—this isn’t easy, right? I mean, I was glad she was there. And I love her, and I’m still pissed as all fucking hell about what the two of you did. But—” he trailed off, the flush rising again, deepening. “Look, it’s weird. But I missed you.”
Harry dropped onto the sofa, letting it take his weight as he sank into it. “I’ve missed you, too.” He tried to keep it mild. “We’re best mates. I hated fighting with you. I didn’t want to fuck you over.”
“So it would’ve been easier if she were someone else’s wife?”
It was Harry’s turn to flush brightly. “No. It’s just—I lost both of you this way. I’ve lost both my best mates, and I fucked you guys up in the process.”
Ron lowered himself more slowly onto the sofa, settling in next to Harry as he stretched his long legs out. It created a crater that Harry found himself tilting towards, instinctively seeking the warmth of Ron’s body. He struggled to stay upright and resist Ron’s gravitational pull.
“We were fucked up before you got involved in it,” Ron said slowly. “And it wasn’t just me, or just her. It was both of us. We’ve never been quite right, just the two of us on our own. I’m not the kind of bloke that treasures her. At least I’m no good at showing her how I feel anyroad. And she’s the sort of girl who gets all done up in her work, and I get bored when she’s not around. It used to work when we were kids because we always had you around when we needed something. Then we grew up and it all got arsed up royally.”
“It hasn’t been the same since Hogwarts,” Harry said quietly.
“It wasn’t even always the same during the war.” Ron glanced over at him. “When I ran off and left you two on your own, did you—”
Harry’s eyes widened, and he shook his head. “When we were hunting horcruxes? No. It didn’t even occur to me then. We were close, yeah, and we slept next to each other, just like we did when it was three of us. But until recently I always just knew she was yours.”
Ron snorted. “She’d point out that she’s not a possession, and that she doesn’t actually belong to either of us.”
“She’d be right,” Harry agreed. “But I knew you loved her then, and I knew how she felt about you, so I didn’t want to get in the middle.”
“You’ve always been in the middle.” Ron shifted his weight and Harry couldn’t help but slide against him. Ron just lifted his arm, laying it across the back of the sofa, making space so Harry could fit in close. Ron didn’t look at him and kept talking like it didn’t matter. “When I left, it felt wrong. I missed Hermione, and I missed you. It was like losing both my arms, and there I was, armless and wandering around like some idiot when I knew just where to go to fix it. So I did, and I went back to you, and you know the rest. It’s like now.”
“Now?” Harry echoed. Having Ron this close did strange things to him, pooling warmth in his gut that leaked lower, raising an interest he didn’t think he ought to have. No matter how much Luna insisted. But his body wasn’t listening to logic or reason, it was just reacting, and he liked being this close to Ron. It felt right, and oddly enough, he had a feeling that Ron thought it felt right too.
“Now,” Ron agreed. “It felt wrong without you there the last few days. Since we fought those buggers—the first time, when you had to save me—I haven’t felt right unless you’re around. Woke up in the middle of the night looking for you, and it was brill that Hermione was right there in bed with me, but she wasn’t what I needed.” He frowned. “Not exactly. I needed her, too. But it’s been bloody well miserable, Harry. I’m walking around without an arm.”
Harry tried to bite back a smile. “So it’s not that you forgive me, but just that you need your arm?” When Ron nudged him, he laughed. “That’s what you just said.”
“You could try just accepting it. I’m trying to say the right thing here, and you’re not making it bloody well easy,” Ron sulked.
“I missed you, too,” Harry told him. “And I don’t want to start fighting again. When you’re angry with me, I’m miserable. But the hell of it is, no matter what I’m thinking or doing, I can’t let either of you alone. I love her, Ron. She’s the right woman, and I don’t know how to say it differently. Or make it right. But Ginny, and all those others, the reason they weren’t right is because they weren’t Hermione.”
Which wasn’t the right thing to say at all. Ron pressed his lips together, making a face as he turned away. “I know,” he muttered. “I bloody well get it. But I—”
Harry grabbed his shoulder, turning Ron back to face him. “Look—” He stalled, staring at Ron, and let instinct carry him closer. Lips pressed to lips, nothing soft and sweet, more angry and frustrated and carrying every ounce of I need to be close that he felt in his gut.
For a moment Ron froze, and Harry wondered if this was the point when he’d get decked. Then the kiss came back at him, furious and frustrated, and Harry felt the echo of it all around him, rising inside of Ron and himself. He groaned, mouth opening under the onslaught as the kiss deepened.
“I need a drink,” Ron muttered, when they finally broke apart.
Harry’s breath was a hoarse rasp in his chest, heart hammering in a time that he’d thought only belonged to Hermione. “I have firewhiskey,” he offered, ignoring the fact that it was still very much daylight hours and not all that long after he’d woken up.
“I’ll take a double.” Ron fell back against the sofa, head tilted back, struggling to catch his breath. Harry’s gaze shifted down, checking almost against his will, and seeing that Ron was as affected as he felt, the evidence of his arousal a ridge in his jeans.
It seemed so simple, and so complicated, all at once. Was it because of the spell he’d done? Had he joined them somehow? Or had something like this been there all along, waiting to come out?
The answer probably wasn’t going to be in the bottom of a glass of good firewhiskey, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t worth taking a look there. It was as good a way as any to start to figure this out.
Chapter 26: I Will Hold You There
“Th’ bottle’s empty.” Ron lifted it, peering into the open end forlornly, then tilting it to see if the last few drops would trickle out onto his waiting tongue while Harry laughed in the background.
“And you’re completely pissed,” Harry pointed out. “Bet you’re seeing two of me.”
“Don’t even know what to do with one of you,” Ron retorted. “Can’t imagine what I’d do with two.”
“Couldn’t do this.” Harry kissed him then, the action having become a habit over the last few hours, growing easier and easier with every glass drunk. “You’ve only got one set of lips.”
“True.” Ron set the bottle down, and framed Harry’s face with his hands. “C’mere. Room’s spinning, we ought to lie down.” He leaned back, stretching out lengthwise along the sofa and tugging Harry with him until Harry was half-sprawled on top of him. “There we go.”
Harry nuzzled him, trying to figure out exactly when kissing Ron had gone from weird to normal. Did it actually matter? His lips slid across Ron’s jaw, pricked by the faint shadow of a beard that hadn’t been shaved that morning. He tasted the firewhiskey on his mate’s lips, smelled the scent of broom oil and that shampoo Ron used that smelled like a forest. It wasn’t like kissing Hermione. It was harder. Rougher. Slower. More cautious. Neither of them had a bloody clue what they were doing, instead just focusing on what felt good and trying not to think about why.
Hands slid down Harry’s back, fingers grazing his skin where the shirt bunched above his waist. He hissed a breath in, groaning softly at the touch, and it stilled. “S’okay,” Harry told Ron. “I mean, s’okay with me, if s’okay with you.” He let his own fingers trail along the edge of Ron’s collar, slipping underneath, teasing just a bit and feeling the way his mate shivered and shifted, seeking out the touch. “See? Feels good.”
It felt so good, in fact, that Harry decided to make it easier, and skinned his shirt over his head, tossing it away. It wasn’t the first time he’d been shirtless in front of Ron, but it was the first time he actually felt naked. Uncertainly he wondered, as he watched blue eyes go wide, if he’d done the wrong thing. “Ron?”
Ron shook his head. “M’okay. Really. Just—can’t get mine off, yeah? I’m stuck.” He tugged at the edge of his shirt where it was trapped under Harry’s legs, wriggling.
And oh did that feel good. The more Ron moved, trying to arch his back and get his shirt free, the more their hips pressed together. Harry rotated his hips slightly, rocking forward, increasing that contact until Ron stopped moving with a low moan, eyes fluttering closed. “Fuck th’ shirt,” Ron muttered. His hands gripped Harry’s hips, tugging him closer as Ron pressed up again. Harry felt the long ridge of Ron’s erection press against his and rub, rough and hard, as his breath shuddered.
“Keep that up and m’going to come in my jeans,” Harry muttered.
“Maybe we should take them off.”
It was Harry’s turn to stare, his eyes wide, mouth slightly open. His throat went dry, heart pounding suddenly, and if anything he was harder than before. “You sure?”
“Seen you naked before,” Ron pointed out. “We were roommates.”
All those times in the room in the morning, or getting ready for bed. All those times in the Quidditch locker room after practice or a match. Times in the Auror locker room more recently. But they’d never felt like this, like if they took of their clothes it was going to be something momentous. Something amazing. Something they could never step back from.
Harry nodded quickly and scooted back off of Ron, holding out one hand to offer help. As Ron grasped it, and Harry tugged him to his feet, they stumbled into each other. Arms tangled around bodies as laughter bubbled up and they held each other, balancing until they found a way to stand. But Harry didn’t move back, tilting his head up until Ron looked down and they were kissing again.
“Bedroom,” Harry managed to say, and Ron nodded his reply.
Harry started shedding clothes immediately, undoing his belt as they walked and pushing his fly wide. He paused long enough to shove his jeans and boxers down together, hopping to get out of one leg, then the other, kicking them free. He twisted, falling back onto the bed, sitting up only when he realized he still had socks on and he wanted to yank those off.
He paused, mid-yank, the sock hanging off his toes, and stared at Ron.
He’d seen him naked before, but he’d never actually paid attention. Now Harry let his attention drift over him and linger, noting the cluster of freckles on his left hip, and the thick thatch of ginger hair at the base of a long, slender prick. That ginger hair was dusted all over, down his legs, and up onto Ron’s chest, and for a moment Harry felt lacking, his own chest nearly bare of fuzz. Then he caught Ron staring, and he wondered if that was what he looked like, all hunger and need. Harry swallowed hard, and scooted back on the bed, patting the spot next to him.
“You aren’t going to regret this in the morning, are you?” Harry asked. He was barely sober enough to think it, but he knew it had to be asked.
“Want to be here,” Ron said. He stretched out over Harry, nudging him back into the pillows, not bothering to get beneath the comforter. “Need to be here. I can feel you, when you breathe, when you want, when you ache. Feels good to be here like this.” Hips lowered, finally pressing their pricks together, and there was a pause in the world around them. Breath caught and hissed out in twin moans.
“Feels right,” Harry said.
Words fled then as Ron moved again. Harry gripped his hips, letting his legs wrap around Ron, lifting, helping them press even closer together. He wanted this, just wanted. An ache built in his groin, and he cried out, thrusting up, loving the feel of skin sliding over skin. But there was more, something else that they needed, some way things would fit more properly. Better.
“Closer,” Ron groaned. “Fuck, Harry, I need to be closer to you.”
That made sense. Harry wanted to crawl inside Ron’s skin, to become one person. To know that they’d merged as best they could while still being Harry and Ron. He lifted his legs more, feeling the ache in his arse, knowing that he wanted to be touched. “Fuck me,” he whispered, and when Ron stilled, Harry said it again with more emphasis. “Fuck me.”
Ron stared down at him, swallowing hard. “Mate—”
Harry felt heat rising to his cheeks. “It’s gay, I know. But I want it, want you inside of me. I want to be close to you, and that’s—I trust you, Ron. That’s as close as we can get.” He felt as clear-headed as if he’d taken a proper sobering potion.
“How does it work?” Ron flushed under the freckles. “Never really thought about it. I mean, you want me to fuck you—” He slid back, kneeling between Harry’s legs. One hand trailed down over his stomach, briefly touching his cock on the way by. Then he let his fingers slide back more, barely touching Harry’s puckered hole. He waited a moment, then pressed lightly, feeling the dry resistance. A frown furrowed his brow. “It’ll hurt you.”
“We need something. M’not a girl,” Harry pointed out. He wasn’t slippery and slick, like Hermione would be: ready and waiting and so hot and wet. But he had something in the drawer, from one time he’d been out with a girl and she’d begged him to bugger her. He reached for that now, squeezing viscous goo onto Ron’s fingers. “Try that.”
Ron circled the pucker with the tip of one finger, coating Harry’s ass thoroughly before he pressed again, and this time the tip of his finger slipped past the rim and inside. Harry groaned at the feel of it, burning and stretching, but it was good, because it was Ron, and that penetration was what he needed.
“More,” Harry whispered. “More.”
Ron obliged, his finger sliding in deeper and holding still when Harry whimpered. When Harry begged again, Ron slid another finger in, then slowly let them pull out, then thrust in again. It hurt, Harry couldn’t deny that, but it also was brilliant, and he pushed back against the feel of it.
“Harry.” Ron’s voice sounded strangled, and when Harry looked, Ron was staring in fascination as he slowly fucked Harry with his fingers. “You serious? You want me to—”
Harry didn’t let him finish, exhaling. “Yeah. I’m serious. C’mon, I’m ready.”
Maybe ready wasn’t the right word. Aching. Desperate. Those came closer but still weren’t right. Needy? Perhaps. Either way, Harry loved the sight of Ron kneeling between his legs, the feel of large hands on his hips, helping position them both until something pressed at his slick entrance. Ron raised his gaze to meet Harry’s, and Harry nodded. It was okay. It was more than okay.
Ron closed his eyes and thrust, the whole head of his prick slipping into Harry in one stroke. Harry couldn’t help the sound of discomfort, stretched so abruptly. Filled. Ron stilled, eyes open again, looking at Harry worriedly. “You alright, mate? You’re bloody tight. I’ve never—Hermione and I—we just never—”
Mentioning Hermione, even thinking about her, ought to make this awkward. But it didn’t. There was Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Hermione, and Harry and Ron, and all that made sense somewhere in Harry’s mind. “Maybe we’ll have to try that,” he said, then he canted his hips slightly, encouraging Ron. “C’mon. I’m okay.”
His eyes closed as he felt Ron take it slowly, inch by inch until he was seated, and at that moment, Harry felt the world click into place. This. Yes. This. This was everything he wanted and needed, even though he knew there was more out there. Right now, it was perfect.
“Fuck, Harry—s’brilliant,” Ron muttered. He braced himself, hands on either side of Harry’s shoulders, long body bent. He stayed like that for a breath, then started to thrust, a low groan ripped out of him as he stroked.
Harry couldn’t deny it. He wrapped his legs around Ron’s thighs, using them to anchor himself as he met thrust after thrust. His body bowed, giving over to the feel of the joining, and he let himself go. Hands gripped Ron’s head, dragging him in for a kiss, mouth plundering mouth as Harry cried out. On another thrust Ron touched something inside of Harry and the world seemed to fly apart. His whole body tensed, clenching down tight around Ron. He heard Ron’s surprised shout and felt warmth flood his ass even as he spilled all over his own chest.
By the time the world came back into focus, Ron had slipped from his ass but still lay across him, a heavy and comforting weight.
“Bloody hell,” Ron muttered. “That was fucking brilliant. Why didn’t we do that sooner?”
“Because we weren’t gay?” Harry let his hand drift over Ron’s back, feeling the damp sweat drying. He inhaled his scent, memorizing it.
“M’still not gay.” Ron huffed a sigh, and rolled off, just enough to stretch out next to Harry, arms and legs comfortably entangled. “S’just you.”
That was it exactly. Harry didn’t want Neville, or any other bloke he could think of. Just like he didn’t want any of those girls he’d ever had a chance with. He wanted Hermione, and he wanted Ron, and that was it. And now that he’d had both, and they had each other, he had to wonder if the idea forming in his mind was as cracked as it sounded, or if something like all three of them together was a possibility.
“Can’t live without you,” he murmured, even as Ron’s breath was drifting into the peace of sleep.
“Mm-hmm,” Ron murmured in reply. “Said that.”
“Can’t live without ‘Mione either.”
There was no reply from Ron, his breath low and even, body a comforting unconscious weight over Harry.
Harry smiled. He’d spent all this time looking for the missing piece of the puzzle, and it turned out that he’d actually been missing two all along. Now that he’d found them, and proved they fit, he just needed to figure out what to do next. But in the meantime, sleep sounded like a brilliant idea. In the safety of Ron’s arms, he let himself drift.
Chapter 27: Take It Slow
Harry had expected morning to be awkward, but it wasn’t. Ron stretched and rolled out of bed, stumbling off to the bathroom. By the time he got back, Harry had managed to sit up and was at the edge of the bed, rubbing the back of his neck and considering the aches and pains he could feel.
Ron pressed a potion into his hand, which Harry drank gratefully, then another after that. “Two?” he asked.
“One for the hangover,” Ron explained. “And one because—” A flush rose under the freckles. “Thought you might ache a bit. I don’t regret it,” he added quickly, settling in on the bed next to Harry. “I can feel that, you know, when you get that nervousness in your gut. It’s not so strong today as it was right after that day in Otter’s Ridge, but I can still feel you.”
“I don’t mind it,” Harry said. “I’ve always been aware of you. It’s just easier to figure you out now.”
Ron laughed. “Wish we could read Hermione’s mind.” A small sigh. “I don’t know how to tell her about this.”
“Just tell her,” Harry suggested. “Don’t leave anything out. That’s how we got into a mess in the first place, isn’t it? I wasn’t talking.”
“To be fair, neither were we.” Ron gave him a rueful smile. “Mind if I use your shower? I smell like that bottle of firewhiskey.”
Ron smelled like sweat, musk and sex, and only a little bit of alcohol, Harry thought, and he rather liked the combination. But he waved him toward the shower anyway, and grabbed a pair of boxers for himself so he could go cobble together some breakfast.
He was standing at the counter, scraping butter onto bread, when he felt Ron press in close behind him. Harry went still, not sure how to act or react. Instinct took over, and he pressed back briefly, then twisted, finding himself trapped between Ron and the marble counter.
Ron’s expression was intent, full of strength and resolve. He bent and caught Harry’s mouth in a bruising kiss as if proving something. As soon as Harry made a sound, low in his throat, and his hands found Ron’s waist, the kiss gentled. Slowed. Tasted and teased and explored until Harry’s body began to react.
“Had to make sure it wasn’t the alcohol,” Ron explained, voice hoarse. He reached down between them, adjusting himself into a more comfortable spot in his jeans. “It wasn’t.”
“Definitely not.” Harry couldn’t deny the need he had for Ron any more, even in the light of sobriety. “Yesterday was—”
“Brilliant.” Ron said the word firmly, as if daring him to contradict.
“Brilliant,” Harry agreed. He nudged Ron with his hip, pushing him away just enough that he could finish buttering the toast and hand it to him. “Come back tonight for dinner. I promise it’ll be better than toast.”
“Can’t.” Ron spoke around a mouthful of crumbs. “Hermione—”
“Bring her.” Harry spoke in a rush. “Bring her. You’re both important to me, and I’ll order something good in. But both of you should come over.”
Ron hesitated only a moment before nodding quickly. “We’ll be here. We need to figure shite out.”
Harry tasted the butter on Ron’s lips, the lingering crumbs in one more bruising kiss before Ron left for the day. He took his time over breakfast, dawdling over his coffee, unwilling to shower too soon and wash the remnants of Ron away.
An owl arrived an hour later, the note brief and to the point in Hermione’s neat script: We’ll be there at half six. We’ll bring wine.
Harry cleaned. His room smelled like sex, but a few quick cleansing charms made sure the sheets were fresh, crisp and clean. He aired out the comforter, then swept the floor. He found the discarded tube of lubricant and considered it with a flushing grin before he tossed it back into the drawer of his nightstand.
Once everything was settled, Harry finally showered, then relaxed for the afternoon with a book. He felt on edge in an all too pleasant way, wondering what the evening would bring and how Hermione had taken the conversation with Ron. Or if Ron had even managed to have it.
The nerves started to bubble up then, worrying about what might happen, and how awkward it might be. He distracted himself by ordering food, setting it out and charming it to stay warm, then setting the table as well. It wasn’t home cooked, but it was certainly better than he could’ve managed on his own. A little spicy, perhaps, since he hadn’t thought to ask for it mild, and the rich scent of curry filled his flat and made his stomach rumble by the time the floo sprang to life at half six.
He turned, watching as first Hermione, then Ron emerged, laughing together and brushing soot from each other’s clothes. Harry shifted from foot to foot, then took one step forward, waiting while Hermione turned to look at him. He couldn’t read her, not the same way he felt Ron’s mind lingering around the edges of his own, but there was no mistaking the sudden bright smile that lit her dark eyes, or the way she rushed forward to hug him hard.
“I’ve missed you,” she murmured, lips brushing his cheek. “In all ways. You’re my best mate. Well, other than Ron.”
Harry glanced from her to Ron, then back again. “Did you too, um… talk?” he asked hesitantly.
Her mouth found his, tongue slipping between his lips to deepen the kiss quickly. He swore he tasted Ron in her mouth, which he found even more arousing. “Yes, we did.” She was a little breathless as the kiss ended, and behind her Harry could see Ron grinning. “We talked most of the day. And a few other things. But mostly we talked, and then we shopped.”
“Shopped?” Harry couldn’t see what that had to do with anything.
“I bought three books in a Muggle bookstore—I wasn’t certain if this was the sort of thing the Wizarding world knows much about, and besides, it’s our business right now until we sort it out properly and I didn’t want someone spotting my buying books and telling the Daily Prophet,” Hermione said. “Each one has a detailed analysis of the pitfalls of a triad relationship.”
“Triad… relationship?” Harry knew he was just echoing what she said, but he wasn’t quite following.
“It’s Hermione, mate,” Ron said as he made his way to the table, peeking into dishes and inhaling the scent of curry. “After we talked this morning, she started researching. Said if we’re going to do something, we’re bloody well going to do it right.” He shrugged one shoulder. “I figure, can’t hurt to have proof that someone else is out there and doing alright with it, for when my mum doesn’t know what to do with it.”
“It won’t change a thing for her,” Hermione said firmly. “After all, she’s had the three of us for holidays for a long time, and she still will. It’s Ginny I’m worried about.”
Harry blinked, and decided that he’d kiss Hermione while he thought about this. It was pleasant being able to do that, with Ron standing right there, and not feel guilty about it. He could linger over it, and nip her lower lip the way she liked, and listen to that soft whimper that she made that seemed to shiver right through her as she sank in closer to him. He felt solidity behind him, and as he released Hermione, Ron tilted Harry’s head back and claimed his mouth as well, the kiss deeper and stronger, claiming him thoroughly as Hermione’s mouth moved to his throat, teasing at the skin above his shirt. Harry felt his knees buckle, and he groaned, loudly. “Dinner,” he said weakly, when the kiss broke.
“You’ve charmed it all, haven’t you?” Hermione pointed out, nudging them both towards the bedroom.
Ron gave the table a wistful glance. “Don’t you think we could just—”
Her hand drifted across Ron’s chest, then down to squeeze gently at his crotch. “It’ll be there when we’re done,” she murmured. “I want to see how this works with both of you.”
“Can’t really argue with that.” Ron grinned. “Fine, but I might be expecting dinner in bed after.”
“And with a proper levitation charm, you might be able to manage it,” Hermione teased back. “But if you get curry all over his sheets, Harry might not appreciate it.”
“Or if he gets curry all over me, I might make him lick it off,” Harry quipped, flushing, surprised at how easy this seemed to be. As if all the stress of the last weeks had disappeared, leaving him comfortable with his best mates. When they reached the bedroom, though, nerves returned. He hesitated at the edge of the bed, looking from Hermione to Ron. “This is really all right with both of you?”
“This is the only thing that feels right,” Ron said simply as he yanked his shirt over his head. “And I’m sober this time around, so you can’t blame it on drink.”
“Although we could have some wine, if you’d like it to relax,” Hermione offered. “It’s at the proper temperature, and there’s no need to save it for later.”
Harry swallowed hard. “Now I’ve got images of dripping wine over your skin, ‘Mione.”
She shivered and smiled at him. “That’s not a bad idea, Harry. Now. Later. Another time. I think we’ll have plenty of time to explore all the things we can do.” She lifted her arms, wriggling slightly as Ron drew her shirt over her head. Harry watched as Ron’s hands slid up, cupping Hermione’s breasts, teasing her through her bra. He knew that sound she made, and it didn’t bother him at all that it was Ron making her do it. Instead he wanted to help, so he moved close, nudging the fabric down to bare one peaked nipple so he could tease it with his tongue.
“Yeah, just like that,” Ron murmured, his lips finding the soft skin of Hermione’s shoulder. “She likes it a bit rough.”
“He knows.” Hermione’s breath caught in a shattered gasp as Harry bit her nipple, just the way she liked it. “He’s… he’s better at that than you. He… ohdon’tstopHarry, that’s just brilliant.”
“Get undressed,” Harry said, voice hoarse as he drew back and looked at both of them. “And get on the bed. If we’re going to do this, I don’t want to stop again.” Or more importantly, he wasn’t sure he could stop again. He offered a shy grin that grew wider when Hermione shrugged out of her bra and Ron quickly worked the fly to his slacks. Then he forgot about that and just focused on getting his own clothes off so he could tumble onto the bed, tugging Hermione with him, Ron following quickly as they landed in a pile, laughing.
Chapter 28: Cold Toes, New Sheets
It seemed like it ought to be difficult or confusing to have three of them in bed, but it wasn’t. Hermione lay on her back between them, hands fisted in the sheets, knees drawn up and heels digging into the bed as her hips pressed up against Ron’s fingers which were buried deep inside of her. “More,” she murmured, softly demanding. “Please.”
Harry lay on his side beside her, his hand teasing one breast while he suckled at the other, harder tugs followed by softer, gauging how much he should do by her soft moans. He felt a hand at his groin, then something warm and wet around the tip of his prick. “Oh fuck,” he groaned. He looked down to see Ron’s lips around him as Ron slowly engulfed him, a look of pleased surprise on his face. It made it nearly impossible to concentrate. Harry’s hips lifted, pressing deeper into Ron’s mouth, silently begging for more. “Feels good,” he managed to say, then his mouth was busy as Hermione cupped his head and pulled him up for a kiss.
A part of him wanted to ask how they should do this, what they should do, how they could best please each other without leaving anyone out. But it seemed like they were well on their way to figuring it out without talking, and words weren’t going to come easily just then.
He caught a gasp from Hermione, kissed it away as she moaned, arching up, pressing into his touch and begging more from Ron’s fingers. “I’m going to—” her breath shuddered, body shivering. “Harry, Ron, please—so close…”
She had always been responsive, but she seemed incredibly sensitive tonight. Harry reached down, nudging Ron’s head until he looked up. “Go on then,” Harry said hoarsely, with a nod at Hermione.
Ron gave him a wicked grin before letting Harry’s prick slip from his mouth. He turned his attention to Hermione, giving her a slow swipe with his tongue, teasing her slit, ending by rolling her hard nub with his tongue. Harry stopped watching then, wanting to taste the hoarse cry of Hermione’s orgasm as she started to quiver, his quick pinch at her nipples helping send her over the edge.
Harry rolled onto his back as she quieted, pulling her with him to straddle his hips. He thrust up just as she settled, slipping into her in time to feel the last throes of her orgasm tighten around him. She ground down, taking him deep enough that it almost tilted him over the edge, and he gripped her hips, struggling to stay in control. Not yet, he didn’t want to let go quite yet. It seemed important to him that when he finally let himself go, that it be all three of them together, somehow, or as close to together as they could.
“‘Mione…” Harry couldn’t figure out what he wanted to say, losing the rest of his words in her kiss. Her hair tickled his nose, his shoulders, and he loved the familiar feel of it, the way she felt around him as she started to move, slow and steady. Fingers tightened against her skin, holding her, thrusting up into her warmth.
Ron knelt behind her, hands slipping around to cup her breasts as he pressed close. Harry could feel the hard length of Ron’s prick nudging against his ass, and his eyes fluttered close. Yes, that was good. That was brilliant. That was bloody well perfect, as far as Harry was concerned.
Ron grabbed a pillow, nudging Harry’s hips until he lifted his bum and let Ron slip the pillow beneath him. It pressed him up into Hermione more, and she leaned back as her hips rocked forward, her shoulders against Ron’s front as he cradled her. “I’m going to shag Harry now,” he whispered, kissing her throat. “You all right with that?”
She turned her head, lips brushing along his jaw. “Yes, please.” A slow whimper as she rolled her hips. “I want to feel it.”
Harry wanted it. He wanted to feel like he was a part of them both, not coming between them any more but with them in all the ways that counted. He felt the cold, slick touch of lube against his puckered hole, then something slipping past the rim, just barely inside. His body remembered it, wanted it, rocking to move between Hermione and Ron’s finger. One finger first, barely stretching Harry, then two.
He knew what came next, well remembered the feel of it, but it was still a shock when those fingers were replaced by the tip of Ron’s prick. There was a momentary shuffle, and ragged laughter as their legs intertwined, trying to sort out how to fit together properly. Ron’s knees pressed in close next to Harry’s hips, Harry’s legs bent up, feet dug into the sheets by Ron. Hermione knelt over Harry, letting Ron and Harry carry her weight.
In the end, it was Ron’s shallow thrusts that controlled how much any of them could move. Harry was caught between the two of them, rocking as much as he could, begging for more. Each thrust Ron made pressed Harry closer to Hermione. Harry let one finger slip between Hermione’s legs, thumb rolling over her sensitive nub.
She cried out, clenching around him, and that was more than Harry could stand. He was surrounded by his best mates, filled by one, and filling another. He had everything he had been missing in his life, everything he had wanted, here and now, in this bed. And he wanted to keep it.
With a guttural shout, Harry let go, spilling into Hermione as she shuddered around him, body tight around the prick that thrust into him. There was a moment’s hesitation, then Ron groaned, low and long, thrusts becoming erratic just before Harry felt himself filled even more.
“Perfect,” Harry whispered.
Ron pulled out, as Hermione fell forward, curling on Harry’s chest. He stretched out behind Hermione, staying close, one hand trailing over Harry’s skin as well as his wife’s. “Bloody hell, mate, I think you’ve bloody well killed me,” he muttered.
“Same.” Harry couldn’t muster more than that word at first. He tucked a stray strand of Hermione’s wild hair behind her ear, smiling as she peered tiredly at him, her own smile slow and soft. “I love you both, you know. This—this is what I’ve been looking for, I think. Why nothing else was ever right. No one could measure up to the two of you.”
“Not even one of us,” Hermione murmured, kissing his shoulder. “I love you both, but being with you both like this… I want this forever. How do you feel about being a kept man, Harry? I think we can find room for you in the house.”
“Or just visit you here.” Ron sighed happily. “You’ve got a nice bed, Harry. Soft. And you got me dinner.”
“Does that mean you’re about to crawl out of bed and go eat it?” Harry asked, laughing.
“Do I get in trouble if I’m considering it?”
Harry nudged him. “Not at all, as long as you don’t mind if I stay here in bed with your wife.”
Ron leaned up on one elbow, one finger twirling a strand of Hermione’s hair before the fingertip traced a path down her cheek. “My wife, yeah, but she’s—” he hesitated. “You’re—” He blinked and grumbled wordlessly, frustrated. “There aren’t words for this. There’s no yours, or mine. It’s just… us. However we are, two or three at a time, I don’t bloody well care, as long as we’re us.”
“Perfect words,” Hermione said. “Now go eat. And bring us back curry in bed.”
Harry traced patterns on Hermione’s belly, watching as Ron walked out of the room, basking in the warmth of his two lovers. “Us,” he mused. “I think he said it perfectly.” Because there might be things left to work out, but in the end, as long as they were all there, Harry figured they could do it. It had been the three of them since they first met, and it would be the three of them for a long, long time to come. Having them there had brought the magic back into his world, and he wasn’t going to let that go.