Harry stood in front of her fireplace. He took his time sweeping soot from his arms, focusing intensely on the small puffs of dust billowing up from his sleeves instead of making eye contact with her.
He moved to his glasses next, fogging the lenses with his breath and wiping them with a corner of his shirt over and over again.
He shook his head and pursed his lips, eyes still on the ground, fingers working steadfastly to remove invisible dirt from his glasses. She took a few steps closer, gently pried them from his hand, and scourgifyed them.
“Here,” she said, extending the glasses back towards him. He made no move to accept them, so she set them down on the coffee table instead.
“I did it,” he said.
“Why don’t you sit?”
His head was tilted up towards the ceiling, left hand compulsively rubbing the stubble on his top lip. She took his elbow and led him towards the couch.
“I did it,” he repeated, sinking into the cushions.
“Was it … bad?”
He closed his eyes and nodded, left hand now a fist pressing against his lips.
“I told her I had seen them. I lied. I lied, Hermione. But I did it. And you were … you were right. You were fucking right. It worked. She didn’t deny it.”
“I’m sorry, Harry. Harry, I’m so, so sorry.”
He shook his head slowly and fixed his gaze on the pair of glasses sitting on the table.
“Four months. That’s how long this has been going on. Four months.” He finished the sentence in a whisper.
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
“I knew all that travelling would be a strain on us, but this? For her to … and with him? With the twerpy little team equipment manager?”
“Harry …” She ran her palm in circles between his shoulder blades.
“This is … so … fucked … up.” His hands formed a triangle on his face, thumbs digging into his cheeks, fingertips whitening as he pressed them into the center of his forehead.
“It’ll be okay,” she said, using the most convincing voice she could muster. But her words trembled and her breath hitched, and before she knew it, both of them had dissolved into tears and snot, two pairs of shoulders shaking in unison, two pairs of hands clasped together.
“Screw the Weasleys,” Harry said. He was making good progress on his plan to get completely sloshed. “Screw them and their roast potatoes and their Christmas jumpers and their bunk beds.”
“And Celestina Warbeck,” Hermione added. She had been wary of Harry’s plan at the beginning of the evening, but had since come to see its wisdom.
“Yeah, her too. Screw—no … fuck Celestina Warbeck.” Harry clinked shot glasses with Hermione and threw back his drink.
“And their hair,” she said, slamming the empty glass on the table.
“And their fucking hair. Yeah. Good one.” He refilled their glasses.
“I didn’t want my kids to have that hair anyway.” She held her firewhiskey to the light, rotating the glass between her thumb and forefingers.
“Me either,” Harry said quickly. He then added, more softly: “But maybe. Because that was my mum’s hair color too. You know?” He joined her in the careful appraisal, squinting his left eye, then his right.
“What are we looking at?”
“It’s like that color. When you hold it up to the light like this.”
He lowered the glass and emptied the liquid into a potted plant. She mimicked him, but then began rummaging in her bag for a wand.
“That’s no good for the plant, Harry, I’ll see if I can …”
“Don’t bother. She gave that plant to me. Neville gave it to her for her birthday, but she didn’t think she’d be able to take care of it, so she gave it to me. Fuck this plant.” He gave the pot a half-hearted kick.
“The poor plant,” Hermione said. “It’s an innocent Sty Bender. Bise Ander. Bye Sander. Dammit. What else have you got to drink?”
“Orchid wine, I think.”
“What color is it?”
He clamped a hand over his mouth as soon as he said it, fixing her with a grief-stricken look. But instead of bursting into tears, she began to laugh. Without fully understanding why, he joined in.
“Can’t … have … that … then,” she wheezed, bracing herself against his kitchen table.
“No, I s’pose not,” he said.
“Real thoughtful, Harry,” she said, giving him a playful punch on the shoulder. “Oh, that made my stomach hurt. I haven’t laughed that hard in ages.”
“You started it. As if I would have paid the least bit of attention to the color of firewhiskey if you hadn’t mentioned that. Honestly. We both know that I am not nearly that observant. And your stomach pain might have something to do with the fact that said bottle of firewhiskey is nearly half empty.”
They gave each other quizzical looks, then burst into laughter again. This fit was more intense, sending them both to the floor in hysterical heaps. After a few long moments, they lay there together red-faced, eyes streaming, laughs subsiding into occasional snorts.
Harry rose to his knees, half-gliding, half-crawling to the liquor cabinet. He surveyed its contents thoughtfully before uttering a triumphant “Aha!” and brandishing a bottle. “Shamrock Brandy! Any objection to green?”
“Maybe we should switch to coffee,” she said, still splayed on the floor. “The ceiling looks awfully unstable.”
“How about a compromise?” Harry offered, pulling Hermione to her feet and helping her steady herself. “I’ll pour this into coffee mugs.”
“Come on, Hermione. It’s Christmas.” He thrust a mug at her.
She took a whiff of the drink. “Ugh. This smells like fermented grass clippings.”
“Cheers.” He raised the mug and tilted it back. She gave him a bleary grin and followed suit.
“New year, new you. That’s what Witch Weekly says, anyway. Let’s start in here.”
“Since when did you …” Harry began.
“And before you can ask me since when I’ve been reading Witch Weekly, I’ll inform you that it was in the waiting room at Saint Mungo’s, where I was waiting yesterday to see Luna.”
“How is she?”
“Much better. I’m sure she’d appreciate a visit from you, you know,” she said, using a hover charm to lift a pile of dirty clothes from the corner of the room.
“I know. I just … I don’t want to run into … anyone.”
“Don’t. Not yet.”
“Fine. But you know,” she said, scourgifying the clothes in midair, “I was more likely to run into … someone … than you were. Your … someone … is off playing Quidditch in some far-off locale. My … someone … works two floors down from us.”
“So you’ve already run into your someone before. And,” he noted, digging through a pile of papers manually, “you’ve had two more months to deal with this than I have.”
“Yes. And it’s loads less awkward now. Especially that one day when I saw him with a hickey the size of a tangerine on his throat. You can cover those with make-up, you know. Or use disillusionment charms. Not that I’d expect him to know how.” She muttered something else under her breath. “Where should I put these clothes?”
“Um, over there,” Harry said, gesturing towards the same corner where she had found them.
She rolled her eyes and left them folded neatly atop a dresser instead. “Where are your other pairs of shoes?”
“What?” He had spread the pile across the floor; photographs, letters, and magazine clippings fanned out in front of him.
“Shoes,” she repeated. “I’m trying to organize your shoes, but I can only find two pairs.”
“Why would I need more than two pairs of shoes?” he asked, still immersed in his task.
“How very silly of me to inquire.” She cleaned the shoes and moved on to the rest of his closet. “Let me get this straight,” she called out to him. “You only have two pairs of shoes, but you have two, four, six, seven sets of Quidditch robes?”
“Toss them,” Harry called back to her.
“What?” She emerged from the closet.
“Toss them,” he said again, louder this time. “The robes. Toss them.”
“That’s what I thought you said. I am not going to throw out your Quidditch robes just because … is something burning?” She poked her head into the living room, where Harry was standing over a small bonfire. “Harry!”
He held up his hand to keep her back, controlling the size and spread of the flames with his wand. When the last of the papers was engulfed, he sent a jet of water over the embers and then scourgifyed the remains.
“I thought only girls did that,” Hermione observed.
“Do you feel better?”
“Good.” She walked back into his closet. “We are not tossing your Quidditch robes,” she called.
“I don’t want them. Quidditch destroyed my relationship,” he called back.
“No, Ginny destroyed your relationship. Plenty of Quidditch stars remain faithful to their significant others.”
“Harry,” Hermione said, standing in the living room once more, “I can barely name any Quidditch stars period.”
“I did not just prove your point. Anyway, you’re going to want to play again one day.”
“Then I’ll buy new ones. Can’t you donate those somewhere? Or auction them off or something? Use the proceeds for charity?”
Hermione heaved a grievous sigh. “You’re the canny one, aren’t you Potter? You know I’d never say no to that.”
“That’s me. Canny Potter.”
“Was that a joke?”
“I’m not sure. Was it funny?”
“Alright then. Look, do whatever you want with them. I’m going to get a bit of air. There’s a … could you …” He looked up towards the ceiling and ran his hand through his hair, mussing and smoothing in familiar patterns. “Could you please take care of the second drawer in that dresser over there? There’s a disillusionment charm on it. Easy to take down.”
“Thanks.” He exhaled, stuffed his hands into his pockets, and walked out the back door.
Hermione watched him for a moment from his bedroom window. He stood with his back towards the house, looking out over the small garden. She thought of going to him, seeing if he wanted to talk about anything, but then reasoned that he probably wanted some time to himself. So she turned back to the task he had left her: the second drawer.
“Please, please, please,” she whispered, pulling it open. “Please do not be sex toys. Or her underwear. Or naked pictures.” The drawer seemed to be full of gym socks, but they were folded far too neatly to be anything but the disillusionment charm he had warned her about. She closed her eyes and broke the charm. “Or home movies.” She opened one eye. “Or anything like … oh, Harry.” The drawer was now empty except for one small, black box.
Curiosity drove her to peek inside; the ring was simple, but elegant. One princess-cut diamond glittered in the center, flanked by baguette-shaped garnets. She snapped the box shut, placed it into her bag, and joined Harry on the back porch.
He was now sitting on the railing of the deck, feet dangling a few inches from the ground. He hadn’t bothered with a warming charm, so she cast one over them both as she sat next to him.
“I looked at it. I’m sorry. It’s beautiful.”
“When did you get it?”
“A year ago. Just waiting for the right time.”
It had snowed last week. Piles of grayish-brown snow clung resolutely to the edges of the garden. The bare branches squeaked against each other as wind rippled through them. She shivered despite the warming charm.
“What do you want me to do with it?”
“Whatever. Just … I just don’t want to see it again. Alright?”
She inched closer to him and draped an arm around his shoulder. “It won’t hurt forever. I promise you.”
He said nothing in reply, but let his head rest against hers.
“I am not getting sloshed tonight.”
“But it’s …”
“I don’t care if it’s Valentine’s Day. It’s also a Tuesday. I am not going to work hung over tomorrow, Harry.”
“They make potions for that, you know.” He was sitting on the edge of her desk and hurling balls of parchment into her rubbish bin.
“They don’t work right on me. They get the stomach fine, but they do nothing for my head. I’ve got to be here at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. And stop wasting parchment like that.”
“Fine, fine,” he said. He floated the parchment balls back to her desk and used his wand to smooth them out again in midair. “It’s just as well. I wasn’t exactly relishing the thought of downing Shamrock Brandy again anyway.”
“Alright then. So what do you have in mind, then?”
“Let’s go to the Leaky Cauldron and try to get laid.”
“Hermione …” The pieces of parchment abruptly ceased their de-wrinkling and fluttered back to the desk.
“Ok, Ok. We don’t have to make getting laid our express goal, but we could at least …”
“I’m not ready.”
“Harry, it’s been almost four months.”
“I know. I’m just … maybe next weekend. Ok?”
“Ok. “ She straightened a stack of files and lined her quills in a neat row. “What say we go and see Luna and then head over to my place? We can eat ice cream and I can rig up the television again. I’ll find some mindless action movie with lots of explosions and zero romance.”
A grin spread across his face. “Sounds great.”
He gathered the half-smoothed pieces of parchment into a pile and handed it to her. “Erm, sorry about these. Couldn’t get them quite …” he said, but then broke off as a knock came on her doorframe. She watched his expression darken before shifting her eyes toward the sound.
“Hey … Hermione, I have an owl from … oh … Ha … Harry,” Ron stammered, face immediately draining of color. “Hi. Hi Hermione. Harry. I …”
“Ron,” Hermione said, standing and crossing the room. “You have an owl for me?”
“Not for you … just … from Kingsley … he … erm … wants me to find a countercharm to this one hex and … I … you know, I’ll just come back later. Erm. Sorry.” He ducked back out of the office and hurried away.
“Well that wasn’t awkward at all,” Hermione muttered.
“He has the gall to ask you to help him with shit like that, Hermione?” Harry spat, eyes flashing. “He has the fucking gall to …” His arms made huge sweeping gestures in the air.
“Yes, Harry. It’s okay. Really. We talked about things …”
“You bloody talked about things,” he said, voice nearing a shout, “and that makes it perfectly acceptable for him to ask you to …”
“Look … I know you don’t understand right now, and maybe you never will, but it’s okay. It wasn’t for a while, but it is now.”
“Then why did he slink out of here like a …”
“Because of you and his sister,” she said matter-of-factly. “You know, let’s just cut out of work early. Let’s go see Luna. Alright?”
Harry gave another angry glance at the door. She put a hand on his sleeve. He looked down at it, then up at her. “Did you … did you, Hermione Granger, just suggest that we leave work early?”
“Your face is the color of a tomato,” she replied.
He gave her a small, reluctant smile. “Alright. Let’s go.”
When they got to St. Mungo’s, Luna was asleep. The healer on duty informed them that her sleeping draught would wear off in twenty minutes, so they decided to wait.
“It’s good that she’s sleeping,” Hermione said. “Last week she’d been up for almost fifty hours straight.”
“When do they think she’ll be able to go home?”
“No one wants to give a firm estimate. April is the earliest I’ve heard, but it’s all speculation at this point.”
“What about Xenophilius?”
“He’s about the same.”
“They should have had that area blocked off or something. God.”
“Well, it’s inaccessible now. The Ministry put all sorts of wards up around it. No one is going to stumble across that field of venomous viriglia in search of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack ever again,” she said, sitting on a long bench and leafing through the pile of magazines.
“Poor Luna.” Harry did a full survey of the room before sitting next to her.
“She’s not here, Harry.”
“You don’t know that.”
“The Harpies are playing in Germany.”
“She can Apparate here fairly easily.”
“She and Luna are friends.”
“You and Luna are friends too. So sit here and wait for your friend to wake up so you can visit with her.”
Harry folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the wall, exhaling mightily. Every time a new person entered the waiting room, his body went rigid, only relaxing when he determined that it wasn’t Ginny. Hermione buried her nose in the latest issue of Witch Weekly, determined to ignore Harry’s nervous energy.
“You want to take a quiz to determine which flavor of Every Flavor Bean you are?” she asked, offering the magazine to him. “I’m apparently a rice pudding.”
“Huh,” Harry replied.
“I realize that it’s not the most exciting flavor, but at least it’s not earwax or … what are you looking at?” She followed his gaze across the room, where Draco Malfoy had just sat on a bench in the far corner.
“Wonder what he’s doing here,” Harry said.
“He was here three days ago too. And the week before. His mother is in here for something.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
As Harry took the magazine from Hermione, she snuck a look at Draco. He was wearing what looked like the same clothes he had been wearing three days ago, but then again, to be fair, he could just have a closet full of black slacks, black jumpers, and black coats. He sat with his head tilted back against the wall, hands folded in his lap. If he noticed her staring at him, he gave no indication.
“It says I’m a welsh rarebit,” Harry announced, handing the magazine back to Hermione.
Before Hermione could offer any words of opinion on this result, the Healer approached them. “Mr. Potter? Ms. Granger? Ms. Lovegood can see visitors now.”
"Come on, Pudding," Harry said.
"What did you just call me?"
"Pudding. As in 'Rice Pudding.' You know? The quiz?"
"Right, right. Of course. Well then, I'm right behind you, Rarebit."
"Ugh. Let's stop this immediately."
Harry smiled at her and ruffled his hair. As they followed the Healer back towards the patient rooms, Hermione looked over at Draco once more. If he notices, she said to herself, I will exchange polite nods with him. This plan proved unnecessary; he never even glanced at them.