Even in her family home, Hermione did not relax completely. This had nothing to do with having gone through a war or survived assassination attempts as Minister of Magic. No, this was because her daughters had inherited every gene for getting into trouble that either she or her husband could contribute, though Harry admitted he contributed the majority of them. Even early morning on a weekend when Lizzie and Marie were bound to be asleep she remained alert.
That said, on some level she was still surprised when her husband approached her from behind and wrapped his arms around her. Even if she was alert for threats, Harry would never register as a threat to her. Not only would he never hurt him of his own free will, he was also immune to attempts to subvert his will. That was unless you counted the girls' puppy dog expressions.
Still, even if she was a little surprised, she just leaned into his embrace and said "Yes, love?"
"How do you feel about a Regency theme for your fortieth birthday party?"
"It sounds like I'm going to be cringing at the outfits our friends will wear. Why are you asking?"
"Do remember those costumes I got you for your twentieth birthday? I ran into them in the attic. I think I can overcome my aversion to dancing for a night."
"The Darcy and Elizabeth costumes from the Colin Firth production?" Hermione grinned. "If you want to do Darcy's outfit justice you're going to need lessons."
Harry faux-collapsed on his wife making her shift on the barstool she had been reading on. The barstools they had at their kitchen counter were surprisingly comfortable, even if you had a giant prat of a husband dangling all over you. "Must you be so cruel?" he whisper-wailed melodramatically. She mentally made a note to do something unpleasant to George for being a bad influence.
Hermione just rolled her eyes. "You knew this was coming as soon as you suggested it."
Harry stopped putting weight on her immediately. "True. Minuet or waltz? I don't think it would be easy getting lessons for anything else."
"Waltz. You can use it for other occasions as well."
Harry groaned softly at that. From the tension in his body she knew he was about to try to change the subject. "You know, we never did finish that horribly awkward conversation."
Called it. "The one when we started dating but didn't want to say anything?" It happened a few months after her twentieth birthday so this didn't look like a completely horrible change of subject, even if she knew it was.
"I think that was the least eloquent I've ever been. Every speech I've ever given after that I think 'at least it's not as bad as that time.'"
Hermione chuckled. "Me, too." It was a horrible nightmare of "so"s, "well"s and "um"s with the occasional "yeah" thrown in. It probably took a decade before she could think about it without cringing.
"The one time when our famed ability to communicate without words failed."
Hermione jabbed her husband with an elbow, setting down her book at the same time. "Hardly the one time, and given how it worked out, I would argue that it didn't fail. It just didn't work smoothly."
"All the same, I've never been happier for my stomach to rumble."
The curry they had gotten afterwards in response to his obvious hunger was arguably their first date. Arguably, since neither of them said the D word for… well, it was a long time, months at least. Actually, they avoided talking about the official status of their relationship in general until right before they got engaged, which was years later. "Well, we both know what we would have said now."
Harry shook his head. "Nope. I still have no idea what I would have said. I know how I felt, but putting that into words that wouldn't have you hexing me is still not a thing I know how to do. Not even after two children and fifteen years of marriage."
Hermione broke out of his embrace, sliding off the barstool, to turn and look at him. "Why would telling me that you think I'm the most beautiful woman in the world prompt me to hex you?"
Harry froze in that particular way he does when danger's coming and it's not something he can dodge or use magic to avoid. It's basically something only Hermione sees now, though she anticipated the kids causing it more in the future. "Hermione, love, you know I think that's true now, and I'll probably keep thinking that until Lizzie gets a bit older, but it wasn't true back then."
Hermione felt a bit guilty that Harry flinched at her single word reply, but he just went on to say "Everyone, including my therapist, was convinced that I had been in love with you since I was eleven. I didn't see it, but you know how bad I am with understanding how I feel. So I wanted to try dating to maybe find out if they were right or not."
"And the verdict?" Hermione asked tightly.
Harry shrugged. "I think they were wrong, but I did fall in love with you rapidly once we started going out. Of course Joe said that I was probably just discovering my feelings rather than developing new ones, but…." Harry just shrugged again. He often maintained that his therapist had been great with his PTSD but less good outside of that realm.
"No wonder you were so skittish." Hermione would have done horrible, horrible things to him if he had asked her out just because other people said it was a good idea. Looking back, she could see his point. Two decades of therapy had helped, but Harry still wasn't a person who was very in touch with his feelings. If enough people told him that he was feeling something but didn't realize it, he would have taken it under consideration.
"And why were you so nervous?"
"I thought you were desperately in love with me and wasn't sure if it was fair to try dating since I knew I didn't match your level of affection."
Harry blinked a few times. "So would have actually talking made things better or worse?"
Hermione bit her bottom lip for a moment. "I think we would have talked ourselves out of giving us a try."
"Worse then. Just how did we get into a situation like this anyways?"
"Well, obviously it started with those costumes."
Twenty years ago
Harry suppressed a wince from his sore jaw as he dug into his food. Auror training was rough. At this point he and Ron had convinced the instructors that they belonged there despite the irregularities of their admittance into the program. That did nothing to make their teachers ease up. In fact, it was just the opposite. Now that the instructors knew they wanted Harry and Ron around, they also had to correct the holes in their education that a year long camping trip left. That wasn't as many as you might think, but the program was already tough enough without that additional work.
The fact that Harry and Ron were able to go and eat lunch rather than curl up and whimper in the corner said something about their toughness. Ron blamed life threatening events for seven years. Harry blamed having Wood as a Quidditch captain. Given the whole "Get the snitch or die trying" thing, Hermione lumped the latter into the former. Ron had once said their tolerance for pain was also probably influenced by years of knowing Hermione. That was cause for breakup number three, back near the beginning of Auror training when Hermione was still at Hogwarts.
Harry wasn't sure what number they were on now. He cherished every bit of ignorance he had about their relationship. Despite what some people said, that wasn't jealousy on his part. No, the less he knew, the less likely it was he would get dragged into the middle of one of their big arguments. It was hard to take sides when you didn't know what the sides were, right? Yeah, that didn't work as well as he would like. He was still confused about breakup number five, which was because they both wanted to wait for marriage to have sex. Yes, they broke up because they agreed about something. No, he didn't want to understand it. He had been about ready to toss the both of them into the spell damage ward at St. Mungo's, because obviously something was wrong with them.
Case in point: Ron, instead of eating or resting or doing anything sensible with his lunch break was perusing a jewelry catalog. Well, given that he and Hermione had just broken up again, Harry could sort of see the logic, but making up would only matter if they were alive to appreciate it, and he really should eat something if Ron was going to survive the afternoon training.
Ron was obviously not of the same mind because he said "So have you got Hermione a gift yet?"
Harry just snorted. "You know how hard it is to shop for her. There's a used bookstore I haven't heard of before in Marylebone. I figure I'll go there and try the usual." The usual being to check to see if they remember a bushy haired girl coming by any time recently, and if not, grabbing a few random books. Fortunately, they recently covered the spell to find magical artifacts, including books, in training, so there was a small chance that Harry might nab a magic book that Hermione hadn't seen before. Very small, but not zero.
"Are you really going to risk Hermione saying 'How unoriginal?'"
Harry shrugged and shoved more unhealthy fried potato product in his mouth. He would have explained to Ron that Hermione only minded books as a present when it was a low effort gift, except that Hermione had given Ron the same lecture at least twice. How hard was it to avoid romance novels and books on the bestseller list? She didn't like reading the former, though more for the average quality than the subject matter, and if she was interested in the latter she would have bought them for herself. This was the girl who had to replace her library card due to excessive wear. Of course she would be familiar with everything on the bestseller list.
The standards were a bit different for the two friends, since Harry wasn't trying to date her and thus could be forgiven for not knowing what she was currently reading. To be fair to Ron, keeping up with Hermione's reading went past the trials of Hercules and ended up somewhere around Sisyphus.
"Sure you don't want to come to Marylebone with me?" Harry wasn't enthused with the idea, because the backup plan if the books themselves didn't go over well was explaining the new bookstore he discovered and he liked having an escape plan.
"Nah, I got this covered."
Harry took another dubious look at the jewelry catalog. "If you say so."
"Honestly, Harry, you don't seem to have any problems with keeping track of my reading list."
"That's because I keep notes like my life depends on it."
Hermione slapped him on the arm. "Prat." Hermione frowned. "I have to say I didn't realize that Ron had skipped meals to think of his present."
"I don't think anyone who knew you two back then complained about how much Ron loved you."
Hermione felt a twitch in her lips. "Are you saying that Ron's love was low quality?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Wench. You know what I mean."
"Still that's more or less how I remember things."
"Though I don't remember why you and Ron had broken up that time."
Hermione bit her bottom lip in thought. "I don't either. It seemed terribly important living through it, but trying to think back, I don't remember."
"Well, from there I went and tried to find the bookstore, made a wrong turn or something and decided to checkout the TV memorabilia store that I found instead of the book store. I don't think I ever did get around to going there."
Twenty years ago
Harry pushed his box towards the birthday girl. The rest of the dark wizards and witches at the Burrow for her party had decided to leave Harry and Ron for last. At least Harry was only second to last.
Hermione hefted it thoughtfully. "Hmmm. This doesn't seem heavy enough to be books."
Harry rolled his eyes. "You could just open it."
"I'm just curious as to what prompted the change in gift giving behavior," Hermione said as she primly unwrapped the box.
"Yeah, mate, I thought you were going to do the usual," Ron said beside Harry.
Harry shrugged. "I got lost trying to find the new bookstore and these jumped out at me."
George took on a thoughtful look. "Literally? Because that could be a fun gimmick for the sto- Ow!" Ginny and Angelina had simultaneously hit George. "Fine."
Harry smirked at his ex-girlfriend. He still had feelings in that direction, but between Auror training and Ginny's training with the Holyhead Harpies, they decided not to tie each other down. Even when trying to date with their schedules they only managed a date once a month. They could have managed more, but at the expense of social obligations like birthday parties or Harry seeing his godson. In any case, Ginny was too busy glaring at George to notice Harry's expression.
"Clothing?" Hermione said, finally getting the box open. "Certificate of authenticity? Oh my. These are the outfits that Darcy and Elizabeth wore during the first dance at Netherfield from the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice miniseries. How did you know I loved that production?"
Harry blinked. "I... didn't? I just knew you liked the book."
"It's one of the few bits of television I've seen in the last few years."
Angelina nodded. "Colin Firth was absolutely scrumptious in it."
"I know!" Hermione replied.
Harry had to blink a few times at that response. Hermione's girly moments were few and far between, but invariably traumatic. Like Lockhart. Or when she cleaned up for the Yule Ball and Harry decided that he needed to buy a shotgun to keep the boys away.
"You know, I hear that he had to dye his hair from ginger to black for it. If it was anyone other than you, I'd say that you were trying to convince Hermione to date you instead of Ron." One downside of Angelina recovering from Fred's death was that she picked up the habit of slightly evil mind games.
"What?" Ron sputtered.
Ginny smacked him with a pillow. "Oh, relax. We all know that Harry sees Hermione as a sister."
"And that he doesn't have a romantic bone in his body," Angelina added.
"Maybe one or two," Ginny replied. "Some of the small ones, though."
Harry didn't feel too bad about it, since he was almost sure Ginny was joking. Then came Ron's turn. Hermione's face as she saw the size and shape of the present wasn't promising. It was her "I'm going to pretend to be happy so I won't make a scene" face. Harry wasn't the only one to notice. Ron paled and George surreptitiously backed away.
Upon revealing a heart shaped silver necklace with a sapphire set in it, Hermione let out an unenthusiastic "It's nice."
Ginny smacked Ron with the pillow again. "I'm going to be nice and assume that this is sleep deprivation from the Auror training talking. It's a bit presumptuous to give her jewelry since you've broken up."
"Not to mention thoughtless. No, thoughtless isn't the right word. Let's go with unimaginative," added Angelina. "I mean if you were trying to get back into Hermione's good graces, it should require a bit more thought than looking up her birthstone."
Ron looked a bit dejected, which was better than the temper tantrum Harry was half expecting. Still, he tried to defend his mate. "He did spend a lot of time looking at the jewelry catalog."
Surprisingly, it was Molly who said. "It's from a catalog? Well, that makes it less presumptuous, but also less romantic."
Harry blinked a few times. "I thought it was presumptuous because it was romantic." He had no idea what the big deal about the catalog was, though. Why would it matter?
"No, no, no. It's presumptuous because it's jewelry," said Ginny severely. "Like bath salts would have been romantic and non presumptuous."
"What's romantic about bath salts?" asked Ron with a touch of exasperation.
"Men!" said Ginny and Angelina. Harry idly noted that George had backed out of the room. He wasn't sure if there was actual danger or if it was a joke. It could go either way with him.
"Harry's present would have been quite romantic and non presumptuous if it had been on purpose," said Molly thoughtfully.
"Er, what now?"
Hermione finally spoke up. "Honestly, Harry, matching outfits for the main characters in the greatest romance in the English language?"
"I just thought you liked the book!"
"We know," said Hermione tightly. "That's why Molly said 'on purpose.'"
Hermione tapped a finger against her arm. "That's more or less how I remember it happening. I seem to recall saying a few more things and I'm surprised you remember the part about the hair dye."
Harry ran a hand through his own hair. "That's because I had to listen to Ron whine for two weeks about how maybe he should dye his hair, but he wouldn't look very good."
Hermione snorted in a very ladylike manner. "Physical appearance wasn't anywhere on the list for reasons that we kept breaking up."
"I also remember Molly being a bit more critical of his gift selection."
Harry scratched his chin in thought. "Are you sure?"
"Mmm. Molly was getting tired of us breaking up and around that time she decided that it was because Ron was taking me for granted."
"That doesn't seem at all accurate. It seemed to be about even who broke up with whom."
"Molly was looking for a problem to solve. If the underlying issue was fundamental incompatibility, then there wasn't anything she could do."
Harry shook his head. "Well, just so we're clear. At this point no romantic intentions were directed towards you from me. Because about the time we got engaged, Ginny said that was when she knew that I was interested in you."
"That's what I thought at the time. Wait, wasn't Fleur was at the party too?"
Harry nodded. "She and Bill arrived late. Victoire had some kind of accident. I remember because I got to listen to Ron complain about Fleur's unreasonable standards about jewelry but I didn't remember hearing her complain directly."
"Oh, right. I think that was one of the fires."
"Our girls were complete angels compared to Victoire and Dom. None of this accidental magic causing fires thing."
"Be fair. They are part veela."
"And that changes how wonderful our little ones are how?"
Hermione rolled her eyes at her silly husband. He couldn't resist a chance to say good things about his girls, even if they were blatant lies.
Harry cleared his throat. "I guess next Ron and I broke down and actually read Pride and Prejudice ."
"Both of you?"
"I wanted to know just how romantic your birthday present could have been and how glad I should be that everyone had no faith in my ability to be romantic."
"You have gotten better. A little."
"Thanks. Ron wanted to see if he could duplicate what I did but on purpose."
Twenty years ago
Harry wished he had something stronger than a butterbeer, but anything stronger would probably send him right to sleep now. Ron looked like he was thinking the same thing, because Ginny, the wench, had an actual beer since she was in the middle of a three day gap in her training schedule and Ron kept shooting her jealous looks. Harry had been more concerned about the fact that Ginny had been acting standoffish. He knew they hadn't made any promises, but it still stung a little. At least the air in the Burrow's backyard was nice and the temperature was very nice for that time of year.
"I've read the bloody book now and I still have no idea why my gift would be considered thoughtful and romantic."
Ginny snorted. "It's a good thing we're on break, because I take back what I said about you having a romantic bone in your body."
"Outfits from the main characters from 'the greatest romance in the English language,'" Ron added.
"Oh, c'mon. I'm not saying it's a horrible gift, but I'm not like Darcy and Hermione's not like Elizabeth. It's not any more thoughtful than me paying attention to what her second favorite book is." Because Harry was pretty sure Hogwarts, A History was still number one, even if he still had no clue why. "Maybe if Ron had done it, it would have been more romantic because both he and Darcy are tall."
Ron jabbed his butterbeer bottle in Harry's direction. "You've got the dark hair, mate."
"Austen never said what color his hair was. I was paying attention to things like that. The only description was that he was tall and handsome. They like giving actors with dark hair the role, but…." Harry shrugged.
Ron shrugged. "At least Hermione's like Elizabeth, right? Both plain bookworms."
Harry frowned. "Elizabeth wasn't much of a bookworm. She had an outgoing personality and liked hiking."
Harry snorted. "If there's a reason or socially, but not recreationally. And Hermione isn't plain."
"What? I mean she's nice when she puts some effort in, but…."
"Ron, if you don't think Hermione's at least the second prettiest girl you know, maybe you shouldn't try getting back together with her."
Ginny sputtered on her beer. "Second prettiest?"
Harry made a waffling motion with one hand. "I mean there might be an exception for Veela. Probably? So if Ron thought that Fleur was prettier than that wouldn't be a problem with dating Hermione."
"So you were saying that Ron should have thought that I was the prettiest or the second prettiest girl he knew if he was going to pursue me."
Harry nodded. "It would have been different if you two hadn't known each other since you were eleven and been doing the whole break up and get back together dance for a while. But at that point? If he didn't love you enough to think you were at least in the top five, then it wasn't going to happen, and if it wasn't going to happen I don't know why he bothered."
"I think we could have worked it out eventually, maybe with enough couples counseling, but I also think we're both happier this way."
"He and Susan are rather disgustingly in love."
Hermione bumped his shoulder with her own. "That's what they say about us." They meaning not only Ron and Susan but the public as a whole as well. Not even Hermione's political opponents ever tried to say that they weren't together out of love.
"So are we still in sync here?"
Hermione shook her head. "I think this is where things start getting messy. I'm pretty sure that Ginny came away with the impression that you thought that I was the prettiest girl you knew here, even more than Fleur."
Harry rubbed the back of his head. "I mean it was a long time ago, but I can sort of see where she might have gotten that impression. But really, I was talking about Ron. No wonder she ignored any hints about getting back together."
"If she thought at best you ranked her at number three? I'm surprised she didn't hurt you for those hints ."
"Did you tell anyone else about your Pride and Prejudice discussion?"
Harry looked up, obviously trying to remember. "I don't think so, but it was twenty years ago."
"I'm guessing Ginny gossiped then, because I remember a weird conversation with Andromeda about Pride and Prejudice ."
Twenty years ago
Andromeda shook her head as she poured herself and Hermione tea. "I don't know why Teddy is so agreeable about taking a nap while you're around."
Hermione felt like a nap herself. If this was agreeable, she definitely didn't want to know what disagreeable looked like. "I hope that doesn't mean he finds me boring."
Andromeda took a sip from her tea. "I doubt it. He was very happy to hear that you'd be visiting today."
"He always seems more excited to see Harry."
"Harry takes him flying."
Hermione shuddered at the thought of a toddler on a broom. If anyone could be trusted in the situation, it was Harry, but that was a big if in her mind. Of course, Andromeda was fiercely protective of Teddy, so it was hard to argue against both Andromeda and Harry on the issue. Especially since flying was one area that Harry could successfully stand up to Hermione's spirited persuasion (not, as Ron called it, nagging).
"There are safety spells, you realize."
Hermione frowned. "I've never run across any. Even in the books about Quidditch."
Andromeda's face twisted into a wry smile. "You haven't read that many books of childcare magic then."
"I didn't think childcare would be that different for muggle and magicals."
"In all the ways that matter, it isn't. Magic just lets you be lazier about it. Except for cases like Teddy or Nymphadora, of course. But most childcare books have spells for keeping children safe on brooms. Perhaps I should have gotten you one for your birthday."
"Oh, the book on tea was quite lovely. Literally lovely. I wish I had a place in my flat to display it properly."
"I wasn't sure if another book would be appreciated. I'm sure you got quite a few as it was."
Hermione sighed. "I wish. There would have been less drama that way."
"I heard something about comparing you to Elizabeth Bennet."
"Ha! I'm nothing like her. She's what I wanted to be when I was growing up. Pretty, outgoing and well liked for her personality. I ended up more like Mary, the plain bookworm."
"I thought Elizabeth was supposed to be plain."
"That's a common misconception. Elizabeth is only described physically by Caroline Bingley, who is jealous of the attention that Darcy pays Miss Bennet. Of course she would be unflattering in her words. However, the book says that Elizabeth is the second prettiest of the Bennet sisters, and even Lydia and Kitty are noted as turning heads for the men in the regiment."
"Who might have been a bit deprived before being stationed nearby."
"Timelines are a bit difficult in the book, but Lydia and Kitty still seemed popular after the regiment had been in place for a while. Of course, standards of attractiveness do vary quite a bit over time. What someone in the Regency era had imagined Darcy or Jane to look like could be considered in modern times to be quite odd or downright unattractive. There's characteristics informed by socio-economic indicators like how tanned skin is more popular today, but would be associated with the working class back then..."
Andromeda sipped her tea and indulged in Hermione's impromptu lecture.
"...of course, Darcy's hair color was likely entirely academic as men of that era tended to powder their hair, though it may have been a powdered wig instead…."
"...and even if you take into account the possibilities that some of my features that are currently less attractive to modern sensibilities being more attractive at the time, the fact that our lifestyles are different would naturally lead to a different appearance compared to Elizabeth Bennet."
Andromeda set her cup down. "Well, I hear that Harry also came to the conclusion that she wouldn't have looked like you. Of course, his reasoning was that you were too pretty."
Hermione looked down and blushed. "Obviously, Harry shared the common misconception about Elizabeth's attractiveness."
Andromeda had a slight lift to her lips that would have been a mischievous smirk on anyone else. "If you say so."
"...so should I get a powdered wig to go with the costume?"
Hermione didn't quite retch. "Heavens, no. One, it's not authentic to the actual mini series the costume is from. Two, there's a good chance that the 'powder' referred to in the 1800s is actually dandruff. There was a distinct lack of hair washing that occurred back then, something I didn't realize twenty years ago. It's hard to tell in most discussions of historical fashion with the amount of revisionism and general distaste for hygiene standards back then."
"So, and I'm not saying this just to get that concept out of my head.... What was weird about that conversation?"
"The way that Andromeda went straight to comparing me with Elizabeth Bennet rather than mention the costumes first."
"Huh. Well, that conversation explains why you were thinking I thought you were attractive, which shouldn't have been a surprise."
"I'm pretty sure my eyes almost fell out of my head when I first saw you at the Yule Ball. Granted, I was thinking more about the boys I had to scare off than anything about dating you, but your attractiveness was never in doubt."
"Well, I didn't realize that. At the time I was just running over my head what it meant that you actually thought I was attractive instead of a funny shaped guy. It didn't help that back then I didn't have any faith in your ability to judge your own feelings."
Harry smirked. "Back then?"
"Yes, you prat, back then. Now, I'll at least trust you to know if you're in love with someone."
Harry chuckled. "I would hope so. Otherwise accepting my marriage proposal would have been odd."
"In any case , you went months before you figured out that you were attracted to Ginny and jealous of Dean."
"Fair enough." Harry scratched his head. "Were they really dating for that long?"
Hermione shrugged. It had been a long time ago. "And I convinced myself that if that was mostly sexual feelings and thus rather obvious, then it was entirely possible that you felt something more romantic towards me and didn't realize it because it didn't come with all those lustful thoughts. We had established at that point you thought of me as a sister, but how would you know? You even interrupted a Valentine's date for me. I spent several days going back and forth, wondering how I could have missed your feelings or if I even missed them in the first place. It wouldn't have been the first time people have talked about us that way."
"To be fair, by fifth year, I associated not listening to you with higher chances of death, and the date wasn't going well either. So is that when you decided to push me on therapy?"
"That sounds about- No wait, before that we had that lunch where Ron was staring at me."
Twenty years ago
It was rare for Harry, Hermione and Ron to eat lunch together. The boys frequently didn't know if they'd be available and Hermione was busy enough that if you didn't schedule lunch with her, it usually didn't happen, as in eating at all didn't happen. She would frequently work straight through the meal time.
On this particular day, Hermione actually remembered she needed to eat, even if she had forgotten to bring food and she randomly ran into the boys in the cafeteria. Harry was quickly working his way through a stack of sandwiches. "Forgot to eat breakfast," he mumbled, though at least he swallowed before doing so. Thankfully, people didn't bother Auror trainees in the cafeteria, no matter how famous they were. It wasn't so much official policy as much as the fact that Aurors refused to prosecute trainees who snapped and hexed people harassing them while eating.
"Forgot or just woke up late?" asked Hermione as she sat down with her salad. If it was Ron she would have taken ten to one odds on waking up late. For Harry it could go either way, especially if forgetting was relating to something he needed to do for Teddy.
Harry just shrugged and methodically ate with a focus that wouldn't have been out of place for a twelve year old Ron, though with slightly more chewing. Given how quickly Auror trainees burned through calories, it was understandable.
Hermione ate herself, looking anywhere but at Harry and Ron. Harry, because she was still having trouble with the possibility that he might be in love with her and Ron because he was obviously staring at her and with her confused emotions she didn't want to lead him on. The one good thing about the situation is that figuring out how to let someone down gently only applied if they knew they were attracted to you.
It wouldn't be the first meal they shared in awkward silence and it wouldn't be the last.
Harry worked his way through his meal, and got up to get more. At this point, Hermione was tired of Ron staring at her and snapped at him. "What?"
Ron mumbled something. Hermione only caught bits of it. "Harry said *about four syllables of mumbling* only girl prettier than you is Fleur *another five or six syllables of mumbling*."
The only way Hermione could sensibly assemble that in her head was that Harry had admitted at some point that he thought that the only girl prettier than Hermione was Fleur and that Ron himself couldn't see it. That more or less solidified Hermione's belief that Harry had feelings for her, because there was no way that any objective observer could think that. On the other hand… "Well, Ronald , if that is such an inconceivable notion for you, perhaps there's a reason we keep breaking up," she hissed quietly. "Honestly, we both know I'm not that pretty, but if you have such a hard time believing it, then perhaps you should have thought a lot harder about giving a blatantly romantic present like-"
"Oi!" Ron whisper shouted. "I thought plenty hard about-"
"Well, obviously not hard enough-"
"Sorry for not being a complete-"
"Complete swot? I thought we got over that-"
"You mean you decided-"
"In retrospect, given what you said earlier, Ron was probably saying that you said that if he didn't think I was the second prettiest girl he knew we shouldn't be dating."
"Seems likely. I just remember coming back and thinking you were in the middle of a type three breakup fight, which was odd since you I didn't think you two had gotten back together."
Harry nodded. "Type one involved a lot more gesturing and shouting. Type two involved spellfire. Type three was trying to be inconspicuous in public, but totally failing. Type four you would actually let each other finish your sentences." Harry shook his head. "Anyways, now we're at the point you thought that I thought you were the second prettiest girl I knew. When did you decide I thought you were first?"
"Honestly, Harry, I didn't just decide . I called up Ginny to complain about her brother and she said that you said that it would be okay if Ron thought Fleur was prettier and that the obvious implication is that you thought that she wasn't. So obviously I thought that Ron had misunderstood you rather than thinking that I had misheard Ron. And Ginny took the time to complain about wasting all that time pining after a man who was so obviously in love with me."
"Obviously in love? Really?"
"She started with the troll and went on from there."
Harry shook his head. "I guess she forgot that back then I had the survival instincts of a lemming on PCP."
"You realize that when lemmings jump off cliffs they do so into water and can generally survive the fall, right?"
"Hence the PCP."
"In any case, that was when we decided that you really needed therapy if you were that out of touch with your feelings."
"I needed therapy, but that was for PTSD. Of course my wanker of a therapist decided to use the rumors about my love life to make talking about my childhood traumas more appealing."
Hermione patted her husband on the arm. "Well you got help. Is it really all that important why you went?"
Harry fixed Hermione with a glare. "You realize that the only reason I agreed was because I calculated how much time it would take to argue you out of the idea and decided that it would be easier to just go for a few sessions and later say at least I tried."
Hermione shot him a smug grin. "Yes, I took that into account."
"Manipulative wench," he muttered. "Looking back, I probably should have portkeyed across the Pond or something for my sessions. It would have been easier dealing with someone that didn't have preconceptions from my fame. Like being convinced I was in love with my best friend."
"Oh, your therapist thought you were in love with Ron?"
"Wench," he said as he playfully swatted his wife's bottom. "So therapy, two months of avoiding you-"
"It was closer to three."
"-and then we have our non conversation and start dating."
"Not that we admitted we were dating to anyone for four months." Including each other.
Harry shrugged. "No one asked. At least no one asked me. I'm still surprised Ron never said anything about it."
Hermione returned his shrug. "Ron was too busy enjoying the fact that he was no longer the member of the Gold Trio that was most out of touch with his emotions."
"Huh. So that's our love story?"
"Ha! We don't have a love story. I used to think we did. A story requires at least five things: characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. I used to think the conflict was overcoming your upbringing. Now I find out that instead we had a series of random events and miscommunications. The closest we had to a conflict was that time right before we got married."
"When we got the Ministry shut down?"
Fifteen years ago
Hermione frowned as Harry pulled back. It used to be that he'd deepen a kiss like that.
Harry must have noticed her expression because he asked "Is something wrong, love?"
"I don't know. Is there? You've been distant lately. Ever since we went to Venice."
Harry winced. "This is going to sound stupid."
"So nothing new," Hermione snapped. Harry frowned a bit at her tone, causing Hermione to say "Sorry." It was a bit forced, but it was still an apology.
"Venice is the first time you wore that satiny thing to bed. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about our love life, because the things we do in the bedroom are brilliant, but after you put that on… well, I'm having trouble not throwing you on the bed and having my way with you."
"Harry… why do you think I bought it?"
"Because it was comfortable? I mean it felt very nice."
"Comfortable in the Jean Harlow 'Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?' sense of the word."
Harry blinked. "Oh, is that where the phrase comes from?" Then he shook his head. "Well, I seem to recall you saying several times that you weren't a sex before marriage kind of girl. You've been consistent on that fact as far back as fourth year."
"We're getting married in less than three months. I'm not going to say that's close enough. What I am going to do is to slip into something more comfortable." The last word was practically a purr. "When I get back… well, let's just say I'm open to my fiance trying to persuade me to change my mind on that notion."
Nothing will be said about how successful Harry's attempt at persuasion was nor what form that persuasion took, but let it be noted that the next morning, both their bosses received notices that they probably wouldn't be coming in for a couple of days. Coincidentally, the first thing that morning, Robards and Smythe (Harry and Hermione's bosses respectively) had meetings with each other and saw that the other seemed annoyed. That wasn't out of the ordinary for Robards, but Smythe was more of the jovial type. Losing their hardest workers was an issue, though given that Harry and Hermione were both workaholics, the idea that they skived off to shag never would have entered either of their minds. No, their relationship was known, but that just made it believable that if one of them caught something nasty enough to take them out of commission then the other one would get it as well… and they'd probably power through and come back to work while still infectious, so both bosses owled them to take an entire week off.
Harry saw his note, and scrawled a simple "Fine" in response. Hermione was a bit more formal but still acquiesced, though Harry had been doing his best to distract her while she was writing, so the handwriting was a bit sloppy. Smythe noted that and came to the very reasonable conclusion from what he knew of her that she was on her deathbed.
The fact that neither of them protested? Robards was ready to start a quarantine and Smythe literally checked for other signs of the apocalypse. It didn't help that the power of suggestion caused several of their coworkers to develop psychosomatic ailments, leading to the Ministry being shut down for a few days, irrational panic never having really gone out of fashion in magical England.
The closest Harry came to actually getting sick that week was when he realized that perhaps Fudge wasn't being all that irrational about a panicking population.
Harry and Hermione didn't get a lot of sleep that week, which sold people on their sickness when they showed up back to work obviously exhausted, perhaps a bit dehydrated, and in Hermione's case, walking a bit funny.
Harry smiled at the memory of their pre-wedding honeymoon. Hermione blushed a bit as well. Not for their activities, but because they happily ditched work for a week. The stimulus to that event was a minor thing that a little communication cleared up, which was ironic given what they realized today about how miscommunication led to their relationship in the first place.
Harry tilted his head. "And you did threaten to murder and/or castrate me when the girls were born. Both times. I think that counts as conflict."
Hermione waved it off. "No one counts that."
"You broke bones when Marie was born. Three bones in my right hand."
"The matron had seen worse."
Harry twitched slightly. "The matron was the same woman who delivered Sirius. That doesn't say anything."
Changing the subject and implicitly acknowledging Harry's point, Hermione said, "At least figuring out the exact sequence of events makes me feel less inadequate."
Harry blinked. "Why would you feel inadequate?"
"Because I had thought you were in love with me since Hogwarts. Oh, I know you loved me since then, but I didn't like thinking I missed the fact that you thought of me more than a sister. Plus I didn't like the unequal levels of feeling. I felt very grateful that you never pressured me to love you more to match your levels and let us take our relationship slowly."
Harry snorted. "Slowly? I think that after that first kiss half of your things teleported into my place."
"But it took four months to get to that first kiss. Too bad no one would ever believe us about how things happened."
"A little sick about how people keep saying that we were inevitable? I swear save one girl from a troll…."
"I'm a little glad it was chance. It makes me value what we have." She scowled at her smirking husband. "Oh, you know what I mean. Not that I didn't value it before-"
"Maybe we should talk it out. After all, not talking things out leads to things like being married for almost fifteen years. Though, I'm not sure I like how much our love story depends on everyone having no faith in my ability to analyze my own feelings."
"Prat. You-" Hermione was interrupted by crashing sound.
Harry let out a long suffering sigh. "I'll go check on what the girls did this time." He turned and started muttering, "The next time someone says that girls are easier than boys…."
Hermione smiled at her retreating husband and decided to look at those costumes. They wouldn't be a perfect fit. Nothing in their lives was, but didn't that make their happiness all the more precious?