Something felt off, as one Harry Potter exited the Floo terminal in the entrance hall of the Potter Residence, footsteps light and demeanour introspective.
Said something had felt off for the entire day; a niggling, errant feeling that had nestled in the back of his mind and stubbornly refused to get displaced.
As if he was forgetting something highly significant.
Harry didn't have the slightest clue as to what it was, though.
He ran through a mental checklist, trying to discover what he had forgotten. All the summer essays for his Defence Against the Dark Arts classes had been marked and graded, ready for return to the students in September – the young professor was proud to note that the quality of the assignments had been steadily rising over the past few months – and his agenda for the next seven days planned out ahead of time. His ten-year-old son and six-year-old daughter had been picked up from the Wizarding equivalent of a Muggle primary school, and currently were being looked after by Molly Weasley.
His tri-monthly audience with the Headmistress of Hogwarts – what really should be a formal discussion about how his students progressed and increased in their knowledge of Defence Against the Dark Arts, but really amounted to a few ginger biscuits, some hot tea and a gossip-filled catch-up talk – was in a couple days' time, so that couldn't be it.
The Potter Lord walked through into the entrance hall of his home, looking around the room appreciatively. The mahogany wooden floor was a worn parquet of rich, homely browns and the walls a mural of soft, welcoming greys and pastel blues. Magical portraits of his ancestors lined the room's perimeter, looking down upon him with small, private smiles. He glanced out of a nearby window, sighing contentedly as he took in the expansive gardens and lush beds of various flowers and fauna.
Harry turned on his heel, moving towards one of the many wide doorways that led out of the foyer, the sound of soft orchestral music echoing from the direction of the library. He grinned as he thought about just who would be in it, listening to a rendition of a melody made by the great John Williams himself.
The song somehow seemed to have been specifically written just for him; for Harry Potter.
Like a Harry Potter theme song, he thought.
The three-story, Georgian-style stone-and-brick house had needed some heavy refurbishment before it was suitable for habitation – judging by the dilapidated state that Harry and Hermione had found it in, two years after the end of the Second Wizarding War, it had stood empty for quite some time – and the Potter House Elves had valiantly risen to the challenge.
The final price of the full renovation would have surely been exorbitantly expensive for the average witch or wizard. However, as a result of his largely unwanted fame, countless amounts of donations, 'thank-you' payments and contributions had found their way into the already deep Gringotts vaults of House Potter.
Consequently, the entire endeavour had barely made a dent into his considerable fortune.
Harry removed his cloak and set it upon a nearby peg, taking off his teaching robes to reveal a simple short-sleeve shirt and Muggle jeans. The Defence Professor pushed the niggling thought of forgetting something out of his mind and ambled in the direction of the Potter Library, intent on seeing one of the three individuals who held a most prominent place in his heart.
The hallways of the Potter Residence were decorated similarly to the entrance hall, although with a more personal touch. Magical portraits were present on the teal-blue walls, along with moving photographs of Harry and his family. He felt a smile creep onto his face as he strolled past an animated picture of himself, Hermione, Ron and his mate's wife, Charlotte, relaxing on the banks of the lake near the Burrow. Children darted in and out of the screen, giggling hysterically and attempting to drag their parents into the lake's cold waters.
When Harry stopped to observe the moving picture, his son, James, had won a brief tussle with Ron's son, William, and avoided getting thrown into the body of water. However, his cherubic younger sister 'just happened' to be standing behind the Potter heir, and consequently gave her brother a great big shove with all the force that her six-year-old body could produce.
Needless to say, all the little figures laughed uproariously at the expression of absolute betrayal on James' face, strands of soppy wet hair plastered to his forehead.
Within a few minutes, Harry had arrived in the Library of the Potter Residence. It was by far one of the largest rooms in the manor, stretching from the ground floor all the way up to the third; boasting countless amounts of books, tomes and manuscripts, accumulated by the Potter family over the ages. Vaguely rectangular in shape, Harry often spent his free time among its oaken shelves, attempting to take in as much of the extensive knowledge that his ancestors had gained as he could.
It was on the second floor of the library, nestled into a comfy beanbag and surrounded by various arcane tomes on the art of Warding, that Harry found his wife ardently scribbling away on a sheet of parchment.
Silencing his footsteps with a wave of his wand, the DADA Professor sneaked up to the hunched-over figure, a mischievous smirk on his face.
Hermione Granger-Potter had just finished writing about the importance of the geometric placement of Ward loadstones – for a Ward to be most stable, it had been found, seven loadstones needed to be placed exactly at the corners of a heptagon-shaped runic array – when she felt a pair of calloused yet gentle hands slide over her eyes.
"Such a lax guard! My, my, how the DMLE's standards have fallen," a deep voice whispered in her ear. A shiver briefly rocked her frame, the second female Head of the Department for Magical Law Enforcement in history dropping her quill onto the beanbag. "Surely the Head of the Department responsible for peacekeeping and fighting against the dark forces would be more aware of her surroundings than a mere Hogwarts fifth-year student?"
The mentioned individual chuckled, wrapping her hands around those held over her eyes.
"Yes, she should be," Hermione replied, moving her husband's hands to rest upon her shoulders. She tipped her head back, looking up into vibrant green eyes topped by a somewhat tamed mop of inky black hair. "She promises to be vigilant at all times from this point henceforth, and shall not be caught off-guard ever again."
Harry smiled affectionately, leaning down to briefly press his lips against his wife's. She stretched her chin upwards, meeting him in the middle.
"We shall see about that," he promised, walking around the beanbag, the slightest twitch of his wand resulting in it doubling in size. The Potter patriarch slumped tiredly into the now-expanded seat, his wife leaning into him and his arm winding around her shoulders as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.
Which, to the magical couple, married now for almost twenty-two years, it was.
"How was your day?" Harry asked, running his hand through the curly chocolate tresses resting upon Hermione's shoulders.
"Same old, same old," she replied, sighing contentedly and finally letting the stress of her day leak out of her frame. "The Rutherford case is practically done and dusted; we just have to follow up one or two more leads before it can finally be considered complete. We also had to deal with the usual — bursts of accidental magic in Muggle areas of Britain, shop owners in Diagon Alley complaining about the 'incredibly stifling' restrictions regarding basic workplace safety and etiquette — you'd think that one would be happy with an increased feeling of security in the place of their work, but apparently not — and yet another attempt by the snobbish and quite possibly senile members of the Wizengamot to decrease the DMLE's operational budget, despite the fact that the number of robberies, break-ins and disappearances have dropped to almost non-existent as a direct result of me pushing for a larger monetary allocation—"
Deep irritation and not a little anger had seeped into her tone by the end of her monologue. Harry silently continued his ministrations, knowing that Hermione needed to get her frustrations off of her chest.
"–but because the budget has been 'needlessly large' since the end of the War, and that 'Dark Wizard appearances are at an all-time low', it apparently needs to be reduced!"
Hermione flushed, breathing heavily, only now realizing that she had spilled a rather lengthy diatribe into her husband's chest. "Oh, dear – Harry, I'm so sorry for ranting your ears off – didn't need to hear it–"
Harry chuckled, the sound reverberating through his entire form. "Don't worry about it, 'Mione. You've put up with enough of my harangues to last a lifetime."
Hermione blinked, looking up into his face. "You know what the word 'harangue' means?"
She squeaked; her husband's finger having poked her in the side.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Such faith you have in me, 'Mione. My vocabulary has increased in size in the time between Hogwarts and now, believe it or not."
"I guess it has," Hermione conceded, a wry smile worming its way onto her face. "Oh, that reminds me – did you pick up the kids from Woodcroft's?"
Woodcroft's Academy for Young Wizards and Witches was Wizarding Britain's equivalent of a Muggle primary school. Recently implemented after increased pressure from the Muggleborn and Half-blood community, the school served to give each attending child a good backing in literacy, writing, mathematics and a few basic spells. It was a highly beneficial contribution to Wizarding society, as before its existence the only pre-Hogwarts magical education available was private, one-on-one tutoring.
It was also a good method to get the kids out of the house, for whenever Hermione was in the mood for…playing with her husband.
"No, Ron was kind enough to stop by the school and take the kids to the Burrow for a few hours," Harry responded, leaning his face into the mass of brown curls resting on his shoulder. He inhaled deeply, the smell of old parchment and vanilla filling his nose. "Which means, my dear wife, we have some time to ourselves," he concluded, voice dropping to a deep whisper.
Hermione felt a feeling of anticipation rise from her gut. She raised her head from Harry's shoulder, unconsciously licking her lips. "Really, dear husband? I wonder what we could do with all that spare time."
"Oh, I don't know," Harry replied, slowly trailing a hand down her exposed arm. He could feel goosebumps pop up with the motion. "I have got a few ideas, though, so we hopefully won't be too bored."
"What would they be?" Hermione asked coyly, head close enough to her husband's to see the individual flecks of malachite in his eyes, surrounded by a deep forest green. They were no longer hidden behind the rounded glasses he was known to wear in his youth.
"I think, love, that it'd be better if I showed you," he answered quietly, smirking lasciviously; a hair's breadth of space separating the Potter parents' lips. "Telling you would not do it enough justice."
"I look forward to the display, then."
Their lips finally meshed together, slipping and sliding over each other with the familiarity of years spent in contact. Hermione's hands flew into his hair and thoroughly mussed it up; Harry's hands danced upon her waist and the small of her back. He would never tire of the exquisite feeling of her mouth on his, gliding back and forth in a highly proficient rhythm.
They spent a few minutes in a state of pure bliss before separating; their attention drawn by a small hand tugging on their rumpled robes.
"Master Harry Potter sir and Mistress Hermy bes needing to come downstairs, please," Blinky requested in a high-pitched voice, nervously fiddling with the hem of her red-and-gold Potter House Elf uniform. "The red-headed one, Little Master Jamessss and Little Mistress Rosebud bes in the foyer."
Hermione sighed, disengaging her hands from within her husband's hair. Harry reluctantly removed his from the inside of Hermione's blouse. "Thank you, Blinky. We'll be down in a few minutes."
Five minutes later found the Potter parents descending the main staircase to the ground floor, walking hand-in-hand. A brief period of time had been spent straightening out clothing and applying minor facial glamour charms – interspersed with many stolen kisses – before the two exited the library.
"Mama! Dada! Look, James, they're here!"
The shout was the only warning Harry had before a small, bushy-haired missile crashed into his legs, nearly knocking him off of his feet. The Potter patriarch chuckled, kneeling down to embrace his energetic bundle of a daughter.
"Thank you for picking them up, Ron," Hermione said gratefully, briefly squeezing a squirming James to her chest. "Any problems at all? Were they well behaved?"
The redhead nodded, a grin on his face, sticking his hands into the pockets of his robes.
"Yes, mama!" Rose helpfully replied. The six-year-old wriggled out of her father's arms, bounding over to her mother. She grinned toothily. "We were the bestest behaved! Cousins William, Marcus, Katie and Amelia were there, too, and we played lots Qudith…Qudeth…"
"Quidditch, Rose," Hermione interjected, running a hand through her daughter's hair. She frowned at the mention of that blasted, 'totally safe' game that her brood loved to play – to her never-ending worry. "And the correct term is the 'best', dear."
Harry grinned, pulling James over to ruffle his hair. "You played Quidditch, did you? What was the final score?"
"Hundred and fifty to eighty," the boy responded, attempting to bat away Harry's hand. The ten-year-old grinned cheekily at his father. "It was an easy win, though, because Uncle Ron was on the other team."
Everyone chuckled at the faux disgruntled expression on said Uncle's face. "Dinner will be ready in a few minutes, so go wash up in the loo," Hermione instructed.
Her two children immediately dashed for the stairs, apparently racing to see who would reach the top first.
"Remember to use soap!" she shouted after the disappearing pair.
Giggles echoed down the now empty staircase.
"How were the Cannons, Ron?" Harry asked, the three adults walking into the large dining room. "Still as bad as always?"
Harry nonchalantly avoided his best mate's half-hearted swipe at his head.
"Just as I told you yesterday, and the day before that, they will get better," Ron defended. He brushed an imaginary piece of lint off his shoulder, taking a seat at the expansive dinner table. "I promise you this! With my world-class leadership and strategic know-how –"
Hermione coughed; the noise somehow sounding sceptical.
She moved in the direction of the kitchen, going to check on the Head Chef House Elf – Harry still experienced an overwhelming fit of laughter whenever he thought about how Kalpy, the House Elf in charge of the kitchen, had aptly given himself such a title – humming a little tune under her breath.
"–the Chudley Cannons will be victorious in this year's Quidditch League. And when we win – not if, when – I will rub it in your faces until the end of all time."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Good luck with that, mate," he said, a flick of his wand Summoning crockery from a nearby cabinet. Another gesture of his wrist had the dishes, plates and cutlery gently floating to the spaces in front of each chair.
"How were the sprogs at ol' Hoggy Warts?" Ron asked. The Quidditch manager leaned his chair back on two legs, crossing his arms.
The Defence Professor shuddered theatrically.
"Please, Ron," he pleaded, a weakly-powered Ventus nearly offsetting the chair's balance. Ron, now harshly gripping its armrests, glared balefully at the innocently smiling Harry. "In the name of all things holy, never repeat that phrase again. Ever."
The redhead, his chair now safely resting on four legs, nodded his assent. His face held a slight grimace. "Yeah, you're right. It was horrible – never saying it again." He emphasised his statement by zipping his lips closed.
A slight smirk suddenly appeared on his face. Harry instantly felt a bead of apprehension form on the back of his neck.
"That's a nice shade of lip gloss you have, Harry," Ron absently commented, glancing out of the two transparent, double glass doors leading to the expansive gardens outside. If one looked hard enough, one would see an outline of Quidditch hoops hovering in the dark, gloomy distance. "Though, I didn't know you were into that kind of stuff. Of course, if you are, that's completely fine."
The sole Weasley in the room casually deflected the two Stinging hexes sent his way. Harry, surreptitiously wiping a hand against his mouth, pretended not to hear what the redhead had just said.
"Same as the usual. There were the squealing fangirls and fanboys – yes, Ron, squealing fanboys – the students who actually want to learn from the 'Great Man-Who-Won'–" – both adults pretended to throw up at that horrific and badly thought-up moniker – "–and you wanna know something really strange that I've noticed?"
Ron nodded, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the dinner table.
"The amount of people who get whatever spell we are practising right in their first attempt dramatically increases whenever a member of the opposite sex just happens to be observing them," Harry explained, a seemingly confused note to his voice. The redhead chortled heartily. "I know, I know! Weird, isn't it?"
Hermione walked back into the room, platters of steaming-hot food floating behind her. "Very weird indeed," she confirmed, the trays of food gently setting themselves down in the middle of the table at her silent instruction.
The sound of little feet rapidly hitting carpeted wood echoed out from the dining room's entrance.
"Yeessss!" Rose shouted, her face bright red and breathing heavily. "I won, I beat you – oh, guess what? I won and I beat you!" She performed a little dance that had the adults chortling.
James emerged through the doorway a few seconds later, a scowl on his face.
"Yeah, but only because I gave you a head start," he protested, moodily slumping down into his chair. Rose stuck out her tongue victoriously, also taking a seat at the dining table.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "What have I told you two about running in the house?" she scolded, ladling a good portion of shepherd's pie onto the plates of her children.
"Not to do it during the day?" Rose put forward, smiling sweetly. James nodded in agreement, a near-perfect expression of innocence on his face.
Hermione glanced out of the glass double doors. Harry and Ron immediately imitated her.
The darkness that they saw confirmed that it was, indeed, not day time.
The Potter patriarch and his best mate burst out laughing, thoroughly amused at how the young girl had identified and exploited the little loophole in her mother's instruction.
Said mother sighed, massaging her temples with her fingertips.
"Alright, alright, you got me. No running in the house during the day or the night," she stipulated, staring at her children with hands upon her hips. "Got it? I don't want to see either of you getting hurt on some sharp object."
James and Rose nodded easily, smiling smugly. Harry held no doubt that the crafty duo would somehow find another way around his wife's rules.
"All right, then! Let us dig into this wonderful meal," Harry said, picking up his fork. He made eye contact with Hermione. "I'm sure it will be delicious."
A spot of pink appeared on her cheeks. "Thank you, Harry," she replied, finally taking a seat at the table. "Yes, let's dig in."
Ron rolled his eyes, also picking up his fork.
He refrained from noting aloud what utter lovebirds his best friends were.
Harry had just finished his business in the bathroom, having tucked his children into bed and seen Ron off through the Floo, when he heard his name being called.
"Yes, Hermione?" he replied, splashing water onto his face. He turned the faucet of the sink off, sticking his head out of the open ensuite bathroom door. "What's the problem?"
Hermione lay on the bed on her back, staring contemplatively at the ceiling of their bedroom. "I've got something to tell you."
Normally, when one's significant other uttered such a sentence, an individual would experience an overwhelming bout of apprehension and anxiety, wondering whatever the hell it was that their spouse wanted to discuss. However, Harry and Hermione had always been more in tune with each other than most couples – magical or not – and had enjoyed over twenty years of stable, turbulence-free marriage.
Consequently, Harry only experienced a minor fit of nervousness.
He rubbed a towel against his face and exited the bathroom, sliding into the queen-sized four-poster bed to join his wife.
"What is it?" the Potter patriarch asked quietly, playing with a strand of her hair held between his fingers.
She stared deeply into his eyes for a single moment that seemed to stretch out into infinity. Harry felt his entire being be exposed to her gaze in that one instant.
"Happy fortieth birthday, dear husband," she whispered, planting an enthusiastic kiss on his mouth.
While other people would have preferred large parties and other forms of recognition for their birthdays, Hermione knew that her sometimes attention-shy husband greatly preferred a smaller, more heartfelt celebration.
Harry readily reciprocated his wife's action, finally realizing that the niggling thought he'd forgotten was his own birthday.
He would have slapped himself in the face, had there not had a not-so-bushy-haired beauty attached to it.
They briefly disengaged for some much-needed air. "Thank you, love," Harry whispered, running the pad of his thumb over her swollen lips. She grinned, shifting forward to eliminate the space between their faces.
Hermione blindly cast a one-way silencing charm in the general direction of the entrance to their shared bedroom, her husband shifting to accommodate her movement.
She was finally divested of her sleeping shirt within a few minutes – Harry had been shirtless since he exited the bathroom – and the snogging intensified, tongues duelling furiously in a well-practised dance.
Her hands eventually trailed south down Harry's body, and for the next few hours he was a very happy man.
Of course, he personally ensured that Hermione was an equally happy woman.
The two basked in the afterglow of their tryst, thoroughly spent and satiated. Hermione had her head in the crook of Harry's neck, his arms wrapped tightly around her. She started to shiver as the sweat covering their skin dried.
A silent warming charm helpfully performed by her husband removed the cold discomfort. She found herself snuggling deeper into his embrace.
"Harry?" Hermione asked quietly, absentmindedly tracing patterns on his well-sculpted abdomen with a fingertip.
"Mm?" he replied, the sound rumbling deeply through his chest. She felt it vibrate through her ear.
"Do you remember how we got together, way back in '95?"
Harry shook his head, a mischievous smirk upon his face. "In 1995? Uhm, no, I don't think so…"
Hermione raised her head to stare incredulously at her husband, eyebrows raised. The fact that his lips were twitching prevented Harry from experiencing a rather early demise.
She rolled her eyes, slapping him on the opposite shoulder.
"You prat! Tell me you remember it," she teased. Despite her joking tone, Harry could hear the potential for hurt in her voice.
So, he immediately sobered. "Of course I remember it, love," he stated seriously, staring deeply into her eyes. "How could I forget such a momentous moment in our lives?"
Hermione shivered slightly, literally feeling the intensity of his eyes boring into hers. She revelled in the fact that he only looked at her like that, and no one else.
"I still think that I would have won that duel, had it not stopped when it had," Harry said after a few moments of silence, brushing errant strands of hair out of her face.
"Nuh-uh," Hermione responded, laying a flat palm upon his chest. "My Catena Ligate nearly caught you in its grasp, and if it had it would have been forever known that the Boy-Who-Lived himself, fabled DADA prodigy, had lost to a fifth-year girl."
Harry rolled his eyes, smiling ruefully. The married couple cast their minds back to that day, reminiscing on how fate had quite literally schemed in their favour.
Hermione Granger was in a bit of a dilemma.
Her best friend, Harry, had stood as the undefeated DA champion in duelling for the entire time that the club had been in existence. He had beaten her, the Smartest-Witch-Of-Her-Age, no less than four consecutive times in a row.
Her heavily damaged pride called for her to enact sweet revenge as a result of those events happening.
Strip him of his title and rub the fact in his face, it demanded. Doing so multiple times would vindicate her ego even more.
The only problem – and part of the current dilemma Hermione found herself in – was the fact that Harry was better than her at performing combative magic.
Much, much better.
She had tried to learn more spells – spending hours in the Hogwarts Library ardently memorising curses, charms and jinxes; thinking that the abundance of knowledge would lead to a sure victory. She had attempted to work on her quick-thinking ability, for Hermione knew that she had the tendency of freezing in indecision at critical moments in time.
Which usually led to her being defeated.
Those endeavours had still failed to score her a win over the unofficial leader of the DA.
So, she had thought about resorting to…other methods to ensure her victory. Perfectly moral, justifiable methods.
The small, teardrop-shaped glass bottle twinkled prettily when she held it up to the sun. Its contents were as transparent and seemingly as uninteresting as water, yet Hermione knew that its appearance was very deceiving.
For within her dexterous hands the young, bushy-haired witch held quite possibly the most valuable potion in existence – Liquid Luck, or in its more technical term, Felix Felicis.
She was keenly aware of all the dangers and risks that came with ingesting the magical concoction. Increased recklessness and overconfidence, near-permanent giddiness, very high toxicity in large doses…
There was even one case of a drinker believing that he could fly under his own power. He had thrown himself off the edge of a cliff, dangerously confident in his ability to soar with the birds, despite the fact that said individual possessed no known abilities enabling him to defy gravity.
Needless to say, that poor, misinformed wizard's encounter with the ground had been quite messy.
The benefits of the potion, however, far outweighed the risks. In her opinion, of course.
Hermione weighed all these risks in her mind, staring hard at the bottle and its innocent-looking contents, deciding whether or not she should use the potion to finally triumph over her best friend.
It wasn't cheating in any form – the Hermione Granger, cheat? Perish the thought! – just a little, magical nugget of help to grant her a well-deserved victory.
Thus, with her worries dealt mitigated, the young Gryffindor downed the potion, confident that it would lead to sweet, sweet triumph.
A flash caught her eye, and Hermione again looked down at her hand. The now-empty bottle looked as innocent as before, but something was different – it may have been a trick of the light, but she swore that the traces of the potion in the container had somehow taken on a yellow sheen; the remnants looking like liquid, molten gold.
Before she could ponder what that would mean, the bushy-haired witch felt a rush of infinite opportunity and pure power flow throughout her body, entering every iota of her being and infusing it with supreme confidence. Her pores tingling with magical potential, Hermione stood up and packed her books into her bag, turning away from the Black Lake and spontaneously deciding to take a walk.
If one had asked why the young witch chose to stroll around the grounds of Hogwarts, she would have brightly replied that it just felt right to do so.
The ramifications of such an uncharacteristically impulsive action failed to register in the Felix-infused mind of one Hermione Granger.
She skipped along the path going around the Black Lake, heading in the direction of Hagrid's hut, smiling cheerily at every individual she encountered. The fact that she was skipping, and not moving by some other, less fanatic method, informed said individuals that perhaps all the dust and grime in the Hogwarts Library had finally gotten into the head of the bookworm resident to Gryffindor tower.
Hermione ignored them, smiling even more cheerily when they enquired if she was alright.
"Hagrid! How nice it is to see you!"
Said half-giant nearly jumped right out of his beaverskin cloak, whirling around with a hand-made crossbow at the ready. Having failed to identify any dangers to his person, Hagrid looked down, spotting the bushy-haired head of one of his favourite students standing not three meters from his body.
"'Ermione! You gav' me a righ' shock, ya did – yeh, it's nice ta' see ya too," he replied in his gruff yet friendly voice, squeezing back gently when Hermione attempted to wrap her arms around his gigantic waist.
"Sorry, Hagrid. I didn't mean to," she responded, still smiling brightly. She seated herself on a nearby rock and started to make a daisy chain from the flowers around her stone.
"It's alrigh', don' worry 'bout it," Hagrid said, returning to the task of tending to his pumpkin patch. "Say, where is 'arry? 'N Ron? I'd'a though' you three would'a come visit me to'gether, giv'n yer bes' friends 'n' all."
"I'm not sure where they are, Hagrid," Hermione replied absently, now engaged in an intense staring contest with Fang, the Groundskeeper's great big boarhound. Predictably, as a result of her incredibly fleeting attention, she lost the competition. "I think Ron is at Quidditch practice, and Harry is probably with him."
"Oh, alrigh'," the large, black-bearded form responded. His pumpkins now fully tended to, he turned around and sat down on the ground with such a heavy thump that Hermione was propelled a couple of centimetres into the air.
She landed on her side, now lying on the grass, no worse for the wear and no injuries sustained to her person.
"Hey, Hagrid?" Hermione asked, playing with the strands of grass held between her fingers. "Would you mind telling me what your fifth years are doing today in CoMC?"
"Well, sure, if yer inter'ested," the half-giant replied, making himself more comfortable. "Today, we'll be cove'ring Billywigs 'n' Bowtruckles – crafty lil' creatures, they are–"
He was interrupted by the voice of another favourite student of his.
"Hiya Hagrid! Hey, Fang. How are yo– oh! Hello, Hermione. You alright?" Harry asked, dropping his bookbag and slumping down next to his best friend. Hermione waved back absentmindedly, now engrossed with the various forms of animals that only she could see in the clouds above them.
"'arry! Nice o' ya ta' join us," Hagrid welcomed, reaching over to gently pat the young wizard on the back.
Said wizard felt like his spine had very nearly been knocked out the front of his chest, once the half-giant's enthusiastic greeting was complete.
"It's nice to see you two, Hagrid," Harry replied, leaning his back against a conveniently placed rock and running a hand through Fang's muzzle. He looked over to the form of his best friend, and blinked. "Hermione, whatever are you doing?"
Hermione was currently staring hard into the open top of a plastic, opaque bottle, as if all the secrets of the universe were hidden right at the bottom of its depths.
"Looking for something," she responded shortly, briefly glancing up at him before returning her gaze to the bottle.
Harry smiled bemusedly. "Well, what are you looking for?"
"Hmm. I'm not too sure."
He blinked again, glancing over at Hagrid. The Groundskeeper looked as confused as he felt. "Then why are you staring into that bottle?"
"I dunno…I guess it just feels right, you know?" By this point, she had brought the neck of the bottle right up to her face; the container very nearly touching her eye.
Harry was starting to feel alarmed. "Well, yeah, I guess," he responded, moving forward to place a hand on her arm. "Say, are you alright, Hermione? Was there anything funny in your dinner?"
"No, not at all, Harry!" Hermione beamed at him widely, deeply touched at her best friend's concern for her wellbeing. "Thanks for asking, though."
Harry was thoroughly taken aback by the unexpectedly bright nature of her smile.
He noticed that her previously bucked teeth had disappeared, replaced with those of smaller dimensions. He also noticed the dimples on her cheeks, the light smattering of freckles on her nose, and the affection for him plain in her eyes. The sunlight caught her wavy, suddenly-not-so-bushy tresses just so, making them appear to be a shade of chocolate brown so deep and rich that he impulsively wanted to run his fingers through them, to test if they felt as silky as they looked.
A voice in his mind slyly pointed out how full and red her lips looked and encouraged him to touch his to them. The raven-haired teen suddenly found himself daydreaming how they would feel against his mouth.
Harry quickly stamped down on the strange urge to kiss his best friend, wondering where the hell all these realisations had come from.
"Anytime, Hermione," he said at last, glancing down at the bottle still held within her hands.
"Would you like to see?" his best friend asked suddenly.
He looked back up at her face. "What?"
"I said, would you like to see?" Hermione repeated patiently, wiggling the opaque container in his direction.
Harry paused for a few seconds. Then, he shrugged. "Eh, why not? Let me see what's so interesting."
The young witch handed the bottle over to him. "Yes, like that – you have to put it really close to your eye to properly see it…"
The last Potter in existence positioned the container extremely close to his face. Squinting, he just about managed to catch a glimpse of what looked to be a liquid.
"What am I supposed to be looking for? I can see a liqu– argh!"
Hermione abruptly slapped her hands on either side of the bottle, causing the water held inside it to shoot up and out of the only opening of the object.
As Harry's face was in close proximity to said opening, he was consequently hit with a torrent of ice-cold water, far more than the flask should have been able to contain.
Sputtering madly and wiping sopping wet strands of hair out his eyes, the young wizard glared balefully at the shrieking form of Hermione, who was now rolling around on the damp ground, giggling wildly.
The sound of booming guffaws from his right informed the irritated Gryffindor that Hagrid had similarly succumbed to hysterics.
He huffed, a silent flick of his now-drawn wand drying off his face and his red-trimmed robes.
"Yes, yes, me potentially getting hypothermia is positively comical," he muttered, crossing his arms in exasperation and scowling heavily. His two companions simply laughed harder at his antics.
Eventually, though, Harry started to chuckle along with his friends, musing that him falling for such a textbook joke was quite humorous.
The group settled into a comfortable silence, one that was broken when Hermione abruptly stood up.
"Oh! I've just remembered," she said quickly, hastily gathering her things together. She grabbed Harry's arm, easily pulling him into a standing position. "Thanks for the company, Hagrid, but we've gotta go now."
The half-giant blinked bemusedly, waving goodbye to the departing Gryffindors.
"Where are we going?" Harry asked, having been dragged by his best friend all the way to the entrance of the East Courtyard. Rubbing his arm slightly, the Boy-Who-Lived noted that the witch was a lot stronger than she looked.
"To a place of infinite opportunity," she responded airily, a mysterious smile playing her lips. "Meet me in the gathering place of the Army of the Bumblebee, Harry, in exactly twenty minutes."
He was incredibly confused. "Why are we meeti–"
Harry's question was cut off by Hermione leaning forward and confidently placing a kiss at the corner of his mouth. He froze, surprised at her sudden movement.
Before he could recover his wits, the young witch had winked cheekily at him and skipped away.
"Don't be late!" she shouted over her shoulder, wavy hair flicking to the side as she disappeared around a hallway corner.
He was left standing in the middle of the East Courtyard, alone; his only company in the form of Hedwig – who had swooped down out of nowhere to rest upon his shoulder at some point in the last half hour.
"Did that seriously just happen?" Harry asked incredulously, unconsciously touching the spot where Hermione's lips had almost come into contact with his.
Hedwig hooted, flexing her wings.
"Yeah, me too girl…"
When Harry arrived at the dancing portrait of Barnabas the Barmy, nineteen minutes later, he thought hard about his current – and possibly perilous – situation.
The Boy-Who-Lived, at some point in the past few minutes, had made the rather obvious realization that he liked his female best friend.
Very much so.
Harry did not have the slightest idea where the sudden flurry of feelings had originated – perhaps they had always been there, lurking quietly; just waiting for some catalyst to finally release them? – and quite frankly that little fact terrified him.
New mental voices, ones that he was sure hadn't existed before, ardently encouraged the young wizard to go up to his best friend and give her a great big snog, declaring his long-repressed feelings for the Gryffindor bookworm. They recommended that he slowly run his fingers through her chocolate brown tresses, and experiment thoroughly to see if her full, velvety-red lips felt as good as they looked–
Harry shook his head abruptly, pinching himself hard on the arm.
He argued vehemently against the enticing suggestions – which, to his admittedly fifteen-year-old, male mind, were looking all the more attractive by the second – reasoning that Hermione was his best friend and that it was wrong for one to like their best friend romantically.
The sound of trainers hitting worn stone reached his ear, and Harry looked up, glimpsing the approaching form of the subject of his thoughts.
She had changed out of her uniform, choosing to wear casual, Muggle clothes under a cloak of brown wool. Her hair was done up in a high ponytail, and she was still skipping whenever she moved. Harry, impressed despite himself, surmised that she probably had incredibly high amounts of stamina.
A voice in the corner of his mind slyly and coyly pointed out what else she would be good at, then, if her stamina levels were that hig–
Harry determinedly ignored the voice, turning to greet his best friend.
"Well, Hermione, here I am," he said, awkwardly embracing the girl for a few seconds. "What did you want to show me?"
"Everything, Harry," she explained brightly, pecking him on the cheek again. She then skipped back-and-forth in front of the entrance to the Room of Requirement three times in a row. "Yet, at the same time, nothing at all. The dichotomy between the two is quite interesting, isn't it?"
Harry blinked, completely mystified; only now recovering from the kiss. He hadn't even heard the word 'dichotomy' be used in a sentence before. "I guess so?"
"Indeed, it is," Hermione confirmed seriously. With her task complete, she pushed open the now-visible door to the magical room.
Harry followed her into the Room, set to the same configuration that they often used for DA trainings. "So…what are we doing here?"
"You and I, Mr Harry Potter, are here for one simple reason," Hermione began, taking off her cloak. She discarded it onto the back of a chair, which previously hadn't existed.
Thus with the article of clothing removed, Harry was treated to the very nice sight of Hermione wearing tight, form-fitting exercise shorts and an equally tight-fitting shirt. His trousers, all of a sudden, felt very uncomfortable.
"We will, in a few minutes, engage magical combat – under the standard rules of the European Duelling Circuit, of course," she continued. The young witch began performing a few stretches, warming herself up for the coming encounter. Harry tried (and failed) to avoid staring at the spectacle. "It will decide which of us is the better combatant, and the victor will get to rub that fact in the loser's face. Multiple times, actually."
A quick burst of concentrated will resulting in a wall springing into existence. Harry walked behind it, his head peeking over the neck-high barrier, and got changed into clothing – also helpfully conjured by the Room – that would allow him a higher range of motion.
"Alright, then," he said, similarly beginning to perform stretches. "No using the Room to one's advantage, too?"
Hermione agreed, bending at the waist to touch her toes. Harry's eyes were instantly drawn to her shapely rear, which looked absolutely gorgeous in the skin-tight yoga shorts–
"Any additional rules?" he asked, finally managing to look away.
"Hand-to-hand combat is allowed," Hermione said after a few seconds' deliberation. Harry felt his eyebrows climb up his forehead. "That should spice things up a little bit, shouldn't it?"
He nodded, twirling his wand between his fingers. He cocked his head to the side. "Yeah, it would. But, uh, do you even know how to fight hand-to-hand?"
The young witch grinned widely, bouncing on the balls of her feet. "Nope! I've never been taught how – it'll be fun, though!"
"Well, alright then," Harry conceded reluctantly. He assumed an advanced duelling stance – side profile presented, right foot pointing forward, left foot at a sixty-degree angle, wand held low and to the ready – and waited for his best friend to adopt a similar posture.
"Are you ready to lose, Harry?" Hermione challenged, smiling self-assuredly and eyes twinkling.
He felt an answering smirk grow upon his features.
"Am I ready to win, you ask? But of course!" Harry started to circle to his right – Hermione moving in the opposite direction – watching his opponent closely. "However, the real question is are you ready to lose, Hermione?"
"I don't need to answer that question," she responded, still bouncing on the balls of her feet like an excited bundle of energy. "Because I won't be losing – I shall be victorious, and I will greatly enjoy rubbing that fact into your face many, many times."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Then, my dear, let us fight and see who the superior duellist is."
Hermione's wand snapped up, the young witch instantly going on the offensive. A multitude of spells and curses whizzed towards him, the DA duelling champion dodging, blocking and parrying them easily.
"Locomotor Mortis!" Harry dropped under the Leg-Locker and rolled to the side, coming up on one knee.
"Reducto! Reducto!" he shouted, aiming the spells at the ground. It exploded violently; bits of rubble and dust flying into the air.
Harry dived to the left, the Disarming Charm missing his head by inches. He rolled backwards and sprang to his feet, blocking the Anteoculatia and the Calvorio Maximus that came immediately after it.
"Obscurum!" Hermione yelled. A wall of fog instantly sprang into existence, hiding her from her best friend's view. "Retem conjurem!"
She banished a cargo net through the fog, hoping to catch Harry off guard.
The sound of fibres ripping told her that he had used a Diffindo to free himself.
"Ventus!" The wall of fog was dissipated, the Boy-Who-Lived standing in the remains of her netting. "Ardens flammare!"
The flaming whip crackled against her hastily conjured Protego. She quickly backed up outside of its striking range; realising that the gloves had now come now off.
Despite this realization, she held a wide smile on her face.
"Avis Oppugno! Bombarda! Stupefy!"
Harry weaved between all of her spells and Vanished her conjured birds; Hermione had to admit that he looked as graceful as he did when he was on a broom. "Diffindo! Expelliarmus!"
He blocked the Cutting Curse and ducked under the Disarming Charm, now close enough to regain his offensive.
"Mactasses! Aguamenti!" The high-powered Bludgeoning Curse forced Hermione to jump to the left, right onto the wet ground; precisely where Harry wanted her. "Glacium maxima! Colloshoo!"
The Freezing Hex and the Stickfast Hex did their job well. Hermione, now with her shoes and ankles frozen into the ground, wind-milled her arms wildly in an attempt to keep her balance.
Harry paused for a second, smirking smugly. "Well, you did try, Hermione – I'll give you that. Stupefy!"
The Smartest-Witch-Of-Her-Age fired the Seize and Pull charm at the roof of the Room of Requirement, literally yanking herself out of the ground. Harry's Stunning Spell whizzed through the space she previously occupied. Hermione flew through the air and landed elegantly, a quickly cast Cushioning Charm preventing her from breaking her ankles.
Harry felt his mouth slackly drop open in amazement.
"What in the Nine– where did you learn– how in Merlin's name did you do that?!" He shouted incredulously.
Hermione grinned broadly, revelling in the feeling of Felix Felicis coursing throughout her system. "Accio rubble! Draconifors!"
The Summoned pieces of debris amalgamated into a ball of grey matter, which then started to change and warp before Harry's very eyes. The formless mass spouted a long, scaly neck; four spindly limbs and paper-thin wings made of that same grey material. The now fully formed dragon roared earth-shakingly loud, declaring out its challenge for all to hear.
Hermione, breathing heavily, looked on proudly at her creation. It had taken a hell of a lot out of her, so she wouldn't be able to fight for a few minutes.
Harry had to admit that he was impressed with the Transfiguration.
The dragon roared again, awkwardly charging forward on its disproportionately sized limbs. It flapped its wings in an attempt to fly, but because it was a stone dragon, the endeavour failed.
Harry backed away, trying to keep the reasonably small construct at range. It abruptly spun on all fours, attempting to take him out with a single sweep of its bony tail.
His wand danced throughout its spell-forming motions, seamlessly transitioning from one movement to the next.
"Deprimo!" The Gouging Hex blew clean through the dragon's tail; three purple, curved shields snapping into existence and protecting him from the shrapnel. "Capistro multavens!"
The advanced Binding Hex performed as expected – it caught two of the automaton's legs in its grasp, attaching them securely to the ground. The construct thrashed violently, attempting to free itself.
It snarled, the quasi-intelligent structure swiping at the Boy-Who-Lived. The strike was unexpectedly strong and smashed clean through the shield protecting his left; only his quick reflexes saving Harry from losing his head.
A claw made of stone just about nicked him as it passed, creating a long and thin cut in his arm. Harry hissed at the sudden pain, an overpowered Episkey healing the wound before it could start to bleed.
He bared his teeth, angry at the construct for injuring him. An idea quickly formed in his mind. "Fervefacio! Calor clypeus!"
The floor of the Room of Requirement directly underneath the dragon suddenly turned into a blindingly hot expanse of lava, the stone easily being converted into magma by the sheer power behind Harry's furiously cast spell. The high-calibre shielding charm protected the Boy-Who-Lived from the intense heat.
"Procella magnis! Nolite osunderare!"
With the hurricane-force winds forcing the construct down into the lava and a strongly-powered Hardening Charm causing the liquid to instantly cool and solidify, Hermione's dragon construct was quickly submerged in the liquified ground of the Room of Requirement. It let out a final roar before its head too was trapped in the stony expanse.
Harry let his heat shield drop, conserving what little magical energy had left and breathing heavily. He was only just realising that Hermione had not engaged him at all during the entire time he had been fighting the dragon, cleverly regaining and recharging her own stores of magic. The duelling champion looked around wildly, searching the seemingly empty room for his absent opponent.
A build-up of magic directly behind him informed Harry of her location. He spun on his heel, wand quickly snapping upwards.
"Catena Ligate!" Hermione shouted.
She was closer than Harry expected, and as a result he was unable to get the correct counter-curse out in time. His Banishing charm did nothing to the magically-infused chains, which flew at him faster than he could fully dodge. They wrapped tightly around his lower body and knocked him onto his back.
The young wizard struggled fitfully, trying to free himself from the bind. He looked up as a head of askew bushy hair appeared in his line of sight.
Hermione was breathing heavily, cheeks flushed and eyes wide. She looked as if she had just run three consecutive marathons, and for some reason the sight was absolutely beautiful to Harry.
She smirked down at him. "Oh, hi, Harry. You alright down there?"
Harry glared up at her smirking form, subtly positioning his wand underneath his legs. "Mhm-hmm, I am doing quite fine, thank you. Oh, yeah – a freaking dragon? Really?!"
Hermione shrugged unrepentantly. "Well, it worked, didn't it? I won the duel, after all."
He slowly shook his head. "Not yet, you haven't. A quick bit of trivia for you – did you know that there are three ways by which one can do something?"
"No, I didn't. What are they?" she asked distractedly, her wand tapping thoughtfully against her right thigh.
"The correct method, the incorrect method and the Harry method."
Hermione blinked, an expression of rarely-seen confusion upon her face. "Isn't the Harry method synonymous with the incorrect method?"
"Well, sometimes, yeah," Harry reluctantly replied, his wand now in the correct position. He prepared himself for what he was about to do. "But it is a faster method!"
She still had that confused expression on her face. "But wouldn't it not matter if one method was fas–"
The overpowered Vanishing charm worked like…well, like a charm, causing the chains binding him to disappear in a bright flash of light. Hermione cried out, shielding her eyes from the light. Harry, his eyes having been closed in preparation, sprang to his feet and dived at his best friend, tackling her to the ground.
Hermione recovered quickly than Harry expected, somehow rolling with the motion and throwing him off of her. She dived after him, intending to knock him out with a fist to the nose.
Harry shifted his head to his right, his nose avoiding being bloodied by Hermione's strike. Her hand went hard into the ground, the young witch sucking air through her teeth in pain.
The Boy-Who-Lived suddenly thrust his hips upwards, just as he had seen in one of Dudley's street combat movies, throwing his best friend – who was previously straddling his waist – upwards and to the side. He fought his way on top of her, struggling to position his wand to cast the duel-winning spell.
However, just before he could do so, he felt something hard poke into the side of his neck.
Harry looked down at Hermione's flushed form, her brown gaze meeting his, and suddenly realised what they must look like to an outside observer – Harry, lying on top of her and between her legs, his wand pressing into her chest. Hermione, lying underneath him, her wand pressing into his neck.
Staring into her eyes, Harry thought he saw traces of something like molten gold in their chocolaty depths. He found himself leaning closer to investigate, curious as to what was causing the sparkly effect.
Hermione saw her best friend shifting towards her, and the young witch impulsively used a last burst of Felix-infused courage to close the distance between their faces.
Their lips met in the middle, and a flood of sensations exploded in both Harry and Hermione's brains. They moulded into each other, holly and vine wands clattering to the ground, discarded and forgotten.
Hermione suddenly moaned, sliding her fingers into his incredibly unruly mop of inky black hair. Her mouth opening wider with the sound, Harry's tongue slipped inside.
Another duel was fought, though this was of a very different nature. The two fleshy combatants clashed with the other for dominance, sliding in all possible directions and unleashing a whole multitude of feelings and sensations. Harry and Hermione both participated enthusiastically, learning what made the other moan and whimper; tentatively exploring previously unknown territory.
Be careful, for here there be Dragons.
The phrase absently drifted through Harry's hormone-enthused mind. He mentally snorted at the link between the phrase and the animated hunk of rock he had destroyed not ten minutes ago.
A few more minutes passed in absolute bliss before they were forced to disengage from the other, inhaling great deep breaths of air.
Hermione had wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck; Harry feeling painfully hard inside his shorts. He leaned his forehead against hers, partly supporting his weight on his arms.
"Hi, Hermione," he whispered, pressing a chaste kiss to her lips. The voice had been wrong – they felt much, much better than they looked. "So, uh...who won the duel?"
"Hey, Harry," she whispered back, happily reciprocating the kiss. The last dregs of Felix Felicis finally exited her system, and she started to think in the rational manner she was known for. She ran her fingers through a lock of his hair. "I'm not too sure, actually. I think it ended in a draw."
Harry smirked slightly. "Oh, I nearly had you really early in the duel – nice quick thinking with the Carpe, by the way."
"Thank you, Harry," she responded, rolling her eyes. "How you dealt with my dragon was quite elegant, too. Though, if you hadn't Vanished my chains, I would have won and rubbed the fact in your face. Many, many times."
He smiled wryly. "Say, did you know your eyes hold a really pretty sheen when up close? Almost molten gold, in fact."
"No, I didn't," she replied, blushing prettily.
Harry had to give her another kiss for that. When he pulled back, however, he saw an almost guilty expression on her face.
"What is it?" he asked, eyebrows furrowing. "Do you not like what we're doing?"
"No, no, Harry! Not at all. I love it," she asserted quickly, closing the space between their mouths. Five seconds later she leaned back, relishing the slightly dazed look in his eyes. "However, I may have employed a little…help before this duel."
His eyes narrowed slightly. "What do you mean by 'help'?"
"I may or may not have drunk a tiny bit of Liquid Luck before coming to the Room," she said very hastily, after a few seconds of silence.
Harry found his lips curling upwards. "Oh, dear Merlin – the Hermione Granger, becoming a cheat? I never thought I'd live to see the deed."
Hermione lightly slapped the back of his head.
"Shut up, you prat," she commanded, that cute pink tinge back on her cheeks. Harry would never tire of seeing it there. "It's not cheating! Just a little, magical helping hand to get me what I deserved."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and I'm the next coming of Merlin," he boasted sarcastically.
Hermione harrumphed. He chuckled, pressing another kiss to her mouth. It seemed that he just couldn't get enough of meshing his lips with hers.
"Were you under the influence of Felix when you kissed me?" Harry asked, pulling back suddenly.
Hermione, saddened at the abrupt loss of contact, searched his face and eyes for a few seconds.
"Oh, Harry," she eventually whispered, running another hand through his inky black locks. The Smartest-Witch-Of-Her-Age had not been given that moniker for nothing. "No, it had all gone by that time. I swear this on my life and my Magic."
Harry felt the build-up of magical energy in the air before it dissipated abruptly. Hermione looked at him, clearly still living and breathing.
He instantly felt guilty of causing her to perform such an action. He abashedly broke eye contact, keenly aware that his best friend could have died if what she said was untrue. "Oh, Merlin– Hermione, I'm so sorry for asking that–"
Hermione shook her head, smiling ruefully. "Don't worry about it, Harry. It was a genuine question, one that I completely understand."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but the young witch quickly covered it with her own, booting all of his rational thought right out the window.
The two enjoyed their snogging session for quite some time, their hands wandering wildly over the other's figure.
That evening, they discovered many a fact about one another – what made them squeal, what made them moan; what made them whimper and what made them cry out in delight.
It was a time that would forever be cemented in their minds, and as their sweaty exercise shirts were finally discarded, Harry and Hermione thought about how both fate and fortune had literally schemed in their favour.