“Well, I suppose this means you won’t be getting another Molly Weasley sweater come Christmas.”
For the first time since she had pounded on his door the night before, a suitcase in hand and tears staining her cheeks, Hermione laughs.
"I suppose not,” she grins, sniffing back what Harry hopes, but knows aren’t, the end of her tears. “How will I possibly survive?”
“I’ve managed,” Harry says taking a grim bite of toast. Their eyes meet for a moment and she nods, recognizing what they both have become: outcasts from a family to which they had once belonged.
“I really thought…a wedding…” She whispers, her now ring-less hands clenched white-knuckled around her Earl Grey. “But nothing’s changed.”
“I know. You don’t have to explain.”
“We just didn‘t…” Her voice fails her. She presses her eyes closed, bites at her lower lip. “It wasn’t his fault.”
“It wasn’t yours either.”
“How can you say that?” She asks, almost affronted that Harry appears to be siding with her. “He‘s your best friend.”
Harry reaches across his small kitchen, prying her fingers away from the mug and forcing her delicate fingers to relax into his.
“But so are you.” He feels her exhale.
His days spent in blissful anonymity of Muggle London are almost sacrosanct. A way to escape a world that knows his face all too well. He invites Hermione along. Just the two of them. Only ever the two of them. After all, she’s from this reality too.
“What if we just stayed here?” Hermione asks dreamily at the end of one such day.
It had rained that afternoon, forcing them inside for a long lunch at a French café on the Thames. Neither had complained. But now the sky is cleared, the delayed twilight of summertime and the lingering affects of wine in their veins encouraging their feet to plot a meandering route back to the Leaky Cauldron.
It isn’t the first time Harry considers such a question. Time was, he considered it daily.
“You’d miss magic too much,” he says, giving the answer he had always arrived at himself. Hermione hums in response.
She drifts close, linking her arm around his when their elbows touch. “I suppose you’re right…it’s nice to imagine though.”
Harry doesn’t reply, too entranced by the feel of her head on his shoulder, the smell of rain still caught in the tangle of her curls.
“Do you remember when being 21 seemed so old?”
Her birthday has left her maudlin. Another year, another decade. Of course, the half empty bottle of Shiraz sitting on the coffee table isn’t helping either
The surprise dinner party had been lovely, a small group of her closest friends and family at her favorite place. The look she had given Harry when she realized it was his doing had made the month of planning so worth it.
“I remember when 21 seemed impossible.” Harry tops of his glass and settles back into his corner of the couch. “I remember thinking. ‘Made it to 18. That’s damn lucky’.”
“Why did we never talk about that back then?”
“Because talking about it made it real and real was scary.”
“But still,” her eyes narrow on him. “I mean, my God, Harry. You died.”
His breath catches. He rubs at his eyes under his glasses, trying so hard not to break. He’s lived nearly as long since Voldemort as he had before, but even still…there is pain in the remembering.
The couch shifts. Hermione hesitates, then her arms surround him as they settle in together, letting go of the wasted youth they shared.
A spree of armed robberies immobilizes Wizarding London in November. The attacks are random and senseless, specifically targeting victims who are at home so they can torment them with Unforgivables before ransacking their homes.
Harry first asks, then insists, then demands that Hermione stay with him at Grimauld Place, a building far more secure than her Diagon Alley flat. After much eye rolling and many statements of “I can bloody take care of myself, Harry. I learned Dark Arts defense from the very best, after all,” she relents.
He gets accustomed to coming home to her. Lab reports sprawled across the kitchen table, hair in a messy bun with quill ink smudged above her eyebrow. It is endearing and lovely and so very her.
Three weeks and a thousand sleepless nights later, the Aurors raid the suspects hideout. Harry makes it out with only a fractured rib; others aren’t so lucky. He arrives home close to 4 am to find her pacing the front hall. She grasps his face firmly between two hands, thumbs skimming over recently healed scrapes.
She ends up kissing both cheeks and his brow, but Harry’s heart is left racing, wishing it had been someplace else.
He dreams of her just the once and once is enough. A dream comprised more of feelings than any fantastical visions. An ageless kiss. The softness of their bodies entwined.
The next morning, he is completely calm and unflustered by the dream. It had felt so familiar. This blasé reaction, not the dream itself, is what worries him.
When Hermione calls to vent about the shoddy lab assistants assigned to her research, he bumbles through the conversation like he had his very first kiss, completely awkward and unprepared. He is certain she noticed. She knows him too well.
“How is she?” Ron asks sheepishly, tucking his head into Harry’s office. He doesn’t bother to reprimand him for eavesdropping on the whole thing.
“She’s fine,” Harry answers. He wipes his nerve-sweaty hands on his trousers, thanking Merlin his desk can hide such revealing behavior.
“If you see her…tell her I said ‘hullo”.”
He watches Ron leave, remembering the day he told him he wasn’t in love with Ginny anymore. That revelation had left them rocky, at best, even to this day. But telling Ron about his burgeoning feelings for his ex-fiance would leave them with nothing left to salvage.
Harry begins dating a woman named Joelle, hoping to save himself from falling in love where he knows he shouldn’t.
She’s blond, thin, an aspiring actress. She is the type of woman a man of his celebrity should be dating. She looks good on his arm and fucks him like someone who relishes just how much of a hero he is. The Prophet fills the Society pages with their pictures. He answers coyly when Witch Weekly asks if she is the future Mrs. Potter. But it is all for show. She is dull and clingy. She means next to nothing.
“She’s young.” Hermione says at a Ministry fundraiser from a quiet corner away from the crowd.
“She’s mature for her age.”
She nods, tapping her nail against her glass, knowing it better to say nothing when nothing nice can be said.
They stand in silence too awkward for them; a silence laden with hidden things. And Harry can no longer deny that Hermione, with her hair swept up in an elegant mess of tendrils, her long neck proudly extending from bare shoulders over a sea of richest blue silk, is the most beautiful woman in the room.
Hogsmeade glitters. Her streets snow covered, evergreens and candles in every window. In the Hog’s Head, a mug of butter beer in his hand, Harry feels so nostalgic he can hardly bear it. Hermione, who had insisted on this northern excursion, looks out the window, in an equally sentimental mood.
“Dumbledore asked about you once, you know,” Harry muses.
Hermione turns, her brow furrowed in question.
“During 6th year. He noticed how much time we spent together and wondered if we were…you know,” He lets his hands complete the thought.
“Oh,” Hermione smiles, returning her gaze to the window.
“Have you ever thought about it? About us?”
She inhales quickly.
“I think I would have to be blind, heartless and stupid not to. I mean look at us, Harry,” Her voice nearly cracks. “But I also think that you’re seeing someone and I was supposed to get married in three months time. It‘s not right…not yet.”
There is only one ending they deserve: her in white with him waiting at the end of the aisle. Anything less would be unfair. They’ll have one chance to make it perfect.
“Timing,” Harry sighs.
Finally she looks at him, smiles and he knows.
They kiss for the first on Christmas Eve standing in the generous heat of her parents kitchen.
Only two weeks have passed since their conversation in Hogsmeade. Harry knows the timing still isn’t right but when she gives him that flirtatious look over her shoulder, an easy sparkle in her eyes, he can’t resist.
She pulls away, flushed and he presses his fingertips to his lips. “Sorry,” he mumbles.
“It’s alright,” She says as she saunters back into the living room, two refilled wine glasses in her hands. “You may have noticed I kissed you back.”
The time next it happens, on a late, frigid night in February, it feels so similar to his dream one might think he had been trying to replicate it. Same simple kiss shared, same tenderhearted passion.
“I suppose this means the timing’s right?” Harry asks, her head cradled in his elbow, his fingers in her hair. The sun begins to rise, cold but brilliant
“No,” She says, stretching back against the bed, her knee locking around his waist. “But then it again, it may never be.”
She reaches up for another kiss, joining him in the place they had been stumbling towards all along.
“You’re cooking. It must be serious,” He jokes, surveying the damage to his range. For all her talents in the lab, it somehow fails to translate into the kitchen.
Hermione balks in offence, swatting at him with a tea towel, but when he slides in behind her, his hands instantly finding her hips, all is forgiven.
This is all still very new. This them. But Harry has a hard time remembering when he didn’t desire her every curve. When this ability to love her did not consume his very core.
“Is it too soon to tell you I love you?” He asks, the need to say it burning suddenly in his gut.
“You’ve said it before,” She brushes the comment off.
“Hermione,” He stills her wrist, turning her to face him. “I’m serious.”
She leans back on the counter, cocking her head. “After all this time, Harry, is there any doubt? Any question? Any insecurity?” She touches his jaw. “So no, it’s not too soon.”
He rests his forehead against hers, feeling utterly overwhelmed by the simplicity of it all. “I’d ask you to marry me tomorrow if you’d let me.”
She laughs softly through her nose. “I’d say yes.”