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"Where Most It Promises"

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One thing Ron had always had in common with Ginny was a half-hidden love of Muggleania. It was hardly surprising, growing up in Arthur Weasley’s household, that some fascination with the ways of Muggles would seep in, and although, like any good teenager, he made a great show of rolling his eyes at his father’s uncool fixation on fuses and ketchup wrappers and eckeltricity, Ron really did enjoy his little visits to the world without magic, where problems had to be solved with brute force and clever trickery.

Being with Hermione, and with Hermione’s parents, only made him more interested, and he’d sit on their firm-but comfortable sofa, Hermione on one side of him, Dr. or Dr. Granger  on the other, watching movilies on their VDV player, drinking in a strange world where things like guns and cigarette lighters and cars and aeroplanes filled in as best they could for wands and brooms.

So he knows exactly what Ginny’s talking about, sitting across the table at the Three Broomsticks, when she says, “What Willy Wonka said? About the boy who got everything he wanted? Willy Wonka was wrong.”

Ron really enjoyed that VDV, the crazy way Muggles tried to imagine what a magical world might be like, the sweet madness of the curly-haired Muggle in the suit he could have borrowed from Dedalus Diggle. He remembered the ending of the movie, the soft, sad eyes seeming to warn the young hero to beware getting everything he wanted, before surprising him by telling him, “He lived happily ever after.”

But now Ginny’s sitting opposite him, her eyes sadder than Willy Wonka’s ever were, a year after getting everything she’s always wanted – already under contract, hand-picked by Gwenog Jones, to the Holyhead Harpies, and living with the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, the boy she’d dreamed of since before she met him – telling Ron that Willy Wonka had been wrong. Even when you’d got everything you want, there was no promise of Happily Ever After.

“I thought if I just hung in there, he’d see,” Ginny says softly. “Maybe not immediately, maybe it would take months, but sooner or later, it would have to click, right? Sooner or later, he’d have to notice me.”

“I’m pretty sure he noticed you in Sixth Year, Gin,” says Ron. “I seem to recall him snogging your face off in the common room. For that matter, I seem to remember him spending most of a year looking at a dot on the Marauders’ Map with your name on it.”

She laughs, quietly and without humor. “And that was probably how I should have stayed. A dot on a map. An idea. A memory.” She takes a draught from her tea. “And how he should have stayed, too, I guess, a hero on a distant quest, far away saving the world.”

“What, you’re disappointed he’s only human? Merlin’s arse, Gin, that’s–”

“Oh, don’t be a prat, Ron!”

Ron scowls. “Well, what, then? Merlin, Gin, what are you even talking about?”

“I’m talking about you, you pillock!” At Ron’s expression, combining bafflement and affront in approximately equal portions, she reaches across the table and whacks him, almost playfully, up the side of his head. “Not you you!” She gestures with her hands around his head, causing him to back off warily in case of further violence. “You! Both of you! The two of you! You!

It doesn’t really help, though: Ron’s baffled expression remains.

Ginny rolls her eyes. “Ron, do you remember the day Harry beat Voldemort?”

“No, Gin,” Ron deadpans. “Completely slipped my mind seeing Hagrid carrying him, all limp an’ slack, while that snake-faced bastard crowed and gloated. Totally forgot Mum killing that crazy Lestrange bitch an’ Neville lopping the head off the snake. I mean, it’s not like I saw my brother die that day or anything!”

Ginny bites her lip, looks down at the table, and when she speaks again, her voice is very quiet. “Yeah, well, what did Harry do after he cacked Voldemort?”

Ron looks blankly at her.

“I’ll tell you what he did, Ron. He got under his cloak, and walked right past me like I wasn’t even there so he could get to you two, and disappear into who knows where.”

Ron goggles at her. “Are you effing kidding me? You’re here whinging that me and Hermione are, what is it, monopoly-fying Harry? Are you really saying that? We’re hardly together but every couple of weeks!”

And instantly, Ginny’s on her feet, her fists on the table, leaning across to get right in his face. “And that’s the only time he comes alive, Ron! That’s the only time he’s really there!

Ron sits back, eyes wide, as Ginny sinks back into her seat.

“Look,” she says. “It’s not like he’s a zombie. It’s not like he’s mean. He’s sweet, he’s affectionate, he’s attentive, he’s respectful. When we make love he’s generous and gentle and appreciative.” She pauses, ready to scoff at Ron if he reacts childishly, but he simply watches her, his face very still. “But it’s nothing, Ron, I’m sorry, but it’s true. Even when we’re in bed, it’s nothing next to how he is when he sees you two. I love him, Ron, but I love myself too much to settle for being second place.”

Hermione gasps. “What did you say, Ron?”

He sits back on the sofa, eyes wide, head shaking slowly. “What could I say? Merlin, Hermione, I’m not even– I don’t– I mean, what would you have said?”

Hermione stands up and steps over toward the kitchen, but stops in the doorway, one hand on the frame. Beyond her, the orange streetlights shines through the curtains on the kitchen window, the cheerful blues and reds and yellows shading into darker greens and purples as they gleam in the nimbus of her hair.

“I... I don’t know,” Hermione finally breathes. “I don’t know.”

They're lying together, legs still tangled, Ron’s orgasm seeping from her, cool and sticky on her thigh, his hand clasping and releasing hers.

“What did you think?” she asks him softly. “What did you think, Ron, the first time?”

His smile starts as cheeky, but as he regards her, it transforms to something altogether more tender. “I thought it was the most amazing thing that ever happened. Not ‘to me,’ just happened, full-stop. I thought you were so unbelievably nice, just to be letting me. Letting me see you, letting me touch you...” He reaches over, fingertips feather-light down her cheekbone. “Inviting me into all those secret places you’d never share with anybody. I felt...” he pauses a moment, staring into nothing, looking for the word, then surprises her as he sometimes does with le mot juste, that perfect storm of speech and thought that seems so unlike him, but says exactly what it should. “I felt privileged.

Something simultaneously explodes and melts inside her, as if, behind her breastbone, she has somehow managed to combine one of Fred & George’s fireworks with a long draught of hot chocolate. But she keeps her eyes on her ginger boy, knowing that there’s more to come.

“I thought about Harry,” he finally says. “I thought, wait ‘til Harry tries this! I tried to tell myself I meant with Gin, but I know I didn’t. Sex is you, you know?”

She looks at him, curious, amused, but only her eyebrows ask for clarification.

“I mean, it’s not, you know, something in the world, something that other people have. I mean, you know, I know that other people fuck! But.... But that’s just other people fucking. It’s not the same. They have fucking. I have fucking Hermione. It’s not the same thing at all. An’...” He draws in a breath. “An’ I thought how great it would be when Harry fucked you, how we could compare notes and share how great it is to fuck you.” He gulps, and hurries on, as if forestalling a scolding, “I mean, you know, I know it sounds awful, like I think this– like I think you’re a Chocolate Frog card I can just pass around. You’ve gotta understand, thinking it, it wasn’t all long an’ solid an’, an’ considered. It was just, it was almost a feeling, it was automatic, you know. Something good happens, I want to share it with my best mate. Like when Honeydukes came out with those Chinese Fireballs. This is great, Harry’s gotta try this!

He lies back, closing his eyes. “I’m sorry, Hermione.”

They’re silent for a while, and Hermione suddenly speaks. “I dreaded the end of the war.”

Ron looks over at her, thinking how awful it was for her, how terrifying the world had become. He was a pureblood, after all. He could have lived in Voldemort’s world. But Hermione, Muggleborn, he knew it had looked to her like the whole world had become a nightmare, her own, personal nightmare, a terrifying perversion of the world that was aimed with deadly malevolence, directly at her. How could she have dreaded the end of that? Had she feared that they’d fail?

“When you left,” she said, as if in explanation, “it was so awful. We were so broken, the two of us, nothing was right without you. We just flailed about like a snake with a broken back.”

“I’m sorry, Hermione.” It’s all he can say, all he can be, when his abandonment of them arises.

She reaches over and strokes his face. “No, Ron.” She shakes her head, dismissing his guilt as if he’d never betrayed them. “I... Once you were back – and I was over wanting to hit you – I felt.... We were whole again, Ron. I was whole again. I was with my boys. Whole.”

Silence settles over them, then, like a blanket. Through the curtains, distant street-lamps shine here and there, gentle orbs of golden light that just barely give the interior shapes and solidity and a comforting warmth.

The question feels like cold fingers around his heart, but Ron asks anyway. “D’you fancy him, Hermione? D’you fancy Harry?”

Seconds tick away in silence. “I’m here with you, Ron. I’m where I want to be. Does it matter?”

“Yeah,” Ron says, after a few moments of silence. “Yeah, it does. Gin can’t settle for coming in second.”

She rolls over then, onto him, staring into his eyes in the filtered lamplight. “You are not coming in second! You are not! Don’t ever say that! Don’t ever think it! There is nowhere on earth I’d rather be than here in this bed with you! Do you believe me?”

He looks back up at the faint glints of her eyes in the shadows of her brows, her wild hair cascading around their faces like a very soft avalanche. “Yeah,” he finally says. “Yeah, I believe you. It’s just.... It’s hard sometimes. Hard to believe a girl as amazing as you would even be seen with me.”

“I want to take your hand and get up on restaurant tables with you, and snog you senseless standing up there so the whole world can see my ginger boy, so the whole world can see how lucky I am to have such a sweet, smart, funny, wonderful, beautiful boy.”

Ron slumps in relief at her words, and she lets herself down atop him, her breasts flattening against his chest, her hair draping over his face, and as he reaches up to brush it aside, she murmurs into his ear, “Yes, I do, rather. I’m sorry, Ron, but it’s true. I do fancy him. Not more than you, not instead of you, I just.... I fancy Harry. I’m sorry.”

The words tear through him like an electric flood of ice water, and he jerks involuntarily under her. Remember what she said. Remember what she said.

Her hands are in his hair, and her mouth finds his, passionate, desperate, and when they part, her lips brush against his ear as she murmurs, “I love you, Ron, I love you and I always want to be with you, and that’s not going to change.”

He squeezes his eyes shut, feelings roiling inside him. He feels like he should shove Hermione off of him, storm away, shouting. He’s the jealous berk, after all, who betrayed Harry and Hermione both out of fear that they wanted one another more than him.

Fuck that!” he snarls aloud.

Language, Ron!” Her scolding is automatic, traditional, seeming to him as pro forma as his impulse to jealous rage. And, after a beat, she proves it: “Fuck what?”

He takes her by her shoulders, lifts her until he can see her eyes, and she sits up, her breasts pale and round in the moonlight, her eyes still on his.

“I’m not doing it anymore, Hermione.” His voice is rough. “Being jealous? Being afraid you wanted Harry? That fucking Horcrux owned me with that! It might as well have had my balls closed up inside it! I won’t do it anymore, Hermione. I just won’t.” He dropped his head back. “One time, I heard Fred telling George – I guess Angelina was letting some bloke from the Finches try to chat her up – I don’t care where she gets her appetite, as long as she eats at home. Harry’s the fucking Hero of the Age, and a decent bloke into the bargain, and why shouldn’t you fucking well fancy him?”

Hermione smiles down at him, eyebrows raised. “My!” She brushes his hair away from his forehead and cocks her head. “As simple as that?”

Ron snorts with laughter. “’Course not! Are you mental?” he pauses, smiles wryly. “Never mind, ’course you are.” He reaches up to run fingers down her cheek, her neck, her breast. “Anyway, I’m freaking out, of course! I’m just not letting it run my fucking life. He’s Harry and you’re you, and if I can’t trust the both of you, what do I even have?” His thumb slides absently across her nipple. “So I’m just going to fucking accept the fact that you’re here, sitting on me, naked with my jizz leaking out of you, and what the fuck else can I ask for?”

She squirms against him, the fluid of her sex and his smearing on his abdomen, as she traces her fingers over his face. “I will never dishonor you, Ron.” The words are as soft as a spring night’s dew, the vow as solid as iron. “I will never break faith with you.”

He smiles, then. Sometimes, most times, he feels like he hasn’t grown at all from the first time she saw him. Still a gangly eleven-year-old with a smudge of dirt on his nose. But sometimes, some rare moments, he feels as old as time and wise as Dumbledore.

“I know you won’t,” he tells her.

When she opens her mouth to answer, they hear the gentle crackling of the living room fire – it was so difficult, Ron remembers, for Hermione to relax and accept that it was safe to leave a magical fireplace in another room, untended while they slept – roar in that familiar, raucous manner, and it’s no surprise to see the green in the firelight reflected from the hall, and she’s already sliding off him, reaching for her wand while he sits up, as soon as they hear Harry’s voice, hesitant, a little unsteady, calling, “Ron? Hermione? Are you up?”

Their expressions as they glance at one another are complicated: knowing sadness for Harry, lingering uncertainty about their own discussion, but a base level of contentment to hear his voice, to know that, when in need, still and always, Harry turns to them. Hermione’s wand swirls in a silent cleaning spell, and her sex and Ron’s are expunged, from their skin and their bed, as Ron grabs their robes, tossing the creamy rose silk of Hermione’s to her as he calls, “Just a mo’, mate, we’re coming!”

Harry looks beaten and tired as he gazes out of the flames of the fireplace at them. “She left me.” He shakes his head. “Well, no, technically, she kicked me out.” He frowns at that. “Well, no, technically, she told me it was over, and then left for a road trip with the Harpies. Not really much like kicking me out, to be honest. But I need to leave.”

“You’ll stay here, of course.” Hermione’s words are calm and even, and Ron follows up, “We’ll go back tomorrow for your stuff, just come on through, mate, and stay with us.”

“No, really,” Harry begins.

Hermione interrupts him with a firm “Don’t be stupid!” while Ron reaches down with one hand, saying, “Come on, mate, you were just dumped by my sister, that’s no time to be on your knees.”

He shakes his head again. “No, no, I couldn’t.... I mean, it’s late, I’m sorry, look at you, I got you out of bed. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have Flooed. I’ll–”

“Oh, shut up, you wanker!” Ron’s half-laughing as he gestures with that offered hand. “You know you can’t stay there. Come on through, mate.”

Harry reaches through the flames to take it, and Ron pulls him through and up, steadying him with a strong hand on his shoulder.

As soon as Harry is steadily upright, Hermione is against him, arms wrapped around him, head pressed against his shoulder, and he bows his own head as his arms come up, and buries his face in the crazed outburst of bushy brown hair as he squeezes her.

It’s not that Harry doesn’t feel smooth, bare skin under the breath-thin silk of the robe. It’s not that he’s unaware of of the breasts flattened against his chest or the slender, resonantly female body in his arms. It’s not that she doesn’t feel wonderful, and it’s not, to be brutally frank about it, that he’s not hard within about four seconds. But Hermione is Ron’s, not his. Ginny was his, and he somehow fucked that up. Now... Well, he doesn’t know what’s now. He doesn’t even care, really. He just angles his hips a little, so as not to press it against her, and pulls in her warmth and her sympathy and her love, and he pretends for a moment that there’s some way for him to live in this strange new world he doesn’t understand where nobody’s trying to kill him.

After a moment, he looks around for Ron, holds a hand out to him, and Ron takes his hand, and Harry finds himself momentarily amused that Ron can hold his hand and give him comfort, and there’s somehow no question of it being “gay” or effeminate or in any way – Harry smirks as the silly word occurs to him – “unsound.” Just strong fingers wrapped around his, firm, solid, powerful. And Harry is as comforted, as supported, as reassured by those long, rough fingers as by Hermione’s embracing arms and warm curves.

“C’mon,” Ron murmurs. His tone is soft and sweet enough to shock anybody who knows him casually; it’s even a little surprising to Harry. He steers them over to the couch, both he and Hermione staying close to Harry, as if ready to physically support him, like an injured soldier leaving the field of battle. They sit on either side of him, Hermione burrowing against him as if it’s she who needs comforting, Ron, at his other side, with a casual arm across his shoulders, fingers playing with Hermione’s hair.

“You want to talk about it, mate?” asks Ron, after a few silent minutes.

“Not really,” says Harry.

Hermione, muffled with her face pressed into Harry’s chest, makes an inarticulate sound of despair, followed by what may be an attempt to say, “Boys!” But her small hand rubs circles on his belly, and Harry knows her frustration is mainly for show.

It isn’t long, of course, before sitting in companionable, comforting silence devolves, and Harry’s head nods, Hermione’s bushy hair surprisingly soft against his cheek, and his eyes drop slowly as he slides into blessed darkness.

Hermione turns her head to smile over at Ron at the sound of Harry’s soft, almost childish snores, but his eyes are also closed, and his head tilting backward. Her smile deepens. Here with her boys: what could be better?

As Ron starts to snore, she shifts slightly, trying to get away from the corner of the wooden molding of the sofa’s arm. That could be better! She closes her eyes and lets her senses flow with her magic. It’s something she’s been working on in her spare time: wandless magic was far too difficult for any but the most powerful and difficult wizards, but, she reasoned, if she was able to do it as a child – she remembers her father’s consternation at finding his cheerfully disorderly bookshelves alphabetized, and battered, worn books restored, split spines healed, and dog-eared pages fresh and uncreased – then she ought to be able to do it now if she can focus on her wand at a modest distance, and focus enough to perform magic without grasping it in her hand.

She reaches out now through her vague sense of her own magic, carefully not concentrating on the bedside table in the next room, on the vine-wood wand, recovered from Malfoy Manor in the days after the fall of Voldemort, but allowing her awareness to wash gently over it, like a gentle incoming tide.

When she feels it, really feels it, she pictures her desire in her mind, and thinks – non-verbal magic being easier and more effective for remote-wand spellwork – Levicorpus!

Her boys rise into the air, hanging at about waist-height, and she stands and walks to the bedroom, the floating, snoring forms following her like well-trained dogs. Crookshanks, curled in a basket in one corner, looks up at them with moderate interest as they float by: There’s something you don’t see every day!

Once in the bedroom, she looks at her wand to bring them in for a soft landing on the bed, and, as she reaches for the tie of her silk robe, looks over at the two boys, snuggled like puppies atop the bedclothes, and allows herself to imagine dropping it to the floor, and worming, naked, between them. Two solid, male bodies, loving, gentle, affectionate against her.

Oh, she knows that to do so would be a mistake: Ron had miraculously put his jealousy aside as they spoke in post-coital languor, but she has no illusion that he would actually share her. And certainly Harry has never shown the slightest interest in her, romantically or sexually, his ill-disguised erection earlier, a mere physical reflex, notwithstanding. But it’s a nice little fantasy, and it surely does no harm.

She grabs a pair of plain cotton knickers, and one of Ron’s discarded Cannons tee-shirts. Harry’s trainers, none-too-clean on the bedsheet, draw her gaze. Those can go!

She sees in her mind what she’s going to do, and is properly scandalized, but it doesn’t stop her. She undoes the tie, slides the silk robe from her shoulders, tosses it into the wing-backed chair in the corner, and stands naked, looking at her sleeping boys. Ron knows she has a wild side, but even he would be shocked if he woke and saw this. Harry would be embarrassed and shy, wouldn’t know where to look. That would be priceless to see! But neither will wake: she recognizes the timbre of their snores. Naughty but safe. The perfect Hermione solution, Ron would say. She smiles at the sound of his voice in her head as she bends down, her naked breasts swaying, and unties Harry’s shoes, then slides them gently from his feet.

She squats down, places the trainers quietly on the floor, then stands again, very aware of her nakedness, looking down at the two of them. Then she slides on her knickers, and shrugs Ron’s shirt over her head. The hem hangs almost to her knees. She climbs slowly, carefully, onto the bed, and Ron reaches reflexively for her, making unintelligible noises as he pulls her over him to fit her – and Harry, still asleep, shifts to make room – between them.

She smiles, lying in the safest spot in the known universe, happily surrounded by her boys, and lets her awareness slide again over her wand.

Nox , she thinks, and the room settles into darkness, and, moments later, so does she.

It had been the the night after – actually the morning after – Fred’s funeral.

Hermione had been staying alone in her parents’ house and Ron had Apparated, at about one in the morning, into her bedroom. Tears had been streaming down his long nose and freckled cheeks, and she woke at the crack of his Apparation, sitting upright in her bed, staring with a cry of wild panic in the dark.

“I’m sorry, love!” Ron’s voice was choked with tears. “It’s me, I’m sorry, it’s me! I didn’t think! I should’ve, I dunno, fellytoned or owled or something. I’ll leave, all right?”

She was already out of bed, her flannel nightdress looking, in the mirror over her dresser, like a cartoon ghost in the shadows as she flew at Ron and embraced him. “No, Ron, it’s okay, you just startled me, it’s all right.” She peered up at his face, pale in the curtain-filtered moonlight. “Are you all right?”

“Not so you’d notice, no,” he replied. “Fred’s dead, how am I supposed to be all right?” He sucked in a breath. “Fred’s dead, an’ George might as well be his Inferus, an’ Mum’s always crying an’ Dad wants to but he can’t, so he’s just there...” He took another breath. “I had to get out.”

And just like that, Hermione had become straightforward and businesslike, pulling Ron by his elbow. “Come along then, Ron,” she said, leading him toward the bed. “You’ll stay here with me.”

She’d got his trainers and socks, belt and denim jacket off of him, left his jeans and tee shirt alone, and pulled him into bed with her, and held him while he cried.

It was the first night she’d really spent curled up in his arms, and the sense of him against her, needing her, was heartbreaking and heavenly all at once. He’d buried his face against her breast, completely unaware that he was pressing his face into her breast. And she’d stroked his surprisingly soft ginger hair, and cooed softly to him, and they’d both drifted together into sleep.

And she’d awoke again, a little after dawn, feeling him thrusting rhythmically against her. He was still asleep, but one of his hands was kneading her breast, still moist with last night’s tears, and he was thrusting a hardness in his crotch against her hip, a hardness she quickly realized was an erection. It was her first relatively direct experience with one of those, and as it skidded along her flesh, layers of flannel and denim insulating it from her, she’d felt both churning and lightness in her belly, and a growing pool of warmth.

So this will be it, she’d thought. Here in my childhood bed, the morning after Fred’s funeral, Ron and I will shed our virginity together.

Ron had awakened slowly at first, murmuring her name as he thrust more deliberately against her, his thumb playing with her nipple through the flannel nightie, and then his eyes had flashed open, staring in a combination of embarrassment and terror, and she had pulled his mouth to hers and kissed him thoroughly, and then sat up and said matter-of-factly, “Well, that’ll be enough of this,” as she pulled the nightie up over her head.

In the end, it was messy and sort of painful and way too fast, and it was maybe the best four minutes Hermione had ever spent.

Hermione’s dreams are seldom memories, but she wakes slowly to rhythmic thrusts up her bare thigh, and smiles. No mystery why I remembered that morning in my sleep! The denim slides against her bare leg, hardness under the cloth, and a strong hand has hooked around her hip, fingertips sliding up under the elastic opening of her knickers to rest almost on her bum.

She rolls her head away from the thrusting form, eyes slitting open to meet Ron’s blue-eyed gaze, merry and amused.

She jerks and spins, crying out in shock as Ron laughs, and finds herself facing a wide-eyed Harry, who throws himself back away from her so hard and so fast that he tumbles to the floor in a tangle of bedclothes.

Ron, behind her, is still howling. “Oh, fuck, Hermione!” he manages to gasp. “That’s the best thing I’ve ever seen!” He sucks in another breath. “Merlin, it’s Martin Miggs come to life, that is!”

Hermione’s starting to giggle as well, now, as the top of Harry’s head, and then his wide, staring eyes, rise above the edge of the bed. The green eyes blink myopically – well, technically, Hermione thinks, astigmatically – back and forth between her and Ron, and, after a moment, he manages, almost inaudibly, “You’re– You’re not mad?”

Hermione chuckles, and Ron says, still grinning, “Well, overlooking the sort of nauseating fact that you thought you were dry-humping my sister, no.”

Harry looks a bit guilty at that, and Ron laughs again, and that’s infectious enough that Hermione chuckles...but that expression of Harry’s, it’s not quite right. It isn’t, okay, you caught me guilty. It’s you didn’t quite catch me guilty. (It’s not that Harry doesn’t have an I got away with it face, he certainly does – that was half the reason Hermione had so taken against that awful book Harry’d had in Sixth Year! But with some people – her, Ron, the Weasleys, Professor McGonagall – Harry’s conscience bothers him when he gets away with something. Hermione’s not sure anyone else recognises that particular quirk of expression, that twist of Harry’s mouth – but she does!) She files it away to think about later.

Ron’s swung his legs off his side, and said, still chuckling, as he stands, “Anyway, mate, I’m gonna grab a morning shower. I trust you can resist my girlfriend’s charms ‘til it’s your turn?”

Harry’s face reddens, as Hermione snipes playfully at Ron, “Oh, that’s nice! Don’t I get to decide who gets a turn?”

Now Ron’s as red as Harry, and he ducks his head as he mumbles, “Turn at the bloody shower, I meant!”

Ron hands Harry’s clothes to Hermione before pulling the towel from around his own waist, and quietly enjoys the expressions playing over her face: the wry smirk at Ron’s having her ‘do the wash’ – although he’s honestly rubbish with laundering charms! – something a little more complicated at holding all of Harry’s clothes, and possibly even the thought of him naked under the streaming water they could hear through the door. There’s a lot churning in him at all that, too: the morning after Hermione’s admission to fancying Harry was a bit quick to be finding him rubbing one out against her thigh!

He starts to wonder if Hermione caught it, then smirks to himself. If she caught it? Hermione? Too right, she caught it!

Still, it’s as good a way to broach the subject as any, so, as Hermione lays out Harry’s things on the bed, he asks her, “You caught that with Harry, right?”

She looks up at him, and he’s pleased that her gaze pauses on his willy before she nods. “I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”

“Well, you wouldn’t, would you?” Ron’s pulling on fresh boxers, grabbing a pair of jeans from the chest of drawers. “Your secret crush, the Chosen One, humping your leg like a dog? What’s to worry?”

Hermione’s brows come together over the bridge of her nose. “Is this the new plan, then, Ronald? I was honest with you, so you’re going to throw it back in my face for the rest of my life?”

“Ah, fuck, Hermione–”

“Language, Ron!”

“Yeah, yeah.” he looks seriously at her as he fastens the button of his jeans. “Look, I’m sorry. You love me, right?”

“You know I do, Ron.”

“An’ I’m remembering that, okay? I really am. But I can’t help.... I mean, I’m freaking out, right? I told you that! I know I can trust the both of you, but you know I’ll always have that fucking voice in my head, saying Least loved, now, by the girl who prefers your friend . I know it’s a lie, but it’s there, right? Second-best, always, eternally overshadowed.... ” Ron shudders, then shrugs at Hermione. “It’s in there.”

Hermione steps across to him. “I don’t care where it is! In your head, in your heart, in Rita Skeeter’s next bestseller. If it says you’re second-best, it’s nothing but rubbish.” She puts her arms around him and turns him around, to wave her wand, behind his back, at Harry’s outfit where it lies on the bed. “Lauandium!

Harry’s clothing tumbles briefly on the bed, and comes to rest bright and clean.

“Hey, that’s pretty impressive,” Ron says. “Prop up your boyfriend’s ego and do your other boyfriend’s laundry at the same time! What do Muggles call that? Monkeymasking?”

“Multitasking.” They both turn to see Harry in the door from the bathroom. “What do you mean her other boyfriend?”

Ron’s eyes widen. “I... Er... Well, I dunno if–”

Hermione’s face has sunk into her palm, her hair cascading around her face. The moan that escapes, floating out of the refractory cloud of curls, is equal parts despair and humour. “Oh, by all means, Ron, tell Harry all about it while I’m in the shower, because what we really need is to make this morning even more awkward.” She looks up. “Get dressed, Harry, I’ll be a few minutes.”

Harry steps quickly aside to let her into the bathroom, and regards the closed door for a moment before turning to look back at Ron, his expression simultaneously hard and baffled, which Ron has to admit is something of an achievement.

“Um,” says Ron, intelligently. Well, no, he’s not even trying to sell himself on that one! “Yeah, look, Harry, this is one of those things that sounds more serious than it is, right? At least, that’s what I’m telling myself!”

Harry holds his gaze. Through the closed door, they hear the sound of the water starting.

“Look, are you going to put your clothes on? This’ll be awkward enough without Hermione coming out and finding you starkers.”

“All right, all right!” Harry turns to the bed, and Ron hears the small, satisfied sound he makes at the touch of his now-clean clothes. “I hate to tell her this, but Hermione’s really brilliant at laundry spells.”

“Trust your instincts, mate,” Ron smirks and Harry chuckles as he pulls his Y-Fronts up over the strong, angular shape of his bottom. As he reaches for the jeans, Ron continues, “Anyway, like I was telling you, I’m sure this isn’t as big as it sounds. I mean, I’m sort of freaking out about it, but I’m trying this new thing, looking at stuff logically instead of flying off the handle half-cocked.”

Harry grins over at him. “I can tell you’re sleeping with Hermione!”

Ron looks serious, though. “Well, we were talking last night. You know, Gin talked to me before she talked to you, right?”

Harry shrugs. “Yeah, she said.”

“Well, me ‘n’ Hermione were talking about that. And it got me sort of thinking. You know me. We were talking about you bein’ the big ol’ hero, bein' Gin’s lifetime crush, about Gin being jealous.... You know me, Harry! I hadda ask Hermione if she fancies you.”

Harry looks understanding. “Hermione got mad? Ron, you really have to stop this. She’s mad for you, mate, and she always has been. She’s been mad for you since before she knew what boys were for!

Ron’s expression is almost pitying as he shakes his head at Harry.

Harry’s jaw drops. “What the hell, Ron! You must’ve misunderstood! Hermione does not fancy me!”

“She does, Harry,” Ron says, softly. “She told me, she told me, she loves me, she wants to be with me, it’s nothing even t’do with me, basically.... But she fancies you.”

“Jesus Ron, she said that? And you’re not screaming at her? And me?”

Ron shakes his head. “Like I said, I’m.... I’m tryin’ to be a grown-up. It’s not like I’ve never fancied another girl. I mean, it’s not the same, it’s, you know, just a passing thing when that happens, an’ one thing you’ll never be – with Hermione or me! – is passing. But, you know.... There’s a million things in the world I want an’ can’t have, an’ I guess there’s at least one in Hermione’s world. So I’m just... Godric, Harry, you heard Riddle’s voice! You saw– You saw–” He shakes his head. Harry nods. “That shit drove me away when you needed me most. I’m never letting that happen again, right?”

“I never blamed you, Ron.”

Ron sets his jaw against the onslaught of emotions – disbelief, hope, resentment, warmth, shame, gratitude – and looks Harry in the eye. “I think you did. I think you should have. But I can’t change the past. I can only try to be better than I was. Being insecure an’ hotheaded an’ jealous got me nothing but trouble, so I’m changing that. So Hermione fancies you a bit. At least you’ve earned it, right? I’m gonna live with it. But I’m sort of freaking out, is all, so I tease her about it. ‘Least, that’s the idea.”

The water stops, and Harry grabs up his T-shirt and pulls it over his head, and he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, tying his trainers, when the door opens, and Hermione steps in, dressed in her conservative robes for her Ministry job.

“I trust Ron told you...?”

“Nah,” says Harry, standing up. “Got talking Quidditch, and forgot all about it.”

Hermione’s eyes narrow. “Really.”

“Yeah, yeah!” Ron backs Harry’s play automatically. “The Cannons are looking for a new Beater, see, an’...”

Hermione’s hooded glare grinds him to a stop.

“Anyway,” says Harry, “Let me make breakfast. Repay the hospitality.”

“Oh, Harry,” begins Hermione, “There’s no need...” but Harry’s already in the hall.

When they follow they hear him singing, a wry edge of humour in his voice:

I’m... Too sexy for my shirt, Too sexy for my shirt, So sexy that it hurts!

“Oh, it’s going to hurt,” Hermione mutters and sprints down the hallway after him as Ron roars with laughter.

The Auror Training Facility in Harlington is under the deserted remains of a Muggle movie studio, surrounded by signs warning of toxic wastes and biohazards. Harry and Ron walk through the barbed-wire fence as if it isn’t there – which, if you’re not a Muggle, it isn’t – and into the office building, passing tattered posters for period comedies and children’s adventure films made with puppets. They duck into the president’s office, and place the tips of their wands into a pen-holder on the mouldering desk, and the entire office sinks down through the building  and into the earth below. The door opens into a hallway in which professional Wizards and Witches move with confident purpose from lecture hall to gymnasium.

Aurors are required to take a full month of “refresher” training every two years, and the training facility is busy all year round. As they make their way toward the locker room, Harry exchanges a glance with Ron, and wonders what he’s thinking. There’s something troubled in Ron’s expression. Hell, there’s no shortage of reasons! I’ve failed with his sister, his girlfriend fancies me, and I woke up humping her leg! He shied away from the fact that the girlfriend in question was Hermione. Holy fuck, I can’t believe I did that to Hermione! It was something of a wonder they hadn’t taken turns hexing him into oblivion! But Harry also knows that his own gaze is troubled, and he knows that this emotional clusterfuck is only part of the reason why.

He was pretty excited to go into the Auror program, but the longer training goes on, the more uneasy he feels about it. Moody and Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt have all told him, at various times, that the Auror training programme was the most difficult, most rewarding endeavour they’ve ever tackled. All three of them are stronger, tougher, and more competent than he’s even approached being. They're smart, powerful, educated wizards– well, in the case of Tonks, a witch– any of whom could handily put Harry in St. Mungo's without even breathing hard.

So, if this was the hardest thing they’ve ever done, when are me and Ron going to hit the hard part? Because, never mind Potions with Snape, the training he and Ron have got thus far wasn’t even as hard as History of Magic, with Binns! Harry remembers one time, in Sixth Year, Tonks chatted with him about coming home from training covered with bruises, waking up with pulled muscles and a stiff neck. But he and Ron have yet to have a day’s training here that's any more strenuous than a Quidditch practice.

“This is fucking mental!” Ron is livid, and Harry, face pale and mouth compressed into a thin line, clearly agrees.

“Please, Mr. Weasley,” cries Dawlish, “It really was an accident! I’m so, so sorry!”

Ron daubs again at the bleeding cut on his arm. “Well, Duh! Of course it was a bleeding accident! So effing what? Are we in effing Auror Training or aren’t we?”

Dawlish looks baffled but Harry looks almost relieved.

“I’m sorry!” cries Dawlish again. “I’ve said, I’m sorry!

“Yeah, well, I’m done,” says Harry, quietly. He meets Ron’s eyes, and Ron nods his agreement. “We’re both done.”

Kingsley Shacklebolt looks both confused, which Harry is okay with, and hurt, which he isn’t. “But, Harry,” he asks, his slow, deep voice hesitant. “Why? Ron wasn’t seriously hurt. He didn’t even need Madam Glinda, the cut was so shallow.”

“I’ll tell you why, Kingsley,” he answers, his own voice soft and sad. “Dawlish was horrified. He apologised more than five times. To trainees, Kingsley! To Ron and me!” He draws in a breath, “And now you’re here! You’re the Minister of Magic, Kingsley, and you’re still sorting out who in your staff was a traitor and who was Imperiused and who was just evil–”

“By the way,” Ron interrupts darkly, “Dolores Umbridge is in that last group. Just sayin’.”

“And you’re here,” says Harry, a little forcefully, keeping the conversation on track, “you’ve left the Ministry and come out here to Harlington so you can intervene in the resignations of two trainee Aurors!

Kingsley smiles. “Well, Harry, let’s be honest. You and Ron are no ordinary trainees.”

“No,” says Harry, “and it’s taken us this long to realise that we never can be.”

The new Minster’s eyes widen at that. “Nonsense, Harry! You and Ron have done amazing things, extraordinary things! You brought down Voldemort himself! Of course you can make it as Auror trainees!”

Ron chuckles, his tone dark. “Maybe if we were Polyjuiced the whole time, and under aliases. Kingsley, you know Harry’s right. Who’s going to drive the Chosen One into the dirt? What parchment-pusher whose job is mainly arresting Flying-Carpet smugglers an’ Muggle-baiters is going to give orders to the Boy Who Lived? An’, like it or not, that’s slopped over onto me as well.”

“There’s no way,” Harry says grimly, “we can ever be real Aurors. The best we can be is recruiting adverts.”

Kingsley looks as if he’d like to object. His index finger rises and his brows gather and his mouth opens. But after a moment, those reactions all reverse themselves. The full lips come together and brows slide apart and the hand lowers to sit flat on the desk.

“You know,” says his slow, deep voice, in something like surrender and something like wonder, “I do believe you’re right.” He holds out a hand to Harry. “I’m sorry Harry. I could give all the orders in the world, but I can’t see Dawlish or Freeman or Straker ever really being able to deal with you as subordinates. I should have realized.”

Harry takes Kingsley’s hand, and Ron smirks as he says, teasingly, to the Minister of Magic – And who the hell, Ron thinks, later, ever would’ve thought I’d be doing something like that? – “Well, it’s not like you really felt like saying no to He-Who-Cacked-He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, either, is it?”

Kingsley’s laugh is the same resonant boom it’s always been. “No. No, I have to say, it isn’t.”

Ron’s hips are perched on the edge of the back of the couch, and Harry’s sitting on one of the high stools by the counter-top between the kitchen and the living-room. It’s all sort of sloppy and liveable: Ginny’s no more one for interior design than Harry, and they just bought comfortable furniture from charity shops.

Harry’s doing all the work, if it can be called that: his trunk is sitting in the middle of the living-room floor, open, and he’s summoning, levitating, or banishing his belongings into it.

“Did you just tell her she was mental?” Ron asks.

“Well, yeah, Ron! I told her she was being ridiculous. I told her that I’d never even thought of you two that way–”

Ron sort of flinches at that. Even ‘that way’ is more explicit than Ron’s comfortable with. But, hell, he’d listened to his sister going on about her love-life yesterday, so he supposed he’d need to adjust his ideas of where his limits were.

“Anyway,” Harry is continuing, “she just rolled her eyes at that. Said she understood that. Said it was kind of a shame, actually.”

Ron stares up at him, shocked. “She what!?!?

“Shocked the hell out of me, too, mate, believe me!” Harry waves his broom-maintenance kit into the lower section of the trunk. “She said Merlin, Harry, I wish it was something you could get over with some pervy three-way sex!

This startles something out of Ron that’s got some laughter and some dismay and some discomfort mixed into it. “Yeah, that’s Gin, all right!”

“You’re telling me!” says Harry, his own tone not without humour or pain. “Anyway, she said, if it was like that, she could deal with it. Send us off for a lost weekend, she said, or a driving tour of Mexico.”

“My sister is mental!” Ron shakes his head.

“What she said she couldn’t stand....” Harry pauses as his dress robes float out of the bedroom, looking, for a terrible moment, like a Dementor. He gestures with his wand, and the robs dive into the trunk. Ron is irritated to find himself thinking that they’ll crease and wrinkle, tossed in like that, and his fingers twitch slightly toward his wand, but he restrains himself; he may be living with Hermione, but he won’t be her! “What she couldn’t stand was knowing that, girlfriend or wife or mother of my kids, she’d still come in behind the two of you.”

Ron sits forward. “Mother of your–”

Harry waves him down. “No, no, she was just thinking ahead! She’s mad, your sister, but she’s better at that than me.”

“So’s Pigwidgeon.”

“Thanks, Ron.” Harry gestures again, and a shoebox sails out of the cupboard and settles into the trunk. “Anyway, I opened my mouth to tell her she was mental again, and she just looked at me. You know how, sometimes, she can just look at you, and it takes all the wind out of your sails? She just looks at you, and it’s Don’t treat me like I’m stupid and it’s Let’s cut the bullshit, okay? And it’s You can lie to yourself all you want, but you can’t lie to me.”

“Yeah,” breathes Ron. “Yeah, I know that look.”

“I just sort of wilted right there, Ron. What kind of bastard boyfriend am I, that the girl I love – and I do love her, Ron, you know I do! – means less to me than my friends?”

“Shit, Harry, I’m not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed with feelings and such, but even I know it’s more complicated than that! Who did you ever really connect with before me, and then Hermione? I mean, yeah, there was Hagrid, but he was a grown-up, you know? Who in all the world did you ever care about who cared about you back – you know, on your own level, like – until us?”

Harry looks over at him, eyes dark, for a long moment. “I do, you know. I care– Oh, fuck that, I love you, Ron. I love you both. You know that, right?”

Ron shakes his head. “’Course I do, ya great berk! I love you, too, an’ so does Hermione. And she knows it too, but you should tell her anyway, because you know she loves all that drippy stuff.”

Harry grins. “You’re so sentimental, Ron!”

“Positively soppy! C’mon, you got everything?”

Harry sweeps a last look around the room, then swishes his wand at the trunk, which closes and locks itself. He gestures it to follow them, and leads Ron toward the Floo.

Hermione is loath to admit it, and she covers quickly, but when she arrives at home, and sees the witch who’s chatting with Ron, her heart jumps into her throat, and her skin crawls. But then the woman looks up at Hermione, and smiles, her expression so warm and kind and sad – most importantly, so sane! – that Hermione’s ashamed of her moment of terror. Andromeda Tonks looks eerily like her late sister, but that and blood are all she shares in common with Bellatrix Lestrange.

Hermione shakes her head. The woman has suffered so much, she won’t add to it by cringing away from her, just because she’s unfortunate enough to look like her sister. “M– Mrs. Tonks,” she says, with what she hopes is a welcoming smile. “How lovely to see you.”

“Thank you, Miss Granger,” she replies, her own voice and expression graceful, but her eyes, dark and unfathomably sad. “It’s so very good of the three of you to consider me.”

Hermione understands immediately. Her late husband, Ted Tonks, was a magical contractor, and Andromeda, she’s heard, has learned enough from him to continue his business. With a grandson – Harry’s godson! – to support, and the Black family fortune denied her, she needs the income. Ron will have called her in to add in a bedroom for Harry.

She turns back to Ron. “Mr. Weasley, I’m quite certain I can do this job. I’ll need to check on permits and so on, but I can have an estimate ready for you by noon tomorrow.”

“Yeah, very good,” says Ron. That doesn’t seem right to Hermione – won’t Ron be at Harlington then? – but she’s learning not to jump in so much. Ron generally knows what he’s doing, and maybe her own urge to ‘correct’ has a lot more to do with ‘control’ than she’d like to admit.

The door from the bathroom opens, and Harry steps into the room carrying a baby. Hermione’s insides do a little swoop when she sees that. She needs to think about that a little more, she knows; life seems to be rushing at her, with Harry and Ginny splitting up, and now Harry moving in.

“Here he is,” Harry says to Mrs. Tonks, “Clean as a whistle and sweet as a rose.”

The older woman takes the baby – of course, it would be little Teddy Lupin! – and smiles at Harry. Again, the expression is complex, sad and grateful and admiring and sharp. “Thank you, Harry.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Harry tells her, “believe me!”

She smiles more widely. “The novelty fades, Harry.” She chuckles then. “As the smell gets worse, actually.” She looks at the baby’s little face, his hair turning darker and messier even as they watch, and back up at Harry again. “He likes you.”

Harry waggles a finger in front of Teddy, whose eyes track it intently, as if the waving digit is the most interesting thing in the world. “It’s mutual.”

Andromeda Tonks smiles again, eyes sparkling, as much with happiness as unshed tears. She turns suddenly and carries Teddy toward the Floo. “Tomorrow, then,” she says. She tosses a handful of powder into the flames, which dance green before her. “Ministry of Magic, Department of Housing and Construction.”

And then she steps into the flames, and the two spin away, leaving behind the sound of Teddy's giggles.

“We quit,” Harry says simply. Ron half-cringes, as if Hermione were his mother, all ready to become a human Howler right there in the apartment with them, but Harry shows no sign of concern or discomfort as he says it.

Hermione nods sadly, glancing over at Ron. “Is this what we were chatting about the other night?”

He nods in reply. “You think they were laying off me, that’s nothing to how they were babying Harry.”

Hermione's expression is rueful and understanding. "I have to admit, it's the same at the Ministry. Sometimes, I just can't believe how many policies I've managed to change in just a few months. And I know, I mean, it's obvious, it's who I am, and the role I played in your defeat of Riddle, Harry. They're half in awe of me."

"Well, they should be," says Harry. "I am."

She pinkens slightly at that, and Ron suddenly says, "You are such a cheat!"

Her color deepens, and her eyes widen as she looks down at her hands, worrying one another’s fingers. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Ron sniggers. “You’re all about Rules are rules and fair is fair, and here you are using your fame to get your way at the Ministry – changing laws for the whole of Wizarding Britain, just because you’re the Mind Behind the Chosen One!

She looks up then from under her dark brows, her smile confident and almost savage. “You bet I am! You just bet I am! Elves, goblins, centaurs, all manner of magical creatures have been subjugated and defamed for generations! Do you know that wizards so feared centaurs, they created a whole myth about them being, nothing but sex-obsessed rapists? Bad enough we’ve used our command of magic and wandmaking to control them, when we couldn’t break their pride and enslave them, we actually defamed them in the most brutal, disgusting way for a thousand generations! If I can start to undo those crimes, by leveraging my fame? I won’t hesitate! How could I? Oh, you Elves, I’ve talked a good game about your freedom, but I won’t do anything about it unless I can feed my ego! Is that who I’ve ever been? I’ll swallow my pride and take advantage of my fame if it helps make life better for all those people. My pride, my little sense of self-worth and made-up ethics doesn’t mean anything against that!”

Harry sits forward at that. “’Made-up ethics’?” He takes her hand in his. “Hermione, your ethics, your, your – Professor McGonagall once said something to me, a day or two after.... You know...” Ron and Hermione both nod their understanding. “She said that she always knew I’d find my way by your ‘moral compass.’ Your ethics aren’t ‘made up,’ Hermione. You’ve studied them, you’ve spent your life thinking about them.”

“Well.... My ethics tell me that if being famous for helping you stop Riddle gives me the power to improve things for other magical beings, It would be unforgivable not to use that opportunity. If reminding Kingsley that I helped you lets me shut down Dolores Umbridge and enact another safeguard for house-elves’ rights, that’s fine with me.”

Ron glances over at Harry, grin forming on his lips; it’s a thing they’ve done a million times since they were eleven, that shared glance, shared smile, Isn’t that Hermione all over? But what he sees stills him, just for a moment. Harry hasn’t looked over to him, not yet, not yet. He’s smiling at Hermione, his eyes intense, loving and very tender, Then his gaze flickers over to Ron, smiling the smile Ron initially aimed at Harry: That’s Hermione all right!

Ron pastes his own version back on, and they smile together at her, just enjoying the perfect Hermioneness of her, but as they settle back again, Ron’s mind races, considering the revelations of the last couple of days.

“First of all,” Ron says into George’s snigger, “I’m ginger, not scarlet. Second, I’m not half a woman, I’m a whole man.” He ducks as a mechanical blue pixie swoops past his head. “And, you know what? Gin seemed pretty cut up about this, maybe it’s not a joke, huh?”

George tilts his head, angling the hole where his left ear had been toward his brother. “I’m sorry, say again, please? I heard you the first time.”


“I didn’t like it.” George shakes his head. “Look, our sister is nuts. She left the Boy who bloody well Lived because she’s jealous of the two of you! You think I’m not taking that out for a ride?”

Ron waves it off. “Fine, I’m half a scarlet woman, and I stole my sister’s boyfriend, and, by the way, we’ve both quit our jobs.”

“And you want back in here?” George grins. “I can’t have you seducing all our customers.”

“Nah, I’m a one-man-one-woman man.” Ron ducks the pixie’s next strafing run. “I just wanted to talk to you. You’re annoying, but you’re smart. I thought you might have some ideas.”

“Fair enough,” says George. “She’s insane, but I’m not sure she’s wrong, you know.”

“I meant ideas about jobs!”

“Boring,” says George. “I’d rather have ideas about your love life.”

“I have a love life! Ginny didn’t dump me!

“Well, I should hope not, that would be weird. She’s your sister. Imagine the awkward Sunday dinners!”


“I mean, it’s not like the rest of Hogwarts wasn’t thinking it, you know. Malfoy had a whole song, The Gryffindor Three, cuddled under a tree, all six boots among the roots, it’s nothing anyone should see! Very catchy, really.” He laughs. “Fred wanted to run a pool, but I thought that would be mean to Gin.” Suddenly, though, his eyes are serious. “Nobody in the world means as much to any of you as the three of you do to each other. You know that, right? You think the way you mooned around Shell Cottage that winter isn’t Weasley legend?”

Ron steps back, eyes wide. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You can lose it all, Ron. You can lose anything, any time. No warning, no nothing. One minute, you’re laughing at a lame joke from a lame jokester, and then you’re dead, just like that. You don’t know how much time you have. Don’t waste any.”

“Merlin, George! You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“There was no place in the pool for ‘They Won’t End Up Together.’”

Ron buries his face in his hands. “All I wanted was a little simple–”

“Oh, don’t be a dimwit, Ron! You’re being chased all over the Wizarding World by companies wanting you to endorse their products! Grab a free broom, go on the wireless and say it’s the best you ever owned, which is bound to be true, even, and take the damned galleons and run! Now, get out of here!”

The sun has already dipped below the towers of the London skyline, and, while the sky above is still blue, the streets, where Muggle cars crawl slower than Ron and the other pedestrians are walking, are twilight-grey. It always unnerves him when George turns serious, as he’s wont to do, from time to time, since Fred’s death.

But he’s more bothered by what he said. He’s more bothered that he felt embarrassed, naked, under his brother’s words.

There was no place in the pool for ‘They Won’t End Up Together.’ Malfoy and his smug little song. Months in that tent, just the three of them. You don’t know how much time you have. Don’t waste it.

Ron turns his head away from flaring headlights. He’s walked for long enough. It’s time to go home.

"Nah," says Ron. "Don't bother."

Harry turns and stares, expression disbelieving.

Hermione is standing very still, watching them both with interest. Harry’s hand, she sees, is gripping the doorknob of the linen closet so tightly his knuckles are white.

“Are you mad?” Harry’s tone is almost conversational. “I mean, have you just gone right round the bend?”

Hermione’s head swivels almost on its own to see Ron’s response. His face is impassive, and he shrugs. “We were comfortable enough last night, weren’t we?”

Back to Harry. “Like when I was humping your girlfriend’s leg in my sleep?”

Ron shrugs. “Doesn’t seem to have been all that traumatic this morning, does it?”

Harry looks over at her. “And are you in on this, too, Hermione?”

She swallows. “I’m as surprised as you are,” she says, “but it’s fine with me.”

“‘Fine,’” chuckles Ron. “You love the idea.”

She draws in a deep breath through her nose, her jaw clenched. She feels defensive, as if Ron’s mocking her for her confessed attraction to Harry, but his expression isn’t mocking. It’s open and interested and accepting.

Maybe I should try trusting my boyfriend.

“I do,” she says softly. “I do love the idea.” She turns to Harry. “I love Ron with all my heart, and I’ve known joy and pleasure and ecstasy in his arms and in his bed, and the best night I’ve ever spent in my entire life was last night, between the two of you.”

Harry stares at her, eyes wide, then turns to look at Ron. Ron’s expression when she glances at him seems both proud and satisfied – it’s like the face she sees when he’s worked out a chess move, playing against his father, but it’s warmer, pride in her as if she’s done something amazing – and he looks over at Harry with easy, open expectation.

Harry’s very still, like a rabbit caught by the headlights of an oncoming lorry, as he looks back and forth between her and Ron.

It all feels very big to her, bigger than it should. This means more, she knows, than a night’s sleeping arrangements. She feels like Ron’s choreographing something, here, and it isn’t that she doesn’t understand it, but that she doesn’t dare believe it. Not Ron, surely. Not old-fashioned, jealous Ron!

“Then spend another,” Ron says. “An’ another after that, an’ another after that.” He looks over at Harry. “Unless that’s a problem for you, Harry.”

Harry seems almost baffled. “Ron, Hermione... I’m not... I don’t... It’s not like that.”

Irritation flickers across Ron’s features. “Well, why the hell not? I mean, look at her, Harry? What’s wrong with her? She’s not good enough for you, maybe?”

Something hot pulses in Hermione’s chest, and she chooses, very consciously, to treat it as affront. “Am I something you pass around, then, Ron, like a box of Droobles?” She’s building up a head of steam now, and very determined not to examine why. “What next, Ron? Shall we have intercourse in front of you so you can show off how above-it-all and over your jealousy you are?”

Ron’s face colors and he shouts back at her, “Fuck him, don’t fuck him, kiss him, don’t kiss him! I love you both, and I want you to have what you want! How am I the fucking bad guy in this?”

“Do I get a say in this?” shouts Harry.

The both spin to face him, as Ron asks, “Do you ever?

Harry’s mouth drops open as Hermione gapes at Ron, and then Harry’s barking his Sirius-like laugh, and suddenly Hermione can’t ignore the ridiculousness of the whole shouting match, and she’s chuckling, too. She lowers her head, looking up at Ron through her eyelashes, and he’s across to her in two long strides, sidling around to embrace her from behind, chin resting atop her head, turning her toward Harry.

“Mate,” he says softly. “Look, never mind all that ‘like a sister’ bollocks, right? I’ve got a sister. I think you’ve met her. There’s nothing else like it. Now, if you’re really mental enough not to want this amazing girl–” he shakes her slightly, and she feels lightheaded in his arms “–well, all right, whatever, your loss, mate. I mean, you’d be a daft berk, but, hey, that’s not exactly unprecedented.” Harry and Hermione both snort with laughter at the casual, bantering insult. “But I don’t think that’s true. I’ve seen it, sometimes. You look at Hermione like she’s the most divine fucking miracle ever seen on this earth. You look at her like I do. Every now and again, for just a second, before you realize and get careful. I’m not mad. How could I be? I feel the exact same fucking way. Last night, after I talked to Ginny, I asked Hermione, and she was fucking brave enough, our Gryffindor girl, to tell me she fancies you. Are you going to leave her out there all alone?”

Her heart swoops in her chest, then, as if she’s mis-stepped walking on Beachy Head, and she’s frozen in that moment, there at that cusp between standing and falling, between life and death, her fate hanging on whether a hand will reach out and catch her.

Harry’s face bunches up like a fist, and he turns on Ron. “Why are you doing this? Don’t you know how– How dangerous this is?”

“Dangerous?” Ron’s tone is dismissive. “Danger of what? Breaking you up from Ginny? Losing our place in the Auror corps? Turning our lives upside-down and nothing going like we expect?”

“How about ruining things between us? Between the three of us?”

“That can never happen, Harry,” Hermione hears herself saying. She’s sort of shocked to have said it, suspended in mid-air, standing with Ron solid against her back “Hasn’t it always been the three of us? What do you think could possibly happen that could change that?”

Harry sucks in a long, slow breath. She can see it, she can see the determination rising in him, see him steeling himself to speak. “I could tell the truth,” he says. “I could tell the truth and let out what’s inside me.”

“Harry, we loved you when part of Tom Riddle’s soul was inside you.” Hermione can hardly believe her voice is so calm and practical, as if she’s turned it over to some automatic part of herself, something outside of her leaping heart and her clenched belly. “What could you say now? That you want me? That you don’t want me? That you want Ron?

Harry’s looking at his feet now.

“Yes,” he says.

Hermione blinks her surprise. "Yes?  You want Ron?" She feels Ron's reaction to that through his grip; good or bad, pleased or disturbed, that she can't tell, but the seismic shudder that rolls through him? That's something real, shock, surprise, whatever. "Really? I thought you liked girls."

Harry looks miserable. "Yes. No. Yes." He sucks in a long breath. "I guess... I'm not like normal people. I don't understand that."

"Well, now you say it that way, mate, neither do I." Ron's tone is friendly, even casual, and Hermione is filled with admiration for him. "What are you talking about?"

Harry releases the doorknob, moves across to drop himself down on the couch, and Ron moves from behind her, taking her hand and bringing her across to join him. They end up all on the couch, Harry turned with his back against one arm, Ron against the other with Hermione leaning back into his solidity.

"I... Maybe it's how they– How I was brought up." They, of course, were Vernon and Petunia Dursley. It never failed to fill Hermione with a sort of sick awe that after seven years as the target of a man who combined the evil of a Hitler with the powers of a minor god, the most damage Harry had ever suffered was at the hands of his aunt and uncle. "Maybe," he continues, "I'm just a–Just abnormal."

Hermione wants to object, to reassure, but she doesn't. One thing she's learning now is a sort of emotional triage. They're all better off if Harry says what he has to say first. Time enough after to soothe and reassure.

"Liking girls," Harry continues, "liking boys. I'm in love with this one, I love that one, but it's not love-love. Oh, there are different kinds of love. What does that even mean?"

Hermione just stares, eyes wide and mouth open. This is so much more than she was prepared for.

"I mean, yeah, I get that there are people who are, like, you know, family. People where you'd feel like it was incest or something. But, other than that? Love is love. 'Love you like a friend,' 'love you like a lover?' That makes no sense to me. I love you – both of you. I love Ginny. So her, I get to snog and shag and share those wonderful things with, and you two I don't? Why? I mean, I get it, that's the rules, and rules are rules, but it seems arbitrary and stupid to me."

He drags in another breath in the silence that follows. “I mean, I used to just crawl into a hole, you know? Before. I knew I was supposed to have love, but I couldn’t understand it, and I couldn’t really imagine it, and I’d just crawl into my little fucking hole. I’d still be in it if wasn’t for the two of you. You two mean more to me – I love you both more – than anyone else on earth. Nobody else even comes close. It just... It doesn't make sense to me that that shouldn't be... You know. Love and stuff."

Hermione is hardly aware as she leans toward Harry, her muscles bunching under her. Ready to spring across the small distance to him like lioness onto a gazelle. Ron’s hands clasp her sides, and the solid grip pulls her short – not physically, but mentally, emotionally. Is he supporting her, helping her? Or is he stopping her?

Then he’s making a low noise in his throat, needy and aroused, and she feels that pulse inside her as he pulls her against him, leaning around and turning her face with one large hand so he can capture, he can devour her mouth, hungrily, ravenously, his tongue pressing its way in claim hers.

As he pulls away, a thin thread of saliva shining in the air between them, she stares at him with a kind of animal wonder, as he reaches out, past her, his other hand turning her away from him again, and his fist is bunching in Harry’s shirt, and jerking him forward into Hermione’s arms.

His expression is comical, a cartoon of surprise, and then she’s pulling him against her, his slender body so hard and strong against her chest, and her mouth seeks his out. Harry has lips, a tongue, a scruff of stubble, just like Ron. But kissing him is nothing like kissing her ginger boy, even after the initial moments of rigid disbelief melt away. Ron’s mouth conquers, marches in like an invading army, to take what it has won by right. Harry’s mouth is tentative at first, and even when his need drives him to boldness, there’s a quality she can only describe as furtive. His mouth is swift and insistent, as if it’s getting away with as much as it can while a limited window of opportunity remains open.

Ron is leaning around, staring avidly at the joining of their mouths, and she’s aware of him reaching to grasp Harry’s wrist, moving his hand.

“You weren’t dreaming of my sister, were you, mate?” It’s not a question, it’s almost a taunt, but teasing and loving – Hermione remembers that exact tone as he knelt between her spread legs, the head of his cock nestling against her center, and he teased, You want something, Hermione? – and if it works in Harry’s blood the way it does in hers, they may both spontaneously combust. “You were dreaming of our girl.”

Then he takes Harry’s hand, and presses it, palm-first, against her left breast.

“Oh, God!” Harry gasps the words into her mouth, and Hermione angles herself into has hand as she swallows them, making her own small, hungry noise.

She’s aware of Ron’s head angling over and suddenly his mouth is on her neck, teeth pinching the sensitive skin, then tongue trailing up the cords and hollows, and she groans again into Harry’s mouth, and he’s squeezing her breast now, shifting his palm against the nipple he can surely feel, hard and hot, through her bra and blouse.

“Feel her, Harry,” Ron breathes as he lifts his mouth away from her hot, tender skin for a moment. “Feel her, taste her. Can you smell her, mate?”

She can feel the hot moisture of her arousal, and she knows Ron has its scent, and if Harry has it too, she may die, she may simply just die of the fire coursing through her veins, the electricity tingling across her skin.

Harry finally pulls himself away from her, stares at Ron with eyes that are wide and almost frightened.

“You like that, Harry? Isn’t she amazing? Isn’t that just the best thing you ever had in all your life?”

“Oh, fuck, Ron!” His head moves, uncoordinated, as if he simply can’t imagine what he should do with it, and Ron’s hands are suddenly unbuttoning her blouse, and his body is hot against her back, hardness rubbing against her as he shifts his hips, deliberately flaunting that touch.

Hermione's hands have been tangled in Harry’s hair, and she slides them down the sides of his head, tracing over his ears and then his neck and then his chest, and her right bunches in his t-shirt, pulling it up his belly, as her left slides down to press a palm against his hardness, his erection, and she gasps at the slender solid shape through the denim.

Ron’s leaning back and away, sliding the cotton back over her shoulders, and lets go, the blouse sliding down her arms. She’s pulling her hands from the sleeves as she feels Ron’s fingers, nimble on the fasteners over her spine, and as her bra starts to slide loose, it’s Harry’s hands that grab the straps, jerking them roughly down her arms.

“Look at those tits, mate!” cries Ron. Harry immediately leans back to obey, and Hermione finds that she’s arching her chest toward him, flaunting her breasts, the left nipple hard, almost distended, the right looser and more flaccid, the creamy pink areole relaxed over more of her breast than the crinkled, urgent rose of the left. Beautiful.

Ron’s lips are at her ear, and he murmurs, “You know he won’t stop unless you stop him, love.”

She leans over and around, claims Ron’s mouth with her own. Then she looks back at Harry, locking her eyes with his. “Will you, Harry? Will you stop?”

His eyes are wide and bright. “Only if that’s what you want.”

She leans back against Ron again, sucking in a deep breath through her nose, feeling the solidity of him, supporting her.

“I’ll tell you what I want, Mister,” she finally says. She launches herself forward, hands grabbing for his waistband, and her nimble fingers are at his belt-buckle, pulling out the black leather tongue, undoing the belt and then the buttons down his fly.

Harry stares down at her, his hands almost flapping by his hips, as if he has no idea what to do with them, and the corner of Hermione's mouth quirks into a fond smile.

“Ron?” she says, her tone leading.

“Oh!” Ron’s tone is surprised and understanding, “Oh, brilliant!” He’s moving against her, reaching down to pull her skirt up her thighs and over the curve of her bottom.

“Jesus!” cries Harry, shocked for a moment back to his Muggle background.

She hears Ron’s zip behind her, then feels his fingers curling under the elastic waist of her knickers and she grins almost ferally up at Harry as she jerks his denims and pants down his thighs. His cock springs up at her, long and hard slender and very straight. Her eyes widen as she takes in its elegant shape, so different from Ron’s, jolly and stout and curving upward.

“I want that,” she rasps, her voice hoarse, and looks back up into Harry’s eyes. “I want my boys. My. Boys.

“How ‘bout it, mate?” Ron’s voice is hoarse. “You want our girl? You want to fuck her clever mouth?”

The words lance through her with electric fire, and she groans, groans, “Please.....”

“You’re...” Harry’s cock, hard and deepening into purple, twitches before her, reaching for her. “You’re sure?

“Oh, fuck, Harry,” snarls Hermione, and she lunges forward, filling her mouth with him, so fast and hard that she gags on the head of his cock as it slams into the back of her throat.

“Easy, there, girl,” murmurs Ron, and his strong hands on her hips pull her back, and she feels his stout cock rooting its way into her, He’s shifting and wriggling in that familiar way, shifting slightly from side to side, his movements practiced to part and spread her as his stout cock penetrates her.

The two cocks inside her both amaze her, Ron’s in its familiar, friendly, warm magnificence as it fills her, Harry’s, with the shock of the new.

It’s not entirely new, of course. It’s a penis, after all, a small sack of flesh, its capillaries so full of hot blood as to inflate and stiffen it. A living spigot for ejecting fluids: Several times a day, it streams wastes and toxins into a toilet, and in a few moments, it will fill her mouth with salty semen. It feels larger in her mouth than it looked in front of her, if not so challenging a fit as Ron’s, and it tastes like skin.

But Harry’s cock is in her mouth, Ron cheerleading as he fucks her from behind, and nothing she’s ever experienced can prepare her for this. She’s long known the joy of Ron, and thought wistfully of the joy she’d never know from Harry. She hasn’t regretted, how could she regret the life she has with her amazing, brilliant ginger boy? She’s just known of another path, one she would also have liked to walk. She’d thought to ponder it with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence, but how could she have known, as her ways led on to ways, that Ron would take her hand, and lead her back to that other path, grassy and wanting wear, and walk it with her, hand in hand?

“Hermione....” Harry’s voice is a grateful, reverent, wondering whine, as if the mouth wrapped around his cock belongs not to a nineteen-year-old girl with unimpressive breasts – whatever Harry and Ron might say – and overbroad hips and cellulite thighs, but to the wheeling cosmos itself. His fingers brush over her face in tender strokes, tangle in her hair, and she can feel the trembling of his disciplined denial, his self-restraint in not grabbing it in fistfuls to thrust into her mouth.

The slenderness and length of Harry’s cock gives her more room to be creative with her tongue, and she circles the glans of his penis – which she suddenly realizes is circumcised, another difference from Ron’s – and runs the tip of her tongue along the underside as she pulls her head back, drawing him partially from her mouth.

Ron fills her from behind, strong and rhythmic, but she can feel patience in his slow, steady strokes. In a strange way, as much as for his pleasure, his cock is inside her to encourage her forward. This is all right. How can it be wrong? I’m here inside you while you do it.

“Isn’t she brilliant, Harry?” Ron’s almost crooning the words. “Isn’t our girl just the most brilliant thing you ever had?”

He’s leaning forward on her now, his hand curled under to stroke her clitoris as he fucks her, and Harry’s groaning as she sucks on his cock while Ron fucks her.

The dark curls, thicker and coarser than Ron’s soft body hair, tickle her nose as she sucks Harry in, and one of his hands, slenderer and sort of trickier – she doesn’t know why, but that’s the word – than Ron’s, reaches and around and under to play with her breast.

She leans back again, not quite pulling him from her mouth, and tries to speak, her tone playfully scolding, around his cock: “WomaftuahWeschun!Ron asked you a question!

“Oh, fuck,” Harry moans, as she slides him back into her throat again, now with more planning, able to swallow the head, angular and elegant and reminding her of a red Indian arrowhead, on the thrust. “Fuck, Ron, she’s so fucking great! How did you fucking survive, mate, how did you even fucking survive it?”

“I didn’t.” Ron thrusts again as he says it, but there’s less ease, now, she can feel it, less patience. He’s showing her he loves her, but that’s still his cock and her cuntshe sort of shocks herself with the word, from time to time, when the Ron in her thoughts is feeding her her lines– and he’s fucking her, and that’s never entirely selfless. “I die of it, mate. Every.” Thrust! “Single.” Thrust! “Time.” Thrust!

Each of those thrusts has shoved her mouth and throat down on Harry, and he’s timed himself with Ron, so they’re almost using her to fuck each other, the motions of each moving her against the other, and she thinks she might die herself. La Petite Mort. Say what you will about the French, they know what they’re talking about in the kitchen and the bedroom.

Then, Harry’s fingers are curling in her hair, and Ron’s squeezing her hip while the others press her center back toward him, and their motions become stronger, more intense, and she has to stop being clever with her tongue, just let it be a curled path to cradle the straight, slender, thrusting cock as Ron fucks her harder and harder. It’s something of a wonder to her that, even as he reaches these frantic points, Ron’s fingers still know what to do, and the crazed jolts of lightning that have been playing through her nervous system, as much at the mere knowledge of what they’re doing, of Harry and Ron both, of the three of them finally sharing this moment together, that electric heat is now organized, radiant, focused, gathering in her vagina as it clutches Ron’s pounding cock.

And then Harry’s moaning her name with a certain note of warning – but without, she’s amused and pleased to notice, loosing his grip on her hair, or easing his frantic fucking of her mouth – and his cock is twitching between her tongue and the roof of her mouth, and then her mouth is full of thick, hot jism, its taste salty and a little bitter, with a hint of smokiness, like provolone cheese.

Again, it’s as much knowledge as sensation, the fact that Harry – Harry! – has come in her mouth as much as Ron’s fingers and driving cock, that pushes her over the edge, and she cries out a little, semen leaking as her mouth slides back from Harry’s still-pulsing erection, spurting a curling thread of jism over her nose and upper lip, as her own sex clenches around Ron, as her vision swims in red.

“Oh, oh, Fuck, Hermione, oh, fuck,” moans Ron, and she feels his ejaculation inside herself. She cries out again, more jism slopping out of her mouth and onto her chin – and a last, failing spurt from Harry’s hard, shining cock feels like a hot, wet question-mark on her cheek – and, as Ron almost collapses on her back, she finally thinks to close her mouth and swallow, which she does twice before she’s cleared the pooled semen.

Harry has collapsed back again against the arm of the sofa, and Hermione lays her head down on him, her cheek against his hipbone, his flagging cock brushing against her lips, and she kisses the shaft gently, tenderly. Ron reaches up, brushes her hair tenderly out of her face, then draws his hand back, and she feels his head angle, as he looks at it, and glances back over her shoulder to see his baffled expression before she lets her head drop and sees that the fingers that brushed her hair are shining with a glob of Harry’s semen.

She reaches out and takes his wrist, and pulls the fingers to her mouth, sucking them in with a satisfied grunt.

“Sorry, mate,” murmurs Harry.

“’Salright,” Ron mumbles.

Hermione breathes in the musky smell of Harry’s crotch, feels his fingers stroking her hair. “I love you, Harry,” she finally says. “I always have.”

Ron’s softening cock finally slips out of her.

Ron's always thought that if he ever saw Hermione with another man’s jizz all over her face, he’d lose his shit completely. He’s feared for years that if he ever saw some real sign that Hermione wanted Harry, that she loved him, he’d just go away and kill himself. Least loved, now, by the girl who prefers your friend.

He's half-lying on Hermione’s back, looking at her peaceful face laying on Harry’s naked crotch, his dark pubic hair like a pillow of dead crabgrass, his cock shining with her spit and his jizz as it slowly shrinks, sliding against her nose and her lips, Harry’s spunk splattered on her face and leaking from her lips, and what he feels is a deep, warm, powerful sense of peace and completion.

This was nothing he could have imagined yesterday, sitting across a restaurant table from his sister, Harry’s girlfriend. Not even this afternoon, as Harry told him what Ginny said to him. But here he lies with his miraculous girl, having watched her and fucked her as she took Harry’s cock in her mouth, and for the first time in he doesn't know how long, everything in the world just feels right.

He feels that part of his brain try, half-heartedly, to torment him: What if she likes him better? What if she’d rather just have him? But he doesn’t believe it, not with the familiar way she moved against him while he fucked her, not with the way, as she reached to take Harry, she called for him.

How odd that he never saw it, never realized. How amazing that something so simple, so fundamental and true, had been beyond any of their imaginations! He knows that Harry desires him, too, and that'll be complicated, at least at first. He’s never fancied blokes before, and he still isn't sure how he feels about Harry, but seeing his hard cock spring out at Hermione was so fucking hot, and Harry’s jizz all over his fingers didn't feel any different from his own. They’ll work it out. It isn’t a problem. It’s not even a question. It's the three of them, as it was always meant to be, stronger together than ever apart. Nothing's ever really been right when they weren’t together. Not school and not adventures and not war. How could life or love make sense any other way?

He feels muscle tension starting to form in Hermione, beneath him, and realizes his weight’s becoming uncomfortable for her.

“Okay, come on,” he says, lifting himself carefully off her. “We need a shower before bed, now.”

A shower?” Harry’s picked up on his tone, and his is hopeful, but almost suspicious. “All together, you mean?”

Hermione chuckles fondly as she shifts across Harry’s legs to climb to her feet. Her knickers fall from her knees, where Ron had left them, to capture her ankles, and she steps easily out of them, and, as she squats down to pick them up, she kisses Harry’s willy again. “Of course, Harry. Why waste hot water?”

Ron grins. Her skirt is rumpled around her waist, its hem still most of the way up her thighs, and she’s reaching down to touch Harry’s peter again, actually grasping and tugging playfully at it to encourage him. She didn’t just fancy Harry a bit, that’s clear enough. It’s like he fills a part of her, a Harry-shaped space in her heart he could no more fit in than Harry could fill the Ron-shaped place he holds. As Harry stands and kicks off his jeans and pants, as Ron has done, and they move, all together, Hermione now touching Harry’s bottom, now leading Ron by his soft, sloppy cock, Ron finds himself thinking of all the nights they’ve gone to bed, since Voldemort died, without all being together. The mornings they’ve woken up apart, the days they’ve spent divided, halved from Harry by the lives they’d expected – the lives they were expected – to live.

The shower is another kind of miracle, Hermione moving back and forth between her boys, washing and fondling and exploring all at once, Ron feeling excited to take in Harry’s wondering, hungry expression as he washes her body, and oddly happy at the normalcy of the feeling as he squirts shampoo into his palm and starts cleaning Harry’s sperm from her curls.

Hermione suddenly chuckles, and starts singing quietly, “Gonna wash that man right outta my hair, gonna wash that man right outta my hair!”

Ron goggles at her. “There’s a song for that?”

She smiles in response. “Not really. It’s more general: about a woman giving up on a man. It’s from a musical called South Pacific. But Rodgers and Hammerstein weren’t thinking of seminal fluid, believe me.”

Ron’s response is to laugh happily over at Harry. “That’s our girl, mate. Naked in the shower with two boys, and she still sounds like an Encyclopedia.”

Harry leans down and kisses her ear, which is angled toward the shower-head. “I wouldn’t want her any other way.”

Ron smiles, feeling the warmth down deep within himself. His girl, his love, his Hermione, she’s shining now, glowing from within, and why shouldn’t she? She’s the jewel in the setting of her two boys, the focus of two loves, and some part of him feels a kind of envy of that.

He’s never wanted another boy or a man, even Harry, never imagined himself feeling a hard male body against his own. Never imagined kissing a mouth bordered with scratchy stubble, or touching a hard cock, or having calloused fingers wrapping around his... But it’s suddenly occurring to him that Harry’s love is as available to him as it is to Hermione. The idea is ill-formed, yet, but it’s there. Just as Hermione is at the focus of two loves, so can he be. Least loved, now, by the girl who prefers your friend. Second-best, always, eternally overshadowed. He knows he isn’t overshadowed now. He knows, but somewhere inside him, some part of his heart doesn’t... But he can know, even there, can’t he? He can be the center of every love that truly matters to him.

He realizes that he’s moved around them, that Harry has taken over washing Hermione’s hair, and that he’s squirting her favorite liquid soap onto his palms. He begins massaging it into Harry’s shoulders. Harry will never really be tall, and he really does always look like he’s missed too many meals – one more reason to loathe the Dursleys – but he’s strong and solid and Ron concentrates on feeling, really feeling, the hard planes and angles of his shoulder-blades and the solid corded muscle that makes a lie of the seeming scrawniness of his best mate’s build.

“Ron!?” Harry’s spun to look back at him, eyes wide.

Ron does his best to look casual and normal. “Yeah?”

“I...” Harry regards him for a moment longer, then pastes his own blandest expression on. “All right, mate.” The wonder has re-filled his eyes, though, by the time he’s turned back to Hermione.

It fills Ron’s heart again as he scrubs lower, down the to the middle of Harry’s strong back, to see the pleasure, the reverence, his best mate takes in his – in their – girl. How did he not know that this was where they were all meant to be?

He sucks in a breath, then turns Harry, sideways between them, Hermione on one side, himself on the other, and reaches down with a soapy hand to grasp Harry’s cock.

Mate???” Harry’s even more shocked, and Hermione’s staring up at him with her own eyes wide. “Are– Are you sure?

“No,” says Ron, simply. “’M not. But this is how I’ll find out, right? No harm in that.”

Harry’s cock is strange in his hand. It’s not like touching his own cock, like all those times through the years he’s wanked to fantasies of Hermione – or, he’ll admit to himself, Madam Rosmerta. When he touches himself, he feels it twice and once at once: the feeling of cock against fingers, fingers against cock, two sensations from two sources combined together, and there's really no separating them, no differentiating one feeling from the other. Here, though, there’s only the cylinder of hot skin in the circle of his fingers, the skin itself feeling very soft, very thin and fine and silky, reminding him of Hermione’s eyelids under his lips when he kisses her in her sleep. Within that soft skin is solidity, hot and firm, and Ron’s surprised to feel himself harden as he strokes Harry’s cock.

“Oh, God, mate....” Harry’s head lays on Ron’s chest. Hot water beats down on his face from the shower-head. His hips thrust, he’s fucking Ron’s hand as Ron wanks him.

Hermione's eyes are wide, her face flushed, as she watches, moaning, “My God, my God,” over and over, in unconscious rhythm with Ron’s strokes. As Ron watches, her nipples harden and darken, and she reaches with one hand for her own center.

“No, Love,” Ron rasps, not sure why his own voice is so hoarse, why his cock is so hard as he pumps at Harry’s long, slender cock in his fist. “Let Harry.”

Her eyes are wide again, with something like discovery, as her gaze snaps up to his, and she takes Harry’s hand in hers, and pulls it to her sex. “You know what to do, Harry. She told me that much.”

This – this reminder that he’s wanking a man who’s learned sex on his sister – shouldn’t send an electric charge of arousal through Ron, but it somehow does, and he moans, “Oh, fuck!” as he jerks rhythmically at Harry’s cock.

“Ooooohhhh!” Hermione's groan, low and throaty gives him another spike, and another again as she gasps, “Oh, Harry, she didn’t do you justice!”

Okay, that’s pretty fucked up, he admits to himself, and continues pumping at Harry’s cock.

Harry groans against Ron’s collarbone, and Hermione’s moved around against them, taking Ron’s erection in her hand.

Her rhythm is compromised. Whatever Harry’s doing with his fingers is both right and new, and she’s distracted, faltering at times, squeezing a bit too tight at others, and even that discomfort is better than anything Ron’s ever felt, and why does Harry’s cock feel so amazing in his hand?

Harry groans again, and a thick jet of hot, white semen jets onto Ron’s thighs, to be washed down his legs and down the drain by the pounding water.

Hermione’s pulling Harry’s face down to her, kissing him, and Ron continues, more gently now, stroking the softening cock, but his hips are moving now, too, fucking Hermione’s hand as her mouth moves over his best friend’s and he doesn’t know why he isn’t screaming in rage and jealousy other than that this is the most wonderful, the rightest thing he’s ever done, and he really doesn’t understand how he’s lived as long as he has without this, without the three of them being this complete, this whole, this true.

She cries out, suddenly, hips bucking, thrusting her sex against Harry’s hand, her own hand spastic on Ron’s cock, and then she backs away slightly, gasping to Harry, “Too much, oh, God, too much!”

Ron’s not sure if her knees have given out, or it’s a strategic retreat, but she’s suddenly kneeling, and she kisses Harry’s moist-limp cock where the head protrudes from Ron’s fingers, then turns to devour his. Her mouth is hot and heavenly; she knows his cock, knows where it’s sensitive, knows where he likes to feel her tongue and where, her teeth, and soon she’s drinking his orgasm, weaker, of course, then the one he loosed into her vagina just a few minutes ago on the couch, and he groans, stroking her hair with his free hand.

It takes them long enough to concentrate on actually getting clean that Hermione has to do a warming charm on the shower head, and when they dry one another with big, fluffy towels, the boys are again distracted by Hermione’s body and her reactions, and after she comes they have to wash their hands again in the sink. But eventually they’re curled up together in bed, naked and tangled, and loving every touch, every inch, of one another’s skin, and Ron feels more completely relaxed and at peace than he has since before the twins transfigured his teddy bear.

There will be a morning. There will be more beyond that. There will be Ginny to deal with, and then the rest of his family, and the Grangers as well, and who knows what all else. It’s going to be a huge mess.

But he knows that this is where they belong, where they’ve always belonged, and nothing matters beyond that.

“I love you,” he murmurs, and hears it repeated to him in unison, and then he’s sinking, fading happily  into the black.

The End

Of Part One

Chapter Text

As consciousness filters back to her, she feels the two strong bodies she's entangled with, taller and shorter, wiry and lanky, resonantly male, and the knowledge thrums through Hermione's body like the bass notes at a concert: It's real. It really happened. He's really here with us.

They’re all naked. They haven’t done more, sexually, after going to bed, but none of them wanted to put anything between skin and skin and skin, and now she feels the coarse, dark hair of Harry’s torso under her fingers, thicker than you’d expect across the chest, and marching down over his abdomen in shadows that emphasize and define lines of strong, firm muscle, belying his slender appearance of daintiness. She lets her hand trace down over his belly, over the thicker nest of his pubic hair, and gently stroke the quiescent willy, the wrinkled sac and tender balls, her fingers carefully gentle.

Ron shifts behind her, and she rolls back, reaches with her other hand, tracing fingertips feather-light over the familiar hills and dales of Ron’s form, a landscape that’s as much “Home” to her as their flat, as comfortable as their bed and warm as their covers. While the hair over Harry’s torso is thick and wiry, where Ron’s got body hair – a bit over his nipples, a sort of diamond-shaped patch over his breastbone – it’s much sparser and softer, almost like candy floss. Only the thatch of curls around his stout, jaunty penis is really thick, and even that’s not as coarse as Hermione's own pubic hair. Ron’s larger than Harry, not muscular, surely, but taller and with a fuller form, muscles smooth under broad shoulders and strong, even chest.

Is this all you wanted, then, Hermione? Two boys, two men, in your bed? Two bodies and two chests and two penises? Was this all just for your carnal pleasure? But she knows, even as she withdraws her hands, that it’s more than that.

She’s actually sort of shocked herself, since being with Ron, at how very carnal she really is, how she craves and revels in sex, and some part of her is reeling with the possibilities, the knowledge of the new vistas that open before her with Harry now in her bed.

But the feeling filling her heart as her hands move over her two boys, her two men, isn’t the rutty physical craving for flesh, for pleasure, taken and given. It’s wonder at the intimacy, the truth and rightness of where they are now, what they are now. It’s not the excitement of the new penis and the old, semi-erect under her fingers. It’s the reality that these two boys who have owned her heart since she was twelve years old can somehow both be hers, that they are all together in this journey now, as they always have been, as they always should be. What insanity had them living parted by social conventions and expectations when they could, when they should, be here, like this, all together, where they’ve always belonged?

She feels the change in Harry's body, sleep-slack muscles slightly tensing, his body drifting gradually back into consciousness. She waits, her own heart quickening in her chest – and now, in reaction, Ron's skin is slightly tautening as he wakes – her teeth squeezing her lower lip. Harry tenses, then, really tenses, and starts to turn away from her.

Oh no you don't!   She reaches out, takes hold of him. "Come here, Harry."

He hesitates, and she pulls him to her, kisses him, slowly, languorously, and rolls back, pulling him onto her. "Budge over here, Harry," she murmurs, rolling him across her, placing him between herself and Ron.

Ron's eyes widen a bit, and she looks sternly into them, and he surrenders gracefully, wrapping his arms around Harry.

There's a bit of awkwardness about it. Ron isn't used to being sexual with any man, after all, even Harry, but a hug, even a naked one, doesn't have to be sexual, and Hermione sees him decide to be bluff and normal, as if there's no difference between hugging naked in bed and standing up in full Quidditch uniforms after a game. Well, that's fine. What Harry needs right now is simple acceptance: This is where you belong. You're not an invader, you're not an interloper, you're one of us, and this bed and these bodies are yours.

She leans in and kisses Harry again, tenderly, sweetly, and then leans past his shoulder, bodies pressed naked together, to do the same to Ron.

She doesn't try to steer Ron with her eyes. Partly it's a caution against selfishness: she knows she'd just about die on the spot if she could watch her boys kissing. Partly it's that, whatever develops between Ron and Harry, she wants it to be natural and mutual. She was shocked – and delirious with arousal – to see her ginger boy wrap his long fingers around Harry's cock in the shower last night, and she's heartened and amazed that he's taken it on himself to explore that sexuality with him, but she's afraid that he'll do that to please Harry, or worse, to please her. Someone she loves being pressured into sexual interactions that aren't natural to him would be terrible!

But Ron's fingers move over Harry's chin, turning him to face him, and his cobalt blue eyes stare down into Harry's green from just a few inches.

“Mornin', mate,” he mumbles. Then, she can't help herself, she whimpers aloud as his mouth lowers onto Harry's. Harry makes an indistinct sound of surprise into Ron's mouth, and then Ron's leaning back up again, his eyes contemplative as he nods slowly.

“Ron?” Harry breathes.

“I certainly hope so,” Ron answers. “I'd hate to think there was some other ginger bloke in here sleeping with my girlfriend and my–” He sort of trips, but then he continues. “And my boyfriend.”

Hermione stares avidly across Harry's profile at Ron's face, taking in everything she can of both of their reactions.

Harry's the first to speak, though, his voice low and steady. “Ron, you don't have to–”

“Well, duh!” says Ron, with a smile. “I know I don't have to. But we're all in this together, yeah? You, me, Hermione?”

“I'm not just messing about, if that's what you mean.”

“Then we gotta figure out how we're gonna be together. I want you here as much as Hermione does. I dunno yet if I want you like Hermione does. If I want you like you want me. But I want to find out. You're not just a house guest with shagging privileges. You're one of us, now. You're part of us now. You're not like Seamus or Dean, you're one of us.” He shrugs. "So we'll try things, and figure it out as we go along, yeah? Maybe we'll be sort of, I dunno, 'V-shaped' an' both just focus on Hermione. Maybe I'll just be a normal bloke who likes girls, and make an exception for you. Or, hell, maybe I'll find out I'm a 'bicycle.'"

Harry and Hermione both stare at him, baffled.

"Oh, come on, you two should know that! It's Muggle slang! You know! Someone who likes birds an' blokes both! A bicycle!" Hermione gasps, but Ron, warming to his theme, continues on. "I don't know where you lot ever came up with that one! A bicycle? What, 'cos everybody gets a ride?"

Hermione grinds her teeth. "It's bisexual, Ron! 'Bi' meaning 'two' and 'sexual' meaning, well, sexual."

"Oh." Ron's quiet a moment. "Bisexual. Yeah, I guess that does make more sense, actually."

"You reckon?" asks Harry, drily. Hermione giggles.

Ron's attitude is airily above-it-all. "Anyway, it's us, isn't it? Us three. So it's safe. We can figure things out as we go along."

They shower together again, washing one another with languid comfort, and then Harry goes to dig through his trunk for fresh clothes. When he joins them at the breakfast table, dressed again in jeans and a tee-shirt and his raggedy trainers, he's carrying two wands: his own familiar holly-and-phoenix-feather, its handle thick, its body natural-shaped and irregular. Next to it on the table, he places a second wand, ten inches of precisely-milled and tooled hawthorn.

"Two wands?" asks Ron, casually. "You going on an Erumpent hunt?"

Harry shrugs. "I'm at loose ends today," he says. "I thought I'd return that one to its previous owner."

Ron and Hermione both frown over at him.

“Malfoy?” Ron’s somewhere between incredulous and confused. “You’re giving him back his wand?”

“Yeah.” There’s a glint in Harry’s eye, and a smirk playing with his lips, and Hermione leans closer.

“What are you up to, Harry?” She’s trying for “Bossy Schoolteacher” but she can’t carry it off. They’re not in school anymore, and Harry’s scheming can’t lose them house points, can’t get them killed – or worse, expelled! – and she doesn’t like to admit it, but she loves Harry’s Slytherin side, clever and tricky and sly. He’s got his Gryffindor gallantry, too, so whatever it is, it’s nothing bad, she knows that. So her lips are curled in a bit of a smirk of her own, and it completely undercuts her attempt at adult responsibility.

“Yeah, mate!” Ron’s grinning as well. There’s no conflict for him. If Harry’s plotting against Draco Malfoy, that’s better than a Honeydukes' gift certificate. “Give!”

Harry waves them aside with a smile. “Nah, look, I’m just... I just had an idea, so I’m trying it out. It’s not like I want the stupid thing around here. If it works out, I’ll tell you all about it.” Ron looks like he wants to pursue it, but Harry changes the subject. “How about you, Ron? You thinking of anything for today?”

Ron’s grin changes. “Yeah, actually. I talked to George yesterday, and he had an idea about a job for me.”

“You’re going back to the shop, then?” Hermione tries her best not to seem disappointed.

“No, actually,” says Ron. “Whole different thing.”

“What?” asks Harry. “Is it a secret, too?”

Ron hesitates a bit. He really likes George’s idea. The Wizarding press has been pestering him, and Harry, and Hermione, pretty much constantly since old Tom Riddle cacked it, and the idea of making his living on them and the notoriety they insist on sticking him with is very appealing. But Harry, he knows, really hates the attention, and Ron’s certain he’ll disapprove...and Harry’s seldom one to hold his disapproval in check. Ron doesn’t want a fight, but...

It’s been a fraction too long, and Harry narrows his eyes. “It is a secret?”

The feelings tumble over one another in Ron, defiance, reluctance to displease Harry, defensiveness, pride, even – he admits it to himself – greed for whatever kind of new broom he might be given to endorse. He lets it all roil inside him for a minute, and then sucks in a breath, tamping down all those conflicting emotions, and turns his face up to Harry. He’s not going to let his fears control him anymore.

“No, it’s no secret. It’s just that you might not like it. If you really don’t, we can talk about it, but I really like the idea. George suggested it. I’m going to Nimbus Company, in Truro – you know, Cornwall. I figure, I’m pretty knowledgeable about brooms, yeah?” Harry nods along. “An’ we don’t go more’n two, three days without the Prophet or the Quibbler or WWN trying to get comments from us, and everybody from Bertie Botts to Madam Malkin’s trying to get endorsements from us, right?”

Harry sees where this is going, and he sits back away from Ron, his face closing down a bit. “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to do that, Ron.”

“Yeah, we wanted to live normal, non-famous lives.” He turns over the copy of the Daily Prophet on the table. The front page shows a picture of the two of them, walking toward the main exit from the Ministry, taken the day they’d signed on for the Auror corps. The headline underneath them reads: AURORS NO MORE! And, below that, in slightly smaller letters, Boy-Who-Lived and faithful friend leave Auror Corps behind! There’s an editorial further down: Is This How Our Heroes Honour The Fallen Minister? (Even after Voldemort, Barnabus Cuffe, the Prophet’s editor, has never forgiven Harry for embarrassing his paper by bringing the Dark Lord story to the Quibbler back in fifth year.) There’s a Rita Skeeter column, as well, headlined, Heartbroken Hero? Chosen One Back on the Market? “How’s that working out for us so far?”

Harry scowls. “Sooner or later it’s got to blow over,” he mutters.

“On what do you base that?” asks Hermione, looking interested. “On available evidence, it really doesn’t seem likely at all, does it?”

The sound that escapes Harry is as much a sob as a bark of laughter. “Yeah, maybe when we’re all thirty.”

“That soon?” Hermione’s manner is studiedly innocent. “I hardly think so. The greatest hero in modern Wizarding history living in a ménage a trois? That’s going to be more than a ten-year scandal!”

Ron’s spun around to stare at her, too, but it’s Harry who says, “Scandal!?!?

“Oh, I should rather think so, Harry.”

Ron shakes his head. She isn’t wrong, but do they have to pile this all up on Harry right away? He doesn’t – and the thought sort of shocks him – he doesn’t want Harry scared off of this.

Harry’s staring at her, very hard. “You think this is going to be in the Prophet?

Ron has to chuckle at that. “Mate, my Uranus joke from the Department of Mysteries ended up in the Prophet! You think they won’t get this? I’m surprised it’s not in this issue!”

“It’s just a question, Harry,” adds Hermione, “of getting it out there ahead of anybody else. What politicians call driving the narrative.”

“Why do I have a sinking feeling we’re going to be giving Luna an interview?”

Ron smiles widely. “That’d be pretty brilliant, now you say it! Do you suppose it took you this long because your brains were infested with Nargles?

Harry laughs, the tension flowing out of his shoulders. “You know what? You’re right. Fuck it. I mean, I’m always going to be famous, no matter what. There’s nothing I can do about that. I’m not going to let the people who think Rita Skeeter is clever tell me how to live my life. Go ahead, Ron, go to Nimbus, ride it for all it’s worth. Just be yourself, mate. I trust you.”

Ron smiles and nods, frankly not a little surprised. “I expected to have to make a fight of it.”

“I’ve had enough of fighting, I think,” mused Harry. “We’re going to be the scandal of the ages, according to Hermione, here, and that means we’re going to be taking it from all sides. I’ve been in the wars my whole life, and now, to live...” He draws in a deep breath, squeezes his eyes shut, his expression both scared and joyous. After a moment, he opens his eyes again, and when he speaks, it’s so clearly, so firmly, that Hermione hears the echo from that mad night in third year: Expecto Patronum! “To live the life I want to live, I’m going to be taking on the whole of Wizarding Britain, to boot. I’ve got enough fighting in my future. I won’t have it here with either of you.”

Ron smiles at that. Maybe there’s another reason the Auror Corps isn’t the place for them, because he feels it, too, actually. He doesn’t want to fight anymore, unless it’s for what means the most to him. The idea of chasing after some Muggle-baiter or artefact-smuggler – never mind a wannabe Dark Lord! – doesn’t seem thrilling or adventurous to him, it’s wearisome. Been there, done that, didn’t even wanna buy the commemorative T-shirt!

He glances over at Hermione. “How about you, then? I’m looking for work, and our gentleman of leisure here is off to... Whatever the hell, with Malfoy... You heading back to do battle with some more bureaucracy? Bringing justice to the downtrodden?”

She shifts in her seat, blinks at him, purses her lips. “You know something, Ron? I think I might see if I can do just that!”

There have been a lot of job-shiftings, promotions, lateral transfers, demotions, and outright sackings in the Ministry of Magic over the previous six months. Some of it ended up in pretty crazy shifts – Estella Edgecombe, for heaven’s sake, now in charge of Magical Law and Justice! – but one movement that makes perfect sense: Amos Diggory is now Director of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and therefore, Hermione’s boss. His scrubby beard is gone, and his demeanour quiet and contemplative, unlike the bluff heartiness she first saw on Stoat’s Head Hill, the morning before the Quidditch World Cup the summer before Fourth Year.

That was an awful year for Hermione, but so much worse for poor Amos, his beautiful son killed in a careless aside. His wife  died slowly, Hermione knows, over the following two years, not of some disease or injury, but simply of having been hollowed out of any desire for life. Amos, though, Amos survived, and now lives quietly alone in a house far too big for him outside Ottery St. Catchpole, and he guides the Creatures Department with thoughtful kindness. He’s been a good ally for Hermione, if also a bit awestruck by her, and he’s been persistent in trying to get her to spread her ministerial wings.

“Amos, I’ve been thinking...”

“Yes, Miss Granger?” He looks calmly up at her. There are scrolls and bits of parchment spread over his desk, and a small squadron of paper aeroplanes circling above like commuter traffic over Heathrow, but he’s happy to take all the time Hermione needs.

“You’ve been talking about Interdepartmental Resource Assistance. I’ve felt that the new house-elf regulations really needed my attention, but with those passed, I’ve been thinking that perhaps it’s a good idea.”

She sits in his guest chair, gazes seriously at him. “How does it work, exactly?”

Amos tilts his head, ever so slightly, in surprise. “I’d have thought you’d already have had the whole process memorized, categorized, and six suggestions in mind for streamlining it for greater efficiency!”

She blushes under his gentle teasing.“I’ve been concentrating so much on my own work, I never really looked into it.”

Amos smiles gently. “Well, Miss Granger, you’re aware that many of our departments here at the Ministry are seriously understaffed. With all those, um, unavailable after the, er, the unpleasantness of the last few years. And much of the staff many departments do have is... Well, let’s say they’re not long in experience, shall we? So the departments have been prioritizing, you see? What has to be done, right now, to keep things going? But other departments, for whatever reason, have more people, or more talent, or more time. So members of these departments are encouraged to take on tasks that have been shelved as low-priority, for whatever reason.”

He sits back, looking up at the paper aeroplanes. “All appearances to the contrary,” he murmurs with a wry smile, “Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, what with the expansions of rights for so many sapient races since you’ve joined us, has some breathing room. That’s why I’ve been suggesting that you put your considerable skills as an advocate to work for Magical Law and Justice or International Magical Cooperation. They’ve both got considerable backlogs.” One yellowing paper aeroplane breaks formation and buzzes his forehead. He swats at it with his right hand, and it does a smart Immelman turn and returns to its place in the squadron overhead, jostling with a pastel pink memo from Dolores Umbridge, which has attempted to usurp its place in the holding pattern. “The Prosecutors’ office over at L and J is still ploughing through Death Eaters claiming to have been personally Imperiused by Riddle himself. You could work a half-dozen of them in a week.”

She nods slowly. “But, Amos... Didn’t Public Representation also have a case in the RA rotation?”

“Oh, no,” he says quickly. “No, you don’t want to touch that one. That one is toxic. It’s two young men still in their teens trying to sue for the right to marry. Marry one another, I mean! It’s in the rotation because nobody wants to be associated with that. It would be even worse to pick it up though RA, because you’d be going out of the way to take it on. It could taint your entire career, declaring yourself a champion of–”

“Equal rights for all?” she interrupts gently, and he smiles broadly.

“Quite right, of course, Miss Granger, quite right.” He chuckles warmly. “I don’t suppose you’ve been devoting yourself to currying popular favour, what with pressing for complete emancipation for house-elves and voting rights for centaurs!”

Harry finds it darkly amusing. Lucius Malfoy’s white hair is again lustrous and immaculate, although there's a certain gauntness to his cheekbones now, which Harry doubts he'll ever quite lose, and his robes are chic and elaborately elegant...but it's telling that he's come himself down the long path to the front gate: there are no servants to send.

Amusing, also, are the fleeting expressions that chase one another across Malfoy's face at the sight of him through the bars: Contempt, anger, hatred, loathing, embarrassment, and, yes, gratitude, all racing across his expression in the fraction of a second before he masters himself, and turns blandly gracious. "Ah, Potter. To what do I owe...?"

Harry actually appreciates the honesty of that ellipsis, the integrity that won't let Malfoy call his visit a ‘pleasure.’ He presses his lips together a moment. "I'm actually here to see Draco, if he's in."

Lucius' eyebrow twitches, and the surreality of their polite interaction thrums between them, highlighted by the ridiculous schoolboy irony of his words: Can Draco come out to play?

"Of course." Lucius breaks the spell, opening the gate with a stiff gesture of his new wand. It's a very dark wood – blackthorn, Harry guesses – polished to a dull sheen, but still neither as smooth nor as straight as it would like to appear. "This way."

Harry bites down on the impulse to retort I remember, thanks; there's no point in bringing up that dreadful night.

When they get into the entry hall and then the main living room of the manor, Harry notices that several major pieces he remembers are gone. How many, he wonders, were destroyed in Riddle’s crazed tantrum after their escape, how many confiscated by the Ministry as Dark objects, and how many sold to help cover the fortune in reparations the Malfoys had been forced to pay?

“Have a seat, Potter.” Malfoy’s tone is nearly unctuous. “Draco will be here in a moment.”

“Thank you.” Harry sits in a wing-back chair, and watches as the master of the manor exits through a door to the left. He waits silently, looking at the tidy, elegant room, the remaining furniture antique and beautiful, portraits on the wall gazing haughtily down on him. It seems so peaceful and civilized, it’s hard to imagine the horrors – those he remembers so vividly, and those Draco Malfoy testified of under Veritaserum, sparing himself and his parents Azkaban – that took place here. Sunlight slants in through tall windows, the shafts almost golden bars pressing into the fine Persian carpet and parquet floors.

“Potter.” Harry jumps at the sound of his own name breaking the silence. Draco Malfoy’s voice is more complex than even his father’s. His enmity for Harry puts a spiteful, hateful edge to the word, but there is more there, too, chagrin, embarrassment, and, deep down, Harry fancies he hears a simple underlying regret. How did two schoolboys get here? Harry thinks he hears in Draco’s voice. With hatred and death and torture between us because one of us was snobbish, and the other too unbending for the simple courtesy of a handshake?

Maybe that’s too much projection, but Harry’s not willing to carry forward that haughty refusal. Draco did testify, of his own will, and under Veritaserum, and Harry – the whole Wizarding world, in fact – knows how he and his family suffered under Voldemort. He’s hardly ready to throw his old foe a pity party; the Malfoys stood up to be counted with Riddle’s dark army of their own will, and they knew with whom they’d allied themselves. But Tom Riddle is as dead as Harry’s parents, and what was it all for, if not for new beginnings?

So Harry stands and extends his hand to Draco. “Hello, Draco. Thanks for seeing me.”

Again, the complexities are in Draco’s eyes as they flicker from Harry’s face to his outstretched hand.

Finally, he reaches out, and takes it, the handshake perfunctory. “What is it you want, Potter?”

“I came to return something that belongs to you,” Harry says simply. He reaches into the magically-extended pocket of his sweat-shirt – also incongruous across from Draco’s robes – and produces the ten-inch hawthorn wand. “This is yours, I believe.”

Draco stares down at it, his expression suspicious.

Harry bites back a retort. After, all I’d be suspicious in his position!

“It looks like it,” he finally says.

“It is.” Harry keeps his voice quiet. “Look, Draco, I haven’t used it since I got my own back, the morning after Riddle died. It’s just been kicking around in my stuff. I don’t want it, so I’m here to return it.” He smiles slightly. “It is yours, after all.”

“And you just like me so much, you want to do right by me, is that it?”

Harry holds his gaze. “I don’t think I’ll ever like you, Draco. Not after all that. But I’ll give you this: You’ve got courage, and you’ve paid your price. And it’s not mine.”

“And you haven’t jinxed it, of course, or sabotaged it.”

Harry shrugs. “Try it.” He gestures with the wand. “I could use a glass of water.”

Draco plucks it from his fingers, and conjures an elegant crystal goblet. His eyes don’t leave Harry’s as he murmurs, “Aguamenti!

Water streams from the wand in an immaculate arc into the glass, and he stops when it’s full, and gestures between it and Harry.

Harry lifts the glass, raises it to Draco in ironic toast, and takes a long draught, then another, quaffing it to the finish. He gestures with his hands, as if to say, I’m still here!

Draco looks hard at him, but he notices that the long, pale fingers move over the smooth hawthorn with familiar pleasure.

“All right, then, Potter. You’ve delivered it. Are you waiting for a ‘Thank you?’”

“Perish the thought!” says Harry. “Use it in good health.” He turns toward the door.

He feels a mild sense of something around his ankles, as if a slight breeze had been trained to coil around them. Supplantus? Harry thinks, the Tripping Jinx? He feigns a stumble, and catches himself, then scowls down at the carpet.

“Problem, Potter?” asks Malfoy, a smirk in his voice.

Harry makes something of a show of straightening up. “No, not at all. Just stumbled on the edge of the carpet. Perhaps the sticking charm has faded?”

“I’ll have to look into that,” replies Draco, sounding satisfied. “Seeing yourself out, then?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, I can find my way.”

He’s careful to keep a straight face until he’s Disapparated, but when he arrives back at Ron and Hermione’s flat – no, his flat, now! – when he arrives back home, he’s grinning from ear to ear.

The Nimbus Racing Broom Company’s headquarters are in what looks to Muggles like a derelict Norman fortress on the inland side of Truro, in Cornwall. Ron’s always liked Cornwall, with its cozy coastal towns, cheerful and at times almost tropical, tucked among striking, adventure-story cliffs and hidden harbours and bays, and its dramatic inland hills and mountains, where the naked stone skeleton of the earth protrudes through the flesh of its soil, seeming to offer a connection to something deep within. He’s sometimes thought he and Hermione might live there, in some little seaside village, raising a passel of children. Who knows? Maybe they still will, but with an extra father to help out. Time enough for that in years to come, though. They’re still, after all, teenagers.

Inside the transparent-to-Ron illusion of the Muggle-repelling charm, the ancient ruins resolve into a small, cheerful factory that would have looked right at home in the village anyway. It has to be hidden, of course, due to the employees taking brooms for test-flights over-head, and the Ministry has a strange liking for ancient-ruins disguises, for no reason Ron’s aware of. As he approaches, he sees one of the test-flyers wobble alarmingly, and then expertly wrestle the broom to an immediate landing; the distant form pulls his wand, twists it, and Disapparates, broom and all, presumably back into the factory to fix whatever’s gone wrong.

Ron pauses a moment, to watch the next test-flyer go into a complicated series of manoeuvres, then grins to himself as he sets his shoulders, and heads for the small door marked “Office.”

It’s a small, cheerful room, two or three paper aeroplanes circling over the head of a young woman whose hair is held in thick bangs over her forehead, mostly covering her eyes, by a thick headband. It’s an awfully unflattering look, and the way she keeps pushing the hanging fringe out of her eyes tells him it’s impractical as well, and Ron’s wondering why she does it that way when he recognises her. Marietta Edgecombe.

Is the word SNEAK still writ clear across her forehead? He knows that Madam Pomfrey worked on those boils for months, and they’d subsided some, but he knows a jinx’s effects, like George’s absent ear, are stubborn, and he feels some sympathy for a woman who will be marked for life for a transgression of her youth. Then he thinks of the suffering that resulted from her betrayal; would he and Ginny and Luna have been hurt in the Department of Mysteries, had she kept her word? Would Dolohov’s barely-blunted curse, which nearly killed Hermione, have been cast all? Sirius Black have died? He has some sympathy, but it has its limits, and he doesn’t blame Hermione for that jinx one little bit.

She looks up at him, and there’s a shock of recognition, and a blunt wall of dislike over her features. The rest of the Wizarding World may see him and Harry and Hermione as the heroic trio who evaded capture and ended Voldemort’s reign of terror, but he knows that all she’ll ever see are the people who scarred her for life. Screw you. You scarred yourself when you broke your promise and betrayed us all. You take your share of the blame, ya cow, and we can talk about mine and Harry’s and Hermione's.

“May I help you, Mr. Weasley?” The words grind out of her like pepper from a mill, but that’s all right. She’s doing her job nonetheless, and even Ron thinks she’s entitled.

Ron swallows. “I’m here to see Mr. Whitehorn.”

Her tone is flat. “You have an appointment?”

“Not exactly,” Ron begins, and she cuts him off.

“Mr. Whitehorn doesn’t have time to see just anyone who happens in off the street–”

“And he may not have time for me, either,” Ron replies a little tartly, enjoying getting his own back. “But all the owls he’s been sending me a few times a week have said drop in if you have a chance, so why don’t you just check with him?”

“Very well, sir.” Again the words emerge between clenched teeth, and when she sends her Patronus – is it a jackdaw? – through the wall to herald him, he has to quash the impulse to ask her where she learned the spell.

A moment later, the door opens, and a tall, slender wizard emerges. He’s an old man, now, probably near a hundred, but still spry and quick, light on his feet as he approaches Ron, and if his famous slicked-back hair is white on either side of his widow’s peak, if his cheeks more sunken and his eyes now deeper within a nest of wrinkles, well, the wrinkles are happy ones, made by an expression of habitual good cheer, and the dark eyes are still bright with intelligence and humour

“Mister Weasley!” He says the name with gusto, and his outstretched hand, when Ron takes it, is warm and firm. “I’m Devlin Whitehorn, so glad you took me up on my invitation! Come in, come in, we’ll chat a bit, then I’ll show you the whole operation!”

“Great to meet you, sir,” replies Ron, and that sir holds real respect. This man isn’t just the head of a big and successful company, but a true artist: While the Firebolt has in many ways outstripped the achievements of Whitehorn’s Nimbus line, it’s generally agreed that Randolph Spudmore stood on Whitehorn’s shoulders to create it. Devlin Whitehorn is one of the great artists, great craftsmen, and great visionaries in the world of high-speed, high-precision, magical flight. “I’d love to see it.”

Whitehorn leads him, not into an office, but to a small lunch-room, where a house-elf cheerfully offers them Butterbeer and Cauldron Cakes and Pumpkin Pasties. (“He’s well-paid,” Whitehorn chuckles to Ron. “Please make sure Miss Granger knows that!” Ron snorts with laughter.)

Ron’s not sure how to broach the subject of business, but Whitehorn is in no hurry, and they chat about Quidditch – Whitehorn genially trash-talks the Cannons, but so good-humouredly that Ron can’t really be offended – and brooms generally.

“What with Ellerby and Spudmore having an exclusive contract for goblin-made metalwork,” Ron asks, “have you got anything in mind to get back ahead of the Firebolt?”

“You know, Ron, that’s a hell of a broom, and I can’t deny it... But I’m not sure it’s worth it, if you know what I mean. No offence to your better half, but, building your business on trusting goblins... I wouldn’t do that!”

“I’m with you, mate,” Ron chuckles. “Long as Hermione’s not here to hear me say it! I mean, it’s not like she’s wrong about the injustices and lies on both sides, but, well, they are as much on the goblins’side as our own, aren’t they?”

“Anyway, I think we’ve got some advances in twig-charm reticulation that’ll give old Randy Spudmore a shock or two. Here, let me show you...”

Two hours later, they’ve seen the factory floor, the design room, and the C&D (Charms and Development) chamber, where a Chinese wizard who looked older than Dumbledore was arguing vociferously with a black girl, perhaps Ron’s age, with an Australian accent. They’ve visited the twigging room, where small green branches are delivered through a vanishing cabinet from a tree farm somewhere in Shropshire, and carefully stripped, enchanted, and left to soak in a vat of potion that smelled of ammonia and buttercups and the Stick Shop, where craftsmen transfigure mahogany posts into familiar, crooked broomsticks. (“Starting with a simple, straight shape, then warping it, builds potential energy – tension! – in the wood. That gives a boost to changes in direction and acceleration,” Whitehorn had explained casually.)

Now they sit in Whitehorn’s office, a small, cramped affair with parchments and scrolls piled on the desks, and a yellowing 1984 calendar on which somewhat bedraggled-looking Fitchburg Finches fly in languid formation hanging from the back of the door.

“Now, Ron, it’s been a great pleasure to give a tour to one of the great heroes of the age, but I imagine it’s not why you've come. Dare I hope you’ve been considering my offer?”

Ron draws in a deep breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I have. I like your products, I always have. An’ if you’ve been following the news, you know I’m out of work. So, yeah. If there hadn’t been the war, Riddle... Harry... I’d be perfectly happy to hold down some little cubicle in the Department of Magical Games and Sports or something, but I don’t get to be anonymous, so, yes. I’ll take the job. I don’t own one of your brooms, and I’ll need to, if I’m going to endorse it, of course. And, you know, I’m going to be straight about them. You put me on a floor-sweeper, and–”

“Oh, of course, of course!” Whitehorn leans closer. “In fact, I’ll tell you what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that, in addition to simple advertisements, Nimbus will sponsor a weekly programme on WWN. We’d have you fly and review two or three different brooms – ours, Ellerby and Spudmore’s, Flyte and Barker’s. Do real, true reviews. Randolph Spudmore’s made a beautiful broom, and the Firebolt is better than anything I’m making right now. Okay, say that. I think we make a great line of brooms, from basic models for kids to racers for the top professionals. I’ve got faith in what I make, and I stand behind it, so let’s put you on the Wireless to talk about brooms, and I’m confident ours will come out well.” He holds a hand out to Ron. “What d’you say, Ron? Is it a deal?”

“Yeah,” Ron says with a grin. He takes the hand and pumps it, thinking he’ll need to talk to Lee Jordan to get some tips. “Yeah, it is.”

Harry arrives back at the flat first, and he’s there to greet Mrs. Tonks and Teddy when they arrive. He’d spoken with her and Ron yesterday after picking up his stuff from his old flat, so he knows what the plan was. He’s pretty sure Ron and Hermione would want to change that plan: after last night, having a bedroom of his own might seem redundant. But Harry knows his own moods. They’re not as dark as they used to be, but he’s got a lot of practice at solitude, and he knows he’s going to need a sanctuary sometimes. And he suspects he won’t be the only one – he doesn’t know much about relationships, but he can’t imagine living in a ménage a trois makes life less complicated, and everybody needs a place to be alone sometimes.

As Harry sits with her, looking at the magical sketches she’s come up with of the new bedroom, suggesting changes – room for a decent bookshelf here and a comfortable chair there, and a small Stasus cabinet to keep food and drink warm or cold in the opposite corner – she looks at him with shrewd eyes.

“Decorations and furnishings in crimson and gold, perhaps? Something a little more like a Common Room?”

Harry smiles. “We’re grown-ups, Mrs. Tonks. Don’t you think we’re past pretending to be schoolchildren?”

“Common Room it is, then?” she replies with a conspiratorial grin.


She pauses for a long moment. “It’s going to be hard, you know, Harry. People won’t accept it. It’s complicated enough for young people anyway, much less...”

“You mean, it won’t be easy like when you married a Muggleborn and your family disowned you, and cursed you so you could never touch their money?”

“You’re a cheeky little fellow, aren’t you? You may teach your godson bad habits.”

“Like my godfather did me?”

“Merlin, I hope so!”

Harry laughs, and sees her eyes widen a bit, and realises again how much his laugh sounds like Sirius’. Did he teach me to laugh before... Harry lets the thought trail off. It’s a worthy enough thought, he doesn’t need to darken it.

He’s in the kitchen, maybe an hour later, making a savoury beef stew, when he sees a flash of copper past the window. He looks up and out, and there it goes again – it’s Ron, on one of the most beautiful brooms Harry’s ever seen. He goes to the back door, opens it up, and Ron swoops in and lands smoothly by the sink.

Nice!” Harry cries with a grin. “What is that?

Ron grins. “This, my fine friend, is the new Nimbus 5000! It’s a whole new concept, an’ it just may make your Firebolt an antique! Take a look, notice anything?”

Harry leans down, looking closely at the foot-stands. They’re black and shiny and actually shaped, the familiar curves of an aeroplane’s wing. Since when are brooms aerodynamic? And, wait a minute, there's something else about that dull, silky black shine... “Are you bloody kidding me???” Harry stares up at Ron. “They’re–”

Plasmic!” Ron cries excitedly.

“Plastic?” Harry’s voice is shocked. “How did they...?”

“Well, not exactly plas– plastic. It’s a... Complicit material? Is that right?”

Harry vaguely remembers something from one of Mr. Dursley’s engineering magazines. “Composite material?”

“Yeah!” cries Ron. “Yeah, that’s it! See, this is a sort of... plas-tic stuff that Muggles invented for their... Uh... Space Programme? That can’t be right, can it?”

“Yeah, that actually is right. I don’t really know how they do it, but it’s really light stuff, but stronger than steel.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s it!” Ron says. “It’s brilliant, really! Whitehorn set up a whole phony Muggle business, a toy company, and ordered up these parts from, I dunno, somebody who makes parts from this composted–”

“Composite,” Harry supplies.

“Yeah, help me out with that one, mate, I’m gonna need it on the Wireless.”


“Hang on, hang on, one thing at a time! Whitehorn set up this phony company making toy, uh, rocket ships?”

“Yeah, that sounds right,” says Harry.

“Yeah, apparently there’s some Muggle hobby where you make these things, and blow up little bombs inside ’em, and they fly way up in the air. And Whitehorn’s made up fake blueprints for them – did you know Muggles use blueprints, too? Faeries don’t charm ‘em or anything, but they’re really similar! – where these parts here are part of the rocket, and he’s buying 500 of ‘em! Can you imagine? 500 of these brooms!”

Harry’s down on his knees now, peering at the sleek-swept supports for the foot-stands. “And he actually made them–”

Aerodynamic!” Ron crows. “I can’t wait to talk to Dad, I can finally tell him how Muggles keep their Aeroplanes up!”

Harry laughs at Ron. “You can’t say plastic but you can say aerodynamic?

“Fuck off, ya great berk!” Ron laughs.

“So, I guess you’ve got a deal with Nimbus, huh?”

“Oh, man, Harry, wait’ll I tell you! Wait’ll I tell you both!” He wanders across to the stove, leans over the big saucepan. “Ooooh!  Oh, hey, that smells good!”

“Yeah, I figured I ought to contribute to the house somehow. I started on this after Mrs. Tonks left.”

       “Oh!” Ron flushes. “Sorry, mate,” he mutters sheepishly. “I just forgot, I wasn’t trying to stick you with being the bad guy. How’d she take it?”

“Well, since I didn’t cancel the job, pretty well, actually.”

“You didn’t–? Harry, I know the fellows at school liked to think I was the thick one, but... Am I missing something?”

“How long have we known one another, Ron?”

“Eight years, more or less.”

“All that time, and you never noticed I like to go in a dark room and have a good sulk sometimes?”

That surprises a laugh out of Ron. “Well, yeah, I mean, I guess it had come to my attention, but...” Ron stops, looks at him. “Not like you to joke about it, though.”

Harry cocks his head at his oldest friend. “Huh! You know what? You’re right. Merlin, Ron, I used to take myself pretty damned seriously, didn’t I? I wonder how you two put up with me.”

“Wasn’t easy, mate,” Ron chuckles. “But generally worth it, give or take a Death Eater attack or riding a fucking dragon!

Oi!” Harry’s put-on quiver of outrage is funny enough to have Ron laughing already, and he’s all but helpless when Harry adds, “You can’t pin that on me, that was Hermione’s brilliant idea!”

“What was?” asks a new voice, feminine, and Harry and Ron both spin, wide-eyed, to see Hermione in the doorway.

“Oh, you’re on your own with this one, mate!” Ron manages through his laughter, then, “This prat’s trying to blame you for the dragon!”

She wheels on Harry, her hair and robes flying outward. “Oh no you don’t, Mister!” Her finger is jabbing the air centimetres in front of his face. “It was you who climbed up on that poor creature, and called us on up after you!”

Harry back-pedals a step. “I, uh... I could tell you wanted to set it free, though!”

Ha!” There’s more mirth in Hermione’s mocking laugh than she intends, and she’s clearly having a hard time suppressing her grin. “You cannot blame me for your idiotic, reckless, irresponsible–”

“It was fun though,” Harry interrupts.

And she practically melts. “It. Was. Miraculous! Terrifying, certainly, and mad as the March Hare, but it was just one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life.”

Ron’s laughter has subsided into a smile that’s almost wistful. “It really was brilliant, wasn’t it? I mean, you know, yeah it would as soon’ve eaten us as looked at us, but what a magnificent creature that was! I mean, look, I’m not turnin’ into Hagrid or anything, but yeah, that was just, like... Yeah.”

Hermione's leaning over the stove now. “Oh, Harry, bringing you aboard is proving to have hidden advantages!”

“Ya think?” Ron agrees. “I mean, I love you more than Butterbeer, but you’re not much better in here than I am.”

“Yeah.” Harry smiles slyly. “Try spending five years as house-elf to the Dursleys, and you’ll be a dab hand with a saucepan.”

Hermione's face falls. “Oh, Harry, no, I was just larking. We don’t need you to be our servant! You know that, you’re here because we love you!”

Ron snorts. “I dunno, love, as good as that smells, I may want him for a servant. We just better not give him any clothes. You won’t mind if we keep him naked in here, will you?”

Harry’s laughing, but the look Hermione turns on him is past filthy and somewhere in the range of septic. “The disgusting practices of slavery in the Wizarding world are no joke, Ronald Weasley, and neither is what those vile miscreants did to Harry!”

Ron starts to bridle, but Harry has simply stepped up to Hermione, turned her by her elbow, and, before she knows what’s happening, claimed her mouth with his own.

She makes an inarticulate sound into his mouth – Harry imagines it as an image in a comic strip, a word balloon containing only a huge, colourful exclamation mark – and simply melts against him.

When they part, Harry smiles at her. “It was just a joke, Hermione, and I’m okay with it. You know Ron feels the same way you do about the house-elves. I seem to recall having to say Is this the moment and Oi, there’s a war on when that topic came up, right, Ron?”

He looks over at his friend, and Ron is staring, wide-eyed, his face red.


Ron blinks slowly a couple of times, and some tension seems to go out of him. “Yeah. Yeah, I remember that.”

But Harry and Hermione have both noticed there was more going on than that, and it’s Harry, for a wonder, who presses him on it, at least a bit. “All right there, mate?”

“Uh...” He smiles a little crookedly. “I guess. Sort of. A bit confused. I kind of wanted to hex you a bit there, but on the other hand, that was pretty fucking hot, so maybe not.”

“Ron...” It’s just a word, but Hermione's tone is enough to complete the sentence: Language!

“Yes, dear,” he says weakly.

Ron can tell Hermione wants to go digging into his feelings over the stew, and he’s not really up for that – not yet, although he knows he can only delay the inevitable – so he pre-empts her, asking Harry, “You ready to tell us your secret mission with Malfoy’s wand?”

Harry’s green eyes lock with his, and he can hear his voice in his head: I know what you’re up to, mate! But there was never any chance of that damned hat sending Ron to Slytherin, as his eyebrows point out. Harry snorts, as Hermione looks back and forth between them with narrow, suspicious eyes, and then he breaks into a sly grin.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready. I gave Malfoy his wand back.”

He’s got that look in his eyes, and Ron and Hermione both frown at him, knowing they’re missing something.

“Think about it a minute,” Harry says. “Why didn’t the Elder Wand work for Riddle?”

“I... He didn’t...” Suddenly Ron’s eyes widen. “Oh! Oh, mate!” He salaams low over the table. “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”

Hermione's expression is darkening. Is there anything, Ron wonders, she likes less than not to get what other people around her understand? “Riddle didn’t win the wand,” she murmurs aloud, trying to push the pieces together. “He didn’t take it from Dumbledore. I...”

Harry smiles at her. “You’re too rational, Hermione. You’re a scientist, and this is just... Magic.”

She sits back. “That’s not fair! There’s nothing wrong with applying logical thought to solving problems and understanding the world.”

“But you get set ideas that seem rational to you, and sometimes you stick to them. The Resurrection Stone was real, Hermione.”

Her jaw firms. “No, it wasn’t. There’s nothing whatever to indicate that what you experienced through the stone was anything other than a magical mental manifestation of your own expectations.”

He smiles at that, and Ron can tell that it’s not because he thinks she’s right, but because it’s just so Hermione. “And a wand is just a stick, right? All that guff about the wand choosing the wizard is just Mr. Ollivander’s version of salesmanship?”

“Well...” She shrugs.

“I can only tell you what I know, Hermione. The magic of wands is real, and it means they have some sort of will. The wand really does choose the wizard, and the ways that a wand passes from wizard to wizard make a difference. I mean, a wand will only really, really... co-operate with a wizard it’s chosen, or who has won it from its owner. I get that that bothers you because it’s so irrational, but that’s really the way it is.”

“I know.” Hermione's voice is quite small. “I have a very hard time with that.”

Ron’s been looking back and forth between them, watching their interplay, seeing how Harry can approach her in ways he never could. It’s not that he’s not logical – you can’t play chess if you can’t handle logic – but that he gets too emotional in the process. He loves watching the way Harry and Hermione can interact and connect like this, so different and separate from the ways he and Hermione communicate.

“Well, here’s some proof for you,” Harry tells her. “As I was leaving, Malfoy tried to hit me with a Tripping Jinx, and I felt it, but it didn’t trip me up. Sound familiar?”

Hermione's eyes widen, and Ron can see her remembering Riddle’s curses, on that last night of his life, missing their targets, failing when they hit.

“I’ve got to tell you, mate, I’m really impressed,” he tells Harry. “I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of someone doing that – I mean, deliberately giving someone a wand in order to make himself immune to it.”

Hermione's nodding in agreement. “That is very impressive. Sneaky.” She colours a bit. “It’s sort of sexy, actually.”

Harry actually blushes, dipping his head. “Well, I don’t know about all that...”

“No, honestly, Harry,” she continues. “I think you’ve got a better grasp of wandlore than anyone I’ve ever met. I mean, you know, except for Ollivander. I never would have been able to come up with that, if you gave me a million years, and Ollivander’s notebooks to refer back to.”

“Oh, now steady on, there!” says Harry.

Ron shakes his head, though. “Nah, mate, she’s right – that’s unprecedented, innit? – that’s... I don’t even know what to call it. ‘Higher level strategic magical thinking?’” He chuckles. “Listen, mate, remember those bloody lectures in Harlington about Mad-Eye’s ‘textbook’ cases? Well, I can think of about three of ‘em where he would’ve kept bits of himself if he’d done that ‘give ‘im his wand’ trick. Merlin, I’m not kidding, that’s bleeding brilliant, that is.”

Harry’s shaking his head again, and Hermione speaks, her voice very firm: “Harry. Harry.

He looks up at her.

“Remember how Snape spent, what, six years of your life talking every chance he got about how you were just an average student of no particular talent?”

A complicated, conflicted current of emotions blows through him – his resentment of Snape’s years of abusive treatment, his shame, always his shame, at how his father and his friends had treated him in his own school days, and something warm and infinitely sad for the man’s doomed, hopeless love for Harry’s mother. It had been so easy before that awful night, being able to simply hate Snape, like hissing at the villain in a children’s panto. It’s more complicated than that, now. He sympathizes with the dead man, even admires his courage. I mean, let’s not go crazy, here, it’s not like I’d name a kid after him or anything...

After that moment, he nods at her. “I remember.”

“Well, I’m telling you the truth, Harry: After what you did today with Malfoy’s wand, he’d eat his words.”

Harry casts about for a moment for a way to move the spotlight off himself, and then smiles. “Yeah, well, you want to talk about particular talents, I guess you need to address the Ginger Giant over there. Apparently, things went so well for him with Whitehorn, over at Nimbus’s factory, he’s going to be the newest star of the WWN or some such!”

Ron grins widely, although there’s a bit of a brow-waggle at Harry, a return of his previous volley: I know what you’re up to, mate. But, that’s all right. Here, with these two – especially in front of Hermione – he’s just fine with being in the spotlight. “You’re righter than you know, mate!” He turns to Hermione. “Whitehorn was brilliant! We basically just talked brooms for a bit, you know, and I put my idea to him, and he loved it! Not only does he want me to endorse his brooms, he wants to sponsor a show on the wireless, all about brooms, an’ he wants me to host it!”

Hermione’s eyes are wide and sparkling. “Really?

He grins. “Always the tone of surprise.”

“Ron, I’m so proud of you! You know, you’re really so knowledgeable about brooms, and you’re terribly entertaining! I think that’s just a perfect job for you!”

Harry leans in, grinning. “An’ wait’ll you see the broom they sent Ron home with! It’s aerodynamic! It’s got plastic bits! Well, you know, composite material, actually! They’ve come up with this whole mad scheme to have a Muggle factory supply them with parts, thinking they’re for toy rockets or some such! We haven’t had a race yet, but Ron’s new Nimbus 5000 might just beat my Firebolt!”

She’s grinning back and forth between the two of them. “Boys with toys,” she says, and then laughs. “Boys with toys!”

He and Ron both join her, and after a moment, she turns to Ron and asks quite diffidently, “Will you be talking to Lee Jordan? He may have some helpful tips for you, you know.”

Ron’s grin broadens. “Yeah! I was gonna Floo him after supper! He’s so good on the Wireless, I’m sure he can be loads of help.” He picks up his glass, takes a swig. “I mean, you know, there are only so many brooms out there on the market. Flyin’ and reviewin’ ’em won’t fill but a half-dozen or so shows, I reckon. I’m going to need to come up with some other sorts of related material, you know? Broom-related Quidditch commentary, maybe, or great moments in broom history. Maybe little challenges or races or contests or something?”

Hermione sits back, sucking her lip between her teeth, and Harry realizes she’s thinking of something she’s not sure she wants to say. He looks back over at Ron, and he sees it, too.

“Go ahead, love,” Ron tells her. “Let’s hear it.”

“I...” She glances over at Harry, and he nods encouragement. “I was just thinking, you could use a partner for things like that. What Muggle broadcasters call a co-host.”

“Well, yeah,” says Ron. “I think if there’s two people talking, it’s more fun anyway, and with races or challenges, you know, I gotta have someone to race, don’t I?”

Hermione nods, a little emboldened but still visibly nervous.

“And...” She sucks in a breath. “And I think I know who that could be.”

Harry and Ron are both shaking their heads.

“Oh, no, love,” Ron begins. “C’mon, just because he hasn’t pitched a fit at me for cashing in, you don’t seriously think that Harry–”

But it’s Hermione's head that shakes then, almost violently. “No! No, of course not!”

Ron frowns. “Who, then? George? I mean, yeah, he knows brooms as well as me, but the shop really takes up all his time.” Hermione’s still shaking her head. “An’ Lee, I was going to ask his advice, but he’s way too busy with his own programme to be part of mine...” She’s actually blushing now, and Ron looks baffled. “Well, then, who?

“Well, I got an owl the other day...” She bites her lip again. “Look, Ron, there’s absolutely nothing untoward here, and I don’t want to fight about this.” The clouds are starting to gather in Ron’s expression, now. “I’m allowed to have friends, Ron. You either trust me or you don’t.” Ron’s face is definitely red. “And the league’s ruled,” she says, as if continuing a previous sentence instead of starting a whole new one smack in the middle, “and with the new magical tendons, he’s not allowed to play anymore!”

Krum!” Ron almost spits the name. “You’ve been owling back and forth with Krum? All this time?”

Harry sits back, just watching this play out. He’s never had a problem with Krum, after all.

“He’s my friend, Ron,” she says, her voice firm and flat and serious. “We dated once and snogged once, all of four years ago, and I never wanted him or loved him the way I’ve done you, so just don’t even start.

He grinds his teeth together, then sits back. “Go on, then. Tell me all about Vicky.”

“Ron...” Harry’s surprised to find he’s leaned forward and put a hand on his friend’s arm. “Don’t be a prick about it. You’ve got the most brilliant, most beautiful, sexiest witch in the world, and she loves you. She loves you. What do you have to be mad at?”

Ron blinks, then, and glances over at him, expression angry... And then it softens. Harry can see the realization landing with a solid impact. Ron blinks again, then actually, hesitantly, he smiles. “Yeah. Yeah, you know what? I’m not afraid of Viktor Krum. He can’t take Hermione away from me.”

“No, Ron!” Hermione’s almost in tears, and she’s smiling. “Never!”

“So... The League came down with a ruling then? An’ you heard about it before I did?”

Harry’s smiling now, watching Ron’s attitude shift. He can almost see the thoughts and memories in his head, like the pages of Quidditch Quarterly. The report that Krum suffered a severe shoulder injury while helping the German Ministry secure Nurmengard. The new “Medi-Magic Miracle” of the new tendons healers magically transfigured from the piece of Imperviused granite which sliced into him when the South Wall fell. The reports that the International Quidditch League received protests from 22 professional teams, claiming that the invulnerable, indefatigable magical tendons that now linked Krum’s arm to his shoulder constituted an unfair advantage, like the spring-steel prosthetic legs of Muggle amputees competing in marathons.

Hermione swallows again. “We’ve been corresponding more while he’s been convalescing. Writing, you know, it gives him something to pass the time. He’d tell me about the healers, and his fellow patients, how things in the War went over in Europe... The Death Eater attack on Nurmengard after Riddle killed Grindelwald, nobody expected that!”

Harry nods. “They took out the whole Fliegenvormünderin corps! If the Ispolin and the Teacups hadn’t interrupted their match and filled in, over a hundred Dark Wizards and Witches would’ve escaped. They could’ve turned the tide!”

Hermione nods. “Viktor sent me pictures of the memorials to the players who died. The one in Burgas is even lovelier than the one in Dresden.”

“Yeah,” Ron says quietly. “There were some great players who died fighting Death Eaters that night.”

Hermione nods sadly. “Viktor’s friend Todor was killed, you know. He was one of the Beaters for Bulgaria at the World Cup, but he’d moved to Dresden to play for the Teacups the next year. He and Viktor were going to have a night of it after the match, and then...”

“Yeah,” Ron murmurs again, his voice rough.

Hermione lifts her head. “Anyway, the League privately sent their ruling to Viktor last week. They wanted to give him time to prepare before the public announcement. They’ve banned him from professional Quidditch.”

Ron looks down at the table. After a moment, he looks back up. “That’s a hell of a Thank you to a guy who put his life on the line for people, innit?”

“Ron...” Her voice is quietly determined. “He’s a lot cleverer than you give him credit for. He knows all about brooms and Quidditch, and he’s really very witty. I’ll show you some of his letters, if you like.”

“Oh, brilliant!” mutters Harry. “That should calm Ron right down!”

But, in fact, Ron suddenly laughs. He picks up his glass, takes another long pull at it and puts it back on the table, and turns to Hermione again. “You know what, love? Let me talk to him. You have his Floo address?”

She looks cautiously at him. “You want to Floo Viktor?”

He shrugs. “Well, first I want you to Floo him, so he’ll know why I am. I think he has some idea I don’t like him.”

“Oh,” mutters Harry, “I can’t think why.

“Shut it, you!”

Harry crumples a paper napkin, and bounces it off Ron’s forehead with uncanny accuracy, and then they’re all laughing, and digging again into their stew.

The Thistle-Crested Great Hummocker is a solution without a problem: a magical hybrid bird bred by Luna's mother, Estrella Cosmo, to celebrate her betrothal to Xenophilius Lovegood. No-one is really sure what – if any – ultimate use or goal she had in mind when she magically combined a hummingbird with a mockingbird, nor when she increased its size to something resembling a house-cat The purple crest seems to have been strictly decorative, and perhaps she thought the bird would become a popular house-pet The bird, at its large size, needed a mild levitation spell to fly, and its long, sharp beak looks like a vicious weapon, although it’s so tender and sensitive it can never be used that way. The other side of its heritage, the magical mockingbird, leaves it able to exactly reproduce any sound, heard or imagined.

It is only  in the last few months that Luna Lovegood’s found a use for the bird, and it's making her comfortably wealthy. She was entertaining herself in a Muggle charity shop, and bought a box of what she thought were art prints, stiff cardboard squares, a foot on a side, illustrated with interesting pictures, weirdly-immobile paintings and photographs of four young men with brown hair that appropriately got longer from picture to picture. When she got home, she discovered that each picture was a sort of envelope containing a big, black plastic disc, each marked with some sort of strange grooves – or, as she discovered, examining more closely, groove, singular: One groove spiralling in from the outer edge of the disc toward the centre Under magical magnification, she saw that within each groove was an odd surface corrugation, which seemed to have a pattern to it.

Luna herself couldn't tell you how she made the leap, but she soon had a Thistle-Crested Great Hummocker running its sharp, sensitive beak along a groove, and singing the sound the vibration pattern produced. The bird tired quickly, and moved at varying speeds, and the sounds seemed weird and discordant, but there were ghostly voices in there!

So Luna placed the disc on a Lazy Susan from the kitchen, and charmed it to spin at a set speed – inspired by printing on the colourful label on the centre of the discs, she had it turn around thirty-three and a third times in every minute.

And when the Thistle-Crested Great Hummocker dipped his beak into that groove, it began singing a most beautiful, rich song. There was a full orchestra, there was a chorus singing "Love, love, love. Love, love, love. Love, love, love," and then a man singing, "It's easy!" Before he went on to sing the greatest wisdom Luna had ever heard: "There's nothing you can do that can't be done. There's nothing you can sing that can't be sung. There's nothing you can be, but you can learn to be you in time. It's easy! All you need is love!"

When she showed Dean what she'd discovered, he laughed uproariously, hurting her feelings, while gasping something about "Flintstones" and "Beetles," but she knew she'd made a great discovery. Within three months, she was one of the richest witches in the world, selling charmed Lazy Susans and trained Thistle-Crested Great Hummockers – “Only to good homes, of course!” – and instructions on how and where to safely buy these Muggle discs so full of music and wisdom.

Hermione smiles, thinking back on this marvellously improbable story as she puts a small dish of plump meal-worms next to the slowly-spinning platter, and gently strokes the long, soft colourful plumage down the bird’s back. “Any order you like, Jeremy.” (She had intended to name him ‘Cher Ami,’ after the famous, heroic carrier pigeon who had nearly died saving over two hundred American soldiers from an artillery barrage during World War I, but Ron misheard the name, and given that one of the first records the bird played for them was “A Summer Song,” by Chad and Jeremy – a gift from Hermione’s parents, who claimed the song was responsible for her existence – she decided it was a better name.) “Just enjoy yourself.”

Harry smiles as she comes back to the couch, sits and turns, laying her head in his lap, and her feet in Ron’s.

Jeremy leans obligingly forward, applying his beak to Tears For Fears’ Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82–92) and starts humming, in perfect reproduction of the vibrations he feels, “Shout! Shout! Let it on out! these are the things I could do without! Come on...”

“I have to tell you, Ron,” she says dreamily, as Harry carefully strokes her hair, “I’m really so impressed with you.”

Ron Flooed back and forth with Whitehorn after dinner, talking about his ideas for the Wireless programme, including the possibility of bringing Viktor Krum aboard as a fellow presenter, and adding games and challenges to the broadcast, and Whitehorn’s been very pleased and excited with the whole thing.

Harry chimes in, chuckling a bit, “Yeah, mate! It’ll be nice having you be the famous one for a change!”

Ron laughs at that. “Yeah, forgot all about that petty little coming-back-from-the-dead-to-defeat-the-greatest-evil-in-history lark! I’ll be on the Wireless.” He puffs out his chest, puts on a fruitily self-impressed voice, a perfect impression of Gilderoy Lockhart at his most insufferable. “Don’t worry about it, it’s just me; I’m extremely famous!”

Harry guffaws and Hermione's quickly snorting with laughter in a most undignified manner, and the flames in the fireplace turn green, and suddenly Ginny’s looking out of the fire at them.

“Hello? Is Harry–?” She interrupts herself as she takes in the scene, and her eyes widen, suddenly moist as the three turn toward her.

Hermione sits up swiftly, embarrassed, fighting the urge to cover herself, as if she’s been caught naked, instead of in a perfectly respectable tee-shirt and jeans. She feels Harry’s awkwardness as he leans forward, and Ron’s surprising gentleness on her other side.

Ginny blinks, her jaw visibly firming, and she draws in a breath, and then says, evenly, “Hullo, Harry. Hermione, Ron.”

“Come on through,” Ron says softly.

“I don’t want to intrude,” Ginny begins, and Hermione's quick to shake her head.

“Don’t be silly, you’re not intruding. Let’s talk.”

“You knew that was coming!” says Ron, and Hermione huffs, annoyed, even as Ginny’s surprised into a snigger.

“All right,” says Ginny. “If it’s okay.”

Harry gets up, then down on one knee, and holds a hand toward the fireplace. “Come on, Gin.”

She reaches through and takes his hand, and Hermione feels a sudden, conflicted rush of emotions. She’s spent years helping Harry and Ginny find their way to one another, and if she’s honest with herself, it may have been partly that being Ron’s brother-in-law would, once she and Ron were married, make Harry family to her, as close as she could hope while being with Ron, to whom she knew in her heart she would always belong. Now that she belongs to Harry, too, she feels a stab of something like fear to see Harry’s tenderness toward Ginny, and her obvious feelings for him. She doesn’t want to hurt Ginny, but now that she’s got him, she doesn’t want to lose Harry again. Greedy, greedy, Hermione! Her mother used to tease her with that when she’d ask for a second biscuit or more pudding.  Greedy, greedy!

Harry stands as Ginny emerges from the flames, helps her brush cinders from her hair and her clothes. “How are you, Gin?” he asks softly, with obvious concern. “Doing all right?”

She smiles softly. “Keeping calm. Carrying on.” Hermione and Ron have stood now, too, and Hermione’s relieved to see the expression she turns toward them is a little sad, perhaps, but not bitter. “Hello, you.”

“Hello,” Hermione says softly, not at all knowing where to go from there.

Ginny smiles again, a little stronger this time. “When Dad told me what you did, it took me a bit to figure it out, and then I just had to come find out. One look was all I needed. That’s pretty sneaky, you scarlet woman! Boy, if you’d had the ambition to get sorted into Slytherin, you’d be ruling the world right now!”

“I... Uh...” Hermione honestly has no idea how to answer that, and she feels the flush rising into her cheeks. “Thank you?”

Ginny looks at her for a moment, then steps right up and pulls her into an embrace, squeezing her hard and tight. “I love them. Don’t fuck it up.”

“I don’t intend to,” she answers softly, but with a certain defiant confidence. “I love them too.”

Ginny nods against her. “Yeah. Yeah, I can see that. You three...” She releases her, steps back a bit, smiles over at Ron and at Harry too. “You look good like that. You belong like that, any fool can see it.” She waves a hand between her brother and her ex-boyfriend. “I dunno how that’s going to work out, and I’m pretty sure I don’t need to, but you three? Hell, yes.”

Ron surprises Hermione by grinning. “Yeah, we don’t really know how it’s gonna work out, either. We’ll figure it out as we go along, I reckon.”

But Harry’s angled his head over. “Steady on, back up a bit.” He looks back and forth between Ginny and Hermione. “Your Dad told you she did...what?

Hermione's face, she’s sure, is very red now, but she looks as matter-of-factly as she can over at her boys. “I took on a case for the Public Representation section of the Department of Magical Law and Justice,” she tells them. She glances over at Ginny, whose smile is wicked. “It’s part of the Interdepartmental Resource Assistance programme. I’ll be representing Andrew Kirke and Jack Sloper.”

Harry grins. “Are they suing someone for depriving them of any detectable talent for Quidditch?”

This brings a snigger from Ginny, and even Hermione has to smile a bit, but before she can answer, Ron’s saying, with some surprise, “Wait, you’re representing poofters who want to get married?”

Hermione glares over at him, and he raises defensive palms: “No, no, listen, it’s no skin off my nose what those to do, unless they start playing for the Cannons, Merlin save us! If they want to settle down and argue over who’s who when it’s time to kiss the groom, more power to ‘em! What do I care? I just don’t see why that meant Ginny had to race over to see us listening to Jeremy!”

Jeremy, having reached the end of “Head Over Heels,” cocks his head at Ron, then leans in again, and starts humming “Mad World.”

“That’s because you’re not sneaky,” Ginny says, quite seriously. “Not like I am!”

Ron grins. “Yeah, you always were a sneaking little runt.”

“I dunno if you’ve been watching the news, Brother Dear, but have you noticed your darling girl here gets to pretty much write laws as she sees fit?” Hermione's face feels like it’s about to spontaneously combust. “She’s changed centuries of laws and regulations about various creatures, just by speaking softly and writing really long scrolls.”

“It was really important!” Hermione cries defensively. “Without the help of some of those beings, we would have lost to Voldemort! We couldn’t keep treating them like–”

Harry and Ron are exchanging a grin behind her, she can actually feel them doing it, and Ginny’s smirk is gigantic.

“Shut up,” she says weakly.

“Right!” says Ginny, as if Hermione's just explained her whole plan. “And now she’s involved a case to completely change the legal definition of marriage!” She winks at Hermione. “It’s all in how the new regulation is phrased, isn’t it?”

“Oh, my God,” moans Hermione. She’s really embarrassed, and feels, suddenly, very selfish and corrupt, as if she’s subverting the whole cause and course of government to her personal benefit.

“I think it’s brilliant, Hermione!” says Ginny, and Ron and Harry are just staring about between one another, her, and Ginny, completely baffled by the whole conversation.

“Oh, Merlin, you two are thick!” Ginny finally cries. “When Hermione's done getting the Ministry to let Kirke and Sloper handle one another’s wands–”

Ron leans toward Hermione. “While you’re at it, can you make it so they can never handle a beater’s bat again?”

Ginny sniggers again at this. “Anyway, when the judgement’s read out, declaring that it’s none of the Ministry’s business who marries who, what do you want to bet it’s phrased so that there’s no limit to how many? So three people can get married?”

Harry’s and Ron’s jaws both simply drop, and Hermione draws in a deep breath and puts her shoulders back. “Okay. Okay, all right, yes. That’s what I want to do.” She looks back and forth between her boys. “That’s not so bad, is it? I mean, it’s not stopping anyone from doing anything, it’s not depriving anybody!”

Harry’s laughing now, softly but genuinely, and he's the first to take her in his arms. “It’s not bad at all, Hermione. It’s what you’ve always done: fighting for the freedom and dignity of everyone.”

She hears the slight hitch from Ginny, and steps away from him, looking apologetically toward her friend, and suddenly she’s still. Ginny’s smiling, smiling like a woman who’s been blind since birth seeing her first sunrise, and finding it more beautiful than she could have imagined. Tears are streaming down her cheeks.

She hears Harry’s soft gasp, and Ron’s quiet sound, and both her boys are striding to the weeping, red-haired girl, enfolding her from both sides. Ginny buries her face, first in Harry’s shoulder, then in Ron’s chest, then steps back a half-step, impatiently rubbing tears from her eyes with the heels of her hands. “Come here, you,” she growls at Harry, and when he steps closer, she grabs him and kisses him on the forehead. “It’s all right, Harry. It’s hard for me, but it’s right.” She turns to Ron, calls him with a twitch of her fingers, lifts herself by his shoulders to kiss the corner of his mouth. “It’s all right, you man-stealin’ man! You belong, you all three...” She stops, turns back to Hermione, holds her and then kisses her, kisses her on the mouth, softly and sweetly and tenderly. “You all three belong. I’ll be on your side, no matter what. No matter what.”

It’s maybe an hour after Ginny’s left again, and they’re all sitting on the couch, listening to Jeremy go back and forth along the spinning record album – in fact, when he’s begun his flawless rendition of Sowing the Seeds of Love – that Ron turns to Hermione and says, “You knew before any of us, didn’t you?”

Hermione gazes back at him, eyes wide.

“I must’ve tried to propose to you, what, half-a-dozen times? Never got as far as asking, because you always managed to change the subject. You didn’t want to get married until you could marry both of us, did you?”

Harry’s leaning toward her now, watching closely.

“It...” She looks guiltily at Ron. “You, uh... You realized?”

“I may not be smart as you, love–” says Ron, “–Hell, who is? – but I’m not stupid. Hit me in the face five or six times, I begin to notice. Why d’you think I stopped?

Hermione looks at the floor. “Look, Ron, it wasn’t– It wasn’t specific. It wasn’t I don’t want to marry Ron without Harry. It was just... It didn’t feel right yet. I don’t know how else to put it.”

“Dammit.” Ron looks down as he sits back on the couch.

Hermione's quiet, but Harry’s puzzled. “What is it, Ron?”

Ron sits silently for a long moment. Finally, he looks up at his friend. “I was hoping... I was thinking...” He shakes his head. “It was the same for me. I kept wanting to propose to Hermione, I knew I loved her, I knew I’d love her for the rest of my life, an’ I still know that. But when she’d sidestep and change the subject, I was always sort of relieved, an’ I’d tell myself it’s ‘cause we’re so young, and I’m not ready yet, an’ all like that, but the truth is, I felt it too. It didn’t feel right. Since we were eleven, we’ve been the three of us. Three of us! How could we ever be a two of us?”

Yes!” Hermione's cry is fast and sudden and startles Harry. “Yes, Ron! I didn’t... I never knew how to say it, but that was it!”

Harry chuckles. “So you’re going to remake all of Wizarding law so we can do it, eh? With nobody but us the wiser before you spring your trap.” Jeremy’s beak lowers to begin another track, a familiar, pleasant, happily jangly guitar arpeggio.  “Gin’s right, if you were a Slytherin...”

Jeremy's singing now: “Welcome to your life, There’s no turning back...”

Ron laughs, “Like you, Mister Scheming Wandmaster, making Malfoy your bitch and he doesn’t even know it yet? I’m the only one of us who isn’t a ruddy Slytherin!”

“You’ve got the ambition for it,” Harry says mildly. “We’re all Slytherins today.”

Suddenly Hermione is laughing, and when Harry glances over at her, she points at the Thistle-Crested Great Hummocker. Jeremy is leaning studiously over the spinning record, and singing along, perfectly reproducing the music, singing in Curt Smith’s clear, melodic voice: “Acting on your best behaviour, turn your back on Mother Nature, everybody wants to rule the world.”

 “Not everybody,” says Hermione softly, settling down to lie again, with her head this time on Ron’s lap, and her feet on Harry’s. “Just me.”

Harry lifts one of her bare, slender feet. “I, for one,” he says, pressing a tender kiss into the sole, “welcome our new, curly-haired overlord.”

Ron throws his head back and laughs.

It's another hour or so before they rise, carrying a sleeping Hermione between them, and shuffle off to bed.

The End
Of Part 2