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A Local's Guide to Life in London

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When Hermione broke up with Ron (for real, for good, forever) she didn't rage and she didn't yell and she didn't cry. Nor did he; it was, in fact, one of the most civilised conversations they'd had in some time.

After he'd gone, she let herself out of her flat and locked the door behind her. She walked down the stairs, out to the street, and she kept on walking until she got to Harry's.

She rang the bell. Harry came down and, after a second's hesistation, pulled her into one of the most awkward hugs she'd ever been a part of. She didn't know whether to be impressed (could Harry really just tell?), or assume that Ron had already been there, that he might even still be there. She thought she knew, but decided - an unusual choice for her - that she would rather not find out for sure.

Harry didn't seem to know what to do with her (Hermione thought, He's trying not to pat me on the back, like he did that time with Cho), but he didn't seem to know how to let her go, either. So Hermione disentangled herself, and smiled at him. "Hi," she said, "hope I haven't come at a bad time."

"No," he said quickly - too quickly? - "no, not at all."

She eyed him critically. His hair looked like something violent had just happened to it, and he was wearing rumpled jeans and a t-shirt, no shoes and no socks. Either he'd recently been woken up, by her or by Ron, or there was a different Weasley up in his flat and she'd caught him in the middle of something else entirely. Once again, she didn't ask. She just smiled and said, "Are you certain?"

"Absolutely," Harry said. "Listen, I'll go get some shoes, and how about we go - go -" he was, Hermione knew, trying hard to think of somewhere she liked that she'd never been with Ron - "to Southbank."

"To the book market?" He nodded. "You'll hate it."

"Maybe." Harry grinned. "Back in a tick."

Hermione hadn't realised it at first, but it was a beautiful afternoon. The sun was pleasantly warm, and the breeze off the river wasn't too cool or too smelly, and as far as the eye could see, there were tables and tables heaped with books.

She soon got lost among them, a little bit figuratively, a little bit literally. She didn't notice when Harry wandered off, and when he reappeared beside her she couldn't help but jump. She'd been deep into the vampire legends of fourteenth-century Romania, picturing dark starry nights and steep mountain valleys and the people of the villages, putting the Church between themselves and their fear.

"Good book?"

She tapped the cover. "Fascinating. Some of those priests must've been wizard enough to turn their crosses and holy water into true magical protection - the question is, did they do so purposefully, choose those objects as a way to keep their parishoners bound to them? Or was it completely accidental? They could have been unaware of their own magic, but somehow poured it into the symbols of their faith. . . ."

Harry's expression was amused, but something else too, something unreadable. He stood looking down at her, and Hermione thought perhaps he was wondering if this was a front, if she was doing the best imitation of herself she could manage this afternoon.

She wasn't. Which meant she was proving Ron right - again - something she'd been doing from the moment she turned her feet towards Harry's. She was proving Ron right and the thought of it didn't bother her at all. . . which meant that right there, right then, she'd just gone and done it again.

Harry finally said, "Magic can do some amazing things sometimes, if we get out of the way and let it."

Ah, but of course he'd been thinking about Voldemort, him and Neville and Voldemort. Hermione sighed.

They wandered among the stalls until the day was no longer sunshine-warm. Harry didn't hate the market as much as she'd expected; he didn't hover beside her, but busied himself with checking out each vendor's occult selection and determining which books were really magic and which were a load of muck. When they left, he had a book under his arm, and her handbag was full of them. It was a nice thing about being a witch: the minute she slid a book in, it miraculously fit, and became weightless besides.

They walked the path right along the river, in the general direction of their flats. Hermione watched the water, the gulls, the city strung out along the banks, and she watching Harry, too. He was doing the same to her, and doing a far worse job of hiding it; she knew why, knew what he had to say. If she were a better person, the sort of woman she should be, she would say it for him.

It came a while later, later than she expected, really. "I ought to get back now, I reckon," he said.

"Of course," Hermione said, "of course. Give Ginny my best."

"It's just we always do dinner, Sunday evenings. . . you could come, I'm sure she won't mind."

But Hermione could not come. She took her books home, and settled down with them piled on the couch beside her and an Orangina close to hand. And it was there, sometime, that she cried.

*

When Harry broke up with Ginny (for real, for good, forever), he washed his socks, cleaned his flat, and drank ale for two straight days. Hermione knew this because when she came round, the couch was piled high with little balls of socks, the kitchen was absolutely spotless, and the bin was full.

She found out on Sunday morning. Ginny told her over pastries and coffee at a bakery on her street. And all Hermione found out was that it had happened, not exactly how or why - Ginny said that the details were Harry's to tell, and that she should probably get him to tell them.

Hermione nodded, all understanding, but privately she thought that was a bit unfair. It wasn't as if she had a right to the story, she recognised that, but really, things with Harry could be difficult enough in these post-everything days. So many ghosts and so many shadows down every path; the last thing she needed was a bit more uncertain ground to tread.

She couldn't ask Harry, and she suspected Ginny knew that. She couldn't do it, because she knew exactly how it would go: She would ask, Harry wouldn't answer, and that would be it, the matter would be closed until such time as he decided that he wanted it opened. Which could be years, if not decades.

Hermione went to Harry's that afternoon. Her first thought, on looking at the sparkling floor and the completely clean countertops, was that his coping mechanisms were a bit bizarre. Her second thought was a question: Did she expect anything approaching ordinary from him, by now? Her third thought was a bit of a gloat, even if she didn't like to admit it: Ron couldn't have been here first. Ron and this kind of neatness couldn't exist in the same postal code.

"Ginny told me," she said by way of greeting.

"Ah."

"Come out for a curry?"

"Let me get my shoes," he said.

They went to a restaurant she particularly liked, and she had tikka masala and he had chicken korma, and they shared bits of each between them. They didn't talk about Ginny, and they didn't talk about anything else much, either. Harry spent most of the time watching the telly behind her, over the bar. She turned her head once to see what was on; it was cricket, something she'd never known him to care about at all.

*

When Hermione broke up with Ron for the last time, he didn't say anything that made her angry, or anything dumb.

What he said was: Are you certain I'm the one you want to be doing this with?

*

When Harry and Hermione were both single young Londoners, they went a great many places and saw a great many things. It was a way of expanding their cultural horizons, Hermione said, of taking advantage of the wonderful city they lived in. What she didn't say was that it was also a way of getting out of the flat, and (since by now Hermione was being completely honest with herself), it was a way of doing it with him.

And it was by far for the best, spending their time together out in public. There were things that she'd somehow got used to in the past seven or eight years that she wasn't ready to do without - wasn't sure she could do without - that might lead to some complications in (her kitchen, his lounge, their space), but were quite all right out.

Like the feel of his hand in hers. It wasn't a problem if she took him by the hand in the British Museum and dragged him across three galleries to look at the Battersea Cauldron, not even if she forgot to let go when they got there, while she told him just how wrong the placard was about it.

Or the solid warmth of him at her back. She could stand close after they climbed narrow little stairs up to the narrow little stone balcony on the dome of St. Paul's. Stand there for some time, even, the city at their feet, all old and dirty and beautiful.

No awkwardness. No weird silences.

No oh-so-polite rejection.

Yes, sightseeing was the way to go.

They went to the Tower of London on a Tuesday that promised summer sun but never quite delivered. Harry showed no interest in a guided tour or in the little map she picked up, and after a while she folded it away. They ambled instead, picking their way around groups of tourists, ducking through doorways that looked interesting and passing others by completely. Harry seemed to enjoy each little moment of discovery (Look, it's where they kept Anne Boleyn! Wonder if we'll see her ghost?) and Hermione liked that. She also had to admit that it was easier to feel this place, and all the things it had once been, when she wasn't following a path outlined in a glossy pamphlet that promised discounts for other great London attractions.

(But Hermione had no illusions: If she hadn't done a very thorough tour once before, with her parents, she would have gone right round the twist by teatime.)

Some parts of the Tower were very crowded, like the Royal Armouries and, of course, the Jewel House. Others were much less crowded and some, like one room in the Salt Tower, were completely empty. Harry seemed inclined to linger there, looking at the old carvings in the walls. Hermione was glad enough to do the same; this was one of the last rooms left to see, and in her near future loomed tinned beans on toast and quality time with Crookshanks.

"So the difference between important historical inscriptions and the graffiti down the road is what? Five hundred years?"

"Give or take," Hermione said, going over to crouch down beside Harry. "And the fact that these were political prisoners, not kids who've figured out how to work a spray-can."

"Do you know who was crap with a spray-can?"

"Who?"

"Dudley. Went out with his gang one night to. . . well, I'm not really clear on what the original plan was. But I don't think it involved him coming home with 'wanker' painted across his front."

She grinned. "And you were nowhere nearby at the time, I'm sure."

"Near, far. . ." Harry waved a hand. "These words are all so relative."

He smiled at her, and she smiled back, and when she realised she'd been smiling too long she stood up, fast.

It wasn't fair, when out suddenly became in. It really wasn't.

Hermione crossed over to a window, and looked out. They were a few stories up, and she could see past the outer walls of the fortress, down to the river, and the Tower Bridge. Cars going over and a boat going under, slowly making its way to the sea.

There was an end-of-the-world bang, and the door they'd come in, the door out to the staircase, slammed shut.

Hermione shrieked, a terribly girly sound, and then she went over and hit Harry for laughing. "Why do you think -?"

"A draft?" Harry suggested, climbing to his feet.

"No," Hermione said, "I would've felt that." She gestured toward the window.

"Oh," Harry said. "Hm."

The big iron handle wouldn't budge, not with her hands and not with her wand. "Why don't you help me?" Hermione said, spinning round after her third useless alohomora. Five minutes ago she hadn't cared about leaving, but now, because she couldn't - because of Harry (because she couldn't) - she needed this door open. At once.

They tried together and failed together. "I reckon the National Trust would frown on us blasting a hole in a thousand-year-old door," Harry said.

"I don't think this door is quite that old," Hermione said, "and the Tower of London isn't run by the National Trust, but apart from that, I agree with you. It's not a good idea." But it sounded awfully appealing.

"Might be best to leave off doing magic anyway," Harry said.

"Why?"

"Well, they used to keep witches and wizards locked up in here, right? Maybe the room realised what we were and decided to do its job."

Hermione threw up her hands. "If you had ever bothered to listen to Professor Binns," she said, "maybe you could come up with a useful theory. One grounded in historical fact." He didn't say anything, just walked away, across the room; Hermione kept lecturing, because it was easy and it filled the space. "Most witch trials took place in provincial areas, Scotland especially. I doubt many witches, real witches, were held in the Tower. Just political enemies that monarchs found it useful to label as witches."

"Oh, I don't know," Harry said, tracing something on the wall with his finger. "This looks real enough to me."

Curiosity outweighing everything else, Hermione went over. Cut into the stone was a diagram for casting horoscopes, a complicated one, like she'd only seen in books.

"Hew Draper of Brystow made this sphere," Harry read aloud, "the 30 daye of Maye anno 1561." He looked at Hermione. "Shame we don't know how to use it, we could predict how much longer we're going to be stuck here."

"That's not how it works, and anyway, just because a wizard was kept here once doesn't necessarily mean. . ." She gave up, sighing. Harry had settled down on the floor, his back against the wall. She could join him, or she could do what a Muggle would do: go over to the window and wave her arms about and yell a bit.

She sat. Her feet were tired, and the floor beside Harry looked good. . . and if she had chosen a spot a little too close, a little too near (his shoulder felt nice beside hers, and their elbows bumped, and if she put her hand on the floor instead of her lap their fingers would probably touch), that was all right. She wasn't going to do anything stupid.

"So," Hermione said, "all we do is wait?" She thought: Not a very Harry Potter sort of plan, is it?

"Doesn't have to be all," he said.

And she liked to believe herself clever, but she didn't know what he meant until he kissed her.

*

Even when Harry and Hermione had got a number of things sorted (where they would live, who got first shower in the mornings, how long visits to her parents should last), there were questions left that Hermione had not asked, things she did not know for sure. Like, Did Ginny know before you did? and Just how good are you at locking spells and voiceless incantations?

She thought she had a pretty good idea, and that was enough to be going on with.