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Her Beauty and the Moonlight

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Harry and Hermione met up discreetly at a café in London, with the rumbles of a cappuccino machine and the murmurs of the busy crowd of people at tables all around them providing its own kind of noisy privacy. Harry hated going out in Diagon Alley still – nothing he did there went unremarked. But here in the Muggle world he was a nonentity, just the way he liked it. No-one praised him, no-one blamed him, and no-one tried to listen in on his conversations in hopes of gleaning some gossip to share with The Daily Prophet or Witch Weekly.

Hermione sipped at her coffee with a shot of cinnamon, and eyed Harry worriedly. He looked nervous, just picking at a slice of banana bread more as if he wanted something to do than because he was actually hungry.

“So what is it that’s bothering you?” she asked. “Pre-wedding jitters?”

“No. Yes. We’ve worked through those, I think.”

“I noticed you brooding lately.”

“You didn’t say anything?”

She shrugged. “I wanted to. But Ron said to leave you two to work it out between yourselves.”

Harry’s mouth tightened as if he was angry about something. It was subtle, but she’d been his friend for years and knew the signs of him trying to bite down an angry comment.

“You listened to him, kept your mouth shut? Just like that?”

She rested a hand on top of Harry’s and gave it a worried squeeze. “Are you okay? I thought it was good advice – you seem to have settled things with Ginny. You both look happier. The wedding’s still on. But if you want to talk, I’m here for you. Is there something I can do?”

“Can you answer some questions for me?” he said with a faint pleading tone to his voice.

“Of course.”

“How do you feel about Ron?”

Her face lit up with happiness. “I love him. It’s like we’re two halves of a whole – like together we’re better. Soulmates.”

Harry ate a tiny piece of banana bread and looked at her worriedly. “Do you remember how he used to drive you crazy with how you had to nag him to study? How he left his homework to the last minute, and then wanted to copy yours? He’s been slacking off in Auror training a bit. How do you feel about that?”

She laughed lightly. “He does leave things to the last minute still, the big goof,” she said affectionately. “I help him practice a bit, but I’ve grown, Harry. I know sometimes it’s best to leave someone to make their own way in the world. I let him make his own choices.”

“Do you do the home assignments for him? Researching legal precedents? Case histories?”

“Sometimes,” she admitted. “He does need a bit of help, so I pitch in when he asks.”

“And that makes you happy?”

“Everything he does makes me happy,” she said with a sappy smile. “He might not be perfect, but he’s perfect for me. We balance each other out.” She sipped at her coffee contentedly, enjoying the bittersweet spicy taste that no retailer in the wizarding world bothered to try and duplicate. There it was almost always tea, Butterbeer, or strong liquor.

“I heard you’re talking about marriage, kids,” he said leadingly, with a frown. “Didn’t you want to focus on a career?”

“I do… I did…” she said, a frown crossing her face for a moment as she thought about it, before her face cleared with a smile, like the sun emerging from behind the clouds. “But it would make Ron so happy, and I guess it would be nice to have kids one day. I think he’s going to propose after your wedding. He doesn’t want to steal your thunder.”

She smiled softly at the thought. She’d seen where he’d hidden the ring amongst his socks, while putting away his laundry. A princess-cut sapphire solitaire in a gold band. He thought he was so sneaky – it was adorable.

Harry was watching her intently as she spoke. So intently it reminded her of Professor Snape for a moment – the way his eyes would blaze like he was trying to get inside your head. Snape probably had been, given his talents in Legilimency. She was never quite sure in retrospect how she’d managed to get away with stealing the ingredients to brew the Polyjuice Potion in second year. It was most likely because he was too busy suspecting Harry to rifle through her own mind.

“I was talking with Ron the other day. He said you’ll be quitting your job once the first baby comes along. He’s looking forward to it – having a family with you.”

There was a flash of anger burning for a moment with a flickering thought – how dare he – before it was gone. She loved him. That would always come first. They would work any little problems out together. “I’m sure we’ll work it out when the time comes. There’s no rush.”

Harry looked upset. Too upset. Something was wrong.

“Are you okay? You’ve always seemed really happy for us? I hope you’re not feeling jealous? I know you and Ginny have been going through a rough patch, but you’ll work it out. Love will find a way.” She was worried for him, and hoped something in her rambling would help. “You two are meant to be together.”

Harry fumbled in a pocket, and placed a wax-sealed crystal potions vial on the table.

“Harry? What’s that?”

“A choice,” he said, pushing it towards her. The clear liquid inside sloshed about as the vial rolled over and over before stopping with a gentle clink against her coffee cup.

She picked it up. No markings, no label.

“I want you to drink it,” he said, a world of nervous stubbornness in his voice.

“What is it?”

“I’ll tell you after you’ve drunk it.”

She laughed, but he didn’t laugh with her.

He looked at her with a serious gaze. “Do you trust me, Hermione? We’ve been friends ever since I shoved my wand up a troll’s nose. I want you to do this for me, without asking questions until afterwards. I want you to drink the potion. Then I’ll tell you what it is. Trust me, please,” he said, stubbornness turning into pleading by the end of his spiel.

Did she trust him? Yes. He didn’t have a malicious bone in his body. Well, with certain exceptions such as for Bellatrix Lestrange. Maybe Draco too, though that old enmity had died away of late.

“Where did we brew Polyjuice?” she asked, throwing out a question for him to confirm his identity with. Old war-time habits died hard.

“In Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom,” he said with relief. “And you were going to be Millicent, but ended up with a cat hair by mistake.”

She picked up the vial, and uncorked it. “Cheers, Harry.”

She quaffed it in one quick gulp. It didn’t taste bad at all – not really like anything, actually. Probably not a poison. But nothing she was familiar with.

“Veritaserum diluted in water?” she guessed. Colourless and flavourless, it was a possibility, though there was a faint mineral taste she didn’t recognise.

“No, it’s not that,” he said, with a shake of his head, and a nervous look. “You’re not going to like it though. I think.”

“This had better not be one of George’s new creations,” she said with a sigh. “You know we’re in the middle of a Muggle café. If I suddenly sprout feathers or spontaneously tap-dancing the fallout is all on you, Mr. Auror.”

“Don’t worry, it won’t have any visible effects.”

“Just tell me what it is for Merlin’s sake,” she sighed. “You’re stalling.”

He grinned briefly at her. “Yes, you caught me. But it should only take a minute or two for the potion to take effect. Patience.”

She huffed impatiently at him, folding her arms crossly.

“I’ll give you a clue. Ron took this potion in sixth year. Professor Slughorn gave it to him.”

“It had better not be poison, Harry,” she said with a smile. She didn’t think it was, of course. She trusted him implicitly.

“Of course not. Quite the opposite in face. It’s… it’s an antidote.”

“Has someone been poisoning me?”

“Not exactly,” he hedged.

“Hmm… an antidote in sixth year. Some kind of essence of Bezoar? No, of course not. Wait! The love potion antidote!” she said in quiet triumph, so as to not be overheard by people at the nearby tables.

He nodded, sadness in his eyes.

“But why-” she started, before her face crumpled in agonised realisation as the antidote started kicking in. “Ron.”

“Yes. I mean, maybe. I suspected after… I thought maybe you needed the chance – to see things clearly. So I bought the antidote… just in case. How do you feel about him now?”

“Ron is…” her thoughts whirled. She loved him! She… loved him. The way he used her to write his assignments. The way he snored was adorable… no, irritating. She remembered how she’d broken up with him – he’d walked out on her after all, even with Snatchers and Voldemort’s entire army after her and Harry, and the fate of the wizarding world at stake. She’d been so angry and determined – it was over, for good. Then after the Battle of Hogwarts, he’d apologised. With chocolates.

“Ahhhhhhh!” she screamed, and somewhere in the café a cup fell on the ground and smashed as someone startled at the noise. Patrons turned to look at them as she yelled out her anger and despair, clutching at her hair.

“Shhh!” hissed Harry desperately, looking around worriedly as people stared.

“Harry, Harry he drugged me!” she yelled at him, clutching at the front of his shirt in desperation. “He drugged me and I slept with him! He raped me!”

“Shhh… shhh… You’re alright now. You can leave him if you want to,” Harry reassured her, while all around them people listened into the drama unfolding in front of them.

“If someone slipped a mickey in your drink, you should report that bastard to the police!” yelled a plump woman at another table next to them, earning herself a murmur of support from some of the other nearby eavesdropping customers.

“Leave him if I want to? Why would I stay with him? He’s dead to me now!” All the love had drained out of her. She didn’t feel empty, though she’d always used to feel like her life would be empty without Ron’s love. She felt angry.

The supportive woman at the next table bought her a slice of chocolate gateau, and a friendly hug, both of which she accepted, still rattled and shaking ever so slightly. She attacked the slice of cake ravenously. Ron didn’t like her eating too much. He didn’t want her getting fat. Never mind how much he ate. Just this once wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference to her figure. She deserved chocolate gateau right now.

When she heard exactly why Harry had started suspecting Ron, that Ginny had been drugging Harry too, she wept tears for him that she wasn’t quite ready to shed for herself.

The anger came back in a comforting rush to dull and plaster over the grief when she heard that Harry planned to stay with Ginny anyway, and that the wizarding world didn’t class love potions as illegal. Both things were almost incomprehensible.

“Look, I could if I wanted to press charges of attempted line theft, and entrapment into marriage by means of a potion or spell,” Harry explained softly. “I looked into it. They won’t apply once I’ve married Ginny of my own free will, though.”

“You can’t. You mustn’t! She doesn’t deserve that. She deserves Azkaban,” hissed Hermione.

“No. I still… care for her. Maybe not love. But still… I want a family, Hermione. A real family. And she loves me – she really does. She just went about things the wrong way. We’re working on our relationship. She’s apologised.”

“I’m going to press charges against Ron.”

She expected his support, but what she got was a shake of the head. “You could try, but as you’ve neither been entrapped into marriage nor made pregnant, and you’re not from a ‘Noble’ or ‘Ancient’ family whose line of inheritance is at stake, I think you’ll find there’s actually no charges that will stick.”

“What?! Seriously? Rape, then. I will press charges for that.”

“Hermione, I looked into it – it doesn’t count. They don’t even consider Amortentia illegal, and it’s the strongest love potion there is. Morally wrong and sometimes frowned upon, but not technically illegal. That’s why Romilda Vane didn’t even get a detention. That’s why George can sell various types of love potions in his shop. You just tend to get people saying people should be more careful in what they eat, and take antidotes regularly if they’re worried. There’s a lot of victim blaming.”

“That’s disgusting,” she hissed.

“I don’t make the laws,” Harry said apologetically.

“I know,” she said, and squeezed his hand. “And since I’m not sure I’ve said it yet – thank you, Harry. Thank you for being the only person to notice and care that things might not be right. You’re a good friend.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t think of it sooner,” he said anxiously, and she murmured reassurances to him for a while. He always did tend to blame himself whenever something went wrong. He wanted to save everyone – always had.

Perhaps it was her turn to save him now.

“You have to leave her. Don’t tell me you love her. And we’ll tell their parents.”

“I don’t want to hurt them,” Harry said with a shake of his head. “Molly and Arthur have been through enough, and it’s not their fault. And besides, they’d probably just think it’s romantic… though sad that you’re breaking up with Ron. Remember how Molly said she used one on Arthur? You laughed about it.”

“I remember.” Hermione felt sick to her stomach. She’d laughed. She’d heard about Molly dosing Arthur with a mild love potion to get him to notice her, and she and Ginny had giggled about it together. It seemed cute. Because it had all turned out happily in the end.

“If I’d just said something!” she said, anguished. “Spoken up against it. How wrong it was. I wasn’t thinking and so she thought it was all cute and romantic and so she started dosing you until you went out with her! Oh my god, it’s my fault too.”

“It’s okay, it’ll all be okay,” he said, but she didn’t believe him.

He listened to her apologies with an instant offer of forgiveness, but he wouldn’t listen to her about leaving Ginny or cancelling the wedding, no matter how she argued or how logical her arguments. He explained in hushed whispers about his theory that he was incapable of love. She argued that even if it was true it didn’t mean he should marry that woman – there were other, better women out there.

“Not for me,” he said with the stubbornness she knew of old. Eventually he refused to discuss it with her anymore. “Talk to Bill. Maybe he can explain it better than I can. He’s the same as me – conceived while one of his parents was under the effects of a love potion.”

“Bill? But he and Fleur are in love – happily married.”

“Exactly. Talk to him. And if you want to repay me for giving you the antidote… please don’t shame Ginny. I don’t want this to go public.”

She sighed, and nodded, and his relief at that was scant repayment for the tremendous – though painful – favour he’d just done her.

“I won’t protect Ron,” she warned.  “You can’t ask that of me.”

“I understand.”

He might understand her, but she didn’t understand him. She would try talking to Bill. Perhaps he’d have some insights into this craziness of Harry’s.