It starts like this:
The subtle shift of his hand from her waist to her lower back, their bodies pressed together by the others dancing around them. Hermione can feel Harry’s heartbeat through his robes, and it seems the most natural thing in the world to rest her head against his chest, to close her eyes as he lays his cheek against her forehead. She breathes him in, and for a moment the world disappears, until the air is shattered by a scream, and the wedding reception descends into chaos.
They pull apart, staring at one another for a moment, wide-eyed and dazed by something neither had expected, and then the moment is gone, and Ron bursts through the crowd, and there are three of them once more, as there have always been.
Three of them for months and months in Grimmauld Place and then the tent; fields and woods and barren moors. And sometimes Harry catches Ron looking at Hermione, and the locket seems to burn against his skin, his fingers itching with the need to grab her, to hold her, to say mine.
And then -
It starts like this:
“I'm sorry - shit - I'm so sorry, Hermione, I didn't expect -”
Harry knows he's garbling, but he doesn't know how to respond to Hermione’s silent tears, how to make things better when they have just been ripped to shreds.
“Don't be,” she says finally, turning to look at him and summoning a grim smile. “He would have left eventually, he wasn't - he didn't -”
Hermione pauses, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. “We thought that Dumbledore had given you a bit more to go on,” she says eventually. “But it's not your fault that he didn't.” There are still tears on her cheeks, and she scrubs roughly at her face, looking at him with a fierce, determined expression. “We’re fighting blind, but I said I was with you until the end, and I meant it.”
They stare at one another for a long moment, and Harry feels the same twist of something in the air that he had when they danced together at Bill and Fleur’s wedding, that sense of things reshaping themselves.
He reaches out, brushing the last trace of a tear from where it glimmers under her eye, and cupping her jaw in his palm. Hermione leans into the touch, places her hand against his chest. “It's just us now,” she says, holding his gaze, her lips quirking into a watery smile. “You and me against the world,” she whispers. And his heart jumps against her fingers.
The two of them, for weeks and weeks, on snowy hillsides and in frozen forests. And always between them this new thing, unspoken and unacknowledged, that lives in the glances held a moment too long; in the way that Hermione huddles, shivering, in his arms during the cold nights.
And then -
It starts like this:
Her voice comes to him from a long way away, cutting through the terror, the fevered horror of being inside Voldemort’s head, and he remembers Christmas roses, her thin shoulders under his arm, her shouting his name after he went upstairs with Bathilda, and the snake, the snake -
“Hermione!” He gasps, surging upright, reaching out and she's there, hand finding his, and then his arms are around her, and he almost can't breathe with relief that she's safe, she's alive, that they survived it - survived him .
He recalls the sick, hot swoop of Voldemort's rage, the momentary flash of Hermione’s face seen through Riddle’s jaundiced gaze, pale and terrified, before she apparated the two of them away.
“You saved me,” he whispers, smoothing her hair back from her forehead, and Hermione shakes her head, opens her mouth to say something, except he doesn't give her the chance before he's pressing his lips to hers.
And it's perfect and it's right and he doesn't know why he's surprised because he's been feeling it, feeling this, for months, maybe even for years , but -
"We can't," Hermione says, breaking her mouth from his, though she doesn't move away, and he understands that now, right now, one of them has to be rational about it.
They've waited months. Maybe they've waited years. They've survived this long. It can wait. With everything in him screaming against it he nods, smiles shakily, presses his lips together.
You and me against the world.
“I have to tell you -” she says, then gives a little hitching gasp - “your wand, Harry, I'm so sorry…”
He feels a wrenching lurch of dread as she shows it to him, snapped almost in half, the phoenix core glinting forlornly.
“It's fine,” he says, and though she shakes her head, her eyes full of tears, he gathers her in his arms, pressing his face into her hair and filling his nose with her scent.
Safe . Safe for now is all that matters.
And then -
It starts like this:
Ron’s face twists as the two figures shimmer and entwine. “Who would ever choose you?” the Hermione-creature taunts, reaching out to slide her hand along the other Harry’s jaw, her fingers twining into the hair at his nape.
It's almost grotesque how beautiful this version of Hermione is, as though the fragment of Riddle’s soul has warped all the warmth, all the goodness from her to create a puppet that is all sharpness and glitter, brittle as an ice sculpture. Harry feels revulsion rise up in him, because Riddle has got her wrong, has got her all wrong, and he turns away from it in disgust to look at Ron, only to see his best friend’s eyes flattened with hatred, the sword of Gryffindor raised -
A spell bursts past Harry, striking Ron in the chest and making him stumble back, the sword still held above his head, and then he falls, the sword striking the locket, slicing through the false, silvery versions of Harry and Hermione, which writhe and scream and twist about Ron, who is also screaming, and then abruptly there is silence, and the locket is a dead piece of metal on the ground, and Ron lies next to it, breathing hard.
Harry feels Hermione’s fingers twist into his, realises that his hand is shaking as he tightens it around hers. Ron’s eyes follow the movement, and he pushes himself up onto his elbows.
“It really is like that, isn’t it?” he asks quietly, and Harry feels the absurd desire to laugh, because is that really, really all Ron can think to ask at this moment? The laugh dies in his throat as he remembers the anger he felt at seeing Riddle’s vision of Hermione - all cool beauty and cruel grace and nothing, nothing like her.
And no , he wants to say, it isn’t like that at all, it wasn't ever just a case of her choosing between the two of us, and even if it was -
“You left,” Hermione says quietly, no inflection in her voice, and Harry sees a spasm of pain cross Ron’s face as he hauls himself to his feet.
“I came back though,” he says weakly, and Hermione laughs, sharp and derisive, and she is as like the Riddle version of herself as Harry has ever known her.
She still hasn't let go of his hand.
“You left, Ron,” Hermione repeats, and Harry feels her fingers clench in his. “And we went on without you. If you had any idea what we've been through, if you could even imagine -”
“Tell me then!” Ron says, and his voice is almost a whine, and Harry’s patience snaps.
“You weren't there,” he says. “And when you were you didn't want to be.” He glances at Hermione, at the set of her jaw, the blaze of anger he can see lighting up her skin. “I think you should go home.”
Ron looks from Harry to Hermione as though hoping to find some sort of reprieve, but if anything her gaze is harder, her resolve greater than Harry’s, and Ron’s shoulders droop.
“I’ll be at Bill and Fleur’s,” he mumbles. “When - if -” he gives a helpless little shrug “You can find me there. Shell Cottage.”
He steps forward, and both Harry and Hermione tense, but all Ron does is lay the sword on the ground by their feet; a sorrowful parody of fealty.
When he straightens up Ron looks between them once more, and when his eyes move back to Harry's his expression has hardened.
“What about Ginny?” he asks.
Harry realises that he has barely thought of Ginny since he danced with Hermione at the wedding, months and months ago.
Don’t wait for me , he'd told her, and she'd rolled her eyes.
Don't get yourself killed, she'd replied.
But as it turns out, Harry has been waiting for someone else the whole time.
“We broke up,” he says now. “You know that.”
Ron sighs, and nods, the last of the fight seeming to drop away from him. “Well,” he says. “You know where I’ll be.” And with a final grimace, he disapparates.
As soon as he's gone Hermione seems to buckle into Harry, sucking in a gasping sob, her fingers clutching at the soft cotton of his t-shirt, worn thin by too many freshening charms.
" We can't go back from this," he whispers, as he gathers her against himself. "He - you know how Ron is - he’ll tell everyone, so we can't - we can never go back from this."
"I know," she says, "I know, and I'm sorry, but -"
He's gripping her by the shoulders, their foreheads pressed together, and then Hermione slides her hand along his jaw, just as her terrible, beautiful echo had done in Riddle's twisted mockery. But this is real , this is Hermione's real, warm, clever hand, and it settles just above his collar on the back of his neck.
"- I'm sorry,” she breathes, “but I don't want to go back.”
And then -
It starts like this:
By unspoken agreement they pack quickly; Harry wrapping the sword of Gryffindor in a blanket and strapping it to his backpack; Hermione picking the charred locket up carefully and placing it in a sealed box in her beaded bag.
He holds his hand out to her, just as he has done every time that they have broken camp before, but this time when she touches her palm to his she doesn’t have to ignore the way the simple touch makes her breath catch, and the drop in her stomach that she feels as he apparates them away is only partly the sharp yank of magic.
They land beneath a clear sky, stars scattered brightly across it. Away to the left she can see the glint of a large expanse of water. Somewhere in the Lake District, she thinks, but she doesn’t ask, and Harry doesn’t say. The night is still, the quiet broken only by the far-off call of an owl; by the sound of their breathing.
“Are you alright to pitch the tent?” Harry asks. “I’ll set the enchantments.”
“Yes,” she says, “Yes that’s fine, I’ll - I’ll pitch the tent and -” Harry nods and walks away towards the stand of trees, and Hermione takes a deep breath, pressing her hands against her diaphragm and feeling the air fill her lungs.
Calm down , she tells herself.
I don’t want to go back.
Be brave , she thinks, and it is Harry’s voice that she hears. Be brave .
By now she could probably put the tent up blindfolded, so it takes her almost no time at all, and she’s standing with her hands resting on the back of the small armchair when she feels the slight draft that tells her that someone has come through the entrance of the tent. She should turn around, should check that it is him, that it isn’t an intruder, that they aren’t -
“Hermione,” he says, lips against her hair, and he is a line of warmth at her back, and his fingers on her hips are light, gentle - a question rather than a demand - and she tips her head back to rest it against his shoulder.
We can’t , she had said, and how stupid, she thinks, as she turns to face him, how woefully naïve of her to try and prevent this, to delay it, to think that they had better things to do.
You and me against the world . She sees the echo of her words in his unwavering gaze; his green eyes seemingly the only constant in her life for the last six years.
“Harry,” she whispers, her thumb stroking the bow of his upper lip, and then he is leaning towards her, and she is surging up to meet him, on tiptoe to press her mouth to his, putting every ounce of fierce longing that she has wilfully pushed aside over months, over - good god, probably over years - into this kiss.
His hands travel from her hips to her back, one settling at the curve of her spine, the other smoothing upwards, coming to rest with his fingers wound in her hair; tightly enough that it hurts a little bit, but in a way that she likes, in a way that makes her want to press her body closer against his.
Harry’s teeth close gently on her bottom lip, and she moans a little bit, digging her fingers into the wiry muscle of his back. She could count his ribs if she wished to, could trace the outlines of his scapulae; could count every part of him, number the pieces from which he is made but never understand the magic that makes them add up to him .
The hand on her back moves downwards, finds the edge of her jumper and slips itself between fabric and flesh, and though his fingers are cold it isn't their temperature that makes her shiver. She arches into him, and Harry breaks his mouth from hers, trailing his lips along the line of her jaw, pulling her head to one side and burying his nose in her neck as he exhales panting breaths against her clavicle.
Her roaming fingers return to the hem of his t-shirt, and then Hermione, seized by uncharacteristic impatience, tugs roughly at it, pulling it upwards. Harry obliges her, stepping back and raising his arms, and Hermione sees the flat planes of his chest, stark and bare, the flex of slim muscle across his torso, and then his smile emerges and she stops pulling at the shirt, giving into the compulsion to kiss him again, and Harry flails slightly, his arms still trapped in his t-shirt, but he's grinning against her mouth, tossing the garment away and then yanking her jumper off in one quick movement before returning his lips to hers.
Harry doesn't break the kiss as he draws her with him, backing across the small space of the tent, one arm tight around her and the other hand feeling blindly behind him for the edge of the bed. He finds it, but not before he's managed to bump his head on the top bunk, knocking their teeth together as a result and sitting down rather heavily, pulling Hermione to straddle him.
She laughs softly, can't help herself, charmed and somehow reassured by the clumsiness because at the end of the day it's Harry , it's her best friend and she knows him so well that a smooth seduction would be frankly quite unnerving.
“Are you alright?” he whispers, eyes wide with concern behind his glasses.
Take them off , Hermione thinks, watching with almost detached fascination as her own hands lift to do just that. His eyes look larger and even greener without them and Hermione obeys her impulse to press her lips first to one eyelid, then the other. “I'm fine,” she breathes, feeling herself melting against him.
When Harry opens his eyes again his pupils, already dilated, have nearly eclipsed the bright green of his irises, and under his gaze Hermione feels naked in the most perfect of ways - as though he sees all of her, everything, light and dark and good and bad, and she knows that he'll never look away.
She rocks her hips against his, the movement born of instinct, the friction of the denim sending a thrill through her, a shiver of delight, and then Harry grinds upwards and she gasps as she feels him, hard against her.
As though the sound has unlocked something inside him Harry growls, twisting to push her down on the bed, bracing himself above her as his fingers graze from her cheek, down the front of her neck, across the top part of her ribcage and then delicately, oh so gently, across the cup of her bra. Hermione hears herself make a little mewling sound and Harry, seemingly emboldened, drops his mouth to press a kiss to her breastbone, his hand snaking around her back to unclasp the practical white cotton, and as soon as he has Hermione is shrugging out of it, flinging it away, and Harry’s mouth is on her breast, tongue circling her nipple with delicious slowness, and Hermione buries her hands in his hair and fights the urge to cry out at the sensation.
Harry’s hands find the buttons of her jeans, stilling momentarily. “Do you -” he asks, and Hermione raises her head from where it has fallen back against the pillow to look him in the eye again. “Do you want to…” Harry swallows, suddenly bashful, and apparently unable to articulate the question.
Instead of answering Hermione runs her hand down the hard lines of him, raising her knees to bracket his hips as she unbuckles his belt, undoes the button at the top of his fly, and then - be brave, Hermione - reaches inside and fits her hand around his length.
“Oh fuck ,” Harry gasps, his chin dropping forward and his eyes scrunching shut.
“I want to,” Hermione says determinedly, moving her hand slowly up and down, hoping that she's getting this right, because she's read about it, of course she's read about it, but there's a world of difference between holding a book and holding a -
“Christ,” Harry says, and it's wonderful, somehow, to hear him say something so Muggle, but then he's kissing her again, his tongue slipping into her mouth, a welcome, wonderful invasion, and he undoes her jeans, working them one-handed down her hips, and through the growing haze of lust Hermione lifts her bum to help him, and then she feels the palm of his hand pressing against her sex through her knickers, the heel grinding against her clitoris, and he's good at this, knows what he's doing, knows how to touch her -
“I've never done this before,” she blurts, staring up at him, aware that her eyes are probably too wide, that she probably looks terrified, and that isn't what she feels, not really, because she wants this, she knows she does, but she's suddenly afraid that she won't be any good, that he might not enjoy it with her as much as with -
“Neither have I,” Harry says, and then he shakes his head, gives a little laugh. “Well, okay, this bit -” he pushes her soaked underwear to one side, slides a finger into her entrance and beckons against her, and this time Hermione does cry out, and Harry smiles. “This bit I've done,” he breathes, pressing a kiss to the dip of her collarbone. “But I haven't - Ginny and I never actually -”
“Oh,” Hermione sighs, and then he does something wonderful with the two fingers that are now inside her and she gasps. “ Oh - so -”
“But there's no rush,” he says quickly, somehow maddeningly in control and apparently ignoring the urgency that Hermione can feel building under her skin, and you liar, she thinks, and she grasps a little tighter, pumps her hand a little faster, and is gratified by the stutter in his breath, the way his eyebrows move together and his cheeks flush.
She scrambles against the bed, kicking off her jeans and lifting her legs so that she can push his trousers down with her feet, releases his cock momentarily to push his boxers down too, and then Harry has removed his fingers, is kneeling up and pulling his jeans and boxers all the way off, and then they are both naked.
Harry's eyes rake over her, seeming to take in everything, and Hermione surprises herself with her lack of embarrassment. She reaches out to stroke a finger across the tip of his penis, finding it warm and slick, and unthinkingly she lifts the finger to her mouth, tasting the salt flavour of him. Harry follows the movement, and then gives a groan, dropping back on his haunches and pressing his thumbs into the soft flesh below her ribs as he buries his face between her thighs, his tongue darting between her folds, the gentle graze of his teeth against her clit, the pressure mounting somewhere low in her belly as he licks her out, and Hermione can't think, can barely speak.
“You and me,” she pants, three words that have come to mean everything between them, but that right now mean please, and please Harry, and please fuck me please - and she can see in the way that his muscles tense that he hears it, that he knows that she is at the point of ecstasy and desperate, desperate to feel more, to feel all of him; only him and only her and you and me against the world and -
He pauses, grabbing her wand from the floor beside the bed and whispering a charm, and then he kneels to position himself before he enters her slowly, a gentle thrust, rocking into her and then holding her as she takes a sharp intake of breath at the stab of pain, expected and yet still surprising.
There's a moment of stillness as they breathe together, and then the sharpness of the pain fades and Hermione traces the round edge of bone around Harry’s eye, gazing up at him before she presses her lips to his, lifting her hips upward in silent invitation to move again - yes - please - more -
Afterwards they lie together, pressed into one another's angles in the narrow bunk, the sweat turning cool before it dries on their skin.
“I'm glad it was you,” Harry whispers against her hair, just as she is falling asleep, and Hermione burrows her nose into the crook of his neck, feeling his heartbeat beneath her palm.
And then -
It ends like this:
After all of it: after the Lovegoods’, and the Snatchers, and Malfoy Manor -
After Bellatrix and Dobby and the weeks where Harry curls around Hermione in the bed as she screams herself awake -
After Gringotts and the dragon and Hogwarts and the Battle -
After her heart stops at the sight of him, dead in Hagrid’s arms, at the feeling of impossibility - no no no no, I'd have known, I'd have felt it - and the crashing wave of relief when he stands, when he faces Voldemort and brandishes the wand he that took from Malfoy and oh, be brave, my love.
At the end of it all he turns to her, and smiles, and Hermione flings herself into his arms. And Harry’s hold is vise-like - is never let me go.
And her lips on his are bruising - are never never never .
And when they break apart; when they look at one another; when his finger lights on the curve of her smile and her laugh falls - delighted, disbelieving - onto the rise of his chest; it is you and me -
You and me against the world.
And then -